Tag Archives: spiritual growth

The Pandemic as an Easter Experience

Today is Palm Sunday.  In the traditional Easter story, this is the first day of Holy Week. This is the day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time. He came riding on a donkey, on a road lined with hundreds, if not thousands of people. And as he came, people spread palm fronds on the road in front of him and cheered with shouts of ‘Hosanna’.

Metaphysically, the story of Holy Week is a metaphor for the process of spiritual growth. Imagine growth as a Spiral. Each trip around the spiral follows a pattern, and each trip takes you to a higher level of growth.

There is a Beginning, followed by a period of Growing and Learning. In the Easter story, this is represented by the beginning and growth of Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching. It is everything that led up to Palm Sunday.

Eventually, we reach a point of Mastery at our current level of growth. In the Easter story, this is represented by Palm Sunday. At first, it feels good. We feel skillful and relaxed. We know how to handle the challenges we face. And then, inevitably, something happens. Sometimes, we begin to notice questions that cannot be answered at our current level of growth. Sometimes, we just begin to feel a sense of restlessness or dissatisfaction with the ‘same old same old’. Sometimes, we are faced with challenges we don’t know how to cope with. Whatever the driver, we feel the urge to grow, and that urge gets stronger and stronger until we finally are willing to take a leap of faith toward a New Beginning.

But before we arrive at that new beginning, we have some work to do. We must release our old way of being. In the Easter story, this is represented by  Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. In order to grow, we must metaphorically ‘die’ to the old. We must release our old story of who we thought we were. We must release our assumptions about how the world works.

We will spend a period of time in the void. In the Easter story, this is represented by the time Jesus spent in the tomb. We have left the old behind, but we have not yet found our new beginning. During this time, we feel disconnected and disoriented. The more skillful we were at our old level of being, the more uncomfortable we will feel with the uncertainty of the void. Sometimes we get so uncomfortable, we feel a great urge to go backwards — to return to a time when we felt safe and capable — to return to a time when all of our questions had answers. Other times, we feel a desire to dive headlong into the new — pretending we have all the answers when we don’t. We want to skip right from our Palm Sunday experience to our Easter Sunday experience without going through the crucifixion and the time in the tomb.

And…this time in the tomb is when we experience our deepest spiritual growth.

Our world is going through an Easter experience right now as we move through this global pandemic. Though many were struggling, many had felt some level of mastery with our current world. And yet, the unanswerable questions were already there. Why do some have so much while others have so little? How can we provide compassionate care for those in need while still maintaining a healthy economy? How can we protect our planet while providing for the needs of our people? 

Then in January, the first reports began to come into the news about a new virus emerging on the scene. As the weeks and months went by, we began to understand that our current skill-set and our current way of being were not going to be adequate for this challenge.

And finally, bit by bit, all of us have begun to take that leap of faith into the unknown. The old way of being has died. We have been forced to release our assumptions about how the world works. We have been forced to release our old story of who we thought we were.

The whole world is now in that void space of the tomb. And, as expected, we feel disconnected and disoriented. We fear what may come and grieve for what we have lost. Sometimes we get so uncomfortable, we feel a great urge to go backwards — to return to our old way of being. Other times, we feel a desire to dive headlong into the new — pretending we have all the answers when we don’t. We long to skip right to our Easter Sunday experience without going through the time in the tomb. We waffle back and forth between these feelings. This is normal. We see it in ourselves, our families, our friends and our leaders. And, we should have compassion for all of us.

As I was preparing to write this, I was searching for something to give hope and comfort and reassurance to all of you. I ran across a short blog post that brought everything within me to a complete pause.  In reading it, I felt all my fear and grief and striving settle for a moment into utter peace. In it, I found for myself everything I wanted to bring to you. I knew in that moment that I needed to share it with you.

It was written by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, who is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a Bishop of the Episcopal church. He wrote,

“Now is the time for which our faith has prepared us. Now is the moment when all that we believe can be put to work.

Now we can turn to the inner resources we have been developing over these many years to face the challenge of a world in desperate need. We are not afraid of this crisis for we have been made ready for it.

We have devoted our lives to the belief that something greater than fear or disease guides human history. We have studied, prayed and grown in the Spirit. Now we come to the call to use what we believe.

Our people need hope, confidence, courage and compassion: the very things for which we have been trained. We are the calm in the midst of a storm.

Stand your ground and let your light so shine that others may see it and find their faith as well.”

Now is the time for which our faith has prepared us. We are here to be the Presence of God, right where we are, each in our own unique way. We have the tools we need in our spiritual toolkit. Every experience we have ever had — every skill we have ever learned — every moment of our life — has brought us to the right and perfect skillfulness of Spirit.

