Pastor Kaye's Blog

Epiphanies: Art

(This is the second in a sermon series on Epiphanies.)

Art seems to be a neglected topic in the churches. Sure our churches are filled with all art 3manner of art – stained glass windows, music, sculpture, murals, paintings, poetic liturgy and even some liturgical dance. But, have you ever heard a sermon preached on the in-breaking of God through art, or the potential art has for facilitating epiphanies in our spiritual lives? I’d bet a month’s salary you haven’t (not that I’m a betting person). To be fair, I haven’t preached it either, until now.

(For the full video version, click here.)

I think this neglect has at least something to do with the lack of scripture on the topic.  In addition, I think it also has to do with the fact that art and the connection it gives us to the Divine and to others takes us into the realm of the mystical. Frankly, the church doesn’t deal with that realm very well. It’s too personal, too experiential, it opens the door to different interpretations, and deep feelings, and a one-on-one connection to God. The institution is far safer and more in control when people rely only upon worship and priests/pastors for that connection.

So, let’s talk about art. Here are some of the big questions around art and religion: Can art be a way to God?  Is art in the life of faith a luxury … or a necessity?

Now, I’m not an artist, though I must admit I’m envious of those who have that gift… upon whom the Holy Spirit has breathed creativity, imagination and skill. And, yet, even artists have struggled with the question of whether their commitment to the world is simply superfluous. It’s not feeding the poor, advocating for justice or visiting the prisoner. Is art important? Is it a way to experience God? Does it matter for spiritual growth or society, for that matter? Seems when our schools are forced to make budget cuts and they immediately choose to cut art and music that, sadly, the message is that these things are unimportant or unnecessary.

And yet, art is not simply visual beauty and enjoyment or creative expression… it is universal communication. The language of art is symbol and image; it is the language of the Spirit and of dreams. It is wordless and so transcends words and language barriers to the sensual and the experiential. It is perhaps a better means for conveying the sacred as it is less limited than our spoken words. As N.T. Wright stated in Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense,

“The point is this. The arts are not the pretty but irrelevant bits around the border of reality. They are the highways into the center of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.”

Art has a great capacity to help us transcend this world to touch that Something More that we all yearn for, because art is an act of the soul. And creating art is an act of vulnerability and risk because it enables us a glimpse into another’s soul… that is sacred in and of itself.

But more than that, art points beyond itself. It leads us into the emotional, experiential world where we are drawn into sadness, joy, despair, hope and so much more. Art has the capacity to connect us with our hearts, which is where we find our connection to the Divine. Marcus Borg, in his book “The God We Never Knew” explains,

Spirituality is thus for the hatching of the heart. Whatever helps to open our hearts to the reality of the sacred is what we should be engaged in.”

Spirituality is far beyond the judgmental, finger-pointing God that many people grew up with. Spirituality is even beyond the prayers, hymns, and liturgy of the church. Spirituality is about opening the heart to God. It is about epiphanies, the aha moments when we recognize the presence of the Divine here and now.

The Yale Divinity School magazine, Reflections, published an issue in 2015 focusing on questions of art and religion.  They invited some of their graduate students, who also had, or were working on, degrees in the arts to contribute their thoughts. There were three that struck a chord for me.

Megan Mitchell, a master’s student in religion and the arts spent time helping to create public murals not only in the U.S., but also in Africa and Haiti. What she discovered is that art opens a space for listening and attention. She comments, “That’s what the world needs now: space to take notice of each other, our own souls, and the still small voice of [God]…”

Jeremy Hamilton-Arnold, a master’s student in religion and the visual arts and material culture, spoke of watching people who came to visit the art Gallery at Yale where he worked. Religious and non-religious groups alike “venerate their favorite artists and works. They uplift the art museum space as “sacred,” comporting themselves with religious-like postures. They hush and clasp their hands before dimly lit images. The works seem to elicit awe and reverence.”

And Meredith Jane Day, a Master’s of Divinity student and a member of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music related a story of preparing for Advent that year. She and a small group of 20 people all gathered for eight hours in a library in New York City to spend time in silence, wonder and discussion about the season. To facilitate the day, the group was shown photos of famous paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Meredith commented that, “The room was full of brilliant seminarians, clergy, and academics, but it was the art that gave us something we could not have offered on our own. It provided a spiritual avenue for confronting our humanity, at the same time assuring us of a mysterious glory within.”

To bring us full circle and answer some of the questions we started with…

Clearly, yes, art can be a way to experience the Divine. It can provide the potential for epiphanies … unexpected, potent moments where the Spirit breaks in. Art can facilitate a deeper listening and attention to God, but also to one another, and oneself. Art draws us into a space of reverence, awe and a sense of the holy. And, art helps us to delve into aspects of our shared humanity, while drawing us deeper into the ineffable presence of God within.

Church and life without the arts would be significantly lessened, and our ways to the Divine curtailed, were we to omit art as too secular, or too sensuous, or too frivolous.

Perhaps in the strictest sense, art in the life of faith is a luxury (certainly we can exist without it… unlike food, water and shelter). But who would want to? Truly we are so blessed by the artists in our midst – the painters, writers, sculptors, dancers, photographers, and so many others – how can their gifts not be of God? So, if the gift of art, done with heart, is a gift of the soul and a gift of the Divine, if it helps us transcend this plane of existence and experience Something More, then perhaps, by design, it is necessary.

Peace,

Kaye

Epiphanies: Creativity

We celebrated Epiphany yesterday with the traditional reading of the story of the magi. Symbolically, the magi represent the larger world – they come from afar, they are not Israelites, they know nothing of prophecies, but they have seen in the heavens that something in the world has changed. A new king has been born, but he is a king unlike any that anyone expects. This child shall be for all nations, all people.

(For the full video version, click here.)

An epiphany is an “aha” moment, and in religious language an epiphany is an “aha” moment when we recognize the presence of the Divine. The magi story is an “Aha!” from the world that God has broken into life in a new, creative way.

