This week: Finding Strength in CommunityEdited by: Sophy
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Hi, I'm Sophy ~ your editor for this edition of the Spiritual Newsletter.
The Rev. Scotty McLennan, author of the book Finding Your Religion, compares humanity's innate need for spiritual searching to climbing a mountain. In his view, we are all endeavoring to climb the same figurative mountain in our search for the divine, we just may take different ways to get there. In other words, there is one "God," but many paths. I honor whatever path or paths you have chosen to climb that mountain in your quest for the Sacred.
Finding Strength During the Hard Times
A lot of people I know tell me they are spiritual, but not religious. They usually do so as an explanation for why they are not part of any organized spiritual community, as they know that I am. I thank them for sharing and tell them I am the same -- valuing spiritual searching over religious certainty. "They why do you go to church every Sunday?" they ask, assuming that if I am more spiritual than religious, as they are, then I too would choose NOT to be part of any organized faith group. To which I reply, "Well, for one thing, in addition to appreciating the spiritual value of gathering for worship with a group of people who share my core values, I choose to be part of a faith group because of the community of friendship and support I am able to offer and receive, which is a blessing during the good times, and even more importantly, during the harder times of life."
For instance, early this summer a member of my faith community was diagnosed with late stage cancer that had already spread to her liver. She began chemotherapy even though she knew all it would do was maybe buy her some time, and after a month, she began hospice care when it became apparent the chemo was not working. When I visited her soon after the diagnosis, she mentioned that no matter what happened, whether she got more time or passed quickly, she felt blessed by the outpouring of love she was receiving from family, friends, and most especially her faith community. We had organized ourselves so that someone was always with her and her husband during her final weeks, offering food, company, comfort, and love.
I was surprised by hearing her say she felt blessed -- were I in her shoes, I cannot imagine feeling blessed while fighting a life-threatening illness. I can imagine feeling angry and scared, with a healthy dose of self pity and "why me'ing" thrown in for good measure -- but blessed? How can one feel blessed in the midst of such a situation? Luckily I edited my thoughts before speaking and told her that I admired her courage, and wondered if I would be able to feel blessed were I in her situation. She replied that for most of her life she knew that her family and close friends loved and cared for her, and she suspected that others she knew also had affection for her. But until she got sick, she never realized just how much those "others" loved and cared for her, and she has been overwhelmed (in a positive way) by the notes, emails, phone calls, and casseroles that had been pouring in since her diagnosis.
She told me, "Don't get me wrong -- of course I get angry and wonder why this had to happen to me. But this has also made me realize how many wonderful people I have in my life, and that's a true blessing in the midst of all the other stuff. I have always been grateful for being part of a community that nurtures my spiritual growth, but I never realized until now that those same people I worship with, week in and week out, really do care about me and have gone out of their way to show that love and care ever since my diagnosis. How can one not feel blessed by such a shower of compassion from so many people?"
And at once I realized that she was of course right -- she was truly blessed. Because she knew she doesn't have to go through this alone -- she had her husband and children, her relationship with her God, and the members of her spiritual community to lean on. So whether it's a funny card she received in the mail, or the phone message, or the flower delivery on her doorstep when she woke up in the morning -- she was constantly reminded that there were people are thinking of her, wishing her well, which for her was like being embraced and held up by dozens of pairs of arms.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, this is true of any faith community, whether one is Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist, etc. -- when members of a faith group are struggling, other members tend to rally around them to lend a hand. And I should also probably insert here that I don't think everyone should be part of an organized faith community -- I realize that for some people that just isn't something that appeals to them, nor does it nurture them as it does me. But there are other communities we are part of, and faith communities are not the only ones that offer the kind of support I'm talking about. If we are lucky, many of us are part of caring groups who respond in the same or similar way way. The woman I mentioned earlier was very involved in a local civic group, and that group, along with our congregation, worked hand in hand to care for her and her husband during the last weeks of her life.
I think it's part of the spiritual core of all of us -- whether we are regular "church" goers or not, we lend a hand to help hold someone up when they are going through a difficult time. Another friend of mine, who does not consider herself religious but who is certainly very spiritual, is not part of a weekly faith community. But she is part of a book group made up of a dozen women in her town. So when her beloved husband died and she needed assistance, as well as some shoulders to cry on, her book group filled that role beautifully. And for some, simply putting themselves in God's hands and letting the arms of the Divine hold them also gets them through the hardest times.
This very online community, along with a Facebook page (Friends of Phoebe ) have been amazing in the outpouring of support for our own Story Family as they face the challenges of Phoebe's recent diagnosis of leukemia. While her chances of survival are excellent (95%!) and she is responding to treatment very well so far, it will be a long and difficult road ahead for her, and for those who love her. And the ongoing level of support from this online community has touched the family deeply, and helps hold them up as they begin this challenging journey. From our handles saying "We Got This!" to support forums, poems, cards and gifts for Phoebe and Jack, and kitten videos on the Facebook page, we are showing our support and care for a family most of us have never even met face to face.
So whatever we do, however we do it - we are truly blessed if we are able to face our difficult life challenges standing with someone else, and being able to lean on them. Whether it's God who fills that role for us, or family and friends, or a spiritual community of which we are a part, or an online writing web site -- clinging to the people who care about us can turn the hardest times of our lives into blessings in a variety of ways, none the least of which is that they can serve to remind us that we are not alone, that there are other hands there to hold ours and help us through.
Below you'll find some spiritual offerings from other WDC members. Please let the folks know if you read their piece by leaving a thoughtful comment or review. I realize I post mostly poems, but that is because it is tough to find other types of spiritual writing on the site (most are poems). If you have something you would like me to highlight, please do share it with me, thanks!
First - a support forum for the Story Family -
And a few static items:
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Here is a response to my last newsletter "Spiritual Newsletter (August 19, 2015)" about "Be Quiet:"
From Elfin Dragon - contest hunting
your newsletter is on silence and how we find it. Last week I wrote a poem on just that subject.
Great timing on both of our parts! Thank you for sharing your poem.
From Mia - in motion
Thank you for another lovely article. Years ago, I recognized the benefits of withdrawing into silence as a way of recharging. Most often, I found it in the garden. Now, without a yard, I take advantage of getting out of the city to wander quiet roads and trails or focusing on a solitary activity that draws me closer to the earth that sustains me.
Wandering a silent forest to forage for wild mushrooms or sitting in a field to pick wild blueberries with the touch of the sun and the brush of the wind has offered a multitude of benefits beyond a sense of centering in the hush of the country.
Wow, what a beautiful picture you paint with your words - I love the "silent retreats" you are able to find and experience.
Thank you for the beautiful newsletter.
I have an item that is about silence.
May God bless you.
Thank you for sharing this with us, and blessings to you as well.
So when this silence is done, can one become better as time goes by with troubled thoughts that linger?
I guess that all depends - I do know that regular meditation can be helpful with setting aside troubling thoughts. We need to be intentional about the process, and find other things to fill our minds.
The Bible admonishes us to get away in our "prayer closet" to communine with God.
Please keep your comments and suggestions coming! Until next time! Sophy
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