About Me

Friday, April 29, 2016

Complexities and Troubles

Everyone who has kids or even grandchildren knows there are teachable moments when they are the teacher and you are the student.  Sometimes you are a willing student.  And other times you did not want to be a student at all!  I recently had one of the former moments.  I was not looking for it, but I was taught and was fine with it.  I was not unwilling.

To set the scene, you have to imagine a room half full of boxes.  A house project led to the accumulation of many boxes.  Of course, a scene like this is irresistible to any young soul.  My granddaughter was sucked right into the middle of the boxes.  You can use them as forts or a maze.  Some of them were so big you get into it and seemingly be lost to the world---or, at least, a parent.  Quite a bit of time went by in the wonderful world of box land.  Then she was finished and wanted to escape.

At one point, a young voice plaintively appealed for outside advice.  She asked a simple question.  “How do I get through this crap?”  The room was no longer filled with boxes.  They had become a problem.  They had been re-labeled as crap!  They were not entertaining any more.  They had become obstacles and the issue now was how to surmount the problem?

My granddaughter’s life had gone through a metamorphosis.  The boxes that had lured her into the space now turned out to be complex.  Added to this, they had become nothing but trouble.  The only question was how to deal with these complexities and troubles?  She realized fairly quickly that she needed help.  So she made the appeal.  And with good parents around, help came fairly quickly and her troubles were over.  That could have been the end of the story.

In some ways it was the end of the story.  But in my mind the story also took a different form.  I realized that it could serve as a metaphor for life.  Most of our lives have their ups and downs.  As we go through life, we go into “rooms” that can be like phases of life.  Sometimes the rooms have things that lure us to settle in and play.  The “boxes” can be any number of things.  Remember, it is just a metaphor.

There come times, however, when the room---when a particular phase of life---changes on us.  The phase of life may come to be nothing but complexity and trouble.  We can sometimes feel trapped.  We are certainly not having any fun.  We would opt out, if we could only figure out how to do it.  Sometimes it is ignorance that stops us.  Sometimes we are impotent---we don’t have the power to change things. 

I have been in these kinds of situations.  They can be of our own making.  I have done a few of those.  We get into trouble and then we can’t get out---at least, we can’t get out of trouble on our own.  We need help.  Sometimes our complexities and troubles come to us and we did nothing to cause or provoke it.  Again, we need help. 

I would like to think about this metaphor in a spiritual sense.  Life does put us into troubles and complexities.  These always have a spiritual side.  As I reflect back on my own life, two such periods come to mind that I can share.  One came at that transitional time when I went to college.  The other one came more at mid-life.

Dutifully, I went to college.  At some point during that initial year, I realized I actually did not know who I was or where I was headed.  College made no sense.  So I finally mustered up enough courage to leave and go back home.  Of course, that solved no problem, but it did give me time and a context to think about things.  And to learn to pray.  An older friend came into my life and became a spiritual mentor.  He solved no complexity and did not get me out of trouble.  But he helped me learn how to have faith at a deeper level and to grow into the person I was to become.  I went back to college and then some!  He helped me get out of a room of “boxes.”

The second time I will share came when I was diagnosed with cancer.  My girls were still young---one in diapers.  I did not feel particularly unlucky or that God owed me something better.  People get sick at all ages.  And my theology would say God does not give us bad things to test us.  Once again, I cried out for help and God came in the form of many friends and family.

Physically, I survived and have thrived for decades now.  For that I am grateful.  But even more grateful am I for all those folks who were there for me.  They would have been just as graceful and helpful had my fate been different.  Life or death---they would have been friends of the Spirit.  They helped me at a time when I really wanted to ask, “How do I get through this crap?”

We do not live in a perfect world.  We may enter phases of life that deliver obstacles and troubles and we ask, “How do I get through this crap?”  Very often, it is someone else who comes to our aid.  Often, it is a community.  Always I think it is the Holy One.  It is my experience that this Holy One typically uses others.  And I am always grateful.   

