Forgiveness Means Correction!

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“Correction must be left to the One Who knows correction and forgiveness are the same.” ACIM, ch. 27.II.16

 

“Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 NRSV

 

Are you a forgiving person? Do you feel you must always be right?

 

Forgiveness is critical to living here without bitterness and sadness. Grudges rob us of both joy and the ability to live with freedom. Forgiveness gives power and energy which can inspire other lives. Forgiveness radiates everywhere.

 

In the Course in Miracles, forgiveness and correction are the same. Yes, like others, I can forgive but not forget. We lie in wait for the other to fall and then we cash in, get even. It’s hard to forgive and let go. Is it possible in today’s world? How?

 

According to the Course and the Bible (two I know fairly well J), the ability to forgive lies in understanding who we are. If we never question our identity, as many do, we settle for identifying ourselves as mortal bodies. We will define ourselves as male or female, rich or poor, tall or short, by race, nation, education, gay or straight. Metaphysically, or beyond physical reality, these definitions are meaningless. As the Bible says, ‘There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

 

In the Course, we are continually taught we are not our bodies. They are illusions, dreams of who we assume we might be. In truth, we are Spirit, one with God. How then do these ideas teach forgiveness equals correction?

 

Because when we forgive we forget or see beyond ourselves as temporal bodies! It’s all temporal here. In Spirit, as when in deep sleep, we are out of bodies! We are Spirit, part of the Great Immortal Nothing. So when forsaken or betrayed by another, it means nothing. Right or wrong. We let it go. It is corrected. We need nothing but free immortality. Finitude translates to infinitude.

 

Correction lets go and returns to peace, happiness, and joy. It’s “whatever?” In the end, wealth, health, travel, and race mean nothing! They are only temporary learning tools to let go and return to another realization called reality.

 

Try it! The next time someone seems to hurt or attack you, even if deserved, go with the flow. Let it go. The person missed “true you.” Become happy! Don’t worry. There is no way you lose. This is the essence of Jesus being nailed to a cross. “Father, forgive them,” he said, “they know not what they do!” It’s okay. I’m going Home.

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Fighting Depression and Negativity (Calling God Back)

 

Lazarus raisedWhen he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Jn. 11:43

I’m sure you remember times when God seemed to desert you. We all do. At times we all feel lonely, God-forsaken, and deep despair. Clergy experience these as well, perhaps more.

Despair afflicts most lives and certainly in America. In the 2010 census, it revealed depression grew over the previous decade among the young, especially in preschool children. On average 20 percent of us suffer from “anxiety disorders” and 10 percent depression.

Years ago I read a book titled, “When God Doesn’t Answer.” A Roman Catholic priest wrote it describing his experience of praying, wishing for help, and yet nothing happened. Often things got worse. He tried to assure pastors and priests if God doesn’t always answer prayers, they cannot always assure hurting people God will answer theirs.

The story of Lazarus in the Bible Gospel of John deals with depression, the sense of God’s absence, or hopelessness. It’s an old story, going back to ancient Egypt 20,000 years ago. It was a story repeated often in surrounding cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean part of the world.

In the story, two sisters from Bethany named Meri and Merti were in deep despair. Their brother El-Asur-Us was dying. They begged God’s messenger Horus to come and call back El-Asur-Us, or God. He was not responsive their cries. El-Asur-Us means “Father God.” Horus delayed his coming and when he came, El-Asur-Us had died. The stench was noticeable. Horus went to the tomb, however, shouted and called El-Asur-Us back from the dead. Out of the grave he came!

In the similar story from John’s gospel, which many scholars agree is an allegory or myth rather than historical, the names and themes are similar. Sister Mary and Martha are concerned their brother Lazarus is sick unto death. They sent word to Jesus to come. However, Jesus delayed, and finally arrived to discover Lazarus had already died and been placed in a grave.

Mary and Martha represent us in our times of despair and loneliness. We may pray and call for a spiritual teacher to come offer prayers for healing. The teacher may delay or be late in arriving, or never show up! Maybe the teacher wants us to realize healing can only come from within one’s self. He or she can help with reminders but the choice needs to come from the hurting ones with support of friends and teachers.

People around the world hurt as they have from time immemorial. They feel despair remembering thousands killed in recent earthquakes, cities bombed to ashes, millions murdered in concentration camps because of race, millions tricked into slavery, their cultures destroyed. Their God, whatever its name, seemed to turn his back on them.

Today many churches feel God abandoned them. An average of 3500 churches continue closing each year, churches once vibrant and excited about “God’s blessings.” Some struggle to keep hope alive, others give up and walk away. Where is God?

There are thousands of people who have given up on God or a Supreme Being: the sick, bereaved, those losing jobs, people with marriages breaking apart, children left alone without guidance, the poor growing hopeless and cynical. Where IS God, El-Asur-us, in all this? He’s been gone so long the stench daily increases! He needs to be awakened.

We remember, however, the world of form, including bodies and buildings, is a fairly hopeless situation. We become stuck or attached to them. We forget they all are but dust. As Emily Dickenson wrote,

“This dust is gentlemen and ladies, and lads and girls;

Was laughter and ability and sighing, And frocks and curls!”

Outside of knowing ourselves as Spirit, there is no hope. Our lives are “tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!”

The world is our dream, not God’s. God is Spirit, an Existence or Mind within a different dimension. As Spirit, how could God create that which is material and ephemeral?  But how did this material world and universe arise? As ancient mystics and now even science tells us, this world is but the creation of our minds! It’s a dream! It’s illusion! God created us as Spirit but then, as Blaise Paschal wrote, “We returned the favor” by making God in our temporal image, blaming Him for the mess in which we find ourselves.

In the epistle of 1st John, we read, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

This doesn’t mean we hate the world but we recognize it for what it is, “not of the Father” but part of our dream of bodies and temporal forms. We love the world by forgiving ourselves for blindness, for sleep. We awaken to ourselves as God bearers, Spirit within temporal bodies but not of them. The Word, the Spirit of God, the Presence is eternal. We are that Spirit. God is with us, IS us.

In the today’s story, Jesus calls Lazarus, or the sleeping God, back to the hurting, despairing sisters. It’s a story about our ability to wake up. It is our prayer, “God! Come back to me! Come back to my awareness!” Lazarus is a story of our “dying God.” It’s a metaphor of our lives, our need to “call God back” in times of meditation, prayer, reading, and surrender. It is a call to give without expectations to help others. It is a call to live our lives without anger, judgment, and cynicism, which create negativity and hopelessness among family and friends. Calling God back is recognizing our home, our being not of this world.

