Gratitude: Changing Our Lives as Seasons Change

The Autumnal Equinox, which marked the movement from the long days of summer to the shorter days of the coming winter, has passed.  Now is the time to be thankful for the bounty that Mother Earth has provided and to rejoice in our freedom to practice our spirituality without fear. However, Mother Earth is responding to our neglect and the shirking of our responsibility to care for Her.  

We were made caretakers of the earth and have not lived up to that duty with disastrous results.  Climate change/global warming are producing rebellious actions by the planet…the elements of Air, Fire, Water, Earth are showing us that if we do not stop our destructive habits, Mother will stop providing the bounty that sustains us and all life. 

We need to do several things.  Look at our own lives and see what we can change to make things better.  Meditate to look deeply into our spiritual lives and discover how we can grow our beliefs to let the dimming light of the changing seasons not diminish the light within us.  Help others see that there is hope for our planet if we change our lives just as the seasons change. Remember that we need to respect one another and most of all respect our Mother.

—The Rev Tanya Trzeciak

WHAT’S YOUR PERSONAL THEOLOGY?

 

Contributed by Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

An Invitation for Summer:  Going to the beach?  The mountains?  A get-away trip for relaxation, refreshment and rejuvenation?  Why not take some time to express your own personal theology.  Wrestle with it by yourself or with others.  Regardless of your religious tradition and heritage, I think we all incorporate our life experiences and learning into a theology that is “operational,” that allows us to live in the world day-by-day, making decisions and direction our actions. What might yours be?

Here’s a reflection with some of my own ideas.

Revelation:  Torah—in its broadest sense—is the dynamically evolving product of the Jewish people’s ongoing encounters with God. For all of the Torah that has been written, printed, bound, cataloged, distributed and studied, there exists still more Torah struggling to be born within the Jewish people. Our encounters with God never cease and only need to be recognized as such for God to permeate our lives. We construct rituals, symbols, words and worlds wherein we seek to let God in, to come face to face with the wholly Other.

Religious Authority/Commandedness:  We are 100% commanded. We are 0% willing to be commanded. The intervening increasing/decreasing percentages represent our dialogue with God, our effort to discover how actions unfold God for us, and our eternal hope for meaning in this life. We confront how our unwillingness to live other than just for ourselves leads to death and destruction for others and ourselves. We confront how our being commanded requires action before comprehension. We confront how our turning back (repentance) and our circumcising our hearts bring us more health of body, mind and spirit—how they bring us closer to God and how they provide direction for us.

The Nature of God:  We cannot know the nature of God. We can be in relationship with God, through which we discover God. Harold Schulweiss’s critical question for what he terms “predicate theology” is “not ‘Do you believe that God is merciful, caring, peace-making’ but ‘Do you believe that mercy, caring making peace are godly?’ (Evil and the Morality of God, p. 122 as quoted in Sonsino/Syme, Finding God, p. 156).  Revelation within the Jewish community over long centuries continually speaks to the point of discovering what is godly—resting on the cornerstone of the prophet Micah’s dictum that God requires us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”  We are observing God’s commandments when we are doing godly things. We can know what godly things are through God’s past, present, and future—God’s ongoing revelation to the Jewish people – individually and communally. The nature of God beyond this is speculation which deters us from the task at hand—bringing more people to an understanding that doing godly things brings peace and wholeness—sh’leimut.

Evil:  We and others who live close to the 0% bring about evil. When we answer to the voice of self-interest and no other, we endanger everyone around us. The larger the voice of self-interest, the larger the danger. We concentrate often on preventing great evils and we ignore the small evils which change lives more directly, resulting in a culture of pain and despair, leading to more evil ꟷ Free moral choice skewered and impaired by the actions of others.

Suffering:  It exists. Why me? Why any of us? Why not me? Why not any of us? Responding to being commanded means doing godly things to ameliorate suffering on an individual, communal and world-wide level while at the same time discovering and repairing the underlying evil which is responsible for human-engendered suffering. Does God cause suffering? No. Has God created a world in which suffering is possible? Yes. Will God abandon us? No. Can God stop all suffering? No. Who/What can? In partnership with God, much suffering can be alleviated. Beyond that, we do not—maybe can not—know. We live, hope and pray that with God, doing godly things, we repair the world and bring about the messianic age. God—think global—act local!!

