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