“Father God,” El-Asur-us, come to us again this day and cleanse our minds of fear. Keep our eyes fixed on that which is eternal, the Core within, ever present amid the unspeakable, unending suffering of this mortal world.

“O God, our help, in ages past, Our hope for years to come,

Be thou our guard whole life shall last, and our eternal Home.”     Isaac Watts, 1719

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Living in the Light

What Kind of Day Do I Want?

I referred to light and our personal happiness when I spoke last March at the Hamburg UU Church. Since then I have reflected more on these aspects after reading a book given to me by my friend Malcolm Muir called, “From Science to God” by Peter Russell. Malcolm was a retired electrical engineer scientist, graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.   Reared in Hamburg, NY, he became my friend after I conducted his mother’s funeral in 1979. Last July we attended our third annual Theosophical meeting in Wheaton, Ill. Malcolm was a bright and stimulating conversationalist, a “cold scientist” who through science and reasoning became awakened to the reality and experience of spirituality. Shortly after returning home, Malcolm died suddenly. I think of this talk in some ways as a tribute and appreciation for the many discussions and ideas Mac and I shared over the years.

As shared last March, if we try to figure out who we are by taking a microscope to examine our bodies, we’d discover we are whirling spirals of tiny atoms made up mostly of space with quarks, protons and photons. Due to the speed of their spiraling, these tiny atoms are held together for a period of time in things called bodies, and homes, and autos and lawns; indeed, our whole planet. But the catalyst, which makes all this possible is a substance called light.

The basis of the billions of atoms in this condensation of form is light. Light is energy and carries into our minds roughly 11 million bits of information each second of which we become aware of just 2! As Russell quotes Sir Arthur Eddington, Austrian Nobel Peace Prize winner in physics,

“Matter is not made of matter; it is mostly just empty space.”

But what causes the condensation of these atoms and subatomic particles of electromagnetic energy into forms that we can now see and touch? Thinking! What we think becomes what we are in bodies and the things we get!

Can you look at anything in this room or place that wasn’t the result of thinking: the building, chairs, paintings, flags, tables, food, and doors? Thought precedes form. Even the earth and the whole universe!

Religious people often say the earth and the planetary system was created by a thought of God; “God created heaven and earth.” But why would a Spirit, eternal God create things which are so unlike the very the definition? Things are mortal forms; God is eternal spirit. So how were these things made? We did it!

In the recent Public Television science series called “Through the worm hole,” narrated by the late Morgan Freeman, some scientists now claim that without thought, nothing really exists! They compare it to sound. To have sound we must have noise, a transmission and a receiver. Without any one of them, there is no sound, right? The same theory holds for seeing things. In order for a thing to be seen, there must a creator, a transmission and a receiver. Without one, there is no thing!

It’s hard to understand but such thinking is closer to what mystics have said for centuries. The universe and things we see are all illusions, or Maya. In the east, Maya also means the creator of illusions. We choose a few bits of information which flood our minds and “whalla,” we create in sight!

Yet the most interesting aspect of light, which totally amazes scientists and thinkers, is that it is ubiquitous. Light is everywhere, unending and completely in the present! Einstein calculated if we could travel the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, we would continue that speed forever and never reach the end! Further, he and others since have calculated, we would be everywhere always at the same time! Time would actually be gone. We would be as close to what people say defines “eternity!”

In the Bible Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Later people accused him of being blasphemous by claiming himself to be God but Jesus answered, “Does not your own scriptures say, “You are Gods? You are all children of the Most High.” (Psalm 82:6) What does this mean?

I think it means that at in our essence, we are light and religious mystics call this awareness our “Higher True Self, the Atman, The Christ” or the essence of our Eternal Divine natures. And further, if we stay awake and aware of this Inner Light being our Higher Selves, we can be freed from the bondage of time, aging, and all forms of apparent death. Bodies die and perish as do whole civilizations and planets, but Light is endless.

Throughout the ages, people have gone into dark caves, shut their eyes, sat still in meditation and experienced this Light! In southern India near the city of Tiruvannamalai, there is a mountain called Arunachala in which many caves exist. I visited there in 1986 and went into several of its caves. It was very difficult for me to go very far in away from the sun’s light; I felt claustrophobic, closed in, and insecure. But over centuries, hundreds of people have gone into those dark caves and sat for hours and received great experiences of seeing light, of being that light, a light which transformed their lives. One of the most famous was a gifted teacher named Sri Ramana Maharishi, whose ashram center remains active at the base of the mountain. Having died in 1950 at age 70, his writings and teachings about living in the awareness of ourselves as light, resonate continually in my mind.

Living in this light is staying awake to the mortal nature of all we see with our eyes, touch with our bodies, and scan in the world. It can be seen as a very unfriendly and cruel world of death.   Many writings have also taught the physical world and universe as not created by an all-loving and eternal God-spirit entity. How could Spirit create that which is unlike itself? Rather, physicality was created by human minds in an attempt become independent and free. My favorite and often read book, “A Course in Miracles,” defines this world and the universe of form as an “attack on God’s love and Oneness.”   Even now, our visible world is as dangerous to live in as in any moment of history. We have the means to live our short lives here in peace but because of ignorance and fear, we continue to fight, kill, and consume to save ourselves a few years longer.

If you read those 100-year-old Buffalo News articles, which the Cellino and Barnes law firm often publish in the Buffalo news, you’ll see how little has changed. There IS NO hope for this world in itself. It is doomed. It is all maya, an illusion of reality! But the other hand, we still have hope and freedom in awaking or coming to the Light. We can forgive ourselves for chasing illusions of satisfaction: marriage, money, prestige, and the best money can buy. Such tangibles all return to the dust of ashes as millions are reminded on those ironic but Holy Good Fridays.

Thus walk and meditate in the Light! Remember you in your essence are this Light, in the very ocean of its eternal nature. Let not ourselves, only small waves on top of the often-turbulent ocean, forget we are always in this sea of light and love!

Most of these teachings, I discovered, do not come out of traditional religious forms, especially from Christianity and its other two semantic traditions, Judaism and Muslim. In the eastern religions of ancient Hinduism and Buddhism, teachings of the physical world as illusion are more common. Perhaps a cause is their creation in of caves of meditation. But even they, set in centuries of forms and rituals, so often degenerate into war and destruction with humanities’ forgetfulness.

