No Monuments Required

Those of us who preach regularly have our own process for discerning what texts to discuss and/or themes to cover, and which concerns need our attention.  Weeks before events unfolded in Charlottesville, Va., I chose a portion of Acts 17 to describe how we as God’s divine creations are called to transform our lives and our world.

In that 1st century passage, Disciple Paul addresses an Athenian council, noting both its religiosity and its shrines.  He reminds the council that God is Supreme Creator of all being and things.  He declares that the council’s purpose isn’t to create idols, erect statues or build churches.  Rather, its purpose is to seek and align with God, for God is never far away.

And perhaps, more important, he says:

In God we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, “We are God’s offspring.” And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed from gold or silver or stone.

According to Paul, then, we need only follow God.  He reminds the council — and us — that no amount of statues, monuments, or edifices can prove our love for God or make God love us anymore since we already are loved unconditionally, with infinite compassion.  Yet, 2,000 years later, we seem to have learned little of this truth.  Despite all our so-called advances, some of us have made no progress.

Our spirituality is misdirected when we choose to follow other people, places and things first, when we make idols of possessions, positions, statues and structures, all of which fall apart.  Rather than build our lives on the inherent wisdom, wonder and worth within us because we all are God’s divine creations — no matter where we live, how we look or who we love — we build ourselves and our lives on the backs of others, so our egos feel better and our pride can lick its wounds.

Some of us have been taught that we’re meant to claim our supremacy and make ourselves more powerful at another’s expense.  Some of us never learned, despite all the spiritual masters and ancient wisdom at our fingertips, that the radiant Presence of God we are, here in this world right now, is our greatest power.  And that we’re most powerful when we live from the authenticity and depth of this presence, our divinity.

What harmony and peace we will have when we remember that there is only one supreme power in the world and in our lives, that each one of us is created by it, and we all are one before it.  Maybe now, 2,000 years later, we can do as Disciple Paul advised: Live and know who we are and whose we are, all of us, everyone, no monuments required.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Better With Prayer

The spiritual life offers copious instructions on prayer.  We’re told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16), to give thanks as we pray (John 11:42), to ask and we shall receive (Matthew 7:7), and to trust because God already knows what we want (Luke 12).

Yet, sometimes we believe that we’re too busy to pray, or that if God already knows what we need, there’s no reason to bother.  Sometimes we don’t believe in the prayer process, or worse, we don’t believe that we truly deserve our heart’s desires.  And sometimes, when life is swirling around us or a circumstance appears dire, we may doubt that God remembers us.  We think that God needs reminding, not only of what we want, but also that we’re here.

This is exactly when we need the reminder: Prayer does not change God.  Prayer changes us.  Prayer reminds us:

  • We are God’s beloved creations.
  • God’s unconditional love and infinite compassion continually enfold us.
  • God’s ever-abiding grace is always available, the moment we choose to align with life.
  • Wherever two or more are gathered (Matthew 18:20), we share in feeling God’s presence both with us and within us.

I experienced all this earlier in the summer during a doctor visit to determine the cause of a persistent cough (later diagnosed as a bronchial infection).  The nurse who assisted me had the gentle, warm demeanor of one who’s offered loving service for many years.  As she gathered all the necessary information, the conversation turned to my work.  And, as sometimes happens when I say what I do, she expressed awe about my calling, as if I am somehow closer to God than she is.

As the appointment ended, she tensed, staring at the ground.  Then she looked up and asked, “Would you pray for my mother and me?  She’s been ill, and I need to move her to assisted living.”

I said I would.  Then I asked, “Would you like to pray together right now?”

She exhaled a deep, “Yes,” her shoulders slumping toward me as I took her hands in mine.  Then we prayed, as I spoke words of assurance for her mother’s healing and ease in the moving process, as well as for their peace of mind.

When we concluded, she thanked me and squeezed my hands.

I reminded her of God’s love and said, “I hope the prayer helps you feel better.”

She hugged me quickly and brushed away a tear.  “It does,” she smiled. “You feel better, too.”

And, despite the cough, I did feel better.  Even more, I felt grateful for another moment of divine connection, remembering that anytime, anywhere, we can feel and behold God in everyone and in everything.  Then, we can choose our next best steps as the journey continues.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Faith All Around

When something annoying, aggravating, confounding, distressing or upsetting occurs in our lives, we can choose to remain unhappy in the situation.  Or, as former Daily Word Editor Martha Smock advises, we can choose to meet it with faith.

