Trust God’s Will

Staying faithful requires that we release preconceived notions about how our lives “should” unfold.  It also requires that we cease giving God directions and follow the directions and guidance always available to us.

In their life-transforming work The Quest: A Journey of Spiritual Rediscovery (© 1993, 2001), Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla, former directors of Silent Unity, ask:

“Why do we insist on having things our way, when God’s way is so much better?”     (p. 141)

Here are a few of their thoughts about God’s Will:

“. . . God’s will for you comes more as a never-changing murmur that laps gently upon your consciousness like ripples on the shore of a peaceful lake.  God speaks to you in a still, small voice like the tapping of a conductor’s baton.  It is a gentle tapping, a sweet nudging in the direction of your good.

“You will never know God’s will by intellectualizing and conjecturing what that will is.  God doesn’t speak in words.  God speaks to you in feelings, in dreams, in intuitive perceptions, through the words of others, through the love of others, in an inspiring story, in a beautiful scene, in the gaze of a loved one, in the face of a child, and in dozens of other gentle ways.  You cannot know God’s will intellectually.  Only be becoming aware of life, of living . . . can you hear it.” (p. 142)

As we allow ourselves to become aware of the life around us, we hear God’s Presence in new and wonderful ways.  Then, we begin to feel ourselves guided in the best directions for us.

Faith and Expectation

“To expect the good, to expect answer to our prayers — this we think of as faith.  The other half of expecting is waiting, and we do not often associate waiting with faith.  In fact, if we pray with great faith and expectation and our answer does not come immediately, if we have to wait, we may think that we have failed, that our faith has failed.  In our despair we may even think that God has failed. . . .

“Expecting and waiting: both are forms of faith.  It takes faith to expect answers to prayer, to expect healing in the midst of pain, to expect guidance when darkness envelopes us, to expect peace when turmoil prevails, to expect success though we have heretofore failed.

“It takes faith to expect answers to prayer, it takes faith to wait for the results that we have the faith to believe are forthcoming. . . .

“When Jesus compared faith to a grain of mustard, He was showing us that our expectation can far surpass the present smallness of that in which we place our faith.  An acorn is a small seed, but ‘lo! the mighty oak.’”

— Martha Smock

Thriving in a Drought

Last week, I retreated along the Frederica River in Georgia.  In the evening, I watched the sun set gold, pink, red and purple as sailboats dropped anchor for the night.  In the morning, I meditated at my bedroom window, gazing at the river’s gentle flow.

Such a lovely contrast it was to the baked ground and dried grass here in North Central Florida, where we’re experiencing a drought.  “My” pond has disappeared, and I miss it.  I loved the flowing water and spurting fountain which reminded me to remain in the flow of life.

Sometimes, in our lives, the flow ceases.  Sometimes things dry up and die, no rain is forecast, and all possibilities are dead ends.  We may experience these droughts in various aspects of our lives: dating, romance or intimate relationships; the best work for our gifts and talents; illness which requires extensive medical care and/or rehabilitation; seeming insurmountable debts or obligations; an unfulfilling spiritual practice.

Droughts, even though we don’t like them, provide opportunities to develop greater spiritual strength.  If you, Blessed Reader, are experiencing a drought, here are some spiritual practices to sustain you:

  • Embrace and rejoice in your time of contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection.
  • If you haven’t done so already, mourn any losses associated with the drought. Resist the urge to go back and do something the “old way.” Remember that the desire to look backward and wish we’d done it differently is part of the mourning process.
  • Forgive yourself for any choices you made which could have “caused” this drought. Remember that you made the best choices at the time.  Know that you have the inner strength to heal, grow and choose differently, with keener awareness and understanding.
  • Release, in healthy ways, any anger, frustration or impatience you may feel in your body: yell, cry, hit a punching bag, beat a pillow. Also, notice any clenching or tightening in your body. Remember to breathe deeply.
  • Practice gratitude, blessing the past for its gifts. As soon as you can, even if it begins with clenched teeth, thank the past relationship for the love you shared; the medicine and exercises for helping your body heal; the loan for confidence in your ability to repay; the companies or contacts for assisting you in knowing your divine gifts; the spiritual practices for leading you to your new, best path.
  • Discern whether the drought signifies a pause or an ending. Either way, as you prepare to move forward, consider what you can clean, clear or re-purpose while you wait.
  • Avoid clinging to one particular way and resist the urge to rush or force anything. Trust in divine outcome and in your inner wisdom to lead you through your open doors.
  • Remember, no matter what, that you are God’s beloved creation, unconditionally loved, enfolded in infinite compassion and ever-abiding grace, and that you are made to thrive.

© 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.

