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.”
June 20, 2017
Somewhere around the age of two or three, most kids learn a word that becomes one of their favorites. Mine. Many things in our lives matter intensely to us; but those are what we must be careful to “hold lightly”....
More money than we can spend. More food than we can eat. More clothes than we can wear. More cars than we can drive. More TV’s than we can watch... these are all wonderful problems to have; to have so much of everything that we need for nothing at all. Gathering material things we naturally have a vested interest in maintaining them; grasping, clinging. There are also many things that keep us from taking ourselves lightly. We hang on to anger or hurt. We refuse to forgive. We burden ourselves in wanting - wanting both to get what’s pleasant and to avoid what’s unpleasant is a major source of suffering.
How often do we hear words of advice about “letting go”...”living in the moment.” Impermanence is not just of philosophical interest. It's very personal. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our treasure is what we love. From my thinking, this is one of Jesus’ most inciteful teachings. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure. The things we hold dear, the things we consider essential to our happiness, survival, and security; they are our treasures. Our treasures determine our priorities. They reveal our true ambitions, our attractions, and our affections. How hard we try to hold on. We all have so much fear: fear of losing, fear of change, the inability to shift our deep-seated habitual tendency to hang on to things on our own terms. We worry too much about things over which we have no control. Non-attachment releases something very profound inside us, because it releases that level of fear. Only when we accept and deeply understand in our very being that things change from moment to moment, only then can we let go. Holding things lightly involves a mental shift and a ‘reframing’ of how we are perceiving that which seems to be weighing us down. When we stop holding on to all we think we know, then we start to enter a different state of being. We start to move into a different dimension. We grow. Spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, pointed out “Letting go is not for the weak hearted.” In most cases people let go only when they reach a point in their life when their mind runs out of all the strategies for hanging on. Or, when it hurts so bad, because they are holding on so tight.
We do not know what will happen tomorrow. We are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes; like fast flying geese overhead, the hummingbird perched above the flower then is gone, the butterfly that snaps her wings open... and floats away. We too are part of the web and pattern of life, the mysterious and fleeting cosmic dance. Holding loosely doesn’t mean viewing lightly. What if we could offer our lives as gifts, given so lightly that we bring courage and comfort to others, without need of being accepted in one way or another and without any certain outcome?
Every day, the world is created anew, something from nothing, as are we. Is life most uncertain? We know it is; no one attempts to deny it. It is certain that life will come to an end. My reality is but a glimmer of the Higher Reality and fragile beauty God places in my life. Bowing in humility, I offer gratefulness, vowing my desire to bless the world and hold all lives all things in tenderness. We are not condemned for working hard and being successful. The problem is not our outward success. The problem is in our hearts.
June 13, 2017
God in my Pocket
How often do you snap a photo with your phone? Everywhere I turn people are talking on their phones or taking pictures. I take them pretty frequently. Capturing an image is more for me than just creating a pretty picture or documenting a moment; it’s those things for sure. But it’s deeper. It’s a form of holding space, encountering the sacred. Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed and start clicking away...
I think I fell in love with taking pictures when I was eight years old and my parents gave me my first camera. I snapped photos of my family and friends and the neighbor’s dog. I traipsed through the fields near my house photographing wild blackberries and bugs. I didn’t know it, but I was beginning to see God. I wonder, did I appreciate then, the gift of creation in the butterfly I photographed? Did I see the beauty in it’s delicate wings? Or, only later; after picking up the developed pictures at the drugstore with my hard earned allowance and proudly pasting them in my scrapbook? When did I see in my childlike way, images of God’s love as my developing passion for nature grew? It is no wonder why we have evolved with such a close affinity to what is beautiful in this world, or to make things beautiful.
While the digital culture presents new challenges to society, it also offers fresh language that stimulates reflection for greater awareness. Our seeing - powered by emotion - reminding that every story, every subject contains multiple truths and complexity. I don’t think of the cell phone pictures I click as photography in the sense that I focus, adjust the lenses, check the settings. For me they are more a reaction, simply a celebration of God’s presence in the world, a tool for deeper vision and contemplative seeing. Sometimes my images inspire new reflections, new prayers...like seeing for the first time, beauty in the crack in a sidewalk, or the divine design of a rose curled like a seashell. And sometimes my reflections are just fun. Overcome by the purple cauliflower in the market, I snap a picture! Photography heightens our love affair with beauty, stillness, perspective and creativity. When we have a camera in hand we notice details; we have an eye out for something interesting. Photographs are intrinsically linked to life and to human presence; just as all of life is seen through a lens, the lens of personal experience, personal preference, culture and background, education and consciousness.
There’s such beauty in things the world might easily discard, we only need to focus and be open to hidden treasures all around. To let our “heart intelligence” guide us…and to witness Creation’s invisible qualities, eternal power and divine nature. Like many artists or writers, I don’t know what I know until I start writing. The very process of writing becomes the process of personal revelation. The same might be true of those photos we snap. It’s a way to see and express what’s in our hearts, to recall and experience all over again, intimate moments. Photographs point to different moods that we might feel: peace, loneliness, hope, happiness, affection, fear. Prayer is wireless communication between beings visible and invisible, tangible and intangible - I’ve never questioned how prayer works... So the electromagnetic waves created by God and harnessed by man enable touches of “transcendence with technology! Why not! Wireless connection - what a timely metaphor for communication with God and way to view creation with a glimpse through God’s seeing.
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we capture mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake.”
June 6th 2017
IS IT LOVE or is it NOT?
What would be your response if someone asked, "Do you love God?" We're told that God is unknowable; but also told to love God. Spirit is like a magnet - drawing us. Do we love or simply love the idea of loving…?
God created man with two basic needs: to be loved and the need to love. Don’t we all want to know love; to be overwhelmed by that greater than oneself? To recognize mystery…to be overcome with awe? When Jesus talked about the greatest commandment he quoted from the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, saying we are to “love God with all our heart with all our soul and with all our might.” Later, these words, too, became the major tenet of the Christian faith. How is God to be loved? Could we love unless God first loved us?
