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Surrendering to Magical Moments

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So you want to believe in magic, do you? That’s the conclusion I draw from the unusually high interest in my last post, The Magical Now, second only to my June post explaining spirituality to Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia.

Or maybe there are just a lot of folks off work this week with extra time to read random blogs.

Whatever the reason, my response as a blogger must be to draft another post with the word “magical” in the title because it’s all about views and likes and followers and statistics. Right? One must build one’s “platform.”

Not so much. That’s what I was told when I started blogging, but the stats goal has proved less than inspiring — hardly worth emptying your heart onto the page week after week, year after year. Catchy titles or no, blogging, for me, is mostly about connecting: with people, with ideas, and with spirit.

Which brings us back to magic.

Magic is about connection. Connecting the dots, connecting the seen with the unseen, connecting with elements or spirits or entities greater than ourselves.

Magic is also about control, or the hope of control. The official definition of magic is “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Ah, yes, the illusion of control. How well I remember it. 

Surrendering to the Season

The enchantment that reigns during this ‘in-between,” liminal Christmas week is of the connection variety, not the control variety. It’s spiritual, more than magical. It’s about surrendering the need to control, and connecting to the peace and love of the season.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have some control. You do. You have choices.

This week, you can choose to slow down enough to notice the spiritual. Allow the waters of your soul to calm so that you can see past the surface to what’s underneath.

You can choose to open your hands and accept the gift of grace that’s offered at this time of year. You may not be able to “influence the course of events” through magic, but you might find a touch of what the bible calls “the peace that passes all understanding.”

“The Darkness Draws Back”

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Marcellus waxes eloquent about this “gracious” season “wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,” and “the bird of dawning singeth all night long;” the rooster’s crowing keeps the powers of darkness at bay.

Horatio responds, “So have I heard, and do in part believe.” Like many of us, Horatio kind of wants to believe, but he can’t quite allow his mind to surrender to the truth he senses in his spirit.

One of my favorite lines in the bible is a man telling Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” He recognizes that we need divine help to release our illusions of control, to let go of our agendas, to be still and stand in the threshold between this world and the next, hands unclenched and wide open.

I like how author Frederick Buechner frames the choice we have this week:

“At Christmastime it is hard even for the unbeliever not to believe in something if not in everything. Peace on earth, good will to men; a dream of innocence that is good to hold on to even if it is only a dream; the mystery of being a child; the possibility of hope . . . For a moment or two, the darkness of disenchantment, cynicism, doubt, draw back at least a little, and all the usual worldly witcheries lose something of their power to charm. Maybe we cannot manage to believe with all our hearts. But as long as the moments last, we can believe that this is of all things the thing most worth believing. And that may not be as far as it sounds from what belief is.”

May your magical moments last. Happy new year!

magical tree

A magical tree, encountered in a magical land

The Magical Now

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The week between Christmas and New Year’s seems a sacred time, what’s called a “thin place” in Celtic spirituality: a place where the lines blur between this world and the next, the material and the metaphysical, the mundane and the spiritual. It’s liminal space, from the Latin meaning “threshold.”

We stand in the threshold of a new year, looking forward and looking back. The tree is still up, the radio is still playing Oh Holy Night, and you still see the occasional Santa hat or reindeer antlers bobbing down the grocery store aisle. People still smile at strangers for no reason.

The mood is bittersweet because we know the magic and the random smiles will soon be over, but now — right now — I revel in this in-between time.

The slight melancholy of what’s been lost is tinged with a burgeoning excitement of what might be. We get misty eyed singing “Should old acquaintance be forgot,” (especially when we’re singing it with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life), but we also look to the new year with childlike hope and anticipation.

Not everybody loves New Year’s Eve, but everybody loves contemplating new beginnings, even if they are the same new beginnings they contemplated the year before and the year before that, but never pursued. Maybe this will be the year . . .

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is well-timed. “Sometimes,” it says, “we get caught up in nostalgia, future fantasy, or both, and we don’t embrace the ‘now.’ For this week’s challenge, take a moment to notice your present, and share a photo of it.”

My “now” is a little sad. I miss my mom and my brother this time of year; the two-year anniversary of my brother’s passing was last week. At the same time, I am amazed at the transformation and healing I’ve experienced over the past year, and God’s presence and action is undeniable. I am challenged and growing in my new role as Pastor of Prayer and Healing at my church, and I feel as if I’m fully in the flow of cosmic intent. I’m expectant and excited to see what God has planned for me in 2016.

Here’s the photo I’ve selected to represent my now: a photo of my journal and my well-worn bible, taken at a recent quiet retreat day. This is my now – a time of reflection and connecting with Spirit, of letting go and of looking forward with hope.

As you ponder the past year and anticipate the next, I hope that you’ll take time to be present to this liminal week. Stand in the magical threshold of NOW with me and dare to dream.

