Category Archives: New Thoughts

Follow my lead

I’ve been reading a great book called “A Tree Full of Angels” by Macrina Wiederkehr. One line that held my attention this morning was about how everything is renewed under the eye of God. I took that into meditation and found myself asking some deep questions. What in me needs to be renewed? What do I feel I’ve lost? Doesn’t seem that I should have nothing stale in me, nothing that needs to be renewed after a six week sabbatical? Okay, that last question is silly and I know it. Of course there are things that need to be renewed in all of us. Still, it begs the question. What in you feels like it might have gotten misplaced or lost in your life?

For me, the big issue that came up is trust. In my childhood, I learned not to ask for help. Either help wouldn’t come and I would get in trouble for asking or someone would take the project away from me and do it for me. I also admit that I started out with an independent spirit. Family lore has it that my first sentence was “I do it myself”. So I sat there, flowing between meditation and prayer and contemplated how much I trust the Universe. It’s scary to trust someone or Someone else with my well-being. However, trust in the Universe is not optional. It is, after all, the title of this blog. I am responsible for what I create in my life, so if I’ve created a version of God that I don’t trust… well, I don’t like that. So I sat and asked my own deepest heart, how do I heal the trust issue? How do I learn to trust You?

As often happens, my meditation was then disturbed by a song running through my head. Ed Sheeran does a version of the song “Shape of you”[1] and I had just a line or two running on a loop. The lines were:

“Girl, you know I want your love

Your love was handmade for somebody like me

Come on now, follow my lead…”

It was as if Spirit was singing to me. All I need to do is follow Spirit’s lead. Spirit does want my love and feels it is valuable. When someone leads me in dancing, I find that there’s a balance between getting some small subtle signals and some obvious ones. The more I can relax and let my body just respond to those signals, the less I think about what I’m doing, the better off I am. If I think too much about Spirit and what God-in-me wants from me, I get off track. I get tense and scared and my trust issues get into the driver’s seat of my life. Very soon, I’m in a ditch, calling the spiritual AAA. If I let each small hint of guidance, each subtle lead pull me towards my good, then eventually it all works out.

Now, the Divine Dancer doesn’t mind stumbling about with me too much. It’s part of the learning and oh, by the way, part of the fun of dancing together. What someone else thinks about our dance is not my business. Well, it is, actually, literally, but I find that most folks have done their own stumbling and are willing to learn from mine.

So even when you think you have gotten off track, I encourage you to let Spirit lead in whatever dance to whatever song might come up. Don’t worry about it. Practice trust one dance step at a time. God doesn’t mind getting his toes stepped on; God just wants to dance with you.

[1] Written by John McDaid, Steve Mac, Edward Christopher Sheeran, Kandi L Burruss, Kevin Jerome Briggs, Tameka D. Cottle, Félix Ortiz Torres, Gabriel Pizarro, Chris Jeday • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Feces or Fertilizer

Here’s the thing that I am learning. Being spiritual, even being relatively advanced spiritually, doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days. Jesus went off on the money lenders at the temple. He also displayed racism toward the Canaanite woman whose daughter had a demon and he yelled at his disciples when he got frustrated with them.

I nursed my mom (well, was her “go-to” person anyway) during her last days. She was a good person. I’m a good person. I still found myself in my car, alone, screaming with frustration because of the demands that were being placed on me. I never thought of myself as a screamer, but there I was. I was so afraid some poor cop was going to pull me over and end up having to listen to my hysterics. I had a bad couple hours this morning. (Notice I didn’t say “had a bad day”.) I was expected to form full sentences before the coffee hit, answering actual fact based questions and requests for help. I had a full day in front of me and knew I was forgetting something important but couldn’t get quiet enough to have actual cognition happen. I had only been back at work for three days and I was already over-whelmed. And then I got a text from someone who asked me for something I found unreasonable. That was it. I lost it.

The most spiritual thing I could do in that moment was to pull out the Holy No. No, I won’t ask for that favor on your behalf. No, I won’t cover for people. No, I won’t pretend that I’m happy about having to start over and pay $220 for another person’s mistake. No. No. No. It doesn’t feel spiritual for me when I say no. It feels frustrated and beyond my ability to handle. It feels like I’m being mean. It feels like I should be above this, should handle it all calmly no matter what “it” is. After all, I meditated this morning. I prayed and read and I made sure I got up in time to do it. Isn’t that how it works?

Nope, sorry. Being spiritual means we have the tools to deal with what comes up, even when what comes up is icky. Everyone gets to deal with some stuff in their lives. Everyone – me, you, Jesus, Buddha and every other John Q Public that has walked the planet. There’s a reason the spiritual leader Anne Lamott called her new book “Hallelujah Anyway.”

