Giving up Religion for Easter

Easter-825x510This Easter, I almost gave up religion altogether.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean giving up God or Christ or Krishna, I don’t mean giving up my passion for Love, Peace and Consciousness.  I’m not forgetting about Jesus and putting all my eggs in the Easter Bunny basket.  It’s just that this Easter the whole concept of organized religion somehow struck me as very very odd.

Palm Sunday morning, I walked up to my little St Cyprians church as usual.  Because it was Palm Sunday, the congregation was gathered outside the church steps, all holding palm leaves as we listened to the beginning proclamations from the Book of Common Prayer.  As I walked up to join all the sweet people standing in the sun, all of a sudden the whole premise of religion struck me as very odd.  At the same time that I love all religions and I love attending all types of services, pujas, meditations and prayers, I also think they are all kind of weird.

Palm SundayWhat a strange thing that 2000 years after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem over the palm leaves put down before him all these random people all over the world should be standing outside churches on a Sunday morning holding palm leaves. I know that rituals have meaning, and I actually LOVE rituals – whether it’s smearing ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday or putting sandalwood paste on my third eye for Shivaratri, I love physical things that remind me about embodying the divine.  It’s just that it’s important to remember that all the physical things don’t really matter – it’s all an inside job.  And for some reason that morning, as I stood there outside the little church that I love so much, I was struck with the oddness of it all – if my heart is connected with Christ and I am loving God as I live and breath and move about my life, then what is the point of all of this?

Turns out, Father Ted’s sermon was the perfect answer for my feeling of strangeness at the whole concept of organized religion.  (Now, how does God do that?  Did He inspire those thoughts and feelings in me because He knew what Father Ted had written in his sermon?  Or when I had that sense of oddness, did He go back in time to earlier in the week and whisper in Father Ted’s ear?)

After the reading of the passion story from Mark’s gospel, Father Ted began to talk about Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  As Father Ted put it, “From triumphal entry to his death by crucifixion in just a few short verses. From riding a donkey into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week, to being put to death for speaking truth to power at the end of the week.”

Jesus had been preaching for years in Galilee and the areas surrounding Jerusalem, telling people that the Kingdom of God was inside of them, teaching people how to connect directly to God, showing them God’s love and mercy – and proclaiming that there is no burden of sin between us and God, and no need for any intervention or sacrifice by a priest or anyone else on our behalf.

In Holy Week, Jesus entered Jerusalem, the very center of both religious authority and secular Roman rule – and he went into the Temple and threw out the money changers and those selling doves for sacrifice.  He was challenging the whole system of both political oppression and organized religion that had been established – that people needed to exchange the impure roman coin for temple currency to buy doves or pigeons for the priests to sacrifice at the altar in order for them to attain atonement with God.  Jesus was telling us that we already have AT-ONE-MENT with God.  We don’t need organized religion to mend our broken relationship with God – to God, it was never broken.  We don’t need any rules or rituals or hierarchical system of priests and middle men.  And this challenge to both the religious and secular authorities is what led to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  And he knew it would.  This was the cause Jesus was willing to die for.

good-friday-copySo, sitting in the pew of my adorable little church, I am struck with the extreme irony that the establishment of religion has turned Jesus’s very teachings inside out!  Instead of realizing the absolute truth of our original innocence and our direct connection with God, the teaching that Jesus gave up his life for, the church has turned his very death into the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf – even though Jesus himself taught that we didn’t NEED a sacrifice, God already loves us completely.

Palm Sunday evening I attended my second service of the day – this time online with the Collective, the wonderful little mis-fit faith community in DeLand.  Pastor Ben, dressed in T-shirt and jeans, reading his sermon from his iPad screen in-between drumming in the band, talked to us about the parable of the Third Mile.

ArtBook__039_039__TheSermonOnTheMount____The parable Ben told goes like this:  Back in Roman Galilee there was a law that if a Roman soldier commanded a citizen to carry his pack, they must carry it for one mile.  One day, a small group of disciples heard Jesus preaching and he said “The law requires that you carry a pack for one mile, but I say carry it freely for two.”  The disciples were deeply impressed by this and after a year has passed, this custom of carrying the pack for two miles had become a “new law” among the disciples and the leaders among them would often quote this teaching of Jesus and the need to carry the pack for two miles as a sign of one’s faith and commitment to God.  Jesus heard about this new custom and came back to the community saying “Dear brothers and sisters, you are faithful and honest, but I have come to you with a second message, for you failed to understand the first.  Your law says that you must carry a pack for two miles.  My law says, carry it for three.”

What I got from the sermon is this:  if there is a religious rule that a person should carry the pack for one mile, then Jesus taught that we should go the extra mile, because it’s not just about following the rules, it’s about what the rules are trying to show us about giving, loving and our relationship with God.  But when the “extra mile” group of people, following Jesus teaching, re-set the rule to  two miles instead of one, Jesus said again, no, it’s about that extra mile, so go 3 miles.  But it’s not really about how many miles.  The problem is, however many miles you add on, it becomes exactly the same thing: a rule to follow to be a good Christian, a good Muslim, a good Hindu or a good something or other.

“What if instead of offering his followers an ethical system to follow, Jesus was inviting them to enter into a life of love that transcends ethics, a life of liberty that dwells beyond religious laws?”

