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.

Higher Caliber Connections

As more people died from gun violence this past week, more terror, shock, and disbelief set in.  While many turn to thoughts and prayers, these feel meaningless and shallow because they propel few of us into transforming ourselves and our communities into places of inclusion and compassion. 

While many also want more conversation, the conversations only succeed with those truly willing to: listen to and behold other people as Beloved Creations of God; check agendas, fears, judgments, and opinions at the door; and stay open to possibilities for long-term, universal gains, not what is most profitable, expedient, or convenient now.

If we hope to transcend the violence, political rhetoric, accusatory outbursts, finger-pointing, and name-calling, then we also must deepen our connections with people who, at first, seem different from us.  We must decide whether deadly weapons, exclusive clubs, and closed gates, are more valuable than the sanctity of all human life.  Not just some lives, in particular places, at certain times. 

The truth is: No matter what others may do, we decide whether we’ll change the caliber of our own consciousness to pave peaceful paths.  Each of us can do this, if we’re willing to push the edges of some comfort zones, step out further in faith, and rise in spiritual maturity.

If you’re ready for this journey, here are some steps you can take:

  • As you pray, include those hurting from grief and loss, as well as those hurting from anger and outrage.  Remember that our prayers don’t condone others’ behavior.  Rather, they open our hearts to feel more compassion and free ourselves with forgiveness.
  • If you support gun control legislation, also support those who advocate for mental health care reform and crisis management.
  • Get involved with civic, ecumenical, and interfaith organizations dedicated to inclusivity, hospitality, and generosity which celebrate common ground and shared values among all people. 
  • Attend churches, synagogues, and mosques which provide opportunities for shared connections.  Many hold gatherings for people of different faiths or ethnicities to break bread together, enjoy sacred conversations, and establish life-long friendships.
  • If you live in a city/municipality which has signed the Charter for Compassion, support their activities and educational outreach.  If not, seek ways to establish your hometown or company as a compassionate place of equity and inclusion.
  • As much as you may be tempted, preserve your valuable energy and avoid heated arguments and drag-down debates with those who aren’t ready to connect with you and listen to your views.
  • Focus on your own positions and what you wish to achieve, rather than attacking “the enemy.”  Remember that spiritual masters are social activists, not re-activists, who strive to love, even when they don’t like others’ choices. 

Above all, remember: God is in the midst of whatever is occurring within us and around us.  Know that in every moment of our journey, we can choose — again — how we’ll express the Presence of God we are and how we’ll serve the best for all humanity.

© 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.

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.

Trust the Steps

Our egos are making headlines again as people try to comprehend the chaos and conflicts we’re experiencing in the world and determine how to stop them.  Ego, as defined by psychoanalysis, helps us determine our sense of personal identity and self-worth.   Derived from the Latin root meaning “I,” it’s the part of us which distinguishes between conscious and unconscious awareness.

Sometimes, we attempt to overcome our egos, falsely believing that this will heal the world, and make us happier and holier.  As a minister, I see how this practice often hinders, rather than supports, us in living fully and faithfully.  When we attempt to skip steps in our divine growth process, we can bypass feelings of anger, grief, pain and sadness.  We also negate our personal talents, gifts, and authenticity so we can find a place to fit in.

At a deeper level, our desire to skip the steps and eliminate our egos becomes a battle of wills: ours against God’s.  So it’s important to distinguish between the healthy aspects of ego and the unhealthy ones.  When our ego is unhealthy, we:

  • Rely only on ourselves, believing that we can spiritualize away sorrow and upset.
  • Have few, if any, rules, boundaries, or accountabilities in our personal lives, homes, or businesses.
  • Loathe our sacred human failings, limitations, and mistakes.
  • Need continual adoration and praise to feel worthy and deserving.
  • Share excessive “selfies” and other “look-at-me” social media posts.
  • Bully, force, and/or push our ways and beliefs onto those we believe block our path.
  • Run from guru to guru seeking eternal enlightenment, especially when one guru becomes a disappointment.
  • Fail to find the gentle good humor and laughter in life’s imperfections.
  • Work “for God,” rather than “with God.”

In comparison, when our ego is healthy, we:

  • Stay accountable and responsible for our behaviour, choices, and decisions.
  • Know and accept our personal strengths and limitations, as well as those of others.
  • Feel confident and assured in our purpose and how we can share our particular strengths and skills in our communities.
  • Ground ourselves in our spiritual practice.
  • Connect with teachers, mentors, coaches, and colleagues who support our continued learning and growth.
  • Enjoy others’ praise and recognition without requiring it as the only benchmark of success.
  • Accept that many things in our world don’t occur our way or on our schedule.
  • Strive to love others unconditionally and compassionately, even when we don’t agree with or like them.

