Follow by Email

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Vernal Equinox

Happy Spring!

“Lord of the springtime, Father of flower, field and fruit, smile on us in these earnest days when the work is heavy and the toil wearisome; lift up our hearts, O God, to the things worthwhile—sunshine and night, the dripping rain, the song of the birds, books and music, and the voices of our friends. Lift up our hearts to these this night and grant us Thy peace. Amen”
W.E.B. Du Bois

Happy Vernal Equinox to you! On this first day of spring, we celebrate the return of warmth and sunlight—it may not be fully present yet, but we know it's on the way. In Birmingham, I have never seen so many tulips and jonquils. They loved the cold winter this year, and have rewarded us with profuse blooms. I follow my grandmother's injunction to never plant until after Good Friday, but it's hard, because the spring flowers and the birds singing crazy mating music make me want to dig in the dirt. Soon, soon, I tell myself.

Spring is such a gift after winter, which I know is mild in the South compared to the snowy North. It's almost as if a grand plan had been made long ago—at the dawn of creation—to give all beings a break, a sigh, a reminder of why “God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1)

Here is an excerpt from a Chinook Psalter for spring which speaks to that:

“...O [God],
May we today be touched by grace, fascinated and moved by this
your creation, energized by the power of new growth at work
in your world.
May we move beyond viewing this life only through a frame, but
touch it and be touched by it,
know it and be known by it,
love it and be loved by it.
May our bodies, our minds, our spirits, learn a new rhythm paced
by the rhythmic pulse of the whole created order.
May spring come to us, be in us, and recreate life in us...”
Earth Prayers: Cycles of Life

In the Spirit,

Monday, March 19, 2018

Southern Springtime

Body of God

“God's love is the power that moves the galaxies and that breaths in our bodies. One way to imagine this relationship between God and the world is with the metaphor of the world as God's body.”
Sallie McFague

When I looked out my kitchen window this morning, the entire neighborhood, as far as my eyes could see, was green with pollen. It hangs in the air, it blows in the wind, and it covers everything. I went back to the bedroom and sprayed antihistamine into my stuffy nose and put drops into my itchy eyes. What a celebration of life is springtime in the Deep South! The pines and oaks bloom and we are all “blessed” by their fecundity. It helps to think of this as God's body, believe me. Otherwise, we'd be cursing the fertility rites of spring.

Seeing the world and everything in it as the body of that creative force which we call God also helps us to value and protect it. The challenge is to stop seeing it as a commodity and start seeing it as the “ground of our being.” There is good Biblical backing for this notion—according to Genesis humans were created by God's hands from...well, dirt. We can call it clay if we want, but essentially, we are the same thing as plain old dirt. If we pollute, and degrade and deplete the soil of this earth for the purpose of making money, we are doing the same thing to ourselves.

The creator is immensely fertile—if you don't believe it, just come look around my neighborhood. Instead of whining about our sinus allergies, let us celebrate the explosion of life that comes with spring. Tomorrow is the Equinox. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In the Spirit,

Sunday, March 18, 2018

If you make a mess...

Clean Up

“Spirituality is not just about sitting in a room encountering a mystical god in meditation or about seeing God in a sunset. Awe is the gateway to compassion. It is a deep awareness that we are creators, creators who work with the Creator, in an ongoing project of crafting a world. If we do not like the world or if we are afraid of it, we have had a hand in that. And if we made a mess, we can clean it up and do better. We are what we make.”
Diana Butler Bass (Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution)

Next weekend, a march is planned to support sensible gun laws in America. I will be there with friends and millions of others who want to create a less violent world. We've been leading up to this for some time—shocked as we are by the growing level of gun violence over the past few decades. As a Southerner, I grew up with hunting weapons. My father was a hunter and fisher, and I learned anatomy standing on a chair at the kitchen sink watching him clean fish and quail and rabbits. My former husband was a hunter and fisher as well. I've cooked everything from doves and squirrels to venison. I am not “anti-gun,” but I am for sensible gun control.

We who are co-creators of these United States, have a responsibility to change the laws when we see problems. We should not allow the National Rifle Association to govern in our absence—all special interest groups and lobbyists will fill a void that benefits themselves if they can. It is in the best interest of their industries to do so. We should not blame them if we are negligent in our duty as citizens.

