Pastor Kaye's Blog

I want it to be different

Listen to parts of Ann Weems’ poem “This Year Will Be Different”:

Who among us does not have dreams that this year will be different?
Who among us does not intend to go peacefully, leisurely, carefully toward Bethlehem,
for who among us likes to cope with the commercialism of Christmas
which lures us to tinsel not only the tree but also our hearts?
Who among us intends to get caught up in tearing around and wearing down?
Who among us does not long for:
gifts that give love?
shopping in serenity?
cards and presents sent off early?
long evenings by the fireside with those we love?…
This year we intent to follow the Star instead of the crowd.
But, of course, we always do intend the best.

She nails it for me. I’m right there with her. Or is it just me? Am I the adventonly one to want Advent and the journey toward Christmas to be different? Stress-less, hassle free, and peace among all people (especially families). More about people than presents, Jesus than tinsel, anticipation than anxiety.

My problem is that I want it all. I want to tend to my spirit AND my Christmas tree. I love people and giving presents (especially the perfect ones). I want to eat all the cookies and still lose 5 pounds. Basically, I want things to be different, but I don’t want to change what I’m doing. A sure sign of insanity, I know. But I think I come by it honestly. I think it is simply a human trait.

Take a look at part of the Isaiah passage (11:1-4a, 6, 9) we read in conjunction with this poem:

The wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf and the lion cub will graze together,
And a little child will lead them.
There will be no harm, no destruction
Anywhere in my holy mountain,
For as water fills the sea,
So the land will be filled with knowledge of Yahweh.

Apparently we’ve always wanted things to be different… perfect even… but things haven’t changed much socially and politically in the last 2,000 years.

I wonder, was the prophet Isaiah simply dreaming when he foresaw a new leader from the line of Jesse who would make everything perfect?  They would bring a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence for God. Suddenly people would delight in serving God, wouldn’t judge others by their appearances, or make decisions without the facts. Poor people would be treated fairly and with justice. And then everyone and everything that was normally pitted against each other would live in harmony. There would be no harm or destruction because all would be filled with the knowledge of God. Wow. How amazing would that be?

By the way – the reference to the little child leading them was not originally about any specific child. It was simply a symbolic image, a pastoral setting where a young child led all the animals like a shepherd. We hear this passage every year at this time because it was the hope that the child Jesus would usher in this era of peace. Surely with this child things would be different! Jesus didn’t magically bring those things, but we still hope he will. We don’t only hope our personal lives will be filled with harmony and peace, we want that for the world, too. We want this year to be different for everyone.

So, this brings us back to our dilemma: we want things to be different, but we don’t necessarily want to change. We want the world to be more peaceful, but we’re irritated beyond belief at the person in front of us driving 5 mph under the speed limit. We haven’t figured out how to be peaceful inside ourselves… so how can we bring peace to the world?

It’s (painfully) clear to me that if we really want something to be different, whether it is a big something or a little something, we need to actively work to make it different. I’ve been reading a book that reminded me of this, and offers one way to try to move forward so that perhaps this year might really be different.

The book suggests that if not getting what we want causes us to suffer, then we know we are too attached to the outcome. We are not fully aligning with life, but to our view of how things are “supposed” to be. It is the difference between aligning with our preferences and our ego, or aligning with the flow of life. Becoming clear with ourselves about the difference takes time, attention and energy. The process though is simple, it entails answering three questions:

What do we want? What is reality? Taking that into account, what do we REALLY want?

First we determine what our preference is, what we want in any given situation. Then we examine the reality of the situation. Finally, we ask ourselves what we really want by going beyond the surface of the desire to the depths of our yearning. Then determine if we can give that quality to ourselves.

For example, I want a Christmas day with my kids.

The reality is that my kids are with me on Christmas Eve (which I also wouldn’t change), and then they head to Chicago to be with their dad’s family. The reality also is that we spend at least part of Christmas day with my wife’s family… which is not particularly stress-free, but important to her.

If I were too attached to what I wanted, it would make me miserable. Instead, aligning to the flow of life means accepting that Christmas is what it is. Then I ask myself again what I really want. Well, I want to feel the spirit of Christmas – joy, love, and laughter, being with people I care about, enjoying a nice meal and wallowing in the end of a busy season with a nice glass of red wine.

This year offered a new solution. Turns out our friends and neighbors across the street will also not be spending Christmas day with kids (as was hoped) so that night we’ll make their traditional Christmas meal and enjoy some wine, friendship, and cribbage. And I will get what my spirit yearns for, maybe not in the exact form I hoped for, but that piece has to be let go.

Maybe change isn’t so bad after all. Maybe this year can be different.

Love & Light!


Simply Following Jesus

In our third week of delving into the medieval mystics, we will explore the life, stories and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.

Francis was born in 1182 in Assisi, Italy. Europe and the Muslim world had already endured two crusades. The third crusade began when Francis was a boy, and the fourth when he was twenty-one. Despite the atmosphere of war, as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francis grew up fairly carefree, almost a playboy and party-er. Assisi itself joined in an ongoing war with Perugia, a neighboring city. Exuberantly, Francis rode off to fight, but was quickly taken prisoner and held for ransom. While in prison, Francis contracted malaria and began to reflect inward on the purpose of his life.

(For the full video version, click here.)

After a year his ransom was finally paid and Francis came out of prison beaten down, disillusioned, and feeling there must be something more than all this cruelty and aggression. It was during this time that Francis wandered into a little run down church and heard a voice saying, “Francis, repair my house.” With a purpose now before him, Francis was transformed.

However, rehabbing the little church would be a challenge with no money. Not to be deterred, Francis simply stole goods from his father and sold them to get the money for materials. When he was caught, his father called a town meeting, and I assume planned to make an example of him and shame him into shaping up. Instead Francis took off  all his rich clothing, tossed them back to his father, and claimed that his only father was God. Francis then pledged himself in service to God and the church. He donned the rough clothes of the beggar and proceeded to live a life of voluntary poverty.

One day when he was out walking on the plains below Assisi, he came across some lepers… people the “old Francis” would have given a wide berth while plugging his nose at the stench of their disease. Now, however, Francis approached them, touched them, and offered them comfort and compassion.

Francis began to live the Gospel of Jesus as he knew it. He lived in poverty, had no possessions or place to lay his head, showed love and kindness to all people, lived with deep compassion, and preached about peace and the love of God for all. It wasn’t long before others were attracted to the monumental change in him and his way of life and began to follow him.

Though Francis resisted priesthood, perhaps because that would identify himself with a higher class of people, he had such a following that he did finally seek permission from Pope Innocent to preach and to establish an order based on living the Gospel.

