"Where Do We Go From Here?"

“What are you making of the experiences of your life? “

“What are you doing to spread the light?”

“ What sounds are you making for joy and peace?”

“ What does it mean to radiate love, to act in peace, to speak for justice?”

These are some of the questions asked in a video by the activist, writer and story teller Jan Phillips: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

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"Falling Upward"

This month’s Food for Thought column is an excerpt from “Falling Upward, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province.

“In the beginning, you tend to think that God really cares about your exact posture, the exact day of the week for public prayer, the authorship and wordings of your prayers, and other such things. Once your life has become a constant communication, you know that all the techniques, formulas, sacraments, and practices were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing - life itself - which can actually become a constant intentional prayer.”

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Reader ContributionComment
One of Our Favorite Scholarship Essays

This month’s Food for Thought column is an essay written for the scholarship contest by Heleena K., a high school senior from Tennessee. Heleena received an honorarium and special mention from the Board of Directors for this essay.

It is senior year and it is a stressful time for my friends and me, but we find a way to overcome our struggles together. Whether it is applying for scholarships, keeping up with our GPA, or even making sure that senioritis does not get the best of us, we all have each other in one way or another.

One specific struggle that my friends and I experienced this year was the dreaded ACT. Since this test is known to make or break our future, it definitely gave us a lot of concerns and anxiety. My friends and I are a group of four and on the morning of our ACT, we got into one car together and began to do some last-minute studying. We went over formulas for math and specific grammar rules for English, but our last method of preparation was prayer.

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"Pray for Peace" by Ellen Bass

This month’s Food for Thought column is the poem “Pray for Peace” by the poet Ellen Bass. We are grateful to our friend Rev. Paul Dodenhoff of the UU of the Palisades in Englewood, New Jersey for bringing it to our attention during a sermon on Prayer.

Pray to whoever you kneel down to:

Jesus nailed to his wooden of marble or plastic cross,

his suffering face bent to kiss you,

Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,

Adonai, Allah, raise your arms to Mary

that she may lay her palm on our brows,

to Shekinhah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,

to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, Record Keeper

of time before, time now, time ahead, pray. Bow down

to terriers and shpherds and Siamese cats.

Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Pray to the bus drive who takes you to work,

pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus

and for everyone riding buses all over the world.

If you haven’t been on a bus in a long time,

climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,

for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.

Make your eating and drinking a supplication.

Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,

each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

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The Winning Essay!

This month's Food for Thought column is the Prayer Soup scholarship essay winner, written by Hannah Dercks, a  creative writing student and high school senior from Wisconsin.

I never thought my father would die.

Our future was planned out. He would hug me as I, the timid freshman, stepped into the large, frightening world of high school. He would protect me as I, the crabby sophomore, went on my first date. He would praise me as I, the confident senior, took center stage and received my diploma. He would help me as I, the excited college student, moved into my tiny dorm. He would guide me as I, the joyous bride, walked down the aisle. Now, he wouldn't be there for anything.

When my father fell, he landed on his shoulder and his head. He plummeted to the cement, receiving nine rib fractures, six spine fractures, and an Epidural Hematoma that devastated his brain., filled it with blood. He would die. If, by some miracle he survived, he would be in a vegetative state. Who would've known that thirteen feet would change everything for one man?

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"Daring Larks"

We are stealing from a wonderful essay written by the columnist David Brooks. You can read the entire essay if you Google  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/15/opinion/what-is-inspiration.html

It's an essay from  April 4, 2015, but, so inspiring is it, that it was torn from the New York Times that very day and squirreled away under, okay: "Inspiration". 

What caught our eye originally is the oft-mentioned corollary with the word "transcendence", which we use repeatedly when trying to explain our unique definition of "prayer" at Prayer Soup. We will be stealing as well, his understanding of this in the future: "a thrilling feeling of elevation...an awareness of enlarged possibilities". We think of "prayer" here also as something  more behavioral and energetic than simply words; Brooks writes in this column that inspiration "is always more active than mere appreciation".

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Ann CarrComment
More on "Intention".

Food for Thought this month is from an Instagram post from the Amazon Rainforest Workshop (posted 10/2/17 at 12:46 p.m.) It continues the theme of "intention" from our last post, written by our friend, Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer, the pastor at South Congregational Church in Springfield, MA.

"Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So, go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you."

Another quote about intention is familiar to all of us: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

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Love and Intention

Food for Thought is written this month by our friend, Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer, the pastor at South Congregational Church in Springfield, MA.

I've been talking a lot about core and shared values at South Church pretty much since I arrived, but over time with more focus and intensity. I feel it's important for us as a community to gain some clarity about the values we share as we consider how we might best steward our resources and assets.

I believe that love is at the core of justice, and I think this holds true as well for anything that resembles fairness and peace. I think we all want more of these.

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You Are Not Alone!

Let’s face it: prayer just isn’t a popular topic. People don’t generally brag about their prayer-lives or gush enthusiastically about the spiritual insights they are developing through their prayers. In fact, unless specifically asked, it is usually not fashionable to even acknowledge  socially that one prays, much less how often or in what manner. Instead, people often pray in private, unseen and unheard, even by their closest friends. As a result, a lot of prayerful people may have the sense that they are alone, that they are the only ones who engage in this quaint practice, that they are out of the social mainstream. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In our country, the belief in God and prayer is remarkably common.