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I Wish You Joy! (And Maybe Merry Christmas.)

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I wish you joy this Christmas day, whether or not you celebrate Christmas, whether or not you consider yourself a Christian, whether or not you get angry if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas.

Mind you, I am not wishing you a Merry Christmas, unless you would like me to, in which case, I wish you the merriest of Christmases! Otherwise, I wish you joy: big, robust, impossible-to-resist joy.

Of course, being a follower of Jesus, I consider the Christmas message and the state of joy very closely related. The bible says — and my experience is — that when you are truly connected to the spirit of God, you will experience complete joy, along with love and peace and patience all kinds of other good stuff that you can’t buy and wrap up in packages.

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The Joy of Jesus

Throughout the Bible, Jesus brought joy wherever he went, beginning with the Christmas story. Angels heralded his arrival as tidings of great joy to all people, lowly shepherds celebrated, and the magi were overjoyed at the star over Bethlehem.

Later, Jesus hung out at big dinner parties with “undesirables,” celebrated at weddings, and cooked out on the beach with friends. He turned water into wine at a wedding party, and when faced with hungry crowds of thousands, he handed out endless bread and fish, showing that God’s abundance and capacity for celebration never runs out. His enemies even accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard! Despite being homeless and hated by many, Jesus surely knew how to bring joy.

laughing jesus

Imagine the joy that followed this guy as he healed people from every kind of brokenness and illness. He told them to leave their baggage behind, to go and be free from shame. He freed people bound by unhealthy exclusive religion, releasing them from legalistic rules and toxic preconceived notions about God.

The Non-Joy of Too Many “Christians”

That’s why it’s so sad that today, many people who consider themselves Christians (never mind that Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion) have lost their joy and put themselves back into bondage. They appear to believe it’s their job to judge other people in a serious, somber, and sometimes angry manner, constantly warning about the wages of sin. An Onward Christian Soldier attitude: life is a battle, suit up. Attack!

How is that reflecting Jesus? Even at Christmas, these people wage a campaign of negativity and victimhood and resentment: “There’s a war on Christmas, poor us!” Trust me, I know what it’s like to have your faith mocked, to have your beliefs attacked, to feel belittled by people you love, behind your back and on Facebook.

But Christians: get over it. You shouldn’t become part of this divisiveness. Pray that you would be filled with love and compassion and forgiveness, not pettiness. The peace of Jesus doesn’t come from this world, and our joy does not depend on other people.

Followers of Christ should be leading a counter-cultural campaign of joy against the darkness and division in the world, not an angry pity party.

I saw a bill-board in Pennsylvania yesterday: a big “Happy Holidays” crossed out and “Merry Christmas” written over the top of it. Really? REALLY?

Jesus-filled people should be wishing everyone joy in a way that brings joy, not in an aggressive way intended to make people angry. How dumb (or worse, mean-spirited) is that? The joy of Jesus is not an exclusive joy or a joy that creates divisions; it comes from love, not anger or fear.

love thy neighbor

Party On!

Here’s the thing: There’s a cosmic party going on, and everyone belongs! It’s a joyful place right here, right now, not just in some puffy, pink-clouded after-life, and it is much stronger than the dark side of the Force. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God,” and he said that everyone is welcome.

That’s what I’m celebrating at Christmas: There’s an open door, come on in. Just ignore those misguided, cheerless “Christians” in the corner. Celebrate with the rest of us!

Joy to the world! And joy to you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

Advent in Paris

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No, I didn’t suddenly jet off to Paris to celebrate Christmas. I simply wrote a poem in honor of hope, in honor of Advent, in honor of the many people who have toiled for years toward what happened in Paris recently. Not the dark, bad happening — the light, joyful happening:

Advent In Paris

Between the darkness and the light lies the truth.

Oh, I know, we’re not supposed to talk about truth anymore.

Subjective truth is all we’re allowed.

Mine lies between darkness and light.

What it looks like, what you see, varies

Depending on which way you face,

turned toward the dark or the light.

In Paris, they turned toward the light.

In Paris, they saw the truth: the climate is warming.

Please don’t tell me about the shadows you see.

Political obstruction, elections, sequestration technologies.

I don’t want to face that direction, not now.

Look! There’s the light!

We are standing in the truth.

We are facing in the right direction, the light direction.

And we are ready to take a step.

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Coping with Grief During the Holiday Season

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At some point, we all cope with grief and loss during the holidays. If this isn’t your year for the blues, I’m glad. Perhaps you’ll want to forward this to someone else who is sad these days. I developed this information for folks who celebrate Christmas, but I’m sure it would be useful for others as well.

