Riding the Waves

Riding the Waves

Detours in Life

Pentecost 5

 

Whew!  June was an interesting month as the tides of life seemed to engulf me.  Each day seemed to go exactly opposite to its schedule and my carefully arranged agenda became a figment of my imagination upon rising each morning.   Never more have I lived the words of John Steinbeck:  “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

 

In short, life took me down a month-long journey of detours.  What I realized was that if I was alive to complain and become frustrated, I was alive to survive those detours and, hopefully, learn from them.  That realization did not come easily, however.  About halfway through the month, I came across this quote from Ken Poirot: “Life is a journey with almost limitless detours.”   Initially I got depressed but then I realized this was my salvation.

 

About the same time I accepted the inevitability of detours and that I was not a complete failure because I was encountering them, a friend posted a picture of a family member – a young family member who had just spent an hour finger painting.  The photo was a collage of the young artist covered in paint, the painting itself, and then a close-up of the glorious satisfaction this child felt while looking at her masterpiece.

 

I got the post of this young artist on a Monday.  That really is not important except that I had a friend who always says goodbye after our early morning exercises with ad encouraging admonition to have a good day.  Each day has its own tagline and Monday’s is always: “Have a masterpiece of a Monday!”  As I looked at this picture of the young child I realized she had indeed made it a masterpiece of a Monday while creating her own masterpiece. 

 

To be truthful, I have no idea what the drawing represented except a thirty minute period of this child’s life.  I will be kind and call it an abstract painting.  It was certainly a masterpiece, though, and one that brought a smile to my face.  More importantly, I realized that is was a masterpiece created out of the chaos that finger painting usually brings.  The child’s smock was covered in paint as was one of her cheeks.  She was, quite frankly, a mess.  And yet, in the messiness of it all was a beautiful creation and magnificent smile, both on her face and on the faces of those who saw it, including myself.

 

More importantly, her painting was a detour from the detour I was currently on.  While it seemed like my schedule was in disarray and a mess, it was nothing compared to her painted mess.  Hers, however, was delightful.  Then I learned that the child finger painting was also a detour.  She had been scheduled to go to the park with my friend but it had rained.  Truly on this day, our lives were full of limitless detours. 

 

It was then that I realized this young child knew more than I did about living.  She was riding the waves of life and instead of pouting about the park, created a masterpiece of finger painted artwork that was shared and appreciated by many.  It was then that I understood I needed to surf through the month instead of kicking and screaming about how life was not going according to my plan. 

 

I did not end up with any masterpieces at the end of the month but I did learn to appreciate the detours and not stress over them.  I even think I made a few new friends, learned a few new things, and came out a little smarter.  I also made sure to have some paper and paints on hand next time life gets too chaotic.  I think I will surf through the detours with a little finger painting or coloring of my own, riding the waves of life and its detours with a smile.

Focus

Focus

Epiphany 20

 

Growth is living.  We all evolve from our life experiences but how do we turn those experiences into positive change?  How do we avoid the anxiety that living inevitably creates?  How do we focus on the good, learn from the bad, and move forward productively?  IF what George Lucas says is true – “Always remember; your focus is your reality”, how do we create a better reality for the future?

 

In his book “The Light in the Heart”, Roy T. Bennet offers this advice:  “Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.  Focus on your character, not your reputation.  Focus on your blessings, not your misfortunes.”  Great advice but exactly how do we do that?

 

Socrates believed “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.”  Mindfulness is defined as the state of active, open attention on the present, maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment in the absolute present.  Many believe it to be the first step towards what Socrates termed “building the new”.

 

A recent study conducted by Georgetown University as a clinical trial for the National Institutes of Health involved eighty-nine patients and yielded some interesting results on how what is our focus can determine what our future becomes.  It also afforded insights into better living of the present.  Testing and scientifically proving the reported benefits of mindfulness meditation, including longer attention span, pain management, support overcoming addiction, and lowered blood pressure, has been a challenge, even though people have been practicing the technique for thousands of years.

