Of The Spirit

pattyharris-sm

with Patty Harris


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
Human Becoming

 
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
Alleluias

 
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
Truths

 
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
Desert Time

 
“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 
Disabled?

 
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
Everyday

 
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


January 31st
Inaugurate this!

 
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” and freedom. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech invoked Revelation’s holy promised day of healing, reconciliation and justice. C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic Narnia tales of a place where all might realize a “deeper country”… a “world within a world,” where “no good thing is destroyed,” but all evil will be transformed by goodness and understanding.
 
Passivity versus action. Some travel the path of inner serenity and wisdom, shunning engagement with the world. Others engage the world with full force, fighting day and night for their cause. I am one who finds myself in a never-ending conversation with the Divine; asking how I am to reconcile my days of inner peace, trusting all will be well...all will be well and my non-confrontational inclination to withdraw from conflict, with my responsibility to act. How do I attain a personal vision of who I am created to be with what I am created to give? From an absolute perspective, nothing needs to be done. Everything manifests as a form of Spirit. God doesn’t make mistakes. Disability, strife, conflict are part of his great plan. On the other hand, from a relative perspective, it is imperative we act. Transcendence does not mean passivity.
 
Our lives depend on response to the very real problems we face. This is where the spiritual traditions of the world offer a healing alternative inviting us to live from a spirit of wisdom,  compassion and love. In ourselves we may discover the next great moral advocates and way of meeting the world's problems with truly integral consciousness. Where we might marry vision and action through a true beloving where the Christos of our heart and our daily work unite.
 
Who I am created to be?  What I am created to give?
 
 




January 17, 2017
L’Chaim - To Life!

  
Albert Einstein asked countless questions; so many it is said, that he was even chastised by teachers as a child for being a disturbance in the classroom. The great philosopher Socrates believed asking questions was more valuable than merely conveying knowledge. Questions inspire, inform, stimulate, and challenge - inviting each one of us to join in the never ending dialogue between ourselves and our Creator.
 
Who am I? Who are we? Those on the spiritual pilgrimage, those who yearn from the moment they are born until the day they die, will ask these questions. Critical thinking, the search for meaning and the search for God is a liminal intelligence that refuses to believe there is nothing but void.  In the words of  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.” In Genesis, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” God didn’t need to ask this question, and he didn’t ask it because he didn’t know where Adam was. He asked it to awaken something in Adam. Prophets and saints, great counselors and sages have guided our way to what a life living in the Spirit of Divine Consciousness looks like. And when we ask a question “for the sake of Heaven” our questions lead to our own Truth. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Every question asked in reverence is the start of a journey towards God.”
 
The wisdom of God lies deep within, inviting us to the good life; a life of purpose and blessing. Every liminal question offers a place of moving forward,  place of awareness and choice, of transitioning from old to new, in a living state of blessedness. HOW we CHOOSE LIFE, how we contemplate our lives in relation to the themes of wisdom - calling - action and reflection, is an affirmation of God’s love. Of all that God created, we alone have the ability for conscious discernment. The choices we make as individuals, as families, as communities and as nations affect all of creation. The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity. It is the deepest affirmation of our true self. …that beautiful, strong, but hidden voice of the One who calls us by name. From the words in Deuteronomy in the Bible, “Surely, what I am commanding you today is not to be hard for you, nor is it too far away.”
 
You don’t have to be Jewish to lift a glass to the Yiddish toast  “L’Chaim” -“To Life!”


January 10, 2017
Neti Neti

 
For people who want answers and love absolutes, it’s difficult to wait on the threshold; to live with the tension of ambiguity, uncertainty - to be fluid and changing but not yet changed. These are the moments when life seems to drop us into a kind of suspended state; a place  without answers, without form and without prescribed roles. Once again leading one to ask the spiritual question, who am I?
 
At the center of transition - be it cultural and communal, personal or private, is a place of open space. Psychologists have a name for that place where boundaries dissolve and we stand on the threshold, getting ourselves ready to move across the limits of where we are and where we will be. They call this liminal space.
 
Where is Spirit in these frustrating times when our lives feel at odds with everything around us? Thomas Aquinas taught that God is known by what God is not... “Thus God is known in all things and yet apart from all things.” The Hindus express the same truth by the Sanskrit saying: Neti Neti - “not this not that.” Neti Neti is an affirmation of the all inclusive, omnipresent, non-dual Universal, which knows no bounds. Seen from one perspective of the spiritual journey, Neti Neti defines the liminal spaces of our yearnings, transcends and makes peace with the unsolvable riddles of our lives. We are not "just" the energy body and not just the physical body which is ever changing, temporary, and corporeal. We are not these emotions, thoughts or experience, etc. It is said that finding out what you are not leads to the knowledge of what you are.
 
In a period of enlightened mystification, essayist and poet,T.S. Eliot wrote:
“In order to arrive at what you do not know, you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess you must go by the way of dispossession. In order to arrive at what you are not you must go through the way in which you are not. And what you do not know is the only thing you know. And what you own is what you do not own And where you are is where you are not.”
 
Spirit is transcendent to all phenomenal existence. God, the Holy One of Being is more than everywhere. Neti Neti. There is no liminal space without God.


January 3, 2017
Dwell

 
Who doesn't love the promise of new beginning? New Year’s resolutions often come from a place of thinking we know how to improve our own selves or set better directions for our lives. What if the year ahead isn't about growing more certain about things, but about releasing our need for certainty and expectation for a more open-ended perception and vision of our lives and of ourselves?
 
We cannot approach God with our intellect; it’s even hard with our imagination. I fall short with my every attempt. And yet, with every approach, I see myself more clearly. And so each year, instead of making resolutions, I choose a sacred word, one single word, to guide and center me in the months ahead, to fasten to my heart, that will guide my prayer, my meditation, renew my hope and beginning again. Experiencing some of my most meaningful spiritual moments through the prism of language and writing, a favorite poem by Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in Possibility,” has invited my contemplation and launched the choice of my new special word for this year - “Dwell.” My new word rolls gently and comfortably off my tongue. It will be with me as I walk, in my travel and tasks throughout the day as I explore its various dimensions. “Dwell” invites me to consider what kind of internal house in which to reside. How to choose to inhabit my days? Dwell asks me not to linger in resentment, anxiety or fear. Dwell asks me to lift up my heart to joy, love, hope and promise. Dwell asks me to embrace a sense of surplus and generosity. “I dwell in Possibility” is a poem that shows how any life-cage can be broken; its imagery allowing the audience to imagine the possible. For us too, the future is not scripted. Our craving for absolute certainty tethers and locks out the Mysterious Unknown. In letting Spirit have its way we are surrounded by infinite possibilities of imagination, freedom, and creativity. We are heir to a legacy of sacred stories and writings to shepherd our direction. Sacred guides and wisdom teachers offer our souls courage to take the needed steps and expand our freedom. Some call it Spirit, some call it Divine Love, some call it God. We are not bound by only what we can envision. The universe is not simply an unfolding of abstract ideas. It is also the outcome of our decisions. Decision is one of the expressions of God’s reality. Perhaps the spiritual life is not so much a linear journey, as it is a kind of unfinished spiral - an ever broadening vision of something greater than ourselves...a place where we might dwell in deepening faith, begging of us the question - who am I?   
 
What child of God will dare to dwell in you this year?


 

December 27, 2016
Beacons of Light

 
Christmas - Winter Solstice - Chanukah ! 
Celebration of Light reigned BIG this past holiday week. All over the world the miracle of light has spoken, offering to all the gift of an inner light, life, and love of the season - the Infinite Light  that makes it possible that anything at all is - God Light!
 
We spend much time looking for light…for light far brighter than that found in a single distant star in the Christmas sky; in an extra hour of sunlight in our dark winter day or in the progressive brightness seen with each new candle lit on the menorah. Advent, the season of anticipation, left us waiting in darkness for the spectacular Coming, the promise of the Divine and the birth of the Christ Consciousness in the human heart. The arrival of Christmas spoke of the miracle of light in the birth of Jesus. Early man found his first deities in the rhythms of nature. Winter Solstice holidays have been observed for thousands of years beginning at the dawn of agriculture by people who depended upon the return of the sun, and darkness would again yield to light. Chanukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights,” celebrates freedom and reminds of God’s miracle of the oil that burned for eight days, despite the the fact there seemed only enough for a single day.
 
Light is the genesis of the world; the beginning of Creation. Light is the sign of Spirit over matter - God’s guiding force illuminating human minds and hearts. Our souls long for that one light that God lit when He created the world; we yearn for the Source of Light, for the Source of everything beautiful in the world, for the One who is Light. Divine Light rests closer than we ever imagined. The Light of Truth lies within each of us. In the words of Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.” The miracles of Christmas, Chanukkah and Creation, shine within asking us to bring light to the dark places in ourselves and in our world. In our love, we live as God’s beacons influencing the world in a positive way. As said in the  words of scripture, hiding our light makes no sense: why waste something so precious? May God’s light shine brightly and be revealed more fully in and through our lives this year, that more and more may come to see.


 

December 20, 2016
Being Willing

 
As the story goes, some 2000 years ago an angel summoned Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. Summoned from a safe place of conventional wisdom to a realm where few of the old rules would make much sense. “How can this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
 
Mary, a most unlikely God-bearer was chosen. Not a queen or a princess or an aristocratic heiress; but a poor peasant girl bringing only her availability and willingness to serve. Mary’s answer to the angel represented a bold statement of faith: “May it be as you have said.” No one - those many years ago, or today - can judge the validity of Mary’s experience. Entering new terrain is seductive. We crave it, devour it, savor it. We have all been in places of discovery, on our own; where we have embarked on “virgin territory.” But two nagging questions always arise - Where will this take me? And, how will I be changed?
 
When was the last time you risked venturing into new territory of faith? What would it be like to look with new perspectives on old ideas, on our relationship with both the historical and metaphorical Jesus? What would it be like each time to look and listen to the Christmas story through innocent, non-doubting eyes and ears, believing one event so simple, yet profound as a birth of a child can transform lives. Where we willingly accept both presence  and symbol of God’s love. We read of the three Magi who visited the infant Jesus proclaiming the message of “Emmanuel” - “God dwells with us.” What would it be like, look like, feel like, to transform our our community and our world to one of hope that all might collectively live in joyous Emmanuel, not only during the holiday season but everyday? What if the gifts we gave were more than just demonstrations of our generosity; but rather symbols of the gifts we might give on all the other days of the year as well -  gifts of love, of compassion, of our common humanity.
 
Christmas is the story of the incarnation: a difficult challenge for many, the idea of God made flesh in the birth of Jesus. Christ became like us so that we might become like Christ. I don’t know who wrote these words, but I like them. There are several versions.  For me, this means you and I, too, are sacred. And so is every living creature on the planet sacred. Sacred because we live. We celebrate Christmas because we were created by  Spirit made manifest by a little baby. We celebrate Christmas because it bears important truths within. The truth that remarkable things can happen; the truth that goodness sometimes comes from unexpected places. We celebrate because we are reminded in this darkest time of year that there is light. There is a God, and he is not silent. If we need to reconcile the language of Jesus as Savior in celebrating Christmas, our eyes of wonder can proclaim the Christ of compassion who taught us how we, in his image, might save both ourselves and our fellow man with unquestioning love. The story of the Christ child is the story of how one life - one solitary life - can begin to change and has changed the lives in all of history. For us too, the journey of faith is a solo journey. At heart, we are all innocent - and innocence is the true spirit of Christmas. With a fresh look, I hold on to the hope of this season that we be less conflicted with what is believed about Jesus than how God’s precious gift of His love comes forth in us and in how we live our lives. “May it be as you have said.” Can Mary’s response be our response to the coming of Christ this Christmas? Could His birth not merely be remembered, but truly received? As we make our way into this new year, let us be mindful of the question first posed by 13th century mystic, Meister Eckhart: “What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place each year but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not full of grace? What good is it for me for the Creator to give birth to his son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and culture?”
 
- A Merry and Blessed Christmas to All.

December 18, 2016
The Gift

 
The season of ADVENT means there is something on the horizon. That there are things we don’t understand is obvious. Is your faith based on proof? Many people gladly celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, only to reject him the rest of the year. Many adore him as an infant, but reject his divine nature born into the world...
 
There is no shortage of Christmas. It’s everywhere. The amazing thing about Christmas is that it is so much more than it seems. It’s loud, it’s boisterous and it’s colorful. We’re seduced into the holiday mood with nostalgic music and sweet Christmas specials on TV - once again believing in the magic. But quietly, Christmas holds its secrets. And we human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation. “Peace on Earth…” quotations are all about us. Yet as the season rolls around, the peace and joy we long for seems out of reach in our broken world. Advent is about learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow. Advent slows us down. It makes us think. We learn in Advent to stay in the present. Advent is a season of preparation and an unfolding of what love is about. It is a time of waiting to discover who we are, where we are to go, who will be with us, and what we must do as we meditate on the birthing of Christ in our own hearts as we reorient ourselves to the Divine.
 
