Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

This Week's Moment in Time

This Moment
"A single photo – no words – capturing a simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."
“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by theWee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane. If you find yourself touched by a Moment and would like to participate, post your picture on a Friday and leave your link in the comments section.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How One Artist is Helping Japan (And How You Can Too!)

Canadian folk musician Denis Gauthier recently released a song titled: Help Japan: World's Apart. You can check out the song's music video below.  It is his hope that those who listen and watch the video will be inspired to buy the song for just $1 here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/worlds-apart-single/id429011531?ign-mpt=uo%3D4 . All proceeds go to helping those whose lives have been devastated and changed forever in Japan. For just $1 you can be part of something beautiful...Can you imagine if just all of us gave $1 what could be accomplished?...Love can make a difference!

Share what you think of the song in the comments section...I'd love to know what you thought! :)

Heavenly Father,

We pray for those whose hearts are open wounds grieving...grieving for the loss of family members and friends. We pray for the countless souls which are in turmoil because of fates unknown of those who made their lives whole and worth living-brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers..friends.....sons and daughters. Most of us have lived lives thus far, by your great grace, free of such suffering. Help us lift a broken and suffering land and its beautiful people up in prayer and help inspire us, in whatever ways we can, to help not only spiritually but materially, a people who are in great need.

We pray that you give us the strength and direction to bind the brokenhearted and set free the prisoners of darkness, as we are called to do. Surround our brothers and sisters in your light and healing love. May hope reach into the far corners of their hearts as they rise up and rebuild their great land.

In Jesus' name,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Crabgrass and Oak Trees (Book Review)

Crabgrass and Oak Trees

The book Crabgrass and Oak Trees asks the question, "Is the Church more like Crabgrass, or an Oak Tree?" exploring  popular conceptions with biblical reality into what the Church really is. It encourages readers to stretch their imaginations and embrace biblical truths as the writers use real life anecdotes and scripture to draw a beautiful image of the church in the form of crabgrass.

I have to admit, when I first read the title I was quick to take the side of the oak tree. It's very image invokes ideas of strength and stature. I have long envisioned a church as being one that is proudly erected on a hilltop, towering above the town it inhabits, and a noted feature of its surrounding landscape. After just reading a few short pages I realized my folly and the writers struck a deep chord within me that has always longed for a far more deeper and profound experience of Church. One that speaks of community and a vision that far exceeds the walls of any one building.

The content of the book flows well and naturally evolves as the reader is taken deeper and deeper into what Church really means for the Christian. It is a refreshing source of encouragement and inspiration for those  who have struggled inwardly with the true definition of the Church. Quickly discarded is the image of the oak tree as the crabgrass is explained. Local churches, existing to glorify God and not themselves are to function as like a node (connection point) on a blade of crabgrass, interconnected with the rest of the body of Christ, receiving nourishment from other nodes and, in turn, nourishing other nodes, spurring on growth and vitality in a vast network of believers. Such a network, using the illustration of crabgrass, is known as a rhizome. Each blade, interconnected with every other blade, is wholly dependent on Christ. Together, embracing one another's diversity and growing spiritual roots that are deep, the church spreads itself in the form of love over expansive areas.

The writers describe the growth of the church this way:

When Crabgrass is introduced to an area where it has never been, it takes over. We should do the same. Not a hostile takeover, not by cramming our religion down someone's throat, but by simply being.  By allowing the nutrients of our King to flow through our body and infect the soil around us until it begins springing forth with life from within. Jesus said He reconciles to Himself all things, and as we are introduced to a new community, a new soil, He begins this process. Reconciling, bringing, drawing Himself to Himself.
                                                                            p. 132

The authors express the beauty of the rhizome as functioning this way: "It causes us to love Christ, because it allows us to see Christ."  When, as a body of Christ, we start stepping past our comfort zones, seeking God's glory for  God's glory alone and are inspired to be like the great men and women of scripture that God provides us as examples, we truly begin to manifest God's Kingdom here on earth.

This book would be a benefit and blessing for any member of the Body, whether leader or layman, to read.  You can check out the third chapter free here: http://rhizomepublishing.com/free-chapter/   Keep an eye out, for in the near future I will be having the opportunity to interview one of the authors! I look forward to sharing that interview with the rest of you! If you have any questions you think you'd like to ask the author, ask them in the comments section below. I'll choose the best ones to include in my interview!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Praying for Your Child's Bully

" You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. "

              Matthew 5: 43-48

We will be known by our love for others.  A love that doesn't always make sense to this world for it's not of this world, but of God. God living inside us invokes our spirits to share with others and express to even those who wound us a love that is infinite, for it is a love that is infinite that resides deep within the center of our souls. The very essence of love, in the form of the Holy Spirit, resides deep within our soul's core and scripture compells to provoke it outward, so that we may shine like lamps, causing the darkness that surrounds us to be swallowed in its brilliance.

It's not easy seeing our children in pain, hurt and wounded by the words of others. As parents, we seek to protect our children from both physical, spiritual, and mental maladies. If only we could shelter them in the protection of a bubble, nothing ever touching their senses other than pleasure and our affections. But that's just not how life works. In fact, God calls us to go out into the world, to step past our comfort zones, and to do that we must be strong, have courage and be able to face afflictions wherever they may come.

