Reflections on being curious and asking questions … the experience of the holy season of Lent.

In the holy season of Lent, we are called to the spiritual discipline of preparation. Some part of this is the practice of curiosity and questioning. Entering Lent is wandering into  the metaphorical  ‘wilderness’ … where everything is primal and makes a difference and you’re likely to be at risk and to get lost … it’s about life and death, about getting down to core values. From that deep place arises the deep questions, the underlying ‘why’ that shapes how we live. So Lent is about living close to the wellspring of creativity and tension, beyond the context that usually makes us comfortable, safe, and secure. Paying attention to Lent becomes an invitation to go into an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual place where we have permission to wonder and doubt and explore and grow. — Rev Gail (with credit to Rev Sean Dunker-Bendigo of Madison Church for the inspiration to approach Lent as a series of questions)

Music Video Link: Question by the Moody Blues

Be present.
Make love. Make tea.
Avoid small talk. Embrace conversation.
Buy a plant, water it.
Make your bed. Make someone else’s bed.
Have a smart mouth and a quick wit.
Run. Make art. Create.
Swim in the ocean. Swim in the rain.
Take chances. Ask questions.
Make mistakes. Learn.
Know your worth.
Love fiercely. Forgive quickly.
Let go of what doesn’t make your happy.
Grow.
— Paulo Coelho

On Asking Questions: Being Curious

Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. —e.e. Cummings

Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

Don’t be afraid to look again at everything you’ve ever believed … I believe the more we search, the more we delve into the human teachings about the nature and God of life, which are in fact are the teachings of all the great religions traditions, the closer we come to a mature understanding of the Godself … In other words, doubt, questions, drive us to look at how we ourselves need to grow in wisdom, age and grace.  The courage to face questions is the first step in that process. — Joan Chittister

Instead of anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something a lot simpler: Just follow your curiosity. — Elizabeth Gilbert

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. — John Anthony Ciardi

Curiosity isn’t the icing on the cake. It’s the cake itself. — Susan Engel

We live in the world our questions create. — David Cooperrider

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not to answer them. — Anton Chekhov

I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. — Ralph Ellison

Ever since I was a little girl and could barely talk, the word ‘why’ has lived and grown along with me… When I got older, I noticed that not all questions can be asked and that many whys can never be answered. As a result, I tried to work things out for myself by mulling over my own questions. And I came to the important discovery that questions which you either can’t or shouldn’t ask in public, or questions which you can’t put into words, can easily be solved in your own head. So the word ‘why’ not only taught me to ask, but also to think. And thinking has never hurt anyone. On the contrary, it does us all a world of good. — Anne Frank

Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers. — Voltaire

How do I create something out of nothing? How do I create my own life? I think it is by questioning. — Amy Tan

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist. — Isidor Isaac Rabi

On Lent: Surrendering Ourselves

The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self.  I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do. To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me.  Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it … —  Nadia Bolz-Weber

… another Lenten season, a time of lengthening days…not just in hours but in slowness, in taking time to linger over our spiritual lives, over our identity as a people of faith, over the texts that form us and the quiet places in which God speaks to us, still. — Kathryn M. Matthews

The big rub is that to surrender my “singularity” (John 12:24) and fall into this “altogether new creation” will always feel like dying. How could it not? It is a dying of the self that we thought we were, but it is the only self that we knew until then. It will indeed be a “revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23). Heart and body will soon follow. This is the real “try harder” that applies to Lent, and its ultimate irony is that it is not a trying at all, but an ultimate surrendering, dying, and foundational letting go. You will not do it yourself, but it will be done unto you (Luke 1:38) by the events of your life. Such deep allowing is the most humiliating, sacrificial, and daily kind of trying! Pep talks seldom get you there, but the suffering of life and love itself will always get you there. Lent is just magnified and intensified life. — Richard Rohr

I think it is good news–because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be … What did that long, famishing stretch in the wilderness do to him?  It freed him–from all devilish attempts to distract him from his true purpose, from hungry craving for things with no power to give him life, from any illusion he might have had that God would make his choices for him. … But it would be a mistake for me to try to describe your wilderness exam.  Only you can do that, because only you know what devils have your number, and what kinds of bribes they use to get you to pick up.  All I know for sure is that a voluntary trip to the desert this Lent is a great way to practice getting free of those devils for life–not only because it is where you lose your appetite for things that cannot save you, but also because it is where you learn to trust the Spirit that led you there to lead you out again, ready to worship the Lord your God and serve no other all the days of your life.  — Barbara Brown Taylor

But the historic practices of Lent are Christian. There are three of them: praying, fasting, almsgiving. These are three things that Christians should consider doing all the time, but the 46 days of Lent provide us with an explicit invitation to do them more intentionally. I say an invitation, because we don’t have to do them, not during Lent, not ever. … I am going to make an unabashed case for Lent, myself. …  Lent is a chance to uncork the bottle, to unclog our spirits from what is stifling them, to sample the mystery. It is a chance to own that we do not wholly own ourselves, but acknowledge that God has a claim over us. We work so hard for radical equality in our lives—for equal marriage, equal pay for equal work, an end to bigotry of all varieties—and we sometimes delude ourselves, as religious people, that radical equality extends to our relationship with God … Taking on a Lenten discipline means surrendering to a higher power, it means placing ourselves under God’s authority and protection. But here’s the rub: to place ourselves under God’s authority is a reminder that we are under no other authority, or at least that all those other authorities are less than God’s. The church, the state, our remote fathers, our overbearing mothers, our inept boss who gets paid more than we do, our snarky coworkers, the popular crowd, the opposing football team, the opposing political party, Al Qaeda, alcohol, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, porn, late-night cable. Whatever our addictions, whatever our self-medication devices, whatever our overlords of fear and control, none can match the power of God our Father and Mother, if we choose God as our God. To claim that we are in a direct relationship with our Creator, to join with that Creator and Sustainer in an act of self-disciplining, is an act of resistance. It’s a boycott of all that is body-wounding and soul-killing. It is a radical re-ordering of our priorities, and a reclamation of our God-given will and strength …  … What might you do, this Lent, to rend your heart, to give God an opening? What might you do to make God-shaped space within your heart, a space that will invite you to call on the name of God more frequently, to share the experience of your brother Jesus in the wilderness, to uncork the Spirit and let it flow freely, to release yourself from rage or addiction or the tyranny of lesser gods? What can you give up, or take on, as an act of resistance against the authorities that don’t deserve any claim over you?  — Molly Phinney Baskette