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Coping with Loss and Grief During the Holiday Season

Grief can be a life-long process, as we incorporate painful losses into our lives – the death of beloved friends and family, the loss of our health, broken relationships, jobs changes and other major transitions.The holidays can be an especially difficult time for the bereaved, even years after a loss. We experience the “holiday blues” simply because holidays bring up memories and highlight changes in our lives. Remember, you are not alone. Many people would welcome a few quiet moments during this busy season to listen to you and to share a few memories of their own. Reach out and let people know how you are feeling. Below are a few tips to help you make it through.

Stay Connected with your Feelings

Give yourself permission to feel and express your emotions. Make sure to create time and space to honor your feelings. There is no ‘right way’ to do this – write in a journal, go for a walk, meditate and pray, exercise. Be present with your own grief and by all means, cry if you need to. Tears are an emotional release and help cleanse our bodies of toxins. If others are uncomfortable with your tears, that’s just something they will have to work on for themselves. This is your grief and your holiday. And if a little happiness or even joy creeps in this year, embrace it. Don’t feel guilty. Mixed emotions are normal during bereavement, especially during this season.

Be Kind to Yourself

Get plenty of rest, eat nourishing foods and drink lots of water. Try to avoid excessive alcohol and sweets, which can contribute to depression and stunt your grieving process by numbing your feelings. Put your health and healing first. Simplify and try not to over-do social engagements, shopping, decorating and other holiday “musts.” Do what you can, but give yourself permission to miss a party or buy cookies instead of baking them. Skip the Christmas cards unless they help you process. Slow down. Take a bubble bath, a tea break, read a book, get a massage. Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend who has been bereaved. Be alone when you need to, and reach out when you want company.

Communicate your Feelings and Needs

Let people know how you are feeling. Tell them what you can handle, and what is too much for you. Be open about what you want to talk about and what you would rather not. Ask for help with chores, errands, and decorating. Guide your friends and family in the best way to help you. You are not a burden. People feel good about helping and just need to know what you need.

Say No to Expectations and Comparisons

Don’t try to live up to expectations of how you should feel or act – your own or other people’s. You may even feel expectations from your deceased loved one, “She would have wanted me to…” You might think that Godly people should not be sad or depressed – but Jesus wept and grieved for people and places. Try not to compare yourself or your family with others. Everyone grieves in different ways – give yourself plenty of space and grace. Accept your limitations and don’t beat yourself up.

Plan Ahead

Don’t allow the holidays to simply happen to you. Give yourself as much control as you can; know where you will be, and when. Keep your schedule manageable. Decide which activities and traditions are helpful and which are not, and and politely decline invitations. Choose to be with safe, supportive people and put off “obligations.” Make time to be alone with your feelings.Try taking your family and other people in smaller doses – look into staying in a hotel or plan an “escape break” to a park or a movie during your holiday activities.

Create or Eliminate Traditions and Rituals

Talk to your family and decide which rituals and traditions are healing. Some may be too painful. Compromise with each other. Incorporate memories of your loved one into your holiday. Write poems or prayers, light a candle, create a memorial piece of artwork together. Hang a new ornament, volunteer at a nonprofit that your loved one supported. Remember that what you do this year doesn’t have to be repeated next year. You may choose a new ritual next year. Do what feels right for you now.

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help

If you are feeling overwhelmed or immobilized by negative or destructive emotions, don’t try to be super human. There are many support groups and programs that can help. Most counties have a hospice grief group and counselors. 

Remember: You Will Survive

This time of year will likely be the most difficult season of your grief. But you will get through it. Our anticipation of the holidays is always worse than the holiday itself. You don’t have to enjoy the holidays; you don’t even have to pretend. Pray, rest and be kind to yourself. Remember that “the God of all comfort” is with you, whether you can sense it or not. You are not alone.

An Eye for Good News

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There’s been way too much bad news lately, right? The stuff of nightmares. So when this week’s photo challenge suggested the word “eye” as inspiration, I considered writing about the optical sight on the barrel of an assault rifle or the crazed eye of a terrorist behind a black mask.

But I’m weary of such topics, and besides, I haven’t personally taken photos of guns or terrorists and hope never to do so.

I have, however, photographed a pelican’s eye. Here it is:

Here's lookin' at you, kid.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

This is a juvenile – isn’t he pretty, in a pterodactyl kind of way? Here he is in the water:

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Here, fishy fishy fishy…

Happily, this pelican-eye picture provides a reminder that good news happens.

You May Say I’m a Dreamer

When I was born in the fifties, Brown Pelicans had nearly disappeared from the continent, thanks to pesticide use. Endrin killed pelicans directly, and DDT weakened their egg shells so that they cracked when the parents stood on them (pellies warm their eggs with their feet).

In 1970, the year I entered high school, the birds were listed as a federal endangered species. Politicians worked together to confront the crisis (cue John Lennon’s song, Imagine), and within two years, DDT was banned and Endrin production was reduced.

