Spiritual Invitation III

I awoke this morning to see a single, male cardinal stopping to check on the sunflowers which I had planted seven weeks ago. Immediately after the cardinal’s departure, I observed two pair of mating Baltimore orioles, in vibrant yellow and black, come dancing ecstatically through the air to land—in inquisitive gesture—on the same flowers.  The yellow petals on the sunflowers’ broad heads were all newly opened; each flower head tilted in perfect formation toward the early morning sun. All velvety, brown eyes gazed intently upward.

The depth and vibrancy of the colors on this natural set, as well as the movement around my small, garden’s viewing stage, brought me more pleasure in a few moments than my attendance to any extended, anticipated or formal human exhibition.  The path to this moment had been an interesting one, taken in an effort to explore the concept of spiritual invitation.

Spirituality

Spiritual invitation is what we do when we make conscious decisions about the things we want to let into our daily lives, assuming we have the privilege of a broad range of life-style choices.

In first-world countries, after our basic needs have been met, many of us live our lives in a pattern similar to this:  go to work; collect a paycheck; shop for stuff; manage (clean, arrange, exchange, rearrange and dispose of) stuff; go to sleep; then, repeat.  Even the sacred act of eating, in an overly habituated pattern of living, becomes dull and underappreciated.  When living on autopilot, we fail to taste the flavors and the miracle of a full plate of food.

Our household voluntarily chose a more simplified material life in order to create time for devotional work.  Yet, there was a point at which, during my morning meditations–when addressing an emptiness in my heart, I was clearly being encouraged to revisit my aesthetic life.

As I first began exploring the issue of allowing aesthetic expression to reenter my life, my background in fine arts would have prescribed for me a return to the making of discrete art objects.  I questioned stepping back onto this path, as I knew well the cycle of behaviors that often accompany this form of object-based, aesthetic activity. Emotionally, this road to aesthetic expression felt worn and narrow.

Interestingly enough, the question, inside of me, became something like this: “How can I cast a wider and more inclusive net for my aesthetic expression than I have cast before, have this expression be of service to others and not harm the environment?”  What most people do not realize is how very environmentally costly and often damaging most fine-art making is.

Originally, the limited definition I had in place for the concept of “others” was a stumbling block, because I had continued to think of service and serving in terms of helping a human population.  But, when I began to think in broader, environmental terms, I realized my specific needs for aesthetic expression, Beauty, environmentally conscionable work and service could all be combined and met with a more carefully planned garden, which would honor as extensive a local pollinator and bird population as I could, given my time and space circumstances.

Thus, as we  explore our individual questions about spiritual invitation—what we would like to invite into our daily lives—we must remember to take a broad approach to the definitions of the words we choose to use—both in terms of questions and in terms of intuited answers, remembering that Grace will provide the most incredibly well tailored solutions to sincere inquiries.

Spiritual Invitation II

As we come closer to embodying our own pure Spirit or highest Light, our internal sense about our most sacred, personal priorities and desires becomes clearer.

Spirituality

Even as we grow in personal, internal clarity, we must continue to work on interfacing with family, friends, strangers, institutions and the community about us.  A high degree of the world’s pain is generated collectively by our ofttimes unsorted, selfish, mixed-up and otherwise unclear motivations, priorities and subsequent actions.

Yet, when external confusion, staring us full in the face, meets us at one of life’s many open doors, we know—from the process of working through our internal confusion and priorities—to grow quiet, draw to center and begin asking questions of the Light. And, there are times when we must gently close the door on that place, person, group, institution or community, which is presenting itself to us in real time, to determine to what degree that door will be reopened, if at all.

When we have grown quiet enough to pick up the thread on our sustaining Light, we must begin asking questions and listening for answers to determine our very individualized and personal course of action, degree of action or non-action.

Growing quiet to come into our own knowing is part of the art of practicing spiritual invitation.

We, as moving, breathing, doing Beings possess a tremendous—even luxurious—range of living options (when our most basic needs have been met) where we may choose to honor, not only our own needs, lives, dreams and desires, but also the needs, lives, dreams and desires of the individuals and life-systems around us.

Thus, we must begin to ask ourselves daily, “Given a choice, would I invite this into my life?”

Spiritual Invitation I

Spirituality

Coming to know ourselves as Spirit is a process.  Every one of us possesses a complete catalogue of impressions and stories about who we think we are.  This catalogue contains not only our own notes, entries and observations but also the notes, entries, marginal scribblings  and stories from family members, relatives, friends—close and distant, chance meetings and a great number of sometimes unsolicited comments from complete strangers.

With all of this input, it can be difficult to come to know the Light that resides in our individual hearts, and it may—at times—seem impossible to learn to listen for and abide by the gentle nudges and leadings from Spirit.