Reflection on thin places, climbing & coming down from summits, and transfiguration (themes from Luke)

One way or another, we find ourselves standing in the presence of holiness. In thin places … sometimes beautiful, stunning, awe-inspiring … sometimes terrible and life-changing. Thin places are locations or experiences, in the world, when heaven touches earth. They are places and times in which we cannot stay or linger or make our homes … because they exist as both ephemeral and eternal. In such places and times, what will we leave behind?  And what will we bring with us back into our daily living? — Rev Gail

That when glory shines,
we will bring it back with us
all the way, all the way, all the way down. — Jan Richardson

On Thin Places, High Places

Thin places are transparent places or moments, set apart by the quality of the sunlight in them, or the shadows, or the silence, or the sounds—see how many variations there are?  What they have in common is their luminosity, the way they light an opening between this world and another … It works to make you more aware of the thin veil between apparent reality and deeper reality. It works to pull aside the veil for just a moment, so you can see through. Sometimes I know I’m in a thin place because it feels like the floor just dropped two or three levels beneath my feet and set me down in a deeper place. They can open up just about anywhere … But thin places aren’t always lovely places, and they’re not always outdoors. Hospital rooms can be thin places. So can emergency rooms and jail cells. A thin place is any place that drops you down to where you know you’re in the presence of the Really Real—the Most Real—God, if you insist. — Barbara Brown Taylor

To put it simply: the Holy Spirit bothers us … moves us … makes us walk … And we are like Peter at the Transfiguration: ‘Ah, how wonderful it is to be here like this, all together!’ … But don’t bother us. We want the Holy Spirit to doze off … we want to domesticate the Holy Spirit. And that’s no good. because he is God, he is that wind which comes and goes and you don’t know where. He is the power of God, he is the one who gives us consolation and strength to move forward. But: to move forward! And this bothers us. It’s so much nicer to be comfortable. ― Pope Francis, Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday

On Climbing & Coming Down Again

I truly believe that there is no greater metaphor for life than climbing mountains. The mountains have a way of stripping the mind down to its basic senses and forcing us to live in the moment.  In order to do this we must respect everything around us and maintain balance. If you guys truly value your lives, then you must live them to the fullest. We have planned this trip for quite some time and have known from the beginning that it would be dangerous. To turn back now is useless. To turn back in the face of a fierce storm or worsening conditions is obvious. We must expect the worst and hope for the best. If we do not summit because we make the decision to turn back, then we will have learned yet another lesson. If we do not summit because we did not try, then we will learn nothing. I hope we all realize that if we believe mountaineering is about getting to the top of mountains, then we are treading a path of foolery. Mountaineering is about everything BUT getting to the top. It is about teamwork, courage, fortitude, good decision making, determination, etc. Getting to the top is merely the culmination of effort and circumstance. — Mountaineer, not attributed.

We should refuse none of the thousands and one joys that the mountains offer us at every turn. We should brush nothing aside, set no restrictions. We should experience hunger and thirst, be able to go fast, but also to go slowly and to contemplate. — Gaston Rébuffat

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end. — Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

The aim of the mountaineer, if he wishes to be an artist in the full sense of word, is neither escape nor “the search for the absolute” as some have claimed, but rather seek that place where “the mystic remains silent and the poets start to speak towards men”. — Bernard Amy

The … trend in mountaineers is not the risk they take, but the large degree to which they value life. They are not crazy because they don’t dare, they’re crazy because they do. — Lisa Morgan

Just a reminder – a guidebook is no substitute for skill, experience, judgement and lots of tension. — Charlie Fowler

It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory. — Ed Viesturs

Definition: Alpinism is the art of going through the mountains confronting the greatest dangers with the biggest of cares. What we call art here, is the application of a knowledge to an action. — René Daumal

As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was the conquered. I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was. — Warren Harding

Trying to connect to the moment, that move, that breath – this is what I have been striving for; finding the oneness that can exist with all the things around and inside me. — Ron Kauk

Relaxation, acceptance, and keeping open mind are key. … If I can’t do a move I merely accept that I haven’t discovered the right sequence… I will try to do it … different ways … until I find something that does work. That’s what I mean by keeping an open mind. — Lynn Hill

If there’s only one thing I would like to say, this is: enjoy the process. Don’t worry about the result. Climbing must be fun. — Marc Le Menestrel

In the Presence of Holiness

What can we say beyond “Wow”, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath. — Anne Lamott

Love enables us to see things that those who are without love cannot see. — Thich Nhat Hanh

