Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Reflection: Practicing and Growth Towards God

August 26, 2015 - 12:13 pm Comments Off on Reflection: Practicing and Growth Towards God

Practicing The Presence of God
Invocation:
Practicing the presence of God is the application of our spirit to God; It is the vivid recollection that God is present with us. It first can be experienced through imagination, then it becomes a felt experience, and finally the presence is embodied, or fully realized or understood.

Selected Reading: From the writings and correspondence of Brother Lawrence to a nearby Abbey, where a dear friend, the Abbess, lived:

Dear Reverend Mother;
We should remind ourselves, dear Mother, that our only business in this life is to please God. What can be said of all the rest, except folly and vanity? You and I have spend nearly forty years in a religious order, trying as we might, to please God, and serve our brothers and sisters in this world. I am full of shame and embarrassment when I reflect on the bountiful grace God has given me, and continues to give me, and how I have made such poor use of it as my progress down the path of perfection leads only a short way.
Since by God’s mercy, we have been given a little more time to live, let us make amends for any time lost. Let us return with complete confidence to the contemplation of God’s goodness and dwell on how God is pleased to receive e us into his mercy and love.. Let us renounce anything that keeps us from the love of God, or from the acts that do not honor him, or honor what is holy in us. Let us think on Him without ceasing, putting our whole trust in God.
Soon, we will experience the blessings of that trust, the abundance of that grace, and we will be capable of greater service and limitless love through him. We cannot avoid the dangers and the reefs that life holds without first having God as our very present help. Let us ask for it continually.
Through holy practice, we can practice our conversations with him, and learn of him in and through our lives. I know of no more proper prayer or no more easier method than this one. And as I practice, so do I advise. One must be acquainted with a person before loving them. To be acquainted with God, we must think often about him, and when we do love, we will often feel God’s presence with us.
For our hearts are where our treasure is! So let us think constantly about Him.
I remain, in our Lord, you most humble servant,
Brother Lawrence 1689
Reflection: Staying With God

In the ongoing discipline of “practicing the Presence” of God we can go through three developmental stages in our understanding and practice.

The first stage is called RECOLLECTION:

Here our principal task is one of remembering God, which is a practice shared by many spiritual traditions and made most vivid in the practice of Sufi Zhikr; the dance like movements that accompany chanting the names and qualities of the Divine…
To remember God is also to re-member ourselves… that s to assemble or put together or even restore our sense of wholeness and then affirm our sense of connected holiness with God as our divine eternal and constant companion.

The second stage is called CONVERSATION:

Here we engage in a devotional attitude while praying, singing, or if you prefer, when you talk to your inner or Higher self. The central theme her is the dialogue, the conversation between you and your understanding of God and what is holy or what occupies the holy dimension of our thoughts and of our lives. While God would not be defined as some cosmic auditory nerve or eternal ear, God would be that part of us that listens intently to our intuitions; the part of us that can hear new sources of inspiration.
It does, however, require us to stop in order to listen; to end our distractions, if only for a few precious moments, so we can set aside our random and mundane thoughts and empty our minds so that God can speak to our hearts.

The third stage is Sustained Awareness:

This third or culminating stage occurs when we can hold on to an awareness or a consciousness of the divine despite whatever external, special, or personal events and experiences are happening to us… Despite what befalls us, we can pick ourselves up because we are sustained by our faith, our hope, and our love that serves to encourage or enlarge our hearts and strengthen our spirits, and continue to be a positive influence on the rest of humankind.
Risking stating the obvious, each of us will go through challenging cycles and phases in our lives when this awareness seems elusive and sustaining our consciousness of God becomes difficult. It is important that we do not let ourselves spiral down or become overly discouraged, overly disappointed with the conditions and situations of our lives.

This is the time when we can confidently rely on our spiritual tools and practices to bring us back into a harmonious alignment or a reverent attunement with God, with love and with hope… And frankly, it really does not matter what tools or techniques you employ…. there is a wide array of possibilities and activities that will work for you IF your intention is sincere and open, and honest… Whatever actions assist us in restoring our connection and reestablishing our conversation, and that will eventually deepen our intimacy are all good!

From Brother Lawrence:
“[It is said that the interior life is precisely an elevation of our inner conversation. It is the transformation of the dialogue we already have with ourselves into the conversation we desire to have with God.]”

“[For all things are possible for those who believe; and all things are less difficult for those who have hope; and all things are made easier for those who love.]”

