Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

A Word for Wednesay

Here’s a word for Wednesday–

Simple

Ponder this word for a minute. According to dictionary.com, “simple” means:

  1. easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.: a simple matter; simple tools.
  2. not elaborate or artificial; plain: a simple style.
  3. not ornate or luxurious; unadorned: a simple gown.
  4. unaffected; unassuming; modest: a simple manner.
  5. not complicated: a simple design.

But the concept of simple is so much more than its dictionary definition–and so much less.

If you want to really live life, then keep it simple.

Be content. Want less. Let go of more. Declutter both your space and your life. Learn when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” Practice simple living.

It may take time to figure out how simple actually works. It’s a countercultural act of defiance. It is gift. Simple is a way to live, a way to be that has the capacity to set one free.

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy. But have faith. Try it. Practice it. You’ll get it. You will learn. It’s as simple as that.

Photos by naydeeyah and Kate Ter Haar. Thanks!

 

Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

How to Really Live

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences will have resonances with our own innermost being, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. — Joseph Campbell

Note: This post is the first in a series. Each day will feature one observation about and a suggestion for how to really live your life, how to engage yourself fully in the act of being alive.

What’s it all about, this life we live? Do you ever slow down long enough to wonder about the meaning of life? Maybe you are too busy living–earning a living, running taxi for children or grandchildren, or caring for aging parents, trying to keep your head above the waters of financial ruin–to even care about deeper meaning.

The first step to really living your life is to quit kidding yourself about how much life you have left to live. The only moment each one of us is promised is the present one. You may live to be a hundred or you may die tomorrow, but the only moment in which you are truly alive is this one–right here, right now.

Close your eyes. Take a slow, deep breath, inhaling through your nose. Hold it lightly for a short interval. Now breath out gently but fully through your nose, emptying your lungs deeply from your gut upward.  While you are enjoying this solitary breath, give thanks for it and for your precious gift of life.

What a miracle you are! That single breath you just honored is one of some 17,000 that you will take in one 24-hour period. Your heart will beat, without any help from you, more than 100,000 times each day. You make thousands of decisions each day, both great and small, conscious and unconscious. You are an amazing creation, one that the Creator of the Cosmos called very, very good.

The first step to really living your life is make a conscious choice to live more fully in the present moment. Yes, some things must be planned and arranged and done, but if you find yourself always looking backward at the way things were or planning for a future over which you have no control–just stop.

Take another one of those single, thankful breaths and come back to the present moment.

  • Love the people you love. I mean really love them and tell them so. Spend time with them if you can.
  • Do something fun or silly. Celebrate and laugh every single day. Laughter is good medicine and will cure a host of maladies.
  • Leave your work behind (at least for a little while)
  • Be active. Take a walk, ride your bike, dance, swim, hike, or do yoga.
  • Eat well and mindfully. Sit down at the table. Light a candle.
  • Rest

Whenever cares and worries threaten to carry you away into moments past or futures unknown, will yourself back to the present moment and day. Live it well. It is gift, pure gift.

Remember the words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel:

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (6:34)

Whatever your situation, remember that life is fleeting in the grand scheme of the universe. We’re only on this earth for a short time. No trouble, worry, or distraction is worth depriving you or others of the privilege of living right now.

Blessings on your precious life here and now!

A Lagniappe:

Enjoy this You-Tube version of Burt Bacharach’s song “Alfie” sung by the incomparable Rumer.

Photo by OutdoorLori. Thanks!

Life on Loan

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. — Native American Proverb

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… — Psalm 24:1

“You’re not in charge!” Most human beings I know chafe under such an imperative statement. Sure we’re in charge, each one of us, right? Do you remember the Bon Jovi song “It’s my Life” and its siren song to individuality: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just wanna live while I’m alive…”? This song has inspired people of all ages and become an anthem to the idea of controlling one’s own life and destiny.

It’s true that we don’t live forever on this earth, and it’s laudable to desire to really live instead of go through the motion, but it is not true that this life is ours to do with as we please. Our life is a loan. We didn’t dictate our birth , and we’re really not completely in charge of our terminus post quem. And what we do while we’re here–every choice and decision–matters and affects the course of our journey.

Our choices and life paths also affect others, an important point to ponder. How we treat our bodies affects how long we may potentially live, how much we will have to invest in health care, and what our quality of life will be. How we treat our economic resources affects our security, the futures of those we love, and even the future of our community and our nation. How we treat our earth may potentially affect everyone. We are, in effect, “borrowing” the earth and all its resources from future generations.

Yes, we live on borrowed time with lives that are merely a loan. Each breath, each day, everything is pure gift, but the gift is shared. Our gift of life is lived out in community for good or for ill. How will you enjoy your gift, steward your loan, and care for what is not yours forever?

