Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All Along Life's Pilgrim Journey

when they reached the end of the day, she began reciting a long list of tasks that had been left undone, and, as she did, tears began to flow down her face.  he listened, resolving to dedicate the next day to her, so that together they could complete as many of those tasks as possible.  he gave her a hug and wished her a good night's sleep before falling asleep himself.

the next morning, he arose early and completed his work outside the home.  then he came home and completed the usual morning chore of feeding their six pets before preparing breakfast so that when she got out of bed they could eat and begin work.  he had already determined that she would make all the decisions that day; he would be the helper who followed her directions.

as they ate breakfast, he said, "what job would you like to tackle first?"  still overwhelmed by all that there was to do, she looked at him sadly and replied, "we'll never get everything done."  he encouraged her to name the most important task for her, and when she did, he told her that he'd clear away the breakfast dishes as she got dressed, and then they'd start.

soon they began work on that task.  when she chose to do something in a way that he thought he had a better idea for, he bit his lip and went along with her way of doing things.  they worked hard all morning and by noon the end of the job was in sight.  exhausted, they took a break for lunch, and, after they had rested a bit, they went back to work, completing the task in short order.

she was excited by what they had accomplished and moved on to the next job on her list with enthusiasm.  he continued as her helper and soon this next chore was finished.  when she announced that she had to go inside to rest, he volunteered to move on to a task that only he could do and left to buy the materials he needed.  upon his return, he worked for several hours on his project.  she came and inspected it, then said, "why don't you go inside and rest for awhile now, and i'll put everything away.  then we'll clean up and go out for dinner."

as he rested and she worked, his heart was full of gratitude for his wonderful wife.  he wondered why he didn't express his joyful appreciation of her by dedicating more days to her and resolved that in the future he'd do just that.

may we all be filled with such appreciation of those we love.  may we find joy in setting aside our list of tasks to help another with the tasks that weigh heavily on them.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To Love and Be Loved

christians often speak of "doing God's will."  this phrase means different things to different chrisitians.  for many there is a sense that God has a plan for each life, and for those whose personal theology subscribes to this point of view much thought and prayer is given to discovering that plan and seeking to follow it in every way possible.  if God has a plan for one's life, then there is a right person to love, a right school to attend, a right career to pursue, a right home to rent or purchase, a right car to drive, a right church to attend, a right circle of friends, and so on.  every decision of life, no matter how mundane, must be made with a conscious effort to discover whether one is living in accordance with God's plan.

from my perspective, that is a terrible way in which to live.  for me, "doing God's will" means being awake to the love that permeates all of creation, being a conduit for that love to envelop me and flow through me to others.  the source of that love is God, and God's will is for each of us to love God, love ourselves, and love God's creation.  that will is summarized in jesus' teaching that the greatest commandments are to "love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself" (luke 10:27).  in this version from luke, the pair of linked commandments (which actually come from the mosaic law) are spoken to jesus by another in a conversation between jesus and an "expert in the law."  jesus confirms to this "expert" that he has spoken correctly, and in response to the expert's question about who one's neighbor is, jesus goes on to tell the parable of the good samaritan.  the same pair of commandments is found in the other synoptic gospels as well; in matthew and mark it is jesus who gives the commandments.

if one lives according to these teachings of jesus, a constant struggle to live according to some imagined plan imposed by God is unnecessary.  further it is possible to live as God intends without believing in God at all.  every person is capable of living a life of love and compassion.  the atheist blogs i read are written by men and women who seem much nearer the "kingdom of God" about which jesus spoke than many of us christians.  it is not a theologically correct belief system or a perpetual effort to discover God's direction for every decision of life that makes one a follower of jesus.  instead, it is the living of a thoughtful, loving, and compassionate life that fulfills God's purpose.

may each of us rejoice in the freedom we have to choose between lives of guilt in which we can never fully discern some imaginary plan for us and lives of love that embrace the love of God inherent in all of creation, the love that is the essence of God.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Is the House That Jack Built

Most of us know the old nursery rhyme that is the title of this post.  If you don't, or if you've forgotten it, you can find in here.   I remember reading the story of Jack's house to my children and how they delighted in it.  Of course, such memory games are fun, but beyond the mental exercise there is a profound truth about the interconnection of all things.

