Yesterday, I gathered with a group of beautiful people to create vision boards for 2020. One of the participants is a life coach and she explained that she begins with the end in mind. She asks, “What do you want to have accomplished by the end of the year?” Once you have that in mind, then work backwards to chart your course for the year.
The entire month of December, I have been praying, meditating, reading, researching, and contemplating what my message is for our country in 2020. Brain McLaren’s advice in this piece written to pastors like me gave me the push I needed to step out and begin writing my blogs in 2020 with the end in mind. You can find his writing here:
As Buffalo Bills’ Lorenzo Alexander’s daughter, Zoie, sang the National Anthem in December, I felt a stirring in my spirit and not just because this beautiful young girl sang for her daddy and not just because of the tears running down my face as I saw her face light up as she ended with “and the Home of the Brave,” but because I felt like I was hearing these words for the first time. “The Home of the Brave.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Later, I walked around the Houston Zoo area and I noticed the Pioneer Memorial and the monuments of Martin Luther, Gandhi, and Confucius in McGovern Centennial Gardens that celebrate people who stood for courage, determination, peace making, love, nonviolence, resistance to injustice, and creativity.
And then we have to ask the question…Are we the Home of the Brave? We sing the words. We feel pride in these words. We cheer loudly for these words. But would we say that we embody these words today?
Like the Hebrew Bible’s prophets, I would suggest that our wealth and privilege have made us too comfortable to be brave. In fact, most of us are so comfortable that we fear what it might mean for us to bravely face our challenges. Interested in prophets? Read this article here:
I felt a deep desire that we embody more of the qualities that would once again define us as The Home of the Brave. We sometimes express these words as pride for our military strength. We sometimes express these words for businesses that think outside of the box and score financial abundance. Sometimes, we express these words when people stand up for what we know in our heart is right. Most of the time, brave people are right in front of our eyes, but we don’t even know it because they don’t make it in the spotlight or they annoy us with their honesty or their presence touches a wound deep within us or we fear the unchartered territory they are blazing.
From my point of view, we are at a point in history where turning away from our challenges would cause more suffering than the suffering we might feel by facing our greatest fears. Just look at our plant. She is suffering and the symptoms of her suffering affect all living beings. Look at the health of human beings in America, at who has access to healthy food options and who does not, and at our dependency on pharmaceuticals. Look at hate crimes, terrorism, poverty, and the abuse of power in church and in the yoga studio (2 places that I love and should feel safe). Look at the inability of the democrats or republicans to hear the other person, honor valid points, and work together for the Common Good. I hope this paragraph has inspired some google searches…
My teacher, Jesus, did not avoid suffering, but entered into the suffering to stand in solidarity with all who suffer. If you are a Christ follower, this is your path. If you are not a Christ follower, we need you to share with us what your religious tradition says about suffering and offer ways that we can partner with you in relieving suffering. This is a unique time in history where people from many faiths traditions must partner together to make a global impact. Together we can begin to live into the words we sing, “and the Home of the Brave!”
May it be so.
Join me in 2020 as I write about
- Crossing over into other faith traditions, then coming back into my own
- Partnering with leaders in other faith traditions to learn new spiritual practices
- A focus on St. Benedict’s Way of Love and how practicing Radical Hospitality is a courageous act.
Christmas is for everyone is not new news, but the idea that the Christmas message belongs to everyone might be for some people. No matter what religious tradition you feel most closely connected to or even if you do not ascribe to any religious tradition or if you blend traditions, the Christmas message is for you! Over the next three weeks, I am going to explore why you have reason to celebrate! Maybe you are thinking, “I already have reason to celebrate! We get together with family. We give gifts to our friends and family. We eat amazing food. We party and then party some more. We go see the lights on people’s homes and we warm ourselves with hot chocolate by the fire. Why do I need any other reason to celebrate at Christmas?” Good point and great question. I am hoping to make a deep impression on you that beyond these Wonderful Reasons lies the reason that Christians celebrate Christmas. Don’t tune me out just yet. The first week of this series, we explored how Jesus came to change our minds about God. This is not an exclusive message to Christians. It is a message that should lead us to Love and Inclusion. The second week in this series, we explored how Jesus came to change our minds about ourselves. This message reveals that we are one with God and yet long for God. Our longing for Absolute Love leads us to rediscover our true identity. Now, we turn to what I consider the most interesting messages of the Christmas season.
