Thursday, December 19, 2013


"The Light of the World is not the sanctuary lamp in your favorite church."  --  Evelyn Underhill

I recently read a fascinating book called "Hild," by Nicola Griffith.  It's a fictionalized account of the early life of St. Hilda of Whitby, who lived in the later half of the 7th century.  Griffith writes that Hild was called "the light of the world."  She was raised to think that it was her path in life to be a guiding light for her people. When I first read that appellation applied to Hild, I was startled.  To me, Jesus is "the light of the world." To hear someone else called that was surprising.  It was only later that I remembered that Jesus also said to all of his disciples: "You are the light of the world."  Still, I wondered as I read, was Hild really called "the light of the world"?  Midway through the story, the desire to know how much of it was fact and how much was fiction, was compelling.  So I did some research.

All that is known of the life of St. Hilda is written in St. Bede's An Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  In that account, while Hild was in her mother's womb, her mother had a dream in which she finds a beautiful jeweled necklace in the covers of her bed.  In the gemstone in the necklace, her mother sees all of England illuminated by a great light.  Hild's mother connected this dream to the child in her womb.  During Hild's life, the many small kingdoms that made up England continually warred against each other, vying for supremacy.  At the same time various competing faiths were also vying for supremacy.  Yet Hild was able to wade through these many competing agendas.  Kings sought out Hild for advice, she trained many bishops, she recognized the gifts of a humble shepherd named Caedmon (who became England's first poet), she founded two "coed" monasteries, and she led the first ecumenical synod in England.  St. Hilda truly was a remarkable guiding light during a pivotal time in medieval England.    

Griffith beautifully imagines how Hild became such a source of wisdom.  She describes how Hild was raised from early childhood to be very aware of everything in the world around her:  the life of plants, the changing weather, the habits and movements of all kinds of animals, and the words and actions of people.  She was taught to look for patterns, and to rely of the connections she discovered among the deep, almost hidden, forces in the world around her.  And so, by watching and listening, Hild was able to find the truth, a truth that cut through all the ignorance, fear, and the power plays, and be a guiding light to those around her.  Amongst all of the palace intrigues, bloody battles, and love triangles in Griffiths book, I found the character of Hild to be very inspiring.

Does it matter that this part of the story is completely made up?   

I don't think so...because, whether it actually happened that way or not, I found great truth in this story.  In many ways, Hild's experiences resonated with my own life experiences.  I could relate to her awareness of the revealing patterns in the world, though I am only now beginning to understand how much the whole world has to teach me.  I loved how she tried to unite groups that had always viewed themselves as separate.  And I mirrored her deep abiding love for Yorkshire.  Like all great novels, "Hild" transcends the world it describes.

Lately, I've been thinking about the many stories that surround Jesus, especially the stories that surround his birth.  Was Jesus born of a virgin?  Did God become incarnate in the body of Jesus?  Did three wise men from the east pay homage to him?

I don't know for sure, but, really, does it matter if any of these events actually happened as long as they reveal a truth that resonates with my (our) experience?

Karen Armstrong writes in "A Short History of Myth," that mythology (like good fiction) is fundamentally about our experience.  "A myth was an event which, in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time.  Because of our strictly chronological view of history, we have no word for such an occurrence, but mythology is an art form that points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence...." (pg. 7)  A myth is a story that people share because it reveals timeless truths.

But, Armstrong notes, "myth is not a story told for its own sake.  It shows us how we should behave....  Correctly understood, mythology puts us in the correct spiritual or psychological posture for right action, in this world or the next. ... A myth, therefore, is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information.  If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed.  If it works, that is, if it forces us to change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth.  Mythology will only transform us if we follow its directives.  A myth is essentially a guide; it tells us what we must do in order to live more richly." (pg. 4, 10)  A myth is true if it helps us live wisely.

So, either way, whether they are true accounts or mythologies, these stories we tell year after year about Jesus must reveal essential truths.  Otherwise, why would we tell them?  And so, how will we let them guide us?

Well, the last time I wrote, I was exploring the meaning of Mary's willingness to be a womb for God.  It was a story that provided much appreciated guidance.  Now, I wonder... What does it means to be "the light of the world"? 

Jesus did not say, "I am your own personal light."  He said, "I am the light of the world."  That's significant.  To be "the light of the world," you have to bring light to everyone.  As Jesus did.  He revealed a love that knew no boundaries.  Samaritans, Romans and Jews; prostitutes and Pharisees; women and men; the believer and the unbeliever -- everyone was loved equally by God, everyone could be guided by God's love.  The only important difference between people was whether they knew this or not.  And so Jesus told his disciples to share this message, to be a light in the darkness, so that everyone would know of God's love.

What does this mean for me today?  Do I share God's love with everyone, whether they are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or none of the above?  Do I share God's love with my fellow churchgoers as well as with those who go to the church next door?  Or have I, like Jesus said, hidden my light under a bushel?  Have I, like Evelyn Underhill says, kept the Light of the World in my favorite church?  Or worse yet, have I, as some Christians do, beaten someone over the head with the Light of the World?

Evelyn Underhill's words strike a chord.  I write about God from the comfort of my home.  I talk about God with faithful friends, and other people at my church.  I volunteer my time in various church ministries.  The focus of my light is pretty narrow.  Perhaps it's time to let this image of being "the light of the world" change me more completely.  Perhaps it's time to see how far my light can shine.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you


Thursday, December 5, 2013


"The angel summoned Mary, betrothed to Joseph, from the rather safe place of conventional wisdom to a realm where few of the old rules would make much sense.  She entered that unknown called 'virgin territory.'  She was on her own there.  No one else could judge for her the validity of her experience."  --  by Loretta Ross-Gotta*

Last week I decided it was time to venture beyond the Bible for my daily devotional reading.  I firmly believe that we each hold part of the truth.  Therefore, other scriptures, and other spiritual writings, hold truths that are just as essential to understand as those in the Old and New Testaments.  I want to find out what these truths are in order to more fully understand God's creation and will.  And I believe I'm on the right track.

This new direction ties together many strands of thought over the last few months.  And, coincidentally, on the first day of this new venture we went to a guest ranch for Thanksgiving weekend that, unbeknownst to me, contained around its beautiful grounds a cornucopia of different faith objects.  There was a Buddha water fountain, a Zen garden, a Native American sweat-lodge, a labyrinth, wall-plaques of Hindu gods  and several different sculptures of Mary and Jesus.  It was the perfect place to begin an exploration of different faiths!

But I'm having a difficult time figuring out what to read in place of the Bible.  There was a great measure of security and comfort in "following passages mapped out by the Daily Lectionary." Those readings were pre-selected by a committee of church leaders from many different Christian denominations, and are used by many, many Christian churches around the world.  I followed their suggestions without much thought, and I loved seeing connections between these passages and my musings about life and faith.

Now, the choice of what I read daily is entirely up to me.  And there are so many choices! There are anthologies of world scripture and other religious writings; there are, of course, books of the individual scriptures; and there are even a few inter-faith daily devotionals.  I had some of these on my bookshelves, but I also searched online, and in a couple of local bookstores.  As I write, I've got a pile of about eight books on the sofa beside me and a couple more on my e-reader.  And I'm still not sure which book, or books, to focus on.  Choice seems to be the problem.

I woke up Monday morning remembering my dream, something I rarely do.  I had been swimming in the middle of a big lake, far from shore, and I kept looking around me, tredding water.  I wasn't panicked or anything.  I just didn't know where to go.  It was like my current dilemma with the books.  Surrounded, but not knowing which one to go with.

As I pondered the dilemma, I remembered another book I had picked up a couple of weeks ago:  "The Art of Choosing," by Sheena Iyenga.  At the time I bought it, I had been thinking again about that incident in which I learned how inter-connected are my mind and body (see Reconciliation).  I am still amazed at how my choice to let go of all the turmoil in my mind, and open my heart to whatever happens, allowed all the physical pain and mental stress to simply disappear.  Anyway, I picked up this book now, and started reading.

Iyenga comes from a traditional Sikh background in which pretty much everything in life, from what one wears to whom one marries, is chosen by one's elders.  In addition to this, she is bound by familial duties and forbidden behaviors.  However, as a psychology research student under Martin Seligman, she learned how essential our perception of control over our environment (that is, whether we have choices or not), determines our ability to survive.   And she wondered if her Sikh tradition, and other similarly restrictive faiths, could engender a sense of helplessness.  This led to a study of how religious adherence effects people's health and happiness.

About the results of that study, she writes, "To my surprise, it turned out that members of more fundamentalist faiths experienced greater hope, were more optimistic when faced with adversity, and were less likely to be depressed than their counterparts.  Indeed, the people most susceptible to pessimism and depression were the Unitarians, especially those who were atheists.  The presence of so many rules didn't debilitate people; instead, it seemed to empower them.  Many of their choices were taken away, and yet they experienced a sense of control over their lives." (pg.26-28).  I can't see myself becoming a fundamentalist Christian, but there is something that both fundamentalists and I have in common -- something that is actually pertinent to my dilemma -- and that is the belief that it is God who is in control.  We also both believe that only by understanding and following God's will, will we be able to find happiness in our lives.

