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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Life Lessons

Recognizing Miracles

We can see a newborn moth unwrapping itself and announce, Look children, a miracle! But let an irreversible wound be knit back to seamlessness? We won't even see it, though we look at it every day.”
Leif Enger (Peace Like a River)

There is a bumper sticker that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” (Philo of Alexandria) Every Sunday morning, during Prayers of the People, this truth is borne out. People raise prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving, of course—for survival from illness, for long-term successful relationships, for children getting jobs. They also raise prayers of concern for the opposite reasons—diagnoses, fractured relationships, children addicted to drugs and families struggling. We can be out in the Fellowship Hall prior to the worship service, and none of this is obvious. One would never guess that anyone there is carrying such a heavy burden. Some people are vociferous in declaring their wounds, of course, but most of us carry them invisibly.

So many people have difficult childhoods; some born to addicted mothers, absent fathers, homes in chaos, or no home at all. So many children are moved from foster home to foster home. On the nightly news we see immigrant children fleeing war and violence, trying to find a safe place to lay their heads. Lasting scars, irreversible wounds. And yet many of them grow up to be productive citizens and decent human beings. The vast majority, in fact. That's quite a miracle when you think about it.

Everyday, I meet people who have major difficulties in their lives, yet they go about their business as usual. We are a species with amazing resilience, able to overcome incredible odds. Perhaps that's because we have to—life is a journey of mountains and valleys, full of hurdles and odysseys, opportunities and disappointments. We are challenged every single day to grow our spines, stand on our feet and meet the world head on. The fact is, most of us do exactly that. Which, my friends, is truly a miracle!

                                                               In the Spirit,


Friday, June 23, 2017

In the Swim of Things

Treading Water

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water...”
Alan Watts

Having just come through yet another Alabama tornado, I can tell you that as well as trusting yourself to the water, you'd better have a plan of escape. I was fortunate enough not to be in the path of yesterday's twister, but Fairfield, on the West side of Birmingham, is pretty well wasted. What tornadoes can do is quite spectacular. One photo of a liquor store in Fairfield shows a completely demolished building, with neat shelves of liquor still standing inside. It's as though the building was simply lifted off its mooring and smashed to the ground, while everything inside remained untouched. Mystifying is Mother Nature.

The rest of that quote by Alan Watts reads: “When you swim you don't grab hold of the water because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax and float.” I think he's talking about life, not flood water, don't you? It's grasping, or as Michael Singer in The Untethered Soul calls it, “clinging” that is deadly. In other words, trying to stop time, stop change, keep things exactly as they are—an impossibility for living systems.

We all know that water flows. When enough of it comes down too fast, it also stands. If you live in the desert and need to see what that looks like, come to my neighborhood this morning. My backyard, which two days ago was a savanna of clover and periwinkle, is now a marsh. A big dead limb fell into the middle of it yesterday afternoon and within five minutes, birds were pecking around on it for bugs. They know how to go with the flow. We should take notes.

I didn't post yesterday because the internet was down. I guess Mother Nature likes neat rows of liquor better than power lines. She's fickle. Thanks to those of you who checked on me. I'm treading water here in Alabama. I hope you're “in the flow” wherever you are.

                                                       In the Spirit,


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hold Your Head Up


I decided that the single most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”
Anne Lamott

As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a mill town on the wrong side of the tracks. In that small town, population under 10,000, lived the very rich and the very poor and a little sliver of folks in the middle. Not only was the town racially segregated, but it was also segregated by social class. If your family had means, you lived in one particular area of town that had large houses with confident addresses. If not, then you lived wherever you could manage the rent. The underlying assumption seemed to be that you could work hard and aspire to become “somebody,” but if you hadn't been born into it, you would never make it past the entrance to that posh neighborhood. If you were black, you would only make it there to mow the grass or keep the house clean. The other understanding was that you should feel ashamed for not being among the gentry—that you would always and forever be “less than.”

Now, as an adult, I can look back on that childhood experience and realize that the image I held of that little town may not have been based in reality. It's possible that I was steeped in shame on my own; that no one else put that on me. When I go back there, and encounter the people who are denizens of the town, they are friendly and open-hearted. Perhaps they always were. Certainly, they didn't have any power over me that I didn't give them, but it's hard to know that as a child.

Feeling shame is like having an anchor attached to your ankle. You can drag it around your whole life for any number of reasons. You can make a list of all the things that caused you to feel unworthy, unlovable, unacceptable—but no one will be blessed, or even enhanced by it. Your shame serves no one, so why continue to entertain it.

