Called to Be Our Best

We used to run around all over the place, busy, scheduled, appointments up the ying yang.

Go here, go there.  Things to do.  People to see. 

Articles about how to do our make-up and conduct meetings, on airplanes.  Pack for a week in one suitcase.  See the Taj Mahal in an hour.  Travel the entire world in ten days.

Let’s admit it: A lot of us were exhausted and we didn’t even know it.  We just kept winding ourselves up, and going, going, going.

We were exhausting ourselves and our resources: emotional, mental, physical, natural.

Some us had no spiritual exhaustion because spirituality was for sissies.  Or we had our silos, the church, mosque, synagogue, temple that was our club, where we went to be seen.

And some of us thought God was only in the building on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Or we tried to steer the Universe by ourselves.

We were running after elusive fountains of youth and measures of success which strained all our reserves.  Some of us strained others, too, sucking life from them like vampires, so we could have more.  Some of us were human bulldozers, plowing our way through fertile fields; we didn’t notice what we ran over.  Until it was too late.

We were so wound up, we didn’t know how to unwind.

A couple of weeks ago, while livestreaming from the pulpit in an empty sanctuary, I shared a message I heard in Washington, D.C., during the Yuppie 1990s: “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  And how I remember whispering to myself: “OK, but they still die.”

And some people might say: “You can’t say that Rev. Jenn.  That’s not motivating.  That isn’t inspiring.”

Really?

When current events remind us how precious life is?  That disease is the great equalizer?

Check out sacred scripture.  Read any of the Gospels.  Jesus says repeatedly: “I’m only with you for a while.  Listen to me now.  Here’s how to live.”

Check out God’s conversations with Moses.  How many times God says: “I am the Lord your God.  And you are Moses.  This is your job.  And this is how much time you have.”

So, if someone is upset with me for mentioning death, I invite them to consider how well they’re living.  What they’re doing with their precious time, this awesome gift of life they have.

Because, in my experience, with those I’ve been honored to share this journey, no one ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.  I wish I’d bought more stuff.”  But all of them said, each in their own words, “I hope I was the best person I could be.”

We are called to be our best selves.  The stuff we have is garnish.

Embrace your best self, right here, right now, and live it out loud.

That’s our call, and God knows, our world truly needs it.

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

Doing the Limbo

Anyone who’s attended an old-time dance party knows the Limbo Rock.  The popular dance asks us to shimmy ourselves below a bar without knocking it over.

Succeeding at the Limbo Rock doesn’t require the coolest moves.  It requires the most dexterity and flexibility, which we also need to dance the Limbo of Life.

Literally, limbo means being between here and there, neither in nor out, on nor off, when we don’t know what’s next.  Limbo is an uncertain, indefinite time of waiting. 

Millions live in limbo these days, as our governments, institutions, and organizations attempt to determine new standards of safety and well-being.  Perhaps, you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader, few of them agree about these standards.  So, we’ve reached one of life’s waystations where we’re left to discern our new normal. 

During this time, spiritual maturity helps us remain patient as we renew our faith and build our spiritual strength.  Rather than fuss about waiting, force things to happen, or hide in terror, dexterity and flexibility let us:

  • Enjoy time in stillness and silence.  Sit, rest, gaze at artwork on the walls or flowers in the garden, pet the dog, cradle a child.  If we believe that we aren’t doing anything, remember that all spiritual masters became that way because they knew how to be still and wait.
  • Connect, at least weekly, with a prayer partner and BFF.  Share gratitude for the present and imagine hope for the future.
  • Honor our bodies.  Get enough sleep, exercise, and nourishment.  Take necessary medications.  If we are ill, all our energy and attention turns to healing.  If we’re caregivers in any capacity, we honor ourselves and others best when we choose self-care first.  None of us can give from an empty well.
  • Honor our feelings, especially sadness, grief, and confusion.  Many of us are experiencing losses, so cry as needed.  Tears aren’t a sign of weakness; they mean our hearts are open and we’re mourning something we love.
  • Tackle a task we’ve avoided, especially if it will bring ease.  If we need assistance, many professionals including accountants, attorneys, mental health counselors, and organizers are glad to work virtually.  Research recommendations from trusted friends.
  • Embrace a creative activity or learn a new skill.  Countless online classes are available, and libraries and museums offer an abundance of free, virtual resources.
  • Schedule playtime.  No attempts to accomplish anything.  Just have fun.  Find board games the whole family can enjoy like Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders.  Or use an old-fashioned deck of cards to play Canasta, Gin, or Go Fish.
  • Appreciate the simple gifts of good health, safe shelter, comfortable clothes, and a full belly.

Overall, know that even when our lives seem to be “on-hold,” we still have the inner power and intuition to choose our next steps.  Especially, remember that God in the midst of us is assurance and wisdom as we remain open to the best paths ahead.

© 2020 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved.  Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay.

What’s Happening Now

During a difficult life transition, I fretted about outcomes, sometimes feeling as if I’d spin out of control.   Fortunately, I attended a weekly sangha, and our group meditations anchored my faith.  One day, I admitted my fears to our teacher, Maggie.  She acknowledged them, then reminded me to stay present to my new life unfolding.  “It’ll be all right,” she assured me.  “This is just what’s happening now.”

