Archive for September, 2011

Learning from Rosh-Hashanah: Insights for Personal Change

September 26, 2011 - 7:56 pm 17 Comments

 

Learning from Rosh-Hashanah: Insights for Personal Change

                      The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

 

 

As most of you are well aware, the Jewish holiday of Rosh-Hashanah marks the beginning of the New Year 5771, in the traditional Jewish culture. It signals the beginning of the agricultural year and the beginning point for life in a synagogue, a community or a congregation.

According to ancient traditions, the timing of a year runs from harvest to harvest, not seeding time. Paradoxically, it marks the beginning of the year by the act of reaping what the individual and the community has sown previously in and through their lives. So the function is twofold: It is the time for personal beginnings, and then it acts as an impulse for renewal through sincere repentance, acting as a time for reconciliation and forgiveness. In the Jewish faith, there are ten days that humanity sets aside to earnestly seek to repair its relationship with God in order to preserve righteousness and justice, thereby maintaining our hope and promise for the future. As a point for comparison, in our contemporary Western culture, we can begin to compare the rites and rituals associated with Rosh-Hashanah with our modern New Year’s observance combined with some of the Christian motives from Lent.

Rosh-Hashanah is the first of the ten High Holy days in the Jewish year, and it is celebrated as a truly significant and remarkable day in the history of the Jewish people.  On this day, according to various stories and traditions, The Lord God began the creation of the world, when Abraham offered up Isaac, his son, as a faith-filled sacrifice, when Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel was born. In addition, this was also the day when Moses confronted the Pharaoh and signaled the start of the Exodus, and it was the day that the prophet Samuel received his call!   Quite an incredible and remarkable day!

According to Jewish tradition, the ten days that span Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are the days when the Book Of Life is opened and when each person’s life is reviewed and weighed. During this time, your lifetime ledger or your moral balance sheet is studied— time when our merits and our faults are examined and our coming fate measured out to us for the next year– according to our actions and aligned to our good deeds. Every act is accounted for– not a single facet of our lives is overlooked. It is on the strength and merit of what we have done, or have left undone, that we will be judged and given our rewards…

As a corollary, during this ten day time period, we are also given the opportunity to cancel our debts and reconcile our faults by enacting or carrying through on works of forgiveness, kindness, and charity. By making a sincere pledge of personal reform, we can balance our books, and be restored to righteousness, peace and wholeness.

Now starts our time of reaping the present, and sowing towards the future…  We will need an awareness of history before acting in the present, and we will have to mourn the loss of what was, before acting in the here and now…

In the Jewish tradition, the holy days of appraisal and judgment will start with an evening prayer that is a devotional history called The Shilot. This is an account of the trials and struggles of the Hebrews– used as a reverent statement that praises the faithful endurance and steadfast devotion to their God throughout all the years. Each day during the ten days of Awe, the ten days of the New Year, the faithful are summoned to collective worship by the sound of the ram’s horn or the Shofar. This trumpeting sounds the call to the faithful to “look within the depths of their souls and the core of their society, and appraise our motives carefully. We are called to prepare our actions and behaviors to change-to leave the old ways of sin and selfishness behind and return their hearts to God.]”

The rites and rituals of the ten days from Rosh-Hashanah through to Yom Kippur declare to us that it is in the act of remembrance, that we first begin to change.

The challenge and the promise of the Jewish New Year can be ours today. We, as religious liberals, can use this or a similar time period as a time for our personal reevaluation; a time period when we can begin to appraise our lives and our communities, and to instigate the initial steps of change that leads us to reconciliation and renewal. For the devout Jew, the challenge is this:

To be able to say that I have not unfaithfully wasted a single day. The promise he or she would receive in return is one of continued mercy and forgiveness. The then Book Of Life can be favorably inscribed with his or her name for the coming year– and they would be included among the names of the faithful. For each of us here today, the day of Rosh-Hashanah can spark the opportunity to release our past, solidify our present, and begin our futures.

How does this ancient time of ritual observances relate to us today?? According to some of the most prevalent spiritual and psychological theories, it is a highly recommended practice that each of us takes some time to periodically assess the progress and direction of our lives. While this is a process that can be done alone, some people decide to enlist the assistance of a friend, your community and its greater ministry, a therapist or a spiritual director as a skilled facilitators for your insights.

Others choose a more solitary route, one that might include self-assessment tests, journal keeping, dream logs, and other helpful techniques. It is also the ideal time for taking up various spiritual disciplines such as yoga, prayer, meditation, fasting, etc.

