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.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

When Wonder Wanes

Autumn is almost in full bloom here in Connecticut and Halloween is nearly upon us. Not too long ago I took both my children to a celebrated display at our local garden center. "Pumpkin Town" includes a hay maze, decorations and themed displays that feature "pumpkin people". It is cheap, the kids love it...a perfect formula for a sunny afternoon. 

As we set off this year to make our annual visit both my kids beamed in the backseat with anticipation, memories from the year before dancing in their heads. When we finally arrived my son reveled at the displays, got a kick out of the "pumpkin car" and ran to each pumpkin person giving them an enthusiastic embrace. While I had to quell his rambunctious zeal a bit so as to not have to pay for anything when we left, I watched as my daughter's face fell into an expression of disappointment.

"When did it get so small?" She asked, looking around unimpressed.

Something within my heart stirred a bit as I realized this was yet one, of many signs lately, that my daughter is growing up.

"Well, it's the same as last year...", I replied slowly. "It probably looks a little different because you're bigger, you're a little older now."

Later at home that night while cooking  dinner I mused over the fact that my little girl is growing up. The amazement she's had towards certain things has now waned and rusted. She is losing some of the wide-eyed childlike wonder that she's always viewed this world with.

I thought about how that can also be the case as it comes to our perspective towards God. How, as with any relationship, our relationships with God  and the way we view Him can eb and flow. And ultimately, the wonder at which we first saw Him, can wane and fade, just as a child's wonder does at the world around them. We become used to God, feel we have Him "down" and the wonder that we first approached the footstool of His throne with becomes replaced with busy talk at prayer meetings, Sunday morning sermons and just the stuff of life. It can be easy, as God becomes more commonplace and routine, to stop taking the time to cease everything and ponder His glory, His love, His amazing nature.

To echo the psalmist:

Psalm 77: 11-14a

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way , O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders.

I thought about the concept of having  "faith like a child". Oftentimes, when I've had questions, which I seem to always have, things that have become stumbling blocks to me, I am told simply to have faith like a child. Those I converse with quote Mark 10:15  15 "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And explain that it means that God's children are not to question, to just accept and embrace what Scripture has to say and leave it at that.

When did children not ask questions? Don't they always ask questions?!?!

In my view, I don't think Scripture is telling us to be ignorant like a child. I think , instead, Scripture is telling us to have the kind of child-like innocence, the fresh wonder and amazement in which a child approaches the world. A trait that life and our culture seems to squash over time.  Oftentimes us adults perceive everything as commonplace and don't look for the miracle in the ordinary. The miracles that seem to rise up out of the periphery for children, because their senses are more receptive in receiving them. In the same way a child has wonder and awe at discovering the things of this world, we are to have wonder and awe at discovering God.

God invites us to see everything new and revealed before us, as children do.  He welcomes our inquiries and invites us to dig deep for His truths, as a child digs enthusiastically at the beach, finding delight at discovering treasure after treasure buried beneath the sands.

So, what is one to do if they find their wonder towards God has waned? The amazement in which they once approached God, now  rusted like a lone tractor out on a farm field, unused, a remnant of a faith grown cold and indifferent?  Still a believer, yet the fire once burning like the rising sun, now hidden and obscured, dark as a new moon. Does this sound familiar? I've certainly been there.

I'm sure there are many ways. A gratitude journal is a great place to start.  Consciously writing down the things that you appreciate and find in your everyday moments.  It's an effective practice in mindfulness. That's what Ann Voskamp did and wrote about in her book, "One Thousand Gifts", a wonderful and inspiring read by the way! You can read my review here: http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/2011/06/one-thousand-gifts-book-review.html

Contemplative spiritual disciplines can also have a profound effect on one's faith.  Centering prayer and mindfulness meditation has taken my faith that had once become nearly all dogma and doctrine and breathed life into it as I began to experience and encounter God directly. As I  have progressed in my practices it is as if I am seeing things in a whole new way. Lifted from the once blurry and shadowy background, all kinds of details around me are emerging.  The senses become more attuned and can often become flooded with the glory and miracles God has to offer. The ordinary has now become extraordinary as wonders abound in each moment. It's been a transformative journey as I have begun to cultivate an inner awareness of God.