The difference between me and a Chris-ted being is the rate at which we recognize the feces we’ve been handed can be used as fertilizer for some great field of good. I am lucky. I have a great prayer partner willing to answer my call, pull over her car and not fall for my crazy as I spew it. I knew I would feel better at some point after talking with her. And sure enough, the right and perfect person came to me for counsel… about my exact same issue. How do I allow myself to say no and still feel in integrity as a spiritual being? How do I forgive myself for not being willing to stretch even one more inch in service to humanity? How can I be a Christed being before the coffee hits?

Here’s the thing that I am learning. I am still a good person if I am frustrated with having consequences for someone else’s bad customer service. I am a good person when I just can’t listen to one more person asking for one more thing. I am a good person even when people insist on talking in the morning.

We are good people, Christed beings, because we stay awake and aware and try our best. Not because we walk on water… but because we want to.

 

Messy Spirituality

For whatever reason, I’ve had several conversations in the past few weeks about how spirituality is supposed to look. I had my own experience over Easter (see post from 4/17/17) of feeling less that all put together while doing spiritual work. I think I’ll use this space to clear up a few misunderstandings about New Thought spirituality, at least the way I do it.

First of all, one of my teachers used to talk about folks who were so spiritually high they were of no earthly use. These are the people who will watch their homes burn and call their practitioner rather than the fire department. For the record, in case of emergencies call 911 and THEN call your practitioner. These are also the people who will be found in hell, rocking in lotus position and muttering “I’m not here and it’s not hot.” You get my drift.

For some folks, spirituality requires denying our human experience. This is a fear based belief and is useful, as far as I’m concerned. I believe that if you need to completely retreat from the world on a permanent basis in order to be spiritual, then we are practicing a very different kind of spirituality. Hermits can have rich lives, but I’m not the right teacher for that path.

In my type of spirituality, our humanity is as Divine as any other part of us. Washing the dishes can be meditation. Being in relationship is a high spiritual practice – we need to learn to love people even when we are in judgement because they are being idjits. We need to learn to show up in our messy imperfection in order to give other folks the ability to show up in theirs.

I believe it’s at least as important to receive love and compassion as it is to give it. It’s also harder to show up when I most need love and compassion. It’s so much easier to have it all together and be of service to the person who is highly vulnerable because their life is falling apart. In the first situation, I am not in control and I feel vulnerable. In the second situation, I can subconsciously pat myself on the back for not being such a hot mess. The more I am willing to show up in my wholeness – competent self and messy self, light and dark sides fully in view – the more I am actually allowing the Divine to show up through me. The Divine allows Itself its wholeness, so in order to be truly in my divinity, I need to allow myself that wholeness too.

I hope that makes sense. The joy of spirituality for me is the healing and learning that happen in relationship. If we all had it completely together, with nothing left to learn, I’d be out of a job. I’d also be the odd one out.

Passover

On a recent Sunday, I talked about the miracle of Passover. For those of you who don’t know, Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates being freed from slavery in Egypt, when Moses told Pharaoh to, “let my people go.” The name comes from the last plague that swept over Egypt. The Jews put a sign over the doors of their houses that told the angel of death to pass over them but the first born son of every other home died. That included livestock. After that plague, Pharaoh ordered them out. Unfortunately for him, he changed his mind and chased them all the way to the Red Sea. But that’s another post.

Here’s the part I meant to talk about and didn’t due to time constraints (plus I forgot). The Jews who were enslaved were the descendants of those who 300 years or so earlier, had fled to Egypt to escape a famine. Remember Joseph and his amazing, technicolor dream coat? Okay, so that’s not what they call the coat in the bible version, but I’m writing this, so hush. Joseph brought his father and brothers down, in spite of the fact that he was only there because the brothers sold him into slavery, and they were given some of the best land in the area to farm. They prospered and multiplied and began to crowd out the Egyptians and then politics happened. Eventually, they became slaves.

The thing is, that idea or practice that once was my salvation can turn into what enslaves me over time. There was a time when I prayed for abundance almost exclusively because I was broke, broke, broke. I was paying my credit card bill so that I’d have space on my credit card for food. I have never been so close to homelessness before or since. At the time, learning how to manifest money was a god-send (pun entirely intended). However, I’ve seen folks become owned by their things. I’ve flirted with the love of money myself. When the need for more money becomes all I think about, in spite of how beautiful my home is and how well stocked the fridge is, then I have become enslaved by the very thing that saved me once.

