Spiritual Essays

  • A Cure - For the most significant of life's hurts.

    When we talk about a cure for cancer or a cure for the common cold, we mean a definitive cure for the malady, not just healing in the present for whatever illness might be the focus of our attention. We distinguish between curing an individual occurrence of some ailment and “a cure,” which would mean an end to any and all similar health conditions.

    Even though we have a cure for some diseases, newer health challenges have appeared, and, however much it is desired, and no matter how much research and funding have been applied, no cure has yet been found for them. For all the cures that have been discovered or created, and for all yet to come, the process always begins with seeking to heal individuals. As altruistic as we might be in desiring a cure for every disease, illness or life-constricting condition, we usually begin from the perspective of our own health or that of someone we know.

    When we think about cures, the physical things about us that can be mended, patched up, restored, and even replaced often come to mind. However, we have wounds and hurts that cannot be helped except by love. The cure for many of life’s deepest hurts, including those for which there can be no medical cure, is the healing of our spirits, where so very many of our wounds are located. Healing of such wounds requires love, love that requires our participation. When we believe that we are accepted, understood and appreciated by someone else, including God, healing love becomes effective.  When we accept that we are persons to be appreciated more than things to be repaired, healing takes place.

    We ourselves, if we are willing to accept this, are all healers, bringing to one another the one cure that, rather than attempting to fix some part of us that is physically disturbed or broken, touches hearts and minds, souls and spirits. Our presence, whether in sharing a meal or a visit, in conversation or in notes, through sharing stories or quietly listening, and in prayer on behalf of others, brings effective healing for hurts that may not be visible except to those who have hearts of understanding and compassion. From our own experience, we know how very important it is to be accepted when we are suffering. When we bring this kind of experience to our care for others, real healing occurs, no matter what aspects of their condition might remain unchanged.

    There is no satisfaction quite so deep as when we recognize that we have helped someone, especially when it was our presence that had the positive effect, beyond anything that we said or did. Healing, then, is not merely something we do, but a gift and a grace in which we participate. As we care for one another, we have experiences, not of “a cure,” but “the cure” for all disorder in the world: love, which is an actualization of the Spirit’s presence among us. 

  • Give, Up - The direction is not about space, but spirit.

    We might be willing to give up a bad habit, but we do not want to give up on facing the challenges that come to all of us, whether in health, public affairs, work, family or other relationships. Occasions arise when we must give up striving for some goal when it is clearly unattainable, but even when we lose in a competitive event or are prevented from doing something that we know is right, we do not have to give up our values. We know stories of people and may ourselves have been frustrated by a law or someone’s decision, that thwarted desires to feed, clothe, or provide housing for persons who were without the means of helping themselves. Even in such circumstances, we do not give up our good intention of helping people in need.

    For most of us, there is a negative connotation to the idea of giving up, as when we think of giving up desserts in order to lose a bit of weight. We can, if we wish, find a more constructive choice of responding to challenges: we can give, up. Anything and everything we have within us, our thoughts, feelings, ideas, imaginings and desires can be directed towards God as personal and honest communications of our reality. We already do some sharing of our inner lives with those we trust, and in doing so we are almost always the better for having been heard, accepted and understood. Most of those in whom we confide ideals and plans, hopes and fears, manage to lift some of the weight from our minds and hearts even without giving us advice.

    Similarly, and to a greater degree, we can give up to God even those internal concerns that we scarcely dare to acknowledge to ourselves, and thereby experience the benefits of being understood when we do not understand ourselves. We are accepted just as we are, even with some process taking place within us that we are scarcely able to acknowledge as being real. Those who are closest to us sometimes perceive one of our capabilities that we had not ourselves yet recognized. They can do this by means of intuition and grounded in their own life experiences. God sees far more within us than anyone else and loves us as we are with our high ideals and our impulsive selfishness.

    When we give up to God any of our concerns and desires, they do not disappear, but we receive whatever we need in order to move forward. To give up or direct anything in our minds and hearts towards the source of all goodness is always an act of trust, trust that never has been or can be misplaced or mistreated. We know this from experience, especially when we reflect on what happens within us when we take the apparent risk of giving up to God one of our deepest desires. At moments like these, we discover that our impelling desires for goodness at any level have their origin in God, from within us.

    One our best moves with any important matter of the heart is to give, up.

  • Loose, not Lose - We do not lose relationships when we hold them loosely.

