November 6–Faith: A Ghost Story

He called and asked me to come to his house. I was a very young minister serving in a small rural town.  He told me how his granddaughter, as a small child, remembered in exquisite detail a house and a family that had lived across the street from him 60 years earlier.  The house had burned down.  The family had moved away.  All that happened 50 years before his granddaughter was born.  How could such a thing could happen, he wanted to know.

She was an elder in the church.  She had coffee and cake waiting on the kitchen table when I arrived.  Her story was about what happened the night after her mother died.  She woke, suddenly, and her mother was sitting on the foot of her bed.  Not only did her mother tell her about a hidden savings account that she had put aside for her grandson (which this woman found at the bank and turned over to her son), but her mother continued to visit this way from time to time for two years.  She feared I would think she was crazy, but she felt she had to share it with someone.

The man’s story defied everything his religious faith allowed.  When I shared with him the beliefs that some hold about reincarnation, he was certain that that was the explanation he was looking for.  The woman knew that her mother was visiting her in spirit form.  She just needed another human being on this side of things to bear witness with her.

Faith asks us to move beyond our comfort zones.  Faith needs a community of witness. Because we are not static beings.  Because our existence is not fixed.  Ours is a spiritual existence, one that requires relationship.

Bob Patrick

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November 5–Faith: You are where you are

“I wish I were in a different place.” How often do you hold that position in life?

We’ve probably all done it, some more than others. For some, it’s a once in a while consideration:  gee, I wish I were not in this place.  Regret.  Guilt.  Second guessing decisions made.  For others, this way of thinking can become a way of life, can become the perspective one holds on everything, every event and even every feeling that arises in the body.

Either way, wishing we were not where we are is not a good plan.

This does not mean that we have to LIKE where we are.  The search for truth and meaning begins best with the present moment–where we find ourselves, right now.  We may look at where we are and decide that this place is not a good, helpful or healthy place.  Our reflection may include the decisions and steps that brought us to this place.  Often we cannot see the quality of our decisions until they are made and lived into for a while.

That is a spiritual practice.  I see where I am.  I look at the various ways I took to get here, and whatever I decide about those paths and this place, I make some decision about my next steps.  Those next steps will be informed, if I reflect this way.  Those next steps will be meaningful if I have ponder my search for truth and meaning to this point.

And those next steps will be steps of faith.

Bob Patrick

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November 3–Faith: What’s Your History?

What’s your history with the word “faith?” Most of us living in the US likely have one.  It may include something like the following:

Faith means believing the right things, and you have been told what those things are.  Disagree with that list, and you are excluded from the faithful.

Faith means accepting something that is otherwise unreasonable or unbelievable. It lines up with clapping your hands so that Tinkerbell can live in the story Peter Pan.  Just do it.

Faith means some words that you say that will get you into heaven and allow you to avoid hell.

If you have arrived on a Unitarian Universalist path, you likely have a history with the word “faith” that includes rejecting what you have been handed around that word.

Because you value a search for truth and meaning.
Because you value humanism and what we can know through scientific process.
Because you value the worth and dignity of every human being and think that, if there is a God, God does, too.

In our community, this begins to be what we call “faith:” gathering together in community to explore the wonder of being human in the context of the gift of this earth–nothing to prove–everything to gain from the journey.

What is your own personal history with the word “faith?”

Bob Patrick

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November 2–Faith: Extending Trust

For me, faith comes down to the experience and exercise of basic trust.

I’ve been absent from here for a while.  About 6  weeks to be exact.  If you are a regular reader of Words of Wisdom?, you may have wondered what was going on.  You might have concluded that I had just walked away.  You may have given up looking for anything here.
I hope not.  Truth is, life just got too busy for me, and the truth of a saying became my reality.  When you say yes to something, you are automatically saying no to something else. I’ve said yes to a lot of things.  Which means I’ve automatically said no to a number of things–including being able to write here regularly.
What I want to acknowledge is that faith, like this little daily reflection venture, is a two way street.  Faith requires extending trust in someone, some thing, some set of events.  Those people, things and events also extend some trust toward us.

Ponder that for a while. If there is no extension of trust, we are not talking about faith.

What is the nature of your ability to extend trust–and to receive trust from others?

Bob Patrick

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September 18–Beauty: The Nature of Things

In his work De Veritate Religione, the 4th century Christian theologian, Augustine asks:  “Is a thing beautiful because it gives delight, or does it give delight because it is beautiful?”

That can be said to sum up the philosophical argument over beauty for the last nearly 3000 years in western civilization.  Is beauty a given, inherent quality in things, or is beauty in the eye of the beholder.  Of course, one can argue in favor of both perspectives. Human beings tend to agree very often about what things are beautiful (which implies that those things come with inherent beauty), and individuals disagree about whether some things are beautiful (implying that beauty is what the individual mind of perception makes of it).

