Face Everything and Rise

A reference website I use sometimes runs ads along its margins.  One has a caption which asks, “Will 2018 bring change?” and shows a young woman staring into space.  She reminds me of my younger self in Washington, D.C., several years ago when a new administration came to office and sent some of us to unemployment.

At first, I was in shock.  Then, I felt like a walking anxiety attack.  On nights, when I actually fell asleep, I awoke soon after, shaking in fear.  Sometimes, I created my own waking nightmares, including being a bag lady in the slums.

During that time, an older, wiser friend reminded me that I could choose the nightmares or I could choose the possibilities.  She taught me about visualization, so I could imagine a more prosperous and fulfilling future.

One of the truths we discover on this journey is: Life is change.  Sometimes we choose the change.  Sometimes we don’t.  Either way, it’s discombobulating when change pushes us beyond our comfort zones and/or disrupts our “ideal” plans.

Facing and embracing change, even when we choose it, requires a continual deepening of our inner faith and strength.  It requires courage to face an unknown future with trust.  It means transforming fear from “Forget Everything and Run” to “Face Everything and Rise.”

To help you rise, consider these strategies:

  • Recommit to your spiritual practice and plan extra time for contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection.
  • Recommit to any creative activities — carving, crafting, drawing, painting, cooking, baking, singing, dancing, writing, gardening — you love, especially if you’ve neglected them.
  • Recommit to your self-care. See the doctor, dentist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, or other practitioners who support you in your physical healing.  Treat yourself to facials, massages, reflexology, or mani-pedis.
  • Leave room in your schedule for extra rest and for mourning the losses change brings, especially if it’s related to a long-term illness, break-up, divorce, or loved one’s death.
  • Stay connected to loving relatives, trusted friends, clergy, counselors, sponsors, or therapists who can help you navigate the changes in healthy ways. Ask them to pray with you and remind you, as my friend reminded me, about your resilience and ability to learn and adapt.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Avoid making big decisions, such as buying or selling a home or car, diving headlong into a new romance, or trashing valuable possessions, as well as excessive eating, drinking, shopping, or other addictions you’ll regret later.
  • Get out of the house and into nature daily. Notice the gentle changes as trees fill with leaves, flowers bloom, snow melts, and rain falls.

Overall, when we face life’s changes directly, rather than seek the nearest exit, we support our inner growth and transformation.  We harmonize with the ebbs and flows of life, so we feel calmer.  Especially, we remember that we’re divine creations of God, eternally grace-giving, infinitely compassionate, unconditionally loving, so we know that we can overcome life’s challenges and rise beyond them.

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

All Children of God

As a pastor, I’m sometimes perceived as being closer to God than others.  Though I believe that we’re as close to God as we allow ourselves to be.  When tragedy strikes, as it did again, now in Parkland, Fla., people often ask: “Where was God when this happened?  And I answer: “God was there.  Where they were.  And God is here.  Where we are.”

People also ask: “How could this happen?  Again?”  Some wonder how God could “let it happen.”  Although the truth is, God doesn’t “let” things happen.  We choose how we’ll behave, vote, think, speak, and believe.  We choose whether we’ll address the facts before us or whether we’ll wave them away.   God doesn’t choose for us.  We have choices and free will.  We choose whether we’ll pay attention, whether we’ll open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts.  Especially when another person doesn’t act, sound, think, live, look, or love as we do.

God doesn’t turn away, though sometimes we do because we don’t want to hear or see.  It’s too painful to listen or look.  “Besides, it isn’t our problem,” some say.  “We don’t know them.  They aren’t our children.”

Though as CNN News Analyst Philip Mudd’s cry reminds us: “A child of God is dead.”

And every death, report of harassment, empty belly, and orphaned child remind us how fragile and how precious life is.  The reports invite us to turn toward one another in compassion, rather than turn away in disgust.  For when we turn away from one another, we also turn away from God.  And in doing so, we turn a “blind” eye to the “other,” who’s also a child of God: mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband, wife, partner, friend.

As we scan the headlines noting another school shooting, immigration “reform,” and all kinds of neglect and abuse, we would do well to remember: God isn’t a capricious puppeteer pulling our strings, logging whether some of us are more worthy than others, more deserving of peace, love, joy, sustenance, security, and safety.  Each of us is worthy.  We’re all one before God.

