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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

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

Photo by Olesya Grichina on Unsplash

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



[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):

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

Spiritual Parenting: The Gateway to Your Child’s Heart

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

What does it mean to parent “spiritually?”

Parenting on the spiritual plane exists whether we know it or not. If one chooses to ignore, or does not know of, this aspect of parenting, it does not mean spiritual parenting does not exist. It is not an “opt in” experience, but rather, is always there. The spiritual lives of our children exist in forms that are both evident and opaque to us. The first step is to recognize the reality of our child’s spiritual self, know that it is already in its full form. In other words, while we may take care of our child’s body and emotions – guiding her, feeding, clothing, protecting – her spiritual being is exactly like ours, in its full form. We are on the same level of spiritual existence. The child spirit is not half-formed. The adult spirit and the child spirit are the same. The only difference is the level of emotional weight a person takes on over years of living. Eckhart Tolle calls this the “pain body:” an invisible part of ourselves where the history of our existence is layered around our spirit, affecting mental, emotional, and physical health. [cite Tolle]

What does this have to do with spiritual parenting? When we start to view our children as fully formed spiritual beings, the way we interact with them changes.

There is often a manner of engaging children that is influenced by our physical or emotional state. We are tired. The toddler is “pushing our buttons.” The teenager stayed out past curfew. We may respond in exasperation, and at the center of our response is the idea that the adult is ranked higher on the proverbial ladder. This is not to say we should stop instructing our children! Oh no. An understanding of his fully-formed spiritual body gives even more reason to do so. Rather, this changes the way we welcome and love the person reliant on us for guidance. Physically, we are stronger than our children (until they grow, of course.) Intellectually, we are superior because of our educational experience. We are not spiritually superior, though, and this is an important distinction to make.

When we recognize that the child’s spirit is just as capable as our spirit to understand metaphysical depths, the behaviors of interaction change. We can look into his eyes and know that we have a similar spirit, even if the child’s emotional capacities are not matured. This recognition brings generosity from our spirit to the child’s spirit – no longer treating him as a second-rate, less developed person.

We may not think we do this, but it is often true. Some relish over the “sweetness” apparent in the church children’s choir, the memorized passage from a holy text, or the gosh-darn cute thing the child rattled off in line at the grocery store that was “well beyond her years.” Each of these situations have to do with physical or emotional restrictions, but not spiritual. The difficulty is that the full spirit is not easily evident to us on the physical plane because of the limitations of the childhood body and mind. We must trust that it is true.

The result of identifying a child’s full spirit is real unity with the child. We can connect with our babies and children on a level that may not require much “action” at all. A mother can sing a spiritual song while holding the baby in her arms. A father can recite a meaningful poem to the child. The grandparent could talk to the child about kindness and ways to love the world. Or, put more simply, one can recognize the existence of Divine Love in the relationship that connects us to each other – and see if first in our children. This kind of relationship is drastically different than familial connection. It is the relationship that changes the world.

Children have the capacity to understand the spiritual in a deep way, just like adults. Fortunately, they are often less self-conscious than we are and can engage it easily. This is what Jesus mean when he told us to “become like little children.” It is not ignorance – that is engaging mentally with the spirit. It is not weakness – that is attempting to grasp the spirit with our physical strength. Jesus means that we must find the central part of our spirit under the layers of history and memory.

One small aspect of spiritual parenting – if not the first step – is to recognize the existence of the child’s fully formed spirit. When we chose to engage it, we can have a positive influence on the child’s spiritual identity. If we ignore it we still have an impact, but with much less spiritual intelligence.

Advent and a Lesson in Waiting

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The waiting is the hardest part. We never like to do it. Studies have been conducted that show people would rather self-inflect electric shock than endure a period of quiet waiting. A pause in the busy day is both deeply desired and feared because the actual act of waiting – what happens when we have an unplanned pause – feels like torture. It requires us to face the reality of what is, which is nearly never in our minds as wonderful as what we are waiting to come around the bend. Or, perhaps, it is the waiting on a terrible thing that makes the waiting so torturous. Our minds are consumed with thoughts of the Bad Thing to come. Specific inventions were created to distract us from waiting: mobile devices, the Internet, social media. However, one could argue that consumer culture itself exists as a method to avoid waiting.

This is no more evident in American culture than during the holiday season when consumer habits are amplified. The irony lies in the fact that it correlates with the Advent season, the waiting period before the ceremonial arrival of Jesus-as-baby into the physical world, apparently the “reason for the season.”

