Close Your Eyes and Breathe

By Michael W. Raley

Before the coffee begins to brew,

The thoughts come rushing in:

“You need to do this today.”

“You have to do this too.”

“Don’t forget about this.”

“You have to do this on Friday.”

“You’ve been putting this off.”

“You’re out of this, you need to get it today.”

“You should have started the day earlier.”

The list grows well beyond what I planned.

Stop!

Close your eyes and breathe.

Come back to this moment.

Close the mental browsers that don’t need to be open.

Step back and reason through this.

Focus on one and only one task,

Then move on to the next task.

Gradual momentum and gradual goals,

Just as you would read a book:

Words become sentences, sentences become paragraphs, then pages, then chapters,

Then the book will be finished and will be on the shelf with the other finished books.

 

 

 

 

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The Mountains

By Michael W. Raley

I close my eyes and retreat into my mind.

I can see the mountains as if I am there.

The majesty, the beauty, the only place

Where my spirit, mind, and body are at peace.

The winding roads,

The gorgeous blue skies

Seemingly untouched by industry.

The snow-capped peaks at the height of summer.

Nature’s grandeur of wildlife-

Elk, big-horned sheep, and marmots

Living out their existence.

How my soul longs for the mountains!

The mountains are not obstacles,

But a point of perspective.

For when viewed from the mountain top,

Our problems become small and insignificant.

The First Step

By Michael W. Raley

The first step is the hardest one to take

As the anxiety and fear make your body shake.

Your journey cannot and will not begin

If you are consumed with how it will end.

The greatest heartbreak

Is regretting the chance you didn’t take.

Life can be different, even grand

If you would pull your head out of the sand.

You alone have the power to choose.

You have nothing to lose.

So what if the venture doesn’t work out?

There are still options and new routes.

Shake off the naysayers, the fear, and the past-

Choose this day to live as if it were your last.

Live deliberately and give thought to your ways

As you begin the new journey called today.

 

Saturday Morning

By Michael W. Raley

The allure of a Saturday morning

Is where I find my spiritual retreat.

The house is quiet.

The coffee is brewed.

The pressures of life lift off of my shoulders

As I reconnect to the moment

And shut out the clatter.

I seek the voice of the Spirit,

The Ancient of Days,

That still, quiet voice,

Who will serve as my guide

And lead me through this life.

The Virtue of Fortitude

Ever heard the expression “It builds character?” The “it” is what you are going through at the present moment. Though “It builds character” is often used flippantly and sarcastically, there is a golden nugget of truth we can mine from this statement.

Character is who you are- your mentality, values, beliefs, judgments, perceptions, which shape your responses to life and circumstances. Your character is fully within your control. Much like gold and silver, character will go through a refinement process.

“Take away the dross from the silver, and there comes out a vessel for the smith.” (Proverbs 25:4, NASB).

We are the silver. The dross is our impurities or imperfections. The vessel is what we will be and the smith is God. It is the smith who helps shape the silver into what it is supposed to be.

Our character can also evolve over time, much like how a writer may go through multiple rewrites before the novel, script, or comic book is complete. (For instance, in the original draft of Star Wars, Han Solo had green skin and gills).

The Stoics also believed in the importance of character. The Stoics believed that we can improve ourselves and that we should strive every day to be better people. In his discourse, “On Providence,” Epictetus discusses the proper perspective we should have in life.

“It is easy to praise providence for everything that happens in the world provided you have both the ability to see individual events in the context of the whole and a sense of gratitude. Without these, either you will not see the usefulness of what happens or, even supposing that you do see it, you will not be grateful for it.”1

Epictetus also links our character with fulfilling our purpose:

“And so for the beasts it is enough to eat, drink, sleep, breed and do whatever else it is that satisfies members of their kind. But for us who have been given the faculty of understanding, this is not enough. Unless we act appropriately, methodically, and in line with our nature and constitution, we will fall short of our proper purpose.”2

Since we are created by God for a purpose, we are called to acknowledge God:

“Man was brought into the world, however, to look upon God and his works- and not just look, but appreciate…Come to look upon and appreciate God’s works at least once before you die.”3

Take a moment to watch a sunrise or sunset. Look at the stars. Travel to the mountains. Look at the oceans. Take a breath and enjoy the moment.

