Posts in spirituality
Christmas is Over: Now What?

I was driving around our neighborhood a few days before Christmas.  The kids and I were admiring the many different ways that folks decorated their houses: lights, blow-up cartoon figures on the front lawn, and many of (apparently this year's hot product) the new-fangled spotlights that put faux holly leaves on your house.  Weird and cool at the same time.

Then, it hit us- all of it would go away in the days after Christmas.  Sadly, things don't last forever.  The decorations would come down.  The songs on the radio would end.  The Salvation Army bell would stop ringing at the grocery store.

Christmas is like that.  You get pumped up and the anticipation almost kills you.  The day happens and everything is great.  And then you wake up the next day and everything is so "regular" and ordinary and normal.  The party is over.  It's easy to feel blue as a result.

So I'm thinking that you have two options when it comes to Christmas:

1. You can celebrate the day over and over again.  This would be difficult.  You can't afford to buy gifts for every day of the year.  The wrapping paper bill alone would put you over the edge.  Imagine a ham or turkey day after day!  You get the point- this option isn't tenable.



2. You can tap into an ancient practice of what is called the "octave" of Christmas.  Let's look at this option as much more realistic and actually far more satisfying than if you were to celebrate December 25 over and over again.

An octave is something that is celebrated for eight days.  In the Christian tradition, the octave comes after Christmas and people of faith, theoretically at least, celebrate Christmas for eight days.  I admit that I've known very little about this for almost my entire life.  And then I did some digging for research.

From what we know, octaves began somewhere in the 4th century. Circumcisions were typically performed on the 8th day after birth. Baptisms have been associated with octagonal "fonts" or spaces in which the water is placed with the baby's head is dipped in water.

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There's something special about eights apparently...

Knowing the history, how could you celebrate Christmas for eight consecutive days?  Again, this is not about gift-giving for eight days.  

Octave celebration is something that is much more spiritual than commercial.  It can also boost your productivity because you're acting intentionally rather than reactively.  Here are some easy ways that you can celebrate Christmas for eight consecutive days:

1. Take time off from work.  Resist the urge to get back into the fray of work.
2. Do not do any gift returns for a week.  Avoid the crowds.  It's ok to wait.
3. Watch a Christmas movie after Christmas.  If nothing is on tv, rent something.
4. Begin a gratitude journal.  Online, in a paper notebook, whatever.
5. Sleep in.
6. Do something special with friends.  Go out to eat.  See a movie.  Be with those you love.
7. Go somewhere memorable.  Into the city.  Into the country.  Somewhere you can make a memory.
8. Read.  Anything for pleasure.
9. Get outside in nature.  Think of that place that you absolutely love and go there.
10. Do not take down your Christmas decorations.  Ignore everyone else in your neighborhood.  Be countercultural by keeping your decorations up.

For bonus points, you can also make an investment in your spiritual life in the days after Christmas.  Many churches have extra services and they would love to see you.  If there is a very holy person that you've been wanting to talk with, why not give him/her a call just to talk?  If you can't do that, you could probably send an email.

So that's it!  You don't need to be glum in the days after Christmas.  Sure, the holiday is over but that doesn't mean that your celebration needs to end.  By participating in an octave-approach to Christmas, you'll become more contemplative, happier and less stressed.  

Five Ways to Become a More Detail-Oriented Person

This past weekend my daughters and I headed to one of our favorite spots, The Great Swamp, located here in northern New Jersey.  We filled out a sheet of paper for the little one, trying our best to find spider webs, mushrooms and frogs.  It was an hour of unhurried bliss, completely attentive to every little detail of the Swamp.

Details are like that- they are really important and often overlooked.  If this blog post is filled with typos and errors, you probably wouldn't return for a second visit.  Worse yet, you might feel as if the effort going into the blog doesn't meet your standards.

