Observation – Healing Life – One Gaze and Step at a Time

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Mother of God of Tenderness – Icon – Written by Caroline Furlong.See more beautifully related artwork at The Episcopal Church and Visual Art‘s “Worship The Lord in the Beauty of Holiness exhibit.

Observation is the initiating step in launching a process of change, transition, or transformation. A person, group, organization or community who determines that they are committed to fulfilling a (shared) purpose can’t just jump in and do it. Well she,he, or they can. It is very likely that they will, in Bette Davis’ words, enjoy a bumpy night.

Transforming ourselves and the communities around us requires some mindful, ritualistic, preparation. It is essential to become clear about what it is we’re undertaking and what we’re willing to lose and endure for the sake of our vision.

As The School of Life suggests, bad decisions are often predictable because we make them due to a lack of significant, discerning perspective. Jesus calls this one out too. He reminds his listeners to seriously consider the costs of becoming his disciple. (Luke 14: 25-34)

Check out this School of Life video:

This video reminds me that it is important to consider how “perfection is often the enemy of good enough.”

I prefer choosing to enter into the chaos of becoming someone or something better than I was when I woke up this morning.  Such quests demand contemplation and action. We must develop, devote, and deliver time, energy, and wisdom into refining and rebirthing our processes of observation. I found myself podcasting about this topic last Friday.  I preached on the topic on Sunday.

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Photo pinned by  Sarah Herbots. Listen to Jordan Peterson‘s Slaying the Dragon Within Us podcast.

Here are suggestions for your consideration regarding how to become a better observer of your life’s circumstances, personal/organizational well-being, spiritual/professional sanity and becoming more successful. Skip to Summing it up if you don’t want to read each suggestion.

  1. Two important reminds from my time in the Air Force.
    • Develop a keen sense of Situational Awareness.
    • Map the Process before you embark upon changing it. (This applies to spiritual practices such as prayer as well as for redesigning an assembly line).
  2. Courage shape how we observe and occupy our sphere of influence in the world.
    • Observation, not seeing – initiates our pilgrimage as a human being.
      1. Read All The World We Cannot See.
      2. Some of the most aware human beings in history were physically sightless.
    • Self-awareness is essential if we yearn to live divinely inspired lives.
    • Our shadows are equally if not at times more important than our strengths.
  3. We are wholehearted and complex beyond our capacities to understand ourselves without imagination and logic.
    • Life requires observing how we navigate the boundaries between chaos and control.
    • Each of us possesses a unique spark/essence of The Divine.
  4. Peterson suggests that each of the hundreds of moral choices we decide upon has profound consequences.
    • We therefore should develop a disciplined manner of observing how we think, what we say, and how we act (and why).
    • Observing our process of decision making will shake up our assumptions of when and why we choose to do what we do.
    • Set a goal to identify self-imposed and/or undeserved suffering.
  5. The term observation’s etymology dates to the 10th Century Latin term “observare.” It means to heed or attend to somebody, something.
    • 14 Century Old English word became ‘observen.’ It means ‘to hold to’ or ‘adopt a manner of life.’
      • To attend to – practice.
    • These definitions broaden as well as tighten the scope of living a spiritually and professionally astute life.
  6. The first step of the scientific model is to observe something leading to a question as well as a hypothesis of what is going on.
    • My spouse – an epidemiologist and priest offers these awesome observational tools.
      • Be curious habitually about patterns and mechanisms.
      • Value the joy and confusion that is naturally associated with new discoveries and further curiosities.
      • Become self-aware – look inward toward biases, assumptions.
  7. If you devote the energy and committed the resources to bring about profound change then you possess what you need to focus the lenses of your observational skills upon whatever it is that is most urgent and important.
  8.   We are vulnerable, all-ways. Vulnerability should lead to exploration rather than flight.
  9. What virtues, skills can you offer that will reduce your own suffering as well as the suffering beyond yourself.
    • Jesus Christ’s purpose for coming into his disciples lives and ours  is to motivate all of us to become more divine -thru humility, sacrifice, and new birth..
      • Redeem life
      • Share virtues especially when such acts will reduce pain and provide joy.
      • Read the story of Jesus’ encounter with The Bent-over Woman.

Summing it up – Become intentional about responding in contrast to reacting.  Be curious rather than judgmental – prudent rather than impatient.These guidelines are especially true when there’s time and space available to Put First Things First.

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Archway – Ancient Monastic Building  – Lindisfarne Island – Photo by Jim Strader-Sasser

In closing I’ll offer you one of my transformational and observational “first things” as an example.  I’ve been observing and farming Monarch butterflies for the past three summers. Why? First, monarch butterflies are dying by the millions across the United States. Selfish and foolish human beings, as with so many other species, are responsible for killing these beautiful creatures. California’s monarch butterfly numbers are at an all-time low, having declined more than 85 percent from 2017, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Overall, the North American monarch butterfly population has shrunk by more than 90 percent in the past two decades.

Personally, I’m fascinated by these 400-million year-old insects. Metamorphosis happens throughout the process – especially in the chrysalis. The caterpillar’s old body parts are burning up as they undergo a remarkable transformation. I’m intrigued by their month-long process of being birthed as a small egg, wandering methodically through their caterpillar stages, and ultimately transforming into a beautiful butterfly. Christians along with dozens of other spiritual-religious communities observe butterflies as being symbols of hope and resurrection. Observing this process requires developing keen gifts of observation. Patience is virtuous. The virtue of awe is captivating.

Observing butterflies teaches me to spend time in the balcony. (Heifetz) I  develop questions based upon sensory discernment. I learn to document my observations before analyzing them. This engagement become a third eye process of enlightenment, Spending time around the milkweed and butterfly bushes is a portal toward greater spiritual development. I don’t know what I don’t know. Thus, I must seek objective wisdom. Selfishly, I giggle and smile alot while all of the butterflies and bees perform their flying circus acts in my backyard.

 

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Photo and amazing article about monarchs created by M. Rei Scampavia

The monarchs’ evolution also teaches me more about the art of observation.  Monarchs use their large, compound eyes to track the sun’s position in the sky, combining the information with the time of day to know where to go. These clever insects also tap into their internal body clocks, based on the rhythmic expression of key genes that maintain a daily pattern of physiological processes and behavior.

I experience great joy and a new meaning of life by living into the monarch’s story. These butterflies reminds me to recall life’s miraculous nature. Their presence prompts me to stop, observe,breathe, learn, and respond. I just might promote the world’s healing by doing my part to preserve these beautiful bugs. Observing them change from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly deepens my faith in a loving, gracious God whose design is embedded within life’s web.

My personal choices along with yours have huge ramifications in terms of whether or not this and future generations of butterflies, plants, and animals, and human beings will survive. What goes on in my garden strengthens my will to become more of an advocate for nurturing this fragile planet that we are radically harming. We participate in the womb-tomb-rebirthing cycles of life. Do we wish to choose to be executioners because we don’t take the time to observe the consequences of our actions and our governments’ resistance to acknowledging the truth? Seek, Observe, Find, Open The Doors. (Luke 11: 9-10).

I’ll  close with this video.