Oftentimes, when I'm in the woods I just feel like falling on my knees, thanking God for the wonders that surround me. Feeling overwhelmed by the deep feeling of His presence within and all around.  I wrote about such an experience in this article: http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/2011/10/at-rivers-edge.html 

I encourage you to take a look at the diagram above and, if you feel some of your wonder has waned or you want to experience God in new ways, consider which practice(s) you might want to try incorporating in your spiritual life. 

Have any other suggestions? Comments? I'd love to hear them! Thank you!

Thursday, October 27, 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.

Monday, October 24, 2011

YouTube Tuesday

Each week a growing group of bloggers are seeing how creative they can get in selecting thought provoking, and sometimes just fun, YouTube videos that have stood out to them. Each month the creator of the project, Josh, will be selecting a winner and presenting them with the "You Tube Tuesday Award".

Do you have a video that you found hilarious, thought provoking or inspiring? Come, join the project and be sure to leave your link on Josh's site: http://networkedblogs.com/l9C9c  And of course in the comments section here too!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Garden of Contemplation: Attending My Second Quaker Meeting

After I had attended a Quaker meeting for the first time weeks ago it had been my desire ever afterwards to attend another one. Every Sunday that seemed to follow came with it distractions and stumbling blocks that prevented my inevitable return. Finally, today, almost at the last minute, my schedule freed itself, as a fish frees itself from a hook, and my elated spirit broke free from its anchor and travelled down Route 66 once again in search of some silence and fellowship with others who have also found a home within the present.

As I walked in and shook hands with all of the gentle souls, kind eyes smiling, mouths turned upright in pleasant greetings, I couldn't help but feel as if I had entered  a garden.  Each person, bearing their own unique and sacred fruit that has been born out of contemplation and time with God. Each person so different from the next, yet finding life and light from the same source. Sustenance from the same soil of silence we all aim at growing our roots deep within.

As silent prayer began I found myself plunging rather eagerly deep within the layers of  my consciousness. Empty, I remained open, letting God's peace and love envelop and fill me as He drew me , heart beat by heart beat, into His transforming reality. My senses became inundated with the awareness of nearly everything within and around me.  Reality lay naked and bare, fertile and overflowing, with God's glories and truths. I came hungry, nearly starving, and found myself full and overflowing in almost no time at all.

Halfway in, words seemed to rise from the depths, and I had an overwhelming desire to write them down. I hadn't thought of bringing a paper and pen with me and I didn't want to disturb anyone in their contemplation and ask for one, so I just committed each word that dropped into my consciousness to  memory, reflecting on their potential meanings. This is what came to me in the silence:

Time can't wither nor human fell
The eternal words God doth tell.
Man can't contain nor can possess,
The Glory God doth profess.
Truth like sand, man cannot hold.
Truth can never really be obtained
until all else is sold.

I thought of Jesus and how he calls us to sell everything we have to follow Him. Jesus is the truth, the way, the life. Then I thought...how true...to find the truth, we have to shed ourselves of any preconceived notions that we have of it. We have to discard any labels, attachments and illusions that time and our own desires and baggage  have constructed. Only then, when all of that scatters, like the clouds before the sun, truth will come to dawn in our hearts, like the light of a new day.

This day is proving itself to be a whirlwind of activities. I am grateful for the hour of silence that I had this morning and look forward to future Meetings. As I stop writing and return to the busy day that awaits, His peace and love still blossoms within me and I look forwards to projecting it outwards to those I love and meet.

How are you spending time with God today? I'd love to hear about it. 

Any thoughts? Comments? I'd love to hear them! Please leave in the comments section. Thank you!

Friday, October 21, 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.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Interview with Corinne Rodriques: A Glimpse into Christian Life in India

I have  been visiting Corinne Rodrigues' blog for just about as long as I've been blogging! I have had the pleasure of getting to know her through her writing as well as through conversation as we both share time with a great group of mutual bloggers. If you want some encouragement and inspiration make sure you check out her blog:  http://www.everydaygyaan.com/   You will find yourself coming back again and again! That has certainly been my experience.

