Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Can I Give Him, Poor As I Am?

(while this post won't appear until tuesday, i a writing it on sunday morning as i sit in the home of my wife's sister and everyone else in the house is asleep.)  for christians, today is the first sunday in advent.  yesterday as i prayed about how to find meaning in this advent season, i sensed a leading to do something for the members of my family each day during advent.  perhaps it will be a small gift, a note, or kind action for my wife each day,  and for my children i will send a note of encouragement each day.  there may be days when i cannot follow through on my intentions, and i won't feel guilty if that is the case, but my desire is to give something extra of myself to those who are dearest to me throughout the season.

in our church, as in many christian churches, we light a special candle in an advent wreath each sunday during advent and have a special liturgy around the lighting of that sunday's candle.  this sunday the theme of the liturgy is "hope," so we say that we "light the candle of hope."  during my time of prayer and meditation this morning, i focused on hope.  in a sense hope removes us from the present and as such can be a means of ignoring the present.  it that sense, hope is not a good thing.  but hope is a word that conjures up positive thoughts for me.  it directs my thinking toward positive transformation, toward a pattern of development that says that the next moment will be even better than the present one because the present moment is so precious, that life is moving in a direction where suffering and want are diminished by actions that grow from hope in a better world.

there is an archaic meaning for the word hope that is related to the concept of trust, as in "Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God" (from psalm 146).  in that sense, hope takes on an even more positive meaning.  when hope is united with trust, we have a sense that the present and future are one, and our efforts, though faltering, will move us and the world in the right direction so long as our focus is on the right kind of effort, effort that flows from compassion and loving-kindness.

whether you are a christian, an adherent of some other religion, or a follower of no religion, my prayer during this special season is that despair gives way to hope, that hate gives way to love, and that indifference gives way to compassion.  may we seek transformation that brings us closer to the denial of our selfish attachments and the surrender of our lives to the well-being of others.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Am Jesus' Little Lamb

a few days ago, i came across a statement attributed to john the baptizer in the third chapter of luke. john is condemnng the religious elite and tells them that God is able to raise up sons of abraham from the stones on the ground, thus debunking their claims of special status because they are part of "God's chosen people." upon investigating further, i found that matthew 3 contains this same incident. reading this caused me to think about our western philosophy of the uniqueness of each person. it seemed to me that john was suggesting that the idea that each person is "special," a soul created by God for a specific purpose, may not be how things really are.

the recent vote on "personhood" in the neighboring state of mississippi ties into what john said in his stinging rebuke to the religious leaders of his time. if we believe that God can create "sons of abraham" as john suggests, is each embryo that has the potential for development into a human life deserving of protection as an individual? is the "self" that we talk so much about in our culture real?

Jesus speaks of denying oneself, and we usually interpret that to mean that in doing so and taking up one's cross, we are to live a life of self-sacrifice. could Jesus be suggesting something more than that? are we part of a "collective self" that binds each of us inextricably together and links us to the God of creation? perhaps it is our own vanity that causes us to imagine that each of us is an independent "self" with a special mission and purpose.

i am not quite ready to abandon the belief in a "self" that is separate and unique, but i must ask myself the question of whether i am a "self" because i think i am such or is this "self" something i have created in my mind that doesn't exist in reality. one day i will have an answer to that question, but it may not come in this life. my prayer today is that each of will see our connection with those other "selves" that populate the world, will see that we could just have easily been one of those other "selves," and that our hearts are filled with joy and compassion for each "self" that struggles for understanding and compaasion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dona Nobis Pacem

in the united states, we are approaching thanksgiving day. like most families here, we are planning a time with extended family, a part of which will be a huge feast shared by several generations of family members. it will be a joyful time, as we celebrate with this large group, and it will be a stressful time of tolerating spoiled children and yelling parents. after it's all over, we'll look back and complain about the stresses and recall fondly the opportunity of being with all those that we see all too infrequently.

thanksgiving, at least for me, is a time of assessing the past year, and it's a time of reflecting on how my life has changed. i try not to write about me so much in this blog, except about how the teachings of christianity and bhuddism can be applied to my life. in this post, though, i want to write about the continuing transformation of my life as i study and contemplate those teachings, in keeping with the title of my blog.

