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.

In Sync

This is how it happens, how we discover that life is synchronicity.

If we’ve been doing our work, taking our (at least once) daily time for contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection, we’re synchronizing ourselves to the rhythm and flow of life.  We’re honing our spiritual senses, so our physical senses (hearing, scent, sight, taste, touch) are keener.

One week, this is how I felt it.  I acknowledge that I may have more practice than some, though I believe anyone can do this.

That week, I prepared a sermon based on Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4).  I enjoy this story’s mystical tone, and I read several versions, noting key words.  Especially, I contemplated the woman’s desire for living water, something which would quench her thirst for life, so she could enjoy herself and know the Presence of God, with her and within her.

At this time, I also prepared for one congregant’s memorial, while another congregant was removed from life support, his journey into eternal life imminent.  I reflected on how I knew these men and how each lived, both loving men of faith, generosity, good humor, integrity and wisdom who strove to embrace life’s joys and thrive despite illness and loss.

On Sunday morning, when I started the car, I realized that I’d left the radio on.  Ordinarily, I might have turned it off and driven to church in silence.  But “Dream On,” Aerosmith’s 1973 ballad, began to play, and I heard its prophecy:

The past is gone

It went by, like dusk to dawn

Isn’t that the way

Everybody’s got the dues in life to pay

I know nobody knows

Where it comes and where it goes. . . .

Live and learn from fools and

From sages

You know it’s true, oh

All these feelings come back to you . . . .

All the feelings: All we can learn on life’s journey, if we’re paying attention to both success and failure, whether ours or someone else’s.  And how like that woman at the well some are, sometimes indulging in or wasting time with activities, people, places, possessions, and/or substances which never completely satisfy our desire to thrive.

That feeling, the one which never leaves, is divine discontent.  It’s a striving or longing which we can’t articulate, a feeling deep inside which won’t depart until we acknowledge and embrace it, and allow it to reveal our dreams and heart’s desires.

That feeling is the call of Spirit, the Presence of God within us, longing to be expressed.  In every way, it continually calls us to synchronize ourselves with the world around us.  And no matter who we are, what we’ve done before, or where we’ve been, we can use the feeling to transform ourselves and our lives, so we can thrive in the fullness of life before this journey ends.

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

The Presence of Love

A meme winds its way around social media.  A black-and-white illustration reveals animals in a manger, surrounded by trees.  A lone star shines above.  The caption reads: “A nativity scene without Jews, Arabs, Africans or refugees.”

Perhaps it would be poignant, if it weren’t so cutting.  Perhaps it would be comical, if it weren’t so timely.

It reminds me of the ancient teaching from Deuteronomy (See 10:12-19) which invites reflection on how to express God’s love.   We’re instructed to:

. . . revere the Lord your God, to walk in all God’s ways, to love God, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep God’s commandments and decrees.

We’re urged to follow God’s laws.  And in so doing, to open our hearts, not only to God, but to all others, too.  The text continues:

Cut away, then, the barrier around your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer.

We’re urged to consider how our hearts may be hardened and whether we’re hanging onto an old prejudice we haven’t completely released.

We’re invited to remember:

God, mighty and awesome, executes justice for the orphan and widow, and loves strangers [also translated as immigrants], and provides them food and clothing. You also shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in a foreign land.

The truth is: At least once in our lives, we’ve all been strangers somewhere.  As we reflect on how powerful God’s unconditionally loving, infinitely compassionate presence is, we also can remember that once we felt hungry, tired, cold, hurt, lost, afraid or alone.

We also can remember that God’s loving presence appeared — in its own way — with skin on.  When we felt the presence of love in a blanket, a hug, a prayer, a phone call, gas money, a ride to the doctor, help getting up the ladder or down from the cliff.  When someone, sometimes a stranger, changed our flat tire in the rain, paid for our dinner, or gave us a gift we never could purchase ourselves.  With no strings attached.

These days, headlines would have us believe that it’s Us versus Them.  That we better steel ourselves with weapons, behind closed doors, because the world is a dangerous place.  If we believe some of the headlines, any stranger or immigrant in our midst could be a threat.  Though whoever the stranger is, s/he also is a divine child of God.

