A Place of Thanksgiving

As I prepare for Thanksgiving and reflect on the latest news about refugees, immigration, and border patrols, I’m also reminiscing about giving the invocation and benediction at a naturalization ceremony.  Before the ceremony, the guest speaker, a naturalized citizen who was an engineer, shared his story with me.

As a child in India, he lived in a dirty village in a tiny house without any amenities, including clean drinking water.  He loved to read, though books, a luxury more valuable than gold, were scarce.  He said he knew that one day he would come to America, a land of opportunity, flowing with milk and honey, though he didn’t know how.  Even then, he loved the idea of Thanksgiving, a day to feast on all his blessings.  His childhood faith astounded me, much more hopeful than mine at that age, and I had plenty of clean water and shelves of books.  

As I stepped forward to deliver the invocation, I looked into the crowd.  Forty-one candidates for citizenship, all beautiful, beloved creations of God looked back at me.  I acknowledged these divine expressions and greeted them as if they were my congregation: “Namaste.  The Spirit in me welcomes, honors, embraces and truly rejoices in the Spirit in you.” 

I could only imagine their life journeys to reach that day.  Yet, I still felt our connection, as if we were united for a sacred purpose.  I remembered my own family’s stories.  Three of my four grandparents, several aunts and uncles, and numerous cousins also left other homelands, and became U.S. citizens.  They, too, had dreamt of new lives, faithful despite an unknown future.

After the ceremony, one of the new citizens thanked me in carefully spoken English for my prayers.  I offered my congratulations.  She beamed and shook my hand.  “So thankful,” she said.  “So thankful.” 

Wherever we are this Thanksgiving weekend, whether we listen or not, we’re surround by a chorus of grateful stories: mine, our relatives’, the engineer’s, other naturalized citizens’, and all those awaiting a new homeland.  However we’re willing to hear them, they speak similar truths: As divine children of God, each of us desires safety, security, freedom, comfort, and peace of mind.  We seek a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.  We want a place we call home, where we can savor all our blessings.

No matter who we are, who we love, where we’ve been, how we look, or what’ve done before, we can hold dearly, sometimes cling tightly, to the faith that leads us forward in courage and guides our steps in grace.  For every story and for all those who’ve paved a path for us, let us celebrate that kind of faith. Especially, let us be thankful for all we are now and all we’re still becoming.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers.  Namaste.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

A Friend Indeed

Years ago, as a young executive, I had a friend who seemed to walk on water.  We hung out a lot, and I held her word as sacred. 

Often, I took her advice, even when the faintest still, small voice whispered that her way wasn’t best for me.  Sometimes, I could feel my body tense, my stomach rumbling and heart pounding.  My intuition attempted to guide me, but my intellect said, “She’s so much smarter.  She must be correct.”  Alas, to my own detriment, she was not.  

One day, I sheepishly approached a senior colleague and confided that the relationship felt “off” to me.  I knew that she understood when she said, “You feel ‘bad’ around her, as if you’ll never be good enough unless you do everything her way.” 

When we’re growing and learning, no matter our calendar age, our differentiation — the ability to remain true to ourselves and stay connected and compassionate, even during conflicts or disagreements — may feel “bad,” “lonely,” “yucky,” and/or “uncomfortable.”  Yet, we must differentiate because it’s paramount to our healthy spiritual growth and maturity.  And part of the process means that some relationships will end, while others will transform.  As we mourn these life passages, honoring them for what they were, we also can celebrate our capacity to make new friends.

To distinguish among bosom buddies, office pals, blessed mentors, inspiring teammates, and casual acquaintances, as well as false friends, we can:

  • Understand that having 1,000 friends or followers on social media doesn’t mean we have a lot of warm, caring friendships. 
  • Trust the gut.  If, for example, we repeatedly tune someone out, clench our jaws, or get headaches when we’re with them, it’s likely a signal that we’re out of sync.  We don’t need to analyze the circumstances, though we usually need to terminate the connection, especially if someone pressures us for money or romantic commitments.
  • Heed criticism lightly and consider all the angles, even if we truly value another’s insights and advice.  We’re all entitled to our opinion.
  • Avoid those who need to be “right” and make us “wrong,” or who gaslight, ghost, discount, diminish, turn away, and/or reach for their smart devices whenever we speak. 
  • Beware those who constantly:
    • offer unsolicited advice;
    • talk about themselves and never ask about us;
    • want to coach, correct, fix, and/or instruct us;
    • push their products or personal causes;
    • disregard our boundaries, privacy, and personal space;
    • need rescuing from another drama;
    • philosophize about how we could be, if we only did this, that, or the other thing;
    • gossip about others;
    • interrupt whenever we assert ourselves; and/or
    • know all the answers. 

