Category Archives: Speaking of Spirit

Discourse on the divine, as though such a thing were even possible

Inclusiveness: Direction vs. Location

I am currently making my way through the book of 2 Chronicles. In chapter 6 is Solomon’s prayer to God after having built God’s temple (house) in Jerusalem.

The thing that first caught my eye about Solomon’s request was that he was able to include everyone, even “foreigners,” in his request that God hear our prayers, by asking that God not only hear the prayers of those actually at the temple, but also those facing in the direction of the temple. So Solomon transforms his religion into something accessible to everyone, no matter where they are.

Inclusiveness is very important to me. The inclusive message of Jesus resonates so deeply for me, and to find it beginning this far back is exciting.

Here are the verses which describe the concentration of God’s presence in one location:

“…when they pray in the direction of their land which you gave their fathers, and of the city you have chosen, and of the house which I have built to your honor…” 2 Chronicles 6:38

Now, of course, I believe that God’s presence is concentrated within each of our hearts, so that we have only to face inward, that is, pray in the direction of our interior depths, where Christ has a temple and where the Holy Spirit fills us.

But I can see how Solomon with his God given wisdom started humanity down this path of everyone being able to stand in relation to Spirit (direction) to give all people access to Spirit, not just those lucky enough to be part of a certain group worshiping at a certain altar (location).

Blessings

As my understanding of spirituality shifts further from the external to the internal, I have new appreciation for certain aspects, such as blessings.

Having heard since I was born people say grace to bless the food, I always understood it as an external invocation to God to come from wherever He’s hanging out to give extra fantastic goodness to what we were about to eat. The aspect of how corrupt, or at best neutral, everything is until we beg for blessing and receive it, or not, depending on God’s whim, never sat well with me. Pride? Ego? Who knows.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:4-5: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer.”

At the outset, everything God creates is good. It is good in and of itself, whether or not any human ever says or intends anything with regard to it. The thing, say it’s corn on the cob, is already blessed, as Buddha would point out, by the sunshine, by the rainwater, by the insects that helped pollinate it or the animals who scattered the seed or the human who harvested it. All the energy that’s gone into it becomes Oneness, the whole world comes together in unified effort for the food in front of us. That is Love. That is God. What other blessing could possibly be required?

But Paul says that the prayer is important. Not for the food, but for us. In Romans 14:14 Paul says “I know and am convinced in the lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; still, it is unclean for someone who thinks it unclean.”

The prayer is for the benefit of the eater, not to create a blessing within the food, because that is already there. But to prepare oneself, body-mind-soul, to receive the indwelling blessing. To embrace it. To allow it to transform them into Oneness.

The power of the mind joins with the power of the Spirit.

Just like the placebo effect has real results, so as we are convinced that things are good, wholesome, healing, blessed, nourishing, so their inherent and natural effect on us is amplified.

It is not your lips making noises that brings blessing from wherever. It is your own heart opening to receive the blessings that already fill our world – this is the prayer.

New Year Promises, version 2013

I admit it, I’m a sucker for the New Year. While intellectually understanding that numbers on a calendar are essentially a randomly generated form of organization  (when it started, how many days per month, etc.), I also can’t help but take advantage of the feeling of newness and enthusiasm that overtakes me when it’s all about to start over again.

For Christmas my oldest daughter gave me a wonderful little book of quotes called The Essential Wisdom of the Saints, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi. I have added it to my fantastically tall stack of books I’m in the middle of, and I enjoy tasty tidbits here and there.

I read this list by St. John Bosco a few days ago:

  • “I will take no unnecessary walks.
  • I will make exactingly careful use of my time.
  • When the salvation of souls is at stake I will always be ready to act, to suffer, and to humble myself.
  • May the charity and gentleness of St. Francis de Sales inform my every action.
  • I will always be content with the food set before me unless it is really harmful to my health.
  • I will always add water to my wine and drink it only for reasons of health.
  • Since work is a powerful weapon against the enemies of my salvation I will take only five hours sleep a night. During the day, especially after dinner, I will take no rest, except in case of illness.
  • Every day I will devote some time to meditation and spiritual reading.
  • During the day I will make a short visit, or at least a prayer, to the Blessed Sacrament. My preparation for Mass shall last at least a quarter of an hour and  so shall my thanksgiving.
  • Outside the confessional and save in cases of strict necessity I will never stop to talk to women.”

