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Spiritual Zest

     Welcome to Spiritual Zest - a regular monthly memo from me. This little note of sharing is offered as a connection with you to inspire extra spiritual zest for living your life the best you can.

Jan     Feb     Mar     Apr     May     Jun     Jul     Aug     Sept     Oct     Nov     Dec

2011     2006 - 2010

You may scroll down to read each month's Spiritual Zest or click on the link to go to a particular month.


Spiritual Zest
January 2012

     On Christmas eve I was seated at one of the many tables serving as a volunteer host at a dinner for low income and homeless people of the neighborhood. Besides the two adults and four children who sat there, a fifth child slept in a car-seat nearby. This tiny boy was only two weeks old, born a month early, so you can imagine how miniature and fragile every part of him was. As I held the soft bundle of little Langdon, I thought about what awaited this child in the future. What might his journey involve?  How would he grow? Who would he become? How would life treat him? What were his chances of developing as fully as possible? As his tiny hand clasped my little finger, I realized how much the prospect of the child’s destiny was shrouded in mystery.

     In a way, the same is true for us. We can plan for, predict, anticipate and try to control what a new year might bring but we really never know for sure. Each day presents us with uncharted territory, even though we think we know where it might direct us. The move into January awakens hope much like the birth of child. The notion of a fresh beginning, the wide open space of unexplored possibilities, the opportunities for individual growth, all these can lead us to look forward to what is yet to come. 

     January can also instill the opposite response from us. The move into an unknown future might promote fear, dread and worry. We may have valid reasons for approaching the future with trepidation and hesitation due to financial, health, or relationship situations. No matter what our life holds, much depends on our attitude and the way we approach these concerns. Can we live with uncertainty, with not having everything fall into place at our choosing? Will we plant our spiritual feet each day on the inner path of faith?  Can we let go of a desire to direct our lives tightly? Are we able to lighten our inner load of concerns by trusting God with what seems unmanageable? Will we let the days and months flow steadily on the river of divine love?

     The first day of January is an invitation to return to a familiar Gospel passage and let each line sink further into our depths. In Chapter 12 of Luke, Jesus speaks to his disciples about dependence on the Holy One. He tells them to not worry about what to eat or wear because “life is about more than food and the body more than clothing.” Then he presents a most challenging question: “If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” (v.23,26)  

     Jesus is really teaching two things here. The first is let go of worry and to trust in divine providence. The second is to put our life-circumstances in perspective, to stop fretting about what we want and be content with the little gifts that each day brings. I’ve noticed how people who are financially poor usually do better at this than those of us who have more than enough of the world’s material things.

     Jesus ends his teaching on divine providence and trust in God by reminding the disciples “where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.” (v.34) When we know what gives our life value and worth everything else falls into place. Then the new year that beckons to us is one we can walk into with a peaceful mind and heart, confident that all shall be well, no matter what happens.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
Febuary 2012

     What creatures of habit we are.  On a Tuesday morning not long ago I went to our women’s prayer group that meets at 7:00 a.m. in a local church. This is a large building and the walking route from the underground parking lot to the lovely Inspiration Lounge takes about five minutes.  On this particular morning I opened the entrance door from the parking lot that leads to the first set of stairs. Alas, when I reached the point where the bottom of the stairs would be, the double doors were closed. I stood there for a moment, blinked at the solid mass in front of me, and was temporarily disoriented. I could actually feel in my body the suddenness of not being able to progress easily through the anticipated opening. My mind quickly met this confusion with the question:  “I am in the usual location, right?” I tugged on the doors and, sure enough, they opened to allow access up the stairs.  I turned the corner at the top of those stairs and reached the second stairway. Again, I was brought to a halt with that set of double doors also shut. I proceeded to tug them open and went up the second flight. Thus I continued my way through at least six more closed doors (that were always open in the past) before I reached my destination.