Practicing The Presence of God: Daily Spiritual Living Defined

August 26, 2015 - 12:09 pm Comments Off on Practicing The Presence of God: Daily Spiritual Living Defined

Sermon/Reflection:
Practicing The Presence of God: Daily Life Spiritually Defined

Nicholas Herman, alias Brother Lawrence was a member of the Carmelite Order in the 1600’s in France. While that might make you think, that was a long time ago, and what could he teach me about contemporary spirituality, the answer is plenty! Particularly when it comes to having a genuine commitment to God and to the need to reduce our egos or get them out of the way, so the light of service can flow through us….
The Carmelites, then and now are known for their intense sense of devotion, and for the willingness to endure in their faith through what has been timelessly names the “dark night of the soul” which comes down to us from St. John of The Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. However, Brother Lawrence was different in that his experience of the Holy was lead by his humility and sincerity, and revealed in a candid and practical way. He did not take on those onerous practices of self denial, instead, his struggle was to see and follow God in his daily life; through his routines, chores, and daily and to develop his spiritual awareness and encourage it to grow into an intimacy with God’s reality in our daily lives.
Lawrence was neither handsome, or even generally attractive. We are given a description of him as short, thin, and lame, and as a man who was generally uneasy or uncomfortable
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just being himself. Yet, with all those exterior and social obstacles, what he accomplished, what he taught and modeled for us could not be claimed by very many people in religious life: You see, his life was simple… and splendid. He was able to see God in that simplicity and he was able to find a sustaining sense of God’s presence and reality while attending to every day’s duties and responsibilities.
In the few correspondences he left behind, we are given a definition of what it means to practice the presence of God. Brother Lawrence recommends that we try to consecrate or sanctify everything we do; No matter how inconsequential it might appear to be or how mundane and routine it appears to us. His perspective is one of the Western spiritual counterparts to the Buddhist practice(s) of Mindfulness that also carries with it, a more devotional aspect… It is the more personal, heart-centered awareness of the Divine with you and working through you as you approach every facet of your lives; that it is present in every chore, each meeting, each encounter, each situation, in this time and in every place… Very simple… Very difficult!
This is clearly the opposite of needing to “get away” so you can become ‘spiritual” so it is the opposite of going on retreat… But it is also the opposite of elaborate rituals and lengthy prayers, attending formal services during Holy Days, or treating the presence of God as only being available when you are doing
something special or that it is somehow reserved or apart from the human experience, reserved for times of crisis or times of sentimental religion, like Christmas.
Brother Lawrence came to see that even within the most strict or rigid set of rules and structures within a monastic life, there really is no need for the Daily Offices, or set times for prayers, liturgies, and elaborate ceremonies. Instead, he found himself able to apply a prayerful consciousness to his everyday realities, and all the many chores and deeds that comprise the average human daily experience. In the middle of making a salad, preparing potatoes, sweeping the floor, feeding the animals or any other household routine, he could express his thoughts and communicate with God as an intimate familiar friend and trustworthy guide.
As a model for contemporary spirituality, this approach fits well within the possibilities for our spiritual awareness and growth. It is not bound by any specific rules or creeds, it does not require elaborate rituals or confessions of faith, but it does depend on one’s personal sense of commitment and consistency.
In the midst of trying to keep our lives straight and when we are caught up in the rush of daily life where we have to catch our breath, (much less hold on to any lasting sense of inspiration!) comes the sincere and simple advice of Brother Lawrence that declares that God can be found right in the middle of it all!
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The irony is that our breath is and our source of inspiration are exactly what we need to catch and hold onto during each moment of each day. It does not matter if this sounds impossible because its practice is always good, always beneficial and cannot fail us. Whatever modest success we have with remembering God’s presence will be to our benefit, once a day, every moment… whenever we can, its blessings come with every attempt we make and will promote more happiness, health, and harmony for us.
There is nothing wrong or negative in being busy; boredom is far worse. The emphasis has to rest on one’s attitude towards whatever task or occupation is before us. There is nothing wrong with having initiative, having a sense of industry creativity or enjoying a sense of accomplishment. The problem is when there is an absence of God, good, grace in the process and a lack of awareness that can degenerate into materialistic striving or blind and soulless ambition. Brother Lawrence’s teachings recommend that we look toward God and cling fast to the insights that come from our spiritual guidance. We do this by keeping watch over our motives and acts, and keeping watch through prayerful reflection during our waking and working moments.
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Brother Lawrence was accepted into the monastery when he was just eighteen years old; He stayed within those walls and confines and lived out his routines for some fifty years. After his early, initial awakening to the realities of God that could be found everywhere… in nature, in others, in oneself, he found that he was not sure how he could apply this awareness to his life. He felt that its one thing to have an isolated flash of recognition or insight but it was quite another thing to change- to learn to live by what he once felt was so real. Like so many people, then and today, these insights can lead one to the church ( or away from it!) and in pursuit of a spiritual vocation, widely defined. The goal of such a chase or pursuit would be to replicate those initial feelings and insights in a way that allowed him to share them with others.
Then came the rude shock. Because he was of noble birth, and had a keen intellect, he expected that the Abbot would place him in the library, or give him a scholar’s position. Instead, he was given the assignment to be a cook, a task he detested! Seeing no alternative to his dissatisfactions, and having no recourse with the Abbot, he sought to learn this tedious and unglamorous new “vocation” as a way to express his service to God and to his brother monks. He reluctantly accepted the challenges of kitchen duty, and through his own struggles and trials, he was able to turn the monotony and the everyday drudgery into a continual daily prayer- trying to see God, and talk with God throughout everything he had to do.
Have you ever tried looking or approaching your days like that? Too often, our good intentions end at spilling the coffee, or exit before we leave home! I ask: can we learn to just take a moment to consider how our lives could become a little more tranquil… How we could make each task of our day a little more loving, receptive, creative?
Clearly, I am not recommending trying to walk around with a pious angelic look on your face… or wandering around like some lost saint! I know, I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work! People think you are searching for the rest room! Such a nonchalance or adopting an overly mystical mindset is, at best, a romantic illusion. It is neither helpful to your spiritual progress nor is it anything but precarious when dealing with the outer world and all of its traffic! The practice the presence is not merely an idea that works for monks or only in monasteries. It is within the reach of us all.
The presence of God manifests through the refocusing of our hearts and minds to include an abiding sense of companionship and dialogue that will change our perceptions. This inclusion of the Divine gives us a wider view of compassion and a deeper sense of inspiration that gives shape and direction to our days.

