Spiritual Practice .

Train Your Memory to Be a Blessing. Embrace These 2 Passages for Meditation.

How do you train your memory? What do we regularly remind ourselves of, find ourselves repeating or dwelling on?

Train Your MemoryTake responsibility to train your memory — what your thoughts frequently go back to. Of course we have to be, and remain, well aware of some seriously unpleasant realities.

Still, are the things our minds frequently go back to good for us, life-giving, enabling? Or are they maybe the opposite? A Spanish Jesuit and philosopher of the 1600’s wrote this: “Don’t hold to heart what should be ignored [or at least downplayed]. Train your memory and teach it manners.” – Baltasar Gracian (in 2500 Years of Wisdom: Sayings of the Great Masters.) If we keep good guidance regularly renewed in our minds, we will more likely be able to draw on practical good sense when push comes to shove. More basically, we will be shaped by those things.

See Also:
Spiritual Tune-up. YOUR “HABIT and Cherished Thought.” (Gen J L Chamberlain)

I find here very strong and direct encouragement to love and meditate on the beauty, the excellence, of the Divine as present to us.
I have a list of nine short passages (about 50 to 100 words) in my phone and on my laptop that I call “passages for meditation.” I visit them a few times a month, often early in the morning – remembering, re-reading, thinking about, analyzing, making notes about, applying – in fact, practicing “meditation”. They nourish me and get my thinking into pretty healthy places. (That’s a LOT better than listening to the very highly paid liars and haters that so many “conservative Christians” keep their TVs or phones tuned to regularly. We can choose instead to do things that are actually healthy. 😊 )
Here are two from my list of nine. (Here are three more.)

I. PSALM 85:1-3,5-7

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home, where she may have her young …
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

This was likely a song sung in the Temple area, about gathering to Jerusalem (making a pilgrimage) to the Temple (the “dwelling place of God”) – to the capital city, the central city for worship, the place of frequent gatherings for special worship occasions. There is delight among the pilgrims as they look forward to these places and activities.

a) The Physical Meanings:

So we likely should take “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty” to reference the Temple, the sacrifices, music, readings, “sermons”, all that might have been part of the festival of worship. The writer (and singers) love it there and long to be there.

b) The Spiritual Meanings:

But the writer is quite willing to “spiritualize” – i.e. make mental and moral – these attitudes and events as the middle verses of the Psalm make clear. “As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs.” Whatever the “valley of Baka” was, it apparently needed water, badly. Water can be world-changing in truly arid places, as some places in and around Judea were. The point: great blessing will come to needy places merely by the temporary presence of people whose deep values and motivations are good (“as they pass through”). It seems certain that did not physically happen. Whenever some Israelite or Judean went on a pilgrimage NOT every desolate valley or area they passed through became irrigated and prosperous. Probably none did.
I believe it is legitimate and wise for us to get the “spiritualized” meanings here. “Spiritual” does not mean unreal. These would be real results that come in a world where there is real spiritual (mental, moral) health. On a trip to Jerusalem they did not have time to dig wells or irrigation ditches. And the necessary technologies and capital were not available. Nevertheless the great blessing is expected: “they make it into a place of springs”! The author foresaw really good things happening.
I think somehow things like that happen. Good things happen — some spiritual, moral, psychological, some more physical or social — for no reason.” What if? If it IS possible, then our world is in desperate need of people who cultivate, who live, that very real spiritual connection and goodness — that spiritual reality that actually, mystically, enables blessing to come around them, even if they DON’T have the time or skills or information or intelligence or capital to revitalize those surroundings.
I’m not proposing a blanket promise here for specific needs we think we see, or specific remedies we think are demanded. And no pretending — that nullifies it. And I’m certainly not saying we should avoid the time and energy to invest ourselves in restructuring the environment so it is healthful and productive. Of course we should be invested in those things.
But I meditate on this passage because of the surpassing hope it offers, a hope following on certain basic internal (mental, spiritual) practices. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you.”

But seriously, how could that happen? The only explanation given is in the included appositive clause, “whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”

Heart-set. It’s a commitment to go on a pilgrimage. And it helps if you train your memory.

Would it not be wise to try to put ourselves in that condition — where us just “passing through” can actually be a blessing to our surroundings?
Nevertheless I love to consider this as a promise-description of how some aspects of healthy spirituality work. The more our inner beings come in line with, or in love with, the purposes and loves of God (Yahweh, the Almighty, the Lord, the Logos, the Christ, Manitou, the Great Mystery, Spirit, etc.) the more free that Great Mystery Spirit is to flow in blessing around us. Is that possible? Is it perhaps even likely? Does it actually happen? Or was this Psalmist merely on a religiously induced unrealistic high?
Well, I’m convinced it happens. And I think I see it happen sometimes; maybe you do too – not physical irrigation, but real blessing, perhaps even more basic and necessary blessing.
If so, then it’s also likely happening on occasions we are unaware of. It’s not exactly predictable; it’s certainly not under our control.
But if it happens, would it not be wise to try to put ourselves in that condition – where us just “passing through” can actually be a blessing to our surroundings? Have you known people who were just a blessing to be around? Who seemed to bring a spirit of hope, or peace, or life wherever they were? What if half the US population lived like that, eh?
But if it takes a certain kind of heart-set, what then does it mean, for us today, to have “hearts … set on pilgrimage”? I have to make a judgment call or two here. See what you think. But here’s how I simplify it for my simple mind. I have two guides to help me regularly evaluate whether my heart is “set on pilgrimage.”

i) What does the Bible teach as the “greatest commandment?” Love God with all your being.