In a recent post recognizing this blog's first year I mentioned that I will be adding more interviews with individuals I find inspiring and that I feel have something to share with us. When brainstorming those I would potentially interview, I found Corinne at the top of my list.  She is a Christian living in Mumbai India. I was interested in asking her a few questions and hearing about what her Christian experience was like, living in a country where her religion is represented by only 2 % of her country's population.

I'd like to thank Corinne for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and for providing the images for this post. Thank you! :)

I hope you enjoy the interview and, as always, I'd appreciate any comments you might have in the comments section. Thank you!

An image of Jesus inside a Chapel in India

AscendingtheHills:   Us Americans, tend to complain a bit about such things as prayer being taken out of schools and nativity scenes being taken down from the centers of our towns. And yet, Christianity is ascribed to by the majority of our population and practiced widely. According to wikipedia The religions represented in India include : Hinduism accounting for 80.5% of the population of India. Islam (13.4%),Christianity (2.3%) and Sikhism (1.9%) are the other major religions followed by the people of India.

Ascribing to a religion that consists of a little over than 2% of your country's population..have you experienced any particular challenges in expressing your religion or practicing it in any way? What is the atmosphere like in your city towards those who practice Christianity?

Corinne:  India is a very religious country but also one that has historically been known to  assimilate and integrate various other religions. Personally, I have never experienced any bias towards me because of my religion.

I studied mostly in Catholic schools and I know that the other girls were very respectful of Christianity. Most non-Christian students of Christian institutions will very proudly rattle off The Lord’s Prayer. In many Hindu homes in India, you will see a picture of Jesus or Mary or both displayed with the pictures of their deities. Hinduism, in its truest form is not a religion, but a way of life.

However, with the rise of religious fundamentalism all over the world, we have seen the emergence of radical Hindu fundamentalism. They are severely opposed to conversion to Christianity and have been known to violently attack missionaries. They also attempt to ‘reconvert’ people back to Hinduism. I must add that this has been fanned by the over-enthusiasm of some foreign Christian missionaries who are often insensitive to the Indian culture and intolerant of Indian religions. By and large, the Catholic Church has made a much greater effort towards inculturation of religious ceremonies.

Over all Christians, more particularly Catholics are respected for their efforts in education, health care and social service. When Mother Teresa died in 1997, she was accorded a state funeral.

AscendingtheHills: Has the dominant presence of other religions and philosophies that are so strongly interwoven within the culture of India and so different from your own added to your practices in any way?

Corinne: Christianity continues to be largely Western in urban India but it is in the villages that you will find the true interweaving of Christianity with Indian culture. The early Church in India learned to be Christian in religion and Indian in culture. It was the Portuguese and later the British who attempted to give India a Western orientation. In the Catholic Church, there has been a shift post the Second Vatican Council which stated: "All nations form one human family; all of them are guided by the one God, all of them have the same destiny... The church exhorts Christians to preserve and promote the moral and spiritual goods found among the people."

We see the evidence of this change in use of Indian languages in the Church, in the building of many Christian 'ashrams' in which practice of meditation and yoga is taught, in the telling of Bible stories using Indian music and dance forms. The Catholic Church has realized that evangelization is not conversion, but bringing about the Kingdom of God - justice, equality and freedom for all.

Sadly again, some Pentecostal Churches (usually from the USA) have begun to influence certain segments of Christians and attempt to convert people.
Christians in India also struggle within themselves to get rid of the very strong influence of the caste system, which permeates even the Church.

                                                      An example of a Christian chapel in India

AscendingtheHills:  From your experience, have you found Christians in your city to be more or less tolerant of those ascribing to other religions, considering they are in the minority? Or does this create the propensity for them to stick more together, and become less tolerant and more defensive towards their beliefs?

Corinne: I find that in certain places in India, Christians do tend to stick together - and Mumbai is one of them. Also some Indian Christians considered it necessary to move to other countries - mostly Australia and Canada for fear that they would not have equal opportunities in India. However, this is a misconception. My father and his brother served in the Indian Army and faced no problem because of their religion. My husband, brothers and I have never faced any discrimination in our various careers. We, therefore, see no need to immigrate or confine our social interaction to Christians.