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Q: What if you have trouble praying or feel that you cannot come up with all the right words, exalted thoughts, rich, poetic, and wonderful feelings? It doesn’t really matter… To be at a loss for words or groping around for a greater sense of understanding is not so bad… simple words, even fleeting thoughts can suffice.
As Brother Lawrence recommends in his writings:
“[We must seek to serve God in holy freedom. We must do our work faithfully, without trouble, or any disquieting thoughts. We need to recall our minds to God, with an ease and a tranquility that welcomes us back to remembering, when ever our minds have wandered.” ( Universal teachings in many forms of meditation, using mantras, or in the process of watching ones internal processes…)
He completes his instruction by recommending that “whatever is before us, we can do with a renewed appreciation that we are doing it for God.”
(Wheels of Wood story…)
It is important to remember that practicing the presence of God is not some superficial form of magical thinking or positive affirmations. It is neither creating positive slogans nor some convoluted mind science. It is what it is! Developing a remembrance of God and feeling free to talk with God which has, as its result, an ability to make our communications more clear and compassionate. as we remember, these qualities transfer to our consciousness… they become our own…
We embody God through our thoughts, through our feelings and our conversations that increase our composure and grants us a greater sense of peace no matter the task ahead: changing a tire or changing a diaper! Our sense of peace and confidence, our composure and our sense of calm comes to us because whatever we are doing, we are doing for others and with God. The quality of our lives depends less on one’s own thinking as it does on the connection, communication and cooperation with God that becomes a holy relationship.
As you can easily see, the practice of the presence of God is not for the faint hearted or the weak willed; It is not for those who think of themselves first, or who are easily discouraged. It is accomplished through a diligent joy. Yes, it is easy to forget, but it is just as easy to resume and regain where you left off in your divine dialogue. The only real difference between the hallowed saint and the ordinary person is their diligence, focus, and the constancy of their efforts to achieve a divine intimacy and understanding.
Surely, there will be times when negativity and ego tendencies strive with this desire … when we will experience tension, depression, and all the rest… What happiness there is to obtain or receive in our lives is not dependent on an external
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event or circumstance– It is to be found in being able to carry on a divine conversation. The practice of this relationship is like any other you cherish; It is a lifelong pursuit. in point of fact, our lives can change with a simple song, a loving thought or an easy prayer. Our highest employment, our best career move is found in remembering God.

