March 14, 2018
Ying and Yang
The act of Creation is almost too extraordinary to take in. "Darkness was upon the face of the deep," Genesis says. Darkness was where it all started. Darkness, even darker than unconsciousness was all there was. Then, there was the light of the First Morning…
One cannot help being in awe, contemplating the mysteries of the universe; the marvelous structure of our reality. The human mind cannot grasp an Eternal One which moves the heavens and all that exists, with intention and desire. We cannot capture such depth and mystery in metaphor… and yet we try. God is Light and God is Dark. Just as God is both transcendent and immanent, never failing light flows into the dark and the dark into the light. Each flows into and through the another. Always they are moving. Just as the Chinese philosophy of ying yang describes that opposite or contrary forces are yet complementary and interconnected - there is more to Light than meets the eye. There is more to God. The sunrise side of Divine Love invites us to welcome the dawn of new mornings, spreading light over the landscapes of our daily lives, encouraging us to take delight in the beauty and find peace in our hearts. The sunset side of Divine Love invites us to let go of that which concerns; the circumstances of our day, both pleasant and painful. Sometimes light comes as starlight, the light of the heavens inviting us to recognize that we are small but included in a larger galactic whole, which is the very life of God.
Challenged by the meaning and image of the Creator, I am moved by a much quoted line from the Academy Award winning film The Shape of Water. “Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, it humbles my heart for You are everywhere.” We don't have to understand. Simply take it in. Ultimate Truth is beyond words. In creating the whole of existence God made forces that reveal Divine Love and forces that oppose it. What matters is the manner, direction and energy in which we move about our lives. Many think that to live in the Light, to attain truth, one has to move mountains and turn the world upside down. It’s not so. Truth is found in the little things. We must do what we can. Learn and meditate and pray and improve ourselves in ways that we know how. There are many truths. There is a truth for every being and for every particle in the universe. For each one of us reflects the Universal differently. Some search endlessly to find purpose and meaning. But surely our purpose in life is to become fully alive: to become fully immersed in the joys and struggles and times in-between, and to enjoy a sense of harmony along the way. And so we learn and progress by quantum leaps and bounds; yet the timeless, constant wisdom of Truth doesn’t budge from its place. In Einsteinian terms, all the information and history available at any one place in the universe is known as a light cone. In the theory of relativity, a light cone is the path that a flash of light, emanating from a single event in a single point in space and a single moment in time, would take through spacetime. In our world, each of us possesses consciousness of the Infinite which needs only to be discovered. There is more to Light than meets the eye. Light is the presence of fresh possibilities for creative transformation. Why should we demand that the universe make itself clear to us? Behind it all is surely an idea so beautiful. Look around. How can we be so blind? Each of us is a human light cone born of creation. To become fully aware of the work of creation we must allow our minds to follow the light that is seen to light that is more than we can see. There is God.
March 7, 2018
Power and Grace
Would Jesus celebrate International Women’s Day this coming Thursday? So much is happening around us; women everywhere are feeling angst. Some are fearful, some are angry. They are marching; they are hoping. They are calling for change for their lives and for the lives of those around them. Courageous compassion is far from neat and tidy. Transformation is demanding, active. How beautiful the strength of conviction… of taking a first bold step.
How many of us are hesitant to rock the boat; to challenge the opinion of others? How many have grappled with what it means to break their silences surrounding issues of concern. Our more civilized sensibilities frown upon conflict. We shy away from anger. Nowadays, the most common word associated with anger is “management”. Most of us are quiet peace loving people with a preoccupation for being polite. There can be a negative meaning to our silence as there may also be a positive one. We are persons of privilege; the privilege of race and the privilege of class. Wealth may insulate us from the pain of our sisters and brothers. The energy and courage found in the early Church can enliven us today. Jesus, meek and mild, is nowhere to be found in the scripture reading for this third Sunday of Lent; a passage that will be read in many Christian churches everywhere. Here instead, we get a glimpse of an angry Jesus, even a violent Jesus. It’s interesting that the words of scripture that will be spoken coincide also with the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8; a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. It will also be a day focusing on gender equality, exploitation of women, and oppression of every kind.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said to them, "My house will be called a house of prayer," but you are making it a "den of robbers.” (John 2 13-22)
Jesus said that anger is a sin, yet he himself got angry. The temple, a place of prayer, had become a place of profit-making. Lent is a time to mourn with those who suffer, especially those who suffer unjustly. Like Jesus, we’ve all experienced the anger of witnessing exploitation in the face of something or someone we care deeply about. Anger is a powerful human emotion. Anger is not the opposite of love. Anger is not to be feared nearly as much as we ought to fear indifference. Our anger means we care about what is happening to our fellow human beings. Jesus, whose compassion for the poor coupled with his passion for justice stormed into the temple in an effort to turn things upside down to demonstrate the need for radical political change. Maybe it is time; time to take a page out of the gospel and do what Jesus did when he saw his own people enslaved by economic and religious systems of power that were persecuting his sisters and brothers. Maybe it’s time for us to let our anger rage. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see; it teaches us how to see what our eyes see and our hearts know. Maybe it’s time to turn over more than just a few tables in those temples of power which enable and foster abuse, those that turn their face on the homeless and oppressed. Can we take on more than we want to be, to be what we need to be, to be what we are asked to be? Pope Francis encourages us saying: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
For those who teach us how to raise our voice, We thank you God. For those who turn trauma and adversity into strength, We thank you God. For those who speak Truth to power, We thank you God. For those who offer their gifts to the greater good, We thank you God. “Only to the degree that people are unsettled is there any hope...” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
February 28, 2018
Is it possible that one day we might sweep away all forms of oppression and injustice leaving a utopian world where everyone would share the riches of the earth and nurture one another? A world devoid of racism, sexism, classism or any other form of inequality? Where we might discover permanent enlightenment to which there is peace in the face of mass killings, political unrest…Can there be a happy ending to the tragedies that surround us, our country, the world? Or what if this, right here, right now - this one eternal present moment - is it?
Is it possible to simply and peacefully be present and awake to whatever occurs, just as it is, without needing something different or better; without needing solutions, answers or fairness? Enlightenment is the claim and the promise of a permanent, personal state of perpetual happiness and bliss. But what if life will always be a mix of positive and negative, pain and pleasure, success and failure, enlightenment and delusion? Remember the old General Electric commercial telling us that: “Progress is our most important product.” In the 1950’s and 60’s, many liked to imagine that things were getting better and better, and that they would always continue to get better. That was the American Dream. Today progress and the spiritual new age operate where humans hope to evolve to a higher level of consciousness, acting from a holistic and global worldview.
In the Myth of the Happy Ending, we imagine that enlightenment means spending many years looking for the perfect place to live, chasing the perfect spiritual teachers, following the perfect path, the perfect career, being part of the perfect community, and so on. Then we realize that no such lasting perfection exists. The organic life is inherently vulnerable and uncertain, fraught with difficulties and dangers. We're God Wrestlers. We give ourselves to the work of wrestling with God, wrestling with the world's imperfections - wrestling with ourselves. We can begin to despair. We can begin to lose hope. We can begin to lose our perspective. Then God washes over us with beauty and love, and we are renewed. We must stop projecting our fear and rage on “God.” We must take responsibility for our own separation from mankind and pain. We are restored because this is what we were created for. God, the essence of being, the Tao of existence and true healing is remembering the light and love of who we are - Divine Love. Faith, hope and love are the navigating instruments needed today. Soul-life cannot be lived if there is no faith behind it. If we are looking for a happy ending and cannot find one, maybe we should look for a new beginning instead.
Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure.
Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness.
Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts.
And show us what each one of us can do to set forward the coming of the day of universal peace. - Frank Borman, Apollo 8 space mission, 1968
A Place of Quiet
February 23, 2018
Many go on retreat to step out of their daily lives. To regenerate, realign, re-balance. Some take time to detach and disengage from normal routine to enable oneself to see more clearly, to heal one’s soul. What part of this is missing? What part of this is the world missing?
The hardest part of a winter of the soul is when one can’t find God. How many of us buy into the mantra that doing more is better? An active life is a good and commendable thing. But action has its seasons too - one of which is inaction. A little winter hibernation offers time for retreat and replenishment. It offers time for our wordless philosophy to be born. It’s a time to allow God’s presence to be revealed. There is a desire for the kind of intimacy with God that many of us have experienced at various times in our lives; the kind of intimacy to live and move and have one’s being in the Divine. The idea of living with intention may evoke images of vision statements and goal-setting, planning for the future. It takes a different kind of intention to slow down, to turn off our thinking, quiet our minds and see what emerges.
Any wilderness is filled with contradictions, both frightening and fascinating. It can offer the best and the worst of human experiences. Yet it also offers a sacred place, for in the solitude of the wilderness there is also revelation. Entering the wilderness is not an end in itself. It is closely related to journeying, to pilgrimage. We do not go into the desert to stay there for good. Is it any wonder that we long for intimacy with the Divine? How do we find the time, make the time, or take the time to enter the place where God waits to meet us? When God spoke to the prophet Elijah, on Mount Horeb in the Old Testament, he could have done so in the wind, earthquake, or fire. But He didn’t. He spoke with a “still small voice.” ..."Why are you here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:12). It is a difficult passage to understand. Elijah had just won a tremendous victory over the prophets of Baal. But after fleeing for his life, he was now wallowing in self pity in a cave. Elijah’s reply revealed the depth of his despair. He said, in effect, “Lord, I have been most zealous in my attempts to serve you...and yet I continue to feel distant, lonely for you.” He was angry, discouraged. The interpretations of this reading are endless… Who are we when we come face to face with spiritual desert? Who are we when our previous understanding of how God communicates with us no longer applies, where our past experiences mislead, where our great accomplishments will not help us? It takes a different kind of intention to slow down, to turn off the goal-oriented thinking, quiet our minds and see what emerges.
Lent is the liturgical season that encourages one to enter into extended reflection. During these forty-some days, we are invited to go - metaphorically and literally - into the Wilderness, as the Desert Fathers did. For Christians, it is an invitation to imitate Jesus’ solitude and silence, to simplify one’s life and cultivate a contemplative attitude that prepares the believer to grasp fully the mystery of Easter. When Jesus wanted to pray, he preferred to go to a physical wilderness where he could be most in touch with creation. Throughout the Bible, the wilderness is a place of preparation, a place of overcoming temptation; a place that God leads many people to, including Jesus before he began his public ministry. Man will not suffer for want of intelligence and information, but only for lack of wonder. The beginning of happiness and well-being lies with the insight in knowing that life without awe and amazement is meaningless. How do we lift up our eyes to see higher? sometimes it takes a wilderness to awaken wonder. To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau’s words, “in the wilderness is the preservation of the world” - God and ourselves.
February 14, 2018
Pass it On
Love is a confusing word. It is the most altruistic and perhaps also the most selfish of human emotions. We talk about loving food, loving music, falling in love, feeling loved. We say that love hurts, love waits, and love means never having to say we’re sorry. Pure love is the inner essence of our true being, yet a paradox continuing to go largely undefined.
“So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest one of these is love.” - I Corinthians 13:13. Maybe somewhere in you there is a deep loneliness on this day of roses and Hallmark valentines and these words of the Bible serve only to sting. Regardless of personal romantic relationships, we are also told that the very essence of love is already at the core of our being. Imagining that we might realize such love but sensing that we will fall short, often we find paths through the world that are easier than loving. At the very heart of life, at the central core of God’s plan of Creation, is the action of loving and of being loved. Jesus said, “The kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Ultimate Love. Ultimate Grace. We all receive this gift, but so few accept and trust it. The early Christian mystics, far more than the theologians, understood that grace was something to be experienced and not necessarily understood. Grace is both favor received and gratitude given. Through grace, love arises. Like the sun ever faithful, love comes and we forget the moments that are dark. In Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love oneself is the foundation of love for others. Developing the capacity to generate love for ourselves creates the positive energy to express compassion toward all living beings.
“When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world - no matter how imperfect - becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.” These are the words of Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, and also considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. Love is God - God revealed through love. It is by the love of the God in us that the human soul is born. Have you read the book or seen the movie, The Road? It’s an apocalypse story where a father and a son journey across a desolated America along a road that takes them to the ocean. The only beauty you see is the love between the two, and the innocent love of a child who was born after the world began to die. Their love grows, as does their pain. Are the roads we take in our own lives much different? There is desolation threatening and danger around every bend. Accept the mystery of grace when it comes into your life. Pass it on as love. Give it to others. Give it to the world around you. Love is a way of being; not an ethic. It is a way of being which transcends that which is positive or negative. We are always discovering new aspects of our inner world which we reject or resist; which need love and care. Love your seeking hearts and desire to find a more compassionate way to be in this life and on this earth. Love is the wholeness of non-dual Consciousness. Pure love is the inner essence of our true being. Pass it on.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, 'You owe me.' Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” - Hafiz
February 7, 2018
We knew before kickoff on Sunday there would be a winner. There would be a loser.
Devout football fans, and those watching their first N.F.L. game all year felt the thrill of watching the two playoff finalists face off. And it was great! Among the said 60% of Americans who didn’t watch, some are still wondering what anyone gets out of the spectacle.
The connection between sport and spirituality might be hard to envision at first. You don’t see much evidence with men throwing punches at each other in a boxing ring, or horses being whipped by jockeys as they race around a track. People like to talk about football in ways meant to redeem its violence, and give some sort of justifying, positive moral slant to this business of crashing around into other people and throwing them to the ground. They talk about learning to work hard to achieve goals; about teamwork. Over recent years the connection between sport and spirituality has received much research. Of particular interest has been the reported spiritual experiences of athletes during peak performance which include transcendent states, mystical experiences, states of ‘flow’ and being in the so called “zone.” No one ever plays a game or runs a race to lose. Successful athletes are disciplined in their training, purposeful in their objective. This thirst and desire controls an athletes consciousness.
As humans, we are always looking for the essence of success, of life, and its true meaning. There is really no way to define this essence in words. Our lives must be lived. We must play the game! One can pray without involvement, but you cannot successfully play sports without being fully engaged. Participation is the essence of life. States of consciousness which transcend the ordinary have been studied from a multitude of perspectives. A major milestone in the history of spiritual experiences took place in the early 1900s when the traditional understanding of mystical and religious experience broadened to include non-religious occurrences. This change was pioneered by the work of American psychologist William James in the new scholarly area of spirituality studies. James used the notion of ‘cosmic consciousness’ to describe secular moments, where an intense conscious union with the universe was experienced. You, too, might have played your favorite sport long enough to occasionally experience the “zone”; those times when everything seems to come together, those times when you feel totally absorbed in the rush of - what? Your running, skiing, workout is at a higher level. You’re not sure why it happened; you only know when it happens. A moment of grace, of knowing, that something greater does exist; and for a moment, you were part of it. Everything feels right. The euphoria holds you. You want more. Then it goes away. Many feel the same about their spiritual lives….closeness to God and then absence. A memory which holds us in wonder and worship, and we never forget. When we are aligned with our “spiritual zone” we find peace, experience compassion and connection, love; purpose and levels of fulfillment. We don’t have to be elite performers to experience the zone any more than we have to go to a hermitage and meditate day and night to transcend ourselves. There are many ways to play the game just as there are many ways of experiencing the quest of spirit. Just show up and give your spiritual practice what you would give your workout. Being in the game or on the yoga mat is about desire and being fully present. The Creator of the entire universe saw fit to give each and every one of us life, delighting in our abilities. Not caring if we win.
January 31, 2018
Is God still God?
Does consciousness lead to God? Is Consciousness the essence of the Divine? For some, enlightenment leads to the existence of Higher Power and a spirit world; others to only the physical world and the brain. The modern world is certainly confused about God.
“There is no truth about God. Truth is God. There is no one who learns Truth. You become Truth. You have inherited it and it is within you. You need only learn quietness to listen to that inheritance.” These are the words of Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. However many today find it easier to disbelieve. But with no God to point direction, humans must find their own way. With no God to save the world, humans must save their own world. They must save it from themselves, if nothing else. Most of us have no meaningful sense of how we and our fellow humans fit into the big picture. Are we the handiwork of a loving God who planned the universe? In the beginning, people looked at the world with wonder. Then they started to make sense as they could. Origin stories like the ones in Genesis could at no time be thought factually correct by human understanding. In place of scientific accuracy they offered guidance about how to live with a sense of belonging, how to draw strength and be part of a then much larger unknown. How does the emerging perception of a cosmic god illumine religion’s core truths and teachings? Is God still God? The wonder continues.