Martha encourages us to “overcome unhappiness” by looking “past what seems to be.”  This means that we choose to see beyond the outer appearance of the person, place, situation, or thing which we’ve allowed to annoy, aggravate, confound, distress, or upset us.  This is similar to Jesus saying, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” (John 7:24 NLT).

As we go beneath the surface, as we turn to God’s Presence within us, we remember, as Martha says: “Nothing can separate you from God’s love, nothing can cast you down, nothing is greater than God’s power in you, with you, all about you.”  By choosing to meet life with faith, “cares slip away, and joy, the joy of Spirit rises up in you.”

“The often surprising result of holding to faith is the great welling up of faith you feel within you,” Martha says.  “Where before you thought you had faith, when you really take your stand and declare, ‘I have faith in God as the one presence and the one power, the one life, the one healer,’ there is an answering response within you.  It is as though God says within you: ‘I am here.  I am your life.  I am your being.  I am your all.’  You feel a new faith, stronger, more certain than any you have known before.  And with this faith comes healing” in every aspect of our lives.

When we meet life with faith, we remember the truth which Jesus declares: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 ESV).

Finding Our Way

Some people say that everyone is our teacher and every experience offers a lesson.  Perhaps, though it isn’t absolute.  No matter the teacher or experience, the wisdom we seek requires an inner journey.

I discovered this truth as a young executive in Washington, D.C. when I worked with Nancy, a company vice president with a Ph.D.  Initially, I thought her eccentric.  While I, and many other women, wore crisp skirt suits and sensible pumps, she wore flowing skirts and ballet flats.  Her desk held a cascade of files, some a foot high.  Her bookshelf overflowed with volumes of scholarship she could grab at a moment’s notice.  She didn’t believe in time management and was the first person I remember discussing how to manage one’s energy.  A sign on her wall read: “A messy office is the sign of a clear mind.”  And what a mind.  When she spoke in meetings, everyone listened, and her clients adored her.

One day, as I entered her office to borrow a file, I mentioned my frustration with another V.P., who always said, “No.  This is the way we do it.”  All of the junior staff knew that it was her way or the highway.  As Nancy handed me a file, I blurted, “I can’t figure out how to do it her way.”

Nancy looked me full in the face and said, “Then do it your way.”

I think my jaw dropped because Nancy pointed to a chair, walked to her door, closed it, and asked me to explain the project.  She never gave me specific advice, though she asked several direct questions which invited me to consider my own inner wisdom.  She encouraged me to honor my still, small voice, in a place where few people discussed discernment and intuition.

Nancy and I stayed friends for the rest of her life.   I learned that she had been a modern dance instructor and painted in her spare time.  She admitted that she had some of her clearest insights while she dabbled with paint.  She encouraged me to keep practicing ballet and to return to writing.  She continually reminded me that I would always know my own way, if I invested the time in listening to myself first.

Recently, I had a spiritual conference with a congregant who lamented not being able to follow someone else’s way.

I looked at a small pile of folders on my desk and thought of Nancy.  “Then what if you did it your way?” I asked.

“Can I?” the congregant wondered.

“Of course,” I encouraged.  “You already know the way.”

And so, Blessed Reader, do you.  No matter how or where you’re traveling now, remember this spiritual truth: The power, presence, wisdom and wonder of God are both with us and within us.  And when we turn within first, we also find our way.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Let it Roll

Sometimes life sends us drifting out to sea.  Like an experience I had one summer at the New Jersey shore.

I was swimming in the ocean with my friends, riding waves.  I lost track of time.  First one wave knocked into me.  Then another.  I noticed dark clouds overhead.  I heard a lifeguard’s whistle, and when I looked for my friends, I couldn’t see them.

Then a larger wave loomed and, too late, I realized I couldn’t jump it.  It hit me full in the face.  When I looked at the shore, I was further adrift than before.  Again, I heard the lifeguard whistle, like a beacon, calling me home, though I didn’t know how to get there.

I felt terrified, especially when a giant wave approached.  Then, instinctively, I sank into it.  As I relaxed, I remembered that the wave was stronger than I was.  So I didn’t fight it.  For at least a minute I tumbled around, and my senses heightened.  I saw green, grey swirls.  I tasted fishy, salty water which warmed my skin.  I heard the surf roaring in my ears.

When I surfaced again, I was nearer to the shoreline than if I’d attempted to swim there myself.  I rode two more waves and walked out of the ocean.

Sometimes our lives get choppy and we find ourselves in dangerous waters.  We try to leap waves of conflicts, emotions, or stresses which appear insurmountable.  We don’t have enough money to pay our bills.  An illness isn’t healing.  We struggle in recovery from an addiction, abuse or trauma.  We’re seeking work, or the work we have to do is uninspiring and unfulfilling.  Our closest relationship may be crumbling or a loved one has died.  When we follow the news or social media, we either want to pull the covers over our heads and stay home forever, or we want to take on the entire world, so we can “right” every “wrong.”