More than 20 years later, Maggie’s wisdom still resonates because it’s a hallmark of spiritual maturity: When we accept what’s happening now, we remember that we control little more than ourselves in life, so we can choose how we’ll flow with what is.

To find comfort in what’s happening now, we can:

  • Remain anchored in our contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection practices.  Breathe deep, belly breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  Concentrating on our breath relaxes our minds and calms our racing heartbeats, anytime, anywhere.
  • Do daily chores mindfully.  Everything from peeling an orange and inhaling the scent to humming a favorite tune as we wash our hands is a grounding, mindfulness practice.
  • Limit long-range planning, pushing for long-term commitments, or rushing to make decisions.  Focus on present needs such as completing today’s projects and buying this week’s groceries.
  • Dive into a creative activity: carving, coloring, gardening, knitting, painting, sculpting, etc.  Work it step by step, noting accomplishments daily.
  • Avoid instant gratification which may lead to later regrets.  Ask: “How will I feel about this next week, next month, next year?  Am I willing to wait?  What other choices might I have?”  Then list all the choices we discern are best now.
  • Halt dramas and conversations about how awful or difficult life is, how hard we are/aren’t working, or what someone else is/isn’t doing.
  • Beware offering or accepting unsolicited advice.  As soon as we say or hear, “You should,” we likely need to pause and re-examine our intentions.  This applies to our inner voice, too.  No “shoulding” on ourselves; we’re doing the best we can.
  • Get out of bed, no tossing and turning, if we awaken early, anywhere from 3:00 to 6:00 AM.  During these “God Hours,” we’re most attuned to Spirit and our inner creativity, so they’re sacred times for extra meditation, study, or crafting.
  • Acknowledge grief and loss.  Those moments which seem like we’re walking through pools of molasses or crying for no reason are ways we mourn.  Even if we feel silly, we can find comfort in hugging a pillow or stuffed animal, digging in the dirt, singing at the top of our lungs, pounding bread dough, or skipping around the neighborhood.
  • Be physically distant for safety and well-being, but stay socially connected by phone, text, email, social media, Zoom, FaceTime, etc.  Plan virtual visits to share meals, play music, dance, or continue book group discussions.

Remember, especially, that life sorts itself out.  As we remain faithful, present to what’s happening now without attaching to it, we discover simple joys in things as they are.  And as a new season unfolds, we can let the journey carry us to what’s next, trusting that this too shall pass.

© 2020 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved. – Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay

Feel the Hope

Sometime after the New Year 2015, I experienced divine discontent, that feeling which is part God-nudge, longing, and dissatisfaction.  All seemed well enough in my life, and yet something else called. 

In late February, while planning a church class, I wrote in my journal, “Start a blog.”  I hoped to create one, because my dearest friend already was writing her own. 

That spring, I saved snippets of my Sunday messages for rewrites.  That summer, I began publishing, hoping that I could reach others around the world who want to embrace their faith, grow in spiritual maturity, and navigate their life journeys with ease, grace, courage, and joy.

Hope keeps me going, driving my faith in myself, my knowledge, and my ability to keep learning and growing.  Even when my direction has seemed foggy, I trust that I’ll arrive where I need to be, when I need to be there.

Along the way, I’ve discovered that we block hope when we:

  • Attempt to order the Universe or employ the same old strategies, especially because that’s what’s always been done.
  • Say that something “should” work, though it hasn’t and still isn’t.
  • Lie or make excuses to hide the truth, whether from ourselves or others.
  • Believe the myths that we can be, do, and have it all, or that life is futile and will never get better.
  • Strive relentlessly to succeed, especially believing that we can’t rest until we complete a never-ending to do list.
  • Expect someone or something to change, especially when they show us repeatedly that they won’t.
  • Compete with and compare ourselves to others.
  • Try to do it all ourselves, because no one else can meet our standards and expectations. 
  • Live on social media and believe that’s real life.  Social media is like reality TV; much of it is staged.

In comparison, we feel and sustain hope when we:

  • Stop rehashing our problems and posting all our woes.
  • Give ourselves a reality check about what’s occurring so we can decide whether to stay, go, negotiate, adjust, or alter.
  • Trust the time we need to grow our savings, lose the weight, build the muscle, heal the wound, mend the fence, find the job, or meet our beloved. 
  • Take some action toward the goal every day, remembering that life often unfolds in small steps, rather than in grand advances.
  • Journal our progress and reflect on how far we’ve come.
  • Connect with faithful companions who encourage our dreams, celebrate our successes, and remind us of our worth.

Especially, hope is about our relationship with God.  So, we feel hope best when we see God in the midst of our lives, trusting that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28), no matter what’s occurring.  Then, we feel renewed faith in ourselves to go forward and we feel the hope of a bright future.

During the next few months, Faith for the Journey will be updated, with additional features besides the blog.  Please stay tuned.  I hope you’ll continue the journey with me.

© 2020 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved. — Image by invisiblepower from Pixabay.

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.