Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 15, 2020 - We Shall Overcome

I spoke with someone recently who informed me that it was considered inappropriate, by their racial justice group, for white people to sing the social justice anthem “We Shall Overcome.” As a sensitive person, who makes a conscious effort to empathize with people's viewpoints, especially as pertains to race, at first I felt that I must somehow be wrong in my view. I was very disappointed.

I have sung this song many times over the years. I have sung it in choirs, I have sung it with my afterschool kids in the mall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I even wrote a countermelody to it for church. I have a relationship with this song.

Very quickly after concluding I must be wrong, I started to question that. I also started to question the right of people to exclude others from art. 

But there is something to the point she was making. Our job as white people is to listen. Regarding the issue of racism and bigotry, a majority needs to comprehend the value of listening to the minority voices in the room. Talk less, listen more. Support any and all opportunities at which loving dialogue may occur and history recognized. Use your privilege for that. 

I thought maybe I shouldn’t sing this song anymore and I should just listen to it. So I did.

I have two thoughts after listening carefully to it. One, is that the “we” in the song lyrics refers to the greater “We,” not just the “we” who have had the experience. The reason I know this is because there is no teaching on earth throughout history which claims that anything is ever accomplished without doing it together. 

Which brings me to my second thought. The song is not about the past so it cannot exclude anyone based on their lack of experience with it. The song never once references the past. The past is implied by the words, but not spoken of. This is the grace of this incredible work of poetry and prayer. It is exclusively about a vision for the future accomplished as a group.

To exclude people from singing this song based on their race is not the future the song speaks of. That is an old lyric of the past. And we don’t sing that song anymore. We sing about the future.

We shall overcome. We’ll walk hand in hand. We shall live in peace. We are not afraid. The truth shall make us free. Deep in my heart I do believe that we shall overcome someday. 

This is my theology of optimism in song form. It is not something which can be misappropriated or co-opted for darker purposes. It is not something which human tongues can diminish. It is resplendent, and impervious to misuse.

We shall overcome our past because we are already doing it. We’re not there yet, but there’s a provable trend from which to extract some definite hope. Just take a step back and look at the past 200 years and imagine the various categories of civilization, from education to workers rights, especially civil rights, all displayed on a series of graphs. It doesn’t take a sociologist to see the trend. 

We are nowhere near anything resembling a finish line. There’s so much work to be done. But the vast majority of our task to date has been the enormous undertaking of revealing the work we need to do in the first place. It took decades of increasing awareness and comprehension on the subject of race to even get where we're at right now. It’s only with this set of generations living today that we are really starting to understand how deep the roots of the problem go and what our responsibility is in doing something about it. 

But the one certainly is that a society progresses only in direct proportion to its ability to work together. There is no exclusion in the word we. No one can own it. No one can dictate who belongs within the greater We. 

I do believe we shall overcome our past because humanity only ever seeks to know one another better. Is inherently human to be in relationship. We can’t resist it. Even when we are afraid, we seek it. We seek to be at peace by nature. The more at peace we are the less protection we shall need. Only the greater We can make this future possible.  

It’s understandable in this age of heightened social awareness to want to ferret out every way in which we have been careless with our words and actions without thinking. We should be mindful of all ways in which one culture diminishes another by misappropriating and misusing its traditions. We should care about the feelings of others. We should want to know how to be better. But don’t confuse sincerity with overzealousness.

First we have to simply become comfortable with the idea that “we“ is inclusive in the future we seek to create. Seek to be welcoming. Welcome any idea that will not harm you. Turn it over in your hand and poke at it. Ask it questions and have the humility to listen to the reply. If someone is in pain there is a truth to be known. Listen for it. It will make your life easier.  

I will never pretend to understand all the intricacies of the racial crisis or its solutions. There’s only so much I can personally know about the struggles of others. But that is the purpose of humility. Humility first before all action. Humility first before all prayer, all words, all listening. I supplicate myself before the truth. 