It is our human tendency to divide, categorize, and place people into well-organized boxes of “insiders” and “outsiders.” Even in Jesus’ day, the pharisees divided people by ‘clean’ and ‘unclean,’ Jew and Gentile, ‘holy’ and ‘profane.’ We have an inherent distrust of people who are different from us and yet the Christian message calls us to radical trust of The Other. The message of Christmas is that there is no more division among us. And guess who guided our way to the Christ child at Christmas…..OUTSIDERS or the Magi, the wise men. They were most likely Zoroastrian priests from Persia. Barbara Brown Taylor in her new book Holy Envy notes that most Christians think that the Magi pointed the way to Jesus, believed in him, then returned home to profess a new faith in Jesus. Christians essentially baptize these priests into the Christian faith without any evidence that they became followers of Jesus. Whether Christians make a conscious decision to do this or not, we feel better about outsiders becoming insiders who pointed the way to Jesus. It is much more confusing to think that outsiders led us to Jesus and then returned home to continue serving as Zoroastrian priests.
But what if this was an intentional part of the story that should have led Christians to see that Jesus was announcing an inclusive message that all people bear the image of God. Jesus message crossed human-made boundary lines to say that any person who has eyes to see and ears to hear may lead us to the Christ, the Divine, Absolute Love.
This is the Hopeful message of the season:
There is no longer outsiders and insiders because all humans were created bearing the divine image. We are all brothers and sisters no matter our religious tradition. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in Not in God’s Name writes that although we look different…you do not look like me and I do not look like you…yet we both bear the image of God. He challenges each of us to see the face of God in The Other.
If every created thing is a “Hiding place and the revelation of God” (Rohr, 15), then we have reason to feel safe and hopeful for our world.
We have a reason to feel hopeful that we can embody more of our inherent goodness, compassion, love, joy, peace because Jesus was fully human just like us.
We should continue to listen to those who practice different religious traditions because they just might be showing us the way. There are many other biblical stories in the Hebrew bible and the Christian New Testament that attest to this fact.
May you connect to the spirit of Hope this holiday season!
The reason for the season is you….and you rediscovering you!
Christmas is for everyone is not new news, but the idea that the Christmas message belongs to everyone might be for some people. No matter what religious tradition you feel most closely connected to or even if you do not ascribe to any religious tradition or if you blend traditions, the Christmas message is for you! Over the next three weeks, I am going to explore why you have reason to celebrate! Maybe you are thinking, “I already have reason to celebrate! We get together with family. We give gifts to our friends and family. We eat amazing food. We party and then party some more. We go see the lights on people’s homes and we warm ourselves with hot chocolate by the fire. Why do I need any other reason to celebrate at Christmas?” Good point and great question. I am hoping to make a deep impression on you that beyond these Wonderful Reasons lies the reason that Christians celebrate Christmas. Don’t tune me out just yet. The first week of this series, we explored how Jesus came to change our minds about God. This is not an exclusive message to Christians. It is a message that should lead us to Love and Inclusion. Today, let’s explore what Christians say about Jesus’ birth.
The Christmas season is about celebrating incarnation. Incarnation is a word used to describe flesh wrapping around spirit. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas; God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. This is a beautiful thing to celebrate especially when we remember that Jesus was human. Richard Rohr in the Universal Christ writes, “Jesus is the archetypal human just like us who showed us what the Full Human might look like if we could fully live into it.” (23) Jesus came to show us what is true about all of us…all humanity bears the image of God, the Divine DNA, the light of the world. We express that image of God in different ways which reveals that God loves diversity!
But the incarnation of Jesus points us back to the first incarnation which is something that all people can celebrate at Christmas. Richard Rohr in his new book, The Universal Christ, writes that the first incarnation happened in Genesis 1 when God created all living things. If I can wrap my mind around this, then Jesus entered a God-soaked world. Before Jews, Muslims and Christians had their shared sacred text or their shared prophets, God created the natural world to reveal more of God’s self to the world. Rohr says that creation is our first Bible and he talks about his spiritual practice of falling in love with one thing in creation each day as a way to commune with God.