Overall, remember that even if we feel lonely for a while, we aren’t alone.  Our inner spirit is strong, faith-filled, courageous, and capable.  As we trust ourselves and our intuition, we can take small steps forward into those places and relationships where true friends await, ready to love, support, encourage, and accept us for the divine people we are.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Give It a Rest

As the world seems to move faster than ever, many of us are trying to keep pace.  We ratchet items off to-do lists only to find more to get done the next day.  We’ll rest later, we say, when we’ve accomplished everything on that never-ending list.  Only when we reach the brink of exhaustion and overwhelm, or literally make ourselves sick, do we consider stopping.  

While we may falsely believe that we’re more valued for what we achieve, rest reminds us how precious we are because we’re God’s Beloved Creations.  Resting and renewing ourselves is the part of our spiritual practice which assures us that we’re divine human beings, not robotic human doings. 

So, as we work our practice, let’s give all these a rest:

  • Our Bodies: Some of us need the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night.  Others function well with 6 or 7, and an afternoon nap.  Whether we’re early birds or night owls, we can notice when we accomplish the most during the day and schedule our high-energy efforts for those times.
  • Shoulds: Society has all kinds of ideas about what we “should” have and do. These tiring norms can keep us living by perfectionistic standards and following outrageous trends.  As soon as we choose to stop “shoulding” on ourselves, we start recognizing our own true nature, the essence of our spiritual self.  Then we can set our own criteria for effectiveness and contentment, even if they differ from others.
  • Phones and Smart Devices: Blue lights are meant to draw attention.  At least one hour before bedtime, put away all devices, preferably somewhere outside the bedroom.  Then, wait about an hour after waking to return to them again.  Consider scheduling device-free times for prayer and meditation.
  • News, Information, and Feeds: Stop watching or listening to news, checking the latest tweets, or searching for online bargains at bedtime.  Rather than relax us, these rev our hearts and send our minds swirling.  Save news and searches for higher energy times.  Also, consider scheduling specific times mid-day to check social media sites.
  • Worry and Guilt: Worry is trying to foresee every detail of how the future will unfold.  Guilt is trying to rewind and relive the past.  Both prevent us from being fully present and feeling peace of mind now.  Whenever these creep in, especially at bedtime, we can remind ourselves that we did the best we knew how before, and since we know more now, we can act differently to create a better future.

No matter what needs rest in our lives, let’s remember that no one accomplishes or has it all.  And the beauty of developing spiritual maturity is realizing that who we are and what we have is enough.  As we stay faithful to our own journey, we recognize our true desires and top priorities.  Then, we can rest in peace, savoring each day’s success.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

With Us Still

Earlier this year, my college classmate Dave died.  I saw a mosaic of photos posted on Facebook, one which included me.  I stared at the photo.  Dave was dead?  My classmate who read this blog, who was irreverent and compassionate at the same time.  The one who wouldn’t let cancer get the best of him because, in his irreverence, he would best it.

For several days, I mourned.  And in my mourning, that sorrow we feel for what can no longer be, I remembered others too.

Nancy was one of the first.  We attended high school Chem Lab together.  Neither of us liked Chemistry, though we enjoyed our friendship.  We encouraged each other, especially when I couldn’t do the math, and she couldn’t write the report.  She’d say, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”  Then, I repeated it, and we plowed through our assignments, getting B’s in Chemistry because we worked together.

