June 14, 2019
Everyone knows, if we want to move forward we must first ensure we are standing on solid ground. We must build a strong foundation. The early sages believed the Ten Commandments to be the blueprint for living. But can we really expect an ancient list of do's and don'ts to apply to life in the 21st century? What did God intend?
The Ten Commandments were given by God to the Israelites on Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. For the first time, human beings were offered a set of religious precepts and code for living. From the biblical standpoint, the laws that govern humanity are based squarely on the importance of moral behavior. Embedded in these laws is the formula for God’s plan for the world. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot, Jewish congregations all over the world renew their acceptance of this: God’s gift. And while it is recorded that the original giving of these commandments was accompanied by smoke, earthquakes and the blast of a trumpet to emphasize their importance, they are read and received each year - not with fear and admonishment - but as a blessing and opportunity each individual has for relationship with the Divine. God gave us the tools to infuse our lives with goodness. Adherence to the law is in the hands of every individual.
It seems society today is lost in a thick moral fog. The Supreme Court of the United States has wrestled for decades with so-called Ten Commandment cases. Commandments that seem pretty straightforward on first glance are often not so simple. Do not murder. Do not betray. Do not steal… Don’t be led astray by comparing yourself to others. Don’t get lost in desiring what others have. Be content, be fulfilled with what your life brings. These icons of Judeo-Christian ethical thought are rightly written about and debated as we face the complex realities of today’s world. Communication and interchange with other human beings requires moral consciousness. As we expand to a higher consciousness we not only come to understand ourselves more deeply, but also whatGod is instructing us to do. The Ten Commandments are living words; not rigid rules tied to a specific political viewpoint and regime. While being tuned to the needs of our time, and pulse of the modern world, consider their meaning in our lives today. Everything in the universe was made with infinite wisdom. For God’s law was not given to this world so that it should return to its pristine glory as it was created. It was given for this world to transcend itself. We do not keep our traditions for the sake of the past. We keep them for their power to create a future, a love and moral compass that will never end. We are the unfolding of all that is. Our sins are not in what we have done wrong, but in what love, compassion and potential we have not tapped. Every soul, as a created being, is interconnected as part of the divine fabric that constitutes humanity. Our wrong doing is in our separation from those who hold differing views. We are the power of transformation that resides within every blessing - every Commandment. The world, and walking in the way of Truth, are not separate domains.
June 6, 2019
And then there is Hope
“What do you want?”Jesus’ first words as he began his ministry appeared in the form of an ordinary question - they are words holding extraordinary significance: What do we hope for? What explanation will satisfy? What nameless song will comfort? We all have hungry hearts. We are creatures of desire, searching for more, for better, for fresh and new… yearning.
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. “Where does discontent begin? We are warm, yet we shiver. We have eaten, still hunger gnaws. We are loved, but our hearts wander,” wrote novelist John Steinbeck. Yearning is ambiguous. The actual word itself is hard to put our finger on. But we know what it feels like. Everyone experiences yearning. We may not talk about our yearnings and we may not allow ourselves to think about them often, but they are integral to who we are. Yearning feels tender, vulnerable. It arises from the innermost chambers of our hearts. Most of us have heard of Pandora’s Box - a kind of Adam and Eve story of Greek mythology. Pandora was given great curiosity, longing and desire. She could not understand why the God, Zeus, would give her the gift of a beautiful box, but not allow her to see into it. Pandora’s mind became consumed with thoughts about it’s contents. Eventually, she could think of nothing else but opening the forbidden container and unlocking its secrets. All the world’s evils and despair were released. Only HOPE was left at the bottom.
The greatest enemy of the spiritual life is to believe there is no hope. Only when we make peace with the rigor of our mind and the beauty and vision of simple good can we know hope. Hope is the inner momentum we keep alive despite what is happening around us. Hope is an attitude, a condition of the heart, that we carry throughout life, even through tragedy, crisis, sorrow and pain. It is the stabilizer we feel when we lose our balance. Are we victims of our own doing? Of our own demands and yearnings? We are victims only as long as we fail to recognize hope is in our power. The grand designer does not conceive schemes to undermine his own creation. Where are our hungry hearts taking us? There will always be a desire for something new, fresh and innovative; a longing for intimacy, for relationship, the longing to love and to be loved. “We become what we yearn after,” Gandhi said. Can you name your yearning - the homesickness of your soul? What might we become if we yearned after GOD with our whole hearts - if we desired God with our whole selves, body, mind and spirit? People are desperately seeking to make connections with holiness, the mystery of life and the divine force of creation. “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers,” wrote Jewish theologian and philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel.
All of the universe has come from Divine Love. Even if you’ve never yearned for God, you’ve probably yearned for connection and a new creation story. You’ve yearned for a positive psychology, science and religion for human well-being and love for all creatures and our planet. Hope is beyond feelings and thoughts; it is what the whole mystical life is about. In the end, is hope not more important than truth? The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that life is ultimately good. Hope is believing there is love, there is future. To hold Hope is to need nothing else.
May 29, 2019
Go with the Flow
Life springs from water. Life is sustained by water. Indispensable to human life, water is the vital force flowing through our bodies. From the Genesis accounts of God’s formation of the land and sea and all within, to the primordial waters of creation myths, water so critical to existence, has become a symbol for life itself.
Temperatures have risen well above freezing sending snowmelt down from the mountains. The power of our rivers has been unleashed. Spring runoff presents both philosophical and universal metaphor for regeneration and renewal. Science teaches us to know the properties and function of water in the natural world. Ethics helps us decide how to preserve, protect, and distribute earth’s water resources. Spirituality helps us identify our core convictions about the meaning and value of water. There are intervals when rivers in their long journeys are turbulent, chaotic and disturbing. These suggest the fast moving, accelerated rapids of life. There are periods when the river experiences twists, turns and pauses; and then there are the periods when the river flows peacefully, smoothly and calmly. “Life in us is like the water in a river,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, reminding us that we must always continue forward in life’s journey. The imagery of flowing water, symbolic of life itself, is experienced within most cultural and spiritual traditions. In all major world religions, water is of central importance. In Judaism, wisdom is compared to pristine water, a physical manifestation of the holy. In Jewish theology, abundant rain is an expression of divine blessing. Jesus, in speaking to the woman he encountered at the well, spoke of waters he could provide far better than the springs and rivers of the land. Jesus said God’s water would become a spring inside, ending all thirst. (John 4: 13-14). In Hinduism bathing in the holy water of the Ganges River offers purification before God. In Islam too, water is most important for spiritual cleansing. Muslims must be ritually pure before approaching God in prayer. Water has also been associated with spiritual protection in many of the world’s religions. In Roman Catholicism, for example, water is ritually blessed serving as a spiritual symbol of God’s protection over a person.
Each of us has a river within. We all have depth and dimension we are not aware of. Swimmers and divers know there is a world of beauty, of insight and of darkness; of imagination below the surface we might never know. It is when we attempt to go back, living in our past, that we find ourselves “swimming upstream,” defying God and nature’s direction. Our hearts contain far more than our minds will ever understand - many never tapping the resource of God within. Given the vital role of water in sustaining all forms of life, God’s term “living water” comes as an answer in times of spiritual drought, meeting the existential challenges and our thirst to know. How many of us swim in circles, in stagnant pools rather than allowing ourselves to flow freely, even amidst the rocks and eddies of life. We never step in the same river twice, says Buddha. Even we ourselves are never the same swimmer. Flowing water elicits a sense of divine transcendence. Within each of us is a flow of energy that sustains and nourishes our lives. Within each of us is God. Let us flow…
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
May 22, 2019
No Tiny God
Most of us have been on a quest at some point in our lives to understand why we’re here. We live in a world hungry for new forms of spiritual expression and understanding. Most of us believe in religious questioning, but not religious answers. The modern world is certainly confused about God. Is God authoritarian or supportive? Distant or engaged? Physical or in the heart?
We must begin with the assurance of Creation’s perfection, holiness, and purpose. These are some things about God which work for me. God is absolute. God is Spirit, transcending anything I can fathom. God is no longer simply a being in whom I trust, but an experience of mystery. The old Christian world sometimes saw faith and spirituality in terms of clearly articulated doctrines, understandings of scripture and theology. There was a focus on one path to salvation, and a clear distinction between orthodox and unorthodox, saved and unsaved. Standing in the moment, we feel our connection to all that came before us and all that will come after. We remember our grandparents, our great grandparents and all those whose actions have helped to create our lives. And we remind ourselves that we, right now, are shaping the world for those who will someday call us ancestors. Everything that has made today’s progress possible, everything most meaningful and empowering was bequeathed to us by ancient traditions. No one questions that insight into where we come from helps us to know who we are. And yet there continues to be the lure of finding a bigger God. Progressive Christianity is a liberal movement emphasizing God's immanence and embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding of Spirit. The movement affirms there are truths within the Bible that are not verifiable. It believes there are stories that though they may not actually have happened, can guide our hearts and help us to grow in our capacities for love, community and connection. The phrase “emerging church” is now used by many of today’s well-known thinkers. Emergent faith joins mysticism with mission and action, sharing in God’s dream of healing the earth and all its creatures. Its name is love. Science attempts to shatter religion, but science cannot instill wisdom and compassion. Can anything exist in our understanding of science that is worthy of the name God? Science and God are not at odds with each other - science doesn’t make the sacred obsolete. The universe has a Master, and it is not any of us.
Matthew Fox, one of the great visionaries of our time, offers hope, explaining, “Cosmology teaches us that there is only one work going on in the universe, the ‘Great Work’ of creation itself - the work of creation unfolding.” This Great Work unfolds through us. It arises from the depths of our own being and we are moved by divinity to participate in its sacred origin of life. How do we transform the world? It begins and ends with the realization that all consciousness is divine consciousness. God is a secret, a desire, a gift that we will never fully understand. This thought transforms our experience of ourselves, our work, and the world itself. We are divine beings in a divine world. How will this new world come? It will come through us. The new world is you and me. We create it by how we act. We cannot abandon the world of God. We are God’s partners.
May 15, 2019
What can we learn from the mystery of human uniqueness? Neuroscientists, geneticists and anthropologists have all attempted to understand the question of physical and mental abnormality. Today, disability rights have transformed secular ethics and public policy, yet the prevalent cult of perfectionism continues to keep those with disabilities on the sidelines. We have created a culture for winners but with it, there are lots of losers.
A great man passed away last week. Few have heard of his name: Templeton Prize recipient, Jean Vanier, was a Canadian philosopher, theologian, and humanitarian. Vanier founded L'Arche in 1964, an organization allowing people with developmental disabilities, and those who assist them, to share their lives while living in community in an atmosphere of compassion. Vanier believed that as long as there are fears and prejudices about those who are unlike ourselves, there will be injustice and unknowing. Today, L'Arche communities exist worldwide. At the heart of Vanier’s theology is the desire to belong and to be accepted. Human beings are made for deep relationships; they are made for community. Vanier believed those who have been marginalized, those with disabilities can also help restore the equilibrium of all of our hearts. The way of the heart is the embodiment of the Spirit of God’s love - a wisdom of tenderness. It is the realization of how to create a culture which is no longer one of competition, but of honoring and welcoming all regardless of strength and ability. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood. The longer we journey on the road to inner healing and wholeness, the more the need and sense of belonging grows and deepens. A society which discards those who are weak and non-productive risks becoming a society without a soul. Vanier lived a life dedicated to the simple but inviolable belief that each of us is created in God's image and that every single life is sacred and deserving of respect, protection and - most of all - love. We must look at all people benevolently; that means without judgement, without fear. To reveal someone’s beauty is to acknowledge their value. To love is not just to do something for another, but to embrace their uniqueness. The Bible articulates a profound obligation to treat disabled persons kindly and fairly. It is written, "If there be among you a person with needs, you shall not harden your heart, but you shall surely open your hand." (Deuteronomy 15:7) Working toward an accessible and inclusive community is not some additional cause, separate from our regular commitments. People with disabilities are not “them.”
