Sunday Afternoon Detours

Sunday Afternoon Detours

Detours in Life

Pentecost 3

 

At least three out of every four Sunday afternoons my family would pile into our car and we would drive.  Sometimes we’d take a picnic and eat along some scenic spot and other times we would go out to eat Sunday luncheon and then drive.  Occasionally we would be coming home from visiting relatives out of town.  Sunday afternoon, though, often found us in the car driving.

 

Car rides are not always enjoyable since children seldom take to confined spaces very well.  This was back in the days before portable cassette tape machines or DVD players.  Entertainment was found by counting the number of cars in a particular color or playing Car bingo – looking for specific models or houses of a certain color.  The occasional large truck would pass and sometimes blow its horn but mostly we would talk and enjoy nature that we passed.

 

These rides to nowhere are some of my most favorite memories of my father.  We always had a general idea of where we were going but we seldom got there by following a straight line or by going the most expedient route.  At least twice every Sunday we would need to turn around, often the three-point turn being done with no shoulder and the chance spectator in th3e form of an errant cow or squirrel.

 

Detours are usually accompanied with frustration but these Sunday detours we always ended up taking were characterized by laughter.  I never realized they would later serve as a metaphor of life for me.  Getting somewhere is very important, especially if you need to meet an airline’s schedule or set up for a meeting.  Often, though, we let our frustration with life’s detours blind us to the opportunities they offer us.

 

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, once said that “When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”  It is sage advice because, I can promise you, life will present a great many roadblocks in your living.  The important thing to remember when we encounter such is that detours can be fun and are always educational.

 

On this day that we honor fathers, it is important to remember that fatherhood is not a straight line either.  It is fraught with trials and errors, laughter and tears, accomplishments and frustrations.  No one is perfect; no life is perfect.  Remember to enjoy the detours you encounter and recognize that even in the unexpected deviations and diversions, there can be laughter.

Purpose

Purpose

Easter 47

 

“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story.  It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”  Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist who is also an ordained nun. Her words are important for us to remember as we walk our path of mindfulness.

 

It is not always delightful to be fully present in particular moments of our lives.  Sometimes it is painful and to accept the reality of the pain can be difficult.   Pema Chödrön has some advice for such times.   “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.”

 

We have a choice in how we experience the world, even if we do not have the choice of what, where, and when the world meets us.  We still have a choice and some control because we can choose and control our reactions.   Life is not the series of events that we find ourselves in the midst of without any say.  Life does include those events but it also includes how we respond to them.

 

We are the author of our own lives and mindfulness helps us write our own story.  We are not and should not be merely puppets in the story of our life.  We need to be director, producer, main actor, and yes, script writer.    We should also be the musical director and lighting coordinator, makeup artist and caterer.  What?  How do we do all that?

 

The director tells an actor where to go and how to portray the character.  We need to direct our lives, making choices of what we do and how we do it, including how we respond.  The producer helps prepare for the production and handles the detail stuff.  We cannot live blindly; we must take care of the “small stuff”.  Skipping the script writer for now, let’s move onto the music in our lives.  Mindfulness is especially helpful here as we listen to our world and take in the beautiful sounds of living – birds chirping, ducks splashing, children laughing and yes, even the sounds of grief in muffled sobs.  We set out own stage by our choices in life and we either see the world around us lit up in all its glory or we turn off the lights and dwell in darkness and despair.  The face we present to the public is the demeanor or make-up we put on every day.  The food choices we make go a long way in determining our health.

 

These are all mindful decisions we make each and every day.  We need to be aware of them and make them responsibly.    That takes up back to the script writer.  How are you writing the story of your life?  A recent scientific study defined mindfulness as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

 

What is your purpose and what do you want it to be tomorrow?  By living and practicing mindfulness, your awareness of your life experiences will help make the future successful and a much happier place to be.  Mindfulness affords one to have less stress and a healthier living, things that should be among our top three reasons for being.  Health becomes more positive and productive as do relationships.  Simply put, the purpose for mindfulness is to experience life more fully and with positive results.

Value versus Worth

Value versus Worth – Journaling

Easter 25-30

 

“The world seems to think I have no worth.  It seems to think that some people are worth more, that their substance means more, that their very being should give them certain privileges because they will contribute more.  The person who seems to be content is often overlooked.  If one feels one’s life is full enough, then one lacks value.  Living has become a race to the top of the mountain of possessions.  I quit.  I refuse to run that race.  My faith tells me I have value even if the world believes me to be insignificant.”

