Archive for the ‘interfaith’ Category

By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC, Blog: https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

The Wizard of Oz is widely recognized as a story which, on many levels, relates metaphorically to our own life journey.

I have experienced enough of life to realize that there are definite personal advantages to becoming a more patient person. I have made it one of my lifetime goals. I call it a lifetime goal because it may take that long for me to actually become patient. There is nothing wrong with that; it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, I have made what I consider to be a giant step forward by realizing the great truth that patience is not passive. This powerful spiritual principal is contained in the words of sculptor Auguste Rodin who said, “Patience is also a form of action.” It may be one of the most powerful forms of action we can take. The statement “Patience is also a form of action” represents a radically different way of understanding the meaning of the word “patience.” When someone reminds us that we “need to be patient,” it can cause us to feel frustrated. Being told to “be patient” seems to force us into passivity, a helpless, hopeless desert of waiting. The desert of waiting is created from the erroneous belief that absolutely nothing will happen with regard to our situation unless we personally do it. If I believe this to be true and have reached the end of what is within my control to do, regarding something or someone that I care very much about, then frustration is a completely logical emotion to feel.

To understand how “having patience” can be a form of action, it is first necessary to realize that having patience is about being open to other possibilities regarding the outcome of events or situations in our lives as we stand before an uncertain future. It will require a letting go of the need to receive an immediate answer to our many questions. Patience, in a healthy sense, involves really believing in the existence of a power greater than me and trusting in that power enough to allow it to act upon my situation without my constant interference. To live patiently is to decide that you can live with the questions and let the answers come to you through the unfolding of events.

The classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is the story of Dorothy Gale’s journey through the beautiful and magical Land of Oz. The purpose of Dorothy’s journey is to see the Wizard who will, hopefully, grant her heart’s desire which is to go home. The Wizard of Oz is widely recognized as a story which, on many levels, relates metaphorically to our own journey through life. If you have seen the film, you may recall the beautiful scene in which Dorothy, after just arriving in Munchkin Land, encounters Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Dorothy has just received instructions from Glinda on how to get to The Emerald City, where The Wizard of Oz lives. She is told to, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Dorothy walks to the place where the Yellow Brick Road begins, and says aloud to herself, while questioning the strange directive, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road?” Turning to look at Glinda, she asks, “But what happens if I…?” At this point Glinda cuts off Dorothy mid-sentence and with a tinge of sternness in her voice says to Dorothy, “Just follow the Yellow Brick Road.” The Good Witch then floats away and disappears. Dorothy does indeed follow the Yellow Brick Road with her questions yet unanswered. She is able to set the questions aside for the moment. Dorothy is able to trust enough in the counsel she received from Glinda to place her feet upon the Yellow Brick Road and begin her journey through the Land of Oz. We know from the story that the answer to Dorothy’s many questions was given to her through the living out of that journey.

The dialogue between Dorothy and Glinda, especially Dorothy’s response, humbly accepting the directive from Glinda to follow the Yellow Brick Road, is worth further reflection. Dorothy’s response is analogous to that of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her response to the news of the Angel Gabriel that she was to become the mother of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was “perplexed” by the angel’s greeting, and further expressed that she did not understand how she could conceive a child in her womb, because she was a virgin. In the end Mary set aside her questions and trusted in a power greater than herself, a power that was beyond her ability to understand. “Mary said, ‘I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.’ With that the angel left her” (Luke 1:38). The answer to Mary’s questions came as she lived out her life’s journey, and in so doing became a central part of salvation history.

Mary’s patience toward getting the answer to her questions was also a form of action, a very radical form of action. Mary’s patience was an acknowledgment of the power of God to act in her life in an unimaginable circumstance. It was at the same time a most profound expression of trust that the word of God spoken to her would be fulfilled. In the same gospel, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, part of what Elizabeth said to Mary included these words, “Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45). Our lives contain a mixture of events, some of which are good and others that are tragic, that are beyond our ability to understand. God asks us to trust in the midst of these circumstances in the same way Mary and many other figures from Sacred Scripture were called upon to trust. When we choose to practice patience instead of insisting on receiving immediate answers to our questions or to know beforehand “how” God will work things out in our lives, our patience becomes a powerful form of action. The verse from the Book of Proverbs mentioned earlier also applies here, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The contemplative connection: Call to mind a situation in your life to which responding with patient-trust might be appropriate. Accept the anxiety of allowing your questions to go unanswered for now. Ask God to help you to move forward in trust, confident that the answers you seek will be given in the living out of your life. In this way your patience is also a form of action.