             Inside an Indian style Chapel

AscendingtheHills:  How has being exposed to such a diversity of other religions affected your perspective towards religions other than Christianity? Do you see elements within them that you have come to appreciate?
Corinne: I am proud to be an Indian Christian - and have never felt that my faith or beliefs have been threatened by Indians of other religious beliefs. I have been deeply influenced by the tolerance and inclusiveness of the Indian culture.

My husband practices Vipassana which is Buddhist in origin. I love listening to Indian bhajans and would someday like to read the Hindu Scriptures. I am more open to meditative and reflective practices than to the traditional rote prayers. I believe that we can learn a lot from our ancient Indian tradition and culture. I would like to share with you a poem written by one of our great Indian poets, the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
-- Rabindranath Tagore

That is my wish for all humanity that we awake to our commoness and move towards a heaven of freedom.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the Comments section. Thank you!

Monday, October 17, 2011

YouTube Tuesday

Each week a growing group of bloggers are seeing how creative they can get in selecting thought provoking, and sometimes just fun, YouTube videos that have stood out to them. Each month the creator of the project, Josh, will be selecting a winner and presenting them with the "You Tube Tuesday Award".

Do you have a video that you found hilarious, thought provoking or inspiring? Come, join the project and be sure to leave your link on Josh's site: http://networkedblogs.com/l9C9c  And of course in the comments section here too!
Joan Baez sings this song from inside a prison....I've always found it both touching and stirring...Let me know what you think...Thanks :)


Saturday, October 15, 2011

At the River's Edge

This morning I rose early, despite the fact that my children spent the night at my parent's, leaving me with the ability to sleep in, which I rarely get the chance to do. I just had this abundant energy within me. When I took the dogs out in the morning, crisp autumn air greeted me and stirred my soul with longing. I wished to go to the place where I've come to love and where my soul has become accustomed to both taking flight and finding rest.

After the chores of the day were done I ventured off with Olive, my faithful border collie companion, and we went to our nearby state forest to hike into the heart of the woods. My aim is always to avoid as many people as I can and experience as much solitude as is possible. We oftentimes hike down steep paths, skirting the presence of others, until nestling into one of the river's many curves, etched out by its persistent and ever continuous flow.

I'd like to share what I wrote in my journal as well as a picture I took.  I haven't edited my entry so I apologize if the writing is a little rough.   I'd love some thoughts!

I love being out here, at the river. Autumn is starting to rise up and make herself known. The forest is transforming into a kaleidoscope of many colors. Sun's gentle light filtering through living stained glass, plant cells hued crimson, orange and yellow. It all makes me want to fall to my knees!

Not to be profane, but it's as if my soul orgasms each time out here. It's like I'm experiencing a spiritual ecstasy of sorts. This is where I feel closest to God. It is even beyond what I have felt in meditation, beyond prayer...this is where His radiant  presence breaks most fully into my awareness. My senses are almost overloaded with it all.  Words do no justice to really describing in full what I am experiencing.

God is All. All is God. This is resounding within me and all around me.

His love gently flows with the river. I feel as if I almost flow with the river in a way as well. As if I am part of it. Allowing each little current to take me where it will. I feel this immense sense of Being,  of an awareness within me transcending outwards.

There is no beginning, nor is there any end. There just is. I feel as if I'm born anew each time I'm here, bathed and baptized by His presence emanating from all that surrounds me. A mighty bird of prey just flew overhead, it's feathers bone white. It seems so sure of the direction it pursues. God, give me such assurance in the direction I am to follow you, my heart prays...

I wonder if its the fishermen, or the farmer, or maybe the hunter,  who is more apt to experience God than the theologian. They are in contact with Him constantly, even if they aren't aware of it. My mind can be so bound within books, ideas, principles, philosophies and doctrines. I find the world fascinating. I find reality fascinating-and God. What could be more amazing than God? Getting to know and experience and understand His nature and reality is, I feel, the greatest quest a soul could undertake. If it can endure it. These moments of spiritual ecstasy can also be painful in a way.  I have experienced His presence break upon my consciousness with such force, like that of a thunderbolt, shaking my sense of comfort. It's almost like looking directly at the sun. We are drawn to encounters with God, they are magnificent and wondrous to behold, and yet, even an attempt at a direct gaze can sear our inner senses and shake our souls with its effect.