to that end, here is the list of ways i believe my life has been transformed over the past few months:
i no longer have "bad" days. sure, there are frustrations that arise, and there are days when nothing seems to go right, but at the end of those days, i still can give thanks that everything was as it should have been.
i don't make "to do" lists. if something is not important enough to remember, it's probably not really that important to start with.
i don't have goals, other than to live each day trying to be mindful of what's and who's around me.
i wake up each morning at whatever time my body tells me to (usually around 6:00) excited about spending at least 30 minutes in meditation and prayer. this is, i guess, one of the greatest transformation in my life--to spend this time not as a duty but as an exciting opportunity.
i constantly remind myself that every task can be a joyful offering to god, and, in this way, even tasks that would otherwise have been onerous become pleasant.
i take things as they come, rather than becoming upset when my day doesn't work out as i had planned it.
i'm not as focused on things (possessions), but rather am more concerned about people and ideas.
i'm filled with joy and feel more at peace with myself and others.

i don't feel especially virtuous, and i'm filled with doubts about whether i'm doing as much as i ought to make the world a better place. despite my abandonment of establishing goals, making lists, developing action plans, forgetting about life missions and core values, i sense that my life is moving in the right directions. guilt and duty have been replaced by the realization that i'm not perfect and that it's ok not to be perfect. in short, life is good and getting better!

my prayer today is that my transformation continues and that each of us is in the process of being transformed into the joyful, peaceful, caring person that we are intended to be. shalom.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also

during the last few days, i've been thinking about the second of the four noble truths in buddhist teaching. this "truth" is sometimes stated as "attachment is the cause of suffering" or as "craving and ignorance are the causes of suffering." in that regard, i've also been thinking of what Jesus taught along those same lines. much of Jesus' teaching deals with the concept of valuing the wrongs things in life.

this line of thought struck me as i read the account in the tenth chapter of matthew of Jesus sending His disciples out to teach in the villages of galilee. He instructed them to take no money, to take no extra clothing, and to depend on the generosity of others. Wasn't Jesus suggesting to His disciples that their ministry of teaching and healing among the people was to be free of the worry of how they would support themselves as they went from village to village?

as i thought about this, i recalled other instances where Jesus taught that His followers should be free of attachment to the impermanent physical world. He said that we should not put our trust in the riches of the world, but that we should "lay up treasure in heaven." He taught that we should not worry about how to secure the necessities of life, buth rather to "consider the lilies of the field" whose beautiful appearance could not be matched even by "solomon in all his glory." He taught that His followers should become as little children who live simply and joyfully from moment to moment without thought of the acquisition of possessions or status.

as i examine my own life, i find that i live much more simply than i once did, but i am still attached to so many of the transitory objects that are not necessary for true happiness. my prayer for myself and others this day is that we learn to value what is truly important and that we recognize the difference between what is permament and what is impermanent.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OUR Father . . . Give US . . . Forgive US OUR . . . Deliver US . . . Lead US

the pattern for posting i've begun is to write new posts on sunday and schedule them to be posted on the following tuesday. during the week i list ideas for future posts and mull those ideas over as i prepare for the following sunday's writing experience. one of the ideas that came to me this week was the use of the plural first-person pronoun in the lord's prayer. i've begun to conclude my morning meditation with a silent recitation of this prayer, and it suddenly struck me that Jesus didn't pray "my father" or "give me this day my daily bread;" He used "our," and "us." was Jesus suggesting that His gospel was one of concern for the common good rather than then individual good?

this concept has been much on my mind as i think about the path our country must choose approaching the upcoming election. while i don't want to make any political statements in the post i write this morning, i can't escapt the solcial implications of Jesus' teachings. i think of his reply to the wealthy man who asked Jesus about how to gain eternal life, a teaching i've posted about recently. in replying to the man, was Jesus telling him that his wealth was causing him to focus on himself, that in order to gain eternal life he had to let go of his self-interest and give himself over to caring for others? when Jesus taught that the summation of the law and the prophets was whole-hearted love for God and loving one's neighbor as oneself, was He teaching that the two are so interconnected that it is impossible to have one without the other? when Jesus taught that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and clothe the naked we are doing these kindnesses to Him, was he suggesting that our acts of kindness to others were truly acts of love for God?

the more i read the gospels (matthew is my currect project after several read-throughs of mark), the more i am convinced that the teachings of Jesus were not about an individual salvation, but a collective one. i have come to believe that when Jesus told us that one must lose one's life in order to save that life what He was teaching is that in serving others we forget "self" and become true citizens of the kingdom of which Jesus spoke. in this real sense, as john greenleaf whittier said, each smile becomes a hymn, each kindly deed becomes a prayer.

my prayer this week is that we will look to the common good, not the individual good, for it is only by looking to that common good that the indivual good is truly realized, that we replace the "i's" and "me's" in our lives with "we" and "us."