One of the things that attracted me to read about Stoicism was the pragmatic and realistic nature of the philosophy. For the Stoics, it’s about the process. It’s acknowledging that bad things will happen and being prepared for them when they happen. Because you have lived through previous trials, you have built up a reserve of character, or what Epictetus referred to as “the virtue of fortitude.”

“Furthermore, you have inner strengths that enable you to bear up with difficulties of every kind. You have been given fortitude, courage, and patience. Why should I worry about what happens if I am armed with the virtue of fortitude? Nothing can trouble or upset me, or even seem annoying. Instead of meeting misfortune with groans and tears, I will call upon the faculty especially provided to deal with it.”4

Epictetus goes on to mention about how we do not realize that we have the resources to conquer whatever we are facing. When circumstances do not go our way, we become bitter, complain and resent God, but God has provided a way out. You have the tools, you have to work with them. You might get greasy or hit your thumb, but keep working. What good is a toolbox of the best tools if they are never put to use?

God bless you all.

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings. Translated and Edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008): 16.

2Ibid, 17.

3Ibid, 18.

4Ibid, 18-19.

The Pursuit of Progress

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is credited with the statement, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” While Archimedes’ statement applies to the world of math, getting from point A to point B in life is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

One step forward, two steps back. Previous generations pave the way only for the next generation to fight their own battles. The rules change, but no one communicates that to you; well-deserved and earned freedoms and rights can be hindered on the whims of those in power. That is why you must keep going. Wake up every day and put on your battle armor because you will be in for a fight.

In our pursuit of personal progress, whatever that may be, we must manage our perceptions and our perspectives. “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Bible tells us. Life is cyclical. The trials and tribulations we face have been faced by previous generations. When problems arise, remember that flowing through your veins is the blood and DNA of survivors. Your ancestors lived through threats to their survival, poverty, heartache, disaster, war, famine, and disease- they passed those survival genes onto you.

Though you may not be at the finish line, have you started running? What steps are you taking to make progress? Are you passively waiting for the right circumstances? Are you swimming against the tide of the conventional wisdom of the naysayers? As children, we do not allow dozens of falls deter us from learning how to walk, we go forward despite circumstances. So why as able-bodied and able-minded adults do we shirk back in defeat when we stumble?

If you are progressing closer to your goal, no matter how small, keep going. You must build energy and momentum to overtake your current circumstances and to prepare you for the next circumstances. There will be struggle, rejection, struggle, pain, it will seem as if the universe has conspired against you, but keep moving. If you have to conquer your mountain inch by inch, continue to do so. God bless you all.

Christ is for All

Could you imagine living a life without barriers? What would life be like without self-imposed and societal-placed barriers? I am not speaking of the abolishment of law and order or a misguided utopia, but what if we could remove the labels off of everyone? People, no matter where they come from, gender, skin color, body type, political or religious belief are simply people.

What if we could view our brother or sister as simply a fellow traveling companion who is on their own journey through life? What if we could stop expecting perfection from those around us? Where’s the grace for them? We certainly would want that grace in the event we make a mistake.

It seems today’s social dialogue is “I’m completely right, you’re completely wrong!” Friendly discussion has gone the way of the dinosaurs. I believe there comes a time when everyone must examine themselves and the direction of their life, so we may see the effect we have on others. For Christians, we have to do some deep soul searching. The questions becomes: “Is the world’s growing hostility toward the Church a direct result of the Church’s hostility toward the world? Are the barriers we put up towards others hindering the effective preaching of the Gospel? I believe so.

Jesus never turned away anyone who genuinely sought Him. Did people reject Jesus? Absolutely. Did the people who came to faith in Christ struggle with sin afterwards? I’m pretty sure they did. I believe that in order to experience growth as Christians and to show the love of God to others, we must accept people where they are at in life. We need to do away with this “us versus them” mentality, because Christ is for all.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is nether slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NKJV).

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and all have been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, NKJV).

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:9-11, NKJV).

As we live our lives and interact with the people God has placed in our path, remember we are to be salt and light, not judge, jury, and executioner. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not ours. We must not look to governments and institutions to solve our problems, we must look inward and pray upward for the strength to change ourselves. God bless you all.