Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blessed Are You

it's amazing how things often "line up," how there is a convergence of ideas.  this morning as part of my meditation and prayer time, i re-read the beatitudes from an online parallel gospel site.  it seemed that each subsequent reading that followed referenced the teachings of the beatitudes in some way; some even directly quoted one of the beatitudes.  to understand the depth of teaching in this short passage will take more than a lifetime, but i am focused on one this morning: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." (matthew 5:6), and the parallel verse in luke 6:21a: "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled."

just after reading the beatitudes, i visited the archives of one of my favorite blogs, where i read leo's commentary on the golden rule.  in it, he referenced a prayer to practice the golden rule.  both his commentary and the prayer to which he referred made me think about the meaning of hungering and thirsting after righteousness.  is that what such hunger and thirst is about, the need to practice the golden rule?  such practice must be the essence of righteous living.  what would the world be like if each of us spent part of each day remembering the golden rule so that we could apply it in our daily lives?

just after my visit to zen habits, i stopped off at another favorite blog, where jen had listed her own set of  aphorisms in the form of a series of "enoughs."  as if i didn't already have plenty of food for thought after reading matthew, luke, and leo, here were more ideas to think about!  jen wrote a great list, and i'll revisit that list as i mull over the other readings from this morning.  i hope you'll look at jen's "enoughs."

it's amazing how much challenge can be crammed into a few words.  my prayer today is that we all think about and seek to live the golden rule, that we each hunger and thirst after righteousness, and that we will all be filled.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Romp in the Park

yesterday, my intention as i left home for my bike ride in the park was to devote myself to mindful attention to the ride.  at first, i was mindful, noticing a perfectly formed holly tree hidden behind a clump of overgrown privet, a tree i had passed many times before with seeing it.  next, i saw a pine tree of such great beauty that it seemed the ideal of what a pine tree should be.

as i rode on, my mind wandered off to the park itself and what it has meant in my life over the years.  though i did not grow up in this town, i have known this park since childhood.  this is the town where my maternal grandparents lived and where my mother spent most of her formative years.  visiting the park was often a feature of family trips to visit my mother's parents.

let me try to describe the park.  it is rather large for a town this size.  the city has maintained it for many more years that i have lived, and i am thankful for those who had the foresight to create such a wonderful preserve in an area where conservation is not highly valued.  the most striking feature of the park is a spring-fed lake that is just the right size for walking around.  the spring emerges in a spring house that used to be open to the public for harvesting its waters for home consumption.  it is closed to the public, now, because it was discovered that natural pollutants made the water unsafe for human consumption.  though fishing is allowed in the lake, the fish are inedible for the same reason.  duck and geese thrive around the lake, and many of us delight in feeding them scraps of bread when we visit the park.

most of the park is filled with meadows and playing fields.  a complex of baseball, softball, and soccer fields are also part of the park, as well as a fine playground for small children.  a paved bicycle/walking path encircles most of the park.  a disc golf course leads its players throughout the open areas of the park.  much of the park is shaded by huge trees, with pines and oaks predominating.

as i rode yesterday, i thought of my earliest recollections of the park.  my mother's cousin, hilda, and her husband, earl,  operated a small amusement park and miniature golf course within the park at the time.  earl's father, a German immigrant, operated the small train that ran in the amusement park, and i loved riding that train.  some of my happiest childhood memories are of times with my extended family playing in the amusement park.  that part of the park is long gone, and doing away with it opened the park to many more people and made for much more open space, but i'm glad i had the chance to enjoy it while it was there.

later, when i was in my early teens, my cousin, richard, and i would walk to the park from my grandparents home some three or so miles away.  we walked everywhere, thinking nothing of walking eight or more miles in a day.  there was a beautiful swimming pool in the park then, and we loved to swim there.  our parents thought nothing of us going to swim without them being present because there were so many lifeguards on duty there. 