An awake heart is like a sky that pours light. — Hafiz

We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. — Thomas Merton

Show us the glory in the grey. — George MacLeod

I understood that I was being shown the future: shards of what would come to be. Often, I cried out for the pain of it. But other times, I was comforted, because I saw, for an instant, the pattern of the whole. — Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord

…he liked his transcendence out in plain sight where he could keep an eye on it — say, in a nice stained-glass window — not woven through the fabric of life like gold threads through a brocade. — Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God. — Irenaeus

Fortunately, the Bible I set out to learn and love rewarded me with another way of approaching God, a way that trusts the union of spirit and flesh as much as it trusts the world to be a place of encounter with God. — Barbara Brown Taylor

Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. — Franz Kafka

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance–for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light….Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? — Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

And these Things, which live by perishing,
know you are praising them; transient,
they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all.
They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart,
within – oh endlessly – within us! Whoever we may be at last.
Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us,
invisible? Isn’t it your dream
to be wholly invisible someday?
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Commentary on the Transfiguration: Ascending and Coming Down Again



If the great spiritual journey is to have any meaning whatsoever in our times, we, you and I, too, will have to wade into the throngs of hurting people on every plain of this planet, listening, listening, listening to the prophet Jesus, and exposing to people the underlying causes of all the wounding in this world and healing what we touch. — Joan Chittister

A transfiguration, a morphing, a realization had to take place, even in Jesus, before he became the Anointed One in which everything else cohered and held together (see Colossians, Ephesians, and the prologue to John’s Gospel). The resurrected Jesus is the Christ. The Risen Christ is Jesus but also bigger and beyond Jesus’ individual form and lifetime … But it is one universe and all within it is transmuted and transformed by the glory of God. The whole point of the Incarnation and Risen Body is that the Christ is here—and always was! But now we have a story that allows us to imagine it just might be true. Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He became the universal omnipresent Body of Christ. That’s why the final book of the Bible promises us a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1), not an escape from earth. We focused on “going” to heaven instead of living on earth as Jesus did—which makes heaven and earth one. It is heaven all the way to heaven. What you choose now is exactly what you choose to be forever. God will not disappoint you. — Richard Rohr

The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling; a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold perfect form. This is a beauty that has suffered its way through the ache of desolation until the words or music emerged to equal the hunger and desperation at its heart. It must also be said that not all woundedness succeeds in finding its way through to beauty of form. Most woundedness remains hidden, lost inside forgotten silence. Indeed, in every life there is some wound that continues to weep secretly, even after years of attempted healing. Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place. ― John O’Donohue

The new heavens and the new earth are not replacements for the old ones; they are transfigurations of them. The redeemed order is not the created order forsaken; it is the created order – all of it – raised and glorified. ― Robert Farrar Capon

Reflections on going your way, my way, and finding ‘the way’ (themes from Luke)

Question: When do you follow the lead of others, and explore their way, and when do you invite others to join you and try your path, your way?

As you start to walk on the way, the way appears. — Rumi

Music Video:Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts

The Way InLinda Hogan

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body. Sometimes the way in is a song. But there are three ways in the world:
dangerous, wounding, and beauty. To enter stone, be water. To rise through hard earth, be plant desiring sunlight, believing in water. To enter fire, be dry. To enter life, be food.

The Road― J.R.R. Tolkien
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

My Way, Your Way

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential. ― Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. — Don Miguel Ruiz

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you. — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Don’t keep forever on the public road, going only where others have gone. ― Alexander Graham Bell

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. ― Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Unfortunately, when you insist on doing everything your way, what usually happens is that you repeat someone else’s mistakes. ― Augustine Wetta, Humility Rules: St Benedict’s Twelve-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem

We do not draw people … by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it. — Madeleine L’Engle

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. — Mahatma Gandhi

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. — Walt Disney

Finding the Way

You don’t choose a life … You live one. — The Way (movie) script

In a gentle way, you can shake the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

… we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. — Soren Kierkegaard

… the greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty, although these are all beautiful in their own way. The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

The easiest way to be reborn is to live and feel life everyday. ― Munia Khan

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. — Thomas Edison

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. — John Muir

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him. — Buddha

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino

Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey. — Lord Byron

There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Reflections on love and longing: themes from Corinthians plus some meditations inspired by the Superbowl

How I long to see among dawn flowers,
the face of God. ― Basho

Song (video):
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking Forby U2

Mindful — Mary Oliver
(From Why I Wake Early)

Every day I see or hear
something that more or less
kills me with delight,
that leaves me like a needle
in the haystack of light.
It was what I was born for – to look, to listen,
to lose myself inside this soft world –
to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.
Nor am I talking about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary, the common,
the very drab, the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar, I say to myself,
how can you help but grow wise
with such teachings as these –
the untrimmable light of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made out of grass?

