The Meaning of Blessed

by Don Fausel

I live in the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix, Arizona with 600 other residents. And whenever someone would ask me how I was feeling, which is often, I used to answer something like “pretty good” or “not bad” or just a plain “okay”. But recently whether I was in the elevator or waiting in line for lunch I decided to answer “I’m blessed” and more often than less, I would get a response from them something like, “…that interesting I never thought of that”. Sometimes I might hear a statement like, “I am so blessed to have children that live so close to the Beatitudes!” or “We’re blessed to live in a country of such of freedom and opportunity.” I don’t usually hear someone say something like, “I’m having problems with my health issues. Do you think I missed out on the blessings, others seem to have been given?” Why do we often associate being blessed with positive situations like absence of problems, or wealth? Like “I must be blessed I don’t have any problems…or I must be blessed to have been born in such a rich family.”

WE ARE BLESSED BECAUSE

As most of us know, the Beatitudes, also called the Sermon on the Mount, are teachings of Jesus about being blessed and are recorded in the gospels of Mathew (5:1-10) and Luke (6:20-23). They are a call to us as a way of living that can bring true happiness and peace. Beatitude is Latin for “an abundant happiness”.  Each of the Eight Beatitudes begins with the word ‘blessed’… The Greek word is translated as ‘blessed’ which means extremely fortunate, well off, and truly happy…to live the Beatitudes are to be centered on God and God’s desire for our life.”

HOW TO BE BLESSED

I’m going to use the title above HOW to BE BLESSED to go through the eight beatitudes as the gospel of Matthew uses them since Luke doesn’t contain all of the beatitudes. The title above offers suggestions for reading each of the Beatitudes.  “… you might look into your own heart and examine your feeling towards them. I think you will find that you need a rather humble, almost a childlike attitude toward each one of them…” It also recommends that Jesus gives His individual “…gifts of the spirit and even gives the very gift of faith itself to show you His love and presence…”

  1. Humble yourself as Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3).

According to the words in the article “poor in spirit” it mean not finding pleasure in yourself/your life, and though you have been taught to be self-sufficient and proud of your reasoning and independence: still you may become smaller in your own eyes. If you are ready to depend on God’s will for your blessings—not ignoring God and not managing your own life and not making your choices all alone, not to be limited by “self”, then you are ready to be blessed.

  1. Repent, be sorry for your bad deeds and be willing to change for better. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).

Ordinary activities of life do not bring real joy, not like God’s love and hope does. Daily life may leave you thinking: ‘If only I had___(fill in the blank); it leaves you feeling your regrets, for what has been lost: lost peace, joy, hope—and you may find yourself with ‘a broken spirit’—a hurting attitude about life. Regret your past sins such as damages to others—and the time that may have been against or ignoring and lacking God’s blessings.

  1. Be unassuming, non-egotistical. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

Jesus described himself as: ‘I am meek and gentle. ’He was able to handle conflict, insults, crisis without egotism. ‘He got it all together.’ He said that ‘the non-aggressors would inherit the earth; eventually receive the unearned gift of being a sister or brother of The King in The Kingdom of Jesus.

  1. Seek right ways with an appetite for good. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

Most people imagine themselves pure. You never heard, ‘I did that to be mean and foolish.’ You need to make righteous choices for your own sake. It makes it easier. Righteousness is the food and drink of your spiritual health: free from guilt, shame and sin:  depend on God’s promise to grow his righteousness.

  1. Show Mercy. “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Inhumanity of one person against others has always been a problem in history. To the point that history reveals selfish, inconsiderate, and cruel—oppressing habits that cause poverty, slavery, being disinterested in social instability, not working these things out charitable mercy, but great unresponsiveness instead.

  1. Be pure through faith. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” Matthew (5:8) Cleanse your mind: clean up your act and in the fullest sense as God himself removes your desire for impure thinking and impure ways of acting. God purifies you. Seeing God, knowing him as your Father (by being in His presence) is the blessing promised in this beatitude.
  2. Be a peacemaker and be especially blessed! “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called ‘the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Love unconditionally—treating the other as one would like to be treated, if the two roles were suddenly reversed: So be kind to your enemy. Just let revenge stop now! Peace may be found by doing something as simple as giving a difficult person something you would think he likes. Peacemaking brings God with His peace and harmony into your life.

