Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spiritual Development

Joseph Ceh

It would appear that self-acceptance begins very early in one's life – even while one inhabits the womb. Science tells us that singing, reading, music, and noises affect the yet-to-be-born. After birth one continues the process of learning, experiencing change and growth in one's self perception, viz., self-acceptance. This process is life-long and inherently dynamic because it involves change and inner growth. As we grow chronologically, ideally we develop core, personal values that enhance one's life or not!

Moving through childhood, pubescence, adolescence, and eventually emerging into adulthood, we have gained in self-acceptance and self-actualization. However, this is a process both ongoing and developmental. That is to say, we are always becoming, always changing – ideally for the better. We may come to recognize that we are much more than our job or title; more than our academic background or other mundane achievements. We are complex beings. In other words we are more than what we do. As homo-sapiens we live also on other levels, namely, the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels along with our intellectual capacity. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for us to experience aspects of life that threaten or strike an axe at our self-image. Negative self-talk about one's regrets and disappointing behavior may weaken authentic self-esteem and self actualization. In such circumstances we may fall into the trap of debilitating self-doubt or unnecessary worry. Genuine self-acceptance and spiritual growth ought not allow negative self-talk to grow, but rather one may employ the "tools" of prayer, meditation, journaling, spiritual reading, spiritual direction and any other methods to ground one in the highest good, altruistic living, and service to humanity. These are the touchstones of what is sacred and offers peace of heart, peace of mind, peace of soul, self-actualization and self-acceptance.

Being a responsible person fundamentally means having the ability to respond to life's circumstances with clarity of heart and mind. We are responsible when we aim to act purposefully in our choices while choosing goals worthy of us as beings reflecting the Divine image. These choices include living daily attuned to each aspect of that which makes us fully human and spiritually alive. As sojourners on this earthly journey we may ready ourselves to receive insights flowing from being attentive to every life situation, and appealing to one's inner conscience or soul or heart or spiritual intuition. And, too, it may be more than useful to consider a life-coach or spiritual director when life throws its inevitable curve balls that disrupt inner peace. Life-coaches help us to re-evaluate the paths we are taking on our earthly journey.

The goal or goals we set before us are more about the path itself and not the destination. Mistakes, personal disappointments, wrong turns, so to speak, are opportunities for growth. If, for example, my goal is to become a teacher, it is not merely obtaining the credentials to teach, but also to become a skilled teacher and a person of patience, compassion, understanding and openness. An authentic teacher continues to keep her/his goals in mind while at the same time remaining open to all those life lessons and challenges along the way.
During my ministry in a very large suburban parish, I fell victim to stress stemming from the demands of a large parish. I wrestled with this uncomfortable feeling far too long before naming the stressors brought about by daily time constraints, meetings, pastoral care, preaching and… You get the picture! I was able to refocus and take additional quiet, reflective time to reevaluate my ministry. In conversation with my spiritual director I learned something, or rather re-learned what I had lost sight of: that being present to/with parishioners means being in the here-and-now. That is to say, we may only be present to others when we are present to this very moment.

I recall an adolescent who was struggling with many issues inherent in the often tumultuous late adolescent years. We met often, but one particular day I asked if he might try living just one day at a time. His response was, "No, not for me. I can only live moment to moment for now." What insight he had! It is only in the NOW that we live, and each day takes us a little farther along on our journey. To place ourselves in the present is not to lose sight of one's goals, but to allow our goals to unfold in the thoughts and actions of this moment. We recognize that our thoughts affect attitudes and attitudes influence behavior in this moment.

There are many techniques to help us refocus and review our goals and aspirations – as has already been said. Whatever techniques or tools we use, the aim is the same, to allow time to reestablish clarity when life's waters become a little muddy. I especially like using a daily journal to help affirm established goals, evaluate and living in this moment, and reaffirm my goals for the future.

Rev. Dr. Joseph T. Ceh


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