Spiritual Journeys

REFLECTING ON your life journey is a profound and deepening experience.

Ghandi, Augustine, Basho, al-Ghazālī, Black Elk, Thoreau, and Karen Armstrong are among the great spiritual thinkers who have shared their odysseys. Some, like the eminent paleontologist philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, have posed large questions about these journeys: Are we human beings having a spiritual journey? Or are we spiritual beings having a human journey?

As a group, the MCWRET Board has journeyed together for almost 20 years. As in any spiritual endeavor, we have discovered the importance of doing work that is both outer and inner. We focus some of our efforts on our community, some on our interfaith group, and some on our individual lives and practices. The public arena is an appropriate place for some, but not all, of our work together.

Almost half of our core interfaith group has now shared the stories of their individual paths.Some experience their spiritual life as a personal quest or journey, often independent of a particular faith community. Others have cultivated and expressed their spirituality within a religious community. We are gaining a deeper sense of each other’s lives and our similarities and differences.

Individuals’ life journeys are never just their journeys. What is most deeply personal is also most universal. A few Board members have agreed to share their spiritual journeys in this section of the website as examples. The objective is to encourage interested individuals and interfaith groups to explore their own journeys.

In this section you will find:

Some First Hand Reports

●A Human Dialogue

Dr. Roshan Chaddha, Coordinator Emeritus MCWRET Board

My Wabi Sabi Spiritual Journey

Dr. Stevi Lischin, Vice President of MCWRET Board

Not all Who Wander are Lost

Dr. Robert Smith, Board Member MCWRET

My Spiritual Journey to Who Am I ? To Do All That Is Right

ClaraGee Kastner Stamaty Ziment, Board Member MCWRET

Experiencing God’s Guidance, Protection, and Healing Power

Joanne Ivy Stankievich,  Past Board Member MCWRET


Some Resources on Spiritual Journeys

On Spiritual Autobiography:


From: McGraw Hill-Tell It Slant–Additional Material on Creative Non-Fiction—Writing the Spiritual Autobiography–Brenda Miller

Writing the Spiritual Autobiography

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions like locked rooms or like books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them….Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. — Rainer Maria Rilke

The Tradition of Spiritual Autobiography
The Quest Narrative
Personal Renditions of The Sacred
What Is Your “Koan”?
Writing as a Spiritual Practice
Try It

Before I sit down at my desk, I look out my window and notice the light as it reflects off the bay. I light a candle and a stick of incense, reaching over the small statue of a Buddha, sitting on the windowsill. On a shelf above my desk sits a menorah my parents gave me for Hanukkah one year. A St. Christopher medal lies coiled in a small compartment in a drawer of my desk. Photographs of my four great-grandmothers bear witness to all this spiritual paraphernalia, gazing down at me with what I interpret as amused benevolence.

All of these things — the light off the bay, the incense, the meditating Buddha, the menorah, St. Christopher, my ancestors — create an atmosphere of eclectic spirituality that has come to inform much of my writing. From the very beginning, my writing has tended to chronicle the sometimes baffling turns my spiritual path has taken: from acting as the earnest president of my Jewish youth group, to drifting through days of Grateful Dead concerts in the eighties (convinced of the divinity of Jerry Garcia), to backpacking solo in the meadows around Mt. Rainier, to meditating in silence for weeks at a time in California farmhouses. I’ve settled down a bit in my staid middle age, but I’ve never lost that sense of spiritual quest driving the trajectory of my life.

Now, writing itself seems to be deepest spiritual act I can perform. So I sit down at my desk. I light my incense. I look out my window and take a deep breath. I feel the presence of my great grandmothers cheering me on. I write one word and then another. Who knows where it will lead? What kind of faith can I muster to continue? I don’t know. It’s a little like prayer, a little like meditation, a little like walking an unknown trail in the high country. — Brenda

The Tradition of Spiritual Autobiography

Spirituality, though oftentimes invisible in our lives, seems to follow us everywhere. From the moment we’re born, we’re initiated into a world that relies on many different rituals to guide us. Or, if we’re born into a family more secular, we become aware of ourselves in opposition to predominant modes of religious belief. Perhaps that is why we’ve lately noticed a renaissance in memoirs that use either religion or spirituality as a guiding narrative or metaphor.

But the impulse to write spiritual autobiography has been around as long as human consciousness. The form keeps adapting to fit whatever culture and society demand of it-these works range from devotional narratives to science writing that finds spiritual fodder in the cells of the human body — but the basic structure usually wins out: these narratives tend to focus on moments of insight that lead the narrator in a new direction. By their very nature, many spiritual autobiographies appear to mimic or echo classic “conversion” stories found in religious texts: the protagonist is lost and then found, and the narratives hinge on precise moments of “turning,” either away or toward points of reference identified as God, Allah, Yahweh, the Great Spirit, and so on.

These “conversions” may also work the opposite way, especially after defining events such as the Holocaust or the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: the narrator moves from a place of religious or spiritual certainty to one that is more fragmented or full of doubt.

We can call these moments “epiphanies” (sudden insights), but they don’t necessarily arrive with the bang an epiphany suggests. They may be quiet moments, barely noticeable until the act of writing magnifies their significance. A turning point can be as subtle as Emily Dickinson’s “certain slant of light” into a room, or Virginia Woolf’s contemplation of a dying moth in her study (see “The Death of the Moth” in the Anthology.)

The Quest Narrative

Full-length spiritual autobiographies essentially take the form of a quest narrative, propelled by burning questions, a journey toward an unclear destination. The protagonist sets herself on a path, encounters obstacles and unexpected guides, and is transformed along the way. For example, The Wizard of Oz could be the most traditional and metaphoric of spiritual autobiographies: the protagonist, Dorothy, driven by deep, inchoate longing, finds herself on a journey in an unknown country. Essentially alone, she must rely on guidance from unexpected sources to find her way toward a vague, promised land. She encounters many obstacles along the way, many turning points, but finally arrives at Oz, only to find the destination nothing like what she imagines. When she finally returns home, she is the same person, but transformed by her quest. As T.S. Eliot would have it, in his succinct summary of the spiritual autobiography/quest:

We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.

The “forefather” of spiritual autobiography, St. Augustine, took his Confessions as an opportunity to detail both the worst and the best about himself, and the narrative focuses on the turning points that finally lead him toward his religious vocation. A man who once prayed “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet!,” Augustine struggles with his bodily desires throughout the book, and gradually finds himself in a small garden, consumed with doubt and indecision. And then, seemingly from nowhere, he hears the voice of children chanting: “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He picks up the Bible, opens it at random, and of course the passage he chooses strikes him to the core. He dedicates his life to God from that point on.

Jean-Paul Sartre, on the other hand, details a progression in just the opposite direction. “Only once did I have the feeling that He existed,” he writes in his autobiography The Words:

I had been playing with matches and burned a small rug. I was in the process of covering up my crime when suddenly God saw me. I felt His gaze inside my head and on my hands. I whirled about in the bathroom, horribly visible, a live target. Indignation saved me. I flew into a rage against so crude an indiscretion, I blasphemed, I muttered like my grandfather: God damn it, God damn it, God damn it. He never looked at me again.

Sartre does not leave spirituality behind; he channels it in a different direction. He details how writing itself becomes his spiritual vocation: “By writing I was existing. I was escaping from the grown-ups, but I existed only in order to write, and if I said ‘I,’ that meant ‘I who write.’ In any case, I knew joy.” And later in the narrative: “I thought I was devoting myself to literature, whereas I was actually taking Holy Orders.”