The peace that God promised through the angels that first Christmas night can be found, in spite of the circumstances of our world. Next Sunday morning at the Chapel, we will listen to the special annual Christmas program -“Festival of Lessons & Carols.” Let the music, the carols, the texts and the prayers wash over you. Allow yourself to meditate at a much deeper level; amplify the messages. “I am bringing you good news of great joy,” the angel said to the shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem. Clearly Jesus did not bring joy and peace to the world simply by being born as a baby. Peace and joy are not about what is happening to us. Rather, peace and joy are in the meaning we give and come to feel in our hearts and souls in opening ourselves to the true meaning of Christ’s birth. It is a glorious revelation, and it’s also a great mystery that this union of God and man in Jesus might open our hearts in truth transforming and reconciling us to divine love with each other. What is the meaning behind our personal waiting this Advent season? It is in the profound joy of seeing in a new way. As we sing of Noel in our Christmas service, may we be blessed with the pure vision of our world and of our being as God sees. This is what searching for the baby is all about - following the star rising within ourselves and in our silent night, discovering The Gift.
 


 

December 6, 2016
The Christmas Story

 
“Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” - Linus
 
Not true, Linus. Seems like a lots of folks struggle with the holiday. Most of us know the popular bare bones story of Christmas, but not the whole of it. And many don’t really believe the parts of the story that they do know - of a virgin mother, a guiding star in the heavens and the appearance of wise men and angels; and a miraculous birth in a stable amidst donkeys and sheep.
 
Do you feel there’s no place for you in Christmas? The truth be told, it is an unlikely story with humble beginnings. A story that mostly has been relegated to traditionalists, conservatives and the religious. What does the baby Jesus really have to do with all the celebration? What truths and relevancy exist today? Our culture of doubt is grasping for clarity. The biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth have been subject to critical analysis and challenge by scholars, skeptics and religious leaders for hundreds of years. Many are casting about for new ways of believing; of naming and knowing Spirit. While we will never know the exact details of Jesus’ birth, we can question the literal account of the story - AND  enjoy and learn from its timeless message.
 
Faith, in a theological context, is an act of belief in what one cannot prove. Doubt is an issue with many people who believe. For some, doubt is so woven in with what they think of as faith that it can’t be separated. Doubt - honest doubt - is a good starting point to faith. Such is our nature: to search, to explore, to discover more of the mysteries of our inner selves and the vast realm of the universe beyond. Perhaps those many years ago, Luke and Matthew’s intention was to share their faith - rather than try to establish historical accuracy. In reading biblical contradictions and seeming impossibilities, we might consider these early gospel authors, not so much historians, but as seers pointing to truths that are simply too big to be proven or disproven. Don’t let the details and the laws of nature get in your way. Have you ever thought about the doubts that Mary experienced finding herself in a very difficult situation? And yet she chose to believe. Imagine Joseph’s doubt - yet he stood strong amidst what everyone would say when finding his betrothed was with child? What doubts were in the hearts of the wise men traveling far to worship the birth of a special new King? And, can we imagine today, faith like that of the shepherds who believed before they saw, responding only to the angel’s announcement?
 
Reality or myth, the Christmas story is certainly no less than a parable. And like all parables, it represents a truth that cannot be fully expressed in words. This truth is greater than any of the holiday traditions it inspires - the truth experienced by those who walked and talked, loved and learned from Jesus. Every year this story causes our lives to shift into a sacred time; when families are drawn together, when strangers greet one another with kindness - when we remember the wonder of God’s love and the hope of peace on earth to be shared by all.  


 

November 29, 2016
Countdown

 
When I was a little girl, my sisters and I always had Advent calendars in December. Each morning before school we opened one of the little doors to discover what lay behind it. “Advent” was simply an adjective for “calendar”; a way to wait for Christmas and all the wondrous gift beneath the tree - our excitement mounting as the days passed on. I am not sure when the shift occurred. I’m not sure when I came to know that Advent was more than waiting for presents to be opened, but to a more meaningful reason to observe the weeks before Christmas. 
 
Historically, Advent is thought to have begun in the 4th century in France, probably by Celtic monks, as a time of preparedness for the symbolic remembrance of the coming of the Lord. It was a period of prayer, fasting and anticipation. Ancient monastic practices told us this was a time for pausing, savoring, and soaking in with joy and gratitude the rich treasure soon to be revealed in the birth of Jesus.
 
Today the meaning of Advent is often obscured. Competing pressure to heartily participate in the frantic activity of the secular holiday challenges conscious preparation and spiritual wakening to personal truth and meaning of the season. Advent is a month of preparation both of the annual celebration of the event of Christ's birth and expanded consciousness of God’s mystery, which is Christ in us. Advent is not meant to be merely a retrospect of things past, but an anticipation of things to come. What a beautiful and mysterious time - unfolding like an open door; not of chocolates and tiny surprises fastened to a child’s Advent calendar, but of profound spiritual richness, reflection and depth. The concept of Jesus’ birth stretches our understanding of Divine Love to new understanding, with new ways of being in the world, new ways of living, expanding our consciousness with new relevance of the Christmas message to us today.  The candle we light for this first week is for FAITH and for HOPE. What is faith? Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” - Hebrews 11:1. By faith we acknowledge a heritage of many traditions calling each of us to our own search for truth and meaning as God speaks to the world in the message of Jesus’ birth and life.
 
“If we do not believe within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve into something higher.”  - Rudolf Steiner



November 22, 2016
Gratitude

 
What is gratitude, really? Giving thanks or appreciation? Acknowledging one’s indebtedness to something beyond oneself? It’s hard to find fault with a holiday that brings families together, encourages inter-faith worship, and depicts Indians and Pilgrims getting along peacefully...
 
We Americans are a thankful lot. Our calendar is dotted with days when we express our gratitude. On Veteran’s Day, we thank the Armed Forces for their dedicated service. On Memorial Day we remember those whose lives were given in the name of freedom. On Labor Day, we express appreciation to the industrious American workforce. The notion that our celebration of abundance should be coupled with mindfulness goes way back to that earliest American Thanksgiving in 1621. More than 200 years later, when President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as “a day of thanksgiving and praise” for the nation, he did so in the midst of war. He asked people to thank God for “bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come.”
 
Gratitude is much more than being thankful. Thankfulness is an expression of gladness. Being thankful is more like feeling delight from a gift...or, being happy it didn’t rain on a picnic... Often we feel thankful only when things suit our liking or go our way. Gratitude is thankfulness taken to the next level. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of all that sustains us;  a bow to our blessings, great and small. Gratitude is a feeling that arises uncoerced in the heart. Gratitude is linked to attention and reflection. Gratitude is linked to grace. True gratitude cannot be willed into existence if it is not there. The Talmud teaches that if one eats as little as an olive-size amount of food one should feel grateful. Rabbi Irwin Kula, in his book, Yearnings, has written - “Only by becoming proficient at both gratitude and longing can our happiness become richer and more real.”
 
One of the most profound spiritual acts is our expression of gratitude. I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given. I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given. I offer my gratitude for the health I have been given. I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given. I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given. I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given. I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given. I am grateful to God, not a mere abstraction of my mind; but the Truth to which I subscribe. And just as I am grateful for my blessings, I am grateful for the blessings of others.
Though one does not have to be religious or spiritual to be grateful, there is something about regarding God as Creator of the universe and designer of the laws of life that enables and facilitates our gratitude. It is more difficult to feel grateful to a universe that came into existence for no reason at all. It is, precisely, our confidence and surety in a gracious Infinite Spirit that gives impact to our thanks. As we celebrate our rich bounty of feast, family and friendship this week, may we express our gratitude with a consciousness that recognizes the divine reason for our prosperity.
 
 “Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”    
- W.J. Cameron
 
 
 

November 15, 2016
View from Above

 
“Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was, my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”   - Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut
 
This has been a challenging week for many across the globe. If anything, we are reminded how essential is our spiritual path in a world rife with division, hatred, constant noise and endless manic rushing.
 
Space explorers have discovered the oneness of this planet earth in a profound and visual way. In the revelation of the earth’s beauty viewed from many thousands of miles away, borderlines disappear. Scientific discovery continues to reveal intimate connection and kinship within all of Creation. So also, do we look to our artists, poets and writers to help us see a higher vision and relationship of ourselves and the world. We are “strung between heaven and earth,” to paraphrase Plato, and artists help bridge that gap. Singer, songwriter and poet, Leonard Cohen - who died last week - parted this world sharing again and again the powerful words he used in so many ways…”Be strong, be strong and together we will strengthen one another.In the poetry of his music, he taught us how to think about history, how to think about each other, how to chase God. Engaged in a life-long exploration of the great wisdom traditions East and West, perhaps the greatest gift Cohen gave was showing us how to be kind. One of his dominant themes: that there is a great need in our troubled world for healing to come...for a metanoia, a change of heart, a change of direction.
 
We have the opportunity many times each day to listen to others. Often, we hesitate to listen for our differences because we expect to be disturbed, aren’t really interested in another perspective, don’t want to change. What happens when we talk with people we don’t know? Offer each other happiness, notice what each other cares about, share with one another our dreams… Turning towards one another starts with paying attention. “Conversation is the way we humans think together,” leadership consultant, Margaret Wheatley - says, “it’s not differences that divide us, It’s our judgements about each other that do.” Perhaps this is what Leonard Cohen had in mind when he sang that every heart to love will come but like a refugee”...and, I've seen the nations rise and fall I've heard their stories, heard them all but love's the only engine of survival.” Each person's dignity is sacred and valuable. In discovering the humanity of each and every individual we see that we are all created in the image of God. “Drive out negative thoughts with positive ones,” the Buddha advised. It will not be foreign policies, the gross national product, social engineers or a new Supreme Court that will save us…but rather our inner connectedness when the soul of the world, and our own souls intertwine in Divine connection.
 
“Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” These meaningful words from Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem, speak to the crack within that allows light and love to enter: the crack within our own being which allows Divine Love, God’s love to enter when we replace deep-seated habits of negative thinking with positive ones...when we choose to move through this life with gentleness and love.
 

November 8, 2016
A World Becoming

 
Today is election day, the day we finally go to the polls. Most people I know have pretty strong feelings about the selection of our next “Commander in Chief.” Possibly no party or candidate feels at home. The predictable slogans and divisions have paralyzed American politics and made many feel like withdrawing. Maybe we have forgotten that WE are the difference the world needs. WE are the determiners of our world...
 
Regardless of the winner, no politician can save us from our problems, can dictate how WE raise our voices - what WE stand for, whom WE stand with and how. Though our perspectives are divergent, our faith challenges us to work together to find the way forward, maximize our freedom and denigrate no one. The progressive world needs a spiritual political movement; a spiritual consciousness, where we challenge avidly the ethos of selfishness and materialism, special interests, the deep and painful divisions based on class, race, nationality - and do something about it.  Politics, Pope Francis says, is one of the highest  forms of love, when it is in the service of the common good.”
 
The eternal struggle for freedom, justice and sanity in the world begins deep within the human heart. It seems a harsh reality that many of our lives are governed more by our hates and dislikes than by our loves. We must overcome the distinction of our separateness, defining ourselves no longer as Left or Right, Red or Blue - rather each seeing oneself as part of the unity of all being. Social change and inner change go hand in hand where decisions are based on the values we hear from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount - in community enacting the enlightenment of Buddha. Spirituality, God-energy and Spirit, influence how we experience and recognize ourselves and each other as Holy. The fate of our nation is not determined by the election of a new president - the “right” candidate who will fix everything, for us. We are the elected. It is WE who will heal and transform the world - adopting practices of reconciliation and forgiveness with hope, willingness and imagination. We need a new politic of meaning which affirms a sense of awe, wonder, radical amazement of creation and mankind as readily as economic development. WE must insist on an environment where our deepest values foster national examination of conscience and vision that places generosity, peace, nonviolence and social justice at the center of our lives. Unlike those who merely talk about spiritual politics, let us actually build a democracy based on the ideal that every human being is a manifestation of the Sacred. Let us build the kind of global and local community we want to live in, trusting the transformative power of God.
 
Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)  In short we need a politic of love, built on forgiveness, that believes in truth. History begins with us - today.
 
 
 

November 1, 2016
A Place of One’s Own

 
No one is more influential in our lives than ourselves. While most of us may not be in the habit of talking out loud to ourselves, we all keep some kind of inner dialogue going. Do our words encourage faith, hope, love? Or do they stimulate doubt, discouragement, fear? The search for Truth is always going on, whether consciously or unconsciously. Within every human being is an inner voice of the Divine, offering guidance, waiting to be heard...
 
