No Defense

I have literally sat down at the computer tonight without knowing at all what I would write about.  A few days ago I re-read The Four Agreements and I definitely want to touch on some of that in a post eventually, but not tonight.  What popped into my head after that was something I read in A Course in Miracles this week.  Here it is:

Truth needs no defense.

In this world of polarized viewpoints in so many aspects of our lives, but especially in Politics and Religion, this is something that if I can take down to my heart just might set me FREE!  I don’t need to argue why I believe what I believe.  I don’t need to attempt in any way shape or form to pull you to my side.  At the end of the day Truth stands whether we’re there with it or not.

Next time I start to argue my point of view, I’m going to ask myself why I need to do that.  If my ideas are so shaky that they need me huffing and puffing, then maybe I need to go within and ask to see the truth.

What I have decided is that when I get to a place, especially with Religion, where I can hear a different viewpoint and not feel attacked, then I have truly begun to live what I know.  In the end, what you know intellectually can only get you so far, it is only when you are changed by it that you know it is Truth.

Renee’s Click

This is the second time Renee has written a “click” for me.  The first one was a fictionalized click. I introduced you to her last Wednesday so the only thing I’ll repeat here is her blog which you can find by clicking here.

I’m generally not the type to dwell on the past or even think too much about what’s happening at any one particular moment. I go with the flow and deal with things as they come, my mind quickly racing through ways to solve specific problems and come out on the other side with my life intact.

So when Leslee asked me last week to write a Click Story for her blog, it wasn’t easy to come up with an idea. I racked my brain trying to think of a moment in my life where I suddenly realized something profound, a moment that maybe changed my life – for good or bad. I couldn’t think of anything for a couple of days.

And then it came to me … the perfect “Click” moment for a blog about finding one’s spiritual path. In fact, there are two of them and they are both connected, so I chose to write for Leslee about the moments I discovered who I am as a spiritual being, what I believe and why.

My mother grew up Catholic and my father Jewish. Neither was or is especially religious, but I learned about Jesus and heaven and hell and all of those things. We lit Chanukah candles and exchanged Christmas presents under a decorated tree. I even went to church or synagogue every once in a while. In fact, I still do all of those things, but they have different meaning for me now.

Like many, I grew up with a belief that there was a God in heaven and He was a man and that all things Judeo-Christian were, without question, the Truth. It’s in our American culture, so unless a person either thinks more profoundly than a teenager usually does or is brought up in a home with an alternate religion, one tends to blindly accept these things.

I had friends who were Hindu or Buddhist, but never really thought much about that. Religion was religion. My mother told me once that no matter what religion a person is, there is still only one God and everyone worships Him in his or her own way.

But then I grew up. I went to college. I started thinking more deeply.

I took astronomy.

To pass my class, I had to go to the community college’s observatory a few times and look out at the heavens and write a report about what I saw. I went at a time when a local astronomy club met so they could help me with using the telescope: the general mechanics as well as finding specific stars, asteroids, comets, the moon, whatever.

As I peered through the telescope at the millions – billions! – of stars and planets in the sky, I had an epiphany (a Click moment): we are not alone in this universe.

I’m not a person who necessarily believes extraterrestrials visit Earth and probe people. I’m not sure it’s possible to ever travel that distance in a lifetime. But I do know that in a space as large and endless as this universe is, there’s no way that we are all there is.

When one looks at most religions, especially Judeo-Christian religions, they are very Earth-centered. God created the Earth and all the beings on it and he watches to make sure we don’t swear or have sex with someone to whom we aren’t married. And if we mess up a little bit, fire and brimstone await us in hell. But why, with all that’s out there, does He care about those things? He must have more important things to worry about, right?

And then I started thinking about how life comes to be. No man or woman alone can create a child. Some asexual organisms can, but with both male and female anatomy only. Even with cloning and in-vitro fertilization, one needs male and female elements. So how can one, single, male god create so much life without a feminine partner? The laws of Nature are against that scenario. Therefore, in my reasoning, if there is a god, there must also be a goddess.

