Stepping back into Christianity through this not so obvious door has given me an opportunity to experience it’s essence from a whole new perspective. It’s taken me on an unexpected journey that has not always been easy, but so far, it’s been worth it.
This non-traditional journey has challenged me to look within at who I am, reminding me to remain true to myself along the way. It’s probable I would have returned to the world of the de-churched by now if it weren’t for my husband. Our commitment to our life together gave me the stick-to-it-iveness to see it through. Until today at least.
SPIRITUALITY AND CHURCH
The world has gone through a deep shift in consciousness over the last four decades, opening up possibilities, awareness, and experience for much of humanity. How we view culture, one another, and our spiritual path has changed dramatically. Additionally, our instant access to information and ability to make social change overnight has created a transformation to the world on many levels. These changes are happening at lightening speed, changing our collective consciousness and how we process information simultaneously.
It’s impossible to project how it will affect the next four decades, but it’s safe to say that how we do church and experience our spiritual lives has been radically changed. The consciousness movement shifted how we view spirituality in general, redefining it as a religious practice or faith to a state of experiencing life beyond the hum drum activities of a daily life. Anything that was reflective, attitudinally adjustive, eastern practice of any kind i.e. yoga, aryuveda, personal growth workshops, etc. became identified as spiritual. Of course, this is a big leap from the religious practices of Judaism, Christianity, Muslim, Buddhism or Hindu. It created a hodgepodge of psychological and psycho-spiritual activity that replaced the actual ancient spiritual and mystical traditions of the past. Those who were engaged in religious practices were, more often than not, seen as fundamentalists or extremists, and moderate or traditional religion was abandoned for the new psycho-spirituality that ensued via media and popular culture.
As a result, the human development movement began opening up the negative or psychologically harmful aspects of religious doctrine and dogma, exposing it for what it is. Simultaneously, the religious institutions maintained a status quo in their churches, creating little reason for people to be drawn to their place of worship, or to understand what a meaningful encounter with God meant or how it would The culture could not hear through their religious speak….or relate to the message. The media messages were much louder, easier, and more relatable.
I was the first one on the bus for most of the human consciousness movement and have been along for the whole ride. But I always had Jesus in my pocket. Even if I didn’t let him know I knew he was there. The fear that exists around Christians and practicing other forms of healing and spiritual experiences is discouraging and repressive to those who know Christ.
JESUS AND WALLY
When he first friended me, I wondered how famous a pastor he was. After all, he was the college star when he left for seminary. He was the most Christ-like and positive person I’d ever known. And smart to boot. I imagined he was pastoring a mega-church somewhere, bringing the good news and saving souls around the world. Definitely not my cup of tea for a million reasons.
But I had always wished I’d married him when I had a chance. I even kept the pottery he made me prominently displayed in all ten houses I’ve lived in around the country. It had always reminded me of kindness and goodness, when I couldn’t find it anywhere near. It had soothed my heart on more occasions than I dared to count. Just the memory of his kindness was healing to me over the years. And here he was friending me, 35 years later. It didn’t require much thought to decide how to respond.
By the next evening, we were talking on the phone. We became fast friends. Five years later we were married. Just like we should’ve been in the first place. Whenever I think about the reasons we didn’t marry, it stings - but I’m getting over it. It’s a process.
It was 1976, smack in the midst of Gloria Steinem’s fame and the rise of feminism, the heels of the anti-war movement as a generation redefined itself, and the Jesus Revolution was in full swing. The latter shaped the events that came next. When he was heading to seminary, it was clearly frowned upon for women to enter the ministry. I could handle not being a pastor if need be, but I couldn’t imagine being expected to master the pot luck, wear lacy pink clothes, or lead Bible Studies using those fill-in-the-blank books. This was beyond my ability to grasp or do. It was clearly not my calling or my gifting. Instead, I headed for Madison Avenue, points beyond, and places west. He married someone else.
