Sacred Courage

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I greeted the morning by taking our beloved pit-bull Lu out for a walk. We encountered a wounded owl in distress, flailing, unable to fly, but still trying.

Lu didn’t really react. I wasn’t sure she noticed as I didn’t approach the owl, just observed, and then brought Lu back inside as I worked with some neighbors to get the owl some help.

When animal rescue workers got there, I went inside and got Lu, intending to take her on a walk again, since we had to cut the first walk short. I was nervous Lu would react so I started walking the other way, trying to distract her as they helped the owl. She definitely noticed this time. She was transfixed, but not making any sound. I kept trying to have her walk with me but she was not having it. We stayed far enough away to not interfere and I just let Lu be. She stared. And then laid down. She was calmly and silently watching. It took about ten minutes and she remained.

When the owl was removed I expected her to want to walk. She continued to just lay there in this restful, peace-filled way. It took my breath away. There was something happening and it really felt sacred to see, but I wasn’t sure why I was having that response.

During my prayer and meditation time I sat with this some.

Why did that matter so much?
Why was I moved by her complete and full presence in that moment?
Why is there a need for bearing witness?
Why do we sit endlessly with loved ones as they die?
Why is this sacred?

Empathy.

Our mirror neurons in our brain make us able to climb into the lived experience we are watching. As we witness the lived experience of others we see ourselves.

That scares the ever living stuffing out of us at times.

If we acknowledge suffering exists, we cannot deny that suffering is a part of all of this living. We cannot deny suffering will happen to us. And we hate that.

It takes courage to admit our fragility, our limitations, and our mortality. It’s hard to live a life that we know will one day end. It feels impossible to live while also accepting that we will one day flail where we used to fly.

What was the invitation for the sacred moment I experienced? Was it in the watching? We have all kinds of motivations to watch all kinds of things. In and of itself I don’t think the sacredness was in the watching.

I think the sacredness was invited the moment we realized we were seeing suffering. The sacredness was that we stayed.

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.

The Sacred Path of Transition

by Joe Nutini

Today I want to talk a little bit about the concept of “the sacred path of transition.” This topic came to me after starting classes on Shambhala art. I am not necessarily a visual artist but I am definitely like to write and I do enjoy art a great deal. It’s interesting being in this class because I’m surrounded by people who seem to be very into visual art and that is really not my style. For me, the way that I write is how I express the Images and concepts in my head.

Often, I feel little bit insecure about writing and drawing in this class, even though that is really not the point at all. We are really guided to look to the moment for inspiration. Sometimes, I find that hard to do this when I am feeling insecure. Which brings me back to this concept of the sacred path of transition.

There is a lot of fear there for me when I think about writing on this topic. For starters, I wonder why I even want to write about something that is so personal to me. What is it about writing on this topic that is so important? As a transgender person, I feel like I would have to out myself. I feel like people would also assume that I’m writing about something that is only about being transgender. There are so many more transitions that we go through. There’s birth, death, illness and other things that happen in life that move us from one experience to another. These can all be considered transitions. For now, I want to begin by sharing my feelings and thoughts around the whole concept.

So what do I mean when I say, “the sacred path of transition”? I’ll start by breaking it down a bit. To me, the word sacred means that something is holy and deserving of respect. This could mean that it is attached to something that is religious or not.

The word path, in the context that I’m using it, simply means the road upon which we walk. Of course, I’m speaking about this in a metaphorical sense. What one believes about the concept of “path” could be more complex. It is possible to believe that the path leads to somewhere, perhaps a particular destination. It could be that we are simply on a path that we have labeled “life”. Perhaps as we live we begin to grow end evolve into something more than when we first arrived. Maybe it means that we are slowly making our way back to that which we actually were to begin with? Of course this is all very esoteric and up for discussion and discourse.

So what do I mean when I put the words sacred and path together? The way that I like to think about this is that we’re on a journey that we call life. This journey is holy and worthy of respect. For me, this also means respecting the fact that everyone is on their own sacred path by virtue of simply being alive.Therefore, each person’s life is ordained and worthy of exploration. We may feel as if we have the best idea of what would benefit this person most on their path. Perhaps sometimes we do. However, this concept is one that lends itself to believing that there is value in pain, pleasure, anger, sorrow, and all of the other emotions that we experience. Without these things I wonder if we would be who we actually are supposed to be.

So what does this have to do with being chronically ill and transgender? I will tell you that at one point or another in my life I wished that I was not transgender and that I was not chronically ill. I wished that I was not transgender because of society and the things that I had been taught by certain religious organizations. I wished that I was not chronically ill because I found this to be a huge barrier to my desired lifestyle. However, both have taught me that there’s something sacred and profound to be discovered when life presents us with circumstances that may seem difficult.

In regard to being transgender, I feel that this concept of sacred path is also important because many people view the transgender experience as one that is problematic in some way. I will say that I’m only speaking for myself when I say this but for me I’ve come to realize that being transgender is a blessing. Even though it can be a difficult life to live, it has afforded me a very unique experience. I lived my life for about 21 years as a person who was perceived to be female. I have now lived my life is a person who is perceived to be male for about 15 years. This has given me unique insight into the ways in which gender and gender roles affect both men and women. It has made me a much better therapist. It has also brought me more into myself.

I also believe that if there is a creator, they made me this way for a purpose. In experiencing chronic illness, I believe there is a purpose as well…even if it is simply me using my mind to find purpose within it. Thus, this experience is one that is ordained and holy. At the same time, I recognize that there’s a lot of suffering that happens as a result of holding an identity that is often looked down upon in society and to be living with illness on a daily basis.

Right now this is where my thoughts are on this topic. As I said I am sitting down to write a book about this and I will offer some blogs based on my writings as time goes on. I look forward to ongoing dialogue with you all.

Helpful or Not?

by Karen Richter

I’ve been mulling over the words sacred and secular lately. Just yesterday a member of my congregation described themselves as “a pretty secular person.” I’m sure I blinked, eyes wide because I have zero poker face skills. How could this person – no matter what theology or philosophy – who I have experienced as chock-full of passion and integrity, be secular? And now that I think about it, how could a person whose faith compels them to act in ways contrary to justice, compassion, and peace be sacred?

What do these words even mean? Is the distinction helpful any longer, if it ever was?

In high school choir, we sang sacred music.  Just a side note, because surely you were wondering, my favorite piece was John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth.

We also sang secular music. Here’s one I remember that you probably recall as well.

Why is a song about connection and longing and common humanity labeled secular just because God isn’t mentioned? And surely, if we thought about it, we could think of religious songs that are so soaked in nationalism, exclusivism, and fear that the word God sours in our mouths as we sing.

I’m always suspicious about either/or choices, and the sacred or secular choice is no different. Questions worth asking always have more than two potential answers!

In this holiday season, we so often get pulled into irrelevant discussions about what is appropriate as part of our Christmas celebration and what isn’t. Mistletoe and holly, yule logs, decorated trees, candles… these treasured traditions all originated in pagan winter celebrations. Contemporary questions abound as well… Santa during church events? Starbucks cups? Church on Christmas day?  How do we choose what to affirm and what to discard? What goes and what stays?

It all stays. It all belongs. If incarnation means anything at all, it means that the false dichotomy of sacred and secular is revealed as illusion, forever broken down, shattered completely, and re-formed as part of a blessed whole.

You belong too! Merry Christmas and peace in 2017!

Are You Simmering?

by Amanda Petersen

I have had a lot of conversations this week about darkness and shorter days. When those I have spoken to are really honest, the inner call this time of year is to pull in and cherish; to spend time with those one is closest to and to spend time nesting. There is a sense of drawing in when the days are short. I am a lover of rhythm and the way the seasons honor the universal expansion and contraction of life.

The shorter days for me are a way of concentrating life. Like in cooking, when I let a sauce simmer down until it is thick and rich. The soul needs these simmering times too. To pull in and concentrate on what is rich and deep. To sit in the dark reflecting and gathering what is sacred in order to cherish them. To take the time to restore the soul and rest just like all the plant life around us. To sit in the silence and be with all that stirs the soul, pleasant or not, honoring all is held in Love.

In a world that is capable of 24-hour daylight, this simmering in the dark can be challenging. Yet from the conversations I have had recently, if one is still enough, one can hear the whisper to simmer, to pull in, and surround oneself with deep relationships, reflection and love. A whisper to simmer or cherish the joy of connecting with oneself, God, and others in a relaxed and real way.

From this deep rich place as the rhythm of life expands again, one will draw on its richness in the activity of our lives. I invite you to spend some time this week sitting in the dark. Lingering under the covers just a bit more. Turning off the electronics when the sun goes down earlier and earlier, even for a little bit, just to recognize the soul’s call to simmer and cherish.

Do the Little Things

by Kenneth McIntosh

Some years ago I and my wife were employed by a publisher producing a series of school books titled “North American Indians today.” We traveled around First Nations recording interviews. Doing so, we repeatedly heard traditional Natives say “Our sacred way involves all of life—not just Sunday mornings.” I always wanted to say “There are many white Christians who practice their faith throughout the week…” I never did say that, though. For one thing, I was doing journalism—certainly not doing missionary work of any sort. Furthermore, after the second time hearing this, it occurred to me that when someone holds a stereotype there’s often a good reason for that.

I’m afraid that for many Christians, faith is indeed compartmentalized. On Sunday morning we hear Jesus’ radical words to redistribute wealth, serve the poor, and eschew violence; but then we go with the flow of a profit-based, status-oriented, violence-ridden culture throughout the week.

Is there an antidote to compartmentalized faith? I see one antidote in the spiritual practices of the Celtic Christ -followers. Their way of life, from the 5th to the 11th centuries, can provide valuable lessons for Postmodern Christ-followers. This is especially true inasmuch as they eschewed the Imperial (homogenous, globalized) branding of Christianity that held sway over the rest of Europe at that time. One of the most valuable perspectives of these ancient believers is that all of life was sacred—all day, all week, all through the seasons, in ever setting—just like Native American indigenous practices.

Saint David (AKA Dewi Sant) brought the Good News to Wales in the 6th century. He had a famous saying, which has made it into modern-day Welsh parlance, “Do the little things.” It was his constant reminder to disciples that becoming a saint, working for justice, and ushering in the Reign of God didn’t consist of big steps and dramatic actions as much as it was comprised of consistency in the every-day, every-hour routines. How they greeted one another, how they cooked the vegetables and how they milked the cow—these were the proof spiritual life. If all of life is sacred then little things matter greatly.

Another example of the importance of little things in Celtic Spirituality is a collection of old prayers and chants called the Carmina Gadelica. In this book there are chants for awakening in the morning, for washing one’s face, for milking, for farming, for fishing, for making a fire, for life transitions, and etc. Whatever a person might do in the day, there were simple chants to sing and prayers to recite throughout the day.

Could you try to connect prayer with “the little things” you do daily? Perhaps a brief prayer for every time you switch on a light bulb, “Light of the world, let me shine in my little part of the world today.” Perhaps a simple grace whenever you raid the cupboard or refrigerator or water cooler for a snack or a drink. Say a quick prayer whenever you encounter someone—in person or via computer—“Christ, may I see you in this person.” Prayers when you leave the home, the office, the car…and so on.

As we live out our faith in the little things, it could have a big impact.

Icon of Saint David at Saint David’s Cathedral, photo by Ken McIntosh

Brian Swimme and the Celebration of the Sanctity of Earth

by Amos Smith

Brian Swimme teaches cosmology to graduate students at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. Swimme often reiterates that the underlying reason that people abuse the earth is that they don’t think that it’s sacred. Swimme’s emphasis is the marriage of Religion and Science.

Swimme says when we look deeply into our 13.7 billion year “cosmogenesis” that we cannot help but be filled with awe. The fact that the Big Bang happened is in itself a profound improbability. No known laws of probability can account for it. It is both a sacred and a scientific miracle.

Swimme has produced a twelve part DVD series called “Canticle of the Cosmos,” which has been distributed worldwide. His work is most influenced by the French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who believed that everything in existence has a physical as well as a spiritual dimension… The Universe is in a deep process of transfiguration. Love, truth, compassion and zest—all of these divine qualities are embodied in the universe.

Swimme seeks to place scientific technology in its context of the infancy of the earth community as it struggles for reconnection to its sacred source. For Chardin and Swimme the human being is the current culmination of a still-evolving universe.

For Swimme the ecological disasters that happen on our planet take place because the cosmos is not understood as sacred. A way out of this difficulty is a journey into the universe as sacred. Swimme is a mathematician by training, who seeks a larger, warmer, nobler science story. The story of the Universe should not just be a collection of facts. It should sweep us into a grand world view, including meaning, purpose, and value addressed by world religions.

Swimme thinks that the popular view is that the earth is like a gravel pit or a hardware store, that the earth is just stuff to be used—that consumerism has become the dominant faith, which exploits the riches of the earth. His fundamental aim is to present a new cosmology that is grounded in contemporary scientific understanding of the universe but nourished by ancient spiritual convictions that the earth is sacred. “Indeed God saw everything that God had made and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)”

I like Swimme because he offers a sacred understanding of the Universal Big Bang, which is the larger context of the Christian Big Bang. The Universal Big Bang is a miracle of science. The incarnation, which is the Big Bang of Christian tradition for me, is the miracle of faith. That through Christ, God is with us!