What a gift!
The year has begun and as we move into the pace of fall, we re-gather our community of practitioners in Spirit Play. Our first story was an introduction to the classroom. “Let’s pretend that we are the story and let’s hear about the gifts our church has given us”. In the story we tell the children that being in Spirit Play is like being in their birthday and that the classroom materials are gifts for them and our other Spirit Play friends to use. This is true. And it is true that the real gifts are all of us together, learning and practicing wonder, play and love. Each child brings the gift of their being. Each adult brings the gift of their being. We come together with intention to learn and grow. We come to be in relationship.
The sermon in church was about being called and compelled to your vocation. We each carry within us a gift for the world. We are called by Life to bring the best of ourselves to our living. When we live in this way, we create the world in which we are a gift and where life gives us gifts in return. Where are we called and compelled? Do we respond with joy or resistance? Do we hear the calling at all in this busyness that is so much of our day to day?
On Sunday I was aware that these children are a gift to me, that the teachers are a gift to me, that the staff and the congregation at Unity are gifts to me. I don’t always remember this. Sometimes I enter the space and just need to get my kids there on time, just need to stay centered when they protest and resist. Sometimes as I cry in worship, as I do most weeks, I feel a little self conscious and want to hide out and be noticed all in the same moment. I forget. I forget my belonging. I forget that this is my community and we are there to learn and grow. I am called and compelled in my life to remember this all the time and to remind others. I want to remember that there are journey guides and helpers to receive my children. I want to remember that my tears are given space to be and are noticed during worship.
This moment is pure gift, my work is gift, the people I am in community with are a gift, my breath is a gift. All of everything is a gift. It’s a little overwhelming to sit with the truth of it; to sit in the grateful knowing that there is so much possible.
I come to class partly to remember. I come to be a gift and to receive. I come to practice love, to practice church. I come to create and experience my belonging. Listen? What is your gift? Where is Life calling you?
I live the depth of my life in two layered worlds. I have been deeply formed by the Christian message and the life of Jesus. My life has been dedicated to my conscious and active choice to model my living after this great sage. It is also true that I have journeyed to find fellow travelers seeking authentic relationship to the Universe, and that journey has moved me beyond Christianity into the broad world of enlightenment and spiritual awakening.
These worlds, for a time, seemed quite separate. I couldn’t find seekers in my church communities and it was hard to find devotees of Jesus exploring other traditions and spiritual teachers. These worlds have been coming closer together inside my own journey for the past two years.
It started when I began studying a Hindu meditation style and wondering about what a guru was. Quite clearly in my meditation, Jesus reminded me that my dedication to him made him my guru and there was an invitation to go deeper. And so I did. Jesus and I had been in a strained relationship for years, even though I still modeled my life choices after his example and teaching, so I made amends, got back in my Bible and started to pray.
The experience for me was like the colors after a rain storm. The text was vibrant in a way it hadn’t been before. The teachings were wise beyond any reading of them I had done before. I had eyes to see the meaning now. I had ears to hear. I can’t explain how profoundly those scriptures, that had been living in my bones for years, transformed into teaching that explained the process of spiritual awakening.
The Lord’s Prayer was one of those texts that blossomed before my new eyes. I could see that if I held Jesus in the light of enlightened spiritual teacher, everything changed. I wondered why everyone didn’t appreciate Jesus more? I don’t know about you, but I can have intelligent conversation just about anywhere about a teaching of Buddha without fear, but Jesus seems to trigger defensiveness. It occurred to me that I’ve never had anyone say to me that if I didn’t believe in Buddha’s teachings I’d go right to hell. Unfortunately, many Christians have stated that if I don’t believe in Jesus, that’s exactly what would happen. It’s so sad. That kind of judgement masks the message of love that I feel is the only reality of the Universe.
For these next several weeks I will be offering a daily devotional looking at the intersection of spiritual awakening and the teachings of Jesus as found in the Lord’s Prayer. Open your eyes anew to the vibrant and relevant teachings of Jesus. Join me as I knit the worlds together and open our sight and hearing.
