Developing Spiritual Strength

For several years, including while I attended seminary, I was a gym rat.  At the gym, I put in my ear buds and tuned out the world so I could develop my physical strength.  As I did, I discovered that my spiritual strength increased also.

My time in the gym actually deepened my prayer and meditation practice; I learned to tune into myself, trust my intuition, and listen to my still, small voice.  Even as I moved my body, I learned how much spiritual strength I needed to be still and patient, especially at a time when I was learning new things and living in an unfamiliar area.  Since I had no outer assurance of future employment or any idea where my new vocation would take me, I chose to stay strong in my faith.

Our quality of spiritual strength includes our ability to:

  • create stability on a shaky foundation;
  • be still and patient;
  • remain non-resistant and non-attached, especially in the face of uncertainty;
  • embrace our own humility and limitations;
  • accept what we cannot do or control;
  • change direction or attempt something new;
  • endure challenges and persevere in spite of them;
  • discern when and how to act, rather than react;
  • maintain the balance between our heads and hearts; and
  • trust in divine outcome, even when we don’t yet see it.

With spiritual strength, we become more centered and peaceful, even when every fiber of our being screams: “Do something already!”  Because in truth, spiritual strength often says: “Don’t do something.  Just sit there.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Sometimes we need a lot of strength to go alone to the “mountaintop,” be still and work on ourselves.  Then, we realize we need even more when we leave the mountain and attempt to be present with people who may say and do things we not only don’t like, but possibly deplore.  That’s when our spiritual muscles work the most.

As we develop our spiritual strength, we learn to trust and use our intuition – the “God Guidance” so many of us seek.  We find assurance as we discern how to live, not just when we love everything in our lives, but also — and maybe especially — when we don’t.  We discover, as we continue the journey, that our spirituality isn’t only about our relationship with God.  It’s also about our relationship with others, how we see them and how we treat them.  And, as we remain steadfast, centered in faith and trust, we remember the divinity within ourselves — and we recognize the divinity in all others, too.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Balance and Flow – Part 1

Ask most people, and they’ll agree: Enjoying everything in moderation and maintaining balance are fine ideals, though fairly challenging as a daily practice.  As with so much else in life, finding our ideal balance requires both patience and persistence.  It also empowers us to stop struggling with an Either/Or existence and embrace a Both/And perspective.  Most significantly, it brings us to a greater realization of God as an infinitely compassionate, unconditionally loving presence in our lives.

The key to finding and maintaining our balance is keeping our hearts (our spiritual and feeling natures) and our minds (our intellectual and thinking natures) aligned.  As spiritual beings living a human, earthly existence, we find life most fulfilling when our hearts and minds are balanced and in sync with one another.

Our hearts, the center of love and compassion, hold our sense of discernment, while our minds, the center of our intellect, help us explore, discover, learn and think.  If we’re too heart-centered, we can become overly sentimental about a long-gone past, hopelessly romantic about someone who doesn’t return our affections, or foolishly compassionate, doing for others what they need to do for themselves.  If we’re too mind-centered, we can become unnecessarily critical or analytical, as well as overwhelmed or fearful, worrying about situations and people we can’t control.

When we’re balanced in heart and mind, we live more fully in the flow of life, floating on our raft, gently down the stream, rather than trying to force the current to move the way we want.  This allows our spiritual nature and our intellectual nature to work in harmony and guide us on our journeys.

Please be aware, however: This is not in any way a passive activity.  In fact, at times it may require tremendous inner strength and spiritual understanding, especially when we face situations we don’t like and circumstances we can’t control.

Yet, as we strive for balance in the most emotionally healthy and spiritually mature ways, we can travel our journeys more comfortably and avoid leaning too much to one side or another.  As we continue our daily practice of aligning ourselves with God first, we find the currents easier to navigate, no matter where we are on our journey.

Our times of silence, prayer and meditation also allow us to reflect on which situations and circumstances we can change, which we cannot, and what course corrections might be necessary along the way.  And be assured, no matter where we are in our lives, we can find our ideal balance and continue forward in trust.

In Part 2, a story about a balanced heart and mind, and practical steps to discern our own divine balance.

 

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Whose Rules? – Part 2

As we consider our Rules for Life, we realize what matters to us most.  We also discover greater appreciation for who we are and where we’ve been, so we can determine what our heart is calling us to contribute to the world.

