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.

Finding Our Way

Some people say that everyone is our teacher and every experience offers a lesson.  Perhaps, though it isn’t absolute.  No matter the teacher or experience, the wisdom we seek requires an inner journey.

I discovered this truth as a young executive in Washington, D.C. when I worked with Nancy, a company vice president with a Ph.D.  Initially, I thought her eccentric.  While I, and many other women, wore crisp skirt suits and sensible pumps, she wore flowing skirts and ballet flats.  Her desk held a cascade of files, some a foot high.  Her bookshelf overflowed with volumes of scholarship she could grab at a moment’s notice.  She didn’t believe in time management and was the first person I remember discussing how to manage one’s energy.  A sign on her wall read: “A messy office is the sign of a clear mind.”  And what a mind.  When she spoke in meetings, everyone listened, and her clients adored her.

One day, as I entered her office to borrow a file, I mentioned my frustration with another V.P., who always said, “No.  This is the way we do it.”  All of the junior staff knew that it was her way or the highway.  As Nancy handed me a file, I blurted, “I can’t figure out how to do it her way.”

Nancy looked me full in the face and said, “Then do it your way.”

I think my jaw dropped because Nancy pointed to a chair, walked to her door, closed it, and asked me to explain the project.  She never gave me specific advice, though she asked several direct questions which invited me to consider my own inner wisdom.  She encouraged me to honor my still, small voice, in a place where few people discussed discernment and intuition.

Nancy and I stayed friends for the rest of her life.   I learned that she had been a modern dance instructor and painted in her spare time.  She admitted that she had some of her clearest insights while she dabbled with paint.  She encouraged me to keep practicing ballet and to return to writing.  She continually reminded me that I would always know my own way, if I invested the time in listening to myself first.

Recently, I had a spiritual conference with a congregant who lamented not being able to follow someone else’s way.

I looked at a small pile of folders on my desk and thought of Nancy.  “Then what if you did it your way?” I asked.

“Can I?” the congregant wondered.

“Of course,” I encouraged.  “You already know the way.”

And so, Blessed Reader, do you.  No matter how or where you’re traveling now, remember this spiritual truth: The power, presence, wisdom and wonder of God are both with us and within us.  And when we turn within first, we also find our way.

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

Let it Roll

Sometimes life sends us drifting out to sea.  Like an experience I had one summer at the New Jersey shore.

I was swimming in the ocean with my friends, riding waves.  I lost track of time.  First one wave knocked into me.  Then another.  I noticed dark clouds overhead.  I heard a lifeguard’s whistle, and when I looked for my friends, I couldn’t see them.

Then a larger wave loomed and, too late, I realized I couldn’t jump it.  It hit me full in the face.  When I looked at the shore, I was further adrift than before.  Again, I heard the lifeguard whistle, like a beacon, calling me home, though I didn’t know how to get there.

I felt terrified, especially when a giant wave approached.  Then, instinctively, I sank into it.  As I relaxed, I remembered that the wave was stronger than I was.  So I didn’t fight it.  For at least a minute I tumbled around, and my senses heightened.  I saw green, grey swirls.  I tasted fishy, salty water which warmed my skin.  I heard the surf roaring in my ears.

When I surfaced again, I was nearer to the shoreline than if I’d attempted to swim there myself.  I rode two more waves and walked out of the ocean.

Sometimes our lives get choppy and we find ourselves in dangerous waters.  We try to leap waves of conflicts, emotions, or stresses which appear insurmountable.  We don’t have enough money to pay our bills.  An illness isn’t healing.  We struggle in recovery from an addiction, abuse or trauma.  We’re seeking work, or the work we have to do is uninspiring and unfulfilling.  Our closest relationship may be crumbling or a loved one has died.  When we follow the news or social media, we either want to pull the covers over our heads and stay home forever, or we want to take on the entire world, so we can “right” every “wrong.”

Yet, instead of trying to overcome a giant wave, we can choose to let it roll by:

  • Sitting an extra hour in prayer and meditation, and breathing deeply.
  • Cooking our favorite meal, reading our favorite scripture, chanting our favorite song, and/or watching our favorite comedy.
  • Coloring, drawing or painting.
  • Completing a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Walking at a beach, garden, lakefront or park or doing other exercise.
  • Luxuriating in a warm bubble bath or hot tub.
  • Getting a facial, massage, acupuncture or Reiki.

Remember: When we choose to let life roll for a while, we actually return to our true selves and rediscover what we value most.  We also invariably find that life is calmer, not necessarily because the situation has changed, but because we have.

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

Door to the Soul

Few of us are free of the strictures of time.  We have appointments, deadlines, places to be, people to see, things to do.  Sometimes we believe that our success lies in checking another obligation off our to-do list.  Despite ourselves, especially when we want a desired outcome revealed immediately, we watch clocks, check our phones, peruse our calendars, tap our feet or drum our fingers if we have to wait longer than we like.  Sometimes we experience this angst within our bodies, as headache, stomachache, backache, neck twinge, muscle cramps or shortness of breath.  Other times we push or press for immediate results as our inner spiritual child jumps around asking: “Are we there yet?”