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This article is from “Simple Contemplative Spirituality.” View it on the publisher’s website: http://vesuviuspressincorporated.com/simple-contemplative-spirituality/

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By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC, author of, Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time, and Simple Contemplative Spirituality

As a hospital chaplain I am called upon to serve people from various faiths. My role is to help them to get in touch with their own spiritual resources, which may involve different religious practices and beliefs, and to help provide for those specific needs. My personal faith and religious formation is that of a Catholic Christian.

Far and away one of the most helpful things we can learn on our spiritual journey is to appreciate the religious beliefs of other people. One of the greatest blessings I have received as a hospital chaplain is exposure to religious traditions and beliefs of people that are different than my own. Sometimes I am invited to participate in those religious practices. These times have provided a priceless opportunity to learn about other faiths, thereby enriching my own spirituality by transcending the religious barriers that tend to keep people apart.

I recently heard a speaker use the term “Cultural Humility.” I had never heard it before and it immediately intrigued me. Cultural Humility is a term that was coined to describe a way of infiltrating multiculturalism by healthcare professionals. Going beyond the idea of Cultural Competency, Cultural Humility focuses on self-reflection, fostering mutual respect, and lifelong learning between cultures.

The concept of “Cultural Humility” reminds me of the following quotation which I think epitomizes the term (adjusted slightly to be inclusive):

Our first task in approaching another people, another culture,   another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on another’s dream. More serious still, we may forget that the Universal Creative Life Energy (referred to by many as God) was present before our arrival.  (Raymond Hummer)

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A seed grows into a plant because it is its nature to do so, not because you or I do it. Likewise, true growth is a process one allows to happen rather than causes to happen. – Gerald May, MD

This is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” written by Charles W. Sidoti

One of the most helpful books I have ever read on inner (or spiritual) growth was written by Gerald May, MD, it is called Simply Sane. On the cover is a close-up photograph of a patch of ground, with a single, fragile blade of a plant that has just burst through the soil from the seed below. The premise of the book, so poignantly represented by the cover photo, is that the overwhelming majority of life “just happens.” It is not so much what we do, although our participation plays a critical and important part; and that is the paradox. The fact of the matter is that something outside our human power makes the plant burst forth from the seed. If it does not happen nothing any human being can do could cause it to occur. It just happens! In the words of Dr. May:

True growth is a process one allows to happen rather than causes to happen. A seed grows into a plant because it is its nature to do so, not because you or I do it. If a seed finds itself in rich earth, with reasonable quantities of water and sunlight, growth will happen. If we sprinkle the ground with fertilizer, water it regularly and keep pests away, we become involved in the growth process, and growth may be stronger and richer. We are participating in the growth, but we are still not causing it.

Growth is growth, whether it is plant, animal, or human growth and development. For the most part it just happens. There are things we can and should do to nurture and foster that growth within ourselves. Just as we nurture a plant through fertilizing, watering and caring for it, we can nurture our personal growth by exposing ourselves to things that encourage that growth. In doing so we participate in the growth process but we still are not causing it. This is an important distinction.

There is a point when our attempts to nurture our personal growth can go a step too far. This may happen when what is behind our self-nurturing, our attempt to change ourselves, is really a deep-seated non-acceptance of who we naturally are. When this happens, we get an image in our minds of what we think we should be. We don’t see ourselves as already good, so we set out on a process of self-improvement methods, books, gurus, retreats, and counselors of every sort in order to fix ourselves. Many of us go to great lengths to make ourselves acceptable, at least to ourselves. In the end none of these efforts brings lasting results. We may get a new insight to cling to for a while, but when that wears off we are still stuck with a self we deem to be unsatisfactory. And so on we go to the next retreat, believing it is time to find a new fix.

Makings one’s life a continuous self-improvement project, something the modern commercial media strongly encourages, is what Dr. May calls insanity. Living the insanity of non-self acceptance instead of simply being who we are is very painful. The pain will not be in vain, however, if it eventually leads us to give up the effort. When and if that happens, we might be able to let go of all the self preoccupation and learn to simply be.

Connecting Point: The overwhelming majority of life “just happens.” There are things that you and I can and should do to nurture our mental and physical health. But the truth of the matter is that if the sun did not rise in the morning, there is nothing you, I , or anyone else could do about it. What you and I decide to do with each new day we are blessed with is up to us. Our whole life works in much the same way.