There is good reason why those in Scripture feared encountering God. Perhaps I should be more cautious in my pursuits and a little less bold! Though God's beauty and presence can be painful and intimidating to encounter, I still long to plunge within my soul's center and find within the Source of all that is.

Sometimes I feel like I'm madly running down the corridors of my consciousness, peering around every corner with expectation and curiosity, not knowing when this labyrinth will reach its end and I will find its center.  Times like these, by this river, remind me that I don't need to run. I don't even need to search really. All I need to do is be still and open myself completely to Him. When that happens, I bypass the twists and turns completely and it's as if He plucks me from where I am and places me gently in the center Himself. God is so full of grace and mercy and compassion!

Is this running around in circles for truth more of a defense mechanism I wonder? 

Why would I put a stumbling block in my own path, hindering my own progress?...

I think I'm afraid of what I will find.

That God is not who or what I really imagined.

That He is something much greater, beyond words, beyond comprehension-only fully understood and perceived during moments of direct experience.

And once these moments are gone...they leave a residual reminder of the epiphanies experienced. This momentary glimpse into His character and nature, this momentary encounter with Him is branded, seared into the fleshy pathways of my soul. I can return back to them, tracing the scars they leave, fingering them with the sensors of my heart, reading them as one reads braille. In this way I get an outline, a shadowy glimpse into the truths I encountered, but their fullness has been lost. More experiences are needed to recall what has vanished and to build upon what has been retained.

Experiences of God are kind of like dreams, they quickly vanish upon waking. Except the meditator, one might argue, is really truly awakened when they have these experiences, and then when they come out of them, they go back into dancing with the illusions of life. These illusions sweep the reality we encounter away...perhaps entirely, or maybe to some unknown and discreet corner of our subconscious.

The foundation that is forming beneath my spiritual feet, building a pathway before me, leads to the Unknown but has given me enough glimpses to realize how little I know. How little most people know. It seems that it might take a whole lifetime to start forming the path, let alone climb the summit I aspire to set my feet upon.

There is hope for the seeker though! God has helped illuminate some of this path already, easing the way a bit, by having illuminated and inspired others before us. We can find direction from the Scriptures and other sacred texts and from the writings of the mystics. But they can't make the journey for us. Ultimately, each one of us has to take our own journey. It was the Buddha who said something about working out your own salvation on your own. Not depending on truths handed down to you, but testing everything by your own experiences. That no man can carry another on the path to liberation. We must all walk it on our own. It can be a lonely path...but are we ever, truly alone?

I'm coming to realize that we have to be willing to potentially cast aside old belief systems when new truths are realized. If we don't, we are no longer on a genuine journey, but just living in a state of artificial and intentional delusion. How sad it is when a soul rejects new truths out of fear! Lord, help me be bold enough and true enough to myself and to you, to not fall into that trap.

My time here hasn't been nearly long enough. I have to go back, but I yearn to stay here. I could stay here forever. I feel content here and not restless, like I oftentimes do. I seek and hunger after God almost feverishly and feel almost foolish right now. For He is already Here. How could I have missed Him?? He is Now. He is within and all around. All I have to do, all anyone has to do, is open the sensors of our souls...and, with humility of spirit and complete surrender, let Him fill us with His presence.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you!

Friday, October 14, 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.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

This Day a Year Ago My Journey Began

Courtesy of Google Images

This day a year ago I published my first post for this blog. You can read it here:  http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/2010/10/experiencing-god.html      It was about experiencing God in our everyday moments. I had been writing for some time at that point, but had only been sharing my articles with a select few. Part of that reason was because much of what I share has a very personal nature to it. It has to do with my individual beliefs and approaches. The perspectives that lead me to the paths I choose to tread. To open that up to others, strangers even, leaves me vulnerable in a sense. I was a bit intimated at first to share my thoughts, my spiritual revelations, my questions and quandaries here with an audience that is largely unknown.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the reactions I have gotten from readers and I feel a genuine gratitude towards the encouragement and receptive nature of everyone that comes and visits and takes the time to comment. Thank you! You have made it a joy to share my personal reflections and to receive yours. I value them immensely.

