Exercise Equals Good Health

Exercise Equals Good Health

Easter 36-46

 

Exercise does a body good.  We all know that.  However, mindfulness exercises will also provide health benefits, not just to our body but for our mental and emotional health as well.  The conversations we have in this blog, into my head as well as yours, are all about creating and maintain a healthy spiritual lifestyle.  After all, if our spirit is not willing, our living will and is compromised.

 

Clinician Elizabeth Scott is a enthusiastic advocate of mindful exercises.  “The practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results. Mindfulness can pull you out of the negative downward spiral that can be caused by too much daily stress, too many bad moods, or the habit of rumination.”

 

Life is messy.  We all know that.  Stress is a natural consequence of the messiness in our lives.  One of the best ways to combat stress is to meditate.  A key element for meditation is finding a quiet space, free of distractions and interruptions.  On one particularly stressful job site, I would go into the restroom, run some warm water and purposely take sixty seconds to wash my hands.  I would concentrate on the warmth of the water and imagine it radiating throughout my core.  Then I pictured all my stress going down the drain. 

 

Mediation can be a bit difficult if you are not accustomed to do it.  There are many different ways to meditate but one of the most basic is to simply listen to your thoughts.  Then imagine if someone else were saying them to you.  What would your response be?  Focused meditation relies on living in the moment.  That means putting aside what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, and simply concentrate on this moment in time right now.  Activity meditation uses a physical activity or movement to help one meditate.  Some people paint, others garden and many do yoga.

 

Clinician Scott advises these ways to being to practice meditation.  “Meditation can be practiced in many different ways.  While there are numerous different meditation techniques, a common thread runs through virtually all meditative techniques:

Quiet Mind: With meditation, your thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. For example, start thinking about nothing now. (It’s OK, I’ll wait.) If you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.

Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This, too, takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past.

Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.”

 

Other mindfulness exercises include some we have previously discussed like deep breathing.  When we concentrate on our inhalations and exhalations, we tend to release some of our stress.  I once knew a man who would draw a square with his index finger in his pants pocket or on his pants leg under a conference table.  As he did this, he would regulate his breathing and reduce his stress. 

 

Music is also a great way to release stress and live in the moment.  It doesn’t really matter the genre of music.  Music is a communication and the feelings it evokes can be used to reduce stress and create a better sense of well-being.  Eating slowly can also be a mindfulness exercise.  Too many of us gobble our food down but if we eat each bite slowly, chewing multiple times per bite, it can be a way to fully experience the tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of the moment.  It will also improve your digestion!

 

The mundane activities we do daily, like making the bed, washing dishes, sweeping, or cleaning a counter can be turned into mindfulness activities as can other things we take for granted.   Sometimes the biggest deterrent to practicing mindfulness is turning off the voice in our own head.    Scott encourages making mindfulness a habit and turning chores and daily activities into an opportunity for mindfulness.  “Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)”

 

Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said:  “Under duress we don’t raise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.”  The development of mindfulness and the use of it daily create a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensation, and surrounding environment.  This will lead to a development of heartfulness, the intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.  The world and we certainly need more of that.

Instructions for Anger

Instructions for Anger

Easter 22-23

 

Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Agnostic, Atheist, or somewhere in-between any of the above, we all experience anger.  I think anger can sometimes be a positive emotion.  The patient who is angry that a disease like cancer seems to think it can beat them will get angry and often, fight harder to survive.  But what about that deep anger that destroys us from the inside out?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh describes happiness as not suffering.  This Buddhist teacher and spiritualist reminds us that true happiness comes from within ourselves and not from material things or social standing.  Regardless of how it may seem, reality shows like “the Kardashians” are not about people who have it all but rather about people who struggle with an impossible race to reach happiness through impossible means.  The one emotion that drives such programs and thinking is anger.

 

Nhat Hanh explains:  “In our consciousness there are blocks of pain, anger and frustration called internal formations. They are also called knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom.  When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior.

