"Jesus Was Not a Christian". Chapter 4: What the Hell is Heaven?

A mother sits quietly on a plaid blanket which in turn rests upon lush, green grass. Not the kind of grass that pokes you or makes you itch when you lay on it; the sort that is a delight to find yourself on. Broad bladed and cool to the touch, almost as if it’s still damp from the morning, chilled by its deep connection with the dark soil it’s rooted in. As she leans back listening to the birds singing overhead in a tree that’s providing the perfect shade, she watches her two kids playing and laughing nearby. She sees her husband approaching from a distance. She told him where they would be and he said immediately that he was taking the afternoon off from work to join them. As she thought about how wonderful their relationship had been lately her entire body filled with a gentle warmth that made her feel safe and loved. As he finally reached the place where she was reclined, watching him, smiling, he bent down and kissed her before settling in at her side with one arm around her waist. They sat and held hands, fingers and souls intertwined, and talked and watched peacefully as the kids played on.

                If we can’t realize heaven in the moments described above then we don’t know what heaven is. Our too often pseudo-spiritual journey is somehow supposed to be training us to inherit a heaven that is not here, is not now, and that, if we are honest with ourselves, we probably aren’t sure even exists. I say “pseudo-spiritual” because a true spiritual path must be causing us to exist in and take part in creating a more beautiful now reality; cultivating heaven for for ourselves, others and the earth. Heaven is not dependent on correct doctrine or thinking, it has nothing to do with the right group affiliation and it’s possible that it may not even be a place where angels rest on clouds with harps (the last line there was intended to be a bit of joke…but really though…). Heaven is a reality and realm that is occurring right now, where you sit reading this sentence, and the entirety of the spiritual journey and pursuit is wrapped up in our consciousness being elevated to the point that we are not only aware of this “unseen” realm but we are actively perpetuating it through love, peace, patience, kindness, etc. Let’s get practical for a moment.

                Take a moment to be silent. Right now. Bring into your mind a memory that you associate with peace and joy. The first two that flashed into mine were snuggling on our oversized couch with my wife and the other was talking and laughing with a dear friend. Really feel and re-experience the peace and joy of the memories you conjure and let them fill you. Let the peace be new again inside you! You can revisit every detail; the smells, sounds, sights, or exactly how you felt or thoughts you had during this time. The more completely you explore and relive the memory in your visualization the more you will be taken back to that time and experience the wonder and benefits of the encounter.  Now, full of peace or joy or love, whatever you’re experiencing, bring to mind someone else in your life, anyone, and consciously allow that peace that you are experiencing to release to them. See the joy leaving you as a blue, vaporous cloud and surrounding and entering them. Jesus once said that if we come into a home that is “worthy” we should let our “peace rest upon it.” This was not a fanciful, super-spiritualized request that he thought none would be able to accomplish but was an invitation to his followers to become conscious of the peace they carried to the degree that they were able to offer it to others. If you’re wondering, the only thing that makes someone “worthy” of your peace is your ability to view them as worthy. The more deeply immersed in the realm of heaven we become the more people we recognize as “worthy” of peace and kindness. To truly experience every human and creature and creation as worthy of unrelenting love and mercy and kindness would be to view creation through the eyes of God; others have termed this level of sight and understanding ‘enlightenment’.

                The little exercise we just did (take a moment to try it now if you didn’t just do the visualization) can become a living practice, akin to walking mediation (which will be described in the next chapter). Far from being only fun and imaginative, this ability to become aware of spiritual substance (love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, etc.) within us and release it to others is one of the primary, world-changing tools we have been given. When speaking of changing the world, it is important to note that we don’t do this via force. We don’t press our ideas, thoughts and beliefs on others but as I said at the beginning of this short book, if we discover even a small piece of heaven we have a responsibility to share it, for so many around us are suffering in one form or another. I’m also not suggesting that sharing happens through teaching necessarily or through any sort of evangelizing; I believe that we share by allowing our own hearts and minds to become transformed and enabled to enjoy a higher level and experience of love and Reality, and then as we live this as fully as we possibly can we discover tools that allow us to affect the physical and non-physical world around us. In other words we simply participate in life and reality as beautifully as we are able and in order to do this we must practice utilizing the powers of peace and joy, etc. that we are becoming more fully possessed by and acquainted with. We are, as architects of sort, working alongside all creation in a cooperative effort to create and maintain a space of “heaven”. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And we’re exploring a way of understanding both that identify them as part of our current state and not far-off, ethereal realms.

 

  Now… on to hell.

                True spiritual understanding is not dualistic; not a matter of seeing black and white or good and evil. All is part of the same glorious picture we call reality and everything has a roll to play. That being said, we must also be not ignorant of evil, darkness, or even hell. Non-duality does not mean that evil does not exist. Let’s take in another scenario.

                A young girl wakes up well after the sun has risen to the stench of sweat and blood. The mattress she slept on isn’t covered in sheets and it doesn’t get washed. Although she is only twelve her head is pounding from dehydration and the drugs that have been coursing through her veins since yesterday’s afternoon; drugs forcibly introduced into her tiny body just moments before the living nightmare, a queue of adult men visiting her room in turn, began once again. She vaguely recalled hearing a conversation spoken over her motionless body in the disgusting, sheet-walled room earlier that morning. Whoever was speaking said they didn’t think she would live through more than another few nights of this; she would be dead soon. As she thought about it now the idea filled her with a ray of hope; death would be a welcome reprieve.

                 Life wasn’t always like this. She had lived in a small community with her mother, sister and two brothers. In her culture (and particularly in her family) girls weren’t worth much, not highly valued… unworthy. One morning, after weeks of food being in short supply, two strange men came to her small home and she watched with growing fear as she realized she would be leaving with them. Her mother walked out of room with money in hand and head bowed in shame as the men dragged the two sisters, wailing, from the house. She was raped violently within an hour by both men who had come for them, drugged heavily, then confined to a secluded room in a brothel on the outskirts of a city she had never visited before. That was three months ago.

               

                 If one enduring a life similar to the story above isn’t in hell, I don’t know what hell is. Those short paragraphs may seem graphic, but they do not even begin to describe the terrors that real people are facing every day, in every nation, throughout the world. Between 2012 and 2014 The United Nations detected 23,000 victims of sex trafficking. How many went undetected? The U.S. State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 individuals are trafficked across international borders every year. 80% of these are women and children. (You can view the full human trafficking global report at http://www.unodc.org). This is a horrific reality of our world and no amount of philosophizing about how evil doesn’t exist (which is actually a common belief/philosophy held by many people) does any good toward alleviating the pain of those caught in this criminal industry.

                Just as in the case of heaven, hell is generally either relegated to a future-tense reality or written off completely as a fictitious fabrication of fanatics. Hell is seldom seriously acknowledged as an ongoing state comprised of both physical and spiritual substance. The scene I described briefly above is an example of a state of physical and emotional hell. Worry is hell. To sit up all night long worried about the wellbeing and future of yourself and your family is… well, not heaven. There is a reason these things are important. If we don’t see that there is darkness, if we are in denial about the tormented reality that so many exist in and through, then we are not actually prepared to be light and peace to those around us who are in desperate need. We can simplify this even further and look inside the walls of our own home and especially at our relationships. Are yours filled with joy? Is your marriage marked by understanding, compassion and fun? Statistically, at least half of you who read this would have to answer “no”. If we are not acting with patience and kindness to those closest to us, to those who have been entrusted to us to be kind and patient with, then we really need to look at our lives, spiritual practice, and even the beliefs we claim to hold, and see what needs to change in us as individuals in order to take steps in the right direction. I only suggest this because if you have read this far you are most likely interested in spiritual things and in growing or developing. It is important to note that it is our own life that must change if we are experiencing a state of relational hell in our lives. Of course others have faults too. Of course your husband is a pain in the ass at times and of course your wife could do something better with her time and energy than nag, but the spiritual journey is about personal transformation, not changing others. Jesus simply said that we should take the beam out of our own eye before we try to get the speck out of our neighbor’s. Spoiler alert… you will never get the beam out of your eye, making you forever unqualified to try to fix others. Recognizing this is essential to the traveling the path of enlightenment.

                To take this topic in a slightly different direction and in an effort to be thorough, there is a parallel dimension that exists alongside our own where darkness and light, good and evil, are present and very real. This dimension has been experienced by countless individuals throughout history and across every culture and creed. It has often been described as the realm of the angels and demons; a place where other beings live and roam and it is believed by many that these beings are active participants in the physical realm as well. I believe this is true. I have personally had experiences with those who have been termed the angelic and with other beings who were comprised of material I can only describe as evil or darkness.  From my perspective it is critical that we acknowledge this dimension to some degree because parallel dimensions affect one another. It is not just the physical that is impacted by the “spiritual”, but our decisions and actions effect the usually unseen dimension as well. (I used quotes in the last sentence because this other dimension I am speaking of has often been thought of as the “spiritual” dimension, in my opinion, because we don’t yet have solid ways of interacting with and investigating it; thus it has become something “spiritual” that we are to “believe in” instead of a legitimate, alternate or parallel reality that we are able to understand or participate in). The things we do, thoughts we have, and words we speak are all impacting the universe and universes in unseen and metaphysical ways. Your thoughts and words matter and are physically changing the environment you exist in. We all recognize when we are around someone who is harboring anger, bitterness, impatience or hate. Likewise we can sense joy or love, even in the strangers we walk past on the street. We are all continually radiating energies that, aside from being able to be sensed by those around us, are touching and impacting everyone, every place, and everything we meet. I say all of this because these energies are actively nudging our surroundings and even the larger structure of our reality and universe either in the direction of light or darkness, heaven or hell. The more we become aware and conscious of the role we are playing and the life (or death) we are promoting, the more we are able to participate in a way that encourages life, peace and love… or to sum it up in a word, Heaven.

                There is much that can be said about this topic of heaven and hell but this seems a good place to wrap it up since my desire with this work is not be exhaustive but to offer an introduction to these topics in order to encourage thought that might in turn lead to the transformation of our understanding and behavior. This is also one of those subjects where it is easy to get lost in an endless labyrinth of speculation and miss the point. The point is that heaven and hell are not only other worldly places, alternate dimensions or strictly spiritual; additionally, they are present realities in the physical, emotional, and psychological sense and the more light you shine through your life the more you are contributing to the heaven side of things. So shine.

"Jesus Was Not a Christian". Chapter 3: Forever In Love

There is a gathering of men that happens every week in Santa Fe. We’ve been assembling for a decade. I get there first to get coffee ready, a necessity since we arrive before the sun is fully risen, usually just peeking over the crest of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as I unlock the door of our meeting location. We talk about spirituality, our struggles and victories, family, work… life. This is a group where all are free to think freely and work though our ideas and understandings together. It’s a special group. One recent morning the question was posed, “How many of you were told by your dad that he loved you when you were a kid?” I expected every hand to go into the air, for people to take turns sharing about how their fathers expressed love, and to gain some insight as to how to be a more loving dad. I was sadly mistaken. One after another admitted that they hadn’t been told “I love you” by their fathers, maybe not once. Some shared of the healing they had experienced upon hearing those magic words spoken to them later in life and how they wanted to be speak love into their children as a result. On this spring morning I realized afresh (for this revelation has stuck me several times in the past) that my childhood was unique. Whether or not I was or am loved has never been in question. Unconditional love, the Love that is my vision of God, is not difficult for me to imagine or believe I am a part of because I have known unconditional love from people, mere humans, who are inherently flawed. If they could love without condition, of course God can.