sometimes at night, one of our parents would drop us off at the roller skating rink on the back side of the park.  it was housed in a large wooden building that i believed once served as a national guard armory.  it was one of those rinks with a wooden floor that was much more forgiving that modern rinks with their concrete floors.  i was a good skater and loved to skate fast, skimming around the corners crossing one foot in front of the other.  i was pretty good at skating backwards, too.  for all my skill as a skater, the fear of which i wrote in yesterday's post prevented me from doing the daring tricks that i saw other skaters doing, but i loved to skate, nevertheless.

the most significant event in my association with the park occurred during my undergraduate years.  it was sadie hawkins day, and my future wife had invited me to go with her to see doctor zhivago, which had just been released.  (for those who may not be familiar with "sadie hawkins day," it is an occasion that is celebrated at many US schools during which a young woman invites a young man on a date or to attend a dance, and the young woman pays the expenses.)  we attended a college about forty miles east of here, so driving over for dinner and a movie was quite an event in our lives.  after the movie, we drove to the park and set in my car by the lake talking, and it was on that evening that i proposed.

now, i live just across the street from the park and enjoy it most every day.  the park is like an old friend that has been with me for as long as i can remember.  though it has changed over the years, every change seems to have made it better, and i rejoice in the great memories i have of my life in the park and in the quiet adventures that are there for me each day.

sharing my special place reminds me of how the greatest pleasures are often the simplest ones.  my prayer today is that you have a special place that refreshes you, that brings back joyful memories, and that can be your haven in the best or worst of times.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fear Not, I Am with You. Oh, Be Not Dismayed.

the weather here has become more spring-like, though it's still officially winter.  we'll probably have a few more cold days, but the jonquils are blooming and many of the trees are budding out.  right now as i look through my windows, i can see the beautiful red of the emerging leaves on the large maple in my neighbor's yard.  one of the benefits of the warming weather is that i can once again ride my bike in the park behind my house.

a couple of days ago as i was riding, i began to think of how much of my life has been lived in fear, and it suddenly occurred to me that i'm not fearful any more.  when i was younger, i spent sleepless nights worrying about whether something i had said offended or hurt another.  i worried about money.  i worried about my job.  i worried about the state of the world.  i searched for things to worry about. 

when i played my instrument, i worried about making mistakes.  i pulled back and avoided challenging music.  i worried about what people would think if i made a mistake in my playing.  i made copious markings in my music to avoid mistakes.  i worried about what people would think if i took a certain course of action.  i allowed fear of what others would think to limit my capacity for joy and growth.

several years ago, i attended a music workshop, and the clinician said something like, "when you sit down to play, ask yourself  'what's the worst thing that could happen if you completely botch this piece?'  will the world come to an end?  will those you love die?  will you be stricken with a terrible disease?  it's only a piece of music that takes place in this moment, and then it's gone.  so, you mess up.  big deal!"  what a life-changing moment that was for me.  i suddenly realized that the fate of the world didn't depend on my playing a piece of music perfectly.  i was free of the fear of playing less than perfectly.  there was joy to be found in the music, not fear.  why had i deprived myself of that joy for so long!

this has become my attitude toward life.  i hardly ever worry any more.  i haven't had a sleepless night in years.  if only i knew then, what i know now.  the saying that "youth is wasted on the young" has a great deal of merit, but it takes a lot of living to reach the point where one enjoys the luxury of becoming older and perhaps wiser.

my prayer this morning is that each of us can live fearlessly, looking for the joy in life rather than cautiously creeping through life trying to avoid all the pitfalls.  let's make mistakes, learn from them, and move on.  let's take chances and celebrate the great and small victories that come from living as fully as we can.  we won't ever recapture this moment!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Alpha and Omega

the uniqueness of each soul is a central belief of Christians.  we believe that we are each willed into being by the Creator.  the Buddhist concept of selflessness and emptiness is quite difficult for us who call ourselves Christians, and i am intrigued by these teachings that are somewhat foreign to my western mind.  there is great appeal in the idea that we continue in cyclic existence, learning from each cycle, increasing or decreasing our suffering according to the karma we generate through our actions and intentions, if i understand this aspect of the teaching correctly.  in a sense, in this system each being has multiple opportunities to move toward the perfection of enlightenment, and once reaching that enlightened state, one may choose to continue in the cycle for the benefit of others.