And that was the moment I realized I am not Christian and I don’t want to be. It’s a lovely religion at its most pure, but to me, there isn’t much sense to it. There’s some, but as a whole it’s not something I can buy into.

But what now? I’m not Christian or Jewish. I’m not Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu. What am I?

It would be several years before I’d have that answer, my second Click moment. It came about two months ago when, out of curiosity, I attended a gathering of pagans. We went around the room introducing ourselves and stating what pagan path we each were on.

I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t really know enough to say. I still don’t know for sure, but one man’s answer hit me hard where it counts. He said, “I am a religious eclectic.”

And that is exactly what I am.

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.

I’m Teaching Again…

Over a year into my spiritual endeavors, I got the idea that I wanted to teach what I was learning to teens.  In my own life, I had been presented with Religion as a guiding tool to get you successfully through to your Judgment Day.  Whether it was valid or not my interpretation was everything that I do should be so that when I meet God, Jesus, or whoever one day they’d go through my list and it wouldn’t be so bad and I’d earn my ticket to Heaven.  Nothing I learned in Sunday school was applicable in my actual life.  If I wanted to do the many things teenagers tend to want to do, I was just supposed to NOT do them.  God didn’t want me to.  End of discussion.

What I learned as an adult on a Spiritual journey on my own terms is that God isn’t keeping a score card of my sins.  God isn’t even somewhere far off in Heaven watching over me.  God is actually an energy that moves through me and through everything around me.  If I am connected to and aware of that energy I am led to the best outcome for myself.  Instead of obsessing about what the God “out there” might be thinking of my choices, I simply pay attention to how I feel about my choices.  If I am on the right course I feel at ease, if I am not I feel stressed.  I am learning how to live now.  My spirituality has been the ultimate self-help.  Now, if I feel legitimate guilt I understand it is because I have done something that is not characteristic of who I really am.  I can let it go and remind myself of the goodness within me.

One thing I’ve said since I first found this path is if only I’d known this stuff when I was a teen.  I could have made better grades, been more organized, been better capable of dealing with conflict, and had more self-confidence.  But everything I did as a teen and young adult has brought me to the place I am now.  If I’d meant to “wake up” any earlier, the teacher would have arrived.

So back to the teaching thing.  Over a year ago I volunteered as the teacher’s assistant in the Uniteens (6-8 graders) program at my Unity church.  I did that for several months before the program fizzled due to teacher changes and low attendance.  Last Winter, our Youth Director returned after Maternity Leave and was ready to start a new program.  Again, I felt called to take it on.  I resisted for a while, but eventually stepped up and volunteered to lead the program starting August 15.  Since I made the commitment, I’ve been planning the year with my co-teacher.  During this time I’ve had a lot of feelings of uncertainty and fear.  It reached a peak the other day and I actually dreamed that 24 kids showed up for the class and not one of them was cooperating with me.  I woke up thinking what have I gotten myself into? And then I picked up the book “The Last Lecture” and read the whole thing over the day.  By the time I was finished I was reminded why I had gotten myself into this.  I want to help kids understand how valuable their dreams and ideas are.  I want them to know that they are divinely guided.  I want to give them the spiritual tools that will carry them successfully through middle school, high school, and into adulthood.  I want them to know that “God” isn’t an entity waiting to judge them after death, but a spirit that is within guiding them to live the most joyful and productive life they can.

Yesterday, I had 8 kids show up who are apparently ready to “awaken.”  And I’m going to do my best to teach them how….

Love is God

Quite commonly people toss out the phrase, “God is love.”  Some important people in my life are devout Southern Baptists and me, well I’m spiritually liberal,  I suppose.  A lot of the stuff that feels like truth to me is downright blasphemy to them.  But if we sat down and had a conversation about religion, God and spirituality the one thing we might agree on is that “God is love.”

