A Path of Love

As spring unfolds, on a day of abundant sunshine in a bright, blue sky, I visit a new park.  My friends and I wander in various directions, and I find myself on a winding path.  I pause at a lake and admire the fountains.  I stop in an azalea grove and see the first robins of the season.

As I walk, I marvel at the day’s beauty and perfection.   I meet a family collecting pine cones, and the youngest child shows me hers.  A couple carrying the remains of a picnic wave as they pass, while a group of co-eds giggle, heads bowed, avoiding any eye contact, as if in a secret conference.  Since I don’t know my way around and several paths are unmarked, I meander onto some which twist into each other or end in a clearing.  Occasionally, I walk through brush, hearing the crunch of leaves underfoot.

Then I reach a paved walkway, which seems to lead to the other side of the park.  A sign posted indicates that the area is closed for a private event, though I hear only a crow calling and see no barrier or anyone else around.  A few yellow butterflies float ahead of me, and like a little girl in a fantasy, I venture forward, aware that I am “breaking the rules.”  As I walk, I see two benches facing one another in a grove of olive trees.  I sit on one of the benches, attempting to determine which has the better view, when I see the golden placard which reads:

In Loving Memory

Clementine Bernstein

1924-2008

I rest for several minutes, breathing in the fresh afternoon air, jotting a few memories in a tiny notebook I often carry.  I feel the warm air through my light cotton sweater.

It’s said that those who pass on never truly depart; they merely become invisible to our human sight.  I think of my father and how much he loved gardens and any pathway where he could consider, as he called the foliage, the “growings.”  I remember his advice to take time to smell the flowers, to be still and know the Presence of God, in and through all God’s creations, great and small.

At any moment, I expect to be told to leave.  Yet no one else appears, so I linger.  Only after I shift to the opposite bench to consider another view do I realize the divinity here.  For when I look at this placard, I see:

In Loving Memory

Seymour Bernstein

1923-2015

I don’t know the Bernsteins, where they lived, what they did, what they believed.  All I know is: Someone loved them.

In this season of passing over and rising up, no matter what paths we’ve traveled or where they’ve led, we can remember: We, too, are God’s divine creations, loved with an everlasting love, always, to the end of our days — and beyond.

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

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.

Mountains of Love: Remembering MLK Jr.

Many discussions in life involve the themes of happiness and love. Yet, we don’t always know the difference. One of the best clarifications I’ve read is from an unnamed Catholic priest who worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He said, “When you think about it, if your main goal is to be happy, you’re going to be miserable. But if your main goal is to love, you’re going to be happy.”

As people around the globe remember the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., perhaps we can reconsider how we experience happiness when we choose to love, especially the seemingly unlovable. When discussing the theme of love in 1953, MLK said: “We realize that we stand surrounded with mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate.” He could speak these words now, in 2016, as so many surrounded by mountains of love choose to dwell in valleys of hatred, upset and anger. For some, it’s easier to remain in the valley than pull themselves out.

To reside in mountains of love takes persistent, determined, spiritual practice. It requires, as MLK taught, that we consider ourselves first, rarely an easy task. Because the truth is, we won’t like some people, and some people won’t like us. Not the way we walk, talk, dress, act, work, think, or breathe. MLK acknowledged: Sometimes others don’t like us because of jealousy about something we have or because they feel hurt about something we did or said.

Nevertheless, he encouraged us “to discover the element of good” in others. He said that when we choose to see “the image of God” within them, we begin to love an “enemy” because we behold the essence of the divine in them, no matter what they’ve said or done. The more we behold this image, the happier we can feel, because we change ourselves and move to a greater consciousness of love.

MLK called this greater consciousness an overflowing, unconditional love for all people, a creative, redemptive, transformative love which seeks nothing in return. MLK said that when we love this way, we love everyone, not because they’re likable, but because this is how we imagine God loves.

This is the core of both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures which MLK preached: We love this way because by doing so, we express – as best we can imagine – God’s unconditional love and infinite compassion.

MLK admitted: It’s a challenge to like some people. Yet, he encourages us to love them because it liberates and strengthens us. He said: “The strong person is the person who” chooses to cut the chains of hatred and chooses love.

Because the truth is: Our hatred hurts us more than anyone else. It destroys all our attempts to be happy and eats away at us from the inside out, hurting our bodies, minds and spirits. As much as hatred can keep us wallowing in the valley forever, love can help us climb mountains we never imagined possible. With love, the journey becomes easier – and maybe, happier, too.

 

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

Enter: Divine Love

We’ve reached the time of the season, Blessed Reader, when I invite you to temporarily disconnect the literal part of your internal programming. This process is called Suspending Disbelief. While Santa Claus is already packing the sleigh, let us travel from the literal to the mystical, to a part of the story, (from the Gospel Writer called Luke, Chapter 1), which makes “uncommon sense.”

Enter: Divine Love: two women and an archangel. The first woman is Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah. She is pregnant – beyond the years of possibility, believing she’d never conceive – with a son to be named John, called the Baptizer. She’s six months along when Archangel Gabriel visits her cousin, a lovely young woman named Mary.

Mary lives in Nazareth, in Galilee. She’s engaged to Joseph, a young man of upstanding family, descended from the lineage of King David. Not only is Mary surprised at Gabriel’s appearance. She’s even more perplexed when the archangel says, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you. So, do not fear Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Mary nods and smiles, wondering what this means. Although she technically hasn’t had Joseph’s formal schooling in the synagogue, she knows: When an archangel appears, something awesome is about to happen.

Gabriel tells her not to fear, which often in biblical stories isn’t as much about feeling afraid, as about being overwhelmed by a sense of awe and wonder. In that awe, Mary hears Gabriel say that she’ll conceive, in an inexplicable way, and give birth to a son she’ll name Jesus. Gabriel assures her that Jesus will receive the throne of his ancestor David and his kingdom will be called great.

Through Archangel Gabriel, the Luke Writer also shares something else significant for Mary – and for us. This Gospel writer intends his message to be for all people. So everyone will know: God blesses Mary – and by extension all of us – with unconditional, divine love, infinite compassion, and everlasting grace because that is God’s nature. God’s beneficence is a priceless gift we all receive. It’s always ours, even when we don’t completely understand it – which is often when we feel the awe.

Divine love is an immutable Law of Being. Despite what we sometimes believe, divine love isn’t a power outside ourselves. The only place where divine love truly exists is within our own hearts. When we’re fully illumined in divine love, we can heal ourselves, resolve our challenges, and possibly heal others also.

This is why Elizabeth and Mary choose – with faith and trust – to embrace divine love, even in the incomprehensible awe, without knowing how the rest of the journey would unfold. Within that awe, where she willingly suspends disbelief, Mary embraces divine love and prepares herself to give it to her unborn child. Although she doesn’t fully understand, she believes, as Archangel Gabriel says: “. . . Nothing will be impossible with God.”

So it is for us. And divine love awaits, to be born, with us and within us. It illumines our souls and, as we go forth faithfully, our world.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.