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Leading Causes of Life

July 5, 2020 on the Patio

Call to Gathering

Leader: From loneliness and troubles times, we come

People: to discover that we are not alone.

Leader: From fears, despair, and our own insecurities,

People: we seek the refuge of our togetherness,

Leader: Into the sacred place that is Koinoinia we come

People: To gather our strength and hope and inspiration.

Leader: We find comfort and encouragement from the Holy in our midst.

People: To remove illusions and focus our vision,

Leader: we look beyond our own comfort and prepare for the next generations

People: To realize a world that works for everyone and every living thing, every where and all the time.

Message: Leading Causes of Life

This is a subject near and dear to me, ever since attending a conference with Gary Gunderson at Ghost Ranch in 2011. Along with his colleague Larry Pray, He wrote the Book on The Leading Causes of Life. He lives in Atlanta now and has made it his life’s work to promote the concept presently as Vice President of Faith and Health at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

We all know the leading causes of death. Until the pandemic of course, the leading cause of death in the US was heart disease. Today, Corona Virus has by far taken the lead.

No doubt recognizing and anticipating the causes of death has been a huge success responsible for adding 37 years to our life expectancy here in the U.S. Although still increasing somewhat, the overall life expectancy in the U.S. appears to be leveling off and in fact, declined in 2016 and 2017.

There’s no disputing 21st Century medicine has an extraordinary array of tools techniques and technologies that are effective in putting off death and disability. And we need them. We need all of it.

But, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to suggest that we may have reached the limit of what can be achieved by focusing only on the pathologies of death. The scales may have tipped in favor of quality of life versus quantity of life.

But do we know what the leading causes of life are.

We can begin making choices that lead toward life and give up the idea of illness and replace it with wellness. In addition to what is killing us, the time has come for us to think about what makes our life worth living. We can begin to act in ways that nurture life. But how do we choose life when all we have are the tools that fight death? A key is to focus on what is thriving in us and in our lives.

I’m sure there are others but please consider with me these 5 leading causes of life: Connection, Coherence, Agency, Blessing and Hope.

Connection. We need each other. Obviously, it is in our connections, that life emerges and is sustained. It’s well documented that connectedness is fundamentally important to our health. It is clear especially in this time of staying at home, that active support of family, friends and community are necessary to our wellbeing. We can foster our connections and go out of our way to be connected. And creativity has abounded in the ways we do that now. As human beings who are alive, we can choose to focus on living our best life even in troubling times.

Coherence is another leading cause of life. It is a sense of belonging. It is finding and making meaning of our life. It’s about what we believe. We are neurologically wired to make coherent meaning of our lives and trust what holds us together--keeps us from flying off the planet. Coherence ties together all that connects us. Who we’re connected to has something to do with what our lives mean to us and to others. I watched What About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson the other day. He retired and his wife of 40 years died unexpectedly. He was really lost. Lost as only Jack Nicholson can be. It appeared his daughter didn’t want much to do with him. But years earlier he had started sending money to sponsor a child overseas. Eventually he received a letter from the, by now, young man telling him what his support had meant to him. And Schmidt got a little knowing look of satisfaction on his face--that his life had mattered to someone.

Agency means the power to act. It transcends mere activity. It turns connection into action. Agency is a key element of hope—it is the action that makes it happen. It is our perceived ability to change—it makes us the author of our lives. Agency is what makes us feel responsible for our goals. When we trust that we have the power to make things happen or stop them from happening, we can better move through challenging times.

Agency reminds us of our capacity to do what we can. We have everything we need to act on life giving choices and turn away from that which is no longer life-giving. We can act in ways that nurture life. We can build a spiritual community right here who gather, and read and study and talk about life and who it calls for us to be in our world.

Blessing is a leading cause of life. Blessing is something we give to others or we receive from others. Once a blessing is given it cannot be called back. Some qualities of blessing are hospitality, kindness, humor, generosity, sacrifice, honor and presence. Through blessing, the incoherent becomes coherent, the disconnected, connected and not knowing what to do becomes knowing what to do. The life in us causes altruism. We do not live without blessing. Look for it! Expect it! What’s that quote by Albert Einstein: There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Today we bless ourselves and each other by using hand sanitizer and wearing mask.

Another leading cause of life is hope. Hope is a belief in a better future. Hope is not wishful thinking. It isn’t just a fluffy feeling reserved only for children or a catchy slogan for political campaigns. There’s science behind the benefits of having hope. Hope is informed by who and what are most important to us. It is not optimism devoid of reality. It is not afraid of discouraging facts. Some years ago, I met a woman at the Cancer Center who told me her oncologist said to her…this is not without hope and how she has clung to that statement throughout her surgeries and treatments. Hope expects that life will find a way—against all odds. Hope is the antidote to fear. Hope informs us about what we need to do. It allows us to look up, find a larger story and assures us that our life matters.

You may ask, how do we nurture these leading causes of life in our life? Here are some ideas: deep breathing, meditating, praying, playing, congregating, communicating, concentrating, listening, trusting, creating and generating.

Imagine instead of death, disease and separation being the focus of our attention, we concentrated in a disciplined way on seeing the life causes growing all around us. What if we were to focus our lens on nurturing connection, enhancing coherence, exploring agency, being an agent of blessing and finding hope. What if we keep life as our primary focus and acknowledge the presence of these leading causes of life.

The causes of life don’t promise to extend our life but will definitely deepen it and make us feel more useful to the people we love.

What are the leading causes of life? Connection, Coherence, Agency, Blessing, Hope

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