 

“Many prior tests of meditation-based therapies have compared a meditation group to an untreated control group. Because participants in such studies are not ‘blinded’—they know if they are getting treatment or not—they are likely to be influenced by the placebo effect and other forms of expectancy bias,” a press release regarding this clinical trial stated. It was believed that the way the study was designed eliminated any participant bias toward a particular treatment being tested. 

 

Currently, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness diagnosed in the United States, and affect 40 million adults, or 18 percent of the country’s population.  A person who suffers from anxiety will often focus on future prospects and become overwhelmed with fear that everything will turn out badly. These feelings can restrict a person’s ability to work, maintain relationships, or leave the house. The condition also may come with side effects that resemble health disorders, such as sweating, shaking, increased heart rate, bowel issues, and hyperventilation.  “Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, MD. 

 

A 2013 article in Psychology Today offered six quick mindfulness exercises anyone can do.  First, take two mindful bites.  Instead of attempting to do mindful eating all the time, try mindful eating for the first two bites of any meal or snack.  For the first two bites of any meal or snack you eat, pay attention to the sensory experiences – the texture, taste, smell, and appearance of the food, and the sounds when you bite into your food.  Pay attention to your sensory experience in an experiential rather than evaluative way and do not concentrate on the actual flavor. 

 

Secondly, pay attention to what one breath feels like.  After all, breathing is one of the most essential parts of our day.  Feel the sensations of one breath flowing into and out from your body. Notice the sensations in your nostrils, your shoulders, your rib cage, your belly etc.  Next, take a mindful moment to give your brain a break instead of checking your email.  Look out a window and notice the grass or leaves.  Check out your environment rather than that inbox full of emails. 

 

The fourth exercise is to be mindful of the air around you, the air touching your skin.   Pay attention to the feeling of air on your skin for 10-60 seconds.  This is best done when wearing short sleeves or with some skin exposed but if you are wearing long sleeve, roll them up just above the wrists.  When you do this, you are experiencing the air in an experiential processing mode as opposed to evaluative “judging” mode, which is our usual default.  Remember, this mindfulness exercise is about experiencing, not judging.

 

Next, look at your body from top to toe, noticing any sensations of discomfort or tension. Attempt to soften any sensations of discomfort. Next, scan your body for any sensations of comfort or ease.  Focus on the sensations of comfort and ease.  Don’t spend a great deal of time on this but do recognize both the negative and the positive.

 

Lastly, consider something you do every day, some action that you do each and every single day.  Perhaps it is opening a newspaper or brushing your hair.  Consider that action and focus on it.  Maybe it will be that first sip of coffee in the morning.  Whatever it is, focus on it mindfully and be in that moment.  When you are doing that, you aren’t worrying about that busy schedule that will hit you as you walk out the door.  By turning your focus to the delightful smell of your cup and anticipating that taste of coffee or by concentrating on how the bristles of your brush are massaging your scalp as you brush your hair, your body will relax and your anxiety level will drop.

 

According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment — without interpretation or judgment.  Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. Practicing mindfulness exercises, on the other hand, can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you.  More importantly, you will turn your focus on yourself in a positive non-narcissistic manner, reconnecting with your essence and nurturing yourself.

 

 

Striking Stress

Striking Stress

Pentecost 188

 

A good friend once told me “If it doesn’t burn calories, then stress has no place in my life.”  Great thought but … how do we manage that?  The fact is we should avoid stress.  Our bodies thrive when they are subjected to and survive stress.  That’s how we build stronger muscles and even immune systems.  Stress, however, is often that which breaks us down instead of building us up.

 

Pentecost is called the “Ordinary Time” and the series this year has been about making this ordinary time something extraordinary.  We have discussed over three hundred ways to make things we do in our daily lives better and impactful but I keep getting comments about all the stress, particularly from people in the United States.

 

This has been a very tumultuous year for many people.  We have had terror attacks and political negativity.  Natural disasters have wreaked havoc on people’s lives and gun violence has created fear and distrust.  We do not need the countless scientific studies that exist to recognize the danger stress can present in our lives if it overwhelms us.

