Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spiritual Lent

The pastor of our tiny church ended his annual give-something-up-for-Lent sermon: “As an example of penitence to the rest of the community, this congregation will worship in an unheated church for the whole of Lent.” As we made our way out into the chill February Sunday, the pastor addressed my elderly neighbor. “Ah, Mrs. James, and what have you decided to give up for Lent?” “Church,” she replied firmly.

Enforced change is rarely successful. If anything it is often met with a move in the opposite direction. Someone tells us we can’t go into that shop – that makes us want to go even more. We sign up for a diet and find out we can’t eat potato chips – we immediately crave potato chips. Someone says “don’t look out the window” and it’s like a magnet – only with the strongest can resist the urge to do just that.

Enforced change outside ourselves does not create change inside ourselves. Lasting, fulfilling change always flows from the inside to the outside. When we decide to transform part of us, then there is the possibility of real change.

We know that in order to make room for something new to come into our lives, we need to release something. That is what the fasting part of Lent is about. Release. The feasting is – what do we want to put in its place. And that is Lent – on a deep, spiritual level of understanding. Fasting and Feasting.

“When we withdraw our attention, interest, and support from the false and the unworthy, this is true fasting. When we give that same attention, interest, and support to the enduring good, we are feasting on the things of the Spirit, and this is true prayer”. (Georgiana Tree West)

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, gave us some beautiful fasting and feasting statements:

TRUE LENTEN DISCIPLINES

Fast from judging others.
Feast on Christ dwelling within them.

Fast from fear of illness.
Feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute.
Feast on speech that purifies.

Fast from discontent.
Feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism.
Feast on optimism.

Fast from negative.
Feast on alternatives.

Fast from bitterness.
Feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern.
Feast on compassion.

Fast from suspicion.
Feast on truth.

Fast from gossip.
Feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm.
Feast on prayer that sustains.

Fast from worry.
Feast on faith.

Let’s look at the fasting aspect first. Fasting is about cleansing, emptying, cleaning out, removing old stuff.

I think that is what can happen in our minds, we keep stuff – old thoughts, ideas, fears, concerns, old ‘tapes’. What old attitudes, ideas, beliefs are sitting there, that no longer enhance our lives.

When we are cleaning anything – including our minds, we want to practice softness, tenderness, gentleness. We all carry thoughts and ideas that have been with us for a long time. Be rough with ourselves through the process is not necessary.

Have you even torn through a dirty room with a dustcloth and when you look around, you can see you have stirred up and actually spread the dirt around – not much cleaning really happened. Keep that in mind as we look at fasting – gently and easily.

So what could we fast from? Let’s take: Fast from worry, feast on faith.

What is worry? Worrying is praying for what we don’t want. Worry is giving the things outside ourselves power. Worry is thinking that outer appearances are greater than God.

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. Mark Twain

And then comes the ‘feasting’ part. And this is very very important – when we let go of an old idea, we want to replace it with something sustaining and enriching. The second half of that statement: feast on faith.

Faith is one of our 12 Powers. It was the first candle we lit on Christmas eve. It is the power for the first month of the year. I use the analogy of Faith being like a flashlight. We all have it – we just need to be careful where we shine it. We can put our faith in appearances, in outer circumstances, in what we read in the paper, what we hear on the news. We can put our faith in things outside ourselves.

Or we can use our power of faith to see God in expression. To see Spirit at work. To know there is a power greater than ourselves at work, that there is always more than what we see with our eyes.

Charles Fillmore says our faith is like a wandering child – we need to keep it close to us and not let it go too long without reminding it of its highest expression, bringing it back to center.

We probably don’t have to look far to find ways to use our faith wisely. Life usually provides us with many opportunities to strengthen our faith and make sure it is aligned with God. To look beyond what seems is real and see the bigger real.

Fast and Feast!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

CELEBRATE EVERY STEP

As human ‘doings’ we can often race from one appointment to another, one task to the next, always adding more things to the ‘to do’ list. As we do make progress and things get ticked off the ‘to do’ list – we sometimes forget a very important step. Celebration! We forget to stop – and say – hey, I did a pretty good job there!” or whew – that was a big step.

We don’t stop and appreciate what we have accomplished. We tick one thing off the list and add two more – the list never ends – we just go on and on and on.

We often don’t celebrate, sometimes we don’t even pause! This pause and celebrate - has been one of my biggest learnings. To stop and reflect for a moment on what I have just done. For instance, the Sunday service – took hours of preparation and thought. Many people found it enriching and meaningful. When I got home – instead of checking my email and looking at the next thing on my list…I sat down with a cup of tea and savoured the time. Just gave myself a moment to soak up the feeling of fulfillment.

It is important no matter how large or small the project – that we take time to do this.

Here is a little fun way that reminds me to celebrate or at least acknowledge that I have completed a step.

I have a pottery bowl with those glass stones/blobs you can get at a craft shop. I have a beautiful glass container. Every time I accomplish something – answered all my emails – I take a stone from the pot and drop it into the glass. Finished my report to the Board – drop a stone. Prepare a Sunday lesson – maybe that one is worth 2 stones!

Doing this makes me stop and consciously appreciate what I have just done. I don’t end up at the end of the day wondering: where did it go? What did I do? I know…. its right here in front of me!

When the glass is full I will treat myself – to something that I find personally rewarding.

There is another aspect of celebration I would like to explore.

As we go through our daily lives we sometimes encounter ‘bumps’. Some experiences – or people….that seem to hinder us moving forward. Something that trips us up. Something unexpected that happens.

It could be a situation: building a bookshelf, we order special brackets – we go to pick them up, they are the wrong ones. Taking a trip – the first plane is late – we miss our connection. Want to cook a special meal – we go to the store – they are out of a key ingredient. These things – large or small happen all the time.

Or it could be a person: perhaps we join a group for fun and one person there talks too much or doesn’t talk enough or is always late. We go out to enjoy a walk and we see someone not pick up after their dog. These things also happen all the time.

What is there to celebrate in that?

Everyone in our lives – everything that happens – is always for our highest good. I know this is sometimes really hard to accept. I have had many ‘discussions’ with God about this – I just could not believe it was true! How can this be for my highest good when it looks so bad? How could this be good when it feels so awful?

But if we are one – how can someone/thing be against us? It’s impossible. Every person and situation is for us (not against us).

In reaction we might say – I’ll never do that again (fly, join a group, build a bookshelf). Or we could re-arrange our lives so that we don’t have to encounter that person or situation again. When we do that we are missing a huge opportunity for growth.

Every person and situation is an opportunity for us to learn something – if we don’t shy away or run away. Some of the most annoying people in my life have been my greatest teachers – as soon as I was willing to see them that way. I began to ask myself: How is this person being a teacher for me? What can I learn from this person?

And the best part is: I didn’t have to sign up for a course or attend a seminar. I didn’t have to pay big bucks to learn this amazing life-transforming lesson. I got my teacher – for free! No book to read, no studying – it was in front of me all the time.

We are surrounded by our teachers – look around at the people and situations in your life. And celebrate that!