Letting go of shame is a process. Most of the time, we need reminders; we take a few steps forward and a few back. Learning to be okay with who you are, and who you've always been is a boon to the world. What the world requires is a fully developed, expansive you. Bring everything you have to this day, and there will be no room for shame.

                                                         In the Spirit,


Monday, June 19, 2017

Flow of Life

Find Your Way

Pitfalls of the Seeker:
Knowing where you're going.
Struggling to get there.
Using someone else's map.
Working to improve yourself.
Setting a timetable.
Waiting for a miracle.
There's no better way to be a genuine seeker than to avoid these pitfalls.”
Deepak Chopra (The Book of Secrets, p. 49)

My friend, Harry, and I have pseudo-arguments about whether or not meditation is the foremost avenue to spiritual growth and freedom from fear. He meditates daily and is a true believer. I am not given to sitting meditation; my mind is a busybody that revels in disruption of the peace. It yaks, it sings, it clings and latches onto things. It replays conversations, rewrites them into something more interesting, and, in general, keeps a running banter no matter how many times I return to the breath. Harry's way is not my way. So, I don't sit in meditation, unless you count sitting on my porch observing the wind in the trees and listening to the birds sing.

A couple of my friends study at the Jung Institute in Zurich. They find great interest and solace in contemplating the deeper meanings of human behavior. Being in a climate of other seekers-after-knowledge-and-wisdom energizes them. They are both close in age to me, and at this stage of life they are still willing to write papers and take tests. Study is a path to peace for some of us.

Two of my church friends are taking a three week course in glass work. They are learning how to fuse glass to make artistic dishes and other objects. Next in their plan is to learn to layer glass for depth. Even as beginners, their work is beautiful, and I've never before seen them so alight with excitement. Creativity and self-expression are avenues to soul for some of us. Other close friends attend a centering prayer group every week. They wouldn't think of missing it, since it grounds them in the deep stillness of communal prayer. It is their path.

The point is, your journey to soul may be very different from mine. Don't try to make yourself fit someone else's method. Mostly, spiritual growth is spontaneous and unexpected. It happens when life opens up in a new direction, or sometimes, when a door slams in your face. It's unpredictable, and not subject to manipulation. Sometimes, insight occurs instantaneously, without the slightest expectation on your part. A mere glance, a word, changes your life utterly. No one else's script is written for you. And when you experience sudden spiritual insight, it's not a miracle. It's just life allowed to flow.

                                                      In the Spirit,


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Human Nature

Take the Leap

One thing you learn when you've lived as long as I have—people aren't all good, and people aren't all bad. We move in and out of darkness and light all our lives. Right now, I'm pleased to be in the light.”
Neal Shusterman (Unwind)

Ahhh...human nature. Albert Camus famously said, “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” We are such curious beings. Right this moment, I am sitting on my porch watching a brand new, barely-out-of-the-nest squirrel leap from limb to limb, from power line to tree branch. He has no question whatsoever that he can leap across space, and land, if not gracefully, at least solidly, on what ever he chooses. He does not worry about dark and light, or whether he is a good squirrel or a bad one; he just leaps. When darkness comes, he sleeps, when daylight comes, he goes in search of food and chases other squirrels up and down trees. From the tip of his nose, to the tip of his tail, he is 100% squirrel.

But we humans—we are different. We worry about everything—whether we look good, whether we are considered by others to be smart and attractive, whether we are good in the eyes of God, who frankly must be mystified by the manner in which we've evolved. From regular old, intelligent mammals, to these bizarre city dwellers who live in skyscrapers and daily devote our lives to the accumulation of wealth and power. Who concern ourselves with the kind of car we drive, and the sort of people we hang out with and how they may or may not enhance our standing in the world.

And it certainly didn't start with modern humans. In the lectionary reading for today, in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 9, the powers-that-be have summoned a man who was born blind, whose eyes Jesus has opened, and demand to know by what magic this healing happened. When the newly-sighted man tells them the truth, they hurl insults at him and throw him out. That was thousands of years ago, but it sounds quite familiar, doesn't it? If one of them had healed the blind man, I'm pretty sure the response would have been different. We humans have difficulty appreciating power in others, especially if they're not “one of us.”

We had a conversation in Spirituality Group this week about whether God is all good. Most Christians are taught that God is only light, and that anything that is not light is not from God. We really want to believe that there is something in this universe that is all good. But there is not. We have to account for darkness, and darkness is not separate from light. God is the God of darkness as well as the God of light—God is all. The Old Testament records it as Omnipotent, Omnipresent, and Omniscient--all powerful, ever present and all knowing.