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Blessings along The Way, Jim

Curious for Courage

Artist’s Credit – Transfiguration (Oil on Canvas painting) by Hazel Bartram-Birchenough. View this art and other artwork at the Episcopal Church and Visual Art‘s “Worship The Lord in the Beauty of Holiness” Exhibit.

I published my most recent podcast episode on CircuOsity, I’m Curious about Courage. I was inspired by some events that happened last week, including Glenda Cedarleaf’s Morning Courage meditation. (on Insight Timer).

Glenda pointed out an important quote by E.E. Cummings . Cummings wrote:

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

Cummings, as a non-traditional poet, understood this truth more closely than most of us.  It takes courage to become someone that you should be and fear becoming.  Brene’ Brown  suggests rightly that:  “To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”

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I don’t consider myself as being all that courageous. I still revert back to the fears and tribulations of coming out as a gay man and the struggles of being married as a gay couple.  My inner critic enjoys raising up those disturbing thoughts rather than instead focusing on how those and other cruciform moments have impacted me to become more wholehearted, authentic, and truly close to who I should become rather than who I’ve been.

Here’s some of what I’m observing and learning about courage.  It is through my intentional use of my VIA Institute on Courage Character Strengths that I’m gaining some wisdom about why and how our world needs more courageous leaders. More specifically, I may not be all that brave; yet, I do love to learn and I’m creative when I’m motivated to lead. As a faithful and collaborative person, I am becoming increasingly objective about incorporating Circle Way and Way of Love skills and practices in order to become more comfortable with being vulnerable and less anxious.

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Pinnacle at The Giant’s Causeway – photo by Jim Strader-Sasser (September 2018)

Let me offer a bit of a roadmap towards how you and I may become more authentically who we are as we grow into the human being we should become and live into The Divine’s will for our lives.

  1. Courage – resides at the core of our pilgrimage as a human being
  2. What do we put in our backpack for the journey. What will serve as compasses for when we become lost, deserted, or otherwise feel separate from the Ground of Our Being.  Here are some “Must-Haves.”
    • Sense of Purpose
    • Devoted and rigorous rituals of Planning/ Prayer
    • Who is going with me? (Beloved Friends)
    • Identifying and remembering Driving Forces/Restraining Forces.
    • Lots of Contemplative Silence (I recommend this chime).
  3. Each of us possesses a unique spark/essence of The Divine.
    • Our essence (shard of light) is uniquely ours and cannot be extinguished.
    • I have a capacity in my soul for taking in God entirely. I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and presence of God.  (Eckhart – Sermon on the nearness of God)
  4. The illusions of our ego and mortal wounds and experiences act both as resisting and driving forces.
    • Jesus teaches us that our deepest grief and treasure cohabitate and nurture our life’s purpose – (Luke 12: 22-34)
    • Listen to Steven Colbert and Anderson Cooper’s conversation about this hard yet essential truth
  5. How we contemplate and act upon these truths shapes our journey into a deeper and more authentic realization of ourselves.
    • The Divine is (un)knowingly closer to us that we believe.
    • We are ever connected to The Source of our Lives just as that same Source is working out its purpose through us.
  6. The Circle Way informs us that the essence of our conversations with our own selves and other people must be about listening and speaking in honest, attentive ways.
    • What will we consider, do, contemplate, and adapt courageously?
    • The Sacred relationships that we have with ourselves, The Divine, and our beloved family and friends equip us to accept each day’s regenerative endeavors.
  7. Courage requires resolve, and re-creation.
    • We resolve to undertake the pilgrimage.
    • Society’s comforts, for those of us who live generally leisurely lives, are impactful and frequently delaying or deterring us from the journey.
    • Secular habits may inhibit us from undertaking the pilgrimage toward our soul’s deepest desires.
    • Life’s daily responsibilities along with our ego’s yearning for worldly success also offer resistances.
  8. Procrastination based upon previous experience and errors is another reason for not embarking upon the spiritual and practical quests of our human existence.
    • Resolve is much more than wishing something to be true.
    • Resolve requires much more of us than we can muster under normal conditions.
  9. We re-create ourselves constantly as we engage in our life’s work.
    • Re-creation happens thru a step by step maturing process.
    • Life’s teachers arrive when we are ready for them.
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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In summary, courageous human beings ritualistically contemplate what they are learning. This is an intentional initiative. They encounter pain and suffering an accept it, truthfully. (Watch this Lewis Howes interview with Jordan Peterson). Courageous leaders let go of anything that is unhelpful while engaging in experiments that provide paths toward maturity.

In my podcast I offer listeners (and you readers)

  • Why are you on this planet?
    • What gifts do you have that you’ve not fully developed?
    • What do you offer to the world that no one else is offering or can offer in the same way that you do?
  • Planning/ Prayer
    • What’s your plan? What’s your prayer/Contemplation
    • Do you begin, check In, and end most everyday connected to your yearning?Do you have a “sobering” mechanism for the moments when you’re swept away by competing priorities, distractions, and disgust?
      •  Stop
      • Observe
      • Breathe
      • Expand/Extinguish
      • Respond
  • Who is going with you? (Beloved Friends)
    • Definitely listen to this Pat Metheny’s song
    • Be thankful – overtly for your sacred Contracts (shorter/longer term)
      • What transformational qualities do you and your beloved friends share with one another?
      • How do you prevent yourself or them from becoming isolated?
        1. What is the covenant that you have signed?
  • Take time to Identify and Respond to the seen and unseen Driving Forces/Restraining Forces in your life.

Human beings generally decide not to take huge risks. If you truly wish to become really who you are – these are some of the steps that you must devote yourself to pray about, do on a daily basis, contemplate with yourself and in your circles, and adapt as life’s unforeseeable and uncontrollable occurrences happen. Failure is a necessary and blessed option.  Choosing to continue is a must for all of us and for The Divine.

If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on this earth. 
(Roberto Clemente)

How you and I contemplate and act upon these truths shapes our journey into a deeper and more authentic realization of ourselves. We will create a kinder and healthier world with these practices – one moment, hour, day at a time.

Blessings along The Way, Jim

 

Recapping Reality

 

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Man of Gold Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

I’m back to blogging. I don’t know why. I woke up with an impulse to write some of my thoughts down.  I was listening to one of Kate Horsman‘s Insight Timer’s Daily Insights.   Kate titled it Cultivate Space and Befriend Curiosity.  She mentioned one of my heroes: Viktor Frankl. Frankl (and Horsman) remind me of a great truth for being human in a joyous way.  This truth is: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Note – this quote may actually belong to Rollo May rather than Viktor Frankl).

 

My stream of waking up consciousness then led me to recall that I’m on Day 21 of my 21-Day Complaint Free Challenge. Three weeks ago, my friend and colleague – The Rev. Dr. Amy Welin – challenged me and other folks to join her in striving not to complain for 21 days. I reacted initially by thinking what a completely foolish thing to attempt.

I like; no, I get energized by complaining.

So, I took a few minutes to contemplate this set of circumstances (Stimuli) and have chosen to write about it. Why do I thirst for complaints? Well, there’s a lot of bullshit going on around us. We’ve got tribal politics, massive amounts of climatological denial, a loneliness epidemic, and gas prices that vary by more than .25 cents a gallon from one town to another.  (Ok those are complaints  so I’ll stop there).

