Into the Depths – Part 2

To live our true purpose and truly enjoy our lives, we must relinquish Tip-of-the-Iceberg/Second-Hand Living and venture into the depths.  This is what Jesus did and what he taught his first disciples.  (See Luke 5:3-11)

. . . Jesus . . . told Simon: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Teacher, we’ve worked all night but haven’t caught anything. Yet, if you say so, we’ll let down the nets.”   When they did, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to help them.  Then, they filled both boats, which began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’s knees, amazed at the amount of fish.  James and John, Simon’s partners, also were amazed.  Then Jesus said: “Do not fear; from now on you will catch people [i.e., serve others].”  When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Truly, Simon Peter, James and John witnessed the power within the depths.  As these former fishermen worked with Jesus, as both students and teachers, they discovered true abundance in their purpose.  Not only did they have literal food to nourish themselves and others, but spiritual food as well.

The same is true for us.  When we tune into God, cast our nets wide in the depths, and listen to our own still, small voice, we’re free to live our purpose.  We discover that this purpose nourishes us – and others also.  Even if we haven’t discovered our exact purpose yet, we can remain faithful.  We can hear our still, small voice, calling us to a new course or greater depths.

These practical steps make navigating the depths easier:

  • Pray and meditate in silence daily.
  • Journal, doodle or sketch your random feelings and thoughts. When you do, ask yourself: “What treasures am I seeking in the depths?” Then be still and listen to what you discover.
  • Connect with one trusted individual, specifically trained to listen to you, so you can hear yourself.
  • Consider which people, living and/or deceased, you most admire. When you consider how they live(d) their life purpose, note how their journey is inspiring yours.
  • Notice the ebb and flow of your energy during the day, noting which things you do that “should” be done, especially if they drain you and keep you in the shallows.
  • Notice when you watch the clock and when you lose all sense of time, having fun, absorbed in joy. When we’re absorbed in joy, we’re either living our purpose or we’re very close to it.
  • Notice what tugs at your heart strings and brings you to tears. That’s your heart opening, so your still, small voice can speak.  Be still and listen.

Remember: All the faith we need to live our purpose and love our lives is already within us.  In the depths, we feel it fully.  Then we know that wherever and however we are, God is.

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

Balance and Flow – Part 2

Flowing with life is a key to contentment, especially when priorities appear confusing.  Jesus explained this, in the brief story of “Mary and Martha” (Luke 10:38-42).

A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house.  She had a sister, Mary, who listened to Jesus teach.  But Martha was distracted with serving.  She said to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her to help me.”   Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you’re anxious and troubled about many things, but few things are necessary.  Mary has chosen the best portion, which will not be taken from her.”

Often, this story provokes an “Ooo,” as if to suggest that Mary is holier than Martha, or that serving is “bad.”  Or that if we ever feel anxious, we’re disconnected from God.  None of which is true.

Rather, it invites us to consider that Martha and Mary are aspects of ourselves and complements of one another.  Viewed from a Both/And perspective, they represent our hearts and minds, both equally important in our spiritual development and maturity.

Mary represents our receptive, heart-centered, being nature, which invites spiritual and emotional guidance by putting God first.  Martha represents our practical, mind-centered, doing nature, which maintains and manages our physical and mental well-being.

If our Mary nature becomes unbalanced, we may doubt ourselves and feel hopeless, lost or scattered.  Or we may become critical, telling others how they “should” feel.  If our Martha nature becomes unbalanced, we may feel impatient, sullen or worried.  We may give God directions and tell others how they “should” think.

So, the Both/And, “Ah-Ha,” of the story is that our hearts and minds are meant to harmonize: our hearts by being and our minds by doing.  Jesus encourages both.  He never says, “I choose only Mary to sit and listen.”