We make these conclusions with people as well.  As it turns out, there are at least three things that interviewers notice in job candidates.  We meet someone and immediately form a judgement based on such small details as their clothing or tone of voice.  I once interviewed a man who was late, had dirt under his fingernails and hadn’t flossed in some time.  Needless to say, he wasn’t hired.  

I like this piece about the kinds of things that detail-oriented people notice, including:

  1. What people wear for clothing: i.e. a red tie implies strength.
  2. Body language: A strong handshake indicates confidence.
  3. Improper grammar: You want to build your vocabulary via more frequent reading.
  4. The big picture: Detailed people understand context and perspective.
  5. Patterns: i.e. “I have a pattern of getting along with my bosses”, etc.
  6. Things out of place: Detailed people recognize when a room is off-kilter or when a meeting is missing a key person.
  7. How much is left: Whether it’s time or money, detailed people have a good sense of “enough”.

These are the indicators of people who are detail-oriented but how do you develop that muscle?  I suggest five ways:

  1. Get in touch with your faith.  Your relationship with God, cultivated over time, will enable you to be more heartfelt, more of a listener and more appreciative of your surroundings.  My faith in Christ (and I am happily Catholic) is not only the source of all I do but the engine behind noticing the many wonderful details around me.  The more often you can pray, the better.
  2. Get outside.  Nature is the best classroom for noticing details.  The more time you can spend outdoors, the better.
  3. Read more.  Authors are masters of inserting small details into otherwise complex storylines.  The more you can read, the better.
  4. Create a home with less noise.  Cary and I have four kids and lots of glowing devices, from iPhones to tablets.  Still, our kids know that certain times are meant to be quiet like during dinner or early in the morning.  The less noise, the better.
  5. Create a workspace with fewer interruptions.  I had the opportunity to interview Tim Metz whose company is dedicated to fewer interruptions at work.  The less interruptions, the better.

It’s worthwhile to try to be more intentional about who and what is around you.  Pay attention to them in every way.  In your daily journal writing, take note of your own personal details like how you are feeling, what makes you happy and what you're anxious about.  

Over time, simply by paying more attention, you'll start to notice even the smallest of details.  For whatever strange reason, I have an uncanny ability of noticing when someone gets a haircut.  I've learned how to compliment people on their haircut and they love it.  They love being noticed, just like you and me.

Building Simple Habits that Foster Spiritual Growth

In my 2014 Reader Survey, one bit of feedback that I received from many readers dealt with the issue of spiritual growth.  They told me that the love the productivity topics but also appreciate an occasional reflection on the spiritual life.

In this post, I thought I would share the planks that are part of my daily walk with God.  Keep in mind that these might not apply for all readers.  They've just been helpful to me and if that is an encouragement to you, great!

Daily Routines:

  1. Morning quiet time.  This includes reading the daily Mass readings, doing some journaling in Day One and some quiet time.  I need to remind myself to occasionally shut up and just let God speak into my heart.  I love to stare out the window and appreciate nature.  This step typically happens in my home office or at the kitchen table.  I might also work through a full-length book.  (for more on that topic, read this)
  2. Mid-day break.  There's nothing better than 15-20 minutes alone in the middle of the day.  I like to take my lunch and head over to a local park near where I work.  Every time, without fail, I return to work with more energy and ready to tackle phone calls or whatever. 
  3. Evening reading.  Of the three daily routines, this is the one that I struggle with most.  I'm trying to read through a book in the Bible and enjoy The Message translation for this part of the day.

Weekly Routines:

Our family goes to church on Sunday or Saturday night.  The time varies depending on our schedule.  We have two churches that are close by and are a part of our worshiping habit.

Monthly Routines:

  • Missionary Cenacle Apostolate: Cary and I have found the Missionary Cenacle Apostolate to be an excellent compliment to weekly worship.  We meet with our local group once a month for support and to reflect on the writings of Fr. Thomas Judge, who founded the MCA.  
  • Spiritual direction: of all of the routines mentioned in this list, the one that has had the single greatest impact on my life is this one.  I visit with a priest who is trained as a spiritual director.  He knows me better than anyone and can tell when it's time to encourage me or kick my butt (not literally).  I can't overstate how powerful this has been in my walk with Christ.

