by Steve Borgard
February 17, 2017
Setting the Tempo for the Day
I remember gathering backstage before a performance of a high school play. The director had the entire cast gather in a circle and following the director’s lead, we snapped our fingers together in unison. The director was setting the tempo for the play. He didn’t want us to rush our lines, or to move too slowly and lose the comic timing. So together the cast snapped, internalizing the rhythm of a shared tempo.
This was the first time I remember being conscious of a shared tempo outside the context of playing music with others. But as my awareness sharpened, I began to see how vital tempo was in a variety of aspects of my life. Most athletes know that tempo is crucial to playing a sport. A golf swing, a baseball pitch, a fast break, a soccer play, are all dependent on tempo. Rush the process and it will fall apart. Move too slowly and the results fall flat.
As a college speech teacher, I adopted the simple exercise of snapping fingers for use with my students. Students with communication anxiety often rushed their speeches. So, to calm their nerves, I had them breath deeply while simultaneously snapping their fingers, to set the tempo for their speech. When this exercise was practiced with intention before a student’s speech, there was always a noticeable improvement in the student’s delivery.
In our daily lives, we move into a variety of situations that require different tempos. In emergencies, we often have to move quickly and decisively. When listening deeply to a friend, we need to consciously ‘slow down.’ While we may instinctively change our tempo in certain situations, there are definitely times when we may not be aware of our tempo. Running through the door of our house after a fast paced day, we may begin to engage with our family members at a rushed pace. Running into the grocery store, we may feel the burden of getting “in and out” as quickly as possible. On my drive home from the Eastern Sierras this week, a driver on a dangerous mountain pass decided he needed to move at a pace much quicker than the rest of the traffic, as he weaved in and out of cars, trying to get ahead. He ended up nearly going over a cliff, as his lane suddenly ended and his car barely hung onto the gravel shoulder.
How aware are you of the pace of your day? One ancient spiritual practice from monastic communities is the practice of setting the pace for the day. Ancient monks would begin the day by reading a scripture (often a Psalm) at an intentional and measured pace. This simple practice established a tempo for the day, and a rhythm for the community’s interactions.
As a spiritual practice, perhaps you can take a moment to set the tempo of your day. Read a poem or scripture at a measured pace, one that reflects the tempo for healthy interactions. Throughout the day, before walking through a doorway, or into a meeting, or before you start your car, take a moment and ‘reset’ your tempo. “What should be my tempo for this activity?” is an important question to ask. It is one that may help you become more present, compassionate, and centered in your daily life.
February 10, 2017
Daydreaming in Church
When I preach on Sunday mornings, I try not to analyze the facial expressions of those in the congregation. I can’t help but notice a person who seems particularly engaged or bored, but mostly, I don’t know whether a person is thinking deeply about the sermon or if they are daydreaming. How can I tell? And should I care?
Daydreaming may be an overlooked, yet important part of our spiritual life. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote, “People don't come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God.”
I believe this is a beautiful sentiment. When I read it many years ago, it forced me to recall my earliest memories of church, being a child and letting my imagination run wild while my body sat calmly in a pew. The quote may have influenced my own philosophy of preaching, a philosophy that believes dogmatic statements are easy and cheap, but to get people to imagine and to dream, that is the true art of rhetoric.
Imagination plays a key role in empathy. To implement, “Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you,” takes a great deal of imagination. Daydreaming about, “walking in another’s shoes," is the imagination furthering the progress of compassion in one’s life.
Compassion and empathy are impossible without the imagination. I have recently encountered books and speeches that have used the terms “empathic imagination’ and ‘moral imagination’ to describe this very concept.
Perhaps, we should encourage daydreaming more often: in church, in school, at home, and at work. Unimaginative people can’t do the necessary work of seeing life from another’s perspective. Unimaginative people can only project their own thoughts and fears onto others, but they can’t consider how another person might see and experience life.
If we don’t develop imaginative people, we will wind up with a world where people do the unimaginable to one another. Racism, sexism, violence, homophobia, and fear of the other in all of its various forms exist to some extent because people lack imagination. People who lack the capacity to consider the ‘other’ from the ‘other’s’ perspective, can only cast their own fears and shadow onto the unknown. This is clearly demonstrated by the recent escalation of the fear of refugees. Powerful leaders project their own insecurities onto the least powerful people in the world, because they lack the imagination to consider life from the powerless person’s perspective.
For me, studying the teachings of Jesus is fruitful for developing my compassionate imagination.
Jesus’ parables, aphorisms, paradoxes, challenges, commands, and behavior, pulsate with the energy that can jumpstart the empathic imagination. This process is central to Christian spirituality.
So come to church and daydream, even during the sermon. I won’t mind. It may be the most important work that you can do.
Photo by Brandon Kidwell. brandonkidwell.com Used by permission.
January 27, 2017
"When the going gets tough, turn to wonder."
- Circles of Trust Touchstone - Center for Courage and Renewal
This is a phrase I have been turning and returning to quite often lately. I first heard this phrase when I attended a retreat with the Center for Courage and Renewal. At the retreat, we learned key protocols, "touchstones,” that were to guide the interactions of the retreat participants.
