Saturday, June 30, 2012

Preventing Corruption In The Church

"Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption.  As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear:  by focusing on the poor.  The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation.  When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity.  It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness.  Paul says,  "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).  This is the true vision.  The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace." ~  Henri J.M. Nouwen
I agree with the late Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen that many churches can often get "caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness." Heated arguments break out in churches over whether they should ditch the pews in favour of padded chairs, or whether drums should be allowed during morning worship.  Gossip spreads like wildfire if a minister foregoes the traditional pulpit in favour of walking around the platform with a wireless microphone. I know of one pastor who caught a lot of flack over allowing people in motorcycle garb to attend Sunday morning services.  These are all petty things and it's sad to watch. Power struggles can also occur, sometimes between the church board and the pastor, sometimes between a wealthy benefactor and the pastor. And it goes on and on.

Nouwen is right that the solution to these problems is clear: churches should focus on the poor. In other words, the church must exist for others.  When a church becomes proud of how much it is growing and begins to rest on their laurels over Sunday afternoon post-service coffee, problems ensue. Christian churches in particular are called by Jesus in Scripture to look after "the least of these (the poor, the sick and lonely)," and that whatever one does for them they are also ministering to Him.  But I offer up that non-Christian churches would do well to heed the words of Jesus as well as Nouwen and concentrate on the poor.  A church that turns inward on itself will eventually cave.  That's why Social Action committees are so very important. These are composed of individuals who look for ways to engage society in a real way, both locally and individually.  

Finally, church is about relationship.  But not just being in relationship with people whom we have known and worshiped with for years. At the next coffee hour, make the effort to introduce yourself to someone you have never talked to before. And during the week look for ways to live out your faith by engaging with "the least of these."

Mark Andrew Alward

Friday, June 29, 2012

Taking Up Our Crosses

"Jesus says:  'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him ... take up his cross and follow me' (Matthew 16:24).   He does not say:  'Make a cross' or 'Look for a cross.'  Each of us has a cross to carry.  There is no need to make one or look for one.  The cross we have is hard enough for us!  But are we willing to take it up, to  accept it as our cross?

Maybe we can't study, maybe we are handicapped, maybe we suffer from depression, maybe we experience conflict in our families, maybe we are victims of violence or abuse.  We didn't choose any of it, but these things are our crosses.  We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them.  But we can also take up these crosses and follow Jesus with them." ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen


If I were to cast a poll asking "Do you enjoy taking up your crosses?" I'd be surprised if anyone would answer in the affirmative. The crosses that we bear may seem - no - may be overwhelming and cause us great pain and grief. What is your cross? Nouwen offers a few examples. Perhaps we are handicapped, suffer from depression, experience conflict in our families, or are victims of violence or abuse. It is as if the late Catholic priest and author was speaking directly to me. I suffer from depression and anxiety, which is often a handicap. I am experiencing conflict in my family, and I have been a victim of abuse in the past. Maybe your cross is the loss of a romantic relationship or the loss of employment. I hope for myself and for you that these things do not hound us forever, but while we are experiencing them, it would do us well to continue to be spiritual people in the midst of them.  Anyone can do that, regardless of how heavy our crosses.  

How do we follow Jesus? I am no longer a Christian but I can still undertake this practice. I can love God and love my neighbour. What is God, anyway? The Bible says that God is love, so the statement "loving God" is rather redundant. I love God by loving love rather than hate or exclusion or divisiveness. And I can love my neighbour, just as Jesus did. Like Jesus, I am called not to shun the people around me who face sickness or poverty or loneliness; rather, these are the people Jesus would want me to love.  Perhaps the crosses that we bear are there for the purpose of being able to stay close to God - Love - and to relate to the pain of our family or friends or neighbours.

I am not convinced that we have to carry our crosses forever, but while we do, why not turn adversity into an opportunity to love more abundantly.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spiritual Courage

"Courage is connected with taking risks. Jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorbike, coming over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or crossing the ocean in a rowboat are called courageous acts because people risk their lives by doing these things. But none of these daredevil acts comes from the centre of our being. They all come from the desire to test our physical limits and to become famous and popular. 

Spiritual courage is something completely different. It is following the deepest desires of our hearts at the risk of losing fame and popularity. It asks of us the willingness to lose our temporal lives in order to gain eternal life." 

~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

Monday, June 25, 2012

Should Religious People Keep Their Noses Out Of Politics?