You see, I want God to guide my choices, especially my choice of daily readings.  I want to know that I am following God's word for me on this journey of faith, and am not being "blown about by every wind of doctrine" or even by my own instincts.  Although I've read of many other spiritual people who believe you can simply search within yourself to find God, I haven't yet reached that stage of enlightenment, and I doubt I ever will.  For me, it's the unexpected synchronicity of something from outside of me -- an external event or something I see or hear -- connecting with something deep inside of me -- my thoughts, concerns or desires -- that makes me believe God is guiding my life. This external event that connects with the thoughts I've already had is something that I have no control over

But I worry...Am I only seeing what I want to see?  Over the last few days, some of the books in this growing collection have contained passages that resonated with my concerns, which was pleasing.  But others have not, which was discouraging.  And I began to wonder... Am I creating my own truth?  It's certainly something we humans have the ability to do.  I have read a lot about this recently, too.  One of the more poignant passages I read was from C.G. Jung (coincidentally the person who defined synchronicity).  He wrote, "We do not create 'God,' we choose him."**  One thing I know, I cannot create the synchronicity, but I can choose to accept it as coming from God or not.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I read the essay by Loretta Ross-Gotta quoted above.  It's from a book of essays from a daily Advent devotional our Tuesday Morning Women's Study is reading.  It might just be the one daily reading I didn't choose myself.  I read it on the same day I walked the labyrinth at the guest ranch.  As I slowly walked along the circuitous path, I wondered about the symbolism of labyrinths.  Like a maze, it was impossible to see clearly how I was going to get to the center.  Unlike a maze, however, this singular path has no wrong turnings.  You just keep walking and eventually you get there.  As I continued walking, my mind drifted to Loretta Ross-Gotta's essay.  It is a powerful essay.  The above passage especially resonated with my current thoughts.

Ross-Gotta begins the essay by noting that Mary offered "space in herself for God to dwell and be born into the world." (pg 96)  Although I am familiar with the doctrine of the Incarnation, her words described it in a way that I had never considered before:  literally opening herself up to God.  It is possible for us all to do that.  Ross-Gotta finishes the essay with the words, "Be a womb.  Be a dwelling place for God.  Be surprised."  (pg. 101).  It dawned on me that the labyrinth I was walking on was shaped like a womb.  It was an interesting coincidence.

Thinking about this now, I realize that there is a great difference between walking along a womb-shaped labyrinth and becoming a womb.  One is doing; the other is being.  One requires concentration, effort; the other requires simple acceptance. 

I wonder...can I be like Mary and just accept what God has created in me and around me even though I don't understand it, nor do I know where it will take me?  

I think I'll have to.  The alternative, trying to figure out what direction I'm supposed to take by my own powers alone is just creating confusion and stress. Maybe what I need to do is just wait, relax, and let whatever comes come.

I think about my dream...  A similar response would be to just float on the water, and let the water push me to the shore.  It's what I do whenever I'm in a swimming pool by myself, anyway:  just float on my back and relax, letting the water lap around me, and enjoying the solitude and quiet.  It's very peaceful.

May the Peace
Which Passes Understanding
Be With You 


* From "To Be Virgin," in "Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas", pg 97
** From "God in All Worlds: An Anthology of Contemporary Spiritual Writings," edit. by Lucinda Vardey, pg. 11

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Perspectives

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.  --  Psalm 24:1

This passage has stuck with me this week, as I continue reading about man's growing understanding of the universe we live in, both the larger universe of which our planet Earth is a very tiny component, and the sub-atomic universe which makes Earth as we experience it daily look gargantuan in comparison.  How can it be that our universe is as big as it is small?  It's all very mind-boggling, to say the least.   I don't pretend to understand all of what I am reading, but one thing I've gathered over the last few days is how inter-connected everything is.

We think of ourselves as being independent creatures, of every thing being separate.  If space separates us then we are independent, autonomous beings.  If we want to influence something over there, then we need to go over there.  But the sub-atomic world of quantum physics describes a different reality.  Brian Greene writes in "The Fabric of the Cosmos:  Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality," that "Quantum mechanics challenges this view by revealing, at least in certain circumstances, a capacity to transcend space; long-range quantum connections can bypass spatial separation.  Two objects can be far apart in space, but as far as quantum mechanics is concerned, it's as if they're a single entity. ...A quantum connection can unite them, making the properties of each contingent on the properties of the other.  Space does not distinguish such entangled objects.  Space cannot overcome their interconnection.  Space, even a huge amount of space, does not weaken their quantum mechanical interdependence." (pg. 12, 122)   Even Einstein found it impossible to wrap his brain around this idea.  Ironically, his efforts to disprove this theory actually provided the necessary insight to prove it!

And although I knew everything is made up of atoms, I was surprised to read Bill Bryson's explanation that, "Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you.  We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms -- up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested -- probably once belonged to Shakespeare.  A billion more came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name.  ...we are all reincarnations -- though short-lived ones.  When we die our atoms will disassemble and move off to find new uses elsewhere -- as part of a leaf or other human being or drop of dew.  Atoms, however, go on practically forever." (A Short History of Nearly Everything, pg 134). As organic things decompose, they cycle through the earth and air, through plants and animals, and eventually through us.  This certainly made me consider anew how much of what I throw away does not get recycled, but will always be as it is now, taking up space in some growing trash heap.

Pastor Ron Rude, who came to speak to our youth group about creation and evolution last Sunday, fully incorporates such scientific insights into his understanding of God.  In his latest book, "Re-considering Christianity," he considers the creation story in Genesis 2, the creation of Adam from dirt, in light of  evolutionary biology.  "Human beings, according to the storytellers, are earthlings.  Or better, dirtlings.  ...As a simple microscope can begin to show, one square foot of soil is teaming with billions of life forms, including bacterial decomposers, microbes that attract atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to feed plants, mites, fungi that foster plant immunity, earthworms, and insects.  As these creatures live, so we live." (pg. 24)  Pastor Ron told us last Sunday that 90% of our bodies consist of bacteria, so this is no exaggeration. 

All these gleanings came full circle when I read in Pastor Ron's book a quote from John Muir:  "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."

I am persuaded, as Pastor Ron states in his book, that God has been in the process of reconciling man to all of creation, including the earth and all therein, for millenia, because, in our delusion, we have thought of ourselves as separate, even as chosen, above others.  But all that this worldview accomplishes is hardship:  we only alienate ourselves from creation, from our neighbor, from ourselves, and, if only in our own minds, from God, when we think this way.  In reality, we are not separate.  We are part and parcel of each other. Whether we like it or not, we are entangled with each other and with all of creation.  We always have been, and we always will be.

I am aware, as never before, how superficial my understanding of unity has been.  While I promote the idea of inclusion and unity, I have viewed this as something yet to be accomplished.  But in reality, we are all already a part of God's kingdom.  There is no separation from God, from our neighbor, from creation.  Any sense that there is is an illusion.

So, what will I do with this new perspective?

Something new, I think.

As the church year ends, and Advent begins, there is always a sense of anticipation in the air.  Advent is about the beginning of something new.  I, too, am ready for something new.  As I read the last reading today for the church year, and wondered what I would read tomorrow, it dawned on me that I have been reading the daily lectionary for the last three years, a daily Bible reading for the last four years.  I could start over again.  The daily lectionary repeats every three years.  Or I could do another daily reading program.  But, although I like the structure of a daily reading, none of these ideas feel at all appealing.  So, what else could I read?

Then this idea of inter-connectedness made a connection in my brain.  And I thought of other Scriptures.  Perhaps it's time to venture into other Scriptures, or even the writings of other faithful people, as a daily discipline, and explore how these resources resonate with my thoughts on faith and life.  Perhaps it's time to fully trust that I will always hear the word of God I need to hear, however far from home I roam.  I'm a little uncertain as to how this will pan out, but I'm looking forward to tomorrow.  And that's always a good thing. 

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you always.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Creationism vs. Evolution

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. --  Romans 1:18 - 23

These words of Paul touch on creation, which is a topic that has been much on my mind lately.  So I will sort through my thoughts, try to make a little sense of them, and see where I end up.

Awhile ago, as the leader of our high school youth group, I asked the teens to write down any questions they had on any topic related to faith, the church, the Bible, etc. -- anything really.  These questions then would direct our faith discussions throughout the year.  It was a spur-of-the-moment request on my part.  I wanted to find a way to talk about faith that was relevant and meaningful for them.  My attempts last year to lead our discussions, either using Bible verses that I found meaningful or using youth Bible studies from our church's resources, all fell flat.  My only thought this year was to somehow get them engaged in talking about faith.  I didn't know where their questions would take us.  I didn't think that far ahead.

We've had two great discussions, so far:  one, on why people have difficulty accepting others who are different from them, and another, on how God's presence is felt in the world today.  I chose to start with these two because these are questions I spend a lot of time thinking about.  I know something about them.  In fact, I frequently write about those two questions in this blog.  But, now it's time to move on to their other questions, and into areas that I don't spend a lot of time thinking about.  The next topic coming up is Creationism vs. Evolution.

