Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Eschew Evil and Do Good

i love to go to church on sundays.  i love the organ voluntaries (even when i'm the one playing them).  i love the hymns.  i love the scripture lessons.  i love the sung and spoken responses.  i love the sermon.  i love saying the creed, the call to worship, and lord's prayer in unison with the congregation.  i love the choir's anthem during the offertory.  i love the pastoral prayer.

one thing i don't love is the prayer of confession.  in our tradition, this prayer contrasts our human failings with the goodness of God, and i don't deny that this is a valid comparison.  what bothers me about this prayer is that there is never any recognition of human goodness.  if we are created in God's image, the goodness of God is a part of who we are, and we ought to recognize that in the confession also.  God is in us, and our failure to recognize and cultivate the presence of God in us is the cause of the bad that is also in us.

this God-in-us ought to be recognized along with our shortcomings, and, instead of a consistently negative view of human nature, we should also be confessing the good that we do and giving thanks to God for being present with us as we perform acts of kindness and mercy that are also part of our nature.  the prayer of confession as it is used in the  tradition of my branch of christianity teaches that each person's life is always full of sin, always failing God and others, never growing or changing; it implies that there is no transformative process in living as a christian or as a compassionate human being.  i can no longer accept that view.  the more we recognize the goodness inherent in us, the less we allow evil to control us--we grow and are transformed.  we're never perfect, but we aren't "totally depraved" either.

may we forgive ourselves and others for the wrong we do.  may we not allow guilt over our shortcomings to cause us to forget the goodness that is also a part of us.  may we cultivate that goodness, embracing the lovingkindness and compassion that are a part of who we are.  may we encourage ourselves and others to do good and turn from evil.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stop and Smell the Roses?

as i looked at the name of my blog, "mindfulness and transformation," this morning, i began to think about the connection of those words and to wonder if i truly have become more mindful and, if so, in what ways has that mindfulness changed me.  i'm not as mindful as i'd like to be. i still find myself fretting over the future, spending time regretting some things in the past, multitasking at the expense of what is happening  in the present moment.  i imagine perfect scenarios for the immediate future and long for them to come into being, but i find myself being called back to a present that, while imperfect, is full of joy and is far happier than i would have believed possible a few years ago.

i find that i am much more content with things as they are and am less inclined to rail against life's failure to turn out just as i had hoped.  when i am called from what i've told myself i should be doing to attend to the needs of someone else, i've discovered that i am not so irritated that what i had planned is not happening.  i understand that another person's needs are more important that attending to my own tasks at exactly the time i'd planned, and i am able to focus more fully on paying attention to that person in need.

the effort to live more mindfully has been transforming, though my progress along the eightfold path is halting.  i stumble, but following the path is worth the effort.  to be able to simply sit in my den, experiencing what is going on around me--the sound of the floor clock ticking, the pleasure of the gentle breeze of the fan behind me, the feel of the fabric of my chair against my legs and arms, the hum of the always-on sound system, the glow of the kitchen lights in the corner of my eyes, the warmth of the laptop computer on my upper legs--is something that would have gone unnoticed a few years ago.  to close my eyes and find my mind at rest, not racing from topic to topic to solve every problem or to organize my day is a wonderful new phenomenon.

so, am i mindful?  well, sometimes.  has that sometime mindfulness been transformative.  emphatically, yes, and that emphatic "yes" encourages me to continue to increase the time i spend living mindfully.  may we all find the time to just be in the present moment.  may we find that the most basic tasks of life are enjoyable if we are mindful as we do those tasks, rather than mindlessly racing through them as we think about what may never come to pass.  may we be at peace within our own minds and skins so that we may be at peace with others.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do Good to Them That Hate You

ancient hatreds seem to die hard.  it is difficult to understand how this can be.  as i watch and read about the strife between the israelis and the palestinians of the gaza strip, i am horrified.  i can't pretend to understand this conflict, but it appears that thousands of palestinians are crowded into this tiny sliver of land, living in deplorable conditions.  on the one side is the sea with an israli blockade, on the other, the powerful israeli armed forces.  above are israeli war planes.  the palestinians fire rockets into israel, causing indiscriminate damage that provokes retaliation by israel.  bombers cross the border into israel, killing israeli civilians, and the israelis respond with more violence.  in the conflict, the government and armed forces of israel appear to be conquerors, using overwhelming force at will against the population of gaza, killing far more innocents than hamas combatants and creating even more enemies who will continue the cycle of brutality.  why can't one side simply end the fighting by refusing to continue?

as i ponder this in my own ignorant and simplistic way, it suddenly dawns on me that the origins of all such conflict is personal.  as i smugly condemn the israelis for their brutal role in using force to try and keep the lid on this simmering cauldron of hatred, i am reminded of my own anger toward the relatives of my father's wife and toward one particular relative that i see as taking hurtful and insulting action against me and my family in the wake of my father's death.  it is only because i live so far away and the only means of convenient communication with this man and other of his relatives are telephone or email that i am able to keep my silence rather than venting my frustration in words that are hurtful and that would cause further escalation of our differences, but the hurt and anger, the longing to say those cruel words, are still there.

how can i condemn the anger of israelis and palestinians with one another while this anger eats at me?  when a palestian father joins the struggle against israel and takes revenge for the killing of his child by stealing into israel to set off a bomb in a crowded market, his anger is personal, and his longing for revenge grows from his powerlessness in the face of an enemy that seems large and impersonal.  but this enemy is made up of individuals like him.  how many israelis have been touched by violence perpetrated by palestinians?  in the end, all such anger and the violence that grows from it are personal, having a deep root in a single act that is multiplied by the cycle of retaliation.

may each of us examine our own hearts for the source of enmity with our "enemies."  may we see that there are no enemies, only those who may "despitefully use" us (luke 6:28, KJV), that ill use perhaps stemming from a perceived offense by us that might have been thoughtless or unintended.  may we see that we are the same and that the only way to end the cycle of hatred is for one or both parties to say, "enough," for one to break off the conflict by refusing to participate in it.  may anger be replaced by peace, may hatred be replaced by love. shalom.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Until We Know By Heart the Table of Forgiveness

as part of my meditation each morning i pray my own version of the lord's prayer.  the central part of that prayer has to do with our relationships with one another.  in my prayer, i think of all those who suffer because they are without life's necessities; they may lack shelter, food, the comfort of loving connections to others, or adequate clothing.  i think then of our responsibility to address these needs that so many have.  i think of the suffering that is caused by our clinging to ancient hatreds and prejudices and by seeking to impose control over others through the use of force, and i pray that we can forgive one another and be forgiven by them for the wrongs we have done so that the cycle of violence can end.

here for me is the heart of true religion: seeking to alleviate the physical and emotional needs of others by our actions and seeing that we are all the same despite our predispositions to stereotype those who appear to be different from us because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or religion.  the idea that we are reborn in another body after our death is helpful, i think, in that it does away with these barriers that seperate us from one another.  when we think that another person may have been our mother, our father, our child, our sibling in another life, we see that we are all related and that superficial differences are unimportant.

by seeing others as connected to us and the universality of the desire for loving connections with one another, we break down the walls of hatred and prejudice that artificially keep us from awareness of the humanity and suffering in others; we understand that all suffer and we understand that, by easing the suffering of another, we lessen our own suffering.  may we see ourselves in each person we encounter.  may we pray that each one's suffering may be lessened.  may our actions result from hearts filled with lovingkindness and compassion, hearts that respect each person  shalom.