October 17, 2017
Buddhist teachings say that every single encounter between us and another is a sacred opportunity to love. No act of compassion and kindness, no matter how big or small, wherever it is performed, is ever wasted. We cannot feed all the poor, we cannot house all the homeless, we cannot befriend all the lonely. But we can care one person at a time...
Hospitality is a word with a spiritual history. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle regarded hospitality as the primary of all virtues and one of the hallmarks of spiritual enlightenment. Scripture is rich with accounts of welcoming generosity. In the Genesis account of the beginning of existence, God’s first act symbolically offered cosmic hospitality in the creation of a universe that is good and abundantly filled for us with all the things we need to live well. Atithi Devo Bhava: “Be one for whom the guest is God,” is a verse taken from an ancient Hindu scripture. Hindus see guests as an opportunity to serve and express their love of God. Monastic life has long been associated with hospitality. Patron saint, Benedict of Nursia, who lived in Italy 1500 years ago, wrote a Rule of Life for monks and nuns. One of the most often quoted phrases of the Benedictine Rule; “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” Everyone who comes - the poor, the weak, the marginalized are to be received with genuine acceptance. There was a time when the head of the monasteries would stand at the doorstep at mealtime and shout loudly, not once but three times, “Is there someone who needs to be fed?” And when a traveler or the poor would come in for food, it would be only after the guests had been fed that all would sit down to eat. Accounts of Jesus’ life tell us he touched those who were shunned and ostracized for their disabilities, talked with them, and gave them a safe space to feel welcome. When those who were considered “unclean,” possessed by demons, bleeding and sick came, he didn’t back away or shame them, but valued and respected all. The rejected and rebuffed of all kinds were honored and accepted ...gamblers, thieves, prostitutes, and people we would probably call the homeless today.
Genuine hospitality is unaffected by self-interest. It is an opening of oneself, regardless of judgement and social boundaries. "Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” This verse from the Bible, Romans 12:9-13, is ripe for adaptation to the diversity of our day. In God there is both immigrant and native, neither gay nor straight, black nor white. Each of us has been a stranger at one point, we have all felt like outsiders. The Apostle Paul reflected on the oneness of humanity with his powerful words; “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all are one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28) Paul passionately believed, nearly 2000 years ago, that in God all barriers between people might be broken. Planetary ecumenism at its best! Radical hospitality is not something people do, but rather something we become. It is a term that rolls easily off the tongue - but to actually carry it out is a demanding undertaking.
God, put a song in our hearts that will ignite our being with love for all mankind. Open our eyes to see your image in every person. Open our minds to imagine the difference each of us can make in our communities and in the world, ... caring, one person at a time. May hospitality be the foundation of our Chapel’s spirituality and of our lives - not just in opening our doors - but in opening our hearts. Hospitality is a choice. It is a divine gift waiting to be opened, waiting to be unleashed. Flowing freely, true hospitality is an expression of life giving resuscitation, a spiritual initiative and practice of active and genuine love.
October 10, 2017
Tolstoy once suggested that certain questions are put to humanity not so much that we should answer them, but that we should spend a lifetime wrestling with them. Jesus wept and the Buddha was brokenhearted by the suffering of the world. Big tragedies need a big God to walk us through them…
“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways - either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” These are the words of the Dalai Lama… but who really wants to talk about suffering? To weep with those who weep? Often I have wondered, has God both loved and grieved for humanity from the day we claimed our free will? Did He know that we would mess up, make the wrong decisions, and ultimately reject Him? Wouldn't it have been easier and nicer to create mankind as inherently good? Free will is a blessing and a curse. God has given each of us the absolute ability to makes choices in life. We can choose good or evil, right or wrong, self or others. Unfortunately, from the beginning of time, man has chosen wrongdoing too often. The vast majority of violence in history has been religious violence. Members of ISIS probably believe they are doing God’s will. The Ku Klux Klan uses the cross as their symbol. Europe’s Christians found a myriad of ways to kill and maim one another in the 16th and 17th centuries. Our dualistic minds see evil as black or white and the only solution is to eliminate evil. Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that we are also the enemy and our response is part of the whole moral equation. Thomas Merton wrote, “Non-violence implies a kind of bravery far different from violence.” We cannot destroy the other without destroying ourselves. Non-violence must be an inseparable part of our very being. Not something we turn off and turn on.
All mystery contains within it an introspection and WHY? We wish that the earth’s resources wouldn’t be wasted on weaponry, that people would stop killing people. But at a certain point, we have to surrender the fact that darkness is part of reality. In every circumstance there is an invitation to us to weep over violence, pray for peace, and to declare a different way to live in the world. It is a daily decision to trust and follow God. Trust is defined as “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I see so much misery and disappointment everyday, that if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I would be a raving maniac.” Trusting God will always put the accent mark on Creation’s active goodness rather than the active evil of our world. Regardless of what name we give to the Divine, when we are open to the possibility of Beauty and Light in places of destruction… God’s love will not leave us. We must allow ourselves to believe this.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
- John 1:5.
October 3, 2017
Being Human in a Conscious Universe
“If you are kind, learn also to be fierce. If you are wise, learn also to be simple.