Sometimes, when I doubt what I’m doing, Nancy is saying, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”

When I began seminary, I met Barry, a gentle, pastoral soul, who enjoyed poetry, especially the Psalms.  He helped mentor new students, guiding us through summer classes.  He explained theology in ways I understood.  One day, during a term break, I received an email that he died.  I couldn’t believe it.  Barry, my guiding light, the poet, was dead. 

Sometimes, when I work with the Psalms, I can feel Barry near.

Janice died after we were ordained.  We shared several classes together, including Homiletics, where I often sat near her and watched her colour code her sermons with assorted highlighters before she preached.  We studied together, sweating out the angst of ministerial reviews, awaiting word that we’d passed the latest test and could continue on our way. 

Sometimes, when I highlight my sermons, Janice is smiling.

Then, Mona, like my big sister in seminary, died.  I just moved to Florida, not far from where she lived, and I remember her delight in realizing that we’d be reunited and could support each other in ministry, as we did in class.  We celebrated each other’s birthdays, meeting at restaurants where we sat for hours, eating, laughing, talking.  When I expressed impatience or concern about how things would unfold, she laughed, tilted her head, and said, “Well, Jenn, you’ve only been doing this for like 5 minutes.”  I’d shake my head and say, “I know.” 

Sometimes, when I feel impatient, I hear Mona calling my name.

Poet James Dillet Freeman says in his poem, “The Traveler,” that when our loved ones die, they “put on invisibility,” though they’re never truly gone.  In this season of passing over and rising up, let us remember that death isn’t only an end, but a beginning, too.  And that wherever our journeys lead, those we love are with us — still.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Included Now

Once Jesus was asked when the Kingdom of God is coming, and he replied: “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things which can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you.’” (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus taught: The Kingdom of God is the place where all creatures, great and small — no matter who we are, what we do, how we look, where we’ve been, or who we love — are included. 

Yet, for so many, this “kingdom” is still like an exclusive country club enshrined behind locked gates to allow only a particular type — justified, gentrified, and classified as the best and brightest — who may belong.  As if each group is allotted its own territory, compartmentalized within a specific region, because some people aren’t the “right kind.”

In this age when information flows faster than water, we can study every religious belief, spiritual practice, and cultural phenomenon at the touch of a button.  The world is more wide open than ever.  Yet, the gates to the kingdom remain closed as anger, fear, and ignorance are permitted to prevail.  

No matter how we try to make it so, the Kingdom of God isn’t about materialism, politics, the right side, winning team, or sacred institution.  Alas, the Kingdom of God won’t ever be a blessed realm for saints, because that is not its purpose. 

Rather, the Kingdom of God is a fellowship of souls, each one, a beloved creation of a Beloved Creator.  Amid life’s messes and pains, joys and celebrations, and everything in between, the Kingdom of God reminds who we are and whose we are.  So, the only way we can hope to realize the glory of this kingdom is to release old beliefs and outmoded ideas of who belongs and who does not. 

All of Jesus’s teachings remind us that the kingdom of God is at hand, here now, if only we’re willing to allow it by opening our minds and unlocking our hearts, to see beyond our limited experiences and dim perspectives. Because the Kingdom of God isn’t something for which we can pray.  The Kingdom of God is something which we become.

And the Kingdom of God is always open, because in the Kingdom of God:

Everyone is welcome . . . Now.

Everyone is worthy . . . Now.

Everyone is deserving . . . Now.

Everyone is equal . . . Now.

Everyone is holy . . . Now.

Everyone is loved . . . Now.

Everyone is included . . . Now.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Like It Like That

Recently, I went to a garden center in search of a new planter.  When I arrived, everyone was rushing around, including the merchandiser who huffed when I asked for help.  Rather than inquire about my likes, home, surroundings, or anything else about my needs, she said, “This is what you want,” pointed to one section, and ran off.  I walked to that section and considered it for a minute.  Then I left.

Determining what we do and don’t like is a wondrous adventure of self-discovery.  It begins from infancy, when we push away smashed peas, and evolves as we grow, through all our hairdos, outfits, and collections.  Sometimes we know absolutely what we like.  Sometimes, we try several styles before we find what’s best.