A few years ago, as a household, we came to a point where most of our personal belongings were necessity based.  We made the move toward physical simplicity in an effort to discover who we really were and to be better able to listen for guidance from the Light.  We wanted to know how we would spend our time, if we were free to follow our leadings, while not being overly involved in the care and upkeep of a great number of belongings.  The conscious reduction in belongings afforded us the time we needed for long, contemplative walks, prayer, meditation and devotional work.

On one long weekend, during this phase in our lives, I travelled to see a dear friend who was also in the process of simplifying her physical life.  While I was with my friend, we went through various collections she had amassed over the years.  One collection was particularly charming; it was a set of exquisitely patterned, English tea tins.

While assisting my friend with the sorting process, everything fell into two, dichotomous piles either “Donate” or “Keep”–until we came to the sorting of the tea tins.  Then, as we began to approach the tins, my friend turned to me to say, “Why don’t you take some of these tins home for yourself to enjoy?”

With her suggestion, what I perceived to be the warning bells of excess began sounding in my head.  Yet, beyond this commotion,  there was a quieter, deeper and larger sense, which when given voice, came through in this way, “Julian, you are hurting yourself by not allowing beauty back into your life.”

This internal response made some sense to me, as I had been trained academically as a visual artist.

Before answering my friend, I paused to consider the myriad of other recent nudges and leadings that had appeared during my quiet time.  One encouragement involved shifting from prepackaged teas to a selection of loose teas, which are available in bulk through a local health-food store.  From an environmental point of view, this change seemed completely appropriate for our household, as it would significantly reduce the amount of packaging waste we would be generating on a daily basis.

“Yes,” I answered tentatively.  “I would like that very much.”

Now, our sorting featured three piles:  “Donate,” “Keep” and “Julian.”  Selection and sorting went more quickly with this change in procedure and with my friend knowing that some of her beloved collection would  be going to a good home and a good cause.

When I returned to my own home days later, I carefully unpacked the English tins.  After everything was unwrapped and out on display, I was surprised by how much lighter and shinier I felt inside.  And, although we technically had acquired more “stuff,” this one change-of-living habit, would significantly aid our being able to live a more environmentally conscionable lifestyle.

When I meet with friends and acquaintances, desiring to live lives closer to their hearts, the most common concern I hear is that they will be “asked” or guided to do something that goes against “the who” they perceive themselves to be.  It is important, here, to remember that catalogue of notes, entries and stories.  This catalogue is open to revision—complete revision—if we desire it.  And, Grace will assist you, time and again, as you make life-affirming choices delivering you closer to the Light in your heart and “the who” of who  you are–pure Spirit.

Opening the Door on Grace

Over tea with a friend one day, my friend and I were discussing various ideas about the concept of “Christian action” or “Christian service.”  Because of the when and the where of my upbringing, I describe Christian action as being as helpful, generous and socially facilitative as one can be, while addressing the needs of any one person or community, regardless of culture, social standing or religious affiliation.

Spirituality

During our conversation, my friend relates a beautiful story to me about the work of an Episcopalian minister who was brought up in a very loving and respectful interfaith household (Muslim and Christian). As an adult, this minister chose to enter Christian seminary.  Sometime, after completing seminary, he was appointed to a church in a large urban area, where he shepherded his congregation through the process of opening dialogue with the memberships of both a local mosque and a synagogue by hosting and attending various functions.

Over time, the congregants from the church, mosque and synagogue came to know one another—as individuals and as families.  People of all three faiths celebrated and sometimes wrestled together with aspects of life’s most common passages—birth, coming of age, marriage, child rearing, maturation and death.  Hearts opened to embrace the concept of our shared humanity.

After the events of 9-11, when emotions were running extremely high, many members of this urban community’s Muslim population felt unsafe leaving their homes. Congregants from both the synagogue and the church stepped in to help their Muslim friends, by going grocery shopping, picking up filled prescriptions or otherwise completing necessary errands.

This is what I learned to call “Christian action;” yet, the truth of it is that it is appropriate, caring human action—at its best.  And it is the type of action I have been privileged to witness among the most caring and devout people from many traditions.

In life, it is not our external affiliations or social positions that matter so much as the state of affairs within our hearts—and with our active hands, mouths and feet; because when we open the door on our shared humanity, we open the door on Grace.

Spirituality: Human Faith

As a child, I had the privilege of flying in the 1970’s.  Air travel, at that time, was still a mode of transportation for the business elite and a special event for most travelling families.

The dress code was one of suits and ties or pantyhose and dresses.

If flight-time coincided with a typical mealtime, amazingly full entrees appeared magically from nothing more than a sliver-thin cubbyhole.  Think twice-baked potatoes, steak, salad, vegetable, roll (with a pad of real butter) and full dessert.  For those shorter flights, and in-between meals on longer flights, there was a packed cart, full of beverage and snack options.

