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.



Sorting and sifting…

Sorting through and folding a laundry basket full of clean clothes the other day, I came across a couple of socks with holes worn through them. They were not repairable and so the decision as to what to do with them was easy. Oftentimes in life, we face similar decisions in terms of deciphering what to get rid of and what to keep. Sometimes it can be as clear cut as sorting through laundry and other times it can be difficult to see the way to proceed.

When it (the net) is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. – Matthew 13:48

The above Scripture verse is part of a passage in which Jesus is giving comparisons as to what the Kingdom of Heaven is like and states that in the end, the angels will be separating the good from the bad. However, as we walk through life on earth, we also need to separate the good from the bad and the good from the better, as we strive toward Heaven.

Frequently, what is less than good, parades around in disguise and can slowly and subtly pull us inward, or downward and away from where we seek to be. On top of that, what enables one’s soul to shine most brightly and what is good for us, often goes against the grain of the world in which we live. It is challenging to say the least and perhaps, even discouraging at times. Still though, we are called to be aware and to choose wisely, whether we are sorting through the obvious or sifting through the “not so clear.”

The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.
God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
Solomon answered:

“You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my
father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart;
and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to
sit upon his throne.

Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king
to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”

The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So God said to him:

“Because you have asked for this—
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches,
nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right—
I do as you requested.
I give you a heart so wise and understanding
that there has never been anyone like you up to now,
and after you there will come no one to equal you.” – 1 Kings 3:5-12

Fortunately, we are not alone in this endeavor of trying to choose what is good, and to choose wisely. There is aid around every corner and in each nook and cranny there is Wisdom waiting to be had. All we need is to ask.




Waiting for the Dough…

I recall being surprised as a child, the first time I observed pastry dough and a particular pastry being made from scratch. To start the process, some warm milk was added into a bowl that contained yeast. Just prior to the water being added, I remember curiously smelling the yeast and turning away as the aroma hit me. I found the odor rather offensive.

I also found myself impatient at having to wait for the dough to rise. Why did we have to wait so long? And how could yeast, having such a bad smell, possibly make good dough? As a child, I did not know any different or understand the process. However, I had a desire to learn and as I followed the process from start to finish, I was thrilled with the end result—Ka’ak! A family favorite enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee.

There were many steps in the making of this Lebanese sweet treat and each of them seemed to take so long to complete. I remember the pleasant smell wafting through the house as the dough and the dipping “sauce” cooked. There were hours from the rising of the big batch of dough to the second dipping of each piece into the sweet milky liquid that would provide both a glaze and a sweet mild taste that lingered ever so gently with each bite.

As a child, it seemed like a painstaking process, taking an eternity to get to taste a piece of Ka’ak. All those steps and all that time though, were necessary, and the wait always ended up being worthwhile… the taste heavenly.

Sometimes it can be hard to wait, and perhaps even harder to trust that what’s happening, or not happening now, is part of the process. It can be difficult to believe that what may seem unpleasant or far less than ideal may need to occur along the way in order to get to a sweeter place.

One must remember: There is no sense in trying to bake the Ka’ak before the dough rises.




In the 1800s, Charles Lutwidge Dodson was born, lived, and died in England. He was a writer, photographer, mathematician, logician and more. He was also an Anglican deacon. However, he became best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. His pen name was Lewis Carroll.

Through the years, there have been a number of misconceptions and myths about Lewis Carroll. Through it all though, and while he has been deceased over a century, his words and works have remained as popular as ever. His writing is captivating and thought provoking. In both his well-known fictional works and in letters to friends there is depth… there is truth… there are roots.

Lewis Carroll wrote, “One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” In other words, there is something greater than “myself.” While it is important to be the best I can be, it is even more important to know, and to be rooted in, why, and for whom, I am striving to be the best I can be. Is it for myself or is it for the greater good? What is it that is truly in my heart as I go along?

Jesus said, “… Some (seed) fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots” (Matthew 13:5-6).

We all need roots in order to be faithful and true as we stand, and withstand, whatever comes our way. However, roots cannot grow and take hold where there is not fertile soil.

We are not the seed. We are the soil. The seed is the image of God in which we are created. It can only grow and flourish when we use our free will to nurture it. It is our calling to provide an environment that allows the seed to catch root and grow. This happens through the grace of God.

Most often, when we truly turn our will over to God, we find ourselves growing in our capacity to experience life with a joy and love that reaches out and touches others. Maybe that is God’s way of saying, “Nurture the soil, and leave the rest up to me.”


On a Whim…

We had not intended to head to the top of the mountain, but there we were, venturing toward the summit on an almost sunny day. At first, I wondered what impact the pockets of hazy fog would have. How far would we be able to see? Was it worth the trip? Then I thought, if not now, when? According to all accounts, tomorrow would be raining and the day after we would be leaving.

Despite the unknown degree of visibility, we decided to make a go of it. The ride to the top held both anticipation and peace. We started out very chatty, but quieted down some as we approached the tree line and rose above it. The fresh air and sense of freedom that often accompany the feeling of “being on top of the world” in wide-open space, whether on the ground below or high above, were abundant. Both permeated the mountaintop and seemed to be with us as well as all who chose to rise to the top that day.

Once there it was stunning. Looking out across the mountain’s peak, through the hazy spots it seemed almost like a dream as I took in all that was around and far away. There were people here and there traversing along the bedrock, taking heed of the signs seeking to preserve and protect all that might be fragile in this shared ecosystem. Toward the far reaches of the bedrock, there were a series of cliffs and beyond the edge, the ocean and a number of islands.

After soaking in all that was offered, or so I thought, we took the pathway back. It was then, when least expected, from one side of the path to the other and back again, we saw a yellow and black butterfly fluttering along, joyfully…hope filled my heart went along with it. As it landed, I watched and smiled. It was icing on the cake. All that we had seen, so wonderfully made.

It was quite a mountaintop experience. While it was both exhilarating and joy-filled it was also peaceful and upon further reflection it was once again all these things as well as sobering. With the uncertainty with which the journey was embarked upon now a distant memory, it became clear that the place in which we were standing held many gifts, even on a hazy day.

Life, whether at the top of a mountain, at the bottom, or somewhere in between (and regardless of the weather) has so much to give, when we are open to receive.