 

“After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is “samyojana”. It means “to crystallize.” Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of. With the practice of meditation we can undo these knots and experience transformation and healing.”

 

It has become popular to “vent” one’s anger.  Sometimes people hit pillows but does this really release the anger?  As a parent I taught my kids to do jumping jacks, that exercise where you spread your arms wide over your hard and spread your feet accordingly while you jump back to a standing position.  For small children, this gives them a sense of being in control as they dictate what their body is doing and are no longer captive to their feelings of anger.

 

For adults, Nhat Hanh offers this advice.  “Whenever you feel yourself becoming angry, start practicing mindfulness.  Think of that one thing that makes you happy.  Visualize yourself in your most favorite spot doing something you enjoy doing.  Recall the feelings of happiness that that activity and that location bring to you and let yourself experience happiness.  To be happy, to me, is to suffer less. If we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible.  Many people look for happiness outside themselves, but true happiness must come from inside of us.

 

“Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my anger.” This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our anger, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.”

 

We are going to feel anger.  It is an inevitable part of life.  It is up to us to decide whether to use it, embrace it, or to let it eat us up and destroy us.  Nhat Hanh suggests this analogy:  “When it is cold in your room, you turn on the heater, and the heater begins to send out waves of hot air. The cold air doesn’t have to leave the room for the room to become warm. The cold air is embraced by the hot air and becomes warm—there’s no fighting at all between them.

 

“Practitioners of meditation do not discriminate against or reject their internal formations. We do not transform ourselves into a battle field, good fighting evil. We treat our afflictions, our anger, our jealousy with a lot of tenderness. When anger comes up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger.” We behave exactly like a mother: “Breathing in, I know that my child is crying. Breathing out, I will take good care of my child”, ourselves.

 

When we use our anger mindfully, we are showing compassion, not only to another but also to ourselves.  We must learn to do this because without it, we will not truly show compassion to others.  Nhat Hanh offers this very important piece of advice regarding life, its messiness and its inevitable feels of anger.  “To grow the tree of enlightenment, we must make good use of our afflictions, our suffering. It is like growing lotus flowers; we cannot grow a lotus on marble. We cannot grow a lotus without mud.”  Anger will be a part of our lives.  We can either choose to let it be the medium through which we grow or something that drags us down like quick sand.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Treasured Lessons

Treasured Lessons

Lent 23, 24, 25

 

I really value the early morning.  Throughout my lifetime I have been surrounded by late sleepers so the early morning was my own personal time and space.  It was as the sun began its ascent with its wisps of color heralding a new day that I would imagine the angels and fates beginning to cross the sky, seeking out souls to bless or offer aid and, perhaps, comfort.  Regardless of what transpired the day or days before, each new morning was a new gift with unexplored treasures to find.

 

Recently I began a new exercise regime and, true to my nature, it starts very early.  I like that the gym is sparsely crowded because then there are few people to rant and rave.  I still value those early morning promises and really dislike it when people want to rehash yesterday’s problems before the sun has settled comfortably in the sky.  This truly is, for me, a day which the Lord (or Spirit) has made and I strongly dislike anyone messing with my morning peace.  Thank heavens for headphones and mP3/iPod players!

 

We talked earlier this week about life being a treasure map that we explore during our lifetime.  The important thing about such explorations is not just the treasure we may be fortunate to unearth but the lessons learned along the path we travel.  I learned early on at the gym that people do not usually want answers or lessons.  They just want to exercise their tongues.  Our lives really deserve more than just hot air.

 

One of the movie’s more famous explorers has been, in the past two decades, the character of Indiana Jones, archaeology professor turned detective, seeking the world’s ancient treasures.  Popular on the big screen, his television counterpart would be Josh Gates but we’ll discuss Josh another time.

 

The perils faced by the fictional Indiana Jones are not uncommon to those faced by actual archaeologists.  (By the way, there is a grave at an Episcopal church in Berlin, MD which bears the name of Indian Jones – a real beloved wife with no connection to either Hollywood or the screenwriters.)  They also give us some brilliant insights in to some real treasures for living, lessons we all could use.