We also can balance our being and doing by taking some practical steps:

  • Set a spiritual schedule for daily prayer and meditation. Remember: God first; then everything else.
  • Set a worldly schedule which includes daily, weekly, monthly and annual self-care for our bodies, homes and vehicles so everything can to do its appointed task. Remember: Let’s not be so busy driving that we run out of gas.
  • Integrate times for rest, nourishment, play and work. Remember: We don’t get extra points for overdoing.  We just burn out.
  • Notice and acknowledge our myriad range of feelings and needs. Remember: Pretending that our feelings don’t matter or that we can sacrifice our needs isn’t spiritual.  It’s trying to be a robot, rather than a sacred spiritual being living an earthly existence.
  • Notice when and how we experience true contentment, even when we aren’t completely blissful. Remember: We can choose to feel as peaceful working as we can playing.

As we find our balance and continue our journeys, we also realize more of God’s presence and power, knowing that however and wherever we are, God is.

© 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.

Never Alone

Jesus was dead.  This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can follow.

Jesus was dead.  Everyone knew it.  Many of them heard his words, predicting his own demise.  Then they watched him die.  They didn’t want to believe their ears.  Then, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

Even when it’s foretold to us, we doubt the truth.  Especially if the truth is an ending.  In those moments, we may feel we’ve lost our faith.  As we stare into the abyss of the unknown, we may beseech God for comfort.  Often, we doubt God’s power within to guide us through whatever comes next, no matter what the cost.

Our eyes deceive us into believing appearances, rather than promises.  Few of us have the depth of Jesus’s faith: A trust in God so strong that God can deliver us from anything, even death.  Never mind that crucifixion is irreversible.  The only way out is through.  We forget, that with endings, also come beginnings.

Often, we love the joys of Christmas, but struggle with the death which is part of Easter.  Few of us enjoy the mourning process after a death, whether a literal one, or another type of loss or change.  Many of us crave the “And they lived happily ever after” part which comes before “The End.”

Still, something in the Easter story draws us in, because we want to believe in something greater than ourselves, a power and presence which rises up, and continues, even after death.  This is the Presence and Power of God, with us and within us, the Presence and Power I believe Jesus understood.

I’ve thought about this a lot recently, as I’ve been honored to officiate many memorials – including one for a dear friend – and to hold sacred space and trust with those who mourn.  I’ve heard heart-warming stories about each person, what they contributed to the world and who they loved.  At every memorial service, I remind the congregation that those who have died continue to live, because they live on, in us, in all which we are and continue to be, for as long as we live, also.  They’re with us and within us – even though we can’t see them.

This understanding, I believe, is part of the awe the Marys and the 11 Disciples felt when Jesus appeared to them.  When they lifted up their eyes, expanding their vision, they saw Jesus in all his glory.  Then, he gave them the Great Commission, telling them to go forth to share his story and teach his ways of living.  He didn’t want them to mourn or fear.  He left them with this assurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

On Easter, we also remember, Blessed Readers: We are never alone.

Happy Easter!

© 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.

Still Within

These days, with so many radar systems, channels and apps at hand, we can track changes in weather 24-7. Yet, with all that information, we still can’t control where the winds may blow or when the rains and snows may fall. Neither can we always predict the kinds of figurative storms which sometimes arise within us when we’re frightened, hurt, angry or confused.

Then there are the insidious storms, the kind we don’t notice at first, as they drip, drip, drip on us so long we believe they’re a “normal” part of life. These storms — sometimes called crowd or mass consciousness — are those which espouse that “Everyone says”; “All of us believe”; “They all think”; “We’re all doing.” When I became aware of these storms, I began to wonder: Which Everyone, All, They and We are these?

Of all the storms we encounter on our life journeys, these figurative storms can be more threatening to our lives — and more deadening to our spirits — than a category 4 hurricane. They also can be the most difficult to weather because getting through them usually requires a course correction. Sometimes, in the midst of an insidious storm, we need to change direction or leave the beaten path for the road less traveled.

By the time Jesus teaches about this (see Mark 4:35-41), his disciples already are astounded by his power. On their travels to bring the good news of God’s divine kingdom to all who will listen, they get into a boat to go “to the other side.” Although they “leave the crowds behind,” they notice that other boats are with them, which reminds us that even when we choose to leave the crowds behind, we discover fellow travelers on the way.