If we just create a new religion in the name of Jesus and set up similar rules or roll calls that must be followed in order to get to heaven and a new order of priests and go-betweens, we’re not really following the teachings of Christ.  If we absorb the way of love which transcends systems that Jesus showed us back into a system of rules, requirements and safe ethical formulas, we’re missing the point.  It doesn’t matter how many miles the rule says you should run, it’s not about counting the miles or following the rules, it’s about transcending the rules and running towards God with all your heart.

“In the end, our wholeness and wellness, our goodness and flourishing, are not to be found in systems of accepted minimums, or in the predictable systems that arise to challenge those minimum requirements – not in religions or in our best attempts at better religions.”

So in the pew and again online at the Collective, I got the message – it’s not about the rules, it’s not about organized religion, it’s about connecting directly with God.  As Ben put it, it’s about “Love that transcends ethics.”  In all these churches and mosques and temples, in all these rituals and Palm Sunday ceremonies, the purpose of it all is to live closer to God, to live AT-ONE-MENT with God.

love-shoesIt’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter of the law.  And living the spirit of the law is an entirely inward process between you and God.  It has nothing to do with any organized religion or consecrated creed.  No amount of empty rule following or proper religious conduct can make any difference.  If a person runs 5 miles or half a mile doesn’t matter in the least. We could run an infinite number of miles or just stand still – as long as we do it with absolute sincerity.  It’s what is happening inside that matters.  It’s about the state of our hearts.  It’s about our direct connection to God.

That is the cause that Jesus died for!  And the ironic thing is, by Christianity creating this complicated system of rules and have to’s, in setting up an organized religion with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, it is recreating the same system that Jesus spoke out against.  We see this again and again, and it is up to us to keep bringing back the Love that transcends religion, just like Martin Luther speaking up about the Catholic church selling indulgences or Martin Luther King Jr. speaking up against injustice.

So, to truly follow Christ, we can’t just create a new religion, we have to let go of religion, let go of the outer show of faith and live our inner experience of faith.  And not just when we are dressed in our Sunday best, but in our every day moments.

In Father Ted’s Easter Sunday sermon, he also spoke to this direct connection of God and the Resurrected Christ not in organized religious ceremony – but inside our ordinary lives.

“After all the “Alleluias” this morning we will leave this sanctuary and go out into our ordinary lives.  But that is exactly where we will meet the risen Jesus if we will only open our eyes, and hearts, and souls to the world around us.  In our liturgy this morning we will greet each other in the “Peace of The Lord.”  This is a greeting of the Christ that is alive in each one of us greeting the Christ in the other.  It is a symbolic and liturgical action.  But when we walk out the door into the world we are called to see the risen Jesus in each and every other person we encounter.”

I have often grappled with the check box called “Spiritual but not religious” because I’ve at times felt that I am “Spiritual and ALL religious” or an “Everything.”   I love all religions and all ways of loving God, so I haven’t wanted to say that I am no religion – until now.  In the essential truth, the truth that Jesus died for, it is not about a new religion, no religion or all religions – it’s just about connecting with God.

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Further reading…

The Last Week
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues. Informed, challenged, and inspired, we not only meet the historical Jesus, but meet a new Jesus who engages us and invites us to follow him.

Peter Rollins examines traditional religious notions from a revolutionary and refreshingly original perspective. At the heart of his message is a life lived through profound love.

Doubt is a Virtue (or How Doubting Thomas Got a Bad Rap)

1279824593jesusthomasDoubting Thomas got a bad rap.

Why would we consider it a bad thing to ask questions?  Why is it more virtuous to simply accept a belief without any examination or query?  If you think about it, it’s actually good to think about it, it’s good to think about things before accepting them blindly.

Doubting is a good thing.  Blind faith is not really faith at all.

Jesus taught in parables.  Jesus told stories that he did not interpret – instead he left the interpretation and the contemplation up to us.  Even the interpretations that are in the bible are not part of the quoted words of Jesus, but rather the commentary of the author that is added by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  If Jesus didn’t want us to question or think for ourselves, he could have just spoken his teachings in the form of commandments for jesus parablesus to accept.  But he spoke them in the form of stories for us to think about and pray over so that we could realize the truth for ourselves.  And if we stop doing this and simply accept the interpretations presented to us by the priest or pastor or pope, then we aren’t internalizing the teachings the way Jesus intended. 

A few days ago, my good friends Terry and Sarah introduced me to a “radical theologian” by the name of Peter Rollins.  We listened to a few chapters from one of his audio books, and it was captivating (and not just because of his Irish accent).  I looked up his website and saw the books he has written – and even though I haven’t even had time to read them yet, the titles themselves are thought-provoking:

  • The Divine Magician – the Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith
  • The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction
  • Insurrection: To Believe is Human; to Doubt, Divine

“To Believe is Human, to Doubt, Divine.”  Yes – to doubt is a virtue; to question and to contemplate is divine.  This is the practice of self-inquiry from the East – turning our focus inside to realize from within the truth of the Self and of God.  This is the “Inquire Within” of philosophers from every culture.  Even Plato’s Allegory of the Cave taught this – do not accept the shadows on the wall of the cave as truth, set your mind free, leave the cave and see for yourself what reality is.