Some of today’s most popular teachers of this spirituality of Light are from non-traditional religious settings. In a recent poll, teachers such as Eckhart Tolle and the late Wayne Dyer were rated in the top three spiritual teaches of today’s world. The other one of the top three respected spiritual teachers was the Dalai Lama. Tolle and Dyer never attended traditional seminaries or followed old traditions of ecclesiastical form and rules. They existed as kind of street people, modern day “Jesus wanderers,” spurned by established religions but respected by millions of longing and hungry souls.

Reflect often then on Who it is you truly are. Reflect in silent meditation, relaxing the grasping mind by patience, nurture and forgiveness.   In patience and waiting, you too may well discover a much deeper Self, one that is endless, immortal, and connected with all others in the one ocean of light and peace.   And then may we get up and practice it in detachment, kindness, and compassion to all.

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The Killing of Cecil The Lion

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I couldn’t get to sleep the other evening so searching online for a few vegan sources, I came upon an article written by blog/podcaster and author/speaker Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.  She calls herself, “The Joyful Vegan!”  I like it.   Listening to her speak concerning the recent shooting death of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, she reflected on the world outcry against the Minnesota dentist who shot it as a trophy to be hung in his office, an office which I understand is now at least temporarily closed.  Colleen questioned why the large out cry was created for Cecil and yet not for millions of others animals which are killed each day for consumption.  Her answer; Cecil had a name and apparently had even become an international  celebrity.

I have pondered the idea since.  As Colleen continued, when we name or know the name of a person, a sense of personal respect arises in our minds.  This applies to humans as well as to animals.  When people go to war against others, as happens every day, opponents are dehumanized and demonized into dispensable beings.  Yet even when we discover people among the “enemies” who have similar histories and aspirations, we can learn their names and attitudes change.  Some of us remember the movie, “Joyeux Noel” in which WW I German and enemy French and English troops called a Christmas truce to celebrate Christmas before insanely resuming killing each other!  As friends for a few hours, they broke bread and sang carols.  As enemies, they hated and “unnamed” each other.  Think of people you may not like or even want to be around.  We portray them as “different, odd, weird, or crazy” which if you reflect, dehumanizes and denigrates us and them.  Human races have been demonized in history as just “animals,” sub humans fit for nothing but slavery or worse.  Tribes of aborigines were slaughtered as evil Satanic worshippers and subhuman.

One of my reasons for becoming vegan is having grown up on a farm, we consumed mostly our own slaughtered animals for meat.  I remember cringing and feeling pity and sadness in seeing a favorite chicken or beef slaughtered so we could live.  Normally dad shot a wild deer each year which helped but the deer was seen as “wild” and unknown.  Now when I think of the millions of animals slaughtered each day for human consumption, I realize we think of them as just “animals” with no personality, feelings or even intelligence.  On the other side, if we had one of them for a pet we would soon discover their intelligence, feelings, personality, loyalty and love.  As a young boy, dad gave my brother and me calves to raise.  We named them “Sweetheart” and “Wrinkles” because of their obvious characteristics.  When we returned from college my first year, both had been sent to the slaughter house.  I felt sad.

I try not to shame people into becoming vegan but encourage them to consider the alternative which can be a step, however small, toward the time when a much deeper respect might be prevalent for all sentient beings.  Evidence is strong that human beings can live quite well without killing and eating nameless animals.  Even if people choose to eat some animal flesh and secretions, it ought to be done with a deep sense of reverence and respect, much as in the tradition of our Native Americans.

A friend of mine lives in Alaska and often hunts caribou for his yearly meat.  Having been deeply influenced by time with Native Americans, each kill is followed by a sense of thankfulness and respect for the sacrifice given.  Native Americans lived for centuries with balance within nature, using plant and animal life as human resources with deep respect for the sacredness in each being or plant.  They continued the balance until invasions by Christian Europeans slaughtered both Natives and animals as a way to clear land for new settlements.  Large herds of Buffalo were slaughtered to simply deprive Natives of clothing and shelter as well as nutrition.

In a world which presently loses around 65 species each day to over-consumption and slaughters millions of nameless animals each day for food, I believe we can become more aware of what we are killing and consuming.  If we desire to live with compassion and reverence for each other, let us expand it to include all living creatures.  As physical, organic beings, we are all part of this earth walk on a small mortal planet until we leave and join together in what is called “The Great Spirit.”

Think of the millions of nameless animals and humans in our fragile ecosystem as fellow pilgrims and companions.  Think of them with respect and reverence.  See the masses of poor as children and adults with names and feelings.  Recognize all animals, pets and otherwise, as beings with personalities and feelings much as you and I enjoy.  It helps connect us to those now living and even to the yet unborn.  Once we think of lions, tigers, cows, bears, all races and living creatures as having names, perhaps we can grow more gentle and reverent in our respect and care.  Cecils, Sweethearts, and Wrinkles are everywhere and they are us.  As the sign on the car reads, “I don’t eat animals because of love them!”

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50 Years of Marriage!

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On July 30 Naomi and I celebrated 50 years of marriage. A milestone in our lives, we survived during times when divorce rates soared in the 70’s and 80’s. They have fallen steadily since. Still, chances today of being married to the same person for 50 years is about 20%, or 1 couple out of 5.

To be honest, there were times we considered the divorced option. So much in society changed since we married in 1965. The renewed feminist movement soon broke out and I suspect, like many couples, we had our share of difficult days and weeks. Much change occurred during our 50 years. We navigated many changes in our thinking about religion, politics and views of sexual stereotypes.

At the gracious and wonderful party our children arranged for us at the Roycroft Inn last Saturday, I mentioned a reason our long marriage included the model of our parents. Although Naomi’s father died at 51 after about 30 years of marriage, my parents reached 71 years before dad died in 2011. I witnessed my parents having happy and good times but some tough and hard-going times. Yet they made it and today, mom at age 94 speaks often of the good years and times she had with dad, missing him constantly. Their model of working things out made impacts on our marriage and likely those of my 4 other siblings who married: we remain together.

This is not to say it divorce is a mistake or failure.   We have many good friends who experienced divorce in a marriage. I believe all things work together for good, if we choose to see it that way. To exist with years of unresolved pain can be counterproductive to all involved.

Is there a special secret to marriage longevity? Certainly good health is important but there is much more. One of the first things I learned, as I’m sure Naomi did, is the person we marry is not exactly what or who we expected! Normally who we marry is only an idea of the person, an illusion of reality. An enduring marriage, which is increasingly satisfying, is one that grows past these misconceptions. If the misconceptions are strong and shocking enough, then divorce no doubt might be the best option.

