The Great Wide Open…

In passing by and at times being surrounded by farmland over the past few months, the beauty and vastness of the countryside has been striking. Against the occasional backdrop of mountains and the many fields of crops and shades of green, there has been much to take in and a great sense of freedom and openness to be felt. There have also been the more confining structures one would expect to see, such as barns, fences and silos. These structures serve to protect what is within and in doing so they create boundaries and barriers. Of them, perhaps the silo, into which one cannot readily see, is the most compelling.


A farm silo functions as a holding place for storing grains. It is a strong, tall, rounded container with generally no openings for the elements, including light, to penetrate. Its purpose is to prevent the grain inside from becoming compromised or spoiled. A silo does a great job of protecting grain and is both necessary and good. However, personally or in an organization… figuratively, a silo is bad news. It seeks to control the environment in ways that both compromise and spoil forward progress. It also holds back the spirit of integrity and ingenuity necessary to flourish and genuinely thrive.

As we go through life, we all come across situations, organizations and/or people through whom we experience a silo effect—having helpful information withheld, being undermined, being shut out, pushed away or alienated. Often we can easily point to or name such cases. However, it can be more difficult to see or name the instances where we may be helping to foster that experience or effect… allowing it to continue… perhaps even creating or contributing to the creation of even more silos.

The way of the world puts emphasis on acquiring and storing up things, status, reputation, chips on one’s shoulders, etc. Ultimately, they can, and often do, bring us down or cause us to be less than what we truly are. It can be difficult to recognize, yet alone to resist being swept up or carried away by this mentality, or even fighting against it. It can keep us from doing and from being… from living out our deepest, purest desires in a way that is encouraging and uplifting to others as well as ourselves. We can be led astray, fooled, or lulled over time by that which masquerades around providing a false sense of reality as well as security. We can be lured and led away from being a place of growth and harvest to a place of storage.

“You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.” – Andrew Murphy

From time to time, it is important to pause, to let the Light not only in but also to fully penetrate one’s soul, and to ask, am I a vessel or have I become a silo?



Sprinklers and Fountains…

I recall summer days during childhood when my father would attach sprinklers to a few hoses spread around the yard to water the grass. Then, every so often, he would move each sprinkler to a new location to ensure each section of grass was watered. I remember looking forward to “sprinkler days” back then especially on long, hot, humid days.

My siblings and I used to run through the lines of water at times to cool off, or around them at other times to avoid getting wet. Still other times, we would pick the sprinkler up when least expected, aiming it at the others, whether wanted or not, for a surprise cooling off. And then, every so often, one of us might slip away to remove the sprinkler head, replace it with the “super spray” nozzle and proceed to provide a more powerful cooling off experience for the others. Overall, we had a lot of fun, and admittedly some “disagreements” too.

There were three sprinklers altogether. Two of them were straight and about a foot long with several holes along the length. The sprayer would move from one side to the other, from 0 to 180 degrees, shooting lines of water along the way. Then there was the “wacky” sprinkler. It had three prongs that came out from the center which would rotate around, 360 degrees, as it sprayed a line of water sideways from each prong. The circular motion caused the lines of water to be wilder, and perhaps crazier, than the lines of water that the other sprinklers emitted. Despite its flair and pizzazz, the “wacky” sprinkler was the least desirable for cooling off. However, at the end of the day, both types of sprinklers accomplished their job, watering the grass sufficiently. And, while the “super spray” nozzle was great for sibling sneak attacks, it was less effective and not considered as an option for watering the lawn.

With events that have transpired across the world this past week, and what seems a continuous growing trend of intolerance and inability to dialogue in dignified and respectful ways, somehow I found myself thinking of the “wacky” sprinkler spraying water in every which way. Yes, it was wild and crazy, but it still had a purpose and value so we tolerated it and used it as it could be used. Then there was the “super spray” nozzle with its harsh and often cold rush of water, but even that, if used properly could be used to water the lawn.

There are many happenings throughout the world that can be upsetting and downright improper. Sometimes, it can be easy to become enflamed by what we cannot comprehend and by what seems “way out there” to us. It can be tempting to join the frenzy or to turn away and refrain from any kind of engagement. Somewhere in between, there are answers and there is common ground. Somewhere there is the fountain, the spring… the Source that provides life rather than strife. It is up to each of us to seek it and to work toward it, so that we may come together rather than be torn apart.