The ten days of the Jewish New Year asks us, invites us to be introspective: to carefully appraise the use of our time, our work, and the quality of all of our relationships, etc. …. The value of such reflective inner work for the quality of one’s life cannot be overestimated.

As a close comparison, professionals in the fields of human growth, change, and motivation attest to the need to have steps by which we first openly choose to experience change. They conclude that being willing and able to adjust to these necessary changes is generally considered to be a positive sign of emotional halth, maturity, and well being.

Each of us has had their share of triumph and tears, joys and sorrows, each of us can or has already experienced times, events, and emotions that calls us to a deeper, more soulful understandings; its wisdom reveals the fuller, richer meaning those experiences might hold for us. We know that all of our experiences, whether they are personally chosen or culturally imposed, have contributed greatly to the understanding of who and what and where we are today.

According to theorists, purposeful, or deep change that follows these more personal and spiritual directions, often goes through three general stages… They are: first, Mourning, second, Stabilization and last, Anticipation.


Each stage is a part of the whole cycle of change. From them we can resolve our past, secure our present, and plan for our future. They are circular and progressive, and these stages are interdependent much like the cycles within the whole Jewish year.

The progress towards meaningful change begins first with a mourning period. This is an introspective time when we ask ourselves those deeper questions about what has happened to us, and how we can make the best of it… It is also the time when we seek answers for what might have been, and how we can restore, if possible, those best possibilities and potentials. The mourning period, then, is a time for remembrance and for release; a time for forgiving, accepting, and for letting go.

Taking the time to consciously mourn enables us to look back, and if we allow it, it will stir or raise some acute reminders that can serve to instruct and guide us, and in some instances, even serve to protect us from repeating the same painful or negative patterns. If we are storing or harboring any lingering resentments, unresolved guilt, shame or remorse, this is the time for courage and compassion so that we can see through these flaws and faults and to begin to turn them into flare and facets… When we are willing to work through our past perceptions and former experiences, we can begin to make sense of them, identify and redirect them, bringing to ourselves more peace of heart and mind about our choices and the course our lives have taken so far…

If we try to avoid, omit, postpone or gloss over this period of vital reworking, we can risk adding to our storehouse of emotional debts, discomfort and dependencies– we must assure ourselves that we are not just rehearsing some past negative pattern, and that we are striving to go past sentiment to understanding. Religiously and personally, we need to avoid getting stuck in asking those futile questions of “If Only… How Come? Why?

When we adopt the attitude that our task is to behold the truth, and to discover the essential soulful lessons of wisdom, compassion, and insight that these experiences also contain, then the benefits of newly found freedom will outweigh whatever discomfort or the pangs of conscience that we have raised. This act of remembrance, when we work to identify our true selves-

will lead to greater self esteem, acceptance, integrity, growth, and maturity.

In the ritual observance of the Jewish Holy days, we are given this precious and sacred time to begin to seek forgiveness, mend any old wounds, and restore any disharmony among families and friends. …. Regardless if you find yourself mourning your youth, your parents, your religious upbringing, lovers, career failures, and other losses, slights, insults and injuries, we can be freed of their burdens in knowing that each of us shares a similar story and that these struggles are all a part of our human existence. This is the perpetual theological battle and the ongoing spiritual imperative that faces each of us: To get ON with our lives, to forgive, let go, to renew, and intentionally make forward steps again….

The second stage or plateau stage is called stabilization. Here we begin to build on what we have learned, what we have resolved from our past, and begin to mindfully apply it to our present situation and to our daily living and interactions. It involves living in “the here and now,” as we informed by the lessons of our past.

It can be a waiting period that assesses and evaluates the next steps in our lives, for it holds the glimmer of promise that lies in our future. This time of reassessing is highly individual- it could be days, weeks, months, even years depending on the intensity and the importance of the next steps. The duration will often be in proportion to our willingness and our readiness to make those changes we find ourselves required to make. Stabilization is also a waiting time that asks us to develop sufficient motivation to seek out and discover ways to infuse our lives with the courage to apply wholeheartedly the truth of our self-discoveries.

Since this theory was taught to me during training in family therapy, I will give you an example from that context: People who have just been widowed or divorced might involve themselves in a flurry of social and intimate relationships.

This activity, while appearing to be healing and resourceful, can effectively avoid the need to step back and appraise their attitudes, and their realistic needs. They need to take time to examine their deeper values  concerning who I will become involved with the next time, and if they refuse to look inward, they could prematurely sentence themselves to live out or marry the same mistakes!

