Pastor Kaye's Blog

The Art of Listening

I’m sure if you asked each of us who volunteered at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation lastIMG_5752 week to distill the week into one word it would be different for each of us. Mine would be listening. You see, rather than building bunk beds, digging outhouses, putting on trailer skirting or building decks and steps, my “job” last week was to listen and learn from a Lakota elder. His name was Cornell. He grew up on the reservation, he was taught the Lakota language, traditions and spirituality in secret (because the government outlawed all those things for about 120 years, up until 1978), went to law school, trained with the FBI, was a Vietnam vet, taught all different grades of school and was currently teaching at the Lakota College. We had many, many things to learn from Cornell.

It is a struggle for me not to do, but to listen. Listening is an art that requires moving beyond the face-value, literal words to the context, the feelings, the emotions, and the background. It insists we remember that we don’t know everything. To listen means letting go of our judgments and stereotypes. It means letting go of our defensiveness in the face of new facts or information, or opinions that don’t jive with ours.

Cornell made it clear that he believed that each person has the right to tell their own story. Sometimes that means moving past our own indoctrination… what history or viewpoint have we been programmed with? Do we understand there is another perspective? As part of our class, Cornell took us to Ft. Robinson and to the Crazy Horse monument. He encouraged us to listen to the guides there and to read the information, then he’d tell us the other side of the story… the Indian’s story.

Mark Nepo, in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, talks about listening until we see “the beauty of older things”… in other words, until we see something deeper and wiser, until we see the shadows of the spirit and feel the breath of the Divine.

I wonder what frame of mind we need to be in to truly listen? For me, I need to be open, patient, secure in myself (so as not to be judgmental or defensive). And yet I need to be humble enough to remember to stop talking, as I am liable to be forming my response or my next question in my head before someone else has finished talking. I can be so intent on making sure to get my two cents in that I’m apt to interrupt if I’m not practicing awareness.

It seems there is always something we can’t hear and so, Nepo says, we need to cultivate the humility to recognize there is more to life than we know. Can we listen to where the universe is nudging us to look and learn? Nudging us out of our comfort zones? Can we listen to what appears in our path over and over? What do we block with our judgments? What do we ignore because it is the harder path – even if it is the better, higher path?

Finally, can we allow ourselves to be touched and changed by what we hear? The stories of Pine Ridge shatter the stereotypes and the white man’s history that we’ve been taught. The stories of suicide, genocide, depression and discrimination will break your heart. But will we let them change us? Soften us? Or strengthen our resolve to stand with the Indians?

To honor life we must hold it as sacred and listen to what it teaches. What we learn must become part of our “geography,” as Mark Nepo says.  What has become visible and true must not become invisible again. What we learn about ourselves and our truth we cannot allow to become invisible again. To honor God, once we become aware of something, we cannot pretend to be ignorant of those things. It is often easy to lose touch with what we’ve gained, so we must be committed to “retrieving the ever-present sense of the sacred.”

Listen to the movement of the wind between the grasses.
Listen to the spaces between the words.
Listen to the story inside the person.
Listen to your inner reactions to life around us.
Listen to your heart and intuition.
Listen to the gentle touch and guidance of the Spirit.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

Fire

This is the final message in a series on the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

Elemental Spirituality is the concept that reconnecting with the four elements (Earth, Water, Air and Fire) can connect us to the Divine in new ways. Through the elements we can see, touch, taste, and experience a Sacred Essence that isn’t just present in supernatural events, but is present to us everywhere at all times. The ground we walk on, the water we drink and bathe in, and the air we breathe are part of the sacred web of life. Bringing this back into the forefront of our consciousness will hopefully prompt us to walk through our daily lives more aware, alive and whole, no longer taking for granted the essence of the Divine all around us.

So, we turn today to Fire…

Fire is somewhat different from the other elements… we don’t have to preserve it. fire1It’s very useful in life, but not absolutely necessary. Where religion is concerned we light candles, maybe burn some incense, and in certain traditions light funeral pyres, but fire seems to be primarily associated with that mythological place of fire, brimstone, pain, suffering, and eternal torment – hell. Our hats should be off to Dante and his Inferno for shaping our traditional concept of hell.

(To watch the entire sermon, click here.)

And yet, we have stories in the Bible that lead us to see the Spirit at work through fire. Consider Moses and the burning bush, or the Pentecost story where the Spirit, in what looked like tongues of fire, descended upon the disciples (we’ll get back to this).

In Luke 12:49 Jesus says, “I’ve come to light a fire on the earth!” What did that mean? Clearly he didn’t come to start a campfire, so how do we understand that metaphorically. It could mean that he came to bring change, light or direction, destruction in the form of getting rid of the old, transformation and new growth, energy and passion to spread his teachings (like wildfire)

So, it seems to me that all of these things happened to the disciples in the story we know of as Pentecost. (By the way, Pentecost was a Jewish holiday 50 days after Passover that we’ve simply adopted as a Christian holiday.) The disciples were doing what they were supposed to be doing – waiting. Suddenly the wind whipped up and “something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as she enabled them.”