Because I was flying as a child, every flight was accompanied by a wonderful set of fresh crayons, flight-themed coloring book and a complimentary set of Captain’s Wings.  It may have been while I was travelling as a child that my basic faith in humanity was established.  There was a lot of kindness and Light emanating from all of those doting flight attendants which probably turned me into an early “believer” in the basic goodness of humanity.

Something happened in our neighborhood, not so long ago, which cast a shadow over my basic faith in humanity’s goodness.  One of our neighbors, an older man, was injured by two younger men, who were intent upon doing him severe, physical harm.

Spirituality

What the two young men did not realize is that this “old man” is trained in self-defense.  Thus, things did not work out as the would-be perpetrators would have anticipated—with a call for three ambulance stretchers–not one.

It hurt my heart to hear about what happened to my neighbor.  It hurt my heart to hear about what happened to the young men.  My sense is this, that neither of these young men probably ever had the privilege of travelling by flight, especially when flying was enjoyed in suits and dresses and flight attendants doted upon passengers and children alike.  Yet, what cuts the deepest is knowing that, for at least one of the young men, the possibility of experiencing the freedom and privilege of earthly flight has come to a complete end.

 

Spiritual Bleeding II

There are a great number of deeply feeling souls among whom I travel. They share, sometimes, a lingering sense of despondency because their hearts are attuned to the pain that exists in areas of the world where profound spiritual misalignment is present.

Collectively, these hearts ask questions like, “Why is there violence?  Why must there be discord, greed and prejudice?  Why can’t we learn to work together and share?”

Spirituality

Keeping a pulse on my immediate world in my own meditation pratice, I have found that–if I am able to maintain my own connectivity while abiding by my personal, meditative guidance–that larger sense of pain falls away to be supplanted by a new, pure joy. This joy comes with the fulfillment of one’s own dharma or while walking one’s own path in alignment with the Light–moment by moment.

The spiritual bleeding that I have come to know among thinking, feeling and caring people is staved and even stopped when we, as individuals, make a committment to the practice of following our singular, Sacred guidance.  As we come into alignment with Divine purpose, healings may occur, not only for ourselves but also for others, whose lives we may choose to touch, leave, change or never know.

Spiritual Bleeding I

Walking out of the university library one day, I run into a male classmate from one of my advanced history courses. He is not overly tall, slight of frame and blonde, appearing to be much younger than his actual years.  We have never really spoken to one another.  Thus, his abrupt stop in front of me, as I leave the library, is a  surprise.  His opening line proves to be even more shocking, given his quiet demeanor.

Spirituality

“I have been thinking about going on a hunger strike,” he opens. “To protest what is going on.  The whole situation makes me feel hopeless; ” he continues, “and, yet, I feel that I must do something.”

His conclusion is resolute.  He makes it while gazing off into the distance above my head.

Shocked by his tone and the content of his soliloquy, I am even more shocked by the progressively more resolute response that begins to issue from my lips.

“First of all, you are a complete unknown to the general public.  And, as far as I know, you do not have any ‘Press.’  Am I right?” I begin.

He nods meekly.

“I don’t think having your name appear on an inch of newspaper-column-space in an obituary, announcing that you died because of a hunger strike is going to change the political situation of your concern.

“Besides, why add death to death?  It is not logical,” I counter–in full stride now.

“If you want to do something,” I continue, surprising even myself, “you should be researching a volunteer position in the area of your concern, donating money to an appropriate organization or writing letters for Amnesty International. You have at least forty years ahead of you.  You had better get to work, because starving yourself to death is not going to accomplish anything for anybody.”

“—–Right,” he answers after a long, stunned pause.  Then, again, while nodding his head in silent affirmation of the alternate perspective given to him, he repeats himself as a new vista of options open, “Right.”

Grounded again in physicality, we part company.

Spiritual Flight

Standing at the kitchen counter, peeling fresh garlic while making dinner, I catch myself thinking–in a most consternated way, “This is really tedious.”

Then, the fall begins.  I go from standing on a cloud of Light–hanging out with the saints, lamas, angels and rinpoches–to common, cranky grudge.

Not wishing to land or leave that sweet space of Being, I deploy the paragliding wings of my next thought:  “I am so grateful to have this fresh garlic in my home, ready to prepare and eat.

Spirituality

On a roll now, I continue, “May the hands that have made this portion of my evening meal be blessed:  the gardians of the ‘seeds,’ planters, tenders, farmers, field hands, harvesters, shippers, distributors, truck drivers and grocery-store workers. Thank you for the gift of this holy food.  May it heal my body.”

An updraft of Grace comes to assist me in navigating my late-afternoon flight among all things physical.  Having spread my wings in gratitude, blessing and connectivity, I am aloft again.