An interesting collection of personal promises, to say the least.

Being as we are in smelling-the-breath proximity to the beginning of 2013, I wrote that day a heading in my spiritual workbook, “New Year’s Promises for the Year of 2013.”

I was stumped. “Exercise every day.” “Eat lots of veggies.” “Spend quality time with each child each day.” Etc. Lots of directives that I already strive for. Is it really going to help me to lay down specific details and bind myself to them with a solemn vow?

This morning I came up with a short list that I intend to embrace fully, body-mind-soul:

  • invite Spirit
  • see Love
  • embrace Peace
  • cultivate Understanding

My plate is full.

Literally

I just finished reading the book of Genesis this morning.

I’m not impressed.

My mother, who is my spiritual mentor, told me not to. She told me we’d go through it together soon. She understands that it’s difficult.

Incest. Infanticide. Polygamy. (Which I actually have no problem with, assuming it’s amongst consenting adults!) Lying about a woman being your sister so that your wife ends up in bed with someone else. Floods wrought by God to destroy most of the world. Etc.

I’m cool with myths. I’m cool with parables, with literary interpretation, with grappling with cosmic issues.

But now that I’ve read these stories thoroughly, stories that I’d only heard piecemeal or in children’s stories, now I realize: if you take the Bible LITERALLY, word for word, I-can-quote-it-and-claim-it-as-literal-truth, then I have nothing to say to you.

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

Love Never Fails

1 Cor 13:8

Not the equivalent of “Hope is for suckers.”

Hope, I will agree, is often a lofty, unrealistic, weak cop-out. I’ll just sit here and hope instead of standing up and DOING something.

Love is real. Love is action. Love stands up to fight, sits down to comfort, walks hand in hand, stirs the pot of chili, folds the clothes, goes to work to bring home the bacon, plays catch, reads a story, listens to the wind in the trees, reads, thinks, watches, connects. Love does the very best it can, then trusts. Love loves, despite appearances.

Love never fails.

Guilty by Association

I quit the Catholic Church when I was 13. Hadn’t really been into it for a few years at that point.

Just joined a Christian church, which is essentially alternative Methodist, a couple of weeks ago.

How much responsibility can I take for the horrors that have occurred in the name of Jesus?

My mother has been a devout and practicing member of the Catholic Church since she joined as a teenager.

How much responsibility must she assume for the horrors done by the decrees or the turned eye of the Pope?

The guilt of the individual as member of a religious group is something I hadn’t considered until recently.

First let me state the ways in which I feel I myself have been harmed in the name of Christianity (mostly by way of Catholicism):

  1.  soul-crushing guilt
  2.  a very dysfunctional and unhealthy view of sex
  3.  an image of a demented, angry, vengeful God who is an old man bent on tricking, coercing, threatening and bribing people to bow down before him. Or else.
  4.  the fear that truth comes from outside, that one cannot listen to one’s own inner voice, that one cannot trust
  5. the guilt and hopelessness that come from the belief that any negative/bad/unpleasant thing that happens is my punishment for being so wicked
  6. a focus on the negative, hell, the evil one, sin, the essential badness of humanity, etc.

I’m sure there are other effects I haven’t even thought of. But I have lately read enough about Jesus by people who seem to genuinely understand him to realize that throwing Jesus out with the bathwater is wasteful for me. For me. Allow me to emphasize, for me. I do not and will not subscribe to the belief that it’s my way or the highway. It’s my way for me, your way for you. If there is some kind of a judgment day, I’m going to have to answer for what I’ve done, and that’s going to be a big enough task without my having to answer for what others have done.

My goal in aligning myself with a Christian church at this point is to have an outlet for the deep desire I have for togetherness, for observable manifestation of Oneness, for the opportunity to serve the community at large through established channels. As much as I profoundly enjoy my solitary study and communing with the One, I know that I must at some point enter the world and apply what I have learned.

Just this morning I read this in the Hua Hu Ching as translated by Master Ni, Hua-Ching:

“My venerable teacher, should one spend all of his time and energy in quiet sitting meditation in order to remain above all worldly conditions and maintain absolute mindedness?

