A Label, By Any Other Name

One day during a planning meeting, someone appreciated my organizational skills and said, “My Virgo feels so much better now.”  Then they asked about several future activities.  I said we’d get to those in a few months, after we completed other steps.  They exhaled and checked something off their to-do list.

Later, as I reviewed my notes, I wanted to ask, “What comforts your Virgo?”  I imagined how stifled they might feel within the stereotype of detail-oriented Virgo.  I also wondered whether their Virgo labelled other colleagues or me, if that Virgo perspective is the only one they hold. 

Even as we can be almost anything, live nearly anywhere, and learn about any culture in one swipe, many of us still live according to labels designated to separate and diminish us, rather than connect and empower us.  Sometimes we keep ourselves in these labelled boxes, perhaps because someone told us that’s where we fit — and we never questioned it. 

Consider some of the labels:

Black, Tan, White, Yellow

Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh

Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Straight, Trans

Destitute, Poor, Privileged, Rich

Educated, Uneducated

Aquarius, Gemini, Leo, Scorpio

Enneagram: 4, 3, 2, 1

Communist, Democrat, Libertarian, Progressive, Republican, Socialist

Artist, Chef, Criminal, Entrepreneur, Teacher, Unemployed, Veteran

Cousin, Dad, Mom, Sister, Uncle

Carnivore, Vegetarian

Fat, Short, Tall, Thin

Athlete, Couch-Potato

Homebody, Traveler

Loser, Winner

Sometimes we classify one another, like specimens in petri dishes, saying, “They’re this way because they’re an ‘Introverted, Radical, Vegan, Architect.’”  Then we imagine we know their whole story.  We may spend tons of money and time assessing ourselves and others based on classifications which can become self-fulfilling prophecies.  We may struggle within those labels to meet some standard, trying on other labels for size, like new clothes, to see whether they suit us better.

Often, institutions put us through the demoralizing process of labelling to determine our rank, credit score, and net worth, as well as our aptitude to enter a specific school, live in a particular neighborhood, or drive a certain car.  We’re evaluated with algorithms and metrics to determine what kind of risk we might be to their security and how we conform to societal ideals. 

And among all those labels, we forget the only important one: Beloved Creation of God (or whichever name we use for God), Beloved Creator of all things.  Being one of God’s Beloved Creations means we’re divine just as we are — and so is everyone else.  That divinity, indwelling in each of us, is expansive.  It allows us to rise beyond the limitations of all other labels.

As soon as we begin discarding labels, we grow in spiritual maturity.  No matter what we’ve believed about ourselves before or which paths we’ve traveled already, we feel free to embrace both the depth of our divinity and the strength of our humanity.  We live from a greater sense of compassion, understanding that everyone experiences pain and loss, as much as joy and success.  And, as we know the divine within us, we know it in all others, too.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Another Path Ahead

Journeys often begin the same way.  We decide to leave town, take a trip, explore a new venue, or revisit a favorite destination.  Sometimes we imagine the geographic cure, believing that once the past is out of sight, it also will be out of mind.  Then we expect paths filled with only rainbows and sunshine.

Sometimes we fuel ourselves with mantras such as: “Let a smile be your umbrella.”  Or “It’s easier to change your direction than it is to change your attitude.” Or “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.”  We may try to affirm our heart’s desires, using magical thinking to will away the past, or spiritual bypassing to pretend that we haven’t failed several times, or hit a bottom no one witnessed anywhere on social media.

When we begin journeys believing that a “cosmic eraser” will eliminate the past — the bankruptcy, break-up, death, debt, disaster, divorce, estrangement, harm, hurt, illness, job loss, storm — we forget our sacred worth and our innate power to move forward.  If we strive for fulfillment which comes without failure, then we never feel happy or content.  If we see the destination as the ultimate reward, we’re disappointed the moment we arrive. 

Then, we’re off again, still led by burdens of blame, shame, guilt, pain, and sorrow we wear like armor.  Pretending that we don’t feel angry, confused, disillusioned, exhausted, frightened, frustrated, or heartbroken, delays the profound healing we can realize when we grieve our losses, remembering that they are as much a part of life as the celebrations.

