Readings

Sacred scripture—no matter the tradition—usually counsels its readers to become more self-aware, generous and respectful toward humanity by means of teaching some form of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Yet, the cultural and historical details of certain scriptural narratives often feature nuances which lead to a great deal of discomfort and/or interpretive hurdles in terms of deriving a “modern” lesson for current application.

Spirituality

The other day, the story of Hagar came up in a reading from Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament in The Bible. Hagar is one of Sarah’s handmaids, an Egyptian slave-girl.  At Sarah’s suggestion, Hagar is used by Abraham to produce a male heir (this is prior to Sarah’s own unexpectedly late conception and birthing of her only son, Isaac).

For most modern audiences, there are aspects of this story which are highly problematic, especially in cultures where respect for an individual’s life, sense of personal choice and the sanctity of one’s volition with regard to the body are given priority. Still, in rereading the excerpt, what strikes me the most is that Hagar’s relationship with God is equal to that of Abraham’s and Sarah’s.

God does not forsake Hagar eventhough her worth and life, in the society of that time, are of little to no consequence or value. She and her body may be a means to Sarah’s and Abraham’s end, yet her relationship with God is equal–in terms of protection and guidance.

God listens to Hagar. God talks to Hagar. God reveals to Hagar her unique place in the grand plan. And, ultimately, Grace places an umbrella of protection over Hagar and her son, Ishmael, after they are cast out into the desert.

What I have learned is this: Even as the sands of a social circumstance may become like quicksand and threaten to swallow a person up, Grace is the one surety, toward which we may turn and upon which we may rely.

So, remember to get quiet, open your heart and listen, because cultivating a connection with the Light provides protection and support.

Spirituality, Species & Scripture

“Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved a whole world.”

—The Talmud

“You weren’t here, but you should have seen it,” my neighbor from across the hall is talking to me in the entry of our triplex. “The man drove up to the building in his van, hopped out and suited up until he was covered from head to toe in something that made him look like he was going to handle radioactive material. Then, he unwound a hose that was almost as large in circumference as a fire hose and started spraying poison all over the tree in the front yard. I thought you asked Mr. Roehler not to spray? I kept thinking about Matthew and his asthma.

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“The overspray went everywhere—on the front porch, the outside furniture, the picture windows and, of course, all over the lawn and tree. Evan should be careful to wear gloves if he digs dandelions in the yard. I just wanted you to know.”

Retreating to my own apartment, I watch as the neighbor closes his door; then I close our door in mild disbelief.

When our family moved into the building, we negotiated a special rental rate which required us to shovel the walks during the winter season and maintain the yard organically during the spring, summer and fall seasons.

My husband, Evan, was out with his dandelion digger almost every-other day. Mr. Roehler had said that he would spray if he saw even one yellow dandelion head.

We made these arrangements in exchange for a reduced rate in rent and because we had hoped that the agreement would help us protect our asthmatic child, as well as reducing chemical runoff to the small lake immediately across the street.

Initially, finding this apartment had been a dream-come-true in that we were able to portage our canoe directly from storage in the garage and put in to the lake by walking across the street. The community is full of natural lakes with a myriad of interesting waterways to explore. Many local people have sizeable sailboats, canoes or motorboats, which are enjoyed when the waterways are not frozen.

A week later, I see Mr. Roehler and stop to have a brief conversation with him.

“What’s one or two downy woodpeckers?” Mr. Roehler responds to my expressed concern about the pesticides, as he faces me—smiling—when I ask him about why he had the tree sprayed.

According to Mr. Roehler, the tree “needed” to be sprayed because of the “unsightly mess” that the caterpillars—one of the food sources for the downy woodpeckers—make in the tree and in the corners of the large picture windows on the front porch.

Without bringing up our family’s personal health concerns, our previous agreement involving organic lawn care or the broader issue regarding the damage the pesticides will do to the ecological systems in the lake across the street, I had mentioned to Mr. Roehler, who loves birdwatching, that the woodpeckers would be harmed by his actions. His response amazes me.

What is one or two downy woodpeckers?

There is some deep disconnect, not only in the psyche of this now dead old man, but in all of our psyches causing us to disassociate our consumer-based, often misguided “aesthetic” choices and myopic habits with the profound damage being done to the natural world.

This is not a statement of despair or harsh ridicule; it is a statement asking us to begin making more conscientious lifestyle and consumer choices because we, as a species, need to begin attending to the well-being of the ecological systems and creatures with which and whom we share the planet. Life is sacred-all life.

“You Are the Abolitionists”

In two churches now, of two distinct denominations, there have been two seas of comfortable white folks faced by a single, African-American speaker appealing for assistance and awareness regarding the current state of racial affairs.

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In both cases I have heard the statement, “You are the Abolitionists,” used to remind the congregants of each of these churches that theirs is a history of social action in the area of racial justice. And, in each case, it seemed that the sea of individuals hearing these words would have preferred not to have been reminded of neither the past nor the present state of affairs.

Assistance does not always carry a placard, though it might. Awareness does not always mean participating in a march, though it could.