What happens when a person feels unloved, unwanted? There is nothing to compare with the terrible loneliness of a child; fragile and helpless; the fear, anguish, sense of guilt. And when children are wounded in their hearts, they learn to protect themselves by hiding behind barriers. There is a lonely child in each of us, hidden behind the walls we created in order to survive. The decency of a society is measured by how it cares for its least powerful members. In accepting people with disabilities, we accept our own vulnerability by entering into a relationship of mutuality where each gives and each receives. Our lives are our offerings.
“To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance.
We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”
- Jean Vanier
May 1, 2019
Much has been written today on Positive Psychology, the science of human flourishing. “How shall I live?” This is the question that challenges us all. Only the human being is capable of changing his perspective on life; only mortal man can progress to a higher, more divine consciousness. Some of us do not grow, we merely age.
Each year, companies award millions of dollars to private innovators to improve systems that impact the quality of life in the areas of energy, water, technology and transportation. There are guides to startups, entrepreneurships, to “accelerators and incubators” offering promise to help attain success. Every day there is more to read to help us take possession of our own lives; to broaden our skills and enhance our life energy. Historically, psychology has been mostly concerned with the nature of human dysfunction. We are told that “practice makes perfect.” Then we hear, “nobody’s perfect”; and so we stop practicing. Positive Psychology is the study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The world does not obstruct us, it challenges us. It is said that we are created in God’s image. That image is a vision and a destiny that we alone can reveal. Life is here and now. We give it meaning.
In every moment we are born anew with opportunity to realize an epiphany of becoming. Do not be misled by those who claim the world is evil. We must be driven by belief that reality is good. Evil lies only on the surface. The child believes the world to be perfect. So, too, should we. When a child believes something is wrong he demands rightness. There is a child in us that must stay alive if we are to grow in holiness. Life provides the raw materials. The challenge and invitation is to create spaciousness inside of ourselves so we can hold paradox and contradictions with compassion and love. Imagine how entrepreneurship can change the world if every new startup was spiritually conscious; where every new innovation carried with it love and sensitivity for the needs of man. The child believes everything should be fair; that everyone should have what they want and need, that there should be no pain and sadness. This is how our creation expresses itself. And the child is right. Like the child, we need to scream out with our hearts demanding things be just. Simply living is not enough. We do not need first to become contemplatives. For we are all contemplatives in the root and ground of our being. The German mystic, Meister Eckhart, wrote, “The seed of God exists in us… the pear seed grows up into a pear tree. The nut seed grows up into a nut tree - a God seed into God.” The seed is meant to be planted and to grow. To grow the seed of our souls means to foster our inner awareness of the connections between all beings, of an inner awareness of the mystery that is within us and within all. There is probably no mystery greater than our own. If you have found your comfort zone, go beyond it. We are divine beings. Don’t let anything define you. The soul knows no boundaries. As long as we are holding on to where we were yesterday, we’re standing still. Allow the world to benefit from your light. Trust the spirit of creative transformation. We are our prayer.
“It is not death that man should fear, but never beginning to live. You will have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
- Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher
April 24, 2019
Melt Melt Melt
There are many teachers of meditation, in many spiritual traditions. We do not have a single formula to experience the Divine. In the end, it doesn’t matter if we use the word God, Light, or Love. Sometimes it takes Spring to once again believe - God is alive.
Like faith, spring arrives slowly as we await harsh cold winds to subside and the earth to grow green again. Like spring, mindfulness of God often arises gradually, offering proof of existence, sometimes one tiny bud at a time. Just as the landscape goes from barren to beautiful and new life emerges, we faced the Cross last week in all its obscenity. Once again, the most sacred of Christian holidays recognized that life is worthy of being saved, of being restored. Who has not known one way or another what it is like to live separated from hope in the darkness of winter; separated from God? Just as the dead and decaying plants of winter do not prevent, but rather feed the new roots of spring, death could not take Jesus from his followers. Death could not take the one who lived so fully, loved so extravagantly, taught so radically and acted so courageously. Death is not the end. God longs to be known. Still, the history that has been handed down doesn’t always satisfy our need to know exactly what, when, and how the Jesus story all transpired.
We all know the expression “Doubting Thomas”; most of us can relate to it in some way. As it was written, in the week following Easter, Jesus appeared to his disciples. The disciple Thomas was not among them and doubted, saying to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later Jesus appeared to Thomas allowing him to put his hand upon the wounds. Then Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:19-29) God knows our doubts and our challenges with belief. The example of Thomas is for the skeptic in us all. God does not demand that we accept what goes against reason. We all want some kind of proof. From the dirty snow of winter comes cleansing flowing water. From rain, new growth. Sometimes it feels that it is now, when green is already showing and springtime is assured, that God’s glory is most revealed. We all question, but it is in the gift of springtime that I can feel the seed of me splitting, germinating, pushing up against the frozen earth and doubt of me. It is when energy and vitality return to the land after the desolation of winter, when nature's cycle of life, death and rebirth is at its most visible - it is in resurrection in every manifestation it takes, that I know.
Some have come to realize what it means to live knowing that they don’t need saving from some fallen state. Jesus wasn’t about saving us from ourselves, but rather, came reminding us that the light of the world exists - and we are that light. Faith has no life but through our action. He showed us the way. Without us, the stories of God would be merely beautiful theories. Our trust, our love and attention nurtures that faith. It doesn’t matter what we call it. What we are reaching for is larger than language, larger than thought. It is already deep within us - waiting to awaken and grow within like spring flowers. May the birth of spring fill us in unanticipated ways, bringing new life with which we might embody the Christ of love and renewal. God grant us the breath and the spirit that comes only from the melting of all that is oppressive, all that locks us in, covers us up, and hinders our movement.
“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.” (Isaiah 44:3–4)
April 17, 2019
Two Holidays - Two Celebrations of Freedom
It is said that humans all fall short, enslaved by constrained and habitual ways of thinking and being; many living somewhere between a state of bondage and resurrection. Within each of us there is an Egypt and a Pharaoh, and a Moses and freedom in a Promised Land. In each a longing for hope, rebirth and forgiveness. This week, many will attend worship services associated with the most holy of Christian holidays, Easter. Those of the Jewish faith have begun physical and spiritual preparations for Passover. Each will be reminded and transformed by the gift of God’s empowering love.
Easter celebrates the story of the resurrection of Jesus, understood to be the son of God, who became human and was sacrificed as payment for the sins of mankind. Passover celebrates God’s intervention bringing the Jewish people from slavery into freedom. Passover, comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning “to pass over.” It commemorates the passing over of Jewish homes when the Egyptian pharaoh ordered the killing of all firstborn male children. The Passover story celebrates freedom and deliverance from persecution, regardless of the form it may take. Events separated by more than 1300 years, the two holidays remain inextricably linked. Both honor the transforming love of God in freeing His people from oppression. Easter, also, celebrates freedom in the deliverance God’s people from the burden of sin and death. Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Jesus and most of his disciples were Jewish, and before he was crucified, Jesus ate a Last Supper with his closest followers. This was likely the traditional Passover Seder. Just as this special holiday meal will be celebrated in Jewish homes this week, the Christian Communion Eucharist continues to symbolize this final and significant meal of Jesus.
How often we lose sight of just how precious these gifts are, especially when so many people around the world, and even in our own country, do not enjoy these same freedoms. Many peoples and cultures can identify with the themes of oppression under foreign powers, exile from a homeland, and the hope of liberation. Many also are enslaved by their own wrong-doing. At some point in our lives each of us can face the “pharaohs” who could exterminate us at any moment; the personal darkness that can paralyze. The ultimate exile or sin is to deny the freedom we are offered in God’s love. We each have our heroes, those who persevered. Those who continued whether they have won or not. Our hope is not found in understanding why God brings hardship into our lives. Our hope is not found in our resilience or ingenuity. Our hope is not found in ideas or things. Our hope and freedom rests on the willing, faithful, powerful, and loving presence of God with us. Though we live in a time when the world does not dwell in peace, God offers all the possibility of living peace in the power of forgiveness. “Free" means to be free from suffering, to reach inner peace where suffering ceases to be. The sort of freedom one is trying to find is an absolute state, nothing less, infinite, unbounded and limitless. The Christian message of Easter, and the message of Passover for Jews worldwide, is one of empowered love. From the words of the Hebrew Bible: “I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5) - to those from the New Testament of Jesus, “Behold, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) - God’s love is stronger than man’s wrongdoing. It is greater than any emotional or physical persecution. Everyday people ask the question: “How do we stay hopeful right now; how do we keep going when there is so much to grieve over, so much cruelty in front of us, when there is such daily violence to contend with?” Our slavery and our sin is not to recognize our God given power. No matter what the world does to us or tells us, we are free to make a difference, and eventually that difference will transform the world. We are all free to rise. This is the meaning of resurrection.
April 10, 2019
A Theology of Becoming
With personal transformation the buzzword of our time, how might the voice of God speak to us this Lenten season? Healing the broken part of our lives is not beyond any of us. Since the 4th century, Christians have observed the forty days before Easter as a time for reflection and self-examination. Whether you are a Christ-follower or undefined by spiritual tradition, Lent reminds us that we exist in a constant state of becoming. Personal renewal is possible everyday.
Brokenness can mean a lot of things. It may imply imperfection. It may mean heartbreak. It may mean physical weakness. There is an ancient Japanese art that consists of repairing a broken object by emphasizing its brokenness rather than hiding it. The damaged piece is repaired with pure gold, it’s beauty growing with every crack. The art of kintsugi continues to be an honored tradition. Whether we are talking about real objects, or personal symbolic wounds - there is beauty in transformation. As a practice of self-love and forgiveness, kintsugi reminds us that the most meaningful and important parts of ourselves are the ones that have been broken, mended, and healed.
Holiness is inextricable from God’s Being; it is a constant, divine attribute. But can it be ours as well? Sometimes in the rush to liberate ourselves from what feels like constricting theology, we may miss some real wisdom found in scripture. “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” These words of God to Moses come from the book of Leviticus in the Bible, and were written more than 1500 years before the birth of Jesus. The statement that God is holy means, in effect, that God acts in holy ways: And we can too. There are ways we might convert our energies and our attention, allowing our own and each other’s greatness to be made real. No one is perfect; it's what we do, how we value, love and respect who we are that is important. Think about some of the cracks and fractures in the lives of the men and women God used throughout the Bible: Moses had a speech problem. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Samson was a womanizer. The Samaritan woman had a whole string of divorces. Zacchaeus had engaged in extortion. Peter was hotheaded, impulsive, and temperamental. Elijah was suicidal. Jacob was a liar and a schemer. Martha worried about everything. Noah got drunk. What’s significant is that none of these things defined these people. And God used each one despite their flawed personalities, their broken humanity, and their obvious weaknesses. There is truly a beauty waiting to be discovered when we begin to realize that God uses our lives, including our brokenness, our failures and our weaknesses.
We can train ourselves each day to view things the way they are seen from above. This is the purpose of our learning, our prayer and our meditation; to be the bridge between wisdom and action, bringing God’s divine light into the open. In the beautiful words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “If it is not evil, we must use it for good. If it can be raised higher, we cannot leave it below. Everything He made, He made with purpose.”