For the next three weeks, I’d like to explore epiphanies… ways that God breakscreative into the world that we don’t talk about because they aren’t exactly named in Scripture. We’ll begin with creativity, how each act of creative energy – large or small is an in-breaking of God into our own lives, a channeling of the Divine, a connection to the Source. In the weeks to come, we’ll talk about other tangible ways that the Divine breaks in: art, music and poetry.

So, let’s start with creativity. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron states,

“I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem… In a sense, your creativity is like your blood. Just as blood is a fact of your physical body and nothing you invented, creativity is a fact of your spiritual body and nothing that you must invent.”

The ways that one can be creative are endless. These are only some of the ways we express our creativity that we named yesterday:

  • Art, music, poetry
  • Gardening, landscaping,
  • Home decorating, setting a table (think Martha Stewart)
  • Quilting, knitting, scrapbooking, coloring
  • What you wear, how you style your hair, do your make up
  • Cooking, baking
  • Problem-solving and brainstorming
  • Interacting with people
  • Raising children, teaching

Basically, I think that one can approach just about anything in life creatively. And yet, I don’t know how many times people have said to me, “Oh, I’m not very creative.”

And I’m thinking, “Why not? Are you sure? Says who?”

What if I told you that I truly believe the inability to be creative is hooey? It’s NOT that some people were born creative and others weren’t. We all have creativity within us, it may just not be the same type of creativity. Creativity is part of our spirituality, or our spiritual body, as Cameron says. It is an innate part of every person.

So, consider this…  Cameron tells us that learning to live a more creative life is a spiritual quest! Our creative juices will be limited and dry up quickly if we try to create solely drawing from our own personal resources, experience and ideas.  To live a more creative life we must open ourselves up to the spiritual energy of the universe. She encourages everyone to connect with what she calls spiritual electricity. She says you don’t have to have a specific name for it (though some use God, Source, Goddess, Universe, Energy), and you don’t have to understand how it works. In the same way you don’t need to understand electricity to use it either. All we need to do is find ways to make the connection and open the doors to the flow.

She has two books of exercises that have been derived from her class notes on connecting with our creativity. The three most effective ways to connect the well of universal creativity she says are:

  • Morning pages –  every morning hand-write three pages of whatever you want. Follow the writing wherever it wants to go. This is time between you and God.  Re-read them occasionally. They will open one to the flow where one will start to see creative changes in one’s life and work.
  • Weekly dates with yourself – each week do something with yourself only! Take a long walk on the beach, go bowling, watch an old movie, visit an art gallery or museum or zoo. Fill oneself with sights and sounds and new experiences. The intent is to create intimacy with oneself.
  • Filling the well – the world drains us, and being creative can drain us. We need to take time to “fill the well” by replenishing our creative energy. She says, “Think magic, think delight, think mystery. Follow your curiosity, ask questions, be lured into the new of something.” There are other ways to fill the well… listening to music that lifts you up or gets you dancing. Anything with a repetitive movement can be meditative and fill you with energy – chopping vegetables for dinner, taking a shower, swimming, scrubbing, and driving. Walking has been my “go to” tool for filling the well whenever I’m out of ideas and banging my head against the proverbial wall.

I admit that I’m terrible at being disciplined at anything, much less writing daily and having weekly dates. Sorry, Julia. But I can greatly appreciate the principles behind these three points. I use journaling and time alone to help me replenish my creativity. And I’m clear that I’m tapping into Something More when I do them. The creative zone happens when we completely let go of our judgments and fears of failure and consciously invite the Universe into the process.

As a teacher of how to reclaim one’s creative powers, Cameron said the transformation of students is amazing. It is truly an enlightenment, in the literal sense. Students take on a glow as they begin to contact their creative energies.

The Divine works constantly in this world in wildly creative ways, why is it so hard to believe that – created in that image, having the Divine spark in each of us – we too can be wildly creative?  Because we are… we need to begin to believe this, and then to put ourselves in the path of that creative flow, open our hearts and minds and time to it. Risk and dream, explore and experiment, let go of inhibitions and fears of failure or foolishness… live our inheritance of creativity.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

Miracle of True Love

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a child was born. We don’t really know the day the child was born, or the year, or the place. But that child grew up to be a spiritual leader who would transform many, many people’s lives and understandings of God. That child grew into  a man who effused love, compassion, justice and peace. love-came-down-at-christmasThat child came into the world at a dark time in history (though perhaps every time is a dark time) and shone a light of hope into the shadows of oppression, inequality, poverty, and fear. Because he was such a beacon of light for the world, and because we continue to need such a beacon, we celebrate the day he was born just after the winter solstice when the physical darkness has been the longest and the hours of daylight slowly push back the night. We do this year after year because we don’t want to forget the impact one person can have. And we do this year after year to bring hope into the dark places of our lives and to push back the despair of darkness that sometimes seems ready to overwhelm us.

(To view the full video version of this message, click here.)

It takes courage to open oneself up and love, to be vulnerable. And it especially takes courage when the world has become jaded and prejudiced; when power and greed have taken center stage. Into that kind of world, Jesus had the courage to love, and to share and witness to a God of love. A God who met enemies with love. A God who embraced the outcast with love. A God who transcended laws with love. A God who conquered hate with love. A God who extended forgiveness with love. It is hard to believe in this kind of deep, unconditional love because our own love can feel so fragile and so dependent on our own self-interest. But somehow the magic of this time of year helps us to believe it might be possible.

Small miracles happen at this time of year… the friendly conversation I had with an African American grandmother as our “boys” tried on clothes at Kohls, the two men who pulled over in their pick-up trucks to help when a friend got stuck pulling out of the dog park on Hwy 38, the doors that are held open, the gifts that are given… pin-pricks of light in a blanket of darkness. So many pin-pricks, in fact, that we begin to have hope for the world again.

I once read a quote from a 5-year-old little boy named Bobby who said, “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Stop and listen, love is not just in the room, it is in your heart and soul. It is the Divine dwelling within you, just as it dwelt so fully in the child Jesus.