Getting Out of the Boat…

As a young child I recall being afraid to swim after seeing the movie about a great white shark that was striking terror along the shores of the fictional town of Amity Island. As I think back on it now, I find it rather funny because at that time the bulk of my swimming was in an in-ground pool. Still though, there was a drain at the bottom of the pool and my young mind could envision the possibility of some creature getting in through it and pulling me down into the great abyss that was the deep end of the pool. As impossible as it might have been for what I imagined to occur, as a child I was genuinely afraid of this; it was very real to me.

In the Gospel passage where Jesus walks on water, the disciples are described as being “terrified” and we are told, “they cried out in fear,” at the sight of what they initially perceived to be a ghost. They had already been startled by their boat being rocked around by powerful winds in the pre-dawn hours of the day. Then, with an already heightened sense of apprehension, they see something walking toward them… on the water!

Whether young, old, or in between, we all have things that frighten us. Like the disciples, we are all prone to becoming even more unsettled once already unnerved. This is why it is so important to strive to be centered, and to recognize when we are not.

The disciples learn that it is Jesus who is walking toward them and they hear his words, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Perhaps they are at least temporarily reassured. However, Peter checks the situation out a little further. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter believes if Jesus commands something of him, no matter what it is it will be possible for him to do it… and it is, but only so long as Peter stays focused on the Lord. Once he becomes distracted, just like us, he falters. Still though, he does not sink all the way, and neither do we. When we call out, the Lord is there to catch us, to set us on our feet again, to show us the way, and to save us from all that would seek to do us in.

Sometimes it can be challenging to know in what direction to proceed and how to receive and respond to the world around us. Rest assured though, when our inner compass is set on the Lord, we can and will find our way.

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”

Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.

Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:22-33

Painting by the late Fr. Bob Lindsay, SJ

Change – Are You Ready to Let Go?

It serves us well to remember that while the sun greets each day and the moon bids it farewell, each day is not the same. Though the hours in a day remain the same, each day offers countless possibilities and opportunities. In order to pursue or partake of them, though, often requires one to make a change.

While we do need some things to be consistent and to have some structure, it is often good to re-evaluate our routines. Are there ways in which I have become closed off to that which is new or different? Is there room for change?

Change… Why is change so hard for some and seemingly not for others? Perhaps it is because there is often more to the story than meets the eye. Sometimes the need for change may not be recognized. Other times when we shy away from it, “resistance to change” is often the roommate of “struggling to let go.”

Usually one must let go of something, or perhaps multiple things, in order to make space for what is new or different. What that thing is can vary greatly. It might be a person, job, house, car or another material possession; or it might be something intangible such as an attitude or a perspective. Sometimes it can be hard to realize that whatever I cannot let go, “owns” me in some way, and, as long as it does, I will not be free to choose or be open to change.

A number of years ago as I prepared to direct my first weekend retreat, I recall feeling a sense of pressure – or greater responsibility – at the thought of working with people for such a short period of time. In looking more closely at what was going on and with a little help, I was able to recognize and name the worldly notion onto which I was holding: that somehow I alone was responsible for a fruitful weekend. Yes, my role as a spiritual director was important, and I needed to be mindful of that, but I also needed to remember that, ultimately, I was not “in charge” and the One who was, was more than capable. In doing so, I felt a greater sense of freedom and could carry on pressure-free as I met with retreatants. Letting go in this way enabled me to be more open. It also enabled me to be more patient with both myself and each retreatant, as if our time together would be endless, trusting that all desires brought to prayer are heard and responded to in time regardless of whether or not I had the privilege to witness the entire process. As the saying goes, I “let go and let God.”

Failing to let go of whatever may be holding us back, is like closing the door not only to change, but also to what may await on the horizon. We live in a world that tells us there is one shot to get it “right” and if we miss, we are out of luck. However, if we look to creation we can see that this is not true. Luckily, or rather blessedly, we often get more than one chance to rise to the occasion and embrace change.