April 3, 2019
What does it mean to practice the Presence of God? God is invisible. We cannot see God with our physical eyes, but only through the eyes of faith. Some can see God in the words of scripture and in the Universe He created - and in every living creature on earth. It isn't that practicing God's presence is difficult or impossible, it's just that few of us really try.
We should know upfront that this is a lifelong practice; this schooling of the soul. Some days are easy, others are difficult. Man alone has free choice. All other creations do exactly what they are programmed to do, and cannot change their natures. The Bible says, God created man in His image (Genesis 1:27). Only the human being has the power to grow, mature and change, because we are a reflection of God, which is unlimited. Personal transformation realizes our holiness. In Leviticus 19:2, God tells Moses to say to the people, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” We are called to ignite the light of holiness within ourselves. And by our action and example, bring the spirit of holiness into the world. Ask yourself if your desire for personal transformation is a call to "self-improvement" or a call in the direction of deeper transformation, one of spiritual insight? Of knowing God in a deeper way? We might imagine the word transformation is a biblical word from Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” When our thinking is changed, our beliefs are changed, our actions are changed, and our life is changed. God is always trying to speak to us. To deny the abilities we’ve been given - thought, insight, analysis, understanding, persuasion - is a virtual sin against creation. Can we let go of spiritual cynicism? Can we pluck up the courage to rebuild a new world - a place where God and planet will survive? I like to think of a visionary God looking for hidden treasures among our tired and worn-out and discarded thinking. I like to think of God dreaming of our possibilities! The God who calls us to our responsibility for the world has promised also to be with us as we shoulder our part in it.
Sit with the intent of connecting. Don’t expect big revelations, feelings or sensations. Just sit. Simply being there is the prayer. And practice. Don't be discouraged by the resistance you will encounter from your human nature. Practice just as you would to become proficient in anything else. Practice being in God’s presence. Practicing God’s presence has a radical effect on one’s heart. Naturally drawing blessings with every breath, all of a sudden you will notice yourself experiencing God’s gifts all day long. So it is for us to know God, but not always for us to understand. With eyes that cherish and love, even when they can’t believe, let us be transformed and embody the human expression of the Divine.
To become full we must first be empty. To receive we must be still. To fill ourselves with wisdom, we must proceed with wisdom. To receive blessings from Above, we must do all those things that draw blessings. To receive anything from Above, we must be still and quiet.
Wisdom from the Likkutei Sichos
March 27, 2019
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” These are the words of Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl. There are many kinds of barriers in life; barriers from within and barriers from without. There are barriers to happiness like fear, self doubt and evil. Yet these have no power of their own. Joy can break down the barriers we create.
What is Joy? Is it an idea, emotion, virtue, philosophy, ideal, or something else? Some of us seem wired for happiness. Others are not. Some look up at the sky and see only the clouds. Some evaluate every word said, always imagining what might go wrong. Dictionaries define joy as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, good fortune or the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires. The world's definition of joy is often synonymous with the definition of happiness. It seems it is a characteristic of American culture to be obsessed with itself. Everywhere we turn we are being told to “be happy.” It is natural for people to find pleasure and “happiness” in the good things in life; but when filled with self-concern, of "what will become of me?" of "where life is taking me?" - there’s no room for simple joy. What makes us really happy? It may not be what you think. Becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, beautiful, and life-giving around us and within us demands we open our eyes, minds, and hearts. As we open up, we start to see beauty everywhere, not only in nature, but in human nature. When Victor Frankl was released from the concentration camp where his wife and most of his family had perished, he wrote his best-selling book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” He concluded that the difference between those who survived such trauma and those who did not, came down to one thing: Meaning. Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment - which is perhaps the most important thing to finding and understanding joy.
“We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy,” These are words based on a series of conversations between the South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When Tutu and the Dalai Lama met, they spoke at great length about their understanding of joy. The Dalai Lama was 80 years old, and the Archbishop was 84. Each of them had lived long lives filled with plenty of pain and turmoil. But despite their struggles, they both had found ways to gain a sense of peace, courage, and joy. They agreed that - no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be - we have the capacity for true joy. The two most essential qualities of the heart that allow us to be more joyful - they both agreed - are compassion and gratitude. People say life has its ups and downs. This is not fully true. Life is ups and downs. The 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, wrote “Being human is like a guest house. With every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them… Be grateful for whatever comes. Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Happiness is something you pursue. But joy is not. It is an internal laughter, and it discovers you!
March 20, 2019
According to science, about 14 billion years ago, our universe was created by the Big Bang. Many agree with this concept; however the question that modern science is not dealing with, or perhaps does not even dare to discuss, is what happened before the Big Bang? How can nothingness explode?
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2021, will probe the cosmos to uncover the history of the universe from the Big Bang to alien planet formation and beyond. Extending the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's premier observatory of the next decade will focus on: “the birth of stars and planetary systems, the assembly of the galaxies, and first light of the Universe.” FIRST LIGHT… FIRST LIGHT! Try to imagine this infinite force of energy in time and space. I am an inhabitant of two domains. My allegiance is to both: science and pure faith. Silenced by wonder, I attempt to fill the gap. Incapable of comprehending with analysis, I am in awe. What is the meaning? What is the meaning in the story of God? Of a story that has been told and told again in search of the truth before there was a time in which a story could be told? Why this groping among planets and stars to find answers - why this deep pilgrimage into the unknown? The Bible tells us that before God begins creating, “the earth was astonishingly empty and darkness was on the face of the deep.” From there arises a breath and beginning from the innermost source of life. And “God created the heavens and the earth … And God said, Let there be light And there was light…” (Genesis 1:3) The Big Bang is today's dominant scientific conjecture about the origin of the universe. The whole structure of science is based on observances of reactions and processes in the behavior of atoms in their present state, as they now exist in nature. How can nothingness explode? So where did this light - the first light in the Universe come from? Science formulates and deals with theories and hypotheses while spiritual knowing deals with a different kind of truth. These are two different disciplines, reconciliation is not required. There need not be an either or. The controversy is not over nature, but rather over the nature of nature. Lacking humility, it is difficult to accept that which the human mind cannot grasp nor explain a mysterious order which it does not comprehend but dimly suspects.
Originating in nothingness, humans too possess infinite possibility. No limitations. No restrictions. None at all. We are very different from man-made fabrications and creations which are constructed of materials that already exist. Most of us don't wake up in the morning in awe of our own potential, in touch with our Divine purpose, filled with the joy of life, ready to create. There is a darkness to this world, but there is also a call to Light. This is the possibility our souls awaken to in knowledge of the original First Light from which we were created. Light is our true place, our holy dimension. Faith is not an emotion, not a longing and desire; but an eternal fact of the Universe. Clearly, all are united that the events that took place at the beginning of time were miraculous. Science directs us step by step through the whole range of possibilities; of the evolution of structure within this world made of atoms and ants, plants and pebbles. Still there remains the ultimate mystery. First Light simply IS. Only Divine Love creates something from nothing.
March 13, 2019
The House of God
Does the God who created the Universe and split the Red Sea, need a human-made dwelling place? The phrase “House of God” is used hundreds of times throughout the Bible in both a literal and figurative sense. Cognitive evolution of faith takes a step backward when we limit our thinking to a literal who, what and where we might discover the Sacred.
After giving the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai, God asked Moses to create a home for Him so that God could dwell among His people. The book of Exodus elaborated in detail, the design and construction of the Mishkan. The traveling tabernacle was to be built and used for worship during the years the Israelites would wander the desert. The tabernacle became the center of worship, affirming for the people of Israel that God was present with them in their days of struggle.
Many wrestle with validation and meaning of ancient scripture. Yet spiritual language is an essential tool. Science doesn’t make sacred literature obsolete or less meaningful, but we must read in light of our knowledge and our times. Fearful of theology, doubters miss the point and concept of “church.” The word “worship” conjures up all sort of negative images, experiences, and memories. We need to break the spiritual glass ceiling we ourselves impose with old and biased thinking - prejudiced by grand cathedrals, dogma and rituals. God resides within each one of us. Today, in looking at the symbolic relevance of the design of the tabernacle of scripture, we see that it was not that God needed a physical sanctuary on earth, but rather that each of us is called to build a tabernacle for God in our hearts.
As magnificent and inspiring as many structures of worship are, place is not of primary importance. Congregating within a physical space is but one means of reaching and being connected to the Sacred. The true symbolism and meaning of the Mishkan is found within the chambers of the praying heart. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that “it is better to have prayer without a synagogue than a synagogue without prayer.” If we are truly engaged in offering our innermost selves to God, only then will God dwell “among us.” The sanctity of place takes second position to the holiness of our inner God. When I pray to know God’s will for me, I am really praying to know my full self on all its emergent levels. I’m essentially saying: Let me be guided to see my personal path, and remain centered. Prayer is one of the purest of ritual “offerings.” If our prayer is a true expression of our desire to be close to God, our gratitude for being alive, our sadness or shame in being imperfect, in having made mistakes….if we express our most intimate thoughts, fears and hopes - God will be with us. Alive today, we are all descendents of the Moses generation, seeking the Promised Land; seeking to carry God with us in our mobile tents of worship. The Biblical God told Moses from the burning bush, “I am becoming what I am becoming.” God will continue evolving as long as we and humanity do not relegate and remain in old ways of seeing. Perhaps the single most important teaching of Jesus was that the “Kingdom of God is within,” (Luke 17:21) It can be realized by each of us. In creating a home for God, we cannot stay inside the four walls of the edifices within which we worship. We cannot remain upon our cushions in meditation; we must go out into the world. The bodies in which we live may be as frail as the tent of the desert nomads, but the houses that God builds exist in the strength of our souls.
March 6, 2019
When Bad is Called Good
We all like thinking and doing our own thing. One person might say, “Hey, your truth isn’t my truth. I live by my value system. You can live by yours, unless of course, it encroaches on mine.” It seems everyone has their own truth.
How often do you find yourself not knowing which direction to take? “Should I stay or should I go?” The struggle between what’s best or not is always difficult, but sometimes the choice between two apparently good actions can be even harder. On top of that, what is good can also be very destructive, even harmful. With a paddle on the bottom the parent declares, “This is for your own good. You will see someday.” Despite the fact that the paddling originates in parental love, perhaps in fear for the child’s safety, the child only experiences meaningless suffering. The destructive tornado may bring needed rainfall elsewhere. The best of cyber technology might also be used for cyber terrorism and crime. “Everything happens for a reason,” is often heard in the midst of challenging circumstances as a way of trying to make some sense of situations. Does it? Here is what God says about such a mindset: “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever” (Isaiah 5:20–21) This is a verse for times like these. It cuts through all the rhetoric, all the arguments, all the politics, all the religious talk and gets to the heart of the issue. Most define good as what is good for them, evil is what is contrary to their will, believing that we each are masters of our own reality. Is the ego evil? Of course not. It is important to hold self-esteem, confidence in oneself. God created a world in which goodness and evil are equal options, Our penchant for goodness is not greater than our proclivity for evil; we are evenly balanced.
Neither intellect or faith alone can fully grasp ultimate Truth. The mind that fears faith will choose a truth which is most comfortable and likely self-serving. The mind that chooses to live by intellect alone may lack compassion. To live by faith alone is naive. How can it be that a prayer goes unanswered? We trust God is good, yet we pray that things might change. We do not know why evil was created or allowed. We look at the headlines and see forces that challenge security and peace and seek to act on our own behalf. But separating good and bad from both physical needs and spiritual needs is counterproductive to both. Faith, hope and love are the navigating instruments used by the soul to become aware of the Unseen. Soul-light cannot be manifest if there is no faith to conduct it. Do we have the desire to know a bigger God? To know the Divine as an experience not as a theology? Our birth, time and place, and circumstances is the hand we are dealt. How we play that hand is our creation. When it is all over, the union of our inner universe, our soul, and our outer world will be our greatest accomplishment. Create in us the will to create, God. That no matter the obstacles or the level of influence they hold, our response, our action will be to live in Your image; in the image of love.
