Love as a spiritual exercise; day 30 of Ramadan

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A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – John 13:34

Happy Eid Al-Fatr y’all! πŸ™‚

I decided to hold back in writing about love until the very end of Ramadan because it is the very essence of God. We as human beings have the capacity to love one another and ourselves, but so often we don’t. Why is that? Is it because love is in short supply or ? I think that some reasons why so many of us go without loving others is because we get selfish, we expect it without putting any effort in, we think love is something that will just fall in our laps, we get self-absorbed, we get scared…

I too am scared of love, more to the point true intimacy; because it is one thing to chill with your peeps and be unabashedly bold in what you say without thinking or blinking (or maybe you think and blink but you know what you’re saying will get a reaction of some sort.) but it is entirely different to put out the same things to a significant other, or at least I perceive it to be, because at the end of the night you go back to your SO’s place or your SO comes over to your place and you’re left with what you said.
And while I am careful in being articulate and communicating what I want to say so that there’s no misunderstanding as to what I have to say, I still worry to a certain extent, I worry will I still be liked and I worry will I still be loved. And I want to be liked and I want to be loved, and yet it is the root of my inhibition to be bold, to take risks, to ask girls out on dates…I am a work in progress, and I am getting over myself, but unfortunately I’ve been in that rut for a while. :-/

Yet despite my hesitations it doesn’t slow me down in working on becoming the best possible version of me. I love me, healthily and wholly, I am glad I am me and not someone else because then I wouldn’t be me! Silly perhaps, but I am glad to be alive because it’s great to be alive! (My coworker reminds us all this on a daily basis, and I concur.)

I believe in love. I believe in being loved and loving others. I believe that love conquers all and drives out fear. I believe that everyone is deserving of love. I believe that everyone has the capacity to love others. I also recognize within my being that I am loved even when I don’t feel like I am being loved, being in community assures me of that on a regular basis, for I am a recipient of love and a giver of love myself.

***
I was extended love on Eid Al-Fatr by way of having an Eid dinner with my good friend and his family and friends. The majority of the time was spent talking to him and his 3 younger cousins, it was great to be in community and to have serious and silly conversations. Dinner was great too! Pakistani food, and also dessert, it was great to simply be with my friend and his family plus. I was caught up with it all during part of the evening, I found myself meditating and being present but being overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of it all. I am thankful to God for moments when all my senses are in tune with my being and I feel deeply present where I’m at.

It is my intention to do better at loving others and to put some of my worries and what-if’s to the side as I pursue loving in a dating relationship context. Because I know what it is like to be loved and to love someone else, and there is no better feeling in the world than love because love put this world and universe into motion and it sustains it still.

So with all that being said, love was my keyword on the 30th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Source of Love, who loves us and knows us, deeply and truly. May we learn to love one another as God has loved us, may we learn to love ourselves, may we learn to meet people where they are at when they’re in need of love, on their terms and not our own.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

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Forgiveness as a spiritual exercise; day 29 of Ramadan

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To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12

Truth to be told, I am able to forgive others easier for big offenses than small / petty offenses. Today was no exception, and while I won’t get into it, when the offense was committed I was pissed off…and for several hours afterwards I spent time ruminating on what was done and I was nowhere in a better state of mind.

The quote,β€œIn fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die” (Anne Lamott) came to mind when I was in the throes of self misery. It didn’t set me free, but it did aid in the slow and arduous task of pushing the toxic lack of forgiveness out of my system. It was no easy feat, but after some time spent in prayer and also napping I was able to free myself and forgive the other, but also the ability to forgive myself.

I am human (surprising insight, eh?) and subsequently I act in human ways and sometimes the worse part of me comes to light; I hold grudges, I don’t forgive, I cut people down verbally and sometimes I passively cut them down in my head…among other things. But despite being all things at sometime or another, I remember that I am human, and that it is part of the human experience to screw up time and time again. And yet as we struggle through our humanity, we are at times compelled to do more and do better next time around; sure, some of us are quick to toss in the towel to make changes in our lives, but theoretically we might be in a better place for having done so instead of simply letting the chips fall where they may.

Within the forgiveness of others we are able to find some forgiveness for ourselves for what was done and how for a brief eon in time we forgot our humanity and divinity in others inasmuch we forgot the humanity and divinity within us. I think that’s why it’s good to forgive others inasmuch as well as ourselves, because if we don’t do the latter there’s a possible possibility that we hold onto something that is better off letting go.
So free others, forgive, free yourself, forgive!

So with all that being said, forgiveness was my keyword on the 29th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The Great Forgiver, who forgives us. May we learn to forgive others and forgive ourselves when the occasion call for it, and may we learn from what we’ve done to make better choices to, if at all possible, not commit those offenses again.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Recognizing the humanity and divinity in everyone as a spiritual exercise; day 28 of Ramadan

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God made everyone, she really did! And I am led to believe that we can cull some of our conflict and criticism for others, our hatred aimed at others, our disputes with others might be able to be patched up and leave us in a place of healing and not hurting if we keep this in mind; we are all made in the image of God.

