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WAITING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

Waiting as a spiritual practice is found in almost every religious tradition I can think of. 

For Muslims, the month of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, marks a month of fasting, giving alms, abstinence from all things of the flesh,and active prayer. This is in an attempt to cleanse the soul, but also it is thought that using these methods of emptying out the cares and desires of the physical world, one is preparing and waiting for the revelations of God to be experienced.  This is what happened to Muhammad.  In fact, the holiest night of the Muslim year is Laylat al-Qadr, it falls just before the close of Ramadan, and commemorates the night when the Qu’ran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad. 

In Jewish tradition, waiting and the practice of patience in the face of daunting circumstances, has been a recurring theme since the Book of Exodus and those ensuing dark days in the desert.  The Jewish people wait for the angel of death to pass over their households during Passover and recreate the stories of bitter times and the promise of sweeter days in the Seder.  Again, fasting, prayer, and self-denial carve pathways to this opening up of the soul.

The Christians now find themselves in the heart of Lent.  Christians too share these same tools of purification.  Yet they wait for something unique to the other monotheistic religions.  They wait for the day of Resurrection, the Day that Jesus rose from the dead.

And, yet, even if one does not believe in the actual physical revival of the Christ from the dead, the stories that rise up from the New Testament can resonate with each of us, teaching us the power of waiting in faith.

These are stories that speak of yearning and suffering.  Yearning for a better life, a purpose, a meaning, and the reality of pain.  The stories of Jesus of Nazareth are stories of hope and fear, loyalty and betrayal, acceptance and denial, life and death.  Jesus tasted both the success of his mountain ministry (see Matthew’s feeding of the 5000) and yet was still determined to go to Jerusalem, with death threats and a certain persecution.

His followers were waiting for a triumphant crowning of a king as the culmination of a glorious ministry.  Instead, they were confused and angry by a leader ridiculed and crucified.  Jesus tried to point out that this path he was on, was not one easily understood by the ways of the world, that his lessons were those of the spirit and not of earthly successes and kingdoms.  Certainly choosing to undergo great suffering is not a natural inclination. 

Our own stories of waiting for a better day, whether for a job that has not yet materialized, a healing from an illness (our own or a loved ones, or even a death), can find much solidarity with the Bible stories of Lent.  They are filled with expectation on one day, as Jesus heals a leper and brings the dead to life, and then disillusionment, despair, and death on the next.

 One of the definitions of resurrection that I can hold up to a broader, secular audience is the Greek notion of resurrection as the “state of one who has returned to life.”

We all have seen the grief-stricken and the broken find a way back to a full and happy life after the most unmitigable tragedies, this is the promise of resurrection that casts it net wide and yet does not strain the boundaries of the intellect.  It is the faith of waiting. 

Quote for the day: “Even if one glimpses God, there are still cuts and splinters and burns along the way.”

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY NUN TUCK (A LENTEN JOURNEY)

It’s been a year this week since I began this little exercise called “Nun Tuck’s Almanac.”  I can’t believe it, it started off fast and furious with posts almost everyday and gratefully, much traffic.  Then life did it’s little John Lennon thing, you know the “Life happens while you are out busy making other plans” thing as it is wont to do, and so this little venture has been gradually being whisked out to the fringe of my daily activities.   

But whenever I am away for a week or a wee bit more, I miss this kind of spiritual writing and more importantly, thinking about the essence of who we all are, attempting to draw out with the use of language, feelings and understandings  that we all share deep down where the heart resides.  In addition, it continues to be my pleasure to share what little I know about world religions. Islam seems to be the one most people want to learn about and there is no surprise there, world events rapidly unfolding as they are.       

Birthdays and anniversaries of various kinds are great milestones for us to take stock.  And we Christians (Unitarian ones included!) are in the first steps of our annual Lenten journey; another invitation for us to engage in more self-reflection and to employ discipline, not as a punishment, but rather as a tool that chips away at the excesses, compulsions, and indulgences that lead us away from our truest selves. 

Thomas Merton, a well-known modern mystic and Trappist monk, spoke these words which have been resonating or more aptly, percolating with me for a  time now: “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.  The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace.”

OK, wow and ouch.  No one has categorically summed me up so succinctly before…you can just put a ribbon on it and there you go.  The three words in particular that shout out in neon to all those with an addiction to doing  to PAUSE or HALT or STOP are “FRENZY” and “VIOLENCE” AND “NEUTRALIZES”.  

As Mark Nepo in “The Book of Awakening” writes, “Merton wisely challenges us not just to slow down, but, at the heart of it, to accept our limitations.  We are at best filled with the divine, but have only two hands and one heart.  In a deep and subtle way, the want to do it all is a want to be it all, and though it comes from a desire to do good, it often becomes frenzied because our egos seize our goodness as a way to be revered.” 