February 27, 2019
Everything changes rapidly these days. Today’s facts will be rewritten tomorrow. What can we say that we really know - that we are certain and assured of? Can we write or say anything credible about the Divine if we aren’t even sure that God exists? There is a universal spiritual awareness in humanity. The human mind, creativity, imagination and our ability to relate to one another indicate a higher force which is the author of these qualities. But, is it God?
Innumerable windows exist through which we are able look upon the world for meaning. Have you ever thought about how many things you believe without having seen or experienced them? Take gravity for instance. No one has ever seen gravity; its evidence is all around us, though we cannot explain it. There is no physical evidence to prove or disprove the existence of a Higher Power. Many believe God uses our circumstances to speak to us. In the Bible, He used a burning bush to speak to Moses. The bush was on fire but not being consumed. It got Moses’ attention! I wish He would use one to talk to me sometimes. With a myriad of voices competing for our thought, how do we distinguish the voice of Spirit from all the others? The wonder, beauty, and complexity of the world points to the existence of a supreme force and intelligence which designed it. Have the discoveries of scientist and technology spoiled the delight and romance of the stars and creation? Have they obliterated the mystery or replaced them with a different equation? Just as it is challenging to know who we ourselves are, little deep wisdom of what we truly know about God originates in the mind. Why would any of us attempt to understand the great unknown if we didn’t want to know the voice of the sacred or hear what it has to say? Yet, how deep the rift has become.
It is no accident that we are here. There is great design in the universe. All designs imply a designer. We can flood the world with more and greater light, but that alone will not achieve the goal. Do you believe only what you can see with your eyes, hear with your ears, what can be measured with facts? Why should we demand that the universe make itself clear to us? As Tom Sawyer, said in the legendary classic, Huckleberry Finn, “We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happen.” Despite pervasive pessimism, the world is in a constant state of elevation. Even those events that seem to thrust downward are in truth only a part of a much larger picture. Consciousness is our essence - our soul. It is our divinely created connection. God speaks in our quiet moments, through other people, and through ordinary life’s circumstances. Most of us know fear. We know pain, anger and desire. In the midst of all of these - in the clutch of doubt, in the swirl of mistrust, in the intellectual debate, there is a Who, a What - its name is Compassion, Grace, Truth and Love. The Bible opens by stating "In the beginning, God created…” It does not tell who God is or how God came to be. Transcending time, God has no beginning and no end. When Moses asked for God's name, He replied simply, "I am that I am.” Perhaps in the end knowing is simply knowing.
February 20, 2019
Religion and philosophy have too often allotted human beings a passive role in fate and future. What is the cognitive and spiritual value of insight? How do we move insight to action and give voice to the Divine?
How should man, a being created in the “likeness of God,” live? What ought we do? According to Immanuel Kant, central figure in 18th century philosophy, this is the basic question of ethics. How we are to conduct our lives is not an academic problem but a human issue and choice we face at every moment. The Bible speaks of man as having been created in the likeness of God - created “to walk in His ways.” This is the link by which man may come close to Divine Spirit. Trusting scripture has never required that it be read simplistically. In the long history of Bible translations there have been two standard approaches: translating word by word, or revelation by revelation. Often, when scripture is reduced to whys and hows, it is also reduced to facts, which are a means but simply inadequate alone to knowing greater Truth. In many religions, gods, priests and spiritual leaders carry the message of the Ultimate, they are the holy ones. In the words from Exodus 19:6 “You will be for me a kingdom of priests and holy people.” All of us. Not only God, but “the whole community is holy” (Numbers 16:3)
Jewish ethicist and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote: “The world needs more than the secret holiness of individual inwardness. It needs more than sacred sentiments and good intentions.” How many of us are waiting to own the truth that might shape our life; many, even feeling a sense of urgency. Beyond the idea of the imitation of godliness goes the conviction of the “divinity of deeds.” (Heschel) We must act. Freedom of choice has been granted, God does not induce or coerce us to do anything. Our deeds are in our own hands. Who is going to fix this world? The politicians, the philosophers, the think tanks, academics? Real change is an inside job. We carry within the promise of the Imago Dei, God's own self-actualization through humankind, where our lives may be a fusion of the finite and the infinite, light and darkness, heaven and earth. With the raw ingredients of our days we must let nothing stop us. Our spiritual paths must include becoming vehicles to change. Integrating action into our practice of meditation, reminds us of who we are. Each of our lives provides the opportunity for God to love through us; each of us a reflection of the Divine One.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined life is sad but surely worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining? Perhaps an unlived life is far more heretical than any philosophical or theological meaning in being alive. God did not give us light to hold up in the middle of the day. We are given light in order to transform the darkness. God asks for our hearts and for our lives. We must let nothing stop us, reminding ourselves always that our essence is love. The pursuit of heaven - the pursuit of earth; one can spend a lifetime in either of these worlds. Where might they take us together?
Our essence is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
February 13, 2019
Dare to Love
The whole world sings and dreams about being in love. But do we even know what "love" means? We can only love according to the degree we know the object of our love. God is the embodiment of perfect goodness, perfect peace; God is everywhere and infinite. But, do we love God? Think about your answer for a moment. Does God need our love? Would God be lacking something if we didn’t love in return?
The answer is no. God doesn’t need our love. But if love is the energy that created everything into existence and God is that love, then our job is to love and to be loved by Divine Love. Loving God, like loving people, requires the commitment of our intellect, emotions, and actions. If the entire universe is consciousness and this consciousness is love, as human beings, we can be in alignment with this consciousness or out of step with it. To love the Divine is to appreciate that universe: to admire its power and beauty, find the good in others and marvel at the mysteries of the Unknown. When one ponders God's great and wonderful acts of creation, we see in them a genius that has no comparison. A key to loving is to give up the illusion that we alone are responsible for our achievements. It is recognizing instead that everything we have is a gift.
God’s love is displayed in the command, “Take delight in the Lord.” (Psalm 37:4) The glorious role of the mystical poets of old was to help us understand God, less our prejudices and fears. Writing centuries ago these bold individuals nourished souls, unveiling in verse a God unknown to academia. They wrote of the Sacred as the source of humor and infinite intelligence. St. Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380 penned - “I won’t take no for an answer,” God began to say to me when he opened his arms each night wanting us to dance. Words of God should never bore for God is never boring. We are “love poems from God,” to not love God is to be ever pursuing joy in what can never give it. In love and laughter and compassion and awe and beauty, we as human creatures find one another and Divine Love. Joy in the Infinite is found in the beautiful creation of existence. Love is the great commandment. What we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are and who we will become. To desire the Creator is to yearn for his word, and grace. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) Could we love God, unless he first loved us? Let us not be slow to love in return. Dare to give it a try.
God said, “I am made whole by your life. Each soul, each soul completes me.”
- Hafiz (1320-1389)
February 6, 2019
It seems our serenity is always being rocked. The world feels like it’s in chaos. How do we deal with life’s vulnerabilities? Sometimes, resilience is not about bouncing back, but a process of becoming greater.
“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty cedar which breaks in a storm.” - Confucius.
We fear for the economy, energy shortages, nuclear weapons, political instability, plus hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. As individuals, we can't control the next disruption or catastrophe. However, we can control the way we respond to these challenges, manner in which we absorb the shocks of our world, and how quickly we spring back after a blow. Resilience is more than stamina, perseverance and an ability to stand strong and firm. The world is predicated on free choice. One of the first things that God offered Adam was the choice of eating from the tree of knowledge. Adam decided. We experience resilience when we are enlarged rather than diminished by our challenges. When facing adversity causes us to change, we grow, and become greater. Resilience offers us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with the Divine. The biggest choice may be to allow what has happened to bring us closer to God. Every day creation is renewed. From darkness comes the light of creativity, the essence of God that is in each one of us who live in the possibility of this moment.
Alongside a river, a cedar tree and a patch of reeds grew side by side. The cedar tree was strong and proud; its enormous trunk and branches reaching far above the tops of the slender reeds below. Its majestic height and powerful appearance made the flimsy reeds nearby appear fragile and inferior. One day, a great storm came from across the river, and the strong winds blew with all their might. The cedar tree, as strong as it was, was toppled over by the winds; yet the reeds were still standing after the storm.
Versions of this story from the famed Aesop’s Fables have been told throughout history in Chinese proverbs, the Tao te Ching, and Old Testament scripture; the message: Be a reed, not a cedar. Most of us develop hopes and expectations for our lives. When they don’t turn out the way we expected, we spend the remainder of our existence resentful, disappointed, feeling abandoned. When something hurts in life, we don’t usually think of it as our path or as a source of wisdom. Resilience is that quality that allows us to be knocked down and come back at least as strong as before. Refusing to live in darkness we find our internal strength from God’s light within. Rather than letting difficulties or failure overcome us and drain our resolve, we find a way to rise. Resilience is not overcoming. It’s becoming. Becoming more, becoming our fullest and deepest selves as a result of adversity. We don’t ignore troubles as if they don’t exist. We allow them to be our teachers. God does not leave us in the dark.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear ... but of power.” - 2 Timothy 1:7
January 23, 2019
“Instructions for living a Life” - Mary Oliver
The word spiritual is such a buzzword these days, and it can mean different things to each of us. So is the word lifestyle. How do we connect the two? For many the way of the spiritual has been tucked just out of reach, beholden only to those who have had some kind of awakening, or who have the patience to meditate day in, day out. A lifestyle living spiritually is accessible to all of us.
"Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?" These are the words of the famed author, Mary Oliver. The beloved poet died last week having written volumes of poetry and inspiring for more than five decades. Her works describe a raw and sensual communion with nature - and with God. For many, Mary’s poems are prayers more than they are the high art that critics adore. Some questions she left us with in her writing are religious questions: What is holy? Who are we? What are we called to do with our lives? What is death, and how do we understand it when we turn our faces toward its inevitability? “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” - she demands in her piece, “The Summer Day.” Oliver was a mystic of the natural world, not a theologian. At its best, life can be a confusing complex of truths in tension. Her writing exhibited her willingness to become small, to open herself completely to the living world, “Who made this world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper?”… “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields…” Her instructions for living - “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." And this is what Oliver modeled. For her, paying attention to nature was a springboard to the sacred and way to live in the moment. On her walks and in her poems she told about what she saw saying: "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms." Mary said plainly, “My work is loving the world.” That is all our work. Our job is to love: ourselves, other people, other creatures, every moment of life in God’s magnificent world. Facing the big questions of life can paralyze. Oliver provides a spiritual road map of sorts, encouraging Wonder. Taking time to pause helps discern our path. Stopping enables us to discover what gives faith and courage. Though she declared no religion, Oliver’s writing is about the spiritual quest. Her poetry serving as a tool to inspire wisdom, to seek truth, find our voice, and to live a life of deep beauty and profound purpose. So, too, are the words passed down for centuries in biblical scripture - “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth... Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” - Job 12:7-9.
All the world is our teacher. There are the miracles that boldly and unquestionably declare God Alive. And then there are the miracles so wondrous that only the Creator of the Universe is cognizant. These are the miracles and gifts that occur at every moment, pointing the direction that all might see and know.
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Psalm 145:5
January 16, 2019
Heaven Down to Earth
Over the centuries, two big questions people have sought to answer, are: “What is the meaning of life?” and “What happens after we die?” Purpose and the afterlife are principal preoccupations of virtually everyone at some point in their lives, regardless of religion. If we knew the answers, would our questions about heaven be settled?