 

The above journal entry might seem to be an argument against mindfulness but actually, it is a great defense for being mindful.  Worth is often used as a synonym for the word value and sometimes, vice versa.  They are, however, two very different words, at least for our context of mindfulness.

 

The term value denotes importance while the word worth refers to the price or cost of an item or its usage.   “The word ‘value’ is used in the sense of ‘importance’. On the other hand, the word ‘worth’ is used in the sense of ‘the cost of production’ of a particular thing or the ‘greatness’ of a particular person. This is the main difference between value and worth.”  This quote from differencebetween.com, written by the author Aron, is an interesting explanation but I am not certain I agree.  Do you?  I would really like to hear your ideas on this.

 

For our purposes with this post and our series on mindfulness, value will be defined as the intrinsic amount of feeling an item/person brings to us while worth I’m defining as the effect it has on us, whether in terms of actual cost or perceived price.  Keeping a mindfulness journal helps us delineate between the two.

 

I have mentioned keeping a mindfulness journal before and someone asked I explain the difference between it and a diary or regular journal.  Just as the terms worth and value can be used interchangeably, journals can also serve various purposes.  A diary is both a calendar of events and a listing of hopes and desires.  A regular journal is often a tracking of a day’s events or thoughts.  The mindfulness journal helps us focus on specific moments and includes not only the event but our reactions, visceral and consequential.

 

The manner in which you keep your journal can be as varied as there are different riding a city bus.  In other words, you need to do what is best for you.  Before we discuss methods of journaling, though, let’s discuss why we would do such.  Keeping a daily log of your thoughts and feelings based on each event or creating lists that you can add to over time, such as the happiest moments of your life, the people that make you happiest, what motivates you, and what you love most about yourself will help you take action towards making your dreams a reality.  It can illustrate the difference in the worth of an activity and the value it holds in your life and help eliminate what is not productive in your living.

 

The best way to accomplish something is to set goals and a mindfulness journal will help you set achievable goals.  It can also verify that what you have set as a goal is rely something you want to accomplish.  Often we end up striving for something that someone else has decided we need.  Because our own heart is not in this quest, it will take forever and most likely not be successful.  A mindfulness journal can also help identify those things that are hindrances or annoyances.  By keeping track of such, they can be eliminated and dealt with before they become larger, more stressful issues.

 

Life is, as I have said before, messy.  No one lives without encountering frustrations and most of us face them on a daily basis.  Sometimes they seem to overwhelm us.  If you are constantly losing things, important things like bills to pay, a mindfulness journal can help identify this and with some forethought, help correct the problem.  Maybe you need to clear off a shelf and designate a certain basket or box for those bills.  By placing a table by the door I most often use and putting a bowl specifically for my keys, I stopped needing to search for them when I was leaving the house.  That one small thing saved me five minutes or more each morning.  That added up to me gaining over an hour each week and I left the house less hurried and harried.

 

A mindfulness journal is a great motivator and often can serve as the catalyst for necessary change.  Many think of mindfulness as a first cousin to meditation and I agree with that.  However, one of my favorite mindfulness writers is a financial analyst, not a yoga or spiritual teacher.  Andrea Cannon recommends mindfulness journal for this reason:  “Once you begin to realize a trend in your journal entries, you’ll want to make a list of the problems you’ve noticed and what actions you’re going to take to correct them. Fixing items around your home, workspace, and vehicle can help change your day-to-day life and can save you time and frustration. In most cases, people tend to wonder why they waited so long to make the repairs in the first place.  Procrastination is likely what made these small daily frustrations a larger problem over time. That’s why it’s so important to keep track of what needs to be changed and what steps you’re taking towards achieving these goals in a timely manner.”

 

When we journal, we put a spotlight on our day and become more aware of it.  yes it does take time but how we journal can help with just how much time.  As I said before, there are a variety of ways to journal.  One of my favorite is to get a family day planner, with columns for various family members.  Instead of using the column for each family member, though, use them for different categories.  For instance, one column is for the actual activity or scheduled event.  The next is for whether it was successful or not – no explanations, just a yes or no to the success of the incident.  The next column is for how I felt approaching it, the next for how I felt doing it, the next for the results and my feelings about that.  Then the next column is a quick, briefly worded assessment about hindrances and finally, a column for new goal(s). 

