Centering Thought: ";Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet."; - Thich Nhat Hanh
Prayer ";My Prayer for You,"; by Bree Byrd
May you always know joy.
May you find enough laughter through the tears that will fall, to see the beauty the world has to show you.
May you find the hidden whispers of knowledge in the series of moments the universe offers you.
May you always remember the innocent faith you had as a child, yet never lose the questions either.
May you always know wonder.
May you never hide the spark of life inside you, never dim it for anyone.
May you always hear the music of the hearts around you.
May you always know love.
May you never forget who you were, who you are, or who you wish to be.
May you always find those answers for yourself.
May you always find your way home through the dark.
May you always have an open mind, an open heart, and an open eye.
May you never be blind to the ugliness of the world, or its grace.
May you always find your clarity when you need it.
May you always know hope.
This is my prayer for you.
Personal Reflection Bree Byrd
I was having a ";Mentor Park Moment."; That's what some of us call it here, when all the realities of living at Mentor Park come crashing down on you. I've seen it happen to everyone here sooner or later, sometimes you yell, sometimes you cry, mostly you just feel like this can't be real. And as I stood there, half awake, wrapped in nothing but a blanket, staring at two SWAT officers with shields and assault rifles, I was seriously having a Mentor Park moment. In my four years of living in this corner of Mentor through which half the drugs in Lake County pass through, I've seen brawls and domestic violence, fires both electrical and arson, homeless living in tents in the woods, and realities and lives no one should ever experience. It's often surreal that this neighborhood even exists here in Mentor. Our whole complex once flooded and we were without power at the same time. I've seen emergency services ridicule residents and harass them. When the police are called either they do nothing or they try to arrest everyone. When asked for help, we're told to live somewhere better. The city inspectors who came to my apartment this year seemed more interested in citing our kitchen floor that needed mopped than worrying that my bathroom is slowly collapsing or that there are spots you can nearly step through in my living room floor. Nearly everyone who lives here is on some sort of social service. Some have survived periods without heat or electricity and frankly, no one chooses to live at Mentor Park. People who end up here put up with the conditions because they have nowhere else to go. It's often referred to as the last stop before homelessness and for many here it's true. More than once it's all overwhelmed me. But this, as I stood in my hallway shaking and trying to keep my dog from getting shot, terrified and angry, as the SWAT officer told me they had to search my apartment for bodies, well... I was probably well into my worst ";Mentor Park Moment"; ever, and there would be many more to follow in the next few days. The SWAT team had entered on a false call. Any resident who complained was simply told that the police ";have the right to protect themselves,"; and got to listen to the cops walking around joking about how at least no one would be late to work that day. I felt less than human the people who were supposed to keep me safe saw my trauma as something funny. I was emptied out.
After the police left, we crowded into a neighbor's apartment commiserating. Everyone was shook up, i sat on the floor overwhelmed with rage. How could anyone be expected to live this way?
Cigarettes were shared, coffee was passed, and comfort was given. Everyone's focus was to take care of each other and for just a second there was a moment within the moment.
I asked myself, how can we raise a child here, seeing all the dark that happens here? But along with that dark exists a network of people, who are the first to share what little they have. That fire? Some risked themselves to run in and make sure the kids made it out. The domestic violence? People step in to stop it and have saved lives. When someone has no food, someone reaches into their own cupboards. When we struggled with learning to parent a preteen and when I got sick we found a support system. Multi household dinners, sharing of resources, and knowledge of systems, are all common. Neighbors help us with everything from sewing a Halloween costume to camping out with me in a hospital for a week. when we try to teach our child values, especially community, we get to show her in action not just theory.
As I sat there drinking my coffee, all of that hit me. And the moment within the moment carried me through and kept me grounded as is often the case here. I won't pretend that the worse one didn't come back. All the good moments can't make the bad ones go away, no matter how much gratitude and positivity I have. But sometimes they make them easier to bear for a little while.