If you are fire, learn also to stay cool. Whatever you find yourself being, be the opposite as well.” - Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
What is a human being? Objectively, nothing of consequence. Particles of dust in an infinite arena, present for an instant in eternity. Clumps of atoms in a universe with more galaxies than people. Does humanity have a special place in the Universe? What is the meaning of our personal lives? The pessimistic view is that, because we occupy such small and brief time and place in the cosmos, we and the things we do are insignificant and inconsequential. If our existence is so trivial, how could anything we do, our successes and failures, our anxiety and sadness and joy, all our busy ambition and work... How could any of that possibly matter? Christian tradition acknowledges our smallness in the scheme of things. But on the other hand, also tells us that we are of infinite and eternal worth because God loves us beyond anything we can ask or imagine. According to scripture, we have been chosen; adopted, redeemed, forgiven, grace-lavished, and unconditionally accepted. People often become what they believe themselves to be. And so we ask, am I loved? Am I respected? Am I important?
Over the course of our lives, each person’s identity is formed and shaped through individual experiences, relationships, culture, media, and the world around us. We are constantly seeking to define who we are in any way that we can; by our occupations, family relationships, friends, politics, views on social issues, physical appearance. If I define myself by my beliefs, what happens when I’m proven wrong, or when the certainties I once lived by change? Am I no longer me? Our egos go to great lengths to protect the version of self that we’ve created. We naturally like to identify with our strengths. But after we’ve lived out the socially accepted niceties for years, how many are ready to go underground? According to Richard Rohr, much of the second half of our life is “shadowboxing” with the negative parts of ourselves. Have you ever felt that something stole your true and natural voice? The one that honestly expresses your thoughts, joy, dreams and sorrow. The one that speaks to who we really are; the long-lost and beloved parts of ourselves.
Many continue to question human existence suggesting we are nothing but random events - the leaf blowing in the wind, a ripple in the stream. Some ask if there is a meaning or purpose superimposed on human life. What is the mysterious power that imbues our life with such a purpose or meaning? Can such grand intelligence be coded into my DNA? “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon ...” goes the 1960’s ballad by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Every person is an example of exclusiveness with more potential in our souls than any other being known to us. In the first chapter of the book of Genesis man is described as having been created in the image and likeness of God. Because of God’s creative, life-giving work; we are “something”; we are profoundly significant. All complex creatures. All beloved.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another… We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” - Carl Sagan
September 26, 2017
Chance to Begin Again
Who wouldn't want to begin some aspect of their life again? What if our resolutions actually could become the foundation for a fresh start; what if we could simply push a “restart” button and commit our lives to being the best that we can be?
Each year at this time I find myself a bit envious of my Jewish friends and neighbors. According to Jewish tradition, during these High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God opens the “Book of Life” and symbolically the whole world begins again. “This is the day of the world’s Creation” - the Rosh Hashanah prayer proclaims. “In this New Year may we recreate in ourselves all that is kind, gentle and compassionate…” Most of us are experts at denying our faults. Self exploration is painful. Imagine ourselves freed from self-defeating patterns. I don’t have a yearly liturgy that gets directly in my face and forces me to think about myself. I don’t recite words along with others from a communal vantage point that reinforces and supports living up to the goodness that resides within me. We are all in the repair shop in some way. It’s all very well to say we need a fresh start, but the tricky part is we can’t just erase the board and begin again. The key to healing first lies in acknowledgment of our human capacity to harm and need for forgiveness. In the words of theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, “willing to be a beginner again each morning.” Marked by an intensive period of looking inward, observers are invited to examine themselves and the world in a different light. I don’t have perfect faith, I don’t always trust the world, or remember to say thank you. I have regrets. I want to practice compassion and kindness always. I want a deep connection with the Divine. Each day the theme of these High Holy Days is an invitation to action, a vantage point … to prepare, act, bless, believe, change.
As we approach the beautiful uplifting autumn season, we are offered the opportunity to take responsibility for the intentional and unintentional ways we walk in the world. Take a look at your life. How would you describe it? Contented? Rushed? Exciting? Stressful? Moving forward? Holding back? Are we as generous in granting true forgiveness as we are eager to ask for it? For many of us it’s all of the above at times. There are things we dream of doing one day, and there are things we wish we could forget. Let us resolve to live a good life, a life of commitment and purpose. Let us find the time to be grateful for the daily blessings we are given; the blessing of life itself, and the opportunity to enjoy our lives in the time we have. Let us resolve to tell the people we love that we love them, to reach out to those who need us, to make amends with those who have hurt us and whom we have hurt. Sharing with our Jewish brothers and sisters the deep spiritual potential of this month, we begin again in love, seeing that our future is not governed by our history but acceptance of God’s gift.
"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning." Louis L’Amour
September 12, 2017
Everybody is worried about environmental pollution. We are all hurt by it. But have we thought about the pollution that does far greater harm than damage to the ozone, soil and water... spiritual pollution.