 

Respect might be the most important lesson the Indiana Jones movies teach us.  Respect for each other should be a given and yet, all too often we think in a “me” frame of mind instead of a “we” frame of mind.  Respect for different cultures is also important.  Something might seem weird to us but our ways are also just as weird to someone else.

 

One of Indiana Jones’ shortcomings is to never seem to be adequately prepared for his skirmishes.  If there is a gun fight, he always seems to have only a sword and vice versa.  Life does not come with guarantees and, in spite of a seemingly endless variety, there really are no crystal balls that foretell the future.  What saves Professor Jones is his thinking a problem out and discovering that, as in life, often the answer is a rather simple solution.  We need to expect the unexpected (Indiana Jones is always being chased by something – boulders, screaming tribesmen, even snakes.) and then calmly think of a way to deal with what life has given us.

 

Long ago the wheel was invented, as was fire.  It is perfectly okay for us to draw upon the past and walk the steps of those who have gone before us.  We need to remember to be humble and accept our own shortcomings.  We also need to have the strength to ask for help and admit when we cannot do it all alone.  Sometimes we need to have the strength and courage to think outside of the box. 

 

We need to know where we are and with whom we are traveling.  There is an old saying “don’t play poker with a pickpocket.”  It is good advice, not just for playing cards but for selecting our friends.  Too often we allow people into our inner circle that tear us down instead of building us up.  Friendship is supposed to be a positive thing.  Be very wary of people to whom you are a better friend than they are to you.  We need to often have faith in others but most importantly, have faith in ourselves.

 

Every treasure map seems to lead one to a fork in the road.  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” begins a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The poem speaks to having the courage to take the right path, even though it is not the popular one.  Not everything that glitters is really gold and sometimes life’s most golden lessons come to us in the most ugly of forms, tattered and torn but very valuable.

 

The treasures we hold dear in life say more about us than they do about themselves.  It is not what we accumulate that will define us as people.  How we have lived and the risks we were willing to take build character.  The well-worm sandals of a traveler are not the glittery, sparkling heels of a model but they do show character and a willingness to live.  They speak of one who has searched for truth and shared smiles along the journey. 

 

My early morning exercises are not just for my physical body; they are for my soul.  The quiet meditative moments of a sunrise will mean very little if I do not share my life.  We need to let go of the grief from yesterday but we also need to hold onto each other.  We need to live not in fear or focusing on troubles but by walking our paths together, listening and sharing respect, peace, and joy.  There is always something new to learn (I Corinthians 13), success to gleam from failures (Philippians 3), and new things to see (Ephesians 1).  On my own personal journey, I need to perhaps unplug in order to really grpw and find my own desired success.  As Philippians 4:14, advises – Share the ride!

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.”

 

 

Stuff Happens

Stuff Happens

Lent 9

 

IN the movie “Forrest Gump”, the lead character runs across the United States.  The reaction to run was born out of a childhood spent being bullied and the advice of a neighborhood friend to “Run, Forrest, Run!”  The cross country trek is undertaken after the death of his beloved mother.  The feeling of being lost overwhelms the character Forrest and so he undertakes a journey to find himself.  During a moment of rest another traveler approaches him, stepping in a pile of manure as he does so.  The character Forrest then says an iconic phrase:  “Shit happens.”

 

Our trajectory of life is not a smooth course.  While each generation is convinced theirs is the most difficult, the fact is that life has never been an easy uphill climb.  The history of the world bears out the fact that stiff happens, shit happens, and we need to deal with it.  One such example is grief.  Queen Elizabeth II is reported to have once said “Grief is the luxury and result of having loved.”  It is.  Blessed are those who grieve because they had something they loved and have now lost.

 

Benjamin Disraeli once remarked that “grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life.”  This is why we have the Beatitudes.  They remind us of this very fact.  Life has its moments of unpleasantness but it is only when we roll around in them and become comfortable in them that they become our life.   When we give them the correct attention, they are simply steps along our journey, not the destination.