Our mission at this point on the journey — even if we don’t have absolute clarity about our rules — is to connect with God, in whatever way we know God.  This way, we begin to find God in and through all — the thrills and joys, as well as the pain and discomfort.  We remember that God is our Source, first and foremost, for all we need.  Then we know who we are and what our calling is, just as Jesus did, and all spiritual masters and mystics do.

According to the Gospel Writer called John, Jesus explained this to the disciples who would later teach his ways of living.  Jesus said: “I have not spoken on my own authority, but God which sent me has given me a commandment — what to say and what to speak.” (12:49) Jesus continually connected with God first, so he could fulfill his true calling in service to others.

We, too, can discern how best to live and be.  Though, be prepared.  It’s usually an exercise in subtraction, rather than addition.   The practical part of this is deeply personal, so go slowly:

  • Determine when and where you’ll make time daily to connect with God through silence, prayer and meditation.
  • Keep some kind of journal, notebook or sketch pad so you can chronicle your feelings and thoughts, however scattered or random.
  • Find one trusted mental health or spiritual counselor, other than a dear friend or family member, who truly listens and can help you hear yourself.
  • Listen to your body. Notice what energizes you and what depletes you, as well as when, where and with whom your energy is strongest and weakest.
  • Consider your possessions, which you love and consider beautiful, and which have served their time and need to be released.
  • Discern whether the communities and/or people you follow share similar rules or whether you’re trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
  • Check your To-Do List. Consider what you truly need to do, what someone else can do, what can wait and what doesn’t actually need to be done.
  • Check your Bucket List or List of Dreams to see which are yours, which are someone else’s, and which you’ve put off because you’re doing something you don’t want to do.

Simple tasks, each one, though not always easy.  Yet, as we connect with God, we learn to trust our hearts and our rules become our way of life.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Grow Deep Roots

Those of us traveling a Lenten journey to Easter have reached midpoint.   While we know we’re almost there, we also know, we aren’t there yet. We anticipate growth, although we can’t fully see it.

Sometimes, while we’re awaiting outer evidence of inward belief, we get impatient and want to rush the process. We forget that most of life happens in God time, not human time. So, the ancient wisdom of the theologian Tertullian (155–222 CE) is both profound and reassuring: “It’s God’s nature to be patient. One of the signs that Holy Spirit [the activity of God] has descended is that patience and waiting are always by its side.”

So, we’re assured. Holy Spirit is here, present and active. Time is on our side. Gardeners, farmers, horticulturists and Jesus also teach this, as in the Gospel Writer called Luke’s (see Luke 13:6-9) brief “Parable of the Fig Tree.”

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So, he said to the gardener, “See here! For 3 years I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it waste the soil?”

The gardener replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put fertilizer in it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, then you can cut it down.”

This agrarian image, suitable for people of the 1st century accustomed to living off the land, still provides wisdom in the 21st century. Because one of Jesus’s key teachings, shared repeatedly, is that we are here to live life abundantly. This means we’re meant to be fruitful and productive in our life’s purpose, however we define it — as we align ourselves with God, and the climate, weather and other conditions at hand.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader, conditions infrequently align with us. So, Jesus’s wisdom about fig trees reminds us: Growth and maturity — irrelevant of one’s calendar age — take time. For fig trees, it may be as early as 2 years or as long as 6, or longer.

We can do little to accelerate when fig trees will mature. Time and patience are key ingredients for nurturing their growth, with a generous helping of faith and trust. And just as fig trees need to grow deep roots, so do we need to dig into the infinite depths of faith already within us, even as we prepare to rise up.

The exact time required depends on our life conditions and circumstances. Yet, no matter what they are, our maturity comes in knowing, we can’t fully control them. This is part of the growth and maturation we can experience during Lent.

And, it reassures us when we discover: Sometimes, all our efforts are for naught. Sometimes, growth means plucking up or chopping down. So we can begin again. Anew. All the while knowing, resurrection is on the way.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Still Within

These days, with so many radar systems, channels and apps at hand, we can track changes in weather 24-7. Yet, with all that information, we still can’t control where the winds may blow or when the rains and snows may fall. Neither can we always predict the kinds of figurative storms which sometimes arise within us when we’re frightened, hurt, angry or confused.