To quote from more than just the title and include the back of the book as well (not that I’m recommending judging a book by its cover, in fact, that is expressly what I am advocating against, but it’s only been a couple of days and I promise if I actually read the books I’ll write about them from a more informed perspective later, but for now…):

Holy-Spirit-Fire“It is only as we submit our spiritual practices, religious rituals, and dogmatic affirmations to the flames of fearless interrogation that we come into contact with the reality that Christianity is in the business of transforming our world.”

Thomas asked questions when Jesus presented a teaching, not as some form of betrayal or undermining, but because he was internalizing the words that Jesus spoke and letting them transform him.  He was making the understanding of the truth Jesus was pointing at a part of his being.  Thomas doubting Jesus was a sign of respect.  In the gospel that was attributed to Thomas, which was later thrown out of the bible and ordered to be burned by Emperor Constantine and the Nicene council, he didn’t focus on Jesus’ birth, biography or even his crucifixion.  The Gospel of Thomas is simply a collection of Jesus’ teachings.  For Thomas, it wasn’t Jesus’ life story that was important – not even the virgin birth or the miracles and hoopla surrounding his life and death.  What mattered to Doubting Thomas was the truth that Jesus taught.

annunciation-midNow, I love everything about Jesus – the miracles and hoopla included.  And I think that God can do anything God wants and to split an atom in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit would be a piece of cake.  I don’t have any issues with anyone who chooses to believe that is what happened.  And I absolutely feel the presence of Mother Mary as a vibrant holy being filled with tremendous love and compassion here and now, so I have no qualms about people praying to her.  She is a saint and a Bodhisattva in her own right – an enlightened soul who is present to help those who ask her for healing.

It’s just that the virgin birth is not a necessary part of my love and faith in Jesus Christ – or Mother Mary, for that matter.  I cannot say with certainty if it happened or not, but it doesn’t matter to me and to argue about it seems silly.  If God had not split the atom in Mother Mary’s womb through the Holy Spirit but had as a matter of historical fact split that atom through more tradition means, it would not make Mother Mary or Jesus any less holy in my eyes.  Mother Mary would still be a being of vast compassion and Jesus would still be an embodiment of God’s love and grace – and his teachings would still hold the seeds of our spiritual freedom in knowing God.

I see this in the title “The Idolatry of God: Breaking our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction.”  In a sense, if we simply idolize God and Christ and do not doubt or question or contemplate, but just accept our religion because it’s more virtuous to have faith or because it’s more comfortable to feel certain than to question, this is not a very solid faith.   It is in practicing the virtue of doubting, of “inquiring within,” that we can really FEEL the truth for ourselves and decide what we truly believe in, not as an outside certainty, but as our internal faith.  And while there is nothing I love more than adoring God and I think it is right to give Him thanks and praise, I don’t want to replace the faith of my own inquiry with a blind idolatry of God.

extremism-islam_2526444bHiding out within a set of beliefs that is already put forth for you from someone else is in a way not very responsible.  God gave us our minds with the ability to think, God gave us free will – so it is honoring of God to actually use them.  In fact, on one side of the spectrum simply accepting someone else’s version of religion is downright dangerous.

We see this in extremism – when followers of fanatical religious leaders who spout hate and even violence do not doubt what they are told – and the results are horrific.  But we also see this in the less extreme ways where religious beliefs spawn prejudices or social norms that are exclusive and discriminatory – as in gay or lesbian human beings not having the same rights as any other human being.  And even though I have never been a religious extremist, I experienced the trappings of this mychristianextremismself by accepting someone else’s certainty as my own and feeling like it was wrong for me to doubt or to question.  It kept me disempowered from listening to my inner voice, the living word that exists in my heart and it was quite a struggle for me to embrace the virtue of doubt and listen to my true faith again.

This is why I love the title “the Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith.”  It is in the process of doubting the edicts of religion that we come to true faith.  And true faith is only between you and God – it is beyond religion.  These are the mystical teachings of Jesus that Thomas loved so much because through his doubt he came to internal knowing.

Faith is not about certainty.  In a way, faith is the opposite of certainty.  Faith is being a willing and humble participant in the mystery of God.  To quote from Peter Rollin’s Wikipedia page (that other cliff notes way of judging a book by its cover) “he views faith as a particular way of engaging with the world rather than a set of beliefs about the world.”  Faith is an active process – a verb, a living and flexible transformative power.

I do not pretend that I can know God with certainty, I can only trust the living loving Presence of God and do my best to follow Her. As Bishop John Shelby Sponge says in my very first post:

“The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book is almost beyond imagination for me. God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t believe my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”

So, if we all honor our traditions and walk through our respective religions towards the truth of God that they point to, then we can heal our humanity of the wounds that religion has inflicted and live together in faith.  If we all incorporate the practice of Doubting Thomas into our religious experience, we could all stay humble and flexible and live in harmony with other seekers similarly doubting their teachings of God.

bloemen-vraagtekenDoubt and Faith are two sides of the same coin – it’s the paradox or Yin and Yang of belief.  The process of doubt gives our faith depth and dimension.  True internal faith is humble enough to not need certainty but to contain within itself its opposite – the virtue of doubt. 