There is no easy solution nor is it easy to pinpoint the causes of bullying. It is something that has always existed and a phenomenon that is on the rise.  Perhaps it's because of soaring divorce rates and broken homes. Perhaps it's because of the over exposure our children have of violence, whether in the form of movies, shows, video games or even violence in their homes and neighborhoods that they are forced to witness and process in their tiny minds.  I think the reasons differ with each child and have to be analyzed on a case by case basis. I do know one thing though, that love has a great way of working through situations that seem all but hopeless to human minds.

God doesn't expect us to be pummeled or to not stand up for ourselves, but He does give us the tools to react in such a radical way, with such a powerful love, that it can cause the ways of this world to stop in it's tracks and take notice. It even has the power to part the rising waters of anger and hate and send a peace that surpasses all understanding in their place.

Last year I remember picking up my daughter from school and feeling a heavy weight form in my heart as she broke down in tears. Her feelings had been hurt by the same boy again. This particular boy had been targeting her for awhile and much she had kept to herself but was now spilling forth as she bore her unrestrained feelings and experiences to me. I remember feeling saddened by her plight but also, as a mother, very relieved that she felt she could come to me with her struggles, thoughts and feelings. I think, when dealing with bullying, or any other troubles our children face, communication is essential. Our children need to know they can come to us and be listened to.

I remember feeling this overwhelming urge to pray. Not only for my child, to be able to go through these trials unafflicted, but also for this little boy. I don't believe children are born bullies. Perhaps in rare cases, but for the most part they are products of their environment. Perhaps this boy was bullied by older siblings, feeling neglected at home, watched his dad bully his mom, who knows. But acting out in such a way, to me, is a cry for help.

I talked about these things with my daughter...not in so much detail but I brought up the fact that many times children who are suffering take out their frustration on others. To make oneself feel better oftentimes people try to level other's self esteems so that their own can prevail.  So, I suggested that we pray over this situation together. God always wants us to come to Him in times of trial and when we do with open hearts He oftentimes provides us with a discernment and direction that we hadn't had before, opening the way to solving our problems.

I feel praying for both my child and her bully, with my child,  helped in numerous ways. It helped my daughter feel less of a victim, putting a perspective on the situation. It let her know that it was not her fault and that she was not the problem, the actions of this child were. That there was nothing wrong with her but there was everything wrong with the way this child was handling his own emotions and words.  It helped her become more calm and see hope through what she perceived as a dismal situation.  It helped her feel empowered, as she was doing something about this unpleasant reality that had been plaguing her at school...she was coming before God and lifting her persecutor up in prayer.  We prayed for peace over him and his family and that they would feel the healing love of God in their hearts, opening them all up to greater levels of compassion. It was a practical application of what it means to love as a Christian. We aren't called to love just those who love us back, but all people, even those who fling insults our way.

What happened to my child and her bully? Fortunately, the situation dissolved. I'm not sure how, or why, but by the grace of God this child moved on from my daughter and hopefully to no other victim. My daughter was released from the grip of anxiety and fear that the situation had on her. Glory be to God! Bullying doesn't always go away like that though and many times children who are bullied end up responding in tragic ways to the traumatic aggression they've had to endure from others. We all have seen examples of this, most notably the horrific shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado just a few years ago.

 Has your child ever been bullied? How did you handle the situation? Did you ever turn to prayer...why or why not? Has your child ever been the bully? How did you help him/her to deal with his emotions in a less harmful way? Thoughts are appreciated!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sacred Hours of Morning

In bemusement I reflected this morning my differing perception of the wee hours of morning between the one I have now and those of my earlier days. I remember my college days. Many times I'd finally feel my pillow's soft textures and dreams beckon me at 5 am after a full night and early morning of festivities and then lazily sleep until mid morning, having had late afternoon and evening classes.

Now at 5 am if I am lucky enough to creep downstairs without waking my kids, with anticipation I sit down with my Bible for prayer, scripture reading and meditation. I love rising when it is still dark and then watching the sun paint the landscape in brilliant colors outside our windows. At a time years ago when I would be falling asleep, I am rising to worship and receive spiritual direction from my Lord. A definite difference! Perhaps I'm getting old, I'm not sure, but I prefer the latter much more over the former experience of morning's early hours.

Lately it seems like almost everything I've read has mentioned these delicate hours of dawn that can be such a refreshing source of spiritual renewal for those seeking God's presence and truths, so I figured I'd share a couple of them in this post.

In Thomas Merton's book, The Inner Experience, one of the tips he gives those who aspire to commune with God at a personal, spiritual level, is to seek him in the early hours of morning. Of these hours he  writes:

Dawn is by nature a peaceful mysterious, and contemplative time of day-a time when one naturally pauses and looks with awe at the eastern sky. It is a time of new life, new beginning, and therefore important to the spiritual life: for the spiritual life is nothing else but perpetual interior renewal.            p. 137
In another book I am finishing up, Crabgrass and Oak Trees, author Jonathan Almanzar shares this:

There is something very mystical about early morning. The virtuous woman rises while it is still dark to bring food to her household; Joshua rose while it was still dark to see the face of Jehovah; Moses rose while the moonlight shone to find where His God was taking him, and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, left while it was still dark to inquire from His Father....