Every so often, we are advised to go through our things and release what no longer gives us joy. I’d suggest that we do the same thing with our spiritual truths and tools.

Spider webs in the Sanctuary

For the past few months, folks have pointed out to me that there is a spider web in our sanctuary. There’s a concern because it looks like we never clean (we have a service come in) and it might suggest to newer folks that we don’t care about hygiene or our building. Several people have come up to me over time and suggested that something needed to be done. I keep forgetting about it because that’s not a corner folks sit in, so I almost never look over there. I notice it at odd times and think, “I should do something about that.”

I have a few spiritual thoughts about all of this. Since I normally see the spider web, which has become more visible as it collected dust, during those moments when I peek during meditation this thing has become part of my meditation. Where are the cobwebs in my inner sanctuary? Like the dust, I become stuck to certain thoughts. I get stuck on anger. I get stuck on hurt. I get stuck on who is doing what to whom out in the world and how helpless I feel to stop it all. I think about those things I know I should be doing – helping out in the greater community, giving more time to listen to the broken-hearted and eating real food. I consider the people who connected with me around this web and how we are all connected. I consider Indra’s Web and its metaphysical meanings.

Then I consider the words of our founder, Ernest Holmes, who said, “One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice.” And then I got a broom and pulled the cobweb down. No more musings on the cobweb.

Here’s the thing – we can contemplate our problems and the realities of life all we want, but until we take action, it’s just navel gazing. I’ve been told that it’s not the minister’s job to sweep up cobwebs. I agree. It’s my job because the spider web was bothering me. It was of no use to the spider that was long gone. I cleaned it up and moved on with my day, thankful that the only thing left behind was the inspiration to write all of this.

 

 

Out of the Rut

I sometimes forget that not everyone lives the way I do. For instance, I spend a lot of time talking about ideas and having deep conversations. Intimacy of the emotional variety is simply part of my everyday life. It surprises me to hear that there is an epidemic of loneliness because folks don’t feel they have the opportunity for those conversations.

I forget that a lot of people believe in sin and brokenness. I live with the idea that God is all around me and in me all the time. People who are deeply passionate about the “right” way to relate to the “right” God are not really part of my life. Even the folks that quietly believe there is a “true path” aren’t much part of my life. I am free of the need to be right about that one. I honestly don’t care what you call the god you relate to.

What I also know is that I have to be careful to stop living in my safe little world every so often. And so I take classes on religion out in the bigger world. I read about what the current trends and research are in culture and religion. I read about the wants and needs of the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. I read about the needs and experiences of people of color and prisoners and people in other countries. All of that is mostly theoretical though. I can read about how to ride a bike, but that doesn’t get me out on a bike, does it?

And so, I’m going to step out of my usual world for a bit. Although I will still have posts going out over the next few weeks, I am going on walkabout. I’ll be away from my Center for six weeks. I’ll be out of the country for part of that. It’s time for me to fulfill a bucket list dream and travel a bit. My desired outcomes include getting some rest and doing some stuff I’ve put off around my house. I want to get out the mental rut we all get into when our routine takes over our lives. I want to travel to a place where I can see how people who live very differently actually live. I’ll be in London – a city instead of the rural life I have here, and a culture very different than American culture. There will be different money, different food and a chance to ride on a different side of the road both metaphorically and physically.

In order to see things through new eyes, we sometimes have to shake up our very foundations. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We need our assumptions about life and how it has to be lived to be challenged. I understand that travel does that. I also understand from my ministerial friends that how we live is not entirely normal and that you need to stop for more than a long weekend or even a week or so in order to really shift gears.

So I thank the Divine that I have this opportunity to live life unlike I live it. I’m grateful to the folks who will be covering for me on Sundays and during the week. I’m grateful that I have no idea what I’m getting into and so can’t really set any expectations. And I offer you the suggestion that you, too, can take yourself out of everyday life in order to find out what else the Divine has in store for you.

Sacred Days

I was at a retreat all week up in Oregon. It was very, very green. It also rained every day except the day it hailed. So what was created was a sense of being all tucked in, with nowhere to go and nothing to do except the deep spiritual work. Now, I had my doubts about this particular teaching for years. For one thing, the materials are in a weird font and there’s an over-abundance of extraneous quotation marks that annoy the crap out of me. However, I have learned to that kind of things aside in order to see what might be of use, so there I was. I know and trust the facilitator Rev. Dr. Penny Macek (check her out at www.newvisioncsl.org) and she wouldn’t work with less-than-stellar people, so I was willing to try.

