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Extra Grace Required - Our Blog

Intention and Heat

"When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground." Psalm 104:30

It’s spring time in the Midwest: the crocuses are up and the daffodils are blooming. I’ve got a big bare spot in my backyard that needs to be raked and planted with grass seed. It’s time to start thinking about putting my gardening chores back into my daily routine. Years of gardening have taught me a little about myself: 1) that I’m apt to do too much too early, itching to plant before the frost-free “safe” planting date and 2) that in my enthusiasm to be outdoors digging in the dirt I’ll put in too long of a day, and my back will be complaining by evening. So I’ve learned to curb my spring-fever exuberance, and set up a schedule for myself, working a little bit in the garden each day, pacing myself.

I suppose you could say that my daily gardening routine is, shudder, a discipline. I shudder because the word discipline by itself instantly conjures up punitive images of a naughty child being spanked on the bum, or ranks of young military recruits piping in unison, “Yes, Sir!”, to the command of a drill sergeant. The word self-discipline is almost worse, conjuring up images of rigidity, self-absorption, and obsession. But disciplines—and I’m using the word in its non-punitive sense-- can be very, very helpful. In the dog days of summer, mid-to-late July, when everything is wilting in the heat and high humidity (plants and me, both) the last thing I want to be doing is sweating in the dirt, outside, gardening. That’s when my moderate gardening routine really pays off and I’m able to coach myself, “Just put in a half hour in the garden, the roses really do need to be deadheaded”.  Read More 

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House Envy, Contentment Stealing, and Yoga

"Though you may not be aware of it, you are already a vessel containing hidden light...within you are all the powers that are in all the worlds, within you is the hidden light of the first day of creation."

Diane Bloomfield, Torah Yoga


Most of the time, I am a really lousy Christian. Do I love my neighbor as myself? No. Do I give all that I can to the poor? No. Do I welcome the stranger? No. Do I comfort the sick? No. For me, living my Christian faith as Jesus taught is hard work. Some days it seems like the only thing I’ve got going for me, is that I love God, and that I am hugely grateful that I am loved back, warts and all.

But I do try. My Judeo-Christian heritage and the ten commandments help ground me. I like to think I’ve got most of the ten commandments covered (admittedly I’m wobbly on keeping the Sabbath), and therein lies the issue. But there’s one commandment in particular that drives me to distraction: I’m a coveter. Specifically, I suffer from periodic episodes of extreme house-envy.  Read More 

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Tea, Lent, and the Ethical Observance of Purity

"Blessed are the pure in heart
for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8


I love tea. I find the process of making tea a spiritually cleansing practice. It requires my full attention, and brings me out of my life's busyness, and into the current moment. Coming home from my former office job, I would make myself a cup of tea, my focused attention on the tea-making effectively removing the residuals of the day's unfinished office business from my head, so that I could be present with my family.

Purity is different from cleansing, although the two are often confused. Cleansing is the act of removing impurities, while purity is the result of release—freedom from that which binds. Recall the beauty of a flower that blossoms from a constrained bud, or the pure sound of a beautifully sung note, unencumbered by straining vocal cords. Jesus' teachings guide us to focus on releasing the pure love found deep in our heart and not confine ourselves to practices that merely clean the human vessel. He taught that what ultimately defiles a person, making them impure, is not unwashed hands, but the thoughts and actions that constrain and try to separate us from God. (Matthew 15:18-20)  Read More 

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