...The times when I have risen before those in my household, the times I have slipped off in secret to spend time with The Father, were times my roots grew deep and truth took hold of my life. These were the times when things I had struggled with for years suddenly disappeared. Truths I longed to live suddenly became part of my life, without me really knowing how or why...Rising early gives me the opportunity to meditate....Our times of solitude and meditation are the times when our roots can plunge deep.
                                                                                 p. 67-69

I can relate to much of what Almanzar had to say. I know from my experience, when I rise in the early hours of the morning to seek God, I am always left with a deep peace that spreads itself like a cloak around my senses, bringing me a strong sense of internal awareness that has a lasting effect and gives birth to contemplative experiences throughout my day. It's a time my soul works through the tangled web my mind weaves around it, freeing itself from illusions, attachments and at times, by God's great grace, seeing the things in my life with an almost blinding brilliance of clarity. It certainly is a sacred time.

Have you experienced the sacred hours of morning? Or is there another time in your day that you choose to set aside to spend with God and grow spiritually? Please share your thoughts! :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This Moment: A Friday Tradition

This Moment
"A single photo – no words – capturing a simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."
“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by theWee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane. If you find yourself touched by a Moment and would like to participate, post your picture on a Friday and leave your link in the comments section.


My Thursday Dedication: To a Blog I Make Sure I Never Miss!

Fellow blogger, Jessica B, (check out her blog http://findingonesway.com/ )  started a series that runs every Thursday in which bloggers dedicate a post to  someone whose blog we respect and read regularly. This is my first Thursday Dedication :)

For those of you who have also written a Thursday Dedication, be sure to leave your link in the comments section so everyone can check your post out!

My Thursday Dedication goes out to Mike Print's blog:  SHIBBOLETH: Thoughts on life and faith   http://mikegprint.wordpress.com/

I enjoy reading Mike's blog regularly for it always provides manna for the mind. Whether I'm reading one of his book reviews, which are always informative and skillfully written, or his thoughts on Christian life and theology, I find myself challenged and  inspired.  I always take some bit of knowledge or reflection to ponder  away with me that I hadn't had before I had begun reading and we all have to admit not every blog has that effect on its reader!

So check out his blog...and be sure to to leave a comment to let him know you stopped by :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finding Solace in the Psalms

" Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul".

Psalm 143: 8

This morning was full of turbulence and conflict as I struggled to get my daughter off to school. Tears were in her eyes and protests were strongly made as she built her case as to why she shouldn't have to go to school. Parenting is not an easy thing and oftentimes doing the right thing brings much heartache. Every child is different and in some cases I might have let her take a day off for repreive, but knowing my daughter's circumstances and her personality I knew this would only open a doorway to repetitive requests, surely to become a daily habit if I didn't take a strong but loving stance this morning. I also felt it was important for her to face her fears and troubles, rather than avoid them-an important lesson in life.

As I watched the bus leave I was filled with angst and uncertainty...and yes, guilt.  I didn't know how she would be as she got off the bus and I longed to send her courage, strength and peace as she wandered down the hallways towards her classroom. One of the hardest things about being a parent is that we can't always be there physically with our children, even when we know they are struggling emotionally to overcome feelings of insecurity and fears. We just have to hope that we have built strong foundations in which they can stand and face life's continual assaults.

As I returned inside our house and my son turned began to play, anguish crept in and I could no longer keep my grief at bay.  I poured out my heart to God and asked Him to send her healing peace and love. Thoughts and feelings clouded my perceptions and I knew I needed to get focused so I turned to where I oftentimes turn when I need to find some solace and peace...the Psalms. Above was a verse that gave me some encouragement this morning, and I'd like to share a few more that helped my heart feel more light and that gave me a renewed sense of hope.

Psalm 125: 1-2

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 63: 1-4

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked uopon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

Psalm 62: 5-8

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God,

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Praying the Psalms in times of emotional and spiritual exhaustion, in times of uncertainty and distress can be a transforming experience. It can give us the strength and  direction to turn situations around. It helps take the focus off of our problems and puts our focus back on God. It reminds us of who God is...our rock, our refuge, our source of comfort, peace and salvation: our healer. It reminds us of the steadfast love of our creator and the deep hope that there is to be found in laying everything before His throne and trusting completely in His grace and Will.

In what ways do you turn to when the strong waves of life threaten to knock you off balance, seeking to steal your peace and focus off of God? Do you turn to liturgical prayer? The psalms? Meditation? Or perhaps some other way? Please share :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Theology Pubs: An Alternative Forum for Christian Conversation

More and more churches are beginning to lead informal discussion groups  called "Theology Pubs", or "Pubs on Tap". I've seen these terms used quite regularly on my facebook feed and finally had to do a little digging.  Have a beer and talk about God? Sounds almost too good to be true!

I have to admit that having a beer or two and conversing about theology while in the form of an organized church group  is totally foreign to me. Perhaps I've been living in a hole..but, to my surprise, these groups are actually not a new thing. Some  have been formed and meeting regularly for decades now. One group organized by the Archdiocese of Chicago has been meeting regularly for 30 years! 

