Reclaiming Our Faith

A healthy spirituality, our relationships with God, Creation, and each other, is so important for a healthy and vital life. In our relationship with God we are “given” our faith as children. We’re taught certain ideas and concepts about what we should believe and how we should think and act. However, as we live our lives, we sometimes find ourselves harmed by these concepts or we simply can no longer make sense of what we were taught as children because it doesn’t match our life experience. When this happens, we can either cling to our beliefs, becoming fundamentalist, or we give up on our faith altogether. However, there’s also a third way.

Beyond the given God there is also an “ungiven” God, a hidden and mysterious Divine Presence that we can’t quite ever know fully. There’s always something new to be learned, some new revelation to be discovered. When the given God doesn’t make sense anymore, we can reclaim our faith by going in search of this ungiven God. We can try to find more meaningful understandings of the Divine and our spirituality. But, because what we’ve been taught is so deeply embedded in our psyche this can be a difficult journey. It can seem very threatening when we are presented with challenges to how we have always understood the world. However, if we choose to take on this mission, there are several steps we might consciously consider that can be helpful:

1. Name our hurts. It’s important to tell our stories and name out loud what has hurt us or what no longer makes sense to us. If we can’t name it, if we can’t express our doubts and concerns, then we can’t get past them.

2. Understand our hurts. We need to deconstruct what is bothering us. What doesn’t make sense? How does it conflict with our life experience? How does this make us feel? It’s important to explore both the logical and emotional aspects.

3. Let go of the beliefs that hurt us. We need to give ourselves permission to let go of what is no longer useful or healthy for us. This can be very difficult as it might be scary or even feel like a betrayal of our upbringing. Ritual might be helpful in letting go. It might also take time. Think of letting go as a process, not as a one-time decision.

4. Reclaim our faith. It might be easier to let go if we’re aware that there is something else waiting for us, that there are other valid ways of understanding the world and the Divine. This step is our search for those understandings. In addition to letting go, we might ask what was good about what we were taught? What is worth hanging on to? We can also learn about new understandings by reading books, talking to spiritual leaders and our peers in our spiritual community, and by reflecting on our personal experience. We might even dive deeper into how our religious tradition has understood whatever issue we’re trying to let go of because often religious traditions can have more than one way of understanding something.

Spirituality is an important part of our human experience. We have a choice how we react when we are confronted with crises of the spirit. Don’t give up on your soul but embrace growth, the never ending cycle of resurrection, of letting go and being re-born.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by a discussion I led at a church retreat in October 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Out of the Ashes give-away on GoodReads.com

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Out of the Ashes by Kenneth W. Arthur

Out of the Ashes

by Kenneth W. Arthur

Giveaway ends November 18, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Forgiveness from the Heart

Forgiveness is so important in good relationships, whether with God or with each other. So why is it often uncomfortable to talk about? I think this is partly because forgiving requires open, honest, and intimate communication about our emotions and so many of us find that very difficult. Of course, in church forgiveness is connected with talk about sin and therefore is also connected with the spiritual baggage we gain when the concept of sin is misused, as it often is. But forgiveness is critical for restoring damaged relationships. Forgiveness at its best is transformative so that the past need not dictate the future. In other words, forgiving can open up new possibilities in our lives.

Forgiveness is an act of courage. It can be surprisingly difficult to let go of pain and bitterness, anger and resentment, shame and guilt – even when these things threaten to consume us and deaden our spirits. But practicing forgiveness is important for our spiritual health and it takes practice. We often have to do it more than once. It takes time and persistence. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive 70 times 7 times (that’s 490 times!). That’s an abundance of forgiveness!

When we can’t forgive, we are asked to keep forgiving anyway until it wears down our walls of pain, hate and bitterness. Each time we make an effort to forgive is like taking a hammer to those walls. Even if they don’t come down at first, Jesus tells us to keep forgiving, keep hammering, until the walls are gone, until the way to restoration is clear. To forgive seventy times seven times is to practice forgiving until it becomes ingrained in our very souls. To forgive from our hearts is to make God’s love the ruler of our hearts, not our pain and bitterness. To forgive from our hearts is to free ourselves from the grip of the past, to make possible the restoration of relationship that might otherwise be lost, and to open the future to new possibilities. Whom are we being called to forgive today? For what do we need to be forgiven?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, September 17, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Out of the Ashes Reading

Here’s a reading I did for my book “Out of the Ashes.” Enjoy!

Note that toward the end of the reading I read a poem which contains some adult language.

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Take As Long As You Need

Take As Long As You Need

Apparition of my dreams: forget your temptations of glory.
Give up on me! Do not entice me to ascend this mountain
when I cannot perceive the peak covered in cloud.
Courage melts under scrutiny of daylight, a dusting of snow,
while your seduction beckons and frightens, leaves
my soul cowering, that outstretched hand might strike.

Yet in my heart a numinous chime does strike,
sends me fishing for deep reds and lush yellows of glory
in proud display, a poem peacock of autumn leaves.
Stunning sunset, prismatic waterfall, majestic mountain –
fool’s gold, hopeful beginnings buried under the snow
of cliché. What radiance can break through this cloud?

Always, swells of inadequacy surge forth to cloud
the tango of words. Adjectives and adverbs threaten to strike,
afraid to blemish paper with ink as exhaust grimes fresh snow.
Take as long as you need to collect the implements of glory,
my vision. Endless is the gravel-strewn passage up the mountain.
Barefoot, we must tread warily lest a scar the trek leaves.

Expand the table for the coming feast: add leaves
of synonym and simile, metaphor and imagination, a word cloud
to rain down possibility before the looming mountain.
For a moment, words turn bold and strike
out in search of perfect pitch, promised glory.
Despite ill forecasts, uncertainty has not yet begun to snow.

When it does, shovel and fine brush shape a carapace of snow,
a fortress that protects heart, defends against the obtuse, leaves
room for artful breaks, gives words freedom to glory
in veiled meanings, crafts a holy sanctuary no umbrage may cloud.
To placate the poetry gods, oh muse, title thrusts from shell to strike
the beholder, provoking a private pilgrimage up the mountain.

Chilled as a winter eve, I huddle in the shadow of mountain,
appraise the guidance of my foot prints in snow,
secretly hope none attend my trail but instead strike
off on a new course, not to accept the inheritance my word leaves
but to amble into mystery, for the peak will ever be in cloud.
Only the strenuous slog toward justification grants a florid glory.

Is the face of God to be found on this mountain? Is there glory
in the gathering snow storm? In forming molecules into a poem cloud?
For hope of the odd elegant phrase, I strike this bargain: doubt never leaves.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur

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