For myself, growing satisfaction and commitment to marriage became increasingly grounded in my spiritual journey. I grew to see myself and spouse beyond our temporary bodies seen and touched. Bodies and ideas change but our Spirit or Essence remains the same. God, or whatever your idea of Divine Love, if you have one, is Love. Love, God, Truth is unchangeable, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. In most spiritual and sacred literature, sexual and physical differences are temporary and fleeting. Only the Spirit or Essence remains eternal. Spirit or Life is not dualistic or in polarities; Spirit or Consciousness is oneness, everywhere, abstract and experienced rather than analyzed and understood in separate parts.

When these ideas first began to dawn on me, and that both myself and spouse could be seen in this understanding, I began to realize nothing outside of my Center could satisfy me for long. A car, a town, a job, a person, religious forms and dogma are temporary. Yes, they are exciting at first like a new car or home, but then less so and finally, something to be accepted and lived with in continual adjustment. The True Self is more than just my personality and identities of body, joy and gender, but a deeper placed called Spirit, Christ, Consciousness or the Inner I.

How could this help deepen a marriage relationship? One realizes no person or thing can make or bring you lasting peace and happiness; it comes from within the person, from the Self or Observer. I can only accept and experience happiness from my choices. It what mystic and many spiritual teachers call, “Awakening” or awareness.

A milestone in my journey in life and marriage occurred when I thus began to realize no thing and no person could ever make me happy. I didn’t need a wife, or children or a specific country or family to be happy; I didn’t need anything.  Contentment comes from within one’s choices or decision to see differently.

Such an awareness I trust keeps making our marriage relationship or those with things or people more satisfying and loving. Spirit or Light is everywhere and unending, just as scientists have discovered in sub-atomic studies; nothing is really solid; it’s all a composite of thought which emerges out of Light.

If you desire a better relationship or life while in this short earth walk, understanding is the key. Understand your body, with all its histories and identities, is not you. It is just a very brief experience in time and space. Spending intentional time reflecting on this Identity helps strengthen it, as do times of solitude, meditation, and sharing kindness and compassion with others.   Our spouse or mate becomes our primary and daily lesson in forgiveness and sharing love. It involves patience, long-sufferings and always looking beyond the perceived flaws to that which is good. Practice this understanding with your daily intentions and your relationships will increase in joy, love and peace. You will sense and feel your deeper Oneness. When you fail, as we all do, simply forgive yourself for “missing the mark” (the literal meaning of “sin”) and begin again like forgetting a golf ball just blasted into the woods!

Maybe your marriage won’t make 50 years or whatever many. But for the years you now experience, they will grow richer and deeper each day, even as the physical forms change, age, and ultimately disappear. Your Love, your Consciousness will live forever.

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Are We Happy Yet?

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(The following is a manuscript of my talk on March 1, 2015 at the Hamburg UU Church. The folks there are very welcoming to us as I always enjoy either visiting or speaking there. Of course, when I speak, I mostly just “wing it!”)

When I shared with a friend of mine near Pittsburgh the picture of your front sign and the name of today’s talk he said, “Lucky you are not giving it down here because people would probably snowball you to death!” So after the past months we have lived, how are you? Can many still say, “I am still happy?” How many are thinking about moving someplace else?

Past Hamburg Highway Superintendent and later our State Assemblyman, Dick Smith, used to say there is a tendency for people in our area to awaken each morning, especially in these months, slap themselves in the forehead and ask, “Why do I still live here?”

Would moving make us happier? Happy is a word which means, “Good things seem to always happen!” “Hap” means “good luck” and “y” means “constantly.” Is that how you tend to see yourself now, or most the time?

How can we find and be happy? Doesn’t it need to come from within? If we depend on other people or the world around us to make us happy, it can be quite risky. Many people don’t meet our ideals and leave us, or love us for a while and stop. Our children? Does having children make us happier? They can, if we learn to let them go. If you’ve ever had teen agers, you know what I mean! They have their own lives to live, their own friends, interests and talents, many different from ours as parents.

It seems unless we find happiness within ourselves, we will always be disappointed or unhappy, looking elsewhere. So we then ask, “Who am I? Who is my own self?” Is it the body, mind, race, hometown, or our genes? No, these reason teachers are all transitory. In time, they hardly last the blink of an eye.

The light we receive from the sun takes about 8 and ½ minutes to reach us traveling by speed of light. We exist on a planet located at the tail end of the “Milky Way” galaxy, one of the millions, the billions known galaxies existing in the universe. Astronomers say our planet and solar system is so small it could easily fit into one of the many larger stars of the universe! Some of the light we see from distant stars has taken thousands of years to even reach us traveling the speed of light.

Yet what if we were something else other than our bodies or brains that think? What if we were part of a transcendental, or spiritual entity beyond what we can see as our body or the bodies of others? What if in this other entity we could find our happiness, our source of unlimited potential and being? What if we were actually eternal Spirit in a temporary body?

Former atheists such as Dr. Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who recently wrote two popular books called, “Proof of Heaven” and his more recent, “The Map of Heaven”, lived most of his life as a scientist who could no longer relate to organized religions or believe in God. In 2008 he went into a coma for seven days wherein his brain completely shut down. But then he woke up and later described in vivid detail an existence and consciousness much beyond his body and supposedly dead brain!

Another former atheist, whose writings have helped me understand happiness, was a woman named Helen Schucman. A research scientist of Psychology in Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Scientists, she became weary of the constant stress, jealousies and unhappiness which permeated the staff. She suddenly found herself hearing a voice around 2:00 a.m. each night, and feared she was having a nervous breakdown. However, it became a voice which gave her seven years of dictation on how to experience happiness. Taking notes in shorthand, it later was published in the book called “A Course in Miracles.” The Voice told her she was not her body but Spirit, in Oneness connect with all the God Head.

Both of these authors wrote about what mystics and many shamans have taught for centuries; there is another powerful dimension of the universe which is beyond time and space. It’s everywhere yet always around and within us if we can understand or awaken to its presence and begin to live as if it were our True Timeless Selves.

Contacts with matter make us feel heat and cold, pleasure and pain. Arjuna, you must learn to endure fleeting things—they come and go!

For what it’s worth, this is how I have sought for years to live and experience daily happiness and peace, even in cold winters, and in an aging body which obviously has passed it peak! What can this identity teach us, and how can we live with it experiencing happiness?

First I understand happiness must come from within myself, not from any other outside relationship, or in a new place to live, with more money, more kids, or more of anything. I’ll give you a little test to see if you might be living with this attitude and thus are happy.

Think of someone you live with as wife, husband, lover, child, father, mother, or whoever. Now say to yourself, perhaps better not directly to any of them: “If I had to choose between happiness and you, I would always choose happiness!” Could you do that? If not, you probably are in more of a prison relationship than a happy love one.