Nature writer John Muir takes a different tack altogether. Rather than turning away or toward an external spiritual figure, he includes spirituality in all of nature. In My First Summer in the Sierra, Muir writes: “In our best times everything turns into religion, all the world seems a church and the mountains altars.” How interesting everything is, he muses throughout the book, a good mantra any writer can take to heart.

Personal Renditions of the Sacred

As with any strong work of creative nonfiction, the successful spiritual autobiography hinges on discovery through the writing process itself. The writer does not set out to give us predetermined answers, but instead allows us some insight into the questions that drive him. Spiritual autobiographies, in particular, “find interesting” the turns in the road, and the roadside attractions; they do not necessarily follow a straight line, but proceed more intuitively, meandering from point to point in a way that may seem digressive, but actually form a clear path in retrospect.

Anne Lamott, in her wry account of her own spiritual process, Traveling Mercies, puts it this way:

My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew…When I look back on some of these early resting places — the boisterous home of the Catholics, the soft armchair of the Christian Science mom, adoption by ardent Jews — I can see how flimsy and indirect a path they made. Yet each step brought me closer to the verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today.

If you look on your life as a series of “lily pads,” the way Anne Lamott does, you may be able to begin an essay structured around these turning points in your spiritual narrative.

Once you set out to examine your own spiritual inclinations, you will find yourself with a new set of writerly dilemmas: spirituality can be an arena fraught with pre-fabricated rhetoric and tired clichés. Your challenge, as a writer, is to find a language and a form so personal that only you can give us this rendition of the spiritual life. You must remain aware of how your brand of spirituality has been depicted in the past, and find a way to circumvent the expectations and resistance of your reader. How do you even begin to discuss spirituality without immediately using language that has lost its meaning from overuse?

There are two answers to this question, the same ones we provide throughout this book at every step of the way: 1) You use very specific, sensory details that reveal the self and its particular voice; and 2) You read the writers who have come before you for help and guidance.

For example, Andre Dubus, in his intensely personal essay “Love in the Morning” (see website), gives us a view of his dedication to morning Mass that goes beyond mere praise and devotion. In a wheelchair since an accident in the mid-eighties, Dubus’ version of Mass includes the exact dimensions it takes to fit his wheelchair in the aisle, and a detailed description of his exercise regime after Mass that takes him on a circuit around the church and the surrounding landscape. Throughout this routine he sings at the top of his voice because “pushing a wheelchair around a parking lot is not exciting, as running and walking were; but singing, combined with the work of muscles and blood, makes it joyful.” He spends a great deal of time in this essay with the details of one morning’s round, which gives us a clear sense of place and character, and gives Dubus the time to muse on the connections he feels with what surrounds him. He also ties his spirituality into his writing, detailing the process in the same tone and voice he uses to describe his rituals of faith:

I wrote the story in four days; it is very short, and I knew before starting it that it was coming like grace to me, and I could receive it or bungle it, but I could not hold it at bay; and if I were not able to receive it with an open heart and, with concentration, write it on paper, it would come anyway, and pass through me and through my room to dissipate in the air, and it might not come back.

The long sentence, the rhythm of the punctuation and clauses, the repeating sibilant sounds: all these techniques serve to create the very meditation Dubus describes. Before his death in 1999, Dubus wrote mainly fiction, and his techniques ring with the felicity of a fiction writer: he creates scenes and character and narratives that draw the reader in, bit by bit, until we’ve experienced this particular world along with him.

If you decide to write about spiritual experience — whether positive or negative — you will want to look closely at the physical elements that make up your spiritual life, whether those are incense in a church, chanting in a synagogue or the odor of cedar on your daily walk. Beginning there, ask yourself how your sense of spirituality informs your life and the lives of those around you. How have you moved forward? How have you moved back?

You could also approach your spiritual autobiography by becoming a “layperson’s expert.” Poet Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk and other books on faith, creates a lyrical, yet highly researched, version of spirituality when she immerses herself in the world of a Benedictine Monastery. Patricia Hampl, in Virgin Time, makes a pilgrimage to the roots of her spirituality and presents a “travelogue” of faith that includes not only her own experience but a great deal of “expert” information.

In contrast to Norris and Hampl, who become friendly experts and guides, Anne Lamott takes on the role of the endearing screw-up, a woman who tries her best, often falling short but able to recover. She becomes more of a buddy to the reader, articulating all those weaknesses we thought must be kept hidden. In her essay “Why I Don’t Meditate” (see Anthology), Lamott maintains a sense of irony throughout the piece, a conversational voice that trusts the reader as much as we grow to trust her. One pitfall of spiritual writing is that it can become too “heavy” and self-absorbed; Lamott provides a good model for an alternative voice, one that claims no perfection in the spiritual life.

What Is Your “Koan?”

In “The Mickey Mantle Koan” (see Anthology), David James Duncan sets himself a “koan,” a puzzle or riddle given to Zen students by their masters, the answer to which might lead to spiritual enlightenment. In Duncan’s case, the koan takes the form of a signed baseball, sent to his dying brother by Mickey Mantle. The brother dies before the baseball arrives, and for over twenty years it sits on Duncan’s shelf — intriguing, puzzling, infuriating. Duncan knows the ball offers some clue to sorting out his grief about his brother’s death, but he doesn’t really know how it will do so.

In the essay, Duncan pushes at this koan and works it out before our eyes. He takes a simple, almost mundane object — a signed baseball — and gazes at it until it yields some answers. He approaches spirituality not on the level of the abstract, but on the level of a grassy playing field, where dirty old balls “hiss and pop” into the gloves of teenage boys.

When you set about to write your personal rendition of spirituality, look for the concrete things of the world that will help you find your own “koan.” What are the essential questions these objects trigger in you? These questions will help you move, as a writer, from the abstract to the concrete.

Maintain, above all, honesty — with yourself and your reader. If it has been said before, don’t say it. If you veer into platitude and cliché, veer right out of it again. If you find yourself mired in complaint, laugh your way out of it. Render the spiritual life with the same intuition and intelligence you bring to all your work. Find the details, the tone, the rhythms that will separate your voice from the choir’s. Sing a solo. Be brave. Really belt it out.

Writing as a Spiritual Practice

Writing is the only way I know how to pray. — Helena Maria Viramontes

As we saw with Andre Dubus and Jean-Paul Sartre, often writers find that the writing process, itself, grows akin to spiritual practice. It requires the same kind of patience, ritual, and faith. Annie Dillard, in her book The Writing Life, compares writing to sitting at a desk thirty feet off the ground. “Your work,” she writes, “is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.” Poet Carolyn Forché has called the writer’s stance one of “meditative expectancy.” Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, sees writing as in integral part of her Zen practice: “Jack Kornfield, a Vipassana meditation teacher, said last week up at Lama, ‘you meditate by yourself, but not for yourself. You meditate for everyone.’ This is how we should write.”

If we begin to see our writing in this kind of context, it can become a little easier to maintain the patience and faith necessary for our work to be done. It’s a secular practice, available to anyone who feels compelled to put pen to paper. When you write this way, you are “living the questions now” and offering up possible pathways into the ineffable.

Try It

The Discovery Process

Describe a religious or semi-religious ritual that took place in your childhood with some regularity. Use quotes from this ritual as a frame within which you can describe memory, conflict, pleasure and pain. Move your reader through this ritual with you. Using present tense and vivid imagery, show the emotion you felt about this particular rite as a child.