In these days when we seem capable of arguing about everything, even those things that more recently we would seem to have had near universal agreement on, I don’t want to argue about the nature of beauty.

I do want to point out what happens when we fail to perceive beauty.  If beauty is subjective, then a failure to perceive beauty implies that we are failing each other, at least from one generation to another in pointing out beauty in the many places that we might find it. If beauty is inherent in things, then a failure to perceive it implies a disconnect between humanity in general and the nature of things.

When we fail to perceive beauty, regardless of its nature, we participate in the devaluation of things in general.  Nature.  All things belong to nature.  All objects belong to nature.  All people belong to nature. I think we see this devaluation all around us.

Why does the opioid crisis suddenly get national attention when it was just an inner city problem, we did not mind?

How can we see rising water temperatures and water depths, a huge increase in the number of storms and the mass die-offs of birds and continue to deny climate change?

How can we see the continual disproportionate number of suicides and murders among LGTBQ youth and not see that our cultural practices toward them are killing them?

How can white people still say with impunity that “we don’t see color” when not seeing color is a vehicle of racism?

I suspect you could add to the list.  The list is of those places in the human community where we fail to see beauty, where we collectively experience a failure to perceive what is beautiful in nature.

By the way, in the fourth century, Augustine concluded that we delight in things because they are beautiful.  Look what we do when we fail to see that.

Bob Patrick

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September 14–Beauty: Present Tense

It seems that there is something awfully present tense about beauty.  Of course, we can all remember a time when we saw or experienced something beautiful, and that memory is fond.  But, honestly, wouldn’t it be sad to live out one’s entire existence thinking that the memory of a beautiful experience was the only beauty there was?  It seems to me that beauty is really always best as present tense–in this moment.  Now.  The memory of a beautiful think or person or event or landscape is a treasure, but in a sense it ceases to be beauty.  It becomes a good memory.

Beauty is now.  Hafiz captures what I am after in two little poems.  Consider.

Stop Being So Religious

What
Do sad people have in
Common?
It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
Worship.
What is the beginning of
Happiness?
It is to stop being
So religious
Like That.

(“The Gift” – versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky)

That is the problem of the past.  But, he also captures the present tense of beauty in this little verse:

Every child has known God

Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does Anything weird,
But the God who knows only 4 words.
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me , come dance.”

— Hafiz

I wonder today what people, what events, what landscapes, what experiences will whisper those words to us:  Come Dance with Me.

Bob Patrick

 

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September 13–Beauty: Strewn About

The wreckage after the Hurricane, whether it is entire communities or just the damage to your fence or roof is not beautiful.  It’s hard and sometimes dangerous, and it creates what will likely be weeks and months of recovery.  Maybe longer.

It’s as if the wind has picked up everything that was in place and scattered it about in every direction.  Being humans, we begin the arduous task of picking all those things up and either discarding them or replacing them–as in putting them back into place.  Some unexpected encounters can happen–sort of like dumping a drawer out on a table and sifting through what lands there–discoveries of things forgotten which include, from time to time, unexpected beauty.

Lichen Moss Enchanted Lichen Trees by Jon Gavin

On a walk yesterday, I came across a couple of pieces of wood–oak, blown from some high place that I would never have seen without the assistance of Irma.  They both called to me, and we brought them home.  I can’t explain that.  Wood, certain pieces of wood, have always called to me, and I have something of a collection in our garage, waiting on me to start or continue whittling them into something.

One of these yesterday will most certainly become a walking stick.  It practically told me so.  It was covered with lichens of several kinds, some of which stood up like miniature ferns.  I gently removed them with my knife so that they could be placed back on the ground. I don’t know if they will continue to grow there or simply turn into more rich forest compost.

But there was this time spent looking at this amazing beauty that Nature creates in places that I don’t often get to see. High in a tree, under the cover of an oak tree’s canopy these beautiful little beings grow.  They grow there all the time.  Most of the time, I am oblivious to them.

But for a storm named Irma.  I wouldn’t wish the likes of Irma on anyone, but I am aware this morning that because there was Irma, there will be many instances of beauty that we human types discover in the process of recovery and rebuilding–beauty we hadn’t expected.  Beauty we would likely not have encountered without the storm.

Bob Patrick

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September 11–Beauty: It’s in your hands

And it is always there, like love is there.
Whether it fairly shouts at me or hides,
Whether it turns and turns in my heart
Like a slowly turning dagger, it is there.
                               And I shall find it.       It Is Always There, by Kenneth W. Collier

We pondered these words yesterday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.  This morning, out of the dark of early morning, I could hear the wailing and yelping of our 18 year old Dachshund, Jewel.  She was downstairs where she sleeps these days, far too old to make the staircase up to our bedroom.  She now has her own plush sleeping quarters in the sun room.

