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Archive for spirituality

Nurturing Gratitude

-by David Guerra

Last spring, I attended a day-long retreat for caregivers at Mission San Jose. It was filled with workshops and information as well as fun activities designed to give the 100 or so caregivers a break. One of the workshops really stood out to me. It was about gratitude.

I initially thought: Gratitude? I’m dealing with a really bad situation and you expect me to be grateful?

Studies, they explained, showed that when people looked for things to be grateful for, their overall well-being improved.

Skeptical, I decided to try it. I took a small daily diary that’d been sitting unused in my nightstand drawer. I opened to the first page. I thought about the events of the day and penned, “I am grateful for my singing voice, that I could share ‘My Sweet Embraceable You’ in a tender moment with Claude while caring for him.”

I thought about it. Wow, it did feel good to express how it made me feel. Maybe there’s something to this gratitude thing.

So I wrote another the next day. And the next… until it became a daily practice with one huge caveat: Positive things only, no complaints allowed. Even if the day has been horrible, I need to find one positive thing I’m glad for.

And you know what? I’ve noticed a difference in my attitude. As I go through the day, I am more aware of the bliss in little moments: The scent of a rose. The fleeting smile on Claude’s face.  A bird’s song, a loving hug, a day of peace as family, good news from the doctor, the glow of sunlight through the trees, the soft downy fluff of a turkey chick in my hand, kindness from a stranger, laugher and recognizing love in its many forms.  

All these things are gifts! Moments of peace and joy and wonder, tiny treats that nurture the soul. So many in a course of a day, too many to catalog! I cherish each one of them because they show me that there is, indeed, much to be grateful for. 

 

The Small, Still Voice Within

boy meditating and sunThis Sunday at Skyline we begin a new year together. 

I encourage you in this “in between” time to take time to listen to the small, still voice within; guiding you in new life-giving directions. 

I’d like to share with you some inspiring reflections to guide you in this process:

Goals for the New Year… 

“Make New Year’s goals. Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come. 

Goals give us direction. They put a powerful force into play on a universal, conscious, and subconscious level. Goals give our life direction.

What would you like to have happen in your life this year? What would you like to do, to accomplish? What good would you like to attract into your life? What particular areas of growth would you like to have happen to you? What blocks, or character defects, would you like to have removed?

What would you like to attain? Little things and big things? Where would you like to go? What would you like to have happen in friendship and love? What would you like to have happen in your family life?

What problems would you like to see solved? What decisions would you like to make? What would you like to happen in your career?

Write it down. Take a piece of paper, a few hours of your time, and write it all down – as an affirmation of you, your life, and your ability to choose. Then let it go. 

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.” 

― Melody BeattieThe Language of Letting Go

Rainy Day Reflection on the Birth of Christ

dreamstime_s_47580200I love these rainy days, as the thirsty earth drinks deeply of the waters of renewal.

It seems to me that Christmas, like such rainy days, is a time of renewal, transformation and rebirth. The timeless story echoes throughout history, from stories like “Christmas in the Trenches”, to Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and yes, even to “How the Grinch stole Christmas.”

I encourage you, on rainy days like these, to pull out these timeless stories and listen for the voice of resurrection speaking in them. Words like:

Maybe Christmas,” the Grinch thought, “doesn’t come from a store.” Dr. Seuss,  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. Scrooge, on Christmas day, from Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

Christmas is a fine season for joy to think of those we love. Molere

And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time. Jesus Christ

I leave you with a beautiful poem by Madeline L’Engle:

The Risk of Birth, Christmas

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Blessings and love, Pastor Laurie

In Gratitude for Harmony with all People

dreamstimefree_251476I was born and raised in the land of the Wampanaugs in what eventually became known to us as “New England”. On this Thanksgiving, in particular in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and in the face of crushing backlash against refugees, let us remember with gratitude the kindness and hospitality provided by the indigenous people to English refugees seeking a better life.  

Let us pray to be healed from our pride and greed; and above all, our fear of, and violence against, those who are different from us. May we see the Spirit of God within all people. I leave you with a prayer from the Ojibwa people in gratitude for life and for harmony with all people. 

    Blessings, and peace, Pastor Laurie  

                        Ojibwa Prayer

Oh Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds

and whose breath gives life to everyone,

Hear me.

I come to you as one of your many children;

I am weak I am small I need your wisdom and your strength.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever

behold the red and purple sunsets.

Make my hands respect the things you have made,

and make my ears sharp so I may hear your voice.

Make me wise, so that I may understand what you

have taught my people and

The lessons you have hidden in each leaf

and each rock.