And then they were changed. Their fear was destroyed, burnt up. They were emboldened, filled with energy and passion for the task of sharing the stories of Jesus. The fire pushed them out of their old space and onto new paths.

We always talk about bad four-letter words (like “work”), but there is a 6-letter word that no one likes: CHANGE.

Have you ever watched a wood match burn? The flame changes it chemically into something else, and it can never go back.  Spiritually, when we allow the Fiery Spirit to work in our lives, change and transformation will happen. I’m not speaking of the nice comfy fire we snuggle next to with our mug of hot cocoa in the middle of winter, this spiritual movement is more like a raging forest fire burning away fear, old habits, notions, beliefs, baggage, guilt and shame. Then from the life-draining, broken parts of our lives comes a new understanding, a new path with energy to follow it, a deeper wisdom and more compassion.

The book, The Hidden Meaning of Dreams, uses Carl Jung to explain the spiritual meaning of the symbol of fire: “Jung said that fire represents the process of psychological transformation. Just as the alchemists used fire to transform base metal into gold, so the symbol fire is the trigger for the inner transformation. It purges the decay of the past, yet gives light and spiritual truth. It is the eternal flame in the temple of the soul. It is from the fire that the phoenix of hope arises.”

So, walking through the fire in our lives, facing the difficult situations and emotions with awareness and compassion, working through whatever is burning at us usually has one more step… letting go.

Fire is often used in the ritual of letting go as an agent of liberation. When we don’t let go of things that are holding us back spiritually and psychologically we suffer from the holding on – just like playing tug of war with the Spirit and getting rope burn.

One can write down on a piece of paper something you passionately want to burn out of your life – insecurity, self-doubt, anger, guilt, shame… or a bad habit – nail biting, cutting yourself down, smoking, swearing, being negative. Or maybe you want to let go of old rigid belief structures that have held you back from a more expansive spiritual experience. You place the paper over the fire, give your problem over to the fire (Spirit) and allow yourself to feel lighter as it goes up in fire and smoke. This is a physical ritual to aid a conscious decision. Some people use fire on New Year’s Eve to burn up the “old” stuff of the previous year and to start new.Sometimes burning old files or mementos, pictures or journals from a difficult time in life can be a meaningful ritual of letting go.

The spiritual metaphor of fire helps us to see how that which doesn’t serve us is burned away, yet we are not consumed. Instead, we are transformed by the warmth, light and comfort that is also fire and spirit. In the process of this spiritual transformation and growth, we can experience healing and lightness.

The fire of the Spirit can be difficult, but necessary along this crazy spiritual path.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Air

This is the third in a sermon series on Elemental Spirituality: Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

Air… wind… breath…Ruah… Spirit

In the second creation story (Genesis 2), God molds and fashions and forms and breathes life into the earth creature. (Adam in Hebrew, literally meaning human being or earth creature. Soil is adama in Hebrew.) Judaism and our Old Testament refer to God as Ruah, the holy wind moving through life. Islam also understand God’s breath as an extension of God’s being in the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus breathes on his followers and imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus beginning another creation story – the creation of Christianity and the church. In the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma (meaning breath) is used almost 400 times to describe a sacred wind, divine breath, or the holiness of life. Pneuma is personalized as the Holy Spirit. For Buddhists, to breathe is to achieve mindfulness, the awareness of one’s breath within the breath of all. Hindus say that “Every single movement in the cosmos is a movement of the Cosmic Breath.” Native Americans speak of the four directions and the four winds that unify the natural world.

Spiritually we almost can’t think about God without thinking about air. John O’Donohue air-03wrote, “Air is an intimate element… it gets right into you through your breathing and your blood, into the heart of your life… God is breath and tenderness.”  Our understanding of air is both spiritual and scientific, soul and body. From the standpoint of faith, the spirit of God moves around and through us and breath and wind. From the viewpoint of science, plants create the oxygen for us to breathe and we exhale carbon dioxide for them in a symbiotic relationship.

(For the full video sermon, click here.)

Just as with our discussions about earth and water, we can’t physically live without air and we can’t spiritually thrive without a connection to the Divine.

Here in Racine we typically don’t have to worry about air pollution… at least not compared to China or LA… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or it doesn’t have an effect. If you have asthma or COPD, you probably know when the air quality is getting worse. The rest of us take breathing for granted. It is clear from that statistics that it is so important that we continue to advocate for emissions restrictions and try to reduce air pollution.

When I think about the breath we breathe, I think about that first breath a child takes, and the last breath we take before we die. Being present at each of those moments is very sacred.

When a child is born we hold our own breath while we wait to hear that first cry, or the doctor tell us that they’re breathing just fine and didn’t even whimper.  My second child, Sam, was born looking a bit blue with the cord wrapped around his neck. As they wisked him away to get him in an oxygen hood, the importance of breath was taken to a whole new level. That first breath is such a miracle as it transitions us from the womb (the world of water) to the world of air. It is no wonder it was seen as God placing breath within a body.

Then there is the last breath a person takes. Yes, it’s difficult for those of us who wait as breathing slows and becomes more and more labored. There is nothing to be done, but to be present with love.  It is a different transition, but if you have ever been present during those last moments, you may understand what a sacred moment it is as well.