Thirty-something years is a long time, and a lot can happen. Needless to say, it did. The more conservative the Christian movement became, it seemed the more liberal my friends became. Sometimes we’re influenced simply by what ends up on the path we’re on - even if it’s not intentional. I’ve often thought this is what happened with the Christian movement too. It seems unlikely that thoughtful, spiritual people who follow Jesus would turn into the black and white thinkers that were churned out over three decades without significant political and financial lobbying efforts behind it. As time went on, my revulsion for the Christian culture intensified. It discouraged me. I loved being a Christian, and what Jesus stood for. I also cherished the role the Holy Spirit had always played in my life. Nothing made sense, but one thing was for sure - they’d lost me. Not Christ, only Christians. It was the spirit they collectively carried, not who they were, that disheartened me. It sucked the life right out of the room when the Holy Spirit was trying to enter - to me.
Wally Schwarz back in my life was like a dream that I couldn’t quite wake up from, yet a reality that didn’t seem quite real. The more we got to know one another, the more alike we were, the more we saw about ourselves in each other. There were so many lessons learned from seeing ourselves in the context of each other, after a lifetime had passed. It was eerie and magical at the same time. This reunion alone was enough to make me believe in God.
I’d been through so much pain and heartache in recent years that one thing was certain. I knew there wasn’t a single human being on the planet that could crack my heart open. Nobody that is, but Wally Schwarz. He was the only man alive that I would’ve trusted and opened up to at that juncture - and quite possibly forever. There absolutely had to be a God.
But I still knew I could be wrong.
Remembering Who God Is
I kept trying to read theological books, Christian books by and for women, you name it. Nothing was touching me. Nothing opened my heart. It was as if I didn’t understand a thing they said. Their language and way of talking about God simply didn’t compute. It just didn’t resonate at all.
I watched videos of popular preachers on television and online. Nothing. Little by little, I feared my faith was non-existent. After all, why wasn’t I breaking down in tears when others did? Why wasn’t I touched by a particular testimony? What was wrong with me?
The irony is I could feel God. I knew God existed, even if I had an inkling my imagery and idea of God was a bit different from the evangelical or conservative Christians I knew. We talked about God so differently. They had different feelings toward God than I had - more emotionally centered. Did this mean I didn’t love God? After all, this is one of the only two commandments Jesus gave to his disciples. Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Pretty clear. Not loving God would be bad.
Yet I knew I loved God. I just didn’t feel romantic towards him. That’s how I experienced some women relating to God or Jesus. As if he was their boyfriend. When some churches had women dress up as brides to represent the bride of Christ, it creeped me out. I never understood why the men didn’t dress up too. After all, the bride is symbolic for the whole church - not just the women. This form of intimacy toward Christ was not something I could, or would, ever relate to. Not without a huge paradigm shift….and I didn’t see it happening anytime soon. At least I hoped not.
SQUARE PEG, ROUND HOLE
Remembering God 2
I needed to arrive at some kind of resolution about God, but didn’t know where to start. God was just something I knew. Not someone I worshipped, to be honest. I felt part of God and of God. But I didn’t have a personal and intimate relationship with God like many spoke of. I’d had that when I was young, but didn’t experience that kind of relationship today. It was a more mature, developed relationship. Not unlike a married couple who’s been together for years. Not sure if this is good or bad. It just was.
And I didn’t know what to make of it.
The truth is I didn’t doubt the existence of God. But it did frighten me that it looked and sounded so different than how the Christians around me would describe it. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much how they described it as it was how they worshipped, studied, and communicated their faith. For me, it wasn’t something outside of me, nor something that required endless bible studies which, for me, didn’t seem helpful. They didn’t have enough depth to satisfy my curiosity and thirst for learning. The discussions were superficial, rarely touching on meaningful and real dialogue between the participants. The topics tended to center around biblical themes like being a godly woman, or how to be more devoted, etc. It was more Stepford wife than Proverbs wife, to my way of thinking. We discussed theory and the interpretation of the author who also conveniently supplied the answers to the questions at the end of each chapter. I’d often raise different questions in an attempt to dive deeper into the subject, or sometimes to challenge what was being taught. It was not my goal to upset the apple cart, but rather, to expand our way of thinking by looking at scripture in different ways. I was usually met with blank stares, and probably the topic of the next morning’s coffee clatch. This simply wasn’t my tribe I’d tell myself as I walked to my car with the study book and Bible hidden under my jacket.
