Archive for August, 2009

What is Spirituality? A Metaphysical Musing!

August 19, 2009 - 12:40 pm 10 Comments
968372_praise_godA Metaphysical Musing: What is spirituality? Part I of many….
” We are part of a glorious cosmic dance which is always going on. It beats in the life blood of all of us even if we do not know it. The purpose of the spiritual life is to help us to learn how to remove the obstacles that stand between us and the union we already have with God [good; source of all; etc.]. This means that we don’t search for something that is foreign to us, but uncover that which we already have.”
An Invitation to the Spiritual Journey, John P. Gorsuch
When asked to define elusive terms such as spirituality, we have to rest on the shoulders of the inclusive world religious traditions, just as we have to take personal responsibility for shaping and mining modernity for new ideas, and courageously investing in and exploring new working paradigms. Here is a first attempt, a brief synopsis, of what can be meant by spirituality.
To be spiritual, at its root meaning, is to be vital- to possess and express life. The origins of the word, spirit, are intimately connected to breath, wind, energy, creativity and movement. In that regard, we can call spirituality a non-mechanical and unconfined energy; a freely expressive, compassionate way of living; an active orientation toward the deep self and the gracious affirmation of the connections to the deepest parts of all humanity and the all of Creation.
As expressed in our humanity, a spirit filled life is one that is inner-directed; one that moves us from the busy, often preoccupying external, imposed or superficial demands of our lives, into an abiding regard and a ongoing respect for our inner wisdom, our soulful dialogues, our interior truths. Whenever we learn to listen to the stirring of wisdom, conscience, and connect our actions to these guiding principles, we make progress in embodying and understanding the spiritual approach to life.
Spirituality, then is the motive power behind and within our lives that moves us toward a deeper consideration for who and what we are, and toward an affirmation of our place in the Cosmos; World spirituality teaches that our rightful place is not in differences and contradictions based in ego or culture; Our place side by side equal with all other humans, as a caretaker and preserver of eco-justice, personal dignity, freedom, and acting as if we committed to a Universalist point of view: we are all saved- or nothing will be saved; all life is holy or sacred; or none is; that all life is sacramental- worthy of our compassion, and care.
Spirituality is often defined as being different, even opposed to religion. Part of this adamant distinction comes from equating religion with rules and regulations of belonging, with ascribing to and asserting certain theological beliefs, and condoning certain practices while excluding all others. Many people define or at least associate spirituality with a more free flowing personalized search for one’s answers. However, spirituality contains a deep resonance with ethics and justice; spirituality also holds us accountable. One cannot be a dilettante or an impostor and truly be connected to an authentic spiritually inspired life.
Spirituality is intimately connected to our sustaining sense of community. If there are no shared ideals, nothing held or believed in common, community disappears and spirituality is understood as absent. For many U-Us, the intent behind our congregational mission statements, our Principles and Purposes that holds the UUA together, becomes our statement of adherence to liberal religious ideals.
While our individual members often will insist on granting each person sufficient autonomy to seek out their own individual expressions, answers, their own purpose and meaning, the interest in spirituality has given rise to an increased understanding that any rampant or excessive license in individualism can rob a congregation of its common intent; its shared responsibilities; its ability to serve one another or to become a community that models virtues and values that we want to see be in our world, and expressed through our future generations.
Spirituality propels us on our individual quest; it also forms the feelings bond of affiliation and affection that hold communities together. That which is of the Spirit, then, can be defined as whatever is deemed sacred, true, love and respect worthy for the individual, for their community, and for their world.  To be spiritual is to pay reverent attention to the holy within, between, among and beyond us all.

A Metaphysical Musing: What is spirituality? Part I of many….

” We are part of a glorious cosmic dance which is always going on. It beats in the life blood of all of us even if we do not know it. The purpose of the spiritual life is to help us to learn how to remove the obstacles that stand between us and the union we already have with God [good; source of all; etc.]. This means that we don’t search for something that is foreign to us, but uncover that which we already have.”

An Invitation to the Spiritual Journey, John P. Gorsuch

When asked to define elusive terms such as spirituality, we have to rest on the shoulders of the inclusive world religious traditions, just as we have to take personal responsibility for shaping and mining modernity for new ideas, and courageously investing in and exploring new working paradigms. Here is a first attempt, a brief synopsis, of what can be meant by spirituality.

To be spiritual, at its root meaning, is to be vital- to possess and express life. The origins of the word, spirit, are intimately connected to breath, wind, energy, creativity and movement. In that regard, we can call spirituality a non-mechanical and unconfined energy; a freely expressive, compassionate way of living; an active orientation toward the deep self and the gracious affirmation of the connections to the deepest parts of all humanity and the all of Creation.

As expressed in our humanity, a spirit filled life is one that is inner-directed; one that moves us from the busy, often preoccupying external, imposed or superficial demands of our lives, into an abiding regard and a ongoing respect for our inner wisdom, our soulful dialogues, our interior truths. Whenever we learn to listen to the stirring of wisdom, conscience, and connect our actions to these guiding principles, we make progress in embodying and understanding the spiritual approach to life.

Spirituality, then is the motive power behind and within our lives that moves us toward a deeper consideration for who and what we are, and toward an affirmation of our place in the Cosmos; World spirituality teaches that our rightful place is not in differences and contradictions based in ego or culture; Our place side by side equal with all other humans, as a caretaker and preserver of eco-justice, personal dignity, freedom, and acting as if we committed to a Universalist point of view: we are all saved- or nothing will be saved; all life is holy or sacred; or none is; that all life is sacramental- worthy of our compassion, and care.

Spirituality is often defined as being different, even opposed to religion. Part of this adamant distinction comes from equating religion with rules and regulations of belonging, with ascribing to and asserting certain theological beliefs, and condoning certain practices while excluding all others. Many people define or at least associate spirituality with a more free flowing personalized search for one’s answers. However, spirituality contains a deep resonance with ethics and justice; spirituality also holds us accountable. One cannot be a dilettante or an impostor and truly be connected to an authentic spiritually inspired life.

