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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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.

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How can I be Pro-Unity without being Anti-Anti-Unity?

preacher-manOutside the library, on the narrow part of the sidewalk that is officially public property, the preacher man is back.  Security can’t throw him off campus for trespassing unless he steps off the sidewalk, so now that he knows the rules, he has been coming for several days to proclaim loudly, at a booming volume, for 4 or 5 hours at a time, that all the college students, and probably most of the faculty and staff as well, are in league with Satan and are going to hell.

He rants and rails against the sinners, angrily proclaiming Christ’s unconditional love for them as long as they accept Jesus and get saved.  Wait… isn’t that a condition?  And the anger doesn’t feel like love.  This is confusing.

I wonder if he has ever converted one single solitary person to Christianity using these methods.  Usually what ends up happening is students gather around, a few outspoken ones start debating him, some clever students bring out a bible to quote back to this man.  One student made a sign that says “You’re doing it wrong.  Signed, God.”

A pastor friend of mine from the church just across the street from me, caddy corner to the screaming man, has written a few blog entries entreating these yelling Christians to stop hurting the Christian faith with their antics.  It’s not helping anyone know Christ and it gives other more gentle or loving Christians a bad name. You could even say this preacher man is driving people away from Christ.

jesus_cat-hugSometimes I imagine going out there and giving this angry man a hug.  Telling him that Jesus must have been a very loving and compassionate man, joyful, uplifting and inspiring to be around – not angry and yelling about fear and damnation.  But then I reconsider – I don’t really want to go out and oppose this man so set in his ways that he can yell for hours at full throttle, surrounded by students who are merely entertained.  I don’t really want to try to convert this man who is so set on converting me.  So, I simply send him some quiet love and pray that he will one day open his heart to love all of humanity like Christ does and allow the love of God to truly touch his soul.

It’s funny, because as I was walking back from lunch, before this man returned to his sidewalk soapbox, I was thinking about how hard it is to be Pro-Unity without being Anti anything. Then I read the post from my friend Meyla about how there is no right or wrong, and then the yelling started.

So, if there is no right or wrong – how do I hold that position to be the truth?  How do I tell people who think there IS right and wrong that they are… wrong?

How do I hold the Unity of All Religions, that there is only ONE God and God is loving us through all religions, and that ALL people are included in that Unity, when this man’s religion has him screaming at the top of his lungs that his way is the ONLY way and everyone else is going to hell.  How do I include his religion in my Unity?

We have talked about this in our Unity & Peace meetings.   We are FOR Peace, but that doesn’t mean we are ANTI military.  As long as we live in a society that is choosing to create war and armed conflict, the people who are serving in our military deserve only the deepest compassion, care and support.  I can’t imagine what they go through.  So, we are collecting items for a local veterans club to make into care packages for our troops for the holidays – sending our love and prayers for peace to those who need it most.

unityBut I find this whole concept of Unity and Oneness hard to navigate in this world of polarities.  And I’m not quite sure what is the “right” way to go about it all (see what I mean?  For there to be a right way, there has to be a wrong way, right?).

I notice that several times in my writing I am responding to something that I disagree with – like today with the screaming man on the sidewalk, or Monday with the karma, or last week with the crazy parts of the bible that are simply unjust, or a few weeks ago when the meditation instructor said “the mind isn’t designed to be in harmony with the soul.”  It’s not that I’m trying to make anyone wrong, I’m not wanting to exclude anyone from the love, peace and happiness I am writing about, I’m just trying to classify or describe what I’m feeling.  As my old English professor might have called it: compare and contrast.  But how do I compare and contrast without making “the other” less than or wrong or in fact, “other”?  Isn’t the whole point that I’m trying to make with my comparison and contrast that we are all One?  It all gets a bit confusing.

How do I speak up for what feels true to me, how do I stand up to injustice and oppression while staying in Unity Consciousness?  How do I oppose the violence of poverty or racism, sexism and homophobia without having an “enemy?”  How do I promote a sense of Unity and understanding between all cultures, religions and peoples without playing into the polarity, without saying – you’re wrong Mr. Preacherman, we are not going to hell and Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan and the Dalai Lama are closer to Christ than you feel to me to be, even though they are not even Christians.

DALAI LAMASo, this is my conundrum.  How can I be pro-Unity without judging those who are anti-unity as stupid or ignorant or wrong?? How can I be pro-Unity without being anti-anti-Unity?  I really don’t know.  Maybe I need to keep looking to Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan and the Dalai Lama as they all seemed to have grasped this much better than I do.

Ah – now I remember.  Amma has already given me the answer to this circular dilemma – Lokaha Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.  Whenever I am caught up in a spiral spiritual question that the dual mind cannot quite comprehend, just come back to is this consciousness.  Thank you.  May All Beings in All the Worlds Be Peaceful and Happy!