I think I’ve always sort of thought of St. Francis as a fluffy saint who loved animals and preached to the birds. Yes, he is said to have had an inexhaustible tenderness about him, but his message wasn’t necessarily warm and fuzzy. His message called people to do something hard… be like Jesus. Love one another and do something about improving the world.

Francis preached peace in the midst of war.

He preached benevolence and God’s love for all in opposition to those who preached about duty, sacrifice and killing the infidel.

He is the only Christian man ever known to attempt two or three trips to dialogue with the “enemy” during the Crusades against Muslims in the Holy Land. Francis even went so far as telling the Christians they were wrong for crusading and persecuting these children of God. During one trip he even met with the Muslim Sultan of Egypt, who wanted peace as much as he did. They had great discussions about prayer and theology and Francis returned home having grown in his spirituality.

Francis lived in simplicity because he understood that having things tended to lead to greed and defending those things. Once you have things you worry about losing your things, and you want more things, you may even covet your neighbors’ things.

No, we’re not like Francis, it is truly a Divine calling to voluntarily live in poverty. But perhaps we could take a small step back and take a look at how our culture has twisted Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the one holiday that isn’t about getting stuff (gluttony, maybe, but not stuff). It’s about the simple gifts of harvest, abundance, sharing, family, relationships. There is no expectation of receiving gifts, except the gifts of the earth – food for our tables. The whole goal is to feel gratitude.

The essential goodness in all that is now being overshadowed by football and commercialism. In fact, now we have pre-Black Friday sales, and Black Thursday sales. And heaven forbid we let retail folks get a good night’s sleep… instead we’ll start opening the stores at midnight on Thursday. Then we’ll have Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday! If you have anything left by Giving Tuesday, we can then give a little to our favorite charity. When will it stop?

Poor Francis would’ve had a heart attack. What happens to our souls in the midst of it all?

A sermon about Francis would be lacking without the story of the birds…Francis 1

As time went on, more and more people were attracted to his order, and it lost more and more of his original vision. Francis struggled with whether to retire entirely and devote himself to prayer, or to continue traveling and preaching. To answer this question, he sought the counsel of some of his trusted friends and colleagues, Brother Sylvester and Sister Clare. The answer came quickly: yes, God wanted Francis to continue preaching. Without delay, Francis took to the roads. As he is walking, he comes upon a very large flock of birds and rushes to greet them as if they could understand him.

St. Bonaventure writes, “He went right up to them and solicitously urged them to listen to the word of God, saying,  ‘Oh birds, my brothers and sisters, you have a great obligation to praise your Creator, who clothed you in feathers and gave you wings to fly with, provided you with pure air and cares for you without any worry on your part.’…The birds showed their joy in a remarkable fashion: They began to stretch their necks, extend their wings, open their beaks and gaze at him attentively.

“He went through their midst with amazing fervor of spirit, brushing against them with his tunic. Yet none of them moved from the spot until the man of God made the sign of the cross and gave them permission to leave; then they all flew away together. His companions waiting on the road saw all these things. When he returned to them, that pure and simple man began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to the birds before.”

Some sources say that from that day on Francis made sure to preach to all the animals and entreat them to praise and love the creator.

As with any of us, Francis’ spirituality continued to change and grow. The more he came to understand the boundlessness of God’s love, the more he recognized that it wasn’t just about loving humans, but about loving all creatures.

As we quickly approach the Advent season, Francis is a good segue as he had a particular fondness for Christmas.  For him the Word of God not only became a tiny child entering the human family, but Jesus entered the whole family of creation, becoming one with everything.

So, as Jack Wintz writes, “Francis had a keen sense that all creatures—not just humans—must be included in the celebration of Christmas.” There are stories about how Francis wanted  “the emperor to ask all citizens to scatter grain along the roads on Christmas Day so that the birds and other animals would have plenty to eat. Walls, too, should be rubbed with food, Francis said, and the beasts in the stable should receive a bounteous meal on Christmas Day. He believed that all creatures had a right to participate in the celebration of Christmas.”

Living in poverty and pushing his body too hard took its toll on Francis. He became badly malnourished and contracted leprosy and malaria. He spent four years on a straw bed. During those four years 3,000 men joined the order.

But as the order grew it became divided between those who wanted to live Francis’ original vision of poverty, simplicity and service, and those who wanted a more traditional monastic life. Eventually Francis resigned and he experienced his own dark night of the soul during which he became very ill again. It was during this time that it is said he received the stigmata – the wounds of Jesus – as a result of living his life so like Jesus.

It was on his deathbed that he dictated his famous poem, “Canticle of the Creatures” where he sang praises to Brother Sun and Sister Moon, to Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire and Sister Mother Earth, and finally Sister Death.

There are many lessons we could take from Francis:

  • Oneness of all creation and God’s love for all of creation
  • Living simply and tenderly
  • Embracing the outcast
  • Accepting other ideas and understandings of the Divine
  • Seeing God everywhere
  • Accepting death as a sister
  • Living peacefully without greed or violence
  • Being grateful
  • Be a servant

We probably won’t become another Francis, but perhaps his example will prompt us to grow spiritually in one of those ways, to make even a small change to the way we live or behave.

Love & Light!


Dark Night of the Soul

In our second week of delving into the medieval mystics, we find ourselves with John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul.”

Juan de Yepes was born into extreme poverty in 1542 in Fontiveros, Spain. When his father died he moved with his mother to Medina de Campo where he had access to some of the finest education at the time, first as an orderly at a plague hospital where he was permitted to study at the new Jesuit school, and then at the university of Salamanca as a young Carmelite student. He was ordained in 1567.

Truly, John was an introvert, a scholar and a poet, but Teresa of Avila saw St. John of the Crosssomething great in him and hitched him to her cause of reforming the Carmelite order, which had been founded on the ideals of a simple life spent in solitude and prayer, but that vision had all but died. At the time there were some 200 nuns in the convent, the wealthiest of those had suites of rooms that they shared with relatives and servants. Teresa decided to start a new convent closer to the original idea, but faced huge opposition. She pressed on anyway, but knew her reform would fail unless it involved monks as well. Though John was 27 years her junior (and under 5 feet tall, not that that means anything) he became her apprentice and they founded a new reformed Carmelite order for men. Three years later John’s superiors told him to quit. He refused, thus becoming an outlaw in his own order.

