Archives for category: Spirituality

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When events overwhelm us, it is helpful to remember that there are only two things we control, our attitude and our effort. Words from a dear friend this week offer an exercise that can elevate our attitudes and what we do with them.

Anne Hillman is a musician, author, educator, speaker and small group facilitator who focuses her work on understanding and nurturing the interior life. In the material she shared from her current Soul Work course the following caught my attention.

It is a meditation from the Sermon on the Mount, incorporating a contemporary interpretation by Philip Newell. I commend it to you.

Contemplation Practice: Healing the Separation

Notice which of the first lines in each couplet jump out at you. If you choose one to contemplate in silence for several days, it may provide insight. Perhaps choose another . . . and another. Listen for what each one means to you—and what you may need to do to live it.

Blessed are those who know their need for theirs is the grace of heaven.

Blessed are those who weep for their tears will be wiped away.

Blessed are the humble for they are close to the sacred earth.

Blessed are those who hunger for earth’s oneness for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the forgiving for they are free.

Blessed are the clear in heart for they see the Living Presence.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they are born of God.

 The Beatitudes— Matthew 5:3-9

—Interpretation, Philip Newell

 

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While running the rapids called Hell’s Half Mile on the Green River years ago, I was spilled into the depths of a hydraulic hole when our raft caught a rock. Trapped at the bottom, pummeled in the deafening roar of the turbulence and looking up at the light on the surface, my world slipped into slow motion.

The image returns today. Caught in the churn of current events, I struggle to keep my head from debilitating panic and my heart from unsustainable pounding. I am searching for words that will be a life line of perspective to pull me out of the hole and back into the raft.

Born under the sign of Libra, I am disposed to seek balance and harmony, especially when it comes to the scales of justice. The prophet Micah captures it best for me: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

How does one “do” kindness in the face of injustice? When conflict and obstruction replace comity and compromise for the common good? When zero sum reigns supreme, requiring losers so that others may win? When truth is held hostage to alternative universes of spin? When fear fed vilification of “the other” replaces a welcoming light for the stranger?

How can one be true to self and speak truth to power? What are the words that will free our trapped longing to fill our depleted lungs, releasing us the way the Green River freed its captive decades ago?

How do we in this day live the prayer of St. Francis – Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace?

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The season celebrating festivals of light is upon us. Solstice marks the returning length of the sun’s daily presence. Hanukkah heralds the miraculous supply of holy oil that lit for eight days the lamps of the temple’s re-dedication. Christmas welcomes the child destined in the eyes of believers to be the light of the world.

A recent message from friends arrived as their invocation for this season of light. They are teachers whose curiosity links with their love of travel, nature, people and knowledge. From one trip this past year, they chose the wind as their metaphor for the season’s lesson. May their message inspire your own hopes during this time of re-ascendant light.

Let us leap into gratitude

like cliff divers seeking the wind,

hope-filled, trusting,

and unafraid.

(original by Penelope Stokes)

Dear Friends,

As we emerge from this November of our lives, we find we are not at all sure which way the winds are blowing and how best to find the wind that will carry us to a place that is safe for all of the people we care so much about…

 So we are searching anew this season and looking,

for winds that promise new understanding,

for faces that remind us of all of the blessed variation in our species,

for new currents in the winds,

for courageous people who are willing to stand up for others,

for laughable insights,

for surprises,

for special places we had not intended to go,

for the sacred in the midst of the ordinary,

and for quietly inspiring moments.

May each of us in our own way find the quietly inspiring moments that will strengthen our resolve to soar on the winds of change toward new light and hope.

 

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I always thought equanimity meant finding a balance – somewhat analogous to the way the body achieves homeostasis. My parents frequently cited a saw from their parents’ generation they felt was a key to equanimity, “everything in moderation.”

Another word that comes to mind is calm. For Christians, “the peace of God that passes all understanding” describes an inner tranquility from a divine source that exists as the eye in life’s storms.

For Buddhists, the sources of suffering stem from our attachments and our aversions. Until now I understood the balancing act to involve distancing ourselves from those things that elicit in us too much desire or revulsion. However, this week I found another meaning while reading David Whyte’s book, The Three Marriages.

In the Buddhist tradition the ability to be happy is often translated into English as “equanimity,” roughly meaning to be equal to things, to be large enough for the drama in which we find ourselves. (p. 32)

This opened me to a new appreciation for what it means to face into those things that most trouble us.

The election has revealed the extent to which our national body is out of balance. One step in regaining equilibrium might be for each of us to sit with these questions and open ourselves to the answers that surface:

Can we summon the better angels in us to let go of some outcomes to which we are attached and open ourselves to greet new possibilities in our current drama?

How can we be large enough to turn our individual and collective bodies toward healing and homeostasis?

What does it require of each of us to be equal to these things?

 

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Feeling the fissures in our nation’s economic, cultural and political life, I was reminded this week of a word I learned in seminary. Most often associated with religion, the word also applies to our secular life. It calls me back to basics. Maybe it will for you too.

The word is liturgy. Most often associated with rituals of worship, it refers to the ceremonies a community uses to convey the content of its faith and express its gratitude. Using words, music, movement and symbols, liturgy dramatizes core beliefs and behavior.

The Greek roots of the word liturgy literally mean – the work of the people – which extends beyond religion to society as a whole. In a democracy “the work” involves several tasks.

