Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Day of Special Blessing

Today was a day of great peace.  For once, there were no pressing responsibilities.   I began the day in prayer and meditated later in the morning.  We ate a late breakfast, I watered plants outside on our deck, I went for a bike ride, we watched movies and played cards, and I investigated a number of faith and practice blogs, some new and some that I follow regularly.  Throughout the day, I felt a special joy as my heart was filled with gratitude for having a day to rest and reflect.  What a wonderful gift this day has been!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wrong Choices/Right Choices

Yesterday, my wife and I took the day off from our responsibilities to spend a day away from home in a nearby large city.  We did a little shopping for things we couldn't get in our own town and went out to eat.  I found myself ignoring the presence of God and made some poor choices.

First, I was approached by a woman in a parking lot.  She told me a story that was obviously untrue about why she needed me to give her money.  Instead of praying before responding, I told her I couldn't help her, climbed into the car with my wife, and left.  I could have easily have reached into my pocket and given her a dollar or two, but, without thinking or praying, I didn't do that.  It wasn't my place to judge her or to refuse help, using her bogus story as an excuse.  I pray that the next time I am confronted with this choice, I'll make the right one.

Next, I found myself becoming irritated by the inattention and rudeness of sales people.  I refrained from repaying unprofessionalism with an angry outburst, but I never considered that there might be an underlying reason that I was not receiving the treatment to which I thought I was entitled.  Perhaps there were difficulties in the lives of these sales persons that I knew nothing about.  My obligation was to be compassionate, even when I was not being treated courteously.  I pray that compassion will trump my sensitivity to ill treatment by others.

Today, I went to a great deal of trouble to help my dad.  In the middle of my efforts, he made a very unkind, cutting remark that wounded me deeply.  My initial reaction was to lash out at him.  Instead, I bit my lip and sat in silence for a few moments.  I thought about my anger and hurt and looked at these emotions objectively.  When I replied, I explained in a calm voice why I had made the choice that he was so critical of.  What could have turned into an argument, as similar situations in the past have, instead turned into a pleasant conversation, with my dad realizing that he had jumped to the wrong conclusion, and the remainder of the day was filled with peace rather than anger.  I thanked God that God had spoken to me and helped me make the right choice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two Bike Rides

Once more I am posting about bike rides.  In a previous post, I said that my bike rides are my most extended "think times."  On many days, my bike rides are my most extended "alone times," too.  As much as I enjoy the company of my wife and others, I need time to be alone, also.  Yesterday as I rode, I concentrated on the physical sensations of the ride:  the circular motion of my feet on the pedals, the up and down motion of my knees, and particularly the deep breaths I was taking and the rhythmic relationship of my breathing to the movement of my legs.  Always when I ride, I am breathing very deeply, not from the exertion, but because the rhythmic motion encourages me to breathe deeply.  This may be why I look forward to my rides so much: it feels so good to breathe deeply for a long period of time.  At any rate, the concentration on the physical act of riding helped to keep other thoughts from my mind, in effect clearing my mind of extraneous thoughts.

Today, as I rode, I determined to just "be" in the ride, not to think about anything in particular.  Rather, I tried not to think at all.  The strongest sensations were those of the air movement around me, sometimes pushing against me as I rode into the wind, sometimes cooling me as I sped downhill or the breeze was at my back.  I didn't worry about speed or work to maintain my speed as I climbed hills.  I just relaxed in the ride.  When I finished, I felt rested, as if the ride had required no exertion at all.

Both rides were equally pleasurable, and it was nice for a change not to use this time to think through any important matters.  I don't want to always use my rides in this way, but it was what I sensed God wanted me to do to help myself these two days.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to have had these experiences.

Yesterday, I discovered that my email account had been hacked, all of the contacts had been deleted, and the hacker was sending a bogus request for money to all of my contacts.  In the past, this would have sent me into "stress level maximum."  I was surprised at my reaction.  I took logical steps to let everyone I could know that the email they were receiving was not genuine by sending a disclaimer to them through another email list that contained most of the addresses that had been deleted, I went to every account that I used the same user name and password for and changed those and investigated to determine that none of them had been accessed, and I notified the email service that had been used to send the bogus email and my own email service that had been hacked into.  An unexpected outcome was that many friends from whom I had not heard in months sent me emails sympathizing with my situation and offering advice, often hilarious advice.  What I could have seen as a disaster turned out to be a blessing because I was able to examine my emotional first reaction and logically negate the initial panic.

