Tag Archives: Spirituality

Birthday Thoughts…

Birthday thoughts, but first this…

Joseph George was the father of George Joseph George
Who in turn became the father of Joseph Edward George
But at the same time was still the son of Joseph George
And Joseph Edward George became the father of Isaac Joseph George
But at the same time is still the son of George Joseph George
And also the grandson of Joseph George

More than 90 years ago Joseph George set foot in the great land of America. This was my grandfather. I don’t remember him as he passed away when I was very young. He and his much younger bride, Mary (my sitti, or grandmother), could neither read or write (as far as I know). They came to this country after beating the unbelievable odds of escaping the great Lebanese famine during WWI where hundreds of thousands perished at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. My grandparents had nine children, including their eldest son, George, my dad. He spoke Arabic before he spoke English (so I am told), as did his siblings. They didn’t learn English until they went to school. My dad, who by some politician’s definition would have been considered an “anchor baby,” went on to defend our country in WWII and was deaf in one ear because of it. He also married my mom, Marilyn (nee Enser), and would have four kids, including me. My dad didn’t speak Arabic to us kids, as he wanted us to be American. He worked hard, two or three jobs at a time to support his family, and paid his taxes. So here I am, an American. Separated from the “old country” by one generation. So why am I saying this? Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my middle age. But really it’s because of the recent events in Paris. It troubles me of the Islamophobia I’ve seen and heard since then, both blatant and not. Personally, I believe this comes from fear…fear of the unknown. Not all Muslims are Jihadists in the same way that not all Christians are akin to the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church. The Muslims that I know are peace-filled and family oriented. I remember the altar my grandmother had in her bedroom, which was just off the kitchen, where everyone always gathered. Being a devout Catholic, she had images of Jesus and Mary, and of course a cross. She also had a candle for my Uncle Raymond, who I never met. And later, I’m sure, a candle for my dad, who transitioned at such a young age. Once, when I was a young teenager and came there with my cousin with our two girlfriends—sisters—who had Muslim last names, she brought us all in to see her altar. And it’s interesting to think that I was slightly embarrassed at the time—that my grandmother had an altar in her room—as I now find myself with a small altar in my room. Another time, I remember being alone in the kitchen as a young boy, and seeing her on her knees praying, and crying. She of course was speaking in Arabic and I was too shy to ask her what she was saying. I can only imagine what my grandparents went through to assimilate into this country, in the same way immigrants are today. Today was my 54th birthday, and tonight two of my sisters, my son, and I went to Lebanese restaurant for dinner. We struggled with some of the words on the menu, but the flavors of the food were the same. There are so many good people that we sometimes forget this. Not just family and friends but people we work with or those we don’t know. The Statue of Liberty was of course given to us by the French, and it is also the first thing many of our ancestors saw when they arrived here. Yesterday President Obama reminded us that France was our oldest ally. A hundred years ago the face of our country changed drastically with the immigrants that arrived here, and today it is doing the same thing. My hope is that we don’t build a wall (one literal or a metaphorical one in our hearts) but we open our arms (and hearts and minds) with welcome. There is so much disconnect in the world that now is the time for solidarity, both in our own country and elsewhere. I see so many people posting on Facebook about the evils of religion, and rightly so…there has been so much bad done in the name of religion, but there is also so much good done, too. Religion in itself is not the enemy, nor are people different than us. Darkness may hover for a while, but it in itself cannot make a room dark. One can bring light into a darkened room and make it light, but darkness cannot remove that light. My hope is that we become that light, are that light. All of us. And this is what I was thinking on a seasonably chilly ride home from a restaurant tonight. Peace be upon you.

Thoughts from a pew…

My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.
~Jimmy Carter
I sat in a pew this morning, the first time in more than a month. I’m not sure why it’s been this long without attending the church which I love, but it has. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t been to worship since then. I like to think that I worship the Divine (or God, or Universe, or Spirit, or whatever name you feel most comfortable with) on a daily basis. I worship this Presence when I ride my bike, for example, and when I take photos, and when I have a meaningful interaction with someone, be it a friend, family, co-worker, or complete stranger. I also worship this Presence when I lay in bed in the morning just after the alarm goes off and it’s the beginning of a new day. Because, to me, God is in all things (including you and I) and is, in fact, what makes each one of us connected to and inseparable from not only each other in some indescribable way, but also the very source (or consciousness) from which we came and will return. So today I worshiped the Divine more formally, in church. And it felt good.

The guest preacher spoke on the Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books in the New Testament and is attributed to James the brother of Jesus. It’s a somewhat small book but has a powerful and straightforward message. Some say it is a blueprint for daily living. Personally, it has had a profound effect on me and I return to it often. To me, the book is a synopsis of what Christianity at it’s core is about…not just having faith in a Higher Power, but having action as well.

Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” 
James 2:17

This morning, before leaving the house, as I was having coffee and scrolling through Facebook I came across a photo of Hungarian citizens lining a highway with crates of food and other necessities. They were just average citizens and not affiliated with any government organization. They were lining the highway with food because they knew that soon, very soon, there would be thousands of refugees walking that road. The image was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.

Humans helping other humans is faith in action. But it goes beyond that, I think. Because this is something that is written on each of our hearts, whether or not you have faith in anything, or whether or not you care to admit it. Deep down each of us knows this.

Inversely, a judge denying other humans of a very basic right because of “her religion” is not faith at all. And deep down—somewhere beneath the crust of her hardened heart—she knows this too. But she will not allow herself to see it. If she did read the scriptures of her so called religion she would see that Jesus spoke of inclusiveness, not exclusivity.

Prior to the preacher’s sermon this morning, a deacon read from the Book of Matthew…

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.
Matthew 7:12a

What’s interesting, I think is that this statement—which is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule—is stated in many variations in nearly every major religion and spiritual movement. Jesus himself says this rather bluntly at the end of the statement…“For this sums up the law of the profits.” Matthew 7:12b

Here’s a few examples…

Judaism: Love your neighbor as yourself. 
Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. 
Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others. 
Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. 
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. 
Native American: Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself. 

Then, during worship this morning, as the congregation stood and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison, it moved me as it often does. The words themselves move me, but so does the thought of so many others around the globe saying this prayer (possibly at that same moment). I hope that some of us—myself included—listened to what we were saying, letting the words sink in and take root.

Last year when I was in NYC I witnessed something I will never forget. A homeless man asked a person to buy him a hotdog from a street vender because he was hungry. The person he asked (wearing a suit) not only bought him food, but he bought himself some as well and then sat on the sidewalk and ate with the man. To me that was not only worship, it was holy communion (Namaste…the soul within me acknowledges the soul within you).

Just being nice to one another—and seeing each person as an equal—can make such a difference in someone’s day (including your own). It’s not always easy but it is possible. When I write these things I am doing so because sometimes they just need to come out, but mostly because I need reminders for myself. And in a way, this in itself, I suppose, is a form of worship, and when you read this we are in sanctuary together.

And this is what I was thinking about as I sat in a pew on a hot and humid Sunday morning in September.

My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness.
~The Dalai Lama 

Urban Simplicity.

A dream I dreamt…


“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

~Mark 8:29

So a few things. One is the image above. It is one of Rembrandt’s Faces of Jesus. This is one of eight in a series, I’ve read. I’ve also read that the artist only kept two of his own paintings in his bedroom, and this is one of them. He depicted Jesus wearing workman’s clothing of the day. Beautiful. Moving. But what does this have to do with a dream that I dreamt, I’ll talk about that in a minute.

I also find it interesting that in this day if a person mentions that they are “spiritual” it can be considered cool, or if they say they are a Buddhist it doesn’t raise many eyebrows. But if they say they are a Christian they are often associated with the right wing (and I couldn’t be the farthest thing from it). But this doesn’t actually surprise me given the so many actions that people sometimes do. But to me Christianity is so deep and it’s breadth so rich; to me it goes far deeper than the children’s Sunday School stories that are still often taught to adults. To me Christianity is a movement of the heart, a way to live…it’s a mystical religion. And while I really am fascinated by most of the major religions, Christianity is the one I was raised in and the one I am most comfortable with. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to see the Dalai Lama speak and one of the things he said (and I’m paraphrasing) was to stay with the religion of your birth, that they all speak the same truth. He went on to say that if you don’t see it simply look deeper and you will find it.

With this said I have—as an adult—often struggled with who Jesus actually was/is. I won’t expound too much on this at this point—because I could go on for many boring pages—but I will just add that the original Christianity was all inclusive, not exclusive. It was, and still is, about changing ones heart and mind—looking inward then reaching outward—to connect with God and your fellow human, which are one in the same. On a bit of a side note, one of the original definitions of the sometimes scary word “repent” was to “turn around” or more loosely, to have a change of heart and look at life differently, more compassionately. But a compassionate mystic is difficult to control, thus the reason for the invention of hell, damnation, and needed salvation (which is all an invention of the early church in my opinion). Oh geeze, sorry, off on a crazy tangent. Maybe my current week-long summer respiratory/head cold (which is on it’s last leg) and the fact that I’m sitting in a cafe having a beer has lead me to this point. Anyhow, I digress. I’ll finish this brief section with this…I call myself a Christian in that I attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth, the best that I can (of which I usually fail miserably each day but tomorrow is a new day for improvement). I don’t believe in hell, damnation, or any of that scary stuff…it’s all metaphor and it’s all Good (yes, the “g” in good is consciously capitalized). But, before I finally get to my dream that I dreamt, I have to offer this disclaimer that I usually do when I write about my beliefs…if you are a literalist or someone who takes the Sunday School stories as truth, that’s fine, but if you are feeling the need to save my soul or send me hate mail please don’t as I am just fine. Thank you. Now here’s my dream (finally).

