Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Remember and Be Thankful

What comes into being in the Father is knowledge, which appeared so that forgetfulness might be dissolved and the Father might be known.  Forgetfulness comes into being because the Father was not known, so when the Father comes to be known, forgetfulness, from that time on, will not exist.  - The Gospel of Truth(1) 

Forgetfulness is common human experience.  It is sometimes caused by an organic brain issue such as Alzheimer's or other form of dementia.  Far more common, however, is intentional and unintentional forgetfulness.  

Intentional forgetfulness is that which is purposely used as an excuse for not following through on one's word and commitments. It is the type of the classic young child who one moment says, "Yes, I will clean my room."  Then, when confronted at day's end by a parent for the room still being messy the child says, "I forgot." 

Unintentional forgetfulness is that which occurs when we aren't being mindful; we simply aren't paying attention to what is happening.  Anyone who has parked their car absent-mindedly while trying to talk on the phone and write down a last minute item they need in the store and then come out and can't remember where they parked knows about unintentional forgetfulness.  

When our awareness steps into the Light of God's intimate connection with our soul, that knowledge is not easily abandoned. We can never again say that we haven't known God.  But, then, one or both types of forgetfulness may set in.  We find our "old life" too difficult to give up and so we pretend to be forgetting about God so we can retain all our old habits that are like a pair of falling apart old comfy slippers.   Or we may just get pushed and pulled from so much life busy-ness we just forget - lose our mindfulness.   

In rituals of Communion we are called upon to remember.  "As often as you eat this bread or drink from this cup, remember me."  Remembering is key to finding the Home in which we belong.  When we forget how much God loves us and actively wants us "home," the result is often a gathering dark cloud of being displaced or disconnected.  We become separated from our gifts, talents, and feel disconnected from ourselves.  Depression, anger, and anxiety often creep in.  Frequently, when we have gotten lured by external success, by society, culture, friends, even family into being who they want us to be rather than who God intends us to be, we may find we deeply miss "who we are." The way back to our true home is through remembering, reclaiming the home of many rooms where we are unconditionally accepted just for who we were originally crafted by God to be. Any of the 8 tools in prior posts can help to provide links to this reconnection of remembering.  Finding a good therapist who can supply an accurate mirror to see yourself as God sees you may help immensely as well. Most importantly, remember God and be thankful for you.

(1) "The Gospel of Truth" from The New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts, edited by Hal Taussig, c. 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, NY.     

Monday, December 14, 2020

Another Spiritual Tool for Resilience: Mountain

 In those days Jesus went up a mountain to pray....Luke 6:12

Mountains are one of the more resilient creations on the planet.  Unless they are a volcano that erupts, they remain relatively steadfast.  Even when a volcano stirs and wipes out a large portion, like happened with Mt. St. Helens in 1980, (and as this photo taken last year shows) - they retain their steadfast stubborn existence.

If we consider all the extremes of weather and seasonal changes that take place on mountain peaks over months, years, and centuries, we might let our thoughts take flight to imagine.  Imagine yourself as a mountain.  This is a mountain meditation adapted from one created by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mountain Meditation

Begin by envisioning one of your favorite mountains.  If you have a picture of it or can find a photo on the internet of it, this might help you "go there."  Put yourself on that mountain in your mind, or if you have climbed it, remember being there.  

Recall the sights, the silence or other nature sounds, the smells, and experience being there.  While remembering/envisioning, breathe deeper and more slowly.  Imagine the fresh air filling your lungs and settling your being.  Spend whatever time you desire connecting with that reality, which really does exist out there on that mountain's slopes right now. 

To move deeper and personalize this further, let yourself imagine you becoming the mountain.  Feel your feet become grounded in the very deep bedrock of the earth's core.  Imagine your body becoming that of the mountain - solid, unmoving, resistant to everything.  No matter what the stress - ice, snow, wind, rain, fire, flood - nothing substantially impacts who and what you are. You draw your strength from the core of the earth itself.  You have nothing of which you are afraid. People and creatures alike bless you for your beauty and constancy. Continue breathing while all stress, worry, and strains of life flow away from you in the streams that have their headwaters on your highest slopes. Stay here as long as you have time.