So when I ask myself what is at the root from my seemingly inability to say no to another great cause, event, another tug on my time and resources (even while the endeavor may be a great one), it is the sneaky ego. People who have difficulty saying no, often say that it is because they don’t want to let anybody down.  So then I ask question, why don’t I want to let anybody down? Is it because  I don’t want anyone to think I am less than this wonderfully compassionate human? 

Being compassionate enough is (in cases of the activist) probably more than enough.  Saying no to one more thing is self-compassion and self-care, which allows one to walk in the world PRESENT to it.         

Pray daily for all the worthy causes out there that you would like to grow and flourish in their goodness, but devote your time to the one or two that speak most closely to your soul…for today.  The old adage to ‘do one thing and do it well’ applies here.  Wherever I cannot bring my entire being, I am not there.      

What a remarkable gift I have received on this birthday edition of Nun Tuck, to take a day to reflect on my pursuit of the good, to choose to pour my energy into the redemption of my own heart, and then I can perhaps help the rest of the world a little more effectively, and that is to say, more peacefully.

Blessed be.

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Sacrifice Doesn’t Have To Be Grandma or a Live Chicken

Piggy backing on my last post, I was thinking about the word sacrifice, which always means a giving up in some way or the other, and how it has lost the better half of its meaning.  The word sacrifice-Latin sacrificium-means an offering to a deity or to something greater than one’s self, rendering the person(s), place or thing involved- sacred. The whole idea of sacrifice has become  antithetical to our current American culture of consumerism. It’s made even worse when fear mongering makes citizens actually frenzied with the idea that Grandma will be the first to be killed with the National Health Care bill.  OMG, the sacrifice will mean that our children and children’s children face certain bankruptcy. Whether it’s a government official or a family member asking us to make sacrifices, either  for a greater good that we won’t see until the future or for a temporary setback that’s here with us right now, we tend to squirm or bargain or unenthusiatically agree to it (knowing it’s the right form of action) and then shortly thereafter, kick and scream, taking to the streets with how unfair it is.  

And yet, a truly just society demands some sacrifices.  Our commitment to social justice, while deeply felt, can be very difficult to sustain.   This is particularly true in a society that has valued and prized individualism since its conception.  Unlike other cultures, where the community needs are primary (and this too can be problematic), our understanding of the self in relation to the community tends to focus on the community being there to help forward our own self realization and not the other way around.  I do believe, however, that we are currently in a phase of positive but disorienting transformation.

We can no longer avoid the growing sense of interdependence of the world’s population. Reality at its core, whether spiritual or physical, has a relational nature.  Nothing can be fully understood or experienced in isolation. When we ignore any kind of shared reference point, or the ability to see beyond the end of the nose on our face, we see the degeneration of public discourse.  Talk radio, FOX news, to name a few, have resorted to slander, inaccurate sound bites, and mean spiritedness to buoy up a world view that is not on the side of creation. In the wild current of cackling voices, we lose both content and the possibility of real understanding. While it may not be possible to agree on universal truths, this doesn’t mean there are no meaningful ideas or truths.

As Paul Raiser writes in Faith without Certainty, ” The truth is that we don’t first exist as individuals who then form social groups.  The group always comes first.  As individuals, our identities are always formed in relation to a particular social context. We are social beings through and through. Can we look at social justice work not simply as choice we make for ourselves or do not, but as a fundamental factor in the formation of our own identities?  We think we need to attend to our own well being to be able to help someone else, and this is only partially true. We can also be reminded that our own well being is deeply connected to the well being of others.”

For Christians, this is the season of Lent.  It is a time of consciously giving up those things that are superfluous to our lives.  It creates space for the sacred. One chooses to sacrifice, because the benefit to the mind and spirit is greater than if one did not.  It is not that the giving up of chocolate or alcohol is a chit to get to heaven.  Or that daily choosing to do a kind act without anyone knowing of it makes you a better person than your neighbor.  Rather it is by sacrifice, that we come closer to understanding and participating with the sacred.

Book of the Day: The Responsible Self by H. Richard Niebuhr  

Quote from the Book of the Day: “It has often been remarked that the great decisions which give a society its specific character are functions of emergency situations in which a community has had to meet a challenge.  Yet the decision on which the future depends and whence the new law issues is a decision made in response to action upon the society, and this action is guided by interpretation of what is going on.” (Ed. note: Our forebears had to determine what was happening during the Civil War (End of Slavery and the importance of union), how to address the ills of the Depression (The New Deal and the Welfare State), and what was the response to be to the First Two World Wars (a final move away from isolationism), all of these decisions made our country change in ways no one could foresee, and today’s decisions are no different.)

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