This pushing, prodding, forcing, demanding behavior, which we believe will reveal quicker results, actually blocks our way and slows our life journey.  Instead of continuing to go deep within, through our contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection practice, we keep checking our phones and calendars, looking for the outer results we demand.

Master spiritual teacher Emmet Fox (“The Door That Opens In,” © 1937) explains why our efforts to steer the universe are futile:

The door of the soul opens inward.  That is often the reason we do not make our demonstration.  We assume that it opens outward and we press and push against it as hard as we possibly can, seemingly oblivious of the fact that we are really but closing it all the more firmly against our good.

To work in this way is really to use will power . . . .  It is simply trying to overcome by human effort and leaving God out.

Human nature is very prone to push blindly when frightened or frustrated. . . .  Prayer, however, is essentially the refusal to be rushed by panic or by the existing current of things.  In prayer, you must draw back from the outer picture, cease to press against events, and realize the Presence of God.  The door of the soul opens inward.

Whatever is occurring in your life now, Blessed Reader, step back, release, put down the phone, let go of the struggle.  Choose to open the door of your soul to place your faith and trust in God’s ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.  Choose to turn inward first, before doing anything else, to connect with yourself and God’s presence within you.  Nothing on any calendar, phone or to-do list matters more.

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

Our Championship Call

In this season of graduations and ordinations, the Women’s College World Series, French Open, Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Playoffs, I remember that once I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer.  I belonged to an aquatic club, and trained with an Olympian.  I swan thousands of miles.  I competed at bunches of swim meets.  Once, I earned a blue ribbon in a state competition.

I continued training and swimming, at great cost.  My shiny brunette waves faded to green frizz.  I battled recurrent sinus infections, ear aches and itchy, dry skin more than opponents in the pool.  No matter how much I trained, I couldn’t keep pace.  I realized that I’d never be as good as the Olympic hopefuls.  And, as I watched a classmate win medal after medal, with tremendous strength and ease, I realized something greater: I wasn’t willing to train harder.  Swimming for Olympic gold was her calling, not mine.

Each of us has a divine call, to be a champion, to do something which truly blesses our world.  This call, whatever it may be, allows us to express the essence of who we are as divine creations of God, source of ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.

And this grace, which some believe we must earn, is always free, always available, as soon as we decide to release the suffering, struggle and strife of trying to be someone we are not.  When we spiritually, if not physically, lay down, as Jesus urged (Matthew 11:28), the burdens we thought we were “supposed” to carry, and align ourselves with God.

Our championship call, no matter who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done or who we love, is to express our divinity, to radiate it far and wide, as Jesus did, so God’s divine works can be declared through us, as us.

Our championship call is to remove the bushel basket hiding our light (Matthew 5:15) and to shake the dust of what no longer serves us off our feet (Matthew 10:14), so we can succeed in far greater ways than we first imagined.  No competitions or contests required.

As we grow in spiritual maturity, we realize: We can’t be it all, do it all or have it all.  We also realize: That isn’t our call.   And as we align with God — and God’s will, which is always for our highest and best — our intuitive sense grows stronger and our still, small voice clearer.  We discern what is ours to do and what is not.  We discover rewards at each destination.  We rejoice in the beauty and wonder of our journey and the blessings of those who travel with us, for however long.  We cheer, with admiration, appreciation and love, for those who finish first, as well as those who finish last, because we behold the presence of God they are, always the mark of a true champion.

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

Forgive Our Trespasses

A year before my father died, I accompanied my parents to an event which involved audience participation, including rising for “The Star Spangled Banner.”   Sometimes we read aloud and sang.  Dad, who had a rich, baritone voice, sang a little, but mostly he was content to be still and, with his artist’s eye, watch the crowd and performers, rather than participate himself.  He already understood his own physical weakness and engaged with others when and as he could.

At one point, when everyone rose and Dad remained seated, a woman behind me hissed, “That man is supposed to stand up.”  I couldn’t hear her companion’s reply, if there was any.  Several times she recited this litany, even after I turned once to glance at her.  I felt anger rise in my belly, though I held my tongue.

As the show concluded, Dad slumped forward.  I knew we needed to exit quickly.  I removed his cane from beneath the seat and grabbed my purse.  As the audience gave its ovation, Dad leaned on me and steadied himself on his cane.  We were approaching the exit, when I heard a faint, “Oh, dear.  Oh, my.”  Then the woman called, “Excuse me.  Excuse me.”

I turned to her, elegantly dressed in black and white taffeta, rich, dark hair perfectly coiffed.  Before Dad could speak, she extended her hand and said, “Please forgive me.  I’m so sorry.  I didn’t know you were sick.”

When I looked at her face, I saw tears in her eyes.

Dad turned, patted her hand, and said, “It’s all right, Madame.  I forgive you.”

“Thank you,” she said, as if we’d handed her thousands of dollars.  Then she asked whether we needed help getting to the car and held the door for us as we exited.

In that moment, and in so many since, I’m grateful for the text of “The Lord Prayer” which translates:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who trespass against us.