Christmastime reminds us that we were born to love. To live true to ourselves we must meet hatred with love. We must meet prejudice with love. We must meet fear with love. This is the lesson of the child born in a manger.

Christmas Blessings,

Kaye

Doing Enough

This is the final sermon in a three-week series based on Wayne Muller’s book, a life of being, having and doing enough.

Doing enough… it seems to be a concept that is completely out of vogue. Companies don’t seem to understand it… they fire employees and don’t hire new ones, just distribute their work load to already overloaded employees. Families don’t seem to understand it… we over-schedule our kids so that they don’t miss out on anything. We ask ourselves what more could we be doing to improve at our jobs, to stay more connected to our friends, to take better care of our parents, to take care of the house, etc. But we rarely ask what we can let go of. And if we do say no or try to cut back we feel guilty.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Wayne Muller makes the point that we’re all trying to “get caught up.” Have you said that? I know I have. Thing is, I’m not sure it ever happens. Once I’ve caught up by crossing off the things on my to-do list I’ve added ten more things that I now have to catch up on! It is the proverbial hamster wheel.

Going and going and going eventually results in burning out. Burnout occurs when we try to give that which we don’t have to give.

Burnout can manifest in a number of different ways: irritability, grumpy, frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious, over-emotional, short-tempered, distracted, depressed and exhausted. It’s important to recognize the signs that tell us we’re doing too much and reaching burnout, because then we can try to do something about it instead of just getting sucked under.

Can you imagine what the stories about Jesus would have looked like if he’d let himself burnt out? Instead of a calm, centered, peace-filled prophet we’d have a stressed out, frustrated, ready-to-pull-his-hair-out prophet. But he never let it get to that stage, because he took time apart to relax, regenerate, renew. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus often withdrew to some place where he could be alone and pray.” It is how he took care of himself and kept up his spiritual energy.

What do we do to keep from getting burnt out and keep up our spiritual energy? What do we do to care for ourselves? When I asked this during the message yesterday people said: meditate, exercise, music, nature, quiet time. Here are ten more ways to slow down I found in an article last week:

  1. Do less
  2. Be present
  3. Focus on people
  4. Appreciate nature
  5. Eat slower
  6. Drive slower
  7. Find pleasure in anything
  8. Single-task
  9. Breathe

In order to maintain a healthy balance of doing enough and caring for ourselves in our lives we have to set boundaries. I admit this is not one of my strong suits… unless I’m setting a boundary to keep the rabbits out of my garden. By golly, then I’ll fortify it like Fort Knox… trench the fence, line the weak spots with bricks, sprinkle anti-rodent pellets around the perimeter (which didn’t work), surround it with marigolds (which really didn’t work either, but they looked pretty). My neighbor doesn’t use a fence, but he has a gun. Just can’t go there.

But here’s the point. I want the things in my garden to grow, so I put up a boundary to keep them safe. If I want certain aspects of my life to find nourishment and grow – my spiritual life, my relationships, my work, my health, my sanity – I may have to set limitations on myself and others so that, as Muller says, “the endless demands for time, money and energy don’t sabotage what is valuable, precious and necessary for me to thrive.”

I’m going to give you a gift. Three gifts, actually. I’m giving you three “nos” that can be used on yourself or others. They come without regret, guilt or need for explanation. When you feel something threatening to push you over the edge of reason and sanity, use one. When you feel an obligation to do something that is not going to be nourishing and may simply stress you out, use one. When you just need a break for an afternoon, use one. I can always get you some more! Blame me if you have to, I don’t mind.

The teacher in Ecclesiastes had it right, I think. There is nothing better on this earth than to eat, drink and take pleasure in all you do. Doing more, or doing faster, doesn’t really make our lives richer. Quality time with friends, slowing down to enjoy the world, people, food and life, being with people to listen and enjoy who they are, nurturing your spiritual journey, often finding time for prayer as Jesus did… these are the things that bring us to wholeness.

Muller says, “Do what you can and have mercy… mercy on yourself.” You can apply that to trying to solve world hunger, or trying to get everything you want done for the holidays. Do what you can and have mercy. And don’t sacrifice life or the journey for the doing.

Advent blessings,

Kaye

 

Having Enough

This is the second in a three-week sermon series based on Wayne Muller’s book, a life of being, having and doing enough.

On Thanksgiving Day I found a lump in my breast. Two appointments and a week later we learned it was actually three lumps; two were definitely simple cysts that would be no problem. The third was a little suspicious. I had all three aspirated on Tuesday and everything is fine. Nothing to be worried about. But I spent two weeks with a very active imagination, and a history of a mother who died of breast cancer.

I couldn’t help but think to myself that Christmas was coming up, and, should this turn out to be very negative, there was no need to ask for any material things whatsoever. In fact, it was a really good exercise in remembering what was truly important. In this very spiritual, introspective state, what did I want for Christmas?

  • I wanted my friends and family to be happy.
  • I wanted any issues we were having to be resolved, because they paled in comparison to the importance of love and support and relationship.
  • I wanted to give memories and love.
  • I wanted my kids around me.
  • I wanted to give special gifts for people to remember me by.
  • I wanted our Christmas Eve service to be sacred and magical and holy and beautiful and touch hearts.
  • I wanted to laugh and cry and play and sing and live every moment to its fullest.

Well, since it turns out that I’m fine, I suppose I’ll go along with receiving material things for Christmas… I wouldn’t want to deny anyone that fun, would I? But (and I know many of you have probably been here), it puts a whole different spin on life.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Disclaimer: Before we go further in exploring the concept of having enough, it’s appropriateyou-have-enough-2 to recognize how privileged we are to be able to have this conversation in the first place. We all have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food on our shelves, while billions of people around the world do not. Perhaps when we find the balance of “enough” in our lives, we will be better suited to help the world.