The transforming voice of God inside me and the practices of silence and meditation continue to amaze me and bring me great joy and peace.  What a wonderful thing it is to know that I don't have to solve my problems, because there really aren't any problems, only opportunities to hear God and experience the present fully.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A New Attitude

Yesterday, I served as substitute organist for an Episcopal church service, a beautiful service with wonderful use of the English language, many well-written hymns, as well as a great deal of sung liturgy (Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, Lord's Prayer, Agnus Dei).  For me, there was a LOT of music to be played, and ordinarily it would have been a very stressful service to play.  Surprisingly, that was not the case.  I had prayed several times that I would have the right intention in playing the service, that I would be able to offer my playing as a joyful offering to God, and that others would sense my intention as they participated in the service.  I found all of these things to be the case, and when the service was over, though I was exhausted, I felt joy in having opened my heart to the presence of God as I played the service.

As I have begun to try and listen for God speaking in my heart and mind and have begun the practice of daily meditation, I have noticed a great reduction in my stress level.  I feel a sense of peace and calm that is new to me.  I have never been a worrier; I have always believed that God was taking care of me and that "all things work together for good to those who love God."  Yet, lately, I don't sense as much anxiety in my mind and body when I'm in a stressful situation.

This week, I'm working on being more fully present for those I'm with, especially my family.  I hope to let God work in me to help me truly hear what they are saying, to be sensitive to their needs and emotions, and to practice compassion for them more fully than I have in the past.  I am praying each day that I will be open to God as God transforms me into a more caring, engaged follower of Jesus.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Word

Last night, as I set in our den with my wife, I was suddenly aware that I felt a great joy in my heart and mind.  As I reflected on that sense of joy this morning, I speculated that it was God's way of letting me know that I was on the right path, and in my morning prayers I asked God to lead me to the truth about that feeling of joy.

The scripture reading for this morning was full of seeming contradictions, and I prayed about that, too.  I believe that God is leading me to a way of understanding the scriptures that I am reading and about the Bible in general.  Here is where I am right now: I believe that we are spending too much time debating, wondering, discussing, arguing about the contents of the Bible.  I believe that we are taking much of the Bible way too literally.  I believe that we need to start looking at the underlying meanings and reasons for some of the most controversial parts of the Bible rather than trying to explain away the Bible's inconsistencies.  I believe that we need to allow God to write the Scriptures in and on our hearts rather than skimming the surface content of the written Word.  I hasten to say that this is where I am now; these are not fixed conclusions.  I am waiting for God to lead me to the truth, and my perceptions now may or may not be "the truth."

If God is a spirit, then we must truly worship him in spirit and in truth.  The worship of the Bible cannot be a substitute for sensitivity to the spirit of God in us.  The Bible is a source but God is the Teacher, and only the spirit's leading can teach us how to use the Bible as God intended and find its message for each of us individually and collectively.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Vote for Compassion

We are being bombarded by political phone calls in our home.  For each office on the ballot, I know for whom I'm going to vote.  I don't plan to vote early, because some new knowledge about one of the candidates could come to light that would change my mind, and somehow it's more like a "real" election to show up at the polls on election day and wait in line with the majority of people who also vote "on time" rather than "early."

I don't discuss politics much anymore, because we have become so polarized about our positions in this country that real discussion doesn't seem to have much point.  I had a talk with a friend several months ago about politics, though.  He is one of the few people with whom I can discuss politics, even though our political positions are very far apart.  His position was that he voted for the most conservative candidate, regardless of party.  My position was that I voted for the Democratic nominee, regardless of that candidate's position on the issues.

My view has changed, though.  I now examine the candidates of all parties and vote for the candidate that is the most compassionate.  I don't think we can go wrong by electing the most compassionate candidates, and I hope that in the upcoming election the most compassionate candidates will receive the majority of votes.  If that's not how things work out, I will have done my part to make compassion the most important consideration, and perhaps by the next major election in two years, the majority will vote for the "compassion party" instead of the Democratic or Republican party.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

God's Voice or Mere Coincidence?

The last several days, my life seems to have been touched with several "coincidences."  One occurred last Sunday in worship, as one of our co-pastors spoke of how life seems to overwhelm us, with new things--ideas, music, news, fragments from the internet--constantly bombarding us.  As she spoke, I thought, "That's exactly what I've been thinking."  Her husband, our other co-pastor, writes a great blog, The Practical Disciple, and said in his blog that he is entering a "season of listening."  When I read that post, I thought, "That's exactly what I'm seeking to do."  As I explored the web, I discovered a great blog written by Danny Coleman.  His latest post was on "hearing God," and his description of how he "heard" God was so much like mine that I had to send him a comment.  The next coincidence occurred as I was reading the scripture lessons for next week for an Episcopal service where I'm filling in as organist.  The gospel reading was the reading about the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18.  I had just written a post about pride in my life in which I made reference to that text.

I sit wondering if these are really coincidences, or is God reinforcing the path I'm seeking to follow?  Perhaps our human condition is so similar that such congruencies are inevitable.  We are all victims of sensory and information overload.  That overload may be moving many of us to seek the silence in which we can hear the voice of God if we listen for it.  Maybe many Christians struggle with sin of pride.  Whether these are mere coincidences or God's reassurance that I'm on the right path, these events reinforce my desire to seek out more times of silence, to be more conscious of the presence of God throughout my day, and to give thanks to God and to those who bless my life, like our pastors and Danny, for their positive influence.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Serving Others and Listening for God

Today was a busy day.  When I prayed this morning, I had made few plans for the day and asked God to lead me to what God wanted me to do with my day.  I spent most of the day serving others, which is what God must have wanted of me.  First, I set with my 92-year-old father in the doctor's office for much of the morning, took care of some paper work for him, and visited with him and other family members.  Next, I helped my wife with a task that wound up being more time consuming than either of us had planned.  My last act of service was to take our sixteen-year-old cat (one of five who allow us to feed, water, and pet them) to the vet to be put down.  She had a terminal illness and was slowly starving to death.  This was an extremely difficult task for me.  Though her life might have been prolonged, our decision was based on the fact that prolonging her life might be easier for us to accept, but it would have been a miserable existence for her, with painful tests and probably even more painful treatments that would have kept her alive for only a little while longer.

It seems that my longest uninterrupted "think time" is during my daily bike ride and that was a present I gave myself at the end of the day.  After I returned from the vet's office, that's where I headed, so that I could sort out the emotions of telling our oldest cat good-bye.  As I rode, I thought of the joy Louise had brought to our lives.  She had come to us as a "gift" from a relative who asked us to take her to be spayed and then refused to take her back.  She was long-legged with beautiful black fur accented by white "boots" and chest.  She was awkward and shy, but always greeted me every morning as I went out the back door to feed the outside cats.  To see her so emaciated, stumbling along rather than walking, sniffing at her food dish rather than eating was so painful, and if her condition was painful to watch, it was even more painful for her to live that way.  Thanks, Louise, for all the love you gave us.  I pray that my decision was indeed the most loving gift I could give you at the end of a long life.

Over the past few days, I've been praying for sensitivity to God as God helps me deal with the sin of pride.  In my last post, I wrote about one kind of pride that God is helping me move beyond.  It is not completely gone, but I am able to examine the reasons that underly it, to look at it in an objective way, and to  replace that false competitive pride with pride in work done well and with joy.  I will continue to pray for openness to God's working to completely remove pride that manifests itself in the desire to outdo another person.