The devotionals start tomorrow February 28th. Please Sign Up to read and pray along.
This week in Spirit Play we told the story of Passover, which turned out to be about three stories in one. Before the story of celebrating Passover, we started with the story of Exodus. The story was highly condensed, giving mention to Joseph and then explaining that the Hebrew people became hated and then were made slaves. It talked about Moses being saved and growing up angry that his people were treated badly. It briefly told that Moses demanded of Pharaoh that the people be freed and when he finally said yes, how they walked through the water to safety.
The children were excited to talk about this lesson. What are slaves? How did the water move away? Wait, if it’s the desert and there isn’t much water, how is there a river for Moses and a sea to cross? One child wanted to be the basket for Moses, keeping him safe so he could save the people. We had very rich discussion.
After the story the children selected their work. One boy was very eager to work with the story we had just told and he carefully set it out and looked at all the pieces. As I sat near, he looked at me with tiny bricks in his hand and a little bit of chain and asked again, “What is a slave”? How does one explain this to a three year old? I told him that the people had to work very hard to make the bricks and they had to do what Pharaoh said. They could’t stop and take a break unless their boss said it was ok. They couldn’t move away or try a new job. If they didn’t do what they were supposed to, someone hurt them. A slave is someone who has to do what others’ say or they’ll get hurt. I wasn’t happy about my answer. Who can be happy with their answer to such a question? It wasn’t profound or even engaging. My child looked me in the eyes and just asked, “Why? Why would someone do that?” I said, “I don’t know; there was a lot of work to be done and Pharaoh couldn’t do it all himself, so he made other people do the work”. “But why?” came back to me. Finally I just sat there and said, “I don’t know.” And that’s the truth.
Why did people in our own country promote and engage in slavery? Why does that happen between people? Why does it happen even now to immigrant workers and to women being trafficked? I don’t know. Why is it so hard now that formalized slavery is frowned upon to undo the structures of racism and mass incarceration that are its legacy? I don’t know.
Why is only the beginning of the story though. Why is the awareness that things are not right. Why recognizes that there may be another way. Why can be the beginning of coming to truth that we are all valuable and deserve basic dignity and respect. Why can be the insight before we start demanding change. Why can be the seed and the genesis of total transformation, from a life of bondage to a life of freedom. I don’t know the causes of slavery, but at it’s root it has to be a turning away from love and connection. Why do we do that? And I’m back into the mystery. I don’t know.
What I do know is that when I feel that separation or disconnection from Love, when I see it’s effects in the places we are broken, I am moved. I want something different. I ache for freedom and reconciliation for all of us. I yearn for oneness that comes from recognizing love in myself and in everyone. That question of why moves me. It’s an invitation into exploration. It’s an invitation into action. It’s an invitation into wonder. Why moves to how. How can I change this in me? How can I change this between us? How can I change this in the world?
After traveling and Easter and spring break, I was back in my classroom this week. Our story was the “Life Cycle of the Human Being”. We looked at pictures of people in different stages of life and thought about how we weren’t two any more. All of us are much older than that now! We talked about all the many things we can do now that we couldn’t do when we were two. It’s a lot of things, even for those of us who are only three.
After our story we took time as we always do, to wonder together. We always ask, “If you were something or someone in this story, who or what would you be?” One of my children answered that she would be the person being fed. I had to clarify because part of the life cycle lesson is a baby being fed and completing the cycle by showing an elderly person being fed. “Which person being fed are you? The old person or the baby?” “Both”, she said.
This answer struck me. Probably it caught my attention because I tend to be the person feeding and not the person being fed. That was even part of the focus of the lesson. We can do so much as we grow. We can keep learning and our hearts can keep growing even when our bodies reach their full height and start shrinking again. We can do. We can grow. I like being a do-er of many things. I like being the leader. I like imagining and sharing a new way. I like growing in my thoughts and growing in compassion as I age.
