Contentment as a spiritual exercise; day 26 of Ramadan

https://i1.wp.com/www.quotesvalley.com/images/01/health-is-the-greatest-gift-contentment-the-greatest-wealth.jpg

Lately I have been thinking about my well being while I’ve meditated and several questions have popped up on the process: how am I doing? How am I being? What am I feeling? Am I okay with feeling what I feel? Am I honest to myself and to others? Am I content?
And lately I’ve been dwelling upon the last one, and after looking within to put something out to myself, to you the reader, to God, the universe, et al… Is that I am indeed content with what I have in my life right now. There’s always room for improvement or at the very least learning to live with less, but for all intensive purposes I am at a place where I am truly content.

I resonate with that last one, that “happiness comes after contentment” because I realize in my life that happiness is fleeting, happiness is fickle, happiness is so much and yet on its own it really isn’t all that sustainable. However when you are content, when happiness is added to that equation, it makes all the difference in the world and that happiness doesn’t seem all that trivial or wishy-washy, not that it is, but paired with contentment it seems to give it a backbone in which to support itself. I hope you don’t get me wrong, happiness IS a good thing, but I find that it needs to have something added to it to aid to its longevity and worth.

When I am vulnerable I let doubt and a scarcity mindset take over; I find myself doubting my capacities and strengths in nearly every facet of my life, I am also prone to thinking about what I don’t have and doing what I can to cover my ass if the proverbial shit hits the fan. God’s been doing a bit of open heart surgery upon me, and I am being freed from the scarcity mindset model that I’ve lived with, well, for my entire life! I find myself moving in a direction where I am truly able to live out and say out loud that all of this is a gift of God, I am a steward of what he has given me.
I do want a girlfriend, I do want to get married some day, I do want to have a few kids, but those are dreams I am striving to make reality and while I am content now that will only make me more content. Am I being hypocritical in my contentment, I don’t think so because these are things I know and God knows that I’ve always wanted for the last 21 years of my life.

So with all that being said, contentment was my keyword on this 26th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who aids in our pursuits of wholeness and contentment. May we learn to be grateful and thankful for what we have rather than what we have not, may we learn to pursue our dreams and desires to the good of ourselves, God, and others, and may we offer up thanks for this life we’ve been given.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Being present to death as a spiritual exercise; day 23 of Ramadan

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pasulliv/churches/Dempseyimages/Bleiler.jpg

There’s no avoiding it, it’s inescapable, it’s inevitable, and some day we all will…die.

This week one of my students informed me that somehow (and I think I know how) a frog got into his room, and croaked (mea culpa for the bad pun). So I made my way to his room, looked about, and found the dead frog in question. I picked it up, offered it last rites (it didn’t answer so I proceeded) and I took care of it. I washed my hands, and that was that, the dead frog was no more than a brief hoppy memory.

Still it begs the question; how prepared am I / are YOU / are WE when it comes to dying? Whether it’s our own death or the death of others, is it something that’s present in our mind or something we hide away in our mental closet only to remove it when needed be. Death, the big D, can be unnerving as it seems…mostly…that it happens when we least expect it and we’re either left with regret for what we should’ve said or done with the deceased individual or we’re filled with memories and nostalgia for our time spent with that person, and perhaps at times we feel both.

I personally am not worried about death, well except when I start thinking about what I haven’t done with my life and what I want to accomplish (mainly be a husband to my June and a father to Nathanael Danger Jr., Savannah Grace, Amalia Faith, and Mark Shalom).
Then and only do I worry about dying, but all the more it drives me to take life as it comes and make the most of the days / weeks / months / years I might have, because again, I don’t know when I’ll shuffle off this mortal coil.

Yet when it comes to those who have passed away, eh, I can be-or-miss in being present to death inasmuch being present to those faced with the loss of life. I was able to be present at the time one of my former clients passed away but I found it too difficult to be present with one of my former youth ministry student’s and his family as they mourned the passing of their brother and son respectively. I think sometimes what keeps me from coming to wakes and funerals is that I sometimes talk myself out of it, sometimes I dwell too much upon myself and how I’m handling and not enough on the individual who has passed and their loved ones, and so my selfishness and ego get in the way. Oh and if you’re someone I know in real life and I haven’t been there for you in this way, let me know, I owe you an apology in real life.

Death leaves us with many questions, answered as well as unanswered, and for some people the main question is about the passing from this life (“here”) with the expectation of an unknown destination (“there”). Now I personally don’t know what awaits us collectively when we pass away, and while I align myself with views along the lines of Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism my perspectives in regards to heaven and hell are held with an open handed nuanced I-could-be-wrong posture. Heaven ideally for me would be one of all of humanity reunited with God and one another, having fun and BEing together for all of eternity, enjoying [after] life with one another in dynamic non-static ways.

