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

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Presently I have a hard time being present; being here and now when I am mentally else where

2 nights ago I spent 5 of my 7 hours of sleep contemplating and analyzing and thinking- subconsciously. You see, as of late I have been really REALLY restless when it comes to BEing present, I am mentally elsewhere when I am with friends as well as family. Why? Well as I was subconsciously exploring this in my sleep (if I were indeed sleeping) I realize this truth about myself: I am a 5th wheel, I am a single guy at the age of 31.

And it’s not entirely a bad thing to be single, I am aware of this fully, but there are some things that it takes being a “we”, a couple that cannot be addressed when you’re single. Some of it I take in stride, some of it I dismiss, and some of it I am hurt by being single and lacking that connection with another human being. As a full fledged heterosexual male, I miss being a “we”, having a girlfriend I can call up to see how she’s doing, making plans for the weekend, making cards (yes, I make ’em by hand with all my love), doing normal and sometimes banal things, the …I miss it all.

Being with couples as a single guy has contributed to me not being present, being here, being here in the now, and so on. It’s not the only item to my distraction but I realize it has played a big part. With that being said, I am working to overcome my distractedness and BE present to what’s happening around me and who I am with.
I might still be single, but I am intentionally working on myself and my lot in life and what have instead of what I have not. I admit it’s an uphill boulder-pushing endeavor, but I know it will be worth it in the end. Presence and BEing is what I seek at this time, but if more good things come my way I will seek to be present and BE with it to the best of my abilities.

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 to suffering as a spiritual exercise; day 10 of Ramadan

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Earlier this week I got a text from one of my best friends and he hit me with some hard news; his mother, whose health has already been up and down, had unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse and as a result she was in the hospital. He filled me in on the details and he and I worked out a time for me to visit her in the hospital.
To be honest, I don’t like visiting hospitals because my associations with hospitals have more to do with hurting than healing. I have spent a good deal of time going to and from hospitals and every time I go I have a sense of foreboding. Yet my bro is my bro, I love him and out of love and not moral obligation I went to visit his mom in the hospital with him and his wife.

When we got to her room she happened to be up and happy to see those she knew. Her oxygen machine was running pretty strong, and unfortunately it was causing her throat to ache and it felt internally scratchy to her. We all talked with her and she with us, and it was encouraging to see her so upbeat and talkative despite her suffering a bit more than usual.
One thing I noticed while spending time with my bro and his wife and his mom (and even me) is that we were all present, we were all there, and were all mindful of the pink elephant called suffering that was in the room.

It’s rather commonplace to ignore the suffering of others and to a certain extent our own. We’re constantly bombarded with commercialism that tries to take us from “here” to “there”, and usually the “there” is a place without suffering, without hardships, without need to be present to anything that might cause us distress.
And yet the common denominator across all of humanity unto all people is that we all suffer; granted suffering isn’t a one size fits all, sometimes it’s want of love and sometimes it’s for food for our tables and those of our loved ones. Still it is inevitable to suffer and sometimes when we’re faced with it we want nothing to do with it, or we want to face it alone, and yet there are times we want to be in the presence of our loved ones who will help us through the suffering.

That’s why I consider being present with suffering to be a spiritual exercise; it doesn’t take us away from the suffering to a “there” that’s better, but puts us in the thick of it, the here and now of what’s going on. When we do this we’re given a chance to do something, and sometimes that action of doing brings us to a place of being more in touch with our humanity.

Plus if we’re able to be present with our pain in the presence of others, the weight of it all can be carried. I know for a fact that my bro and his wife and his mom and I carried that weight together in community because we love each other and want what’s best for each other, and in this instance it was so that my friend’s mom didn’t have to suffer alone.

If you’re able to find true community you will find people who will stand with you in the good times and sit with you when you suffer, and if you’re able to be a recipient of that you also can also reciprocate that with others.
I know that in my life it has taken a long time to find such a community, but I love it and I do what I can to be a part of it as much as I can! I am grateful and thankful to God to be a part of a tribe to call my own, and I will be a part of it for as long as I am in the area.

So with all that being said, being present to suffering were my keywords on this 10th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for being ever present in our suffering. You who don’t watch idly by as we hurt, but cry and weep and comfort and love us. May we in return be your hands and feet and eyes and ears to those who hurt as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

A Seder meal, Jungian Psychology and my imagination

    Tonight at one of the churches I attend there was a Seder meal followed up by a Maundy Thursday service. Now the Seder meal is part of the Jewish belief system, it’s tied to Passover and remembrance of what God did to save the Israelites while in captivity by the Egyptians. Foods at a Seder meal contains rich symbolism (click here if you want to know about the food and the meanings behind the food), not all were presented at the dinner but most of them were.