As it is, we approach this concept from where we are and ask ourselves: What is true wealth? What might it feel like? And how much is enough? These are some of the answers I received when I asked our community:

  • Love of family and friends
  • Spiritual wealth
  • Inner peace
  • Enough is being happy with what you have
  • To feel that your life has had meaning
  • Health and security

This isn’t rocket science and, basically, we already know all of this. Yet, I’d like to raise two issues that contribute to our feeling of not having enough:

  1. The first goes back to our sermon from last week on Being Enough… most of us have a hard time believing that we ARE enough and so having more (love, money, time, stuff, accolades) than, or better (love, money, time, stuff, accolades) than, others helps us feel like we’re enough. Or receiving nice things from people helps us to feel loved.
  2. We’re bombarded with messages from the media that encourage us to believe that we need more stuff to be fulfilled and experience a life of enough.

Wayne Muller points out that the world is more than happy to try to tell you what is enough and what will make you happy. It is the job of marketing people everywhere to make you believe that you can’t live without something… a new car, a dream vacation, fancy clothes and a Martha Stewart decorated house… more of this and some of that. As long as we buy into this, we will never have enough because there is always something we won’t have!

I used the parable of the yeast and bread today (Matthew 13:33) because it spoke to me of enough. The kindom (yes, I left out the “g” on purpose, using the Inclusive Bible translation) of heaven is not a physical place, it’s a spiritual state of being. The kindom of heaven is within, Jesus tells us. We experience it when we experience oneness with the Divine, peace, deep abiding joy, love, compassion, hope. In this parable, the kindom of heaven is like yeast that leavens a really big batch of bread (like 60 pounds). With yeast, though, you need only enough… not less and not more. It is a balance – too little yeast and the bread won’t rise, too much and the consistency of the bread is wrong. The kindom of heaven is enough, it is balance.

How do we find this balance? It’s not as easy as following a recipe and getting the right amount of yeast in the bread.

Wayne Muller directs us inward. He suggests that we step back and seek the experience of our bodies to know what is enough. “But our most reliable experience of enough begins within our own visceral experience; it is a sufficiency tasted first through intimate conversation between our own fully incarnated spirit and flesh. We feel this sacramental sufficiency most reliably in the body – in the heart, chest, and belly.” Don’t trust what others tell you – advertisers, the Joneses next door – what does your heart and gut tell you. Does it really tell you that you need another pair of shoes? A bigger television? A new car? More lights on your house?

Now, I’m not telling you to turn down all your Christmas gifts, that simply denies others the blessing of giving. But our happiness does not, at the end of the day, have anything to do with how much we have. Our happiness depends on our perspective. The prospect of dying changed my perspective and restored an inner sense of balance about what was truly important in my life. Perhaps that’s why, as folks get older, they begin to simplify and downsize, they spend more time with kids and grandkids, and they want fewer things, but crave interaction and relationship.

Despite what you may have imagined this message would be about, it was not about lecturing you to clean out your closets and give things to Goodwill, or to give to charity instead of giving gifts, or to give all you own to the poor. My intent was simply to ask all of us to examine our hearts and souls in two ways. First, to work on recognizing our own enough-ness deep inside, so that we don’t live under the fallacy that something acquired or given will finally help us feel like enough. Second, to be aware of what resonates with enough in our physical bodies, and then to honor that.

Advent Blessings,

Kaye

Being Enough

This week begins a three-week sermon series based on Wayne Muller’s book, a life of being, having and doing enough.

Why is it that we can achieve, create, build, fix, help, serve and give with every ounce of our energy and still not feel like we’ve made a difference? That somehow, no matter what we do, we feel like it will never be enough? It seems that just about everyone has felt this way at one time or another. But, why?

Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Voice of Knowledge” talks about the lie of imperfection. He believes that we have all bought into the great lie that we are imperfect. You see, when we were young children we were completely authentic, and never pretended to be who or what we are not. When we felt love, we expressed love (welcoming mom or dad home), when we felt uncomfortable with someone, we didn’t go close to them, when we were sad, we cried.  The greatest freedom was to run around naked and not care (though it is probably a good thing we don’t do this anymore). Then when we started to understand language the people around us told us what we were and we believed them, even though they may be contradictory. We were told that if we behaved in certain ways we were good boys and girls, and we understood that we were bad if we don’t behave that way.We were told that if we wanted to be successful and be somebody, we had to work hard. But we heard the underlying message that at that moment we were clearly nobody. For some of us, our churches told us that we were inherently bad and sinful and only through the death of a beautiful human being could God even begin to accept us again. By listening to all these opinions, we learned that we must not be good enough as we were, which is why we needed to be told how to behave to be good enough.Why would our parent’s not tell the truth? Or our teachers? Or the church? Eventually, Ruiz says, we feel not only not good enough for others, but not good enough for ourselves. Hence, we try to prove that we are good enough by getting straight As, being a sports star, working long hours, getting degrees and promotions; however, we are no longer making decisions based on our highest good and our truest self, but on what others think. And so we have bought into the lie of imperfection. It has become a cellular part of ourselves and now feels inherently true.

In Matthew 4:15-16, Jesus is speaking to crowds of ordinary people – not saints, not pillars of the synagogue – and he is telling them that they are the light of the world. We usually think about Jesus being light for the world, especially at this time of the year. We talk about how, at Christmas time, light is born into the darkness. But in this passage Jesus says that we are all the light of the world. We ARE the light, not “can be” or “could be” if only we did everything right. Muller points out that Jesus’ teachings did not come with any fine print, disclaimers or exclusions. He didn’t say, “You are the light of the world, but only if you are straight, or go to church every week, or give 10% of your income to the poor, or never screw up, or solve world hunger.” Instead he told all these regular folks that they are the light of the world and needed to stop hiding their light under the bushel baskets of not enough, of baggage, of fears, of the lie of imperfection.

Wayne Dyer, in his book, The Sacred Self, reminds us that “the Divine created being-enoughus in perfect love that is changeless and eternal. Our bodies change and our minds change… we are not our bodies and our minds. We are much more than bodies and minds, we are spirit, a spark of the Divine fire, pure love. Enough.”

