It has been a very full but good week. Fall colors are beginning to peak and with the full moon last night, it has been Nature at her best here at this old house.

Two weeks ago, we began looking at the Blue Zone, those characteristics of people around the world who live healthy lives until they are 100 and beyond.  The first week’s task was to find ways to move more in natural ways throughout our days: taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking when possible instead of e-mailing or riding your bike instead of driving. This past week, we focused on hara hachi bu, the idea of eating 20% less at each meal. I found that to be a useful benchmark; when I was 80% full, I stopped. I did struggle a few times with being hungry a few hours later but all in all, I felt like I was more mindful of my food intake and my body is beginning to adjust to not being fed until stuffed at every meal.

This week, we will examine what is called “the plant slant.” As Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones, says, “Another common denominator of centenarians in the world’s five Blue Zones is that they’re all cut off from food culture influences so they’ve never really had the chance to eat processed foods or salty snacks. And they rarely eat meat, either because they’ve made choice to avoid it or because they don’t have access to it.” These centenarians eat a diet based on beans, whole grains and vegetables, often grown in their own gardens. Image result for free photo of vegetables

Personally, my body does better eating some meat. Some of us with blood sugar or other issues may not be able to thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The point is not to judge someone else but be in touch with what your body responds best to.

That said, the recommended portion size of meat at a meal is no larger than a deck of cards. Also, most Americans do not eat enough vegetables each day; some go days without eating a vegetable at all. The recommendation is five servings of fruits and vegetables daily with vegetables outweighing fruits. We must shift our thinking, whether we eat meat or not, that vegetables are the basis of a healthy diet.

The challenge for this week, in addition to moving more and eating until you are 80% full, is to find ways to include more vegetables in your diet. Pick a vegetable you like and do an Internet search for recipes that include it. There are a number of great cookbooks available devoted to eating vegetables that are in season where you live. Consider getting one and using it to help you connect with the produce of the earth in its various seasons.

By eating seasonally (and locally, as much as possible), you will be getting the freshest, healthiest, tastiest produce possible. You will also get a good variety as some go out of season and others come into their prime. Shop at your local farmers’ market as they will be selling what is in season for your locale. Make it a treasure hunt to find a new vegetable to try this week. Again, the Internet is your friend if you don’t know what to do with it when you get it home!

Mainly, be mindful of what you are eating. If you need an afternoon snack, could you have an apple instead of a candy bar? Can you have a veggie burger one night instead of a meat burger of some kind? Can you ask for extra veggies on your sandwich at lunch? Do what you can, not what you can’t.  Your body will thank you if you do.

I look forward to hearing how your lifestyle changes are going each week!


A beautiful fall day here at this old house! Mornings are cold; days are warm. Leaves are just beginning to turn colors. A shift is seasons is definitely in the air!

I hope you all enjoyed last week’s goal from the Blue Zone challenge we are doing. Last week, we sought to move more throughout our days. One way I tackled this was to work “inefficiently.” For example, I would purposely make multiple trips up-and-down the stairs rather than saving items and taking them all in one load. How did you do?

This week, we will tackle “hara hachi bu,” which roughly translates as “stop eating when you are 80% full.” To be successful with this, we will have to slow down how fast we eat each meal as it takes a normal brain about 20 minutes to determine how much food has been taken. When we eat too quickly and/or multi-task while eating, we are in danger of overeating because we don’t really know how much we have taken. How many times have any of us gotten up from a meal and realized after a few minutes that we had really eaten to the point of being “stuffed”?  Our brain was finally catching up with the signals the stomach was sending it. We need to turn off the electronics and eat mindfully, intentionally, savoring each bite so that we know when to quit. And we need to not “clean our plates” or finish off that “last little bit.” Often times, those are the bites that put us over the 80% and even 100% full line. When we cut out even 10% of the calories we would have normally eaten at a meal, we will lose weight automatically! Image result for free photos slow food movement

One way to not feel deprived is to use a smaller plate or bowl. When we fill up a smaller plate,  our minds register a full plate but it will be with less food. Then, if we chew each bite 30 times, as recommended, focus on our meal companions, and take time to enjoy the food, we will automatically and painlessly be reducing our caloric intake with each meal. We will walk away with less food but a deeper satisfaction in what we have eaten.