It’s also why the geographic cure works only when we remember what we always carry:

  • Divinity: the essence and presence of God within each of us, no matter who we are, where we live, what we do, how we look, or who we love.  Our divinity reminds us that we’re spiritual beings, living a human experience, and so is everyone else.
  • Faith: the infinite, inner reserve which includes belief, hope, and trust.  We can reactivate our faith with daily contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection, especially in times of silence and solitude. 
  • Patience: an aspect of spiritual strength, which trusts in God’s calendar before our personal to-do list, especially as we notice that all things grow, bloom, and die in their own sacred time.
  • Compassion: born when love and wisdom unite, to unlock our hearts and open our minds, first to ourselves, then to others.
  • Courage: from the Latin cor, meaning heart, allowing us to follow our heart as we let the past fertilize and fuel a better life now, and in the future.

The journeys we travel separately and collectively, as citizens of the world, invite us to move beyond our past and our pain, not only for our own well-being, but for all others, too.  And as we grow in spiritual maturity, we’re free to take the best of ourselves wherever we go.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

With Us Still

Earlier this year, my college classmate Dave died.  I saw a mosaic of photos posted on Facebook, one which included me.  I stared at the photo.  Dave was dead?  My classmate who read this blog, who was irreverent and compassionate at the same time.  The one who wouldn’t let cancer get the best of him because, in his irreverence, he would best it.

For several days, I mourned.  And in my mourning, that sorrow we feel for what can no longer be, I remembered others too.

Nancy was one of the first.  We attended high school Chem Lab together.  Neither of us liked Chemistry, though we enjoyed our friendship.  We encouraged each other, especially when I couldn’t do the math, and she couldn’t write the report.  She’d say, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”  Then, I repeated it, and we plowed through our assignments, getting B’s in Chemistry because we worked together.

Sometimes, when I doubt what I’m doing, Nancy is saying, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”

When I began seminary, I met Barry, a gentle, pastoral soul, who enjoyed poetry, especially the Psalms.  He helped mentor new students, guiding us through summer classes.  He explained theology in ways I understood.  One day, during a term break, I received an email that he died.  I couldn’t believe it.  Barry, my guiding light, the poet, was dead. 

Sometimes, when I work with the Psalms, I can feel Barry near.

Janice died after we were ordained.  We shared several classes together, including Homiletics, where I often sat near her and watched her colour code her sermons with assorted highlighters before she preached.  We studied together, sweating out the angst of ministerial reviews, awaiting word that we’d passed the latest test and could continue on our way. 

Sometimes, when I highlight my sermons, Janice is smiling.

Then, Mona, like my big sister in seminary, died.  I just moved to Florida, not far from where she lived, and I remember her delight in realizing that we’d be reunited and could support each other in ministry, as we did in class.  We celebrated each other’s birthdays, meeting at restaurants where we sat for hours, eating, laughing, talking.  When I expressed impatience or concern about how things would unfold, she laughed, tilted her head, and said, “Well, Jenn, you’ve only been doing this for like 5 minutes.”  I’d shake my head and say, “I know.” 

Sometimes, when I feel impatient, I hear Mona calling my name.

Poet James Dillet Freeman says in his poem, “The Traveler,” that when our loved ones die, they “put on invisibility,” though they’re never truly gone.  In this season of passing over and rising up, let us remember that death isn’t only an end, but a beginning, too.  And that wherever our journeys lead, those we love are with us — still.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Giving Up the Fight

These days arguing and fighting are their own sports.  Whether face to face or tweeting back and forth, some people enjoy cutting one another down to determine who’s right and who’s wrong.  More valuable than the Master’s Cup or a World Series ring, the victory of having the “correct” position is the trophy they wish to own.

Yet, how fleeting those victories are.  Because in fighting only for our way, we forget that we’re all divine human beings, with our own hopes, dreams and desires.  Though we justify our determination and say the fight is for a great cause, those victories are hollow, too, because we close our minds and lock our hearts, labelling a circumstance, organization, or person as being against us. 