REMEMBERING GOD 3
My experience as a Christian was that I was enthralled by the religions of others, always wanted to know all I could about Judaism from my Jewish friends, about my Muslim neighbors, understand how they viewed Allah and if they thought we worshipped the same God. I wanted to understand how nature and the environment was connected to God, and how to integrate sustainable development into the world while honoring God. When my Christian friends threatened my friends who came to share their concerns about global climate change, it embarrassed me but I understood their paradigm was such that it couldn’t see the truth beyond the lobbies or messengers that were telling them otherwise. These strong reactions and defense mechanisms that operated so dualistically were my first hint that they couldn’t possibly be the only path to God, because they were not responding as God would. Just because Jesus turned over the money changers table didn’t mean that he always reacted this way if he disagreed. He was clearly angry because they were the authority and acting blamelessly, not humbly and honestly.
There are many stories in this regard, but the one thing that always crept through all the arguments I witnessed, the anger, defenses, self righteousness, fear, accusation and blame, resentment, arrogance was Jesus Christ. There was a subtle and clear knowing, an understanding if you will, that the Christ spirit was still alive in me no matter how others behaved or believed. It was clear this power, so perfectly reflected in the flow of the three - the Trinity - was within me as a clear and open channel of love, peace, kindness, and compassion. It was also a discerning sword that allowed me, when my heart was open and clear, to see truth or lies in myself and others. It began developing in me, an inner strength even when my ego wanted to separate myself from any Christian labels, which I did. I’m not sure I regret this because I was always honest about my inner turmoil and conflict. I wasn't sure I could call myself a cHristian when I didn’t identify with anything they stood for on the surface. I wasn’t even sure some of the worship music resonated as true to my soul in God. Of course, it wasn’t for me to judge, but I felt discomfort. I longed for the sacred and holy and sincere and authentic and loving and kindness and peace loving and beautiful. It wasn’t in the places I was looking. But it seems I hadn’t looked everywhere.
I wasn’t looking to church to understand myself better, or to become free from addictions. I was looking for a place to experience true spirituality. I wanted to participate in communion, or experience the sacred in a reverent way. I wanted to just be in the Presence.
Loud music and electric bands weren’t of interest to me - it wasn’t the worship I recalled in the mid seventies when we worshipped in a spirit of love and reverence - it was life in the Spirit. This was another animal. This was Sunday morning entertainment with a latte. Not the same. But surely ok for those who liked it.
Reconnecting to the Holy Spirit and touching the scripture in ways I remembered spoke to me, but I didn’t know where to go without being surrounded by people who wanted to put religion in a box. I didn’t want a box.
I’d learned over the years that the only time I knew I was truly coming from a place of love, the Christ kind of love, was when I was balanced. I could feel it when I stood with people and just knew who they were, I could see them clearly without judgement and not separate from me. We were not connected. If there was conflict, we simply saw the world differently, had different glasses on, or had different goals. We didn’t polarize.
This was an experience of being fully present with them. I was standing in the now, without the past, present or future to cloud my experience of them. When we worked together for a common goal or a shared vision which looked to the future, we came out of the experience of the now without fear.
Standing in this consciousness builds trust. Not only are you able to see them with clarity, but you are making yourself available to be seen fully. Not everyone has the capacity to see you because of their state of mind, but you are accessible if they choose to see you. Similar to the way God is.