Make a game out of how many bites you can get out of something. Instead of big mouthfuls, see how many bites you can get out of the food on your plate. Set a timer for 20 minutes; see if you can make your meal last that long. Of course, this won’t work if you are eating in the car or at your desk. In those cases, order one less item at the drive-through or put half of your lunch out, eat it and then wait 15 minutes before seeing how much of the rest you really want.

Truly stopping and praying before eating will also help with this idea.

This will expose how much eating we do out of boredom or to suppress difficult emotions. That 20% fewer calories may open up some unpleasant feelings or memories. Try to find ways to process those that don’t involve stuffing them down with food. A good friend or spiritual director can be useful here.

So, here is to a week of mindful, grateful eating. As always, I look forward to your thoughts.


Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone! I hope that you have moments of fun and rest during it. Be sure to stop and give thanks to God for good work at some point. Work is a gift from God, though many don’t view it that way. We were created to “tend the Garden” and we have all been trying to get back to that original vocational call ever since.

Work and vocation are not the same thing. Work is what you do to pay the bills; vocation is the reason God created you and involves your gifts and talents. Some of us are blessed to have the thing we love to do bring in sustainable income. Others of us must find a way to practice our vocation while working a job to sustain body and soul. Fortunately, in Christ, our job status does not define us. Thus, all honest work is good work, regardless of how society places that job in its “success hierarchy.” As we focus on work this Labor Day, let us praise God for all things and remember that we are of infinite value no matter what we do for a paycheck.

One of the things I have discovered and written about before is the idea of doing “New Year’s resolutions” more frequently than just January 1st. I have been having good success with a “resolution of the month.” Trying to plan for a whole year was useful if it was a broad principle and not a specific action but I do much better assessing at the beginning of each month where I am at and what I need to focus on now.  For example, maybe I need to focus on self-discipline with food or spending for a month. For another month, I may discern that I need to focus on being present. I thought some of you would like to join me in this idea.

I saw an article called “9 Secrets to Long Life,” a discussion of research on people who live in “the blue zones,” as defined by Dan Buettner’s 2012 book “The Blue Zones.” In the book, Mr. Buettner showcases five locations in the world with the highest percentage of people living well into their 100s. He identified nine lifestyle principles that were common elements of the lifestyle and diet habits as well as the overall outlook of each centenarian in each location he visited. Lisa Truesdale in the August 2016 Delicious Living magazine distilled each point of the book, which I will quote each week for us to focus on.

Want to join me?

The first principle is “Move Naturally: Be active without having to think about it.” This principle is about moving every chance you get. In addition to regular, intentional exercise, it means taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting up to adjust the volume instead of relying on the remote, walking to a colleague’s office instead of sending an e-mail, parking your car in the farthest spot at the mall, walking the golf course instead of riding in a golf cart, and the like. It means being intentional about moving your body in your everyday life in every way you can, being aware of times when you can “choose to move” vs. ride in a conveyance. The centenarians sighted lived in a hilly location and walked those hills daily going about their business. What might your equivalent be?Image result for free photos walking to work

Use the comment section to report your progress. We can be our own support and accountability community here online, encouraging each to do what they can and not worry about what they can’t do.

I look forward to hearing how it goes!


Slow church. At breakfast this morning here at this old house, we were talking about spiritual formation through literature and the stages of creativity: formation, passion, expression. As part of that discussion, one person talked about “slow church.” Like the slow food movement that seeks to return us to the enjoyment of real food locally shared mindfully, so the idea of slow church is less hoopla and numbers driven and more communal “breathing together.”

This past week, I read somewhere (Facebook?) that in England, there is a rise in attendance at traditional choral evensong services. Christian or not, people are hungering for silence in a beautiful space, surrounded by good music sung by a trained choir and the ancient words of the Christian Vesper service. A capella singing. A slower pace. Not seeker sensitive but, like the slow food movement, presenting the Scriptures in spoken and sung word, letting people get what they get and leaving the rest to mystery.

