Another photo of a Beatle shaving … well, getting shaved may be the operative concept.
This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.
Page 124, Gilead, by Marilynn Robinson
These words really put into place a new mode of reality for me. More often than not, I am able to respond to a person in this way rather than react to whatever emotions are controlling him or her. It’s a huge difference.
This is text from the notecard I used to handle my presentation in Second Life at the International Weekend of Peace festival. I adapted talks I’d given at First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn last spring that accompanied a video found on TED Talks given by Shawn Achor.
The video will run about 12 minutes. Feel free to cam closer to make it fill your screen, I’m just going to sit here.
If you have questions, best thing to do would be to text them in Chat so all can see. I will try to address them once the video is done for everyone.
*Ask for reactions to the video*
Do we feel affirmations? Confirmations? Aha moments?
Let me make a disclaimer that my orientation toward what we’ve just seen is Christian. However, unlike far too many of my brethren, my own Christian experience recognizes that God is larger than any box I can put Him in. I am better off not making Him exclusive, indeed I am grateful that He honors free choice among his creatures, and has no favorites in terms of paths to His truth. So while I am speaking about experience that cleaves me to my Christian beliefs, I know in my heart that the value of spiritual disciplines cleaves humanity to one another all too often in spite of our beliefs rather because of our beliefs.
In short, I am not here to convert but to converse.
Let’s look briefly at the discussion of how television [and social media] affects us. My experience with Facebook over the past seven months as my job involves getting our Like stats up. I have been getting upset reading so many accounts about all the nastiness going on in this election year. It takes my attitude right down to the floor. How do I overcome this? You know what? Just recognizing that this process has this affect on me allows me to overcome [some of] the effect.
That’s a big point that Shawn makes: if we can’t avoid these sources of irritation, we need to find a way to balance them out. We also need to remember that we all have a tendency to average things out and disregard the outliers, the dots that rise above the normative. But maybe we need to pay special attention to those things instead. Go beyond the average because it holds us down.
The other big point that Shawn points out is that happiness isn’t so much a goal as it is something we can choose to practice. Let’s look at the list of five things people can do to improve their ability to be happy, what Shawn called rewiring your brain:
[pull out the chart]
It’s obvious that exercise helps you spiritually besides the dosing of happy chemicals your body receives. You have accomplished something that is good for you and reminds you that your body is part of your life journey, not your enemy.
Gratitude (Ignation practice of the Examen)
The Examen is a daily exercise of reviewing your day. It can be a way of looking for consolations and desolations, or it can be a review of what one has to be grateful for on a given day. I cannot stress what an amazing difference it is to look back at the day, the week, the month, your whole life and see where God touched you. It all adds up to seeing your life filled with gifts of grace no matter how much you may have suffered or are suffering. So, it’s not alway easy, but it’s an important spiritual discipline to undertake.
Random Acts of Kindness
What happens when you begin to see so many reasons to be grateful, is you recognize the value of grace and kindness. You become more cognizant of the present moment and of opportunities to show grace and kindness. Whether you forgive someone for a big hurt in your life or you smile at the person who cut in line in front of you rather than object with anger, that act of random kindness works on you just as much as on the other person.
To my mind, journaling provides me the opportunity for performing the Examen. Finding time to write is difficult, but having done so for more than five years now, I can look back and read about this trail of gratitudes and hurts, trial and triumphs, and I have evidence of how I’m being transformed into a happier person.
In the Christian tradition, this is sometimes called Centering Prayer. One sits quietly and empties the mind of worries and concerns. Listen to God, to the Cosmic Heartbeat of the world … be still for twenty minutes and really really relax. It’s not easy at first. Sometime during your pratice of meditation a word will come to you that really helps you. When concerns start to clutter your mind, you can say this word and it will bring you back to center.
All of these can be considered spiritual disciplines. Let me share with you how these disciplines helped me through a particularly bad patch in my life: 26 months of unemployment. It took a year, but the bad economy had affected where I worked: week-long furloughs, layoffs. What became very apparent in the pattern of people being released was not one of last in, first out, but those with longer tenures and higher salaries were released. My 19 years of good service didn’t immunize me from the disease that was running through the American Library Association (ALA). My position was outsourced and I was let go, with a generous severance package.
October 28, 2009, Facebook citation, two days after being released: “I’ve had a great run at the ALA and this change of circumstances is an opportunity I am embracing. Thanks to so many friends for so many wonderful years!” Was I just putting on a show of words? Often, after we’ve been through a dark night of the soul, we have a tendency to minimize it.
