angel blowing kiss

Real Love Never Ends | Spiritual Meditations

Have you heard from your loved ones who have died? They have “full access to happenings on earth”, Gareth Atkins states, unambiguously, in his book Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain.

Who is he referring to and what are they doing with their access? The following excerpt is from the book Creed, by Adam Hamilton, the pastor of a large Methodist church. He explains how this idea syncs up with basic Christian beliefs.

The Communion of Saints

The apostle’s creed (central to Christian belief) speaks of the communion of saints. It is important to realize that the “saints” in the New Testament were not those who had been canonized by the church after death; rather, this was (the apostle) Paul ‘s preferred way of referring to all Christians. He addressed many of his letters either to “the saints” or “to those who are called to be saints.”

There’s one last thing to note about the phrase “communion of saints”. It involves the word communion and is one of the most beautiful ideas in Christian theology. The idea is that those who are becoming saints here on earth, and those who are saints in heaven (link post on heaven), still commune together.

I think our loved ones who have died continue to love and care for us and await the day when we will be reunited. I think they do pray for us. While protestants don’t pray to saints, they can pray for them, and I believe we can ask God to share with them what is in our hearts.

I believe the communion of saints means that there are moments in our lives here on earth when God says to those dear to us in heaven, “I want you to see something,“ and allows them to join us from above. I can’t prove it by quoting a chapter and verse in the Bible, but when I think of the communion of saints, this is one example of what I think that looks like.

Rev. Hamilton goes on to describe what has become a common practice at weddings in which a candle is lit in honor of a deceased close friend or relative.

Sometimes a memorial table is set up with photos and mementoes representing the inclusion of the deceased in the happy occasion. But do our deceased loved ones visit us on earth in special circumstances, as Hamilton and Atkins suggest?

Love Permeates the Curtain Between Life and Afterlife

Messages from heaven are real for those who receive them. However, this is a personal gift which is not perceived by people around them.

The Love of Fathers and Daughters

During an outdoor wedding, my friend Sophia, noticed a robin alight on a wall adjacent to the ceremony. The bird remained there until completion of the wedding; its attention fixed on all that was happening. Because it was odd behavior for a bird, Sophia wondered if someone close to the wedding party had recently died and was able to find out later that the bride’s father had just passed on…. someone who would definitely want to be there to see his little girl wed.

(This brings up a question about how God uses animals, which I’ll address in a future post.)

My friend, Jan, is an organist. She played for a wedding in which the bride’s father was to walk his daughter down the aisle. Unfortunately, he inopportunely passed away and his brother performed the honors. But during the rehearsal, Jan witnessed a diaphanous white vapor following close behind the bride and her uncle as they processed up the aisle. It was the bride’s mother who made the identification when she mentioned that she felt a strong presence of her deceased husband during the practice. He didn’t want to entirely miss giving his daughter away.

Family Love Overcomes Death’s Division

God’s great love for “the communion of saints” allows the love of the earthly saints and the heavenly saints to continue to be exchanged. This is a common occurrence, which I also have experienced with both of my parents and my grandmother, soon after their earthly departure.  Although, I had never told them, upon reaching heaven, my family knew what my concerns were and gave me the verifications that would relieve my mind. Based on their messages there can be no doubt that they were the source.

When Other People are the Conveyors of Love Messages

Not everyone, however, receives these messages via the ‘still small voice’ of the Holy Spirit, or their family members. Because He is all-loving and all-knowing, sometimes God uses methods of communication that are more vocal; that are more appropriate and effective for the person and situation. Sometimes He uses other people. This was the case with Lucy.

In December of 2015, Lucy’s mother died at her home in Austria. Lucy lives in the US, and made regular trips to see her mother, but she wasn’t there at the time of her mother’s passing. Rationally, she knew that the chances of her being in Austria when her mother died were unlikely, but she still regretted her own absence. To help bridge the gap after her death, Lucy would sometimes smell a lock of her mother’s hair so that she would feel closer to her.

A couple of months after her mother’s passing, Lucy was invited by a friend to attend an annual fashion show at which representatives of various clothing lines and beauty products would be available for consultation. Now, Lucy is a very busy lady and had declined her friend’s invitation for several years. But this time her friend insisted that she take a little time to have some fun and accompany her to the event. Lucy did not immediately accept but told herself that, if she found purple shoes to match a particular outfit that she wanted to wear, she would consider going. “What are the chances of that?” she thought.

However, five days before the show she was passing a local shoe store and thought she should at least make an effort, so she walked in. As soon as she was inside the door, she spotted purple shoes on the clearance rack in the back of the store. They were her size and the required shade of purple. Astounded, she made the purchase and was out of the store within minutes, now committed to attend the event.