Love requires action. What we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are and who we will become. “Why do I mean so much to you, that you should command me to love you? And if I fail to love you, you are angry and threaten me with great sorrow, as if not to love you were not sorrow enough in itself.” These words quoted from St. Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions speak to the nature of our longing for spirit, as it is part of divine nature to long for us.
There is but one God: and it’s name is the Source, the Light, Allah, Father, the Tao, Life, Divine Intelligence - anything loving that we like. Love is expressed in every culture and found in all the wisdoms of the world. God’s divinity infuses each of us with sacred consciousness enabling joyfulness, revelation of meaning and purpose, and freedom from fear, when we are open and seeking. We do not need to run away from this world to join a higher one. If the entire universe is consciousness, and this consciousness is love; we can be in alignment or out of step with it. We can spend our lives in the wilderness far from humanity, focusing our minds on the higher realms in attempt to become enlightened beings. Or we can stay right here - fusing our most lofty spiritual heights with our most mundane physicality. “God is love. Only through loving can we reach love.” These words of Pope Francis remind that love is what we are here to do. The concept is not only radical but powerful: It means I can be myself, living a “down to earth” existence, and yet fulfilling a transcendental goal. The greatest command of God is to love him. To love him is to have delight in him. To have delight in him is to have the very thing we’ve been looking for our whole lives. Such comfort offered. Such a space created. An invitation graciously proposed to us - to come, to rest, to be still, to: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). To not love God is to be ever pursuing joy in what can never give it. God could have demanded anything at all of us, but he first commands this: Delight in me! Love!
May 30, 2017
Everything is God
All things are from God...so the challenge: How do we represent divinity in words, in stories, in images? “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that” wrote Joseph Campbell. All of our knowledge is in some fashion metaphorical. Most need a way to think about God that supports a God that is real...
When we hear the word “metaphor,” we think of a figure of speech containing implied comparisons. Metaphors symbolically describe deeper realities and enhance our understanding of the truth they define. God as Father, light, love; God as endless Creativity of the Universe, bring meaning into our lives - not just spiritual validity, but meaning itself. Yet no matter how intellectually sophisticated and heartfelt these perceptions might be, it’s fair to say that our understanding of God is inadequate. Without metaphors we would have no way of talking about or even thinking about Spirit or the abstractions of love, beauty, suffering or joy. Metaphors carry meaning, and we need them. The nature lover will find God in one metaphor - the artist or musician in another. Renowned architect, Mies van der Rohe offered his famous quote, “God is in the details.”
“Everything is God” was a daring and philosophically explosive idea presented by Dutch philosopher, Spinoza in the 17th century. Laying the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment, it was also Einstein’s view - the belief in a God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists. The task for those of us today who want and need a spiritual language is to build on the metaphors and images we’ve inherited, while also creating new ones that speak to our own experience and understanding of the Divine. “The Lord is my shephard, I shall not want” is a commonly referred to metaphor from one of the most famous passages in the Bible. God is compared to a shepherd, someone whose duty it is to look after and care for his sheep. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” In this metaphor, Jesus compares himself to bread. The bread of life is a symbolic idea that Jesus offers eternal fulfillment, as bread sustains our bodies. Both science and religion, in different ways, use conceptual metaphors as means of exploring the universe and making sense of it. Today we draw on new understanding of our physical reality, from quantum mechanics to astrophysics to the insights of neuroscience. “We are stardust, traceable to the crucibles of stars ...the universe is in us. I don't know of any deeper spiritual feeling than what that brings upon me” wrote astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. In the three major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is described as omnipresent, infinite, eternal, transcendent, omnipotent, mysterious. If we dare to let God be real in this universe we may feel the intimacy that real presence allows. Perhaps we need look no further than what is in front of our eyes. We never know where we just might happen upon God; perhaps it will be someplace we’ve looked a thousand times before. What are your personal, poetic, metaphorical ways for understanding the Divine, those which call you into being?
May 23, 2017
There are so many voices we listen to every day. What drives you to express yourself? Although we live in an age where “speaking one’s mind” is considered a virtue and hailed as a sign of strength, confidence and intelligence, many still remain silent...
Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life" - they have power. We too, have "voice," "words," "power," and "spirit" linked in a process that affect our lives. But often, the joy and passion that once started us on our journeys becomes covered over by fear and perfectionism, self-criticism and concerns about the judgement of others. Our God given voices are not always popular. Some stay silent because their views have been ignored. Others are unsure of their thoughts or unknowing of how to begin. Often It can be easier to simply look the other way, keep silent.
We all see the world differently, as well as ourselves in it. We use and listen to language accordingly, often unconsciously. In the absence of speaking what we really want to say, we have often spoken what others want or expect us to say rather than what we need to share. “Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.” This line from Shakespeare’s King Lear slices through my heart. How much time have I spent throughout my life determining what I thought I ought to say to keep others happy? What if all that junk in our heads came out? We were taught since young there are rules in conversation, things that can be said and things that should remain hidden or reserved. You know that feeling when you just have to tell the truth or you will burst?
Whatever the voice, loud or quiet, gentle or strong, academic or practical, our voices are mirrors of our being. Getting to know one’s voice is a journey into the unknown from which we each possess a wealth of dreams, truths, wisdom and purpose. My physical voice is soft and quiet; in many ways my writing voice is as well. I try hard to write words worthy of sharing. My writing is my meditation. My expression is part of my personal search, uncovering God’s presence slowly, layer by layer. There are times though, when I wish I wasn’t that way. I want to sound strong and certain, and make my voice heard. I want to stand up and speak my mind and say “This is the truth. Listen to me!” Most of us know that when we think positively, our words and lives begin to reflect those thoughts. When we speak negatively, those words too impact our state of mind and wellbeing. I love all the neuroscience that tells us that what we practice, we become. Even our questions inspire, inform, stimulate, challenge.