Assistance and awareness begin by observing our own behaviors when a new family—different in some way from our own—moves into our neighborhood. Do we have a plate of cookies ready as a gesture of welcome? Are we willing to jump someone’s vehicle when it does not start in the morning?  Do we say, “Good morning,” and “Good afternoon,” during our comings and goings from our home to someone whom we may initially perceive as Other?

These small acts, which acknowledge our shared humanity, begin the process of abolishing the false boundaries that keep us separate from one another and the Light within our hearts.

Giving and Receiving

It is late September. And, I am gathering my things together following an afternoon of writing at a local downtown coffeehouse.  Stepping directly outside into the warm, balmy evening air, I feel the breeze graze my face as I stretch my neck to look skyward in an effort to discern how much daylight remains for my long walk home.

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Because it is a Friday evening, the sidewalks are busy with pedestrian traffic, and the downtown atmosphere is celebratory. Walking against the predominant direction of almost all of the foot traffic, I cross the city’s busy square, traversing one more block to begin my descent down a very steep, long hill which leads away from city’s center and ultimately home. Passersby walk purposefully in the opposite direction and with marked anticipation—looking forward to reunions with friends, talking about possible dining options or even exuding the anxious energy reserved for those who have prepared for “date night.”

Approaching the very end of the longest, steepest block leading back to the city’s center, I see a man—about my son’s age—working hard to hold his non-motorized wheelchair in a state of stasis. He and his chair are at a complete standstill, while every well-defined muscle in both of his taut working arms are fully flexed. The level of exertion required for this feat must be tremendous.

Slowing to approach him head on, I attempt to sound nonchalant, “Hey, dude, do you want a push?”

His gaze, somewhat frustrated and mildly embarrassed, does not meet my own, but he responds, “Yes. That would help.”

He is both strikingly handsome and very well groomed.

“Let me rearrange my bags, and I can help. This hill is a bear,” I attempt to reassure him. “When I ride my bicycle downtown, I always have to get off and walk it.”

With my bags slung around to the backside of my body, I grab onto the handles of his wheelchair. His arms finally relax. With another verbal cue, he takes his gloved hands off from around the wheels he has been gripping.

When my hands are firmly on the chair’s handle grips, I set the pitch of my body at what feels like a forty-five degree angle in relationship to the steep grade of the hill we are climbing. Then, with an initial push of effort, we begin moving up and forward, closer toward the downtown area with the strength in my legs doing the work of moving us forward.

My travelling companion is lean and well-muscled. His gloved hands rest uneasily in his lap. Idleness is not a normal state of being for this man’s hands and most certainly not for his body type. I imagine that he must not be liking his having to accept a push. I wish I could reassure him that we are all here to help one another (or learn how to give and receive—graciously.)

My maternal side is deeply enraged that no other pedestrian even stopped to ask this man whether or not he needed any help. Internally, I wonder, “What is wrong with people?” I use the exercise of pushing us forward to iron some of the emotional kinks out of my heart. Slowly, methodically we proceed with our ascent toward the city’s central square.

To break the awkwardness of the silence as we climb, we exchange a few sentences. At some point, more than anything, I realize that helping this man is filling a void in me that misses regular contact with my own adult child.  It feels good to be able to assist him.

Then, my travelling companion says, “I think I’m good now.”

“Are you sure?” I return his statement with a question, assessing the grade on the block ahead and wanting to make sure that he will be alright.

“I’ve got it,” he assures me placing his gloved hands back on the wheels of his chair. “Have a good night.” He rolls forward.

Turning to walk home, I head back down the hill while considering the notion that he has helped me more tonight than I could ever have helped him.

Spiritual Leadings

This is what I have learned regarding authentic guidance or leadings.

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If we are in alignment with our highest Light and prepared to go the places the Divine hand would lead, not only are we able to unfold, but we are also able to offer a hand of assistance to others who are ready and waiting to unfold.

Everyone has a place at the head table on the dais–because it is God’s party. You are invited.

Giving Away Coats

There came a point in my relationship with life’s physicality when I realized that I did not “own” anything. The over-arching, all-encompassing nature of Grace was so complete that it became very clear to me that everything actually belongs to the Divine.

With this realization, I was reminded of a story, which I had encountered early in my spiritual reading. The story is about a Parisian Rabbi of tremendous reputation, who lived in a small garret apartment—a single room—immediately under the rooftop of a tall building amid the early-morning haze of the City of Lights.

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In this tale, a senior rabbinical student travels with the desire to consult with this Rabbi on a very pressing scriptural matter. After a journey of many days , the student reaches the top floor of the building where the Rabbi lives. Approaching the large wooden door of the Rabbi’s apartment, the travel-weary student gives the door a stout knock. The Rabbi himself opens the door.

Upon entering, the student looks about to see a stack of twenty books on a small wooden desk, a few writing tools with some paper, a solo chair before the desk and a single bed in the corner of the room. To this, the student exclaims in amazement, “Where are all of your things?”

Shrugging his shoulders indifferently, the Rabbi responds, “I do not maintain a great number of personal possessions. You see, I am just travelling through.”

We are all, in essence,  merely travelling through.

Yet, in travelling through this life, one of the most sacred activities in which we can engage is the redistribution and gifting of goods to those in need. And, although—at first—this process may seem unsettling, unfamiliar or even a bit frightening, there is no greater feeling than the lightness that comes with sharing.