Merry in Service

Once upon a time, I thought vocation – an inclination toward a particular career or a divine call to God’s service – was merely a word on the SATs. While I side-stepped my true calling, I held several different jobs, sometimes two at a time. For many years, I worked seven days a week during the holidays, which ran from just before Thanksgiving to a few days past New Years.

At that time, my family was in the food business. We ensured that candied yams, assorted meats, pastas, Buche de Noel, latkes, applesauce, chicken soup with matzo balls, and Christmas cookies blessed and nourished thousands at the holidays. Not only did we take orders, ring up sales, and wrap gift baskets, we also planned and catered other people’s holiday parties. On Christmas Eve, we watched the last of the gifts go out the door. On Christmas Day, we prepared and served Christmas dinner for another family. Usually, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed the vicarious thrills of different menus and the sound of customers’ delight.

Recently, I reflected on this time as I shopped at a local gourmet market and watched a young woman wrapping gift baskets, tucking a jar of raspberry jam here, a box of butter cookies there. The rush of shoppers was palpable, especially from a young father who checked his list twice and wheeled his children around.

I roamed aisles, as if I had gone back in a time machine, noticing piles of international cheeses, infused olive oils, boxes of pastries, bulk candies, chips, nuts, and – this being Florida – a variety of flowers and orchids. As I mused on the scenery and waited my turn at the prepared foods counter, two strangers rejoiced in being “off” for the holidays. A young man scooping out chicken salad muttered, “I’m working.”

“Yes, so am I,” I whispered.

He nodded, as if assured he wasn’t alone.

Later, at another store, as I sampled some French Roast and enjoyed a momentary caffeine jolt, a clerk asked, “Off for the holiday now?”

“No,” I said. “In the flow of it and still going.”

“Oh, what do you do?” she asked, as if we belonged to the same club and hadn’t met yet.

I replied that I’m a pastor. As we wished each other Merry Christmas and pleasant work days, a young woman wearing a University of Florida t-shirt stopped me and asked, “Did you say you’re a pastor?”

“Yes,” I said, curious about how this might obligate me.

“Wow!” she gushed. “That’s awesome. I’m so glad to meet you. Where I’m from, women aren’t pastors.”

As I traveled home and unpacked my groceries, treats and trinkets, I reflected on what it means to serve during the holidays. In certain ways, little has changed for me. I said, “Yes,” to the call of service, first providing food for the body, now offering sustenance for the spirit. Either way, I’m grateful for my calling and all the people I imagine I bless, who also bless me.

Across the United States and various regions of the globe, men and women will serve during the holidays – in airports, churches, hospitals, hotels, markets, military bases, police stations, post offices, restaurants, and theatres. Whatever our vocational call, may we be those who bless and brighten other lives.

Merry Christmas, Blessed Readers, and God Bless Us, Everyone!

 

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Enter: Divine Love

We’ve reached the time of the season, Blessed Reader, when I invite you to temporarily disconnect the literal part of your internal programming. This process is called Suspending Disbelief. While Santa Claus is already packing the sleigh, let us travel from the literal to the mystical, to a part of the story, (from the Gospel Writer called Luke, Chapter 1), which makes “uncommon sense.”

Enter: Divine Love: two women and an archangel. The first woman is Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah. She is pregnant – beyond the years of possibility, believing she’d never conceive – with a son to be named John, called the Baptizer. She’s six months along when Archangel Gabriel visits her cousin, a lovely young woman named Mary.

Mary lives in Nazareth, in Galilee. She’s engaged to Joseph, a young man of upstanding family, descended from the lineage of King David. Not only is Mary surprised at Gabriel’s appearance. She’s even more perplexed when the archangel says, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you. So, do not fear Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Mary nods and smiles, wondering what this means. Although she technically hasn’t had Joseph’s formal schooling in the synagogue, she knows: When an archangel appears, something awesome is about to happen.

Gabriel tells her not to fear, which often in biblical stories isn’t as much about feeling afraid, as about being overwhelmed by a sense of awe and wonder. In that awe, Mary hears Gabriel say that she’ll conceive, in an inexplicable way, and give birth to a son she’ll name Jesus. Gabriel assures her that Jesus will receive the throne of his ancestor David and his kingdom will be called great.

Through Archangel Gabriel, the Luke Writer also shares something else significant for Mary – and for us. This Gospel writer intends his message to be for all people. So everyone will know: God blesses Mary – and by extension all of us – with unconditional, divine love, infinite compassion, and everlasting grace because that is God’s nature. God’s beneficence is a priceless gift we all receive. It’s always ours, even when we don’t completely understand it – which is often when we feel the awe.

Divine love is an immutable Law of Being. Despite what we sometimes believe, divine love isn’t a power outside ourselves. The only place where divine love truly exists is within our own hearts. When we’re fully illumined in divine love, we can heal ourselves, resolve our challenges, and possibly heal others also.