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Nice Day

I don’t know anyone who hates a nice day.  At the most obvious level, a nice day usually refers to the weather.  Typically, it is warm and sunshiny.  In the part of the country I live, nice days can happen in the spring---at least the first nice days we identify.  Certainly there are many nice days in the summer.  And by summer standards, many of those “nice days” we claimed in the spring would not be true.  In the spring a nice day is likely declared if it reaches the 50-degree mark.  In the summer that might well be a lousy day!
           
Fall weather if often the favorite season for many folks.  Fall days sometimes are not as hot as the summer folks just survived.  And fall inevitably brings the colors that everyone enjoys.  I think people may enjoy the nice days of fall because we know we are sitting ducks for the impending weather that winter brings.  I am pretty aware of weather.  I attribute this to growing up on a farm, but I am not at all sure there is any correlation.
           
I do know growing up on a farm I learned to read the skies.  This was long before the Weather Channel and radar and all the technologies of our current age.  I might have caught some weather forecast on the early morning radio or read some newspaper projection, but I figured I had as much chance being right as those prognosticators.  I spent much of every day in the outside.  I was exposed to the weather and I learned to take whatever it was.  Of course, this did not mean if it were raining, I had to stand in the rain.
           
All this relates to my work now as a college professor.  I have not forgotten weather.  I am still pretty in tune with it.  My early morning walk to get coffee gives me a chance to sense how cold it is, the humidity, whether there are clouds, a full moon, etc.  I quickly know the direction from which the wind blows and what that usually portends.  Weather is like a hobby now.  It rarely affects what I do.  Classes are not cancelled if it rains! 
           
But rain does affect how students feel about things.  Crummy weather brings out the grumpiness in students and my colleagues alike.  Cold snowy weather compounds the growling.  Strong winds are a curse to hairstyles and umbrellas.  But somehow we march on.  And then comes a nice day.  If we are lucky, there is a string of nice days.  The grumpiness subsides.  I never heard anyone curse a nice day!
           
There is one predictable for nice days.  Students will arrive in the classroom and immediately and in unison beg, “Can we go outside today?”  Of course, they just came in from being outside and will go back outside when the class is finished.  What they mean, of course, is they want the class to meet outside.  The implication is they could finally enjoy the class if it were held outside!  I guess that makes class and bad weather a double whammy!
           
My usual response is not very satisfactory.  I tell them if we were to go outside, we would not mess that up by having class! That does not mean we could not have the class outside.  Everything we talk about in a class discussion could happen out there.  I am aware, many fewer notes would be taken.  I don’t use PowerPoint, so that would not be sacrificed.  So why do I care where we have class?
           
It is all a matter of attention and attentiveness.  I am pretty confident we cannot be attentive to more than one thing at a time.  We can be aware of more than one thing.  I can eat with a friend in a noisy restaurant.  I am aware of my friend and so much more.  But I am attentive to my friend.  The same goes with class.  For me it is either the material of the class or the nice day outside.  Both are important; the question is to what do I want to be attentive?  I figure a class lasts fifty minutes.  A nice day lasts---well a whole day.
           
A nice day is a gift of God, as I see it.  And in a way, my life, my brain and abilities are also gifts of God.  I don’t want to squander any of these gifts.  But some gifts require more effort.  Some gifts need to be developed.  That’s the difference.  Nice days are a pure gift.  Nothing I do develops the day.  I can’t concentrate and add a few degrees.  But my mind and that of the students can be cultivated and developed.  To do that effectively means staying inside.
           
But I always am willing to keep the surprise available.  Sometimes when I am met with the clamor to “go outside for class,” I reply that would be a waste of a nice day.  I suggest we throw aside the class for the day and actually go outside, be as attentive as we can and actually enjoy fully the gift of God.  Often this is harder than it sounds.  Many of us don’t even know how to do very well the nice days we are given.
           