    When people let a pet loose somewhere in the open, they take a risk of losing it, although they have likely formed bonds of food and affection that greatly lessen the probability of real loss. Parents of older children, and even friends who hold relationships loosely, have learned that the risk of loss is more imaginary than real. Love grows best in an atmosphere of freedom, not control.

    To hold friendships loosely certainly does not imply lack of care. Rather, we think and act from an attitude of trust. We cannot keep friends in the same manner as we might hold onto material possessions to prevent losing them. Most of us learn that friendships can change, and that with some persons the bonds of mutual affection and interest increases over time, and with others the links and connections diminish. However, we never really lose a friend, because we did not own each other. Besides, we always retain as part of us, all experiences of trust and love, however implicit and unexpressed they might have been. In many friendly relationships at work and in organizations to which we belong, we rely on the ordinary wisdom of allowing for looseness in our interactions, so that we will not lose the many benefits of these varied social contacts.

    Even within ourselves, we have likely found that a great amount of what we do with thoughts and ideas, and especially imagination, have more beneficial results when we loosen restraints on our interior faculties rather than holding them tightly for fear of losing an inspiration. Unfounded fear, just as much as real threats, physiologically restricts the flow of blood to the brain and diminishes our capacity for accomplishing goals that are in keeping with our values. Once we recognize the negative effects of anxiety, we can decide, based on our estimate of the cause, how to proceed. We can, if we wish, recall an event when we worried about what someone might think, and we became overly cautious in what we said or did on that occasion. By positive contrast, we surely can remember a time when we deliberately put aside thoughts of what might be in the minds of others and loosed our powers of thought and imagination so that we spoke or acted in a manner that was wholly appropriate in the circumstances.

    Perhaps a prevalent fear among many of us come with the thoughts of what we might lose if we are honest with someone, including, or perhaps even especially, God. No one wants to lose other’s good opinions, and especially their acceptance of us as we are, which is ultimately an act of love. We cannot force trust, and should not attempt to do so, but we can reflect carefully on the relative trustworthiness of others before we risk any kind of revelation about our innermost concerns, desires and ideas. With good reason, we can say that there really is no risk of losing God’s love, no matter what we might bring forward in our own consciousness. All is already known, and we are accepted and loved before we acknowledge our truth.

    Loose is not the same as lose.

  • Soul - Who we are.

    When we say that someone has “soul,” we refer to a quality that is positive and is also attractive and encouraging. To attribute “soul” to anyone is always a compliment, and on the part of the one making the designation it reveals a value for something that surpasses ordinary experience. If we are willing to reflect on concepts and experiences we have had with “soul,” we will become more aware of a deeply held and perhaps largely implicit life-defining value. 

    A core meaning of soul is that it is stands for a whole person, in whom body, mind and spirit are well integrated and are also manifested in word and in deed. When we use the word “soul” in describing someone, we do not refer primarily to their spiritual side, their intellectual capacity or any other human characteristic, but rather to a notable and inspiring expression of wholeness. 

    We believe that there is more to all people than what we can learn about them only from appearances.  On occasion, some observable behavior catches our attention, and we need a word or words to describe this aspect of a human that is beyond mere externals. For many, in contemporary culture, “soul” appears to be a more acceptable word for what we notice than, for example, “spiritual,” or “holy,” though all three point to transcendence.  When we recognize in others, a quality which is more than what we think of as ordinary, we are in some manner uplifted. When we notice goodness in them, we are in that moment oriented in the same direction. If we reflect on our experiences, we might realize that the same quality we admire in others resides, at least in some measure, within us, and that we have “soul” in common.

    Ignatius of Loyola had a favorite prayer that begins with the words, “Soul of Christ.” Perhaps the attraction for Ignatius was that in starting with that one word, he could name, in summary, everything about Jesus that he had come to know and love, no matter how magnificent or mundane. For us, whether in reference to Christ, or to anyone else whose whole being we esteem greatly, that one word, “soul” allows us to revere a person in his or her entirety. In doing so, we open our minds and hearts to a reality greater than any that we can perceive with our physical senses.

    We ourselves can spontaneously, and in a manner more pleasing than by all that we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell, perceive “soul” in others.  When we engage our inner senses of love and trust we more fully appreciate in others, that capacity for integral unity that is our calling, too. We are often distracted by our normal activities from valuing the kind of being that we essentially are. God is praised, and each of is better off, when we acknowledge greatness of soul in others, and desire the same for ourselves.