I can almost hear many of you thinking — who, me? I don’t feel prepared. I don’t feel skillful. I feel scared. I feel angry. I feel disconnected and adrift.

I know. I feel all of those same things. It’s part of that ‘tomb’ experience. And…I know that we can feel all of those things and still know that we are expressions of God. We can feel all of those things and still know that, through God within, we have all the strength and wisdom and creativity we will need to see this experience through. And, just as we know it for ourselves, we can also know it for each other.

As you spend your time in the tomb, I invite you to consider some questions that will help you tap into your own spiritual strength and creativity.

  • What is hard for you right now?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What makes you want to cry?
  • What has helped you let go of your anger and sorrow, if only for a moment?
  • What has helped you feel connected?
  • What has helped you feel love?
  • What has brought you a feeling of peace?
  • What has made you laugh?
  • In taking in all of the many creative ways people around the world have responded to this crisis, who are you proud of, and why?
  • What is one thing you can do to ‘pay it forward’?

That is your homework assignment for this week. To take some of these questions and journal about them, or talk about them with someone you love.

Touch The Sky (Brave)

I will ride, I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky
The idea of ‘touching the sky’ has long captured human imagination. Since recorded history began, people have speculated on what makes up the sky. In the book of Genesis, the creation story of the ancient Israelites, the author imagined the sky as a great dome, separating the waters above (rain, snow) from the waters below (rivers, seas).
Metaphysically, the waters symbolize unexpressed capacities of the mind. They may be conscious or unconscious desires, calling to us to manifest. They are our dreams, as yet unformed.
The sky (dome, firmament) symbolizes our power of Faith. Faith moves and works in both the conscious and subconscious mind (the waters above and the waters below).
Faith is our power to move the unseen into manifestation. When we seek to ‘touch the sky’, we are putting our faith into action. If our dream is unconscious, we are inviting it into our conscious awareness. If it is conscious, we are inviting it to come forth.

Almost There (The Princess and the Frog)

This whole town can slow you down
People takin’ the easy way
But I know exactly where I am going
Gettin closer ‘n closer every day
Almost There was composed by Randy Newman for the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog. This is a song about vision and persistence. On our spiritual journey, we often begin with great enthusiasm and a clear picture of where we think we are going. And then real life gets in the way. We encounter distractions and setbacks that slow us down and cause us to divert from our original path. Sometimes we abandon our vision altogether.
What we too often fail to realize is that these distractions and setbacks are not interruptions of our journey, but actually one of the most important parts of the journey. These are the moments when we have the opportunity to dive deep into our own transformation.
One of my common distractions is that I have so many calls on my time that I just never seem to “get around” to working on my vision. When viewed from the perspective of spiritual transformation, I can use this as an opportunity to look at the stories I am carrying. Do I believe I have to “do it all”? Do I believe others are not capable? Do I prefer to do something easy and familiar rather than tackling something new?  All great questions for triggering self-awareness and transformation.
One of the most important lessons we can learn on our spiritual journey is that the destination is not nearly as important as the journey itself.

How Far I’ll Go (Moana)

I’ve been staring at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember, never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try
Every turn I take, every trail I track

Every path I make, every road leads back

The song How Far I’ll Go was composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the Disney movie Moana. As we find in so many songs, this one reveals deep spiritual wisdom if we have ears to hear.

This particular song addresses one of the most profound human experiences – the experience of being “called”. A calling is a strong inner impulse toward something greater than our ordinary day-to-day life. It is a mystical experience, whether we feel called to a particular career, to a mission, or to a spiritual path.

If you have ever longed to discover your life purpose, you are feeling the call. If you have ever sought deeper meaning in your life, you are feeling the call. If you have a dream, whether grand or simple, you are being called.

Our calling asks us to live our life on purpose, with intention, with passion, and with wholehearted dedication. When we answer the call, we ourselves are transformed into something more.

How is Spirit Calling You?