When you are ready to end this meditation, place yourself back on a large rock outcrop; perhaps kneeling or sitting as Jesus did when he had gone up the mountain to pray.  He climbed there to escape the stresses and anger being directed at him by the religious authorities.  Their words and actions had now drained away.  Silence and peace filled him as it now fills you as well.  As you breathe your way back to awareness, repeat these words from Julian of Norwich while breathing: 
All shall be well.
And all shall be well.
And all manner of thing shall be well.

Amen.  And may a blessing go with you wherever life may lead you this day.


Monday, December 7, 2020

Another Tool for the Spiritual Toolbox: Welcoming Practice

Finally, beloved, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is anyything worthy of praise, think about these things.  -- Philippians 4:8

The world's circumstances are enough to knock most any of us out of our comfort zones.  When we fall into stressful situations, its not uncommon for brains to fabricate stories that can exaggerate woe.  So called negative emotions can also be called depleting emotions because they tend to zap us of our energy.  But the negative energy causes ripple effects on physical health such as decreased muscle mass, increased brain cell death, impaired mental function, disturbed sleep, impaired memory, accelerated aging, decreased performance, and fatigue. Stories we tell ourselves in stressful times frequently don't bear any resemblance to truth or reality. Regrounding ourselves starts by letting go of what takes over our thinking along with the stresses that trigger it.

Cynthia Bourgeault introduces us to the Welcoming Practice that facilitates this process.  The welcoming practice involves 3 steps.

First Step:

Become attuned to how and what you're feeling and locate in your body where you are feeling those emotions in your body.  Emotions find a home in various places in our body.  Oftentimes the aches, pains, diseases we carry are related to the emotions those places hold.  So, whether you are experiencing pain, illness, or negative emotions focus on relating them and being conscious of the connections.  Name the feeling/pain.

Second Step:

Welcome the feeling/pain.  Simply say to yourself, "Welcome ___________."  In the blank use the name you came up with in step 1.  Gather it in and welcome it, afterall, you have been holding it for a fair amount of time and whether you want it or not, it has been a tenant with you for awhile.   Welcoming changes the internal relationship with that feeling and our perception of it. Spend the longest time on this step.

Third Step:

Say to yourself: "I let go of ____________."  Use same name you've found in steps 1 & 2.

A helpful closing litany may be:

  • I let go of my desire for security and survival.
  • I let go of my desire for power and control. 
  • I let go of my desire for esteem and affection.
  • I let go of my desire to change the situation.  (With letting go, the "fix" will present itself.)  

Monday, November 30, 2020

Another Tool for Spiritual Toolbox: Echos of Psalm 23

 The Lord is my Protector and Defender:

Even though fears and sorrows multiply all around me,

My strength and shield hold fast alongside You.

Even though life can be scary & hard

My fortitude and aid awaits Your rescue & healing.

I race from my disquiet and anxiety.

Across vulnerable chasms,

And dark, uneven forested floors

Shadows pursue me

And hidden branches reach for my stumbling feet.

Ahead the mighty gates of Your fortress

Drop into sight ahead of my mauradering panic.

I fall at your gates that are strong and deeply scarred

From repelling the slings and arrows.

Others have raced here for Merciful Protection for eons.

Pounding pitifully upon the gates,

"Lord, rescue me," I call.

And the groan of their monstrous hinges give way

Inviting, welcoming me within Your Mighty Fortress.

Within, your servant angels gather up my quaking frame

They enfold uplifting arms around me

And safely lead me down a winding path wide and smooth

sprinkled with the light of stars 

that have blazed there since antiquity;

Their soft crystal certainty blaze forth a peaceful safety.

Terrors fall away.

The angels lead me to a quaint cabin nestled among towering trees.

A welcoming wisp of smoke curling from its chimney.

The door swings open and warm light and fragrant smells

Usher me into where a banquet table of my favorite food and drink awaits me.

My every need is met before I know to ask.

Mercy flows.  Goodness cleanses my filthy panicked soul-garment.