Too often we are not really attentive.  I watch folks walking with minds focused on their cell phones in the midst of the nicest day we have had for weeks.  This leads to spiritual queries: if I am given a nice day, am I attentive enough actually to be aware appreciate it?  That is my spiritual work of the day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Complexities and Troubles

Everyone who has kids or even grandchildren knows there are teachable moments when they are the teacher and you are the student.  Sometimes you are a willing student.  And other times you did not want to be a student at all!  I recently had one of the former moments.  I was not looking for it, but I was taught and was fine with it.  I was not unwilling.

To set the scene, you have to imagine a room half full of boxes.  A house project led to the accumulation of many boxes.  Of course, a scene like this is irresistible to any young soul.  My granddaughter was sucked right into the middle of the boxes.  You can use them as forts or a maze.  Some of them were so big you get into it and seemingly be lost to the world---or, at least, a parent.  Quite a bit of time went by in the wonderful world of box land.  Then she was finished and wanted to escape.

At one point, a young voice plaintively appealed for outside advice.  She asked a simple question.  “How do I get through this crap?”  The room was no longer filled with boxes.  They had become a problem.  They had been re-labeled as crap!  They were not entertaining any more.  They had become obstacles and the issue now was how to surmount the problem?

My granddaughter’s life had gone through a metamorphosis.  The boxes that had lured her into the space now turned out to be complex.  Added to this, they had become nothing but trouble.  The only question was how to deal with these complexities and troubles?  She realized fairly quickly that she needed help.  So she made the appeal.  And with good parents around, help came fairly quickly and her troubles were over.  That could have been the end of the story.

In some ways it was the end of the story.  But in my mind the story also took a different form.  I realized that it could serve as a metaphor for life.  Most of our lives have their ups and downs.  As we go through life, we go into “rooms” that can be like phases of life.  Sometimes the rooms have things that lure us to settle in and play.  The “boxes” can be any number of things.  Remember, it is just a metaphor.

There come times, however, when the room---when a particular phase of life---changes on us.  The phase of life may come to be nothing but complexity and trouble.  We can sometimes feel trapped.  We are certainly not having any fun.  We would opt out, if we could only figure out how to do it.  Sometimes it is ignorance that stops us.  Sometimes we are impotent---we don’t have the power to change things. 

I have been in these kinds of situations.  They can be of our own making.  I have done a few of those.  We get into trouble and then we can’t get out---at least, we can’t get out of trouble on our own.  We need help.  Sometimes our complexities and troubles come to us and we did nothing to cause or provoke it.  Again, we need help. 

I would like to think about this metaphor in a spiritual sense.  Life does put us into troubles and complexities.  These always have a spiritual side.  As I reflect back on my own life, two such periods come to mind that I can share.  One came at that transitional time when I went to college.  The other one came more at mid-life.

Dutifully, I went to college.  At some point during that initial year, I realized I actually did not know who I was or where I was headed.  College made no sense.  So I finally mustered up enough courage to leave and go back home.  Of course, that solved no problem, but it did give me time and a context to think about things.  And to learn to pray.  An older friend came into my life and became a spiritual mentor.  He solved no complexity and did not get me out of trouble.  But he helped me learn how to have faith at a deeper level and to grow into the person I was to become.  I went back to college and then some!  He helped me get out of a room of “boxes.”

The second time I will share came when I was diagnosed with cancer.  My girls were still young---one in diapers.  I did not feel particularly unlucky or that God owed me something better.  People get sick at all ages.  And my theology would say God does not give us bad things to test us.  Once again, I cried out for help and God came in the form of many friends and family.

Physically, I survived and have thrived for decades now.  For that I am grateful.  But even more grateful am I for all those folks who were there for me.  They would have been just as graceful and helpful had my fate been different.  Life or death---they would have been friends of the Spirit.  They helped me at a time when I really wanted to ask, “How do I get through this crap?”

