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Peacemakers, Heralds of Hope, Earth-Healers

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Today is Earth Day.  I was originally going to quote John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson, urging us towards better stewardship of our planet.  I was going to spit out depressing statistics and bitter truths regarding global warming and resource depletion in an attempt to spur us to act more responsibly towards the Earth and its creatures.  But last week, once again, we were forced to bear witness to needless tragedy and destruction in our world; a world in which it seems more and more often violence is the chosen solution to our problems – violence to ourselves, to other humans, to animals and forests and oceans; violence to our earth.

It is always difficult to know what to say in the wake of these horrific acts and environmental devastations.  My Facebook page has been full of both righteous anger and terrible grief; people jumping to conclusions, calling for action, surrendering to prayer, demanding answers, and desperately seeking hope.

As Barbara Kingsolver writes in her essay Small Wonder, “we are alive in a fearsome time, and we have been given new things to fear.  We’ve been delivered huge blows.  The easiest thing is to think of returning the blows.  But there are other things we must think about as well, other dangers we face.  A careless way of sauntering across the earth and breaking open its treasures, a terrible dependency on sucking out the world’s best juices for ourselves.”

And so, in considering how to address current events while also staying true to the Earth Day message, I realized these are not two separate issues at all.  We are all a part of the interconnected web of life, and the harm we do, whether it be against a fellow human, an animal, plant or our planet’s atmosphere, is harm we do unto ourselves.

I am calling us today to look at this world that is so broken and hurting and to have the courage to be peacemakers, heralds of hope and earth-healers.

In the Unity tradition, we affirm five basic principles.

1.  God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.

We may ask ourselves, “How do I create peace amidst chaos and destruction?”  God is good and present everywhere.  In the eye of the hurricane is the calmness that is God.  How do we have sympathy with what appears to be a devil?  There is no other enduring power – evil exists only in our separation from the source.  What this ultimately means is that no one and nothing are beyond hope of realigning with the Truth – both the individual inner truth and the Cosmic Reality of Perfect Creations of the Divine.  This leads us to the second principle.

2.  We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.

At a very fundamental level, peace rests on the idea that each human being is inherently worthy and good.  To judge someone as unworthy allows us to justify reacting violently in the many ways we relate to others and to ourselves.  By embodying our understanding of our second principle and growing in ways we act out this principle we will create peace.  Therefore, our second principle directly asks us to be peacemakers, not just in actions, but in how we fundamentally see “the other” – both human and non-human.  By internalizing this worthiness and goodness of all, we can act from a firm conviction that the harm we do to others, we do to ourselves, and that for there to be peace in the world, there must be peace in each of us.  Creating peace within ourselves is not always easy, but our third principle encourages us to do just that.

3.  We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.

We do not have to live in a reality ruled by fear and anger.  The “new things to fear” that Barbara Kingsolver says we have been given – we can choose not to accept these fears.  We can choose to find alternatives and options, to look beyond initial impressions and reactions. The Bhagavad Gita of Hindu faith states:  If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.  We can choose to be the brave and heroic, to forgive and to love, as difficult as that may be.

4.  There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our awareness of God.

Here is where we are called, very explicitly, to be heralds of hope.  We are the vanguard, holding the memory and knowledge of Light deep within our hearts for all those who are struggling in our world, for our world that is struggling.  It is through the power of our collective belief in the wholeness of our Earth and the oneness of all that healing will take place.  When this seems too difficult, when we need a reminder of our strength, we can recite this blessing by John O’Donohue –

May memory bless and protect you with the hard-earned light of past travail; to remind you that you have survived before and though the darkness now is deep, you will soon see approaching light.

5.  Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them. 

It doesn’t get any clearer than this.  We are being called to action.  By proclaiming our commitment to Unity and these principles, we must be peacemakers, heralds of hope and earth-healers.

There is no doubt that our world is in trouble.  And while our politicians bicker amongst themselves over gun control and gay marriage, while our government continues to throw trillions of dollars at making war, and while so many, many people in this world spend every minute just trying to survive, who will step forward to be the healers that are so desperately needed?  Where will the call come from and what language could possibly inspire movement forward?

