With Us Still

Earlier this year, my college classmate Dave died.  I saw a mosaic of photos posted on Facebook, one which included me.  I stared at the photo.  Dave was dead?  My classmate who read this blog, who was irreverent and compassionate at the same time.  The one who wouldn’t let cancer get the best of him because, in his irreverence, he would best it.

For several days, I mourned.  And in my mourning, that sorrow we feel for what can no longer be, I remembered others too.

Nancy was one of the first.  We attended high school Chem Lab together.  Neither of us liked Chemistry, though we enjoyed our friendship.  We encouraged each other, especially when I couldn’t do the math, and she couldn’t write the report.  She’d say, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”  Then, I repeated it, and we plowed through our assignments, getting B’s in Chemistry because we worked together.

Sometimes, when I doubt what I’m doing, Nancy is saying, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”

When I began seminary, I met Barry, a gentle, pastoral soul, who enjoyed poetry, especially the Psalms.  He helped mentor new students, guiding us through summer classes.  He explained theology in ways I understood.  One day, during a term break, I received an email that he died.  I couldn’t believe it.  Barry, my guiding light, the poet, was dead. 

Sometimes, when I work with the Psalms, I can feel Barry near.

Janice died after we were ordained.  We shared several classes together, including Homiletics, where I often sat near her and watched her colour code her sermons with assorted highlighters before she preached.  We studied together, sweating out the angst of ministerial reviews, awaiting word that we’d passed the latest test and could continue on our way. 

Sometimes, when I highlight my sermons, Janice is smiling.

Then, Mona, like my big sister in seminary, died.  I just moved to Florida, not far from where she lived, and I remember her delight in realizing that we’d be reunited and could support each other in ministry, as we did in class.  We celebrated each other’s birthdays, meeting at restaurants where we sat for hours, eating, laughing, talking.  When I expressed impatience or concern about how things would unfold, she laughed, tilted her head, and said, “Well, Jenn, you’ve only been doing this for like 5 minutes.”  I’d shake my head and say, “I know.” 

Sometimes, when I feel impatient, I hear Mona calling my name.

Poet James Dillet Freeman says in his poem, “The Traveler,” that when our loved ones die, they “put on invisibility,” though they’re never truly gone.  In this season of passing over and rising up, let us remember that death isn’t only an end, but a beginning, too.  And that wherever our journeys lead, those we love are with us — still.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Giving Up the Fight

These days arguing and fighting are their own sports.  Whether face to face or tweeting back and forth, some people enjoy cutting one another down to determine who’s right and who’s wrong.  More valuable than the Master’s Cup or a World Series ring, the victory of having the “correct” position is the trophy they wish to own.

Yet, how fleeting those victories are.  Because in fighting only for our way, we forget that we’re all divine human beings, with our own hopes, dreams and desires.  Though we justify our determination and say the fight is for a great cause, those victories are hollow, too, because we close our minds and lock our hearts, labelling a circumstance, organization, or person as being against us. 

Then, we don’t hear the true needs or feelings someone else has.  We can’t seek or even create common ground — together — because we’re already charging through barriers which haven’t yet been erected.  We argue about strategies without examining what underlies all the concerns, fears, or worries.  We narrow all possibilities for achieving solutions that are win-win.  Especially, we limit any divine opportunity to achieve and/or receive more than we imagined.

Instead of fighting, perhaps we could strive for understanding, mutuality, connection, and compassion as most spiritual masters do.  It helps to remember that these masters were activists, though rarely were they reactive.  Perhaps we’d also consider that being peaceful doesn’t mean being passive.  In truth, it requires much more strength, patience, courage and assurance. 

Fighting rarely creates the true change we seek.  The old adage still holds: “The one convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.”  And though they acquiesce for a while, they may find another way to do what they did before, sometimes with greater outrage.

When we’re angry, ready to charge, with pulse racing, head throbbing, heart pounding, our intuition and consciousness actually are reminding us that we love or value something so much that we want to preserve, protect, and support it.