Shortly after, John was abducted, bound and blindfolded and taken to a monastery over 80 miles away where they tried to force him to renounce his work. He refused and was beaten and thrown into the monastery prison where he survived on bread and water. He was not allowed to bathe, change his clothes, or leave his cell, except for beatings. After two months he was placed in solitary confinement where the only light came through a slit in the prison wall. There he began to compose his greatest works, including the poem “The Dark Night of the Soul,” first by memorizing the words it the dark and then writing them down when he was finally given paper and ink. He escaped after 9 months.

(For the full video version, click here.)

John has been called the greatest psychologist in the history of mysticism. While his theology is quite varied, he is best known for his exploration of the “dark night.” This concept of the “dark night of the soul” has become common terminology over the centuries, but few people know where it originated.

When people hear that he wrote dark night while in prison, they assume that it is a memoir about the worst part of his life. Perhaps we expect John to tell us how awful it was and how his faith got him through it. But it is more accurately thought of as a love story between the lover and the Beloved. It requires the lover (aka “soul”) to completely let go of everything and enter into the unknown darkness to have a true encounter with the Beloved (aka “God”).

In the commentaries he wrote on his own poem, John uses the “dark night” to refer primarily to the critical moments of transition in the stages of spiritual growth. For our purposes, it is sufficient, as scholars Robin Maas and Gabriel O’Donnell say, “to speak of the “dark night” in terms of human “limit-experiences”… times when we’ve reached a point in our lives and in our prayer when everything seems to fall apart. We feel lost, confused, frustrated, and abandoned by God and our friends. We may be painfully aware of how good we used to have it. Often this happens when our comfortable religion breaks down in the face of lives struggles and questions. Perhaps God no longer seems real. Perhaps our faith now seems meaningless.”

How do you know if you’re really in a dark night? 

If the dark night is due to illness, lukewarmness, or a recent “sin” then John says returning to health or “sincere Christian living” will take care of it. Depression can also resemble a dark night, except that it can be treated with medication or therapy. A true dark night, which may, or may not, be triggered by traumas in our lives is an intense and pervasive inner anguish and complete disorientation to everything – self, God and the world.

Well known preacher and theologian, Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, talks about experiencing the dark night (or cloudy night) of the soul when her “reliable ideas about God began to slip away.” The slipping began when the language of faith – sin, salvation, repentance, grace – lost meaning. She discovered that slowly, over the years, she had not lost faith, but had lost faith in a system that given her words, doctrine, rituals and practices that would supposedly be all she needed to understand, teach and share God. But, the way she had been taught to be Christian didn’t work anymore, and she found herself lost in that dark night.

John of the Cross has a very interesting take on God’s part in this dark night. When it is experienced, it feels as if God has abandoned us, as the Psalmist cries out in Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But in reality, John says, God is closer than God has ever been. The dark night is a time of releasing (purging) and illuminating.

Once again language falls short of explaining the ineffable, so John describes this experience metaphorically.

  • One way to look at it is as if we were a cave dweller emerging into the bright sunshine. The brilliant light is actually painful to look upon. There is only one way to regain one’s sight and that is to continue to spend time in that bright light, giving the eyes time to adjust, no matter how painful it might be.
  • The second metaphor John uses is that of a log becoming fire. He explains that what happens inwardly in the dark night of the soul is that as the love of God penetrates deeper and deeper into our being we are slowly consumed and engulfed, eventually becoming the fire itself. The smoke and steam, and perhaps worms and bugs, seen exiting the log as it begins to burn are the things of our lives that need to be released, let go of, before transformation can take place. These things might include our belief structures, ideologies, expectations, perfection, mistakes, guilt, shame, material things, fear, grudges and more. Once all of those things are let go, one can see the light within oneself and is transformed.

Both of these processes are painful. Walking into such brilliant light that our own flaws, failings and weaknesses seem to stand out in stark contrast, and the process of having to examine and release all of these flaws, failings and weaknesses as we watch them turn to steam and disappear. Our old religion, creeds and doctrine, and images of God no longer fit in comparison to the reality found in the darkness. We are stripped of our illusions and false securities. We feel like we are losing our very selves.

Spiritual director and Jesuit priest, Thomas Greene, in his book When the Well Runs Dry recalled a “very prayerful sister telling [him] of her experience: God seemed so far away and so uninterested in her that she finally said to [him]: “All right! If you don’t care, then neither do I!” And she tried to avoid prayer and go her own way, even to “sin”! But she was equally miserable.” She was very surprised when Thomas told her that her experience was probably “a sign something good and deep was happening!”

Brown Taylor interprets John the Cross as saying,

“the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation. It is about freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all the benefits you have been promised for believing in God, your devotion to the spiritual practices that are supposed to make you feel closer to God, your dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God, your positive and negative evaluations of yourself as a believer in God, your tactics for manipulating God, and your sure cures for doubting God. All of these are substitutes for God.”

In the same way the dark night frees us from our ideas about ourselves, the stories we tell about ourselves, the fears we have about life, the things we’ve bought into or rail against, our brokenness, our failures, our successes. All of these are substitutes for our authentic selves.

Just thinking about it can make me want to run. Escape sounds like a great idea, if only it were possible. Once the process begins, there is really no easy way out, one must go through. But what we are doing in this process of releasing and letting go is making room for something or someone greater and more mysterious. If we can stay in the place when we feel and see God least, and let the night do its work, we will gradually discover the Divine already dwelling within our hearts.

John’s advice is to “learn to let go, to walk forward in simple trust, [then] the turmoil will eventually give way to a profound and unshakable union with God that no further suffering can fundamentally disturb.”

God has not deserted us in the darkness, God is not punishing us or forsaking us. God is simply a creative force working in a way that is so deep it is beyond our senses. For John it was “God teaching the soul secretly and instructing it in the perfection of love without its doing anything or understanding how this happens.”




Deep Calls to Deep

The medieval mystics had many amazing experiences of the Divine, and are worth delving into for our own spiritual edification. So, for the next three weeks, we’ll be talking about some of the teachings of Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross and Francis of Assisi.

We don’t actually know the name of the woman we know of as Julian of Norwich.


But the person we call Julian was born in 1342. When she was 30 years old, she had a very serious illness during which she experienced a series of visions – which she called showings. She wrote two accounts of that experience, a short version, probably written shortly after her illness. And a longer version some 20 years later. At some point she became an anchorite attached to the church of St. Julian in Norwich, from which she took her name.

(For the full video version, click here.)

While Julian had mystical experiences, she was also human, just like any of us and her writings were certainly filtered through her experiences which would have included three sweeps of the plague through Europe, as well as the Peasant’s Revolt in London in 1381, and the burning of heretics who were challenging many teachings of the Catholic Church. I find it truly amazing that Julian wasn’t one of those labeled a heretic. Though she insisted she was faithful to the Catholic Church, her writings were often completely opposite to the God the church was preaching about.