During the show, Lucy felt urged to meet a man who was representing cosmetics. Having enjoyed the show and finishing lunch, she approached him on the pretense of making a small purchase. After the initial greeting, his first question to her was not about cosmetics but was “Did your mother recently pass away?” When she replied that she had, he grabbed her arm and said “I want you to know that she is right here with you” at which point he described Lucy’s mother. The man then said “She wants you to know that it is OK and she understands that you couldn’t come to Austria when she was dying. Don’t fret anymore.” He then told her how she, Lucy, smelled her mother’s hair on a regular basis.

Afterward, Lucy told her friend that she now knew why she had to come to the fashion show.

Biblical Reference to the Saints Among Us

Adam Hamilton rounds out his thoughts on deceased saints with these words:

in chapter 11 of the new testament letter to the Hebrews, the author describes the heroes and heroines of faith that came before his time, mentioning, among them, the patriarchs and matriarchs of ancient Israel. He begins the new chapter by writing “therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2)”

Conclusion

As heaven is more wonderful than we can imagine, it is not surprising that our deceased loved ones are given the opportunity to occasionally observe the joyous events in the lives of their earthly family and give comfort, care, and messages.

Rev. Katie Shockley explains further our continuous close proximity with other saints.

When we gather in worship, we praise God with believers we cannot see. When we celebrate Holy Communion, we feast with past, present and future disciples of Christ. We experience the communion of saints, the community of believers –– living and dead. This faith community stretches beyond space and time. We commune with Christians around the world, believers who came before us, and believers who will come after us. We believe that the church is the communion of saints, and as a believer, you belong to the communion of saints.

References:

 Creed by Adam Hamilton

Atkins, Gareth (1 August 2016). Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Manchester University Press. p. 227. ISBN 9781526100238. In the other direction, he was willing to state unambiguously that the ‘saints in paradise’ had full access to happenings on earth.

 

the words "thank God"

The Priceless Advantages of Gratitude|Spiritual Meditation

“Rejoice always…. give thanks in all circumstances”. This Biblical wisdom tells us to celebrate God’s creation and blessings.  Science tells us why.

Before we get started let’s pause for a moment and establish a base line. Think of a few things you are grateful for, then continue.

Hurdling Consumerism

In his book Naked Spirituality, Brian D McLaren writes:

It’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have. Spirituality in today’s world is constantly under assault by consumerism, which claims that the source of joy is not in God or within, but in a new pair of shoes, a trip to southern France, or a new flat screen TV…. In relation to consumerism, gratitude could be called downright subversive. A lot of people (advertisers) spend a lot of money every day trying to keep you from being grateful. They want you to think a lot more about what other people have then what you have, so you’ll want more of what they have to sell.

Consumerism thus robs the soul of happiness…. But this petty larceny on the individual level leads to far greater crimes on a global level. Just think of where this sick, never-enough system drives us: to mountains stripped of gold or coal, to oceans plundered of fish and seas toxified with oil, to hillsides denuded of trees and wildlife, to fields scraped by bulldozers and paved with blacktop, so we can have yet another shopping mall (or storage facility) where we can buy (or store) more things we don’t need and won’t take time to appreciate.

Habitats are thus stolen from other creatures which means those creatures die and are stolen from other creatures that depend on them. Ecosystems that have developed over millions of years are tipped into disequilibrium and collapse. The cascade of extinction and imbalance rolls on like an avalanche or gushes out like an oil spill, stealing not just from the humans of today, but from the humans of forever.

Economist tabulate the gross domestic product, but who’s spreadsheet measures the gross domestic destruct – the losses extracted in advance from our great-grandchildren – when wild elephants, giraffes, wood thrushes, gopher tortoises, sea turtles, chimpanzees, horseshoe crabs, and swordfish have gone the way of the dodo?

We could give another name to the insanity of ingratitude: addiction. Just as it takes more and more heroin or cocaine to deliver the same high, ingratitude continually turns yesterday’s luxuries into today’s necessities. More and more stuff is required to get the same feeling of satisfaction. And just as addiction ultimately leads through insanity to misery and even death as the addict “hits bottom “, an economy driven by ingratitude whether global, national, family, or personal races through over-extension toward collapse.

That’s why gratitude is important, not just as a personal practice, but also as a group practice. It is a kind of immunization against both personal and corporate addiction. Gratitude is the spiritual practice that raises its fist in the face of this insanity; but that raised fist is actually a raised hand reaching up in gratitude to God. The naked spirituality that fosters this kind of gratitude may, in the end, be the only thing that can save the planet.

What You Have is a Gift

But let’s bring it back to the individual level; the things we may take for granted, that others would consider a great blessing.

People in Cuba are currently experiencing a food shortage but food is filtering into the country for some. Imagine the heartfelt appreciation of those who receive the additional nourishment.  Food is a gift.