Mirabai Starr in Wild Mercy writes that incarnation is inherently feminine. The first chapter in Wild Mercy explores the story of Teresa of Avila who instead of going along with the male dominate way of emphasizing transcending the body to commune with the Divine, she wrote, “Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, it is the women who transmit the living heart of religion, lighting the candles, singing the prayers, cleaning up the afterbirth, and bathing the dead. ‘God,’ Teresa famously declared, ‘lives among the pots and pans.’” (22-23)
We see in Genesis 2, God getting dirty in making human beings. We see in the birth of Jesus, a young woman with a large belly, a womb full of hope and promise. Christmas is about celebrating the incarnation of creation, the incarnation of Jesus, and that each one of us incarnates the Universal Christ in communion with the Beloved Community. Incarnation puts us in communion with the Divine, the natural world and each other while maintaining our separateness. There is oneness and twoness.
Mirabai Starr puts it like this, “…if the feminine is all about incarnation and embodiment (which I am proclaiming in this book), then she rests squarely in the realm of form. And in form we have separation as well as unity. We have spruces, inner cities and dive bars, old white dudes and radical black feminists. We have teenagers in prison and moms who pine for them, grieving widows and philandering husbands, people for whom meditation practice compels them to offer themselves in service to those on the margins and other people who don’t give a shit. This world is filled with glorious, untidy multiplicity. Sometimes God feels very far away, and so we long for God. Not because we believe that God and self are ultimately existentially separate, but because here in the midst of our relative reality our souls yearn to return to where we come from: Absolute Love.” (Wild Mercy, 16)
Let the Christmas message sink deep into your belly like a warm bite of apple pie.
Go outside and fall in love with one thing every day.
Breathe in the smells in the kitchen, linger by the fire, take an extra minute to light a candle at dinner.
Feel Love in the center of your being and reach for a love that is beyond.
For this season belongs to you. You are the reason for the season.
Christmas is for everyone is not new news, but the idea that the Christmas message belongs to everyone might be for some people. No matter what religious tradition you feel most closely connected to or even if you do not ascribe to any religious tradition or if you practice a blend of religious traditions, the Christmas message is for you! Over the next three weeks, I am going to explore why you have reason to celebrate! Maybe you are thinking, “I already have reason to celebrate! We get together with family. We give gifts to our friends and family. We eat amazing food. We party and then party some more. We go see the lights on people’s homes and we warm ourselves with hot chocolate by the fire. Why do I need any other reason to celebrate at Christmas?” Good point and great question. I am hoping to make a deep impression on you that beyond these Wonderful Reasons lies the reason that Christians celebrate Christmas. Don’t tune me out just yet. Over the next three weeks, I want to explore how Christmas belongs to you, but was made exclusive by Christianity which you then reclaimed by celebrating the season despite the noise made by Christians.
First, Jesus came to the world to change our minds about God. Yes, I wrote “Change our minds about God.” You see, we had ideas that God was angry and we needed to appease God through sacrifice. We had ideas that God demanded rituals, that God needed us to obey a lot of rules, and that God did not seem to love God’s creation unless we behaved in a manner worthy of love. We understood ourselves as separate from the Divine because of our humanness.
But Jesus came to say, “God loves you. Has always loved you no matter what.” Why does God love us? First, God loves us because we are God’s creation. We bear the image of God in the world and from the beginning of time God said we are, “Good.” As image bearers, we were never separate from the Divine, but through wounds and life experiences that put a protective shield around our Divine DNA, we lost our deep connection.
Second, God has never seen some people as holy and others as profane. God has never seen some people as clean and some as unclean. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book, Not in God’s Name, writes that God has shown particular love for God’s chosen people, the Jews, in a way that does not negate love for other groups of people. God loves all people while granting specific missions of love to particular groups of people. God loves us because love invites us into a relationship with the God of our understanding. The prophets in the Hebrew bible proclaimed Jesus’ message before he ever arrived on earth: God wants our hearts not our ritual and sacrifice. Christianity is about cultivating a heart devotion for God that is so deep that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Christians have a specific mission of love and so do every religious tradition.
