Tag Archives: faith

Sunday Self-Care: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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“Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
— Richard Bach

As longtime readers of this blog know, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull has had a profound impact on my life — so I was pretty excited a few weeks ago when I became aware that Richard Bach had released a revised, expanded edition.

Bach claims he wrote the novel in four parts but initially published only three. If this is true, this fourth part — published in 2013, more than 40 years after the first three were released — is downright prophetic.

Without giving away too many details, I’ll say that Bach delves into the tendency of worshipers to become so focused on dogma, tradition, and remaining firmly ensconced in their own comfort zone that they miss the underlying message of their chosen faith.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the Christian Establishment in recent years, for this very reason. Too many faith leaders seem to conflate spiritual truths with cultural traditions — or worse yet, political expediency.

In 2012, after watching error in the form of politics infiltrate the absolute last place I expected to find such nonsense, I walked away from organized religion altogether and tried, with varying degrees of success, to maintain my faith and my connection to God on my own.

Absent the structure and accountability a church provides, I found it slow going, though perhaps not as slow as it might have been had I been hampered by increasingly uncomfortable conflicts with people who seemed less interested in facilitating my spiritual growth than policing it.

Throughout my life, Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been my touchstone. The first edition of the book feels like an allegory for my own spiritual journey, and I tend to reread it whenever I find myself at a crossroads. It’s never disappointed me.

I suspect it’s not a coincidence, then, that I learned of the expanded edition around the same time I began visiting a local church that seems more inclusive and open-minded than some of the congregations to which I’ve belonged in the past.

My broken wings finally seem to be healing — and just as I’m attempting another flight, lo and behold, here’s Jonathan, as relevant now as he was the first time I encountered him 30-odd years ago, offering a new chapter that mirrors my experiences as well as the first three always have.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll join this church I’ve been test-driving. I’m still carrying baggage from the last go-’round, and I don’t trust as easily or commit as quickly as I did a decade ago. But even if I don’t, it’s reassuring to know, after all these years, that I’m still not flying alone.

Emily

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Sunday self-care: In the long run

I started this weekly feature on self-care partly as a means of keeping myself honest, because frankly, I’m great at taking care of other people but lousy at extending the same courtesy to myself. Self-neglect rarely ends well.

One of my most valuable self-care tools is long-distance running. I don’t run as often, as regularly or as sensibly as I should. But I run when I can find the time and energy, and I’m always glad I did. Even if I’ve gone too long between runs and lost some of my training base, the mental and spiritual benefits are enough to make up for whatever physical discomfort I have to deal with along the way.

Props to Chief Blair at Cape PD, who recommended the LaCroix Trail to me.
Props to Chief Blair at Cape PD, who recommended the LaCroix Trail to me.

I’m terribly prone to seasonal depression, and when the days get ridiculously short, an hour or two of fresh air, sunlight and endorphins can make all the difference in how I feel.

In addition to doing nice things for my brain chemistry, long runs give me some much-needed time to think, pray or just “be still and know.”

Yesterday was gorgeous, so I treated myself to an ill-advised 10-mile round trip out to Abbey Road Christian Church to walk the labyrinth.

The labyrinth. One of my favorite places in town.
The labyrinth. One of my favorite places in town.
Love this pergola next to the labyrinth.
Love this pergola next to the labyrinth.
Rudbeckia growing around the perimeter of the labyrinth.
Rudbeckia growing around the perimeter of the labyrinth.

I say “ill-advised” because I’d planned a walk and ended up turning it into a run on the spur of the moment. The problem with that lies in preparation: A walk that long is fine, but if you’re going to run more than five miles, you really need to take along a couple of packets of carb gel and a quart or so of water. I’d made no such preparations (that self-care thing again), and about seven miles into my impromptu jog, my calves and hamstrings started telling me about it.

I was about a mile from home when I looked up and saw salvation in the form of an IHOP. I limped in and ordered a meal specifically intended to replace the nutrients I’d lost on my run: orange juice (potassium, quick carbs), whole-wheat pancakes (complex carbs, a little protein), bacon (protein, salt) and several glasses of water.

Eating solely for nourishment was a singular experience that made me rethink what and why I eat, and it made me genuinely grateful for the meal in front of me, which I desperately needed to soothe my sore legs and fuel that last mile home.