According to the prestigious Pew Research Center, 55 out of 100 Americans pray on a daily basis, while another 21 pray at least monthly. Let that sink in for a moment. Half the crowd at the Yankees game last Saturday pray on a daily basis! Tens of millions of Americans seem to find daily communication with the transcendent helpful in the conduct of their lives. If you pray, clearly you are not alone. Indeed, you are part of the majority of Americans who believe in God, consider religion as important, and practice their religions regularly. So, if this is the case, why do you sometimes feel alone?


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Dr. BComment
Praying for Meaning

Have you ever wondered why certain events, either very positive or very negative, happen to you? Maybe you've had an important relationship break-up, or you did quite poorly on a critical exam. On the other hand, maybe you unexpectedly got the perfect job, or you inherited a pile of money. We often try different theories to explain these outcomes to ourselves. Am I just cursed? Does nothing go right for me? Or maybe I'm just really lucky and great things seem to happen out of the blue. The explanations we give ourselves establish the meaning of the events in our lives.  Research indicates that the meaning we ascribe to painful circumstances determines in part, how well we cope with adversity, whether we emerge resilient or whether we feel overwhelmed.

A classic example is that of a soldier wounded in battle. The soldier may be in great pain but nonetheless, be happy because she/he survived and is going home. Another person, wounded in a drive-by shooting on a city street, may be equally in pain but be miserable because of the unfairness of the injury. Again, the meaning we associate with the circumstance affects our mood and recovery.

One important outcome of prayer is that it can open the door to spiritual meaning. In spiritual meaning, we ascribe a spiritual context or purpose for an event so that the event takes on a positive and fulfilling role in our lives. This morning, while walking my dog through an intersection, I narrowly avoided getting hit by a car. Was that event a reflection of my bad luck or an opportunity given to me to experience gratitude and a renewed sense of purpose in life? Similarly, are your negative experiences gifts that are preparing you for what is ahead?

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Dr. BComment
Building Spiritual Muscles

Food for Thought is pleased to offer this contribution about prayer from guest editor, Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer, the pastor at South Congregational Church in Springfield, MA.

As an ordained minister, my daily exercise of centering prayer, a contemplative practice, has helped me to deepen my capacity for pastoral caregiving. My understanding of and appreciation for prayer is as relationship with God. As a Christian, Jesus is my model for understanding and practicing prayer.

I have found that with this ministry, comes the relationship expectation of others, regardless of whether they are churched or not. In order to meet these expectations - not necessarily satisfy, but at least to meet - it helps me to have a reservoir of patience on which to draw. My daily exercise of centering prayer has helped me to deepen my capacity for this sort of pastoral stamina.

Listening is a key feature of pastoral caregiving, not my strongest attribute! I have found that listening for God stretches me more than any human being ever could, and so, I listen for God in my exchanges with people. And I get stronger.

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Reader ContributionComment
Prayer and Happiness

  If you ask anybody what his/her goal in life is, chances are you’ll hear something like: “Well, I just want to be happy”. It seems that happiness is the ultimate goal for a lot of people. After all, isn’t that why we do the things we do - to be happy? We go to school or work, we try to save some money, we cultivate important relationships, because we believe that those steps will bring us to places in our lives where we will be happy.

            Ironically, while we often think of happiness as a goal, researchers are finding out that happiness is actually more of a cause of important things. For example, being happy has been found to lead to a number of positive outcomes, including better physical and mental health. Happy people are indeed blessed, not just because they are happy but because their happiness actually leads to a better life.

            But the problem with happiness is that it’s often so elusive. Nobody really seems to know how to get it, although some people talk like they are experts. Many people attach happiness to material possessions, popularity, or success in school, only to find that accomplishing the goal doesn’t completely erase their loneliness or lack of zest.

           How does prayer fit in here? Does prayer have any association with happiness? The short answer is yes. But the long answer is that things are more complicated than that.

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Dr. BComment

If your mother ever told you to be grateful, thank your lucky stars! You had a smart mama!

Research over the past few decades has strongly supported the association between gratitude and better psychological functioning. Higher levels of gratitude seem to be associated with increased self-esteem, greater happiness, and higher life-satisfaction.  People with higher levels of gratitude appear to have lower levels of anxiety and depression. In short, developing gratitude may be one of the best investments we can make in our lives. Of course, it's easy to become grateful when life is easy and full of good experiences. The real dilemma is how to develop gratitude when life is difficult and stressful. A recently published study in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (2016, Vol. 8, pp.134-140) entitled Maintaining a Grateful Disposition in the Face of Distress: The Role of Religious Coping, addressed this very question, with intriguing results.

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Food for Thought

A fascinating and dramatic development is occurring in how Americans think about what makes us healthy or sick, happy or sad.  Through scientific research, it has become increasingly apparent that spirituality buffers us against many of the ills we experience in life.

This Food for Thought space will be devoted to taking a look at two paramount questions:  what makes spirituality, in general, and prayer, in particular, so compelling, and how do they convey their life-giving effects? We’ll be talking about prayer and the role of prayer in healing, gratitude, forgiveness, spiritual meaning-making, stress reduction, and finding a sense of direction and purpose in life. We’ll be thinking about how prayer exerts a healing effect and how our healthcare experts have come to employ spirituality in treatment protocols.

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Dr. BComment