If you’d like to read Peter Rollins books before I do, here are the links:

Straight and Narrow Path ~ Spine of Shiva

530735302_e447c704feI am a firm believer that any book or bible can only help point the way for us to experience the living word of Love and Truth that is in our hearts.  There are many teachings in Christianity and, indeed, in every other religion, which gets taken out of context and twisted into something unrecognizable from the original intent – often times even quite the opposite of what the Teacher, Prophet or Messiah had in mind.  Yet, if you truly pray with an open and yearning heart and contemplate the words, it can lead you back to the original meaning.  This is the point and practice of Mystical Christianity.

Even though I have never read the bible cover to cover, I have had the experience of being in prayer or meditation and suddenly understanding a phrase or a verse that I have heard repeated all my life without knowing what it really means.  One such phrase is “the straight and narrow path.”

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” 

right_roadThis bible verse from Matthew 7:14 has been used for centuries as a way to justify a very straight and narrow religious point of view and all kinds of discrimination or prejudice for those the particular church deems not straight or narrow enough.  But I experience that the phrase is not about being straight as in heterosexual or even straight as in upright and rigidly conforming to religious norms.  And narrow does not mean narrow-minded.

One summer years ago I had just dedicated my life to God and at this particular time that meant I was not working “out in the world.”  I spent my days mostly alone, working at my desk and taking care of my ministry’s retreat center and sweet little temple.  I would water the plants on the decks and in the temple and then take the opportunity to kneel at the altar and pray or meditate.  I wore all white just because I felt like it, and I do admit, some days I would put my white sarong over my head and dress up like a novitiate, just for fun, just because it felt good to me, even though no one else was around to see me – or I guess specifically because no one was around to see me.  (Otherwise the only opportunity I had to dress up like a nun was once a year on Halloween.)

41w5HDcnoKLThroughout the day I would stay tuned into my heart.  I know we often talk of the Temple within the heart, and it is most often used as figurative speech, but I actually would feel my little inner self inside my little inner temple in my heart.  It was like I could tune in to my heart and feel myself kneeling at the Temple in my heart, sometimes prostrating, and sometimes, when I was feeling less than surrendered, I could feel myself standing or restless, not quite in the mood to be empty or devoted.

One day as I knelt before the altar in the temple, I looked at the picture of Jesus and poured forth my love for Him and then closed my eyes with my hands on my heart.  I tuned into the Inner Temple of my heart and could feel myself kneeling with my head bowed to Christ.  All of a sudden I experience myself kneeling inside a column of white light.  It was the most exquisite, peaceful, soft and radiant white light I’d ever felt.  And I could see it as a straight and narrow column or path connecting me to God.  And it didn’t have anything to do with behavior or moral code or do’s and don’ts or should’s – the only thing that helped me stay in this beautiful exquisite blissful straight and narrow column of white light was my focus on loving God.

That was it – that was the mystical meaning of the straight and narrow path that I felt from the living word in my own heart.  I don’t know what mystical scholars or ecclesiastical books might say about what was meant with those words in the bible, but my experience of those words was about the simple and profound power of devotion.  The straight and narrow path I felt inside of me is about keeping my focus steadily on loving God.  It’s not about anything else, and it’s certainly not about judging someone that we deem to be off the straight and narrow path that we have self-righteously drawn out for ourselves.

Shiva NatarajAnd, as is usually the case, this mystical meaning of the straight and narrow focus on God can also be found in other religions with different words.  Last weekend I was over at a friend’s house and they had just acquired a new Shiva Nataraj statue.  They invited us over for puja, to bless and consecrate the new addition to their temple room.  We chanted the Om Namaha Shivaya 108 times and afterwards I stayed in the little room standing in front of the Nataraj.

Shiva is the Hindu aspect of God as the ultimate yogi, the ultimate meditator with absolute pure focus solely on God.  As I was standing in front of the Shiva statue I all of a sudden felt my spine become straight and narrow in single pointed focus on God.  I could feel Shiva’s spine as a focus so straight and narrow that it felt like a thread – a thin, glimmering, golden thread of light.

I was reminded of my experience of the straight and narrow column of light connecting me to God.  Shiva’s spine is also the straight and narrow focus on God, and it has nothing to do with renouncing or not renouncing the world, it has nothing to do with do’s and don’ts or should’s, it only has to do with getting into the state of consciousness where you are residing in single pointed focus of loving God.

The straight and narrow path is internal.  It’s all an inside job.  The mystical truth is between you and God.  And whether you practice devotion to Christ or meditation with Shiva, the straight and narrow path is found in the temple of your own heart.

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The Essence of Merry Christmas and Goodwill to ALL

Christmas-Card-at-www.best-christmas.net_1In this time of Christmas I am thinking a lot about Christ.  Of course, I tend to think about Christ a lot anyways, but what I mean is that I’m thinking a lot about how Christ’s love applies to all of humanity.  I briefly wrote in my post about Christmas Carols how I believe that the Christ Consciousness of love, compassion and miracles that Jesus embodied and taught is not limited to Jesus the man or even to Christianity. So, that is the part of Christ I’ve been thinking about specifically.  And in this season of warmth, cheer and giving, of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All, I so long for everyone to be open to receive LOVE in all its myriad and beautiful forms.