Consequently, I said yes.

I took on the challenge because I thought that it might be a worthwhile endeavor. Besides, there weren’t any rules or penalties for falling off of the complaint wagon. And, my new reality is, at least for today. I don’t complain as much. I have formed some

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Women’s March on Chicago Photo by Jessica Podraza on Unsplash

hypotheses on the challenge’s processes and outcome. The egotistical-teacher component of my personality yearns to express what I’ve learned and share the “good news” with someone.  My inner critic is coincidentally quick to point out that maybe 14 people will read this blog post; so I won’t have all that great of an impact on anyone regardless of how cute my writing is.  (I think that registers as a complaint yet it may be a statement of fact. I’ll ponder those options while I keep writing).

 

 

 

First, complaining is a reactive rather than responsible means of abiding in the space between being stimulated and thinking/speaking/acting. Somewhere around Day 5 or so I read words to this effect: Stop Complaining and Do Something. Dr. Stephen Covey’s (who apparently is responsible for wrongly citing Frankl rather than May)  First Habit for effective leadership is short and sweet: Be Proactive. Take the time to pay attention to matters that are within your sphere of influence rather than screaming about issues in your sphere of concern. Create intentional plans and actions everyday to expand your sphere of influence in order to make your life, the lives of the people around you, and creation as a whole (lot better).

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Meerkat Photo by Matteo Ferrero on Unsplash

 

 

Second, in the words of Living Compass‘ wise founder philosopher, facilitator, and Episcopal priest, The Rev. Dr Scott Stoner, “Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.”  (I maybe incorrectly crediting Scott with the quote but that’s where I heard it; so whatever). If you’re like me, you complain about stuff because there’s some other crap that’s underneath the complaint. The arthritis in my back is acting up. I’m unhappy with some aspect of myself that I don’t like and don’t really want to do anything about right now. (sigh) Well, let’s focus on the root cause rather than some other distraction.

It was probably around Day 8 that I sat down and watched Louise Evans’ Ted Talk. She entitled the talk: “Own Your Behaviours, Master Your Communications,  Determine Your Success.” Louise does a great job of explaining how to being more mindful about how we respond rather than react in the space between stimulus and our words and actions. I recommend that you pay particular attention to the meerkat chair.  Standing up and looking around for truth before engaging in emotionally reactive words and deeds will offer us a healthier way of being and acting in the world. Louise recommends abiding in this “WAIT” (What am I thinking? What am I telling myself?) chair.

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Fabric Dream – I will be Free One Day – artistic work by JR Korpa on Unsplash

Third, an invitation to strive to be complaint free is like most if not all adaptive challenges; it is difficult with uncertain outcomes. And, these are the sorts of behavioral and organizational changes that are worth dedicating streams of consciousness, human/financial resources, and at least 21 days to strive for and succeed in.

It’s been more than 70 years since Kurt Lewin introduced his Change Management Model (Unfreeze, Change, Freeze). Lewin’s model is as life-changing now as it was when he brought it into being. As a progressive Christian and former belligerent complainer, I prefer to think of this transformational change model in Life, Death, Resurrection terms.

Let me explain. Amy’s proposal offered a life-changing unfreezing moment for me. She stimulated a response. Do I want to be happier? Do I want to be influence people more positively? If so, there’s a 21-Day window for me (or anyone) to pursue positive change. Such change is transformational when it becomes truly about letting go of something/someone and sometimes letting it die. I create new neural pathways every time that I choose to remain silent, or proactively choose not to complain. I expand that pathway when I create a more positive outcome by coming up with a creative solution. The lesson for me now is to establish the new way of being by re-birthing it into a new pattern of life over a longer strand of time.

So, here’s my recap (in 500 characters or so).  Take some time to accept a challenge from a friend or your inner critic.  Give that challenge at least 21 days because it is actually probably going to take longer than that to birth a new behavior. And it’s ok. Maybe you’ll need some penalties. If so, check out StickK. Maybe not.  It definitely helped me to keep a journal and pray about this behavior. I sat ALOT in my meerkat chair and I’ve still got work to do to move over and spend more time in the dolphin and giraffe chairs. More than anything don’t complain – commit to something bigger than that option.

Blessings along The Way, Jim

 

 

Throw aways worth keeping

Mexican Sunflowers_1I went to Whitenight’s Farm and Greenhouse sometime back in May. The weather was warming up. I was in the mood to plant vegetables and flowers.  I  have a friendly relationship with Karen who works there. She may even own the place. I don’t know. I like her and the business alot.

My intention was to cultivate a colorful garden. I also wanted to build upon my efforts to farm and nurture Monarch Butterflies. Gardening is a healthy spiritual practice for me.  I wanted some Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia) and Milkweed plants. They are key ingredients for farming butterflies.  The farm didn’t have any as it was too early to plant them. Karen wasn’t there that day so I didn’t get to check in. The cashier was kind enough to take my contact information. She ordered the amount of plants that I wanted. I went back to the house and planted my peppers, tomatoes, and some other things.

Then, life happened. Other priorities and diversions came along and I forgot about my gardening goals.

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Photo – courtesy of Whitenight’s Farm

Someone from Whitenights probably called at some in time. I don’t usually answer calls from unknown telephone numbers. They didn’t leave a voice mail message or maybe I accidentally deleted it.  Regardless, about six weeks later, I stopped in again to ask Karen about how the monarch butterfly season was going for her. I wasn’t seeing any monarchs in my backyard.  She indicated she hadn’t seen any monarchs either.  She then inquired whether I still wanted to buy the milkweed and sunflowers I had ordered.

Crap, I had forgotten.

She wasn’t even sure that the greenhouse still had them. Karen hadn’t ordered a lot more of milkweed and Mexican Sunflowers because of the dearth of butterflies in the area. Weather and conditions south of us were preventing monarchs from making it to Pennsylvania – at least that’s what we heard.

 

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She asked someone to look for my ordered plants just in case.  They were still there – about to be thrown away and looking very parched.  I felt awful because of my poor memory. I was responsible for the plants dying. Karen told me to go ahead and take them home. “Plant them anyway and see what happens.”  I offered to buy them.  She gave them to me for free. Feeling guilty, I bought some planting soil and some other stuff.  How many flowers and vegetables wind up in compost or garbage bins because customers like me aren’t as responsible as we should be?  Nature’s unpredictability and human shortcomings don’t probably help much either. I headed home with my almost dead garden plants and a heavy heart.

I planted the Tithonia in a section of my garden were the lilies and bee balm were doing great.  I used a heavy dose of planting soil, watered the twigs, and offered a prayer of gratitude for Karen’s generosity and hope for some growth.   Maybe the flowers and the butterflies would survive despite my forgetfulness. Maybe I should just be thankful for the manner in which my tomatoes, peppers, hydrangea, and other garden plants and vegetables were thriving. Well, was I in for some surprises as spring turned to summer.

We had a very rainy summer. I traveled quite a bit; so, I was away from home. My garden was on autopilot. garden_3 I came home to this picture.

My sunflowers had flourished! There were bees and butterflies all over the place. Monarch caterpillars were crawling all over my milkweed plants elsewhere in the yard.