We do not live in a perfect world.  We may enter phases of life that deliver obstacles and troubles and we ask, “How do I get through this crap?”  Very often, it is someone else who comes to our aid.  Often, it is a community.  Always I think it is the Holy One.  It is my experience that this Holy One typically uses others.  And I am always grateful.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sitting on the Grass

The title of this inspirational piece might suggest connotations of college kids at a weekend party in the spring or summer doing drugs.  At least, we might suspect some marijuana to be part of the scene.  If we were to approach this lawn party, we would expect to get a whiff of a pungent order that would betray the common college drug.  But this suspicion would be wildly off the mark.  Perhaps it points out the perceptions and prejudices that still exist in our minds.
           
Rather let me take you to the truth of the scene.  It has to do with Spirit rather than spirits!  It has to do with a group of students whom I call friends.  I am fond of suggesting to college students that the word, colleague, must surely be related to the word, college.  Most faculty assume their fellow faculty are colleagues and I agree.  I value very much my faculty colleagues.  I appreciate the broad range of knowledge and expertise they bring to the table.  I am especially in awe of some colleagues in the sciences and the Conservatory of Music where I feel so inadequately informed or lacking talent. 
           
I also like to think of college students as colleagues.  Perhaps not all college students are colleagues of mine---not yet anyway.  When I use the term, colleague, I like to think they are friends of mine.  I see colleague to suggest some kind of personal relationship with someone.  And so I use it of college students, too.  The ones who choose to do a class with me become known to me.  They cannot sit in the room for a semester and remain unknown.  They may begin as a college student, but they become a colleague.
           
Recently, I was teaching a class called Spiritual Disciplines.  That may not be a typical college class---even for a Religion Department.  But it is one that I very much enjoy.  Part of the requirement---the main part as far as I am concerned---is a requirement to develop a regular spiritual practice of discipline.  I offer a range of disciplines, so no one is stuck with prayer unless they want to do it.
           
The other thing that happens is they do significant group work.  And then for one day during the semester, a group involves the rest of us in a spiritual experience.  And so it was that we were led to the grassy area on campus.  As I sat down on the grass, I had to laugh.  I am supposed to be in charge and I have no clue what we are going to do!  But I was not worried.  These friends of mine have become colleagues as the semester’s weeks unfolded.  I trusted them as colleagues.  More than likely, they know things I don’t know. 
           
Carefully and thoughtfully we were guided into a time of meditation.  When I think of the range of spiritual disciplines, I know meditation is not my strength.  I know a fair amount about it.  I could probably lecture on it.  But that does not make me an expert.  Besides, I don’t think the point of meditating is to become an expert.  The purpose of meditation is something else---being mindful, connecting with God, etc.  I was up for this.  So I sat.
           
I closed my eyes because I trusted.  I did not have any urge to be in control or stay in control.  And in the process I was doing one of the things spiritual discipline teaches.  Many of the disciplines are designed to move me beyond my ego’s need to be in control.  At least for me, spiritual disciplines help me routinely focus on God, connect with God and live in a meaningful relationship with the One who is an endless Source of love and grace.  On my own I am more likely to make a mess of life rather than be a miracle.
           
As I sat in the grass, I noticed my body relaxing.  I was not particularly stressed, but I also was not as connected to myself, to others and to my world as I might want.  And had I not meditated, I never would have known that.  As my body relaxed, my spirit began to emerge into fuller awareness.  I felt love erupting from within.  I did not have to open my eyes to look at the people around me.  I already knew them.  I knew what they looked like.  They were my colleagues.
           
I don’t know how long I sat in the grass.  I did not have to look at my watch.  I knew my colleagues were sensitive to the situation.  We would be taken care of.  Care and love do those kinds of things.  I smile as I think about all the times that gang and I talked about love and care and all that “book stuff.”  I am confident they could write a decent essay about love.  But I am more sure they know about love and that they love me.
           
Sitting in the grass was just one small part of my day.  If someone were to have observed it, I am sure it was unimpressive.  But I don’t think the spiritual journey is necessarily designed for being impressive.  Spiritual disciplines are not taken on to become spiritually spectacular.  The spiritual journey for most of us is a quiet, deep walk into a meaningful life with God and others.
           