I’m sure there’s plenty to be criticized in my words above. Some may think I have no right to think as I do. But I am on the side of love and equality and justice and freedom and prosperity and peace in equal measure for all of humanity. We will all make our mistakes on the road to achieving it, but try to remain welcoming of the intent. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions, it is paved with apathy. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 8, 2020 - The Baby and the Bathwater

I don’t remember learning much about the Christian season of Lent as a child. I know it was mentioned. I remember the word Lent being spoken. Not by my immediate family. None of them are churchgoers by nature. I remember that you were supposed to give up chocolate from around Valentine’s Day until Easter when you could get it all back. Seemed like an odd procedure to just break even in the end.

I revisited the concept again recently. I’ve never had a problem with the idea of observing Lent. It just never was a priority. But this year I’ve been thinking about my own personal relationship with Christianity. I’ve been thinking about what parts of the tradition resonate with me and which ones don’t.

It’s actually quite difficult not to throw out the baby with the bathwater sometimes. There are parts of Christian tradition that I have simply ignored, rejected, or were confused by. A lot of that quasi-resentment comes from the bad name that some Christians manage to give the practice of Christianity through their unloving actions and words. It’s enough to give any faith a bad reputation. Jesus said it’s not what goes in someone’s mouth which defiles them. It’s what comes out. Sadly, not all Christians practice Christianity. And so it makes it difficult for those of us who actually suspect there’s something of value to be explored in the teachings of Jesus, and the rituals that have grown in response to them, regarding one’s personal spiritual growth.

It’s taken me all these years to get around my distaste for public Christians in order to become curious about what lies beneath the hypocrisy and corruption which so often eclipses our view. I have concluded there is much to explore.

The lens through which I view all religious traditions and rituals is our intrinsic human nature. If we didn’t like a ritual or a teaching or a story, we would not perpetuate it. If it didn’t make us feel good, or teach us something, or resonate positively with the subconscious part of our human psyche, we would not pass it on. So, about things which have been handed down generation after generation, I am rabidly curious. No tradition exists through inertia.

I started looking at the activity of baptism and the history of its ritual, even prior to Christianity. The word baptism in our present culture refers directly to becoming a part of the Christian faith. But baptism existed before. And the origins of the word refer to a ritual purification not specific to any particular faith. So what is baptism?

In looking at the various layers of the word and the way it has been translated by other languages in the past (which give hints at their context), it has a very specific and nuanced meaning. Baptism is a ritual cleansing by immersion in a pool or body of water deep enough to submerge an adult but shallow enough to stand. That’s what the tradition of the word expresses regarding its physical ritual.

It’s spiritual purpose is always to cleanse and purify as a preparation for a new way of living. Not by scrubbing as if in a bath, but by immersion. This is a cleansing of one’s own sorrow and errors and the weight they place on us. A weight which needs to be lifted periodically through a physical ritual that helps us accomplish relief on the level of our psyche. That’s where inner peace occurs. That’s where the weight rests. Baptism is a ritual of emotional release, of self-forgiveness, prior to a period of deep reflection. You’re going on a spiritual journey. Carry with you only what you must. The fees for excess emotional baggage are too costly.

As far as Christianity goes, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John before he went into the wilderness to fast for 40 days prior to beginning his public ministry. His ministry lasted for three years and ended when he was publicly executed for sedition in full view of a Jewish Passover audience of over two million. It was his teachings which got him into trouble. Neither the state nor the religious scholars of the time were benefited by what Jesus taught. His ministry was a problem to the system.

So when we develop a religious tradition, our intrinsic human nature secretly informs and defines which parts of a story get told and how. We take from it what we need and we expand upon it. We raise a story up as an example on purpose. That’s the part about which to be most curious. Why that part? Why this way?

When you start answering these questions a pattern amongst religions begins to emerge. We start to see our humanity and the lessons we have chosen to pass on, and the ones we have not. When you begin to understand a bit about what we truly need as humans in our rituals, practices, and stories, the baby climbs back in the window.

So I’m looking at Lent. And I’m going to observe it this year. Baptism too. I observed the Islamic holy month of Ramadan several years ago. Why shouldn’t I observe Lent? Why shouldn’t I reconsider what baptism means to me now and refresh my covenant to live according to the teachings? I don’t have to baptize myself into anyone else’s idea. I can consecrate myself to my own. That’s the baby.