Kind prince, one who spends all of his time and energy in quiet sitting meditation for this purpose is establishing his mind to do something in a certain, definite way. By doing this, he clearly does not practice absolute mindedness, but instead demonstrates the narrowness and partiality of his mind. He cannot reach anywhere or become any kind of super-being. You see, the practice of absolute mindedness is not the practice of stiffness. That which is stiff belongs in the company of the dead, whereas that which is supple belongs in the company of the living. The mind should be like clear water that is always flowing smoothly. One should not designate a specific time or place in which to practice absolute mindedness, but should practice it in all aspects of life, whether essential or trivial.

My venerable teacher, should one intentionally and completely avoid all worldly troubles and activities for the purpose of practicing simplicity and keeping the mind clear?

Kind prince, if there are no worldly troubles and activities, where can one practice simplicity? Simplicity is the key to handling the troubles and activities of daily life. Simplicity is the law; the manifold, multiple forms are the events. Use the law to govern the events. This is the meaning of simplicity in the larger sense.

I want to expand my spiritual studies out from the realm of me, sitting in the early quiet hours of the morning by myself, reading and contemplating, and put them into action in the realm of Us.

Christ Church is, from my current point of view, my best option to achieve this goal.

But I recognize that by entering into association with a group, I am assuming responsibility for things done in the group’s name. Past things I had nothing to do with? Present things that I wasn’t in on the planning of? Future things that my input is not solicited for?

An interesting issue that I will revisit as more insight and information becomes available.

Unitarian Universalism

I have made lots of excuses as to why I haven’t actively pursued this group.

But I have been reading the book A Chosen Faith by John A Buerens and Forrest Church, and this morning I read something that pretty much clinched it for me, in terms of this being the perfect “institution” to align myself with in hopes of satisfying my desire for spiritual community and regular gatherings.

I did not know the idea that “universalism” stood for until I read this:

Standard Christian theology divides the saved from the damned. But universalism is the teaching that ultimately God will save all souls: universal salvation. It finds the notion of permanent damnation to an everlasting hell incompatible with faith in a loving God.

Exactly. Just like the Buddhist vow to leave no man behind/not to enter Nirvana until everyone enters Nirvana.

It also just occurred to me that, even if I decide I don’t want to join the nearest UU church, that doesn’t mean I can’t be UU. The closest church is not the only opportunity in the world for fellowship and guidance on the UU path.

News flash. Sometimes my head gets stuck in a rut and that’s the end of me. That’s why it would be helpful to have people in a similar frame of mind to give me feedback and support.

Can’t Stand the Heat; Getting Out of the Kitchen

This photo was recently posted on my friend’s Facebook page:

Kind of a welcome message of sanity after the whole Christian vs. Bible-thumper vs. rational thinker circus that happened here in North Carolina during the Amendment One fiasco.

Here’s a comment that one of her friends posted:

I think you all miss the point and satan is winning by splitting the church. Why is it that agreeing WITH the Bible that clearly states marriage is between a man and a woman AND standing with God now all of a sudden Hate? I think you all need to look in the mirror, seek God to convict your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to help you see and understand exactly what you are being manipulated into. Abortion is losing popularity and we can only pray that legalized murder cloaked as a womans right is stopped soon. Abortion is not birth control, if someone cannot control themself then put God’s child uo for adoption where a loving family can provide the love and care he or she deserves. I do not understand how compromising God’s Holy Word is denying rights there is NOTHING equal about a man and a man being married as there is to a man and a woman being married. Are we really trying to become a nation of Soddom and Gamora, really? We know where it got them… Please pray about this, Please.

To which one can only respond, “Heavens to Betsy!”

But after the opposing view had its say, this wise soul added a smidgen more (which I edited to eliminate personal details that might identify the original poster or the commenter) (also, I don’t actually expect you to read this whole slew of nonsense, just put it here to make my point):