Then there are the insidious storms, the kind we don’t notice at first, as they drip, drip, drip on us so long we believe they’re a “normal” part of life. These storms — sometimes called crowd or mass consciousness — are those which espouse that “Everyone says”; “All of us believe”; “They all think”; “We’re all doing.” When I became aware of these storms, I began to wonder: Which Everyone, All, They and We are these?

Of all the storms we encounter on our life journeys, these figurative storms can be more threatening to our lives — and more deadening to our spirits — than a category 4 hurricane. They also can be the most difficult to weather because getting through them usually requires a course correction. Sometimes, in the midst of an insidious storm, we need to change direction or leave the beaten path for the road less traveled.

By the time Jesus teaches about this (see Mark 4:35-41), his disciples already are astounded by his power. On their travels to bring the good news of God’s divine kingdom to all who will listen, they get into a boat to go “to the other side.” Although they “leave the crowds behind,” they notice that other boats are with them, which reminds us that even when we choose to leave the crowds behind, we discover fellow travelers on the way.

During their journey, a great windstorm arises. Waves beat against the boat. Yet, Jesus sleeps comfortably until the disciples wake him and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing?”

Then he awakens, rebukes the wind, and says, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceases, and all is calm.

He turns to the disciples and asks, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Then they’re awed and ask one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

We may wonder: Did Jesus really stop the wind and sea? Perhaps. If we believe that Jesus acted like a mighty super hero, rather than a spiritual role model, maybe he did tell the wind and waves to be still — and they were. Though perhaps, when Jesus says, “Peace, be still,” the storm he really calmed was the fearful, worried one raging within the disciples as they journeyed in a new direction.

No matter what our life’s calling or which storms may rage around us, we too are assured: We have choices about how we’ll travel and how we’ll respond, no matter what everyone else says, believes, thinks, or does. As we center ourselves in stillness, with assurance and trust, we can continue faithfully on our way, leaving the crowds — and the storms — behind.

 

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Believe, Then See

Faith often requires strong spiritual muscles and keen inner sight, especially when life moves in ways we haven’t directed. In such moments, we seek proof that things will work out just as we would wish them. Often we want exact answers and assurance which passes all description and all understanding.

I imagine we in the 21st century want this just as much as people did in the 1st century, as they followed Jesus the Christ, the Wayshower, to hear his wisdom. When they meet him in John 6:30-32, they seek quick, easy answers to their life struggles. In particular, they want Jesus to prove that he is who he says he is and that what he preaches is the Truth. They also want proof of God’s existence.

The people ask Jesus: “What sign are you going to give us then, so we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus replies, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from Heaven, but it is my Father [one of Jesus’s names for God] who gives you the true bread from Heaven.”

Even as the people speak of God and attempt to embrace Jesus’s teaching, they seek proof. At this phase of their spiritual journey, their faith is developing. While they may wish to believe, they aren’t yet grounded enough in their own inner faith to trust that they’ll see some things when they believe them. Not the other way around.

It’s as if this group expects Jesus to perform a magic trick and make manna appear from the sky. As if Moses did it, and Jesus now can replicate it. This is our challenge, too, when we seek assurance from the magic of life, rather than from its awe, wonder and mystery.

Because there’s a difference. One entertains and intrigues, although it never fully assures. After we’re entertained, we still want answers, proof of how the magic trick worked.

Developing faith wants all the answers without doing the prayer work, spiritual study, mental and emotional housecleaning, and personal reflection. It cannot accept the unknown, not yet revealed.  “Wave a magic wand, Jesus,” the people seem to say. “Show us God right in front of us so we’ll believe it. Then we’ll know what you say is true.”

Developing seekers can’t completely lay it all down on the altar of faith and trust, which is what Jesus guides those of mature faith to do. They want Jesus to somehow channel God, as if that were possible, and give them the answers to all life’s mysteries and their own personal road map, noting specifically all the twists and turns, with specific directions about how to avoid all the failures, pitfalls, dragons and dens of fire.

In other words, it’s as if the people say: “We’ll believe when you show it to us the way we want to see it.”

If, blessed reader, you’re struggling a bit with this, be comforted in knowing: This teaching isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s an extra-ordinary teaching which invites us to consider the depths of our own inner, personal faith. It invites us to consider that what Jesus tells his 1st century followers is what we’re still attempting to learn in the 21st century: That God is with us and within us, even when we can’t fully see, feel or comprehend it. As if Jesus says: ”God is present and active in your lives. Believe it and trust it, with all the faith already within you. Because when you believe it, then you’ll see it.”