Lent is a 40 to 46 day period of time meant for personal reflection and quietness, begun with a ritual of purification and a giving of intent. It is an annual season of preparation and examination. To aid us in this process, we don’t partake of some things which take up too much emotional or hourly real estate. We make time for reflection every day on purpose. In Christianity, this is done as preparation for Easter and celebrating the resurrection of Christ. But Lent and Easter also occur at a time of year when rebirth, reflection, and renewal are intrinsically necessary to our human nature. The winter is ending and we have gained new sorrows which must be attended to. It is in our own best interest to be deliberately reflective. We’re not good at doing that on our own, however, without some structure, discipline, and especially community. Ergo organized religion. That is intrinsically human, too.

This is why humanity has kept the tradition of Lent and other religious practices. Not because a priest or bishop has told them they must. But because there’s a hidden value for everyone in the practice of it. Neither judge a book by its cover, nor heed the commentaries of others without reading it for yourself.

But be aware. Sincere personal reflection has its consequences. After you go through it, there will be things you can no longer tolerate and things you will embrace you never thought you’d love. Those around you will notice it. Not all of them will like it. We honor the sacrifice Jesus made in order to teach his message and speak a difficult truth to a very powerful system. We aspire to do the same.

Your personal consequences will not be as grave. But your life will definitely change. The old you will be gone and a new you will be born. You shall be resurrected, as it were. The process has its discomforts. But joy is the result.

A good spiritual practice worth its salt can handle any scrutiny. Dig deep.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 1, 2020 - The Groundhog Cometh

First it was a bear, in Europe, before they became scarce. Then it was a badger. Although even before the bear, it was people. Once arriving in the United States, it became a groundhog.

This is the genealogy of the harbingers of spring.

Groundhog Day here in the US, occurring annually on February 2, is a tradition which began, according to legend, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in the late 19th century by the Pennsylvania Dutch following their emigration from the German-speaking regions of Europe.

Its purpose is as much meteorological as it is divinitory. We want to know how much longer the winter will last. We want the groundhog to tell us by the shadow it does, or does not, cast as it ritually emerges from its “hibernation.” A shadow means six more weeks of winter. No shadow means an early spring. I've always thought it ironic, under the circumstances, that a sunny day portends a longer winter. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Nonetheless...

Groundhog Day, though not at all a religious observance, coincides with the Catholic and Lutheran festival of Candlemas which honors Jesus’ first presentation at the temple following his birth and the end of his mother’s postpartum confinement. Candles are lit and blessed during the mass in recognition of the expanding light which has entered the world.

The feast of Candlemas, and the likely reason it has the name Candlemas in the first place, is because of its ancient pagan roots in the Gaelic celebration of Imbolc. Although, of course, Imbolc has even further ancient roots of its own.

Traditionally occurring on February 1, Imbolc marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is a ritual of candle-lighting. It is a time for reflection and renewal. It is for the healing of old wounds and the waking of things long sleeping, both literal and figurative. It marks the passing of the old ways into the new, refreshed.

There are also other candle-based traditions in February as well such as the Catholic Blessing of the Throats, which is performed with two candles intersecting to form a cross on February 3. In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, the celebration of Luminescence on the third Sunday in February has gained in popularity across the country since its introduction in 2007. There are many others as well.

Throughout history, candles were lit to chase away evil spirits, cure disease, and ward off death—something the winter knows all too well. We know today that sunlight is a natural disinfectant. Which may cause us to wonder whether the cart was before the horse all along in earlier humans’ recognition that light had properties which science only now recognizes. What might be learned from that?

February also includes with it every manner of light-oriented symbols and rites, across cultures, going back to ancient Roman times, and likely before. These varied traditions were meant to instill hope, foster purification, and instill readiness for the coming spring.

So why does this matter? Because it points to something which is intrinsically human: the need to remind ourselves that Winter will end and the Spring will come. It is our entry into a phase of anticipation which heightens the emotional and physiological value of the thing we anticipate, once it arrives.

We eagerly anticipate the spring, the process of which raises the level of its emotional and physiological value to us. The coming warmth encourages us and bolsters our flagging confidence in surviving the remainder of winter. We examine our shrinking stores of food, the remainders of last year‘s harvest, and take heart that they may just be enough to get us through. Hold on.