I ask for wisdom and strength,

Not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able

to fight my greatest enemy, myself.

Make me ever ready to come before you with

clean hands and a straight eye,

So as life fades away as a fading sunset,

My spirit may come to you without shame.

Photo: © Kmitu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Life-long Graduations and Our Deepest Values

We’re in the season of graduation, but not just for high school graduates venturing forth to college, but for all of us in this lifelong process of growth, evolution, and change. 

Throughout our lives we search for meaning, our vocation, and our life’s purpose.   

David Brooks, NY TImes journalist, writes:

So I’ve been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you put on your résumé, which are the skills you bring to the marketplace.The eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned in the eulogy, which are deeper: who are you, in your depth, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistent? And most of us, including me, would say that the eulogy virtues are the more important of the virtues. But at least in my case, are they the ones that I think about the most? And the answer is no.”  Click here for his Ted Talk

Reinhold Niebuhr summed up the confrontation:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by that final form of love, which is forgiveness.

Come and join us after the service for a conversation about how to live in this world, but not of this world, connected deeply with our deepest values. 

    Blessings, Laurie 

Skyline is Spiritual but not Religious

A Christian evangelical social research company recently surveyed young adult non-Christians on their attitudes toward Christianity.

  • 91%  said Christians are anti-gayboy meditating and sun
  • 87 % said Christians are judgmental
  • 85%, said they’re hypocritical
  • 78 % said they’re old fashioned
  • 72% said they’re out of touch with reality
  • 70% said they’re insensitive to others
  • 75% said Christians are too involved in politics, but the politics they’re talking about are not the politics of peacemaking or justice-making.  They’re talking about the anti-politics: anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights, anti-science.

No wonder people are spiritual but not religious!

Presbyterian pastor and social worker N. Graham Standish observes that the spiritual but not religious—he calls them SBNR for short—share several attributes: 

  1. they are “skeptical of hard and fast theological constructs about God.”  …they “tend to be post-modern, and thus are extremely suspicious of any ultimate truth claims.”
  2. the SBNR are willing to listen to all sides . . . “they want to consider religious and theological beliefs from a variety of perspectives.”
  3. they want to experience what’s true rather than be told what is true. . . . “they want to learn truth by touching it, smelling it, and tasting it.” 
  4. “SBNR folks tend to be sensitive to any form of hypocrisy, especially moralizing hypocrisy. When they see priest or pastor scandals in the face of the church’s obsession with homosexuality, they get turned off.”
  5. they are cautious about being identified too much with a religion. They see the “practice of religion as inhibiting the pursuit of the spiritual . . . .”

Do you know anybody who fits this SBNR description? Sounds like us! Come join us, as the power of the Holy Spirit continues transforming us in the ways of life! 

Also, Sunday June 7th – we celebrate our grads of all ages, including a procession to pomp and circumstance! Let us know who you are! 

Anyone up for a summer barbecue and family picnic on an upcoming Sunday after church? Let me know!! 

       Peace, Pastor Laurie 

Light in the Darkness

CN_Skyline_2010-12-24_ChristmasEveService_1014Blessings to you in this season of darkness, where we light candles and are reminded once more:

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Yes, we live in a broken world.

 At the same time, through us all I experience the in -breaking of God’s love right here in our community.  I experience it in the wonder of children taking part in our Christmas pageant. I experience it in the outpouring of love from this community to the homeless shelter in East Oakland; to feeding the hungry here in Alameda County; to supporting the education of 400 children of Makomray, Sierra Leone; and to caring for the immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

We experience it when we see the face of Christ, in everyone!

Come and celebrate the wonder of God’s love on Christmas Eve with us, Wed Dec 24th at 7 pm!

Bring your friends! We have childcare! It’s a short – all ages friendly service!

I wish to share a photo of a mom and dad with their three month old son, Air; one of the many EOCP Gift Familyfamilies with children that we visited earlier this week.  His parents named him Air because he is as precious as every breath we take and is filled with the Spirit of life. I cannot help but be reminded of that Holy family thousands of years ago who sought shelter as refugees, who’s precious child was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. (The family gave me permission to share with friends and members of Skyline)

I leave you with this poem by Howard Thurman about the ongoing healing of the world that we are called to bring forth in our lives.

Candles for Christmas

I will light Candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Blessings,
Pastor Laurie

God’s Time

Gods_ClockAdvent begins. A season where, in  patience, we dwell in God’s time; that is to say, the time beyond this world, this solar system, this galaxy, this universe, beyond all imagining.

