Archive for July, 2009

The Four Dimensions of Life or Build Your Life Like A Wall

July 27, 2009 - 4:42 pm 7 Comments

The Four Dimensions of Life or Build Your Life Like a Wall

There once was an old Yankee farmer who was out in his fields building a stone wall to separate his pastures. Eventually, someone came down the road and looked out at the man and stopped to ask him a challenging question. He asked the farmer,
” Aren’t you afraid that there will be a strong gust of wind and your wall will fall over?” “Ha!” Said the old Yankee farmer.” I am building my wall like this on purpose. This wall I am building is two feet high and three feet wide, if the wind does come, and knock it over, then it will be a foot higher than it was before!”
Well, the dimensions of life are something like that farmer and that wall. If your life is built right, then you will not have to worry when the cold storm winds blow. Because even if life blows you over, you will land, so that you will stand, a foot taller than you were before.
The purpose for one’s life is found in its Length… Breath… Height… Depth…. Live your life long, not as the years are measured, but as your wisdom is measured. Live your life wide. Keep on growing all the time and as long as you do you will be useful, interested, interesting, serene, and secure.
Live you life deep. Then the greatest storms in the human condition will not blow you down even as they are toppling others who made a more shallow life for themselves.

And above all, Live your life high. Emerson said, “Hitch your wagon to a star”, and reach out toward that star all the time. Life doesn’t care whether you actually attain or reach all of it. But life does care that you try to reach it.
Build your life according to these dimensions, with adequate length, breath, depth and height, and even when the great winds of chance and fate blow, it won’t matter at all, because once the winds calms, you will be one foot higher than you were before!
attributed to The Reverend Walemar Argow, Sr.

Living Out Your Life’s Purpose

July 27, 2009 - 4:40 pm 17 Comments
U-Us draw their personal inspiration from many sources...

U-Us draw their personal inspiration from many sources...

Sermon: Living Out One’s Life Purpose
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

From the very beginnings of our religious movement worldwide, there has been an emphasis on living our lives with purpose and to infuse our daily decisions with meaning. We, as religious liberals forthrightly state that most of us refuse to settle for being defined by only our social roles. We have chosen to draw our own conclusions- usually from our personal sense of purpose, mission, ethics and values, that derive from our personal search, and from our own life experiences.
So I propose this morning that asking the questions of meaning and purpose are universal human needs… In fact, I would say that we are known, defined or revealed by the depth and quality of questions we are willing to ask ourselves. Following in the Socratic method that disdains an unexamined life, and our Humanist tradition of free inquiry and rational examination, I would assert that to periodically appraise one’s life is a necessary part of any personal evaluation… Then, again I am someone who believes in scheduling checkups… not just annual physicals, but emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual checkups, too!
In academic discipline of theology, Western and Eastern, there are two contrasting concepts that generally focus on meaning and purpose. These concepts will frame my discussion today.

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They are: In the West, life as Teleology and in the Eastern traditions, there is following the Dharma. Philosophers and religious teachers, East and West, have all written about the importance of having faith in one’s future. In simple terms, that our time on this earth is a gift from God, what we do with the life we are given is our gift back to God, to humanity, and to life.
This morning, I will explore each term briefly, and then I will share some of my personal experiences with trying to understand my purpose for my life. Lastly, I will focus my attention on the question of aging… and the difficulty found of living too long or feeling that one has already lived out all purpose they thought they had.
First, then is the concept of teleology. This is the Western philosophical and theological assertion that life itself has a purpose. Teleology postulates that an abiding trust and an earnest devotion to lifelong ideals will reveal one’s purpose.
We are to have faith in those ideals in order to empower them or to make they real and workable; then we are called to follow through, acting on them and being responsible for them.
It has been postulated that once a person goes beyond meeting their basic human needs and social roles, our next most important task in our lives becomes the creation of a cogent philosophy or system of lasting values for our lives.
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Teleological reasoning states that merely existing is not sufficient reason to go on living… That the next evolutionary step in awareness moves a person to examine their motives for doing anything beyond what is regarded as absolutely necessary.
Now I do not wish to sound too naive or overly idealistic here… I am fully aware that many people never get around to asking these probing or motivating questions… and most often, there is no fault that the demands of basic life has kept them from asking these questions. However, it can be the suffering inherent in the struggle for one’s basic existence that often starts the process of serious questioning. Conversely, affluence also can act as a deterrent to asking about one’s inner truths.