On Longing: Human and Holy

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought. — Basho

Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment. ― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.  — Victor Frankl

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. ― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. — CS Lewis

There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it. — Oscar Wilde

There is a smile and a gentleness inside. When I learned the name and address of that, I went to where you sell perfume. I begged you not to trouble me so with longing. — Rumi

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator … — Blaise Pascal

My library is an archive of longings. ― Susan Sontag, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh

I don’t know what they are called, the spaces between seconds– but I think of you always in those intervals. ― Salvador Plascencia, The People of Paper

… There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible—magic to make the sanest man go mad. ― Homer, The Iliad

To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have- to want and want- how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again! ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them. ― George Eliot

  Radical self-care is what we’ve been longing for, desperate for, our entire lives-friendship with our own hearts. — Anne Lamott

Passion to Play & Live

To me, football is so much about mental toughness, it’s digging deep, it’s doing whatever you need to do to help a team win and that comes in a lot of shapes and forms. — Tom Brady

Losing doesn’t make me want to quit, it makes me want to fight that much harder. — Bear Bryant

Seeking the truth, finding the truth, telling the truth and living the truth has been and will always be what guides my actions. — Colin Kaepernick

For every pass I caught in a game, I caught a thousand in practice. — Don Hutson

Remember, tomorrow is promised to no one. — Walter Payton

I think it’s also important for people to really see that your identity doesn’t come just from what you do but who you are. My relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing to me. Because of that, I don’t have to change whether I am one of the most popular guys in football. — Tim Tebow

Today, you’ve got a decision to make. You’re gonna get better or you’re gonna get worse, but you’re not gonna stay the same. Which will it be? —  Joe Paterno

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. — Dwight D. Eisenhower

If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does them, day in and day out. — Chuck Noll

Life is ten percent what happens to you, and ninety percent how you respond to it.— Lou Holtz

The game of life is a lot like football. You have to tackle your problems, block your fears, and score your points when you get the opportunity. — Lewis Grizzard

Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. — Vince Lombardi

Don’t walk through life just playing football. Don’t walk through life just being an athlete. Athletics will fade. Character and integrity and really making an impact on someone’s life, that’s the ultimate vision, that’s the ultimate goal – bottom line. — Ray Lewis

Happiness does not come from football awards. It’s terrible to correlate happiness with football. Happiness comes from a good job, being able to feed your wife and kids. I don’t dream football, I dream the American dream … — Barry Sanders

Commentary on Longing from Different Faiths & Disciplines

In order to develop unbiased infinite love, you first need the practice of detach[ment]. But “detach” does not mean to give up desire. Desire must be there. Without desire, how can we live our life? Without desire, how can we achieve Buddhahood? … It’s very necessary in order to tackle all these biological factors of hatred, or anger, these things [for which] you need tremendous sort of will power. So the self-confidence is very, very important, but the ego which disregards other’s right—that is bad. In other words, I think egotistic attitude based on ignorance is negative. Egotistic sort of feeling based on reasons is positive. — Dalai Lama

Sometimes when we connect with our inner need and allow it to illuminate us, this striving can be creative, innovative and nourishing, and we feel sated. Other times we are so frightened by it, we satisfy the craving quickly and temporarily without knowing the need and without knowing ourselves. The hunger returns. And returns again.  And again.  And guess what? No matter how evolved you become, it will return again, just like physical hunger does. The solution isn’t to rid ourselves of hunger and longing, it is to learn to live with the hunger– experiencing it differently. If we are lucky, we will discover what we are really hungry for and channel ourselves into nourishing pursuits. … — Robin Cohen with reference to Thich Nhat Hanh, W. Ronald D. Fairbairn & Harry Guntrip

In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.  ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Meditation on sacred bodies: loving our bodies, caring for other bodies & living in the communal body (themes from 1 Corinthians 12 and Luke 4)

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
― St. Teresa of Avila

I Sing the Body Electric Walt Whitman(1 – excerpt)
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
… The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting; Such-like I love … (7 – excerpt)
…  This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
Of him countless immortal lives with countless
embodiments and enjoyments. How do you know who shall come from the offspring
of his offspring through the centuries? (Who might you find you have come from yourself,
if you could trace back through the centuries?) (8 – excerpt)
A woman’s body … She too is not only herself,
she is the teeming mother of mothers,
She is the bearer of them that shall grow
and be mates to the mothers.
Have you ever loved the body of a woman?
Have you ever loved the body of a man? Do you not see that these are exactly the same
to all in all nations and times all over the earth?
If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred …

Except for the BodyMary Oliver

Except for the body of someone you love,
including all its expressions in privacy and in public,

trees, I think, are the most beautiful
forms on the earth.

Though, admittedly, if this were a contest,
the trees would come in an extremely distant second.

I Got Kin Hafiz
Plant: so that your own heart will grow.
Love: so God will think,
“Ahhhhhh, I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul
over for coffee and rolls.”
Sing: because this is a food our starving world needs.
Laugh: because that is the purest sound.

Solitude Nancy Wood
Do not be afraid to embrace the arms of loneliness.
Do not be concerned with the thorns of solitude.
Why worry that you will miss something?
Learn to be at home with yourself without a hand to hold.
Learn to endure isolation with only the stars for friends.
Happiness comes from understanding unity.
Love arrives on the footprints of your fears.
Beauty arises from the ashes of despair.
Solitude brings the clarity of still waters.
Wisdom completes the circle of your dreams.

Our Bodies As Sacred

There comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.” — Barbara Brown Taylor

May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul. — John O’Donohue

If you have a body, you are entitled to the full range of feelings. It comes with the package. ― Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually)

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Breath is the gift of life from the one who created us – from the God who is both our origin and our destination … some Rabbis teach that Yahweh is not even really a word at all.  It is literally breath itself. Yah – exhale. Weh – inhale. Yah – exhale. Weh – inhale. Which would make sense – since the closest translation of its [Yahweh’s] meaning is The One Who Causes to Become. There is just something about being known by God and animated by God’s breath in our birth and in our death that wouldn’t leave me this week as I thought about talking to you all here in this room today … This is the comfort I thought of this week as I bore witness to both birth and death. That the God whose name is our very breath – who breathed the words let there be light, who breathed into dust to create humanity, is present when we breath our first breath and present when we breathe our last – I believe that our final exhale is Yah – and that God completes God’s name inhaling Weh – and carries us on God’s divine breath into the heart of God from where we came to begin with. … Amen. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect. That place is called freedom. It’s the freedom of the children of God. Such people can connect with everybody. They don’t feel the need to eliminate anybody … ― Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer

Caring for Other Bodies As Sacred: Serving the Communal Body

We sit and talk,
quietly, with long lapses of silence
and I am aware of the stream
that has no language, coursing
beneath the quiet heaven of
your eyes
which has no speech.
William Carlos Williams

Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes. — Maggie Kuhn

… I see [God] here, in the eyes of the people in this [hospital] corridor of desperation. This is the real house of God, this is where those who have lost God will find [God] — Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. — Thomas Merton

You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are. — Fred Rodgers

Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. — Gwendolyn Brooks

Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God. — Stanley Hauerwas

This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

That day, for a moment, it almost seemed that we stood on a height, and could see our inheritance; perhaps we could make the kingdom real, perhaps the beloved community would not forever remain that dream one dreamed in agony. — James Baldwin

The lack of material well-being among the poor reflects a lack of spiritual well-being among the rest. — William Sloane Coffin

God does not look at your forms and possessions but he looks at your hearts and your deeds. — Prophet Muhammad 

Loving with Body & Soul, Heart & Mind: Holy Acts

Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good. Love is none of that. There is nothing in nature like it. Not in robins or bison or in the banging tails of your hunting dogs and not in blossoms or suckling foal. Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God. You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn – by practice and careful contemplations – the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God-carefully. And if you are a good and diligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma. A diploma conferring certain privileges: the privilege of expressing love and the privilege of receiving it. How do you know you have graduated? You don’t. What you do know is that you are human and therefore educable, and therefore capable of learning how to learn, and therefore interesting to God, who is interested only in Himself which is to say He is interested only in love. Do you understand me? God is not interested in you. He is interested in love and the bliss it brings to those who understand and share the interest … Amen. ― Toni Morrison, Paradise
On Interdependence
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn’t, that isn’t.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
Buddha, Assutava Sutta, Samyutta Nikaya 12.2

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born toeternal life. Amen. — St Francis, Prayer
Madhyamika means “middle way,” and it examines the nature of existence. Madhyamika tells us that nothing has an intrinsic, permanent self-nature. Instead, all phenomena — including beings, including people — are temporary confluences of conditions that take identity as individual things from their relationship to other things. — Barbara O’Brien, Interbeing: The Inter-existence of All Things (essay excerpt)
Clouds In Each Paper  —  Thich Nhat Hanh
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.  “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be”, we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.  If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Reflections on recognizing and using spiritual gifts and meditation on Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

What works of wonder can we accomplish as individuals and as local [faith communities] that turn despair into hope, hatred into love, and violence into healing? Do you feel equal to the task? If not, what do you need? What unseen power lies within us that we do not recognize? What are your gifts? What gifts do you discern within your [faith  community] and how is God calling you to transform the world around you?— Rev Kathryn Matthews (excerpt, UCC Sermon Seeds)

You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You. Nothing seemed right. What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient. It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these. So I’ve brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me. ― Rumi

Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you
shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you
to the heavens
Become nothing,
And He’ll turn you into everything.
― Jalal Ad-Din Rumi 

There is a kind of vegetable in Vietnam called he (pronounced “hey”). It belongs to the onion family and looks like a scallion, and it is very good in soup. The more you cut the he plants at the base, the more they grow. If you don’t cut them they won’t grow very much. But if you cut them often, right at the base of the stalk, they grow bigger and bigger. This is also true of the practice of dana [giving of self and spiritual gifts … an essential Buddhist practice]. If you give and continue to give, you become richer and richer all the time, richer in terms of happiness and well-being. This may seem strange but it is always true. — Thich Nhat Hahn, Plum Village

Recognizing and Using Our Gifts

A Recipe for Creativity (based on prompts from Sula by Toni Morrison) — Excerpt from a reflection by Alex Posen

  1. Start with a curious mind and an open heart
  2. An unbiased hunger for studying the world
  3. Compassionate interest in experiences beyond oneself
  4. Attentiveness to all the dynamics, properties, qualities and details that you encounter
  5. You will know if you are on the right track if you can find inspiration anywhere and in anything
  6. Remember that you are building an archive of observations
  7. Metaphoric thinking. Metaphors are the tools of translation for all that you see, hear and feel. Metaphors give us words and ideas with which to hold and define our observations
  8. Last but not least, learn some skills, so that you can easily use your understanding to create and express your heart’s desire.

What gifts have I received? — Adapted from commentary by Curtis Thomas:

What gifts have I received? Answer these questions:

  1. What can I accomplish with my present abilities?
  2. What type of service am I personally drawn to?
  3. What have I been educated or trained to do?
  4. What gifts do my [spiritual] leaders think that I possess?
  5. What does my family (who should know me best) think that my gifts are?
  6. What specific needs are there in the church body [faith community and larger community]?
  7. Have I attempted to use a gift in a certain area and have regularly failed?
  8. When have I met with success in attempting to exercise a gift or meet a need in the body [community]?
  9. Have I asked my closest friends to honestly help assess where I could most successfully serve?