For Julian, God was love, period. And because God was only love and nothing else, God couldn’t be angry. Nor was it that God forgave sins, but that humanity lived in a constant state of forgiveness. Plus, Julian believed that it was against human nature to sin – contrary to the church’s belief in original, inherent sin. For her, the Christian journey was really the discovery of our own authentic selves.

So, there is much about Julian to explore, but I’ve chosen this passage simply because it challenged me:

As we yearn for God,
So God yearns for us.
God thirsts for us.God longs to have union with all humanity.
Until that is fully accomplished, God thirsts.
God thirsts for us
As we thirst for God.
(Translation from: The Essence of Julian, by Ralph Milton)

It is the concept of yearning that snagged me. Yearning means “to have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from.”

Do we yearn for God? I believe so. Do we always know that we yearn for God? No.

I believe there is something inherent within us that pulls us, draws us… it’s “an intense feeling of longing for” fulfillment, wholeness.

Wayne Dyer once said, “All my life I wanted to be somebody. Now I am finally somebody, but it isn’t me.” We are born into a state of pure “self” but then our ego takes over and learn to behave certain ways, look certain ways, and achieve certain things to be loved. We spend our lives trying to please others so that we will “be somebody” but we lose our very selves in the process. Our spiritual journey, as Julian would say, is to find our authentic selves and so find God.

It seems to hit us about mid-life when we realize that we’ve become somebody, but it isn’t us, that we experience a void or an emptiness deep within. We long to fill it, but aren’t sure how, so we try to find fulfillment through money, things, power, food, work, exercise, drama, alcohol, drugs, gambling, relationships, religion, meditation, etc.

Personally, I believe that the void cannot be filled by doing things, or getting things, or achieving things, or even by having the perfect person in our lives. I believe the emptiness that we yearn to fill is dependent only upon cultivating a relationship with the Ground of our Being, which (ironically enough) is achieved by finding ourselves.

So this part I get completely. The next part is trickier.

Does God yearn for us?

I tend to shy away from personifying God too much, especially when it implies that God needs anything from humanity – like God needs our worship, or needs our devotion, or needs our prayers or our unity (as Julian’s poem implies) – as if God is incomplete without those things.

So, does God yearn for us?

I think this is where language falls short, but I believe the answer is yes.

Our relationship with God is not a one-way street. The New Testament offers many stories of God’s yearning for us:

  • As the Father who yearns and waits for his prodigal son to come home.
  • As the shepherd who yearns for the one lost sheep to be back in the fold.
  • As the woman who lost her precious coin and yearned to find it again.

And yet it is more. It is a mutual dwelling within – “I am in Abba God and God is in me,” Jesus says.

Thinking about the depth of this connection, I remembered Psalm 42 that says, “Deep calls to deep.”

Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your waterfalls;
all your waves and your billows
have washed over me.
By day You lead me in steadfast love;
at night your song is with me,
prayer from the Heart of my heart.
(Psalm 42:7-8 – Translation from Psalms for Praying, by Nan Merrill)

I believe the Divine Essence calls to the deepest part of our souls; we are pulled or drawn back into awareness of the energy of God. It is beyond words or thoughts, it is a heart connection and a soul connection.

It seems that story and metaphor explain this better than words.

Have you ever felt called by the ocean, or a lake, or a body of water? Drawn by the power and the sound. It’s as if the sea has called to us… deep to deep… only to find ourselves distracted by seashells, rocks, little crabs and screaming gulls. Sir Isaac Newton said:

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself
I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore,
and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble
or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth
lay all undiscovered before me.

Or perhaps you’ve been called by the woods? Drawn by the energy of the trees, by the beauty of the green or the colors or the branches against the snow, or by the silence and solitude that can envelop you like a blanket. It’s as if the woods have called to us… deep to deep… only to find ourselves distracted by running dogs and scrambling chipmunks, or missing it all as we focus on the forest floor to avoid tripping over roots. All the while there is a great forest of truth that pulses and moves around us… unnoticed and undiscovered.

We are part of the whole, but we’ve forgotten. And so, the Universe, Creation, the Divine Essence, the Spirit, the Ground of our Being, the energy of Love, yearns for us to remember that we’re not alone… we are part of all of it. Let us open our hearts and be drawn back into consciousness  of oneness. Let us open to the unity that is and be fulfilled and whole.

Love & Light!



Courage to Live

The death of Moses could almost be seen as almost the perfect death. The story in Deuteronomy 34 tells us that he was 120 with good eyesight and good health – “still strong and quite vigorous.” He was loved and revered by his people. God gave him a glimpse into the wonderful future that was to await his family and his tribe. Then Moses is gone… it’s almost as if he has just fallen asleep. The only downfall to all of it was that Moses never got to experience the promised land for himself (Jewish legend says this is because he didn’t obey one of the finer points of God’s instruction about getting water from a rock). Nevertheless, the people, per tradition, spent 30 days in mourning before they passed on the reins to Joshua.  30 days…

Many polls and studies show that when the public is asked how long it should take to mourn the death of a loved one, the most common answer is “48 hours to 2 weeks.” In truth, we have barely begun grieving in that time frame. One researcher said it takes at least 2 years. A therapist I worked with said it takes a year for every 5 years you were with that person. Of course, everyone is different.

(For the full video version, click here.)

While death is the primary event we grieve, and we’ll deal specifically with that in this message, grief is a normal response to divorce, job loss, moving, empty nest, broken relationships and just about any major transition.

When I asked what grief feels like, these were the answers I received yesterday:

  • Broken heart
  • Heavy
  • Empty
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Lost
  • Alone and lonely
  • Like everything should just stop
  • Exhaustion
  • Hard to think and function
  • Overwhelming sadness

Learning to deal with grief is part of our spiritual journey in many ways. Of course, all religions have traditions and observances for the purpose of remembering the dead and helping the living to heal – prayers, ceremonies, rituals, songs. Also, when we grieve we often find ourselves grappling with huge life questions like why did this happen? where is this person now? will I see them again when I die? is there an afterlife? But perhaps what makes processing grief so important to the spiritual path is that it aids in our healing and helps lead us toward wholeness.

There is no way to go through life untouched by grief. The only difference is how we process grief. American-Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her book Death: The Final Stage of Growth, says, “Our choice isn’t to avoid pain; our choice is only to permit pain to be experienced fast and hard or to be experienced slow and hard; that is our only choice.”