Thousands of years have passed since the birth of Judaism and Christianity, two religions of shared experience; two ways of knowing and relating to the Holy One. Yet darkness once more surrounds us. Justice and peace, and the promise of Shalom continue to elude with many proclaiming over and over what God can't be - without considering what God could be. Churches and synagogues are to be places where people try to learn, think, act and speak in God’s way; not in the way of a fear-filled world. But somewhere along the pathway many theologies became viewed as the object of love instead of an instrument of knowing the Source of all love. Many feel at home gathering in their faith communities, but feel far away from God.
Nothing stands still. What is real evolves. The sacred seed to know the Divine was planted in humankind a very long time ago. Can anything actually exist in this universe that is worthy of being called God? Yes! If we let go of what makes the Mystery unreal; our personifications, images and idols. God endures through thousands of years of cultural change not because of God’s control of man or psychological need but, because of man’s pure desire for fundamental connection with the universe. There are many truths. There is a Truth for everyone who seeks. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; In my Father’s house are many rooms.” (John 14: 1-2)
God still is God. The Source of Light is everywhere for each to discover. “You need only learn quietness to listen to that inheritance.”
January 24, 2018
A Knowing that Grows
Why are we so blessed? Why do we also suffer so much? How can we prove the reality or experience of god? What is faith? What more urgent time than now, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, to "trust in the slow work of God."
We are all born with an impression of God. We may not know it, but it is there. A sense of otherness, something more, or, maybe just a deep hunger for faith in earth and her beings. Some people will say there is no God. It is a crutch. There is no argument. Do not try. Each of us must find the source of Spirit’s gift and cultivate it as we can. Some will embrace faith traditions, texts, rituals. Others will set out on restless journeys through many philosophies, superstitions, and religious worldviews. Some will seek in silence. There is another extreme - It is the lure of cynicism and times when we feel nothingness.
When I was a child I wore a small glass bauble on gold links around my neck; a gift from my Grandmother. Floating inside was a tiny mustard seed. Grandmother didn’t have room in her life for church, yet she loved a few good Bible stories, telling us we needed very little more to know how God works. She said knowing God is like planting a mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth. Yet when it grows, it becomes larger than all the other plants. Grandma said that faith is like this. Now, of course today we know that there are some seeds smaller than the mustard seed and plants that grow larger. The point was not to offer a lesson in botany. Jesus was not intending to make a scientific statement. In Jesus' day, there was a common expression used to show insignificance, something tiny and unremarkable. That expression was "small as a mustard seed." The parable of the mustard seed was meant to encourage, emphasizing the contrast between the humble beginnings of our spiritual life and the possibility of growth. Grandma knew I would doubt God’s existence. We all do. And long after I stopped wearing my necklace I was reassured by its presence in my jewelry box.
How many times have you said to yourself, if only I had more faith I would be able to believe. If I could believe I’d have the courage to cope. If I could only believe, I’d be able to understand. The parable of the mustard seed teaches that knowing God comes with small beginnings; this in contrast to what was normally believed that the all-powerful would come with force and might. When the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, his response shocked them. He told them they didn’t need a large amount of faith. A mustard seed size would do. The energy of consciousness exists beyond our thinking minds. It is not about believing, but a way of life. Faith is about deep-seated confidence, about trust in the Mystery. A listening even when we can’t hear anything, can’t see anything, can’t feel anything. The Bible says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things unseen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Belief is more like an opinion. We can believe something to be true without it ever making any difference to us. In the Old Testament, the translators of the Bible used the term “to know” to describe the physical union between a man and a woman. I always thought it was an odd term, until I realized that from the “knowing” comes the “begetting.” Something is born in the union of knowing and our lives. This is faith, faith that rises above the barriers we create and laws of logic, and gets to the mind of the heart.
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
January 10, 2018
They sought and found. In finding they saw. In seeing they loved. And in loving they gave; gave of their unique, individual, priceless gifts. Humanity is the known part of creation that contemplates itself. The Magi, appearing at the birth of Jesus, provide an image. But what each experiences in the heart is one’s own.
Because the biblical descriptions of the Christmas story are so sparse, we have embellished them over the years, enriching our imaginations of what it would have been like to glimpse the intersection of God and man. Who knows what the facts of Jesus' birth actually were? As for myself, the longer I live, the more inclined I am to believe in miracles. The more I suspect that if we had been there at the birth, we too might well have seen and heard things that would be hard to reconcile with reality. But of course that is not the point. The Gospel writers were probably not interested so much in recording facts of the birth, but rather in communicating the significance. The celebration of the birth of Christ continues for the six-week season of Epiphany in the liturgical church calendar. The word Epiphany comes from the Greek which means “coming to light.” It celebrates the journey of the Magi, a new consciousness and revelation of a new reality. In this season and beyond, we think of those who saw a star, not knowing what potential the star possessed. Honored by millions over the centuries, what importance can this birth have that renders known scientific fact and perhaps historical actuality irrelevant?
The deepest wisdom cannot be grasped on the level of the intellect. What does it mean for Christ to be born in us? Why do we as human beings seek meaning? One of the truths about the birth of Jesus is that somehow in the innocence and weakness of a newborn child, God and humanity became linked. I have never discovered a guiding star in the East, seen Spirit descend like a dove, or heard a divine voice in the clouds. I have never watched water become wine or experienced God in any of the ways stories in the Bible describe. The “epiphanies” I have experienced have unfolded slowly; moments of grace that have come unbidden and unexpected, gentle and subdued. I do not try to define them. I do not try to hold them too tightly. The way of faith is the way of hope as we walk along with all who have ever searched. The Holy is always a part of all that is. Allow yourself to receive moments of ordinary miracles. Be present, humble, have faith and receive the blessed gift of grace that is called Epiphany.
January 4, 2018
Give Me a Word
In the early centuries, those desiring a deeper spiritual life sought direction from learned monks saying, “Amma (mother) or Abba (father), give me a word." The word offered was something that would help to usher one toward awareness of their life; a journey deeper into the mysteries of being human.
While many have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions, I do like the promise and possibility this time of year offers. It’s okay to want to be a better you, and the New Year is a natural time to start. The question is, how? Just as those early seekers, I am inspired and somewhat daunted to take up the challenge: Listen for and choose a Word for 2018 - a word like a star to follow, a word to guide and shape each intention and action in my year ahead. Choosing a single word, one like Be. Dare. Reclaim. Allow. Expand. Trust. stimulates clarity and focus to move positively toward the future rather than swearing off the past. We live in a world with an abundance of choices and possibilities. I've always been able to say what I don't want, but sometimes have had a really hard time identifying what it is that I want. Sometimes, diving deep with one phrase, image or idea is just what our hearts and minds need to heighten our understanding, challenge, wrestle with and grow into. What do you want to feel in this new year? What kind of experiences do you want to have? What results, effects, or changes do you want to see? This year I invite you, too, to try something different. If you hear a word calling, sit with it for a couple of days. Listen attentively to the stirrings of your heart in response. For some, the word may come right away while others may find the process much slower. We might be tempted to think our way into the word, to analyze what would be the best for us. We need to ask for open eyes, for open ears, and for an open heart, so that when our word comes, we can welcome it and let it make a home in us. Be patient. Your Word is a gift that has the opportunity to move you beyond boundaries, calling you to a place of freedom and awareness. Life is our interpretation of the words God gives to us. Our job in this world is to become truth, trusting our unknown futures to a known God.
God - give me a word, give me a sign; one that reflects where I have been and where I want to be, one that reflects my passion for life. A word that opens the door to surrender and transformation. A word that pushes me to the edge of my fears and insecurities. A thought that starts each day with a “yes! A word in which I might hear your words to me. In this new year I ask for strength to be fully present. I don’t want to be myself. But more!
“For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice.” - T.S. Eliot
December 27, 2017
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are over; the shortest day of the year has passed. Here, the days and nights are cold. This is the season that can make us aware of our individual vulnerabilities. Strip Christmas down to its essence; get rid of all the clutter. The God of winter invites us into a healing rhythm of rest and renewal, of deep listening in the midst of stillness.
Winter encourages us to ease up, slow down, make time for quiet walks in the few hours of light. Contemplate. Thomas Merton compared the spiritual life to the search for a path in a field of untrodden snow. "Walk across the snow and there is your path," he wrote. Last week the winter solstice celebrated the slow return of sunlight after the longest night of the year. The sun’s light is beginning to become stronger, and we too might consider how to strengthen our vision. In the darkness we can always see the moon, the stars, and sometimes even reflecting lights on the clouds. God created this wonderful dance in the heavens. The seasons and turnings of our planet are spiritual and holy. In the midst of our darkness, there is light.
The rising of the sun following the winter solstice echoes the birth of the light from the dark void on the first day of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….and God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Blessed are these shortest days that make us long for light. In every major world tradition there are festivals arising at this darkest time of the year reminding of the reality that darkness as a source of fear is also the source of growth. The message is clear - in the depth of the darkness we are instructed to search for the light. Think of this as a time of reset, a powerful transition from the past into the future. For me this is what the expectant waiting of Advent and Christmas is really all about. As I light the holiday candles, I think of all the avenues for bringing light into a darkened world. In the Hebrew calendar, too, the darkness brings the Festival of Light, Hanukkah. There is great spiritual meaning to the play of light and dark upon our bodies, our minds, and our beliefs. Life’s cycles always have the potential to move us. Allow the dark hours to deepen the senses of being. These shortest days of the year are an affirmation that we live by God’s promises that darkness has a light of its own and God’s universal light shines in all things.
“Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” - Joan Chittister
December 20, 2017
As the story goes, an angel summoned Mary. A most unlikely God-bearer was chosen. Not a queen or a princess or an aristocratic heiress; but a poor peasant girl bringing only her willingness to serve and bold statement of faith: “May it be as you have said.” ( Luke 1:38)
I sometimes ask, who among the characters of the Nativity would I most like to meet?
Recognized as the mother to God’s only Son, Mary walked a difficult path. Worshipped and loved for her devotion by some; ignored by others - none those many years ago, or today, can judge the validity of Mary’s experience. Christmas is the story of the incarnation - a difficult challenge for most; the idea of God made flesh in the birth of a baby. "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) What might it be like to look with new perspective on a relationship with both the historical and metaphorical Jesus, one going beyond the constraints of our human sensibilities and intellect? We have all been in places like this in our lives...on our own, entering “virgin territory.” Two questions always arise before exploring the untested, the unknown: Where will this take me? And how will I be changed? How might we take a fresh look at the Christmas story through Mary’s eyes; less concerned with what we believe about Jesus than how the character of Jesus might manifest in the way we live our lives?
A star guided three Magi to Bethlehem where they discovered the infant, offering their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh and proclaiming the message of “Emmanuel” - “God dwells within us.” What would it be like, look like, feel like, to transform ourselves and our world to one of hope where all might collectively live in joyous Emmanuel. What if the gifts we gave were more than simply demonstrations of our generosity; but rather symbols of the gifts we might give on all the days of the year - gifts of love, of compassion, of our common humanity. Like the Three Wise Men, we too have the opportunity to live as modern Magi, guided by the Divine Light each follows. What might I give God this Christmas? I can seek out a forgotten friend. Replace suspicion with trust. Try to understand. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Welcome a stranger. Express gratitude. Speak love, and then speak it again. What can I give to God this Christmas? I can serve others. I can be kind. I can be helpful. I can be patient. Unlike the Magi of old, we don’t have to travel far to offer our gifts. And as the angel, unable to contain the jubilation, announced to the shepherds so many many years ago, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” We can bring OUR JOY. And we can LOVE as never before, in celebration of the real meaning of Christmas. The story of the Christ child is the story of how one life - one solitary life can make a change in history. Mary had the courage to say yes, to trust God. Mary had the courage to let something grow inside her. She had the courage to harbour a Child of God in her body. Do we have the courage to harbour Christ Consciousness in our bodies? Can Mary’s response also be ours to the symbolic coming of the Christ this Christmas? Could His birth not merely be remembered, but truly received? As we make our way into this new year, let us be mindful of the question posed by 13th century mystic, Meister Eckhart: “What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place each year but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not full of grace? What good is it for me for the Creator to give birth to his son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and culture?” We celebrate Christmas because it bears important truths; the truth that remarkable things can happen. The truth that goodness comes in the unexpected. The truth that each child is born sacred. That each of our lives is sacred and worthy.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust
December 13, 2017
“All is Calm; All is Bright”
Many of us would just not think it's Christmas until we sing Silent Night by candlelight in community with others. Brightness, festivity and glitter are all about… but noise, hurry, and stress too frequently drown the silence that opens us to the voice of Spirit. Where is the calm in Christmas?
We’ve known the lyrics all our lives. “Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, All is bright.” I get chills every time I sing them. This seems to be the one carol of all Christmas carols that pulls at the strings of my heart - a song that reminds me to slow down, be still and consider what the birth of this child called Jesus is all about. That first Christmas was dingy. That first Christmas was dirty. Jesus was born in the darkness of a stable, maybe a cave. Calm and bright are not words that seem in sync with one another. All was not silent, all was not bright. Still, it’s beautiful, isn’t it, the way we like to think of the Christmas story every year; peaceful, quiet, and so holy. We like Christmas this way. It provides so many of us the beauty that we crave in our oh, so messy world.
The pleasures of the season will come and be gone. Seeking pleasure assumes that it is somewhere else, at some other time - in a different situation, and not here and now. Seeking assumes that there is something to be found, someplace to be reached, some goal to be achieved. Advent is the time to remember that we need something more than what we can summon with our own resources; a season of reflection, a state of mind. The writer of the song, while perhaps not portraying a precise enactment, expresses an important truth: wonder makes us silent. The “silent night” occurs when we look upon the mystery of Jesus' birth with true wonder and awe. Life isn't always peaceful. Some would say it’s never peaceful. There may never be peace in this world - but in this world, we can have peace. The path of peace and holiness is so wonderfully close at hand, so eminently do-able. When we feel drawn to the contemplative, to the spiritual practice of loving-kindness; think of that which created and guides. As much as Advent is a time of waiting and listening, it is also a time of “refreshing our memory.” The calming peace of Christmas lies in the immanence of Divine Love. It has come. It is here. It is close by. This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we think we don’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. The Christmas story is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. We are what we do with our silence. Allow inner peace be your sanctuary this Christmas season.
December 6, 2017
Pray, Give Thanks, Help Others
Joy of expectation. Expectation of joy. Advent is a whole lot more than waiting and preparing for Christmas. Cynical as some are about the season, scorning religion and tradition, we can’t escape the yearning for greater meaning in the holiday. What moves you this Christmas?
Most of us have a picture-perfect idea: family gathered around a beautifully decorated tree, a table laid out for a feast, neatly wrapped presents, stockings, fun, laughter, and a soft blanket of new snow. It’s rarely like this. We miss family members who can’t be with us. We’re worried about buying the wrong gifts. It’s a mad rush to get everything ready. During Christmas, we hear the word, joy, often. What is this joy? Joy is the expression of God being in our hearts. Its looking at the world with wonder, appreciation, and love. Real Christmas is when the Divine expresses itself in the heart of the man. If the Christ-life is to be lived, first of all, the child-Christ has to come forth within. Christmas is about love, birth and new beginnings. Jesus was not born in a grand palace. Jesus came into this world in a simple, lowly place; a corner of a stable. He was born to humble and poor parents, in the darkness in the obscure hour of midnight, when no one even knew about it, except a few blessed people. He spent time with the poor and the outcast, the sick and the lame, the prostitute and the thief. Jesus entered the world as essential truth, living and symbolizing Divine Consciousness. Do not think of Christ as a helpless little baby, The universal spirit of Christ Consciousness was in Him from the beginning. The joy of Christmas is a special joy; but it is a joy that isn’t just for a single day.
Christmas is about a change of consciousness in the world that also happens in our own spiritual journeys. The joy that Jesus came to bring is from outside this world. That is the real reason why we celebrate His birthday - in order to remind ourselves of the divine qualities of Jesus and to awaken ourselves to a realization of the enlightening, loving Christ Presence in our own consciousness. We know there is a remarkable diversity in what constitutes “religion” and “spirituality” among both the religiously affiliated and the unaffiliated. We hear the phrase “Christ Consciousness” with ever-greater frequency. What is this energy; how does it feel; what does it mean in our lives? Pope Francis sums up the heart of Christian joy in three actions: “Pray, give thanks, help others.” If we take these words to heart and bring them to life in our everyday lives, we, too, will discover the joy of Advent; a joy that we can take with us through the new year. This Season, amid the busyness and the rush of the coming holiday, take the time to stop for a moment, to breathe deeply, to capture the beauty and ask, “What is my part in this divine coming? How might I see? What might I give?”
