Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Our world and our individual lives are in the process of evolving. It is not a question of rejecting the past but of letting the past flow into the present and letting this process guide us as to how to live in the future. – Jean Vanier, “Becoming Human”

Written by Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

Pope John Paul ll, speaking to church leaders about the mission of the church, once said, “We are not here to guard a museum, but rather to tend and nurture a flourishing garden.” These words, spoken by one of the most popular and influential popes in modern history, eloquently describe the importance of having a healthy, positive attitude toward the constant change that is part of our lives. Referring to the church, his words challenge those who want their church, temple, synagogue, or mosque to remain as they have always known it to be, believing that it should not change in any way.

Life moves. It is not the nature of life to be static. Think about it, has your life ever stopped changing? New things, people, and happenings are constantly coming in and out of our lives. We are personally affected by the continual movement and evolution taking place in the world. Sometimes these changes take place slowly, sometimes in the twinkling of an eye. Have you ever had the experience of looking at an old photo of yourself and trying to remember what you were thinking at that time? It is impossible, because you simply are not there anymore. You have changed and moved on from that place and time. And you will continue to change and to move on from where you are now. It is a good idea to come to terms with this most basic, inescapable fact about life: It moves. Whether you realize it or not, this is a very positive truth. Understanding it is crucial because so much of our struggle comes from our resistance to life’s continuous movement into the future.

Sometimes our response to this constant change is to cling inordinately to people or things, those we already know, those who are already a part of our life, the status quo. Fearing the unknown, which is inherent in all change, we try to hold on to what is familiar as we stand before and uncertain future. Doing this, however, comes with a price. In the words of Jean Vanier:

If we try to prevent, or ignore, the movement of life, we run the risk of falling into the inevitable depression that must accompany an impossible goal. Life evolves; change is constant. When we try to prevent the forward movement of life, we may succeed for a while but inevitably, there is an explosion; the groundswell of life’s constant movement, constant change is too great to resist.

In order to live peacefully in an ever-changing world, three things are essential: a healthy detachment, gratitude, and hope. Detachment can be seen as a decrease in our need to hold on to anyone or anything. It is a way of thinking and being that gives us the freedom to flow with life. Detachment gives us the freedom to be open to new possibilities and newness of life after something in our life changes or dies, even when we don’t understand how that newness will come to be.

Without gratitude, detachment is nothing more than indifference. To live with detachment does not mean that we simply forget and move on from the past as though everything old is bad. As stated in the opening quotation, it is a matter of allowing the past, with its enduring life values and principles – openness, love, wholeness, unity, peace, the human potential for healing and redemption, and most important, the necessity of forgiveness- to flow into the present and become integrated into what is happening today.

Likewise, we do not forget the loving people in our lives when they are separated from us by death, changes in circumstances, or when they can no longer serve our needs. Detachment does not mean that we cast aside material things without a thought when we no longer have use for them. Healthy detachment means that we look upon the people and material things of this life with gratitude. We realize that they are gifts received from a loving God, gifts that will ultimately return to God.

It is only possible to practice authentic detachment when we are in a real relationship with the Living God; and such a relationship is always grounded in hope. It is then that we are able to see and appreciate the people and the good things of this life for what they are. When we really believe that it is God who is leading us, it becomes possible to let go of people and things when the time comes to move on in our life’s journey. In this way, hope helps us to truly love and appreciate these people and things, without being possessed by them. As the words of Ecclesiastes teach us, “For everything there is a time.” The nineteenth-century Christian thinker Soren Kierkegaard, in discussing how hope forms the basis for Judaism and Christianity, described hope as “divinely sanctioned optimism, sheer promise for this life.”

Life will continue to move forward, taking us along with it, whether we like it or not. The point is that we need not be carried along kicking and screaming, fretting over and trying to control every change that comes our way. Through a healthy sense of detachment, with gratitude and hope in our hearts, we can choose to enter peacefully into the flow and evolution of life. Strive to accept life’s constant change, trusting in God’s promise and presence to guide you through all of the changes that you experience.