I am looking forward to my blog's second year and hope that all of you are as well. I am planning on changing the focus a little. Being a Christian, I began this blog with a lot  of articles concerning my Christian faith, concentrating on the Scriptures and how we can apply them to our lives. I still plan very much on discussing my faith and the Scriptures, though, I have found that much of my own personal journey is becoming much more spiritual. I have found a lot of peace and direction through the practice of contemplative prayer (Christian meditation) and want to focus a lot of my articles in the future on the Christian mystics, what they experienced, and what they have to offer us in their wisdom.

I also plan on exploring the paths of different mystics ascribing to the other wisdom traditions (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and seeing if there are parallels to those of the Christian mystics. As my faith's journey progresses, the more I meditate, the more I read Scriptures and the sacred writings from other religions, I am starting to see a beautiful thread of truth that God has woven among all of humanity's traditions. I am beginning to realize just how big God is and want to share some of these revelations here with all of you.

Book reviews and podcast interviews with the authors of some of the books I review are elements I began to add in the latter portion of this year and I am looking forward to only increasing the number of reviews and interviews I publish. I will also be conducting a series of interviews with individuals I feel have interesting and inspiring stories to share. Individuals that might be experiencing God in unique ways, or having challenges to their faith and can share with us how they overcome such challenges.

Through this journey I've had the pleasure of coming into contact with bloggers that have inspired me with their encouraging posts. Travel bloggers who have taken me to places I will most likely never go. Photographers that have captured my breath for moments as I've been lost in their amazing images, many of which still remain imprinted in the corridors of my mind, an amazing tapestry to behold! ;) I have been inspired, encouraged, informed and have gone to places beyond where I would have imagined. It has been a great journey so far!  I would like to thank my friends at Blogplicity specifically, for they have always been there when I've had technical questions or needed a bit of encouragement. My experience as a blogger would not be the same if not for all of you.

I look forward to many years of blogging and I hope all of you will continue to come back again and again, leaving when you go, your amazing insights and thoughts. Thank you for joining me on my journey and I look forward to sharing it all with you as it continues to unfold.

~Blessings in Christ

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Memory of Matthew Shepard (Dec 1, 1976-Oct 12, 1998)

File:Matthew Shepard.jpg
Courtesty of Wikipedia

Thirteen years ago on this day, a young man of twenty-two years died alone in a Wyoming farm field. His life came to a violent and abrupt ending as a result of the hate and ignorance that had been sown into  the hearts of his peers. His death, tragic and unnecessary, was the catalyst for a greater awareness of the hate and prejudice the homosexual community has had to endure from much of society. A community that has much more in common with us than differences. People that want very much the same things out of life that we do- to pursue their hopes and dreams unhindered, to create families and live lives of peace. 

Not long ago I wrote an article reviewing the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So", which explores some scholar's beliefs of what the Bible really has to say regarding homosexuality. You can find that article here: http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/2011/08/if-your-child-were-gaydiscussion-of.html

I posted this article in various venues on facebook in order to generate some responses and conversations to the ideas presented. The responses on one facebook page really surprised me. The level of intolerance and prejudice towards homosexuals displayed was staggering and really, I feel, in opposition to the Jesus these very people who made such comments say they love and serve.

We cannot coerce people to live the way we feel is acceptable or most comfortable. We can accept them for who they are and where they are in life and move together in the Spirit of Christ to build a more peaceful and compassionate world. To bring glimpses and revelations of God's Kingdom here on earth, to His glory.

Jesus broke bread with those who were among the most marginalized in the society of his day. Are we not expected to do the same thing? He told us not to judge and only cast a stone at another if we, ourselves , have not sinned. I know nobody, including myself, who is fit to pick up a single stone...

Religion should fuel love not hate. It should breathe light, hope and compassion into the hearts of believers and extend those attributes outwards into a world that so desperately needs them.  We are known by the fruit we bear... When I think of those like Fred Phelps, whose group actually protested at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, I think of how they try to tear down the walls of  peace and understanding that so many have tried to build.  Where is Jesus in their message?...

Jesus came to show us a better way. To teach us compassion and love and to show us we are not the ones to judge, but we are to simply love others and help illuminate the way to him, where peace and rest can be found for the weary and lost. 

