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Posts tagged ‘Uncluttering the Spirit’

Be Content and Release

Some wisdom from two spiritually grounded human beings, one from the East and one from the West.

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.–Lao Tzu

Simply and beautifully stated.

God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by a process of subtraction.  —Meister Eckhart

Spending Ourselves on that Which Satisfies

This week a Rolling Stones song has been playing on continuous loop in my head.  “I can’t get no satisfaction.  But I try, and I try, and I try, and I try…”  The fact that it is haunting me probably says more about the number (in the thousands, I’m sure) of times I’ve heard it than the relevance of the song to our discussion about uncluttering our spirits.

The scripture we will be looking at this week comes from the portion of the book of Isaiah many biblical scholars attribute to second Isaiah.  And yes, there is a tie between the ‘ Stones and Isaiah!  This poet/prophet asks a question that is as relevant to us in our day and time as it was then:

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

This timeless question leads to another:  “What is it that really satisfies us?”

I think many of us would agree that dissatisfaction at the end of the day is not uncommon. Maybe the bigger question is do we continue to spend ourselves on that which doesn’t satisfy our souls? And when do we begin to pay attention enough to notice that we are not satisfied?

First Sunday in Lent: Wandering in the Wilderness

On this first Sunday in Lent, we meet up with Jesus, just after he has been baptized, roaming around in the “wilderness.” For him, the wilderness was desert – arid and barren, sand, stone, brush and scrub. But what he meets in that barren landscape is the clutter of his own spirit, told in the form of temptations offered to him that he had to work his way through. It’s a testing moment, one that would set the tone for the rest of the ministry he would do. A moment of sorting through desires, priorities, beliefs, competing commitments and possibilities of whom he could become.

Lent begins by inviting us to create our own “wilderness moment,” to carve out a space that provides enough room for us to take a long and bold look at what clutters our hearts and spirits. It’s as if we walk into a darkened room, filled with “stuff,” and flip on the light, taking a long and searching gaze at all that is keeping us feeling separate, distant from God, overwhelmed.

When you flip on the light, when you wander out into your wilderness, what do you encounter?

Dust to Dust

“Yahweh formed the human, of dust from the soil, and blew into that one’s nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being.” (Genesis 2: 7, translation adapted from Everett Fox)

“To Adam, Yahweh said:
. . . By the seat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the soil, for from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust shall you return.” (Genesis 3:17;19, trans. By Fox)

These two snippets are taken from the same creation story in Genesis. Adam/the human is created from adama/the soil. And that’s a good thing – there is an inherent oneness, we might even say an inherent “is-ness” about all of creation, including humankind. But the story goes on. Stuff happens. Estrangement, longing and desire, alienation. One short chapter later, Adam, Eve, and the wily Serpent are all in trouble, each receiving bad news from the Creator. The second passage above is from the tail- end of what has become known as “The Curse of Adam,” in which he finds out that he will have to sweat and toil in order to survive. Throughout much of history, theologians have understood the final line, “For you are dust, and to dust shall you return,” as the climax of the curse – the ultimate blow.

But what if it isn’t a curse at all, but the ultimate blessing? A reminder that, after all we’ve been through, we came from something beyond our own small “story of I” (Joan Halifax) that has captured most of our attention, and we return to being part of creation. What if the estrangement, alienation, drama and intrigue of this world not really the “stuff” we are made of after all? Perhaps the ashes of our personal failures, our grief and anger, of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams, mix with the very dust of the earth itself, and we find our way back through the layers of clutter that have long separated us from ourselves.

To know that we are dust is to know what we were made of before, and to know to whence we are returning — everyone, eventually, once again. The contemplation of this simple truth invites us to a place of living larger, deeper, and with more spaciousness – beyond what clutters up our days. It invites us to come home to a new place, one that both embraces and propels us beyond our own personal sufferings, cleanly-swept with hope and possibility.

Question: What kind of dust are you made of?

Another Take on Ashes . . .

More “fun facts” about the ashes that we use on Ash Wednesday . . . They are traditionally made by burning the palms from Palm Sunday the year before. Historically, ashes were symbols of mourning – of acknowledging loss. They were also a symbol of acknowledgment and sorrow for those moments when we have “missed the mark,” symbols of the people we have hurt and the things we have failed to do along life’s way. And here’s the paradox. ashes also have long been a symbol of renewal and cleansing – in the firey act of creating ashes, things can be let go of, and ashes have traditionally been used for cleaning and for medicinal purposes.

As we approach Ash Wednesday, our ashes can be a mixture of all the above – symbols of our loss and grief, of our need to acknowledge harm we might have caused, symbols of our intention to be open to renewal and healing. The act of placing ashes on our forehead or our hand is one of wearing all of this “on our sleeve,” so to speak – to allow the sorrows and failures to be transformed into agents of change and growth.

So we begin our uncluttering process by naming that which we would hold up before the fire – looking squarely and boldly in the eye of that which we would often prefer not to see in ourselves, and choosing what we offer up to be released and transformed.

Uncluttering the Spirit

Christians have  ritualized the preparation for Easter since the 5th century if not earlier.  The ritual of Ashes originated in the Roman Catholic church, and only much more recently has made its way into protestant christianity.*  (I don’t remember experiencing it in my own life before the late 1980’s.)  What might seem like a small shift of a ritual from Roman Catholic to protestant churches is really indicative of a larger shift in our culture.  The boundaries of the old identity markers are becoming more permeable.  And so, our UCC church takes the ritual of ashes and we use it in our own way to help people connect with the Divine.

Ash Wednesday will offer us the opportunity for a time of uncluttering the spirit during the season of Lent.   We remember once again “…that from which we have come, the beautiful simplicity that lies underneath it all, binding our lives closely to the earth and all creation.  We  acknowledge what has estranged us from the Sacred and turn again to gaze at the deep beauty from which we spring.”(Kristine Zakarison)  Throughout this season we’ll be posing questions related to cleaning out and letting go so we can find our way back to our essence.  We’d love to hear from all of you with comments, photos, and suggestions as we begin.

What gets in the way of you connecting with God?  Is there an everyday item that symbolizes that hindrance/clutter?

*If you want to know more about Ash Wednesday, try this brief article on BeliefNet