August 15th, 2018
With all our Minds
It’s exciting to get caught up in a moment of passion for God as so many of us have at times in our lives. But what happens when your love wanes? When the words, “I love you, God,” sound hypocritical on your lips? My husband and I are committed to telling each other, “I love you.” In texts, emails, phone calls, and conversations. Telling one another how we feel about them is a healthy and natural part of a relationship. But how can you love something you haven't really experienced?
There is an aspect of love for God that is curiously underdeveloped among many seekers. When some think about love of God, they envision something on the emotional level, churches filled with expressions of passion: singing for joy to God, seeking him, thirsting for him, rejoicing and desiring him. How does this play into a more intellectual view and regard for the Divine held by many? Scripture tells us love of the Creator encompasses thinking - emphatic that our mind is one of the key elements in the respect and love we show the Divine. Just as the contemplative faith-based individual might spend hours in prayerful worship and proclamation, so others seeking knowledge of truth might study science, philosophy and theology in order to gain new insight and increased comprehension as basis for belief.
Jesus understood that the mind, as well as the heart must be transformed. He made it explicit that our minds are an integral part of loving the Creator, stating that we are to love God with all our mind, just as we do our heart, soul and strength. In Romans 12:2 the apostle Paul states that a major part of being transformed into the image and likeness of Spirit requires our minds be renewed. Isaiah 1:18 states “Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD.” To reason is to think, understand and form judgments by a process of logic. Part of loving God with all our mind is loving logically. Much of the book of Proverbs stresses the importance of a trained mind as we seek to truly love God: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5) We are told, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding”(Proverbs 4:7) Jesus himself revealed intellectual tendencies. At twelve years old, he was found discussing the law in the temple. Teaching was a large part of his ministry.
Divine Intelligence has created a well-ordered universe in which truth can be known and logical rules applied. It is not intellect that is a threat to spirituality, but pride of intellect; a reliance on, a trust in, a worship of the mind. It is in this truth that we find the key to balancing the intellectual and the spiritual life. The mind is the learner not the leader. The heart is the leader. We must look beyond the mystery if we are to understand the love that we call God. God has also given the mind the power to imagine. Imagination sees, creates and thinks outside the box. Our minds are a gift from God. We have the mind of Christ, not yet in its fullness, but we have the ability to think like God. So put on the Mind of Christ. Love! “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.
August 8th, 2018
The Mind - Body Problem
Do you think that the self and the body are two distinct entities; or are they one and the same? As human beings we have physical bodies, complete with arms, legs, a heart and a brain. On the other hand we have mental states: we think, we become emotional, we have wants, yearnings. We enjoy sunsets and the scent of flowers. Physical desire exists as well; with the need for food, drink, warmth and comfort. We are not simply bodies nor are we minds. Ultimately the soul’s mission is to encourage the body as well as all aspects of earthly life, and the mind, to be an expression of Divine reality.
Many people, whether they know it or not, are philosophical dualists. That is, they believe that the mind and the body are separate actualities. Rene Descartes, the 17th century “father of modern philosophy”, taught that the physical world and the mental world are distinct and are radically and even metaphysically different. Descarte’s position, known as dualism, is deeply problematic from a philosophical point of view. If mind and body exist independently of each other, if the mental and physical are in fact two completely different realities, how do we interact with each other? The Bible’s symbolic account of the creation of man reveals the dichotomy of lowliness and loftiness: the body formed of the “soil of the earth” and a soul formed in the “image of God.” Intellectualism claims all is mind… yet, one of the worst illusions in the life of contemplation would be to try to find God by barricading ourselves inside our own souls and shutting out all external reality. The more we become aligned with God, the more we will be identified with all the others. That means living in the real world, experiencing the same physical wants, needs and pleasures. We circle around God. We circle around each other. When we regard the body with disdain and hold only the mind and soul in consideration, we are unable to fulfill God’s greatest commandment; “Love your fellow man as yourself”- including every flaw. In following the commandment, we are set free; free from the restrictions of a narrow self-identity, free from the fear of the Other, and free to love God and the world with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Me and Not Me boundaries do not define us.
Perhaps the spiritual life is not so much a linear path, as it is an ever-broadening orbit. Ultimately we are a reflection of the singular creator God and of a non-dual vision of ourselves and of our world. The multiple dimensions of reality are real. We are sacred. Every aspect of us; the mind and the body. The winds of Spirit blow in both directions and in ever - widening circles. Only when each dimension joins with the other might the Divine be fully revealed. The body is not the enemy of the soul. The mind does not hold disdain for the body. Both are refractions of our Godliness.
August 1st, 2018
Live your Truth
What makes you come alive? We each have many thousands of experiences throughout our lifetimes. If you picked one to define you, what would that be? Intelligent Design at work is more than merely human identity being maintained from generation to generation. Yet this is the way that humans often see things. How do we find our true identity amidst layers of earthly illusions? Most of us spend the energy of our lives trying to eliminate and protect against risk of any kind. How often do we hear ourselves say no when we want to say yes? Spending most our days protecting our reputations, our wealth and possessions - then attempting to peel off the layers of expectation and pressure to walk away from roles and desires that others have for us? British poet David Whyte says,“The price of our vitality is the sum of all our fears.”
Recall a time when you were “on fire!” A time when you felt vibrantly alive. Admittedly, it isn’t easy to pursue what makes us feel most alive. Many feel trapped by life’s circumstances. How do we actually get there? In the Bible is an elegant and powerful passage I like to reflect upon - "God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’" (Job 37:5-6) God says to the snow, "Fall on the earth." That’s it. Just do one thing. Just fall. And then He says to the rain shower, "Be a mighty downpour." Essentially, He’s saying: Just do the thing I’ve actually created you to do. You’re rain … so rain. You’re snow … so snow. He doesn’t tell the snow to thaw and become rain, or the rain to freeze itself into snow. He says, essentially: Do your thing. Do the thing you love to do, what you’ve been created to do. Think of the freedom that might be found when you are finally able to discover what you are and are not made for. What do you love? What makes you come alive? What are those things that you completely lose yourself in? What are your gifts, your strengths, your values and passions? Allow your inner wisdom to find its voice and light a fire that may have dimmed. Author, philosopher and educator, Howard Thurman wrote: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” If this sounds a bit Pollyannaish for the real world, Thurman might be suggesting something different. When we feel inspired and engaged we give off a powerful energy. That energy is vital - not only to ourselves, but to the world. The modern classic The Alchemist comes to mind - the entire book is about Santiago, the Spanish shepherd boy finding his way back to who he always knew he was. The author weaves into the storyline multiple sage concepts to ponder. What do you need to leave behind in order to recover that essential self that God created? What do you need to walk away from, in what direction do you need to travel in order to reclaim and live your truth? And while these are noble questions to ask… may we also appreciate the liturgy of the now, of our magnificent oneness, with the same ease and lightness of falling snow.
July 25th, 2018
Arguing with God
Who is more likely to ask the question, “Why is there evil in the world?” Believers or non-believers? Some people will see life’s unfairness and decide there is no God. Arguing only makes sense if God is real, living, active, up to something in the world, present and intervening. Go ahead - Argue!
I guess we don't hear much squabbling and dispute with God in church because most people are just too nice. It doesn't seem polite, or faithful to complain or challenge the one who gave us life. But humans have a sense of right and wrong. Even theologians are perplexed by God and morality. If believing in God is merely an abstract concept, then quarreling is simply silly or stupid. But if there is a living God, an active God, then arguing might be part of a deep, bold faith. It is the power of constant questioning that creates the dynamism that keeps relationship relevant. One of the first to argue with God was Abraham. While the Bible depicts Abraham as the consummate man of faith, the founding father of Judaism even went so far as to appeal to God’s moral nature. Moses, too, approached God with doubt arguing, “LORD, you always give me justice when I bring a case before you. So let me bring you this complaint: Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” (Jeremiah 12:1) And he argued with God offering reasons why he should not be the one chosen to lead his people out of Egypt. Four times he resisted God’s call to lead the Israelites to freedom, until God finally gets angry with him. If we take a close look through history, we’ll usually see that the work of truth seekers, mystics, and sages has often been sabotaged by doubt. Human complaining goes way back it seems. Galileo said "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use." A passive life is an anxious life. God does not expect us to have blind faith. Is there a quick fix? We envy people with clarity and strength in their faith, but faith is not a light switch that you turn on and it stays on. Faith is a fire that we need to tend to and fuel, and sometimes rekindle. It is a wrestle that never ends. Share the gutsy faith of the Psalmist and tell God how you really feel. God needs no protection and suffers no apologies. An authentic relationship must be based first and foremost upon honesty. It is the power of constant questioning that creates the dynamism that keeps belief relevant. If we do not continue to question the old paradigms, religion will just fade away as an irrelevant relic.
To be human is to recognize a seemingly permanent tension between the particular and the universal in our loves, our loyalties, and our commitments. The incredible diversity among perspectives is a strength, not a weakness. The world changes and we must respond to these changes. If we cannot sit down at the same table, if we cannot discuss the issues and ideas that divide us from each other and distance us from God, then the threads that bind together unravel. It requires greater courage to include those with whom we disagree than to throw them out. This includes God. For that we require the table. For that we require some good wine and some good food. For that we require some laughter and even shared frustration and sometimes anger. And then we can begin the arguments for the sake of heaven!
July 11th, 2018
There is little doubt that water is essential to life. Without it, we and all living things would not exist on planet earth. Physical thirst can also be dangerous. Dehydration can get us into serious difficulty in a hurry. We all come into this world thirsty. Ready to drink, ready to receive.
I love a good rain in the summer - especially when it has been a long while since a downpour. Remember when you were a child and your parents let you run into the rain - arms outstretched, and you tried to catch the raindrops in your mouth? My mother and I would stand together in the open garage and watch the storm cross the sky; the lightning and boom of thunder more exciting than any fireworks. The dangerous drought we experienced these many weeks illuminated hard, deep truths about our dependency. We like to fool ourselves into thinking we are in charge. The water and the land remind us we are not. Like our inability to physically care for all our needs, every one of us has also experienced the limitations of our consciousness. The point arrives, when it is clearly understood that all our intentional acts - desires, ideals and strategies are inadequate. In the whole universe, nothing is permanent - comfort and security, weather or happiness.
Spiritual hunger and thirst are within the hearts of every human being. In an age of so much, we still act as if we have so little. Why is satisfaction so elusive? Why do we struggle so to be content; our spirits like parched deserts, dry and thirsty? God’s creative power holds the tension between what is possible and of what might be planted in the ground of spiritual drought. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of one’s lifetime. The first step is to cherish the baffling, the curious, hidden, and the unexplainable dimensions of our existence. Live with paradoxes. Give up the idea that you can always "get it." Bringing the wisdom of the east to the thirsty minds of the west, philosopher and writer, Alan Watts, wrote: “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and Instead you relax, and float.” Understand what you have already received of significance from the world. Many of these things were never intended as gifts to be given in the usual sense of the word. However much we enjoy the song of birds, they are not singing to be melodious, clouds are not floating as inspiration for artists and the mountain stream is not flowing with the intention of refreshing the thirsty. They are a reminder that everything and everyone we meet is a teacher with an unexpected gift. Even as our minds struggle; all of our hesitations, all of our doubts come to us from the outside. Our challenge is to allow our inner knowledge to guide. How will we ever know who we are if we always remain comfortable? Like precious rain, the giver of life which cleanses the earth calls us over and over again to hope. It calls us to believe, persist, and hold fast to reason and awareness. Droughts and difficulties are a reality for all of us. Watts argued that as long as we divide life into interior self-awareness and exterior experience, we will always feel isolated from the universe. We will never realize human wholeness. In arid times when the days of your drought are fierce - relax and float. Our lives will change, so do fresh possibilities that come from God.
June 27th, 2018
We’re in the throes of the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, and town is abuzz with tangible high energy and positive drive toward action. Presenters from all parts of the globe have gathered to offer perspectives, reflect, and debate innovative ideas and underlying values of society and culture. What about the idea of God? Like the mind, there is a part of the soul that seeks answers to life’s biggest questions, a part that yearns for something greater.
What is sacred? Why are we here? How should we live? What are the great ideas that can change a life forever? Love? Forgiveness? Be in this moment now… Many of us have never thought very hard about our theology, or tried to articulate it clearly and precisely. With what boldness might one declare that he can grasp an idea of such overwhelming vastness as the idea of God! But we all have opinions, we all think of something when we hear the word. Even the highest human minds have attempted to disclose the hidden life and mystery of the universe and interpret its meaning and grand design. Since very early prehistoric times, archaeologists have discovered evidence that humans have always believed in an after-life and in a God or gods in some form or other. If we were to invent a god, what would it be like? The curious thing about the God of the Bible is how unlike us God is. His wisdom confuses us; his purity frightens us. He makes moral demands we can't live up to. It may be that the idea of God is inherently in our makeup, perhaps even a part of our DNA. Jesus tells us again and again, that God is Love. If God is love, then that expression of love should be what each of us strives for, whether it be towards other human beings or towards animals and every other living thing. In essence, love may in fact be the closest that we can get to knowing what God is. Jesus also said, "As a man thinks, so is he." Then it seems God will reflect our own Consciousness. This very statement, that we are what we think, frames our entire fabric of truth. That is, what may be truth for us. My concept of truth, or even of God, cannot be the same as yours.
What an amazing creation we have been given. What astounding hope has been placed in our minds. Spirit comes to us with the incredible opportunity for discovery in every detail of the daily challenge before us. What was God thinking to bring such beauty to this world? To bring such madness? Everyday we are surrounded by God’s great ideas. Albert Schweitzer, in visiting Aspen in 1949 at the opening of the first Aspen Institute, was quoted as saying, “We belong to the world of the spirit. We must let ourselves be guided by it. The spirit is light, which struggles with matter, which represents the darkness. What happens in the world and within ourselves is the result of this encounter.” Though we might try with the things we acquire, the life-style we assume; God, like the Aspen Idea, is not a commodity to be owned. Can we trust the God of small things; the God of small happinesses and kindness? What resides in the temple of your heart? Really great ideas cannot be acquired with dollars, they are already free. God does not require that we place him out there somewhere on a pedestal; pray and meditate on His Glory. Paying attention might just be the greatest form of Knowing and prayer.
“There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long. The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God. And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.” - Mary Oliver
June 20th, 2018
Leaving the shop, the sales clerk called out “Have a blessed day.” I looked and saw her face smiling brightly, she meant what she said. We can offer kindnesses, but a blessing comes from a deeper source. Everyone wants and needs a blessing...
There is a difference between the phrases “Have a good day” and “Have a blessed day.” Having a blessed day implies something more than just good. It signifies a day that is filled with grace. The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth, protection, possibility. Theologian Matthew Fox, speaks of what he calls Original Blessing. Before there could be any fall from grace, there was first and foremost an Original Blessing. Fox tells us that blessing is found in the metaphorical creation story. After each day, God “looked at what he had done, and it was good… all of it was very good.” The gift of the world is our first blessing. Fox states that the energy that created the heavens and the earth, call it God, call it source, call it by whatever name, continues to create and invites us to participate in its creating.
It was Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard who said that life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backward. We look at the world and it seems so dark. We are unaware of how blessed our lives are. Believing we are impotent, we hand over our power to forces outside ourselves. One way to rid ourselves of negative thinking is by emphasizing good and offering blessing to others. Blessings offer reverent voice to our conviction that life is good. We each have the capacity to bestow blessings by our very being. In Hebrew, the root that means “bless” is barak. And the Sages explain that it means “to increase” or “bring down Divine abundance.” With the spoken blessing, we express the value and worth of the individual. Our words can be the source of healing, forgiveness, and life.