    We have within us the possibility of a simple prayer of gratitude: “Bless the Lord, my soul.” (Psalm 103:1)

  • Onions - Sometimes tears are a part of our relationships.

    Peeling, cutting and chopping onions can cause tears, but as part of a salsa or a sauce, onions add significantly to the taste of the foods that include them. Whether we like onions in some of the food we eat or not, they are very common in recipes of almost all cultural and ethnic communities. The amount and qualities of onions used in cooking makes all the difference between our liking and disliking the taste. 

    The way we relate with people, from closest family members and friends to a single interaction with a person we do not know, can be related with our knowledge of onions. If we choose to reflect a bit, we will very likely gain a greater appreciation for the grand variety and value of our relationships. In some interactions, we add a little humor to lighten them, like a bit of dried onion; with others we might typically be firm and directive, like adding a portion of chopped onion. No two relationships are the same, because no two persons are the same. The delicate, quiet approach that works so well with one, does not fit in our communicating with another. With some persons we need to speak and act very consistently, while with others, our manner of relating is much more creative. Like good chefs, we intuitively know which relationships call for a subtle addition of spice, and others for a strong taste of it.  

    Onions have layers that are very clearly visible after the outer covering has been removed. With many of the people we encounter in brief transactions as in a shop or store, we or they might habitually keep our protective covering. However, some of us enjoy relating with almost everyone by direct friendliness, especially if we have had generally satisfactory results in doing so. Similarly, we have probably met individuals who had the gift of expressing genuine interest in us in a first or even only, meeting. Unlike onions, whose layers are precisely defined, we humans bring variety to our interactions according to our unique personalities, revealing different layers of ourselves in no specific or predictable pattern.

    We often begin relationships with a sharing of readily observable surface characteristics, and, over time, reveal features that are less visible, according to the deeper levels of trust that we choose to extend. Even though no friendships are equal in the sense of each trusting the other to the same degree and revealing ourselves in an exactly reciprocal manner, we spontaneously open our inner lives to those by whom we are willing to be known just as we are.

    People like or dislike the flavor of onions. We also like or dislike some persons, but strive to love them all, which is a choice, not a spontaneous and passing feeling that we might have. We use onions, for flavoring food. We do not use persons, whose worth transcends our personal preferences of taste and liking or disliking.

    Our capacity for giving and receiving love is greater than any of our talents or gifts, for it comes from the infinite love we know as God.

  • Questions - Not all questions deserve answers.

    Sometimes we ask questions because we want information, but we are also capable of putting statements and opinions into the form of questions when we want others to know what we think or believe. We recognize real questions when we receive them and answer them if or as we think best. Questions come to us in surveys seeking factual data that we can easily answer when we choose to do so, but in personal relationships, we might find it more challenging to give direct answers.

    Even when we do the asking, we reveal something about ourselves in what our interests might be, whether of mere facts that can be found in reference materials, or of personal affairs that involve some level of intimacy. As questioners, we take very little risk in seeking readily available information, but we are careful when we enquire about something that might have important consequences in a relationship. Even in asking how someone is doing might elicit a reply that in turn requires of us some further involvement. The sincerity and concern we manifest in asking questions gives them a meaning and value far beyond the words that we use.

    If we receive unwanted questions, we might not give answers, even though we thereby unavoidably disclose something of our priorities and values. Recalling some uncomfortable situations when we decided it was better to give no answer than to engage in excuses or offer explanations, we might recognize that it took courage to refuse to answer, but we are pleased that we did not trespass our own integrity. We learn through experience that not all questions are worthy of an answer, especially if they are intrusive, or attempts at manipulation. 

    One of the most ubiquitous questions people can ask is, “Why?” Children ask, often because they want to know something for which there is an answer, but even they quickly learn that they can use the form of a question as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with an instruction or command. As adults, we do not always welcome questions about why we have made a particular decision.

    Even within ourselves, when we reflect on our internal processes, we might acknowledge occasions when we asked ourselves why something happened to us or to anyone else that was hurtful, and found no satisfactory answer. Quite often, we mistake an intellectual question seeking information, which cannot change reality, when our proper concern is what we or others can do in response to the words, events or thoughts that have occurred. When we ask a question of ourselves, let it be one that leads to healing or some positive direction that affects us holistically, not just mentally.