So, even though I firmly believe in the value of simply being, of simply breathing, I have to admit that it’s very difficult for me to be graceful about being fed. I am ok at exchange. I am ok with mutuality. I can open to receiving most of the time if I know there will be an opportunity to give back or if I have already given something first. The pictures we witnessed together were of being fed. Not just someone else setting dinner in front of me which they have prepared with their love and effort, but a human with a spoon in their mouth that they weren’t holding themselves. I do not desire to be the person being fed.
It makes me a little uncomfortable to think of myself in a position where I cannot manage to get a spoon to my own mouth. It makes me uncomfortable to think about someone sitting in front of me, loving or indifferent, feeding me. And this discomfort is not just about the idea of physically being fed, although receiving that with grace must be a challenging practice for those who experience it. This way of being for me is also spiritual. It’s difficult for me to be vulnerable and admit that kind of need. I like leading the group and asking the questions. I like opening the space, observing and going inward. And there are spaces in my life where I share deeply and those are a refuge. However, I don’t often experience the kind of spiritual need that would require the equivalent of someone lifting a spoon to my soul.
I am going through significant transition in my life right now and it has highlighted to me the ways in which I struggle to stay steady, to be confident, to be unafraid and to show that face to my own self and others. It’s hard to allow feelings of fear and doubt and anxiety to surface. They sometimes do. They come when someone asks a compassionate question about how I’m doing. They come when all that emotion gets so stuck in my body that I’m in physical pain. But I’m having a hard time welcoming my own feelings of helplessness and despair and brokenness. When I was two, I could just cry and release every difficult feeling and the adults who loved me would hold and comfort me. When I was two I could ask for help for everything. These things seem to be much more difficult as an adult. So I find that I need to keep doing my work. I need to continue letting my children teach me what it means to surrender. I need to remember the love inherent in the Universe that makes it ok to know when despair needs expression and company. And I need to open, not just to giving kindness to others when they are in need, but to receiving it when I have nothing to give or am overwhelmed by the feelings that seem much bigger than me.
Who or what are you in this story? Are you the one being fed?
My spirit play friends were busy “working” with our story last week, with many children absorbed in various activities. One friend worked with a rubber band board, a piece of wood with nails pounded half way into it to make a grid. She showed me and then added to her work and then called me over again.
The Day God Made Us
“Tell me about it”, I requested. She told me it was the day God made us. Now that is something you don’t see every day. I asked her to elaborate, to tell me more, but she had no grand story to match her work of art. She asked me to look and see the vertical stress and then to look and see the stress to the sides. “Look at the stress lines.”
I had many more questions, but she wanted to move on to play with other things. I wonder though, what day she was talking about. Was it the day of the big bang? Was it the day of our conception? Was it today when we woke up? Is it right now as we inhale?
And what kind of stress must have been present at any of those moments, or days? Do new life and creation always flow from stress or tension? If so, how might we view those experiences in our life with more positive regard? There is an idea in spirituality that we should regard all our difficulties as teachers and those hard things in life as invitations and opportunities to grow. What does the stress of trying to create a calm space for several wiggly 3 and 4 year olds have to teach me? What does the discomfort of my own internal judgement invite me to learn? In that tension, what do the stress lines look like? What new creation do they make possible?
These are things I have been sitting with this week. And I have taken those questions into my teaching practice. And I have taken those questions into my own meditation practice. Sometimes we can’t know or see what kind of new life may arise as we sit and reflect. Sometimes we can only make it through the tension of the exhale as it invites the next breath. In this moment I am made and made anew. That looks like evolution and growth, imperceptibly, but always changing and being transformed. This is the day. This is a new day.
Of a great need
We are all holding hands
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Tonight I find myself in a still place. I am pondering how to love. I am pondering what it looks like to let go.