Fear, self-pity, anger, guilt, perfectionism, hatred, resentment, bitterness. At one time or another, there isn’t one of us who doesn’t know the meaning of these words in a very personal way. We’d just as soon get rid of these harmful attitudes, but can’t seem to let them go. It seems conflict makes the world go round. If we are not fighting against others, we are fighting against ourselves. If we are not fighting against ourselves we are fighting for an unattainable ideal. Practically from the moment we are born into this world we have to deal with a constant stream of toxic energies. We carry on wars with ourselves, our families and communities, among races and genders, nationalities and nations. The consequences of this spiritual pollution is what keeps us stuck in negative cycles of cynicism, jealousy, hurt… corrupting our spirits and stagnating our lives. Anger is a very seductive emotion. It can make one feel self-righteous, justified. Bitterness eats from the inside out, closing off the many beautiful opportunities that life presents to heal, grow and expand. When we refuse to forgive ourselves, we enter into never-ending cycles of self-hatred, pain and regret. Resentment is a deliberate decision to “nurse” an offense. Part of us wants to cry and part of us wants to fight. We are each products of our thoughts, and our congested thinking hurts not only ourselves but reflects itself in our world. Knowing we are the cause; when we transform the negative energies inside ourselves, we will transform the energies without. Every word of forgiveness, every word of love has the potential to heal us and humanity.
“My mind is an infinity of possibilities. This can be good or bad, but the choice is mine.” These are the words of Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire from 161-180 AD. It's been nearly 2000 years since this statement was made, yet It seems society continues to struggle with all forms of self-imposed chaos. Buddha said, “What you will be is what you do.” Transformation is a part of self-realization. We make our own choices in life. Perhaps we need to forgive someone. Perhaps we need to smile instead of frown. Extend a hand. Build a bridge. Do not let the world harden you. There really is no such thing as perfection or imperfection as life is about growth and change. God’s true nature is in every one of us. The journey inward and the journey outward are inevitably linked. How receptive are we in our spiritual journeys? Spiritual pollution chokes our joy and clouds our ability to know God’s love. The more we try to control our lives, the more we cut ourselves off from God. The very path to discovering new strength is through embracing and facing our weaknesses. God’s promise of peace comes to us in the darkest of places, even in the midst of our most difficult struggles and challenges. Love and joy will flow into the world and into ourselves when we put an end to self-destruction and negative thoughts. There are really no enemies when we make room in our hearts for the challenges we struggle with. In the midst of our human and sometimes very imperfect lives, God’s grace promises to meet us, surround us, transform us, and work through us. We each carry around a lot of hazardous waste. Help us, God, see ourselves with a new perspective that we might live more gently and creatively in the world for our sake, for the sake of others, and for your sake.
“Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.” - Arab proverb
September 5, 2017
How could you, God?
How could you allow another tragedy? Where were you when we needed you? If you didn’t do it, God; you didn’t stop it either. Hurricane Harvey, the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in many years devastated the Texas coast last week. God does not come off well at times like this…
Tsunami’s, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, fire, droughts, and floods. There is no shortage of natural disasters in the world today. With every disaster there will be those compelled to ask, where is God? While some wonder why God allows such tragedies, others claim they are proof that there is no God, or even that they are a result of man’s sinfulness. We all know what it is to feel pain. Whether from the loss of a loved one, diagnosis of a serious illness, or a natural disaster; everyone at some time experiences the agony and distress of physical, emotional or spiritual doubt. The presence of suffering is the one thing that most challenges our faith. Although it was decreed in scripture that “the LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire” - how do we reconcile tragedy with a “loving God?” Just as we become comfortable, at peace with ourselves and the world around, perhaps even a bit complacent, we are hit with questions once again. Does the occurrence of a devastating event mean that those who suffer from such catastrophes in some way deserve their suffering, as a sort of karma and consequence of bad actions? Is it really true that God loves all of us equally? There are still a lot of “feel-good” messages swirling around faith. You’ve heard the platitudes that people rely on to understand; ones like, “It’s all part of God’s plan” or “God never gives us more than we can endure.” Buddhist and Hindu texts make it clear that there are all kinds of occurrences take place with no cosmic explanation. To put it very simply: Stuff happens. And is neither caused by angry deities or retribution against deserving sinners.
It’s okay to be angry at God. To be without questions is not a sign of greater faith but possibly a lack of depth. In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel: “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.” Rather than trying to answer the debate of why, some theologians today say that the more important question for us is: “Where do we find God in suffering?” It is the law of nature that whatever has been created is sustained, and eventually destroyed. Only the Creator - God - remains steady and unchanging. The power that created the forces of nature through billions of years and accomplished so much is not a trivial power. The suffering of the people in Texas evokes compassion all over the world. God is present in that compassion - even where human compassion fails to reach. Maybe it takes an emergency to bring people together - maybe that’s the purpose. When disasters happen, God lures thousands of people to help those who are in trouble and bring comfort to those who suffer. If we want to find God in the midst of a disaster, the place to look is not in the act but in the response.
Where is the meaning? It is in this question that I recall Jesus’ cry at the time of his death, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” At some level perhaps these words were meant as a universal appeal on behalf of all humanity - from one who understands. “Why?” - not a request for a theological answer but a spiritual yearning. Jesus' cry, not one for help but rather a prayer for his people and all peoples that out of his darkness and ours might emerge love for one another. Life’s beauty lies in the widening of our hearts, finding ways to express our solidarity and compassion everyday.
August 29, 2017
Many of us work hard at non-attachment. Letting go is part of living mindful lives. Detachment offers comfort in life’s disappointments. Disassociation provides distance from difficult relationships and releases responsibility from worldly concerns. But there’s a risk in disengaging. While non-attachment is a beautiful and elevated quality that can bring peace and happiness into our lives, It can also lead to not seeing, not feeling...
Who cares! - An expression of disinterest, an off-hand statement declaring something to be of no consequence or importance. Who cares? Does anybody care - also asks an important question. The loneliness of feeling like one is worthless and that no one cares is one of the most painful emotions a human can experience. One of the most hurtful things we can do is give someone the “silent treatment.” We can cause more pain by simply ignoring another, acting as though they don’t exist, or looking right through them, than any other personal affront. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Indifference toward a particular group or ethnicity is an act of inhumanity. Feeling unwanted and unloved manifests itself physically, emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually. Not only does one feel misunderstood by people; but with it is the horrifying belief that no one even cares to understand.
Yet boundaries are crucial in personal relationships. Physical boundaries define who can touch us, how someone can touch us, and how physically close another may approach us. Emotional boundaries define where our feelings end and another's begins. For example, do we take responsibility for our feelings and needs, and allow others to do the same? Or do we feel overly responsible for the feelings and needs of others and neglect our own? Conscious loving takes hard work. It’s easy to be nice to the people whom we like. It’s easy to show kindness to those who show kindness to us. Look at the world around us: suspicion, violence everywhere, hatred everywhere, racism. Indifferent to the suffering of others, we become complicit in the crime. What do we feel in the heart when we are walking along the street and we see the homeless; those who feel separate, small, alone? We, too, are vulnerable in our own ways, and we, too, need help from others.
We are not powerless! With the same energy that we might use to detach from our troubled world we can access the spiritual energy that flows through all life and turn it to good! Remember Mister Rogers, the kind-hearted, gentle, soft-spoken writer and children’s television personality who encouraged all with his constant words, ”I love you just the way you are…” Mister Rogers recognized that one of the most important things we can do for our children, and for each other, is to encourage and show care through listening. Truly listening. “The world needs a sense of worth, he said, “ and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” Jesus gravitated to the sick, to the hungry, to the outcast, and to those at the margins of society. Welcoming the stranger and caring for the lonely is a tenet of Judeo/Christian teaching. Most of the world’s religions give guidance about how we should treat other people.
Non-attachment is often radically misunderstood. Concern doesn’t cease to exist as we learn to let go. Non-attachment actually brings about the most profound sense of care, compassion, and freedom we could ever imagine. The problems of this world begin to evoke compassion rather than anger. We feel naturally compelled to help, but we’re not attached to the outcome. We are able to allow life to unfold without needing to control everything. We don’t stop loving. We love even more. We can always make a difference, even if all we do is let people know they are not alone. Choosing to care is only the first step.
August 22, 2017
What’s your “religion?”
Fifty years ago, Time magazine asked in it’s famous headline, “Is God Dead?” People are still questioning and wondering whether God and religion are relevant to modern life. But the response isn’t limited to a simple yes or no.
It has been said that religion consists of God’s question and man’s answer. There are many religions in the world. Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, and countless more. Religions represent culture, belief systems, and worldviews that establish symbols and traditions which relate humanity to spirituality. One of the most fundamental needs we have is for a sense of identity in our relationship to the divine; that which many name God. For those who have lost their religion or never had one, finding a label or description for that relationship may or may not feel essential. Believing in a higher power might not even be important. People trust and rely on all sorts of truths and values. Some avow the scientific truth of global warming, while others don’t. Some accept the validity of evolution, while others do not. Some have faith and place confidence in a God or gods, while many continue to doubt and question. Organized religion has had a bad rap for several decades now. No doubt much organized religion is subject to many valid criticisms. You don’t usually think of churches as going out of business; but it is happening and the religiously unaffiliated (called "nones") are growing significantly. Do you hold a grudge against a God you think you cannot believe in, yet long for a spiritual presence? “Spiritual but not religious.” These words used frequently today appear to mean that many do experience Spirit but do not care to participate in churches, synagogues, or mosques.
What are most of us looking for? I came across a C.S Lewis quote this week that stopped me in my tracks: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." It seems that an existential relevance to one’s belief system should address the big questions of life, and thereby offer the light by which we might be guided: Where did we come from? (Origin) How should we live? (Ethics) What is the purpose for life? (Meaning) And I might add, Awe. How does mortal man arrive at Ultimate Truth? Many of us have spent a long time moving away from the version of faith we grew up with; the essential certitude, fundamental thinking no longer ringing true. And yet we yearn for a Power, a Majesty - Divine Certainty. Not primarily as a set of doctrinal claims, but as a lens, as a means of seeing… from which we seek our light source, our sun, the reality we can live into. It takes courage to say, "Yes, this reveals truth, but here lies truth also.” Or, “this is not authentic by my energy and longing.” Deep within, Spirit places a spirit hunger that we cannot escape.
Today, many do not look at the religious tradition of one's childhood as supplying all the answers to life’s questions, though many continue to provide basic values. If you’ve left religion behind, and are unsure what to call yourself - skeptic, agnostic, secularist, free-thinker - if none of these fit; keep looking. God's continuing creation is infinite with possibility; an exalted Mystery. Truth wears many names.
The one who walks in love - that is what I choose to follow: the eternal and universal Christ Consciousness of all devotion, in vision and action through a true beloving. “We do not have to discover the world of faith; we only have to recover it.” - Abraham Joshua Heschel
August 15, 2017
All the Light we cannot see
Next Monday the moon will pass directly between the sun and Earth, and all of North America will experience a total solar eclipse. In a matter of minutes, the natural will become supernatural. Day will shift to night, the temperature will drop and stars will glow in a rapidly darkened sky. Eclipses disturb our understanding of the natural order. Their mystery is timeless…
The ancients marvelled at the phenomena of the sun being swallowed in the heavens. To the Chinese, solar eclipses meant that dragons were devouring the sun. To Eastern Europeans it meant that ice giants, bitter enemies of the sun, were conquering it. To the Romans, an eclipse meant that the sun was poisoned and dying. Through the ages people have been drawn to the lights of the heavens - directing the way to meaning and wonder beyond human perception.
The majesty of the heavens - the cycling of the seasons, the rhythm of day and night inspire thinking that we simple cannot be looking at some meaningless accident. Thought to be unpredictable events, today physicists know eclipses follow set patterns and can be calculated in advance. The sun is not extinguished during an eclipse, nor does it move away; it is merely concealed. This is true of man’s desire to know God as well. Science wants to know the mechanism of the universe, religion the meaning. In his writing on theology and philosophy, 17th-century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, made this observation regarding faith: “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.” Reality doesn’t encompass only that which we can see and touch. We can’t see Spirit. We can’t see God.
The narrative of creation begins with darkness. On the first day of creation, God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), and light appeared as a thing separate from darkness. Though scripture proclaims, “God is light and in God there is no darkness,” (John 1:5) - why does God remain hidden? Why doesn’t the Great Unknown do everything out in the open for all to see? Theologians have spent countless hours thinking through the problem of the hiddenness of God. We cannot comprehend, much less explain our world and what God is doing in it. As in Anthony Doerr’s best-selling World War II novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” the metaphor of light has layers of meaning. Scientifically speaking, there is indeed much light we simply cannot see. This is true theologically as well. Perhaps Spirit hides because it will not be found where humans want to find it. The Divine is to be met in the depths of the darkness as well as the light; allowing its gifts to work in us. We spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility. Holy Evidence is everywhere. Understanding the physics of the universe steals none of the wonder when we are receptive to all that exists... with awe, inner devotion and reverence combined with a yearning for knowledge. Next week's’ eclipse is an opportunity to view the the most awesome sight of the sun…and the Mystery of Creation in a beautiful and startling new light.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” - Ecclesiastes 3:11
August 8, 2017
In a world supposedly governed by ruthless survival of the fittest, why do we see acts of goodness in both animals and humans? Where does kindness come from? What’s behind the choice to help another human being? Are we motivated by sheer, unadulterated benevolence - or hoping for a favor in return?
What moves people to engage in what psychologists call "prosocial behavior" - things like making charitable contributions, buying gifts, volunteering one's time, and so forth. Why ARE some people simply nicer than others? Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself - or so the saying goes. But, while most have heard the old adage, some people appear more inclined to live their life according to this view than others. The mystery of altruism has plagued scientists since Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution through natural selection in the 1850’s. His premise suggests that all behavior is motivated by selfishness and that people can have good traits or do good deeds - but goodness is just not in our character. We know simply obeying the law doesn’t bring goodness to life within us. So, is it a fear of karma or some other driving force…?
St. Augustine summarized the argument in two great questions: “If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?” To many, only the second question is relevant. But the first is just as important. If a good God doesn’t exist, what is goodness’ source? Classic literary texts demonstrate that humanity once shared the perspective that the world in which we live was governed by a cosmic piety. For the Greeks, there was a profound sense that one was truly human only to the extent that one lived in a harmonious relationship with the cosmos. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty were distinct yet interrelated manifestations of a Divine Reality. Kindness is valued by all religious traditions. It is a virtue that is the foundation of Jewish teaching called tikkun olam - which means the repairing of the world. Kindness is not just being nice. Kindness is not just being sweet. Kindness goes way beyond that. Jesus talked about kindness; not just in terms of random acts, but in very difficult circumstances. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “You’ve heard it declared, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” In the old testament, the first chapter of Genesis states “Let There be light,” and there was light “and God saw that the light was good” and similarly all that was created after that was good; for if all that was created was good, then all that exists should be good. We might say that cosmic energy is the blueprint of the Creator - it is good and its goodness created all that was created. For many, long forgotten biblical statements are but phrases from an unfamiliar language - God is love, for God so loved the world, love your neighbor… words foreign to many. Even for those of us who continue to hold dear - these words of old - to what degree do they resonate in our actions and lives? How do they tally up with how we live and love today? Author, Saul Bellow, wrote “Goodness is achieved not in a vacuum, but in the company of other men, attended by love.” Beautiful people do not just happen. I like to think our goodness is an overflow of God’s love and goodness to us.
