A Few Days With Jesus

Some time ago, maybe two years, I reached out for spiritual answers through “automatic writing.”  This is a much more woo-woo way of saying soul-writing or journaling.  It was at a point where I was quite certain I needed a spiritual teacher.  I’d been informed by various people that everyone needs a real-life teacher.  You can’t get there with books alone.  I asked my journal, or asked God through my journal, who would be my teacher.  The answer that came into my head and onto the page was JESUS.

At that time I’d just bought A Course In Miracles which is supposedly a curriculum by Jesus (through Helen Schucman). I started reading the text but didn’t complete it and didn’t even begin on the student workbook.   The book is a lot to grasp, I’d say in parts it is as tricky to decode as the Bible.  And to some extent I was as skeptical of it as I am the Bible.  After reading over 700 pages of it (it’s over 1000 pages) 400 pages of the almost 700 page text, I put it aside and have only thought of it on a few occasions.  (One of those occasions was when I was bringing the blog back and I considered making it an ACIM themed blog.)

So the idea of learning from Jesus through A Course In Miracles has been a seedling in my brain for a while.  This week I read the last two books in the Reflections of the Christ Mind series by Paul Ferrini.  Just as Helen Schucman before him, he feels and claims that the content of his books came directly from Jesus.  When you read it you feel as if you are having a modern day conversation with the Savior himself.  The teachings are exactly what resonates with me and nothing like what I heard in the Baptist church that reminded us again and again that without accepting Christ we’d suffer for eternity in Hell.

The last book in the series mostly came from Paul Ferrini himself.  He talked about how he came to accept Jesus as his teacher.  He was raised Jewish and wasn’t necessarily open to the Christian concept of the son of God.  But in a moment of darkness in his life, a voice came to him and guided him.  Later he would realize this presence was Jesus.  Along his path he found A Course in Miracles and although skeptical of it’s origin found that the teachings were in line with the Christ he knew.  Through reading what was in essence his testimony, I came to understand the true meaning of accepting Jesus Christ as your savior.  It is not a process in which you take a vow and start going to church.  Instead it is about going within, asking Christ to guide you, and being open to that guidance without inserting your ego into the mix. We really can know Jesus.

I had such an experience some time ago (of truly feeling Jesus was with me).  I’d had an encounter with someone who had accused me of worshiping false Gods and being a voice for the devil.  But what I felt in my heart was that I’d learned that I could commune with God and Jesus in silence.  I’d even felt that a lot of what came to me through meditations, books I found, and people I met were messages about Reality from God.  So after this run-in, I wanted to prove to myself that Jesus was with me too.  That night in bed I asked Jesus for a sign.  It may have all been in my head but I swear that I felt the palms of my hands and my feet tingle.  In the next moment I heard “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Since that night I’ve still struggled with my relationship with Jesus.  Because of the religious influences in my life it is often hard for me to separate the loving, forgiving brother and wayshower with the God up on the cross that I am supposed to bow down to.  In my attempts to analyze this I’ve even questioned his very existence at all.  This week I had the opportunity to hear a call in the form of those books.  It reminded me that there is a teacher out there for me and all I need to do is commit to finding quiet time to commune with him and follow the example he set.  The Christ is within all of us, it’s just up to us if we want to meet him there.

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None of us Really Know…Do We?

I just finished reading the book Silence of the Heart by Paul Ferrini.  It talked a lot, like most of the spiritual books I read, about the inward journey being the place where you find your truth.  All of the outward stuff just forces us, if we wise up, to ask those inward questions.  When we bump up against something and it makes us go “OWIEEEEE!” we ought to ask ourselves why.  That is where we get real answers.  That is how we move forward on our unique path to enlightenment.

I went to my grandmother’s funeral a few weeks ago.  She was a wonderful woman, who lived a long life and had a lot of experiences.  I went to the service hoping to cry and laugh at the stories told about her.   But I also knew since she attended a baptist church the sermon would go hand in hand with the celebration of her life.

It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a church like that.  I got bumped…big time.  In a way I thought maybe I’d conjured up and exaggerated the message, that maybe it was bitterness that caused me to remember only one particular aspect.  But no.  The only message I took a way from Mema’s funeral sermon was:

If people don’t ask Jesus into their hearts they are doomed to Hell.  It doesn’t matter how good they are, all that matters is they allow Jesus to save them.  All the other religions are wrong…end of discussion.  And since Mema had Jesus in her heart, the only way to see her again is to take Jesus into your heart.

