People WE allow into our life – Keep your head up

I am traveling to Europe shortly to see family and old friends. While the advent and affordability of modern air travel at times shrinks the world to proportions seemed unimaginable even a generation ago, like all things in life – choice – our decisions we freely have the ability to make– has a huge impact on our life. Should I book that flight to see my dear friend or not? What is holding me back? How much longer will I wait until that choice is taken away from me? As I have been learning in my journey – these decisions are mine and mine alone to make. The obstacles preventing us from making many decisions is; fear, anxiety and uncertainty of the aftermath. We seek and desire guarantees in life. We dread the decision resulting in a negative outcome – so often times we simply make what we think is a non-decision. But you know that that too is a decision and a choice.

Do you believe in fate? I myself have wrestled with that concept. Friends have said to me that the reconciliation with my father was clearly guided by forces not under my control. That the peculiar circumstances that transpired over the past several years were all pieces of popcorn placed in the forest and I was helplessly picking up one kernel after the other leading me back to him after forty-two years. One of my yoga instructors to whom I have immense gratitude, said the following in our class several months ago; “Everything you have ever done in your life, led you to be on your mat at this time, in this place.” So the question is, “how did I arrive here?

If we think critically enough, we will see how in less than an instant, an opportunity to turn left or right, to stare down at your mobile device or walk with your head held up to see what or whom is before you, to ask that distressed individual how they are or ignore them, or to look up in the sky at the airplane while riding your bike or be focused on the path (yep – I “looked up” this summer and survived to write about it here). Is that fate, or do we freely make decisions? If you suggest that the decisions we make are fate, then I will propose that we are nothing but robots and therefore there is no substantive meaning in our life. However, I see us as creatures that are freethinking, intellectual and sentient beings.

Thirty-three years ago I arrived at a kibbutz in Israel to began a year of traveling – the experiences and individuals very much with me to this day. I met people from all over the world. I chose to befriend some – tolerated others as they befriended or tolerated me. I remain friends with some who are exceptionally special souls. One such person with whom I will see on this upcoming trip I will find in Europe.

Reconciling with my father only a few short months before his passing was life changing for me. But I am fully cognizant of the active choices I made in making that happen and fundamentally changing the narrative (mine) that had plagued certain obstacles of our past.

So I ultimately don’t believe that “fate” took control of my life. I do however believe that I orchestrated my life and I will continue to do so. I made decisions. I choose to bring my father back into my life. I am choosing to visit that dear friend in Europe. As we amble through life we will actively allow people into our life that can dramatically impact that life. The trick is – we are never quite sure who they will be … Keep your head up.

I love you – Do the words mean anything? Even when speaking with God?

The words “I love you” are thrown around a lot these days. In a relationship, as soon as one member of the couple expresses those words, the other party is expected to return the verbal affirmation. If he or she does not – there is a pregnant pause – “well, aren’t you going to say it back”? retorts the potentially wounded partner. Or, “you love me too don’t you”? At this early stage of the relationship there can only be one of two probable consequences; trouble or a lie. “I love you”, once firmly established as a key component of the relationship vernacular can often take on a ritual of sorts, one that over time can potentially lose its meaning, its impact, and its relevance. Why do we perform such significant actions, like telling someone we love them, when we are only mouthing the words? At that moment, was there a rush of affection that prompted the feeling of love? Or, is it possible that such a repetitive utterance has diminished the authentic expression of love when we so repeatedly and unthinkingly emote those words? But alas – this is not about what we may or may not say to our significant other, or to God – but what we say to ourselves and are we being less than authentic in so doing?

We do many things in life that over time can lose their meaning and we ultimately have no clue why we ever did them in the first place. We sleep walk through life. We are creatures of habit, of rote, of routine, sometimes meaningless routine.

Rote”, doing the same thing over and over as expected. Take away the “e” and we have “rot”, the process of decaying, and decomposing.

What about prayers? Many who “believe” – love God, but in reciting the prayers are we simply mouthing the pre-scripted words? The Jewish world is about to begin the holiest day of the year – Yom Kippur. Coincidentally for Muslims, the Hajj is also about to commence. Even today as I see on Facebook, how sad it is that many of us are focusing negatively upon one another – these great world religions. Both of us, children of the same God – why must it be so? How many of us within these two great communities within our synagogues and mosques will shortly recite prayers, stand up, sit down, bow, prostrate, all in unison, like sheep, without thinking, without knowing why we are doing it, or why at that precise moment it is necessary to stand, sit, bow etc? And is there intention in our actions or are we just saying “I love you” out of habit – as expected of us?