Today we may not fear the final phases of winter quite as much. Or perhaps amid the bustle of our busy lives we forget to notice that we fear this time of year. The rate of disease and death is always higher around this time. The long winter has taken its toll on our hearts as well as our loved ones. If there’s one thing we need right now, it’s encouragement. All shall be well.

In the 21st-century, we have not shed our humanity. We have not evolved beyond the point of feeling reflexive discomfort as the winter grinds on. Add to that the complications of our modern world, and perhaps we need rituals of comfort and renewal even more now than in ancient times.

The advice here is to actively seek that comfort, even if you don’t consciously feel you need it. If you are human, this time of year will affect you in one way or another. Modern terminology coins it as seasonal affect disorder, but that’s only a scientific equivalency to our own long history with winter. Heed it.

Turn your face to the light whenever you can. Close your eyes and turn toward a sunny window and feel the light penetrating you. Light a candle and take note of its warmth. Go to a Catholic church and witness the ritual of Candlemas. Seek out neopagan groups who hold public rituals of Imbolc. Search for light at this time. You need it more than you know.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 25, 2020 - The Center of Attention

One of my favorite movie scenes is a short bit in the 1958 film “Auntie Mame” when Mame Dennis, played by Rosalind Russell, is working as a temp phone operator for the law firm of Widdecombe, Gutterman, Applewhite, Bibberman and Black. A tongue-twister, to be sure, for any receptionist. She makes a mess of it, of course. Hilarity ensues, 1950’s style.

But the intention of that kind of job is to make connections between one side of a conversation and another so that communication occurs. A synthesis of two ideas merges to become one, continuous, multidimensional thought.

That’s what happens when a connection is made in our brains as well. Two near but separate regions become connected over a single idea. As a result, a physical, literal piece of tiny human tissue, visible only with an advanced microscope, forms in the brain. Like a phone operator taking a wire from one side of a switchboard and plugging it into the other. Connection complete.

These threads are tenuous at first, but definitely real. They can be strengthened over time by merely thinking about the same idea as often as possible. That dedicated synapse becomes stronger and more prominent the longer and more diverse the conversation across it becomes.

This power works both ways, however. Brain tissue does not evaluate the quality or potential harmfulness of your thoughts, it just thinks them. It will create and strengthen whatever synapses you tell it to. Negative thinking builds circuitry the same as positive thinking does.

There’s advice in that. Be careful what you attend to. It boils down to what you are noticing. Noticing better things creates emotionally healthier circuitry. But it also affects the subjects of your observation. That’s a power as well.

There is a theory in physics called the Observer Effect. I would postulate that it has gone beyond the theoretical into the factual realm. But I am no scientist. The theory suggests that when we observe something it inevitably changes. Sometimes these changes are practical and understandable such as when we go down into the deepest parts of the ocean to observe the life down there and must use bright lights in order to accomplish it. That light is unnatural to the environment and placing it there will inevitably create slight changes in the conditions of the environment they are exploring. The rarely-disturbed life forms down there will behave differently around a foreign object, even fish that are blind and cannot sense light. The mere presence of a foreign body making foreign sounds and emitting foreign smells and tastes into the water will inevitably alter our ability to experience the environment as if it were undisturbed. It is impossible to know what an unobserved subject behaves like.

The phenomenon is not limited to scientific observation. It is a fractal of our reality which occurs in every aspect of our lives and world. We must satisfy ourselves with the fact that our attention alone makes unalterable changes to our environments, and to our brains as well.

Paying attention to something—noticing it—completes a brain circuit. It either builds or strengthens synapses around the subject of our attention. When something is placed—either by us or someone else—into the center of our attention, things occur.

What are you paying attention to? And what are the effects of that attention?

Even in the world of quantum physics we know that observation and expectations affect outcomes at the atomic level. The famed double-slit experiment, which you may research on your own, demonstrates as much. Since we are made of atoms, might it be true that our expectations and observations alter outcomes as well?