Cait Johnson, in her book, Earth, Water, Fire, & Air says, “Western religions see the powerful breath as primarily belonging to the Divine. But in Eastern traditions, breath can be a way of knowing the Divine in our own bodies, of changing consciousness and even attaining enlightenment.”

We know that what happens in our minds, manifests in our bodies and our breathing. When we get scared, anxious or tense our breathing becomes short, shallow, and faster. Or we hold it! When we are relaxed and comfortable, our breathing is slower, deeper and calm.

All meditation and forms of yoga begin with a concentration on one’s breathing, to pay attention to it, to deepen it and relax one’s muscles while releasing the tension in the body.

At his monastery and retreat centers, Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches a mindfulness practice that focuses on the breath. At random intervals someone rings a bell, and at the sound everyone stops briefly to breathe deeply and focus their awareness on the present moment. Simply pausing for a moment helps to recenter and ground us, instead of rushing frantically through our days without thinking.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone along the way tell you to count to 10 when you get angry and to take a deep breath. It gives our souls a moment to catch up with our egos and then we are better able to determine how we want to act instead of react. Someone in our women’s group refers to this as “mindful breath before strangulation.”

Pema Chodron said that “some people have told me that they find it unnerving to pause. One man said if he pauses it feels like death to him.” It may feel like we’re wasting time, or letting go of control or power. But perhaps the reality is that we don’t pause because we don’t want to be present. And, yet, being present to the moment is what truly connects us to life and living. Taking a simple deep breath or two to remember, reground, reconnect with self and Spirit.

So, here’s an idea for you: pick something for the next day, or week, that will be your trigger to stop and breathe. The phone ringing, opening the refrigerator, or checking your email. Whenever that trigger comes stop whatever you are doing, take a deep breath and take inventory of the situation and how you are feeling.  Or, did you know you can download an app on your phone to help you do this? I found a number of mindfulness apps and downloaded a Mindfulness Bell that can be set to ring at set or random intervals. It reminds me to stop for just a moment to breathe and take account of my state of being (whether I want to or not!)

Air… breath… Spirit… scientific and spiritual… body and soul… it gives us life, it brings us back to center, it heals us, it calms us, it fills us. It is sacred.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Water

This is the second of a four-part sermon series on the spirituality of the Four Elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

At the Embrace conference in Portland a few weeks ago we heard over and over again about the connection between spirituality and the earth, nature.

They talked about how the newly emerging form of Christianity, or what some think of as the new reformation, will not be supernatural, but natural and ordinary. It will be a more worldly spirituality, where God is in and through all things. There will be no hierarchy like there has been in traditional religion (God, angels, man, woman, child, earth), but all creation will be on an equal playing field. In addition, the Millennials and the “unaffiliated” (those who claim no religious or denominational affiliation) see ecology and sustainability as part of their spirituality. Closing speaker, Matthew Fox exhorted, “Religions fail us to the extent that they fail Mother Earth and so fail future generations.”

(For the full video version, click here.)

So, two weeks ago we began a series to recall the sacredness of all things. We began with our own sacredness and that of all other human beings. And now we’ve moved on to talk about the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Recognizing their important place in our world and our lives, and remembering  that God is in all things will hopefully reconnect us to the Divine in natural, everyday ways, instead of just thinking about God in a supernatural way, as the church has emphasized throughout the ages.

Last week we talked about Earth, today we turn to Water.water

Because of who we are and where we live, I’d venture to say that, as a rule of thumb, we take water for granted. We turn on a faucet and it flows out generously, clean enough to drink. We don’t run out of water for showers or washing clothes or watering the garden. We’re privileged and don’t even think about it.

Here are a few interesting facts about water:

  • A person can live about a month without food, but only about a week without water.
  • And although there is about 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on earth – only one-hundredth of one percent of the world’s water is readily available for human use.
  • In a year, the average American residence uses over 100,000 gallons.
  • Since the average faucet releases 2 gallons of water per minute, you can save up to four gallons of water every morning by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.
  • A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day.
  • At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons in a year.
  • A bath uses up to 70 gallons of water; a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons.
  • 748 million people in the world do not have access to an improved source of drinking water
  • Some 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated with feces.
  • On average, an American resident uses about 100 gallons of water per day.
  • On average, a European resident uses about 50 gallons of water per day.
  • On average, a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per day
  • It takes 2.6 gallons of water to make a sheet of paper.
  • It takes 6.3 gallons of water to make 17 ounces of plastic.
  • It takes 2,641 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans.
  • It takes 39,090 gallons of water to manufacture a new car.
  • In developing nations women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting water; on average, 25% of their day is spent on this task.
  • Collectively, South African women and children walk a daily distance equivalent to 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water.

These facts alone should awaken us to the necessity of conserving water, being mindful of how we use it, and holding individuals, corporations, cities and countries accountable to keeping it clean. But even with this awareness we are still treating water as an object separate from us. Recovering the concept of water as sacred is what I’m trying to get to.