Spirituality is intimately connected to our sustaining sense of community. If there are no shared ideals, nothing held or believed in common, community disappears and spirituality is understood as absent. For many U-Us, the intent behind our congregational mission statements, our Principles and Purposes that holds the UUA together, becomes our statement of adherence to liberal religious ideals.

While our individual members often will insist on granting each person sufficient autonomy to seek out their own individual expressions, answers, their own purpose and meaning, the interest in spirituality has given rise to an increased understanding that any rampant or excessive license in individualism can rob a congregation of its common intent; its shared responsibilities; its ability to serve one another or to become a community that models virtues and values that we want to see be in our world, and expressed through our future generations.

Spirituality propels us on our individual quest; it also forms the feelings bond of affiliation and affection that hold communities together. That which is of the Spirit, then, can be defined as whatever is deemed sacred, true, love and respect worthy for the individual, for their community, and for their world.  To be spiritual is to pay reverent attention to the holy within, between, among and beyond us all.

On The Spirit- An Introduction and Overview

August 19, 2009 - 12:33 pm 9 Comments
889073_holy_spirit
1030581_spiritualityOn The Spirit: Looking at its Definitions and Dimensions
A starting point for discussion and understanding
The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
Today, there is a cross-cultural growing interest in all the manner of ideas and experiences that are generally labeled as spiritual- in fact, other than community building, and of course, connected to it, spirituality is the hot topic in U-U circles.
Yet, this concern is even larger than our liberal religious quest, for it seems that all denominations, all people whether churched or unchurched, in the new age or in their old age, all of them are talking and wanting to explore more about what the spiritual depths and dimensions of their lives might hold or might truly mean for them!
Given this broad and almost universal personal concern,
I have concluded that our society is incredibly curious about spirituality, but also incredulously uninformed about all its implications- the theology, physiology and even the cosmology of it all!
So, to frame this sermon and its later discussion, I will hold forth with a few basic ideas and supportive principles associated with the whole field of pneumatology- the study of the Spirit- and then relate some of my research to our personal identities as spiritual beings. I will draw on not just my academic studies, but also from my many years of visceral and experiential training, experiences and insights. It is my goal for this morning to bring you into a greater appreciation for what GUS might mean for religious liberals! (GREAT or GENERAL UNIVERSAL SPIRIT)
So, I will begin and maybe most provocatively declare, that I contend that there is not a person alive who is not also a spiritual person!
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In its most universal and applicable sense, all the great religions of humankind, all the major belief systems and practices of the world have always contended that life itself could not be maintained without a connection to spirit. What???
In the most elemental and the most natural definition of spirit which has come down from the ancients to we moderns, is this: The spirit is symbolically found in the air- in the wind-
In every breathe we take- therefore we cannot live without an active recognition and participation in that physical spirit, that keeps us alive! (My doctorate was entitled the W, W, W)
For ancients delving into esoteric mysteries, for we contemporary people seeking greater fulfillment, freedom, and meaning, the spirit is the essence of who we are, and it is the soul’s fuel and the primal energy of our lives. Differing cultures will use different names, and have slightly differing concepts- as an example, in the Eastern religions, it is the Ki or the Chi; or in Hinduism,  it is the prana or pranayama; and it the West in European circles, it is the élan vital, or in the ancient texts of the Bible, it is know as the Ruah or the Ruach.
In its origins, that is before theology limited it, and dogma confined and narrowly defined it, this Ruah was the wind the swept across the desert; it was the animating breeze that rustled the leaves of the forest; it is the very breath of life!
Now let’s say the word together… And maybe you will get the sense of the wind or the breathe and how they are connected…  ROOOO AHHHH< ROOO AHHH…
Ah is the universal heart mantra…. When something feels good, or pleasurable, or satisfying we say AH…. And among the Hawaiians, we are given Aloha… Which like the more familiar Hindu greeting or salutation, Namaste, is a salute to the essence, the inner being, of the person you are greeting….
3
Progressing now to the Greeks and to the Latin, the translation of the word from its feminine Hebrew roots becomes more familiar.
From our knowledge of vocabulary prefixes and suffixes and the grander epistemological fact that one’s culture gives meaning to words, we are given the Greek word for spirit, which is Pneuma. What words have pnuema in them? (pneumonia; pneumatic)
Next, and much more common, would be the Latin derivations. In the Romance languages, we are given the Etruscan and Latin for spirit as spirare or spiritus, which is defined as to live, to breathe, to exist…. What common words do We have that contain spire, or spirit in them???
(inspire, aspire, respire, perspire, expire, conspire)
As it has come down to us, there is a correlative meaning-
a special sense of presence or companionship. For some, it was an accompanying, benevolent abstraction called the Holy Ghost, for others, a compassionate presence- one that sustains, uplifts, consoles and encourages us during our life trials and turmoil’s.
Because we religious liberals so readily acknowledge these connections, as well we should, since in the world of formal Western theology, we are a heresy of the Holy Spirit, we can see that the basic definition of spirit is as the Prime Mover, the source of altruistic human inspiration, or the noble motives behind our actions. We distinctly celebrate that in our hymns and music- hymns like the “Spirit of Life” and “Mysterious Presence”, and a older Unitarian hymnal was entitled Hymns of the Spirit!
So, from the beginnings of language, civilization, and religion there is a strong correlation between air, wind, spirit, and our breaths; So on the most basic level we are, at our first breath, spiritual beings… Who are incarnating now to have a fleshly, human experience… Not as commonly thought or held, that we are only human beings who, once and a while might have a spiritual experience!
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Next in our overview, we will need to distinguish between two misunderstood terms, spirit and soul… . I will try to sort out the confusion, and then posit a working definition of what constitutes spiritual experience…
Spirit is that vital and visceral, animating energy or presence that activates and sustains our human consciousness- from the moment of our first breath or inspiration, to the moment of our last, expiration- She accompanies us along a continuum of life experiences, a live that we lead one breath at a time…
Spirit conspires… While able to function alone, in the individual, Spirit completes its purpose and its divine intent when it teaches us to conspire- when it is shared between or among people as a source of their community, their commitment to one another, as a source of commonly held ideals, feelings, mission, and motives. Spirit understood this way, is the source for our ethical impulses, any movement toward personal change or social transformation, and she is the ally and companion to justice, dignity and self worth. Looking at it in this way, Spirit is noisy contemplation- that we are to share and to work out our common values in community, in a gracious conspiracy!(conspire- to breathe together as one…)
I contend that there has never been a successful social movement of any depth or lasting value without such a commonly held, shared bond… Whether you cite Schweitzer, Ghandi or King, or any radical reformer among U-Uists during the last two centuries, each had a clear spiritual sense of mission and vision that sustained, preserved, consoled and uplifted them.
Spirit empathizes… It is from our active acknowledgment of the miracle of life, that we learn to act unselfishly- to seek the common good, to promote ecological responsibility, and to work to heal our culture and ourselves of life’s injuries, injustices, and insults.
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Soul is not Spirit; but the soul of the individual, of the community, of the nation, depends on how the spirit manifests and animates or directs its purpose and define its values in them.
Soul is best known or defined as the entirety of our being. Many of us were erroneously taught to believe that the soul was somewhere inside our bodies- in reality, it is our bodies that belong inside our souls, there is no separation! What you do to or what you do with your body, you also do to your soul.
As the entirety of our awareness, individually and collectively, the soul is synonymous will all the emotional depths and dimensions of consciousness, including when we think, express, sleep, dream, pray or meditate. Originally, the word for soul in the Greek was psyche- as I see it, the study of psychology is properly the study of the soul, and that it loses its focus when it just addresses short term human behaviors.
