Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ready, Set, Run!

That's me on the right with the pace group I've been training with since September. This photo is from February 3 when we did our longest run to date. I did 23 miles. The wierd thing about Marathon training is that it takes so long to fully recover from a long run that we deliberately don't do any runs longer than 8 miles for a full month before the marathon itself. So I did that 23 mile run a full month ago, and now I've just got to kind of guess as to whether I'm up for 26 miles this Sunday. Everybody asks if I'm ready but the only reference point I have is a slightly shorter run I did a month ago. I did OK back then but whether I'm prepared for this Sunday, who knows? I guess that's what they mean by faith.

What is Remembered

If you type Rev. Ricky into Google (I don't know why you would but I do all the time) the first thing that comes up that actually refers to me is not this website or my sermons or blog or the church I serve in Los Angeles. The top entry about me is a reference to the episode of Jeopardy I was on in 2002. I came in second. The previous game's champion, David Bitkower, and I lost to a woman who came from behind on the final Jeopardy question that asked us to identify the fictional subject of a statue on a street corner in Minneapolis. David and I both guessed Paul Bunyon - WRONG! Correct answer below.

I'd like to think when I'm dead I'm remembered at least a little while, and for a little more than being the runner up on Jeopardy episode 4136. But who knows. As carefully as we guard our reputations who remembers us, if anyone, and what they remember, is really beyond our control. I do several Memorial services every year and I always include a time for people to share their memories of the deceased. It's always very healing but the ghost hovering above might very well be annoyed, or maybe chuckling, "I didn't know they remembered that!" Or, "I wish they hadn't remembered that!" Or "Why didn't anybody talk about the time I...?"

Be proud of yourself. Enjoy your accomplishments, now. The only person and time you can really control is yourself, this second. What anyone else remembers is up to them.

Even if I had remembered Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat up in the air I would have got the question wrong. The correct answer is Mary Richards, the name of her fictional character.

I'm giving up giving up for Lent

I'm still not drinking this week. Day three. No problems there although it has been awhile since I've gone a week without a drink. I'm not drinking because I'm running in the LA Marathon this Sunday. But a lot of people are giving up vices this time of year in recognition of Lent.

Rather than giving up, the better Lenten practice is to take something on. Lent isn't about reducing our life, it's about adding to our life, specifically, adding an intentional period of meditation: meditation on who we are, who we wish to be, and what we're going to do with this one life. Even for those who choose to give something up, the point isn't in the self-denial; the point is in the space that we open up to shift our thoughts and actions into an area we would otherwise never get to.

Deciding to add something to your spiritual practice can actually make this meditative task easier. You could add 40 days of journaling, 40 days of getting up a half hour earlier for some prayer time, 40 days of volunteer work, 40 days of reading some good book you hadn't gotten to, 40 days of quality family time, 40 days of exercise. You might even develop a habit that you would decide to continue beyond the 40 days ending at Easter.

if all you do is give up you aren't going to accomplish much of value. But shifting your time into a spiritual practice, or directly into living more of the life that you want to live, will make this season worth your attention.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why is Lent 40 days?

40 is a special number in the Bible. Noah spent 40 days on the ark, in one version of that story. The Israelites spend 40 years in the desert between slavery in Egypt and the Promised Land. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness after his Baptism confronting the temptation to give up his calling, and finally affirming that he will take it on.

In each case there is an old life to leave behind, a life of bondage, sin, narrowness, smallness, a sense of oneself less that what God calls us to fully be. And in each case, during the 40 days (or years) the old limited self, or people, or world, is rejected and the new is embraced.

Lent gives us 40 days to go through the same transition, to put behind us the self that was less than the ideal we strive for, and to reach out to and reconfirm our intention to being the fully realized person we were created to be.

Perhaps 40 days it what it takes. Maybe 20 days to give up the past and mourn and turn away. And then 20 more days to look forward, to open up and get ready. Today is day 6 of Lent. Where are you on your journey?

None for Me, Thanks, I'm Running

I've given up drinking, only for this week. And my abstinence has nothing to do with alcoholism, or with Lent either. I'm staying off alcohol this week to make sure I'm in the best possible shape for the LA Marathon I'm running on Sunday, March 4 to raise money for AIDS. Click here to donate.

Giving up a vice for Lent is a common tradition but usually misses the point. The spiritually healthy reason to practice self-denial during this season is to wake up the mind from our usual routine so that we remember to keep our focus on the spiritual task at hand. People often think that the reason they should give up alcohol, or chocolate, or meat, or whatever, is so that we'll suffer and in our suffering experience the hardship of life and therefore focus on the life to come and the salvation we can achieve there. But the task of Lent is not to be miserable but to be fully alive now, because we're fully aware of the gift of life.

