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Putting Names In The Blanks



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


To be fully present with another person—this is one of the greatest gifts we can ever give.

Wendell Berry, in a wonderful novel entitled “A Place On Earth,” tells a story of a family in his community that lost a son in a war. The parents were in profound grief. Two men were standing outside the house, watching the comings and goings, and they saw an old minister go into the house. One of the men turned to the other and said, ” There he goes. I know what he is going to say.” Later, talking to the grandson about this same old minister, he added, “There he sat in your granddaddy’s chair with all his old consolations and old speeches, just putting our names in the blanks.

Years ago, I remember having a conversation with a woman who had asked me a difficult question. I had thought about and had answered the question before, so I just repeated that answer. When I was through, she looked at me and said, “Landon, I feel like you took my question, ran through the files of your mind until you came to the folder where you had stored away an answer, and then you gave it to me. I didn’t feel you heard me. 

I thought about what she said. It kept me awake. She was correct! That was exactly what I had done. And without the benefit of this woman’s response, I might have repeated that the rest of my life. I might have become a consoler, a presenter of seminars or speeches, always simply going back to the old files and repeating them—presentations without connecting to the persons before me—simply putting different “names in the blanks.”

So let us resolve: each time we meet another person, whether a person in pain or with a question, or a family member, or in a speech, let’s remind ourselves that we’ve been entrusted with this never before experienced moment, a moment when we are called to be fully present.

I repeat: To be fully present with another person—this is one of the greatest gifts we can ever give.


One Of Our Best Teachers?



How can we be joyful and celebrate life in a world so full of problems and tragedy?

Rabia of Basra (717-801), who for many years suffered as a slave, points to a possible answer in her little poem, Die Before You Die. Here is an excerpt:

“Die before you die,” said the Prophet Muhammad.

Have wings that feared ever

touched the sun?

I was born when all I once

feared—I could love.

Rabia is referring to a story about Muhammad. It’s said that the prophet once hired a man to come into his office each morning and announce, “Muhammad, this may be the day you die!” After a while, Muhammad told the man to stop coming because, “I’ve learned the lesson.” The man begged the prophet to let him keep coming. “Why?” asked Muhammad. The man said, “Because I need it.”

Don’t we all?

Over the last eighteen months of Covid, I’ve realized more than ever the importance of trying to live each day as if it might be my last.

Does this mean I should try to do something really spectacular each day? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s more about just relaxing, being present, not postponing joy, not withholding love, remembering what matters. It’s about trying to live today well.

Now, sometimes I forget, and sometimes I miss. But I think it’s important to keep trying. It’s a good discipline that helps to keep us from taking life for granted or becoming so preoccupied that we miss the wonder.

I think it helps us cherish life and cherish the people we love. As James Taylor sings,  

 “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel. Things are going to be much better if you only will.”

Finally, and paradoxically, I believe that trying to live each day as if it might be our last can actually help us to celebrate life more fully.

Odd, isn’t it? When it comes to learning how to live, Death may be one of our best teachers.


The Joy Of Words



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


We had to learn to talk. Each of us had a first word, and it was a thrill to our parents.

I have a friend who told me his son was slow to begin talking. Then one day when my friend was sitting in his den watching Tiger Woods play golf on television, his little son walked through, glanced at the TV, and said with total clarity: “Tiger Woods!”

Then there’s the story of a Canadian father who was completely delighted when his son’s first word was not “momma” or even “dada” but instead was “hock-ey!”

As we grew, we discovered another set of words, words whose meanings we may not have known, but, oh, they were glorious words! I found these words, and, with my buddies at school, I would string a group of them together to the utter delight of my friends.

It was my “colorful language” phase which I kept safely hidden from my mother who thought even words like “heck,” “golly,” and “darn” were inappropriate words for her boys to use. Yet, she did have an unusual word she apparently deemed very acceptable. When I messed up, she would say, “Lordy, Lordy, what am I ever going to do with you!” I never quite figured out the semantics, but it struck me more as a funny line than a reprimand.

Then we became adults and could choose our words any time and in any way we chose. But most of us, though not all, exercise some restraint in how and where we employ some speech.

That said, there are some truly “bad” words we should try hard to never use—words that hurt another person. These are the “bad” words, the worst words in the world, words that cause lasting damage to children, to spouse, and to friends.

