An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining and so, one morning, sent him for some salt.

When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it.

"How does it taste?" the master asked.

"Bitter," spit the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake.

The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, "Now drink from the lake."

As the water dripped down the young man's chin, the master asked, "How does it taste?"

"Fresh," remarked the apprentice.

"Do you taste the salt?" asked the master.

"No," said the young man.

At this the master sat beside this serious young man, who so reminded him of himself, and took his hands, offering:

"The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake."
Widows in the Bible
Robin Gallaher Branch: “In the Bible, Widows Are Teaching Tools”

Biblical Archaeology Society Staff   •  01/23/2013

Professor Robin Gallaher Branch of Victory University in Memphis, Tennessee, explores the role of widows in the Bible, explaining that they are not always the elderly and impoverished “wizened whiners” that we imagine. Very often in the Bible, widows are used as teaching tools to help make a special point.

Widowhood presents a difficult time in a woman’s life, especially when compounded with a diminished ability to meet financial needs, a common circumstance in the ancient patriarchal world of the Bible. Widows in the Bible, therefore, become a special teaching opportunity for the Biblical authors to present theological insights. In the January/February 2013 Biblical Archaeology Review Biblical Views column, Professor Robin Gallaher Branch presents several examples of how, in the Bible, widows can serve as special textual markers to alert readers that something significant is about to happen.

In both the New Testament and Hebrew Bible, widows are repeatedly the subjects of miracles. Following the death of her husband, a widow’s best hope for security would be her son’s ability to provide for her. The loss of a son was thus an even greater tragedy for a widow. Three miracles concerning widows in the Bible prevent or restore the loss of the widows’ sons so the family can survive (1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:1–7; Luke 7:11–17).

The case of the widow Naomi, however, has a twist because her redemption comes unexpectedly through her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth, rather than her own sons (Ruth 2–4).

In other examples from the Bible, widows such as Abigail and Judith use their beauty and resourcefulness to take care of themselves and others.
For more about the role of widows in the Bible, read Robin Gallaher Branch, Biblical Views: “Biblical Widows—Groveling Grannies or Teaching Tools?” in the January/February 2013 issue ofBiblical Archaeology Review

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To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritualwork. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.

Let's not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.

---Henri Nouwen

There are three words that seem to create more problems than they solve: vowsdevotion, andrenunciation. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the words themselves; it’s just that the connotations that have been built up around them have made them nearly useless in describing the spiritual principles they represent.

Vows have been inextricably linked with one’s commitment to an organized religion or church. Ostensibly, vows are taken to God, but everyone knows that it’s the organization that judges whether they are being kept. This turns vows into a set of rules one must follow or suffer punishment when one breaks them. In a world already overburdened by rules, it is no wonder that vows are looked upon with suspicion, even by the most spiritually oriented people.

In reality, vows are principles that spiritual aspirants hold in deep contemplation until they become amalgamated with their souls. Their public administration creates a line of demarcation in the span of a person’s life, marking a point of departure from the world mind. Vows then become an inner beacon—a light to guide the spiritual traveller through the darkest nights. Seen this way, vows are indispensable.

The word “devotion” describes the recognition of the immediacy and sanctity of the presence of God. Many an earnest student of spirituality has succumbed to the temptation of turning God into a theory—an intellectual puzzle to be solved rather than a Living Being to be experienced. But the word itself has come to mean a cloistered lifestyle, habits and rosaries, statues and early morning mass. And, as implied by these examples, devotion has become almost exclusively Catholic.

In reality, unless one has acquired devotion and has integrated it into his or her spiritual life, God can only be a theory and the Path an intellectual exercise. Even meditation, as mental a thing as that is, will not yield results unless it is approached with a certain degree of devotion. After all, is it your own mind that you love or the ineffable Silence from which it springs?

And finally the Big One--renunciation--perhaps the most loaded word of all. Again, everyone knows that this means no chocolate, no booze, no sex, and no anything that gives one pleasure. Because pleasure is THE problem, is it not? As the saying goes: “It wasn’t the apple on the tree, it was the pear (pair) on the ground.” And thus the word “renunciation” has the built-in implication that pleasure is wrong. But pleasure is not wrong…that is, not until it is. If we live for pleasure alone, then all of our seeking is for something out there.

Renunciation is a turning away from the world. In a sense, it is the very meaning of meditation. We have five senses by which we experience earthly life: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. In meditation, we take each of these and turn them off, just as we would a light switch. What are we if we are not these things? Who do we become if we are not our body? What world do we go to that does not depend upon these five things for its existence? It is the world to which renunciation (and meditation) is the key.

So, here we have three words—three words that simultaneously hide and reveal the spiritual path. There are many more. 

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let's not be afraid to receive each day's surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity. ---Henri Nowen