In the Name of Peace

Advent, a season of preparation and reflection, continues with a focus on peace — within the world and within ourselves.  As we journey toward Christmas, we prepare for the birth of the Christ Presence and anticipate a peaceful future.

Perhaps we also notice: Sometimes, one person or event can inspire another.  As Jesus’s older cousin John the Baptist did when he traveled through the Judean wilderness, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was near (see Matthew 3:1-12: “Preparing the Way”).  He declared that another prophet would follow him, and he prepared the people by baptizing them in the River Jordan, offering physical and spiritual purification as they anticipated a new Heaven on Earth.

John, a bombastic, biblical “bad boy,” liked to challenge people and argue about how others chose to follow God’s law.  He concentrated more on the law’s letter than its spirit.  Mystically, John the Baptist can represent that part of us which wants to fight about what’s correct, rather than working to ensure peace.  John within us is a strong intellectual, though seldom a compassionate, peaceful presence.

During Advent, as we consider peace, we can choose whether we want to be more like John or like the one who’ll be called Prince of Peace.  Rather than blaming, finger-pointing and arguing with someone about who’s correct, we can choose to see the situation differently, change our behavior and transform our lives.  We can remember: People change only when they’re ready and some situations are out of our control.  So, we can choose whether we want to be “correct.” Or whether we want to be peaceful.

As we reflect on how the Prince of Peace will live, we may wonder how he remained steadfast and faithful in the face of harsh conflicts and challenges.  We may doubt that we ever could do as he did.  Though perhaps we can be inspired by a modern-day peaceful presence, Noble Peace Prize recipient and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, who survived in prison for 27 years, from 7 November 1962 to 11 February 1990, chose to focus on what he could transform — himself first.  He said:

. . . the first thing is to be honest with yourself.  You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.  . . . Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.

As we consider peace, we can remember that Mandela cherished the ideal of a harmonious, peaceful, democratic and free society with opportunities for all people.  When he was freed, he said:

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

And despite all he experienced, he also said:

I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.

A beautiful dream.  One, I pray, we hold for our nation, too.

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

Uncommon Faith

We’ve entered the season of Advent, a slow, quiet, dark time which prepares us for the birth — or awakening — of the Christ Presence.  Advent, from the Latin adventus, meaning arrival, invites us to prepare for a celebration unlike most others.  And, as with all celebrations, whether grand and glorious or simple and elegant, we can choose to take the calm, careful, diligent, faithful steps necessary to create a delightful experience for ourselves and any others sharing in the festivities.

As we prepare, we’re asked to believe in a divine outcome, to remain faithful that the celebration will be both wondrous and joyous, even when outer appearances suggest that the outcome will be anything but.  In the darkness of the season, we’re invited to look beyond appearances.  To know that in darkness there also is seeing.  To realize that as we adjust our sight, we also expand our vision.

In this season, perhaps more than others, we’re encouraged to remain faithful, even when we feel discouraged and doubtful.  We’re reminded to take another plunge into the depths of our inner well of faith, remembering that all the faith we ever need already is within us.

As we do, we can contemplate the words of Fred Gailey, the attorney who defends Kris Kringle in Valentine Davies’s delightful and uplifting holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street”:

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.

That kind of faith is uncommon in most people: To believe when our five physical senses and our worldly common sense says: “Can’t happen.  No way.  Impossible.”  The true faith, the faith of the one who will be born in a manger, is the kind of uncommon faith so many of us desire.  It is the deep, abiding faith which sees beyond appearances, seizes opportunities, embraces possibilities, plans glorious celebrations on a shoestring and anticipates divine outcome.

Uncommon faith knows and trusts that a magnificent future is unfolding, even without the coming attractions.  Uncommon faith relinquishes control and ceases giving God directions.  Uncommon faith does nothing without putting God first and knowing God as unconditional love, infinite compassion and ever-abiding grace.  Uncommon faith sees clearly in darkness.  Uncommon faith understands that God’s immense power and presence can transform even the smallest things, the most unlikely people, and the most hopeless circumstances.

Especially, during this season, uncommon faith remembers what God has done before and trusts in what God continues doing.  We already know how the story ends: a baby, a messenger of uncommon faith, peace, love and joy is to be born in a manger, surrounded by his parents, shepherds, wise folk, angels, and a shining star.

And, with wonder, awe and uncommon faith, we prepare for the celebration — and we believe.

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

God Doesn’t Fix It; We Do

Peace has been the theme for the second week of Advent. And what a week for it, as yet another mass shooting claimed the lives of people in San Bernardino, California, and violence continues to erupt in various places around the globe.

The shouting “to do something” has gotten louder, though not more peaceful. Both sides of the aisle (pick your venue) argue vehemently about their beliefs. On one side they declare: “Let’s Pray.” On the other side they declare, as did one New York Daily News headline: “God Isn’t Fixing This.”

Both sides are correct. And during this Advent season of preparation, which anticipates the birth of one who will be called Prince of Peace, all of us have an opportunity to understand some truths about God and prayer. No, God isn’t fixing this. And yes, prayer works.

It’s true. God isn’t going to fix this – or anything else. Despite what some may believe, God won’t appear from the sky like Superman or Wonder Woman. God isn’t a Superhero rushing in to save us from ourselves. Neither is God a Master Puppeteer, capriciously pulling our strings. And no amount of praying, beseeching, crying, cajoling, bombing, or shooting is going to change God.

However – and it’s a big however – we can change, if we choose to – even when we don’t particularly like or agree with circumstances around us. Change is our choice, now, and as much as it was, long before Jesus was born. The common denominator is us. We’re the ones who can change – or not. So, when we pray, we don’t pray to change God. We pray to change ourselves, to align ourselves with God, Divine Creator and Source of All, Infinite Compassion, Unconditional Love.

