Turning Ughust Into Awegust

August is my least favorite month of the year.  There…I said it. (Well, wrote it.)

Typically, I’m not one to wish away time. But, after what is always a hot and humid summer in Texas, by August my spirit tends to lag.  August becomes Ughust.

An article from Texas Monthly magazine showed up on my Instagram feed.  “Think Seasonal Affective Disorder is a Winter Thing?  Try Living Through Texas Summer.”  The post was about how “exposure to excessive heat can affect our frame of mind: serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the body that regulates mood, fluctuates with the heat.

I am not alone.  It is a real thing!

Justified, I poked around a little more to find that August can carry heaviness as summer (regretfully) wanes, and we return to a more regular (mundane, to some) rhythm for September through May.  Some families feel loss as they experience their children growing older and going away as August is the threshold of the school year.  For me, the joy of gardening dims: the plants struggle in my flower beds and blooms diminish (with some plants getting downright crispy).  There’s the sweaty chore (no matter what time of day) of watering and the ethical struggle of how much water is fair to use in drought conditions.  Yes, Ughust is on.

Inspired by another article about “How to Preserve Children,” I pondered what I might do to preserve August – or, maybe better said, preserve myself in and through August.

And, so I have been working on a recipe for some Summer joy–adding a heaping cup full of outdoors (without whining that I wish it wasn’t so hot), pouring out a tablespoon of good reading, spreading out a creative sewing project, stirring in some fresh spiritual practices, whipping up some time at a local coffee shop (a change of venue for working and reading),…

The “shopping” for ingredients has called for some intentionality (and some spontaneity). 

  • A “Weekly Events” section in the local paper highlighted a session of “Forest Therapy”.  This was on a Sunday morning and the time outdoors became my church time that day. 

  • Waiting for a morning event to start in Houston recently,  I sat on a bench, listened to birds, watched lizards, and enjoyed a nearby water fountain.

Truly, the month is going by faster than I expected.  No, I’m not turning things upside down to be slappy happy.  Intentionally choosing some delight in order to “preserve” myself in this august month of August has allowed me to turn Ughust into a bit more of an Awegust.

Feasting on St. Ignatius of Loyola

“Feast” (as in the Feast Days of a Saint) has always had me thinking of a banquet held in honor of a beloved soul.  “Let’s raise a toast in honor of St. so-and-so,” I muse. 

With today (July 31) being the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I find myself experiencing a twist in meaning—as I ponder the ways that I have benefitted from feasting on the life–the story and teachings–of this great soul:
  • He was among the saints I was reading about in college—prompting a deep, inner question (that would become a call to which I a still trying to respond): “What would it look like to live as one radically sold out for Christ in this day and place?”
  • His story has proven a powerful illustration of the ways that God can employ tragedy and disappointment unto greater, fuller ends.  What would have become of St. Ignatius if we hadn’t encountered a cannonball that nearly took his leg off—leading to a time of convalescence in which he discovered and fully embraced Christ and His way? Or again, what would have been his legacy if he’d not been denied in his quest to return to the Holy Land—going instead to Rome where he was given permission to set up the Jesuit order?

  • He models for me the dynamic of “letting my life speak”… and listening to it.  The spiritual exercises, examen, and imaginative approach to the Scriptures which all bear his name grow in value to me as I discover and contemplate Christ in my daily life and living.

Yes, St Ignatius helps me to approach that word, “Feast Day,” in a more profound way—as I celebrate the ways that the life and legacy of this Saint has nurtured me more fully in the life of Christ my Lord.

Sleeping with Bread (and Dropping Stones)

In Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life (Paulist Press, 1995), Dennis, Sheila, and Matt Linn share that…

During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.” (p. 1)

Employing the story as a way of introducing the practice which is the Examen, they continue:

For many years, we have ended each day the same way.  We light a candle, become aware of God’s loving presence, and take about five minutes of quiet while we each ask ourselves two questions:

For what moment today am I the most grateful?

For what moment today am I least grateful? (p. 5-6)

St. Ignatius (to whom this Examen is attributed) would word things a little differently:

What brought
me consolation
[i.e., an sense of
Grace and God]

What brought
me desolation
[i.e., left me bereft of
a sense of God and Grace]

Diagram from Margaret Silf,
Landmarks: An Ignatian Journey

Different words, yes, but the same intent:

  • in the spirit of a gratitude journal, there’s affirming the Goodness and God-ness of a day–and holding on to the Life I have received in the day


  • in the spirit of confession, there’s a sense of acknowledging and letting go of every “rock” and “stone” that has weighed me down and encumbered me in the race of and for and to Life (Hebrews 12:1,2)  [Here, I ponder the ways that loaves of bread and stones can often be confused with one another — as they were in the first temptation of Christ.]

When I am about the practice
(admittedly, I am still working to make it a habit),
I sleep better –
embracing Life…
dropping stones…
resting more comfortably as I hold and am held by the Bread of Life.

Yes, beneficial it is…

  • to close the day with more than the t.v.
    or some idle phone game having the last say in my day
  • to review and ponder God’s Presence throughout the day
  • to enter rest with some sense of what I need to leave behind
  • to sleep with the life-giving manna
    I want to celebrate
    and still be holding
    when the new day dawns.