When we are standing the experience of now, without allowing our thoughts to project to the past, present or future - or to a story we tell ourselves about them - we are fully aware and connected to the source of our being in God. We can’t stand in that place with the ego active, even if the ego will make itself known whenever it can.
For some reason, I’ve often had the story of the woman at the well come to mind in this experience of the now - standing in non-judgment. One would think the Spirit would lead me to see the story of the woman caught in Adultery, or a handful of other encounters with Jesus. This is the one the Spirit leads me to - the Christ Spirit is fully present with her in the now, seeing her past marriages, knowing who she was even when she didn’t want to reveal all of herself to him for obvious reasons, and his response that he is living water. He says, “Go and sin no more.” There is no judgement, no shame, no hint at expected remorse or guilt. He frees her in the moment. He simply allows her to be seen, is clear about who he is and what’s available to her, and releases her from her shame and past. It’s a beautiful example of clarity and honest seeing in the NOW. The Spirit is present in this story and the Spirit can only be experienced through the Now, the present moment. The spirit cannot live in the story of the past, present or future if it is a product of fear or anxiety. This cannot be of the Spirit. This is a wonderful tool of discernment to use for identifying the Holy Spirit.
The Call of Peacemaking and the Faces of Polarization
I’ve always felt a call. The problem was I didn’t know which one to follow. There seemed so many, and telling the difference between which was the desire of my heart and which was the desire of God could be difficult to discern.
The clearest call that I can only attribute as a call of God happened in 1997 in Idaho. It is to be a peacemaker. It is the primary internal driver that pushes me to type right now. Bitter conflict and division has taken hold of our country. I’m not referring strictly to the most recent political campaigns, but also to the divides that exist between environmentalists and those who work the land; between atheists and the religious, between conservative and progressive Christians, between the voting public and the government as a whole. Of course, there are countless other examples of polarization and division collectively poisoning us; all of which have reached a crescendo far beyond a healthy creative tension. Healthy creative tension will allow us to see where we are and where we want to go. When conflict is below a certain threshold, creative tension and conflicting ideas paint a sense of where we are in the greater scheme of things, and in relation to the source of conflict in contrast to where we want to be. However, the polarization that’s taken hold in our culture takes people out of their reality and puts them into individual camps that are miles apart, and directly opposed ideologically. This is not reality. We are not directly opposed to one another in ideas, or in a best possible outcome for the future - but we’re led to believe we are by those with the deepest political or ideological investment, or greatest opportunity for profit. The only ones who can put an end to this kind of silent war within the borders of our own collective psyche is us. We are pawns in a game with no winners, other than those who are strategically orchestrating the conflict from afar. I am far from paranoid or a conspiracist, but I am a realist. The best alternative for an outcome that meets our collective needs is to disempower the puppet masters, and find shared purpose, shared meaning, and shared language with which to deconstruct and rebuild our ideologies together.
This can start with Christianity for those who choose it.
The essence of Christ’s teachings and the experience of the Holy Spirit will take us there - if we keep it simple. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not easy. A full opening of the heart never is because it’s not something we can will ourselves to do. We can only prepare ourselves for it as we prepare the soil in spring for plant growth. It is only the Spirit that can finish what we’ve started - simply because it’s a relationship. We are making ourselves willing to open and be in relationship. This requires willingness and surrender at the heart level.
Christians have an opportunity to demonstrate the teachings of Jesus, and be an inspiring and unprecedented example for the world. In popular culture today, there are three simple words that are more popular than any single statement Jesus ever made. It would be a powerful act for Christians to stand in unity and model them for the world to see.
Be the Change.
Gandhi’s famous words are a mantra for people the world over. Christians, by modeling this in living action, could make a global impact in the name of Christ. The question is do Christians have the capacity in their own hearts, collectively and individually, to make it happen?
