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Monday, March 18, 2019

Holy Ground

Power of Place

From my perspective, I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That's what I believe, and it was very, very strong in the forest.”
Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall writes fondly of a tree, a beech, where she spent much of her childhood. She took her books up there, did her homework there and simply was more at home among the green leaves and birds than on the ground. She writes that her mother was the only one who did not laugh at her childhood dreams of going to Africa, even though they were not wealthy people, and didn't have the money to send her to college much less Africa. Because she had the combination of a great passion and strong support, she achieved her dreams well beyond expectation.

When I read about her spiritual life coming alive in the forests of Tanzania among the chimpanzees, I understood. I, too, was a forest dweller—in the mountains of North Carolina. I'll bet you have a spiritual connection to place, too. Maybe it's a man-made structure, but more likely, it's a natural setting—a place on the earth that you identify as perfect. Where everything suits your senses, from the smells and sounds to the colors and tastes. Where your body/mind simply settles into the rhythm of its heartbeat and knows it's home.

Because Jane Goodall identified her spiritual home very young—through books, by the way—she was able to go straight to it. Most of us wander around for a while, until we happen upon our place, but when we do, we recognize it instantly. There we feel our whole being exhale and know, this is where I belong. I don't know what brings this about, but I suspect it has something to do with the energy of the place—what Goodall refers to as “a greater spiritual power” that for her was very strong in the forest. Like a magnet, the spiritual energy of “our place” attracts us and draws us to it. For me, that place is inland—in the mountains, in green, leafy places, with running streams. For many others it is shoreline, sun and waves, and constantly moving oceans. And for others, desert sands, and desert winds, and desert sunsets. Wherever your holy place is, you go there to recharge your batteries from its power source.

Holy ground is different for each of us. Once discovered, it never changes. I wonder about you. Where is it that you find sanctuary? Where does the power of place call you to be?

                                                         In the Spirit,

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Step One

Love Your Neighbor

"The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self - to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it."
Barbara Brown Taylor

I wrote yesterday about the Shadow—aspects of ourselves that we try to keep tightly buttoned up; sometimes parts that we don't even know we have. Well, this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor is an accurate description of mine. My shadow likes to feel she knows what's best for everyone; if they would only listen and do exactly as she advises, they would get on better in the world. I know her well—but that doesn't mean that I am in control of her. Once we recognize a part of our Shadow, we still have a long way to go when it comes to not acting it out. In fact, recognizing it in ourselves is only step one. Claiming it as our own—steps two through ten. Not living it out—steps ad infinitum.

Learning to love one's neighbor as oneself assumes that one loves oneself, right? I have found this a difficult chore, too. We are our own worst enemy almost always. So, recognizing Shadow aspects does not give us permission to self-loath. We all have rough edges—we're human animals. We are mammals, born to compete and dominate if we can. Watch any mammal population—almost from birth, they tussle for dominance over one another. Just because we now live indoors and eat cooked food with a fork does not mean we have left that aspect of ourselves far behind. It lives and breaths right inside us and in every other human, as well. Recognizing that helps us to be more compassionate with our animal-self—and with theirs.

We have to fulfill this particular commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself by degrees—infinitesimally small steps. Some would say, over many lifetimes. But that is not an excuse for not beginning. We begin by opening our eyes and seeing that we are just here trying to do the best we can, and others are doing the same. We make mistakes, and mistakes can be corrected. I do believe that all of us want to be “good people,” And good people recognize their capacity for doing harm. They confront that aspect of themselves, not with malice, but with acceptance. And they extend the same respect to others.

                                                          In the Spirit,

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Game Changer

Daily Prayer

I am someone who prays. I rely upon grace to intervene at all times in my life, especially in times of change and personal transitions.”
Caroline Myss (Caroline's Blog: Adapting to the Power of Your Light, Part 3; “Suffer Not One Exception,” from 2013 Salon)

When I began writing this blog in February, 2011, I was clearly instructed to do so in a dream. I had no idea at that time that I would still be writing it eight years later. What I have found in writing daily is a voice that has always spoken to me, but does not seem to be my own. As I've said before, my personality is rough. Sometimes I struggle with nuance and delicacy. I have a tendency to say what I think without gauging the impact it may have on others. But there is a light within me that needs to have a voice, and this is it. You have a light within you as well. Your light's guidance may be different from mine, but if you pray for guidance, you will receive it.

Being sincerely willing to follow that inner guidance, however, is a whole other ball of wax—a game changer. When you ask for consciousness, which is what you are asking for when you pray for guidance, a series of events are put into motion that will change your life—sometimes in ways you had not anticipated. We think of our inner light as beatific. Not always. A friend of mine, who has been opening herself to guidance for a year or so now, told me this week, “I think I have Cruella DeVille inside me!” She is confronting her Shadow in a most imposing way. Becoming conscious of your Shadow—how it acts in the world and how that affects the people around you—is an eye-opener, and often a burden. After all, Cruella DeVille skinned puppies to make herself a coat—not a very caring person.