How is it that simply by noticing something it changes? I don’t know. But I know it’s happening nonetheless. I believe in the conclusions of the double-slit experiment. Attention changes outcomes. If we assume that is a natural and perhaps universal occurrence, where else is it occurring? And what if we attended to things on purpose, knowing that our attention alone has significance? What if we stopped attending to things which no longer serve us? What if we turned our cheek from them? What if we chose to build our brain wiring as intentionally as if coding a computer algorithm? Are there truly effects on both the viewer as well as the viewed? Yes.

I had a great professor in seminary. She literally pointed our attention to the act of attention itself. I enrolled in her class on the subject of attention because I felt it would serve as a valuable perspective on my ADHD. I wasn’t sure what it had to do with theology, but I was open to the experience.

I was wrong about the impact it might make on my brain’s attentional deficits, but I learned a great deal about the power of the spotlight, the microscope, and the focus of prayer and love.

When applying all these ideas together it suggests we have an ability within us to concentrate loving energy on any subject or idea we choose. As well, we are affected by the things we observe and in what frame of mind we observe them.

As an article of faith, accept the fact that you are an instrument of magic. You have only but to look at something and it shall grow or wither. Your brain will do the same. And while it may take determination and faith to use the power wisely, your presence and attention shall nonetheless move mountains. Mark my words.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 18, 2020 - A Bumper Sticker’s Worth of Wisdom

It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s for the serious. But also, not. It’s for the questioning. And the doubting. As well, it truly is for those who feel comfortable hovering only around the edges, and listening.

For the record, this is an attempt at persuading you to consider yourself in spiritual community with others. That can take many forms. But it is not solitary. Church is a group activity. Some may feel that walking in the woods is their “church.“ And to include trees in your personal “congregation” is a kind and compassionate thought. But it is not church. Church is human, exclusively.

The word “church” comes from the Greek ecclesia, whose original use meant literally “to call out.” The word eventually became a term meaning “a gathering of people.” Combined, in my view, it means a gathering of people who call out. Toward what, is the question. That part is an individual choice.

Before we proceed any further, allow me to clarify that I use the word church broadly here. For not all gatherings of spiritual seekers are in, or might call themselves, a “church.” Different faiths have different names for their places of gathering. And it’s academic in any regard, because the word church does not describe the building, but the people inside it. We slightly misuse the word when using it to refer to the building itself. A church is people. There’s a reason for that.

For a moment let’s talk about the worship experience. Every single church of every single denomination or tradition will express itself differently. Even traditions which are prescribed to proceed in a very specific and traditional way have their variance. So it’s impossible to conclude that there is any one correct way.

There is one thing all religious services of any faith have in common, however. It is “the arc.”

The arc refers to the experience of the congregant while in the worship or ceremonial or ritual experience. It is like any storytelling method, be it a book, tv, or theatre. It has a beginning, a middle, a climax, and an end. Church is meant to take you on a journey by first preparing you, then helping to clear and settle your mind, then we intone with others around us through music and prayer to further align our heartbeats, we often make a small sacrifice at some point, and, if all has been well prepared and thought out, we commune as we receive the message together. That is step one.

Step two is the careful practicing of what we learned and experienced during worship. Because it is, after all, about gaining tools for peaceful living. And since we are a communal species, that means it’s primarily about peaceful living among others.

Traditional church life gives a lot of opportunities for figuring out how to practice in real life what we’ve learned in the church service. And it’s a relatively safe space, or at least it’s meant to be. It’s a space of low stakes. It’s not your job. It’s not your outside life. It’s not your outside circle of friends. The stakes are relatively higher out there.

But inside a church community, through committee work, projects, social outreach, etc., we learn, in somewhat remedial fashion, how to engage with other people. We systematically learn how to be in relationship. Committees are where we practice what has been preached.

But it is not only other people with whom we are in relationship, and what we learn covers that as well. There are four types of relationships: with others, with the planet, with a higher power, and with ourselves. Each of these relational types are the study of focus for any religious or spiritual gathering. Make good use of it.

Around the age of 30, I decided to start attending church again. I didn’t think there would be anything there for me. But I was deeply spiritual and I somehow felt drawn to going back and spending time with the church community I grew up with as a child. Preparing myself that I was probably not in exact theological alignment with the things that might be said from the pulpit at that church, I decided to listen for the bumper sticker.