On the June 5th edition of CBC Radio's As It Happens, Canadian Senator Nicole Eaton offered up the following statement:

"I don’t think that churches should take political stands. I think they should be more about helping people and giving people succor.”

This statement came after her criticism of the United Church of Canada's boycott against Israel, saying, "is that helping the poor, educating the poor or giving people a hand up? Or is that political work?”

Interviewer Carol Off inquired, “Churches take up a lot of causes – they go after politicians about poverty, they go after them about abortion laws. Do you think they should cease and desist from all of that?” This is when Senator Eaton made her statement about churches taking political stands.

Michael Den Tandt of the National Post postulates some interesting questions in a recent article, such as: Should churches be exempt from paying taxes? Should their donors also be exempt from paying taxes?

Mr. Den Tandt's article also features quotes from religious political figures, including current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: 

“In recent years, some politicians and commentators have asserted that in order to maintain the separation of church and state, legislators should not be influenced by religious belief. Leaving aside the fact that the separation of church and state is an American constitutional doctrine, not part of Canada’s legal or political tradition, the notion of separation refers to the state not interfering in religious practice and treating all faith communities impartially. It does not mean that faith has no place in public life or in the public square.” (2006)

Here is the full article at the National Post.

Mr. Rogers Accepting His Lifetime Achievement Award

Fred Rogers Accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 24th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997. I still love Mr. Rogers all these years later and I miss him.

The Seeds Of Evangelism In The Smelly Swamps Of Self-Shame

We Are Bright Lights In Our Small Worlds

"When we start thinking or feeling down about ourselves, it would be wise to step outside of our own skin for a moment and see ourselves as our closest friends see us. Then we will see that we are not the miserable, messed up failures that we often see ourselves as; rather, we are warm, caring, wise, loving people who are bright lights in the small worlds which we inhabit."

Mark Andrew Alward

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Teach Me What You Have Taught Me 10,000 Times

In this time, teach me again what you have taught me ten thousand times,

In this time, help me to not run away as I've ran away more times than I can remember,

Still my mind so that I can listen to my heart.

Mold me into the person I have craved to be since as far back as I can remember,

Hold me in the places where I have been wounded so that I can move past victimization,

Help me to slow down, quiet down so I can hear your words of love and wisdom from my heart into my mind.

I have deviated ten thousand times,

I will rest in You instead of stretching out for comfort elsewhere, even if it kills me,

I will begin anew and be refreshed, reborn.

Mark Andrew Alward

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Doctor-Assisted Suicide: Live And Let Die

Gloria Taylor, 64, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) three years ago.

Last week, in a landmark ruling, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled that the current Criminal Court provisions making doctor-assisted suicide illegal are invalid. The case centered around Gloria Taylor, a B.C. woman, and was supported by Lee Carter and husband Hollis Johnson, who obtained a legal doctor-assisted suicide for their mother Kay in Switzerland. They were also supported by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association in their fight.

While declaring the law against euthanasia invalid, the judge suspended that declaration for one year. “During that period of suspension, a constitutional exemption will permit Ms. Taylor the option of physician-assisted death under a number of conditions,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith said.

Taylor, 64, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease) about three years ago. Since the case began in November 2011, Taylor’s condition has deteriorated and she has lost function in her hands. Her voice has also changed and she mostly requires a wheelchair. She has difficulty swallowing. The passions she once had — outings with her granddaughter, visiting family and friends and cooking — are now impossible to do.

Now, there are many arguments against euthanasia. The one that I have heard most often growing up is that the patient and doctor are "playing God." Obviously those who fight for euthanasia do not have a fruitful spiritual life. Right?

Not so fast.

Gloria Taylor is a faithful member of the United Church of Canada and a spiritual woman.

“My belief is that God wants the best for me. And He, or She, certainly doesn’t want me to die in agony,” Taylor said.

Nor does God want her to die, she said, while in a coma, under sedation, unable to communicate.

As the clock winds down on her final months or years on the planet, Taylor believes in heaven and has faith in a merciful God.

“There’s a better world coming. And I’m looking forward to it.”

This writer sees no reason why euthanasia should be legal for those suffering from a terminal illness. Obviously certain stipulations need to be put on it, something which Taylor is prepared for. She will need to undergo an assessment from a psychiatrist and be informed by her doctor about alternatives in medical treatment and palliative care. As for her particular case, her doctor has told her that she has his full support.