November 28, 2017
Have you ever wondered about your place in the world? Or ever felt drawn to a certain place, but didn’t know why? It’s human nature to want to belong. Perhaps there's a reason why the first thing we often ask someone when we meet them is, "where's home for you?"
From the airports to the highways, travelers last weekend made their way home after the Thanksgiving holiday. Having paid homage to origins, family and friends, with hearts warmed and spirits nourished, some still long for a place to belong. In this world of increasing stress and complexity, all of us need shelter, a refuge, a haven. Home is a metaphor for being grounded, centered, secure. More than having a physical structure, a door to lock, a stable location; homelessness as a state of mind is still experienced by many. In times of transition and struggle, during intervals of heartache, confusion, and disappointment, learning to be at home is not easy - whether it’s being at home in one’s own skin or in the time and place in which we find ourselves. It’s common to have feelings of dislocation, uprooting, and abandonment - the sense of being alone in the universe without a place to call one’s own. When we feel "at home," we feel at ease and good about where we are: right? What would it be like to have a place where we can come as we are loved, treasured, accepted. A safe place of tranquility and peace that the world cannot give? For anyone who has travelled beyond the edges of their comfort zone, a quote from Wendell Berry comes to mind: “You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.” How many resist the spiritual journey Wendell Berry speaks of; a journey of accepting what we are given and where we find ourselves instead of always struggling for something else, something more. “And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.
Our human need for exploration and for discovery ultimately attempts to make connection. Yet Spirit’s desire for us is to dwell in an ordinary world, the one in which we live, the sanctuary that each of us makes of our lives. To live in the Light of home is to be aware that we are part of the whole of creation and to never feel separate from it. There is nothing Creation’s world can provide that we do not already possess. To be at home is to recognize the beauty of our nature and identity lived in the sanctuary of soul and Spirit, the Creator of Creation within.
“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing Light Of your own Being." - Hafiz
November 21, 2017
Bless and Be Blessed
The word “blessing” slips easily off our lips. “I’m blessed!” “It’s a blessing!” Blessed and blessings are wonderful words. Spiritual words. But, they have also been hijacked in our culture to mean little more than lucky. Most of the time we don’t give any thought to what being blessed really means; and it’s source.
A quick look at Facebook and Twitter show just how many people feel “Blessed.” In our social media world, saying we’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble. Luck has nothing to do with being blessed. Luck is a toss of the dice and a slight of the hand. Being blessed is from God. Being blessed is a condition of the heart and a frame of mind. Food for the soul. The first definition of blessing in the dictionary is not wealth or comfort, but, “being made holy.” It seems all other earthly blessings should pale in comparison.
In Hebrew the word most often translated “bless” is barak, meaning “to increase” or “bring down Divine abundance.” Whatever spiritual forces might flow within a blessing, what is most needed is simple human caring. The Bible is full of commands to love one another; to honor, forgive and comfort one another. It doesn’t mean flattery. It doesn’t mean quoting motivational platitudes to another. Scripture says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.” (Proverbs 3:27-28) Our words can be the source of healing, forgiveness, life.
Everyone wants and needs a blessing. There is great loneliness among us. There are people we know who are worried and depressed, who long to hear the words, "I love you." "You are important to me." God is not the only one who pronounces blessings. Each of us are called to bless. There is no recipe or special technique. A blessing is like a special charge of spiritual energy, much like a transfusion, a reminder that we are made of spirit stuff with souls yearning for communion with our Creator. A blessing is more than just an act, it is an affirmation of our connectedness, a gift freely given. In all of the ways that humans can be generous, kind and compassionate to each other… there are blessings. Who doesn’t want a blessing!
Whatever form your blessing might take, whether you use the word or simply bless with your actions, be a blessing to the people around you. Wish someone joy, wish them peace, love, prosperity, happiness… We may never know the impact of our words, our patience, our moment of remembering and care will bring another. My Thanksgiving prayer this week is that I understand my true blessing. It’s more than my home, my husband or my standard of living. My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. What will we do with our blessings? Will we keep them close for comfort? Will we share them?
November 14, 2017
Gandhi said, “There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.” We are the moments of our lives. All takes place in the only time we really have: the present moment.
It’s hard to live in the ever popular now. The past keeps surfacing with guilt and worries, unfulfilled dreams and ambition. Those who live in the future live on rocky ground - they have no roots. They are always thinking about "one day" when they will be happy, "one day" when they will have abundance, "one day" when they will have the perfect partner; always thinking that the next moment must be more important than the present. The real enemies of our lives are the “oughts” and “ifs.” They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. Writer Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” To be centered and present, is there a reality we must live?
How we direct the beam of our humble consciousness is purely up to us. The world is a place of constant change. Each day will offer its wisdom uniquely. Every point in time is distinct from the point before it. Universal consciousness is too much for me to think about. I can’t Imagine at any given moment that I might know all that has ever happened or perceive everything that is happening everywhere in the universe! Even the present moment, charged with thinking about ultimate reality, cannot be separated from the surrounding world with its promises, opportunities, expectancy. Is one of these realities more ultimate than another? Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hahn thinks so, saying; "Only the present moment is real and available to us. The peace we desire is not in some distant future, but it is something we can realize in the present moment." Look at your life. Each of us do so many different things one after another without any apparent connection between them. How we direct the beam of our humble consciousness is purely up to us. There is only one question: “How to love this world.” In poet Mary Oliver's words, “Now is the time to know that all that you do is sacred…” Every moment every human activity in an opportunity to connect with the Divine. Being itself is derived from God and the presence of the Creator remains in each created thing. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” declares the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. These words give a new urgency to the present; raising our desire to know God to a new level of intensity. Moment by moment notice the extraordinary! Life is a beautiful wonder!
I do not know if I can live a better life tomorrow or next year or be kinder even to those I love most. But I do know that now, for at least this next breath, I can pray and breathe love. I can pray and breathe peace.
This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118
November 7, 2017
Go with the Flow
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that speaks to the nature of human existence - “Stand like a mountain, move like water.” To stand like a mountain means to be strong. To move like water means to be soft and yielding. If we want to be in the flow of life, within the “yin and the yang” of perfect relationship, we cannot struggle against it at the same time...
Do you ever think to yourself, why do I always make things SO much more difficult than they need to be? To walk the human path is hard. At times, our heads are filled with doubt. In search of truth we pause, often uncertain; balance is the key to life, we are told. The Chinese put it well when they say that life’s aim is to enjoy four kinds of harmony: harmony within the self, harmony with others, harmony with the earth, and harmony with heaven. Every experience connecting with Spirit shows that as humans, we are not separate beings immersed within a universe of happenings that occur randomly TO US. But rather, we are an integral part of the whole. We each experience life in all its dimensions, notwithstanding its challenges and drama. If we are spiritually inclined at all, we have within us a reservoir of depth and inner strength out of which flows fresh possibilities for seeing and being reassured. Perhaps the Buddhist idea of mindfulness can help; for in it we learn to step back and observe the whole of life. And, we are better able to resist the urge to get caught up in the pain. This does not mean that all is peaceful. Greed and cruelty, abuse and injustice - they flow too. A distinction can be made between bad flow and good flow, tragic flow and beautiful flow, life-nourishing flow and life-destroying flow.
The sacred calling within each of us is to go with the flow of Divine Love in ways that help make our world more just and beautiful, more satisfying for all. Go with the flow by getting absorbed in the “here and now”. In other words, to go with the flow is about the “eternal now.” When we find ourselves living in the moment, we experience underlying energy which has purpose and direction. I find it helpful to direct my thought to what I term the Divine within, and to listen carefully to her inner voice. Even when we say “no” to possibility, “no” to abundance; when we say “no” to change of any type – we block the possibility of spiritual energy from flowing freely. Of course, we have to deal with life’s hardships and challenges. The guidance we seek is within us. We only need to remember our inherent wisdom and the innate potential of the human spirit.
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”
- Frederick Buechner
October 31, 2017
There is a basic urgency in life to grow, to expand, to become new and renewed. We might almost say that the very meaning of being alive is to be in the process of becoming a new creation. Technologically and informationally we have a head start over all previous generations. But are souls keeping up...
Today’s generation is among the first that hasn’t inherited a spiritual identity. For most of human history, in the majority of cultures, religious tradition has been passed down. But suddenly, in the last couple of decades, many people are likely to have been born into families holding no system of belief and its guiding principles. While traditional religious affiliation may be waning, spiritual hunger is not. Accompanying the shift from inherited tradition is the fact that many, also, do not carry with them a lot of baggage. There is much curiosity about Spirit and many are searching and committed to the integrity of joining personal inner life with the mystery of God.
“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet…” Rudyard Kipling penned these words more than one hundred years ago; but it is unlikely that he would write the same words today. Quoted to underline insurmountable philosophies between the two hemispheres, in this 21st century, as we move ever-closer to a global culture, it is clear that “the twain are meeting”. God has not called us to a Western worldview or an Eastern worldview, but to a desire to approach life with eyes wide open. Like a stained glass window through which Holy Light shines, the world needs as many prisms of wisdom and hope that we can find. Beneath our seeming differences lie a pool of universal truth. The mystery of God is in the God within.
Spiritual evolution advancess through closer and closer alignment with the Higher Self; by the fusion of the loftiest spiritual heights with our most mundane physicality. It means we can be ourselves, living a “down to earth” existence, and yet fulfill our transcendental goals. It means that there is nothing we are trying to escape - other than the notion that we must escape something. We don’t run away from this world to join a higher one; instead we work to fuse the two. We aren’t in the business of “making it to heaven”—we’re busy bringing heaven down to earth.
Where then, is insight to be found? Eastern thought is strong in certain aspects of life, Western thought is strong in certain others. Responding to a question from the Pharisees about when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’, the kingdom of God is found within you” (Luke 17:20-21). There are many ways for us to learn until we are our own priest. Benjamin Franklin offered the thought that “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” No, we do not need to go to church, but we do need to care about our souls and commit fully to the greatness of being human on this magnificent earth. Consider what it would take for us to believe in a universe that is conspiring for our good. As someone once said, … not to worship Jesus, but to worship what Jesus worshipped; not to worship Moses, Buddha or Lao Tzu, but to cherish all they revered. That is to come close to the true God, the one universal truth.
October 24, 2017
The silence of God can be deafening. Longing for an answer, aching for a reply, we each have known the feeling of uncertainty from time to time. Like children, we become anxious. God, where are you? Why do you no longer talk to us? And all we hear is silence…
There is an obvious and deep irony in any attempt to talk about silence. It's like trying to describe the ineffable or depict the invisible. Silence. A word that evokes scary images of aloneness, of vulnerability, of having to face one’s inner world. God’s silence can be interpreted as a lack of connection, or a lack of presence. How do we reconcile silence with certainty of Spirit’s existence? If there is Divine Consciousness, wouldn’t the grand designer want to communicate? Speak with us, interact with us? This idea that knowing is seeing is a dominant metaphor in contemporary thinking. We speak of insight, foresight and hindsight. We offer observation and perspectives. We illustrate. We illuminate. We shed light on issues. When we understand; we say, “I see. I hear you.” And yet when we are offered a faith in a God we cannot see, a God that cannot be represented visually and often a God that is silent, we doubt.
The way we understand power is invariably bound up with how we see it exercised in our world. Civilization understands power as a force over others. Strong people have power, political rulers exert power, economic systems wield power, the famous influence with power, the playground bully has power. Who are we when our previous understanding of how God communicates no longer applies? When past experiences and misconceptions mislead? Religion fails when it seeks to impose truth by fear - whatever the truth, whatever the force.
How can we comprehend “the silence of God” when silence is lonely? When God says in the Bible that his ways are not our ways, he really means it. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." (Isaiah 55:8). Overt displays of power are not necessary for the Almighty to be perceived. Dramatic displays make for a good show. But, when it comes to a life lived in faith, hope and love; nothing is as powerful as a mind and heart stilled in peace and the quiet presence of Divine Love manifested in our hearts. Forget the trumpets and cymbals, “God is found not in the wind nor in the earthquake nor in the fire...but in a still, small voice.” (Kings 1: 19:11-12) God is present the way beauty is present. The voice that summoned the universe into being is still and small. God oftentimes looks underwhelming in this world. To hear the voice of Divine Love we must listen. Listen, as we travel the sacramental journey to inner quiet. We will not be alone.
“The night of total calm before the rising winds of dawn, the music of silence, the sounding solitude, the supper that renews our love.” - St. John of the Cross
October 17, 2017
Buddhist teachings say that every single encounter between us and another is a sacred opportunity to love. No act of compassion and kindness, no matter how big or small, wherever it is performed, is ever wasted. We cannot feed all the poor, we cannot house all the homeless, we cannot befriend all the lonely. But we can care one person at a time...
Hospitality is a word with a spiritual history. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle regarded hospitality as the primary of all virtues and one of the hallmarks of spiritual enlightenment. Scripture is rich with accounts of welcoming generosity. In the Genesis account of the beginning of existence, God’s first act symbolically offered cosmic hospitality in the creation of a universe that is good and abundantly filled for us with all the things we need to live well. Atithi Devo Bhava: “Be one for whom the guest is God,” is a verse taken from an ancient Hindu scripture. Hindus see guests as an opportunity to serve and express their love of God. Monastic life has long been associated with hospitality. Patron saint, Benedict of Nursia, who lived in Italy 1500 years ago, wrote a Rule of Life for monks and nuns. One of the most often quoted phrases of the Benedictine Rule; “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” Everyone who comes - the poor, the weak, the marginalized are to be received with genuine acceptance. There was a time when the head of the monasteries would stand at the doorstep at mealtime and shout loudly, not once but three times, “Is there someone who needs to be fed?” And when a traveler or the poor would come in for food, it would be only after the guests had been fed that all would sit down to eat. Accounts of Jesus’ life tell us he touched those who were shunned and ostracized for their disabilities, talked with them, and gave them a safe space to feel welcome. When those who were considered “unclean,” possessed by demons, bleeding and sick came, he didn’t back away or shame them, but valued and respected all. The rejected and rebuffed of all kinds were honored and accepted ...gamblers, thieves, prostitutes, and people we would probably call the homeless today.
Genuine hospitality is unaffected by self-interest. It is an opening of oneself, regardless of judgement and social boundaries. "Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” This verse from the Bible, Romans 12:9-13, is ripe for adaptation to the diversity of our day. In God there is both immigrant and native, neither gay nor straight, black nor white. Each of us has been a stranger at one point, we have all felt like outsiders. The Apostle Paul reflected on the oneness of humanity with his powerful words; “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all are one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28) Paul passionately believed, nearly 2000 years ago, that in God all barriers between people might be broken. Planetary ecumenism at its best! Radical hospitality is not something people do, but rather something we become. It is a term that rolls easily off the tongue - but to actually carry it out is a demanding undertaking.
God, put a song in our hearts that will ignite our being with love for all mankind. Open our eyes to see your image in every person. Open our minds to imagine the difference each of us can make in our communities and in the world, ... caring, one person at a time. May hospitality be the foundation of our Chapel’s spirituality and of our lives - not just in opening our doors - but in opening our hearts. Hospitality is a choice. It is a divine gift waiting to be opened, waiting to be unleashed. Flowing freely, true hospitality is an expression of life giving resuscitation, a spiritual initiative and practice of active and genuine love.
October 10, 2017
Tolstoy once suggested that certain questions are put to humanity not so much that we should answer them, but that we should spend a lifetime wrestling with them. Jesus wept and the Buddha was brokenhearted by the suffering of the world. Big tragedies need a big God to walk us through them…
“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways - either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” These are the words of the Dalai Lama… but who really wants to talk about suffering? To weep with those who weep? Often I have wondered, has God both loved and grieved for humanity from the day we claimed our free will? Did He know that we would mess up, make the wrong decisions, and ultimately reject Him? Wouldn't it have been easier and nicer to create mankind as inherently good? Free will is a blessing and a curse. God has given each of us the absolute ability to makes choices in life. We can choose good or evil, right or wrong, self or others. Unfortunately, from the beginning of time, man has chosen wrongdoing too often. The vast majority of violence in history has been religious violence. Members of ISIS probably believe they are doing God’s will. The Ku Klux Klan uses the cross as their symbol. Europe’s Christians found a myriad of ways to kill and maim one another in the 16th and 17th centuries. Our dualistic minds see evil as black or white and the only solution is to eliminate evil. Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that we are also the enemy and our response is part of the whole moral equation. Thomas Merton wrote, “Non-violence implies a kind of bravery far different from violence.” We cannot destroy the other without destroying ourselves. Non-violence must be an inseparable part of our very being. Not something we turn off and turn on.