And no matter how our process works, the key is trust.  On the journey, we need to trust:

  • Ourselves and the still, small voice within us.  We hear this voice best when we give ourselves the daily gift of silence and solitude.
  • Our intuition, our inner, sixth-sense guidance.
  • Our bodies, which are divine messengers.  Nausea, slumps, twinges, twitches, yawns, headaches, and gasps are an alert that something or someone isn’t safe, suitable, and/or supportive for us.
  • Our ability to keep learning.  If we don’t understand something or need clarity, we can be courageous and ask questions, even of “experts.”
  • Our inner wisdom, which helps us discern what’s best for us.  Some things are clear immediately; others are trial and error.
  • Our personal growth and maturity, no matter our calendar age.  We may outgrow things we once liked or needed because they no longer fit who we’ve become. 
  • Our power to say, “No, thank you,” walk away, request a change, terminate a contract, and/or end a relationship, especially when someone isn’t interested, or too busy to listen, converse, or advise (when we request it).
  • Professionals — contractors, designers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, spiritual leaders, etc. — who take time to listen to us and hear what we need before they offer any advice.  Listen for them asking questions such as: “How can I help you with this?”; “How can I support you?”; “What do you need most right now?”; “Which one do you like best?”
  • Those who honor our choices, even if they don’t like what we like.
  • Time, so we can wait, patiently, and allow our path to unfold, even if we choose to pave it ourselves. 
  • Variety.  Our world is filled with thousands of choices and strategies.  If some things don’t work, others will.

Overall, remember that our greatest trust is in God.  Know that God is in the midst of all, with us, within us, and all around.  And as we discover what we like and how we like it, we can savour all life’s simple, lovely pleasures along the way.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Release and Claim: A Spiritual Checklist for the New Year

Now that the holiday frenzy is over, we can continue on our way.  Not with the resolve to slog through life, but with the intention to feel more fulfilled and content. 

So, if we’re ready to reach new destinations, we need to release what doesn’t work so we can claim what does.  As you consider this spiritual checklist, remember that some of these will require a tweak, while others may need an overhaul. 

Release Claim
Engaging with people who ignore, disrespect, diminish, or denigrate you and/or who continually violate your boundaries. Connect with people who honor and respect you, your feelings and needs, and your right to your own space.
Needing to do it all, especially if you think you “have to” or “should,” because someone else is creating your to-do list. Review and evaluate all your activities and obligations so you can accomplish what matters most to you.
Holding yourself to ridiculous, unhealthy standards of living, especially if they’re generally recommended, but aren’t personally fitting. Discover deeper self-awareness so you know which foods and exercises strengthen your system and which weaken them.
Needing everyone to like you and your lifestyle, posts, choices, and beliefs. Embrace your own well-being so you know what you truly love and where to expend your energy in the best ways.
Needing to have and use money for instant gratification. Re-discover treats and joys you already have or something fun you cherished as a child.  Open a savings account with automatic deposit so you can pay yourself first.
Following and liking multiple organizations, places, people, and pages, especially if they’re trendy.   Choose the top three (3) to five (5) which most encourage and inspire you.  Then dig in to learn how they have surpassed obstacles and achieved success on their own terms.
Eating, reading, working, driving, and/or traveling the same way you always have. Shift your routine and discover new cuisines, topics, skills, friends, and avenues.
Being continually distracted with conversations, calls, texts, feeds, and activities. Turn off the noise and unplug at least once daily to be silent and still.  An hour before bedtime is ideal.
Believing that life is martyrdom, sacrifice, and struggle before it’s fun. (Yes, pain occurs, but suffering is optional.) Schedule time for simple delights, such as a cup of cocoa, favorite sit-com, morning walk, or lunch with a dear friend.  Choose to laugh and play daily, even when you feel challenged by circumstances.
Seeking quick-fix spirituality, or following the latest guru, especially if you tend to jump ship when pushed to a personal edge. Commit to one (1) spiritual practice which affirms your divinity and which encourages you to stay strong in your faith, even when life is difficult.

