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.

Face the Change

Early September, and already yellow leaves appear amidst a green tapestry.  Air is cooler, crisper here, in the morning, and skies are darker, too.  September already, we say.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas wait in the wings.

It’s this way, more or less, every year.  But do we notice?  Or are we just trudging through?  Do we accept and embrace the changes occurring, however gradual, however unwelcome?  Do we flow with life’s natural shifts?  Or do we resist and fight the divine process?

Sometimes people say they want change or that they wish something would transform, though few are willing to do the deep, soulful exploration necessary.  The personal assessments which help us release and let go, and welcome the new, also require some dark nights of the soul.  Sometimes people tell me they just can’t do it.  It’s too hard and too scary.  Sometimes they say: “The devil I do know is better than the devil I don’t know.”

Except, as the prophetic David Bowie first noted in 1971, “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes / Turn and face the strange / Ch-ch-changes / There’s gonna have to be a different man.”  And when we choose to face the “strange,” we also can choose to turn “devil” around so it becomes “lived.”

Lived: How we’ve lived for a specific time is familiar, though not always comfortable, easy, fulfilling, or fun.  Strategies we use to accomplish things are habit, though they may not serve what’s highest and best for our lives now.  So, we wonder, in rare, reflective moments, what that might be.  Which leads to other questions:

  • What would feel more comfortable?
  • What would give us more ease?
  • What would be more fulfilling?
  • What would make life more fun?
  • What one (1) thing are we willing to do now, today, to begin living differently, even though it seems strange?
  • What old habits are we willing to release?
  • When we imagine a joyful, fulfilling life, what do we see ourselves doing? And having?
  • What changes are we willing to embrace to create a new way of life, no matter how strange it now seems, no matter our age?

As we contemplate these questions, we may first realize that some answers are, “I don’t know.”  Yet, as we embrace the willingness to change, we discover that our answers come to us and that facing changes is more pleasant than we thought.

As we take time in the silence and as we get into nature, no matter where we live, we can notice subtle changes occurring around us, reminding us of the sacred, continual process of change.  And always, we can remember: God’s awesome power and presence, God’s love, grace and compassion are in the midst of all the changes, as we gently turn and face a new life unfolding before us.

© 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.

Be A Light

One of our discoveries on this life journey is that we have divine gifts and talents to share.  Whatever these are, they’re the light of God, expressing through us, shining as us.

Jesus taught in the “Sermon on the Mount”:

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, so it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before others in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify God . . . . (Matthew 5:14-16)

As Jesus, and all great spiritual masters teach, our light allows us to be a Presence and Expression of God in the world.  If you’re ready to discover, develop, and shine the light of God you are, follow these suggestions:

  • Cherish your contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection time.  This is our opportunity to connect with God, re-charge our batteries, and take stock of what works or doesn’t work in our lives.
  • Remember that we shine brightest when we manage our energy, rather than our time.  The most energizing activities and work we do is often fun for us, even if the tasks involved aren’t always simple or easy.
  • Consider “To-Do Lists” and “Wish Lists.”  Notice your passions and what energizes you, as well as what depletes and diminishes you.  If it has a “should” or heavy sense of obligation around it, it usually dims our light.
  • Find one thing you can do to shine your light for others.  This can be anything from attending a rally in support of a cause; delivering meals to shut-ins; driving a loved one to the market or an appointment; helping build a house; shipping books overseas so others can learn to read.  Whatever you choose, do it with verve, passion, and joy.
  • Support others who’re trying to find their own light, too, especially children learning new skills or retirees rediscovering former joys.
  • Avoid those who attempt to block or cover your light. Bless them and release them with love, reminding yourself, if necessary, that if they don’t like your light, they can wear sunglasses.
  • Know that sometimes the best we can do is witness another’s journey. We can’t make them see a light if they aren’t ready to remove their blinders.
  • Have a spiritual support network which includes prayer partners, and trusted clergy, coaches, counsellors, and/or friends who encourage and nurture your continued growth and learning.
  • Within your spiritual community, plug into a team or group which enlivens you and reminds all team members of their light, strength, and wisdom to serve.
  • If you aren’t yet connected to a spiritual community, find one which honors diversity and affirms the Presence of God, the Divine Light, in all people.
  • Overall, remember that however we’re called to be a light on the way, we faithfully and compassionately pave a way for others too.