This article is an excerpt fromLiving at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time, by Charles W. Sidoti with Rabbi Akiva Feinstein.

 See it on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Living-Gods-Speed-Healing-ime/dp/158595831X

Check out my blog!https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

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Written by Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

The greatest movie I have ever seen depicting the life of Jesus is the controversial 1988 Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ.

The following is a theological reflection inspired in part by this amazing film:

From error to error, one discovers the entire truth” – Dr. Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychologist (1856-1939). Could Jesus, while he walked the earth, identify with Freud’s statement?  If the words are applicable to the human condition it is reasonable to assume that the answer is “yes.” For Christians, the great mystery of Jesus is that he was truly human and truly God. A Jesus without the truly human aspect leaves only the divine, which would mean that he wasn’t really like us at all. The New Testament refers to how Christ lived while he walked upon the earth. It reminds us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

As human beings we can learn from our mistakes. They are an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, about the way in which God works in our lives, and to grow, as Jesus did, “…in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). One of the most important things Jesus taught is the need to be open and to learn from life experience. It may seem unusual, even challenging to think of Jesus as being someone capable of making a mistake. It is important to note that sin involves intention; making an innocent error is not sinful. It is an inescapable part of the human condition. Again, the fact that Jesus was truly human is a fundamental truth of Christianity. “We believe…true God and true man…not a phantasm, but the one and only Son of God” (Council of Lyons II, DS 852). This doctrine was more recently affirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized,

The new relationship in which the Word, in taking on flesh and becoming human like us, has initiated himself with every human being. By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man and woman. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin (GS 22).

Truth was essential to Jesus. He spoke about it just prior to his death as he stood before Pontius Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37 – 38).  In response Pilate uttered the infamous question, “What is truth?”

When reflecting on Jesus’ words to Pilate we might ask, “To what aspect of his being was Jesus referring? What is the truth to which his life gives testimony?” It is a question well worth pondering. And further, “How did Jesus come to know that truth?” The likely answer is that the truth in Jesus’ life was revealed to him gradually as his life evolved and unfolded. Since he was human, this necessarily included learning from his mistakes. This is important because as followers of Christ, we will discover the truth about our own lives, and who we are in relation to God, the same way.

Only a humble heart can be guided by the wisdom of Freud’s statement.  Jesus’ earthly life provides a most excellent model of humility for us to emulate. His humble way of life is a path on which he invites you and I to follow, “…learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).  But what is behind the humility of Christ?

Jesus being “humble of heart” epitomizes a human being’s relationship with God. Although it does not always receive the amount of attention as his divinity, Jesus’ humanity was the same human nature, and God’s grace, that you and I have to work with in the pursuit of truth in our own lives.

The greatest movie I have ever seen depicting the life of Jesus is the controversial 1988 Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The following summary of the movie is taken from Wikipedia:

Based on an earlier novel by the same title, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ. Its central thesis is that Jesus, while free from sin, was still subject to every form of temptation that humans face, including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted Biblical-portrayal of Jesus’ life, and that it is not intended to be an exact recreation of the events detailed in the Gospels.

This film dares to depict a Jesus that has real human feelings and emotions. He was depicted as a person capable of imagining, even desiring, a life different than the one he was being called to live. In the end despite the powerful temptation to choose another way, he chooses to be true to himself and to whom God was calling him to be: the Christ. Until seeing Jesus portrayed in this way I never realized how important the human part of his being is to my personal belief in him.

For the most part, traditional “Jesus movies” are film adaptations of the Gospel. Moving from one biblical scene to the next they show a very compassionate, heroic, courageous, yet tragically misunderstood Jesus. The portrayal of a Jesus who is always brave, always in the role of the teacher, a Jesus that is apparently filled with nothing but wisdom, is not a Jesus that experiences what it means to be human. While no film or book is comparable to Sacred Scripture, which is the written word of God, it is important to realize that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are skeletal at best. Jesus’ life and personality while he walked on earth involved infinitely more than the few scenes and words recorded in the Bible.  Experiencing a film like The Last Temptation of Christ can be helpful. It presents aspects of Jesus life not revealed in scripture in a way that, while fictional, portrays a fuller version of what his personality might have been like from a human perspective.

The year 1988 was a difficult time for me. It was a time when I was personally struggling with depression, fear and confusion in my own life. After seeing the movie with a couple of friends I came out of the theater feeling renewed and filled with hope.  For the first time I was able to see Jesus from a different perspective, a human perspective. Seeing him portrayed as a real human being, as someone who could make mistakes and learn from them instead of as a deity pretending to be one of us was eye-opening.  I felt that I could relate to this kind of Jesus and equally important, that he could relate to me. The movie helped me to realize that Jesus truly walked in my shoes and that he had to experience the same kind of darkness and inner struggles that I do and, obviously, much more. The moment I realized that he lived his life without possessing some unfair advantage that I don’t have, that he was really human, I was able to open my heart to him at a more meaningful level.

So then, what was Christ really like when he walked upon the earth? No one really knows but long before his birth the prophet Isaiah had this to say,

He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem (Isaiah 53:2-3).

As human beings we need a God that we can relate to and a God that can relate to us. The fact that Jesus experienced the fullness of humanity is critically important. If Jesus were anything less than truly and fully human it would mean that the only possible relationship between God and us would be a pie-in-the-sky relationship with a God that looks down from afar. Thankfully, this is not the case for, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The Book of Proverbs instructs us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5).  Jesus lived these words while he walked on the Earth, and he did it as one of us, within the limits and confines of the human condition. Jesus shows us, by example, that it is possible to evolve from living a life that is dominated by fear to living a life that is centered on trust. This is an important part of the truth to which Jesus’ life gives testimony. A careful read of Scripture reveals that it was necessary for Jesus to trust in God, whom he called Father.

Humility opens our eyes to God’s presence. It was true for Jesus and so it is for us. Our humility and trust in God’s presence makes it possible for us to keep our minds open when things in life do not seem to be going according to our plans or as we would like them to go. Richard Carlton’s very popular (1997) self-help book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: and its all-small stuff, contained a powerful reflection titled, Get comfortable Not Knowing, in which he addresses the need for us to keep an open mind especially in the face of adversity. The main point of the reflection is that sometimes we may interpret a life event to be something bad when in hindsight we are surprised to discover that it led to something good.  The reflection ends with the following words:

The moral of this story provides a powerful lesson. The truth is, we don’t know what’s going to happen – we just think we do. Often we make a big deal out of something. We blow up scenarios in our minds about all the terrible things that are going to happen. Most of the time we are wrong. If we keep our cool and stay open to possibilities, we can be reasonably certain that, eventually, “all will be well.”

Learning from our mistakes as Freud’s statement, “From error to error, one discovers the entire truth,” suggests will require authentic humility.  “Staying open to possibilities” when things seem to be going wrong requires trust.  We need to trust that God is present within whatever situation we might be facing to guide and direct us. Trust helps us to get through the situation and to grow spiritually through the difficulty in a way we never imagined.

The title of Carlton’s reflection suggests something that is very difficult to put into practice. It suggests that we, “get comfortable not knowing.” This is one of the great challenges of the spiritual life. Jesus trusted that the Father would provide a way for him in the midst of his own trials and tribulations. He needed to trust when he could not see that way for himself, without knowing how his father would provide for him. As followers of Jesus we will need to do the same; we need to become “meek and humble of heart.” In so doing, with our lives grounded in trust, we will eventually discover the entire truth; and our lives will testify to it.

The Common Thread:  Reflect upon Jesus’ admonition to be “meek and humble of heart” in relation to the circumstances of your own life. 

This article is from “Simple Contemplative Spirtuality – View it on my blog:https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

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.

——

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

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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