Feeling the Spirit

Feeling the Spirit

Pentecost 2

 

It is a common debate, especially in these times.  Similar to the age-old question of “which came first – the chicken or the egg?”, it seems that science and religion are at odds when we discuss the spirit of living.  Albert Einstein is not thought of as a great spiritualist.  He is considered by many to be the consummate scientist.  “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

 

This series is about the detours life gives us and we all have them.  How we respond to those detours is often determined by the spirit within ourselves which is based upon the spirits we believe to exist.  IN an introduction to a chapter about C. S. Lewis, James Taliaferro wrote the following prayer:  ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts.  Kindle in us the fire of your love.”

 

Taliaferro’s prayer is quite simple, just two sentences that are actually quite simple sentences.  Yet, he manages to summarize not only the season of Pentecost but the way we should navigate life’s detours.  We all believe in some great spirit, whether it be the Holy Spirit of the Christian trinity, the spirit of a great healer, the spirit of Mother Nature, or a prophet named Buddha, Mohammed, or any of the other hundreds of spiritual teachers the world has known. 

 

C. S. Lewis, at a point in his early adulthood, identified with those who claimed to be agnostic or atheist.  “I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention.”  Within the next decade, however, he had become quite impressed with the universal longing in all cultures for a connection with a reality of a greater spirit than mere mortal humans possessed.

 

Taliaferro explains:  “Through his own study of religious experience and the arguments for and against a belief in God, Lewis came to think of the longing for joy as something that echoes and reflects the reality of God.  He sought to uncover the source and richer meaning of the goods of creation.”

 

Isn’t this what detours offer us – a chance to discover new meanings of our own living?  Let’s think about what a detour really is.  Simply put, it is a redirection of our normal path.  For months I went to a particular store following a specific route.  It was not perhaps the quickest route but it was, in my opinion, the safest and the most expedient, given all the factors such as traffic patterns, number of cars on the road, my preferences for driving with street junctions having stoplights or stop signs rather than yield signs, etc.  Then one day, about seven years into my prescribed route, a bridge was replaced.  I needed to find a detour.  There were a number of possible routes I could choose but I took one that was a bit unusual.  In doing so, I discovered a great new restaurant.

 

Would my life have been drastically altered or the quality of my living drastically affected if I had never found that restaurant?  Of course it would not have been and yet, I did find it and enjoy it.  I discovered in my inconvenience a great new place to eat and some new foods to enjoy.  I would not have starved without this experience but it did make the detour more enjoyable.

 

When I was a child we would take Sunday afternoon drives.  We were a busy family and the other days of the week we were all going in different directions.  The Sunday drives, however, were free-driving – we simply headed out in one direction until the road stopped or turned into something else.  We found new picnic areas, saw the runways being built as part of a new airport, enjoyed the sounds of nature and laughed when we had to back up half a mile because there was no room to turn around.  We sought out the detours and reveled in the joy of living.

 

One of the advantages of our Sunday drives was leaning how to tell which direction we were going.  By using the signposts of life available to us such as the position of the sun or the effect of prevailing winds on high tree tops. We discovered an internal sense of self and direction.  Yes we often got lost but somehow, by remaining calm and confident, we always found our way home, even if it meant asking for help.

 

Detours remind us that we are not here to simply follow the end of our nose but to expand our being and share our experiences.  C. Joybell C. explains it this way:  ““I consider myself a stained-glass window. And this is how I live my life. Closing no doors and covering no windows; I am the multi-colored glass with light filtering through me, in many different shades. Allowing light to shed and fall into many, many hues. My job is not to direct anything, but only to filter into many colors. My answer is destiny and my guide is joy. And there you have me.”  The true spirit of life is found in living it.  Once you realize this, you have found your own internal great spirit.

Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunt

Lent 46

 

Debra Wise defines a scavenger hunt as “a party game in which the organizers prepare a list defining specific items, which the participants seek to gather or complete all items on the list, usually without purchasing them.”  This weekend I did my own abbreviated type of scavenger hunt trying to resolve some technical issues; hence, the delayed posting of this post.