 

William James once said “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”  Can our best defense simply be our thoughts?  Is the key to living extraordinary hours simply a matter of thinking differently?

 

Our brains are made up of over one hundred million neurons or cells which interact with each other in over one hundred trillion different ways.  Each of these connections can link up at 10 different levels – there are 1,000 trillion possibilities or, in laymen’s terms, endless possibilities of connections.  What does that mean for us?

 

Studies done on children living in high stress situations for prolonged periods of times such as those in Middle Eastern war zones of African famine conditions have shown us the effects of long-term exposure to high levels of stress.  Their ability to plan, concentrate, learn quickly, think ahead and act decisively has been compromised as a result of long term flood of stress hormones into the body and brain.  The part of their body, the hippocampus, that allows us to learn and remember is severely affected.  On the other hand, British researchers also found that, while chronic exposure to high levels of cortisol damaged hippocampus, the right amount of this hormone could actually enhance learning and memory.

 

Muscles that are never subjected to stress do not grow and even atrophy.  The brain is, at its core, a muscle that uses almost twenty percent of the oxygen in our body.  Pacing ourselves and teaching ourselves how to respond to stress can be the most extraordinary gift we give ourselves.  It is as easy as simply taking a breath.

 

Relaxation is a key step towards defeating the negative effects stress can have on our bodies.  A study conducted at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine which is part of Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that just eight weeks of relaxation practice can counter the damaging effects of stress.  Deep breathing, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and even repetitive prayer lead to progressive muscle relaxation and healthy eustress which is positive stress on the body. 

 

So take a deep breath and start living in an extraordinary way.  Learn to think positive and be grateful for all you have.  Your body will thank you.  We cannot control the world or certain aspects of our lives but we can control the stress instead of letting the stress control us.

 

 

 

 

Real Fear Motivates

Real Fear Motivates

Pentecost 158

 

Recent events have indicated that stress levels in the United States are directly linked to elevated levels of stress.  Many blame the rhetoric of the Republican candidate while others feel it is the alleged dereliction of duty and proper security protocols by the Democratic candidate that are the cause.  Some have washed their hands of the election process completely which adds to the stress of others who firmly believe such an attitude will lead to anarchy and the dissolution of the nation.

 

None of this stress is creating anything but more accusations, however.  Where is the cause and effect?  While negativity does lead to elevated stress, it can also create action.  IN today’s climate, the higher stress levels claimed by many are simply leading to more verbiage without greater action.

 


Jon Huntsman, Sr. is well known as the founder of a global chemical manufacturing company.  What might not be as well known is that he gives away a great deal of his income.  He became a serious humanitarian in 1992 after a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  En route to the hospital, he wrote a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another to a local soup kitchen feeding the homeless and poor, and half a million dollars to the clinic that first diagnosed and discovered his tumor.  He later began his own cancer foundation at a cost of over one billion dollars.

 

This humanitarian has long been giving away his money, which totals well into the billion dollar range. Founder of a global chemical manufacturer, his serious giving days began in 1992 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. On his way to the hospital, he gave a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another million to a soup kitchen, and $500,000 to the clinic that first found the malignancy. Huntsman would go on to found his own cancer foundation, which cost him more than one billion dollars alone. His donations have even gone so far as to knock him of the Forbes list of wealthiest individuals. 

 

It is said that there are no atheists in a foxhole during war when bullets or missiles are flying overhead.  True fear motivates people.  The reality is that fear creates its own cause and effect and in order to withstand the fear, we seek to do something, to make the situation better.  There are those times where we have no control over the fear.  We can control our response, though.  Behavior to bring about positive changes helps us destress.  Making what has become ordinary during this election something extraordinary can be as simple as doing something.

 

Volunteering to be a mentor or, if you do not feel academically capable, volunteering to help behind the scenes at such locations, is a perfect start to living your beliefs and helping your local community.  Rather than listening to someone tell you how to live, go out and live according to your beliefs.  Baking or providing cookies for public servants like firemen or police officers is an easy first step.  Being a Big Brother or Big Sister is another and these programs have training sessions to help you get started.