I have a couple of blogger friends that are “nonbelievers.”  At one point in their lives each of them were very devout…one Baptist (I think) and the other Pentecostal.  Each of them for various reasons began to question their faith and ultimately left religion and “God” behind.  One of them wrote a series of posts the other day with the title “Your God is a Monster.” He was writing about Hell and how really sick and twisted the concept of Hell is.  He mentioned God and love and how nonsensical it is that a God who is supposedly so loving would send those who don’t accept his love (or his son’s) to be tortured eternally.

It is quite a conundrum.  How can God be all loving and yet have such violent tendencies?  So I had a little click.  What if we switch the phrase around:  LOVE IS GOD!

When love is God there is no room for torture and punishment.  Love can’t change it’s mind and stop being love.  Love will not judge you.  Love sees itself in everything and extends compassion.  Love is open and expansive.  Love will never use fear to control people.

My atheist friends believe in love.  My Southern Baptist family members believe in love.  I’d be willing to bet that everyone, no matter what religion, believes in or has experienced love.  Love is universal.  Love is one thing we all have in common.

There is a lot of debate about the Bible.  Many people believe that the Bible is absolute and is to be taken very literally.  Some people believe it is poetry and literature left up to each individual’s interpretation.  Some believe it was written solely to control the masses and has no foundation in truth at all.  I’ve never read the Bible all the way through.  I have read bits and pieces, some of which I found hard to accept and some that made my heart sing.  The following is one of those “heart-singing” excerpts:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy.
Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude;
It is not self-seeking, nor easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongdoing.
It does not delight in evil,
But rejoices in the truth.
It always protects, trusts, hopes, and preserves.
There is nothing love cannot face;
There is no limit to its faith, hope, and endurance.
In a word, there are three things that last forever:
Faith, hope, and love;
But the greatest of them all is love.

— 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
So what if we’ve had it backwards all this time and instead of saying “God is Love” we should be saying “Love is God?”

The Answers

At the end of mine and Mark’s first two years of marriage, I had managed to pack on 25 pounds.  My “newlywed 25” came from learning to cook and following recipes meant to feed 4-6 people.  That left plenty of food for second and third helpings, which I happily indulged in.  On New Year’s Day 2001, I watched Richard Simmons on QVC.  I knew his food-mover system was for me and promised Mark we would not regret buying it.  When it arrived, weeks later, I immediately began the diet.  I had amazing results.  I kept a food journal, measured my food, watched my portion sizes, moved the windows, and exercised EVERY day.  Within six months I had lost 35 pounds.  I was smaller, fitter, and hotter than I’d ever been in my life.

At my job as a second grade teacher, I became the poster child for weight-loss.  Soon my co-workers formed a weight-loss club that was a small scale version of The Biggest Loser.  Everyone put money into a pot and the “biggest loser” would win the prize.  I gave everyone a little presentation of my experience with Richard Simmons’ food-mover system.  I made hand-outs of my diet tips and lent my food-mover books to a couple of people.  I just knew I was giving them the answers and they would all follow suit and lose lots of weight just like I had.  At the end of the competition, the winner had lost about 10 pounds…which meant that as a whole the group definitely didn’t meet my goals for them.  It was the first time I clearly saw that just because something works for me doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else.

The same idea can be applied to the spiritual life.  Everyone seems to have their answers and they often present them to others as the ONLY answer.  I’ve written before about the ashram I visited almost two years ago.  During the visit, I was able to sit with others at the feet of the guru.  He is a beautiful, loving, enlightened soul!  He seemed to channel spirit as he spoke to us…right up until the moment he said ___ yoga is the way to reach enlightenment.  I left there that weekend in the hopes I could begin this yoga practice, even considering one day going back to train as a teacher.  Once I was home, I did two yoga sessions and that was it.  So did this mean I was incapable of becoming enlightened?  Or maybe the guru’s answer wasn’t mine.