Like everyone, I suppose, I’ve had intense realer-than-real dreams a few times in my life—to the point that they seem prophetic (one which I had some years ago was, I’m convinced, a vision of sorts, but is too personal to share here or anywhere; it was just for me). And why do I write about this? I’m not sure; it just needs to come out. Anyhow, here it is.

I “awaken” into the dream standing on the edge of a small crowd of people. We are outside, maybe in a garden or low-growing orchard; there’ a stone wall to the right. And sort of in front of the crowd is a man carrying a sign; it’s a portrait, maybe a painting. I didn’t initially recognize the portrait the man was carrying but the look in his eyes (on the portrait, not the man carrying it) was compassion. So much love and compassion. I ached, that’s the only way I can describe it. Though that is not accurate enough. The man that was carrying this portrait was saying something but I couldn’t hear him. And at one point he turns his back to the crowd and looks at me. Our eye’s lock and he’s still talking but I still can’t hear him, or maybe I just don’t understand. We seem to recognize each other but I’m not sure from where. Then he turns to face the crowd again. And now, with his back to me, I hear him (which I thought was odd). And he’s saying…”This is Yeshua. No matter what your beliefs they are not right or not wrong. Know what’s in your heart. Yeshua’s life is his message.” And then it occurred to me that the image he was carrying was that of Jesus (Yeshua, of course, is his name in Aramaic).

And then the man that was speaking and carrying the image of Jesus, who still had his back to me, simply said, “Know the truth.” and with that he turned around and faced me again. And this time when I looked at him I could see that the person holding the sign and speaking was in fact me. And with that I awoke with a start, gasping—slightly—for air, from the summer upper respiratory cold, but also from the dream I just dreamt. 

Urban Simplicity.

A Poem by Edwina Gateley…

 Photos taken at Buffalo Harbor 7.12.15

Let Your God Love You

Be silent.

Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

Let your God
Love you.

Urban Simplicit

A Poem by Edwina Gateley…

 Photos taken at Buffalo Harbor 7.12.15
Let Your God Love You

Be silent.
Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

Let your God
Love you.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or eleven quotes from Alan Watts…

Alan Wilson Watts
6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”

“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.”

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

“When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.”

More Five Quotes.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or eleven quotes from Alan Watts…

Alan Wilson Watts
6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”

“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.”

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

“When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.”

More Five Quotes.
Urban Simplicity.      

Words, titles, and sounds…

Oh no, I’ve said too much.

I haven’t said enough.”

~Michael Stipe

Losing My Religion

So these writings (ramblings) began sort of as notes to myself…a way to record, aknowledge, and even monitor myself as I attempt to simplify my life. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should share what I do…if my sometimes seemingly aimless and meandering words will be of interest or even any meaning to anyone but me. But still I do it, and I’m not sure why. Sometimes it just has to come out. Anyhow, here’s another story, and a rather personal one.

One year ago today I was standing in front of an altar and in front of about 1500 people, along with 60 of my classmates, at Riverside Church in NYC. We were graduating from a two year seminary program from One Spirit Learning Alliance. The director of the program announced each one of us to the public, and when she said my name it gave me goosebumps; it was the first time I heard someone say, the Reverend Joe George. I can still feel the moment deeply when I recall it.

I recall the moment so deeply not because of the title. I’ve always found titles a bit silly, and have in fact recently taken a job where for the first time in 26 years my job title is cook, not chef (but more on that later). The reason I was so moved at that very moment is that I was so proud of myself and my classmates for having completed the program. Many of the students lived in the NYC area, some attended class part-time and via webinar, and others—like myself—commuted to the city for one weekend each month.

Mostly I entered seminary for personal reasons and being an ordained minister was not the main reason. I was so proud of myself because I had managed to do this while working full-time as a chef. I almost didn’t enroll and flip-flopped about it for a couple years before actually doing so. And I can still remember the day when I sat in meditation questioning it and was told (not through a voice but intuition…an inner voice) that if I really wanted to do this I could, that doors would be opened. And they were.

And so, as I stood in the front of that incredibly awe-inspiring church one year ago today I was both exhilarated and exhausted. Twenty-two trips to NYC (mostly by train) in twenty-four months had depleted me financially and exhausted me emotionally and spiritually. The inner work that was required of us had quite literally turned me inside out. I was raw. And while standing there hearing the director announce each one of us, and as she came closer down the row of people towards me, I glanced around at my classmates and some had tears trickling down their cheeks but we were all beaming; we were glowing.