New Year Resolutions

Contributed by the Rev. Edward M. Cardoza

Ah yes, the New Year is upon us. Many people will do a year in review. Others will set resolutions. I always like to set an intentional practice around New Year’s Day. I usually like to find some quiet time during the day itself. It may be near my fireplace, or in my favorite comfortable chair or—if the outdoors beckons—along my favorite wooded path. I settle in with some breathing, focus and silence—and I ask myself: what were the things I really enjoyed in 2016. Sometimes these come easily. I suspect this year—it may take a little more focus. As each of those moments comes up—just take a moment to savor them and be thankful for them. You can also write them down on a piece of paper or place them in your journal.

Can you make a resolution to commit to doing some of these things again in 2017?

Next, I like to ask what were the issues or situations that caused the most stress, anxiety or disappointment over the year? Again, it might be good to list them down. As you review the list—allow them to be taken in by you. What was out of your control? What could you have taken more responsibility for within yourself? What remains unresolved? What needs healing?

For those situations out of control—can you let them go and cast them away? For those needing you to take responsibility—can you make a commitment to do that in 2017? For those needing resolution or healing—are you able to commit to that in 2017? Write down an action plan—of things you want to let go of and things you want to do in the New Year.

Breath! Delight! Take a look at your lists—New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t just be wish list of things you know your probably won’t do—they ought to be about repeating places of joy, fulfillment and happiness. And, they ought to also be about letting go of what we can’t control and taking responsibility for things we can do something about.

I find when I do this practice—it leaves me with a commitment to live life more abundantly by committing to do those things that went well and to repair those areas that are disconnected or in need of healing.

Best wishes to you in the New Year!

Choosing Light

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Contributed by the Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

It is during the month of December that we have the shortest days in the year. December also brings about the end of the calendar year, the hibernation of much of life, and the end of our holiday season. In many ways December can be thought of as an ending month. It is as if the light is going out, and in a literal way, it is. That can be sad.

But for Christians December also brings beginnings. It is the beginning of the new liturgical year, it brings the beginning of the calendar year, and the beginning of days getting longer, and literally the increase of light. It brings many fresh starts. That can be joyous.

There is no ending without a beginning and no beginning without an ending. Which decides for you who you will be: the endings or the beginnings? It is as simple as that. We get to choose.

The choice is not about choosing one set of facts over another. The light does decrease and the light does increase in the month of December. Both statements are true. Our choice is about with which one we will align ourselves. Will we be people of increasing light or decreasing light?

In many ways it is like the Native American story about the two wolves inside each person. One is a wolf of anger and the other is a wolf of peace. Which one will we feed? The one that we decide to feed is the one that we will become. As December unfolds I invite you to make a choice. Choose to be people of light instead of darkness.

Christ was born in the darkest month that the light might shine even more brightly. He asks us to choose. Which side will we be on? I choose light and new beginnings.

Advent Blessings!

Autumn: Season of Change

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Contributed by the Rev. Edward C. Cardoza

Autumn presents us with lots of opportunities to experience the outdoors.  Even for those of us for whom getting outside may be a challenge—all we need is proximity to a window and we can have an opportunity to experience a brisk breeze or a tree in full fall splendor.  It can also be a particularly ripe time for contemplative practice so I offer the following.

I’d encourage you to find a beautiful perch by a pond, or a comfortable spot along a wooded path or even—as I suggested before—just simply opening up a window close to you.

First step, take a deep breath and, keeping your eyes open, give thanks for creation, wonder and beauty…let the breath out.  Notice the first thing that your eyes encounter.  Perhaps it is a squirrel climbing a tree or a chipmunk gathering nuts or a red leaf falling from a tree…whatever it is…fix on it.   If you can, reach for it…examine it up close. What does it reveal to you?  What truth is it expressing?  Take another deep breath in and a breath out…and spend some time with that revelation or truth.  After a few minutes…give thanks for this experience—and shift spots, change direction or adjust your seat.