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

All Humanity Included

As a sociology undergrad in Washington, D.C., I learned a lot about protests and civil actions.  And as a participant observer, I canvased communities, conducted surveys, organized protests, marched for causes, and rallied on the steps of the Supreme Court.

As I’ve incorporated this wisdom into ministry, I also have a richer appreciation for the activists who chose paths of peace and non-violence.  Each of these spiritual masters worked daily, faithfully, courageously, diligently, and prayerfully, to create global change and to offer paths of enlightenment to anyone seeking new ways of being and doing.

Overall, one thing is clear: These masters — among them Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau, Dorothea Dix, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela — didn’t seek their own glory.  They acted, grounded in the heart of their faith, for the highest and best, the equity and equality of all humanity.  They focused always on the transformation they sought, rather than on what problems they were against.

If you’re ready to help transform our world for the best of all humanity, please consider these suggestions:

  • Get involved with the interfaith councils in your community.
  • Grow your own spiritual understanding by attending an event, meeting, or worship service completely different from your own.
  • If you don’t currently attend a church, mosque, synagogue, or other spiritual center, consider joining one.  Look for those which honor diversity and affirm the Presence of God, the Divine, in all people.
  • Affiliate with and patronize only those groups or companies, especially local businesses, which respect all people.
  • Listen for “Yes, but . . .” language which is the language of exceptions, excuses, and exclusivity.  Seek people, places, and organizations focused on inclusivity.  Listen for the “Yes” which includes everyone.
  • Choose non-violent, peaceful actions, remembering that they are strong, centered demonstrations of assurance, faith, and power.
  • Refrain from screaming, fighting, or arguing, especially with someone who tries to make your way “wrong,” or engage in theological or political debates.  Instead, consider saying: “I hear that’s what you believe.  I believe this.”  Or, as has happened to me, if someone yells: “I’m praying for your soul,” you might reply: “Thank you.  I appreciate your prayers.”
  • Contact all your city, county, state, and national officials to share your concerns and opinions.  Even if you didn’t vote for them, they’re in office to serve the good of all their constituents, not those of a few.
  • If your current, elected officials aren’t serving as you believe best, support the campaigns of candidates who hold similar values to yours.
  • Remember that even those we dislike are children of God.  Rather than using valuable energy hating them, pray for their enlightenment, knowing that, at any moment, hardened hearts can open and blinded eyes can see.
  • Overall, keep your mind — and heart — open.  Stay prayed up, especially as you discern how to act.  And, to avoid discouragement, celebrate even the smallest of victories, knowing that transformation, for all of us, is happening one step at a time.

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

End of a Road

During graduate school, I had a friend who served as both BFF and life-raft.  We often shared coffee after class, discussing lectures, classmates’ literary interpretations, and various life events.

At that time, I enjoyed my friend’s perspective.  She excelled in literary criticism and found fine points in plots and characterization I hadn’t yet noticed.  She also could satirize all the professors and many of our classmates.

Later, when we graduated and began drifting apart, I discovered that I was part of her satire also.  She criticized me, my writing, and my choices.  Where once I felt supported, I began to feel diminished.

One day, I wrote an article I especially liked, and with a few edits, my boss published it.  When I shared it with my friend, she cut it to pieces and said I’d never be a true intellectual or literary scholar.  By then, she was applying to Ph.D. programs, and I realized that we’d reached the end of our road together.  That day, devastated and heart-broken, I began to understand the meaning of being in a relationship for a reason, a season, or with a few people, for a lifetime.

As we travel our life journey, we discover many truths.  Among these, we learn that change happens and relationships end, whether marriage, partnership, friendship, school, or business.