You may be wondering how discovering Cruella within can possibly come from the light. If we don't become conscious of our Shadow and it's dark intentions, we will act it out in the world, and project it onto other people. We will be destructive in our own lives and in our relationships. And here's the rub—once we become conscious of that side of us, we cannot go back. We will never again be able to say and do cruel things without knowing what we're doing. That's what I mean about changing one's life—that's what consciousness does. It brings what is unconscious to light so that it can be dealt with, acknowledged and incorporated. It can humble us, and convict our conscience. But, it also makes us a whole person, whose light is genuine.

I don't know if you pray. I do, and I can tell you it is not to be entered into lightly. In praying daily, we put ourselves in contact with the Source within and without. We enter into a communication system with universal reach and strength. Daily prayers for guidance will change you in ways both great and small. As Caroline Myss advises, “suffer not one exception when it comes to asking for grace in your life each day.”

                                                            In the Spirit,

Friday, March 15, 2019

But for the grace of God


I am grateful for all I have and for all I do not have.”
Caroline Myss (Caroline's Blog: “Except for the Grace of God Go I”)

Recently I went to a funeral on the west side of Birmingham. The church is in a neighborhood called Bush Hills; streets lined with old historic houses, once grand, but now a bit down at the heels. Surrounding that neighborhood are poor, run-down, shot-gun-houses and some public housing that has not been renovated within memory. I was at once repelled, and, at the same time, ashamed and sad at how I have adapted to seeing extreme poverty. At how we as a state and as a nation have adapted to it. I could drive through on my way back to my own neighborhood, which is clean and well-maintained, and not have to deal with the sight, much less the experience, of that crushing poverty.

When I was growing up, both my sisters had disabilities—the older, spina bifida, the younger, cerebral palsy. I often felt, and still do, “But for the Grace of God go I.” It seemed there was something important I should do because I had been spared. I worked for many years with folks with disabilities in that effort. But Grace is just that, isn't it? Grace cannot be earned. It is a gift. One without reason. It is not based on worthiness. It presents a conundrum for each of us in our own way. Why was I spared? Why am I not living in grinding poverty? Nothing but Grace.

The only thing I can do is express gratitude. I am grateful for what I have and for what I don't have. I have done nothing to earn this privilege, but Grace has seen fit to give it to me. The very least I can do is to get down on my knees and give thanks and share what I can. I wonder about you. What has Grace seen fit to provide? How do you show your gratitude?

                                                         In the Spirit,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Lighten the Burden

Unnecessary Baggage

Personal history and how one imagines how their life should be...becomes a burden in times of crisis. Everything unnecessary must be released in order to survive the immediate crisis at hand.”
Caroline Myss (Caroline's Blog, “Adapting to the Power of Your Light,” Part 1: The Longest Battle, 2013)

In this article from Caroline Myss' blog, she recalls a book by historian Samuel D. Kassow, titled, Who Will Write Our History. Kassow tells the story of Emanuel Ringelblum, a Jewish historian, who was confined to the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Ringelblum collected the day-to-day stories of other people there, and chronicled how they adapted to life in the Ghetto. He found that those who clung to their identities and way of life before the occupation, who had titles, and wealth, and attitudes of entitlement fared the worst. They had the hardest time adapting to their new conditions. Many of them did not survive. Those who did best, who survived the horror of that time, were people who immediately grasped that things had changed, that they had to leave behind the life they had known and enter into a new reality. They did not try to carry their old life with them and did not spend energy being embittered by their losses. They simply adapted.

This is how our bodies behave as well. When crisis strikes, everything non-essential is shut down or starkly curtailed, while energy and blood flow are redirected to the areas of the body that need them most. The wisdom of the body is certain. It doesn't second-guess itself. It has a “That was then—this is now—go!” attitude. When we receive a critical injury, or diagnosis of a life-threatening disease, our life changes instantly. We will never again be the person we were before that injury or that diagnosis—from now on, we will gauge time in terms of before and after. The sooner we are able to accept our new reality, the sooner we can address life as it is, the more likely we are to survive intact.

In times of great change, we cannot wait for “ordinary reality” to return because it likely never will. We have to adapt to what is, not what was, or what might be. It helps if we can shift into a more intuitive way of living—rather than projecting and planning the future, rather than regretting and resenting the past, we might simply live in the moment. What do I need right now? What can I give right now? What is my gut/heart telling me is right? We might be surprised at the lightness of our being, at the weight that is lifted off. We can lay down our heavy bag of regrets, and maybe even dance the light fantastic.