Processing grief and continuing to live takes courage.

In our culture, I think we run a greater risk of intellectualizing death and stuffing the emotions, instead of allowing ourselves to feel and process. Being overly emotional, especially for any length of time, is seen as weakness and instability. No one knows how to respond to the widow or widower who is still openly emotional over the loss of their loved one after a few months or a year. So the unwritten rule in our society is to say, “I’m fine.”

But intellectual acceptance does not help us process the grief and begin to heal unless we bring our emotions along.

Kübler-Ross tells a story about a woman named Carol who was an energetic, vivacious, and professional woman. She and her husband, Russ, had three kids. And then one day, when he was 43, he swiftly and unexpectedly died in her arms. Carol tranquilized herself to avoid the pain. One professional caregiver even offered the stoic advice of, “We don’t cry about these things, do we?” So they didn’t. Carol and her three kids were brave and strong and braced themselves against the surges of emotion. Eighteen months later Carol was experiencing psychosomatic illness and sensations, she had suffered severe weight loss, had lost her job, been through three counselors, and was unhappy and angry.

A visit to her home found Carol in a blue dress, the home redecorated in a blue theme, and a blue car in the drive. Of course, blue was Russ’s favorite color. His clothes were there, his shaving gear, his smoking apparatus, his easy chair; every room had his picture; the home was sanctified as a memorial to Russ.

“When will you let Russ die?” Kübler-Ross and her team asked. “I don’t want him to die,“ she replied. “But he is dead.” “I know he is dead, but I don’t want him to die.”  Intellectually, she knew his death had occurred; emotionally, and to her detriment, she denied it.

Kübler-Ross explains, “Persons in grief have a whole jungle of emotions in their guts which need to be expressed in some way. Sometimes openly, sometimes by talking, sometimes by crying, sometimes poetically, sometimes through ritual: there are many ways, but people must have the opportunity to express real feelings because unresolved grief is a destructive horror. People need to be encouraged to talk about the person who died, to remember them, to share about them, and perhaps even to talk to the person who is now dead.”

But we’ve become so uncomfortable with death that going through the receiving line at a wake is torture for many folks. It’s a relief when that is over and people hope they can avoid the whole painful subject from then on. When they see that person again, avoidance is the name of the game. After all, we don’t want to upset them, do we? But talking about the deceased person is one of the things that most helps the grieving/healing process. Consider the funeral like a surgery and then the months after as the time for healing and recovery. We don’t have any problem asking someone how their leg, or shoulder, or back is doing, do we? In the same way, we need to learn to continue to extend care and compassion to those who have lost someone, especially during the first year after their death.

If we have the courage to deal with death when it comes into our lives (in whatever form) – to accept it as an important and valuable part of life – then, whether we are facing our own death, or that of a loved one, we will grow and learn to find meaning again in our own lives.

Here’s something to consider: what if the moments of greatest wounding in our lives are also the place where the Divine meets us and brings us transformation for the next stage of our lives? What if our healing can bring us to new purpose and meaning?

It takes courage to sit with our emotions.

It takes courage to process the grief.

It takes courage to seek out those people who can help us to heal.

It takes courage to discover what we love in life that is bigger than our wounds.

It takes courage to live again…

… but living, and living fully with purpose and meaning, is what honors the lives of those who have gone before us and will bring us to our own deaths with a greater sense of peace and wholeness.

Love & Light!




Thoughts on Mercy

The Bible is not the inerrant word of God… that is not an opinion. That is fact. The Bible was written over the centuries by people who wanted to record the faith stories of people we know of as the Jews, the Hebrews or the Israelites. It was about their growing relationship with God, their continuing evolution of understanding of the Divine. It was their attempt to convey that knowledge, relationship and understanding in words and stories.

Within their ancient understanding, God was responsible for all the good that they were mercyblessed with, and God was responsible for the bad that came their way. Their believed God could manipulate life and death, peace and war. God could be generous and merciful, or God could be vengeful and punishing. Given all this, it was appropriate and even necessary for the people of that time to pray, beg and plead with God to go easy on them, to forgive them and have compassion on them… in other words to be merciful to them.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Exodus 33:19 sums up how they believed God operated when it came to mercy. In the passage God says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” God appears to be very capricious in nature in this ancient worldview.

Mercy is mentioned anywhere between 130 and 230 times in the Bible, depending on which translation you look at. Here’s a sampling, according to Scripture:

  • God exterminated the Northern Kingdoms “without mercy” (Joshua 11:20)
  • God had no mercy on the babies or children of Babylon (Isaiah 13:18)
  • Jeremiah declared that God would not allow mercy or compassion to keep God from destroying the king of Judah and all who were associated with him. (Jeremiah 13:14)
  • In Zechariah God withheld mercy from Jerusalem for 70 years. (Zechariah 1:12)
  • God is merciful to Lot and his daughters, even if not to Lot’s wife (who turns to salt) or to Sodom and Gomorrah, which is destroyed (Genesis 19)
  • Nehemiah 9:31 says God is gracious and merciful
  • In Deuteronomy 4:31 God is a merciful God who will not destroy or abandon you
  • The Psalms speak over and over again of God’s merciful nature, but also cry out over and over again for mercy

Does God actually make a decision to be merciful or not merciful? Does God choose to love or not to love? to be compassionate or not?

I personally don’t think so (you, of course, are free to disagree with me). It seems to me that none of those choices are even possible for God. To be unloving, uncompassionate or unmerciful is to be unGod.

When a tragedy happens and someone says,“Lord, have mercy,”Does that mean God is not being merciful to the victims of natural disaster, death, illness, poverty or war? Do we have to ask, plead, beg or pray for God to have mercy? Does it mean that God somehow had control of that fire? Or that hurricane? Or that illness? Or that war? Or that life? Or that outcome?

Again, I don’t think so.

Mercy is not what God I(when God feels like it)… mercy is what God is. And mercy is what we do when we are connected at a deeper spiritual level to life around us.

The evolution of spiritual thought that Jesus tries to draw people to is that when we have true knowledge of God, we KNOW that God is and has always been merciful. What God then desires of us – or what that true knowledge will lead us to – is being merciful ourselves.

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 when God says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifices.” So, what does it mean? God doesn’t want or need our insincere worship (or back then, sacrifices). Don’t put on a good face claiming to know what the Divine wants. If you truly had experience of Divine love, grace, mercy and compassion, then you, too, would act in the same way. You would show mercy. You would be gentle even to those who did not deserve it.

As Anne Lamott says in Hallelujah Anyway, “Marcy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolveable, forgiving the unforgiveable.” It would be miraculous!