A new gilded garment - light, strong, impervious to wrongs

Is draped carefully around me and drawn tight.

After my fill of exquisite foods, I am lead out another door

And down another star-lit walk

To a beautiful bubbling pool.

I am helped into it by an attending angel.

The garment around me magically melts away.

I settle onto a submerged bench.

The warm waters begin to change,

Colors swirl around me.

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, Silver, and Gold.

Each color swirling around me, finding a home within each part of me.

They dissolve every tension, every memory past and present that hurts,

Fear, worry, trauma are all swirled away, 

Leaving pure joy and utter relaxation --

Wholly and perfectly healed.

Light scents of frankincense, myrrh, lavender, and citrus 

Waft away all exhaustion in my mind, soul, and heart.

Every muscle relaxes and melts in the divine warmth.

Surely, Goodness and mercy will follow me now all the days of my life.

And I will be able to return here.  Any time. From any place.

Stepping out.  The magical garment enfolds me securely once more.

It is God's own ancient chainmail meant strictly for me.

I need never be afraid again.

Special shoes are placed upon my feet that will forever

Speed me right back here.

I'm asked if there is anything else my heart desires.

I'm told to watch and wait.

It is coming to me in forms I may not at first recognize.

Back at the great gate, it is open.

A whole new tranquil world stretches out before me,

imbibed with beauty, hope, unqualified love, acceptance, 

abundance and prosperity. 

The bright Daystar purifies all life.

"Go and fret no more," says the angelic servant.

"And forget not to return for refreshment at this secret place

as often as you please."

Monday, November 23, 2020

Collecting Tools for Your Spiritual Toolbox -- Pleasure


"This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than to be used."  -- Henry David Thoreau

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou has created all things and for thy pleasure they are and were created. -- Revelation 4:11

In his book, What Are People For?, Wendle Berry talks about two kinds of pleasure.  There is the kind of pleasure that comes with a cost, often a hidden cost.  The pleasure of using fossil fuels, for instance, come with costs to human health, climate change, and pollution. Or, the pleasure of a nice new shirt or dress can come at the cost of child slave labor in a developing country.

But there are pleasures that God has provided to us that have no cost.  In fact, not only is there no cost to them but they are God's pleasure, and God's pleasures will inherently be restorative and healing to our being. Pleasures such as we take in when in the presence of natural grandeur, or the nearness of a loved one, or even as I saw in the show The Wonderful World of Jeff Goldblum - the joy and memory of our first ice cream (though there might be a cost of a wider middle if we eat too much!)  

I think the interesting part of this "no-cost" kind of pleasure is that it is always entwined in the interaction or two-way reception of a pleasure God created for Godself but also for us to revel in and receive pleasure in as well. I never tire of being captured by the beauty of fall colors, or of Mt. Rainier, the cuteness of a new baby family member, or the deep meditative moments where I once again find the touchstone to my own sacred worth with which God branded me when I was claimed as one of God's own children.

Using the Tool of Pleasure

Wendel Berry equates the no-cost pleasure to "affection."  When we experience affection we're near to God. To use the tool of pleasure for our spiritual sustenance is oftentimes a matter of simply shifting our attitudinal awareness to bring a nearby God pleasure into our own sensual focus.  Here are a few suggestions.

1, Travel to a nearby lake or scenic spot and bear witness to the majesty God brought to bear making that spot in the universe at which you are now partaking. 

2. Go out on a clear night, look up, and acquaint yourself with the basic layout of the night sky.  Is the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn out? (All are visible with a naked eye even in the light polluted city at different times of the year.)  How far out in space does God's pleasure stretch and can you stretch your imagination beyond your sight to meet God who is wanting to share that glory with you?  Pull up some pictures on the internet from the Hubble Telescope (https://hubblesite.org/images/gallery) to help your imagination out. 

3. Pull out some pictures of your family and reconnect with the memories of the loving times you've had.  Or call up a sibling and say, "I was looking through pictures and do you remember...."  Relive the moments together and know that wherever love is God is there basking in it too.

