Tag Archives: Lent

Chocolate Chip Spirituality

DSC00924It is a good thing that I did not give up cookies for Lent!

Last week was Reading Week at Northwestern University, and the Student Advisory Board at the Sheil Catholic Center enthusiastically hosts “study days”, where we dole out an extra dose of Sheil hospitality.  Our volunteers conjure up inordinate amounts of snack food while the staff pours out endless amounts of encouragement onto hard studying students.

As a special treat, I decided to mix up a batch of the perfect chocolate cookies! Not long after setting out this tray of sweet treats, I ran into Kelsey – who quickly snagged a cookie and later asked if I had a secret recipe! 

There is no secret, just a couple of tricks that I learned in the kitchen.  Kelsey and I swapped our favorite baking techniques, including this one straight from the cookie recipe, which requires that you remove the cookies from the oven while they’re still a bit under-done and let them sit on the hot cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.  The secret to soft chewy cookies is to not over bake them!  Remember, cookies continue to bake, even after removing them from the oven. 

I must admit, the first batch was a bit crispy for my own taste, but no one else seemed to notice.  Three dozen cookies were devoured within a matter of hours!  I decided to make a second batch the next night, and put the “cookies continue to bake” theory to the test. 

With every batch, I winced at taking them out too soon, yet resisted the urge to keep them in the oven for just one more minute.  After precisely 12 minutes, I removed them from the oven while they were puffy, domed, beginning to brown, and still looking slightly under cooked.  Then I diligently set the timer for another 5 minutes, letting the cookies continue to bake outside the oven.  

As I waited for dough to settle, I wondered (metaphorically of course), “How often are we tempted to keep the cookies in the oven just a little bit longer?” 

How often are we so elated after a spiritual experience that we proclaim with excitement, “I wish we could just stay here!”  For some it is an enriching retreat weekend or a much needed vacation.  I hear students say this after a life-changing service immersion trip or an unforgettable study abroad experience.  It might be an encounter with an unbelievably beautiful sunset or the energizing runner’s high at the end of a long run. 

Like Peter, James, and John who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, we long to remain on the mountain top.  We wish for the intensity of the moment to last forever.  Yet despite the joy they bring or the insights we gain, we know that these dramatic experiences cannot be sustained for long.  What appears to the untrained eye to be a bit “not long enough” is in fact the perfect amount of time.  Those moments continue to bake to completion, and we appreciate their rich gooey goodness even more once they’re incorporated into our everyday lives.

Every year I hear this from our students who return from our international service immersion trips.  They spend weeks and months making sense of their time spent with the poor of Nicaragua or Haiti.  It was Kelsey herself who offered this reflection just days after our cookie conversation!  They wonder about the ways their lives have been changed.  They see the impact it has on their world view.  It makes a difference in the ways they see themselves, and their understanding of God.  Their priorities shift, it may impact how they make decisions about life after college, and their lives continue to be transformed.

The same could be said about an intense retreat experience.  I continue to watch the graces unfold and reach back to some of the more profound moments in prayer from some of my more memorable retreats. 

Today, it strikes me that we could also use the cookie analogy with this great season of Lent.  40 days is certainly enough time to break old habits and start new patterns of living.  In other ways, though, there is much that feels “slightly underdone”. 

Perhaps that is something to pay attention to as we enter into Holy Week.  What work has God begun throughout this Lenten season, and what still needs to be brought to completion as we bask in the glow of Easter?

Remember, the cookies will continue to bake even after you take them out of the oven!

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Reflections on Recording the Audio Book

A mysterious package arrived this week from Franciscan Media (formerly St. Anthony Messenger Press).  I’m always happy to receive a package in the mail, but until I tore it open, I had no idea what might be inside.  Much to my delight, the box contained two complimentary copies of the audiobook of Party of One!  We finished the recording way back in September, and I had completely forgotten that these were on their way.

The first question I often receive about the audio book is, “whose voice is on the recording?”   Well, it is me.  Answering that question again this week brought to mind this unfinished blog entry that’s been sitting on my desktop for nearly six months.

Prior to sitting down in the recording studio, I skimmed through the book – mostly to take note of a typo or two that were missed in the last round of edits.  I did not, however, read through the entire manuscript page-by-page.  Several hours into reading the book aloud, I wish I’d been more prepared!

Upon completion of the manuscript, I felt more confident and comfortable with the single life than I’d ever been before.  Sitting there alone in a soundproof booth, just me and a microphone, with the sound engineers three doors down the hall – I felt a surge of emotions that I had not anticipated.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being single!  Most days I am content and completely happy in my relationships, my work, and my personal life.  This is truly the place where God has called me to be.  And yet, as I’m sure is true with any vocation, there is that occasional nagging “if only” voice.  If only I were in a relationship.  If only I had made different choices along the way. If only things could be different.  Is this really where I’m supposed to be?

Reading the book cover to cover allowed me to reflect on the current state of my single life, and I was surprised at how much I need to hear my own advice.


I was amazed at how often I talk about “living in the moment.”  Staying present in the moment is not always easy.  Invariably, we sometimes give in to worry or comparing ourselves to others or a need for control.  Gratitude is a helpful spiritual tool for staying present to what’s in front of us.

Ultimately, gratitude shows me where love is present in my life: where intimacy resides in my relationships, where laughter overflows in my friendships, and how the generosity of friends and strangers alike provides for what otherwise seems to be missing.


I tell a story in Party of One about a pottery studio in southern Utah that I visited many years ago.  I also spent a significant part of the summer on the East coast on retreat and visiting friends.  All of this reminded me of how much I love to travel, and how desperately this sense of adventure has been missing from my life!

God, who first breathed life into us at the beginning of time, is the ultimate Artist.  It is in God’s very nature to be generative. As children of the Artist, we all have inherent creative instincts. … As single people, it is important that we find an outlet for being generative in order to fulfill that hope and desire that our activities and relationships become life-giving for others.

Creativity and new life come in many different shapes and forms.  I made a New Year’s resolution to take advantage of opportunities to “try something new”.  So far this year I have eaten octopus at a local Korean BBQ, attended a bris at the invitation of a Jewish colleague, and taken my first (and probably last) music lesson on the french horn. (One of my students needed a guinea pig for his music pedagogy class, and I enthusiastically volunteered!)


Finally, I’ve been reconfiguring my work-life balance, and the chapter on hope rang true on many levels.  As I’m now finishing this blog entry at the half-way point of Lent, it also seems fitting to mention that hope is at the heart of the Pascal Mystery.  As we allow pieces of our past to die, we trust that new life is on the horizon.  My Lenten journey has been all about “breaking up” with bad habits and allowing new opportunities to unfold.  That is how transformation happens.

Hope means letting go of the past, holding onto what is good, and re-imagining the future. What remains when all else is stripped away? What in my life, what of my purpose, my identity, my mission, and my values in life still remain?  Maybe there is nothing obvious at first glance. But perhaps there is a tiny seed of hope buried deep in the darkness.

Party of One: Living Single with Faith Purpose and Passion – Available in paperback, Kindle edition, and now in audio format!

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Caffeine Free for 40 Days

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