Soul is the sum total of all our sensory-motor input, our feelings, and all its cellular correspondences and connections to health and well being. Soul, as I was taught by various spiritual masters, is our whole “psychic container”- where all of our life experiences, conscious and unconscious, past and present, are kept or stored.
Soul, then manifests, as a result of all of our learning; the results of our social conditioning and our cultural programming, the depth our psychological insights, and the extent of our metaphysical comprehension. Soul contains all our survival mechanisms, our interaction skills, our ability to understand and to adapt to life’s blessings and demands. It is how we reason, how we relate, and how we respond to life itself.
Spirit, then, animates and activates the soul. From the prerogatives of the Spirit, we take or catch our breath and continue our inspired search for connection and to give meaning to our innermost feelings and deepest intentions.
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There we engage the soul in what the mystics call perichoresis- talking a walk around our heart- being courageous, caring, deeply examining our motives for behavior. Such personal and spiritual growth is not for the faint-hearted; This inner search, this walk around, examines all the tragedies and glories, heartbreak and exhilaration, all the despair and ecstasy we have experienced.Spirit compels us to discover what might be missing or lacking or incomplete. It also impels or teaches us to guard our ethical awareness and to celebrate the good of our lives by never postponing joy. It’s the heartfelt invitation to integrity, to wholeness, and to a complete sense of love.
Lastly, we arrive at trying to define spiritual experiences.
Remember, this has little formal connection to either theology or religion. In fact, it one of the principal reasons why people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. All through church history, East and West, it has been the spiritual types who would antagonize the status quo, and upset all those who needed order and rules. Spirit compels us to follow inner directives, not restrictive doctrines or obligations… As Joseph Campbell puts it, we are to “follow our bliss” and to do what makes our spirit soar and our hearts sing!
Esoterically, spiritual experiences are focussed on three ultimate pieces of inner work or alchemy: transcendence, transformation, and transmutation of the ego to the Higher Self.
This is the path Carl Jung called the way to individuation.In more common language and effect, what distinguishes the spiritual from the usual or the ordinary has to contain one or more of these feelings or experiences:
First, the experience must take you outside of yourself, past your ordinary awareness, beyond your ego boundaries…
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Second, for something to be spiritual, it has to create or provide a greater sense of bonding or belonging- a gracious connection- a quality of connectedness or relationship that differs from others that you have previously experienced.
Third, for something to be considered spiritual, it needs to provide you with feelings of unity or immersion; to become one with Nature, the Universe, God- and that something blissful or something that is disconcerting, is what leads you to a new level of perception; a change that that is meaningful, and lasting.
These varieties of spiritual experience can be brief, even a once in a lifetime event! When they occur, no one can actually predict- While you can make yourself more open, receptive through spiritual exercises, disciplines or practices, even drugs and deprivations, that doesn’t mean they will occur. Spiritual inbreakings are synchronistic; they are gracious, and cannot be outlined or conveniently scheduled. Just because you feel that it is not the right time for you, doesn’t mean it is not the true time for it to manifest in your life! Because the Spirit has its own timetable, she follows her own calendar of the heart!
Sometimes, it comes to us through a dream or as some sort of ESP experience. Spirit can come to us during an intense time of caring, or of tenderness- such as when you find or lose someone special or someone who has been close to you; am relative, a friend; a beloved pet. Spirit comes deep connection; from being with your lover, or belonging to a spiritual group; it can be found when you look at your child, at a sunset, or when you hear a special strain of music, or behold something beautiful, serene.
These inspirational times and experiences are then preserved or translated into shared rituals for a culture or a community.
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They are recalled in and through common worship which would include such mind and heart altering practices as singing, dancing, chanting, praying, healing and so on… Something any religious or spiritual community needs to allow, design and often recall as a vital part of their times together…
OK, enough from me… Whew!…Now I would like to hear from you, and how you have understood or experienced the spiritual in your lives…..
Opening Words and Chalice Lighting:
The quest for spirituality exists whenever we struggle for greater meaning and purpose to our lives. Spirituality becomes central to us whenever we ask about our place in the Cosmos, and our place in the lives of others. Spirituality manifests whenever we are moved by the ideals associated with beauty,  unselfishness, sacrifice, risk, courage, and intimacy….
Good Morning, and welcome to this exploration of what spirituality is, and what it could mean in your life….
Selected Readings:
On the real question for our lives:
A woman lying in a coma, was dying… She suddenly had a feeling that she was being taken up to heaven, and there, she stood before the Judgment seat… “Who are you?” A Voice said to her. And she replied, “I’m the wife of the mayor”
“I did not ask you whose wife you were, but who are you? The woman, taken back slightly now responds with, ” I am the mother of four children.”
The Voice came back and spoke again: ” I did not ask you whose mother you are, but who are you? She then said, ” I am a school teacher.” The Voice then said, ” I did not ask you what your profession was, but who are you?
And so it went on for some time…..
Who are you? “I am a Christian. I did not ask what religion you are, and I asked, who are you? Well, I am the one who helps the needy, and does lots of favors for others.
I did not ask what you did that was right or wrong, but who are you?
She evidently failed the examination, for she was sent back to earth. When she eventually recovered from her illness, she was determined to find out who she was, outside of all the roles and responsibilities she had previously taken on and that was the way she had defined herself. And that quest, to find oneself, made all the difference in the rest of her life.
Offertory:
It is not by our money, but by our capacity for joy, that we are truly rich or poor. To strive for wealth, and yet have no real capacity for enjoyment of life’s simple treasures, is like a bald man who struggles to keep up his comb collection!
Joys and Concerns:
With all the concern for spirituality today, there are still people who feel empty, unloved, uninspired by the lives they lead. Spirituality tries to satisfy that gnawing hunger, in a culture, where as our hymn puts it, we are rich in things, but poor in soul.”
If we are faced with severe challenges, either in our personal lives or in our society, what spiritual ideas and ideals, what practices and disciplines do we need? In a world where there is so much cynicism, immoral motives, and self absorption, we are called to creativity, caring, and compassion. We need to revive, what Jesus and the Dali Lama both proclaimed as the key to a happy or a blessed life: to live and to act out of the goodness of our hearts. Obviously, this does not being someone’s doormat, or not having the courage to stand up to injustice wherever it is found in our lives. As I regard this advice, it is to try to do no harm by our actions; and to seek out the company of those who choose to ascribe to a higher ethical and spiritually motivated life- as our support system, as our brothers and sisters who also seek “to love mercy, do justice and to walk humbly before our God,” before the mystery of being…. I believe that a church or a community that prizes such mutual support and the goodness that is found in each other, can promote lasting growth and change- in one another, and in our world….. We now open our service to those who would like to share  J & C…
Music:
Mechtild of Magdeburg, you all remember her, don’t you? Well, she was a feminine mystic in the Middle Ages who felt that our spiritual feelings are stirred during the listening to harp music.  She said: It is the Holy Spirit who guides the harpist, so that all the strings that touched, resound in mutual love.
On the problem of jumping to judgment or false conclusions:
Village drunkard staggered up to the old parish priest, newspaper in hand, and greeted him politely. The priest annoyed and full of judgment, ignored him.  But he had come to the priest with a purpose. ” Excuse me, Father, he said, “could you tell me what causes arthritis? The priest ignored him again. But when the slightly tipsy man repeated the question, the priest turned on him, and impatiently declared: “drinking causes arthritis, gambling causes arthritis, chasing women causes arthritis…. And then, just a little too late, the priest wonders, ” Why did you ask?”
Oh, because it says right here, that is what the Pope has !