All mystery contains within it an introspection and WHY? We wish that the earth’s resources wouldn’t be wasted on weaponry, that people would stop killing people. But at a certain point, we have to surrender the fact that darkness is part of reality. In every circumstance there is an invitation to us to weep over violence, pray for peace, and to declare a different way to live in the world. It is a daily decision to trust and follow God. Trust is defined as “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I see so much misery and disappointment everyday, that if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I would be a raving maniac.” Trusting God will always put the accent mark on Creation’s active goodness rather than the active evil of our world. Regardless of what name we give to the Divine, when we are open to the possibility of Beauty and Light in places of destruction… God’s love will not leave us. We must allow ourselves to believe this.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
- John 1:5.
October 3, 2017
Being Human in a Conscious Universe
“If you are kind, learn also to be fierce. If you are wise, learn also to be simple.
If you are fire, learn also to stay cool. Whatever you find yourself being, be the opposite as well.” - Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
What is a human being? Objectively, nothing of consequence. Particles of dust in an infinite arena, present for an instant in eternity. Clumps of atoms in a universe with more galaxies than people. Does humanity have a special place in the Universe? What is the meaning of our personal lives? The pessimistic view is that, because we occupy such small and brief time and place in the cosmos, we and the things we do are insignificant and inconsequential. If our existence is so trivial, how could anything we do, our successes and failures, our anxiety and sadness and joy, all our busy ambition and work... How could any of that possibly matter? Christian tradition acknowledges our smallness in the scheme of things. But on the other hand, also tells us that we are of infinite and eternal worth because God loves us beyond anything we can ask or imagine. According to scripture, we have been chosen; adopted, redeemed, forgiven, grace-lavished, and unconditionally accepted. People often become what they believe themselves to be. And so we ask, am I loved? Am I respected? Am I important?
Over the course of our lives, each person’s identity is formed and shaped through individual experiences, relationships, culture, media, and the world around us. We are constantly seeking to define who we are in any way that we can; by our occupations, family relationships, friends, politics, views on social issues, physical appearance. If I define myself by my beliefs, what happens when I’m proven wrong, or when the certainties I once lived by change? Am I no longer me? Our egos go to great lengths to protect the version of self that we’ve created. We naturally like to identify with our strengths. But after we’ve lived out the socially accepted niceties for years, how many are ready to go underground? According to Richard Rohr, much of the second half of our life is “shadowboxing” with the negative parts of ourselves. Have you ever felt that something stole your true and natural voice? The one that honestly expresses your thoughts, joy, dreams and sorrow. The one that speaks to who we really are; the long-lost and beloved parts of ourselves.
Many continue to question human existence suggesting we are nothing but random events - the leaf blowing in the wind, a ripple in the stream. Some ask if there is a meaning or purpose superimposed on human life. What is the mysterious power that imbues our life with such a purpose or meaning? Can such grand intelligence be coded into my DNA? “We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon ...” goes the 1960’s ballad by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Every person is an example of exclusiveness with more potential in our souls than any other being known to us. In the first chapter of the book of Genesis man is described as having been created in the image and likeness of God. Because of God’s creative, life-giving work; we are “something”; we are profoundly significant. All complex creatures. All beloved.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another… We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” - Carl Sagan
September 26, 2017
Chance to Begin Again
Who wouldn't want to begin some aspect of their life again? What if our resolutions actually could become the foundation for a fresh start; what if we could simply push a “restart” button and commit our lives to being the best that we can be?
Each year at this time I find myself a bit envious of my Jewish friends and neighbors. According to Jewish tradition, during these High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God opens the “Book of Life” and symbolically the whole world begins again. “This is the day of the world’s Creation” - the Rosh Hashanah prayer proclaims. “In this New Year may we recreate in ourselves all that is kind, gentle and compassionate…” Most of us are experts at denying our faults. Self exploration is painful. Imagine ourselves freed from self-defeating patterns. I don’t have a yearly liturgy that gets directly in my face and forces me to think about myself. I don’t recite words along with others from a communal vantage point that reinforces and supports living up to the goodness that resides within me. We are all in the repair shop in some way. It’s all very well to say we need a fresh start, but the tricky part is we can’t just erase the board and begin again. The key to healing first lies in acknowledgment of our human capacity to harm and need for forgiveness. In the words of theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, “willing to be a beginner again each morning.” Marked by an intensive period of looking inward, observers are invited to examine themselves and the world in a different light. I don’t have perfect faith, I don’t always trust the world, or remember to say thank you. I have regrets. I want to practice compassion and kindness always. I want a deep connection with the Divine. Each day the theme of these High Holy Days is an invitation to action, a vantage point … to prepare, act, bless, believe, change.
As we approach the beautiful uplifting autumn season, we are offered the opportunity to take responsibility for the intentional and unintentional ways we walk in the world. Take a look at your life. How would you describe it? Contented? Rushed? Exciting? Stressful? Moving forward? Holding back? Are we as generous in granting true forgiveness as we are eager to ask for it? For many of us it’s all of the above at times. There are things we dream of doing one day, and there are things we wish we could forget. Let us resolve to live a good life, a life of commitment and purpose. Let us find the time to be grateful for the daily blessings we are given; the blessing of life itself, and the opportunity to enjoy our lives in the time we have. Let us resolve to tell the people we love that we love them, to reach out to those who need us, to make amends with those who have hurt us and whom we have hurt. Sharing with our Jewish brothers and sisters the deep spiritual potential of this month, we begin again in love, seeing that our future is not governed by our history but acceptance of God’s gift.
"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning." Louis L’Amour
September 12, 2017
Everybody is worried about environmental pollution. We are all hurt by it. But have we thought about the pollution that does far greater harm than damage to the ozone, soil and water... spiritual pollution.
Fear, self-pity, anger, guilt, perfectionism, hatred, resentment, bitterness. At one time or another, there isn’t one of us who doesn’t know the meaning of these words in a very personal way. We’d just as soon get rid of these harmful attitudes, but can’t seem to let them go. It seems conflict makes the world go round. If we are not fighting against others, we are fighting against ourselves. If we are not fighting against ourselves we are fighting for an unattainable ideal. Practically from the moment we are born into this world we have to deal with a constant stream of toxic energies. We carry on wars with ourselves, our families and communities, among races and genders, nationalities and nations. The consequences of this spiritual pollution is what keeps us stuck in negative cycles of cynicism, jealousy, hurt… corrupting our spirits and stagnating our lives. Anger is a very seductive emotion. It can make one feel self-righteous, justified. Bitterness eats from the inside out, closing off the many beautiful opportunities that life presents to heal, grow and expand. When we refuse to forgive ourselves, we enter into never-ending cycles of self-hatred, pain and regret. Resentment is a deliberate decision to “nurse” an offense. Part of us wants to cry and part of us wants to fight. We are each products of our thoughts, and our congested thinking hurts not only ourselves but reflects itself in our world. Knowing we are the cause; when we transform the negative energies inside ourselves, we will transform the energies without. Every word of forgiveness, every word of love has the potential to heal us and humanity.
“My mind is an infinity of possibilities. This can be good or bad, but the choice is mine.” These are the words of Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire from 161-180 AD. It's been nearly 2000 years since this statement was made, yet It seems society continues to struggle with all forms of self-imposed chaos. Buddha said, “What you will be is what you do.” Transformation is a part of self-realization. We make our own choices in life. Perhaps we need to forgive someone. Perhaps we need to smile instead of frown. Extend a hand. Build a bridge. Do not let the world harden you. There really is no such thing as perfection or imperfection as life is about growth and change. God’s true nature is in every one of us. The journey inward and the journey outward are inevitably linked. How receptive are we in our spiritual journeys? Spiritual pollution chokes our joy and clouds our ability to know God’s love. The more we try to control our lives, the more we cut ourselves off from God. The very path to discovering new strength is through embracing and facing our weaknesses. God’s promise of peace comes to us in the darkest of places, even in the midst of our most difficult struggles and challenges. Love and joy will flow into the world and into ourselves when we put an end to self-destruction and negative thoughts. There are really no enemies when we make room in our hearts for the challenges we struggle with. In the midst of our human and sometimes very imperfect lives, God’s grace promises to meet us, surround us, transform us, and work through us. We each carry around a lot of hazardous waste. Help us, God, see ourselves with a new perspective that we might live more gently and creatively in the world for our sake, for the sake of others, and for your sake.
“Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.” - Arab proverb
September 5, 2017
How could you, God?
How could you allow another tragedy? Where were you when we needed you? If you didn’t do it, God; you didn’t stop it either. Hurricane Harvey, the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in many years devastated the Texas coast last week. God does not come off well at times like this…
Tsunami’s, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, fire, droughts, and floods. There is no shortage of natural disasters in the world today. With every disaster there will be those compelled to ask, where is God? While some wonder why God allows such tragedies, others claim they are proof that there is no God, or even that they are a result of man’s sinfulness. We all know what it is to feel pain. Whether from the loss of a loved one, diagnosis of a serious illness, or a natural disaster; everyone at some time experiences the agony and distress of physical, emotional or spiritual doubt. The presence of suffering is the one thing that most challenges our faith. Although it was decreed in scripture that “the LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire” - how do we reconcile tragedy with a “loving God?” Just as we become comfortable, at peace with ourselves and the world around, perhaps even a bit complacent, we are hit with questions once again. Does the occurrence of a devastating event mean that those who suffer from such catastrophes in some way deserve their suffering, as a sort of karma and consequence of bad actions? Is it really true that God loves all of us equally? There are still a lot of “feel-good” messages swirling around faith. You’ve heard the platitudes that people rely on to understand; ones like, “It’s all part of God’s plan” or “God never gives us more than we can endure.” Buddhist and Hindu texts make it clear that there are all kinds of occurrences take place with no cosmic explanation. To put it very simply: Stuff happens. And is neither caused by angry deities or retribution against deserving sinners.
It’s okay to be angry at God. To be without questions is not a sign of greater faith but possibly a lack of depth. In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel: “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.” Rather than trying to answer the debate of why, some theologians today say that the more important question for us is: “Where do we find God in suffering?” It is the law of nature that whatever has been created is sustained, and eventually destroyed. Only the Creator - God - remains steady and unchanging. The power that created the forces of nature through billions of years and accomplished so much is not a trivial power. The suffering of the people in Texas evokes compassion all over the world. God is present in that compassion - even where human compassion fails to reach. Maybe it takes an emergency to bring people together - maybe that’s the purpose. When disasters happen, God lures thousands of people to help those who are in trouble and bring comfort to those who suffer. If we want to find God in the midst of a disaster, the place to look is not in the act but in the response.
Where is the meaning? It is in this question that I recall Jesus’ cry at the time of his death, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” At some level perhaps these words were meant as a universal appeal on behalf of all humanity - from one who understands. “Why?” - not a request for a theological answer but a spiritual yearning. Jesus' cry, not one for help but rather a prayer for his people and all peoples that out of his darkness and ours might emerge love for one another. Life’s beauty lies in the widening of our hearts, finding ways to express our solidarity and compassion everyday.
August 29, 2017
Many of us work hard at non-attachment. Letting go is part of living mindful lives. Detachment offers comfort in life’s disappointments. Disassociation provides distance from difficult relationships and releases responsibility from worldly concerns. But there’s a risk in disengaging. While non-attachment is a beautiful and elevated quality that can bring peace and happiness into our lives, It can also lead to not seeing, not feeling...
Who cares! - An expression of disinterest, an off-hand statement declaring something to be of no consequence or importance. Who cares? Does anybody care - also asks an important question. The loneliness of feeling like one is worthless and that no one cares is one of the most painful emotions a human can experience. One of the most hurtful things we can do is give someone the “silent treatment.” We can cause more pain by simply ignoring another, acting as though they don’t exist, or looking right through them, than any other personal affront. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Indifference toward a particular group or ethnicity is an act of inhumanity. Feeling unwanted and unloved manifests itself physically, emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually. Not only does one feel misunderstood by people; but with it is the horrifying belief that no one even cares to understand.
Yet boundaries are crucial in personal relationships. Physical boundaries define who can touch us, how someone can touch us, and how physically close another may approach us. Emotional boundaries define where our feelings end and another's begins. For example, do we take responsibility for our feelings and needs, and allow others to do the same? Or do we feel overly responsible for the feelings and needs of others and neglect our own? Conscious loving takes hard work. It’s easy to be nice to the people whom we like. It’s easy to show kindness to those who show kindness to us. Look at the world around us: suspicion, violence everywhere, hatred everywhere, racism. Indifferent to the suffering of others, we become complicit in the crime. What do we feel in the heart when we are walking along the street and we see the homeless; those who feel separate, small, alone? We, too, are vulnerable in our own ways, and we, too, need help from others.
We are not powerless! With the same energy that we might use to detach from our troubled world we can access the spiritual energy that flows through all life and turn it to good! Remember Mister Rogers, the kind-hearted, gentle, soft-spoken writer and children’s television personality who encouraged all with his constant words, ”I love you just the way you are…” Mister Rogers recognized that one of the most important things we can do for our children, and for each other, is to encourage and show care through listening. Truly listening. “The world needs a sense of worth, he said, “ and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” Jesus gravitated to the sick, to the hungry, to the outcast, and to those at the margins of society. Welcoming the stranger and caring for the lonely is a tenet of Judeo/Christian teaching. Most of the world’s religions give guidance about how we should treat other people.
Non-attachment is often radically misunderstood. Concern doesn’t cease to exist as we learn to let go. Non-attachment actually brings about the most profound sense of care, compassion, and freedom we could ever imagine. The problems of this world begin to evoke compassion rather than anger. We feel naturally compelled to help, but we’re not attached to the outcome. We are able to allow life to unfold without needing to control everything. We don’t stop loving. We love even more. We can always make a difference, even if all we do is let people know they are not alone. Choosing to care is only the first step.
August 22, 2017
What’s your “religion?”
Fifty years ago, Time magazine asked in it’s famous headline, “Is God Dead?” People are still questioning and wondering whether God and religion are relevant to modern life. But the response isn’t limited to a simple yes or no.
It has been said that religion consists of God’s question and man’s answer. There are many religions in the world. Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, and countless more. Religions represent culture, belief systems, and worldviews that establish symbols and traditions which relate humanity to spirituality. One of the most fundamental needs we have is for a sense of identity in our relationship to the divine; that which many name God. For those who have lost their religion or never had one, finding a label or description for that relationship may or may not feel essential. Believing in a higher power might not even be important. People trust and rely on all sorts of truths and values. Some avow the scientific truth of global warming, while others don’t. Some accept the validity of evolution, while others do not. Some have faith and place confidence in a God or gods, while many continue to doubt and question. Organized religion has had a bad rap for several decades now. No doubt much organized religion is subject to many valid criticisms. You don’t usually think of churches as going out of business; but it is happening and the religiously unaffiliated (called "nones") are growing significantly. Do you hold a grudge against a God you think you cannot believe in, yet long for a spiritual presence? “Spiritual but not religious.” These words used frequently today appear to mean that many do experience Spirit but do not care to participate in churches, synagogues, or mosques.
What are most of us looking for? I came across a C.S Lewis quote this week that stopped me in my tracks: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." It seems that an existential relevance to one’s belief system should address the big questions of life, and thereby offer the light by which we might be guided: Where did we come from? (Origin) How should we live? (Ethics) What is the purpose for life? (Meaning) And I might add, Awe. How does mortal man arrive at Ultimate Truth? Many of us have spent a long time moving away from the version of faith we grew up with; the essential certitude, fundamental thinking no longer ringing true. And yet we yearn for a Power, a Majesty - Divine Certainty. Not primarily as a set of doctrinal claims, but as a lens, as a means of seeing… from which we seek our light source, our sun, the reality we can live into. It takes courage to say, "Yes, this reveals truth, but here lies truth also.” Or, “this is not authentic by my energy and longing.” Deep within, Spirit places a spirit hunger that we cannot escape.