In the light of this new day, thoughts and prayers can seem worthless.  Apologies and condolences may ring hollow.  Yet, we’re continually called to open our eyes, to see that the Presence of God is here, with us, within us, and among us.

So, if we need something to do, after we cry, mourn, rage, and write or call our senators and representatives offering our opinions on how to prevent more carnage, we best take a loved one’s hand.  We best look into a stranger’s eyes.  Smile.  Say: “The Divine in me beholds the Divine in you.”  And truly look at them, knowing as we do, that God is here.  Where we are.  All beloved, divine, worthy Children of God.

Namaste, Blessed Readers.

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

The Best That Can Happen

Years ago I knew someone who often asked, when an uncomfortable situation presented itself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  He prided himself on living by Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.   One day he produced a product with a fatal flaw.  So, each item was removed from the company’s inventory and had to be reproduced.  Then he was removed from the project, rebuked for both his focus and attitude.

Yes, things in life go “wrong,” break, fail, or get messed up.  Though as Master Teacher Emmet Fox explains, “Life is Consciousness,” and where we focus our attention and direct our attitude usually determines our destination.  Or as many artists say: Perspective is everything.

So, rather than view life from an “Ain’t-it-awful?”/ “What’s-wrong-now?” perspective, we can change our thinking and ask other questions.  Instead of wondering what could go “wrong,” we can instead focus on the possibilities and potential of divine outcome.  This change in perspective also can prevent us from stalling on our life journey, if we’re willing to ask: “What’s the best that can happen?”

Viewing life from this vantage requires tremendous trust because we must continually draw on our inner faith and strength.  In the process, we gain clarity about our own personal power and human will, noticing what we can change and what we cannot.  We consider our priorities, watching for open doors and new opportunities.  We use our contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection time to release fear and worry, and await divine direction with assurance and confidence.

This perspective also requires that we release our personal ideas about how everything “should” happen or work out.  It means that we stop giving God directions about what we want and how life “should” be.

It also invites other questions, such as: “Am I willing to:

  • Cooperate with God and concede my personal way for God’s way?”
  • Remove my hands from the steering wheel of life and cease trying to control everything?”
  • Live by God’s calendar rather than my own?”
  • Accept that others have different opinions and perspectives from mine, and may never like me or agree with me?”
  • Work through old anger, grief, pain, and resentment to heal myself and forgive the past?”
  • Remember that someone who loves me now might change their mind or that they will die one day?”
  • Withstand silence and be still long enough to truly listen so I know which divine directions are mine, not someone else’s?”
  • Sit back and enjoy the scenery, laughter, hugs, love, joy, and delicacies which flow through life in so many ways?”
  • Wonder, at least once daily, ‘What’s the best that can happen?’ and then do what is mine to do to let it?”

As we answer these questions, we discover a greater depth of faith.  And when we direct it toward the best people, places, and things for our lives, life has a richer perspective, and we see the best happen.

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

Walking in Faith

In the famous story about Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), Jesus goes alone to a mountain to pray, after he’s already worked a full day and fed 5,000 people.  Meanwhile, the disciples are at sea, in a boat battered by waves.  During fourth watch, (between 3:00–6:00 AM), Jesus walks upon the sea toward them.  At first, they’re terrified, fearing that he’s a ghost.

To reassure them, Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

And Peter answers, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus replies, “Come forth, Peter.”

So Peter leaves the boat and walks upon the sea toward Jesus. But then, when he feels a strong wind, he’s distracted. He begins to sink and calls to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately, Jesus extends his hand, catches Peter, and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Sometimes, we’re like Peter, not fully grounded in our faith.  When we feel buffeted by life’s strong winds, we sometimes wake in the wee, small hours of the morning, worrying about difficulties and troubles.  Sometimes, our challenges are like hobgoblins that we imagine will haunt us forever.

Yet, as a master of spiritual maturity, fully grounded in faith, Jesus reminds us: We can learn to walk upon the waves of life when we remain buoyed by the infinite well of faith within us.  We’re also reminded: No matter what may be occurring in our lives, we can go to the “mountaintop,” to reconnect with God in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection.