I hope you take the time to watch the short tribute below that I discovered on YouTube, remembering Matthew Shepard's life and revealing a bit more of the details behind his story. May we never forget what that young man had to endure. May it be a reminder of the hate and intolerance that still exists in this world. Sometimes in our everyday lives it can be so easy to forget the prejudices that others have to endure in our society, especially when we find ourselves members of the majority, rather than minority. Let's let the love and light of God shine through us and help disperse some of this darkness that threatens to bring such pain and suffering upon others. Through God we can shatter hatred and destroy it. Love will always prevail. 

Comments? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the Comments section. Thank you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

YouTube Tuesday

Each week a growing group of bloggers are seeing how creative they can get in selecting thought provoking, and sometimes just fun, YouTube videos that have stood out to them. Each month the creator of the project, Josh, will be selecting a winner and presenting them with the "You Tube Tuesday Award".

Do you have a video that you found hilarious, thought provoking or inspiring? Come, join the project and be sure to leave your link on Josh's site: http://networkedblogs.com/l9C9c  And of course in the comments section here too!
This week's video is one of Saint Francis of Assisi's  most popular prayers sung by Sarah McLachlan. It has been the prayer that I have focused on using during meditation the last couple of months.  May every word drop "like pearls into your subconscious". For they are each precious and carry meaning and compassion, love and light.

Friday, October 7, 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.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

YouTube Tuesday

Each week a growing group of bloggers are seeing how creative they can get in selecting thought provoking, and sometimes just fun, YouTube videos that have stood out to them. Each month the creator of the project, Josh, will be selecting a winner and presenting them with the "You Tube Tuesday Award".

Do you have a video that you found hilarious, thought provoking or inspiring? Come, join the project and be sure to leave your link on Josh's site: http://networkedblogs.com/l9C9c  And of course in the comments section here too!

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Experience of Attending a Quaker Meeting

I have pursued God hungrily over the last year and my journey has taken me to several places. Inside both puritanical style New England churches to more contemporary settings. Within the very sanctuary of earth, river and sky where God's presence has never failed to impress itself upon me in its garment of love and peace. In conversations with and writings of other spiritual seekers, hoping to find a glimpse of eternal truth in their discoveries to help aid in illuminating my own path while I share in return what I can with them. Through the Scriptures I have poured, hungrily devouring the manna that God has provided each and every one of us. In prayer, with bent knee and open heart, I have opened myself completely up to God.

In the process I have opened up to new truths that I would never have considered in the past. I have begun to think of God and Christ in some completely new ways.  I have also become more and more interested in how other people, across cultures, across religions, have found a connection with God, particularly through their means of meditation. I have been practicing contemplative prayer ( Christian meditation), as well as some other forms of meditation,  for some time now and have yet to connect with others that seek God in that way. At least offline ;)  That is why yesterday I found myself driving down route 66 in my home state of Connecticut, traversing across the river that divides the state, lined with trees starting to change color, headed on my way to a Quaker Meeting.

Quakerism caught my attention about a month ago when I came across some material presenting the basic tenants of Quakerism. Their meetings are held primarily in a contemplative silence, which intrigues me, since I practice contemplative prayer.  One just doesn't find contemplative prayer, or meditation, in most church settings. To think of a whole service consisting of silence, with the exception of a moment or two, when members will spontaneously  rise up and speak a word that has been impressed on them by God, was just something I felt I had to partake in and experience for myself. Perhaps, I would find others that could relate to my spiritual journey and be more open than those I've found in the past have been. Be more receptive to different ideas concerning God's nature and spiritual realities.

One thing that really struck me about Quakerism is there are no authorities, no one leader to the group that imposes his direction on the other members. Everyone is equal and respected when it comes to their conclusions and spiritual leanings. Quakerism has its roots in Christianity, however Christians and non-Christians alike can come to the meetings and learn from one another. I felt like perhaps this could be a setting where I would feel a bit less heretical than I feel sometimes in the fundamentalist evangelical settings I have mostly found myself in thus far.

It's always a little intimidating for me to enter an already established tightly-knit group in the pursuit of learning something. I don't let it stop me though! As I neared my destination, I eased my car in a parallel parking position and turned it off. I breathed in the fresh and dry New England air as I approached the entrance which was closed. The street itself was very quiet, no busy whir and hum of cars passing by, and nobody walking near the entrance or even down the sidewalks. My first inclination was to knock, but then I figured , it was a public meeting after all. At a church you just open the door, so...open the door I did...