In our modern world, we appear to be driven to distraction! A person can become too busy with technology and with the social demands of society to ask the questions about ultimate responsibilities- they avoid asking such probing questions because it might threaten their lifestyle and the accumulated status quo. Teleology tries to inform us that purpose, meaning, or one’s sense of faith, hope and love are linked, or I would say, they are indissoluably connected. Through the daily process of faithfully living out one’s values, attesting to one’s virtues, and reaching for one’s aspirations and ideals, our lives become truly enriched and more complete.

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In the East, there is a whole different or contrasting approach. Within the teachings of the two most prominent religions that began in India, the religions of Hinduism and its major offspring, Buddhism, we are given an imperative called “following the Dharma. This dharma can be generally understood in various ways. …
As it is simply defined, one’s dharma is one’s duty to learn the wisdom of the Sages, learn and embody the wisdom of the Ages, and then practice this wisdom as one’s own guiding and fulfilling direction, especially as they are laid out in the Vedas and the Upanishads of Hinduism. (One such direct reference is found in the epic, symbolic battle, The Maharabita. This is the lifelong struggle; When Ajuna asks Krishna to speak about the meaning of psychomachia- the battle for one’s soul, or what is the true purpose and meaning for one’s existence… (Film version!)
The emphasis here is how we can overcome previous misdeeds, the traps of selfishness, negative passions, and our chronic problems of health, emptiness or unhappiness… for it is firmly believed that without intentionally working on these issues in this life, you will be doomed to repeat them in the next- The Dharma teaches that whatever we resist, persists…
In classical Hinduism, if we refuse to learn, we can descend the evolutionary ladder and become either sick, or infirmed by our ignorance- and in some of the more fatalistic transmigratory teachings, if we are stubborn and remain unyielding to truth,

