Last night at the Center, we watched the movie With One Voice, a documentary that explores the unity of humanity, reveals our essential oneness and spreads the single message that binds all faiths together. Spiritual leaders from 15 different religious traditions were invited to share their experiences of the Divine and how their particular religious tradition taught about peace and love, especially in relation to our world. One overarching theme was spoken over and over again: we are all part of the same oneness. Regardless of your skin color or religious affiliation, we all experience anger, shame, frustration and stress. We all feel love, compassion, gratitude and awe. These experiences and feelings are universal among all human beings and transcend differences that really exist only at the surface level.
This message resonated deep within me – it seems every book I read or speaker I listen to or webinar I watch lately alludes to this same message – we are one. We are one. We are all spirits seeking connection to something bigger than our small selves and the small world we confine ourselves to. We are all seekers mining for meaning in a senseless world of consumerism, rampant tribalism, and runaway abuses where we are battered by both natural and man-made disasters and acts of violence. We are all yearning for the same peace in our lives.
When I reflect on things this way, I can very easily tire of how our religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, spend an enormous amount of time and resources defining our separate identities and separating ourselves from each other. Just as division and tribalism are the addiction of our society, our religious institutions thrive on defining identity and narrowly focusing in on praxis unique to our specific traditions as if that alone defines who we are as Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. If Jesus’ teaching is so countercultural (as we believe and teach), why do we fall prey to the cultural tendencies of division and separateness?
Because of my recent reading, viewing, and watching, I believe that a different dialogue is taking place beyond the borders of our churches. I see a movement toward embracing the one universal truth as a starting point for inter-spiritual relationship. By focusing on what we all have in common and how to nurture and cultivate that awareness rather than that which separates us, we grow relationships and community. The very energy around this more accepting and inclusive spirituality feels softer, gentler, more loving than the energy in our faith communities today.
Make no mistake, I love my Catholic faith and community. My spiritual identity and experience of the Divine is deeply rooted in the Catholic traditional. But as we, like most religious traditions, grapple with our struggling communities, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we shifted our focus away from solidifying our Catholic identity toward recognizing our universal identity as children of the Creator. I wonder what would happen if, instead of the us-versus-them approach to evangelization, we banded together as believers of one Divine being with one voice, worked together to bring more love into the world. Now that truly would be countercultural.
I received an email from my mom the other day informing me that the husband of my adopted sister Cathy had died suddenly. Images of the last time I saw Cathy, over ten years ago at a family party, filled my memory. I strained to recall what little I knew of her – oh yeah, mom said she married. I actually knew very little about her except for the occasional unsolicited updates from my parents. Reading the email, I felt nothing inside.
Cathy and her brother entered our lives when I was six; my entire world turned upside down. My parents were ill-prepared for the brokenness of children who were horribly abused by their birth parents and left emotionally, psychologically, and mentally traumatized. Sadly, our family collapsed under the weight of it all – my siblings and I scattered and hid best we could to escape the pain of our shattered life. They did the best they could, my parents; they just didn’t have the tools in their toolbox.
I’ve spent most of my life working through the rejection, abuse, and anger endured as a consequence of my broken family. So when I read the news of Cathy’s pain, I sadly felt absolutely nothing.
In feeling that nothing, though, I realized I also didn’t feel anger or resentment or that “whatever” feeling I get when I really don’t want to deal with something. The nothing wasn’t a hardened nothing but a soft, gentle space. I realized that I had let all the pain go, the deep wounds finally healed. I began to see Cathy as a person, a person who just lost the love of her life, a person who lost one of the few people who treated her with genuine love. I saw her as someone who has struggled her entire life to find a place in this world, who finally found it only to lose it again. As I opened my heart further, I began to feel Cathy’s sadness and overwhelming grief. Out of that sadness and grief, I could reach out and send my condolences.
I don’t know if I will ever see Cathy again – she is now living down south near her kids. I do know that if I do, I can embrace her with genuine affection. I have complete, deeply, and lovingly forgiven and let go.
So if you are struggling with forgiveness – I get it. I wish I had a quick, easy remedy to help, but unfortunately I don’t. It’s no easy thing to let go of a deep, long-lasting wound. The world wants us to forget, to get over it, but we never forget - ever. Instead, I can now reflect on those events and see how they have shaped me into who I am today. There is where I meet God. Gradually, ever so slowly, I have handed over my pain and have been set free.
The last several weeks have been really crazy – awesome and amazing but crazy. One of those “how much more can I cram into my super-busy life” kind of weeks? Yeah we’ve all had them. Between work and time with friends this past day or two, I’ve actually managed to sneak in laundry and other chores. Now, with the end of the day drawing near, I find myself trying to finish one last thing before I call it quits and enjoy my (well-deserved) glass of wine. As I’m folding the baskets of now-clean laundry, it suddenly occurs to me – I get to fold and put away clean laundry. Have you ever stopped and reflected on the gift of clean laundry? It probably escapes us that over half the world has only one change of clothes and hardly ever gets to do laundry. The fact that I have three baskets of nice, clean, laundered clothes is an incredible blessing.
Tomorrow morning, before my husband wakes, I’ll tromp off to the grocery store to restock supplies for the upcoming weeks. I get to go into an air conditioned, clean building to select from a wide-variety of products from which I and my family will eat plentiful this next week. The only limitation on my purchase will be my personal tastes and preferences. Have you ever stopped and reflected on the gift of a grocery store and our ability to just shop at will? Another incredible blessing in our lives.
I guess what I am getting at is what can happen from a subtle shift in perspective; how the slightest movement transforms our lives from chores, to-do’s and have-to’s into gifts, get-to’s and opportunities. Life is hard and full of challenges, or suffering as the Buddha would label it. Sometimes, our perceptions perpetuate our discomfort, prolonging the very suffering we wish to be freed from. The good news is that we can learn to see differently, see life as it really is, free from all our projections and distortions and thereby attain true peace. Sometimes we need help in making that shift in perspective. At A Place To Be Spirituality Center, someone is always on hand to listen. Perhaps a kind listener is all you need to shift your view of your world. Stop in anytime – we are here to welcome you.
We have officially opened – the boxes are unpacked, the furniture is in place and books have been catalogued! How exciting it has been seeing our space come into being. I’ve had the privilege of sharing many of the books I have read over the years. As the boxes were unpacked, I found myself reflecting back on my own spiritual journey: “I loved this book!’ or “This is one of my favorite authors!” or “I really want to read this one again!” Authors I had encountered early in my journey greeted me once again, taking their place on the shelf alongside those who joined me as I grew and matured. Writings I clung to in times of suffering and despair as well as those that rejoiced with me in times of great joy gently reminded me of the ebbs and flows of the transformational process. I believe it is helpful to stop from time to time and reflect on the milestones along our own spiritual journeys. We need to be reminded of how God has been with us in times of turmoil and in times of joy to gain an awareness of our own growth throughout. Perhaps this reminder becomes sustenance for our current path or merely affirms that growth is occurring. Regardless, there is great power in the pause.
A Place To Be offers many opportunities for such reflection: Geography of Grace retreat, In The Land Between ministry, spiritual companioning or quiet, personal retreat time. Consider giving yourself the gift of time and space to reflect on your own journey and listen for God’s presence in your life.
Kelly is the Director of A Place To Be Spirituality Center. Here she shares her thoughts and reflections about life, family, God, spirituality and whatever strikes her in the moment. We hope something here resonates within your own spirit and that you will share. Enter into the conversation, share your story, join the family of A Place To Be, a spiritual home for seekers wherever they are on their journey. We look forward to getting to know you!