We store hundreds, literally thousands of thoughts and opinions in our memory vaults, ready to be accessed. What are the words that God intends for us to remember? To share? The great American writer, Pearl S. Buck wrote: “Once the ‘what’ is decided, the ‘how’ always follows. We must not make the ‘how’ an excuse for not facing and accepting the ‘what’.” God gives each of us a unique voice; we simply need to speak with the voice that is ours alone. Be a voice in your family, in your community, on behalf of children, the elderly, the compromised. Activating our human energy into our conscious voice we are able to give ourselves away in creative compassion, encouragement, love. Through our voices we can urge our leaders to take vital action to implement solutions; voices that say we must stop injustice now. We must speak for those who won’t. We must speak for those who can’t. In a very real sense, we must never stop finding our voice. What do you want to say? What voice has God given you?
May 16, 2016
Prayers with Wings
Spirit is always present. The question is, how present are we? How do we avoid just going through the motions in our spiritual practice? In all forms of worship, intention occupies special importance.
There are challenges in approaching the Infinite. Some believe God is even beyond their reach. In wondering how to avoid simply “going through the motions” in their spiritual practice, the ancient rabbis came up with a concept known as “Kavanah.” Kavanah offers a compass with which to steer the mind and align inner thought; literally in Hebrew meaning, "intention,” or “direction of the heart". Persons possessing kavanah focus their entire being on prayer - aware with intention of God’s presence all around them.
Spirit is interpreted through the individual lenses we develop over time. And so we debate, share, agree and disagree about how to approach and interpret meaning where mystery alludes. The awareness of this void encourages us to search, bringing forth the heart of intention. This is the purpose of meditation and prayer - to be the bridge from wisdom to action, from obligation to inspiration, from belief to wonder, from a theology of the mind carrying content of belief, to the actual act of believing. Intention enables a perspective that surpasses the field of intellect’s vision.
Many faith traditions have laws that dictate how to pray, when to pray, what to pray. There are fixed times, fixed ways, fixed texts. Contemporary culture tends to disdain rote prayer; feeling that memorized prayer runs the risk of becoming mere repetition - hollow, empty of meaning. Prayer often seems less a vehicle of inspiration and more a chore to be dispensed with as quickly as possible. An old story tells of a wise man coming to a synagogue and turning back at the door, unable to enter. “Too many prayers inside,” he said. “But Master,” asked his disciples, “surely a room full of prayer is a good thing?” “But all the prayers are stuck there in the building,” he answered. “None of them are going up to Heaven.” Prayer and meditation without kavanah are like a body without a soul.
Prayer is a two way conversation with Spirit. It's listening and speaking, (and listening some more). In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Prayer is not service of the lips; it is worship of the heart.” Just as with any relationship, it takes two. If we are constantly talking and not listening, we don't receive the blessing of feeling God’s presence and the whisper of gentle reminders of love and grace. If we never talk to Him, then how are we growing? Prayer is the outpouring of our hearts and the receiving of the gift of His guidance and spirit. “I set God before me always.” (Psalm 16:8) is one of the great remembrances from scripture that opens the door to kavanah. There is no right or wrong way to pray. Intentionality doesn’t work against authenticity. Many prefer the intimacy of spontaneous, unrehearsed communication. A sequence of words or syllables chanted in a Buddhist mantra are used as a form of meditation for many. For others, ancient scripture like the Lord's Prayer might be seen as a template, a framework for how one’s own prayers might be guided. Whatever wisdom we learn, whatever we know, we are the ones who must do something with it to make it real.
May 2, 2017
What’s your story?
Human connection is one of the most powerful forces available to us. We all thirst for it,
and the thirst is deep. When I find real human connection, it nourishes my soul, changes me...
The definition of “friendship” has taken some hits in recent years. After all, we live in a world where social media allows us to “friend” or “unfriend someone with a single click. We live in a society that worships independence, yet deeply fears alienation. Most of us want both closeness and independence; intimacy and autonomy. The person as a self-determined individual is a myth. We are interdependent creatures. Everything in life begins with connection. In each moment, we are choosing to join or separate - to connect or disconnect - and the person to whom we are speaking feels what we have chosen regardless of our words.
To be a friend involves risk. Friends confront each other when it’s needed, but they do it out of love and with compassion. All of us need a friend who will tell us when we are acting out of line, when we are stubborn or short-sided. Friends are there for us in the struggles - rooting us on, maybe teasing us a bit - helping us get past the difficulties and eventually encouraging us to find the gift embedded in them. “Friendship is born at that moment, says C.S. Lewis, when one man says to another: What! You too! I thought that no one but myself…” True friendship moves past small talk and surface answers to nurture of another’s soul. God did not create us to do life alone. He put us in community. There is a Zulu word Ubuntu that says: “my humanity is tied to yours.” The spirit of Ubuntu speaks to the belief that one cannot exist as a human being in isolation, “a person is a person through other people.” It speaks about interconnectedness and has its roots in humanist African philosophy, where the idea of community is one of the building blocks of society. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as “the essence of being human.” A person with Ubuntu is open, available and affirming. He or she does not feel threatened that others are able, good, and successful, for one is self-assured, knowing he or she belongs to a greater whole where all are diminished if even one among them is humiliated or devalued.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” This quote by poet, Maya Angelou, sums it up. People want to feel like we really care, like we’ve got their back, like we want to help them. Building a strong connection begins with accepting and valuing all the unique gifts that we each bring to the world - and believing that we are meant to share them.
We pass so many people on a daily basis; yet how many do we actually take the time to greet, to acknowledge? Such a simple action, looking someone in the eyes and affirming their presence, is an act of Ubuntu. Imagine the limitless ways that we could connect and relate to one another if we just took the moment to ask the person next to us - what’s your story? In doing so we will find that those we think to be strangers are actually not strangers at all.