I’m not sure what I expected after graduation. I was already middle-aged and three-decades into a culinary career when I entered the program. Did I want or expect to work as a minister in the traditional sense? No, of course not, I knew that. But I wanted this to change me and open me to new possibilities. And in many ways it has. As I’ve gotten older my priorities have changes, but I suppose this is common with a lot of people. Still though, this past year has been difficult financially, spiritually, and emotionally. But the one thing I have learned is that most things will work themselves out and that everything really will be ok, even if it doesn’t seem it at times. I’ve also come to realize that “things” mean less and less to me, but experience and relationship means more (and more and more). But now I’m rambling so I’ll try to tie this together with some relevance to the above note.

The day we stood in front of everyone at the church was our graduation, but we were ordained in a private ceremony at a retreat center upstate along the Hudson two nights prior. One of our ordination requirements was to write our own vow which we would take and say aloud. We were asked to make them brief. I wanted to make it as personal as I could and my initial one was about three or four sentences, then we were asked to condense and distill them down to one sentence, two at the most. I found this to be more difficult than writing the original version. But I digress.

Two days ago I was having a rough day…nothing major, just “one of those days.” Everyone has them now-and-again, I suppose. I had gone up to my room to do a few basic asanas, which I do as a spiritual practice but mostly to relieve lower back pain. It was warm outside and I had the windows open and a fan on to create a cross-breeze. And as I was preparing for my stretches the breeze blew a piece of paper across the floor directly in front of me. I’m not sue where I came from exactly (probably from on top of one of my messy dressers) but I am convinced it was something I needed to see.

At the retreat center we were required to stand in front of everyone and speak our vows aloud to the class, our deans, and into the universe. We had to speak into a microphone, which always makes me nervous. So I wrote out my vow on a little scrap of paper so I wouldn’t forget the words out of stage fright. Words, I’ve come to think, carry so much weight when spoke aloud. The most obvious Christian example of this comes from the Gospel of John…”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and Word was God. In Hinduism the word (sound) Om is considered the original vibration sent forth as the beginning of creation. But again I digress.

So on this recent day, as the scrap of paper rolled in front of me I picked it up and threw it in a small trash basket nearby. But as I did I noticed my own handwriting on it, so I retrieved it to see what it said. When I opened it I shivered. To my surprise it was the very note that held the words that I spoke aloud to the universe on that very day one year prior. Was this just a coincidence or a Jungian synchronicity? Who knows, but it certainly was something I was meant to (re)see. This scrap of paper likely sat on a dresser for a year. I’ve had the windows open and fan on many times since then, but it was at this time that it was redelivered to me. I spoke those words aloud and one year later they came back as a reminder. A reminder of so many things. But mostly, I think it was meant to remind me that things do work themselves out and that everything is okay and that I (and you and all of us) are in the very spot that we are meant to be, even if we don’t realize it or if it doesn’t feel “”right.” I’ve also come to think of life as a sort of journey—sort of like one lesson stacked on top of another—and today, just like tomorrow and the day after and the day before, are all part of that journey.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

~Philippians 4:8

Words, titles, and sounds…

Oh no, I’ve said too much.
I haven’t said enough.” 
~Michael Stipe
Losing My Religion

So these writings (ramblings) began sort of as notes to myself…a way to record, aknowledge, and even monitor myself as I attempt to simplify my life. Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should share what I do…if my sometimes seemingly aimless and meandering words will be of interest or even any meaning to anyone but me. But still I do it, and I’m not sure why. Sometimes it just has to come out. Anyhow, here’s another story, and a rather personal one.

One year ago today I was standing in front of an altar and in front of about 1500 people, along with 60 of my classmates, at Riverside Church in NYC. We were graduating from a two year seminary program from One Spirit Learning Alliance. The director of the program announced each one of us to the public, and when she said my name it gave me goosebumps; it was the first time I heard someone say, the Reverend Joe George. I can still feel the moment deeply when I recall it.

I recall the moment so deeply not because of the title. I’ve always found titles a bit silly, and have in fact recently taken a job where for the first time in 26 years my job title is cook, not chef (but more on that later). The reason I was so moved at that very moment is that I was so proud of myself and my classmates for having completed the program. Many of the students lived in the NYC area, some attended class part-time and via webinar, and others—like myself—commuted to the city for one weekend each month.

Mostly I entered seminary for personal reasons and being an ordained minister was not the main reason. I was so proud of myself because I had managed to do this while working full-time as a chef. I almost didn’t enroll and flip-flopped about it for a couple years before actually doing so. And I can still remember the day when I sat in meditation questioning it and was told (not through a voice but intuition…an inner voice) that if I really wanted to do this I could, that doors would be opened. And they were.

And so, as I stood in the front of that incredibly awe-inspiring church one year ago today I was both exhilarated and exhausted. Twenty-two trips to NYC (mostly by train) in twenty-four months had depleted me financially and exhausted me emotionally and spiritually. The inner work that was required of us had quite literally turned me inside out. I was raw. And while standing there hearing the director announce each one of us, and as she came closer down the row of people towards me, I glanced around at my classmates and some had tears trickling down their cheeks but we were all beaming; we were glowing.