that is a kinder view of ultimate reality than the view of many Christians that we live this present life and are judged at the end based on our choices in this life, transitioning to an eternity of joy in the presence of God or to an eternity of unending suffering.  certainly, every Christian doesn't accept this teaching as the plan God has for humankind, but one hears it enough in Christian conversation and writing to suggest this teaching about the final judgment is central to many Christians.

these thoughts about the continuum for existence after death to the present life are digressions from what i intended in this post.  rather, my thoughts are about the unique "self."  what becomes of that self when its present life is over is germane to the question of whether "self" exists.  the answer to the question of the existence of the self as a unique soul, it seems to me, is one of the central distinctions between Christianity and Buddhism. the existence of self goes directly to the existence of a Prime Cause, a Creator-God, and the reason for creation.

if there is a Creator who wills all things into existence, a Great Mind that is the first cause of everything, then we exist because of that Creator.  it follows that because we have been created by that Divine Will, then we are each a unique "self," existing as a distinct soul.  i pray for God's leading in understanding the profound implications of faith in God's gift of creation, including the "i" that is my self, and for understanding of what the implications of "no-self" are in the teachings of the Buddha.

My prayer for each of us this day is that whatever truth we are led to will enable us to be the servants of one another, living as compassionate beings filled with loving-kindness.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


a combination of an unusually busy schedule and computer crashes have kept me from posting lately, and my mind is full of thoughts about many things.  one of the things that has been occupying my mind during my limited "think" time in the last several days is the random events that make up our lives.  having been raised a calvinist, my natural tendency is think of everything that happens as being "willed" by God.  that point-of-view leads to some unfortunate, and i've come to conclude, erroneous conclusions.

one of the chief of these is the idea that the wonderful circumstances of my life are due to God's blessing me.  if that is the case, doesn't that mean that God has chosen not to bless others who live in unbelievably unfortunate situations?  for instance, i am fortunate to live where i live, to enjoy many rights and freedoms, to have lived my entire life without having to worry about the necessities of life, to have never experienced any prolonged periods of unemployment, to have a supportive, loving family.  i didn't earn any of this, but do i enjoy all of these things because God has chosen to bless me, or was it pure chance that i am who, what, & where i am?

the deist position that God is the Creator, "nature's God," if you will, who created all that is and set the natural laws in motion and continues, for the most part, as a benign observer may be closer to the truth that we want to acknowledge.  regardless of what right-wing politicians posit, this philosophy was a motivating force in the establishment of our country, and as i age, i am drawn more and more to that philosophy.  if God is a good God, then it follows that, since "the rain falls on the good and evil alike," the circumstances of our lives in general, and in particular, are random. 

the atheist perspective that, if there is a good God, the great evils that take place in the world--the ruthlessness of dictators, the death of innocents, the destructive force of natural disasters--would not be allowed: a "good" God would not allow humanity to suffer so.  there is some merit in that perspective, and it is hard to imagine that God allows such horrible suffering.  yet, in my inner being, i continue to believe in a good God that wishes only good for God's creation.

how, then, can we explain the suffering that exists for so many in the world, or the great blessings that exist for some?  it must be that God wills it, but only in the sense that God allows both the suffering and the blessing, and both occur as random events that have no relationship to the moral quality of either those who suffer or those who are blessed.  the question then becomes, "why try to live a 'good' life?"  for me, the answer is that there is an inner voice that God has planted there that compels us in that direction.  we may choose to ignore that voice, but i believe that it is still there.

