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

Hospitality

We all know how much it means to be made to feel welcome in a new place… or not. hospitalityIn fact, the one thing almost always keeps first time visitors to a church from ever returning is that “no one said anything” to them. We feel unwanted, invisible, awkward, out-of-place. And this one little example is just the tip of the proverbial we-talk-a-good-game-about-hospitality-but-don’t-really-practice-it iceberg.

Over and over again, in our churches, our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities and our country, people are discriminated against, shunned, bullied, profiled, targeted, avoided, slandered and kicked out, for being different.

And yet, hospitality is a Biblical imperative. Do people not understand this? HOSPITALITY IS A BIBLICAL IMPERATIVE!

These are the scripture passages I used yesterday:

1 Peter 4:9 “Be mutually hospitable without complaining.”

Leviticus 19:33 “Do not mistreat the foreigners who reside in your land.”

But then there are so many others:

  • Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Love your enemy.
  • I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.
  • Lot welcoming the two strangers.
  • Rahab protecting the Israelite spies.
  • Martha (and Mary, sort of) feeding the disciples.

I could go on and on. Plus, one author I read said there are at least thirty-six warnings to the Israelites in the Old Testament to remember their obligation to the alien, the widows and the orphans.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

So, what is it that keeps us from offering hospitality to others? This is the question I asked the congregation yesterday, and these are some of the answers:

  • Fear of others who look different, talk different, act different
  • Fear of being scammed
  • Inconvenient
  • We need to take care of ourselves first
  • We don’t want to create dependency
  • Fear of being taken advantage of
  • Too busy
  • Scarcity – I don’t have enough to share
  • Greed – I don’t want to share
  • Drill it into our kids not to talk to strangers
  • Don’t know what to do, don’t have enough opportunities
  • Out of our comfort zone

The way of our world these days and all of these issues made me ponder whether hospitality is just impractical these days? Is it just a worn out and outdated concept? Or maybe people of every age have struggled with this, which doesn’t make it impractical, just challenging.

There are many examples out there – in churches, families, and communities – of hospitality. Many have had to fight against opposition, but have done so because they believed in the interconnectedness of all people. They believed in God’s love of everyone and the transformative power of reaching out to help another or be kind to another.

There are many examples of beautiful hospitality inside and outside of the church. People giving of themselves, their time, their resources. People risking, daring to care, getting out of their comfort zones, challenging the doubters and the critics, doing what feels right and good in their hearts. These people and programs inspire me and challenge me to question myself, my own behavior, my own fears. It challenges me to watch for opportunities to step out.

Will we risk showing up? Will we show hospitality without complaining? Will we give of our gifts generously? Will we see ourselves in the foreigners? Will we practice the spiritual discipline of hospitality wherever we are? These are the questions we each have to answer.

Peace,

Kaye

Awe

Awe, the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things, is a sacred experience which connects us to the Divine and to one another. It is aawen important piece of the spiritual puzzle, or at the very least it could be a tool or path to deeper awareness of the Divine.

Writer and theologian Michael Yaconelli has said that, “Tameness is not an option. Take surprise out of faith and all that is left is dry and dead religion.” I believe that awe, wonder and mystery are some of the surprises that bring vitality and aliveness to faith and spirituality.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

While Christians are apt to talk about an “awesome” God, I’ve found that usually correlates to the power, greatness and majesty attributed to God.  And while many people have tried to equate fear and awe, that is a relatively new phenomenon. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for awesome is nora, and the Hebrew word for fear is yira. They were not the same thing. When the psalmist said,  “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10) or “serve God with fear and trembling” (Psalm 2:11) they really meant that one should be afraid of God, with an implicit “or else” tied in there. Certainly there are enough OT passages where destruction and doom awaited those who didn’t obey, that fearing God was more than appropriate.