“To die screaming at the top of my lungs because the pain is so great, I can’t stand that,” she said. “It’s something I try not to think about. Now I’m thankful I don’t have to fear that kind of death.”

However, Taylor isn't quite ready for death just yet. "I look for the beauty in life. But I'm not afraid of talking about dying. It's part of living. I have no trouble accepting that."

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Great Facebook Purge Of 2012: De-Cluttering Your Life

I recently posted the result of the Great Facebook Purge Of 2012, on, well, my Facebook page. Yesterday morning I sat at 494 Facebook "friends," and today I sit at 256. I've cut my Facebook waistline by almost half.  One of my remaining friends was curious as to why I had made such a move, so I thought I'd write a post about it.

De-cluttering your online presence can be just as freeing as de-cluttering your apartment or house. A spring cleaning if you will. We all hate to do it, but once it's done and we have more room, we wonder why we hadn't partaken in this activity a long time ago.  Online cleaning can be a tricky process, but also easier, as you can do so while sitting in your underwear in bed (not that that's what I did at all.)  Online cleaning involves going through our in-boxes and deciding which of the sometimes-hundreds of e-mails we are going to read, and which we're simply going to throw into the trash bin. When it comes to Facebook, it's a bit trickier, because people could potentially be offended by your "unfriending" them. However, I found that when I looked at my friends list, there were several people there whom I had never even met and never talked to. There were old classmates who, though I wish well, I never talked to either and they didn't talk to me. And there were a few people who were so different from me now that we had little in common to remain "friends." I think that sometimes we are only meant to know certain people during one period in our lives and then let them go as we enter another period. Facebook changes all that and the clutter builds up.

A lot of this has to do with  my ongoing, persistent call to simplify my life and to quiet down. Some people get their energy by being around a lot of people; I get my energy and rejuvenation by spending time alone and being quiet (now this doesn't mean I don't have my moments; I enjoy good, one-on-one conversations, and am even delivering the talk at my faith community in a few weeks).

Sometimes the more clutter we have in our lives, whether online or otherwise, drowns out that inner voice, call it God, the Universe, the Divine, your Higher Self, that is trying to get through to us. We keep ourselves so busy, we don't listen to ourselves or the Divine Presence, and then we wonder why we're so unhappy.

Facebook and other social media can quickly turn to narcissism as well; this can be the case for me sometimes.

So today, after the Great Facebook Purge of 2012, I would encourage you to take some time to slow down, quiet down, and de-clutter so that personal or spiritual growth can take place.

I'll be telling myself the same thing.

Mark Andrew Alward

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Prayer On A Father's Day Mourning

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

To those who have lost their father during the last year and are missing him terribly, may you find peace in the love of those surrounding you.

To those who always had a close relationship with their fathers and whose loss still stings after so many years, may you be comforted by a lifetime of happy memories of him.

And for those of us who had or have fathers who were never really Dads,
For those who have dreaded this day for as long as we can remember,
For those who are reminded every year of what should have been, what could have been but hasn't.

For those of us who were used, abused, or neglected and for whom fatherhood meant fear and disappointment.

For those of us who have had to say goodbye to our fathers while they are still alive,
May we find strength in the knowledge that we knew when to take care of ourselves and say enough is enough.

May we take pride in the men and women we are becoming despite a huge hole in our lives.

May we take joy in the friends and other family members that bring so much joy and meaning to our lives.

Take time to mourn, cry many rivers, yell 'til you're hoarse. Grieve the love that you should have received.

And then walk on, for you are still standing and have much to be proud of.

I offer this prayer on a Father's Day mourning.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wine & Hymn Sing With Jay Moore & Mark Andrew Alward

June 14, 2012 - Kitchener, Ontario

Jay Moore (guitar) and Mark Andrew Alward will be singing these two romantic hymns about Jesus @ our church, First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo (soon to be renamed Grand River Unitarian Congregation) on Sunday, July 8, 2012. Here we enjoy a glass of red and rehearse the two hymns "In The Garden" and "Softly & Tenderly."

"In The Garden" was written by C. Austin Miles in 1912. He intended it to be an Easter song, with Mary Magdelene being the speaker.

"Softly & Tenderly" was written by Will. L. Thompson in 1880. It was used widely as an "invitation hymn" in the great evangelistic meetings conducted by famous evangelist Dwight Lyman (D.L.) Moody and Ira Sankey throughout Great Britain and the United States.