On The Spirit:

Looking at its Definitions andDimensions: A starting point for discussion for our inclusive understanding

The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Today, there is a cross-cultural growing interest in all the manner of ideas and experiences that are generally labeled as spiritual- in fact, other than community building, and of course, connected to it, spirituality is one of the hot topics in social circles.

Yet, this concern is even larger than our liberal religious quest, all people whether churched or unchurched, in the so-called New Age or people in their questioning old age, all of them are talking, and wanting to explore more about what the spiritual depths and dimensions of their lives might hold or what spirituality might truly mean for them!

Given this broad and almost universal personal concern, I have concluded that our society is incredibly curious about spirituality, but also quite incredulous and uninformed about all its complexities and implications- the theology, physiology, and even the cosmology of it all!

So, to frame this sermon and its later discussion, I will hold forth with a few basic ideas and supportive principles associated with the whole field of pneumatology- the study of the Spirit- and then relate some of my research to our personal identities as spiritual beings.

2

I will draw on not just my academic studies, but also from my many years of visceral and experiential training, experiences and insights. It is my goal for this morning to bring you into a greater appreciation for what GUS might mean for religious liberals! (GREAT or GENERAL UNIVERSAL SPIRIT)

So, I will begin and maybe most provocatively declare, that I contend that there is not a person alive who is not also a spiritual person! In its most universal and applicable sense, all the great religions of humankind, all the major belief systems and practices of the world have always contended that life itself could not be maintained without a connection to spirit. What???

In the most elemental and the most natural definition of spirit which has come down from the ancients to we moderns, is this: The spirit is symbolically found in the air- in the wind- that is, in every breathe we take- therefore we cannot live without an active recognition and participation in that physical spirit, that keeps us alive!(My doctorate was entitled the W, W, W)

For ancients delving into esoteric mysteries, for we contemporary people seeking greater fulfillment, freedom, and meaning, the spirit can be best understood as the essence of who we are… It is the soul’s fuel and the primal energy of our lives. Differing cultures will use different names, and have slightly differing concepts- as an example, in the Eastern religions, it is the Ki or the Chi; or in Hinduism, it is the prana or pranayama; and it the Western European circles, it is the élan vital, or in the ancient texts of the Bible, it is know as the Ruah or the Ruach.

In its origins, before institutional theology severely limited it, and before dogma confined and narrowly defined it, this Ruah was the wind the swept across the desert; it was the animating breeze that rustled the leaves of the forest; it is the very breath of life!