From that perspective, we can choose whether we’ll let life’s challenges sink us, or whether we’ll choose to do the personal, spiritual work which is needed to rise above them.  These challenges include:

  • Unresolved grief
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Physical ailments
  • Misdirected compassion
  • Inertia
  • Financial concerns
  • Excessive activity, anger, clutter, overload
  • Addictive behaviors

When our faith is misdirected, we sink.  Sometimes, we drown, spiritually.  Yet, when we choose to lift ourselves up in faith, rather than sink into depths of doubt, fear and worry, we begin to meet life as it is.  We realize that we have greater strength than we imagined to overcome difficulties.  On the way, we also discover that we’re growing in spiritual maturity and walking with ease upon our own sea of life.

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

No-Challenge Thanksgiving

If we’re following current news streams or social media feeds, then we’ve likely noticed that we’re in Gratitude Challenge Season.  It’s presumed to be a time when we challenge ourselves to be grateful for people, places and things in our lives.  Sometimes we do this with ease.  We’re thankful for a new job, raise, relationship or opportunity.

And, sometimes we don’t feel thankful. In fact, we may feel afraid, angry, confused, lonely, overwhelmed, sad or upset.  Sometimes, an aspect of grief, whether immediate or unresolved, clouds our perspective.  So, if we attempt to be thankful without acknowledging and owning our “negative” feelings, we may raise our voice, grit our teeth, clench our jaw, or shake our fist.

This is because the real challenge isn’t thanksgiving.  It’s acceptance that sometimes life unfolds in painful ways which we don’t we like and/or didn’t choose.  It’s realizing that thanksgiving and liking aren’t synonymous, that we don’t have to, nor are we commanded, to like everything.  In fact, it’s a height of spiritual bypassing to believe that because we’re spiritual beings living an earthly experience that we “should.”

Our discovery of this, often as an “Ah-Hah” moment, brings us to another level of spiritual maturity.  As we accept something we don’t like or didn’t choose, we can gently shift our perspective — the real challenge for many of us.  Then our thanksgiving perspective shifts also.  And we begin to feel grateful for such things as:

  • An illness requiring extended rest, because we love the view of trees out our window; the softness and warmth of our blankets; movies on demand; library books; and homemade chicken soup.
  • A layoff, because we can explore the true meaning and purpose of our work; learn a new skill or expand our creativity; notice new, open doors and opportunities; meet new people.
  • A debt, because we see that we’re trusted, with credit, to pay our bills on time; reconsider which items we need to feel content and which we can release; reach a new level of trust in God as our supply and sustenance.
  • A loved one’s death, because we appreciate the infinite love, guidance, wisdom, and joy they contributed to our lives; and our unique ability to share their gifts with others.

These are part of my thanksgiving list.  Of course, we can add many others.

And, as we accept that life has challenges, we discover ways to feel thankful continually, in all seasons, so as Disciple Paul advised, we can “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  And along the way, we embrace life as it is and discover new ways to transform it, knowing that no matter who we are, each of us is God’s Beloved, unconditionally loved, always and in all ways.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers.  Namaste.

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

Today, I Didn’t

Sometimes, we can’t.  So we don’t.  A poem about that kind of faith:

“Today, I Didn’t”

Today, I didn’t make the bed.

And I didn’t hang up my robe.  I left it crumpled on a pillow, where I tossed it on my way to the kitchen to get more coffee and reheat the leftover broccoli quiche.  And to contemplate a forest of trees in the yard and admire God’s handiwork in fading green leaves drenched in sunlight.

Today, I didn’t wash the dishes.

I let them bathe in a pool of warm suds, which quickly turned cold, so I could phone some friends and laugh about the Late Show and remember when we ate ice cream for breakfast and waffles for dinner.

Today, I didn’t put the dirty towels in the hamper.

I left them on the sink near the mirror with the soap smudge I meant to wipe, but didn’t, as I prepared to meet another friend for a short lunch which lasted three hours.

Today, I didn’t watch the news.  Didn’t listen either.  If anything were really new, someone would tell me.  Not about another shooting, fire, flood, executive order, death, birth.  But about claiming rich hopes, scaling greater heights, discovering hidden treasures.

