Language Barrier!

I’m in Japan for two whole weeks to visit my son Rob Nugen and his wife Lin Hayashi. Rob has been here for 14 years; it doesn’t look like he’ll be moving back to the States!

Lin left the house this morning to go to her real estate job. Rob went out twice today to teach some English classes. Now Lin’s Mama is home from work before either of the others is home. Mama knows a few words of English, but I know ever so few words in Japanese. Konnichiwa, arigato, hai (hello, thank you, yes or okay)–that’s about it. It seems that I knew a little bit more on my previous visit in 2011 but it’s gone now.

Mama and I made do with an English to Japanese (or vice versa) translator on my iPad. Ah! the joys of modern technology. Frustrating at times, but quite useful otherwise.

See what I mean?

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Wisdom from Thoreau

There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or the hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and summachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flittered noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.

This is an excerpt from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, an invitation for us to spend some time alone in reverie, preferably outside. That’s where I have been for part of this beautiful day, walking or just sitting in the shade on this sunny, cool day in Austin, TX. Birds, trees, wisteria in bloom, sunshine, and breeze graced my solitude amidst distant noises of the neighborhood. All of Walden Pond is here in this moment, and in you.

If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal–that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. . . . The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little stardust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

May you enjoy sunshine, stardust, and rainbows of joy.

Micro-theology

Reading, reading, and more reading is for me a time-tested source of reflection. This week it’s The Practice of Spiritual Direction, by William A. Barry & William J. Connolly. They ask, “Who is God for me, and who am I for God?”

Who is God for me? God is infinity, God is love. God is both remote and inaccessible and also fully present and personal. For me that means God transcends mystery, which can be microscopic or cosmic in nature. God is always present, but not in control.

Who am I for God? Wholly imperfect, fully human, worthy, and loved.

How do I feel about myself in relation to God? Inadequate, imperfect (based on deep-seated, internalized judgments from my father and other humans. Now I remember that they, too, were both inadequate and also imperfect.)

How do I feel about myself in relationship with God? I feel loved for who I am, mortal and limited. I feel challenged to be my best self, not anyone else.

How can I enter into (fuller) relationship with God?

  1. Stop and breathe.
  2. Confess my greatest hope and/or my greatest concern.
  3. Listen to inner wisdom and wisdom of the ages.
  4. Begin again in love.

Those four steps do not require a belief in a particular god/dess or deity. They require me to tap into the depths of my own knowledge and experience. They remind me to love to the best of my ability day by day. (Reading helps, too!)

How do you maintain a connection with your highest power? In relation to what? In relationship with whom? (Even tentative thoughts are fine!)

Spiritual Friendship

Tilden Edwards wrote a book entitled Spiritual Friend: Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction. He is the founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, where many of my teachers studied.

Edwards spoke to my heart of a “calm trust in grace winding its opening way” through one’s life.

Grace has been winding its opening way through me. I stood in a small park last Spring and saw with fresh eyes each raindrop on the grass, the trees, and the lily pond as grace. A gift that was mine for the taking, created by unseen forces.

I walked around the pond and took pictures of water lilies and a small cottontail rabbit nibbling, undisturbed, on lush wet grass. It was an experience of grace.

pond-in-distance lily-and-bud bunnyThis year I have visited monthly with a spiritual director in between classes to become a spiritual director myself. “Direction” is a bit misleading; it’s more like a conversation about one’s spiritual life. How does spirituality shape the way I live in the world? What’s the reason for prayer?

Since August I have been more faithful (again) about daily meditation / contemplation / prayer / what have you. I’ve increased the time gradually all the way up to 22 minutes in the morning and about 2 minutes at night as I settle into restful slumber.

In the evening I take a series of three breaths and repeat as long as needed while I focus on being grounded, on being full of gratitude, and on God as Love. The three Gs make it easy to remember:

1) Grounded. I belong here and I can rest now.

2) Gratitude. For grace that came my way this day, for friends, for opportunities and challenges, I give thanks.

3) God. Let all abide in love. Let love guide our lives.

Gratitude in the morning for having seen a new day, and gratitude for the day as I drift off to sleep, are now the bookends of my daily life. How does grace “wind its opening way” through your life?

Near-Death Musings

The Rev. John Price is an Episcopal priest and one of my instructors in FIND (Formation in Direction, a course for prospective Spiritual Directors, like a Life Coach, only spiritual).My studies have taken me in new directions.

Anyway, Rev. Price had heard stories from people every now and then about how they had experienced death but came back to life–a near-death experience. A skeptic at first, he became more intrigued when a 4-year old described her experience even though there was no plausible reason for her to remember the hospital building where she had “died” as her mother drove past one day. So Rev. Price began listening to these stories with increasing interest, and seeking interviews with people of various faith traditions who had personal knowledge.

He wrote a book about it from the perspective of a priest. Revealing Heaven: The Eyewitness Accounts that Changed How a Pastor Thinks about the Afterlife describes stories from Hindus and Muslims as well as Christians.

There is so much we don’t understand, and so much to discover. I’ve come to believe God (defined for me as Love) is with us in joy, in sorrow, in contentment, in suffering, and in death. That makes me think about atheists. Who is with them? Some ideas floated to my head:

the will to live

the will to love

whatever they hold as sacred or ultimate

cosmic energy

What do you think?

Clean Out the Gunk

One night, of all things, I cleaned out a stopped up bathroom sink. I hadn’t deliberately put gunk in there–except that it is mostly “my” sink. Maybe I was at least partly responsible for it. In any case, it was up to me to clean it out since I wanted it to flow freely. Toothpaste, mouthwash, dirty hands, occasional hair, and who knows what else built up on the sides of the sink stopper. It wasn’t hard to clean–it just needed the right tool.

Many of my friends and I were not happy about the presidential election and now the inauguration is upon us. Maybe I was at least partly responsible for the state of this country’s political and social divides. As Barbara Kingsolver pointed out several weeks ago, each of us can do something within our sphere of influence–write, teach, call, sing, march, smile–that will make a difference in the free flow of human dignity and individual worth. All our efforts are needed; support for one another is much better than finding fault.

Whatever we do, big or small, will determine our future. Don’t stand by and let the gunk build up! Find the right tool for you and let’s keep working together for a brighter tomorrow.

Blessings for 2017!

Kristen Cervantes is a Student Pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, TX, while she continues her studies at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. We have weekly conversations that help us both grow in ministry.

When Kris responded to presidential election results, she posted these wise words:

I will not despair. Or rather, I will not only despair.

At times like this I really do wish I believed in a God who is an active agent in the world. But as I think of the gut-wrenching sobs I have heard, felt, held in my body and held in the circle of my arms, in my friends’ bodies, I don’t have that solace.

I have solace in the beauty and wonder of the world we share. I have solace in the deep emotion that means deep commitment to the continued work of building the beloved community for all, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, ability, and all the other boxes we try to fit ourselves and others into. I have solace in the help and strength and brokenness and beauty and potential in every human body and mind and soul.

My church says it wants to ‘create a more just and loving world.’ I take solace in the knowledge that we do not stand, move, and struggle alone in this painful and difficult act of creation.

I will not despair.

The New Year is upon us! May you find your way out of despair and into community.