Standing on Holy Ground

by Talitha Arnold

The place on which you are standing is holy ground. – Exodus 3:5

Moses must have laughed out loud when the voice from the burning bush told him he was standing on “holy ground.” How could a desert wilderness be “holy ground”?

The same way a hospital room or a graveside can be sacred ground. When filled with prayer and the awareness of God’s presence, even the lonely and scary places of our lives can become holy and sacred.

Nest Sunday, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s also a National Day of Prayer for ‘Faith, Hope & Life,” sponsored by the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Across the nation, people of all faiths are invited to join in prayer for persons struggling with mental illnesses and suicide, and for those who love and care for them. As part of the Action Alliance Executive Committee and co-lead for the Faith Communities Task Force, I hope you and your church will also join in.

Depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, or other mental illnesses can make someone  feel cut off from others, including God. That isolation increases exponentially if one’s faith community is silent about such concerns. When a church offers no prayers for persons struggling with mental illness (as we do for those with physical illnesses), it’s hard to find the holy ground.

We can break that silence next Sunday.  On this National Day of Prayer, let us pray for persons living with mental illness or whose lives have been touched by suicide—and for their families, colleagues, therapists, pastors, and all who seek to help. (prayers, videos and other resources at www.faith-hope-life.org.) Let’s help create holy ground for others.

Prayer

God, as you came to Moses in the wilderness of his life, so you do the same for us. May our prayers remind others they are not alone and that you make all things holy.

Prayers for Annual Meeting

by Karen Richter

Good day, SWC friends! It’s Annual Meeting time! Like many of you, I am full-up with travel plans, budgets and resolutions, to-do lists, and tiny bottles of hair products. Instead of the “usual” blog article for this first Monday of May, I’d like to share with you my prayers for our gathering in Albuquerque.

Spirit of Life; Spirit of Love – we ask that you cover our Annual Meeting with good gifts:

  • That a spirit of prayer mark all parts of our time together.
  • That volunteers for the hosting congregations have a good experience and feel appreciated.
  • That delegates and guests are welcomed with hospitality.
  • That all persons speaking in the plenary sessions and workshops feel heard and valued.
  • That relationships with one another and with You are renewed, deepened or begun afresh.
  • That we might more fully cherish our covenants with one another.
  • That each person present listens gracefully to the voices around them, especially when there’s disagreement.
  • That we grasp opportunities for celebration and connection.
  • That our inaugural anti-racism training goes smoothly and that lay and clergy participants and participant/facilitators are energized and inspired to further reflection and to work in counter-oppression movements.
  • That travel is a safe and enriching time for those who are coming to Albuquerque by car or plane.
  • That each person attending leaves with a sense of renewal and centeredness around their calling in the United Church of Christ’s setting in the Southwest Conference.
  • That we each travel home safely with energy to work alongside God and our brothers and sisters to further our mission and vision in the world!

Spirit whose name is mercy, hear our prayer! Amen.

Christ on the Cushion

by Joe Nutini

When I was a child, my parents sent me to Catholic schools. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I received a wonderful, college preparatory education that did indeed prepare me to go to college. I loved college.  I also loved Christ. Like seriously. I was in love with Christ. From the time, I was quite young, I felt the energy of Christ deep within my heart. It was instantaneous. It didn’t require any understanding of doctrine, bible etc. It was just there.

I became a social worker. My education and the love that was in my heart because of knowing the energy of Christ (and perhaps even angels and other “heavenly” beings) led me to that path. Buddhism increased my awareness of Christ. It brought me back to Christ’s energy and love. It also brought me back to myself, to my own heart and to forgiveness.

That’s where I am right now. To get there, though, was quite the journey. The curse of being in the Catholic school, was that as I got older, conservative and literalist doctrine began to enter my soul as a poison. I will add this caveat before I continue. I understand that for some people, conservative and literalist doctrine and biblical interpretation is what “Saves” them. That wasn’t my experience. Though I respect that it is for some.

When I was quite young, I also remembered feeling like I should have been born a boy. I literally thought that my body would look like my fathers and not my mothers. Somewhere in early childhood, I also learned not to say that I felt like a boy. I just knew it was a “Sin” per the powers that be. Just like I knew that two men kissing was supposed to be “sinful”. I kept it to myself. A secret. Mom and Dad told me I was a girl, so I decided to be one.

