The Empty Shell In The Box January 29, 2015

As you probably know, my family and I have been busy with arrangements for my Dad’s memorial service.  It was beautiful and went off without a hitch, but because he was a Military Veteran, it was his desire to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  My Mother is already there, so it is not a problem, but we have to wait until April.  Why?  Because it is right and proper for a Caisson to carry my Dad to his final resting place.  The problem is that there are so many burials of this nature, that one has to get in line, so to speak, in order to obtain this manner of burial.  As you can imagine, it makes for difficult closure.  It also makes me wonder why we are fighting battles we cannot win.  But that is another story.

My husband and I, our children, and future generations will probably be cremated.  But my parents were from a different era, so we plump up a used up body with special fluid, dress them up, but them in a box for “visitation” before the Memorial Service so everyone can pay their “respects,” whatever that means.

I was busy calling countless people, but even I wanted to see my Dad.  So when the time came, I walked up to the coffin, looked at him and lost it.  I cried because I wasn’t there when he passed.  I cried because it was all finally over.  I cried because I would never see those sky blue eyes and that smile again.  I caressed his head that use to lay on my shoulder.  I pushed back his hair.  Then I cried because I realized that what I was saying good bye to was just a shell in a box.  Dad wasn’t there.  He went with the angels.  The Holy Spirit whispered from my heart and said, “It is okay, Judy.  You are still living.  This is all you have to grieve over right now.  God understands.”  I took a deep breath and took my time saying good bye to the shell in a box.

Dying is a part of living.  How many times have we heard that one before?  Do whatever you have to do to honor your loved one.  Be respectful.  Kabir said, “Why not look at the beauty your memory holds, so nourishing that light can be.  The past’s lips are not deceased.  Let them comfort you if they can.”

God Bless You, Dad.  Wonderful memories live on and on.

The Practice Of Surrender January 20, 2015

This practice comes from Simeon, a Greek Orthodox spiritual master of the late tenth century.  Essentially, Simeon insisted on the dimension of conscious presence in our human relationship with the divine.  Presence is the capacity to be fully engaged at every level of one’s being.  That means being alive and present to God and the situation at the same time.  But how to do this?  I quote Simeon.

“You should observe three things before all else: freedom from all cares, not only cares about bad and vain but even about good things….Your conscience should be clear so that it denounces you in nothing, and you should have a compete absence of passionate attachment. so that your thought inclines to nothing worldly.”

This is heart attention.  Awareness practices aimed at clarity of mind, i.e., concentrated attention, get us there.  Leting go of passions and relaxing the will will help us arrive at purity of heart.  Simeon is describing meditation.

It really does not matter what form our meditation takes, but it is important to do it consistently, twenty minutes each day, suggested morning and evening.  There will be good days and there will be bad days.  We just keep practicing.  Then one day it is like the heart cracks wide open and the light shines in and out.  That is when we finally “know.” We understand finally what it means to love and forgive ourselves.  We radiate with love, and people are drawn to us, wanting what we have.

It is like learning to play a piano.  You cannot learn and play well unless you practice. And that means practice a lot.

Dear friends, our spiritual lives are far more important than a musical instrument.  Just give it a try, maybe for 30 days, then let us examine where you are and how you feel.

Love and Grief January 12, 2015

The Angels took my Dad home this morning.  We knew yesterday that he was ready.  I took my late walk and talked to God and Dad.  Since I didn’t write it down, I will write as much as I can remember.

Dad, God is getting you ready to go home.  We know you are a bit uncomfortable and have made arrangements to get you some medicine to ease your anxiety and make you feel better.  Do you see the angels around you?  Some of them are hugging you.  Mom and your parents are just beyond the diaphanous curtain you see.  Their arms are wide open in welcome.

When you get there, Dad, you can take deep clear breaths and will be able to run.  You will feel good and will have no pain.  You will feel a freedom that our earthly home cannot give you. You will feel love in a bigger and bolder way than you ever have before.  Jesus will take your hand and tell you that a lot of people have been waiting.

I have told you before and will tell you once more what an extraordinary man of integrity you are.  I am so proud to call you my Dad.  We were kindred spirits.  Off on our antique junkets, digging in old dirty trunks and coming up with things that made us giggle was the most fun.  That was something Mother never understood although she could smell pure Stickley a mile away.

You lived a glorious life.  You completed your dream of graduating from West Point and had an outstanding, honorable career.  You married the love of your life and had four children.  You traveled the world in war and peace, and saw more than most.

You were a good man, a loyal man, and sweet and funny.  I want you and Mom to have a B & B tonight and go dancing.

Dear God, creator of the universe and master of our souls, thank you for giving Dad a gentle passing.  I prayed for it for months and I knew you would.  There is another fine man up there. We will honor his life properly here.

Well done thou good and faithful servant.