Jesus urged us never to be afraid to ask, to knock, to pray, and to trust that God hears us. He also said that if we seek God first, all things will be added unto us. Paul said that the task of a spiritual person is to “pray without ceasing”…

So may the practice of the presence of God fill your lives with companionship and beauty, even throughout your daily routines, and may your communication with God enliven you with a greater sense of companionship and may your communication strengthen and open your hearts. ” May God fill you with faith and hope and the joy that comes from believing.”

Amen; So Be It….

 

Are You Spiritual but not Religious? What does that mean? Can you be Spiritual AND Religious?

May 26, 2015 - 3:48 pm Comments Off on Are You Spiritual but not Religious? What does that mean? Can you be Spiritual AND Religious?

Homily/Theme: What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual and Religious?

Chances are that you have heard these words from your friends who have been seeking their own answers, and chances are that you have said these words yourself: “I am spiritual, but I am not religious!”

Generally, we all know what that means, right? That we identify ourselves as a person who explores, who bravely seeks answers, and who often can not find what they are seeking in the traditional ways of church, worship, with all of the limiting behavioral expectations and the exclusionary beliefs.

IF we have recently returned to our childhood faith, or when as an adult, we have reexamined the beliefs and values that are still being espoused, we can encounter limited understanding, traditional patriarchal meanings, or a series of disheartening attitudes that are, at their worst, harsh and depersonalizing, and even at their best, they can be stale and limiting.

In today’s culture, yes, even here in the “Holy City” area – One of the most resistant, most traditional, and most conservative of places, there are a growing number of people who find themselves dissatisfied with what passes for religious beliefs, and who can no longer feel comfortable, much less inspired, by traditional worship.

In particular, they can object to the repressive uses of theology and Scripture as agents of control that try to limit the scope of your questions, or cramp your desire to seek out your own answers.

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Just as many people say that they have out grown the image of God as the old man in heaven, sitting on a golden throne, as judge and jury over our souls, so too have many people outgrown the belief that we are sinners and need judgmental or parental authority figures to tell us what to do, and what to believe about God, life, love…

I expect that most of you sitting here have encountered this and resisted it, and it is possible that you have found yourselves a little lost, or at least disheartened over the lack of choice, or the lack of open, and progressive alternatives to church in our area. It can appear as if many churches here are living in a isolated time warp or a cocoon that shuts out the need for greater acceptance or tolerance.

For example, by my quick count, there are over 100 churches in Charleston county, yet there are only five communities of faith that welcome gay and lesbians, only three of these five church groups would be consider themselves to centrally Christian, only one to be inclusive and metaphysical, and only one maybe two to be welcoming of all faiths or accepting of having no faith at all! No wonder there are so many spiritual Meetup Groups! There are a lot of people who are looking around, and most cannot find what they seek!

During my personal lifelong study and my ministry experiences, there has been a lot of resistance to the word spiritual, just as there has been in more recent years, there is the reluctance to call oneself a religious person. …

 

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I feel that the time is “ready and ripe” to define both terms in new inclusive and welcoming ways. (which by the way, are the words Jesus used in Aramaic to describe what he called being Blessed…

As in the Beatitudes… Ready are you…)

Let’s chose the easier word first… being religious…

I bet you thought I would choose spiritual, didn’t you?

Without belaboring it, most conventional churches are only superficially or sentimentally religious. They prefer to operate as pious social groups, for business networking, for parenting support, for reinforcing the status quo with a little sentimental story, or a passive ritual… That’s is what conventionally passes for being religious. However, there is a deeper, more troubling dimension to be religious in our culture today…

That is when being religious means that you are blindly arrogant. When Scripture is used as a political weapon for exclusion or inclusion- Either you believe what we say or we will threaten you in two things: You will be threatened with being ostracized from family, friends, jobs, or you will be threatened with damnation and Hell because, according to the way they have chosen to read the words, they can pronounce that you are not accepted, that you are a sinner!

The pressure to conform to ideas and concepts you no longer trust or believe in is a heavy one; This coercion we can feel, especially from family and friends, can be very disheartening.

 

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I have heard this experience often from my clients in spiritual direction. They would often agree around these experiences:

That they had to leave home religiously in order to find themselves- They had to be a bold, rebellious, and then become an adult seeker…

However, it is also true that this path can be very difficult… being responsible for your own answers, being a mystic seeking wholeness or becoming a prophet after truth is not an easy road! That is why so few people choose it!