Sister Joan Kirby is the UN Representative for the Temple of Understanding, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization dedicated to cross-cultural and interfaith education and advocacy.  She says the responsibility is ours:

“We cannot count on governments to legislate sustainable development.  To make radical changes, governments need the guidance of an awakened civil society expressing the need for a change of consciousness. Corporations, still intent on the bottom line, must be kept in check by an awakened civil society insisting on sustainable consumption.  The real eco-revolution depends on leaders of religions and spiritual traditions as well as civil society with hearts open to a new understanding of the inner dimension of our living Earth.  Religion needs science for enlightenment about the plight of the Earth and science needs religion to internalize the message and take action.”

In The Association for Global New Thought’s Congregational Pledge of Nonviolence, we are asked to commit to respect ourselves and others, to treat the environment and all living things with respect and care, and to forgive.  We are also urged to pledge to be courageous – to challenge violence in all forms whenever we encounter it.  Sr. Kirby said, “Science needs religion to internalize the message and take action.”  Unity’s five principles assist us in internalizing the message and the pledge of nonviolence calls us to take action.

And since I can’t conceive of celebrating Earth Day without him, and yesterday was his birthday, I’ll let John Muir explain why we need to take care of this precious planet and all who live on it:

The world, we are told, was made especially for humans – a presumption not supported by all the facts…Why should humanity value itself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without humans; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo Sapiens. From the same material God has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

He says, “the universe would be incomplete without humans,” and I would like to add that it would be incomplete without each and every one of us humans.  We are all a vital strand in the web of life, and when one strand gets knotted up or torn away from the larger web, it is our responsibility to help fix it – and it’s in our best interest!  For the strength of the web depends on the connections and interweaving of all strands.

So, once more, I urge you to dig deeply, find the Light within and hold it – as a peacemaker; as a herald of hope; as an earth-healer.  Hold the Light close, hold it high, hold it out in forgiveness and welcome.  Hold it in your heart and let it fill you.  When you open your mouth to speak, may Light come pouring forth.  When others look into your eyes, may they be blinded by the brightness.  When there is suffering, may it be eased by the warmth in your touch and wherever you walk, may you leave glowing footprints, leading the way towards a world of love and nonviolence.

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 ** The photos used in this post are borrowed lovingly from The Muir Project.  A team of artists hiked the John Muir Trail & brought back their experiences. 219 miles in 25 days.  They have created a multi-media experience to share with others, including a documentary film about their journey.

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Resurrection of the Soul

I’ve been knocked around pretty hard the past couple of weeks; the Universe’s way of telling me to be still, be silent, heal and gather energy for the coming rush of Spring.  So I spent most of last week curled up in bed, often with sinus pressure so agonizing that the only thing I could do was lay quietly, eyes closed, with only my thoughts for company.  Although I wouldn’t have said so in the moment, this was a good thing.  I was able to connect with some quieter, deeper parts of myself that have really gotten steam-rolled by all the intense energy of answering my Call and starting seminary.

And so, with a paper deadline looming and five days of missed work, in the midnight hours of Good Friday, I lay quietly and tuned in to the whispering of my heart.  I surrendered to the movement of Spirit through me, allowing my most sacred and inner of Soul-places to prepare for resurrection.

Upon waking on Saturday, my fever having broken in the night, I was filled with a dearly missed, but deeply familiar, surge of inspirational urgency.  I took some sinus drugs, downed some orange juice and dove into the pile of still-unpacked-moving boxes to find some of my music making gear.  I coaxed my almost-dead laptop awake, called my digital orchestra to attention and let the music flow.

I spent the day in bliss – composing, napping and hanging out with my love and our zoo.  I reveled in the feelings of making music again – something I have not really done in over a year.  It is indescribable, this rush of creativity inside that is uniquely me and yet so much more than “I”.  It is as if I am wide open.  In my mind’s eye, I see my chest and abdomen, the skin translucent, and inside is a golden field, full of sunlight, wildflowers, butterflies and bumblebees.  Gentle breezes brush through the tall grasses and this is the music, sweeping through me.  Where there was darkness and confusion and clutter and ‘noise’, now is freshness and light and breath.  Ah, I’ve missed this so.

