This is the second in a series I started a little over a month ago on positive scripture (click here to read the first). But first I have to state a very short disclaimer. I’ve said this before but feel I have to say it again. My personal theology is…um, well. Scratch that. Actually I am not quit sure what my theology is these days. But what I wanted to mention is that I take the bible almost entirely as metaphor, and that while I do consider myself a follower of the teachings of Jesus (which I usually fail miserably on a daily basis), I consider Him and His teachings a way, not the only way. That said, please do not send me hate mail or try to “save me.”
Anyhow, the scripture I wanted to highlight is Thessalonians 5:17 where Paul states that they/we should “pray continually.” This is the NIV version; the King James version states to “pray without ceasing.” Well that’s some pretty serious stuff. Or is it?
Over the years, like most I would assume, not only have I changed but so has my spirituality. How I see this now is to really live in a place of gratitude and to be in awe of life in general.
This passage–to pray without ceasing–is often taken and quoted out of context, just as I did. But the couple phrases just before and after this one are just as important, I think. 5:16 tells us that we should rejoice always; 5:18 says to give thanks in all circumstances, and 5:20 advises not to quench the spirit.
My interpretation of this is to really look on the bright side of life and enjoy every minute, and to take nothing for granted because everyday and every moment is a gift. Personally, I do try to do this, and many days I do. But some days are easier than others.
Sometimes it’s just simple things. Such as riding my bike at night and stopping to take photos on a cold night…feeling the wind on my face and being in touch with all that is around me. That to me is a way of praying; being in touch with the universe. Or talking to someone and looking in their eyes as they tell me a story and realizing that we, as everyone is, are all connected in some way. That to me is a form of praying as well. Sometimes at work while I’m juggling 10 or 12 pots on the stove and serving three parties at once and everything is running smoothly–and I am aware that it is running smoothly–I’ll acknowledge this ability that has been given to me, and be thankful for it; that to me is a form of prayer. Heck, even as I type these words–writing and thinking about prayer–can be a form of prayer. Sometimes–I really believe–just saying thank you is enough.
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
b. A mental view or outlook
Okay. So first off, it is not very often that I post pictures of myself (almost never) but here you have it. This is a photo of my son and I as we (his mom and I) were dropping him off at his first year of college (the color-coordinated shirts were purely coincidence). And as I look at this photo I ask myself a few things. One is, when did my son get so tall and I begin to shrink? And another is, how can this be possible? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was sending him off to kindergarten? I have often thought/contemplated the passage of time but this is a milestone event. I have also often pondered what time is. Is it even real?
“Time is an illusion.”
In the scheme of things, we as humans have been around for such a short period of time. A good if not simplistic example of this is in the graphic below which illustrates the history of time on earth in a 24-hour capsule. Modern humans (us) don’t appear until a few seconds (yes seconds!) before the 24-hour mark, meaning we have just gotten here. Then why all the stress and worry I also wonder. There have been so many before us with the same problems and worries and in the end they (the worries) don’t matter at all. The key, I think, is to be aware…to be in the present moment; to be awake. Because all that there is, I also believe, is the present moment. The past is history and the future has not happened yet, and the present moment (no matter how difficult or boring it may seem) is really all there is. And when one lives in the present moment–being aware of all of its beauty and sometimes suffering–they are, in a way, fully alive…awake. There are plenty of versions of the following story floating around regarding when the Buddha was asked who or what he was. You may have heard this before; this version I found here).
When the Buddha started to wander around India shortly after his enlightenment, he encountered several men who recognized him to be a very extraordinary being. They asked him: “Are you a god?” “No,” he replied. “Are you a reincarnation of god?” “No,” he replied.”Are you a wizard, then?” “No.” “Well, are you a man?” “No.” “So what are you?” They asked, being very perplexed. Buddha simply replied: “I am awake.”
For me personally it is very difficult to be present all of the time. I suspect this to be true for most. But when I am (with conscious effort) I find that things can be pretty incredible, no matter how mundane a task…such as being consciously aware of my fingers tapping a keyboard as I am doing now. Time can fall away and become, in a way, illusionary. Even if for a moment. And another thing that I find happens when being present is awe. And this brings me to my next quote.
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What I really believe is meant by this is that we as adults–while not shunning our adult responsibilities–need to lighten up and not worry so much…to be in awe of life in the same way a child is; to look at things anew and with interest. To remember what really matters. And when I am present this sometimes happen. I become aware of how incredible life is, even its worst parts. But still, this takes great effort (I am not enlightened yet…not even close).
So now, as I look at the above photo, I am in awe of the fact that my son has grown into such a handsome, kind, and intelligent young man. And I am in awe of the fact that I have made it as far as I have in this life. Time marches on (illusionary or not) but so do the good things (here, now, and in the future). And that’s what I’m looking at.
“When you make a choice, you change the future.”
“You will be transformed by what you read.”
“The most creative act you will ever undertake is the act of creating yourself.”
“The worst curse to befall anyone is stagnation, a banal existence, the quiet desperation that comes out of a need for conformity. ”
“Nothing brings down walls as surely as acceptance.”
“Each of us is a unique strand in the intricate web of life and here to make a contribution.”
To learn more about Swami Vivekananda, visit one of the foundations that bear his name (here or here), or also this wiki.
“We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far. ”
“The greatest sin is to think yourself weak”
“The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves.”
“You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.”
“Comfort is no test of truth. Truth is often far from being comfortable.”
“We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. The wind is blowing; those vessels whose sails are unfurled catch it, and go forward on their way, but those which have their sails furled do not catch the wind. Is that the fault of the wind?……. We make our own destiny.”
“We are responsible for what we are, and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in the future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act.”
“Things do not grow better; they remain as they are. It is we who grow better, by the changes we make in ourselves.”
More in the Five Quotes series.
I came across the the above photo recently at Indy Bikehiker (thanks John!) and it reminded me of some of the books I’ve read by this inspirational and prolific author (this one is my favorite). But it also reminded me that even though he, Fr. Nouwen, touched so many peoples lives (including mine, even though I never met him), he himself struggled with doubt (of himself and his faith) and had bouts of depression and self-worth…in short he was as human and confused as the rest of us. And yes, I realize that this is the Five Quotes series and I have eight…but I could have gone on for quite some time, so I just chose these eight short ones. If you want to learn a bit more about him, visit the Henri Nouwen Society, and this is also an excellent biography.
“You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.”
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
“The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it”
“The soul of the artist cannot remain hidden.”
“Emit gratitude as though it was done”
“One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are”
“Much violence is based on the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not to be shared.”
“The world is evil only when you become its slave.”
More in the Five Quotes Series.
I personally have always found the parallels between many (most) of the major religions fascinating, and these few sayings are just a very small example. Many more parallels in the sayings of these great teachers can be found at the World Peace Page. To read more in the five quotes series, click here.
Jesus: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
Buddha: “Consider others as yourself.” Dhammapada 10:1
Jesus: “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Luke 6:29
Buddha: “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.” Majjhima Nikaya 21:6
Jesus: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25:45
Buddha: “If you do not tend to one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick.” Vinaya, Mahavagga 8:26.3
Jesus: “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52
Buddha: “Abandoning the taking of life, the ascetic Gautama dwells refraining from taking life, without stick or sword.” Digha Nikaya 1:1.8
Jesus: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Mark 8:35
Buddha: “With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.” Majjhima Nikaya 72:15
Yup. That’s me in the above photo. Very rarely do I post pictures of myself on this blog but here’s one. And what’s even more odd is that it shows me getting into a car. My son took the photo of me getting into a Buffalo Car Share car last weekend. But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.
If you’ve been to this blog before you know a few things about me. One of them is that I’ve voluntarily given up car ownership a few months ago, and that I choose to walk or bike whenever possible. If it’s out of (my) biking range I take a bus or use Buffalo Car Share (which I joined around the same time I sold my truck).
Well, you may ask, what does have to do with theology (or at least my personal theology)? Plenty. Firstly, at a most basic level, living simply (using a bike instead of a car, for example) helps me be more in touch with our Source, the Divine within me, you, and each one of us.
But there is another relevance when discussing (car) ownership. What is ownership and do we really “own” anything? The house I live in, for example, is nearly 150 years old; Civil War era. I’m just one of many who have occupied it (click here to see what I mean). I’m sure there will be more; I just happen to live here now.
To take this a step deeper, think of our bodies themselves. Do we really own them? Is this all we are…just flesh and bone? I think not to both questions. We just happen to occupy them at present moment. Okay, some of you reading this may have atheistic views, and that’s fine; I can respect that. Personally I believe that there is more–way more–than we can comprehend. And while I consider myself a practicing Christian–meaning I try to follow the teachings of Jesus the best I can, but usually fail miserably–I also believe that all major religions carry the same truth and that all lead to the same outcome and that all are pure at their core if you look sincerely within them and within yourself. Is there an afterlife? I surely don’t know. Likely, I like to think, that after an undetermined period of time, rejuvenation, and learning we are offered a new body and life to live (for additional learning). Reincarnation. And this is not outside Christian doctrine because the original Christians did in fact believe in reincarnation (please do not send me hate mail), as do many other religions.
So what does any of this have to do with car ownership? Well, overtly maybe nothing. But underneath, maybe everything. My point is that whatever your views we will all eventually leave these bodies…we can’t take them with us. So to bring this back to a more materialistic level–car ownership–they (cars) are just things, like everything else, and you can’t take them with you. You, if you have one, are simply occupying it.
I have to admit that in a culture where our very core is embedded with cars it was difficult if not a bit scary to renounce ownership. But I did and hope never to have another. Since not having a car of my own I have only used one on three occasions, but the first was mostly out of novelty. And on all three occasions the car share worked seamlessly. When I needed a car to get me outside my biking distance I had one.
I don’t believe that I have to “own” everything that I use. I can share some things, even big things in my life. and this is what I was thinking about as I pedaled home tonight carrying my son’s guitar after his music lesson. It was a hot evening. I had a couple beers across the street while I waited for him. And as I pedaled home into a slight headwind with a warm breeze on my face it felt good. I felt free.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
The above image is of a pin that was given to me yesterday by a friend (thanks Jane!). It’s a miniature version of a sign that I’ve had in the front garden for the past years. Actually the sign in front of my house is the second sign…the first was stolen (how’s that for irony). It’s an image/slogan that began with Sister Karen Klimczak. Anyhow, I was going to write a long post on how much I enjoy having the sign in front of my house (though I don’t always believe I do what it says), how much it means to me, and how powerful and beautiful I think the below quote and prayer are…and also how much inner work I feel I need to do to be able to actually embody some of the things I share on this blog. But I don’t know where to begin. The image, I believe, and the below words, speak for themselves.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
The Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”
“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.”
“He who conquers others is strong; He who conquers himself is mighty.”
OK, so I said five, but here’s two more…I could’ve easily added another hundred.
“He who knows himself is enlightened.”
“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”
To read more in the Five Quote Series, click here
It’s interesting. I like many adults have suffered from sleep problems for most of my life. It’s rare for me to sleep more than 6 hours. But every so often I do. My body crashes. Last night was one such instance. I went to bed around 1:00am–which is late for me–and didn’t wake until nearly 11:00am this morning. It was disorienting to say the least. And I’m not sure what it was–the long sleep or the grey and rainy day–but I woke with a feeling of melancholy. Not anything too heavy, just enough to put me in an introspective mood. Seeing that I woke too late to go to church, I read the NY Times on line while I had coffee and then went out for a long walk in the drizzly weather and took photos. I took a bunch of them–of all sorts of things–but am only showing some of my favorites; the flowers. I find it interesting in that when taking photos it forces me to look at–contemplate–the thing I’m pointing the camera at. The one above, for example, is a flower on a tree…who knew that inside its white leaves was hidden such beauty. Or the one directly below–a dandelion–on any other day these are the nemesis to my garden, but when viewed up close, through the lens of a camera, it is beautiful. Anyhow, it’s likely that the brilliant color of these flowers on such a grey day has added color–inspiration–to my spirit. And I thought I’d share. Click any for a larger view.