When I was still a practicing Christian Scientist, I was particularly fond of this quote:

Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.
— Mary Baker Eddy

The labyrinth of my life has taken me on a little different spiritual path the last few years, but that truth remains with me, and running has a way of reinforcing it.

Yesterday, that reinforcement came in the form of a well-timed stack of pancakes that met a pressing need beautifully.

I’ll take it.

Emily

Caesar v. God

As a Christian, I fully embrace the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, because one effect of the decision — while not part of the argument — serves as an expansion of religious freedom.

Far too many self-professed “Christians” appear to subscribe to the Orwellian notion that “some animals are more equal than others.” Not content to have their religious beliefs merely protected, they seek to have them codified in a manner that forces others to comply with them, whether they share them or not. This is unconstitutional, and frankly, I consider it immoral, as it is a clear violation of the Golden Rule.

Clergy always have been exempt from performing religious ceremonies in a way that violates the tenets of their faith. That exemption never has been in question — nor should it be. (This article outlines it nicely.)

Conversely, clergy should not be denied the right to perform religious ceremonies in a way that upholds the tenets of their faith.

There is widespread disagreement among religions and even within the Christian community about what constitutes marriage, but many — if not all — Christian denominations view marriage as a sacrament. When the government outlaws gay marriage, it essentially places itself in the position of deciding who can or cannot receive a sacrament. Government is neither qualified nor authorized to make those decisions.

As Christians, we are called to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”

We render unto Caesar when we recognize that for those who do not subscribe to any particular theology, marriage is purely a legal contract, and it would be entirely unconstitutional to base a citizen’s right to enter a legal contract on the whims of a particular faith community. Contractual matters are between the individual and the legal system, which is supposed to rest on the principles of impartiality and equal access for all citizens.

We render unto God when we recognize that in striking down the bans on gay marriage, the court has not taken away your pastor’s right to determine how sacraments are administered in his church — but it has ensured that his counterpart down the street has the same right, even if she arrives at a different theological conclusion.

A Christian should never be angry or afraid of an expansion of religious liberty. To borrow a line from one of my favorite theologians, Mary Baker Eddy: “Whatever blesses one, blesses all.”

Emily

(The rainbow pictured above was taken Friday evening as we were coming back from dinner in Foster Pond, Illinois. Vibrance, contrast and saturation adjusted to compensate for the limitations of my iPhone camera, which just barely picked up the colors.)

Birds of the air

“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
Matt. 6:8

Sometime around 1989, my internal clock calibrated itself for Rawaki Island. This would be fine if I lived on Rawaki Island, but I don’t. Nobody else does, either, except for a few seagulls and feral rabbits, and I don’t think any of them are hiring.

I’m healthiest, happiest and most productive when I can go to bed about 3 a.m. and get up around 11. When I try to move that schedule up more than an hour or two, I end up with all kinds of obnoxious little symptoms that make life unpleasant and hamper my productivity.

I’ve tried every imaginable technique to reset my internal clock. I finally exhausted all my own ideas and sought help from a doctor, who recommended meditating; shutting off my electronic devices a couple of hours before bedtime; and taking melatonin.

The melatonin made me sick; the other recommendations, while pleasant, did nothing to alter my natural sleep cycle.

Frustrated, I Googled “circadian rhythm” last night and discovered there’s a name for the way I’ve slept for the last quarter-century. It’s called delayed sleep phase syndrome, and it affects about 3 out of every 2,000 people.

DSPS can be very difficult to treat, and since most people have never heard of it and regard “my body runs on Kiribati Standard Time” as a bullshit excuse for sleeping in, the easiest solution for most people with DSPS is to find a job with a schedule that matches their internal clock and move on.

I’d never heard of DSPS when I sat down to meditate the other night, but as I settled into the Fortress of Solitude and tried to concentrate on my breathing, my mind started to wander (as usual), and I got to thinking about the Sermon on the Mount, which I decided was an acceptable thing to think about while meditating, since it’s practically a Zen text anyway and thus conducive to relaxation.

Less than 24 hours after I’d considered the lilies of the field and beheld the birds of the air, my boss called me into his office — apropos of nothing — to tell me he was switching me from reporting to copy editing.

This means I won’t have to be at work until 3 p.m., and I’ll be able to stay up until 3 a.m. every night without running late or making myself sick. I might even have time to squeeze in a jog before work.

Behold the birds of the air.

Especially the seagulls fishing on Rawaki Island.

Emily