 

If making hats or weaving plastic bags into water proof mats is more your style, your local homeless shelter would be happy for donations of your handiwork.  One of the easiest ways to make a blanket is to purchase a yard of flannel and then fringe each end.  That is done by cutting slits five inches long on either end.  The strips become fringe and the blankets is an easy yet warm addition to any homeless person’s bedroll, lightweight yet a good layering insulator for cold nights.

 

Hopefully, you will not wait until you are scared or have a diagnosis of a life-altering or possible life-ending disease.  It doesn’t take a million-dollar paycheck to become a humanitarian.  We all have the ability to help another and when we live grace, we receive grace.  Life is really just that simple.  Life is much more that going about your daily schedule stressed out.  Life is about making positive change with positive action.

Pensive Encounters

Pensive Encounters
Lent 15

Where do you exist? Maybe it is your actual address. Maybe it is another galaxy. Meditation is the experience of taking one’s self somewhere else mentally. People meditate in order to de-stress, to discern, to find themselves. For many it is an art form. For others, it is simply a quiet haven in a very hectic, chaotic world. The practice of centering prayer is a type of meditation wherein one finds a place for their soul to live and grow. Meditation is, quite simply, finding the sacred within in order to deal with all that is outside.

Meditation was once the hallmark of the free spirit, that person who walked and danced to the beat of a different drummer. I remember in college hearing someone remark as a young woman walked past: “She definitely is into meditation; you can tell by her flowing skirt.” The comment stood out in my mind because I was wearing the exact same skirt. I pointed it out to the group of classmates I was with and they laughed, responding, “But you are grounded.”

Meditation has many positive effects and most who engage in it will tell you that it helps keep them grounded. Scientific studies reveal that meditation helps lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve the body’s response to autoimmune diseases, and even help clear up skin conditions. Studies conducted at Harvard School of Medicine revealed that people who practice short periods of meditation daily can actually expand certain areas of their brain having to do with compassion while shrinking those areas dealing with stress.

Television news anchor Dan Harris describes meditation as exercise for the brain. “Meditation is not relaxation. It’s not sitting there and zoning out. You’re taming your mind. It’s hard work – just the way rock climbing or swimming a mile is. But it has benefits just like those activities do.” He agrees that getting started is not easy but feels it is essential. “Meditation teaches you to put a little bit of a break between the thought and the emotional state. You recognize that you’re angry or annoyed or impatient, but instead of blindly going with the emotion, you have a buffer between stimulus and response. As a result, you’re often the smartest person in the room. Not because of your intellectual horsepower but because of what social scientists call emotional intelligence.”

In his blog at We The Change, Todd Goldfarb has some wonderful tips for getting started with meditation. “Meditation is the art of focusing 100% of your attention in one area. The practice comes with a myriad of well-publicized health benefits including increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and a general feeling of happiness.” A critical element to meditating is remembering to breathe. Sounds sill, doesn’t it? After all, we all breathe. It is absolutely necessary to being alive. It is what determines if we are alive or not. Yet, because respiration is one of the automatic processes of the body, we seldom really think about it.

Breathing with focus is crucial when meditating and actually helps the beginner learn how to shut out the world in order to have that pensive encounter with the inner soul. Sitting still is not exactly natural for many of us. For others, the quiet is uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of being unbearable. Focusing on the inhalation and exhalation help one combat those beginner discomforts. Many sit while meditating but some recline. Turn off any distractions and if you need something, play a soothing tune but keep the volume low. Meditate in a room where you will not be disturbed or interrupted. Give this encounter the respect it deserves. By doing so, you are really giving yourself respect. Some use a hand-held labyrinth to help them focus, using a stylus or finger to trace the path of the labyrinth as they meditate. Prayer beads are another focus aid often used. The practice of kinhin is a walking meditation, many times done with the striking of a drum indicating the time to take the next step. All of these things help direct the mind to the meditative focus and not the outside world.

