Rev. Maggie’s Blog

The Power of Striving for Excellence

As our nation will be celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. next Monday, it’s a good time to reflect on words he wrote that have much to say about the power of striving for excellence. Dr. King once taught, “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”

Not all of us are called to be Michelangelo, or Beethoven, or Shakespeare. But we are called to bring forth our excellence in anything that we undertake. And this calling needn’t feel like a pressure-filled obligation to try for perfection, but rather can emerge internally, as an invitation to ourselves to see how well we can do something, how well we can fully be who we were created to be.

May we remember the inspiring words and example of Dr. King as we move forward into this new year. May we invite ourselves to stretch and expand beyond our comfort zones, as we acknowledge how far we have already come. May we know that we are precious just as we are; and may our dedication to excellence flow simply from the desire of wanting to serve.

The Power of Light

In just over a week we’ll mark the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, the one with the least amount of daylight. The Winter Solstice launches a season that is full of spiritual themes—looking toward the return of light; and the birth of innocence, purity, and hope. Whether or not one celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday, these themes, with their promises, can provide great sustenance for all people—as well as points for inner reflection as we move toward the coming year.

Edith Wharton once penned the powerful phrase, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” What a wonderful prompt for asking ourselves: How do I spread light to others? How might I be the candle? How might I reflect light? So often we think that such questions must necessitate grand answers—but spreading light can be as simple as letting an elder go ahead of you in the crowded post-office line, or holding a door open at a store for someone weighed down with packages. A smile spreads light. Pointing out or acknowledging small but sweet touches of beauty spreads light.

May we be fed by grace this week, by the displays of light both literal and metaphorical that surround us this season. May we seek to spread light in both small and large ways. May we see the beauty around us with the innocent eyes of a child, and may we all tend the flames of our own—and others’—hope. As the Talmud reminds us, “A light for one is a light for a hundred.”

The Power of Pacing Ourselves

As we enter the middle of December, the busyness of these pre-holiday weeks in this last month of 2014 may feel a little overwhelming. I know I’m not alone in trying to accomplish a number of things before the end of the year, including adding in the festivities and other activities that characterize this season.

At this time of year, we generally want to move more slowly because of the natural rhythms of the seasonal cycle; we long to do our human version of hibernation. Yet we find ourselves asked to fit in more than we usually do—and we have to do it when the days are shorter and the weather is less than ideal!

During this season of light, it is wise to pace ourselves where we can, and to forgive ourselves for things forgotten—or left undone. And it’s more important than ever to include those spiritual practices into our schedule that really nourish and nurture us. As Mother Teresa once said, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil into it.”

May we gently pace ourselves this week, and may we give ourselves permission to simplify where needed this season. May we create the space to include the personal practices that will keep our lamps burning; and may we give each other the gift of our inner light.

The Power of Discovery

Now that the holidays are again upon us, many of us are getting ready to travel and spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with special friends and family. Though invariably the preparation time can seem like work—and even the actual traveling can sometimes pose its share of challenges—we usually feel inspired and renewed after taking a trip.

Taken out of our normal, workaday world, we enter our days with fresh eyes—eyes that can delight in the minute, such as spying a wreath made of bittersweet; and the monumental, such as taking in museums whose holdings include one famous painting after another. Traveling stretches us; to use an analogy, it adds new lines, even new paragraphs, to the unfolding story of our lives.

As we celebrate the virtues of travel, it’s also important to remember that we don’t have to physically leave our environment to enjoy the fruits of new vistas. We can cultivate our consciousness; we can mindfully choose to take in new sights by actions as simple as taking a new route to work. There is so much life out there—and in our own, personal worlds. As the writer Marcel Proust reminds us, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

May we consciously support our lives with fresh experiences and sights. May we remember that we don’t need to leave our usual environment to see the new. May we cherish the blessings, and the discoveries, that each new day offers; and may we share our blessings, and discoveries, with others.

The Power of Living Out of Our Imaginations

There is no doubt that, as the saying goes, we are living in “interesting times.” For many people, these times are also challenging—so challenging, in fact, that some try to escape what’s facing them through addictions of different sorts: mind-altering substances, food, shopping, Internet browsing, and more. This compulsion to escape, rather than face, one’s challenges is a point upon which we as human beings pivot; and the choices we make determine the futures we create and the characters we develop.  When faced with challenging circumstances in our lives, do we choose to escape—or to evolve?  Do we decide to avoid— or to create?

There’s no doubt that finding nourishing ways to temporarily give ourselves a refreshing escape can sometimes be beneficial.  But when those means of escape become extended, or involve substances or behaviors that can ultimately destroy our promise, not expand it, then we need to start crafting a new narrative for our lives.  As business consultant Stephen Covey said, “Live out of your imagination, not your history.”

May we remember to use our challenges to evolve, not escape.  May we use our leisure time consciously, to refresh and replenish.  May we live out of our imaginations today, and every day—and most importantly, may we remember, always, to turn to God.  May these words from Teach Us to Pray by Charles and Cora Fillmore be our words: “I am now free from fear, anxiety, worry, dread, and suspense. I have faith in Thy Holy Spirit, and I trust Thee to protect me, to provide for me, and to bring all my affairs into divine order.” And so it is…thank you, God!

The Power of Powerful Questions

I’ve written before about how powerful it can be to ask oneself the right questions—not questions that keep us stuck (like “Why me?”) but questions that inspire us to become more (like “Why not me?”).

One book that I’ve found helpful to this exercise is The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist, someone I’ve had the pleasure to meet and spend time with and who is one of the strongest models of feminine power I’ve ever known.