As time went on, I became a pro at religion class. I always had an A in that class. I was fascinated by it because I had intrinsically known spirit since the time I was young. I wanted people to explain things to me. I wanted to try to understand what was happening. Sometimes, I would argue or debate with the teacher. I didn’t believe all the stories. I didn’t believe that Adam and Eve were the only humans and they populated the earth. I didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus had to die on a cross. It just didn’t really fit for me. And so, I wanted to learn more. To see what I was missing.

I received confirmation when I “came of age” as a teenager. I believed in Christ and what I felt was a certain spirituality to the universe. I also didn’t want to go to hell, if I’m being honest. Back then I wasn’t sure if there was a hell or not but the adults kept saying there was. I wanted to do the right thing by this energy that was with me through all the troubles that I felt. I wanted to make Christ happy. I did what the church told me to do. It was a beautiful ceremony and we had a party.

At this time, I also became aware of my queer (at that time we said bisexual) feelings. I had been in puberty early and it felt like torture. I didn’t understand why my body was betraying my spirit and mind. I kept it to myself. I prayed for these feelings to go away. It was a sin. The more I did this, the further and further away Christ felt. That energy, that love, that guiding force in my life started to slip away. In hindsight, I realized I had been betraying myself. When I was 13-14, I didn’t know better.

When I was a senior in high school, my best friend and I wrote a feature edition of our school paper on LGBTQ youth. The religion teachers let us give a survey out on sexuality and gender identity. Right before we were going to print, I was called to the “brothers’” offices. They basically said that, “this issue doesn’t exist here.” They meant that there were no LGBTQ people. I told them that wasn’t true. That I was bisexual. IT just fell out of my mouth. It was the most freeing thing in the world. I felt my heart fill with that energy and love again, for a moment. I was told that I was confused, wrong and that if I engaged in “homosexual acts” I could be excommunicated from the church.

It felt like poison. Every fiber of my being rejected their words. I decided to no longer be Catholic.

In college, I began reading about every religion and spiritual belief that I could find. That included new age spirituality and Buddhism. I wanted to find out what was going on. I couldn’t believe that the God they taught me about in school was the same God who created me. Absolutely not. I figured that maybe I was wrong. That there was no Christ energy or holy spirit. So, I studied, I attended various religious and spiritual services and I began meditation.

During those years, I was a mess until I began transitioning. Even after coming out as queer, I still felt so distant from that love I had known as a child and young teen. It felt miles away. Something that was unattainable. When I came out, it felt slightly closer. When I transitioned, my life changed. I meditated and chanted in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I attended healing arts school where this was solidified. I was invited into some native American spaces to learn their teachings.

Yet something was still missing. I could feel that I was in touch with the love of the universe again. And yet, that Christ energy was missing. It felt like an emptiness. So, I began exploring Christianity once more. I spoke with literalists who debated with me, stating that I didn’t understand the scripture or bible. So, I studied it with them, pointing out linguistic differences from my studies in college, debating meaning and syntax. I hung out with Unity and Unitarian Universalists who helped me understand and heal from some of my experiences. I met people from the United Church of Christ who explained their understanding of Christ. I met liberation theologians who, like the UUs and UCC folks, made the most sense to me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

And then I found Shambhala Buddhism. I read the book, Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa, the person who brought this form of Buddhism to the US. He was literally saying everything that I had thought and felt for many years. I viewed a talk about “Jesus as Bodhisattva”, a concept that I had read about before but didn’t quite understand as well before.

So, I decided to take Shambhala classes. I distinctly remember sitting in the first class. We meditated for hours. I couldn’t shake this feeling that it was I who had been blocking myself from fully feeling the world. I had internalized these poisonous messages that I had heard for a good portion of my life.

I breathed in, when I breathed out, I found Christ again. It was a distinct feeling, so hard to describe. Like putting the last piece into a puzzle and being on fire at the same time. The intensity of it lasted for a moment then dissipated. A chunk of the poison left me and in its place, was this gentle love. A love that came from both within me and outside of me.

Today, I continue to work on undoing these teachings that kept me so far away from this Universal love, the love of Christ, and the love or Buddha nature within. I personally believe these are also complexly intertwined and simultaneously always available to me. I still learning, debating, meditating, praying and learning. I often wonder if these things happened for a reason…a journey to build empathy, love and relationship with others.