Variation: Re-write the scene in the past tense, from an adult perspective. How does your attitude toward this rite change?

Try to remember a moment in your childhood when you were first aware of a spiritual “presence” in your life. This can be anything from a moment within your spiritual tradition, or a moment in nature, or a moment when you were alone in your room. Describe this experience from the child’s point of view, in the present tense.

Variation: Describe a moment when you were aware of the absence of a spiritual “presence” in your life. Where do these different moments lead you?

Put on a piece of music that has spiritual connotations for you: Gregorian chants, bamboo flutes, a Verdi opera, whatever puts you in a meditative mood. Write to this music, without ever mentioning the music at all.

Variation for a group: Each person brings in a piece of music; do the above, with as many pieces as you can in a writing session.

Personal Renditions of the Sacred

If you have a repeating spiritual ritual, give us one particular scene out of this rite (see Chapter One, “The Basics of Good Writing in Any Form,” for a discussion of scene-making.). Focus on one day, or one morning, or one hour that encapsulates what this ritual means to you. Try not to tell us what it means, but show us through the details you choose, the tone you create.

Imagine yourself into the mind of one of your spiritual ancestors. What scene or image provides a turning point in your spiritual life even before you’re born?

Do some research into your spiritual tradition: what are the controversies? How is it practiced in different parts of the world? Interview an elder, or participate in an intensive retreat. Write as both an observer and a participant. (see “Chapter Eleven: The Basics of Personal Reportage,” for a discussion of immersion research techniques.)

Using Anne Lamott as a model, write a scene of some spiritual “failure.”

Using David James Duncan as a model, think about the “koans” that exist in your own life. What objects, people, places, or situations have always puzzled you? How do these things represent emotions or ideas that you haven’t yet been able to articulate? Begin an essay whose goal is to “push” at these objects until they yield some unexpected answers.

For the duration of one or two writing sessions, ban certain words from your vocabulary that already have charged spiritual connotations (God, Lord, Allah, soul, scriptural language, etc.) Make a list of these words and keep it with you; often this kind of language becomes a crutch, enabling us to avoid going deeper into our material. See what moves you have to make to avoid using these words. What images or scenes arise to take their place?

Variation for a group: Make a group list of such words and promise to abide by the prohibition for whatever duration the group decides. When reading each other’s work, make note of when such words arise and their effect.

Suggested Reading
In the Anthology
Dubus, Andre, “Love in the Morning” (website)

Duncan, David James, “The Mickey Mantle Koan”

Woolf, Virginia, “The Death of the Moth”

Lamott, Anne, “Why I Don’t Meditate”

Miller, Brenda, “Basha Leah” (website)

Elsewhere:

Patricia Hampl, Virgin Time

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and The Writing Life

Natalie Goldberg, Long Quiet Highway

St. Augustine, Confessions

Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words

N. Scott Momaday, The Names

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierras

Eli Wiesel, Night


 13 Ways to Begin Your Writing:

1. Spiritual Stepping Stones

2. Dialogues with Spiritual Mentors

3. Your Spiritual Geography or Landscape

4. Objects that are your Spiritual Symbols

5. Extensions (incorporating into your own life) of ideas/messages in lectures, seminars. Reflections on readings that have had meaning for you.

6. Spiritual Moments or Times in Your Life

7. Letters to People Who have Inspired You (not necessarily mailed)

8. Your Experience of a Sacred or Inspirational Place

9. Your Reflection on a Fulfilling Act of Service you have Performed

10. Your Spiritual Teachers and Sacred/Honored Relationships

11. Seeing the Spirituality in Family Events and Rituals

12. Experiences of Community

13. Spiritual Messages in Everyday Life

From a MCWRET program presented by Drs. Stevi Lischin and Joyce Block


 37 Spiritual Practices to Consider:

Attention…….Beauty…….Being Present…….

Compassion…….Connections…….Devotion…….Enthusiasm…….

Faith…….Forgiveness…….Grace…….Gratitude…….

Hope…….Hospitality…….Imagination…….Joy…….Justice…….

Kindness…….Listening…….Love…….Meaning…….Nurturing……. Openness

Peace…….Play…….Questing…….

Reverence…….Shadow…….Silence…….Teachers…….Transformation…….

Unity…….Vision…….Wonder…….X-The Mystery…….Yearning…….You…….Zeal

From http://spiritualityandpractice.com

Reflections on Being Human

By Roshan Chaddha

1. Thank You

The Hindu tradition of my childhood holds that living beings make a place sacred by their presence. So, my thanks to all of you for gathering this morning, in this room, which has so much significance for me and my family.

Don Hall, a US poet laureate, wrote some time ago that Indians are fond of talking about large issues of life. True! Here we are talking about “on being Human.”

My opening remarks though will focus on my own journey, on my own “shadow” as my friend the Rev. Virginia Jarocha-Ernst might say.

2. Summary

As I near the end of the seventh decade of my life and look back, most of my actions, it seems, have been guided by a desire to connect with others in respectful, intelligent, and creative ways without accumulating or causing regrets.

My family and friends in this room and elsewhere, teachers, professional colleagues, events, and the environments I have lived in, have all shaped my journey.

Except for one or two instances, most of my learning has been evolutionary with small “aha” moments. To grow, I have needed to be both awake and to dream. It has been a journey of constant broadening.

3. Being Human

My evolving perspective “on being human” is informed by the late Vaclav Havel . “It seems to me” he says, “that one of the most basic human experiences is the experience of transcendence in the broadest sense of the word.” And concludes, “The truly reliable path to peaceful coexistence …. must be rooted in self-transcendence.” Self-transcendence for him is to relate the personal self to the whole.

Now, self-transcendence for me is about approaching the “other” with reverence, with open mind and with open heart. It is about Hindu “karuna”, Buddha’s compassion, or Jesus’ unconditional love, or the Unitarian Universalist values which calls upon us to “accept the other” as they are and be of service to them. It is about discovering the whole through the particular. It is about discovering the ocean through its waves. Being human, I think, is about being humane at all times.

My journey to look beyond the personal self at all times has not been easy. “Why, is this so?” I have often asked.

The Zen koan of the “Original Face”, speaks of finding our face before our parents were born. For me it is the most precise statement of our connectedness, our oneness. Frederick Frank writes, “It is as if through this one face, the entire past and present of our species discloses itself; its Original Face, as Zen calls it, its specific humanness mortal yet timeless.”

My early upbringing too points me to this face of “everyone,” this Self, which is not clouded by the various masks we wear as we unfold our lives. Masks frequently narrow our vision, increase our separation and deepen our shadow. Removal of these masks is to rediscover a place of calm and quietness within us. It is to discover our connectedness, our Original Face.

As we proceed, each of us may wish to reflect on our own masks and how we can rediscover our “Original face”, our connectedness.

4. My Indian Heritage

By the time I arrived in England in 1955, my moral compass and outgoing temperament were well set, and my optimistic outlook towards life was in place.

Framers of my moral compass and positive outlook were largely my grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, and the extended Chaddha family; its religiously diverse friends; my own religious upbringing — in particular the study of the Bhagavad Gita as a teenager– and the exuberant Punjabi culture.

I had learnt the three basic elements of the Indian religious and cultural thought. First, that life is “one”, second that selfless action is a noble goal, and third that there are many paths to the same truth. A reasonable beginning as a human, I think.

