The Presence of Love

A meme winds its way around social media.  A black-and-white illustration reveals animals in a manger, surrounded by trees.  A lone star shines above.  The caption reads: “A nativity scene without Jews, Arabs, Africans or refugees.”

Perhaps it would be poignant, if it weren’t so cutting.  Perhaps it would be comical, if it weren’t so timely.

It reminds me of the ancient teaching from Deuteronomy (See 10:12-19) which invites reflection on how to express God’s love.   We’re instructed to:

. . . revere the Lord your God, to walk in all God’s ways, to love God, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep God’s commandments and decrees.

We’re urged to follow God’s laws.  And in so doing, to open our hearts, not only to God, but to all others, too.  The text continues:

Cut away, then, the barrier around your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer.

We’re urged to consider how our hearts may be hardened and whether we’re hanging onto an old prejudice we haven’t completely released.

We’re invited to remember:

God, mighty and awesome, executes justice for the orphan and widow, and loves strangers [also translated as immigrants], and provides them food and clothing. You also shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in a foreign land.

The truth is: At least once in our lives, we’ve all been strangers somewhere.  As we reflect on how powerful God’s unconditionally loving, infinitely compassionate presence is, we also can remember that once we felt hungry, tired, cold, hurt, lost, afraid or alone.

We also can remember that God’s loving presence appeared — in its own way — with skin on.  When we felt the presence of love in a blanket, a hug, a prayer, a phone call, gas money, a ride to the doctor, help getting up the ladder or down from the cliff.  When someone, sometimes a stranger, changed our flat tire in the rain, paid for our dinner, or gave us a gift we never could purchase ourselves.  With no strings attached.

These days, headlines would have us believe that it’s Us versus Them.  That we better steel ourselves with weapons, behind closed doors, because the world is a dangerous place.  If we believe some of the headlines, any stranger or immigrant in our midst could be a threat.  Though whoever the stranger is, s/he also is a divine child of God.

The child to be born in Bethlehem knew how to open his heart.  He studied God’s law.  He knew how to love unconditionally.  Sometimes, we may struggle to imagine how he did it, when we know the challenges and conflicts he faced.

Still, we can remember: The teachings don’t say we have to understand others.  Or like them.  They tell us to love.

The child to be born in Bethlehem, enfolded in love, will teach his followers (see Luke 10:27):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

Love like that isn’t for the faint-hearted.  Love like that takes all the heart we have.  And the presence of that love is the greatest gift we can give — no matter what the season.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Habari Gani, and Happy New Year, Blessed Readers.  Thank you for being with me on the journey.

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

On Solid Ground

Leave it to Jesus the carpenter to tell a parable about construction so his followers can better understand life.  Leave it to Jesus the itinerant preacher, who didn’t have to pay a mortgage, buy oil for the synagogue, or manage a church building fund, to explain what supports our homes and houses of worship.  Leave it to Jesus the master teacher to know what type of design, materials and foundation are needed to maintain the finest structures.  Truly, a man who traveled as frequently and widely as Jesus did knew how to make the journey simpler, if not easier.

Which is exactly what Jesus explains – albeit somewhat cryptically – in the parable of “The 2 Foundations” (Luke 6:46-49):

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Jesus asks.  “I’ll show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words and acts on them.  That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like one who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

Leave it to Jesus to tell his followers – and, by extension, the rest of us – what he’s already told us.  Jesus knew: Sometimes, while we’re transforming our lives, we need a refresher course.  So we recognize that the way we’ve been traveling or living isn’t working.  So we understand that everything we’ve done to this point will only get us more of the same if we don’t do something differently.

And our “Ah-Ha Moment” comes when we stop wondering what the parable means and notice what it invites us to hear.  Then our spiritual understanding expands so we can shift our focus from outer confusion and uncertainty and center ourselves more fully in faith and trust.  So we start believing in what endures, rather than in what is fleeting.  So we remember that we can do what Jesus did and choose to put God first, building our lives on that solid ground.

And, as we continue reflecting on the parable, we may notice that Jesus doesn’t mention obtaining love, peace, joy, harmony, health, wealth, happiness or fulfillment – the precious intangibles so many of us desire and hold dear.  Instead, he reminds us what sustains those things: God first, then everything else.  Because no matter how much the waters may rage in the worlds of business, education, finance, insurance, media, medicine, politics, religion or sports, when God is our foundation, we know who we are and whose we are.