In the next life, we leave being a human and descend the evolutionary scale to wind up a hyena, a cockroach, maybe a slug or a patch of kudzu-simply something less than desirable!
The Dharma for Hindus is more strictly connected to a more inflexible doctrine of reincarnation; for Buddhists, however, while reincarnation remains a central teaching, the practice of Buddhism itself is more focused on ethical and daily teachings that embody wisdom, and help one to attain one’s own Buddhahood or enlightenment. This is the very core of being a Buddhist practioner, which are the comprehension of the
four noble truths, living out one’s life along the eight-fold path- and accepting the disciple of the five austerities, choosing to seek refuge in the Sanga, or community and in the Vajrayana and Mahayana schools, taking Bohdisattva vows. Knowledge and daily practice of these teachings in both Hinduism and even more centrally in Buddhism, is the way to our sense of life’s meaning and purpose … It is also the way to release one’s mind and body from suffering, and one’s soul from past indebtedness.
This knowledge is self knowledge. It is not simply a gracious or free gift, but it is a freeing gift- what frees or releases you from the all of its hang-ups and fears, and it frees you from whatever has caused old painful patterns, habits, desires and expectations that can consciously or unconsciously hold or imprison you in want, need, illness, etc.
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These new patterns of thinking and feeling result in the soul’s freedom and the ability to understand one’s purpose in life- to mirror the values and embody virtues of enlightenment and compassion. In these wisdom teachings, we find that all true knowledge, conveys a responsibility to use it ethically, and to employ knowledge in compassionate service to humankind is the best use of one’s awareness and skill. Therefore, when practiced and more fully understood, sincere and diligent practice can frees us from the eight worldly conditions- gain, loss, honor, dishonor, blame, praise, misery or happiness.
While radically different, Teleology and the Dharma agree on the issue of recognizing one’s indebtedness to others and then choosing to respond to the truth of our interdependence on others with a personal gratitude and with greater compassion.
As a ethical consequence, we can erase or reduce our indebtedness by acting with kindness, by being wise, and unselfish. Anne Lamont, Episcopalian writer and poet looks at it this way: She says that enlightenment is found in the struggle to be unselfish and kind. The Dalai Lama asserts, Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. If you cannot help them, at least, do not hurt them.]”
First some caveats and some admissions… It is possible to live what some people would call a successful life, a positive and productive life without fully discovering their spiritual and heartfelt purpose. However, it has been my experience in counseling to see a lot of unhappiness and self-defeating behaviors among very bright and successful people.
Conversely, I have also seen genuine contentment among those who are truly humble and who choose consciously not to strive for any goal or desire that cannot be attained without ethical surrender or a soul debilitating sacrifice….
I feel that of all the definitions of a lifetime of success as it relates to life’s purpose and meaning, words attributed to Emerson stated it best when he said:
” To laugh often, and to love much; to win and hold the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of little children; …. to appreciate beauty always, whether in the earth’s creation or human handiwork, to have sought for and found the best in others and to have given the best oneself, to leave this world better than one found it, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, a cherry letter, or a redeemed social condition; to have played with enthusiasm, loved with exuberance, and sung in exultation… to go down to your dust and dreams, knowing that the world is a wee bit better, and that a single life breathes easier because we have lived, that is to have succeeded. …
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And of course, I would wish each of you that kind of success, that kind of lived expression of purpose and values.
Next, concerning those vexing and unsettling questions we ask ourselves about our lives… I feel that it is a normal and natural process of maturation to experience certain, and sometimes serious places of despair and disillusionment during certain times in our lives. … After all, it is only the mediocre person that is always at their best!
Whether it is with our choices such as career, the depth and quality of our relationships, or almost any goal or ideal we had when we were younger, there is a very human and an almost inevitable process of comparison that goes on between the ideals we hold and the real experiences and attainments in our lives.
I prefer to see these times in our lives as a creative crisis, the opportunity to receive a calling- an intuitive or spiritual new message about where we need to go next or what we need to do that doesn’t respond to logical analysis or diagnostic tests. The effort then to fine tune our lives, usually through some inspirational cue or clue-often found in art, music, prayer, dreams, films and other seemingly unlikely sources, can point us in new directions our souls need to pursue… that is, if our ego and our fears will let go long enough to do so….. As it has been said about the holistic process of aging and discovering one’s purpose: “What the soul conceives, the mind creates; what the mind creates, the heart carries out, and what the soul, mind, and heart provide, the body experiences.”
Another caveat… I do not necessarily recommend that you become more like me- described by some of my tongue in cheek friends as a terminal idealist, a Magoo-like visionary, or the Don Quixote of liberal religion! It seems that I have been continually pursuing spiritual questions and pushing myself to find the highest spiritual, religious, and ethical answers for most of the last 35 years …. So much so, that I can frustrate friendships and partners and certainly any chance of material security. When I have shared my areas of discovery, doubt, disillusionment, and defeat with some of my less spiritually minded colleagues, that have said to me… “You know, Peter, what the trouble with you is…” (Don’t you just love how your family and friends start their advice with phrases like this!!)….
“The trouble with you Peter is, you believe what all the mystics, saints, prophets, poets, and progressives have been saying! Rather than just think about it passively, and then talk about it politely, you take it to heart, you urge personal and social change, then you go out try to fully experience it! That is a great way to be miserable or feel that you do not fit!”