Jay & Mark Andrew both grew up as fundamentalist evangelical Christians but are now Unitarians who still enjoy singing the old hymns that we grew up with, though we no longer adhere to most of their lyrics.

Our Church:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Remaining True To Our Calling

Perhaps you are like me and you've known for many years what you were made for, what you are called to do. And maybe like me you have chosen instead to find satisfaction in other things, in other activities, in other people. And then we wonder why we are frustrated and unhappy. We can become so busy that we don't listen to the inner voice that tells us what we are here to do. We may be afraid of the sacrifices that it will entail, even though we have a sneaking suspicion that if were were to truly drop everything and follow the voice, our hearts would finally find contentment. As well-meaning as people can be, no one can truly tell you what you were made for, what you're supposed to do. Yet we often run around seeking others opinions or confirmation because we don't really trust that which we are pulled toward. Running around making plans or talking with an endless number of people may not be the best thing sometimes. Perhaps we need to devote a day, or a week, or a month, to spending time listening to our inner voice and getting on track. And eventually we can develop a lifestyle where we are in continuous contact with Love no matter where we are or who we're with.

Mark Andrew Alward

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Spirituality In The Middle Of A Busy Life

“Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.” ~ Meister Eckhart (1260-1327)
I like reading quotes from Meister Eckhart, the German theologian, philosopher and mystic.  And I think that he makes a great point here. Sometimes we can shoot ourselves for not having a mystic-like prayer-life, where we spend hour upon hour alone in a dark candle-lit room with the Divine Mystery.  Many spiritual teachers talk about the importance of spending time away from the world or running away from things. And sometimes this is necessary. Many of us go through times when we feel drawn away from people - even our close friends - or activities so that we may grow spiritually. This may take a long time. However, eventually we have to learn to have the inner solitude that Eckhart talks about, a solitude and an inner Divine peace "wherever or with whomsoever we may be."  When we are walking down the street or when we are sitting across the table having coffee with a friend, we can still focus on our hearts. For instance, currently I am sitting in a busy downtown coffee shop and still I can feel the inner aching for that Divine Mystery which calls me to itself. I need not be alone all of the time.  It may very well be in the crowded coffee shop or in the busy mall that God can be found.

Always be willing for divine surprises.

Friday, June 8, 2012

CHURCH SPOTLIGHT: Grand River Unitarian Congregation - Rev. Jessica P. Rodela

Today I had the privilege of sitting down with Reverend Jessica P. Rodela of Grand River Unitarian Congregation (formerly First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo). We discussed a variety of topics such as:

  • What is Unitarianism?
  • How far back does Unitarianism go?
  • What do Unitarians believe?
  • Where does social justice fit into the Unitarian picture?
  • Where do Unitarians stand on LGBTQ issues
  • And much more!
My thanks to Jessica for taking the time to sit down for this interview, and to videographer Wes Austin. Below this video is a sermon on anti-LGBTQ bullying by Rev. Jessica, as well as pictures of the church.

Grand River Unitarian Congregation (formerly First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo) meets @ 299 Sydney Street South in Kitchener, Ontario

The welcoming table when you walk through the front doors. The church newsletter as well as a wealth of pamphlets are available.

This window has been preserved from the original Unitarian meeting space on Allen St.

Main sanctuary @ Grand River Unitarian Congregation

Grand River Unitarian's Affirmation, which is affirmed each Sunday.

Downstairs meeting space (and a great place for after-service coffee-hour!)

(formerly First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo)
299 Sydney Street South
Kitchener, Ontario
SUNDAY SERVICES @ 10:30 a.m.

My View On Relationships: A Collaboration Of Two Individuals

The following is a quote by the Catholic writer Henri J.M. Nouwen. I will add my own thoughts afterwards:

"Human relationships easily become possessive. Our hearts so much desire to be loved that we are inclined to cling to the person who offers us love, affection, friendship, care, or support. Once we have seen or felt a hint of love, we want more of it. That explains why lovers so often bicker with each other. Lovers' quarrels are quarrels between people who want more of each other than they are able or willing to give.
It is very hard for love not to become possessive because our hearts look for perfect love and no human being is capable of that. Only God can offer perfect love. Therefore the art of loving includes the art of giving one another space. When we invade one another's space and do not allow the other to be his or her own free person we cause great suffering in our relationships. But when we give another space to move and share our gifts, true intimacy becomes possible."