I’d say all in all, Christmas and the holidays brings out the best in us – our charity, compassion and generosity – but inevitably some humans will find something to fuss about. So this is also the time of year for arguments about religion, whether it is more right to say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” and the supposed War on Christmas.  (I don’t think Christmas qualifies as an oppressed minority when every store, town center and neighborhood is decked out in massive amounts of Christmas lights and our whole socioeconomic consumer establishment gears up for the holiday with everything from sales to TV programming to “get it there by the 25th” shipping specials.)

And it’s from both sides of the spectrum.  There are the Christians who get outraged if the people greeting you at Macy’s say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and insist that Santa is Satan and we should just focus on Jesus.  And there are the atheists who insist that celebrating Christmas is against the constitution and Santa cannot be scientifically proven so he has no place in schools.

jesus-vs-santa-armwrestleMy sister is a really good photographer.  For her daughter’s school last year she took pictures of the kids with Santa as they entered into the annual Holiday fundraiser and nearly all the children participated and she helped raise valuable funds for their education.  This year someone made a big fuss about how Santa is not what Christmas is about and Santa shouldn’t be allowed in the main hall because Santa violated their religious rights.  So my sister and the kindly volunteer Santa Claus were relegated to some distant classroom away from the main event and raised one third of the money they did last year.  And it’s silly.  Why waste an opportunity for happiness and charity?  What is more religious about that?

I really don’t think it matters if you say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas – what matters is simply the amount of love you say it with.  And it’s silly for anyone to get offended when given a greeting of love simply because some word doesn’t fit into your own personal list of preferred words.  If someone were to smile and give me a sweet seasonal greeting I wouldn’t care if they wished me a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Kwanza, a Sweet Solstice, a Merry Christmas or just the generic humanistic Have a Good Day.  As long as we are spreading more love in the world – all the better.

christmasYou see, the Consciousness of love, peace and compassion that is in all the Christmas Carols and Santa movies is the same underlying consciousness that has been at the heart of humanity since before any of the religions were even dreamed up.  And really, if you just let go of the words and what your mind thinks about them and instead just focus on the feeling or the Presence behind the words, then we’ll realize that we’re all talking about the same Presence.  A few days ago I wrote about how sometimes religious words can be associated with religious divisiveness and how we need to reprogram our subconscious minds to get beyond words and into the feeling self.  I know this was true for me and my own associations with the words of the Christian language.

In my teens and early twenties I rejected Christianity.  I saw a lot of bickering, prejudice and narrow-mindedness in the churches that were around me growing up and it didn’t feel right to me, so I closed myself off to that part of God.  Sure, I found Eastern religions, meditation, bhakti yoga and many ways to connect with God, but I was limiting how God could love me.  I was saying to God – no, I don’t want your love in the form of the Christ, I don’t want your love through Jesus or even from Christians – I only want your love through sanskrit chants and Tibetan mantras.

Then one day 16 years ago, my sister was visiting me in Asheville for the weekend.  We went to the Biltmore House (talk about a photographer’s dream – she must have taken 100 pictures in the gardens alone).  Afterwards we went to Biltmore Village, a collection of quaint shops outside of the estate surrounding the church the Vanderbilts built.  The church was really beautiful and reminded us of churches in Sweden.  The docent told us the music was really good and that the organ is one of the finest on the east coast, so my sister said she’d really like to go the next morning.

I would have never thought to go to a Christian church on my own.  But since my sister wanted to go, I said ok.  Who doesn’t like some nice music?  So, on Sunday morning I went to church for the first time in a very long time.

all souls churchThe church in the Biltmore village is Episcopalian (incidentally called “All Souls Cathedral”) and so the service was traditional with the reading of the bible and the singing of hymns.  I was standing in the pew with the hymnal in my hands singing and I started reading the actual meaning of the words of the hymn.  I can’t remember which hymn it was specifically, but it was about the Light of the Holy Spirit coming down and entering into our hearts like a flame – it was about us making room to have the Christ Light dwell in our hearts forever.

I was amazed.  I was astounded.  My heart started expanding and breaking.  This was real.  I had experienced this very thing in meditation.  I had felt the Light of God coming down and entering into my heart like a flame.  For years I had been working to make room in my heart for God’s Light to dwell there forever.  Whatever old monk or Christian musician who had written this hymn hundreds of years ago had the same experiences that I was having as I was chanting the sanskrit names of God and meditating on the compassion of the Buddha!

I wanted to shout out to everyone in the church who were all calmly singing these words – “This is real!  Oh my God!  Christ and the Holy Spirit are real!”  Instead I just let my heart flow over and tears rolled down my cheeks as I could feel Christ and the Holy Spirit coming down and filling my heart.  It was something I had felt before, I just had used different words.  But here I was in a Christian church, singing a Christian hymn about the truth of God.

After that Sunday I started going to this sweet Episcopal church every Sunday.  Not only that, I went to the Tuesday morning services as well.  I went to every service they had, tears flowing from my heart every time.  I found so many truths about God in the words of the hymns, the psalms and the readings.  I found so much inspiration for my spiritual journey in the sermons.  And watching so many people going up for communionmomma3 to become One with the Body of Christ made my heart burn in my chest with exquisite beauty.