God's greatest gift to us is mind. “When will I ever see that Am that I Am?” lamented the poet Rumi. We forget that we are all connected by the invisible, energetic force of Creation. The fact that each of us has a mind which is part and parcel of God's mind makes us infinitely creative beings. This force is summoned when we raise conscious awareness of ourselves and others. It gives power, inner freedom and an experience of interconnectedness to all life. Leave behind the certainty that you already know the god you expect to encounter. This state of connectedness does not come from chasing after gurus, ideologies, fasting, endless searching without knowing what one is searching for. We are already connected radically, inherently, intrinsically to the Center and to everything else. Psychotherapist Carl Jung believed that anything that affects us becomes our reality. Dreams, imagination and fantasies, cultural and religious myths, are all manifestations of our inner realities. Primordial wisdom - an inborn knowing - lies within everyone waiting only to be tapped. Gnostic teaching speaks of the primordial spirit force originally residing in Adam, passed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the ancient patriarchs of Israel, and finally made manifest in Jesus. The timeless truth of God is hidden in every heart. We all have an inner voice; a priceless gift waiting to be discovered. “Know thyself,” the famous words carved into the portal of the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi, continue to speak to the universal search for self-knowledge; the universal search of man in relationship with Spirit.
 
The human role in the world is to recognize God; to love as we should love. God is our homeland. God embraces us where we are, healing beyond the limitations of our own. None of us qualify, we can simply accept. We need not qualify. We can’t. God’s invitation is not an invitation to escape or separate us from humanity. The God that we pursue is our divine pursuer. We need, perhaps more than anything else, to simply stop running and let ourselves be caught. I know only to surrender to my longing, to the part that wanders, to the part that yearns. I want only to allow myself to be shepherded to that place of my own - my place with Divine Love.
 
“Divine love is for everybody. It is like the sun. A person has only to open the window of his heart to receive divine love.”    - Sri Chinmoy

October 25, 2016
Think Different

 
According to Harvard Business Review, “Innovators spend almost 50% more time trying to think different compared to non-innovators.” Because of our incredible brain, anything that is imaginable seems possible; anything that becomes possible can be transformed into action. Few of us though, I would guess, spend much time thinking about what we’re thinking about…
 
The human brain is arguably one of the most complex organisms that God has ever  created. This begs a question for each of us: how do we use our brains? What is it we live for? What is our purpose that drives us in life, work, relationships, money, time, values, and a thousand other things. How do we think about God? In the 1980’s, technology entrepreneur Steve Jobs sought a mantra to show that the struggling nearly bankrupt Apple was back in business. He chose the slogan “Think Different.“ The slogan stuck along with the ad campaign that still resonates decades later. Art directors created sketches - Edison clutching a lightbulb with the slogan, Gandhi with the slogan; Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Picasso and a vast number of modern day heroes graced the media. The Think Different campaign was about being open to everything. “Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do...they invent, they imagine, they heal and inspire...” wrote Apple’s creative directors.
 
As in technology, a successful spiritual life is more than just new ways of doing things. It calls for a paradigm shift; thinking differently, believing differently, and living differently. Using the words of technology we need to “update our spiritual operating systems.” God is a god of BIG things. The two things that shut down the contemplative life are fear and holding on. What is self? What is beauty? What is truth? What is goodness? It’s pretty clear that our thoughts are on a completely different plane than God’s. God thinks with positive expectations. Impossible becomes possible. Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the Higgs-Boson discovery of what physicists call  the “God particle,” is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, more importantly, spiritual dimension. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Omniscient. All- powerful, all-present and all-knowing - If a word means all encompassing, it describes Divine Spirit.  Every step forward in human knowledge is another step forward in our appreciation of God’s awe-inspiring universe. Spiritual consciousness is always a co-creation of reality and our interpretation of it. The desire for ultimate answers is a desire for closure. Don’t put an end to questioning. Transcend your old images. God is not small, petty, tired, or stagnant. To know the power, wisdom and eternal nature of Spirit, the God of life, the God of love -  think differently. Think BIG.
 
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. “   - Hebrews 11:1

October 18, 2016
BREAKING NEWS!

 
How many of you are like me, wasting too many hours tracking the political news coverage and worrying about the future of our country? The world is full of contrary visions, viewpoints and opinions depleting our souls and sucking our spirits dry. We need to keep right perspective of the world; not as we are told it is, but rather as it is meant to be...
 
Does it seem we hear the ominous words, “Breaking News” more and more frequently? Flashing across our TV screens, in alerts on our phones and laptops; another senseless killing, sex scandal, celebrity breakup, star quarterback benched for the season. For the journalists and media, it seems good news is often not news at all. A commentator on NPR even referred to our addiction to news coverage like Buffalo Wings and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, …”we gorge ourselves, then feel sick, then gorge ourselves and feel sick.”  News teams, it seems, feed us what they think we want to hear.
 
It would be easy to numb ourselves to what is really going on and thus avoid the responsibility we have to be informed of the real breaking news of our human condition, of the tough questions of terrorism, the economy, climate change, education, healthcare. There is much to report that is worthy of being news without twisting situations and lacing them with sensationalism; and in some cases - outright lies. What if the headlines focused on stories about people who were committed to love? Real stories of people who inspire us to be more of who we really are; who show us our potential to work with and for the benefit of others, uplifting us all? These days, I consider newsworthy anything that comes from someone who is connected to their inner heart - fusing the loftiest spiritual heights with the most mundane physicality. What’s newsworthy are stories telling me of scientists, medical researchers, artists, teachers, theologians, who each day, offer new discovery and insight into the immensity of our lives. Real breaking news tells of man’s unprecedented intelligence, compassion, mercy and courage. Our brightest dreams and our greatest fears are sometimes one and the same. Our souls yearn to expand and to awaken to our strength. What’s newsworthy are things that turn my heart to action. We must continue to see the breaking news of our human condition and our potential for good. We’re not here in this life to be small. God uses everything and everyone. REAL Breaking News takes place when every day we inhale our sacredness.
 
“Jesus had only a few fish, but many more materialized. He had only a few loaves, but many more appeared. Where love is present miracles happen.” - Marianne Williamson
                                                                                                       
 

 

October 11, 2016
RESET!

 
Who wouldn’t want to begin some aspect of their life again? What if we could really push a “reset button,” start anew,  look forward, and commit ourselves to live life to the fullest of our potential, be the best we can be?
 
Every year at this time, I find myself envious of my Jewish friends. According to tradition, during these High Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God opens the “Book of Life,” and symbolically the whole world is begun again, creating a yearly second chance. Marked by an intensive period of looking inward as individuals, followers also come together in collective scrutiny before the Creator. Observation begins in acknowledgement, reflection and self-examination of the human capacity for wrong-doing; for mistake-making and for harm-causing. In prayer the faithful resolve to make amends to those they have hurt, to forgive those who have transgressed against them.
 
Most of us are experts at denying our faults. Do we laugh or scoff at the idea of being “sinners”? What about those of us who lay in bed at night knowing we have done wrong, wanting so badly to be forgiven, worried that we have not measured up? Self exploration is painful. 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 acknowledging our pasts, even as we leave them behind. We are all in the repair shop. More importantly, we can only forgive others when we admit to ourselves our own human failings first.
 
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 all the goodness that resides within me. Teshuvah- often translated as repentance, a turning back to God- is open to us regardless of our faith. And so, I unite this week with my Jewish friends on my personal journey of growth, life and love. In the words of theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, “willing to be a beginner every single morning.” What if we can really begin anew just by saying so? Imagine ourselves freed from self-defeating patterns. What if our resolutions actually become the foundation for a fresh start? What messes do we want to clean up, and not leave behind us?  In the words of Rabbi Mordechai Levin, during these High Holidays (and everyday), “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...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.”
 
“Making Teshuvah”... we begin again in love, realizing the gifts our souls, seeing that our future is not governed by our history, accepting the gift of God.  

October 4, 2016
Right  Relationship

 
If we’re honest, most of us would have to admit that seeing God in some of the people we meet in the course of the day is beyond challenging, and yet that is exactly what we are called to do. Jesus himself told us to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But He didn’t stop there…
 
Relationships are a fundamental part of being human; they enable communication and a shared sense of belonging. They are pivotal to the ways in which we, as humans, build our evolving identity and make sense of the world around us. Like many, I was first introduced to the existential thinking of Martin Buber in a Philosophy of Religion course in college. Buber believed that the key to creating a society that is nourishing, empowering and healing for everyone lies in how we relate to one another. Perhaps Buber’s writings have come to my mind recently in light of the upcoming election and in my pondering of the tensions and confusions that rule our day.
 
According to Buber, in his famous treatise on man’s existence, human beings adopt two main attitudes and ways of engaging with the world and towards others: The first relationship is called “I-It.” The second is “I-Thou.” In the I-It relationship, human beings perceive each other as consisting of specific qualities - almost as objects. Communication is impersonal, the other might even be manipulated, as a means to one’s ends. “You are just using me!” might be the moral charge proclaimed in the I-It relationship that is focused solely on the self. The I-Thou relationship occurs when one human regards and affirms the other as cherished and unique. The I-Thou communication is regarded by Buber as the highest form of human dialogue where each meets in the fullness of one’s individuality.  I-Thou is a relationship of mutuality, reciprocity and respect. I-It relationship is one of separateness and detachment.
 
Relationships form a fundamental part of Christian theology. Jesus showed the importance of relationship in the way he lived, telling us in his words and with his actions that love is non-negotiable. He wanted his followers to care for hurting and troubled people rather than seeing people as projects to improve. He wants us to love the way He loved and serve the way He served - personally and unconditionally. He wants us to extend kindness and friendship to people from all walks of life; to engage with one another in our uniqueness and totality. In fact, virtually all the world’s wisdom traditions encompassing the history of human civilization have right relationships as their core value. Each of these traditions enjoins its leaders and citizens to act with compassion and thoughtful empathy towards others. Each speaks of right relationship as the noblest spirit of civilization and humanity. According to Buber, one meets God in ultimate I-Thou relationship, through one’s encounters with other human beings and the world. How do I respond when someone hands me a leaflet on the street? When a homeless person asks me for money or for food? To the restaurant server or clerk? Every relationship of thou offers a glimpse of the Eternal Thou and creates the foundation for all other equitable and right relations. Given the desire to say “Thou” to the world and to one another, man will no longer be alienated; but rather, each might be fulfilled and complete. In turn, by helping others to reach their wholeness, we will attain sincere and true community of Spirit.
 
”Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God.”     - Martin Buber
 

September 27, 2016
God in Color

 
“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all that I have not seen.”  - Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
Did you ever think about what it would be like if we had only a black and white world? Color is not just a part of God’s creation, it is a gift. Next time you see a sunset, an iridescent tropical fish, or brightly colored bird, think about it...
 
The brilliance of color in our valley these past days has caused me to pause more than once to give thanks. Color is nature's own signaling system - the universal, non-verbal language. Color is not just a part of God’s creation, it is Divine Love providing beauty and brilliance as we say goodbye to another season. Color is energy, and the fact that it has a physical effect on us has been proved time and again in experiments. Certain colors are said to evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility. Others invoke calmness, sadness or indifference. In nature, colors are often present for a purpose. Bright colors in a birdb will help attract a mate. The colors of flowers likewise draw a pollinator. The beautiful colors of fall, however, don’t appear to have an obvious purpose. They’re just beautiful. Leaves don’t actually “turn” color. Lacking the key ingredients of warmth and sunshine, trees break down their chlorophyll. With the green gone, the hidden reds, golds and oranges, begin to express themselves in the magical life-producing process of photosynthesis. Although scientists know how the leaves change each fall, they cannot explain why. The leaves’ beauty has been there all along… and there is something similar that happens inside of us. Most of the time our divine qualities are covered up. Like leaves rejoining the soil and becoming compost for new life to evolve, there can be a blessing for us as well, in letting go and moving on. We have experienced the beautiful budding of life in spring and the flowering profusion of summer. Now, autumn reminds us of the impermanence of everything. As I look at my own life, I look also at falling leaves differently. Bare branches remind me not only of the fleeting nature of all things, but to celebrate life’s renewal...my renewal.
 
Eco philosopher, Thomas Berry, warns that if the Earth grows inhospitable it is because we have “lost our sense of gratitude, our willingness to recognize the sacred character of our habitat.”  The spiritual and the physical are two faces of the same reality. The flow of divine vitality into the world is uninhibited and plentiful. We are unable to absorb the Divine through our minds alone; we need the gift of our senses. Contemplate the meaning of such profound beauty as nature whispers it’s truths. Do we merely see colors this glorious autumn; or do we see the expansive sacredness of all creation as well as  within ourselves?
 
In the words of Albert Einstein, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”   
 

September 20, 2016
Message from the Movies

 
“Art is the lie that tells the truth.” -Pablo Picasso
 
Music moves us. Poetry connects us. Paintings call out to us. Dance energizes us. Movies tap into our imagination. Good movies make us laugh, they make us cry, they offer escape or draw us more deeply into life, mystery and wonder. Settling into our seats, popcorn in hand, the lights go dim; we relax before knowing why - our bodies and minds ready to engage. Who doesn’t love a great movie or film? Got your tickets? It’s Aspen Filmfest week and  “showtime!”
 
Philosophers have long explored the notion that the world as we perceive it is an illusion. The quest for ultimate truth sought after from countless perspectives. Existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche considered truth to be virtually impossible to look at and deal with directly. In honest questioning, he sublimated the poets, painters, writers and musicians of his time to do the job. Picasso, too, suggested it in his quote. I, as well, might venture to say, great art brings us as close to the truth as we ever get.
 