There we find peace that passes all understanding. In Hinduism, patience is one of the thousand names of God.

When I say God I don’t mean an old white man with a beard up in the sky. I mean something ultimate and mysterious that defies definition and description, but which represents the deepest and truest and holiest things we know or dream or wish for. In that sense and that spirit I’d like to offer  a prayer by a man named Ted Loder, a prayer of waiting:

O God of all seasons and senses,
Grant me your sense of timing
To submit gracefully
And rejoice quietly
In the turn of the seasons.
In this season of short days and long nights,
Of grey and white and cold,
Teach me the lessons of waiting:
Of the snow joining the mystery
Of the hunkered-down seeds
Growing in their sleep
Watched over by gnarled-limbed, grandparent trees
Resting from autumn’s staggering energy;
Of the silent, whirling earth
Circling to race back home to the sun.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.
In this season of short days and long nights,sun and snow
Of grey and white and cold,
Teach me the lessons of endings:
Children growing,
Friends leaving,
Jobs concluding,
Stages finishing,
Grieving over,
Grudges over,
Blaming over,
Excuses over.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.
In this season of short days and long nights,
Of grey and white and cold,
Teach me the lessons of beginnings:
That such waitings and endings
May be a starting place,
A planting of seeds
Which bring to birth
What is ready to be born—
Something right and just and different,
A new song,
A deeper relationship,
A fuller love—
In the fullness of your time.
O God, grant me your sense of timing.

Blessings, Pastor Laurie

Jesus a Radical, Hanging Out with the “Least of These”

Jesus was a very radical dude. In his time,  much like our times in this country, people were very divided one from another. Back then if you were a child or a woman, if you had no money, if you had a disease or a physical disability, or if you came from the wrong country or city or even the wrong family you had no rights and no respect.

Jesus refused to play along with division and discrimination. One of the truly subversive things he not only taught – but did constantly – was to eat, drink, and visit with the outcasts of society.  He hung out with beggars, lepers, prostitutes, children, and even tax collectors. As Thanksgiving approaches we are reminded that we are not only what we eat, we are also with whom we eat. In Jesus’ kingdom & at his table everyone, especially all those considered “the least of these”, is welcome.

This Sunday, we welcome your many food donations for these various causes:

  1.  Alameda County Community Food Bank (canned tuna & chicken, soups & stews, peanut butter, canned foods)
  2.  East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition, EOICC, collecting food for undocumented immigrants from Central America.(beans, rice, cooking oil )
  3.  Pies for Lake Merritt United Methodist (ACCFB food pantry’s) Thanksgiving dinner.

Please see the details included below.

We also welcome volunteers to help prepare and serve and share Thanksgiving dinner at Lake Merritt! Please see Paula Byrens for details.

After all of this eating we invite you to work it off on Saturday, Nov 29th, at our “Greening of the Sanctuary” from 8 am – 1 pm.

Oh yes, one more food item – mark your calendars for our Sun Dec 7th Christmas Party, 5 – 8 pm, which includes dinner and a fun program (see details berlow)! If you’d like to help with the food planning, please contact Suzie Harris and Marilyn Shaw.

Blessings, Laurie

God’s Greatest Hope

This week we celebrate World Communion Sunday, the Feast of St Francis, and join together to support Our Church’s wider mission.

It is a time to remember that God’s greatest hope is that we may learn to live together as one, one in spirit, & united in mutual support & encouragement.

At times we seem so far from that hope with so much war and hatred within this world.

At times the world we live in seems so Darwinian where the rule is survival of the fittest.

But can we really survive this way?

cooperation-billboardAshley Montagu, a 20th century anthropologist,psychologist, humanist, and author challenged the primacy of Darwin’s theory of  “survival of fittest” with the role of love in human evolution. In his book, “Growing Young”, he writes:

Heart“In the evolution of humanity, love has played in important role. Yet, the roles of love and cooperation in human evolution have been wholly neglected.  In an unloving and alienated world wracked by strife and violence, such an idea can seem ludicrous and unreal. Yet, there can be little doubt esp.  when one studies food gathering and anti violent peoples , that no group of human beings could have survived had it not been for the dominant role that love and cooperation have played in holding them together.

Indeed it is quite evident that human beings are designed as a consequence of their long and evolutionary history to grow and develop in cooperation and that the future development of humanity lies not with increasing conflict but with increasing love, extending it to all living creatures everywhere

It is, in a very real, & not in the least paradoxical sense even more necessary to love than it is to live, for without love there can be no healthy growth or development of real life. We must live as if love and life are one.”