St. Augustine of Hippo

I read a book last week that may or may not count as cheating on the whole “giving up self-help books” thing.  The book is Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and I’ll just call it a memoir.  In one of the last chapters she included this quote, which I loved and took as validation  for my bleeding heart.

“Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ;

rest your weary ones; bless your dying ones;

soothe your suffering ones; pity your afflicted ones;

shield your joyous ones.

And all for your love’s sake.”

The prayer was attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo.

I Am The Way

The following post is written in response to a request from a friend.

I think that at our core we all have the same purpose in this life.  We know we have a purpose and we think it’s a number of things.  We go to school, get training or education, we find jobs, get into relationships and marry or co-habitat with those partners, we have children, we buy houses and cars, travel and take up causes.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to do everything we wanted to do and yet we find ourselves still feeling like we haven’t achieved our purpose.  That’s because we probably haven’t.  What I believe we were put here to do is to know and experience God, which is the underlying love and order behind everything in this world.

That brings me to the title of this post.  Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  Where does that statement fit in with my belief that we were all put here to experience God (again as the underlying love and order behind everything).  I know a lot of people who would say that they are experiencing God by accepting Jesus as their savior and worshiping him.  To me that’s just a less devious way of breaking the first commandment.  Jesus was a son of God just as I am a daughter of God.  He was not God, but he did what most of us will never do and that is came to fully know and experience God.

All true mystics and spiritual teachers, no matter what religion they label themselves, will agree that Jesus was one of the most God realized individuals.  He reached the level where he was living from that place within himself that is Divine.  The human Jesus was cast aside when he reached enlightenment.  So there are two ideas as to what he meant when he said “I am the way.”

The first is that he was speaking not as Jesus, but as the Christ.  Perhaps he had his hand over his heart as he spoke and was emphasizing that the path to God is found within the heart.  Maybe if we’d been seated at his feet he would have reached down and touched our hearts.  I imagine Jesus as a very humble man, I can’t imagine him standing on a pedestal and insisting that the only way to meet God is to come to him first.

The other idea which was presented in Paul Ferrini’s series is that Jesus wasn’t saying come to me, but instead he was saying to follow my lead.  Do as I do, live the way you see me living, practice forgiveness, keep an open heart, and love even your enemies.  The more you live from that heart space, where love and forgiveness preside, the more you are living as God.  The “way” is not to come to Jesus and hope that he will do something for you, but allow his actions and words to lead you to do something for yourself.

My spiritual journey is all about seeking the God experience.  And to me that experience is felt as love and comfort.  When I can shift an angry reaction to a loving one, I am connecting with God.  Jesus paved a pathway that I can walk along.  I can seek his guidance through books and meditation.  I can do the same with other mystics and spiritual teachers that are no longer here in human form.

Ultimately it is all about what makes each of us individually experience the love (God) which is present in us and all around us all the time.  If believing Jesus is God allows that love to fill you up than that is your truth and your way.  For me, I am comforted to know that following the example Jesus set will bring me closer to knowing God from the inside out.

Why My Daughter May Fear Jesus

My Unity church is a small one.  We don’t have a big children’s program so for that reason my youngest daughter, Callee, is almost five but still a “nursery kid.”  Her age group doesn’t yet get spiritual instruction.  Up until September she hadn’t really been introduced to Jesus.  (In our house we pray to God or Spirit not to Jesus.)

In September we (Callee and I) went to NC for my grandmother’s funeral.  In the days leading up to her death, Mema had a vision of Jesus.  It was a given that when she finally passed everyone talked about that vision.  Jesus had come to take her home.

Before the funeral, the family went to privately view Mema’s body.  I really didn’t want to take Callee into the room.  I didn’t think she would understand.  I thought it might scare her or scar her.  In the end, the confusion scared her more.  There was a mysterious room where people walked into and then started weeping.  My brother-in-law did his best to distract her, but ultimately I decided she needed to see what was going on.

When we showed Callee Mema’s body it was explained to her that now Mema was with Jesus in Heaven.  I did not realize then how seriously she was filing that statement away.

It has been two months since the funeral and pretty often Callee still mentions, out of the blue, that Mema is with Jesus.  The other day though she said something that made me realize that this particular way of explaining death to her may have been a mistake.  We had stopped to check the mail when Callee stepped in a huge fire ant nest while wearing flip flops.  She ended up getting eleven ant bites.  When we got in the house she sat down and was furiously scratching the bites.  While doing this she said in her meanest voice “I wish all the fire ants in the world would just go with Jesus to Heaven.”

On one hand, I wanted to crack up laughing but on the other hand, it made me sad.  Now my little girl equates Jesus with dying.  I’m realizing now that although it wouldn’t have been as sweet, it would have been much more productive to have just told her that Mema had died.