Remembering God 3
(Gail build upon this rock)
After our very first service at the Methodist Church in New Jersey, we walked down the many steps to the hall where a coffee fellowship was being held to welcome us. The steps leading up to this historic church was encased with a stone wall made of large boulders and concrete. As we reached the last step, a very large boulder/rock fell out, landing right at Wally’s feet. It was disconcerting, yet mystical. We were momentarily wondered if it was a sign of bad things to come, or dark forces at work; until the parishioner accompanying us said, “Build my house upon this rock,” quoting the scripture from ——-. It was perfect. This was one of those times someone citing scripture in the midst of conversation encouraged me, almost mystically, instead of making me squirm. I am still grateful for her inspired comment and quick thinking.
The Differences in Approach and Experience
My experience of God was no longer fed by hearing how much God loved me, no matter how much I tried to open my heart. It wasn’t that I didn’t accept God’s love. I did. It just didn’t feel real anymore, it felt contrived or unnatural to me. What’s important, however, is this in no way means it’s not exactly how God intends many people to experience God. If this is how God comes through to them, it is surely their Divine inspiration to be touched in this way. Understanding this matters.
Over the years, traditional prayer felt empty. It still does. There are times, in the company of others, that I experience prayer as spirit led and filled when using words. But prayer alone with words, or petition, is generally one dimensional and I experience it as disingenuous. This is because the mind generally prays with words and the mind is not connected to my soul, or the place my soul and spirit meet. It is only with my soul that I connect with God. The soul requires no words or petition, unless there is a conscious need for me to set an intention that the mind also needs to hear. There are occasions this is necessary, and they are usually times of change or discipline in which we need the mind’s cooperation. That said, my general rule of thumb is that the soul and God will handle what I cannot, and the outcome will flow out of my inner self as it unfolds in God.
The mind does not have the capacity or dimension to take us to God meaningfully, in the way the soul does. Repetitive prayer will eventually communicate to the soul, and vice versa, but it can be akin to taking the long road - which may be exactly how it should be. It’s never worth second guessing too much because the soul and the sub conscious are at work either way, directing you towards your destination.
My experience of God is a oneness that is unlike any other experience. It was like this from the time I was 17, and had a spiritual awakening in a Harlem revival tent. Even then, I didn’t become the kind of Jesus follower many others were. It changed me on such a deep level that I’ve sometimes wondered if it might have been cellular. Of course, this is simply my imagining, but the work of my thoughts nonetheless.
Although it was at first an unsought awakening that unexpectedly made an appearance, it was the day to day experience in the weeks and months that followed that changed me in the long run. My perception of life changed, the way I handled stress, worry, future and past transformed into an inner knowing and rest in and of God. This was immediately present - and has remained with me until this day. That said, how I practice my spiritual life has changed over time, not because my faith wavered but simply because I was changing or growing. There were also many periods in my life in which I didn’t give my life with God the attention or the honor it deserved. Nonetheless, God was always with me as was my life in Christ.
It often manifested as simply a life. I didn’t appear religious, nor was I. Not unlike many people who simply trust there is God, but at different times of life, don’t particularly study or worry about it. It just is.
The transformation I experienced at a young age was described to me by others as an infilling of the Holy Spirit, and over the years, this has consistently rung true - even if others’ experience of the Spirit manifested differently than mine did. It’s for this reason it’s difficult to understand the need of some Christians to attack or accuse other Christians for their method or practice if they are on the path of Christ too.
Even more disturbing, is the righteous claims that other self-professed Christians are not Christians if they don’t think or interpret scripture exactly the same way. This is preposterous given the endless interpretations, denominations, practices, and experiences within the boundaries of Christianity. Does it serve God, or the name of Christ, to deny another the claim to his name? Surely not - unless they are clearly practicing evil. Evil, in this sense described as something that does harm to others, particularly with conscious intent.