Without giving proper time to mourning, and to regaining a sense of self and its stability, we can unwittingly set ourselves up for avoidable difficulties. In a similar way, we humans also have the tendency to lose ourselves in our work, our children, our friends, even in our hobbies!

That over-commitment keeps us from giving ourselves the sufficient time to heal and to truly reevaluate. Following in the Jewish tradition, the central question is this: Can we ever be too involved that we cannot take the time to repair our own self-respect, our relationship with God? Enough time to look at ourselves, and to outgrow the negatives in our past? I consider it an elaborate deception that we can play on ourselves, and I feel that each of us needs to ponder- to reflect on our lives deeply and often! d From my own life experiences, I know that it can be a long, intricate, and demanding struggle to let go of our past and to secure an objective, loving appreciation of ourselves and others. Remember, there are no easy ways or convenient answers, cheap remedies- but there are first steps…

These steps generate hope which comes from our willingness to change, to risk openness, and to see through any obstacles towards wisdom and toward a greater appreciation of others that renews one’s love for life again.

Lastly, Anticipation is the third stage in personal change. It is the readiness to invite newness, to risk involvement, and to respond positively to the possibilities of our future. This final stage welcomes opportunity, new discoveries, and new people back into our lives in deeper and more meaningful ways. Anticipation allows and encourages us to reach out, to explore, to risk and to welcome the new developments of trust, intimacy, and love.

The goal of this concluding stage is to adopt an attitude of holy innocence- one that accepts life for what it is- warts and all- which does include the risk of potential heartache and disappointment- but that is willing to reach for what life offers, and not be swayed by past doubts and previous anxieties. Here the emphasis is on how you can live more freely, apart from your earlier beliefs, limits and fears. It is from this savoring of life, this anticipation of the good, that we grow, learn, and love anew.

In the attentive and sacred observance of time between Rosh-Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are given an appropriate ritual that symbolizes these stages of growth and change.  It is a ritual of redemption and of forgiveness that assists our mourning of the past, and encourages our ability to make ourselves ready for the future. It is an ancient ritual referred to in the Book of Micah (7:18-20), and it is designed  to release remorse and regret and to begin our journey towards greater wholeness, reconciliation and peace. It is called the Talhish.

I invite you to perform this ritual sometime during this early Fall season… Remembering that this is an act that is designed for your spiritual and personal renewal, treat it reverently. Use its steps to initiate and support changes and reforms in your life. Employ its inner messages as a rich investment in your happiness and in your spiritual growth. It is a sacred act, and a promise and a gift that you give to yourself. May we all learn through looking at ourlives, and begin again with a clean slate, an open mind, a willing spirit, and a courageous heart…   AMEN. SALAT. SO BE IT!

The Talhish  (Micah 7:18-20)

1) In order to perform this rite, you will need a slice of bread and access to some body of flowing water. This water can be a stream, a river, a canal. The ocean or lakes that have tides also work) You can choose to do this alone or with family and friends. Take this bread with you to the water’s edge. Clear your mind of any unnecessary thoughts… Breathe deeply and relax…

2) Let this bread you hold signify your life so far… See it as the result of many forces, decisions, and experiences. Know that you too were kneaded and baked into your present form and shape, and you, too have been charred or have been bleached, encrusted with life’s lessons. Let this bread symbolize the collection of your past flaws and faults, experiences and reactions. Imagine that it represents you: Body, Mind, and Spirit.

3) Extend the slice of bread before you at the water’s edge. (If you can wade in, or go to the edge of the pier, do so, etc.) Then silently and methodically crumple and shred the slice into many pieces; seeing each piece as a past problem, hurt, or fault. Now allow this assortment of broken dreams, promises, remorse, and regrets to drift off your hands or cast them out into the waters…

4) Gaze into the water… Look at the pieces… See the water as actively cleansing and releasing your heart and soul of those past cares and worries. Observe how each of the reminders vanish. Watch them float, then sink into the tides and turns of an ever-changing reality.

5) Now rest in the thought of your new freedom found in releasing the past, and then solemnly promise or pray to reform your old ways, and to resist falling back into negative habits of thinking or feeling. Claim this time as sacred time; the start of your personal renewal. See this act as a rededication to the vitality of life and the promise of expanded sense of love and caring that includes all that surrounds you. Make this pledge to yourself. Share with others only if you choose, and resolve to make this reconciliation more active, more present in your life. Beginning today, you can make your world a happier, healthier, and holier place. …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Talhish  (Micah 7:18-20)

1) In order to perform this rite, you will need a slice of bread and access to some body of flowing water. This water can be a stream, a river, a canal. The ocean or lakes that have tides also work) You can choose to do this alone or with family and friends. Take this bread with you to the water’s edge. Clear your mind of any unnecessary thoughts… Breathe deeply and relax…

 

2) Let this bread you hold signify your life so far… See it as the result of many forces, decisions, and experiences. Know that you too were kneaded and baked into your present form and shape, and you, too have been charred or have been bleached, encrusted with life’s lessons. Let this bread symbolize the collection of your past flaws and faults, experiences and reactions. Imagine that it represents you: Body, Mind, and Spirit.

 

3) Extend the slice of bread before you at the water’s edge. (If you can wade in, or go to the edge of the pier, do so, etc.) Then silently and methodically crumple and shred the slice into many pieces; seeing each piece as a past problem, hurt, or fault. Now allow this assortment of broken dreams, promises, remorse, and regrets to drift off your hands or cast them out into the waters…

 

4) Gaze into the water… Look at the pieces… See the water as actively cleansing and releasing your heart and soul of those past cares and worries. Observe how each of the reminders vanish. Watch them float, then sink into the tides and turns of an ever-changing reality.

 

5) Now rest in the thought of your new freedom found in releasing the past, and then solemnly promise or pray to reform your old ways, and to resist falling back into negative habits of thinking or feeling. Claim this time as sacred time; the start of your personal renewal. See this act as a rededication to the vitality of life and the promise of expanded sense of love and caring that includes all that surrounds you. Make this pledge to yourself. Share with others only if you choose, and resolve to make this reconciliation more active, more present in your life. Beginning today, you can make your world a happier, healthier, and holier place. …

 

The Day We All Became Contemplatives: A Theological Reflection on the Meaning of 9/11/01: Fifteen years … and Counting?

September 2, 2011 - 8:57 pm 105 Comments

Because of what has happened fifteen  years ago, we now realize that anything can happen. And yet… it still feels very unresolved and without a clear societal direction. Some of us still cling to old notions of safety and security, others are uncertain and yet willing to explore,and there are others among us who are seeking soulful solutions that can move us beyond sentiment or militancy, beyond political rhetoric, and on to how one’s faith in action can be a soulful response…

All across our nation, we will gather to remember- to offer each other a continuing sense of solace and reassurance, and yet, we now know, maybe more than ever before, that all the accustomed ,comfortable, taken for granted ways rest uneasy. We are uncertain in our own skins, and each of us can feel that our life and the lives of all those whom we love have become both more precious and more precarious.

We have come to realize that we are no longer comfortably insulated by wealth or safely isolated by oceans; we are no longer inviolate, protected by armies and supported by commerce- that our lifestyle, and the attitudes that have supported it, has now become the object of scorn and hate. As a result, it made more of us ask vital questions about how we live and what our values truly are.

Maybe, for the first time in our lives, we can understand the anxiety and dread that the average Palestinian or Jew or now a Syrian has lived with daily, and how they have lived for decades. As empathy is a great teacher, out of our suffering, an honest empathy can be born- one that asks us to commit to a higher way of humanity, a way of peace stronger and more resilient than any missiles and tanks could ever provide.

Many of us can easily recall a national tragedy, for it is easy to mourn the loss of 3000 lives, and to remember heroism, courage, bravery, and resolve. While all these noble ideals are noteworthy and important, under the lens of time,  I feel we have to ask of ourselves about the extent of our personal awareness and to assess our national priorities in the light of compassionate ethics. These are heartfelt inquiries that ask us to look at the last ten years and ask ourselves how we have changed as a culture, and as individuals, because of the 9/11 experience.

However, I will not try to present a political diatribe, nor argue for some kind of necessary repentance on our national behalf. Neither will I will not try to justify our military actions in Afghanistan, or Iraq,etc.,  nor will I call to task our sense of domestic entitlement and our socioeconomic greed. These concerns are all too well documented, and are all too tragically well known.

Assessing or assigning blame serves no good ends, and even though we, as a nation, and as individuals have to accept a certain level of responsibility for our economic intrigues and political collisions, what I will reach for tonight is to try to answer what I see as the aching need within our humanity- our soul sickness- that ours is a need is to seek clarity and compassion, to achieve an empathy with worldwide suffering, and to admit to the many kinds of inner terrorism we all can face during our lives.