Recently I heard someone say that Charles Dickens had more influence over the Christmas holiday season than the Christian Bible. Before we begin to lament this reality as a problem, consider that it may not be a problem. What is wrong with a selfish heart turning outward to express the love that Jesus taught? Nothing. But to declare, “Jesus is the reason for the season” in the face of heightened consumerism, the proliferation of oversized men in red suits, or the strange cultural turn to “Jingle Bells” on demand,  might only distracts us even further from the most important task at hand.

I propose that Jesus is not the reason for the season, but we are. Advent is not Christmas. Advent is the waiting period. Advent is the pause before the celebration. Advent is the act of preparation – finding a room at the inn, so to speak. Everyone who has the experience of waiting for the arrival of a baby – child, grandchild, niece or nephew, sister or brother, or friend – knows that the period before the baby actually arrives into the world is full of preparation, quiet, waiting and waiting, and restlessness. It is a time to check in to see if everything is in order to welcome new life. So while, yes, this period ultimately culminates with the baby, the focus is most directly on those who wait.

What do we do during the waiting period? When we wait we are confronted with the reality of time and must engage our current life situation, whether waiting for a baby or to check out at the grocery store. Many have a difficult time simply being in the moment and we reach for cell phones, newspapers, or we chat away with the person nearest to us, uneasy with silence. We believe our children also cannot handle waiting, handing the cell phone into their little hands before they know how to speak. In this same way, we engage the holiday flood of shopping opportunities, constant flow of high fidelity entertainment, and busy our schedules with family, friends, and church activities.

I do not mean that any of this is wrong. Spending time with loved ones, giving gifts from our hearts, and joyfully moving about our lives are wonderful ways to celebrate the season, but we must not forget that we are waiting. We must continue to prepare.

There is a reoccurring joke (with a heavy dose of truth contained in it) about how decorations make an appearance in our shopping centers and holiday music streams through loud-speaker radios earlier and earlier every year. Poor Thanksgiving! It really gets the short shrift. Halloween (another consumer-driven holiday) ends and – BAM! – it is time for Christmas! Cue the music! Get into “the holiday spirit.” Unfortunately, the holiday spirit is typically defined by outward expressions of joy: singing, gift giving, and smiles all around.

There is only so much energy one has to sustain the constant flow of exuberance expected of us. Even the most Christmas-y have moments of struggle as nerves wear thin, bank accounts droop, and smiles harden. It is time to remember and reengage the waiting period.

Perhaps we feel that turning inward is too selfish an act at a time when we are told to think more about those around us? This is a fair concern. However, new parents are often told to take time for themselves before the baby’s arrival. They must rejuvenate. Of course, it is odd to think of us “caring” for Jesus like Mary and Joseph, but there is an element of rejuvenation that is important in order to approach the next season of our lives. Consider the trees during the cold Win. An “inward turn” of dormancy allows for blooming, rebuilding, and transformation in the spring.

The waiting period does not need to be like staring into the abyss of quiet. It does not require confronting the dark corners of our mind – the fears, pains, and anxieties that dwell deeply there. Though, quieting our minds allows us to handle these emotions with greater ease. Sometimes we remark that this is a difficult time of year for some, but forget that many of us mask our own difficulties with bright colors and sounds, busy schedules, and shiny new treasures. Instead of ignoring it, we can guide our waiting with a few principles that make it a productive time in our lives:

  • Establish a few minutes in the morning or evening (or both) to “check in” with yourself. Ask: How am I today? What is the state of my body/mind/emotions? Do this without placing judgement on the answer. Just take assessment.
  • Say “no” to some of the more hectic activities and use the time to enjoy a peaceful activity: reading, writing in a journal, sitting quietly, write letters, listen to peaceful music, eat a meal with your immediate family at the table, bake cookies. Any quiet, comforting thing you like will do the trick!
  • Learn to meditate
  • Practice yoga or some other mindful activity.
  • Go for a walk by yourself without music or the radio. Listen to the sounds around you. Pay attention to what it feels like for your feet to touch the ground.
  • Hygge (Here’s an article in the New Yorker to explain it to you.)
  • Enjoy an Advent book or any other daily reflection/meditation text. Consider something by a writer or theologian you normally do not read in order to bring a new perspective to your life.
  • Read a favorite novel or writer that uplifts your spirit. (I enjoy books about nature by Terry Tempest Williams, for instance.)

Basically, do anything that allows your mind, body, and spirit to enter a place of rest in the midst of constant movement and busyness. We still have a few days before the official Christmas season begins. Take time to prepare your heart for the celebration.

Ease in the Difficulty: Finding Opportunity in Autumn’s Transition

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It finally feels like autumn in Pennsylvania. The wind is caressing the edges of our home, making the warmth inside seem like a cozy little pod in which to hunker down. Our flannels and chunky socks are out, the coffee pot is warm, and our noses are filled with spicy scents of our last meal. The fall is coming to me with messages of rest. For some reason, the weeks leading out of summer were hectic, strained, and defined by busyness – all of which I will readily give up. In order to combat the anxious spirits, I made a decision to wake up each morning at 5:45 A.M. (!!!) and settle deeply into a morning yoga and meditation practice. When this thought first flashed through my brain, I will admit that I (internally) shouted to my inner voice, “Are you kidding me? This will never work! I am not disciplined enough.” To my surprise, after a few weeks, I find myself eager to take the time to welcome the sun each morning with movement, breath, and meditation.

Two thoughts came to me today:

Find a sense of ease in the difficulty.


Our purpose on this earth is to reduce the suffering.

The first was a statement by the yoga instructor as we held standing postures for long periods of time. Of course, she was speaking about the extended side angle we engaged in, but it entered into my spirit in a profound way. So often we fight against the flurry of activity around us, becoming victims (often self-inflicted) of the actions by others (often a result of something that has nothing to do with us, personally.) Take, for instance, anger. It is an ugly, ugly characteristic that can cause deep pain in both the holder of the anger and the person on the receiving end. That anger is rooted in a problem totally unrelated to the recipient of the jealous feelings. When I am in this situation, I will automatically take it to heart, imagining that it is something about me that is causing such anger in the other. I am not locating a sense of ease in the difficulty. My choices are: 1. respond, 2. do not respond. Having no response is not a hateful reaction, but in fact a very loving response to the other person. It requires understanding that the other is acting out of anger/jealousy/etc. because of a pain of which she is unable to let go.

Regardless of what the difficulty is, finding a sense of ease in it allows us to train ourselves to become unresponsive – nonreactive – in the absolute best way. Not only do we resist the development of pain in our own minds and spirits, but we discontinue the cycle of pain that transfers out of ourselves to others.

This leads me to the second statement… conjured out of thin air this morning. Let me give a little bit of background to its significance. I am coming to the end of my years in graduate school and, almost daily, I ask myself, “What should I do next?” Over the months, this evolved to, “What is my purpose?” While I do not think that my answer this morning is the specific one I was looking for, it hit me like a proverbial truck. Perhaps I heard this before? Perhaps. The point is that it was revealed to me after a period of serious introspection into the question. Regardless of occupation, of economic status, of age, gender, race, religion, or abilities, every person’s purpose is to reduce the suffering in the world. Try to argue me away from this one. You cannot do it. Any action that relies on a moral compass – regardless of the spiritual system that one utilizes – points back to this truth.

So what does this have to do with autumn?

While it is easy to make the statements like the ones above (or, maybe it is not so easy), it can be very difficult to live in a way that supports them. The transition into autumn is a metaphor and a reality, and it is not just for the trees. In contemporary society we want to live in a perpetual summer, avoiding at all costs the drying and falling of the leaves, cooler temperatures, and dark hours. We brighten our surroundings with celebratory decorations and twinkling lights. There is nothing wrong with wishing for light! But the summer must end. Autumn brings a necessary coolness that causes us to turn inward for rejuvenation. Sometimes this is masked by the visible signs of withering all around us and it is easy to forget that it is in service of new life to come in spring. We require periods of quiet and fading and drying up to pass through the seasons of our lives. It is necessary in order to take on the new eyes that come with spring after the deep cold of winter. This prepares us for a new summer.

My sister had serious health challenges this year that impacted her body in profound ways. As a result, the human body has a different meaning to me. My relationship with my husband underwent incredible changes as the result of having a beautiful little boy, but it has established in me the firm belief in the stability of our family core. I am about to transition out of the official role of student to a new professional identity, after a radical, life-changing experience (that I never, ever want to repeat.) It challenged my ideals, my character, and my sense of self. I come out of it a new person, confident in my abilities.

I write this to illustrate that, though one may view each difficulty as a test and a winter in itself, it is my belief that these require the acceptance of an inward turn – a cool autumn that leads to a quiescent winter. It will come regardless, but the key is to not resist it.

Find ease in the difficulty. Do not let the cold brittle your bones, but recognize the interior workings of growth.