I read a very profound statement somewhere: “Mercy without action is pity and action without mercy condescension.”

The legend of the Holy Grail has it that one day Sir Launfal rode off determined to find the Grail, the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper.  On his way out of the city, he came upon a beggar who was desperate for a little money so that he might eat.  Launfal, knowing what the church expected of him but at the same time filled with derision for this lowly man, sneered at him, looked with contempt, and while still on his horse, tossed a few gold coins at the beggar’s feet.  Despite his ravenous hunger, the beggar knew himself to be a human being, loved in the eyes of God.  He refused the money.  Launfal went on his way devoting years of his life in the pursuit of the Grail he never found.

There was no spiritual transformation for Sir Launfal, no compassion, no understanding, no true mercy. Simply doing what the church “expected” of him did nothing to make him, or another human being, more whole.

John Shea, in his book Gospel Light tells this story, “At a court trial Lei Yuille, an African-American woman, explained why she and her brother helped Reginald Denny, the fallen white truck driver, during the April 1992 riots in LA. They were watching a television newscast “reporting live” and saw Reginald Denny being beaten. “My brother was in the room. He looked at me and said, ‘We are Christians; we’ve got to help him out.’ I said, ‘Right.’” Then they got into their car and went to help the injured man.

As Shea points out, “Spiritual teachers stress that the flow of mercy is not the result of reasoned argument. It happens naturally when a deeper identity is realized.” When we remember our common humanity and our spiritual oneness, mercy emerges naturally.

Mercy is not just something “bad” people need. Mercy is something we all need to receive and to give, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Mercy acknowledges that we screw up, but that love is a higher order. Mercy calls us to remember that we don’t know all the factors in anyone else’s life, nor are we fit to judge. Mercy reminds us that we all have bad days, make mistakes, say the wrong thing, but we don’t need to spend our lives berating ourselves or beating ourselves up for it.

Lamott once said, “You can either practice being right or practice being kind.”

Love & Light!


It’s hard to be humble!

The letter to the Philippians is the most affectionate of Paul’s letters. Perhaps because the church in Philippi was the first European church he planted. Perhaps because they cared for Paul, sent him gifts when he was in prison and were concerned about his safety. Or perhaps because Paul seems to be nearing the end of his life and fears he may never see them again. Whatever the case, this is the most caring of all of the letters we have of Paul and he fills it with words of hope, joy and consolation.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Paul also seems to want to share some final words, parting advice based on what he’s learned. In this specific passage he touches on their mutual life in Christ and pulls their heartstrings a little to essentially say that “if our relationship and history mean anything to you, then please stay united in your convictions and your love. Don’t let it all pass away if I’m not here anymore.” This is the one thing Paul says would make him happy – to know all his work was not going to pass away with him. To accomplish this unity he says, “there must be no competition among you, no conceit, but everybody is to be humble…”

I’d like to address the “be humble” part of that statement because the concept of humility can be tricky to grasp. And, the more I delve into the topic, the more I believe there is a deep spiritual need for humility on the spiritual path.

To define humility, I think it helps to define what it is not. Humility is not:

  • being proud, haughty or arrogant
  • being full of oneself
  • putting yourself above others

But it is also not…

  • putting oneself down
  • self-deprecating
  • low self-esteem
  • downplaying one’s assets
  • being insecure of oneself

So, what is humility? I believe humility is:

  • Honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses
  • Ego awareness
  • Having a beginner’s mind, willingness to learn no matter how good you are at something
  • Knowing we don’t have all the answers, comfortable saying “I don’t know.”
  • Not judging
  • Seeing yourself as equal to others

But “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble…” If you know me, you know, I’m not one to brag about my preaching ability. In fact, I’m constantly humbled by the fact that folks actually return every week to hear me speak! I’m suhumblere there are better preachers out there, but I can’t help being critical when I hear others preach. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard. I’ve also been to a few funerals over the years where I left thinking, “I really need to figure out how to lead my own funeral…”

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble…” I’ve had some fairly big screw-ups in my day. I’ve said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing, made poor choices… enough to make me carry a decent load of guilt. And there were years that I wasn’t willing to let that guilt go because surely I must be worse than everyone else. I wouldn’t accept anyone’s forgiveness (not really, anyway), nor God’s forgiveness, which I know is always there, because my screwing up was beyond forgiveness. I was too awful a person to deserve anyone’s forgiveness or compassion. There’s no humility in that… to think that I’ve messed up worse than everyone else and that forgiveness is beyond me. It’s almost pride in my screwing up!

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble…” I’ve never believed in wearing clerical robes or sitting up front in the throne chair “presiding” over a service. I appreciate respect, but I didn’t want it because I had a title. I wanted folks to know that I’m really not that much different (aside from vocation and education) than anyone else. I wasn’t loved any more by God because I stood behind a pulpit every Sunday. That is truly how my heart feels about all this. Which, in my humble opinion, is a fairly good example of being humble… right up to the point where I start judging other pastors for not doing it the same way.

John Shea, in his book On Earth as it is in Heaven, tells the story of a foremost teacher of a certain musical instrument who was giving lessons to a small class of eight. First he instructed them as a group. Then he would move from student to student to give them individual counsel. One of the students noticed that the great teacher was mumbling to himself as he moved from student to student. The student wanted to know what the teacher was saying, but she did not want to ask. So, as the teacher approached her, she stopped playing and listened intently. She caught what the teacher was saying.  Under his breath to himself, barely audible, the teacher was saying, “Allah knows. I don’t.”

Here is the foremost teacher of this musical instrument constantly reminding himself that he needs to be open to learning from even his students. Shea says, “he holds his knowledge lightly, always countering with ‘not-knowing.'”

From what I’ve read of Dom Helder Camara, he was a pretty good example of a humble person. He was the Brazilian Catholic Archbishop, 4-time nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize, countless awards from foreign universities, becoming second only to Pele in the international recognition he received. But he lived in a modest 3-room house behind a church, wore brown cassock adorned with a simple wooden cross and ate every day at the bar on the corner with construction workers and alcoholics. Camara was a staunch advocate of the poor and oppressed and believed the church needed to work not just for the people, but with the people

One article written about his life said that “Camara refused to live in the Episcopal Palace, and he liked recalling how one day, at a crowded meeting in the palace, he had persuaded a peasant to take the only remaining seat – the episcopal throne. Another favorite anecdote that he recounted with great glee concerned Mother Teresa. When she asked him how he managed to retain his humility, Camara replied that he had just to imagine himself making a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, not as Jesus but as the donkey who carried him. Years later Mother Teresa reminded Camara of this conversation, saying that she had adapted his advice to Indian conditions by thinking of herself serving God as an old cow.

