Experiencing God Beyond the Building

In towns and countries around the world, many houses of worship —churches, temples, synagogues, mosques — are remaining closed.  Many of them have gone virtual, though a few have shut their doors forever. 

Whatever the religion, the building was often more important than the spiritual practice.  Millions of dollars and thousands of pledge drives were devoted to maintain and enhance them because people needed somewhere to go to find God.

For some, this building became the only worthy place for God to dwell.  If we attended weekly worship in the chosen building, we often imagined that we would find comfort, salvation, redemption, and eternal peace.

How sobering then for us to realize that that the very places we thought were most holy have also been hotbeds for spreading disease.  And without the building, a physical structure for worship, some of us have felt lost and alone, believing that somehow God is gone and we’re on our own.

Yet, the truth is: God is not found in our buildings only.  God is everywhere present, all the time, in the midst of all our comings and goings, in the midst of all that is occurring around us.  And if we cannot attend worship in a physical building or we feel unfulfilled in a sea of virtual broadcasts, we can experience God in our lives by:

  • Creating a sacred space for prayer, meditation, and contemplation in our own homes.  Anything from a comfortable chair to an entire room counts.  This is our place to be still and silent, even if only for a few minutes a day. 
  • Designing an altar of holy objects and inspiring treasures in our sacred space.  Items can include: a Star of David, cross, Kwan Yin statue, angels, gongs, crystals, prayer beads, photographs, candles, and incense, among many other items.
  • Practicing intentional deep-breathing exercises.  Try belly breath – breathing deeply from your diaphragm – or pranic breath – which follows a series of patterns or rhythms.  Remember: Because our breath is portable, we can use these exercises anytime: when we’re in the grocery store, driving in the car, or in our home office waiting for the WebEx meeting to begin.  Also, these exercises are particularly helpful if we must wear a mask for an extended time because they help us stay grounded in the present moment.
  • Communing with nature.  Walk barefoot in the grass and feel its texture between our toes.  Meditate under a shady tree on a park bench and consider the texture of bark and color of leaves. Hike a mountain trail, focusing on the path’s twists and turns.  Kayak a river, watching how the water flows.  Swim in the ocean and float on the waves.  Practice sky-gazing by viewing stars shining at night or clouds floating by during the day.  Watch rain fall and listen to its sounds on the roof, pavement, and window panes.
  • Singing favorite hymns and/or chanting mantras, either alone, with family, or with a virtual group.  If you were part of a choral, convene the group virtually and take turns leading the songs.
  • Gathering with a virtual community of people who share similar interests, such as cooking, gardening, reading, knitting, or sculpting.  Because we are creative beings, sharing our creativity with others reminds us of how many different gifts we have to give one another.  Whatever the group, ensure that each person has time to share about their current project.
  • Enjoy more time with pets, if we have them.  Walking the dog, stroking the cat, milking the goats, even feeding the goldfish and filling the bird feeder remind us that we are all God’s creatures, great and small.

As we continue navigating our new way of life, let us remember that God lives and moves and expresses in each of us, 24/7/365, always and in all ways.  The more we become aware of God in the midst of everything around us, the more personal God becomes to us, not as some amorphous thing in a building, but as the source and sustenance of our entire life. 

Wherever we are, no matter what is occurring, we can affirm: “Wherever I am, God is.  And so it is.”  And so we allow it to be.

Doing the Limbo

Anyone who’s attended an old-time dance party knows the Limbo Rock.  The popular dance asks us to shimmy ourselves below a bar without knocking it over.

Succeeding at the Limbo Rock doesn’t require the coolest moves.  It requires the most dexterity and flexibility, which we also need to dance the Limbo of Life.

Literally, limbo means being between here and there, neither in nor out, on nor off, when we don’t know what’s next.  Limbo is an uncertain, indefinite time of waiting. 

Millions live in limbo these days, as our governments, institutions, and organizations attempt to determine new standards of safety and well-being.  Perhaps, you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader, few of them agree about these standards.  So, we’ve reached one of life’s waystations where we’re left to discern our new normal. 

