Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I don't have a soul. I have a body. I am a soul whose true self is revealed when no one is watching.
Many times when the discussion turns to the soul, we talk about having a soul. That flow of thought can easily lead us to consider that our soul is some inner component of our earthly body like our heart and lungs. I like the way of thinking about the soul expressed above. But seriously, how many of us really stop the merry-go-round and quietly ponder the soul and what it means? We’re generally just focused on getting along and getting by in this life aren’t we? After all, that’s quite a chore in itself. Occasionally, we even refer to someone we pity as “that poor soul”.
The Roman architect Vitruvius first proposed that the human body could be fit within a circle, representing the divine, and a square, representing the worldly. That gave rise to the theory of microcosm, man representing the cosmos in miniature—created in God’s own image. Leonardo Da Vinci was able to actually draw this concept, keeping man at the center of each symbol, by lowering the square and positioning Vitruvian Man with arms and legs spread in the circle while overlaying Virtuvian Man standing with legs together and arms outstretched in the square. And the Roman cross that held Christ’s body in much the same image as Vitruvian Man assures all of us that He defeated death and secured eternal life for those souls who believe.
I subscribe to the notion that the principle job description of us human beings is to grow our character, because I believe the essence of that word is who I am; my personality, values, spirituality, beliefs. In short, it’s who I am when no one is watching—soul. We wear many masks as we journey through the days, but there is always one true face behind them all.
The dance begins when we turn inward to our own still center. Our ego is constantly chattering about all the things that we need to be doing and it dominates much of our thoughts and thinking life. Once we become aware of the presence of our own consciousness observing the ego raising up yet another thought to vie for our attention, we are on the path to comprehending our essential identity as a conscious being.
It’s obvious to all of us that we human beings are mortal. Our bodies are informed by this extraordinary thing we call life and are indivisibly connected to the soul of our presence. But there is also a mysterious element to our existence that transcends this life and is eternally spiritual. An element that is not shared by any other creation and one that is not so obvious unless we pursue it and are open to the possibility.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Young Robert Lewis Stevenson was watching a lamp lighter at the turn of the century lighting the gas lamps in his neighborhood. When young Robert’s father asked what he was finding so fascinating that evening, he innocently replied, “Daddy, I’m watching a man knock holes in the darkness”! And there’s a lot of darkness in this world.
The Lord asks Satan where he has been when angels gather in the first chapter of Job. He replies that he has been roaming the earth and then is given permission to tempt Job. Satan shows his powers over this world then as well as when he later tempts Jesus, the Light of the World, in the wilderness before his ministry begins. The Prince of Darkness provides many opportunities for us human beings to exercise the dark side of our free will or choose to resist it. It’s interesting to consider that darkness represents the absence of light. Other worldly examples include cold as the absence of heat, death as the absence of life, and evil as the absence of God’s love in men’s hearts. These concepts are most apparent when we reflect on what is missing.
The Bible is infused with passages referring to God and His Son as light. Isaiah promises that the Lord shall be our everlasting light. The Psalmist tells us that His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. We shall see light in His light. There are even more references to Jesus in the New Testament as the light of life, the light of the world, the light of men and the true light. We humans are considered the children of light and the light of our bodies is the eye. When Jesus was transfigured his face shined like the sun and his raiment was white as the light. Jesus promises that He has come as a light into the world and whoever believes in him will not abide in darkness. And Revelation reveals that the new earth and heaven will have no night and therefore no need of a candle or the sun and moon to shine in it for the glory of God will lighten it and the Lamb will be the light thereof.
When we do what is right in loving others and humbly loving our God, we are also growing our character and spirit during our time here on earth and in preparation for our eternal destiny. We do this by volunteering our time, sharing our God-given talents and giving back what we cannot keep so that others might have what we cannot lose. We do this by being a light upon a hill sending sunbeams of grace to knock holes in the darkness. And we do this by following Jesus’ teaching to spread that Light of Life out into the world so that we and others will not walk in darkness, but walk along a straight path in the eternal Light of our Heavenly Father. And as the Son reflects His Heavenly Father’s Light and the moon reflects the sun’s light, the Light of giving has a way of circling back to bless the lives of those who honor their God by their commitment and their actions.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Lines in the Sand, Wrightsville Beach, NC
When one of our most capable American presidents was confronted with the slippery question of whether God sided with the Union or the Confederacy on the contentious issue of slavery and civil war, he famously replied, “My concern is not whether God is on my side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right”. Lincoln deftly side stepped the question, but responded with an answer that was beyond rebuttal. End of conversation.
The Pharisees brought a woman accused of adultery to Jesus in an attempt to trap and accuse him of violating either their Mosaic law or the ruling Roman law. If he told them to stone her he would have violated Roman law which forbade the oppressed people to execute anyone. If he told them to let her go he would have violated their own Law of Moses. Instead of providing a direct answer that would be a problem either way, Jesus said nothing initially, but simply bent down and began moving his finger in the sand. It is not revealed just what he was writing, but one plausible theory is the sins of the men trying to trap him. Or perhaps it was simply random lines in the sand, giving pause for clearer heads to prevail. Then Jesus matter-of-factly said, without directly answering their question, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. And they all slowly began to do the right thing by dropping their stones and drifting away, from oldest to youngest, for all have sinned. Age and experience are generally more aware of human shortcomings than youthful self-righteousness. End of conversation.