What kinds of topics do these groups discuss when they meet? It seems everything and anything that might be relevant to Christianity and one's journey of faith. The picture above was taken off this website: http://www.watershedtc.org/pubtheology.htm   a group that is part of the Christian Reformed Church. Many  "Theology on Tap" groups I have found have been predominately Catholic and Epsicoplian oriented, but it seems like both protestant and catholic circles have found use for them.

This particular group, Watershed, explains their format as such:

The format is simple.
Beer, conversation, and God. Everything is up for discussion, no assumptions, no barriers to entry. If you are going to get upset because someone questions something that is important to you maybe this isn’t for you, but if you think that whatever might be true ought to be able to stand up to being questioned maybe it is.

Some other topics that I found while perusing the web that find their way in discussions at these events were: Is God Green? , Does God care about injustice?   Heaven and Hell,  What does it mean to say 'Jesus is here'? , The Religion of Reason, etc.

So, my question to you is this: Have you ever been to a Theology Pub? Would you go to one if you had the opportunity? Do you think that a pub is an appopriate forum for theological discussions?

I, for one, am intrigued and might just have to see if we have one happening in our local area. I'd love to attend one and then share my experiences :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Spiritually Suppressed Modern Child

" The  modern child may in the beginning of his conscious life begin to show natural and spontaneous signs of spirituality. He may have imagination,  originality, a simple and individual freshness of response to reality, and even a tendency to moments of thoughtful silence and absorption. But all these qualities are quickly destroyed by the fears, anxieties, and complusions to conform which come at him from all directions. He becomes a yelling, brash, false little monster, brandishing a toy gun and dressed up like some character he has seen on television. His head is filled with inane slogans, songs, noises, explosions, statistics, brand names, menaces, ribaldries, and clishes. When he gets to school he learns to verbalize, to rationalize, to pose, to make faces like an advertisement, to need a car, and in short to go through life with an empty head, conforming to others like himself, in "togetherness".

He may be in some sense educated, but his education has little to do with real life, since real life is not something with which modern man is really concenrned at all. The conscious life of modern man is completely lost in intellectual abstractions, sensual fantasies, political, social, and economic cliches, and in animal cunning of the detective or the salesman. All that is potentially valuable and vital in him is relegated to the subconscious mind...The tragedy of modern man is that his creativity, his spirituality, and his contemplative independence are inexorably throttled by a superego that has sold itself without question or compromise to the devil of technology."

             ~ Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience, p. 128-129

There's much to be said regarding  Merton's words in this short passage about how society as well as technology plays a role in squashing the interior awareness and creativity of children. This hits home for me. I'm a parent of two small children and there's nothing that brings me more joy than to see their awareness come alive as their senses  encounter things for the first time. I love to see the spark of unfettered creativity and unabashed enthusiasm in my children and sometimes, upon reflection, I am grieved at the prospect of my children squashing their sense of identity someday in one form or another to conform with their peers or their own notions of what their identity should be in their pursuit to "fit in" to popular culture.

As Merton relates, what most often happens with a child who starts out being creative and spiritual:

But all these qualities are quickly destroyed by the fears, anxieties, and compulsions to conform which come at him from all directions.

This makes me think of the responsibility each one of us parents have in helping to teach our children to hear their inner voice and not let it be drowned out by the sensational commercialism that comes about at them from all directions in the form of television commercials, shows, movies, billboard ads...look around and you'll see something that actively tries to compete for your child's attention, drawing him away from his own thoughts and towards the thoughts of the collective.

Let's face it, our children, if we aren't careful and undoubtedly even when we are as they age, are continually "hooked" on society's latest mental "drugs". Being pumped into their intravenous tubes attached to their consciousces are the "drip drips" of false illusions encouraging escapism and conformity.  When layers upon layers of exposure to these toxic agents (illusions, distractions)  have built up to form a wall thick with false ego blocking them from their subconscious, they find it nearly impossible to tap into their own inner self and hear the voice that is truly theirs. Their own internal awareness of reality has been replaced by the conceptualizations and symbols of society's version of reality. 

 When this happens, how much harder will it be later for them, when they are adults, to hear the gentle whisper of God within their soul's center when they can't even hear their own inner voice anymore?

So, that makes me wonder....what are some ways us parents can help cultivate and nourish a sense of creativity, spirituality and sense of self in our children?

I would say as a parent one activity that I try to do everyday with my children is to get them outside, away from the tv and into nature.  I love talking with my children, hearing their thoughts and stories, but I also feel it's important for them to have their own reflections and time to think, time to notice things around them that they wouldn't otherwise notice if we were continually chatting while crossing through the fields or traveling down the path through the woods.  The picture above is my son, I love watching him walk several yards distance from me in the woods, stopping and noticing the insects on the branches or discovering milkweed in the dense vegetation, all the while talking to himself happily. I hope that this kind of activity will encourage them as they grow older to take time away from others, for themselves, for the sake of solitude and reconnecting with the life around them and the voice within themselves.