Today, many do not look at the religious tradition of one's childhood as supplying all the answers to life’s questions, though many continue to provide basic values. If you’ve left religion behind, and are unsure what to call yourself - skeptic, agnostic, secularist, free-thinker - if none of these fit; keep looking. God's continuing creation is infinite with possibility; an exalted Mystery. Truth wears many names.
The one who walks in love - that is what I choose to follow: the eternal and universal Christ Consciousness of all devotion, in vision and action through a true beloving. “We do not have to discover the world of faith; we only have to recover it.” - Abraham Joshua Heschel
August 15, 2017
All the Light we cannot see
Next Monday the moon will pass directly between the sun and Earth, and all of North America will experience a total solar eclipse. In a matter of minutes, the natural will become supernatural. Day will shift to night, the temperature will drop and stars will glow in a rapidly darkened sky. Eclipses disturb our understanding of the natural order. Their mystery is timeless…
The ancients marvelled at the phenomena of the sun being swallowed in the heavens. To the Chinese, solar eclipses meant that dragons were devouring the sun. To Eastern Europeans it meant that ice giants, bitter enemies of the sun, were conquering it. To the Romans, an eclipse meant that the sun was poisoned and dying. Through the ages people have been drawn to the lights of the heavens - directing the way to meaning and wonder beyond human perception.
The majesty of the heavens - the cycling of the seasons, the rhythm of day and night inspire thinking that we simple cannot be looking at some meaningless accident. Thought to be unpredictable events, today physicists know eclipses follow set patterns and can be calculated in advance. The sun is not extinguished during an eclipse, nor does it move away; it is merely concealed. This is true of man’s desire to know God as well. Science wants to know the mechanism of the universe, religion the meaning. In his writing on theology and philosophy, 17th-century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, made this observation regarding faith: “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.” Reality doesn’t encompass only that which we can see and touch. We can’t see Spirit. We can’t see God.
The narrative of creation begins with darkness. On the first day of creation, God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), and light appeared as a thing separate from darkness. Though scripture proclaims, “God is light and in God there is no darkness,” (John 1:5) - why does God remain hidden? Why doesn’t the Great Unknown do everything out in the open for all to see? Theologians have spent countless hours thinking through the problem of the hiddenness of God. We cannot comprehend, much less explain our world and what God is doing in it. As in Anthony Doerr’s best-selling World War II novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” the metaphor of light has layers of meaning. Scientifically speaking, there is indeed much light we simply cannot see. This is true theologically as well. Perhaps Spirit hides because it will not be found where humans want to find it. The Divine is to be met in the depths of the darkness as well as the light; allowing its gifts to work in us. We spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility. Holy Evidence is everywhere. Understanding the physics of the universe steals none of the wonder when we are receptive to all that exists... with awe, inner devotion and reverence combined with a yearning for knowledge. Next week's’ eclipse is an opportunity to view the the most awesome sight of the sun…and the Mystery of Creation in a beautiful and startling new light.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” - Ecclesiastes 3:11
August 8, 2017
In a world supposedly governed by ruthless survival of the fittest, why do we see acts of goodness in both animals and humans? Where does kindness come from? What’s behind the choice to help another human being? Are we motivated by sheer, unadulterated benevolence - or hoping for a favor in return?
What moves people to engage in what psychologists call "prosocial behavior" - things like making charitable contributions, buying gifts, volunteering one's time, and so forth. Why ARE some people simply nicer than others? Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself - or so the saying goes. But, while most have heard the old adage, some people appear more inclined to live their life according to this view than others. The mystery of altruism has plagued scientists since Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution through natural selection in the 1850’s. His premise suggests that all behavior is motivated by selfishness and that people can have good traits or do good deeds - but goodness is just not in our character. We know simply obeying the law doesn’t bring goodness to life within us. So, is it a fear of karma or some other driving force…?
St. Augustine summarized the argument in two great questions: “If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?” To many, only the second question is relevant. But the first is just as important. If a good God doesn’t exist, what is goodness’ source? Classic literary texts demonstrate that humanity once shared the perspective that the world in which we live was governed by a cosmic piety. For the Greeks, there was a profound sense that one was truly human only to the extent that one lived in a harmonious relationship with the cosmos. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty were distinct yet interrelated manifestations of a Divine Reality. Kindness is valued by all religious traditions. It is a virtue that is the foundation of Jewish teaching called tikkun olam - which means the repairing of the world. Kindness is not just being nice. Kindness is not just being sweet. Kindness goes way beyond that. Jesus talked about kindness; not just in terms of random acts, but in very difficult circumstances. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, “You’ve heard it declared, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” In the old testament, the first chapter of Genesis states “Let There be light,” and there was light “and God saw that the light was good” and similarly all that was created after that was good; for if all that was created was good, then all that exists should be good. We might say that cosmic energy is the blueprint of the Creator - it is good and its goodness created all that was created. For many, long forgotten biblical statements are but phrases from an unfamiliar language - God is love, for God so loved the world, love your neighbor… words foreign to many. Even for those of us who continue to hold dear - these words of old - to what degree do they resonate in our actions and lives? How do they tally up with how we live and love today? Author, Saul Bellow, wrote “Goodness is achieved not in a vacuum, but in the company of other men, attended by love.” Beautiful people do not just happen. I like to think our goodness is an overflow of God’s love and goodness to us.
“Kindness is my religion.” - Dalai Lama
August 1, 2017
God only knows!
God only knows! Plenty of people use this phrase without reverence or irony. Like much language, it's a term that has universal currency. “God only knows.” Are these simple words, uttered daily, an admission of defeat or a statement of faith? An alignment with the mystery of the great Unknown or expression of doubt?
God only knows where I’ve left my phone, where my keys are, how this football game will end… For skeptics and nonbelievers, the literal intended meaning a cynical, “nobody knows.” One might say only God knows in reference to some mystery only an all-wise, all-seeing being would understand. Or, it might be a statement that does not necessarily imply that God is all-knowing, but merely emphasizes the truth of the statement it accompanies. it’s sometimes impossible to tell if the one saying it is serious or joking. The omniscience of God is the principle that God is all-knowing; that Spirit encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. In the beginning, God created the world and everything in it, including knowledge. For the believer, it would be irreverent to suggest that Spirit (which comprehends everything) does not know. The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate designer who not only created the universe, but sustains it today.
We’re told the human brain processes more than a million messages a second; weighing the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. There is an intelligence to it: the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action. All of life is a mathematical mystery with the laws of nature orderly, reliable, unchanging. The universe as a whole is a seamless web of interconnected events, none of which can be completely separated from the others. Everything is connected to everything else and contained in everything else. As Buddhists put it; the universe is a network of inter-being. The goal of the spiritual path is not to always seek after the extraordinary. It is to see God, the Sacred, the All, (whatever your term of choice for what and who transcends) illuminating even every blade of grass and in the smile of every newborn.
“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.” These are the words of Neil Armstrong, first man to step on the moon. “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” wrote Lao Tzu, two-and-a-half thousand years ago. “The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.” Once we name something we begin "seeing" through our own filters, paradigms, perceptions and expectations. The three little words, I don’t know, might be man’s greatest contribution to learning and appreciation of the Mystery of God. The more we wonder, the more we love. Human consciousness is plenty big enough to accommodate both science and a sense of the holy. Human cultures have always had a DIVINE WHY for us to consider. Many people are not very philosophical. Their wisdom comes with experience, not detached intellectual reflection. Would any of us really choose to inhabit a world so small that we could comprehend the magnificence of the Divine? Understand fully the meaning behind Creation? What is required to recognize God all around us? Perhaps it is simply an open heart. Scientists are convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light, The Universe flashed into being, and the best of minds still cannot find out what caused that to happen, but - GOD KNOWS!
July 25, 2017
Try it on
Can you picture yourself praying to a Saint? Or having an image of a saint on your wall? Who are these luminaries of the religious world? Fact or fiction, we have been blessed by the guidance of these divine Avatars. And they all started out as real life, flesh and blood humans like ourselves…
Do we still need Saints? Who were these holy predecessors? The faces that grace the windows of cathedrals and churches, engaging our imagination? We all know the works of Mother Teresa, the popular nun who dedicated her life to divine charity And St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of animals, who taught us to to love all creatures great and small. Joan of the Cross started hospices and hospitals. But what really put her on the road to sainthood was her personal caring of the elderly, the sick and the needy. St. Peter the fisherman; an impetuous and unstoppable disciple, gained sainthood for his steadfast loyalty and leadership. St Elizabeth was known as the Peacemaker. Alleged prostitute, Mary Magdalene, billed as a notorious sinner, was later canonized for her love! There has always been a diverse group of personalities at the table of the Lord. None of these saints were perfect. They are Saints because somehow God’s love came through them.
So, the question is not, “Do we still need Saints?” The question is, What lessons can we learn from the Saints whom God gives us? From those men and women who did the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Agreeing that Saintly canonization is still weighed too heavily toward religious celebrities, Pope Francis declared “We need saints today to live in the world, to sanctify the world. … we need saints who wear jeans and sneakers. We need saints who go to the movies, listen to music, and hang out with their friends. We need modern saints, Saints of the 21st century with a spirituality that is part of our time.” We need Saints because we never grow out of our need for decency and mutual respect. We need Saints because we depend upon people to help and care for each other. We need Saints to inspire and offer examples to us of ways we can realize our best selves. These are the ones who challenge and encourage, cheer on those in need of hope, strength and love. The world is troubling. Many lead lives of meaningless existence. According to singer/ songwriter Paul Simon, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.” It’s easy to be captured by the vision of good, and sainthood today; but frustrating when we look at our own lives and imagine how we might practice it. Author and activist Wendell Berry, wrote, In order to be good, you have to know how… and this knowing is vast, complex, humble and humbling; it is not of the mind and of the hands, of either alone.” It is love that will ultimately move us toward being good and therefore doing good.
The great sages of all our wisdom traditions teach that one person is equivalent to an entire world. Every human being, regardless of time and place and personal status, has the fullest capacity to rise and attain the highest degree of fulfillment, and accomplish the same for creation as a whole. We need the Saints of old to keep reminding us who we are. A life well lived does not come automatically to any of us. We need a St. Francis to embrace a leper, and the modern day CNN hero to show us that we can’t turn our backs on AIDS victims, the poor, the needy. As Bonnie Raitt sang, ”Make me an angel…Just give me one thing that I can hold on to to believe in this livin...' We all wish to live meaningful lives. What are you doing in this world? Want to try on a little sainthood?
“To be Saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.”
- Pope Francis
July 18, 2017
Have you ever really been truly thirsty? Probably none of us have been without water to the point of serious dehydration and known the real pain of craving for water. A word loaded with figurative meaning is the word, “thirst.”
We all felt a sense of relief as last week's rains touched the parched earth of our valley; Precious rain drops fell emitting the long awaited fresh sweet smell to our noses. Green shoots of life emerged, wildflowers have bloomed, and the berries so needed by bears and birds alike are ripening at last. Without water, life would not exist on the planet. All living things rely on water - without it we die. Globally, there are increasing pressures on water supply with massive droughts and growing population demands. People have survived without food for weeks, even months. But to go without water for just one day can put us in dire danger. Yet, there are other thirsts that are deep and less obvious than our thirst for water. Some of us thirst for acceptance, for intimacy; for forgiveness or reconciliation. Some thirst for peace from emotional overload, relief from pain; for justice and wrongs to be made right. Some know they thirst, but are not quite sure for what. Some thirst for God.
To what degree do we acknowledge the reality of the barrenness of life and the desire to find real satisfaction for the soul. Does longing transform us so that we might change our values, priorities, and pursuits - or does it simply drive us to look for human strategies centered on fleeting and passing gurus and fantasy? In the midst of a great coldness towards God and religion, many cannot recognize properties of a living water; water that can be life-giving, thirst quenching, refreshing and full of opportunity… spiritual water that offers cleansing, clearing; a washing or rinsing away of that which does not serve or may hold us back. This is the real living water of Divine Spirit.
We are all thirsty people - yearning to be known and heard and understood. “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astounding Light of Your Own Being… a precious body of living water offered to the Earth from Light’s own hands.” - words written by the 14th century Sufi poet, Hafiz. Writing, of this deepest thirst, the ancient psalmist, David, too, knew of the longing for Creation’s love; “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.” Offering meaning to life when everything else has failed, Jesus said: “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again…” What was he offering?
My soul thirsts for God, a living water that will permanently satisfy, that is lasting and real. Each Communion Sunday, in eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, may we be reminded that only Spirit alone can quench the thirst of our souls. What do you want in life? What are you seeking? What are you thirsting after? Have you been drinking from the wrong sources? This simple desire for Truth is already the beginning of faith and falling in love with God.
July 11, 2017
Is it possible to love someone and not enjoy them? What about to enjoy and not love? What about God? I don’t think most of us can wrap our minds around enjoying God…
In the Biblical account of Creation, God made the earth and the heavens. He planted a garden and all kinds of trees; pleasing to the eye and good for food. Rivers flowed, and he put birds in the sky, gold and valuable minerals in the earth. According to Genesis, after creating Adam, God did not say you must worship me like this or serve me like that; he said, Adam, enjoy me. I am the Tree of Life. My only desire is for you to enjoy me. When has knowing God become so hard? God has no intention for us to do anything for him. This is man’s idea. “I have come that men might have life and have it abundantly...” (John 10:10) Unable to comprehend the beauty of Divine Love, many take God too seriously, seeing relationship with Spirit as something to be endured, even a burden, rather than a gift to relish. While trying to make contact through prayer and meditation, many continue to have the idea that they should worship in some pious way instead of celebrating God. Constantly striving to intellectually understand, endlessly searching for truth, trying to figure it all out. Approaching God with a calculating mind there is no window for joy. To make this journey we must be light, happy, free… let go of habitual negative attitudes that only weigh us down. There is an outrageous Hafiz poem about how the Divine wants to “Hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out of us,” - freeing us of false thinking of what God is or is not. Joy is central to connecting to God. Where there is joy, Divine Presence can enter.
“...Enchantment, transfiguration of the ordinary to the extraordinary, the invocation of fantasy, mystery, alchemy, and the richer meaning of transformational powers.” I smile in reading words found in the opening pages of this year’s Aspen Music Festival Program. Colorfully describing this season’s musical theme - inspiring thinking about the magical joy of composition, they sound to me much like the experience of God! With mystery - enchantment - suspense - intrigue - love - adventure; enjoying God is one of the biggest blessings of our lives. Reading like the greatest story ever told! Sounding like the greatest piece of music ever written! And when we also come to see God in the ordinary, we will begin to trust God also in the extraordinary. If we can see beauty in the mundane, if we can begin our day with happiness in spite of our world’s failures, we can feel like we belong on this planet, our faith affirmed and feelings of gratitude will emerge. Just let God love you, along with the confusion, along with the questions. And, the time will come - almost without knowing it - you will find yourself able to love back.
" 'Enjoy Me.' Just these two words He spoke changed my life." - Saint Teresa of Avila
July 3, 2017
Proof or Freedom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” It was this sense of our sacred foundation in Creation, which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence. True freedom is always Of the Spirit…
Both freedom from religious dogma as well as the right to think and believe without constraint, render the means for self-determination and the exciting adventure of the human spiritual quest. We are free to search the terrain of our hearts and minds, and discover the personal meanings that guide and light our spiritual way. In spite of this country’s celebration of the Constitutional Right of freedom of religion, the intention of the country’s founding fathers has tended to get lost. Many continue to carry a small and confined view of God; their experience of the Divine static and predictable. Many remain victims of someone else’s limited vision of God, handicapping their thinking with distorted and limited perceptions and prejudices.
“The highest and greatest of the human freedoms is to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This concept of physical and spiritual freedom grew from Viktor Frankl’s accounts in his powerful writing, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” With the notion that freedom is the ultimate achievement, Frankl recounted how some men triumphed emotionally and spiritually over the most horrific circumstances: Auschwitz. His writing speaks, as well, to man’s ability to choose how one reacts in all circumstances - as in racial prejudice and economic bondage. Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual, religious pluralism, a melting pot of ideals and beliefs. No chapel, no church, no government, no pastor nor priest or dictator, can tell us how we relate to God. Spiritual freedom allows us to be our own priests, each journeying to reach the Divine through our own realities of life, each discovering home to the Holy Spirit and to the Christ within. How big is your God? It will depend on how big and infinite a God we allow ourselves to experience and come to know. God becomes bigger as we do. We do not have to abandon the place of childhood faith and religious tradition in order to move on in one’s thinking. God has offered guidance, inspiration and direction through the great teachers, not rules “...not to worship Jesus, but to worship what Jesus worshipped”; not to worship Moses or Mohammed, but to worship what they worshipped; not to worship Buddha or Lao Tsu, but worship all they worshipped.”