I learned about this truth growing up by way of its Latin term, Imago Dei, and it has helped me out in not only knowing this truth but living it out. Because when you’re able to recognize the divinity in another person, you might just get a better view of their humanity as well.
It seems like some of the harshest conflicts and genocides across history have a common thread of removing humanity (and subsequently divinity) from the equation. If we reduce people to less than human, call them cockroaches (as the Tutsis were called prior to the Rwandan Genocide) or something else, we dehumanize them. And unfortunately people will be more malleable to do some of the worst things known to man against their fellow man because their humanity has been removed from them. And to a certain extent the humanity and thus divinity is removed from the oppressors as well.

So how do we keep our humanity as well as others intact and in check? Perhaps just realizing consciously and subconsciously that we ALL are made in the image of God, we ALL bear her likeness, we ALL have a right to life, we ALL have it hard but we can make life better for ALL if we put this into action.
I get that this might seem like hippie drippy bullshit, but I think it is a worthwhile endeavor, a good thing as well as a God thing, to get to a place individually / culturally / across the globe where we see the good in others inasmuch the God in others. It might take time for some of us, but we’re counting on ALL of humanity, not just some or for those it comes easier to.
So when should we ALL start seeing the good and God in others? The humanity and the divinity? Right here and now!

So with all that being said, humanity and divinity were my keywords on the 28th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God for placing within everyone humanity and divinity. May we open up our eyes and lives in seeing it in others and extending it to others, for this truly awakens the humanity and divinity in us as well.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Patience as a spiritual exercise; day 27 of Ramadan

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At times the above comic sums me up succinctly; I ask God for many a thing, including patience, and instead of waiting around on God I yell at her to hurry up the process! The thing is, as you probably know, patience is a process and it takes time to get there; both in being patient with ourselves as well as being patient with others.

My work demands quite a bit of patience given that I work with kids. One thing I’ve learned over the years with working with kids is they require a LOT of patience, but to a certain degree persistence as well. They also need to know your intentions in the matter, because it is very possible that in your patience and persistence they might think you’re doing it to be mean or that you’re coming across as being a harsh authoritarian.
I do push my students, but I know their limits through rapport built with them, and some can take on more and some can take on less, it varies (as with all of us) person to person. It helps that I work with nearly the same classroom on a daily basis, and so I am familiar in my ways and approaches with my students.

When it comes to patience in my life it’s usually in light of what is going on in my life, and while I tackled contentment the other day I need patience. Because there are times in my life I wish could be resolved in a blink of an eye, but while sometimes a lot of the time I cannot have it that way. I am still content throughout all of it, but I want it in an expedited manner. Yet life isn’t like that all that often, and sometimes it is through the trials of error we’ll figure out the reasons why, but even that is in limited supply because sometimes (as cliche as it sounds) the answer is that there is no answer.

In moments like that I am sometimes aloof, sometimes I am able to surrender to that truth, and other times I yell at God will all my might, hoping that she hears me and does something about it. And yet there are times where I hold the answer, sometimes I am the answer to my own prayers as well as others. All in all, patience needs to be carried out without having a mindset as to when will “x” come to fruition, because sometimes it comes to be and other times it doesn’t come at all and sometimes it comes in time but a time frame we might not align ourselves with.

So with all that being said, patience was my keyword on this 27th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, the ever patient one, may we learn to be patient with ourselves and with others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
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 comesΒ 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

Humor as a spiritual exercise; day 25 of Ramadan

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Proverbs 17:22 – A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

I like humor, I like jokes, I like elaborate stand up lines, I like simple but catchy one-liners… As of late I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts on my way to work; The Liturgists Podcast / RobCast / Drunk Ex-Pastors, and as of this week I will be adding You Make It Weird with Pete Holmes. I’m adding the latter because a friend suggested it and hearing Pete Holmes on The Liturgists Podcast and RobCast, I am liking his stuff more and more, plus he seems like a pretty cool human being.

The thing is, humor finds a way in to the parts of that make us laugh hardest and deepest, it also on another level it seems to let the oh-we-can’t-talk-about-that have a space that might offend us but at the same time it might make it palpable and more human. I think that when humor offends us we shouldn’t ignore it, but rather explore the reasons why; is it in poor taste? Does it hit home? Is it too personal? Is the subject matter culturally / religiously / etc taboo?

Personally I kinda like my humor to be smart but a bit profane; Eddy Izzard, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin are my favorites for leaving no stone unturned and there are no sacred cows left unbarbequed. I used to like to keep it under wraps, “bad” humor that is, but it is so freeing to not hide that part of me provided I have an audience can handle it. If some individuals don’t appreciate it I don’t dish it out, but if you can you’ll get that side of me.
I also like that humor dispels tension and stress so much of the time. Ever have a good laugh? One of those laughs that comes from the gut and you’re left laughing and laughing and it kinda hurts but at the same time doesn’t? Those kinds of laughs are my favorite, they kind of feel like a mini ab workout.

Humor is a good thing, it’s also a God thing, if you don’t believe me start with the platypus and move into other animals and make your way into human beings. There’s a lot to laugh about, just don’t at the expensive of others (unless they want to be roasted) laugh at others.

So with all that being said, humor was my keyword on this 25th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who has made a funny world; from human beings to platypuses (platypi?) to you and me to us to we. May we be thankful and offer up healthy laughter to God and onto each other.

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