I understand simplistically that these plants don’t need me or my feeble expertise to grow.  They are like the mustard seeds that Jesus speaks about in a fairly famous parable. Little seeds can grow into great big plants as long as they have good exposure to sunlight, healthy soil, and enough water to drink. This is not rocket science. Some would say, me being among them, that people are doing much more to harm than good to our planetary environments.  The most recent United Nations Climate Report suggests that human beings must take unprecedented social changes if we will survive and avoid catastrophic planetary peril. It was more than 90 degrees in Norway and over 100 degrees in Japan even as the rains fell in Pennsylvania and wildfires burned uncontrollably in Europe and Oregon. “Weirdness abounds” according to Rutgers University Scientist, Jennifer Francis.

We lose or waste billions of tons of food on this planet. Americans are especially wasteful as we throw away $165 billion dollars of our (un)prepared food. (Quention Fottrell). What would we gain if we would at least compost some of this supply?  Who is going hungry as food spoils on our garbage dumps?  blog 3What I find spiritually, ethically, and theological renewing is that there are emerging efforts across the globe to confront these realities. Episcopalians have decided to make the Stewardship of Creation an important goal by funding environmental stewardship initiatives. Organizations such as Columbia University’s Earth Institute purposefully blend research in the physical and social sciences, education and practical solutions in order to assist people and nations adopt a path toward sustainability.

One of my core personality principles that I commonly lose sight of is that everyone and everything is ultimately connected.  I have a deep longing for some idealistic future even as I overlook the beauty of this present moment.  Wholeness already exists. Paying attention to the joy I experience by going to Whitenights and planting flowers will help me to avoid becoming anxious or fascinating upon an unrealistic future.

Dr David Daniels astutely says that those of us who desire transformative change for ourselves, our gardens, and this island Earth our home must identify where we feel violated, angry, or afraid. How do these negative emotions shape and harm our future and our present? It is only then by confronting what is really going on that we can choose to act differently, and become someone who is born anew.

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Read Dr. David Daniels article about saving the planet through self-inquiry and personal growth.

In my own experience, I may look at myself as being ashamed of throwing away the flowers and letting them die at the nursery and along my life’s pilgrimage. Instead, I may choose to receive the gift of these dying flowers and plant them to see how they will grow and beautify my life and the lives of the people around me.

Developing daily rituals such as enjoying the beauty of the garden I’ve participated in growing, valuing the relationships I have in this moment, and continuing realistic, inspiration advocacy for the causes I love. These changes will have immediate as well as long term benefits . This pilgrimage invites a sustainable, beautiful path.

I’m going to purchase some mums from Whitenights today.

Blessings along The Way, Jim

The Circle Way – A Participant’s Reflections of The Circle Way’s Purpose and Practice upon his Pilgrimage

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Whidbey Institute Labyrinth – Photo by Sharon Frank Wichman

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī – as reframed by Tenneson Woolf )

“The circle way is a practice of reestablishing social partnerships and creating a world in which the best of collaboration informs and inspires the best of hierarchical leadership. … The ancient ways of circle are waiting for us to remember and activate a true experience of collaboration.” (Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, 2010, p. 11)

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Photo by Amanda Fenton – see more of her photos on Flickr

 

I attended The Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island WA from Aug. 15 – Aug. 20, 2018. The learning group was comprised of 22 practitioners and 2 highly skilled hosts Amanda Fenton and Tenneson Woolf. The group was very diverse. Attendees traveled to this circle from a vast array of cultural, generational, professional, and geographical contexts and disciplines. I was amazed at the quality of each participant’s authenticity and competencies – as people and as community members.

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Visit Aldermarsh – when you need to retreat and re-nourish your community.

The event happened at Aldermarsh – a beautiful sustainable environmental retreat center. Whidbey Island is a paradoxical setting. The island is home to a military naval air station on its northern shore as well as to natural sanctuaries such as Earth Sanctuary, Whidbey Institute, and Aldermarsh.  It is in this puzzlingly holy space (fields to use Rumi’s terms) where The Circle Way groups have gathered over the years. These groups  will continue flourishing, despite and because of such contradictions. It is only in such cauldrons that true alchemy occurs.

My beloved friend, Gil Stafford is someone I’ve sat in many circles with over the years. He writes:

We must identify what’s hiding in the shadows of our community & then we must accept some responsibility for our work on these denials and repressions. Second, we have to look into our own shadow. What do we have in our personal DNA that feeds into this corporate shadow? Third, we must ask ourselves how we are going to work on our own stuff in a way that will positively affect the collective? In other words, how do we share our inner world with the outer world in ways that are not “all about me,” but instead for the collective health.” (Stafford, Changing the World Without Words, Peregrini June, 27, 2018)

Circles become cauldrons when the paradoxical forces in the shared space beckon participants to come out from behind themselves and enter in the center of the circle’s shared learning and wellness.

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The Gong at the Marsh House offers beautiful reminders of The Spirit’s Presence throughout the Day

A typical day began, for me at 5:30 in the morning for mediation and preparation. Attendees communed for breakfast at 8 am. The Circle met for morning, afternoon, and evening sessions, with some time off for reflection and relaxation on one evening and one afternoon. Formal sessions usually ended before 9 pm. The exception to this rule was an especially emotional and bonding “Story Council” on Saturday evening. Small groups often gathered for reflective and refreshing conversations after the evening session. I was normally asleep by 11:00 pm.

It was without a doubt one of the most transformational experiences of my life as an Episcopal priest.

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Learn more about Basic Guidelines for calling together and hosting a Circle Way Meeting

My initial purpose was to learn more about The Circle Ways tools and techniques. How might I incorporate them and use them in my ministerial and consultative practices? What I have crossed the threshold with is something much, much greater. I have instead gained a cohort (circle) of beloved peers and friends. And, I now possess a much deeper insight into types of questions, reflections, and conversations holding holy room for creating true communities. The Circle Way creates immense capacity for motivating transformation in communities such as mine, Christ Memorial Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. I’m now home with a pallet of activating questions to share with my neighbors and peers.

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Photo by Amanda Fenton – see more of her photos on Flickr

The birthing point of The Circle Way practice roots itself the reality that human beings have gathered in circles for hundreds of centuries. A circle is one archetype for understanding basic human motivations as well as our shared collective unconscious. We come to meet with one another in circles because we cannot exist without one another. (Neill, 2018)

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Vox’s Dylan Scott writes that Brett’s Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court is “most divisive, contentious Supreme Court nominee in a generation.” What if…. the Senate was to place the purpose of a healthy nation at the center of its debate, rather than partisanship and power.

We live presently in a time and contexts when and where most people and organizations have lost their understanding of  communicating in circles. Instead, especially when under stress or contending with confusion, we choose to debate/argue/deliberate with one another in dyads, triangles, or squares. These choices are typically reactive than responsive. Such conversations frequently lack shared purpose, concurrence toward addressing and acting upon a common need, and desire to maintain healthy relationships with one’s self and one’s neighbors – friendly or otherwise. What works and why The Circle Way is core to my practice is that the process beckons us and human beings to cross thresholds of assumptions and difference much like a participant must cross to and from the threshold of Whidbey Island and enter its paradoxes.

