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Friday, February 24, 2017

Eliminate Hurry

Soul Work

The soul is NOT 'a theological and abstract subject.' The soul is the coolest, eeriest, most mysterious, evocative, crucial, sacred, eternal, life-directing, fragile, indestructible, controversial, expensive dimension of your existence.”
John Ortberg (Soul Keeping)

John Ortberg's mentor, Dallas Willard, described the soul as being akin to “a stream of water” ever flowing, “rooted in the vastness of God.” (Renovation of the Heart) He explained that “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.” and advised Ortberg to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Let's just sit with that for a second.

Suppose you buy into the concept of “soul,” and the definition above of what exactly that is, and how important it is. And now, consider how much time and energy on a daily basis you give to the needs of your soul. It may become clearer why Americans have the highest rates of addiction to prescription drugs in the world—6.2% per capita. Why we have an opioid and alcoholism crisis on our hands. We're trying to ease the pain caused by loss of soul. We don't have time to nourish our souls; it's easier and quicker to just pop a pill or toss back a drink. We have soul-sickness.

To nourish soul, we have to make time for it. We have to be intentional about what its needs are, and what feeds our particular version of soul. For some of us it's time to read and ponder, for some, it's a walk or a hike in nature, for some it's engrossing conversation, for some it is silent meditation, and the list goes on. In the words of John Ortberg: “This much I have learned: human beings come with very different interests, different temperaments, different learning styles, different gifts, different temptations. These differences are tremendously important in the spiritual formation of human beings.” Regardless of style, the soul is the center and well-spring of our vitality. When we ignore it, we become estranged from the very heart and core of our being. And, our soul becomes a husk, a shadow. That ever-flowing stream turns into a dried up river bed.

When we get to the end of our days, what will be most important? Will it be what we accomplished in our jobs, how busy we stayed throughout life? Or will it be the healthy, vital and well-nourished soul we are taking into eternity?

                                                            In the Spirit,


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Province of the Soul


A thousand years ago...Spirit was accepted everywhere as the true source of life. Today, we have to look with new eyes at the mystery of existence, for as proud children of science and reason, we have made ourselves orphans of wisdom.”
Deepak Chopra (The Book of Secrets, p.3)

It was Rene Descartes, in the 1600's, who, in his quest for absolute truth, said, “I think, therefore I am.” From that point forward, humanity moved in the direction of an evidence based world. Prove it, and I'll believe it. In that movement, the head/brain became the purveyor and arbiter of all legitimate and ultimate reality. For reasons of simple survival, we needed to move in that direction; away from the superstition and blatant ignorance of the dark ages. We can credit scientific exploration with that progress. However, in the process of developing our thinking brain, we may have lost touch with, and lost confidence in, our feeling one.

There is a part of the human psyche that rests squarely in the mystery. It cannot be located, it cannot be explained in words, it cannot be reached by thought. It must be experienced. Interestingly, science has led us to many realizations about this human component, such as the fact that the body—all of the body and not just the brain—has intelligence. Science cannot explain, however, why personalities develop differently even in identical twins, or why we experience strong emotions in the presence of natural beauty. Wonder is not the province of the scientific brain. It belongs to the soul.

In a spirituality group last night, we tussled with the big question, “Who am I?” We tried to identify the essence of our identity. Are we the voices that talk incessantly in our heads; is our essential self found in our thoughts, in our actions? When one participant spoke, she repeatedly patted her chest with her open palm. “I am here, observing,” she said. She did not pat her head, she tapped her heart. That's the seat of the mystery—one part of our amazingly intelligent body that has its own “brain.”

What the heart understands may not, as my grandmother would say, make a lick of sense to the brain. It's not economical, it's not efficient, it's not organized. It's extravagant, even wasteful. It wastes energy on such emotions as love, compassion, concern; on outrageous wonder, awe and passion. It can be broken by love and by hate. That's psyche—that's soul. And who among us would want to live without it?