Images in our home included those of Rama & Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and the Sikh guru Nanak. I learnt early on, that living in a secular space required openness, mindfulness, and good humor.

From my parents and grandparents I had learnt that being eldest in the family is to place oneself last in benefits. That one’s decisions can have long term consequences. That one has to be intentional to make those decisions happen.

I had learnt that one has a debt to pay to the society which nurtures and educate you.

Being in the midst of both horrific as well as noble events surrounding the independence and partition of India in 1947, was one large event which shaped my view of human relationships. I learnt firsthand that in the midst of human insanity, such relationships can empower some of us to rise above religious and regional sectarianism and transcend the self to save the other.

I am a child of the Indian independence movement. Gandhi’s ultimate sacrifice for non-violence taught me that one can transcend the personal self for the larger good also.

As a mathematician, logic and reason had become important. And as a statistician, questioning, experimenting, learning and changing as new experiences emerged are embedded in my way of life. Going from a set of particulars to the general is embedded in statistical science.

Finally, but most importantly, I had learnt from my father, that in the end, what you leave behind is only your fragrance. That is how he lived all his life. Living was more important to him than worrying about mortality or immortality. And from my youngest uncle who wrote to me two years before he passed away, “I am ready to go, I have no regrets.”

5. My UK and American journey: Practicing and Broadening

Over the next few years, as I first lived in England and then in the US, I had to continuously broaden my Indian outlook.

In both countries, racial discrimination was a significant new experience for me. I strongly disagreed with people with that practice and yet had to partner with them on other issues. I had to learn from them academically.

So, I learnt to approach people openly, patiently, and with humor, and paid attention to their welfare. They reciprocated this approach and new friendships were born. Perhaps some racial barriers were pierced.

Meeting Unitarians at Virginia Tech in 1957 was an important step in broadening my perspective. The Unitarian Humanist Manifesto provided me with the language and reasoning for a broader Humanist framework.

The welcoming nature of the Unitarian fellowship at Kansas State in the early sixties cemented that relationship. And the engaged ministry of my good friend the Rev. Harold Dean and the Monmouth UU congregation in the sixties & seventies, coupled with their openness provided a home for me and my family.

It is here that I heard Harold say, “There are a few opportunities in our lives which inspire us to engage. When that happens,” he said, “We must engage.” The congregation acted with courage and empathy to break down racial barriers, rights of women, and stood up for peace. I grew during this period.

It is also here that I heard Swami Chitrabhanu, a Jain teacher and a guest of the Monmouth Center say, “If at the end of a day you can say that you have helped someone, then you have had a good day.” It cannot get any simpler.

My nearly 50 years of being married to Ellen has confirmed the universality of values of openness, truthfulness, and compassion. All these years she has kept me anchored to those values.

Living with my Indian American friends and bringing up my children in this culture have all helped in opening new windows and broadening my perspective. Observing their paths to connect with the American society without losing their sense of being has been instructive.

Thirty years of work with extraordinarily talented people at Bell Laboratories, and professional travels for Bell internationally, have instilled in me the need of creativity in our lives.

Working closely for over a decade and a half with a religiously diverse group of very graceful people at Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought has challenged me to be open at all times. Practice of listening deeply and careful use of language has provided insights into our oneness in the midst of diversity.

6. Reflections On Being Human

6.1 Connections:

I now have a humanist and evolutionist interpretation of Indian teachings of the oneness of all life. This non-duality is non-theological. This interpretation of oneness embraces our apparent diversity. Further, it permits me to become an inheritor of all human wisdom. Barriers and masks recede.

Both India and America are ethnically, culturally, and religiously very diverse. But our (US) history of slavery and racial discrimination, a pervading sense of religious and cultural uniqueness have created distances both within and outside the US. Add to it a culture of individualism and strong dualistic thinking and we have a making of islands of separation.

Building bridges to others and then crossing them are essential to advance humaneness in such an environment. Through such efforts we build relationships and strengthen our inner acceptance of the “other”. American openness is a strong helpful force.

The Indian thought of approaching the other with reverence when coupled with my UU journey calls upon me to function with humbleness and an attitude of deep hospitality towards the “other”.

Building intentional bridges to reach out to others has been a lifelong project for me. Revitalizing the International Club at Virginia Tech; serving the Monmouth UU congregation; being a part of the creation of the Association of Indians in America and of the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought; growing closer to the Earth by becoming a Master Gardener and serving the UU UN Office to advocate Human Rights have all been a part of this journey.

Each of these experiences has taught me that human aspiration to work together for a more humane world is universal. Each of these organizations has provided me with opportunities, to sit at many tables, meet wonderful people and learn to stay open.

6.2 Thinking

As I have said earlier, exercise of both logical and empirical reasoning has been a dominant part of my life. Reason has been preeminent in my professional work and in my relating, interacting, and broadening.

But wonder and awe, reflecting and dreaming, the so called emotional thinking, have also been significant parts. From time to time I have dabbled in poetry.

To act humanely, I need to function holistically using both my reasoning & emotional sides. Through patience and practice, I have tried to be more self aware during my interactions with others. Being self-aware at all times has been very challenging.

I think if I can enhance my ability to look beyond my personal self in all my actions, I would have grown to be more mindful and humane.

6.3 Gratitude

I have always lived in respect and gratitude toward my elders, my teachers, family and friends.

In the early fifties, India’s Vice President, Dr. Radhakrishnan, speaking at my BS convocation in India, said that we “owed a debt to the society for educating and nurturing us.” What is the nature of this debt and how do I pay it?

These questions stayed with me until the sixties when I met with some friends to talk about putting together a new organization of Indians in America. I asked about a unifying purpose of the organization. My friend, Professor Dutta of Rutgers, suggested an organization anchored in our “Indian Heritage and American Commitment.”

This vision of dual responsibilities resonated within me. I felt that my being a part of such an organization would be a way to pay my debt to the Indian community and to meet my obligations to America. The Association of Indians in America was born. I think it has met its promise.

In closing let me add that bending the arc of human ethics towards humaneness owes a great deal to thinkers between 5th century BCE and 2nd century CE, the so called Axial age.

The Greeks, the Jews, and the Christians in West Asia; the Hindus, the Jains, and the Buddhists in South Asia; and the Confucians & Taoists in East Asia, all independently contributed to the evolution of human wisdom during this period. They revolutionized our religious thought and “human ethics.” Since then, other religious traditions including the Unitarian Universalists, science, and the age of Enlightenment have moved us further in this direction.

My gratitude flows out to all of the world’s wisdom givers. My hubris of personal accomplishments melts in the face of this sea of knowledge on which we stand. I become a small actor in the flow of time. My gratitude to those who have gone before me grows.

I now try to live in the space of gratitude and thankfulness. I find peace there. I do what I can to move the “ball” along, “just be” as my Zen friend Sensei Merle Boyd says. Just do my share but stay mindful that we are connected, that “you” are “me”; that I do not harm or cause any regrets; and that I continue to both reason and dream. My imperfect journey towards self aware actions continues.

7. Closing

With folded hands, I bow to you. In gratitude I remember Bishop Tutu’s Swahili greetings – Umbutu – I am because you are.

8. Epilogue

Paulo Coelho suggests that “to realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” If this is so, at this late date, may I dare ask what has been mine?

The search for an answer has led me to the beginning of my life journey. It began by my spending the first 9 years of my life with my grandparents. “Why so?” I asked my oldest living uncle (Knawar Sain), who is only a few years older than I.