  1. Accept Persecution. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

Some bad news—‘persecutions’ if you are righteous—but don’t worry! You will be blessed with the benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven. You are different if you are in Christ. This threatens those who don’t understand life’s basic spiritual life. You have put God first!

Here are several different viewpoints. The first one is a video about thirty minutes by Kate Bowler talking about her book Blessed: A History of American Prosperity Gospel

Another is What it Means to Be Blessed by God. This is five page article by Dr. David Dewitt.

And this is a website Discover Real Joy When You #BlessALife that starts off with Matthew (5:16) “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” The whole website is worth checking out.

Shalom.

Is it Okay to Laugh?

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

How is your heart?
How is your sense of safety?
How are your relationships since last week?
How are your thoughts as you attempt to navigate?
Do something for me: take a deep breath.
Do it again.
One more time.
Ah, for the heck of it let’s just do it again.

I am listening to some music while I write today. I often need to be in quiet to write, but quiet does not seem to be going outside right now, can’t seem to find that quiet anywhere. Quiet is likely in a cabin somewhere doing some solid self-care so it can return and help us once again. Even quiet needs a rest.

I am listening to music in lieu of that quiet, leaning into the sounds of a person singing, making me feel less alone. There is an awesome song that I have turned to on the regular this year. It’s playing right now as I write.

It’s by Passenger and the song is “Whispers”. The part that gets me every time are these amazing lyrics:

“Well I spent my money
I lost my friends
I broke my mobile phone
3 am and I am drunk and I am dancing on my own
Taxi-cabs ain’t stopping, and I don’t know my way home,
Well it’s hard to find a reason, when all you have is doubts,
Hard to see inside yourself when you can’t see your way out,
Hard to find an answer when the question won’t come out,
Everyone’s filling me up with noise and I don’t know what they are talking about
You see all I need’s a whisper in a world that only shouts.”

So good. So very good.

I am not going to shout at you. You are safe from attacks if you read on. I am with you.

I want to encourage your heart and the most wonderful way I know to do this is in laughter. Here is a story that I hope makes you laugh. Your laughter is a prayer, an affirmation and a commitment to still live despite the pain. Way to go!

I am a pretty diligent, helpful worker in general. Always have had a strong sense of affirmation through doing a good job. When I was 18 years old and free from the albatross that was high school, I got a job at the old Park Mall theater. When I say old, I mean old! I swear I once sat in a seat that Socrates sat in before. It was run down and breaking and I so much loved it!

There was an incentive program called “Knock Your Socks Off Service” or KYSOS for those of us in the know. Yeah, acronyms. Alienating others since 10000 BC (see what I did there)? The incentive was simple. If you were caught going above and beyond you got a star pin. Three of those and you got a 25 cent raise. I wanted those star pins more than the raise. I am easy to motivate through trinkets and such.

I did all I could to get those star pins. I chased down a couple in the mall because they forgot a purse. I helped elderly men and women to their cars when they struggled. I carried things for people. I came in early and stayed late. Star, Star, Star, Star.

And here is where I may have gone too far.

There was a Toyota truck with a canopy that had left their lights on. My co-worker and I decided that we would KYSOS this situation. We went to the truck and checked to see if the doors were locked. They were locked to keep intruders out. It didn’t occur to me that I was the intruder in this moment. We walked around the back and the trailer was unlocked. I looked through and saw that window between the canopy and cab was open.

You know what’s about to happen, don’t you?

Yep. I got in the trailer.
Yep. I crawled to the open window.
Yep. I reached through said window.
Then… my coworker says “I think they’re coming”
Yep. I froze in panic.
Yep. I now saw this as breaking and entering.

I quickly laid down in the back of the truck and tried to figure out how to get out. The driver got in, turned it on, and started to drive. I was clearly going home with this guy. Hope he liked surprises. I heard my boss’s voice yelling my name. My co-worker was a tattle-tale. The truck stopped at a stop sign, still in the parking lot. I broke free and made a run for it. I ran right into the open door of the theater. I caught my breath and then looked around at my co-workers, four of them staring at me like I lost my mind. And then we laughed. We laughed hard and long. We cried from it. Through tears and fits of laughter, my boss says “You are so not getting a star.” I laugh hard still when I think of it.