4. Buy something or make something you really like to eat/drink, but shift your awareness from the simple joy of how it tastes to being mindful of all the hands and labor that went into getting those ingredients or that product to you.  We are profoundly and deeply interconnected with so many other people.  Just in a cup of coffee we are sharing in the lives of growers and harvesters and shippers and roasters and marketers and retailers and servers.  Feel the supreme value and intentionality that God intended for us to be bound together in all these ways. The joy God feels when a plan like that comes together. 

.Mindfulness is an art that grows with practice.  Paying attention to the true wonder and amazing details that we often skip right past because we're too busy, too rushed, too zoned in on dealing with the next potential issue to notice God's pleasure is often as near as one of your senses. You just have to take notice.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Collecting Tools for Your Spiritual Tool Box -- Grafting

I have a close friend who has the most amazing apple tree in their yard.  It has 5 different branches each one producing a different kind of apple.  A miracle of modern horticulture.  Each branch was grafted onto a common root stock.  To look at it without apples, one would never know it was five different trees in one. I was meditating about this tree a few days ago and a Bible passage in John's Gospel came to mind.

I am the vine, you are the branches. If any remain in me and I remain in them, they produce much fruit. But without me they can do nothing.  John 15:5 (EXB)

In turbulent times staying grounded in the Source of our Being keeps us away from the unproductive aspects of our very human "lizard brain."  The lizard brain thrives on looking around corners, gazing down scary dark alleys, always on the lookout for the Tyrannosaurus Rex that is waiting to gulp us down.  A major source of stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression comes from a lizard brain gone to complete seed sprouting every possible unrealized danger as a reality lurking under our beds or in our closets. This is what I think of when the John's gospel writer says, "Without me they can do nothing."

The amazing thing is we do not have to be held captive by our primitive reactive brain.  In fact, if we let it occupy our thinking, we are essentially allowing ourselves to be cut off and as John graphically discusses in the expanded context of this verse, the net result of that is to throw ourselves into the fire of despair -- a condition many are experiencing in this time of pandemic.

So, what is a tool for our tool box that we can reach for to get us out of the flames licking at our soul when it feels like all is lost and sadness rattles our bones?  As the rest of this series points out, the respite, regenerative, healing space for our soul is to spend time reminding, training, connecting ourselves to sink into our spiritual center that feeds life, light, and hope. Here is one suggestion:

Grafting Meditation:

1. Begin by putting on some soft restorative music.  The genre you choose is probably rooted in your soul and may vary by personality and life experience.  I find New Age to most reliably connect with my spirit, though there are many strains that don't fit for me.  I've found meditative flute music most reliable such as Paul Adam's "Meditative Flute for Dreaming Clouds" album.  I would advise against vocal pieces as they tend to overly engage your mental side more than your spiritual side.

2. Focus on your breathing, such as the Heart Meditation engages.

3. Then there are a couple of paths you can travel to in your mind, and because we are solidly rooted, grounded, and grafted to God, it does not matter which way you go.  I've found I bounce back and forth like a rich conversation between myself and my Maker.

One place to start is imagining God is a strong powerful tree in the center of a garden you visit frequently. The "Tree of Life" perhaps?  It is so large, so many branches each sheltering God's creation.  It is ancient and weathered into tough resilient wisdom born of standing through thousands of years of seasons and weathered storms.  You are one of the branches.  You were grafted to this Tree of Life the moment you were born.  It has fed you.  Nourished you.  Protected you.  It has broken the brunt of every storm. Your connection to this tree leaves you feeling safe and free to grow the fruit of your life through which others you love are fed and nourished.  Bask in this, gaining peace and strength as much as you're needing.

Second place you can go with this is to imagine yourself as the tree.  God has chosen you as the ideal root stock to which God has chosen to graft Godself.  God has picked you as precious and beloved wanting to be a strong branch to your overall growth and development.  God is sharing fruit with you and gathering in the strength of rain and breeze and sunshine that is flowing to the center of your being.  You feel stronger and lighter and joyful as all that energy is coming in and being stored in your inmost roots. Continue absorbing this energy as long as you need.  The storehouse from which you are drawing is limitless.