In 2003, while we lived in Texas, I picked up a book on Meditation.  I read it and was so excited and inspired, BUT I could not meditate.  I told Mark about the techniques in the book.  “Can you imagine how great life would be if I could do this and make it work?”  But I could NOT do any of it.  I realized it was an answer, but not my answer at that time.  In 2007, when I began my own meditation practice it did change my life and it became a valuable tool.  I started telling people everywhere that they should meditate and that it would solve so much for them.  I still think this is true, but I also think there are a lot of times and ways a person can meditate.  I sit on a pillow, cross my legs, close my eyes, and inwardly repeat a mantra.  Some people sit in a chair, lay down, or chant out loud.  But you can also meditate while you shower, mow the lawn, drive to work, exercise, or prepare a meal.  I think it is important to go inward and silence the mind (as best you can by letting thoughts come and go), but again this is an answer that will only work when and if you are ready for it.

Businesses, individuals, and organizations will present their ideas as THE answer.  They count on people buying into that claim.  Their survival relies on it.  With it your life will be better, without it your life may fall apart.  And lots of those answers work for lots of people a lot of the time.  But there is nothing, no matter what you are told, that fits every individual all of the time.  With this in mind it is good to pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that come to you when you are presented with a new answer.  Make your own way and seek your own answers.  Also, in my opinion, you don’t have to marry any set of ideals.  We are all free to change our minds and allow our thinking to evolve!

Ask Yourself This (1)

Tomorrow I start a 6-week book study with 3 amazing ladies at church. I can’t say enough about these women and what models they are for me in my spiritual life. It is purely coincidental that I find myself in a book group with them (although I’d venture to say it is not coincidental at all). I am looking so forward to the group that the thought of it brings on as much excitement as does the thought of the mini-vacation we are embarking on this weekend. I’m serious these ladies are as awesome as Disneyworld!!

The book we are reading is Ask Yourself This: Questions to Open the Heart, Expand the Mind, and Awaken the Soul by Wendy Craig-Purcell.  Each chapter of the book contains questions for you to reflect on and by searching for the answers within your own being you will presumably open up and discover what lies within you.  In honor of this book study I thought I’d post a question from the book each week as well as my answer.  Then, of course, I will invite you to answer the question for yourself (and if it suits you, share it in a comment).

The first two questions the book asks is “How do I define spirituality?  How do I define religion?”

When I first got on Facebook, I included “Spirituality”  in my list of  “interests.”  I’d caught up with a friend from High School who proceeded to pop up in my chat window one night and ask me what church I went to.  After a bit of awkward back and forth she finally said, “well, your information page says you’re interested in Religion.”  I don’t know how I weaseled out of the conversation but I did, and all I could think was Religion?  I didn’t say Religion.  In my opinion Religion and Spirituality are two very different things.  I do believe that it is possible for a person to be both.  I have several friends who I’d describe as Catholic, but I also know that they would agree with me on many of my “spiritual” beliefs.  I also have an atheist friend that I’d venture to call “spiritual,” although I’m not sure he’d agree.  Me though, I’m 100% spiritual (or at least I try to be).

So here is how I define spirituality.  Spirituality is about asking questions and going within for the answers.  It is an awareness of the divine force that is always present and connects all of us to each other.  It demonstrates love, compassion, empathy, and togetherness.  A spiritual person seeks to align themselves with the divine energy for the highest good.

And here are my thoughts on Religion.  Religion is a set of beliefs and rules that are established by human beings on behalf of God.  It requires it’s members to accept the beliefs and rules.  More often than not the God of religion is a humanized figure that judges and rewards.  A religious person may pray by asking or begging this Santa Clause type figure to do something or change something on their behalf.  And the big key with Religion is that they believe that their way is RIGHT and everyone else’s is WRONG so the emphasis seems to be put on seeing the differences.

So now it’s your turn.  How do you define Spirituality and Religion?