If we are looking for a universal truth, this is about as close as we can come. All the great religions teach the same thing:

  • Buddha taught that we have wholeness within us, our Buddha-nature.
  • In the Torah (Old Testament for Christians), Yahweh, God of the Jews, declared that the most essential of life’s truths were inscribed on their hearts… in other words were a part of each person deep inside.
  • Native Americans speak of the Great Spirit who infuses all creation with the same sacred life force.
  • For Hindus, the Atman, or soul of the world, is everywhere.
  • All the mystical traditions – Sufism, the Gnostic gospels, the Kabbalah – all declare that the journey to the Divine is the journey inward to the true self where we are whole, where we are enough.

We are always seeking to be enough, but the truth is that we already have what we seek. We are enough. We just have to realize it. Then we have to own it. We have to claim it as our truth over and over again,  so that it replaces the lie of imperfection, that cellular knowing that we aren’t enough.

If we remain convinced that we are imperfect, damaged goods, defective or incomplete, we will live our lives and make our decisions out of this wrong belief. Then we make choices based on our feelings shame, guilt, unworthiness, failure… maybe even a belief that we should be punished.

But what if we believed in the goodness of our own souls? Believed that we have within us all that we need to be complete and whole? Believed in our own inner strength and wisdom? Believed that regardless of where we’ve come from, what we’ve done, what people have said to us, that we could carry this knowing into every situation with confidence? What decisions would we make? What would our lives look like? How might we respond differently to the world each day?

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Because this is truth… you are the light and you are enough.

Peace,

Kaye

Islam

This is the third and final sermon in my series on the Three Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam by discussing Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who were both given promises by God to become great nations. Even though Ishmael is driven out of his father’s house by Sarah (the jealous and protective mother of Isaac), God watches over Ishmael and he becomes, according to the Quran, the father of Islam. Isaac becomes the father of Judaism and therefore a forefather to Christianity. (Please note that neither of these religions existed at the time of Abraham.) We all worship the same God.

The great ninth century Sufi, Bayazid Bastami, described the evolution of these three religions with this image: “its seeds were set at the time of Adam, they sprouted under Noah and flowered under Abraham. Grapes formed at the time of Moses, and they ripened at the time of Jesus. In the time of Mohammad, they were made into pure wine. ”

Muslims believe that God sends a prophet whenever humanity is in need of a course correction. This does not make any of the prior prophets (including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among others) wrong, just sort of outdated. Or, perhaps more to the point, many Muslims feel that people have distorted the true messages of the earlier prophets. So, Muslims believe that Muhammad is the most recent prophet to have been sent by God and therefore the most accurate, most relevant message.

So, part two focused on Judaism: Covenant, Sabbath and Blessing, and part three of this series will focus
on what I see as some of the key concepts and/or practices of Islam. I also believe that these concepts are not exclusively Jewish or Muslim, but contain spiritual wisdom for all of us if we care to look and listen. The three I’ve chosen to explore for Islam are peace, prayer and devotion.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

PEACEislam

Let’s begin with peace, mostly because that is perhaps the least likely word that non-Muslims would use to describe a Muslim in our world today. And, yet, to moderate and progressive (and probably to most conservative) Muslims, this is an inherent characteristic of someone who follows Islam.

Summing up the teachings of Islam, the Islamic Society of North America makes this statement:

Islam is an Arabic word which means peace, purity, acceptance and commitment. As a religion, Islam calls for complete acceptance of the teachings and guidance of God. A Muslim is one who freely and willingly accepts the supreme power of God and strives to organize his life in total accord with the teachings of God. He also works for building social institutions which reflect the guidance of God.

To be a Muslim means to be a “peacemaker and one who submits to the will of God”

I had an Imam come speak to my religion class at Carthage College a few times and he made it very clear that there is no room for terrorism in Islam. In fact, Islam forbids all acts of violence and disorder in the world. He cited the following verses from the Quran:

  • Sura 11:86 “And commit not iniquity in the earth, causing disorder”
  • Sura 5:33 “… whosoever killed a person – it shall be as if he had killed all mankind”

The Imam was also adamant that Islam condemns aggression, hostility and mischief:

  • Sura 5:3 “Help one another in righteousness and piety, and help not one another in sin and transgression.”

Jihad is a term that the media has co-opted and twisted to mean holy war. The true meaning of Jihad is “to struggle” and “to strive.” There are three levels of jihad. The Greatest Jihad is the struggle against one’s lower self. It is the internal struggle between wrong and right, error and truth, selfishness and selflessness, hardness of heart and all-embracing love. Our inner state is then reflected in words, actions and behaviors.

The Greater Jihad is about being in service to humanity and spreading peace in the world through the teachings of the Quran.

Finally, the Lesser Jihad is a war fought in self-defense only, and is regulated by 19 conditions.

While the Imam was very firm about Islam being a religion of peace, passages in the Quran can be found to support both a pacifist approach and active opposition to unbelievers. To me it seems very much the same way with the Bible.  One can find ample evidence to love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and follow the non-violence of Jesus… or one can follow a God who smote the enemy, destroyed people who worshiped idols and generally caused much death and destruction in the Old Testament.

The prophet Muhammad’s farewell address gives us a very good sense of where he personally stood on this issue: 

“God has made the lives, property and honor of every man sacred. To take any man’s life, his property or attack his honor is unjust and wrong. None of you can be a true believer until and unless he desires for his brothers what he wishes for himself. My movement is based on love.”

My question for us becomes: what does it look like for us to struggle with our lower selves? Can we strive to achieve a level of peace within and then bring that peace to the world?

 

PRAYER

Most of us are aware that Muslims pray five times a day. For someone like me who truly lacks any kind of discipline in any part of my life, I find this a truly amazing practice.

Their prayer ritual is called Salat, the obligatory prayers to be said at dawn, midday, late afternoon, just after sunset, and between sunset and midnight. Millions of Muslims do this every day as a highly spiritual practice connecting them to Muslims around the world and to all who have uttered the same words down through history.