I don't deny that we can learn spiritual lessons through suffering, we can learn through any experience. But any spiritual lesson that requires suffering, isn't healthy spirituality. Spirituality is life-affirming, not life-denying. It is joyful and affirmative. God wants our happiness now, not just in the next life. The pleasures of life are gifts from God, and though they come with a responsibility to use wisely, entirely denying them earns no special divine credit.

My giving up drinking this week is in service to God, because it will help me have a deeper and more joyful experience during my run this Sunday. But I plan to celebrate afterward by lifting a glass with my running group in tribute to our accomplishment and to the joy of life.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lost and Found

I found my wedding ring.

I didn't lose it on a run, as I had thought. Instead it was in the house and turned up again after having gone missing for a few days. I was sorting through some laundry that I had just pulled out of the dryer when I heard the clink of metal on the marble counter top. My first thought was that Peleg or I had left a quarter in a pocket, but when I pushed aside the clothes there was the ring I was sure I had lost forever.

it wasn't an expensive ring. I'd already resigned to it being gone. And I'd already confessed to Peleg that I'd lost it and appreciated his que sera response. But I was extraordinarily delighted to have it back, and Peleg's pleasure was equally obvious when I told him of its recovery.

But if the spiritual lesson in losing it was impermanence, what should I make of it's sudden reappearance?

That the things we love will eventually leave us, or we will leave them, is not a argument that we must protect our emotions by never loving. The spiritually healthy conclusion from the fact of impermanence is that we must love in the moment. Our love of people and things should be deep and unreserved, but it should be love of what we actually have now, not love for a future relationship that we may or may not get to enjoy.

I loved my ring when Peleg gave it to me. Missed it appropriately but let it go when it was gone. And love it again this afternoon. Tomorrow who knows? I'm not thinking about it.

Death in the Kitchen

I've been thinking about death lately, deliberately, because we're in the midst of Lent, but also just because death is so much a part of the world.

My husband, Peleg Top, is enrolled in a cooking school. He hasn't had to kill anything, yet, (boiled lobster is coming later this week) but he has had to face the mortality issues inherent in feeding ourselves more obviously than we usually do. It's impossible not to acknowledge death when cutting up a whole animal carcass.

In our own kitchen we've been battling a bug infestation, both worms and flies, probably two life stages of the same creature. We've thrown away a lot of spoiled food, but I've also been going around with a folded up paper towel picking up and disposing of bugs clinging to the cabinets and sometimes the ceiling.

It pains me to take the lives of these creatures, but not too much. Death is a part of the system of living. I value those lives but, frnakly, I value my own life more. To honor both lives, mine, and theirs, I kill, but with awareness, with respect, with gratitude and with humility.

Because death is involved inevitably each of us must create for ourselves an ethic that balances our life satisfaction with the costs to the rest of the world of our continued living. There is no clean rule because the situation is inherently muddy. All we can do is admit the inadequacy of our position, however saintly, ask for forgiveness, and humbly move on.

Fifth Day of Lent

The season of Lent is the 40 days preceeding Easter. Sundays don't count because for Christians every Sunday is a "Little Easter" a celebration of Christ's resurrection. So Lent is 6, six-day weeks plus four more days, starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.

Lent is a focused meditation on the fact of human mortality. We are finite creatures. We live for only a brief period of time, and every day of life we come closer to our deaths. During Lent Christians face this reality, and ask, "In the face of death, how shall I live?"

Human mortality is a fact, but not necessarily a problem. Spiritually minded people may profitably borrow the Lenten observation on the fact of death without taking on the Christian response. Is death an abberation to God's plan or part of the plan? Is death a enemy lurking at the end of life, or simply one more life experience? In the mystery that follows death will we have experiences very different from those we have now, or much the same, or cease to have experiences at all? Do the choices we make in how to live now have any effect on our fate after death?

Given the inevitablity of death, both our own and the deaths of those we love, it's useful spiritual practice to do some preparatory work before being called upon to respond to actual death in our midst. The yearly season of Lent gives us a chance while healthy and capable and very much alive, to consider the meaning of existence when we will be none of those things.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

lost wedding ring

The same day I was blogging about impermanence I lost my wedding ring.

Unbelievable, isn't it? My husband and I were married just in November, celebrating our ten year relationship. I had never worn a ring before and was still getting used to it.

I noticed I didn't have the ring on my finger as I was sitting at a coffee house working on my lap top. I didn't panic, figuring it had probably slipped off at home as I was washing dishes. The ring was probably a little too big for my finger and it had come off before when my hands were soapy. But the ring was nowhere to be found at home and eventually I concluded that I must have lost it during my run that morning.

Fortunately it wasn't an expensive ring. Just a band of surgical steel that we had bought from a vendor at a street fair. In fact I can order a replacement just like the one I lost from the same guy. But it's still a wedding ring. The replacement won't actually be the one my husband put on my finger during the service. It made me sad. When I realized it was really gone I called him up and explained what happen. "Oh well," he said. "What are you going to do?"