To heal and grow from these passages, we must both acknowledge and mourn them, so we can progress in new, healthier ways for us.  Consider these suggestions for navigating endings in your life now:

  • During your daily contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection, choose to remember the blessings, even if only a few, from this experience.
  • Note on paper or tablet, where you can refer to it later, what you appreciate about the relationship and how you’ve grown, especially if the relationship was unhealthy.
  • If you must communicate with an “ex,” strive to connect in emotionally healthy ways which ensure your safety and security.
  • Avoid condemning yourself, the other person, or the relationship. Each relationship is sacred in its own way because of how it shapes us.
  • Avoid attempts to “fix” the other person, repair the relationship, or rehash old arguments. Instead, take care of yourself and all you need to heal and thrive.
  • Rather than rush to fill the void of loss with a new relationship, allow yourself time and space to rest, trusting that new roads already await you.
  • Seek ways to serve others, such as tutoring a child or serving dinner at a soup kitchen, especially if you tend to wallow or mope in sadness.
  • Connect with a spiritual community where you continually are reminded of your worth, your wholeness, and your divinity as one of God’s Beloved Creations.

Overall, remember that the other person, as we are, is a Beloved, Divine Child of God.  And God is always with us and within us as we travel along our next, new roads.

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

Time for Balance

As the summer months approach in the Northern Hemisphere, many calendars already are full with graduations, weddings, parties, barbecues, concerts, and/or vacations.  In the midst of this, many of us still have our usual work to do, grocery shopping, house cleaning, medical appointments, and other myriad tasks of daily life.

Sometimes, we get overwhelmed.  So much to do, so little time.  At some point, we may find ourselves staring out a window, watching the sky.  Or sitting in traffic, yet again.  Or shuffling the same pile of papers for the fifth time.  We may notice that we feel discontented, frustrated, or stifled.  We’re aware that something isn’t working and that “something’s gotta give,” though we aren’t sure what.  In the rush, rush, rush, we forget that we’re human beings, not human “doings.”

What we seek, no matter what we call it, is a deeper connection with God / Spirit / Our Higher Power — and a greater sense of balance.  Our awareness of this desire brings us to a new level of spiritual maturity, the place where we discover that finding our own inner balance is the key to personal growth and contentment.

To gain greater balance and deepen your spiritual practice, consider these suggestions:

  • Set — and keep — a schedule for daily contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection. Remember: God first; then everything else.  If we think we’re too busy for this step, it’s a warning that we’re already imbalanced.  Let’s remind ourselves that spiritual masters begin and end their days with this practice.
  • Set — and keep — a schedule which includes daily, weekly, monthly, and annual self-care for our bodies, homes, and vehicles so we and all our “stuff” are tip-top. Remember: Let’s not be so busy driving that we run out of gas.  Valuing ourselves first actually supports us in serving others better.
  • Integrate times for rest, nourishment, play, and work. Remember: God doesn’t give gold stars for overdoing, sacrificing, or struggling.  We just burn out, become resentful, and often hurt ourselves.
  • Notice and acknowledge both our feelings when we say “Yes” to something and “No” to something. As Jesus advises in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37), “Let your ‘Yes,’ be ‘Yes,’ and let your ‘No,’ be ‘No.’” Remember: If we waffle, and believe that we “should” do something that isn’t ours to do or that we can’t do, we devalue ourselves and others involved.
  • Discern how we share ourselves on social media, and whom or what we follow. Let us notice whether our feeds uplift and support our lives, or whether we feel “bad” about ourselves and our accomplishments.  Remember: We each have divine gifts which bless this world.  As we focus on ours first, we appreciate ourselves and feel content with who we are now.

Overall, remember: Our lives are divine journeys of learning and growth.  No matter where we are, however we are, we are God’s Beloved, Divine Creations, and God is with us, within us, in the midst of every part of the journey.

© 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.

Face Everything and Rise

A reference website I use sometimes runs ads along its margins.  One has a caption which asks, “Will 2018 bring change?” and shows a young woman staring into space.  She reminds me of my younger self in Washington, D.C., several years ago when a new administration came to office and sent some of us to unemployment.

At first, I was in shock.  Then, I felt like a walking anxiety attack.  On nights, when I actually fell asleep, I awoke soon after, shaking in fear.  Sometimes, I created my own waking nightmares, including being a bag lady in the slums.

During that time, an older, wiser friend reminded me that I could choose the nightmares or I could choose the possibilities.  She taught me about visualization, so I could imagine a more prosperous and fulfilling future.