And the people there were so loving and accepting.  They had an openly gay deacon who was a major supporter of the local gay and lesbian community.  The pastors were open to all religions and could talk to me about books by Sogyal Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama and Shakti Gawain.  I had a nose ring and tattoos and I thought the congregation would judge me – but one Tuesday morning after the healing service a sweet Southern white haired lady asked me what the tattoo on my left arm meant and I told her “It’s the Hindu chant Om Namaha Shivaya – it means the God Presence in me honors the God Presence in you.”  She nodded and said, “That’s right on!  And that’s real pretty.”

I realized that I had been the one who was prejudiced.  In all my New Age spiritual focus on loving the world, I had been holding on to all kinds of judgments and attitudes, thinking that there should be respect for all religions, but those Christians just didn’t get it.  Yet God was loving the world through Christ and the Holy Spirit for hundreds and hundreds of years but I dismissed it all.  Wow – I was the one who wasn’t getting it.

But now I AM getting it!  I’m getting God’s love every which way!  I am not limiting how God can love me.  I am not limiting God to the shape of my own mind.  If God wants to love me through Hare Krishna or Alleluia or As-salamu alaykum or Merry Christmas, I say YES!

No matter what your personal beliefs are, why not just receive the love?  Why be all bah-humbug because the person giving you the love says either “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” depending on what side of the bah-humbug you fall on.

If someone says “Ola” or “Bonjour” or “Guten Tag” – why get upset if it’s not your particular language.  Just smile and say hello back.  Whether you personally prefer Merry Christmas or Hare Krishna, in essence it means the same thing. So, allow LOVE to enter your heart through baby Jesus, jolly old Santa,the star of Bethlehem, the star of David, the Angels on High, Frosty the Snowman, the generic Holiday Party at work or the all-female living nativity scene featuring the Three Wise Women!

There are no limits to the ways that God can love us if we just say Yes.  Just let go of the mental arguments and Believe in Love, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to ALL!

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Christmas Carols are REAL!

carolingOK, it is almost Thanksgiving and they are already playing Christmas Carols all over the place, so I am excited to share with you the amazing fact that, aside from adding a wonderful feeling of warmth and cheer to any family gathering, holiday party or shopping experience, Christmas Carols are REAL!

For the first 27 years of my life, I listened to Christmas Carols like most people do.  They made me feel warm and fuzzy, they reminded me of sweet Christmas memories and time with my sisters growing up and they generally reminded me of the goodwill of the season.  Then one Christmas I listened to Christmas Carols while in a meditative state after I had been praying and communing with Christ – and WOW.  It was like I had never heard any of the songs before!

All of a sudden each Christmas carol was alive and the words were true and I could FEEL the truth of the words in my heart.  It was the mystical experience of the most common songs I had heard thousands of times in my life.  When I heard Joy to the World, I FELT immense JOY for the whole world in my heart that God had sent His loving presence in the form of the Grace and Glory of the Christ!  I had this feeling of exploding with the actual reality of the songs.  I wasn’t just hearing them as nice holiday ambiance, I was feeling the actual experience of the Christ being born inside my own heart and God’s Grace saving the entire world and it was profoundly, ecstatically and mind-blowingly beautiful.

Now, I will take a moment here to include everyone in this Grace.  I believe that Jesus was and is holy, AND I believe the the Christ Consciousness of love, compassion and forgiveness that he embodied and taught is not limited to Jesus the man or even to Christianity for that matter.  I believe that the Christ Consciousness and the redeeming Love of God comes to humanity in many forms and that God has always been reaching out to humanity with this immense mysterious Love.  Also,stargraphic the word “sin” in the original Greek actually means to “miss the mark” or “make a mistake” – so when I hear the words “Long lay the world in sin and error pining,” I don’t take it to mean that the world was twisted and depraved and we were all horrible evil people – it’s just that we were in error, we were missing the mark and not connecting to the reality of God’s Love – and in God sending the Christ Love to us (in all manner of forms), we can be “saved” from our mistakes and our ignorance and once again live in God’s everlasting peace.

So – when I hear the Christmas Carols and I am rejoicing with Joy to the World – I am feeling not my gratitude for the birth of one baby, although I am personally very grateful for the birth of that one baby – but my gratitude for the birth of God’s Love into this world.  I am feeling Joy for the whole entire world and every sentient being in it – not just for Christians or for those who happen to be celebrating this particular holiday with me.

So, back to my ecstatic rapture… It was a revelation to me when I actually not only listened to the words, but FELT the meaning of the words in my being.  Sometimes the songs are so engrained in us and such a part of the background atmosphere of Christmas that we don’t even pay attention to what they actually mean.  And of course, sometimes it’s fine to allow Christmas Carols to simply uplift your heart and give you warm fuzzies, you can’t be falling on your knees weeping tears of gratitude every time Joy to the World comes on at the grocery store.  But I invite you to just try listening to your favorite Christmas Carols as a spiritual practice or a prayerful exercise.  Allow the words to enter your heart, listen deeply to the spiritual truths that are being sung and FEEL the truths in your soul.

Here I have one version of O Holy Night, one of my personal favorites.  Just try it – turn the volume up as loud as you can and immerse yourself in the experience of this holy moment.