4. When you at a close of your meditation time, don't forget to give thanks for the way God keeps your toolbox near you.  It is there to sustain you through all times and is as near as simply pulling up a chair.



Monday, November 9, 2020

Collecting Tools For Your Spiritual Toolbox -- Lovingkindness

 Let's start with the directions for the meditation this time.  This is a great way to systematically pray for yourself and others.  It is a peaceful way of falling asleep at night and has the right amount of balance for keeping your "monkey mind" busy and yet, the repetition which lulls us into a calm space. 

Take a few deeper and slower breaths to signal your mind, body, and heart to slow down.

Part I: Yourself

Start by thinking about yourself and then say to yourself or out loud:*

  1. May I be safe and protected.
  2. May I be peaceful and happy.
  3. May I be healthy and resilient..
  4. May lovingkindness fill me and embrace me fully.  (Wrap your arms around you.)

Repeat for as long as you desire -- actually "reach" to feel the feelings mentioned.  When you feel filled, move to the next part.

Part II:  Loved Ones

Think about your loved ones nearest you.  You can think of them as a group or each one as an individual and then say to yourself or out loud:

  1. May he/she/they be safe and protected.
  2. May he/she/they be peaceful and happy.
  3. May he/she/they be healthy and resilient.
  4. May he/she/they be filled and embraced fully with lovingkindness.

Part III: Groups/Communities You Are Part Of

  1. May (the group's name) be safe and protected.
  2. May (the group's name) be peaceful and happy.
  3. May (the group's name) be healthy and resilient.
  4. May (the group's name) be filled and embraced fully by lovingkindness.

Part IV: Enemies/Those With Whom You Have Conflict

  1. May they be safe and protected. 
  2. May they be peaceful and happy.
  3. May they be healthy and resilient.
  4. May they be filled and embraced fully by lovingkindness.  

"The Lord appeared to him from afar saying, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.'"  --Jeremiah 31:3 NASB

Lovingkindness is somewhat of an older English word that lost favor but has started being reclaimed in modern spiritual practices.  Jewish/Christian scriptures often translate it as mercy, everlasting love, unfailing love, perfect devotion.  Other traditions define it as unconditional positive regard, loving acceptance, or deep belonging.   

Regardless of the words used, it is a rich and meaningful word that captures an important characterization we associate with God, and more extensively with the sentiment of the Divine holding all creation enmeshed in revitalizing wholeness. Lovingkindness captures the character of the Spirit that holds us tightly in tough times and as the verse in Jeremiah states, lovingkindness draws us forward.   

The movement in the above meditation starts us within ourselves.  The only change any of us can reliably make in life is within our own being. So, all change has to begin with one's own internal orientation and work.  From there the spirit connection resonates outward.  When we have filled ourselves with lovingkindness, that spirit force moves in concentric circles outward like a pebble dropped in a pond.  That force then moves others, causing the aware to take notice and calling them to also contribute to the size of the wave.

Lovingkindness is a powerful tool for your spiritual toolbox as it has the ability to change your orientation toward life and the course of life for all those in your life and beyond.  Practice it often.  

* - One way to help you remember the sequencing of the blessing steps is to note that the first letter of the second word is the first letter of the first word in the next blessing: protected --> peaceful, happy --> healthy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

On (US) Election Day

 Holy Unifier of All Life,

Rescue we humans from our penchant for fear, anxiety, worry, anger, untruth, and revenge.  Use the will of these people you call Americans to be full of goodwill and bring peace to, not only themselves, but to all the creatures of the world.   Amen. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Collecting Tools For Your Spiritual Toolbox -- Heart

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.  I will sing and make melody.  --Psalm 57:7