Prayer: God of all creation, I have no idea how you create life out of nothing. Scientists have their theories, and that is all well and good. But in the end the created world remains a mystery far beyond my ability to understand. Help me to live with a true sense of humility, accepting life as a gift and as mystery. Give me a spirit of gratitude that I may grow in relationship with you every day of my life. Amen.

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By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

As a child growing up in a Christian family, I had a belief in Santa Claus that was a fun and exciting part of the Christmas holiday. When I had children of my own, I enjoyed seeing the excitement on their faces as they heard the story of magical jolly fellow who lived at the North Pole and delivered gifts on Christmas Eve to all of the good little children. All of this he did while riding on his magic sleigh with eight tiny reindeer! What could be better? One day my eight-year-old son, Charles, and I were taking a walk with our dog when he asked me, “Dad, is God like Santa Claus?” I had to pause for a moment. The last thing I wanted to was explain away the wonderful childhood fantasy of Santa Claus for him.

The reasoning that led Charles to ask this question is very easy to understand. To him, it seemed completely logical that God should exist in exactly the same way as a character like Santa Claus. Think about it. A child never actually sees Santa, although children do see Santa’s “helpers” at the department store. Children are told that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and keeps a close eye on kid’s behavior, rewarding the ones who are good and disappointing the ones who are bad. As the words of the ever-popular children’s Christmas song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, say:

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

At approximately the same age that children are told about Santa, they also begin to learn about God. To a child, God is also explained as someone with seemingly magical powers. Children are told that God is watching over us from heaven, a place that seems as remote as the North Pole. They learn that God is also someone who cares about them, knows everything about them, and wants them to be good. Children learn that God’s helpers are called angels, who are all around but never seen. Santa’s workers are called “elves,” and we can’t see them, either! And just as with Santa, we never see God. It is little wonder why Charles asked me if God was the same as Santa.

At some point, we need to grow beyond a child’s understanding God. Our relationship with God must grow and evolve with us into adulthood or it will cease to contain meaning, just like our relationship with Santa. Every meaningful relationship grows and changes or it simply dissolves. Our relationship with our parents is a good example. A small child sees his or her parents as all-knowing, all powerful beings. If our relationship with our parents is a healthy one, it evolves as we grow into adulthood. It is then that we are able to see and appreciate our parents for what they really are, human beings.

What determines if a relationship grows or ends? The difference is communication. With Santa there is no real two-way communication, because there is no real Santa. With God it is different. Growing in the awareness of God’s presence in our life and becoming aware of God’s constant communication are what is meant by learning to live a contemplativelife. For our relationship with God to be meaningful and real as adults, we need this awareness of God’s presence and recognition of the many ways that God communicates with us.

The transition from believing in a magical, Santa-like God to growing in relationship with the Living God happens in ways that are as individual as we are. Each person’s relationship with God is different. Personally, my exposure to the monastic tradition, especially the writings of Thomas Merton and other contemplative authors, has had a profound impact on my own spiritual development.

One of the greatest gifts that the monastic tradition can bestow upon a person is what I refer to as the development of a contemplative mindset. By a contemplative mindset, I am referring to the realization that God comes to us from within creation, indeed from within our very selves. God isn’t “up there” somewhere, removed from this world. God is present within the context, the events, of our everyday lives. It is within the events of our everyday life that God desires to meet us, guide us and heal us. The awareness that all of life is Sacred, that all of God’s creation is good and the place where God dwells, is a profoundly healing realization. It is the fruit of attentively waiting upon the Lord through the events and the circumstances of our lives. When you see God in this way, it is impossible to think of God as a Santa Claus like figure, somewhere far removed from us and looking down. No, God is very close, indeed an in-dwelling presence.

Connecting Point: Your image, the way you think of (or see) God, should grow and evolve as you journey through life. Do you think yours has? Ask God in your own words to place in your heart the desire to grow in that relationship.

Prayer: Lord, help me to grow in relationship with you, the “Living God.” Direct my heart that I may wait patiently upon you to reveal yourself to me. May I become increasingly aware of the many ways that you communicate your love and presence to me every day. May I respond sincerely through my life with others and in the solitude of prayer. Amen.

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This article is from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time

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Visit my blog: https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart. Don’t scratch for answers that cannot be given now. The point is to try to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.  – Rainer Maria Rilke

By Rabbi Akiva Feinstein and Charles W. Sidoti

When life turns difficult, a common way of trying to get around the pain is to try to think our way out of the situation. The problem with this is that it assumes the process of effectively dealing with emotional upset and spiritual challenges is linear, sort of like a Betty Crocker recipe, in that one step necessarily follows another in order to get the desired outcome.