Knowing I don't know much about this topic, I've invited a pastor from Lutheran Campus Ministries at the University of Arizona, who does, to provide some added insight into our discussion.  Now, I could just sit back, let him take the lead, and not say much.  But, there is one thought preventing me from doing that.  And that is that, despite my difficulties and deficiencies, I believe I am in this position for a reason -- that I'm actually needed here, if only in some small way.  Perhaps it's because valuing different viewpoints is so important to me.  For within our youth group there are some who attend a Christian school where Creationism is taught and Evolution is discounted, and there are others who attend public schools where Evolution is taught and Creationism is discounted.

One of my goals for all these discussions is to foster an atmosphere in which different opinions are honored.  It's been my experience that when we listen to another person's point of view, especially if it's different from our own, we learn and grow in much needed ways.  I believe that we each hold a part of the truth within us, and this truth can only expand when we accept the truth that comes from someone else.  As youth making the transition from childhood to adulthood, they need to start finding out what they personally know to be true.  And so I'm trying to understand both points of view.

It's not easy.  Science has never been my strong suit.  My brain feels quite sluggish tackling the difference between DNA and RNA.  I am reminded of a recent hike the youth group and I went on.  They wanted to hike to Seven Falls, a two-hour, mostly uphill trek among the foothills of the Catalina Mountains.  It's a place I've heard about as long as I've lived here, but have never been to.  I was game, even though I'm not much of a hiker.  But it was hard-going -- I'm really out of shape.  They ended up carrying the backpack of extra water and snacks I brought for them.  I had to take a lot of breaks to catch my breath.  There were a couple of moments when I felt like giving up.  I thought about letting them continue on with our other adult guide, who is a fireman and in much better shape than me.  But, I knew that they really needed both of us to be with them.  So I just kept going.  Finally, I got there, and I was very glad I did.  Perseverance paid off:  the canyon was breathtaking, the water was cold and refreshing, and the little beach was the perfect place to crash!  I'm hoping I'll eventually understand genetics, as well.

To me, both Creationism and Evolution come from the same starting point:  a desire to understand the world we live in. They offer explanations of phenomenon we observe.  And they seem to make sense to a lot of people.   Creationism, the idea that a Creator designed the world we live in offers a good explanation for the beauty, complexity, and mathematical fine-tuning we observe.  And Evolution, the idea that everything alive evolved through natural laws of selection, explains the differences among members of the same species over time.  However, neither one on its own completely answers all the questions people have about the world we live in.  Both are, essentially, incomplete theories. It may be that the truth is somewhere in between. 

Unfortunately, most people don't see it this way.  Many religious people and many scientists both wear blinders when it comes to their own point of view.

I came across a book recently by the Dalai Lama (The Universe in an Atom), who also recognizes this tunnel vision.  Buddhism has it's own cosmologies and philosophies of the world, and yet the Dalai Lama states that "if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims. has gradually become evident to me that, insofar as understanding the physical world is concerned there are many areas of traditional Buddhist thought where our explanations and theories are rudimentary when compared with modern science ... some specific aspects of Buddhist thought -- such as its old cosmological theories and its rudimentary physics -- will have to be modified in the light of new scientific insights."  (pg 5)   This is an amazing confession by the leader of a faith, willing to forsake tradition and outdated explanations for a more accurate understanding of the world!  I almost wish Protestants had a similarly definitive and broad-minded leader.

On the other hand, the Dalai Lama notes that a common scientific point of view is also untenable:  "I have noticed that many people hold an assumption that the scientific view of the world should be the basis for all knowledge and all that is knowable.  ...Underlying this view is the assumption that, in the final analysis, matter, as it can by described by physics and as it is governed by the laws of physics, is all there is. ...The view that all aspects of reality can be reduced to matter and its various particles is, to my mind, as much a metaphysical position as the view that an organizing intelligence created and controls reality.  ...There is more to human existence and to reality itself than current science can ever give us access to." (pgs. 12 -13)  For example, neither altruism or consciousness can be adequately explained by evolution.

When we think of the major paradigm shifts in our scientific understanding of the world over the last 500 years, we have to realize that while the data may be very objective, the interpretation of the data is still subjective.  And since both scientists and the religious are human after all, we get some things right, and some things wrong.  A little more humility might be warranted here.  And with that in mind...

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you always.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Meaningful Life

"Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  As they go through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength."  --  Psalm 84:4 -- 7

Over the past few weeks, I've learned some important lessons about faith and life.  But first, I had to struggle through my own wrong thinking, the results of my mistakes, and the mental and physical stress that accompanied all of it.  It dawned on me recently that all the lessons I've ever learned about faith and life have always come on the heels of a struggle.  Is everyone's life this way?  Do we all go from struggle to struggle, growing and learning something new with each event?  Nietzsche's famous words that, "Whatever doesn't kill me, makes me stronger" are probably a good life motto for many people.

And yet for me, unlike for Nietzsche, the solution to my struggles did not come from relying on myself.  The solution to each problem came only when I heard or saw something outside of myself that seemed to be especially pertinent to my situation and I accepted this oddly coincidental word or image as significant and meaningful for me.  When I did that, and listened to the guidance that came from it, a door opened which led to better understanding, to reparation and healing, and to freedom from all that had weighed me down.

I believe these unexpected and odd coincidences are one way that God communicates.  However, even as a person of faith, I feel a little odd saying that.  For not even all people of faith would accept these coincidences like I do.  They might not notice them, or they might dismiss them as mere coincidences.  Some would rather rely completely on their own inner voice to guide them through their struggle.  Or they might try to ignore their inner turmoil altogether.  Unfortunately, listening to my own guidance and ignoring my struggles is usually what gets me into trouble in the first place!  If I continued doing that, I wouldn't get anywhere except stuck in a dismal rut.

Sometimes I wonder... How else could God work, if not by giving us little clues that can only be reckoned as meaningful by a leap of faith?  If God obviously intervened in everyone's struggles, we would never be autonomous.  Just as teenagers whose parents continually intervene in their struggles never become independent.  And if God only made himself obvious to a select few, we would either become arrogant or resentful depending on where God's grace fell.

As Jesus said, "I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'"  (Luke 8:10)   Jesus does not say they won't understand, only that they may not.  We can all only be given a hint, one that allows for freedom and for uncertainty.  I truly believe that if there is anything God cannot be, it's obvious. 

I've been reading Victor Frankl's books lately.  Frankl spent his life writing and speaking about the importance of attaching meaning to life's events, even when it comes to painful events.  He helped many people change their unhappy, empty lives to happy, productive ones by pointing the way to meaning.  He knew first-hand what a difference this had made in his own life.  He survived four concentration camps because he felt that he had an important message to share with the world.  In fact, it was because he experienced such great suffering and inhumanity in these camps that he was able to help other people who also suffered greatly. 

He tells the story of his experiences and his therapeutic insights in "Man's Search for Meaning." In this book he also shares the significant events that gave him greater awareness of his purpose.  One such turning point came when he was given the choice to emigrate to the U.S. or stay and support his parents in Vienna.  This was in the late 1930s, when it was becoming increasingly clear that all Jews would be deported to death camps.  As he was struggling with this decision, he went to visit his parents and noticed a piece of marble stone on a table.  When he asked his father how it came to be there, he was told that his father had picked it up from the site of their burned out synagogue.  His father further explained that it had come from a table which had been engraved with the Ten Commandments.  This particular piece contained the Hebrew letter that served as the abbreviation for the commandment to honor thy father and mother.  There and then, Frankl decided to stay in Vienna and help his parents as much as he could.  He later wrote, "I for one am convinced that if there is such a thing as Heaven, and if Heaven ever accepts a prayer, it will hide this behind a sequence of natural facts."  ("The Will to Meaning," pg.30)

This choice to see an underlying meaning in life's events, even when it comes to suffering, as opposed to seeing no meaning at all, is perhaps the ultimate example of our having free will.  Free will is sometimes offered by people of faith to explain suffering itself:  most of the suffering in the world comes because we have been given the freedom to make bad choices as well as good choices.  However, some psychologists, scientists, and philosophers nowadays argue that because of our genetic make-up, which determines our health and intelligence, and because of our upbringing, we really don't have free will.  That is a myth, they say.  We are merely a product of mechanisms that are beyond our control.  Stuff happens and we are driven by our instincts in the way we respond.  But I believe, as did Frankl, and the author I read last week, Michael Singer, that we at least have the ability to choose the attitude we will take toward suffering.  That is our willpower at work.

Once again Nietzsche comes to mind, this time as someone who chose not to see any meaning in life's events.  Nietzsche believed that stuff just happens, and like some thinkers today he believed that we have no responsibility for the things that happen one way or the other, nor does anyone.  Interestingly, Nietzsche also experienced a series of coincidences that strongly resonated with him.  And yet, because his life's work was centered around announcing that God was dead, he struggled to explain these significant coincidences.  He wondered if he was going insane.  Eventually, these coincidences piled up to such an extent that he did go insane, though some of his contemporaries actually thought he chose to go insane.  ("The Hidden Face of God," by Richard Elliott Friedman, pg. 184).  Perhaps, if he had not gone insane, he might have had to attach meaning to these coincidences in a way that allowed for the possibility that God existed after all.

As I pondered all this, I read the above passage in the daily lectionary.  I especially like the verse, "As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs."  The Valley of Baca was also known as the Valley of Tears.  It was a dry, desolate place, difficult to cross.  To make it a place of springs required them to see the difficult journey as a blessing.  It could only be a blessing if they learned something meaningful along the way.  And the things they learned allowed them to go from strength to strength.  I find the connection between this passage and my thoughts to be highly significant.  It's connections like these that give my life meaning.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you 


Friday, October 18, 2013


Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, "...Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I; and let it be a witness between you and me."  So Jacob took a stone, and set it up as a pillar.  And Jacob said to his kinsfolk, "Gather stones," and they took stones, and made a heap; and they ate there by the heap.  Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha:  but Jacob called it Galeed.  Laban said, "This heap is a witness between you and me today."  Therefore he called it Galeed.  ...So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice on the height and called his kinsfolk to eat bread; and they ate bread and tarried all night in the hill country.  ~~  Genesis 31:43-55 (excerpt)

In this passage, we witness the reconciliation of Laban and Jacob after nearly two decades of built-up resentment and distrust.  Recall that Laban cheated Jacob several times:  he switched his promised daughter Rebecca with his daughter Leah on Jacob's wedding night even though Jacob had labored for seven years for Rebecca; he made Jacob serve him another seven years before he could marry Rebecca; and then Laban outmaneuvered Jacob over another agreement they made to give Jacob a share of Laban's herd.  Jacob in turn cheated Laban by breeding the weakest herd animals for him and keeping the strongest ones for himself; and then he left the land taking Laban's daughters and grandchildren, and all his hard-earned property, without even letting Laban know they were leaving.

It all came to a head in the hill country of Gilead when Laban finally caught up to Jacob.  Thankfully God sent a message to Laban, in a dream the night before, to not speak "a word...either good or bad" to Jacob.  This was to prevent the resentment and mistrust from increasing even more through words of judgment or flattery.   However, Laban couldn't ignore what Jacob had done, so he questioned Jacob about his actions.  Jacob also couldn't ignore the past, so he questioned Laban about his actions.  Everything, all their baggage, was laid bare.  And they realized that they had both been less than charitable towards the other.

It is at this point that they decided to start over.  They made a covenant promising to never again do harm to one another.  God would be their witness to this promise.  And they marked this occasion with the custom of that period:   a pillar of stones.  And everyone among them, Laban's kinsman and Jacob's household, brought a stone to make a heap beside the pillar.  There was another slight disagreement about what to call this special place -- Laban wanted to call it one thing, Jacob another.  But in a final act of reconciliation, Laban  agreed to use Jacob's suggestion.

What a perfect illustration of how to resolve conflict!  If Jacob and Laban can do it, there is hope for everyone:  in our government, our faith communities, our workplaces, our families.

From this story, we see that the ingredients for reconciliation are:  (1) meet face to face; (2) offer no words of judgment or praise -- neither will be appreciated; (3) if the past cannot be forgotten then question the other's actions honestly but respectfully; (4) recognize that it takes two to damage a relationship; (5) forgive and forget -- truly let the past go; (6) make a new pact of doing no harm to each other; and (7) compromise over disagreements.

I love the way this story ends.  "Early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them; then he departed and returned home.  Jacob went on his own way and the angels of God met him."  Each left the other feeling content and blessed.

I've been reading a wonderful book lately, called "The Untethered Soul," by Michael Singer, which speaks about this very thing.  Singer writes that there are two routes we can take in our lives when a disturbance with another person occurs.  We can worry and stew about our hurt or our grievances, creating such anxiety within us that we either become more and more fragile or we seek revenge.  Or we can accept the disturbance, examine what it is within us that is making us feel disturbed, and let it go.  We actually have that choice, Singer writes.  The first route leads to physical and mental distress.  The second route leads to spiritual health and wholeness, to what Singer calls "liberation."  Laban and Jacob illustrate the route to liberation.

It sounds too simple to be true.  And yet I can personally attest to its validity.

The other day I was feeling a great deal of stress.  I kept thinking about my grievances with another person, one after another, cycling through them over and over again, until I actually began to feel physically ill.  My chest began to constrict, more and more painfully. 

Before I tell you what happened next, I need to fill you in on a little bit of background.  I've been doing this a lot lately:  stressing-out over problems with other people, feeling justified about some things and guilty about others, cycling through past incidences, etc.  Also lately, I have been experiencing some heart problems:  an irregular heartbeat, pain, pressure, a tightness in my chest area.  Although I wondered if the heart problems were stress related, I've seen my doctor, I've worn a heart monitor, and I'm even taking a beta-blocker now.   Throughout these past few weeks, the only thing that's been made clear to me is that I need to hand everything over to God.  I truly cannot figure out my life on my own.

So, back to the other day... The pain in my chest was increasing, and so was my stress level as I was going to have to meet with this person soon.  Not wanting to be a complete wreck when I did, I prayed to God to help me.  Then, to distract myself before my meeting, I picked up a book, Singer's book, that I had just purchased.  The book had been recommended by my sister-in-law who is an art therapist, but I wasn't too sure about it.  This guy Singer seemed a little "out there," with all his energy-flow talk.  However, I couldn't think of anything better to do, so I read.  And this is what I read,
"Let's say you love somebody, and you feel very open in their presence.  Because you trust them, your walls come down allowing you to feel lots of high energy.  But if they do something that you don't like, the next time you see them you don't feel so high.  You don't feel as much love.  Instead you feel a tightness in your chest.  This is because you closed your heart.  The heart is the energy center, and it can open or close.  ...This flow of energy comes from the depth of your being.  It's been called by many names.  In ancient Chinese medicine it is called Chi.  In yoga, it is called Shakti.  In the West, it is called Spirit. ... This energy is equally available to everybody... The only thing you have to know is that opening allows energy in, and closing blocks it out. ... There is a very simple method for staying open.  You stay open by never closing.  It's really that simple.  All you have to do is decide whether you think it's worth closing... It's ultimately under your control." (pg. 45)
Singer's words, " feel a tightness in your chest," spoke so directly to my situation that I felt this was an answer to my prayer.  I've learned to trust such coincidences, so I listened to Singer's advice and I relaxed.  I let go of my fear and distrust, and decided to be open to whatever came.  I recalled the words of Jesus, "Can any one of you add a single day or hour to your life by worrying?"  and "Consider the lilies of the field...."   And guess what?  The pain in my chest immediately began to fade, until there was no pain at all.

I hadn't realized how much of my difficulty was in my own mind.

Truly I should know this by now.  I remember writing before about my meditation bowl that was so full of junk that I couldn't hear its music.  I'm like a child who needs to be told the same thing over and over again before she finally gets it.  Thankfully, God is very patient.

Truly, God does not want anyone to be enmeshed in negativity, conflict, worries, or fear.  In many different ways, through many various means, God shows us how to be reconciled with one another.  We simply must make the choice to listen.  The way is open.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you


Friday, October 11, 2013

Moldy Thinking

"The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:  When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, 'There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house.'  The priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease...and afterward the priest shall go in to inspect the house...."  -- Leviticus 14:34 - 44

This is a fascinating story.  It also makes me smile, especially the part about the man saying to the priest, "There seems to me to be some sort of disease in my house."  But what really fascinates me is the process the priest must follow.  I haven't included the whole passage, because it's very long, but basically:  the priest must examine the mold, which I guess is what it means for a house to have a leprous disease; then the priest must let it sit, closed up, for a week; then if the mold has grown, that part of the house is removed along with all of the plaster, and new plaster is put up; if the mold doesn't reappear then the house is declared clean; otherwise the whole house must be demolished.

The reason this story speaks to me is because I have been thinking about belief systems lately, in religion, psychology, philosophy and science.  A belief system is like a house, and sometimes we believe things that are false.  The wrong thinking is like the mold.  Wrong thinking can undermine our whole system.

In the story, the furnishings are removed, so the priest can examine the walls.  I liken this to the fact that it's probably not the heart of the person that is causing the trouble.  The person could be decent, loving, and honorable, and still they could be wrong.

It's a wonderful example to me that the priest doesn't condemn the whole house right off the bat.  The entire house is not effected, only a small part.  So first, he does a little surgery, trying to correct the part that's causing the problem.  He removes the diseased area, repairs the hole, and puts on a clean coat of plaster.  It's only if the mold returns and spreads that he has to give up on the whole house.

Possibly we ourselves recognize when our thinking is faulty:  we are discontent, we are making mistakes, we are struggling, we meet opposition.  Like the man in the story, we may even say something along the lines of, "There seems to me to be some kind of disease in my house."  Sometimes we ask for help, and sometimes someone comes along even if we don't ask for help, and suggests an alternative way of thinking that actually works better in the real world. 

