To Have and to Hold

To Have and to Hold
Lent 13

There are a great many things in life for which we work and strive and dream. Vacations are one such thing and a perfect time to find the sacred in the everyday locales of other people. We’ve already talked about archaeologists uncovered the sacred temples of Manchu Picchu, giving the world knowledge of ancient holy temples in South America. I also answered a question from a reader several weeks back about how I organize this blog, using the Christian seasonal calendar which is why today has the heading of Lent.

If you were to take a vacation within one of the smaller states within the United States of America but also one of the more heavily populated, you might find yourself in Old Bridge, New Jersey. For over a hundred years, Old Bridge was considered a part of Madison Township but in 1975, due to expansion and the need for its own zip code, the people voted for independence (of sorts) and the name changed to Old Bridge. New Jersey is nicknamed the “Garden State” and while many simply consider it a little more than land between New York City and Philadelphia, both very large and historically important cities, the state has its own special contributions that are often overlooked.

New Jersey is a drive worth taking and sacred spots can be found even along the tourist areas of the Atlantic Coastline. Named for an old bridge which spanned the South River, the town shares a border with the borough of Staten Island, divided by Raritan Bay. Originally the home of the Leni Lenape American Indians, the soil and clay around one of the many creeks proved to be excellent for the making of pottery. Cheesequake Creek became one of several well-known sacred beginnings of the pottery business for which the area would become famous. This stoneware clay is considered to be among the finest in the entire United States and helped form the living of the early settlers. After all, all civilizations have relied upon eating utensils and their discoveries have led us to sacred lifestyles and places of worship.

Pastor Phil Ressler of the Church of the Good Shepherd, a Lutheran religious community in Old Bridge, knows a great deal about finding the sacred in our everyday lives. Recently he published on the church’s website a way to celebrate Lent by finding the holy in taking a vacation away from one’s normal everyday routine. Considered a period of meditation and introspection, Lent is the time for Christians to look inward in order to find the sacred within themselves and to connect with their holy beliefs.

Entitled “Forty Things to Give Up for Lent”, Ressler writes that we should give up our fear of failure. Believing that “nothing ventured nothing gained” is true, Ressler also advocates stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and giving up any feelings of inadequacies or impatience. The minister has no time for retirement; if you are breathing, your life has a purpose. He also discusses peer pressure and encourages us to seek to live according to our beliefs and not by trying to win the favor of all we encounter. By comparing ourselves to others, the purpose of peer pressure, Ressler points out we become separated from our faiths, consumed by blame and guilt, rather than closer to the sacred aspects of those beliefs. Ressler adds that finding the sacred will never happen if we are constantly over committed and fail to confer with others. We are not deities and should not engage in feelings of entitlement nor do we know everything there is to know.

Pastor Ressler continues his list of forty things to give up, which I call forty ways to find the sacred, by discussing the apathy that exists in the world today. We are closer to one another than ever believed possible in the past, able to reach out and help as evidenced in the recent Ebola epidemic and yet, apathy is an epidemic which leaves people uncaring. The hatred and negativity which are the foundation of apathy are definitely things Ressler and I feel we should give up, toss away, and never find again. I’m not exactly following Ressler’s list in order that he has written but I think negativity and hatred should be discussed at this time. For many people, the opposite of apathy is hatred and that is just wrong. When we allow ourselves to hate, we are as far away from finding the sacred as is humanly possible. Hatred is the child of fear and is characterized by negativity and complaint. These things accomplish nothing except destruction and are not the basis for any real spirituality or religion.

So many prophets and leaders of spiritual followings relied on the spirit of poverty to help them focus. We do not need to all become homeless but we do need to find the sacred in simply being. Lovely homes, reliable and extravagant means of transportation, comfortable clothing and plenty to eat are all nice but if they deter us from touching base with our spiritual souls and fulfilling our innermost needs, then they really serve no purpose. They become distractions, deterrents to our pursuit of happiness. Once we lose that, then we are simply going through the motions of living and will revert back to complaining, destructive speech, bitterness, and mediocre living. We can become so busy and consumed with multitasking that we give up on our spiritual natures, losing sight of our own sacredness. This disunity, as Ressler calls it, leads to an overpowering sense of loneliness and worry.

Once we become consumed with the negativity, the fear, and the disconnection with our own sacredness, Ressler warns we should not look for the “quick fix”. Our fear, our discriminations, and our own self-pride all characterize a very small definition of our deity or Great Spirit. We need to avoid the envy, the worry, the sorrow, the envy and ungratefulness that characterize such. That leads to idolizing mere mortals who have only selfish ambition, not sacred powers. When we tap into the sacred of our everyday living, then we are able to evolve. After all, change is inevitable. Pastor Phil Ressler states: “Change in certain. It is not if we will change, but how we will change.”

When we find the sacred in ourselves and in the world around us, we will be able to build a better life. Much like the American Indians and early settlers who took the mud from Cheesequake Creek to make beautiful pottery, we can become self-reliant and sufficient through our faith. By losing that clutter of the world, we can tap into the realness of our living and recognize the sacred which has been around us all the time. We can build a better life.

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