Mediation has been described as a way to quiet the mind so that one’s soul might speak. Others describe it as letting in the light of the soul. David Lynch states: “The thing about meditation is: You become more and more you.” T. S. Elliot once said: ““I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

Spiritual teacher Osho describes the benefits and necessity for a meditative, pensive encounter. “It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process. It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher. And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty. That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”

George McDonald, a Scottish author, poet, and theologian remarked: ““Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.” Thousands of years earlier the great Chinese Lao Tzu spoke of the same thing: “The Way to do is to be.” When we take the time to close out the world, we have the opportunity to meet ourselves. Meditation is that pensive encounter, that opportunity to meet and greet the sacred within ourselves.

Pentecost 178

Pentecost 178
My Proverbs 28

The Gathering

Somewhere around 950 ACE, the word “haerfest” came into usage. Approximately four hundred years later man had an implement that became known as the “harwe” in the Middle English language. Following the paths that languages took, based upon traveling bands and invading armies, the “w” sound became a “v”, the “ae” diphthong became just an “a”, and the word “harvest” entered the English dictionary.

The concept of a harvest was nothing new. Regardless of whatever story you believe about mankind’s beginnings, food was an integral part of survival. As man became communal, food needs became organized in how they were secured. One can wander around and eat berries but a clan soon depletes a thicket of available plant sustenance. Thus, as food sources became crops, the yield of those crops became an annual event. It is an unconscious habit to say a word of gratitude when someone hands you a small cake, piece of sweet, or drink; the mind recognizes the need for the body to have fuel. Many hands made short work of the harvesting of food sources and giving thanks for such was as natural as breathing.

Thus the countless harvest festivals held worldwide not surprisingly became festivals of gratitude. Yesterday those in the United States of America celebrated Thanksgiving Day. While many remember President Abraham Lincoln for being killed by an assassin or for being the president during America’s only organized national civil war, it was this president during this was that made the USA’s Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.

Today many countries are in the midst of their own civil war. Fanatical religious factions are holding parts of Iran under siege. Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are under similar threats from terroristic regimes attempting to overthrow the governments. Russia has acted in such a way as to incite and exacerbate the situation and governments in its former satellite nations. On a lesser note, several countries have infighting between native groups and the current governments. How many of those have stopped, in the midst of the turmoil and fighting, to proclaim a day of thanks? How many people caught in the battle between Islamic tribes and Jewish tribes find attitudes of gratitude, are able to see the good things for the fighting?

In his proclamation, Lincoln wrote: “t has seemed to me fit and proper that they [Lincoln had previously made note of the gains during the past year compared to the misery and fighting] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

Regardless of whether you celebrate this time of harvest thanks, time of communal appreciation and gratitude in November, October, September, or whenever, many things are constant and one of those things are the expectations of family gatherings. All too often, this holiday, like others, brings with it a sense of drama and unfulfilled expectations.

The community which sprang up centuries ago around the fields of food led to our present day family unit and celebrations. However, family relationships are complicated. Families share similar DNA and yet, no one member is an exact clone of another. Even identical twins have differences of opinions, varied tastes, contradictory likes and dislikes. As family members age, recollections differ, stories are told in various recantations, and what seems funny to one group causes pain in another. Add to that the various ages and stages of aging and the mental issues that often arise with such and the stage becomes set not for care-free celebrations but intense family dramas that result in hurt feelings, stress, and anxiety. Going “over the river and through the woods” to a family gathering becomes a trip to an emotional mine field.

Holidays can cause so much stress that there are catch phrases for it such as “holiday blues; holiday blahs”. Even the website webmd.com has multiple entries regarding such including one which speaks directly to the gathering of family. “During the holidays, a lot of childhood memories come back,” says Duckworth, who is also an assistant professor at Harvard University Medical School. “You may find yourself dwelling on what was inadequate about your childhood and what was missing.” Even parents, especially older parents, can lead the drama. The same parents who years earlier would have disdained elevated anxiety are now seemingly causing it.