With this in mind I just have to hope that she doesn’t come in contact with someone trying to evangelize to her.  The moment they ask her if she wants to have Jesus in her heart she’s likely to wonder if it’s some kind of death threat!

Why Tuesday Broke My Heart

On Tuesday night I watched the election results and basically felt as if I had been stabbed in the gut.  For the first time I understood that fear-you know the fear that has been swimming through our ultra-conservative population across the country since Obama was elected in 2008-that the country is about to see some very very dark days.  I sat there with this ache in my belly wondering how long before we bleed out.  I used to think that that fear was absurd and irrational, but since the shoe is on the other foot now, I can finally understand.

On my Facebook page several people commented on how it was a new day in America.  One of them stated that now the morals and values would be returning.  That one made me start to think about my own values.  I’ve not always been inclined to state what really matters to me for fear that I may rock the boat and make others uncomfortable, but I think it’s time for me to tell everyone what being liberal means to me.

*I believe in doing what you can to help people in need.

*I believe that people are more important then the profits of enormous corporations and when the divide between the rich and the poor gets this out of hand we should really start asking what is going on.

*I believe that sick people have a right to be healed, even if they don’t have very much money or don’t spend it wisely.

*I believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry and adopt children in every state.

*I am pro-choice because I am simply not qualified to make that decision for someone else.  It has nothing to do with how I feel about abortions or whether I value life.

*I want to protect our environment so that we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a healthy food supply.

*I value public education and want to see it thrive.

*I believe in peaceful compromises.

*I believe that if our men and women in uniform (military and civil service) are willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom and safety, we should be willing to sacrifice a little extra from our paychecks to help our communities and our country remain safe and free. (At some point someone’s got to raise taxes-starting with the Bush tax cuts- or else we’re going to be the United States of America: PROPERTY OF CHINA.)

I’m sure this list could go on and on, but I’ve been at this post for an hour and a half now and I’m fried.  The simple fact is, when I read over the list none of that sounds evil to me.  Being liberal to me is about being generous and open-minded.  There is a song we just taught the kids at church that sort of sums it up.

Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more

It’s just like a magic penny, hold it close and you won’t have any

Give it away and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor

(My take of it is that) the Republicans will have you believe that closing off the tap will save what we have and allow our wealth and strength to grow, but I think (and I’m pretty sure Jesus would agree) that quite the opposite is true.

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.

Bumpity, Bump, Bump, Bump

On Friday I mentioned something that gives me a big owiee when I bump up against it.  I get pretty uncomfortable with the whole “Jesus is the (only) Way” thing.  To me, that’s just another method of putting the power for your salvation and happiness outside of yourself.  I think we each are in charge of saving ourselves.  There is no incantation we can say or water we can bathe in that makes Jesus’ spirit enter our body and steer us to Heaven. (Although I do believe we can connect with him or the spirit he represents.) Our salvation requires work on our part and if anything the way of Jesus was the behavior he modeled for us.

This leads me to my most recent bump.  I have a Facebook friend whose spouse left them about 6 weeks ago.  In all honesty I was excited to watch my friend’s journey through this.  It may sound bad, but from everything I observed it was the right path.  The friend seemed to come alive and was intent on being happy on their own…until someone else played matchmaker.  One date and my friend is head over heels in love.  It would not surprise me if an engagement comes before the divorce is finalized.

I found myself wanting to tell them to stop right there and go back to being “on their own.”  I mean sure I could say rationally it’s too soon and they should really focus on healing, but this is about more than that.  The fact that it bothers me so much means it is also about me.  So what is it within me that this is a mirror for. I know it sounds narcissistic but stuff bugs us because it irritates an un-healed wound within us.  You can be sure when you take something personally that is really none of your business there’s more to it than just “concern for another.”

So what is it?  Well I think I fear that I will never “make it on my own” when it comes to my professional life.  But that I will always give in and take the easier path when faced with a challenge.  I’ve already started thinking of “back-up careers” that won’t make me happy but will keep me busy when that time comes.  The other thought this situation brings up for me is this idea of seeking outside of yourself.  Intellectually I know that true happiness comes from within.  I know that in order to love fully I must first love myself that way.  But I can’t seem to do it.  I continue to seek affirmation from sources outside of me, instead of looking within.  I want my heart to open up wide again (I’ve felt somewhat closed lately) and when it does I want to leave it that way instead of stuffing it full of what the world has to offer.

At the end of the day I want for my friend the same thing that I want for myself.  I want them to be happy and at peace.  But more importantly I want them to stop searching and know that they are already enough!

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.