OPINIONS IN TIMES OF TROUBLE

Protesters

There is a lot happening in the world right now: terrorist attacks and mass shootings, major elections and economic moves. There is a lot in the public eye at the moment, much of it troubling. And right now, everyday citizens are not only clinging to their opinions, but flinging them about for all to see.

It is quite natural to take stock of one’s personal beliefs when values and morals are being discussed on the public stage. It is important to have a good sense of where you stand, lest you get swept away with popular or tempting notions. Moreover, taking refuge in one’s beliefs can be comforting and strengthening when it seems the world has gone mad. The world doesn’t seem so big and overwhelming if you have a sense as to where you fit into it. In these respects, on the individual level, opinions are beneficial in providing a strong sense of self.

Opinions on politics, economics and personal finance, or religion can become more than opinions, but totems and integral elements of identity. This is where the flinging comes into play. The strong sense of individualism in Western culture makes identity building especially important. Our opinions are chief components of our identity. And of course identity is not only for oneself, but for others to have some understanding of you; however simplistic or shallow this understanding may be. While identity helps to distinguish and set one apart, it also helps one find community. Identity, at least the portion we choose to make visible, helps others identify with us and vise versa. Helping us form tight knit communities of like-minded people to again carve out our place in the world, providing comfort.

Some opinions are especially powerful such as spiritual beliefs or notions of life purpose. No matter what one believes in, God, science, divine order, chaos, free will, fate: any stance on this topic has the ability to transform from a mere thought or opinion to become part of a person. They are of a personal nature and deeply rooted, ergo they are very difficult to change. But in times of upheaval and unrest such as these, people hold onto their beliefs so strongly that they begin to thrust their beliefs outward at others just as strongly. And so it seems opinions come out of the woodwork in these crazy times. As annoying as this can be there are personal benefits that come with this flood of opinions. People are simply trying to create their ideal world. And in troubling times that’s the best any of us can do.

A SPECTACULAR SUMMER SOLSTICE

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If anything marries the mundane and divine together, its nature. The natural world is full of magic, wonder, and holiness. Perhaps what nature is, is as important as what nature is not. When dealing exclusively with the natural world the hustle, bustle, and busyness of daily life are nowhere to be found. The complexity of language and culture is of little use. All the structures civilization clings to, are gone. Nature gets at the building blocks of life, the essentials of divinity.

There is no better time than the summer solstice to reflect on how intermingled the mundane and divine are. The solstice marks the season of summer, and the sun drenched days bring joy. It is a time of warmth and earthly abundance. But even as I soak up these solstice rays, I cannot help to think about the winter solstice. I find myself marveling at this amazing balancing act, the rhythm of the seasons, a pendulum swinging between these extremes. The precarious harmony of this world that we call nature, is extraordinary. While the summer solstice is amazing in its own right, to me it is one great example of many to speak to how awesome our world is.

I hope you took some time to explore the wonder and joy of the summer solstice yesterday. Also widen your lens and take stock of the interconnected ease with which the natural world operates and provides for us. This beautiful design and great balancing act should be regarded with reverence. Tis the season to take prayer and meditation outdoors where nothing stands between you and our naturally divine world.

Happy Summer!

WALKING TWO WORLDS: A BATTLE OF THE HOURS

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It’s now been two months since the rector of my small, Episcopalian church took a new assignment. Since then some duties have been redirected, while others have gone neglected. In these two months I have seen new passion and commitment spring forth in some. But I also see the bulk of the work continue to fall on one core group of people. And in these two months I’ve seen them grow tired.

We had a meeting this past Sunday to take stock of the situation, hear out a potential solution, and identify areas that need attention from church members in the meantime. To make do until we find some new form of leadership, additional responsibility is put on the lay people to make decisions, coordinate the congregation, and be the feet on the ground to keep the church running. In some ways this has been difficult as it is no longer anyone’s ‘job’ to run the church. When asking for more help or more commitment, some were ready to sign up, while others were left shaking their heads. Many of these were the working people. Shaking their heads as to how they would find more hours in the week.

Spending a large amount of time in the secular realm to make a living can make ‘voluntary’ spiritual involvement difficult. I fully believe it is possible and satisfying to live in both the secular and religious realms, but finding the time can be a challenge. I am working to do this, and lately have been coming to the end of the day too quickly. I am feeling the challenge and I am not alone. With strong commitments to both areas of life, it becomes a battle to see which will get the time. At least for now, the battle of the hours rages on.

 

I’d love to hear about these challenges in your life. How do you juggle it all? Comments welcome below!

FINDING SANCTUARY & TAKING REFUGE

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The words ‘sanctuary’ and ‘refuge’ bring to mind images of heavy doors and high walls. But it does not have to be so. Simpler and smaller notions can have the same effect. For the first time, I am living without parents, partners, or roommates. The privacy makes an ordinary apartment a sanctuary. No rural, mountain top hide-away necessary. It’s nothing special to look at, but to me it is a haven of comfort. Last winter I went on a silent retreat. Despite being surrounded by many others, the silence provided seclusion and the chance for introspection. But it could be simpler yet: finding sanctuary in a warm bath, or taking refuge in a hot cup of tea. The key is to seek refuge in these places. In order for these ordinary acts to become opportunities for escape, personal discovery or growth, they must be approached mindfully.

Without applied meaning, a sanctuary is just four walls. Having an apartment to oneself could be lonely rather than comforting. Silence could be empty, peaceful, eerie, or devastating. But it can only be a refuge if that is what one is seeking. Finding sanctuary or taking refuge takes intention, as does any spiritual act. And thus by choice, the line between mundane and divine is blurred. Or perhaps the line between these notions is already blurred in their natural state, and the intention works to resist secularism from creating ridged boundaries between the mundane and divine. The next time you pick up a cup of tea (or coffee, whatever your poison), make it slow and deliberate. Pick up the cup, feel the warmth in your hand, breathe in the steam, let the scent linger on your tongue before the first sip. See how a little ritual can bring the mundane and divine together in your life.