One other type of pride that I am praying to be removed from my mind and heart is a pride that looks at others with contempt because I perceive that I am in some way superior to them.  I find myself thinking like the Pharisee who prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not like that sinner over there . . ."  As I walked through the grocery store the other day, I saw several obese people, and I found myself putting on a mental air of congratulatory superiority, thanking God that, though I could stand to lose a few pounds, I was not obese like others around me.  One woman in particular was so large that she had difficulty walking and had to lean on her shopping cart to move around.  As I followed her out of the grocery store, I realized how wrong my thinking was.  I began to pray that I might open my heart to God leading me to the right way of thinking.  As I prayed, I thought of what life must be like for this woman, how there might be emotional problems that caused her to overeat or a deep pain that eating helped assuage.  I thought that perhaps her weight problem was caused by a medical problem.  There were so many reasons that she might be overweight, and I knew absolutely nothing about her beyond her appearance.  Inside, she might well be a beautiful, kind person, a deeply spiritual person, a person that it would be a great pleasure to know.  Then, I realized that God was answering my prayer.

Now, my responsibility is to continue to listen for the voice of God within me that wants to transform me into a more faithful servant.

Friday, October 15, 2010

False Pride

This morning, as I was doing the work I had committed to do so that my friend would be free to take care of an urgent family matter, I found myself "in the zone."  My work was going so well, and I found myself thinking, "When others see how well I'm doing this, they'll make comparisons with my friend's work and realize I'm really better at it than he is."  Suddenly the joy of the work left me, and I understood that I had allowed my mind to take the altruistic view that had prompted me to volunteer to help my friend out and turned it into a selfish competition to get the better of the very person I wanted to help.

I immediately stopped to ask God to work in my heart and mind to transform my selfish competitive nature to one that is seeking the best for my friend, to return to me the joy of the work without a selfish sense of pride.  My plan now is to think through what it is about doing this work that brings me so much joy and how I can use the skills I've been given to reflect positively on the friend I want to help.

It is one thing to take pride in work done well, but I need to remember that the skills to do the work well were a gift from God.  My development of those skills would not have been possible without the help of many others who gave of their own knowledge and supported me so that I could be better at my work.  While my own efforts played a role, it was the unselfish assistance I received from teachers, parents, and friends that made what I've accomplished possible.  For this, I am very grateful.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Learning to "Be"

Since returning from our trip, my days have been extremely busy, with little time to write posts for this blog or to write anything else, for that matter.  In the past, this "busyness" would have been very frustrating. Now, it doesn't seem to bother me.  I can think with confidence that this is a temporary state of affairs. No matter how long my list of things that need to be done, I know that I am not compelled to crowd as many of them in each day as is humanly possible; some things can wait until tomorrow (or the day after that or even longer, if necessary).

Last night, my plans for the next several days were turned upside down because of the need to help out a friend.  This meant that several plans I had made would have to be changed.  That, too, didn't upset me.  I know that being there for a friend is more important that carrying out personal plans that can just as easily be completed at another time.

I read this quote this morning in a post by Lori Deschene titled "Tiny Wisdom: On Rushing" at "there’s no reason to stress or rush yourself–you’ll get where you’re going but right now is a perfect time to do and enjoy what you love."  I followed her advice.  Though there were many tasks demanding my attention, I pushed them aside to take time to do something I truly wanted to do.  When I moved on to those things I had planned to do, including helping my friend, I discovered that there was still time for most of them.  The only thing I didn't get around to was my afternoon bike ride, but I'll make up my missed ride by riding my bike when I go to help my friend tomorrow morning, rather than driving there.

I am amazed that changing my prayer life has made such a difference in my perspective.  Stopping to listen for God to speak to me, asking God to help me open my mind and heart, taking time to read other blogs like the ones listed on my blog, simply stopping to just "be," spending time in silent meditation, and trying to rid my mind of negative, critical thoughts about other people has made my life so much more peaceful.  I am confident that God is transforming me into the person I'm intended to be.  I wonder if others have had this same experience.