We know from literature, religion, and history, that humanity has speculated on the realm beyond physical life for as long as we have existed. The question of heaven has held the attention of philosophers, theologians and cartoonists. Many believe heaven to be a reward for a good life. For some it is a realm of creation where one will live in perfect peace and joy, free from cares, worries and pain. Evidence of heavenly grace is all around us but we created beings cannot readily perceive its hidden Source. We can only begin to imagine the Infinite through experiencing this amazing world. Poet Mary Oliver writes “There is the heaven we enter through institutional grace and there are the yellow finches bathing and singing in the lowly puddle.” I, too, smile with a sense of rightness and peace in hearing ducks fly overhead on their way to a neighbor’s pond… in seeing the sun sparkle on fresh snow, in smelling the sweet fragrance of lilacs in early summer. There is great joy in our effort to speak poetically of that which is sacred; and yet, where is the substance? There must be substance. Experiencing with our bodies, with our minds, we look deep within and deep without. Somewhere, in the vast wilderness of our unknowing, we carry the promise of the Imago Dei; enlightenment and relationship between God and man. Heaven is not somewhere we might go. It is something we carry within; a dream we renew each day. If our hearts are inclined toward darkness we see the dark. If they are inclined towards light we see light. Perhaps it is in the glimmer of this light that we might see in our meditation, a force beyond our tightly defined little worlds, waiting only to be welcomed in. Perhaps it is in seeing a light of hope, where seemingly there was nothing but infinite darkness and despair. It is when we learn to smile at the fussiness of our human egos, when at last we may experience the beautiful interconnectedness of all people. When we come to truly know there is no “other.”
Like Truth, Heaven is something we discover when we surrender ourselves to it. We begin with wonder, heart and eyes wide open, to what the world is telling us. No amount of searching, no level of consciousness we attain, will reveal for us with certainty whether we are born as children of chance or part of a grand design. Would we have it otherwise? Would we truly want to take the mystery from the universe, from God? Heaven is found in the little things. There is a Heaven for each of us and for every living existence in the Universe. That there are matters we do not understand is obvious. But, somewhere between a baby’s smile and a distant twinkling star, is Heaven. There is no need to search, we have inherited it and it is within us. A gift - along with the sweet laughter of a child, the goldfinch and duck!
January 9, 2019
Is Beauty Ultimate Truth? Some think so. All knowledge begins with our senses. That which catches the eye often captures the heart also. The recognition of beauty may be a starting point in knowing the Truth of God, and proof that incarnation is possible. The Zohar, major text of kabbalistic mysticism, calls beauty “the essence of the Infinite Light extended into Creation." In man’s search and longing for God, the experience of beauty opens a window on Infinity.
The dictionary defines Incarnation as “the embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form.” For Christians, Incarnation is realized in the birth and life of Jesus; his divine nature recognized as being that of both truly man and truly God. Through Incarnation, God becomes accessible. God becomes alive to us. God reaches out to us; touches us. Incarnation is about God. It is also about humanity. Dante wrote: “Here is the rose, wherein the word Divine was made incarnate.” Encounters with beauty provide glimpses into spiritual understanding and tiny insights into the Creator. A decade ago Pope Benedict addressed several hundred artists in the Sistine Chapel. Standing before Michelangelo’s half-naked images, he said, “An essential function of genuine beauty is that it gives humanity a healthy shock!” And then he went on to quote philosopher, Simone Weil, who said that “Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is in fact possible.” Biblical scripture is filled with images of the arts. Miriam dances for joy and plays timbrels in response to God's graciousness and liberation (Exodus 15:20). God has Bezalel bring together the artists of the community so that they can build a fitting tabernacle of gold, silver, stones, and wood (Exodus 31:1-5). As the ark of the covenant returns to Jerusalem, Israel shouts "to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals," and makes "loud music on harps and lyres," The psalms were composed and sung in response to a deep longing for God; they express praise for God's beauty and presence in all of creation.
Celtic poet, and philosopher, John O’Donohue said, “to participate in Beauty is to come into the presence of the Holy.” We each arrive in this world created in the image of Divine Love. The desire for authentic expression lives in our hearts. Beauty calls us, awakening us to see more deeply and proclaim these gifts. There is not one way to find our creative voices, to reveal the human heart. We all have the opportunity to proclaim Incarnation, to reveal the earthly essence of God within our unique and beautiful selves. In the words of journalist, Bill Moyers, “Beauty is an expression of that rapture of being alive.” When we offer one moment of beauty, one moment of kindness, then goodness can indeed exist on this earth.
January 3, 2019
And so a new year, new beginning, but still, the same question - how are we to live these lives of ours? What’s left to inspire and guide after weeks of the materialism of God? As we enter the new year, many people focus on their identity; how to become a new and improved version themselves. What "spiritual" approaches go deeper than the mere making of resolutions?
In the beginning… there was everything. And then that thought exploded. Theologians and philosophers for centuries have made attempts to explain. We’ve had a good dose of religion these past days, and the birth that is meant to change us all… now winter’s cold silence enters. Most of us have outgrown a fairytale faith; it's time we think of the grown up implications of Christmas. The skeptic might tell us to ignore the festivity and celebration of history because it is not imbued with facts. Take it’s story at face value and it won’t let us move forward. Left only with the mysterium tremendum: “awe inspiring mystery,” how do we “flesh out” Godly meaning in our everyday lives? The sacredness of any scripture is judged by the truth of its word, not by the proof of its authorship and inspiration. Our job is to grasp the inner vision and message. We are the real deciders of what this birth will bring.
There are no words. There is nothing to say, just the knowledge that "It is good. It is very good," as said in Genesis One, the beginning of it all. This is an intention and design for our lives; to live in wonderment. To acknowledge that beyond our grasp; the Source. And then attempt to understand. Retro Future is an adjective used to describe the art of seeing and reflecting the past with an optimistic vision and version of the future. ‘Tis the season between what seemingly was the impossible and now the possible; past and future, transcendence and immanence. In truth, it is not only once a year, or with every new moon - but with each new morning we have the opportunity to begin again. Which is why there is always hope. Because at every moment life is born afresh. “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5). Christmas has only begun; it can never be “over.” God never stops creating - in us, for us, and through us. We are called into God's creative, loving energies to co-create out of the raw stuff of each moment, the only real world there is, namely, the world of living and loving. Isn’t this the time of the year when our determination and resolutions hold the most power? May the bright symbolic light of Christmas beam a light into every conscious thought. May yesterday’s inspiration of “peace on Earth, good will toward all men,” reign strong, not merely for a few weeks each year, but always. Look deep into your January soul. What sort of a child will be born anew in you as we enter this new year?
“Everything begins with inspiration.” - Tzvi Freeman
December 19, 2018
Jesus was born at night, in a messy stall. The proclaimed King of the Universe, the Creator of the Cosmos, the Son of God, came in the form of a baby in the middle of nowhere, to poor parents who were nobodies. His birth celebrates the turning point in human history - and yet only a handful of people witnessed it. The one who slept upon the hay is hardly that which most had been waiting for.
God exists outside human dimension; so how are we to know such a being? Many of us, of course, would say that we encounter God in the lovely places of life - in the midst of a beautiful sanctuary, in the warmth and security of the love of a family, in the beauty that surrounds our lives. We may find God in pleasing music or great art. But some of the most memorable encounters with God have been in unlikely places: in "Thin Places." The ancient Celts believed that physical locations existed in which God's presence was more accessible than elsewhere; places where heaven and earth seemed to touch, where the line between holy and human meet - the thin places. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places, that distance is even less. It’s easier to say what a thin place is not. Like faith or belief, the thin place is not necessarily a tranquil place, or a happy one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things too. They also transform us.
The birth of Jesus speaks of a man who would live and teach living on the spiritual edge; breaching our comfort zones, challenging, disturbing, startling us awake. Yes, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. But if that is all it is, then we are confined to the ancient past. Christmas is about God with us here and now. Jesus came by way of hardship and poverty into a world of both beauty and of brokenness, not an idealized world. He came to the real world because it’s the real world that needs to be made whole. So it was, that history's most significant thin place was experienced in the birth of God’s child in a stable in Bethlehem. Much of our culture is practiced enchantment. We love our Christmas myth - that just for one night, a snowman can talk, Santa is real, miracles are possible, and goodness prevails. We prepare feasts and offer gifts hoping that maybe, just for a moment, we might experience the transcendent and be transformed. The candles we light are our hope in the promise and memory of that thin beauty where the darkness and the light meet. When the lights and the tree come down, we continue to be offered again and again the opportunity to begin this new year living into the Christ Story, which is to say, with a renewed love for God. Thin places, both seen and unseen, offer hope and renewal for the living of these days where the door between our world and Mystery are cracked open. Where have you experienced thin places? Where has God reached out to touch you? Perhaps thin places have been elusive. Awareness of God is not a decision we make. What we cannot comprehend by intellect we become aware of in our awe. Mahatma Gandhi in his Spiritual Message to the World in 1931, spoke of this. “There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses”
The infinite became an infant. The All-Knowing became a babbling baby. The Invisible made itself known and left its mark on history. Don’t let the world’s misunderstanding of Christmas keep you from seeing and treasuring the power and meaning. Jesus came not only as Emmanuel - “God with us.” He is us. Is here now. And can be found in the one glistening thread connecting all beings - Love.
December 12, 2018
Our Divine Luminescence
We love to think of ourselves as light-seekers, intelligent souls on the noble quest for truth! Searching for a transcendent word in our vocabulary we seize upon "light." Light is our metaphor for the incorporeal, the spiritual, the Divine. And so, we light candles during Advent. Not light to see by. Not light for any use at all. Pure light. Light that is forever.
God chose light. He could have chosen darkness. The metaphor of light has become ingrained in the human psyche, a reminder of more dangerous times. In our ancient history men feared the night, not because of the darkness itself, but for what darkness was associated with: savage beasts, challenging conditions and invaders of all sorts. For us, Advent observances take place at the darkest time of the year, ushering in a period of reflection on losing our way in the uncertainty of dark and divisive times. We all know the power of darkness. How much greater though, is the power of light. Scripture tells us that “The human spirit is the lamp of the LORD that sheds light on one's inmost being.” (Proverbs 20:27) At the very center of Christmas faith lies the concept of Inner Light. In every human soul there is implanted a certain element of God's own Spirit and Divine energy. This: "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." (John 1:9)
"Let there be light" is the resounding mandate of the whole of Creation. Light illustrates, emphasizes, and expands the abstract idea of truth. Depending on where we stand, we discern God’s Light from different angles. Just as through a prism, we experience God’s reality in different shades of color. It takes all of humanity and the array of the great spiritual traditions to see the totality of God’s Light. Next Sunday morning we will listen to the annual -“Festival of Lessons & Carols.” Let the music, the texts and the prayers wash over you. Allow yourself to meditate at a much deeper level and amplify the messages. “I am bringing you good news of great joy,” the angel said to the shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem. Clearly Jesus did not bring light to the world simply by being born as a baby. Peace and joy are not about what is happening to us. Rather, peace, joy and light are in the meaning we give and come to feel in our hearts and souls in opening ourselves to the true meaning of Christ’s birth. In every human soul there is implanted an element of God's own Spirit and divine energy; the birthing of Christ in our own hearts. The soul of man is a lamp of God whose purpose in life is to illuminate the world. May we renew the story of Christmas with every telling, bringing it to life and light in the imagination of our souls.
“In truth, there is no need to change the world, but only to illuminate it.”
