Artwork by Peter Aschwanden, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (1969, 2001), p. 238.

Welcome to my new blog, Ordinary Time. Since my blogs tend to multiply and divide like amoebas, I’d better explain what’s going on with this one. Think of it as a combination journal and spiritual shop manual. The new blog continues a spiritual journal I started keeping in 2018, which was also called Ordinary Time but had a different URL, or web address. I’ll explain how that came about in a minute, since it’s been a source of confusion. But first I’d better list — and link — all three active blogs I maintain. They are:

Ordinary Time (the URL is ordinaryzenlutheran.com). What you’re reading now is the continuation of my spiritual journal, perhaps most accurately described as the musings of a spiritual mutt who belongs to a Lutheran church but who has amoeba-like ecumenical tendencies and tries to experience an occasional Zen moment from time to time. It’s called “ordinary” time since it follows the lectionary, or readings assigned to different seasons of the church year — including the season called “Ordinary Time” — at least when my attention doesn’t wander elsewhere.

Hemlandssånger (the URL is https://hemlandssanger.wordpress.com/). It’s a Swedish word that means “songs of the homeland” in English — the little circle over the “a” is pronounced like aw and it doesn’t show up in the URL since the Swedish letter “å” isn’t in the English alphabet. It started as a spiritual journal and a suitable home for my research notes on Swedish hymnody; now it’s primarily a research blog, much of it (at present) on Swedish-American immigrant church history. Up till now (July 2019) it also carried my spiritual posts.

Hogfiddle (now at hogfiddle.wordpress.com and formerly, from 2006 through 2016, at hogfiddle.blogspot.com). As I described it in the original header, it’s “about dulcimers, history, hymnody and all kinds of music.” Before I retired, I used it in my cultural studies classes at Benedictine University Springfield; now it’s a more-or-less straight music blog, largely geared to a slow jam and tune learning circle I take part in. It also has my research notes on the mountain dulcimer and a related Swedish and Norwegian box zither called a psalmodikon.

I’ve had other blogs, and you may Google into them at odd times (although I’m not sure why anybody would want to). They were The Mackerel Wrapper, for my mass comm. students at Benedictine, and something I called my teaching b/log. I started keeping it when I chaired the student learning outcomes assessment committee (and the less said about that debacle, the better)! Both are on hiatus now, and I suspect the hiatus will be permanent.

(A wonky explanation of how the name “Ordinary Time” migrated to the new blog — you can safely skip over it without fear of missing anything important, but it may clear up some confusion: When I started it in April 2018, I wanted to call it “Ordinary Time,” after the season of the church year that follows Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter when nothing else is going on but the Holy Spirit is presumably at work. (We call this season Pentecost in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.) But that URL was taken, and I named it Hemlandssånger instead — after a 19th-century Swedish-American songbook I’ve worked with — and, sure enough, that URL got accepted right away. So I had a blog with one name in the header and another in the URL. Now I’m separating them, as outlined above.)

Enough already about the other blogs. This one, Ordinary Time, is my spiritual formation journal. Here’s how it came about.

A little more than a year ago, I started keeping a spiritual journal. As I said at the time, I started thinking about life’s issues “in the emergency room on a Saturday night, with cops waiting in the hallway outside the treatment bay next door to mine.” (The cops weren’t waiting for me, by the way. I was in trouble, but not the kind that involves the police.) When I got out of the hospital, I lined up a spiritual director and — away we went!

You’ll notice in the header I call it a “Zen Lutheran lectionary.” Reckon I should explain what that means, too. We’ve already mentioned what a lectionary is — an ecumenical cycle of liturgical readings that follows the church year — but “Zen” and “Lutheran” are two words you don’t ordinary hear in the same breath, and I kind of have my own take on both. So here’s what I mean by them:

— Zen. When I say “Zen,” I don’t mean the rigorous discipline of the Zen masters. I’m thinking more of the kind of everyday mindfulness I got from reading books like Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a 1970s-vintage shop manual by John Muir titled How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, which counseled, among other things, “Take your time! Just do the job once and well, you have an eternity! DON’T IMPROVISE!” And, “You must do this work [on your car] with love or you will fail. You don’t have to think but you must love.”

But when I was working the steps in a 12-step recovery group 25 years ago, I read a lot of the real Zen masters.

I came away from it all with sort of a pop psychology version of Zen that centers less on the intellectual discipline of it than being aware, or mindful, of the present moment. Psychology Today calls it mindfulness, “a state of active, open attention on the present. … It means living in the moment and awakening to our current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.”

In fact, I suspect technically it’s more Theravada than Zen since a Theravada Buddhist, Jack Kornfield who wrote After the Laundry, the Ecstasy, is the guy I keep coming back to. But whenever I talk about Buddhism, Robert Pirsig’s warning comes to mind, that Motorcycle Maintenance “should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

One last thought before I move on — I’m talking a lot about books here, and that isn’t the way you do Zen. It isn’t the way you do Christian spirituality, either.

But I’m kind of a bookish guy. That’s why I like the Peter Aschwanden drawing in the header so much — I can relate to that little guy with all the car parts flying around and his nose stuck in the shop manual. It’s also why I’ve signed on with a spiritual director, a wonderfully patient Dominican sister, to help me get my head out of the books.

Which leads me to the next word in the header.

Lutheran. See if you notice a pattern here — I’ve been going to a Lutheran church for 20 years now, and one of my hobbies is reading Lutheran theology. Again, reading, reading. It’s the closest thing I have to an outdoor sport these days. But I’m not exactly a typical Lutheran out of the “News from Lake Wobegon” radio sketches.

For one thing, I was one of those “nones” you read about for 40 years.

i grew up in the Episcopal Church down South, an Anglo-Catholic in a part of the country where everybody — and I mean everybody — is a little bit Southern Baptist by osmosis. I left the church at 18, and stayed out till I was nearly 60. When I was first working a 12-step recovery program about the time I turned 50, I read a lot of Zen, and I started going to church basically because I liked the music better there than at AA meetings. To round out the picture, I taught at a Catholic college for nearly 20 years, and as I get deeper into spiritual direction, I’m drawn to the Jesuit exercises like the examen and lectio divina — especially Fr. James Martin’s take on lectio, which, to my mind, combines elements of the two.

So I qualify as a spiritual mutt all right. Sometimes I feel more like a whole spiritual kennel, yapping at passing traffic.

But I think there’s a common thread here. I’m drawn to the Christian traditions that most emphasize the sacraments and a commitment to social justice. As as spiritual mutt, I’m also drawn to ecumenical initiatives — no surprise there — and I feel like ELCA is a pretty good fit, especially as ELCA Lutherans seek ecumenical partners and greater cultural diversity.

-- Pentecost, August 2019