Skateboarding As Prayer, Meditation

by Greg Gonzales

My skateboard started to wobble, the axles twitching right and left on a whim all their own. I was still rolling forward at speed downhill, but the board got so squirrely I had to jump off and land in a run to catch my fall — and failed, miserably. As my right foot hit the ground, the force and speed shot the foot backward and sent my shoe flying off behind me. Then I tried to catch myself with my left foot, with identical results. I managed to plant my feet two more times, sock-bare, in a half-second period before I fell to my hands and knees, sliding five or so feet across the asphalt. At least, the locations and lengths of dangling flesh would have suggested so.

Because of experiences like that, skateboarding has become my favorite way to pray, to learn and connect. As a pantheist, I believe God and the universe are one in the same, and that by being alive in the universe, we’re part of God, experiencing itself, suffering and pain included. So my prayer is one of participation, of celebration as a participant of the divine whole. Plus, skateboarding comes with a lot of harsh-learned lessons I won’t soon forget.

Zen Master Dogen pointed out in his metaphysics that all things are Buddha-nature, or impermanent. The living and inanimate are all expressions of this nature, one of impermanence and change. Mountains and bodies of water transform over time, eroding and flooding and widening or shrinking with the earth and weather. The wood shavings and dust that grind off the tail of my board when I pop it, and it drags briefly across grains of rough concrete, are a testament to Buddha-nature in my daily life. Though it retains a familiar feel under my feet, my skateboard is never the same from one second to the next. The scars and scabs on my body speak the same truth. All things change, and my skateboard reminds me I can’t escape that. We have to let go.

Part of skateboarding is letting go and pushing forward through chaos. Falling hurts like hell, but no one masters 4-foot airs and McTwists their first try. A single trick might take six hours to land the first time, or several sessions of six hours over the course of several months. To get a new trick, I have to figure out each individual mechanic, each moving part, and put them together in physical harmony, while working through exhaustion, frustration, bruises, and soreness. At the same time, I have to learn how to fall efficiently so I can get up faster and hurt myself less. I let go of my safety and of my usual conscious mind to focus on a single moment, and that’s where the prayer is.

A skateboard trick and a Buddhist meditation have more in common than someone might think, certainly in terms of focus. Walking meditation in Buddhism is a meditation of action, one in which the method involves observing the world directly, in the midst of bustling daily life. The meditator feels how the foot gives in to the shape of a stone below it, the motion of the leg as it swings, how the arch of the foot grips the stone from heel to toe, and how the bones and tendons move together to transfer weight to propel the body forward. The meditator becomes aware of each movement, each tendon pull, how each moment gives in to the next without skipping a beat. Now imagine the mechanics of an ollie: The skater is crouched, body curled up like a spring, waiting to release its energy; one foot has toes pressed on the edge of the tail, and the other foot sits near the middle of the board, weight also on the toes. Once the trick begins, the skater transfers force from the hip, through tendons in the thigh to those in the calf and ankle, then the foot and toes — at the same time lifting the opposite foot up, to push the tail into the ground and pop the nose of the board into the air. The raised foot then slides across the griptape on top of the board to meet the nose, while the leg of the lower foot is brought upward; as the front foot meets the nose and the back foot jumps from the ground, the entire board is brought to level in mid-air, along with the skater’s body. This simple jump-see-saw motion gives me a chance to watch myself fly, to break mental boundaries, to observe my body in alien motion, to connect with the physical beyond basic experience. Both the walking meditation and ollie tell us about the infinite complexity contained in each and every moment, so long as we pay attention, and this paragraph hardly touches the long list of details to notice.

Skateboarding turns pure-function and visual environments into artistic ones by repurposing objects. Where most people see a curb painted red and thinks not to park there, a skateboarder sees a red curb and thinks about the slickness of that particular paint, and how easy it is to grind across it. Some people might see a tree trunk that’s split and grown into separate trunks, forking off, and give it a quick half-thought before their knowledge of the tree fades. Skateboarders see that tree, and then wonder if they can jump between the trunks; they check to see if there’s enough room behind the tree to get speed, enough space to land on the other side, and if there’s a good angle nearby for a filmer to capture the trick. In skateboarding, a “nice-looking” corporate plaza or a wash behind Fry’s becomes a place to jump, stomp, flip, scoop, and generally dance — on ledges, rails, steps and stairs, embankments, hubbas, gaps, planters… skateboarding adds to these dead objects a layer of life, a second layer of meaning and possibility in mundane, cold, boring places.