Perhaps our elected representatives in government could use these models of human behavior to end the polarity that constrains our nation so that doing the right thing could prevail for all. End of conversation.
One of my favorite scenes from the classic movie, The Longest Day, about the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in WWII was two flashes from both sides of the war. When queried about the critical outcome of the battle, an allied commander confidently replied that “God is on our side”. Then the scene immediately shifts to the German Third Reich commander who responds to the same question with the same reply. Obviously, one of the two commanders is deadly wrong. Anti-abolitionists in the 1860’s used Ephesians 6:5 to defend the slavery cause using the literal word which admonished, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”. But I like the response of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War who famously responded differently, “My concern is not whether God is on our side—my greatest concern is to be on God’s side”. Both history and our inherent sense of values show us that slavery was indefensible.
The answers don’t necessarily lie in a literal interpretation of many of the Biblical writings set in the context of the ancient Jewish world, but in the context of scriptural values, especially those taught to us by Jesus in the New Testament when a new covenant between God and us human beings was established. The ancient Bible wasn’t written as a definitive science book either, but modern science is revealing the brilliance of a divine creative mind in discoveries such as the new DNA codes. It is good to find our values in Biblical writings VS our contemporary cultural environment, but we should exercise God given common sense and reflective contemplation for our answers. The truth found in these living writings transcends cultures and time periods. God doesn’t choose sides as much as he strengthens and protects those who seek truth and relationship, e.g., I believe you’re wasting your breath praying for a victory for just about anything, but seeking strength, guidance and protection could be useful.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
I spent the entire morning today completing a heart stress test in preparation for having my second knee joint replaced. I’m hoping it will be my last, as I only have two of these, but I suppose that will be somewhat contingent on the results of the stress test. It’s generally just a two joint deal unless you out live them. What I didn’t realize until I showed up at the testing facility today is that I would be injected with a small amount of radioactive tracer directly into my blood stream via an IV. After an hour’s wait, I was then placed under a strange device labeled as a collimator which took numerous images of my heart at rest. Then I was escorted to a tread mill which was sequentially ramped up until my heart rate was essentially doubled. And another shot of radioactive tracer was once again injected into my body. More images were taken under the mysterious collimator after my heart settled down.
As I was being released back out into the world of flu germs and food, I asked the technician how many nights might pass until I ceased to glow in the dark. She didn’t blink an eye and replied that “You really need to stay away from airports and landfills. They both have scanners that will detect your radioactive body and set off alarms”. Well, that made my day, since my titanium left knee already sets off the metal detectors. Now I’m just a bit concerned to notice that I have this strange taste in my mouth and every time I cough my garage doors automatically open...
Friday, January 18, 2013
Winter Snowflower, Jamestown, NC
Given the choice between a Broadway musical and a PGA tour event, I’ll take the golf tickets to the corporate tent. But living with the fairer sex for forty years did expose me to some of the finer things in life which I actually enjoyed including good musical entertainment with heart touching story lines and lyrics like Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miz, Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Annie, and yes, Cats. There were poignant moments in all of these experiences that made you stop the music and reflect on your life. It also didn’t hurt that my daughter performed in many of these musicals as a teenager and was a joy to watch.
I had one of those moments in the middle of a dark sunflower field this morning. The first major winter storm of the season roared through the Carolinas last night bringing heavy rain turning to freezing rain, sleet, wet snow and power outages. Rare claps of thundersnow issued fatalistic warnings which the natives claim will foretell another winter storm in ten days. I had previously photographed the sunflower field in the prime of summer’s golden glory and happened upon one particular sunflower on the far edge of the field that was entwined in morning glory vines that highlighted this one creation for its unique beauty.
As I later drove past the field, it had occurred to me that the blackened plants might be interesting to photograph against a white blanket of fresh snow. Once I had shoveled the snow accumulation off my driveway, I gathered up my camera gear and drove off to fulfill the promise of another photo op. Fortunately, the rising morning sunbeams were beginning to warm the road surfaces, but nature’s organic surfaces still held the wet snow that had clung to all surfaces overnight, including the sunflower field. As I began looking through the camera lens for images that might prove interesting, I slowly made my way through the frozen field. And then while scanning the bowed heads for something out of the ordinary, the very same sunflower that had caught my eye this summer came into my view finder. The image with now barren vines immediately reminded me of one of the principal Jellicles in the musical Cats--Grizabella.
Grizabella had once enjoyed a life of carefree youthful exuberance amid the tribe of Jellicle cats, but they had shunned her in her waning years. Her decrepit and faded appearance at the Jellicle Ball in the junk yard initially did nothing to raise her stock as she vied to be the one chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn to a new Jellicle Life. But the haunting lyrics of the song she sang about her memory of better days and hope for a new restored life won them over to her side. The faded sunflower surely was alone in the moonlight last night as withered leaves collected at her feet and the wind began to moan when the winter storm rapidly descended on the Jellicle field. When the dawn came, the street lights died and the night became just another memory. A new day heralding new life had begun as the morning glory blooms had been transformed and bright sunshine revealed a glimmering pure white robe cloaked around the renewed snowflower as her memory of days in the sun lives on.