Among the surprises Bishop Michael Curry had for his worldwide audience at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was a quote from priest, scientist, and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Blessed be you, universal matter, Immeasurable time, boundless other, abyss of stars and atoms and generations; You, who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards of measurement, reveal to us the dimensions of God.” Each of us is holy and divine matter, blessed by the Creator. “We are stardust, we are golden....” as the song goes. Do not let yourself or the world get in the way of knowing who you really are and sharing it. May our minds be illuminated to see beauty in each other. May every new day bring innocent beginning that we may realize the Divine Light. A blessing is much more than words or an act, it is an affirmation of our interconnectedness, a gift freely given. It would be infinitely lonely to live in a world without blessing. Bless your husband, bless your wife. Bless your children and your friends. Bless the mailman and your dog! Pass them out! Who doesn’t want a blessing!
June 13th, 2018
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, the words refer to the moments after first dawn when the sun begins to shine, when each day is a clean new slate upon which lives might be written. Imagine how powerful to awaken each morning reminded that no matter what occurred yesterday - this day is new.
The Gullah are descendants of African slaves living on the sea islands and along the coastal regions. Residing mostly in wooden shacks, these enduring 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 of thanks to the Creator. 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, also, the knowing comfort felt by the early psalmist who sang with 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. Most of us are 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 instead 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 process for shifting to a consciousness of hope is the same movement towards the positive as it is towards the negative; the difference is operating from an intentionality of possibility and wonder rather that doubt.
What dreams and prayers guide? What reminds you that through all the noise and responsibility of the day, the confusion and challenge raging all around - that this world is also resplendent, resilient and inviting, durable and filled with hope. History begins every single day; and much of it - not all - but most of it is beautiful and as reliable as each clean new day. Awake and salute the sun! Welcome Divine energy!
June 3rd, 2018
Where does discontent begin? We are warm, yet we shiver. We have eaten, still hunger gnaws. We are loved, but our hearts wander.
If we are asked what we want from life, most can answer fairly easily. If we are asked what we hope for, we can answer that as well. Yearning is ambiguous. It is earth and sky in one. Finite. We do not feel yearning for that which is in front of our hands and eyes or for that which we can see or touch. But we know what such longing 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 thirst that rises from the depth of our being. The deep desire for intimacy, for relationship, to love and to be loved. We yearn to be appreciated and acknowledged. We yearn to be accepted completely, including our imperfections. We yearn to sometimes be weak and to sometimes be cared for. We yearn to be seen and heard for who we are. The ache is unmistakable.
Integral Theory writer and philosopher, Ken Wilber speaks of man’s perpetual restlessness as the search to reunite with True Self. Spiritual leader, Adyashanti says, “Our yearning for truth actually comes from truth.” Buddha has 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. He meant that what we set our hearts upon, what we most deeply desire shapes our character and influences the person we become. Albert Einstein believed the spiritual geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this feeling of yearning, saying, “Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength.” Who might we become if our yearnings were for Spirit? If our strength might be realized through Holy Consciousness?
Jesus’ first words as he began his ministry appeared in the form of an ordinary question - words holding extraordinary significance: “What do you want?” (John 1:38) What are we seeking? What cosmic explanation will satisfy? What nameless song will comfort? We all have hungry hearts. We are creatures of desire, expectantly searching for more, for better, for fresh and new. I find myself always talking with God; living in prayer and wonder, believing my yearning will be received with gentleness, grace and direction. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” - Neale Donald Walsch
May 29th, 2018
Within and Above - Transcending Church
We don’t have to go to church. There! We’re off the hook. Despite what many of us were told when we were young it is not mandatory… So why, throughout the world, do many keep attending? Is not Ultimate Truth already within?
We’re seekers. We seek relevance. We seek purpose. Despite man’s quest for ultimate understanding of the universe and world, there is pursuit of that greater than ourselves; Ultimate Consciousness, that which many call God. In the Middle Ages immense cathedrals were built dwarfing the human body, mind and spirit. Out of proportion to human life, men felt insignificant in the face of a looming, powerful deity. Monasteries were built as places of retreat from the world - far away, high in the sky and difficult to access evidencing God was available only to a select few. The church that was introduced to many of us as children, with the towers and domes and crosses pointing to heaven, also suggested that God is separate from ourselves “up there somewhere.” How different most churches are even 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, celebrating and enjoying each other. With authenticity and simplicity they offered praise and shared community - not unlike Quaker worship today. Quakers invite the word of God to be written in their hearts, rather than as words on paper. There is no creed. Quaker worship is based on silent waiting, listening for the still, small voice that comes from God through Inward Light. Quakers seek only to be open to Divine Will. They ask only to be guided by Divine Wisdom.
Several years ago a TV correspondent reporting the death of popular singer, Prince, said listening to his music was “like going to church.” What is church? Is it a building? An experience? Many continue to harbour thoughts from their pasts. For some, doctrinal issues surface making them question their association with a particular body of believers. For others, the magic has simply dimmed. As soon as we try to define Church, we limit it. The God of Divine Love and Knowing already exists within all. Omnipresent Everywhere - church lies within, woven into every thought we think, every word we speak, every breath and action we take. Asking who we should listen to... where we should go to find God is the wrong question. The ancient psalm writer King David, pondered God’s whereabouts and concluded there was no place Spirit 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.” Truth is locked within, deep in slumber. It is awakened and liberated by Ultimate Truth that comes from without and above. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13) There is nothing to believe or disbelieve. The depths of our intellects will never comprehend. Simply allow these, the words of the “Cosmic Christ” to wash over ….trusting the creative Intelligence of the Universe; the Infinite principle represented in the symbolism of “God” in the many philosophies and religions of the world. The discovery of Divine Love, the end of all our searching, is a slow process, always bringing us back to the same source. The end is where we start from.
I’ll still see you Sunday!
May 23rd, 2018
Remember and Imagine
Our country has a long history of men and women swearing the oath of service to their country. Every generation in American history has suffered the aftermath of war and the terrible damage done upon hearts and minds. But most of us would rather let the worst of times fade in memory.
Memorial Day is mainly thought of as the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend with a car race, playoff basketball, and burgers on the grill. Symbolically, it is also a day to slog through the mud of the battlefields, march through the searing heat of the deserts, the dripping humidity of the jungles, the icy snow banks of wintertime battlefronts...and to REMEMBER. The words patriot...fallen hero; all the euphemisms glorifying the dead only muddy the waters of truth and the suffering of war. No elevation of status, no mythological proportions romanticizing sacrifice, bring the dead home. While we would prefer to dismiss history as dull or irrelevant, we are meant to cry this day; weep over the loss of American life and honor the pain and injury of all life. Remembering is a sacred act; an act of worship which remains a rich resource for spiritual practice. Memorial Day is an opportunity to look beyond political views and agendas, beyond the war of words and ideological climate. It is a day to offer prayer, thanks and reconciliation for all those who work for peace: military personnel and practitioners of nonviolence.
What does it mean to give grateful praise even in the midst of grief? It is knowing that nothing separates us from the infinite universe of creation and Creator. It is understanding that our broken places and our weaknesses are not our definition, are not our end, or a punishment, but rather offer a beginning, a way forward. For Job, the suffering Saint of the Bible - remembering was too painful to bear. When God was silent to his cries, it was impossible for Job to remember God’s closeness. Amid the pain of loss, it was hard to remember the blessings of Divine Love. When God finally spoke, Job recalled the morning light and the crashing ocean waves. He was reminded of the fawn, the ostrich, and the eagle. He remembered Mystery and Majesty. In the midst of his suffering, Job rediscovered life. This is the radiant hope in all of our suffering. Regardless of our feelings about a particular war or military service, Memorial Day invites us to remember the sacrifices of others and the intricate interdependence of life. It invites us to not withdraw, but rather direct our efforts toward reconciliation of conflict of every kind. May the words “Lord have mercy,” inscribed in the sacred writings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, be chanted again and again throughout the world. May they universally confirm the dharma principle of law, order, harmony, and truth …“Hatred does not cease by hatred, hatred ceases by love.” Remembering is powerful prayer.
May 16th, 2018
“God is in the Details"
How do we describe Divinity? When it comes to matters of political or philosophical import, everyone speaks in metaphors. We also think of religion in metaphor. God is said to be the Ground of All Being, the Source of all matter and energy; the Time and Space of this Universe. But most of us need a way to think and experience that supports a God that is real …
“Everything is God” was a daring and philosophically explosive idea presented by Dutch philosopher, Spinoza in the 17th century. His words laid the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism. “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that” wrote author and mythologist, Joseph Campbell. Einstein held a similar view and belief in a God that is revealed in the harmony of all that exists. When we hear the word “metaphor,” we think of a figure of speech containing implied comparisons. Metaphors symbolically describe deeper realities and enhance our understanding of the truth they define. God as Father, Light and Love are words which provide meaning to many. God as Parent describes the side of God offering love and generosity, and eliciting our trust. God as Sovereign elicits awe in the transcendent power of the Creator God. The nature lover will find God in one metaphor - the artist or musician in another. Renowned architect, Mies van der Rohe offered his famous quote, “God is in the details.” Metaphor becomes a means by which we can span the chasm between the known - our own world - and the unknown of the Divine. Isn’t the elusive nature of God what leads to the use of metaphorical language in the first place? A single metaphor alone is simply not enough.
Each of the three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam describe God as infinite, eternal, transcendent, omnipotent, mysterious. The mystical and religious literature of the East and the West and the allegories of ancient and modern poets and philosophers have all employed myths, symbols, metaphors and parables in examining the process of human transformation. Today we draw on new understanding of our physical reality; from quantum mechanics to astrophysics to the insights of neuroscience. “We are stardust, traceable to the crucibles of stars ...the universe is in us. I don't know of any deeper spiritual feeling than what that brings upon me” writes astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. God is the deep listening of the universe, the spirit of creative transformation at work in the world. God is not a substance, a thing - but rather a distinctive energy and constancy in the midst of change and growth. It is God that provides the grounds for our creativity, for becoming more connected, for leading just and compassionate lives. Like a GPS, Spirit doesn’t judge, evaluate or coerce; but rather persistently offers, invites and lures every moment with the best possible life choices. It is natural to say that God is “above” or “beyond” or “more majestic” than any earthly love we might know. There are many sides of God: the invulnerable and the vulnerable side, the majestic and the tender, the kingly side and that of the nurturing parent. Finding our place with Spirit, exploring our inner universe, the role of consciousness, the insights of modern science, traditional faith and that of the mystics is a challenging task. Our souls call for answers to the questions all humans ask. What really goes on in this life, and what will happen when this life is over? I believe in the deep listening of the universe. I celebrate the Cosmic God and Companion who has created a universe in which I and all of creation are invited toward creative transformation, holy connection, justice and love. Our hearts always contain more than our minds will ever comprehend. Contemplate the personal, poetic, metaphorical understandings of the Divine that call you into being.
May 9th, 2018
This Moment Now
Be here now. Don’t go seeking another. Set aside your hopes, desires, dreams; wishing and wanting. Set aside anger, disillusionment and resentment. Set aside your disappointment, frustration and sorrow. Set aside your learning, practicing, meditation and breathwork. Simply breathe...
How fascinating is the concept of human discipline. We hunger for food three times a day. We bathe and exercise regularly without thought of anything different. What comes to your mind when you hear the words routine, repetition, or ritual? Chances are these words conjure cynicism and images of… b-o-r-i-n-g. In our culture, we are programmed to look upon any kind of repetition negatively. We laud the imagination; yearn for the new. For centuries, devotional life in the Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths has been deepened by repetition in ritual. Fingering prayer beads while meditating is calming and introspective to many. So are the simple phrases of a mantra repeated silently; soothing like a lullaby. “Salah” is the practice observed by Muslims of stopping whatever one is doing and praying. It begins with Fajr: the prayer that is performed before sunrise; starting the day with remembrance of God. Dhuhr: After the day's work has begun, one breaks shortly after noon to again remember God and seek His guidance. Asr: In the late afternoon, followers take a few minutes to remember the greater meaning of God in their lives. Maghrib: Just after the sun goes down, Muslims remember God as the day begins to come to a close. Isha: Before retiring for the night, time is taken once again to honor and acknowledge Allah's presence, guidance, mercy, and forgiveness. I am fascinated by this paramount obligation of the Islamic faith. How can one who takes a bath five times a day become soiled? The same applies to the five daily prayers; with the intention to cleanse and purify the soul. Salah reminds the believer of the existence of a Supreme Being. What truths do we live by - what values guide our actions? What receives our devotion, energy and time? What a beautiful opportunity, I contemplate... to take just five minutes five times a day to cast my eyes upon goodness, beauty and the Creator! To pray that I may be a fountain to the entheos, the infusion of the God within; that I might allow my enthusiasm for life to be cycled through me, and that I may overflow with joy. Our world is a reflection of our hearts. Too often the beautiful moments are drowned out by the buzzing of our minds and the busyness of our days. If we approach the world as if it were a sporting contest in which we win or lose, then our lives will become just that for us. We will find ourselves in a battlefield. Might we, in our own individual practices, actually flourish in performing the same sacred ritual over and over again? Praise is a vital part of offering a different wisdom for healing, illumination and transformation. At fixed times, no matter how busy, try taking a few minutes to remember, “OK, why am I really here?” To whom and what am I thankful?” Find your way into your own silence and what the world may be offering. “Beauty. (notice it’s a sentence unto itself) Joy. (another sentence unto itself) Life. Living it. You are already there and always were.” - these are the words of William M. Boast. Praise is a vital part of each of our experiences of the Holy - an action we might experience supported by a rhythmic pattern of meditation and prayer. There is always one more time for beginning, one more opportunity to return to God and for a few brief moments throughout the day... celebrate and trust.
“I AM, you anxious one. Don't you sense me, ready to break into being at your touch?... I am the dream you are dreaming. When you want to awaken, I am waiting. I grow strong in the beauty you behold.” - Rainer Maria Rilke
May 2nd, 2018
Only With the Eyes of the Soul
What is the reasoning that leads to one’s belief in God? Logic takes us to certain, sure and measurable edges of our thinking, but no further. How might we listen to Spirit that has come before and will come after for universal and eternal truths? Isn’t it true that one cannot disbelieve in God without having a concept of God, and one cannot conceive the Unknowable without question? Are we at risk that our craving for absolute certainty and tight control will lock us into frozen soulless beings?
There are a number of common arguments for the existence of God. Everything with a beginning requires an origin. The universe has a beginning and therefore requires a cause. Many would say that source is God, a big bang or that this universe sprang from another universe as some physicists now believe. The concept of God eludes human constructions, including those of language. The concept of an unknowable Creator roots us in our humanity. In faith and doubt, belief and reason, there is a common ground for believers and nonbelievers. On balance, truth is stronger than the lie, goodness is more powerful than evil. What is life but the way we experience reality and what we tell ourselves. Who am I? The soul knows…
The evidence of such creativity lies in the genesis of man - “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). In the creation imagery, man’s body is formed first. But the body without the soul remains lifeless. When God breathes the breath of life into the body, then man becomes a living soul. Most of us don’t know what the soul is. We might think of it as a deeper expression of ourselves, a mysterious unknown. Living a fully balanced life asks us to recognize that we are spiritual beings as well as physical ones. The soul has always understood this - the ego not so much. The soul is the place where ambiguity lives; that which is not yet defined and known - because the soul itself is ambiguous. We encounter difficulties when attempting to localise the abstract concepts of mind and soul within the tangible 1,400 gram organ of the brain and it’s 100 billion neurons. While neuroscience has made tremendous progress understanding the functioning of the brain, it has been the great spiritual teachers who have kept wondering about the relationship between the universe and the mind of man - that which we refer to as the soul. The soul is the river of our lives; it is the cumulative flow of our experience. The soul is the candle and the spark of light of our consciousness. It is that which calls in whispers, subtle feelings, niggles and yearnings. When I admire the wonders of nature, hear the laughter of a child, the spirit and essence of my being soars and my soul unfolds. A soulful life is an open-ended life, a widening out into fresh landscapes of wonder, delight, and connection. God is the very Soul of the world, the One luring us and all creation toward widening circles. Ask your soul what it intends, what it longs for, what it knows, where it has been. My prayer is that I may be humble enough to honor and learn in the mystery of my questions. Without answers, how will we ever know who we are? In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, “I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, A storm, or a great song?"