Three key things happened as I grew up which discoloured my view of relationships.

  1. I grew up in a continuously verbally and emotionally abusive household mostly coming from my father.  This left me feeling poor and emotionally needy for many many years to come, and as far as relationships were concerned, I started to look for someone who would heal my deep wounds and make me feel all better.  Essentially though I didn't realize it at the time, I was looking for a therapist-type relationship that would make me happy. I remember being this way from as far back as early childhood. I was probably in the first grade and one of my friends was having a birthday party and a bunch of us decided to play a game of pretend.  Some chose to be the mother and the father. I chose to be the family dog, because I wanted a cute classmate of mine to "pet me," essentially, to take care of me.  This neediness is something that I have worked on with the help of therapists, etc, but it's still something that I work through to this day.  It is not anyone else's job to heal my pain and no one - no one - can completely fill my many needs.
  2. I grew up in the evangelical church and the main thing that I was taught about marriage was that "two people became one."  I thought that something magical happened when two people had sex, that they ceased to be individuals, but instead became a sort of symbiotic entity.  I have long since come to see this as a complete lie. It sounds nice. Hell, it would make for great Hallmark cards, but marriage is not two individuals becoming one entity, but I believe it should be about two individuals who have enough in common that they want to come together, but still respect each others individuality.  Perhaps you've seen the chick-flick Runaway Bride. In it, Julia Robert's character Maggie Carpenter bolts from the altar several times before finally settling down with Richard Gere. But in the course of things she also finds her individuality and at the end of the movie her and Gere's character ride separate horses away from the ceremony together.  I'm not married, but I believe married couples or people in relationships should never forget that they are involved with a whole other individual and that individual must be respected and celebrated. This leads well into my final point.
  3. Chick Flicks! I love them! Sit me down in front of the TV with a Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, or Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, give me some ice cream, and I'll be one happy camper.  But it would do myself, as well as many others well to remember that not all relationships are such fairytales. There are  times of strong disagreements, times of compromise, and a lot of communication is the key, especially before entering into a serious relationship.
In conclusion, I would just emphasize again that the driving force for a relationship should not be need. Yes, we are all needy to an extent, and that's ok, but if we expect another person to ease all our pain, the relationship will be burdened down and perhaps fall apart.  Also, mutual respect for one another's individuality is essential. We should not be envious when the person we are with takes up a hobby that we have no interest in; rather we should encourage them in it.  A relationship in a way is a front-row seat to the unfolding of another individual's life progress.  Finally, sometimes in relationships we come to painful times when we have fought the good fight and should no longer hold onto something that has long ago deteriorated and faded away.

I have lost many good relationships over the years, mostly out of my emotional health and my extreme need. I look forward to a day when I have learned my lessons enough to have a healthy relationship between two individuals.

Mark Andrew Alward

Many Christian Preachers Owe Their Jobs To Fear

The following is a sermon from Sunday, June 3rd, 2012 by Rev. Roger Ray of Community Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When You Find Yourself In Hell, Stop And Look Around

"Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax. When we do that, we gradually discover that clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario of the worst person in the world, in the middle of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there."
~ Pema Chodron, American Buddhist nun
If you're like me, you have experienced at least one period in your life where everything seems dark, or knocked out of place. You find yourself off-balance. Jobs end. Relationships fail. Things that had made sense all of your life no longer make sense. Or perhaps your emotions are dulled or they may even have sunk to a seemingly dangerous low.

During such times it is important to have the guidance of trusted friends or therapists, but it does us well to also look for the Teacher in such times.  What can we learn from this unwanted experience?  This is not a question that many of us in Western society stop to ask ourselves. We want gratification and happiness, and we want it now. Everything is instant in our culture. 24-hour stores, movies on demand. Hell, you can even order your groceries online and have them delivered to your door without ever stepping outside.

But what if these dark times in our lives are instead golden opportunities to learn something about ourselves?  What if, instead of running for the nearest exit from Hell, we stop and look around a bit, surveying this new surrounding?  I am not saying that this is easy; it isn't.  But often in our darkest times there are things that we can learn, and instead of coming out of these periods utterly defeated we can come out a more well-rounded person.