Choosing a favorite movie says a lot about us. And whether we best love adventure, romance, fantasy or superheroes; movies tap into our imagination, engaging and absorbing our hearts and minds. By nature, each of us sees the world from a point of view with perspective peculiar to ourselves. Yet, we all wish to enlarge our being, visualize with other imaginations, feel with other “hearts,” as well as with our own. There may be little real distinction between film that entertains and that which is purely art. What is life about, anyway but contemporary myth-making, inherited from our cultural and biographical histories? Isn’t life a series of scenes / actions / events that share personal trials and triumphs and challenges, raise questions? The impact of a well written and wonderfully acted movie can provide guidance and direction for navigating through personal challenge, offering direction to embrace and transcend loss, grief, and hardship.  Movies tell stories that motivate and encourage viewers to maintain hope, fight to survive, believe in the best, recognize that anyone and any situation can change. The big screen forces us to respond to deep racial, cultural, ideological differences and tensions portrayed in fiction or documentary. Compelling, transforming films provide moral language for our world; not always as it is, but how it might be. In the words of famed Italian film director, Federico Fellini, “The cinema like all other manifestations of creativity, ought to be a state of combustion. A metabolism of the unconscious, a journey to the center of ourselves.”  Art, in the form of great film, cultivates the ability to imagine a future; and so, transcend the present moment. The force of a great film can liberate energy beyond usual thought, offering new possibility and vision. Cinema can draw us to seek the truth to the higher questions of life, discover purpose, make sense of our experiences and expand our vision of the world. In her poem, “Upstream,” Mary Oliver writes, “Attention is the beginning of devotion,” A good film provides that space to take notice of each other and of our own souls...opening the door to encounter Spirit through the possibility of seeing the other as God’s creation.  It seems good film,  looks  something  quite like a prayer.  

September 13, 2016
Simplicity

 
Once upon a time summers were for running barefoot, digging for fossils in creek beds, blowing seeds of a dandelion head, not doubting, not worrying, not having a care. Daily needs and wants were simple. None of us will be children again; we’ve all lost the everyday carefree, uncomplicated and simple love for everyone and everything. Even a child of ten has already traded amazement for an iphone. I don’t remember growing up. It’s clear it’s happened, though; and that simplicity is much harder to attain.
 
“God made man simple; man’s complex problems are at his own devising.”   Ecclesiastes 7:30                                        
 
Simplicity is a buzzword these days...how many times have we been reminded, a simpler life is a happier life? Testimony to simplicity challenges us to ask, “What really matters?” Clutter doesn’t come only in the form of extra “stuff” in our closets; but clutter in our minds and hearts, fragmenting our energy in many directions. At the threshold between living in a state of blessedness or one of curse is the place of awareness and choice. Simplicity has as much to do with our purpose in living as it does our standard of living. There is no “right and true way.” Simplicity is not found in self-denial, in imitating the writings of Thoreau at Walden Pond or rereading piles of Mother Earth News, in attempt to return us to earlier, less complicated  years.  Nor is it found by excluding technology from our lives.
 
Scripture declares: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land...a land in which you will lack for nothing.” (Deuteronomy 8:7) Creation is good, and to be enjoyed. Most modern versions of simplicity demand neither an end to economic prosperity nor a vow of personal poverty. Money or possessions or activities in themselves do not corrupt simplicity. The value and benefit of living simply is an ancient and universal idea found in all the world's wisdom traditions. Simplicity can be practiced in cities and suburbs, in rural America; in mansions and high rises, as well as in log cabins. Ultimately a state of mind more than a fixed way of living, simplicity is inner harmony in the midst of too many material possessions and the hectic treadmill many find themselves on. I now live in a very small log cabin, having downsized from a much larger home. I have far less stuff in my life and miss nothing. However, I too, continue to reflect on what it truly means to live a simple life; knowing the size of space we occupy and the things we possess are far from deterrents to that which really interferes.
 
Do you know what truly makes you happy? Simplicity begins in inward focus. Experiencing  inner reality and meaning liberates us outwardly. When we lack a divine center in our lives, our desire for security leads to attachment to and craving for things we do not need or even enjoy. Think of simplicity not as impossible demands, but as an invitation to a more centered, intentional and Spirit-led life. Simplify to give clarity, purpose and power to the thoughts and things that matter most.
 
I’m not sure I want to learn more “about” God for a while. I want a beginners mind...less to do with my head, more to do with my breath and my heart. The Buddha said: “If you endeavor to embrace the Way through much learning, the Way will not be understood. If you observe the Way with simplicity of heart, great indeed is this Way.” My best quiet times lately involve not trying so hard; a meditation of simply drawing closer to the Divine and hanging there for a while. Simplicity is freedom. The secret to having it all is knowing you already do.
 

September 6, 2016
Connecting…

 
Upon waking each morning, the Jewish tradition directs its faithful to recite the Modeh Ani, simple words of thanks to God.
“I am grateful before You, living and eternal King, for returning my soul to me with compassion. You are faithful beyond measure.”
I can only wonder how my day might go if in my first conscious moments, while still lying in bed, I thanked God for my most precious gift - life.
 
For many, it’s ingrained in our humanness to pray. My first remembered prayers were bedtime requests to take care of my Mom and Dad, and all the loved ones in my life. I remember thinking that if I forgot to name one of my friends or family, terrible things would happen to them. I prayed for a baby sister, a puppy, and to get the popular doll that all my friends had. I would talk and God would listen. God never got a word in edgeways. I set the goals and prayed God would do the work. As I grew older there were disappointments when God failed to do what I had faithfully asked. Most people, although they might deny it, still see prayer as asking for something, telling God what they want. Much theology has traditionally perceived God as all-powerful and immutable. And yet, our conception of prayer defies that description because we expect God to change. But is this the God we want to worship? A God who is subject to people’s will? Or, a God who is not open to manipulation, but hears. In the words of Spiritual teacher, Tony De Mello, “When I pray for something. I do not pray. When I pray for nothing, I really pray.” We cannot help but seek to connect. And so we pray. We pray not knowing exactly what prayer is or how it works, knowing only our need. “Who am I?”...“Who are You?” How many of us were taught we can simply have a conversation with Spirit? Theologian, Marcus Borg argues that prayer is answered not by intervention but by interaction. Starting where my heart is, I know I can pray my concerns…pray my frustrations…pray my confusion…pray my ignorance…pray my doubt ...pray my helplessness...and I trust that God is hearing my prayers. Prayer is our primary means of connecting our consciousness to the divine. These days my personal prayer life 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. The God who lives and breathes through me; the One who created me and allows me to wake each morning…refreshed, alive, grateful for my life.
 
“I did not make the air I breathe nor the sun that warms me… I did not endow the muscles of hand and brain with the strength to plough and plant and harvest...I know I am not a self-made man.”  
- Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser
 

August 30, 2016
It’s not that complicated

 
Ever wondered what Jesus thought of the Ten Commandments? What did he think of the laws God gave his people by way of Moses some fifteen hundred years earlier? During his time on earth, Jesus was asked many questions. Some by people who sought truth, like most of us. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of them all?”
 
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus delivered two directives summarizing all the laws and commands throughout scripture. Every observant Jew at the time who was faithful to his religion, knew the law. Jesus didn’t tell his followers anything different than what had already been told before and passed down through the ages. The #1 thing - Love God with your whole being. Plain and simple. God alone, Creator of all, is worthy of worship.  #2 - In loving God right we are to love people right; Period. Jesus, once again, flat-out instructing everyone that these are the most important things we are to do.
 
The not so hidden reality of higher consciousness throughout religious history never stops directing its aspiration to a loftier plane. Merely having an abstract feeling of love for our fellow man is easy. But holding actual love for real people? That’s another story.  Most of us don’t have a problem loving God. But the truth of the matter is, some folks are just hard to love. We’re not designed to love unconditionally. Our normal, everyday, quick-to-anger, habitually evaluating and judgemental minds don’t work that way. Personalities get in the way. We’ve got to love anyway. Again, regardless of why the question was asked...“Teacher, what’s the  greatest commandment?” - the importance lies in Jesus’ answer. “If anyone says, ‘I love god,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God from whom he has not seen.” (John 4:20) There is only one way to know whether our claim to love Spirit is a self-deception or not; namely by the way the way we relate to people around us.
 
Mother Teresa said that when she washed the feet of the abandoned homeless person on the street she was washing the feet of Jesus. I’m guessing she had doubts in the dark of her nights. Did I really treat that person as if he were the Lord? Am I doing enough to serve the poor and needy?  We need to give our time. We need to be willing to listen. We need to be willing to put our love into action. Nothing we do is complete. But love of God finds its greatest  fulfillment in love of neighbor. Pretty simple - Love God and love your fellow man and self-transcendence, God Consciousness, and everything else falls into place.  Like the peace we seek, Divine Love is always at the core in our conscious acts, not those realized in some quantum vacuum but in our daily acts of living.
 
“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 to not love you were not sorrow enough itself?”  St. Augustine
 
 


 

August 23rd, 2016
Birthday Bucket List

 
                        “It takes a long time to grow young.”   - Pablo Picasso
 
“Eat cake...it’s someone’s BIRTHDAY!” Maybe it’s yours! More than just words on a bumper sticker telling us not to hold back, but to live life to it’s fullest. Birthdays are reminders of our beginning; birthdays shout to us that each of our paths is unique and to value our experience. Birthdays are our soul’s visionary days - a window to the chance of a lifetime. Even so, do you ever hear yourself thinking or saying, “if only I had more time”...
 
From the onset of our lives, we are driven by powerful inner forces. Hard-charging lifestyles spur learning, keep us fit, define our accomplishments. Many celebrate their birthdays challenging and evaluating how they measure up to the previous year; checking  to see if they’re still “hitting the target.” I’m glad that I’m well past the self-imposed need to clock myself. Grateful also to be long past that first painful and harsh realization that I’ll never hike grueling Ajax with the same speed I once did.  Brutal honesty is inevitable on our birthdays!
 
Visions and dreams are born over the course of every lifetime. Each day is a chance to squeeze a little bit more out of this blessed existence. We all hear the popular, “before I die” bucket lists. The ones that include skydiving (of course), swimming with sharks, traveling to exotic places… What are we waiting for?  I have a few in mind. But, if we are really want to check off anything important, we need a different bucket list, one that has emotional, spiritual, and intellectual goals that offer depth and breadth to our lives. Our birthday is a day to personally re-dedicate to the REAL, with a spiritual bucket list, our gauge for realigning and centering ourselves with renewed vigour and commitment to that which genuinely makes life worth living.
 
Are we progressing towards our highest vision? Each of us is questioned by life and can only reply by answering for our own existence. If you are one who is tired of asking if you’re “there yet,” I invite you to do this: open a Word document, or get out a piece of paper and write down what you believe your existence would feel like if you were to become truly enlightened. Do your best to describe the experience of being fully realized. Set a personal spiritual vision. What exactly are you seeking? What is the expected outcome of your spiritual search? How would life be different?
 
Not much being written down? Could it be that in these brief moments you have noticed how contented you really are...maybe even experiencing a surprising sense of peace and inner serenity?  Relaxed, open, spacious - at ease. Could it be your bucket is already full! The same energy that God invested in us at birth is still present. You need nothing. Your gift: simply to accept. A recipient of GRACE, a recipient of DIVINE LOVE. There is no longer anything to seek. Relax!  
And, have a Happy Birthday!                

August 16, 2016
Peaceable Kingdom

Have you ever experienced the uncanny feeling and sense of perfect communion - in a chance encounter, finding yourself gazing directly into the eyes of a wild animal? Ever had a bad day, and your best four-legged buddy came to sit close and nuzzle you gently? Our relationship with animals may just offer an interconnectedness of spirit transcending the boundaries of our limited human perspectives.
 
“Until we have loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
                                                                                                            - Anatole France
                        
Some time ago, I read an essay in the New York Times that struck me. It began, “I’m bored to tears by usefulness.Richard Conniff, a contributing writer to Menagerie, a column about our relationship with animals, lamented the argument that animals only matter because they benefit humans, or at some point in the future, might benefit us. Even wildlife conservationists are guilty of prioritizing threatened habitats in justification of displacing certain wildlife over others. Conniff says “Wildlife should be useless in the same way as art, music, poetry and even sports are useless.” Kind of like “Art for art’s sake,” alone. Animals raise our spirits, make us laugh, make us cry, comfort, frighten, disturb and delight us. God knew what he was doing when he created “every animal, livestock and creature that moves,” calling them, “good.”
 
Imagine a world of committment to each other, to all of creation; where humans and animals do not depend on one another’s destruction for their own survival. A place where “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11-6).  Imagine a world where all humanity and all animal life dwell in the peace of God’s creation, a place where as conduits of love, non-humans and humans alike, reach out to each other, however advanced or altruistic that love might be. Human-animal sacraments in their own right. A world where we might live together in “precious uselessness,” running, romping, taking naps, greeting loved ones with joy, our eyes and hearts open to kindness and delight… simple, but profound lessons often proclaimed with a wet lick, not words!  
 
“Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery.   Fyodor Dostoyevsky
           

August 9, 2016
Does Your God Perform Miracles?

“Spiritual awareness is born of encounters with the mystery.”

                                                                    Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

God is greater than religion. God is the spirit within that calls us to conscious living of a spiritual life. God is the answer that drives us beyond the uncharted mystery of our questions.  Miracles also reveal God’s heart...
 
Are you embarrassed by the miracles in the Bible?  Even though I never really read the Bible at an early age, I knew I was supposed to believe in extravagant spectacles like seas splitting, the lame walking, and donkey's talking. Lots of people actually do believe in miracles; they need God to perform miracles to “prove” himself. People who survive cancer against the odds sometimes regard that as a miracle - a real miracle, the sort that requires divine intervention. We all love stories of found puppies, impossible cures and superhuman rescues. If you’re like me, you might even find yourself ranking them in order of their “greatness.” Although there may be no order of difficulty in miracles, the science-minded are pretty well convinced in a hierarchy of illusions. The question isn’t whether people believe in miracles, people believe in all kinds of things. The question is what to make of them? I think God tends to offer signs, performs wonders and miracles to coincide with what he has to say. Magic connotes trickery, miracles connote God’s LOVE.
 
According to definition, a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. Physics is grounded at its very core in a set of “laws” drawn from inferences, assumptions and circumstantial evidence. How do we really know that there are fixed rules of the universe and what they are? It seems a bizarre notion at this point in history to accept that man is in possession of all understanding and comprehension of absolutely everything. Why deny the possibility of miracles when, rather, we might embrace the event as pointing to an expansion of our understanding of what Divine Truth is?
 
Grace descends from the Creator upon all beings. How do we choose to see it? How do you rank from 1-10 the emergence of the soft furry buds, later to turn into Aspen leaves each spring? The amazing fragrance of lilacs throughout town in June? The flowing rain upon a parched and dying field? The birth of your child? “How...can we tell the difference between the word of God and mere human words?” This question, central to Elaine Pagel’s book, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, has been asked by man for centuries. How can we distinguish real wisdom of the spirit from man’s conception? How do we discern spiritual truth? Isn’t life itself the miracle? Isn’t the real miracle the fact that there exists something in the universe rather than nothing at all ? One scientist responded -
“There are two ways to look at life, as though nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle.”     - Albert Einstein

 

 



August 2, 2016
Power of the Uncertain
 
“some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. 
life is about not knowing, having to change, 
taking the moment and making the best of it, 
without knowing what’s going to happen next. 
delicious ambiguity…”   -gilda radner
Delight in the uncertain. Isn’t this what keeps us moving forward...like a cloud of unknowing.
 
Many remember Gilda Radner, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live. Quick, clever, intelligent, this talented actress died at age 42, but not before raising awareness for cancer and offering provocative thinking about ways of looking at our lives. Delicious ambiguity... I’ve saved Gilda’s words in my memory since reading them in her autobiography some 25 years ago. Delicious is such a wonderful word, invoking pleasing sensations, delightful, sweet, and enjoyable experiences. Ambiguity is one that defies certainty, “it could be this...it could be that,” a vagueness, maybe even doubt. Together these two roll off my tongue like a wine demanding definition and question. Is it good or is is bad? Unknowing has huge mental and emotional costs for us “enlightenment” seekers! There is so much comfort in resolution of uncertainty and in tying up life’s “loose ends.” 
 
Ambiguity, in the spiritual sense, acknowledges the dilemma of what is not understood. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if God would just give a straightforward sign. Maybe that’s what the miracles were all about; but they only seemed to lead to more confusion. What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists as purported by the existentialists reflecting the dilemma of modern life; the absence of feeling grounded in something greater than ourselves. There is a saying attributed to Buddhist thought, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Take one leap after another in the darkness until the light shines.” Didn’t religion begin with innocence? With awe? With pure mind, unburdened by doubt of Spirit’s existence?  Life is about dealing with mystery, seizing the moment, not knowing what’s going to happen next. A passage from the Gospel of Thomas, the coptic manuscript only recently unearthed along with other Gnostic texts in 1945, illustrates the hidden words of Jesus and a different kind of savior than many thought they knew; a Jesus that was mystic, imaginative, poetic. With “delicious ambiguity,” Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” A lot of Jesus’ teaching was inexplicable and perplexing, conversing in parables and stories to illustrate spiritual and moral lessons. It’s hard to grasp the idea that Jesus would not want people to clearly know what he was saying, but often the crowds left scratching their heads. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last,” Jesus’ words in Luke 20:16 speak to me saying all of us are equal recipients of Divine Love. Certitude or mystery? Is one way of looking more conducive to faith than the other?  Jesus didn’t speak in riddles to create a mystique; his parables were not meant to create a stumbling block. Life is not simply black and white. Is our thinking ambiguous, or is our understanding ambiguous? God makes room for us to make our own decisions in celebrating the paradox, mystery and ambiguity of the Divine. 




July 26, 2016
“Good Morning Holiness!”

In the low country regions of Georgia and South Carolina there is an old Gullah term for early morning, “Day Clean.” Thought to be a sacred time, these words refer to the moments after first dawn when the sun begins to shine, when each day is a clean new slate upon which our lives might be written. How powerful these words, reminding that no matter what occurred yesterday - today is a new day.
 
The Gullah are descendants of enslaved Africans, living on the sea islands and along the coastal regions. Residing mostly in wooden shacks, these beautiful people have preserved much of their language and colorful West Indian culture; their folk beliefs, music and storytelling tradition. Though their lives appear hard according to our standards of comfort, the Gullah have created a space of peace and serenity, joy and love with their morning greeting and thanks to the Creator. 
 
For me, morning is the most healing time of day. After a restless night the light of dawn is the illuminating reminder of Divine Presence whispering “all will be well, all will be well.” How joyful the knowing comfort of the early psalmist who sang, with words of praise: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) In the early hours, the fading darkness and flow of good is unstoppable.  In salute to the sun, I welcome the light’s divine energy. In walking meditation about my tiny house I take inventory of the beauty, I offer a prayer as I pour my first cup of coffee, as I fill the birdfeeder, and as I wave blessing to the morning commuters passing by my front porch. Most of us are pretty committed to packing a lot of living into our lives….often with more quantity of activity than quality. Wherever we are is our starting point. There is no race. If we are not preoccupied by the past or troubled by our future, we will see each new day for the miraculous opportunity and gift that it is. Hope is like the sun, awakening our discovery of Divine Presence in each person we meet, every event we encounter, every challenge we face. The morning brings peace within myself, unafraid and reminded that I am profoundly loved. And I am ready to say “yes” to all of life’s possibility in welcome of the miracle of this “clean” new day. 
 
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”  Psalm 143:8


 



July 19, 2016
Barefoot Journey

It’s summer and I love going barefoot! Of walking in the cool grass, of standing on the rocks in the river and feeling the cold rush of water over my toes - my bare feet walk the earth reverently, for everything I see cries to me, “take off your shoes, this ground is holy.”  What if we realized we are walking on holy ground everywhere we go?

God spoke to Moses: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place you are standing is holy ground.”  Acts 7:33
Moses was instructed to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground in the middle of the wilderness. When we stand in the presence of God, we are standing on holy ground. When the wind sings through the pines like the breath of God awakening us to his sacred presence, “take off your shoes!” When the sun rises above the mountain top coloring the world with a new dawn,“take off off your shoes.” At the glorious moment of contact, when the gaze of a stranger appears as the face of the Divine…”take off your shoes.” When a new friendship comes into your life, a gift to unfold,“take off your shoes,” Take off your shoes with new insight - receptive and in adoration of its awesome beauty and glorious mystery. Walking barefoot is a metaphor for existence. Yet, in the tension between God and Earth, it is also the place where the self is most vulnerable, where we see only the hate and fear, cruelty and doubt of our world. The holy ground with which we have been blessed is right here beneath our feet and extends far beyond. It is about learning to recognize and respond to God’s presence in our lives. When the sorrows and questions of this world press close to your heart, “take off your shoes,” and feel every rock, every divot, every texture. Similar to the path that is life, we are going to come across things that intrude on our path as well as delight. Open us, God, to your wonder, asking not WHAT or HOW or WHY? - but WHO? Open us to the full revelation of your Spirit, your Presence - that we might experience the joy and trust of peaceful “barefootin’ “ in your sacred holiness.


 

July 12, 2016
Beyond Belief


“I have enough faith for both of us today.” With these parting words I left the rooms of countless patients while serving as a hospital chaplain; my statement prompted by the pain of doubt in the face of struggle and fear. I know only enough to trust and have faith that it is God’s grace that lifts our minds, and that it is community reminding one another in the face of life’s mystery, that offers peace. Why are we so obsessed with achieving a stage of understanding, a level of wisdom and of truth - of having something to believe in. Why can’t we  simply,   “Be still and know that I am God.”  - Psalm 46:10

Faith makes the choice to trust based on the joining of the mind and the heart. It makes the choice to suspend doubt and cynicism and to say “yes” to the heart’s calling, not to reality itself. What is it to know something, to have faith in something, to believe in something?
Beliefs are ideas and concepts; they are opinions about reality, not reality itself. Some beliefs carry us through the hard times, some turn us away from the source of that belief, itself. Knowing cannot be proved or disproved, true knowing is perceived  so deeply we don’t even have to discuss it. The knowing of Divine Reality takes us beyond opinions and debates, beyond mind and thought. It is an imprint on the soul that simply is. When Jesus said, “As you believe, so shall you see,” he was speaking to a universal law of attraction; one of cause and effect. Faith changes our vision, changes our focus, takes the handcuffs off of God.

The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning to slacken, let down or cease -  stop fighting, stop struggling, be quiet, “Be still …and know.” Know that Spirit is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, infinite and good. Know beyond belief that we are created by God, held by God, loved by God. In the words of English mystic and contemplative, Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) “all will be well; all things will be well.” Sacred voices are everywhere. Often they are our own. Even in our uneasy relationship with the Divine, even while trying so hard to orchestrate, rush, change, mold and construct God to fit into our world, our words of faith can breathe life into another.

 

God is greater than religion. God is the spirit within that calls us to conscious living of a spiritual life. God is the answer that drives us beyond the uncharted mystery of our questions.  Miracles also reveal God’s heart...
 
Are you embarrassed by the miracles in the Bible?  Even though I never really read the Bible at an early age, I knew I was supposed to believe in extravagant spectacles like seas splitting, the lame walking, and donkey's talking. Lots of people actually do believe in miracles; they need God to perform miracles to “prove” himself. People who survive cancer against the odds sometimes regard that as a miracle - a real miracle, the sort that requires divine intervention. We all love stories of found puppies, impossible cures and superhuman rescues. If you’re like me, you might even find yourself ranking them in order of their “greatness.” Although there may be no order of difficulty in miracles, the science-minded are pretty well convinced in a hierarchy of illusions. The question isn’t whether people believe in miracles, people believe in all kinds of things. The question is what to make of them? I think God tends to offer signs, performs wonders and miracles to coincide with what he has to say. Magic connotes trickery, miracles connote God’s LOVE.
 
According to definition, a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. Physics is grounded at its very core in a set of “laws” drawn from inferences, assumptions and circumstantial evidence. How do we really know that there are fixed rules of the universe and what they are? It seems a bizarre notion at this point in history to accept that man is in possession of all understanding and comprehension of absolutely everything. Why deny the possibility of miracles when, rather, we might embrace the event as pointing to an expansion of our understanding of what Divine Truth is?
 
Grace descends from the Creator upon all beings. How do we choose to see it? How do you rank from 1-10 the emergence of the soft furry buds, later to turn into Aspen leaves each spring? The amazing fragrance of lilacs throughout town in June? The flowing rain upon a parched and dying field? The birth of your child? “How...can we tell the difference between the word of God and mere human words?” This question, central to Elaine Pagel’s book, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, has been asked by man for centuries. How can we distinguish real wisdom of the spirit from man’s conception? How do we discern spiritual truth? Isn’t life itself the miracle? Isn’t the real miracle the fact that there exists something in the universe rather than nothing at all ? One scientist responded -

“There are two ways to look at life, as though nothing is a miracle or everything is a miracle.”     - Albert Einstein
 

August 2, 2016
Power of the Uncertain

 
“some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.
life is about not knowing, having to change,
taking the moment and making the best of it,
without knowing what’s going to happen next.
delicious ambiguity…”   -gilda radner

Delight in the uncertain. Isn’t this what keeps us moving forward...like a cloud of unknowing.
 