“Evensong … is a very tiny fragment of something else:  it is a fragment of the worship which is offered to God by Christian people every hour in every part of the world. When you come to Evensong here it is as if you were dropping in on a conversation already in progress — a conversation between God and people which began long before you were born and will go on long after you are dead.”

That is so antithetical to the mega-church movement, to the contemporary Christian praise band, to so many of the church leadership conferences on “growing your church.” It is simply putting the Gospel out there in a beautiful but more subdued way. Despite the lack of glitz and glam, people’s dry souls are watered.

A vision of church was then shared as part of the morning’s discussion: the Church is like an oasis in the desert. You can build a 5-star hotel at the oasis, you can have a taco stand, the palm trees are nice but not necessary. The only thing that makes the oasis thrive is the life-giving water it offers. Period. Without that water, no oasis.

May you find a cup this week to quench your soul’s thirst and may you find a place that allows you to drink from that cup slowly and deeply.


What does it mean to be spiritually mature? Much of what I have been reading lately includes  in that definition the ability to take all the parts of ourselves, the good, the bad, the ugly, the young and ignorant, the old and foolish, and embrace them as part of the whole of who we are now. People who are able to recognize that everything in their life makes up who they are today, even if some of those parts are not what they want to be dominate in their lives now, are more integrated and therefore at peace with themselves. More spiritually and emotionally mature.

It reminds me of a Russian nesting doll, which we happen to have here at this old house. Ours was a gift on e Christmas. It is a traditional design like the one pictured first here, except ours decreases in size to a doll that is a little bigger than a piece of rice!

They are called “Matryoshka” in Russian. According to Wikipedia, “the name Matryoshka comes from the Russian female name Matriona. In old Russia among peasants the name Matriona or Matriosha was a very popular female name. Scholars says this name has a Latin root “mater” and means “Mother.” This name was associated with the image of of a mother of a big peasant family who was very healthy and had a portly figure. Subsequently, it became a symbolic name and was used specially to image brightly painted wooden figurines made in a such way that they could taken apart to reveal smaller dolls fitting inside one another.”

In the traditional form, these dolls are identical to each other as they get smaller and smaller, fitting neatly inside the larger one before it. To me it is a perfect image of this idea of embracing all the ages and stages of ourselves and welcoming them into a cohesive whole that reflects the tapestry of our lives. It is a form of making peace with the rough edges of our souls and memories.



Some of the more modern Matryoshka dolls are made around a theme instead of an identical replica in different sizes. For example, you may have one about a fairy tale and each of the dolls is a character from that fairy tale.

At times, we may view the various stages of our lives as separate characters that just happen to be in the same play. Those times of our lives when we were less than God created us to be may feel like they don’t belong to us. We may be embarrassed or saddened by those phases of our lives and want to split them off, box them up and stuff them in a bottom drawer that never gets opened. But, when we embrace those hard parts, lovingly invite them into their place in the totality of our life’s story, we will be more whole mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

An exercise towards spiritual maturity may be to acquire a traditional nesting doll. Then, in a quiet, uninterrupted space, unpack the doll, journaling about each phase of your life, beginning with the present and working your way back to the smallest doll and the earliest memories you have. After you have spent the time reflecting on your life, seeking forgiveness where necessary, forgiving where possible, loving and embracing as much as you can, put the doll back together with a prayer that you might “be fit together neatly and in a whole way.”

It is possible to buy blank Matryoshka dolls so you could, if you wanted, personalize each doll to reflect in some way each phase of your life. Another option is to print out a picture of a doll unpacked, such as the one above, and use the sizes in the picture during your reflection time. However you choose to engage in the exercise, let the Holy Spirit help you unpack and repack your life into a seamless whole. May all that is unforgiven in you be released. May your fears yield their deepest tranquilities. May all that is unlived in you blossom into a future graced with love. John O’Donohue




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