     I thought about that walk all day, how a simple thing like a closed door instead of an open one could disorient me so rapidly. I was amazed at I how I reacted to my usual pattern of behavior when it was interrupted by something as ordinary as a door blocking my way.  Then I thought about how incidences in my life operate in a similar manner.  Life moves along smoothly for a while. I enter the hours or days without much thought as to how I am living. It’s just the usual thing. Then, boing!, someone or something interferes with the usual or expected pattern and there I am face to face with a closed door. 

     I think this is true for all of us. Anything that interrupts our regular pattern of life can be like those closed doors I met Tuesday morning. Any disturbing or unexpected event can turn our world upside down,- a negative comment about ourselves,  an additional deadline at work,  a street closure crippling our hurried journey to a meeting, the discovery of a child’s  misbehavior at school, - and we are suddenly disoriented, struggling to maintain our inner equilibrium.

     How we respond to these unforeseen or sudden changes makes all the difference in whether we carry peace or discord within us.  Our response also weighs significantly on whether or not we want to  keep on growing.  Openness to the unexpected and the unwanted is necessary if we are to continue forward on our journey of personal transformation. If we turn around from the closed doors in our life, or if we stand before them in a helpless state, refusing to move onward, we will stagnate and not discover more of our truest self.

     When I met the closed doors that morning I remembered something I had written in Open the Door:

“…our deeper self awaits our entrance. The divine presence within this realm continually urges us inward. There is much to be discovered when we bravely wend our way there. Each opening of the door makes it worth the effort. We may not believe this initially, but with time we see and accept gratefully the wisdom our journey contains.

…I invite you to stand before the door of your heart and open it. Remember Revelations 3:21. The Holy One stands at the door you are to open. Do not be afraid. Love in the fullest form accompanies you. Take a deep breath. Unlock the door. Reach slowly for the handle and swing wide the door of your heart.”

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
March 2012

     Lent is upon us. Whatever spiritual practice we choose let it be something that draws us to live more fully the teachings of Jesus.

Very truly, I tell you,
unless a grain of wheat falls
into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain,
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.   Jn12:24

one grain of wheat,
tiny yet full of potential,
if placed in the dark soil
it can yield an abundance.

one small grain of wheat
falls into the dark soil
where it waits in gestation 
for transformation to occur.

the grain of wheat in my life,
my inner potential for being
the best of who I can be,
the seed of love in me waiting
to spout and grow into fullness.

can I be patient with its growth?
can I trust God’s grace in my Lenten efforts
to help me be a more loving person?

Seed Prayer

O seed of divine life within me
I will open the soil of my heart for you.
I will trust in your ability to grow
in the silent darkness of my life.
I will warm you with my patience and trust.
I will water you with droplets of faith, hope, love.
I will never doubt that you are there.
I will celebrate your life-giving love within me
every day.

Grow seed of God within me!
Grow deep! Grow strong!

(adapted from The Circle of Life, Wiederkehr & Rupp)

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
April 2012

     Lately I’ve been wondering if the resurrection of Jesus would have made any difference if no one had experienced this presence after he came forth from the tomb.  Do we need to encounter this Radiant Light in order to be influenced or affected by the Resurrection? What would Mary of Magdala’s life have been like if she never had that garden moment of hearing the Risen One call her name?  What if Peter and John refused to go running to the empty tomb to see for themselves? What if the disciples went fishing and did not experienced their untombed Friend cooking fish for them on the seashore?

    When I read the Easter stories it seems to me that the answer to my question about witnessing the resurrection is ‘yes.’  If the men and women who loved and followed Jesus had not encountered him in his resurrected state they would most probably have gone on with their lives in a state of continual discouragement.  Depression would have sunk strong roots in their spirits. Perhaps they might have become cynical and bitter. At the least, they would have been disillusioned, like the two on the road to Emmaus who were returning home downcast and disheartened.

   When we are discouraged, drained, upset, unfocused, pained, disinterested, anxious, unhappy or in a similar sort of emotional space, that’s the time to look for “resurrection.”  Like the gospel personages, sometimes it is we who go seeking for a lightened heart and needed hope.  At other times it is the Risen One who comes finding us.

