Into Another Year: A Prayer for New Year 2020

Into another year we go,
Onto possibility’s path,
Untrammeled and untraveled
Paved
Unpaved
Repaved
The re-examined, reconsidered life.

Within the closet of ourselves we contemplate new garments,
Cutting through cloth tattered and torn,
Embroidering the past’s patchwork tapestry with hope’s glistening threads.

Into another year we go,
Crushing regret’s dried leaves beneath our feet,
Compost for other footsteps, other lives.

Awesome Creator God, which created us in love,
And continues to love us into being,
May we heal our heartbreaks with loving care so we can wear our scars like fine art.
May we forgive our trespasses through another’s field so we can cultivate our own gardens.
May we discover easy steps around rocky passages so we can reach grander vistas.

Into another year we go,
Older
Stronger
Wiser.

Into another year we go,
Bathed in grace’s abundant rains,
Watering
Restoring
Renewing us,

Yet again.

Grateful for every breath,
Every moment.

All things now made new.

And so they are.

Amen.

© 2020 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

The Greatest Gifts

Less than a week before we celebrate the seasons of light, miracles, and rich cultural heritage, we Americans are processing another presidential impeachment.  In their outer solemnity, some people secretly celebrate.  Others scream and argue, as usual.  Yet, some of us are sad, shaking our heads in shock and surprise that it’s come to this — again.  We wonder what, if anything, we can do.

Some of us will say we must pray.  And, yes, for those who believe in the power of prayer, let’s pray.  And let’s also, after our “Amens,” be willing to do the deep, sometimes challenging inner work, which allows us to act, rather than re-act, with compassion and discernment.

Spiritual maturity requires that we live with integrity, both acknowledging and accepting that we’re responsible for our choices and our behaviors, whatever they are.  Only some people can live this way, and however we travel our life journeys, we’ll encounter those who choose to blame and shame.

We can say whatever we want about them.  Though the truth is: We still must consider how we’re living ourselves.  Are we willing to examine every angle before we pass judgment? Can we forgive what we imagine is unforgivable?  Will we choose to love, even when we do not like?  At the end of the day, these are among the questions we must ask ourselves if we want to feel peace of mind and contentment, even in challenging times.

The child who’ll be born in a manger, because there was no room for his family at the inn, would expect nothing less.  He’ll encourage us — again — to live as he did.  He’ll teach us to be wary of those who demand to be worshipped, using their greed and power to exclude and dominate.  He’ll remind us, by his life and teachings, that the only One worthy of reverence is our Creator, whatever name we call It, which doesn’t need or demand our allegiance, but invites us to live fully and faithfully, in the awe and wonder of all other creations.

In this season, are we willing to open the inn of our hearts to make way for new life?  Will we be the peace which nurtures equity, inclusion, and understanding in our world?  Of all the gifts we’ll give this season, these are the greatest.

Happy Holidays, Blessed Readers.  Namaste.

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

A Place of Thanksgiving

As I prepare for Thanksgiving and reflect on the latest news about refugees, immigration, and border patrols, I’m also reminiscing about giving the invocation and benediction at a naturalization ceremony.  Before the ceremony, the guest speaker, a naturalized citizen who was an engineer, shared his story with me.

As a child in India, he lived in a dirty village in a tiny house without any amenities, including clean drinking water.  He loved to read, though books, a luxury more valuable than gold, were scarce.  He said he knew that one day he would come to America, a land of opportunity, flowing with milk and honey, though he didn’t know how.  Even then, he loved the idea of Thanksgiving, a day to feast on all his blessings.  His childhood faith astounded me, much more hopeful than mine at that age, and I had plenty of clean water and shelves of books.  

As I stepped forward to deliver the invocation, I looked into the crowd.  Forty-one candidates for citizenship, all beautiful, beloved creations of God looked back at me.  I acknowledged these divine expressions and greeted them as if they were my congregation: “Namaste.  The Spirit in me welcomes, honors, embraces and truly rejoices in the Spirit in you.” 

