Living the Divine Now

Autumn is here. Leaves are changing color. The sun rises later and sets earlier. And nestled among the aisles of pumpkins, gourds and bags of Halloween candy are Christmas ornaments, strings of lights and sparkly wrapping paper. This year, as before, Thanksgiving is set to be a footnote between two other holidays.

I don’t know how it is for you, Blessed Reader, but I’m not ready to choose a Halloween costume, bake pies, or wrap Christmas presents yet. For now, I want to enjoy Now, the end of September, the journey into autumn. I want to watch leaves change completely and crunch them underfoot, before I decide what kind of Halloween candy to buy. And, as a long-time baseball fan, I want to enjoy the rest of the 2015 baseball season, the playoffs, pennant race and World Series, before I catch up on which teams might play in the Super Bowl.

With so much going on constantly, holidays running one into another, it’s as if we’re rushed from one thing to the next, before we’ve fully savored anything. Like the vacation traveler who’s so busy posting photos of her trip, she doesn’t actually see the sites or absorb the experience. It reminds me of a quote attributed to comedienne Lily Tomlin who said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

Many of us would admit that we don’t enjoy the rat race. Yet, we get caught in it anyway, multi-tasking, trying to do more than our share, to keep pace and live up to societal expectations – whatever those are. Sometimes we go so quickly we don’t remember what another person said, where we’re going, or how our food tastes. Sometimes, we feel like rats, rushing through the ever-winding maze of life.

The Truth is: Sometimes, in the rush, we forget that we’re divine creations of a compassionate, loving, divine creator, God, the Source of all. We lose faith in the journey, believing we have to reach the front of the pack, even as we strive for things and experiences which don’t fulfill us. We lose faith in ourselves, and in our own choices, desires and dreams.

Trusting in the process of life and having faith for the journey means that we also accept one of life’s only guarantees: We’re on this planet for a finite time. Few of us know how long. Then, to put it bluntly, we die. Which scares the bejeebers out of some people. Yet knowing and accepting this, I believe, helps us realize how truly divine and precious our lives are. So, we stop chasing someone else’s dreams and fully embrace our own. We stop searching for the eternal fountain of youth. We stop wishing — for the 5,000th time — that the other person or situation will change. Instead, we drop out of the rat race. Then we enjoy the seasons and the scenery — and all the awe and wonder the journey reveals — now.

Pour Out a Blessing

I don’t know how it’s been in your life, Blessed Reader, but on occasion, I’ve been very tough on myself. Not only have I been embarrassed, upset or in pain, I’ve also gotten down on myself, especially in reliving distressing moments, wishing I’d done something else or chosen differently. I’ve even condemned myself.

In these moments, I’ve forgotten the power of prayer, especially the ancient belief which held that if something were blessed, it became a priceless gift. Especially because once it was blessed, it held great power for transformation.

Pouring out a blessing is its own spiritual practice. It means we may glorify through spoken word; request divine favor for a situation or condition; or wish a person or situation well. Blessing is different from gratitude. So, when we bless something or someone, we don’t need to be thankful for it. We don’t need to like it. Neither are we condoning or endorsing unethical, immoral or unscrupulous behavior – however we or the law define it. Rather, when we offer a blessing, we step out in faith and trust, opening ourselves to transformation.

When we bless something, we do what Jesus taught, according to the Gospel Writer called John (7:24), when he said, “Judge not by appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.” Because, when we live faithfully, we also realize, it’s as easy to bless as it is to condemn and judge. Yet, when we condemn and judge, we actually intensify the unpleasant, uncomfortable situation bothering us. We actually hold on tighter, rather than letting go.

Remember, as much as we might wish we could, we can’t go back in our time machines for a do-over. So, rather than continually condemning ourselves, a situation, person or condition, we bless it. Rather than trying to correct it or fix it of our human selves, on our human schedule, we bless it. Without judgments of right/wrong, good/bad, yes/no, should/shouldn’t.

The truth is: The God of Jesus and the mystics isn’t giving us more or less than we can handle. Despite what some religious folk may say, no devil leads us down paths of destruction or temptation. Nor does God dispense situations, circumstances, challenges and disease to test, punish, pester, or challenge us. Those are a part of life, what it means to have free will and free choice, and to live in this awesome world, which sometimes does not move the way we’d most enjoy.

The truth is: Blessing something or someone doesn’t change the past. It changes us. Because living faithfully, trusting in God’s expansive grace means we also realize: We can’t out bless God. This is what Jesus and the mystics mean when they speak of knowing that God is ever-present and active in their lives.

So, the God of scripture, Jesus and the mystics seeks our blessing, not because God needs it, but because we do. So we transform our thinking and our lives.