   Last week I had that kind of experience. I was invited by Jo Kay to her home to have tea with her. When Jo Kay participated in our women’s writing retreat she introduced us to some splendid teas she used for various parish gatherings.  At the time she extended her invitation I was eager to accept.  But several months later, when our schedules meshed enough for us to actually have time together, I was pressed by insistent deadlines. I wasn’t feeling resistant to being with her; I simply had a heavy weariness clinging to me.

    I never expected the ensuing rejuvenation that developed. Jo Kay met me at the door of her lovely home with a radiant smile and welcoming hug.  As she ushered me into her dining room I gasped at what was before me. She didn’t mean just “a cup of tea” when she invited me but rather, “high tea”, which included a place setting of delicate china and delicious finger foods waiting to be tasted. As we spent time together, my weariness eased. Before I left Jo Kay’s she wrapped her favorite prayer shawl around me and prayed exactly the blessing I needed.

    By the time I opened my car door to drive home I felt refreshed. I had been the recipient of a huge heart filled with loving kindness. The tea was delicious but what most nourished me was the way Jo Kay swept Love toward me with her ease of hospitality and joyous spirit. When I returned home it was still Lent. But I was confident I had witnessed the presence of the Risen Christ that day.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
May 2012

      Jesus himself came near and went with them. (Lk24:15)

     Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (Jn20:19)

     Jesus came…and said to Thomas, “Peace be with you.” (Jn20:27)

     The Risen One came to them, came to the one who repeatedly denied knowing him, came to the ones who slept through his intense agony before his death, came to those who stood apart on a hillside instead of drawing near to the cross on which he hung, came to the one who insisted he’d never believe that the Risen One was alive unless he saw for himself. Yes, the resurrected Christ came, came to them all.

     The disguised Christ did not wait for his fearful, grieving disciples to finally “get it” and look for him.  No, he approached them and did so deliberately, intentionally. He approached them to instill hope and extend forgiveness.  He opened the way for those who failed in friendship to enter into relationship again. Out of loving kindness the Risen One assured, comforted, assisted, and challenged the disciples to get up and move forward. His surprising visits helped them overcome their fear, restore their faith, and find inner peace.

     This same Great Love still comes today to those who hesitate, to those who forget how wondrously they are loved, to anyone in need of forgiveness, to those who insist they do not know the One who is always for them and never against them, and to all who stand at a distance for any reason whatsoever.     

     The Easter stories carry a reminder for us: 

     Trust that a moment will come when you, too, will receive the grace of this blessed Presence. This visitation may come into the room of your heart when you gather with others at church. It might happen as you walk on the lonely road of sorrow. Perhaps this visit will take place while you are on the seashore of your work, in the garden of quiet prayer, or amid the Galilee of your leisure.

     Listen and watch. These visits of the Risen One can be quite subtle and are often as surprising as the ones with the early disciples.  Keep your hope alive for this Risen One will come, just as surely as he came to those he loved long ago.

     Learn how to go forth to others. When you experience hurt from someone do not wait for him or her to come to you. Be the one who comes and opens the way to forgiveness.  In all things difficult learn from the resurrected Christ. Reach out and step forth, as he did, with a genuinely loving approach.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
June 2012

      “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.” Acts2:1-2 (American Bible)

     Not until this year, when we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, did I notice something in the opening of the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. I saw a tiny word: “like.” Many people refer to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost as a wind. I’ve done the same thing. Yet, the scripture verse is clear in describing this coming as a noise, one that is like a “strong driving wind,” but it is not a wind.

    Another translation of these verses describes the coming of the Spirit as “the sound like the rush of a violent wind.” (NRSV) The gust when the Spirit came was so loud and formidable that it filled “the entire house.”  As if they weren’t fearful enough, this sound must have scared the willies out of those gathered in the Upper Room.  How challenging it was for Luke, the author of Acts, to try to explain what that sound was like. Luke is trying to convey the tremendous power and effect the Spirit had on them at that moment. So he writes that this incoming Presence was something akin to the power of a tornado or a cyclone.