Thanks-Living Action:

1. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see for your children or your children’s children. If you do not have children of your own, what kind of world would you like to leave as your legacy?

2. How can you be a better steward of your time, talent, and resources?

3. What does it mean to live life as gift?

Finally, ponder these words from a sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

Photo by Damanhur, Federation of Communities. Thanks!

Thankful for Heat

It’s cold here in Pennsylvania, a damp mid-winter cold. Of course, it’s January and it should be cold. That said, I am fighting off a cold (and losing) and am chilled to the bone. Brrrr! Five degrees above zero this morning might as well have been thirty below. Even the dogs don’t want to stay outside any longer than necessary.

That makes me especially thankful for heat–for a warm home and a warm wool coat to wear outside. I’m also thankful our car heaters work well. Every clang and clank of the radiator next to me sounds like music to my cold, tired ears.

What simple thing are you thankful for this day?

Photo by Geert Schneider. Thanks!

Dream

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today in the United States we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his prophetic voice and vision for justice and equality. Born January 15, 1929, Dr. King was shot and killed outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. One of his most powerful and oft-quoted speeches is the “I Have a Dream” speech that was delivered August 28, 1963, on the occasion of The March on Washington. Click here to watch it.

My question today is this one: What is your dream?

If someone asked you what your dream is for your faith community, your town, your nation, or this world, how would you answer? I have a dream…for what?

Today is a good time to revisit this question and to think our about our hopes and dreams. The root problems of injustice today are not that different from the problems of Dr. King’s time, or any moment in history for that matter. There have always been the haves and the have nots, the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, the acceptable and the unacceptable. The prophets have raged against these imbalances and inequities for thousands of years.

Dr. King’s words ring as true today as they did almost 50 years ago; they carry power and wisdom and weight. We continue to make some progress, and yet we continue to defer the dream of equality for all humankind.And sadly, we make all manner of excuses and equivocations for why the dream is still just that–a dream.

What then is your dream?

My dream is that all people will have enough. My dream is that we will treat this world with the care and consideration it deserves, that we will not squander our natural resources. My dream is that we will not take more for ourselves than we need, that we will share with others so that all may have enough. My dream is that our communities, particularly our faith communities, will places where all people are welcomed with open hearts and arms. My dream is that we will quit arguing and start working together, that we will lay partisan politics aside and seek justice for all, that we will become people who listen, people who respect each other, and people who will shoulder the burden together to make this world a better place. My dream is that we will act out of faith, and live out of love. I want us to choose love and life over hate and violence. I want us to see what we have in common rather than what is different.  My dream is that we will have the wisdom, the courage, and the fortitude to transform our mutual dreams into hope-filled reality.

But see, here’s the thing about dreams: we have to do something about dreams to make them come true. We have to act on our dreams rather than simply throw our pennies into life’s wishful fountain. Turning dreams into reality is work–hard, blood-sweating, and sacrificial work. Dreamers sometimes even have to lay down their lives for the sake of the dream.

Am I willing to do my part to help make my dreams come true. I hope so. I pray that by the grace of God I am able to do so. I know that if I do at least one small thing each day, if I make my choices with the dream always in mind, and if I ask others to hold me accountable to my dream, then I will live into the dream. I will stumble and fall, and I will fail. But I will continue to dream, and I will continue to act on those dreams in good faith. I ask you to hold me accountable.

Now, what is your dream, my friend? What are you doing to move it closer to reality?

Dream catcher photo by Bruce McAdam. Thanks!

Service Saturday

Everyone can be great, because anybody can serve. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow is the National Day of Service in the United States of America. President Obama started this tradition before his first inauguration in honor of Dr. King’s legacy of service and desire to help better the lives of others. Activities and community-wide efforts are planned in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

What do you plan to do? Can you find a way to give back to your community? If there is not an organized activity in your immediate area, don’t let that stop you. Look around. What needs to be done? Can you clean up the sidewalk and street in front of your house? Can you take food to your local food pantry and volunteer to help? How about checking in on that elderly neighbor? Know someone who is recovering from surgery or the flu? How about cooking a double portion and taking them a meal? What non-profit agencies are looking for volunteers? Do local faith communities have needs? A few phone calls should yield plenty of opportunities for you to help.

Don’t let it stop with just one day. Take the pledge to serve all year. Can you imagine how much better and stronger our communities could be if everyone pledged to serve just one hour per week? According to the A. C. Nielsen Co. the average American watches more than four hours of television a day. Surely, one hour per week of service is not too much to give. Plus, giving feels good when you do it. In giving, you also receive–your level of happiness and well-being increases, you make connections with others and with your community, and your sense of purpose is enhanced.