                                                           In the Spirit,

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Asking the Big Questions

Life Review

Questions about the meaning of one's life arise quite naturally as a person approaches death. The questions center on how well a person feels they have lived, the things they have accomplished, how happy they were, the impact they had on others.”
Henry Fersko-Weiss (Life Review and the Search for Meaning; Parabola, p. 82, Spring, 2017)

Erik Erikson deemed the last developmental stage of life to be a choice between ego integrity and despair. In other words, how a person ends their journey here on the blue planet depends on how they traversed the whole of it. My own experience with individuals at the brink of transcending from one reality to the next, is that folks die the way they have lived. If we spend our whole lives without introspection, without asking those weighty questions, then we may not be very peaceful with the answers that surface at the end. Because the life review is a real thing.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait until we're on our death bed to ask them. We can ponder them at any point, and actually, it's helpful ask them on a regular basis. “How's my life going? Am I satisfied with the way I'm relating to others? Do I feel myself to be on the right track with my work, with my loved ones, with my soul? Am I fulfilling my purpose here? Is there something in particular I want to change?” If the answer to any of these is unsatisfactory, then we have opportunity to make necessary changes. The first task is to take full responsibility for the way we are living, and then adjust accordingly.

Life is so complicated, so busy, and our attention is outwardly directed almost all of the time. Many of us never ask the big questions until we're on the proverbial ropes, until we are facing a grave illness with the possibility of death. I have to say, it's never too late to ask them. I've watched people doing that evaluation in the final days of their lives, and coming to resolution. But why wait? When we likely have years ahead of us, when the opportunity to live from our soul still exists, why not grab it?

                                                       In the Spirit,


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Want peace of mind?

Right Action

You are a creature who acts, thinks and feels. Spirituality fuses these three into a single reality. Thinking doesn't lord it over feeling, feeling doesn't stubbornly resist [thinking]; doing occurs when both thought and feeling say, 'This is right.'”
Deepak Chopra (The Book of Secrets)

Authentic spirituality affords us many lessons on right thinking, right feeling, right action. It stresses that all these be in harmony for one to be at peace with oneself. We know the truth of it, too, don't we? When we are called upon to do something that doesn't feel right, something inside us recoils. When someone tells an off-color joke, or espouses sexist, racist, or anti-Semitic ideology, we feel the wrongness of it. When we are employed by a company that intentionally cuts corners, that cheats customers or suppliers in pursuit of profits, we experience the weight of those decisions. Unless we are true sociopaths, we have built-in filters that screen for what is ethical and fair. The question then becomes right action.

When we know that something is wrong, that it doesn't square with our sense of fairness, do we speak up or remain silent? Do we protect our own standing, or take the risk of losing it? Do we go along with the crowd, or do we oppose that which offends our ethics? Right action does not mean easy action. Certainly, it's easier to go along and get along. Right action means living every minute of every day in accordance with one's own values. It means not tolerating injustice in order to keep the peace, or to keep the job, or to keep our status.

Spiritual practice heightens our awareness of these layers of self. We monitor our thoughts, feelings and actions more consciously. Maintaining the unity of the three—right thought, right feeling, leading to right action—becomes more valuable to us than acquiring the “desires of the flesh,” as scripture calls them. Something in us may still want that shiny object, but the core of us says, “Don't do it.” And we listen. And what we get from right action is peace of mind—peace beyond understanding. And not only peace, but security. When we are secure in our own reliability, we are at peace.

                                                               In the Spirit,


Monday, February 20, 2017

Of leaf mold and faith.

Practice Resurrection

So, friends, everyday do something that won't compute...Give your approval to all you cannot understand...Ask the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two inches of humus that will build up under the trees every thousand years...Laugh. Be joyful even though you have considered all the facts...Practice resurrection.”
Wendell Berry (The Country of Marriage)

The first garden I remember helping my daddy plant was in Morganton, NC, when I was nine years old. We lived in a newly-built, four-room house on a bald of red clay. He wanted a garden, but the soil was the sort used to make bricks and flower pots. So beginning just before Easter, he gave me the task of hauling buckets of leaf-mold—humus, as Mr. Berry calls it—from some nearby woods to the garden plot he roped off with surveyor's line tape. Four buckets a day, no less. I carried my galvanized bucket across several people's back yards, and into the quiet woods to scrape up rich black mulch with my bare hands. It smelled of wet decay, had earthworms in it, and sometimes, grubs, which had to be picked out and left in the woods. I got absolutely filthy, and it made me sneeze, but I knew better than to complain. I filled that plot up with leaf mold. Daddy hacked up the red clay with a pick ax, and worked the black soil in until they blended together, and that garden produced as though it had always been there. Green beans and tomatoes, spring onions and yellow squash. I have faith in humus.