Most religions teach the opposite of this. They say, “The only way you can know love and happiness is by practicing sacrifice. God loves you because he made sacrifices for you!” This is the common teaching of most Western religions, especially traditional Christianity. What happens then is you likely have two people living with each other sacrificing their true happiness wishing and hoping to make the other one happy! You only end up with two unhappy and miserable people, right?

To love as Spirit, or to see yourself as primarily a non-space entity, we learn to accept everything we see around us just as it is. And actually, it’s all quite crazy. We all are! It’s the mortal and ephemeral aspect of life. Further, in 200 or 300 years, no one will even understand the language we are speaking today or who we were! No wonder people grow anxious and refuse to think about their very limited, whisk of a life!

To be happy as Spirit we realize we cannot know anything in this mortal sphere except in little bits and pieces. No one’s judgment is perfect. Note political differences, teaching differences, and diet differences; no one really knows anything for sure. On this level it’s all a guess, by-gosh and hope; some work out and some don’t. So what? What is black today will be white tomorrow, and vice versa, right? That’s why I said the last time I spoke here, there is a great liberation and joy in “Nothingness!”

“But when a man finds delight within himself and feels inner joy and pure contentment in himself, there is nothing more to be done.”

I confess many organized religions miss this point. Organized religions easily become mostly about changing people from the outside in to perpetuate their existence as form. It says, “Give them clothing, education, better sanitation and they will be happy.” Well, it may help for a while, but then what?

I lived two summers in Marin County, California while doing some graduate studies. Marin County was then rated, and maybe even now, as the richest county in the country. But you know what else I discovered? They had the largest percentage of psychotherapists per population to help people discover how to be happy! One day I was riding my bicycle down the street and saw a brand new Porsche sport car parked with the top down. On the dash I noticed a sign which said, “Are we having fun yet?”   I thought, “God, I hope so!” but probably not.

So where might be the happiest people in the world today and in past years and centuries? A January 2015 National Geographic special found Africa the happiest place on earth, rated 75%! Only the island of Fiji rated higher. The lowest area was Western Europe at 25%. I suppose our country was similar to Europe.

Studies show the happiest people are those who lived the simplest and close to nature with a balance and perspective on life as it is. A few days ago I read about a man’s discovery of what he believes to be the happiest people on earth. There are only 400 of them left after being first discovered in 1784 by missionaries in the jungles of the Amazon. Called the Pirahas, missionary Daniel Everett was sent to help convert them to Christianity in 1980, something they had successfully resisted since the first attempts. After learning their language in eight years, Daniel decided to stay another 30 years to learn why they had so much happiness in living. He eventually led him to leave the church. The Pirahas still live there today along the Maici River in the region of Brazil, about 4 hours and 400 km by boat up river from the closest town, Porto Velho. Of course, their existence is threatened by the continual cutting of forests to make more fields to produce more meat and crops for us “happier” people. This happy people, writes Daniel in his book, “Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes!” have a language of happiness, mostly speaking and chatting in smiles, laughter and song notes. They use no definite numbers but use subjective words describing “little, much or more.”                                               (http://www.thewisemag.com/life/the-happiest-people-on-earth)

I saw some of this when I was in India during 1987. Once I climbed high up a hill in Puna where a beautiful temple sat in majesty. I looked down over a wall upon hundreds of small one room dirt-floored homes with hundreds of children and adults singing, chatting and playing along the river. I made the comment to my Buddhist friend, “I can’t help but feel sorry for those poor people.” He quickly snapped back at me, “Don’t feel sorry for those people; feel sorry for yourself! I guarantee they are much happier than you!” I think he was right.

When Columbus sailed west to find China, he landed in what today is the Dominican Republic, named after St. Dominic. We visited there for a few days in January. It is such a beautiful but poor country. When Columbus landed, he claimed it as property of Spain and wrote how the native people were extremely kind, gentle and loving. The laughed much. He also wrote, “They would so easy to conquer,” which he and the Spanish army soon did. The slaughter reminded me of terrorist actions today being done in the name of a Divine Creator. Then Columbus built large church cathedrals and schools to help the church teach the surviving natives how to live and be happy! Crazy. Of course, most of them refused and were slaughtered, so Christian settlers brought in thousands of African slaves to work for them and breed children which later they sold to America, another “Christian” nation.

So what is happiness? It is letting go the identification of ourselves as just our bodies and seeing Higher Selves connected to an eternal dimension of which we can remain conscious or aware. We can learn to remember and live it as we practice coming closer to nature with respect and reverence. We can experience it during periods of silence and meditation. In time we will begin to see ourselves as more lucky and blessed. We will look at a world which is without meaning, insane, and violent, with forgiveness and kindness. Yes, we will trip and fall frequently when we forget. Yet remembering our short mortality, we rise again, forgive ourselves new, and walk on forward remembering again.

“Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, the disciplined man who knows reality should think, “I do nothing at all.””

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Talk summary offer March 1, 2015, Hamburg Unitarian Universalist Church. Quotations taken from The Bhagavad-Gita by Barbara Miller. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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The Best Christmas Ever

loveforall.jpg

 

First, a Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you can and are experiencing some of the warmth of the season. I have.

Much of it began with me a few weeks ago when we attended the Celtic Thunder/Buffalo Philharmonic Christmas concert at Kleinhans Hall. Sitting there listening to the amazing music, suddenly I realized again; this is not about a baby being born some 2000 years ago in a town called Bethlehem, it’s all about me, the True Me! The awareness remained throughout the show and has only deepened since.

Over the past years, as many of you realize and have read, I have grown to understand Christmas, along with the stories of Jesus, not to be taken literally but as stories to help us realize our own Inward Divinities. It’s like I have known or thought this way for many years but this year, its realization has felt a bit deeper and more liberating.

I am not certain why it feels more real and joyful this year than in others. Perhaps it’s the further distance I have come from being a busy pastor or conducting services during the season. Being years with folks like myself who were taught the stories of Jesus, including his birth ones, as literally true, there was a finer line to walk. This season I really had no one to convince to persuade other than myself!

Last night we attended an area church which was beautifully decorated. A magnificent decorated tree loomed over the congregation lifting spirits. The music flowed superbly with gifted singers and instrumentalists. Liturgy moved along flawlessly with all invited to partake of the sacrament. Yet one thing seemed missing; the idea that all of this was not about a man born of a woman named Mary with her boyfriend Joseph. It is all about us, about what can happen to us during the darkest days of our lives. Symbolized by the winter solstice, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, these are dark days. The darkness represents our worry, unhappiness, the constant judgment of others, seasonal stress and the lack of ability to ever experience joy and happiness without myriads of outside stimuli. The colorful lights, the sweetest music, the shepherds delighted by angels on hillsides; these with many more, however, can symbolize what can be experienced in our own hearts and minds.