May the image of God, the imagination of God, the illumination of God, be seen in the soul and spirit of our beings.
April 25, 2018
What would it take to say goodbye to feeling restless, frightened, uneasy… to experience the shalom of contentment, wholeness, well-being and harmony? Fear challenges reality; fright takes us prisoner of “worst outcomes.” Today’s world tests who we are; our resolve, wisdom, and courage. At whatever point we find ourselves, wecan move toward a center of safety, calm and divinity within…
What is it that we fear in life? What is it we conceal? Many flee from themselves, hiding from what they know and feel; realities they assume to be unacceptable. Some hide behind appearance we hope will be more pleasing. All beings have core needs. One basic need humans strive toward is safety and freedom. We search for deliverance from troubling and painful states of consciousness. We search to know the peace of God. The tricky side of this is that the part of us that experiences ourselves as separatefrom the Divine will never feel safe. The many attempts we make to fabricate safety may only create more pain and suffering.
Most of us recognize the 23rd Psalm and it’s familiar phrases. I’ve always sensed that this beautiful psalm holds deep, hidden power. The Psalm offers both affirmation and visualization for inner strength and peace, reminding that we are not alone in this vast cosmic confusion of our world. It is one of the most healing prayers.The Lord is my shepherd.I love the metaphor of God as a shepherd; Divine Presence in which I might place trust. The shepherd's job is to care for his flock, making sure they are safe, nourished, calm and happy. - I shall not want.This is a powerful statement. Always wanting is a miserable way to live. The Zen master’s words to the student ask, “What in this moment is lacking?” In asking this of myself... I realize and acknowledge that my cup is full. I will be okay. - He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.Absorb the radiant life force of creation. Feel the support of the green earth. The life of the Cosmos is abundant. This phrase creates such a beautiful image of being cared for and sustained. None of which is of our doing. It describes the safety and contentment the sheep are feeling. Not only to feed, but to rest; and to enjoy tranquillity, peace, and safety. All is well. - He renews my strength.Reflect on the stillness and life-giving calm experienced while sitting alongside a mountain lake or stream. Divine Love invites us, too, to rest, leading our souls to the cool restoring waters. - He guides me along right paths. Charlatans, fake happiness and idols try to convince us to follow. Spirit’s path is one of integrity and wholeness and love. - We may walk through valleys as dark as death, but we need not be afraid. For you are close beside me. Though the territory of our lives might be difficult, our souls will not be destroyed. We are not alone. - Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. Such an interesting line to contemplate; we will encounter “enemies” or obstacles working against us. It also says we will be taken care of in the midst of forces that oppose us. We can trust the Universe to provide. - You honor me by anointing my head with oil.Anointing the head with oil was a practice in biblical days that was used to honor a person and to dignify a person. - My cup overflows with blessings. We are deeply and abundantly loved. - Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. On the deepest level these words represent the ultimate goal of the spiritual path. Fear will be with us. Life’s countless hazards challenge both body and the inner freedom of our minds. These enduring words of comfort clearly state that Creation desires that we live in abundance and peace. May such love as this be our guide.
April 18, 2018
Magic - the mischievous playfulness of our soul allowing us to let go of the rigid borders of our thinking. What’s not to believe! The fun is in the delight, the astonishment! We may search for the hidden strings and pockets enabling the sorcerers tricks, but in the end we walk away smiling. Magic is a little like faith; it can move mountains in our thinking, but only if the mountains are willing to be moved…
Classical theology has commonly associated many attributes with God: transcendence, eternity, omniscience, omnipotence. But playfulness? What was God thinking when he created the dolphin, hippo, orangutan and grasshopper! At first glance, suggesting that God is playful might seem a bit irreverent. Our intellect tends to balk at characterizations that appear to make light of the almighty Creator of the universe. Humans have made staggering scientific and technological progress over the past century. We’ve created technology that has transformed our society; scientific advances have helped us answer fundamental questions about who we are and the world that we inhabit. And, yet, mysteries persist. What are we to make of the magic of such miracles? A beautiful scripture passage occurs in Proverbs 8:27-31 of the Bible illustrating that God was playing, not working when he created our world and its living things. Verse 30 says that wisdom, personified, was “…filled with delight day after day, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” I love the thought that God made great creatures to romp in the sea. Have you ever gazed at the ocean and suddenly witnessed a massive whale surface, blowing spray into the air? And then another, leaping almost completely out of the water. Two whales frolicing! Such wonderment. Such joy and amazement! What is the message of such magical playfulness. Could it be that the more we ourselves take delight in creation, the more like God we become?
There is a magnificent and eternal truth; the mysterium tremendum. Living by the answers our lives are already written.It is in living in creative response to the mystery that that we participate in the Sacred, What is the busyness in our lives that gets in the way of being able to really see spring’s blossoming come forth, both within and without? Can you name the hurriedness and distraction? How often do moments of beauty go by unnoticed? Roald Dahl, poet and author of fabulous children’s stories, wisely said, “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” When we cease to be transformed by fantasy, when we get stuck on the improbable science of things like the virgin birth and the resurrection, we become miserable cynics and lose the whole meaning. Inviting magic and fantasy into our beings enables a life driven more by curiosity than fear. The first creation was magic and from there came consciousness brought forth from the darkness. Playfulness, a component of early consciousness appears very early in the life of a child. The magician in our being has the capacity to detach from life’s storms and live from a deep inner well of truth. In magical moments, the world becomes luminous as an event of inner-blessing. The magical moment doesn’t last forever but that doesn’t matter, because in the moment it is forever.Don’t let the gloom and doom of our days prevent the magic of life to speak. Magic offers flashes of insight to create imaginative solutions to problems. Don’t allow the spectacle disguise what's really happening. We may be able to make friends with the monster under our bed… or pull out our magic sword and send him away! Behind the magical feeling of love and appreciation of beauty can only be the Creator of all. God does not shout commands from the safe distance of his perfectly ordered heavenly courts. He speaks goodness and beauty into life from the inside of life itself. The more we feed our sense of wonder, the more possible the impossible seems. Allowing ourselves to be enchanted conjures the spark igniting the flame of possibility. We all need a little pixie dust to keep us alive.
“I believe in God as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” - CS lewis
April 11, 2018
Beauty of Broken Things
PERFECTIONISM. Are you guilty of the unreasonable, self-defeating drive and ambition to do and get everything absolutely right? Humans now control the planet, not because we’re the strongest, fastest or biggest, but because we’re the smartest. At least for now. In the decades to come, it may prove increasingly challenging to maintain our position as the dominant “species.”
Would Artificially Intelligent Beingsbe better and more perfect than humans are? Solar-powered self-driving cars, reusable space ships, hyperloop transportation, a mission to colonize Mars... SpaceX founder, revolutionary thinker and creator Elon Musk, is determined to turn these once-far-fetched fantasies into reality with the development of machines that can think like human beings. At the same time none of these technologies has made Musk as leery as the Artificial Intelligence behind them. Will superhuman intelligence be more compassionate towards the earth and all living things? Will Perfect Intelligence have a grasp of the abstract, of the duality of nature? Will it wonder about life and the beyond, the human condition, and have the ability to experience empathy? Will Artificial Perfection behave more like Buddha or the Terminator? Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, agree that superhuman “AI”is coming, but that it may possibly be insensitive to life and dangerous rather than benevolent. With all of the “perfection” pressure in our world, the idea that flaws and struggles can actuallyenhanceus is something to take to heart. The Japanese have a striking art and philosophy of mending broken ceramics. They call it Kintsukuroi.Using gold or silver lacquer patching, the break patterns are repaired and emphasized rather than hidden. The resulting piece is often more beautiful than the original. The process is not about fixing something to be good as new, as if it had never broken, but acknowledging that breakage offers invitation to discover beauty in imperfection. Sometimes it feels, though, like we are constantly on a journey of conversion and transformation. Jesus said,"Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" At first glance, this is a difficult passage. Jesus couldn’t possibly mean what he says here. Recognizing we all have faults and weaknesses, it seems to be calling us to do or be what is impossible. There is no shame in being imperfect. We are all flawed. Rather, Jesus was saying,“Let your love be as perfect as God’s love.” Perhaps what makes each of us special is not what humanity is, but rather it is God’s relationship to us based on his purpose for making us. This is the innate source of energy and life that allows for consciousness to enter our human bodies, flaws and all. Trueperfection is our ability to forgive our imperfection and to recognize, forgive and love it in others. Human perfection will not come from science and mathematics, logical thinking and rational inference alone; it comes from our whole person as we engage our lives in truths to live by - when we use our ears to listen; our eyes to see and observe, our mouth to talk or communicate, and our hearts to feel.
Today, human evolution is shaped by technology and artificial intelligence on every level. Consciousness in this new age requires the need for a new awareness of our fellow man and all of creation. The true gift of technology and modern science is neither power nor convenience alone. It offers means to discover God yet again in the physical world and man’s unique and critical role in maintaining love and compassion for the good of all humankind. From this new consciousness, we ask for meaning and new vision for our being.
March 28, 2018
The incarnation of Jesus is nothing short of a cosmic miracle; His crucifixion a historical fact. If physically true, the equally astounding resurrection is the eternal game-changer. And if it wasn’t - still, nothing short of the best seller of all time. There is probably no story ever told that a vast majority of the world would rather believe, and none which so many skeptics have disclaimed. There is far more...
J.R.R. Tolkien, the English author renowned for writing the The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, compared the story of Jesus Christ, to fairy-stories; “the kind of fantasy tales that produce the joy of eucatastrophe.” Tolkien coined the term “eucatastrophe” to mean the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very probable doom; instead, there is a happy ending. He concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest eucatastrophe…“because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled. And selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.” Once again, this is the week we remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem, moving with intention and deliberation into what waits for him there. In some respects, the final stretch of Jesus’ path has been laid out for him. We know what will happen after he enters the city. We know the terrible road he will walk to the cross. In Easter discussions, it feels there is far greater attention and drama centered on the dying of Christ than on the meaning behind his death. Unfortunately, many never pursue their inquiry to this point; becoming fearful, angry or simply dismissing as foolish.
It’s impossible these past weeks to read the story of Holy Week and not think about what is happening in cities across the country and the world. Mass shootings and frightened children do not make the substance of fairy tales. For in these, there is no happy ending. For those who believe, one of the unique characteristics of Christian faith is the continual invitation to become part of the story, the story of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth and the story of God’s ongoing love for the world. God’s desire does not encourage our withdrawal from reality and detachment, but asks for us to work for peace and reconciliation among men. Like Jesus, we will have to go to places that hurt, confront realities that make us uneasy, and look at ourselves with attention to the ways in which we fail in the walk toward loving peace. According to the story, Jesus wept in the garden of Gethsemane praying that he might be spared the cup of suffering that was before him. Even in that moment Jesus refused to take up violence against his oppressors. I, too, can’t help praying that our children, that all of us, had never been offered “the cup of suffering” that has been forced upon us by the madness of this world. Today we witness eucatastrophe as lived through the man Jesus as we watch the faces of our children stepping up to forge a new pathway to peace and freedom. Jesus’ passion for a new way of being in the world, a way of being in which LOVE of neighbor compelled him to protest the ways of the world continues, and is the true victory of the Easter story. It is time to give up the wrestling match which has left only scars and spurred hate and political division throughout history. This Easter week, we are offered a way to follow by example, the historical Jesus and all the major religions of the world that speak of moving from self-centeredness to other-centeredness, and of deepening compassion and love toward other beings. The ultimate sin of mankind from which we must be “saved” is the sin of not manifesting God’s love through ours. The crucifixion did not happen once and for all when Jesus was executed by the powers that be. How will our voices prevail? What passion are we prepared to march for?
March 21, 2018
Truth and Life
Most of us are slow to see, slow to consider the truths that challenge the comfortable limits of our understanding. As lovers of fact, there are those who question whether any concept of a Higher Power can be meaningful in a modern, science based world. Christ on the Cross deconstructs all our theologies of glory and power yet has never lost its impenetrable mystery. Many of us are looking for a larger sense of the resurrection.
Man has questioned the meaning of truth for a long time. We know truth is not a set of scientific facts. Science is constantly reproving itself with new understanding and information. The mystery of truth prevails where reason fails. If we cling to a vision of God as truth that only allows us to think in primitive ways, we are limited to smallness. The Resurrection tests our sensibilities precisely because it cannot be understood, explained or mastered on our terms. Why did Jesus come? The biblical stories of the Resurrection focus on the way of Jesus as the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. He said to his disciples in John 18:37, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." Until we are clear about the nature of truth, any claim to truth, Christian or otherwise will perplex more than enlighten. When Pontius Pilate interrogated Jesus before his crucifixion Jesus proclaimed, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” To this Pilate replied, “What is truth?” Pilate found no fault in Jesus, but the mob said “Crucify him!” The mob saw Jesus as worthy of crucifixion, and the mob’s truth predominated. The exchange raises the perennial debate - What is truth? This is the question the Roman governor asked. The nature of truth encompasses many layers. Truth in the Bible is much more than a set of facts to be accepted, ignored, or discarded; it is rather, the mystery of relationship and response to the Living God. The Resurrection does not oppose human reason or the ways in which we come to determine what constitutes history; it asks us to rethink them. For many, Jesus is The Way to God in his divinity. For others he lived as The Way in his human nature - The Way as man.
“My peace I give you; my peace I leave with you,” the nonviolent Jesus told his friends the night before he was executed. By all accounts, when he appeared to them he said over and over again, “Peace be with you.” He shares his peace and example of love with us. He offers them to us as a gift. Each of us finds ways to live the truth of Easter. To discover our own ways of loving the Holy, of looking for the sacred in all that surrounds us as well as in the lives of our neighbors. Religion is not about possessing the truth. No religion does that. Rather religion offers an invitation into a journey that leads one toward the God who has no name and will always be bathed in mystery. We live the truth of Christ’s life and the joy of Easter by serving others and loving and forgiving deeply. Resurrection is not a solitary event. Practicing Resurrection happens when we build communities of compassion, live fully, love extravagantly and empower people to be all that they were created to be. Every claim of truth that is not revealed to be united with love must be questioned.
March 14, 2018
Ying and Yang
The act of Creation is almost too extraordinary to take in. "Darkness was upon the face of the deep," Genesis says. Darkness was where it all started. Darkness, even darker than unconsciousness was all there was. Then, there was the light of the First Morning…
One cannot help being in awe, contemplating the mysteries of the universe; the marvelous structure of our reality. The human mind cannot grasp an Eternal One which moves the heavens and all that exists, with intention and desire. We cannot capture such depth and mystery in metaphor… and yet we try. God is Light and God is Dark. Just as God is both transcendent and immanent, never failing light flows into the dark and the dark into the light. Each flows into and through the another. Always they are moving. Just as the Chinese philosophy of ying yang describes that opposite or contrary forces are yet complementary and interconnected - there is more to Light than meets the eye. There is more to God. The sunrise side of Divine Love invites us to welcome the dawn of new mornings, spreading light over the landscapes of our daily lives, encouraging us to take delight in the beauty and find peace in our hearts. The sunset side of Divine Love invites us to let go of that which concerns; the circumstances of our day, both pleasant and painful. Sometimes light comes as starlight, the light of the heavens inviting us to recognize that we are small but included in a larger galactic whole, which is the very life of God.