A Christian is one who follows Christ, and in my own words, stands for what he stood for. His primary purpose, as he made very clear, was to glorify God. He wanted God to be known to people, he wanted people to know God is good. God is love. God is for us. And God is accessible and near to anyone who seeks God. He also clearly wanted us to experience God through his experience, to be a channel for grace, and to develop the capacity to see ourselves honestly - as God sees us - without filters or through our false self.
To experience the Divine in the most authentic way, we must become vulnerable. Vulnerability requires risk and trust. On some level we know the experience of God will erase fear and bring an experience of peace. Even if we’ve never touched this, we know deep within that it will bring us face to face with ourselves and our truth. There’s something within most of us that knows if we allow ourselves to open fully to God we won’t be able to hide from seeing our whole self. We know our shadow self will be fully revealed to us without filters, or we’ll feel compelled to do what’s necessary to live our best or most purposed life. This can terrify us. It is so scary, in fact, that the ego or false self will desperately attempt to find anything it can to create fear, doubt, resentment, and other reasons not to open ourselves to this possibility or experience.
Faith is trust. Belief is an idea. When we make a decision to have faith in God, we are saying we trust God as the source of our being. Faith is a statement that says we’re in relationship with God, and we are participating with God in trust.
When we reach this stage of faith or relationship, we are saying we want to be unlocked. Being unlocked is a freedom that comes with the knowing that we’re not alone, and we’re willing to surrender our will over to the care of God. In 12 step groups, this is the 3rd step. We made a conscious decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God, as we understood him. (/her). The operative word here, even though it gets little notice, is conscious. When we make a decision to turn our will and life over to God, we are actively participating in the relationship. We are making a decision to enter into a sacred and holy relationship as one who trusts God. We are declaring that we are part of something that is much bigger than ourselves, and connected to all that is.
This is a defining moment when done with real vulnerability and intention. It is an intersection that will lead you to looking differently at what your life means, and how you choose to live it. You will no longer be listening with your mind that is trying to control the outcomes of your life, but will rather, listen with the whole of who you are, and let it guide you. In time, a knowing that is unlike the desires of the ego or the mind, will become second nature to steer you towards what your true heart’s desires really are.
Sometimes this knowing will tell you simply to wait, or be patient. In these times, you might be disappointed or chomping at the bit to do something. Remember, if this voice is telling you to wait, your ego will pull out all the stops to tell you to go ahead. It wants you to be uncomfortable and experience needless drama. It feeds off this incessant chatter and activity. When you’re faced with these challenges and temptations, you will grow stronger as you learn to listen to your true self, instead of your ego or false self.
When we surrender from our deepest place and make a decision to trust God, we are moving into a space that requires us to be honest and vulnerable. With practice, this becomes a way of being that is alive and rewarding. When we find ourselves going into denial about aspect of our life, or things we do that don’t serve us or others, the mirror that shows us our true self will reveal itself and it will be very hard to ignore it. When we do, we will find ourselves shutting down little by little to the power and vibrancy we’ve been living. A lack of self honesty and self disclosure will slowly eat away at our spiritual life, taking a great deal of joy with it. If we’re prone to addictions or compulsions such as drinking or eating too much, for many, they will take the place of our spiritual center….until it’s erased the experience all together.
The ability to know yourself, and admit your weaknesses, is one of the most powerful and fun aspects of living a spiritual life in God. Ironically, enjoying it is contingent upon having others to share our weaknesses with. The ability to be vulnerably honest and disclose our faults - shame and all - with others we’ve come to trust, is the path to connectedness to God through others. It is this heart connection with others that gives life joy and purpose.
A spiritual life is often referred to as inner life, but it is not whole without the outer life as well. This is witnessed in the life of Jesus over and over again. He spent his life serving and healing others. His main activity with those he came into contact with was eating with them - although I’ve noticed he never cooked. He did bring home the bacon though, or the fish to be exact.
Finding balance between an inner life and being in service to others is key to a spirit filled life. This ability to keep one foot in the current reality while learning to see with the eyes of our true self from our inner life, creates a necessary balance.