So, God is love and God is inclusive. Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard in their book, The Inclusive God, write, “The inclusiveness of God refers to her nature, rather than to one of her characteristics. It’s one thing to say God is ‘all-loving’, but something rather different to say ‘God is love’: the first statement posits an attribute, the second asserts identity. Love isn’t something God possesses along with lots of other things-it’s who she is. So with inclusion: God is inclusive.” (103)
Christians have forgotten God’s nature, the message of Jesus, and instead claimed an exclusive relationship with God who is not only in a special relationship with Christians, but does not offer relationship to those outside of the Christian tradition. We have staked our claim on God and everlasting life instead of embracing what is would mean to be like God: loving and inclusive.
We forgot that the reason for the season was you no matter how you locate yourself on the religious/nonreligious landscape.
Jesus’ message is that God is in you and God is beyond you. God is the wisdom that guides you and the longing you feel to be fully loved and this longing brings you back to the discovery that God has never left you, but is the Love you find deep within.
Teresa of Avila writes, “The important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.”
This holiday season, may you do whatever best awakens you to Love!
Everything changes radically from the moment you know yourself as being sent into this world. That is the spiritual life: the chance to say “Yes” to our inner truth. The spiritual life, thus understood, radically changes everything. Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, 132-133
On the 5th Sunday at the Yoga Sanctuary, Nouwen challenged us to see that we are gifts sent into this world. Nouwen asked us to consider that we are food given for the nourishment of one another and that taking on this view of ourselves is a source of spiritual growth! The conversation floated around ideas about the sacred act of eating together, the personal choice to be nourishment for another human being, the unconditional nature of giving, and how sometimes we experience being overwhelmed by how much need is in the world. One person responded by sharing her feelings of being overwhelmed. She said that she asks God to direct her to one person each day, so that she does not succumb to her feelings. Another participant said that she needed the discipline of not judging herself, self-care, and a rhythm to combat the feelings of being empty.
In many of Henri Nouwen’s other books, he reinforces the idea that each of us are given as a gift to this world. We are uniquely created to offer ourselves to the people around us. We are enough just as we are. Turning this idea on its head, a part of the spiritual journey is to see that everywhere we are “sent” the Divine has a gift ready and waiting for us. Nouwen explains this by talking about his experience at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. He spent the last 10 years of his life as the pastor of this community with special needs. When he came to L’Arche Daybreak, he was assigned to the daily care of Adam. Adam needed bathing, clothing, feeding, and his basic needs met by Nouwen. Another challenge is that Adam was non-verbal. Nouwen worked hard to care for Adam, but began to feel exhausted by spending so much time caring for Adam. A man devoted to writing, speaking and having deep conversations in his years at the University, Nouwen quickly realized that his talents did not meet the primary needs of this community and that he had spent years finding his worth in the praise of others. How would Nouwen survive at L’Arche Daybreak? How would he not burn out in the constant care of those who cannot give back? How would Nouwen find self-worth without the praise from others?
After a short sabbatical from L’Arche Daybreak, Nouwen realized that it is only in mutual service that we refill our own cup so that we can be poured out for others. He began to see his daily care of Adam through a new lens. What gifts did Adam offer the community? What gift did Adam give Nouwen personally? These questions helped Nouwen see that Adam gave Nouwen the gift of presence. Adam offered the gift of a listening ear and a slower pace of life. Once Nouwen realized this gift, he began to observe Adam differently. He noticed that Adam did respond in subtle ways to Nouwen’s care. He noticed Adam’s unique way of asking for what he needed or showing what he did not like. The gift of presence allowed Nouwen to slow down and tune in to Adam’s way of living. This gift kept on giving because Nouwen was able to turn and face his struggle with self-worth apart from a life full of praise from others. He found his worth deep in his soul-his truth that he is The Beloved.
1-As you inhale, say “Receive.” As you exhale, say “Give.”
2-As you gather with friends and family over Thanksgiving, look for the gift that the Divine has waiting for you! Write about your experience or share a cup of coffee with a friend and tell them your story.