A body truth that has been learned through modern day research that began in the early 1990's is that the heart produces more stress signals to the rest of the body than the brain does.  We've also learned - or at least conceptualized what has been learned -- that the brain has at least a couple different compartments.  One compartment is the so-called "Lizard Brain."  It is the part of our brain that reflexively responds without thinking to any perceived threat or danger.  The other compartment is our frontal lobe where more complex thinking and analysis takes place.  There are also two branches of the autonomic nervous system - one branch is the "arise react" (sympathetic) side and the other is the "calm down & relax" (parasympathetic) side.  When the brain receives an alarm signal, it's like the fire department- the sirens go off, the lizard brain reacts, and the sympathetic nerves are triggered. Hearts race (sending more stress hormones into action), breathing increases, blood pressure rises, and the whole body becomes hypervigilant.  So-called "negative feelings" trigger this side and is why we usually start feeling drained and exhausted after awhile of that.  Positive feelings, on the other hand, have the opposite effect.  Research confirms that if the heart and breathing rate are controlled, the brain will switch off the Lizard brain reaction and flip on the thinking reflective side of our brain. From that switch calm can ensue.

There are many Psalms, Proverbs, and passages in scripture that mention the heart - some of them address the positive side of the heart (like the above verse) and some address the heart gone bad. Keeping our heart in a positive space is one of the skills/tools we need for our spiritual toolbox.  

Modern times, pandemic times and political turmoil times definitely call for a tool that closes the energy drain, calms anxiety-raising forces, and re-centers on the positive side that relaxes.  Without a doubt we all do better when we can put the "Peace that passes all understanding" back in our driver's sea, and leave the Lizard brain to handle hot stoves and things that go bump in the night..  A very simple tool to do this is heart breathing. Even small children can be taught to do this.  Heart breathing has the power to help us to calm down and improves our ability to concentrate and listen better.  It can be used in every stressful/emotional situation.  The more you practice it the more it will become a reflexive habit that kicks in almost immediately.

Heart Breathing Basic:

  1. Place your hand over your heart.
  2. Begin to breathe consciously more deeply and slowly into the area of your heart.
  3. You can increase the focus further if you use your hand to follow your breath: pushing on your chest as you exhale and letting up on the inhale. 

If you are using this in your meditation time, you can add any or all of the following breath prayers:

  • Be still and know that I am God.
  • Your Presence calms my inner storm.
  • My heart and soul wait for you.
  • Your peace passes my understanding.
  • Christ breathe with me.  

Friday, October 23, 2020

Collecting Tools for Your Spiritual Toolbox - Light

In my garage I have a plastic container in which I keep a lot of my more commonly used tools.  Living in a rental, I don't have too much use for them.  So, the other day I noticed that the tools were pretty dusty and a few even had some early signs of rust.  Tools tend to be essential instruments only when we have need for them.

Human beings are endowed with set of spiritual tools to aid them in building a grounded, centered space for existing.  Grounded people build sensitive grounded communities with a central focus on a Sacred Center.  How often do you reach into your spiritual tool box?  If it has been awhile since you felt any need for a spiritual fix, then your spiritual tools have likely gotten misplaced or fallen into disrepair like those in my garage.

This blog, as you can see by the date of my last entry, has been sitting dormant gathering cyber dust and rust.  For the next few weeks heading into the end of the Christian calendar and into Advent I will be writing about different spiritual tools that you possess, which you may have forgotten were there.

Today I am going to remind us about perhaps the single most fundamental tool we have.

You are the light of the world....  Matthew 5:14

Every human being is born with a light inside.  This light is the basic indefinable energy that is the driving power we refer to as "life."  When a baby is born, God strikes a flint and that spark causes the diaphragm to contract and the first breath grabs hold.  The inner metabolic furnace holds that light and it will continue to burn until the lifespan of that person expires.

We forget we have this God light within. Like other tools it can get ignored and if we don't feed it that spirit light dims.  A good way to keep it bright is simply by focusing on it.  The following meditation might be helpful. 

  1. Take a few deep, slow breaths into the area where your heart is located in the center of your chest.
  2. Imagine a bright light - God's light - in the center of your chest and like a flame it brightens with each in-breath.
  3. With each in-breath the light grows brighter, warmer, and larger.  
  4. Continue breathing until the light is filling you.
  5. Imagine that everything troubling you, all your anxieties, worries, troubles are a dark cloud.
  6. On the next in-breath, breathe in the dark cloud and see your God light evaporate the cloud.
  7. Continue with this meditation as long as you wish.  When you are finished express your gratitude to God and go on about your day or evening.