 

Here is an example of this type of journaling:

Column A/Event: Doctor’s appointment

Column B/Successful: Yes; kept the appointment

Column C/Feelings leading up to event: Bit of trepidation

Column D/Feelings during event: Informed

Column E/Feelings after event: Hopeful; positive

Column F/Hindrances: Diet changes bothersome

Column G/Goals: Eliminate eating an entire pizza, eating one slice and a small salad instead.

 

Your journal does not have to be formal.  If you would rather have an informal journal, then any blank or lined notebook will suffice.  There are a few brief formalities that precede any entry – the date, the name of the meditation practice, and how long you meditated for. Then you can write more generally about how the practice went – what distractions you had, what you did about them; what positive factors (like calmness, patience, concentration, etc.) that were present and what you did to strengthen them. You can write about factors in your life that had an effect on your practice – things like lack of sleep, or a particularly busy day, or that you felt refreshed after a day’s hiking with a friend. 

 

Mindfulness is about knowing where we are (being in the moment) and also about maintaining an awareness of where we have been (reflection) and where we are going (having goals).  A journal can help us with all of those areas of awareness, helping us to have a more unified awareness of ourselves.  An example of an informal journal might look like this: “Mindfulness of Breathing. 25 minutes. Had a hard time staying focused. Nodded off to sleep a few times — hadn’t had enough sleep. Felt a bit despondent. 

 

Psychotherapist Dr. Ronald Alexander offers these tips of journaling. 

• Schedule your time to write when you sit quietly in a peaceful, restful place, perhaps in a room surrounded by books and pictures that inspire you. You may also want to sit on a meditation chair or cushion with peaceful music playing, wrap yourself in a meditation shawl or blanket, and light a candle or incense.

• Categorize what your mind churns up. Our minds create a mix of emotions, thoughts, and sensations, all of which influence each other. The thought, “My boss is so insensitive; I can’t believe he was so abrupt with me today,” might not surface in your mind until you sit and begin meditating, and might appear not as a fully formed thought but as a headache or an overall sense of vulnerability and defensiveness.

• In meditation, it’s important not to go wherever those sensations and feelings take you but to simply sit with them, allowing them to reveal themselves. Afterward, as you write in your journal about your experience, work with a therapist, or ponder where that feeling or sensation came from, you might discover that it has deeper roots.

• Recognizing that your experience bears a powerful emotional resemblance to a past experience can be a helpful and freeing insight, but in the end, the story of its origin is just a story that can distract you from healing. If you come to realize that your defensiveness around your gruff boss reminds you of the way you reacted to your highly critical father, the value in that insight is acknowledging how deeply your mind has been programmed to respond to criticism or abruptness with fear and defensiveness. It’s easier to be patient with yourself when you recognize that your mind has actually created an elaborate neural network to support this reaction, because clearly, it will take time, patience, and repetition to change that instantaneous response.

• Don’t give too much weight to such a revelation as you can reinforce that reality. You reinforce your habitual thinking and feeling patterns when you subscribe to a narrative of suffering such as, “I can’t help being the way I am. My defensiveness goes way back to my childhood.” I call this the “big story.” It has the potential to shut you off from the art of creative transformation.

• Once you’ve identified the big story, categorize it as “old stuff” and set it aside whenever it comes up. The major healing work most people need to do is to transform and move beyond their “big story” whether it deals with their parents, lack of abundance, insecurities or fears. There’s no benefit in retelling it to yourself over and over again.

• It’s also important to let go of the “new stuff”: each “small story,” or rationalization for why your present life is the way it is. The small stories are worth examining to discover what lessons they hold, but if you hang on to them, repeating them to yourself, they become “old stuff” and part of the big story as well.

“As long as you remain in these stories, you create suffering for yourself. To change your life, you have to see the story for what it is: a way of framing events that doesn’t contribute to your happiness and holds you back from positive change. Holding on to your story, big or small, giving it life in retelling and embellishing it endlessly, will cause you pain. The point isn’t whether or not you’re justified in telling that particular story, or its veracity, but whether you’re suffering because of it. This takes practice but the more you meditate the more it will feel as if you’re simply sorting the laundry as you observe what your mind generates.”

 

Andrea Cannon explains the benefits of a mindfulness journal.  “A mindfulness journal can help you focus on the things in life that make you happy so you live with an attitude of gratitude. Rather than focusing on a crowded train, you can instead focus on the song you’re listening to and how it makes you feel, your posture while you sit and wait for your next stop, and what you’re looking forward to in your day. Over time, this will become natural so you can turn negative moments into positive experiences no matter what the day may bring.”

 

With a mindfulness journal we can begin to understand the difference between value and worth.  The opening paragraph was taken from a journal of someone who had contemplated suicide.  Fortunately, the writer realized that their value exceeded the world’s perception of their worth.  We all are valuable to this planet and no one has the right to diminish your feelings of self-worth.  Mindfulness reminds us of our own purpose and right to a prosperous living.  Start journaling and find your joy!

 

 

 

Slip Through the Cracks

Slip Through the Cracks … and Stop

Lent 37

 

The note was short and written in a surprisingly strong hand.  “It is ironic that I have chosen this course of action.  I do so because I am tired of slipping through the cracks.  I offer suggestions that are never followed up.  I volunteer only to never get called.  I am, apparently, a profession al slipping through the cracks.  Emails go unanswered; phones never returned.  I thought I had something to offer.  I thought my life had value.  Apparently I was wrong.  And so, I am calling it quits.  The irony is that some will consider that choice to be “cracked”.  Perhaps that is fitting since it was caused by my slipping through the crack of life.”

 

One of the comforts of the Beatitudes for me is that they describe what we all experience in life – the good and the bad.  No one walks a smooth and straight path all the time.  We all encounter detours and bumps and yes, sometimes dead ends.  Marlon Wayans believes that “Success is not a destination but the road that you’re on.  Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day.” 

 

Henry David Thoreau sought peace and personal success in his own unusual walks of life.  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

 

We cannot give control of our lives to others, even when we seem to be ignored, forgotten, or slip through the cracks.  As Gautama Buddha once said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”   More recently Jay Woodman said something similar.  ““The world is a wide place where we stumble like children learning to walk.”

 

We all stumble and at some point in time, feel like we have slipped through the cracks.  Maybe we have but anything that can slip though can also crawl or pull itself out.  When we forget that even the negative things in life, the stumbles and falls we make on our path can offer us lessons, then we truly stop living.  Our life is a gift and we have much to learn and to offer.  If you feel you are being ignored or overlooked, make a turn and go down a more productive path.

 

Steve Maraboli offers this wisdom:   “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.”

A Life’s Journey: The Ultimate Quest

A Life’s Journey: The Ultimate Quest

Lent 19, 20, 21

 

Treasure maps have thrilled human beings ever since the discovery of such (and no, we have no actual date for such).  If you believe the creation story of Adam and Eve, it might be said that their instructions were a mapping of sorts.  Certainly they sought the ultimate prize in partaking of the forbidden fruit.  Even the definition of a treasure map is something in dispute.  Many believe anything offering directions of some sort to an unknown prize qualifies as a treasure map.  If that is true, then the Beatitudes are a literary treasure map with living in peace the ultimate prize.

 

We are nearing the halfway mark of Lent and yet, for many, it has yet to begin.    Lent is a time of spiritual searching and for many, that involves giving up one of the comforts of their living.  Whether it is meat, chocolate, television, or something else, the purpose of the sacrifice is to realize there is a better way to live.

 

Embarking upon a treasure hunt also requires sacrifices.  First one must give up the idea that they know everything.  If one truly knew everything, it would be a simple matter of retrieval to go and pick up the treasure.  Since a search is involved, one obviously does not know everything, including the location of the treasure. 

 

One of the earliest treasure maps found was among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It was found in 1952 near Qumran among the 900-plus scrolls discovered on the site which is located in Israel’s West Bank region.  The treasure map is known as the copper scroll and true to its name, written not on papyrus as the other scrolls are but on metal.   Another distinguishing feature that sets this scroll apart from the others is that it is not literary but rather a listing of locations where various items of gold and silver can be found.  This particular treasure map was found one hundred years after the site at Qumran was first discovered and the text is not in the same Hebrew as most of the others, a fact which lends more mystery to the scroll itself.

 

There are many such treasure maps and excavations ongoing.  In the early 1920’s a young man who would grow up to become President even tried his hand.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked for treasure on Oak Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, following a trail of fortune hunters that dates back to 1795.