Let me speak personally for a moment. I have suffered from what many would call mental illness for most of my life. My latest diagnosis is chronic depression with episodes of major depression, bi-polar type two, and mixed anxiety disorder including obsessive compulsive disorder.  Through the years I have sought the counsel of pastors, friends and therapists; I have even been hospitalized briefly. I take a cocktail of medications each morning and each night.  However, I am increasingly learning new things about myself and about life. For many years I have felt a call, a "pull" if you will to become a quieter, more simple person. But instead of heeding that call, I have continued to try to do business as usual and to seek happiness at all costs.  But now, as I still live with what many would call depression, I am finding that it is a teaching tool. It is as if the depression is saying to me, "Learn from me. I have dulled your mind and emotions right now so that you will finally become the quieter, simpler person that I have wanted you to be all along."  This may fly in the face of some therapists and some religious teachers, but I am finding it immensely helpful.  This time of "depression" is helping me to slow down, to look at myself, to depend on God/The Divine more fully, something I have craved almost all my life.

So the next time you find yourself in a dark time, in a time of depression, I encourage you to yes, seek assistance (you don't have to go through this alone), but also stop and ask, "What can I learn from this difficult time in my life?"

Love and blessings,

Mark Andrew

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Luka Magnotta & The Eaton Centre Shooting: The World Cries Out For An End To Violence

For those of you who have read a few of my other posts, you will find it no surprise that I have paid almost no attention to the horrific details in the news about Luka Magnotta, the man who killed and dismembered a Chinese student, or about the shooting in Toronto. I think it's a vicious cycle. We crave sensational stories, so the media puts a spotlight on them. The media puts a spotlight on sensational stories, and feeds our morbid curiosity.  In the face of this, I offer this quote by a Quaker woman:

The whole world cries out for an end to violence, for the healing of old wounds and for the sanctification of the violated earth. Children, men and women are caught up and washed away by floods of ages-old hatred and fear which must be staunched while the pain and suffering caused by that hatred and fear are assuaged.
But before we can heal others, we must first heal ourselves, and it is right that we should take the time to do that work properly, in faith and love...
Many among us carry soul-deep wounds, and those wounds also pain the corporate body. We need to recognize and accept our responsibility to heal each other, to hold others up in "trust, truth and total disarmament" so that we may all be upheld in love. Make no mistake. If we follow the call to heal ourselves, to heal the deep wounds that vitiate the strength of the spirit of our (communities), we will all be transformed.
~ Christine Lundy, 1995. 

Loving God & Hating The World: The Ultimate Contradiction

"I was early convinced in my mind that true religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness, not only toward all men, but also toward the brute creatures; that, as the mind was moved by an inward principle to love God as an invisible, incomprehensible Being, so by the same principle, it was moved to love him in all his manifestations in the visible world; that, as by his breath the flame of life was kindled in all animal sensible creatures, to say we love God as unseen, and at the same time exercise cruelty toward the least creature moving by his life, or by life derived from him, was a contradiction in itself."
~ John Woolman, 1740, Quaker preacher
After reading this 272-year-old quote, I can't help but agree that the spiritual life is about both contemplation and the "inward life," and it is also about putting love into action. John Woolman was a traveling Quaker minister who traveled throughout the American colonies and in England, advocating against cruelty to animals, economic injustices and oppression, conscription, military taxation, and particularly slavery and the slave trade. He speaks of an "inward principle" to love God. I feel this principle strongly today, choosing to spend a fair amount of time in solitude praying to God through journaling and feasting on spiritual truths through the writings of contemporaries and writers who have gone before me. I am convinced that we all need to find a way to spend time with God/The Divine/The Universe, whether it be through prayer, journaling, taking a long walk in the park. For me, journaling slows down my mind and my fears and concerns are swallowed up by the love of God.

At the same time as developing an inward spiritual life, Woolman writes that if we say we love God yet are cruel to the people and the world around us, we are hypocrites.  We have all seen such people. And perhaps at times in our lives we have been such people.  Sometimes, as the Scriptures say, we have to go into our closets and spend time with God. Sometimes we go through long periods where we have to be alone with only God for company. But when we are ready, we are called to move into the world to love everyone and everything around us with the love we feel in God.

Perhaps the best way to answer the question "How are you doing spiritually?" is by tallying how we have been treating those around us.

My encouragement to you today is to find some way, some path to commune with God on a regular basis. Perhaps that means formal prayers that we have learned in church, maybe it is writing or time in nature. It will make a world of difference when we meet our fellow humankind throughout the week.