All religions come from God’s one voice. Spiritual freedom transcends images of a God beyond names…. In the words of former Yale University Chaplain and peace activist, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and as example of open-minded thinking - “It is a mistake to look to the Bible to close a discussion; the Bible seeks to open one.” The only thing important is what God says to us. The only challenge is within ourselves.
June 27, 2017
June; it’s the most popular month for weddings. Those choosing married life are probably still incorporating the words forever into their marriage vows. While the imagery and words being used by couples today is limited only by the imagination, the concept of forever is still impossible for our brains to grasp...
Nothing lasts forever - except, just maybe, the cost of mailing a letter. Remember a decade ago when postal officials pitched the idea of creating a “forever stamp,” forever good for sending first-class mail, as long as you don’t run out of stamps? Or, until the decision is made to raise the rate and a new forever is established. Though the concept of “forever” is outside everyday experience; some of us still use the phrase a lot. Perhaps our sense of “foreverness” is really the human desire to continue to evolve and remain dominant; at the top of the food chain and of our environment, space, atmosphere. Sure, when something is right, when it feels amazing, why wouldn't we want it to last forever? In human terms reasonable forevers have meaning just in our lifetimes. Yet still there is a part of us that believes there is something “out beyond” - a realm we cannot directly access. Infinity, too, is an impossible concept for humans to grasp. After we go beyond billions and trillions, most of us stop trying to process what those kind of numbers mean. Stars, galaxies, atoms, even our sun won’t last “forever,” according to scientists. All have expiration dates. But, if time and the universe are not infinite, what is outside of them?
With humility, I view the great cosmic mystery - the expanding universe and conflicts between theories, always believing that everything is and always has been filled with the spirit of the Divine. It is unthinkable to me that we could have never been conceived as anything beyond chunks of animated or motionless matter; an accidental conglomeration of molecules. How many remember the first breathtaking images sent from the Hubble telescope witnessing then and still today, the hand of God at work on a scale that is inconceivable? Today we read of the possibility of multiple Big Bangs. Does a multiverse, with infinite number of parallel universes undermine God? Or enhance God? God is timeless and eternal because God created time, infinite light and love. To be infinite means to be unlimited. If an infinite God exists, then God’s infinity will be expressed powerfully and give new and greater meaning through our growing understanding of science. Many atheists and people do not like the idea of an all powerful, all knowing, ever-present God. Yet they still want to believe that everything that exists has a cause. The tree had a beginning; it had a cause. An asteroid had a beginning; it had a cause, and so on. Think of the flower, of the internal detail within. Think of the rock, how long it has been around. Think of life, how amazing it is to be alive, to be human, created out of the dust of stars and brought to life by the Creator’s breath. The Bible says, “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” Are there any limits to what God knows? Is there anything that God does not know?
There is a physical realm and a spiritual realm. The physical realm is finite. The spiritual realm is infinite. Together, integrating a scientific understanding of the universe with Divine Love. In the words of Kahlil Gibran: “I existed from all eternity, and behold, I am here, and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end.”
June 20, 2017
Somewhere around the age of two or three, most kids learn a word that becomes one of their favorites. Mine. Many things in our lives matter intensely to us; but those are what we must be careful to “hold lightly”....
More money than we can spend. More food than we can eat. More clothes than we can wear. More cars than we can drive. More TV’s than we can watch... these are all wonderful problems to have; to have so much of everything that we need for nothing at all. Gathering material things we naturally have a vested interest in maintaining them; grasping, clinging. There are also many things that keep us from taking ourselves lightly. We hang on to anger or hurt. We refuse to forgive. We burden ourselves in wanting - wanting both to get what’s pleasant and to avoid what’s unpleasant is a major source of suffering.
How often do we hear words of advice about “letting go”...”living in the moment.” Impermanence is not just of philosophical interest. It's very personal. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our treasure is what we love. From my thinking, this is one of Jesus’ most inciteful teachings. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure. The things we hold dear, the things we consider essential to our happiness, survival, and security; they are our treasures. Our treasures determine our priorities. They reveal our true ambitions, our attractions, and our affections. How hard we try to hold on. We all have so much fear: fear of losing, fear of change, the inability to shift our deep-seated habitual tendency to hang on to things on our own terms. We worry too much about things over which we have no control. Non-attachment releases something very profound inside us, because it releases that level of fear. Only when we accept and deeply understand in our very being that things change from moment to moment, only then can we let go. Holding things lightly involves a mental shift and a ‘reframing’ of how we are perceiving that which seems to be weighing us down. When we stop holding on to all we think we know, then we start to enter a different state of being. We start to move into a different dimension. We grow. Spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, pointed out “Letting go is not for the weak hearted.” In most cases people let go only when they reach a point in their life when their mind runs out of all the strategies for hanging on. Or, when it hurts so bad, because they are holding on so tight.
We do not know what will happen tomorrow. We are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes; like fast flying geese overhead, the hummingbird perched above the flower then is gone, the butterfly that snaps her wings open... and floats away. We too are part of the web and pattern of life, the mysterious and fleeting cosmic dance. Holding loosely doesn’t mean viewing lightly. What if we could offer our lives as gifts, given so lightly that we bring courage and comfort to others, without need of being accepted in one way or another and without any certain outcome?
Every day, the world is created anew, something from nothing, as are we. Is life most uncertain? We know it is; no one attempts to deny it. It is certain that life will come to an end. My reality is but a glimmer of the Higher Reality and fragile beauty God places in my life. Bowing in humility, I offer gratefulness, vowing my desire to bless the world and hold all lives all things in tenderness. We are not condemned for working hard and being successful. The problem is not our outward success. The problem is in our hearts.
June 13, 2017
God in my Pocket
How often do you snap a photo with your phone? Everywhere I turn people are talking on their phones or taking pictures. I take them pretty frequently. Capturing an image is more for me than just creating a pretty picture or documenting a moment; it’s those things for sure. But it’s deeper. It’s a form of holding space, encountering the sacred. Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed and start clicking away...
I think I fell in love with taking pictures when I was eight years old and my parents gave me my first camera. I snapped photos of my family and friends and the neighbor’s dog. I traipsed through the fields near my house photographing wild blackberries and bugs. I didn’t know it, but I was beginning to see God. I wonder, did I appreciate then, the gift of creation in the butterfly I photographed? Did I see the beauty in it’s delicate wings? Or, only later; after picking up the developed pictures at the drugstore with my hard earned allowance and proudly pasting them in my scrapbook? When did I see in my childlike way, images of God’s love as my developing passion for nature grew? It is no wonder why we have evolved with such a close affinity to what is beautiful in this world, or to make things beautiful.
While the digital culture presents new challenges to society, it also offers fresh language that stimulates reflection for greater awareness. Our seeing - powered by emotion - reminding that every story, every subject contains multiple truths and complexity. I don’t think of the cell phone pictures I click as photography in the sense that I focus, adjust the lenses, check the settings. For me they are more a reaction, simply a celebration of God’s presence in the world, a tool for deeper vision and contemplative seeing. Sometimes my images inspire new reflections, new prayers...like seeing for the first time, beauty in the crack in a sidewalk, or the divine design of a rose curled like a seashell. And sometimes my reflections are just fun. Overcome by the purple cauliflower in the market, I snap a picture! Photography heightens our love affair with beauty, stillness, perspective and creativity. When we have a camera in hand we notice details; we have an eye out for something interesting. Photographs are intrinsically linked to life and to human presence; just as all of life is seen through a lens, the lens of personal experience, personal preference, culture and background, education and consciousness.
There’s such beauty in things the world might easily discard, we only need to focus and be open to hidden treasures all around. To let our “heart intelligence” guide us…and to witness Creation’s invisible qualities, eternal power and divine nature. Like many artists or writers, I don’t know what I know until I start writing. The very process of writing becomes the process of personal revelation. The same might be true of those photos we snap. It’s a way to see and express what’s in our hearts, to recall and experience all over again, intimate moments. Photographs point to different moods that we might feel: peace, loneliness, hope, happiness, affection, fear. Prayer is wireless communication between beings visible and invisible, tangible and intangible - I’ve never questioned how prayer works... So the electromagnetic waves created by God and harnessed by man enable touches of “transcendence with technology! Why not! Wireless connection - what a timely metaphor for communication with God and way to view creation with a glimpse through God’s seeing.
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we capture mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake.”
June 6th 2017
IS IT LOVE or is it NOT?
What would be your response if someone asked, "Do you love God?" We're told that God is unknowable; but also told to love God. Spirit is like a magnet - drawing us. Do we love or simply love the idea of loving…?
God created man with two basic needs: to be loved and the need to love. Don’t we all want to know love; to be overwhelmed by that greater than oneself? To recognize mystery…to be overcome with awe? When Jesus talked about the greatest commandment he quoted from the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, saying we are to “love God with all our heart with all our soul and with all our might.” Later, these words, too, became the major tenet of the Christian faith. How is God to be loved? Could we love unless God first loved us?
Love requires action. What we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are and who we will become. “Why do I mean so much to you, that you should command me to love you? And if I fail to love you, you are angry and threaten me with great sorrow, as if not to love you were not sorrow enough in itself.” These words quoted from St. Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions speak to the nature of our longing for spirit, as it is part of divine nature to long for us.
There is but one God: and it’s name is the Source, the Light, Allah, Father, the Tao, Life, Divine Intelligence - anything loving that we like. Love is expressed in every culture and found in all the wisdoms of the world. God’s divinity infuses each of us with sacred consciousness enabling joyfulness, revelation of meaning and purpose, and freedom from fear, when we are open and seeking. We do not need to run away from this world to join a higher one. If the entire universe is consciousness, and this consciousness is love; we can be in alignment or out of step with it. We can spend our lives in the wilderness far from humanity, focusing our minds on the higher realms in attempt to become enlightened beings. Or we can stay right here - fusing our most lofty spiritual heights with our most mundane physicality. “God is love. Only through loving can we reach love.” These words of Pope Francis remind that love is what we are here to do. The concept is not only radical but powerful: It means I can be myself, living a “down to earth” existence, and yet fulfilling a transcendental goal. The greatest command of God is to love him. To love him is to have delight in him. To have delight in him is to have the very thing we’ve been looking for our whole lives. Such comfort offered. Such a space created. An invitation graciously proposed to us - to come, to rest, to be still, to: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). To not love God is to be ever pursuing joy in what can never give it. God could have demanded anything at all of us, but he first commands this: Delight in me! Love!
May 30, 2017
Everything is God
All things are from God...so the challenge: How do we represent divinity in words, in stories, in images? “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that” wrote Joseph Campbell. All of our knowledge is in some fashion metaphorical. Most need a way to think about God that supports a God that is real...
When we hear the word “metaphor,” we think of a figure of speech containing implied comparisons. Metaphors symbolically describe deeper realities and enhance our understanding of the truth they define. God as Father, light, love; God as endless Creativity of the Universe, bring meaning into our lives - not just spiritual validity, but meaning itself. Yet no matter how intellectually sophisticated and heartfelt these perceptions might be, it’s fair to say that our understanding of God is inadequate. Without metaphors we would have no way of talking about or even thinking about Spirit or the abstractions of love, beauty, suffering or joy. Metaphors carry meaning, and we need them. The nature lover will find God in one metaphor - the artist or musician in another. Renowned architect, Mies van der Rohe offered his famous quote, “God is in the details.”
“Everything is God” was a daring and philosophically explosive idea presented by Dutch philosopher, Spinoza in the 17th century. Laying the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment, it was also Einstein’s view - the belief in a God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists. The task for those of us today who want and need a spiritual language is to build on the metaphors and images we’ve inherited, while also creating new ones that speak to our own experience and understanding of the Divine. “The Lord is my shephard, I shall not want” is a commonly referred to metaphor from one of the most famous passages in the Bible. God is compared to a shepherd, someone whose duty it is to look after and care for his sheep. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” In this metaphor, Jesus compares himself to bread. The bread of life is a symbolic idea that Jesus offers eternal fulfillment, as bread sustains our bodies. Both science and religion, in different ways, use conceptual metaphors as means of exploring the universe and making sense of it. Today we draw on new understanding of our physical reality, from quantum mechanics to astrophysics to the insights of neuroscience. “We are stardust, traceable to the crucibles of stars ...the universe is in us. I don't know of any deeper spiritual feeling than what that brings upon me” wrote astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. In the three major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is described as omnipresent, infinite, eternal, transcendent, omnipotent, mysterious. If we dare to let God be real in this universe we may feel the intimacy that real presence allows. Perhaps we need look no further than what is in front of our eyes. We never know where we just might happen upon God; perhaps it will be someplace we’ve looked a thousand times before. What are your personal, poetic, metaphorical ways for understanding the Divine, those which call you into being?
May 23, 2017
There are so many voices we listen to every day. What drives you to express yourself? Although we live in an age where “speaking one’s mind” is considered a virtue and hailed as a sign of strength, confidence and intelligence, many still remain silent...
Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life" - they have power. We too, have "voice," "words," "power," and "spirit" linked in a process that affect our lives. But often, the joy and passion that once started us on our journeys becomes covered over by fear and perfectionism, self-criticism and concerns about the judgement of others. Our God given voices are not always popular. Some stay silent because their views have been ignored. Others are unsure of their thoughts or unknowing of how to begin. Often It can be easier to simply look the other way, keep silent.
We all see the world differently, as well as ourselves in it. We use and listen to language accordingly, often unconsciously. In the absence of speaking what we really want to say, we have often spoken what others want or expect us to say rather than what we need to share. “Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.” This line from Shakespeare’s King Lear slices through my heart. How much time have I spent throughout my life determining what I thought I ought to say to keep others happy? What if all that junk in our heads came out? We were taught since young there are rules in conversation, things that can be said and things that should remain hidden or reserved. You know that feeling when you just have to tell the truth or you will burst?
Whatever the voice, loud or quiet, gentle or strong, academic or practical, our voices are mirrors of our being. Getting to know one’s voice is a journey into the unknown from which we each possess a wealth of dreams, truths, wisdom and purpose. My physical voice is soft and quiet; in many ways my writing voice is as well. I try hard to write words worthy of sharing. My writing is my meditation. My expression is part of my personal search, uncovering God’s presence slowly, layer by layer. There are times though, when I wish I wasn’t that way. I want to sound strong and certain, and make my voice heard. I want to stand up and speak my mind and say “This is the truth. Listen to me!” Most of us know that when we think positively, our words and lives begin to reflect those thoughts. When we speak negatively, those words too impact our state of mind and wellbeing. I love all the neuroscience that tells us that what we practice, we become. Even our questions inspire, inform, stimulate, challenge.
We store hundreds, literally thousands of thoughts and opinions in our memory vaults, ready to be accessed. What are the words that God intends for us to remember? To share? The great American writer, Pearl S. Buck wrote: “Once the ‘what’ is decided, the ‘how’ always follows. We must not make the ‘how’ an excuse for not facing and accepting the ‘what’.” God gives each of us a unique voice; we simply need to speak with the voice that is ours alone. Be a voice in your family, in your community, on behalf of children, the elderly, the compromised. Activating our human energy into our conscious voice we are able to give ourselves away in creative compassion, encouragement, love. Through our voices we can urge our leaders to take vital action to implement solutions; voices that say we must stop injustice now. We must speak for those who won’t. We must speak for those who can’t. In a very real sense, we must never stop finding our voice. What do you want to say? What voice has God given you?
May 16, 2016
Prayers with Wings
Spirit is always present. The question is, how present are we? How do we avoid just going through the motions in our spiritual practice? In all forms of worship, intention occupies special importance.
There are challenges in approaching the Infinite. Some believe God is even beyond their reach. In wondering how to avoid simply “going through the motions” in their spiritual practice, the ancient rabbis came up with a concept known as “Kavanah.” Kavanah offers a compass with which to steer the mind and align inner thought; literally in Hebrew meaning, "intention,” or “direction of the heart". Persons possessing kavanah focus their entire being on prayer - aware with intention of God’s presence all around them.
