Pie for Breakfast (And a Few Other Ways to Enjoy the Holidays)

During the Thanksgiving holiday before I left Washington, D.C. for good, I relished my time with family and friends. I honored my contemplative spirit which needed a respite from the fast-paced, high-powered lifestyle of “have-to’s, ” “musts” and “shoulds.” Especially, I enjoyed the Friday morning following Thanksgiving when Dad and I ate our traditional post-holiday breakfast of leftover pie and ice cream.

As I savored a combination of apple-cranberry and cherry garnished with coffee ice cream, I recounted a few disappointments, including our lack of a storybook holiday.  Dad, who’d worked in advertising, listened, then said: “Those only happen in movies and commercials.”

Alas, I knew he was correct.  And, as a pastor, I’ve witnessed how many people feel sadness and grief in believing that everyone else has a “Hallmark-Card-I’ll Be Home for the Holidays” experience.

The truth is: Few holidays are ideal.  And when we pressure ourselves to create such a fantasy, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and distress.  Furthermore, the pressure to meet others’ expectations or outshine our neighbors has us saying, doing and buying things which prohibit our contentment and stress our bodies, minds, spirits and bank accounts.

So, no matter whether we’re Type A’s, travelers, homebodies, partiers, contemplatives, or a bit of each, here are some ways to stress less and rejoice more:

  • Begin with the end in mind. During our prayer and meditation time, we can consider our schedules and what will most renew our spirits.  This includes determining who’s most important to us.  A beloved aged relative who affirms our purpose or an ill BFF who needs a boost gets priority over another cocktail party of vacuous conversation.
  • When gathered with a mixed group of varying beliefs and opinions, we can strive to listen more and persuade less. Remember: A person convinced against his/her will is of the same opinion still.  So, we can choose to gently disengage.  When someone, especially a loved one, wants to debate, we can say something such as: “I love you.  Let’s agree to disagree on this one.”  Then we can change the topic to something neutral, such as shared love of a sports team or our fondness for sweet potatoes.
  • If, for whatever reason, we can’t be physically present with loved ones, we can still call or video conference. Schedule a specific time of 20 minutes or more to connect and share.
  • Limit the highlight reels on social media so we enjoy ourselves without comparing our holiday to someone else’s.
  • Remember: Happiness occurs on a scale. This includes feeling calm, content, peaceful, relaxed and/or rested.
  • Remember also: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are days on a calendar. Their true purpose isn’t for overdoing, overeating or overspending, but for celebrating rich harvests, welcoming new life, and setting intentions for greater possibilities.  When we maintain this perspective, we often feel more grateful for what we have.
  • And, of course, consider eating pie for breakfast.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers!

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

Perhaps We’ll Listen

On a recent drive, somewhere along a lush tree-lined road where wildflowers bloom, I “lost” a big-city classic rock station.  As Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers faded away, I channel surfed for other music I’d enjoy.

Wherever I was at the time, nothing tuned in clearly for miles, until I heard Paul Simon singing, “Loves Me like a Rock.”  As I drove further, The Archies followed with “Sugar, Sugar.”  I couldn’t help singing along.

Then, Don McLean began his haunting, beautiful elegy, “Vincent,” one of my dad’s favorite popular songs.  In a moment, I was transported to a time in my childhood when Dad, an artist himself, tried to share some hard-earned wisdom.  Often, when he wanted me to pay attention, he would say: “Listen.  Your Daddy wants to tell you something.”  When I did, I discovered abundant treasures in his insights.  Sometimes, they saved me from going down roads of pain and heartache.

I like to imagine that all the biblical prophets and the wayshower, Jesus, wanted to do the same.  They hoped to share their profound message of God’s unconditional love, infinite compassion and ever-abiding grace, as well as their worldly experience with the people of their time — and by extension, the rest of us now — just as Vincent Van Gogh attempted to share the beauty and wonder he saw in God’s magnificent world.  As some art historians note, Van Gogh believed his first calling was to preach the word of God.

Perhaps this is why McLean’s lyrics tug at our heart strings as much as Van Gogh’s starry night, sunflowers and wheat fields do.

Now I understand, what you tried to say to me

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free.

They did not listen; they did not know how.

Perhaps they’ll listen . . . now. . . .

For they could not love you, but still, your love was true.

Perhaps some did listen.  Though sometimes, we don’t want to listen.  Or can’t.  Not necessarily because we don’t know how, but because listening takes a lot of faith, patience and spiritual strength.  Because sometimes, listening hurts.  We don’t want to know what we’re being told.  We don’t want to experience our own pain, let alone someone else’s.

If we listen, we believe, we might have to do something.  Or worse, we might not be able to do anything.  Except be present.  To an elder’s wisdom.  To a friend’s deep, dark secret.  To yet another family story.  To an outpouring of emotion we don’t understand.  All of it shared in love – even when we can’t listen.

Few people understood Van Gogh’s gift in his lifetime, though now he is one of our most revered artists.  Few people understood the wisdom and love Jesus and all the prophets attempted to share, though we still endeavor to live as they advised.

Perhaps, no matter what road we’re traveling now, we’ll stop — and take some time to listen.

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

Be Your Own Guru – Part 3

When I taught high school English, I had a poster centered above the blackboard which said: “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters.” I wish I had a dollar for every student throughout my teaching career who said, “Really. Wow!”

To listen, we first need to be silent. Many people wish to be effective listeners, although we aren’t always as effective as we’d like. Whether this has anything to do with technique, I don’t know for sure. Yet, the most effective way I’ve found to listen is still the advice Jesus the Christ gave in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 6:6), when he said, “Go into your room and close the door . . . .”

To be effective at anything we truly wish to do in our lives – as well as to be our own guru – we need some sacred, silent time apart, to commune with God (however we understand God) and ourselves. Jesus and every other master mystic did it. So can we – if we’re willing to gift ourselves with the time, place and space to make it part of our lives.

So, as we begin the season of Lent, when many people fast from particular indulgences, consider which activity, event or thing you could give up, relinquish, or “unfollow” (see “Be Your Own Guru – Part 2” for more about that). Then, use that newly liberated time and space to be silent.

Many types of silent meditation practices are available, so choose one which is most comfortable for you. However, if you’re someone who’s struggled to meditate because you thought you were doing it “wrong” or nothing was happening, remember that the true goal of meditation is two-fold: to connect with God and with ourselves.

Despite what we may believe, silent meditation isn’t about stopping our thoughts or finding bliss, although on occasion, both of these things may occur. Rather, meditation in the silence is a way for us to understand our own minds, thoughts and feelings. Even when it seems that nothing is happening, or that our minds are scattered and spacey, daily time in the silence opens our inner pathways so we can listen when our inner guru speaks, however softly.

The truth is, to be our own guru, we need to turn within. Otherwise, we’re constantly distracted by all the noise, commotion, drama and uproar around us. Even if the time for ourselves seems indulgent or selfish, ultimately, it allows us to be more present to ourselves and then to the other people, places and things which are most important in our lives.

Our silent time honors us, so then we may honor and be present to others. When we choose to embrace time in the silence, we put our own spiritual oxygen masks on first. Then we can support and serve others, as we choose, with renewed energy, clarity and strength. And sometimes we discover that the journey becomes easier also.

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