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Photo by Jeremy Nash

 

I appreciate the way that The Circle Way process invokes some of my tradition’s core tenets. What we share at the center of our conversations yokes us into deeper communion. The center of such offerings is an altar of sorts. What we share of ourselves at the altar is sacred, vulnerable. Who we are on boundaries of the circle we are participating in invites us into deeper covenant with God and one another. There is spiritual synergy that happens in such space that is transformational while provoking shared purpose and flourishing. (The Circle Way, 2018).

Tenneson reminded me yesterday that the essence of our work, play, and being with one another lives most graciously in the context of friendships.  Early Christians would describe such friendships as “agape“. Circles create such agape when the people around the center share wholehearted opportunities to be close to one another while being ourselves, in our own bodies, and souls. In this Spirit,

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James Tissot’s – The Last Supper: Judas Dipping his Hand in the Dish

I now re-envision that Jesus’ Last Supper and The Church’s First Communion did not occur at a long rectangular table. Rather the disciples sat with Jesus around a common table with their fears, loves, hopes, and doubts embodied in the shared sacramental bread and wine. Such communion opens us up to betrayal and sacrifice. Letting go in order to live anew is unquestionably more likely when we don’t have barriers between us. Such meetings and the conversations that happen there may be, as the First Communion was, life-changing for everyone in the room and beyond the community’s walls too.

I invite your prayers, ideas and participation as to where we may begin and continue this transformative work. Would you join in a Circle with me?

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On Whidbey Island’s shoreline – Photo by Tenneson Woolf

 

Flourishing – Bread of Life

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Tiny Leaf Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash – Check out Luke’s great photos on his Unsplash page.

It’s been awhile.  Blogging routinely challenges me.  Creativity is one of my Character Strengths. Self-regulation isn’t.  I know that I ought to blog routinely – once or twice a week.  Then I would build a healthy habit of writing creatively.  And, as Lisa Laskow and Robert Kegan suggest in their book, Immunity to Change, I have to really, really desire to write regularly if I am going to change.  Simply telling myself that I should is not nearly enough to overcome my internal resistance and external forces for changing my life in such a way.  I’m not ready, at least on this task, to self-transform my mind. I’m not energized enough to commit myself to working my way through an Immunity to Change Map. That’s not to say that I’m not spending a great deal of time to transform myself. I’ve decided to drift away from being adaptive though.  I’m working on flourishing instead.

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What does it mean to flourish? As a person … start your discovery and develop a plan here.

You see, I went down a pretty dark depression hole back around the end of May. I don’t remember what the precipitating event was. I don’t need a reason sometimes. I just get a shovel and start digging. Sometime around the middle of June, I came up for air long enough to read about Dr. Laurie Santos’ Science of Well-Being Course at Yale.  Professor Santos’ class is the most popular course ever at Yale. I was intrigued; so, I did a little research.  Love of learning is another one of my Character Strengths. That’s a good thing for me and you to know.  Do you know what yours are?

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Check out Professor Santos’ brief introduction to her Science of Well Being Course.

I discovered that I could sign up for the class at coursea.  And, it’s free!  (unless you want a certificate of completion of some other form of proof of continuing education).  One of the first assignments is to evaluate your character strengths and present level of happiness. Yes, there’s actual homework and it is worth doing! It is a Yale course after all.  This initiative along with the idea that I really, really wanted to go to Spain with my spouse and best friends in 2020 prompted me to get off of my ass and rejoin Planet Fitness. We intend to spend 14-17 days as pilgrims on the Camino De Santiago. $22.00 bucks a month for the PF Black Card is not going to break my bank. The HydroMassage Chair is awesome for my lower back and meditative practices. My feet, knees, back, shoulders, brain, and soul will all thank me when indeed we venture out for a Buen Camino some months from now. As my anam cara , Gil Stafford, writes in his book – Wisdom Walking – Pilgrimage as a Way of Life – a pilgrim begins her or his pilgrimage long before she or he sets a physical foot on the path. And a pilgrim must walk all of the miles – known and unknown – spiritually, mystically, intellectually, and physically when they indeed do choose to complete their Immunity to Change Map and consume God’s Bread of Life. (more on that in a few paragraphs).

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Martin Seligman is a founder of the Positive Psychology Movement. Flourish is an awesome book!

All in all, I chose, about six weeks ago, that I really, really wanted to let go of some aspects of my old self for a newer – more free version of me. This is not the first or last time that I have made such a decision. I’ve quit lots of time. Self-regulation is not one of my strengths. Creativity and sense of purpose are. So, I’m using what I desire to be good for dealing with my growth edges. Each time I learn a little bit more about myself. I followed Professor Santos’ directions and downloaded the ReWi app.   I’ve used religiously the application. It really is helpful to track progress in 7 different categories: goals, sleep, exercise, connections, gratitude, kindness, and savoring.  The act of documenting and writing something down is scientifically and faithfully important. I’m checking on my levels of PERMA throughout each week. I doubt that Dr. Seligman would use these words but I will. This self-improvement endeavor has more deeply reacquainted me with eating the Bread of Life that is necessary for eternal life. His book, Flourish is re-connecting me with my faith in God and belief in the God-given character strengths that I uniquely have and that I believe everyone possesses.

Let me explain those last two statements.

bread-of-lifeJesus, in the 6th Chapter of the Gospel of John, differentiates between bread that sustains human beings on a daily basis in contrast to the Bread of Life that God gives offering life to the World. (kosmos) Jesus adds that he is “The bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6: 35) . There is nothing in this passage about getting a free pass to paradise.  There is plenty in this passage suggesting that Jesus’ Way is The Way toward becoming fully human.  Sacramental living is living as Jesus lived – sharing himself through the healing of the people around him.  He savored God’s Grace while coincidentally giving thanks and contributing his divinely inspired and miraculous gifts with others. He rebuked selfishness even as he broke bread with thousands of people. That’s all very biblical and it is also very practical.

Consider this comparison.  The VIA Institute on Character states that their goal is to “fill the world with greater virtue – more wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.”    Now, I don’t know that anyone at the institute is a self-professed Christian. Some of Seligman’s research suggests that religious practice in and of itself is not predictive of authentic happiness. On the other hand, identification and application of character strengths – especially when dedicated toward improving the well-being of other people and creation assuredly correlates with increased levels of joy and well-being.  That sounds a whole lot like Jesus Christ’s Gospel message to me.  ” I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” (John 10:10)

Character Strength Word InfographicCreativity is one of my greatest character strengths. I didn’t ask for it.  It is a gift from God. If writing is one unique way for me to express my original thoughts and ideas – so be it.  I’m guessing that I’ll have to use this and some of my other strengths to build up my prudence, humility, and self-regulation.  Perhaps this blog will become a more regular weekly exercise for me to accomplish – along with getting to Planet Fitness.

Resurrection – My What for.

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The ASU/AU rivalry is about more than just the Territorial Cup.