I believe there is a purpose to all things. And so I believed there was a purpose to my sitting there in my old family church. I concluded that there would be at least a bumper sticker’s worth of wisdom that was meant for me to hear that morning. And I listened for it.

As a result, I always heard something of value. It helped get me over my initial discomfort with the idea of being a “churchgoer.” It gave me space and time to see myself in relation to others, spiritually. It ended up being more comforting than I imagined. It ended up triggering my willingness to be vulnerable to these people.

I started getting involved in church life. Organizing events, teaching Sunday school, becoming a deacon, even working as the church secretary for six months as a fill-in. I wasn’t sure what I was getting out of it for a while. But as time went on, and even more so now as I look back, I realize it set me on a path that has brought me peace today. It has brought me my identity and prepared me for who I was always supposed to be.

In my case, I became a minister. But I don’t think it’s limited to that. I think it’s meant to help all of us find out who we were always supposed to be through the systematic practice of the teachings.

It’s a challenge, of course. Because people are a challenge. Being in relationship with others takes practice and guidance. Learning to love our enemies, for instance, or forgiving ourselves, does not come simply on demand. It takes practice. But the benefits are never-ending. No matter in which faith idea or religious thought you believe, you will be better for the exploration alone.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 11, 2020 - Coping with Grief

What is the ideal way to cope with grief? We typically do and say all sorts of things when we grieve which are out of character for us typically. We might pick fights we don’t mean to, take actions which are not in our best interest, or end up alienating those whom we need most.

Then there are those who withdraw entirely. Refusing to speak about or even think of the source of their grief. They shut down and function at bare minimum. Closing out others and, ultimately, only prolonging their suffering. 

So much advice in our society refers to the notion of taking a protective stance when dealing with unpleasantness, “negative energies,“ etc. We feel that we can’t deal with the emotions of grief so we attempt to shut them down or build walls to protect ourselves from them. Yet protection from grief is both impossible and futile. 

What we seek is peace. We think that what we want is to have things return to the way they were before, even while knowing it’s impossible to accomplish. There is never any going back. Not really. Even an attempt to return to the way things were before is either imbued with history which cannot be erased, or is simply not physically possible, and therefore out of our control. Recognize that a significant portion of your grief is about lack of control. Release that if you can. You have enough to deal with already. Try to have peace with the fact that you can’t control what’s going on around you or even control the grief you feel. Admit you are powerless and relent.

You see, grief is not a real thing unto its own. It is not a demon with an agenda. It is a word we use to describe the feelings associated with the necessary recalibration of our reality when a change occurs. Our brains adapt easily to new situations, but not quickly. And it can physically hurt while that recalibration occurs. There is no need to deny it. The pain is real. 

The best thing to do is to simply allow it to be. To sit with it and honor it. Honor the grief and pain. Don’t welcome it or expand upon it so much as mindfully recognize it exists and serves a function in your life. Ask your grief to be a blessing. Ask it to set you upon a new path of joy and fulfillment. Give the change and shift within you time and space to do it’s best work. Don’t resist it, welcome it.

That is not to say that you wished to make this change at this time. It is not an honoring of the loss, it’s a respect for the fertile ground upon which you now stand. Give thanks for the garden which comes from that manure. Allow looking back to become an act of looking forward.

This is an exercise of a life practice to have faith that things are not always as they appear. This is an exercise of remembering that you are loved and good can come from all sadness if we are on the lookout for it. Good will eventually come from your grief if you acknowledge that good is eventually possible. 

Spend your energy while grieving on the giving of thanks for what the past has brought you and for what the future may yet hold. It will seem scary. It will feel as though you are deluding yourself to imagine a time when your heart will feel lighter. But eventually, your heart will do just that. It’s okay to admit it.

When sadness overwhelms you, sit down, close your eyes, and give thanks. Breathe deeply and mindfully. Don’t resist the sadness. Allow it to wash over and through you. Let it soak into your skin and become one with you. Allow it to become a new swirl of color in your aura. Give it permission to exist. Resisting it will only prolong it, but honoring it will allow it to do its job as quickly as possible. Grief is busy. It’s not looking to stick around. 

