The Tapestry of Life and Death

As I scroll through the postings made by friends on Facebook, I see familiar kinds of postings — status updates, as they are called.  One may comment about a parent’s death, another on the passing of a cousin, another on the anniversary of a loved one’s home-going.  While people often joke about the preponderance of cat videos on social media, it’s rarely acknowledged that social media is also a place to memorialize the loss of loved ones.

While some people go for decades without experiencing the loss of loved ones, many of us have experienced the passing of family members and friends far too often.  In time, there may come a point in life when it seems as though we’ve lost more intimate companions than we have left.  No matter how many years it may be since a loved one has died, we carry tender places within us for those who have passed from our lives.

The process of bereavement is more than just accepting that someone has died.  After several months, we generally grasp the reality that once someone was here and now they are not.  What’s more complicated is the loss of the companionship shared with those who were part of the fabric of our lives.  These relationships are never replaced.  Instead, they leave a hole that’s never quite filled.

When the companion who passed from this life is very significant to us, we carry vivid memories of the loved one twenty, thirty, or forty years after their passing.  Perhaps in a dream we can hear the person’s laugh or in an old song hear the person’s voice.  We find ourselves telling stories about the time we did this thing or the other with our loved one.  It’s truly a perplexing experience when remembering a companion brings happiness for what we shared with them and deep sadness that they have passed from this life.

Counselors, therapists, and social workers often talk about grief recovery.  Let’s be honest: there is no real recovery.  Instead, we reorganize our lives without our companion.  We carry on with our own lives. Simultaneously, we hold within us the feelings of loss which become something of a memorial of those so important to us.  The importance of companions who have passed from our lives remains with us and memories of our connections to them remain very much alive.

As the spring season unfolds, I find myself reflecting on my yard and garden while remembering people who helped to make my life what it is.  Remnants of dead leaves and brown grass remain from autumn. At the same time, shoots of new grass sprout and flowers bud.  The new growth pushes away the foliage which has died.  How similar this is to the loss of people I have loved.  While I am aware that they have died, something life-giving about what was shared with them springs up within me as I remember them.  They remain very much a part of me.  I experience their presence and at some deep level feel them with me.  From beyond the grave, I am aware of their love and care for me.

Life and death are surely mysteries.  While we act as though they are separate things that unfold in linear time, in fact life and death are both present with us as one interwoven experience.  As Einstein noted, our sequential experience of time is an illusion. All things are present in the now.  That’s indeed how I experience my loved ones who have died:  yes, they are gone, but they remain with me and remain part of my life.  I am thankful that my beloved companions remain with me. Perhaps you experience this mystery as well.

As I read status up-dates on Facebook about the passing of loved ones, I extend condolences and offer prayers of support.  I also recognize that people are creating virtual memorials of their companions by making the postings.  In time, they are likely to discover living memorials for loved ones as memories and emotions continue to weave the presence of their loved ones through the fabric of their lives.  In time, experiences of life and death weave a rich tapestry within us.


Photo credit: Wonderlane via / CC BY

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Spirituality: The Air We Breathe

Spirituality. While it’s a word commonly used today, “spirituality” is often confusing to people.  This confusion arises from the wide variety of definitions and connotations of spirituality, some of which are misleading or simply wrong.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines spirituality as “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” That definition underscores the mistake we commonly make about spirituality.  We think of spirituality as something different from or “opposed to material or physical things.”

Consider the etymology (the origin) of the word “spirit.”  It comes from the Latin word spiritus. Spiritus means both spirit and breath.  It’s much like the Hebrew word, ruah.  The first book of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, describes life coming into being through the breath of the Creator.  The narrative of Genesis conveys the image of sprit/breath of the Creator hovering over the void and calling forth creation, including the material and physical things.  In a following section, the Creator breathes into the human being, infusing the human being with a spirit.

Consider for a moment that spirituality refers to both spirit and breath.  While we think of spirit as something vague and without form, it’s also something as intimate to us as our breath.  The ancient words spiritus and ruah convey that this spiritual dimension of life is both amorphous while also bound to the fundamental aspect of being alive:  breathing.

Spirituality, then, is the essence of our very real lives.  It’s not something added on to us.  It’s not an option which we can take or leave.  Instead, spirituality is our life, our breath.  Breathe in deeply.  That’s how much spirituality is part of you.  Just as you wouldn’t be alive if you weren’t breathing, so you wouldn’t be alive without spirituality.

Many people aren’t aware of the spiritual dimension of their personhood.  This lack of awareness doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  We go through life without being aware of many things about us.  For instance, when was the last time you were aware of your pancreas or liver?  Unless you’re having a particular health issue, you probably don’t think much about your internal organs.  But they are present and doing wonderful work to keep you alive.  In a similar way, spirituality is very much part of your life, even when you aren’t aware of it.