 

War and exploration resulting in the overtaking of indigenous tribes has also led to fortune hunting and treasure mapping.  From the treasures supposedly buries by the Spanish conquistadors in Lima, Peru to the hidden and never found Nazi gold at Lake Toplitz, Austria, seeking that elusive treasure of a lifetime has kept many people busy.

 

In our daily lives we also seek treasures, treasures of peace and contentment, love, and perhaps success.  We want to make our living count for something.  Forrest Fenn is a modern-day treasure seeker and, as his life reaches old age, he sought to make his explorations count for something.  He has offered treasure to anyone who can crack his treasure map, offered in the form of a twenty-four line stanza.

 

 Where the Treasure Lies  by Forrest Fenn

As I have gone alone in there

And with my treasures bold,

I can keep my secret where,

And hint of riches new and old.

 Begin it where warm waters halt

And take it in the canyon down,

Not far, but too far to walk,

Put in below the home of Brown.

 From there it’s no place for the meek,

The end is ever drawing nigh;

There’ll be no paddle up your creek,

Just heavy loads and water high.

 If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,

Look quickly down, your quest to cease,

But tarry scant with marvel gaze,

Just take the chest and go in peace.

 So why is it that I must go

And leave my trove for all to seek?

The answers I already know,

I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.

 So hear me all and listen good,

Your effort will be worth the cold.

If you are brave and in the wood

I give you title to the gold.

  

I mentioned earlier that perhaps the Beatitudes offer us a treasure map.  After all, when we are mourning, they offer to us that we will end up with our own kingdom. That sounds a bit weird … unless we think of how we might interpret the verse.  Most of us will never be the ruler of an actual kingdom but the world also refers to our own realm or space.  When we grieve, we are acknowledging that we had something that has passed on.  In order to have had that special something, our life had to have meaning and reason.   In other words, we ruled something, created and obtained something of value. 

 

Ultimately, we all want our lives to have meaning and we want to find contentment and peace.  Perhaps the ultimate treasure hunt is our search for those very things.  Henry Fielding once said “I am content; that is a blessing greater than riches.”  Fielding lived in eighteenth century United Kingdom but his words are applicable to us today.   

 

Inner peace is not an impossible search to undertake.  Ed and Deb Shapiro are the authors of “Be the Change”.  They advise one take the following path in looking for inner peace and happiness.  “1.  Don’t take yourself too seriously. At times of hardship, such as loss or illness, it’s easy to lose your humor and even easier to get involved with the negative aspects of what is happening. Remembering not to take yourself too seriously brings a lightness and acceptance to the weight of circumstance around you. Don’t forget, angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!

 

“2. Don’t identify with suffering, loss, or illness as being who you are. Many of our participants realized how they’d been identifying themselves as a cancer survivor/widow/recovering addict, or whatever it may be, but had not asked who they were without that label or identity. When you don’t identify with the negative issues, then who you really are has a chance to shine.  3. It’s OK to be you, just as you are, warts and all. You may think you’re imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But true perfection is really accepting your imperfections. It is accepting yourself, complete with all the things you like as well as the things you don’t like. In this way you’re not struggling with or rejecting yourself. Each one of is unique, a one-time offer, but we can’t know this if we are facing away from ourselves.

 

“4. Make friends with yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have that lasts for the whole of your life, and you can be the greatest friend or the worst enemy to yourself. So it’s very important not to emotionally put down or beat yourself up. Just be kind.  5. Feel everything, whatever it may be. When you are suffering, it’s easy to want to deny or repress your feelings, as they get huge and overwhelming. But if you can really honor whatever you are feeling then it’ll bring you closer to the inner happiness beneath the suffering or grief. Acknowledging and making friends with your real feelings is the greatest gift. 

 

“6. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Treasure yourself. These are big steps, but each one liberates the heart and sets you free. You need to forgive yourself for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all things you think you’ve done wrong. They are in the past and who you are now is not who you were then. You can take any guilt or shame by the hand, invite it in for tea, and open yourself to self-forgiveness.  7. Meditate. There is an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation changes the circuits in the part of the brain associated with contentment and happiness and stimulates the “feel-good” factor. Meditating on love and kindness makes you much, much happier! And the only way to know this is to try it, so don’t hesitate.