Laughter is a prayer of joy for me. I seek it and it creates a better version of me every single time. The first Saturday Night Live (SNL for you people who are in the know) had an amazing opening the first time they had a show after 9/11. It was powerful. The cast stood with then Mayor Giuliani as he expressed the pain and a strong affirmation to those watching. The best part, though, was when Lorne Michaels asked, “Is it okay to be funny?” Giuliani responded “Why start now?”

Do you see what that was? We asked permission to live again. That’s important. That’s crucial. That’s vital. That’s healing.

Take a deep breath again.
One more.
Again.

You can’t stop yourself from breathing without some kind of force. It’s automatic. You can’t control it to make it quit. You can’t kill it with your will to simply make it stop. It would require action. Yet the thing that makes me believe in God, in Spirit, in the Great Mystery that is our beginning and endings is this: while you can’t just decide you don’t want to breathe anymore, you can decide to breathe deep. What a thing of beauty that is – – – you can opt in to more life with a simple act but you cannot opt out.

To put it in a different way, you can’t quit, but you can start over.
And to put it in yet another way, life and love wins. Every. Single. Time.
Life is undefeated. It keeps on coming. Look at you, breathing. Look at you loving. Look at you living. You are amazing.

I’m just a guy.

I am not an expert.  I am not a person in power.  I don’t have letters behind my name.
I don’t have any letters in front of my name. That being said, just in case you were waiting for someone to give you permission to live, accept my offering:

I think we should laugh.
I think we should laugh together.
I think we should laugh together until we cry.
I think we should cry.
I think we should cry out.
I think we should go out.
I think we should go outside.
I think we should side with love over hate.
I think we should love.

I think in terms of we… because you make me feel that I am not alone.

I hope I can do that for you, too.

In the meantime, keep breathing.

Buddhism and Christianity

by Don Fausel

Several years ago when I was writing my memoir, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith, I ran across a book by Paul F. Knitter titled, Without Buddha I Could Never be a Christian. Knitter has held the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and has been a leading advocate of globally responsible inter-religious dialogue. His book is described on back cover as “…a moving story of one man’s quest for truth and spirituality authenticity: from the nature of prayer to Christian views of life after death.” He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1966 and granted permission to leave the priesthood in 1975. His book is his personal exploration of Buddhism as a way of dealing with these issues and with blending of Eastern mysticism.

Knitter’s book proposes how the Buddhist perspective can inspire a more person-center understanding of Christianity. The preface of the book is titled Am I Still a Christian and rather than focusing on rigid dogma and rituals, its center of attention is religious experiences, and how a Buddhist approach can enliven Christianity and benefit worship, and social action.

In my naivety when I first read Knitter’s book, I was surprised that Buddhism didn’t have a God! It became apparent that I needed to research more about Buddhism. Knitter suggests we need to become familiar with the Buddha’s first sermon, which he preached sometime around the 500s BCE. The subject matter was The Four Noble Truths, which Knitter states “He (Buddha) preached it shortly after his Enlightenment…” The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Suffering (dukkha) comes up in everyone’s life.
  2. This suffering is caused by craving (tanha).
  3. We can stop suffering by stopping craving.
  4. To stop craving, follow Buddha’s Eight-fold Path (which consists essentially of taking Buddha’s message seriously, living a moral life by avoiding harm to others and following a spiritual practice based on meditation.)

Let me suggest several books and articles that I found helpful in connecting the Four Noble Truths with Buddhism and Buddha with Jesus:

Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, edited by Marcus Borg . In the preface of his book Borg warns the reader that although he is an “expert” in the study of Jesus but, “In my understanding of the Buddha, however I’m an amateur. I do not know the scholarship surrounding the Buddha as I do Jesus.” Having said that, he goes all the way back to a Dutch writer named Ernest de Bunsen who wrote a book in 1880 titled, The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians—up to the Dalai Lama himself when he wrote The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teaching of Jesus in 1999.