Monday, October 11, 2010

We are One

As I read blogs and other devotional materials, I am often inspired by the words of Buddhist writers.  Their insights point me in the direction I need to go, and I am increasingly persuaded that the kinship between Buddhism and the teachings of Jesus points to a single God that speaks to all persons of good will.  As I pray each morning and listen for God, I believe God is saying that I must live a life that shows concern for the welfare of others and of the world, a life of contemplation and attention to the light of God within me.  It is not for me to pass judgment on the rightness or wrongness of another's beliefs, but rather to follow the light that God gives me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Simple Joy

This afternoon I went for a bike ride for the first time in two weeks.  What a wonderful experience, as I felt the difference in effort as I shifted from one gear to another, the sensation of the various micro-climates of the park in which I ride--sometimes warm, sometimes cool almost to the point of being chilly, the speed of the downhill portions of the trail!  I noticed the reactions of others as I met them, some smiling a greeting in acknowledgment, others looking down at the trail in concentration.  I watched people walking dogs of many sizes, breeds, and colors and saw the enjoyment of people playing frisbee golf.  At the end of my ride, another rider crossed my path and appeared to be experiencing the joy of riding as well.  I thank God for giving me this great pleasure.

Rectifying Wrongs?

After returning home from our trip, I have been reflecting on some of my impressions.  One of the things that I found notable was the social climate in San Francisco.  As we drove the streets in the neighborhood where we stayed, I was happy to see same-sex partners holding hands without fear of the reaction of others.  

Some of my traveling companions ridiculed those who were expressing affection for each other in this way.  They did this, knowing my own feelings about respecting the sexual orientation of others, and, in the interest of harmony on the trip, I said nothing.  In retrospect, I wonder if I was right in holding my tongue.

This morning I read the words of the Dalai Lama when he said, "When something needs to be done in the world to rectify the wrongs, if one is really concerned with benefiting others, one needs to be engaged, involved."  Would it have been an act of engagement for me to speak out when my companions made fun of same-sex couples?

I work daily to be less judgmental.  I know that one of the great failings of Christians is our quickness to label the actions of others as "right" or "wrong, " despite Jesus' teaching that his followers must refrain from condemning others when their own lives are so full of "wrongs."  Yet, in order to work for social justice in the world, it is necessary to condemn injustice and work to end it.

How should each of us work to end discrimination in our society, to end the practice of labeling others as "sinful" because of their love for another person?  What actions can I, as an individual, take to promote civil rights for every person?  Am I obligated to speak out against injustice every time I hear injustice being promoted and in every circumstance? 

These are the questions that I am contemplating this morning as I prepare my heart and mind for corporate worship.  I pray that God will lead me to the answers to these questions.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Today was a day filled with peace, much of it spent marveling at the beauty of creation that surrounded us in the Sierra Nevadas.  I felt an unusually close connection to my traveling companions, but one of the most astounding occurrences was a business meeting that my wife and I had to attend at the very start of the day.  It was a meeting that we had dreaded and that I had prayed about for several days.  Now, this was not a particularly important meeting, but the last time we had attended a similar meeting with a representative of this company, it was most unpleasant.  During my last prayer about this meeting, I sensed God assuring me about the meeting, telling me not to be concerned or anxious, because God would be present as well.  As we entered the meeting, with no forethought, I explained to the man with whom we were meeting what had happened the last time we were in this situation with his company, how unpleasant this had been for us, and exactly what our point-of-view was concerning the business at hand.  He smiled, apologized on behalf of his company, and told us that we would have a better experience this time.  We did, and I left filled with joy that God had worked in me to change my attitude, that God had led me to speak frankly, and that God had answered my prayer by transforming me into a better person from the outset of this meeting.

Once more, I was reminded of the need to be still and wait for God to enter my heart.  Only a few weeks ago, I would have prayed by telling God what I planned to do in this situation and asking God to intervene in some way if I was taking the wrong course of action.  I would have acted on my own initiative with the expectation that it was up to God to stop me if I was wrong.  Now, I am trying to be open to God's leading by being still and waiting on God.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Peace in the Midst of Confusion

Tonight, I am sitting with my computer, writing as the rest of my travel companions play a game of cards.  Ordinarily, I would be there, too, because I love to play.  Tonight, I have chosen to carve out some time for myself.  When we returned from our day of sightseeing, it occurred to me that I have had no time to be alone with my thoughts for many days, and this is something I miss greatly.  Even when I choose to sit apart to pray, write, think, or meditate, there are always several others around.  I have discovered that, even in the midst of activity, I can create a quiet zone for myself and this is a great blessing.  A couple of months ago, I would not have been able to do that.  I notice that when I sit quietly and adopt a reflective posture, things are much quieter around me.  Perhaps this is because those around me are being considerate or perhaps it is because they sense the peace that envelopes me.  I believe that it is the latter, and I pray that this is not vanity on my part.