                Truth is, people don’t know they’re loved. Negative self-talk has been said to dominate people’s conscious and unconscious minds. It has been approximated that up to 70% of most individuals mental chatter is negative in nature. This is astounding! To live in that reality is the equivalent of living among people who, 70% of the time, are telling you that you are stupid, incapable, worthless, lazy, ugly, and unworthy. These are not loving words and behavior like this would not constitute loving relationships, yet many, if not most, people allow these sorts of comments to continue unchecked from one source they should be able to trust that they are unconditionally loved by; themselves. If we don’t view ourselves as fundamentally loveable and worthy of love it is hard to imagine a Love that governs all creation turning eyes toward us peacefully and inviting us to be Love to world as well. If we’ve never been told and believed we are loved, as was the situation with many of the men I mentioned a moment ago, offering genuine love and mercy to ourselves (let alone to others) can seem an insurmountable, unrealistic task.

                It is written that once that while Jesus was sitting in a home with some of his followers and teaching a man who was paralyzed was lowered through the roof (there were too many people for him to get close enough for a personal encounter without taking drastic measures) hoping that he might be touched and healed of his infirmity. Jesus looked at him and said gently, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” What!? Just like that? The damned sinner didn’t even repent! The rest of the story goes on to say that Jesus cures him of his paralysis and this is usually shared as the main point, an example of a miracle… but the physical healing was wholly secondary! Why were Jesus’ opening words to this hopeless man, “Your sins are forgiven”?

                We all wrestle with a notion of sin and sinfulness. You might not call it that if you’re not from a traditional religious background, but you know what I’m talking about. Sin is subjective and is essentially anything we do that we recognize is not “good” or more specifically and as my dear friend Scott Ziznewski has observed, is not love. We lost self-control and our temper with our kids, drank too much and made a fool of ourselves, were angry or unkind to our spouse, cheated, stole, lied, hooked up with someone we met at a friend’s house when we were younger (or maybe not younger) and felt dirty after the encounter. When we feel shame or guilt we can be sure that we have interpreted something we did was wrong to the degree that it could be called “sin”.

                Once when I was a kid, maybe 11 years old, I shot the windows out of a building adjacent to our property with a BB gun. The large structure belonged to our neighbor, a sweet older man (my memory recollects…accurately or not) who had work equipment stored at the site with which he cultivated several acres of land and hay. I remember the rush of excitement that caught up the breath in my chest as, like a sniper, I picked off every pane I could see. There is something exhilarating about the sound of breaking glass. Sin often feels exciting in the moment but then gives way to a lingering side effect of guilt. Shortly after my militant escapade I was off to a pool party at a friend’s house. Upon arriving at the gathering I started to feel sick. You’ve felt it before too. Something was done that should have been left undone, and the knowledge of our acts is so disturbing to us that it disrupts our physical health in addition to our mental and spiritual state. In time (a very short period of time, being that I left the party early and confessed to my crime as soon as I returned home) my wrong was righted and all of the neighbor’s windows were dutifully replaced. Sin, guilt, repentance, freedom. The pattern is real.

                So back to, “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus recognized that the man at his feet was in need, but he saw past the physical to the emotional and spiritual state of things. He saw a man suffering from paralysis, not simply of the legs but of the soul. Just as I was sick to my stomach but my real issue was psychological and spiritual in nature, so this man needed to be set free of more than the surface, physiological condition. Telling him his sins were forgiven was telling him he was loved. In the story it is not recorded that the man asked for forgiveness, it was offered freely. Love keeps no record of wrong. This is why no request for mercy was necessary on his part. The mercy that is God is not like the mercy of men, wrapped up in conditions, ultimatums and recompenses. Learning this about Love is critical because when we understand that Love does not hold men’s trespasses against them we realize that this includes us! There is no bookkeeping happening in another realm by which your evil deeds are being collected and compiled against you. When Jesus spoke the words “Your sins are forgiven” nothing changed in that moment except the heart and inner state of the wounded soul before him. His sins had always been forgiven, it was the revelation that he was free that in the end caused him to experience freedom.

                The first step (and arguably the entire journey) of being transformed to the image of Love is realizing that you are loved and have always been loved. At the core of all creation is Love which means your deepest reality, whether you recognize it yet or not, is that you are Love. There is a scripture which says that God cannot deny himself. This is the meaning of that text. You are essentially Love and God is Love, so how could it even be possible that Love does not love the Love that is in you? (Read that again if you need to!) Love is who and what you are. When you truly realize this about yourself you can’t help but to see this is true of every other person and all creation as well.

                 In the following chapters we will dive into the path that Jesus lived and revealed that leads us into this reality of love and liberation. But first, allow me to speak on behalf of The Divine right now; as the voice of the one Jesus called Father. As you read this, internalize it. Let these words enter and heal you. Even if they are hard for you to believe or receive just know that you are being told the truth and it’s safe to let truth fill you.

                “You are loved; deeply, perfectly and unconditionally loved. The pain, regret and guilt you carry is not a burden you were meant to bear. You are forgiven. The wrongs you have committed, though they are many, have not been held against you nor will they ever be. You are watched only with eternal eyes of compassion and mercy and you are worthy of participating, of being a vehicle of peace, joy, and love in the earth. You are forever loved. I=Love=You.”

"Jesus Was Not a Christian". Chapter 2: It's Better to be Free than Right

It’s important to maintain the tension and corresponding liberation that comes from existing in paradox. This is a skill we learn. It’s more of an unlearning actually. We’ve been taught about dark and light, good and bad, righteousness and sinfulness… truth and lies. We live in a dualistic world created and maintained by dualistic minds and, though dualism certainly serves a purpose and can have practical applications, it is limited in potential, scope and vision.

                 “What is dualism?” you ask? Essentially and traditionally it is “either-or” thinking as opposed to non-dualistic, “both-and”, thinking. For example, dualistic thought would argue that either Christianity or Hinduism or Islam or Buddhism (etc. etc. etc.) contains “The Truth” and all the others do not. Non-dualistic thinking realizes that all these paths contain truth and none needs be discounted or tossed aside as invaluable simply because they are different than one’s own current and/or personal understanding. Dualism creates an “us and them” reality while non-dualism contains only an “us”; we are all in this together. Permit one more example in case this seems confusing. In the minds of most people exists a situation in which there are both good and evil and they are different, if not entirely opposite one another. But consider the possibility that there is no reason to separate good and evil but to simply see all reality as related and interdependent. Although good and evil both plainly exist, what if together they form a more complete picture of reality. Maybe without evil we cannot understand goodness, so that by helping to reveal goodness evil ends up acting a necessary character in the production of reality; appreciated or at the very least permitted for the critical role it plays. Still confused? I’m a physical being and I’m spirit. Just because I’m one doesn’t mean I’m not the other. I’m both. These two aspects of being may even seem at odds occasionally but they are not. Light and darkness, life and death; these are not opposites but are different movements which crafted together create the symphony of existence we call life. Encouragement toward embracing paradox is important because, frankly, life (and the teaching of Jesus) is packed full of seeming contradictions that, when embraced, paint a full and gratifying picture of reality.   

                In order to understand the path that Jesus invited his followers down, the path of Love, it’s critical that we realize not only that we are right (that we do know and can experience truth) but also that we’re wrong, that there is much we do not know, and that possibly there are others (even from different backgrounds, traditions and faiths) who have a much better handle on things than we do. If we don’t get this then we won’t be able to understand why, when asked how we should behave or believe, Jesus often pointed toward those who were “sinners” or even viewed as “pagans”. Recall the story of “The Good Samaritan”. Jesus was asked about who our neighbors are and who we are responsible for loving. In response he described a Samaritan, a member of a people group who were looked down upon by the Jews. This main character of his story was willing to reach out a hand of compassion to someone who was hurting when the accepted, respected and even religious members of society had passed him by. Jesus’ parable inevitably offended his listeners as he instructed them to go and to do and to be like this person they despised. Often, the things or people or words that offend us do so because they have hit a sore spot of personal delusion that we have unwittingly been harboring and even nurturing.  This is what is happening if we get upset when someone disagrees with or challenges what we believe to be true; our emotional response reveals not our deep and mature faith but a secret doubt in us that is more easily ignored and defended than dealt with. Many of the great Divine Mysteries are hidden in those who we are least likely to be able to receive truth and guidance from. If you really want to experience personal growth or transformation it is useful to befriend and be willing to learn from those who think or view the world differently than you do. It’s a test of humility, of our ability to see, and of our love.

                Letting go of our need to be right is possibly the most freeing step we can take on the spiritual path. Knowing in our hearts that we might be wrong is a preliminary and necessary stage of spiritual development because the belief that we are infallibly correct in our thinking or faith is rooted in pride which is the opposite of an enlightened mind or understanding. This sort of pride infects entire people groups; groups who believe that anyone who believes differently than they do is wrong, or even worse, condemned. This isn’t relegated to religiously minded folks either. The non-religious are equally susceptible to being blinded by the same smoke of condescension. The only remedy to such a disease is to allow our minds to be cleansed and transformed by love. Love sees what is beautiful and true in every person regardless of what they look like, how they think, or what perspective they maintain. Love destroys the barriers between people, barriers that exist in our minds, and frees us to see that everyone is a little right and little wrong. Everyone’s view of the world is valid. No individual or group is alone holding the trump card of truth.

                Jesus realized this and challenged even and especially the thinking and ways of the people group he belonged to. Even now, as when he walked the earth, his teachings are a refreshing affront to those who meet or follow him as he continually pushes people to see beyond their blind-spots and to love past the borders of their understanding and group belonging. Jesus was not a Christian. He didn’t adhere to Christian doctrine, didn’t memorize the Apostles Creed, never conducted dogmatic expositions on the Trinity or pontificated on the ins and outs of the supposed “rapture”. No, Jesus existed for the sake of freedom. Freedom to love and to be loved. Freedom to hope. Freedom to be free! His message of endless love and life, of mercy and joy, has been liberating people since the moment he began to speak and this message of radical freedom is still to all and for all, even now. No matter your faith, ideas, belief or unbelief, I firmly believe you are already laying eternally in the all-embracing arms of God.