We defined sacred a few weeks ago as “connected with God, evoking reverence, used in religious ritual, very important and highly valued.”

Have you ever sat and stared into Lake Michigan or the Ocean? When I do, I find that it evokes a connection to Something More, a feeling of endlessness, oneness, power, releasing, life-giving, peace, calm, emotional awareness, awe and beauty. I believe that because humanity has experienced these same feelings forever, and because water is absolutely essential to our survival, water has been used as a sacred part of religious/spiritual ritual and tradition for thousands of years. Christians have used water for blessing and baptism, Muslims and Jews use water for cleansing and purification, Hindus bathe in the Ganges for purification. On the holiday of Obon, Buddhists believe that their ancestors are with them for the day, and then at the end of the day they light lanterns in memory of their ancestors and float them down the river as a return to the world of the dead.

In John, chapter 7, Jesus says, “Any who are thirsty, let them come to me and drink! Those who believe in me, as the scripture says, ‘From their innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

Obviously this is not to be taken literally, but Jesus appeals to the people’s knowledge of how important water is to their daily lives. I wonder if we can even grasp the potency of that metaphor when we have never had to walk with a bucket for water. Nor have we ever had to deal with a drought the likes (did you know that more than 40 states are anticipating freshwater shortages in the next decade? Wisconsin is expecting regional shortages before 2023). Water is life and life is water. And for Jesus, Living Water is God and God is Living Water.

As I consider the water and Living water, I find myself thinking about the one time I became dehydrated and needed IV fluids. I was sick, weak and light-headed. It was horrible. It is only a small leap to think about what it might be like to be “spiritually dehydrated.” We need the moisture of Spirit to live whole, balanced, healed lives, that is what Jesus was trying to say. And, if we become enlightened to this flow of the Spirit in the world, we’ll also realize that there are rivers (remember that rivers have been a symbol of the Spirit for a long, long time) of Living Water with each of us.

Those rivers of living water are strong currents in our lives, but often we fight them or ignore them. I struggled a great deal in seminary until my field education supervisor said to me, “Kaye, it’s like you’re standing still in the river, pushing against it. You need to lay down and float and let it take you where it will.”

This week, I invite you to bring your awareness to water – visit the lake and feel its pull and power, wash your hands and face with mindfulness, bless the water you drink, feel the flow of the spirit in you as you might feel the flow of water. Be connected once more with the Divine in real water and Living Water.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Earth

This is the first in a sermon series on the four elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

Last week I told you about Matthew Fox’s prophetic dream in which a voice said to him, “There is only one thing wrong with humanity… they have forgotten a sense of the sacred.” And then we talked about being sacred beings ourselves and practicing seeing others as sacred. Now we’re going to expand our scope to talk about the sacredness of the four elements that, as Cait Johnson said, have grounded human spirituality: earth, water, fire, and air. In this post-modern era, most people have lost the intimate connection our ancestors had with creation. Perhaps an exploration of these elements will help us to recover a sense of how intertwined we are with all things, and with the Divine.

(For the full video version, click here.)

We begin with EARTH… soil, rocks, trees, animals, plants, and humans. earth

The Bible abounds with references to the earth, mountains, soil for growing, land for living and worshiping, fields for herds to graze, animals and plants. But there is one line that should never have been written about the earth, and that is Genesis 1:26: “Let us make humankind… and let them have dominion” over everything, basically. Our inclusive Bible changed the words to “be stewards of” –  their footnote says:

This passage, because of its traditional translation – “subdue the earth, and have dominion over… every living thing on it” – has been used to excuse human kind’s penchant for trampling the earth and subjugating its creatures. Unfortunately, the actual Hebrew is even more brutal, prompting traditional translations to soften the language somewhat. But this charge immediately follows the statement that we were created in God’s image – that is, to be like God – so surely the idea of stewardship and caretaking, not violation and destruction is inherent in that calling.

We have forgotten that earth is sacred. We have forgotten that we are interconnected. If we had not forgotten, perhaps we would have learned earlier not to over-farm our fields in what some are referring to as “suicidal agriculture.” The Dust Bowl of the depression years is returning in places like Oklahoma, but no one talks about it. We’re destroying entire mountains for coal in the Appalachians. Fracking is contaminating clean water and land. We’re killing the bee population with pesticides, poisoning our oceans with oil spills, and we’ve become a throw-away society ignoring the resulting problem of waste.  I could go on and on…

We’ve forgotten that we are sacred and earth is sacred. Fred Bahnson,  a United Methodist pastor and founder of a community garden in North Carolina calls the soil a sacrament. He says, “The earth itself holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God.” That’s a powerful statement. To think that all that has been, and all that will be, has returned to the earth; and that if they earth could speak, it would know everything that has ever happened. When we walk on the ground we tread on the generations, civilizations and history that has preceded us.

Journalist Kristin Ohlson said, “I was stunned by what I learned about life in the soil… that we stand on the surface of the earth, we’re atop a vast underground kingdom of microorganisms without which life as we know it wouldn’t exist.” We may not like bugs and worms, but we need them for our existence. They are part of the vast web that sustains life, and are also sacred.