Spirit is interpreted through the individual lenses we develop over time. And so we debate, share, agree and disagree about how to approach and interpret meaning where mystery alludes. The awareness of this void encourages us to search, bringing forth the heart of intention. This is the purpose of meditation and prayer - to be the bridge from wisdom to action, from obligation to inspiration, from belief to wonder, from a theology of the mind carrying content of belief, to the actual act of believing. Intention enables a perspective that surpasses the field of intellect’s vision.
Many faith traditions have laws that dictate how to pray, when to pray, what to pray. There are fixed times, fixed ways, fixed texts. Contemporary culture tends to disdain rote prayer; feeling that memorized prayer runs the risk of becoming mere repetition - hollow, empty of meaning. Prayer often seems less a vehicle of inspiration and more a chore to be dispensed with as quickly as possible. An old story tells of a wise man coming to a synagogue and turning back at the door, unable to enter. “Too many prayers inside,” he said. “But Master,” asked his disciples, “surely a room full of prayer is a good thing?” “But all the prayers are stuck there in the building,” he answered. “None of them are going up to Heaven.” Prayer and meditation without kavanah are like a body without a soul.
Prayer is a two way conversation with Spirit. It's listening and speaking, (and listening some more). In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Prayer is not service of the lips; it is worship of the heart.” Just as with any relationship, it takes two. If we are constantly talking and not listening, we don't receive the blessing of feeling God’s presence and the whisper of gentle reminders of love and grace. If we never talk to Him, then how are we growing? Prayer is the outpouring of our hearts and the receiving of the gift of His guidance and spirit. “I set God before me always.” (Psalm 16:8) is one of the great remembrances from scripture that opens the door to kavanah. There is no right or wrong way to pray. Intentionality doesn’t work against authenticity. Many prefer the intimacy of spontaneous, unrehearsed communication. A sequence of words or syllables chanted in a Buddhist mantra are used as a form of meditation for many. For others, ancient scripture like the Lord's Prayer might be seen as a template, a framework for how one’s own prayers might be guided. Whatever wisdom we learn, whatever we know, we are the ones who must do something with it to make it real.
May 2, 2017
What’s your story?
Human connection is one of the most powerful forces available to us. We all thirst for it,
and the thirst is deep. When I find real human connection, it nourishes my soul, changes me...
The definition of “friendship” has taken some hits in recent years. After all, we live in a world where social media allows us to “friend” or “unfriend someone with a single click. We live in a society that worships independence, yet deeply fears alienation. Most of us want both closeness and independence; intimacy and autonomy. The person as a self-determined individual is a myth. We are interdependent creatures. Everything in life begins with connection. In each moment, we are choosing to join or separate - to connect or disconnect - and the person to whom we are speaking feels what we have chosen regardless of our words.
To be a friend involves risk. Friends confront each other when it’s needed, but they do it out of love and with compassion. All of us need a friend who will tell us when we are acting out of line, when we are stubborn or short-sided. Friends are there for us in the struggles - rooting us on, maybe teasing us a bit - helping us get past the difficulties and eventually encouraging us to find the gift embedded in them. “Friendship is born at that moment, says C.S. Lewis, when one man says to another: What! You too! I thought that no one but myself…” True friendship moves past small talk and surface answers to nurture of another’s soul. God did not create us to do life alone. He put us in community. There is a Zulu word Ubuntu that says: “my humanity is tied to yours.” The spirit of Ubuntu speaks to the belief that one cannot exist as a human being in isolation, “a person is a person through other people.” It speaks about interconnectedness and has its roots in humanist African philosophy, where the idea of community is one of the building blocks of society. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as “the essence of being human.” A person with Ubuntu is open, available and affirming. He or she does not feel threatened that others are able, good, and successful, for one is self-assured, knowing he or she belongs to a greater whole where all are diminished if even one among them is humiliated or devalued.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” This quote by poet, Maya Angelou, sums it up. People want to feel like we really care, like we’ve got their back, like we want to help them. Building a strong connection begins with accepting and valuing all the unique gifts that we each bring to the world - and believing that we are meant to share them.
We pass so many people on a daily basis; yet how many do we actually take the time to greet, to acknowledge? Such a simple action, looking someone in the eyes and affirming their presence, is an act of Ubuntu. Imagine the limitless ways that we could connect and relate to one another if we just took the moment to ask the person next to us - what’s your story? In doing so we will find that those we think to be strangers are actually not strangers at all.
April 25, 2017
A Theology for the Earth
It is common today to hear the expressions “saving the environment,” “sustaining the earth,” “healing and preserving the planet.” With raised consciousness about the wrongs against creation and the ecological needs of our planet, what is our commitment? One thing we do know, cosmic awe is not enough.
In observing Earth Day each year, we celebrate the wonders of this planet and consider it’s fate. Gus Speth, environmental lawyer, advocate and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, speaking before the Aspen Institute said: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy - and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation - and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow’s fears are with us today. We are confronted with the urgency of now. We do not have to agree on the validity of climate change in order to act. Factual consensus is not necessary to compel us to do the right thing. While we gaze at the heavens with infinite wonder, explore the vast oceans and delight in plant and animal life; for many today, curiosity and protection is reserved for science and technology. In contrast, civilizations of old gazed upon the earth feeling true awe and mystery. Out of the invisible (and visible) grew the conceptions of the soul and the germ of religious consciousness and respect. Spiritual Ecology recognizes the sacred nature of all of creation. Why do we separate the scientific - just a way of searching for truth - from what we hold sacred? Which are those truths that inspire love and awe; those truths that ultimately will save, sustain, preserve and conserve that which is precious? Ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected because deep ecological awareness, ultimately is, spiritual awareness. We are indeed creatures of Earth; born of its elements and connected will all our kin on Earth to its center. We all have a common biological origin, a common parent. When we see every bush as burning with the possibility of an encounter with the divine; when we see all ground as holy ground - it changes how we live. The intelligence that evolved us from stardust and interconnects us with all beings is sufficient for the healing of our Earth community, if we but align with that purpose.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...” Gratitude and reverence open us to intimacy, intensity, and immensity of the holiness of the Earth, the beauty of life, and the complexity of the web that holds us in it’s care. God’s sovereignty drives concern for all of God’s creation; caring for the earth is a spiritual imperative. If we are made in God’s image, Divine Oneness and guardianship will be visible through us in every action, as if in the offering of a prayer.
April 18, 2017
It’s probably fair to say that every believer has an unbeliever inside; and many so-called unbelievers also have a believer inside of them. Could it be the real difference between faith and atheism is patience?
The struggle of belief runs through the heart of every human being. “Faith is so rare, wrote Richard Rohr - and religion so common, because no one wants to live between first base and second base. When you’ve let go of one thing and haven’t yet latched onto another - most of us choose the security of first base.” While it is said that we “believe so that we may understand,” it is equally true to say that the more we authentically understand, the more disposed we are to have “faith.”
It is difficult to grasp the significance of the Easter story. How soon will last weekend’s holiday glow - affirmation of life and triumph over death - again trigger question in human minds? That the Divine chose seeming weakness over strength, failure over success and humiliation over glory, challenges a deeper level of consciousness flowing from the chaos of crucifixion. It is not easy to see the life of Jesus as symbol and way that we might know ourselves in God - and God in us. The Greek word that has been translated “resurrection,” comes from the root, to continue. All versions of the story say that Jesus was not only dead, but that he continued. Scholarly treatment of the resurrection cannot explain the impact in the lives of those who have followed his path of love, forgiveness and compassion for more than two thousand years - or ways of loving the Holy and looking for the sacred in all that surrounds us. Life’s renewal is alive over and again through the organic nature of Christ consciousness and resurrection’s transforming energy. The empowering presence of self seen in personal resurrection heightens one’s own sense of responsibility. The gift of such love must be more than a private virtue. I am reminded of the words of Peter Rollins, Irish philosopher and theologian who in response to questions about the resurrection wrote: “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor.... I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”
Theologians will continue ongoing dialogue and debate in attempt to interpret the “something of belief” by what Spirit is or is not. And so will we. Faith is a journey not a destination. Consciousness creates a reality of it’s own. In our evolutionary world of being and thought, truth is constantly “in movement.” With courage to enter into the mystery, each of us finds ways to live deeply into Easter joy; discovering our own resurrection and transformation within.
April 12, 2017
Then comes the morning after…
I wonder what the day after Easter - the day after Jesus’ resurrection - was like for Jesus’ first group of followers. I know what the day after Easter next week will be like for most of us. We won’t give it much thought. Easter candy will go on sale. Carefully decorated hard boiled eggs will become egg salad… some will dismiss the day altogether. Others will question what the “Easter Miracle” is all about…
Sunday will assuredly be another glorious morning at the top of Aspen Mountain. Those attending the Sunrise Service will applaud the observance as though it was the climax of yet another Easter play, celebration of an event buried in the long ago. Knowing we can catch the same show next year we then will move on to something else. “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” What is the meaning to all of this? What is the truth of this day? God knew how difficult it would be for our finite minds to comprehend the meaning of resurrection. Scripture tells He even sent an angel to the tomb to redirect the women’s grief from doubt and pain to faith and joy.
The story of Jesus’ resurrection is mysterious, baffling, strange and beautiful. But then, so is all transformation. Let go of assumptions. Let go of understandings held in the past. If we want to talk about the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth, if we want to use this day to talk about what makes Christianity relevant to our world, the answer is not resurrection alone. The answer is justice. The answer is love. The answer is the message Jesus taught over and again on how to treat our neighbors, how to turn the other cheek, how the meek shall inherit the earth and how the greatest of these is love. We would think about how this one amazing man taught the world to live on earth and by what means to talk to God. Jesus was a teacher, a healer, a prophet, a mystic and a social radical. He taught that people have the ability to transform their own lives by loving one another, by loving even their enemies, by living simply, by not placing their faith in money, material things, status and power. People worshipped Jesus not because of what he had to offer, but because he filled their worlds with hope.
When all is written and spoken and celebrated, the Mystery still remains - who would really aspire to comprehend God? Who would wish to explain the vastness of the cosmos? Who would want to take away the wonder of birth? Or scientifically explain the miracle of new life that emerges from the earth each spring? How can you explain you or I explain me? Jesus was divine. I am not. God is the purest form of love. God is a mystery. God is at work in the world. God is not small. God will not fit into any box that humans create. The mystery of the incarnation means that divine indwelling is in each of us. The divine dwelling place is all of creation. The resurrection symbolically enables us to renew each day alive with hope, alive with the gifts each of us has to offer and share. The dynamism of the Easter story liberates something in us, regardless of belief - a power we may not know we have; a hope, a capacity for life, resilience, an ability to bounce back when we think we are defeated, a capacity to grow and change. Easter is a time of reflection, highlighting God’s love through the life of one compelling man more than 2000 years ago. we too, Awakened to new life, new hope, new insight we too are offered direction to our own personal resurrection in following the way of Love.
April 4, 2017
What does it mean to live life as a prayer - to find sheer joy in the simple movement of every day? To see with eyes of the heart, the Beloved in everyone and in every situation. In precious moments of grace, to feel the beauty and experience the divine ecstasy of being. With awareness of this kind of love we find the occasion for many “alleluias.”
German poet, playwright, philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, told the story of walking past a group of blind beggars. Most were receiving few if any contributions from passersby. However the plate of one was overflowing with donations. Goethe stepped close to the man and saw the sign the beggar was holding: “It is springtime and I am blind.” To live life like a prayer does not mean to be pious. It does not mean to try to be perfect. It means to be in communication with life. It is springtime, and we can see, shouldn’t we be grateful?
The utterance of the word “alleluia” is an expression of worship or rejoicing God. But, how often do we think about praise outside of Sunday mornings? I love the word “grateful.” I like it even more than “thankful.” We use the word thanks daily in common courtesy, as we interact with people around us. The word grateful and gratitude strikes as full of meaning...it’s not used as often in our everyday lives. I like it the way I love the word Grace - the free, unmerited favor of Divine Love. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth is crammed with heaven…” Paradise is where we are, right now. Praise is not supposed to be an occasional happening!
Following 40 days of longing and anticipation during the season of Lent, Easter soon arrives and the singing of Alleluia will make its return to worship. For Christian observers, no single day celebrates symbolic birth and new beginnings more. Every culture has its springtime rituals that create the space beyond the ordinary; that tell a story about liberation, growth and rebirth. Shouts of “Alleluia!” the ancient Hebrew word of hope, promise and praise to God transcend religious affiliation. Each of us can live Easter joy and discover ways of loving the Holy. Opening our hearts and lives to see the sacred, we experience the fullness of the One who walks and journeys with us.
These days my personal prayer is more non-verbal as I simply listen; listen for uncomplicated unpretentious truth, listen to experience the one I call God. I pray to honor our relationship. I did not make the air I breathe or the sun that warms me… I pray to the God who lives and breathes through me; the One who created me and allows me to wake each morning alive and grateful for my life. Without qualifiers. Without reasons. Without expectations to get anything in return. Just praise. Theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart wrote, If “thank you” is the only prayer you say, that will be enough.
Living and breathing and being loved - “Alleluia” is a way of seeing the world in the light of Divine Love, everyday.
March 28, 2017
Receive what is now
While walking this past week I’ve been struck by the presence of two remarkable things - the first flowers of spring and the decaying but beautiful fragile skeletons that are the final form of last years leaves. “Behold, I make all things new.” These wonderful words from scripture remind me to stop and listen, stop and see. Blessings and joys are marvelously metamorphosing….Think about what we receive in life. What comes to mind? From this perspective, isn’t it all amazing?
We are each given gifts of all kinds - some we might not even realize. As life becomes warmer, buds swell on the trees; we hear the singing of birds, sleet and snow and chilling rain offer life giving moisture to the earth. I like to imagine myself as a garden in early spring, untilled; the surface yet hardened by the cold winter, still covered by dry brittle stalks and stems of plants long dead. The imagery of rebirth and rejuvenation accompanying these natural events offer blessing. “Just as there are seasons in the world around us, so there is our interior life.” Recalling these words of Teresa de Avila, I open myself to light, to warmth, to the moisture of rain and melting snow. I allow myself to be a watered garden; filled energized, opened and receiving of life.
The season of Lent is God’s special invitation every year to awaken like nature; to come out of spiritual hibernation and lethargy. “Lent” comes from the ancient English word for Spring - that time of natural rebirth which corresponds to the process of inner spiritual regeneration in preparing for the feast of Christ’s resurrection and the Christian Easter. The lenten season is a time for spiritual transformation, a time to release old ways of being and step into a new expanded life. Lent invites us to clear out some of the things that hold us back and take a step toward our better selves, bringing us closer to God and closer to others - a kind “spiritual spring cleaning!”
Most of us give easily, but often have resistance - to receiving. With arms extended, hands open our posture is ready to receive. But do we mean it? Receiving is not passive; it is a conscious, active, dynamic choice. The human spirit is much like a spring garden, ready for watering. If growth is to happen, we too have to be ready; receptive to be nurtured by God’s life giving grace. Like quick changes in the spring weather we are called to be prepared, expectant, receiving of life, new things, new wonders and beauties, coaxing growth from the turned over soil of our spirits. Like an Easter alleluia, God graces the souls of those ready to receive - stirring joy, deepening peace, strengthening goodness, renewing trust and energizing consciousness. Each new day is a path of wonder, a different invitation. No day is ever the same. Love, joy, peace and hope have been given to us. Are you wondering how to spring forward?
“I believe I will never quite know. Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking and touching, and loving, which is the way I walked on, softly, through the pale-pink morning light. - Mary Oliver
March 21, 2017
Ecstasy at the Finish Line
Some celebrate their latest sacred insight and transcendent experience in silent retreat and fasting. Others find meaning and Godly connection in supercharged break-neck speed. What triggers the adrenaline and fires your spiritual passions? The Sacred Path is endless and uniquely our own!
With the sun bright, crowds cheering, and flags of participating countries waving, the best skiers in the world were awarded World Cup trophies last weekend. It was a celebration of extraordinary physical conditioning, mental preparation and technical training. We are all possessed; enthralled; captivated by athletic achievement. “God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.” How many resonate with the famous line from the movie, Chariots of Fire? From the simplest, easiest backyard game to the most challenging and extreme - we love to measure our capabilities and prove ourselves. Do you find yourself thinking you could do yoga for the rest of your life and never hold that pose as perfectly as she does! How strong is your competitive spirit? I cannot be “my best” until I am “the best.” I cannot be good without being perfect, because perfect is what it takes to win. Does this sound like you? Competition is one of the most powerful forces at the heart of sports, games, and most human activity shaping our emotional, moral and social lives. Extreme sports push the limits; challenging the body and mind with experiences most of us will never have. While the heroic aspects of the competitive life appeal - few of us are willing to give up our comfortable equilibrium with physically and mentally demanding and exhausting training. Comparing ourselves to others is natural.