Now let’s say the word together… And maybe you will get the sense of the wind or the breathe and how they are connected…  ROOOO AHHHH< ROOO AHHH…

Ah is the universal heart mantra…. And Hu or Ru is the Middle Eastern version of the Hindu Om- the sound or vibration of the Cosmos! When something feels good, or pleasurable, or satisfying we often say AH or OOOH…. And among the Hawaiians, we are given Aloha… Which like the more familiar Hindu greeting or salutation, Namaste, is a salute to the essence, the inner being, of the person you are greeting….

Progressing now to the Greeks and onto the Latin languages, the translation of the word from its feminine Hebrew roots becomes more familiar. From our knowledge of vocabulary prefixes and suffixes and from the awareness of the the epistemological fact that one’s culture gives its meaning to words, we are given the Greek word for spirit, which is Pneuma. What words have pneuma in them? (pneumonia; pneumatic)

Next, would be the Latin derivations. In the Romance languages, we are given the Latin for spirit as spirare or spiritus, which is defined as to live, to breathe, to exist…. What common words do we have in our language that contain the suffix, spire, or to be in spirit??? (inspire, aspire, respire, perspire, expire,conspire…. )

As it has come down to us in religious community building, there is a correlative meaning- a special sense of an abiding presence or a spirit of companionship. For some, it was an accompanying, pious yet benevolent abstraction called the Holy Ghost. For others, it is simply a compassionate presence- one that sustains, uplifts, and encourages us during our life trials. A presence or a sense of quiet comforting assurance that can be felt and that walks with us or accompanies us during our life’s  turmoil’s and troubles.

cause we, as religious liberals, are more Emersonian, transcendental, we can readily acknowledge these inclusive connections…

So, from the beginnings of language, civilization, and religion there is a strong correlation between air, wind, spirit, and our breaths; So on the most basic level we are, at our first breath, spiritual beings… Who are incarnating now to have a fleshly, human experience… Not as commonly thought or held, that we are only human beings who, once and a while might have a spiritual experience!

Next in our overview, we will need to distinguish between two misunderstood terms, spirit and soul… . I will try to sort out the confusion, and then posit a working definition of what constitutes spiritual experience…

Spirit is that vital and visceral, animating energy or presence that activates and sustains our human consciousness- from the moment of our first breath or inspiration, to the moment of our last, expiration- She accompanies us along a continuum of life experiences, during a life that we lead one breath at a time…

Spirit conspires… While able to function alone, in the individual, Spirit completes its purpose and its divine intent when it teaches us to conspire- when it is shared between or among people as a source of their community, their commitment to one another, as a source of commonly held ideals, feelings, mission, and motives. Spirit understood this way, is the source for our ethical impulses, accompanying any movement toward personal change or social transformation; Spirit is the ally and companion to justice, dignity, and self worth. We  gather as churches or congregations to work out our common values in community, in a gracious conspiracy! (breathe together)

I contend that there has never been a successful social movement of any depth or lasting value without such a commonly held, shared bond… Whether you cite Schweitzer, Ghandi, or King, or any radical reformer among U-Uists during the last five centuries! Each of these great ideas and social revolutions had a clear spiritual sense of mission and vision that sustained, preserved, consoled and uplifted them.

Next, Spirit empathizes… It is from our active acknowledgment of this miracle we call life, that we learn to act unselfishly- to firmly yet compassionately seek the common good, to promote ecological responsibility, and to work to heal our culture and ourselves of life’s injuries, injustices, inequalities and insults.

Soul is not Spirit; but the soul of the individual, of the community, of the nation, depends on how the Spirit manifests and animates or directs its purpose and define its values in them. (German Zeitgeist)

Soul is best known or defined as the entirety of our being. Many of us were erroneously taught to believe that the soul was somewhere located inside our bodies- usually thought to be housed either in one’s heart or brain… Instead, it is our bodies that are inside our souls!

Additionally, Soul is the sum total of all our sensory-motor input, our feelings, and all its cellular correspondences and connections to health and well being. Soul, as I was taught by various spiritual masters, is our whole “psychic container”- where all of our experiences, conscious and unconscious, past and present, are stored.

Soul, then manifests, as a result of all of our learning; the results of our social conditioning and our cultural programming, the depth our psychological insights, and the extent of our metaphysical comprehension. Soul contains all our survival mechanisms, our interaction skills, our ability to understand and to adapt to life’s blessings and demands. Soul is the container of consciousness, the sum total of our awareness. Therefore, whatever you do to your body, or whatever you do with your body, you also do to your soul. As the entirety of our awareness, individually and collectively, the soul is synonymous with all the emotional depths and dimensions of consciousness, including when we think, express, and create and love … When sleep, dream, pray or meditate. In short, it is the way we think, how we relate, and how we respond to life itself.

Spirit, then, animates and activates the soul. From the prerogatives of the Spirit, we take or catch our breath and continue our inspired search for connection, and to give meaning to our innermost feelings and deepest intentions. Spirit gives purpose to our lives.

There we engage the soul in what the mystics call perichoresis- talking a walk around our heart- when we understand the need for being courageous, caring, examining our motives for behavior, etc., we are acting spiritually, and given evidence of having an active soul.Such personal and spiritual growth is not for the faint-hearted; This inner search, this walk around, examines all the tragedies and glories, heartbreak and exhilaration, all the despair and ecstasy we have experienced. I know this personally, and I feel priviledged when someone comes to me for spiritual direction or guidance on their search. In those sessions, Spirit compels us to discover together what might be missing or lacking or incomplete. It also impels or teaches us to guard our ethical awareness and to celebrate the good of our lives by never postponing joy. It’s the heartfelt invitation to integrity, to wholeness, and to a complete sense of love.

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Lastly, we arrive at trying to define spiritual experiences. Remember, this has little formal connection to either theology or religion. In fact, it one of the principal reasons why people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. All through church history, East and West, it has been the spiritual types who would antagonize the status quo, and upset all those who needed order and rules. Spirit compels us to follow inner directives, not restrictive doctrines or obligations… As Joseph Campbell puts it, we are to “follow our bliss” and to do what makes our spirit soar and our hearts sing!

Next, it is important to ask the questions of discernment… What distinguishes the spiritual from the usual or the ordinary has to contain one or more of these feelings or experiences:

First, the experience must take you outside of yourself, past your ordinary awareness, beyond your ego boundaries… It often involves a risk and has an emotional quality that asks us to be vulnerable, open, and willing…

Second, for something to be spiritual, it has to create or provide a greater sense of bonding or belonging- a gracious connection- a quality of connectedness or relationship that differs from others that you have previously experienced.

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Third, for something to be considered spiritual, it needs to provide you with feelings of unity or immersion; to become one with Nature, the Universe, God- and that can be something blissful or something that is deeply disconcerting, These events and experiences are what lead you beyond the ordinary or the fearfully ego bound, to a new level of perception; a change that is meaningful, and often compelling, transcendent, and lasting.

These varieties of spiritual experience can be brief, even a once in a lifetime event! When they occur, no one can actually predict- While you can make yourself more open, receptive through spiritual exercises, disciplines, or practices, even through drugs and deprivations, that doesn’t mean they will occur. Spiritual inbreakings are synchronistic; they are whimsical and gracious, and cannot be outlined or conveniently scheduled. Just because you feel that it is not the right time for you, doesn’t mean it is not the true time for some experience of the Spirit to manifest in your life! Because the Spirit has its own timetable, she follows her own calendar of the heart!

Sometimes, it comes to us through a dream or as some sort of ESP experience. Spirit can come to us during an intense time of caring, or of tenderness- such as when you find or lose someone special or someone who has been close to you; a relative, a friend; a beloved pet.

With a spiritual experience comes deep connection; from being with your lover, or belonging to a spiritual group; it can be found when you look at your child, at a sunset, or when you hear a special strain of music, or behold something in nature that is beautiful, serene.

These inspirational times and experiences are then preserved or translated into shared rituals for a culture or a community. They are recalled in and through common worship which would include such mind and heart altering practices as singing, dancing, chanting, praying, healing and so on… Something any religious or spiritual community needs to allow, design and often recall as a vital part of their times together…

Opening Words and Chalice Lighting:

The quest for spirituality exists whenever we struggle for greater meaning and purpose to our lives. Spirituality becomes central to us whenever we ask about our place in the Cosmos, and our place in the lives of others. Spirituality manifests whenever we are moved by the ideals associated with beauty,  unselfishness, sacrifice, risk, courage, and intimacy….

Selected Readings:

On the real question for our lives:

A woman lying in a coma, was dying… She suddenly had a feeling that she was being taken up to heaven, and there, she stood before the Judgment seat… “Who are you?” A Voice said to her. And she replied, “I’m the wife of the mayor”

“I did not ask you whose wife you were, but who are you? The woman, taken back slightly now responds with, ” I am the mother of four children.”

The Voice came back and spoke again: ” I did not ask you whose mother you are, but who are you? She then said, ” I am a school teacher.” The Voice then said, ” I did not ask you what your profession was, but who are you?

And so it went on for some time…..

Who are you? “I am a Christian. I did not ask what religion you are, and I asked, who are you? Well, I am the one who helps the needy, and does lots of favors for others.

I did not ask what you did that was right or wrong, but who are you?

She evidently failed the examination, for she was sent back to earth. When she eventually recovered from her illness, she was determined to find out who she was, outside of all the roles and responsibilities she had previously taken on and that was the way she had defined herself. And that quest, to find oneself, made all the difference in the rest of her life.

It is not by our money, but by our capacity for joy, that we are truly rich or poor. To strive for wealth, and yet have no real capacity for enjoyment of life’s simple treasures, is like a bald man who struggles to keep up his comb collection!

With all the concern for spirituality today, there are still people who feel empty, unloved, uninspired by the lives they lead. Spirituality tries to satisfy that gnawing hunger, in a culture, where as our hymn puts it, we are rich in things, but poor in soul.”

If we are faced with severe challenges, either in our personal lives or in our society, what spiritual ideas and ideals, what practices and disciplines do we need? In a world where there is so much cynicism, immoral motives, and self absorption, we are called to creativity, caring, and compassion. We need to revive, what Jesus and the Dali Lama both proclaimed as the key to a happy or a blessed life: to live and to act out of the goodness of our hearts. Obviously, this does not being someone’s doormat, or not having the courage to stand up to injustice wherever it is found in our lives. As I regard this advice, it is to try to do no harm by our actions; and to seek out the company of those who choose to ascribe to a higher ethical and spiritually motivated life- as our support system, as our brothers and sisters who also seek “to love mercy, do justice and to walk humbly before our God,” before the mystery of being…. I believe that a church or a community that prizes such mutual support and the goodness that is found in each other, can promote lasting growth and change- in one another, and in our world…..

 

Music:

Mechtild of Magdeburg, you all remember her, don’t you? Well, she was a feminine mystic in the Middle Ages who felt that our spiritual feelings are stirred during the listening to harp music.  She said: It is the Holy Spirit who guides the harpist, so that all the strings that touched, resound in mutual love.

On the problem of jumping to judgment or false conclusions:

Village drunkard staggered up to the old parish priest, newspaper in hand, and greeted him politely. The priest annoyed and full of judgment, ignored him.  But he had come to the priest with a purpose. ” Excuse me, Father, he said, “could you tell me what causes arthritis? The priest ignored him again. But when the slightly tipsy man repeated the question, the priest turned on him, and impatiently declared: “drinking causes arthritis, gambling causes arthritis, chasing women causes arthritis…. And then, just a little too late, the priest wonders, ” Why did you ask?” Oh, because it says right here, that is what the Pope has !

