Tag Archives: creation

How to Really Live

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences will have resonances with our own innermost being, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. — Joseph Campbell

Note: This post is the first in a series. Each day will feature one observation about and a suggestion for how to really live your life, how to engage yourself fully in the act of being alive.

What’s it all about, this life we live? Do you ever slow down long enough to wonder about the meaning of life? Maybe you are too busy living–earning a living, running taxi for children or grandchildren, or caring for aging parents, trying to keep your head above the waters of financial ruin–to even care about deeper meaning.

The first step to really living your life is to quit kidding yourself about how much life you have left to live. The only moment each one of us is promised is the present one. You may live to be a hundred or you may die tomorrow, but the only moment in which you are truly alive is this one–right here, right now.

Close your eyes. Take a slow, deep breath, inhaling through your nose. Hold it lightly for a short interval. Now breath out gently but fully through your nose, emptying your lungs deeply from your gut upward.  While you are enjoying this solitary breath, give thanks for it and for your precious gift of life.

What a miracle you are! That single breath you just honored is one of some 17,000 that you will take in one 24-hour period. Your heart will beat, without any help from you, more than 100,000 times each day. You make thousands of decisions each day, both great and small, conscious and unconscious. You are an amazing creation, one that the Creator of the Cosmos called very, very good.

The first step to really living your life is make a conscious choice to live more fully in the present moment. Yes, some things must be planned and arranged and done, but if you find yourself always looking backward at the way things were or planning for a future over which you have no control–just stop.

Take another one of those single, thankful breaths and come back to the present moment.

  • Love the people you love. I mean really love them and tell them so. Spend time with them if you can.
  • Do something fun or silly. Celebrate and laugh every single day. Laughter is good medicine and will cure a host of maladies.
  • Leave your work behind (at least for a little while)
  • Be active. Take a walk, ride your bike, dance, swim, hike, or do yoga.
  • Eat well and mindfully. Sit down at the table. Light a candle.
  • Rest

Whenever cares and worries threaten to carry you away into moments past or futures unknown, will yourself back to the present moment and day. Live it well. It is gift, pure gift.

Remember the words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel:

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (6:34)

Whatever your situation, remember that life is fleeting in the grand scheme of the universe. We’re only on this earth for a short time. No trouble, worry, or distraction is worth depriving you or others of the privilege of living right now.

Blessings on your precious life here and now!

A Lagniappe:

Enjoy this You-Tube version of Burt Bacharach’s song “Alfie” sung by the incomparable Rumer.

Photo by OutdoorLori. Thanks!

Life on Loan

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. — Native American Proverb

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… — Psalm 24:1

“You’re not in charge!” Most human beings I know chafe under such an imperative statement. Sure we’re in charge, each one of us, right? Do you remember the Bon Jovi song “It’s my Life” and its siren song to individuality: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just wanna live while I’m alive…”? This song has inspired people of all ages and become an anthem to the idea of controlling one’s own life and destiny.

It’s true that we don’t live forever on this earth, and it’s laudable to desire to really live instead of go through the motion, but it is not true that this life is ours to do with as we please. Our life is a loan. We didn’t dictate our birth , and we’re really not completely in charge of our terminus post quem. And what we do while we’re here–every choice and decision–matters and affects the course of our journey.

Our choices and life paths also affect others, an important point to ponder. How we treat our bodies affects how long we may potentially live, how much we will have to invest in health care, and what our quality of life will be. How we treat our economic resources affects our security, the futures of those we love, and even the future of our community and our nation. How we treat our earth may potentially affect everyone. We are, in effect, “borrowing” the earth and all its resources from future generations.

Yes, we live on borrowed time with lives that are merely a loan. Each breath, each day, everything is pure gift, but the gift is shared. Our gift of life is lived out in community for good or for ill. How will you enjoy your gift, steward your loan, and care for what is not yours forever?

Thanks-Living Action:

1. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see for your children or your children’s children. If you do not have children of your own, what kind of world would you like to leave as your legacy?

2. How can you be a better steward of your time, talent, and resources?

3. What does it mean to live life as gift?

Finally, ponder these words from a sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

Photo by Damanhur, Federation of Communities. Thanks!

Faith in One Another

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I’ve given up on so and so. It/he/she just isn’t worth the effort anymore.” It might be a friend, a faith community, an organization, or even a family member. Or maybe you’ve been privy to conversations about the dire state and depravity of humankind in general. When the mind starts spiraling in this direction, it becomes easy to become “oh, so negative,” as my friends Allen and Sally are fond of saying.