So let’s not do that. Outsourced or fired, it was a crushing blow to my ego. I’ve seen other people who seemed to just be there, putting in their time as if ALA owed them the job. Had I become one of them? Were there times when I’d dropped the ball and made myself vulnerable to this layoff? I was a popular person at ALA, and I was known to the very top executives of ALA. Why wasn’t I given some kind of chance to make amends? In the back of my mind, for twenty-six months, a number of very dark despairing paths would beckon me to walk down them and wallow.
So like Shawn Achor suggested but long before I saw his video, I chose my attitude from the very day my life went off its rails. I took the graceful exit and embraced God’s plan rather than some desperate ego-centric plan. I veered away from bitter recriminations against my supervisors and indulging in victimhood as well as letting the What-ifs, which are inevitable in such circumstances, rob me of sleep. Let me tell you, that alone is huge. You cannot avoid depression if you aren’t getting adequate sleep. I had some sleepless nights, but not as many as when I was working wondering if my job was safe, truth to tell.
Having been involved in spiritual direction through the Christos Center for Spiritual Formation for three years prior to my layoff I was given the tools to deal with it. The disciplines of journaling, meditation, and gratitude via the Examen as well as having learned to see prayer as more than just “Help me get a job fast, Lord!” — prepared me for handling this devastating situation.
First and foremost, my wife, a spiritual director, had my back. I’d had a row with my boss and lost my job 20-odd years ago and she had not been happy about that. There was a lot of tension until I regained employment. Not this time. She never once …. never … once … questioned my efforts to find work, my activities that didn’t correspond with looking for work. We were unified and shared the same faith, not belief, but faith that God’s plan was the better plan. We would have liked more details about that plan but that was a joke between us. This was the “hard times” part of our wedding vows and we lived it, and I cannot express how that kind of love can carry you after you get a call: “Sorry, we went with the other candidate, but you were very well qualified.” I had too many of those calls in the course of my jobsearch.
Having peers in spiritual direction as well as a spiritual director to listen to me and in their non-directive ways, affirm me also provided grounding. I took advantage of the free time to rejoin a men’s Bible Study and was welcomed with sympathy and love. Support came (and went sometimes) often from left field but those disciplines allowed me to discern and accept such support. (Examples: return to praise team, self-care with chiropractic, dealing with kidney stones, bike riding, Weight Watchers Online, etc.)
Over those months, I heard many people in my congregation admire my attitude and I would shrug. I really didn’t know how to respond because I felt so much gratitude that people cared. I also observed over time that my semi-retirement was a refining process making me a better person, more accepting of grace and capable of returning grace. The good and the bad situations were part of the same process of transforming me. Therefore, I came to see this period of my life as a gift rather than some cosmic punishment.
This is the power of happiness that Shawn Achor is describing. Well into my ninth month of employment now and I am very well settled in my work. I walk to work in downtown Chicago and I look around at the buildings and the people very pleased to be there. I am in the moment and glad to be there. The people around me in our cubicles can sense the peace and good vibes coming off me.
I am living in grace having let go of goals and agendas of what people expect of me, living a life that has been given to me by my creator.
The text of this presentation is copyright 2012 by Donavan Vicha, feel free to excerpt with credit.
Shaped by the Word, M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.
Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr
Weeds Among the Wheat, Thomas Green (also When the Well Runs Dry)
Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf
The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelick
Prayer by Richard Foster
Coming Home to Your True Self by Albert Haase
Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther
Recommended but not read by me
Wonder by Robert G. Fuller
Positivity by Barbara L. Fredricksen
I sneak these last two in from my wife’s bookshelf. I suspect these are the work of Shawn Achor’s peers and mentors.
After I was done, the people who chatted with me asked what I meant by “grace” and our discussion followed lines of differences between Buddhism and Christian disciplines. I had not been able to attend much of the events going on that weekend due to the usual “first life” activities. But I was very impressed by the international flavor of the programming and attendance by people from all over the world, something that Second Life does well. I am putting together a blog about this event from the professional side of the experience on my professional blog.
I’ll be presenting on Shawn Achor’s TED Talk that I wrote about earlier this year. It will be an interesting Sunday (September 23) as I then rush off to First Pres and participate as a group discussion leader. I am looking forward to this virtual world celebration of spirituality.