Of course, I prefer what one of my more compassionate and insightful colleagues said when he stated that you remind me of the advice and outlook that Martin Luther King Jr. gave to all the liberal clergymen who questioned why he was making such a fuss about civil rights.
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, he stated that a call to living as if God, Spirit, and one’s ethical convictions truly matter is very dangerous to your security, to the status quo… King implored people who choose to call themselves liberals to become creatively maladjusted- maladjusted to society in order to truly change, uplift or heal it!
“That’s what’s wrong with you Peter, you are creatively maladjusted!” And all this time, I thought all I was being was a good Unitarian-Universalist… Who knew?
Maybe one’s purpose in life is to be the best maladjusted person you can possibly be…. and since being a U-Uist already shapes you into being a square peg in the round hole of religious beliefs, maybe you, too, will risk becoming your true self, and join me in being creatively maladjusted- being in conflict with anything that is cold hearted, unjust, disrespectful, or demeaning. But beware, as Emerson stated, “[you can have truth or you can have comfort, you can have truth, or you can have security… you have to choose which ideals will live in your heart, which gods you will worship,or what motives for your life you will serve.]”
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OK, let me see now, where was I? Oh, Yes, our purpose in life….
Now, this active pursuit of meaning and purpose, this living out one’s Dharma and its virtues, can last throughout one’s lifetime… but what if you have chosen to define yourself by certain time-bound expectations you have assumed rather than the truths that you choose to live? This is a particular dilemma for many seniors who feel as if they have lived too long…
That is, to their own estimation, they have lost their value to others because the are too old to work, and their friends have died or moved away, too old because even their grandchildren no longer need them in some important way…
How do we help them to continue to feel as if their life matters, and that there is still a valuable purpose for them in this life?
We all need to be needed… loneliness, isolation, alienation are great demons to have to slay at any age… and if we feel that our sense of value or purpose is gone, we can be left facing despair and the questions of feeling useless… Because we, in the West, assume that life is linear… it has a beginning and that it will end, when we arrive near our perceived end with nothing left to do, we can experience profound depression.
How do we address this concern for seniors who think of themselves as living too long to be of no earthly good to anyone?

The most useful and easily understood concept I have found is Stage 8 of Erik Erikson’s eight stages of human development where the emotional and spiritual natures of the individual are focused on and evaluated. His stage 8 was entitled Integrity vs. Despair”…. and it involves looking back over one’s decisions and one’s perceptions, choices and directions, and through a compassionate inventory of what has been done and what has been left undone, we can arrive at being at peace with our lives in our preparation for our death. (By the way, this is also a very Buddhist concept which states because I am aging, I no longer can ignore death, so I had pay better attention to my life.)
Let me offer a personal example…. One of the ways my idealism has functioned was to Co-own and co-operate a home based hospice for two years. During that time, we were the private duty nurses and counselors to two ladies- the younger, Marion, was 88 years old and deaf, the other Eva, was 99 years old and blind. Marion never married, and taught school for some 45 years…
Eva was a classical matriarch, whose children were already in their 70’s ! To say the least, this was more than a full time assignment, and our only day off was spent as volunteer prison chaplains, but that’s another story!

Eva, at 99, would fret about her use in the world…. and even though we arranged for talking books, and other ways to engage her mind that was slipping away, the most cogent and most favored approach we tried was to have her pray for the world, for her grand and great grandchildren… to see herself as useful because the world still had need of her caring, her empathy….. This brought her much peace and feeling of fulfillment… As the statement from Helen Keller puts it, “As long as I can sweeten another person’s pain, my life is not in vain….”
Discovering and keeping one’s sense of meaning is a lifelong search. It requires being open to change, to be willing to ask troubling questions, being open to risk and rejection, and simply being faithful to those inner messages as long as they speak truthfully to you… I feel that waiting until one is advanced in age to ask probing questions about one’s life might be waiting too long…. yet, whenever one’s questions about life do demand knowing and growing, then it is the right time for one’s soul… “Happiness”, said Chamfort,”is not easily won, it is hard to find it in ourselves and it is impossible to find it anywhere else.”