my thinking on this subject is far from conclusive for me at this point, and i continue to seek understanding of how God works in the world.  i can only say that this is where i am at this moment.  my prayer is that we are all open to the still small voice and that we can discern the path along which that voice is leading us.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wade in the Water

the image of water has been much in my mind lately.  this image came to me as i meditated a few days ago, when i saw God's love as an immense lake of water in which i swam.  the water was crystal clear and from somewhere within was illuminated by a radiant light.  don't misunderstand me:  i didn't perceive this as some sort of vision.  the image i saw was simply a way my mind had of understanding the all-encompassing love of God, something that at once surrounds us, buoys us up as we "swim" through our lives, and at the same time is within us as an integral part of who and what we are.

as i've reflected on that image of the lovely lake as a metaphor for God, i've thought of other images of water in the bible: pools of water in the desert, the Babylonian rivers beside which the psalmist wept, the spring that came out of the rock as the Israelites wandered, the sea that parted so the Israelites could find safety on the other side, the waters of the jordan where john baptized, the living water of which Jesus spoke with the samaritan woman at the well, the still waters beside which we are led.

where will this image lead me?  perhaps to a better understanding of God's action in our lives, perhaps nowhere.  the fact is that each morning it comes back to me, and i am confident that if there is some greater meaning than what i've already discovered, God will lead me to that meaning.

my prayer for each of us this morning is that we will be open to whatever God leads us to discover as we swim along in the great current of God's love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

For I Will Be with Thee Thy Trouble to Bless

A vague uneasiness has been my mood the past couple of days.  Part of that is because i've been focused on completing my tax forms, a task which requires complete concentration for me.  The distractions of everyday life compete for my attention, and i become frustrated because i can't pursue my goal of completing my tax reports without interruptions.  This is something i've been in prayer about, and, despite the anger and frustration i could feel welling up in me, God has been present to help me.

Yesterday, someone spoke angry, hurtful words to me as i was in the process of helping that person, and my initial reaction was to lash out in anger.  i remembered something i had read recently that spoke to the need for restraint when one is inclined to speak out in anger, and i began to examine my reaction to what had been said to me.  i thought about the motive of the person who had wounded me and about what their need was.  i thought about how my happiness was not dependent on the way another treated me.  i thought about what i could do to help this person overcome the bitterness that they were expressing.  Suddenly my own anger disappeared and i was focused on being present for that person.

As my mind returned to the person who had hurt me, and i spoke with gentleness, ignoring their hurtful words, the situation was diffused.  We continued through the rest of our time together speaking as friends, our joy at being together replacing what might have been an angry confrontation.

This morning, as i reflected on my mood of the past couple of days and the working of God in my heart in the situation i've just described, i heard God speaking to me through the words of the hymn which begins with the words, "How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent word."  This is the part of the hymn that came to my mind first, and was the focus of my morning meditation:

Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.

God does give us aid, through God's constant presence in and around us, if we only recognize that God is there, waiting for us.  God gives us aid through the words of ancient philosophers speaking words of wisdom to us across the ages and from outside our own traditions.  God gives us aid through the words of poets who are able to express our deepest needs in words that inspire and lead us to God's truth.  The "excellent word" is that voice of God that we find in so many places outside us and inside our hearts if we listen for it.

My prayer this morning is that we will all be vigilant as God seeks us and speaks to us in many ways, giving us the comfort and peace that God has for us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Walk in the Light

Light is an amazing word, and it is a word that keeps being brought to my mind these past few days.  This past Lord's Day, my morning reading included Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus from the gospel of John, which Jesus concludes by saying, "He who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God."  The scripture lessons for the day that were read in worship later that morning included a passage from Isaiah in which the prophet speaks of the people of Israel as being a "light to the Gentiles."  Another of the lessons for the day included Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount recorded in the gospel of Matthew:  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Looking around the church during worship, i thought of the word "light" and how often we use it in thinking of God.  The space in which we worship each Lord's Day is built in the shape of a cross, and the eyes of those who worship are led by the building's architecture to a cross that hangs on the back wall of the church above the choir loft.  The church was built in the early twentieth century in the Craftsman style, with plaster walls and light oak trim.  Muted light passes into the room through lovely stained glass windows, and the feeling one has in the room is one of safety, or refuge from the cares of the world.  Like another Craftsman-style church i described in an earlier post, it is a space that fosters congregational worship.