Sallie McFague offers the metaphor of “body” to describe the relationship between God and the world, she reminds us of both scientific truth and a sacred mystery. “What if we saw the earth as part of the body of God, not as separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible?”

Awareness is the key to experiencing the Divine in the Earth. Not walking blindly through life, but with a recognition that the ground we walk on is full of life that sustains our lives and we must care for it. The paper we use comes from trees that were living, energetic things and we need to conserve and recycle. The animals are part of our spirit… can we imagine our hearts leaping with the deer, soaring with the sparrows, hopping with the rabbits, knowing they are our brothers and sisters? Can we be mindful of the food that we eat, the life that was given for our lives, the miracle of the plants grown from small seed and soil that sustain us and give us nutrients?

The ground we walk upon is holy. The trees and flowers we walk among are sacred. The animals are part of us. If we can take some time to re-ground ourselves (no pun intended) in the very basic elements of life around us, I believe we will also re-ground ourselves in God and the depths of the Spirit.

Love & Light!

Kaye

You Are Sacred

Theologian Matthew Fox was the last speaker at the Embrace conference we were just at in Portland. He said a number of things that struck me, but one of them was about a dream he had in which he heard a voice telling him that there is only one thing wrong with humanity – you have forgotten a sense of the sacred.

Given this definition, clearly all of life is sacred: nature, animals, creation, people, music, art, literature and so much more! And I think the voice in his dream must be correct. Humanity has forgotten a sense of the sacred. It is obvious in the way people treat one another and the environment.

(For the video version, click here.)

Or maybe we’re just like the disciples on the Emmaus road with Jesus after the crucifixion (Luke 24:13-35). They were so distracted by their own thoughts, the stories they were telling themselves about what happened, their own grief, confusion, fear and disappointment, that they completely missed the essence of the person who walked with them. They couldn’t see that Jesus was Jesus!

Aren’t we all like that? We get caught up in life, work, home, kids, parents, the news, and the stories we tell ourselves about all of those things, that we forget to recognize the sacredness of everything and everyone around us. Or sometimes I think we just plain don’t want to recognize it because clearly there are people around who can’t possibly be connected to God, they can’t possibly be sacred!

Sacredness is easier to acknowledge in the beauty, power and diversity of nature.

Sacredness is easier to see when life is good, we feel blessed and things around us feel more like a blessing than a curse.

It seems to me that it is hardest to see our very selves as sacred.  We are usually our own worst critic, and alight withinre harder on ourselves than on anyone else. Perhaps that is what it makes it nearly impossible to see any human being as sacred. We subconsciously think, “I’m not perfect, I can’t be sacred. And if I know that deep down I’m not perfect, then other people must be hiding lots of their own issues making them imperfect and not sacred as well!”

Maybe that is why Christianity had to make Jesus sinless… it was the only way they could make sense of his deep connection to the Divine. He was perfect, so he was sacred, so God loved him and he was one with God.

In his book The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield says, “To see with sacred perception does not mean we ignore the need for development and change in an individual. Sacred perception is one half of a paradox. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki remarked to a disciple, “You are perfect just the way you are. And… there is still room for improvement!” But it starts with a most radical vision, one that transforms everyone it touches: a recognition of the innate nobility and the freedom of heart that are available wherever we are.”

Then Kornfield shares this story:

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and become revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.

At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia.  The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.

It seems impossible that people could just forget that there was a gold Buddha under that protective coating of clay, but it is really no different from forgetting that the essence of each human being is sacred underneath the layer of protection we accumulate through the years.

Thomas Merton describes what it is like to see the essence, the sacredness of another, “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

I encourage all of us to set an intention each morning to see the sacredness in ourselves and in others. Notice how it changes our interactions, how it changes our hearts, and how it changes how we work, live and behave in the world.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Opening to Joy

Joy seems like it would be an easy conversation, but I’ve found that some folks get awfully defensive about the topic of joy – “how can we be joyful all the time when such horrible things happen in our lives and in the world?” I think part of the issue is simple semantics. Joy is confused with happiness. So, let me begin by defining the two.

Happiness is external in the sense that it is dependent upon events, situations, people, places, things or thoughts. And, happiness is often future oriented as in: “I’ll be happy when I have someone to love me” or “I’ll be happy when I find the right job” or “I’ll be happy as long as Uncle Harry doesn’t get drunk and stupid at Christmas.”

Joy, on the other hand, is internal. It can’t be bought or sold. It is not contingent finding-joy-in-the-journeyupon other’s behaviors. Joy is a deep inner feeling laced with peace, contentment and gratitude. Joy is a spiritual way of engaging the world.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In John 15, Jesus talks a lot about oneness and interconnectedness… I am in God and God is in me… I am the vine and you are the branches… as the Divine has loved me, so I love you. He’s describing not only his relationship with the Divine, but his relationship with others. It was the depth of these relationships which allowed him to live from a place of spiritual joy. It wasn’t about external happiness… Jesus didn’t have things to make him happy, he faced persecution and was misunderstood, but his spiritual stability and knowing, his experience of the Divine, grounded him in joy. So, he says he is trying to convey what he knows about God so that “my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete.”