The phrase has served me well over the years, and lately I feel like I need to practice this touchstone more than ever. Moving, starting a new job, turning the 'big 50', being away from my sons, trying to rent out our house, rain, rain, rain... and more rain, have all contributed to moments where the going was getting tough. And, in the midst of these busy few months, the political climate in the USA took an unexpected turn for many of us, and the "going" is definitely getting "tough."
When the 'going gets tough,' often we respond with our "fight, flight, or freeze," instincts. It is easy to get defensive, argumentative, depressed, stuck, or feeling like we need a very long vacation.
For me, turning to wonder has been an alternative to the 'fight, flight or freeze' mechanisms within me. "Turning to wonder,” is taking a moment to pause and wonder about the feelings going on within me. Why do I feel this way? Who am I worried about? Does this remind me of a previous experience? Who else has been in a similar situation? What story or scripture comes to mind? What needs does the other person have?
I don't ask these questions of myself to find a definitive answer. Rather, I ask the questions to myself, so I might engage in wonder, which in turn, leads to creativity, compassion, and patience. Rather than inaction or reaction, the wondering opens up a greater possibility of creative and life giving action.
As a community of faith, I pray that we can encourage one another to continue to wonder. So that we might see the creative and life giving possibilities that emerge, even when the going gets tough.
1 Cor. 13:4 Love is patient…
Gal. 5:22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,…
Traditionally there are four advent candles and one Christ candle on an Advent wreath.
The four Advent candles represent the virtues: hope, peace, joy, and love.
I would like to nominate another virtue that deserves a candle this season: patience.
No, I am not recommending that Advent start a week earlier; four Sundays seems more than enough. Nor do I recommend that another virtue be replaced; we need all the hope, peace, joy, and love that we can get. Really, I’m not sure how to add another candle. I’ll let the detail-oriented people work out the particulars for me. My main proposition: patience needs to be honored, contemplated, and practiced during this time of year.
Unfortunately, this time of year seems to be devoid of patience. People are frustrated standing in post office and shopping lines. Drivers fight over the scarce parking spaces on the streets and parking lots. Children can’t wait to see what presents they will receive. And many scurry about checking off the items on their extra long “to do list.”
December 2, 2016
My Nomination for Another Advent Candle
Advent practiced properly, should allow us to move at a different rhythm . A rhythm that allows us to honor the other, seek spacious unhurried moments, and move graciously, even in crowded malls and parking lots.
The Apostle Paul mentions patience as the first quality of love, in his most quoted passage: 1 Corinthians 13. He also lists it as a fruit of the Spirit. Patience is a primary virtue for the follower of Christ.
How are you setting the rhythm for your day? What practices allow you to develop patience toward yourself and others? For me, simple spiritual exercises: breath meditation, reading a scripture passage slowly, walking meditation (where I intentionally slow my pace), all contribute toward a more patient attitude.
How can you light the candle of patience in your own heart this Advent season?
If you were to add another candle to the Advent wreath, what virtue would you choose?
Godspeed my friends, it may be slower than you think.
This week, I spent time ‘purging’ old emails, text messages, notes, to do lists, and much more. I was amazed at how much has happened in the past few months. I had to step back, catch my breath, and realize that I have been on quite the journey lately. Moving half way across the state and beginning a new pastorate are only a part of the events that have happened in the past few months. For many of you, major life events have happened this year as well.
A friend, who was wrestling with various life transitions wrote: “Trusting in the great unfolding…”
It is a common expression to speak of life events as ‘unfolding,’ but the particular phrasing of my friend caught my imagination. Yes, I had felt that recently my life was being unfolded. That I had to trust in this great unfolding, and new pieces of my life were being revealed.
I had an image of a beautiful painting being folded multiple times, and I could only see the brown backing of the canvas. But slowly, as the painting was unfolded, you could begin to see the colors, shapes, and patterns that existed on the other side. The creases of the folds didn’t deter from the painting in my mind’s eye. But, rather, seemed to be apart of the design that was being revealed. It was a rather comforting image.
Perhaps, we all see the beauty of ‘unfolding’ on a daily basis. Flowers unfold their blossoms in glorious ways. A bird, that can look so tiny while tightly bound up, perched on a tree, can unfold its wings and take flight. A grand revealing of energy, flight, and color to behold. When his disciples began to worry, Jesus implored them to ‘consider’ the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. Perhaps, he wanted them to observe the beauty of life unfolding.
But the unfolding of our lives, while often beautiful, can be a difficult journey as well. This ‘great unfolding’ can lead us into the unknown, make us feel more vulnerable.
I responded to my friend who was “trusting in the great unfolding’ and asked, “Is there a great enfolding as well?”
As I look back on the preceding months, not only was my life unfolding, it was also enfolded by the love and blessings of family, friends, and church communities. This gracious enfolding of others, empowered and sustained me.
The enfolding of true love gives space so that unfolding can happen.
Perhaps, this is a helpful image for the church. It is the call for us to be a place that enfolds people with love and encouragement, so that each individual can unfold their gifts, passions, and life experience in ways that they fully blossom.
What is unfolding in your life? How are you enfolded?
May the love of God enfold you, that you may completely unfold the beautiful gift of yourself.
November 4, 2016
An Enfolded Unfolding