That takes meditation (as Sri Krishna says in the following selection). A primary guide to my practice of this is the first half of the Lord’s prayer. I repeat it fairly often. I have written some notes and some paraphrases of it to help me be clear, to understand each phrase, or to regain clarity. “Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done …” Love what God wants. Love the Good.

ii) And what’s the “second” commandment, which Jesus said is “like” the first? Love our neighbors as ourselves.

That has to start with the closest ones, those we live with in the same house, or the same town or city or place (the whole town or city or place). It very easily extends to all our fellow inhabitants of this beautiful planet, Earth. For that, I just bring frequently to mind the first two items in Paul’s iteration of “the fruit of the Spirit:” LOVE, and JOY. I think the other 7 “fruits” are instances of these two. Love God’s work, love what God loves, see the beauty in those things. See the joy God apparently finds in God’s creation, even the parts of it closest to us, even the damaged parts. Practice seeing these things, rejoicing in them, loving them.
THIS pilgrimage is quite different from the kinds of religion so prevalent today (and throughout history) – religious patterns characterized by arrogance, self-aggrandizement, money-lust (and other kinds of lust), domination, oppression, perpetual criticism, exclusion, hate, murder.
Here’s another crucial observation: Real strength for humans comes from outside, attracted by focus and character, by spiritual health. By love and joy. The health is within; but the power is from outside. And thus the power is NOT under our dictation. Blessed are those whose strength is [elsewhere!]”.
Can that be true? In this Psalm concrete physical blessings come into the world around the pilgrims WHEN they (we) are not focused on dominating those arenas, but rather on loving and seeking what God loves. And what God loves is all around us already. Probably waiting to be loved and rejoiced in.
And I take the Psalmists love for “the courts of the Lord” to be quite justly “spiritualized” (moralized, intellectualized) to places and groups where the will and works of the God of Love, the God who is the origin of Joy, are effectively loved and longed for. (This does NOT mean enforced on others. And it does not mean demanding acceptance of our doctrinal peculiarities. Given the nature of Divine Love, we cannot enforce it on others! It truly needs to be practiced BY and IN the self-styled “believers.”)
These things are not “religious.” They are moral, and even aesthetic, both of which we should expect from a Great Creator Who loves his (her, its, their) Creation – which after all is how Jesus and the God of Jesus are presented to us.

See Also:
4 Basic Facts for Understanding Life – Beauty, Damage, Costly Grace, Kingdom of God
Peter’s Simple Analysis of Christian Living

II. SRI KRISHNA

I am the same to all beings. My love is the same always.
Nevertheless, those who meditate on me with devotion, they dwell in me, and I shine forth in them.
Even the worst sinners become saints when they love me with all their hearts.
This love will soon transform the personality and fill the heart with peace profound.

I find here very strong and direct encouragement, a God urging us to love and meditate on the beauty, the excellence, of the Divine as present to us. I recommend it as a healthful practice that builds hope, durability, and if the above-mentioned Psalm 84 perspective is accurate, it somehow brings blessing AROUND the persons practicing it. It also works well with James Hollis’s argument about becoming open “to the power of the Divine.” (see number II in this article.)
This ancient Hindu divinity, Lord Krishna, is the main speaker in the Bhagavat Gita (“song of the Lord”). (I am by no means any sort of expert on Krishna or Hinduism. This translation is by Eknath Easwaran, several of whose books I have enjoyed, but I have lost the source of this quote.)

Krishna and Jesus – Krishna is in some ways like, in some ways different from, Jesus:

a) Very different from Jesus of Nazareth:

  • Much less consistent or reliable historical source material, though some scholars are convinced the traditions are based in the biography of a real person who lived 1000 years or more BCE in northern India.
  • Wealthy, at least at times.
  • Married with a family, and/or with lots of female consorts of one sort or another (like the Bible’s King David, who lived about the same time).
  • More or less involved in lots of political intrigue and warfare.
  • Much concerned about metaphysical ideas and explanations
  • Much less emphasis than Jesus puts on moral character and issues, particularly matters of social decency and social justice.

b) And in some ways similar to Jesus:

  • A massacre of infants accompanied both births.
  • Both invite love and worship, and have been deeply loved through the centuries
  • Both have been seen by many followers for millennia as somehow the ultimate God, but in human form.
  • Each promises blessing to those who love and worship, blessings including holiness and peace

See Also:
How to Feel More Grateful. It’s Thanksgiving! Seriously, How to Be Grateful. We’re Not Powerless.

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Questions for us:

1. How much can you benefit from spiritual teachers with whom you disagree about important matters? Is it worth the effort?
2. Do you think it’s true that some people bring blessing just by being somewhere near?

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