So, my last words on purpose comes from the Unitarian historian, Will Durant. Durant was asked how does one maintain one’s happiness, identity and sense of purpose.
He said: “[Do not stop cultivating your garden… Do not depend on your teachers to educate you… follow your own bent, pursue your curiosities about life and about yourself bravely, express yourself truly, make your own sense of harmony…. In the end, education, like happiness, is individual, and must come from our inner selves. There is no other way …

So today I affirm and recommend this: May your search for indiviual meaning and a lasting sense of purpose be timeless and ageless, and begin today! So Be it! AMEN

How God Searches For Us & Benediction

July 24, 2009 - 8:06 pm 29 Comments

Pastoral Story. Reflection: How God Searches For Us
There once was a woman named Helen of Troy… and she was so famous and so beautiful that the poet Homer said that it was her face “that launched a thousand ships… What you never heard from poetry class and from studying The Iliad, was what happened to her… after the battle was over……
She was distraught that so much trouble had come into her life… somehow, she blanked out… she lost any recognition of who and what she was… she began to wander around outside the safety of the fortress… losing her way, she became tattered, her fine dress became dirty, she became disheveled and looked more like a street urchin than a queen…
Now hungry, desperate, and forlorn, she sold herself into servitude, becoming a woman of the streets, a slave, someone on the edge…
One day, her old handmaiden was out shopping for groceries and supplies. She walked down near the piers, and along the farm stands and fish market, and there, huddled in a doorway, she saw someone that looked strangely familiar….
The old woman stopped, and looked… and after a short while she exclaimed Helen!!! Helen! and the pitiful beaten down woman replied, ” Who is Helen?” Why you are! You are Helen of Troy!!”

The old woman began to clean her up, and started to tell her stories about herself… incidents in her childhood, her teen years and as the highly prized young beauty…
Slowly it all begins to make sense, and the woman began to recognize that what the wise old woman was saying about her was the truth! A growing sense of strength and confidence returned, she began to walk tall, and feel like she regained a part of her that was mysteriously lost…. we could say that she found her true self again….
Whenever you feel disheartened, lost, desperate or feeling as if life has been cruel and bitter… remember that God knows who you truly are, and the Holy is searching for you, looking for you through your heart and through the words and caring of others… and it knowing that this sense of God always searching to find you, that can renew you, and that helps you to find and claim your truth so that whatever is good and holy can come alive again.

The Benediction adapted from Anthony De Mello’s Wellsprings
As we move through Lent, the time mystics such as Meister Eckart and others in Creation Spirituality have called The Via Negativa, it is a time for letting go, release and reaffirmation of what is truly essential and valuable for us… in that spirit centering , in the release and in the reciprocity of love, I now offer a mediation on blessing one another called Benediction …
Today, I choose to pray for others… but how will I impart to them the gift of peace and love if my own heart is still unloving, burdened, and I have no peace of mind for myself???
So, the true start of my prayer for others is with myself… centering, breathing slowly and deeply I visualize being before God, and knowing that any lurking problem, any ill feelings, or troubling emotions that I have are still with me… I ask for the grace found in release… that these issues and concerns that weigh me down will be lightened and leavened, and if not in this day and hour, that these questions and problems will soon depart …
Then I seek to receive a portion of divine peace… I list, before God, those worries that disturb me and I imagine that I have placed them in God’s hands …Then await, in my silent and listening heart, those words of power and comfort, assurance and freedom that can come to me… Listening… to my body… to my breath… to the movement of the Spirit in and throughout my consciousness… At first, I offer a silent prayer for people whom I love… Over each one of them, I say this benediction, “May you be safe from evil and any harm,” and I visualize that a shield of God’s grace and blessing covers and protects them.

Then, moving in the assurance and peace of God, I move to those people whom I dislike or that have been troublesome to me… Over each of them I offer this benediction, ” May we be friends some day,” and I visualize that any hostilities vanish, and the truth of our being, united as companions in God, be better understood and realized.
Now, I move on to any anxious or depressed people, anyone who might be sick or who is suffering … To each of them, I offer a benediction, ” May you find peace and joy,” imagining that they will find the good of God in themselves and the strength and clarity, the release and freedom to move up and beyond whatever holds them down or back from this peace…
I come back to my heart now, to rest momentarily in that quiet assurance, and in that loving feeling that has come alive, that feeling of love which has been restored to me as a consequence of my prayers for others…

Believing & Perceiving; I Guess God Knows Best!

