• Waking Up

    As we enter the summer, we may find ourselves overdue for taking time for rest, relaxation, and recreation. This is a good thing, for the central part of rest for our well-being is not to be ignored. Healthy living includes rest and activity, stillness and movement, silence and sound, shadow and light. May our summer contain both, offering healing and integration. 

    Our spiritual lives also need this kind of back and forth rhythm. In the Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, the words ‘spirit’ and ‘breath’ are the same word: ‘Ruah’ in Hebrew and ‘Pneuma’ in Greek. So Spirit is our Breath, and we need both the inhale and the exhale of the breath to sustain life. Too much of either side of this whole experience of breath puts us out of balance and endangers our health. 

    Contemplation and meditation is one aspect of living a spiritual life. Action is the “other side” of our spiritual life. Both are needed to sustain health. ‘Contemplation in a world of action’ is our hope for an abundant life. To love one another is to act with justice and mercy in our hearts. 

    Throughout Scripture we see God’s mercy toward the outsider and the vulnerable made clear. 

    Jesus makes our treatment of “the least of these neighbors” the only real criteria for the final judgment (see Matthew 25: 31-46). Our contemplation and prayers are to be the “seed bed” from which the “plants and flowers” of our action grow. We are called to wake up to the ways in which our misguided actions and our passive inactions can be the roots of harm, pain, and suffering in our world. 

    This is no easy “waking up” into a robust spiritual consciousness. Most of us just would prefer to stay asleep and blame “those others” for their cruel and problematic ways of living that objectify other human beings or pollute our planet. Until we wake up to our own collusion with causing suffering and our lack of mercy and love, we remain asleep. We are called to identify and take responsibility for realities that continue the injustices and cause great pain in the world of which we are a part.

    To wake up is to claim and take responsibility for our own shadow that we carry as embodied beings in the world. Then we can truly ask for forgiveness and change in the ways God is calling us to change. 

    Long before modern psychology, Jesus helped us see our own “shadow” in Matthew 7: 3-5. He pointed out that we must stop spending our time worrying about taking the speck out of another’s eye, when we have a log that we are ignoring in our own eye. Jesus tells us to take back the projections we place upon others, and look within ourselves and do our own work in order to end the world of the scapegoat, in which we blame the “other” and refuse to take our own responsibility and learn to create a just and loving world. Shadow work is hard spiritual work. It asks us to honestly confront the parts of ourselves that we project onto others, in a false attempt to work out our own salvation by being worthy and “better than those others, “ instead of standing in the need of God’s forgiveness which gives us courage to turn and live in a new way, being part of the solution instead of pretending we have nothing to do with the injustices, sufferings, and pain of so many of our brothers and sisters around us.  

    We live in a world in which it is becoming increasingly dangerous to “stay asleep”, blaming others for all the problems and then letting others do the work of justice and love. Each of us is to be a light in the shadows. May we wake up this summer into taking our own unique action needed to create the world of loving connection that Jesus calls us to create! We wake up to be “repairers of the breach and builders of bridges—creating a city in which all can live.” May it be so! Have a blessed summer! Be a blessing! Let your light truly shine! 

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational Church of Winchester, MA (UCC) and Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston (UCC)

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