A Way to Peace

No matter what is occurring in the world or in our lives, we can choose to be peaceful, to be the peace we seek.  To achieve this, we would do well to invest in personal times of stillness and silence.  These times of contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection are gifts of peace we give, first to ourselves, then to others.

Emmet Fox (“Your Daily Visit with God,” © 1952), reminds us:

“We all know that . . . God alone . . . is our peace — although nearly all of us tend to forget it from time to time.  We forget it when we begin to neglect our daily visit with God.  Now, when you think that you are too busy for your daily visit . . . what wonderful thing are you doing that is more important?  There is nothing that you could possibly do with that time which would bring you greater benefit than perfect peace.  As a matter of fact, if you have something very important and urgent to do, your visit will make that very important thing go through much more easily and successfully.”

Growing All The Time

Sometimes, as we take the first small steps forward, plant the first seeds of change into our lives, we wonder whether we’re getting anywhere or accomplishing anything.  We know that we’re “supposed” to grow; yet when we seek signs outside ourselves, the landscape still appears barren.

I believe that Jesus understood our continual desire to both plant and grow.  In the “Parable of the Growing Seed” [Mark 4:26-29], which some Bible scholars believe is an Earth parable, Jesus explains:

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he[/she] does not know how.  Earth produces of itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  And when the grain is ripe, at once he[/she] goes in with a sickle, because the harvest has come.

As appropriate for his 1st century agrarian culture, Jesus uses the analogy of seeds and Earth to reveal how transformation occurs, within the Earth — and — within us.  He reminds us that once we choose to plant, we also choose to trust that our harvest will unfold before us, little by little, one step at a time.

Our understanding and acceptance of this is tremendously liberating as we remember: Seeds produce as is their nature — and so do we.  We are divinely created by God, Divine Creator of all things, to grow and thrive.  And when we remember that we can grow all the time, we also can choose to rise above and grow beyond daunting challenges.

The humblest farmers admit that they don’t completely understand how crops grow, although they understand their role: They nurture growth; they don’t force it.  This awareness reminds us to remain faithful throughout the process, whatever our process is, and trust in divine outcome, especially if we want to steer the whole Universe to make something happen before its time.

It also reminds us that crops grow in their time, which isn’t always ours.  Because the truth is: It isn’t our job to know how, when or where. That’s God’s job.  So on the way, we do what we can:

  • Basking in the sunshine and/or resting in the moon glow of prayer, meditation, reflection and contemplation.
  • Nourishing ourselves with healthy foods and yummy treats; a peaceful night’s rest; enjoyable exercise; fun, laughter and play.
  • Watering with encouraging words and loving deeds from those who most appreciate, honor, support and value our growth process.
  • Nurturing with gratitude for each day’s blessings.
  • Rejoicing in even the smallest sprouts and tiniest buds.

As we continue on our way, we begin to notice the depths of our innate faith, strength and wisdom.  Then we discover how perfectly our road is unfolding before us, as we allow God’s divine power and presence to lead the way.

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

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.