Remember Where You Were?

I remember as a young woman, as November 22nd approached, my father sharing his memories of that day in 1963. He worked in New York City at the time and was walking down Madison Avenue when news poured out of doorways and into the streets: President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. Complete strangers wept in the streets, while others gathered to listen to news anywhere they could find it. I don’t think I appreciated Dad’s memories as much then, until I lived my own, just outside New York City, 14 years ago.

At the time, I taught English literature at McNair Academic High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. My colleague, Mike Riley, a history teacher and basketball coach, came into the room (it was his classroom, which I used during first block). He asked whether I had heard the sirens and whether we had looked out the window. I had, in fact, heard several sirens, but I did not think much about it because the school was around the corner from a hospital.  I did wonder whether an accident occurred nearby, but the thought went in and out of my head quickly as I stayed present to my teaching and my students. With Mike’s arrival, we all gathered at the window. From the far corner, we saw billowing black smoke and what turned out to be the first Twin Tower collapsing.

To say that the rest of the day was surreal cannot begin to capture the mental, emotional and spiritual “fog” so many of us in the school – and around the world – experienced. For more than five hours that day, I was part of a team of teachers, counselors and administrators who helped students make arrangements to go home, call parents (when phones actually worked) and prepare for the unimaginable, the injury or death of a loved one. I remember opening the yearbook office, watching news on the school TV and talking to a lot of students, many of whom I did not know personally. Not until I prepared to drive home and reached the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike, where a police officer asked to see my license and registration, did I begin to cry, as I realized the magnitude of events.

When I think about living through that time, I also remember staying grounded in my faith in God. Despite everything which occurred, I remember the warmth, kindness and care so many people shared that day. I witnessed how compassion and presence can be a spiritual practice, that God’s Presence is active and alive among both friends and strangers.

Nowhere in sacred scripture does it say God is burning towers. God is divine creator, unconditional love and infinite compassion, even when towers burn to the ground, because we each are divine expressions of God. Tomorrow, I invite you, Blessed Reader, to remember with me, not only where you were, but who and whose you are.

Come Away and Rest

Long before I had credentials to officiate at wedding ceremonies, I coordinated weddings in the family catering business. Officiating is tremendously rewarding and fun. And while it takes a certain amount of work to officiate a wedding ceremony, it isn’t anything like the work required to cater a wedding. As coordinator, I learned a valuable lesson about pacing myself and taking time to rest. As I learned from experience, most of us can go, go, go. Then we need time to rest and recharge.

Understanding our own – and others’ – need for rest sometimes requires deep faith. Because when we rest, we trust that all still will get done as it needs to be done. This is one of the many lessons Jesus offers the disciples. According to the Gospel Writer Mark (6:30-32), Jesus says, “‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. So they went away . . . to a deserted place by themselves.”

Some Bible scholars call this passage an editorial transition. As a transition, it takes us from one aspect of Jesus’s ministry to another. We also need transitions as part of our life journeys. This means taking time for rest, retreat, solitude, silence and Sabbath to transition from one aspect of our lives to another.

Many of us unintentionally struggle with transition because we’re very busy being Human Doings, rather Human Beings. Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Our culture seems to reward people for doing more and more with less and less. Many of us live in a continual state of over-functioning, over-commitment, and fatigue. Our lives, our days, our hours, our minutes are scheduled up one end and down the other.

So, Jesus’s editorial transition reminds us of the real transitions of life we’re encouraged to take daily, weekly and monthly. Jesus typically took some private time alone, away from the crowds of people around him, as well as from the disciples.

When we take time to rest, as Jesus describes it, we remove ourselves from the public eye to renew, recharge and rejuvenate. To plug ourselves into the God charger. To refill the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual fuel tank with what we need to continue our divine journey, doing our divine work, whatever our calling. We’re invited to remember: We need time to rest, to stop all our doing and just be.

Transitioning, for a short time, to a “deserted place” is part of our spiritual practice. Transition allows us to expand our consciousness and to renew ourselves in body, mind and spirit. And these transitions require a certain level of trust. We need to stay centered in faith, trusting God – and one another. Because when we make the conscious choice to rest, we also consciously release our need to direct the Universe our way. Some things might not get done, and/or they might not get done as we would do them. Still, we trust that the Universe won’t come to a screeching halt.

This extra-ordinary teaching invites us to discover the opportunities, insights, and revelations which come, not necessarily during the transitions themselves, but in all the moments afterward. Because without his moments away, Jesus could not have run his ministry or lived his life. Neither can we.

Happy Labor Day Rest to All!