The child to be born in Bethlehem knew how to open his heart.  He studied God’s law.  He knew how to love unconditionally.  Sometimes, we may struggle to imagine how he did it, when we know the challenges and conflicts he faced.

Still, we can remember: The teachings don’t say we have to understand others.  Or like them.  They tell us to love.

The child to be born in Bethlehem, enfolded in love, will teach his followers (see Luke 10:27):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

Love like that isn’t for the faint-hearted.  Love like that takes all the heart we have.  And the presence of that love is the greatest gift we can give — no matter what the season.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Habari Gani, and Happy New Year, Blessed Readers.  Thank you for being with me on the journey.

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

In the Name of Peace

Advent, a season of preparation and reflection, continues with a focus on peace — within the world and within ourselves.  As we journey toward Christmas, we prepare for the birth of the Christ Presence and anticipate a peaceful future.

Perhaps we also notice: Sometimes, one person or event can inspire another.  As Jesus’s older cousin John the Baptist did when he traveled through the Judean wilderness, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was near (see Matthew 3:1-12: “Preparing the Way”).  He declared that another prophet would follow him, and he prepared the people by baptizing them in the River Jordan, offering physical and spiritual purification as they anticipated a new Heaven on Earth.

John, a bombastic, biblical “bad boy,” liked to challenge people and argue about how others chose to follow God’s law.  He concentrated more on the law’s letter than its spirit.  Mystically, John the Baptist can represent that part of us which wants to fight about what’s correct, rather than working to ensure peace.  John within us is a strong intellectual, though seldom a compassionate, peaceful presence.

During Advent, as we consider peace, we can choose whether we want to be more like John or like the one who’ll be called Prince of Peace.  Rather than blaming, finger-pointing and arguing with someone about who’s correct, we can choose to see the situation differently, change our behavior and transform our lives.  We can remember: People change only when they’re ready and some situations are out of our control.  So, we can choose whether we want to be “correct.” Or whether we want to be peaceful.

As we reflect on how the Prince of Peace will live, we may wonder how he remained steadfast and faithful in the face of harsh conflicts and challenges.  We may doubt that we ever could do as he did.  Though perhaps we can be inspired by a modern-day peaceful presence, Noble Peace Prize recipient and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, who survived in prison for 27 years, from 7 November 1962 to 11 February 1990, chose to focus on what he could transform — himself first.  He said:

. . . the first thing is to be honest with yourself.  You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.  . . . Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.

As we consider peace, we can remember that Mandela cherished the ideal of a harmonious, peaceful, democratic and free society with opportunities for all people.  When he was freed, he said:

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

And despite all he experienced, he also said:

I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.

A beautiful dream.  One, I pray, we hold for our nation, too.

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

Uncommon Faith

We’ve entered the season of Advent, a slow, quiet, dark time which prepares us for the birth — or awakening — of the Christ Presence.  Advent, from the Latin adventus, meaning arrival, invites us to prepare for a celebration unlike most others.  And, as with all celebrations, whether grand and glorious or simple and elegant, we can choose to take the calm, careful, diligent, faithful steps necessary to create a delightful experience for ourselves and any others sharing in the festivities.

As we prepare, we’re asked to believe in a divine outcome, to remain faithful that the celebration will be both wondrous and joyous, even when outer appearances suggest that the outcome will be anything but.  In the darkness of the season, we’re invited to look beyond appearances.  To know that in darkness there also is seeing.  To realize that as we adjust our sight, we also expand our vision.

In this season, perhaps more than others, we’re encouraged to remain faithful, even when we feel discouraged and doubtful.  We’re reminded to take another plunge into the depths of our inner well of faith, remembering that all the faith we ever need already is within us.

As we do, we can contemplate the words of Fred Gailey, the attorney who defends Kris Kringle in Valentine Davies’s delightful and uplifting holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street”:

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.

That kind of faith is uncommon in most people: To believe when our five physical senses and our worldly common sense says: “Can’t happen.  No way.  Impossible.”  The true faith, the faith of the one who will be born in a manger, is the kind of uncommon faith so many of us desire.  It is the deep, abiding faith which sees beyond appearances, seizes opportunities, embraces possibilities, plans glorious celebrations on a shoestring and anticipates divine outcome.