First, there is being true to one’s individual values and beliefs. Humility involves an accurate self-assessment of both strengths and weaknesses and the courage to show up with personal integrity.

Then, there is the recognition that we belong to a larger whole that includes people who are different from us. Our lives are inextricably linked. One piece of our work is to understand our differences and seek to find common ground.

Finally, in a diverse society our discourse and commerce require us to treat each other with respect and fairness. One place that each of us can begin to make a difference is to treat each other more kindly. When we do, rather than appeal to our worst instincts, we elicit the best in each other, even if and as we may disagree.

Few sources convey the work of the people more simply and powerfully than the prophet Micah.

…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

 

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What is it that you long for? A relationship nurtured in love? A purpose that brings fullfilment? A work of creation you cannot ignore? A community that is just and compassionate? A planet that sustains the variety and interdependence of its living members?

Whatever our longings, they are bells of the spirit that we ignore at our peril. Krista Tippet’s interview with Joanna Macy brought this home to me last week. A scholar of Buddhism and systems thinking, Macy is a respected voice in movements for peace, justice and ecology. She is also a translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.

During the interview Macy shared one of Rilke’s poems (Book of Hours, I 59) that captures the link between our longing and why we are here. It challenges us to explore if and how we may be limiting ourselves, and it encourages us to press forward with our longings beyond what we might have thought possible.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

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When the world of humans saps our sensibilities and we seek to escape the media’s gravitational pull, Peggy and I often turn to nature. This past week we sought a favorite cove on the Maine coast to reconnect with family and friends and to replenish our spirits.

A long open porch offers an expansive view of the bay in front of us. Throughout the day it beckons, hosting individual moments of solitude, quiet sharing with another, spirited ripostes when our numbers swell and of course the repartee and laughter of our meals.

Less than a hundred yards from the porch a sun bleached branch of a long dead tree looms over the cove, offering the perfect hunting perch for the local ospreys. The porch provides a protected but open view from which we track their coming and going, welcome their distinctive cry and marvel at their tutelage of their young. While we have seen it many times, their dive for the mackerel below followed by a telltale splash remains a basic thrill to witness.

This year the routines of the ospreys are disrupted by the arrival of two bald eagles who quickly establish their dominance over the perch and the fishing grounds below. While the ospreys percuss they reluctantly yield to their more powerful cousins.

The proximity of the eagles strikes a deeper chord of wonder, mystery and admiration. It’s easy to see how humans adopt them as symbols, hoping to appropriate even in small measure the strength and independence of these magnificent birds.

The eagles pay us little heed. And why should they? The question arises, who is the visitor here? My struggle for answers brings me full circle to the impulse that brought us back to the cove. Who is the visitor here?

 

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The tendency is to turn outward – for validation, for reprisal or simply to vent. I guess it is a natural default for most of us. Expressing our happiness, affection, anger or fear affirms that we are not alone. We belong to a larger community that shares our history, values, perceptions or temperaments.

The physical and emotional violence on display around the globe each day can be overwhelming. Add to that cauldron the personal challenges each of us faces with our relationships, livelihood and health. Where do we turn for grounding?

A reading I came across recently suggests that an important part of the answer has to do with turning inward. It is a translation of words from Lao Tzu from centuries past found in M. J. Ryan’s collection, A Grateful Heart. I offer it as a reminder that focusing on calming our inner turmoil may be a first step in bringing our peace to the world outside.

Always we hope

someone else has the answer.

Some other place will be better,

some other time it will all turn out.

 

This is it.

No one else has the answer.

No other place will be better,

and it has already turned out.

 

At the center of your being you have the answer;

You know who you are and you know what you want.

 

There is no need

to run outside

for better seeing.

Nor to peer from a window.

 

Rather abide

at the center of your being;

For the more you leave it

the less you learn.

 

Search your heart

and see

the way to do

is to be.

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Rain returns today, dropping a gray curtain on the colors of spring. The drumbeat of the daily news fans the flames of our fears. Friends and family face challenges to health and well-being.

Sometimes we forget what accompanies the shadows of the world: the rain brings water to nourish the land; love waits patiently for our permission to shine forth; a deeper well of meaning waits only for us to lower our pail.

Words of Fra Giovanni in a letter to a friend written in the 16th century come to mind. May they help each of us today find courage to seize the moment, whatever its shadows, and find the peace that passes conventional understanding.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see – and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look! …

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty – beneath its covering – that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are all pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

 

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I have returned home from a week in Colorado filled with friends, clients and family. The blessing of these relationships brought to mind a line from Carly Simon’s song –  these are the good old days.

How easy it is to spend time looking back to what our life used to be or anticipating what might lie ahead. Given my age, I confess to a certain amount of dread for what the coming years will bring.

This focus has been fueled in part by Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal which I have read in preparation for an upcoming discussion with friends from high school days. Written by a doctor, it is a frank account of the aging process and death and ways we and our culture deal with both.

In Still Here, a book by Ram Dass completed after he experienced a debilitating stroke, I found a gentle reminder that has bolstered my spirits and resolve to be here now.

As the Tibetan teaching instructs, we learn not to “invite” the future into our thoughts before its time, or to cause ourselves unnecessary discomfort, for just as the past traps us in memories, the future traps us in anticipation.

 In the popular idiom of days gone Carly Simon’s classic sums it up well.

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’…

And tomorrow we might not be together

I’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s ways

So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now

And stay right here

‘cause these are the good old days.