Many remember Gilda Radner, an original cast member of Saturday Night Live. Quick, clever, intelligent, this talented actress died at age 42, but not before raising awareness for cancer and offering provocative thinking about ways of looking at our lives. Delicious ambiguity... I’ve saved Gilda’s words in my memory since reading them in her autobiography some 25 years ago. Delicious is such a wonderful word, invoking pleasing sensations, delightful, sweet, and enjoyable experiences. Ambiguity is one that defies certainty, “it could be this...it could be that,” a vagueness, maybe even doubt. Together these two roll off my tongue like a wine demanding definition and question. Is it good or is is bad? Unknowing has huge mental and emotional costs for us “enlightenment” seekers! There is so much comfort in resolution of uncertainty and in tying up life’s “loose ends.”
 
Ambiguity, in the spiritual sense, acknowledges the dilemma of what is not understood. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if God would just give a straightforward sign. Maybe that’s what the miracles were all about; but they only seemed to lead to more confusion. What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists as purported by the existentialists reflecting the dilemma of modern life; the absence of feeling grounded in something greater than ourselves. There is a saying attributed to Buddhist thought, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Take one leap after another in the darkness until the light shines.” Didn’t religion begin with innocence? With awe? With pure mind, unburdened by doubt of Spirit’s existence?  Life is about dealing with mystery, seizing the moment, not knowing what’s going to happen next. A passage from the Gospel of Thomas, the coptic manuscript only recently unearthed along with other Gnostic texts in 1945, illustrates the hidden words of Jesus and a different kind of savior than many thought they knew; a Jesus that was mystic, imaginative, poetic. With “delicious ambiguity,” Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” A lot of Jesus’ teaching was inexplicable and perplexing, conversing in parables and stories to illustrate spiritual and moral lessons. It’s hard to grasp the idea that Jesus would not want people to clearly know what he was saying, but often the crowds left scratching their heads. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last,” Jesus’ words in Luke 20:16 speak to me saying all of us are equal recipients of Divine Love. Certitude or mystery? Is one way of looking more conducive to faith than the other?  Jesus didn’t speak in riddles to create a mystique; his parables were not meant to create a stumbling block. Life is not simply black and white. Is our thinking ambiguous, or is our understanding ambiguous? God makes room for us to make our own decisions in celebrating the paradox, mystery and ambiguity of the Divine.

 

July 26, 2016
“Good Morning Holiness!”

In the low country regions of Georgia and South Carolina there is an old Gullah term for early morning, “Day Clean.” Thought to be a sacred time, these words refer to the moments after first dawn when the sun begins to shine, when each day is a clean new slate upon which our lives might be written. How powerful these words, reminding that no matter what occurred yesterday - today is a new day.
 
The Gullah are descendants of enslaved Africans, living on the sea islands and along the coastal regions. Residing mostly in wooden shacks, these beautiful people have preserved much of their language and colorful West Indian culture; their folk beliefs, music and storytelling tradition. Though their lives appear hard according to our standards of comfort, the Gullah have created a space of peace and serenity, joy and love with their morning greeting and thanks to the Creator.
 
For me, morning is the most healing time of day. After a restless night the light of dawn is the illuminating reminder of Divine Presence whispering “all will be well, all will be well.” How joyful the knowing comfort of the early psalmist who sang, with words of praise: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) In the early hours, the fading darkness and flow of good is unstoppable.  In salute to the sun, I welcome the light’s divine energy. In walking meditation about my tiny house I take inventory of the beauty, I offer a prayer as I pour my first cup of coffee, as I fill the birdfeeder, and as I wave blessing to the morning commuters passing by my front porch. Most of us are pretty committed to packing a lot of living into our lives….often with more quantity of activity than quality. Wherever we are is our starting point. There is no race. If we are not preoccupied by the past or troubled by our future, we will see each new day for the miraculous opportunity and gift that it is. Hope is like the sun, awakening our discovery of Divine Presence in each person we meet, every event we encounter, every challenge we face. The morning brings peace within myself, unafraid and reminded that I am profoundly loved. And I am ready to say “yes” to all of life’s possibility in welcome of the miracle of this “clean” new day.
 
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”  Psalm 143:8

 


 

July 19, 2016
Barefoot Journey


It’s summer and I love going barefoot! Of walking in the cool grass, of standing on the rocks in the river and feeling the cold rush of water over my toes - my bare feet walk the earth reverently, for everything I see cries to me, “take off your shoes, this ground is holy.”  What if we realized we are walking on holy ground everywhere we go?

God spoke to Moses: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place you are standing is holy ground.”  Acts 7:33


Moses was instructed to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground in the middle of the wilderness. When we stand in the presence of God, we are standing on holy ground. When the wind sings through the pines like the breath of God awakening us to his sacred presence, “take off your shoes!” When the sun rises above the mountain top coloring the world with a new dawn,“take off off your shoes.” At the glorious moment of contact, when the gaze of a stranger appears as the face of the Divine…”take off your shoes.” When a new friendship comes into your life, a gift to unfold,“take off your shoes,” Take off your shoes with new insight - receptive and in adoration of its awesome beauty and glorious mystery. Walking barefoot is a metaphor for existence. Yet, in the tension between God and Earth, it is also the place where the self is most vulnerable, where we see only the hate and fear, cruelty and doubt of our world. The holy ground with which we have been blessed is right here beneath our feet and extends far beyond. It is about learning to recognize and respond to God’s presence in our lives. When the sorrows and questions of this world press close to your heart, “take off your shoes,” and feel every rock, every divot, every texture. Similar to the path that is life, we are going to come across things that intrude on our path as well as delight. Open us, God, to your wonder, asking not WHAT or HOW or WHY? - but WHO? Open us to the full revelation of your Spirit, your Presence - that we might experience the joy and trust of peaceful “barefootin’ “ in your sacred holiness.


July 12, 2016
Beyond Belief


“I have enough faith for both of us today.” With these parting words I left the rooms of countless patients while serving as a hospital chaplain; my statement prompted by the pain of doubt in the face of struggle and fear. I know only enough to trust and have faith that it is God’s grace that lifts our minds, and that it is community reminding one another in the face of life’s mystery, that offers peace. Why are we so obsessed with achieving a stage of understanding, a level of wisdom and of truth - of having something to believe in. Why can’t we  simply,   “Be still and know that I am God.”  - Psalm 46:10

Faith makes the choice to trust based on the joining of the mind and the heart. It makes the choice to suspend doubt and cynicism and to say “yes” to the heart’s calling, not to reality itself. What is it to know something, to have faith in something, to believe in something?
Beliefs are ideas and concepts; they are opinions about reality, not reality itself. Some beliefs carry us through the hard times, some turn us away from the source of that belief, itself. Knowing cannot be proved or disproved, true knowing is perceived  so deeply we don’t even have to discuss it. The knowing of Divine Reality takes us beyond opinions and debates, beyond mind and thought. It is an imprint on the soul that simply is. When Jesus said, “As you believe, so shall you see,” he was speaking to a universal law of attraction; one of cause and effect. Faith changes our vision, changes our focus, takes the handcuffs off of God.

The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning to slacken, let down or cease -  stop fighting, stop struggling, be quiet, “Be still …and know. Know that Spirit is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, infinite and good. Know beyond belief that we are created by God, held by God, loved by God. In the words of English mystic and contemplative, Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) “all will be well; all things will be well.” Sacred voices are everywhere. Often they are our own. Even in our uneasy relationship with the Divine, even while trying so hard to orchestrate, rush, change, mold and construct God to fit into our world, our words of faith can breathe life into another.



July 5, 2016
Ambition - a Heavenly Incentive?

                                                               

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about…” - Rumi

 

Each summer the classical music world descends upon Aspen. The town is literally alive with the sound of music. Lucky for all of us! Young people from all over the world comprise the Aspen Music Festival’s student program. Some of classical music’s own greatest living talents are among the Music School’s alumni. The competition among those selected was daunting; the opportunity to learn, a dream come true...the reward for endless hours of practice, perseverance and sacrifice. There is drive, desire and passion in all of our lives…isn’t there?  Let the Music Begin!
 
Dreams exist on many levels. The dreams of the poet take flight in imagination, the visionary has idealistic dreams of a better world. Every great dream begins with a dreamer. And while most of us don’t have to be concerned about the applause of an audience, we are all goal-oriented in some way, wanting to express ourselves, to be acknowledged and validated by our peers for our accomplishments. Ambition, though, to some, is a dirty word...said to be associated often with pride and self-centeredness. In trying to better oneself some get side-tracked, selling their souls, compromising their convictions. It was ambition that got Satan thrown out of heaven. It was ambition that got Adam and Eve thrown out of the Garden of Eden. It was ambition that brought down Jesus’ betrayer, Judas. Ambition may be seen as the doom of enlightenment. Being ambitious, in and of itself, is not wrong. Often ambition is what has carried one to great accomplishment and discovery.  It’s what we esteem honor and focus on that can be a problem.
 
My guess is that most world class musicians, like most of the brilliant young music students playing here this summer, didn't initially pursue their art with a goal of fame and  recognition, they pursued a love. They began in following a joy, a passion, an inner voice - a special call - or vision, a deeper knowing….Some will pursue and strive for perfection the rest of their lives, in their music-making transforming lives and through individuals, transforming whole communities.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of America’s most widely cited Supreme Court Justices, stated, “Many people die with their music still in them...too often it is because they are always getting ready to live.” Few of us will become world-class musicians, athletes, dancers, artists, or world-class “anything” for that matter. The point is, God brings gifts to each of our hearts and each of our best possible “performances” are better than a performance that never happens while we’re continually “warming up.” Are you afraid of failing? Are you afraid of succeeding? Are you afraid of your own ambition? Creativity, our dreams, our freedom, our ability to chose, have origins in forces greater than ourselves. A special heart consciousness, our gift from God, is waiting for the dreams to unfold and the action to begin! I have opted for a different kind of ambition, one that has emotional, spiritual and intellectual goals that offer depth and breadth to life - a kind of “spiritual bucket-list.” An ambition that allows my deepest God of purpose to resonate and direct my vision. What’s on your bucket-list? It’s your music - whatever it may be. Don’t let it go unsung!
  “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically…”   Colossians 3:23      

 



June 28, 2016
The Runoff!
 Spirit Unbound
 
Nighttime temperatures high above us have risen well above freezing sending a surge of snowmelt barreling downstream; the power of the Roaring Fork has been unleashed! Symbolically, water is viewed as the source of life itself, emerging from primordial waters in Creation myths and given to us, and for every living thing, by God. Life springs from water. Life is sustained by water. Water is the life force flowing through our bodies - it provides also,  a powerful spiritual message for the Universe...
 
The surging water of early summer runoff takes on the form in which it is held, the symbol for metamorphosis, moving in the path of least resistance with the power to create as well as destroy. It is a universal metaphor for philosophical recycling, of regeneration and renewal. Much of the challenge of maintaining needed water during arid times or when consumption is high depends on storage in snow, lakes, aquifers and reservoirs. Only in reservoirs have we any control, essentially holding precious water until it is needed. Isn’t this what happens in our spiritual and emotional lives as well? Spiritual depletion brings drought - Holy reserves are needed! Just as snowmelt in the form of Colorado’s mountain runoff is unbound by the confines of space and time, so Spirit sees a vision our minds cannot fathom. As a symbol, water and rivers contain both dark and light. Floods, too, can be both positive and negative - destructive forces, also cleansing, washing away impurities and pollutants. From this vision of Spirit there can be felt a reality that allows us to face the challenges of a complex world. But sometimes that vision is hard to hold onto, drying up in the face of negative energy, illness, greed, hate or discord. The Hebrew Bible knows of living in times of plenty and scarcity. The story of Joseph tells of the wisdom of planting ahead and saving in the fat of the productive years so there is enough enough to sustain in the lean and less fruitful years. (Genesis 41: 25-37). The New Testament contains the words of Jesus, saying in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, will have living rivers of life flowing within them.” What recharging resources do have when you find your spiritual reserve and capacity weakening? Are they sufficient to carry you through the troubling times, the doubtful times, the times when spiritual boredom sets in? Many of us don’t tap the resource of God within. Given the vital role of water in sustaining all forms of life, God’s use of the term “living water” comes as an answer in times of spiritual drought, so essential to sustain our ongoing spiritual growth and development. Our hearts are the reservoir, the flowing spring which feeds everything in our life - our values, how we spend our days, our money... what we love. Ultimately our analogy is about “water” for our whole person that we might thrive in the lush and arid times of the soul. Peaks and valleys will always be  present… How do you fill your spiritual reservoir?
 
 
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
                                                                                                              Proverbs 4:23  



June 21, 2016
Kiss me, now ! 

 
“Hey beloved, my soul is a raging volcano of love for you!
You better start kissing me now!”  - Hafiz
 
If God is perfect, why did he create us? A perfect being isn’t missing anything; so why would he need us? And if he doesn't need us, is our life meaningless? Are we just some divine experiment? We want relationship with God - but does God want relationship with us?
 