Our prayers for peace, understanding, guidance, prosperity, or anything else aren’t ever about getting God to “do” something. God doesn’t choose for us. We choose. And in prayer, we understand which choices are best for us, based on our own spiritual understanding.

Every prayer we pray can guide us, because prayer activates the divine power within us – the same divine power which Jesus and all spiritual masters and mystics have. So, in prayer, we don’t ask God to fix, do or choose anything. Rather, if we remain in a place of surrender, our prayers often provide clarity. This allows us to see the road ahead and to act at our highest level of spiritual development and understanding.

During Advent, as we await the birth of the child to be called a beacon of Peace to the world, we also prepare ourselves. Because this child isn’t one child; this child is all of us.

The Presence of God within us is preparing to be born, as beacons of peace – in our world, now. This peace begins in prayer, aligned with God, one step out in the world at a time – as us.

In this Advent season, may peace be with you, Blessed Reader and may you also be peace.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Faith Drives Hope

Advent, the Season of Preparation, is already underway. It’s a time to look forward, joyfully anticipating and patiently preparing for new life. Depending on which tradition one follows, this first week of Advent focuses on hope or faith. While these concepts can be mutually exclusive, they operate mostly powerfully when they’re aligned, especially as part of our prayer practice. In our most powerful prayers, usually the prayers of release and surrender – when we lay it all down before God – hope and faith unite to guide us in following God’s divine ways.

This kind of prayer, prayed by Jesus the Christ and all other spiritual masters, wipes our slates clean, activates grace and allows us to travel journeys we barely imagined possible. When we faithfully surrender in prayer, we align ourselves with God. And we remember: We aren’t praying to change God. We’re praying to change ourselves and our outlook by expanding our vision and re-activating all the faith already within us.

As we trust in God’s way, hope and faith work together. Even when we’re not sure where our path is leading, hope and faith help us take our seat on the bus of life and let God do the “driving.” Hope gets us dressed, out the door and onto the bus. Faith guides our steps and carries us into the meeting, appointment, interview, new town, new job, and/or fresh encounter. Faith gets us moving again and again, even when we don’t initially see results we like or expect. Hope says: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can get there now that I’m on the bus.” Faith says: “Of course, you can. Keep your vision elevated and focus on God’s path, the best path to travel.”

This is the easiest way to travel life’s journeys. For, as many of us have learned, when we give God directions and try to force the process, we usually end up feeling hopeless, discouraged and/or upset that we didn’t get what we wanted. We believe that our prayers weren’t answered. Except they were. We just didn’t like the answer.

Martha Smock, a former editor of Daily Word magazine said, “Faith is the spiritual side of hope.” Her wisdom reminds us: Being hopeful isn’t enough because hope alone sees only the outer appearance and believes it’s the reality. Yet, when aligned with faith, hope develops substance, which helps us trust in realities we don’t yet see.

As we faithfully travel God’s path on the journey of life, we begin to feel the transformation. As we pray, we feel more comfortable taking our hands off the universal steering wheel. As we become still and silent, we feel the Presence of God, here, working through us and others we encounter, now. So, faithfully, we embrace the Season of Advent, trusting that peace, love and ultimately joy, are here for us, on every journey we travel.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

‘Tis (Not) the Season

Travel with me, Blessed Reader, on a brief shopping excursion. The early November afternoon is an unseasonably warm 85 degrees. Many people are out and about, the usual roadways congested, though not unmanageable. On one of these roadways, an area is fenced off. An edge of fence sports a sign which reads: “Buy Christmas Trees Here.”

At Office Max, the air conditioning runs full blast. I scan the aisle signs and immediately notice several displays for 2016 calendars and planners, though my search for plain writing paper takes some work. Then I hear the strains of Bing Crosby singing, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I cannot hide my disgust and flee, even as a young salesman asks whether he can help me find something.

In Michaels, the smell of bayberry and spice is so strong I can barely breathe. Aisles overflow with an abundance of Christmas items in gold, silver, red, green and white. Bows, wrapping paper, boxes, wreathes, lights, garland, and glitter cascade from shelves. A man searching for child’s art supplies appears dazed and confused. As I seek writing paper, a young mother with two small children asks a salesclerk where she might find a lit nativity set for her front lawn.

Now, the salesclerk appears confused. She furrows her brow at the mother and me. I realize the mother doesn’t speak English well and tell the clerk that this customer means the manger scene with the animals, angel, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. The mother nods ardently, smiling as I explain. Even if she can’t communicate it, she and I understand one another. The salesclerk calls someone for clarification, which reveals that this Michaels carries no such item. The woman smiles again at me, thanks us both, and leaves with her children. I follow closely behind, as I discover this Michaels doesn’t carry what I seek either.

Then, I take my tote bags and a shopping cart into Trader Joe’s, where I see a large, ornately decorated black board which reads, “The Turkeys are Coming.” I breathe a sigh of relief, appreciating the store’s sense of timing. Along a front wall sits a display of cornbread stuffing mix. An adjacent stand displays Advent calendars. I see it and smile. As a pastor, I preach on Advent, the Season of Preparation which heralds in the 12 days of Christmas, traditionally ending in early January with Epiphany. At the check-out line, the young mother and I recognize each another. She nods and smiles once more as we each pay for our groceries. Neither of us has any Thanksgiving items – yet.

It’s no wonder so many people not only dread the holidays, but also are too weary to enjoy them. The holidays, however we define and celebrate them, often become just one more thing to check off our To-Do lists. So, we hurry through the experience and miss the fun of a slow, deliberate, faithful journey which leads from one season to the next, one delightful holiday season at a time.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.