The rest of the book has eleven chapters including: Compassion, Wisdom, Materialism, Inner Life, Temptation, Salvation, The Future, Miracles, Discipleship, Attributes and Life Stories.  Each chapter has at least ten examples of Jesus’ and Buddha’s moral teaching. For example under Compassion on page 14, is Jesus’ speaking about compassion, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” LUKE 6.31. On page 15 is Buddha’s thoughts about compassion  “Consider others as yourself.” DHAMMAPADA 10.I.  Here’s another saying on pages 36 and 37 under Wisdom.  Jesus is quoted as saying “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” LUKE 6. 41.42. Buddha is quoted as saying, “The faults of others are easier to see than one’s own; the faults of others are easily seen, for they are sifted like chaff, but one’s own faults are hard to see. UDANAVARGA 27.1.

Here’s an article, Jesus and Buddha on Happiness that starts out by the 29 year old Prince Gautama Siddhartha (563-483 BC) , who later was called the Buddha (the enlightened one) left his family and set out on a search for the meaning of life, and for lasting happiness. Since he had no God happiness for him was being free from desires induced by suffering (dukkha). Jesus’ answers are very different than Buddha’s when a rich young man sought Jesus directions for eternal happiness. “You lack one thing: go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

The article goes on to say, “Jesus and Buddha agree that pursuing happiness is transient things is futile. But they direct us to opposite solutions. The Buddha say satisfaction is treasuring no thing. Jesus says it is treasuring God. In God we get all things. In no thing we get nothing.”

I found this article in a website titled All Well Within. The article is  The Buddha’s Essential Guide to Happiness. The article starts out by saying, “You don’t have to become a Buddhist to benefit from the essential teachings of the Buddha because they are universal in nature. Moreover, they remain highly relevant to successfully modern life and finding the deeper sense of happiness and contentment you deserve.” Even though it doesn’t deal with both Jesus and Buddha, I thought most of us know a lot about Jesus and this article is worth it. It’s seven pages long, but again, it’s worth it. Plus I learned that “…the Buddha encouraged his followers to carefully examine his teachings and only accept them when they rang true, rather than following his guidance out of blind faith.” That sounds close to my memoir that I mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

I hope this blog inspires you to look deeper into Buddhism. As a present, here is a TED TALK The Habits of Happiness  by biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard who says we can train our minds in habits of well-being, to generate a true sense of serenity and fulfillment. It already has 6,470,020 readers. It’s worth listening to.

Shalom.

The Wolf and the Dog

by Amos Smith

In every human heart there is a dogfight between a wolf and a dog.

The wolf represents the wounds we harbor, the betrayals, the humiliations, the scars from childhood through to adult life. The dog represents the shining moments—the beloved people in our lives who make all the difference, our accomplishments, and strengths.

Which animal will win the fight?

It depends on which one you feed.

When I recount the wounds in my life, the travails, the broken relationships, et cetera, brood over them, and analyze every detail, I drag. When I focus on the highest points in my life, the people who were and are utter gifts, my many blessings, when I enunciate the words “thank you,” fresh air rushes in!

The choice is always and forever ours. We can nurse our wounds (feed the wolf) and grow bitter or count our blessings (feed the dog) and get better. Every day every adult in America can think of three reasons not to get out of bed in the morning. And every adult has highpoints that they don’t highlight enough. The people who have made all the difference in my life are lined up on the window sill in my church office. Just gazing on them lifts my spirit.

This choice of emphasis is also true of local news. Do we count the number of under-privileged kids at Keeling School, or do we count the number of kids whose reading scores came up as a direct result of volunteer reading tutors from Casas Adobes Congregational, UCC?

Philippians 4:8 ties in well… “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about these things.”

This may seem fluffy and sentimental… a “count your blessings” feel-good essay. I beg to differ. This is the key to the spiritual warfare of the heart.

There is a fight going on in my heart and yours. Which canine will you feed?

In Relationships, Small Things Count

by Amos Smith

Recently, I dreaded weekday mornings. Getting Luke up and ready for school was a chore. We butt heads. I would wake him, then he would get mad and say he was tired. Then I would prod him. Eventually he would start the day reluctantly and grumpy. It was a gridlocked negative pattern.

Then one day it dawned on me that I could change the dynamic. So now, instead of wake him, I set my iPod in his room and turn on his favorite songs at moderate volume. Then after a few minutes I lay beside him on his bed and talk to him about the day ahead (he likes to know about plans ahead of time). Now he wakes up happy.