The first thing that happened was that they started talking about Christ. I’m not a traditional Christian. I understand the Christ in the same way these folks do – it’s the life energy and intelligence that predates any religion, but gets called the God Self, Higher Self, and Buddha nature.  I don’t care what you call it, frankly, as long as there is an understanding that Jesus of Nazareth was one of many Christs that have taken up the work over the ages. I’ve long since left behind the need to talk to Jesus as the one and only. Even he smirks when I talk about it to him, cuz it’s just funny and wrong at the same time. So I had to remind myself as we talked about the Christ over and over that it was my new understanding, not the old one I was raised with. Yes, some of the songs we sang got very traditional, but I looked past that (see how amazingly magnanimous and spiritual I am?).

I will admit – I did trip over the Jesus thing a lot, just like I was tripping over the Mohammed thing earlier in the week. I listened to Mohammed’s biography in the car and got very judgmental over how he went to war and played politics and treated the Jews in Medina. Isn’t it amazing that I can find ways to judge these amazing people? Here are two men that gave their lives to the work in ways I can’t even fathom and I’m looking down my spiritual nose at them. Not that I can channel a holy book or change water into wine (which I admit would make me immensely popular) but I can miraculously find fault with damned near anything.

What will it take for me to see the Christ Being in everyone? What will it take for you to see it? What if it shows up in your mirror, like Bloody Mary at midnight? Then what are we going to do? I’m going to stick with what I learned at the retreat. I’m going to keep going back to www.sacreddays.org to find the music we listened to and the explanations of the exercises. I’m going to keep working on my own inner critic until even that voice is the voice of God (which is female in my heart right now). I’m going to look past punctuation until my consciousness is so clear and strong that I only see God. Period.

Hold my hand

Recently, I challenged myself to play the guitar for a Sunday service. Understand, I haven’t done that since about fourth grade. Think about that. It’s been decades, although I won’t say how many. I remembered how to do the three simple chords, no problem. I was able to work hard enough over the course of the week to somewhat create calluses so that I can play the chords on the metal strings (for those of you who don’t know – ouch!!!). I could sing the song without a problem. I had the words in front of me in case I lost it and it’s not like it’s not a song I sing to myself all the time, by one of my favorite artists, Celia (check out www.celiaonline.com) Folks gave me pretty good feedback, so it couldn’t have been too terrible. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance by any means, but no one walked out and there were few actual groans.

So what was the point of this somewhat amateurish performance? Besides trying to impress my congregation with my miraculous ability? Well, that’s a longer story. Ever since I was a kid, I refused to do things in public if I wasn’t good at them. I never played sports. I never did much of anything. Well, theater stuff, but I was good at that. When I sang, I’d go hide and sing where no one could see me. Yes, I see the problem with that – it didn’t occur to me until years later that folks could definitely hear me, and seeing me was not the issue.

Yesterday I got up and played the guitar even though I didn’t feel ready. I had adrenaline zipping through me at a prodigious rate. It’s been a long time since I had stage fright, but there you go. Now, it wasn’t enough to just do one song on a Sunday. I chose Easter Sunday. I was doing one of the big talks of the year and I asked to do the music. Yes, I asked. Theoretically, our music director could have said no. If I was really bad, I’d trust him to say no and save me the embarrassment. The whole point was to challenge my belief in perfection and do something I didn’t expect to just carry off effortlessly.

The good part is I could fake strumming when I could tell my fingers were playing the wrong chord.   I think we managed to turn the microphone on my guitar waaaay down. And I had the sense to do this in front of a crowd that is loving and forgiving and knows me anyway. What surprised me was that my ego was so involved in remaining calm and spiritual during this growth experience. It bothered me that there was so much adrenaline running through me. It bothered me that they were taking so long to figure out the microphones. It bothered me that I felt I’d let the sermon preparation slide a bit in order to get the music ready. I was not able to float through the whole thing on a cloud of serenity.

In meditation that morning, I saw a child who was doing something for the first time. She was scared, but clinging to a trusted adult’s hand. The whole experience was one of fun and fear at the same time. This is how I think maybe it’s supposed to be. As children we are supposed to have a trusted adult teach us how to feel fear and do it anyway to find out if the fear changes to fun. I’ve decided that is part of my Higher Power’s job description now. If I’m going to be spiritual and live on my growing edge, then God/Goddess/The Divine has to hold my hand.

That way, if I fall flat on my butt, at least I know someone will help me up. And laugh with me afterwards too.

Meditations on a pencil sharpener

I have an electric pencil sharpener behind my desk. I love this thing. I love having a really sharp pencil for balancing my checkbook and writing out ideas. In both cases, the eraser comes in handy, but I like having the sharp point to make my numbers and ideas clear and easy to read.