These prayers are not just phrases to be spoken, they include a set of movements so that Muslims pray body, mind and soul. Prayer is thought to do the following:

  • Strengthen belief in God’s existence and goodness and carry this belief into the depths of the heart and every aspect of external life.
  • Purify the heart, develop the mind and conscience, comfort the soul
  • Encourage good and suppress evil
  • Awaken one’s innate sense of higher morality and higher aspirations.
  • Words of praise and bowing express continual gratefulness and surrender to the One.

While mouthing the words and performing the outer actions they should be concentrating on the inner prayer of the heart. The prophet Muhammad reportedly said, “Prayer without the Presence of the Lord in the heart is not prayer at all.”  In other words, they are  expected to be prepared to pray by removing the hindrances from their hearts and minds. They should attempt to be attentive and open to the movement of the Divine while at the same time offering their whole self to the process.

This prompts me to wonder whether we just go through the motions of prayer, or worship, or volunteering, or devotional readings… or do we consciously strive to have an appropriate inner preparedness for giving of our hearts to the Divine and receiving within our hearts the Divine? What would this look like and feel like?

 

DEVOTION – love, loyalty, faithfulness, commitment, enthusiasm for a cause

I get a feeling of a deep sense of devotion that Muslims have to the Divine . At the very core of their faith is the intent to meditate on and give themselves (submit, if you will) to the will of God. They seek a change of heart, a oneness with God, and to live with peace and kindness. There is a devotion that is obvious, from their commitment to pray 5 times a day, to the millions of people who make a pilgrimage to Mecca, to the discipline and dedication it takes to fast (from food and drink) from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. It brings to mind the old 80’s song: “I’m hopelessly devoted to you…”

I find myself wondering: are we devoted to the Divine? Are we devoted to our spiritual paths? What does that look like, or what could that look more like?

I offer these Muslim practices of peace, prayer and devotion, to not only to give us insight into the Muslim understanding of, and relationship with,God, but also to offer us things to think about when it comes to our own spiritual lives.

Assalamo Alaikum (Peace be unto you),

Kaye

Judaism

Last week we began this sermon series on the Three Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam by discussing Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who were both given promises by God to become great nations. Even though Ishmael is driven out of his father’s house by Sarah (the jealous and protective mother of Isaac), God watches over Ishmael and he becomes, according to the Quran, the father of Islam. Isaac becomes the father of Judaism and therefore a forefather to Christianity. (Please note that neither of these religions existed at the time of Abraham.)

Parts two and three of this series on the Abrahamic Faith focus judaism-3on what I see as some of the key concepts and/or practices of Judaism and Islam. I also believe that these concepts are not exclusively Jewish or Muslim, but contain spiritual wisdom for all of us if we care to look and listen. The three I’ve chosen to explore for Judaism are covenant, Sabbath and blessing.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

COVENANT

A unique belief introduced into Jewish theology was the idea of a covenantal relationship between the Jewish people and God. This was a two-sided agreement with the Divine, a sacred promise, a contract, in which both sides have a responsibility to the other. On the people’s side, obedience to God is expected. On the divine side, God grants special favors and is bound by God’s own ethical agreements to the people. These were the three great covenants in Jewish history:

  • Noah – God sets a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of God’s covenant to Noah, his descendants, and every living creature, to never again send another great flood.
  • Abraham and God – essentially God says, “I will be your God and your protector, you will be circumcised.”
  • Moses “re-established” the covenant between God and the people. God is said to have met Moses on Mt. Sinai and given the people a set of rules for righteous living (Torah). This includes the 10 commandments. It also includes a set of social norms, prescribed religious feasts, and detailed instructions for the construction of a portable tabernacle (think Indian Jones and the Ark of the Covenant). These make up the 613 mizvot, laws, or divine commandments Orthodox Jews are required to keep. Conservative Jews and Reform Jews have more options about which laws they can choose to follow or not.

A covenant describes a personal and interactive relationship, including responsibility and accountability, between the Divine and humanity. The question this raises for me is whether we, as Christians, feel that we have this sort of relationship with God? Or do we simply rely on God to be present at all times, to provide strength, comfort, guidance, or whatever is needed without any return on our part? And how do we feel about that? Do we have a responsibility to God?

SABBATH

For about the last 3000 years, Jews have observed their Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday. It was so important that it was commanded by God in the 10 commandments and echoed in Leviticus and multiple other places in scripture. It was not just a day to stay home from the office, if you will, but to slow down, reflect, build relationships through conversation and prayer, give time to your spiritual life through reading and study, and rekindle your marriage through making love. Everyone was given the day off… even from making food and lighting a fire.

We find the basis for the Jewish Sabbath in Genesis 1, in the story of Creation. God created the world and all that is in it in six days. On the seventh day God rested and enjoyed God’s creation. If resting was important for God, then certainly it is even more important for people!

Obviously, this has not been strictly a Jewish concept. Many of us can remember “back in the day” when Sundays consisted of church, sharing a family meal, and spending time with family and friends. Shops weren’t open, and there weren’t kids sports on Sunday mornings. It was a day of rest, renewal, nurturing your body and your relationships.

Sadly, we’ve lost this essential rhythm to our lives. We fill our lives with things to do… because action and accomplishment are “better” than rest, better than doing “nothing.” Even when we have down time, we fill it with our computers, phones, iPads, and televisions. We read books, but not necessarily to edify, to escape.

Our lack of rest and reflection colors all that we do and all that we are. When we are exhausted – physically, mentally and spiritually – we become more anxious, more fearful, less grounded and less able to make good decisions. When we don’t seek to grow spiritually, our souls stagnate and lose touch with the Divine.