So, while I continually reminded myself that I did NOT need to ask forgiveness of the professor who’s assignment I was going to turn in late, or the folks at work who would have to wait until Monday to talk to me, or the dishes in the kitchen that needed to be washed, I spent a beautiful Easter weekend resurrecting and reconnecting with an essential part of myself.  In a very real way, these past two weeks have been a cleansing and purging, culminating in the celebration of my renewed self, open and ready to rise up into my divinity, answering every call of my soul.

I have not yet finished the piece of music I’ve been working on all weekend, so I thought I’d share an old piece that fits well here.  The piece I am currently working on is called “Oh Rolling River” and is the 2nd piece in my American Plains Suite.  The 1st piece in that suite is “Dance of the Prairie Wind” and is as illustrative of what I am currently feeling as is possible.  It’s also perfectly appropriate for the day after Easter and the beginning of Spring.  Enjoy.


Soul Collage

I could be one of those bloggers who is constantly apologizing for not posting, or I could just get to the good stuff.

I was recently introduced to the profound practice of making soul collages.  Here is the official website:

Soul Collage

There is a lot of information there for you to peruse.  It is a process created and developed by Seena Frost.  It is a creative reflection tool, guided by intuition, that can be used to connect with and understand yourself on a deeper level.  Seena Frost and the Soul Collage website offer resources for creating an entire personal soul collage deck, but I’ve also found making just a single collage to be a wonderful, meditative experience.

The Calling

The photo above is of my first collage, which I’ve entitled The Calling.  For me, it speaks of the very intimate and emotional experience of my discernment – grief and struggle and, ultimately, inner peace.  My spiritual journey over the past 15 years, beginning with leaving the Catholic Church and culminating in a decision to enter seminary has been both heartbreaking and joyful.  I’ve had to let go of many ideas and beliefs, while also finding truth and solace in new ones.

The process of soul collaging, as shown to me, is to begin without any preconceived notions of what you should be making, without any specific goals in mind of where you want to end up, without even an overarching theme in mind.  It is a process in which you let the images speak to you, arrange themselves and embody the non-verbal inner self, the divine YOU.

I’ve done it both in a group and alone.  In a group setting, there was power and meaning in the discussion of our collages with each other after creating them.  Being asked to interpret what appeared in the collage led to some deep revelations.

Music of My Soul

Music of My Soul is a collage I did alone, at home, with soft music playing and candles burning.  It was a time of quiet contemplation and contentment, and when finished, I spent some moments just observing what I had made, without any effort to “describe” or interpret.  It was a wholly different experience, but none-the-less Holy.

I’ve been doing collages for many years, but soul collaging is unique in its approach and guiding principles.  At this time in my life, during such a momentous transition, I appreciate the insight gained from this gentle communication with my soul, and look forward to building a portfolio of sorts, to both chronicle this journey and continue to guide me in a life of authenticity and compassion.


New Beginnings

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Normally I like January.  It’s my birthday month.  The busy-ness of the holidays is  over and we’re at the start of a new year.  The air is crisp and clean and the world is settling down for a bit of quiet before bursting forth into Spring.

But I am so incredibly thankful this January is over.  And rather than get into all the heavy reasons why, I’m going to celebrate what’s coming next.

I’ve been asked to speak at my local UU Fellowship this Sunday on the topic of “answering a Call”.  Here is the description of the service:

Opening Up in Sweet Surrender to the Luminous Love Light Deep Within – Imbolc, Candlemas, Ground Hog Day and St. Brigid’s Day are just some of the festivals to celebrate the first faint stirrings of Spring held in many lands and cultures.  Throughout the stillness of Winter, the Earth replenishes the nutrients of plants.  Animals bide their time, often with new life waiting to be born.  So, too, do humans, in the depths of winter, turn inward, often receiving new insights and directions to their lives.  These faint stirrings within our psyche may cause us to blossom forth in new and unexpected ways – ways that open us up to more fully embrace life.  Sometimes we may feel that we are called to support a cause, try something new, or make a significant change in our lives.  Sometimes we may hear the Call, yet ignore the summons.  In this service we will explore, through personal stories, song and poetry what happens to those among us who have said “YES” to an inner call or yearning.

