Developing Spiritual Strength

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

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

Our quality of spiritual strength includes our ability to:

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

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

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

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

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

Whose Rules? – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whose Rules? – Part 1

Many years ago, I saw a poster which began: “With all your heart, say out loud, I want to live a happy life.  Listen to what you just said.”  I read each subsequent phrase to the end, which said: “Take chances.  Be real.”   Then, I cried.

In that moment, I knew.  Those colorfully designed phrases arranged by artist Julie Evans heralded the end of an old life.  My heart was calling me to something else, including the journey to follow something called Rules for Life.

I know many people bristle at the word rules.  They’re frightening because they might constrain us.  Yet, they’re also liberating.  Consider the expression: “When we know the rules, we’re free to live within them.”

When we know our own Rules for Life – the kind Jesus and all other spiritual masters and mystics lived by – we’re free to be our authentic, divine selves.  These rules are usually counter-cultural, because they put us and our relationship with God before anything else.  Ideally, they help us travel a continuously expansive, rich, joyful, fulfilling faith journey.   They invite us to go deep, as Jesus and all mystical masters have done before us.  So, we remember our divinity and our true calling.

Our rules keep us from chasing other people’s dreams, living by unattainable standards, saying things we don’t mean or believe, and buying things we don’t want.  Our rules inspire our authenticity, so we don’t live a lie.

That’s why I believe it’s important to remember that resurrection isn’t a one-time event.  And why some of us travel the faith-filled journey called Eastertide, the 50 days which led from Jesus’s resurrection to Pentecost, when his disciples and followers went forth — deeply grounded in spiritual power — to live their sacred calls.

This part of the journey invites us to choose which rules truly support us in growing more emotionally healthy and spiritually mature.  Slowly, step by step, we can do the inner work which nurtures the divinity we are.  So we live and express the truth of our being.

The process for determining which rules are ours is powerful — and sometimes painful.  As we journey, we discover that we have some flaws, just as the silkiest tapestries, finest crystals and rarest diamonds do.

Sometimes, the flaws show.  So, establishing our own rules requires tremendous faith and courage.  It also means we stop wasting our precious personal power pretending to fit in or make do with a life which saps our energy and stifles our creativity.  As the saying goes, We “get real!”

In Part 2, some practical steps we can take to be real and establish our own rules for life.

 

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

Say What?

Remember the old playground chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?  Some of us said this in reply to a taunt or tease we didn’t want to allow into our minds.  Sometimes we shouted it, as if the volume could drown the violent language meant to cut us down, rather than build us up.

I thought about this recently when I heard third-hand that someone was talking about me, though not to me, about something they believed I did.  For a while, I felt bad, wondering what was going on with them (whoever “they” are) that they chose not to speak to me directly.  I scoured my brain to imagine what I might have done, or didn’t do, to incur their disapproval.

I know I’m not alone in this experience.  For no matter where we live or work, we encounter those who want to exert their power by belittling, degrading and denigrating, rather than encouraging, nurturing and supporting.  We know and feel the words – especially as a clenched gut or pounding heart.  It doesn’t matter whether they’re expressed in person or via phone, text, e-mail or social media.  They often begin as “You” statements, and no matter how they’re expressed, they’re a form of violence.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of the Center for Non-Violent [Compassionate] Communication, said: “While we may not consider the way we talk [or write] to be ‘violent,’ our words often lead to hurt and pain, whether for others or for ourselves.”  So, while the playground chant sounds fine in theory, it rarely rings true, because words can hurt much more than sticks or stones.

If we break a bone, we can rush to an Emergency Room for physical mending, but emotional healing in the Emergency Room for devastated spirits and broken hearts can be a slow, painful process.  Furthermore, the platitude not to take something personally may provide comfort later, though initially it spiritualizes away our true feelings and the pain the speaker doesn’t want to experience.

So, as we rise in faith, growing more emotionally healthy and spiritually mature, we discover: We get to choose our feelings — as well as our words.  Then, we begin to act, speak, think and write differently by using life-affirming vocabulary which includes abundance, compassion, ease, energy, fun, harmony, joy, laughter, love, mutuality, patience, peace, support, and trust.  We decide to nurture ourselves daily with silence, prayer and meditation.  We find ways to refresh and renew at the spiritual venue of our choice and/or with positive spiritual education.

Especially, we remember: We’re each Divine Creations of God, the One Divine Creator, Unconditionally Loving, Infinitely Compassionate, and our words reflect that awesome, powerful truth.

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

Spring Forward

This past Sunday, most of us in the United States turned our clocks forward. Some of us enjoy this change; others, not so much. Either way, in autumn, we’ll turn the clocks back. Yet, our forward motion isn’t predicated on the seasons; it’s predicated on our choices. Because as much as we might wish to turn back the hands of time, the only clocks we can turn back are the ones which we just set forward.

Our acceptance of this is also one of our greatest powers. It certainly was for me at a time in my life when I didn’t have the same spiritual understanding I have now. No matter which way I turned, every pathway I tried was filled with road blocks, dead ends, poison ivy or jagged cliffs. At one point I thought maybe I’d just give up and stay stuck. One night I even dreamt of standing barefoot in a circle of broken glass.

Then, I surrendered, turned to God in prayer, and dove deeper into my inner well of faith. As I continued my prayer practice, I dreamt one night of climbing a mountain (in waking life, I’d never climbed more than a small hill). As I put one foot in front of the other, I found that even though the altitude was high, I could breathe easily. And when I glanced behind me, the only things I could see were lush, green trees and bright, beautiful flowers. Then, I knew there was no going back. The only way out was to follow the pathway ahead. When I awoke, I took the first steps to transform my life and connect with all the people, places and things which would support me in that process.

No matter what has happened in my life since, I have held that image of the lush mountain landscape as a symbol of transformation. In my work as a pastor, I’ve been honored to witness many others transform their lives also as they’ve traveled their own unique paths.

Reflecting on that image of a lush landscape also allows us to turn the past into fertilizer – the wisdom of our own life experiences – to nurture new growth and transform ourselves and our circumstances. This is how we deepen our faith and expand our spiritual understanding, rather than our intellectual thinking and habitual doing.

Then, we discover, as we release our desire to know every fine detail, that we don’t need to know how or exactly where the path leads. We know that’s God’s job. Then, we stop trying to be who we were, so we can become who we truly are.

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

Grow Deep Roots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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