There is a little book called Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas by Arthur Green, who is one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Jewish thought and spirituality. Green suggests that there have been whole generations of Jews who have rebelled against the Sabbath laws, until their observance became the exception rather than the norm. Still, he says, that Shabbat (Hebrew for Sabbath) is needed more than ever, but perhaps it needs a more contemporary perspective and so he offers a simplified Shabbat for moderns

Ten Pathways toward a New Shabbat

DO

  1. Stay at home. Spend quality time with family and real friends.
  2. Celebrate with others: at the table, in the synagogue, with friends or community.
  3. Study or read something that will edify, challenge, or make you grow.
  4. Be alone. Take some time for yourself. Check in with yourself. Review your week. Ask yourself where you are in your life.
  5. Mark the beginning and end of this sacred time by lighting candles and making kiddush [a ceremony of prayer and blessing over wine] on Friday night and saying havdalah [formal prayer marking the end of the Sabbath] on Saturday night.

DON’T

  1. Don’t do anything you have to do for your work life. This includes obligatory reading, homework for kids (even without writing!), unwanted social obligations, and preparing for work as well as doing your job itself.
  2. Don’t spend money. Separate completely from the commercial culture that surrounds us so much. This includes doing business of all sorts. No calls to the broker, no following up on ads, no paying of bills. It can all wait.
  3. Don’t use the computer. Turn off the iPhone or smartphone. Live and breathe for a day without checking messages. Declare your freedom from this new master of our minds and our time. Find the time for face-to-face conversations with people around you, without Facebook.
  4. Don’t travel. Avoid especially commercial travel and places like airports, hotel check-ins, and similar depersonalizing encounters. Stay free of situations in which people are likely to tell you to “have a nice day” (Shabbat already is a nice day, thank you).
  5. Don’t rely on commercial or canned video entertainment, including the TV as well as the computer screen. Discover what there is to do in life when you are not being entertained.

How would it feel to try some of these? Could you consider a Sabbath day once a month? Or a Sabbath hour, or half day?

BLESSINGS

One thing we rarely hear about Judaism is the role of blessing. Yet there are hundreds of traditional blessings that Jews have for every occasion. From blessing the different kinds of food they eat, to the varied things in creation, to kindnesses, good news and bad news, and everything in-between. The purpose of the blessing is awareness, to increase the conscious awareness of the Divine in our lives and our world by offering a blessing for it.

Simply put, if I bless an apple I’m saying: in this apple, I see God.

There seems to be a blessing for everything. My favorite is the bathroom blessing:

Blessed are you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe who created humans with wisdom and created within them many openings and many cavities. It is exposed and known before Your Throne of Glory, that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them were to be blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You for even one hour. Blessed are you, Lord, Healer of all flesh who acts wondrously.

Rabbi Jack Riemer, in his blog, said, “with all due respect for traditional blessings, I believe we need a few new blessings, such as before we perform the sacred act of voting, and before we use our computers, to help remind us not to misuse this powerful tool to spread malicious gossip or evil speech. Here’s another one I highly recommend: a prayer to recite when facing the difficult task of emptying the contents of our parents’ home after they die.”

What would it look like to walk through life offering blessings even for the littlest things? The sun, the sky, the rain, our coffee or tea, our animals, creation, music? Could we incorporate more moments of gratitude and blessing in such a way as to remind us of God’s presence in our daily lives?

 

So, I offer these Jewish concepts of covenant, Sabbath and blessing, not only to give us insight into the Jewish understanding of, and relationship with,God, but also to offer us things to think about when it comes to our own spiritual lives.

Shalom, peace be with you,

Kaye

The Abrahamic Faiths

“One figure stands at the dawn of every subsequent endeavor. One individual holds the breadth of the past – and perhaps the dimensions of the future – in his life story. Abraham.” ~Bruce Feiler, Abraham

It was brought to my attention yesterday that, at least in a good many cases, abrahamic-faiths-2the Christian churches have been lax in letting folks know that good old Father Abraham is the forefather of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Maybe it just didn’t seem important enough to include in kid’s Sunday School lessons. Or maybe no one wanted to lend any credibility to Islam. Maybe if this fact was more well-known, we’d have less intolerance between the religions.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Here’s the skinny… Abraham had two sons, Ishmael by Hagar (his wife’s Egyptian slave) and Isaac by his wife Sarah. There is contention between Sarah and Hagar, but God blesses both boys. An angel tells Hagar that through her son, God would make her “descendants too numerous to count.” By the way, this makes Hagar the ONLY woman to receive the promise of descendants and essentially places her among the patriarchs. It is then through Isaac that God establishes “an everlasting covenant, to be his God and the God of his descendants.” (Genesis 16 and 17).

In essence, we have two half-brothers who are forced to go in different directions (Sarah insists that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away) and become the forefathers of two distinct nations. Ishmael becomes the father of Islam and Isaac becomes the father of Judaism. And it is off of the Judaic branch that Christianity sprouts.

There are hundreds of stories about Abraham, but only about 1% of those are in the Bible. The rest were created by the Jews, Christian and Muslims in the last 3800 years. Still, everyone agreed on one thing: Abraham believed in one God. He was the first great monotheist.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe in one God – the God of Abraham. Yes, the Jews use the word Yahweh or Jehovah and the Muslims talk about Allah, but those words simply mean “God” in their own languages. It is NOT a different God.

From here we recognize that there are many similarities, but to expect it to extend into doctrine and practices isn’t realistic. Not only do all three religions believe in one and the same God, but they believe that God works within human history, interacting with humanity. They all believe in prophets, angels and divine revelation. All three stress moral responsibility and accountability. Prayer, worship, giving to charity are core practices of all three. And they all believe in the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Peace is also central to all three faiths. Many Christian churches traditionally share signs of greeting and peace during their worship. During the mass, Catholics will turn to one another, shaking hands and saying, “Peace be with you.” Muslims greet one another with the words, salaam alaikum, and Jews will greet one another with shalom aleichem which both mean “peace be unto you.”