As i observed the effect of the light in the room, i thought of other places of worship.  Some are  dimmer, and the eyes of the worshipers are drawn to the lights of the candles on the altar.  Others are brighter, with windows that allow brilliant light to stream in from outside during the day.  Both types of lighting speak to us.  The former help us to see that in the darkness there is a light shining, that no matter what problems we face God is there holding a light for us if we only look towards it.  The latter remind us that as followers of Jesus we are a part of the world, that Jesus has told us to be a light in a world that is often filled with darkness.

May our day be lighted by the light God gives us and may we in turn be a light in the lives of those with whom we come in contact.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Finding balance in life is difficult, and one of the banes of modern existence is multi-tasking.  When i try to multi-task, i discover the lack of focus keeps me from enjoying any of the tasks i'm about.  To that end, i'm limiting my computer usage, because i've found that it's become too much of a good thing.  There are many inspiring blogs i follow, much research and study that i pursue on the internet, and a number of writing projects on which i'm working, and all of these have begun to consume too much of my time.  One of the things i've done to ration my computer time without abandoning any of the blogs i find helpful is to by divide them up into seven groups, one group for each day of the week.  There are two blogs that i find especially helpful, and i'll visit those two each day.

Along those same lines, for both writing and research projects, i'm giving myself a time limit.  When the time is up, i'm allowing myself to continue to a logical stopping point and then setting the project aside.  i refuse to allow my computer use to consume so much of my time and to try to work on projects that are important to me with less than my full attention--no more working and watching television or listening to music at the same time and particularly no more working and trying to carry on a conversation with my wonderful wife simultaneously.  Tonight there was a clever movie on, and i found myself enjoying it immensely because i gave it my full attention.  How many wonderful things have i missed because i was too busy trying to do several things at once?  i know that i enjoy spending time with my wife more when i'm fully present.

My prayer for each of us is that we can relish each moment, giving the pleasure that is in the moment our full attention.  Each moment is too perfect not to give it the mindfulness that moment deserves.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Game of Chance or Skill?

Board and cards games are metaphors for life.  The outcome is a combination of chance and skill and involves interactions with another player or with other players.  The game is played best when one is mindful of the moment, carefully observing the play as it occurs.  One can rail at one's bad luck when one is dealt a bad hand, draws the wrong card, or has an unfortunate roll of the dice or spin of the wheel.  The alternative is to realize that what appears as a bad run of luck often works to one's advantage, transforming an unfavorable position into a favorable one because of subsequent events in the course of the game.  The joy of playing is the purpose of the game, rather than the winning of it.  In winning, someone else has to lose, but, when the reason for playing is the enjoyment of the game itself, winning and losing become irrelevant.

The sudden realization of these truths that can be learned by playing a game came as a surprise this morning as several of us set around a table playing a game of Spades.  Usually, i bid conservatively in fear of going set.  Today i decided to bid honestly, based on the hand i was dealt with no worrying about failure to make my bid.  As we played, the revelation that there was greater joy in playing the game struck me, and it mattered little whether i won the hand or the game; the game itself was what brought joy.  The challenge was to play with the greatest skill i could muster, not to score the most points.

Can we live our lives that way?  Can we find joy just in the living of life, not fearing what might be lost, thereby living guardedly, but rather living with the greatest skill we can?  Can we transform what we perceive as misfortune into an advantage, making opportunities from perceived setbacks?  My prayer for this moment is that life for each of us is lived as a great adventure that brings joy, peace, & satisfaction.