I’m not sure what I expected after graduation. I was already middle-aged and three-decades into a culinary career when I entered the program. Did I want or expect to work as a minister in the traditional sense? No, of course not, I knew that. But I wanted this to change me and open me to new possibilities. And in many ways it has. As I’ve gotten older my priorities have changed, but I suppose this is common with a lot of people. Still though, this past year has been difficult financially, spiritually, and emotionally. But the one thing I have learned is that most things will work themselves out and that everything really will be okay, even if it doesn’t seem it at times. I’ve also come to realize that material things mean less and less to me, but experience and relationship means more (and more and more). But now I’m rambling so I’ll try to tie this together with some relevance to the above note.

The day we stood in front of everyone at the church was our graduation, but we were ordained in a private ceremony at a retreat center upstate along the Hudson two nights prior. One of our ordination requirements was to write our own vow which we would take and say aloud. We were asked to make them brief. I wanted to make it as personal as I could and my initial one was about three or four sentences, then we were asked to condense and distill them down to one sentence, two at the most. I found this to be more difficult than writing the original version. But I digress.

Two days ago I was having a rough day…nothing major, just “one of those days.” Everyone has them now-and-again, I suppose. I had gone up to my room to do a few basic asanas, which I do as a spiritual practice but mostly to relieve lower back pain. It was warm outside and I had the windows open and a fan on to create a cross-breeze. And as I was preparing for my stretches the breeze blew a piece of paper across the floor directly in front of me. I’m not sure where it came from exactly (probably from on top of one of my messy dressers) but I am convinced it was something I needed to see.

At the retreat center we were required to stand in front of everyone and speak our vows aloud to the class, our deans, and into the universe. We had to speak into a microphone, which always makes me nervous. So I wrote out my vow on a little scrap of paper so I wouldn’t forget the words out of stage fright. Words, I’ve come to think, carry so much weight when spoke aloud. The most obvious Christian example of this comes from the Gospel of John…”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and Word was God.” In Hinduism the word (sound) Om is considered the original vibration sent forth as the beginning of creation. But again I digress. 

Soon this recent day, as the scrap of paper rolled in front of me I picked it up and threw it in a small trash basket nearby. But as I did I noticed my own handwriting on it, so I retrieved it to see what it said. When I opened it I shivered. To my surprise it was the very note that held the words that I spoke aloud to the universe on that very day one year prior. Was this just a coincidence or a Jungian synchronicity? Who knows, but it certainly was something I was meant to (re)see. This scrap of paper likely sat on a dresser for a year. I’ve had the windows open and fan on many times since then, but it was at this time that it was delivered to me. I spoke those words aloud and one year later they came back as a reminder. A reminder of so many things. But mostly, I think it was meant to remind me that things do work themselves out and that everything is okay and that I (and you and all of us) are in the very spot that we are meant to be, even if we don’t realize it or if it doesn’t feel right. I’ve also come to think of life as a sort of journey—sort of like one lesson stacked on top of another—and today, just like tomorrow and the day after and the day before, are all part of that journey. 

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” 
 ~Philippians 4:8 

Urban Simplicity.

The lake at sunset (words and pictures)

I stood on the shore of the lake at sunset.

And beheld its beauty.

The sun set and the moon rose.

A cycle that the lake has known from the very beginning.

It was cold while the wind swept over me.

I had come to find solace; a reprieve from my daily life.

And I did.

I was on the farthest end of the lake in Buffalo.

Was this the same wind that also blew through Toledo, Cleveland, and Erie?

Seagulls seemingly hung in the air as they glided into it.

I tried to imagine this place before the European explorers.

Proud Iroquoians plying the water in canoes.

Living near the lake’s shore.

And what must the first Europeans have thought?

Surely they were in awe.

Just as I am still.

As the original natives were.

Reverence.

But did they feel this wind.

This same wind.

As it washed over me like a baptism.

Washing away my worries.

They must have; how could they not?

It is said that God whispers in the wind.

And tonight She was.

Urban Simplicity.

The lake at sunset (words and pictures)

I stood on the shore of the lake at sunset.
And beheld its beauty.
The sun set and the moon rose.
A cycle that the lake has known from the very beginning.
It was cold while the wind swept over me.
I had come to find solace; a reprieve from my daily life.
And I did.
I was on the farthest end of the lake in Buffalo.
Was this the same wind that also blew through Toledo, Cleveland, Erie?
Seagulls seemingly hung in the air as they glided into it.
I tried to imagine this place before European explorers.
Proud Iroquoians plying the water in canoes.
Living near the lake’s shore.
And what must the first Europeans have thought?
Surely they were in awe.
Just as I am still.
As the original natives were.
Reverence.
But did they feel this wind.
This same wind.
As it washed over me like a baptism.
Washing away my worries.
They must have; how could they not?
It is said that God whispers in the wind.
And tonight She was.

Urban Simplicity.

Five or ten (or eleven) quotes from Thomas Merton…

Image Found Here.

Thomas Merton, January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

Priest, mystic, monk, activist, writer, poet, and artist, Fr. Merton was a true renaissance man. He was friends with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, and a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Before his untimely death he penned a huge number of books pertaining to spirituality, poems, artwork, and an incredible and moving autobiography. His work continues to touch countless souls…including the one typing these words. I love the opening line to his autobiography, the Seven Story Mountain…“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadows of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.”  Thomas Merton was born 100 years ago this month; to read more about him click here or here.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” 

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

“I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me.”

“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” 

“The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.” 

“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.”

To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.

Urban Simplicity. 

Five or ten (or eleven) quotes from Thomas Merton…

Image Found Here.
Thomas Merton, January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

Priest, mystic, monk, activist, writer, poet, and artist, Fr. Merton was a true renaissance man. He was friends with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, and a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Before his untimely death he penned a huge number of books pertaining to spirituality, poems, artwork, and an incredible and moving autobiography. His work continues to touch countless souls…including the one typing these words. I love the opening line to his autobiography, the Seven Story Mountain…“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadows of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.”  Thomas Merton was born 100 years ago this month; to read more about him click here or here.

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” 

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

“I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me.”

“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” 

“The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.” 

“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.”

To read more in the Five Quotes series, click here.
Urban Simplicity. 

Paramahansa Yogananda’s Christmas Vow…

A Christmas Vow

I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness, now rusty with selfishness, indifference, and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection and discrimination. I will re model the cradle with the dazzling soul qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God-realization, will power, self-control, renunciation, and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”  —Paramahansa Yogananda

Urban Simplicity. 

A few photos, a few words, and a bit of synchronicity…

“Coincidences may seem strange, but they are never a result of caprice. They are orderly laws in the spiritual life of man [or women]. They affect and influence our lives profoundly.”
~Norman Vincent Peale

I went on a bike ride this morning through Buffalo’s East Side. This is not unusual, I do this relatively frequently as I enjoy the history. And some of my own family’s personal history as well. But I’m jumping ahead as I often do. All of these are shot on Genessee Street, which is a main corridor through the East side. Both sides of my family lived on streets off this street at some point. The image below is of the Baltimore Fish and Oyster Company, which one of my aunts operated in the 60’s and 70’s. And above is the small wooden church that my family–including me as an infant–worshiped at. Ahh, but I’m jumping ahead again. Sorry. I’ll start over. This morning I slept in and missed worship at the church of which I am currently a member. I had intended to go but it just didn’t happen. So I went out for coffee and did a bit of journaling. And as I wrote I reflected on how today–the second Sunday of Advent–was the anniversary of my returning to church regularly as an adult (it’s been 10 or 12 years I think). I don’t want to get into my personal stuff too greatly, but I was thinking of how finding my way to this church, particularly our meditation group, has had such an incredible effect on my life…and in many respects actually saved it. Anyhow, being in a reflective mood I thought I would go for a ride and take some photos. And then I found myself standing in front of the above church. As I stood peering through my view finder, it dawned on me that–given my birthday is in November–it was likely around this time that as an infant my parents first started to take me to church…this church. So after snapping a few photos and lowering the camera I stood there on this brisk December morning and pictured the neighborhood back then and my parents with their three little children entering the church (I am one of four…my younger sister would not have been born at this time). Alright, so I’ll cut to the chase. I thought of this on the ride home, and arriving there I checked some family records. As it turns out it was on this date 53 years ago that I was in fact Baptized in this church. So I can only ask myself (and the Universe), what led me to this church today to take photos…more than five decades after my baptism but on the same day. And what led me to my current church on this day 10 or 12 years ago. Anyhow, my head is starting to hurt. I’ll get of my New Age soapbox now. Enjoy the photos.

Urban Simplicity.

Thoughts on the 23rd Psalm…and what it means to me.

So I’ve been thinking about the 23rd Psalm a lot lately. I go through periods where it seems to bubble up from my subconscious. I’m not one to know bible passages by heart, but this one I do. Over the past decade or so it has, on various occasions, helped me a great deal.

This psalm—as with most of the bible, or any sacred text for that matter—I take as metaphor. I like to see how it translates to my life in this time in history, not what it may have meant two or three thousand years ago. This said, before I speak directly of this psalm I have to mention my views on who (or what) I think God is. Yup, I said the G-word and with a capital G.

My views are very personal (but aren’t everyone’s?) and may be out on the fringe for some, so if you are a literalist (meaning, you take the bible as the inherent and unfailing word of God) or if you have religious views that lean decidedly to the right, you may want to close this page right now and not read any further. But if you do continue to read on please do not send me hate mail or try to “save me.”

Ok, so I’ll get back to the big G…who, or more specifically what, God is to me? Well, I certainly do not think of Him as an old man with a white beard sitting up on a cloud somewhere looking down. And I’m conscious that I just used the gender-specific “Him” in the previous sentence. I do this out of habit, I suppose, just in the same way I use the word God for what I consider to be the Ultimate Reality. To me—in my heart—the word God is also interchangeable with Spirit, Divine Source, Universe, Indwelling Presence (just to name a few)…the list could go on. I really believe that the concept of God is incomprehensible to our human minds (though not necessarily our hearts) but at the same time It/He/She is all that there is. I believe this Ultimate Reality is in everything and is in fact everything and we are part of It and It is part of us and in some unfathomable way we as humans live and move within this Reality and are connected to each other and everything and everyone is connected to us and everything in It. In short, I believe there is nowhere we can go where this Reality is not.

Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.” 
Gospel of Thomas, saying 77

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” 
Psalm 139:7-8
For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” 
Bagavad Gita 6:30
And how do I personally know that God exists? I see It/He/She reflected back at me when I look in the eyes of another fellow human. I feel Her when I see a person moved to tears…I know It when I am moved to tears. He is present in my heart when I help another person or if I see another person helping another. The Universe speaks to me when I feel a gentle breeze or rain on my face as I ride my bike, or when, amazingly, plants push through the spring soil after one of the harshest winters I can remember. And I even know this Reality when one of my beautiful dogs looks up at me with unconditional love the way that a canine does. I could go on, but you likely get the picture. Do I feel or know this Presence in my life all of the time? No, of course not. I’m a work in progress (but we all are). And that’s why I need helpers like this psalm to remind me.

And one last thing before I talk directly about the 23rd Psalm…I have to mention the J-word. Yup…Jesus. Because I know that if I’ve kept your attention long enough to read this far then there are at least a couple of you who are wondering what my views are on Jesus. I will only touch briefly on him because I have thoughts in my head about what I’d like to write and it could go on for pages and I don’t want to bore you with it now (but probably will in a later post). And another quick suggestion…if you are a literalist and you made it this far this may really be the time to click another link and get out of this page.

Firstly I would just like to say that while I believe that the Divine Spirit is part of each one of us and that we are part of It in equal measure, no matter what our race, religious background, gender, sexual orientation, etc….there is One Spirit that permeates all things, but at the same time I consider myself a Christian. And by this I mean that I try to follow the teachings of Jesus the Christ as best I can (but usually fail miserably on a daily basis). Do I think he was the only begotten son of God…no. Do I believe he died for our sins…nope. I’m not even convinced he died a physical death on the cross. Then what do I believe, you may be wondering? I believe that he was a divinely-inspired teacher who was trying to tell us how to live and that the life he lived was an example…pure love and compassion. He was truly enlightened in the same way that the Buddha was, and that he was telling us that if we did what he did we too could find heaven in this lifetime. So there it is.

Sorry for the long ramble, here—finally—is how I view this psalm, and what it means to me. To sum it up in just a sentence, this psalm makes me remember what is real and important in life, and that even when things seem hopeless I still am connected to and inseparable from the same Divine Source as you and the next person, and that I have this Source within me to know that deep down everything is just as it should be. The psalm is in bold and my thoughts/interpretations are in italics, and I have to emphasize that these are simply my personal thoughts. I am not trying to force them on anyone. Thank you for reading this far.



Psalm 23 

The Lord is my shepherd,

(The Divine Presence is all that there is. It dwells within all things including myself, and it guides me.) 

I shall not be in want.

(I have everything I need in life, including more food than I can eat, clothing to wear, a house to live in, and the love of family and friends.) 

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

(Even though I am often tired and overworked and feel like there is no end in sight it is often an illusion, because I am allowed to take rests whenever I need to…sometimes it’s just a matter of turning inward. And when I do, through prayer, yoga, and meditation, I realize that I am on the shores of quiet waters.) 

He refreshes my soul.

(When I am at my most tired and stressed, when things seem hopeless, all I need is to remember the above three things and I can be refreshed. Turning inward and to remember what is really important in life.) 

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

(I am guided by intuition, or “gut feeling,” the goodness that each one of us has written on our hearts. All I have to do is listen. And little by little It guides me to become the person that I was meant to be.) 

Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

(Everyone has dark times—and I could write a book here, right?—but knowing that our Divine Source is with me always reminds me that there truly is nothing to fear. This, and the fact that I know I am in some sometimes incompressible or unknowing way being guided, comforts me.) 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

(The table is my life spread out before me—where I truly do have everything I need—and my enemies are internal (fear, selfishness, envy, etc), and these can be overcome.) 

You anoint my head with oil;

(Because I, like each one of us, is a welcome guest at this time allotted for me on earth.) 