The-Heavenly-Host-13_5x23When you hear the words “and the soul felt its worth” – FEEL the worth of your soul!  When you hear “the weary world rejoices” allow your weary heart to rejoice!  When the choir sings of the angel voices joining in celebrating the Christ, FEEL the heavenly host and all the angels adoring God and Christ along with you in that very moment.  When you hear “Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace,” just open your heart to FEEL that as a reality – the whole world loving one another as God has taught us in every religion and path through out our bumpy history.  When you sing the words “Let all within us praise His holy name” – sing it with everything within you, praise God’s holy name with your whole self – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” 

It is a whole new experience.

Oh holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

So – with that, I wish you a most sincerely truly wondrously Merry Christmas!

THE PEANUTS GANG REJOICES IN THE TRUE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

Loving the Mystery of God

10672338_10152726873927731_7471678598811948582_nRecently, when I was writing my post on Mystical Christianity, a friend of mine made a comment about the word “mystical.”  He wondered if I really wanted to go the “mystic path,” because to him that word implies a distance or a separation from God, as if a person on a mystical path will never arrive because God will always be, at least in part, unknown and mysterious.  I can see his point.  To someone who is wanting to clear all limitations from our human mind and to know God with the certainty of experience, I can understand that calling a path mystical can seem somewhat ambiguous.  But for myself, I love the wondrously vague, magically ambiguous and often ecstatically paradoxical mystical nature of God.  And I don’t think that being mystical means that I cannot know God absolutely – I just don’t ever expect that I’ll be able to know God in some way that my mind will be able to grasp and explain with certitude.

A few weeks ago, in a Sunday service at my sweet little St Cyprians Episcopal church, Father Ted said in his sermon:  “I believe certitude is a spiritual danger.  If we claim to know God’s ways without question, we limit God to the shape of our own minds.  As St. Augustine put it 1700 years ago, “If you think you understand [God], [then] it isn’t God.”

I agree with both of them.  Anyone who spouts religious conviction with certitude does not feel like God.  When someone claims they know God and all others will be condemned to an eternity of hell, like the preacherman on the sidewalk last week, it definitely feels like they are speaking from something that is decidedly NOT God.  And it doesn’t even need to be that extreme.  Some people are more subtle in their certitude and just  think that all those Buddhists, Hindus and Jews might be nice people, but it’s a shame, if they haven’t been saved, they aren’t going to Heaven.  Or if the person is a Buddhist they might think Christians, Hindus and Jews mean well and try to be good, but they just don’t yet understand about the nature of Pure Consciousness.  Certitude on any path can manifest itself as spiritual snobbery.

meditationHowever, I don’t think this is what my friend meant when he brought up his concerns with the word “mystical.”  Having certitude in this rigid judgmental kind of way is not at all the kind of certitude that my friend is aiming for.  He is dedicated to truly knowing God and not placing anything between himself and God.  In wanting to end the separation with God, he doesn’t want to place some kind of barrier of mysticality or unknowingness that keeps him from living a life of Oneness with the Divine.

And I agree with him.  I want to merge into God and live in the most sweet delicious closeness with the Divine that I possibly can.  I don’t want to put any limitations on how deeply I can know God.  But in doing that, I don’t want to “limit God to the shape of my own mind” either!  So, instead of not placing the barrier of mysticality between me and God, I want to dive through the mystical and JOIN God on the other side with awe and wonder.

loving godFrom my perspective, the only way for me to know God is actually to embrace God’s mystery.

God is amazing beyond anything I can comprehend.  God’s Love blows my mind – literally.  The only way I can hope to begin to “know” God with my mind is to allow it to be blown over and over again so that it can expand ever wider to embrace the wondrous vast mystery of God.  And then be blown away again.

God’s Love is so vast and so intimate at the same time.  God’s Love is all encompassing and personal, eternal and immediate.  God loves ALL of creation and every single being through all of time, past and future – yet somehow God also loves little me right here and right now in every moment of my tiny life.  God’s Love is both ancient and reverent like the timeless holy Temples and Holy of all Holies.  Yet God’s Love is also fun and modern, silly and giggly, joyful like the deepest belly laugh and bubbling inside of me as a teenage girl crush on God. God’s Love is deeply silent like the most Shivic stillness and profound meditative pure Peace imaginable.  And God’s Love is viscerally personal like the Beloved God of Your Being loving you from the inside and the outside at the same time in a Divine Union of the Self that is explosively ecstatic beyond your dreams.  And anything that I experience as God’s Love one moment, it is deeper and vaster and MORE the next moment.

God’s Love is so huge and yet It enters my heart in such a beautiful tender way that I overflow.  The gratitude and amazement at God’s love is more than my little being can contain and that is why I expand and become bigger.  I overflow.  This is why I cry every time I enter a church or a shrine or a temple.  This is why tears stream from my eyes when I see compassion in action, when I see God’s 117148615Love in the world.  This is why I cry when I chant God’s name.  This is why I cry at every Sunday service.  Everyone at my little church knows this by now.  When I visit other churches I always get very sweet little ladies who come and put a comforting hand on my back and tell me everything is going to be ok – but really I’m not crying because I’m sad.  If only I could somehow share with these sweet gentle women that I’m crying because not only will things be ok, things ARE magnificently gloriously perfect!  All I can ever think to say is simply “I love God” and they nod and smile back at me.  I’m crying because God’s mystery is SO beautiful that it overflows my heart!