                                                             In the Spirit,

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Naming the Source

Image of God

My own image, my own idea of God, as imperfect and as evolving as it is, right now would be the glue that hooks everything together, the consciousness that moves between all living things. When I use the word God, I do not envision a large person with two arms, two legs, a nose and two eyes. I envision instead some presence so beyond my being, a presence that both knows the stars by name and knows me by name as well, that is not here to be useful to me, that is not here to give me things as much as to ask me to give myself away for love...When I say the word God I mean I trust in the goodness of life, of being, I trust that beyond all reason. I trust that with my life.”
Barbara Brown Taylor (interview on NPR's Fresh Air, 2006)

This is the most beautiful description of God I have ever heard. It was replayed yesterday when Terry Gross interviewed Barbara Brown Taylor for her new book, Holy Envy. Even Barbara said, “I was much smarter then [in 2006].” We all have our own image of the Divine, though most of us still have a hard time getting away from “God the Father,” a sort of super-Santa, who, if we ask nicely, will give us good things. Even when life takes a turn for the worst, we cling to the belief that only good things come from God. And some of us are crushed when they don't. We feel abandoned, punished.

Rev. Taylor spoke about the class in World Religions she taught at Piedmont College in north Georgia; about taking her students to a variety of different synagogues, mosques and temples to experience other religious practices first-hand. One of the things she mentioned about Buddhism that has always resonated with me is the idea of non-attachment because all things change. If something wonderful is happening, you know it will change over time, and the same is true when something terrible is happening in your life—it too will change. I picture the Yin-Yang symbol, with each side flowing into the other, containing always a little bit of its opposite. It's reassuring to me to know that nothing lasts forever—good or bad—it will pass. I trust that because it reflects my own experience of life's unfolding.

The presence that “hooks everything together” is life itself. It is the source and the substance—the alpha and the omega. We came from it and we will return to it. We are one with it now. Just like the Yin-Yang, there is a dark side and a light side to it with no division between. Through it all, there exists a non-judgmental consciousness that is aware of us because we are not separate from it, and aware of all things, because they too are part of it. We have given that presence many names—God, Allah, Brahman, Atman, the Way, the Tao, Great Spirit. Whatever name we give it, there is only one all encompassing presence. Like Barbara Brown Taylor, I trust it with my life simply because it is my life. And, it is your life, too.

                                                                   In the Spirit,

Monday, March 11, 2019

Be a blessing to all.

Generous Spirit

The biggest paradox about the church is that she is at the same time essentially traditional and essentially revolutionary. But that is not as much of a paradox as it seems, because Christian tradition, unlike all others, is a living and perpetual revolution. Human traditions all tend toward stagnation and decay. They try to perpetuate things that cannot be perpetuated. They cling to objects and values which time destroys without mercy. They are bound up with a contingent and material order of things—customs, fashions, styles and attitudes—which inevitably change and give way to something else. The presence of a strong element of human conservatism in the Church should not obscure the fact that Christian tradition, supernatural in its source, is something absolutely opposed to human traditionalism.”
Thomas Merton

There is a mime circulating on Facebook about the aftermath of the mile-wide tornado that struck Lee County, Alabama a week ago, killing 23 people. It features Kermit the frog sipping a cup of tea and says in essence, “There are 46 mega-churches in Alabama, yet a Native American tribe is paying for the funerals of the tornado victims.” Think about that for a minute. There is one church in Birmingham that has seventeen campuses and 60,000 members. It is only one of many churches that have five- to ten-thousand members. All of them are evangelical and ultra-conservative. All of them have campuses resembling small towns. I'm sure that any one of them could have funded funerals for the victims of that tornado. But they didn't. Instead, the Poarch Creek Indians stepped up and offered what all those Christian churches didn't. An act of generosity and compassion.

One of the many things that human history has taught us is that change is inevitable. When we try to hang on to anything, when we insist on things staying the same, or only going in a prescribed direction, we set ourselves up for failure. When we cling to our traditions, our wealth, our way of life to the exclusion of others, we are destined for calamity. It may not happen right away, but it will happen. We cannot turn our backs on the poor and marginalized without consequences. The Christian churches should be leading the charge for change and equality, rather than forming a circle around their possessions and passing resolutions that exclude and condemn. There is a parable in the wake of the tornado's destruction—who is the neighbor of these victims?

Thomas Merton was a clear prophetic voice for his church, now mired in the terrible clergy sexual abuse controversy. What happened as a result of the Catholic Church trying to hold on to its traditions, its facade of purity, and its wealth is a travesty. Corruption at the core will erode even the oldest of established faiths. Jesus was a revolutionary character and his message was unambiguous. Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, release the prisoner, care for the sick, give drink to those who thirst, be a blessing to all. Let us go and do likewise.

                                                          In the Spirit,