Any group of people is also a group of personalities. With that comes a gathering of not only food but possible health issues, both mental and physical. Suddenly one becomes caught up in differences instead of similarities. What has been easy to ignore the past eleven months suddenly becomes impossible to bear.

Many all over the world are just entering the winter holiday season. Whether rejoicing in a good harvest or trying to brighten the dreary winter months, families will gather, friends will party. Expectations will be high, perhaps impossibly too great. Just as many have forgotten that the American Thanksgiving Day became legal in the midst of fighting and the grief that such brings, we forget that the past year also brought the spoils of planting as well as the bountiful harvest. Sri Sathya Sai Baba once said: “Life is a mosaic of pleasure and pain. Grief is an interval between two moments of joy. You have no rose without a thorn. The diligent picker will avoid the pricks and gather the flower. There is no bee without the sting. Cleverness consists in gathering the honey nevertheless.”

The fragility of life includes both the thorns of living as well as the sweet smell of harvest and beautiful vision of joy. It has been said that only a country such as the United States would legalize a day of giving thanks in the midst of a civil war that pitted brother against brother, town against town, region against region. Perhaps we should not be surprised that such a gathering of people, in spite of continued differences, annually celebrates that day and the hopes it represented then and now. Perhaps that is why we continue to gather in spite of drama and remembered grief.

Perhaps we should return to the origin of the thanksgiving celebrations and think of the harvest. No farmer always reaps a plant from every seed. Earlier this month, the University of Illinois Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics released a comparative table of average annual percent changes in yield per harvested acre, 1967-1971 versus 2010-2014. Their findings were as follows: peanuts 2.4%; corn, 2.0%; rice, 1.5%; barley, 1.4%;soybeans, 1.4%; wheat, 1.2%; oats, .5%; sorghum, .3%. With all of the technological advances in equipment, weather forecasting, pest management, etc., none of these yields, which are considered quite good, was over 2.5%. Maybe our average annual expectations of our gatherings should be more realistic, especially since they involve people – different people living different lives in different situations all coming together in close spaces trying to impress and increase their expected “yield” of gathering.

It is a quote credited to several: “Patience with family is love. Patience with others is respect. Patience with self is confidence. Patience with God is faith.” Our life begins with family and how we spend it largely depends on family. Holidays are how we define ourselves and our creeds for living. I hope that however you celebrate, you do so with kindness and respect. When we show love and honor to others, we give it to ourselves. Responsible celebration involves more than wise imbibing of food and drink. We are the hosts and hostesses to every situation of our lives, especially the gatherings. The kindness we show to others may not be immediately reflected back to us but the character we build by doing so is a harvest worthy of the effort. We are not defined by our harvest but by the way we plow our lives. Whether it be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Winter Solstice celebrations, we all have much for which to be thankful. We all have much to for which to dream and be of good cheer. We all have the need to gather together in hope and love. No man is an island. No more stands alone. We need our gatherings. We need to prepare for the harvest.

My Proverb 28

We should worry less about the harvest and worry more about the plowing. If we live a life of sowing goodness and kindness, then we reap a clear conscience.

Pentecost 75

Pentecost 75
My Psalm 75

Uh…gulp…Stress!!!

When Pentecost began, I had just completed a theology course which included a brief discussion about the psalms. During the four year program I discovered that many people thought David, the boy who faced a giant and won and later became king, wrote all one hundred and fifty of them. Historians, Linguists, and theologians do not believe that to be true. In fact, it is estimated that the composition of the psalms, songs of prayer and praise as well as supplication, were written over a span of five centuries.

What really amazed me during the four years of hearing people discuss the psalms was the general agreement in the various translations of the Torah and Holy Bible containing them despite a great deal of dissension among readers and my classmates regarding what they really mean. It seemed that experts agreed but readers did not. Some of the psalms were written after great battles; some preceded them. Similarly, in class some psalms caused total agreement while others complete differences of opinion. And people would become a bit worked up over their interpretations!