 

Unbroken January 4, 2015

The question was posed today to a group of us at church.  Father asked us, “How has God made you curious?”  He told us that in order to get to true conversion, we first had to be curious about Him.  Who is this God?  Then we start asking the second question which is, “Where is the evidence?”  We read books, maybe go to church, seek a lot of different avenues, and some of us get closer, but most of us do not.  So, maybe there is a God, but it cannot be proven, so I could be an agnostic. There we stay.

Father said that in order to reach the third stage, which is conversion, we must have an open heart.  God uses suffering to make that happen.  Suffering will always happen.  What it means to really suffer (and we all have been there), is that we cannot move forward alone.  We should stay with it and see where it takes us.

In the movie Unbroken, hero Louie Zamperini, almost died floating in the ocean during WW2 until he was captured by the Japanese.  He spent time in a POW camp where he was tortured unmercifully by a Japanese soldier called “The Bird.”  He was not a Christian, but just before capture, he looked up at the stars and called out to God – something like – if you really are there and I get myself out of this, I will dedicate my life to you.

Once he was released he suffered from what we would call today a form of PTSD.  He married, drank  too much, and abused his wife.  Obviously his suffering had taken a great toll.  But his wife dragged him to a Billy Graham lecture.  Billy was talking about heaven – going to God after all was done – and God pulling down a big screen and seeing your life on that screen, seeing everything you ever did or thought

Louie always told himself and his family and everybody else – I’m a good man, I survived the war, was tortured, but look at me, I fought for my country.  I am a hero.  I am a good man.  But Louie changed that night.  He realized that he had to let go of the hurt, and be more than a war hero.

He became a model citizen, generous with his time and money.  He never drank a drop after that night.  And he remembered his promise to God.

Louie’s conversion is not in the movie, but it is in the book.  It is a pivotal moment in the story of a man who remained unbroken through unspeakable treatment. He lived many years, calling himself a good man but not acting as a good man. Then God chose to open his heart, let the suffering out, and make Louie truly unbroken.

The journey starts with curiosity, proceeds to evidence, and finally conversion.  Friends, we have to chose conversion.  We are either in or out.  Some scientists say that we can prove many facts that we could not even imagine even 50 years ago, like the star of Bethlehem.  But the reality is, if He is with us, and I believe He is, I want to be on His side when I leave this great earth.

God sent Jesus to show us how to live.  Let’s give it a go, shall we?

 

2015 Is Almost Here: How Do We Grow? December 29, 2014

Our universe is a delicious one.  There is really nothing new under the sun in terms of the soul.  Great patterns are always the same, either love or fear.  Growth in the spiritual life isn’t the acquisition of new information.  Growth is hidden.  We grow by subtraction.  We let go of fear and self-image attachments, often called the ego in today’s culture.

Wisdom traditions tell us that the only people who grow in truth are humble and honest.  Once our defenses are out of the way, we are free from ideology, fear, and anger.  Forrest Gump is my hero.  Not knowing is big enough to not distort what is possible

Indian chiefs say to their young braves, “Why do you brood?  You are part of something much bigger, driven by great winds across the sky.  You and I cannot control it.  It is a mystery we cannot know.”

This year I am going to try to clear up my junk.  We know it was hard for His followers to see the divine image in Jesus.  Well, can we imagine how hard it is to see the divine in ordinary people like us?  But I’m gonna try.

Happy New Year and God Bless everybody.

Beyond Ordinariness December 22, 2014

Scripture affirms that Jesus was God and Jesus was human.  As Christians we believe this and it sounds pretty impossible.  People have argued about it for over two thousand years.  We accept that light is a particle and light is a wave.  Why is it more difficult to comprehend that Jesus was both human and God?  It does take a bit of imagination.

For instance, I watched a beautiful sunset the other night from the beach.  (Lucky me).  Now it looked like the sun was setting, but in reality the earth was turning.  Imagination.

Things like that make life worth living.  Wonderful things like love.  But we have to chose them, we have to let them in, see how they feel.  If we hurt, it doesn’t feel good.  If it doesn’t feel good, something is wrong.  Let’s take forgiveness for example.  We are supposed to forgive if we are hurt or wronged.  How do we do that?  Here is a clue.  If it still hurts, we haven’t forgiven.  We are still holding on.

We need to keep opening our hearts to the glorious world that is beyond ordinariness.  Think good thoughts.  No better?  Think some more good thoughts.  God didn’t promise us a life filled with complete goodness and fairy tales.  Sometimes we have to sweat.  Sometimes we have to cry.  Sometimes we just have to give in to what is and try to act our best.  As I said before, it does take a bit of imagination.

Can We Transfer Our Emotions? December 15, 2014

Today we go to psychologists, undertake cognitive-therapy, pray a lot, and do just about anything we can think of to quell our fears and anxiety.  In today’s world, we have many reasons to be fearful and anxious.  A very bright young man, Jules Evans, wrote a book that is getting lots of kudos these days, and rightly so.  Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems.