Jesus Was Not a Christian: Intro and Chapter 1

Jesus Was Not a Christian

 By: Coulter Prehm

 

 

Introduction

                It seems necessary to me, due to the obvious nature of the title of this work, to offer one or two explanatory sentences regarding said title. Of course Jesus was not a Christian, he was a Jew. He did not adhere to Christian creeds or doctrines, nor was he a follower of himself. Even as a Jew Jesus broke the mold. His ideas and knowledge of the spiritual life were considered heresy for which he was eventually sentenced to death and consequently (and I do not believe this was his intention) launched a new world religion. This is important to note simply because Christians generally state that their mission in life is to “Be like Jesus”, hence we go through fashion fads (or faux pas) like wearing cheap rubber bracelets inscribed with the too-well-known acronym WWJD. The problem is that the question of, “What would Jesus do?” is rarely addressed or actualized in any context, including that Christianity. I believe Jesus was simply on a path to more deeply knowing and experiencing deep Reality (God) and that his teachings are not only instructional but invitational to all who are desiring to taste spiritual freedom. WWJD? Jesus would love.

                One afternoon years ago while I reclined alone on the grass at a park near my home, basking in the sun with a crisp Santa Fe breeze ruffling my shirt (it couldn’t ruffle my hair due to my early-in-life balding), a voice suddenly and clearly spoke within me and said, “I am not the God of the Christians or the Jews.” After a long pause during which I’m sure held my breath as my mind raced to understand the meaning of these words The Voice began again, “I am the God of All That Is.” This was a major turning point in my life. It seems true to me that the more a person’s eyes are opened the bigger God becomes. Having a small understanding of God is an indication of blindness. In the beginning of the spiritual journey it is natural that the god you are able to see will be a local one. A god that is “for you” and “against your enemies”. A tribal notion of God reminiscent of the times when if one people group was victorious in battle against a neighbor it was because, from their perspective, their god had come through for them. These are very small gods indeed which govern over such tiny niches of the race of men. I don’t believe in such gods. And who wants to be in union with a god who is only god of the Christians, or the Hindus or the Muslims or… (fill in the blank with whichever group you want)? These are only slightly larger tribes.

                Besides the issue of the grandness of God being continually understated is the very real problem of anthropomorphizing; as Voltaire stated, ““In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” We want a god who talks like us, thinks like us, is like us. A god whose idea of justice is punishment because, well, that’s the way people like it (which is clearly observable with even a glance at our punitive judicial system). The idea of a God who is infinitely beyond us is too much for people to grasp… obviously. But what if there was a path, a way to begin to commune with, to know, and to actually become part of a God who transcends our reason and the natural realm. What if there was a way to become things which in the past we thought we could only possess; being rather than having love, joy peace, hope, etc. I believe there is a way and that Jesus existed and exists to lead us on such a wonderfully mind and spirit expanding adventure as this.

                It’s easy to get caught up in one’s particular religion; the rituals, traditions, practices, creeds and community, and miss the point. It’s easier to think and speak of love than to love. Less committing to chatter on about peace and joy than live a life so saturated with Peace and Joy that you alter your surroundings and the hearts of those you meet are touched ever so gently that they feel invited to share in your freedom. To have religion as something to believe in is much different than embarking on a spiritual journey… it’s the difference between believing in God or experiencing and transforming into the internal, eternal light that is God.

                I was raised Christian with traditional Christian thoughts, ideas, traditions, creeds, etc. I was taught that Jesus was my savior. I have since discovered Jesus as my teacher. These are very different viewpoints. Jesus as savior requires nothing from me other than a willingness to consent to certain ideas (e.g. that he died on the cross for my sins because I am sinner and needed saving from God and that if I believe in Jesus I’ll go to heaven, and so on and so forth). Jesus as teacher is an invitation. No quick-fix notions of salvation will do for you when Jesus is your teacher… Jesus isn’t interested in that. His desire has been for me, as for anyone who’s ever met him, to take us down a path of transformation through which we become like him. By that I mean we become Love and Mercy, Kindness and Peace. This is salvation. To become so filled with peace that one effectively is Peace is truly an experience of being saved… set free.  

                The goal of this short book is to inspire you toward greater freedom and understanding of your inherent beloved-ness through the ways and teachings of my teacher, Jesus. I will be discussing following Jesus as a legitimate spiritual path, not a religion to subscribe to. I hope that you will be able to set aside (the best you can) your preconceived prejudices and notions and be able to hear something new, fresh, and maybe challenging. The teachings of Jesus are applicable to all (to those of any background, religious or irreligious) and the Truths contained in his words and revealed through his life have the power to set men free. This is my desire; that maybe in some small way my small words would act as an oracle. Not that I would be the teacher but simply that I may introduce you to my teacher. That you might discover the deep freedom that I know and be a partaker of the Love that sustains me and for which I am eternally grateful.

Peace and deepest joy to you on your journey!

 

 

 

 

1: Transformation Over Conformation

 

                I’m not trying to convert you. I care zero about whether or not you attend church services, memorize creeds, participate in conferences and potlucks, or if you tithe. Christianity was never intended to operate as world dominating, conversion-based, group-think system but is a legitimate spiritual path at its purest. I am writing to you, for you, because I have discovered freedom and how to live in the realm often called “heaven” even while standing and breathing here in the physical. I’ve discovered what it is everyone is looking for, and I’m still discovering it every day. It’s easy to see without much deep insight that the vast majority of people are existing in a state of hell, to one degree or another. Fear about what tomorrow holds, if the bank account is going to cover the bills, stress over relationships, security, poor self-image… honestly, the list goes on and on. If anyone discovers a sliver of the peace, joy and power that are heaven it seems to me that they have a responsibility to share about how and where it was unearthed so that others might benefit as well. My intentions are that simple.

                First, to dispel a common assumption; I don’t believe that every non-Christian is going to some hell, or that adherence to certain established ideas will get you “saved”, whatever that means. I believe that heaven is now and beyond this life, and the same goes for hell. These are real but they are not relegated to being only far off, future-tense realties; not merely mystical destinations for the good and the bad. These states are for all people at all places in all times to experience. To come to exist in a reality filled with goodness, peace, light, joy, generosity, and to recognize that you are eternally loved and worthy of that love is what I would name “Heaven” and is the meaning of salvation as far as I can tell. (More on the topic of heaven and hell in an upcoming chapter). No, this is not a book meant to sign you up for membership to an organization. Jesus aims to help change the way people think; how they understand themselves, reality, and God because in changing the way we think our heart is correspondingly transformed. This is enlightenment. Every aspect of our being is conformed to a higher reality. We can go so far as to say that who we were before this time of metamorphosis is not who we are after. It’s that radical! The discovery of Truth, Love and Freedom is so wonderfully life-shattering that it renders our previous understanding of self obsolete. We become a new creation.

                To be using the same words yet meaning very different things is one of the dangers of using words at all and, indeed, of being human. We think differently and have different paradigms, all of which have been shaped by our own specific life circumstances and experiences. For this reason, it is important that I clarify some of the terms that I will be using regularly.

                When I say “Christian”, I am by no means referring to the entity of Christianity that is the institution and organization. I don’t mean all the different denominations and sects, the rituals, observances, dogmas, books, preachers, and programs. In this writing as in my life, I am concerned with those things which cultivate love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and especially freedom. I am very unconcerned with systems which cause people to conform externally but leave the internal state unchanged (referring to religion merely as a form of group-belonging as opposed to a spiritual path). No, when I speak of Christian I am using the term in its most strict sense; one who is likened to Christ. To be like Christ, part of Christ, is to be like God; part of God. (Note; although we are all inextricably “part of God” there is a role for us to play. Our heart can be conformed and transformed to love; to be Love. This is to be like Jesus and, not coincidentally, to be like God who is Love Herself. Through this transformation we begin to consciously add to the beauty that is God. We are no longer un-conscious wanderers through life but are acting to contribute light, healing and wonder to the world. End of note.)

                Another term that is important to clarify, though in doing so I will be admittedly unclear, is “Christ”. This word does not mean “Jesus”. So what is “Christ” then? The word Christ means “anointed”. It speaks of bearing the power, blessing, and image of God; to be like God. Christ is not Jesus’ name. Christ is for all of us. Christ is connection that sustains all. This is one reason why the current idea of being Christian can be too small for myself and many others. “To be like Christ” (which is a traditional Christian idea and jargon) means currently and generally to behave how one feels Jesus would. This is a noble aim, but it’s not the point. We are to add to the Christ reality. To be transformed, enlightened, and to live knowingly as the image of God. You have probably heard the term “Christ Consciousness”.  “Christedness” is a universal reality that all may enter into and are indeed already part of. To be a Christian in the sense of including one’s self in the organizational structure that is the Church and consenting to its dogmas and ideas is very different than entering into and living as part of the everlasting mystery that is Christ. Actually being love, being peace, being joy. That is not to say these two are mutually exclusive, just that consenting to ideas doesn’t by necessity equate to living or being the ideal. It’s the difference between concept and reality. I want to restate in order to be perfectly clear… the Christ reality is for every person on the planet to participate in. Period.

                The last term that must be mentioned is ‘God’. Everyone has their own baggage attached to this word. God is beyond defining. In shedding some light upon what I mean when I say “God” it may be easier to share what I don’t mean. I am not referring to Jesus. Additionally, I do not mean a man sitting on a throne somewhere in the far reaches of the universe in a city called heaven, whence he dishes out judgements upon the earth and presides over a terrifying courtroom where, if you are found unworthy, you are tossed into a lake made of fire where you will be tormented forever. Again, to be very clear, this is NOT what I mean when I say “God”. I experience God as the life, power and flow that connects all creation. All creation is a manifestation of what I am calling God. Lately I have been experiencing God as “The Great Goodness” that is the cause and sustaining factor of all life and creation. Say “The Divine” or “The Universe”; call God He, She, or It… I don’t care. God is beyond naming so name God what you will. I will be saying God simply as a common term to reference the un-referenceable so that we can all be on the same page, linguistically at least. For me, God is all, is in all, and is holding all things together. You are in and of God, for nothing can be outside of God, and discovering your place and part in and of God will “set you free”. Free to be you and simultaneously to be one with everyone and everything else. This freedom is, I believe, the very liberty that Jesus promised his followers and is still the promise today.

                The goal of any true spiritual path is transformation, not conformation. We are supposed to be different. Each of us thinks differently, experiences life differently, and has a different set of skills, understanding, and purpose that we are to contribute to the whole in the short time we have been allotted in our bodily state. Attempting to cause persons to conform and be like one another is an offense to the creativity and almost absurdly spectacular diversity that is inherent in God. Although we are unique, our uniqueness is still being developed and affirmed. Much of the influence and thrust of our culture at large is in the direction of conformation. We are told, if not out-rightly, that we should think, behave, talk, believe, dress and act like everyone else. This may well be a reason for the millions of dollars being spent on therapy and soul-numbing drugs each year; that individuals are feeling caged and confined by the continually spewed message that they should be like someone else… someone they are not. This is most definitely one of the experiential states of hell mentioned previously. To view yourself as inherently inadequate or lacking fundamental beauty and worth is to be stuck in the prison of your own mind and wrongly constructed self-image. A prison which currently and has always held too many captives. To be quite frank, to gage our personal worth through observing the lives of celebrities or those who are upholding the well-advertised status quo is delusional.  As the infamous rapper Tupac Shakur once penned, “Only God can judge me.” A true spiritual journey is meant to unravel the lie of uniformity, setting you and I free to add our own specific color to the glorious kaleidoscope of creation.