I could only imagine their life journeys to reach that day.  Yet, I still felt our connection, as if we were united for a sacred purpose.  I remembered my own family’s stories.  Three of my four grandparents, several aunts and uncles, and numerous cousins also left other homelands, and became U.S. citizens.  They, too, had dreamt of new lives, faithful despite an unknown future.

After the ceremony, one of the new citizens thanked me in carefully spoken English for my prayers.  I offered my congratulations.  She beamed and shook my hand.  “So thankful,” she said.  “So thankful.” 

Wherever we are this Thanksgiving weekend, whether we listen or not, we’re surround by a chorus of grateful stories: mine, our relatives’, the engineer’s, other naturalized citizens’, and all those awaiting a new homeland.  However we’re willing to hear them, they speak similar truths: As divine children of God, each of us desires safety, security, freedom, comfort, and peace of mind.  We seek a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.  We want a place we call home, where we can savor all our blessings.

No matter who we are, who we love, where we’ve been, how we look, or what’ve done before, we can hold dearly, sometimes cling tightly, to the faith that leads us forward in courage and guides our steps in grace.  For every story and for all those who’ve paved a path for us, let us celebrate that kind of faith. Especially, let us be thankful for all we are now and all we’re still becoming.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers.  Namaste.

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

What I Remember

We each have our own memories.  We remember various aspects, specific images, certain feelings, in myriad ways.

18 years later, this is what I remember:

Leaving home

Car thermometer: 72o

New Jersey Turnpike entrance

Crowded lanes

Sunshine in my window

Her Majesty, the Statute of Liberty

The Beacon Twins, the Towers

Busy streets

McNair Academic

4th day teaching Honors English

More nervous than the freshmen, still

Bells ringing

Short-story discussion:

        Determine plot, distinguish character, define motive, discover resolution

        Incomplete

Sirens wailing, wailing, wailing

Mike R. entering

“Look out the window”

Opening windows

Leaning out windows

Hundreds of windows, thousands of heads

Smoke, steel, gray, black

Horror

 “Oh, My God!”

Numb

“What?”

Fear

“Where are they?”

Tears

Hugs

Rushing to phones, finding phones

Silent phones

Climbing stairs

4th floor, Yearbook Office

1 phone

Faint connection

Relief

Terror

Waiting

Tears

Hugs

Up and down stairs

Classroom doors opening, closing

TV monitor

Flames

Smoke, steel, gray, black

Preparing to dismiss for home

“Who’s going home?”

“Who’s coming home?”

Short-story analysis:

        Determine plot, distinguish character, define motive, discover resolution

                Some late, sick, delayed, lost, saved, dead    

Heading home

Deserted streets

Gray sky out my window

New Jersey Turnpike entrance

Police car, officer

“Where are you going, Ma’am?”

“Home”

License and registration

Driving home, finally

Empty lanes

“Where are the cars?”

Arriving home

TV images

Smoke, steel, gray, black

“Oh, My God!”

Hugs

Tears

Hugs

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

Give It a Rest

As the world seems to move faster than ever, many of us are trying to keep pace.  We ratchet items off to-do lists only to find more to get done the next day.  We’ll rest later, we say, when we’ve accomplished everything on that never-ending list.  Only when we reach the brink of exhaustion and overwhelm, or literally make ourselves sick, do we consider stopping.  

While we may falsely believe that we’re more valued for what we achieve, rest reminds us how precious we are because we’re God’s Beloved Creations.  Resting and renewing ourselves is the part of our spiritual practice which assures us that we’re divine human beings, not robotic human doings. 