I have read all of the psalms via my chosen religious denominational service countless times over but had I really read them, really thought about them? Sadly, I confess that the answer was no. So during Pentecost I thought I would not only read each psalm but write my own, using updated language and thoughts. There are many formulas for writing a psalm but I wanted mine to simply be verses – verses of praise, question, and adoration. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

There are, in case you did not know, one hundred and fifty psalms. I like poetry and I like writing it. I completely understand those poets who communicated solely in haiku or iambic pentameter. After all, we all have our own accents based on where we have lived or our ethnic backgrounds, rhythmic patterns of speech that help people recognize our voices. The thing is….When you commit to writing one hundred and fifty psalms, you need to write one hundred and fifty psalms. And that is daily. Talk about stress!

As I sat wondering why I had put myself through this stress, I realized two things: First, I was already half-way through my goal. Secondly, did I know exactly what stress was that made it so bad? You see, while it has been stressing at times, I actually admit to being a bit pleased at this challenge. At times I feel a bit guilty not following the formulas but then again, I’m not sure David and his helpers always did either. I think the most important thing is that you say whatever you say from the heart and with sincerity. I also learned I did not particularly like all of the psalms. They are all beautiful but some are full of negativity. Were the writers stressed? Probably!

So what exactly is stress? According to the national Institute of Mental Health, a part of the National Institutes of Health, “stress is the body’s response to a demand”. Say what? That’s it? Stress is a response? Turns out that is exactly what it is and there is good stress as well as the bad stress we all have experienced. The fight or flight response we’ve discussed here is one way the body handles stress and it can save your life. Chronic stress, though, can be harmful to your health – physical, emotional, and mental.

There are three types of stress. Routine stress is that which we associate with our daily lives, those pressures of work, family, and other normal and daily responsibilities. Stress brought about by change, a sudden unexpected negative event, is the second type of stress. This includes losing a job, divorce, or illness. Traumatic stress is the third type and is just what the name describes – a major accident or natural diasater. War is also considered a traumatic stress.

So which type of stress was my writing one hundred and fifty psalms? Other than the mental exercise, which was really a good type of stress, it really has not been that stressful. Once I got over a lack of faith I could do it and just did it, it wasn’t that bad. By the grace of the Eternal Spirit and Creator, words have flowed. By your kindness and grace, they appear to have been somewhat accepted for what they are and in spite of my needing to edit and re-edit at times!

The psalms were a type of song back in David’s day. A warrior in training who dared to put his faith in action, the psalms were his way of relaxing, of praying, of meditating. All of those are great ways to cope with stress! I have found writing my own daunting but also helpful, not stressful.

Many people today have taken up journaling and for a great many, writing a blog is a digital journal. I tend to pose more questions than answer them and that is intentional. I want to think and expand my thinking and I am inviting you to join me in doing so. Writing a psalm a day has helped me do that. More importantly, I have realized that, while the clothing and lifestyles are very different, the basic concerns and confusions of David are the same as those of us who are living today. We have leaders who are distrustful. We have episodes of complete joy. We have times of fear. We are subject to hatred by some. We want to live a life of faith. We sing glory to our Maker.

The psalms overall are a way to give thanks for our wonderful world. Writing a thank you note sometimes seems a bit daunting but really, all we have to do is let our heart speak. When we write a psalm and begin by describing God, we are not telling Him who He is but reminding ourselves.

Writing these psalms has been a reminder for me of the wonderful world that exists and the beauty of the people that are in it. This of course includes you, my followers. You are a rainbow of ethnicities and professions, locations, and beliefs. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you”. (Philippians 1:3)

My Psalm 75

To you, O Heavenly Father, do I give thanks.
For myself, family, friends, and life, I say thank you.
You alone know me well, very well.
For all you have given me,
In spite of myself at times,
I give you thanks.
There are those who dislike me;
Your love makes the hurt dissolve.
Thank you, dear Lord, for all the mercies of this life
And the promises of the next.
You alone are the Most High.
Thank you, my God.