So, to achieve our own spiritual mastery, we can relinquish the fight and contemplate:

  • What we love most, such as our families, friends, and sacred possessions.
  • What we truly value, such as safety and security in our schools, streets, malls, homes, and houses of worship; clean drinking water; and accessible polling places.
  • What we truly desire, such as equality, inclusion, and opportunity for all people.

Maybe we can win a battle by waging another war.  Yet how much more effective would we be if we directed our energy and attention to what we truly wish to achieve?  Though the prize we win may not be renowned, the peace of mind and love we realize along the way will be its own rich reward.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Release and Claim: A Spiritual Checklist for the New Year

Now that the holiday frenzy is over, we can continue on our way.  Not with the resolve to slog through life, but with the intention to feel more fulfilled and content. 

So, if we’re ready to reach new destinations, we need to release what doesn’t work so we can claim what does.  As you consider this spiritual checklist, remember that some of these will require a tweak, while others may need an overhaul. 

Release Claim
Engaging with people who ignore, disrespect, diminish, or denigrate you and/or who continually violate your boundaries. Connect with people who honor and respect you, your feelings and needs, and your right to your own space.
Needing to do it all, especially if you think you “have to” or “should,” because someone else is creating your to-do list. Review and evaluate all your activities and obligations so you can accomplish what matters most to you.
Holding yourself to ridiculous, unhealthy standards of living, especially if they’re generally recommended, but aren’t personally fitting. Discover deeper self-awareness so you know which foods and exercises strengthen your system and which weaken them.
Needing everyone to like you and your lifestyle, posts, choices, and beliefs. Embrace your own well-being so you know what you truly love and where to expend your energy in the best ways.
Needing to have and use money for instant gratification. Re-discover treats and joys you already have or something fun you cherished as a child.  Open a savings account with automatic deposit so you can pay yourself first.
Following and liking multiple organizations, places, people, and pages, especially if they’re trendy.   Choose the top three (3) to five (5) which most encourage and inspire you.  Then dig in to learn how they have surpassed obstacles and achieved success on their own terms.
Eating, reading, working, driving, and/or traveling the same way you always have. Shift your routine and discover new cuisines, topics, skills, friends, and avenues.
Being continually distracted with conversations, calls, texts, feeds, and activities. Turn off the noise and unplug at least once daily to be silent and still.  An hour before bedtime is ideal.
Believing that life is martyrdom, sacrifice, and struggle before it’s fun. (Yes, pain occurs, but suffering is optional.) Schedule time for simple delights, such as a cup of cocoa, favorite sit-com, morning walk, or lunch with a dear friend.  Choose to laugh and play daily, even when you feel challenged by circumstances.
Seeking quick-fix spirituality, or following the latest guru, especially if you tend to jump ship when pushed to a personal edge. Commit to one (1) spiritual practice which affirms your divinity and which encourages you to stay strong in your faith, even when life is difficult.

Remember, as you work this process, that you already have within you the divine discernment and intuition to choose your next perfect steps.  Continually affirm that the power and presence of God goes before you, beside you, with you, and within you as you release all you no longer need.  And travel faithfully, as you embrace the courage of your convictions and the strength to live anew.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Journey Forth

In bleak Winter, under blackened sky, chirps ring out.

Robin, great harbinger of Spring, perched above tundra.

Song shattering night.

Sustenance revealed below frozen ground.

Artic air.

Bitter chill.

Darkness.

Silence.

Stillness.

And that soft, sweet song, like a gentle, beating heart,

In the waiting room before dawn breaks and another journey begins.

To follow faith’s beacon,

As will dissolves into way;

Paths unfolding in unspeakable, palpable peace.

To rejoice in each graceful achievement,

As yesterday’s dirt paves tomorrow’s road;

Passages flowing far and wide.

To know immeasurable love,

As light winds through brush and bramble;

Bathed in radiance divine, dressed in life’s richest hues.

Like Robin singing forth in Spring:

“Oh, Glory in the Highest,

See How High this One Shall Rise.”

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Grateful All Ways

Thanksgiving is here again, and all around us are reminders to give thanks.  However we celebrate the holiday, many of us can easily list the “good” things for which we’re grateful: comfortable dwellings; a well-stocked pantry; loving friends and family; fulfilling work; time to play and rest; and money in the bank, among others.