We are meant to wrestle with our human nature, not reject it. We are meant to allow it to teach us and make us whole. We are meant to acknowledge our darkness, as well as our light. Like that confident little squirrel, we are meant to take the leap, and trust that we are exactly as we are meant to be.

                                                            In the Spirit,


Saturday, June 17, 2017

A rose by any other name...

Choose Your Own Name

Names have power.”
Rick Reardan (The Lightening Thief)

I woke this morning with the question of “what's in a name” on my mind—don't ask me why. I hardly ever know the why of things. But following up with that thought, I read a lot of other people's thoughts on the subject. Every name has a literal meaning, of course, and you can go to the website and find what your name means. Mine is Kathryn (Pure) and Jane (God is gracious). Most of us are named for someone else, and by someone else—a parent, a grandparent. A few of us choose other names for ourselves along the way, based on what feels right. One of my sons is the fourth in a long line of descendants with the same name, Joseph (May God give increase)—so he goes by a nick name, Jake. Sometimes a name is given to locate you in a family—such as giving a child the maiden name of his/her mother, just so the family is represented. Some of us identify with our names and their meanings, and some of us don't. I wonder what your name means, and whether you feel it accurately represents who you perceive yourself to be.

According to Jerry Spinelli, author of Stargirl, “I am not my name. My name is something I wear like a shirt. It gets worn. I outgrow it.” This is especially true when we nick name people as children. I remember the jocks in high school giving one another made-up names to indicate belonging to the team—Cooch, and Lefty, and such. My friend, Suzan (Graceful Lily), told me last night that she is called “Booze” by everyone who knew her as a child. I have another friend who goes by “Winkle.” Even her grandchildren call her that! My niece calls her child, Elise (Oath of God) “Lilbit.” As children, we called my cousin, Jerry (Exalted of God), “Pepper.” Southerners are prone to giving people they care about nick names, therefore, it is significant that I never had one. (uh-oh!) My friend, Penelope (Weaver), did not like the fact that everyone shortened her name to Penny, so, she officially changed it to Anna (Favor, Grace, Beauty). It's hard to shorten that!

I like the Native American tradition of giving a child a birth name, but at puberty, sending them on a vision quest to choose a name for themselves. I think mine would be Jane Watching Owl. (I'm certain some of my friends would give me other, less flattering names.) Being encouraged to choose your own name, one that resonates with your soul, seems like a gift of grace to me.

Names have power, which is why we should be careful what we call one another. Like other words, names can lift us up, or deeply wound us. Names given to denigrate and shame others are especially hateful. There's a lot of that ugly-name-calling flying around cyberspace right now. It's not helpful to the cause of peace and human dignity.

I hope you will consider your own name today. Does it represent you at the level of your soul? If you were to change it, what would it be? I just call you “Friend.”

                                                              In the Spirit,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Learning Empathy

Shared Soul

Listening arises from a deeper place, and it seems we can only hear the living to the extent that we have truly lived, only understand pain and joy to the extent that we have allowed ourselves to be touched by life.”
Mark Nepo (The Book of Awakening, p.101)

I confess to having a hearing problem. Nothing is wrong with my ears other than old age, but none the less, hearing is often difficult. It's hard for me to hear things like the Creator being referred to as “He,” the white supremacists claiming that America belongs to them, and so on. It's almost as though my ears cringe and shut down. I think I stand in the majority when I say there are many things I don't like to hear, and therefore, I try not to listen. But if we continue on this path, it will be like the break up of Pangaea during the early Cretaceous Period, with continents drifting apart and oceans forming between them. The divide will be complete, with no going back.

Listening and hearing are related, but very different things. Listening requires understanding—that is, empathy—being able to take another person's world view. If, for instance, I were a person living in poverty, it would be very difficult for me to listen with understanding, to people who live in gold-clad houses. I've never had that experience, so I cannot relate. Conversely, if I were a person who had never lived in anything but a gold-clad house, I would have a hard time listening with understanding those who exist in poverty. Empathy requires that we be willing to listen from the heart, and put ourselves into the shoes of someone who is very different from us. Empathy is an art—and it's almost a lost art. It requires that we connect at the soul level.

Empathetic listening can be learned, but we have to want to learn it. Life itself is a great teacher. No one is exempt from loss and pain. The rich as well as the poor experience these. Being born into wealth does not insulate one from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” And, all of us, poor and rich alike, experience the joys of love and renewal. We stand on common ground. What is required for empathy to be learned is that we allow life to teach us—that we not shield ourselves from feeling the pain of loss but use it to increase our understanding one another. We must learn to hear and to listen; move away from anger and judgment, and renew the bonds of our collective humanity. We share a soul; surely we can learn to share a world.

                                                          In the Spirit,