I heard someone once say that instead of the song “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” perhaps it should be “They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Joy” – that deep inner joy that rests in a knowledge of connectedness and love. We should live and move in the world with such joy that we show the world the spiritual life we live is beautiful, despite the tragedies and struggles. As Pope Francis says, “I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.”

I know part of us is thinking, “Yea, well, if I were Jesus that would be easy.” It seems like that kind of deep, internal joy is mysterious and elusive. And yet I would venture to say that most of us know someone who has achieved it on a more or less consistent basis. Someone you think of when you think of “joy.”

When I think of joy I think of an elderly woman who came to church occasionally with her family. I can’t remember her name or who her family was, but I remember how she looked. She always glowed and smiled, even when she was being wheeled around in a wheelchair. She looked like she had a great secret. I always had the feeling that she had found something that I hadn’t quite found yet.

Sandra Brown, in an article from Psychology Today talks about how she learned joy from her mother:

My mother had a lot of joy and I learned from watching her joy. Her pathological man ran off with her life savings forcing her to work well past retirement. It forced her to live simply so moved to a one room beach shack and drove a motorcycle. For cheap entertainment, she walked the beach and painted nudes. She drank cheap grocery store wine that came in a box, bought her clothes from thrift shops, and made beach totes from crocheting plastic grocery bags together. She recycled long before it was hip to do it. But what she recycled most and best was pain….into joy.

Anyone who knew her spoke MOST of her radiant joy. She had the ‘IT’ factor long before it was even called ‘IT.’ Women flocked to her to ask ‘How did you do it? How did you shed the despair and bitterness of what he did and grow into this? THIS bright shining joyful person? What is your secret?’

Somewhere along that rocky path of broken relationships with pathological men, she learned that happiness is fleeting if it’s tied to a man’s shirt tails. She watched too many of the shirt tails walk out the door with her happiness tied to his butt. In order to find the peacefulness that resides inside, she had to learn what was happiness and what was joy.

The transitory things of life are happiness-based. She had a big house and lost a big house when she divorced my father. She had a big career and lost a big career when she got ‘too old’ according to our culture to have the kind of job she had. She had diamonds and lost diamonds.

So she entered into voluntary simplicity where the fire of purging away ‘stuff’ left a clearer picture and path to the internal life. When stuff, people, and the problems they bring fall away there is a stillness. Only in that stillness can we ever find the joy that resides inside of us, dependent on nothing external in order to exist.

Her joy came from deeply held spiritual beliefs but it also came from a place even beyond that. Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are, why you are, and who you are not with. When you need nothing more than your truth and the love of a good God to bring peace, then you have settled into the abiding joy that is not rocked by relationships. It’s not rocked by anything.

It wasn’t rocked as she lay dying four years ago in the most peaceful arms of grace–a blissful state of quiet surrender and anticipation. Those who were witness to her death still tell me that her death brought new understanding to them about the issue of real joy. Joy in all things….death of a dream, death of relationship, death of a body. Joy from within, stripped down, naked and beautiful.

Brene’ Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, talks about how shocked she was when, while studying vulnerability, she discovered that joy was one of the emotions that her research participants named as leaving them feeling the most vulnerable. In fact, she said she’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel.

Can you think of moments of deep joy that might leave you feeling vulnerable? These things were named in her book:

  • Standing over children while they are sleeping
  • Acknowledging how much we love someone
  • Spending time with parents
  • Watching parents with your children
  • Getting engaged
  • Going into remission
  • Falling in love
  • Having a baby

Her “research participants consistently described both joyfulness and gratitude as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human connectedness and a power greater than us… Participants described happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and they described joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

She said, those who were really willing to lean into the joy found themselves filled with gratitude for the person, beauty, connection or moment that put them in touch with that spiritual depth. Just to be clear, the moment did not cause the joy as much as reveal it.

But because feeling joy brings a feeling of vulnerability, many folks find a way to shield themselves from the vulnerability with what Brown calls “foreboding joy.” She points out that when we’re young our joy is pure delight bubbling out of us, but slowly, even without our awareness, this shifts and we become less exuberant, less enthusiastic about the little things and much less likely to show – or even feel – that pure, wonder-filled, awe-filled joy. It’s as if we become afraid of this feeling.

Have you ever had a week where everything was going right but you hesitated to enjoy that. Our less-than-rational thinking says, don’t get invested in this good feeling because certainly everything is going to fall apart at any second.

So we temper the joy, the lightness. We’re afraid to truly give in to the joy, to open ourselves to it, because then we’re vulnerable to being let down or being hurt. It seems we actually turn away from, or close off from the opportunity to feel joy.

Brown said that 80% of the parents she had interviewed had moments where they had stood over their children when they slept and thought, “I love you so much I can barely breathe,” and in that exact moment been flooded with images of something awful happening to the child.

What’s the answer? Brown says, “Gratitude.” It was gratitude that became the antidote to foreboding joy. When we are given the gift of a moment to touch the deep spiritual joy that resides within us, instead of succumbing to feelings of fear, we should open to gratitude. Be grateful for the moment, for the catalyst that helped us reach that place of spiritual abundance. Steep ourselves in thankfulness.