But, I could tell that she was unhappy.  I got up to go and check on her.  The rain from Irma had already begun.  I took Jewel outside and then back in.  She was inconsolable.  She got in and out of her bed a dozen times, tried to get under her blanket and then came out from under it half a dozen times, wailing and crying the whole time.  Nothing soothed her–nothing that usually does, not the offer of food, not the comfort of her bed or her blanket, not going outside.  Apparently not being inside.

So, instinctively, I got down on the floor next to her bed, and held her–mostly her head, cupped in my hands.  Her wailing became whimpers.  Her whimpers, after they stopped sounding continued to reverberate through her body for several more minutes.  And then, she was asleep.

It was something between us that worked.  It was in our touch. It soothed, it calmed, it cared, it worked.

This is September 11, a day that bears a national scar for us as Americans. Today, I am home from work because Hurricane Irma is moving through our area and schools are closed.  Much of Florida is waking up to devastation.  In the Caribbean, they are out of food and in panicked states.  The Houston area is still trying to catch its collective breath, to calm the panic that reverberates through life there after Hurricane Harvey last week. To the south of us, Mexico is dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake.

It strikes me this morning that “IT” always exists within us and between us–whether IT’s the fears and anxieties of an elder dog, the horror of terrorism, or the devastation of nature’s storms on human dwellings.  We do IT for each other.  We are IT.  We have IT always.  IT flows between us. IT moves us toward pain and suffering with hands ready to help.

So, let us be aware of IT, and answer IT’s call today.  Comfort is as close as our hands, and when we find them reaching toward another, IT is about to happen again.

Several years ago, a short prayer emerged for me that I say almost every day during my morning meditation:

This is my deep soul, and this is Spirit of which I am a part.

For me, this is IT.

Bob Patrick

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September 5–Beauty: Gratitude Practice

I have shared this practice here before.  I began doing this years ago, and it has a powerful effect on me.  It can be done in any public space.  I began doing it while at the gym.

As you move around and through public space that you share with other people, do the following.

  1. Let your gaze fall on one person.
  2. Hold that person in sight, mind and heart.
  3. Begin to see that person as a real person and not just another body taking up space around you.
  4. Silently, within, speak to that person as if they were the only person in the room:  Thank you, for your beauty.
  5. Allow whatever change within you to happen.
  6. Move to the next person and repeat.

You can practice this with the 2-3 people you encounter in the grocery aisle.  You can practice this while waiting on the service to begin at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.  You can practice this while standing in line to get your driver’s license renewed.  You can practice this while waiting in the doctor’s office.

To be honest, I remember to practice it when I am in public space that is beginning to irritate me (too crowded, too noisy, too slow, too unfriendly, etc).  It becomes clear, at some point, that I cannot change that public space, but perhaps I can change me.  This practice of gratitude for beauty in others just might change the public space, too.

Bob Patrick

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September 4–Beauty: The Gods Revealing

I woke up from what seemed like a night full of just weird dreams, and that is most often my experience. I began a complaint in my mind: why can’t I just have a joyful dream every once in a while. Instantly, as if in conversation with someone else, I was reminded that I had also had just such a dream and I slipped right back into the full memory of it.

I was back in the area where I grew up, in a house that I never knew, on a front porch looking out over the beginnings of the Appalachian hills and mountains of north Alabama. There was a child on the porch with me and the child’s mother, and it was clear to me that I was to teach the child something.  I said to the child:  look out on that (pointing to the mountainscape in front of us) and tell me what you see.  I had in mind the beauty of the mountains and particularly the beauty of the sky and clouds above them.  “Tell me what beauty you see.”

The child responded pointing lower in the landscape:  “The Southern Railway.”  I looked out, and the child was right (and that was true in the place where I grew up–the Southern Railway traveled parallel to the mountains north and south bisecting several towns along the way which became little train stations).  “Yes, so it is.  But look higher, I said. What beauty do you see?” The child gazed up and pointed at the blue sky and the beautiful clouds in it.  “Yes,” I heard myself saying.  “Jesus reveals himself to us in beauty.”  I looked into the face of the child, and the child’s eyes made me smile.

I realized, lying there in the dark of early morning, remembering this dream, that there were actually three beauties through which “Jesus was revealing himself.”  There was the beauty of the mountainscape.  There was the beauty of the child’s fascination with the railway.  And there was the face of the child itself.  And it became so clear to me that in each of those instances, beauty became the way the gods reveal themselves to us: the beauty of the Earth, the beauty of the things we are drawn to, and the beauty of every human face.

I don’t know what “the gods” mean to you.  They don’t have to mean anything.  They may mean everything.  You may think of God.  You may, like my dreaming self, think of Jesus. I also realized that Jesus was the beautiful version of God that I came to know growing up. Now, I think of the gods and goddesses as all of the expressions of that great unifying life and love that really has no name and all names at once.  Beauty is that–revealing itself to us.

Notice the beauty giving itself to you, today.  In the Earth.  In what you are drawn to, and what you see others drawn to.  In every face.  In every single face. Each instance of beauty is the gods revealing themselves to us.

Bob Patrick

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