This is why Elizabeth and Mary choose – with faith and trust – to embrace divine love, even in the incomprehensible awe, without knowing how the rest of the journey would unfold. Within that awe, where she willingly suspends disbelief, Mary embraces divine love and prepares herself to give it to her unborn child. Although she doesn’t fully understand, she believes, as Archangel Gabriel says: “. . . Nothing will be impossible with God.”

So it is for us. And divine love awaits, to be born, with us and within us. It illumines our souls and, as we go forth faithfully, our world.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

God Doesn’t Fix It; We Do

Peace has been the theme for the second week of Advent. And what a week for it, as yet another mass shooting claimed the lives of people in San Bernardino, California, and violence continues to erupt in various places around the globe.

The shouting “to do something” has gotten louder, though not more peaceful. Both sides of the aisle (pick your venue) argue vehemently about their beliefs. On one side they declare: “Let’s Pray.” On the other side they declare, as did one New York Daily News headline: “God Isn’t Fixing This.”

Both sides are correct. And during this Advent season of preparation, which anticipates the birth of one who will be called Prince of Peace, all of us have an opportunity to understand some truths about God and prayer. No, God isn’t fixing this. And yes, prayer works.

It’s true. God isn’t going to fix this – or anything else. Despite what some may believe, God won’t appear from the sky like Superman or Wonder Woman. God isn’t a Superhero rushing in to save us from ourselves. Neither is God a Master Puppeteer, capriciously pulling our strings. And no amount of praying, beseeching, crying, cajoling, bombing, or shooting is going to change God.

However – and it’s a big however – we can change, if we choose to – even when we don’t particularly like or agree with circumstances around us. Change is our choice, now, and as much as it was, long before Jesus was born. The common denominator is us. We’re the ones who can change – or not. So, when we pray, we don’t pray to change God. We pray to change ourselves, to align ourselves with God, Divine Creator and Source of All, Infinite Compassion, Unconditional Love.

Our prayers for peace, understanding, guidance, prosperity, or anything else aren’t ever about getting God to “do” something. God doesn’t choose for us. We choose. And in prayer, we understand which choices are best for us, based on our own spiritual understanding.

Every prayer we pray can guide us, because prayer activates the divine power within us – the same divine power which Jesus and all spiritual masters and mystics have. So, in prayer, we don’t ask God to fix, do or choose anything. Rather, if we remain in a place of surrender, our prayers often provide clarity. This allows us to see the road ahead and to act at our highest level of spiritual development and understanding.

During Advent, as we await the birth of the child to be called a beacon of Peace to the world, we also prepare ourselves. Because this child isn’t one child; this child is all of us.

The Presence of God within us is preparing to be born, as beacons of peace – in our world, now. This peace begins in prayer, aligned with God, one step out in the world at a time – as us.

In this Advent season, may peace be with you, Blessed Reader and may you also be peace.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Faith Drives Hope

Advent, the Season of Preparation, is already underway. It’s a time to look forward, joyfully anticipating and patiently preparing for new life. Depending on which tradition one follows, this first week of Advent focuses on hope or faith. While these concepts can be mutually exclusive, they operate mostly powerfully when they’re aligned, especially as part of our prayer practice. In our most powerful prayers, usually the prayers of release and surrender – when we lay it all down before God – hope and faith unite to guide us in following God’s divine ways.

This kind of prayer, prayed by Jesus the Christ and all other spiritual masters, wipes our slates clean, activates grace and allows us to travel journeys we barely imagined possible. When we faithfully surrender in prayer, we align ourselves with God. And we remember: We aren’t praying to change God. We’re praying to change ourselves and our outlook by expanding our vision and re-activating all the faith already within us.

As we trust in God’s way, hope and faith work together. Even when we’re not sure where our path is leading, hope and faith help us take our seat on the bus of life and let God do the “driving.” Hope gets us dressed, out the door and onto the bus. Faith guides our steps and carries us into the meeting, appointment, interview, new town, new job, and/or fresh encounter. Faith gets us moving again and again, even when we don’t initially see results we like or expect. Hope says: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can get there now that I’m on the bus.” Faith says: “Of course, you can. Keep your vision elevated and focus on God’s path, the best path to travel.”

This is the easiest way to travel life’s journeys. For, as many of us have learned, when we give God directions and try to force the process, we usually end up feeling hopeless, discouraged and/or upset that we didn’t get what we wanted. We believe that our prayers weren’t answered. Except they were. We just didn’t like the answer.

Martha Smock, a former editor of Daily Word magazine said, “Faith is the spiritual side of hope.” Her wisdom reminds us: Being hopeful isn’t enough because hope alone sees only the outer appearance and believes it’s the reality. Yet, when aligned with faith, hope develops substance, which helps us trust in realities we don’t yet see.

As we faithfully travel God’s path on the journey of life, we begin to feel the transformation. As we pray, we feel more comfortable taking our hands off the universal steering wheel. As we become still and silent, we feel the Presence of God, here, working through us and others we encounter, now. So, faithfully, we embrace the Season of Advent, trusting that peace, love and ultimately joy, are here for us, on every journey we travel.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.