The truth is that the process of inner healing is inherently non-linear and is often contradictory. When things do get better and our inner struggle eases for awhile, we often don’t know how or why we feel better; we just do. Have you ever gone to sleep with a problem on your mind and awakened not troubled by it anymore? As the saying goes, “What a difference a day makes!” Nothing about your problem changed; you just went to sleep.

Our mood and therefore our perspective change constantly, and that has much to do with the way we process the problems that come our way. Sometimes we wake up feeling great and ready to face the day’s challenges. On these days, problems that come up don’t bother us too much. We process them easily because we approach them from a positive perspective and keep moving along. The very next day (or even hour), we may feel totally different. The world seems to be spinning in the wrong direction and it seems that everyone is working against us. In addition to affecting the way we handle the daily problems that arise, our moods and our perspective affect the way we handle the big problems in our lives. This is especially true regarding the way we process grief, the pain involved in losing someone or something very important to us.

The Jewish tradition, which is full of wisdom gained by facing pain and suffering head-on, says a great deal about mourning, and how to understand the life path and grief process of the mourner. Mourners often suffer deep anguish and trauma. Helping them to recover, according to Jewish tradition, requires the implementation of customs and practices that can seem contradictory.

Yet these work well in helping mourners deal with their own contradictory feelings. For example, individual mourners can feel the need both to be alone and to be surrounded by people and love; the need for silence, and the need to be able to tell their story; the need to give and the need to receive. They can experience waves of denial and waves of acceptance.

It’s contradictory, yes, but it all can be a very real and necessary part of the healing process and the nature of mourning. It is very wise counsel to advise a mourner thus: “Let these contradictory feelings be, feel what you feel. Live with the contradiction and don’t fight it, for it will eventually evolve into something else.”

It is very difficult to put this advice into practice, for in our rational, modern society, we find these contradictory truths difficult to accept. The fact is that the suggestion to learn to live with contradiction is not just some remnant of a confused, out-dated psychological model. Rather, it’s a keen insight into the human condition itself and is a testimony to the power and efficiency of contradiction.

For example, human relationships are uniquely able to stay intact despite competing feelings of pure love and absolute frustration. There are rules to human emotion and pain, but the hope and the salvation lie in the fact that for much of it, there are no rules. It is what it is. You can be sad and happy at the same time. You can harbor a lot of pain, but still move on. You can cherish a memory of a lost dream and still pursue a brand new one.

Quantum physics, which helps us to at least begin to understand the universe, is based upon one of the most poorly understood contradictions known, yet it works and does its job just fine. Quantum physics teaches that it can be scientifically proved that light travels in waves (up and down) but it can also be proved that light moves as physical particles. A person with knowledge of quantum physics understands these principles to be mutually exclusive, yet the whole science of quantum physics is based on both of them being true.

If we cannot answer life’s questions, we should not go into despair. Many a Jewish grandfather would tell his children, “From an unanswered question, you don’t die.” Living with the questions makes life more exciting. A life lived looking for something that has not been found yet is a whole lot more interesting. Consciously deciding to live the questions is a way of responding with trust to life and its inherent challenges.

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This article is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” written by Charles W. Sidoti with Rabbi Akiva Feinstein

Visit my Blog: Finding God in Daily Life https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That’s how I was feeling.

By Charles W. Sidoti, From: “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time”

Thomas Merton once compared living a spiritual life to standing before a field of fresh fallen snow that you must cross, his advice: “Walk across the snow and there is your path.” Being a trailblazer through the fresh fallen snow, as Merton puts it, involves walking your own unique, untrodden path. As good as Merton’s advice sounds, it can be difficult to put into practice. Many of us would much rather walk familiar, well-trodden paths. Yet it is precisely the walking of a unique, untrodden path that each one of us, individually, is called to do in our life if we truly desire to grow in our relationship with God and others. Reflecting on what walking your own unique path would mean in your life can make all the difference in the world.

In considering how to follow Merton’s suggestion, it is necessary to realize that it involves a paradox. None of us walks through life completely alone. We live out our lives among other people. We have all heard the saying, “No man is an island,” by the great Christian poet John Donne. Hopefully, the relationships we have with others are mutually beneficial in helping us to grow and develop. On the other hand, it is also true that we are at times quite alone. Our personal moments of loneliness remind us of this truth in no uncertain terms. Taking the first step onto our own field of freshly fallen snow involves realizing this paradox and accepting it into our life. Just realizing and accepting that these two things, loneliness and our feeling of being connected with others, are a natural part of life can be helpful. There is a natural rhythm that exists between these two feelings, and at different times one of the feelings is dominant.

It is very helpful when we discover the relationship between our aloneness and our connectedness with others because the two work together in our lives. The relationship was explained to me in a most interesting way on one of my visits to the Abbey of the Genesee, which is a Trappist Monastery and retreat house located in Upstate New York. During a conversation with my spiritual director, Brother Anthony, I asked his advice about something I was dealing with at the time. I remember wanting him to just tell me what to do about the situation. Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That is how I was feeling.

His answer to me contained wisdom. He very kindly said, “Chuck, you know its kind of like making a loaf of bread. You can find a recipe in a book and follow it. You can ask others about how they bake theirs, learn about other interesting ingredients and get advise about how others do it. But in the end, everyone must bake his or her own loaf of bread.”

After this conversation, I realized that I would not want anyone else to bake my loaf of bread – make my decisions, live my life. It is our involvement, our interaction with life, and the decisions we make that keep life fresh and alive. Once we reach the age of reason, no one can really make a decision for us. When you think about it, would you really want them to? Our lives are unique, just as we are, and therefore our relationship with life is meant to be unique. Seek out the wisdom others have to offer, yes, but realize at the same time the precious and exciting opportunity you have in your life to bake your own loaf of bread.

Connecting Point: Can you see a rhythm in your life between feelings of aloneness and a feeling that you are connected to others? Sometimes it is the aloneness part that needs attention, so that aloneness may eventually evolve into the positive state of being, called solitude. You can do this by seeking out a little bit of time alone each day just to be quiet or pray. Through this time, you will discover that you are never really alone.

Prayer: Good and gracious God, place gratitude in my heart for the gift of life. In times of difficulty, I don’t always see it as a gift. Sometimes it feels like a burden, especially in times of loneliness. Help me to make decisions that will lead me to the peace that you desire to give me. Place in my heart the desire to bake my own loaf of bread – with you. Amen.

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Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” – Traditionally Published

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What are you holding on to today – that has you caught?

This article is an excerpt from, “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” by, Charles W. Sidoti

Living a life where trust is the guiding principle will ultimately require that we choose to trust. I have noticed, however, that at those times when I have asked God to increase my ability to be trusting, the request is usually answered with increased opportunities for me to practice trust. That really wasn’t what I had in mind. I was assuming that God would answer by zapping me with more trust, after which I would suddenly live in a more trusting way, worrying less and relaxing more. I am now convinced that it isn’t going to happen that way.

Learning to trust in God involves acceptance. It means accepting things, people, and life in general, without always feeling that I need to change everything to the way I think it should be. On the other hand, trusting God will always involve my participation. Living with an attitude of trust is not a passive thing, where we sit back as spectators and think, “God will take of everything,” so we need do nothing. It involves living out the wisdom and balance of the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Acceptance almost always involves letting go of something. It may be letting go of a fear or worry, or an obsessive desire for a life situation to be different. Or it may be a need for someone to respond to us differently. I once heard a very helpful story about letting go. The story posed the question, “How do you catch a monkey in India?” It explained that the way people catch monkeys in India is to glue a baby food jar onto a stump or large rock, put a few peanuts in it, and leave the lid off. When the monkey comes along, wanting the peanuts, he slides his hand into the small opening of the jar. Grabbing the peanuts, he closes his fist around them. Once the monkey makes a fist to grasp the peanuts, his hand will no longer fit through the opening of the jar, so he cannot pull it out. He is caught, and very upset.

What is so ironic in this story is knowing how easy it would be for the monkey to free himself and go back to enjoying his life. All he needs to do is simply let go of the peanuts. But he will not.

When I notice myself preoccupied with a desire or need to have something be a particular way, I reflect back on this story. I visualize myself like the monkey, with my fist in the jar, holding on to what I desire. This imagery has helped me to let go of my particular desire and enjoy life again. It sets me free.

Connecting Point: What is your “fist full of peanuts?” What are you holding on to today – that has you caught? Try to imagine yourself letting go of your peanuts (your situation or desire) and moving on with your day in peace.

Prayer: Lord, often I am so convinced about what I think I need. I have my fist wrapped tightly around a particular desire. Help me to loosen my grip and to eventually let go so that I might enjoy the inner freedom that comes with knowing myself to be a child of God. Help me to desire that which will really bring me peace, and to trust that you will fulfill that desire in your time. Amen.

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