 

Each day offers us a chance to give up the frivolous and take on the important.  When we live with faith and hope, we are on the path to finding the treasure of peace and happiness.  Gautama Buddha lived circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE but his words are perhaps the best treasure map of all.  “Peace comes from within.  Do not seek it without.”

 

 

From Victim to Victorious

From Victim to Victorious

Lent 16-17

 

He was born a Roman citizen to parents Conchessa and Calpurnius.  The Roman Empire extended from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean and his home was not near Rome but in the Roman British lands.  As a young teen he was kidnapped and forced into child labor by pirates.  The life was hard and unfair – the makings for a deep need to extract violence as payback and yet …

 

The Romans probably had little idea of who they were conquering when they invaded Britain and Ireland.  The Celtic and Druid culture centered on their pagan gods and goddesses and magic was an integral part of their beliefs, a magic that the Romans believed came not from good but evil.  The Romans destroyed the Celtic and Druids’ religious sites and when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, many Britons converted.  

 

It was to this culture that a child named Patrick was born.  The exact location is disputed but we know he was born an aristocrat.  His family was second-generation Christians and Patrick was well educated.  One fateful day he and his father’s servants were taken prisoner and his life changed dramatically.  In an instant he went from living a life of luxury to that of servitude and despair.

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom.”  The first Beatitude seems contradictory and, let’s face it, a bit defeatist.  Do I have to be in dire straits to win the prize?  Certainly the millions who purchase lottery tickets might argue with that reasoning since seldom do any win.  I know of no other human living or deceased whose life portrays this Beatitude better than that of Patrick, the saint whose day is celebrated today.

 

It is said that Patrick believed “If I have any worth, it is to live my life, so as to teach these peoples, even though some of them still look down on me.”  Today his life will be celebrated worldwide with the wearing of green, symbolic of the country from which the pirates who enslaved him sailed and the country to which he returned to share his faith and spirituality.

 

Patrick wrote that he saw his escape in a dream and he did indeed escape and return to his family.  He did remain in Britain, however.  He would return to minister to the Irish and to share his creed for living.  His life remains shrouded in mystery with many things attributed to him, including the banishment of all snakes from Ireland.  What is known is that in the midst of his troubles and captivity, Patrick found solace in his beliefs and faith.  “I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s host to secure me against snares of devils, against temptations of vices, against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.”

 

You might argue that someone with such conviction was never truly “poor in spirit” and I would understand that interpretation. I would offer, nonetheless, that there were days in which Patrick sorely felt downtrodden and exhausted and in that, his physical spirit did indeed seem poor. 

 

He serves to represent to me a living testament of how although we might be victims of another’s cause, we alone control the effect it has on us.  The man known as Saint Patrick, in whose honor many will celebrate today with parades and parties, wanted us all to find strength in our faith and beliefs.  We truly inherit the kingdom when we live with such assurance.  We all are victims, at one time or another, of something beyond our control.  With conviction, though, we can write a life story that, like Patrick’s, will be victorious, not just for ourselves but for others. 

Build

Build

Epiphany 34

 

There is a great deal of talk worldwide about refugees and people act like it is a new thing.  It isn’t.  Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  These kids who had protested eating vegetables their entire lives now realized what a gift they were on the dinner table and how lucky it was to have them to eat.

 

In the 1990’s, as the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA, we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there, buts of paper napkins folded into beautiful works of sculptural art.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  These were people trying to escape a Communist regime that allowed for no one to be a dissident; no freedom of thought respected.  Eight hundred men and women had attempted to flee the harsh conditions of their lives.  Their ship, the Golden Venture, did not complete the journey and some perished in the ocean before being pulled out, only to be arrested and some, eventually returned to China.

 

Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring.  My faith gave me strength to help disband it, wading through all the necessary agencies to report it and make sure the case was not lost in the myriad of cases that existed. 

 

My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.

 

I have been lucky in my life, although not as lucky as some.  Usually my displaced feelings come from peer pressure, not attempts on my life nor missiles and bombs exploding in my ear.  Still, life is not a competition and displaced feelings are valid regardless of their level of threat to our well-being.  The saving grace in life comes not just from our beliefs and faith but from our actions.

 

I believe that the world needs more bridges and fewer walls.  When we connect, we build bridges and recognize how similar we really are.  The world benefits from our connections when we build them.  Such human bridges serve to strengthen our world and create a better future for us all.  The world will never have enough sanctuaries and it is up to each of us to help build them.