Another way I've tried to encourage my children to embrace their own sense of awareness is through simple meditation exercises. My daughter is playing a Tibetan singing bowl in this picture. I try to talk to my kids about concentrating on their breath and experiencing the senses around them in the present moment. I feel these are important tools in their future, not just in reducing potential stress and anxiety but also in helping them experience the beauty of the present moment and learning to center themselves. When we learn to center ourselves it is oftentimes the beginning of a beautiful spiritual journey towards discovering God within us. And there's nothing more as a parent that I would love my children to discover as they grow, than God within themselves, so that His love and compassion may radiate through their lives and outward in the world around them.

I don't want this post to be too long and lose some people so below is a short list of  some other things that I thought of. 

1. Encouraging imaginative play.

2. Talking to our kids about consummerism. Most of our kids are going to be exposed to television and it's not necessarily all that bad depending if the parents are mindful about their child's exposure to it. One thing that I try to ask, when my child is watching commercials, is questions about the commercials. What are they trying to sell? Who are they trying to sell it to? etc. It makes kids think a little and perhaps not be "sold" as much, at least that's my hope!

3. Encouraging "free" art. Giving them time where they can create things by themselves without having to create anything specific. My daughter loves this! Especially because she finds so little of these opportunities at school now that she's progressing through the grades.

4. Exposing them to a diversity of music. I just feel music is a beautiful and creative form of expression and I, being no expert whatsoever, can only see the benefit when it comes to encouraging a child's creativity than through the form of music.

I'd appreciate in the comments section if you have suggestions or opinions to please share them as well as any practices you might implement in helping to nourish your children's inner self and creativity.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Moment in Time: A Friday Tradition

This Moment
"A single photo – no words – capturing a simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."
“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by theWee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane. If you find yourself touched by a Moment and would like to participate, post your picture on a Friday and leave your link in the comments section.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Building Bridges: An Interfaith Dialogue

I was invited to attend an online conference that dealt with interfaith dialogue, the specific topic being " the role of friendship in interreligious dialogue from an Islamic perspective". It was all about building bridges from one faith to another and creating a pathway towards peace.

The speaker of the conference was Imam Yahya Hendi of Georgetown University. He is the university’s full time Muslim chaplain. He is also the president of Clergy Beyond Borders, a nonprofit organization focused on educating and training clergy in peace building and conflict resolution. He warmly accepted questions from those listening in and answered all of them. I'd like to introduce the main points of his lecture and also let you in on some of the questions that were posed afterwards as well as his answers and concluding thoughts.

Imam Hendi started off the conference with a lecture he has broad casted on this topic on youtube. He expressed the need that for interreligious dialogue to be successful those engaging in it need to go about it as they would pursuing any real friendship. Five factors are essential in laying the foundation to ensuring it’s prolonged success and effectiveness. These factors are the following:
1. Unconditional love

2. The cultivation of understanding for one another: learning about what other faiths believe by intimate contact of members from that faith. By developing real friendships from others of differing faiths we learn their perspectives and beliefs from the inside rather than outside looking in. When that happens we realize that we share more similarities than we do differences.

3. Listening. When we are trying to understand the other’s viewpoint to stop talking and truly listen, giving them our full attentiveness.

4. Forgiveness. We can’t talk about what we’ve done to each other in the past..the past is past, we can learn from the past to move forward, we must not let the bitterness of yesterday  paralyze the possibilities of the future.”
5. Trust. Complete trust, the kind you would give to a friend.

Imam Hendi stressed the importance that we need to celebrate our differences and acknowledge them as well as go about pursuing genuine and honest relationships with those of other faiths with no expectation of converting them. With only the expectation one would expect from a friendship of mutual respect, love and understanding.

Those participating in the conference were encouraged to ask questions via a moderator. When the moderator posted the questions Imam Hendi would respond. Here are what I feel the best questions posed, and Imam Hendi’s answers to them as well as some commentary from attendees.

Q: What can I do as an individual every day to help make connections between Muslims and Jews?

A: 1. Basic visit to peoples home. 2. Try to visit a local mosque and Temple. 3. Send a greeting card during religious holidays. Q:  We have had two questions relating to how we should expect to convince people to leave the past behind. How would you suggest this?

A: 1. by focusing on positive stories on the past. 2. By creating good stories on the ground. 3. By putting on the human face of the other. 4. By remembering that before we judge others, we need to judge ourselves Attendee: Imam Hendi, you spoke of the commonality between the "3 religions" - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. I as a Buddhist, also think that we as human beings have so much in common beyond textual references. Such as the longing for love, compassion, peace, tolerance, et cetera. 

... Indeed, I fully agree that there are so many common grounds between so many religions such as the desire for peace, the passion for compassion, the longing for justice, and the interest in the human being.We can always find ways to come together, all of us, Jews, Christians, Muslims , Buddhist, Hindus, Bahaâis, Sikh and others. Some of those common enemies we have to fight are: Poverty, religious extremism, Militarism, global warming, trafficking of women, slavery.

Q: Do you think it would help if religious leaders condemned the violent actions of the few that ascribe to their religion that act out in terrorist ways..whether it be christian ministers condemning ku klux klan or white power groups or Muslim leader condemning the actions of the taliban?

A: I think it would be very helpful we religious leaders could speak up against the fanatics in their own religions.. ALL OF US HAVE TO DO THIS.