So, as we work our practice, let’s give all these a rest:

  • Our Bodies: Some of us need the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night.  Others function well with 6 or 7, and an afternoon nap.  Whether we’re early birds or night owls, we can notice when we accomplish the most during the day and schedule our high-energy efforts for those times.
  • Shoulds: Society has all kinds of ideas about what we “should” have and do. These tiring norms can keep us living by perfectionistic standards and following outrageous trends.  As soon as we choose to stop “shoulding” on ourselves, we start recognizing our own true nature, the essence of our spiritual self.  Then we can set our own criteria for effectiveness and contentment, even if they differ from others.
  • Phones and Smart Devices: Blue lights are meant to draw attention.  At least one hour before bedtime, put away all devices, preferably somewhere outside the bedroom.  Then, wait about an hour after waking to return to them again.  Consider scheduling device-free times for prayer and meditation.
  • News, Information, and Feeds: Stop watching or listening to news, checking the latest tweets, or searching for online bargains at bedtime.  Rather than relax us, these rev our hearts and send our minds swirling.  Save news and searches for higher energy times.  Also, consider scheduling specific times mid-day to check social media sites.
  • Worry and Guilt: Worry is trying to foresee every detail of how the future will unfold.  Guilt is trying to rewind and relive the past.  Both prevent us from being fully present and feeling peace of mind now.  Whenever these creep in, especially at bedtime, we can remind ourselves that we did the best we knew how before, and since we know more now, we can act differently to create a better future.

No matter what needs rest in our lives, let’s remember that no one accomplishes or has it all.  And the beauty of developing spiritual maturity is realizing that who we are and what we have is enough.  As we stay faithful to our own journey, we recognize our true desires and top priorities.  Then, we can rest in peace, savoring each day’s success.

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

Higher Caliber Connections

As more people died from gun violence this past week, more terror, shock, and disbelief set in.  While many turn to thoughts and prayers, these feel meaningless and shallow because they propel few of us into transforming ourselves and our communities into places of inclusion and compassion. 

While many also want more conversation, the conversations only succeed with those truly willing to: listen to and behold other people as Beloved Creations of God; check agendas, fears, judgments, and opinions at the door; and stay open to possibilities for long-term, universal gains, not what is most profitable, expedient, or convenient now.

If we hope to transcend the violence, political rhetoric, accusatory outbursts, finger-pointing, and name-calling, then we also must deepen our connections with people who, at first, seem different from us.  We must decide whether deadly weapons, exclusive clubs, and closed gates, are more valuable than the sanctity of all human life.  Not just some lives, in particular places, at certain times. 

The truth is: No matter what others may do, we decide whether we’ll change the caliber of our own consciousness to pave peaceful paths.  Each of us can do this, if we’re willing to push the edges of some comfort zones, step out further in faith, and rise in spiritual maturity.

If you’re ready for this journey, here are some steps you can take:

  • As you pray, include those hurting from grief and loss, as well as those hurting from anger and outrage.  Remember that our prayers don’t condone others’ behavior.  Rather, they open our hearts to feel more compassion and free ourselves with forgiveness.
  • If you support gun control legislation, also support those who advocate for mental health care reform and crisis management.
  • Get involved with civic, ecumenical, and interfaith organizations dedicated to inclusivity, hospitality, and generosity which celebrate common ground and shared values among all people. 
  • Attend churches, synagogues, and mosques which provide opportunities for shared connections.  Many hold gatherings for people of different faiths or ethnicities to break bread together, enjoy sacred conversations, and establish life-long friendships.
  • If you live in a city/municipality which has signed the Charter for Compassion, support their activities and educational outreach.  If not, seek ways to establish your hometown or company as a compassionate place of equity and inclusion.
  • As much as you may be tempted, preserve your valuable energy and avoid heated arguments and drag-down debates with those who aren’t ready to connect with you and listen to your views.
  • Focus on your own positions and what you wish to achieve, rather than attacking “the enemy.”  Remember that spiritual masters are social activists, not re-activists, who strive to love, even when they don’t like others’ choices. 

Above all, remember: God is in the midst of whatever is occurring within us and around us.  Know that in every moment of our journey, we can choose — again — how we’ll express the Presence of God we are and how we’ll serve the best for all humanity.

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

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.

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.

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.