“Kindness is my religion.” - Dalai Lama
August 1, 2017
God only knows!
God only knows! Plenty of people use this phrase without reverence or irony. Like much language, it's a term that has universal currency. “God only knows.” Are these simple words, uttered daily, an admission of defeat or a statement of faith? An alignment with the mystery of the great Unknown or expression of doubt?
God only knows where I’ve left my phone, where my keys are, how this football game will end… For skeptics and nonbelievers, the literal intended meaning a cynical, “nobody knows.” One might say only God knows in reference to some mystery only an all-wise, all-seeing being would understand. Or, it might be a statement that does not necessarily imply that God is all-knowing, but merely emphasizes the truth of the statement it accompanies. it’s sometimes impossible to tell if the one saying it is serious or joking. The omniscience of God is the principle that God is all-knowing; that Spirit encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. In the beginning, God created the world and everything in it, including knowledge. For the believer, it would be irreverent to suggest that Spirit (which comprehends everything) does not know. The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate designer who not only created the universe, but sustains it today.
We’re told the human brain processes more than a million messages a second; weighing the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. There is an intelligence to it: the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action. All of life is a mathematical mystery with the laws of nature orderly, reliable, unchanging. The universe as a whole is a seamless web of interconnected events, none of which can be completely separated from the others. Everything is connected to everything else and contained in everything else. As Buddhists put it; the universe is a network of inter-being. The goal of the spiritual path is not to always seek after the extraordinary. It is to see God, the Sacred, the All, (whatever your term of choice for what and who transcends) illuminating even every blade of grass and in the smile of every newborn.
“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.” These are the words of Neil Armstrong, first man to step on the moon. “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” wrote Lao Tzu, two-and-a-half thousand years ago. “The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.” Once we name something we begin "seeing" through our own filters, paradigms, perceptions and expectations. The three little words, I don’t know, might be man’s greatest contribution to learning and appreciation of the Mystery of God. The more we wonder, the more we love. Human consciousness is plenty big enough to accommodate both science and a sense of the holy. Human cultures have always had a DIVINE WHY for us to consider. Many people are not very philosophical. Their wisdom comes with experience, not detached intellectual reflection. Would any of us really choose to inhabit a world so small that we could comprehend the magnificence of the Divine? Understand fully the meaning behind Creation? What is required to recognize God all around us? Perhaps it is simply an open heart. Scientists are convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light, The Universe flashed into being, and the best of minds still cannot find out what caused that to happen, but - GOD KNOWS!
July 25, 2017
Try it on
Can you picture yourself praying to a Saint? Or having an image of a saint on your wall? Who are these luminaries of the religious world? Fact or fiction, we have been blessed by the guidance of these divine Avatars. And they all started out as real life, flesh and blood humans like ourselves…
Do we still need Saints? Who were these holy predecessors? The faces that grace the windows of cathedrals and churches, engaging our imagination? We all know the works of Mother Teresa, the popular nun who dedicated her life to divine charity And St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of animals, who taught us to to love all creatures great and small. Joan of the Cross started hospices and hospitals. But what really put her on the road to sainthood was her personal caring of the elderly, the sick and the needy. St. Peter the fisherman; an impetuous and unstoppable disciple, gained sainthood for his steadfast loyalty and leadership. St Elizabeth was known as the Peacemaker. Alleged prostitute, Mary Magdalene, billed as a notorious sinner, was later canonized for her love! There has always been a diverse group of personalities at the table of the Lord. None of these saints were perfect. They are Saints because somehow God’s love came through them.
So, the question is not, “Do we still need Saints?” The question is, What lessons can we learn from the Saints whom God gives us? From those men and women who did the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Agreeing that Saintly canonization is still weighed too heavily toward religious celebrities, Pope Francis declared “We need saints today to live in the world, to sanctify the world. … we need saints who wear jeans and sneakers. We need saints who go to the movies, listen to music, and hang out with their friends. We need modern saints, Saints of the 21st century with a spirituality that is part of our time.” We need Saints because we never grow out of our need for decency and mutual respect. We need Saints because we depend upon people to help and care for each other. We need Saints to inspire and offer examples to us of ways we can realize our best selves. These are the ones who challenge and encourage, cheer on those in need of hope, strength and love. The world is troubling. Many lead lives of meaningless existence. According to singer/ songwriter Paul Simon, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.” It’s easy to be captured by the vision of good, and sainthood today; but frustrating when we look at our own lives and imagine how we might practice it. Author and activist Wendell Berry, wrote, In order to be good, you have to know how… and this knowing is vast, complex, humble and humbling; it is not of the mind and of the hands, of either alone.” It is love that will ultimately move us toward being good and therefore doing good.