Over the centuries there has been a shift in our understanding of God, and so many have reinterpreted these passages. Rabbi Heschel translates this as “the awe of God is the beginning of wisdom” and the Inclusive Bible says “the reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

Psalm 65 is one of the few places where the Bible emphasizes experiencing awe in God’s creation. Job also has a wonderful passage that does the same thing (Job 37:24). But there is very little scripturally that leads us farther than that to what Wayne Dyer talks about in his book Your Sacred Self. He suggests that by walking an intentional spiritual journey and heightening our awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, we will develop a greater sense of appreciation and awe.

Dacher Keltner, professor and head of the University of California Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab, has been studying awe for the last few years. Their studies have shown that awe is very accessible in what we might call the ordinary miracles of our days – the generosity of a person, the veins in a leaf, the birth of a child, a sunrise, the beauty in art or music or architecture.

In addition, Keltner’s research shows that experiences of awe transform the mind. After an experience of awe, a person is less concerned with self-interest and more attuned to collective interest; one moves from an isolated sense of self to a more integrated sense of self. And moments of awe begin to break down the “us” vs. “them” mentality.

Keltner said that awe seems to be the antidote to the ills of the world today: self-focus, greed, materialism, purposelessness, stress, narrow-mindedness and under-performing health. Experiences of awe produce: expanded sense of self, generosity, purpose (brings focus to our purpose in the world), perspective, creativity, robust health (good for the nervous system).

Studies show that people experience awe on an average of average 2.5 times a week. But perhaps, as people on an intentional spiritual journey, we could strive to cultivate experiences of awe, to practice wonder, to recognize everyday miracles EVERY DAY. Because those experiences are the bridges to the experience and feeling of connectedness with the universe, with the Divine. The goosebumps, feeling humble, curious, positive, love, joy, peace and concern for others… those are the effects of momentary connections with Something More.

So, how do we cultivate experiences of awe? Take a walk with the deliberate intention of being amazed and awed by something in creation. Or if you can’t get outside, watch a nature show or a travel show. Pause during the day to wonder at your life, the synchronicities, the beautiful relationships, your pets, your children or grandchildren, the very breath you take that give you life. Listen to fabulous music and be in awe of the musicians who create it. Go out and look at the stars or the lake and feel the enormity of the universe or the power of water. Read a beautiful piece of poetry or be amazed at the skill of an artist. There are so many things we can be in awe of instead of passing right over them. Let yourself be moved and filled.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

Our Stories

There is a great deal about “religion” that is about believing the right thing and our-storiesdoing the right thing. But there is a great deal about “spirituality” that has to do with self-awareness and understanding ourselves, because only in this way can we begin to see the masks and barriers we have put up to protect or hide our true selves – the self that is one with the Divine.  This is why some authors claim that the religion of the future will be more psycho-therapeutic.

Yesterday, I ventured outside of our canonical scriptures to explore a wonderful nugget found in one of the Gnostic gospels, The Dialogue of the Savior. Jesus is speaking and says:

“Do you not understand that what you see is what you will become? Therefore seek the Self within yourself, because this is who you really are.”

This does not mean that if you look at an eggplant you will become an eggplant. Rather, I think it means that what we see and believe about ourselves becomes our reality.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Don Miguel Ruiz and others remind us that we are the authors of our own stories. From the time we are young our interactions with others (parents, teachers, friends, strangers, lovers) create our experiences which we then write into stories. Some are positive stories and some are negative stories. These stories repeated countless times to ourselves and to others shapes how we live and move in the world.

In The Voice of Knowledge, Ruiz states:

“You are the author of an ongoing story you tell yourself. In your story, everything is about you, and it has to be that way because you are the center of your perception. The story is told from your point of view…Without awareness, we give our personal power to the story, and the story writes itself. With awareness, we recover the control of our story. We see that we are the authors, and if we don’t like our story, we change it.

Have you ever thought about the stories that we tell (ourselves or others) about our lives? What do we believe about ourselves and about life?