The Ancient Philosophy part really got me.  For example, the Stoics believed that emotions can be changed by understanding their connection to our beliefs and attitudes.  Wow.  Change your thinking and you change your emotional attitude.  That’s nothing new.  But   the Stoics used journals to keep track of how they felt and examined them.  (This reminds me of St. Ignatius and his Examen.)  As Vicktor Frankel said, we cannot control what happens, but we can control how we react to what happens.  The Stoics practiced focusing on what they could control.

According to Mr. Evans, one of the exercises the Stoics practiced was called The View From Above.  For instance, we project our imaginations  into the vastness of space.  We then imagine what we are thinking from that perspective and it doesn’t seem so big anymore.

The Stoics believed in Habits.  They practiced, trained and repeated their theories.  Evans says they had a technique called Maxim.  They would form their ideas into short phrases  which they could remember like “Everything in Moderation.”

Practice, practice, practice!  Study, but then put the ideas to work.  The Stoics believed that adversity was for training.  If we eat too much, practice eating less.  The aim of Stoics was living in accordance with virtue.  “The good life came from doing the right thing.”

Finally, the most important.  The Stoics believed that we have ethical obligations to everyone, even the world.  Do we?  A question to ponder.  If we do, to what extent?

Thank you Jules Evans.  You have touched my heart and soul.  You have made me think.  You have made me want to love bigger and better.  Google Jules Evans.  He is amazing.

 

Please Love Me December 3, 2014

We all want to be accepted and liked.  I know there are people who really don’t care, but most of us do.  Today’s society makes it very difficult to find friends, or even groups that make us comfortable.  We are a lonely society.  We share via keyboard, hoping to hear back.  Social media seems to be our mantra.  Today at the grocery store I saw a young man with a huge belt on and hanging from it looked like one of those cell phones we saw in late eighties movies.  It wasn’t. I don’t know what it was except that it was electronic.  He had a head set on and was talking a mile a minute and hand two more phones on his opposite hip.  Ah, was he connected!

I certainly don’t begrudge the young man.  We all do what we have to do.  But he was wearing more than my purse weighs.  I see back trouble in his future.

But let’s get back to connecting on a human level.  How do we do that?  Well, we can’t receive love unless we are able to give love.  In order to give love we have to have love to give.  How do we do that?  We love who we are.  God does.  Why can’t we?

Don’t doubt it.  Don’t give it a second thought.  Just know that your Creator loves you.

So with love being the reason for the season, walk proudly with love on your face.  Hafiz said, “Admit something:  Everyone you see, you say to them, ‘Love me.’  Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.  Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.  Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?”

Smile, even if you don’t want to.  Now, hold it and see how you feel.  Nice, huh?

Advent: What Are We Waiting For?

Most of us would say, “Oh, well this is the time of waiting for the birth of the baby Jesus.”  No, Jesus has already been born.  We think in terms of past, present and future.  So, if we are not waiting for His birth, what are we waiting for?  Well, we ARE waiting for Christmas, the celebration of His birth.  But what we are really waiting for is His coming in the future.

In the Gospel of Mark 13: 24-37, he talks about …. “the Son of Man” coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”  In verse 30, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  Well, all those people are gone.  So what does this mean?

Remember while we might live with the concepts of past, present and future, Jesus does not.  Our Lord does not.  The Holy Spirit does not.  Verse 33:  “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come……Keep awake.”

This is the Advent message for us.  He could come for me in the next five minutes.  I am waiting for my fulfillment.  He was talking to all of us.  We do not know our hour.  We must, in our way of thinking, wait for the future.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.”  We need to take good care of our souls for we know not when our hour comes.  But it will come.  We know that for sure.

The Two Visions Of Christianity November 24, 2014

If you are a Christian or identify as a Christian, you are familiar with the precepts of the church.  Jesus was born of Mary, gathered believers, and traveled by foot to spread the word of salvation.  He spoke of peace, love and hope.  He spoke out against injustice and was crucified on the cross.

Today, one vision of Christianity emphasizes the next world and what we must believe and do in order to get there.  The other vision is about God’s passion for the transformation of this world.  The latter is probably more biblical, ancient and traditional.  I believe that because the former changed according to need when it became allied with the culture of the Roman Empire in the fourth century.

How would you choose to be identified as a Christian?  Are you baptised as an infant or an adult?  Do you believe in the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one?  Do you believe in the virginal conception of Jesus and His physical resurrection?  Are you truly drinking the blood and eating the body of Christ at God’s table?

Ultimately it does not matter.  The central message of Christianity is about loving God and loving what God loves.  Jesus is the embodiment of what can be seen of the character and passion of God here.  Can you imagine a transformed earth?

As Marcus Borg so eloquently put it, “Christianity addresses the two great human yearnings – our longing for personal transformation and our desire that the world be a better place.  The Christian message reduced to its essentials is: love God (as known in Jesus) and change the world.”