Psalm 1:1-6 – (Gelineau Version) Happy indeed are the ones who follow not the counsel of the wicked; nor linger in the way of sinfulness nor sit in the company of scorners, but whose delight is the law of the Lord and who meditate on it day and night. They are like a tree planted beside the flowing waters, that yield their fruit in due season and whose leaves shall never fade; and all that they do shall prosper. Not so are the wicked, not so! For they like winnowed chaff shall be driven away by the wind. When the wicked are judged they shall not stand, nor find room among those who are just; for the Lord guards the way of the just but the way of the wicked leads to doom.
Luke 12:22-32 – (from Eugene Peterson's The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language) Jesus taught his disciples. “Don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more.
“Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can't even do it, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don't fuss with their appearance – but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don't you think God'll attend to you, take pride in you, do the best for you?
“What I am trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way God works, fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dearest friends! God wants to give you the very Realm of God itself. Be generous, give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can't go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It's obvious isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”
“How can I be my MOST true self and reach my greatest potential during this lifetime? I am 48, facing ‘the back nine,' experiencing loss – my father's passing and my sister's life threatening illness – has made me process the purpose of my life. I am questioning what my true, authentic Self is and what my greatest potential can be. What will be my mantle? What mantle has God planned for me?” Susan and Todd Christman are active members of the church. Susan practiced law as a litigator and is now parenting Cole and Brooke. Susan is active in pesticide/environmental and political advocacy as well as an active volunteer in the public schools.
A comatose woman who lay dying suddenly felt as if she'd been taken to heaven. “Who are you?” a voice asked. “I am the wife of the mayor.” “I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.” “I am the mother of four children.” “I did not ask you whose mother you are but who you are?” “I am a school teacher.” “I didn't ask your profession.” “I am a Christian.” “I didn't ask your religion.” And so it went. With incomplete responses she was sent back to earth. When she recovered, she was determined to find out who she was. And that made all the difference.
An observation: what forces and encounters conspire to push us to look within, to know who we are before and beyond “what” we are or do?
In their quest to understand what brain states underlie happiness, love, and wisdom, and how to train, strengthen, and use the mind to stimulate those positive brain states, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson and neurologist Richard Mendius write in their book, Buddha's Brain, “When your mind changes, your brain changes, too… For example, taxi drivers in London – whose job requires remembering lots of twisty streets – develop a larger hippocampus (a key brain region for making visual-spatial memories), since that part of the brain gets an extra workout. As you become a happier person, the left frontal region of your brain becomes more active…. You can use your mind to change your brain for the better.”
An observation: how we think about something colors our experience. How we train our minds influences our worldview and relationships, and creates coherence between Being and doing, and a life that is happy, wise, loving, grounded, and internally peaceful.
After the fifth time he had the same dream the rabbi departed Krakow for Prague to dig for the dream's promised treasure hidden under a bridge. Many soldiers guarded the bridge and so day after day he stood there watching until the captain of the guard asked him what he was up to. He told the captain his dream and the captain had a good laugh, “If I were stupid enough to act on my own dreams, I would be in Krakow today digging for a treasure in the corner of the kitchen of some rabbi.” The rabbi thanked the captain, hurried home and dug up the treasure that kept him comfortable the rest of his life.
An observation: the treasure of your essential Being is not in some distant place but awaits the digging for and discovering within that reveal your identity, abundance, and wholeness.
In the fifth of our six-part summer Teaching series inspired by questions addressing a vital element of the faith and daily life of six church members, we seek a faith that is alive, full, and authentically our own, a faith rooted in a Christianity that exists unbuoyed by dogma, doctrine, and unexamined beliefs. Susan Christman looks deeply at the purpose of her life to discern how to be her most authentic Self, fulfill her potentials, and know that she is on the right path having listened to trustworthy inner voices. The mix, including reaching a certain age, the death of her father, and her sister's life-threatening illness spurred her on.