  • You can be anything you want to be
  • Boys are better than girls
  • Roles of boys and girls
  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m fat, slow, stupid, untalented
  • I’m smart, pretty, better than others, entitled
  • Don’t cry, don’t show weakness, don’t be vulnerable
  • Prejudice, bigotry
  • Political party
  • Religious understanding of God
  • I was dealt a bad hand
  • It’s not my fault

In seminary at the age of 26, one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (aka chaplaincy) was required. So, I spent 16 weeks at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee visiting patients and then analyzing, in a group setting, my behaviors and responses.  I was young and still learning that my interaction with people had a great deal to do with the stories I told myself.  For example, there were certain patients who had longer stays at the hospital that I developed a relationship with and then hated to see go. I ached inside to lose touch with. Why? Or I’d be visiting with a patient and the Catholic priest would come in to offer communion and I’d feel put out. Why?

I had to learn that I had “hooks,” as our supervisor called them. Feeling abandoned was one of my hooks. The story I unconsciously repeated to myself was that my mom died… I was “abandoned” by my mom. My dad started seeing another woman a month after mom died and paid little attention to us kids after that… I was “abandoned” by my dad.  A few months later I graduated from high school and my friend group split up and went to different schools… I felt “alone” in the world… “abandoned.” Once this came to my awareness, I was able to better identify when I was getting hooked into someone and not allow my story to have power over my behavior.

My other hook had to do with another story I told myself: “girls are just as good as boys (if not better) and I can prove it.” So, when that Catholic priest walked in, I was ready to try to prove it. I didn’t quite have the self-esteem to step out-of-the-way and accept whatever, or whoever, a person needed for their spiritual needs. I have since worked on re-writing my personal story in such a way as to understand that there are some people who need something different from I can provide spiritually, and that is okay.

I believe the words of the Gnostic gospel are true, that what we “see,” our perspective, our story, becomes our reality. If we are unaware of this process, our stories write themselves and we feel we have no control over them… we give our personal power to the story and believe we don’t have the power to change it. With awareness we see that we do have control over what we tell ourselves and what we believe about ourselves. We do have control over our stories, and if we don’t like them we can change them.

Ruiz offers two suggestions:

  1. Don’t believe yourself – keep your mind and heart open, listen to yourself and your story. Really ask yourself if it is truth or lies. Respect your story, learn to see your story with clarity and then change it if you don’t like it. But if your story is healthy, offers brilliant ideas and possibilities, then go with it. But especially don’t believe your story when the stories are against you and encourage anger, fear, loneliness, jealousy, conflict, separation
  2. Don’t believe others – keep your mind and heart open and listen, but remember that what they are saying is their story, their perception. When their story is told with integrity, you will recognize it and can acknowledge it. We can listen objectively and respectfully, without judging, but we don’t have to take it on and believe it. We can understand that they believe it and then perhaps we come to understand them better and can communicate better, but we don’t have to take on their story.

Then the harder task is to go deeper than all of this to our true selves which are beyond all of these stories. It seems to me that our authentic selves are the part of us that can observe and name these stories we tell about ourselves without judgment. We are the life force behind the stories. That life force is who we really are.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

Prophets Anonymous

Jesus came to visit our service yesterday morning. Well, sort of. Every once in a while I’ve preached “in character.” I’ve been Mary Magdalene, the Gossip of Nazareth, the Holy Spirit and a few others, but never dared to be Jesus, until yesterday.

As is probably true of all of us right now, the elections hover at the edge of everything we do, casting a pall of jesusfrustration and agitation and worry over everything. I’ve been really good at not mixing faith and politics, and I’ve never told anyone who to vote for, nor will I. But, it actually feels weird not being able to say anything about it… like there is this huge elephant in the room. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that everything Jesus said and did was political, which is what got him killed.

So, in an attempt to talk about religion and politics, while keeping things somewhat light, I played the part of Jesus attending a Prophets Anonymous meeting. In my monologue, we find out that his disciples had asked him to stop talking about anything political before it got him killed. But as he talks more, we find out that even those things that didn’t sound political were.