For the past few years I have read authors such as Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Tom Harpur, Tim Freke and Peter Gandy as they eloquently suggest the Bible stories can easily and historically be taken as myth. Indeed, they can be seen within cultures winding all the way back to ancient Egypt. I have tried to teach such ideas, with mixed reception to be sure. Some loved the ideas, opening up completely new doors of possibilities. Others despised them and often charged me with most blatant heresies. This season, without many responsibilities to teach or conduct, the beauty of just being and feeling these ancient truths came to rest more peacefully in my mind and heart. It’s like I “woke up” a little bit more.

I thus wish the deeper peace and joy for you all, that amid the darkness of weather and the deeper darkness of death, anger, wars and more rumors of wars, you will be awaken anew to Life eternal. It’s all within you, it is the True You, the Thinker and Observer behind the person you normal think of as yourself. Simply ponder the idea of being completely at peace. Sit with it and feel it as carols and seasonal songs continue to be heard a few more hours. And in the midst of a coming year with all its harsh time/space realities, remember and experience each day the Reality of Spirit, surrounding us all, in Which we all are One.

“Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,

But not within thyself, thy soul will be forlorn.”

– Angelus Silesius, 1624-1677

 

A blessed Merry Christmas and season to all!

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Mary, Having It All With Nothing!

Mary

Mary, Having It All With Nothing!

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savor, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant….” Luke 1:46

Imagine Mary, the mother of Jesus, singing out this praise, the “magnificent,” how great God has been to her! An unmarried young woman, with no civil status except slave to men and society, yet learning of her pregnancy, overflows with joy and jubilation.

“God has looked down with favor on the lowliness of his servant. All shall call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me!” How on earth could she feel such elation?

First, I would suppose for many young women, knowledge of a pregnancy would be overwhelming, joyful, and exciting. Yet in this story, Mary can be the story of all. In the midst of cold darkness and snow which “shuts-in” many of us, we too can feel and express deep delight and unspeakable joy. For Mary is the song of celebrating a Divine Presence within, the assurance life is more than darkness, slavery, disease, body pain and death. And so, it is the story of ourselves; the renewal of Divinity awareness, of our status as Sons and Daughters of God.

We all are potential Mary’s in our age, the Malala Yousafzai’s, who unknown and insignificant amid earth’s billions, whose value too many seemed worthless, suddenly are able to rise above it. We too can rise above our sense of lost-ness, insignificance, and loneliness into a euphoria beyond all description.

Mary’s song is a story of the ages, one of several surrounding the darkening, cold, dreary weeks approaching winter solstice. In the ancient Eastern Mediterranean world, her story was familiar to many. Known for thousands of years, her story goes way back to ancient Egypt some 10,000 years before: through Italy, Greece, Persia, Syria and Asia Minor. Mary’s story is similar to all the stories from who those discover the Christ within. Mary became our version as Christians; a virgin giving birth at winter’s solstice to a Savior, his baptism, his 12 disciples, his healing the sick, and finally his rising from the dead at spring equinox!

Augustine wrote in the early 5th century, near the end of his life, “The very thing which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients also, nor was it wanting from the inception of the human race until the coming of Christ in flesh, at which point the true region which was already in existence began to be called Christian.” (Retractions, ca 420)

None of these stories were taken literally, but seen as part of ancient mythologies explaining the unexplainable. They were stories connecting hearts and souls with the Mystery of Creation, the Universal Presence which resides within all. It’s the experience of prayer at its deepest level, entering into what in the East is called, “The Cave of the Heart.”

John Dominic Crossan wrote, “My point …. is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”   (From “Who is Jesus?”)

So as darkness deepens in these next few days, take time to stop and embrace it; go into your “caves” of prayer and meditation. Enter into your lowly stables of humility. Confess your need of forgiveness, hope, healing and joy. In such longing for light, you will likely find and experience it within, if sought diligently, overflowing with unspeakable joy, erasing fear of all thrones, kings, rulers, divisions, injustices, and brutalities. For in this very “bleak of winter, ground frozen hard–Lo! the rose e’re…” blooms anew in hearts with peace and love for all.

A few nights ago, we attended the Celtic Thunder concert in magnificent old Kleinhans Music Hall accompanied by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. For nearly two hours I listened with emotions of rapture being transported beyond myself. As I heard old familiar carols and songs, known since my youth, I felt the “magnificence” of Mary bursting forth from my inner being. Over and over I identified with the ancient story; the waiting, embracing the cold, the darkness, those newly piled mountains of snow, slippery roads, and bone-chilling temperatures. And thought, “Ah, it is nothing! This earthly life is nothing, but in my Christ Self, in my True Self, I am everything, everywhere and forever!” Oh yes, we can have it all.

“Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, But not within myself, thy soul will be forlorn.”    -Angelius Silesius, 1624-1677

Summary of reflections offered Sunday, December 14, 2014 at the First Presbyterian Church of Dunkirk, NY.

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The Future Church?

10-17birdsong-5.jpgPossibilities in light of present conditions.

“Hear this, your rulers of the house of Jacob…..its prophets give oracles for money; yet they learn upon the Lord and say, ‘Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.” (Micah 3:9-11 NRSV)

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; there, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:1-3 NRVS)

During the next few weeks, lection readings in “liturgical churches” are often filled with judgment and harsh evaluations. Just when a break seems to arrive in early December, you will be hit with harsh words from John the Baptist! No wonder people used to ask me, “When do we get to hear about sweet Jesus, Christmas and sing more carols?”

Religious leadership was sharply criticized in our ancient Hebrew reading from Micah and from the early church recorded words of Jesus. To summarize, religious leadership seemed to forget their role as spiritual leaders. They became more interested in community recognition and honors. Religious roles were used to assume authority positions in the community rather than modeling humble service and spiritual comfort.

When I applied to Pittsburgh Seminary in 1969, I took a psychological inventory as part of my evaluation. “Why,” I asked and the dean replied, “To discern whether you want to serve God and people or use your position as a short-cut to an authority position!” Apparently many ministers, priests and rabbis referred to in our passages would have failed.

We ask, “How might the church institution be rated today?” Would the test reveal leaders as viable servants to the souls and hearts of people or more inclined to special privileges and benefits?