Challenged by the meaning and image of the Creator, I am moved by a much quoted line from the Academy Award winning film The Shape of Water. “Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, it humbles my heart for You are everywhere.” We don't have to understand. Simply take it in. Ultimate Truth is beyond words. In creating the whole of existence God made forces that reveal Divine Love and forces that oppose it. What matters is the manner, direction and energy in which we move about our lives. Many think that to live in the Light, to attain truth, one has to move mountains and turn the world upside down. It’s not so. Truth is found in the little things. We must do what we can. Learn and meditate and pray and improve ourselves in ways that we know how. There are many truths. There is a truth for every being and for every particle in the universe. For each one of us reflects the Universal differently. Some search endlessly to find purpose and meaning. But surely our purpose in life is to become fully alive: to become fully immersed in the joys and struggles and times in-between, and to enjoy a sense of harmony along the way. And so we learn and progress by quantum leaps and bounds; yet the timeless, constant wisdom of Truth doesn’t budge from its place. In Einsteinian terms, all the information and history available at any one place in the universe is known as a light cone. In the theory of relativity, a light cone is the path that a flash of light, emanating from a single event in a single point in space and a single moment in time, would take through spacetime. In our world, each of us possesses consciousness of the Infinite which needs only to be discovered. There is more to Light than meets the eye. Light is the presence of fresh possibilities for creative transformation. Why should we demand that the universe make itself clear to us? Behind it all is surely an idea so beautiful. Look around. How can we be so blind? Each of us is a human light cone born of creation. To become fully aware of the work of creation we must allow our minds to follow the light that is seen to light that is more than we can see. There is God.
March 7, 2018
Power and Grace
Would Jesus celebrate International Women’s Day this coming Thursday? So much is happening around us; women everywhere are feeling angst. Some are fearful, some are angry. They are marching; they are hoping. They are calling for change for their lives and for the lives of those around them. Courageous compassion is far from neat and tidy. Transformation is demanding, active. How beautiful the strength of conviction… of taking a first bold step.
How many of us are hesitant to rock the boat; to challenge the opinion of others? How many have grappled with what it means to break their silences surrounding issues of concern. Our more civilized sensibilities frown upon conflict. We shy away from anger. Nowadays, the most common word associated with anger is “management”. Most of us are quiet peace loving people with a preoccupation for being polite. There can be a negative meaning to our silence as there may also be a positive one. We are persons of privilege; the privilege of race and the privilege of class. Wealth may insulate us from the pain of our sisters and brothers. The energy and courage found in the early Church can enliven us today. Jesus, meek and mild, is nowhere to be found in the scripture reading for this third Sunday of Lent; a passage that will be read in many Christian churches everywhere. Here instead, we get a glimpse of an angry Jesus, even a violent Jesus. It’s interesting that the words of scripture that will be spoken coincide also with the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8; a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. It will also be a day focusing on gender equality, exploitation of women, and oppression of every kind.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said to them, "My house will be called a house of prayer," but you are making it a "den of robbers.” (John 2 13-22)
Jesus said that anger is a sin, yet he himself got angry. The temple, a place of prayer, had become a place of profit-making. Lent is a time to mourn with those who suffer, especially those who suffer unjustly. Like Jesus, we’ve all experienced the anger of witnessing exploitation in the face of something or someone we care deeply about. Anger is a powerful human emotion. Anger is not the opposite of love. Anger is not to be feared nearly as much as we ought to fear indifference. Our anger means we care about what is happening to our fellow human beings. Jesus, whose compassion for the poor coupled with his passion for justice stormed into the temple in an effort to turn things upside down to demonstrate the need for radical political change. Maybe it is time; time to take a page out of the gospel and do what Jesus did when he saw his own people enslaved by economic and religious systems of power that were persecuting his sisters and brothers. Maybe it’s time for us to let our anger rage. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see; it teaches us how to see what our eyes see and our hearts know. Maybe it’s time to turn over more than just a few tables in those temples of power which enable and foster abuse, those that turn their face on the homeless and oppressed. Can we take on more than we want to be, to be what we need to be, to be what we are asked to be? Pope Francis encourages us saying: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
For those who teach us how to raise our voice, We thank you God. For those who turn trauma and adversity into strength, We thank you God. For those who speak Truth to power, We thank you God. For those who offer their gifts to the greater good, We thank you God. “Only to the degree that people are unsettled is there any hope...” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
February 28, 2018
Is it possible that one day we might sweep away all forms of oppression and injustice leaving a utopian world where everyone would share the riches of the earth and nurture one another? A world devoid of racism, sexism, classism or any other form of inequality? Where we might discover permanent enlightenment to which there is peace in the face of mass killings, political unrest…Can there be a happy ending to the tragedies that surround us, our country, the world? Or what if this, right here, right now - this one eternal present moment - is it?
Is it possible to simply and peacefully be present and awake to whatever occurs, just as it is, without needing something different or better; without needing solutions, answers or fairness? Enlightenment is the claim and the promise of a permanent, personal state of perpetual happiness and bliss. But what if life will always be a mix of positive and negative, pain and pleasure, success and failure, enlightenment and delusion? Remember the old General Electric commercial telling us that: “Progress is our most important product.” In the 1950’s and 60’s, many liked to imagine that things were getting better and better, and that they would always continue to get better. That was the American Dream. Today progress and the spiritual new age operate where humans hope to evolve to a higher level of consciousness, acting from a holistic and global worldview.
In the Myth of the Happy Ending, we imagine that enlightenment means spending many years looking for the perfect place to live, chasing the perfect spiritual teachers, following the perfect path, the perfect career, being part of the perfect community, and so on. Then we realize that no such lasting perfection exists. The organic life is inherently vulnerable and uncertain, fraught with difficulties and dangers. We're God Wrestlers. We give ourselves to the work of wrestling with God, wrestling with the world's imperfections - wrestling with ourselves. We can begin to despair. We can begin to lose hope. We can begin to lose our perspective. Then God washes over us with beauty and love, and we are renewed. We must stop projecting our fear and rage on “God.” We must take responsibility for our own separation from mankind and pain. We are restored because this is what we were created for. God, the essence of being, the Tao of existence and true healing is remembering the light and love of who we are - Divine Love. Faith, hope and love are the navigating instruments needed today. Soul-life cannot be lived if there is no faith behind it. If we are looking for a happy ending and cannot find one, maybe we should look for a new beginning instead.
Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure.
Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness.
Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts.
And show us what each one of us can do to set forward the coming of the day of universal peace. - Frank Borman, Apollo 8 space mission, 1968
A Place of Quiet
February 23, 2018
Many go on retreat to step out of their daily lives. To regenerate, realign, re-balance. Some take time to detach and disengage from normal routine to enable oneself to see more clearly, to heal one’s soul. What part of this is missing? What part of this is the world missing?
The hardest part of a winter of the soul is when one can’t find God. How many of us buy into the mantra that doing more is better? An active life is a good and commendable thing. But action has its seasons too - one of which is inaction. A little winter hibernation offers time for retreat and replenishment. It offers time for our wordless philosophy to be born. It’s a time to allow God’s presence to be revealed. There is a desire for the kind of intimacy with God that many of us have experienced at various times in our lives; the kind of intimacy to live and move and have one’s being in the Divine. The idea of living with intention may evoke images of vision statements and goal-setting, planning for the future. It takes a different kind of intention to slow down, to turn off our thinking, quiet our minds and see what emerges.
Any wilderness is filled with contradictions, both frightening and fascinating. It can offer the best and the worst of human experiences. Yet it also offers a sacred place, for in the solitude of the wilderness there is also revelation. Entering the wilderness is not an end in itself. It is closely related to journeying, to pilgrimage. We do not go into the desert to stay there for good. Is it any wonder that we long for intimacy with the Divine? How do we find the time, make the time, or take the time to enter the place where God waits to meet us? When God spoke to the prophet Elijah, on Mount Horeb in the Old Testament, he could have done so in the wind, earthquake, or fire. But He didn’t. He spoke with a “still small voice.” ..."Why are you here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:12). It is a difficult passage to understand. Elijah had just won a tremendous victory over the prophets of Baal. But after fleeing for his life, he was now wallowing in self pity in a cave. Elijah’s reply revealed the depth of his despair. He said, in effect, “Lord, I have been most zealous in my attempts to serve you...and yet I continue to feel distant, lonely for you.” He was angry, discouraged. The interpretations of this reading are endless… Who are we when we come face to face with spiritual desert? Who are we when our previous understanding of how God communicates with us no longer applies, where our past experiences mislead, where our great accomplishments will not help us? It takes a different kind of intention to slow down, to turn off the goal-oriented thinking, quiet our minds and see what emerges.
Lent is the liturgical season that encourages one to enter into extended reflection. During these forty-some days, we are invited to go - metaphorically and literally - into the Wilderness, as the Desert Fathers did. For Christians, it is an invitation to imitate Jesus’ solitude and silence, to simplify one’s life and cultivate a contemplative attitude that prepares the believer to grasp fully the mystery of Easter. When Jesus wanted to pray, he preferred to go to a physical wilderness where he could be most in touch with creation. Throughout the Bible, the wilderness is a place of preparation, a place of overcoming temptation; a place that God leads many people to, including Jesus before he began his public ministry. Man will not suffer for want of intelligence and information, but only for lack of wonder. The beginning of happiness and well-being lies with the insight in knowing that life without awe and amazement is meaningless. How do we lift up our eyes to see higher? sometimes it takes a wilderness to awaken wonder. To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau’s words, “in the wilderness is the preservation of the world” - God and ourselves.
February 14, 2018
Pass it On
Love is a confusing word. It is the most altruistic and perhaps also the most selfish of human emotions. We talk about loving food, loving music, falling in love, feeling loved. We say that love hurts, love waits, and love means never having to say we’re sorry. Pure love is the inner essence of our true being, yet a paradox continuing to go largely undefined.
“So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest one of these is love.” - I Corinthians 13:13. Maybe somewhere in you there is a deep loneliness on this day of roses and Hallmark valentines and these words of the Bible serve only to sting. Regardless of personal romantic relationships, we are also told that the very essence of love is already at the core of our being. Imagining that we might realize such love but sensing that we will fall short, often we find paths through the world that are easier than loving. At the very heart of life, at the central core of God’s plan of Creation, is the action of loving and of being loved. Jesus said, “The kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Ultimate Love. Ultimate Grace. We all receive this gift, but so few accept and trust it. The early Christian mystics, far more than the theologians, understood that grace was something to be experienced and not necessarily understood. Grace is both favor received and gratitude given. Through grace, love arises. Like the sun ever faithful, love comes and we forget the moments that are dark. In Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love oneself is the foundation of love for others. Developing the capacity to generate love for ourselves creates the positive energy to express compassion toward all living beings.
“When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world - no matter how imperfect - becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.” These are the words of Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, and also considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. Love is God - God revealed through love. It is by the love of the God in us that the human soul is born. Have you read the book or seen the movie, The Road? It’s an apocalypse story where a father and a son journey across a desolated America along a road that takes them to the ocean. The only beauty you see is the love between the two, and the innocent love of a child who was born after the world began to die. Their love grows, as does their pain. Are the roads we take in our own lives much different? There is desolation threatening and danger around every bend. Accept the mystery of grace when it comes into your life. Pass it on as love. Give it to others. Give it to the world around you. Love is a way of being; not an ethic. It is a way of being which transcends that which is positive or negative. We are always discovering new aspects of our inner world which we reject or resist; which need love and care. Love your seeking hearts and desire to find a more compassionate way to be in this life and on this earth. Love is the wholeness of non-dual Consciousness. Pure love is the inner essence of our true being. Pass it on.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, 'You owe me.' Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” - Hafiz
February 7, 2018
We knew before kickoff on Sunday there would be a winner. There would be a loser.
Devout football fans, and those watching their first N.F.L. game all year felt the thrill of watching the two playoff finalists face off. And it was great! Among the said 60% of Americans who didn’t watch, some are still wondering what anyone gets out of the spectacle.
The connection between sport and spirituality might be hard to envision at first. You don’t see much evidence with men throwing punches at each other in a boxing ring, or horses being whipped by jockeys as they race around a track. People like to talk about football in ways meant to redeem its violence, and give some sort of justifying, positive moral slant to this business of crashing around into other people and throwing them to the ground. They talk about learning to work hard to achieve goals; about teamwork. Over recent years the connection between sport and spirituality has received much research. Of particular interest has been the reported spiritual experiences of athletes during peak performance which include transcendent states, mystical experiences, states of ‘flow’ and being in the so called “zone.” No one ever plays a game or runs a race to lose. Successful athletes are disciplined in their training, purposeful in their objective. This thirst and desire controls an athletes consciousness.
As humans, we are always looking for the essence of success, of life, and its true meaning. There is really no way to define this essence in words. Our lives must be lived. We must play the game! One can pray without involvement, but you cannot successfully play sports without being fully engaged. Participation is the essence of life. States of consciousness which transcend the ordinary have been studied from a multitude of perspectives. A major milestone in the history of spiritual experiences took place in the early 1900s when the traditional understanding of mystical and religious experience broadened to include non-religious occurrences. This change was pioneered by the work of American psychologist William James in the new scholarly area of spirituality studies. James used the notion of ‘cosmic consciousness’ to describe secular moments, where an intense conscious union with the universe was experienced. You, too, might have played your favorite sport long enough to occasionally experience the “zone”; those times when everything seems to come together, those times when you feel totally absorbed in the rush of - what? Your running, skiing, workout is at a higher level. You’re not sure why it happened; you only know when it happens. A moment of grace, of knowing, that something greater does exist; and for a moment, you were part of it. Everything feels right. The euphoria holds you. You want more. Then it goes away. Many feel the same about their spiritual lives….closeness to God and then absence. A memory which holds us in wonder and worship, and we never forget. When we are aligned with our “spiritual zone” we find peace, experience compassion and connection, love; purpose and levels of fulfillment. We don’t have to be elite performers to experience the zone any more than we have to go to a hermitage and meditate day and night to transcend ourselves. There are many ways to play the game just as there are many ways of experiencing the quest of spirit. Just show up and give your spiritual practice what you would give your workout. Being in the game or on the yoga mat is about desire and being fully present. The Creator of the entire universe saw fit to give each and every one of us life, delighting in our abilities. Not caring if we win.
January 10, 2018
They sought and found. In finding they saw. In seeing they loved. And in loving they gave; gave of their unique, individual, priceless gifts. Humanity is the known part of creation that contemplates itself. The Magi, appearing at the birth of Jesus, provide an image. But what each experiences in the heart is one’s own.
Because the biblical descriptions of the Christmas story are so sparse, we have embellished them over the years, enriching our imaginations of what it would have been like to glimpse the intersection of God and man. Who knows what the facts of Jesus' birth actually were? As for myself, the longer I live, the more inclined I am to believe in miracles. The more I suspect that if we had been there at the birth, we too might well have seen and heard things that would be hard to reconcile with reality. But of course that is not the point. The Gospel writers were probably not interested so much in recording facts of the birth, but rather in communicating the significance. The celebration of the birth of Christ continues for the six-week season of Epiphany in the liturgical church calendar. The word Epiphany comes from the Greek which means “coming to light.” It celebrates the journey of the Magi, a new consciousness and revelation of a new reality. In this season and beyond, we think of those who saw a star, not knowing what potential the star possessed. Honored by millions over the centuries, what importance can this birth have that renders known scientific fact and perhaps historical actuality irrelevant?