April 25, 2017
A Theology for the Earth
It is common today to hear the expressions “saving the environment,” “sustaining the earth,” “healing and preserving the planet.” With raised consciousness about the wrongs against creation and the ecological needs of our planet, what is our commitment? One thing we do know, cosmic awe is not enough.
In observing Earth Day each year, we celebrate the wonders of this planet and consider it’s fate. Gus Speth, environmental lawyer, advocate and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, speaking before the Aspen Institute said: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy - and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation - and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow’s fears are with us today. We are confronted with the urgency of now. We do not have to agree on the validity of climate change in order to act. Factual consensus is not necessary to compel us to do the right thing. While we gaze at the heavens with infinite wonder, explore the vast oceans and delight in plant and animal life; for many today, curiosity and protection is reserved for science and technology. In contrast, civilizations of old gazed upon the earth feeling true awe and mystery. Out of the invisible (and visible) grew the conceptions of the soul and the germ of religious consciousness and respect. Spiritual Ecology recognizes the sacred nature of all of creation. Why do we separate the scientific - just a way of searching for truth - from what we hold sacred? Which are those truths that inspire love and awe; those truths that ultimately will save, sustain, preserve and conserve that which is precious? Ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected because deep ecological awareness, ultimately is, spiritual awareness. We are indeed creatures of Earth; born of its elements and connected will all our kin on Earth to its center. We all have a common biological origin, a common parent. When we see every bush as burning with the possibility of an encounter with the divine; when we see all ground as holy ground - it changes how we live. The intelligence that evolved us from stardust and interconnects us with all beings is sufficient for the healing of our Earth community, if we but align with that purpose.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...” Gratitude and reverence open us to intimacy, intensity, and immensity of the holiness of the Earth, the beauty of life, and the complexity of the web that holds us in it’s care. God’s sovereignty drives concern for all of God’s creation; caring for the earth is a spiritual imperative. If we are made in God’s image, Divine Oneness and guardianship will be visible through us in every action, as if in the offering of a prayer.
April 18, 2017
It’s probably fair to say that every believer has an unbeliever inside; and many so-called unbelievers also have a believer inside of them. Could it be the real difference between faith and atheism is patience?
The struggle of belief runs through the heart of every human being. “Faith is so rare, wrote Richard Rohr - and religion so common, because no one wants to live between first base and second base. When you’ve let go of one thing and haven’t yet latched onto another - most of us choose the security of first base.” While it is said that we “believe so that we may understand,” it is equally true to say that the more we authentically understand, the more disposed we are to have “faith.”
It is difficult to grasp the significance of the Easter story. How soon will last weekend’s holiday glow - affirmation of life and triumph over death - again trigger question in human minds? That the Divine chose seeming weakness over strength, failure over success and humiliation over glory, challenges a deeper level of consciousness flowing from the chaos of crucifixion. It is not easy to see the life of Jesus as symbol and way that we might know ourselves in God - and God in us. The Greek word that has been translated “resurrection,” comes from the root, to continue. All versions of the story say that Jesus was not only dead, but that he continued. Scholarly treatment of the resurrection cannot explain the impact in the lives of those who have followed his path of love, forgiveness and compassion for more than two thousand years - or ways of loving the Holy and looking for the sacred in all that surrounds us. Life’s renewal is alive over and again through the organic nature of Christ consciousness and resurrection’s transforming energy. The empowering presence of self seen in personal resurrection heightens one’s own sense of responsibility. The gift of such love must be more than a private virtue. I am reminded of the words of Peter Rollins, Irish philosopher and theologian who in response to questions about the resurrection wrote: “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor.... I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”
Theologians will continue ongoing dialogue and debate in attempt to interpret the “something of belief” by what Spirit is or is not. And so will we. Faith is a journey not a destination. Consciousness creates a reality of it’s own. In our evolutionary world of being and thought, truth is constantly “in movement.” With courage to enter into the mystery, each of us finds ways to live deeply into Easter joy; discovering our own resurrection and transformation within.
April 12, 2017
Then comes the morning after…
I wonder what the day after Easter - the day after Jesus’ resurrection - was like for Jesus’ first group of followers. I know what the day after Easter next week will be like for most of us. We won’t give it much thought. Easter candy will go on sale. Carefully decorated hard boiled eggs will become egg salad… some will dismiss the day altogether. Others will question what the “Easter Miracle” is all about…
Sunday will assuredly be another glorious morning at the top of Aspen Mountain. Those attending the Sunrise Service will applaud the observance as though it was the climax of yet another Easter play, celebration of an event buried in the long ago. Knowing we can catch the same show next year we then will move on to something else. “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” What is the meaning to all of this? What is the truth of this day? God knew how difficult it would be for our finite minds to comprehend the meaning of resurrection. Scripture tells He even sent an angel to the tomb to redirect the women’s grief from doubt and pain to faith and joy.
The story of Jesus’ resurrection is mysterious, baffling, strange and beautiful. But then, so is all transformation. Let go of assumptions. Let go of understandings held in the past. If we want to talk about the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth, if we want to use this day to talk about what makes Christianity relevant to our world, the answer is not resurrection alone. The answer is justice. The answer is love. The answer is the message Jesus taught over and again on how to treat our neighbors, how to turn the other cheek, how the meek shall inherit the earth and how the greatest of these is love. We would think about how this one amazing man taught the world to live on earth and by what means to talk to God. Jesus was a teacher, a healer, a prophet, a mystic and a social radical. He taught that people have the ability to transform their own lives by loving one another, by loving even their enemies, by living simply, by not placing their faith in money, material things, status and power. People worshipped Jesus not because of what he had to offer, but because he filled their worlds with hope.