Letting go Love
Can letting go be a gift even considering the terrain? Can letting go as we are climbing together open the way for us to grasp another’s hand more securely? Is there a way of loving and climbing together with our hands open, without holding on? Or is there a way to lovingly let go with trust that someone else will be there to hold us?
Tonight I begin with me. I am feeling grief and sadness. I am feeling resigned. I also have the unhelpful script running through my mind that suggests that I should not be feeling any of that. That old voice would like me to try harder to stop the changing and shifting of life, to squelch the movement of transformation, to just stay put. That voice is full of violence. It is a voice of control and shame. Tonight I choose to hold it’s hand, to tell it that it’s ok to feel all the feelings that arise. There is nothing it could have done to avoid sorrow. There is nothing to be done now, but to sit in the stillness with this moment and its emotions. My total allegiance is to Life. Come what sorrow or joy follow, it is what it is. I choose to hold on to my self in compassion and gentleness as I live as best I can into a larger truth with love, always with love. And today I was reminded that great grief is the truth of great love. We wouldn’t mourn if it meant nothing, if we hadn’t opened our hearts to possibility.
I bring my intention this evening to the truth of my grief, the truth of my love. I bring my intention to be fully alive in this moment and the next one. I bring my intention to keep my heart open, even if it’s dangerous. What else are we here for?
I went to my first Bat Mitzvah last week and was moved by the service and the many messages within the readings and Torah. The part that I keep talking about, though, was a midrash that the Rabbi shared. Midrash for those unfamiliar with it are stories written as a way to work with and fill in the Torah text. This particular story was written to illustrate the parting of the waters as the people fled slavery and Pharaoh’s army.
The story goes that God told the people to go forward. And then they came to the water. God did not part the water for them to show them the way through however. God said, “Go forward.” So the leader of the people, even though it may have seemed crazy, even though he maybe didn’t really understand why went forward. He walked into the water.
He walked in and God still said, “Go forward” so into the water he went, deeper and deeper. Finally the water was up to his nostrils and he was terrified that he would drown, but he kept walking in. And that my friends, that faith is what parted the waters. The practice of listening to the command to go forward and the action of following, even to the point of risking one’s life is what engaged God and parted the waters. I don’t know about you, but I am seeing in every story, the story of transformation.
I admit that even though I have been through this process countless times, even though I mostly live in a profound trust of the messages I receive from Beyond; this weekend I felt like I was up to my chin in the water and cursing. I was afraid down to by bones. I could not see how anything might open up. I was trying to look over my shoulder to see if there was any way at all to go back. But there was none. No tracks, and a force ready to re-enslave me is all I saw. And when I looked forward all I saw was endless water enveloping me. I was sure I was going to drown.
And I’m teetering there. Maybe I’m survival floating; remembering that even in the waters I can hold my breath for a bit and then go deeper. I want to move forward, so I’ll keep doing so until something opens up or I drown. Wisdom says that something will open up one way or another, even if I can’t anticipate it. Even if everything looks shades of impossible.
New Year’s Eve I spent at my yoga studio chanting, meditating, practicing asana and reflecting on the year passing and the year to come. This year has been one of shifting sands, of letting go. It has
been a year of chaos and disintegration. What am I attached to? Even after so much falling apart, I find myself in a reflexive grip as I anticipate a deeper undoing heading my way.
I have been struggling to stay balanced and sit with those forces and pressures that incite fear. I have been realizing another layer of attachment and trying to let go….attempting surrender again and again.
I have added to my meditation each night a short litany of things I find myself fearful about and reminding myself that none of it is mine. “This work belongs to the Universe. It is a gift to me in this present moment”.
I know there is truth in trusting in this moment and not getting outside of it. I know it. And what a challenge to live completely fully alive in this now. But tomorrow? “Tomorrow belongs to the Universe. I open my hands.” And my small self wonders just what I am doing…it all seems foolish to let tomorrow worry about itself. My small self wants to sit in the illusion of safety, plans and control…which are not truth and won’t actually keep me safe, calm chaos or make anything happen in the way I desire.
