Friday, March 24, 2017

Joy-Theft is Real: Keep it Safe!

It is so important to not only seek out joy but to live in it. There is so much in this life that can bring us joy. There are also moments, events, and people who can knowingly or unknowingly steal our joy at times. We must hang on to our joy at all times. 

I got a little bent out of shape earlier this week. I was being challenged by a very close family member not just on my beliefs but because I do not believe the way the majority of the people believe in my family. This very thing pops up at least 2 or 3 times a year and it is tiring. It happens. Most of the people in my family are Southern Baptist – you know, the people with all the answers (pardon my attitude). I then vented about it on Facebook only to delete the post.

As Unitarian Universalists, we find comfort in our Faith knowing that no one persecutes us within our organization's walls where beliefs are concerned. We are hoping that others outside of our walls will not bring us spiritual injury – but some do. Sometimes we let them. Sometimes we walk away. Sometimes we stay and argue. I think for those of us who take UUism to heart, we truly do work to respect each person on his or her path – even those people who are so dead-set on converting the world to what he/she believes. We respect each person’s path – even those who are out to bring us spiritual harm. 

As a former minister in the Christian faith, I had to be quite vocal in advising this family member that while I find value and merit in many of the teachings of the Rabbi Yeshua (or Jesus), most of the teachings from institutional Christianity I discarded a long time ago. As one who still keeps Christianity tucked away as part of my spiritual history and part of my dualistic spiritual path, I had to explain that I am not a literalist when it comes to sacred text.

The literal teachings of heaven and hell, Satan, the Second Coming, the Resurrection of Jesus – these are areas that have always challenged my mind. I am just not sold on these areas of belief. Whether these things exist or whether these events have happened or will happen are of very little interest to me. I do not say that with arrogance or to tout disbelief. I say this because it is not something I wish to invest in. I have never understood it.

Just as fundamentalist Christians enjoy picking and choosing which verses from the scriptures they will use to abuse others with or exercise privilege with, I have taken delight in picking and choosing which ones make sense to me or are relevant to my personal path. Modern day interpretations certainly have infiltrated and bastardized the original translations from the original Greek. The same is true from my Earth-centered beliefs. I do not consider myself Pagan or Shamanistic, even though a lot of what I believe and practice draws from those systems (and my spouse and I were married by a Shaman). I do not call upon a God/Goddess/Lord/Lady, for example. But it is my Agnostic self that takes over in most instances – allowing me to question, seek, learn, draw from others, and yet not be so quick to label particular aspects of the spiritual.

It is interesting how many religions focus on death and the afterlife – the preparation for such in the earthly life. Growing up in Christianity – this is all I ever heard about. Getting one’s “soul right” with Jesus/God was the hot topic. Living a life of sacredness coupled with fear were ingredients of spiritual discipline. And I tried HARD to do all of this. I tried HARD to understand it. I even went into ordained ministry to see if I could get it to work. I prayed. I went on retreats. I underwent spiritual counseling. I met with bishops and priests in my faith to discuss it to get it “right.” I just always felt like I was staring at a blank wall. That always made me feel guilty – especially since I eventually wound up with a collar around my neck and a congregation to care for. Meanwhile, I was bleeding to death inside.

It is for these reasons alone that I find comfort and draw strength in Unitarian Universalism. In UUism, I’m not the oddball in the room (just one of many!). In UUism, I am not looked down on because of what I believe or how I believe it. This is expressed each Sunday when Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Pagans, and other Seekers all come together under one roof to share Common Ground at the local UU meeting house.

A dear friend of mine said to me this week to not let others steal my joy. What is interesting is that when I have provided spiritual counseling to others I have advised them of the same thing. The teacher becomes the student. And all of us – ministers and laity alike – need to be reminded of these simple truths. Joy is something that is precious – like a fine jewel – that can be easily stolen if not protected. This protection comes from knowing yourself, standing in your personal truth, and not allowing the outside world with all of it various beliefs and cares stab you in the heart. It will try to wound you, convert you, rob you – but you hold the key to true love and joy. I was thankful for that reminder this week. It was what I needed to hear.