The deepest wisdom cannot be grasped on the level of the intellect. What does it mean for Christ to be born in us? Why do we as human beings seek meaning? One of the truths about the birth of Jesus is that somehow in the innocence and weakness of a newborn child, God and humanity became linked. I have never discovered a guiding star in the East, seen Spirit descend like a dove, or heard a divine voice in the clouds. I have never watched water become wine or experienced God in any of the ways stories in the Bible describe. The “epiphanies” I have experienced have unfolded slowly; moments of grace that have come unbidden and unexpected, gentle and subdued. I do not try to define them. I do not try to hold them too tightly. The way of faith is the way of hope as we walk along with all who have ever searched. The Holy is always a part of all that is. Allow yourself to receive moments of ordinary miracles. Be present, humble, have faith and receive the blessed gift of grace that is called Epiphany.
January 4, 2018
Give Me a Word
In the early centuries, those desiring a deeper spiritual life sought direction from learned monks saying, “Amma (mother) or Abba (father), give me a word." The word offered was something that would help to usher one toward awareness of their life; a journey deeper into the mysteries of being human.
While many have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions, I do like the promise and possibility this time of year offers. It’s okay to want to be a better you, and the New Year is a natural time to start. The question is, how? Just as those early seekers, I am inspired and somewhat daunted to take up the challenge: Listen for and choose a Word for 2018 - a word like a star to follow, a word to guide and shape each intention and action in my year ahead. Choosing a single word, one like Be. Dare. Reclaim. Allow. Expand. Trust. stimulates clarity and focus to move positively toward the future rather than swearing off the past. We live in a world with an abundance of choices and possibilities. I've always been able to say what I don't want, but sometimes have had a really hard time identifying what it is that I want. Sometimes, diving deep with one phrase, image or idea is just what our hearts and minds need to heighten our understanding, challenge, wrestle with and grow into. What do you want to feel in this new year? What kind of experiences do you want to have? What results, effects, or changes do you want to see? This year I invite you, too, to try something different. If you hear a word calling, sit with it for a couple of days. Listen attentively to the stirrings of your heart in response. For some, the word may come right away while others may find the process much slower. We might be tempted to think our way into the word, to analyze what would be the best for us. We need to ask for open eyes, for open ears, and for an open heart, so that when our word comes, we can welcome it and let it make a home in us. Be patient. Your Word is a gift that has the opportunity to move you beyond boundaries, calling you to a place of freedom and awareness. Life is our interpretation of the words God gives to us. Our job in this world is to become truth, trusting our unknown futures to a known God.
God - give me a word, give me a sign; one that reflects where I have been and where I want to be, one that reflects my passion for life. A word that opens the door to surrender and transformation. A word that pushes me to the edge of my fears and insecurities. A thought that starts each day with a “yes! A word in which I might hear your words to me. In this new year I ask for strength to be fully present. I don’t want to be myself. But more!
“For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice.” - T.S. Eliot
December 27, 2017
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are over; the shortest day of the year has passed. Here, the days and nights are cold. This is the season that can make us aware of our individual vulnerabilities. Strip Christmas down to its essence; get rid of all the clutter. The God of winter invites us into a healing rhythm of rest and renewal, of deep listening in the midst of stillness.
Winter encourages us to ease up, slow down, make time for quiet walks in the few hours of light. Contemplate. Thomas Merton compared the spiritual life to the search for a path in a field of untrodden snow. "Walk across the snow and there is your path," he wrote. Last week the winter solstice celebrated the slow return of sunlight after the longest night of the year. The sun’s light is beginning to become stronger, and we too might consider how to strengthen our vision. In the darkness we can always see the moon, the stars, and sometimes even reflecting lights on the clouds. God created this wonderful dance in the heavens. The seasons and turnings of our planet are spiritual and holy. In the midst of our darkness, there is light.
The rising of the sun following the winter solstice echoes the birth of the light from the dark void on the first day of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….and God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Blessed are these shortest days that make us long for light. In every major world tradition there are festivals arising at this darkest time of the year reminding of the reality that darkness as a source of fear is also the source of growth. The message is clear - in the depth of the darkness we are instructed to search for the light. Think of this as a time of reset, a powerful transition from the past into the future. For me this is what the expectant waiting of Advent and Christmas is really all about. As I light the holiday candles, I think of all the avenues for bringing light into a darkened world. In the Hebrew calendar, too, the darkness brings the Festival of Light, Hanukkah. There is great spiritual meaning to the play of light and dark upon our bodies, our minds, and our beliefs. Life’s cycles always have the potential to move us. Allow the dark hours to deepen the senses of being. These shortest days of the year are an affirmation that we live by God’s promises that darkness has a light of its own and God’s universal light shines in all things.
“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” - Joan Chittister
December 20, 2017
As the story goes, an angel summoned 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 willingness to serve and bold statement of faith: “May it be as you have said.” ( Luke 1:38)
I sometimes ask, who among the characters of the Nativity would I most like to meet?
Recognized as the mother to God’s only Son, Mary walked a difficult path. Worshipped and loved for her devotion by some; ignored by others - none those many years ago, or today, can judge the validity of Mary’s experience. Christmas is the story of the incarnation - a difficult challenge for most; the idea of God made flesh in the birth of a baby. "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) What might it be like to look with new perspective on a relationship with both the historical and metaphorical Jesus, one going beyond the constraints of our human sensibilities and intellect? We have all been in places like this in our lives...on our own, entering “virgin territory.” Two questions always arise before exploring the untested, the unknown: Where will this take me? And how will I be changed? How might we take a fresh look at the Christmas story through Mary’s eyes; less concerned with what we believe about Jesus than how the character of Jesus might manifest in the way we live our lives?
A star guided three Magi to Bethlehem where they discovered the infant, offering their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh and proclaiming the message of “Emmanuel” - “God dwells within us.” What would it be like, look like, feel like, to transform ourselves and our world to one of hope where all might collectively live in joyous Emmanuel. What if the gifts we gave were more than simply demonstrations of our generosity; but rather symbols of the gifts we might give on all the days of the year - gifts of love, of compassion, of our common humanity. Like the Three Wise Men, we too have the opportunity to live as modern Magi, guided by the Divine Light each follows. What might I give God this Christmas? I can seek out a forgotten friend. Replace suspicion with trust. Try to understand. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Welcome a stranger. Express gratitude. Speak love, and then speak it again. What can I give to God this Christmas? I can serve others. I can be kind. I can be helpful. I can be patient. Unlike the Magi of old, we don’t have to travel far to offer our gifts. And as the angel, unable to contain the jubilation, announced to the shepherds so many many years ago, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” We can bring OUR JOY. And we can LOVE as never before, in celebration of the real meaning of Christmas. The story of the Christ child is the story of how one life - one solitary life can make a change in history. Mary had the courage to say yes, to trust God. Mary had the courage to let something grow inside her. She had the courage to harbour a Child of God in her body. Do we have the courage to harbour Christ Consciousness in our bodies? Can Mary’s response also be ours to the symbolic coming of the 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 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?” We celebrate Christmas because it bears important truths; the truth that remarkable things can happen. The truth that goodness comes in the unexpected. The truth that each child is born sacred. That each of our lives is sacred and worthy.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust
December 13, 2017
“All is Calm; All is Bright”
Many of us would just not think it's Christmas until we sing Silent Night by candlelight in community with others. Brightness, festivity and glitter are all about… but noise, hurry, and stress too frequently drown the silence that opens us to the voice of Spirit. Where is the calm in Christmas?
We’ve known the lyrics all our lives. “Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, All is bright.” I get chills every time I sing them. This seems to be the one carol of all Christmas carols that pulls at the strings of my heart - a song that reminds me to slow down, be still and consider what the birth of this child called Jesus is all about. That first Christmas was dingy. That first Christmas was dirty. Jesus was born in the darkness of a stable, maybe a cave. Calm and bright are not words that seem in sync with one another. All was not silent, all was not bright. Still, it’s beautiful, isn’t it, the way we like to think of the Christmas story every year; peaceful, quiet, and so holy. We like Christmas this way. It provides so many of us the beauty that we crave in our oh, so messy world.
The pleasures of the season will come and be gone. Seeking pleasure assumes that it is somewhere else, at some other time - in a different situation, and not here and now. Seeking assumes that there is something to be found, someplace to be reached, some goal to be achieved. Advent is the time to remember that we need something more than what we can summon with our own resources; a season of reflection, a state of mind. The writer of the song, while perhaps not portraying a precise enactment, expresses an important truth: wonder makes us silent. The “silent night” occurs when we look upon the mystery of Jesus' birth with true wonder and awe. Life isn't always peaceful. Some would say it’s never peaceful. There may never be peace in this world - but in this world, we can have peace. The path of peace and holiness is so wonderfully close at hand, so eminently do-able. When we feel drawn to the contemplative, to the spiritual practice of loving-kindness; think of that which created and guides. As much as Advent is a time of waiting and listening, it is also a time of “refreshing our memory.” The calming peace of Christmas lies in the immanence of Divine Love. It has come. It is here. It is close by. This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we think we don’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. The Christmas story is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. We are what we do with our silence. Allow inner peace be your sanctuary this Christmas season.
December 6, 2017
Pray, Give Thanks, Help Others
Joy of expectation. Expectation of joy. Advent is a whole lot more than waiting and preparing for Christmas. Cynical as some are about the season, scorning religion and tradition, we can’t escape the yearning for greater meaning in the holiday. What moves you this Christmas?
Most of us have a picture-perfect idea: family gathered around a beautifully decorated tree, a table laid out for a feast, neatly wrapped presents, stockings, fun, laughter, and a soft blanket of new snow. It’s rarely like this. We miss family members who can’t be with us. We’re worried about buying the wrong gifts. It’s a mad rush to get everything ready. During Christmas, we hear the word, joy, often. What is this joy? Joy is the expression of God being in our hearts. Its looking at the world with wonder, appreciation, and love. Real Christmas is when the Divine expresses itself in the heart of the man. If the Christ-life is to be lived, first of all, the child-Christ has to come forth within. Christmas is about love, birth and new beginnings. Jesus was not born in a grand palace. Jesus came into this world in a simple, lowly place; a corner of a stable. He was born to humble and poor parents, in the darkness in the obscure hour of midnight, when no one even knew about it, except a few blessed people. He spent time with the poor and the outcast, the sick and the lame, the prostitute and the thief. Jesus entered the world as essential truth, living and symbolizing Divine Consciousness. Do not think of Christ as a helpless little baby, The universal spirit of Christ Consciousness was in Him from the beginning. The joy of Christmas is a special joy; but it is a joy that isn’t just for a single day.
Christmas is about a change of consciousness in the world that also happens in our own spiritual journeys. The joy that Jesus came to bring is from outside this world. That is the real reason why we celebrate His birthday - in order to remind ourselves of the divine qualities of Jesus and to awaken ourselves to a realization of the enlightening, loving Christ Presence in our own consciousness. We know there is a remarkable diversity in what constitutes “religion” and “spirituality” among both the religiously affiliated and the unaffiliated. We hear the phrase “Christ Consciousness” with ever-greater frequency. What is this energy; how does it feel; what does it mean in our lives? Pope Francis sums up the heart of Christian joy in three actions: “Pray, give thanks, help others.” If we take these words to heart and bring them to life in our everyday lives, we, too, will discover the joy of Advent; a joy that we can take with us through the new year. This Season, amid the busyness and the rush of the coming holiday, take the time to stop for a moment, to breathe deeply, to capture the beauty and ask, “What is my part in this divine coming? How might I see? What might I give?”
November 28, 2017
Have you ever wondered about your place in the world? Or ever felt drawn to a certain place, but didn’t know why? It’s human nature to want to belong. Perhaps there's a reason why the first thing we often ask someone when we meet them is, "where's home for you?"
From the airports to the highways, travelers last weekend made their way home after the Thanksgiving holiday. Having paid homage to origins, family and friends, with hearts warmed and spirits nourished, some still long for a place to belong. In this world of increasing stress and complexity, all of us need shelter, a refuge, a haven. Home is a metaphor for being grounded, centered, secure. More than having a physical structure, a door to lock, a stable location; homelessness as a state of mind is still experienced by many. In times of transition and struggle, during intervals of heartache, confusion, and disappointment, learning to be at home is not easy - whether it’s being at home in one’s own skin or in the time and place in which we find ourselves. It’s common to have feelings of dislocation, uprooting, and abandonment - the sense of being alone in the universe without a place to call one’s own. When we feel "at home," we feel at ease and good about where we are: right? What would it be like to have a place where we can come as we are loved, treasured, accepted. A safe place of tranquility and peace that the world cannot give? For anyone who has travelled beyond the edges of their comfort zone, a quote from Wendell Berry comes to mind: “You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.” How many resist the spiritual journey Wendell Berry speaks of; a journey of accepting what we are given and where we find ourselves instead of always struggling for something else, something more. “And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.
Our human need for exploration and for discovery ultimately attempts to make connection. Yet Spirit’s desire for us is to dwell in an ordinary world, the one in which we live, the sanctuary that each of us makes of our lives. To live in the Light of home is to be aware that we are part of the whole of creation and to never feel separate from it. There is nothing Creation’s world can provide that we do not already possess. To be at home is to recognize the beauty of our nature and identity lived in the sanctuary of soul and Spirit, the Creator of Creation within.
“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing Light Of your own Being." - Hafiz
November 21, 2017
Bless and Be Blessed
The word “blessing” slips easily off our lips. “I’m blessed!” “It’s a blessing!” Blessed and blessings are wonderful words. Spiritual words. But, they have also been hijacked in our culture to mean little more than lucky. Most of the time we don’t give any thought to what being blessed really means; and it’s source.
A quick look at Facebook and Twitter show just how many people feel “Blessed.” In our social media world, saying we’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble. Luck has nothing to do with being blessed. Luck is a toss of the dice and a slight of the hand. Being blessed is from God. Being blessed is a condition of the heart and a frame of mind. Food for the soul. 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.
In Hebrew the word most often translated “bless” is barak, meaning “to increase” or “bring down Divine abundance.” Whatever spiritual forces might flow within a blessing, what is most needed is simple human caring. The Bible is full of commands to love one another; to honor, forgive and comfort one another. It doesn’t mean flattery. It doesn’t mean quoting motivational platitudes to another. Scripture says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.” (Proverbs 3:27-28) Our words can be the source of healing, forgiveness, life.
Everyone wants and needs a blessing. There is great loneliness among us. There are people we know who are worried and depressed, who long to hear the words, "I love you." "You are important to me." God is not the only one who pronounces blessings. Each of us are called to bless. There is no recipe or special technique. 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. In all of the ways that humans can be generous, kind and compassionate to each other… there are blessings. Who doesn’t want a blessing!
Whatever form your blessing might take, whether you use the word or simply bless with your actions, be a blessing to the people around you. Wish someone joy, wish them peace, love, prosperity, happiness… We may never know the impact of our words, our patience, our moment of remembering and care will bring another. My Thanksgiving prayer this week is that I understand my true blessing. It’s more than my home, my husband or my standard of living. My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. What will we do with our blessings? Will we keep them close for comfort? Will we share them?
November 14, 2017
Gandhi said, “There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.” We are the moments of our lives. All takes place in the only time we really have: the present moment.
It’s hard to live in the ever popular now. The past keeps surfacing with guilt and worries, unfulfilled dreams and ambition. Those who live in the future live on rocky ground - they have no roots. They are always thinking about "one day" when they will be happy, "one day" when they will have abundance, "one day" when they will have the perfect partner; always thinking that the next moment must be more important than the present. The real enemies of our lives are the “oughts” and “ifs.” They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. Writer Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” To be centered and present, is there a reality we must live?