                Regardless of what anyone may say to the contrary, spiritual openness, curiosity, and practice are essential to cultivating deeper understanding of the transcendent aspects of our being and experiencing the freedom I am speaking of. Without basic openness and curiosity one will never even venture upon the spiritual path in the first place. Once on the journey, there are a variety of practices one may perform that will lead to greater personal revelation and understanding (these practices, such as mediation or prayer, loving your neighbor, exercising generosity, etc. will be discussed in following chapters).

                Jesus has been my personal guide and teacher throughout the process of more deeply discovering who I am, eternal purpose, and laying hold of the multitude of other benefits that come with living a life in the realm and reality of heaven. His teachings are simple and deep, rooted in love, beauty and union. If your heart is soft they will lead you into joy unspeakable and peace that goes beyond understanding.

Foregoing the Fear of Death

I was recently on a road bike peddling up one of the tremendous hills that abound and surround Santa Fe, when suddenly the air in my lungs was caught short. On several occasions in the past, due to allergic reactions, my windpipe was constricted to the degree that I was in actual danger and my immediate thought was that this was occurring again for some unforeseen reason. As I sucked down a couple of labored breaths I thought with a feeling of curiosity that I could die unexpectedly (for death comes unexpectedly to most) and this could even be the moment where physical life ends for me. I closed my eyes and had the conscious thought, If I go now, I go into light.   Moments later my breathing normalized and I continued on my ride, now meditating on the mystery, thrill, and inevitability of death and transfiguration.

Death is not something that we need fear and the alleviation of the fear of death is one of the most notable and beneficial side effects of healthy and useful spirituality. As we experience the world as a unified field of Beauty with a driving undercurrent of Love, we correspondingly experience our self as a secure and integral part of the whole. There was no fear in my heart in the moment I described above, no wondering as to whether I would be welcomed into a celestial city or condemned to a heathenous hell. I am safe, have been saved, not through correct faith or doctrinal adherence (God knows neither of these would rescue me), but by a deeply seeded knowledge that I am loved and am an inseparable expression of the river that is Love and that is the ground and current of all reality.

You came forth from Love. One idea prevalent in Christendom that I wholeheartedly agree with is that God is Love. This is not to imply that I believe there is a man in the sky governing over creation who is loving, for the truth in the “God is Love” statement must be much more glorious and mysterious than that. Those words speak to me of a quietly coursing river of life and benevolence that is flowing through all that is. They indicate that the foundation of all that is material or immaterial is a substance and power that we all experience and have named “Love”. If this is true, if Love is the substrate and sustenance of all reality then it is impossible that we, that you and I and everything, sprang forth from anything but Love. The writer of Genesis stated that God created man and woman in their image; love is the causational force resulting in expressions of Love, us, to manifest. Why is this important?

When one realizes that the entire ground of being is love and that they came forth from love, the logical and very real conclusion that follows is that they will continue to be in and of this love for the remainder of forever. That is eternal security. As we exist in our physical state we are enveloped in an atmosphere of Love, and when we transition from this state to the next we continue in a space which is Love, for Love is the transcendent pool of all reality, not just of the temporal and physical. This is not to imply that there is no evil, no darkness, or no pain. These obviously exist and are as irremovable from life as up is from down, but there is room in our notions of Love to include pain and hurt; anyone who has ever been part of a deep and committed relationship can attest to this. I am also not saying that everyone who transitions from this reality into the next is going to experience never ending bliss and light and joy, for who can say they know such things. It seems to me that if one pursues darkness in this life they will correspondingly find themselves in darkness to one degree or another beyond this life as well. That being said, I firmly believe that Light is drawing all things to herself and that eventually reality will be, for all, that Light is all that is. In fact, this may already be the case.

The fear of death is wrapped up in our not knowing and in the feeling of separateness. Humans have largely in the past and even now continue now to think of themselves as separate somehow. Separate from nature, separate from each other, separate from God. As our eyes are opened to greater degrees we begin to see more clearly that there is no such thing as actual separation, but all is one. To exist in a reality and to see from a vantage point of unity is to live without fear, for if it is impossible that you are separate from love and life now then it is impossible you will ever be separated from the Glorious Life that has been limitedly termed God. It is the impossibility of separateness, or in other words our inherent belonging, that is our security.

We can see life everywhere if we will look for it. In every person we encounter, in every plant and creature there is life which is essentially and fundamentally good. As we take time to recognize this life and goodness in all that surrounds us we will gradually recognize that all creation is manifesting and existing as the same life and goodness that we have hopefully discovered within ourselves. Life is good and everlasting, and whether it is in this life or some state you have yet to experience, you can be assured that the same river of Goodness that has caused you to be and has sustained you to this point will continue to do so faithfully and without ceasing. When this idea becomes experiential knowledge to us the fear of death becomes yet another fear that has been cast out, eradicated, by Perfect Love.

The Simplest of Pursuits

  I wanted to discuss today what the spiritual journey is in my eyes, and a little bit about what the spiritual journey is not. As I address topics like this it’s important to keep in mind, and I hope that you will, that any time I am speaking in the negative, such as this instance when I am incorporating several statements about what isn’t, I am in no way trying to diminish anyone’s current state of believing, thinking, or even unbelief for that matter. I am simply trying to describe, the best I can, what I have discovered along this journey of life and seeking and learning thus far.

                For many of us who have undertaken a spiritual journey or consider ourselves to be quote “Spiritual” we would be lying if we said that the journey hasn’t been rather wearisome at times. Most people on a path toward enlightenment have been taught that spirituality and spiritual practice is something that you add to your life, but not that the path of spiritual transformation is life itself. This is a major difference. We are looking to integrate spiritual practice not realizing that the entire act of living is, not only practice in and of itself, but is the main event. Our life is the spiritual journey, whether we recognize it or not. We are in the midst of the production of life which is completely spiritual and so incorporating spiritual practice into our lives isn’t so much a thing we do during our day but is the activity of becoming more conscious, more aware, and more personally integrated.

                When I was traveling and speaking often several years back, I would talk about hearing God speak to me, about The Voice, which would lead me in nearly every decision I make. Even yesterday while I was out to a meal with my family I was ordering food, a salad since I’m in the middle of a training cycle and am sticking to a specific diet, and I was going to order a side of fries since I have been stuck on eating French fries since Liz and I’s last trip to France, but as I was about to order The Voice spoke within me and said, “No fries tonight”. So I didn’t order French fries. I try listen to this voice as often as possible. I’ve have found it steers me in the right direction when I’ll make the choice to listen and to respond. This is a minor example, and that is the point of using this as an example, that there is nothing so small that, if I am listening, I cannot receive guidance about. This inner voice is what I would describe as the voice of God or of Jesus, but I should add that I don’t distinguish this from my own inner voice, or from my true self. My true self is in perfect union with God… and so is yours.  When I traveled I would tell stories like this (although usually they were more exciting stories with more dramatic outcomes or results from listening to The Voice) and inevitably people would approach me afterward and want to know, in detail, what it’s like to hear the voice. The big concern for them would be, “So how do I know what is the voice of God or if what I am hearing are just my own thoughts?” Or they’d ask, “How do you know the difference?”’

                When I would answer you could see that my response would almost frustrate them at times, I’d say, “I just believe that every thought that goes through my head is God.” I would usually qualify  that by saying that every thought the lined up with the realities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, self-control and generosity, were the ones I felt were from God… but even this now seems to fall short of truth for me. Every thought and action, even those that people would consider evil, self-centered, or malicious, I would now say is to some degree or another Divine. Although God or Divinity is Good, and is even goodness Herself, that doesn’t mean that Divinity, or God, or whatever you want to call it, is confined strictly to goodness or light, but also incorporates evil, darkness, pain, and the like. This is why Paul, when he wrote a letter to the Romans in Christian scriptures, makes the statement that all things work together for the good of those who love God. All things meaning the good and the evil, the light and the darkness. All things. Because to have one without the other is not to have heaven or hell but is to not have life at all. Pain works alongside pleasure in our lives, accentuating pleasure and somehow even defining it, that without pain there is no pleasure. So instead of trying to eradicate pain throughout the course of our lives we can somehow embrace it within ourselves, this doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it as if we were all masochists, but we can acknowledge and even appreciate pain for the marvelous job it does at revealing pleasure in our lives. We have made things so difficult and have even heaped shame upon ourselves at times because we’re always trying to be good and not bad, always trying to do what’s right and not wrong and have forgotten that beyond and above all this trying is our true call which is simply to be! To be light. To be love. To be peace. To be joy. Even to be passion, or to be anger. By being whatever we are in each given moment, we are adding flavor to the world but more importantly, we are being honest. And this sort of honesty, a conscious honesty, is largely what it means to be in tune with our deeper, or what some would call our spiritual, essence. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cultivate kindness in our lives, but it does mean that we aren’t false about it. We’ve all experienced that bland trait of “niceness” that so many people are living out around us. Doing everything they can to appear nice when actually in the back of their mind they are wishing they weren’t talking with you, or even worse despising you as they smile and nod and play at niceness. This sort of behavior does nothing for those who are participating in it or to those being exposed to it. It’s much better to be honest with someone than to be nice. I’m not encouraging rudeness but sincerity about how we actually feel. If you don’t enjoy someone’s presence there’s no need to fake it, really. Behaving according to how you are actually feeling will be refreshing for you, even if it may be potentially not well received by others. Living in an honest way with ourselves is freeing and I believe that this kind of transparency is generally appreciated by the people around us, even if it’s hard for them to experience sometimes.  Certainly Jesus wasn’t worried about stepping on toes  when he lamented saying, “You faithless generation… how long do I have to put up with you?” or when he told the parable about feeding children’s food to dogs, clearly referencing the person in front of him as the dog in the story. Jesus lived from a place of honesty with himself and with the people around him, and that’s why I follow him as my teacher.

                So what does it look like to be on a spiritual path then? First of all, it looks much like I have been describing already, like accepting ourselves and others… the perceived good and the perceived bad. But in terms of practice, as far as nurturing and permitting our essential selves to be matured, there is much that we can do. It’s important to note though, before we go further into this topic of what we can do, that most everything that is happening in regards to our actual development spiritually is being done to us. Our “doing” is really just a shifting of focus and positioning ourselves in a way that is conducive to being transformed. For example, if we try too hard to be light everyone will see we are trying too hard. Jesus said that we are, that you and I are, the light of the world… already. He didn’t say that we should try to be light. Trying too hard, we become the unpalatable “nice person” that I mentioned a minute ago. The trick to being light is to shift our minds to a place where we are looking for light, looking for goodness, everywhere and in everything. The things we fix our gaze upon have been given permission to transform us. They cause us to evolve. Just as someone who always focuses on what is negative can be almost unbearable to be around, because they themselves become and exude the negativity they’re fixated on, so can a person who is focused on love and peace and joy actually become these powers themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they act more loving or joyful (though this is often the case) but their essential nature is transformed and aligned with being love or being joy. This kind of person is always adding beauty to the world. For a person who’s cultivated and yielded to such a state of love and union and honesty, even their anger adds beauty to the world because it contributes and adds diversity. Even violence, when it’s rooted in love, can be beautiful.