The latest discoveries in quantum theory suggest particles behave differently when we observe them. If that’s true, then each and every particle within every object interacts with us on fundamental levels. Even though I’m not quite sure what that entails, exactly — I’m no physicist — it seems to make for good evidence that all things are inextricably connected. As we interact with our environment, our environment interacts with us, and we get to participate as individual parts of it.

With that in mind, we could say just about any activity can be prayer, so long as it’s an intentional attempt to communicate with a divine realm or power or being or presence — our prayer just depends on what or who or where we think the divine is. If it’s right in front of us, then interacting with our immediate world in any way could be effective. Skateboarding is my way, or my dance, to celebrate that interaction. Some people bow their heads and utter a thank you, some chant, some offer animal sacrifice. I skate.

Minor Course Corrections

by Karen Richter

Good morning and happy new year, Southwest Conference friends. Here’s your obligatory New Year blog post. ☺

If you’re passionate (as I am) about the liturgical year, that’s your cue to say, “But wait! The new liturgical year started several weeks ago with the first week of Advent!” Yes, yes it did. I’m not interested in a tired tirade about prioritizing the liturgical year over the secular year. Instead I’m thinking: isn’t it wonderful how our post-modern lives give us so many opportunities for pause and reflection? There’s January, of course. There’s Advent, with its beginning in hopeful anticipation. There’s (for academic types and parents of school-aged children) the school year, with its flurry of supply purchases and new schedules.

And there’s the new beginning of weekly Sabbath and the new beginning of each sunrise. Finally, there’s the new beginning of forgiveness and reconciliation always available to us.

I need every single one of these prompts to begin anew.

So it’s not a bad thing, in this first week of January 2017, when the world is starting fresh along with us, to anticipate and resolve some changes or minor course corrections.

Not diet and exercise. Not writing a book. Not saving money. Not even going to church more often. Again, not interested. We don’t need to squander this beautiful opportunity for newness by simply striving and grasping at becoming better, shinier versions of ourselves. So just cut that out. You are enough. You are loved just as you are.

So I offer here my minor course corrections, not as a stick with which to beat myself up when I fall short, but as a shared guidepost of encouragement:

  1. Do more hard things.
    I was just reading this morning about how pushing our limits can protect against the ravages of mental aging. Not just devilishly difficult Sudoku, but really taking on something that is difficult enough to be mentally tiring. Do something that excites you but isn’t easy.  Do something at which you might fail spectacularly and publicly.

    I’m not sure what this will be for me: more writing perhaps or a new skill.
  2. Rest and celebrate.
    Doesn’t it seem strange that we have to remind ourselves to rest? BUT WE DO. Especially perhaps in these trying times of division, global violence, and increasing inequality, it’s hard to pause to rest. Our culture encourages overwork and busy-ness with prevalent figures of speech like ‘putting everything out on the field.’

    Two thoughts on this: First, I think our willingness to rest is related to our satisfaction with our work. Hence, ‘rest and celebrate’ is tied to ‘do more hard things.’ Second, our reluctance to stop is a symptom of our collective egos out of control. Our work does not keep the world spinning. I had lunch this week with a friend, a Franciscan friar. He reminded me, “We are not called to save the world. The world already has a Savior in Christ. Instead we are called to work.” We can rest and renew more fully (and thereby work more fruitfully) when we see our work with God’s eyes.
  3. Get real and vulnerable with myself and with trusted companions.
    This wouldn’t be a churchy blog worth the name if I didn’t tell you to pray more in 2017 (oops – these are supposed to be MY 2017 course corrections… so I am going to pray more in 2017). Find anything that works for you. I’m a big fan of silence in the car during my commute: no radio, no Sirius, no audiobooks. Walking the dog. Mindful breathing. Journaling. Make any of these into your prayer practice.

    We’re not meant to journey alone. I couldn’t have a New Year blog without also suggesting that you find spiritual companionship. Whether it’s a traditional spiritual director, a small group, or an accountability partner, articulating to another person where you are and what’s going on in your spirit will bring you greater insight and tremendous comfort.  Check Teresa Blythe’s Patheos blog Spiritual Direction 101 or poke around on Spiritual Directors International.

Whatever you do or don’t do in 2017, know that you are loved.  Through God’s grace, may we move together more fully into holiness and wholeness.

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.

Finding Security in Tumultuous Times

by Amos Smith

All of us more or less thrive on a predictable world, where things go as planned. When Brexit happened in Britain and when Donald Trump happened in America it was a jolt to our central nervous systems. And the shock waves were felt throughout the world. The establishment has been rocked.

For me, Bernie Sanders was the omen. His popularity, especially with young voters, was unprecedented. Then when Jeb Bush, who I thought was the strongest Republican nominee, departed the campaign, I thought to myself… “This country wants deep change. It does not want another Bush or Clinton. It wants someone who will disrupt business as usual, someone who will shake things up.” The American people want someone on the margins like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.

Now I pray that our people, government, and nation will find ways to mend the divisions among people, heal the anger and hatred fueled by the campaigns, create hope where there has been fear and suspicion, and attend to the very real concerns, problems, and needs of people.

We live in tumultuous times. Political storms, storms of climate change, international storms are brewing around us. It is tempting to despair, to feel alone and forsaken. And most of all many feel insecure, like the ground is shaking beneath their feet.

In light of all this I think of the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea (Mark 4:35-41)… In the case of the storm at sea, the waves were crashing on and spilling over into the boat. In the midst of all that Jesus said “Be not terrified! There shall not be a hair of your head that perishes.” In other words, “Yes, there are many reasons to feel timid and hopeless. Yet, in the midst of it all, I will calm you. I will help you find your center of gravity. I will deliver you.”

I was comforted by Hillary Clinton’s conciliar speech on the morning of November ninth. She said (my paraphrase) that no matter how hopeless we may feel; we should never give up the fight. And that in the big scheme of things, our acts of service, no matter how small, are never wasted. They are chronicled and used by God to further the kingdom.

Sitting in the Simple Gratitude

by Amanda Petersen

Gratitude does not need to be complicated. In fact, practicing gratitude for the simple things actually helps one simplify their life. Acknowledging something simple, like breathing, can heighten one’s awareness of the places where things get complicated. This is especially true for one’s spiritual practices. As beautiful as a practice can be, it can become complicated very easily. Prayer lists can grow very long. The sense of ritual can take over. Certain positions or postures, times, and order can complicate to a point where heart of the practice can be lost. Coming back to the heart of a practice with gratitude is a very powerful spiritual practice. Beginning the prayer list, reading, examen, meditation, or physical practice with gratitude for the heart or why of the practice can shift the whole experience.

One of the main points I like to bring forth in meditation is the most important part of this practice: the fact that everyone there chose to come and sit. It is the act of sitting in my opinion that is the important. Whether the mind clears, or one stays with their breath or mantra, or one leaves feeling peaceful or enlightened, there is a nice benefit, yet the real power in the practice is the choice to sit. I believe that because we choose to sit, and step out of the norm or complications of life, the world is literally a different place when we leave. Beginning with gratitude, appreciation  and acknowledging the Source of one’s life changes the practice from one of doing the practice to one of being with the practice.

Beginning a spiritual practice with gratitude takes the focus off of the doing and moves us into the participation and relationship with God/Love/Divine. That is a wonderful place to dwell. It helps one come back to noticing, savoring and to the gift of Life. I encourage you to begin your spiritual practices grateful for the gift of showing up, sitting down, using time, or just breathing. See if you notice anything different in your practice.

I’d like to end with a poem by Mary Oliver from her book A Thousand Mornings:

Poem of the One World

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of
this one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a while
quite beautiful myself.

The simple act of gratitude can change the world. A thank you to Diane Owens for the inspiration of this week’s writing.

A Sense of Sabbath

by Amos Smith

On the Sabbath the ancient Hebrews read Torah and rested from all physical work. The Hebrew notion of Sabbath made a profound impact on Western society. The two day “weekend” practiced by all industrialized countries has its roots in the Judaic Sabbath.[1]

A sense of Sabbath reconnects us with the burning desires of our lives. It puts our lives in perspective, and helps us discern what we in truth want to do with our time. “What are my priorities?” “Am I happy?” “Are my choices in line with my faith?” “What am I on fire about?” “Do I take time to serve?” “Is my life caught up with numerous insignificant details?” “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” “What is my life’s mission?”

If we don’t take regular time to get perspective, we may get ensnared in numerous commitments out of sync with our core values. Sabbath time is the Mary part of the Mary and Martha story (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy, multitasking to make it all happen. Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet, absorbed his words, and listened in stillness and rapture.

The essence of the fourth commandment (a sense of Sabbath) is just as important today as it was to the ancients. The commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

[1] Cahill, The Gift of the Jews.

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.