An Inspirational Thought on Faith

“ . . . You already have all the faith you will ever need.  . . . You don’t gain faith; you discover it and you direct it.  The issue is not how much faith you have, but where your faith is invested.  You have faith on many different levels and in many different ways, but its most perfect expression is in your spiritual nature.  True faith is that deep inner knowing that the good you desire is already yours.  True spiritual faith is complete trust in God’s will.”

— Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla

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.

In Sync

This is how it happens, how we discover that life is synchronicity.

If we’ve been doing our work, taking our (at least once) daily time for contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection, we’re synchronizing ourselves to the rhythm and flow of life.  We’re honing our spiritual senses, so our physical senses (hearing, scent, sight, taste, touch) are keener.

One week, this is how I felt it.  I acknowledge that I may have more practice than some, though I believe anyone can do this.

That week, I prepared a sermon based on Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4).  I enjoy this story’s mystical tone, and I read several versions, noting key words.  Especially, I contemplated the woman’s desire for living water, something which would quench her thirst for life, so she could enjoy herself and know the Presence of God, with her and within her.

At this time, I also prepared for one congregant’s memorial, while another congregant was removed from life support, his journey into eternal life imminent.  I reflected on how I knew these men and how each lived, both loving men of faith, generosity, good humor, integrity and wisdom who strove to embrace life’s joys and thrive despite illness and loss.

On Sunday morning, when I started the car, I realized that I’d left the radio on.  Ordinarily, I might have turned it off and driven to church in silence.  But “Dream On,” Aerosmith’s 1973 ballad, began to play, and I heard its prophecy:

The past is gone

It went by, like dusk to dawn

Isn’t that the way

Everybody’s got the dues in life to pay

I know nobody knows

Where it comes and where it goes. . . .

Live and learn from fools and

From sages

You know it’s true, oh

All these feelings come back to you . . . .

All the feelings: All we can learn on life’s journey, if we’re paying attention to both success and failure, whether ours or someone else’s.  And how like that woman at the well some are, sometimes indulging in or wasting time with activities, people, places, possessions, and/or substances which never completely satisfy our desire to thrive.

That feeling, the one which never leaves, is divine discontent.  It’s a striving or longing which we can’t articulate, a feeling deep inside which won’t depart until we acknowledge and embrace it, and allow it to reveal our dreams and heart’s desires.

That feeling is the call of Spirit, the Presence of God within us, longing to be expressed.  In every way, it continually calls us to synchronize ourselves with the world around us.  And no matter who we are, what we’ve done before, or where we’ve been, we can use the feeling to transform ourselves and our lives, so we can thrive in the fullness of life before this journey ends.

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

Waiting and Waiting and Waiting Some More

The path around the pond is gray. The grass, normally lush this time of year, lies in brown clumps and pale green patches.  Even the hanging moss looks beleaguered, drooping from dry limbs.

The pond itself is half its size and the fountain is still.  A dull mechanism sits in the shallow center like a fallen robot.  Muddy water ripples only in a spring breeze.  While last season I trekked mud home, now there’s only dust, so fine it somehow seeps through my socks and into the crevices of my toes.

The duck family sits along a dry bank, as if the water is too stale and warm for bathing, drinking or swimming.  The largest duck waddles to the edge, like an old lady dabbing her toe into a pool, then turns back to the others and quacks, as if to say the water is too warm to be refreshing.  She settles herself in a shady spot free of the late afternoon sun.  I like to imagine that we share the same thought, wondering when the rains will come.

Many here wait for rain, longing for it, like the imminent grace we can’t yet feel.  I now feel silly carrying an umbrella and imagine saying, “Fine, God. I’ll call Your bluff.  Let it pour so I’m soaked to the bone and glad about it.”

Alas, God never plays our game of bluff.  And the pond recedes further to reveal a mid-bank which divides the sections in half, like a hard-boiled egg split in two.  I continue my walks, contemplating the dull patches, faded leaves and shriveled berries even the birds ignore.  I continue to walk, and wait, knowing that rain must come soon, though I know not when.

In scripture, someone always waits.  Time after time, in so many ways, we’re told to wait upon the Lord, wait for a sign, wait for God.  As I consider verse after verse, I realize that our ancient ancestors seem as impatient as we are, and they didn’t have fast food, drive-through pharmacies or Netflix.

Waiting for rain, or anything else requires a certain level of faith and trust, as well as perseverance and strength.  It isn’t easy to wait, wait and wait some more, trusting that we’ll meet the love of our life; land the perfect job; receive hopeful test results; get admitted to the university, society, program, club of our choice; grow our savings; age gracefully.

Tom Petty understood this when he sang:

The waiting is the hardest part . . .
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part.

I want the wait for rain — and all else I desire — to be as easy as possible.  So, for now, I leave the umbrella home.  My tote bag — and my mind — are lighter.  Soaking, steady rain will come again, and I’ll let it wash over me, the way God’s grace always does, exactly when we need it most.

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