Star Gazing

17991487168I believe the soul is the very being of who you are.  It is the essence of your existence.  It is the principal of your presence.  It matters more than anything…and I mean, more than ANYTHING.  More than your job, more than your house, more than your car, more than your marriage, more than your family, even more than your dog.  And, if this is true, and I’m just thinking out loud, but if this is true…why do we waste time on things that do not feed our soul?  Why do we invest in things that distract us from becoming who we are truly meant to be at the very center of our spirit?

Why don’t we create a space in our life, our home, our work, our commute, and our relationships that feeds this soul, this part of us that will move from this world to the next even as our bodies lie rotting in the grave?  Why instead, do we seek to entertain and numb the senses?  Why do we stress about the money and the drive and the work and the bills and the, and the, and the?  Why don’t we look for ways to renew our soul, to feed the very core of our beings?  Why don’t we seek solace?  Why don’t we pursue purpose?  Why don’t we want wisdom?  Why don’t we ask for answers?

As I write this, I am attending a day-long personal Advent retreat.  I am sitting alone in a cloistered room in the upper level of this three-story, turn-of-the-century home studying the Christmas story and the Wise Men who so committedly pursued the star in the sky in order to see a king in a stable.  It was their purpose.  It was their passion.

This amazing home and the time “away” has giving me the opportunity to reflect on the “Stars” in my own life; those things which guide me into the presence of God.  They may be people, events, places, or even experiences.  And to be honest, as I’ve pondered this idea and searched for the guiding light of my life, I’ve realized that, sadly, I have very few.  Or rather, I am aware of very few: I suspect the stars are there but I’m simply unable to see them clearly.  I’m too distracted by the blinding glare of the false illumination in my world.

I am reminded of our trip to Yellowstone Park in 2009.  We were driving from one end of the park to the other and because of the heavy traffic and the great distance, we found ourselves shy of our destination very late at night in a high plateau in the park. There were no cities, no street lights, and no other cars for miles.  We were there, alone, in the darkness.  We stopped the car and turned out all the lights and sat on the hood, looking up into a sky that was unlike any I’d ever seen before.  Without man-made ambient light to limit our vision, we were able to see stars in a way we’d never seen them before.  The clarity and intensity of those heavenly bodies was breath-taking.  They spanned the night sky and left us at a loss for words, in awe of their scope and grandeur.

As I think about the search for stars in my life that leads me, I realize that there is no time in my life when I am not blinded by the ambient distractions a busy world.  Understand, I don’t blame anyone but myself.  I’ve erected the lights.  I’ve cultivated the distractions.  I’ve created the lack of space and time for careful observation and sky gazing.

The sad truth is that I fail to carve out time that is purely committed to this endeavor.  Instead, I fill my hours with television, movies, busy work, worry and games – as many distractions as possible, diversions of every kind.  As a result, I fail to feed by soul, exercise my body, and manage my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

And so, it begs the question:  What would I need to do to renew my soul on a daily basis?  What space do I need to create that will allow me to find peace, discover grace, and feed my soul?  And if you are like me, and I suspect you are, what do you need to do?  What space do you need to create?

Let’s be honest; when is the last time you truly looked at the stars?

Grace House

Dinner Table

There are a few places in my life that bring deep peace to my heart and soul.  When I enter the space, I find comfort and ease.  Some of these sanctuaries of solace include the obvious locations:  The Chapel in the hospital and my church auditorium.

Others are more obscure:  McGregor Park, Turkey Run State Park, The Rocky Mountains, The Library.  But one haven of healing stands out above all others.

Of all my precious asylums, our abode is my favorite.  Our house is nothing short of a retreat center for my spirit, a balm for my soul.  It is a residence of rest, a hearth of harmony, a quarter of quiet.  Our home is a dear and wonderful place of tranquility and renewal.