There is a teaching which holds that God created the world - and us in it - in order to be in relationship with Him. It teaches that God was lonely and yearned (and still yearns) for connection with us. God instituted this kind of bond with ancient Israel, saying “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Leviticus 26-12) The ultimate intention of all the world’s major faith traditions is to love and be loved by God - to live in connection with the Divine, in union with the Beloved. Yet love can be misunderstood. When one shows love, people may think there is some motive behind it. Universal Love does not judge, condemn, or view us as anything less than Holy. Divine Love does not hurt the human heart. Divine love does not shed tears for itself but for the suffering of others. Man is created as the perfect face of Holiness itself, the sacred extension of the very heart of creation. Leave behind any certainty that you already know the God you expect to encounter... Spirit’s invitation to “come follow me,” is never delivered the same way. The God that we pursue is also a  divine pursuer!  If there is a human hunger for the All Knowing, it is matched by the Infinite’s hunger for us - God never says “enough.” God is never “too tired”, never tells us our timing is bad...never plays “catch me if you can,” teasing - appearing one moment, disappearing the next. God’s invitation is not offered to separate us from humanity. It’s not an escape. To be with Spirit is to be home again. 
 
We act sometimes as though we can teach ourselves holiness, gleaning connection in our intellectualism. Or worse, telling ourselves lies, pretending that our absence from Spirit doesn’t bring pain. We convince ourselves that distance from the Creator doesn’t hurt; that we don’t need divine love songs in our ears, expanding our hearts.  In our abandonment, we disconnect with the air we must breathe - the nourishment we need to thrive. I can’t offer a citation for the idea that God is as close to us as the rhythm of our own hearts; but it’s a belief from which I draw comfort. I can’t see God or touch Spirit. Sometimes I forget and our relationship is one-sided. The distance between us feels unbearable. And then I remember there isn’t really any distance between us at all. Divine Spirit embraces where I am, leading me beyond the limitation of my own mind and thoughts. None of us qualify for such pure love; we can’t. But we can accept it. All we need do is surrender, stop running, listen - for Divine’s wild, beautiful love songs …and kisses.
 
“The way you make love is the way God will be with you.”  - Rumi



June 14, 2016
See Me

 
I asked, “Can you see me?I yearned for him to see me. To see my face smiling ...to see my love for him. With each visit home, my Father’s eyes are more empty, hollow...nearly blind now. I long for this man I cherish, to see my face once again, to see and know that I am healthy, strong, happy. Even greater still, is the yearning I have to be seen for who I am on the inside, for the woman I have becomeDeep within each of us is the longing to see ourselves and to be seen as we really are.
 
Once upon a time the tribal group we belonged to, our families, and our communities gave people a sense of security, identity and purpose. Today we arrive into a world of competitive societies overwhelmingly void of people knowing who they are or what they want. Rather than nurturing uncertainties we exist in a culture that teaches survival by erecting walls between our inner and outer lives; in a world where we have onstage and offstage lives. The ancient psalmists declared, “God formed our innermost being...knit us together in our mother’s wombs... we are fearfully and wonderfully made...and our souls know this very well.” But, do we really trust and believe these words of scripture? How do we see yourselves? Pause for a moment and think about it. How many times have you tried to make someone like you? Or not be mad at you? Or think highly of you? Many of us base our self-worth on how others see us, defining our value on our looks, wealth, or our accomplishments. We set unrealistic standards thinking we should be competent and successful in order to consider ourselves worthwhile. In our relationships we might reveal some things, but we definitely don’t reveal all of our selves when trying to gain favor with another. We don’t talk about how we disagree or where our goals might be in conflict. We act in ways that are more slanted to what we think will gain us the approval of others rather than what our authentic feelings or thoughts actually are. We get tripped up when we think that the connection we so desperately seek only happens when people are happy with us. By seeking the favor of others, we sacrifice the freedom to be our unique selves, and to have the true connection that nourishes spirit and soul. The masks we wear might fool the world but can’t fool our hearts. If only we could see ourselves as God sees us!
 
As God’s creations, we are made with the need and desire to be uniquely loved. The question of whether God loves us - personally and individually - is one pondered by many. Does Divine Love that has created all things, also know each thing about me, even calling me and every one of us by name? Only our individual selves say “I am this,”  or “I am that” - defining in ways that are limited. Spiritual Consciousness, the God of the great “I am” is boundless, without limitations, all-knowing. This is the consciousness of God; unsettling and reassuring at the same time. Paying attention…truly seeing another person and allowing ourselves to be seen fully and honestly, is to love as God loves. The understanding of the Self is the most important insight that we can have. It is God’s Spirit individualized within each one of us. True beauty is vulnerability. But being seen does not only mean showing weakness, it also means showing strength, courage, authenticity, devotion, loyalty and courage. God consciousness is the need and goal of our existence. So is the need to be known ourselves and to be known to oneself. And all the time God calls out to us, sees us, and pronounces us “Very Good,” ...just the same!

 

                  Can we really handle an all seeing, omnipresent, omnipotent  and, all-loving God? 

 



June 7, 2016
Heart Yearnings

 

“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields.”
 
If we are asked what we want out of life, we can answer fairly easily. If we are asked what we hope for, we can answer that too. John Steinbeck’s words speak to a yearning deeper than either of these...
 
Yearning may be a strange word for us, but we know what it feels like. We may not talk about our yearnings or allow ourselves to think about them very often, but we all have them - the fragile, urgent longings that rise from the depth of our being. The deep desire for intimacy, for relationship, to love and to be loved. We yearn to be heard and seen as we are, not for what others want us to be. We yearn to be appreciated and acknowledged. We yearn to be accepted completely, including our imperfections. We yearn to sometimes be weak and to be taken care of. Maybe you’ve yearned for comfort or healing for someone you love. Maybe you’ve yearned for peace on earth - or in your own heart.
 
Adyashanti says, “Our yearning for truth actually comes from truth.” Buddha said we cannot live a life where we experience no hunger, nor have an itch that doesn’t need to be scratched - it is how we think about these longings and desires, how we engage in them that makes a difference. When Gandhi said,We become what we yearn after,” he does not mean that we will achieve whatever we desire; that if we yearn for wealth, we will become wealthy, or if we yearn for acceptance, we will be accepted, or if we yearn after youth we will remain youthful forever. What he means is that what we yearn after, what we set our hearts upon, what we most deeply desire, shapes our character and will influence the type of person we become. What might we become if we yearned after SPIRIT with our whole hearts? If we desired GOD with our whole selves? Even if you’ve never yearned for God, you’ve probably wished for relationship with a higher power, seeking to make connection with holiness, the mystery of life and the divine force of creation. Jesus’ first words as he began his ministry appeared in the form of an ordinary question with extraordinary significance: “What do you want?” (John 1:38). What are you seeking? What motivates you? What is it that you really need, not just on the surface, but deep down into the core of your being? Even though my life is incredibly blessed, I am always talking with God and believe my yearnings will be received with gentleness, grace and direction. We are creatures of desire and longing, hoping for more, for better, for fresh and new. We may not know what we want, but the ache for it is unmistakable. Yearning rises from the innermost chambers of our being. Can you name your yearnings? Turning toward mine, is for me, a way of turning towards God. We all have hungry hearts, where is yours taking you?
 

 



May 31, 2016
Like a Child

Remember what it was like when we were children interacting with the world from a curious and wondrous place? Every bird and flower, puddle and breeze, snowflake and garden slug thrilled us. When we were young, we lived from the perspective that life was magical and wonderful - that everything was possible. Young children have tremendous and untapped spiritual capacities, coming into the world with believing hearts, full of faith and receptive to the feelings of the Spirit.
 
Spirit comes as naturally to children as their fascination with a butterfly or a twinkling star-filled night. Natural spirituality is, in part, being one with the seen and unseen world. It is where wildflowers are saintly conduits to prayer, where miracles turn water, soil and sunlight into grapes, and God’s calling is in the sound of the summer rain and rainbow. A child’s spirituality precedes and transcends language, culture and religion. There is such power in the cycles and seasons. Spring - and now the promise of summer - bring new life to the earth and new birth to our consciousness. The changing seasons offer a vast range of images and metaphors from nature where we might glimpse the divine and explore our inner terrain. Nature holds up a mirror so we can see more clearly the growth, renewal and transformation of our own lives. Suddenly, I am a child again, hearing the sound of the first returning hummingbirds, feeling the happiness of being alive from the playful bounding of a chipmunk running up the tree branch, viewing every flower opening as creative bursts of spirit. Nature keeps us in the eternal now.
 
We move fast, sometimes seeing so little in our daily lives, enjoying too few of the everyday treasures of our childhood. Life is meant to be celebrated, enjoyed, and embraced in all its mystery. Like a child, our adult minds, too, are capable of conjuring up wonderful images, sensations, smells and sounds that invoke the joy, delight and preciousness of life. There is beauty everywhere, connecting all beings, connecting us with holiness. Reclaiming our inner child impacts our spiritual and contemplative lives. Sometimes though, rediscovery wanes and we require inspiration. We need to have the fire inside reignited and to have our excitement for life renewed. The poet, Kabir writes, “Wherever you are is the entry point.” Open all your senses. Feel the energy of sunlight on your body; plunge your hand into the river and squeal as a child at it’s cold. Experience what it feels like to be in harmony with the natural world, born again with each hatching and sprouting and rising. Alive with playful spontaneity and trust, capture the divine in the seen and unseen. On her walks, she was astonished by her awe and wonder of the natural world. And in her poetry, Mary Oliver told us God is all around us…writing, ”When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.” 
 
Child-like spirituality blesses the waterfall, says thank you to the spider web, and delights in the cool blowing breeze. The same Spirit that renews the face of the earth is able to renew the soul of man. Jesus said unless we become like little children we will not truly know the Divine. What is your soul waiting for?  Say Yes, and see where you go!


We Remember
 
Who is a hero? What is heroism about? Few of us have ever seen battle, experienced the hardship of military service; endured countless sit-ups, shin-splints and blistered feet from miles of marching, seen the tragedies of war... and the dying. Despite the fact that we may not be moved by old men in uniform marching by in Memorial Day parades, and that some believe war and violence to be unethical, never willed by God; next Monday, I among many, will observe 60 seconds of silence and the “National Moment of Remembrance.”
 
While many believe that wars are expressions of self-interest and the designs of the powerful, from it's inception, Memorial Day was meant to be a day, not set aside to glorify individual pursuits and war, but to heal and unite. From its very onset at the close of the Civil War - Declaration Day - which is what it was then called, was meant to be a day of remembrance and reconciliation. It was a time to unite North and South and a time to pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving this country. It is also a time to be reminded of the value we place on our freedom and the responsibility that belongs to all of us to preserve and help bring such freedom to others throughout the world. By and large our nation doesn’t treat very well the brave men and women who willingly leave comfort and loved ones behind to protect and keep our nation free. And so, this Memorial Day, let us remember the spirit in which the day was conceived, reconciliation, - a way to bring together those who have once been bitter enemies. Remembering the words of St. Augustine: “Peace must be our aim; war should be a matter of necessity...One does not pursue peace in order to wage war; one wages war to achieve peace.
 
Patriotism is a supreme love and concern for a particular place and consciousness of the world. Yet after the fighting is over, loss and heartbreak are shared throughout the human family. If we are proud of our country, what do we feel about other countries in the world? If we have pride in being an American, how do we feel about all of God’s people? America needs a definition of patriotism founded in the ideals that gave rise to this nation and which love for this country may be expressed. This is the deepest meaning of “laying down one’s life for one's friends.” To realize that God didn’t make us to be radical, isolated individuals, but to love the people around us so intensely that we would lay down our life - as patriots, in love with an imperfect world, who believe their country worth defending and its defense worth risking their lives for. In the words of Bengali writer, painter and poet, Rabindranath Tagore, “Patriotism cannot be our spiritual shelter; our refuge is humanity” - where Divine love pours out over all God’s children, with  no respect to borders or nation states, and where true patriotism supports all mankind and heroism ennobles all of us.

Loving God, we pray to you for people
of every race, religion language and nation.
Help us always to respect and love each other
For you have made us all.
Let those who have given their lives
For the sake of justice, peace and freedom
Be rewarded by your generous love
 
May their families and friends,
And we who honor them,
Remember them with love,
Now and always. Amen
                                          - Ron Gagne
                            




 



May 17, 2016
Blessed to Be a Blessing

“Cheers!” ‘Ciao!” “Love,” “Lot’s of Love,” “All the Best!” “Best Wishes!”... I’m always aware of email “sign-offs”...especially my own. “Yours,” sounds too Hallmark. “Peace,” feels retro. “Warmest Regards”- a bit effusive.“Yours Truly” reminds me of letters to a pen pal when I was ten. Finding the right ending to correspondence can be tricky; many omit them altogether. Sometimes I end my e-mails with “BLESSINGS!”... it feels like me. I like it, but I have also recently begun wondering what I really mean?
 