    Some people are afraid to ask a question of God. However, for any who are willing to receive an answer, the only question best avoided is, “Why?” All others, when we ask in sincerity and truth, and remain with them in prayer, will, within us, be answered as we need at that time. Answers are recognizable by a sense of peace or lessened anxiety.

    Questions that arise from trust and love are always answered, though not necessarily in words.

  • Peace Be with You - More than a wish, certainly a gift.

    Is it a wish, a blessing or a command to say or even think of directing a message of peace to someone? And what significance is there for one who is on the receiving end of such an intended communication of peace? We have complete freedom to imagine various answers that might be meaningful to us, with no thought that there could be one and only one “correct” answer.

    Even in a formal religious setting, with the exact words, “peace be with you,” there are still multiple and complementary meanings possible for those of us willing to consider them. For example, any expression that suggests a desire for peace, whether for a specific individual or for a community of persons, is a gift. The depth or extent of such an intention depends upon the one who thinks, speaks or writes the words, for they can be given as an expected formality, or as an offering of full and conscious good will. As recipients of such a greeting of peace, we can let the words pass through us without effect as we do when hearing a conversation that does not involve us personally, or we can let the words take on a meaning that results in an experience of peace.

    When we move from an exact formulation of words to thinking creatively of other means we have for communicating a good-willed intention of peace, options abound. The human spirit is much better at devising ways of expressing goodness than the opposite, no matter how much the stories and events that easily manipulate emotions of fear and anger are featured in most of the media. Wanting someone to have a bit more peace in his or her heart is not newsworthy, yet it is of much more value than a multiplicity of factual statements of bad news that elicit excitement and strong negative feelings. 

    Any intention of a person that someone else or some group would have an experience of interior peace is a spiritual movement, whether given in a religious context or not. Beneath, and supporting such a desire, is love, however unconscious it might be. In like manner, to accept anyone’s direction of our minds and hearts towards the reception of peace is also spiritual, even if we are unaware that love is involved.

    Peace, of the kind we desire for others, is not just the absence of turmoil, and it is certainly not the absence of all suffering. Rather, it is an orientation of heart and mind in which those who experience it accept their present realities, including an implicit acknowledgment of being in a proper relationship with all that exists. To greet or to be greeted with a desire, wish, hope or intention of peace with such an understanding, is a blessing.

    We are not limited to words as a means of communicating our good intentions for peace. An understanding smile, a compassionate look, a silent presence with another, are also quite capable of conveying such a gift of love.

    Peace be with you.

  • Trials and trails - We can decide which predominates in our lives.

    Some of us think about the challenging episodes in our lives as being trials that have to be endured, others of us see them as trails that lead off in directions that we would not otherwise have taken, and which turn out to be for the better. Either way, we all determine the approach we will take when relating with circumstances that are not of our own choosing. Even if we have developed some habitual attitudes by which to identify problems and challenges as being either hindrances or opportunities, we can consciously reflect on our internal language for describing such occurrences and decide how we want to proceed in the future.

    If events that disturb us are trials, then who has put us on trial, and who will judge us as having succeeded or failed? Those who try out for a position on a team or seek to participate in a performance of some kind, know that there are judges who determine the persons who are selected and those who are not. When we seek placement in some organization for which membership is not simply for all who apply, someone is going to make a judgment as to our admittance. However, when difficulties arise in our lives, such as ill health, accidents or unpleasant encounters, these are not entrance requirements for membership in a club but are realities of our engagement with life. No one sets up tricks and traps in life as if it were a boot camp. Yet, suffering from unforeseen events is indeed a part of life as we know it.

    Trails have beginnings and ends. Trails might go through some very difficult terrain and are affected by weather and by various kinds of plants, animals, insects and airborne pathogens. Even if we choose the trails we take, some might say that trials occur on them. In going from one place to another, perhaps some challenges seem as though they were designed to defeat people. The question comes to mind: Who set up the trial, and who does the judging? We choose the trails, and we are the judges as to whether the circumstances we encounter on the way are such that we choose not to continue.

    Even for those who have very strong religious beliefs and equally strong opinions about whether God actively sets up tests or trials for people, we still have the essential freedom to choose a positive or a negative way to relate with distressing realities over which we do not have direct control. For some, it might be a source of consolation to think that they are passing a test that affirms their worth as persons. Others find consolation in thinking of painful or difficult occurrences as opportunities for them to grow in love. We are each of us responsible for our way of describing to ourselves and to others how we look at the arduous parts of living a good life.