I’m not exactly sure what makes this place so magical to my weary heart.  It might be the way the light shines through the dining room window on a late autumn evening.  It could be the way the grass grows in the back yard, thick and lush even on dry summer days.  It is possible that it is the amazingly warm and inviting colors we’ve painted the walls.  Or, most probably, it is the love and trust we’ve honed over the past thirteen years in this a little, vinyl-sided structure planted on a cul-de-sac in a norther-Indianapolis suburb.

Whatever it is that creates the mystery of this mansion, this house is more than my home.  It is my sanctuary: A place of grace.  It is “Grace House”…my place of safety and strength. And I love it, dearly.

My Morning on the Patio

IMG_4016I’m sitting here on my patio, listening to the trickle of water from my fountain and feeling the cool morning breeze on my face.  This is where I want to be.  There’s nothing else I want to do.  I want to stay here all day.  I want to pretend that I have no responsibilities at all.

But that just isn’t how I function.  Instead, I’ve already made a to-do list of at least nine different actions that must take place today to prepare me for the rest of the week.  I’ve mentally shifted from restful Sunday morning to task-oriented Monday-through-Friday.  I have to make calls.  I have to prep equipment.  I must clean parts of the house.  I should wash clothes and clean my garage.

There is so much to do, so many tasks, so few hours in a day to get it all done…

But then, it will never all get done.  Will it?  Isn’t there ALWAYS something else on the list of Life’s To-Do’s?  Sure, I’ll do some things to make my next week a little easier.  But I don’t have to do it all in one day.  And after reviewing the list, I see that half of the items can be done another day.  One third of the remaining list will take little or no effort.

And in their place I scratch a new list:  Go to church, read a book, walk with my wife, play chess with my son, and meditate 15 minutes.  If I accomplish these items, I will have really done something great.  In fact, I would argue that this is a much better list and one I can easily live with on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Think Positive Thoughts

Another beautiful sunset in my back yard offered an evening of peaceful reflection.
Another beautiful sunset last night offered an evening of peaceful reflection.

I tried my first “Mindful Meditation” today.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot!  The gentle voice, the quiet moments, the guided imagery were all a good start to my day.

I always believed meditation to be similar to the scene in “What About Bob” when he is walking down the street, trying to reassure himself that all the world’s chaos and dirt won’t affect him.  Over and over he repeats the phrase, “I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.  I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.”  His tension rises, despite the self-talk.  Rather than convincing himself of his own  security, the phrase reveals his true anxiety and high level of insecurity.

To my surprise, today’s meditation was nothing like the movie.  It was less about me and the process of easing my tensions and anxiety, and more about others and their well-being.  I was guided to think about someone for whom I have warm, tender and compassionate feelings.  Immediately, my wife’s smiling face appeared in my mind’s eye.  The guided meditation led me to repeat four phrases to my loved one throughout the fifteen minute session:

1. May you feel safe.

2. May you feel happy.

3. May you feel healthy.

4. May you live in ease.

While the meditation asked me to extend these feelings to the other, “like a golden ribbon unfurling”, I really saw it more as a prayer, lifted to heaven for my wife, and then to my friend Dave, and finally to all those I know and love.

I thought this was wonderful.  After all, isn’t it our greatest desire that those in our lives might feel safe…and more importantly, BE safe?  Don’t we desire that they will feel and be happy?  Don’t we hope that each and every one will both feel and be healthy?  Of course we do.

But I kept landing on that last phrase.  May my wife live in ease.  I’m sure this doesn’t mean a life of wealth surrounded by footmen and maids.  It has nothing to do with power or possession.  It has everything to do with living with a heart filled with peace; each day a burden-free step along the journey of life.

And when my time was over, I really did hope these things for my loved ones.  I really did wish that each person would find safety, happiness, health and ease during their days.  I prayed that their hearts would be light, their souls free of care, their minds clear and filled with purpose.

At the end of the fifteen minutes, I opened my eyes and determined that, as much as it is in my power, I would continue to make these desires come true in their lives.

And oddly enough, when it was over, I did feel good. I did feel great.  In fact, I felt wonderful.