These are, essentially, mind tricks. They are deliberate ways of allowing your brain’s synaptic wiring to make its best effort at recalibrating itself for your new reality as smoothly as humanly possible. Give it a chance to do that without polluting its purpose with needless guilt or repression of feelings.

So often we subconsciously feel that we must grieve to a certain degree in order to prove our love for whom or what has just left us. It is untrue. You have nothing to prove, your love is already known, and to attempt it is just wasting time which might otherwise be spent healing and growing. 

If there is a cosmic purpose to drastic life change, I believe it somehow configures in with growth and love. That is the little angel on my shoulder speaking. Somehow, grief and loss appear to be appropriate to the engine of love on this planet. We accomplish so much in the name of things and people past. Our history propels us forward always. But only in direct proportion to our allowing of it. 

Give into your grief and thank it for its presence. Be allowing. Recognize that this too shall pass. And when the time is just right, bid it hail and farewell. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 4, 2020 - What’s Wrong with Faith?

What’s wrong with faith? Actually, nothing. And it makes you live longer. So why not?

The fact is, nearly all of us believe in things we can’t see. And, believe it or not, what we believe about the unseen contributes greatly to our state of mind. Most of us believe in some version of a “higher power,“ but many, such as myself, cannot, or choose not, to speculate on what that power might be. That’s fine. That’s agnosticism. In my way of thinking, agnosticism is the most humble form of belief in a higher power.

We don’t need to conclude the nature of the Creative Source in order to exhibit some degree of faith that It exists, in whatever form It takes. It is as It is.

To make note of it here, I do not gender God when describing It. I refer to God as the capital-I It. This is an attempt at humility. How can I know what form God takes? How could I ascribe the wonderful and beautiful and even the sometimes negative attributes of either the male or female gender to Something so much larger than the banal duality of humanity?

In one sense that could seem a disrespect, but by un-gendering God it make it easier to maintain a holy question mark over life. It helps me to relax a bit about what’s going on behind the scenes. Referring to God using the pronoun It leverages a greater amount of comfort over maintaining a sacred ignorance over things I could not possibly comprehend. I choose to have peace (whenever humanly possible) over things which are out of my control because I believe that we are not alone and that What Accompanies Us is 100% on our side. That is my faith.

It is proven that people live longer when they think this way. Wonder why that is so.

No one can force you to believe anything, for the record. They can only force you to listen to them, not heed them. Keep your wits about you, but remain curious. Be open.

The most important assumption I make about faith is that we are all wrong. Everyone of us. None of us has it right. Which makes me think we aren’t meant to. It makes me think that there is something important in the fact that faith is entirely inconclusive to humanity. It puts me at ease in the same way as walking into a math test knowing for a fact that no one has figured out the lesson yet and everyone is going to get a D. The bell curve gives me peace. If tested on the true nature of God we would all be lucky to get a D. Whew.

Boil away from the fluid in your brain the images of an enthroned, white, muscular, bearded, Zeus-like figure whom we have been told is God. That is not God. That is a role which some of us have needed God to play in order to place our faith in It. But we don’t need that anymore. In fact, it’s now holding us back.

Consider being comfortable with an absence of knowing what it is that connects us all one to another. Consider that we are all connected in some way and just leave it at that. Consider concluding that the connection Itself is what people refer to as “God.” It doesn’t matter what form that connection takes in your imagination. Whether you think it to be invisible or visible, electromagnetic or by dark matter. The method you imagine by which we are connected is irrelevant as compared to ponding the thought that some kind connection exists. For many that is a huge leap of faith. For others, it feels completely natural.

Our connection with one another can be abused as well as uplifted. Keep a loving eye on any definitive conclusions people are willing to draw about the nature of God. Step quietly away from those which are unloving or claim God to be vengeful against your “sinful” nature. Making fear a part of your faith will not bring you comfort. It may control some of your behavior, but it’s an empty gesture. It’s not the same thing as being changed from within by love.

Find a way to put your heart at ease. I struggle with it too. And even though I’m not always successful at keeping my heart free of worry, every second I spend in a state of grace heals me in ways of which I will never be consciously aware. That, too, is my faith. Here’s to hoping.