The greater challenge, though, especially as we continue to grow in spiritual maturity, is to be grateful for everything in our lives.  Everything.  Including the stuff we don’t like.  For as the Disciple Paul teaches: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

As we continue our faithful journeys, one of our greatest discoveries is that liking and thanksgiving are not synonymous.  And when we’re willing to give thanks for things we don’t like, enjoy, appreciate, understand, or know, we gain greater clarity about our goals, our purpose, and especially, our paths.

This thanksgiving process can be a tremendous spiritual turnaround for us, no matter where we are on life’s journey.  Because without assessing what doesn’t work or fulfill us in life, we keep spiritually bypassing the very things which invite us to go deeper and to check in with ourselves about what we truly love and value most.

Consider this list:

  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Physical ailments
  • Financial hardships
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Excessive activity, anger, and/or clutter
  • Inertia
  • Overwhelm
  • Exhaustion
  • Unresolved grief
  • Misdirected compassion
  • Fear

Whether we can check one item on the list or several, each is a blessed invitation to turn within, to contemplate what’s before us in all aspects of our lives: emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.  Individually, any of these circumstances can sink us into despair and desolation.  Or they can be welcome messengers.  Then we can be grateful to see things for what they are: Divine opportunities to transform ourselves, whoever we are, and our situations, whatever they may be.

As we review the list and devote ourselves to prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection, we begin to find the gifts, then the gratitude, in even the “bad.”  We choose to turn around and see the view from another perspective.  We may say aloud, “Thank You” for: bedrest; medicine; help and support; time to be alone, clean, cry, heal, or release burdens; as well as to meet new people and explore new places.

Along the way, we feel grateful for enhanced self-awareness, keener intuition, and richer experiences because we know our own hearts.  We love who we are, grateful for where we are, now.  Especially, we rejoice in who we’re becoming, the greatest expression of God we’re here to be, and we celebrate all the wonder-filled paths yet to come.

Thank you for traveling the path with me, Blessed Readers.  Happy Thanksgiving, and Namaste!

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

It Could Happen to You

That kind of thing can’t happen here.

But it could happen to you.

It could happen to you . . .

. . . buying groceries at Kroger.

. . . gathering the prayer circle at church.

. . . comparing notes in 4th period English.

. . . reading Torah on Saturday morning.

. . . driving to visit the relatives.

. . . entering the boss’s office.

. . . fleeing violence at home.

. . . arriving at the cocktail party.

. . . moving to the country in search of peace.

. . . seeking the facts (just the facts) for the next deadline.

. . . rocking at the concert.

. . . cheering at the game.

. . . marching in the streets.

. . . running another marathon.

. . . exiting the factory.

. . . kneeling in worship.

. . . opening the mail.

. . . attending the rally.

. . . casting the ballot.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen here.

But sometime, some place, somewhere,

It could happen to you.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Trust the Steps

Our egos are making headlines again as people try to comprehend the chaos and conflicts we’re experiencing in the world and determine how to stop them.  Ego, as defined by psychoanalysis, helps us determine our sense of personal identity and self-worth.   Derived from the Latin root meaning “I,” it’s the part of us which distinguishes between conscious and unconscious awareness.

Sometimes, we attempt to overcome our egos, falsely believing that this will heal the world, and make us happier and holier.  As a minister, I see how this practice often hinders, rather than supports, us in living fully and faithfully.  When we attempt to skip steps in our divine growth process, we can bypass feelings of anger, grief, pain and sadness.  We also negate our personal talents, gifts, and authenticity so we can find a place to fit in.

At a deeper level, our desire to skip the steps and eliminate our egos becomes a battle of wills: ours against God’s.  So it’s important to distinguish between the healthy aspects of ego and the unhealthy ones.  When our ego is unhealthy, we:

  • Rely only on ourselves, believing that we can spiritualize away sorrow and upset.
  • Have few, if any, rules, boundaries, or accountabilities in our personal lives, homes, or businesses.
  • Loathe our sacred human failings, limitations, and mistakes.
  • Need continual adoration and praise to feel worthy and deserving.
  • Share excessive “selfies” and other “look-at-me” social media posts.
  • Bully, force, and/or push our ways and beliefs onto those we believe block our path.
  • Run from guru to guru seeking eternal enlightenment, especially when one guru becomes a disappointment.
  • Fail to find the gentle good humor and laughter in life’s imperfections.
  • Work “for God,” rather than “with God.”