Spirituality is that part of us that enables us to experience awe in nature, to find ordinary tasks as meaningful, to discover a sense of purpose in the things we do and the relationships we have, to value life, love, and time spent with another doing ordinary things.  Spirituality opens us to experience a connection between ourselves and the cosmos, to make a leap of faith toward something we value which in turn permeates our understanding of reality.  While some may understand this leap of faith as belief in a deity, others may hold onto values and ethics that cause them to strive to be better people.  This is all part of spirituality.

Is it any wonder that the most basic form of meditation is to simply sit quietly and be mindful of breathing:  to be aware of a breath as it comes into our bodies and fills us and to exhale fully allowing that breath to flow from us to the world?  Yes, spirituality is pretty simple.  It’s really as simple as breathing.  Just like the air we breathe nurtures every cell in our bodies and gives us life, so too spirituality nurtures us in tremendously life-giving ways.

Spirituality:  it is the air we breathe.


Photo credit: Nicolas Stajic via / CC BY-NC-ND

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Happiness. Contentment. Life-Satisfaction.

Who doesn’t want to be happy?  Or experience contentment?  I don’t see anyone setting goals for the purpose of being totally dissatisfied with life, do you?  Many people strive to be happy and live a life marked by a sense of satisfaction. They buy books, take classes, and even read blogs to find the secret to happiness. Do these things lead to happiness?

As an adult, I’ve been fortunate in many ways.  Early in my career, I was asked to apply and interview for the position of associate pastor of what was becoming a very large and prominent church.  It seemed like a career step that was an obvious one to take.  It was a high profile position from which I could have a significant impact on many people’s lives.  As I went through the interview process, I met several hard working people who had a strong sense of mission.  But they didn’t strike me as happy.  Instead, they seemed to want more:  a larger church, a bigger outreach, and greater success.  I was in my late-20’s and many people were pushing me toward the position and the senior pastor was very persuasive.  Though it was difficult, I said no.  All I knew for sure was that I didn’t want the kind of life these folks were leading.  I knew it wouldn’t be good for me, but I wasn’t exactly sure why.

I continued to strive to be fulfilled.  I worked very hard, often at multiple jobs of significance. All the positions I held were very worthwhile.  I believe I made a positive impact on many people’s lives.  But I didn’t make a positive impact on my own life.  I ended up depressed, feeling trapped, isolated, and severely burnt out.  This happened in my late-30’s.

I didn’t know what else to do but to follow my heart.  I couldn’t see a solution around me so I chose a geographic solution:  I moved across country.  This is rarely a good idea because one’s problems generally follow us wherever we go.  I moved from Miami to Tucson not for career but because, on visiting there, I could pray in the desert.  I had visited Tucson to consider a job.  I quickly discovered that I didn’t want it.  While there, I found a sense of wholeness driving in the desert and visiting a Benedictine monastery in the center of town.  I had no job and didn’t know anyone there.  I had enough money to live on for a while and just made the move.  It was the best decision I could have made for myself.

My first year in Tucson was marked by hiking in the desert, praying at the monastery, and journaling reflections on life.  It took a year or so for me to begin to heal.  Some days I would drive to the mountains, leaving early in the morning and not returning till the evening.  I’d sit in quiet places in the Sonora landscape and allowed the stark beauty to  renew me.  I came to understand that while I had values for nurturing the spiritual dimension of my life, to use my abilities for others, and to generally lead a good life, I allowed a combination of ambition and insecurity to cause me to work far too much in order to prove myself.  I came to realize that it didn’t matter whether people valued my contributions or not, whether I met some measure of success or not, whether my income was at a certain level or not.  The only thing that mattered was that I appreciated the gift of life I had been given.  With that realization, my spiritual practice took on a new depth and I experienced a pervasive sense of peace and contentment in my life.

It’s not that there was something magical about Tucson or that the Sonoran Desert is more spiritual than another place.  Instead, I allowed myself to stop being so busy and to be aware, to wake up to what was around me.  I didn’t need to seek out happiness or fulfillment in anything else other than what was already around and in my life.  It was here all along.

If there’s a secret to happiness, it’s a very simple one.  Happiness and contentment do not result from our searching and striving for them.  Rather, happiness is ours to choose in the present. When we come to know that within our deepest selves, then we discover happiness.

Photo credit: ezhikoff via / CC BY-SA

NOTE:  My book, Stumbling Into Life’s Lessons: Reflections on the Spiritual Journey, is a collection of essays I wrote over the first two years I lived in Tucson. The essays provide insight into my journey toward happiness and contentment in life. To learn more about the book, follow this link to Amazon.

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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