Quarterly Routines:

  • Quarterly, personal offsite meeting: my assistant schedules a day each quarter when I'm off campus and can do some higher level work.  This is really work specific but I find it to be a spiritual practice as well. 

Annual Routines:

  • Annual retreat: you've got to find out what works for you in this category.  I like to get away by myself and either attend a conference or head off to a quiet place.  This year I attended Catalyst Atlanta and it was truly amazing.  

Making a list like this is part humbling and hopefully, part helpful.  I am (and you can ask my family on this!) a work in progress and the farthest thing from perfect.  The routines I've provided have worked for me and hopefully will work for you.  Spiritual growth is about making progress, plain and simple.  It's about reminding yourself that God is God and you are not.  It's about a personal relationship with God that is active and moves you to love others more fully.  

Attention to one's spiritual life is perhaps the most important aspect of one's day, week or month.  

Five Ways to Prepare for Easter

Lent is officially over, the grocery store is full of candy (and the fake grass stuff that ends up all over your living room floor) and Easter is almost here. How do you prepare for it?

You could do nothing and just enjoy the day- that's certainly an option.

You could overprepare to the point of being stressed by the existence of Easter- that's another option.

Or, maybe you could thoughtfully point yourself in a direction that allows for maximum reflection on what Christians believe is the most important and solemn holiday of the year. I'm sure you aren't surprised that I'm going to recommend this final mode of prep so here goes:

1. Review your local church's services. Most churches offer some kind of "triduum" services- Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Triduum is Latin for "three days" and implies a set of services that flow from one to the other. I'm Catholic so our triduum features the following:

Holy Thursday: Mass that includes a washing of the feet of 12 parishioners. I always look forward to seeing whose feet will be washed each year. The altar is then stripped, symbolizing that Good Friday is right around the corner. Our family then visits several local churches to pray, a tradition that inner city Catholics have carried on for centuries. I guess it started in inner cities because most have a ton of churches to visit by walking.

Good Friday: Either the stations of the cross or a church service whereby a cross is venerated. Churches do this in their own way- some provide one huge cross for people to kiss or kneel in front of while others coordinate people into lines so that many different crosses can be venerated. This service is very solemn.

Easter Vigil (Saturday Night) / Easter Sunday: I love the Easter vigil services. In the Catholic tradition they take several hours and are rich in symbolism. You get it all- candles, fire, water, oil, song, etc. New Christians are baptized and welcomed into the church, something my wife Cary did some 17 years ago. It's pretty awesome and the church is redecorated to symbolize Easter joy.

2. Get away. Believe it or not, sometimes it's better to be anonymous for a big religious holiday. My friend J.B. Wood likes to visit a new church so that it's like a pilgrimage or sorts. Being in a new worship space can give you a fresh set of eyes.

3. Rest. You may be going into Easter with a sense of exhaustion so be sure to take naps, enjoy quiet mornings and take it easy.

4. Give yourself permission to eat simply. My friend Fran is planning on having a bean casserole with frozen vegetables and potatoes from a box. It's easy and I'm sure will taste delicious. Don't feel like you have to go crazy in order to enjoy Easter- find what works for you.

5. Engage with the Scripture story of the Resurrection. When was the last time you sat quietly and read one of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection? Read it slowly, maybe two times if necessary.

These are five things that work for me.

How will you prepare for Easter?

Photo courtesy of FT

Podcast 25: 6 Ways to Bring Gratitude Into Your Life

In this Thanksgiving edition of The Daily Saint podcast, we discuss 6 ways to bring gratitude into your life.  Each of us knows what it feels like to be grateful but how do you make it a regular practice?  

Shownotes include:

 Photo courtesy of SG

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