So we, in our corporate wholeness, are the glory of God, the goodness of God, the presence of God. As an individual, I participate in that wholeness, and that is holiness. That’s the only holiness we’ll ever know. It’s not my private holiness; it’s our connectedness together … Many call this state of consciousness the True Self. We have to fall through the little events of our life into this True Self. We have to fall through our life situation into The One Great Life. We have to fall through our identification with our small mind into the Great Mind of Christ … (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). We have to fall through our individual body experience into the One Spirit (see Ephesians 4:4-5), through what is manifest into the Unmanifest. There are many names and descriptions for this consciousness, for example, Being itself, “the bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22), the Father, or if you were raised Catholic or Orthodox, the arms of Mary. We are always and only grabbing for images and metaphors, but the important thing is the experience of union itself. — Richard Rohr

Gifts of the Spirit

… we don’t find our gift through self-examination and introspection and then find ways to express it. Instead, we love one another, serve one another, help one another, and in so doing we see how God has equipped us to do so. ― Russell D. Moore

We must approach our meditation realizing that ‘grace,’ ‘mercy,’ and ‘faith’ are not permanent inalienable possessions which we gain by our efforts and retain as though by right, provided that we behave ourselves. They are constantly renewed gifts. The life of grace in our hearts is renewed from moment to moment, directly and personally by God in his love for us. ― Thomas Merton

God never loses sight of the treasure which He has placed in our earthen vessels. ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

There is no greater gift than realizing the constant presence of the Divine and His Absolute Power to create and restore all things. ― Marta Mrotek

The only thing that will work is Spirit, the universal donor. It was all going to be an inside job…It was recognizing my truth, the truth of who I am. Not who I am, but whose I am.— Anne Lamott

There are spiritual gifts like mercy, faith, or generosity that enable people to set the standard, so to speak. But just because you don’t have that spiritual gift doesn’t mean you aren’t held to any standard at all. Even if you aren’t gifted in that way, you’re still called to live mercifully, faithfully, and generously. You might not set the standard, but you need to meet the standard. There is a baseline that all of us are called to. When the opportunity presents itself, we need to show mercy, exercise faith, and give generously.  ― Mark Batterson

Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community. Over time, these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need. To feel valued for the gifts with which we are born affirms our worth and dignity. In a sense, it is a form of spiritual employment – simply being who we are confirms our place in the village. That is one of the fundamental understanding about gifts: we can only offer them by being ourselves fully. Gifts are a consequence of authenticity; when we are being true to our natures, the gifts can emerge. ― Francis Weller

Nowhere in Scripture do we have the slightest hint that God’s people are to volunteer. Rather, the Scriptures indicate that the use of our gifts should be considered a joyful responsibility. — Curtis Thomas

Gifts for the common good (excerpt) — Rev Kathryn Matthews
… Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr … is a hero, an icon, really, a name that comes to mind when someone asks, “Does God still send us prophets?” His martyrdom only strengthens our confidence that this indeed was a man sent from God, showered with gifts, who will be remembered for his eloquent words, his courageous deeds, and his deep and abiding commitment to non-violence as the ultimate form of Christian resistance to injustice.

Dr. King was faithful to the ideal, the commitment to non-violent resistance … even in the face of police dogs with snarling teeth and the taunts of “nice, Christian” Americans … who reacted angrily and self-righteously when a people demanded justice too long delayed. Justice too long delayed, Dr. King said, is justice denied.

Renewing our own commitment

Still, as each year goes by and we remember Dr. King with our programs and sermons and singing and even our renewed commitment to justice for all of God’s children, it seems to me that it’s rather tempting to lift up this prophet, high above us, and make him so singular or special that we miss the whole point. I see the timing of Dr. King’s birthday and our communal observance as very fortunate: what better way to begin a new year that to renew our own commitment to the vision of Jesus, who practiced compassion and justice throughout his life? …

Everyday works of wonder 

I want to believe that Dr. King, while he was a great and gifted man, a prophet even, did things that we can do, too, with the gifts that God has given us. I do believe that there are everyday gifted people who are responding to human need, using the gifts God has given them — because everything we have, Paul says earlier in his letter, is something we have received—using those gifts to meet human need, to work for a better and more beautiful and more just world, to speak for those who have no voice or, better, to make sure the voiceless are heard, to stand with those who are stepped on and pushed out, to walk with those who are making their way to a better day. 

Works of wonder, yes, and yet I cannot emphasize enough how ordinary and everyday these efforts are. Whether we are called to offer up our lives for the gospel, or to live that gospel day in or day out, year in and year out, in everyday acts of compassion and justice, we are using those abundant gifts, just as God intended, and on God’s own timetable, for the building up of the reign of God.

Reflections on immersion in fire, water and creation; turning in a new and sacred direction

Into what element can you fall, surrender, let go and lose yourself, and thus become connected to something larger? And how are you changed, once immersed?

Barukh ata  Elohenu melekh ha’olam asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tevillah. — Jewish Mikveh Blessing in Hebrew

Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us concerning the immersion. — Jewish Mikveh Blessing in English

Like the Water — Wendell Berry
Like the water of a deep stream, love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst, we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore to drink our fill, and sleep, while it flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning to its rich waters thirsty.

We enter, willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.

Beginning with Beloved: A BlessingJan Richardson

Begin here:
Beloved.

Is there any other word needs saying,
any other blessing could compare with this name, this knowing?

Beloved.
Comes like a mercy to the ear that has never heard it.
Comes like a river to the body that has never seen such grace.

Beloved.
Comes holy to the heart aching to be new.
Comes healing to the soul wanting to begin again.

Beloved.
Keep saying it and though it may sound strange at first,
watch how it becomes part of you,
how it becomes you, as if you never could have known yourself
anything else, as if you could ever have been other than this:
Beloved.