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

Into the Depths – Part 2

To live our true purpose and truly enjoy our lives, we must relinquish Tip-of-the-Iceberg/Second-Hand Living and venture into the depths.  This is what Jesus did and what he taught his first disciples.  (See Luke 5:3-11)

. . . Jesus . . . told Simon: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Teacher, we’ve worked all night but haven’t caught anything. Yet, if you say so, we’ll let down the nets.”   When they did, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to help them.  Then, they filled both boats, which began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’s knees, amazed at the amount of fish.  James and John, Simon’s partners, also were amazed.  Then Jesus said: “Do not fear; from now on you will catch people [i.e., serve others].”  When they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Truly, Simon Peter, James and John witnessed the power within the depths.  As these former fishermen worked with Jesus, as both students and teachers, they discovered true abundance in their purpose.  Not only did they have literal food to nourish themselves and others, but spiritual food as well.

The same is true for us.  When we tune into God, cast our nets wide in the depths, and listen to our own still, small voice, we’re free to live our purpose.  We discover that this purpose nourishes us – and others also.  Even if we haven’t discovered our exact purpose yet, we can remain faithful.  We can hear our still, small voice, calling us to a new course or greater depths.

These practical steps make navigating the depths easier:

  • Pray and meditate in silence daily.
  • Journal, doodle or sketch your random feelings and thoughts. When you do, ask yourself: “What treasures am I seeking in the depths?” Then be still and listen to what you discover.
  • Connect with one trusted individual, specifically trained to listen to you, so you can hear yourself.
  • Consider which people, living and/or deceased, you most admire. When you consider how they live(d) their life purpose, note how their journey is inspiring yours.
  • Notice the ebb and flow of your energy during the day, noting which things you do that “should” be done, especially if they drain you and keep you in the shallows.
  • Notice when you watch the clock and when you lose all sense of time, having fun, absorbed in joy. When we’re absorbed in joy, we’re either living our purpose or we’re very close to it.
  • Notice what tugs at your heart strings and brings you to tears. That’s your heart opening, so your still, small voice can speak.  Be still and listen.

Remember: All the faith we need to live our purpose and love our lives is already within us.  In the depths, we feel it fully.  Then we know that wherever and however we are, God is.

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

Balance and Flow – Part 2

Flowing with life is a key to contentment, especially when priorities appear confusing.  Jesus explained this, in the brief story of “Mary and Martha” (Luke 10:38-42).

A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house.  She had a sister, Mary, who listened to Jesus teach.  But Martha was distracted with serving.  She said to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her to help me.”   Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you’re anxious and troubled about many things, but few things are necessary.  Mary has chosen the best portion, which will not be taken from her.”

Often, this story provokes an “Ooo,” as if to suggest that Mary is holier than Martha, or that serving is “bad.”  Or that if we ever feel anxious, we’re disconnected from God.  None of which is true.

Rather, it invites us to consider that Martha and Mary are aspects of ourselves and complements of one another.  Viewed from a Both/And perspective, they represent our hearts and minds, both equally important in our spiritual development and maturity.

Mary represents our receptive, heart-centered, being nature, which invites spiritual and emotional guidance by putting God first.  Martha represents our practical, mind-centered, doing nature, which maintains and manages our physical and mental well-being.

If our Mary nature becomes unbalanced, we may doubt ourselves and feel hopeless, lost or scattered.  Or we may become critical, telling others how they “should” feel.  If our Martha nature becomes unbalanced, we may feel impatient, sullen or worried.  We may give God directions and tell others how they “should” think.

So, the Both/And, “Ah-Ha,” of the story is that our hearts and minds are meant to harmonize: our hearts by being and our minds by doing.  Jesus encourages both.  He never says, “I choose only Mary to sit and listen.”

We also can balance our being and doing by taking some practical steps:

  • Set a spiritual schedule for daily prayer and meditation. Remember: God first; then everything else.
  • Set a worldly schedule which includes daily, weekly, monthly and annual self-care for our bodies, homes and vehicles so everything can to do its appointed task. Remember: Let’s not be so busy driving that we run out of gas.
  • Integrate times for rest, nourishment, play and work. Remember: We don’t get extra points for overdoing.  We just burn out.
  • Notice and acknowledge our myriad range of feelings and needs. Remember: Pretending that our feelings don’t matter or that we can sacrifice our needs isn’t spiritual.  It’s trying to be a robot, rather than a sacred spiritual being living an earthly existence.
  • Notice when and how we experience true contentment, even when we aren’t completely blissful. Remember: We can choose to feel as peaceful working as we can playing.

As we find our balance and continue our journeys, we also realize more of God’s presence and power, knowing that however and wherever we are, God is.

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