Before pausing to raise Cole and Brooke as Todd provided for their family, Susan was a litigating attorney. While volunteering in the schools she advocates for local environmental and political issues. Her quest is the human quest, though sadly for far too many people, busy lives, full days, an over-abundance of commitments and activities, or very hard and challenging life circumstances divert attention from the essential questions, Who am I and what shall I do with my life? The nature of Susan's quest invites our response to the challenge in the last lines of a Mary Oliver poem,
“Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
A reflection: Who am I? How do I become my True Self and reach my greatest potential? Have I genuinely listened and am I true to the inner voices? Those questions are huge, the answers to which may be reliable in one season of life and deficient in another, supportive at a particular time and hammered by circumstances in another. One moment a life has direction and purpose, the next it may face a disruptive discovery, a personal tragedy, or a change in conditions. That which keeps our lives centered, focused, and balanced when circumstances change or we need to make new meaning, purpose, and contentment, lies inside each of us. There is an inner Spirit that gives us strength and steadiness to forge ahead into an emerging unknown, a fearless courage, and a liberated curiosity to explore and embrace whatever rises on the horizon. You may not be able to change circumstances but you can direct your brain, mind, and soul.
A reflection: I have four reliable core paths that lead to the answers within to those huge questions: first, Jesus was spot on: we can love others only in proportion to the extent we love ourselves. Hanson and Mendius echo Jesus counsel, “It's a general moral principle that the more power you have over someone, the greater your duty to use that power benevolently. Well, who is the one person in the world you have the greatest power over? It's your future self. You hold your life in your hands, and what it will be depends on how you care for it.” The authors note that self-compassion is more powerful than self-esteem because it “reduces the impact of difficult conditions, preserves self-worth, and builds resilience…It also opens your heart….”
Second, it is important to know, appropriate, and exercise the power of your presence through the gifts and talents you possess. The New Age futurist, Barbara Marx Hubbard asks, “What are positive images of your future equal to your power.” Two forms of power, among many, come to mind. The first is physical feats conquering mountain, ocean, space, or overcoming a vulnerable limitation. The second is the power to be fully present to yourself. The power of knowing who and whose you are enables you to approach dreams and visions in a way that can amplify your joy and aliveness, your faith and hope. The latter form of power emerges from Jesus' counsel in the morning lesson to worry less about your material circumstances in order to focus more on your rich and wonderful interior being and your union with God and Christ. Once we embrace our inner purpose we are able to successfully live into our purpose in the world. In the Christ-style life this is what Jesus meant when he counsels us to “Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.” So, what constructive, positive dreams and visions do you have for your future that are equal to your inner calling?
Third, when we discern and live into what really matters we need to have at our side a beloved community that shares, supports, and sustains our values and intentions. Undertaking the quest for identity, purpose, meaning, and peace is a courageous, intensely spiritual work. At one level it is a solitary work and at the same time one that greatly benefits from the help of a strong church family, spiritual direction, a life-coach, a seasoned spiritual friend, a purposeful small group, or a pastoral partner. A vital element of self-compassion and self-care is being connected rather than going-it-alone.
Fourth, all of this effort requires sturdy spiritual practices. Two practices stand out: first, prayer that moves to and from meditation. It has been said that there are four stages of prayer: you talk, God listens. God talks, you listen. Neither talk, both listen. Neither talk, neither listen: Silence ---- pure silence. It's a truly generous gift to yourself and to your quest to claim the centering moment with words and to enter into the guidance of trustworthy silence.
The second practice is loving-kindness. It is not a complete spiritually or humanly sufficient to know one's Self and not extend equal portions of compassion and care to others and the world. It is something like this: the congregation was intensely curious when their most revered, pious, and deeply mystical Sister disappeared early every Saturday night only to return early Sunday just before the Mass. A congregant was chosen to follow her to see if she was secretly meeting the Lord in order to learn ever greater truths. The witness saw the Sister emerge from her house in shabby attire – disguised? -- then furtively walk to the other side of the village, and enter the shanty of an elderly Moslem paraplegic who lived alone after his wife's death. Through the night the Sister busied herself dusting and cleaning the single room, stoking the fire and stacking kindling, and preparing a Sunday feast for him. Before dawn, when the witness returned the congregation asked, “Where did Sister go? Did she ascend to heaven? “No,” the spy replied, “she went even higher.”
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