Q: Sometimes i feel each community puts up walls for fear of proselytizing, how do we reduce that fear ?

A: You see, WE fear that which we do not know if we find it within ourselves to learn about others from within, we can help build more bridges and put down walls.

...For me to build true friendship between all of us we need to: 1. Learn about each other. 2. Sponsor activities and projects together. 3. Engage clergy on all sides with learning. 4. Bring the youth together from different sides to learn about each other 5. So, women, clergy, youth and projects.

Q:  What are the biggest obstacles confronting interfaith dialogue today?

A: Many: 1. ignorance about other religions. 2. Religious fundamentalist and extremists. 3. Politicization of religion. 4. Ignorant clergy make it difficult. 5. The Arab Israeli conflict. 6. The war in Iraq. 7. Religious fanatics in some Arab couriers. 8. TV show with sensational media.

Imam Hendi left us with these words:

We are and and must be united in the face of those voices that want to separate between us 2. Dialogue is a must to protect our world. 3. Reach out to others you meet on the street or in the bus station . A smile could make a difference.

His statement "A smile could make a difference" reminded me of something Mother Teresa once said,            "Peace begins with a smile". I think we can all agree that no matter what one's faith is we all want peace. Peace for the here and now and peace for our children's future.

Any thoughts on what Imam Hendi had to say or any of the questions that were posed to him? Please feel free to share them :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Futility of Anxiety

Matthew 6: 25-34
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

 34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

I have been re-reading the gospels during Lent as well as taking more time out of my day for prayer and meditation so I haven't been blogging as much or interacting as often with my blogging friends. My apologies! I plan on visiting all of your blogs as I have the time, for I certainly enjoy them!

These particular verses in Matthew I have read countless of times but really stood out this time during my journey through chapter six. Perhaps it's because in my personal life my family and I have had our struggles and trials, as I'm sure everyone else does. We all have different things which we can choose to be anxious about and which certainly  are real physical and material concerns that press close around our thoughts, threatening our sense of peace.

Through the years I have learned that trials rise up, endure and fall away. I love this particular verse:

 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  

 Sometimes, when life seems it's most difficult I say that verse more than once, assuring myself of its truth! Life can be so difficult but this truth is a jewel to behold that has the potential to shine brightly and if used wisely has the power to dispel our anxiousness! For if we truly accept the fact that anxiety serves no purpose, we find ourselves then having to make a choice. A) Be anxiety's captive or B) Be set free from the power anxiety wishes to have over us.

I know if I am not careful I fall into anxiety's trap and when I do it consumes me. I'm thinking about things in the past that led to the moment I find myself in and worried about how my present condition will effect the future. I am everywhere else other than where I should be: dealing constructively with the situation at hand! And on my knees praying for God's direction and mercy. I lose perspective when anxiety takes hold, that's why it's so essential, from my view, in realizing that anxiety is just an illusion and has no value. It's a futile path to take.

Instead, clinging to God's promises and centering myself in the moment, dealing with life as it comes, seems to me, to bring much more glory to God. It let's God know that I am relying on Him and in the abilities he has blessed me with to get through my trials. It's a more positive approach, for to follow anxiety's path just seems to mean going down a darker and darker road towards ruin.

I think of it this way...If I'm standing on the foundation God has laid out for me, that has been built upon my faith and trust in Him and the waves of life start crashing upon me, if I am so absorbed thinking about the waves that have already come or that might come but not the ones that are actually coming I can easily find myself swept away by the present waves that are crashing down upon me. Instead if I find myself centered in His truths, no matter what waves may come, they just wash over me, perhaps making me cold and wet but failing to sweep me off balance. When we  center ourselves in the moment we find ourselves seeing things as they really are and less how we fear them to be. We start seeing reality with a more objective perspective and that can have a great effect in relieving us from some of our anxieties.

To get through  trials I've come to learn to lean and depend on God, to have an obedient and childlike faith and trust in Him in each moment. For me this didn't come naturally, for my spirit is oftentimes a very independent one, it took many times of falling into the pit and having God pick me back up out of it to yield to this truth! 

 I'm reminded of God's people as they fled through Egypt and found themselves in the promised land with Moses and how God provided food for them in the form of Manna falling from the sky. They were not to take an overabundance of the food God provided them each day but to take just what they needed for that day, believing and having faith in God that He would provide for them and their needs the following day. If they did take more than what they needed, God would have that food spoil and be no good for them that next day they planned to eat it. For the hoarding of manna showed lack of faith in trust in their God, the very God that delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

We are all given a choice, to be held captive by anxiety or be set free from anxiety. Which will you choose?

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for this new day you have given us. May it find us all in good health and safe from afflictions. We pray that you release our minds and hearts from all forms of anxiety and fear that bind us to our own illusions. May we instead find freedom in you through the promises you give us in Scripture. You have come, not to harm us but to have us prosper. You love us and have created us as your children. Life is not easy and is full of trials and tribulations, help us turn towards you in faith and trust in our most trying moments and find hope, find restoration and find our burdens lightened by the peace of your presence. Many of us face real physical concerns, may you lift us from our trials so that we may prosper greatly so that we may bring you much glory.

We give you all honor, praise and glory.