Jesus came to show us love, to help us understand our true relationship with the Divine and one another, SO THAT OUR JOY MIGHT BE COMPLETE. God doesn’t want us to respond to the beautiful moments in life with fear. Connection to the Divine Essence reveals to us that beneath our suffering, fear, and grief, joy is waiting. Joy that heals, comforts and strengthens us for another day.

Julia Cameron says, “I invite joy to bless my life… [I] follow the lead which joy sets.” Perhaps this should be our daily affirmation to ourselves: I invite joy to bless my life. I will follow the lead which joy sets.

Love & Light!

Kaye

A Birth into Hope

I only really remember two things Dr. Henry Young, my process theology professor in seminary, said. One of them was, “When you don’t know what to preach, preach hope.”

Easter leaves us on a spiritual high, a willingness to see things anew and to have hope hope-herothat there will be second chances, better tomorrows, and life after the many metaphorical deaths in our lives. Sadly that high ended quickly for me as I walked into a few hospital rooms in the two days after Easter where good news was sorely lacking. It seemed I’d barely had time for jelly beans and Easter ham when I was cast back to The Day of Tears (aka Good Friday).

(For the video version, click here.)

Easter is draining for pastors anyway, but I found myself in a funk with little emotionally and spiritually energy. I just didn’t have it in me to figure out what to preach. Over the years I’ve learned I can’t force it, so I didn’t do much of anything on Monday and Tuesday except recover from Easter, make visits and phone calls, and yard clean up.

Despite the small respite, I still wasn’t sure what to preach on Sunday. Henry Young kept echoing in my head… “When you don’t know what to preach, preach hope.” With my soul dwelling back in the Day of Tears, I wasn’t feeling very hopeful, but OK Dr. Young, here goes.

Walter Brueggemann in the Prophetic Imagination says four things about hope:

  • Hope is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts.
  • Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion
  • Hope dares to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question
  • Hope is subversive!

1 Peter is subversive. It was written to Christian Churches who were being harassed by the locals, or perhaps the people were subject to ostracism by their families. But doing something new threatens the status quo and can be seen as subversive. 1 Peter 1:3-9 says, don’t give in. Remember that you now have a new birth, “a birth into hope” (the NRSV says a “living hope”).  This hope, based on the resurrection, is a hope that gives life. It is a hope that no power can destroy, tarnish or mar. In the Easter story we discovered the end wasn’t really the end. Light overcomes darkness and life overcomes death.

Hope is subversive because it reminds us that today is not all there is and it gives us the courage to stand up and to speak up. Change has never ever happened without hope. Hope powers social justice movements to make the world better. Just think about Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Harvey Milk and Archbishop Oscar Romero. Three of these five were assassinated because their message of hope was subversive. But even death could not destroy the hope that continued to energize these movements.

Hope is also essential to daily living. What would we do without hope on a daily basis? It is the spiritual force behind getting through each and every day. We can do without a lot of things, but we cannot do without hope.

Albert Nolan wrote, “What matters in the long run, though, is not only that we are hopeful but that we act hopefully. The most valuable contribution that a Christian can make in our age of despair is to continue, because of our faith, to act hopefully, and in that way to be an encouragement to those who have lost all hope.”

As Easter people, hope proclaims that the powers-that-were did not have the last word. They took a good man down, but his spirit rose up in the people. That could not be controlled. We not only draw hope from this, but we become a source of hope for others. In fact, we are called to be carriers, agents, prophets of hope. Ones who believe that we will rise up, whatever struggles we face – personally or communally. We will rise.

Love & Light!

Kaye

The God we know in Jesus

After Friday when we remembered the betrayal, beating, crucifixion and death of Jesus, we now find ourselves at Easter with an amazing story of life after death… my question of the day is:

Who is this God we know in Jesus? Who is this God we experience in the life and teaching of Jesus?

  • Not a God of judgment
  • Not a God who requires right belief or perfect action
  • Not a God of human blood sacrifice
  • Not a God of punishment
  • Not a God of anger

BUT

  • A God who wants to bring wholeness
  • A God who offers second chances
  • A God who forgives and heals
  • A God of love and grace and mercy
  • A God who brings new life after death

Having a relationship with this God is transformative. And that is the goal of the spiritual journey… inner transformation that is then expressed outward and transforms the world.

(For the video version, click here.)

The story of Jesus that brings us here is that everything that could go wrong did. And yet, what was perceived as the end was not the end. In the surprise of Easter morning there is life beyond death… define it or understand it however you will. What is clear to me is that there was some significant experience of Jesus after his physical death for people to be transformed from those who deserted him to those who spread his teachings.

We all experience tragedies, chaos, and loss. We experience times when everything that could go wrong did and the rug is swept out from under us. We’re not quite sure how to go forward… if we can go forward. This is when we are laid bare and raw. All the protective layers we had have been broken through and we’re cracked to the core. But it is at our core where we find our fire and light. It is at our core where we find that the Divine has not left us, but is piecing us back together into something new.