 

The word scavenger is an interesting one.  The word “scavenger” is an alteration of  the word “scavager”, which came from the Middle English ”skawager”  which meant “customs collector”.  However, its etymology can also be traced from the Middle English “skawage” meaning “customs”, the  Old North French “escauwage” meaning “inspection” and the Germanic “schauwer” meaning  “inspect”. It is also perhaps closely derived from the Old English “scēawian” and German “schauen” words meaning “to look at”, and modern English “show” (with semantic drift).

 

In olden times a scavenger was someone paid to clean the streets but in more modern usage the word refers to one who searches for and collects discarded items.  In chemistry, though, a scavenger is a substance that reacts with and removes particular molecules, groups, etc.

 

We never hear Lent described as a scavenging season and yet, I am offering the notion that perhaps it is.  Lent is a time to seek out that which we can and should eliminate or reduce in our living as well as a period in which we are encouraged to collect better habits.  We have spent this Lenten series doing just that as life relates to the Beatitudes so in this the last post of the series, let’s scavenge a recap.

 

One of the weakest links and most dangerous threats to our living successfully is our own ego.  It is when we feel depressed or worried that we lose that false image and allow others and our spirituality to help us.  Being poor in our ego or spirit often gives us to learn from others and live a fuller life.  The same is true for when we grieve.  Most of us would prefer to offer compassion than receive it because we feel in control when we offer it.  Being on the receiving end sometimes makes us feel weak but it should not because then we become stronger by fully being part of humanity.

 

The humble and meek are usually much more content with their daily lives than those trying to pretend they have everything… or should have everything.  When we are content, we are better able to help others and live more productively and efficiently.  Those who want justice and righteousness, who work for it daily are the people who make a difference in this world.  They are also the people who not only give care to others, they receive it.  These are the people whose inside voice matches their outside actions and that brings about personal and external peace.  “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete and fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are and your place.”  I really like that quote from the Message Bible.  As I have said before, life is a pace, not a race.

 

While the Beatitudes are from the New Testament, they do not only apply to Christians.  They offer us all good advice on how to find the pearls of wisdom that life offers us each and every day.  All we have to do is go on a scavenger hunt for life!

Come to the Party!

Come to the Party

Lent 41-43

 

Our lives are like a puzzle.  Each day, each event, each sorrow, each joy – all are pieces of this puzzle we call our life.  Sorting out the pieces would be an impossible task if we encountered them all at once.  Fortunately, each piece is revealed much like a treasure map or the clues on a scavenger hunt.

 

During this series we have been discussing life from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes.  Someone asked me to summarize this series in one sentence.  My answer is a quote from Marty Rubin:  “Drink freely the wine life offers you and don’t worry how much you spill.”

 

We need to celebrate being alive.  All too often we find ourselves competing with others.  Life is not a race; it is a pace.  We should spend our time realizing that our being is a gift and celebrate the party that is our life.  So if we are going to consider our lives a party, how do we live that?

 

Every good party planner will tell you that the first step in having a successful party is the invitation list.  Most of us do not have the ability to control everyone who enters our life.  We can and should make sure that we ourselves come to the party that is our life.  We need to be present in our living.  Kevyn Aucoin explains how to do this.  “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”

 

Next in party planning comes the actual planning.  We need to awaken and give thanks for having done so.  Then we need to proceed with a purpose, a plan if you will on our living.  This might include some religious or spiritual aspects but it certainly must involve respect and compassion as well as courtesy toward others.  Essential to every good party is lining up any needed help.  No one goes through life without some help from another.  We need to be confident and reach out to others for assistance.  There is no shame and everything to gain when we recognize this.

 

Crucial to a celebration is having the space to celebrate.  Whether the party is at home or at a rented venue, clearing out space to gather and be merry.  The same is true for our lives.  We need to take the time to declutter, both literally and figuratively.  Next on my to-do list for a successful party is the item “set the stage”.  All too often we forget to set ourselves up for success.  Whether it is by getting the proper education and training or simply putting on a happy face and having a positive attitude, we need to prepare to be the best we possibly can.

 

This week is celebrated by Christians as the last big party and the sentencing and crucifixion of the man known as Jesus.  This year, Jewish people are also celebrating Passover this week, a time of great meaning for them.   In their own way, both holidays celebrate freedom and atonement.  They remind us to forgive ourselves and to forgive others.  To fail to do so is to deny one the joy of living.

