March On

During my years in Washington, D.C., I participated in several rallies and marches.  One occurred at Ward Circle, just outside the American University campus where I was completing my final semester as a sociology undergrad.  For a class activity, I stood with Professor Barbara Kaplan, waving a sign which read: “Peace Now.”

Times were calm.  People drove past, waving and honking sporadically.  No one much cared about some college students protesting in the nation’s capital.  When my picture appeared in the school newspaper, I felt honored.  Professor Kaplan patted me on the back and winked: “Well done.  Now you’ll have a file at FBI headquarters.”  I wasn’t concerned.

A few years later, I marched with a group of women along Constitution Avenue to a rally at the Supreme Court.  We waved signs supporting women’s rights, especially for equal pay and affordable health care.  On the Supreme Court steps, as I awaited the keynote address, another woman approached and started talking.  At first, I thought we shared similar views.  Then she barraged my friends and me with statistics about abortion, birth control and infant mortality.  I attempted to shout her down, but to no avail.  Eventually, I became hoarse, muttered something like, “Whatever,” and moved away.  But not before I heard her say, “They’ll get you for this.  You’re going to hell.”

For a while, I felt nervous, not about hell, but about what my employer might think.  Or other friends and co-workers who didn’t agree with me.  Then, I remembered: I’m an American with freedom of speech, who can stand on the Supreme Court steps and declare my beliefs.

Nowhere, on those occasions or any others, do I remember any violence.  The usual Washington, D.C. security systems functioned properly, and we marched peacefully, albeit loudly.  No one fought or feared the “other side.”

I reflect upon those times, as the liberties our founding fathers and mothers, immigrant ancestors, and spiritual wayshowers established for our well-being are threatened.  I think about how each generation is called to stand up, to step out in faith — yet again — to transform our world so it becomes a better place for generations to come.

I also notice tremendous anxiety, dread and tension.  I pastor to people who fear for their safety, security and livelihoods, including some young adults concerned about what might happen to them if they’re arrested.  Others who campaigned for various causes still look forlorn.  They hang their heads with downcast eyes.  All express their concerns about the future and strive to realign with their faith.

Everywhere, it seems, we seek an encouraging word.  So, to all who march, wherever they may be, I offer this ancient assurance, passed from generation to generation:

“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you [and within you] wherever you go.”   (Joshua 1:9)

Lift your gaze, raise your heads high, and march on, Blessed Readers.

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

Perhaps We’ll Listen

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

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

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

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

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

Now I understand, what you tried to say to me

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free.

They did not listen; they did not know how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not to Worry”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Spiritual Strength

For several years, including while I attended seminary, I was a gym rat.  At the gym, I put in my ear buds and tuned out the world so I could develop my physical strength.  As I did, I discovered that my spiritual strength increased also.

My time in the gym actually deepened my prayer and meditation practice; I learned to tune into myself, trust my intuition, and listen to my still, small voice.  Even as I moved my body, I learned how much spiritual strength I needed to be still and patient, especially at a time when I was learning new things and living in an unfamiliar area.  Since I had no outer assurance of future employment or any idea where my new vocation would take me, I chose to stay strong in my faith.

Our quality of spiritual strength includes our ability to:

  • create stability on a shaky foundation;
  • be still and patient;
  • remain non-resistant and non-attached, especially in the face of uncertainty;
  • embrace our own humility and limitations;
  • accept what we cannot do or control;
  • change direction or attempt something new;
  • endure challenges and persevere in spite of them;
  • discern when and how to act, rather than react;
  • maintain the balance between our heads and hearts; and
  • trust in divine outcome, even when we don’t yet see it.

With spiritual strength, we become more centered and peaceful, even when every fiber of our being screams: “Do something already!”  Because in truth, spiritual strength often says: “Don’t do something.  Just sit there.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Sometimes we need a lot of strength to go alone to the “mountaintop,” be still and work on ourselves.  Then, we realize we need even more when we leave the mountain and attempt to be present with people who may say and do things we not only don’t like, but possibly deplore.  That’s when our spiritual muscles work the most.

As we develop our spiritual strength, we learn to trust and use our intuition – the “God Guidance” so many of us seek.  We find assurance as we discern how to live, not just when we love everything in our lives, but also — and maybe especially — when we don’t.  We discover, as we continue the journey, that our spirituality isn’t only about our relationship with God.  It’s also about our relationship with others, how we see them and how we treat them.  And, as we remain steadfast, centered in faith and trust, we remember the divinity within ourselves — and we recognize the divinity in all others, too.

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