Most people do creative problem solving in their relationships like the example above. Yet, since my centering prayer practice has deepened, I’ve noticed that habitual letting go and out-of-the-box ideas come more frequently.

The Hope Which Springs Eternal Within the Human Breast

by Donald Fausel

The title for this blog was stolen (like in baseball) from a poem I memorized in grammar school, Casey At the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer in 1888.  He in turn stole (like in plagiarism) the line from an essay titled An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope in 1733-34.

Just in case you can’t remember the poem, or never heard of Mighty Casey, here is a brief summary. The baseball fans of Mudville, who were watching their team lose that day, were divided into two groups, the “struggling few (who) got up to go leaving there the rest” and the loyal fans who stayed because of their belief in the “hope that springs eternal within the human breast”, and they were counting on Mighty Casey to whack out a home run and win the day for the Mudville Nine. If you want to know the outcome of the game, click on the link above.

As an example, it seems to me that in some ways, many of us are waiting for “a Mighty Casey like” person or movement to fulfill our hope that climate change isn’t as serious as ninety-seven percent of scientists believe it to be, and we can go about our life as usual. If we’re one of those deniers, I think we need to listen to the wise sage Pogo, who said in a 1971 cartoon, “We Met the Enemy and He is US” Pogo’s declaration has become a universal truth that applies to most organizations, including the church. Like many others, I believe that the laity is the key to change.  Having aired our grievances, and recognized that we are part of the problem, we need to keep hope alive. We all need to become change agents and not just “leave it up to George”. This blog will focus on those who believe that “hope that springs eternal…”, and are willing and able to follow Pogo’s challenge to be part of the solution.

HOPE and HOPELESSNESS

So, here are a few words about hope and hopelessness. I don’t intend to use “hope” in the biblical or theological sense, as in Faith, Hope and Charity, but in a more everyday way, as in “Hope is the belief in what is possible and the expectation of things to come.”  Or as St. Augustine of Hippo described it, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  Or if we think of hope as a movement, the Chinese author and Guru Lin Yutang described it as, “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.

In a previous blog Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness , I introduced the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. If you want to refresh your memory you might check that same blog in a section entitled The Science of Happiness.  And if you haven’t listened to Dr. Seligman’s TED TALK entitled The New Era of Positive Psychology I think you’d find it very helpful.

The first thing we need to decide “Is hope a feeling or a cognitive process?” In an article titled Hope: A Way of Thinking, C.R. Rick Snyder, a deceased positive psychologist, “…offers a way of looking at hope that goes beyond defining hope as a feeling.”  In an article by Dr. Brene’ Brown, Learning to Hope , she summarizes Snyder’s method by saying hope happens when:

  • We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go)
  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes ( I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
  • We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).

Dr. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and the Gifts of Imperfection. She is also the Founder and CEO of The Daring Way and COURAGEworks – an online learning community that offers eCourses, workshops, and interviews for individuals and organizations.

Here is a video by Dr. Brown titled What is Hope?  The introduction to the video reads: “This is a wonderful video by Brené Brown on the subject of hope and how we can all learn to be hopeful.  Watch and learn!” I agree!

I suspect that many of us have experienced hopelessness at some at time and at some level in our lives. A loved one dies. We lose a job. A friend disappoints us. You name it… Well here is an opportunity to listen to a TED TALK by Nick Vujicic. The title is Overcoming Hopelessness. Nick was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1982 to a Serbian immigrant family, without all of his four limbs. During most of his childhood he suffered with depression. It’s hard to even imagine going through life without hands or legs. But Nick decided to “…concentrate on what he did have instead of what he didn’t have.” His first speaking engagement was at age 19. Since then he has traveled around the world “…sharing his story with millions, sometimes in stadiums filled to capacity, speaking to a range of diverse groups…” In 2007 he moved to Southern California where he is president of the international non-profit ministry Life Without Limbs. This is his website and it’s worth checking out.

Three years ago I read one of his books, Life Without Limits.  At that time in my life I had just lost my wife from lung cancer and I was grieving her death. As I read what Nick had gone through I was inspired by this exceptional man. He tells the story of his physical disabilities and the emotional battle he endured trying to deal with them as a child, a teen and young adult.  As he said in his book, “For the longest, loneliest time, I wondered if there was anyone on earth like me, and whether there was a purpose to my life other than pain and humiliation.” He shares with his readers that his“… faith in God has been his central source of strength… and explains that once he found his own purpose—inspiring others to make their lives and the world better—he found confidence to build a rewarding and productive life without limits.