What are you going to do in a world where things come and go? Nothing lasts. It's the nature of things, including this thing we call our selves. A wedding band is a symbol of the eternal nature of love. I believe that. But a ring itself isn't eternal. What are you going to do?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

First Day of Lent

I've been thinking about posterity lately. Appropriate for Lent, which is a season of recalling our mortality, our status as finite creatures with a beginning and an end.

First I heard the news that Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan has promised to rebuild at least one of the two statues of the Buddha carved into a cliff that the Taliban destroyed in March 2001. The destruction was a stupid act of cultural and religious vandlaism. But I find the plan to rebuild them foolish, and very un-Buddhist. Karzai has secured a sculptor, but no money for the project. If money is found I can think of many better uses.

Then I read a story in the February 12 issue of the New Yorker called "A Tranquil Star" by Primo Levi. A beautiful story. It includes an image of an exploding star engulfing a small planet and how everything ever made or thought or felt on the planet, every product of art, or thought, or science, and works of nature too, accumulated over millions of years is vaporized in a matter of minutes.

So I thought, then, of my own work. And I've been thinking how quickly the world is changing today, and how little there really is any chance that anyone would care about my words in a generation or two. The thought doesn't depress me. It makes me smile a little actually.

How precious is this moment. It's enough to say something beautiful, or share an intersting thought, or express compassion right now, and just for right now. That's all we have, but it's more than enough. It's everything. It's plenty.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

morning run

I took my new iPod with me on my morning run. It didn't work. The iPod worked fine, but not as a running companion.

The headphones that came with it, ear buds I think they're called didn't stay in my ears. One would fall out. I would put it back in, then the other would fall out. then they would both fall out. I tried several times and then I realized I was trying to hold my head unnaturally still which was only going to give me a stiff neck and ruin my running form.

For awhile, then, I carried the heaphones and paused the music, then put them back in and started the music again on my walk breaks. But I noticed as soon as the music started my thinking stopped. Running is valuable prayer time, for me. the time that I try to listen to what the wisdom source of the universe is telling me. It's important that my mind be open and aware. It was nice listening to Bjork's Big Time Sensuality as I ran, and there's certainly something of the divine in her music, but it wasn't a message just for me, just for that morning, directly from the heart of the universe.

I could easily buy a better pair of headphones. But I don't want to seal myself off from the world in a cocoon of other people's creativity. I want to be a creator myself, a conduit of the creative spirit of the universe, through me, out to the world. I can only do that if I let myself hear it. Not to bring old music with me, but to listen to the music of the morning as it plays itself around me.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

one perfect moment

I had a moment last weekend when I wanted time to stop.

I was driving to church Sunday morning after spending the weekend at a retreat hosted at camp Hess Kramer, a camp owned by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Camp Kramer is located a few miles north of Malibu, just across Pacific Coast Highway from the ocean.

As I got up early that morning I drove down to the highway and turned south. The waves were crashing to my right. The sky was gorgeous. We had rain over night so the air was clean but the sky still piled full of storm clouds. After a few miles I turned west and started to drive up Decker canyon and then over the hills into the valley. Every turn offered an amazing vista.

I felt so good. And so peaceful. And although I was looking forward to worship, my role in the church also meant that there would be stress and responsibility. Being a minister is a job after all. I was loathe to trade those graceful moments in the hills, with the business of church.

But I wanted to be at church, too. I like my job. I like the people. The stress and challenge of work is part of what makes life interesting, and overcoming challenges is part of what makes life satisfying.

There's a tension between the healthy spiritual advice to live in the moment, and the healthy spiritual advice to stretch and grow and experience life richly. I tried as well as I could to appreciate the wonderful morning, the surf, and the clouds, and the winding road. But I also kept my eyes on the road, and my foot on the gas.

What's Next?

I had dinner with some friends a few weeks ago. One of them was telling us about a promotion he had received a few months earlier. We all congratulated him and then I asked, “So what’s next?”

I told him I was thinking of something I heard Oprah Winfrey say once, “What do you do when your dreams come true?” And her answer was, “Dream bigger dreams.”

So I asked my friend what his next, bigger, dream job would be. And he had no answer. That didn’t surprise me too much, but what did surprise me was that no one else at the table had any vision of what their next job would be either. All of them were working but none of them were working toward any goal except receiving their next paycheck.

Fortunately all of them were fairly happy where they were, but I find the happiest people in life, whether we’re talking about jobs, or relationships, or health, or anything, are those people who feel that they have power to run their own lives. We can’t always assert control in every situation, but when we can, becoming an active participant in creating our future leads to spiritual health.

Instead of just letting the future happen to us, we can help create our future: a particular future that brings us joy, that reflects our values. But before we can achieve our dreams we have to have dreams. Do you? Can you see it? Can you name it?