I noticed as I was sharpening some pencils today that if I push too hard, the whole thing stops. There’s a level of pressure that is right between too hard and not hard enough that is perfect. It lets the machine do its work, shaving off the next level of wood and lead. Push too hard and the machine will dig too deep and break the pencil. Don’t push hard enough and nothing really gets sharpened. Isn’t it the same with creativity? Push too hard to make “art” or deep change and you end up jamming up the works. You try to go too fast and everyone feels pushed and stressed out. Don’t work at all, and you end up with no results. Eventually, the project gets boring because there’s no forward motion.

I also noticed that my pencil sharpener is a Boston product. To me, the town of Boston is my past. My family is mostly from New England and the Boston mindset (and accent) feels like home sometimes. There’s so much good back there. Of course, if it was really for me, I’d be living there. It’s not a bad place, just not my place to live all the time. When I’m in my creative mindset, when I’m living the life I’m creating, it’s important to know where I belong and what is now a part of my past. The outer layer of wood on my pencil has also served me well at some previous point. It’s not useful now because it’s covering up the lead I need to write my next chapter with.

Today I dumped out the reservoir of pencil shavings. It’s important to consciously let go of what no longer serves us on a regular basis. That might be the clothes in your closet, the relationships you’ve outgrown or the mindset that has been leading you into confusion and unhappiness. All of this benefits from regular evaluation and release.

Finally, I notice that this is an electric pencil sharpener. What a great metaphor! No matter what tools I am using, the energy behind the tool is something outside of me. As I create my world, as I sharpen my own consciousness and bring forth balance or new ideas, I’m powered by a greater energy. I don’t need to provide that power. It’s there for me to use whenever I use this machine. It will wait for me to be ready. I never feel guilty for not sharpening something in my office. The pencil sharpener is there for my use when I’m ready, as are the pencils and every other physical and metaphorical tool I have.

Isn’t it great that Spirit shows up in such beautiful, mundane ways? God is in my pencil sharpener as much as the majestic mountains and all the miracles we all recognize in our daily lives.

Reaching out

 

I’ve heard that the biggest issue in America today is loneliness. I don’t know – maybe it’s actually homelessness or the fact that we are still at war or that bookstores and libraries are closing. Still the loneliness thing seems to be attached to all the other issues, so we may as well see what we can do about this one.

I’ve started several groups that meet on a regular basis to offer mutual support. Sometimes the groups really take off. Sometimes they take off after the third or fourth attempt. Sometimes I’ve found that the reason they didn’t take off is because there’s already a group and so I join that one.

I meet with a group of eight female ministers once a month for lunch. It took a few tries to get this group going, but we did it and have been meeting for several years now. I don’t know what I’d do without these women. They have heard me celebrate big and little victories. They have heard me lose it over big (and little) tragedies. They have remained in principle and unmoved by my story, although they are always wonderfully compassionate and loving to me (they just don’t buy my story – it’s a good thing). I’ve heard them in the same types of circumstances. We laugh together about the crazy gig called ministry that we all love. It is more than worth driving an hour and a half each way to eat salad with these beautiful souls.

The thing is, this started as a semi-professional meeting. We met because we were all ministers in a particular philosophy in a male dominated profession. We do share best practices, new books and trainings and what to never try again, but mostly we share our lives. This is the big secret. There is a lot more professional development and worth in creating the connection than in finding out which fundraiser works the best.

Because of this group, I answered the call to be a Regional Support Representative for our region. Our region is five states, with about thirty Centers. I did it because 1. They asked me and I didn’t think “they” even knew my name and 2. I wanted to pay the good I got my from minister friends. Now, I don’t get to meet with all the ministers or Boards in my region on a regular basis. We certainly don’t get to do lunch together more than once a year, if ever. But I can call, and send silly emails, and that’s a connection. They all have my number. I know before I took over, I sometimes thought my RSC was watching me and would call just as I was losing perspective. And she usually said exactly the right thing or pointed me in the direction to find the right thing myself.

Here’s another secret. I’m massively shy. I don’t reach out easily. I’ve gotten myself into hot water more times than I care to say because I let myself get isolated. I get why loneliness might feel like the biggest issue in our country right now. And I’ve learned that the best way to heal my own loneliness is to reach out to someone who might be in the same boat. In that way, neither one of us is lonely anymore. So it’s really a self-serving spiritual practice. I’m not nice as much as smart. And I offer my trick to you as a cure of any loneliness or isolation you  might be feeling.