As I see it, arrogant or judgmental theology has created more atheists, and more disillusioned people that any question based on science or social doubt could have ever done! However, it has also created many sincere seekers who wish to find spiritual ideals and a community that now fit their expanded understanding…

In the 12 Principles of Creation Spirituality, you will see that this community will consciously aim to rectify and restore your sense of dignity, value, talent, and purpose. It will not ask you to sacrifice your ability to reason, nor will it expect you to believe in anything or act in any way that is not compassionate and wise.

You see, religion, as it pertains to its original word meaning, religiare, is an expression of human belonging or spiritual bonding that keeps, respects, and holds people together in service to a larger ideal or a greater truth than one can have or hold just by themselves.

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Being religious is having or holding on a sustaining belief in the grace that can be found in being together- in sharing, in working together to support and to encourage one another through our commonly held ways of worship, study, and service.

(group energy/synergy and dynamism)

Now I fully acknowledge that stating or even declaring that you are “spiritual but not religious” is an important necessary step in many people’s spiritual journey- There is truth in saying that you first have to know what you do not believe in before they can find what ideas and ideals that can become your new sources for truth. When one goes through rejection, what you are expressing is what you no longer accept, or that you no longer wish to practice a level of belief or consciousness that you feel that you have either outgrown, or that is dysfunctional or even disrespectful for you.

Instead, many sincere seekers have chosen to remain outside of any church community until you can find a place that would support and inspire your new more mature and more inclusive awareness.

So I celebrate the virtue of necessary rejection! Without the courage to walk away, to explore, and to discover new truths, you cannot realize or be responsible for having an adult or mature understanding of faith, God, spirit, truth… As Walt Whitman put it, we are to “dismiss anything that insults our souls, and then our very flesh will become a poem!”

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We need a religious dimension to our lives so that we can experience a sense of belonging, and feel as if there are sisters and brothers around that we can trust, and that we can be honest with, and who will genuinely care about us: Mind/Body/Heart/and Soul.

When religion and spirituality intersect, and when they become clearly practiced, we can arrive at a complementary synthesis, or a complete belief system. As Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality puts it, “There can be no mysticism without ethics, and no spirituality without justice.” I would add that there can be no complete sense of religious understanding without an active spirituality to accompany it. Without having sufficient regard for Myth, mystery, and meaning, there cannot be a complete sense of the Holy that can be found in that community.

Most of the new nationwide research on what people are looking for in a spiritual community centers around becoming more pneumocentric- more Spirit centered and bravely open to many ideas. which is contrary to the historical and conventional ways of church… This more Spirit centered approach will be more inclusive of various paths towards truth, it will be more participatory, and will seek to provide various ways of learning as a part of each service. It has become clear from all the feedback they have received that long time seekers, and those of the new wave of searchers will not be content with being “sacred observers.” This is the term I have found to best describe that conventional congregation:

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just passively sitting in their pews, and feeling parented by some authority figure or satisfied by simply be given pious pabulum that has little value or no direct application once they leave the service!

In short, the new generation of spiritual pioneers and visionaries will not settle for religion being done “for them or done to them”… They wish to learn how to live their ideas more fully, not just talk about them! They want to wholeheartedly participate in developing an adult, responsible, and a knowledgeable faith that informs the whole person, and that tributes positively to the critical, necessary social changes we see around us…

Now for the word, spiritual… what a minefield that is! It is so inexact, so obtuse, with so many amorphous definitions that while we can easily come to a general consensus, those facile words still lack depth or any sense of a complete understanding! It took me ten pages to define it in my book on Spirit, Time and The Future!

Generally speaking, the word spiritual is most commonly equated with a kind of universal energy, or with some force that it both within us and beyond us. Other times, the word spiritual takes on the more pious or sentimental ideas of grace, but still not knowing how or in what ways that blessing can arrive or occur. …

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I do not believe that spirituality is neither reducible to secular physics, nor is it a abstract, sentimental notion of God’s reality…

While Spirit’s basic effect is vitality, She can also be known as our source for wisdom, evolutionary relationships, soul centered healing, and justice making… It flows from the center of the Cosmos, and is evident in every breathe we take… The qualities most associated with Spirit are alchemical: They are the abilities of Transformation; Transcendence, and Transmutation… Change!