During this time, spiritual maturity helps us remain patient as we renew our faith and build our spiritual strength.  Rather than fuss about waiting, force things to happen, or hide in terror, dexterity and flexibility let us:

  • Enjoy time in stillness and silence.  Sit, rest, gaze at artwork on the walls or flowers in the garden, pet the dog, cradle a child.  If we believe that we aren’t doing anything, remember that all spiritual masters became that way because they knew how to be still and wait.
  • Connect, at least weekly, with a prayer partner and BFF.  Share gratitude for the present and imagine hope for the future.
  • Honor our bodies.  Get enough sleep, exercise, and nourishment.  Take necessary medications.  If we are ill, all our energy and attention turns to healing.  If we’re caregivers in any capacity, we honor ourselves and others best when we choose self-care first.  None of us can give from an empty well.
  • Honor our feelings, especially sadness, grief, and confusion.  Many of us are experiencing losses, so cry as needed.  Tears aren’t a sign of weakness; they mean our hearts are open and we’re mourning something we love.
  • Tackle a task we’ve avoided, especially if it will bring ease.  If we need assistance, many professionals including accountants, attorneys, mental health counselors, and organizers are glad to work virtually.  Research recommendations from trusted friends.
  • Embrace a creative activity or learn a new skill.  Countless online classes are available, and libraries and museums offer an abundance of free, virtual resources.
  • Schedule playtime.  No attempts to accomplish anything.  Just have fun.  Find board games the whole family can enjoy like Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders.  Or use an old-fashioned deck of cards to play Canasta, Gin, or Go Fish.
  • Appreciate the simple gifts of good health, safe shelter, comfortable clothes, and a full belly.

Overall, know that even when our lives seem to be “on-hold,” we still have the inner power and intuition to choose our next steps.  Especially, remember that God in the midst of us is assurance and wisdom as we remain open to the best paths ahead.

© 2020 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved.  Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay.

What’s Happening Now

During a difficult life transition, I fretted about outcomes, sometimes feeling as if I’d spin out of control.   Fortunately, I attended a weekly sangha, and our group meditations anchored my faith.  One day, I admitted my fears to our teacher, Maggie.  She acknowledged them, then reminded me to stay present to my new life unfolding.  “It’ll be all right,” she assured me.  “This is just what’s happening now.”

More than 20 years later, Maggie’s wisdom still resonates because it’s a hallmark of spiritual maturity: When we accept what’s happening now, we remember that we control little more than ourselves in life, so we can choose how we’ll flow with what is.

To find comfort in what’s happening now, we can:

  • Remain anchored in our contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection practices.  Breathe deep, belly breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  Concentrating on our breath relaxes our minds and calms our racing heartbeats, anytime, anywhere.
  • Do daily chores mindfully.  Everything from peeling an orange and inhaling the scent to humming a favorite tune as we wash our hands is a grounding, mindfulness practice.
  • Limit long-range planning, pushing for long-term commitments, or rushing to make decisions.  Focus on present needs such as completing today’s projects and buying this week’s groceries.
  • Dive into a creative activity: carving, coloring, gardening, knitting, painting, sculpting, etc.  Work it step by step, noting accomplishments daily.
  • Avoid instant gratification which may lead to later regrets.  Ask: “How will I feel about this next week, next month, next year?  Am I willing to wait?  What other choices might I have?”  Then list all the choices we discern are best now.
  • Halt dramas and conversations about how awful or difficult life is, how hard we are/aren’t working, or what someone else is/isn’t doing.
  • Beware offering or accepting unsolicited advice.  As soon as we say or hear, “You should,” we likely need to pause and re-examine our intentions.  This applies to our inner voice, too.  No “shoulding” on ourselves; we’re doing the best we can.
  • Get out of bed, no tossing and turning, if we awaken early, anywhere from 3:00 to 6:00 AM.  During these “God Hours,” we’re most attuned to Spirit and our inner creativity, so they’re sacred times for extra meditation, study, or crafting.
  • Acknowledge grief and loss.  Those moments which seem like we’re walking through pools of molasses or crying for no reason are ways we mourn.  Even if we feel silly, we can find comfort in hugging a pillow or stuffed animal, digging in the dirt, singing at the top of our lungs, pounding bread dough, or skipping around the neighborhood.
  • Be physically distant for safety and well-being, but stay socially connected by phone, text, email, social media, Zoom, FaceTime, etc.  Plan virtual visits to share meals, play music, dance, or continue book group discussions.

Remember, especially, that life sorts itself out.  As we remain faithful, present to what’s happening now without attaching to it, we discover simple joys in things as they are.  And as a new season unfolds, we can let the journey carry us to what’s next, trusting that this too shall pass.

© 2020 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved. – Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay