Month: December 2015
Shout for joy to the Lord, medical all the earth, salve
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
As we peruse the pages of human history, we see a shameful amount of death, destruction, and violence in the name of religion. This was certainly true throughout the five century time span over which the Psalms were written. However, the overarching theology of the Psalms is one of hope and joy. Even while the Jewish people were constantly being exiled and returning home, only to be exiled again, they found constant reassurance in their faith—faith that God would bring them joy no matter where they found themselves. And they sang, danced, and clanged cymbals of joy about God’s faithfulness.
The point of every story in the Hebrew Bible, the Second Testament, the Apocrypha, the Qur’an, The Dhammapada, the Upanishads, etc., is that God loves every single one of us. So much, in fact, that even in times of unspeakable suffering God works tirelessly to remind us that we are never alone. God is ever-present, working within and through us, transforming us into lights of hope, peace, love, and joy—transforming us into the Christ, healers for a hurting world.
Our task as children of God is always to bring joy to people we encounter—even if (perhaps especially if) they want to do us harm. For even in the face of my enemies, I rest in the presence and serenity of the Lord my God, and I make joyous, triumphant, jubilant music to my King, my Lord of Love, my Prince of Peace so that I too will become and remain a Harbinger of Loving Hope.
May God always make it so.
Creator of every universe,
Sustainer of my soul:
Ignite a flame of hope within me.
Fan the flames of Divine Love,
which burn in me with an intensity
too unbearable to ignore.
Motivate me to acts of loving kindness.
We love you, Adonai our God,
because you compel us
to act with love, mercy,
understanding, and compassion.
You are the fuel
that keeps the flame of forgiveness
lit within the depths
of our being.
You are the inspiration
that is the very engine
of our creation,
and our creativity.
We thank you,
because you teach us
how to love.
You remind us that
I AM as you are, pure energy.
We adore you and thank you
because you show us
how to care for others beyond ourselves,
and how to see the world
with childlike wonder,
in utter awe of the beauty and majesty
of this inconceivably complex creation.
[allow time for God to speak here]
Still, we confess
we often fumble and fall.
Our busy lives sidetrack
us from knowing you,
from prayer and meditation,
from study of
and unity with the holy.
We forget that human life—every human life, is holy.
The world makes us cynical,
and our own human imperfections
cause us to lose hope.
Worse, we forget who you are,
and therefore forget who we are,
who we truly are:
Infinite light beings of Oneness,
the Christ alive within us all,
through every trial,
in each stressful moment of every day,
in every person we meet.
Life that is meant to be shared with others,
friend and stranger,
lover and enemy,
so that everyone
might come to know you more intimately,
follow you more closely,
and love you more dearly.
[allow time for God to speak here]
Help us see the holy in everyone,
God who tenderly embraces
Help us pierce the veil
of human judgment,
so we, like you,
might see into the truth
of every person’s soul.
For within our true selves,
at the heart of every soul,
is where we meet you:
the ultimate lover of the universe.
It is in recognizing the Holy
in all of us
(and understanding that every one of us is holy),
that the world truly changes—
one person at a time,
a few people every day,
you have created through us
a world of hope, peace,
love, and joy.
[allow time for God to speak once more]
The Advent of Spiritual Oneness
The Bible is a collection of letters and stories, most handed down from an ancient oral tradition that seems to have begun as early as the 24th Century BCE. These people are typically referred to as proto-Canaanites, and would eventually become known as Canaanites (Phoenicians), Amorites, and Israelites. They were a Semitic, and probably Jewish, culture from the beginning.
In the Bible, we read about the Israeli invasion of Canaan, but we often presume the Canaanites are somehow a completely different people from the Israelites. The fact the story reveals nothing about the Canaanites is indicative of just how closely associated with the Israelites Canaan (Phoenicia) was. They were of the same Semitic blood, and most scholars believe they were probably also Jewish. Yes, the Phoenicians we read about as kids were the people of Canaan, and they were Jews. It is also likely all these people were part of a larger group called the Amorites, whose language was—wait for it—Aramean (the language most plausibly spoken by Jesus).
The history is a little more complicated than my brief summary, but I mention the relationship between the Amorites, Israelites, Canaanites (Phoenicians), etc., because it changes the way we view one of the major stories in the Bible—the Israeli invasion of Canaan. In this story we all know so well, God promises the freed Egyptian slaves a land of their own. Eventually, they end up in Canaan. Now, without knowing the relationship between the Canaanites and the Israelites (they are actually two tribes of the same lineage) we presume the battle over land is a literal, bloody war fought between two different nations. But remember—the Bible is a book with at least two layers to every story. Even if there was an actual war for territory, it was just that—a territorial war. However, it is likely this story is also about the sort of spiritual struggle we go through as we are evolving from one way of thinking about God to another. It’s often painful, and it often pits us against our family.
The Bible doesn’t explain the deep and familial relationship between the Israelites and the Canaanites. The people who were telling this story to each other knew the relationship between Canaan and Israel, so it was unnecessary for them to include the backstory. This lack of backstory makes our task as modern readers of the Bible extra difficult. We need the backstory to understand this as more than a simple story about an ancient war.
To add complexity to an already complex task, the stories in the Bible are highly fictionalized. More than history (at least history the way we think of it in our postmodern era) they were written to convey an ancient people’s ideas about spirituality and our human relationship to God. There are deep spiritual truths revealed throughout the Bible—truths that hold to this day. To find those truths, however, we must peel away the layers of time that have left us disconnected from the original context of the stories.
Advent is one of those stories.
Most churches celebrate Advent as the coming of the birth of Jesus, and at its most basic level, that’s fine. But there is a much deeper, spiritual meaning to the entire Advent cycle, from the prophecies of Jesus’ birth through Epiphany. Advent is a story about spiritual birth and enlightenment. It is our story, the story of every human being on the planet, and the journey we all take, whether we realize it or not.
It is time for us to realize we are on a spiritual journey.
Advent is a birth story. It is about that moment when God plants a seed inside of us—a seed that we realize is forming within, getting ready to be born. As we prepare for that birth, we begin to change as human beings. We slowly become more aware of an interconnectedness between all things—not just between other human beings, but also between humans and other animals, plants, even the stars. Our entire species is undergoing a massive spiritual transformation right now—why do you think our scientists are discovering how intrinsically connected to the stars we are? Carl Sagan used to say famously “we are all star stuff,” because we now know that the fundamental building blocks of life came from massive stellar explosions billions and billions (thanks, Carl) of years ago. We’re literally connected to the stuff of God.
But the realization of this connectedness—a realization of Oneness, comes slowly, over time, like giving birth. We don’t get pregnant and then have a baby the next day. It takes months of nurturing, and even after our child is born, it takes years of support and love for our beloved child to make her or his way in the world. The same is true for every human being even as we crawl back into old age.
God births us and is born inside of us with every breath we take. We are constantly evolving into more spiritually attuned beings. This Christ child whose birth so many of us celebrate (and take for granted) this season is not only born once into this world in Jesus. Jesus is one of the greatest stories ever told not only because Jesus was an awesome human being, but also because the Christ that was born in him also resides within every one of us, gestating, waiting to be born.
Advent is more than a simple birth narrative about a child born 2000 years ago. It’s a potent metaphor about our task as human beings to care for the spiritual child within, bring it to term, and nurture it in a world that, as it did in Jesus’ day, still too often rejects a child of hope, peace, joy, and love.
Meditation: Holy God of love and light, help me see, read, and think more deeply about your birth within me and everyone I see today. Amen.
Praised are You,
Adonai our God,
Sovereign of the Universe,
who makes us holy with commandments
and instructs us to kindle
the lights of the Sabbath.
Fill us with love,
God who forms us from love.
Fill us with hope,
God who always shows us hope.
Fill us with peace,
God who sends us peace.
[pause for meditation]
Open our minds
and show us the truth
of our higher being.
Reveal our true selves:
humans made in your image,
incarnated on this planet
to enjoy a brief physical moment.
Help us enjoy this moment
and revel in simply being,
rather than constantly fighting over
what’s mine and what’s not;
which religion is more true;
which way of life is more correct.
When we realize we are all
part of your infinite Spirit,
and that you desire nothing more than
to simply be,
then who is right
and who is wrong
We are all right
if we are living righteously:
at peace with you;
at peace with one another.
In love with you,
which makes us love each other.
Fill us with hope for a better day
and compel us to act as joy-givers,
rather than hate- and fear-mongers.
Make us right with each other,
by making us right with you.
[pause for meditation]
the trappings and illusions
of this thinly veiled world
that tricks us into believing
we are unloved,
the situation is hopeless,
and that peace is but a dream,
is a world of chesed—
a world of loving kindness lived by all.
Make us examples
of that loving kindness,
by energizing and healing us.
We pray also
that your healing energy
be felt within those
whom we lift silently in prayer today.
[pause and experience God’s healing energy]
Great and mysterious Adonai,
as we journey closer
to the birth of the Christ child,
help us understand
that the Christ is also
born within each of us
every second of every day.
This season we celebrate the birth
not only of the Christ child
born in Jerusalem 2000 years ago,
but also the Christ child
waiting to be born—
begging to be born,
inside every single one of us,
It is only when the Christ
surges to life within us
that we become
the healing light of the world
Jesus asks us to be,
and the exuberant beings of love
you, Our Holy God,
designed us to be.
Make us that light now.
Make us that love now.
Fill our world with peace now.
Fill our souls with hope now.
In your many names we pray,
Music is a discipline–it takes practice. Musicians practice scales—up and down, illness up and down, advice our entire lives. We practice chords and music theory. As we practice and become more proficient, patient we start to realize that it’s not just playing the scales that’s important—it’s how you play them and integrate them into your musical vocabulary that matters. We start to understand that it’s the spaces between the notes—the pauses, that change a scale from practice for the fingers into the pronouncement of a new musical composition. Check out Michel Petrucciani to hear what I’m writing about.
Peace works the same way. Becoming a peaceful person, finding peace amidst the turmoil of a busy life, takes practice too. Peace is often found in the pauses between tension—either our own inner tension or tension in the world at large.
So, we think of peace in two ways: externally, the kind of peace that’s found between global conflicts, and internally, the sort of peace we seek in our daily lives. Either way, I believe, as did Jesus and Paul, that both forms of peace only come from a relationship with God. In Romans 8.6 Paul wrote, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” He’s talking about our human tendency to concentrate on the material world. We’re easily distracted by external things and ownership. The physical world makes us competitive, possessive, and mean-spirited. But if we instead focus on God’s Spirit flowing through all creatures, we find a more peaceful demeanor and existence. The internal becomes the external. Until we find internal peace, there will never be global peace.
Finding that internal peace takes discipline. We have to practice, just like musicians practice scales and theory. To practice finding internal peace we pray and meditate. We might say the rosary if we’re Catholic, the Hare Krishna if we’re Hindu. We might read and watch spiritually evocative content. There are many ways for us to connect to God and find the serenity and calm in our lives that only God can bring—an inner sense of calm and peace our ancestors called Shalom.
Meditation: Make me the instrument of your peace. Amen.
Most loving and gracious God, ailment
as we trek toward
the birth of Jesus,
we come with gratitude
that you are with us
on our journey.
Help us as we travel
to stay on the path
and keep us focused
on the peaceful purpose
of our mission.
We confess that
in the busyness of this season,
we often stray from the holy day
and concentrate instead on the holiday.
[pause for meditation]
As we put up our Christmas lights,
remind us of your light.
Grant us the patience
to pause in our task
and bask in the promise
of the star we place atop our tree.
As we sing songs of hope, joy, peace, and love
remind us to leave space
for your melody,
and for your loving message
of light in the darkness.
[pause for meditation]
As we decorate our trees,
let us take time also
to decorate our hearts
with the ornament of love—
a love that brings us closer to you,
and through you,
closer to each other.
As we shop for gifts,
keep us mindful of
the birthday we celebrate
and the gift we are given in the manger—
the gift of the Christ;
ever being born,
always asking us to make room:
room for hope,
room for peace,
room for love,
room for joy,
room for the Christ.
[pause for meditation]
We are bound for Bethlehem,
holy and loving God.
We must each discover
the room inside of our hearts
for the Christ to be born anew
deeply within our hearts, minds and souls.