According to recent Pew Foundation Religious Research, organized religions are in bad favor and odds of a short term revival look slim. Polling people from the USA and Europe, citizens express fear of religious institutions as the 2nd greatest they have! The 1st is the growing wealth gap between rich and poor and the 3rd is nuclear war.

The Foundation also discovered 75% of these populations view organized religions as losing their influence and worse, constitute a negative factor for creating a more humane and just world! As a logical corollary, only 40% of Americans now maintain church membership and a recent Gallup Poll suggest probably only 20% of those attend. Meanwhile, 4000 churches are closing each year (up from 3500 ten years ago) with only 1000 new ones “planted.”

What about Presbyterians? Since 2006, the Presbyterian (USA) denomination lost 20% of its membership and nearly 50% since 1970. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to see where it’s heading! In the last General Assembly statistical report from 2012, 86 Presbyterian USA churches were closed, 110 dismissed to other denominations, and 13 new churches “planted.” A dismal portrayal of “God as good all the time!”

So we ask, are there any religious groups left who are growing? Research from the Pew Foundation reported groups associated with Eastern religions are experiencing the fastest growth in the U.S. and Europe. In the United States, Buddhist/Hindu related groups have grown over 200% since 1990. The Muslim faith has also grown but it is mostly related to ethnicity rather than an overall large appeal as the Buddhist/Hindu faith. Why? Why is this happening?

The Buddhist/Hindu/Eastern based religions experience such growth, in my opinion, because they are most like the early centuries of the Christian Church under the influence of teachings of a man named Jesus. Shocking? Perhaps, but consider their beliefs and methods of operation.

First, Eastern based religions operate mostly outside of centralized authorities. They are based on influential leaders who are living today or from past years, even centuries. These leaders, with writings left from many, base their teachings on what some define as the mystical, wisdom or contemplative approaches. Spirit, God, Atman, Tao, Jesus, Kingdom of God do not primarily mean entities outside of the human consciousness but within it. They teach the way to experience a universal Divine Presence is to go within and listen. The process is accessible to everyone everywhere. I would say this correlates well to the essence of Jesus’ message found within Bibles; “The Kingdom of God or Heaven” is within you! Pretty simple. It’s everywhere, as close as your breath, as close as your awareness or “awakening.”

Eastern based religions today were likely very similar to the first 300 years of the Christian Church in our era. They teach peace, forgiveness, and love as coming from our awareness wherever we are and whatever we may be doing. Suddenly we see an option many of us may have missed, perhaps for centuries; we don’t need church buildings with dogmas, beliefs and creeds to know we are one with God, Spirit, or the inexpressible presence called Love! As Buddhism teaches, popularized in recent decades by many; Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Louise Hay, even Oprah, and certainly His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Spirit is interconnected and present among all. We experience it by its realization with the practice of meditation, silence, affirmations, chanting, maybe even sprinkled with a little incense and bells! Walla! It’s ours for the asking!

So we see such access can easily bypass groups, big and small, seeking to maintain church buildings, temples, and cathedrals with expensive equipment and maintenance. Electronics, rock’n music and a staff of leaders, teachers and fund organizers are simply options. Church is Spirit, not buildings, programs and many activities. When you can access Divine awareness anywhere, who really needs them?

I do not say physical places have no part in accessibility, but they can easily become idol substitutes. They are secondary. Organized religious groups quickly become competitive, divisive, blame-casting and often mean about who isn’t doing enough, giving enough, being nice enough.

So do not become attached or concerned with buildings. You can meet anywhere. “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them.” The early church was mostly a “house church” with community teachers like Jesus and Paul, growing at rates never repeated after the 4th Century “creed and unity certification” process.

Our son’s wife is a fascinating person. Petra grew up under Russian controlled communism in the Czech Republic. As a young lady, a revolution occurred in 1989 under the inspiration of poet/writer Vaclav Havel. She met our son in the late 90’s when he traveled to Prague a few years to help organize classes to teach representative government and market economies. Both now live near Syracuse with our latest little grandchild and work on the staff at Syracuse University. Naomi and I visited her parents’ home and country in 2003. I was told most of the country’s population declared themselves atheists. A couple summers ago, Petra visited her parents and while there taught a class at Prague University. When she returned she told me, “David, you must visit my country. A phenomenal thing is occurring; people are gathering in hundreds of homes and places to meditate, share readings and do yoga!” The Czech Republic is littered with hundreds of old castles and large empty cathedrals.   Some have been saved for museums. Yet, the “church,” a group of people “being called” out by a new kind of wind or spirit, is taking off and flourishing.

It’s all about love being experienced and renewed daily within our hearts and minds, alone and together. I suggest you consider meeting in groups, homes and even in church buildings, to share your journeys in readings, silence and meditation. Even some yoga! Importantly, each one practice meditation and readings in your homes. Don’t worry about saving buildings and programs which may no longer are needed for our times. And whatever, don’t allow anything; people, programs, buildings, structure or exclusive creeds, to bar your mind and lives from the inexpressible, wonderful, flowing Presence within reach of all.

I close with one of my past favorite songs, written in 1995 by Presbyterian ministers Richard Avery and Donald Marsh. Its title is: “The Church is Not a Building!”

The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple,

the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.

We’re many kinds of people, with many kinds of faces,

all colors and all ages, too, from all times and places.

I am the church, you are the church, we are the Church together!

All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we’re the church together.

Reflections offered November 2, 2014, at the 1st Presbyterian Church of Dunkirk, NY.

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Our Two Selves

doubelface2“I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind.”    Romans 7:21-23 (NRSV)

Do you display more than one personality? I do, as most people. We call it normal. We feel happy and free for a season and then it turns and we find ourselves lonely, worried and angry. If we suffer enough, people might suggest we take medications, get away on a vacation, or perhaps seek therapeutic treatment. In some cases people are diagnosed as schizophrenic, wrestling with a multitude of personalities often unable to easily exist in a “normal” society. However, for most of us, it’s just a normal rhythm of living. We learn to move with the ebb and flow like ocean tides.

Most religious teachings present the idea we have two selves; a good and a bad one, a loving and unloving one, a true or real one and a false unreal one. Religions seek to teach the way to live sharing happiness, kindness, being loving and compassionate. Religions teach the proper use of anger and hatred sometimes becoming quite judgmental and angry. Religious people display aggressive, intolerant and destructive behavior. Most religions left behind trails of blood and pogroms in the name of following God’s anger and displeasure.