Then, we don’t hear the true needs or feelings someone else has.  We can’t seek or even create common ground — together — because we’re already charging through barriers which haven’t yet been erected.  We argue about strategies without examining what underlies all the concerns, fears, or worries.  We narrow all possibilities for achieving solutions that are win-win.  Especially, we limit any divine opportunity to achieve and/or receive more than we imagined.

Instead of fighting, perhaps we could strive for understanding, mutuality, connection, and compassion as most spiritual masters do.  It helps to remember that these masters were activists, though rarely were they reactive.  Perhaps we’d also consider that being peaceful doesn’t mean being passive.  In truth, it requires much more strength, patience, courage and assurance. 

Fighting rarely creates the true change we seek.  The old adage still holds: “The one convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.”  And though they acquiesce for a while, they may find another way to do what they did before, sometimes with greater outrage.

When we’re angry, ready to charge, with pulse racing, head throbbing, heart pounding, our intuition and consciousness actually are reminding us that we love or value something so much that we want to preserve, protect, and support it.

So, to achieve our own spiritual mastery, we can relinquish the fight and contemplate:

  • What we love most, such as our families, friends, and sacred possessions.
  • What we truly value, such as safety and security in our schools, streets, malls, homes, and houses of worship; clean drinking water; and accessible polling places.
  • What we truly desire, such as equality, inclusion, and opportunity for all people.

Maybe we can win a battle by waging another war.  Yet how much more effective would we be if we directed our energy and attention to what we truly wish to achieve?  Though the prize we win may not be renowned, the peace of mind and love we realize along the way will be its own rich reward.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Included Now

Once Jesus was asked when the Kingdom of God is coming, and he replied: “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things which can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you.’” (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus taught: The Kingdom of God is the place where all creatures, great and small — no matter who we are, what we do, how we look, where we’ve been, or who we love — are included. 

Yet, for so many, this “kingdom” is still like an exclusive country club enshrined behind locked gates to allow only a particular type — justified, gentrified, and classified as the best and brightest — who may belong.  As if each group is allotted its own territory, compartmentalized within a specific region, because some people aren’t the “right kind.”

In this age when information flows faster than water, we can study every religious belief, spiritual practice, and cultural phenomenon at the touch of a button.  The world is more wide open than ever.  Yet, the gates to the kingdom remain closed as anger, fear, and ignorance are permitted to prevail.  

No matter how we try to make it so, the Kingdom of God isn’t about materialism, politics, the right side, winning team, or sacred institution.  Alas, the Kingdom of God won’t ever be a blessed realm for saints, because that is not its purpose. 

Rather, the Kingdom of God is a fellowship of souls, each one, a beloved creation of a Beloved Creator.  Amid life’s messes and pains, joys and celebrations, and everything in between, the Kingdom of God reminds who we are and whose we are.  So, the only way we can hope to realize the glory of this kingdom is to release old beliefs and outmoded ideas of who belongs and who does not. 

All of Jesus’s teachings remind us that the kingdom of God is at hand, here now, if only we’re willing to allow it by opening our minds and unlocking our hearts, to see beyond our limited experiences and dim perspectives. Because the Kingdom of God isn’t something for which we can pray.  The Kingdom of God is something which we become.

And the Kingdom of God is always open, because in the Kingdom of God:

Everyone is welcome . . . Now.

Everyone is worthy . . . Now.

Everyone is deserving . . . Now.

Everyone is equal . . . Now.

Everyone is holy . . . Now.

Everyone is loved . . . Now.

Everyone is included . . . Now.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Like It Like That

Recently, I went to a garden center in search of a new planter.  When I arrived, everyone was rushing around, including the merchandiser who huffed when I asked for help.  Rather than inquire about my likes, home, surroundings, or anything else about my needs, she said, “This is what you want,” pointed to one section, and ran off.  I walked to that section and considered it for a minute.  Then I left.

Determining what we do and don’t like is a wondrous adventure of self-discovery.  It begins from infancy, when we push away smashed peas, and evolves as we grow, through all our hairdos, outfits, and collections.  Sometimes we know absolutely what we like.  Sometimes, we try several styles before we find what’s best.

