On Faith: 5 Questions

TheOnFaith5 provides an online platform for answers to five questions about faith. On their website you’ll find many different perspectives.  I invite you to reflect on these questions along with me because each of us would think of them differently. My next post will consist of one or more of my ever-evolving answers.

Rain Lily, Austin, TX

1) Is religion or spirituality important in your daily life? How?

2) How has your understanding of “God” evolved throughout your life?

3) What do you think of religions other than your own?

4) Can you share a time when your faith helped you understand a significant event in your life?

5) What is your faith in one word or phrase?

What is saving me now?

Have you ever left a faith community? A church, synagogue, mosque, or temple? Maybe you looked around for a while before you found another that was more to your liking or closer to where you lived. Maybe you gave it up for good. You’re certainly not alone. I was raised Episcopalian, became Unitarian Universalist, and studied Zen Buddhism for a time. In India I was immersed in Hinduism. This summer I visited a number of different services, just to see how other folks do religion.

At the end of Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor reflects on what she has lost by not serving a church as priest and what she has kept. In multiple ways she answers the question, “What is saving you now?”

What is saving me now is a sense of completion. Twenty five years of ordained ministry, duly noted and recognized. Three years of study for the specific ministry of Spiritual Direction, duly graduated and recognized in 2018. A chance to preach at Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church on the occasion of their 40th anniversary. I had been a member there for their first 15 years, and was ordained there in 1993.

In Kansas City, I joined other 25-year Unitarian Universalist ministers to be recognized by colleagues from across North America and a few distant countries. We enjoyed memories of how much has taken place under our watch. We have loved the people we served, the voices we raised, and the path we chose.

After that month of travel, I was ready to reclaim body, mind, and spirit. What is saving me now is rest, prayer, contemplation, and exploration. I took most of July as a mini-sabbatical from multiple responsibilities and commitments. Blocks of solitude, doing simple art, visiting museums and libraries, singing with Tapestry Singers, reading for pleasure, and writing, are some of the ways I have restored my spirit. Now in August I’m back into planning and preparation for new adventures. Come along with me!

Spiritual Companion

For the past three years I was enrolled in a course of study called Formation in Direction. Nine of us students graduated in June 2018 as Spiritual Directors. That’s an old term for something that has existed for centuries: meeting with folks in a comfortable environment in which they can explore their spiritual lives and matters of the heart. I feel comfortable with the term Spiritual Companion, because even though I am helping others think about spirituality, I am learning from them as well.

As children we acquire a view of the universe, the nature of God/Goddess/Yhwh/El Shaddai/Spirit/Allah/Ra/Jesus/Big Bang/Mystery/The Maker/The Kind . . . and on through dozens of names that try to capture ultimate meaning in a way that makes sense to us. As we grow older, many of us learn that there are as many ways to understand questions like these: Where did we come from? What is our purpose? Why do bad things happen? What happens when we die? Should we pray, and how? To whom?

We wonder whether our lives reflect our values. We are often way too busy for reflection, anyway!

With the help of my own Spiritual Director (for 3 years so far), I have developed new spiritual practices; I have heard and read poetry that taps wordless parts of me; and I have seen how ordinary routines, done mindfully, can also be spiritual. Our monthly meetings have gradually shaped my daily life to be more centered, mindful, and spirit-filled. It has been a good investment.

Now I’m ready to offer that guidance to others.  Through this blog and through sessions with individuals or small groups, let’s learn together about spirituality that goes far beyond religious beliefs.

Hello world!

Spiritual growth: For me it comes in fits and starts. Meditation? Monkey mind leaps into action and rarely stops for more than seconds at a time. But I show up and sit comfortably. I light a candle and set a timer with a pleasant sound for 22 minutes. Then I slow my breathing and count breaths to 10 and start over and over.

I started with 5 minutes. As soon as my monkey mind started to slow down a little, the timer went off. It occurred to me that 5 minutes was too little time for me to quiet my mind as well as my body. Every few days I would add a minute and try again. Twenty two minutes feels like the right number for me.

Years ago when I was introduced to Zen meditation, a Buddhist tradition, we would sit quietly for 20 minutes, then get up to walk in silence for 5 before repeating the cycle twice more. Then our teacher Ruben Habito, a Jesuit priest and a Buddhist master, would speak to us of some aspect of Buddhism. We would close with a tea ceremony.

Occasionally I attended a weekend sesshin–2 1/2 days of silent meditation, walking, chores, and meals. At the end of the weekend my senses were finely tuned to the colors, textures, and sounds of life.

By spending these 22 minutes a day, most days, I tune into an ancient practice that has multiple formats all over the world. It is a prayer without words, simply listening to the wisdom of the ages.