After the shootings at Sandy Hook I published the following newsletter on my former website. I publish it here again after the most deadly school shootings since Sandy Hook. I believe it is important to look at how we as individuals respond to such tragedies. As you read this please hold in mind that there have been 234 school shootings since Sandy Hook.
Peace and blessings to all who are hurting in Parkland:
Sometimes all we can do in the face of tragedy is pray, so let us all continue to pray for the families of these beautiful children.
TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO ANY OF US AT ANY TIME -
THE QUESTION BECOMES HOW TO REACT
The Metaphysical Crockpot Newsletter No. 4
LIVING IN FAITH - THE SANDY HOOK TRAGEDY
The challenge and the opportunity to live in faith no matter what comes
Immediately after the shootings in Connecticut I sent out an e-mail to many friends. That moment for me was one of not only extreme saddness and overwhelm, but also I must admit - anger. In response, many who received the e-mail, expressed concern that I had lost my faith in the face of this incident. This newsletter then is one that was not anticipated and one that is very personal. It is about How I view living in faith in all circumstances. It is about holding to the truth of
1 Thessalonianss 5: 16 - 18, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in all circumstances give thanks."
It is very plainly the essence of my faith and the point of this website that we all can live with joy in our hearts at all times - no matter life's circumstances. That this is possible in life is the core of my faith and, I believe, a lesson I am here to teach. So I have been forced to ask and seek to answer the question - why did so many see my e-mail as a possible rejection of the core of my faith?
I began the e-mail with, "My heart is broken, maybe forever. I am inconsolable. . . ." I was asking the question - in the light of these events at the Sandy Hook school can we still live our lives with joy in our hearts, when our hearts are broken; can we pray without ceasing when the world seems so totally and hopelessly lost; can we really give thanks in this circumstance of utter horror? This verse from Thessalonians taken together with this tragedy leads me to a spiritual reckoning of sorts. For me this is both a challenge and an opportunity to examine living a life open to whatever comes with joy in my heart. I believe that it is within the framework of the quote from Thessalonians that we come To the essential elements of living a spiritual life.
I have frequently found wisdom and solace in the words of the Sufi mystical poet Rumi, and I do now. Rumi said, "Once the seed of faith takes root, it cannot be blown away, even by the strongest wind - now that is a blessing." So to my friends who supposed I had lost faith in the face of this tragedy, I reply that I still live in faith in all circumstances; if my faith had been been blown away by this wind, then it would have meant that the seed of faith had not taken root in my heart.
There is a time for sorrow and for tears. In this event, the tears of an entire nation, an entire world. We all need this time of tears; this time of acknowledging, living with and acccepting the pain, and yes, the anger. But Mother Teresa said that God knows two languages - tears and silence. I see, at least in my life, after the time of tears there needed to be a time of silence. As the Taoist know - to the quiet mind, the universe surrenders. It is in the silence we may "make sense" of this. I am continuing my practice of taking time in silence every day. A time to let go and let God speak. Taking time to be still and know. To know in the only way we will ever truly know anything.
I purposefully placed "make sense" in quotation marks above, because the sense to be made of this tragedy cannot be found by our rational minds or by intellectual effort. Making any sense at all of the deaths of these children requires a spiritual understanding. Spiritual understanding requires several things. It requires silence. It requires continual attention to Spirit. It also requires letting go of the situation and turning it over to God (however you conceive God to be). It requires gratitude to God for whatever remains positive and good in life at the moment. As the Christian mystic and poet St. John of the Cross said, "It is only by faith that we contact God . . . [and this] often demands detachment and letting go of feelings and emotions." That faith requires detachment is key; but, for now as a way of examining the outer circumstances - these shootings, let's consider for a moment the life of St. John of the Cross and what he had to let go of.
He was imprisioned by church authorities for his reformist efforts. During his imprisonment, his cell was barely large enough for him to fit into. He was never given a change of clothes. His diet was bread and water and some occasionl salt fish. The cell was often swelteringly hot, and he was given weekly public lashings.
It was, however, during this time that he wrote one of his most influential poems, Spiritual Canticle. With paper passed to him by a sympathetic guard, he wrote often standing on a bench to access the only light coming from an adjacent cell. Out of this oppression came a letting go. He was able to let go of his circumstances, to overcome his circumstance to create something great. I believe he found, as is said in Judaism, "A tranquil mind gives life." He found a contentment and inner peace that comes from letting go, turning all of his outer situation over to God. He made his own creative life circumstance. There is an inner peace, a joy in the heart that can be found and maintained even in the midst of terrible conditions. I am reminded of the words of Richard Bach, "There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands." In our lives it may not be the gift we might have had in mind, or one we even wanted, but a gift nonetheless. In the words of spiritual teacher Andre Lima, "Good, bad, joyful, sad, difficult. Everything is tasty for your spirit. All of it is food for your awakening." Being very honest with myself, I must ask: in my own life how would I have dealt with such overwhelming conditions as those St. John of the Cross was forced to endure. Could I still live in faith in the face of such pain and deprivation? Would I live the truth I know? Just how much could I endure before those roots from the seeds of faith that Rumi discussed be uprooted?
To this point I would like to share with you a time of challenge from my life, and how this time of my own personal challenge allows me to say the seeds of faith have indeed begun to grow deep roots.
As I discussed in Newsetter No. 1, I was a person of no faith for many years. I discussed the process that led me over time to become open. Open to all ideas. I was led to being open to the Divine. This opening up to the Divine Presence in me was life changing. This was the point where the seeds of faith began to sprout and develop roots. This became a point where my life was proceeding wonderfully. It was clear that God was answering all of my prayers. Then after some time, as I felt I was growing in spiritual understanding, several completely unexpected events literally pulled the rug out from under my life. I do not wish to go into the details of what was a personal problem, but just to say that it was a truly disastrous, life altering experience. (I do not wish to compare my problems with that of the loss of a child, It is hard to imagine anything worse. My problems seem almost petty by comparison. But there are so many ways life altering problems can show up in our lives; I do not think we should judge or rank anyone's problems in relation to anyone else's).
The three-legged stool of my life suddenly and without warning had one of the three legs fall off; and, I took quite a tumble. From this fall I was unsure about how to proceed, I was perplexed, upset with a mind in turmoil. I was completely at a loss and needed help. All of these things were my intial reactions, but they were not who I am and were not long lasting responses. There was in me the developing roots of faith. Deeply enough rooted so that this very strong wind could not blow it away. I lived through this period of angst, but after a while I became open to the understanding that God was with me. I began to live the truth I know: there is a key to living with joy in your heart in all circumstances. The key is holding one idea in mind - I am an integral, purposeful, necessary part of God, whole and complete in this moment. I turn everything in my life over to God and am at peace and all is well in this moment now. Thank you God.
I began twice a day to literally count my blessings. It is the last sentence of the previous paragraph that is the essential starting point. I say thank you God for every good thing I have now despite any circumstances. The pastor John Ortberg says, "Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation." In terrible life experiences, life's gifts may not come as those we anticipate or desire. But out of the adversity the gifts will come.
For me I know the first gift was escaping the prison of my own self-preoccupation. Another incredible blessing was the fact that during this time I began to focus more intensely and continually on the spiritual nature of life - of my life. I was opened to the vivid awareness of the importance of constant spiritual pracitice. Opened to the awareness that it is constant spiritual practice that brings harmony and peace to our lives. I was opened to the awareness that life is a prayer - my life is a prayer. It was during this time that I learned the importance of being open to whatever comes. God was allowing me in this time of disaster to focus on the truly important things in life. I also found during this time a blessing arrived in my heart. I describe it as my heart having become softer. My heart became much more open to the plight of others - especially those whose appearance of misfortune seems far greater than mine. Perhaps The Divine Presence in me Pulled the rug our from under my life, so that compassion could become truly and vividly real for me, and not just an intellectual understanding. I have been given the gift of living in peace despite a dire circumstance. I have been given the understanding from Psalm 27:14, "God has perfect timing for everything; learn to honor Him, it brings you peace." Thank you, God. I have been given the gift of the challenge and opportunity to live in faith no matter life's circumstances. Thank you, God.
I told a friend that I was expereincing my Job moment (although it turned out to be much longer than just a moment). Job is the archetypal example of someone who had the rug pulled out from under their life. Let's look for the lessons to be learned from the story of Job.
As we pray for the families of these beautiful children, what lessons does the story of Job have for us? Job lost all of his ten children. He also lost all of his possessions and his health. Job wrestled with the question - why me God? The only answer is, as Job found, to stop asking why and live in faith, turning everything over to God. As Job realized, there are so many things as human beings we can never know or understand, so asking why is not the issue. There is no answer to why that is a lesson to be learned from the misfortunes of Job or the families in Newtown. Why is just another circular manipulation of the rational mind.
If the book of Job is then not about why bad things happen to good people, what is the lesson to take from Job's story? Job was a religious man in whom the seeds of faith had taken root, but he was also a worrier. His faith was in some ways perfunctory. I believe his story is about how Job, through and because of his suffering, was able to change, to become transformed. He was able to go from an incomplete religious man, to a deeply spiritual man. Enduring these challenges in faith enabled him to undergo a transformation. His troubles were the source of his enlightenment. As Andre Lima said, they were all food for his awakening. And of course the end of the story is about the gifts that may be found in every adversity. Job's fortune was restored, he had a new family and renewed health - all more wonderful than before. Job's lesson is that there is a way through incredible difficulity, and it is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in all circumstances give thanks. It is holding to the words of this very short verse that creates the pathway to finding the gifts waiting for us in the most difficult of circumstances.
So bad things happen. They happened to the families in Newtown, CT; they happened to St. John of the Cross; they happened to Job; they happened to me. When they happen the question is not why, but how will I react. Will I look for the hidden blessing. My prayers for the families of the children of Newtown, even in on-going grief, to be able to move from tears to a period of silence. I pray that each will look for the gifts that are not now apparent in this horror. - and I pray they will find them.
Sometimes all you can do is pray. Now that the news media have moved on and many will forget about this horrible time, Let us continue to pray for the families of these beautiful children, and the families involved in the five other school shootings that have occured in the United States since Sandy Hook.
Rev. Gene Ford Runnels, Interfaith minister, Writer, speaker and joyful advocate for positive transformation. FACILITATOR OF JOYFUL EXPECTATIONS WORKSHOPS.
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