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God and The Perfectionists

We are a perfectionist generation. Just glance at any social media site and you will find instructions on how to attain perfection (physical, intellectual, professional, social, cultural) and quick criticism of those who fail at perfection (celebrities, politicians, business people, and average Janes/Joes.) You will also find swarms of people pushing back on this attempt at perfection, claiming to be anti-perfectionists – though it is still the idea of “perfection” that inspires the response. The Internet allows us to seek out concepts that support perfection in many forms, whether real or fake, and this information seeps into our psyche to lay a foundation for a definition of “perfect.” Again, even for the sake of avoiding it. No one is free from this bombardment. It just is. Awareness of this fact is imperative because perfection begins to define aspects of humanity that might seem impenetrable; for example: God. We, a perfectionist generation, have placed “God” in the perfectionist’s box, thus changing who God is, completely. 

As a result, we barely know him. 

One of the countless consequences of this error is that very many people recoil at the smell of falsehood. 

Of course, the language of perfection is in scripture. I am not here to argue its existence. What I do propose, though, is that humanity has placed its own definition of perfection in place of God’s definition of perfection. 

This is going to require you, me, us to let go of so-called rational thinking for a moment and try to “have ears that hear” and “eyes that see.”  This is no easy feat. I hope to challenge you to think differently about why we do and think and act in certain ways, think about where these beliefs arise from, and to consider how much it is worth to stay in the same stagnant place. 

Or is it time to move into the promises that were made to us? 

After being delivered from Saul, David sang, “This God – his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” (2 Samuel 22:31) and later, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7.) 

Jesus, in explaining that we must love even our enemies, states matter-of-factly, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48.) 

Paul recounts a story about a personal struggle and writes, “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9.) 

The author of 1 John shows us that God literally is love and that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18.)

So there is much in the Bible about perfection. It is a part of Christian language. Perfection is something that we are “supposed to” strive for. But what, really, is perfection? The authors listed above give us the description of perfection that we should abide by: wholeness and love. Oh boy. That does not really make understanding any easier, does it? Wholeness and love are entirely elusive and abstract concepts that we can only try to strive for in our humanity. Selfishness, loathing, divisiveness, jealousy, arrogance, resentment, and other difficult emotions/actions get in the way of a full realization of this goal. Because it is so difficult, we just flat-out change the definition of perfection to reflect more attainable characteristics: regular church attendance, volunteer work, financial success, physical attributes, etc. With a warped understanding of perfection, it is no wonder we misconceive and transform God into something different than what God actually is. 

God is not ruled by the “perfect” that we place on him. 

Someone I deeply trust told me that, since we are made in God’s image, this means that all aspects of humanity exist in God. Think about that for a minute. This idea can do one of two things (at the very least) for you: 1. make you sigh with relief and give you permission to love yourself more, or 2. inspire a bit of anxiety over the fact that God may not be “perfect.” Well, at least, by the human definition of perfection. 

Are we able to love a God that may not be … perfect? 

How many times in scripture does God need to “fix” something he created? What about the book of Job? What about human suffering? Climate change? Etc.? Does he have control, at all? Why isn’t he doing anything about…? 

I do not have an answer today, but an adjustment in how we think about God is being asked of us. If you believe that we are to be in relationship with a holy God, then it is time to consider under what conditions we are asked to be in this relationship. We have come to expect unconditional love – the truest, most pure form of love from the One who is Love – yet, we do not always believe that we are to return the same. At the slightest hint of “imperfection,” human hearts scatter. Do not get me wrong, I think God is worthy of our worship and is perfect – just not by the definition of “perfect” that we use for each other and for ourselves.

As we hold our own requirements for perfection in the face of God, we only blind ourselves to the truth. It is time to put them down. 

 

Since you made it this far, I have a few questions to pose: 

What would it mean to believe in a God that is not ruled by the standards of this world? 

What would it mean to let go of tradition? 

What would it mean, for you, to be in relationship with a heavenly Father that is all-loving and worthy, but is different than the God you imagined? 

 

Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash

Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash

 

 

 

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

The Beacon: Thoughts on Loss and Love

I miss my mother so much lately. The world seems altered since she died seven months ago. Each relationship has a different color. Every street in our town is changed. Places once visited are built with memories I cannot shake (do not want to shake.) I feel the impressions of her body holding mine as I rock my infant daughter. I can embrace my mother in my mind’s eye and perceive the shape of her shoulders, the texture of her hair, and the softness of her skin. At times I even smell my mother in rooms, random and diverse. 

It is only recently that I allowed myself to glance at her face in photographs again. Her shining smile caused too much anguish. Now, I sit at my desk with two small images close by: the first, her high school senior photograph and, the second, of my mother standing among sunflowers. The reminders are multilayered. Not only do I need to remember that she is not here (I often forget), I remember her capacity to love. Some of the harshest moments of missing her are when the love I came to expect is no longer provided by the one who gave it so quickly. 

The pain of loss is both dull and sharp. I hear it does not ever really go away. I am fine with this and am willing to talk about her with anyone who wishes to, but that openness is also a gift I give to the listener. Not everyone deserves the emotional real estate. 

The easiest moments of connection are the ones I have with my very young children. Do not worry – I am not unloading an emotional burden on my little ones for them to carry. Rather, my three year old son comes to me, love in his heart, wanting to talk about “Grandma” as if she were still here. He does not pity me. He does not stand awkwardly asking if I am O.K. He tells me what he loves about her and I tell him what I love about her. Then, we are together in love. This is what Jesus means by, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We remember how much we loved and are lifted up. My infant daughter, of course, does not hold the ability to have these conversations, not least for the fact that she was born the same day my mother died. But in this little one exists something very special: an open heart. When I cradle my daughter and think of all the times my mother did the same for me – impressions of that experience heavy in the moment – our hearts “talk.” Anyone who is sensitive to the ways of the spirit knows what I mean here. It is the unseen action of love and mingling of the Holy Spirit. It requires letting go of hurt, wrongs suffered, anger, and the like. There is so much healing in these simple actions. 

Healing, though, does not mean avoiding the experience of pain, loss, or mourning. This kind of open healing paves the way for transformation through love. Through it we know when we are holding on to anger or despair or hurt because there is no movement into openness. It cannot be “made up” or invented. It cannot be forced or faked. It requires us to walk into that place of mourning, not to relish in grief, but “to be comforted.” 

Like a ship searching for a beacon at sea, an open heart searches for real love, altering course when hard-heartedness is found and moving toward truth. The reason I feel grief at the absence of love is not because my mother was the total embodiment of it (she was not perfect, nor am I), but that grief can only be healed when it comes in contact with actual, real-deal, original Love.

This is the goal. As it seems, my mother’s death pointed me toward the healing that my spirit so desperately needs. While I miss her, deeply, to reject this call would be to deny the power of the life she lived here on earth. 

Baby with storybook

The Ugly Duckling: Becoming Who We Are Meant to Be (a short entry)

The Ugly Duckling is not about beauty. It is not about overcoming the “awkward stage.” It is not about emerging as a physically attractive being after years of torment. It is about discovering one’s identity in a world that asks for conformity.

In the story, the baby swan is not readily accepted by the community he is born into because they do not recognize him. The way he looks, how he finds his voice, or the way he moves makes them very confused. The swan seems incapable of adding value to the established system, but this is not without first trying to find a place in it – both the swan and the other animals attempt to “locate” him in the community.

It took moving through seasons and watching the other animals find their roles for the swan to stumble upon his place. Other swans saw in him what he did not see and they opened the door for him to see his true self. What is implied, though, is that these swans still live in community with the other animals the swan encountered before. They are part of an ecosystem.

For some of us, it takes years to find our place and our people. It feels like we have not matured or are just simply “stuck.” In fact, over time we do mature and grow and become the individuals we are meant to be – but it is not easily recognizable. It takes another “swan” to reveal it in us.

One might think that “The Ugly Duckling” title is a misnomer. That it should be called “The Swan That Realizes He is Beautiful Once He Is Finally Told By Someone Who Knows Something About It.” But “The Ugly Duckling” draws our attention to the point of divergence from truth – the name given by others to try to identify something unfamiliar. They mistakenly think the bird is a duck – thus, place a qualifier on it (in case anyone wonders what the heck is “wrong” with the bird.) The title reminds us of the many errors our communities can make when they try to find a place for people. When none is found, hands are raised in exasperation, “I just do not understand that person!”

All the while, the swan evolves through the seasons. Notably, right before the moment of recognition, the swan must go through winter – the time of passiveness, sleep, or dormancy. Perceived barrenness.

The work happens, though. With the arrival of spring, the swan meets other magnificent creatures who identify him as one like themselves. Take note that this is the only moment in the story that the swan looks to another animal in admiration. Before, the swan simply desired to be included in community. Then, emerging from winter and probably exhausted from his loneliness, the swan is nearly intimidated by the other swans. This confusion represents what happens to us as we mature: we see qualities in others that move us to appreciation and respect, not realizing that we also have the potential for these qualities to shine in us. There is a reason we are drawn to them.

As I read this children’s story to my daughter today, I realized it has much to offer us – years and years after Hans Christian Anderson wrote it down. The struggle for identity and place is the struggle of humanity. Perhaps you are “the ugly duckling” today. Or maybe you are the excited swan who sees a new, recognizable friend in the crowd. The lesson is to see yourself and to see other people. Lift each other up, as we want to be lifted up. Know that, even if we grew up around the blind, we are always on our way to becoming who we are meant to be.

Hand reaching out in the darkness, Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

The Action of Belief, The Rejection of Fear

“Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” Mark 5:36

This is the line Jesus gives the synagogue official Jairus to tell him to relax in the midst of horrific tragedy – the serious illness of the man’s young daughter. At the opening of the story, Jarius comes to Jesus during a large gathering by the seashore to compel him to come to see the girl. You can almost sense the anxiety and commotion around the official’s arrival. Jesus stands at the seashore with the water lapping behind him, the sun brightly shining and reflecting off of the water. Even in the heat of the day, people continue to gather and increase the size of the crowd – some standing, some sitting – all silent, trying to hear the voice of the Teacher. A man comes running and begins to press through the people, stepping over children, pushing passed men and women; his eyes fixed on the man at the shore. “Teacher! Teacher!” he cries and breathless, falls at Jesus’s feet, arms stretched along the ground. “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” Looking down, Jesus is filled with compassion for this man and his family. A decision is made to leave the lesson for another time and the bewildered crowd follows the two men into the town. The people continue to press in on Jesus, hungry for his words and wanting to know more about this mysterious man they heard about. The confusion grows as the crowd gets louder, calling to Jesus. 

Full stop. Someone touches Jesus’s clothes, a discussion ensues among the disciples, and Jesus must address the newly healed woman. The crowd still presses around, curious about the miracle that occurred. Jairus stands near Jesus, baffled and dazed by his anguish and anxiety. “Your daughter has died,” people from his house say to him, “Why trouble the Teacher anymore?” At this point, maybe Jairus drops his head, hot tears filling his eyes, and his hands stretching out to Jesus, again. Jairus’s whole body becomes limp with grief. 

I imagine the chaos that surrounds Jairus as he receives this sad news: the crowd straining and grumbling and muttering, the healed woman crying out in astonishment and joy, the disciples discussing among themselves about the change of plans for the day. Does he stand in defeat? Anger? Shock? “I trusted you!” he might say. “Why trouble the Teacher anymore?” they whisper in his year. The noticeable sarcasm plants the seed of doubt. (Is this really the man they say Jesus is? Where is the miracle here? Why did Jesus chose the woman instead of the girl? He’s too late. He did not care enough. This is not fair!) 

Then, turning to look at only Jairus, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.”

The official was clutched by fear. Fear is physical and debilitating. Jesus asks him to make a turn that is not only the opposite action from fear, but in many ways is a less “active” behavior than fear. Belief also requires a whole body effort, but is more like a pause than the aggressive experience of fear. 

In the midst of chaos, Jesus says, “Pause.” Breathe. Only believe. Only wait. Only watch. 

In the context of this story, belief is the more difficult action. It requires patience and control over the fear that can consume us, mind and body. 

What areas do I have in my life that are controlled by fear? Are there so many that I do not realize that the fear is there? Fear can turn into indifference because it opens the door to doubt. Doubt causes us to take wrong action or walk away from our Truth. Fears can arise from the benign (“Should I eat this cookie? What if I gain weight?!”) to the brutal (“How can I live without my loved one?”) Fear makes us try to take control over the situation or give up completely (also a form of control.) 

Making the decision to believe is brave, but how to do it can be puzzling. Belief in itself is a contentious idea in the postmodern world because it is often criticized for being “unintellectual,” misguided, or absurd. In Jairus’s story there is instruction for how to believe as Jesus wants us to believe. Belief rises from hope. The sick woman who touches Jesus’s cloak is also functioning through belief – example number two in this story. Reach out. Take a chance. Ask the Teacher to come with you. Reject fear. 

Reject fear.
That is belief. 

Living without fear gives room for hope. Hope guides us into a life full of love ([Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13: 8, 12-13) Remember the actions Jairus takes: first he comes to find Jesus, setting aside the fear of rejection; then he walks with Jesus back to his home, each step an act of belief; finally, standing in the midst of chaos and while doubters whisper statements of fear in his hear, Jairus and Jesus stand face to face. Pause. Wait. Watch. Believe. 

 

Then, Jesus raises the girl from the dead. 

The Transformative Power of Parenting with Presence

One beautiful aspect of parenting is that it requires us to think about things we avoided for many years. It places front and center topics that could be blissfully dodged. That is, without a small, wide-eyed face looking back at us, asking about the ways of the world. If you are lucky enough to hold the trust of a child, as parent or not, resulting in somewhat difficult inquiries directed your way, there is an opportunity for illumination and enlightenment… for you.

In America, there is a myriad of methods to tackle child-rearing, brought to us by a sturdy publishing industry – providing big promises and innovative techniques, promoting the instinctive, but also convincing readers of their need for professional expertise. Birth and parenting books line my shelves (though, admittedly, on a somewhat smaller scale, in comparison to some.) Unless one has a very strong inner compass – or is notably stubborn in their perspective – the amount of information provided to caregivers is immensely overwhelming. How do we know what is right? Which expert holds to golden key to a perfect parent-child relationship? Of course, this is impossible to answer. Most often, we respond with the generic “whatever works best.” (A completely unhelpful statement and usually a waste of breath.)

This is because we really do not know what to do about the parent-child relationship. I am not a therapist and am not peddling a particular methodology, but I have a suggestion that might shift the perspective and approach to this consequential relationship.

Essentially, what arises out of parent-child interaction can be transformative for both individuals.

No, I do not mean, “Parenting will change your life!” Of course, Captain Obvious, the routine will change, priorities will shift, and hard-earned money will be spent on other things besides Sunday brunch at the cute farm-to-table bistro around the corner or a splurge at J. Crew. Clearly, you will see friends less and most of your television schedule will revolve around what time Daniel Tiger airs on PBS. Did you catch the latest Solange album drop? No?? Let me present you with the Laurie Berkner Band – the U2 of toddler tunes.

What I am talking about is a deep, spiritually metamorphic alteration that caring for a child can stimulate – but only if the adult is willing to step into it.

A few nights ago, my nearly three-year-old son popped The Question. I was not ready for it in the least, but it turned out to be the moment when I realized this transformative experience is real, dynamic, and can bring our lives into spiritual awakening/union with the Divine at any given moment.

“Mommy, where is God?”

We were finishing our nightly routine. Books were read. The bunny-lovie was in hand and he was snuggled under the sheets. The lights were off and we were sitting together in a dark room. I was just about to leave to find my own reprieve after a long day (feeling verypregnant at nine months!) I was tired. He was tired. We prayed our little poem to God and he asked, “Mommy, where is God?”

The few seconds between his question and my answer found me tossing through a whirlwind of possible scenarios. Since this was the first time he asked the question, I wanted to answer “correctly.” Though he is small, I did not want to sow a seed of misrepresentation for the God that I know. It is my desire that he sees the freedom of searching for and exploring all aspects of Divine Love.

What I said to my child is less important than what I am trying to emphasize here: that adults should open to these small moments as instigators for profound self-development. What if I answered him with a stock assertion often given to children when we believe them to be too young to grasp big concepts? What if I rushed away to read the book on my bedside table I waited for all day? He would certainly get an answer, but I would miss this opportune moment filled with mysterious love.

I settled with short statements and small words that essentially told him that I believed God is everywhere – inside us and outside us, God is in everything. God is here because God is in the love that we feel and give to others – even ourselves. Honestly, my biggest fear at this moment was that I would totally freak him out and that he would not want to go to sleep – afraid that some unknown being that he could not see was lurking in his room. Instead, he quietly said back to me, “God is here,” snuggled his bunny and rolled over to go to sleep.

It was one of the easiest “go to sleep” moments we had in weeks in this house.

As I closed the door to his room and started to reflect over what happened, the profound realization of this miraculous exchange washed over me. The significance of my words to him were twofold: first, that I felt like I explained God well enough, at this time, to my child and second, that God really waseverywhere – and very much in that exchange between mother and son.

When we say, “God is love,” we are giving a description of who we believe God to be. However, because of the abstract and basically confusing examples of what human love is compared to Divine Love, the words end up packaged in watered-down catch phrases. In this moment, God was revealed through the communication between mother and child: the vulnerability of the child’s question, the parental pause and patience to stay, the revelation of truth, and peace that settled in the space between us.

I was transformed.

Opening to these bits of time is not easy. Parenting is hard. We get tired, emotional, stressed, and sometimes feel like we are carrying the burdens of the world on our shoulders. However, it is exactly because of this that we need to live with hearts open. God is offering sustenance. We can experience reprieve. The burdens are not only ours to hold. We may not catch every single opportunity (we are human), but we can make the decision to live unguarded – to the benefit of our children and our own hearts.

 

How to Use Quiet to Your Advantage

Step into the depths with me. Find the calm waters under the torrent that rushes through the mind. It is a journey of miles and miles, facing the spate of beliefs and feelings and verdicts that mark the boundaries of our lives. Jump in with me each and every day.

Crush the barriers of our own making created by desires for affirmation. Stop the desperate search for certification – finding self-importance in the tangible.

We say to God, “I did this. Now, show yourself.”

That is not how it works.

Step – dive – crash into the depths. Find space in the scuttle, the hurdles, the bustle and the hustle. Make time for pause like your life depends on it.

The veil no longer exists. It was destroyed. It is now a barrier of our own making, as we ask for signs and wonders – testing for evidence.

We want the proof of purchase to manifest in specific ways based on the pages of a book. Constructed on language that, by its very nature, is only a symbol for the true meaning of a thing. T-R-E-E is not a tree. The word “tree” is a symbol for an idea of trees, often the one that we conjure most quickly in our minds. Why should we base ideas about God within the limits of human language?

Give me something that feels good. Make me invigorated. Make me dance. Make me happy. This is proof of purchase – evidence that we bought into the lifestyle.

When this does not happen, we call it “suffering” – a word loaded with meaning that allows us to simultaneously hide behind it, theologically connect to broad systems of belief, and spark sympathy in others.

Both joy and suffering can be symbols of the way belief works, but if we are not careful, they morph into impervious dogma and, again, proof of purchase – flawed signs and symbols for a greater experience.

None of this actually describes the expansive Love that we seek from the sincerest part of our being – in the places that are hidden from reason. Where can we find it?

In the silence.

I cannot trust my mind, but I trust the Depths. The stillness. The quiet. It is only here that reason can be shut out. We move away from constructed logic.

There is a dependency on logic that, I argue, keeps us away from essential truths that can only be known without language (signs and symbols.) It is transformative in the sense that it happens from the deep inside, out – and most subtly. To really experience the connection of our humanness to Divine Love – God – we must touch the calm waters under the torrent.

I must look in the stillness. Here You are in the Quiet.

Let go of the requirements, the need to know, the desire to prove or see proof. Settle into the space that exists beyond the apparatus we made to structure our lives. It is possible– for anyone.

Quiet can be intimidating. We are used to waiting for the next thing. I invite you to attempt a dive, even in the face of fear. There is nothing – nothing– that requires your attention as much as finding a way to unearth this expansiveness in your life. Discover the open way to God.

 

Here’s how:

  1. Identify the moment in your day when you have the least distraction. Set the alarm 15 minutes earlier. Decide to check email after lunch break. Or, turn off the television 30 minutes earlier at night.
  2. Locate the physical space where you have the least distraction. The space should be clean, comfortable, and away from the center of your home (if you live with others.) If you have kids, let them know you will be available to them after this short period of time. Or, if they are very small, find the space/time when they are asleep.
  3. Sit. Sit in a chair. Sit on a cushion. Sit on the floor. Find a way to be comfortable, but do not fall asleep. This is key! The purpose is to experience quiet and when we fall asleep (often a sign of lack of sleep) we miss this encounter.
  4. Set a timer. Use a clock, the timer on your smartphone, or an app meant for this purpose. (Insight Timer is a great – and free – one to consider.) Begin with 2 or 5 minutes, eventually extending it to 10 or 15… even 20 minutes of quiet.*
  5. “Do” something with your brain. Listen to the sound of your breath. Feel your breath flowing in and out of your body. Recite a mantra (“love,” “maranatha,” or any meaningful phrase can work.) Listen to and focus on the sounds around you. Feel the sensations around your body (temperature of the air, feeling of your clothing, etc.)
  6. Make it a regular part of your day. It is one thing to decide to form a habit, but often the process can feel daunting. If you apply #1 and #2, you will find it easier to find space in most of your days and it will become a regular part of life. In time, you will yearn for these quiet moments and you will see how they sustain you.
  7. Be O.K. with imperfection. Go into it with no expectations, but trust that with each moment that you spend away from the perceived urgency of the things calling for attention, you will be pulled deeper and deeper into that space where heart connects with truth.

 

*Do not use guided meditations during this moment of silence. You could use a guided script to help you get into a mindset of calm, but sit in quiet afterward. Sometimes we can become reliant on the support from someone else – a guide, in this case – but the purpose is to settle into your own stillness.

 

Best wishes to you on your journey!

 

 

 

Home as Sacred Space: Why and How to Do It

Homes are important. Even if you feel that you spend most of your time at work or school, home is the place where we should be able to wind down and be ourselves. It is where we eat, sleep, and love. Home is where we experience our emotions and thoughts away from the public eye. However, it is easy to take this miniature landscape for granted – using it as a waiting place before going on to the next thing. Or perhaps home is an overwhelming space, full of anxiety, quarrels, or coldness? There is a way to transform that space into your own sacred ground, even if that space includes only your personal area.

What I suggest below does not speak to interpersonal relationships, how to communicate with your family or housemates, or even how to decorate your space. Rather, these are practical and simple measures that will set a foundation – an environment, actually – to cultivate peace.

It is not my intention to give “rules” of housekeeping. Creating a sacred space does not depend on the color of the walls, what kind of embellishments fill the house, or how often one has company. All of these things are an individual’s prerogative. Certainly, there are people who will insist on particulars regarding these details, but I believe they are less important than the few points I list below. Think of them as the wide outer circle that encompasses the variety that can make a home, supporting the decisions made by the people who live in it.

Before moving on, it is important to define the word “sacred” and to discuss the reason for its use in this context. Sacred space can come with loads of meaning – good and not so good, depending on an individual’s experience with religion and spirituality. Here, I use “sacred” not to define a specific tradition, but to refer to the peaceful and revered space within the walls of a home. People who do not have a permanent “home” talk about the kind of stability that having one creates in a person’s life. Living in a space of one’s own creates a sense of individuality, but also community, since the person living in a home experiences pride in being a part of larger social structure. These are some of the most common refrains of those living in shelters. It is also one of the things to most easily take for granted. Comparison and desire run rampant among those who have permanent homes.

When talking about a sacred home, the most useful definition is to “regard with great respect and reverence.” This is why: wherever you live is your home, regardless who owns the property, if it is a rental, or how many people live in that space. There is a common adage that goes something like, “You are responsible for your own life [happiness, health, etc.]” Even if the suggestions below only apply partially to your current living situation, they are still doable to some extent.

All of the points I make are practiced in my own home, so are offered with the knowledge that they truly work. Each are elements that we had to transition to over time and we certainly did not always live this way. However, we have a home that I truly feel is sacredand it is my deep desire to share this realization with you.

 

1. Make a decision to leave shoes at the door.

This may be difficult for some. It is much more convenient to keep shoes on throughout the day and while walking in and out of the house. But let me give you some reasons to reconsider. On a practical level, the home stays cleaner and there is less wear and tear on the carpets, rugs, and floors. Additionally, regardless of how “clean” the shoes look, footwear contains toxins (like gasoline and other chemicals) that we cannot see.

dayne-topkin-67323-unsplash

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

If these chemicals had color, I’m sure we would never want them where we live! Even beyond the “clean” factor, taking shoes off before walking through the home is the number one rule to a sacred space. Cultures around the world remove shoes before entering homes for this very reason. Have you ever attended a religious building where the custom is to take off shoes when entering sacred areas? When we remove the surfaces from which we gather debris and chemicals, it exhibits respect and honor for the space we enter. This is step one for creating a sacred space.

*If it is not practical to establish this the guideline for your entire home, consider it for particular parts of the house – the bedroom or living room are perfect places to begin.

 

2. Hold regular periods of quiet by turning off the television, radio, and digital devices.

No, this does not need to be a 24-7 decision, but it is a common idea that we are overstimulated in this modern era. Certainly, television, music, and other digital entertainment has a valuable place in life. What is important, though, is to acknowledge our need for quiet – something that can be a little scary if one is not used to it.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So, instead of waking up and turning on the television, or keeping it on throughout the day, or connecting through digital devices the whole evening after school or work, perhaps designate a time when the house would be free of extra “noise.” Quiet gives us a chance to hear and see and be with each other. Quiet gives us opportunities to be with ourselves. Quiet also lets us dial it back a bit to refresh – and this does not even require a one-hour yoga session or that bubble bath that you wished to take for weeks! It is easy self-care for the senses.

 

3. Bring life into the home.

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Photo by Cassidy Phillips on Unsplash

No matter how strong or weak your green thumb, there is a plant for you. By bringing life to our living spaces in the form of houseplants, we connect ourselves to nature even in the depths of winter (or heat of summer when everything is dry and brown!) Studies show that the human brain and body respond keenly to imagesof nature, let alone actual, physical nature. By taking home something green we can stimulate a sense of wellbeing. Also, taking care of something that is alive can be a sacred act in itself, requiring patience, love, and dedication.

 

 

 

4. Designate an area in your home that is specifically used for contemplation, prayer, meditation, or sitting quietly without distraction.

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Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

This is incredibly important for finalizing the home as sacred, especially for children. No matter the personality, it is imperative to have space that one can go to for contemplative activities. So many of us grow into adulthood without learning to enjoy time without distraction. We even need breaks from regular interaction with others. Children, in particular, crave moments to themselves. Adults and children alike can learn to meditate, pray, or to steal away from the commotion of the world. The space does not need to be large. Simply a corner with a cushion, bean bag, or chair would do. Contemplative coloring is currently popular with people of all ages. A small table and chair would do the trick. The “rule” of the space would be simple: have respect for the person, whatever the age, who decides to use that space by leaving them alone! The Quiet Space can be the center of the sacred home and whatever positive energy and renewal is cultivated there will extend out through the rest of the building.

 

Hopefully some of these suggestions peak your interest. I encourage you to try one at a time to see if they work for you. Alter them as needed for your family personality and home life. Blessings to you as you cultivate your sacred space.

How to Find Ease and Transform Your Life Through Letting Go

The mornings are always cold, but my body eventually emerges from the cradle of blankets. In the darkness, I quiet the alarm and stumble into the bathroom. The warm wall lights strike against any remaining intention to crawl back to bed next to my husband who dreams, deeply. I remind myself that this is what I love to do, and within moments I feel by body waking to an inner joy that only comes when something real is about to happen. I slip into a sweatshirt, brush my teeth, pull hair away from my eyes, and walk to the corner of the house that became my personal sanctuary. It is so simple, I think to myself. This is it.

Recently, I experienced a transformation in my meditation practice and I want to share it with you. I aspired to write about it for so long but did not have the words to fully convey it. Before I dive into some of the key insights that emerged to the surface, I must tell you that the more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn – as the old saying goes. The more I “take a seat” in meditation, the more clarity I have, but words continue to fail me. This does not mean, though, that I have some kind of remarkable triumph. Rather, I feel so strongly that if it is something that I can encounter, I know with every ounce of my being that it can be experienced by everyone else.

Of key importance to this topic is the idea of “letting go.” There are many who believe that meditation is not an option for them because of different expectationsand assumptions of the practice. When one presupposes that meditation should happen in a specific way, with a very specific goal in mind, it becomes a set up for struggle. Therefore, I state a caveat: I truly believe that what I am about to write doeshappen, but the individual should not wait for it. In other words, do not walk into meditation practice with an image of what accomplishment looks like already set in the mind.

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Photo by Saffu on Unsplash

Over the last few months, I felt like I arrived at meditation with a level of anxiety and stress that I had not previously experienced. [Note: I write “arrived” because I literally arrive at a certain place in my home, an important thing to have if it is available to you, and I arrive into a particular emotional, mental, and spiritual space in meditation.] I held the stress in the area of my eyes the most, like the bones around my eyes were made of steel. There was no softness or calm and I noticed it most keenly when I closed my eyes for meditation. It was distracting. Yet, I continued on and each morning I sat on the cushion, believing that the only resolution was found in this exact action. Slowly – in fractions of seconds, spread out over days and days – I let go of whatever I held on to. The work of simply showing up resulted in greater ease as I waited and held the space in meditation.

I am letting go of something that my hands clutch so tightly: a perception of the self that is conjured, created, protected, and deeply rooted. It is the Mess of All Things, heaped together over time by others and our own self-attention, that gives us the answer to the question, “Who am I?” It is not bad to have an answer. The bulk of our society functions on the fact that we have personal identities that flow into responsibilities, relationships, and fulfilling experiences. However, it is not the same as knowing the True Self. Who we are is not an accumulation of relationships or tasks, but it is extraordinarily deeper and more profound. Even statements like “I am a child of God” do not provide a full sense of the truth. Suffering occurs when we hold on to this false sense of self, as many spiritual traditions explain (clarified particularly well in Buddhism.)

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Photo by Natalia Figueredo on Unsplash

Letting go is the opposite of striving. In the Christian medieval text, The Cloud of Unknowing, the author describes the process of contemplation – what we now call centering prayer, a form of meditation originating from the Christian mystic tradition – as a process of letting go of all the things that God as made. He writes, “Forget everything God made and everybody who exists and everything that’s going on in the world, until your thoughts and emotions aren’t focused on or reaching toward anything, not in a general way and not in a particular way. Let them be. For the moment, don’t care about anything.”[1]How is this possible? It seems profoundly difficult, but it is quite possibly the simplest thing that one could ever do.

We spend so much time forming identities – our own and that of others. We connect, connect, connect, and create, create, create. Most of our mental and emotional energy is expended over these actions. Letting go, in the sense of the Cloud writer’s definition, is to discontinue this process. It is more than simply “not thinking” about the day’s tasks or yesterday’s conversation. It is suspending the process of evaluating the world. In addition, it is ceasing to create the image of God that is perched on the high shelf in our mind.

Say what?

No matter your religious tradition (or lack thereof) we all have a particular image of God: benevolent or vengeful, male or female, close or distant – all of these create an image of God that is based upon experiences we have here on earth. In meditation, we can release these assumptions. It is an attempt at no effort. There is no striving.

Personally, I have been striving my whole life. I look back upon my years: I strive as a mother, since the birth of my son two years ago; I strive professionally and educationally to succeed in my career; I strive in my social life to acquire and maintain relationships; I remember striving in my youth for the attention and affection of those who were in charge of my wellbeing. Meditation, regardless of tradition, is about releasing ourselves from the act of striving.

“Striving” has little to do with personality types. We all strive. We all try. We all endeavor. We all create identities, even if “not creating” is part of one’s identity. Even the most laid-back individual partakes in the formation of identity and striving.

This is important to understand because an awareness of the reality of striving is the thing that distinguishes real rest from anything else. The true letting go of all things is simultaneously desired and terrifying. If we let go completely, what will we have left? The answer is: true identity. Even if we experience it for a millisecond, a profound change occurs in our sense of self. No, it will not turn you into a disconnected flake. Rather, it makes one capable to sense the apparatus that is built around the true self and know that certain things do not matter so much. The way we present ourselves to the world, the ways we interact with people – all of these become disconnected, even if only a little, from the act of striving and we can live with greater ease. One can also sense this apparatus around others and begin to see people for who they are. When we let go of the overt and the subtle (worries, concerns, thoughts, pleasures, memories, etc.), we can release into true rest. Momentary suspension of these burdens creates day-to-day ease. This is true surrender.

Meditation is not always pretty. More often than not it is messy, and even a little difficult, particularly if one approaches it with expectation. It is also a bit scary because we all have an emotional connection to our sense of self. Who am I, if I am no longer these things? Am I able to sit without concern over my body, emotions, and experiences?

I am still learning how to do this, of course, but one thing I do know is that sitting in rest is the only true rest that one can know. It is rest in God, because it is sincerely letting go of all the things we hold on to that we have conjured up, created, and formed by our own will. It is a rest that goes beyond body and mind. It is also locating our real self, though I do not know how to define it just yet. What I do know is this: meditation is the place where none of my preconceived notions of myself can tag along to tell God who I am.

 

 

[1]The Cloud of Unknowing, translation by Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2009), 11.

A Reading List for Those Perplexed by Black Activism

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Why is it a big deal that two black men were removed by force from a Starbuck’s in Philadelphia? Perhaps you listened to the news reports and thought, “Why are the protestors so angry?” Perhaps you consider yourself to be an open-minded, progressive thinker about race. Perhaps, even, you claim to “see no color” when interacting with people you meet. It is not my intention to argue about the reality of these assertions. I do not wish to dive into paragraph after paragraph covering all the details of recent race relations in the United States. Instead, I want to provide a list of further reading – authors and scholars that describe the history of forceful removal of black men and women from public spaces, from the black American perspective. Numerous thinkers and authors beautifully – and sometimes painfully – hash out the long history of complicated human relationships, and the space (or no space) that black Americans held and hold today. The books are in forms of nonfiction and fiction.

I want to be perfectly clear that I am writing this primarily for those who do not understand black activism today. Namely, white people.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. The hand that holds the pen is never tired. It could go on and on. In fact, I am fully aware that a few major authors and publications that did not make it on this list yet. Over the months I will continue to add to it, and suggestions are welcome.

It is imperative that we educate ourselves. Do not be guilty of living in ignorance. It is our responsibility to live in such a way that our humanity drives us to learn about our brothers and sisters. The first step is to turn toward understanding and empathy.

The books are in no particular order.

 

Frederick Douglass, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)

Douglass’s memoir recounts his life in slavery and is an argument against the slave system. Published well before the abolition of slavery in the United States (though twelve years after its abolition in Great Britain), Douglass then embarked a life of social justice and was a well-known, revered as an orator on the subject. It is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand slavery from a first-hand perspective.

 

Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901)

Washington was born into slavery shortly before the American Civil War, was educated and eventually established one of the most influential systems of education of African Americans in the Reconstruction South. This book is his memoir of that history and an argument for his method of education. He was a prominent black spokesman, very much influenced by Douglass. Scholars believe this is a highly selective account of his life, but aren’t all memoirs selective? It is very much an American “up from the bootstraps” story in the vein of Franklin and Ragged Dick novels.

 

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

If you ever heard the phrase, “double consciousness,” you know a little about Du Bois’s remarkable work about race in America. In it, one of the arguments he makes is that the black population, as a result of slavery and racism (made official in Jim Crow laws, especially), have the experience of holding several identities in one – and the two are never unified. As a result of the historic (read: hundreds of years) devaluing of people of African heritage by whites, black people have two identity perspectives: how they view themselves and how white people view them. Why? In order to function in society – survive, even, because of indiscriminate violence – blacks needed to conform to the traits expected of them by the white population: week, dependent, and passive. By writing about this idea, Du Bois put language to a problem felt by the black population that did not have a name.
I should note that Washington and Du Bois had very different ideas for solving the problem of race in America. To read them together is wise and useful.

 

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

This incredible story follows Janie Crawford through about three and a half decades of her life: youthful blooming, three marriages, poverty, and community all through perspective of a black woman living in the south (Florida.) It is powerful. It is beautiful.

 

Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is probably best known by the current generation in its film form, starring Oprah Winfry and Whoppi Goldberg. However, the book is one of my personal favorites. The first time I read it I cried and laughed through the entire thing. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and illuminating. One of the problems it confronts is the idea of intersectionality: that race, gender, class, and sexuality are all equally relevant. The story centers on Celie, who writes letters to God and her sister Nettie, and a good portion of the book is comprised of Nettie’s letters to Celie. It is a book that is about the passage of time, along with the things mentioned above. The voices of black women are often silenced, and Walker writes to show us why and how this happens. It is particularly evident in the story of Sofia, a strong-willed and strong-bodied woman who comes against blow after blow from men (and white women) seeking to take her down a peg. This is a story that is in celebration of black women and their resilience. It is not a story for white entertainment, though, and it is not necessarily “feel good.” Resilienceis the best word to describe it.

It is 100% necessary to read this book if you want to understand the black American experience.

 

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (1996)

Since we are on the subject of women, I will continue it with the next few books. Gilmore brings a thorough analysis of the impact of intersectionality in historical circumstance. After 1900, when black men were disenfranchised from the political system (had the right to vote taken away), she describes the political actions women engaged in to re-establish agency, politically and socially, while facing the dangers of violence against both black men and women at the hands of the white population.

 

Ruth Feldstein, Motherhood in Black and White: Race and Sex in American Liberalism, 1930-1965 (2000)

The relationship, both culturally and politically, between the working class black woman (often thought of as the “mammy” figure) and stay-at-home middle/upper-middle class white woman is examined in this book. Feldstein recognizes that the tropes are interrelated and often dependant on each other. She writes that to understand concept of motherhood in America, one needs to understand race and gender. Throughout the history of America, motherhood has been upheld as the foundation for the success of the nation. She tackles mother-blaming and what this means for race relations and society. It is important to read because it may reveal assumptions that we hold without knowing it, explaining origins (always a good thing to discover.)

 

Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods, editors. Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965 (1990)

Contains essays by scholars and activists recalling the early years of the Civil Rights. Some essays are written as first-hand accounts.

 

Noliwe M. Rooks, Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women (1996)

Did you know that the way we present ourselves to the world is embedded with political and social meaning? Remember Du Bois’s “double consciousness.” These are every day issues that everybody encounters. Read this book to learn about the black perspective and why outward presentation matters so much.

 

Nathan Irvin Huggins, Black Odyssey: The Afro-American Ordeal in Slavery (1977)

While not directly related to the original subject I listed, it is essential reading for anyone who wants to know about the history of race in America. Huggins describes the forceful removal of Africans across the oceans to the New World, to serve as labor for the growing economic system and foundation of the new nation. In it he depicts the resilience of the men and women captured. It is an important book.

 

Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945)

This novel tells of Robert “Bob” Jones, a black man who travels from Ohio to Los Angeles to find work during WWII. Though the story spans only four days, it places the reader into the lived experience of a man who cannot emerge from the struggles of racism in America. Read to learn empathy.

 

Alex Haley, Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1974)

This is another Pulitzer Prize winning novel – and it is ginormous. It is also so remarkable that they created a television series around it. A lot of people know the story of Kunta Kinte because of Haley’s popularity and the television series, but if you have not read the book it is completely worth it. Scholars may doubt Haley’s accuracy in researching his family for this story, but it does not undermine the validity of the ideas and problems surrounding the family chronicle. It seems like a lot of current Americans do not fully understand the weight of the slave trade through American history into the twenty-first century. The situations are not disconnected, but form and inform the way we understand the world today. It is difficult to provide a blurb about this book because of its depth, so I just suggest you put it on your list.

 

Anything by Langston Hughes, but to start: The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Vintage Classics, 1995)

Hughes is a poet and novelist, and notable member of the Harlem Renaissance. It is impossible to list here all the reasons one should read his work. Primarily, he is able to illuminate about the black experience, from the perspective of one who is educated, a creative, and trying to live in the “white world.”*

*What do I mean by “white world?” Simply, white American culture (those who have European ancestry) are the dominant force in society. It is often easy to think of white culture as the “only” cultural system in place – that everyone must conform to it. If not, the individual will be labeled as “deviant.” White world calls to mind Du Bois’s “double consciousness” because it is the space in which black Americans needed to adjust their speech, expressions, actions, and outward appearance in order to function safely in society. This does not mean that there was passive acceptance, though. This whole list is full of stories of agency and resilience.

 

Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (1994)

All I am going to say about this one is that if you are thoroughly perplexed about the current mode of resistance by black Americans (Black Lives Matter, for instance), and you read all the above books, then go to this one. Black members of society, even through the violence of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow, have agency and continue to press for equality. Perhaps taking a historical perspective on the ways working class African Americans resisted racism will help.

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)

This book is formed as a letter to Coates’s infant son about living in the world in a black body. Eloquent writer and thinker for our generation, he speaks intimately and we have the privilege of sitting in on this conversation. One will come away (depending on your race) with either recognition or deep awareness.

 

William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (1981)

This is one of the first books to discuss the Civil Rights Movement starting with the grassroots efforts. Chafe also places the activism in historic context of black resistance.

 

Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (2007)

The Black Power movement is very much misunderstood by the white community in America. Tag on this book to learn more.

 

…to be continued.

Deep Rest

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Finding space to rest is an essential part of our wellbeing. In modern life there are many things beckoning for our attention that distract from this basic need, so much that a considerable number of adults do not get a full night’s sleep. Yet, real rest goes beyond counting the hours lying prone beneath the sheets and it is vital for finding balance and fulfilment.

While many regard religion as inherently flawed, even baleful, spiritual thinkers encompassing all traditions are revered for relaying remarkable wisdom that guides us through the most basic questions in life. These teachers provide practical advice to us, threaded with the idea that there is something bigger that we can tap into, creating clarity and purpose. “Rest” is a noticeable theme in scores of mystical narratives and songs. It is this rest that brings fullness of strength – to connect with our family, engage our community, or simply be with our own emotions and thoughts.

Reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu scripted:

Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no talking.
The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
Creating, yet not possessing,
Working, yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.[1] (2)

Letting go is one of the most powerful actions a person can take because it rids us of unnecessary distractions in order to continually move forward. Ten thousand things may seem incredibly important at the time they individually pass before us. We must deal with them appropriately, but holding on to each for too long stalls the creative process that sustains life. Every spiritual tradition holds the basic understanding that the great mystery is one that is essentially creative – we are at the center of a complex process, created and creating. Lao Tsu lets us know that the decision to let go can seem like a big “not doing,” but in fact it sustains the most significant aspects of our being.

__________

Rumi, the celebrated thirteenth-century Sufi poet wrote,
Silence is the language of god,
All else is a poor translation.

 We sometimes feel as if we cannot handle silence, that our thoughts have a death grip on our minds, and to sit with them could be torturous. The flood of images, words, and emotions assails like a tsunami, sometimes louder than the real sounds entering our ears. Thoughts activate physical pain as well, creating knots in our stomachs, tension in our necks, and turning legs to jelly. It is no wonder we do not want to enter the quiet space! Sometimes we avoid it at all costs. If we plan to find “rest,” very often it is with television or computer screen for company or over a glass of wine and delicious meal – all to create distraction from thoughts, though none of these actions are inherently wrong. Rather, when we regularly seek distraction within the time of rest as a way out of real stillness we are only partially fulfilled.

__________

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are the foundation for modern yoga traditions. The ultimate goal of a yoga practice is to reach a new state of awareness and oneness with Divine Love. Yoga Sutra 18 states:

viramapratyayabhyasapoorvah sanskarashesho anyah
There is another Samadhi which is attained by the constant practice of cessation of all mental activity, in which the Chitta retains only the unmanifested impressions.[2]

Essentially, this sutra is talking about deep rest, in the body and mind. Early spiritual teachers insist that it is not through our own efforts that we transform, but through a surrendering rest that allows for deep changes. Anyone who is familiar with yoga will see this sutra revealed in savasana, the final resting post of a practice. Here the individual lies on the mat with as little effort as possible, letting thoughts pass like clouds floating by.

__________

Austrian-German mystical poet Rainer Maria Rilke composed a work that pulses deep within my spirit and over the years its meaning shifts and changes for me as I read it. Sometimes it is a call to love. At other times it is a map to awakening. Here we can read it as an example of deep rest.

I am, you anxious one.

 Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.

When you want to awaken, I am that wanting:
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time.[3]
(from Book of Hours 1,19)

It is the stillness that allows us to open and receive whatever it is we need to receive. It requires moments of silence, in whatever form you can take it.

__________

There is a passage in the gospel of Mark that can serve as an example of necessary rest and how it is challenged by real life. Regardless of one’s religious tradition, we realize, through this story, it is rest that sustains us. Jesus feeding the 5,000 is an oft-cited passage that is a call to faith in miracles and to believe that Jesus is authentic. It is also an invitation to avoid the complaining and worry the disciples exhibit as they suggest to Jesus that the crowd should disperse at dinner time. If we look at the conditions that bookend the miracle, we see it is also a story of finding rest.

After coming together again, the apostles reported to Jesus the things that they were doing (for an unknown period of time. Days? Weeks? Months? We do not know.) His first instructions to them are to, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) Apparently, people from all over were desperately trying to come close to them, and after traveling in the boat “to a secluded place” Jesus and the apostles were surrounded by 5,000 people! (That’s a lot of people.) Jesus – being Jesus – “felt compassion for them” and so pressed the pause button on their spiritual leadership retreat to speak to the crowd. Mealtime rolled around and the people were hungry, but they did not want to leave. The disciples (probably hangry and tired as well) implored Jesus to send the people away so the leadership can get much-needed rest. It was the original goal, after all. This is the moment when Jesus says: Well, we have food. “You give them something to eat.” (emphasis added, Mark 6:37) Each of the apostles were instructed to go to a smaller group of about 50 to 100 and distribute the food, and “They all ate and were satisfied.” (Mark 6:42)

First, it is important to note the very obvious reference of communion between the Jesus (the teacher), the apostles (teachers in training), and the 5,000 people (the students/those in need). They ate together. They were all satisfied. This happened when the apostles were wearied in both body and mind, and probably desperately hungry as well. It is what we often call around my house, “running on fumes.” Where is that promised rest?

Directly after the great meal, when everyone ate the food and was satisfied, it continues, “Immediately, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side of Bethesda, while he himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, he left for the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6: 45-46) The rest came after a delay of many hours, but it is clear: of utmost importance is a time of rest. It is important to recognize the moments that he takes away from engagement with others in order to rest. It was key to his spiritual wellbeing. After he spends a few precious moments on the mountain, the astonishing Walking on Water event occurs.

It is not important that you believe in Jesus or claim to be a Christian to benefit from the story hidden between the lines in Mark. Just like the previous examples from other spiritaul traditions listed above, the importance of finding rest in the midst of daily activities is at the center of it all. Jesus – who for all accounts, lived a very busy schedule in his last years walking the earth – made space to rest deeply and this supported his physical, emotional, and spiritual life.

Find rest. Find rest. Find rest.

Perhaps for you it is simply difficult to find the time? What does one do when the time is revealed? It seems odd to just sit, but this is really the key. Find a place to just be.  It can be anywhere and at any time (except, maybe, while operating heavy machinery.) Here are some suggestions to get the ball rolling:

  • Sit in a chair and follow your breath, listen to the noises around without judgement, or take in your surroundings without judgement (even that pile of laundry in the corner.)
  • Guided Meditation
  • Yoga Nidra (this is one of my favorite forms of productive rest)
  • Centering Prayer

This helpful article contains a list of suggestions: Different Types of Rest You Need + How to Get Them

 

Sources:

[1] Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English (New York: Vintage Books, 1972)

[2] Patanjali Yoga Sutras, commentary by Swami Vivekananda (p. 24): http://www.yogaincentro.it/uploads/file/PatanjaliYogaSutraSwamiVivekanandaSanEng.pdf

[3] Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996): 66.