Even though there are fifty five years between Nick and me, he’s one of my heroes.

Every Step Takes You Somewhere

by Amanda Peterson

Every step takes you somewhere.

If you get to where you’re going will you be where you want to be.

If you want your life to change, you have to be willing to change.

Every journey begins with a single step.

These are some common phrases that have a simple truth to them.  Whether you are aware of it or not, your life is moving every day.  My brother used to say, “life is like a bus ride, you think you are just sitting there on the bus, but if you look out the window, the scenery is changing all the time.”  Sometimes we need simple truths to wake us up to the fact that we are invited to participate in life.

There are times when life feels stuck or overwhelming, yet every day one puts their feet on the ground and makes choices on where the journey is going to go regardless of circumstances.  This is the gift of developing an awareness that we have an inner life (call it soul, spirit, energy, God, etc).   Where the journey takes one with an inner life is not set by circumstances.  In fact the categories even change.  Instead of, I want to be rich or travel or have 17 children, the quest becomes, I want to be more loving, gracious, courageous, peaceful, giving, etc. Wealth, travel, and children may also happen but they are not the intention of our steps.

I bring this up because we have an amazing opportunity coming up in the fall for those who feel stuck when it comes to deep joy in their lives.  Is this a prayer you have uttered?  “God, help me be a more joy-filled person?”  John Chuchman is going to present a way to take that next step or look out the window at joy.  I highly recommend this special time because being in his presence is the ultimate example of what joy means.  Whether you have had a time of grief, upset, hurt, or pain, John will introduce some steps that honor your circumstances and at the same time show you the inner life questions that will help you live from a center of Divine Joy.

May you be aware of your steps today.

May you notice that deep within there is a God whisper of guidance.  

May you always know Pathways of Grace is here to help provide fellow journeyers as you learn your own unique steps.

What’s Your Ikigai?

by Don Fausel

It’s never been easy to be a human being! We have always had to wrestle with strong and painful fears. Now if we face ourselves honestly, or if we merely eavesdrop on the secret murmurings of our heart, isn’t this what we discover—that one of our basic fears, the fear beneath many fears is the dread of being nothing, of having no real importance, no lasting worth, no purpose in life.

It is precisely to this fear of being nobody, having no worth, that our Judeo-Christian-Humanitarian ethic reminds us that our basic value is not something we achieve in competition with everyone else, but something we gratefully accept along with everyone else. We need not become important, we are important. We need not become somebody, we are somebody. No matter what others may say or think about us, or do to us, we are somebody.

As we grow older and become less able to function physically or mentally as we did in our younger years, we need to remind ourselves, that we are still somebody, with the same dignity and worth, with the same God-given inalienable rights. Sometimes when we’re not able to do a lot of the things we used to do, when our body is failing us and our short term memory is not as good as our long term memory, it’s hard for us to accept the fact that we are somebody worthwhile. That’s why it’s particularly important for us Elders to periodically ask ourselves, what is my purpose in life?

Several years ago I discovered a Japanese word that captures the importance of having a positive attitude and purpose in our life. The word is Ikigai, (pronounced ee-ki-guy) the Japanese word used to describe why I get up in the morning, what my sense of purpose is. I love the word Ikigai! I like saying it! I like writing it! Ikigai, Ikigai! I think it was the beginning of my interest in happiness. I realized if you don’t have an Ikigai, you’re not going to be happy. But more about that in another blog.

I was even more impressed with the origin of the word and its application for us elders. Researchers have identified what they call Blue Zones. These are areas throughout the world with a high percentage of centenarians; places where people enjoy remarkably long full lives. Their lives are not only longer but physically and mentally, they are more active than elders in other areas of the world. National Geographic’s Dan Buettner has traveled the globe to uncover the best strategies for longevity found in these Blue Zones. One of those areas is the Japanese island of Okinawa. It was there that he discovered that one of the characteristics for a long healthy life was having an Ikigai. To a resident of Okinawa, Ikigai can be anything from tending their vegetable garden, taking care of great grandchildren, to walking and exercising every day. Whatever it is that motivated them to remain involved, they give credit to their Ikigai. After years of research Dan Buettner concludes:

One of the biggest revolutions in thought in our time is the changing of emphasis from physical health to mental health in connection to longevity. The effects of negative stress and ‘inflammation’ are cited more and more frequently as the cause of early death and lowered quality of life. One of the most important methods for counteracting that is Ikigai, a sense of purpose. … Ikigai is something that brings joy and contentment. It fills a person with resolve and a sense of satisfaction in what they are doing. Most of all, it brings happiness.”