Perhaps you do not see this as a spiritual issue. Maybe it's just practical to you. We have a second amendment that gives citizens the right to own guns. No amount of explaining what that meant at the time it was passed will convince gun enthusiasts that it had nothing to do with personal privilege, so I won't even try. What is a spiritual issue, however, is the slaughter of children and others on our streets and in our schools and churches. It speaks of a culture that places little value on the rights of its citizens to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When our souls are so distorted as to think that owning an assault rifle is a primary right that supplants all others, then we are in big spiritual trouble as human beings and as a nation.

Spirituality is of little use if it does not become active for the betterment of the world. It isn't enough to sit in meditation or express elevated thoughts or quote scripture. When there is a “disturbance in the force” we are the ones tasked with cleaning it up. When we defer, we not only risk the killing of our children, but the death of the soul of our nation, and ourselves. “We are what we make.” I know we can make this better, and “a little child shall lead us” (Isaiah 11:6) in that effort.

In the Spirit,

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Clear Your Head

Nature's Cure

“As beginning meditators, we may want to leave the city and go off to the countryside to help close those windows that trouble our spirit. There we can become one with the quiet forest, and rediscover and restore ourselves, without being swept away by the chaos of the 'outside world.'”
Thich Nhat Hanh (Peace Is Every Step, p. 13-14)

Good morning from Lake Martin. Even though I am not a meditator, I need occasional trips into the woods, along the waters of Mother Nature to refresh and restore my spirit. I am not a big-city person at heart, though I do love the convenience of living close to everything cities have to offer. Over time, the razzle-dazzle energy of city-life fractures my nervous system, and drives me to seek sanctuary in the piney-woods. In the company of friends, with the chatter of crows outside, and the rat-a-tat of a redheaded woodpecker pounding out a love song on the metal roof, I am restored.

Introverted people need this retreat more than extroverts, who seem to thrive on noise and activity. Introverts have a harder time shutting out the constant movement of the city. Here, with only natural sounds, and the tranquilizing effect of ripples on water, the body calms, the mind clears, and we can hear ourselves think.

I wonder how you refresh your spirit. Most of us, especially Americans, tend to ignore our need to recharge our batteries, which can result in burn-out and depression. As the activity level increases, and we are exposed to more and more noise, our anxiety level goes up and we become fractious and out of sorts. Many of us don't recognize this as a “need” (as opposed to a desire) for quiet and solitude. We believe we must “push through,” and keep going. This pushing-through is inherently violent. It violates our nervous system, keeps our cortisol (stress hormone) level high, and causes all manner of difficulties in our relationships. In fact, it may underpin much of the violence in our society.

Today, be kind to yourself. Get out in nature, whether it's a park, a forest, or a shoreline. Let the music of birds close the windows that trouble your spirit.

In the Spirit,

Friday, March 16, 2018

Which Path Suits You?

Choose Your Path

“Look at every path closely and deliberately.
Try it as many times as you think necessary.
Then ask yourself, and yourself alone...
Does this path have a heart? If it does, the
path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use.”
Carlos Castaneda

I was born in Cherokee County, North Carolina, in the little town of Murphy, set in a valley between the Hiwassee and Valley rivers. From my earliest memories until now, my most deeply connected moments are experienced in nature. I am rooted in the red clay and rolling mountains of Appalachia, and I most respect wisdom grounded in common sense. Spiritually speaking, I love the teachings of Jesus, but also those of many other individuals—Rilke, Nepo, Palmer, Moore, Rumi, just to name a few. I fervently believe that divine Spirit speaks today, and not just in ancient times by way of scripture. That is my chosen path.

I have some friends who are Taoists. They meditate every day and observe particular days of fasting and restraint. They study with a Taoist teacher, and at times travel to remote places to spend time in his presence. They sit for days in meditation, something that I would find impossible. I respect their devotion to the principles of the Tao and their dedication to their teacher. I have learned a great deal from them for which I am truly grateful.

It is important to open one's mind to other ways of experiencing the sacred. It is in narrowing our perspective that enmity for “the other” finds fertile ground. Such tunnel vision produces the mentality we see too much of today; the one that says, “There is only one true path, and that path is mine.” This way of thinking divides the human family, and provides a context for strife and for war.