Here’s the latest version of the schedule:
International Peace Weekend & Spirit Fair 2012
Schedule of Events
*** FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21 ***
I. 6:00 – 6:30 pm - Welcoming & Opening Interfaith Ceremony with
Isis Pleides, Jeff Trapdoor, Isabelle Oaklourne, Carmien, and Adam Tebbe.
II. 6:30 – 7:30 pm - Tantric Dance - Shambala Kimono & Enchantress Sao
III. 7:30 – 8:30 pm - Von Johin, American Acoustic Roots Music
IV. 8:30 – 10:30 pm - Cosmic Celebration! with DJ Wellie
*** SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 ***
I. 8:00 – 8:20 am - Zen Meditation, Tao Life Center
II. 8:30 – 8:50 am - Guided Meditation, Buddha Center
III. 9:00 – 10:00 am - Fingersatz Barbosa, Classical Guitar
IV. 10:15 – 11:15 am - Spring Forest Qigong, Qigong Learning and Healing Center
V. 11:30 – 12:00 pm - The Four Elements, Spirit Dance Company:
(at the Spirit Dance Auditorium)
VI. 12:00 – 1:00 pm - Rosedrop Rust, Folk/Jazz Keyboards
VII. 1:15 – 2:15 pm - CHANGHIGH SISTERS FIRESHOW of Light, Life and Love
VIII. 2:30 – 2:50 pm - Prayers for Peace, Anglicans of SL
IX. 3:00 – 4:00 pm - Tone Uriza, Electric Blues
X. 4:15 – 5:00 pm - Awakening Spirit, Ewan Bonham
XI. 5:15 - 5:45 pm - Earth Healing Meditation, Isis Pleides
XII. 6:00 – 6:45 pm - Shift of the Ages, Andre Farstrider
XIII. 7:00 – 8:00 pm - Djeaux Farrasco, American Folk
XIV. 8:00 – 10:00 pm - Starseed SamAja with DJ Sky Wildmist
*** SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 ***
I. 8:00 – 8:20 am - Chanting for Personal & World Peace, Great Heart & Star Xoe Ray
II. 8:30 – 8:50 am - Sunrise Meditation with Music, First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of SL
III. 9:00 – 10:00 am - Sandia Beaumont, Classical Piano, Jazz
V. 11:00 – 11:45 am - Practical Spoon Bending, Star Xoe Ray
VI. 12:00 – 1:00 pm - Joaquin Gustav, Spanish Classical Guitar
VII. 1:15 – 2:00 pm - The Simplicity of the Tao, Jeff Sadler
VIII. 2:15 – 2:45 pm - Guided Healing Meditation, ConnieJean Maven
VIV. 3:00 – 4:00 pm - Madmax Huet, American Blues
X. 4:00 – 4:45 pm - Thwip Zifer, Pianist, Jazz Classical
XI. 5:00 – 6:00 pm - D.R.U.M., Divine Rhythms of Universal Music
XII. 6:00 – 6:30 pm - Conclusion Ceremony with Isis Pleides
Jessie and I were in Minneapolis to discuss the future of ChristosChicago, as we’ve been calling the extension Tending the Holy course offered in the western suburbs of Chicago. The “summit” went well though we await the results in terms of where it’s all going. The most obvious results were generating a greater awareness of what has been happening for the past nine years and providing faces for whom ChristosTwinCities staff and board can relate. If all that happened regarding our summit was a wonderful ice cream sundae; our questing at the home of Julie and Peter Bonde was a big juicy cherry of God’s grace.
We drove up on an overcast and often raining 7-hour journey that placed us road-weary at a reception with a mix of board members and staff. Having been to a board training session in 2011, I actually recognized more people there than Jessie, who has been involved in Christos longer and was a former coordinator of ChristosChicago. Board membership hath its privileges, I suppose. Anyway, I had met Jules previously. We shared many emails regarding the Christos Facebook page and other Web initiatives the board is pondering.
When we got to the Bonde home, which is just within the boundary of Minneapolis proper, we were shown around the house and the bedroom where we would spend the next three nights. We were tired and ready for bed, but I think Jules wanted to explain something before we might have made a jest about the dragonfly motif of the decorations. With an economy of words, she told the story of how, ten years ago, they lost their 11-year-old son, the third of four boys, to cancer. During this story, Pete wandered through and welcomed us, but entrusted Jules to explain how they both took the death differently, how they had to deal with three sons also taking the loss of a brother and the reality of death so early in their lives. After six months of this overwhelming grief, they received in the mail a card and the story of the dragonfly:
“In the bottom of an old pond lived some grubs who could not understand why none of their group ever came back after crawling up the lily stems to the top of the water. They promised each other that the next one who was called to make the upward climb would return and tell what had happened to him. Soon one of them felt an urgent impulse to seek the surface; he rested himself on the top of a lily pad and went through a glorious transformation which made him a dragonfly with beautiful wings. In vain he tried to keep his promise. Flying back and forth over the pond, he peered down at his friends below. Then he realized that even if they could see him they would not recognize such a radiant creature as one of their number.