This has happened frequently throughout history:  one person's understanding is corrected by another's because the first answer didn't work in all cases, especially as new discoveries were made.   Copernicus and Galileo corrected Ptolemy's understanding of the universe.  Einstein corrected Newtonian physics.  Victor Frankl corrected Frued's predominantly inward, searching-in-the-past focus with a more outward, future-looking focus.  In philosophy and science, Heidegger corrected the fixation on sense data (things we can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell), that had directed thinkers since the Age of Enlightenment by showing that reality also consists of "events in time" or processes.  As far as religion goes, one just has to look at the many different sects or denominations within any particular religion to see the changes in thought over time.

What I'm curious about is what makes someone resistant to change, even when their current understanding or practice no longer works effectively, even when it starts to cause problems.

I like this idea of reality consisting not only of "things" but "events in time."  What happens when we rely entirely on things (not just objects, but ideas and practices) and discount events in time?  That seems to be a good description of the problem.  If a way of thinking or a practice no longer works effectively in the here and now, and even may cause problems for people, why do we cling to it persistently?

It's like what happens when we make something an idol.  Anything can become an idol:  money, fame, toys, people, rituals, traditions, books, doctrine, beliefs.  When we cling to these things even when they have no power to improve our lives, then we have made them into idols.

I'm not saying that everything we believe or do, causes a problem.  I'm not talking about demolishing the whole house, or to use another analogy:  "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."  Traditions, rituals, money, fame, people, books, doctrine, belief systems, etc, are not inherently bad.  They can and do powerfully enhance our lives.  It's just that when they stop helping us, and we continue to cling to them, they create more problems than they are worth. 

So how should we respond when our current way of thinking or doing doesn't work?  Well, first of all we need to be wise, courageous, and humble enough to admit it.  Then we need to stop, and remove the offending belief.  And then we need to repair the breach created by our mistakes.  And finally, we need to learn to think in a clearer and more sustainable way, a way that strengthens us for the future.  Very often this means listening to other people, and learning from other people.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you 


Thursday, October 3, 2013

What's Good about Sin?

Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"  He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only one who is good.  If you wish to enter life, keep the commandments....   -- Matthew 19:16-17

This passage is odd.  Someone asks Jesus about good deeds and Jesus says that only one being or person is good (implying God).  But why does Jesus switch the topic from good deeds to good persons or beings?  There's a disconnect here which is hard to understand.  Luke has a similar version of this event, but Luke's is slightly different, and it's that difference that provides food for thought, especially in light of recent events.  In Luke's version the passage reads,

A certain ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone...."  Luke 18:18

In Luke's version, Jesus's response makes sense.  The person calls Jesus good, and Jesus says only God is good.  

I can't help but think that Matthew changed the words of the actual story.  But why?

In Luke's version, Jesus is saying that even he should not be called "good."  Really?   Does that mean that Jesus was not without sin?   According to Luke's version, that is the implication.  And that is not easy to swallow.

Yesterday I heard on the news that Pope Francis recently said something very similar.  He said, "... the Church is all too evidently made up of sinners.  Sinful men, women, priests, nuns, Bishops, Cardinals, Popes.  All of them."  It was somewhat shocking.  Even the Pope is not without sin?  How can that be?

Many of us have a problem with sin.  For some it's even a hard word to say aloud.  The multiple versions of The Lord's Prayer attest to this difficulty.  In the Bible, there are two versions of The Lord's Prayer, one in Matthew and one in Luke.  Matthew uses the word "debt" and Luke uses the word "sin."   The traditional version of the prayer that is said in church services uses the word "trespasses."  Now, to me, the words "debts" and "trespasses" imply mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  No one is perfect.  Now let's move on.

But sin... that's more serious. 

There is an important difference between making a mistake and committing a sin.  Making a mistake implies that we did something wrong, but it doesn't convey the sense that we actually intended to hurt someone.  Sin is different.  Sin implies that we did something or failed to do something even though we knew it was going to hurt someone.

I experienced this difference for myself, recently.

Mistake:  I forgot to communicate with a couple of people about a recent ministry fair I was helping to organize.   As a result, they felt a little excluded.

Sin:  I spoke critically to a friend even though I knew what I was going to say was going to hurt her.  I did not even try to figure out how to say what I felt I needed to say in a less hurtful way.  As a result, she felt like I had punched her in the gut.

Now, both of these transgressions require apologies.  But the mistake was unintentional.  The sin was not.  I had no idea I had made the mistake until after the fact.  I knew I was going to hurt my friend and I did it anyway. 

People who murder, who commit adultery, who lie, cheat and steal, etc., know they are doing something wrong.  And they do it anyway.  That's the difference between a sin and a mistake.

Do we all sin?  Do we all do things that we know we shouldn't do, things that are harmful to us or to other people?  Yes, I believe we do. 

Is there anything we can do about it? 

Well, we can beat ourselves up, but that's not very helpful.

There is only one thing I know that actually improves our lives and the lives of those around us, and that is to rely completely on God.  

Now, I'm not talking about forgiveness, about relying on God to forgive me for my sins.  I'm talking about relying on God to lead me, to be my guide in all things.  

Left to my own devices, I would be a heapful of vices.  But when I let God be my guide in all things, I make better choices.  I am a better human being.

The morning before I hurt my friend's feelings, I thought about seeking God's advice.  But I was pressed for time.  I thought I knew best.  So I didn't bother to seek God's advice.  In hindsight, I wish I had.  For I know that God would have guided me to do things differently.  As God is guiding me now in the aftermath, helping me to understand what I did and to put my friend's needs before my own.

Recognizing our sin is the key to changing our lives, and the lives of others, for the better.  Recognizing my sin forced me to see how much I still need to rely on God.

And that is why I value Pope Francis's words.  "Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things," he said, but in leaving it to God, stressing that "the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, is to have confidence in his active service to others."  (from "Pope Francis: Do not be afraid of holiness,"  by Elise Harris, Catholic News Agency) 

At the end of the passage above in Matthew, the disciples ask Jesus, "Then who can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."

Amen to that.  God will show you a better way if you listen.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you


Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Holy Bible

"It's priests have done violence to my teachings and have profaned my holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the common....  It's prophets have smeared whitewash on their behalf, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, 'Thus says the Lord God,' when the Lord had not spoken.  ...And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me..."  --  Ezekiel 22:26, 28, 30

These words resonated with me as I began to think about teaching a Bible 101 course for adults at my church.  While searching for resources to use for the class, I noticed two prevailing, and contrasting, viewpoints.  On one side, I found resources that promote the point of view that every word in the Bible comes directly from God, every statement in the Bible is literally true, and the canonical Bible is the only source and norm for religious life.  On the other side, I found resources that promote the idea that the Bible is simply the product of different people writing from within specific cultures and times who had their own agendas, which were then compiled, edited and redacted, by other people, with other agendas.  I have to say...neither viewpoint appeals to me. 

I began to wonder...  Is there a way to understand the Bible that does not equate it with God and that does not remove God from it altogether?  Is there a middle way that values both the humanity (with all its flaws) and the divinity (with all its perfection) to be found within this holy book?

Personally, I value much of the historical-critical biblical scholarship that is available for the average person today.  I appreciate understanding more of the cultural context behind these writings.  When I find differences in the Bible, for example in laws or theology, or outright contradictory statements, it helps me to know that the Bible is the product of diverse people over a long period of time.  There is, naturally, a progression in understanding over time:  laws change, viewpoints of historical events change, and understanding of God changes.  Even one writer, say for example Paul, does not demonstrate absolute consistency of thought over time.

My appreciation of the Bible is also deepened by understanding the various kinds of writings that are to be found within it:  legends, history, civil and ritual law, love poetry, praise hymns and lamentations, parables, teachings, stories, letters, etc.  The Bible is the epitome of what it means to be united in the midst of diversity:  differences are not erased, they are all included.  The Bible as it has been handed down to us, without harmonizing the diversity found within it, is more like an anthology of man's evolving understanding of God, than it is a single story.
But more important that what the Bible is, is what the Bible does.  And this is what makes the Bible holy.  The stories and prayers and teachings in the Bible have the ability to inspire, comfort, convict, and guide us as people of God.  Because these ancient writings are about (or by) people aspiring to, or turning away from, God, they have the power to speak to us, even to this day.  The things that concerned these ancient people still concern us today: judgment, suffering, divine intervention, spiritual gifts, prayer, the poor, the stranger, the lost, the afterlife, etc.  And very often, their answers provide needed insight into our own lives. 

Even stories that may have been originally intended as a retelling of an actual event can still act as parables or allegories for our lives today.   The Bible is chock-full of these, each one resonating with new meaning depending on when you read them.  For example, in the story of Adam and Eve, besides the story itself, one can discover many other insights:  there is the understanding that Eve was made to be an equal partner with Adam, having come from his side; there is the understanding that in the beginning Adam and Eve walked naked upon the earth with no shame, and that God walked with them and conversed with them; there is the idea that knowingly disobeying God creates shame; there is the idea that because neither Adam nor Eve admitted their transgression they were separated from God; there is the idea that the whole story from beginning to end can be an analogy for our own growth from innocent children to disobedient adolescents to independent adults; there is also the understanding that even with God's punishment comes love as God makes clothes for them before sending them out of Eden.  There are many more insights that have been and can also be discovered in this one story.  The Bible, in this way, is rich with untold treasures.

