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Rev. Sandra Schubert

Graceful Living: How Shall We Live?
by Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert

In late October and early November holiday catalogs begin packing mailboxes across the country. On the cover is a golden turkey; the well decorated Christmas tree filling the large and warmly lit living room. Young red cheeked models frolic in their new clothes on large plots of manicured earth next to scrumptious homes with expensive cars parked out in front. I could buy that new coffeemaker for Aunt Sue that also slices, dices, and carves the golden turkey featured on the catalog cover. Delivered right to the mailbox is the perfect image of how one could live. Television provides yet another view of the possible perfect life. My next-door neighbors will happily redo my tired old bedroom if I redo theirs. Domestic goddesses, some tarnished, whip up scrumptious meals, and make party favors out the bottoms of Styrofoam cups. They speak softly while calmly lulling me into believing I could whip up a soufflé while sewing a new duvet cover for my comforter. Sitting at my computer, I have laundry to do and there is ancient layer of dust on most of my furniture. I am sure there are people in the world that could handle all with ease. Me? I am not one of them. I stumble through my day requiring a good two hours of morning time to get successfully out of the apartment. Outside I pause for a moment to take inventory. Shoes on? Did I wear a slip? Are my glasses on my face? One time I was sitting on the subway my legs outstretched casually in front of me when I noticed I had on one blue sock and one black sock. I looked around defiantly as if to say, Yeah, I meant do that! Well, not really but you know the eyes are not what they used to be. However, here I am writing an article on graceful living, hopefully I will discover I am a swan. I want clear direction - maybe a guidepost stating - this way to graceful living and a cheery arrow pointing towards the right place.

What is graceful living?

Is it the image presented to us; the great house, good clothes and happy well adjusted kids? Is it a personality type? I think of the Dalai Lama as graceful. Then is it a spiritual thing? Do we receive grace like manna from heaven? Hurling myself through pedestrian traffic in Times Square, NY, I wonder how one can live gracefully here. There is constant noise, bright lights and multitudes of folks taking snapshots and buying the requisite New York trinket to take home. Nearby, I work for a church that was there before the city surrounded it. You can attend service, sit and pray, meditate, read - or just watch the color of the church change as the light shifts through the Rose window. When I walk through the church on some important task I must pause and breathe - it smells of layers of incense - the wood and stone have absorbed it. If silence has a scent then surely this is it. The light, the smell and the quiet just fill me with peace. I think, "Then this must grace."

Is it possible to live gracefully in a big city?

Reverend Jeffrey Golliher is the Program Director for the Environment and Sustainable Development at the Office of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, as well as new Rector for a parish in upstate New York. He has this to say, "It may be that living in the city complicates the movement towards gracefulness unnecessarily, in the spiritual sense of "grace." I don't think people who live apart from cities are any more filled with spirit/grace." He goes on to say, "yet, the wilderness and the monastic settings have always been in quieter places, where the soul can vibrate on a level closer to where the spirit within is ‘groaning in travail... waiting for adoption’ as Saint Paul put it, or simply, constantly praying within. Whether in the city or countryside -- it requires real time alone, soul and spirit searching."

How shall we live?

Joan D. Chittister in the December issue of Spiritual and Health Magazine asks this question, how shall we live? Chittister refers to a state of apathy that can permeate a society faced with life’s challenges. We give up and become complacent. The most important thing is not to stop feeling; it is to feel all the more deeply - relying not just on outside sources but also on inner reserves. The question that is before us is; how shall we live? We can be distracted and disaffected. On the other hand, we can be attentive and alive. Either way is the choice we are free to make. Those who embody graceful living - live with clear attention and focus, full with great compassion and kindness. They seem to draw from a wellspring of deep and abiding love. It is the kind of unquenchable love we can only hope to drink from on the rare occasion. Dr. Stephen Post, founder and director of The Institute For Research on Unlimited Love, says in the latest issue of Science and Spirit Magazine, "The secret to bringing more love into your life is giving more love, doing small things with great kindness." He goes on to tell us to begin simply – by being attentive, listening and being kind as just a few small steps we can take. Dr. Post decodes love in the following short list:

  • Love can be transmitted,
  • Love enriches those who give as well as receive,
  • At its best, love is both effective and wise,
  • All spiritual transformation of value is in the direction of love,
  • Religion is only as good as the extent to which it enhances love for a common humanity, generous, altruistic behavior goes with the grain of human nature and not against it,
  • The starting place for a life of greater love is right in front of you,
  • Love is not just being nice, it is actually hard work, and must sometimes run the risk of confrontation with evil,
  • Love is the most essential aspect of being human and is our ultimate salvation,
  • In the giving of self lies the unsought-for discovery of self.

At the end of the day as we leaf through our holiday catalogs we must decide for ourselves what is graceful living. I suggest as a way of setting a course for the New Year to evaluate what beliefs you hold about the "good life". Have those beliefs supported and enriched you? If not, then take some time and write down what has value for you. Ask hard questions about your life. Have you become complacent? Do live with intention? Do you feel burdened with things? Conversely, do you have enough? Do you hunger for more and feel less then deserving? The first person to treat with kindness and compassion is your self. I am not yet a swan and the guidepost I seek is still hidden yet I know the choice of how I should live is mine. Begin simply, as Mother Theresa has stated and Dr. Post echoes "Do small things with great kindness."

Spirituality & Health Magazine: www.SpiritualityHealth.com December 2003 issue.
Science & Spirit Magazine: www.science-spirit.org September-December 2003 issue.

© Copyright 2003 Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert.  All Rights Reserved. 

Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert
Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert is an interfaith minister, poet and founder of Wild Woman Ministries, a forum to explore and express creativity and spirituality. She leads workshops on meditation, creative writing and how to develop a positive spirituality and facilitates a popular writing program called the Wild Angels at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  The Wild Angels produce an anthology of their work as well as host an annual reading. Sign up for her newsletter, by emailing: earthandskynews@wildwomanministries.org, or visit: www.wildwomanministries.org. 212-642-5042

Look for her online course, Writing for Life: Creating a Story of Your Own, at www.selfhealingexpressions.com/courses.shtml and the launch of Wild Woman Network in January 2004.



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