I find this to be Contemplation time. A time of turning inward and reassessing. Christmas time is about a sense of excitement and life and hope with a big focus on the aspect of birth and new light and new beginnings.
I feel this is a time of letting go, shedding, the death aspect, before a time of renewal. A renewal that is tinged with loss and sacrifice.
I know we’ve talked about this one before, but it’s such a nice way of turning inward that I wanted to come back to it. So this may have a familiar feel.
This was first reflected on after a training I had been at. The question had come up: how do we know what is right and what is wrong? How do we know what is good and what is bad?
The background on this reflection was that we were talking about one of the yogic texts. The Bhagavad Gita where Arjuna the Archer is about to shoot the arrow that will start the war. It is a war that will pit family against family. The war can not begin until he shoots the arrow and Arjuna finds himself in crisis. He knows what starting the war will mean and he is struggling with the implications of that. But, he’s a warrior. It’s his duty to protect the people who can not protect themselves. He also, conveniently, happens to have God right beside him to tell him exactly what he is supposed to do.
God says: Arjuna you are a warrior. It is your duty to protect your people against injustice. Jesus has God; he is God. He is a minister, a teacher, to the people. It is his duty to cultivate peace and love.
What about the rest of us? Perhaps, as our psalm reading tells us, we do have God/Jesus walking with us. We need only to quiet our mind and listen to the answers being whispered.
How do we know what is right and what is wrong? How do we know what is good and what is bad? Most of us don’t have God standing right beside us, without a doubt, telling us exactly what to do. How do we know if what we are doing is right or wrong? How do we know if it is what God would ask of us or whether we have strayed into human mistakes or confusion.
We are not cast into roles of warrior or minister with clearly defined actions that go along with that. We can be anything. We can do our good work through action, devotion and love, immersion in the world, retreat out of the world, through study or teaching. How do we know what is our calling? What is right or wrong for us?
My teacher asked: what is your Goal? What is your Ultimate Life’s Goal? Know this. Know this concretely and truly and then whenever the question of right and wrong comes up, come back to your Goal. Does whatever you are questioning lead you toward your goal or away from it? Then simply do what leads toward your goal.
He didn’t even make this a profound spiritual thing. He said if your goal is to make money in this life, then every action your do should be toward that goal. If you want to be an artist as your life goal, then every action should lead toward your art. There were no rules, except to know what it is truly that you are meant to be or do. The catch: Truth. Be honest and true to your Self.
It was simple. I’m a chronic goal setter. One resolution? Nah, I’ve got twenty or more. More chance of success. Less glaring failure. I color code them by importance. I’m perfectly happy outgrowing goals and setting new ones. When my teacher said to write it down, I pulled out a pen (a special one, this is a special goal) and a blank sheet of paper, right then and there, no time like the present to get started.
Then I thought…goodness. This isn’t like writing down: I will walk one mile every day or I will not eat potato chips. This is like, for real, concrete, important spiritual stuff. How does one write this down? WHAT does one write down?
I had to laugh at myself, because so many people struggle with writing down goals and dreams for one reason or another and I always tell them: it’s paper. You can cross it out, scribble it out, throw it away, burn it. It’s not etched in stone. You change. Goals change. Just write it down and don’t make a big deal out of it. It if changes…change it. Ebb and flow with your life. And here…I was hesitating.
Then my second thought was: what is it that I want to write down? What IS my life’s ultimate goal?
The Dalai Lama says: my religion is human kindness. That’s his ultimate goal: to spread kindness. Pope Francis’s Goal is renewing the church by confronting the real needs of people in need.
Worthy. Beautiful. Are they mine? Not sure. Maybe elements of them, but is my goal purely human kindness or serving people in need? I don’t know? I don’t know.
What is my ultimate goal? What is your ultimate goal?
I read an article that I thought was so lovely, I’d dogeared the page and made a note in my head to remember to share it from here. I’m always intrigued by how life throws you more answers and questions when you open something up or head in a certain direction. It, without me knowing it, led right into this question of right and wrong. I didn’t even put two and two together until I started writing this.
In the first paragraph the writer quotes her teacher who said:
“Your religion is the set of beliefs passed down to you from the church. Your spirituality, your faith, is something you create based on your commitments and ultimate concerns. You have to know what you are committed to in order to have your faith mean anything.”
I loved this because so many people say: I am not religious, but I am spiritual. What does that mean? It seems to mean something different for many, but it’s not passive. Ir shouldn’t be passive. It boils down to: know your ultimate goal and every action you take leads to that ultimate goal. A goal perhaps given to you by God? Spirit? Universe? Your own heart? Out of your personal relationship to Jesus?
Does it matter if this goal is a gift from God or something you know in your own heart? Is that the same thing? Do we even know what it is? Could we write it down in a simple sentence? What are you so committed to that it does not change? There’s personal reflection space in your order of service (no time like the present to get started).
Fortunately the article offered up a few bits of advice.
–Let go. Let go of anything that no longer suits you so that you can be honest and true. I feel like the Lenten season is here to give us space for this shedding, letting go, and sacrifice. It’s not really about the chocolate. Explore. I would even suggest writing down the first ideas that come to you and then keep on writing to see what comes up. Keep coming back to: is this honest and true for me? Explore and allow your spirituality to reflect your ultimate goal. Be the author of your own spirituality and commit to your ultimate goal.
–Once you have affirmed your goals and commitments, practice. Your practice is what sustains your faith. What practices support you? Prayer? Sunday Service? Community? Solitude? Ritual?
Keep practicing. What is your goal and does each action you take, right or wrong decisions, each good or bad, lead you to your ultimate goals and commitments. Be open to tweaking your goal until it truly fits you. You have plenty of time, this whole life, in fact. Don’t get stuck. Ebb and flow to the changes of your own life and being.
You may find that your goal is, what you are committed to had not changed through your whole life. You may not have voiced it out loud, but it had always been there guiding you. You may have known what it was as a child. It may stay with you as you age.
My favorite statement of the whole thing: “There is no need to be right. There is nothing to defend. You are unique and your spirituality originates in that uniqueness.”
I find that this uniqueness in community cultivates a religion and a church. A garden of diversity, each flower blooming to its own uniqueness, it’s own splash of color and texture. Each flower contributing its gifts to the whole garden of faith and community. We are not meant to be cookie cutter perfect. We are not meant to be the same. We are meant to be a garden…
A few ways of Practicing:
Devotion and love: One person has a goal to give back to the earth and so the Heifer Project and community garden boxes.
Service: Another’s is to those in need and so we support families in need of oil, support the food bank. We serve on the many committees and projects that sustain the church.
Action: another’s is to cultivate community space to do good work, Dorcas, Potlucks, Fairs.
Study and Healing: Study groups, yoga, meditation, support groups (in all their many forms).
The people at the front lines, the faces we know all, and the faces we rarely see, but quietly serve.
A community in practice puts the spirituality of a group of people in a common setting. Those individual people and their goals, make up the common goals of the church. They become our collective ultimate goals. What are they? Look around you. What are your ultimate goals? What are the ultimate goals of the persons around you? Some may be obvious. Some…not so much. But these goals and commitments make up community faith and practice.
There are so many versions of what is your goal. Our poem is from the preface to the Leaves of Grass…This is what you shall do….