Sitting in the grass with my colleagues turned out to be a laboratory of the Spirit.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Blessings Upon Blessings

I have just finished the last chapter of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World.  It has been a rewarding book and the last chapter is a fitting conclusion.  The chapter’s title reveals its focus: “The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings.”  I very much like the fact she uses the plural, blessings.  While blessing may happen one at a time, there is no doubt in my mind everyone is multiply blessed.  And I join Taylor in feeling called to be one who blesses, too. 
           
I appreciate the epigraph Taylor uses in the beginning of the chapter.  An epigraph is something written that underscores something central to the chapter.  Often an epigraph is a quotation that an author uses to begin her own thoughts.  The epigraph Taylor chooses for this chapter is drawn from the Talmud, the Jewish collection of commentary on the Torah or the Hebrew Bible.  Probably most Christians know nothing about the Talmud.
           
The epigraph (quotation in this case) says, “It is forbidden to taste of the pleasures of this world without a blessing.”  I appreciate the wisdom of the Jewish sages.  In this context the commentator is not saying we cannot have the pleasures of the world.  No, that is ok.  But you can’t have the pleasures without giving a blessing.  That makes sense to me and seems fair.  After all, so many of the pleasures of the world are gifts; I did nothing to create or deserve the pleasure.
           
If you are not sure, think of the last beautiful day.  You did nothing to create it.  I am not sure what basis you offer if you think you deserve it.  Think about the sunshine on your face or the warm breeze blowing gently on your skin.  Look into the blue sky.  For me even the color blue, which I see in the sky is a gift.  These are all pleasures, which are free to you and me.  All that makes sense is to offer a blessing for the gift of this day.  And for me, this means offering the blessing to God who is the Giver of such gifts. 
           
I like that Taylor is sufficiently aware of the Jewish tradition, she can share that knowledge with us.  She talks about how meaningful the Jewish tradition of brakoth has been for her.  Again, it is noteworthy the Hebrew, brakoth, is plural.  The singular is brakha is a “blessing prayer.”  These are the prayers to be offered for beautiful days and even days that are not splendidly beautiful---the rainy, snowy, cloudy days.
           
Taylor talks about learning the Ha-Motzi---blessing prayer for bread---when she went to seminary.  While she cites the one-liner in Hebrew before translating it, I’ll just share the English.  The blessing prayer is this: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  I realize how easy it is to type those words.  It is even easier to read them.  In fact most people can read that sentence in about twenty seconds.
           
So we can read it, understand it and dismiss it by paying no attention.  What Taylor calls us to do is pay attention and, then, practice it.  That’s why I like her book.  It is a good reminder to do what I say I really want to do.  So I return to the blessing prayer for bread.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe.  Can I take twenty seconds to utter these words---or at least think the thought---before eating my toast in the morning?  Is it ok to say a similar version over my yogurt?
           
What I like about this blessing prayer is its versatility.  The first half of the sentence remains the same.  I am always addressing God---the blessed God, King of the Universe.  The second half of the prayer changes, depending on whatever it is that we are thankful for.  It might be the day itself.  It might be for my friend, my health, and the list can go on.  I think the details may not matter.  What does matter is my awareness is cultivated.
           
This reminds me of the famous one-liner of Socrates, uttered long before the birth of Jesus.  That wise philosopher said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  Socrates meant by this that we should not live life solely going through the motions.  We ought to be aware, pay attention and reflect---think about life and the meaning in life.  It seems to me this is close to what the Talmud affirms.
           
I do want to be aware today---be aware of myself, my life, my gifts and all that comes my way.  I want to be thankful.  I want to cultivate gratitude.  I don’t need a Hebrew word to do that.  I don’t even have to use a fancy phrase like, “blessing prayer.”  What I will need to do is somehow reflect---to know and appreciate that I have been gifted.  And I want to bless---to express that gratitude and thanksgiving. 
           