As I see it, the source for all this is the inclusive and expansive understanding of The Holy Spirit in Christianity is the same gracious and powerful Spirit or divine feminine that is found in all the timeless mystical aspects of the world faiths. She manifests and releases creativity and compassion, and She guides any community that is founded on interdependent, evolutionary impulses that direct us beyond ego and culture, and towards a sustaining sense of being whole and free…

I welcome you today to this opportunity to worship, and to work together, to share in creating a community of soulful exploration and compassionate understanding- a community that teaches how to live a pneumatic or a Spirit centered life- a life that is filled with discovery, affirmation, and blessings! Amen; So be It! Blessed Be!

 

Reflection on the Road To Emmaus; Walking with The Christ/Spirit…

April 13, 2015 - 2:06 pm Comments Off on Reflection on the Road To Emmaus; Walking with The Christ/Spirit…

Remembering that we are not human beings on a spiritual journey but spiritual being on a human journey… and that the intent and experience of the journey is more important than the final destination, we have today’s Scriptural reading…

The Gospel according to St. Luke Chapter 24: 13-26; 30-32

Now on that same day, two of them were going to the village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about the things that had happened.

While they were talking, Jesus himself came near and walked with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Jesus asked them what they were talking about, and they stopped, stood still and looked sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered. :Are you the only one who does not know the things that have taken place? Jesus asked, “What things?”

They both replied, ‘ The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed, and word before God, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be crucified.: we thought he would be the hope, the one who would redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some of the women of our group astonished us. They were at his tomb early in the morning, and when they couldn’t find his body there and told us they saw a vision of angels who said he was alive!

Then Jesus said to them, ” Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary for the Messiah should suffer these things, and then enter into glory?

When they were at the table, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them, that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, …

And they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he was talking with us on the road, while he was opening up the Scriptures to us?”

Homily: Walking With The Christ/Spirit Within

As spiritual people, We are also Easter people… And that the effects of “eastering”- the living, dying, and becoming alive again- that are at the core of our daily faith; This growth, this hope accompanies us throughout all of our life’s travels and travails, and as Unity teaches us, there is a Christ/Spirit that lives in us, and it resides at center of the purpose for our lives…

Like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we don’t always recognize what is good for us, or welcome God even when divine truth is in our midst. Our human tendencies make us balk; turn arrogant or become deaf. Until the grace and truth that is in Christ is broken in the bread- that is, revealed to us- can we begin to explore, explain, and experience the true value of having Christ as our companion in our journey through life….

We live each day as people who carry with us the threat of reversal and wrong turns, and as people who carry within us the hope of the resurrection and faithfulness; for any of us, our inner comprehension of God can be asleep or active, passive or present, dead or alive in each day of our existence.

What continues on for us as the rest of the Easter story is the abiding truth that God can arise and offer us grace and insight from our trials, our pain, our personal losses.

Now stop and think… Has there ever been a time in your life when all the advice or information you received didn’t seem to help? Were you like Cleopas, so involved in denial, so wrapped up in a false dream, or defending your own ego negativity, that you were unwilling to change?

In any “doom and gloom” thinking, we can miss whatever wisdom and insight there is in a situation that will eventually release or free us… By our faith, we are made strong enough to release the past, change the present, and prepare for the future….

Through our prayers, we can ask to possess enough courage, and have sufficient love to overcome any halting steps or worrisome fears. And that our goal as metaphysical Christians is to be willing to walk on…

to carry the weight… and most importantly to know that we do not walk alone, and that God’s guidance, mercy, and truth will accompany us, bless us, and carry us through whatever trials and experiences our lives contain.

Similar to the lesson of the disciples walking toward Emmaus, what is of supreme importance is that there is available to each and everyone of us:

That there is a spiritual presence, a divine effect or energy, an indwelling Holy Spirit that can awakens us, that will challenge, transform, and heal us…

and it is through that energy, intuition, or influence, that we are given assurance that we can overcome our feelings of distance, time, hurt or injustice in ways that increases our understanding, and in ways that will restore our memory of what is sacred, loving, and true.

This is a story of how the power and presence of Christ within us and continually walks alongside us, even at our saddest most troubling times, for it is a Spirit of compassionate constancy that will accompany our grief with an unexpected promise, as a quiet, courageous grace.

As this Gospel story concludes, the mystery of the stranger is revealed- through the power of their perception, his presence became real, and the blessings of a life in Christ became recalled and reenacted in the breaking of the bread.

