Saturday, January 18, 2014

LIFE! LIFE HAPPENED.

A brief conversation on a recent TV program caught my attention.

A middle aged lady was describing her tennis prowess as a young teenager.
She won enough chanpionships that by age 15 she considered turning pro.

Her friend then asked: "What happened?" and she simply responded: "Life! Life happened."

Enough said for those of us with much life experience..."life is what happens while you're making other plans!"

Transitions in our life happen constantly. We move from sunrise to sunset every day.

But sometimes a life change event can be so overwhelming that we feel devastated.

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr says a crisis "can be devastating. The crisis undoes you... it washes out your spiritual life. What you thought you knew about living the spiritual life no longer suffices for the life you are living."

Sooner or later, "life happens!" and we can feel lost.

Father Eugene Kennedy compared our life's journey to an ocen voyage. He said "our passage takes place on a pitching deck and sometimes the only thing we can do is hold on until the seas grow calm again."

The fact is that we all have times where we need help in "holding on" until our life reaches calmer seas.
And this is where the rubber meets the road for spirituality.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

SPIRITUALITY AND FAITH

As 2014 begins, it seems natural to take a deeper look at spirituality.

For me, the definition of spirituality continues to be elusive, but I recently came across an explanation of faith that seems to best express my understanding of spirituality. It was quoted by Professor Charles Kimball in his book, When Religion Becomes Evil, and is from Faith and Belief  by Wilfred Cantwell Smith:

It is an orientation of the personality, to oneself, to one's neighbor, to the universe...
a capacity to live at a more than mundane level;
to see, to feel, to act in terms of, a transcendent dimension...

It is engendered and sustained by a religious tradition, in some cases and to some degree by its doctrines; but it is a quality of the person, not of the system.

...Faith, then, is a quality of human living. At its best it has taken the form of serenity and courage and loyalty and service: a quiet confidence and joy which enable one to feel at home in the universe and to find meaning in the world and in one's own life, a meaning that is profound and ultimate, and is stable no matter what may happen to oneself at the level of immediate event.

What a world it could be if everyone could find such a spirituality!

I have experienced such faith at times in my life (on my better days) but the dark night of the soul has been my more recent companion. As the Apostle Paul put it, "I have not yet arrived." And unlike him, I do not always feel I can "press on."  But, as the saying goes, I'm "workin' on it."

Monday, December 30, 2013

A MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMASTIDE

To love
               to love as Jesus did

to give to share to lend a hand to help someone


To love
               to love

to give of ourselves of all we have and all we are


To love
                to love from deep inside 

to love until we can no more and then to love
                                                                          to love
                                                                                       even some more


To love
                to love is to live
                                            to live

Not to love
                    is
                        to die

[first composed while in college ~ 1967]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

IS GOD THE MASTER OF IMPROVISATION? (Uncertainty continued)

Thoughts about the uncertainty of life have led me to new questions about the traditional ideas about God (such as if God is God, then God must be omniscent, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc.)

But if I think outside the box, I can ask:
What if the "Creator" does not have a "master plan" and is making things up as "He" goes along?
What if God is simply improvising?

Is that the real issue behind "creationists" arguments about evolution?

It occurs to me that the Biblical story of Noah points to improvisation.

According to the account in Genesis, the Lord comes to regret having created mankind (Genesis 6:6) and decides to destroy 'His' creation. But Noah finds grace and is given instructions to build the ark and take just enough to start over. 

An unbiased reading of the story would seem to indicate that God made a mistake in creating mankind and had to improvise to correct the situation... So is God making this up as "He" goes along? This question may seem blasphemous to my former Sunday School teahers (or even some seminary professors) but it is a legitimate question. And perhaps a possible answer is that God is blindsided by the future as much as we are. 
At any rate, being blind-sided by the uncertainties of life forces us to improvise.

Maybe that's not so bad...it makes life quite an adventure!