And yet, clearly some writings are more meaningful than others.  Martin Luther placed greater value on some books than on others.  Catholic Bibles include more books than do Protestant Bibles.  And, while I hesitate to discount any books from the Bible, I must admit that the specific laws about animal sacrifices, temple construction, and ritual purity, which illustrate the cultural-religious understanding of an ancient time, are not as important to me as the stories of the patriarchs or the parables of Jesus, which cross all cultures and are timeless. 

I am not a biblical scholar by any means.  Thankfully, you don't have to be one to appreciate and learn from the Bible.  However, over the years, I have discovered a few things about the Bible, besides those mentioned above, that I wish were more readily known. 

(1)  The stories in the Bible do not have to be literally true to convey profound truth.
(2)  The writings in the Bible do not have to be written by who they are attributed to in order to reveal God's truth.  Even the humblest person can reveal God's truth.  The test for truth is whether it rings true over time.
(3)  The Bible has never been an effective tool for determining church doctrine.  Alternate viewpoints will always find corroboration within these diverse writings, which is why schism so frequently occurs.
(4)  Historical-critical biblical scholarship seeks to determine the human context of the writings, which can be insightful.  It can, however, digress into irrelevant minutia which does little to convey the meaning of these writings.
(5)  Commentaries and study Bibles, while informative, can also direct and limit your thinking.  If you think about what the biblical words say to you first, without other guidance, you will gain even more insight.
(6)  God can and does speak to us through these words, especially when we read the Bible devotionally.
(7)  The Bible is not the only means, or only book, through which God can speak to us.  God was with humanity after the Bible was canonized.  God is still with us.  And God still speaks to us in many diverse ways.

This is what I know about the Bible, so far -- or at least what comes to mind at this moment.  I'm sure I have much more to learn.  Hopefully, the more I read the Bible itself the more I will learn.  And that is really the key to appreciating the sacred qualities of the Bible:  reading it, again and again.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Good Shepherd

"I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd." ... Again the Jews were divided because of these words.   --  John 10:14-16, 19

This passage is so fitting for me this week.  Once again I am wrestling with how to honor unity in the midst of diversity.  It's a continual challenge to honor the other, the one who thinks differently, as much as you honor yourself, and your own opinions.  There is this creeping tendency to want to shout, "But I'm right."  I certainly have this tendency to want to defend my own opinions.  Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, I also have an even stronger tendency to want to shout, "It doesn't matter who's right or who's wrong.  All that matters is that you love each other as you love yourself."

So many issues have divided us Christians, and continue to divide us:  who was Jesus, what did his death signify, what does the eucharist mean and who can partake of it, what baptism signifies, who can be clergy, is divorce a sin, what kind of worship music is appropriate, what worship style or liturgy is best, which Lord's Prayer is preferable (traditional or modern), who can marry, etc.   Christians have different understandings on all of these issues, and more.

If you took all of the issues that Christians have divided themselves over, or could divide themselves over, and listed all of the possible choices on each issue, do you know what the odds are that any two people would have the same answers?  It would be as near to zero as mathematically possible.

The problem is not how we answer any of these specific issues, the problem is the idea that we all have to think alike or we can't be united.  This is a problem especially common in churches.

And yet, if we look to our families and friendships, we know that we don't all have to think alike to be united.  Where love binds us together, differences do not tear us apart.  My sister and I approach Christianity differently -- she leans toward the conservative, I lean toward the liberal.  My husband and I approach faith differently -- he leans towards atheism, I lean towards mysticism.  All of my friends and family members are in different places when it comes to their beliefs.  And yet, with these people, it doesn't matter that we don't agree.  It only matters that we love each other.   
So if a church is made up of people like this, people who all come to Christ from different cultures and different denominations, with different baggage and different gifts (which it is), how do you keep them united as one body?  What do you teach that wouldn't be divisive?  Is there anything that we could all agree on?

I would say... Teach them to love God with all their being and to love one another as they love themselves.   Focus on that.  Do not deviate from that.  When differences on any other issue arises, remember to love the person more than the difference.  Try to understand why the person thinks the way they do.  And if you forget to love, or the other person does, then as soon as possible repent or forgive, and return to love.

Only those who cannot love another as they love themselves must be separated from the flock.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Live and Rest

"I gave them my statutes and showed them my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live... but [they] rejected my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live..."  --  Ezekiel 20:11,13

"Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care ... For indeed, the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who have believed enter that rest....  -- Hebrews 4:1-3a

Why do some people believe in God, and some do not?  There are many reasons, I am sure, but these two passages, one from the Hebrew Scriptures and one from the New Testament, contain repeated phrases that speak to me of why I believe in God:  "everyone shall live" and "enter that rest."   Live and rest... that is why I believe in God.

When I was a young child, probably five or six years old, I must have realized that not everyone believed in God.  I remember lying on my bed, thinking about this ultimate question:  Is God real?  If God isn't real, then why are we born?  It didn't make sense to me that we are born and we would die and that's all there is to life.  There had to be some reason for being alive.  What that was, I didn't know, but I believed God knew.  A meaningless life just didn't make sense to me as a child.  It still doesn't.

As I got older and saw the beauty and intricacy of the living world around me, that also seemed to argue for an intelligence behind it all.  Like the early Pythagorean's who were extremely fascinated by numbers, I wondered, why is there an underlying order at all?  How is it that the lengths of the sides of all right triangles fit a formula?  Why is the human body made the way it is -- like such a perfectly designed machine?  Why do the same patterns occur naturally in various objects?  Galileo is not the only one who thought that God must be a mathematician. 

However, both of these explanations for God rely to some extent on my ability to reason logically.  There is another, less logical, reason why I believe in God.  In fact, the reason I most deeply believe in God is because I cannot explain my experiences in any logical way.  My experiences do not make sense.  In fact, they make so little sense that I find them very hard to share with very logical people.   Only people who have had the same kind of ineffable experiences can truly understand what I'm talking about.

Countless experiences come to mind, but I will share three.

In my senior year of high school, I had a dream in which someone handed me a picture of a handsome young man with dark brown hair dressed in a blue suit and tie.  I awoke with the sense that this was the man I was supposed to be with, not the one I was actually engaged to at the time.  Shortly afterward, my fiance and I broke up, and I went off to college, where studying mathematics and history took center stage.   Towards the end of my freshman year at university, I was invited to a luncheon for students who all had the same scholarship.  I didn't want to go.  Mingling with a crowd of strangers, making small talk, was my least favorite thing to do.  But my roommate encouraged me.  "Who knows?" she said.  "You might meet the man you're going to marry."  It was April Fool's day, so I laughed at that.  Nevertheless, I went, and this cute guy sat down beside me, and he was surprisingly easy to talk to.  We began dating, and then just before summer vacation started, he gave me a copy of his high school senior portrait to keep with me.  It was the picture in my dream from the year before. 

We eventually got married, and even more eventually, decided to see if we could have a family.  Not ever having longed for children, I was surprised by the overwhelming joy I felt when I got pregnant.  I felt as if I was carrying joy inside me.  In my second month, I had a miscarriage.  The sadness I felt could not be eased by anyone's words of comfort.  After a couple of weeks, I went to church, hoping that maybe being in church would help me feel better.  That day the sermon was about mourning the death of a loved one. 

One final example -- an example that is similar to what most often happens in my life -- was the first time my thoughts found guidance in an unexpected book.  One evening after a Bible study, I went to the bookstore to check out a book on the holy spirit that had just been recommended by the leader of the study.  On the way, I started to wonder about gifts of the spirit, the topic of the study.  I wondered if the ability to forgive was a gift of the spirit.   I had never heard of this as a spiritual gift before, but I had been thinking about forgiveness a lot that day.  It seemed to me that some people were just able to forgive more easily than other people.  When I got to the bookstore, I found the recommended book.  Sitting right next to it was a book by the same author titled, "The Gift of Forgiveness."

How do these things happen???

Some people might say that these examples are just coincidences.  I stopped thinking that awhile ago.   These experiences are too weirdly specific, and they happen so very frequently.  I can't dismiss them as "just coincidences."  And I can't explain them in any logical way.  So it is, through these experiences, that I have come to believe that there is a supernatural being in this world who hears my very thoughts, and who offers guidance and comfort.  I call that being God.

The repeated phrases in the passages above, that "everyone shall live" and "enter that rest," are not simply explaining that we will live and eventually die, and that's all there is to it.  No, they are saying something much more meaningful, something more like what Jesus was talking about when he said, "I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly."  And, "Come all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

When you feel that God is guiding you, life is rich and satisfying and truly amazing.  It's not always easy, mind you.  There are responsibilities that come to "those who listen," as both writers above attest.  But I would not want any other kind of life.

Dear God, thank you for everything you have given me.  May I in turn convey your deep and abiding love for the world, so that all may come to you for true life and true rest.  Love always, Pam

Saturday, August 24, 2013


"Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children -- 'My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him, for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.' ... Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled."  --  Hebrews 12:3~17 (in part)

Something must be in the air.  I am seeing, or hearing about, a number of people behaving badly.  I'm not talking about lapses of behavior due to ignorance or just not thinking.  No, I'm talking about significant willful transgressions.  Now, I know that you really don't have to look very far afield to find examples of people willfully behaving badly.  It's just that I don't usually hear or see it in my own small world very often.  Life has been very unusual lately.