My favorite word to apply to all our speech is an old, but still beautiful word—the word “gracious.” It gathers together in one word qualities like kindness, tactfulness, favor, safeness, and hospitable. These are words that lift up rather than hurt or diminish. Speech that is gracious is always good for me and welcomed by others.

Of all the “colorful” words we might use, let’s avoid those most damaging words, words that hurt others. It would be a gracious, even joyful, thing to do.

The Moment That’s Never Wasted



What is the value of a caring moment? This is a frequent theme in the mystic poets that we’re looking at this fall.

One of history’s great mystics is Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), a Catholic monk and scholar whose writings were so eloquent they helped evolve the Germanic language. I love a little poem he wrote called Love Does That.


All day long a little burro labors, sometimes

with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries

about things that bother only



And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting

than physical labor.


Once in a while a kind monk comes

to her stable and brings

a pear, but more than that,


He looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears

and for a few seconds the burro is free

and even seems to laugh,


because love does that.


Love frees.


This isn’t about burros, is it?

Eckhart is getting us to think about the value of even the smallest act of love, of even the most ordinary moment when one person is truly present with another.

He’s helping us to consider how liberating it can be when we take a moment to see, hear, and value another—in even the simplest way.

This poem reminds me of John Watson’s well-known line, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

And then there’s this line from the Bible: Anyone who gives even a cup of cold water will not lose his reward.

Maybe we could put it like this: no moment of genuine love and attention is ever wasted.

A Livable Dream



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


I believe that every human being needs a dream. A dream is not an elective for a human being but a requirement. It is not a luxury but a necessity.

You need a dream because life, by its very nature, involves incompleteness and emptiness that only a dream can fill. You need a dream because life involves pain, and the right dream speaks to the places where you hurt the most.

You need a dream because life brings confusion. Without a dream to guide us, demands and pressures dictate our pace and priorities. We live so often by reaction—reacting to people and situations.

To go through life without a dream is like trying to cross a desert without water.

But finding a dream is not easy. We may lose years following dreams that are only mirages—dreams that only remind us of the things we haven’t accomplished, dreams that dehydrate our spirits, dreams that strain our relationships with others.

But the dream you most need nourishes and enriches all of your life. It’s a Livable Dream. It’s not pie in the sky. It is real. You can live it today, and you can live it no matter what happens.

The livable dream keeps you focused on what is most important to do in your days. It helps to quiet the noise, calm the busyness, and prioritize the demands of your life. The livable dream assists you in becoming the best you can be.

One of the great privileges and happinesses of human beings is to find this dream that’s greater than we are, a dream that inspires the best that is in us every day and on the last day lets us lie down in peace.

So, do you have a livable dream?



“Jettison The Judgment”



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher from the second century, wrote of a way to respond more productively to feelings of irritation, anger, and upset.

He suggested that the way to keep “upset” from swamping the boat of your mind is to “jettison the judgement.” Aurelius writes, “Jettison the judgement, and you are saved…. Remove the judgement: ‘I have been harmed,’ and the harm is removed. So remove your judgements whenever you wish, and then there is calm—as the sailor rounding the cape finds smooth waters and the welcome of a waveless bog.’”

In other words, when you feel you have been harmed, inconvenienced, or insulted, instead of simmering in judgements, you toss those thoughts overboard.

We might quarrel with the good emperor that to simply “toss overboard” the profound and significant harm that we may have experienced at the hands of another is naive at best and a cruelty at worst, but, when it comes to navigating many of the day to day, small irritations we experience, I believe there is something we can learn from his advice.

We all experience frustrating moments—someone pulls out in front of us, cuts us off, or dallies too long at the cash register, or treats us with perceived slights and snubs—which we are often quick to interpret as personal attacks or willful disregard, lashing out in kind.

I remember a story about a young mother who was driving and shouting over and over at offending fellow drivers, “You idiot!” when a quiet voice from her little daughter, strapped in her car seat behind her, said, “Momma, are you ever an idiot?”

Sometimes we may need to blow off a bit of steam. I get that. But perhaps it would be helpful to consider that the “steam” is often the result of judgements we have made about a situation—one’s that deny others the compassion we would hope they would extend to us if the roles were reversed. It might help our peace of mind simply to “jettison the judgement.”