The great sages of all our wisdom traditions teach that one person is equivalent to an entire world. Every human being, regardless of time and place and personal status, has the fullest capacity to rise and attain the highest degree of fulfillment, and accomplish the same for creation as a whole. We need the Saints of old to keep reminding us who we are. A life well lived does not come automatically to any of us. We need a St. Francis to embrace a leper, and the modern day CNN hero to show us that we can’t turn our backs on AIDS victims, the poor, the needy. As Bonnie Raitt sang, ”Make me an angel…Just give me one thing that I can hold on to to believe in this livin...' We all wish to live meaningful lives. What are you doing in this world? Want to try on a little sainthood?
“To be Saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.”
- Pope Francis
July 18, 2017
Have you ever really been truly thirsty? Probably none of us have been without water to the point of serious dehydration and known the real pain of craving for water. A word loaded with figurative meaning is the word, “thirst.”
We all felt a sense of relief as last week's rains touched the parched earth of our valley; Precious rain drops fell emitting the long awaited fresh sweet smell to our noses. Green shoots of life emerged, wildflowers have bloomed, and the berries so needed by bears and birds alike are ripening at last. Without water, life would not exist on the planet. All living things rely on water - without it we die. Globally, there are increasing pressures on water supply with massive droughts and growing population demands. People have survived without food for weeks, even months. But to go without water for just one day can put us in dire danger. Yet, there are other thirsts that are deep and less obvious than our thirst for water. Some of us thirst for acceptance, for intimacy; for forgiveness or reconciliation. Some thirst for peace from emotional overload, relief from pain; for justice and wrongs to be made right. Some know they thirst, but are not quite sure for what. Some thirst for God.
To what degree do we acknowledge the reality of the barrenness of life and the desire to find real satisfaction for the soul. Does longing transform us so that we might change our values, priorities, and pursuits - or does it simply drive us to look for human strategies centered on fleeting and passing gurus and fantasy? In the midst of a great coldness towards God and religion, many cannot recognize properties of a living water; water that can be life-giving, thirst quenching, refreshing and full of opportunity… spiritual water that offers cleansing, clearing; a washing or rinsing away of that which does not serve or may hold us back. This is the real living water of Divine Spirit.
We are all thirsty people - yearning to be known and heard and understood. “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astounding Light of Your Own Being… a precious body of living water offered to the Earth from Light’s own hands.” - words written by the 14th century Sufi poet, Hafiz. Writing, of this deepest thirst, the ancient psalmist, David, too, knew of the longing for Creation’s love; “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.” Offering meaning to life when everything else has failed, Jesus said: “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again…” What was he offering?
My soul thirsts for God, a living water that will permanently satisfy, that is lasting and real. Each Communion Sunday, in eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, may we be reminded that only Spirit alone can quench the thirst of our souls. What do you want in life? What are you seeking? What are you thirsting after? Have you been drinking from the wrong sources? This simple desire for Truth is already the beginning of faith and falling in love with God.
July 11, 2017
Is it possible to love someone and not enjoy them? What about to enjoy and not love? What about God? I don’t think most of us can wrap our minds around enjoying God…
In the Biblical account of Creation, God made the earth and the heavens. He planted a garden and all kinds of trees; pleasing to the eye and good for food. Rivers flowed, and he put birds in the sky, gold and valuable minerals in the earth. According to Genesis, after creating Adam, God did not say you must worship me like this or serve me like that; he said, Adam, enjoy me. I am the Tree of Life. My only desire is for you to enjoy me. When has knowing God become so hard? God has no intention for us to do anything for him. This is man’s idea. “I have come that men might have life and have it abundantly...” (John 10:10) Unable to comprehend the beauty of Divine Love, many take God too seriously, seeing relationship with Spirit as something to be endured, even a burden, rather than a gift to relish. While trying to make contact through prayer and meditation, many continue to have the idea that they should worship in some pious way instead of celebrating God. Constantly striving to intellectually understand, endlessly searching for truth, trying to figure it all out. Approaching God with a calculating mind there is no window for joy. To make this journey we must be light, happy, free… let go of habitual negative attitudes that only weigh us down. There is an outrageous Hafiz poem about how the Divine wants to “Hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out of us,” - freeing us of false thinking of what God is or is not. Joy is central to connecting to God. Where there is joy, Divine Presence can enter.
“...Enchantment, transfiguration of the ordinary to the extraordinary, the invocation of fantasy, mystery, alchemy, and the richer meaning of transformational powers.” I smile in reading words found in the opening pages of this year’s Aspen Music Festival Program. Colorfully describing this season’s musical theme - inspiring thinking about the magical joy of composition, they sound to me much like the experience of God! With mystery - enchantment - suspense - intrigue - love - adventure; enjoying God is one of the biggest blessings of our lives. Reading like the greatest story ever told! Sounding like the greatest piece of music ever written! And when we also come to see God in the ordinary, we will begin to trust God also in the extraordinary. If we can see beauty in the mundane, if we can begin our day with happiness in spite of our world’s failures, we can feel like we belong on this planet, our faith affirmed and feelings of gratitude will emerge. Just let God love you, along with the confusion, along with the questions. And, the time will come - almost without knowing it - you will find yourself able to love back.