During their journey, a great windstorm arises. Waves beat against the boat. Yet, Jesus sleeps comfortably until the disciples wake him and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing?”

Then he awakens, rebukes the wind, and says, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceases, and all is calm.

He turns to the disciples and asks, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Then they’re awed and ask one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

We may wonder: Did Jesus really stop the wind and sea? Perhaps. If we believe that Jesus acted like a mighty super hero, rather than a spiritual role model, maybe he did tell the wind and waves to be still — and they were. Though perhaps, when Jesus says, “Peace, be still,” the storm he really calmed was the fearful, worried one raging within the disciples as they journeyed in a new direction.

No matter what our life’s calling or which storms may rage around us, we too are assured: We have choices about how we’ll travel and how we’ll respond, no matter what everyone else says, believes, thinks, or does. As we center ourselves in stillness, with assurance and trust, we can continue faithfully on our way, leaving the crowds — and the storms — behind.

 

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

Enter: Divine Love

We’ve reached the time of the season, Blessed Reader, when I invite you to temporarily disconnect the literal part of your internal programming. This process is called Suspending Disbelief. While Santa Claus is already packing the sleigh, let us travel from the literal to the mystical, to a part of the story, (from the Gospel Writer called Luke, Chapter 1), which makes “uncommon sense.”

Enter: Divine Love: two women and an archangel. The first woman is Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah. She is pregnant – beyond the years of possibility, believing she’d never conceive – with a son to be named John, called the Baptizer. She’s six months along when Archangel Gabriel visits her cousin, a lovely young woman named Mary.

Mary lives in Nazareth, in Galilee. She’s engaged to Joseph, a young man of upstanding family, descended from the lineage of King David. Not only is Mary surprised at Gabriel’s appearance. She’s even more perplexed when the archangel says, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you. So, do not fear Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Mary nods and smiles, wondering what this means. Although she technically hasn’t had Joseph’s formal schooling in the synagogue, she knows: When an archangel appears, something awesome is about to happen.

Gabriel tells her not to fear, which often in biblical stories isn’t as much about feeling afraid, as about being overwhelmed by a sense of awe and wonder. In that awe, Mary hears Gabriel say that she’ll conceive, in an inexplicable way, and give birth to a son she’ll name Jesus. Gabriel assures her that Jesus will receive the throne of his ancestor David and his kingdom will be called great.

Through Archangel Gabriel, the Luke Writer also shares something else significant for Mary – and for us. This Gospel writer intends his message to be for all people. So everyone will know: God blesses Mary – and by extension all of us – with unconditional, divine love, infinite compassion, and everlasting grace because that is God’s nature. God’s beneficence is a priceless gift we all receive. It’s always ours, even when we don’t completely understand it – which is often when we feel the awe.

Divine love is an immutable Law of Being. Despite what we sometimes believe, divine love isn’t a power outside ourselves. The only place where divine love truly exists is within our own hearts. When we’re fully illumined in divine love, we can heal ourselves, resolve our challenges, and possibly heal others also.

This is why Elizabeth and Mary choose – with faith and trust – to embrace divine love, even in the incomprehensible awe, without knowing how the rest of the journey would unfold. Within that awe, where she willingly suspends disbelief, Mary embraces divine love and prepares herself to give it to her unborn child. Although she doesn’t fully understand, she believes, as Archangel Gabriel says: “. . . Nothing will be impossible with God.”

So it is for us. And divine love awaits, to be born, with us and within us. It illumines our souls and, as we go forth faithfully, our world.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Let Your Light So Shine

As I enjoy my first autumn in North Central Florida, I notice the various ways the sunlight shines into the house and when. In this season before we return the clocks to Standard Time, sunlight creeps into the bedroom a little later in the morning and casts sharper angles into the living room in the evening. The sun glows in a pale, blue sky with fluffier clouds than it did in the sticky summer humidity as it sets across the neighborhood pond.