Advice from a Pig

Pigs have a bit of a mixed reputation in human history. Some say pigs are dirty or unclean. Others find them delicious. Some find them frightening and dangerous. Others see them as cute and cuddly. Some see them as livestock. Others see them as pets. We find pigs in books and movies — Wilbur (from the book Charlotte’s Web), Miss Piggy (from the Muppets), Babe (from the movie Babe) and Pig Pen (from the Peanuts comic strip), to name just a few.
Of all the characteristics we attribute to pigs, perhaps the most prevalent in my own experience refers to how they eat. Pigs eat anything. They eat in great quantities. And they don’t mind making a mess. As a kid, I learned early that to say, “You eat like a pig!” was a serious insult.
As an adult, I have learned to question my unexamined beliefs. As a spiritual practice, I have learned to re-examine facts, but even more, to question the judgments and stories I have carried.
I ran into an affirmation today that made me reconsider the old insult, “You eat like a pig”. The affirmation says, “I feast daily on the joy of living in God’s world.” What a vibrant image. Perhaps when a pig eats, she is feasting on joy. She is eating with enthusiastic abandon, taking in the bounty of God.
The book of Proverbs tells us “He that is of cheerful heart has a continual feast.” (Prov 15:15) The routine events of everyday living offer a feast of joy to the cheerful heart. A conversation with a friend, the beauty of God’s world around us, an opportunity to serve or help another — all these are food for joy when we cultivate a cheerful heart. Maybe that pig has cultivated a cheerful heart.
Eat like a Pig! Feast on joy with a cheerful heart.

Advice from a Bat

The baby bat 
Screamed out in fright, 
Turn on the dark, 
I’m afraid of the light. 
…a poem by Shel Silverstein
In Unity, we enjoy looking for spiritual wisdom in unusual places. This week, as part of our recurring Wisdom in Nature series, we are seeking advice from the Bat.
A bat is a creature that dwells comfortably in the dark. I, too, can dwell comfortably in the dark, when I remember that there is nowhere that God is not. Even in the midst of experiences that I find painful or challenging, I am never separate from God.
In the light of God, even darkness becomes a tool I can use for my spiritual growth. There is no human experience that I must hide from the light of God. Every experience can be part of my journey toward wholeness, if I will let it be so. When I practice self-awareness and self-acceptance, I remember that light and dark are two halves of a transcendent whole. Resting in this awareness, I am at peace.

Non-Resistance

Abraham Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents. He was president during a time of war in our country, and yet, paradoxically, Lincoln was a man who deeply understood and embraced the ideal of non-resistance.
Lincoln was once asked why he did not replace one of his cabinet members who was known to oppose him on every decision he made – a source of constant irritation. Typically, Lincoln answered with a story…
“Many years ago, I was passing a field where a farmer was trying to plow with a very old and decrepit horse. I noticed a big horsefly on the horse’s flank, and I was about to brush it off when the farmer said, ‘Don’t you bother that fly, Abe! If it wasn’t for that fly, this horse wouldn’t move an inch!”
Lincoln was saying that we need the difficult people and circumstances in our lives. They challenges us. They keep us moving forward. They prompt us to dig within ourselves for greater strength, creativity, and wisdom.
If we invest all our energy in resisting the difficult people and circumstances, then we miss the opportunity for growth inherent in a situation.
What are you resisting? What if you stopped?

Humility / Emptiness

The word “humility” has a bit of a mixed reputation. We typically believe that humble people are good – morally superior, even. We might think of humble people as saintly – so good they set a standard we mere mortals could never hope to achieve. The word brings to mind people like Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.
Yet humility also carries the connotation of a person who is meek and submissive. We might think a humble person is easily pushed around by the more aggressive people in this word. We might say that being humble is a good thing – just not necessarily good for me.
If we look at some of the great Spiritual Masters, we can see that all of them practiced humility, and yet none of them were what you might call a pushover. The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels was strong and confident and did not cower in front of anyone.

Continue reading Humility / Emptiness

The Blues

“Don’t wish it away. 
Don’t look on it like it’s forever.” 
Elton John and Bernie Taupin

This song speaks to those times of challenge when we feel disconnected.

On the surface, the song is about a man who has been separated from the woman he loves. At a deeper level, it speaks to all of the types of disconnection we feel–from those we love, from our deepest self, from God.

In the opening lines, it reminds us of two great truths–nonresistance and impermanence.

Continue reading The Blues

The Healing Power of Music

“Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna work out fine if you only will.” James Taylor, Shower the People

I have always loved music. I can’t remember a time when it was not a central to my life. Music has allowed me to express my joys and my sorrows. It has lifted me up when I have felt the despair of depression. It has sung in my heart when I have felt the joy of new beginnings. It has been the bonding agent of many friendships as I joined with others in choirs, bands, ensembles, duets, musicals and in congregational songs at my spiritual home.

As a minister, I love finding spiritual messages in unexpected places. I love to seek out the sacred in the ordinary. I find pop music to be a rich source of spiritual wisdom. Many singer/songwriters use music to express their struggles and triumphs as they move through this human experience, just as the authors of our sacred scriptures used stories to do the same.

Songs like ‘Shower the People’ by James Taylor are sermons set to music, full of hard-won wisdom and the peace that comes from a journey toward self-awareness and self-acceptance.

As with all spiritual wisdom, it takes some effort on our part to seek out the lessons in these songs.
Continue reading The Healing Power of Music