At the end of our rituals and practices on New Year’s Eve, our teachers brought out the offerings of fruit and flowers we had brought to share. There were several bouquets, many piles of fruit and we stood in a circle, strangers and friends and picked an item out of the center and gifted it to someone. This was a beautiful ritual of generosity and letting go. I first let my fruit and flowers go into the communal collection and then I selected things I had brought, things I had not brought and gave them away to whoever had empty hands. Someone gifted me a pomegranate, a treat and a gift I had hoped would come to me. Someone gifted me flowers and a willow branch. The Universe gifted it all to us, and we gathered and gave it to each other. My prayer is to let go as gracefully of my own knowing, my sense of security, my vision of what “should” be, my life as I know it now. All those things I easily put a my in front of because I feel attached to them. May I gracefully gift the “my” to a Love larger than me. May I empty and open my hands to receive what I cannot imagine from here.
” At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of things that save us. Sometimes salvation can come as much from freedom and letting go as from creation. What pent up wildness have you released? How has that saved you or someone else” -Order of Service, Christmas Eve
Solstice, Christmas, New Years. All of these holidays turn my introspective self even deeper inwards. As I sat in the service Christmas Eve and contemplated the questions above, I was filled with gratitude. I was overwhelmed by gratitude. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a hard year. It’s been a year of feeling everything from despair to ecstasy. It’s been a year of giving up things that once were life giving. It’s been a year of opening my hands to let things fall apart, flow through and disintegrate. And it has been the restructuring and nurturing the new wild imagination that has been ignited in my heart. It has been a year of healing. It has been a year of reunion and connection. It has been a year of reaching far outside of myself and deep into myself at the same time.
I had a difficult conversation once with my father; one in a string of difficult conversations about faith. He wanted to know what I believed about Jesus. He wanted to know if I believed Jesus saved me, was the Savior. The answer was true for me then and now, but unsatisfying for my father. I believe that if we take the teachings and actions of Jesus seriously and model our lives after it, we are saved from many many things. Above all, this year has been about bringing myself into greater alignment with the Source of All. I have been working and praying and acting with intention to bring forth the unique work that I have been put on earth to carry out. It saves me every day, this work. It saves my hope and vision for the world, for my children. It saves me from giving up in the face of violence, hatred and division. I have released my heart into the world and this saves me every day. And it breaks me open over and over. It brings me to tears in the face of horror and the face of beauty. It changes the whole world. It changes everything.
Dawn was obscured this morning by thick clouds. The world lightened, but still the day is so short. The cold is coming, the after effect of the dark. When the light comes, even in increments, even in a dull gray instead of a full golden burst it changes everything.
I often meditate in the spring on the bulbs in the ground. They are nestled in the cold and dark. Every year the new season comes and coaxes them out of the ground. What must it feel like to be immersed in the darkness and find yourself changing…your body changing from starch to sugar, the ground around you softening and somewhere beyond you, far beyond you is an irresistible force that draws you out into a new form of yourself. Does it take courage for the flower to blindly reach out or is it a kind of delightful self giving? I often ponder in this season of returning light, the things that draw me out of myself. What are the ways I am stretching toward that presence? Why does the move toward that simultaneously feel terrifying and inherently right? The spiritual journey always moves us through this reflection. What is life? Where do I feel it’s presence? How do I say yes and no to it’s invitation? And once we have journeyed into that knowing, it moves beyond us and leaves us with the questions again. When we set out to grow into more love and life, we are seeking to be defeated by greater and greater things. We are seeking the next more complicated level of experience, surrender and being.
Today we celebrate and welcome back the light even as we add another layer of winter clothing to sustain us till spring. Today we are being imperceptibly drawn into something more that we likely won’t even see in ourselves for quite some time. Our task as always is to be compassionate and gentle with ourselves when we say no. To say yes where we can. To let life and spirit move in, through and beyond us for the increase of all.
The light returns. The Light is in you. The Light is you. Yes!