So give a little thanks tomorrow and every week of the year. Give a little of your time, your energy, and your resources to serve others. No matter what our politics, religious beliefs, or economic status, we can all serve. If you don’t live in the U.S., serve wherever you do live. Make your own corner of the world just a little bit brighter. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Serve others. You’ll be glad you did.

Photo by vastateparkstaff. Thanks!

Hungry

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — Mother Teresa

Last night a teenager in the school district where the church I serve is located completed suicide. Evidently she posted her intentions on Facebook. I don’t know the details, and I didn’t know the young woman, but I do understand the incredible hunger for love, acceptance, and appreciation that so many people feel.

Not everyone has strong families, wide networks of support and friendship, and vibrant faith communities to combat the pain, emptiness, and utter loneliness of depression, bullying, addictions, or difference. Life can be really, really hard.

My heart hurts for this young woman, for her family, her friends, all who knew her at school, and for the community left behind trying to make sense of this deep sadness and painful loss of a life cut short. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, five children or teens commit suicide each day. That’s a lot of pain and hunger for love and acceptance.

My prayer and hope is that we would all find ways to feed those who are hungry both in body and spirit. May we seek ways to be more compassionate and merciful. And may we make our schools and houses of worship safe spaces where all may be fed–without judgment and with open arms.

Thanks-Living Action

Beginning tomorrow consider doing three things each day:

1. Tell the people you love that you love them. Really look at them. Smile. Give them the gift of your time and attention.

2. Do at least one kind act for a stranger. Spread kindness and compassion lavishly; in doing so you will make the world just a little bit better.

3. Do something kind for someone you find difficult to love. Listen to that person. Try to see life from his or her perspective. Remember that your smile or kind word may be a lifesaver to someone in the midst of despair or loneliness.

And remember these words…

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.  ― Thomas Merton

…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

Photo by tjook and Charles Kremenak. Thanks!

How Then Shall We Live?

As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way. -Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is one of my heroes because she not only talked a good talk; she lived a life of love, compassion, and mercy. Her faith was forged through her own trials and pain, a reality that also led her down a path to help others. Day was a truly amazing woman and a faithful witness to the gospel. You can read more of her story here.

When I read the above quote today, I was reminded again that each day we wake to answer the question “how shall I live this day?” Our western culture affords us myriad choices and opportunities. Most all who read this reflection are blessed to have enough to eat, living quarters that are dry, warm, clean, and spacious, more than enough clothes and possessions, and transportation. Yet still many of us wonder about purpose, direction, and meaning.

Do we live for ourselves, or do we live for one another? Are we only here to live for the day (Carpe Diem) and what we can amass, or are we here to live in community and share? Are we entitled to however much we can get, or do we use only what we need and share the rest with those who have need? How then shall we live?

I cannot answer that for anyone but myself. What I am learning in life is that how I answer that question really does matter and that my needs are pretty simple. People matter; stuff does not. Relationships last; possessions come and go. We come into life empty-handed, and we go out the very same way.

How will you live today?

Photos by Jagz Mario and christiantimeless. Thanks!

 

Faith in One Another

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I’ve given up on so and so. It/he/she just isn’t worth the effort anymore.” It might be a friend, a faith community, an organization, or even a family member. Or maybe you’ve been privy to conversations about the dire state and depravity of humankind in general. When the mind starts spiraling in this direction, it becomes easy to become “oh, so negative,” as my friends Allen and Sally are fond of saying.

Of course, negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts, and pretty soon the person thinking them becomes a real “Debbie Downer.” Think, I’m exaggerating? Try this little experiment: for 24 hours watch nothing but news channels (FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or any other 24-hour news outlet or combination thereof). I guarantee you’ll feel more agitated, negative, and nervy than before you began.

Instead, vow to believe in the innate goodness of humankind, indeed of all creation. For folks who read the Torah or Old Testament, the first chapter of Genesis repeatedly chronicles the Creator proclaiming the creation “good” and “very good.” That means God doesn’t create bad, broken stuff.

Sure, we can get bumped, scuffed, scraped, and broken as we journey through life. Some folks are REALLY broken and as a result do horrible things to innocent people. Some individuals act just plain mean. Evil is very real. Still…for the good of all  of us, I believe we must never, ever give up faith in humankind. Gandhi’s words are every bit as true today as they were when he first spoke/wrote them.

Or as the unknown Johannine teacher wrote in 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).

Believe in the presence of good and in the restorative power of love. Keep the faith–and the faith in each other.

Thanksliving Action:

Need some positive information? Check out dailygood.org for good news that inspires and uplifts.

Photo by lel4nd. Thanks!

Post Navigation