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The Pocket Contemplative

Author: (Dave Schmelzer)

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A vibrant, story-filled look at contemporary spirituality that's fun, contemplative, practical and cultural.
46 Episodes
We all face disillusionment, but the contemplatives offer us the good news that we're then given a profound opportunity to be initiated into the mysteries that lead to freedom and growth--and maybe even enlightenment and eternal life. With plenty of stories, Dave Schmelzer will invite us into perspectives from, well, Jesus and also Father Richard Rohr and St. John of the Cross and Jack Kornfield. He'll detail a fascinating survey he conducted about why people get disillusioned with churches in particular and he'll look at what that might mean. And, most profoundly, he'll talk about how what can seem like such a dark night might actually prove to be, in John's understanding, "a night more lovely than the dawn."Mentioned on this podcastIsaiah 50:10-11; John 12:24; Mark 4:26-32Father Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation newsletterDave's newsletter (see Kornfield's book: A Path with Heart
A good deal of our misery comes from not feeling like our lives are turning out the way we'd planned. But Jesus--and mystics like Thomas Merton--strongly encourage us that we're on the wrong track when we look at our lives through that lens. Instead, they suggest an entirely different perspective on what we're up to that offers a new opportunity for enjoying our days, experiencing God, and finding the kind of meaning we'd been wanting. Mentioned on this podcast:John 15:5; Matthew 6:33Thomas Merton"Seasons of Love," from the musical RentA book which addresses similar questions: The Practicing Mind, by Thomas M. Sterner
We live amidst profound cultural and spiritual divisions but can feel adrift in terms of what to do about it apart from judging people across the divide from us. Historic spiritual wisdom does have some thoughts, some of which turn out to be quite practical. Dave Schmelzer walks us through a provocative case study with insights from Franciscans, Zen thinkers, and psychologists, along with his own experiences.Mentioned on this podcast:Not the Religious Type and Blue Ocean Faith, by Dave Schmelzer, and Further Along the Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck as books that discuss the stage theory we look at here. The Wisdom Pattern, by Richard RohrThe many books of Ken Wilber (here's one that addresses things on this podcast)Weekly online groups (and a Sunday service) around these things that you should totally check out. More info at
Sometimes fervent, youthful faith can't make the journey into our adulthood, maybe because of life's suffering. But some of us then feel consequential loss, because feeling close to God, in good times and bad, felt great. Looking at the life of Harriet Tubman and focusing on Jesus's advice in his so-called "Farewell Discourse," Dave Schmelzer suggests that a lifetime of continual spiritual growth by no means needs to lose the best parts of our most heartfelt experience of God.Mentioned on this episode:The 2019 Oscar-nominated movie HarrietJohn 14-17Brother Lawrence's book The Practice of the Presence of God
On Sex

On Sex


The recent Atlanta shootings offer many storylines, not least highlighting racism directed towards Asian Americans. But one compelling storyline looks at the often destructive consequences of how conservative churches have taught about sexuality. Dave Schmelzer takes a candid look at this while then exploring the powerfully helpful contemplative reply that comes from major teachers like Francis of Assisi and Therese of Lisieux. Mentioned on this podcast:"Atlanta Suspect’s Fixation on Sex Is Familiar Thorn for Evangelicals" by Ruth Graham in The New York Times, March 20, 2021Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:27-29; Matthew 5:37; Matthew 7:20; I Corinthians 4;3-4; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Proverbs 12:22Augustine of HippoTherese of LisieuxFrancis of Assisi
As we mature, we do whatever is required to make our lives work out. Still, the great spiritual traditions suggest that there remains a true you and me that will become forged over time, but will require attention and perhaps risk to experience. The more we discover and live this out, the more we find ourselves connected to the entire world. Join Dave Schmelzer for contemplative insights from India that interact with the deepest wisdom of great Christians like Thomas Merton and others. Dave closes with a related contemplative practice suggested by a famous neuroscientist. Mentioned on this episode:A book on related themes: The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling, by Stephen Cope  Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence--The Groundbreaking Meditation Practice, by Daniel J. Siegel
Inspired by the Oscar-nominated movie Sound of Metal, Dave Schmelzer looks at the latest research on how to find greater wellbeing. Starting, as Sound of Metal does, with contemplative practice, Dave looks at the research and advice behind practices like: writing rather than ruminating, spending discretionary money in a way that will lead to more happiness, learning how to savor life, and many more. But he gives particular focus to two practices: contemplatively learning to forgive and successfully nurturing interpersonal relationships. Mentioned on this podcast:Sound of Metal, a movie on Amazon PrimeThe Psychology of Happiness, an Audible Original by Jaime KurtzThe Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman with Nan Silver"36 Questions to Bring You Closer Together"
We're told that God is powerful, but as we age, most of us are flummoxed or frustrated with how to think about that, because clearly that power quite often does not bring about things that are important to us. Dave Schmelzer--inviting us into a perspective from a new, occasional Journey On offering--details how Jesus (followed by Gandhi, among others) helps us experience what our very encouraging, if unexpected power actually is. Mentioned on this to learn more about weekly, online Journey On groups and a new, occasional Sunday serviceSally's monologue from Barry, an HBO seriesScene from Ted Lasso, an Apple TV+ series"God of Many Worlds"--reflections from Dave's physicist friend, Brian Odom.
Justice questions are an explosive dividing line. Natasha Huang, a leader in Journey On and a hospital chaplain, and Cecil Tengatenga, a health researcher at Yale, join Dave Schmelzer to pass on how insights from a transformative class experience they shared together about contemplative spirituality and racial justice have shaped their lives and the lives of their classmates ever since.Mentioned on this podcast:Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman
Most of us, in the end, experience two fundamental emotions. When the wind of life feels at our back, we feel great. When it feels in our face, we feel anxious and stressed. Both the Bible and the great spiritual teachers tell us that the way to experience the good one of these is mystical and comes by pursuing the kind of spiritual practice that empowers God to bring us everything we need--all on God's own initiative. Join Dave Schmelzer as he explores deep teaching along these lines from Jesus and St. Paul and famous preachers and pop spirituality and, okay, the new streaming comedy, Ted Lasso. Mentioned on this podcast:Norman Vincent Peale and Robert SchullerFather Thomas KeatingIsaiah 64:4; Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:19-23The Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso
Does Prayer Work?

Does Prayer Work?


Persistent, heartfelt prayer has a long history of bringing good things into the world... but perhaps not in the direct way we'd hoped for. Dave Schmelzer looks at how many of his friends can no longer pray as they once did, because it doesn't "work." He talks about a provocative take on this from an unexpected contemplative point of view and about how many have found it unlocks a whole new world of good things from a praying life.Mentioned on this podcast:A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The experience of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we as humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore, you can see sunshine in this sheet of paper. And if you look more deeply, with the eyes of those who are awake, you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here, the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger’s father--everything is in this sheet of paper. The presence of this tiny sheet of paper proves the presence of the whole cosmos. The smallest particle contains the whole universe. (Quoted in Kornfield, A Path with Heart, p 202, 212)Ephesians 6:18; John 17: 20-21; Matthew 17:21; Philippians 4:4A, perhaps whimsical, scale of emotions:Joy/ Knowledge/ Empowerment/ Freedom/ Love/ AppreciationPassionEnthusiasm/ Eagerness/ HappinessPositive Expectations/ BeliefOptimismHopefulnessContentmentBoredomPessimismFrustration/ Irritation/Impatience“Overwhelment”DisappointmentDoubtWorryBlameDiscouragementAngerRevengeHatred/ RageJealousyInsecurity/ Guilt/ UnworthinessFear/ Grief/ Depression/ Despair/ Powerlessness
What the Mystics Know