 

The goodness of grieving is found in the essence of why we grieve – love and goodness.  I myself am horrible at goodbyes so grief is something I could easily become lost in, a destination instead of a moment.  Moving on does not mean we no longer love.  It simply means that we have valued the love and now are using it to live.

 

“Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.”  It may not seem like a blessing to mourn but the blessing comes from having something to mourn, for realizing what we had that is now different.  True love never dies but it does change.  When life happens and we no longer have what we once had in the same form, we learn to move on and find comfort in realizing that whatever it is for which we grieve, we really still have it.  The goodness of love is that it never dies, just takes on a new form.

 

Stuff happens and sometimes life gets icky, sticky messy.  When we grieve properly, we find ourselves moving on in our tears.  The knowledge that love improves our living is not new but using it to grieve and then move forward might be.  The same motivation love provided is still there.  IT is never good to indulge in anything that does not strengthen us.  Blessed are those who view love for the eternal beauty it offers and then move one to spread it and recreate it in the new day.

Anticipate

Anticipate

Epiphany 52

 

“We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway.  And I wonder if I’m really with you now or just chasin’ after some finer day.  Anticipation; anticipation is makin’ me late is keepin’ me waitin’.”  This lyric from the 1971 song by Carly Simon often describes our living. 

 

Anticipation itself is not a bad thing… as long as we make it productive.  The trick is to use our past to help with our present and prepare us for our future.  That can be difficult at times.  Norman Cousins once said that “Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.”  He made a very good point.

 

Anticipation is something we all experience in ways both pleasurable and frightening.  Just before you touch your tongue to that spoonful of ice cream, there is a thrilling anticipation of the delectable cool taste one is about to experience.  There is also that moment just before a skydiver exits the plane that the reality of gravity sets in and one is faced with what could go wrong, the anticipation of a reality one hopes never comes to fruition.

 

As we end this Epiphany series of actions, we anticipate Lent.  This year our Lenten series will be based on the Beatitudes, scriptural proverbs of sorts that number between eight and ten, depending on one’s preference for translation and interpretation.  The word “beatitude” translates as happiness although anyone anticipating happiness knows that it is not a simple topic.

 

Each verse of the Beatitudes consists of two parts, the condition and the result.  In the Gospel of Luke, there are listed four beatitudes and four woes, also with two parts.  Similarly, the process of anticipation has dual parts – cause and effect.  I think these reflect our relationships with others – our stance and theirs.

 

When we awake in the morning, most of us go through some sort of anticipation.  Sometimes it is merely reviewing our daily schedule and list of obligations, appointments, and tasks at hand.  Sometimes it is a matter of hoping everything runs smoothly and sometimes, it is the process of making alternative plans for those times that things go awry.

 

Life is about anticipation.  As many in the world are leaving the season of winter, they will anticipate the springtime.  Those in the other hemisphere will be anticipating their fall and succeeding winter.  Nature is always anticipating something.  New shoots spring up from a dormant ground while others are storing away food or preparing for hibernation. 

 

Anticipation reminds us that life is the opposite of being stagnant.  We cannot be truly living if we are merely staying in one place for any extended period of time.  Even those confined can live more fully by anticipating another adventure, book to read, person to meet, craft to make.  Everyone has something to offer if we would just live.  Albert Camus once wrote:  “… We need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us we are really alive.”

 

Looking forward to the new day is what life is all about.  Thomas Henry Huxley knew it.  “But anyone who is practically acquainted with scientific work is aware that those who refuse to go beyond fact, rarely get as far as fact; and anyone who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the ‘anticipation of Nature,’ that is, by the invention of hypotheses, which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with.”

 

There are a great many things in life which are required to be taken care of each and every day.  Family, work, those things which humans and nature require for daily maintenance…all of these can become boring without anticipation.  Allow yourself to look forward to that next minute and suddenly, they will add up to a great day and even better tomorrow.  Anticipate the excitement of living!