Yet, instead of trying to overcome a giant wave, we can choose to let it roll by:

  • Sitting an extra hour in prayer and meditation, and breathing deeply.
  • Cooking our favorite meal, reading our favorite scripture, chanting our favorite song, and/or watching our favorite comedy.
  • Coloring, drawing or painting.
  • Completing a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Walking at a beach, garden, lakefront or park or doing other exercise.
  • Luxuriating in a warm bubble bath or hot tub.
  • Getting a facial, massage, acupuncture or Reiki.

Remember: When we choose to let life roll for a while, we actually return to our true selves and rediscover what we value most.  We also invariably find that life is calmer, not necessarily because the situation has changed, but because we have.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Door to the Soul

Few of us are free of the strictures of time.  We have appointments, deadlines, places to be, people to see, things to do.  Sometimes we believe that our success lies in checking another obligation off our to-do list.  Despite ourselves, especially when we want a desired outcome revealed immediately, we watch clocks, check our phones, peruse our calendars, tap our feet or drum our fingers if we have to wait longer than we like.  Sometimes we experience this angst within our bodies, as headache, stomachache, backache, neck twinge, muscle cramps or shortness of breath.  Other times we push or press for immediate results as our inner spiritual child jumps around asking: “Are we there yet?”

This pushing, prodding, forcing, demanding behavior, which we believe will reveal quicker results, actually blocks our way and slows our life journey.  Instead of continuing to go deep within, through our contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection practice, we keep checking our phones and calendars, looking for the outer results we demand.

Master spiritual teacher Emmet Fox (“The Door That Opens In,” © 1937) explains why our efforts to steer the universe are futile:

The door of the soul opens inward.  That is often the reason we do not make our demonstration.  We assume that it opens outward and we press and push against it as hard as we possibly can, seemingly oblivious of the fact that we are really but closing it all the more firmly against our good.

To work in this way is really to use will power . . . .  It is simply trying to overcome by human effort and leaving God out.

Human nature is very prone to push blindly when frightened or frustrated. . . .  Prayer, however, is essentially the refusal to be rushed by panic or by the existing current of things.  In prayer, you must draw back from the outer picture, cease to press against events, and realize the Presence of God.  The door of the soul opens inward.

Whatever is occurring in your life now, Blessed Reader, step back, release, put down the phone, let go of the struggle.  Choose to open the door of your soul to place your faith and trust in God’s ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.  Choose to turn inward first, before doing anything else, to connect with yourself and God’s presence within you.  Nothing on any calendar, phone or to-do list matters more.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Our Championship Call

In this season of graduations and ordinations, the Women’s College World Series, French Open, Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Playoffs, I remember that once I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer.  I belonged to an aquatic club, and trained with an Olympian.  I swan thousands of miles.  I competed at bunches of swim meets.  Once, I earned a blue ribbon in a state competition.

I continued training and swimming, at great cost.  My shiny brunette waves faded to green frizz.  I battled recurrent sinus infections, ear aches and itchy, dry skin more than opponents in the pool.  No matter how much I trained, I couldn’t keep pace.  I realized that I’d never be as good as the Olympic hopefuls.  And, as I watched a classmate win medal after medal, with tremendous strength and ease, I realized something greater: I wasn’t willing to train harder.  Swimming for Olympic gold was her calling, not mine.

Each of us has a divine call, to be a champion, to do something which truly blesses our world.  This call, whatever it may be, allows us to express the essence of who we are as divine creations of God, source of ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.

And this grace, which some believe we must earn, is always free, always available, as soon as we decide to release the suffering, struggle and strife of trying to be someone we are not.  When we spiritually, if not physically, lay down, as Jesus urged (Matthew 11:28), the burdens we thought we were “supposed” to carry, and align ourselves with God.

Our championship call, no matter who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done or who we love, is to express our divinity, to radiate it far and wide, as Jesus did, so God’s divine works can be declared through us, as us.

Our championship call is to remove the bushel basket hiding our light (Matthew 5:15) and to shake the dust of what no longer serves us off our feet (Matthew 10:14), so we can succeed in far greater ways than we first imagined.  No competitions or contests required.