When I was growing up, I heard in Sunday School that I was a sinner and would go to hell unless I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior, which I did (I wasn't stupid...I knew I didn't want to burn forever!) But at some point I got to thinking about heaven -- a place where we would live God forever and every day would be like Sunday. Actually I hated Sunday: because of all the "Sabbath" rules. it was the most boring day of the week! So thoughts of heaven made me cry!!
I don't want hell, but boredom can be its own hell.
The bumper sticker says: "WE PLAN. GOD LAUGHS!"

Maybe we should laugh at our plans too!

[PS: I'm making this up as I go along.]

HOW THEN SHALL WE LIVE?

According to Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to fulfill more 'advanced' needs. These are usually pictured in a pyramid, with basic physiological needs (food water, sleep) at the bottom, followed by safety and security needs. Then come social and friendship needs, followed by self-esteem and success needs, with "self-actualization" at the top.

In practical terms, our desire to live and survive is paramount.

But if that is so, why do people commit suicide?

In my opinion, once our basic survival needs are met, we arrive at the questions of meaning and purpose.

My search for meaning began during my second year in college. I had transferred from a small college in my hometown to a large state university in another state. The loss of familiarity, and feeling overwhelmed and insignificant by the size of the student body, made me quite vulnerable. And the intellectual challenges of the academic world soon saw my old Sunday School answers and beliefs evaporate as my new questions expanded. What if there is no God? What if death means the end of my existence? Why live if it all comes to nothing? Why not end it now?

My own suicidal thoughts and search for meaning led me to realize that the love and friendships in my life had mattered to me, whether or not  I ceased to exist at death. So I made a choice and decided that life was worth living...I chose life.

A few years ago, I was watching a TV program where a priest made the following comment:
"We don't find meaning in life...we make meaning."

We can study the world's great philosophers, adopt various spiritual disciplines of the world's great religious traditions, and/or find our personal guru. But in the end, we must decide for our self and choose our own path.  No one can live our life for us.

How then shall we live?
No one's answers really matter but our own, and it is only through working out our own spirituality that we
make our way.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Do not miss Rami Shapiro's blogs, "Happy Sukkot" (9/19/2013) and "The New Covenant" (10/20/2103) at www.rabbirami.blogspot.com

UNCERTAINTY IS PART OF THE HUMAN CONDITION

"Life is what happens while you are making other plans."

My birthday is on January 10. My brother's is on December 1.
This is why I remember the following experience.

Back when I was a pastor, one of my church members with cancer was dying in the hospital. Her daughter called me on December 1 and requested that I come to the hospital ASAP -- the Oncologist had just told the family that their mother could not last through the day. After standing vigil with the family for some time,
I told the daughter that I needed to leave, and explained that in my experience, it might be some time before death would occur.

Long story short, the daughter called me while I was having my birthday breakfast to inform me that her mother had died...40 days after the doctor's prediction!

My life's companion Janice and I were married in 1972, and decided to start a family in 1974. Instead of getting pregnant, in 1975,she was informed that she had myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder she has coped with since. Another long story short, she discovered she was pregnant in 1994--22 years later!
Our son Quincy was born that year on November 3--a joy unspeakable. And yet, his life almost ended at age 2, and he was diagnosed with Asperger's in 2009. Uncertainty is now an unavoidable daily companion, but his story is for another time.

UNCERTAINTY IS PART OF THE HUMAN CONDITION.

I have written the above to preface my reaction to a report I just read in the quarterly newsletter of Hospice of Virginia (my last employer) concerning an article entitled "Uncertainty -- The Other Side of Prognosis" from the New England Journal of Medicine (6/27/2013.)

The article was quoted as follows: "In many respects, the primary communication task of clinicians is the management of uncertainty...By normalizing uncertainty and attending to the affective response to living in the face of an uncertain future, we may help our patients and their families enjoy the time they have now."

I love academic jargon!! (For those with Asperger's, that is sarcasm.)
That quote reminds me of an old beer commercial:
"You only go around once in life, so grab all the gusto you can."

As humans, there is only one certainty we all face: some day we will die.

How then do we live? That is a question that only our own spirituality can answer.
(To be continued...)