How we direct the beam of our humble consciousness is purely up to us. The world is a place of constant change. Each day will offer its wisdom uniquely. Every point in time is distinct from the point before it. Universal consciousness is too much for me to think about. I can’t Imagine at any given moment that I might know all that has ever happened or perceive everything that is happening everywhere in the universe! Even the present moment, charged with thinking about ultimate reality, cannot be separated from the surrounding world with its promises, opportunities, expectancy. Is one of these realities more ultimate than another? Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hahn thinks so, saying; "Only the present moment is real and available to us. The peace we desire is not in some distant future, but it is something we can realize in the present moment." Look at your life. Each of us do so many different things one after another without any apparent connection between them. How we direct the beam of our humble consciousness is purely up to us. There is only one question: “How to love this world.” In poet Mary Oliver's words, “Now is the time to know that all that you do is sacred…” Every moment every human activity in an opportunity to connect with the Divine. Being itself is derived from God and the presence of the Creator remains in each created thing. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” declares the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. These words give a new urgency to the present; raising our desire to know God to a new level of intensity. Moment by moment notice the extraordinary! Life is a beautiful wonder!
I do not know if I can live a better life tomorrow or next year or be kinder even to those I love most. But I do know that now, for at least this next breath, I can pray and breathe love. I can pray and breathe peace.
This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118
November 7, 2017
Go with the Flow
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that speaks to the nature of human existence - “Stand like a mountain, move like water.” To stand like a mountain means to be strong. To move like water means to be soft and yielding. If we want to be in the flow of life, within the “yin and the yang” of perfect relationship, we cannot struggle against it at the same time...
Do you ever think to yourself, why do I always make things SO much more difficult than they need to be? To walk the human path is hard. At times, our heads are filled with doubt. In search of truth we pause, often uncertain; balance is the key to life, we are told. The Chinese put it well when they say that life’s aim is to enjoy four kinds of harmony: harmony within the self, harmony with others, harmony with the earth, and harmony with heaven. Every experience connecting with Spirit shows that as humans, we are not separate beings immersed within a universe of happenings that occur randomly TO US. But rather, we are an integral part of the whole. We each experience life in all its dimensions, notwithstanding its challenges and drama. If we are spiritually inclined at all, we have within us a reservoir of depth and inner strength out of which flows fresh possibilities for seeing and being reassured. Perhaps the Buddhist idea of mindfulness can help; for in it we learn to step back and observe the whole of life. And, we are better able to resist the urge to get caught up in the pain. This does not mean that all is peaceful. Greed and cruelty, abuse and injustice - they flow too. A distinction can be made between bad flow and good flow, tragic flow and beautiful flow, life-nourishing flow and life-destroying flow.
The sacred calling within each of us is to go with the flow of Divine Love in ways that help make our world more just and beautiful, more satisfying for all. Go with the flow by getting absorbed in the “here and now”. In other words, to go with the flow is about the “eternal now.” When we find ourselves living in the moment, we experience underlying energy which has purpose and direction. I find it helpful to direct my thought to what I term the Divine within, and to listen carefully to her inner voice. Even when we say “no” to possibility, “no” to abundance; when we say “no” to change of any type – we block the possibility of spiritual energy from flowing freely. Of course, we have to deal with life’s hardships and challenges. The guidance we seek is within us. We only need to remember our inherent wisdom and the innate potential of the human spirit.
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”
- Frederick Buechner
October 31, 2017
There is a basic urgency in life to grow, to expand, to become new and renewed. We might almost say that the very meaning of being alive is to be in the process of becoming a new creation. Technologically and informationally we have a head start over all previous generations. But are souls keeping up...
Today’s generation is among the first that hasn’t inherited a spiritual identity. For most of human history, in the majority of cultures, religious tradition has been passed down. But suddenly, in the last couple of decades, many people are likely to have been born into families holding no system of belief and its guiding principles. While traditional religious affiliation may be waning, spiritual hunger is not. Accompanying the shift from inherited tradition is the fact that many, also, do not carry with them a lot of baggage. There is much curiosity about Spirit and many are searching and committed to the integrity of joining personal inner life with the mystery of God.
“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet…” Rudyard Kipling penned these words more than one hundred years ago; but it is unlikely that he would write the same words today. Quoted to underline insurmountable philosophies between the two hemispheres, in this 21st century, as we move ever-closer to a global culture, it is clear that “the twain are meeting”. God has not called us to a Western worldview or an Eastern worldview, but to a desire to approach life with eyes wide open. Like a stained glass window through which Holy Light shines, the world needs as many prisms of wisdom and hope that we can find. Beneath our seeming differences lie a pool of universal truth. The mystery of God is in the God within.
Spiritual evolution advancess through closer and closer alignment with the Higher Self; by the fusion of the loftiest spiritual heights with our most mundane physicality. It means we can be ourselves, living a “down to earth” existence, and yet fulfill our transcendental goals. It means that there is nothing we are trying to escape - other than the notion that we must escape something. We don’t run away from this world to join a higher one; instead we work to fuse the two. We aren’t in the business of “making it to heaven”—we’re busy bringing heaven down to earth.
Where then, is insight to be found? Eastern thought is strong in certain aspects of life, Western thought is strong in certain others. Responding to a question from the Pharisees about when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’, the kingdom of God is found within you” (Luke 17:20-21). There are many ways for us to learn until we are our own priest. Benjamin Franklin offered the thought that “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” No, we do not need to go to church, but we do need to care about our souls and commit fully to the greatness of being human on this magnificent earth. Consider what it would take for us to believe in a universe that is conspiring for our good. As someone once said, … not to worship Jesus, but to worship what Jesus worshipped; not to worship Moses, Buddha or Lao Tzu, but to cherish all they revered. That is to come close to the true God, the one universal truth.
October 24, 2017
The silence of God can be deafening. Longing for an answer, aching for a reply, we each have known the feeling of uncertainty from time to time. Like children, we become anxious. God, where are you? Why do you no longer talk to us? And all we hear is silence…
There is an obvious and deep irony in any attempt to talk about silence. It's like trying to describe the ineffable or depict the invisible. Silence. A word that evokes scary images of aloneness, of vulnerability, of having to face one’s inner world. God’s silence can be interpreted as a lack of connection, or a lack of presence. How do we reconcile silence with certainty of Spirit’s existence? If there is Divine Consciousness, wouldn’t the grand designer want to communicate? Speak with us, interact with us? This idea that knowing is seeing is a dominant metaphor in contemporary thinking. We speak of insight, foresight and hindsight. We offer observation and perspectives. We illustrate. We illuminate. We shed light on issues. When we understand; we say, “I see. I hear you.” And yet when we are offered a faith in a God we cannot see, a God that cannot be represented visually and often a God that is silent, we doubt.
The way we understand power is invariably bound up with how we see it exercised in our world. Civilization understands power as a force over others. Strong people have power, political rulers exert power, economic systems wield power, the famous influence with power, the playground bully has power. Who are we when our previous understanding of how God communicates no longer applies? When past experiences and misconceptions mislead? Religion fails when it seeks to impose truth by fear - whatever the truth, whatever the force.
How can we comprehend “the silence of God” when silence is lonely? When God says in the Bible that his ways are not our ways, he really means it. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." (Isaiah 55:8). Overt displays of power are not necessary for the Almighty to be perceived. Dramatic displays make for a good show. But, when it comes to a life lived in faith, hope and love; nothing is as powerful as a mind and heart stilled in peace and the quiet presence of Divine Love manifested in our hearts. Forget the trumpets and cymbals, “God is found not in the wind nor in the earthquake nor in the fire...but in a still, small voice.” (Kings 1: 19:11-12) God is present the way beauty is present. The voice that summoned the universe into being is still and small. God oftentimes looks underwhelming in this world. To hear the voice of Divine Love we must listen. Listen, as we travel the sacramental journey to inner quiet. We will not be alone.
“The night of total calm before the rising winds of dawn, the music of silence, the sounding solitude, the supper that renews our love.” - St. John of the Cross
October 17, 2017
Buddhist teachings say that every single encounter between us and another is a sacred opportunity to love. No act of compassion and kindness, no matter how big or small, wherever it is performed, is ever wasted. We cannot feed all the poor, we cannot house all the homeless, we cannot befriend all the lonely. But we can care one person at a time...
Hospitality is a word with a spiritual history. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle regarded hospitality as the primary of all virtues and one of the hallmarks of spiritual enlightenment. Scripture is rich with accounts of welcoming generosity. In the Genesis account of the beginning of existence, God’s first act symbolically offered cosmic hospitality in the creation of a universe that is good and abundantly filled for us with all the things we need to live well. Atithi Devo Bhava: “Be one for whom the guest is God,” is a verse taken from an ancient Hindu scripture. Hindus see guests as an opportunity to serve and express their love of God. Monastic life has long been associated with hospitality. Patron saint, Benedict of Nursia, who lived in Italy 1500 years ago, wrote a Rule of Life for monks and nuns. One of the most often quoted phrases of the Benedictine Rule; “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” Everyone who comes - the poor, the weak, the marginalized are to be received with genuine acceptance. There was a time when the head of the monasteries would stand at the doorstep at mealtime and shout loudly, not once but three times, “Is there someone who needs to be fed?” And when a traveler or the poor would come in for food, it would be only after the guests had been fed that all would sit down to eat. Accounts of Jesus’ life tell us he touched those who were shunned and ostracized for their disabilities, talked with them, and gave them a safe space to feel welcome. When those who were considered “unclean,” possessed by demons, bleeding and sick came, he didn’t back away or shame them, but valued and respected all. The rejected and rebuffed of all kinds were honored and accepted ...gamblers, thieves, prostitutes, and people we would probably call the homeless today.
Genuine hospitality is unaffected by self-interest. It is an opening of oneself, regardless of judgement and social boundaries. "Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” This verse from the Bible, Romans 12:9-13, is ripe for adaptation to the diversity of our day. In God there is both immigrant and native, neither gay nor straight, black nor white. Each of us has been a stranger at one point, we have all felt like outsiders. The Apostle Paul reflected on the oneness of humanity with his powerful words; “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all are one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28) Paul passionately believed, nearly 2000 years ago, that in God all barriers between people might be broken. Planetary ecumenism at its best! Radical hospitality is not something people do, but rather something we become. It is a term that rolls easily off the tongue - but to actually carry it out is a demanding undertaking.
God, put a song in our hearts that will ignite our being with love for all mankind. Open our eyes to see your image in every person. Open our minds to imagine the difference each of us can make in our communities and in the world, ... caring, one person at a time. May hospitality be the foundation of our Chapel’s spirituality and of our lives - not just in opening our doors - but in opening our hearts. Hospitality is a choice. It is a divine gift waiting to be opened, waiting to be unleashed. Flowing freely, true hospitality is an expression of life giving resuscitation, a spiritual initiative and practice of active and genuine love.
October 10, 2017
Tolstoy once suggested that certain questions are put to humanity not so much that we should answer them, but that we should spend a lifetime wrestling with them. Jesus wept and the Buddha was brokenhearted by the suffering of the world. Big tragedies need a big God to walk us through them…
“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways - either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” These are the words of the Dalai Lama… but who really wants to talk about suffering? To weep with those who weep? Often I have wondered, has God both loved and grieved for humanity from the day we claimed our free will? Did He know that we would mess up, make the wrong decisions, and ultimately reject Him? Wouldn't it have been easier and nicer to create mankind as inherently good? Free will is a blessing and a curse. God has given each of us the absolute ability to makes choices in life. We can choose good or evil, right or wrong, self or others. Unfortunately, from the beginning of time, man has chosen wrongdoing too often. The vast majority of violence in history has been religious violence. Members of ISIS probably believe they are doing God’s will. The Ku Klux Klan uses the cross as their symbol. Europe’s Christians found a myriad of ways to kill and maim one another in the 16th and 17th centuries. Our dualistic minds see evil as black or white and the only solution is to eliminate evil. Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that we are also the enemy and our response is part of the whole moral equation. Thomas Merton wrote, “Non-violence implies a kind of bravery far different from violence.” We cannot destroy the other without destroying ourselves. Non-violence must be an inseparable part of our very being. Not something we turn off and turn on.
All mystery contains within it an introspection and WHY? We wish that the earth’s resources wouldn’t be wasted on weaponry, that people would stop killing people. But at a certain point, we have to surrender the fact that darkness is part of reality. In every circumstance there is an invitation to us to weep over violence, pray for peace, and to declare a different way to live in the world. It is a daily decision to trust and follow God. Trust is defined as “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I see so much misery and disappointment everyday, that if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I would be a raving maniac.” Trusting God will always put the accent mark on Creation’s active goodness rather than the active evil of our world. Regardless of what name we give to the Divine, when we are open to the possibility of Beauty and Light in places of destruction… God’s love will not leave us. We must allow ourselves to believe this.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
- John 1:5.
October 3, 2017
Being Human in a Conscious Universe
“If you are kind, learn also to be fierce. If you are wise, learn also to be simple.
If you are fire, learn also to stay cool. Whatever you find yourself being, be the opposite as well.” - Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
What is a human being? Objectively, nothing of consequence. Particles of dust in an infinite arena, present for an instant in eternity. Clumps of atoms in a universe with more galaxies than people. Does humanity have a special place in the Universe? What is the meaning of our personal lives? The pessimistic view is that, because we occupy such small and brief time and place in the cosmos, we and the things we do are insignificant and inconsequential. If our existence is so trivial, how could anything we do, our successes and failures, our anxiety and sadness and joy, all our busy ambition and work... How could any of that possibly matter? Christian tradition acknowledges our smallness in the scheme of things. But on the other hand, also tells us that we are of infinite and eternal worth because God loves us beyond anything we can ask or imagine. According to scripture, we have been chosen; adopted, redeemed, forgiven, grace-lavished, and unconditionally accepted. People often become what they believe themselves to be. And so we ask, am I loved? Am I respected? Am I important?
Over the course of our lives, each person’s identity is formed and shaped through individual experiences, relationships, culture, media, and the world around us. We are constantly seeking to define who we are in any way that we can; by our occupations, family relationships, friends, politics, views on social issues, physical appearance. If I define myself by my beliefs, what happens when I’m proven wrong, or when the certainties I once lived by change? Am I no longer me? Our egos go to great lengths to protect the version of self that we’ve created. We naturally like to identify with our strengths. But after we’ve lived out the socially accepted niceties for years, how many are ready to go underground? According to Richard Rohr, much of the second half of our life is “shadowboxing” with the negative parts of ourselves. Have you ever felt that something stole your true and natural voice? The one that honestly expresses your thoughts, joy, dreams and sorrow. The one that speaks to who we really are; the long-lost and beloved parts of ourselves.
Many continue to question human existence suggesting we are nothing but random events - the leaf blowing in the wind, a ripple in the stream. Some ask if there is a meaning or purpose superimposed on human life. What is the mysterious power that imbues our life with such a purpose or meaning? Can such grand intelligence be coded into my DNA? “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon ...” goes the 1960’s ballad by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Every person is an example of exclusiveness with more potential in our souls than any other being known to us. In the first chapter of the book of Genesis man is described as having been created in the image and likeness of God. Because of God’s creative, life-giving work; we are “something”; we are profoundly significant. All complex creatures. All beloved.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another… We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” - Carl Sagan
September 26, 2017
Chance to Begin Again
Who wouldn't want to begin some aspect of their life again? What if our resolutions actually could become the foundation for a fresh start; what if we could simply push a “restart” button and commit our lives to being the best that we can be?
Each year at this time I find myself a bit envious of my Jewish friends and neighbors. According to Jewish tradition, during these High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God opens the “Book of Life” and symbolically the whole world begins again. “This is the day of the world’s Creation” - the Rosh Hashanah prayer proclaims. “In this New Year may we recreate in ourselves all that is kind, gentle and compassionate…” Most of us are experts at denying our faults. Self exploration is painful. Imagine ourselves freed from self-defeating patterns. I don’t have a yearly liturgy that gets directly in my face and forces me to think about myself. I don’t recite words along with others from a communal vantage point that reinforces and supports living up to the goodness that resides within me. We are all in the repair shop in some way. It’s all very well to say we need a fresh start, but the tricky part is we can’t just erase the board and begin again. The key to healing first lies in acknowledgment of our human capacity to harm and need for forgiveness. In the words of theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, “willing to be a beginner again each morning.” Marked by an intensive period of looking inward, observers are invited to examine themselves and the world in a different light. I don’t have perfect faith, I don’t always trust the world, or remember to say thank you. I have regrets. I want to practice compassion and kindness always. I want a deep connection with the Divine. Each day the theme of these High Holy Days is an invitation to action, a vantage point … to prepare, act, bless, believe, change.