The other morning as I meditated, I gave thanks for the floor on which my feet were resting.  This led me to think of all those who responsible for that floor being there.  The list was longer than all the things in Jack's story.  Everything we can think of is the beginning of such a list.  We have so many to whom we must be grateful.

That leads to the myth of "self."  We are the products of so many other "selves:" the myriad ancestors who created us, the influences in our environment (both human and non-human), the culture of which we are a part, the uncontrollable circumstances of our lives.  There can be no fixed self, because life around us changes moment by moment, and each of those changes impacts the "self" that we are in that unique moment.  So there is the constant flux which makes each of us unique and yet entirely dependent on events beyond our control.

Because of this there is no such thing as "self-reliance" either.  We are bound together with all of creation, a part of everything that is, just as all-that-is is a part of us.  We can never come to the end of the list of those to whom we should be grateful.  May we remember this fact when we begin to think of our "self," and may we wish all those selves and things that had and continue to have a role in creating the unique self that exists in this fleeting moment wellness, happiness, and peace.  shalom

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

And So Through All the Length of Days

today i am late in posting to my blog because my schedule has suddenly become full with preparation of funeral music on top of an already too-full list of responsibilities.  my thoughts turn to death once more.  i think of those who are given the blessing of much time for the end of life, those who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses while still feeling well and strong and so are able to put their affairs in order and to relish the time they have remaining.  i think of those who are taken suddenly with no warning and do not have the luxury of planning for their own end.

few of us want to leave this life.  we never seem to get to the end of our bucket list, we don't want to let go of time to spend with loved ones, we want to cling to life and the experiences it brings.  yet we know that the end will come for all of us, some sooner, some later, but come it will.  so how does one get ready for it?  perhaps we should live as though each day were our last, as though each moment could be our last, always ready.  in this way, it matters little whether the end can be seen clearly in the not-to-distant future or whether the end comes abruptly with no warning.

as i age, i think of this ending more often.  i see the lives of more and more of those i know coming to an end, and i ponder how best to prepare for my own end.  i think of what the lives of those i love most may be like once i'm gone, and i think of what my life might be like should those loved ones precede me in death.  would they or i stay in the same home, in the same town?  would we spend our resources in the same way?  would we have enough resources to live well?

i want to believe that i am prepared for both my own passing or the passing of those dearest to me, that i am mentally ready for either eventuality.  if i were told that i have x number of months to live, would i still feel that i'm prepared?  what would i do during those remaining months?  may i, and you, not put off those experiences that will bring us joy; may we not fill our lives with "if onlys."  may we celebrate each breath, each opportunity, each experience, and so come to the end of our days knowing that we lived fully and lovingly.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Take Thou Our Minds

one of the skills that requires much effort, at least for me, is the recognition that my thoughts are not "me" and shouldn't control how i live my life.  there is an excellent post by tara brach on the wildmind blog that addresses this profound truth.  as i wrote in last week's post, this is one of the disciplines on which i'm working during lent.

to stand apart from the thoughts that we normally think of as our "self" and view them in a detached way is enormously helpful.  i often find myself addressing the "self" of my thoughts in the third person.  seeing that self as "you" enables me to analyze the stories i'm telling myself.

for instance, when someone says something that i interpret as being unkind, my mind begins to build up resentments and hurts that give rise to anger toward the person who i feel is being unkind.  when i step back and analyze what's going on in my head, i can say "you feel hurt because he was unfairly critical of you, but was there some merit in that criticism?  was there something you could learn from that comment?  why was the comment made?  is he lashing out at you because of something going on in his life, something you know nothing of?  what if you treated him with compassion and opened yourself so that he felt he could confide in you about his suffering?"