Today, I didn’t complain.

(At least I think I didn’t.)  Not about the traffic, or the blue pickup that cut me off, or how my team played baseball – and lost.  Or the Wi-Fi fritzing out, again, when I tried to download the circus meme declaring that these are not my monkeys.

Today, I didn’t sweep away the cobweb by the stairs.

I thought, perhaps, the spider there needed another moment to rest before I could grab the broom from the closet with the glass cleaner for the mirror with the smudge in the bathroom, across from the bedroom, where the bed still stood, unmade.

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

Remember Where and Who

When I was younger, my father shared his memories of walking along Madison Avenue in New York City on November 22, 1963.  He remembered hearing the news pour from doorways that President Kennedy had been shot and was dead.  He recalled complete strangers talking and weeping together in the streets. I reflect on Dad’s memories and this type of connection, as I remember my experience 16 years ago today.

At the time, I taught literature in Jersey City, New Jersey, at McNair Academic, an honors magnet high school which was a veritable United Nations of people of every ethnicity and religion.  The school was noted for both its strong spirit and its ardent respect for diverse beliefs within the community.  Several colleagues took me under their wings so I would know that I belonged, just as I took my freshmen class under mine.

And how all our wings expanded when we watched across the Hudson River, out classroom windows, as billowing, black smoke engulfed the Twin Towers.  While that day remains surreal to me in many ways, the feelings of warmth, support, and care endure.  That day, I was among a team of teachers, counselors and administrators who helped students prepare to return home, make phone calls (when phones actually worked) and face the unimaginable injury or death of a loved one.

Only when I reached the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike, where a police officer asked to see my license and registration, did I realize the magnitude of events and my ministry in something greater than myself. I also remember my depth of faith, and the love and harmony among both friends and strangers.  I witnessed how peace and compassion are a spiritual practice when we remember that God’s Presence is always active, no matter where we live or who we are.

Despite what some religious leaders profess or news headlines declare, God is not a capricious ruler, assassinating Its creations with bullets, earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes.  God is Divine Creator, unconditionally loving, infinitely compassionate, surrounding us always in ever-abiding grace, the moment we choose to receive it.

Let us remember, then, not only where we were once upon a time, when our world churned.  Let us also remember who and whose we are.  Even when towers collapse, mud slides, fires burn or hurricanes storm, we each are divine creations and expressions of God, living in a holy place, part of a worldwide beloved community, all the time.

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

Choose a Way

True spirituality isn’t passive.  Deep, rich spiritual lives, the kind which inform all we are and all we do, require continual engagement and participation.  Yet sometimes we fool ourselves into believing that we can sit around waiting for God to “do” something, or for our church, mosque, synagogue, pastor, imam, rabbi to “feed” us by downloading spiritual nourishment into us.

Some of us have left the spiritual homes of our birth.  Others believe that we don’t ever need a spiritual home, that we can commune in coffee shops or on mountain trails and be as spiritual as we chose.  Sometimes this is true, and sometimes it fulfills.  Though often, the fulfillment is brief.  Then off we go, again, seeking, travelling far and wide to find God, Spirit, Divine Life Energy, Oneness, or Allness, whatever term we like.

Those who hop from one spiritual experience to another rarely grow deep roots or feel nourished.  The reason: They refuse to invest the time in personal self-development and awareness, as well as endure the temporary discomfort which precedes each transformative step of our spiritual maturation.  As Master Teacher H. Emilie Cady says:

Too much introspection, too much of what people usually call “spiritual seeking,” is detrimental rather than helpful to . . . spiritual growth.  Spiritual seeking is a sort of spiritual selfishness, paradoxical as it may seem.” (Lessons in Truth, © 1903, p. 107)

Which is why Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Lao Tzu, and all great spiritual masters committed to one way.  They dug deep so they were firmly grounded.  Then, spiritually mature, they went into the world to live and teach their way.

