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 ( 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.