What these disciples experienced was the recognition, in their burning hearts, that the despair and sorrow that they felt could be transformed into inspiration and joy, and that God’s Spirit would always be walking with them!

However you might perceive or comprehend it, it is my sincere belief that God can become known to us in many ways- from a quick insight to life transforming love, from a deep visceral experience of “a burning heart”-

each sign of God’s presence and activity in your life is a sign of a gracious spiritual connection, or soulful companionship, of something one feels that is far greater than oneself, yet closer to you than your breath…

What the story of Emmaus gives me is consolation and hope… That in the midst of our trials, we can learn to transform any acute or lingering sorrow into a lively joy.

However, it takes our willingness to move, to risk, to open ourselves up to God’s presence. We have to push our egos away, to make room to let God inside, and in that welcoming of the Spirit, we make ourselves ready and aware; willing to experience the wisdom and compassion that is strong, resilient, and ever-present to us.

When we walk with the metaphysical Christ, we walk as a holy person, filled with promise and hope- we are enlivened, enriched, and we are ever more grateful for the blessings we have already received.

Despite the demands and the difficulties of living a more God-connected or inspired life, I wholeheartedly recommend the journey, and I wish you well…

Blessings! Bon Voyage! AMEN

 

Mandalas And Their meanings

March 22, 2015 - 3:49 pm Comments Off on Mandalas And Their meanings

A Preface to Charleston’s Tibetan Cultural Week:

The Meaning of Mandalas

The Unity Community of Mt. Pleasant, SC

March 22, 2015

The ancient teachings and practices associated with Buddhism, are enjoying a sustained popularity no one would have predicted just 30 years ago. As mainline Christian churches shrink, Buddhism is one of the approaches to spirituality and life that has steadily grown and prospered in our country… And I would say, across the modern Western world.

Given that I would enjoy the possibility of teaching the concepts of Buddhism over a much longer time period and with a much more in depth outlook, I will not speak today about the origins of Buddhism, The Gautama, The spread Eastward in Asia, and the various kinds or schools of Buddhist thought and practice. Instead, I will choose to highlight what we are privileged to see and witness over this coming week- the arts and culture of Tibet and one of its chief tools for teaching spiritual awareness, the mandala.

What are some of the reasons for this influx of Tibetan teachers and the establishment of Buddhist study centers around the country?

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The first, and most obvious is that it is not Judeo-Christian! There are many people who were raised in traditional Western homes that have found themselves to either at odds with the teachings and precise of these faiths, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, that they have left during their early adulthood in search of an understanding of life, the self, and the world that make greater sense to them than the way they had seen it practiced and understood in their childhood homes.

The second, seemingly startling reason that Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular has grown in its appeal to Westerners is the fact that in Buddhism, there is no concept of a troublesome, capricious, personal God… In fact, even though elaborate in its symbolism and rituals, there is no theology or a God that stands apart!

The third one I will consider this morning that will be my theme, is the way Buddhism uses its signs, symbols, colors and designs to evoke meaning and to impel our thoughts and feelings towards the teachings of its core truths and principles. Of course, it does not hurt to have a series of delightful, grand fatherly and gentle teachers…

Chief among them is Tenzen Gayatso, the 14th or the current Dali Lama, who lives in India, but who could call the world his home.

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He is one of the individuals most responsible for the spread and popularity of Tibetan teachings, and he has assisted his people immensely by how well he lives and then conveys the teachings…

By most definitions, he would be a world saint, or an inspired teacher whose life is dedicated to wisdom, compassion, and kindness.

As a symbolic and complex teaching tool, the mandala can be seen as representing many things… At its most basic, it is a wheel, a circle or a circular depiction of the whole of life. In the blessing or transmission of the Kali Chakra, which is known as the wheel of time, the mandala represents the whole course of human existence: past, present, and future… That it symbolizes that which is completely within us, and that which is the nature of all that is beyond and yet includes us as spelled out in the last stanza of the Heart Sutra which proclaims a connection, an interdependence of consciousness that is not only beyond our normal waking mind, or beyond our caring heart; It is a supreme reality that is beyond, or refers to the beyond that is beyond the beyond! Gate’, Gate’. Parasam Gate Bohdi Svaha…,

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“Mandalas are far more than geometrical figures, however. For Tantric Buddhists, they are rich with symbolism and sacred meaning. In fact, the etymology of the word “mandala” suggests not just a circle but a “container of essence.”