I was given these prods from the facilitator to shape my comments around:

1.  What led up to the place where you were saying to yourself – ‘I should do this?’

2.  Describe that urge or calling and what it felt like.

3.  Share some of your self-talk when you were pondering whether or not to accept this undertaking.

4.  Describe your memory of saying ‘yes’.

5.  What difference has this decision [or gradual involvement] made in your life?

I am, of course, speaking about my decision to start grad school and enter seminary, but I haven’t quite figured out how and what to say.  I spent last week in Berkeley, meeting my classmates and professors, registering for classes and doing all that orientating stuff new students have to do.  I felt like a 6 year old on my first day of school – unable to sleep, up way too early, walking to school with my new bag over my shoulder and both nervous and excited to make new friends.  It was a wonderful few days in the city, and the perfect way for me to put an end to the drama and heartache and stress of the past few months and refresh myself for the adventures to come.

I haven’t decided yet how to describe the feeling of knowing, just knowing I am on the right path, in the right place, doing the right thing.  That feeling of absolute certainty that I am where I’m supposed to be, working towards the fullness of my true potential.  And I haven’t yet figured out how to put into words the confidence and joy that comes with having made the decision to answer that Call – and how it changes everything.  Having said YES changes how I view myself and how I interact with the world – and therefore how the world sees and interacts with me.  It is life changing and yet a thundering affirmation of all that has brought me to this point, of who I have been becoming, of who I AM.

There is nothing like it, this experience of both mind-expanding newness and soul-warming familiarity.

How can I explain the struggle, faint at first but growing stronger every day; the terror of that moment when you realize exactly what it is you are being called to and how your life will change if you say yes; the frustration, anxiety and impatience of trying to figure out how to say yes, how it’s all going to work, how to do it without hurting too many people you love; the pure joy and relief when you finally just surrender, when you realize there’s just no way you can’t say yes; and the breathless wonder as you take those first few steps and everything falls into place?

Not really sure how to describe all of that, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  Until then, I leave you with this perfect poem by John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us.

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.


Rising From the Ashes

I have tried many times over the past few weeks to sit down and write a new post, but with the busy-ness of the holidays and stresses of life, I have been feeling increasingly uninspired.  Unlike my usual outlook of “change and challenge are exciting adventures!”, I’m feeling more like “how am I ever going to make all these pieces fit together?”

Of course, there have been moments of joy, and even peace, spent with loved ones and in nature, and I am reminded daily of all that I am grateful for, but mostly I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Being overwhelmed is not something that happens to me very often, and so I find that instead of being more gentle with myself about it, I push my already drowning self under with guilt and contempt.  The result is me gasping for air I feel unworthy of breathing.  How silly is that?

I am a student of New Thought theologies and if you know anything at all about New Thought, you know that everything I have said up to this point is as about anti-New Thought as you can get.

New Thought = I am good.  I am strong.  I am worthy.  I am divine.

Me right now = I am a whining wimp.

*sigh*

So, I’m a member of my local Unity Church and we had our annual Burning Bowl Ceremony last Sunday.  The Burning Bowl ceremony is a fire ritual that has been a part of the Unity tradition for about 50 years.  It is a ritual that provides a sacred way to release old, unwanted conditions, feelings or events in our lives and clears the way for new beginnings.  Most Unity churches perform this ceremony on the first Sunday of the new year as a way of purging griefs and troubles before beginning the creation of a new reality for the coming year.  We purge ourselves of unwanted habits, memories, and feelings by reducing those words on paper to smoke and ash.  The smoke rises into the atmosphere, far away from us, carrying our burdens with it to the Creator where they are overcome by Love.  And the ashes can then become for us a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

I was the facilitator/speaker for our service this year, leading the congregation in this re-birthing of our church and ourselves.  It was a beautiful service and I was hoping that in the process of writing and leading this ceremony, I, too would be reinvigorated and inspired, but that didn’t happen.  In fact, something much sadder occurred; I felt relief that the service was over and it was one more thing I could check off my list of “to do’s”.  How disheartening.