I jokingly said one time that you know there is a God when a graduate from the University of Arizona (UA) can be the best of friends with a graduate from Arizona State University (ASU).  This momentous occasion took place at Saint Augustine Episcopal Church altar in Tempe, not very far from ASU’s main campus.  At the time I was serving as the Episcopal Campus Minister at the UA . My Anam Cara, Gil Stafford was the Episcopal Campus Minister at ASU. I was newly ordained and Gil invited me to preside at the Eucharist at his primary altar.  It was a blessed moment, one of many that I treasure with Gil.  He continually blesses me despite his affiliation with the Territorial Normal School at Tempe. Truly, Gil’s work as Canon Theologian, Author, Priest, and Spiritual Director and Teacher is profoundly Spirit-sent and offered. I make progress on The Way because of Gil’s friendship, mentoring, and love.

Thus, I feel like I’m standing on very uncertain and holy ground when I respond to one

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Daniel Jackson, The Resurrection Print – Saint John’s Illuminated Bibl

of Gil’s articles.  Gil blogs at Peregrini.  Usually, I just ruminate over his thoughts. Occasionally, I write a reply on Facebook or in his blog’s comments. This time though, I need to respond.  His “Jesus Go to Hell, Please” piece prompted me to dig deep into my soul .  What do I truly believe about Christ Jesus’ Resurrection?  What is its significance for me? How do I articulate and live it out in my life?  Am I a witness as I preached a couple of weeks ago?   Well, here’s a bit of my “what” Christ resurrection means to me.

First, I believe that The Resurrection is a mystical “meta-narrative” divine and human phenomenon. What does that F!i)kin’ mean? Well, more simply put.  The Resurrection is a transformational event. It happened miraculously with Christ Jesus. It happens with us too – within and beyond our human comprehension. The Divine’s (God’s) Love beckons all of creation, including human beings to live, die, and be reborn . Christ Jesus’ Resurrection was a singular event on that First Easter Sunday morning. And, every human being over the course of this and most likely many life times live into the life, death, and rebirth of Christ Jesus’ Resurrection. Our souls are eternally and profanely engaged in a circular, evolving pattern  of growth – in spiritual, mortal and mystical terms.

 

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Read Origen’s On First Principles here.

Gil refers to Origen of Alexandria the great, Neoplatonist Christian Theologian. Origen was a Christian Universalist. The restoration of all things (Apokatastasis) was absolutely essential to Origen’s theological and moral thinking. (Edward Moore, Origen of Alexandria, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). Origen wrote:

 

“For the end is always like the beginning: and, therefore, as there is one end to all things, so ought we to understand that there was one beginning; and as there is one end to many things, so there spring from one beginning many differences and varieties, which again, through the goodness of God, and by subjection to Christ, and through the unity of the Holy Spirit, are recalled to one end, which is like unto the beginning.” (Origen, On First Principles, Book I, Chapter VI. Section II).

Origen believed that our souls were pre-existent and passed through human suffering and sin to reborn life over the course of eternity. (Bryan Rich, Apokatastasis in the Thought of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, December, 2007).  For Origen , all souls, including the most evil ones in the cosmos (choose the human being you despise the most) will eventually achieve salvation. “God’s love is so powerful as to soften even the hardest heart, and that the human intellect – being the image of God will never freely choose oblivion over proximity to God.” (Edward Moore, Origen of Alexandria, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy n.d.).

Origen got himself into a deep mound of Christian doctrinal manure. His beliefs along with the fact that he lived a very ascetic life and allegedly castrated himself didn’t win him many orthodox ecclesiastical friends. Bishops and fellow presbyters mocked and imprisoned him because of his bold, mystical, and innovative understanding of The Holy Trinity, Eternal Salvation, and yes, Christ Jesus’ resurrection.  And yet, his Christian Catachetical School was wildly popular. (ReligionFacts, Origen of Alexandria, n.d.)

Wise, unconventional, and provocative philosophers and theologians frequently run aground when they stir up controversies, especially when they contest strongly held beliefs about such things as heaven and hell and the nature of Christ Jesus’ Resurrection. I observe that Origen and Gil are both out-of-the-box in systematic Christian theological terms.  They are equally iconic in terms of the brilliance of their thinking about Resurrection and Salvation. Both of them are unorthodox and life-giving Christian scholars and clerics. Frankly, in these times of distress, as in Origen’s time, we need theologians such as Gil to point us and The Church into the rebirthing cycle that The Cross initiates and The Resurrection gives birth to for all of us. I make that comment on scriptural as well as metaphysical foundations.

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Shin-Hee Chin, Breath, Mixed Media Painting. View this piece and other works of art at the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts “Telling God Stories in the 21st Century” exhibition

Origen and Gil alike ask me (and you?): What does Jesus’ Resurrection mean for us today? Well, let me respond with a few of my own questions.

 

Why do we need a one-time Savior?  What do we gain with one salvific moment in human history? Have we forgotten that the Romans crucified thousands of Jews? Does Jesus’ forgiveness of sins and God’s redemption of humanity through Christ Jesus’ Resurrection somehow negate the fact that human beings, especially those persons possessing political and imperial power, have executed hundreds of marginalized prophets, philosophers, and activists, including Jesus of Nazareth.   What purpose does Resurrection have for us today amid the carnage of daily gun-related violence, unconscionable levels of human sex trafficking,   and an opioid crisis killing thousands of Americans in the past 20 years. What does our forgiveness require given these ignorant human tendencies and thbrokenness?

Indeed and in belief, we need an eternally loving God and an eternity of maturity, evolution, and rebirth as a species to discover and receive redemption from sin and evil. Christ Jesus’ Resurrection declares that death does not possess victory over life. Yet, there is no pilgrimage, at least in my experience that does not undertake a process of stasis, chaos, and new order (life, death, and rebirth). Such evolution occurs in all sorts of minute and miraculous ways – on God’s time (kairos) rather than humanity’s time (chronos) .

The Resurrection provides this paradoxical Way, to live as a human being. Resurrection declares God’s Love and Grace through the passage of time on this planet and beyond mortal comprehension. Resurrection – in my Progressive Christian terms demands that there is no Easter without Holy Week – there is no Cheap Grace.  And Christ Jesus  is The Vine from which the branches of our faith and belief in God’s love provides The Way for this mortal and our eternal life – for Sun Devils, Wildcats alike and together.

 

 

New, Neutralized, and Renewed

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The Valley of The Dry Bones imagery and text from The Saint John’s Bible. (calligraphy by Donald Jackson)

I occasionally consider what I believe in and why I believe it.  When I use the word believe I don’t mean to express it as a way of just thinking.  Believing for me is as much as more of be-living. Where, Why, How, Who do I profess and express faith and practice in my daily life. Am I faithfully devoting myself to issues and principles greater than my own free will and best interest.  Do I minimize hypocrisy as much as possible?

I am both a spiritual and religious person.  That is to say that I practice Christian rituals and believe in a triune God. That doesn’t suggest that I’m an orthodox Christian. In fact, my hypothesis is that I’m actually more heretical or universalist than many of my Christian contemporaries. I’ve become less dualistic in my thinking and beliefs. I slowly and steadily am stepping beyond my ego toward engaging the actual and mysterious paradoxes of life.  Such paradoxes are full of koans . For example – evil, vicious actions indeed may lead to renewed life.  The innocent murder of a sinless person possesses the capacity to redeem the world, not in a substitonary fashion but rather in  transformational ways.