One of the truths we discover on this journey is: Life is change.  Sometimes we choose the change.  Sometimes we don’t.  Either way, it’s discombobulating when change pushes us beyond our comfort zones and/or disrupts our “ideal” plans.

Facing and embracing change, even when we choose it, requires a continual deepening of our inner faith and strength.  It requires courage to face an unknown future with trust.  It means transforming fear from “Forget Everything and Run” to “Face Everything and Rise.”

To help you rise, consider these strategies:

  • Recommit to your spiritual practice and plan extra time for contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection.
  • Recommit to any creative activities — carving, crafting, drawing, painting, cooking, baking, singing, dancing, writing, gardening — you love, especially if you’ve neglected them.
  • Recommit to your self-care. See the doctor, dentist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, or other practitioners who support you in your physical healing.  Treat yourself to facials, massages, reflexology, or mani-pedis.
  • Leave room in your schedule for extra rest and for mourning the losses change brings, especially if it’s related to a long-term illness, break-up, divorce, or loved one’s death.
  • Stay connected to loving relatives, trusted friends, clergy, counselors, sponsors, or therapists who can help you navigate the changes in healthy ways. Ask them to pray with you and remind you, as my friend reminded me, about your resilience and ability to learn and adapt.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Avoid making big decisions, such as buying or selling a home or car, diving headlong into a new romance, or trashing valuable possessions, as well as excessive eating, drinking, shopping, or other addictions you’ll regret later.
  • Get out of the house and into nature daily. Notice the gentle changes as trees fill with leaves, flowers bloom, snow melts, and rain falls.

Overall, when we face life’s changes directly, rather than seek the nearest exit, we support our inner growth and transformation.  We harmonize with the ebbs and flows of life, so we feel calmer.  Especially, we remember that we’re divine creations of God, eternally grace-giving, infinitely compassionate, unconditionally loving, so we know that we can overcome life’s challenges and rise beyond them.

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

All Children of God

As a pastor, I’m sometimes perceived as being closer to God than others.  Though I believe that we’re as close to God as we allow ourselves to be.  When tragedy strikes, as it did again, now in Parkland, Fla., people often ask: “Where was God when this happened?  And I answer: “God was there.  Where they were.  And God is here.  Where we are.”

People also ask: “How could this happen?  Again?”  Some wonder how God could “let it happen.”  Although the truth is, God doesn’t “let” things happen.  We choose how we’ll behave, vote, think, speak, and believe.  We choose whether we’ll address the facts before us or whether we’ll wave them away.   God doesn’t choose for us.  We have choices and free will.  We choose whether we’ll pay attention, whether we’ll open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts.  Especially when another person doesn’t act, sound, think, live, look, or love as we do.

God doesn’t turn away, though sometimes we do because we don’t want to hear or see.  It’s too painful to listen or look.  “Besides, it isn’t our problem,” some say.  “We don’t know them.  They aren’t our children.”

Though as CNN News Analyst Philip Mudd’s cry reminds us: “A child of God is dead.”

And every death, report of harassment, empty belly, and orphaned child remind us how fragile and how precious life is.  The reports invite us to turn toward one another in compassion, rather than turn away in disgust.  For when we turn away from one another, we also turn away from God.  And in doing so, we turn a “blind” eye to the “other,” who’s also a child of God: mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband, wife, partner, friend.

As we scan the headlines noting another school shooting, immigration “reform,” and all kinds of neglect and abuse, we would do well to remember: God isn’t a capricious puppeteer pulling our strings, logging whether some of us are more worthy than others, more deserving of peace, love, joy, sustenance, security, and safety.  Each of us is worthy.  We’re all one before God.

In the light of this new day, thoughts and prayers can seem worthless.  Apologies and condolences may ring hollow.  Yet, we’re continually called to open our eyes, to see that the Presence of God is here, with us, within us, and among us.

So, if we need something to do, after we cry, mourn, rage, and write or call our senators and representatives offering our opinions on how to prevent more carnage, we best take a loved one’s hand.  We best look into a stranger’s eyes.  Smile.  Say: “The Divine in me beholds the Divine in you.”  And truly look at them, knowing as we do, that God is here.  Where we are.  All beloved, divine, worthy Children of God.

Namaste, Blessed Readers.

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