What the Mystics Know


Modern mystics are quite user-friendly--but the early Christian saints encouraged us to sail into some deep waters. This week, Dave Schmelzer explores the kind of unity with God that early greats like Augustine and Athanasius encouraged us was the central goal of being alive--and was what offered the hope of immortality to come. Mentioned on this podcast:Netflix's The Haunting of Bly ManorMystics quoted from Journey to the Heart, edited by Kim Nataraja and from The Roots of Christian Mysticism, edited by Olivier ClementRichard Rohr's book What the Mystics Know. His book The Naked Now is also touched upon. John 14:20, John 17:21; Galatians 2:20; Genesis 28:16; Psalm 95
Constant change can feel uniquely hard. Do, say, beloved friends come and go? Or do we lose work or living situations that once were great? The mystics tell us that this is right at the core of reality--and that it's not all bad, particularly as we learn the key skill of living in the present moment as all that change swirls around us. Join Dave Schmelzer as he brings insight from the Old and New Testaments and great thinkers like Blaise Pascal and Thich Nhat Hanh (and, in a left field move, the actor Alan Arkin). So, yes, maybe everything is changing in your life... but maybe that's actually working on your behalf. Mentioned on this podcast:Alan Arkin's audiobook Out of My MindBlaise Pascal's PenséesThe book of Jeremiah2 Corinthians 6:2Thich Nhat Hanh's Essential Writings
Being lighthearted, while pleasant, can sound trivial. But it turns out to be a far bigger deal than we might think, in fact to be a central aspect of being loving and maybe even (if we believe a great Christian creed along with people like the Dalai Lama) of finding the meaning of life. Join Dave Schmelzer for a look at how spiritual masters (and happiness researchers) help us develop this crucial, delightful way of being. Media used in this podcast:Intro Music:  RyanhoodThe movie:  StripesThe end song: Lovely Day
It's a paradox. Faith overtly offers us the chance to hear and live out promises from God. And then great saints (and, frankly, our friends whom we most trust) seem to suffer even more than normal people. Living in that paradox is at the heart of great spirituality. Join Dave Schmelzer as he tells vivid stories and learns from people like Catherine of Genoa and Father Richard Rohr and the so-called "father of three faiths," Abraham.Mentioned on this podcast:New Journey On Basics "starter groups" on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. See for more informationCatherine of GenoaRichard Rohr's book The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Philippians 2:12-13
Contemplative spirituality might suggest becoming more "inner"--being aware of all that's happening inside your consciousness. But it actually is meant to go just the other way--towards being so present to the moment at hand that nothing gets past you, that you notice people and a world that you otherwise certainly would have missed. Great souls like David Foster Wallace have thought deeply about the opportunity that's here to find joy, even in stressful times, as we enter into a much bigger universe--by way of noticing other people--than we'd been aware of. Dave Schmelzer will tell some vivid stories along these lines.Mentioned on this podcast: A dynamic new Journey On website! journey-on.netDavid Foster Wallace's graduation speech: "This is Water"
How "should" we feel in the craziness of the world around us? The answer might lie in Blue Mind, a joyful, contemplative state that neuroscientists tell us might affect how we age,  how we experience today, and even how we might productively engage with our ideological enemies.Mentioned on this podcast:Amishi Jha:  www.amishi.comElissa Epel: Her book: The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, LongerDacher Keltner: https://ggsc.kerkeley.eduHis book: Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful LifeWallace Nichols: http://wallacejnichols.orgHis book: Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You DoDaniel J. Siegel: http://www.drdansiegel.comHis book: Aware: The Science and Practice of PresenceThe Great Courses course that includes these lectures: Masters of Mindfulness: Transforming Your Mind and BodyVox: Is it immoral if you feel schadenfreude about Trump’s Covid-19?
Of course we all want to maximize pleasant times and minimize difficult ones, but the great spiritual teachers--in many cases taking perspective from the eccentric biblical book Ecclesiastes--tell us that learning to fully inhabit both the hard and the good times transforms everything as we're taken into a sort of God Zone. In this story-rich episode, Dave Schmelzer will explore wisdom not just from Eccleciastes but from the contemplative Rami Shapiro and the early church father Clement of Alexandria. Mentioned on this podcast:Ecclesiastes 1:2-3,7; 9:2; 5:17-19, 7:14; 3:1-3,11; 4:8-9; 3:22; 9:7-8; 11:1Rami Shapiro's book Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually IndependentClement of Alexandria
"What's new?" has become a difficult question for many of us to answer during the pandemic, and yet neuroscientists tell us that novelty is a key to happiness. Dave Schmelzer offers us insight from spiritual masters from Christianity, Judaism and Zen on this crucial question, with a particular look at often-misunderstood wisdom from St. Paul. As a throw-in, Paul explains why the horrible tribalism we're experiencing today is inevitable...but how to leave it in favor of rich connection. Mentioned on this podcast:Acts 17:27-28; Romans 1:16-17, 3:3, 3:19-20, 5:17, 8:2,9, 8:15, 8:18, 8:31-33,35,37; Revelation 21:5, John 16:33
Many earnest churchgoers have found great encouragement from lots of Bible reading. But, as life goes on, many of them not only burn out on Bible reading, but become disturbed by parts of the Bible that didn't bother them before. Dave Schmelzer takes a contemplative, journeying look at the good and bad elements of reading the Bible and, finally, at a hopeful way forward. Mentioned on this podcast: The Seek Course Wesley's Quadrilateral Galatians 3:28; Mark 4:1-20; Psalm 1:1-3  A helpful rethinking of enjoying the Bible: What Do We Do With the Bible? by Richard Rohr
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