There are several verses in the bible, and before I begin I am not trying to take a stand of hate, I pray for anyone that struggles with homosexual feelings just as I do for someone that struggles with alcohol, drugs, not knowing Christ as their personal savior, the first 3 are sins and the bible states if you are living in sin knowingly it is detestable to God, whether homosexuality, alcohol or drug addiction. Continuing to practice without a desire to turn from it or change is not accepting Christ so it is not just the homosexual that risks not going to heaven it is anyone that does not turn from their sin. Most of the verses in the bible do not refer to “homosexual” most of them refer to words such as Leviticus 18:22 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable…” Romans 1:26-27 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” 1 Corinthians 6 “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” The point is that the bible states that many types of sins will be exclusion from Heaven, so many think that just asking Jesus into their heart is all that they have to do and that is not it, you must take up His cross and expect to be condemned as He was as written in Matthew 16:24-27 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Fathers glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” The verse in Matthew that goes with Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Meaning if you judge with hatred or without knowing all of the facts (jumping to conclusions) that is how others will judge you, if you judge harshly you will be judged harshly, I am not sure how this comes into play in this discussion, other than you feel that I am judging which I have stated to you in previous posts I am not doing that I pray for them as others, I know many who are and they respect my conviction on this and our relationship is fine and they know that I pray for them daily, without hate. The part that I do not understand is this has been on most state and most other nations laws for centuries, in fact before 1994 or somewhere there about the old Greek dynasty was the only culture to allow homosexuality and they fell as a nation. Currently there are only, I believe 19 of 268 nations worldwide that allow homosexuality (you can verify on Wikipedia, many nations still enact punishment by death as cited in the Old Testament – Thank God we are under a new covenant). The above post referring to Matthew 12:31 is not just taking the name in vain it is referring to giving glory to Satan for work that the Holy Spirit performed such as stating that when someone is healed saying that it is the works of the devil is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, ALL other sins are forgivable but not if you continually commit them, God will forgive you if you get drunk but will not forgive if you are a drunkard, God will forgive if you commit a homosexual act but will not forgive if you refuse to turn away from what God states is detestable, God does not changes and for the many that think that simply asking for forgiveness gives the license to continue will be sadly mistaken at judgment and the sadder part is that many individuals that practice homosexuality to not feel that they are committing a sin and will never ask for forgiveness, that is the saddest part, many believe that most or all will go to heaven and I believe that is a mistake, there is a church called the Emergent Church, one of its leaders Rob Bell (wrote a book called Velvet Elvis (and others) very popular on the Christian circuit) that states all will go to heaven and pretty much contradicts the Bible in complete errant disregard that God’s word does not change just because society does, Bible based teaching churches are trying to get the message out that it is incorrect teaching, I do want to go back to your comment regarding freedom of religion and can’t help think what it would be like if we allowed Sharia law and the way that they treat women and have a right to kill family members if they do not follow the law, please do not take this as an attack on Muslim as it is not, I pray for them as well and pray that our world can get along at some point but also believe that much of this is exactly according to God’s greater plan. I am sorry, I am not trying to make you angry nor challenge you I am simply stating my belief’s and not trying to challenge what you are stating, the post was on my page as well, (I am not asking you to defriend me as I am not wanting to defriend you) I pray that we can both have differing opinions and even be convicted with where we stand and not have it turn into a hate fest between friends. God Bless You and I hope that you know in your heart that I am not trying to attack you I am simply stating my views as well and do welcome your feedback and comments. Please disregard all of my grammatical errors, not that I even notice them but I know that they are there.

To which I can only say, I give up. I cannot imagine wholeheartedly adopting the Christian faith and have to listen to this on a regular basis. I cannot and will not ever take the Bible literally. I really do NOT see how limiting Spirit to words on a page is a constructive exercise. I see it as the act of a childish person too afraid to think for themselves.

I do believe in Jesus. I believe he is the Son of God. I believe he died on the cross to save humanity. I believe he worked miracles, and that he was resurrected.

But I cannot be associated with these people. I cannot say “I am a Christian” and risk people thinking I agree with even half of what these people say. I’d rather say “I’m a Buddhist” and have them simply be worried that I’m going to hell. (Because after all, isn’t that what a label is for? Presenting a certain face to the world, who is going to judge you based on the string of syllables coming out of your mouth? When no one can ever really give a name to their personal relationship with Spirit?)

There’s nothing in Buddhism that precludes me believing in Jesus or studying the Bible, or anything else for that matter. But there is plenty in “Christianity” that says, “OH NO! Don’t step/look/think/be over there! That’s oogey-boogey land! The cooties will surely send you to hell!”

Done. I need to be done with this struggle, and come to peace with the fact that I can’t, as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, return to my spiritual roots, which is Christianity in general, the Catholic faith specifically. Can’t do it. I can still learn from and interact with the people and the texts and ideas. I can still accept Jesus as The Way, but I can’t adopt “Christianity” as my foundation and my path. I’m done.