The category 5 hurricane that swept the Bahamas, left the people with nothing. Many NGOs have collected, transported and distributed a long list of items to meet the basic needs of the lucky ones. Batteries and baby food are precious gifts.

A friend of mine has moved to Kenya to help set up a dorm and school for 20 disabled kids who are often left to beg on the streets because their families don’t or can’t support them. Can you imagine having accessible housing, a consistent food source and an education for the first time? Their level of gratitude for these gifts will escalate to levels most of us have never experienced.

Even in my own life, I had an accident that resulted in my inability to walk. After major surgery and weeks of recuperation, I no longer take my mobility for granted and am thankful to the medical staff, friends, family and especially God who made it possible.

Now, what can you add to the list of things you are grateful for? In light of the next section of this post, make that a long list.

Science Condones Gratitude

When we feel overwrought with negativity and pandemic heartache, it can be easy to overlook the parts of our lives we should feel grateful for. Creating a more active awareness of the abundance and positivity in our lives is a good idea. This shift in focus from a mindset of lacking to a mindset of satisfaction has mental and physical health benefits backed by science.

Improved Relationships

Grateful People have More Relationships

Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends. According to a 2014 study published in Emotion, thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So, whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or send a thank-you note to a colleague, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

Grateful People Have Stronger Relationships

Gratitude nourishes our close and intimate relationships. Quite a few recent studies found that gratitude can help deepen and maintain a relationship by promoting a cycle of generosity between partners. On days when you are feeling more actively valued by your partner, you are more likely to feel an increase in your own gratitude toward your partner. This dynamic promotes a desire to hold on to the relationship and a deepening of connection.

In a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, participants who reported feelings of appreciation for their partners not only found more joy and contentment in their relationships, but were also more likely to be together nine months after the study took place than were those who did not share these feelings of gratitude.

Grateful People have Improved Mental Health

Grateful People have Improved Self-Esteem

In our digitally-driven world, it has become easy to compare our own lives to the “highlight reels” we see on our peers’ social media. This contemporary version of “Keeping Up with the Joneses” can produce in us  self-doubt, negative thoughts, and the destructive, and usually inaccurate belief, that our current circumstances simply don’t measure up.

The distortion of social media can overpower appreciation of our own lives and disconnect us from the good that surrounds us in the here and now. When we begin to actively appreciate who we are and God’s many blessings, self-esteem will naturally increase, leading to a higher quality of life.

Gratitude Improves Psychological Health.

It reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher at UC Davis, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

Gratitude Enhances Empathy and Reduces Aggression

Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when criticized. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

Gratitude Increases Mental Strength and Stress Resistance

For years research has shown that gratitude not only reduces stress, but may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was also a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.

Grateful People Sleep Better

Bedtime can be an anxiety provoking time for many. People often find themselves having negative thoughts about parts of their days while trying to fall asleep, resulting in delayed or fragmented sleep.

Several studies have recently been done on the practice of gratitude and its impact on sleep time and quality. A study psychology professor Nancy Digdon of MacEwan University, found that writing in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes before bedtime helped students decrease their anxiety and sleep both longer and better.

Another study at the University of Manchester included more than 400 adults (40% had sleep disorders). Researchers asked subjects to fill out questionnaires about gratitude, sleep, and pre-sleep thoughts. Gratitude was directly correlated to more positive thoughts, and fewer nagging, negative, or anxious thoughts. The subjects with gratitude and positive thoughts  not only fell asleep faster, but experiencing higher quality rest.

Gratitude Boosts Physical Health

Expressing gratitude can improve your physical health in numerous ways including heart health, dietary behavior, kicking unhealthy habits, and exercise. According to Robert Emmons, giving thanks on a routine basis can help you meet your exercise goals. In his 2003 study, he found that those who regularly expressed feelings of gratitude (as opposed to hassles or neutral events) by means of a daily journal, also engaged in more cardiovascular physical activity each week.

Additionally, Emmons identified that expressing gratitude can improve eating habits and cut down on unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse. When we are at peace and grateful for what is abundant in our lives, we are less likely to self-medicate with potentially harmful substances.

To add to Emmons findings, Psychology Today cited several studies that discovered that people who report being more grateful also experience fewer aches and pains, and are more likely to visit a doctor on a routine basis.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

  • Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
  • Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down, or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
  • Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  • Pray. People who are spiritual can use prayer to express gratitude to God.
  • Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as “peace”), it is also possible to focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, being one with God, etc.).