I keep thinking I just need more sleep or a sunny day or a good movie or a cuddle with my dog or pizza or chocolate or whatever.  Or I think maybe my depression is back and I need to talk with my doctor about increasing my medication or I need to go back to seeing my therapist or I need to meditate more or do yoga.

But what I really think is that within the past two months (which is a relatively short period of time) my entire life has begun a drastic change, and while I’m really looking forward to what’s coming, I haven’t really done my proper grieving for what’s been.  How can I ask myself to purge the past when I still need to do my inner little memorial service/celebration of life for it?  How can I possibly arise anew from the ashes of the Burning Bowl, like a Phoenix taking flight, when the heaviness of my grief holds me tightly by the ankles?

So what is the moral of this story?  Stop whining, be gentle with myself and take the time I need to fully process the changes taking place in my life.  Yes, I feel that my calling is to minister to others, but sometimes that can’t happen until I minister to myself.  How much of a “doh!” moment is that?  With a degree in psychology and several years of mindfulness therapy, this seems like a no-brainer, but I think one of the great abuses our current society/culture heaps upon us is that there is no time for self-care and expressing grief is weak.

So, as my first “resolution” of this new year, I endeavor to tell society to f@#k off, ask everyone and everything in my life to wait just a moment, and close my eyes and breathe.  And cry.  Maybe throw something, hit something, kick something, scream, yell, rend my garments, tear out my hair, keen a song of grief to the Universe.

And only then can I emerge from my crouch within the ashes of my burnt offerings, spread my glorious renewed wings and fly up to meet what’s coming next.

There is a poet I discovered recently named Aberjhani and he has, over the years, written a collection of poetry that evolved through much contemplation and experience.  Inspired originally by several visions of angels, Aberjhani transcribed thoughts and feelings into poetry.  The words seemed to take on a life of their own, guiding his hand and determining their direction and form despite the author’s thoughts or feelings.  He eventually had to give up his idea of this dream and surrender to the evolution.  The resulting book is called The River of Winged Dreams.  Here are some quotes from both his thoughts on the process, and the poetry itself ~

The death of a dream can in fact serve as the vehicle that endows it with new form, with reinvigorated substance, a fresh flow of ideas, and splendidly revitalized color.

A bridge of silver wings stretches from the dead ashes of an unforgiving nightmare to the jeweled vision of a life started anew.  Hearts rebuilt from hope resurrect dreams killed by hate.  Hope drowned in shadows emerges fiercely splendid – boldly angelic.

Souls reconstructed with faith transform agony into peace. 

Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.  Even when muddy your wings sparkle bright with wonders that heal broken worlds. 

This is what our love is – a sacred pattern of unbroken unity sewn flawlessly invisible inside all images, thoughts, sounds and smells.

Love taught me to die with dignity that I might come forth anew in splendor.  Born once of flesh, then again of fire, I was reborn a third time to the sound of my name humming haikus in heaven’s mouth.

These days, I am finding his words comforting, assuring me that everything will be ok.  An affirmation that I CAN rise from the flames renewed and reborn, cleansed by the fire and invigorated with the breath of Life.  And that only AFTER I allow that death to occur can I commit to create a world in which I hear the sound of my name being sung by the Creator.  A world in which busy-ness and stress and grief give way to stillness and silence and peace.

In a mighty Divine coincidence, last Sunday was also the Christian Holy Day of Epiphany.  Commonly known as the end of the twelve days of Christmas, in the Western church this is the commemoration of the coming of the three Magi to the manger at Bethlehem, following the guiding star.  It is the first manifestation of the Christ to those he has come to teach.  It is an unexpected and difficult journey the Magi are called to undertake, and an illuminating discovery they make at the other end.

So now, as I ready myself to first die into and then rise from the ashes of my old life, I open myself to this spirit of Epiphany – a sudden perception of the essential nature and meaning of who I am and what my life is meant to be.

I AM the phoenix, willingly confronting the death of my past so that I may be reborn into my present.

I AM one of the Magi, following the Light to a mind-shattering discovery of the truth of who I AM.

I AM a Child of God, born today to recreate heaven here on earth and spread a message of Love, deserving of all that Love has to offer.

And everything will be ok.


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