Inclusiveness

I truly believe that the goal of homogenizing the world to follow one particular path (I am thinking specifically of religions that require everyone to conform to their beliefs and values) is, to over-simplify, a bad idea. Not only wasteful of the amazing and wonderful diversity that exists in the world (and I think one of our goals could be to be aware and appreciative of it all!) but also downright harmful in most cases.

from “Prayers for a Thousand Years”

You, the one
From whom on different paths
All of us have come,

To whom on different paths
All of us are going.
Make strong in our hearts what unites us;

Build bridges across all that divides us;
United make us rejoice in our diversity.

At one in our witness to your peace,
A rainbow of your glory.
Amen.

–Br. David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B.
Mount Saviour Monastery, New York

Can we each walk our path through this world and still hold hands?

Can I listen to Spirit with my own ears and not feel ridiculed that the symphony I hear is to a different beat than the one you experience?

Can I bring something new to the table, something that you don’t necessarily have to taste if you don’t want to, but we can share a meal and some conversation nevertheless?

Saved

I was saved the other day.

I’d been thinking about how much I’d like to begin afresh, to start over with some aspects of my life, to wake up one day and not be the same angry, neurotic basketcase I normally am (on the inside, at least.) I was thinking about how it might feel to be “saved” in the way you always hear about, “reborn” to a life in Christ. What sort of energy would that give a person toward being a better, more useful human? I thought about how much I’d love to have that kind of renewed spirit.

In the 13 months that we’ve lived in our new home, we haven’t once had anyone come to our door spreading the Good Word. Well that very evening, after I had the roundabout wish to be saved, a preacher from a local Baptist church came to my house.

In previous encounters in past residences, I have politely but firmly sent them on their way. But he was a much older man and it was hot outside, so I offered him a glass of ice water. We’d just gotten our new porch furniture, so I was able to offer him a seat outside and sit with him for a moment.

He gave me his schpiel and didn’t say anything that would have made me stop listening, such as talk of the devil or hell. I do not believe in them and I will not allow someone to harangue me on the subject, unless I’m having a philosophical conversation with a trusted friend.

His sales talk led him to ask me if I’d like to pray with him to be saved (I am paraphrasing everything he said, because I’m not familiar enough with the Evangelical lingo to parrot it exactly.) For a second I flashed on the story of the man trapped on the roof of his house in a flood. He prayed to God to be saved. A man rowing a boat came by and told him to hop in, but the man refused, saying God would save him. A helicopter flew by and threw down a rope, but the man refused, saying God would save him. A while later he died in the flood. When he saw God, he sadly asked why God didn’t save him. God said, “I sent a boat and a helicopter, what else did you want?”

I wasn’t going to send away this rescue mission, having just hours ago requested it.

So I said I’d like to say the prayer with him. He asked me to repeat the words after him and to believe them as I say them. I remember answering, “If I believe them, I’ll repeat them.” I wasn’t going to say anything I didn’t actually believe.

The prayer was about accepting and trusting Jesus, following him, stating that he died for our redemption, that sort of thing (again, I’m paraphrasing). I really did believe everything he said.

Then we exchanged some further niceties, he said he’d see me in heaven, and he left.

Afterwards I was very aware of how I was feeling, and what might have been different. He had talked about how now I was saved and forgiven of all my sins, past, present and future. I’ve always rejected this idea, because it seems like a carte blanche to engage in all kinds of less-than-holy behaviors, and it also seems to eliminate accountability for future errors.

But I felt a bit lighter, and it occurred to me how much Catholic guilt I’d been living with my whole life, and that this might be an experiment in letting go of all that. I’d operated my entire existence under the assumption that I was a horrible sinner who had probably committed some awful sin when I wasn’t paying attention and if I got hit by a bus, I’d see that my tally sheet was woefully in the red.

According to this man, I was now saved no matter what. You can’t earn heaven, he’d said, it’s a gift, and all you have to do is accept it.

How would my life look and feel different if, instead of feeling this constant, nagging guilt, I had a sense of lightness and joy? If I had a sure sense that Jesus really did save us all with His selfless life and sacrifice?

In the days since I was saved, I have mostly forgotten to remember that I am saved and to live accordingly. Old habits die hard. I’d love to live in joy, even if I feel pain. I’d love to always come from a place of love, even in the face of challenges. I’d love to trust completely in SOMETHING, anything, even the ground under my feet.

Have you ever been saved? How did it change your life?