When all is written and spoken and celebrated, the Mystery still remains - who would really aspire to comprehend God? Who would wish to explain the vastness of the cosmos? Who would want to take away the wonder of birth? Or scientifically explain the miracle of new life that emerges from the earth each spring? How can you explain you or I explain me? Jesus was divine. I am not. God is the purest form of love. God is a mystery. God is at work in the world. God is not small. God will not fit into any box that humans create. The mystery of the incarnation means that divine indwelling is in each of us. The divine dwelling place is all of creation. The resurrection symbolically enables us to renew each day alive with hope, alive with the gifts each of us has to offer and share. The dynamism of the Easter story liberates something in us, regardless of belief - a power we may not know we have; a hope, a capacity for life, resilience, an ability to bounce back when we think we are defeated, a capacity to grow and change. Easter is a time of reflection, highlighting God’s love through the life of one compelling man more than 2000 years ago. we too, Awakened to new life, new hope, new insight we too are offered direction to our own personal resurrection in following the way of Love.
April 4, 2017
What does it mean to live life as a prayer - to find sheer joy in the simple movement of every day? To see with eyes of the heart, the Beloved in everyone and in every situation. In precious moments of grace, to feel the beauty and experience the divine ecstasy of being. With awareness of this kind of love we find the occasion for many “alleluias.”
German poet, playwright, philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, told the story of walking past a group of blind beggars. Most were receiving few if any contributions from passersby. However the plate of one was overflowing with donations. Goethe stepped close to the man and saw the sign the beggar was holding: “It is springtime and I am blind.” To live life like a prayer does not mean to be pious. It does not mean to try to be perfect. It means to be in communication with life. It is springtime, and we can see, shouldn’t we be grateful?
The utterance of the word “alleluia” is an expression of worship or rejoicing God. But, how often do we think about praise outside of Sunday mornings? I love the word “grateful.” I like it even more than “thankful.” We use the word thanks daily in common courtesy, as we interact with people around us. The word grateful and gratitude strikes as full of meaning...it’s not used as often in our everyday lives. I like it the way I love the word Grace - the free, unmerited favor of Divine Love. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth is crammed with heaven…” Paradise is where we are, right now. Praise is not supposed to be an occasional happening!
Following 40 days of longing and anticipation during the season of Lent, Easter soon arrives and the singing of Alleluia will make its return to worship. For Christian observers, no single day celebrates symbolic birth and new beginnings more. Every culture has its springtime rituals that create the space beyond the ordinary; that tell a story about liberation, growth and rebirth. Shouts of “Alleluia!” the ancient Hebrew word of hope, promise and praise to God transcend religious affiliation. Each of us can live Easter joy and discover ways of loving the Holy. Opening our hearts and lives to see the sacred, we experience the fullness of the One who walks and journeys with us.
These days my personal prayer is more non-verbal as I simply listen; listen for uncomplicated unpretentious truth, listen to experience the one I call God. I pray to honor our relationship. I did not make the air I breathe or the sun that warms me… I pray to the God who lives and breathes through me; the One who created me and allows me to wake each morning alive and grateful for my life. Without qualifiers. Without reasons. Without expectations to get anything in return. Just praise. Theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart wrote, If “thank you” is the only prayer you say, that will be enough.
Living and breathing and being loved - “Alleluia” is a way of seeing the world in the light of Divine Love, everyday.
March 28, 2017
Receive what is now
While walking this past week I’ve been struck by the presence of two remarkable things - the first flowers of spring and the decaying but beautiful fragile skeletons that are the final form of last years leaves. “Behold, I make all things new.” These wonderful words from scripture remind me to stop and listen, stop and see. Blessings and joys are marvelously metamorphosing….Think about what we receive in life. What comes to mind? From this perspective, isn’t it all amazing?
We are each given gifts of all kinds - some we might not even realize. As life becomes warmer, buds swell on the trees; we hear the singing of birds, sleet and snow and chilling rain offer life giving moisture to the earth. I like to imagine myself as a garden in early spring, untilled; the surface yet hardened by the cold winter, still covered by dry brittle stalks and stems of plants long dead. The imagery of rebirth and rejuvenation accompanying these natural events offer blessing. “Just as there are seasons in the world around us, so there is our interior life.” Recalling these words of Teresa de Avila, I open myself to light, to warmth, to the moisture of rain and melting snow. I allow myself to be a watered garden; filled energized, opened and receiving of life.
The season of Lent is God’s special invitation every year to awaken like nature; to come out of spiritual hibernation and lethargy. “Lent” comes from the ancient English word for Spring - that time of natural rebirth which corresponds to the process of inner spiritual regeneration in preparing for the feast of Christ’s resurrection and the Christian Easter. The lenten season is a time for spiritual transformation, a time to release old ways of being and step into a new expanded life. Lent invites us to clear out some of the things that hold us back and take a step toward our better selves, bringing us closer to God and closer to others - a kind “spiritual spring cleaning!”
Most of us give easily, but often have resistance - to receiving. With arms extended, hands open our posture is ready to receive. But do we mean it? Receiving is not passive; it is a conscious, active, dynamic choice. The human spirit is much like a spring garden, ready for watering. If growth is to happen, we too have to be ready; receptive to be nurtured by God’s life giving grace. Like quick changes in the spring weather we are called to be prepared, expectant, receiving of life, new things, new wonders and beauties, coaxing growth from the turned over soil of our spirits. Like an Easter alleluia, God graces the souls of those ready to receive - stirring joy, deepening peace, strengthening goodness, renewing trust and energizing consciousness. Each new day is a path of wonder, a different invitation. No day is ever the same. Love, joy, peace and hope have been given to us. Are you wondering how to spring forward?
“I believe I will never quite know. Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking and touching, and loving, which is the way I walked on, softly, through the pale-pink morning light. - Mary Oliver
March 21, 2017
Ecstasy at the Finish Line
Some celebrate their latest sacred insight and transcendent experience in silent retreat and fasting. Others find meaning and Godly connection in supercharged break-neck speed. What triggers the adrenaline and fires your spiritual passions? The Sacred Path is endless and uniquely our own!