And I want to live with that deep awareness throughout the day.  I want to be able to use blessing in the plural---blessings.  I can do this because I am sure there will be multiple opportunities.  Life will come to be blessings upon blessings.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Contemplation as Power to Look

For the last few years I have had a special interest in the theme of contemplation.  In fact, I recognize I probably have been interested in it for quite a long time, but never used that word for the experience I saw other people have and wanted it for myself.  As is often the case, I realized that my own Quaker tradition actually “talked about” contemplation and the contemplative experience, although they never used that word.

Essentially, I talk about contemplation both as an experience and as a way of living.  For a few years I have been teaching a class entitled, “Contemplative Spirituality.”  When I see students on the first day of classes, I tell them the requirement is that they become a contemplative.  Of course, they have no clue what that means.  But most of them are up for the challenge.  And that is a huge step.  I am pretty sure no one will be a contemplative if he or she does not want to become one.  So they key question here is to learn what being a contemplative really means.

While there are many people who could offer a definition, I would like to share one from a wise old Quaker teacher and minister whom I personally knew.  Douglas Steere was a long-time professor of philosophy at Haverford College in the Philadelphia area.  He was an amazing guy.  In fact, he was an official observer at Vatican II in the early 60s.  I loved hearing stories about that transformative council that has affected Roman Catholicism ever since.

I am sure I was attracted to him as a person and mentor because he was a deeply committed Quaker, yet was so ecumenically open and engaging.  In fact, he was one of the pioneers of the ecumenical movement that gathered steam in the 60s and 70s, which impacted my own life when I was in graduate school.  So Steere was a Quaker, but had studied the Catholic mystics and contemplatives, so he could help me and other non-Catholics learn about that world and translate it into our own traditions.

In a little essay Steere shares this definition of contemplation.  “We, too, might find some help in defining contemplation if we put it in terms of a sustained scrutiny for meaning.  If we use the metaphor of the eye, contemplation could be described as the power to look steadily, continuously, calmly, attentively, and searchingly at something.  Thomas Aquinas paraphrases this nicely in calling contemplation, ‘A simple, unimpeded and penetrating gaze on truth.”

The first thing I like about Steere’s definition is the way he claims that it is “a sustained scrutiny for meaning.”  One of the ways I actually define spirituality is that it is a quest for meaning.  Spirituality is one way humans make meaning.  Steere adds depth in the way he expresses it.  It is not only a scrutiny for meaning, but also a sustained scrutiny.  I am absolutely convinced this is a key for contemplation.  The contemplative life is not simply the occasional visit to church or a random reading of some kind of religion book.

Scrutiny is the opposite of a casual look.  Scrutiny is a careful examination.  It is, in Steere’s word, a sustained examination or careful attention to the issue of God and God’s dealing with us.  In my own words a sustained scrutiny for meaning is close paying attention to what’s happening and what it means for us in our particular lives.  It is spiritually having someone routinely tell me, “pay attention.”  That surely means we cannot be living superficially---inattentively---and be contemplatives.

In his definition Steere moves on to use the metaphor of the eye to explain what he wants to do.  Effectively, he is saying contemplation is like having a special eye.  That contemplative eye has the power “to look steadily, continuously, calmly, attentively and searchingly at something.”  I love this string of adverbs used by Steere---steadily, continuously, calmly, attentively, searchingly.  These adverbs give us a good sense for the process of contemplation in action in our lives.  The contemplative life is not superficial, nor is it sporadic and haphazard.  It is sustained.

Steere says contemplation is this look “at something.”  I suppose my definition would simply have said look at God or at God’s work in us.  This is where Steere introduces Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian, into the definition.  St. Thomas simply calls contemplation this sustained gaze on truth.  I am fine with this way of putting it, although I still prefer talking about a look or gaze upon the Holy One and the work of the Spirit in our lives.

In my own way of seeing things, the contemplative life is an attentive life in the Presence of the Divine One.  This presupposes our desire for this kind of life to happen.  It means we have to be aware of ourselves and aware of what God is doing within and with us.  In my experience almost all of this happens in the ordinariness of our life.  It is not some supercharged experience that leaves us breathless.  Generally it is not ecstatic.  It is a way of life lived in the Spirit and acting spiritually.