And no matter how our process works, the key is trust.  On the journey, we need to trust:

  • Ourselves and the still, small voice within us.  We hear this voice best when we give ourselves the daily gift of silence and solitude.
  • Our intuition, our inner, sixth-sense guidance.
  • Our bodies, which are divine messengers.  Nausea, slumps, twinges, twitches, yawns, headaches, and gasps are an alert that something or someone isn’t safe, suitable, and/or supportive for us.
  • Our ability to keep learning.  If we don’t understand something or need clarity, we can be courageous and ask questions, even of “experts.”
  • Our inner wisdom, which helps us discern what’s best for us.  Some things are clear immediately; others are trial and error.
  • Our personal growth and maturity, no matter our calendar age.  We may outgrow things we once liked or needed because they no longer fit who we’ve become. 
  • Our power to say, “No, thank you,” walk away, request a change, terminate a contract, and/or end a relationship, especially when someone isn’t interested, or too busy to listen, converse, or advise (when we request it).
  • Professionals — contractors, designers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, spiritual leaders, etc. — who take time to listen to us and hear what we need before they offer any advice.  Listen for them asking questions such as: “How can I help you with this?”; “How can I support you?”; “What do you need most right now?”; “Which one do you like best?”
  • Those who honor our choices, even if they don’t like what we like.
  • Time, so we can wait, patiently, and allow our path to unfold, even if we choose to pave it ourselves. 
  • Variety.  Our world is filled with thousands of choices and strategies.  If some things don’t work, others will.

Overall, remember that our greatest trust is in God.  Know that God is in the midst of all, with us, within us, and all around.  And as we discover what we like and how we like it, we can savour all life’s simple, lovely pleasures along the way.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Release and Claim: A Spiritual Checklist for the New Year

Now that the holiday frenzy is over, we can continue on our way.  Not with the resolve to slog through life, but with the intention to feel more fulfilled and content. 

So, if we’re ready to reach new destinations, we need to release what doesn’t work so we can claim what does.  As you consider this spiritual checklist, remember that some of these will require a tweak, while others may need an overhaul. 

Release Claim
Engaging with people who ignore, disrespect, diminish, or denigrate you and/or who continually violate your boundaries. Connect with people who honor and respect you, your feelings and needs, and your right to your own space.
Needing to do it all, especially if you think you “have to” or “should,” because someone else is creating your to-do list. Review and evaluate all your activities and obligations so you can accomplish what matters most to you.
Holding yourself to ridiculous, unhealthy standards of living, especially if they’re generally recommended, but aren’t personally fitting. Discover deeper self-awareness so you know which foods and exercises strengthen your system and which weaken them.
Needing everyone to like you and your lifestyle, posts, choices, and beliefs. Embrace your own well-being so you know what you truly love and where to expend your energy in the best ways.
Needing to have and use money for instant gratification. Re-discover treats and joys you already have or something fun you cherished as a child.  Open a savings account with automatic deposit so you can pay yourself first.
Following and liking multiple organizations, places, people, and pages, especially if they’re trendy.   Choose the top three (3) to five (5) which most encourage and inspire you.  Then dig in to learn how they have surpassed obstacles and achieved success on their own terms.
Eating, reading, working, driving, and/or traveling the same way you always have. Shift your routine and discover new cuisines, topics, skills, friends, and avenues.
Being continually distracted with conversations, calls, texts, feeds, and activities. Turn off the noise and unplug at least once daily to be silent and still.  An hour before bedtime is ideal.
Believing that life is martyrdom, sacrifice, and struggle before it’s fun. (Yes, pain occurs, but suffering is optional.) Schedule time for simple delights, such as a cup of cocoa, favorite sit-com, morning walk, or lunch with a dear friend.  Choose to laugh and play daily, even when you feel challenged by circumstances.
Seeking quick-fix spirituality, or following the latest guru, especially if you tend to jump ship when pushed to a personal edge. Commit to one (1) spiritual practice which affirms your divinity and which encourages you to stay strong in your faith, even when life is difficult.