 

One of my favorite life quotes is one said by Auliq Ice:  “Laughter is like a windshield wiper, it doesn’t stop the rain but allows us to keep going.”  I think in their own way, the Beatitudes tell us the same thing.  We will encounter negativity in our lives.  That is inevitable.  However, with faith and determination as our windshield wipers, we can use them as lessons to keep going and celebrate the living our life is.  When we decide to come to the party of life, great things are bound to happen and we will truly be free to find joy in our being.

 

 

 

Women, Life and Beliefs

Life and Beliefs

Lent 28

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although said document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War Ii.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

March is Women’s History Month so today I have dedicated this post to women of great faith.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith.  After all, why do we believe if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

Living Today

Living Today

Lent 4-5

 

On November 1, 2016, Pope Francis offered his own updated version of the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are eight instances of cause and effect, given by a poor carpenter as he spoke to a crowd gathered on a hillside thousands of years ago.   Their named comes from the Latin “beatitude” which means happiness.  Each instance references something from the Old Testament but with a twist in its interpretation.  Pope Francis offered his own take with six new beatitudes.

 

The need for us to recognize this cause and effect is as necessary today as it was almost two thousand years ago.  In our modern world we see cause and effect every day.  The most striking examples are the suicide bombings which are prevalent worldwide.  These bombings are said to be based in religious teachings yet they offer no real restitution to those they purportedly are defending and their effect contributes to further dislike and discrimination of said groups of people.  They certainly do not follow the teachings of Islam.  Instead, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Islam would be better served as would all types of religion, especially Christianity and Judaism, if we stayed true to the teachings instead of responding with hatred and fear.  “Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.”

 

We tend to think of such writings as the Beatitudes are being out of date and yet, they are very applicable to world events.  Perhaps this is why Pope Francis mentioned “Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.”

 

As I have mentioned so many times, life is messy and living in today’s world is not easy.  Instead of fearing each other, we need to remember just how close we really are and in spite of our differences, recognize Creation in all we see.  “Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.”  Perhaps there are those who do not believe in a God of any sorts.  I would suggest to them to substitute the word Creation for God.  The fact is clear from a biological and genetic point of view that we are all reflections of each other.  We share a great deal.

 

Pope Francis continued with two more:  “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.   Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.”  Again, don’t think of just your physical abode but of our home, Mother Earth.  And finally, Pope Francis concluded with “Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion.”

 

Communion is not just something that happens during a mass or Eucharist church service.  Communion is relationship and hopefully, unity.  We are all in a relationship with each other whether we recognize that or not.  Not all relationships are great.  The connections we make, the interactions we have…These make up the brunt of our living.  Shouldn’t we try to make them as effective as possible?

 

We need to stop trying to give an eye for an eye and start showing kindness.  Period.   Not just be kind to those we perceive as being kind to us but be kind to all.  We need to not see just our differences but embrace them for the wonderful diversity and excitement they bring to life.  When we see the abandoned or excluded, we need to reach out and embrace them.  We share so much in common and there is beauty in all of Creation including those who might have been pushed to the outside.  We should respect all who offer our life and homes protection as well as those who are protecting our home, Mother Earth.  We needs to give thanks for those willing to put themselves last and us first and for those who go that extra mile to engage in relationships with all of humanity. 

 

Who can say they stand on the pedestal of right all the time?  Who can say who should have to live on the left of normal?  None of us is better than the least of us.  A rose by any other name…is still a flower.   Blessed are they who truly embrace their living for they… live.

Goodness

Goodness

Lent 1

 

During Lent our series will focus on the Beatitudes, those eight to ten, and in one location, four saying about goodness, happiness and spirituality.  While the basis for this series will be taken from the New Testament, this will not be a purely religious series.  It is a series about goodness and our search for it in an overall sense – goodness of living, of health, of being.  We will delve into such distinction as the difference between a happy person and an optimistic person and there will be, hopefully, a vignette to explain and explore our discussion each day.

 

Most Creation stories open with “In the beginning” and the world seems to have been complete, whole, and happy.  Then something happens and chaos ensues.  While it may seem hard to relate to something like that, most of us experience it every day when we go to check social media.  The science of happiness would tell us that while the caveman did not have a Facebook account and the only twitters he heard or saw were from birds in the trees, he did fall victim to the same social pressures that we do when reading about a friend’s seemingly perfect life.