I’d like to pull out a few of the questions that Lynne poses in her book, since they are the very questions we must ask ourselves as we create the highest vision possible for our lives and our world:

Who do I need to be to fulfill on the commitment I’ve made [to a higher vision]?

What kind of human being do I need to forge myself into to make this happen?

What resources do I need to be willing to bring to bear in myself and my colleagues and in my world?

And here’s a question posed by Buckminster Fuller, which remains one of the most potent questions I’ve ever sat with, and which stays in my day planner as a constant nudge: “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?”

What about you—what are some of the questions that you have found powerful for your own life? What question pulls you forward into being all that you were created to be?

The Power of Renewal

With the advent of autumn comes reminders from drugstores and doctors to get our annual flu shots—and with busier schedules that lead up to the holidays, it is a season in which it is very easy to get run down, if not actually sick. Our health impacts our energy—and the enthusiasm we have about living our highest visions for our lives. When we feel depleted, we’re not as excited or enthusiastic about our daily activities; and we aren’t as inclined to involve ourselves in as many outside activities as we usually do.

It’s a great reminder of how important the art of renewal is to expressing all of who we were created to be. Being mindful to consistently replenish and renew ourselves is very much a part of that process. Maya Angelou wrote that “The woman [or man] who challenges herself to invent herself daily displays sublime creativity”—and I would add that the woman or man who challenges her- or himself to renew and spiritually refill daily displays sublime wisdom.

This week, may we practice the art of renewal in more conscious ways. May we seek the practices that can be nourishing to our everyday lives; may we remember that if we don’t heed the need to rest and renew, the need will make itself persistently (and perhaps inconveniently) known.

The Power of Holding on to Your Vision

A couple of years ago, I took my daughter to go see “Soul Surfer,” a family (and sensitively depicted) movie based on a real-life event that happened several years ago, when a 13-year-old surfer’s arm was bitten off in a shark attack in Hawaii. Why I wanted my daughter to see it—and why I’m writing about it now—is because of how this young woman, Bethany Hamilton, handled what would be a traumatic incident for anyone, under any circumstances.

Here were her circumstances: In addition to being an age at which most of her peers would be painfully self-conscious about any physical characteristic—even a pimple—that might physically differentiate them from others, she had even more to grieve than her lost arm. An accomplished surfer who already had sponsors and who was going to turn pro, Bethany also faced the loss of her dream.

Any one of us, in the same situation, would no doubt feel that he or she was the victim of a terribly unfair fluke. Add to that being a teenager—a teenage girl—and having a rewarding career plan dashed, and you have a lot of reasons to feel sorry for yourself. But in an interview just three weeks after the horrifying event, you couldn’t see a trace of self-pity in the face or voice of Bethany Hamilton.

Evidently Bethany has a strong faith, an unshakeable belief that what happened to her is part of God’s plan for her. In that three weeks after her accident she had become active again, and wore her usual wardrobe of sleeveless tops naturally and self-confidently. When asked by an interviewer if she thought she would surf again, she said sweetly yet firmly, “Not if. When.”

Here is a person who made a choice to hold on to both her faith and her vision, even in the wake of a horrific event that included pain of every imaginable sort: physical, mental, emotional, professional, financial. And perhaps in her words lies a key to the difference between living an old story and living a New Story: to hold your vision and what you stand for at all times, in all circumstances; to say sweetly yet firmly, “Not if. When.”

The Power of Living Fully

Perhaps it’s because the San Francisco public-school year has just started, and we’re nearing the beginning of autumn, that I found myself thinking about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo recently. Images of Frida Kahlo and her work are often in abundance in the fall, especially around the time of Day of the Dead celebrations.

Frida Kahlo lived in the first half of the 20th century, and is known both for her tumultuous relationship with her husband Diego Rivera, who was also a painter and whose fame eclipsed hers during her lifetime; and for her own paintings, which often testify to the incredible emotional and physical pain she suffered.

While Frida may not be the most positive role model we can find, she is worth learning about because of her intense will to live fully—and to express herself fully. Whatever Frida was—and she was a kaleidoscope of qualities—she was always, completely and authentically, Frida.

A movie depicting her life came out several years ago, and it illustrated the colorful and fanciful nature of her world. Watching that movie, or reading about Frida’s life, we can look at our own. Are our worlds as colorful as they could be? Are we bold enough to be completely and authentically who we are?

May we remember—this fall, and always—to let ourselves shine. May we delight in the exploration of all the colors in our palette. May we allow ourselves to be fully and authentically who we are—may we be the heroes of our own story.

The Power of Thinking Big

A little over a decade ago, I was fortunate enough to meet the late Thomas Leonard, who is generally considered the founding father of the life-coaching industry. What I particularly enjoyed about keeping my eyes on what Leonard created was his continual focus on the future. He truly was a visionary, and his work was always focused on what’s new, and what’s next. The kind of visioning he did is rare—and important.

Often we don’t hold a big enough picture about what’s possible; we tend to get bogged down in the details of our everyday life. Or, even if we’re actively working to create a big vision for our lives, we sometimes become so focused on what’s possible for us personally, that we forget to think beyond our own individual boundaries.

But, as Leonard reminded us, there is always a bigger game to play. We can always dream bigger, play bigger, be bigger. There’s a world out there that needs us. If we’re feeling uninspired about our own lives—or if we feel pretty good about our own lives—there’s always more territory to cover, and more possibilities to be lived.

May we remember that, as we are told in holy scriptures, “without vision, the people perish.” May we tend our visions with care, weeding out anything that chokes our personal vision, and scanning the horizon for new arenas in which to plant and cultivate our hopes and dreams. May our lives be evolving stories; and may we always realize the power, and importance, of holding the highest vision we can imagine for our church, our communities, and our world.