I know that the quality of my meditation is not as high as when I can be truly alone, but the peace that comes to me is satisfying and renewing, nevertheless.  Do others have this same experience, I wonder?

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Waited for the Lord

We continued our travels today, driving into the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains as we drove from California into Nevada.  The air turned crisp, water rushed down the mountainsides in a beautiful cascading stream, autumn colors appeared in the few deciduous trees in the forest.  My wife drove, and I acted as "navigator."  The other two couples with whom we are traveling, all family members, sat behind us.  My wife and I spoke little, except for the necessities of communicating about driving directions, and yet there was a profound connection between us.  We both sensed that words to express our feelings about each other did not need to be spoken, amidst the conversation of the others in the car, that there was a deep, abiding love which required no spoken confirmation.  At the same time, I felt a deep peace, one that has been with me now for several weeks.  I have luxuriated in this peace since I began to approach God through silence and take time at the beginning of each day to simply wait on God.  Even as I write tonight, I am filled with this incredible peace.  Why has it taken me so long to arrive at this place?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Today is Sunday!

Today is the Lord's Day, and, because we are traveling, I am not in corporate worship today.  As I sit quietly at my computer, I am thinking of some of my family sitting behind me playing cards.  Others are out for a morning walk.  I've chosen to dedicate my morning to meditation, prayer, and reflection.  One of the tasks I performed this morning was to sort out our trash and utilize the excellent recycling program the city in which we staying has in place.  As I performed this task, I prayed that God would accept my joyful offering that does a small part to care for the world in which we live, and I thanked God that this particular city, San Francisco, is making a large contribution to caring for the environment.

In the distance, I can hear water flowing in a fountain in the garden at the rear of our condo.  Except for the quiet conversation of the card game and the hum of appliances, it is quiet.  I am at peace.  My heart is filled with gratitude for this morning of personal devotion, for the love of my family, for the gift of inspirational websites that nourish my inner life with God's help.  I hope that anyone who reads these words is also enjoying a few moments of peaceful worship.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Peace Surprises Me

This morning I felt an extraordinary sense of calm and blessing as I prayed and turned to devotional sites that I frequent.  Each site I visited seemed to have a special message for me relating to what I was experiencing in my morning quiet time.  I am overwhelmed by the great sense of God's presence and the feelings of peace and reassurance that the path I am traveling is the right one for me.  During the trip I am on with my family, I thought that the constant busyness would leave me feeling anxious and stressed, but just the opposite has occurred, and I am finding time to be alone with my thoughts and to have the silent time I need to experience God's presence.  During the day, I am discovering many moments when I believe God is calling me to stop and experience the peace that God gives.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Persistence of Racism

This morning as we were driving, we passed a truck that had its back bumper and window covered in stickers.  On the back bumper were these words, “Redneck Rebel,” with the Confederate “Stars and Bars” as a background.  In the back window was sticker with a drawing of Jesus, a crown of thorns on his head, and another sticker with the words, “Depend on God.”  The irony of these religious emblems and the Confederate symbols appearing together reminded me of the deep racism that exists alongside a seeming devotion to the teachings of Jesus.  As we drove on, I wondered whether the owner of the truck we had passed actually believed that the Jesus he purported to follow condoned a society that held others in slavery in the inhumane conditions that existed my native South.  Again, I was reminded of the deep-seated racism that all the years since the Civil War ended have failed to erase.  My prayer is that all of us who proclaim ourselves to be followers of Jesus will condemn racism and the symbols that are associated with it.