We also can live our own way by choosing to:

  • Stop Seeking: We declare our commitment to one path.
  • Sit and Be Still: We pray, meditate, contemplate and reflect so we can hear our own still, small voice and discern how best to travel.
  • Study: We devote ourselves to self-discovery and awareness, as part of the spiritual path we choose. We consider and learn, as well as gather with those, both wise teachers and faithful companions, who honor our practice.
  • Stay: We give ourselves time to digest the nourishment we receive and weather any personal discomfort we may feel as part of our growth process.
  • (Re)Start: We proceed, beginning anew, as we live our spirituality and engage fully with the flow of life and others around us.

Remember Blessed Reader: No power outside of us, whether it be Great Sky Above or Vast Ocean Below, can download Spirit into us.  Our purpose, then, is to choose our best way and live it as our own.  Then we can transform ourselves, our lives and our world.

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

Better With Prayer

The spiritual life offers copious instructions on prayer.  We’re told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16), to give thanks as we pray (John 11:42), to ask and we shall receive (Matthew 7:7), and to trust because God already knows what we want (Luke 12).

Yet, sometimes we believe that we’re too busy to pray, or that if God already knows what we need, there’s no reason to bother.  Sometimes we don’t believe in the prayer process, or worse, we don’t believe that we truly deserve our heart’s desires.  And sometimes, when life is swirling around us or a circumstance appears dire, we may doubt that God remembers us.  We think that God needs reminding, not only of what we want, but also that we’re here.

This is exactly when we need the reminder: Prayer does not change God.  Prayer changes us.  Prayer reminds us:

  • We are God’s beloved creations.
  • God’s unconditional love and infinite compassion continually enfold us.
  • God’s ever-abiding grace is always available, the moment we choose to align with life.
  • Wherever two or more are gathered (Matthew 18:20), we share in feeling God’s presence both with us and within us.

I experienced all this earlier in the summer during a doctor visit to determine the cause of a persistent cough (later diagnosed as a bronchial infection).  The nurse who assisted me had the gentle, warm demeanor of one who’s offered loving service for many years.  As she gathered all the necessary information, the conversation turned to my work.  And, as sometimes happens when I say what I do, she expressed awe about my calling, as if I am somehow closer to God than she is.

As the appointment ended, she tensed, staring at the ground.  Then she looked up and asked, “Would you pray for my mother and me?  She’s been ill, and I need to move her to assisted living.”

I said I would.  Then I asked, “Would you like to pray together right now?”

She exhaled a deep, “Yes,” her shoulders slumping toward me as I took her hands in mine.  Then we prayed, as I spoke words of assurance for her mother’s healing and ease in the moving process, as well as for their peace of mind.

When we concluded, she thanked me and squeezed my hands.

I reminded her of God’s love and said, “I hope the prayer helps you feel better.”

She hugged me quickly and brushed away a tear.  “It does,” she smiled. “You feel better, too.”

And, despite the cough, I did feel better.  Even more, I felt grateful for another moment of divine connection, remembering that anytime, anywhere, we can feel and behold God in everyone and in everything.  Then, we can choose our next best steps as the journey continues.

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

Faith All Around

When something annoying, aggravating, confounding, distressing or upsetting occurs in our lives, we can choose to remain unhappy in the situation.  Or, as former Daily Word Editor Martha Smock advises, we can choose to meet it with faith.

Martha encourages us to “overcome unhappiness” by looking “past what seems to be.”  This means that we choose to see beyond the outer appearance of the person, place, situation, or thing which we’ve allowed to annoy, aggravate, confound, distress, or upset us.  This is similar to Jesus saying, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” (John 7:24 NLT).

As we go beneath the surface, as we turn to God’s Presence within us, we remember, as Martha says: “Nothing can separate you from God’s love, nothing can cast you down, nothing is greater than God’s power in you, with you, all about you.”  By choosing to meet life with faith, “cares slip away, and joy, the joy of Spirit rises up in you.”

“The often surprising result of holding to faith is the great welling up of faith you feel within you,” Martha says.  “Where before you thought you had faith, when you really take your stand and declare, ‘I have faith in God as the one presence and the one power, the one life, the one healer,’ there is an answering response within you.  It is as though God says within you: ‘I am here.  I am your life.  I am your being.  I am your all.’  You feel a new faith, stronger, more certain than any you have known before.  And with this faith comes healing” in every aspect of our lives.

When we meet life with faith, we remember the truth which Jesus declares: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 ESV).