Whenever, and however, we say this, we’re invited to know: Forgiveness — and our willingness to forgive — help us release blame and liberate ourselves, so resentment and upset can’t constrain us.  Forgiveness especially frees us when we or others, intentionally or unintentionally, overstep our bounds, or tread into territory which is neither ours to traverse nor ours to police.

As spiritual beings, especially as we’re finding our own way, we sometimes believe that we “should” advise others on their journeys, hold them accountable to our standards, point them in our direction, or admonish them for their “failings.”

Yet, when we remember that we’re all God’s divine creations, we also realize that all paths can lead to God, to a greater sense of joy, security, peace, health, wealth and all else we seek for fulfillment and enlightenment.  Along the way we also discover that we’re unconditionally loved, and in God’s infinite compassion and ever-abiding grace, all our trespasses are forgiven, too.

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

Moment with the Stranger

Years ago, while studying abroad in London, I developed what I thought was a deep callous on the bottom of my foot.  I treated it with ointment and patches, but it only grew larger.  My foot ached when I walked.

One day, my English mum saw me wince in pain.  Before I knew it, she whisked me off to a “doctor’s surgery,” as she called it. A pleasant woman like a physician’s assistant explained that I had a verruca (planters wart), likely contracted as a virus from the ballet studio I frequented.  When she pressed on my foot, I started to cry.  I wondered how something so small could hurt so much.

As if reading my mind, she handed me a tissue and said, “Nasty things, these.  Hurt like the dickens.”

Then she proceeded to treat the wart quickly and efficiently.  When she asked whether I had any questions, I expressed concern about how my insurance would cover the cost.  She reassured me that I only owed a minimal amount because I was a student residing with a British citizen.

I reflect on that experience now, contrasting it with what I currently witness in our global culture, kinds of nationalism which fears refugees and rising inflation, as much as diminishing resources, escalating insurance costs, and job loss.  I notice how many of us in “helping professions,” clergy, education, finance, law, medicine, can be daunted by all the work to be done.

The pressure sometimes to patch people up and send them on their way is overwhelming.  Yet, to truly invest a few sacred minutes being present with another person is part of our spiritual practice, the way we live our faith.  To share even a moment of the journey with a stranger is to acknowledge another child of God in our midst, no matter who they are, what they believe, where they’ve been or who they love.

Many spiritual practices require not only that we go forth and make disciples, sharing the truths of our own learning with those open to receive it, but that we also care, however briefly, for the strangers among us.  Scriptural law, one Jesus likely knew intimately, reminds us that we each are God’s divine creations and we’re to treat one another as such.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

In their vulnerability, strangers offer us one more opportunity to remember the depths of our innate compassion.  To remember our call to express the presence of God we are, no matter what our work.  In the process, even when the work isn’t necessarily easier, the journey is richer.

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

A Path of Love

As spring unfolds, on a day of abundant sunshine in a bright, blue sky, I visit a new park.  My friends and I wander in various directions, and I find myself on a winding path.  I pause at a lake and admire the fountains.  I stop in an azalea grove and see the first robins of the season.

As I walk, I marvel at the day’s beauty and perfection.   I meet a family collecting pine cones, and the youngest child shows me hers.  A couple carrying the remains of a picnic wave as they pass, while a group of co-eds giggle, heads bowed, avoiding any eye contact, as if in a secret conference.  Since I don’t know my way around and several paths are unmarked, I meander onto some which twist into each other or end in a clearing.  Occasionally, I walk through brush, hearing the crunch of leaves underfoot.

Then I reach a paved walkway, which seems to lead to the other side of the park.  A sign posted indicates that the area is closed for a private event, though I hear only a crow calling and see no barrier or anyone else around.  A few yellow butterflies float ahead of me, and like a little girl in a fantasy, I venture forward, aware that I am “breaking the rules.”  As I walk, I see two benches facing one another in a grove of olive trees.  I sit on one of the benches, attempting to determine which has the better view, when I see the golden placard which reads:

In Loving Memory

Clementine Bernstein

1924-2008

I rest for several minutes, breathing in the fresh afternoon air, jotting a few memories in a tiny notebook I often carry.  I feel the warm air through my light cotton sweater.

It’s said that those who pass on never truly depart; they merely become invisible to our human sight.  I think of my father and how much he loved gardens and any pathway where he could consider, as he called the foliage, the “growings.”  I remember his advice to take time to smell the flowers, to be still and know the Presence of God, in and through all God’s creations, great and small.

At any moment, I expect to be told to leave.  Yet no one else appears, so I linger.  Only after I shift to the opposite bench to consider another view do I realize the divinity here.  For when I look at this placard, I see:

In Loving Memory

Seymour Bernstein

1923-2015

I don’t know the Bernsteins, where they lived, what they did, what they believed.  All I know is: Someone loved them.

In this season of passing over and rising up, no matter what paths we’ve traveled or where they’ve led, we can remember: We, too, are God’s divine creations, loved with an everlasting love, always, to the end of our days — and beyond.

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