Two and a half years ago, I resigned from my position at our church. This was a significant moment in my life because this job represented years of study, years of longing to not just be stuck at home as a mother of a child with autism, years of dreaming what it would be like to finally work in a church. Life with a child with autism had finally settled down and this was my big chance! I charged out of my home and into my job with energy and excitement. I was determined to offer the best expression of myself. I made connections in the community and created an ecumenically lead event for our community. But, this honeymoon period lasted 6 months. It began to go downhill with a meeting at my home where I was told that people don’t like me. I heard gossip and rumors spread about what my “real intentions” were for the church. I showed up for a meeting at the church with a clear agenda communicated to my team and it was obvious that they had called each other and decided that this meeting meant something else that they did not like. I had to stop the meeting and ask what meeting I was attending because this was certainly not the meeting that I planned. My offering to meet people who were not happy was met with silence. So, I began to try to be somebody else, somebody that they might like. As you can imagine, that was a total failure.
I stayed around at the church long enough for them to seek help from an outside resource because their history showed systematic problems that if not addressed would continue to hurt the next minister. I entered yoga teacher training the following month and later started by Doctorate at Claremont School of Theology. My experience at the church lead me to wonder why the church does not treat outsiders well. I wondered what it would be like to minister in a context where people gather in a community but not a church. I wondered what I would learn about the spiritual life from people who practiced yoga. My doctoral project and dissertation grew out of these questions.
Last Sunday, Yoga Sanctuary met to explore Henri Nouwen’s chapter on Brokenness in his book Life of the Beloved. Nouwen writes, “The way I am broken tells you something unique about me. They way you are broken tells me something unique about you.” In our gathering, we were each given the opportunity to share our brokenness with the group and the ways that we have learned that our brokenness is a part of our blessedness.
You have heard my brokenness. It is the pain of rejection that easily leads down the road of self-rejection. My suffering is unique just like your suffering is unique. Yet, we share in the pain of suffering. What I have realized over the past two years is that my suffering is indeed a part of my blessing because it is my suffering that lead me to you.
One of our participants ended our time together on Sunday quoting Nouwen by saying, “Instinctively we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.” Then, she said, “Today, we shared in the joy of living well together.”
Yes, we did. Amen and Namaste
Does this statement resonate with you?
If so, join us at the Yoga Sanctuary this Sunday at 10am @omzyoga in Kingwood.
All are welcome. Men and women who recognize the need for something new, the desire to see all people flourish no matter their sex, age, religion, culture or who they love.
Come feast at this daisy covered table!
I woke up Sunday morning practiced yoga, sat for meditation, and readied myself for Yoga Sanctuary. During my meditation time, I asked myself what I needed to feel safe for leading at Yoga Sanctuary. I asked myself what I needed to feel confident, calm, and ready to listen. I asked myself what I needed from my family so that I felt supported and encouraged. To most of the questions, I had no answers, but I felt grounded, calm, and ready for the day. Later, I woke up my teenagers so that they could get dressed, eat, and head to church. This is where the trouble began. I woke up Peyton who said he was very tired. I gave him another five minutes by setting the oven timer so that it would chime and he would know it is now time to start getting dressed. After five minutes, he did not want to get out of bed. Once he got out of bed, he incited an argument about the schedule of our day. I answered his points of discussion with growing frustration. Then, I asked him to walk his dog. Sunday is the only day I ask him to walk the dog. He responded that he would not walk the dog unless I came with him. Our deal is that he needs to walk his dog on Sunday no matter if I can go with him or not. I came unglued with the resistance he put up to walking his dog. Words were yelled and what came out of my mouth was the answer to my meditation questions.
I NEED FROM YOU…..
This Sunday at Yoga Sanctuary we discussed blessings. This is my favorite lesson in Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. He writes, “A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his or her Belovedness.” Each of us have our own idea of what a blessing is: something done by a minister, a ritual enacted, words spoken, gifts given, time spent, health, children, home, breath, movement. Maybe for you the word blessing no longer resonates. Maybe it sounds too churchy. Maybe gift sounds better or affirmations. The intention behind the words is to help us think about ways in which we are made to feel that our life matters, that something within and beyond us supports and cares for us, and that our work in this world makes a difference.