- Tzvi Freeman
December 5, 2018
Vision of Hope
In ancient times, God gave His people hope by speaking to them through the prophets. He revealed what was to come and told of the great blessings they would receive. The Old Testament books in the Bible contain hundreds of prophecies about an “anointed one” who would arrive in their future. There are those who categorize themselves as religious, those who are doubtful, those who follow a spiritual practice and those who don’t. Yet, all yearn for insight and long for truth. And it was prophesied - God alone … IS.
Spare us the platitudes about heaven being in the here and now. Most of us want a better future. “What’s next” is the waiting state of most. Christmas is more than a single day of celebration; it is meant to bring a month of contemplation. Advent is a season of waiting and listening, but is also a time of “refreshing” our memories. Advent, one of the richest seasons of the year, is the time we remember when God, in all his Divine wonder and power appeared in human history and became a part of our earthly experience. Do not think of Christ as a helpless little baby. The universal spirit of Christ Consciousness has been with us from the beginning of time. He came with bold, clear vision, not with vague religious nostalgia. Jesus lived and symbolised Divine Consciousness. This is the real reason why we celebrate this birth - to be reminded of the divine qualities of Jesus and to awaken ourselves to a realization of the enlightening, loving Christ Presence in our own lives. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Sung throughout the world today, these words from Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus originated as triumphant exaltation of the Old Testament Church. Their noblest hopes founded upon the promise of MESSIAH, and derived from the prospect of His Advent. The baby Jesus represents all humanity. He's not born to a single nation. He doesn't come only to the perfect or the pure. His birth signals good news for everyone without exception, starting with Adam and the beginning of time itself. Advent is about the miracle of “enoughness”. It's about discovering that what we have - that what we are - is enough. It's about light in the darkness, and taking action to make the sacred places we dwell and our sacred lives holy again. Advent is the leap of faith that allows our doubt, naked vulnerability and inner spiritual resources to trust the God who has journeyed with us from our very inception.
This Advent Season, we join our lives with all who wait; wait for peace, wait to feel God’s presence, wait for love. The season a rejuvenation, rather than new beginning; a reminder of the one we know as Emmanuel - “God with us,” and who is and has been with us all along. Advent is about letting our light shine, letting our hope shine, without shame or embarrassment or fear. The calming peace of Christmas lies in the immanence of Divine Love. I take off my shoes, for not only am I on Holy ground, I am Holy ground. Each of us is on Holy ground. Blessed in the mystery of the birth of Christ, calling us into sacred relationship and Light; it has come. It is here. It is close by. That we might open to all that we are - all that GOD IS.
November 28, 2018
Advent: What is it we are waiting for?
Anticipation is a great word. It’s a cousin to expectation, excitement, and suspense; a time of hopeful waiting, with longing. Advent derives from the Latin, adventus, meaning: "coming" or “arrival.” Something is going to happen! What’s at the heart of the season’s invitation and preparation for the holy birth we celebrate… what are you waiting for?
Patience is an attribute few of us can claim. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. The story of Christmas is the tale of a world waiting... waiting with hope for the arrival of the One who would bring peace and goodwill to all. We need to take some time to get past the clichés of a helpless baby “asleep on the hay;” trite responses, easy answers, and ask with all depth and seriousness: “What am I waiting for?” Some even ask, “Why Christmas at all?” Advent is about anticipating the birth of Christ. It's about longing, desire, awaiting that which is yet to come; that which isn't here. And so we wait, expectantly. Together. With an ache. Because all is not right. Something is missing. Advent confronts this angst of the heart with the insistence that God has not abandoned the world, hope is real and is coming.
The scripture offered (Luke 21:25) in many churches on this the first Sunday of Advent, reads - “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars” ... and these will form the foundation for our journey into contemplative practices of attention, wonder, gratitude, and enchantment. Sometimes we wait patiently and calmly. But more often, our wait is restless and anxious. The mind of the universe - the God of Love - embraces both kinds of waiting: the patient and the impatient, the calm and the troubled. Patient waiting can nourish a soul. Yet sometimes patient waiting is mere anesthesia, a way of hiding from life’s challenges when angst is the more honest response. Jesus was not an especially patient person, nor were many biblical prophets and great spiritual leaders. Priest, professor and theologian, Henri Nouwen tells us, “This moment is the moment.” This is a holy way of waiting. To be alive is to play a waiting game. New birth is exciting. So is spiritual rebirth as we are called forward each Christmas in hope and with assurance of new beginning. The promise of the babe in the manger is the same as the promise that all new birth brings - that the reality of our lives will be upended in the most joyful way. Meister Eckhart said,“God is always waiting to be born.” Advent is the time we ponder these words in our hearts.
November 21, 2018
You’ve seen those people who seem to effortlessly enjoy life. Their lives are as busy and messy as yours and mine - but they calmly accept the good, the bad, and the ugly. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They don’t get caught up in family drama. Insults aren’t taken personally and daily challenges seem to roll off their backs. Serenity: what is it’s true source?
During these times we live in, times of considerable uncertainty, we gain comfort knowing that there is much that is beyond anyone's control. We can't know when a person's grief will end or when a source of income will dry up. We can't predict the stock market or know in advance when the housing market will turn around. We can't control the future; we can only live in the moment and try our best to be prepared for whatever the future will bring. Like the concept of God, serenity as we wish to define it, evades every notion of our imagination. We try to capture it, to coax it into our possession; but it cannot be held. Even those who earnestly pursue lives trusting in God and divine destiny are challenged by human expectations. This sacred versus secular orientation makes it impossible to integrate ordinary life with joy and mystery. Some trick themselves into believing withdrawal from the world will bring the tranquility longed for. Hours in contemplation may well carry us off into realms unknown, luring with promise of serenity in retreat… until we become hungry. Until demand cries out. And then, the moment we put food into our mouths, the moment we attend to demand, we are back in the real world!
Life is a product of the creative will of God and our own personal choices while living always in the tension of what is and what could be. Centuries ago, when the people of God were in exile and despair, they cried out to God, “How are we to live?” (Ezekiel 33:10).The same question rings through the ages. We come to find the joy which erupts from the peace we hope for does not come in the form of wild exhilaration, but in subtle love we find in our everyday. Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer reminds us of our inner strength. Its shorter version reading: “God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change what should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” Each and every one of us is immersed in both the beauty and the turmoil we call life. We’re all figuring it out in our own way, by our own means; in our dreams, ambitions, careers, friends and life-partners. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, we live in “a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord." Real serenity is about life in this world; finding ways to inject holiness in the most mundane activity, and elevating our awareness to the presence of God in every moment. To experience everyday serenity something has to change! Not the way we view the world, but the way we view ourselves. Just as it is vital to be aware of one's own deficiencies, it's vital to know one's own strengths. Serenity in its fullness is a life of becoming… a way of accepting that inner peace isn’t dependent upon quiet moments but exists as we see it in the midst and beauty of everyday daily existence.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” - Rumi
November 14, 2018
How do you answer, “Where are you from?” After someone asks our name, this usually is the question that follows. It’s human nature to want a place to call home. Desire to know one’s ancestry and DNA testing have become big business. Home is more than the place we live or where we find our roots, more than simply the idea of shelter. Home can also be seen as a metaphor for the body, mind and spirit, a safe haven and sanctuary within.
Mobility has become part of the course of modern living. But in spite of such movement, on some level, we recognize the importance of place. The idea of home is embedded in human consciousness; blurring the lines and challenging concepts between who we are and where we are. When the world seems overwhelming, or our relationships are conflicted, when we're fearful about our future or regretful of our past, we want to retreat. We want to take refuge in a safe place where all that troubles us will be silenced or forgotten. We all feel at the depths of our being, the tragedy of homelessness, of refugees and wanderers. Not only for the sadness of those who do not have the warmth and structure of a place to sleep, but for all those whose sense of belonging anywhere is lost.
Is there a part of the earth where you feel close to something deep and rich, difficult to verbalize, but quietly sacred? A place where you go for comfort? A place of order that contrasts with the chaos elsewhere? Some feel most at home in the spiritual geography, beauty and solitude of nature, others in the midst of teeming city streets. For many the universe as philosophical “home,” is a long bridge to cross between a warm bed and uninhabitable unknown; the other-worldly seeming so far from my center. Feeling at home often is not easy, whether it’s being at ease in one’s own skin, or in the time and place in which we find ourselves. Refuge in one’s spiritual beliefs offers support for our journeys as we move through joy and sorrow, gain and loss. Each morning, Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, says, “I take refuge in Buddha. I take refuge in Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha, my spiritual community.” Rather than giving up or wrestling his life away, he draws himself home in practice and teachings. Scriptural texts of all major faith traditions affirm the comfort and solace to be found in uncovering one’s philosophy of Ultimate Truth. People of faith have always sought refuge in the sacred. Some take refuge in God; some a Higher Power as understood in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Some in the order of science and evolution or in the beauty and force of nature. Every place a vortex of energy, some locations more so than others. Speaking frequently and beautifully of shelter amidst the storms of life; the Psalmist tells readers "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1.) With God as refuge, we need not fear - even as the earth gives way and as the waters roar. God is present, and we can "be still." (Psalm 46:10-11.) The storms of life will not magically disappear - rather promise is offered that one will not be alone in them. Our experience of the world, our comfort and safety, depend on how we see our place in covenant with Creation. Infused with the Oneness of Divine Love, may each of us discover a deep sense of Home.
November 7, 2018
Just us and God
“Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a poor translation.”
- Father Thomas Keating
We search direction to a heart connection with God. We long for it. We look behind innumerable doors, wondering if the meaning of life, the meaning of God, lay beyond. Maybe we should look in the silence….
Modeled on the teaching of Father Thomas Keating, Centering Prayer, is a form of silent meditation by which one might experience Divine presence within. Closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself, Centering Prayer offers both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. Many consider the method an Eastern practice; yet it is a tradition traced from the earliest centuries of Christianity. The sages of religious traditions throughout the ages have long discussed the balance of the Hebrew meaning of keva (fixed form) and kavanah (intention or meditative focus) in prayer. To pray is more than to simply "say prayers". Prayer is a way of coming to feel, as well as express concerns to God. It is a way to elevate one's religious consciousness; to focus one's spiritual senses. Close your eyes and just breathe in and out. Let your mind relax. As extraneous thoughts come into your head, push them gently away. Then, imagine yourself into the presence of God. For some, this is transcending. For others, it is extremely intimate. Centering Prayer is a personal relationship, not a technique. Centering Prayer does not "empty the mind" or exclude other forms of prayer. It is not mysticism or a means to reach an altered state of consciousness. Centering prayer is heartfelt interaction - presence to Presence.
Communion with the Divine is similar to other relationships in which we engage. We need to talk, but we also need to listen. And sometimes we spend time together without words. When we pray, we create a bond between ourselves and our Creator. The nature of love implies that there is an object of that love, something outside of ourselves, that we are not. Jesus said, “When you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) At the core is trust in the Sacred, beyond comprehension. Whatever God means to you, gather into its Holy Presence - your center, your temple, sanctuary, and home. - no intermediaries, just each of us and God.
October 31, 2018
Don't Look Back
Fewer phrases are more unfortunate than the ones that begin, “If only…” Awareness is the inner discovery of truth; of revealed knowledge about our hearts, our true selves, and of life itself. For those who live with a stack of regret and are still living in the past, the tale of Lot’s wife is a sobering one.