There is value in all spiritual traditions. It is important to find the one that best suits you, and to be disciplined in following it. It’s equally important to learn from other traditions, and to take from them whatever feeds your soul. In the end, it is your devotion that matters—all genuine paths come from and lead to the same Source.

In the spirit,

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Global Compassion

Good People

“Oddly enough, we generally do not judge economic or political systems on the basis of compassion withheld or inspired—although perhaps we should. We do judge religion this way, because religion insists that compassion is the whole purpose of any sort of spirituality or morality or ethics. When religion fails at compassion, it fails at its own test. To neglect loving your neighbor—to lack compassion—that is the problem underlying all other human problems.”
Diana Butler Bass (Grounded, p. 259)

When Jesus was asked by an expert in the law “What is written in the law?” he responded as he usually did—with a question of his own. “How do you read it?” The legal expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told the man that he had answered correctly, “Do this and you will live.” But the expert, who was testing Jesus, followed up by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the story of the good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)

We are still trying to wrap our heads around the answer to that question—who is my neighbor? Is it just the people I love, the people who surround me every day, my tribe? Especially now that we live in a global village, what does it mean? Diana Butler Bass asks, “Is global compassion possible?” We humans, Christian or not, have done a mediocre job overall of embracing the parable of the good Samaritan, who was merciful to a complete stranger out of simple compassion. Jesus tells us, as he told the legal expert, “Go and do likewise.”

This is not to say the church, and other religious institutions, have done nothing. Countless individuals are fed, clothed and sheltered around the world. Prisoners are visited, children are taught, and the brokenhearted are comforted by religious people of all persuasions every day. But we do seem to want to pick and choose who we consider to be our neighbors—and “not-neighbors” are sometimes treated harshly. If only people who look like us, or only those whom we deem deserving, or who show gratitude are considered to be neighbors, we might be missing the point. And, it's not a matter of we, who are privileged, handing out goodies to the less fortunate; rather, it is inclusion and mutual positive regard for other human beings as equal to ourselves, and equally deserving of goodness in their lives. That's the hard part, isn't it?

Compassion is a global concept—it's big. Jesus taught that it is second only to devotion to our creator. Jesus did not pick and choose. He did not arm himself against the “not-neighbor.” He did not suggest we build impenetrable walls, or block refugees and asylum seekers, or jail the “alien.” Do we want a compassionate world? Then we must “go and do likewise” to the best of our ability.

In the Spirit,

Monday, March 12, 2018

Food for the Soul


“Communitas is a Latin noun for the spirit of community, typically those groups that form beyond the regular institutions and organizations and create a profound sense of equality and togetherness...Some sociologists have noted that communitas has spiritual or sacred dimensions through which people overcome division and achieve a new sense of identity and purpose.”
Diana Butler Bass (Grounded, p. 249)

I once belonged to a “Bear-Medicine Circle” lead by Carol Proudfoot, a Lakota Sioux medicine woman. We met a couple of times per year, usually in the desert, for ten days of instruction and practice of Native American spirituality. Women came from every part of the country; these meetings with Carol were the only times our lives intersected. During those days of communal living and deep dives into the mysteries, we came together in genuine community. We were there to support and encourage one another, and to touch, for a finite period of time, the mystical world of spirit. We ate together, shared sleeping space, spent long hours in silence, and brought back to the circle all that we dreamed, saw, experienced. It was a time of opening to other realities, other possibilities. And then, we went our separate ways. Reentry into the “real world” was always jolting. Somehow the experience of community, even in such a time-limited manner, changes us from the inside out. I always came away feeling as though parts of me that had been lost or broken, were restored to wholeness.

Genuine community creates sacred space in which a person can realize not only the depths of themselves, but of life itself. In community, it is safe to look at difficult things—about ourselves, about our world. It is a place for sorting out, clarifying, getting feedback, resolving issues, setting priorities. Community consists of separate individuals, the group together, and a third dimension of reality that is created by the joining of souls for a common purpose. Energetically, we merge and create one whole. And, in that experience of wholeness, we heal and grow.

This is a good time for gathering in community; for sharing at a deeper level than the superficial day-to-day. We humans need genuine communitas in order to experience non-division, solidarity, mutual grace. That is authentic “soul food.”

In the Spirit,