For many of us, life moves so fast that we don’t take the time to reflect on our many blessings. We also don’t have a ritual or a practice that gives us the ability to see and hear the blessings when they are all around us—in the moment. OH, WAIT! We do. Yoga. Eddi Stern in One Simple Thing: A New Look at the Science of Yoga and How It Can Transform Your Life writes, “when we decide that we need to look at our lives through a new lens, moving our bodies into new shapes will help to change our perspective on ourselves and life because we are directly using our bodies to influence the way we process incoming information; our worldview can easily be altered by putting ourselves into postures.” The practice of yoga develops the power of presence. We observe the breath. We notice the body sensations. We watch the fluctuations of the mind. As we step off the mat, the power of presence continues to influence our lives.
After my son left to walk his dog, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of defeat. I allowed his mood to change me. I gave in to my feelings instead of noticing them rise within me and giving myself compassion so that I could be more compassionate with him. Shaming voices entered saying, “Who am I to lead Yoga Sanctuary. I can’t even control my temper. Great yoga teacher. Great leader of a compassionate practice.” Snarky!! Then, I remembered the words I yelled.
I need…. I need…. I need…
I am not good at understanding what I need. I had sat in meditation trying to get to the heart of the matter with what I need just that morning which resulted in very little answers, but what I needed came flowing out of me in the heat of the moment. What a blessing! What an unexpected gift! Even a yelling match can be seen with new eyes and new ears. Yes, I apologized to my son and he apologized to me. Yes, I had a great talk with my husband about what I need to feel supported by our family. Yes, I will continue leading Yoga Sanctuary with greater awareness and compassion.
May you see and hear the blessings that surround you each and every day!
And as my good friend says, “The best blessing is Namaste!”
There is a rabbinic saying that whenever a man or woman walks down the street he or she is preceded by an invisible choir of angels crying, “Make way, make way! Make way for the image of God.” The World’s Religions by Huston Smith.
Chapter two of Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved talks about that each of us is chosen by God no matter our religious background. Nouwen writes about the problems we have today with the word Chosen: it sounds competitive, exclusive, and brings up wounds from not being chosen or being excluded from a group.
He begs us to not give up on the word chosen because for him it does 2 things: 1-unites all living beings and 2-appreciates each of our unique gifts and talents.
For insight into the word Chosen, I turned to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. In speaking about chosenness, Rabbi Sacks offers two insights. First, we are all created in God’s image, but that does not mean that I am created in your image and you are not created in my image. In some mysterious way, you and I reflect God’s image yet in different ways as expressed through our personalities, perspectives, gifts, talents, and even religious views. Second, saying that God chose a people does not mean that God excludes others. This would make God’s Love small. In the Jewish tradition, chosen meant that they were given a special task (Abraham’s call in Genesis 12) to be a blessing to others even suffering on behalf of others. This special task did not mean that others were not chosen for even in the Hebrew Bible God mentions being on the side of other nations.
In our Yoga Sanctuary gathering, we were asked to consider how we would talk about our chosenness in a way that included others instead of excluded them.
For me, I relate chosenness to my purpose or being created uniquely for a special task. I have longed to feel like the chosen one, to feel loved, to be the “darling” of some group or church or business. The greater my attempts, the more painful the feelings of rejection.
As much as I long for affirmation when I fully embrace who God created me to be, I know that my role in this life is different from those who are considered a group’s golden child. But that does not mean that I am not chosen. I am chosen to point the way forward. I am chosen to be petrified tree sap, Amber, a jewel. I am chosen to be the fireworks that shake up the night sky. I am chosen for good, to be honest, straight forward, and inclusive of all of God’s creation. I am chosen to be a safe haven, a listening ear, to see the suffering, and to speak for those who have no voice.
One group who explored the idea of being chosen arrived at the conclusion that we choose to be chosen.
When I resigned from my last pastoral position, I said, “I choose me!” This was another major step in accepting who God created me to be, to accept my chosenness in spite of the rejection I felt from others.
May you choose to accept that you are chosen so that by your example others will follow.