We pray in your many names,
The Cave Dwellers
I was born in a cave. I didn’t know this at the time, treatment of course, viagra because, capsule like all the rest born in the cave, the darkness was all I ever knew. Sure, there was the central fire, ever burning, casting its shadows on our own even more shadowy existence. The central fire stoked by the masters of the flame, and, I thought, at least in part by our own fear and despair.
Until you arrived, my life was spent in chains. Imprisoned as I was in this eternal darkness, I lived (if one could call it living) in an upright, coffin-sized cocoon barely larger than my somewhat substantial frame. For, even undernourished and overworked, my body was (at least, judging from my shadow) rather imposing. My life was purely existence, and that only to eat, work, and sleep in an unending cycle. In the darkness, there was no concept of minutes, hours, days, or years. There was just time spent in my cramped, vertical quarters or working, and all of it in bondage.
At regular intervals, I was allowed to take a turn at the large spindle. My chains were moved (by what unseen force I still do not know) from the living tomb of my non-restful respite to the giant horizontal wheel. I was shoved into a space and chained to a large handle, which I would push forward along with others in front of and, I assumed, behind me.
This was my life—a spectral and indistinguishable existence, I now realize, but then gave no consideration. For, born in the cave and working in the cave, I presumed that I, like all the others, would also die in the cave. And why not! This was life, or so we thought before you arrived. We persevered. We endured. We did what we were told, never thinking of rebellion because we never contemplated the possibility that there might be anything different, much less good, outside the cave.
When one never sees an opening, is it not foolish to even hope an opening exists? How does one even imagine the idea of a door, when one has never seen a door? What develops the imagination when all around you is shadows?
When one’s entire life is nothing but a movement from here to there, led in chains from one prison to another, how does one even dream of something different? A world outside? Another place, other people, who live outside the cave? I didn’t even know I was in the cave, so how could I conceive a world outside?
And then, one day, you suddenly appeared in a blinding flash. My world was not only different; my world was shattered. All I had ever known and all I thought I knew was obliterated like so many shards of broken glass. Assuredly, my world was but a thinly veiled mythology of my own making. Still, it was my world, and for all the discomfort of my physical existence, I was comfortable in my ignorance of anything beyond what I securely knew.
That all changed when the cave filled with light. It was as if we were all compelled to look straight at the light, but it gave us a pain in our eyes and our head, and we could do nothing but turn away from it.
Perhaps a little reluctantly at first, with your encouragement we made a steep and rugged ascent, into the presence of the sun itself. When we approached the light, our eyes were dazzled, and we were not able to see anything at all. At least in the cave we had our shadows. Out here, in the light, we were blind.
Our first thought, remarkably, was to withdraw once again into the cave, the light too much for our eyes to handle. How much simpler to retreat to the relative discomfort of our previous bondage?
Over time, though, we grew accustomed to the sight of the world outside the cave. We endured, and developed a new character. At first we still saw the shadows best, later the reflections of people and other objects in the water. It took some time for our eyes to adjust fully to a more colorful, more complete, more vibrant and alive reality outside the cave. There was so much to see and experience!
We ran around the outside world like giddy children seeing everything for the first time—because we were born anew! We took in deep breaths of the lush, verdant countryside. We marveled at colors!
Our black and white existence, our soulless journey through life, was now filled with a thousand greens and a million blues. It was as if each color had an associated smell and flavor. Red strawberries! Green beans! Yellow bananas! And a food so magnificent it’s very color was part of its given name: Blueberries!
Once out of the cave and free of our chains, it took some time for our eyes—and our hearts, to adjust. We were still blinded by the true light of freedom and love. We could not believe there was a world of compassion welcoming us so openly and without condition. You taught us a new word: hope, and taught us what it means to be hopeful—to imagine that not only our lives, but all lives, all existence, can be better.
We have learned so much since being rescued from the darkness of the cave, and I know we have much more to learn. I write this letter to you, so many years after our rescue, and even though you no longer walk this mortal soil, to remind my children and theirs, to never lose hope. For, whether living in the darkness of the cave or blinded by the light, there is always more than we can see.
Meditation: I AM a light in the darkness.