In 1985, Camara, by then aged 75, retired as archbishop. In his place, Pope John Paul II selected a very different man, Dom Cardoso Sobrinho. At the ceremony it was already clear that there would be fundamental change: whereas frail and weather-beaten Camara wore as usual his scruffy cassock, Sobrinho, a large and healthy man, wore ornate purple vestments, with a huge gold cross. Camara never complained publicly, but one of his closest friends said that his eyes filled with tears whenever he discussed events in his old diocese. The close group of progressive priests and lay people who had gathered around Camara was disbanded. The human rights campaign was effectively ended.”

This is where we see that being humble has a deeply significant spiritual component. So much so that I’d say it is impossible to grow spiritually and truly walk the spiritual walk without increasing in humility. Why? Because humility demands recognition that we are all an equal part of the tapestry of the Universe. If we are humble enough and attentive enough we’ll recognize that we’ve hidden this shared oneness from ourselves. We’ve bought into the illusion that we are sometimes better, sometimes worse than everyone else, but not so much the same.

I do know this, without humility we’ll “help” others “less fortunate,” rather than serving as equals. Without humility we can’t extend genuine compassion . Without humility we won’t strive for social justice and what is best for all people. Without humility forgiveness, graciousness and mercy become much more difficult. Without true humility we lack the one element we need to seek understanding instead of condemning. Without humility we will never achieve the unity Paul so fervently hoped for.

In all humility,



In the parable in Matthew 21: 23-32, we hear the story of a landowner who asks his two sons to go work in the vineyard. The first son says “no,” but then does it anyway. The second son says “yes,” but then doesn’t go. When Jesus asks the chief priests and elders which son has done the father’s will, of course, they respond that the first son did the father’s will.

By their answer, we see that the religious leaders value action over words. But this son also changed his mind. John Shea, in On Earth as it is in Heaven, points out that, “If the religious leaders endorse doing over saying, they also have to endorse the change of mind that brought the first son to obedient action. It is this ability to change one’s mind that Jesus wants to emphasize. Both John the Baptist and Jesus have stressed that metanoia – a change of mind – is needed to enter the kingdom of God. ”

(For the full video version, click here.)

Metanoia is a change in one’s life resulting from a significant spiritual encounter or experience

As Joan Chittester reminds us, metanoia isn’t simply about changing our mind, metanoia (1)we do that all the time about all kinds of things in our lives. Metanoia is much deeper than that.  It is an interior changing of the way we look at life. It changes us from those egotistical, judgmental, power hunger, authority wielding religious leaders to humble, compassionate, we’re-all-in-this-together people.  We remember that we are not the center of the universe. We are a work in progress, as is everyone else, and we begin listen for God’s voice and to look for what God has to teach us everywhere and in everyone.

Einstein once said, “Everything has changed but our thinking.” The mind clings to “we’ve never done it that way” or “that’s not what I was told,” or it holds onto past moments or information. The mind doesn’t like to ride the new that is happening. But the only way to enter into life – aka the kingdom of heaven, enlightenment, or a higher level of consciousness – is to embrace a new way of thinking and being.

Walter Kania, in his book Healthy Religion, suggests that metanoia, true, deep, inner change, is required for spiritual growth and it can be seen when a person:

  • Moves into a state of compassion, love, and kindness
  • Is released from fear
  • Becomes nonjudgmental
  • Loses the need to control or change others
  • Becomes independent of the good opinion of other people
  • Becomes inner rather than outer-directed
  • Loves and accepts others without conditions
  • Is open to change
  • Is willing to learn and grow
  • Is open to the truth and experience of others
  • Is at peace with themselves
  • No longer needs the approval of others
  • Has abandoned the ego
  • Lives at a higher level of consciousness.

Here is an amusing story from the Sufis:

There was a case against Mulla Nasruddin in the court, and the judge asked him, “How old are you, Nasruddin?”

And he said, “Of course, you know and everybody knows I am forty years old.”

The judge was surprised, “But five years ago, you were also in this court. When I asked you then how old you were you said forty. How is this possible? After five years you are still forty.”

Nasruddin said, “I am a consistent man, sir. Once I say I am forty, I will remain forty forever. You can rely on me.”

In her book, The Heart of Waiting, Sue Monk Kidd says, “When change-winds swirl through our lives… they often call us to undertake a new passage of the spiritual journey… I should have remembered that the life of the spirit is never static. We’re born on one level, only to find some new struggle toward wholeness gestating within. That’s the sacred intent of life, of God – to move us continuously toward growth…”

We cannot grow spiritually without changing our minds, without entertaining new thoughts, without opening the window and letting in fresh air.

Love & Light!


God’s Vineyard

Yesterday we tackled the parable of the landowner who hired workers at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon and dinner time, to work in his vineyard and then he paid them all the same amount (Matthew 20:1-16). Hmm… I’ve heard that this is the most disliked parable in the Gospels, and I can see why.

(For the full video version, click here.)

It is tough because this parable seems innately unfair. It is an unrealistic social story kingdom of heaventhat tries to point out a spiritual truth about each person’s relationship with the Divine, but we get hung up and don’t understand it because we over-identify with that first laborer who toiled all day in the blistering heat and got paid the same as the last guy who started at 5 p.m.

It reminds me of when I was a kid. I had to wait until my brother (who was three-years younger) was old enough to ski before I could learn myself. And I had to wait until I was 12 to get a camera, but then he got one at the same time. It just wasn’t fair. I wanted him to have to wait like I did to receive those opportunities!

Perhaps it would help to know that right before this parable, Peter, Jesus’ top disciple, says to Jesus (basically), “Hey, we all left everything that we have to follow you… what exactly are we getting out of this?” And Jesus reassures him that of course they will all be taken care of and rewarded. But there is something about having to reassure Peter of his “reward” that rubs the author of Matthew the wrong way. It just doesn’t fit the model of laboring in God’s vineyard where all people are treated equally. So, the parable attempts to explain what Peter didn’t quite get.

In our world, we compare ourselves to others to make sure we aren’t being cheated, taken advantage of or treated unfairly. But the parable reminds us that the world of comparative thinking does not work when dealing with spiritual reality. On a spiritual level we need a different thought process that does not put us at the center of the universe…nope, not all about us.

If we remember that this parable says “the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” It is meant to describe the kingdom of heaven. And if we remember that Jesus told us that the kingdom of heaven is within, that it’s a spiritual state of being, then we have to recognize that the landowner represents the qualities and characteristics of the kingdom of heaven. The landowner (aka God) is generous, loved unconditionally, treated people equally with caring, compassion, and grace. The landowner lived with a sense of abundance.