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Donald Jackson. The Crucifixion. Preparatory sketch 1.(Luke 23:44-49). Preparatory sketch

This past week, I (and millions of other Christians) traveled through Holy Week.  This story is a religious and spiritual meta-metaphor for not only Jesus of Nazareth but for us as well. The Holy Week pilgrimage proclaims theosis.  God offers in-breaking presence and power in Holy Week. Power in weakness and defeat, then and now, provides means for resurrecting and guiding our steps toward becoming more human and divine.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and protest at the Jerusalem temple create conditions for tumult.  He accepts these challenges even as he celebrates a first sacramental communion and last mortal supper with his disciples.  He suffers the shame of betrayal. He is falsely accused of crimes. Roman officials, most likely with the assistance of fearful and/or jealous religious leaders, conspire to murder Jesus. All of these events provide the passionate stew for something miraculous to happen.  Jesus dies a horrible death. Then, amazingly – three days later he appears in a wounded yet transformed being to demonstrate loves power over hate, grace’s victory over evil.

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“It’s just pure support, love, and compassion for every single person who is an American citizen… We need love.” (David Hogg, March, 2018). Check out the values and visions that were and are #BehindTheMarch.

 

All of this “greatest story” is a dramatic representation as well  as a demonstration of Divine, in-breaking manifestation for transforming our abilities to become more human and divine. Do you want a current example today, here and now in America.  ‘Consider the activities of the Parkland High School Students before, during, in front of, and “Behind The March.”

Richard Rohr OFM, describes human development in a couple of coincidental ways.  First, he (along with Carl Jung) suggests that God offers people of faith opportunities to mature in two halves. These two segments do not have to be equivalent in time. Some, perhaps many of us (and the communities they live in) never reach the second half. We spend the first half of our lives building up our senses of individual and tribal powers, security, and ego-based (false) identities. Rohr, October, 2012).  We construct laws, rituals, and structures to support these values. It’s therefore important for children to learn quickly that God and their families love them as well other people different than them. Children who feel safe, beloved, and connected to God, themselves, their communities, and the creation more broadly develop healthy ego structures and boundaries. (Rohr, March, 2018). As we all know, or discover, this process isn’t easy. We live into the harsh and often perplexing realities of being human. This is the stage for the first portion of Jesus’ Holy Week as well as our own.

In life’s second half, our egos and we along with them come to understand that life isn’t all about us and/or the groups we belong to in this world. Our egos and souls emerge to claim what is our truest being. We adopt a holistic sense of who we are and why we are here, now. We have a shadow side as well as a bright side. Psychotherapy, and authentic religious, spiritual experiences unleash us from the bonds of our disbelieving what we understand about ourselves and the world we live in. Living in this half of life redeems us from selfishness, elitism, consumerism, and a host of other ego-based vices we are witnessing today. Peter begins this process when he betrays Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ trial.

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Regrettably, we can’t just leap-frog from the first stage of development onto the second stage.  We require a bridge. Often, it is a treacherous one. Moving from life’s ego-based into life’s soul-based domains typically requires us undertaking and accepting deep loss (death), shame, and wholehearted love.  People living with the disease of addiction(s) encounter the Divine through a vital spiritual experience. Victims of trauma and grief receive God’s Grace from unexpected encounters and unexpected healing circumstances.

Witness how the two halves of life and the bridge between them happens between Palm Sunday and Easter Day. Jesus’ followers and enemies alike believe that he is a king.  Victims of the Roman Empire seek a Messiah. Political, imperial, and religious authorities observe a threat. A clash happens leading to chaos, confusion, and death.  And then new life happens in The Resurrected Jesus Christ. Women  witness The Lord on Easter Sunday morning. They set set aside their fears. They had possessed an understanding of how their world was supposed to work. It didn’t. Powerful religious and political officials collaborated to execute their King. He died …. And then rose again. Thus the disciples who encounter The Christ cross over from the first to second half of life. They choose to adopt new beliefs, regardless of the costs. They remain in Jerusalem accepting the possibilities of being slain as their Messiah had died just a couple of days before them.  They were, as Jesus was, reborn and willing to offer new life to other people too.

M12This process of “order, disorder, and reorder” is what life, death, and resurrection should be all about as followers of Jesus Christ.  Every day provides each of us moments to contemplate and act upon what half of life are we living in. Who are the people transformed by their soulful, sorrowful, and life-giving experiences who inspire us?  What stories from scripture remind and redeem us? How does Christ’s compassionate life of offering sight to the blind, food to the hungry, and peace to victims of violence.  Have we picked up on our crosses and struggled up Calvary’s hill to die as one of the men who hung on crosses next to Jesus? What may we do to live with him now, forever on the other side of Easter’s empty tomb? How was your Holy Week? How is it going today on this side of Jesus’ and your own potential resurrection.

Living a Lenten Life

ashwednesdayI invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word….
(Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 265)

…. What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance. …
(David Whyte, 2014 – What to Remember When Waking – retrieved 1/30/2018)

I started Lent in January. ‘Might as well get an early start. Honestly, I have resolved to adopt different ways of being this year.  Some of my resolutions have to do with my diet and physical wellness. Other resolutions are more spiritual and vocational in nature.  Each of them, individually and in concert with one another have to do with making progressive and healthy changes in body, mind, and soul. In other words, I am striving to repent.

A priestly friend and colleague introduced me a few years ago to David Whyte’s work. Whyte is a poet and speaker whose thoughts and words provoke thousands of other fans to view life through the lens of their day to day experience in this world. Whyte’s wisdom considers lessons of ancestry and spirituality.

Some years ago, David offered a presentation at Seattle University’s School of Theology. In this talk he offers this wonderful definition of repentance (metanoia – in New Testament Greek).  David Whyte said (beginning at (9’:55” in the video):

Metanoia
Change your heart and mind by reading Samantha Kielar’s great blog post about metanoia.

“There is a lovely etymology (meaning) to the word repent in the Bible because in the Greek the word repent was actually metanoia which simply meant not to go over your past sins and lash yourself on the back … which you can do and enjoy if you like. Make yourself a very nice cup of coffee before you do it. But metanoia literally just to change your mind and to think differently.”  (Whyte, 2012)

The way that we think shapes the way that we speak. How we speak shapes the way that we live. Early Christians came to be known as people or followers of The Way.(Wiener, 2017). They claimed and received this title because they adopted powerfully their Christian disciplines and exhibited their Christian faith. Fasting, devotional prayers, silence, and acts of generosity were evidence of these newly baptized Christians’ changes in heart, mind, and body.

Lent remains about resolutely changing who we are. It is an intentional season of transformation. We go with Jesus into the Wilderness We follow him into Jerusalem to confront persecutions and prejudices. We witness the intimate and vulnerable time he shares with his disciples.  Lent beckons us to confront our own internal and external temptations. Such repentance invites us to reject cravings separating us from God’s love and our neighbors’ needs and desires. Once again, Lenten repentance gives us space to choose what ways we will think, speak, and walk upon moment by moment.

