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).

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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.