All three religions also believe in their special covenant with God. The Jews have their covenant through Moses, the 10 Commandments and the Torah. Christians accept God’s covenant with, and revelation to, the Jews, but traditionally has seen itself as superseding Judaism with the coming of Jesus. Christianity talks about a new covenant and a New Testament (NT) through Jesus. Islam has respect for all the Biblical prophets of Judaism and Christianity, and the Quran makes frequent reference to Jesus and to the Virgin Mary (who is cited more times in the Quran than in the NT). But Muslims believe that Islam supersedes Judaism and Christianity – that the Quran is the final and complete word of God and that Muhammad is the last of the prophets. While Muslims recognize the “revelations” (Torah and NT), they also believe that much of what is written in the Old and New testaments is a corrupted version of the original revelation to Moses and Jesus, and that Christianity further corrupted it with the development of doctrine such as the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died to redeem the people.

In our age of globalization and with the understanding that in a few short years there will be almost as many Muslims as there are Christians in the world, there is a deep need for religious pluralism. This does not mean all becoming one great religion, nor does it mean watering down the religions to focus solely on the similarities and ignore our differences. What it means is an appreciation of the diversity of all religions, uniformity and agreement are not the goals.

Pluralism recognizes that the Divine is too huge to be encompassed by any one idea, theology, name or religion. Pluralism understands that no one has a monopoly on the truth when it comes to God. It recognizes that there is much out there that we don’t know and don’t understand, and we allow others to honor and worship God in ways that make sense to them.  Pluralism believes that other religions have validity.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Kaye

The Ache of Lament

“There is an “ache” in autumn that is also within each one of us. leavesThis ache is the deep stillness of a late September morning when mist covers the land and the sound of geese going south fills the sky. There is a wordless yearning or a longing for something in the air, and it penetrates the human spirit. It is a tender, nostalgic desire to gather our treasures and hold them close because the ache tells us that someday those treasures will need to be left behind. Autumn speaks to this pain in our own spirits, that ache which we try so hard to ignore or deny or push aside, that little persistent reminder that death is always a part of life.” ~ Joyce Rupp, Praying Our Goodbyes

Whether we can name it or not, I believe each of us feels this existential ache that is brought on by the visible dying of the world around us, the shorter, darker days and the colder temperatures. Some might wish to run from this ache as it brings up the darker feelings of grief, loss, and loneliness. But the spiritual journey necessitates that we dive head first into the ache instead of running the other way. In fact, the Psalms and other scripture draw us into lament… to passionately express or feelings of grief or sorrow.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

There is a misnomer in Christianity, perhaps in all religions, that one can skip over the darker times and the darker feelings, especially the feelings of loss and grief, if one has enough faith. This is fueled by the clichés tossed at us when we’ve lost someone we love:

  • Be happy that so-and-so is in a better place.
  • God only takes the best.
  • God needed so-and-so.
  • It’s God’s will and we must simply accept it.
  • God has a reason for this (Implying that God caused your suffering for a perfectly good reason which may be a mystery to you, but God has a bigger plan. This one in particular drives me crazy.)

In my opinion, these types of theological beliefs are spiritually abusive, and often drive people to deny or hide their feelings of pain, loss and grief. After all, what are you supposed to do with all your anger, fear and sadness, if God willed whatever happened? Clearly, you must be in the wrong for feeling it, and so people stuff it and pretend they’re fine.

In addition to that, our society and our families do a really good job of making us believe that showing our emotions is a display of weakness (unless, of course, you are shouting obscenities at a sporting event). By casual show of hands yesterday, it appeared that about two-thirds of us grew up in homes where crying was unacceptable, or where emotions simply weren’t shown. I didn’t have to be told not to cry when my mom died when I was seventeen. The stoic, be strong, don’t show your feelings model was the only one I’d ever seen. Oddly enough I couldn’t really identify that, nor did I  did even realize it how unhealthy it was until much, much later.

So, how do we dive in when grief and loss are such uncomfortable places to be? Why would we even want to dive in when we feel empty, weepy, abandoned, exhausted, tied up in knots, scared, lonely, and more? And why doesn’t God just jump in and fix everything?

In case you hadn’t noticed, God isn’t in the habit of changing events for us. At some point we need to realize that we have responsibility over own lives and our own healing. God’s role is to give us strength and help us grow through our experiences.

There is a Japanese poet, Kenji Miyazawa, who gave us a very good image of dealing with pain when he said that we must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. He said embracing pain was like picking up a bundle of sticks for a fireplace. We necessarily embrace these sticks as we carry them, then we thrust them into the fire, getting rid of them, letting them go, but finally we are warmed and delighted by their gift to us in the form of flames and warmth and energy.

Imagine picking up your suffering and embracing it like that pile of sticks. Maybe it feels rough, heavy, awkward, and uncomfortable. It may even poke into you or scrape you up. But you are determined to carry that difficult load to the fireplace where it will serve you. The walk across the room is the journey with your pain. It is time to feel and time to be. You journey by crying, lamenting, going through old pictures, telling stories, lighting candles, listening to music, going out in the woods and screaming your anger out to the Divine. Each person’s process with their pain is different, but the goal is the same – to let it go.

Finally, we finish the journey, we have embraced the pain long enough to process it and we are ready to release it in a deliberate manner. Just as the sticks are thrust into the fireplace and transformed, so our pain is transformed into compassion, understanding of others, a renewed passion for life and living, and a deeper connection with Spirit. We are beginning to heal.

Madisyn Taylor reminds us, “It is when we get stuck in our pain that it becomes detrimental to our well-being and development. If you notice that you feel closed-off, resentful, heavy-hearted, or that you try very hard to avoid being hurt again, there may be a part of you that is still stuck in pain. Perhaps we began thinking that staying closed and unwilling to try new things would keep us safe from heartbreak, safe from rejection, and safe from failure. We may have even gotten so used to being in pain that the thought of being without it scares us. But, if we continue to hold onto it longer than necessary, we are expending a lot of energy that could instead be channeled into making our life experiences more positive.”

And Matthew Fox, in Original Blessing says, “Liberation begins at the point where pain is acknowledged and allowed to be pain. From there pain becomes shareable. And, where possible, resolvable.”

This is the perfect time of year to utter our true pain from the depths of our souls, that it might not fester, but find full expression and carry us down the path toward healing.

Love & Light,

Kaye