Uncommon faith knows and trusts that a magnificent future is unfolding, even without the coming attractions.  Uncommon faith relinquishes control and ceases giving God directions.  Uncommon faith does nothing without putting God first and knowing God as unconditional love, infinite compassion and ever-abiding grace.  Uncommon faith sees clearly in darkness.  Uncommon faith understands that God’s immense power and presence can transform even the smallest things, the most unlikely people, and the most hopeless circumstances.

Especially, during this season, uncommon faith remembers what God has done before and trusts in what God continues doing.  We already know how the story ends: a baby, a messenger of uncommon faith, peace, love and joy is to be born in a manger, surrounded by his parents, shepherds, wise folk, angels, and a shining star.

And, with wonder, awe and uncommon faith, we prepare for the celebration — and we believe.

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

Perhaps We’ll Listen

On a recent drive, somewhere along a lush tree-lined road where wildflowers bloom, I “lost” a big-city classic rock station.  As Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers faded away, I channel surfed for other music I’d enjoy.

Wherever I was at the time, nothing tuned in clearly for miles, until I heard Paul Simon singing, “Loves Me like a Rock.”  As I drove further, The Archies followed with “Sugar, Sugar.”  I couldn’t help singing along.

Then, Don McLean began his haunting, beautiful elegy, “Vincent,” one of my dad’s favorite popular songs.  In a moment, I was transported to a time in my childhood when Dad, an artist himself, tried to share some hard-earned wisdom.  Often, when he wanted me to pay attention, he would say: “Listen.  Your Daddy wants to tell you something.”  When I did, I discovered abundant treasures in his insights.  Sometimes, they saved me from going down roads of pain and heartache.

I like to imagine that all the biblical prophets and the wayshower, Jesus, wanted to do the same.  They hoped to share their profound message of God’s unconditional love, infinite compassion and ever-abiding grace, as well as their worldly experience with the people of their time — and by extension, the rest of us now — just as Vincent Van Gogh attempted to share the beauty and wonder he saw in God’s magnificent world.  As some art historians note, Van Gogh believed his first calling was to preach the word of God.

Perhaps this is why McLean’s lyrics tug at our heart strings as much as Van Gogh’s starry night, sunflowers and wheat fields do.

Now I understand, what you tried to say to me

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free.

They did not listen; they did not know how.

Perhaps they’ll listen . . . now. . . .

For they could not love you, but still, your love was true.

Perhaps some did listen.  Though sometimes, we don’t want to listen.  Or can’t.  Not necessarily because we don’t know how, but because listening takes a lot of faith, patience and spiritual strength.  Because sometimes, listening hurts.  We don’t want to know what we’re being told.  We don’t want to experience our own pain, let alone someone else’s.

If we listen, we believe, we might have to do something.  Or worse, we might not be able to do anything.  Except be present.  To an elder’s wisdom.  To a friend’s deep, dark secret.  To yet another family story.  To an outpouring of emotion we don’t understand.  All of it shared in love – even when we can’t listen.

Few people understood Van Gogh’s gift in his lifetime, though now he is one of our most revered artists.  Few people understood the wisdom and love Jesus and all the prophets attempted to share, though we still endeavor to live as they advised.

Perhaps, no matter what road we’re traveling now, we’ll stop — and take some time to listen.

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

Pick Up Your Mat

Having faith in God — and in ourselves — can be a continual challenge.  Travelling faithfully requires that we flow with life, guided by our inner vision even as we heed activity in the outer world.

No matter what may occur in our lives, faith in God and God’s power and presence within us always leads the way.  Though sometimes, we get it backwards.  As in the story of the man Jesus meets at the pool of Bethesda {See John 5:1-9}.

At the pool, many ill people — blind, crippled, paralyzed — wait for an Angel of the Lord to stir the water at certain seasons.  Those who step into the water are healed.  One man, an invalid, has waited by the pool for 38 years (mystically, 38 can represent spiritual discernment).

When Jesus sees the man waiting, he asks: “Do you want to get well?”