    We can reflect on our experiences in life so far and decide whether we are primarily on trial or on a trail.

  • Old - Only those subject to time comparisons grow old.

    When someone or something is designated as old, it is done by comparison based on length of time. Even a mayfly that usually lives for only a day can be called old if it lives a bit longer than others. No one or nothing is old unless a starting point in time is established. Astronomers can only learn how old our universe is by determining when it began. Without knowing a beginning date, the only way to ascertain age is by comparison with persons or things that come chronologically before or after a known time.

    Without time as a means for measuring and comparing, there can be no young or old. The most that can be stated with accuracy is that someone or something is. For those who are willing to reflect on real agelessness, the results are almost always quite positive. Only by insistence on the impossibility of eternity will peace and joy fail to be experienced by those who wonder what it is like for there to be no “old.”

    We are so used to living in time, with reminders of measurement of its passing all around us, from clocks and personal electronics to the cycle of day and night, that we rarely think about another reality that is in some ways harder to grasp than the size of the universe, and yet one that is deeply consonant with who we are. When we pause to consider the status of all who have gone before us from this present life that is encompassed by time, we usually think of them as the way they were in their last years of life. We continue to grow older, but they do not. Those of our ancestors who died a long time ago are not older than those who joined them recently. Nor are they growing older than us as we are now. Age is not a consideration when there is no time. There is no possibility of comparing age when no one ages.

    We, in our present environment of time, cannot imagine what it is like to live in timelessness, but we can know that it is happening, because we remain bonded in love with many who have died, whether recently or long ago. Whatever mode of being there is for those not bound by time, there is no logical necessity for them to remain in the same exact form as when they died. Life is surely different for them, but life means change, activity, and most of all love. Those beyond time are always their unique selves, but in ways even harder for us to imagine than just that of living where “old” does not exist.

    There is no proof, only reasoning to support our thoughts about the state of those who have died and with whom our connections of love have not come to an end. If we are at peace with the notion of life after death, no matter how difficult to imagine what it is like, we can still be consoled with our belief that they continue always to be who they are, and not old.

  • Mentors - a transcendent gift.

    On Thanksgiving Day, while many people were giving thanks for all kinds of blessings in their lives, many would surely have thought of family members and friends, teachers and authors as well as others whose deeds and words were especially influential. Whether or not the word “mentors” crosses our minds in our thinking of individuals who have touched our lives in ways for which we are grateful, the remembering of them is a kind of gift that keeps on giving. Reflecting on what we have received from others in the past positively affects us in the present, and is a valuable ongoing practice, not just part of an annual Thanksgiving Day tradition.

    We do not exercise in general, but walk, play sports, ride a bike, or engage in some other specific form of exercise. Rather than thinking of mentors in general, we think of individuals, taking a few moments to recall some definite incidents or simply the persons themselves, and our interior sensations that affirm and confirm the goodness we once received. We are encouraged to continue in the directions upon which those initial inspirations set us moving.

    We can begin with remembering the gifts and graces occasioned in us by mentors, gurus, coaches and people for whom we never thought of possessing any kind of title. We can reflect upon their good influence which is now manifested in how we “pay it forward.” For example, we can consider someone who contributed to our growth and development and recall the specific personal realization of a reality conveyed to us that has memorable positive effects. With only a bit more reflection, we will be able to see one of the ways in which we have internalized a truth that now informs and guides some of our habitual behavior. Unconsciously, we share with others certain of the gifts that our mentors gave to us. 

    Many people refer to those who inspired them as “angels,” which is a fine way of acknowledging the transcendent aspect of the powerful good effects that these persons have had upon us. If we take a little time to ponder one or more changes in our lives initiated by our free response to their guidance, the spiritual aspect of what happened within us becomes easier to recognize and acknowledge and becomes a cause for thankfulness. Mentoring is ultimately from Love.

    When we reflect on how much help we have received by the unforced direction we accepted from others, we might see that we have a loving, not burdensome responsibility, to act this way ourselves. We cannot decide whose lives we will influence or inspire, for we cannot know the depths of another human person’s readiness to respond to anything we might say or do. However, we can trust our own inspirations as to what we will share and when we will communicate it with another person, always without expectations as to how our good-willed offering will be received.

    Finally, if “mentor” is not the appropriate word for these people who have been such significant influences, what name or image comes to mind?