It is the bread and wine that Jesus and his disciples partook during their Seder meal that has become the tradition of Communion/Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper, with this symbolism in mind as I dined pretty much like how they did, my imagination and mind started drifting.
On my mother’s side of the family going back 150 years some of her family members were Jewish. In fact, one of said relatives was deemed The Jew in his community. Was he a Rabbi or some other leader within his synagogue? I don’t know, but someday I hope to find out more. So, ancestrally, I am Jewish, and when my imagination started drifting I thought about how those relatives shared this very meal I was eating…but my mind also wandered back to Jesus and his disciples eating the same meal…and then I went back to the first Passover with Moses and the Israelites.

History hasn’t always been written down, for a while what was known was passed down from generation to generation by way of oral tradition. What Jesus and his disciples practiced out was centuries old when they partook of Passover, and perhaps some of it was written down, but certainly parts of it were passed down by way of, you guessed it, oral tradition.

My mind dwelt on these things, and then I started thinking about Jungian Psychology and the area of Psychology he came up with called “Collective Unconscious” which says that in some way traditions and symbols and ways of the past get instilled into future generations on an unconscious level, and this keeps on happening from generation to generation. I don’t necessarily believe in C.U. but I kinda like how it could explain why some things are just “known” and granted I believe environment has a lot to play into it; We know (or even don’t know) things because of the life we’re brought into, traditions that have history and lore to it, it helps makes us who we are and in some way it actually defines us.

But with my imagination and C.U. meshed together for a good 30 mins, I saw the past (Moses and the first Passover), 2000 years ago (Jesus and his disciples celebrating Passover), the 1860s (my mother’s family celebrating Passover) and me and those who were at this Seder meal doing the same thing
I don’t use drugs, but that was certainly a trip that didn’t require a passport 😉

I love traditions and I hope to instill some into the life of my future family when I get there. Something to keep various aspects of my past alive, something that I hope my wife and kids will appreciate and continue on when I’m gone.

Sometimes, sometimes it takes having a good history to make a great future but you have to keep moving and preparing the way to make it so.

~Nathanael~

Have we learned nothing from history; Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

   It was only 56 years ago a 14 year old boy by the name of Emmett Till was brutally murdered, his “crime”? He flirted with a white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi. Because he whistled at a woman, men acted evilly took it upon themselves to go after Emmett and brutally murder him. When his body was recovered the extent of his injuries was horrific, I don’t even want to type them here. Emmett’s mom who raised him did something purposeful at this funeral, she had an open casket; she made her son’s tragic death visible to the world at large, a symbol of visible brutality and tragedy in a life cut short.

In today’s recent headlines there’s talk about Trayvon Martin; a 17 year old who was walking to where his father’s girlfriend lived, who wore a hoodie and had on him Skittles and iced tea. He was gunned down because his shooter said he was “suspicious” and yet no weapon was found on Trayvon. A man acted in an evil manner took it upon himself to respond in the most horrific of ways, by killing another human being.

There are correlations between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, but what gets to me is that in both cases innocent blood spilled on the ground, and as I reread the account of the first murder recorded in the Bible I read Genesis 4:10 – “The LORD said [to Cain], “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Blood cries out to God from the ground…Emmett’s blood as well as Trayvon’s. There are also the cries of those directly affected, there are cries from the nations who are rightly upset at such tragedy and pain. I too weep at such a horrific end of life ended barely after it started, life is a precious gift from God and to have that life taken away by another human being is heartbreaking.

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Whatever the outcome is in this recent murder, God is in control and his justice will prevail, but I am let thinking and wondering and somewhat yelling at God HAVE WE NOT LEARNED FROM HISTORY? WHY DO WE KEEP MAKING SUCH HORRIBLE MISTAKES TIME AND TIME AGAIN? Because as the quote I mentioned above says we’re condemned to keep making such horrible choices and mistakes if we don’t progress and learn from what was done. I don’t want humanity to be caught in the past that’s destructive, and with Trayvon’s death it seems as we’re condemned to repeat what unfolded 50+ years ago in the case of Emmett.

May God’s justice prevail in these troubled times,
May God give peace and comfort to Trayvon’s family and friends in this time and in time to come.

~Nathanael~