Archive for the ‘religion’ 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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The beauty of belief in the “Communion of Saints” is that it serves to remind us of our basic connectedness to one another as human beings, a spiritual connection that transcends death.

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

Life can be very lonely at times. It is also true, however, that we are never really alone. Something common to many religions is that they have certain men and women whose lives of faith stand out in such a way that they serve as examples for others. Some religions call them saints, while other religions do not, but most have their great men and women whose lives inspire those who read or hear about them. There are also people found in many faith traditions whose life stories, though less well-known than saints, whose lives nonetheless are an inspiration to the faithful. These may be authors, speakers, clergy or lay people. They may simply be caring, courageous people whose life stories serve to lead others on their own spiritual journey. There are people we have known personally, living and deceased, including family members, friends, coworkers and acquaintances, who have helped and taught us in the way of faith. The point is that the lives of others, the famous and the well-known, as well as those in our everyday lives, touch and influence us in deep and meaningful ways.

One of the things I find most beautiful about the Catholic faith is the belief in what is called the “Communion of Saints.” In this theological reflection I will simply share with you what the teaching means to me, and how I integrate this belief into my own spiritual life. The beauty of the Communion of Saints is that it serves to remind us of our basic connectedness to one another as human beings. The Communion of Saints, however, goes a step further by saying that this connectedness is not bound or limited by the power of death. The wonderful message of this teaching is that our love and unconditional regard for one another transcend space time, and even death.

This personal story describes how I found comfort in this teaching in my own life. One day I was sitting in the hospital chapel, praying about something that was worrying me. As I sat there, feeling kind of sorry for myself, I began thinking about the lives of such well-known biblical figures as Moses and Abraham. It occurred to me that they, too, had to live their lives by faith, just like me.

We tend to see such biblical figures as larger than life and living with some mysterious advantage that we don’t have. We may not see them as having the same human limitations with which we live. When we fail to see them as regular people, we limit how helpful their lives and stories can be to us. We sometimes see them as having an inside track to God, kind of like having “the God card” hidden in their back pocket to use when they need it. In reading about them in Scripture, it can seem like God broke through the clouds during their times of crisis to speak with them directly, giving them just the advice they needed. We ignore the fact that God has ways of speaking with us, too, offering the same guidance in our lives. What really set these biblical heroes apart is how receptive (open) they were to Gods message.

The value to us in the lives of the biblical people we look up to is that they were human, that they had to walk in our shoes, really walk our path. The realization that living a life of faith was just as challenging for them as it is for me caused me to feel a connectedness with them. I found myself calling upon “their faith” to come into my being. I literally said these words in a prayer, “Faith of Abraham and Moses, come unto me. Faith of Mary and Joseph, come unto me.” I immediately felt a connection that was both consoling and comforting and that has remained with me. It is a peace that transcends time and space and the separation of religions, a spiritual connection.

Many people, myself included, feel a connection with loved ones or special people who have gone on before us in death. There is a knowledge that comes to us, helping us to know that the love and guidance we enjoyed with these special people did not end with death. Because of physical death, however, the way we experience the relationship changes.

It is not uncommon when talking with people to hear them say that their deceased loved one lives on in their heart. In our daily lives we help, console, comfort, and pray for one another all the time. The teaching on the Communion of Saints acknowledges that the bonds of love, support and connectedness we have with others in this life are not limited in any way. The teaching on the Communion of Saints brings to our conscious awareness that in a transcendent and very meaningful way, we are all connected. We are already one.

Connecting Point: Is there a person, living or dead, young or old, whose life of faith you admire? Or is there someone whose life has been a source of wisdom and guidance that has provided you with direction? Realize and take comfort in knowing that they, like you had to truly live their life by faith. They had no special assistance from God that is not made available to you according to the unique circumstances of your life. Know that the God they prayed to is the same God that hears your prayer today.

Prayer: God of all the holy men and women who have ever lived, help me to realize that love never dies. Help me to feel connected with you and with all of your children. Help me to live in the awareness of the bond of love that exists between you and all people. Help me to know in my heart that we are already one. Amen.

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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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A Theological Reflection inspired by Bob Dylan’s, “Gotta Serve Somebody” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpnQnD-LJ-g

“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

The above quotation from the book of Joshua has illusion-shattering potential. The fact is that since I did not create myself there must be a power greater than me at work in the universe. Many people believe the greater power to be God. Others see it differently, believing the source of life to be a kind of universal creative life energy. They do not believe in a creator God. Regardless of what you personally believe, there is an entity or power that makes the sun rise and set each day, the world turn on its axis, and the grass to grow. It isn’t me; and it isn’t you. Our place as humans, in a continually evolving creation, a creation in which exists the mystery of goodness, and also the mystery of evil, is a humble one. The statement from Joshua asks us to make a choice about what our lives will mostly be about. Will my life be about learning how to love, how to live in harmony with others and growing in awareness of my spiritual connection to all of creation? Or will the focus be about getting what I want while looking out for number one?

As part of my studies to become a chaplain, I came across a fascinating term that echos the quotation from Joshua and brings us to the same question about life. The term is called fundamental option. It means that each person reaches a point in which they have a fundamental choice to make about the overall direction of his or her life.

There is a comforting aspect to the teaching of fundamental optionOnce a choice is made regarding one’s fundamental option (overall direction) it is difficult to change direction. Once made, it is like a spaceship that blasts off from Earth, gaining speed and momentum as it travels. As the spaceship’s motion is set, it may get dinged or bumped a little off track but its growing momentum and its overall direction is not easily changed. In this same way, if I choose for my fundamental option in life to become the person God calls me to be and commit my life to that purpose, I can trust that the overall direction of my life will lead to continued spiritual growth and ultimately to God.

Bob Dylan speaks about this same basic, fundamental choice in life in his song titled, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The overriding point that Dylan makes is that no matter who you are in this life – rich, poor, powerful, or just an average person – your life will, in the end, be lived in the service of a power greater than yourself. Your overall direction in life will either follow the power of goodness, love, and light, or the power of darkness and evil. Like Joshua tells us, “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.” How blessed we will be, living with renewed confidence, when we are able to speak from our heart with the prophet Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” or if you prefer, “the power of goodness, love and light,” and proclaim this choice as our fundamental option in life.

Connecting Point: There is just no way around it. Your place in the universe is that of a created being. There is an additional element that comes with being human that is not found in the rest of creation, a conscious awareness of good and evil, and of having a free will in relationship to that knowledge. This means that you have a “fundamental option,” a choice to make about your life’s direction. Today, think about who (or what higher purpose) you want to serve with your life.

Prayer: Creator of the universe, and of my life, the very desire to know and to love you comes from you. Increase in me that desire. Help me to want to serve you, to choose you as you have chosen me. Help me to know who I am Lord, in relationship to you, and let that be enough for me. Let me say in my heart and to profess with my life, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Amen.

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

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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.

______________

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

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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.

———

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

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