Of course, negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts, and pretty soon the person thinking them becomes a real “Debbie Downer.” Think, I’m exaggerating? Try this little experiment: for 24 hours watch nothing but news channels (FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or any other 24-hour news outlet or combination thereof). I guarantee you’ll feel more agitated, negative, and nervy than before you began.

Instead, vow to believe in the innate goodness of humankind, indeed of all creation. For folks who read the Torah or Old Testament, the first chapter of Genesis repeatedly chronicles the Creator proclaiming the creation “good” and “very good.” That means God doesn’t create bad, broken stuff.

Sure, we can get bumped, scuffed, scraped, and broken as we journey through life. Some folks are REALLY broken and as a result do horrible things to innocent people. Some individuals act just plain mean. Evil is very real. Still…for the good of all  of us, I believe we must never, ever give up faith in humankind. Gandhi’s words are every bit as true today as they were when he first spoke/wrote them.

Or as the unknown Johannine teacher wrote in 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).

Believe in the presence of good and in the restorative power of love. Keep the faith–and the faith in each other.

Thanksliving Action:

Need some positive information? Check out dailygood.org for good news that inspires and uplifts.

Photo by lel4nd. Thanks!

Seeing Sunflowers

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. — Henry David Thoreau

It is August, 2006. Dianne and I are taking our two middle-school-age children to summer camp. Dianne is making good time in her green sedan, deftly navigating a series of uncrowded eastern North Dakota highways. We haven’t known each other long, a few weeks at most, so this Sunday afternoon drive provides plenty of opportunity to move beyond the surface-level chatter that so often marks the early encounters of a developing friendship.

Despite the flow of easy conversation, I am distracted by the fields of ripening sunflowers that we pass along the way. Myriad bright yellow flowers dance with the breeze, exuding happiness, signaling summer, and signifying joy to me. The sight of row upon row of these butter-yellow beauties turning their heavy heads upward toward the sun captivates my imagination. I can’t take my eyes off of them.

To Dianne the sunflowers symbolize something entirely different–the reality that winter will soon return to the prairie with icy blast and frosty roar. I have not yet experienced a North Dakota winter, so Dianne’s association with these lovely golden flowers is a foreign one to me. Winter seems far away; August means humid, sweltering dog days and languorous summer nights to this Southern girl. A daughter of the prairie, Dianne also sees sunflowers in economic terms, as a crop to be monitored and assessed rather than the subject of a tourist’s photo shoot. Yes, of course she appreciates the sunflower’s beauty, but she “sees” something different, something beyond my field of vision on this bucolic August afternoon.

It is January, 2013, and I am sitting in my home office in Pennsylvania. I have just returned from North Dakota. It was not a pleasure trip, although it is always good to visit friends, breathe the prairie air, and revel in the vastness of the land and sky. This time I went to help lay to rest my dear friend Paula, to assist in honoring her life’s work and faith witness, and to mourn with friends and family her sudden and too-early passing. It is winter. It is cold. There are no sunflowers to cheer the spirit. Only snow and sadness cover the stalk-stubbled prairie fields.

I now “see” too keenly what Dianne sees in the sunflowers. The glorious brightness of the blossom is not the ultimate end. Winter comes with its darkness and desolation. Snow casts a funereal pall across the quiet earth. And winter comes also to our lives, as loss and loneliness cover the naked soil of the soul.

Yet winter will yield to spring, and a fresh crop of sunflowers will push their hardy shoots through the fragrant, freshly-turned prairie soil. Yes, the sunflowers will return again–hopeful, bright, trusting. And riotously joyous, always joyous. As the psalmist reminds us, “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5).

I’m told that North Dakota farmers are planting fewer and fewer fields of sunflowers. Nationwide; the USDA forecasts a drop of about eighteen percent in sunflower acres planted. It’s a crop that must be shared with birds, and there haven’t been as many price insurance options in recent years. Other crops promise better yield and more favorable return, so naturally there may be fewer fields of flowers. Farming, like life, is rife with risk. The only truly certain thing is the present moment, and each moment is a seed of hope ready to be sown.

I will again plant sunflowers this spring in Pennsylvania. In fact, I will plant more than last year’s few token plants. I want to see an abundance of those sturdy stalks balancing massive flowering heads, heavy with seed and promise. Planting and tending them is an act both of defiant joy and of fond remembrance:  defiant joy from “seeing” them not as a harbinger of winter and desolation but rather of creation’s beauty and God’s abundance, and also as a fond remembrance of my Dakota days and some very dear friends.

Reflect:

What do you “see” when you gaze upon a field of sunflowers? What might you need to “see” differently?