“The fact that we cannot see our friends or communicate with them after the transformation which we call death is no proof that they cease to exist.”
by Walter Dudley Cavert
© 1944, 1971
Jules and Pete were so comforted by this gift from an eleven-year-old member of their church that when Anne Marquardt Brooker created The Dragonfly Project, they were eager to volunteer their time. You really cannot quantify this kind of ministry merely through numbers but they have sent out 39,000 cards since the loss of their son, Hans. Volunteers search through obituary notices to find mourners of loved ones under the age of 40 to create mailing lists for sending out cards and key chains. This ministry is often joined by those who have received its comfort, so it grows dimensionally and demonstrates how gratitude and grace transform pain and grief into something amazing.
We have these dragonfly sculptures in our garden areas.
Jessie and I are well aware of a tenet that Richard Rohr has summarized succinctly: Those who cannot transform their suffering will inevitably transmit it. What touched our hearts most deeply was the matter-of-fact way Jules and Pete share the hurt that never completely goes away. Hans, transformed by this amazing grace, hovers over the Bonde family as part of their lives rather than something one tries to forget or deny. A sense of admiration overcomes sympathy as you realize that we all have to deal with suffering and the last thing anyone wants is sympathy as much as understanding.
Every evening we sat in their backyard, sipped wine and shared our life stories, Hans was there. The incredible vulnerability shown by Jules and Pete honored us in ways we are still pondering, letting it sink in deep.
For more information go to The Dragonfly Project.
The past ten weeks of sermons at First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn have focused on Colossians 3:1-17 and the concept of spiritual formation. Now from my Christos spiritual direction training http://www.christoscenter.org/ our definition of spiritual formation comes from Robert Mulholland’s book, Shaped by the Word. ”Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” It’s a process not a destination, being conformed takes our unique gifts and experiences and makes them an expression of Christ’s love, and it isn’t just self-centered or some self-actualization but serves the community. What Pastor Chris Griggs with contributions from at least four other guest speakers has outlined how that passage of scripture doesn’t so much inform us of what needs to be done but works on transforming us. This is a process that Mullholland speaks of in his book.
The Bible isn’t a maintenance manual or a resource for cherry-picking rules by which to live or who is in our group and who is out. We don’t read it once and have it all worked out. We read it over and over, and we share what we understand with others. We are convicted by what we read and comforted that no one goes un-convicted. Through this convicted community and interaction with the Word, we experience the conforming effects of the Holy Spirit we see in ourselves and in other people. (This is not a summary of the sermons! It’s my understanding of being shaped by the Word.)
Week by week, a group of us who have an understanding of this term that Pastor Chris kept throwing out there, listened and were pleased to hear this kind of preaching. The group is growing as two people are in their second year of training as spiritual directors. Thus our number will grow to eleven in our congregation. Over the past decade, the concept of spiritual direction has been mentioned in adult education classes, in brochures, and in witnesses before the congregation at worship. We have not been overwhelmed with requests for our services over the years.
Contrary to the term direction, we “spiritual directors” do not direct, counsel, mentor, advise, etc. We listen. We respect silence and invite God to speak. We sit with another person and invite him or her, with a vow of confidentiality and the knowledge that God will speak if we listen hard enough, to talk about his or her journey. Our questions will focus on prayer life or where is God in this? We see spiritual directors ourselves and know the benefit of being the center of an hour with God because when two or more are gathered in His name, He has promised to be there. We have seen through our own experience with directees how God works through this discipline of being still and letting God be God.
On September 19, 2012, Pastor Chris concluded his series with a direct reference to our ministry, which is the first time that has happened from the pulpit. It was more than lip service, he gave it a shape that could be trusted. Thank you, Chris!
God is good.
So, this page will take you to the most recent sermon but there’s a link that goes to an index page of many more. The date of our “endrosement” is 8-19-2012. I would recommend all ten sermons, actually I recommend everything Chris has preached.