Blessed and blessings are wonderful words. Spiritual words. Biblical words. But, they have also been hijacked in our culture to mean little more than lucky.  A quick look at Facebook and Twitter show just how many people feel “blessed.” In our social media  world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble. “Blessed” with successful children, wealth, happiness, healthy bodies, trusted friends...“I feel so blessed” Most of the time we don’t give any thought to what being blessed really means and it’s source. The first definition of blessing in the dictionary is not wealth or comfort, but, “being made holy.” It seems all other earthly blessings should pale in comparison to this! Blessings are a big part of the biblical narrative. God’s original design in creation was for his creatures, including mankind, to experience prosperity, peace and fulfillment, and also, blessing. Usually we think of blessings as something given rather than something enacted and embodied. We can’t always hold them or touch them, but we can give them away...and pass them on. “Be a blessing,” God said to Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism. “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Can you imagine what Abraham must have thought? What was this crazy God thinking; he told the 75 year old to go out and bless a nation?
 
God is not the only one who pronounces blessings. Each of us are called to bless one another. There is no recipe or special technique for offering blessing. To bless is to remind another of the love that lies at the core of our being and of the God who wants to flood each of our lives with goodness, grace and joy. A blessing is like a special charge of spiritual energy, much like a transfusion, a reminder that we are made of spirit stuff with souls yearning for communion with our Creator. A blessing is more than just an act, it is an affirmation of our connectedness, a gift freely given. Who doesn’t want a blessing! In all of the ways that humans can be generous, kind and compassionate to each other...there are blessings. God is the source of life - we worship God by living. God is the source of love - we worship God by loving. God is the source of blessing and we worship God by blessing. In the words of German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Blessing means laying one's hands upon another and saying, “Despite everything, you belong to God.”
 
When does a blessing become a blessing? - When we tap into our blessedness and share! Bless your husband, your wife, your children, your friends. Bless the mailman, the UPS driver, the checkout person, the bagger and your dog!
 

Bless everyone and be blessed! 


May 10, 2016
Transcending Church
- How big is your God?

You don’t have to go to church. There -You’re off the hook. Plenty of people who know and love God don’t go to church. It’s not mandatory and God (probably?) won’t be angry at us if we don’t. So why then do so many of us keep coming? What do we seek in church? Relevance? Something greater than ourselves? Spiritual community? Some come out of curiosity simply wanting to know if God exists  - looking for evidential proof, questioning whether or not they desire a relationship. Perhaps for some it is a kind of intellectual search with the goal of being free, once and for all, of the “God question!”  Several weeks ago, a CNN correspondent reporting Prince’s death said listening to his music was “like going to church.” While the sequin-clad rock star with his outlandish persona didn’t appeal to every taste, it is indisputable that Prince’s level of talent and haunting guitar licks were not of this world.
 
“Like going to church” - what exactly do those words mean? What is church? Is it a building? An experience? Many people hold ideas of what church is from past experiences. Most people get ideas of what church should be from a projection of their own personal needs and preferences.  Others have left church when they felt something was missing. For some, doctrinal issues may have surfaced making one question their association with a body of believers. For others, the magic has simply dimmed.
 
For many years churches were built as immense structures, dwarfing the human body, mind and spirit; out of proportion to human life of the times resulting in man feeling insignificant in the face of a looming, powerful deity. Some were built as places to retreat from the world - monasteries far away, high up and hard to get to making God available only to a select few. Perhaps the church that was introduced to us as children with the towers and domes and crosses pointing to heaven also suggested God is separate from ourselves “up there somewhere.” How different most churches are today from those first small gatherings loosely coming together in the weeks after Christ’s resurrection. Jesus’ followers and friends broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying each other; simple and authentic. The concept of church can be woven into every thought we think, every word we speak, every breath and action we take. As soon as we try to define, we limit. God and “church” are in us already. Some who search for God already believe he exists, omnipresent - everywhere at all times. So, where we go to find God is the wrong question. Maybe we should stop trying so hard. Why? Just as we cannot find God in a book, neither can buildings contain the revelation of the Divine. God is already with us. The ancient psalm writer King David pondered God’s whereabouts and concluded there was no place God was not:  “If I go to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths; you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.”
 
If we find ourselves at church, looking for God in the showy big elements of the service and not finding him, consider that God may be there instead, quietly whispering. We don’t even have to believe….just let the words wash over us. 

 



May 3, 2016
Spiritual Mothers

Sunday brunches, roses, Spa Day specials, and breakfast in bed all help set aside the day to honor the mom’s of the world - Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day seems like such a simple concept: a special day when we show appreciation for the mother’s we love. But however simple it’s supposed to be, it really isn’t, is it? I might even venture to say this coming Sunday is also one of the most challenging days of the year…
 
Perhaps no relationship provides the opportunity to touch and be touched by the human spirit as that of a parent. It is an intimacy and experience unlike any other. There is no doubt mothering a child can offer the richest experience of a woman’s life and a loving, committed mother is an indispensable person in human development. Yet to many, Mother’s Day isn’t something to celebrate; it’s still a reminder of the “perfect” but seldom experienced nuclear family and that those with children are more important than those without. Everywhere on this day there seems to be the underlying message: a woman is made for motherhood. What about the scores of women who long for a child, who are unable to conceive, and those who have experienced the pain of miscarriages and abortions. Those who  have grown kids who never call and whose hearts ache.  Others who painfully grieve mothers who have died. Many are single moms struggling to balance job and family, never able to give enough, heavy with guilt.  As “only” a stepmom, I often in the past, avoided church on Mother’s Day and the tortuous moment when the pastor asked all the mothers to stand so they can receive a round of applause, beaming smiles from their children and a flower from the usher. I always awkwardly wondered what I should do…alone that morning, pretending to feel good all day, still loving with all my heart, knowing it is not the same. Some motherhood is less obvious, less recognized, but that doesn’t change it’s nature. Are all mothers model-perfect? No. Most could list a myriad of ways they fear they have messed up their kids for life! Do some mothers do a better job than others? Of course.
 
In recognizing Mother’s Day we are offered one more opportunity to be a Chapel Community dedicated to lifting up the intrinsic value of our mom’s - and of all people. We are reminded that Aspen Chapel is a place for us to grow in relationship, a place for conversation and connection, to share in the joy of celebration and in times of need - a community extending unconditional welcome, respect and love. Motherhood is not only biological maternity; it is spiritual maternity.  God places people in each of our paths longing to be loved. All of us, women, and men alike are called into “spiritual motherhood” and fatherhood, to guide, mentor, inspire, and protect - our chapel children, our neighbor’s children and each other - those who just need a helping hand as well as those who are weak, unhappy, helpless, lonely and unloved. May we as community spiritually tend with prayerful support all mothers exhausted by responsibility, our expectant moms wondering and waiting, our single moms challenged and alone, and all those who foster, adopt, tutor, teach and care for the children of others. As a community may we spiritually nurture those lonely for their children or estranged. May we tenderly bless our elderly mothers that they may know they are precious, needed and loved. The old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” speaks an eternal truth as does the old Jewish saying, “God couldn’t be everywhere, so he made mothers.” Let us be that village, let us be that divine love. We will not all be honored this week but we are all called and needed to be “spiritual mothers and lovers.”  God  send us children. The young. The old. The more the better! 

 



April 26, 2016
In Love With Creation

 
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God…
                                                                                                                    - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Have you ever noticed how Earth Day messages often carry a righteous anger; pointing fingers, calling for repentance… In my environmentalist idealism, I too used to think that holding the right ideas would drive the right action. Perhaps our ecological problems are in part symptoms of a greater spiritual crisis. In viewing ordinary life with eyes of faith, every bush, every tree, every body of water and natural resource is a wonder and gift revealing divine presence. How could it be otherwise? Look who made it!
 
There is a reason, I believe, that scripture begins with the story of God breathing across the void, creating the heavens and the earth; breathing across the earth calling into life the night and the day, plants and animals. The great visionary encounters in the Bible seldom took place in temples; but in sheep pastures, in the deserts, on the mountains, in the middle of the sea. At the very beginning of the book of Genesis, we read that God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and told them it was their job to take care of the garden and to protect it. Scripture goes on to explain that we cannot be in right relationship with God unless we are in right relationship with the land. In Hebrew, the word “land” means all that is: the ground, the trees and plants, the rivers and seas, the animals and all other human beings, even the air we breathe. All of it. God designs beautiful things - so beautiful that we want to touch them, smell, stare, and sit by them. And then in amazement, learn from his divine work. How can we explain how creation fills the heart? God imagined an astonishing world of beauty, ceaselessly offered with plenty for all of us -  it is our gift.
 
Our ecological crisis is the greatest man-made disaster this planet has ever faced. A rarely spoken aspect of this crisis is our forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation. How can our spiritual and contemplative practices contribute toward healing the alienation that divides us from the Earth? No amount of information gathered about global warming; no amount of data collected regarding the pollution of our waters or studies on the monopolization and commoditizing of the earth’s natural resources will change hearts. No powerpoint presentation, statistic or graph can illustrate a way to care for the Earth better than to passionately love it - and make spiritual choices consistent with respect and care. In her book, Waiting for God, the French philosopher Simone Weil suggests that attention is the chief means by which our souls encounter God. Conservation ecology begins with attention to our inner life, where we see all creation as sacred. With prayers made of grass and liturgies of rain, may we behold the wonders all around us. May we breathe the beauty into our bodies, letting it rest upon our hearts…recovering our senses - recovering our Earth.
 

Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights above...Praise him, sun and moon, praise him all you shiningstars...Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths..you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds… Psalm 148

 

 


April 19, 2016
Circling “Higher”

Remember the the big Bee Gee’s hit ballad of the ‘70’s, “How deep is your love?” It’s a good question worth pondering. Just how deep is my love? But, also worth asking, “How wide is our love?”  We’ve all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates’ bold statement doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t say the unexamined life is “less meaningful than it could be.” He emphatically says it is not worth living. What is the depth, breadth and magnitude of our love?
 
Imagine living lives of widened circles that include more people, more ideas, more experiences; lives embracing the beauty that comes with circling this earth, circling each other, and circling the higher power…

“I live my life in widening circles,” says the poet Rilke:
 
“I live my life in widening circles
That reach out across the world.
 I may not complete the last one,
 But I give myself to it.”

 

Many of us wish for a greater sense of vision ... vision of lives lived more creatively - more abundantly. Many of us have great ideas, wonderful dreams, but are unable to actualize them for ourselves. We say we want to expand and yet growth is frightening, and so we stay small, our visions stagnating...eluding us. Rilke’s poem reminds that quests don’t run in straight paths, but rather from one smaller, narrower, more self-centered circle toward the next and the next and the next….deepening, widening and encompassing the universe. The enduring question of what it means to be human has become inextricable from the question of who we are to each other. In every instance, what moves us forward is love. If you were to look at an aspen grove, you would see different trees standing near one another. Separate trees - at first glance. However if you were to dig beneath the surface - you would see that the root system of all the trees is shared. Each tree is connected to the other, an interconnectedness serving as the perfect metaphor for how we exist as human beings. We may think we stand alone, but we are as interconnected as the aspen trees. And, ultimately love has a mandate: to remain rooted, grounded, serving those around us, yet propelling us towards universal oneness. Think of dropping a pebble in a serene, still pond. Ripples occur. What if another person drops a pebble nearby in the same pond? It also creates a ripple.. just as in the widening circles of our lives - in perfect vibrational alignment - sometimes, also colliding. All people are influenced by other people. No man is an island. We know what even the ripples of small acts of kindness and generosity can have on this world. Think about the power of encouragement - of telling someone their life has meaning and potential. Love like this is so deep it erases borders, refuses and obliterates boundaries.
 
Why does this poem resonate so much? We know there will be days when we accomplish none of these things, remaining closed...afraid,  thinking small. Yet when we trust, we will be guided, one foot in front of the other, walking not always with certainty, but because it is the only path worth walking.

 

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
                                                                     -  Saint Augustine

 



April 12, 2016

Balancing the Beautiful

In the development of compassion, personal boundaries play an interesting and sometimes complicated role. Like many, I have felt guilty if I set boundaries, I thought I always had to say yes to what people needed or wanted of me. Neither Jesus nor and The Buddha talked about setting boundaries; it’s a decidedly 20th-21st Century concept. But they did render self-awareness of how we can love others and how we might live healthy lives. In her book Overwhelmed, journalist Brigid Schulte shares this shocking statement: “The average high school kid today experiences the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950’s.”
 
We have created a culture that is literally making our kids sick and us sick. Too much pressure, too much giving, even too much fun is not a good thing. In the Bible, Isaiah asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Resonates...doesn’t it? The message, it seems - why do we give the best of ourselves to things that cannot love us back? Why do we make choices that leave us overextended, exhausted and unhappy? Do we find ourselves easily taken advantage of? While most of us genuinely experience feelings of pleasure and happiness  helping others, are our lives our own or are they controlled by service? How can we deal with the addictive nature of busyness? While personal satisfaction has a lot to do with achievement, when asked what they want for their children, most parents want happiness over and above grades, popularity, athletic skill, etc. In facing the contemporary dilemma of wanting to be everything to everybody, have it all and and do it all, it seems our kids are on the road to suffering...and we’re suffering too.
 
Having boundaries in the spiritual world are just as real, but harder to see. “It’s more blessed to give than to receive,” “Love your neighbor as

Nicholas Vesey, 4/13/2015