when i stop, breathe, and take time to be mindful of the anger building in my head over some supposed affront, i find that the anger dissipates rather quickly.  the anger is replaced by a desire to be helpful to the person that my "self" has told me is causing me to suffer.  in the same way, as soon as i feel anger in such a situation, if i immediately say in my head, "may you be well, may you be happy, may you be at peace," it is impossible to let anger build.

i hope that this discipline is not only a lenten discipline, but that i will carry this practice into my life every day from now on.  may we all learn to recognize those thoughts that lead to negative ways of being and replace them with thoughts that lead to happiness, lovingkindness, and compassion.  may we recognize that we aren't our thoughts and that those stories rumbling around in our heads don't have to control us.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Forty Days and Forty Nights

lent has begun, and as ash wednesday was approaching i began to give some thought to what lenten discipline i would engage in.  coincidental to this, i have realized over the last couple of weeks that i've been going pretty much non-stop for many weeks now with not one day that i could step off the merry-go-round for any significant time.  alongside that realization, was the acknowledgment that hurt feelings and petty irritations were roaming around inside my mind.

i'm a person who needs some solitary time.  when i don't find that time for awhile, i don't function nearly as well.  i become irritable, and little annoyances that normally have little effect become magnified.  as i reflected on my mental state and stepped away to look objectively at what's going on, it became obvious that what was needed was the creation of some blocs of time to just "be."  at the same time i concluded that i needed to exorcise those little demons in my head that were telling me that i should lash out at those who were saying thoughtless things; those mind-gremlins were convincing me that the pettiness of others was the cause of my vague feelings of dis-ease and unhappiness.

some mindful attention to these stories in my head helped me to see that it's my responsibility to create the "alone time" i need, and that the problem was not the thoughtlessness and quirks of others.  rather, it was my reaction to the speech and actions of others that was the problem.  from this thinking my lenten discipline emerged:  first, i'm going to set aside more time each day that is reserved for me--no tasks, no matter how essential, will be allowed to interfere with that time.  second, each time i catch myself giving into those mind-demons telling me blame-someone-else stories, i'm going to wish that those who are getting under my skin might be well, happy, and at peace, showing compassion rather than becoming hurt or irritated with them.

since lent is only starting, i'll have to see how successful i am with my lenten intentions as the days roll by.   may each of us find ways to grow and to develop during these forty days of lent (even those who may not observe lent for whatever reasons--it's good for all of us to grow and develop!).  may we all take time to stop, reflect, and find ways to turn those negative stories in our heads into positive ways of being.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

From Every Mountainside

comments about events in arizona and texas have been abundant in the blogosphere.  i don't know that i have anything to say that hasn't already been said by many others, but i'll say my say anyway.  the reasoning of the arizona legislature in passing a bill that clearly discriminates against folks just because they are born gay and, with a straight (pun intended) face, call that bill a "religious freedom" statute is mind boggling.    the same bill would allow discrimination against jews, people of color, blood donors, anyone who has been divorced, and many other groups; there are certainly those whose "sincerely held religious" beliefs condemn jews as "christ killers," hold that people of color are "mud people," disallow blood transfusions, or pervert the gospel teachings concerning marriage and divorce.  under this law vetoed by governor brewer, bigots could select the group(s) they want to discriminate against and invent a religion that condemns the members of that group or groups so that their acts of discrimination could be protected in the name of "religious" freedom.  it is unfathomable that similar laws have been proposed in several other states.

now in the lone star state in which i live, the state constitution's ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled invalid.  one can only hope that similar bans in other states will soon be voided and that the supreme court of the usa will rule definitively on this matter, affirming the lower courts' decisions.  right-wing zealots will lambast the courts and rail against the administration of president obama for sending the country to hell in a hand basket, and in our part of the country, talk of secession will grow louder.  our southern politicians will scream about how our "state's rights" are being violated, just as they did at the beginning of the civil war and when the voting rights act was enacted, and the south will become even more a pariah to the rest of the country.

may those who have compassion for all--gay or straight, white or non-white, rich or poor, male or female, young or old--prevail.  may the forces of hatred and bigotry be converted to the cause of love and compassion.  shalom.