You can begin your Lenten practices early too, if you like. The Wilderness is as far away as your willingness to meditate. Are you willing to allow God to speak silently to you. Try going into a trance as my friend Gil suggests. You may further elect to fast from a habit or ritual that focuses your life more on yourself than God. You should find time on a daily basis to pray and interact with Christ.  Sacred Space offers a daily examination from the Jesuit tradition.   Sign up for Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediations.  There are lots of additional options to choose from on the Internet.

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Read Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft Musings and open up to your soul’s true purpose.  Visit Animas Valley Institute for more details about Soulcraft quests.

 

We may enter Lent wholeheartedly. Such personal devotion, reflection, and thinking requires courage.  Our Christian faith is sacramental and sacrificial. This holy work wholly offers pathways to join Jesus at the foot of the Cross as well as at the opening of Easter’s empty tomb.  Christianity doesn’t own the desert of contemplative and transformational life, not by a long shot. Let your soul guide you if your religious or spiritual bent is different than mine. I’m yearning to go on an Animas Valley Institute Soul Initiation quest. Maybe you’re supposed to go rather than me.

 

May our pilgrimages through Lent’s wilderness and wild places draw us nearer to God, provide awareness of God’s angels, and offer us more trust in Jesus our Lord and Christ. May we claim our truest, very best Christian inheritance. Let us carry our divinely offered gifts with humility.

 

Blessings along The Way, Jim

 

 

Star Wars Spirituality – Why the Last Jedi bugs some people and attracts others.

Luke and Rey in the Last Jedi
Celtic Monastic Imagery anyone?

I haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet.  Don’t spoil it for me! I’m going tomorrow.

My spouse and I decided to watch The Force Awakens one more before going to see this movie. This seemed like a wise thing to do after reviewing the Rotten Tomatoes Last Jedi webpage.

What I find fascinating is this: Why is there such a difference of opinion between critics and movie-goers?  9 out of 10 critics like the movie whereas only 5 out of 10 people who paid to get in enjoyed it. My limited research suggests that audiences who hated the money think it diminishes the legacy of the episodes preceding it.  Rian Johnson has, for haters, written and directed a movie that is incoherent and epically unsatisfactory. The plot doesn’t hold together. The characters viewers expected to love and hate are dumb and simplistic.

Conversely, critics like MaryAnn Johanson relish that Johnson creates a disturbance in Star War’s 40-year long cinematic relationship with The Force. This movie takes the story in a different direction. Johnson assaults Star Wars orthodoxy. Critics appreciate his originality.

[Most everyone agrees that the movie is too long.  Try sitting through the Oberammergau Passion Play if you think a three hour movie is too long.]

My inference is that there’s a reformation going on with Star Wars’ spiritual, psychological, and narrative midi-chlorians. Some people enjoy having their expectations and foundational views of the world, scientific fiction or otherwise, jumbled up. Some don’t.  Thus the movie is getting its mixed reviews.

I live in the realities of paradoxes and uncontrollability; so, I expect that I’ll enjoy The Last Jedi. I think this will be true despite the series’ ongoing messianic message and dualistic cosmology (Manichean/Confucian dualism).  Is the universe inherently designed upon a battle between good and evil, dark and light? Or, is the universe religiously pluralistic and morally relative? This argument provides some basis for people’s difference of opinions. Maybe it just sucks or excels.  I’ll see.

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Kylo Ren idolizes Darth Vader

For me, the Star Wars is a spirituality saga. I spend lots of time contemplating the nature of  why and how universal creatures make choices. Theology means a lot to me. One of the factors that I admire most about these movies abides in the characters’ psycho-spiritual depths.  Why do they (we) decide to go to the Dark Side? What motivates them (us) to recognize and acquiesce to imperial and carnal desires. Why do Darth Vader and Kylo Ren for whatever evil reasons choose to surrender themselves to their deities: Snoke and Palpatine (Darth Sidious). On the other hand, why do the protagonists elect to abide in The Force’s panentheistic truths? Luke Skywalker and Rey seek The Force and learn its values?  The course of their life channels them toward Yoda and Obi Wan Kanobi.  Why? Is destiny singularly relevant? It doesn’t seem so because the characters are constantly striving to persuade one another to make different choices. “There is still good in him.”  “I will show you the Power of The Dark Side.”  Conflict continues in The Last Jedi. Rey must fight Kylo Ren again….unless there is a deviation in the epic’s typical narrative trajectory.   Why?

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George Lucas – making heroes while contrasting good and evil.

Well, because human beings tell stories, strive to make meaning of the world, and often don’t have a frickin’ idea why the universe works the way it does or why we do the illogical and emotionally unintelligent things that we do. We are emotional more so than we are rational. We don’t unplug from anxiety or passions particularly well.  Heroes like Hans Solo and villains such as Jaba reveal these truths.

George Lucas created, composed, and crafted a spiritually pertinent and heterodox religious myth whether or not he intended to when he began this work back in the 1970s .  He suggested in a 2014 interview w/ Charlie Rose that he created Star Wars as a vehicle for exploring psychological motifs. He pondered whether or not modern people worried and wondered about mythical and oral beliefs in the same manner as ancient people did.  Why do some people make heroic sacrifices while other people don’t? What does it mean to be someone’s friend? Why do we make enemies knowing that our wars will perhaps kill us and others?

Lucas furthermore explained that, as an 8-year-old he asked his mother why there were so many religions if there is only one God.  His inquiry may be the basis for the reason that the Star War movies blend so many spiritual and religious themes.  Myths shroud whether or not The Force (God exists).  Believers and sages of both The Dark Side and The Force gather in temples, sit in councils, and contemplate their relationships with nature and other beings. For goodness sake, The Force Awakens ends on Skellig Michael. 6th Century CE Celtic ascetic monks chose this sea crag as the best destination to pursue greater union with God. (World Heritage, nd) These monks, like Luke Skywalker in a galaxy far, faraway during a time long, long ago before them, withdrew from civilization. They isolated themselves to yoke themselves to the Divine following conflict with spiritual and secular foes and frustrations.  In sum, George Lucas and his disciples have sought to do the same thing that Moses, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Lao Tzu and other spiritual-religious prophets and mystics have done. They creatively use myths and beliefs to explain the universe and humanity’s place in it.

Star-Wars-Last-Jedi-Rey-Dad-Leaked-SceneI’m going to head to the movie theater tomorrow for the same reason that I will sit silently in Centering Prayer tonight.  I will worship God this weekend in church as well as learn more about God at AMC Classic Bloomsburg 11 because all of these endeavors will provoke me to think about life and death.  Evil things happen every day. I am evil sometimes. Other times I am very good. Grace occurs  when we least expect it Why do I make the choices that I do?  Why do you believe what you believe? Why did Luke abandon his friends? Why didn’t Darth Vader return to The Force before mortally dying? Seemingly, some of the characters in The Last Jedi are going to make choices that their predecessors didn’t make.  The course of universal constructs may change because Rey or Kylo don’t make absolute choices as their mentors did before them.  One reason that some people like this movie and others don’t is that not everybody possesses the same fears and anxieties. Neither do we all have the same genetic composition for managing trauma and/or health. Some of us need deities that are molded in stone. Others of us need ethereal, malleable gods.

I’ll let you know what I gained from seeing the movie in my  next post.