Second step, take a deep breath, keeping your eyes closed this time, give thanks for change, for transition and for new seasons…let the breath out.  Notice the first thing that touches you.  Perhaps it is a cool breeze or the autumnal sun or an acorn hitting your back…whatever it is….fix on it.  Let it continue to touch you.  What does it say to you?  What does it compel you to do?  Take another deep breath in and a breath out…and spend some time with that compelling voice.  After a few minutes…give thanks for this experience.

This is a nice spiritual practice to do on a crisp, sun-filled, fall day—it will also leave you with some food for thought for your journey.   What did creation reveal to you? What new things are you compelled to do or to witness to in this season of change?

Autumn Leaves

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Submitted by Board Member, The Rev. Phil Hardwick

Autumn has come in the Northern hemisphere, and the falling leaves offer a lesson in adjusting to change. Each leaf was, in its prime, a majestic thing. More like than unlike its fellow leaves, it still possesses uniqueness, no two being duplicates. It had a vital role to play in the life of its tree, as we remember from long-ago science classes about chlorophyll and photosynthesis. Each tree, valuing its leaves as energy collectors, pulsed sap through it to keep it strong and green. Water and sunlight were contributed into the process. But now many leaves are turning different colors and coming loose. We may wish they would stay as they were, but they have another part to play, that of carpeting the ground about the roots against the coming cold. Or they may be raked into piles for children to jump on, or burnt to create an aroma like no other.

Our internal seasons follow no calendar. They happen when they happen, overlapping, even reversing. The autumns of our lives suggest a preparation for deepening and renewal. There will be a spring on the horizon, our hearts tell us, but now it may be a time for a letting go. If all we had were springtimes and summers, we might never learn to trust the invisible to take shape as the visible, and the invisible is the place of constant Source, from which issues beautiful new beginnings.

Can we celebrate the turning of the wheel of the year as the old is released to make room for the new? Every emotion we feel has a profound value to the richness of our experience.

The Power to Shape Our Experiences

contributed by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

For me, settling in my chair for a “day at the beach” brings forth texts from the Psalms that shape my experience of the moment. Remembered verses from biblical texts join with the remembered experiences of past days at the beach and increase my expectation of delight throughout the day and refreshment upon my departure.

Psalm 95:3-5. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the mountains are also his. The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 96 1,11. O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. . . . Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all that is in it.

Psalm 104: 24-25. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. So is this great and wide sea, where there are innumerable creeping things, living things, both small and great.

Yet for others a “day at the beach” is really, well, not “a day at the beach”. The beaches of the Mediterranean may bring physical relief to those who reach them as they transit across the waters from dangers in their home countries, but the desired economic and social relief may never materialize. D-Day and Normandy Beach (among others) saw thousands killed.

Indeed, Job’s metaphor (6:2-3a) rings true in these instances: Oh that my torments were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid on the scales! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea.

My day at the beach changes with the somber recognition of other experiences of “beach” than my own current one. My worries about having enough sunscreen or needing water shoes to soften walking the rocky shoreline into the surf or getting sand in my lunch shift to deeper thoughts.

Job 28:12-14. But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its price; nor is it found in the land of the living. The depth says, “It is not in me”; and the sea says, “It is not with me”.

Job 38:1-11. Then the Lord answered Job from the stormy wind, and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and you will answer me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ Declare, if you have understanding. ‘Who determined its measures,’ do you know? Or ‘who has stretched the line upon it? Upon what are its foundations fastened?’ Or ‘who laid its corner stone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’ Or ‘who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, as if it had issued from the womb, when I made the cloud its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, but no further; and here shall your proud waves be stayed”?’”

My “day at the beach” becomes a lesson I hadn’t sought, a sobering reminder that this “day at the beach” is no such thing for me, either. The words and texts I learned and remembered “way back when” have the power to shape my experience in the present in multiple directions. The seriousness of life I sought to escape found me, and, I hope it was for the better.

Been to the beach this summer?  How was it for you?