As we grow in spiritual maturity, we realize: We can’t be it all, do it all or have it all.  We also realize: That isn’t our call.   And as we align with God — and God’s will, which is always for our highest and best — our intuitive sense grows stronger and our still, small voice clearer.  We discern what is ours to do and what is not.  We discover rewards at each destination.  We rejoice in the beauty and wonder of our journey and the blessings of those who travel with us, for however long.  We cheer, with admiration, appreciation and love, for those who finish first, as well as those who finish last, because we behold the presence of God they are, always the mark of a true champion.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

A Way to Peace

No matter what is occurring in the world or in our lives, we can choose to be peaceful, to be the peace we seek.  To achieve this, we would do well to invest in personal times of stillness and silence.  These times of contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection are gifts of peace we give, first to ourselves, then to others.

Emmet Fox (“Your Daily Visit with God,” © 1952), reminds us:

“We all know that . . . God alone . . . is our peace — although nearly all of us tend to forget it from time to time.  We forget it when we begin to neglect our daily visit with God.  Now, when you think that you are too busy for your daily visit . . . what wonderful thing are you doing that is more important?  There is nothing that you could possibly do with that time which would bring you greater benefit than perfect peace.  As a matter of fact, if you have something very important and urgent to do, your visit will make that very important thing go through much more easily and successfully.”

Growing All The Time

Sometimes, as we take the first small steps forward, plant the first seeds of change into our lives, we wonder whether we’re getting anywhere or accomplishing anything.  We know that we’re “supposed” to grow; yet when we seek signs outside ourselves, the landscape still appears barren.

I believe that Jesus understood our continual desire to both plant and grow.  In the “Parable of the Growing Seed” [Mark 4:26-29], which some Bible scholars believe is an Earth parable, Jesus explains:

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he[/she] does not know how.  Earth produces of itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  And when the grain is ripe, at once he[/she] goes in with a sickle, because the harvest has come.

As appropriate for his 1st century agrarian culture, Jesus uses the analogy of seeds and Earth to reveal how transformation occurs, within the Earth — and — within us.  He reminds us that once we choose to plant, we also choose to trust that our harvest will unfold before us, little by little, one step at a time.

Our understanding and acceptance of this is tremendously liberating as we remember: Seeds produce as is their nature — and so do we.  We are divinely created by God, Divine Creator of all things, to grow and thrive.  And when we remember that we can grow all the time, we also can choose to rise above and grow beyond daunting challenges.

The humblest farmers admit that they don’t completely understand how crops grow, although they understand their role: They nurture growth; they don’t force it.  This awareness reminds us to remain faithful throughout the process, whatever our process is, and trust in divine outcome, especially if we want to steer the whole Universe to make something happen before its time.

It also reminds us that crops grow in their time, which isn’t always ours.  Because the truth is: It isn’t our job to know how, when or where. That’s God’s job.  So on the way, we do what we can:

  • Basking in the sunshine and/or resting in the moon glow of prayer, meditation, reflection and contemplation.
  • Nourishing ourselves with healthy foods and yummy treats; a peaceful night’s rest; enjoyable exercise; fun, laughter and play.
  • Watering with encouraging words and loving deeds from those who most appreciate, honor, support and value our growth process.
  • Nurturing with gratitude for each day’s blessings.
  • Rejoicing in even the smallest sprouts and tiniest buds.

As we continue on our way, we begin to notice the depths of our innate faith, strength and wisdom.  Then we discover how perfectly our road is unfolding before us, as we allow God’s divine power and presence to lead the way.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Trust God’s Will

Staying faithful requires that we release preconceived notions about how our lives “should” unfold.  It also requires that we cease giving God directions and follow the directions and guidance always available to us.

In their life-transforming work The Quest: A Journey of Spiritual Rediscovery (© 1993, 2001), Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla, former directors of Silent Unity, ask:

“Why do we insist on having things our way, when God’s way is so much better?”     (p. 141)

Here are a few of their thoughts about God’s Will:

“. . . God’s will for you comes more as a never-changing murmur that laps gently upon your consciousness like ripples on the shore of a peaceful lake.  God speaks to you in a still, small voice like the tapping of a conductor’s baton.  It is a gentle tapping, a sweet nudging in the direction of your good.

“You will never know God’s will by intellectualizing and conjecturing what that will is.  God doesn’t speak in words.  God speaks to you in feelings, in dreams, in intuitive perceptions, through the words of others, through the love of others, in an inspiring story, in a beautiful scene, in the gaze of a loved one, in the face of a child, and in dozens of other gentle ways.  You cannot know God’s will intellectually.  Only be becoming aware of life, of living . . . can you hear it.” (p. 142)

As we allow ourselves to become aware of the life around us, we hear God’s Presence in new and wonderful ways.  Then, we begin to feel ourselves guided in the best directions for us.