Sacred Living; Holy Loving

Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. — Abraham Joshua Heschel

What a grand thing, to be loved! What a grander thing still, to love! — Victor Hugo The dog searches until he finds me upstairs … puts his head on my foot. Sometimes the sound of his breathing saves my life—in and out, in and out; a pause, a long sigh …
— Jane Kenyon

  The face of all the world is changed, I think / Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul / Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole / Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink / Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink, / Was caught up into love, and taught the whole / Of life in a new rhythm …
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese 7

Belonging to God

I just want you to walk in the knowledge that God loves you totally apart from anything you do or don’t do. — Sister Eileen (from story told by Nadia Bolz-Weber)

You are already God’s beloved. I heard a story a few months back on the radio, about how studies have been done where elementary school teachers were told at the beginning of the term that certain children in their classroom were gifted, regardless of the actual capacity of these children – and the study showed that by the end of the year those kids were scoring off the charts from their peers. They became what they were believed to be. God is like that. God is like a teacher who has been duped into thinking you are “gifted” and then treats you like you are special and then that’s what you end up being. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. — Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging … the sacrament of baptism … to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God. — Hans Urs von Balthasar

Holy Immersion: Into Water, Fire, and Creation

Life in us is like the water in a river. — Henry David Thoreau

Water is the driving force in nature. — Leonardo da Vinci

Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames. ― Rumi

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. — C.S. Lewis

You cannot feel yourself … Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence; you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature. — John Muir

So whether it is the environment that is inhabited, or the inhabitants, both of them are composed of four or five basic elements. These elements are earth, wind, fire, water and vacuum, that is space. About space, in the Kalachakra tantra there is a mention of what is known as the atom of space, particles of space. So that forms the central force of the entire phenomenon. When the entire system of the universe first evolved, it evolved from this central force which is the particle of space, and also a system of universe and would dissolve eventually into this particle of the space. So it is on the basis of these five basic elements that there is a very close inter-relatedness or interrelation between the habitat that is the natural environment and inhabitants, the sentient beings living within it. — Dalai Lama

Each one of us begins life in the water of the womb. Each child is formed in this seamless water and swims securely in the current of its rhythms. In the womb everything comes to us in wave motion. Thus, our first experiences took place in the water element. Indeed our first recognition of identity happened, not as philosophy would often have us imagine, in the dry air element where a “cogito” might flicker, but rather in the inclusive water element, where there was a yet no separation between inside/outside, or self/otherness … To swim is in a certain sense to reenter this womb-like medium. To do this meditatively is to re-awaken that primal sense of belonging from the time before one’s individuality first broke free. — John O’Donohue

Empty me of the bitterness and disappointment of being nothing but
myself
Immerse me in the mystery of reality
Fill me with love for the truly afflicted
that hopeless love, if need be
make me one of them again —
Awaken me to the reality of this place
and from the longed-for or remembered place
And more than thus, behind each face
induct, oh introduce me in —
to the halting disturbed ungrammatical soundless
words of others’ thoughts
not the drivel coming out of our mouths
Blot me out, fill me with nothing but consciousness
of the holiness, the meaning
of these unseeable, all
these unvisitable worlds which surround me:
others’ actual thoughts — everything
I can’t perceive yet
know
know it is there.
Franz Wright

Reflections on journeys and the New Year

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.― Matsuo Bashô 

Choices— Tess Gallagher
I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain.
But when I look up,
saw in hand,
I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
   an unseen nest
where a mountain   
would be.

On the New Year

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.— Neil Gaiman

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’ — Alfred Lord Tennyson

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been. — Rainer Maria Rilke

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. — Oprah Winfrey 

Seeking God

“Help us to find God,” the seeker begged the Elder. “No one can help you there,” the Elder answered. “But why not?” the seeker insisted. “For the same reason that no one can help a fish to find the ocean.” The answer is clear: There is no one who can help us find what we already have. — Sufi Story (recounted by Sr Joan Chittister with her commentary at the end)

Once upon a time, a seeker ran through the streets shouting over and over again, ‘We must put God into our lives. We must put God into our lives.’ “Ah, poor soul,” an Elder smiled wanly. “If only we realized the truth: God is always in our lives. The spiritual task is simply to recognize that.” — Sufi Story (recounted by Sr Joan Chittister)

The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us.― Nadia Bolz-Weber

I searched for God … Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else. ― Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

Blessing of the Magi (excerpt)
— Jan Richardson

… You thought arrival
was everything,
that your entire journey
ended with kneeling
in the place
you had spent all
to find.

When you laid down
your gift,
release came with such ease,
your treasure tumbling
from your hands
in awe and
benediction.

Now the knowledge
of your leaving
comes like a stone laid
over your heart,
the familiar path closed
and not even the solace
of a star
to guide your way.

You will set out in fear.
You will set out in dream….
We cannot show you
the route that will
take you home;
that way is yours
and will be found
in the walking.

But we tell you,
you will wonder
at how the light you thought
you had left behind
goes with you,
spilling from
your empty hands,
shimmering beneath
your homeward feet,
illuminating the road
with every step
you take.

Reflections on Advent 4: Love (plus longest night, resistance songs, Blue Christmas)

This week, Mary’s song, one of four found in the Gospel of Luke, is a song of praise and resistance, an expectation for justice and change. In times when we wonder whether to expect transformation, we are reminded to work for change, and to recall that we are lights in the darkness.
How will you shine in this season and into the coming year?