Many, me included, do things, many important actions, without thinking. I am currently saying the Jewish yearlong ritual mourning prayer of Kaddish – for my late father who passed away earlier this year. Day after day I say these scripted words, the same words over and over again. I struggle with their meaning and significance – but I do unquestionably find comfort within the parochial community and I am grateful to them for the ongoing support. But taking the scriptural and liturgical words to heart requires effort – sustained effort – and also faith. Are we there in the pews for the rehearsal or the real show? Are we more concerned about someone sitting in our seat or about what is weighing heavily on the mind of that person? Are we judgmental of our fellow – or contemplating what we can do to support that individual? We find ourselves in a ritually based safe comfort zone. Why are we content being in the pews if we question the very reason for our attendance? Is it genuinely that comfortable and safe? Are we truly happy being there? And is true meaning found in it? Last time I checked and as a dear friend once told me, “you only have one shot at life.“ Be merely comfortable and safe if you wish – that is a choice. But ask yourself this? Is it your authentic self? Are you being true to yourself? Or do you yearn for more?

Instead of sticking to the scripted word, rote and rituals in our life, perhaps what is warranted is to devote some time to doing what feels right for us. Not the expected words or actions, but words and actions of our choosing, that find meaning, significance, and purpose. Words and actions that are authentic, and represent our inner truth or that inner voice that strives to come out. Let’s make these words and actions meaningful. It is time to honour that authentic self, regardless to whom they are being directed. Next time we say “I love you”, mean it.

Is God confused?

We have all seen it before. Sports athletes praying to God for success prior to the big game – actually for any game – embracing the belief that God will decide the outcome. After the successful play or the eventual victory the competitor gives thanks to God for being chosen the victor – believing God answered his or her prayers over the others. Clearly God has chosen sides, preferring the striped uniform to the checkered one or vise versa. Surely I jest … right?

Some of us on a daily, weekly, yearly or other sporadic basis sit in our respective pews of temples, mosques, synagogues, churches and the like and are often witness to another request we make of God – to defeat our enemies. Not the gridiron variety, nor our business competitor, not even our own internal enemy (which may be the most important “enemy” to conquer). However in the case of our liturgy – regardless in which pew we find ourselves, defeating the enemy is entreated by the clergy to whom we have come to rely on for many aspects of and guidance in life. Enemy comes from the Greek word echtrhos denoting two warring groups engaged in military confrontation – they are the enemy – we are us – the good guys. I wonder if that demarcation point from within the three monotheistic religions is perfectly clear to God or not?

Is it safe to hypothesize that as we ask God to defeat our enemy, are they on the other side not asking the same of the same God? We (us) are they and they are we (us). Confused? Who does He favour to win the “big game on the battlefield?” What is God to do? Is God confused? How can He choose sides when we are all his children? But more pragmatically, why can’t our religious leaders and pulpit presenters not see this dilemma for God and cease to play into the rhetoric before the faithful? It is disturbing for us to say the least and I would surmise for God too when one of one of our own behaves in repulsive or even murderous fashion in the name of God towards that so-called enemy. Of late, we are beginning to sense this pickle from within our own communities. It is a case of parochially conflicted worship of God, as elements from within are actually praying to the same God and from the same pew with vastly different interpretations of the message. One part of “our side” desires an outcome through prayers that is anathema to our own belief systems, and this now puts us in conflict with those from within the “us” camp. To put it another way – there are elements from the “us” side indirectly perhaps, instigating the radicalized and or mentally disturbed – resulting in tragic outcomes. This is not hypothetical – tragically it is reality.

“Enemy” – this word is uttered incessantly from within our houses of worship and I for one believe that of all places, the word enemy does not belong in a house of worship – not in any of them. What does it do to us when we hear something, I will call it negative, repeated over and over again? What does it do to our essence and our souls to hear such negative messages? As parents, we know not to call a child bad, but that he or she is exhibiting an undesirable behaviour that is bad – the child is not the adjective. In synagogue the other day a rabbi eloquently spoke of not labeling an individual as disabled but as having a particular disability. It was a beautiful point made. But the term enemy I know is more problematic. It is time however to begin the conversation – to remove the word “enemy” from our liturgy and our lexicon. We are all human beings, we are not labels and we inhabit this place called earth together. One person at a time can have an impact and we can change – first ourselves and then others in our circle.

Is God confused? I bet He is. What can you and I do about it?