Here’s an excerpt from Jesus’ monologue (for the full audio version, click here):

I’m a good Jew, just like the rest of you, but one day a while back I was in the synagogue on the Sabbath and you know how they take turns reading Torah from the scrolls? Well, it was my turn and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to me and I started to read where they’d left off. Guess where it started… yep…

“The Spirit of our God is upon me;
Because the Most High has anointed me
To bring Good News to those who are poor.
God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive,
Recovery of sight to those who are blind,
And release to those in prison – the proclaim the year of our God’s favor” (Is. 61)

And I knew in that moment that those words were exactly what God was calling me to do, so I said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled.” Here I thought my hometown would be supportive of me. Not everyone gets a call from Yahweh. But they were so angry, or perhaps scared, that they literally dragged me out-of-town and were going to toss me over the side of that hill out there… yea, you know the one, with the rocks all down the back side. Thankfully I was able to get away. But I couldn’t get away from the call.

So, I’ve spent the better part of the last two years doing exactly what was in that Isaiah passage.  I really feel like I’m making a difference to people, giving them hope, connecting them to God who loves them no matter what, whether they follow the 613 laws of Judaism or not. And I’ve had some amazing messages, thanks to that Spirit flowing through me.

I was sitting on the Sea of Galilee with this whole crowd of people, mostly poor and working class folks, up on the hillside and suddenly I felt these wonderful words:

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful… and the pure in heart… and the peacemakers… and those who are persecuted…

I was on a real roll! That one was so popular they now call it the Beatitudes and they call the place the Mount of the Beatitudes.

Who knew that was political? Suddenly I had the Roman government watching my every move thinking I’m going to start a rebellion. I told the crowds to pay their taxes… give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s… but give unto God what is God’s – their hearts, and minds and souls. “Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.”

That one got me in trouble, too. Especially after I told them a parable I made up about a Good Samaritan. You know how well the Jews and Samaritans get along… I hear there is even talk about building a wall between the two. So, now that I’ve pointed out that, in God’s eyes, our neighbors are everyone, the leaders of the synagogue are out to get me, too.  Do people really think that God doesn’t want all of humanity to live in peace and harmony and to love one another?

 I know that is why God sent me out into the world, to bring God’s unconditional love.

I tell you, I get so tired of the judgment and the lack of compassion for the poor, the widow, the outcast, the strangers. I try to tell them to “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” No matter what I say, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. They think God is on their side only… just like the sling shot competition in Nazareth between the Bethany Bandits and the Nazareth Knights.  Both teams prayed beforehand that God would let them win, and then when the Bandits won they claimed it was because God was on their side and caused them to play so well.

Seriously? God may be a sling shot fan, but do they really think God takes sides??

Perhaps we should all try being on God’s side for a while… the side of ALL. Of neighborliness. Of ONE. Of the common good.

Yesterday was what really scared my friends into confronting me. We had just arrived here into Jerusalem and I wanted to go up to the temple to pray. But when I got there it was like entering a marketplace, not a holy place of worship. I saw clearly what I hadn’t seen before, that worship had become a business transaction, an exchange of money, a slaughter of animals… it had nothing to do with the heart being aligned with the love of God. I got so angry I just exploded (still not sure where that came from, I’m a pretty peaceable guy). But I went ballistic… turned over the tables of the money changers and the people selling doves. Then I actually yelled at them, “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations‘? But you have made it a den of robbers!”

Of course, now word is on the street that the leaders of the synagogue (who, as you know, are in cahoots with the Roman government) are plotting to kill me.

What am I supposed to do? It seems like everything I say, whether I want it to be or not, is too political for someone, offends someone. All I really want to do is help people to see God’s vision for God’s Kingdom on earth; a place of equality, peace, harmony, non-violence, compassion and most of all love. Who knew that love could be so political??

My friends think I can just go greet people at the kosher store down the street and teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Stay out of trouble. But then I feel like I’d be selling out. This is who I am and who God has called me to be. It is what I feel deeply in my heart that I try to live and share. 

I can’t do it. I can’t sell out. Come what may, I have to be true to myself and to God. I will continue to preach love, to share love. I guess they can do what they will to me. But I’m on God’s side.

Gee… thanks for all your help! I really appreciate it… I’m going back to work!

Love & Light!

Kaye