Remember, as you work this process, that you already have within you the divine discernment and intuition to choose your next perfect steps.  Continually affirm that the power and presence of God goes before you, beside you, with you, and within you as you release all you no longer need.  And travel faithfully, as you embrace the courage of your convictions and the strength to live anew.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Journey Forth

In bleak Winter, under blackened sky, chirps ring out.

Robin, great harbinger of Spring, perched above tundra.

Song shattering night.

Sustenance revealed below frozen ground.

Artic air.

Bitter chill.

Darkness.

Silence.

Stillness.

And that soft, sweet song, like a gentle, beating heart,

In the waiting room before dawn breaks and another journey begins.

To follow faith’s beacon,

As will dissolves into way;

Paths unfolding in unspeakable, palpable peace.

To rejoice in each graceful achievement,

As yesterday’s dirt paves tomorrow’s road;

Passages flowing far and wide.

To know immeasurable love,

As light winds through brush and bramble;

Bathed in radiance divine, dressed in life’s richest hues.

Like Robin singing forth in Spring:

“Oh, Glory in the Highest,

See How High this One Shall Rise.”

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Grateful All Ways

Thanksgiving is here again, and all around us are reminders to give thanks.  However we celebrate the holiday, many of us can easily list the “good” things for which we’re grateful: comfortable dwellings; a well-stocked pantry; loving friends and family; fulfilling work; time to play and rest; and money in the bank, among others.

The greater challenge, though, especially as we continue to grow in spiritual maturity, is to be grateful for everything in our lives.  Everything.  Including the stuff we don’t like.  For as the Disciple Paul teaches: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

As we continue our faithful journeys, one of our greatest discoveries is that liking and thanksgiving are not synonymous.  And when we’re willing to give thanks for things we don’t like, enjoy, appreciate, understand, or know, we gain greater clarity about our goals, our purpose, and especially, our paths.

This thanksgiving process can be a tremendous spiritual turnaround for us, no matter where we are on life’s journey.  Because without assessing what doesn’t work or fulfill us in life, we keep spiritually bypassing the very things which invite us to go deeper and to check in with ourselves about what we truly love and value most.

Consider this list:

  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Physical ailments
  • Financial hardships
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Addictive behaviors
  • Excessive activity, anger, and/or clutter
  • Inertia
  • Overwhelm
  • Exhaustion
  • Unresolved grief
  • Misdirected compassion
  • Fear

Whether we can check one item on the list or several, each is a blessed invitation to turn within, to contemplate what’s before us in all aspects of our lives: emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.  Individually, any of these circumstances can sink us into despair and desolation.  Or they can be welcome messengers.  Then we can be grateful to see things for what they are: Divine opportunities to transform ourselves, whoever we are, and our situations, whatever they may be.

As we review the list and devote ourselves to prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection, we begin to find the gifts, then the gratitude, in even the “bad.”  We choose to turn around and see the view from another perspective.  We may say aloud, “Thank You” for: bedrest; medicine; help and support; time to be alone, clean, cry, heal, or release burdens; as well as to meet new people and explore new places.

Along the way, we feel grateful for enhanced self-awareness, keener intuition, and richer experiences because we know our own hearts.  We love who we are, grateful for where we are, now.  Especially, we rejoice in who we’re becoming, the greatest expression of God we’re here to be, and we celebrate all the wonder-filled paths yet to come.

Thank you for traveling the path with me, Blessed Readers.  Happy Thanksgiving, and Namaste!

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

It Could Happen to You

That kind of thing can’t happen here.

But it could happen to you.

It could happen to you . . .

. . . buying groceries at Kroger.

. . . gathering the prayer circle at church.

. . . comparing notes in 4th period English.

. . . reading Torah on Saturday morning.

. . . driving to visit the relatives.

. . . entering the boss’s office.

. . . fleeing violence at home.

. . . arriving at the cocktail party.

. . . moving to the country in search of peace.

. . . seeking the facts (just the facts) for the next deadline.

. . . rocking at the concert.

. . . cheering at the game.

. . . marching in the streets.

. . . running another marathon.

. . . exiting the factory.

. . . kneeling in worship.

. . . opening the mail.

. . . attending the rally.

. . . casting the ballot.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen here.

But sometime, some place, somewhere,

It could happen to you.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.