I also hold a view of conditional heaven, and by that I mean that I as an employed white male in the western world who has the means to pay his bills and still live quite comfortably does not need a heaven but I still would like to be in the presence of my creator and all of humanity, but if it doesn’t exist I am okay with that.
But consider the life of a 7 year old working in a sweatshop in China, a kid busting his butt to help his family make ends meet, he needs a better place than what he has, I would hope there’s a heaven for him because he needs it more than I do! This is why I also hold a conditional view of heaven. But with that being said I could be wrong, and I am okay with that.

When it comes to hell, I believe we create hells for ourselves and others, but none in the afterlife sense exist. I also don’t believe in the existence of the devil or demons for that matter. But I also hold an early church view that said the fires of hell didn’t burn people for all of eternity (consciously or unconsciously) but were part of the process of redeeming others, that it stripped away the dross of humanity until we got to a place where we could go to heaven…but again, even when it comes to my views of hell, I could be wrong.

Death doesn’t have to be scary, and personally speaking I rather be ready for it than be in a place that avoids it. So live the life you’re living and strive to be the best possible version of you that you can be! It’s never too late to start a new chapter, it’s never too late to go back to school, it’s never too late to open up the restaurant with the ideas cooked up inside your head, because this life is the only one you’ll get. Make the most of it, make choices, live with the mistakes you make and strive to try try again! Because time and this one life you’ve been given is a gift, so treat it with care and live as though you were dying because that day will come eventually. Let this life be your drive to make the most of every situation and not your burden. I believe in you and so does God!

So with all that being said, being present to death were my keywords on the 23rd day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Giver of Life, who puts our life in motion but lets us make our own choices. May we embrace this life we’re given, moving forward but not being opposed to going backward if needed be, may we live life to the fullest but being mindful of others and helping to move others into their own direction of fulfillment.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Questioning everything as a spiritual exercise; day 20 of Ramadan

https://i1.wp.com/images.rapgenius.com/ch9zu4461vl1a4g2tp47vkecf.1000x1000x1.jpg

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

The other day my small group and I started a new book together; David Dark’s The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. I’ve read parts of this book before, but I am excited to go over it in a group context, for discussion and dialogue’s sake.

I have been in this community for a while now and I already have gathered that we’re from different places and perspectives in life. Different places and different perspectives aren’t bad things, it’s just part of life and it happens because we our experiences and perspectives make us inasmuch as we have influence (to a certain extent) to shape and create our experiences and perspectives.
One quote from the book that has resonated with me since reading it again is this:
https://41.media.tumblr.com/b26002d48dcf62b4bebdc2632388c553/tumblr_nqs0aw9pyv1r9ib0qo1_540.jpg
Questioning is okay, do you know it? Do you accept it as so or do you just let the chips fall where they may? Because whether you do or don’t allow room for questioning, even if you don’t there will be others who do! And how then do you live with that tension that might come out of questioning? Do you allow it or do you snuff it out before others start questioning as well?
I hope you allow room in your life to question and to allow others to question because it is human to question. Questioning spurs us on to seek out resolution, to not stay complacent and seek out better, it is what propelled us to explore the world and it is what still propels us to space exploration.
Questioning keeps things afresh, anew. It helps us to realize there’s more to life than just us, it helps us grasp that we’re not alone in this world, it points us to an interconnectedness between ourselves and others.

So with questions about life, question them, questions about where we’re going, question them, questions about heaven and hell, question them, question about God, question them, questions about whether God exists, question them, questions about what this is all for, question them, questions about love and goodness and beauty and hate and evil and why things go awfully wrong sometimes and other times it seems all so perfect, again…question all of them and question everything.

We might find the answers we’re looking for, we might not find the answers we’re looking for, and perhaps we’ll even have no answers to our questions…but regardless of what we may or may not come up with at the end of our questioning, we shouldn’t stop for anything, we shouldn’t feel like questioning puts us at a bad place. Questioning is human as I stated before, but it is also divine, and I believe God beckons us to question it all.

So with all that being said, questioning was my keyword on the 20th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The One Who Can Be Questioned, who instills within all of questions that further our existence as well as humanity’s. May we never stop questioning and pursuing answers, but within that may we accept that not every question has an answer, and we know that when the time comes.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Living life as a spiritual exercise; day 18 of Ramadan

Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” – William Wallace (Braveheart)
How terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as extraordinary as living.” – Jostein Gaarder

Yesterday was my 31st birthday, the start of my 31st year of life, and so I decided that I would go to Lake Geneva Wisconsin. Lake Geneva Wisconsin is a place I have been going to nearly my entire life, and even on my mother’s side of the family they’ve been going there for a long time.From where I live to where Lake Geneva is is about 70 miles. So I loaded up some stuff (no food mind you!) and I headed there for a day of swimming, relaxing, having fun, and being at Lake Geneva…


I knew I wouldn’t be the only there; gorgeous weather paired with Independence Day falling on the weekend, yeah it was quite crowded. But still I was able to find a spot for my stuff, and once I we as settled I jumped into the water.
Now the thing about bodies of water and I is this- I will not tiptoe, go slow, gradually get in…but I will run full force head on into the water. And so, I did! It was cold but not unbearably so, and once my body grew acclimated to it I had a fun just floating and swimming around, being tossed about by the little waves.

