“If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division,it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone.”
How often do we forget to breathe? Unless you have sleep apnea, probably never. But when was the last time you focused just on your breathing—intentionally noticing the air being pulled into your lungs, feeling it linger there, before being released from your body?
Wanna try that now? Here, then, is your Spiritual Prescription:
Find a comfortable sitting position.
Allow your shoulders to relax. Let go of the tension in your face.
Close your eyes…if you’d like. (Probably best, however, to do that after you’ve read all the instructions! 😉 )
Take a deep, loooooong breath in from your nose. (Resist raising your shoulders as you breathe in. Allow your belly to expand, instead.
Hold that breath a few seconds.
Now, sloooooowly exhale through your mouth.
P.S. One thing I love doing with this simple breathing exercise is to focus on positive words—hope, love, clarity, peace, surrender–when I am breathing in. These are things of which I feel spiritually depleted. As I exhale, I think of a word that represents that which I long to be free of– despair, hatred, aimlessness, anger, control. If your thoughts stray, no worries. If your words change, no worries. Just breathe.
In at least one of the Buddhist traditions, the opposite is done. The negative things of the world are breathed in, and then released back into the world as the positive. And I say, if I believe as a Christian that my body is the temple of God, the Great Transformer (not to be confused with The Autobots & Decepticons, mind you) why wouldn’t this concept work for me? Give them both a try!
P.P.S By the time I posted this blog entry, I had forgotten my own prescription to breathe. Easy to do in life, isn’t it? This blasted entry would NOT post in the way it was viewing on my edit page. AArrrrrrrgh! (And in through the nose… and out through mouth. :))
Peace on your journey!
Ever thought about your own take on religion or how your faith has developed? Do you believe more compassion and less dogmatism is needed in the world? That’s where my thoughts were this week. Last Thursday I participated in an educational day for professional enrichment. The program was called “Respecting Diverse Religious Traditions at End of Life”. As we reviewed major world religions–Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Sikhism–and their approach to death and dying, I was taken back to my college days.
My freshman year at the University of Oregon, I enrolled in a year-long comparative religions course. Although I found it interesting, the pessimist in me could only conclude one thing as our course ended. Since the religions of the world had such different ideas about God, the Sacred, right and wrong, the after-life, etc., then clearly and logically they were all wrong. God did not exist and religion was simply a tool for controlling the masses. Religious beliefs and practices were for the weak who needed to depend on some form of hierarchy or rules for living to make it from day to day. Religion seemed to bring more brokenness in the world than healing. My resolve? To abandon my Christian roots and deny any religious upbringing. That lasted about 2 years. By my junior year, I had become one of those so-called weak people. I was lost in the darkness of depression and could see no easy pathway out. Unbeknownst to me, I was on the brink of embarking on an intentional spiritual journey.
My sojourn began at the 12-Step meetings where I admitted I was powerless and desired sanity in my life. The pathway to wholeness became clearer at the Unitarian Church I attended where I was gently guided back into a religious life. Every day my heart was opening back up to the Holy. And with every Ah-ha I experienced, my depression lightened and faith grew.
There are many other landmarks along this spiritual journey of mine that have challenged and shaped me: my call to ministry, attending seminary, getting married, becoming involved with Kairos Outside Prison Ministry, having children, experiencing loss and struggling with health issues. As my faith has deepened and become rooted in the Holy, I now see the beautiful similarities amidst the many world religions. Instead of weakness, I now see the strength of individuals and cultures seeking through religion to make sense of this crazy thing called life.
True. Religions may not have the same interpretation of the mysteries of life. Buddhism, for instance, can appear very different than Islam. But there is an underlining goal of living a meaningful life that takes us beyond our small, self-absorbed realities. We are called to ultimately shift our attention away from ourselves and direct it outwardly toward God (however that may be interpreted), Justice, Compassion—to name a few.
I am so grateful for all the spiritual growth I have experienced since my college days. Time and perspective have transformed my understanding of religion. I now love my faith tradition and yes, depend on it. I find salvation in the life and teachings of Jesus. And I believe that I am called by my God to show compassion to all. If you, too, believe you are required by your religion or spiritual practice to live by the Golden Rule, I encourage you to check out this website: www.charterforcompassion.org Here you will find like minded people who want to push past dogmatism and remind us of the great need for compassion in a world that has become so divided.
May we all learn to appreciate the world religions
and strive to see our similarities above our differences.
May we make it a priority,
today and everyday,
to be compassionate towards one another.
That is the question that often comes up in my ministry as a hospice chaplain.
Actually what comes up is people sheepishly or often defiantly stating—when I have asked them if they have any particular religious tradition or spiritual practice—that they do not attend any church.
In the past, I used to simply reassure them that 1) I was not there to judge what kind of spiritual being they are based on whether or not they participate in a faith community and 2) it didn’t matter anyway. He or she didn’t need to attend a church (or temple or mosque or meeting) to be a person of faith.
Over this last year, however, as I watched my beloved church dissolve and close her doors, I have begun to respond to my patients differently.
No. Belonging to a faith group and attending worship/gatherings/services isn’t everything. After all, I have met plenty of people who attend worship every week without fail, but lack that luminous, spiritual presence. In many cases—quite the opposite.
But having been on a journey without a community of faith to call my own, I have realized that going solo isn’t enough either.
Now—if you have ever attended worship in any form and especially if you’ve been part of the leadership, I know what you are thinking.
I’ve been around the block enough times to know that clergy (myself included) and congregations let people down, to say the least. Feelings are hurt; self-esteems, challenged; and spiritual cores, crushed. Too many people have had negative, painful experiences in a congregation and have never set foot in a place of worship again.
I most certainly cannot claim that in my years as a church minister I was always there in that time of need, always followed through and truly was able to be all things to all people. To the contrary, I regretfully made plenty of mistakes and unintentionally hurt people along the way.
And in my decades of attending church, I have sadly witnessed and experienced the ways in which the ugliest of human behaviors seem to rear their, well, ugly heads in what is supposed to be a loving, holy, sacred environment, reminding me of the quote by Abigail Van Buren, “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” All too true.
So why exactly would I now stress the importance of a faith community to my non-religiously-affiliated patients and their family and friends? Knowing they might be hurt, disappointed, neglected or disillusioned, why would I persuade anyone to step across the threshold of a place of worship?
Is it really worth the effort, with such risks, to find a congregation with whom to worship? I believe it is.
What I have come to value and miss in my time as a spiritual nomad is Community.
On my own, I have so few individuals who challenge or further inspire me in my faith walk. On my own, I lack the larger community who will witness to my pain and comfort me when hardship hits. On my own, I cease being in an environment where I am reminded to count my blessings, to remain steadfast in prayer and meditation and to practice what I claim to be my faith. On my own, I am not held accountable.
In the last few months I have begun attending a local church again. Nope. She is not perfect. Every congregation has its quirks and shortcomings and my new faith community is no exception. But I am not looking for “perfect.” That’s the key.
None of us can expect a place of worship to meet every need, every time, with complete perfection.
What we should expect, however, is that WE will bring OUR very best, whether we have begun worshiping with a congregation or have found a small group of fellow seekers.
Our spiritual growth ultimately is our own responsibility and happens best in community.
We must seek out a place where we are accepted for whom we are. We should strive to live out our faith every day, to help others along their own spiritual journey and to trust that somehow God’s Grace, Spirit and Joy will be experienced despite the faith community’s imperfections.
Is there a chance that you will be disappointed with or offended by your fellow sojourners in the process? Always a chance. But don’t let that stop you from belonging to a faith community.
To be deeply rooted in your faith, going solo isn’t enough.