Achieving this balance can result in a paradigm shift, significantly changing how we see the world. This can happen through a sudden conversion experience as I had in Harlem as a teen, or it can come gradually. Whichever way it comes, you will see with new eyes. Things that once were completely logical and rational may suddenly appear ridiculous or nonsensical. Your understanding of the world can change in an instant - and when you least expect it. You might have an idea or political issue you feel strongly about, and when this paradigm shift takes place, it can turn this long standing opinion on its head because you now see it with your spiritual eyes. By the way, you won’t suddenly become a bleeding heart liberal or want to give everything you own to charity - it’s not like that. Unless, of course, that’s God’s intention and the deepest purpose for your life. In most cases, it’s closely aligned with the ability to become non-dualistic.
You will no longer see life’s situations as either/or, and us or them. The world takes on a more holistic view, providing a more balanced and authentic picture of reality without the ideology and world views that color and divide people. Your willingness to be vulnerable and practice self honesty in your spiritual experience within and with God, will open your heart which, in turn, will let you see things as they are, not as you are, as SO AND So said so well.
This is what happened to me one day in Idaho - and totally out of the blue.
It had been years since I’d had my religious conversion experience, and I was not a vocal Christian, to say the least. I’d been practicing with shaman and drumming in nature for the pst few years, thanking God in these experiences for the richness and diversity he’d made available to me.
Spiritual awakenings come in many different forms. Sometimes they come as a sudden life-changing experience that’s described as the Holy Spirit. This will transform your experience of living. When this happens, we have to navigate the change which come, to fully understand what has happened to us.
Another way it happens is through a shocking experience in life such as a death or unexpected loss, or perhaps a deep betrayal that changes your life in an instant. These moments can crystallize how you see things and take you directly to your core, to your true self - creating a clarity you didn’t have before and compelling you to make changes in your life that are undeniable. Many say they don’t know why they’re doing something, but they have no choice. It’s suddenly all so clear.
Yet another example is when your fire is lit within. Robert Moyers called it the fire in the belly. When this fire is lit regarding a particular purpose, project or something that is clearly calling you to follow it, it is another form of a spiritual awakening. You have been called. When you don’t follow it, or take steps towards manifesting this calling, everything inside you is screaming and at odds. It feels as if there’s nothing you can do but do it…you must heed the call. This is a wonderful way to be spiritually awakened because it calls you to a life purpose, providing an added internal motivator to push you to action. It is a rewarding and purposeful way to enter into the holy and the sacred.
Spiritual and Contemplative Practice
GRATITUDE AND HUMILITY
Suffering has traditionally been a either a spiritual practice or an inevitable experience of the spiritual path. Suffering is emphasized strongly in both the Christian tradition and in Buddhism. It is seen as a door to revelation in some instances, and required for becoming whole. In Buddhism, suffering is considered foundational to the practice….more here.
Christian mystics of the past often used suffering as a spiritual practice to demonstrate their love and commitment to Jesus Christ, as a way to stand in his suffering with him. Today, we don’t use suffering in this context and hope Christ understands we love him anyway. We’re well aware there are many other ways to suffer without flogging or starvation. That said, this extreme form of practice was a powerful example of suffering in practice.
Jesus said to those who wanted to study with him that in order to follow him we must hate our mother and father, deny our family, etc. (GET VERSE), or give up all we own. This can frighten people to the point of denying their own spiritual path as a Christian because, at some level, they sense they’ll have to give something up that is meaningful to them now. What he is saying here is our commitment to our true self, to our life in Christ, and our oneness with God must come before all else. Once we understand that our relationship with God is our oneness in our self, it becomes crystal clear that the ability to see the higher self and our higher purpose, why this must come before the physical world alone. The ability to see our higher purpose or greater good allows us to see fully, with passion. If we make our physical reality a priority over God, we’ll miss seeing with full sight. It doesn’t mean we treat others badly or our family is not a priority. It simply means we have to take care of first things first, because when we do, everything else falls into place.