As we approach the beautiful uplifting autumn season, we are offered the opportunity to take responsibility for the intentional and unintentional ways we walk in the world. Take a look at your life. How would you describe it? Contented? Rushed? Exciting? Stressful? Moving forward? Holding back? Are we as generous in granting true forgiveness as we are eager to ask for it? For many of us it’s all of the above at times. There are things we dream of doing one day, and there are things we wish we could forget. Let us resolve to live a good life, a life of commitment and purpose. Let us find the time to be grateful for the daily blessings we are given; the blessing of life itself, and the opportunity to enjoy our lives in the time we have. Let us resolve to tell the people we love that we love them, to reach out to those who need us, to make amends with those who have hurt us and whom we have hurt. Sharing with our Jewish brothers and sisters the deep spiritual potential of this month, we begin again in love, seeing that our future is not governed by our history but acceptance of God’s gift.
"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning." Louis L’Amour
September 12, 2017
Everybody is worried about environmental pollution. We are all hurt by it. But have we thought about the pollution that does far greater harm than damage to the ozone, soil and water... spiritual pollution.
Fear, self-pity, anger, guilt, perfectionism, hatred, resentment, bitterness. At one time or another, there isn’t one of us who doesn’t know the meaning of these words in a very personal way. We’d just as soon get rid of these harmful attitudes, but can’t seem to let them go. It seems conflict makes the world go round. If we are not fighting against others, we are fighting against ourselves. If we are not fighting against ourselves we are fighting for an unattainable ideal. Practically from the moment we are born into this world we have to deal with a constant stream of toxic energies. We carry on wars with ourselves, our families and communities, among races and genders, nationalities and nations. The consequences of this spiritual pollution is what keeps us stuck in negative cycles of cynicism, jealousy, hurt… corrupting our spirits and stagnating our lives. Anger is a very seductive emotion. It can make one feel self-righteous, justified. Bitterness eats from the inside out, closing off the many beautiful opportunities that life presents to heal, grow and expand. When we refuse to forgive ourselves, we enter into never-ending cycles of self-hatred, pain and regret. Resentment is a deliberate decision to “nurse” an offense. Part of us wants to cry and part of us wants to fight. We are each products of our thoughts, and our congested thinking hurts not only ourselves but reflects itself in our world. Knowing we are the cause; when we transform the negative energies inside ourselves, we will transform the energies without. Every word of forgiveness, every word of love has the potential to heal us and humanity.
“My mind is an infinity of possibilities. This can be good or bad, but the choice is mine.” These are the words of Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire from 161-180 AD. It's been nearly 2000 years since this statement was made, yet It seems society continues to struggle with all forms of self-imposed chaos. Buddha said, “What you will be is what you do.” Transformation is a part of self-realization. We make our own choices in life. Perhaps we need to forgive someone. Perhaps we need to smile instead of frown. Extend a hand. Build a bridge. Do not let the world harden you. There really is no such thing as perfection or imperfection as life is about growth and change. God’s true nature is in every one of us. The journey inward and the journey outward are inevitably linked. How receptive are we in our spiritual journeys? Spiritual pollution chokes our joy and clouds our ability to know God’s love. The more we try to control our lives, the more we cut ourselves off from God. The very path to discovering new strength is through embracing and facing our weaknesses. God’s promise of peace comes to us in the darkest of places, even in the midst of our most difficult struggles and challenges. Love and joy will flow into the world and into ourselves when we put an end to self-destruction and negative thoughts. There are really no enemies when we make room in our hearts for the challenges we struggle with. In the midst of our human and sometimes very imperfect lives, God’s grace promises to meet us, surround us, transform us, and work through us. We each carry around a lot of hazardous waste. Help us, God, see ourselves with a new perspective that we might live more gently and creatively in the world for our sake, for the sake of others, and for your sake.
“Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.” - Arab proverb
September 5, 2017
How could you, God?
How could you allow another tragedy? Where were you when we needed you? If you didn’t do it, God; you didn’t stop it either. Hurricane Harvey, the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in many years devastated the Texas coast last week. God does not come off well at times like this…
Tsunami’s, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, fire, droughts, and floods. There is no shortage of natural disasters in the world today. With every disaster there will be those compelled to ask, where is God? While some wonder why God allows such tragedies, others claim they are proof that there is no God, or even that they are a result of man’s sinfulness. We all know what it is to feel pain. Whether from the loss of a loved one, diagnosis of a serious illness, or a natural disaster; everyone at some time experiences the agony and distress of physical, emotional or spiritual doubt. The presence of suffering is the one thing that most challenges our faith. Although it was decreed in scripture that “the LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire” - how do we reconcile tragedy with a “loving God?” Just as we become comfortable, at peace with ourselves and the world around, perhaps even a bit complacent, we are hit with questions once again. Does the occurrence of a devastating event mean that those who suffer from such catastrophes in some way deserve their suffering, as a sort of karma and consequence of bad actions? Is it really true that God loves all of us equally? There are still a lot of “feel-good” messages swirling around faith. You’ve heard the platitudes that people rely on to understand; ones like, “It’s all part of God’s plan” or “God never gives us more than we can endure.” Buddhist and Hindu texts make it clear that there are all kinds of occurrences take place with no cosmic explanation. To put it very simply: Stuff happens. And is neither caused by angry deities or retribution against deserving sinners.
It’s okay to be angry at God. To be without questions is not a sign of greater faith but possibly a lack of depth. In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel: “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.” Rather than trying to answer the debate of why, some theologians today say that the more important question for us is: “Where do we find God in suffering?” It is the law of nature that whatever has been created is sustained, and eventually destroyed. Only the Creator - God - remains steady and unchanging. The power that created the forces of nature through billions of years and accomplished so much is not a trivial power. The suffering of the people in Texas evokes compassion all over the world. God is present in that compassion - even where human compassion fails to reach. Maybe it takes an emergency to bring people together - maybe that’s the purpose. When disasters happen, God lures thousands of people to help those who are in trouble and bring comfort to those who suffer. If we want to find God in the midst of a disaster, the place to look is not in the act but in the response.
Where is the meaning? It is in this question that I recall Jesus’ cry at the time of his death, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” At some level perhaps these words were meant as a universal appeal on behalf of all humanity - from one who understands. “Why?” - not a request for a theological answer but a spiritual yearning. Jesus' cry, not one for help but rather a prayer for his people and all peoples that out of his darkness and ours might emerge love for one another. Life’s beauty lies in the widening of our hearts, finding ways to express our solidarity and compassion everyday.
August 29, 2017
Many of us work hard at non-attachment. Letting go is part of living mindful lives. Detachment offers comfort in life’s disappointments. Disassociation provides distance from difficult relationships and releases responsibility from worldly concerns. But there’s a risk in disengaging. While non-attachment is a beautiful and elevated quality that can bring peace and happiness into our lives, It can also lead to not seeing, not feeling...
Who cares! - An expression of disinterest, an off-hand statement declaring something to be of no consequence or importance. Who cares? Does anybody care - also asks an important question. The loneliness of feeling like one is worthless and that no one cares is one of the most painful emotions a human can experience. One of the most hurtful things we can do is give someone the “silent treatment.” We can cause more pain by simply ignoring another, acting as though they don’t exist, or looking right through them, than any other personal affront. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Indifference toward a particular group or ethnicity is an act of inhumanity. Feeling unwanted and unloved manifests itself physically, emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually. Not only does one feel misunderstood by people; but with it is the horrifying belief that no one even cares to understand.
Yet boundaries are crucial in personal relationships. Physical boundaries define who can touch us, how someone can touch us, and how physically close another may approach us. Emotional boundaries define where our feelings end and another's begins. For example, do we take responsibility for our feelings and needs, and allow others to do the same? Or do we feel overly responsible for the feelings and needs of others and neglect our own? Conscious loving takes hard work. It’s easy to be nice to the people whom we like. It’s easy to show kindness to those who show kindness to us. Look at the world around us: suspicion, violence everywhere, hatred everywhere, racism. Indifferent to the suffering of others, we become complicit in the crime. What do we feel in the heart when we are walking along the street and we see the homeless; those who feel separate, small, alone? We, too, are vulnerable in our own ways, and we, too, need help from others.
We are not powerless! With the same energy that we might use to detach from our troubled world we can access the spiritual energy that flows through all life and turn it to good! Remember Mister Rogers, the kind-hearted, gentle, soft-spoken writer and children’s television personality who encouraged all with his constant words, ”I love you just the way you are…” Mister Rogers recognized that one of the most important things we can do for our children, and for each other, is to encourage and show care through listening. Truly listening. “The world needs a sense of worth, he said, “ and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” Jesus gravitated to the sick, to the hungry, to the outcast, and to those at the margins of society. Welcoming the stranger and caring for the lonely is a tenet of Judeo/Christian teaching. Most of the world’s religions give guidance about how we should treat other people.
Non-attachment is often radically misunderstood. Concern doesn’t cease to exist as we learn to let go. Non-attachment actually brings about the most profound sense of care, compassion, and freedom we could ever imagine. The problems of this world begin to evoke compassion rather than anger. We feel naturally compelled to help, but we’re not attached to the outcome. We are able to allow life to unfold without needing to control everything. We don’t stop loving. We love even more. We can always make a difference, even if all we do is let people know they are not alone. Choosing to care is only the first step.
August 22, 2017
What’s your “religion?”
Fifty years ago, Time magazine asked in it’s famous headline, “Is God Dead?” People are still questioning and wondering whether God and religion are relevant to modern life. But the response isn’t limited to a simple yes or no.
It has been said that religion consists of God’s question and man’s answer. There are many religions in the world. Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, and countless more. Religions represent culture, belief systems, and worldviews that establish symbols and traditions which relate humanity to spirituality. One of the most fundamental needs we have is for a sense of identity in our relationship to the divine; that which many name God. For those who have lost their religion or never had one, finding a label or description for that relationship may or may not feel essential. Believing in a higher power might not even be important. People trust and rely on all sorts of truths and values. Some avow the scientific truth of global warming, while others don’t. Some accept the validity of evolution, while others do not. Some have faith and place confidence in a God or gods, while many continue to doubt and question. Organized religion has had a bad rap for several decades now. No doubt much organized religion is subject to many valid criticisms. You don’t usually think of churches as going out of business; but it is happening and the religiously unaffiliated (called "nones") are growing significantly. Do you hold a grudge against a God you think you cannot believe in, yet long for a spiritual presence? “Spiritual but not religious.” These words used frequently today appear to mean that many do experience Spirit but do not care to participate in churches, synagogues, or mosques.
What are most of us looking for? I came across a C.S Lewis quote this week that stopped me in my tracks: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." It seems that an existential relevance to one’s belief system should address the big questions of life, and thereby offer the light by which we might be guided: Where did we come from? (Origin) How should we live? (Ethics) What is the purpose for life? (Meaning) And I might add, Awe. How does mortal man arrive at Ultimate Truth? Many of us have spent a long time moving away from the version of faith we grew up with; the essential certitude, fundamental thinking no longer ringing true. And yet we yearn for a Power, a Majesty - Divine Certainty. Not primarily as a set of doctrinal claims, but as a lens, as a means of seeing… from which we seek our light source, our sun, the reality we can live into. It takes courage to say, "Yes, this reveals truth, but here lies truth also.” Or, “this is not authentic by my energy and longing.” Deep within, Spirit places a spirit hunger that we cannot escape.
Today, many do not look at the religious tradition of one's childhood as supplying all the answers to life’s questions, though many continue to provide basic values. If you’ve left religion behind, and are unsure what to call yourself - skeptic, agnostic, secularist, free-thinker - if none of these fit; keep looking. God's continuing creation is infinite with possibility; an exalted Mystery. Truth wears many names.
The one who walks in love - that is what I choose to follow: the eternal and universal Christ Consciousness of all devotion, in vision and action through a true beloving. “We do not have to discover the world of faith; we only have to recover it.” - Abraham Joshua Heschel
August 15, 2017
All the Light we cannot see
Next Monday the moon will pass directly between the sun and Earth, and all of North America will experience a total solar eclipse. In a matter of minutes, the natural will become supernatural. Day will shift to night, the temperature will drop and stars will glow in a rapidly darkened sky. Eclipses disturb our understanding of the natural order. Their mystery is timeless…
The ancients marvelled at the phenomena of the sun being swallowed in the heavens. To the Chinese, solar eclipses meant that dragons were devouring the sun. To Eastern Europeans it meant that ice giants, bitter enemies of the sun, were conquering it. To the Romans, an eclipse meant that the sun was poisoned and dying. Through the ages people have been drawn to the lights of the heavens - directing the way to meaning and wonder beyond human perception.
The majesty of the heavens - the cycling of the seasons, the rhythm of day and night inspire thinking that we simple cannot be looking at some meaningless accident. Thought to be unpredictable events, today physicists know eclipses follow set patterns and can be calculated in advance. The sun is not extinguished during an eclipse, nor does it move away; it is merely concealed. This is true of man’s desire to know God as well. Science wants to know the mechanism of the universe, religion the meaning. In his writing on theology and philosophy, 17th-century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, made this observation regarding faith: “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.” Reality doesn’t encompass only that which we can see and touch. We can’t see Spirit. We can’t see God.
The narrative of creation begins with darkness. On the first day of creation, God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), and light appeared as a thing separate from darkness. Though scripture proclaims, “God is light and in God there is no darkness,” (John 1:5) - why does God remain hidden? Why doesn’t the Great Unknown do everything out in the open for all to see? Theologians have spent countless hours thinking through the problem of the hiddenness of God. We cannot comprehend, much less explain our world and what God is doing in it. As in Anthony Doerr’s best-selling World War II novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” the metaphor of light has layers of meaning. Scientifically speaking, there is indeed much light we simply cannot see. This is true theologically as well. Perhaps Spirit hides because it will not be found where humans want to find it. The Divine is to be met in the depths of the darkness as well as the light; allowing its gifts to work in us. We spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility. Holy Evidence is everywhere. Understanding the physics of the universe steals none of the wonder when we are receptive to all that exists... with awe, inner devotion and reverence combined with a yearning for knowledge. Next week's’ eclipse is an opportunity to view the the most awesome sight of the sun…and the Mystery of Creation in a beautiful and startling new light.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” - Ecclesiastes 3:11
August 8, 2017
In a world supposedly governed by ruthless survival of the fittest, why do we see acts of goodness in both animals and humans? Where does kindness come from? What’s behind the choice to help another human being? Are we motivated by sheer, unadulterated benevolence - or hoping for a favor in return?
What moves people to engage in what psychologists call "prosocial behavior" - things like making charitable contributions, buying gifts, volunteering one's time, and so forth. Why ARE some people simply nicer than others? Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself - or so the saying goes. But, while most have heard the old adage, some people appear more inclined to live their life according to this view than others. The mystery of altruism has plagued scientists since Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution through natural selection in the 1850’s. His premise suggests that all behavior is motivated by selfishness and that people can have good traits or do good deeds - but goodness is just not in our character. We know simply obeying the law doesn’t bring goodness to life within us. So, is it a fear of karma or some other driving force…?