Simply stated, a mandala is a sacred geometric figure that represents the universe. When completed, a mandala becomes a sacred area that serves as a receptacle for deities and a collection point of universal forces. By mentally entering a mandala and proceeding to its center, a person is symbolically guided through the cosmos to the essence of reality. By constructing a mandala, a monk ritually participates in the Buddha’s teachings.”

“Mandala Symbolism

In Buddhism, Mandalas are rich with symbolism that evokes various aspects of Buddhist teaching and tradition. This is part of what makes the creation of a mandala a sacred act, for as they work, the monks are imparting the Buddha’s teachings.

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Outside the square temple are several concentric circles. The outermost circle is usually decorated with stylized scrollwork resembling a ring of fire. This ring of fire symbolizes the process of transformation humans must undergo before being able to enter the sacred territory within. It both bars the uninitiated and symbolizes the burning of ignorance. ”

The next circle inward is a ring of thunderbolt or diamond scepters, which stands for indestructibility and illumination. This is followed by a circle of eight graveyards, representing the eight aspects of human consciousness that bind a person to the cycle of rebirth. Finally, the innermost ring is made of lotus leaves, signifying religious rebirth.

The square structure in the middle of a mandala is a palace for the resident deities and a temple containing the essence of the Buddha. The square temple’s four elaborate gates symbolize a variety of ideas, including: The four boundless thoughts: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity;

The four directions: south, north, east and west

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Within the square palace or temple are images of deities, which are usually the Five Dyani Buddhas (the Great Buddhas of Wisdom). The iconography of these deities is rich in symbolism in itself. Each of the Dyani Buddhas represents a direction (center, south, north, east and west), cosmic element (like form and consciousness), earthly element (ether, air, water, earth and fire), and a particular type of wisdom. Each Buddha is empowered to overcome a particular evil, such as ignorance, envy or hatred.

The Five Dyani Buddhas are generally identical in appearance, but are each represented iconographically with a particular color, mudra (hand gesture), and animal.

In the center of the mandala is an image of the chief deity, who is placed over the center dot described above. Because it has no dimensions, the center dot represents the seed or center of the universe.

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So, one of the core meanings of the mandala is a symbol of time;

Another is that the mandala represent the construction of reality, and as such, how consciousness is built, how it can be destroyed, how what is adamantine remains, and how that which is material, temporal, or subjective can be easily destroyed or lost.

Without getting too elaborate, the four main Buddhas guard the 4 gates of the mandala, warding off evil, desire, and distraction, thus protecting the wisdom that is to be found within, and the teachings that the mandala can contain for us.

While often considered to be a principal tool in teaching about the impermanence of life, and how clinging on to anything, anyone, any idea can prove to create suffering from this experience of attachment, the mandala and its dissolution teaches us the lessons of impermanence are not the only wisdom to that is found in its shapes and designs.

The other central teaching can be seen if you are willing to picture the mandala as a sky chart, and insight into the universe- as a cosmic pattern, or a celestial view of the totality of our existence…

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becomes our incentive to center or concentrate our lives on that which is transcendent, permanent, undying and everlasting:

Wisdom, truth, compassion, kindness… not anything built by human hands or given an arbitrary value by human culture.

Among the many things the mandala can represent for us is that as it is laid out, it becomes a container for our blessings… the multicolored sands are the textures of life and hues of our humanity.

As each grain of sand is added, it becomes for us , a visible prayer- a divine syllable that makes up the symphony and celebration of life.

Once complete, the mandala becomes for us a sacred design that blesses the whole environment because it can act as a blessing chamber, an alchemical crucible from which prayers take shape, and compassionate energies can flow… It becomes its own self sustaining energy source and becomes capable of being an instrument of healing and transformation.

It is said that wherever a mandala is created with devout sincerity, its presence will serve to elevate the aspirations, and intentions of the space it is in, the people who live or work, or in this pray there…

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Furthermore, it is an energy when it is agreed on, can foster spiritual growth and ethical change in the larger neighborhood or the greater surroundings.

So As you observe the mandala this week, try to see it through this more expansive view… Engage, as practically as possible, in the use of the group mandala as your own; and also as a focal point for any universal prayers, hopes, and intentions.

In this way, mandalas attest to the beneficial principle:

WHAT BLESS ONE, BLESSES ALL… AMEN