 

Perhaps we have made mistakes or decisions that haunt us. Having a relationship with the God of Jesus means that we trust in a Spirit who will come to us and say, in the words of Susan McCaslin, “I destroy your blunders and pasty efforts and blow them to smithereens to make all things new.”

Perhaps we have experienced loss that has left us empty and bereft and stuck… having a relationship with the God of Jesus means opening up to the Spirit who will gild that pain with light, and will lift the weight of despair with the knowledge that LOVE NEVER DIES because we are all ONE. Everyone who has always been, and everyone who wiviceroy-butterfly-lgll ever be, is connected to us.

I do believe that we can help or hinder our own transformation. To open to transformation means letting go. Letting go of guilt, anger, grief, beating yourself up, shame, fear. Letting go is scary because we don’t quite know what might be required of us.  It means once again trusting in the God that we know through Jesus to take what sometimes feels like the very little we have left and bring creative, life-giving energy to it.

Believing the God that we know through Jesus means believing that we shall rise. Out of the tragedies, the devastation, the losses, the many small and large deaths (real and metaphorical) in our lives, we shall rise.

We can’t give up… suicide is the most extreme way of giving up. But we can’t give up by closing down and shutting off, by turning to bitterness or anger, by allowing despair to rule our lives. If we lean into the pain and open to the pain we instead allow the creative love of God to work within us helping us to find our way to better tomorrows. And I believe with all my heart that there are better tomorrows. That there is new life. That we do rise from the ashes of our lives.

Amen! Alleluia!

Kaye

Love Fearlessly

Have you ever taken time to contemplate your death? Robert Fulghum, in his book, From Beginning to End, talks about how, from time to time, he pays his respects to his own final resting place. One night he even took a blanket up to the cemetery and lay on his grave in a “man-in-a-coffin” position. He closed his eyes and contemplated dying. It has become a sacred practice for him. He said, “Visiting my grave has the reliable capacity to untwist the snarls in my mind and soul, especially when I get angry about small things or lose track of what’s important. On one visit, I realized that if I died that day and my wife were to put an honest epitaph on my headstone, it would say, ‘Here lies a jackass – too pissed off to live long.’ How I’d hate to die mad.”

(For the video version, click here.)

If you knew tonight were your last night on earth, what would you do? I think (or at least I hope) most of us would gather family and close friends around us, express our love and appreciation for them and for the times we’ve shared, ask forgiveness for mistakes or words we regret, and try to leave in a manner that is loving and healing.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of people die, and I’ve been part of the family process of planning more than 80 funerals. This may sound odd, but I believe there is a way to die that is healthier and more healing than others.

Our death is the last lesson we have to offer the world.

What I’m about to say is essentially true about life in general, but I think it is especially true when the end of our life is drawing close. We can think of it this way, we all have one bucket of energy to spend each day. Some people, when in the process of dying, spend all their energy denying their dying, and fighting for survival, so much so that they never take the time to do all those things we just listed as important. I think there is a superstitious sort of feeling that “if I talk about dying then I’m going to die, and if I don’t talk about it, then I still have a chance.” Those folks tend to stay on the surface and don’t share their deeper thoughts, hopes, dreams, sadness, and love with the ones surrounding them. Basically, that shuts everyone else out, because then they can’t share what they are feeling and experiencing either.

On the other hand, those people I’ve seen “die well” have opened their hearts to those around them. There may be fear, but there is also acceptance, and they choose to spend their “bucket of energy “ in loving, healing ways. They talk about what is happening with them and how they are feeling, they show care and concern for those they love, they talk about death and what they are thinking and feeling about it. They give others permission to feel and to be close instead of shutting them out or holding them at arm’s length. They give love through being open and vulnerable.

Jesus taught the world an amazing lesson through his dying process.

At the end of his life, Jesus took his one bucket of energy and chose not to spend it trying crossto stay alive by fighting, running or denouncing what he’d taught and lived. His death was consistent with his life. He maintained his integrity by continuing to offer his heart, his love, his forgiveness, and his hope.

Jesus isn’t pictured as grasping at life or seeking to extend it any longer. Instead, even as his life is draining out of him he is still portrayed as giving life and love to others. In the gospel of Matthew, he offered forgiveness to the soldiers, and hope to the penitent thief. In the gospel of John, Jesus is pictured as giving comfort to his mother.

It doesn’t really matter if these events really happened or not. They are part of the corporate memory of a life that understood love and compassion as the highest value – higher than mere physical survival.

As John Shelby Spong said, “Jesus was bearing witness to a life power present in him that death could not overcome.”

Jesus did not cling to his life, because he was not afraid of death. He did not cling to his life, because he experienced oneness with the Divine and knew that the death of his body would not take that away. He was free to be fully himself – loving and healing the world – and to give his life instead of running or fighting, because he had no fear and so death had no hold over him.

This is what people saw in Jesus.

Centuries of people have grieved the death of an innocent, beautiful life. But we remember the example he gave us of how to live well and die well. We remember a fearless love.  A man who consistently loved throughout his life and loved until the end.

Shalom,

Kaye