The apostle Paul knew and taught about humanity’s two inner selves. He wrestled daily to keep a positive attitude of love and forgiveness. He obviously experienced periods of deep peace, what people often call “unitive experiences” of bliss or oneness with an apparent Divine Presence. Other times Paul became angry and critical, feeling sorry for himself and judgmental toward others. If you read words attributed to him, which make up most of the canonized New Testament Bible of the 4th Century, you will see his struggles and vacillations.

But why? Why did he have such struggles and why do we? Because as Paul wrote, depicting ages’ known truth, God is Spirit and the essence of Spirit is love. But in bodies we became part of the material dimension of flesh and form. “We know,” he wrote, “that the law is spiritual; but I am flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, and I do the very thing I hate.”   We all have these feelings and experiences. Ask your parents, your partners, your children. Paul concluded a section in Romans 7 saying: “O wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death? But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

If we can recall similar feelings of ambivalence and vacillation, how might we live longer periods with a more forgiving and patient mind? How can we get in touch with our “True, Spirit Selves” if indeed we have them? The clue or key becomes most clear to me with his writings to the church of Corinth in his second letter, chapters 4 and 5:

“…because we look not at what can be seen but what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Paul here described our bodies as tents which being mortal wear out, wither and die. In contrast, our inner self is Spirit, a God-part of our being.   This aspect is immortal, unchangeable, and forever one with God the Creator. Elsewhere he described this Presence as always patient, kind, forgiving, humble, enduring and changeless. (I Corinthians 13) Meanwhile, in our bodies, these temporary tents, we live with a dichotomy of flesh and spirit, in a dualism of entities always at war within our minds. Yet we can learn to awaken to our non-physical identities as Immortal Beings or in Christian vernacular, Christ’s Children, or God’s Son or Daughter. We can become Christs on earth, modeling patience, forgiveness, and longsuffering with all. Baptism signifies this; we are all the Sons and Daughters of God. It becomes a process of remembering, constantly changing and renewing our thinking, meaning of “repentance.”

When I think about Easter, I think of Resurrection, which literally means to “Awaken”. Today might be called “part 2” as to what we awaken to. We awaken to the idea we have two opposite selves but left with a choice. We can chose to go beyond our joyless, fearful lives in a constant world at war and filled with death. We can choose to see ourselves as in this mortal world but “not of it.” We can remember Who and What we are and find a way back to our Home. In time, with remembering and practice, longer periods of happiness and joy can be experienced. It can be difficult, however. The ego self, identifying with bodies and space time, will go to war to save itself. It usually will take years to accept and live with this “Easter” idea.

In 1987 I traveled to India for a few weeks. One of the teachers I stayed with a man was named Bede Griffiths. For 25 years Bede served as a member of the Benedictine Order in England. Around age 50 he moved to India and soon left the order and joined two former French Priests to become a leader in an ashram called “Shantivanum” or “Forest of Peace.” In my days with him, we talked about this “awareness.” Recently I read he said on a visit to the US that if churches do not rediscover this core center of mystical presence, one’s True Self, they might as well close. What did he mean? Unless we move beyond our traditions of defending and fighting to maintain beliefs, creeds and forms, which are mainly egocentric, we will have nothing left to offer a world of anger and unhappiness.

If we do not feel times of deep peace with an inner joy and hope, we are no doubt asleep as to the awareness of who we are. If we spend most of our lives judging others as odd, mean, brutal, stupid, or idiotic, we probably lie deeply asleep or dead in our flesh identities as bodies. To preserve our bodies and their sacred forms and beliefs, we separate ourselves from others and from a universal Divine joy. If we live asleep or as sleep walkers in a world of winners and losers, a world of continual violence and separation, we are left empty and fearful. Our egos or body identities tell us to be happy, we must constantly gain more; wealth, fame or ownership, knowledge, degrees, exotic travel and experiences with more the better. Our egos tells us we are never quite good enough and if there is a God, he’s not very happy with how we have lived, watching over us like Santa with check-list. Our body identities tell us God is never happy with us just the way you are.

On the other hand, the Spirit Self, what Paul and others consider our “Higher, True Self,” is One with God. It is Spirit, not flesh, immortal not mortal, relaxed and loving rather than tight and judgmental. It is everywhere rather than localized in one place or one lifetime on earth. Spirit does not know us as special race, sex or nationality, but as pure happiness and bliss, creating peace and love wherever we are. Spirit doesn’t care if your mortal existence is rich or poor, healthy or sick, young or old, American or Iranian; your true identity is Spirit, One with everything that is love, joy, and freedom. We thus are not our bodies but spirit and free.

Such is difficult for most to accept. We think we are in “reality.” We feel our work and life are vitally important to humanity and especially God’s favor. It isn’t. Life here becomes seen as a detour into physical time and space, a lesson for us to reawaken and be free, be happy, sharing love with all people and creatures. Families come and go, youth passes quickly, as all nations rise, change, expand and die. Nothing seen or touched here is immortal, is “real;” it’s changing, ephemeral and gone in a wisp. In the words of the old Hebrew Ecclesiastes book, everything in this physical world amounts to vanity and nothingness. To hope and trust in it is to put ourselves deeper into fear, worry, and guilt, awaiting the final return to dust, perhaps to be reawakened someday as Spirit in another place.

“This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honor, is but a walking shadow; a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”   – William Shakespeare

How then can we connect with the great joy of Spirit? Know you are “already” in this “other place!” Remember who you are, waking up each day to the Holy Child of God of you are. Salvation is a free gift, it’s Who you are! “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God—and not the result of works that one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV)

Sitting in my small room and favorite chair writing, I heard a buzz one day behind my head. I looked and saw a large bumble bee, buzzing and bobbing along the ceiling.   I looked for a swatter but finding none, grabbed a broom. I swung and missed. I swung again and brought it down but it got up and buzzed toward me. I swung again, bending the handle of our favorite broom as I knocked it down, quickly swept it up, and carried it outside. Such can be life. We find a place or space of comfort and but “bees” suddenly come and bite us; sickness, death, wars, disease, old age, collapsing markets, another war, and horrible weather keep buzzing our way; swarming, dipping, and waiting their time to devour. “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return!”

“Wretched man that I am!” Paul wrote. “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The story of Jesus is a story of a person who so believed and lived by the awareness of who he was as God’s Son, he could walk in forgiveness even to his death, crucified as a criminal no less, knowing he would simply fly away to paradise with his Father/Creator.

We too can remember each day and hour Who and Whose we are. Each meal grace, each morning, noon, and evening prayer becomes a time to remember and return.   “Your grace is given me. I claim it now. Father, I come to You and you will come to me who ask. I am the Son you love.” (A Course in Miracles, Lesson 168)

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