He suggested that while he too was too young to remember, it is both plausible and reasonable to think that my grandparents asked my parents to leave me with them after the loss of their 22 year old son. He went on to add that that loss of a youthful son was very traumatic for my grandmother. Presence of a young child in the house probably took away some of this emotional trauma.

So, it appears that I began my life by serving as a source of comfort to my grandmother after the loss of her beloved son. “Was this path my destiny?” I ask and wonder.

(revised 9/1/2011 from 4/17/11 talk at the UUCMC Dialog)

My Wabi Sabi Spiritual Journey

By Stevi Lischin

Presented to the MCWRET April, 2011

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese word that means appreciating the value and beauty of imperfection.  “Wabi Sabi honors the quirks, the oddities, the perfectly imperfect uniqueness of you and me and everything.  It highlights the value of objects, events, and the entirety of our lives ‘as is’.” from Gold, Living Wabi Sabi, 2004

A Walk in Charleston

Five years ago or so, I was walking on a street in Charleston, with my son and husband.  My cell phone rang and  though I hesitated, I answered it.

“Hello, Stevi, this is Dee Smith.”  “Hi, Dee”.

I felt a little disoriented, receiving a call from an acquaintance in NJ while I was feeling so far removed.   Dee explained that her Church wanted to conduct a Seder at Easter time.

“That’s wonderful”, I said, “I wonder why are you calling me? Is there some way that I can be helpful?”

” Well you’re Jewish aren’t you?  I thought of you when we were looking for someone to conduct the Seder.”

“Dee, I’m honored, but I don’t know much about Seders except for the foods.  I’ve never even been to a real Seder, my family just gets together to have a great meal.”

… “But you are Jewish? aren’t you.”

“Well it is my birth religion, but I don’t know much about the religion. “

“That’s ok, we’d still  like for you to conduct the Seder. “

In typical “Stevi Style”  I accepted the invitation as an adventure , journey, and challenge.  So for the month between the call and Passover,  I read everything I could about Seders.  I selected a Humanist Haggadah, and asked an observant Jewish friend, who had lived in Israel and speaks Hebrew to partner with me.   I found magnificent Passover music  sung by Opera Singer Richard Tucker. Dee (not her actual name) and the members of an AME Church selected various Passover foods to serve. The pastor made the Charoset!  Friends came and helped. My mother gave me her Sedar plate. Dee enlisted a Greek friend who had once owned a diner to make a huge pot of matzoh ball soup.   I invited my Intercultural Communication class to join in, and they surprised me by distributing themselves amongst the group.  We had maybe 125 people show up, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.   It was a deeply connecting event. The Humanist Haggadah   tells the story of the struggle for liberation of many people  in addition to the Jews.

Creating the Sedar brought out the best in me.  It was emblematic of my spiritual journey.  It served as a springboard for me to study about my roots and find ways to connect it to the stories of humankind.

So, What is My Religion?

Ask me what me religion is and I will answer “well, I don’t practice a particular religion.”

My birth religion was Jewish and that tradition shaped  much of my behavior in this world, from talking with my hands, to the value of service to others.

Until the age of five, I lived in a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx, NYC.    There was much that was rich for me in these years.  I lived with six adults, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle and my parents in a small apartment up several flights of stairs.  I’m told I was cuddled and loved by each of them.  My grandmother dubbed me “the midnight scholar,” because I would never go to sleep as long as there was any activity surrounding me, as I never wanted to miss anything. This is still true to this day!  I was often rocked to sleep to the tune of the late late show!  Then we moved to Whitestone Queens a place with more sunshine, trees and room to ride bikes. But it was still a Jewish enclave.

So where’s the “religion”?  I recall very few visits to a synagogue.  One was for the holiday called Purim, which, to a child was fun and tactile and visceral.  We were all given noise makers that we were to sound when we heard the name of the wicked Hamen.

Jewishness just was!  It was mostly about family gatherings on holidays.  At my lovingly  permissive grandparents’ apartment, my cousins and I stuck our fingers in the chocolates to select the ones we wanted to taste.  My grandparents believed that people were more important than a neat and tidy house – a principle that I learned from them and still hold today. We created dramas for the adults using my grandparents’ wardrobe as our costume chest, no holds barred.

There was also one particularly significant relationship – that of my cousin Gerilyn, who was a few years older than me.  We had a soul connection.  Whenever we were together it was as though no time had passed.  For instance we could sit in one spot under the boardwalk at Rockaway Beach for full days and weave as many games as our imaginations could create.  Connection with Gerilyn  was the quintessential bonding of friends and sisters.  It taught me how little effort is needed when two people have the highest regard and trust for each other.

So, I began my spiritual journey with deep nurturance, safety of caring adults, creative and imaginative play and the connectedness of family.

My Mother

My mother was an artist.  Her last painting/collage was of her own mother.  It won an award in a juried art show.  It was titled ,“You’re Never Finished With Your Mother.”

I learned from my mother  that you do not have to be “religious”, or adhere to one religion’s teachings to be good and moral, to have celebrations, and care for others and the world.

My  mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I’ve ever known.  Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, she taught me, by example and rich conversation, the values that many learn through formal religious instruction:  honesty, empathy, discipline, hard work, appreciation of beauty, and simple joys.

A few days prior to her death, a Rabbi, who had never met her, spent quiet time sitting with her and observing her artwork.  At her funeral he noted that her paintings covered such broad terrain as injustice, social issues, family scenes, brilliant flowers, and the dark tumultuous sea.  My mother wore no masks. I am so fortunate to have been given the gift of such a friend.  I know she felt the same.  We were the wind beneath each other’s wings.

My Father

My father was a different story. I actually have much amnesia about him.  For work he was a travelling salesman.  With a few twists Arthur Miller , In Death of a Salesman, wrote my father’s story.  He was a tragic hero.  He was away, “on the road”, most of each week.  He grew up in the Bronx where being “street wise”, was a survival tactic.  I recall my mother singing “Daddy’s Little Girl to Me” and have many photos of him lovingly holding and playing with me.

He cheated on my mother, and brought much anguish to our lives.

But, there is a great “BUT”.  He was very loving toward us as well.     Uncharacteristic of the typical salesmen of his time, and unlike Willy Loman, he made some of his dreams come true.  He had great passion for horses.  Now this was a mixed bag for me.   We spent most spare time when he was at home riding horses at a nearby horsemanship academy.  There was little me grooming horses, riding in horseshows, even winning ribbons and trophies.  However, it was never my love, and I was petrified much of the time.

But I learned some powerful and positive life lessons.

One was that despite fears, I could be capable and strong.  Another lesson was that even those living in a little apartment, doing a mostly mundane job, can  still have a life that embraces large dreams.   Enhancing this passion of his, we also spent innumerable hours watching TV Westerns like Bonanza.

I realize now, that I learned many additional lessons from my relationship with him.   One being, that people who do wrong things, can also love and be loved. From all those Westerns I learned about honor and justice and “True Grit”.  And maybe some of his poor example contributed to my fierce loyalty toward my friends and family.

Stranger in a Strange Land – Moving to Glen Rock, New Jersey

My mother scrimped and saved while my father was “on the road”. So we “upgraded” to a lovely, grass filled suburban town known for its superior school system.   Moving half way across the world could not have created a greater culture shock! I was very miserable as  I entered my teen years!  I was not prepared for these suburban  “aliens”.  No one dressed like I did. They wore ultra conservative penny loafers,  I wore old sneakers  with no sox. In New York City I had excelled in gym classes with maybe eighty students, and was even selected as a squad leader. In Glen Rock I was humiliated to be on a unfamiliar soccer field with kids who had been playing  the sport since kindergarten.