Here’s a TED TALK by Dan Buettner titled Okinawa, Ikigai, and the Secrets of Longevity . As usual, one TED TALK is worth pages of my words.

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to one of my all time heroes, who exemplifies what it means to have an Ikigai. She was known as Granny D. If you don’t remember her, she was a social activist,  whose real name was Doris Haddock, from Dublin, New Hampshire. In 1999, at the age of ninety, Granny D. walked 3,200 miles across America to raise awareness about a campaign for political finance reform. She walked ten miles a day for 14 months. She is widely credited for galvanizing the public support that helped pass the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act in 2002.

In 2003 at the age of 94, she drove around the country on a 22,000 mile voter registration effort targeting working women and minorities. She cut her tour short to challenge the incumbent New Hampshire senator, Judd Gregg, in the 2004 election. Her grassroots campaign earned her 34% of the vote. In her later years she published a book entitled, You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell. She died peacefully in her home six weeks after she turned 100 in 2010. Former president Jimmy Carter described her as “…a true patriot, and our nation has been blessed by her remarkable life. Her story will inspire people of all ages for generations to come.”

I’m not suggesting that we all need to follow in Granny D’s footsteps, by walking 3,200 miles for a righteous cause, or running for the Senate. But we can all be motivated by the spirit she modeled by following her Ikigai, and in our own way, seriously consider identifying our own Ikigai. We need to know and follow our values, passions and talents–and to share them by example on a regular basis. It might be by living our lives, with our physical and mental restrictions, as a legacy for our grandchildren or great grandchildren, or showing compassion for those in need, who are less fortunate than we are. Whatever we choose to do, it’s our Ikigai. So what is it that gives your life a sense of worth? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Since I retired, my major Ikigai for the past five years or so has been writing. To paraphrase the French philosopher, Descartes, “I write, therefore I am!” What’s your Ikigai?

Serenity and Happiness

by Don Fausel

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

This well-known prayer expresses some guiding principles for our living a happy life here and forever, as the last four lines of the prayer proposes. Although there has been some controversy about whether the theologian-philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, who perhaps was the greatest political-philosophy of the 20th century, was the original author of the prayer, those concerns have been settled. It’s not because it was adopted by the worldwide Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, but by years of disciplined research. If you’re interested in learning more about how the controversy was solved, I suggest reading a four page article by Fred R. Shapiro titled Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer.

I was aware of The Serenity Prayer from several friends who were going to Twelve Step Programs, but It was sometime in the late 1970s that I really took the prayer seriously. To my surprise, one of my stepsons who was in his early teens became addicted to drugs. First he was abusing alcohol, then marijuana, and he soon “hit bottom” as they say in addiction programs.  It was at that point when my stepson started his recovery in AA that I started to go to Codependents Anonymous a “…fellowship of relatives and friends of the addict and is composed of non-professionals, self-supporting, self-help groups.” From that point on, The Serenity Prayer became one of my everyday prayers.

Like all 12 Step Program meetings, they either start or end with the Serenity Prayer, and sometimes the group leader or one of members would “breakdown” each word of the first part of the prayer. In preparing this blog, I looked through some of my dusty files and found a handout written by hand that I vaguely remembered. I have no idea who wrote it, so I can’t provide the author’s name. It would have been one person’s interpretation of the prayer, and not necessarily something everyone agreed with, but the group would acknowledge the individual’s thoughtfulness. The meetings are about sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here’s the example:

GOD—By saying this word I am admitting the existence of a Higher Power; a being greater then I.

GRANT—With the repeating of this second word I am admitting that his Higher Power is an authority who can bestow and give.

ME—I am asking something for myself. The Bible states that if I ask, I shall be given. It is not wrong to ask for betterment of myself for the improvement of my character, people around me will be happier.