In short we become co-laborers in the spiritual work of God in the world.  We are ordinary people doing extraordinary work.  That’s what I am trying to do.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Importance

Someone recently thanked me for being important in her life.  I appreciate the gratitude and, even more, appreciated the opportunity to think about importance.  Perhaps this is an issue of spiritual immaturity, but that’s probably where I am anyway.  I always hope to find things to ponder that might lead to some growth and a bit more maturity.  As I thought about the gal who thanked me, I would have agreed with her that in her mind I was important to her.  She was right.  I didn’t do that in order to be who I am.  But I was glad to help someone.

As indicated, the spiritually mature person probably never thinks about being important.  That is not their goal.  However, all truly mature spiritual people undoubtedly are important---perhaps in many ways.  But it would not register nor really matter, if they were to come to know it.  For those of us less saintly, perhaps it is a good exercise to think about importance.

Maybe our earlier ego development needs some sense that we are important.  Of course, I only have my own experience.  And I am not a psychologist, so I don’t know the official psychological perspectives on the matter. I do assume that having some sense of one’s importance is a healthy thing.  And probably even healthier is the capacity to recognize that others are important.  Let’s unpack that a little.

I cannot remember my own infancy, but I have watched my two girls and now some grandchildren.  And I have seen a ton of babies throughout the years.  There is little doubt in my mind that for a little one, parents are important.  Furthermore, in most cases I observe, typically the mother winds up being more important much of the time.  Of course, there are all sorts of exceptions that anyone can cite.  I know if you ask my youngest grandkid who is the most important person in the world, God would not qualify!  Mom wins---hands down.

That does not always change.  It is not surprising to me to watch some college students still relate to their mothers as if she were still the most important person in the world.  I know I have introduced a tricky issue into the equation: there is important and, then, there is the issue of most important.  Somehow the idea of importance can become competitive or hierarchical.

If I am honest, there usually are stages in my life where I could have told you who was the most important person in my life.  Early on it may have been my mother.  As a young boy, I think it would have been my father, since he and I spent so much quality time together on the farm.  At some point, I am confident some of my peers took over the number one slot.  This often is articulated as “my best friend.”  I laugh because some I know claim to have three or four “best friends.”  Grammatically, you can only have one!

For many of us adolescence comes and priorities begin to shift.  We may see our “best friend” become someone of the opposite sex.  There is no comparison to the puppy love stage!  In the fullness of puppy love one never feels more alive or more engaged.  There is no doubt who is number one---the most important.  In fact, nearly everyone else drops off the face of the earth!  We all know it does not last.  But in the middle of it, life does not get better!

I have seen myself go through progression.  If we get married, probably at some stage the spouse is the most important.  He or she displaces parent, siblings and others.  If and when we have kids of our own, it is not unusual that our children push our spouse down the importance ladder.  And then you come to my place.  I am very confident I am not the most important person in anyone’s life.  And that is exactly as it should be.  I am fine with that.  But it does not mean I want to be unimportant.  That is where it becomes a spiritual issue with me.

Spiritually I think it is quite fine to want to be important.  If we are dealing with the spiritual perspective, then our ego is not an issue.  Ego is a psychological issue.  Spiritually speaking, we want to be important, because that means we matter.  I would hate that I would live my entire life and not matter.  I don’t need to matter in any financial or egotistical way.  I don’t need wealth, fame or any other worldly accouterment.

Spiritually it does not matter that I am the “most important,” but I would like to be important.  And I would like to be important simply for whom I am—not something I have done or achieved.  That’s when I began to realize a significant truth: I am important!  I am important in God’s eyes.  God values me.  I am worth something and worthy.  The good news is my worth does not make you or anyone else less worthy.  It is not a competition.

In fact, I would argue that the nature of God is such that I can actually be to God the “most important” one.  And from your perspective, you can too.  God’s unfathomable depth, love and mercy make every one of us “the most important one.”  When I grasp the truth of this, I can relax.  I’ve got it made!