Every day is a lesson in faith, isn't it? World events swirl around us, but if we hold on to our faith in the essential goodness of creation, we remain calm in the midst of the storm. There will always be things that don't compute, conditions we do not understand, and questions with no answers. If we let them, they will strip all the joy from life. Find what you deeply trust, and hold fast to it. I promise, it will grow corn for you.

                                                                In the Spirit,


Sunday, February 19, 2017

"to work it and take care of it"

Stewards of the Garden

We have the world to live in on condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it, we have to know it. And to know it and be willing to take good care of it, we have to love it.”
Wendell Berry

It's almost spring here in the deep south. The jonquils are blooming and forsythia shows tips of yellow blossoms ready to burst forth. The birds are beginning to wake up and sing about mating. It's a whole month early, but it's been a warm winter—many days in the 60's and 70's that should have been in the 30's and 40's. Global warming, denied or not. The perennial question arises of whether to plant. Last year, drought killed not only the tender ground dwellers, but also, mature trees. In my yard, it killed an oak tree, a gardenia, and some fifty-year-old hollies. One of the country clubs in town lost seventy trees.

In the book of Genesis, we are told that God planted a garden,and put the human God had created into it “to work it and take care of it.” (Gen. 2:15) Stewardship versus dominion. The garden, planted by divine hands, given as a gift to provide food for us and for all living creatures, is ours to tend.

I don't know about you, but I love to amble alongside my paltry perennial garden and see the green shoots of yesteryear's plantings poking through the dirt. I like to name them, as Adam did in God's garden, and be surprised that they made it for another year in spite of heat and drought. It feels like greeting a friend I haven't seen for a long time. The iris, the hosta, lemon balm and lamb's ear. Gerbera daisies along the sidewalk, the purple velvet of spiderwort—insisting upon life, no matter what. Such a gift.

Once again, I will pull out the wild onions, dig up the dandelions, and hack back the monkey-grass. I will plant some new flowers, a little kitchen garden of herbs, and take pleasure in watching them grow. I will tend my garden for as long as I can—that's what stewards do. I wonder about you. Will your garden flourish this year? Do you water it with love?

                                                             In the Spirit,


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Arriving at...

Wit's End

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Wendell Berry

We modern day humans rely heavily upon our cerebral cortex to guide us—it is the seat of what we call higher functions—language and ideas, justification and planning. It houses our learned intelligence, our skill-sets, our ability to follow instruction and direction. It's frequently referred to as “gray matter,” and humans seem to have more highly developed gray matter than most other animals, though we can't say that for certain.

We've come to rely upon our higher functions so much that we forget there are many layers to the brain; older and non-verbal layers that function every bit as well and just as much as our cerebral cortex. The hippocampus, for instance, lies deep inside the brain and is part of the limbic system. It stores memories and connects them with the senses and the emotions. It is the hippocampus that associates the smell of cinnamon toast today with the memory of our mother making it for us as children—it can spark specific memories that we thought we had forgotten. Sometimes those memories are attached to strong emotions. We hear a piece of music and become suddenly sad, or see an image that brings tears to our eyes, but we don't know why. These are old brain functions. We share them with other animals.

Just as with other animals, we are territorial, protective of our clan, and, if need be, aggressive. We aren't that different from, say, a mother grizzly bear with cubs, or our paleolithic predecessors. We are tribal, and identify strongly with our land. These things have not changed, and if push comes to shove, they play an ever more prominent role in our daily lives. But, unlike a mother grizzly, we also have those higher functions of humanitarianism, altruism, and compassion. We can choose to override our instinctive response to perceived threat and instead of striking out, we can reach out. We can negotiate and mediate.

Sometimes, however, we reach the limits of what our cerebral cortex has to offer—we don't know what to do, we can't come up with a plan, or talk our way out of a situation. It's disorienting not to depend on our gray matter to solve all our problems, because our ego-selves are identified with that part of the brain. When it happens, we say we're at our “wits end”—and we are. We experience it as a bad place to be, when in fact, it may be a good place to be. It may be the point at which our very limited intellect steps aside, and our very expansive soul steps in. When we reach our wits end, we may just be at our heart's beginning.

                                                              In the Spirit,