A service of Taizé at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church

Last night I went to Dupage Unitarian Universalist Church because I found out via their Facebook page that they were going to have a Taizé service.

Taizé is usually a gathering that has elements of chanting, candle lighting, responsive reading, shared silence, and some form of a guided meditation.

In fact, the Taizé service I was a part of incorporated all of these elements. Initially I was a bit thrown off by the shared silence, but I was quickly relieved because despite several shared silence’s, they were no more than five minutes a piece. That I can do (and maybe someday I can level up to Quaker status).

The opening chant went as follows; come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come, yet again, come. (SLT #188)

I found beauty in this chant, and I did what I could to figure out which part of “whoever you are” most aligned with, I believe in that instance I was a “wanderer” and maybe perhaps I am that still.

From there a candle was lit in the center of our gathering. Apart from the dusk setting in quickly, the candle was a nice centering item for when my eyes were open.

Given that our shared silence time wasn’t that long, I found myself more engaged as a result. I mentally prepared myself for the night by mentally chanting a Latin phrase I’ve picked up in my own studying and partaking in Taizé; veni sancte spiritus, come holy spirit.

The highlight of my evening partaking in the service was the guided meditation. Our guide led us (with nature sounds in the background) into a deeper place found within. It’s hard to put into words, but I lived there and thrived there, it may have felt like a lifetime but in actuality it was probably twenty minutes altogether. I caught myself crying a little, because it was beautiful to simply be aligned mind+body+spirit, to simply BE.

After the service I made my way to the labyrinth that’s outside the building. The above picture is from that, as the path is illuminated when the sun is no longer out. It was another wave of much needed introspection and silence entwined. I took my time and meditated all the while, mentally chanting veni sancte spiritus.

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Unfortunately they’re going to be taking a break from this service until October. Until then I’ll have to partake in Taizé on my own or find others to do it with. It’s not often that I am stirred so deeply, so passionately, but I am willing to engage that deeper part of me that resides in the silence.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Contentment as a spiritual exercise; day 26 of Ramadan

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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

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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

Being present as a spiritual exercise; day 16 of Ramadan

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

All too often in my life I am constantly on the go without truly being aware of what I am doing in the now, and a good deal of the time I am able to dial back into myself and be present, this act is known as mindfulness.

I first learned about mindfulness as I helped assist in a Dialectical Behavior Therapy with some of my former residents. We discussed as a group the power of presence, and to a certain extent being aware of the here and now all while being present. So for instance, I am in my kitchen in my apartment typing up this post. I am slightly chilled because I went swimming earlier and my central air has done its job at keeping my house cool for the summer. I am smiling because I’ve had a good day spent mostly outdoors enjoying the Independence Day parade in my hometown…and so on. This act, which I do think of being a spiritual exercise, helps me keeps things in perspective, and so I practice mindfulness frequently and add it to my style[s] of praying as well.

Being present has helped me become more intuitive, that after a period of go go go, I am able to start filtering out what’s been said and what has really been said. Because, and not all the times mind you, this is actually about that; the reason someone became upset and stormed may have been this thing, but perhaps what led up to that one thing setting them off was finding out their mother wasn’t doing well, that they have a quarterly review coming up, etc. And so we get a part of the story but not all of it, and those individuals need grace just like we all do.

So with all that being said, mindfulness was my keyword on the 16th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who is ever present in all our lives! May we learn to take things at a slower pace so that we might become more in tune with ourselves and with each other and what the will of God looks like in our lives.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

P.S. 5 Steps for Being Present