WAITING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

Waiting as a spiritual practice is found in almost every religious tradition I can think of. 

For Muslims, the month of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, marks a month of fasting, giving alms, abstinence from all things of the flesh,and active prayer. This is in an attempt to cleanse the soul, but also it is thought that using these methods of emptying out the cares and desires of the physical world, one is preparing and waiting for the revelations of God to be experienced.  This is what happened to Muhammad.  In fact, the holiest night of the Muslim year is Laylat al-Qadr, it falls just before the close of Ramadan, and commemorates the night when the Qu’ran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad. 

In Jewish tradition, waiting and the practice of patience in the face of daunting circumstances, has been a recurring theme since the Book of Exodus and those ensuing dark days in the desert.  The Jewish people wait for the angel of death to pass over their households during Passover and recreate the stories of bitter times and the promise of sweeter days in the Seder.  Again, fasting, prayer, and self-denial carve pathways to this opening up of the soul.

The Christians now find themselves in the heart of Lent.  Christians too share these same tools of purification.  Yet they wait for something unique to the other monotheistic religions.  They wait for the day of Resurrection, the Day that Jesus rose from the dead.

And, yet, even if one does not believe in the actual physical revival of the Christ from the dead, the stories that rise up from the New Testament can resonate with each of us, teaching us the power of waiting in faith.

These are stories that speak of yearning and suffering.  Yearning for a better life, a purpose, a meaning, and the reality of pain.  The stories of Jesus of Nazareth are stories of hope and fear, loyalty and betrayal, acceptance and denial, life and death.  Jesus tasted both the success of his mountain ministry (see Matthew’s feeding of the 5000) and yet was still determined to go to Jerusalem, with death threats and a certain persecution.

His followers were waiting for a triumphant crowning of a king as the culmination of a glorious ministry.  Instead, they were confused and angry by a leader ridiculed and crucified.  Jesus tried to point out that this path he was on, was not one easily understood by the ways of the world, that his lessons were those of the spirit and not of earthly successes and kingdoms.  Certainly choosing to undergo great suffering is not a natural inclination. 

Our own stories of waiting for a better day, whether for a job that has not yet materialized, a healing from an illness (our own or a loved ones, or even a death), can find much solidarity with the Bible stories of Lent.  They are filled with expectation on one day, as Jesus heals a leper and brings the dead to life, and then disillusionment, despair, and death on the next.

 One of the definitions of resurrection that I can hold up to a broader, secular audience is the Greek notion of resurrection as the “state of one who has returned to life.”

We all have seen the grief-stricken and the broken find a way back to a full and happy life after the most unmitigable tragedies, this is the promise of resurrection that casts it net wide and yet does not strain the boundaries of the intellect.  It is the faith of waiting. 

Quote for the day: “Even if one glimpses God, there are still cuts and splinters and burns along the way.”

LET’S BRING BLESSING BACK

I often sign my correspondence, “Blessings to you and yours” or “Blessings on your day, your week, etc.”  Yet I am not unaware of the fact that blessing someone or wishing them blessed is a tricky business. The word, like so much vocabulary that points to a larger spiritual reality can oftentimes feel put on, false, or holier than thou. Words that are commonly used in the religious realm oftentimes evoke the opposite reaction than is intended. Many people have suffered in a variety of ways from their childhood faith and the decrees of a religion that contradicts their heart.   

So let us bring back blessing to its rightful root.  In Latin, to bless is benedicere. This means literally to speak (dicere) well (bene) or to say good things.  The benediction often said at the end of Christian and Unitarian services is to send those blessings, those good words out into the world.

I know that I want people in my life to speak well of me, and I’m pretty sure you do too.  This notion is not be confused with the ego’s need to self-aggrandize, to be flattered and then puffed up.  No, it’s something quite different.  Blessing is more than pointing out someone’s talents or good deeds. It is affirming the very being of another. 

It is, as Henri Nouwen points out in his book Life of the Beloved, “Without affirmation, it is hard to live well.  To give someone a blessing is the most significant affirmation we can offer.  It is more than a word of praise or appreciation; it is (even) more than putting someone in the light.  To give a blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness.  And more than that: to give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks”.   

In our daily lives, the judging mind is very active.  Without our awareness, we may say to ourselves, “I like this person; I don’t like that person, what he did was wrong, what she said was right.” This goes on and on.  There is a lot of mutual admiration in this world, just as there is a lot of mutual condemnation.  Nouwen continues, “A blessing goes beyond the distinction between admiration or condemnation, between virtue or vices, between good deeds or evil deeds.  A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his of her Belovedness“.  

Whenever I send my three children a blessing, it is not a wish or a prayer that they get whatever they want in life.  It is that I hold and affirm their very being, how cherished they are to me. Whether they get into too many fender benders, whether they ‘succeed’ in all the ways the world applauds or not, whether their choices at any given moment are less than stellar, I want to remind them again and again, “When you go into the world, know that YOU matter, that you are Beloved by God, and I am so glad that you are here.  I hope that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that my love can hold.” 

These blessings work with everyone whose life you will touch today, including your own.  Blessings on your day, Nun Tuck.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY NUN TUCK (A LENTEN JOURNEY)

It’s been a year this week since I began this little exercise called “Nun Tuck’s Almanac.”  I can’t believe it, it started off fast and furious with posts almost everyday and gratefully, much traffic.  Then life did it’s little John Lennon thing, you know the “Life happens while you are out busy making other plans” thing as it is wont to do, and so this little venture has been gradually being whisked out to the fringe of my daily activities.   

But whenever I am away for a week or a wee bit more, I miss this kind of spiritual writing and more importantly, thinking about the essence of who we all are, attempting to draw out with the use of language, feelings and understandings  that we all share deep down where the heart resides.  In addition, it continues to be my pleasure to share what little I know about world religions. Islam seems to be the one most people want to learn about and there is no surprise there, world events rapidly unfolding as they are.       

Birthdays and anniversaries of various kinds are great milestones for us to take stock.  And we Christians (Unitarian ones included!) are in the first steps of our annual Lenten journey; another invitation for us to engage in more self-reflection and to employ discipline, not as a punishment, but rather as a tool that chips away at the excesses, compulsions, and indulgences that lead us away from our truest selves. 

Thomas Merton, a well-known modern mystic and Trappist monk, spoke these words which have been resonating or more aptly, percolating with me for a  time now: “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.  The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace.”

OK, wow and ouch.  No one has categorically summed me up so succinctly before…you can just put a ribbon on it and there you go.  The three words in particular that shout out in neon to all those with an addiction to doing  to PAUSE or HALT or STOP are “FRENZY” and “VIOLENCE” AND “NEUTRALIZES”.  

As Mark Nepo in “The Book of Awakening” writes, “Merton wisely challenges us not just to slow down, but, at the heart of it, to accept our limitations.  We are at best filled with the divine, but have only two hands and one heart.  In a deep and subtle way, the want to do it all is a want to be it all, and though it comes from a desire to do good, it often becomes frenzied because our egos seize our goodness as a way to be revered.” 

So when I ask myself what is at the root from my seemingly inability to say no to another great cause, event, another tug on my time and resources (even while the endeavor may be a great one), it is the sneaky ego. People who have difficulty saying no, often say that it is because they don’t want to let anybody down.  So then I ask question, why don’t I want to let anybody down? Is it because  I don’t want anyone to think I am less than this wonderfully compassionate human? 

Being compassionate enough is (in cases of the activist) probably more than enough.  Saying no to one more thing is self-compassion and self-care, which allows one to walk in the world PRESENT to it.         

Pray daily for all the worthy causes out there that you would like to grow and flourish in their goodness, but devote your time to the one or two that speak most closely to your soul…for today.  The old adage to ‘do one thing and do it well’ applies here.  Wherever I cannot bring my entire being, I am not there.      

What a remarkable gift I have received on this birthday edition of Nun Tuck, to take a day to reflect on my pursuit of the good, to choose to pour my energy into the redemption of my own heart, and then I can perhaps help the rest of the world a little more effectively, and that is to say, more peacefully.

Blessed be.