 

We are all connected and the people in our lives play an important role in the basic goodness we experience and the happiness we feel.  Both of these are contributing factors to our sense of well-being and our actual physical health.  Skeptics argue that optimistic people may not necessarily live longer and we certainly have discussed that topic before.  However, recent scientific research and the resulting evidence indicate that there is a strong link between happiness and health and it goes both ways.

 

Our approach to living is key in our trying to improve our lives and the world.  Being happy will never be as simply as taking a pill and seeing the goodness in life will not be accomplished with an increased prescription for a new pair of glasses.  We can, though, take the wisdom of the ages and look at our own approach to living. 

 

Lent is traditionally a time of introspection and, let’s face it, dreary feelings of guilt and shame.  Our source material is a wonderful way to change that and improve ourselves without beating ourselves up – figuratively or psychologically.  Let’s replace those pounds of guilt with feelings of goodness and happiness!  Life will always be a work in progress.  I hope you join me for this series in making lemonade out of lemons.  Who knows?  We might even find a way to make a lemon tart or pie without fewer calories!

Embrace and Tolerate

Embrace and Tolerate

Epiphany 23

 

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

 

The above paragraph was in a post I received on Facebook from a young man of strength and character.  This paragraph has become the topic of the world news because of recent events occurring in the United States.  The man elected in part with the support of conservative religious groups seems to have forgotten this part of faith – all faiths.

 

In times where terrorism seems to occur several times a day in some part of the world and several times a year in others, fear is an understandable reaction.  Fear responses are our body’s defense system.  It serves as a reminder to act – not to hate.  We take cover during a storm because our body fears the consequences.  We use medicines productively to combat illness because our body is telling us something needs attention.  When used appropriately, fear can serve great purpose.

 

To hate one’s neighbor, though, is not productive and none of the world’s top religions encourage it although they all speak of it.  “Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define your ‘neighbor’?”  In other words, who do we embrace, loving them as ourselves?

 

We all have had neighbors with whom we were not friendly.  It is inevitable that at some point in time our neighbors will not share our interests or respect for boundaries, play loud music, push their leaves onto our yard, etc.  In some settlements, the neighbors have guns aimed at the houses.  How on earth are we supposed to embrace these people?  Surely they are not our true neighbors.  Or are they?

 

“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side…”.   This quote is from the Quran, 4:36.  Islam speaks highly of the one who not only sees their neighbor and embraces them but also tolerates them and treats them with respect.

 

“The Scale of Wisdom” is a collection of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Twelve Imams compiled by M. Muhammadi Rayshahri.  “It is to help him if he asks your help, to lend him if he asks to borrow from you, to satisfy his needs if he becomes poor, to console him if he is visited by an affliction, to congratulate him if is met with good fortune, to visit him if he becomes ill, to attend his funeral if he dies, not to make your house higher than his without his consent lest you deny him the breeze, to offer him fruit when you buy some or to take it to your home secretly if you do not do that, nor to send out your children with it so as not to upset his children, nor to bother him by the tempting smell of your food unless you send him some.”

 

What does the Torah say about loving one’s neighbor?  “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.”   This passage from Leviticus 19:18 is important as is the Jewish definition of love.  Judaism defines love as “the emotional pleasure of identifying virtues in another person.”   It is not seen as an act of fate nor a physical pleasure but a deliberate embracing of another and a purposeful identification of their existence.

 

The third of the world’s largest religion is Christianity, the third of the Abrahamic faiths.  Scripture for this topic is found in many places in the Christian Bible but it appears first in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, in the twenty-second chapter.  To the question at the end of our first paragraph, the man known as Jesus of Nazareth gave this answer earlier in this book.  Matthew 5:43 states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. 

 

 Later in that same book, Matthew 22:36 we find this:  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  We are to embrace all and tolerate them.  In Islam this is illustrated by not having your house higher than your neighbors so as to prevent him from the breeze.  In Judaism, it is to recognize that we are all different but those differences have value.  In Christianity it is to allow that your enemy is still your brother and sister as children of the Creator and should be treated as you would wish to be treated.

 

Who is the neighbor you are to embrace and tolerate?  The person who is standing beside you, the person standing halfway around the world, the person who looks nothing like you or whose speech is unfamiliar because they exist and are, therefore, your neighbor.  We should embrace and tolerate.  To do anything else is to live a lie and hasten the end.  This is not political or even religious.  It is simply good common sense.