What this tragedy brings into focus for me is the fact of universal human terror we all have to live with or we all need to learn how best to release. This terror that I speak of tonight is not exclusively enacted by a few extreme Islamic militants. The true terror comes into our lives from how we have accepted toxic and terrorizing behavioral standards and how we have expected a lack of genuine ethics as being somehow normal!  Daily, or so it seems, we passive absorb news headlines telling us of inhuman treatment, profound selfishness, prejudice,  and other indignities and injustices… and then find ourselves saying that its to be expected!

We have to accept and we have to admit that for all the worldly sophistication, and advanced levels of education that our society has to offer, our human and heart centered needs have come up short: What the great spiritual traditions of humanity call us to do is to return to those universal values that support kindness and compassion. We, in our so called modern society, need to learn how to live with more faith, more hope, more love.

As a culture, we have been taught to seize control, to be self important, and to define our happiness and joy as being centered on materialistic goals. So we learn strategies, we learn to put on false faces, and then arrogantly go out to master the world … as if life, as if our very souls, are defined by such counterfeit success.

We try to give each other quick solace or some easy steps of reassurance with sound bytes of advice; we tell each other to just “get over it,” and other such glib ways that do not address the depth of ordinary pain and daily suffering that has been neatly concealed, packaged, and bottled up within us.

As Martin Luther King once put it, “[our chief concern is for social acceptance- that we readily choose convenience over conscience, as if ethics are defined by what most people will accept, and that morality is defined by the Gallop Polls.]”

Robert Kennedy then adds this insight on the nature of courage and change:

“[Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their [peers] the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.

Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, (s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, … And those ripples can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.]”

As I see it, there is far too much cruelty, egotism, addiction, and corruption in our world to believe that we are immune to various kinds of  interpersonal terrorism. And yet because, we do not want to judge others, or even hesitate to hold ourselves accountable, we permit these terrors to reign over us…

Terrors that are frankly worse than bombs or planes that can snuff out life, because we permit these terrors to insult our humanity and our dignity on a daily basis. There seems to be a resistance to accepting a more heartfelt responsibility for how we cooperate or conspire to shape and to determine our values and how those values will operate effectively in our world.

We appear to be afraid, because we do not realize the power and the grace we hold within us, and among us, if we were willing to respond bravely from our hearts, so that our actions can deeply affirm, understand and console all our sisters and brothers, be they in the Middle East or in this room… For you see, I believe that each of us has known some form of terror- each of us knows what it is like when we cannot sleep at night- fearing what might await us or possibly awaiting our children during the next day.

In our culture, and played out through our common humanity, we live alongside a daily litany of terrors; whether it is a life threatening illness, the fracturing effects of divorce, the loss of income, the feelings of uselessness, and various degrees of loneliness, rejection, insult, disappointments we have to endure, cope with, reconcile, and eventually seek to overcome… Yet, we also can know and affirm that when we listen to our hearts, when we reach inside for some answers, we can tap and then release the power which forms a new level of consciousness; a shared synergy can make our world more safe and more secure.

When asked how humanity will resolve the problems of war, and inhumanity, Albert Einstein remarked, “[There will be a need to raise human consciousness, for no problem in the history of humankind has ever been solved by the same level of consciousness that created it!”] Because of this, I can say that we are all in need of change; we are all in need of more faith, more hope, more love for ourselves and for our world.

The main terrors that afflict us, from which all other fearful terrors can come, can be seen broadly as Skepticism, Cynicism, and Nihilism. Each is a soul robbing attitude, a quality of pessimism, and each of these toxic outlooks is empty of any genuine heartfelt feelings, wisdom, or compassion; More importantly, I believe and affirm that each of these negative outlooks will yield to a higher consciousness based in those abiding virtues that are found in all the great spiritual and ethical traditions- faith, hope, and love.

First, skepticism, and by skepticism, I do not mean our need to keep an open mind, or to accept having doubts, or be willing to challenge the assumptions and conclusions of others. When I refer to skepticism, it is the chronic belief that there is nothing worthy or reliable enough to believe in- that nothing and no one is faithful, trustworthy, sincere enough and that the world is a cruel and selfish place.

We meet the challenge of looking at our world in this way by understanding that faith is both an action and an attitude.

Faith is a present tense action verb- one that accompanies all that we do, and that supports our confidence and that underlies any sense of trust.  Faith is not some stagnant acceptance of a creed, or particular religious outlook. Instead, faith requires courage from us;  the courage to be able to live in the questions that surround our current situation, or that currently plague our hearts. Faith, as a verb, encourages us to meet these outlooks with confidence- to be active in learning how to live creatively and not give in to any frozen  insecurities or crippling fears.