In comparison, when our ego is healthy, we:

  • Stay accountable and responsible for our behaviour, choices, and decisions.
  • Know and accept our personal strengths and limitations, as well as those of others.
  • Feel confident and assured in our purpose and how we can share our particular strengths and skills in our communities.
  • Ground ourselves in our spiritual practice.
  • Connect with teachers, mentors, coaches, and colleagues who support our continued learning and growth.
  • Enjoy others’ praise and recognition without requiring it as the only benchmark of success.
  • Accept that many things in our world don’t occur our way or on our schedule.
  • Strive to love others unconditionally and compassionately, even when we don’t agree with or like them.

Overall, as we live from a healthy ego, we trust our place in the universe.  We trust in God as the Divine Source and Sustenance of all.  We accept that chaos and disorder are aligning in ways we can’t yet see.  Especially, we embrace the wonder and mystery of life, we love ourselves as we are, and we enjoy our journeys, each new step along the way.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

A Higher Standard

Several years ago, when I finally settled on my own spiritual path, a mentor reminded me: “Life will still have challenges.  And, no matter what happens, no matter what anyone says, believes, or does, you decide how you want to be.”  Her wisdom sounds simple enough, though in the face of turmoil, loss, conflict, and chaos, it isn’t always easy.

Yet, no matter where we are on our spiritual journeys, we can decide how we’ll show up in life.  No matter what others think, say, or do, we get to define who we are.  Especially, we determine how we’ll behave and what our standards are: whether we’ll follow in the ways of God or whether we’ll get into the mud, proverbial or otherwise.

All of us have this ability because we have a divine honing device, sometimes called a moral compass, which is actually our God Compass.  It’s our awareness of the divinity within us and within others also.  It’s the understanding that we, and all others, are beloved creations of God, the beloved creator of all things.

Spiritual masters are guided by their God Compass, no matter what happens to them or in their world.   And, as we grow in spiritual maturity, we also can hold ourselves to higher standards than we did before by expanding our thinking, adapting our behavior, and opening our hearts to new ways of being, believing, and behaving.  The key is to be willing.

So, if we want to raise our standards, we can:

  • Deepen our prayer and meditation practice, taking time to reflect on which habits serve us and which hinder us.
  • Honor our body, which has its own inner barometer, so we can heal physical ailments such as cramps; headaches; muscle soreness, stiffness, or tightness; shallow breathing; rapid heartbeat; nausea; or anxiety.
  • Notice feelings of anger, frustration, grief, jealousy, or upset as divine messengers inviting us to heal our pain and live in healthier, happier ways for us.
  • Speak using “I” statements, owning our feelings and needs, as we accept that others, including our loved ones, may not hold similar values.
  • Claim responsibility for our decisions, choices, and behavior without blaming, shaming, or condemning people or circumstances so we focus on what we want to achieve rather than on what we don’t.
  • Refrain from wasting our valuable energy by constantly scrolling through social media; worrying about things we can’t control; creating dramas rather than solutions; and spinning gossip rather than caring for ourselves.
  • Empathize with another’s experience, even if we don’t understand it.
  • Respect and honor religious or spiritual practices which are different from our own.
  • Surround ourselves with people who honor our journey and encourage our continued learning and growth.
  • Trust our own still, small voice and intuition rather than the crowd mentality.
  • Celebrate our successes, no matter how small they seem.

And, as we continue on our path, we often discover that by raising our standards, we inspire others to raise theirs, too.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Relieved to Let Go

As we travel our own faithful journeys, many of us notice that some things and people don’t change, no matter how much we wish they would.  And many of us have fought, labored, and struggled to change or fix something or someone unready for change.

It’s like trying to kill a mosquito — pick your figurative one — with a machete.  In the process, we usually succeed at loping off a proverbial finger, hand, or arm.  And as we sit in the emergency room of life, awaiting treatment, we’re scratching the mosquito bite we got anyway.