Discernment as Responsible Love

August 19, 2009 - 12:09 pm 14 Comments
Discernment as Responsible Love
By Sr. Rosemary Dougherty
“How can I be sure that I am doing God’s will? How do I know that what I discern is really what God wants, and not just what I want? How can I be certain that I will make the right decision?”
These are the questions most frequently asked by good people who want to engage in prayful decision making. Each time I deal with these questions in myself or in another, I am encouraged to reexamine my understanding of discernment and its implications for my life.
I have come to realize that often when we speak of wanting to discern God’s will in a particular situation when what we are really seeking is a process that will insure a successful outcome. Sometimes that hope for success is related to God: at other times, it is subtly related to some self image.
There is no human process that can protect us from mistakes and failures. As long as we are human and dealing with other human beings,
We will be subject to uncertainty and ambiguity in our motives. We can, however, open ourselves to God in the uncertainty, in the ambiguity, and allow the compulsion for rightness to be transformed into an openness for responsible love.
Responsible love is a decision. It is the fruit of a deep desire for God.
And that desire is ignited by the spark of God’s desire for us. Julian of Norwich, 14th century mystic, speaks of this desire in this way:
“Love makes God long for us. And in that manner of longing and waiting
God wants us to do the same.”
When we can remain in the flame of that desire, all lesser desires are consumed in it. Attachments are more easily recognized. We are freed for authentic choices which are congruent with our desire, choices which can dislodge us from our comfort and satisfaction. The heart expands to embrace our brothers and sisters and to love them with a detached compassion which is willing for whatever we sense God invites us to door to be in behalf of the other. The stance for responsible love requires an attentive heart, a heart that is open to God’s revelation in all of life. Love quickens desire. And desire purifies and readies the heart for responsible love. Yet, desire needs illumination in order to clearly see the objects of choice. In seeking reality, we are faced with our own myopia and our inability to judge accurately even that which we do see. We recognize our need to turn to others who can enlarge our vision and elucidate the facts.
There is always a danger of obsession with facts, wanting to be sure that we have all the relevant data before we choose. In fact, we probably will never know all there is to be known of any given circumstance. And the truth often transcends the obvious. There comes a time when we are invited to in simple faith, testing the inner leading of our heart’s desire for God, trusting God to transform the ambiguity of our hearts with the fire of love, and to be with us in and through our uncertainty. We have done what we can.
Our task is to live in the decision– seeking when available, the support of others who share our desire  for God and holding the fruits of the decision in the scrutinizing sight of God’s love to determine its authenticity.
Discernment does not end with a particular decision, rather discernment is a habitual attitude which under grids all of our living. It is a way of being present to God that fine tunes the heart to what God desires in us. Gradually, our seeing becomes God’s seeing, our loving becomes God’s loving. Finally,, with saint Augustine, we can dare to “love God and do what we will!” Fidelity to our desire will give birth to responsible love.

Discernment as Responsible Love

By Sr. Rosemary Dougherty

“How can I be sure that I am doing God’s will? How do I know that what I discern is really what God wants, and not just what I want? How can I be certain that I will make the right decision?”

These are the questions most frequently asked by good people who want to engage in prayful decision making. Each time I deal with these questions in myself or in another, I am encouraged to reexamine my understanding of discernment and its implications for my life.

I have come to realize that often when we speak of wanting to discern God’s will in a particular situation when what we are really seeking is a process that will insure a successful outcome.

Sometimes that hope for success is related to God: at other times, it is subtly related to some self image.

There is no human process that can protect us from mistakes and failures. As long as we are human and dealing with other human beings,

We will be subject to uncertainty and ambiguity in our motives. We can, however, open ourselves to God in the uncertainty, in the ambiguity, and allow the compulsion for rightness to be transformed into an openness for responsible love.

Responsible love is a decision. It is the fruit of a deep desire for God.

And that desire is ignited by the spark of God’s desire for us. Julian of Norwich, 14th century mystic, speaks of this desire in this way:

“Love makes God long for us. And in that manner of longing and waiting

God wants us to do the same.”

When we can remain in the flame of that desire, all lesser desires are consumed in it. Attachments are more easily recognized. We are freed for authentic choices which are congruent with our desire, choices which can dislodge us from our comfort and satisfaction. The heart expands to embrace our brothers and sisters and to love them with a detached compassion which is willing for whatever we sense God invites us to door to be in behalf of the other. The stance for responsible love requires an attentive heart, a heart that is open to God’s revelation in all of life. Love quickens desire. And desire purifies and readies the heart for responsible love. Yet, desire needs illumination in order to clearly see the objects of choice. In seeking reality, we are faced with our own myopia and our inability to judge accurately even that which we do see. We recognize our need to turn to others who can enlarge our vision and elucidate the facts.

There is always a danger of obsession with facts, wanting to be sure that we have all the relevant data before we choose. In fact, we probably will never know all there is to be known of any given circumstance. And the truth often transcends the obvious. There comes a time when we are invited to in simple faith, testing the inner leading of our heart’s desire for God, trusting God to transform the ambiguity of our hearts with the fire of love, and to be with us in and through our uncertainty. We have done what we can.

Our task is to live in the decision– seeking when available, the support of others who share our desire  for God and holding the fruits of the decision in the scrutinizing sight of God’s love to determine its authenticity.

Discernment does not end with a particular decision, rather discernment is a habitual attitude which under grids all of our living. It is a way of being present to God that fine tunes the heart to what God desires in us. Gradually, our seeing becomes God’s seeing, our loving becomes God’s loving. Finally,, with saint Augustine, we can dare to “love God and do what we will!” Fidelity to our desire will give birth to responsible love.

Authentic Spiritual Experience

August 10, 2009 - 7:50 pm 7 Comments
Reprints from Shalem
Authentic Spiritual Experience
By Dr. Gerry May MD
Someone describes a vision, an encounter with the divine. Is this “real” or is it an illusion contrived by the ego? People interested in spirituality and psychology have always been concerned with differentiating authentic spiritual experiences from psychological symptoms. In my recent research,
I have collected eight qualities that may help in reflecting on those differences.
We must remember, however that the philosophical line between reality and illusion is a very shaky one. Because our minds continually create images of reality through our senses and conditionings, it would be true to say that all experience is at least somewhat psychologically contrived.
Similarly, since God’s grace cannot be destroyed even by our most extreme psychological distortions, it is just as true to say that all experience, no matter how crazy it may appear, holds at least something of God’s truth.
Therefore, the qualities that follow should not be used too arbitrarily.
Further, our experiences cannot be judged on the basis of that content alone. We must look at how these experiences are integrated in the larger picture of life: In contrast, in community, and over time.
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1) Meaningful Integration
Authentic spiritual experiences do not exist as isolated “highs.”
They occur within the context of real life and are integrated in a way that is meaningful for both the individual and for community. Authentic experiences may contain a perfect end-in itself  quality, but they still have meaning and impact on life.
2) Bearing Good Fruit
Authentic spiritual experiences lead to goof effects for the individual and the community. Classically, this includes  deepened faith, hope, trust, compassion, creativity, and love. Authentic experiences do not lead to privatism or destructiveness.
3) Decreased Preoccupation
Authentic experiences lead people to feel more identified with the rest of humanity and the world. Experiences that lead to feelings of being more special or better than other people , or to self absorption, are probably not authentic.
4) Self Knowledge
Authentic experiences lead to a greater understanding of oneself. Signs of repression, denial, or shutting out self awareness indicate a lack of authenticity.
5) Humility
Authentic experiences lead to a particular kind of humility, one that painfully recognizes more of one’s human inadequacy, yet at the same time, increasingly realizes one’s own preciousness and worth as a child of God.
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It is a humility that is combined with dignity. This is in contrast to experiences that lead to either arrogance or  devaluing of oneself.
6) Openness to Differences
By deepening trust in the power and goodness of God, authentic experiences less to less defensiveness about one’s own faith, and increased respect for and openness to dialogue with people of differing faiths. Authentic experience may lead to a desire to share the truth, but they do not result in defensive or aggressive clinging on to one’s own understanding.
7) Open Endness
Authentic spiritual experiences contain a quality of further invitation: deepened yearning, inspired energy, continued growth and healing. In contrast, experience that communicates a sense of “having arrived” are cause for suspicion.
8) Ordinariness
Although authentic experience may be accompanied by celebration and enthusiasm, or by fear and trepidation, their integration brings about a quality of wondrous appreciation of the ordinary: life is holy, and the miraculous presence of God’s grace flows through all of it.
Experiences that lead to a strong separation of the holy from the mundane must be questioned.
Much more could be said about these qualities, but I hope that this abbreviated discussion will assist you in your own reflection. If there is one basic factor that distinguishes the authentic from the inauthentic experience, it can be found in a paraphrase of John of the Cross:
In the end, all of us, and all of our experiences, must be judged on the basis of one thing, and that is love.

Reprints from Shalem:      Authentic Spiritual Experience  by Dr. Gerry May MD

Someone describes a vision, an encounter with the divine. Is this “real” or is it an illusion contrived by the ego? People interested in spirituality and psychology have always been concerned with differentiating authentic spiritual experiences from psychological symptoms. In my recent research, I have collected eight qualities that may help in reflecting on those differences.

We must remember, however that the philosophical line between reality and illusion is a very shaky one. Because our minds continually create images of reality through our senses and conditionings, it would be true to say that all experience is at least somewhat psychologically contrived.

Similarly, since God’s grace cannot be destroyed even by our most extreme psychological distortions, it is just as true to say that all experience, no matter how crazy it may appear, holds at least something of God’s truth.

Therefore, the qualities that follow should not be used too arbitrarily.

Further, our experiences cannot be judged on the basis of that content alone. We must look at how these experiences are integrated in the larger picture of life: In contrast, in community, and over time.

1) Meaningful Integration

Authentic spiritual experiences do not exist as isolated “highs.” They occur within the context of real life and are integrated in a way that is meaningful for both the individual and for community. Authentic experiences may contain a perfect end-in itself  quality, but they still have meaning and impact on life.

2) Bearing Good Fruit

Authentic spiritual experiences lead to good effects for the individual and the community. Classically, this includes  deepened faith, hope, trust, compassion, creativity, and love. Authentic experiences do not lead to privatism or destructiveness.

3) Decreased Preoccupation

Authentic experiences lead people to feel more identified with the rest of humanity and the world. Experiences that lead to feelings of being more special or better than other people , or to self absorption, are probably not authentic.

4) Self Knowledge

Authentic experiences lead to a greater understanding of oneself. Signs of repression, denial, or shutting out self awareness indicate a lack of authenticity.

5) Humility

Authentic experiences lead to a particular kind of humility, one that painfully recognizes more of one’s human inadequacy, yet at the same time, increasingly realizes one’s own preciousness and worth as a child of God. It is a humility that is combined with dignity. This is in contrast to experiences that lead to either arrogance or  devaluing of oneself.

6) Openness to Differences

By deepening trust in the power and goodness of God, authentic experiences leads  to less defensiveness about one’s own faith, and increased respect for and openness to dialogue with people of differing faiths. Authentic experience may lead to a desire to share the truth, but they do not result in defensive or aggressive clinging on to one’s own understanding.

7) Open Endness

Authentic spiritual experiences contain a quality of further invitation: deepened yearning, inspired energy, continued growth and healing. In contrast, experience that communicates a sense of “having arrived” are cause for suspicion.

8) Ordinariness

Although authentic experience may be accompanied by celebration and enthusiasm, or by fear and trepidation, their integration brings about a quality of wondrous appreciation of the ordinary: life is holy, and the miraculous presence of God’s grace flows through all of it.  Experiences that lead to a strong separation of the holy from the mundane must be questioned.

Much more could be said about these qualities, but I hope that this abbreviated discussion will assist you in your own reflection. If there is one basic factor that distinguishes the authentic from the inauthentic experience, it can be found in a paraphrase of John of the Cross:

In the end, all of us, and all of our experiences, must be judged on the basis of one thing, and that is love.

Our Deepest Fear

August 9, 2009 - 10:12 am 21 Comments

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadaquate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking, so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

Its not just in some of us; it is in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.