St. Augustine summarized the argument in two great questions: “If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?” To many, only the second question is relevant. But the first is just as important. If a good God doesn’t exist, what is goodness’ source? Classic literary texts demonstrate that humanity once shared the perspective that the world in which we live was governed by a cosmic piety. For the Greeks, there was a profound sense that one was truly human only to the extent that one lived in a harmonious relationship with the cosmos. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty were distinct yet interrelated manifestations of a Divine Reality. Kindness is valued by all religious traditions. It is a virtue that is the foundation of Jewish teaching called tikkun olam - which means the repairing of the world. Kindness is not just being nice. Kindness is not just being sweet. Kindness goes way beyond that. Jesus talked about kindness; not just in terms of random acts, but in very difficult circumstances. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “You’ve heard it declared, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” In the old testament, the first chapter of Genesis states “Let There be light,” and there was light “and God saw that the light was good” and similarly all that was created after that was good; for if all that was created was good, then all that exists should be good. We might say that cosmic energy is the blueprint of the Creator - it is good and its goodness created all that was created. For many, long forgotten biblical statements are but phrases from an unfamiliar language - God is love, for God so loved the world, love your neighbor… words foreign to many. Even for those of us who continue to hold dear - these words of old - to what degree do they resonate in our actions and lives? How do they tally up with how we live and love today? Author, Saul Bellow, wrote “Goodness is achieved not in a vacuum, but in the company of other men, attended by love.” Beautiful people do not just happen. I like to think our goodness is an overflow of God’s love and goodness to us.
“Kindness is my religion.” - Dalai Lama
August 1, 2017
God only knows!
God only knows! Plenty of people use this phrase without reverence or irony. Like much language, it's a term that has universal currency. “God only knows.” Are these simple words, uttered daily, an admission of defeat or a statement of faith? An alignment with the mystery of the great Unknown or expression of doubt?
God only knows where I’ve left my phone, where my keys are, how this football game will end… For skeptics and nonbelievers, the literal intended meaning a cynical, “nobody knows.” One might say only God knows in reference to some mystery only an all-wise, all-seeing being would understand. Or, it might be a statement that does not necessarily imply that God is all-knowing, but merely emphasizes the truth of the statement it accompanies. it’s sometimes impossible to tell if the one saying it is serious or joking. The omniscience of God is the principle that God is all-knowing; that Spirit encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. In the beginning, God created the world and everything in it, including knowledge. For the believer, it would be irreverent to suggest that Spirit (which comprehends everything) does not know. The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate designer who not only created the universe, but sustains it today.
We’re told the human brain processes more than a million messages a second; weighing the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. There is an intelligence to it: the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action. All of life is a mathematical mystery with the laws of nature orderly, reliable, unchanging. The universe as a whole is a seamless web of interconnected events, none of which can be completely separated from the others. Everything is connected to everything else and contained in everything else. As Buddhists put it; the universe is a network of inter-being. The goal of the spiritual path is not to always seek after the extraordinary. It is to see God, the Sacred, the All, (whatever your term of choice for what and who transcends) illuminating even every blade of grass and in the smile of every newborn.
“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.” These are the words of Neil Armstrong, first man to step on the moon. “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” wrote Lao Tzu, two-and-a-half thousand years ago. “The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.” Once we name something we begin "seeing" through our own filters, paradigms, perceptions and expectations. The three little words, I don’t know, might be man’s greatest contribution to learning and appreciation of the Mystery of God. The more we wonder, the more we love. Human consciousness is plenty big enough to accommodate both science and a sense of the holy. Human cultures have always had a DIVINE WHY for us to consider. Many people are not very philosophical. Their wisdom comes with experience, not detached intellectual reflection. Would any of us really choose to inhabit a world so small that we could comprehend the magnificence of the Divine? Understand fully the meaning behind Creation? What is required to recognize God all around us? Perhaps it is simply an open heart. Scientists are convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light, The Universe flashed into being, and the best of minds still cannot find out what caused that to happen, but - GOD KNOWS!
July 25, 2017
Try it on
Can you picture yourself praying to a Saint? Or having an image of a saint on your wall? Who are these luminaries of the religious world? Fact or fiction, we have been blessed by the guidance of these divine Avatars. And they all started out as real life, flesh and blood humans like ourselves…
Do we still need Saints? Who were these holy predecessors? The faces that grace the windows of cathedrals and churches, engaging our imagination? We all know the works of Mother Teresa, the popular nun who dedicated her life to divine charity And St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of animals, who taught us to to love all creatures great and small. Joan of the Cross started hospices and hospitals. But what really put her on the road to sainthood was her personal caring of the elderly, the sick and the needy. St. Peter the fisherman; an impetuous and unstoppable disciple, gained sainthood for his steadfast loyalty and leadership. St Elizabeth was known as the Peacemaker. Alleged prostitute, Mary Magdalene, billed as a notorious sinner, was later canonized for her love! There has always been a diverse group of personalities at the table of the Lord. None of these saints were perfect. They are Saints because somehow God’s love came through them.
So, the question is not, “Do we still need Saints?” The question is, What lessons can we learn from the Saints whom God gives us? From those men and women who did the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Agreeing that Saintly canonization is still weighed too heavily toward religious celebrities, Pope Francis declared “We need saints today to live in the world, to sanctify the world. … we need saints who wear jeans and sneakers. We need saints who go to the movies, listen to music, and hang out with their friends. We need modern saints, Saints of the 21st century with a spirituality that is part of our time.” We need Saints because we never grow out of our need for decency and mutual respect. We need Saints because we depend upon people to help and care for each other. We need Saints to inspire and offer examples to us of ways we can realize our best selves. These are the ones who challenge and encourage, cheer on those in need of hope, strength and love. The world is troubling. Many lead lives of meaningless existence. According to singer/ songwriter Paul Simon, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.” It’s easy to be captured by the vision of good, and sainthood today; but frustrating when we look at our own lives and imagine how we might practice it. Author and activist Wendell Berry, wrote, In order to be good, you have to know how… and this knowing is vast, complex, humble and humbling; it is not of the mind and of the hands, of either alone.” It is love that will ultimately move us toward being good and therefore doing good.
The great sages of all our wisdom traditions teach that one person is equivalent to an entire world. Every human being, regardless of time and place and personal status, has the fullest capacity to rise and attain the highest degree of fulfillment, and accomplish the same for creation as a whole. We need the Saints of old to keep reminding us who we are. A life well lived does not come automatically to any of us. We need a St. Francis to embrace a leper, and the modern day CNN hero to show us that we can’t turn our backs on AIDS victims, the poor, the needy. As Bonnie Raitt sang, ”Make me an angel…Just give me one thing that I can hold on to to believe in this livin...' We all wish to live meaningful lives. What are you doing in this world? Want to try on a little sainthood?
“To be Saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.”
- Pope Francis
July 18, 2017
Have you ever really been truly thirsty? Probably none of us have been without water to the point of serious dehydration and known the real pain of craving for water. A word loaded with figurative meaning is the word, “thirst.”
We all felt a sense of relief as last week's rains touched the parched earth of our valley; Precious rain drops fell emitting the long awaited fresh sweet smell to our noses. Green shoots of life emerged, wildflowers have bloomed, and the berries so needed by bears and birds alike are ripening at last. Without water, life would not exist on the planet. All living things rely on water - without it we die. Globally, there are increasing pressures on water supply with massive droughts and growing population demands. People have survived without food for weeks, even months. But to go without water for just one day can put us in dire danger. Yet, there are other thirsts that are deep and less obvious than our thirst for water. Some of us thirst for acceptance, for intimacy; for forgiveness or reconciliation. Some thirst for peace from emotional overload, relief from pain; for justice and wrongs to be made right. Some know they thirst, but are not quite sure for what. Some thirst for God.
To what degree do we acknowledge the reality of the barrenness of life and the desire to find real satisfaction for the soul. Does longing transform us so that we might change our values, priorities, and pursuits - or does it simply drive us to look for human strategies centered on fleeting and passing gurus and fantasy? In the midst of a great coldness towards God and religion, many cannot recognize properties of a living water; water that can be life-giving, thirst quenching, refreshing and full of opportunity… spiritual water that offers cleansing, clearing; a washing or rinsing away of that which does not serve or may hold us back. This is the real living water of Divine Spirit.
We are all thirsty people - yearning to be known and heard and understood. “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astounding Light of Your Own Being… a precious body of living water offered to the Earth from Light’s own hands.” - words written by the 14th century Sufi poet, Hafiz. Writing, of this deepest thirst, the ancient psalmist, David, too, knew of the longing for Creation’s love; “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.” Offering meaning to life when everything else has failed, Jesus said: “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again…” What was he offering?
My soul thirsts for God, a living water that will permanently satisfy, that is lasting and real. Each Communion Sunday, in eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, may we be reminded that only Spirit alone can quench the thirst of our souls. What do you want in life? What are you seeking? What are you thirsting after? Have you been drinking from the wrong sources? This simple desire for Truth is already the beginning of faith and falling in love with God.
July 11, 2017
Is it possible to love someone and not enjoy them? What about to enjoy and not love? What about God? I don’t think most of us can wrap our minds around enjoying God…
In the Biblical account of Creation, God made the earth and the heavens. He planted a garden and all kinds of trees; pleasing to the eye and good for food. Rivers flowed, and he put birds in the sky, gold and valuable minerals in the earth. According to Genesis, after creating Adam, God did not say you must worship me like this or serve me like that; he said, Adam, enjoy me. I am the Tree of Life. My only desire is for you to enjoy me. When has knowing God become so hard? God has no intention for us to do anything for him. This is man’s idea. “I have come that men might have life and have it abundantly...” (John 10:10) Unable to comprehend the beauty of Divine Love, many take God too seriously, seeing relationship with Spirit as something to be endured, even a burden, rather than a gift to relish. While trying to make contact through prayer and meditation, many continue to have the idea that they should worship in some pious way instead of celebrating God. Constantly striving to intellectually understand, endlessly searching for truth, trying to figure it all out. Approaching God with a calculating mind there is no window for joy. To make this journey we must be light, happy, free… let go of habitual negative attitudes that only weigh us down. There is an outrageous Hafiz poem about how the Divine wants to “Hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out of us,” - freeing us of false thinking of what God is or is not. Joy is central to connecting to God. Where there is joy, Divine Presence can enter.
“...Enchantment, transfiguration of the ordinary to the extraordinary, the invocation of fantasy, mystery, alchemy, and the richer meaning of transformational powers.” I smile in reading words found in the opening pages of this year’s Aspen Music Festival Program. Colorfully describing this season’s musical theme - inspiring thinking about the magical joy of composition, they sound to me much like the experience of God! With mystery - enchantment - suspense - intrigue - love - adventure; enjoying God is one of the biggest blessings of our lives. Reading like the greatest story ever told! Sounding like the greatest piece of music ever written! And when we also come to see God in the ordinary, we will begin to trust God also in the extraordinary. If we can see beauty in the mundane, if we can begin our day with happiness in spite of our world’s failures, we can feel like we belong on this planet, our faith affirmed and feelings of gratitude will emerge. Just let God love you, along with the confusion, along with the questions. And, the time will come - almost without knowing it - you will find yourself able to love back.
" 'Enjoy Me.' Just these two words He spoke changed my life." - Saint Teresa of Avila
July 3, 2017
Proof or Freedom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” It was this sense of our sacred foundation in Creation, which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence. True freedom is always Of the Spirit…
Both freedom from religious dogma as well as the right to think and believe without constraint, render the means for self-determination and the exciting adventure of the human spiritual quest. We are free to search the terrain of our hearts and minds, and discover the personal meanings that guide and light our spiritual way. In spite of this country’s celebration of the Constitutional Right of freedom of religion, the intention of the country’s founding fathers has tended to get lost. Many continue to carry a small and confined view of God; their experience of the Divine static and predictable. Many remain victims of someone else’s limited vision of God, handicapping their thinking with distorted and limited perceptions and prejudices.
“The highest and greatest of the human freedoms is to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This concept of physical and spiritual freedom grew from Viktor Frankl’s accounts in his powerful writing, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” With the notion that freedom is the ultimate achievement, Frankl recounted how some men triumphed emotionally and spiritually over the most horrific circumstances: Auschwitz. His writing speaks, as well, to man’s ability to choose how one reacts in all circumstances - as in racial prejudice and economic bondage. Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual, religious pluralism, a melting pot of ideals and beliefs. No chapel, no church, no government, no pastor nor priest or dictator, can tell us how we relate to God. Spiritual freedom allows us to be our own priests, each journeying to reach the Divine through our own realities of life, each discovering home to the Holy Spirit and to the Christ within. How big is your God? It will depend on how big and infinite a God we allow ourselves to experience and come to know. God becomes bigger as we do. We do not have to abandon the place of childhood faith and religious tradition in order to move on in one’s thinking. God has offered guidance, inspiration and direction through the great teachers, not rules “...not to worship Jesus, but to worship what Jesus worshipped”; not to worship Moses or Mohammed, but to worship what they worshipped; not to worship Buddha or Lao Tsu, but worship all they worshipped.”
All religions come from God’s one voice. Spiritual freedom transcends images of a God beyond names…. In the words of former Yale University Chaplain and peace activist, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and as example of open-minded thinking - “It is a mistake to look to the Bible to close a discussion; the Bible seeks to open one.” The only thing important is what God says to us. The only challenge is within ourselves.
June 27, 2017
June; it’s the most popular month for weddings. Those choosing married life are probably still incorporating the words forever into their marriage vows. While the imagery and words being used by couples today is limited only by the imagination, the concept of forever is still impossible for our brains to grasp...
Nothing lasts forever - except, just maybe, the cost of mailing a letter. Remember a decade ago when postal officials pitched the idea of creating a “forever stamp,” forever good for sending first-class mail, as long as you don’t run out of stamps? Or, until the decision is made to raise the rate and a new forever is established. Though the concept of “forever” is outside everyday experience; some of us still use the phrase a lot. Perhaps our sense of “foreverness” is really the human desire to continue to evolve and remain dominant; at the top of the food chain and of our environment, space, atmosphere. Sure, when something is right, when it feels amazing, why wouldn't we want it to last forever? In human terms reasonable forevers have meaning just in our lifetimes. Yet still there is a part of us that believes there is something “out beyond” - a realm we cannot directly access. Infinity, too, is an impossible concept for humans to grasp. After we go beyond billions and trillions, most of us stop trying to process what those kind of numbers mean. Stars, galaxies, atoms, even our sun won’t last “forever,” according to scientists. All have expiration dates. But, if time and the universe are not infinite, what is outside of them?
With humility, I view the great cosmic mystery - the expanding universe and conflicts between theories, always believing that everything is and always has been filled with the spirit of the Divine. It is unthinkable to me that we could have never been conceived as anything beyond chunks of animated or motionless matter; an accidental conglomeration of molecules. How many remember the first breathtaking images sent from the Hubble telescope witnessing then and still today, the hand of God at work on a scale that is inconceivable? Today we read of the possibility of multiple Big Bangs. Does a multiverse, with infinite number of parallel universes undermine God? Or enhance God? God is timeless and eternal because God created time, infinite light and love. To be infinite means to be unlimited. If an infinite God exists, then God’s infinity will be expressed powerfully and give new and greater meaning through our growing understanding of science. Many atheists and people do not like the idea of an all powerful, all knowing, ever-present God. Yet they still want to believe that everything that exists has a cause. The tree had a beginning; it had a cause. An asteroid had a beginning; it had a cause, and so on. Think of the flower, of the internal detail within. Think of the rock, how long it has been around. Think of life, how amazing it is to be alive, to be human, created out of the dust of stars and brought to life by the Creator’s breath. The Bible says, “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” Are there any limits to what God knows? Is there anything that God does not know?
There is a physical realm and a spiritual realm. The physical realm is finite. The spiritual realm is infinite. Together, integrating a scientific understanding of the universe with Divine Love. In the words of Kahlil Gibran: “I existed from all eternity, and behold, I am here, and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end.”