I posted the below quotes nearly two years ago. Often when I re-post quotes I will change them up a bit. But these move me still.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”
Okay…I said five, but here’s one more.
“I believe we are still so innocent. The species are still so innocent that a person who is apt to be murdered believes that the murderer, just before he puts the final wrench on his throat, will have enough compassion to give him one sweet cup of water.”
To read five quotes from other people that inspire me, click here.
I’m not sure if it is the fact that I turned the big five-oh this past fall, or maybe that my son is approaching college age, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately (as if I didn’t think enough already)…mainly on what I want to do with the second half of my life; what I want to be when I grow up. And it’s interesting how your views change as you get a bit older (mine did). For me at least, I don’t want to be defined as something. For so many years I was (and still am) a chef, among other titles. Everyone has their own personal labels, I suppose. It’s like when you are at a cocktail party and uncomfortable conversation often starts with…what do you do? As if what you do defines who you are. I’ve mentioned this somewhat recently but I think I finally figured it out. When I grow up I want to be an old man. A really nice and considerate old man (to himself, others, and the climate); an old man who is full of inner peace…and sill rides a bike. This, I think, is a lofty aspiration that is achievable. It’ll take some work (there’;s always work to do, often inner-work), but I think I can do it.
I love books and bookstores. When I travel I make a point of visiting used and/or independent bookstores in that city. And I really do believe that books sometimes find you…that they are placed before you for you to find and hopefully read. The book above is a good example (and more on that in a minute) but the one that stands out in my memory was one that found me when I was living in Poughkeepsie, NY. It was the mid 1980’s and I was a student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and was walking down the street on a sunny Spring day when I quite literally tripped over a book…yes it was laying there in the middle of the sidewalk. I picked it up and it was a well-worn copy of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran. At the time I was not familiar with either the book or the author but was intrigued and kept it and read it. Later I was surprised to learn that we–the author and I–share the same ethnic heritage. Since then I have collected more than a dozen of Khalil’s books (though I haven’t read them all). But I believe that original one–which is also his most famous–found me. Anyhow, back to the book pictured above. As mentioned in an earlier post, I was in Toronto this past weekend with my son, and was in Seekers Bookstore on Bloor Street (which is one of my favorite Toronto bookstores). I have had an interest in Mysticism for many years but do not know anything about Kabbalah (who am I kidding…I don’t know much about anything). Anyhow, I was flipping through the above said book, and read a bit on cause-and-effect, but thought the book was a bit pricy at $9 (CAD), considering its condition. I liked what I was reading but thought I could probably find a better deal on Amazon (I didn’t) or just download it…so I put it back on the shelf and began looking at other books. At this point I was standing near the counter and heard a person ask another (who I’m assuming was the owner of the bookstore) how business has been. He went into a somewhat long dialog on how bad it has been, that even with a mild winter business was poor. Sometimes, he went on to say, that an entire hour would go by and not a single customer will come in, and then when they do they just browse and leave. Between the big chain bookstores and the Internet, he said, he felt his store was dying a slow death. I felt like he was speaking to me though my back was to this person. To cut to the chase…I took the book back off the shelf and purchased it. I love used bookstores and don’t want them to disappear; I felt good to support this one. This book–like the aforementioned title–most definitely found me…I had no choice but to purchase it.
“I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.”
“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”
“The legal battle against segregation is won, but the community battle goes on.”
“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”
“Words are as strong and powerful as bombs, as napalm.”
I’ve seen this short clip in the past, but can’t remember if I previously posted it here or not. Anyhow, I just came across it again on Facebook and thought I’d share it for the end of this year and the beginning of the next. Though I find this very inspiring, it’s title is a little off-putting, I think….Life = Risk. Life, I also believe does not always have to be a risk. It’s often scary and overwhelming at times (to me), but still incredibly rich and beautiful…at least this is how I’m feeling the moment I type these words (now I just need to carry the feeling into the new year). I hope you take the time to watch the short video.
“There are two ways to look at life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is.”