Teachers seemed cruel.  At age fourteen I felt awkward, lonely and confused.   Did no one notice how out of place I felt? I had previously been in NYC  “special progress” classes, even skipping a grade. Now I felt like I could not add two plus two in the same manner as all the others did.  Somehow they did everything differently.

Whew,  AND  Jewish holidays!  In Queens, no one went to school on those days.  It was normal to bring matzos to lunch on Passover.  Now exams were scheduled on these days, no excuses permitted.  These experiences could have led me to a period of religious pride, but, instead, they left me spiritually blank and confused.  In retrospect from this period I learned how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land – the minority.

Shadow/Darkness

A sudden dark storm ripped through my life in Glen Rock and I was forever changed.  One night, on  the eve of Rosh Hashanah, there was a shocking phone call.  My dear Aunt Sheila died, suddenly and unexpectedly, while shopping for the holiday. She was a mother of four children.  She was warm and beloved.  From my age perspective,   Aunt Sheila seemed much older than her thirty-six years. I loved her food, everything she served tasted better if Aunt Sheila made it.  I can still sense the warmth in her hugs.  On the counter of her kitchen, on the day that she died, was all the food she had prepared for the holiday. We were to have dinner in her home.

When my father returned from a road trip that afternoon, I ran to tell him that his dear “little” sister died.  The world became icy and barren.   Filled with so much shock the adults in my life were no longer able to embrace or be there for us.  So much scrambling, confusion, chaos, filled our lives for a long time to come.  There was no guidance, for example, I did not even realize the importance of attending the funeral and opted to stay away. In this dark period, there was no religion, no spirit,  nothing to do with grief but to bury it.

The devastation  of  Aunt Sheila’s death was soon followed by the death of my grandfather (a year to the day later) my grandmother’s a year after that, and my father soon after at age forty-six.

I will never say that darkness is “my friend.”  Yet it is part of the cycle of life.  I will, however, accept that pain can be a powerful teacher .

There was another painful period when things fell apart and a big crack occurred shattering life as it was. I had a year long “mystery illness” and almost shriveled to a skeleton until it was finally diagnosed.  Post surgery, my healing was interrupted by Robert’s open heart surgery and my dear Gerilyn’s suicide. With lightening striking my two best friends,  I shriveled even more,  wanting to  remain in a snail like position, under covers on the sofa. I received support beyond imagination.  I took the time I needed, walked the beach, and returned poco a poco to hope and activity.

It was several decades later, with my teaching a course on Death and Dying and the loss of my mother and a disintegration  of my relationship with my brothers that I finally experienced the process of grieving so necessary to personal loss.  Robert and I have created a ritual of cemetery visits recently, and I have felt the peace and even joy of beautiful memories that can accompany this most significant life passage.  Sitting comfortably with silence,  I allowed time for my brothers and I to again express our love for each other.  I have learned to keep an open heart, to forgive, to accept comfort and to appreciate the wonders of healing.

The lesson of Wabi  Sabi  is as strong as ever.  I need to forget about perfection and accept   that there’s a crack in everything and as Lenard Cohen said,  “ that’s how the light shines in”.

There are many examples of “light”  shining on my spiritual journey.  The Home that I live in, The Work that I do, and  The Teachers  in my life nurture me, and contribute to my joy and well being. I also have a profound appreciation of the fragility created by the storms.

A Sanctuary

There have been a few memorable sanctuaries in my life such as Chincoteague Island, Sandy Hook National Beach and The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  For now I’m going to reflect on our home as sanctuary.

The view from our home reveals both the tumult and solace that nature provides.  It is  forever changing. Perched on a hillside, our cottage, with its large windows. faces Sandy Hook bay and beach.  Beyond that is the Ocean.  Turn right to view a vast and ever changing seascape.  Turn left and see the lights of The City.

The fury of storms seen through the frame of the window can  render me feeling frightened and  meek.   Nature has a “mind of its own”.  As much as I’d like to wish away the storms, I cannot.   More often though,  Sun Rain Snow Wind take turns creating awe and wonder.

Inside I am cocooned.    A few carefully prepared shrines containing photos and artifacts are evidence of the travels near and far that have been so important in my spiritual journey.  Other objects are treasures and photos of many other aspects of my life.

A favorite is a painting from Mongolia of two people on horseback talking with each other, their horses’ necks stretched to the ground as they nibble the grass.  This painting serves as a reminder of my greatest value – taking the time to be with a friend/or friends.

Evidence of the spiritual nature of our home is that when people enter their sense of ease is palpable; they often comment “it is so peaceful here”. Our home is sacred, my temple.  When my mother frequently stayed with us, Ean used to clear a path through his clutter for his Mema (grandma) who slept in his room and he slept on a sofa.  She lovingly accepted both his generosity and imperfection.

My Life’s Work

I am fortunate that my life’s work is an integral part of my spiritual journey; it has never been “just a job”.

A few mentors recognized my abilities way before I was aware of them. Eventually I was invited to teach in an innovative Graduate School program .  Here with my colleagues I honed a teaching style that is person centered, collaborative, and involves a balance of facilitating and instructing.   This experience and previous teaching experiences such as teaching in urban areas, in an experimental ecumenical Lutheran – Catholic High School, and at a University in Korea, inspired me to co-create The Project for Intercultural Development with Robert.   Everything about this process was spiritual:  for instance, meeting people from every corner of the earth, hearing their stories, and encouraging them as well as myself to approach each new experience with a sense of fascination and wonder.

 My Great Teachers

My spiritual journey has been inspired by several great teachers.  Here I am mentioning a few.

You, the members of the Monmouth Center, have been in many ways my greatest spiritual “teachers”.   You come from many religious and spiritual paths and  parts of the world. You collaborate with me in the challenging pursuit of deep listening and transformation.

Another great teacher is our son Ean:  from my relationship with Ean I am always learning that the best path to a deep relationship is “unconditional positive regard” (Carl Rogers). I would like to think that his attending schools from elementary to graduate school, that did not following one size fits all prescriptions, travelling with us, and a having a nurturing community of friends and family, helped him to have a kind of authenticity that makes people relax and feel worthy in his presence.

In his thirty years he has exposed me to new ways of understanding as I have observed him exploring friendships, new places, theater and music with beautiful passion.

Robert:  with Robert I laugh a lot and know a deep sense of happiness. Our values are in tune and when they aren’t we spend rich time discussing and disputing.  I share with Robert an appreciation of solitude and a dedication to bring out the best in each other.

Also my relationship with my students gives me a purpose to be creative and open to diversity that reaches beyond ethnicity and faith.  They have opened me to the challenges of being a new immigrant, the experience of being a soldier, and conservative and liberal points of view, as well as tattoos, piercings, rap (and other) music genres .

 Not THE END

When I read about Purim, I learned that the phrase “the whole megillah” comes from this celebration.    It refers to the Book or Scroll of Esther, a long and circuitous story, which is read on this occasion.    I’ll make a leap here and say that, compared to Robert, I have more of a tendency to tell the WHOLE story.  I think it’s in my genes.

I have shared, some of the salient periods of my spiritual journey. Although not written here, this reflection on my journey has revealed to me not only  details, but a flood of ideas and memories, more stories waiting to be told,  And more conversations to be had.

Exploring our journeys has the potential to reveal what is essential and sacred in our lives.  The process of reflection, and in my case writing, has in itself been a means of spiritual growth.

Mine is a Wabi Sabi path.  One of  looking for beauty in imperfection and insights that may reveal themselves from the most  profound and  the simplest aspects of life.

Reflecting on my spiritual journey has  made me grateful for my life to date.

Concluding for now, here are a quote and a poem that speak to me:

Alan Watts said, “Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point.  It hurries on and on, and misses everything.  Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to the world.”

The poem is by David Whyte. A friend brought it to me when I was very ill, and not feeling much hope or faith.

Faith

I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,

faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.

But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.

Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith. 

  — David Whyte  from Where Many Rivers Meet , ©2007 Many Rivers Press

NOT  “the end”

 from the April, 2011 talk to the MCWRET  mcwret.lischin@gmail.com

Not All Who Wander Are Lost- A Journey

By Robert Smith 

“Not all who wander are lost.”  Tolkien’s words remind me of my own journey, and maybe yours.

Individual spiritual journeys are an important focus of the Monmouth Center’s Mission. These investigations provide a rich opportunity to reflect on our many paths and voyages.  In Thomas Merton’s view, “Our real journey in life is interior”. 

A deep river flows through each of us, I think, and keeps nudging us along our true paths. Re-discovering our own wanderings, and those of others, is an enlightening experience. 

STEPS IN THE JOURNEY

The Blue Ridge

The story begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.  As the son of a Methodist minister, I grew up in a series of Methodist “parsonages” in small mountain towns.  Methodists are a Christian Protestant denomination that grew out of the Anglican Church in England in the 1700s. They were known to work methodically to develop methods for becoming more holy, so they were called Methodists.  Ministers and their families were moved to a new church every four years to avoid becoming too enmeshed in a particular community. Each church provided a “parsonage” where the parson-minister, and his family lived.

Sprinkling: Two days before my first birthday, my father performed a water ritual Methodists called “christening” and then at age 12 another water sacrament we called “baptism”.  In the Methodist church these water ceremonies were done through “sprinkling”, so my father dipped his hand in holy water and placed his hand on my head invoking the three names of our Trinitarian God: The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost.

I remember being shocked to learn that the Baptists across town performed the ritual by actually putting people under water. Later I learned there were similar water sacraments used by Sikhs, Hindus and others.

Zen: By my mid-teens, religion had lost its meaning. Then in high school I discovered a book, Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen, that reshaped my mind and was a gateway into the alternate new world of Buddhist philosophy and the practice of meditation.

College: In college and graduate school I was drawn to the fields of human development and anthropology. I began to see how limited our understanding of human development was without the non-Western and Buddhist perspectives and methods of furthering spiritual development. I was chagrined to discover that not one of the authors cited in my psychological dissertation had a non-European name.

KOREA

Zen Master: When I was twenty-eight I became a graduate school professor of human development and then received an appointment as a visiting professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, Korea.

In Korea I studied with the great Zen Master, Venerable Seo, Kyung-Bo, in a transcendent red Buddhist temple, Jeonggakwon, built entirely on top of a huge boulder. He taught me how to meditate in a powerful way that I have continued to practice ever since. My teacher presented me with a scroll on which he had written four Chinese characters in the instantaneous Zen style. The characters read “Open doors bring 10,000 joys”.

Teaching: I returned from Korea in 1971, feeling that I had just learned more than I had in all of graduate school. I began to develop graduate school courses where I integrated these eastern ideas into the field of human development. I met Stevi who was the star graduate student in the program, and one thing led to another. We returned to Korea together on our sabbaticals with our four year old son, Ean.

Intercultural Relations: After fifteen years as tenured professors of human development, we were able to get buy-outs which provided us with the time to create The Project for Intercultural Development. We did some of the early work in the new field of intercultural relations by combining our work in human development with our learnings in East Asian. In the mid-1980s we began our intercultural consulting practice with Bell Laboratories which was in the process of transformation into a virtual United Nations of high level scientists and engineers.

Monmouth Center: Realizing the importance of interfaith understanding for world peace, I helped found the Monmouth Center in 1994. Board Members represented over a dozen of the great world religions.

Stress: Our consulting work became much busier but more stressful and less satisfying for me. The business seemed to crowd out the quiet space I needed.

CRISIS

A closer look: Life almost ended at fifty-three with a “massive” heart attack. After quadruple by-pass surgery, I began to look more closely at how I was living my life. All I wanted was a remote cabin in the woods and the time to think. I talked about my need for solitude at a Monmouth Center meeting.

Vision Quest: To mark my fifty-ninth birthday I went on a solo Vision Quest in the Utah desert. I began to gain a sense of direction in what I needed to do. When I returned to New Jersey I began to confront the difficulties in leading a life of silence and solitude in the midst of the hyperactivity of suburbia.

Solitude Project: At a Monmouth Center meeting in 2005 we talked about passion projects, and I began to see my quest for solitude as a major life project that addressed the Monmouth Center Mission to study individual spiritual practices. The Solitude Project was born, and Stevi and I began working together to figure out how to live a simpler life together in the midst of our busy surroundings. I began to focus more on nature and writing.

In The Solitude Project section of this website, there is more information about the Solitude Project and some recent writings that have grown from it.

RCS,  June, 2010 robertcharlessmithphd@gmail.com

My Spiritual Journey To Who I Am?

To Do All That Is Right

By ClaraGee Kastner Stamaty Ziment

Presented April 17, 2012 to the MCWRET

IN MY NINETY-TWO YEARS, I have been a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, a public school student, an art school student, a friend, an artist, a stylist in a department store, a government worker, a lover, a fiancée, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a sister-in-law, a free lance artist/cartoonist, a mother, a teacher, a Reform Jew, a partner in a successful 35-year interfaith marriage, a widow, a partner in a 26-year successful (so far) second marriage, a stepmother, a step-grandmother, a step-great-grandmother, (many of these simultaneously), and probably a few more things could be added.  Each and every one of these roles and every experience of my life has shaped and formed me into what and who I am today and where my spiritual quest has led me.  

Garden of Life

MY SPIRITUAL JOURNEY has to be the story of my life.  Almost everything that has happened to me weaves together to form who I am and what I believe.

I’ve been very lucky from birth. Born in Piqua, Ohio in 1919 of Russian immigrants, I could not have chosen a more wonderful family.  My Mother, born in Kiernisofka, Russia (near Odessa), came to this country with her parents and most of her immediate family when she was 11 years. […]

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Experiencing God’s Guidance, Protection and Healing Power

By Joanne Ivy Stankievich

Shared by Joanne Ivy Stankievich with the Board of the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought, April 26, 2010

THE SHAPING OF WHO WE ARE starts with our family.  Independence and self-reliance were instilled in me from the pioneering background of my father, who drove a covered wagon into Indian Territory in the 1893 Homestead Run, and later moved to Seattle.  Discipline and perfectionism were part of my mother’s Seattle–bred German background.  Older parents (father was nearly 60 when I was born and my mother 45) and growing up during the Great Depression meant a more austere upbringing – though living on a small subsistence farm offered freedom of movement and an appreciation of animals and nature for me and my younger sister.

I lived on the farm until I was 18, never traveling more than about 100 miles from it.  But I never really fit with farm life, and followed my mother’s more city leanings: I dreamed of adventures in far-off places, like New York City or Europe.