It’s just a thought from a wise philosopher that has survived for centuries, a thought for us to tuck away in our repertoire of responses that might make it a little more likely we would find ourselves sailing those “smooth waters.”


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Your Dancing Partner: Life Itself



For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some mystic poets. Rumi, born in Afghanistan in 1207, is considered by many to be one of the greatest poets in history. Here are excerpts from his poem entitled, That Lives In Us. (You might want to read this slowly, even meditatively.)


If you put your hands on this oar with me,

they will never harm another, and they will come to find

they hold everything you want…


Exuberant is existence, time a husk.

When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;

Love goes mad with blessings, like my words give.


Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack of the past and future?

The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities

will find no rest.


Be kind to yourself, dear—to our innocent follies.

Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.


A few thoughts:

FIRST STANZA: Why do we do harm? Why do we hurt even those we love? Someone has said it’s because we are grasping for things we don’t really need, so we fight.

Rumi turns that around, saying: Relax and empty your hands of anything that would cause you to do harm—approach life and others with open hands instead of clenched fists—and you will find your hands full of what you most need and want.

 To seek to do no harm, is the right way to row your boat gently down the stream.

SECOND STANZA: When we do that, we discover: “Exuberant is existence.” (Just think about that line for a few minutes…or a few years.) I love the thought of seeking to live and love so fully in the present that “the moment cracks open [and] ecstasy leaps out.” As Blake put it: “To kiss the joy as it flies and live in eternity’s sunrise.”

THIRD STANZA: But it’s hard to live in the present when we torture ourselves on the rack of the past and future. Is that at the root of so much of our restlessness?

FOURTH STANZA: Rumi’s solution: Be kind to yourself and turn loose of anything that keeps you from joining the dance of exuberance, the dance of joy. Each day, each moment (whatever the day or moment brings), open your arms to your dancing partner, Life itself. This is one dance you don’t want to miss!

Light Is The Cure



Today’s quotation is a little different; it’s from a poem by St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226).

What is there to understand of each other; if a wand turned the sun into a moon would not the moon mourn the ecstatic effulgence it once was. We are in mourning for the experience of our essence we knew and now miss.

Light is the cure, all else is a placebo.

Yes, I will console any creature before me that is not laughing or full of passion for their art or life; for laughing and passion–beauty and joy—is our heart’s truth, all else is labor and foreign to the soul.

A few things strike me.

The first paragraph, I think, speaks of the mystery of being a person. “What is there to understand of each other”—a great question. Do I seek to understand the people in my life, or do I pretty much think I have them figured out, categorized, taken for granted?

Maybe the beginning of understanding each other better is to realize the way we are all wounded: we all sense something missing, we are all suns who have been turned into moons. (When I look at the joy of small children, that seems true!) But what do we do about that?

Francis understood that such “wounds” cannot be healed superficially. No band-aids! The cure for what’s missing, he says, is nothing less than light. The cure is in the direction of truth, honesty, genuineness, laughter, passion, freedom, beauty, joy, aliveness.

In other words, the cure is NOT about figuring out what is wrong with me and “fixing” my problems, because I’ll never get there. Instead, the cure is a light and an honesty and a joy we embrace now, as we are, warts and all.

To move toward light, I must lighten up. I must celebrate.

Now it’s true, the darkness around us is deep. All the more reason to swallow the light and let it shine through our eyes and our laughter and our tears and our touch…so that it might even console some others.

That is our heart’s truth.


A Fountain, Not A Cistern



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


Here’s an image for your self.

But first, the question: what is a human being?

Now the image: a fountain of life.

Academic definitions of a human being are not inspiring, but rich metaphors live in our memories and grace our lives.

To imagine your self as a fountain of life is one such rich metaphor. A fountain sparkles. Overflows. Is joyous.

William Blake said, “The cistern contains. The fountain overflows.

Life is love, encouragement, compliments, creativity, newness…you can add more words that come to your mind.

Each of us is a fountain that dispenses these things, freely, as we move through our day. These things sweeten our view of ourselves, and they bring smiles and feelings of worth to others.

I guess we could dispense anger and suspicion and fear and nastiness, but we wouldn’t want to do that, would we?

So today, let the refreshing water of the fountain of your life bubble up and overflow. That’s what you’re made for because you are a human being.

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