First, a friend tells me that her daughter's ex-husband wants to skip out on paying child support because he's planning on becoming a priest.  Seriously??  On what planet do those two things -- a deadbeat dad and a priest -- go together?  Thankfully, the judge had very little patience with this "man of God."

Later that same day, I saw the driver of a Hyundai run into a parked Honda while at a "Safe Driving" event at my son's high school, damaging the back bumper of the Honda and its own front side panel.  Accidents happen, of course, but the thing is, when I went back to my car after the start of the program (it was much too graphic for my younger children, so I needed to take them home and then come back), I noticed the Hyundai parked in a different parking space, away from the damaged Honda.

I was amazed at this obvious attempt to avoid doing the right thing.  I felt the injustice of it.  So I took down the license plate information of both cars, and later gave the details to the principal.  (Unfortunately, I didn't think to leave a note on the Honda!)  At the end of the program, as I listened to the principal speak about the student Code of Conduct, which includes respect and responsibility, and "doing what's right, not what's easy," I hoped that the driver of the Hyundai was listening and would reconsider his/her evasive actions. I did not envy him or her the difficulty of doing the right thing, but I thought the guilt of not doing the right thing, and the lies that would have to be told, would be even more difficult to bear and more corrosive, in the long run.

Then, at our council meeting earlier in the week, our pastor spoke strong words against forwarding council business emails to other people.  I have never seen our usually easy going and humorous pastor so seriously angry.  But the forwarding of private emails had happened more than once and was causing more than a few unnecessary problems.

Then, yesterday, at my youngest son's elementary school, I witnessed a child, possibly five or six years old, throwing a royal temper tantrum, stomping feet, crying, and yelling rudely and very loudly, at a young, petite woman who seemed to be her mother.  The child wanted to be carried.  The mother stood there meekly, quietly trying to calm her furious child down, not arguing with her.  And the child did eventually quiet down.  But then the mother carried the child (who was more than half her size) across the parking lot to the pick-up/drop-off lane, setting her down to wait for a ride.  At that the daughter again began to yell, cry, and stomp her feet, even pulling on the mother's shoulders and trying to jump into her arms.  The mother again stood there quietly as her daughter ranted and raved at the top of her voice.

I prayed that the mother would resist, and stay strong, for clearly she was trying, at long last, to wean her child from being carried.  But the daughter's behavior and rudeness to her mother was more than I could ignore.  I wanted to help this mother.  So I walked over to them and asked the woman if this was her daughter, and she said, "Yes."  Then I asked the daughter, very calmly and politely, "How old are you, honey?"  The daughter didn't answer, but continued to abuse her mother, now hitting her on the arms.  I said, "You know, if you are older than about three, you really shouldn't be carried anymore.  Are you older than three?"  The child barely looked at me before returning to yell at and pummel her mother.  I said, "Please stop hitting your mother.  She loves you."  However, nothing I said was going to stop this child.  I finally gave up and walked away, not envying the mother the difficult road ahead for her, but hoping she would find the strength to discipline her child.

As I wondered if I could have done more to help the driver of the Honda or the woman and child, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I was turning into an interfering old woman.  My husband had looked at me in surprise when I told him about speaking to the mother and child, as if to say, "You did what??"

But then, after writing of my concerns in my journal at the end of the day yesterday, I read the above passage from the daily lectionary.  In the middle of the passage are these words:  "...for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?  If you do not have discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children... Now discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."  So, I believe that God is trying to tell me something.

We all need discipline.  We need self-discipline; we need to listen to God's discipline for us; and, sometimes, we need to help discipline each other.  For truly, if you love someone, you will care enough about them to make sure they stay on the right path -- for them and for those around them.

This is much easier to do when it's your own children.  It becomes increasingly harder with other family members, and friends, and co-workers, and acquaintances.  It can be downright dangerous with strangers.  However, the same truth applies to all.  If you love someone, then you must care enough to offer a word of correction, as gently as possible but as forcefully as necessary.  If you can watch a person willfully harming another person, or animal, or property, and not intervene, then you cannot love them, or the other people or animals involved.

Jesus came to show the world this kind of love.  Through gentle words and not so gentle words, he brought insistent correction.  He was willing to suffer every criticism, and pain, even to the point of shedding his blood, to demonstrate his abiding love for everyone.  We also are called to love our neighbor, even the stranger, as much as ourselves, in this same way.

The last sentence, verse 17, in the passage above is crucial, whatever we do.  Somehow, every correction must be completely wrapped up in mercy.  For we too commit transgressions, and we too need mercy.  That is what distinguished Jesus from those around him.  There was judgment but it was wrapped-up completely in grace.

I was talking to my children about the mother and child today.  My oldest son thinks I have a superman complex -- first the car incident, and now the mother and child.  And I have to admit, I do sort of have a superman complex.  I always have -- although as a child I would have called it a Wonder Woman complex.  In third grade, I remember fighting a bully who was picking on my friend.  Like Wonder Woman, I jabbed and kicked as fast as I could, to teach him a lesson.

I have lost some of that fearlessness, as I've gotten older, but, thankfully, not all of it.

Still, perhaps God is telling me to have even more of this kind of courage.  Believe it or not, I often quiet my desire to correct other people, for fear of hurting their feelings or sparing myself the repercussions.  Perhaps this passage is God's word of discipline for me:  more words of correction plus more mercy equals more love.

Dear God, you challenge me to do your will in all areas of my life.  Please fill me with wisdom and strength, as always, to meet every challenge with love.  Always yours, Pam 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bare Bones Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  -- Hebrews 11:1

This is the beginning of a section in the Letter to the Hebrews in which the phrase, "By faith..." is repeated over and over:  "By faith Abel...  By faith Enoch...  By faith Noah ...  By faith Abraham...."  And so on.  The writer repeats this phrase to emphasize that it was a very simple faith or trust in God which kept the ancient "cloud of witnesses" always walking with God.  There wasn't anything else one needed to have except faith.  The author is smart to repeat this phrase.  For some reason, it's a message that's hard to accept. 

Even within my own mainline Protestant Christian culture, where "faith alone" is almost a mantra, people seem to think that it's got to be harder than that:  it's good works, right beliefs, or social/material/physical success that determines whether you are right with God, not just plain old faith. These ideas are so strong, and spoken with such authority, that I sometimes question my own experience of God.

I was reading "The Parables of Peanuts," by Robert L. Short last week.  Using Charles Shultz's "Peanuts" cartoon strip, Short explores the Gospel message.  Short sees these cartoon strips as modern day parables, which are able to teach us truths about ourselves in a kind of roundabout, or curved, or "parabolic" way; truths that we would refuse to hear if told to us straight.  I found the book informative, insightful, and humorous, until that is, I started to read the third chapter:  "Savior?! Who Needs a Savior?"  Then, I felt like I had been hit upside the head.

Using Shultz's cartoons in a way that does not fit my own interpretation of them, Short explains that we are all born evil, depraved, and in need of a savior, who is Jesus Christ.  He talks about how the children in Shultz's cartoon illustrate "Christ's bedrock teaching of man's basic and innate depravity." (pg. 48).  "Evil is literally 'unadulterated' in children..." (pg. 54).  He quotes Luther, Augustine, Barth, Kierkegaard, plus countless other famous people, as well as various Bible passages to prove the idea of Original Sin.  And, if you don't believe in Original Sin then Christ came for nothing:  No original sin, no need for a redeemer, which is clearly what Jesus was.  Short even says, "...only he who is without sin should throw stones at the Church's venerable teaching of man's basic -- or original -- sinfulness."  (pg. 54)  Well then.

Seriously?  I think of my children, and other people's children, and I don't see moral depravity.  I see fundamentally loving, caring beings who teach me many things about purity of heart and all that's really important in the world.  Sure, they aren't always nice to each other, and sometimes children can be downright mean.  But that's because we're a mixture, adults and children, not completely good, not completely bad.  And I think the characters in the "Peanuts" strip illustrate this mixture, as well as any two-dimensional characters can do in four squares.

Last week, I wrote about everyone being on a different path to God.  Afterwards, I wondered.  Is this really true?  Isn't it possible that some people get on the wrong path, a path away from God?  I can think of a number of people, Christians in particular, like Short, who seem to be straying pretty far from Jesus's message as I see it.  They just have such a totally different viewpoint than I do about what it means to be a Christian.  Can we all really be heading towards the same God?  Doesn't it make a difference what we believe?

A "Non Sequitur" cartoon by Wiley Miller, in the papers recently illustrates the irony perfectly.

Non Sequitur
(August 2, 2013)

The cartoon shows everyone going into Heaven through the "Right Religion Entrance" and no one going into the "Wrong Religion Entrance."  One angel nearby says to another, "The funny thing is, none of them ever get the joke..."  We all think so differently about God, and yet we each think our understanding is the correct understanding. 