Overall, as we live from a healthy ego, we trust our place in the universe.  We trust in God as the Divine Source and Sustenance of all.  We accept that chaos and disorder are aligning in ways we can’t yet see.  Especially, we embrace the wonder and mystery of life, we love ourselves as we are, and we enjoy our journeys, each new step along the way.

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

A Higher Standard

Several years ago, when I finally settled on my own spiritual path, a mentor reminded me: “Life will still have challenges.  And, no matter what happens, no matter what anyone says, believes, or does, you decide how you want to be.”  Her wisdom sounds simple enough, though in the face of turmoil, loss, conflict, and chaos, it isn’t always easy.

Yet, no matter where we are on our spiritual journeys, we can decide how we’ll show up in life.  No matter what others think, say, or do, we get to define who we are.  Especially, we determine how we’ll behave and what our standards are: whether we’ll follow in the ways of God or whether we’ll get into the mud, proverbial or otherwise.

All of us have this ability because we have a divine honing device, sometimes called a moral compass, which is actually our God Compass.  It’s our awareness of the divinity within us and within others also.  It’s the understanding that we, and all others, are beloved creations of God, the beloved creator of all things.

Spiritual masters are guided by their God Compass, no matter what happens to them or in their world.   And, as we grow in spiritual maturity, we also can hold ourselves to higher standards than we did before by expanding our thinking, adapting our behavior, and opening our hearts to new ways of being, believing, and behaving.  The key is to be willing.

So, if we want to raise our standards, we can:

  • Deepen our prayer and meditation practice, taking time to reflect on which habits serve us and which hinder us.
  • Honor our body, which has its own inner barometer, so we can heal physical ailments such as cramps; headaches; muscle soreness, stiffness, or tightness; shallow breathing; rapid heartbeat; nausea; or anxiety.
  • Notice feelings of anger, frustration, grief, jealousy, or upset as divine messengers inviting us to heal our pain and live in healthier, happier ways for us.
  • Speak using “I” statements, owning our feelings and needs, as we accept that others, including our loved ones, may not hold similar values.
  • Claim responsibility for our decisions, choices, and behavior without blaming, shaming, or condemning people or circumstances so we focus on what we want to achieve rather than on what we don’t.
  • Refrain from wasting our valuable energy by constantly scrolling through social media; worrying about things we can’t control; creating dramas rather than solutions; and spinning gossip rather than caring for ourselves.
  • Empathize with another’s experience, even if we don’t understand it.
  • Respect and honor religious or spiritual practices which are different from our own.
  • Surround ourselves with people who honor our journey and encourage our continued learning and growth.
  • Trust our own still, small voice and intuition rather than the crowd mentality.
  • Celebrate our successes, no matter how small they seem.

And, as we continue on our path, we often discover that by raising our standards, we inspire others to raise theirs, too.

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

Face the Change

Early September, and already yellow leaves appear amidst a green tapestry.  Air is cooler, crisper here, in the morning, and skies are darker, too.  September already, we say.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas wait in the wings.

It’s this way, more or less, every year.  But do we notice?  Or are we just trudging through?  Do we accept and embrace the changes occurring, however gradual, however unwelcome?  Do we flow with life’s natural shifts?  Or do we resist and fight the divine process?

Sometimes people say they want change or that they wish something would transform, though few are willing to do the deep, soulful exploration necessary.  The personal assessments which help us release and let go, and welcome the new, also require some dark nights of the soul.  Sometimes people tell me they just can’t do it.  It’s too hard and too scary.  Sometimes they say: “The devil I do know is better than the devil I don’t know.”

Except, as the prophetic David Bowie first noted in 1971, “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes / Turn and face the strange / Ch-ch-changes / There’s gonna have to be a different man.”  And when we choose to face the “strange,” we also can choose to turn “devil” around so it becomes “lived.”

Lived: How we’ve lived for a specific time is familiar, though not always comfortable, easy, fulfilling, or fun.  Strategies we use to accomplish things are habit, though they may not serve what’s highest and best for our lives now.  So, we wonder, in rare, reflective moments, what that might be.  Which leads to other questions:

  • What would feel more comfortable?
  • What would give us more ease?
  • What would be more fulfilling?
  • What would make life more fun?
  • What one (1) thing are we willing to do now, today, to begin living differently, even though it seems strange?
  • What old habits are we willing to release?
  • When we imagine a joyful, fulfilling life, what do we see ourselves doing? And having?
  • What changes are we willing to embrace to create a new way of life, no matter how strange it now seems, no matter our age?

As we contemplate these questions, we may first realize that some answers are, “I don’t know.”  Yet, as we embrace the willingness to change, we discover that our answers come to us and that facing changes is more pleasant than we thought.

As we take time in the silence and as we get into nature, no matter where we live, we can notice subtle changes occurring around us, reminding us of the sacred, continual process of change.  And always, we can remember: God’s awesome power and presence, God’s love, grace and compassion are in the midst of all the changes, as we gently turn and face a new life unfolding before us.

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