Friday, January 11, 2013
As we approach Valentine’s Day 2013, stylized heart symbols of love will begin to appear all around us. Saint Valentine of Terni lived around 270 during a time of great Christian persecution. He cut small hearts from parchment and gave them to the persecuted as symbols of God’s love. He was imprisoned because he was administering to Christians and refused to denounce his faith. Legend tells us that before his martyrdom, he restored the sight of his converted jailer’s daughter. The day before his execution he sent a farewell message to the young woman signed, “From your Valentine”. Above all else, the heart has been associated with the concept of love throughout all human history. And we know that God loves His creation unconditionally.
Prior to his own execution by the occupying Romans, Jesus told his disciples that there was no greater love than to give your life for others. The ancients knew that the physical heart moved life sustaining springs of life or blood throughout the body and easily associated it as the seat of the human soul and the control center of the will. Our emotions, loyalty, attributes of character, love, etc. have since been relegated to the brain’s frontal lobe, but we still refer to an Olympian with heart as one with a passion for excelling. How we direct the course of our life with a purity of heart or pure motive determines our ultimate destiny. Proverbs 3 counsels us to trust in the Lord with all your heart and he will make your paths straight.
Of all the creatures God provided to us human beings, I believe the dog teaches us best about unconditional love and heart. And although we know our life span is much longer than our four legged companions, life is difficult when we lose them. But I recently came across a wise saying that dogs enter our lives to teach us about love and depart to teach us about loss. And when another dog comes into our life, he doesn’t replace that sacred spot in our heart but simply expands it.
People with great heart will always be recognized as natural leaders and passionate followers.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Earlier this year, in the midst of summer, I happened upon one of those “lucky moments” of catching a mature field of bright yellow sunflowers in full bloom at sunset. All of their shining faces were upright and eagerly absorbed the life-giving rays of Light. It was truly a “field of dreams”, bright with the expectation of full life and warm sunshine. Now, we have entered the fallow season of winter and the blooms are gone. The green leaves have turned brown and the seed pods are acquiescing to the cycle of life. All of nature has withdrawn and the distant stand of trees is strangely quiet as cool sunbeams peer over the western horizon.
At first glance, the sunflowers look defeated and decimated—my first draft of this blog was entitled “Field of Broken Dreams”. Their heads are lowered and lifeless. The vibrancy of the colorful field of dreams has passed and yielded to a more solemn and darkened landscape. But if you take the time to ponder the scene and look closely, these sunny spirits have actually fulfilled the promise and purpose of their lives and are now in quiet repose. Although it appears that the dream has been shattered and broken, perhaps they are simply bowed in reverence and praise for the full lives that I was fortunate to witness. The Light that permeated every facet of the sunny field is now encapsulated in the promise of every seed head that has matured and patiently awaits the renewing Light of Life that will arrive on southerly winds with the first warming rays of the coming spring.
Friday, January 4, 2013
As a trained Industrial Engineer, one of the primary functions in most of my job descriptions over a forty year business career was that of a change agent. It wasn’t long before I realized that most folks don’t want to move out of their comfort zones and will actively resist change. One of the classic reasons not to change is that “we’ve always done it that way ”—like continuing to make buggy whips after the world has moved on to automobiles. Or continuing to make full fashion women’s hosiery after the world had moved on to panty hose which indirectly created the outlet shopping malls of America, but that’s another story. I had the opportunity to change and observe human behavior for many years. It’s been said that the only constant in this world and life is change—both a paradoxical and eternal truth. Some of the best advice I ever learned was that since change is so inevitable, it’s best to resign yourself to embrace change rather than fight or resist it. That makes our life journey much more tolerable and interesting anyway.
So I found a recent study of 19,000 participants quite interesting when the published results concluded that people tend to picture themselves in the future much as they are today, discounting how they’ve changed over time. As an example, a twenty year old is generally unable to believe the appeal of a tattoo will wear off some day. Also, folks revealed that in ten years they would probably pay a premium price for tickets to a band they presently like versus much less for a band they liked ten years ago. That little exercise confirmed to the participants that they had indeed changed, but showed that they weren’t planning on as much change in the future!
I’ve always liked the Rick Warren definition of the primary human job description which is to grow our character. That inevitably involves a constant evolution, and sometimes a revolution, of change in our life--a change that we should welcome and nurture all of our lives. As we embark on another trip around the sun in 2013, it’s important to reflect on the notion that the sun never rises on the same world and you can never journey on the same river twice, for by then both you and the river have changed.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Most people who pass and ask “How’re you doing?” don’t really care. Most people who stop and ask “How’re you doing, really?” are prying. Most people who call, mispronounce your name and ask “How’re you doing today?” are trying to sell you something. Thankfully, there actually are some people out there who really care about you and it shows!
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Happy new dawn of another trip around the sun
and celebration of God’s gift to all of us!
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of darkness a light has dawned.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
“You are the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden”.