Les Miserables – Great Crescendo (excerpt)
Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people, Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart, Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start, When tomorrow comes!

Do you hear the people sing, Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people, Who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth, There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end, And the sun will rise.

For those Living with Grief & Loss

 I hear
the love of those
who have loved me
echo in me.
All the notes of my song
sing over theirs,
the only kind of beauty.
The song does not die.
May I live
with love and mercy
for it will echo
long after.
— Steve Garnaas-Holmes

AGAPE as LOVE

The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. — Got Questions

True transformation is when we unleash the power of agape. We create an environment for positive change. There is still a world of possibility, even when the worst thing happens that could possibly happen. Forgiveness gives me the capacity to contribute something of value—to create a positive outcome to a terrible tragedy. —Desmond Tutu

Our hearts are like diamonds because they have the capacity to express divine light, which is agape; we not only are portals for this agape, but are made of it. — Anne Lamott

I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world. ― Mother Teresa

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. — Thomas Merton

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. — Leo Tolstoy

Agape is a sobering love to receive, for it says, ‘If I cannot love you for who you are, then I will do so despite who you are.’ It is unique in that it is able to love those whom it cannot like. ― James Castleton, Mending of a Broken Heart

The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well. — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform. — Thich Nhat Hahn

LONGEST NIGHT: Of Moons & Stars – Light in Darkness –

We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. — Carl Sagan

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings. — Wendell Berry

You must have shadow and light source both. Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe. — Rumi

We go into the darkness, we seek initiation, in order to know directly how the roots of all beings are tied together: how we are related to all things, how this relationship expresses itself in terms of interdependence. — Joan Halifax

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass. — Dogen

Is the sweetness of the cane sweeter,
Than the One who made the canefield?

Behind the beauty of the moon is the MoonMaker.
There is Intelligence inside the ocean’s intelligence
Feeding our love like an invisible waterwheel … ― Rumi

The pine tree of Shiogoshi / Trickles all night long / Shiny drops of moonlight. — Basho

… [Sagan’s] statement sums up the fact that the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. Because humans and every other animal as well as most of the matter on Earth contain these elements, we are literally made of star stuff, said Chris Impey, professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. “All organic matter containing carbon was produced originally in stars. The universe was originally hydrogen and helium, the carbon was made subsequently, over billions of years.” … In 2002, music artist Moby released “We Are All Made of Stars,” explaining during a press interview that his lyrics were inspired by quantum physics. “On a basic quantum level, all the matter in the universe is essentially made up of stardust,” he said. — Remy Melina, Are We Really All Made of Stars? Live Science (excerpt)

SONGS of RESISTANCE: Commentary

Why, one might wonder, all these songs? Because singing is an act of resistance. That’s not to say that all singing is, of course. Sometimes it’s an act of joy and sometimes of camaraderie, but it’s also an act of resistance. The slaves knew this. When they sang their spirituals they were both praising God and protesting the masters who locked them out of worship but couldn’t keep them out of the promise of deliverance of the Bible. And the civil rights leaders knew this, too, singing songs like “We Shall Overcome,” when so many in the society didn’t give them a chance to advance their cause of justice, let alone triumph. — David Lose, Singing as an Act of Resistance (excerpt)

I wonder whether we would dare to sing the Magnificat today. What would it mean? — Richard Ascough

It’s easy to sing the song, but to pray the lyrics from deep within … that’s worship! — Gangai Victor

Who can resist … the story of Mary’s elegantly exuberant prayer, the Magnificat? Her spontaneous outburst in song echoes Hannah’s praise for God’s marvelous deeds in the lives of all who are marginalized or downtrodden (1 Samuel 2). Like Hannah, Mary sings out of her own experience, her own hope, but out of the experience and hope of her people as well. The Magnificat is a lovely expression of joy at God’s promises kept, a celebration of the tables being turned, or overturned: the lowly are lifted up, the proud are brought down, and the hungry are fed. God remembers the people of Israel, and the promises God has made to them. What a powerful text for every heart hungry …  Kathryn Matthews (excerpt, UCC Sermon Seeds Dec 23 Reflection)

One thing we do know: music in the United States has led directly to environmental action, the equality of our citizens, a movement against war and violence, and it has raised the voices of the working American … Powerful songs have always been the engine behind the greatest social movements — it is the marching soundtrack that unites the people and gives them focus and resolve, and it’s not limited to the U.S. In 1970s Nigeria, Fela Kuti invented Afro Beat music as a way to protest the oil company regime of Nigeria. His song “Zombie” became a global hit that railed against Nigeria’s military dictators. In South Africa, the indigenous Mbatanga music helped bring about the end of apartheid and it spread a message of peace and reconciliation in that nation. In Chile, Victor Jara wrote songs about his country’s struggles, sparking the Nueva Cancion (New Songs) movement that caused South Americans to rise up against their military dictatorships and replace them with democracies. In Brazil, the Tropicalia movement was created by songwriters like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Rita Lee as a form of protest against the Brazilian military junta, which eventually fell from its own corruption and incompetence. In Australia and New Zealand, popular songs written by indigenous and non-ingenious songwriters sparked an indigenous land reclamation movement that is still active today. — Barrett Martin, Huffington Post (excerpt)

Throughout the ages, God’s people have faced oppression. And in the face of that oppression, God’s people have sung God’s songs of resistance. But God’s people have also been oppressors. We have enslaved others — and each other. We have stolen from, oppressed, and slain others — and each other. And when we have done so, the oppressed, the enslaved, the persecuted have sung God’s songs of resistance against us. — Rolf Jacobson