                There is much to be said for some of the spiritual disciplines, such as meditation, or silence or prayer. These can all be useful when they’re applied to the spiritual path as long as they are seen as tools that can be utilized and not confused with the end goal. We will go into more depth on these topics in the future, because incorporating meditation into your life can be transformative, but because my intention today was to discuss the simplicity of the spiritual journey I am going to keep it simple. If you don’t have silence in your life, a time during the day of physical and mental peace, it would benefit you greatly to get some. Spend a few minutes in quiet every day. You don’t have to be thinking about anything and you don’t have to not be thinking about anything either. The goal is to be at rest. If you find yourself feeling anxious about work or the kids or school or whatever it might be, if your mind is wandering, try just focusing on your breath instead. Be aware as your breath enters your lungs and leaves them. How many seconds does it take to inhale, how many to exhale? Fixing your attention this way will help to calm and center you. You might only be able to start with a few minutes of this sort of practice but eventually you’ll learn to rest more easily and can spend more and more time in this space. As you build on this practice, you’ll naturally find over time that you end up in this place of inner rest throughout your day even when you’re not trying to or thinking about it. I don’t want to go on too much about this now, but even this small practice can get you started.

                In closing, what I really wanted to touch on in regards to the simplicity of the spiritual path is the conscious pursuit of joy. In my own life I have come to view joy as a compass; a sort of guide that I can continually reference in order to see if my life is on the right track or not. If I’m not resting in or experiencing joy then I know there is something wrong. I’m not referring to some fleeting feeling of gitty happiness when I say joy. I’m speaking of a deep seated contentment or feeling of affection. My family brings me joy. Rock climbing and interacting with and participating in the infinitude of nature brings me joy. Being creative facilitates joy. Air and sun on my skin brings me joy; a secret knowledge of my belonging. Want another practical step to take?

                 An easy way to do this is to evaluate your life, determine which areas of your life produce the greatest joy, and focus your energy and intentions in those directions. We also need to be willing to lay aside those things that don’t produce joy and to make changes and allow more room for those things that do. Earlier I mentioned that the things we shift our focus on are given the power to transform us. Again, Christian scripture even states that as we fix our eyes upon God that we are transformed from glory to glory. The thing we are seeking we actually become, or more accurately maybe, that which we are, fundamentally and essentially, can be called forth and nurtured by us learning to orient our attention onto those things which are cultivating beauty, love, and truth in our lives.

                If you remember nothing else, at least don’t forget that the spiritual journey is not something difficult or for only a select few people to pursue and enjoy. It is for every man and woman to participate in. It’s not a list a things you can or can’t do. There are no fixed rules to the game. It’s not about acquiring or possessing intellectual knowledge. Being on a spiritual path is all about allowing ourselves to be transformed into that which we’re seeking, and we participate by being present, grateful, and by being honest. Divinity is already your essential nature and the whole journey of life, both spiritual and otherwise, is really about being that which you already are, on the most foundational level.

A Crisis of Faith

Seeing more clearly or being more spiritually healthy, open or secure, does not necessarily correlate to “believing” with increased certitude. Believing actually corresponds directly to not-knowing. You’re at work and talk to your son over your lunch break and ask him if he finished his chores that morning before heading to school, he says yes and you believe him. If you had seen him finish doing the dishes and taking out the trash belief would be unnecessary, you would know. The definition of the word belief is as follows: the acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. The word has nothing to do with whether or not something is actually truth or existent.

                In order to include unicorns or Noah’s ark in your construct of reality you need to believe that they are true (both are believable to me). This is in stark contrast with the experience of the devotees of Jesus who saw him after he was dead. They didn’t believe in the resurrection, they simply shared their story so that others might believe. They didn’t need faith in this regard… they knew.

                 Nine years ago was the first time I met Jesus. I don’t mean that I started believing in him, I sat with him as he taught. Years after that I was speaking to him as we walked here in New Mexico and he told me that he wished that I would just admit that I didn’t have any faith. I was offended.  He said again, “I wish you would admit that you don’t have any faith, then we would have a place to start.”  I sarcastically confessed that I didn’t have any faith… and my whole structure and system of belief began to collapse. All this faithlessness spearheaded by Jesus himself.  My newfound unbelief didn’t injure my relationship with my teacher, Jesus, as he was someone I knew, not something I believed in. But, nearly everything else that I had adhered to in regard to my spiritual upbringing, creeds, doctrines, rules and the like, slowly crumbled into a state of what I can only describe as unreality.

                I am not writing this account to encourage faithlessness or doubt, but because I know that many of you who will read these words have experienced or are in the midst of a crisis of faith. Where things you once believed to be true have entered the realm of untruth; where once a house of faith stood, now there is only smoke and smoldering ash. I am writing today to encourage you that those things that are actually true will stand and are a foundation on which you can rebuild a beautiful and secure life and reality.

                For me Love became my anchor. Foundational to all I now hold to be true is my personal knowledge that the entire cosmos is composed of and held together by a glorious power, energy or life that we have diminishingly termed “love”.  Anytime you ascribe a word or a name to an unspeakable, unfathomable Wonder you diminish her. From a Christian or biblical perspective, this love is what or whom Jesus instructed his followers to call “Father”. The point was not to create a an image of a bearded man in the sky who makes stuff and runs the universe, but to establish a point a reference, a way for thinking men to begin to connect with a beyond-thought Divinity or Power. To build our spiritual home and reality upon the knowledge that we are inseparable from Divine Love, that we are expressions of this power, that we are “Children of God”, is to build upon a firm foundation. It is important to note that this is, as stated, only a foundation or beginning. When we begin to connect with Source the journey has only begun; we have in no way “arrived” by ascertaining such a truth.  

                Storms and trials will come. If we are seeking truth, it is inevitable that those things which are less-than Truth will fall away. This will hurt. But in the midst of pain and after the seas are stilled, those things which are true, which are eternal, will remain. Know that your faith or faithlessness have no effect on whether or not you are eternally accepted or loved. You already do and always have belonged. As Christian scriptures put it, even if you become faithless God will remain faithful to you for He cannot deny himself. You can know that you are loved. You can experience the Love that exists for you, surrounds you and even is you. You can take comfort and rest in this state of union with Love, for “perfect love casts out fear”. Peace and joy to you on your journey of transformation, faith, hope, and most of all, love.

Salvation Through Giving Up

                Two nights ago I was in a dream. There was a small piece of paper in my hand, on which I was scrawling a list of my sins and shortcomings. The paper was only the size of a matchbox or so, which is no indication or representation of the number or severity of the sins written on it, since I was writing very small and sins, even if you write them in small letters, remain sins. After finishing I handed the list a priest who was seated in a chair in front of me. I had the sense that I was participating in confession, actually that’s exactly what I was doing, although the two of us present weren’t independently concealed in the customary partitioned booths (or so I’ve heard are customary, though I’ve never been in a confessional booth personally). At some point in the exchange and in the dream I found myself in a nearly prostrate position before the priest, bowed low to the ground with my hands folded in a sort of prayer-like posture. It appeared humble, though I don’t remember feeling any true remorse or humility in my heart. Isn’t it interesting how often and how skillfully we feign humility, generosity, kindness, patience, or love? Sometimes we pretend these things so well that we actually believe them to be true ourselves.

                As I sat waiting for my absolution to be delivered I heard the priest laugh and I looked up wonderingly. There he sat reading through my sins one by one and after each he would smile a slight smile and chuckle. I remember thinking this was odd. After a minute, still holding the little paper in his hands, he looked in my direction with eyes full of kindness and wisdom and said, “Colt… the next step in your spiritual growth is going to come as you realize that there is nothing you can change about yourself or your life that can ever make you more loved.” Then I woke up.

                Isn’t this what we have all done? Throughout the course of our “growing up” we have molded ourselves, sometimes involuntarily but also of our own will, into the image that we have decided to call “me” (though it is most often the image that we secretly believe will please others). You did not decide who you were when you 12. You were told who you were when you were young and have continued to be given feedback like this for the rest of your life; constantly micro-shaping your image of ‘self’ in order to try to answer the introspective inquiry of “who am I?” but also to meet the perceived expectations of those around you. This self that we build in response to our needs, environment, and the expectations of others is what Thomas Merton and others have termed, “False Self”. It’s not bad, it’s just not entirely true.

                We create this false self out of a very real need to be loved and appreciated and accepted. This is where the message of salvation comes in. I don’t mean salvation in the sense that if you believe like me you’ll be saved from hell, forgiven by a previously angry God; I’m talking about realizing that you are loved, lovable, and even an expression of Love Herself, and that all that is expected of you in this life is to be that. I think this is the salvation that Jesus actually tried to offer people. The realization that you and I are loved, “as we are and not as we should be” as Brennan Manning put it, and that there’s nothing that can separate us from or bring us closer to God. This is important because when we recognize that we are continually and eternally enveloped in a Reality of Goodness, then moment by moment trials lose their sting and we slowly gain the ability to rest in the Love and peace that surrounds and inherently fills us.

                All you have to do is give up. By definition when we stop trying to fix ourselves we are accepting ourselves. I’m not saying that we should just yield into all our desires and shortcomings and stop caring or trying to grow. I’m just saying we can lean into The Light and let ourselves be gently carried along the path of transformation or enlightenment. We stop fighting against the current; not thrashing, kicking and wailing to try to be heard or seen, but resting in the quiet security and joy of realizing that we’re already seen, already included, already loved. This doesn’t require any major immediate changes. You don’t have to delete Facebook, buy a new self-help book and up your meditation time to three hours a day. Simply take a moment in the morning when you wake up to be still and whisper to yourself the eternal truth, “I’m already loved exactly as I am”.

               

The Ground of Being

It has felt difficult when I sit down to write, this past year especially, to know where to begin. Nothing that I have been learning as of late regarding spiritual matters has been easy to talk about, which is quite alright since actual spiritual realities can’t actually be spoken of in any actualizing way, only hinted and pointed at from different directions in the hope that someone will have the curiosity to look into the thing for themselves. Words are only metaphors and are never the thing they are attempting to communicate. This is the danger of creeds and “beliefs”, they often claim to be the “thing” you’re looking for. That to consent to particular idea could get you “saved” or make you “chosen” as if the idea itself were the reality of union with God or enlightenment. This is also why Jesus spoke in parables. He was allowing individuals to arrive at their own conclusions; his words were and still are invitations, not doctrines. Words have no option but to forever minimize that which is Infinite.

There is one ocean. Fish may reside in different corners of the sea and the life within may have very independent experiences, yet the ocean is one and the collective of the experiences had within her are the essence of the ocean herself. To see the ocean as separate animals, plants, currents, water and substrates is to have a small view of her. Take a step back and view the ocean in its entirety and it will be clear that the Ocean is One.

A man plants a garden on his land. In it he places vegetables and fruits of various types. When they all mature he can walk you through the middle of them and point and say, “That one is a squash, these are tomatoes, and those are basil.” If you stand with him from a distance and your view is enlarged to take it all in at once he will simply point and say, “There is the garden.”

Jesus once said that if you build a house upon a rock it will stand, will endure through trials and storms; build it upon sand it will all come crashing down eventually. To construct a system of beliefs divorced from an underlying, experiential knowledge of the unity of all peoples, creation, and reality is to build a rickety structure. Though it may provide temporary shelter, comfort or security it cannot be depended on to endure the tests of storms and time. To see only a single fish or plant is not the same as experiencing the ocean or enjoying the garden. The ocean is vast and wondrous and the beauty of a garden lies not only in the independent plants and parts, but in the created space as a whole.

Freedom in No

Maybe you’re a person who always speaks and acts according to what you really feel, in alignment with who you really are. You are willing to say no when you don’t want to do something, you assertively confront any situation that feels like it is drawing you away from your truest self or from the type of life you have decided to live and pursue. You might be the kind of person who says what they mean; just as ready to say yes and follow through as you are to confidently say no. If you are this kind of person great, if not then know that you are part of the vast majority, the 97.6% of the population who is driven, influenced, and often enslaved by, the opinions, actions, and expectations of others.

 I have been one who says “yes” a lot in life even though I’m not a “yes man” per se. I enjoy being helpful to others and I am especially prone to say yes to requests related to things that I am good at or gifted in. Yes to teaching, yes to helping someone move, yes to brainstorming or helping out with a new project someone is launching, yes to… I could keep filling in the blank. There is nothing wrong with saying yes, this is of course, unless you really wanted to say no. I made a New Year’s resolution to myself this year to say no more often and to be more assertive (I’m already a fairly assertive fellow so stepping it up without seeming rude can be a challenge!). There is freedom in saying no.

We have been trained from an early age to say yes. While obedience, saying yes without questioning, is a desirable trait in young children who are being guided and taught the ways of life and the world, it is a stifling reality to adults who haven’t unlearned the practice. In order to keep from going crazy and avoid living under the burdens of external expectations we must learn to say no, as or more often then we say yes. When we say no to something we don’t want to do we are being consistent with our truest self. This doesn’t extend only to saying yes or no either. If someone plays music I don’t enjoy and I tell them, “No thanks, I’d rather listen to something else”, I am being honest with them and myself and there is liberation in honesty! Someone asks if I can help with their event in the park, “No”, I respond. They inquire about why not… do I have something else going on that weekend? “No, I just don’t want to do that.” It might seem a bit offensive, but being direct and honest with others is a trait that everyone can appreciate, even if it’s not what they wanted to hear in the moment.

It’s helpful when learning to say no or becoming more frank or assertive, to realize that obedience or compulsively saying yes is not love. Our deepest potential for love corresponds directly to living in accordance with our truest self. Expressing our actual thoughts, intentions or desires (even if they seem off-putting or self-centered) is more loving than veiling our actual internal reality in order to please others. Saying no or being direct with others is not unkind in any way; kindness and honesty are sisters.

I don’t know how much or how well I have communicated my thoughts on this subject in this brief writing. Hopefully at least one person who reading this who is feeling a bit overwhelmed by life will summon the courage to say no, realizing that their value and self-worth should not be and are not wrapped up in pleasing others. You can say no as freely as yes. You can confidently speak your mind when the moment calls for words knowing that variety, not conformity, facilitates beauty most effectively. Be true to yourself, don’t wear out under the weight of the expectations of others; say yes when you mean yes, and be willing to say no when you mean no.   

Peace, joy and boldness to you today.

The Beauty of Suffering

There is no doubt that each of us will suffer in this life. This reality is as inevitable as the experiences of love, joy, peace, elation…and death that we will all partake of. The severity of our suffering is determined in large part by our chosen perspective of our particular circumstance. The state that I, along with many others, have chosen to cultivate is one of presence, of remaining present, for it is only in this present moment that we exist, experience, or grow in any way that can be considered “real” or that leads us into deeper realms of enlightenment or union with God.  

There is no yesterday and there is no tomorrow. As beings traveling the road of linear time, yesterday is gone and tomorrow, or even a moment 10 seconds from now, is purely a figment of our imagination. There is only one place that we dwell and that is right here, right now. Especially in times of pain (physical or emotional) it is easy to want to flee from the present but to do so is to miss the lessons and beauty that originate only from these necessary and unique moments of existence. As long as we are fleeing from the moment (our minds dwelling, usually involuntarily, in the past or future), fleeing from pain, then we are unable to meet and experience God in the midst of it. It is through, and only through, these times of darkness that we come to know the indwelling Spirit of God as “Comforter”. There is no healing without pain; no need or experience of comfort without suffering or distress.

It’s critical that we are present in suffering, not looking for the easiest way out, but experiencing God in the midst of suffering as our comfort and strength. When Jesus was in Gethsemane it’s recorded that he repeatedly requested for “this cup to pass” from him, to be excused from going to his cross. He didn’t pray these words out of fear or avoidance of his destiny in any way. He prayed thus because he needed God’s Voice in that moment to speak the life and strength into him that he would need to walk with grace through whatever circumstance life was about to thrust upon him. Each of us hears this Voice, albeit in different forms and modes of receiving. It may be a gentle leading or comfort you feel, the audible encouragement of a friend, or simply a whisper in your heart that you have termed your conscience or maybe think of demeaningly of as “just your own thoughts”.  So many times others have questioned me about hearing The Voice and when I told them it sounds just like your own thoughts they have been discouraged and said, “Well how do I know if it’s my own thoughts or the voice of God?!” My answer is, what’s the difference? If you’re thoughts are ones of beauty or love, patience or goodness, rest assured they are the thoughts of God. It is only if my thoughts are of bitterness, hatred, or especially fear, that I become suspicious and do not relate them directly to the light, love and flow of beauty that I call God.

All this pontificating on the benefit of suffering is not to suggest that we should seek after suffering; for seeking pain, (penance, fasting, self-deprecating thoughts, etc.) in order to “get ahead spiritually” does not incite the same quality of experience of the goodness of God. I am suggesting only that we may simply and gently embrace pain when it inevitably comes, knowing that while patiently enduring and remaining present we are being further transformed into the likeness of God, and that our suffering is not in vain.

God is and is equally present everywhere and in every circumstance; in light and darkness, life and loss, joy and pain. If we cannot recognize God (beauty) in ourselves, another person or group, place or circumstance, this is indicates an area of blindness on our part, not a godless void. For the Love I call God is all, and is in all, and is holding all things together.

The Inevitability of Divinity

Divinity (/dəˈvinədē/): The state or quality of being divine

 

We are used to thinking of everything as separate; we are separate from each other, from the birds and the trees, and the trees are separate, distinctly other-than the soil, water, air and stars. We compartmentalize reality into little “its”, “us’”, and “thems”, to the extent that the underlying unity of all creation is most often overlooked or not acknowledged at all. On the spiritual journey, as we begin to accept Divinity residing in and as our self, we must correspondingly see Divinity in and as all that surrounds us if we desire to, as Jesus invited us, become One with God.

Dealing with illusion is necessary on the path to recognizing inherent and omnipresent Divinity. By separating ourselves into people groups, tribes and nations, and creation into phylum, genus and species, we are unwittingly conditioning ourselves and our children to see the universe as a disjointed, hierarchical hodgepodge instead of the glorious unified tapestry that is God and that includes each of us (a tapestry that, in fact, excludes no one and nothing). The essential nature of all Divinity is “Life”, and all life is correspondingly and essentially Divine. This isn’t something that can be taught, it must be experienced. Until you experience and appreciate Goodness (God-ness) residing in your innermost being, it will be an abstract idea or impossibility to experience God in and through others and creation. Once you have truly touched this Glory in yourself it is impossible to not experience God everywhere else as well.

We live on a planet, residing in a galaxy, nestled in a universe, each of which is fully alive! This life that is propelling all things into greater and deeper levels of being and consciousness is Divinity, is the flow of Beauty and Majesty that we came forth from and which Jesus instructed us to call “Father”. As this Life fills all, fills you and fills me, it is inevitable that we are inherently divine; Divinity is the foundation and even totality of all creation. Divinity is not something to attain to but to recognize; enlightenment is like waking up, not like getting an “A” on a test.

My encouragement and challenge to you today is to acknowledge beauty in yourself, in creation and in every person you meet (just do your best!). Look inside yourself and see that which is good, which desires to add beauty to the world, that which is kind and loving. We can condition ourselves to see God instead of brokenness and division; to see beauty instead of destruction. As our eyes are opened more and more to truth we realize that no matter where we look or who we meet, it is inevitable… Divinity is dwelling there.

Relaxing Your Perspective

                It’s an interesting phenomena, the more focused you become on a single point the harder it is to see anything else clearly. (For a quick example; hold your thumb up arms-length from your body and focus on your nail. As you do this, take note of how everything in your visual field surrounding your thumb is blurred) This is not solely an optical effect either; in the same way our entire perspective of the world, the things we choose to focus on, can cause much else to be “blurred”.

                The problems that arise from our constricted focus generally go unnoticed. This is the very nature of the problem; being so narrowly fixated that we can’t see beyond our point of fixation and, being so caught up in our own view, neither can we see clearly the potential negative impact of our own thinking. This is easily demonstrated in our religious and political adherences. I will use Christianity as an example, not because I see the greatest fault there, but because this is the group I have been most connected with over the years and can share insight based on personal knowledge and experience (all belonging groups, whether other religious systems or even local committees function, essentially, in the same way). If our perspective of Christianity causes us to see Christians as “saved” and everyone as “lost”, our view has become too narrow, hindered by our holding too tightly to our interpretation of established doctrine and overlooking the larger panoramic of humanity and her infinitude of potential happenings and circumstances that lead to each individual’s ideas of the world. Even within the walls of Christendom, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, there are separate denominations and sects who can’t agree or see beauty in one another because of ideological divisions; in these cases even those within our own belonging system aren’t likened to us quite enough to belong. In contrast, Jesus held a “whole world” perspective, whereby his affiliation with a specific religious group didn’t stop him from loving and being love to those he encountered; “Friend of Sinners” is one of the most wonderful titles he carries.

                This problem of perspectival smallness extends to nearly every area of life. If we drive fast, slow drivers annoy us. We like the food we like. Americans watch “American Football” and the entire rest of the world doesn’t care. We hang out with people who look like us, think like us, talk and behave like us, not because these are the people we “happen” to meet in life but because on some level we have chosen to meet them; using our social group to solidify our already firmly established sense of self. Every preference we hold is a perspective to which we have ascribed value and, in many cases, are the unconscious slave of.

                The good news is that we can break free of the bonds of preconceived notions and long-held biases. It’s as easy as relaxing!! When we loosen up our focus on the thumb from the previous exercise, the rest of our surroundings become correspondingly clearer. The same can happen for our mental space, opinions, and ideologies... even our food preferences! This doesn’t mean we don’t value those things we once did, but we permit our perspective the freedom of broadening to the end that we are able to appreciate (or at least not criticize) the opinions and perspectives of others. It is possible to exist in a place of divine tension, where we simultaneously hold to our truths but don’t consider others wrong for possessing different ideas of truth. Fast drivers can be okay with others wanting to drive slowly. Adventure is an excellent way of growing our “field of vision” as well. Try different foods, wines, and activities. Travel to different places, talk with people from different cultures, and read books that you would normally turn your nose up at. Variety they say is “the spice of life”, and a food (or life) that isn’t spiced sufficiently is…well… not that great.

                It is inevitable that we will continue in some level of attachment to our own views and personal bents, but it is possible for us to continually grow by seeing the world in a larger, more inclusive way. We can stop seeing people who are different from us as “wrong” and even appreciate the beauty resulting from the vast variation that is inherent in the human race. We don’t have much of a choice as to where we are born, how we are raised, and the biases resulting from these circumstances, but we do have the option to view others as essentially good and worthy of love and to demonstrate that love through our lives.

The Problem of Immersion

                When you are totally and completely immersed in a reality or environment you are rarely aware of it. Take for instance a fish suspended within and moving about in water. The fish doesn’t think about being in water, it just is (as far as we can speculate a fish’s ponderings I suppose). Or the fact that you are regularly filled up with, surrounded and sustained by air. Our awareness doesn’t generally extend to the air, unless there is a change in its quality or quantity we tend to take it for granted all-the-while surviving from its very presence. This is much the reality of being in God. In the same way that we are inseparable from nature and the elements as the building blocks of the material realm, so are we inalienable from God, who and which is the power and life that sustains our beyond-physical self and consciousness. And even this stops short of expressing the fullness of our dilemma.

                                Matter too consists fully of the Reality and Divinity I am using the word “God” to describe. There is no other that is not God. If you gaze upon a fish (maybe the one mentioned in the paragraph above) while snorkeling; viewing her in all her radiance, colors, and incredible physiological abilities and do not see God, it is not because God isn’t there in and as the fish, but because your eyes have not been conditioned to see God in her. Often, even as we sit and breathe with life coursing through our body, we question the nature or even existence of God. So immersed and filled up with life and consciousness that it never dawns on us that the life and consciousness we are is God! When Jesus spoke of us as the “children of God” he was pointing us in the direction of recognizing unity. Not with some far off person in the sky who wants to be our friend, but with the spirit and power and beauty that is literally embodied in and by each of us.

                Divinity is Life. Life is Divine. As the proverbial scales are removed from our eyes (eyes which on their best day can only see “as through a glass dimly”) we begin to see more clearly as opposed to believing more firmly. It’s possible in our spiritual journey that doctrinal adherence may lose its hold and ideas that once sustained us are no longer satisfactory, but this will never and could “never separate us from the love of God that is in Christ”.

                There is a scripture that states, “If you become faithless, God will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” These words are worth meditating on. To paraphrase, “If you lose your faith, you don’t need to worry or be afraid for God could never lose faith in you. How could she? The very life that is in is you, full of faith or not, is God.”

Visualize Success

20190121_153114-01.jpeg

       This is a writing about perception, expectation, and reaching beyond yourself. We are very often limited, no by our actual potential and abilities, but rather by having wrong thoughts and views of ourselves and thus shooting for goals that are only a few meters away instead of reaching for stars.

                 You are more capable than you imagine. The human body, through obvious and radical design, can undertake extraordinary feats; unwaveringly able to ascend the tallest peaks in the world, run at speeds in excess of 25 mph… or create a baby. In spite of being gifted these incredible machines we call “bodies”, many of us have underestimated our potential to the degree that even basic levels of physical health and strength elude us. The first step forward in physical endeavors is realizing they are 75% mental (although an arbitrary statistic, you get the point). Changing our minds and/or faith in ourselves and our potentialities is a process and it often occurs as we commit in our hearts to “try hard” and stick with goals until we see progress. A paradigm shift can also come as easily as reading these paragraphs. Nearly every major breakthrough I’ve experienced athletically (and in almost any area of my life) can be traced back to someone speaking a word into me, “You can do this!” Simultaneously encouraging and adjusting my self-perception. Let me encourage you today in whatever your personal aims are, “You can do it! You’re stronger and more capable than you think you are.”  I truly believe that.

                It is important when altering our perception that our expectations change too. Quite often this will happen automatically. As we view ourselves as more able our expectations of success increase correspondingly. Additionally, there are ways we can take a deliberate role in shaping our expectations. One way is through self talk; engaging our minds in positive reinforcement regarding a task can be the difference between success and failure. When you’re thinking about goals, allow your mind to be filled with words of encouragement. When I’m climbing a difficult boulder I don’t sit and meditate on how hard it is, I consciously recite positivities to myself such as, “You can totally make that move. Pull hard, stay tight and don’t let go!” It’s amazing how often I succeed after this brief mantra. If you ever catch yourself in negative self talk get rid of it immediately! You are the one person you need believing in you! One other tactic you can utilize is visualization; playing movies of you succeeding on the silver screen of your mind. Imagine yourself achieving your goals and really experience it! There is little difference whether we experience ourselves succeeding in our minds or in the physical, both create the desired neurological effects and pathway developments, so doing these exercises programs you for progress.

                Lastly, if you want to see advancement in your personal abilities, fitness or life in general, be ready and willing to reach beyond your perceived limits. It’s not wrong to be honest with ourselves about our limitations but the vast majority of people (99%... myself included) have never touched the boundaries of what they are capable of and therefore must not set up limits where none have been actually established. Set big goals, ones that are beyond you right now, permit setbacks along the path to attaining them, and realize that when you are pushing yourself toward the reaches of your potential, even temporary failures are likely far beyond where you would be if you weren’t giving it your all! Small, attainable goals have been proven to be effective in causing growth, but don’t forget to dream big and to see these short term successes as stepping stones to long term accomplishment.

                Wherever you happen to be on the path regarding your personal health, well-being or fitness, you’re in a good place. Everyone is inevitably moving forward from where they are, right now, and there is no wrong way or point to begin from. Just remember as you proceed to perceive yourself and abilities in a positive light, allow your expectations to be shaped by words and visions of success, and be willing to reach beyond your current place of being, knowing that those who aim big and fall short are still likely to achieve far more than they initially thought possible!

There’s a Place for Everyone

“And when you pray… pray then like this, “Our Father…” -Jesus of Nazareth

 

                We can scarcely dream or conceive of the infinitude that is God. With every image we create of God, whether in words, on canvas, or in our minds, we diminish God; for to create an image of one who is invisible is to represent them not as they are. When we imagine God as a person we anthropomorphize not only in regards to physical features but also temperament, thoughts, emotions and preferences. And when this anthropomorphization causes the Divine to be too small to encompass and embrace all of creation, then God has become… well, too small.

                God does not prefer one group over another or one individual over the next. In fact, God may not prefer at all. How could Love… perfect, unending, unwavering, radiant Love have a preference? All life stems from the Life that is the concept we call God. If you have three children which is your favorite? This is a minute example comparatively but, alas, when pondering a never ending ocean of life and power (God) all we have to work with is metaphor and insufficient similitudes. The answer to the question above is, “You don’t prefer one to another,” and this must be kept firmly in our minds, and more especially in our hearts, when we dare to conjure up any image of God.

                If you have life that is coursing through your physical and beyond-physical-self right now, rest assured that life came from and even is God. This life is often called “The Spirit”, and rightly so, for Spirit denotes personality, perspective and independence and truly these are experiences we all enjoy. The trick is to not forget that every other creature and creation enjoys and exhibits these attributes as well and must never be thought of as “apart from God”. For God is all and to be separate from God is to not be; consequently anything that is is of God… did I lose you yet?!

                The point is, when Jesus instructed us to pray to “Our Father” he was speaking to everyone… he was speaking to you. Anyone who heard him say those words or who would ever read them after they were penned was intended to feel free to call the Invisible Divine “Father” and to feel included in and loved by God. There is a place for everyone in this Glory, Mystery and Life. There is no need to fear being separated or estranged from God for how could God ever separate God’s Self from God’s Self in you? Why do you think it is that Jesus raising from the dead was a sign? What was this miracle a sign of? Through bodily resurrection Jesus demonstrated that our concept of death as an end, as a period on the sentence of life, is wrong and that nothing every actually snatches life away from us… including death. If our life is eternal, never-ending, then our place in God is as well. There is no life separate from The Life.

                Take great joy today knowing that the fact that you are breathing is proof of your inherent belonging in the mystery and power and life we have termed God. Realize that as you add love, peace and joy to the world, you are participating in the perpetuation of Beauty that Jesus called “The Kingdom of God.” As you experience love in and for yourself, don’t forget to patiently recognize this Life in everyone and everything you encounter throughout your day. The more we realize God in others the more joy we exist in and the more we see that “there is a place for everyone.” Peace to you.

The Mystery of Christmas

                There is little room allowed in our culture for mystery. The ocean, once a crashing metaphor of divinity, has been reduced to a body of water mapped out with graphs and charts and diagrams of currents. The mountains have all been explored and hiked, the atom split and thoroughly investigated, outer space plotted and photographed. Who needs mystery, we have science. Even religion and spirituality has been largely and practically discarded by the masses; who has time for these fanciful tales? We have money to make and things to do! The reality is that without mystery there is no adventure. Without adventure there little joy to be experienced. Where there is no joy, there is no Real Life; only a shadow of what was once vibrant, colorful and actually worth Living.

                Christmas has traditionally been a time to meditate on mystery. In its truest and most enrapturing moments it is an invitation to contemplation on the mind blowing reality of incarnation. (Phew, that was a mouth-full!) The story begins with a young virgin, “overshadowed” and impregnated by God, who bears a child that is to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, The Son of God. This is a crazy story! an incredible mystery! The birth of Jesus is, as they say, “The reason for the season,” but this should not be viewed as an opportunity to assert dogmatic ideas or to recount things we “already know about” (use of quotes because I sincerely doubt that we understand with much depth the reality or even point of Jesus’ birth and life). The real mystery of Jesus was not a virgin birth but his “Christedness”, the power of the Life within and upon him that caused him to be known as Christ; the mystery is that his life was painting a picture for all of us, of all of us, of our Christedness, of the power that dwells within us.

                If any is desiring a life of mystery and adventure leading to joy everlasting, they need look no further than the intimate recesses of their own soul and being. Contained within you, within me, is an infinitude of Life and Power that, though we have realized and even worshipped it in others, we have rarely explored this Glory where it is most accessible… inside. The wonder of the life and teachings of Jesus is that he was attempting to teach us about ourselves. He called God “Father” and then told us we should all do this too! Do we realize that in that moment he invited us all to know ourselves as “The son (or daughter) of God”? That speaking those words he made Divinity of us all, of any who could receive it, and beckoned us in the direction of exploring and understanding the fantastic mystery of “Christ in you”?! The real mystery of the story explodes on the scene when Jesus demonstrates and states, “I and the Father are one.” He spoke these words of himself, he spoke them of you, he spoke them of me.

                When we speak or sing or think of the mystery of the incarnation this Christmas we must, maybe for the first time, extend the potentiality of this mystery to its furthest reaches; to ourselves and to all those around us. This is not to diminish Jesus in any way. Jesus is my teacher and I seek to honor and learn from him as best I can, always. As his devotee I can assure you that his concern this Christmas is not that you worship and sing songs to him, but that you allow yourself to believe and taste that his life and message were an invitation to you, into God. That your eyes and my eyes might be opened to know that the same spirit that lived in and through him lives in us.

                This Christmas may each of us have a revelation of the Beauty and Goodness that indwells us. May we take some time, at least a moment of silence, in order to allow our hearts to hear the words, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”

Merry Christmas and extravagant joy to you all!

Faith, Hope and Love: Foundations of Relationship 

                There is a longing in every human heart for relationship that is sure, stable, and maybe even eternal? In a quick-fix, fast love and get-ahead society, the closest many come to meaningful relationship is a heart shaped emoji and a surprisingly satisfying “Lookin’ Good!” posted in the comments section of their latest selfie. We want others to believe in us, encourage and affirm us, even while we whisper secretly about their latest life troubles (which are all too easily discerned given that they were inevitably smeared across every occupiable social media platform). There are foundational attributes of real relationship that need be embraced and embodied if we desire to move beyond superficial and unfulfilling encounters with others. Faith, Hope and Love are not words or feelings, they are substance, action, and power. Experiencing these for yourself and offering them to others creates a cycle of Life and an inner security that can sustain us even beyond death. As Paul the apostle once penned, “There are three things that will remain, Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is Love.”

                Faith is not blind belief and it does not apply only to spiritual pursuits or an invisible God. Faith has been touted in the past as acknowledgement or consent to ideas or beings that you cannot see so you just need to “have faith.” In reality and practice, Faith is one of the three pillars of relationship that apply both to the seen and unseen realms. Faith is Trust. Trust is critical to healthy relationship primarily because of its cyclical nature. As we trust others it demonstrates that we value them, honor them, and acknowledge that they are worthy of our trust. Offering this faith to and in another invites them to have faith in us in return; people are willing to place trust in others who they are trusted by. If one harbors a lack of faith in us, we probably won’t be quick to place our trust in them. It doesn’t feel good to know someone doesn’t believe in you.

                Hope is the sister of faith. Hope looks forward and with joyful expectation! Hope doesn’t need someone else to prove they are good or worthy of our kindness and love, hope already sees beauty in others. Our hope in others calls into being the best parts of them, their truest and most wonderful self. It is often a life changing moment for those on the spiritual path when they realize that God hopes in them. To feel goodness being urged out of your depths by an invisible force that you can only call Love is a glorious and transformative experience! This Goodness hoping in you can cause you to place hope in The Great Goodness as well. At the point of maturity this Hope causes us to know ourselves as “One with God.”

                Love is the great trump card of the universe. Hate, evil, bitterness, or darkness; none of these hold any power over Love. Love trusts and hopes in all things and in every circumstance. Love is not bitter or envious, nor is She ever arrogant or rude. When we love we look past the faults of others, not because we are blind to them but because we have decided to focus on the Beauty in them, on their truest self. Love is not ignorant. Love simply makes the choice to honor in spite of short comings and to not hold the faults of others against them. Here is a really practical way we can all amp up our practice in love: Love does not gossip. I believe the entire spiritual journey can be summarized in a single phrase, “Experiencing and learning to Love”.  To experience Love is to experience God, and to offer Love is to participate in God.

                If we desire meaningful relationship; for others to have faith and hope in us and love toward us, then we must be willing to offer the same to those around us. We can share our hearts and lives with others (Faith), choose to assume the best about people (hope), and be willing to believe them without keeping record of their wrongs (Love). These pillars, these realities, are not selfish. We can offer them even before experiencing them, trusting that whatever we give will be given back to us. Such is the cycle of Love and Blessing that is, as Jesus proclaimed it, “The Kingdom of God.”

Transience

                An old truck lay alongside a seldom traveled road; left behind, not cast aside. Time had finally caught up to him one day while tiredly chugging along and he’d felt compression leave his engine, life leave his heart. On that lonely two-track he’d died. Now grass grows through holes in the floorboards, and sun and rain and rust are slowly eating away, along with time, at his bones; as the old saying goes, “From dust to dust.” If only he’d been able to speak of the amount and manner of life he’d witnessed.

                He belonged to a young couple in his early days. He’d felt and smelled and looked young; shiny and blue, like clear morning sky after a night of rain. Oh the power that coursed through his body in those days and what glory could be experienced in exerting himself! The couple was so happy to have him. Carrying them around for hours through summer evenings had been the greatest of joys, coasting with windows down and the warm breeze rolling gently over them all. Other times with the windows up the couple had sat tensely upon his long bench seat, a world apart, quietly stewing over the reckless words they’d spoken to each other. One autumn afternoon they had made love in that very same place while the radio crackled, barely unnoticed, in the background. In any case the old truck was happy to be spent offering himself as a vehicle of joy, sanctuary, and Life.

                Some years were admittedly more difficult than others. After suffering several physical setbacks and being restored, as much as was possible, to new, Truck had become friend and carrier of a woman advanced in her years. They seemed an unlikely pair and enjoyed one another’s company immensely. She’d hum quietly as they rolled over hills and under bridges and would rarely turn on the radio as she had “no time for the nonsense they all kept on about”. The span they were together was better measured in months than years. One day her son had steered in a panic to the hospital while she lay motionless in the seat to his right. Carrying him back home the next day, Truck learned that she hadn’t made it; they lost her in the night. As they drove the son cried and muttered to himself in a muffled voice that he wished he’d seen her more often… that he should’ve called and found it in his heart to forgive and be kind. Racing to the hospital was the first time Truck had ever met him.

                                They gradually came to know each other well, the young man and the truck. He was attentive and patient which Truck appreciated greatly as he was now the one slowing down. His roar often changed unexpectedly to a sputter those days and the joints and springs that had once supported him over rough roads now creaked precariously, especially on winter mornings when he was called upon before even the sun had risen and neither he nor the air had yet warmed up.  There were so many memories stored, scenes witnessed and words heard throughout his life to this point. He thought often of the young couple from the days when he too was in his prime; undoubtedly much had changed in their life. He hoped they were happy and still together. Often they’d quarreled but companionship and friendship, not to mention Love, are hard to find and should never be carelessly discarded. He remembered also the old woman from time to time but not as often as he might have preferred. Even the memories of those who pass away seem to fade, dimmed by new experiences and the fresh life that inevitably takes their place. In his younger days this forgetting and changing had seemed cruel somehow, as though winter had some right to be remembered after spring arrives. The old truck now realized that this was simply the pattern of things; seasons as well as people pass and this shouldn’t be mourned too long, for lamenting over the loss of summer can cause one to miss out on the beauty of fall.

                The day came gently, expectedly, when he discovered his final resting place. The baby blue paint that once gleamed proudly had grown dull and scarred and told of the life, both quality and quantity, that the truck had enjoyed. They were hauling wood, he and the son, on a beaten country path when the time for rest came upon him. There was no long goodbye, they’d both seen this moment coming. The old truck didn’t even hear the kind words spoken over him as the man patted his hood softly before continuing on foot down the two-track.  Solomon, a wise man, once said, “There is a time for everything; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to be born and a time to die. There is nothing better than to be happy and to do good while you live.”

“A Conversation Between Despair and Hope”

   “I didn’t think this would ever happen to me,” murmured Despair weakly, face buried in hands. “My whole life I’ve labored for the sake of Love. Now I’m sick and tired, wearied in my soul by the continual battering of life. I used to believe that all things work for good but it seems nowadays that everywhere I look I see only darkness. Maybe trusting in Goodness and Light was a mistake.”

                Hope listened gently his plea; it was genuine. She had witnessed the difficulties that had plagued her counterpart for the past years. He had persevered quietly, if not smiling, and she’d seen the darkness building inside him, slowly engulfing his usual shine; like smoke suffocating a flame.

                “Trusting Light, seeing Light everywhere you look is never a mistake. This is one of your greatest qualities.” she warmly affirmed. Hope possessed enough wisdom to see her role in the moment as a friend to lean on, to not weary him with further with quick-fix solutions or recuperative prodding. “It’s okay for you to be experiencing darkness right now. I wouldn’t hurry from the pain. What a shame it would be to miss out on what the darkness is growing in you.”

                “What possible growth could be coming from the pain!?” Despair spat angrily. He immediately felt shame for the thoughtless retort, Hope had never been anything but kind to him. “Sorry,” he back-stepped, “It’s just, I don’t understand why suffering should be viewed as some key to personal growth. I’ve always hated that sentiment.” Hope sat pensive for a moment, looking almost blankly through the window across the room. Snow still rested on the sill from a month before showing little sign of melting, no inkling of spring. The sky outside felt heavy, the clouds hung oppressively low.

                “I don’t think suffering is a ‘key to growth’,” she said, shifting her gaze upon him. She found him looking desperately into her eyes, silently begging for some slice of truth that could satiate the dull pain, the hunger for joy he’d been living with day to day. “I mean, pain isn’t necessary as much as it is inevitable. Being resolutely present is the ‘key to growth’, regardless of the season of life you are in.” With these words, and without either of them noticing, a solitary ray of sunlight penetrated the glass on the window. A bead of water began to roll down the pane, cutting the frost as it went.  

She continued, “There are different angles from which you can examine a thing and from each the object will appear slightly, if not entirely, different. Even the pain you are experiencing can be of use if you will be present in it, not flee from it prematurely. I, Hope, am a friend to you in darkness, not forcing you to see light, but here to offer comfort in your time of need. People have been taught that darkness and pain should be avoided at any cost, or that they are ‘less-than’ somehow. This isn’t true. These times of trouble are creating perseverance and character within you. You mustn’t be surprised that you’re experiencing trials, they come to everyone, and don’t numb your pain; this winter you are living through is birthing something wonderful in you.” As she spoke she placed her hand on his and the tenderness of her touch brought him a feeling of rest, like sitting down after walking too many miles.

“How could that possibly be true?” Despair asked incredulously. But in his question and in his heart was a glimmer of peace that came with knowing Hope would never betray him. They both realized simultaneously that the room was now full of sunlight, warming the floor, their skin and the air.

“Spring is preceded by winter. Darkness is the revealer of Light. Pain underscores pleasure. Death makes life worth living.” With that, Despair and Hope sat silently together, appreciative of each other’s company.