This is an exercise in futility, an ineffectual and unfulfilling attempt to find comfort, peace, and especially, relief.  When we get caught in cycles of futility, we falsely believe that if we try it one more time, it — whatever “it” is — will change.  We may justify our actions by asserting these anthems of futility: “But . . . we’ve always done it this way” or “But . . . I always go this way” or “But . . . this is the only way that will work” or “But . . . they won’t like it.”

In the process, we keep ourselves stuck by what we believe and what we say, so we never experience the relief we truly desire, like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, forever trying to push a boulder up a mountain.

If we’re ready to find the relief and peace of mind we seek, let us consider whether we’re also ready to let these go:

  • Acquiring more and more possessions, always expecting the next thing to make us happy.
  • Needing everything to be perfect.
  • Needing everyone to like us and/or agree with us.
  • Needing to be “right.”
  • Arguing with someone who doesn’t value respect and mutuality, and doesn’t want to listen.
  • Lashing out to diminish others so we feel better about ourselves.
  • Rehashing the past, either blaming ourselves or others for outcomes which didn’t work.
  • Worrying about the future and trying to prepare for every imaginable outcome.
  • Gunny-sacking and holding onto to old upsets and grievances.
  • Thinking that loving and liking are synonymous.
  • Believing that we can mature spiritually when we’re emotionally unhealthy.
  • Demanding certainty in a world which can be uncertain.
  • Trying to steer the Universe while we tell God how it’s “supposed” to be.

Each of these blocks our spiritual growth and hinders the ease, comfort, love, peace, and ultimate relief so many of us seek.

Yet, at any moment, no matter where we are on our journey, we can change our minds, alter our beliefs, and act differently.  No matter what has been true for us before, we can choose to let go and let God.  And with trust and faith, we’re relieved to discover how many new paths await us on our way.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Didn’t Know That

In 5th grade, my honors English class had an assignment to teach something.  At that time, I was creating a hooked rug.  The process, as I learned from the yarn store lady, required particular steps and specific methods.

During my presentation, I felt confident because I explained everything exactly as I was taught, until another student asked about a different method.  I was tongue-tied; the yarn store lady didn’t teach me that.  So, I thought the answer was “No.”  Surely, I reasoned, if I could do it, she would have told me.

I must have mumbled because Mr. West, our teacher, thanked me, then called on the next student.  Later, when he gave me feedback, he taught me something many people still are learning: “It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know.’”

On our life journeys, we sometimes imagine that we’re weak or incompetent if we don’t have answers.  Yet, not having an answer is powerful.  If we recognize that we don’t know yet, we’re open to new ideas, possibilities, beliefs, or practices.  We realize that we can do something differently or learn something new, take other steps forward, or find open windows where once we only saw closed doors.

Within each of us are divine spiritual powers of awareness and understanding.  They remind us, often as our still, small voice, that we already know some answers.  Here are some ideas for discovering them:

  • Continue the spiritual practice of prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection. Even when nothing seems to unfold then, we often discover answers later, in a conversation with a colleague, on a billboard, in a song lyric, etc.
  • Commit to learning something new about your areas of interest.
  • Steer clear of “know-it-alls” who declare that their way is the only way. Avoid those who require money upfront to provide solutions or offer a quick-fix to an ongoing problem.  Here, the old adage still applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Check credentials, certifications, and education. Just because someone declares themselves an expert doesn’t mean that their advice is sound or reliable.
  • Consider the facts and sources, and watch for false news. Take time to do your own research and verify information.
  • When you’re considering answers, check in with your body. Do you feel relaxed?  Peaceful?  Calm?  Relieved? Or is your belly tight or in knots?  Does your head or neck hurt?  Do you suddenly feel insecure or unsafe, or want to run in another direction?
  • Follow only those people who continue their own learning and growth, and who also encourage yours, even if it isn’t their path.
  • Remember: Many strategies can accomplish the same goal and infinite paths can lead to enlightenment.

Overall, trust your inner wisdom.  No matter where you are on your life’s journey, you’ve learned many things.  Let those experiences be the guide to your best pathways and all you need to know.

 

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.