THE SERENITY—I am asking for calmness, composure, and peace in life which will enable me to think straight and govern myself properly.

TO ACCEPT—I am resigning myself to conditions as they are right now.

THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE—I am accepting my lot in life as it is. Until I have the courage to change any part of my life, I must accept it and not accept it grudgingly.

COURAGE—I am asking for conditions to be different.

TO CHANGE—I am asking for help to make the right decisions. Everything is not perfect in my life. I must continue to face reality and constantly work towards continued growth and progress.

WISDOM—I am asking for the ability to form sound judgments in any and all matters.

TO KNOW—not just to guess or hope.

THE DIFFERENCE—I want to see things differently in my life so there can be some distinction. I need to sense a definite value in love over selfishness.

If you want to learn more about Codependence, here is a website titled A How To  Guide to Recover from Codependency it starts off by giving the three C’s of recovery:  

You didn’t Cause your loved one’s addiction.
You can’t Control it.
You can’t Cure it. (Believe me; I learned that the hard way.)

Guidelines for Finding Happiness and Serenity

Here are just a few suggestions for connecting Serenity with Happiness. The first one is the The Spiritual Serenity Series: 7 Steps to Inner Peace and Happiness . This is an eight-page article by Jared Akers. He breaks the process into seven steps:   1. Awareness  2. Acceptance  3. Identification  4. Self-Searching  5. Confession  6. Action  7. Maintenance. What I liked about Akers’s approach is that he has gone through all of the seven steps himself, and passes it on to anyone who thinks it’s might be helpful.

Perhaps you’ve read this article. It was the feature article and on the cover of Time Magazine in July 08, 2013.  The title was The Pursuit of Happiness and the sub-title, Why Americans are Wired to Be Happy—and What That’s Doing to Us.  If you only read what’s on the cover of the magazine, it’s worth checking it out.

Here’s one of my favorite TED TALKS on the future of our nation’s happiness:  The title of Nic Marks’ TALK is The Happy Planet Index. As the blurb reads, “Nic Marks gathers evidence about what makes us happy, and uses it to promote policy that puts the well-being of people and the planet first. He is the founder of the Centre for Well-Being at the UK think tank New Economics Foundation (NEF).” His premise is that rather than having our Gross National Product measure everything, accept what makes life worthwhile: happiness.

Shalom.

Holding on to God, Part 2

by Amanda Peterson

On this Ash Wednesday it seems appropriate that we continue this look at holding on to God.  The gift of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent is the gift of recognizing there are many handles we could hold on to and the importance of learning to let go.

Learning to let go of the handles of isolation, shame, image, control and that death is to be feared and seen as a failure.  Ash Wednesday begins the journey of coming together and admitting in community that we are all in the same boat of clinging to handles that will eventually fail us and God knows it.  There is no reaching a certainty other that the certainty that the One Who Holds Us is the one we are invited to hold.

In order to hold on to the Love we must admit and practice releasing all the other things one clings to instead.  Realizing that neither life nor death, nor anything deemed more important than clinging to God can separate us from that Love.

The importance of this is monumental.  Why? Because the culture wants us to believe that nothing is enough.  There will always be a need for something more, something is always missing and no one is okay until it is found. It is everywhere, daily, minute by minute calling us into a sense of isolation.  Once isolated, it is much more challenging to grasp the handle on life that is Love. The way out of isolation is to admit that someday being enough is a fantasy because right now, this space, this time is enough.  Being connected to Love is enough, rich, poor, young, old, alone or together.  From this idea of enough then miracles happen.

Admit that for some poverty, ageism, bullying, depression exists, then it can be seen.  One can, from this place, move into it not as one who is out to end it or shun it but enter into the reality of what it means to be poor, discriminated, and lonely and bring Love to it. Admitting that joy, success, wealth and healthy relationships exists then one can be see and move into it not as one seeing the rich, healthy and whole families as the ultimate ring to grasp or as the enemy of all who do not have these things but instead bring Love to it.  Holding the handle of God highlights connection and the isolation separating groups ends.

The gift of days like Ash Wednesday is to remind us when we cling to God there is no “other”.  Ultimately drawing closer to God is learning to let go and draw closer to each other in the commonality of Love.