Remember, as you work this process, that you already have within you the divine discernment and intuition to choose your next perfect steps.  Continually affirm that the power and presence of God goes before you, beside you, with you, and within you as you release all you no longer need.  And travel faithfully, as you embrace the courage of your convictions and the strength to live anew.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Journey Forth

In bleak Winter, under blackened sky, chirps ring out.

Robin, great harbinger of Spring, perched above tundra.

Song shattering night.

Sustenance revealed below frozen ground.

Artic air.

Bitter chill.

Darkness.

Silence.

Stillness.

And that soft, sweet song, like a gentle, beating heart,

In the waiting room before dawn breaks and another journey begins.

To follow faith’s beacon,

As will dissolves into way;

Paths unfolding in unspeakable, palpable peace.

To rejoice in each graceful achievement,

As yesterday’s dirt paves tomorrow’s road;

Passages flowing far and wide.

To know immeasurable love,

As light winds through brush and bramble;

Bathed in radiance divine, dressed in life’s richest hues.

Like Robin singing forth in Spring:

“Oh, Glory in the Highest,

See How High this One Shall Rise.”

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Grateful All Ways

Thanksgiving is here again, and all around us are reminders to give thanks.  However we celebrate the holiday, many of us can easily list the “good” things for which we’re grateful: comfortable dwellings; a well-stocked pantry; loving friends and family; fulfilling work; time to play and rest; and money in the bank, among others.

The greater challenge, though, especially as we continue to grow in spiritual maturity, is to be grateful for everything in our lives.  Everything.  Including the stuff we don’t like.  For as the Disciple Paul teaches: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

As we continue our faithful journeys, one of our greatest discoveries is that liking and thanksgiving are not synonymous.  And when we’re willing to give thanks for things we don’t like, enjoy, appreciate, understand, or know, we gain greater clarity about our goals, our purpose, and especially, our paths.

This thanksgiving process can be a tremendous spiritual turnaround for us, no matter where we are on life’s journey.  Because without assessing what doesn’t work or fulfill us in life, we keep spiritually bypassing the very things which invite us to go deeper and to check in with ourselves about what we truly love and value most.

Consider this list:

  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Physical ailments
  • Financial hardships
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Excessive activity, anger, and/or clutter
  • Inertia
  • Overwhelm
  • Exhaustion
  • Unresolved grief
  • Misdirected compassion
  • Fear

Whether we can check one item on the list or several, each is a blessed invitation to turn within, to contemplate what’s before us in all aspects of our lives: emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.  Individually, any of these circumstances can sink us into despair and desolation.  Or they can be welcome messengers.  Then we can be grateful to see things for what they are: Divine opportunities to transform ourselves, whoever we are, and our situations, whatever they may be.

As we review the list and devote ourselves to prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection, we begin to find the gifts, then the gratitude, in even the “bad.”  We choose to turn around and see the view from another perspective.  We may say aloud, “Thank You” for: bedrest; medicine; help and support; time to be alone, clean, cry, heal, or release burdens; as well as to meet new people and explore new places.

Along the way, we feel grateful for enhanced self-awareness, keener intuition, and richer experiences because we know our own hearts.  We love who we are, grateful for where we are, now.  Especially, we rejoice in who we’re becoming, the greatest expression of God we’re here to be, and we celebrate all the wonder-filled paths yet to come.

Thank you for traveling the path with me, Blessed Readers.  Happy Thanksgiving, and Namaste!

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

It Could Happen to You

That kind of thing can’t happen here.

But it could happen to you.

It could happen to you . . .

. . . buying groceries at Kroger.

. . . gathering the prayer circle at church.

. . . comparing notes in 4th period English.

. . . reading Torah on Saturday morning.

. . . driving to visit the relatives.

. . . entering the boss’s office.

. . . fleeing violence at home.

. . . arriving at the cocktail party.

. . . moving to the country in search of peace.

. . . seeking the facts (just the facts) for the next deadline.

. . . rocking at the concert.

. . . cheering at the game.

. . . marching in the streets.

. . . running another marathon.

. . . exiting the factory.

. . . kneeling in worship.

. . . opening the mail.

. . . attending the rally.

. . . casting the ballot.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen here.

But sometime, some place, somewhere,

It could happen to you.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.