July 24, 2009 - 8:03 pm 3 Comments

A Story About Believing and Perceiving

There was a scene in the Star Wars trilogy when the hero, Luke Sky Walker went off in search of a spiritual teacher named Yoda. Yoda was a like a magician; he taught how to use the powers of your mind, heart, and will called The Force to achieve great things. When he landed, his plane sunk into the marshy swamp.
After finding him, Yoda taught Luke how to move objects and do things that were extraordinary just by using his concentration. Finally, Yoda told Luke to raise his plane that fell into the swamp. Luke tried, and yet he could not use the Force to raise his plane…. Yoda looked on and urged him to try again… Luke tried hard, but failed. Then Yoda tried, and almost effortlessly, he raised the plane to dry land.
Luke exclaimed, “I didn’t believe it could be done!” Yoda replied, “Exactly, you did not believe, that is why you could not do it.”
We have to believe in our abilities, if we want to accomplish our goals. Whether that is the play baseball better, build a church, or get A’s on our report cards, we have to believe that it is possible, and set the goal clearly in our hearts. Then, we have to practice both the thoughts and the actions to reach our goals, and realize our dreams.

I Guess God Knew Best!
One day, a young, questioning woman sat beneath a large and sprawling oak tree, which was next to her garden, and its pumpkin patch. Because she questioned everything, she because to wonder why it was that such a large, strong tree like the oak only had small, little fruits like acorns, and why long, thin vines produced large, heavy pumpkins. She thought to herself, “Maybe God was wrong, and mixed things up, shouldn’t the acorn grow on a long thin vine, and a pumpkin be supported by a large, strong tree?
So much thinking made her drowsy… she fell asleep under the oak tree.. a gentle breeze came up, an acorn dropped off its branch and fell right on her nose, startling her and waking her up! Suddenly, looking up into the tree, she realized, ” Maybe God was right after all !
Sometimes in our lives, wanting things to be different, or trying to outsmart natural laws and divine reasoning just do not work… Sometimes, our task is to accept what is and give thanks for whatever that day in our lives brings to us.

Receiving God

July 24, 2009 - 8:01 pm 11 Comments

Pastoral Reflection/Prayer: Receiving God
In a splendid introductory book, Invitation To The Spiritual Journey,” there is an interesting section where the modern Hindu mystic Kriyanada, speaks about daily life. He states that daily life is to be lived in response, and in resonance with holy ideas and principles. He called this awareness, “attunement,” attuning oneself to divine principles and holy purposes. Ironically, he finished his discussion of the spiritual life by quoting from The Holy Bible; giving his mostly Western audience a new way of understanding Scripture. he read from John’s Gospel where it said,” [As many as received him, to them, did he give the power to become the children of God]”
As I understand it, receiving is the direct result of remembering; remembering God in our lives, and recalling divine presence as a part of our daily awareness. We can receive when we stop racing through the day, and invite into our minds and hearts the receptivity and the resonance we need so that we can enjoy a more centered, calm, peaceful life.
Because each of you is an intelligent, productive and caring person, daily spirituality might be thought of as another demand in an already overly active day.
It does take time to be receptive to invite God into our awareness. But daily spiritual work for yourself is not a duty or a requirement, it is also your privilege and gift you can offer to yourself. From that act of affirmation and connection, your daily life can become an active prayer. From the inclusion of a holy companionship , loneliness vanishes, and serenity and acceptance returns.
Holy Presence, Sophia, God; That which lives in and among us, that grace that surrounds and blesses the whole of creation and human interaction,
Each of us has daily challenges and trials; having to put up with less that desirable circumstances, we are tested and tempted to believe that you are not truly a part of our lives. We affirm, that through a greater sense of attunement , we can learn to live in a holy resonance, in a God centered, love-worthy world. AMEN