     Because of this extreme roar one would expect a thunderous, doomsday kind of message from the Spirit. Yet, that is not the case. Instead, those gathered found themselves opening up, speaking in diverse languages. They soon realized this potent Presence had not only filled the room, it had entered each one of them. They were all affected by this Presence.

     In John’s gospel, his version of Pentecost shows the Risen Christ coming “on the evening of that first day of the week” to where the disciples had the doors locked out of fear. There is no great whoosh or roar in John’s account. The Risen One greets them with “Peace” and then proceeds to breathe on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This breath was the easy, soft breath of peace, equally empowering but coming in an alternative manner.

     Two very different versions, one vigorously stirring, the other calm and reassuring. I’m thankful we have these diverse versions of how the Spirit came and filled the disciples’ hearts. No one person experiences the Spirit’s movement in the same way. Sometimes this entrance can sweep us off our feet with suddenness and vibrancy, and sometimes it is extremely quiet, like a human breath, that we hardly notice the movement.

     We don’t have a choice as to whether the Spirit enters our lives as a roar or as a simple, silent breath. Either way, we, too, are empowered to live as our best selves when we are open to this blessed Presence, always with us, always inviting us to peace and to growth.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
July 2012

     One of the aspects I enjoy in pondering scripture stories is the “something more” that is always waiting to be discovered. When I think I’ve become thoroughly acquainted with what a story contains and what it means for my life, there’s oftentimes an unearthing of some fresh insight. Sometimes this revelation comes with just one word in the text.

    The other day I was reading Peter Feldmeier’s reflection on the gospel story of Jesus raising the young daughter of Jairus from the dead.  (Mk5:21-43)  Jairus was a synagogue leader. He begs Jesus: “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” Jesus eventually makes his way to the child. He then takes the small child by the hand and speaks to her: “Talitha koum.” I have always read translations of this phrase as “Little Girl, arise,” but Feldmeier notes that these Aramaic words literally mean “Little Lamb, arise.

     I am moved by that tender addressing of the child. Calling her “Little Lamb” connotes affection for this young, vulnerable person who holds much potential for life. I can imagine the tone of voice Jesus uses, a voice carrying immediate fondness and compassionate concern. His heart must have been truly touched when he looked upon this little child.

     Soon after I read of this account I came upon an article in a National Geographic magazine that brought me back instantly to a connection with the story of the Little Lamb. In the July 2012 issue there is an article on the people of the Republic of Tuva which is in the Siberian region. These nomadic herders have a distinct language known and spoken by few today. One of the photos shows the work-worn, weathered hands of a new father gently placed on either side of the soft, round face of his newborn. Her fresh, tiny body is swathed in the folds of a pink garment with white trimmed lace. Beneath the photo is one word, “anayim,” conveying a term of endearment that he calls her, meaning “my Little Goat.”

     “Little Lamb” and “Little Goat.” These two designations spoken with gentle fondness remind me of how powerful words can be. The tone of voice and what is said reflects much of what is in the mind and heart. Just one phrase can endear or alienate. Jesus addresses this when he teaches that “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person but what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Mt15:11)

     This reality gives me cause to pay more attention to not only what I say, but how I say it. What sort of message am I giving to another when I address him or her? Does it carry the compassionate tone of the Great Healer? Does it resonate with kindness? Words and tone of voice don’t stop with speech that comes from the mouth. I am equally concerned with the words and their tone that happen in my head. I feel called to especially be aware of this when I am in a situation where my patience is wearing thin, or when unfair judgments are crowding my thoughts.

     “Little Lamb.” “Little Goat.” I hope my internal and external speech will contain that kind of compassion and endearment.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
August 2012

     This summer in Iowa we are experiencing severe heat and drought. Everywhere nature is crying out for rain. Almost anything once green now holds shades of sickly yellow or faded brown. Corn leaves curl in on themselves. Trees drop their leaves. Flowers bend their heads to the ground. Gardens stop producing. Grass withers to brittle sticks. The soil itself with its deep cracks of emptiness yearns for water. When I walk in the early morning I can almost feel nature’s cry of distress, a dying moan and a plea for moisture.