The story begins in Genesis. The woman, unknown by name, was commanded by some angels of God to flee with her husband and children from Sodom, their homeland. The city was overcome by debauchery, greed and evil. She was warned to escape for her life and to “not look back.” In a moment of humanness, she quickly steals a disobedient glance behind her. Why? Scripture does not tell us, but probably for the same reasons we sometimes remain where we are when we should move on. What we do know is that she wasn’t putting faith in what she had been commanded. But the temptation was too great. Fire and brimstone rained down, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. I can identify with Lot’s wife. Sometimes stuck and hardened between where I am and where I need to go. If only I could have the strength to let go. If you’re honest, you likely can identify with her too. Ever feel “salty”? What is your Sodom? What do you need to flee from? In the words of Marianne Williamson; “It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self discovery, rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.”
How often do we blame the present on the past? The insight from this simple story offers more than a psychological or spiritual discipline for self-improvement. It offers a way to live our lives in the light, life, hope and uniqueness of our individual beings in creation. There is a well-known story about a Chasidic rabbi named Reb Zusha. His students once asked him about his biggest fear. He replied that he was not worried about living up to the greatness of leaders like Moses or Abraham. Rather, his concern was that, upon his death, God would ask him, “Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?” The idea of the story is to step back, to gain the crucial distance we lack in order to see more deeply into the nature of ourselves. How often do we blame the present on the past? What would be the hardest person, place, or thing for you to walk away from? If God asked you to do so, for your own good, how would you respond?
Can’t move forward, can’t move backward. That is not where Spirit wants us to be. There’s no life in such a place. Jesus said, “Whoever tries to keep the life they have will lose it. But whoever gives up their life will save it.” Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. These are strong words. Is the "stuff" of your life and direction bad? Only if it is given the wrong priority; or if it does not serve your higher interest and that of your fellow man. Each of us has a soul, everyone has a true Godly “self.” Look back if you need to, perhaps with a wistful look, a lingering, then move on. No regrets!
“In which direction does your life move? To wherever you have placed its arrow.” - Tzvi Freeman
October 24, 2018
Blessing the Spaces that Lie Between
What do we see when we look into the eyes of the homeless? Do we see someone to pity, to tolerate, with disdain? What about when we look into the eyes of our enemies? What about those with differing political views and values? Do we turn towards those unlike ourselves, or are we tempted to turn away? In our differences, we are called to realize the gifts we are to one another.
Every spiritual tradition speaks of oneness. It’s not unusual to wonder how we can truly love one another day-to-day. We may even feel uneasy at the thought. However, God’s Divine Love calls us to be brave; to share our compassion and love with all who cross our paths - even if it is uncomfortable. In traditional African thought, there is a word that offers an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. Ubuntu. According to Ubuntu philosophy, there exists a common bond between us all; and it is through this bond, in our interaction with our fellow human beings that we discover our own human qualities. It embraces the idea that humans cannot exist in isolation. We depend on connection, community, and caring. That we simply cannot be without each other. In essence it is the belief that one’s humanity suffers when another’s is undermined. The other’s humanity actually enhances our own. This belief requires a conscious shift in how we think, especially at a time when our nation is more divided than ever. In our strong drive for personal independence, the concept that “I am because you are,” is very foreign to most Americans. The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as: "The essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours…Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” Each individual's humanity is ideally expressed through his or her relationship with others. Ubuntu means that people are people through other people. Imagine how liberating it would be if we were able to muster the courage to say out loud to those around us: "I need you. I am who I am because of you." Ubuntu is the opposite of selfish, it is the opposite of envy and greed. Racism, sexism, bigotry, ignorance, indifference all work against the spirit of Ubuntu.
We cannot see God. It is through the manifestations of Christ Consciousness in us that Spirit’s presence might be known. We are called to love as God loves - lifting up one another, blessing the spaces that lie between us, and in turn lifting up ourselves. Scripture says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” None of us are complete. Where one lacks the other fulfills. In our essence we are one soul with one Source. Only the physical divides us. When we love our fellow man, we love what our Creator loves.
“I offer my hand of five fingers and you offer yours. Together we have a complete ten. This is a handshake: You and I are only fragments of the whole - until we come together.” - Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
October 17, 2018
Where did all the years go? Did I miss out on my chance to make a difference? If you rated your relationship with time on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “easy and satisfying,” and 10 being “difficult and frustrating”; what would your score be? It seems time is everything we have and don’t have. The past is not here anymore. The future has not yet come. What exactly is the present?
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. The first is most familiar: chronos. From it comes the word chronology. Most of us think of time in a chronos mindset; it’s time registered by the clock. We have a list of things to do and only so much time to get everything done. Kairos implies an opportune time; or a defining moment. Kairos time is the process of being - or of giving everything into a moment and receiving everything it has to offer. Kairos is usually understood as a window of opportunity. Kairos has a spiritual implication. Kairos cannot be measured; it is not a quantitative concept. On Kairos time, one is truly present, not rushing toward the next thing. Chronos can be represented by a number; kairos is experienced and interpreted by human emotion. Science is limited by its inherent reliance on measurement. We will come to know which cannot be known in chronos time. We need rigorous science to provide tangible knowledge for the needs of humanity. Kairos moments are “God” moments. These are the moments that cannot be ignored. In Kairos moments, we can actually glimpse how God works. Kairos envisions lives transformed by God’s love into a new way of seeing self, others, and the world.
Bound by the conflict of time and agenda, often we seem incapable of seeing the positive in ourselves or in a fellow human beings. The ancient Greeks would probably tell us our troubles stem from our inability to distinguish between the two kinds of time. We need to say “no” to some of the things we want in order that we can say “yes” to a new quality of existence that knows no frustration. Look for the inexplicable treasures and circumstances when your way and Divine love intersect. There are no "hopeless" situations, no "meaningless" moments. Are we willing to reclaim time to think? To pause and really see what we are losing as we speed through life? Are we willing to look at the ultimate meaning that comes from seeing all things from God’s perspective? In this world, the soul knows no borders. It knows no time. Only with the soul might we know that which the mind can never know. Life’s true abundance is found in the Kairos moments. God tells us to take our soul out into the world, take its very essence there. Find divine purpose in your work; in your relationships, in your play. Discover Spirit within the commonplace this world. It is in these moments when everything changes - when God breaks in.
October 10, 2018
What is it you want?
"What do you want me to do for you?" These were the words of Jesus. What comforts when you are disturbed? When in pain - what brings relief? When frustrated - who listens? What do you need and want from God?
No, we don't need religion to survive; we need air, food, water and shelter. But what would we be like with bodies and no souls, with physical activity and no spirit within? Jesus’ provocation came in three forms of question: “What are you looking for?”(John 1:38)“Why are you looking for me?”(Luke 2:49) And “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36) His questions were invitations. These do not offer a neat list of ten ways we can be closer to God. They do not provide easy answers. They make complex inquiry into the heart of our being with transparency and clarity. Not all questions ask for information. Jesus asked questions because He wants us to think. How an inquiry reaches another person may well depend on the openness it finds there. Maybe the underlying genius of the well-posed question is what might be discovered at the other end. Ultimately, scriptural questions invite examination of our hearts in order to address the human needs of our lives. There are certain things each of us need to have done for us that we are incapable of doing for ourselves. Do you need forgiveness? Peace? Assurance? The Bible is full of God's promises. It begins with assurance to provide for Creation. Since the beginning of time, God has placed the renewable resources upon the earth sufficient to feed, clothe, and house all the people and animals who have ever lived upon the earth. “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Luke 12:24). But God's most important provision is for the needs of our soul and spirit. Whether or not our need is met depends upon our willingness to receive what has been offered.
Prayer is a way to reach out to God; to share our deepest yearnings, secret wishes, even our unspeakable sins. Prayer not only connects us with God, it also forces us to become intimately connected with our own souls. But prayer is not an end in itself. It is a beginning. It is an opening up. So pray. Pray for peace, pray for healing, pray for advances in science, pray for strength to eradicate poverty and disease, pray for the courage to overcome injustice. Pray for resolve, pray for others, pray for yourself. I have seen so many miracles in my lifetime. Beauty I cannot explain. Forgiveness and love which leaves me in awe… gratitude for my life and every moment I have lived. My search for reason ends in the face of my search for God. In the truth beyond all things.In the Mystery of the Divine.
How beautiful the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”
October 3rd, 2018
Can God Make a Comeback?
Some fifty years ago, America was shocked by two assaults on its (largely Christian) faith: A Time Magazine cover asked “Is God Dead?’’ and John Lennon claimed the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” Were these statements an obituary or a description of how science and secularism were replacing religion? What do people think today?
“From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of itself as self, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the centre is opened to it.” These are the words of C.S.Lewis, brilliant thinker and writer who struggled with doubt; challenging God most of his life. The issues that stood in the way of his belief have also been stumbling blocks for many. Faith, like belief, is subject to challenges. God is infinitely great, but our image of God, our conception of God, sometimes isn’t. Many today are quite simply more compelled by intellectual debate than we are with embracing mystery and holiness. Our culture seems to believe and promulgate the idea that every person can become who they want to be. We become convinced that self-discovery is the path to success and accomplishment, to joy and peace. By nature, man loves himself. As a result, we are most often committed to whatever advances our own interests. This is the privileged myth of the “self-made man.” Without realizing what we have done, we have become a culture crowning ‘self’ as a substitute for God. When our society started to turn away from God, we didn’t understand that we were turning away also from the one who is the origin of “every good thing given, and every perfect gift.” (James 1:17) The Creator and Source of life, beauty, honor and love.
It's probably nothing short of a miracle for finite beings to grasp the infinite. The Ultimate in which nothing greater can ever be conceived. How can we comprehend God in a way that is honest to our intellects while satisfying to our hearts? For some, God is relevant because they are concerned with the Divine origins of existence. For others, God is relevant because of concerns with the afterlife. Many believe God gives life purpose. Some people believe that God is always present and is all powerful. They believe that God answers prayers and performs miracles. There have been many “godless” religions - the belief solely in evolution has a direction which is the attainment of ever higher levels of complexity and organization, which is satisfying and without obligation. Buddhists lack belief in any deity in the traditional Western sense. Moral and ethical people exist among those who identify as atheist, agnostic or religious. There is a lot to overcome for God to make a comeback. C.S. Lewis did not pit faith against reason. Rather, he said, faith is the outcome of proper reason and imagination; imagination, not analysis crucial to enabling sight. The great mystery of life will remain. God cannot be described or explained. In the words of Paul Tillich, “Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
September 26th, 2018
The Season of Happiness
In its brilliant beauty, Autumn is a season of transition, of movement and change. It is a season of paradox inviting us to consider what we are called to release and surrender, at the same time inviting us to gather in the harvest, to name and celebrate the fruits we planted months ago. In holding these two in tension we are reminded that in our letting go we also find abundance.
Crops are abundant, and the late summer harvest is ripe for the picking. This is the time when the first grains are threshed, apples are plump in the trees, and gardens are overflowing with summer bounty. In nearly every ancient culture, and today, Harvest has been a time of celebration. Having enough food has always been important for humankind’s survival. There is clear evidence from earliest times that man has felt the need to give thanks and acknowledge dependence on a power greater than itself. Hope and gratitude for a good harvest are deep-seated. In most cultures there have been festivals with people thanking the gods for crops safely gathered. Many churches create displays of fruit, vegetables and flowers in acknowledgement of autumn gifts of the earth. The Lord’s Prayer, a most important prayer for many, contains the petition: “Give us this day our daily bread…” requesting daily sustenance not only physical provision, but also asking God to provide for one’s less tangible needs. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot is deeply connected to harvest. The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters with little to eat. Many followers today create huts of corn husks, vines and other materials in which they share meals and pray each year during the holiday. They celebrate, conscious of the impermanence of material possessions and the permanence of what really shelters us - God’s provision and love. Biblical scripture offers stirring reminders of provision and blessing. “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and…all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-18) Autumn is a time to reflect with gratitude and remember the gifts of peace, security and sustenance. Remembering history helps us to feel grateful for all that we have and to not take the gifts and blessings for granted. Given what we know about how essential gratitude is for contentment, perhaps this is the reason Sukkot is called “the season of our happiness.”