Reading ";Thank You, Life,"; by Gary van Warmerdam
I recall a friend of mine calling up one day struggling with the notion of death. A friend of the family was in the final stages of cancer and was going to be passing on soon. She asked me, ";Why Death?";
We talked for sometime and after she had made some peace with the specific issues that were troubling her I asked her, ";Why Life?"; Why do we get to have this experience at all? We weren't promised any deal. We aren't owed this opportunity to create experiences. No one was under any obligation to deliver us any particular deal in this realm. And yet we are here. A wide open opportunity to wake up and do something completely different every day. Every day, every moment even, an opportunity to create something in our life. We might just use the gift of every day to recreate it like every other day. Or, one day, we might not. One day we might look at it a little differently and do something completely differently. What is so different for me these days than the days of old is a profound sense of gratitude for the simplest things in my life. Why have I been blessed with so many gifts and so many moments of opportunity to experience them? My logical mind has no idea. But I will not waste my opportunity today struggling with that question. There may not be many days left so I will savor the ones I have with gratitude. When you are aware that death is coming you no longer take life for granted.
Sermon ";Kiss The Earth With Your Feet,"; Rev Denis Paul
There's Happier: How Gratitude, Appreciation and Kindness can Transform Your World, a guide on How to Find Happiness (1)
And then there's Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy (2)
Of course you could pick up Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Emotional Prosperity (3)
But you'd have to also consider the seemingly less complicated and time-consuming Gratitude: 7 Simple Steps to Becoming More Grateful in 7 Days (4)
If you're searching for the shortest route, Gratitude and Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life (5) should do the trick
But. Based on title alone, my personal favorite is the mysterious-looking and rare-sounding selection known as, The Secret Gratitude Book (6)
I haven't actually read any of them, but the books I just named are only six of the 15 titles I found in a quick search on Amazon.com for books with the word gratitude in their titles. I could have gone to the local library, or the catalog of the Library of Congress and found everything ever published in the United States. I'm sure I would have found hundreds of books on the subject, books that don't include the word in their titles.
I just didn't have enough appreciation for all the work so many authors have done. Call me ungrateful. Or jaded.
This time of year especially, there are so many resources out there -- books, movies, TED talks, essays, blogs, spiritual programs, classes, anything you can think of - that make a simple promise: if you develop a practice of being grateful, every moment of every day, then you will transform your life into something positive. Energizing. Enviable.
And it makes sense. I have a daily practice of gratitude. After my morning run, I face the sun, bring my hands together in prayer - because I am a seeker after all - and take a deep breath. Then I raise my hands in the air, aware of one way I have been blessed, and the person or persons most responsible for that blessing, then I gather it in close to me as a treasured gift. I feel the gratitude in my flesh and bones, and then - as we should do with all gifts - I release it back into the world.
Then I return to the posture of seeking and continue with another blessing. Sometimes I attend to three blessings. Sometimes more. Sometimes a lot more, because face it...I have pretty nice life.
The problem with all this attention on gratitude, the problem with these promises that thankfulness can transform you is that it's all so .... Confident. There's a promise implicit in the whole idea of gratitude the way it's presented these days: if you have good attitude, if you really
And that's a problem because it sounds too similar to prosperity gospel.
Prosperity Gospel, which is sometimes called Health and Wealth Gospel or even the Gospel of success, is a Christian theology that emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment in reaching a state of well-being. The theology has its roots in New Thought (which was taught early on at Emerson College of Oratory, founded by Charles Wesley Emerson, a Unitarian Minister) in the 19th century, but didn't really take off until the 1950's healing revivals. Prosperity theology mushroomed in the 1990's with people like Joel Osteen preaching that Christians are entitled to well-being because God wants them to be happy. These ministers have been telling their flocks to remain positive, visualize good things for themselves, and act generously. Especially in giving to the church. In doing so, you will be healthy and successful and you will reach heaven in the after life.
Prosperity Gospel has been so successful that its adherents have funded mega churches all over the United States. I don't want to imply that all Christian mega churches preach Prosperity. On the contrary, Rick Warren and Jerry Falwell hate prosperity theology and consider it heretical to Christianity.
But even those who don't believe in the primacy of Christianity often espouse similar ideas. Most of the books I've come across aren't written from a Christian perspective but they put forth the idea that if you project positivity into the world, grateful for all the good that comes your way, more good will come your way.
While that may be true, it's not the whole picture. There are times when we do everything right: give as much as we can, imagine good things coming our way, and hope for the best for others....things still go wrong. And people around us, hoping to be helpful say things like ";just think positive thoughts and it will all work out.";
Well, what if it doesn't?