    Nature thirsts. So do nature’s creatures in both rural and urban areas. Many humans experience thirst, too, not only because of drought but because they live on parts of our planet where water is either scarce or un-piped. They have to walk for miles to bring back containers of this life-giving liquid which they use sparingly. I who live in a developed country go mindlessly to the tap where water flows abundantly for me. I usually neglect to realize my good fortune in having this essential gift instantly available but the drought has reawakened me to other people’s situations.

     When I walk amid the extreme aridness these days I walk with awareness of both nature and humanity’s thirst. I also walk with consciousness of my inner thirstiness, that realm referred to in Psalm 63:1.

O God, you are my God,
I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water

     I notice how my spirit tends toward spiritual dehydration when I’ve neglected to care for some aspect of my inner being. I recognize this particularly if I regularly omit morning meditation or when I allow myself to get caught in an over-abundance of activity for an extended period of time. Then spiritual drought sets in, leaving me feeling disgruntled or longing for inspiration and peacefulness. ”

     “There are also those times of spiritual thirsting when unwanted experiences, or an interior movement of struggling growth, leave me feeling desert-like. Just as with the external landscape when it lacks rain, I can’t do a thing about the inner drought except to wait upon the Giver of Life for an eventual watering of the thirsty soil of my spirit. Like the image of the deer in Ps42:1, longing “for running streams,” I find that “my soul longs for you, O God.”

     During this kind of spiritual drought, it is time for accepting the way things are, trusting the inner weather to eventually change and that relief will come. This is the time to draw on those resources of faith the way tree roots stretch deeper into the soil to find water in their periods of drought. This is the time to join the psalmist and go seeking the One who never wavers in being present to those living through spiritual dryness.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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Spiritual Zest
September 2012

     Because of the drought we are experiencing this year the leaves are changing color and the trees are dropping them at least a month early.  This untimely occurrence reminds me of how our lives often move in a similar fashion.  We plan for one thing and then another happens instead.  We think we are going to have good health and discover we have a serious illness.  We look forward to a long life with a loved one but death ends that hope.  We trust another with our friendship only to see our trust betrayed. We expect to arrive at an much-looked-forward-to event but we miss it due to a three hour traffic delay.

    When life does not go the way we had hoped, what do we do?  In the past, I’ve tried to grasp onto what I hoped and expected, tried to make it work, pushed for the unwanted change to leave my life. I’ve learned that this approach not only does not work, it often keeps me from the gift of growth that the undesirable change offers. When I struggle against the unseasonable or inopportune incidents that visit my life I am wasting my spiritual energy. Most of the time I’m aware of this. But I can still fall into the trap of my old tendency, trying to shove untimely occurrences aside in a futile effort to resume what I initially envisioned.

     When this happens I eventually find peace by pausing for quiet time, breathing deeply, and opening my being to the presence of the Holy One. Almost always when I do this, I find clarity, freedom from struggle, and relief. I see again how I am not the one in full control. I am not the one who can manage and be in charge of every detail. It is then that I remember the scripture verse guiding my life: “Glory be to God whose power working through us can do more than we can ask or imagine.” (Eph3:20)

     This biblical teaching has brought me more peace and inner freedom than any other. As soon as I let go of my expectations, my pushing, my apprehensions and resistance, a space inside opens up. No longer tightly constrained, my mind and heart can then receive this loving energy of divine presence. Once more I become a conduit through which this presence can flow without meeting the obstructions caused by my resistance.

     So, as I observe the dead leaves falling from their branched homes long before a seasonal timetable, I return to my own journey with its prevalent pattern of unpredictability. I pray to remain open to whatever disturbance or unforeseen circumstance might interrupt my days. As I do so, I remember and take comfort in the prayer of the beloved mystic, Julian of Norwich:

God, of your goodness, give me yourself,
For you are enough for me.
I can ask for nothing less that is completely to your honor,
And if I do ask for anything less, I shall always be in want.
Only in you I have all.

                                                                   ©  Joyce Rupp

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