My spiritual journey started before my birth, with my mother’s healing of what was diagnosed as an incurable heart condition.  By her late teens, three of the best heart specialists in the Northwest told her that she had less than 3 years to live, saying that she could never survive child-bearing and should not consider the strain of marriage.  A work colleague told her about a new religion called Christian Science, which she heard could heal – even by just reading a book.  Mother was healed, and went on to have two marriages and four children.

Understandably after such an outstanding healing, she made sure that we attended a Christian Science Sunday School.  The early focus was on Moses’ Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the Bible; and later we learned how to follow the example of Jesus in both his saving mission and in healing.  The rules for healing are found in a companion book Christian Scientist’s use with the Bible, called Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.  Itwas written in 1875 by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science after the prayerful healing of a life–threatening fall.  The effectiveness of the rules for healing found in that book was shown in the fact that both my sister and I had perfect early school attendance records: we just didn’t get sick, or at least it was healed very quickly through prayer.

It was very comforting, as a child, to grow up looking to God as an ever-present, all-loving Father-Mother God, giving only good to His children. We never thought of God as man-like or punishing. I began my journey to understand God as 7 Synonyms: Spirit, Life, Soul, Truth, Mind, Love, and PrincipleBecause of those Synonyms, I’ve really related to the Muslim 99 qualities naming God, and the fact that God is never portrayed as man-like.

There were a number of turning points along the way in my journey.  I did turn a bit away from religion during a teen period of rebellion, after my father died in a farm accident when I was thirteen.  But a high school fascination with the Transcendental Movement, as represented in the book “Emerson’s Essays” made me realize that Mary Baker Eddy had been their contemporary.  But I could see that her revelation had actually gone much further than their human theories and was really a breakthrough in its concept of everything having a mental and spiritual base.  So I went back to read her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and made the religion more my own, rather than of my parents’.

Another turning point came when I applied to Principia, which was a private college for Christian Scientists near St. Louis.  But it was a real journey of faith to get there; at that time it was the second highest tuition in the country. We had no money, but my mother said that if I got accepted, “God will find a way for you to attend”.  I was accepted.  As the time came to leave, Mother had applied for a job at the school, with the idea of the 3 of us moving there; but we didn’t know yet about either a job or where we might live. The first quarter’s tuition was paid, but we didn’t really have enough money for the train fare. We were all praying mightily. Almost the last day, a Principia professor happened to come to our small town, heard from a mutual friend that we were planning to go to Principia, and asked if we could accompany her on the long drive back. It seemed like a real miracle!

Attending Principia College strengthened my faith and opened my thought internationally.  For instance, after graduation, while attending a conference for the Collegiate Council for the United Nations in N.Y.C., and with just $50 in my pocket, I decided to stay in New York.  I ended up working with Eleanor Roosevelt at the American Association for the U.N., attending U.N. receptions and putting on Model U.N.s on college campuses.  Then I decided I wanted to do something more worthwhile and switched to working as a Program Director for the Brooklyn YWCA.  There, I met my Belarusian husband; and then got a Masters Degree in Social Work at Columbia University.

I had encounters with other religions after college and coming to New York: through a boyfriend who was a Presbyterian Minister, a Hindu friend, a Catholic girlfriend; and then Belarusian Orthodoxy and being married in the Methodist church of Walter’s mother.  But those churches didn’t include healing: It seemed like they accepted the saving part of Jesus’ mission, but not the healing part. And most of the services seemed more based on the human dynamism of the particular Priest or minister, rather than reading directly from Scripture, as I was used to – so for me they weren’t satisfying experiences.  It’s only more recently that I’ve gotten a more in–depth understanding of different religions, as a member of the MCWRET.

To me, healing was the proof of the spiritual laws I was learning: scientific, by deductive reasoning.  And our family has experienced hundreds of healings: such as of measles healed in one day, of broken bones healed in 2 weeks (we did have a doctor put a cast on the child’s leg because youngsters have a hard time staying off of it – and the doctor expressed amazement at how quick and complete the healing was.); there were also healings of a heart attack, and of a large lump impeding movement.  These things weren’t considered miracles, but were just normal and expected, as representative of God’s ever–loving care of His children. What I most appreciate is: not only is my life harmonized, but I also gain a deeper spiritual understanding with each experience.

Many of those healings were accomplished by my own strong healing affirmations, based on the concepts of God as all–powerful and ever–present, and of man as the reflective image of God (as stated in Gen. 1:27, in the Bible). But if a healing wasn’t quick, then I’d call a Christian Science Practitioner to pray for me (They’re trained professionals, in the full-time practice of Christian Science healing). Once I called a Christian Science Nurse to bandage a son’s mashed finger (they do practical care like cleaning and bandaging wounds, not applying medicines); and another time I went to a Christian Science care facility for several days of quiet study.  So there is a strong support system for healing through prayer.  However, if a church member turns to doctors, perhaps for setting of a bone, or such, there is no condemnation, only loving support for continued progress.

Besides physical healings I’ve also had many experiences of strongly imperative intuitions – what I call Angel Messages – that have alerted me to take preventive measures for protection, as with a car bombing in Italy and when I was alerted to the KGB bugging our motor home in Poland and when my husband, Walter, was run over by a car.  These intuitions are surer to me than what sight tells me, and I feel they come from the Infinite, all-knowing Mind.  Thus I immediately take prayerful or practical action to heed them. Many of these experiences are written in my book, “Living with a Scent of Danger, European Adventures at the Fall of Communism”, which is about the years when my husband was a Service Director at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in Munich and later Prague.

Admittedly, for many years I was mostly focused on family and building a business.  Although I read a Bible Lesson in the morning and prayed for the day’s activities, I turned to my religion more strongly in times of challenges.  It was when we went to live as “strangers in a foreign land” in Munich, Germany, that I really began to turn to God more consistently all during the day.  It was because of the hourly frustrations caused by lack of language skills, new mores, and a myriad of adjustments needed.  Instead of crying in frustration – which I did in the beginning – I began starting the day with the hymn, “This is the day the Lord hathmade”.  That gave me courage to get through the day.  Leaning on God more continually made me grow spiritually during that period: I felt His/Her closeness to me.

Part of what has taken place in my journey is the translation of material things into more lasting spiritual concepts.   For instance, when 2 airliners collided over Staten Island, the tail of one penetrated the attic apartment at our Brooklyn apartment building.  Flames were shooting up the side of one wall in our apartment and the building swayed back and forth, as the building attached to ours crumbled to a pile of rubble.  My escape was pretty astounding.

But something more important happened.  As I left the burning building and entered the nearby Christian Science Reading Room (a Christian bookstore with a spiritual research and study center) looking for some comforting idea, I opened Science and Healthand it fell to the spiritual definition of substance as: “That which is eternal and incapable of discord or decay”.  It donned on me that home wasn’t all the new furniture we’d just purchased, and might be then burning up.  The essence of home was really the qualities we brought to the location: of hospitality, harmony and beautiful thoughts – that could not be destroyed in any fire.  That concept was a great help in our next 18 moves, especially in rental homes around Europe.

In an experience of passing on and coming back, it was very clear that my own being was not the specific material blob down on the floor, but rather was on-going consciousness.  That’s why I was really fascinated with the book, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” where those involved with Quantum Physics now state, essentially, that matter-substance is not actually real, but is simply a construct of current consciousness.  I thought, “Wow, now the natural sciences are finally catching up with what Mrs. Eddy wrote about in the 1800s.”