Life is an endlessly creative experience as is the way we feel pleasure, joy, and experience success. I find personal challenge in psychoanalyst, Carl Jung’s declaration “there is only one last great journey left for man and that is the journey within.” Within, there are no spiritual goals; there is no record setting. There is no attainment, there is no fear or desire, loss or victory. None of this is real. What is real is that God, love and consciousness are always, were, and always will be - transparently present and available, as ourselves. It’s not thrilling or extreme, nor is it ordinary or mundane; it is real, it is true. As Teillard de Chardin stated, “we are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in human experience.” We are all part of one higher consciousness moving and flowing together. Our paths will be uniquely ours, and not something we will compare to anyone else. Remember, the spiritual life is not a race! Enthusiasm is an incredibly powerful tool to create momentum. The word enthusiasm is derived from the Greek word enthousiasmos, which means to be possessed by a divine being. Today, however, so many are unenthusiastic with the media constantly barraging us with messages of tragedy, pessimism and fear. Genuine enthusiasm can only be sustained by something we are truly passionate about. The Sacred Journey is alive. Creative passion stimulates us, athletic exhilaration enlivens us, the excitement of launching a new idea and the eagerness of nurturing another enrich us… Choose the path that fires your being, that changes the way you feel, the way you see and look at things. God is better grasped in actions than in ideas! Perhaps our small victories are the transformations that will bring darkness to joy and light. Grab life with all the energy and enthusiasm you can, and place it before God - all of us are winners!
March 14, 2017
So the saying goes... To find truth is to find God. In the early morning dawn, as the first layers of sun hit the mountaintops, as the newness of the day brings fresh strength, before turning on the daily news, opening my laptop, engaging with others - before shrouds of doubt, skepticism and conflict enter the scene; it’s easy to give an existential “yes” to God, then quickly and inevitably fall away from Truth so evident.
When we were children, we had many questions about the world. Why do we have a bright day and a dark night? If the leaves fall from the trees, why don’t the stars fall, too? Why does a rainbow have seven colors not six? All of these are questions from our purest minds, and they are also the doors to mysterious unknown power. As time passes by, some of us stop asking such questions. Other daily concerns and fascinations take over. For some, the questions go deeper - farther removed from the reality of the known world. Is space infinite? How do we fit into the cosmos? Is there a Grand Design we might ever know? Sooner or later there is a question which occupies every mind - we begin to wonder whether there is such a thing as continuity of life. It’s these feelings, moments and experiences which form our notion of spirituality. The life of the world is like a web; all things are interconnected and interrelated. What is the anchoring thread? What is the whole that holds all that is becoming, all that ever has been, all that is incomplete, all that is broken - all that is. Great wisdom traditions are born of the desire for answers. We want to know who we are, find perfect love, feel enduring happiness. Life-force ebbs and flows. Our connection with God ebbs and flows. We all are looking for “forever” truths; not fleeting, contradictory ones that come and go and are soon proven false. Author John Updike says “The mystery of being is a permanent mystery.” Sometimes we feel connected with reality beyond ourselves, and enlivened by that connection. Sometimes we feel we’ve fallen away and meaning is nowhere to be found. The dawn of truth is slow and almost imperceptible. But truth can never exist alone… it is inevitably woven in the “now” of daily life. I believe that my anchors of truth will not come as a final “arrival”; but rather in a series of beautiful “arrivals” along with a dance of dualities, contradictions and small epiphanies. Perhaps Truth need not be distilled to a single common understanding or even ultimate unifying definition. Rather, all-knowing Love be amplified each by our own light, guided by the power of the unseen; anchored by Spirit that knows no limitation. My simple truth.
March 7, 2017
“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” The words of early theologian and philosopher St. Augustine beg the question...How many of us know what we want to flee from but not what we are in search of?
The Buddha said “our life’s work is to discover our world and then with all our heart give ourselves to it.” Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke wrote “The only journey is the journey within.” Thomas Merton told us “nothingness, emptiness, absence” are crucial aspects of the spiritual journey and at the center we will find our “point of pure truth.”
Why the importance of a journey within? What parallels are there in these wise words to the scriptural imagery and Lenten reminder of Jesus’ 40 days fraught with solitude, danger and vulnerability in the desert? Why did he undergo such torment and misery right before starting his ministry? Was there something Jesus needed to learn or experience in order for his heart to have room for the pain of the world? During the 40 days Jesus had to struggle with his identity, the focus of his heart and the commitment of his life. What can we gain from Lent? Silent retreats, meditation, and the way of monasticism is a subject of interest to spiritual seekers.
Lent is a 40 day period of self-examination and reflection. During Lent we are supposed to become more retrospective. We are supposed to slow down, dig down. But sometimes, the digging is hard in the dry desert of our souls. Who am I? What have I missed if I view the world, myself and God the same way I did 20 years ago? 30 years ago? Even last year? Entering personal wilderness is the experience of allowing familiar thinking, habits, and patterns of our living to be examined; scrutinized. During this season of Lent, we are invited to follow the way of Jesus into our own sacred space. “If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you many never be found.” The author of these words is unknown, but they speak profoundly of the blessing of quiet; quiet rising out of solitude in which one might deepen awareness of God’s Presence in life.
To make pilgrimage into our own terrain, we journey as kindred spirits with all who seek the One. Jesus does not belong to Christianity. His spirit cannot be contained by the walls of a church or the walls of belief. This is a complicated world. How do we respond? What do we do? How do we act? Who should we believe? Monastic spirituality is not some esoteric way of perceiving reality or of entering life. It is wandering, but not drifting in lostness. Rather it is a path of faith. And it may just help answer the question of what and who we are trying to find.
February 28, 2017
Lent - A look at what’s in the Heart
Do we need Lent? The short answer to this would be a somewhat dubious “no.” We don’t need it. But maybe we do. Perhaps this season can offer a chance to reflect and then act on the principles we hold as true; well worth forty days of consideration and conscientious action.
Lent is the 40-day period preceding Easter and is typically defined as a time of prayer and spiritual commitment to prepare Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I grew up with only a vague notion of Ash Wednesday, the Lenten “kick-off” which will solemnly be observed by Christians world-wide this week. To me, Ash Wednesday was some super religious holy day. The Catholic kids went to morning Mass and got to come to school late that day. Apart from a little ridiculing by a few, mostly they received a lot of attention for the smudge of ash across their foreheads. Later I went from being critical of what seemed to be “showy Ash Wednesday piety” to being impressed by those willing to wear their ashes publically. It never occurred to me that this would be something I might do myself one day.
The Bible never uses the terms Lent or Ash Wednesday. Nor does it seem to positively describe the marking of anyone’s head with ashes. The true origins are uncertain. It was not observed by Jesus or any in the early church. But around the 10th century, believers began to signify their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their forehead in the shape of a cross. While some will mark their repentance with abstinence and sacrifice, the real emphasis of Lent is to acknowledge that the spiritual life is a pilgrimage where we are invited once again to begin a journey into the mystery of our existence; not with depression or gloom, but with gratitude and new energy for living. Who are we? Why are we here? The whole season of Lent is a celebration of what God has done in sending Jesus to guide man to rise to a new level of freedom and awakening. Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights to prepare for the ministry God assigned to him. We too, are summoned to participate in the mystical presence of Divine Love by re-centering ourselves and engaging in intentional, mindful meditation. Lent is an annual invitation to open ourselves to our vulnerabilities, to God and to the presence of Grace in our daily lives.
Millions around the world this Wednesday will have their forehead marked by ashes as a priest or minister encourages them to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is a “wake- up” call to our mortality - to our place and importance in Creation and the finite time we have on earth. It’s a time to face ourselves, to see the weak places in our being and to touch the wounds in our own souls. Lent is a call to our hearts. It is an opportunity to make different what we ought to change but have not. It is not about penance; but rather about shaking ourselves from our spiritual lethargy and opening more fully to life. It is about becoming. There are no right answers, outcomes or practices to use. Observation merely offers conscious means by which we might reflect and marry a vision of our belovedness with action to live more sacred and holy lives, and experience the beautiful journey all might take, regardless of belief.
February 21, 2017
Scripture calls us to recognize that everyone we meet is made in the image of God - But honestly, what goes through our minds when seeing the obviously mentally or emotionally challenged... or those who are physically disabled?
One of the most powerful teachings in the entire Bible emerges from Genesis 1:27, the idea that every human being is made in the image of God. The problem is that the phrase is more likely to be reduced to just that, a nice thought rather than as it was intended - to serve as a guide for our behavior with other human beings. Too often our common behavior is to judge others based on how similar or different they are from us. The more different others are, the less likely we are able to really see them as “images of the Divine.” One of the reasons we often pity those with disabilities is that they are not able to experience the same things we can. I suspect that our discomfort with people with disabilities may have something to do with our fear of being in that situation ourselves one day. We are all too aware of the guidelines for perfection that our culture, our society and nation put on a life. Our most common responses in thinking about those with disabilities are preceded by the words what and how and why? Why is there suffering? How can a loving God allow this to happen? What good can come out of this? How do some people come through struggle and disability whole of heart and sure of soul? Where in the struggle of disability does hope and Spirit lie?
Throughout scripture Jesus asks, what about those “who have eyes but do not see and who have ears and do not hear?” Meditating on the phrase I think of gifts not fully appreciated. What if the quest for physical perfection and sharpness of mind is, in actuality, a potential disability for the able-bodied and cognitively strong - becoming an all-consuming priority and focus. Perhaps it is we who might learn from the artless grace and love of a person with Down syndrome, more than they need our feeling of sorrow.
Traditionally Native Americans as a culture have been comfortable with the idea that reality is inherently chaotic, believing that true health comes in finding balance in chaos. Believing in multi-layered and ever-changing reality, there is no conception of “normal” and conversely no concept of “abnormal.”
The Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) Almost all of the biblical heroes were disabled in some way. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah were all barren for some time in their lives. Isaac and Jacob suffered from blindness in their old age. Jacob was lame for much of his life. And even the greatest biblical hero, Moses, suffered from a speech impediment. Jesus’ ministry sought out the company of people who lived on the fringe of society. Aren’t we all afflicted in some way? We each have areas of our hearts, bodies, and minds that just don’t work the way we want them to. When injury, illness or chronic pain strike - dreams end and life disappoints threatening to calcify the spirit; how do we bear them? How often do we single ourselves out for not achieving? How many times do we “dis-able” ourselves from all and who we might become with wrongful thinking and fear when we say, “I can’t?” Devaluing our worth is as life crippling as any disability.
In her beautiful meditation, poet Mary Oliver wrote, “If you are too much like myself, what shall I learn of you, or you of me?” We are the blind, when we fail to truly see in another or ourselves - only imperfection. We are the deaf when we fail to advocate for those who cannot speak. We are the crippled when we fail to reach out for the rights of all people. How would are thinking and actions change if we saw ourselves with the disabled in mutual relationship, rather than in relationship of seeming condescending advocacy? May our lives be a reflection and gift of the endless ability that exists in each and everyone of us.
February 14, 2017
What does it mean to be beloved? What does it mean to live as one who is beloved, embracing and embodying the essential goodness at the center of our being… just as we are? Even though I awoke each Valentine’s morning with a little pink box on my pillow filled with heart shaped chocolates, my earliest memories of the holiday are still distressing.
How many remember making Valentine’s boxes in grade school? With my Mother’s help I lovingly prepared my shoebox, covering it with construction paper and pasting on hearts cut from paper doilies and colored foil. On Valentine’s Day the teacher would call us by rows to deposit our Valentines in our classmate’s boxes. Designing and making my box was fun. Opening it at the end of the school day filled me with anxiety. Teacher’s hadn’t quite yet figured out political correctness. Not everyone got a Valentine from every classmate. One year I only got five.
We may not admit to it, but most are super-sensitive about what others think about us. We focus on our inadequacies and failings and where we think we fall short. Self-rejection is one of the greatest enemies of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us “Beloved.” Many people lack a deep seated feeling and truth of their belovedness and what it means to be unconditionally loved. Is there anyone who doesn’t yearn to learn the secrets of love? We are all as capable of love as any other human being. How do we learn it? Scripture says, “We love because he first loved us.” In the words of author and priest, Brennan Manning, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” And we need do nothing to earn or deserve it.
“All the world needs now is love, sweet love,” sang the Beatles. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” commanded Jesus. Yes, we should celebrate love, today on Valentine’s Day … and every day of the year. Love of self, love of neighbors, and love of God are foundations of all the world’s major faith traditions. Spiraling from the core of our being are all our loves - love of family, of a partner, of friends, of community, of animals, of nature, of country, of work. Love is not something that you just fall into as the romantic songs suggest. Love is a spiritual practice. We get better at it over time. Not simply a beautiful lofty thought; each of us are God’s creation “with whom He is well pleased.” Each of us DIVINE, each of us LOVED. Believing is the key to our spiritual journey.
Chocolates and flowers….Still accepted! HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!
February 7, 2017
Another kind of metric…
We all know the system this world runs by. It’s based on keeping score. Keeping score defines reality. It tells us who is ahead and who is behind. Without realizing, we may adopt the score system of the world around us, and lose sight of what counts before God.
“Metrics” may just be the “buzzword” for 2017. It seems I’m hearing it used a lot in the media these days. Metric comes from the Greek word meaning “measure.” And, what don’t we measure in our world today? Someone gives you a gift, you give one in return. Someone invites you to their house for dinner, you reciprocate. If someone injures, we may want to retaliate. Too many of us wrongly feel that even our worthiness depends on how we “measure up.” Polls and statistics, assigning worth to popularity and production, are a way of looking at commodities… not creation. Keeping score and getting and staying even is what enemies do…
The Women’s March, which took place recently in cities and towns all across the United States, and around the world, may have been the largest organized gathering in history. A measurement like this has to mean something, right? Numbers are impressive but in themselves don’t have power. Remember Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus… that’s the “power of one.”
It’s human nature to want to create some type of legacy—to not just do good things but also be known for them. There’s no need to vilify that type of desire when you consider it’s primal in all of us. But magnitude and number of accomplishments are not what it’s all about in justifying one’s existence on earth. Every effort to improve the world, or ourselves, begins with doing individual acts. When we assist another person, teach our children right from wrong, console the bereaved, honor the dead, visit the sick, work for justice in society, pray sincerely, give to charity - we repair the world, one mitzvah at a time. I like the word mitzvah. The simple meaning of the Hebrew word is command. It’s common usage often means “a good deed.” One might say in Judaism, that the “deed” is more important than the “creed.” How one behaves in this world towards their fellow human beings and the world is ultimately a reflection of, and as important as, what one may believe. All of us might find that in committing oneself to the regular work of mitzvot (offering mitzvah), one may bring meaning and holiness not only to others but to our own lives as well. One good deed leads to another, and that can form a ladder on which to climb out of some pretty bad places...and out of ourselves; either by connecting us to the Divine or by connecting us to another human being. Our smallest and simplest of acts are the reflections of the love God has for us, the love we have for God, and the love we have for one another.
So let's keep doing mitzvot until the world changes. Then let’s do another. Who knows where the goodness will lead?
“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
There are days when all we can see is conflict. Unfortunately this is nothing new. Each of us at some time has experienced the anxiousness of our world, opening the door of our hearts and minds for worry to creep in….maybe even sending us into a depressive tailspin. Have we forgotten - fear is not a spiritual habit of mind? Nor is anger…
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... He who sits on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!”
No! These are not words from any recent campaign speeches! - But rather from the final book of the Bible, Revelations. ( 21:1,5) God’s will to restore this world to a beauty we can scarcely imagine has been the theme of writing, poetry, music and art throughout religious history. St. Augustine’s vision of a city with gleaming golden streets and pearly gates, “where death and tears are no more” written of in his “City of God,” portrayed the struggle between good and evil by contrast of the earthly and heavenly cities...the one pagan, self-centered, materialistic - the other God-centered, compassionate, grace-filled and forgiving. Throughout history man has searched, dreamed and debated the mystery of transcendence. African-American spirituals and gospel songs invoked images of “rivers of life”&