Reflections 8

Finding Calm in the Midst of the Storm
by F. Vernon Chandler

As you descend along many of the heavily traveled mountain roads in western North Carolina, you will often find signs identifying upcoming "runaway truck ramps." These inclined dirt ramps are usually 50 - 100 yards in length and consist of several mounds of gravel or sand. The purpose of the ramp is to safely slow a runaway truck. If you are a trucker with a loaded trailer and lose your breaks going down one of those mountain highways, what a relief it must be to come upon one of these runaway truck ramps!

These are difficult times in which we live. Never in my life have I felt a greater passion for issues involving social action and social justice. At other times I am tempted to despair with feelings of hopelessness as I reflect upon the plight of America and our fragile planet. I know the same is true for many of you who are reading this article. It is easy to lose a sense of spiritual balance as we involve ourselves in the issues of social action and social justice. How can we maintain a sense of hope when our efforts seem to bring little or no positive results? Sometimes our lives feel like runaway trucks and we yearn for emotional and spiritual runaway truck ramps.

The late Catholic priest, Anthony de Mello, is one of my favorite spiritual writers. In TAKING FLIGHT, the last book he wrote prior to his death, de Mello gives the following illustration related to prayer:  "There was an exhausted woodcutter who kept wasting time and energy chopping wood with a blunt axe because he did not have time, he said, to stop and sharpen the blade."

The well-known Quaker, George Fox, used to say, "Carry some quiet around inside thee. Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit, from thy own thought, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord from whence cometh life; whereby thou may receive the strength and power to allay all storms and tempests."

I have found that my need for devotional time and prayer has increased as I exert more of my time and energy to issues related to social action and social justice. I need a spiritual discipline to help me feel balance and hope.  Allow me to share with you one of my own spiritual discipline "runaway truck ramps." It was about 6 years ago when I began the discipline of beginning each morning with devotion and prayer. Along with devotion and prayer, I began to create a devotional altar within my home. My altar has grown over the years and now consists of religious icons and symbols from all over the world. I have statues of the Buddha from Korea, India and

Thailand; Catholic crucifixes from Hungary, Italy and Mexico; a menorah from Jerusalem; a small replica of the Blue Mosque from Istanbul; and numerous Eastern Orthodox icons of Jesus and various saints from the Balkans and Eastern Europe. It is at my home altar that I keep my devotional book. For the past several years, my devotional book has been MY IMITATION OF CHRIST by Thomas`a Kempis. What a great little devotional book! Although I have read this book from cover to cover several times, the readings are always fresh and inspiring. When I travel, I pack a couple of the icons and my devotional book in my suitcase and I try and re-create a temporary small altar in my hotel or guest room. I have found that having a special place in my home or room for devotion and prayer adds to the peace and tranquility I experience during the minutes I spend in spiritual reflection. When I sit in the chair adjacent to my home altar, a sense of calm comes over me. Even before I begin to read from my devotional book, my body seems to know that that this is a sacred time and a sacred place. Beginning my day with prayer and devotion sets the tone for the rest of my day and this practice helps me find a bit of calm in the midst of the storms associated with life and living.

How many of you use, or have used, a clock radio to wake you in the morning? Have you noticed how often in the day your mind goes back to the song that was playing when you were stirred from your morning sleep? Often times, without even thinking about it, you will find yourself recalling the lyrics or the melody of the song. It is as if our minds are more receptive early in the morning for whatever it is we experience, hear or read. I find the same is true with early morning devotions and prayer. During the day, my mind will often go back to the devotion I read in the morning and, like a planted seed, the wisdom of the morning devotional will often sprout and blossom into a deeper spiritual awareness as the day progresses.

We all need our emotional and spiritual runaway truck ramps. We all need a way to find a little calm in the midst of the storms of life. If you are not already beginning each day with some prayer and devotional time, I encourage you to consider trying this daily devotional discipline. I assure you that the 10 - 15 minutes you take for devotion and prayer in the morning will add so much more to the quality of the remaining hours of your day.

F. Vernon Chandler is a Unitarian Universalist minister and former editor of the UNIVERSALIST HERALD. He is the 2006 recipient of The Heart of Universalism Award. Vernon and Nataliya Chandler reside in Eberstadt, Germany.


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