Higher Caliber Connections

As more people died from gun violence this past week, more terror, shock, and disbelief set in.  While many turn to thoughts and prayers, these feel meaningless and shallow because they propel few of us into transforming ourselves and our communities into places of inclusion and compassion. 

While many also want more conversation, the conversations only succeed with those truly willing to: listen to and behold other people as Beloved Creations of God; check agendas, fears, judgments, and opinions at the door; and stay open to possibilities for long-term, universal gains, not what is most profitable, expedient, or convenient now.

If we hope to transcend the violence, political rhetoric, accusatory outbursts, finger-pointing, and name-calling, then we also must deepen our connections with people who, at first, seem different from us.  We must decide whether deadly weapons, exclusive clubs, and closed gates, are more valuable than the sanctity of all human life.  Not just some lives, in particular places, at certain times. 

The truth is: No matter what others may do, we decide whether we’ll change the caliber of our own consciousness to pave peaceful paths.  Each of us can do this, if we’re willing to push the edges of some comfort zones, step out further in faith, and rise in spiritual maturity.

If you’re ready for this journey, here are some steps you can take:

  • As you pray, include those hurting from grief and loss, as well as those hurting from anger and outrage.  Remember that our prayers don’t condone others’ behavior.  Rather, they open our hearts to feel more compassion and free ourselves with forgiveness.
  • If you support gun control legislation, also support those who advocate for mental health care reform and crisis management.
  • Get involved with civic, ecumenical, and interfaith organizations dedicated to inclusivity, hospitality, and generosity which celebrate common ground and shared values among all people. 
  • Attend churches, synagogues, and mosques which provide opportunities for shared connections.  Many hold gatherings for people of different faiths or ethnicities to break bread together, enjoy sacred conversations, and establish life-long friendships.
  • If you live in a city/municipality which has signed the Charter for Compassion, support their activities and educational outreach.  If not, seek ways to establish your hometown or company as a compassionate place of equity and inclusion.
  • As much as you may be tempted, preserve your valuable energy and avoid heated arguments and drag-down debates with those who aren’t ready to connect with you and listen to your views.
  • Focus on your own positions and what you wish to achieve, rather than attacking “the enemy.”  Remember that spiritual masters are social activists, not re-activists, who strive to love, even when they don’t like others’ choices. 

Above all, remember: God is in the midst of whatever is occurring within us and around us.  Know that in every moment of our journey, we can choose — again — how we’ll express the Presence of God we are and how we’ll serve the best for all humanity.

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

Free in the Feeling

During a recent gathering with friends to share our latest achievements and family tidbits, one person removed their phone.  They flashed an image for us to see, commenting about personal fragmentation, political polarization, and societal demise.  They leaned forward in their chair, arms waving faster, voice escalating, and face reddening with each word.

I viewed the image.  Though I didn’t share its sentiment either, I didn’t feel our friend’s rage.  And as they continued, I observed that their intellectualizing halted our conversation and shattered our connection.  Where we’d been invited to celebrate some joys, now we were bystanders in a discourse about the world’s problems.

When I asked our friend how they felt, they paused.  They stared at me and repeated what they already said.  Then I realized: They couldn’t tell me how they felt (I imagined anger, horror, sadness, shock, among others) because they were disconnected from their feelings. 

Alas, this is true of many people, especially those in certain clinical, political, and spiritual circles who believe that personal feelings are mushy emotions we must eliminate and transcend as quickly as possible.  

However, when we analyze, criticize, and theorize, we keep life at arm’s length, pushing away such feelings as anguish, confusion, disillusion, grief, heartbreak, and sorrow.  Sometimes, to bypass the feelings, we make things about “someone else” or “another.”   Then the pain can root, grow, and fester in our bodies as headaches, backaches, bellyaches, limps, rashes, or ulcers.  Furthermore, our reactions can detach and disconnect us from ourselves and those we love most. 

When we’re willing to acknowledge our feelings as the divine messengers they are, we become free to experience life differently, even when we don’t like some of it. 

If we’re ready for such an adventure, we can contemplate these questions:

  • How do I feel about the particular behavior, circumstance, and/or situation I’ve experienced?
  • How are the behaviors, etc., different from mine?
  • What, if any, similarities do I see?
  • What am I willing to do to mourn the past and accept what I cannot change so I can heal, move on, and invest my time and energy elsewhere?
  • Where are the openings to get more of what I love by changing myself or my own perspective?

These questions aren’t easy to answer.  They require the introspection and sacred conversations which encourage us to grow in spiritual maturity.  They invite us to use the feelings we once believed would hinder us to discern what we need in our lives now, what we love most, and how we want to serve others by contributing our gifts in this world.  Especially, they free us to rediscover life’s simple pleasures as we embrace more of the beauty, joy, and wonder we find on our way.

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

A Label, By Any Other Name

One day during a planning meeting, someone appreciated my organizational skills and said, “My Virgo feels so much better now.”  Then they asked about several future activities.  I said we’d get to those in a few months, after we completed other steps.  They exhaled and checked something off their to-do list.

Later, as I reviewed my notes, I wanted to ask, “What comforts your Virgo?”  I imagined how stifled they might feel within the stereotype of detail-oriented Virgo.  I also wondered whether their Virgo labelled other colleagues or me, if that Virgo perspective is the only one they hold. 

Even as we can be almost anything, live nearly anywhere, and learn about any culture in one swipe, many of us still live according to labels designated to separate and diminish us, rather than connect and empower us.  Sometimes we keep ourselves in these labelled boxes, perhaps because someone told us that’s where we fit — and we never questioned it. 

Consider some of the labels:

Black, Tan, White, Yellow

Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh

Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Straight, Trans

Destitute, Poor, Privileged, Rich

Educated, Uneducated

Aquarius, Gemini, Leo, Scorpio

Enneagram: 4, 3, 2, 1

Communist, Democrat, Libertarian, Progressive, Republican, Socialist

Artist, Chef, Criminal, Entrepreneur, Teacher, Unemployed, Veteran

Cousin, Dad, Mom, Sister, Uncle

Carnivore, Vegetarian

Fat, Short, Tall, Thin

Athlete, Couch-Potato

Homebody, Traveler

Loser, Winner

Sometimes we classify one another, like specimens in petri dishes, saying, “They’re this way because they’re an ‘Introverted, Radical, Vegan, Architect.’”  Then we imagine we know their whole story.  We may spend tons of money and time assessing ourselves and others based on classifications which can become self-fulfilling prophecies.  We may struggle within those labels to meet some standard, trying on other labels for size, like new clothes, to see whether they suit us better.

Often, institutions put us through the demoralizing process of labelling to determine our rank, credit score, and net worth, as well as our aptitude to enter a specific school, live in a particular neighborhood, or drive a certain car.  We’re evaluated with algorithms and metrics to determine what kind of risk we might be to their security and how we conform to societal ideals. 

And among all those labels, we forget the only important one: Beloved Creation of God (or whichever name we use for God), Beloved Creator of all things.  Being one of God’s Beloved Creations means we’re divine just as we are — and so is everyone else.  That divinity, indwelling in each of us, is expansive.  It allows us to rise beyond the limitations of all other labels.

As soon as we begin discarding labels, we grow in spiritual maturity.  No matter what we’ve believed about ourselves before or which paths we’ve traveled already, we feel free to embrace both the depth of our divinity and the strength of our humanity.  We live from a greater sense of compassion, understanding that everyone experiences pain and loss, as much as joy and success.  And, as we know the divine within us, we know it in all others, too.

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

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.