I am reminded of Jesus's last words:  "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  And I think... if God can forgive thieves, murderers, adulterers, and those who betrayed him, can't God also forgive wrong-thinking?  After all, isn't ignorance the crux of all our troubles?

Later, I came across another book, a perfect counterpoint to Short's book:  "Original Sinners:  Why Genesis Still Matters," by John R. Coats.  It really does help to remember that all the patriarchs of my faith, from Adam and Eve to Noah to Abraham to Sarah to Isaac to Jacob and Rebekah, were a mixture, too:  Not all evil, or morally depraved, but containing within them much good, as well as some serious flaws.  Even going beyond the people in Genesis to Moses and to David and beyond, we see the same mixed bag of humanity.  And yet, and here is the really important part:  all of these people were loved, and guided, by God.  David, especially, was beloved of God, and he seems to be the worst of the bunch.  Why is that?  Well, because David had a heart for God.  And though he sometimes put his own desires in front of God, he also always repented and returned to God.   

John R. Coats writes beautifully about Abraham's faith, using insights gained from Karen Armstrong's book, "In The Beginning":   " '[Abraham] was not allowed to approach his new God with any preconceived ideas.  The authors of Genesis do not show Abraham evolving a theology, a set of beliefs. ...[T]hey imagined him responding to events and experiencing the divine in an imperative that broke down old certainties and expectations.'  In other words, ... whatever Abraham may have believed about the nature of divinity was to be assaulted by the experience of this new diety. ... 'In the ancient world,' writes Armstrong, 'faith did not mean theological conviction as it does today, but rather a total reliance on another.  Having launched himself on the quest for the unknown, Abraham was impelled not by a set of strong, orthodox beliefs in one or another particular god, but by a sense of presence that it was impossible to define or categorize.  He is depicted as traveling forward toward the perpetually new, rather than taking his stand on ancestral piety.'"  (pg. 103)  The same could be true of many of the characters in the Bible. 

These words about Abraham echo my own experience of God as a near constant presence guiding my life.  But not too long ago, God was a very distant figure to me, not thought about much at all, except for an hour on Sunday, if then.   What changed?  Well, I began to question what I had been taught about God.  As I stripped away the beliefs I had been taught as a child, and the doctrine that I had been taught as a teenager, then I began to see and hear God more clearly.  I felt like Jacob, discovering for the first time that God is present in this place, here and now.  Now, as I work on stripping away the idols, or little gods, of my culture, God's presence becomes even more clear.  And yet I can't really say that I know much about God, except that God truly is.  It's that steadfast presence that I am learning to trust more and more.

Is it just a coincidence that the more I make God my "all in all," the more clearly I can see and hear God's presence in my life?  I don't think so.  That seems like a no-brainer to me.

Faith truly is a reciprocal process.  The more I give, trusting in God alone, the more I receive.  

Dear God, thank you for not giving up on me.  May I always be as patiently loving and forgiving as you are.  Love always, Pam

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Search for Understanding

"Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."  -- Luke 11:9-10

This passage was part of the Gospel reading last Sunday.  It's probably one of Jesus's most famous sayings.  It's been one of the most significant passages for me on my journey of faith.  To me, these words honor the search for understanding, the desire to ask questions about faith, about God, about life.  Last Sunday, as I sat in church, hearing these familiar words again, I was struck by the thought that Jesus's words above must apply to everyone, at every moment in time, and not just Christians.  For if God is the creator of the world, then it makes sense that everyone would find the guidance they need from the source that created them, whatever they may choose to call that source.

You see, the day before I had watched a wonderful program on television, produced by the PBS, about the Buddha.  Born Prince Siddhartha Gautama, into wealth and privilege, sheltered from the world outside the palace walls, he one day desires to visit his subjects, and sees first an old man and then an ill man. When he learns that everyone ages and becomes ill, he begins to wonder about the purpose and meaning of life.  So he leaves the palace and begins to follow the spiritual leaders of his day.  Through their severe aesthetic practices, which include extreme fasting and bodily mutilation, he hopes to find the answers to his questions.  For seven years, he searches for meaning in this way, without success.  Finally, almost at the point of death, he questions the whole aesthetic way.  In that instant, he remembers a simple, happy moment in his childhood, and then a village girl walking by gives him some milk and rice pudding.   Guided by these two examples, Siddhartha begins to seek the answers to his questions within himself, tuning into his own inner being and pondering the insight that comes to him.  In this way, he finally reaches enlightenment, finding the answers to his questions, and many other truths besides. 

The similarities between the teachings of Buddha and the teachings of Jesus are striking.  Through stories uniquely fitting their own particular times and cultures, they both taught that wisdom was available to everyone, men and women alike, from every walk of life; that violence always leads to more violence; and that greed, anger, and ignorance must be replaced with generosity, compassion, and wisdom.  Both emphasized the individual search for enlightenment, as well as the importance of community; and both sent disciples out to teach others, stipulating that they not take anything with them.  But there are also significant differences between them.  Buddha's teachings emphasize the suffering of this world and the solution of non-attachment, while Jesus's teachings emphasize the healing power of faith and the joy to be found in communion with God.

So if there is only one ultimate source of wisdom, why do various spiritual seekers sometimes find different answers? 

I recalled the image of a mountain as a metaphor for the spiritual journey.  God is at the peak and there are paths to the top from all different sides.  We come to God from different places -- even within our own particular religious tradition -- because our particular family, our culture, our history, and our unique personalities, lead us to ask different questions.  Siddhartha asked questions about old age and suffering.  I frequently ask questions about unity amongst people of different beliefs.  The answers we get are as unique as the questions we ask.

Thinking again of the metaphor of the mountain, I wondered if our position on the mountain from bottom to top is not a matter of our age or the time we spend on the journey, but instead is a reflection of our ability to see each other on the same mountain..  For the closer to the top of the mountain one is, the more the paths converge, the more we see in common.  For example, among Christians one common understanding is that the grace of God is available to all.  Another is that we are all members of the body of Christ, uniquely gifted to reveal an essential part of the truth of God, without which the body would be incomplete.  The more we focus on those commonalities the less likely we are to see ourselves as separated from each other.  I am sure there are core beliefs shared by all the various sects of the major religions.  The more individual members of these religions focus on those core beliefs the more easily they would see what binds them together.  As would be the case for people of different faiths altogether.

In contrast, the more we focuses on the differences between us and our neighbor, the more separated we are from that neighbor.  People who focus on the differences could potentially be so far apart from each other that they might think there are no other people on the mountain with them, except those few who think like they do!  They might actually think there was only one path to God:  their path. 

But why are some paths so radically different?

Besides asking different questions, perhaps one reason why there are differences is because communication is difficult, even between people who speak the same language and are face to face.  How much harder is it for us to understand the great mysteries of the world, or to hear clearly God's guidance when we cannot even see God or hear God speaking audibly?  Then imagine trying to convey that great understanding you have discovered, or been shown, to someone who wasn't there.  And yet that is what all the great enlightened ones try to do.  They try to convey to others The Way.  How well this gets passed down, especially from generation to generation, is another story.  Coincidentally, both the Buddha and Jesus were frustrated by the slowness of their disciples to understand their message.  So perhaps one reason the great spiritual leaders seem so different is because their disciples didn't get the core of their message, or didn't focus on that alone, but instead were distracted by something else, something non-essential.  As I've written before, I often get in the way of God's guidance.  Now imagine everyone being this human.

I read in "The Teaching of the Compassionate Buddha," compiled and edited by E. A. Burtt, that the Buddha's teachings, called the dharma, conveyed "the way that man should follow in order to fulfill his true nature and carry out his moral and social responsibilities."  And yet the Buddha's disciples kept asking him metaphysical questions about eternity and life after death, questions that he had no interest in answering.  Buddha tried to keep his disciples focused on his message of practical wisdom and compassion, and away from matters which could not be attested by everyone because he did not want his great insight to be sidetracked by futile metaphysical arguments.  He said, "...bear always in mind what it is I have not explained, and what it is I have explained....  And why have I not explained this?  Because it profits not." (pgs 35 -36)  And yet today when one thinks of Buddhism, one thinks more of karma and reincarnation, both metaphysical constructions, than the way of Buddha. 

I think the same thing happened with Jesus.  Like the Buddha, Jesus tried to keep his disciples on his same path when he said, "Call no one father or rabbi.  You have one Father, which is God.  You have one teacher, who is the Messiah."  And yet, instead of following his way, his truth, and his life, many of his disciples focused, and still focus, on the afterlife or the second coming, or who Jesus was, or argue about diverse doctrinal constructions that Jesus never said anything about. 

It is no longer surprising to me that we are all on different paths. It is actually more wondrous that some of us walk together on the same path.  But this can only happen if we choose not to ask our own questions.  I've been there, on that kind of path.  And I can tell you that I knew very little of God, or of  myself.  Which makes me wonder if there is a corollary to the passage above:  if you do not ask, you will not receive; if you do not seek, you will not find; and if you do not knock, the door will never be opened...

Dear God, your light shines from many angles.  May I always be mindful of the unique path you want me to follow.  Love always, Pam