I was squirming in my seat.  My stomach was doing flips.  A lump was forming in my throat.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to run.  That is how I felt as I listened to the minister speak.  That is what I felt as I was supposed to be honoring my grandmother’s life.

So why did it bug me?  Why does this particular bump hurt so badly time and time again?  First off, this is my family’s religion.  This is their way of life.  For a girl who did her best to be pleasing (although I’m sure some might argue this), it really sucks to know that your family’s religion and beliefs tell them over and over that all the good I’ve done amounts to nothing.  I can spend years teaching inner city school children and serving food at the homeless shelter but I’m still going to burn in Hell with the worst of them.  In the end it only really matters that I’m on the right team.  And I’m not.  In ways I wish I could go back but I would be deceiving everyone if I did.

Which brings me to my next point.  There are so many people I want to shake and say “don’t you see how much of this life, this moment, this world you are missing out on by living a dream.”  We build up walls between us and our brothers and our sisters, so that we can stake claim to some plot of land in the afterlife that may or may not exist.  I am as convinced that they are wrong as the minister and his congregants are convinced they are right.  So I have built my own walls.  I have chosen to love my brothers and sisters less.  I’ve been prideful and smug.  I’m no different than the man that smiled and told a roomful of mourners that unless they followed his ideas they would suffer in a fiery Hell forever.

The truth is we don’t know.  None of us actually know what happens when we die.  We don’t actually know if there is a God.  We take it by faith.  We look at our own personal life experience and if we see something that appears as God there we make a choice to believe.  The books we read are all just experiences shared by other people just like us.  It is not my place to tell you where or how you should find God.  It is not my place to tell you that your God is not the right God.  I should simply love you for having the courage to seek at all.  And I hope to be loved for those reasons as well.

Religion

These days I feel as if I am caught between two worlds.  There is the rational/scientific world in which many people are atheist, agnostic, or just completely hiding their belief in God.  Then there is the Religious world where people wear their strongly held beliefs on their sleeves and walk around with an “if your not with us, your against us” attitude.  I feel very grey in this black and white world.

I grew up in the south, but unlike most families in our community, we didn’t start attending the Baptist church (or any church) until I was 12 years old.  By then I had been a blank slate too long to be indoctrinated.  Or it could have been that I felt so much like an outcast amongst the kids in my church that the true message of the religion could never quite penetrate all the other stuff I felt while there.  (I still find it quite interesting that no matter what church I  attended -there were 3 in all-I always felt an off the charts level of discomfort amongst the other congregants that I interacted with.)

I was “saved” at some point, while attending my first church.  My cousin and I spent a quiet moment with our dear great Aunt (who was an amazingly spiritual woman, truly connected to God) and asked Jesus into our hearts.  I know I felt something in that moment and I carried it with me for a while.  I began to read my bible and would talk for hours on the phone with a friend who wanted to be a minister.  But instead of being taught how to nurture that spiritual relationship  in myself, there was pressure to put it outward and save others.  Since I was such a shy and quiet person, this wasn’t something I was capable of and I began to scrutinize what I was taught at church.  I had a difficult time believing in a God that would pick and choose based on people’s behaviors.  I didn’t understand how, with all the billions of people in the world, only those that asked Jesus into their hearts could go to Heaven.  The questions began to outweigh my beliefs and as soon as I went to college I left religion and God behind.

Flash forward fifteen years or so and Mark orders the book “Mere Christianity” and encourages me to read it.  I was not happy about it, but I read it and something in it struck me.  In the book C.S. Lewis says something to the effect of God being your conscience and that the feelings you get of things being right or wrong is God communicating with you.  I didn’t agree with everything in the book (in fact parts of it made me feel quite yucky), but that was the one thing I needed to hear to understand and believe in God again.

Since then more spiritual doors have been opened to me.  I have learned a lot about other religions and what is most important to me now is finding the similarities, the basic principles that they were all founded on.  I love so many aspects of various religious traditions that I don’t feel I can choose just one to call my own.  I enjoy practices such as yoga, meditation, and chanting that are associated with Eastern religions.  I send my daughter to a Jewish preschool and am grateful for the exposure she gets to the religion.  I am fascinated by the healing practices and speaking in tongues associated with the Pentecostal church and the miraculous stories of the Saints in the Catholic tradition.  I feel that Jesus is my highest teacher and truly a way-shower.  The underlying message of all mystics is the same no matter what religion they become the symbol for.  And I would say that a true mystical message is to seek within for your spiritual identity, because ultimately it is about feeling the connection for yourself not following a path laid out for you by someone else.