God doesn’t look at each of us to judge who did more, made more of a difference, because we are now in the consciousness of the kingdom of heaven, not, as John Shea says, in the consciousness of “Comparative Status” or “Fear of Not Getting What You Deserve.” Those states of consciousness are of this world, and they are awfully hard to get out of our brains.

Most of the time we’re not even thinking about the fact that there is a larger reality that permeates all parts of our lives (physical, mental, emotional, social).  The Divine continually presents us with opportunities to learn and grow spiritually by volunteering, reaching out to someone, standing for justice, giving of ourselves and what we have, studying or worshiping, etc. Whether we do something huge or something small, it matters not. The reward is the same – a day’s wages, which echoes the concept of our “daily bread.” It is all we need for the day: sustenance, love, caring, abundance, equality, compassion, purpose.

It makes perfect sense to me that the energy of the Divine does not operate on monetary (how silly would that be) rewards, or any other rewards.

This parable is actually an extended answer to Peter, “Really, Peter, I’m grateful for all you’ve done, but in the eyes of the Divine you’re no better than anyone else.” God, being God, will give everyone all that God has. There is no option. God can’t be stingy or judgmental or punishing, those words aren’t anywhere in the definition of God.

The hope would be that we’d chill out on our own competitive spirits, and embrace the concept that God doesn’t have favorites. God’s love encompasses and gives equally to all.

Love & Light!


Spirit of Reconciliation

I don’t think I’ve ever preached on Matthew 18:15-20 because I just didn’t quite know what to do with the procedure of the early Christian community in dealing with conflict.  In some ways the scripture sounded more like it was calling someone out and making an example of them. And if they didn’t change their ways, it sounded like they were shunned. Then I heard a different perspective from theologian John Shea.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In his book, On Earth as it is in Heaven, Shea said that “Jesus teaches and reconciliationexemplifies a relentless drive for reconciliation.” Within the early church community, this imperative spawns a set of procedures to be applied to breakdowns of community relationships. If the process doesn’t work, the person isn’t to be shunned or ostracized (though some commentaries I read suggested this passage helped justify the practice of excommunication), they are to be treated as someone in need of “missionary work to be brought back into community. They are like the Gentile and the tax collector, a special object of the community’s relentless care.”

That made much more sense to me; that and the suggestion that Jesus calls for acts of reconciliation to stem from a spiritual center.

Now, I understand that the concept of reconciliation (the restoration of relationships) is a touchy subject. I am asking you to have an open mind and not just shut down because you believe what I’m talking about is impossible. Stay engaged in this, struggle with this with me, because it is important.

First of all, I recognize that reconciliation is not always possible because it takes two willing parties to work toward repairing the relationship. One can forgive another without being asked for forgiveness, or having any interaction with that person. But restoring a relationship requires both parties to come together. Not everyone is capable of this.

John Shea tells a story about a couple that he had sent to marriage counseling. The counselor came back and told him, “They don’t have the background to make it. They have never learned to work through conflicts. Walking away is what they know best.” Some people simply don’t have the skill set to work through problems in a constructive way. Nor do they have any desire to acquire that skill set – to change, in other words.

The question really is: do we have the skill set? Do we want to acquire it? How do we learn to deal with conflict better? And how do we work on our own spiritual growth to a point that reconciliation becomes our standard goal – not walking away or giving up or shutting out or going into a rage, but reconciling with those around us.

Quaker pastor, Philip Gulley, in his book “If the Church Were Christian,” tells a story about a couple whose estranged daughter was dying of a terminal disease. The parents made several overtures but were turned away when they went to visit their dying daughter. (Several years before, the daughter and her sister had quarreled, the parents had refused to take sides, advising their grown children to work out their differences peaceably. The daughter felt betrayed and resolved never to speak to her parents again.)

Gulley said he thought of bringing the daughter and parents together in hopes of a reconciliation. But the daughter’s bitterness was so deep and sharp that he lacked the nerve to challenge her. In her final months, the daughter spoke often of her Christian faith and how it sustained her, while seemingly blind to one of that faith’s bedrock principles – forgiveness.

Before she died, she left strict instructions that her parents and siblings were forbidden from attending her funeral. The mother and father, mystified and heartbroken by their daughter’s anger, and not wishing to anger her spouse, stayed home to mourn privately.

What causes someone to get stuck in a place like this? Pride, ego, hurt, fear, anger, insecurity, stubbornness.

Gulley points out that traditionally the church has emphasized being “right with God” over reconciling with one another. The sacrament of confession in the Catholic Church, while great perhaps for self-reflection, lets one off the hook after doing penance through prayers. Not a bad deal. Or in earlier times sacrifices of money and perhaps animals and grains were required.

Jesus didn’t ask for sacrifices… at least not of that kind. Jesus asked us to let go of the things that keep us separated from others: pride, ego, judgments, the need to be right, the need to be better than, fear of rejection, etc.

Being truly engaged in our spiritual paths and intent upon doing more than just warming a seat in church on Sunday morning means (I believe at a soul level anyway) we want to respond to the conflicts in our lives in a healthier, more compassionate, caring, concerned way. Why? Because deep down we care more about the relationship than the perceived grievance. We care more about the person than our pride and ego. Yes, it takes working through whatever issues there are, but the goal in the end is to restore the friendship or relationship.

Our spirituality helps us in two ways (if we’re willing to focus on it in times of conflict):

  1. Staying centered. If we’ll look deeper than our hurt to the place in us that is filled with the energy of Love, the compassion of the Divine, the light of hope, it will help guide our attitudes, actions and words. It will help us remember that we are more than our hurt and so are they. Staying centered reminds us that we want not only our own well-being, but the well-being of the other as well.
  2. Staying sensitive to our connection with God and one another. Remember we are one. As such we may be aware of a force that wants to pull us back together, that wants us to apologize or to forgive. There is a force that wants us to make up and make amends. One couple described it like a rubber band… they could only pull so far away before the force became so great it pulled them back together.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us. Will we pay attention to the pull of the Spirit that is there asking us to lay aside our stubborn need to be right? It may not always be possible with certain people. But I believe that if we raise ourselves to the level of the Spirit, come at conflict from a non-judgmental, compassionate place of seeking understanding and resolution, we may just be able to lift the conversation to a place where peace and healing becomes possible. If not, we know we put our best effort forward in love.

Seek reconciliation… relentlessly.

Love & Light!