The opposite of having faith is believing that you have to be in control. The absence of faith is one of the psychological rationales for why we seek to have power over others. In contrast, a real or genuine faith contains an equality of relationship; it is full sharing of authority and trust, for it is too restless to be lived without the inner authenticity that gives us an abiding sense of confidence… Faith frames our understanding of our own motives and decisions, and how well we sincerely choose to believe in ourselves and trust in the good that can be found in others.

Remember, at its core, pessimism is an personal injustice; it is a sin against ourselves. Nobody or no condition was ever made better by encouraging despair. Faith is necessary for healing such pessimism and restoring a sense of trust to ourselves and to how we act in our world.

The next terror of large proportions that we find among us is Cynicism. Cynicism is an attitude or outlook that states that nothing is good, fair or just, our culture is “on the take,” and that everyone has an ulterior motives. Cynicism promotes having a selfish or self serving design on others in their lives. When cynicism dominates in our thought or our relationships, the healing effect of being with connected to one another lessens, we wind up feeling drained, emptied by our caring, so that an unkind individual or narcissistic concern takes its place. Oncologist and family physician, Rachel Naomi Remen puts it this way: “we often shirk from creating a set of values that are truly life affirming. We forget that we need to live a life of integrity, to live closer to the truth of what and who you are… We can lose or gain ourselves by our choices”

The remedy for cynicism is hope; hope that instills genuine feelings of promise and possibility- that we are capable of living clearly- of living up to the ideals and behaviors we wish to see in others, or as Mohatma Gandhi put it, when responding to the challenge of hypocrisy: “We have to become the change we wish to see in others.” Having a sustaining sense of hope defeats our feelings of powerlessness. When we place hope in our hearts, we loosen the grip of fear and lessen the burdens of belief that say we are to only believe our limited life experiences, and that there is only a limited amount we will ever know, or ever be able to change about ourselves or our world.

Hope, as we know it from our Western Scriptures, gives us resilience and deepens our resolve. It builds character from suffering, and its insights do not disappoint us. (Romans 5) Hope is holding on to a positive perception; it is being open to inspiration and receptive to our highest aspirations. Hope believes; it helps us to muster a willingness to work for a new or renewed vision of ourselves, and gives us  a foundation for new, positive possibilities of personal change and social transformation. When we hold on to hope, we can capture or recover the feelings that can make life whole, healthy and worthwhile.

The last, and maybe the most difficult terror to overcome is Nihilism. Nihilism is that nagging sense of the nothingness of life- that it has or holds no meaning, no purpose. That life is chaotic and cold- and our souls are chilled at the thought of feeling useless, cut off, out of touch;  To be without a sense of being valuable to ourselves or anyone else.

I feel that when we are the most nihilistic, when we are looking straight into the Abyss; when we are facing our ultimate moments of life or death… There… There in the depth of our aloneness and despair we are given a choice of connection or annihilation. When we desperately dare to reach out, and by some holy grace, some divine synchronicity, there will be a hand and a heart,  who will hold you…

I feel that our modern spiritual crisis deals less with the nature of God, than it does with our human capacity and our personal willingness to form meaningful relationships. How we access or embrace God, is also how we embrace our deep Self, and it influences how well we will accept and embrace one another. ….

As one former colleague  Arnold Westwood, put it, “[our religion is found in our relationships. We are defined by the quality, the sincerity and the depth of our relationships, and through them we come to know and experience the good, we come to know God”]

So, most poignantly, most completely, to end our feelings of nihilism, we live in the need of more love…. And what could be said of its truth and power? As we have all read, ” Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Love, as I know it, is the only truly transformative power that is; Love cancels fear, and overcomes hate; it is the guiding and sustaining principle behind all blessing, all grace. When love is present, then all the possibilities of growth, change, healing, and reconciliation are open to you…. And are open to our world.

I will close my remarks tonight with the words of James Baldwin, author, activist, who makes this observation- He said: “The inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror- the terror of being touched. And if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed. And if you cannot be changed, you can’t be alive.”

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This evening, I ask that when you leave, that you hold your hearts open to this touch, this ability to change, and personally embrace the renewed promise of having more faith, hope, and love in your lives. I ask you to claim these gifts, and then go out and become an embodied blessing in this world of hurt, and to offer comfort, healing, and peace to one another.           AMEN … SO BE IT WITH YOU ALL !

Post Note; I have resources and readings from this service and on expanded themes… Please see them posted on this website…