At this point, the man doesn’t know who Jesus is.  He replies: “Sir, I have no one to help me into pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get in, someone else goes ahead of me.”

Then Jesus says to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once, the man is cured; he picks up his mat and walks.  Because he hears Jesus tell him that he can!

Sometimes we need to wait for assistance.  And sometimes we need to lift ourselves up and move, of our own accord.  Even when we’ve been previously blinded by anger, crippled by shame or paralyzed by fear.

Sometimes we wait for someone else to “heal” us, never realizing all the while, that we have the power within us to heal whatever needs healing.  For days, weeks, months, even years, some of us have held false beliefs — in our hearts — that we are somehow broken or unworthy.  We’ve erroneously believed that a power outside of us would one day come along and change our circumstances, instead of understanding that we have all the inner power we need to rise and walk.

When we choose to pick up ourselves and our “mats,” whatever they may be, we align ourselves with God and allow an Angel of the Lord, sometimes called Holy Spirit, room to move.  Without Holy Spirit, we labor, struggle and limit ourselves and others — even though the power and presence of God with us and within us is limitless.  Yet, with Holy Spirit — the thing which stirs the water, our inner well of faith — we’re healed in whatever way we need healing most.

The Truth is: We always have the power to discern whether we want to wait by the pool, attempt to get in the water, or pick ourselves up and move in another direction.  We always have more strategies than we first imagine.  At any moment, we can pick up our mats and walk — as soon as we’re ready to believe that we can.

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

“Not to Worry”

Recently, a well-intentioned person, who I believe meant to be empathetic, said to me, “I’m sure you’re worried about this.”  Alas, the person misunderstood.  I wasn’t worried.  Rather, I felt overwhelmed and tired.  And, I also felt a sense of trust, especially in God and Divine Outcome.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Worry is so self-defeating.  It’s one of the things which can bring our life’s journey to a screeching halt because it discombobulates our vision and imagination — our inner, creative compass.  Worry also zaps our spiritual strength, catching us in vicious cycles of more worry.  It raises our blood pressure, taxes our brains and strains our bodies.  Literally, we can tie ourselves up in knots with worry.  Furthermore, worry limits our ability to discern what’s ours to do and the best ways to do it.

Jesus offered divine life wisdom when he said in the passage sometimes called “Free from Anxiety” or “How Not to Worry” (Luke 12:22-32):

“. . . Do not worry . . . . Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? . . . .  Instead, seek God’s Kingdom . . . and do not fear . . . for God is pleased to give you the Kingdom.”

Because this can be easier said than done, here are some other, practical ways to release worry:

  • Limit your daily intake of news.
  • Discern how you’ll set schedules which work best for you. Once they’re set, stick to them.  These include time to:
    • pay bills, plan budgets and manage finances.
    • eat, exercise, play and rest, including going on vacations and spiritual retreats.
    • check social media, e-mail, texts, and phone messages.
  • Stop these activities an hour before bedtime so you can unwind and relax. Then, don’t resume them until an hour after you awaken.  Either time is fabulous for prayer and meditation.
  • If you still awaken in the middle of the night and can’t return to sleep:
    • Get up and stretch.
    • Contact Silent Unity (1-800-669-7729; silentunity.org) for prayer.
    • Play gentle, meditative music. Breathe deeply.
    • Sip warm milk with honey.
    • Journal, draw, paint or color.
  • Avoid the “worry traps” of comparison tripping and memory loops, as well as the “spiritual indigestion” of over-learning, over-studying, and/or over-following.
  • Call your BFF for a reality check, especially in times of stress or illness.
  • Collect favorite affirmations, blessings, compliments, cards and photos which remind you how much you’re loved, valued and appreciated.
  • Remember two sacred truths:
    • Sometimes, what we see is a highlight reel. Everyone faces loss and difficulties.
    • Part of transformation is moving on from what once fulfilled us, but no longer does.

Above all, trust in God and the wisdom within you.  For as Jesus reminded us: God is our Abundant Source, Eternal Grace, Infinite Compassion, and Unconditional Love, always.