By the time I started working at the Sierra Club a decade later, pelican populations along the Atlantic and eastern Gulf coasts were bouncing back, and when I left the Club almost 30 years later, pelicans nationwide had reached pre-pesticide numbers. The species was declared fully recovered in 2009.

All Eyes on Paris

So while many of us pause each morning before turning on our computers, televisions, or radios for fear of bad news, it’s important to remember that good things happen, too.

This post is dedicated to the thousands of conservationists working in Paris this week to negotiate a binding agreement that may at long last confront the crisis of climate change. All eyes are on you. Thank you, and may the Force be with you.

If you need another smile, check out the link to the photo challenge – Henry will melt your heart. Peace.

 

 

What’s the Motive for the Mass Shootings on Twitter?

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WHAT’S THE MOTIVE FOR THE MASS SHOOTINGS ON TWITTER?

There’s been a mass shooting! Let the games begin! Grab your word-weapons of choice and get to your Twitter battle stations!

Although the San Bernardino murder venue is particularly disturbing — a facility for people with disabilities — a mass shooting isn’t unusual anymore: we’ve had more mass shootings in 2015 than we have had days.

What is shocking to me, though, is the virtual bloodshed, which is every bit as hate-filled as the bullet and bomb-induced bloodshed. I’m not a huge Twitter person; I’m too addicted to Facebook to spend much time tweeting. I tweet a photo or a link once in a while.

Yesterday was the first time I monitored Twitter for any length of time. Wow. America is even sicker than I thought, which is saying quite a bit.

Someone to Blame

I first got on Twitter yesterday to sarcastically point people to the National Rifle Association’s website, where for twenty-five bucks you can join up and get a free copy of their magazine Freedom, the cover emblazoned with the words: The Catastrophic Consequences of Gun Registration. You can also purchase their lovely holiday cards featuring bald eagles and American flags and a special cute puppy collection.

I admit spewing at the NRA — as evil and culpable as they are — wasn’t a particularly helpful contribution, but it made me feel better. I felt angry and powerless and needed someone to blame.

I was surprised to instantly have scads of people liking and re-tweeting my little jab at the NRA. Weird. So I scrolled. And scrolled. Oh. My. God.

Right-Wing Rage

#He’s a Muslim! is trending big-time. The RWNB (right wing nut-balls, for those not in the know) are ecstatic that the killer is #notawhiteguy and has a “funny name” and is probably a terrorist, so of course this has nothing to do with gun control.

Except, except – didn’t they use guns? Wouldn’t it be better if terrorists couldn’t get multiple guns legally at Walmart? Oh, no matter. #He’s a Muslim! It’s not #2nd amendment!

We quickly go from accusations of a #mediaconspiracy to hide the guy’s funny name to protect #radicalIslamists, to Syrian refugees being behind it all. And of course, our president.

Barack Hussein Obama

Barack Hussein Obama

“See?” tweets one RWNB, “Now Barack Hussein Obama has a whole army of Syrian illegal aliens.”

Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

Liberal Rage

And speaking of Jesus Christ — just as nasty as the conservative racism and hatred of Muslims is the liberal vitriol and outrage at the people actually PRAYING about this. Praying, for pity’s sake! What an abomination!

#stoppraying is becoming a popular hashtag. “What a waste! Don’t pray, do something!” is the sentiment. “Praying to an imaginary friend is what causes these shootings!”

This puts me, an unabashed liberal whose first impulse is nevertheless to pray, in an awkward position. I know liberals aren’t supposed to pray these days, it’s bad form. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are just so . . . yesterday.

But clearly, humans on their own can’t solve these problems. We have a deep soul-sickness. We are destroying our own planet, for God’s sake! Do we not need a power greater than ourselves?

I know that the liberals are angry and lashing out at hypocritical right-wing politicians who say they are praying, tell others to pray, and then fight gun control with every blessed breath they’ve got. But really, liberal friends. Get a grip. People praying is not the problem.

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Making Sense of the Soul-Sickness

I happen to believe that only the Great Good Spirit can change hearts and teach love and unity instead of fear and division. Until the hate and fear stop, the carnage — both the virtual and the flesh & blood – isn’t going to stop.

So I’m going to pray. #Excusethehelloutofme. And I’m going to work to pass gun control legislation. And I’m going to try not to judge or hate people who disagree with me.

All of these unfortunate rage-filled tweeters are really just trying to make sense of this soul-sickness. We are all trying to understand, to find someone to blame, to fit these atrocities into our narratives of reality. It’s Muslims! It’s religious people! Too many guns! Not enough guns! It’s liberals/conservatives/right/left! It’s starving, frightened Syrian refugee children!

See, if we can explain it — no matter how big a stretch we make — maybe we can control it. Maybe it won’t happen to someone we love. Or to us.

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