In Jesus' name,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Inward Journey

"The seeds of this sublime life are planted in every Christian soul at Baptism. But seeds must grow and develop before you reap the harvest. There are thousands of Christians walking about the face of the earth bearing in their bodies the infinite God of Whom they know practically nothing. They are themselves sons of God and are not aware of their identity...

The seeds of contemplation and sanctity, planted in those souls, merely lie dormant. They do not germinate. They do not grow. In other words, sanctifying grace occupies the substance of their souls, but never flows out to inflame and irrigate and take possession of their faculties, their intellect and will. The presence of God never becomes an intimate reality. God does not manifest Himself to these souls because they do not seek Him with any real desire...

They are men divided between God and the world. They are at home only in their exterior self. They never seek what is deeper within them. They allow God to maintain His rights over the substance of their souls, but their thoughts and desires do not belong to him. They belong to illusion, to passion, and to external things.

~ Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience, p. 48

Earlier this morning I read from the book of Matthew chapter 7 and when I read this passage from Merton, in his exceptional book, The Inner Experience, I was reminded of these verses:

Matthew 7:7-8

(7) Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (8) For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be open.

I don't necessarily agree with all of Merton's theology in the above passage but I do agree with the fact that God dwells within us and so many of us live our lives missing out on the opportunity of experiencing the presence of God. I have to confess that I have lived the majority of my Christian life accepting God's truths yet failing to experience His actual presence within. I think that the contemplative experience is something that just isn't discussed much, at least in the Christian circles that I have found myself in. That's really unfortunate. To experience the presence of God  is to be transformed in His love.

We have a wonderful opportunity in this life to get to know the God that will always be with us, even when our physical bodies are no more. He is with us now...not as an abstract concept or as some far and distant God that resides in the heavens, but He, through the form of the Holy Spirit, resides within our soul's temples. Let's not be the kind of christians Merton describes above. Let's seek the divine light that is in each one of us. As the verses in Matthew reveal, God never turns down the seeker. He is there waiting to open the door, it is just up to us to knock. Let's take the transformative journey inwards and into the arms of God.

A book that has really helped me with my journey inwards is The Practice of the Presence of God  by Brother Lawrence. You can find some of my favorite quotes from the book here: http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/p/brother-lawrence-quotes.html  I hope you enjoy them!

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your mercy and grace. Thank you for sending your only son down here to teach us how to love, how to give and ultimately to die for our sins. Forgive us our sins and the many times we fall short and help us to forgive others. Our hearts long to bring you glory. Help us open our hearts to your presence. We want to know you intimately and not just know of you. Guide us in our journey inwards and help transform our hearts as by your grace,  your light floods them with your love and peace.

In Jesus' name,


Friday, March 11, 2011

This Week's Moment in Time

This Moment
"A single photo – no words – capturing a simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."
“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by theWee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane. If you find yourself touched by a Moment and would like to participate, post your picture on a Friday and leave your link in the comments section.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crabgrass and Oak Trees: Read the 3rd Chapter for Free!

I was sent a book for the purpose of writing a review and I'd like to share its third chapter, which is free, with all of you. The title of the book is  Crabgrass & Oak Trees  by Jonathan Almanzar and Aaron Havens. I am not yet finished with it so I will hold most of my commentary and opinions  until I write my review.  I have to say though that I am already impressed and touched by the ideas the book presents. It makes one question, reflect and stretch one's views when meditating upon the meaning of "the Church". 

Crabgrass and Oak Trees

The back of the cover asks these questions: What would you draw if you were given a crayon and asked to draw a picture of the Church? What creative words would you use to describe the beauty of the Church?

At first when I read the title of the book I automatically felt attracted towards giving the image of the church over to that of the oak tree but for every page turned I see the inherent wisdom there is in the metaphor the authors use towards aligning their perspectives with that of the crabgrass.

Come and join me, even if it's for just a chapter...I'd love to hear your thoughts on Chapter 3 and I look forward to writing a review of this profound book that I feel has the capacity to effect the hearts and minds of many and bring glory to God as His Kingdom is advanced with unparalled zeal here on earth.

As I read it I will be sharing short excerpts that stand out to me and stay tuned...because I'm also going to have the chance to interview one of the authors!

Here's the link, hope you take advantage and enjoy! :) http://rhizomepublishing.com/free-chapter/

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Dreams that Saved Jesus

I'm rereading the gospel of  Matthew and while I was reading I couldn't help but notice the importance of dreams in the nativity story.  Dreams were the means at which God communicated to those closest to Jesus and the messages they carried had a vital contribution towards saving the infant Jesus from certain peril.

From the very beginning, when Mary learned that she had conceived a child born of the Spirit and Joseph had found out and was considering ways they could quietly divorce God intervened Joseph's plans of separation by means of sending an angel to him through a dream.

Matthew 1: 20-21 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

The wise men were asked, upon coming across Herod when they were following the star towards Bethlehem, to come back the same way and let Herod know where the newborn King was so that he might go there himself to worship him. Herod's motives were not pure and his real intention was to annihilate any future chance of his position and glory from being threatened. His plan was to kill the infant Jesus.  God thwarted Herod's plans by sending the wise men a dream in which they were warned to return home a different way.