Although we don’t usually use the word suffering for the painful things that happen in our lives, we are suffering. Christians often use the word ‘brokenness’ to describe human suffering on a individual, personal level. Brokenness reflects very well what we feel when the bottom has fallen out in our lives. Whether it’s divorce, heartbreak, loss, defeat, physical or mental illness, etc, they all leave us feeling broken and unable to put ourselves together again on our own. The best way to lick these wounds is usually with the support or love of others who know how to stand in the space with us without trying to fix us. Often, the deeper the crack in our brokenness, the more we will spiritually learn from the experience. The only caveat is that it takes time to see what we’ve learned from it, and it requires deep trust and patience to get to the other side - and climb on to the shore.
The Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton, coined the term False Self which, of course, is the alter ego to our True Self, as first named by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Jesus often mentioned that we should lose ourselves, or die to ourselves in order to find ourselves. (matthew?) Merton intended this as the context for the false self to help make it easier to understand. In other words, the false self is our ego which we identify as. When we surrender this idea of ourselves and all the trimmings that accompany it, such as our wealth, material belongings, our due, accomplishments, the labels we attach to ourselves, we are left with the eternal self - the endless state of our true self. Endless because it knows no bounds. It is the part of us that is connected to God and all that is. It is who we are in essence - quite literally.
These times can take us to a mystical state or to a spiritual awakening if we’re willing to surrender ourselves to God in these times. Often our ego will tell us we’re weak for turning to God at a time like this, and that we’ll regret it or feel like a fool. This is the ego playing the trickster. It is exactly at these times that we need union with God.
As Leonard Cohen so aptly said, “There’s a crack in everything. It’s where the light gets in.”
Gerald Jampolsky wrote a book years ago called ‘Love is Letting Go of Fear.” These five words hold a timeless truth. When we claim our faith and relationship or connection in God, remembering that we are in and of God, fear melts away because God is love. Anxiety can become something in the distant past, and our fear of losing what we hold dear takes second place to knowing the experience of real love on the spiritual realm.
Fear often keeps us from unlocking ourselves and opening up to an intimate relationship with God in which we can experience, as Jesus said, the peace that passes understanding. The relationship of love that exists in this intimate connection with God is one most people only dream of, and when we touch it, we will never want to be without it.
Fear can also come in the form of separation from others. This has often been demonstrated by Christians warning their own to not practice yoga, or attend personal growth workshops or even AA, to just name a couple of things. These Christians in their desire for someone to love God, try to separate others from the world itself. This is completely fear-based and sabotages the very real need for Christians to learn balance and integration in life.
Learning how to be still is foundational. It is also one of the hardest practices to discipline ourselves to do.
Sometimes we are so accustomed to being with others and being busy that we have no idea how to slow ourselves down into a state that is honestly still. Still does not come simply from being quiet or taking five minutes to pray. It is a state of being that quiets us at our core, at the center of our being, and takes us deep within. The more we practice this kind of stillness, the more we become familiar with our true selves and our union with God. It is a practice that teaches us how to access our inner and higher self through discernment and awareness.
This type of silence and stillness can also be frightening. It can take us to the end of ourselves when we go beyond our comfort zone. It was always extremely difficult for me to do until I experienced a time of being broken at the core. Everything I knew to be true, real and good was gone, and I could do nothing but be still. I had nothing left. Although this began as a form of coping, and perhaps even depression, it transformed into a deep knowing and union with God. It is not the ecstatic or transcendent form of being in union, but rather the ability to sit in the nothingness without fear.
Understanding what God Is
God is not some weird religious apparition, or personal belief that we hold on to as a crutch. It’s so much more powerful and mystical than that. I’ve heard people say, “it’s good for people who need something to hold on to.” Well, perhaps that’s true, and it’s
DIVISION, LANGUAGE, AND UNDERSTANDING AMONG CHRISTIANS