There is an ache we feel when we consider how everything we love in this world will one day diminish and die. Autumn demands that we release what we believe to be important, and returns us to the only thing which matters - that we remember the Source of all life and allow love and gratitude to guide us. Autumn encourages us to release our all too-small images of God that we might, “in this Season of Happiness,” remember the abundance of Creation.
September 19th, 2018
“If you comprehend it, it is not God”
“God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Somewhere along the way, many feel they’ve misplaced God. It’s not just that the God of one’s childhood can’t be found, but perhaps there is a feeling of having lost the sense of what God is. If you are satisfied and have never truly craved, you may have not experienced a starving for the great Unknown slowly rising.
Do most of us really know what we mean when we use the word God? St. Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it is not God.” There is no concept that can contain such magnitude. How inadequate our images of God truly are. We can only come to know the enormity of the Source of all Being and what is and is not as we let go of our limiting ideas. Theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, famously remarked that he prayed to God to “rid him of God,” to release him of God. He believed only through detachment might one be free of constraints of the mind and be truly free for union with the Divine. But, how could anyone choose to cling to the truth if that means letting God go? Could it be that God is not always found where we expect, but God is always found where truth is?
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. ... Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” God is not a thing that is or was or will be. There is no need to "believe" in God; you just know. No matter how fervently is the God we experience, there is more God beyond that. Whatever widening circle we travel, His circle is beyond that. God, rid me of the God I believe in - He is not big enough. Rid me of myself... Don't allow my feelings to block your truth. Don’t allow my busyness to hinder your stillness. Don’t allow my impatience to hinder your greatness. Don’t allow my disbelief to hinder your healing. Don’t allow my doubt to hinder your blessing. Don’t allow my need to control, hinder your grace. In looking at the creation story, the whole of heaven and earth is nothing but an event, a happening, a process - moving, never static. God is the flow of being; it was God who told Moses when asked for His name, "I will be that which I will be.” God, who is beyond theology and words, is present in the depths of our souls, waiting to break forth into consciousness.
September 13th, 2018
A Great Truth
If a human being’s primary drive is the search for meaning, where does one look? Many are not only looking in the wrong places, but are not even sure what they are looking for. And yet, they are driven to search on and on; often with an inner ache, a discontented restlessness… without knowing why.
What does it mean that God is with us? Is there a key to our mental and spiritual evolution lying deep within our DNA? What is God's ultimate vision for his creation? The history of man carries ongoing debate on the search and belief in meaning versus a philosophy of the meaninglessness of the universe. As a people, we allow ourselves very little space for not-knowing. We fight uncertainty and confusion. Intellectually we are so full of ways to see that sometimes we experience one and then are anxiously on to try another. The frantic search, itself, often blocking the way of deep knowing. Each of us finds our own way only by letting go the solutions of others.
Bengali philosopher and poet, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote, “The small truth has words that are clear; the great truth has great silence.”? Our mind is not a computer, it is a living intelligence, always evolving. Fresh insight is needed. The Spirit of God, the Spirit that calls us the Beloved, is the Spirit that offers meaning and can make one whole. Few words ever said are likely to be of more lasting importance than these from scripture - “I belong to my Beloved, and his desire is for me.” (Song of Solomon 7:10) What does beloved mean? It means one greatly loved, dear to the heart, adored, cherished. “His desire is for me.” This IS who we are to the Divine and a “great truth,” as spoken of by Tagore. The more we allow ourselves to trust, the more we will live in the Light. God’s love offers such freedom. Doubt is one of the biggest obstacles to the discovery of enlightened awareness. Beliefs color the way we see the world and help us to make sense of the inevitable challenges that confront us. Spiritual confidence is our grounding anchor in the midst of the unending storm that is life - it is what compels human beings to evolve from their own consciousness. From the moment we claim the truth of being beloved by the Creator, we can cease our endless search. Our path has greater clarity.. Self-confidence is the expression of the powerful voice within, telling us who we are. We cannot afford not to have spiritual assurance if we want to change the world. You are my Beloved... simple truth with great meaning. What would it take to accept such love?
September 5th, 2018
Apples Dipped in Honey - for all of Us
The Jewish High Holy Days are a time for joy, reflection and prayer. Many of our Jewish friends and neighbors are deep in preparation. From soft challah bread to sweet pomegranate seeds and apples dipped in honey, every aspect of the most sacred of the Jewish holidays, as well as the food served, contains deep significance. According to tradition, Rosh Hashanah, beginning next week, is the birthday of Creation as well as fall holiday that calls for both rejoicing and serious introspection. Knowing how fragile life really is, and how little time we have here on earth, this is a meaningful and life-changing time for believers, one that could prove valuable for all us.
For observant Jews all over the world, Rosh Hashanah follows a month of ritual soul-searching. The faithful stand before divine judgment of their deeds and omissions in the year ending. To sense the closeness of God requires some special effort. To reach out to the Infinite, to meet the Eternal, to sense what ultimately requires a focus far beyond the ordinary. The Jewish calendar sets aside ten days each year for exactly that and the wonderful gift one might have of a relationship with the Divine. It acknowledges that human beings have free will and have the capacity to make great mistakes. We also have the capacity to turn them around and literally return to a right path. It forces believers to ask the most fateful questions one will ever ask: Who am I? Why am I here? How shall I live? Whom have I wronged, and how can I put it right? Where have I failed, and how shall I overcome my failures? What is broken in my life and what needs mending?
More than two thousand years ago, Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, wrote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” For Socrates the examined life was the attainment of wisdom and intellectual humility. There is not a single general definition for what an examined life should look like. The most important lesson that comes from Socrates is the question itself. Now and then, at least once a year, we all need to take a good, hard look at ourselves. We need to be called upon to examine our lives closely to uncover the dips and potholes within so that we might open the door to personal transformation. Living an examined life is a call to consciousness. Life is not to be taken for granted. Life is a precious gift from God. In Jewish tradition, repentance is universal not individual, and was observed with great enthusiasm by Jesus, his disciples and nearly all first century and second century believers. If we make Rosh Hashanah exclusive to one religion, we are closing the doors on our universal repentance. The message of the High Holy Days and for all of us: everything is possible. Things don’t have to be as they are. We don’t have to be the people we have become. We can repair, redirect, reframe the contours of our relationships and our lives. What have we done to our earth? What direction do we need to move in the future? What would it take to break those patterns, to infuse new life into our old, damaged relationships and ways of thinking? By transforming who we are today, we rewrite our own past and author a whole new world. It is a spiritual necessity. At least once a year may we each raise our glasses in blessing and good wishes with the words, “Shanah tovah” - "To a Good Year!"
August 29th, 2018
The Creative Conscience
Artistry and imagination is not something for just a few we’re told... and it's not limited to splashing paint on canvas or choreographing a ballet. Yet many still believe that real creativity is selectively passed out at birth to the Bachs, the Matisse's, the Michael Jacksons of the world, and we are not among them. WRONG! We're all artists; we're all dancers; we're all creative spirits in life! Creativity is what life’s all about! What’s stopping you?
It’s easy to determine that we’ve failed to live up to our own expectations. It's bad enough we think that we are not beautiful enough, rich enough, intelligent enough, kind or clever enough. But what about creative enough too? Are you one who feels you have lost your “voice,” or worse, never found the creative expression that spontaneously conveys your thoughts, joys, sorrows, song? Maybe it happened long ago when someone said, “Don’t sing!” Or in looking at your picture asked, “What is it?” Maybe no one actually said these words, but even at a young age, you didn’t feel as adequate as the little artist sitting next to you. The nature of God’s Spirit is to create. When God breathed His life into our human bones, He called us very good and blessed us. Making us in His image, creativity was placed within us. Irish poet John O'Donohue wrote, “The heart of human identity is the capacity and desire for birthing. To be is to become creative and bring forth the beautiful.”
The Dao of the Universe, beckons each creature to realize its potential for the fullness of life. When we collaborate with the Earth's creativity, when we respond to the lure toward life's well-being, we participate in the spirit of God at work. “Earth Scholar,” poet and theologian, Thomas Berry, wrote, “For humans to bear the burden of intelligence and responsibility, we need a beautiful world to inspire and heal us.” Creativity is too important to be left only to the so-called artists of the world. Creativity is about honoring the kind of intelligence that originates from within us rather than from outside sources. The deeper one goes into the self, the more poetic one’s ideas, creativity and actions become. The spiritual life, like the expressive arts, is largely about process rather than product. The creative state is a profound pathway toward connecting with our spiritual guidance; the imagination a doorway into the Divine. A dominant metaphor for spirituality is the journey, which evokes a sense of constant movement and progression. We never fully arrive, but are always unfolding and discovering. Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. The regular practice of art-making is a path of discovery and can help us to cultivate creative ways of breathing life into the world - our creativity being a little piece of God just waiting to be discovered. Art can force a new consciousness, We are creative beings, beings who are both the product of the universe’s creativity and beings who create ourselves. There are songs waiting to sung. Dance routines and plays waiting to inspire the world. Books waiting to be written. Words that need to be expressed and my own simple drawings to be made at my dining table! Let the creativity flow for each of us!
August 22nd, 2018
Freedom of choice has been granted to every person... or has it? Self-determination is the concept that human beings possess the capacity to choose their path through life. We are free to define ourselves. We are what we choose to be. How can God endow human beings with such autonomy and yet remain omnipotent? Is free will an illusion?
The paradox of divine knowledge and human choice has been debated by scholars and theologians for centuries. There are numerous views: a “higher perspective” in which God is the only true reality and the other, that all of life and Creation is but a reflection of Divine self-expression. The conflict between human free will and the omnipotence of the Creator has been a pervasive theme in the history of man since the story of Adam and Eve. Throughout the Bible, God poses choices between life or death, righteousness or sin, justice or deceit. “I have given before you this day, life and good and death and evil… Life and death I have set before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-19). If we are free to be good, aren’t we also free to be bad? Is it not true that the same rocket boosters man has created to launch probes revealing the magnificence of the planets, are also poised to send nuclear warheads to our enemies? Some people think that peace comes only through overt actions which reduce violence and promote justice. But the truth is that subjective states of mind influence as well. God could have easily created a world in which nothing evil would ever happen. But this world would not have been capable of love. Love requires freedom. If God wants a people who genuinely love Creation and each other, we needed to be created with the capacity to choose to love or not. In a sense, God is like the GPS system - the resilient force luring us, guiding us to rise. We are not coerced; but offered the best possible choice at any given moment to celebrate and choose life.
It is very tempting to stay in the mind. One can meditate, reflect, and wallow in woe is me, woe is the world. We may even blame others. But God’s wisdom tells us that choosing life is not some passive idea to merely ponder. Choosing life calls for consciousness and action. It requires attention, and it takes discipline. To choose life, we must resolve to live with meaning, purpose and with dignity. To choose life means to live life to its fullest. We live meaningful lives through our proactive decisions to care for the world in harmony with the design of its Creator. The poet Allen Ginsberg spoke about “the dearness of the vanishing moment.”The present is rapidly receding into the past and our only choice is whether we choose to live this moment or wait for some other moment yet to come. We are free to define ourselves. Not free to have - free to be. God does not exert unilateral control in the human realm. God creates with humans.
Freedom is dependent upon the narratives we each choose to hold. A narrative to trust the One who wills the final good of all. Our freedom is in our ability to make our actions our own, to claim them - even those we regret. To see our freedom is as much of a gift as it is something we do.
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.
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.”