As you go about your journey this week, I wish you love, joy and peace in all things. I wish for you mindfulness. I wish for you comfort and serenity – even when it seems like there is so much turmoil or negative energy rustling around near your feet. The Buddha reminds us that “You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy.” Let us focus on that. Let us think about the things in our personal lives, in our communal lives that bring us that to that state of gratitude and joy.

Namaste/Shalom/Blessed Be. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Springing Forth New Growth

It's my favorite time of year: Spring!! I was a Spring baby - born in April. A very proud Aries (with the tattoo to prove it)! It is this time of year that I come alive. I love all of the green and purple and red and yellow and pink that is popping out everywhere. All of my irises, jonquils, buttercups, crossvines and redbud trees are in full bloom. The bees are busy buzzing around, the birds are singing, the woodpeckers are pecking away and the squirrels are running up and down the trees. Spring is here! 

Today, at Pathways UU, where I attend, we had our labyrinth walk (something that is done 4 times a year when the earth changes seasons). The labyrinth has become an important message in the life of Pathways - a time of reflection, a time of focus, a time of energizing. While some were walking the labyrinth others were focusing their energies playing drums, tambourines, and other noisemakers to cheer in the season.

As we experience Spring and exercises such as the labyrinth, it gives us a new opportunity to stop and reflect on our path or our journey. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on new growth in our spiritual lives, our personal lives, our careers, new experiences, and the like. 

One of the areas that I am usually called to is working in my yard. I grew up in the country (and I do mean country!) where we lived on about 5 acres of land with about 2 acres that was our vegetable garden. One of the memories I have of my childhood home are all of the flowers that mother planted everywhere. Along the property line along the lane on the outset of the fence my mother planted all different colors of irises. Up near the house in the flower beds she had a mixture of spider mums, lilies, and roses. Driving into our property we had two large bricked columns where mother had planted beautiful rose bushes. Every Spring when I start working in the yard my mind always takes me back to where I grew up. 

Working with the dirt, planting new plants and flowers, fertilizing the soil, finding new life (like bugs and lizards) - it is all very prayerful to me. There is a deep connection that I have with it all. There is something about this work that puts me in a particular state of obedience, a reverence, as if I am entering the great sanctuary of Life - doing my part to bring nurturing care to each element. Working in the yard is not easy work. It is tiring, it is messy, your clothes get dirty and you sweat - a lot. Especially here in Texas (here it is the last week of March and the temperatures are already in the upper 80s).  

Today I worked in the front yard trimming the shrubs that line the front of our house. I did a lot of cuttings, removing a lot of extra growth. I cleaned out the flower beds that had a lot of small leaves left over from the autumn and winter that were hanging on tight to the dirt below the shrubbery. I removed old yard ornaments, such as the globes that light up at night that have stopped working. I removed the things that were hindering new growth. 

Spring gives us that opportunity - to prune, to dig in the soil, to plant, to prepare, to see life. Spring gives us the opportunity to clean out flower bed and get ready for new plants to be added. Spring gives us the opportunity to fix up new areas. It's a time of Life. It's a time of Growth. It's a time of Newness. It's a time of New Growth in various areas of our lives. 

It reminds me of the Spring hymn that starts:
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Spring is the rising of the green blade after it has been dormant during the Winter. The lesson is that even though we may have felt dead in certain areas in our life, we have so many opportunities for new growth, new life. 

As you ponder about Spring and revel in the colors, the sounds, the activities - use this as a time to reflect on the areas of growth taking place in your life. Or use this as a time to plan for what areas of growth you would like to see rise up like a green blade from deep in the earth. What seeds would you like to plant? 

As Spring comes to greet us, I wish each of you a blessed season filled with new opportunities and new growth. 

Namaste/Shalom/Blessed Be!