Photos by travelmanitoba, DJ Flickr, Daniel Knecht, hulio82, and one sharp eye. Thanks!

Embracing Mystery

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

I enjoy spending time around children because they remind me of how to live each moment fully, how to examine the world with eyes of love and wonder, and how to embrace mystery as a natural part of what it means to be alive. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we manage to squelch this wonderful approach to living and replace it with something far less satisfying, what we term “realistic” and “appropriate” and “logical.”

Somehow along the way we build fences, construct walls, and organize life into neat categories of black and white, right and wrong, in and out, cool and uncool. Because of our human desire to “know” and control our life and destiny, we strive for certainty and mastery. We seek to acquire and cling to rather than experience and ponder. In the process, largely unintentionally, we lose our ability to embrace the mystery of the universe.

Have you ever watched a child experience the natural world? Have you seen how each flower is its own universe to be explored, how every bird and animal is marvelous and wonderful to behold? Remember how mud puddles are for jumping in–not avoided–and garden hoses are destined to be fountains rather than simply conduits for H2O? Little children don’t watch clocks. They don’t hurry past when something catches their fancy. They are honest and inquisitive and, well, real.

Children not only accept mystery, they embrace and are enthralled by it. Mystery and wonder are partners in living. Once upon a time signals a story worth listening to, and music is made to inspire a silly whirl of a dance. A child sees no reason to argue about whether the world was created in seventy days or seventy million days. The world was created, and it’s really cool; that’s what matters.

What would it take for you to recapture and embrace the mystery of life in this new year? Is it possible for you to take off your watch, shut off your cell phone, put on some music and dance like a kindergartner until you fall down exhausted? Can you spare an hour to walk in the woods, to taste snowflakes, and yes, to stomp in a puddle? Will you treasure and ponder the mystery that you are, the gift of life that the Creator has given you, and the wonders and delights of this beautiful world? I hope you will. I pray you will.

We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. — Annie Dillard

Photos by AlicePopkorn and vastateparksstaff. Thanks!

Light

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. — Luke 1:78-79

Read: Luke 1:68-79

Ponder:

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino

Reflect:

When I lived in North Dakota, one of my favorite things to do on a crisp, clear winter night was to bundle up, go outside, and gaze into the star-spangled sky. Out on the rural prairie, without the interference of city lights and traffic noise, one gets a real sense of the enormity of the cosmos and the handiwork of the Creator. One also gets a very real picture of just how small and insignificant a single human can appear in the scale of the universe.

Yet, we do not have to feel insignificant because scripture reminds us that God knows the very number of hairs on our head. We are wonderfully and fearfully made and deeply loved. Even in the darkest hour of night, we rest assured that dawn will break, bringing new light and renewed hope. Jesus is coming again to bring light that the darkness cannot overcome. Yes, the stars are lovely to look upon, but it is the light of Christ that shows us the way to real life that never ends.

Thanks-Living:

Make time to go outside and look at the stars. Tonight you might even have the opportunity to see the Geminid Meteor Shower in all its glory. Give thanks to the Creator of the universe for the majesty and glory that seem to expand before your eyes.

Today also marks the commemoration of St. Lucy, a young Sicilian Christian martyr who lived during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. While we do not have much knowledge about her life, we believe she had decided to devote her life completely to God and give her possessions to the poor.  Her feast day is particularly important in Norway and Sweden, where the oldest girl in the house dons a crown of candles and serves saffron buns  to her family early on this particular morning. For more information click here. For a recipe for St. Lucy’s Buns or Lussekatter, click here.

Photos by Tydence and Henrik Kettunen. Thanks!

Three Simple Steps to a Better Day

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Want to make your day a better one? Any day can be at least a little better with a simple mind shift. All it takes is applying three simple, tried and true actions consistently throughout any 24 hour stretch of time.

Even the dreariest of days can be transformed by this simple shift in thinking and response. And it’s how you begin the day that sets the tone for the hours and events to follow. In short, the day you will lead is largely controlled by your attitude and approach to it.

Almost 2,000 years ago a Jew and Roman citizen named Saul of Tarsus (renamed Paul after he became a follower of The Way of Jesus), wrote to fellow believers in Thessaloniki and suggested three simple practices that are still applicable today: rejoice, pray, and give thanks. If practiced faithfully and lavishly, these practices will help make any day a good day–or at least improve a bad one significantly.

Before you get out of bed, offer a prayer of thanks and rejoice that you are alive, breathing, and gifted with another day of life. Continue this practice throughout the day–not just offering thanks around meals and before bedtime. Remember that everything, absolutely every good thing in your life is a gift from the One who spoke the cosmos into being.