With the sun bright, crowds cheering, and flags of participating countries waving, the best skiers in the world were awarded World Cup trophies last weekend. It was a celebration of extraordinary physical conditioning, mental preparation and technical training. We are all possessed; enthralled; captivated by athletic achievement. “God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.” How many resonate with the famous line from the movie, Chariots of Fire? From the simplest, easiest backyard game to the most challenging and extreme - we love to measure our capabilities and prove ourselves. Do you find yourself thinking you could do yoga for the rest of your life and never hold that pose as perfectly as she does! How strong is your competitive spirit? I cannot be “my best” until I am “the best.” I cannot be good without being perfect, because perfect is what it takes to win. Does this sound like you? Competition is one of the most powerful forces at the heart of sports, games, and most human activity shaping our emotional, moral and social lives. Extreme sports push the limits; challenging the body and mind with experiences most of us will never have. While the heroic aspects of the competitive life appeal - few of us are willing to give up our comfortable equilibrium with physically and mentally demanding and exhausting training. Comparing ourselves to others is natural.
Life is an endlessly creative experience as is the way we feel pleasure, joy, and experience success. I find personal challenge in psychoanalyst, Carl Jung’s declaration “there is only one last great journey left for man and that is the journey within.” Within, there are no spiritual goals; there is no record setting. There is no attainment, there is no fear or desire, loss or victory. None of this is real. What is real is that God, love and consciousness are always, were, and always will be - transparently present and available, as ourselves. It’s not thrilling or extreme, nor is it ordinary or mundane; it is real, it is true. As Teillard de Chardin stated, “we are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in human experience.” We are all part of one higher consciousness moving and flowing together. Our paths will be uniquely ours, and not something we will compare to anyone else. Remember, the spiritual life is not a race! Enthusiasm is an incredibly powerful tool to create momentum. The word enthusiasm is derived from the Greek word enthousiasmos, which means to be possessed by a divine being. Today, however, so many are unenthusiastic with the media constantly barraging us with messages of tragedy, pessimism and fear. Genuine enthusiasm can only be sustained by something we are truly passionate about. The Sacred Journey is alive. Creative passion stimulates us, athletic exhilaration enlivens us, the excitement of launching a new idea and the eagerness of nurturing another enrich us… Choose the path that fires your being, that changes the way you feel, the way you see and look at things. God is better grasped in actions than in ideas! Perhaps our small victories are the transformations that will bring darkness to joy and light. Grab life with all the energy and enthusiasm you can, and place it before God - all of us are winners!
March 14, 2017
So the saying goes... To find truth is to find God. In the early morning dawn, as the first layers of sun hit the mountaintops, as the newness of the day brings fresh strength, before turning on the daily news, opening my laptop, engaging with others - before shrouds of doubt, skepticism and conflict enter the scene; it’s easy to give an existential “yes” to God, then quickly and inevitably fall away from Truth so evident.
When we were children, we had many questions about the world. Why do we have a bright day and a dark night? If the leaves fall from the trees, why don’t the stars fall, too? Why does a rainbow have seven colors not six? All of these are questions from our purest minds, and they are also the doors to mysterious unknown power. As time passes by, some of us stop asking such questions. Other daily concerns and fascinations take over. For some, the questions go deeper - farther removed from the reality of the known world. Is space infinite? How do we fit into the cosmos? Is there a Grand Design we might ever know? Sooner or later there is a question which occupies every mind - we begin to wonder whether there is such a thing as continuity of life. It’s these feelings, moments and experiences which form our notion of spirituality. The life of the world is like a web; all things are interconnected and interrelated. What is the anchoring thread? What is the whole that holds all that is becoming, all that ever has been, all that is incomplete, all that is broken - all that is. Great wisdom traditions are born of the desire for answers. We want to know who we are, find perfect love, feel enduring happiness. Life-force ebbs and flows. Our connection with God ebbs and flows. We all are looking for “forever” truths; not fleeting, contradictory ones that come and go and are soon proven false. Author John Updike says “The mystery of being is a permanent mystery.” Sometimes we feel connected with reality beyond ourselves, and enlivened by that connection. Sometimes we feel we’ve fallen away and meaning is nowhere to be found. The dawn of truth is slow and almost imperceptible. But truth can never exist alone… it is inevitably woven in the “now” of daily life. I believe that my anchors of truth will not come as a final “arrival”; but rather in a series of beautiful “arrivals” along with a dance of dualities, contradictions and small epiphanies. Perhaps Truth need not be distilled to a single common understanding or even ultimate unifying definition. Rather, all-knowing Love be amplified each by our own light, guided by the power of the unseen; anchored by Spirit that knows no limitation. My simple truth.
March 7, 2017
“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” The words of early theologian and philosopher St. Augustine beg the question...How many of us know what we want to flee from but not what we are in search of?
The Buddha said “our life’s work is to discover our world and then with all our heart give ourselves to it.” Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke wrote “The only journey is the journey within.” Thomas Merton told us “nothingness, emptiness, absence” are crucial aspects of the spiritual journey and at the center we will find our “point of pure truth.”
Why the importance of a journey within? What parallels are there in these wise words to the scriptural imagery and Lenten reminder of Jesus’ 40 days fraught with solitude, danger and vulnerability in the desert? Why did he undergo such torment and misery right before starting his ministry? Was there something Jesus needed to learn or experience in order for his heart to have room for the pain of the world? During the 40 days Jesus had to struggle with his identity, the focus of his heart and the commitment of his life. What can we gain from Lent? Silent retreats, meditation, and the way of monasticism is a subject of interest to spiritual seekers.