Matthew 2:12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

In the very next verse God uses an angel to appear in a dream to Joseph warning him of the impending danger that he and his family faced and to provide direction in which way they were to flee.

Matthew 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him".

When Herod had died and it was safe to return to Israel God once again used an angel in Joseph's dream to tell him it was safe to go back.

Matthew 2: 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead."

 If Joseph had never returned back to Israel with Jesus the storyline of the Bible would be dramatically different. Dreams were a powerful tool God used to communicate to those who had contact with Jesus to ensure his safety during the earliest years of life when he was the most vulnerable. All over scripture one can find all kinds of dreams God used to send to man to warn them, help them, encourage them and direct them. God used dreams as a bridge to communicate to the minds and hearts of His children. God used these particular dreams during Jesus' early years to spare His only son an untimely death and guide, by the mercy and love of His hand, Jesus into just the right places where he needed to be to live out prophecy, providing salvation for mankind.

So that makes me wonder, what do you think about dreams people have today? Do you feel God still communicates to people through dreams? Have you ever felt God was speaking to you or revealing something to you in a dream? If you feel comfortable, please share :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent: A Time of Refocusing and Renewal

God may we remember
All of life is held together with nails
Piercing flesh of the son of man
May we remember and give thanks
God may we remember
The power of sin and death are forever ended
Hung upon a cross and crucified
May we remember and give thanks
God may we remember
The bread of life broken for us
That we may eat and filled with abundance of life
May we remember and give thanks
God may we remember
God’s blood poured out for us
The deep wounds of love suffered for us
May we remember and give thanks
God may we remember ashes on foreheads
And kneel before the one whose love knows no end
With humbled hearts and repentant spirits
May we remember and give thanks
God may we remember we are but dust
And walk together into tomorrow’s unknowns
Breaking bars, building bridges, setting captives free
May we remember and give thanks
God may we remember and give thanks
Let us take up our cross and follow
Believing that in Christ all things work together for good
May we remember and give thanks
                      A prayer for Ash Wednesday and devotional prayer for Lent~ Christine Sine,

Lent is the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays, where many members within the Body reflect and meditate on their spiritual journey of faith in Christ. It is a time where priorities are assessed and where we look to God as our supreme reality, shedding ourselves of those things throughout the year that have become distractions and even replacements for the devotion that we are called in the depths of our hearts by the whispers of the Spirit to have towards God.

Let me just say that this is my first year observing Lent, as no church that I've ever attended has practiced it.So, I am no expert, it is a practice that I am just becoming familiar with.  I used to think of Lent and other such practices as shallow gestures others offered to ride out the waves of dogma and doctrine, and certainly that can be true for some. I have to confess that I had a negative view of such practices in the past largely due to conversations I had, and material I had digested, in my more evangelical and conservative circles. I have though in my spiritual journey found the depth and richness that liturgical prayer and ancient rituals can offer.

Some people I have talked have asked me why Lent is necessary, why do we have to "prove" ourselves and our faith so to speak to God. I think that's a misperception in a way. First, Lent isn't found in the bible, so it isn't "necessary" so to speak but I believe it does enrich one's walk. And during Lent we aren't trying to prove anything to God, for God knows the inner workings of our heart. Instead, we are trying to reshift our focus towards God within ourselves. It is a time of deep introspection when, whoever decides to participate, can look at how they are living life, look at their priorities and where God and their spiritual life with Him fall on the list...on the top..or towards the bottom? And it's a time of renewal spiritually and a turning away of what is not profitable spiritually, what is only illusion and attachments based on our egos and false sense of self-a turning away from all those things and a turning towards God. It's also to recognize the sacrifice Jesus made and the suffering and sacrifice that many people everywhere, across the globe are enduring and to recognize that if we are all one body, we share in that suffering and have a responsibility in reducing that suffering.

Many associate the giving up of things during Lent as one's soul act during this time. Perhaps that should be clarified for Lent doesn't necessarily mean that one has to give up something, it could also mean that one adds something...or gives something...there are posts  I've been reading on facebook with great suggestions coming in from christians...like for example eating during the duration of lent food during one's day that equals to the equivalent of 2$..which is on average what many go on in other country's. And to take the difference one would spend on their food budget and give it to charity.  It could be an added amount of time for prayer, or extra scripture reading, extra worship...a sacrifice of one's time during the day where they put devotion towards God first.

As I mentioned I am no expert at Lent. There are many helpful articles currently circulating which highlight the significance of this ancient ritual. One article I found a lot of benefit from reading which helped give me perspective as well as understanding some of the historical significance and context is this one: http://chadholtz.net/2011/03/07/its-lent-not-lint-2/  I encourage any who are interested in finding out more in regards to Lent to check it out! I know I found it personally helpful.

It is my prayer that for all of us who are observing Lent this year, that we will find it a time when we focus completely on God, and awaken to the reality of His presence seated in the throne of our soul's most innermost depths. That we will be humbled and inspired by the unspeakable mercy and love of God and sacrifice and compassion of Jesus. May we take the clarity and the renewed sense of focus that we find towards God and strive to carry that on the rest of the year.

What are your thoughts towards Lent? Do you observe Lent? Why or why not? If you do, in what ways do you choose to observe it? Please feel free to share :)