Take time to marvel at the gifts of nature. Give thanks for the produce at the farmers market. Give thanks for clean water and the conveniences of electricity, phone service, and wireless communication. Rejoice in the company of family and friends. Pray for the needs of others often during that day. If a driver cuts you off in traffic, pray that his or her needs are met and that all is well. If you hear the sirens calling your local volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel, offer a prayer of safety and well-being on their behalf.

Finally, as you fall into bed at the end of the day, give thanks for the gifts of the day, thanks that you were able to meet any challenges, again pray for the needs of others and yourself, and trust that a good night’s holy rest will be yours.

Practice these three simple steps on a regular and frequent basis, and I guarantee your life will be changed for the better, and your outlook will improve. Come on…what do you have to lose?

Photos by david c. stone and hotflashes. Thanks!

In Praise of Home Grown Tomatoes

I am thankful for home grown tomatoes–those orbs of deliciousness that taste so much better than their bland grocery store counterparts. If you grow tomatoes you understand. For weeks you watch them hanging green on the vine, and your mouth begins to water at the thought of tasty sun-warmed fruit on bread with mayonnaise, or in Caprese Salad or in salsa or in sauce or in juice. Maybe the best way to enjoy one is to bite into it like an apple, fresh off the vine.

As the old song goes, “There’s only two things that money can’t buy–true love and home grown tomatoes.”

Not familiar with “Home Grown Tomatoes”? Here’s a link to a YouTube version by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. Enjoy! Oh, and as you’re eating your next home grown tomato, don’t forget to give thanks.

Photo by Dave Stokes used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Experiencing God in Creation

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”   – George Washington Carver

Do you experience God’s presence and handiwork in the natural world? I know I do. Like Carver, I believe that God does communicate with us in many ways–some subtle and some more direct. We hear God speak through scripture. We come into the Divine presence in worship. We converse with the Triune God in prayer. We encounter Christ in Holy Communion, and we sense the nudging of the Holy Spirit in our daily  lives. Whether or not we are aware of and in tune with these holy encounters is another story.

Try this: next time you are outside try being open to the presence of the Divine. Listen for the still, small voice of God in the wind. Smell the freshness of newly turned soil. Hear the trill of a bird song. God is present. The Creator is active in the Creation. You are a blessed part of the creation and as such you are dearly loved.

Pay attention to the divine “broadcast station” of creation. Listen. Hear. Understand. Live. Give thanks. Oh, and be a good steward of this marvelous gift. God’s hand, God’s voice, and God’s presence are everywhere in it.

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

If You’re Happy and You Know It…

You can choose to be happy. No matter your state or station in life, if you look at each day with hope, love, and and open mind/heart/soul, you will find a blessing somewhere. String those little pearls of blessing one by one on the necklace of your life, and soon you will find that happiness has been hanging around all along.

No, not every day is a happy day. Sadness, pain, and loss are a part of the human condition, and none of us are immune, but even in the midst of grief one can experience a spark of joy, a happy memory, and the love of friends and family.

According to dictionary.com, happiness “results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good.” When one approaches life from the perspective of “thanks-living,” of looking for the good in all areas of life and giving thanks for the blessings ones experiences and shares with others, then happiness, well, happens.

The key to happiness is to look for the good in all things and in all people, to be contented with oneself and in one’s situation, and to love without reserve or measure. You and I, dear friends, possess the key to unlock the door behind which happiness lies. Be grateful for this fact and live into it. Make lemonade out of life’s lemons, and write your own happy ending. Don’t let doubt and despair rain on your parade.

Peace, blessing, and happiness to you this day!

Lenten 40/40/40 Update for Day 13:

Honoring Relationships

Today I give thanks for another North Dakota friend — Paula. She is a strong woman who possesses a beautiful, generous, and kind spirit. No stranger to pain and grief, Paula nonetheless finds happiness, contentment, and meaning in her life. She gives of her time and resources generously and doesn’t meet  a stranger. She loves her family and friends dearly. Thanks for being you, Paula! Knowing you has made me a better me.

Giving Possessions

Today it’s time to give away some music CDs. Since my iPod is now synched to my spouse’s, I have no need for duplicates and choose to share (legally, of course!).

Thanksgivings

Today was a gorgeous sun-drenched March day in south-central PA. How glorious it was to simply marvel at the budding trees and daffodils straining to bloom. Thanks to the God of all creation for making such bright beauty possible.

For Further Reflection…

How have you created happiness today? What has brought you joy?

Photo by donireewalker used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!