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

Courageous, Strong and Free

This week, if she were still alive, my grandmother would have celebrated her 112th birthday, or her 115th, or possibly her 120th.  The truth is: No one in my family knew Grandma’s exact age.  As she told it, she changed her birth certificate to make herself older so she could emigrate from Eastern Europe to the United States.  She hoped to join other family, already in New York, although she didn’t know exactly how to find them.

When I think about her journey, I’m awed by her faith and spiritual strength, and especially, her trust in God.  What courage it took for a teenage girl, whatever her age, to leave everything she knew behind and sail alone to the promise of a better life.  When she spoke about that journey, she admitted that the obstacles and uncertainty were daunting.

Her journey reminds me of what Jesus tells the disciples (Matthew 17:20-21):

“. . . If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

With faith, nothing is impossible for us.  When we remember that we have an infinite supply of faith within us — we never need pray for more — we can nurture this precious gift and use it to transform ourselves and our experiences.

Just as my grandmother did, we sometimes find ourselves travelling without a clear road map.  Whether literally or figuratively, we may get thrown off course or need to leave a place we once called home.  Yet, as we go forward, one faithful step at a time, we realize: We are free.   Free to choose what is best for us, even when the choices aren’t our favorites.

The truth is: Only when we relinquish our power to choose, do we believe that we’ve lost our faith.  As we travel, we can remember: Events and circumstances have far less power over us when we exercise our freedom to choose who we truly are, what and whom we truly love, how we want to live, and how we want to share ourselves with the world.

I know that was true for my grandmother.  When she arrived, she found her brothers in New York.  She worked as a milliner, making ladies’ hats at a famous department store.  She met my grandfather and had two children, my father and my aunt.   She lived 88 years, give or take some birthdays.  In all the years I knew her, I saw a woman centered in her faith.  Even when she didn’t like what was happening in her world or the world around her, even when she succumbed to the pain of cancer.

Faith the size of a mustard seed.  That’s all it takes to move forward, with strength and courage, trusting that transformation is unfolding before us.

A Blessed Independence Day to All!

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

Treasuring Summer

In my seventh summer, I found the Kingdom of Heaven at the beach.  Every day, from late June until Labor Day, I relished the time to see friends, swim in the ocean, stroll in the sand, and especially to collect sea glass.

At first, I kept the glass in a small jar.  Soon, though, it was full, and I transferred it to another, larger jar, creating a kaleidoscope of white, green and brown, highlighted with rare slivers of blue.  I filled that jar many times, sometimes gifting particular pieces, odd shapes or distinct colors, to my friends.  Every day was an adventure, for I always found new treasures.  And always I had room in my jar to hold more sea glass.  The supply felt unlimited.

I savored that time, especially the evenings with the peace of the vast, empty beach and the soothing flow of the waves.  The sun painted vibrant watercolor sunsets, as seagulls called to one another and scavenged the day’s leftovers.  That summer, I had everything I needed.  My life was free, easy, uncluttered and uncomplicated.  I sat on my beach chair, perfectly content, nibbling a snack, watching the world spread out before me.

I didn’t know the words “Kingdom of Heaven” then — and I wasn’t to hear them until many years later.  Yet, I knew this was a heavenly place, for I felt that surely God was the source of all that beauty and wonder.  I knew that the world lay at my feet, waiting for me to embrace and experience all its possibilities.

Jesus taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is among us and within us.  He taught that just as God provides for the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air, God also provides for us.  Jesus reminded us: As we give, so we also receive.   When Jesus spoke of Heaven, he did not necessarily mean a specific place, but the infinite potential and possibility which exist for us all, wherever we are.

That teaching is profound, though not always easy to grasp.  Yet, as we allow ourselves to flow with life, just as the tides flow along the shore, we experience more of life’s ease and joy.  As we begin to appreciate the abundance all around us, we realize the freedom we have to live in our own heavenly kingdoms and to feel the glory which lives within us and within every living thing.

While I’ve traveled many places and owned many possessions, few hold the power of my seventh summer.  Even now, I carry the memory of its promise and peace with me.  In meditation, I can return there, free, easy and prosperous beyond measure.  And when I gaze at my sea glass, now in a new jar, I remember the abundance of the universe.  God is my source, all the time, and my Kingdom of Heaven — and yours, Blessed Reader — is always at hand.

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