And  I saw a dog. The lazy eyes of a fairly large and old German Shepard met my gaze, taking it from the man that stood a few paces beyond ready to greet me. I greeted the dog first and he responded enthusiastically, thumping his tail on the area rug that adorned the hardwood floor underneath. I took a deep breath as people came out of the woodwork and we all began introducing ourselves. I quickly became at ease with my new surroundings as warmth and peace were in every pair of eyes I met.  

The meeting itself was held in a room where sunlight poured in through windows that lined the walls. There was a circle of chairs and as everyone entered the room we all found our place in one of them.  The dog was also invited in and before he settled himself down at his owner's feet he walked around the circle rather unabashedly looking for extra pets. There were seven other people there besides myself and I must say, I was probably the youngest by 15-20 years, and in some cases more than 40. Unfortunately, Quakerism doesn't seem to be appealing to newer generations. Perhaps this is because Eastern mysticism  has become so popular and attractive in the West,  gripping the attention of spiritual seekers at a quicker  rate. I'm not sure.

They did mention that another Quaker Meeting, a few towns over had a larger number of participants and that that group was definitely a bit more lively during their meetings. More people would stand up and speak something out during the contemplative silence. This particular group of friends, was a more quiet type and preferred to share what they received during meditation in a conversation afterwards. I kind of like that approach because when one meditates, if someone speaks during that time, it can be distracting and take you totally off of your focus. In fact, it can take quite awhile to still one's mind and clear it of distractions, to have that disrupted can oftentimes force one to almost start all over again in a sense.

Well, there we were chatting one moment and then almost instantaneously, prompted by something that was beyond my awareness, everyone began to close their eyes and just start meditating. There was no clear announcment to the beginning of the meeting. It just simply began. Ok...well , when in Rome...you know how it goes ;) So, I too began meditating. I usually meditate for a half an hour. That is  what is suggested by most experts, at least for the beginner. So, to meditate for the span of an hour, in pure silence, is definitely a challenge for someone like me, who is not yet an expert by any means.

I guess the biggest stumbling block I had during the service was that I hadn't really planned on what kind of meditation I would use during that time. Should I go about practicing my passage meditation, that I have been learning through the teachings of Eaknath Easwaran? Should I do breath meditation, or concentrate on one word or a simple phrase, like the Jesus Prayer? This helps focus the mind and rid it of distractions, helping one achieve a sense of stillness and eventually, with practice, union with God.

 Well, at first I just was. I just wanted to feel one with my surroundings and simply be.  My senses began picking up the birds in the trees, each voice, an individual strand, consisting of a sophisticated orchestra, the feeling of my clothes on my skin, the various sounds made as members shifted positions from time to time. I could  feel vibrations in my body that are most likely there when I don't meditate, but often go overlooked because our mind is usually so overcome by both exterior and interior distractions.  A peace started settling in and almost without conscious effort, inwardly, I began to recite the Jesus Prayer: Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Over and over again, until hardly a sound seemed to be noticed, until I felt myself going deeper and deeper within, entering the throne room of my heart. Seeking time and an experiential encounter with my Maker.

When the service ended, almost as abruptly as it had begun, the discussion that followed was encouraging. I just felt so connected with everyone there. It didn't matter how many years separated us in age, or our potential differences in the socio-economic brackets we find ourselves in, or our differences in education (most there had very advanced college degrees). What united us is our spiritual thirst and openness to experiencing God. There was no "one right way" being expressed by anyone there. Just a sharing of ideas and encounters. I am not one to feel comfortable in a group setting, oftentimes I find myself not even speaking once (believe it or not!) when I'm at a church group or prayer meeting. In this particular atmosphere, I felt very open, contributing equally with the others in a shared group discussion. I think some of this had to do with the fact that I didn't fear that what I would say would be criticized.  

Would I go to another Quaker Meeting? Absolutely! There are a lot of other great facts about Quakerism I'd like to share with all of you. This particular post highlighted some of them but was primarily written to share my experience of attending my first Quaker Meeting. Keep an eye out for future posts that will discuss more about Quakerism :)

Any thoughts? I'm sure you have them! Please share in the comments section. Thank you!