The one thing that I can say I DO know with certainty is that God is LOVE. My mind explodes whenever I try to understand the vastness of that love, and when my mind coalesces again so that I can do things like drive and speak and feed myself, it is just a little bit bigger to contain a little bit more love as I go about my life. So, that much I’ve figured out – God is Love.  Therefore, the only way to know God is to love.  I can contemplate God and speak about God and pray to God.  I can meditate and feel God’s Presence and commune with God.  And in all those practices, it is only in the active VERB of LOVING that I can start to know God.

As Father Ted put it: “Jesus never seemed to care very much whether his followers thought alike.  But did they love?  Did they love God with all of their hearts, and souls, and minds?  Did they love each other as they loved themselves?”

In the reading from Matthew’s gospel that day, a lawyer asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  In response Jesus quoted the Shema, the commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  To me, this is what Jesus meant and what all the prophets before him meant, and what all teachers on all paths mean when they say to love God.  Loving God is HOW we can come to know God.

God gave us minds for realizations and understandings and insights, but our human minds can never fully know the vastness of God.  God cannot be limited to the shape of our own minds. God is a wonderful mystery.  And beginning to know God is loving the mystery of God.

Love god

Mystical Christianity (do NOT read this)

Crystal City.jpg

Thank you to Bruce Harman for the beautiful artwork. www.harmanvisions.com

I love Jesus and a couple of months ago I was thinking how nice it would be to have a Mystical Christianity group who could meet once a week or so and explore our experiential relationships with Christ.  But I didn’t feel “qualified” enough to start such a group because I haven’t read enough books about Mystical Christianity.

Then the irony of that hit me.

The whole point of a mystical path is in NOT reading books. (So, don’t read this.)

A mystical person is someone who is concerned with knowing not the letter of the Word, or religious dogma, but the Spirit of the Word – the Word of God that lives inside of us and can be experienced at the very core of our being.  A mystic, quite simply, is a lover of God who pursues the Beloved from a deep realization that truth is a living process.  A Christian mystic is a lover of Christ who yearns to experience the very truth that Jesus taught us – the Kingdom of God lies within – and who prays with heart and soul to know this through personal experience guided by the Holy Spirit.2006-04-13 10.37.44

To me, words written down in a book and translated and edited by men throughout history (and I do mean men) can be dangerous.  Every religion’s sacred scripture, not just the Bible, contains things that are just plain wrong.  For all the amazing inspiring beautiful words of love and compassion they contain, they also contain things that any child would know is not from God. The Laws of Manu in Hinduism saying that Untouchables should eat from broken bowls and wear the clothes of dead people.  The Koran saying that a woman’s evidence is worth half of a mans, so it takes two female witnesses to equal a man.  The Jewish and Christian Bible speaks of stoning adulterers to death, of menstruating women giving the rabbi two chickens after each menstrual cycle to purify themselves before entering the temple again and of slavery being OK as long as the slaves are foreigners.  All of these things I know in my heart to be not just untrue, but unjust and sometimes even evil.

That is why I don’t believe our relationship with God should be based on any book.  (So, stop reading this already.)  The dark places of the human mind have a way of working their way into all our religious texts – so we need to stay tuned into our intuitive knowing of right and wrong.  And even if we exclude the unjust and downright crazy passages of scripture, our human words are inherently limited – so to even begin to know the Divine, we need our own mystical experience of listening to the Living Word of God in our hearts.

There is a part of me that specifically does NOT want to read spiritual books.  And I apologize for the irony, as I am in fact writing a spiritual blog… but it’s more that I don’t agree that a person has to read a bunch of spiritual books or scriptures to be a spiritual person or to have an understanding of spiritual things.  In fact, sometimes the people who are the most well read seem to have the most misunderstandings.  Sometimes the most expert people of God are children who have not yet learned to read.

2013-12-14 14.30.59I have started 5 or 6 spiritual books and I love them, but I don’t read past the first chapter. It feels too heady or philosophical or theoretical. They lay on my coffee table in a stack and instead I spend my evening in awe of what the human form can do watching So You Think You Can Dance.  Sometimes I don’t want to read, I just want to LIVE, to BE, to follow my own heart, to pray and hang out with Jesus or just cuddle with my little Peachy on the couch.

There are spiritual books that have inspired me, that have even changed the course of my life… so don’t get me wrong, I love spiritual books. I do appreciate all the Mystics who have gone before us and all the inspiration and insights they put into the written word.  Most of all I cherish all the words of Jesus that have ever been written down – in the canonical gospels and in the gnostic gospels that were thrown out and burned.  And whether the words written down are the exact same words spoken out of Jesus’ mouth or not – I pray to receive those words and hear them with my soul, guided by the Holy Spirit, to have an intuitive understanding and a direct experience of exactly what He meant by them.

And Christ can show me.  Christ is alive and available to us all at any moment to illuminate for us what the words can only point to.  My life has been infinitely more transformed by communion with Christ than by any Bible passage.  And that is what Mystical Christianity is all about.

There is of course a place for inspiration, for knowledge, for understanding, for insight… and the purpose of all the spiritual books in the world, including the Bible, is for us to EXPERIENCE SPIRIT.  So, stop reading this blog and go out there and LIVE LOVE.