Gratitude to God

Another word for gratitude, that we can borrow from the Hebrew, is dayenu. The word is from a Jewish song that has been a key part of the Passover celebration for over 1000 years. It means “it would have been enough“, and functions within the retelling of the story of God‘s goodness over the generations:

If God had brought us out of Egypt, dayenu….it would have been enough

If God had split the Sea for us, dayenu…. it would have been enough,

If God had led us through on dryland, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had fed us manna, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us Shabbat, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had led us to Mt Sinai, dayenu…. it would have been enough.

If God had given us the Torah, dayenu….it would have been enough.

Singing this song fills one with a sense of surplus, of being super abundantly blessed, and being saturated with good things, of one’s cup being full and running over. And it fills one with a corresponding appreciation of Gods unlimited generosity.

Conclusion

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

How long is your gratitude list, now?

Relevant Scripture:

A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-5)

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Cor 2:14)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James1:2-4)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thes 1:3)

References:

Harvard Medical School   https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/in-praise-of-gratitude

Psychology Today by Amy MorinWhat Mentally Strong People Don’t Do  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude

Gretchen Bove, https://www.talkspace.com/blog/4-mental-health-benefits-of-gratitude-to-keep-in-mind-this-thanksgiving/

Naked Spirituality by Brian D McLaren

time chasing people down a hill

Simple Guide to Know God Better | Spiritual Meditations

Momma always said “Stop, Look & Listen”. Although excellent instruction for children crossing traffic, it is also good advice in polite conversation, especially polite conversation with God. My friend, Stephanie, explains how these simple words can guide your improved connection with God.

Is it the busy-ness of life that sometimes makes you feel that God is silent? Are the hours at work, family responsibilities, and self-care routines actually building a wall that keeps you from hearing His voice? Does the instant gratification created by the information age make you feel impatient and want to put a time limit on getting the answers to your prayers?

Now let’s be real. God is never really silent. we only have to open our Bibles and He speaks to us. However, there are times when you think you need a timely answer. When life, love, and liberty might hang in the balance and each moment waiting to hear from God is excruciatingly long and exhausting. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you’ve repeatedly petitioning God, and you’re getting impatient to hear from Him:

Are you listening for God’s answer?

Sometimes the answer is ‘No’ when you really want ‘Yes.’ Or, vice versa. The question may already be answered, but you are hoping that God will change His mind. Other times, the noise around you won’t allow you to hear the whispered voice of God. Just imagine being on a roller-coaster at Disney. You’re strapped in and ready to enjoy the sights, sound, and physical aspects of the ride. The cast member gives the go sign and you’re off! At that same moment, the person in the seat next to you leans over and whispers something really important in your ear. Any chance you’re going to catch what was said? And even if you do hear the words, any chance that you’ll be able to give it the focus it deserves? Probably not. In fact, more than 3000 years ago, God gave you the answer to this perplexing challenge of a busy life in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God…” So, find a place to be still and silent before the Lord. Pray as you always do, but before the ‘Amen’, take a moment to listen and see if God is whispering to your heart.

Are you watching for God’s activity?

God is at work all the time. All….The….Time. God does not take a vacation, which is confirmed by Jesus in John 5:7 “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” And if He’s working, then something is happening, just like a clock without a second hand moving from one minute to another. Somewhere inside that clock something is counting the seconds until the minute has passed. You don’t see the counting but you know it’s going on. The awesome and amazing thing about God, is that He can work on us all at the same time. He doesn’t have a schedule that says, “Okay, today I work on the people whose names start with L and tomorrow I move on to the M’s.” No, he works on us individually and collectively simultaneously! That movement from who you are, to who God longs for you to be is the journey of transformation, and if you are truly seeking God, you can look back on your life and see the growth and evolution that is your story for His glory. Take a moment to look for God, in your life and in the lives of those you love. It’s an amazing metamorphosis. (Accounts of real experiences of God working in people’s lives)

Are you open to God’s answer?

I think that this is a really challenging aspect of this whole thing. Somewhere along the line, we humans became really stubborn. Really stubborn. We’ve either become so sure that we have all the answers, or realize that we don’t, but we want to ‘fake it till we make it’ and we forget that the only one with all the answers doesn’t answer to us. Allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in you can be difficult, yet Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be your counselor, intercessor, and guide. This Spirit of God is your biggest fan when you’re reflecting God honestly. Yet the Revealer (Holy Spirit) will also admonish you and nudge you toward God when you’ve strayed or rebelled. It is hard to be open to an answer that will probably change you. Yet growth produces the seeds that will start the next exciting cycle in your life with God.

Finally, remember that you don’t need to be in church for the change to occur, yet having a family (your church family) who recognizes your gifts can be an awesome thing. And you don’t need another person to intercede for you, yet having others praying on your behalf can be extremely comforting.

Conclusion

If you combine these things with a quiet place to regularly listen for the Lord, you will hear Him. He’s waiting to speak with you. You just need to give Him your attention. Stop, look and listen.