My cup overflows.

(I may not have everything I “want” but I surely have more than I truly need. My cup (life) is literally overflowing with goodness.) 

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

(Life really is what you make it. If I offer goodness and love, then goodness and love are returned to me. All I have to do is be open and allow it to happen). 

and I will dwell in the house of the Lordforever.

(Yes, I am a Christian that believes in reincarnation. Thus, I have been connected to this same Source—and probably you too—in previous incarnations, this current one, and those to come. And I could go on about this, but I won’t) 

Amen.

14 Quotes from the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

“Silence is sometimes the best answer” 

“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” 

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” 

“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” 

“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”  

Click here to go to the Dalai Lama’s website. 

More in the Five Quotes series.

14 Quotes from the 14th Dalai Lama

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

.

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”

.
“Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.”
.
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
.
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
.
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
.
“Silence is sometimes the best answer” 
.
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” 
.
“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
.
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” 
.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
.
“If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.” 
.
“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”
.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”  

Click here to go to the Dalai Lama’s website. 

More in the Five Quotes series.

A sort of churchy sort of environmental post (but not really, but maybe)

Okay. So if you’ve been to this blog before then you know a few things about me. One, of course, is that I like to ride bikes, a lot. Another is that I like to bake bread. And likely another thing you know about me–though it may not come across quite as overtly–is that my spiritual life is very important to me. I am a deacon in my church and am in fact attending a part-time inter-faith seminary and, if all things go as planned (fingers crossed), I will be an ordained interfaith minister this coming June. The reason I mention this is that I recently came across this suggested carbon fast for Lent, which begins next week. But I’m jumping ahead as I sometimes do. I really believe that if you are on a spiritual path (or not) it is nearly almost impossible not to care for the planet. For me spirituality and environmentalism are inseparable, as is the care for our fellow humans…no matter what background, skin color, gender, or sexuality preference. We are, in my eyes, all one people. It’s for this reason I am proud to be a member of the denomination, The United Church of Christ (UCC), which is in fact one of the most liberal and progressive denominations, if not the most. Anyhow, as Lent approaches I have been thinking of what discipline I would take up (I am not in the mindset of just “giving something up” for the sake of giving it up, I’d rather add something in return, such as an activity or spiritual discipline that can enhance my inner life). Anyhow, I came across this carbon fast and thought it was a pretty good idea (though I do some of these things already). Here’s an excerpt from the post…

“During this year’s Lenten season, members of Honolulu’s Church of the Crossroads United Church of Christ will leave their cars at home and instead walk, bike or use public transportation one day per week. They will pledge to start a garden or shop at local farmer’s markets more often this spring. They will wash the majority of their laundry in cold water, and advocate on behalf of energy conservation and renewable energy policies.”

Anyone, of course, can take this personal pledge. If you sign up you will get an email every day offering small suggestions to lower your carbon footprint on this planet that we all call home. Anyhow, in the event you missed the link, here it is again

Urban Simplicity.

A sort of churchy sort of environmental post (but not really, but maybe)

Okay. So if you’ve been to this blog before then you know a few things about me. One, of course, is that I like to ride bikes, a lot. Another is that I like to bake bread. And likely another thing you know about me–though it may not come across quite as overtly–is that my spiritual life is very important to me. I am a deacon in my church and am in fact attending a part-time inter-faith seminary and, if all things go as planned (fingers crossed), I will be an ordained interfaith minister this coming June. The reason I mention this is that I recently came across this suggested carbon fast for Lent, which begins next week. But I’m jumping ahead as I sometimes do. I really believe that if you are on a spiritual path (or not) it is nearly almost impossible not to care for the planet. For me spirituality and environmentalism are inseparable, as is the care for our fellow humans…no matter what background, skin color, gender, or sexuality preference. We are, in my eyes, all one people. It’s for this reason I am proud to be a member of the denomination, The United Church of Christ (UCC), which is in fact one of the most liberal and progressive denominations, if not the most. Anyhow, as Lent approaches I have been thinking of what discipline I would take up (I am not in the mindset of just “giving something up” for the sake of giving it up, I’d rather add something in return, such as an activity or spiritual discipline that can enhance my inner life). Anyhow, I came across this carbon fast and thought it was a pretty good idea (though I do some of these things already). Here’s an excerpt from the post…

“During this year’s Lenten season, members of Honolulu’s Church of the Crossroads United Church of Christ will leave their cars at home and instead walk, bike or use public transportation one day per week. They will pledge to start a garden or shop at local farmer’s markets more often this spring. They will wash the majority of their laundry in cold water, and advocate on behalf of energy conservation and renewable energy policies.”

Anyone, of course, can take this personal pledge. If you sign up you will get an email every day offering small suggestions to lower your carbon footprint on this planet that we all call home. Anyhow, in the event you missed the link, here it is again

Urban Simplicity.