" 'Enjoy Me.' Just these two words He spoke changed my life." - Saint Teresa of Avila
July 3, 2017
Proof or Freedom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” It was this sense of our sacred foundation in Creation, which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence. True freedom is always Of the Spirit…
Both freedom from religious dogma as well as the right to think and believe without constraint, render the means for self-determination and the exciting adventure of the human spiritual quest. We are free to search the terrain of our hearts and minds, and discover the personal meanings that guide and light our spiritual way. In spite of this country’s celebration of the Constitutional Right of freedom of religion, the intention of the country’s founding fathers has tended to get lost. Many continue to carry a small and confined view of God; their experience of the Divine static and predictable. Many remain victims of someone else’s limited vision of God, handicapping their thinking with distorted and limited perceptions and prejudices.
“The highest and greatest of the human freedoms is to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This concept of physical and spiritual freedom grew from Viktor Frankl’s accounts in his powerful writing, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” With the notion that freedom is the ultimate achievement, Frankl recounted how some men triumphed emotionally and spiritually over the most horrific circumstances: Auschwitz. His writing speaks, as well, to man’s ability to choose how one reacts in all circumstances - as in racial prejudice and economic bondage. Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual, religious pluralism, a melting pot of ideals and beliefs. No chapel, no church, no government, no pastor nor priest or dictator, can tell us how we relate to God. Spiritual freedom allows us to be our own priests, each journeying to reach the Divine through our own realities of life, each discovering home to the Holy Spirit and to the Christ within. How big is your God? It will depend on how big and infinite a God we allow ourselves to experience and come to know. God becomes bigger as we do. We do not have to abandon the place of childhood faith and religious tradition in order to move on in one’s thinking. God has offered guidance, inspiration and direction through the great teachers, not rules “...not to worship Jesus, but to worship what Jesus worshipped”; not to worship Moses or Mohammed, but to worship what they worshipped; not to worship Buddha or Lao Tsu, but worship all they worshipped.”
All religions come from God’s one voice. Spiritual freedom transcends images of a God beyond names…. In the words of former Yale University Chaplain and peace activist, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and as example of open-minded thinking - “It is a mistake to look to the Bible to close a discussion; the Bible seeks to open one.” The only thing important is what God says to us. The only challenge is within ourselves.
June 27, 2017
June; it’s the most popular month for weddings. Those choosing married life are probably still incorporating the words forever into their marriage vows. While the imagery and words being used by couples today is limited only by the imagination, the concept of forever is still impossible for our brains to grasp...
Nothing lasts forever - except, just maybe, the cost of mailing a letter. Remember a decade ago when postal officials pitched the idea of creating a “forever stamp,” forever good for sending first-class mail, as long as you don’t run out of stamps? Or, until the decision is made to raise the rate and a new forever is established. Though the concept of “forever” is outside everyday experience; some of us still use the phrase a lot. Perhaps our sense of “foreverness” is really the human desire to continue to evolve and remain dominant; at the top of the food chain and of our environment, space, atmosphere. Sure, when something is right, when it feels amazing, why wouldn't we want it to last forever? In human terms reasonable forevers have meaning just in our lifetimes. Yet still there is a part of us that believes there is something “out beyond” - a realm we cannot directly access. Infinity, too, is an impossible concept for humans to grasp. After we go beyond billions and trillions, most of us stop trying to process what those kind of numbers mean. Stars, galaxies, atoms, even our sun won’t last “forever,” according to scientists. All have expiration dates. But, if time and the universe are not infinite, what is outside of them?
With humility, I view the great cosmic mystery - the expanding universe and conflicts between theories, always believing that everything is and always has been filled with the spirit of the Divine. It is unthinkable to me that we could have never been conceived as anything beyond chunks of animated or motionless matter; an accidental conglomeration of molecules. How many remember the first breathtaking images sent from the Hubble telescope witnessing then and still today, the hand of God at work on a scale that is inconceivable? Today we read of the possibility of multiple Big Bangs. Does a multiverse, with infinite number of parallel universes undermine God? Or enhance God? God is timeless and eternal because God created time, infinite light and love. To be infinite means to be unlimited. If an infinite God exists, then God’s infinity will be expressed powerfully and give new and greater meaning through our growing understanding of science. Many atheists and people do not like the idea of an all powerful, all knowing, ever-present God. Yet they still want to believe that everything that exists has a cause. The tree had a beginning; it had a cause. An asteroid had a beginning; it had a cause, and so on. Think of the flower, of the internal detail within. Think of the rock, how long it has been around. Think of life, how amazing it is to be alive, to be human, created out of the dust of stars and brought to life by the Creator’s breath. The Bible says, “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” Are there any limits to what God knows? Is there anything that God does not know?
There is a physical realm and a spiritual realm. The physical realm is finite. The spiritual realm is infinite. Together, integrating a scientific understanding of the universe with Divine Love. In the words of Kahlil Gibran: “I existed from all eternity, and behold, I am here, and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end.”