As I floated in the serenity of it all I found myself offering up thank-you’s to God; thank you for another year of life, thank you for the capacity to work and do what I love, thank you for the opportunity to go swimming, thank you for the ability to swim, thank you for warm summer days, thank you for little glimpses of heaven found in nature, thank you…and so on, and had I not been swimming I could’ve been sleeping as the ebb and flow was calming to me, calming all the way to the center of my being.

After several hours of swimming, I dried off and made my way to town. Not a shopper, but as a reprieve to my feet for the time spent swimming as well as the time spent driving back to my apartment. Another facet to why I like Lake Geneva Wisconsin so much is there’s a good deal of design architectually-speaking as well as manicured gardens. My apartment isn’t anything fancy, so to see good examples of architecture and gardens whets my appetite for when I am to have some resemblance of the “American Dream”.



It, as my coworker is quick to prompt students and staff, was a great day to be alive! I recognize within my being that sometimes I let the world go by me as if I was stuck on autopilot, stuck in cruise control, and if I am not mindful of time passing I will be passed up by time.
I don’t want to live that kind of life, and so I need to fight against the current that tries to drag me back to a place of complacency, a place that says ‘why fight it? Just do nothing and you’ll won’t have so many hardships.’ But it’s not true, to me doing nothing means not living, not living means merely existing, merely existing means I will never enjoy life to the fullest because the time I am allotted to has become a countdown timer until I have shuffled off my mortal coil. I want to live life, not merely exist!

So with all that being said, living life were my keywords on the 18th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who the giver and sustainer of all life. May we be mindful of the time given to us because none of us really know how long we’re going to be alive. And may we be alive than simply exist, may we give in to rejoicing than rambling, may we share the life we’ve been given with others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Feeding those who are hungry as a spiritual exercise; day 6 of Ramadan

Be kind to parents, and the near kinsman, and to orphans, and to the needy, and to the neighbor who is of kin, and to the neighbor who is a stranger, and to the companion at your side, and to the traveler, and to [slaves] that your right hands own. Surely God loves not the proud and boastful such as are niggardly, and bid other men to be niggardly, and themselves conceal the bounty that God has given them. Qur’an 4.36-37

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and the poor, in the land. Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Day 6 of Ramadan’s Suhur was good. I made myself a garlic, zucchini, and egg combination that I put in a flour tortilla that was awesome / healthy / and was a good source of protein! I enjoyed watching the sunrise yet again (it doesn’t get boring to me in the slightest!) and then I got ready for work.
Work was good, it zipped by in the best of ways; I walked quite a bit with my students and I also helped out in the garden. Speaking of the garden, I absolutely love seeing gardens growing flowers and food. In the garden at my work we have some swiss chard, green peppers, red peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and green beans! I slightly salivated at the things growing that are so healthy and nutritious…but since I’m fasting, I just offered up a quick thanks to God for food and watching it grow.

After work I took some time to meditate and reflect on the nearing first week of Ramadan. I am not as hungry as I thought I would be in partaking in Ramadan, despite having meals spread apart by 15.5 hours (at least). This time of fasting has helped me at becoming more in tune with God, others, and myself. At times because of the clarity of it all I have a bit of sensory overload; colors appear to be brighter, sounds clearer and a bit louder, etc. It has been a worthwhile goal and has served me well thus far.

This evening I joined several guys I know for a night of helping prepare meals that we measure out, seal, box, and prepare to be sent out across the world! Feed My Starving Children is an awesome tangible way in which to feed children around the world.

It was great and I was psyched to be a part of the process. I’ve done this event before with these guys and I dig every moment of it. My goal for the night was to work hard but play hard too; the latter came in the form of me yelling / motivating those around me as well as the guys I was with, I may have been a bit over the top but it was all worthwhile.

It was encouraging to me to see a lot of young children helping out as well. Social Justice, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, listening and being with people is what I like to do. Not necessarily in times that qualify as “spare time” but whenever I can wherever I’m at, because in doing so I serve God when I serve my fellow human being.

The hour and a half that we were there went by very quickly as it often does. We cleaned up, prayed over the food we were sending and for the receipients of said food, and we were done. Next time at Feed My Starving Children can’t get here soon enough!

So with all that being said, feeding those who are hungry were my keywords on this 6th day of Ramadan. Thanks me to God for providing us with food. May we learn to share what we have with our brothers and sisters who are in need because we DO have abundance and we should be willing to feed those who are in need. Thank you for our daily bread, and thank you for life to serve you and tend to the needs of others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael