The Transformation of Going from Guilty to Godly
The Unity Community of Mt. Pleasant
February 8th, 2015
People seek out an unusual church or spiritual community like ours for many reasons. Among the more positive ones, are the warmth and the support they will find here. Other motives for arriving at our doorstep would include our open view of theology, the freedom to explore a variety of religious paths.
A deeper one is the group’s willingness to provide guidance and encouragement for your personal challenges and necessary explorations that often can take you into the depths of struggle in your quest for personal values and meaning.
People come to this community in search of a nonjudgmental outlook that fosters their deep individual and social concerns, and that can provide each person with a greater sense of belonging- a quality of inclusion that prizes each member, and that seeks to provide an ongoing experiences of enrichment and greater insights for each member.
Another reason that people will seek us out is that we do not ask you to conform, but we encourage you to transform- to grow, to change, to explore and to discover all the positive ways that feed your soul and enliven your spirit.
However, there are other reasons for joining that are more emotional, more urgent, and that can be connected to lifelong issues that need clarification. Many people who come to us because they need alternative answers- they need a place, and they need the space, in their minds and hearts, work out new answers for all the slights and slanders of their childhood religious experiences.
One of the most troubling of these foundational negative experiences, and one of the ones that many people share, is their desire to release themselves from the burdens of residual religious guilt. Guilt creates and then can be used to enforce and sustain, the most toxic feelings associated with belonging to any religious group. It can, and often does, affect a person in many ways– psychologically and emotionally their whole life long- an awful abuse of religious power!
They come to Unity and to a progressive community like ours for answers… Or more accurately, people come to the Unity approach to find new answers, and to do the detoxification work that speeds their own healing and understanding. When I look at this whole process, and how this community can foster such transformation, which I feel is one of the responsibilities of any spiritual community, I call it the journey towards wholeness and it is the whole soul movement from feeling guilty to the understanding of becoming Godlike or more Godly.
Contrary to centuries of religious instruction, or can I say religious indoctrination, guilt has NEVER been a source of good motivation for any behavioral change or step towards growth.
As you probably know, the Jews never believe in Original Sin… That beauty of a concept came with St. Augustine, and it became a foundational piece in the movement of a dynamic witnessing church being molded, shaped, and I would say perverted, into becoming an Empire.
Every Empire needs a way to control its people, while constantly promoting its agenda and its belief structures… Enter the teachings about guilt and shame, most often associated with sexuality, and you have a great tool for the manipulation of conscience and consciousness!
OK… Off the soapbox, as it is very easy to look back into history and find what went wrong, so I will return to theme of guilt and what we can do to reduce or eliminate its lasting effects. I will tackle that belief in detail IF you truly want it!
Many of us had endured such childhood indoctrination and religious training… And we have experienced the results of living with and trying to deal with those toxic and imprisoning beliefs.
Throughout the ages and across the various religious denominations we have encountered the message of guilt:
Your humanness has very little worth- it has little value, and really is of no great consequence to God… And by God, I meant the church hierarchy and its teachings on control and conformity.
In that system of theology and its harshly enforced behavioral constraints, it was the eternal soul that was the primary concern- at the exclusion of anything emotional or that was centered in the body…
For you see, the body and the heart are easily corruptible and can lead the soul astray… So you must obey the teachings of the powerful church, and follow those rules completely if you expect that your fragile and easily perverted soul would stand a chance of avoiding Hell and getting to Heaven! Now can’t you see how such an outlook would promote happiness, joy, peace and enjoyment of one’s life?
Guilt is known as the most religious of our emotions- after all, everybody believes in the value of feeling guilty… Right?
From our religious training, we learn to live under its diabolic spell, we give in to its ability to control us, and we project its effects onto others as a means of judgment. To varying degrees, almost all of us who were raised with a childhood religious tradition, have been effected by the belief in guilt.
As a consequence, many of us are too hard on ourselves…
We are not charitable, empathetic, supportive or open minded…
All the striving we see in our country, much of the drive to achieve or to be a success can find its roots in the need to avoid guilt or not to feel guilty if we do not fulfill every expectation our parents, school, and of course, what a strict church has for us!
Whenever we spawn such pressures- whether they are real or perceived- we will quickly find ourselves swimming furiously upstream and against the current of living more soulfully, living with a clear vision, living or relating compassionately, and having a discerning sense of control, acceptance, and an understanding of the worthwhile struggle for freedom that all of us face…
It is of ultimate importance to our health and well being to realize that guilt is useless– it never truly helps to change anything or anybody! What truly reforms society and what genuinely fosters and supports our personal growth is our affirmation of our true identity- as a child of God. One of the most important Bible verses that came for those ancient sources that wrote the book of Genesis, was the phrase, “we were made in the image and likeness” of God. (Gen.1:27) Because we are divinely authored, and that we carry a divine capacity or potential within each of us, there is no room for guilt, fear, or despair to cloud our reflection. As St. Paul puts it so clearly: We live, and move and have our being in God. (Acts 17)
Here is a teaching I would like to share with you…
It comes from Dr. Thomas Hora, and his work in existential metapsychiatry. It goes like this: While its always important to take responsibility for our actions and understand that there are consequences to our actions and choices, we need not be trapped
into fearful or guilt-ridden actions that keep us from experiencing the fullness of life. Dr. Hora puts it this way:
“[When we become should-less; ought-less; must-less we can make ourselves ready to leave [any church that acts as an agent of behavioral control. We can develop our own intuitive or inner understanding of morality, and then we can swap childhood fears for a more balanced and free adult reality.]”
He goes on to say and to agree with many others who share this more enlightened point of view. We have to realize that whatever guilt we harbor or perpetuate in our hearts will continue to punish us every time we believe it and rehearse it!
No one can make us hold on to any sense of guilt- however, we can remain guilty IF we continue to believe in its necessity or its validity. In short, we are as guilty or we are as Godly as we are willing to live it, practice it, share it in our lives!
When we gain the courage and the insight to let go of our past associations and expectations that hold on tightly to guilt and other poisons, we can experience a sense of freedom that serves to heal us and that restores to each person their dignity and self worth. Another way of saying this would be: Being made in the image and likeness is our lasting, eternal source of self esteem. One of the most cogent gleanings I have from both theology and psychology is this: My history is not my destiny!
My past does not necessarily or accurately predict what my future holds!
While it can be generally true when looking at all of humanity, and the overall wheel of karma, that if you do no spiritual work that changes or raises your consciousness and that allows you to spiritually and ethically evolve, then yes… Your past will predict your present, and your present will determine your future! And the great karmic wheel of Samsara turns…
However, since I believe in the soul’s purpose more than I do any foreordained sense of destiny or fate, I have come to realized that my personal and spiritual maturity is directly linked to how well I have been able to understand my past, and how effectively I have rid myself of guilt, fear, or shame.
In short, the process by which we truly become a more spiritual person is tied to how well we can turn any painful memories into wisdom- How well we can learn from mistakes and lapses in judgment, and redeem our actions and experiences in a way that does not only serve our progress but also improves the society and culture!
As the supreme remedy for guilt, claiming your identity not as a broken, sinful creature but as the transformed child of God becomes our freeing and essential task. Salvation in its original Latin meaning, means to become whole and to become holy- to have a sense of your oneness with God…
It is to be intimately identified with the truth of our being, not defined by any external situations we have or that we face.
I have had to learn and earn that courage; and it can be an intense process, a continual challenge to claim that any of these negative feelings such as guilt have no true anchor or real harboring place in my life or in my spiritual identity or reality.
Now, I would be a braggart if I were to say to you, Oh, I worked through all that stuff! I feel and sincerely believe that we are always being called to work out our own salvation as St. Paul puts it… Moment by moment… In contrast to the evangelicals, No one is saved by one dramatic belief or event… Our salvation is day by day, moment by moment.
Without an active understanding that God is freedom, truth, and love rarely can we reach any sense of inner peace. We are the embodied manifestation of God as Love-Intelligence and by acting from that identity point, we free ourselves of any guilt or remorse. When rightly understood, our conscience- our active awareness of God- opens up and guides us along the path to our wholeness and to our holiness. With this understanding, we live in a more broad minded and open hearted way, and as a progressive result, we become more guiltless, more loving, more free. We, in Unity, sincerely attest that the Good of God is always present, and that it travels with us as inspiration and lives in us as a peaceful, open heart. From this, blessings will flow… AMEN
Selected Reading: Joan Borysenkyo, from her book:
Guilt Is The Teacher, Love Is The Lesson
“Our society runs on unhealthy guilt…. Makes moral judgments out of them and can create illnesses in us as a result. What are some of the signs that we are accepting unhealthy guilt?
1 Being overly committed; having too much to do- too many projects, activities, and thereby finding no real time for yourself, especially when it comes to giving sufficient time for your spiritual growth.”
Then Joan continues and makes a list of the kinds of behaviors that will contribute to increasing our unhealthy amounts of guilt:
Perfectionism; playing the martyr, keeping dysfunctional relationships going; blaming yourself for things that are out of your objective control; Taking on responsibility for others than they need to have for themselves.“
From this perspective, our churches, and our wide variety of spiritual groups have a lot of work cut out for them… Maybe that is why forgiveness could be preached about every Sunday, for at least a year…
And why freeing ourselves from any unnecessary or perceived guilt is a mandatory task for our health and living more spiritually for ourselves and others.
Maybe its time for us to move our personal spiritual lives into our families, social groups or even out into the streets and our sociopolitical arenas…
Can you imagine what would happen if, instead of excusing themselves or justifying their actions, Congress asked for forgiveness?
Prayer: From The Wisdom of Rumi:
We cover ourselves and protect ourselves, yet as much as we want to use fear and control to protect us, life happens… We are wounded, hurt, laid bare, and given much to endure…
The Sufis, who are the mystics of Islam, have a way of understanding this awful truth that at first shocked me, but now as the years have passed, continue to teach and console me:
They teach: The fastest way to enter into the love of God is through the broken heart”
St. Paul concurs, when he speaks of what lessons we have to endure in his letter to the Romans 5:
“[We… know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and our hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.]” NRSV
Reflecting back on this theme of guilt or whatever happens to be our personal sources of wounds and negative feelings about ourselves… The ecstatic poet and joyous mystic, Rumi teaches:
“[Let us not be afraid of our wounds… [Where we can feel grief, guilt or fear… ]Our wounds are opened so that the light of God’s grace can enter in…