Don’t Get Caught
with the Your in the Monkey Jar!

In a meeting last week, Leadership Transformations’ Matt Scott spoke of his desire to live with hands less clinched and grasping… more open. It was an outward symbol of a deeper Grace he sought: wanting to detach from secondary things… to the end that his hands would be freer and more open to accept the primary things of God in his life.

In a follow-up ministry note, he would expand on this notion–emphasizing its relationship to the season we are now navigating in the Church…

The Lenten journey invites us to let go. To open our hands. To release…

Jim Branch writes: “In the end, there are only two ways to live. We can live with either clenched fists or with open hands. You can’t have them both. ” (A Devotional Guide For Every Season Of Your Life, p. 195)

When we clench and close our fists, we live from a place of refusal and resistance. Refusal to let go, resistant to trust and relinquish control.

Listening to (and reading) Scott’s words, a favorite stewardship illustration from my preaching days came to mind–something along these lines…

I understand that in Asia, they have a rather ingenious way of catching monkeys in the wild. All they need is a jug with a narrow neck at the top (wide enough to accommodate a monkeys open hand), a couple of ropes, some nuts, and a net.

Placing the nuts in the jug and tying it to a tree or two, they’ll lay in wait.  Isn’t long til the monkey comes and reaches into the jar for a snack.  Even as hunters approach, the monkey is disinclined to let go of the nuts.  It is “trapped” by its balled-up fist.  All you have to do is throw a net… and, voila, you got yourself a monkey!

In typical stewardship messages, I’d invariably relate that illustration to Paul’s admonition in I Timothy 6:10 about how “the love of money is the root of evil.”  Mind you, I’d point out, it is not money per se that is the root of evil and our entrapment – no, more than it is the nut which captures the monkey!  No, it’s the love of – the addiction to – these things that is the basis of the downfall of many a human… and monkey!

Scott’s words in mind, the illustration is about a lot more than money, isn’t it?  Or, perhaps we might say, Christian stewardship goes well beyond the financial and the material, doesn’t it?!  (Christian stewardship, I have emphasized through the years, is our co-management, with God, of all that God has entrusted to us for a season – and that goes well beyond cash-ews!)

Father Thomas Keating reduced the temptations – Christ and ours – to three fundamental programs of human happiness: what I have, what I do, and what people think of me.  To be sure, “what I have” – including money – is there in the mix.  But, let’s not belittle the mix of “nuts” we seek to grasp — things like looks and health and image and status…

Detachment would appear to be a part of what Rohr and others call “The Perennial Tradition” – the spiritual stream with courses through all the world’s religious systems.  Grasping and controlling have a way of enslaving.  It’s in the relinquishment and the letting go that we are most free to live and to receive what Life has to offer.

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it,” Jesus said,
“and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)

It’s certainly a message at the heart of Lent, is it not?

Yes, don’t get caught with your hand in the monkey jar!

Fleshing Out Adolescent Jesus

The second week — or “section,” as each section occupies several literal weeks — of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola is focused on the events of the life and ministry of Jesus.  As Trevor Hudson puts it, “we desire to know Jesus more intimately so we can love him more deeply and follow him more closely.” (Seeking God, p. 82)

Prayers this last week had me engaging texts of his birth and early life.  In one fell swoop, we collect his adolescent years:  “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) 

It was and is a text not without it’s question… 
and provocations of the imagination:

I know
what it says
about Jesus
in stature
and wisdom
and grace.

And, I know
how we affirm that,
as Son of God,
He was sinless man.

But, still
(or, maybe,
for this very reason),
I wonder…

Did they have to tell Him
to eat his vegetables
and drink His milk?

Was He a goody two shoes?
And, did his peers resent Him?
(“Who died and made you God?”)

Or, did He play and know how to have fun?

And, when they played games,
was He picked first…
or last…
or did they just let him play umpire?

Did he ever play hooky?
Or tell a joke?
Did He ever daydream?
Ever engage in a belching contest?
Did He ever roll his eyes
and say, “whatever”?
Did he ever have a crush?

Come to think of it,
did he ever trip on something
and say, “Oops, I didn’t see that.”

I wonder.

What is it for God to be
human, yes – but
a teenager,
an adolescent
at that?

Was He a square…
or obtuse…
or acute…
or equilateral?
I am sure he was in good shape.

Yes, times are
different now from then.
Culture and stuff.
But, kids will be kids, won’t they?
What about Him?

I suspect there are some out there for whom these questions border on the blasphemous.  (Their Jesus is so “Heavenly minded that He is no earthly good.”)

Others may be inclined to ask, “So what…  What’s the point?” 

Hard to find anything out there which really fleshes out "adolescent Jesus." Yes, there are lofty and pious speculations on the one side.... and slightly irreverent treatments at the other end.

For my part, though, these lines of inquiry
— these questions — seem important.
For apart from raising them
(and, like Mary, “pondering them in our hearts”),
I wonder (along with Ignatius, I believe)
how seriously we are taking Incarnation.