Have you ever had a time when things weren't going well, and you didn't want anybody to know? Your marriage was ending or the house was in foreclosure? Maybe you didn't want to tell people for fear they'd give unwanted advice? Or they'd be too cheerful?
When I was in seminary, I was working on a project with a staff person, and a challenge in her life directly affected her work. She looked around furtively, dragged me into a dark, tiny room and closed the door, before telling me in a whisper what what had happened. ";please don't tell anyone,"; she begged.
";Why?"; I asked. Frankly, it didn't seem that bad.
";There are a hundred people around here who want to be ministers,"; she said. ";I don't want them all telling me that they'll pray for me, and that I should just stay positive. I just need to feel pissed off right now.";
Made sense to me. Anger is an important stage in grieving any kind of loss, on the way to acceptance, along with denial, bargaining and depression. Prevent any of those for another person, and you've just interfered with a totally natural process, probably doing more harm than good.
Has anything bad ever happened to you that was totally out of your control, just because you were in the wrong place? Somebody dented your car, parallel parked while you were in a meeting you didn't want to go to? Or maybe you got sick eating something you knew you wouldn't like?
That's kind of what it's like for the residents of Mentor Park. As Bree said, nobody chooses to live there. They live there because they have no other choices. So when bad things happen, when the power is shut off because of a flood, when SWAT Teams are called onto the scene in the middle of the night, it doesn't help residents to be told they should just move, anymore than it would help the police to be told they shouldn't have gotten a false lead. Nobody wanted to be in that situation.
For those of us who have never had to live in a place because we've had no other choice, those of us who've been blessed to have things go well most of the time, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking Bree and her neighbors could change their lives, if only they would put more positive energy into the world. If they could be more grateful for what they have, more generous with their time and other resources, and just imagine good things happening for themselves, they'd find a way to move on. Maybe get better jobs or something. Then, they'd deserve it.
The problem is that nobody deserves to live in a place where it's common to be threatened. And if we live in safe, comfortable settings, and aren't aware of the transitory nature of it all, if we aren't constantly aware that anything can change in a heartbeat, it's easy to become blind to the need of others. Even when those needs are created through no fault of their own.
So the question I am left with, when I think of gratitude practices, is who does the practice serve? If I live with a daily intention of being grateful for all the ways in which I don't have to worry about my health, safety and comfort, who benefits?
Obviously I should benefit. After all, I want good things in my life. I want to live free of fear so that I can do good things in the world. So, I should benefit from a good practice of gratitude. And my daily practice of facing the sun and moving my body works really well. Most days. Then, sometimes it doesn't.
There are those days when all the good moments, all the good people, all the opportunities that fill my life just aren't going to make the bad ones go away. Days when the weather has been too cold and too grey for too long. Days when I miss the two best friends I ever had, buried too young. And I know there will be days in my future filled with pain. Disease. Medical procedures.
My hope is that on the days when thankfulness is easy, my spirit will be filled enough to sustain me on days when it's not so easy. The practice is about building hope.
Your practice of gratitude should serve you. But, it should also serve something larger, something more universal. It should make you want to, as thich Nhat Hanh said ";walk on the Earth as if you were kissing it with your feet."; The deepest gratitude is so deep that it reaches into the ground itself, the basis of all life, all being, amking you so appreciative of it that you want to protect all the life that comes up from it, including the cycle of life and death that makes it possible.
With that depth for the appreciation of life, with all it's trials and tribulations, you should be able to increase your compassion for others, to see the ways in which they are victims of circumstance as easily as you can see the ways in which they authored their own stories and to know the difference. That's how to be of service.
If you want to be helpful, you have to have the right message, delivered to the right person, at the right time. It's a truism of advertising that applies to all human relationships.
This is all stuff we know, but A good practice of gratitude helps us deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. (TNH) That's the part that transforms the world.
What are you Mentor Park moments? The moments when, even though things look terrible, you can still walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet?
(1) Andy Lacroix. Self-published. Available on Kindle.
(2) Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Moody Publishers.
(3) Robert A. Emmons. Jossey-Bass.
(4) Ruth Logan. HRD Publishing.
(5) Paul Williams and Tracey Jackson. Plume.
(6) Rhonda Byrne. Atria Books.