Lent is a 40 day period of self-examination and reflection. During Lent we are supposed to become more retrospective. We are supposed to slow down, dig down. But sometimes, the digging is hard in the dry desert of our souls. Who am I? What have I missed if I view the world, myself and God the same way I did 20 years ago? 30 years ago? Even last year? Entering personal wilderness is the experience of allowing familiar thinking, habits, and patterns of our living to be examined; scrutinized. During this season of Lent, we are invited to follow the way of Jesus into our own sacred space. “If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you many never be found.” The author of these words is unknown, but they speak profoundly of the blessing of quiet; quiet rising out of solitude in which one might deepen awareness of God’s Presence in life.
To make pilgrimage into our own terrain, we journey as kindred spirits with all who seek the One. Jesus does not belong to Christianity. His spirit cannot be contained by the walls of a church or the walls of belief. This is a complicated world. How do we respond? What do we do? How do we act? Who should we believe? Monastic spirituality is not some esoteric way of perceiving reality or of entering life. It is wandering, but not drifting in lostness. Rather it is a path of faith. And it may just help answer the question of what and who we are trying to find.
February 28, 2017
Lent - A look at what’s in the Heart
Do we need Lent? The short answer to this would be a somewhat dubious “no.” We don’t need it. But maybe we do. Perhaps this season can offer a chance to reflect and then act on the principles we hold as true; well worth forty days of consideration and conscientious action.
Lent is the 40-day period preceding Easter and is typically defined as a time of prayer and spiritual commitment to prepare Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I grew up with only a vague notion of Ash Wednesday, the Lenten “kick-off” which will solemnly be observed by Christians world-wide this week. To me, Ash Wednesday was some super religious holy day. The Catholic kids went to morning Mass and got to come to school late that day. Apart from a little ridiculing by a few, mostly they received a lot of attention for the smudge of ash across their foreheads. Later I went from being critical of what seemed to be “showy Ash Wednesday piety” to being impressed by those willing to wear their ashes publically. It never occurred to me that this would be something I might do myself one day.
The Bible never uses the terms Lent or Ash Wednesday. Nor does it seem to positively describe the marking of anyone’s head with ashes. The true origins are uncertain. It was not observed by Jesus or any in the early church. But around the 10th century, believers began to signify their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their forehead in the shape of a cross. While some will mark their repentance with abstinence and sacrifice, the real emphasis of Lent is to acknowledge that the spiritual life is a pilgrimage where we are invited once again to begin a journey into the mystery of our existence; not with depression or gloom, but with gratitude and new energy for living. Who are we? Why are we here? The whole season of Lent is a celebration of what God has done in sending Jesus to guide man to rise to a new level of freedom and awakening. Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights to prepare for the ministry God assigned to him. We too, are summoned to participate in the mystical presence of Divine Love by re-centering ourselves and engaging in intentional, mindful meditation. Lent is an annual invitation to open ourselves to our vulnerabilities, to God and to the presence of Grace in our daily lives.
Millions around the world this Wednesday will have their forehead marked by ashes as a priest or minister encourages them to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is a “wake- up” call to our mortality - to our place and importance in Creation and the finite time we have on earth. It’s a time to face ourselves, to see the weak places in our being and to touch the wounds in our own souls. Lent is a call to our hearts. It is an opportunity to make different what we ought to change but have not. It is not about penance; but rather about shaking ourselves from our spiritual lethargy and opening more fully to life. It is about becoming. There are no right answers, outcomes or practices to use. Observation merely offers conscious means by which we might reflect and marry a vision of our belovedness with action to live more sacred and holy lives, and experience the beautiful journey all might take, regardless of belief.
February 21, 2017
Scripture calls us to recognize that everyone we meet is made in the image of God - But honestly, what goes through our minds when seeing the obviously mentally or emotionally challenged... or those who are physically disabled?
One of the most powerful teachings in the entire Bible emerges from Genesis 1:27, the idea that every human being is made in the image of God. The problem is that the phrase is more likely to be reduced to just that, a nice thought rather than as it was intended - to serve as a guide for our behavior with other human beings. Too often our common behavior is to judge others based on how similar or different they are from us. The more different others are, the less likely we are able to really see them as “images of the Divine.” One of the reasons we often pity those with disabilities is that they are not able to experience the same things we can. I suspect that our discomfort with people with disabilities may have something to do with our fear of being in that situation ourselves one day. We are all too aware of the guidelines for perfection that our culture, our society and nation put on a life. Our most common responses in thinking about those with disabilities are preceded by the words what and how and why? Why is there suffering? How can a loving God allow this to happen? What good can come out of this? How do some people come through struggle and disability whole of heart and sure of soul? Where in the struggle of disability does hope and Spirit lie?
Throughout scripture Jesus asks, what about those “who have eyes but do not see and who have ears and do not hear?” Meditating on the phrase I think of gifts not fully appreciated. What if the quest for physical perfection and sharpness of mind is, in actuality, a potential disability for the able-bodied and cognitively strong - becoming an all-consuming priority and focus. Perhaps it is we who might learn from the artless grace and love of a person with Down syndrome, more than they need our feeling of sorrow.
Traditionally Native Americans as a culture have been comfortable with the idea that reality is inherently chaotic, believing that true health comes in finding balance in chaos. Believing in multi-layered and ever-changing reality, there is no conception of “normal” and conversely no concept of “abnormal.”
The Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) Almost all of the biblical heroes were disabled in some way. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah were all barren for some time in their lives. Isaac and Jacob suffered from blindness in their old age. Jacob was lame for much of his life. And even the greatest biblical hero, Moses, suffered from a speech impediment. Jesus’ ministry sought out the company of people who lived on the fringe of society. Aren’t we all afflicted in some way? We each have areas of our hearts, bodies, and minds that just don’t work the way we want them to. When injury, illness or chronic pain strike - dreams end and life disappoints threatening to calcify the spirit; how do we bear them? How often do we single ourselves out for not achieving? How many times do we “dis-able” ourselves from all and who we might become with wrongful thinking and fear when we say, “I can’t?” Devaluing our worth is as life crippling as any disability.
In her beautiful meditation, poet Mary Oliver wrote, “If you are too much like myself, what shall I learn of you, or you of me?” We are the blind, when we fail to truly see in another or ourselves - only imperfection. We are the deaf when we fail to advocate for those who cannot speak. We are the crippled when we fail to reach out for the rights of all people. How would are thinking and actions change if we saw ourselves with the disabled in mutual relationship, rather than in relationship of seeming condescending advocacy? May our lives be a reflection and gift of the endless ability that exists in each and everyone of us.
February 14, 2017
What does it mean to be beloved? What does it mean to live as one who is beloved, embracing and embodying the essential goodness at the center of our being… just as we are? Even though I awoke each Valentine’s morning with a little pink box on my pillow filled with heart shaped chocolates, my earliest memories of the holiday are still distressing.
How many remember making Valentine’s boxes in grade school? With my Mother’s help I lovingly prepared my shoebox, covering it with construction paper and pasting on hearts cut from paper doilies and colored foil. On Valentine’s Day the teacher would call us by rows to deposit our Valentines in our classmate’s boxes. Designing and making my box was fun. Opening it at the end of the school day filled me with anxiety. Teacher’s hadn’t quite yet figured out political correctness. Not everyone got a Valentine from every classmate. One year I only got five.
We may not admit to it, but most are super-sensitive about what others think about us. We focus on our inadequacies and failings and where we think we fall short. Self-rejection is one of the greatest enemies of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us “Beloved.” Many people lack a deep seated feeling and truth of their belovedness and what it means to be unconditionally loved. Is there anyone who doesn’t yearn to learn the secrets of love? We are all as capable of love as any other human being. How do we learn it? Scripture says, “We love because he first loved us.” In the words of author and priest, Brennan Manning, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” And we need do nothing to earn or deserve it.
“All the world needs now is love, sweet love,” sang the Beatles. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” commanded Jesus. Yes, we should celebrate love, today on Valentine’s Day … and every day of the year. Love of self, love of neighbors, and love of God are foundations of all the world’s major faith traditions. Spiraling from the core of our being are all our loves - love of family, of a partner, of friends, of community, of animals, of nature, of country, of work. Love is not something that you just fall into as the romantic songs suggest. Love is a spiritual practice. We get better at it over time. Not simply a beautiful lofty thought; each of us are God’s creation “with whom He is well pleased.” Each of us DIVINE, each of us LOVED. Believing is the key to our spiritual journey.
Chocolates and flowers….Still accepted! HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!
February 7, 2017
Another kind of metric…
We all know the system this world runs by. It’s based on keeping score. Keeping score defines reality. It tells us who is ahead and who is behind. Without realizing, we may adopt the score system of the world around us, and lose sight of what counts before God.
“Metrics” may just be the “buzzword” for 2017. It seems I’m hearing it used a lot in the media these days. Metric comes from the Greek word meaning “measure.” And, what don’t we measure in our world today? Someone gives you a gift, you give one in return. Someone invites you to their house for dinner, you reciprocate. If someone injures, we may want to retaliate. Too many of us wrongly feel that even our worthiness depends on how we “measure up.” Polls and statistics, assigning worth to popularity and production, are a way of looking at commodities… not creation. Keeping score and getting and staying even is what enemies do…
The Women’s March, which took place recently in cities and towns all across the United States, and around the world, may have been the largest organized gathering in history. A measurement like this has to mean something, right? Numbers are impressive but in themselves don’t have power. Remember Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus… that’s the “power of one.”
It’s human nature to want to create some type of legacy—to not just do good things but also be known for them. There’s no need to vilify that type of desire when you consider it’s primal in all of us. But magnitude and number of accomplishments are not what it’s all about in justifying one’s existence on earth. Every effort to improve the world, or ourselves, begins with doing individual acts. When we assist another person, teach our children right from wrong, console the bereaved, honor the dead, visit the sick, work for justice in society, pray sincerely, give to charity - we repair the world, one mitzvah at a time. I like the word mitzvah. The simple meaning of the Hebrew word is command. It’s common usage often means “a good deed.” One might say in Judaism, that the “deed” is more important than the “creed.” How one behaves in this world towards their fellow human beings and the world is ultimately a reflection of, and as important as, what one may believe. All of us might find that in committing oneself to the regular work of mitzvot (offering mitzvah), one may bring meaning and holiness not only to others but to our own lives as well. One good deed leads to another, and that can form a ladder on which to climb out of some pretty bad places...and out of ourselves; either by connecting us to the Divine or by connecting us to another human being. Our smallest and simplest of acts are the reflections of the love God has for us, the love we have for God, and the love we have for one another.
So let's keep doing mitzvot until the world changes. Then let’s do another. Who knows where the goodness will lead?
“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
- Mother Teresa
There are days when all we can see is conflict. Unfortunately this is nothing new. Each of us at some time has experienced the anxiousness of our world, opening the door of our hearts and minds for worry to creep in….maybe even sending us into a depressive tailspin. Have we forgotten - fear is not a spiritual habit of mind? Nor is anger…
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... He who sits on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!”
No! These are not words from any recent campaign speeches! - But rather from the final book of the Bible, Revelations. ( 21:1,5) God’s will to restore this world to a beauty we can scarcely imagine has been the theme of writing, poetry, music and art throughout religious history. St. Augustine’s vision of a city with gleaming golden streets and pearly gates, “where death and tears are no more” written of in his “City of God,” portrayed the struggle between good and evil by contrast of the earthly and heavenly cities...the one pagan, self-centered, materialistic - the other God-centered, compassionate, grace-filled and forgiving. Throughout history man has searched, dreamed and debated the mystery of transcendence. African-American spirituals and gospel songs invoked images of “rivers of life”&