When I was a little girl, before I knew about hemispheres and Greenwich Mean Time, I thought the light went out when it disappeared and I could no longer see it. I imagined that somehow it needed to be turned on, re-created anew every morning, to depart all over again at night.

Sometimes, I think that’s how it is for us, also. We mistakenly believe that we need to create our light. We forget that we’re already bright, shining lights because no one ever told us that we are divine creations of God, an infinitely compassionate, unconditionally loving creator. And maybe no one ever told us, as Jesus the Christ told his followers, according to the Gospel Writer called Matthew in “The Sermon on the Mount”: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Jesus also tells his followers that they, and we in turn, are to let our light so shine before others, so they may see the glory of God we are.

How much differently might we choose to live if we truly believed that we are a light of the world? What would it take for us to shine the light within us? The truth is, each of us is a light in this world. And we don’t need to search anywhere outside ourselves for this light; it isn’t something we have to create. It’s what we are and we’re born with all we need.

What Jesus reminded his followers, and we can remember also, is to shine our light as the divine expressions of God we are. We do this by faithfully and courageously sharing our unique character and passion for life. We’re not meant to hide our lights under baskets because our light represents our greatest physical, mental, emotional and spiritual gifts. Our light reflects all the energy, creativity, love and joy within us.

And while some people may want to stamp out our light or put a lampshade over our heads, that’s about them, not about us. To anyone who doesn’t want to see our light, I say, “Then put on your sunglasses.” The good news is, we don’t actually have to create the light.   Instead we shine the light we are, radiating as vibrantly as the brightest star in the night sky, as gloriously as the noon day sun.

Pour Out a Blessing

I don’t know how it’s been in your life, Blessed Reader, but on occasion, I’ve been very tough on myself. Not only have I been embarrassed, upset or in pain, I’ve also gotten down on myself, especially in reliving distressing moments, wishing I’d done something else or chosen differently. I’ve even condemned myself.

In these moments, I’ve forgotten the power of prayer, especially the ancient belief which held that if something were blessed, it became a priceless gift. Especially because once it was blessed, it held great power for transformation.

Pouring out a blessing is its own spiritual practice. It means we may glorify through spoken word; request divine favor for a situation or condition; or wish a person or situation well. Blessing is different from gratitude. So, when we bless something or someone, we don’t need to be thankful for it. We don’t need to like it. Neither are we condoning or endorsing unethical, immoral or unscrupulous behavior – however we or the law define it. Rather, when we offer a blessing, we step out in faith and trust, opening ourselves to transformation.

When we bless something, we do what Jesus taught, according to the Gospel Writer called John (7:24), when he said, “Judge not by appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.” Because, when we live faithfully, we also realize, it’s as easy to bless as it is to condemn and judge. Yet, when we condemn and judge, we actually intensify the unpleasant, uncomfortable situation bothering us. We actually hold on tighter, rather than letting go.

Remember, as much as we might wish we could, we can’t go back in our time machines for a do-over. So, rather than continually condemning ourselves, a situation, person or condition, we bless it. Rather than trying to correct it or fix it of our human selves, on our human schedule, we bless it. Without judgments of right/wrong, good/bad, yes/no, should/shouldn’t.

The truth is: The God of Jesus and the mystics isn’t giving us more or less than we can handle. Despite what some religious folk may say, no devil leads us down paths of destruction or temptation. Nor does God dispense situations, circumstances, challenges and disease to test, punish, pester, or challenge us. Those are a part of life, what it means to have free will and free choice, and to live in this awesome world, which sometimes does not move the way we’d most enjoy.

The truth is: Blessing something or someone doesn’t change the past. It changes us. Because living faithfully, trusting in God’s expansive grace means we also realize: We can’t out bless God. This is what Jesus and the mystics mean when they speak of knowing that God is ever-present and active in their lives.

So, the God of scripture, Jesus and the mystics seeks our blessing, not because God needs it, but because we do. So we transform our thinking and our lives.