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Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Vision

This morning I saw a vision of a line as it joined ends to form a circle. At each end was the extreme of a continuum, such as the left and the right.

As they joined to form one circle, I could see the same descriptors for what had been both ends of the line. That is, the extremes produced, or could be defined by, the same words: hatred of those who disagree, hubris, lack of critical thinking, a true believer emotionality, harshness, lack of compassion, lack of love for the other even to violence against the other.

As my eye moved away from the joining point of the circle, I saw that all the way to the 180' point on the circle on both sides the words matched until they merged into a wholly new place. At this opposite side of the circle there were opposite descriptors: interest in understanding others and finding common ground, humility, active critical thinking, self control with wisdom reigning, kindness, compassion, love even to those still at the extremes.

It seems today many are at the extremes or close to them in politics and religion particularly. Because of modern technology, this could be dangerous at many levels. The obvious danger, of course, is nuclear and biological war which has the potential of wiping out most of life, or maybe all, on this planet.

But there is another kind of danger that could also be devastating. That is religious extremism, whether it is violent to others, as the terrorists, or violent to our sensibilities, as medieval and earlier understandings that defy 21st century knowledge.

Much historical study has placed spiritual stories in the context in which they were born. Bronze age people (and really anyone up until the birth of modern science) cannot be expected to know modern science. People didn't know about mental illness, so they spoke of demons. They didn't know about various skin problems, so they called them all leprosy. They didn't know astronomy or weather science or gynocology. The obvious explanation to them was God did it, whatever it was.

Without historical, anthropological, scientific and philosophic scrutiny, much of what fundamentalist points of view include are looked upon as ridiculous. So we see people leaving "organized" religions. They often say something like "I'm spiritual but not religious."

 I think we need to seek deeper meaning and experience in our traditions and update them so they no longer insult our intelligence.

It has been said that the word "God" for most people has no content because their religion is secondhand. They take what others say, but they don't put in the effort to meditate, study, and come to know firsthand. I think that is the place to start.

Thursday, February 21, 2019


The Buddhist idea of emptiness has been rolling around my thoughts this morning. As I understand it, the mind is not just empty but open and receptive to the new, the changing dance of life. It intersects, I think, with various forms of meditation, not just Zen. The idea has been understood by Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart and recent Christian teachers of Contemplative Prayer.

I have known people whose minds are so full that there is no space for a new idea. Some minds are like a hoarder's house, packed to the rafters with junk. These are the know it alls - my mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts.

I have known people who don't want to think through things, so they take the word of others. It has been said the word God has no content unless one has an experience of God, of the Holy. Many people have a second hand religion filled with words that have no content for them.

It occurs to me that the scope of things is infinite, so it is impossible to know all. It might be best to be still/empty and give God space to enter. Fill the word God with content by opening to the experience of God.

Teach me to be still. Lead me to emptiness. Create in me a place for You.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Higher Forms of Prayer

In preparing for my presentation tomorrow at United Methodist Women, I've been reading Jeanne-Marie Guyon material. (each month I speak on a different historical Christian woman)  She lived in France from 1648 to 1717. She wrote books and taught after she became a widow. You can look her up, but I want to focus in this post on a bit of her ideas on prayer:
There are two means by which we may be led into the higher forms of prayer. One is Meditation and the other Meditative Reading. By meditative reading I mean the taking of some truths, either doctrinal or practical — the latter rather than the former — and reading them in this way: 
Take the truth which has presented itself to you, and read two or three lines, seeking to enter into the full meaning of the words, and go on no farther as long as you find satisfaction in them; leave the place only when it becomes insipid. After that, take another passage, and do the same not reading more than half a page at once. It is not so much from the amount of reading that we derive profit as the manner of reading.

We might call this Lectio Divine or Divine Reading, which I adore.

Context is essential in understanding almost anything, any time or any person. There she was in a seemingly impossible context - imagine the horrified men who indignantly asked what made a woman of all things think she was capable of teaching men? I love it when people rise about their prescribed roles, one of my favorites is Hildegard of Bingen. So Madam Guyon is another heroine to me.

Her ideas of the two primary ways to higher prayer are meditation and meditative reading and are in agreement with my experience. Ordinary prayer of many people is something like a list to Santa Claus - give me this, give my friend that, etc. Mystics usually end up saying something like Thy Will be done. 

Meditation is the stilling of the mind with various techniques from mantras to focusing on one's breath. It is the stilling of the background noise, the yaya, the judgments, the stream of nonsense that runs in the background of many people's lives. It is the negative soundtrack of one's life. I often say that in order to hear the wee small voice, we have to turn off our noise.

Meditative reading is a big part of my spiritual practice. Officially it is recommended that we randomly open a book of scripture or some spiritually oriented book, read until a line grabs us, savor it, reread it several times. Be still and let it roll around in your mind, maybe one word at a time. Then write in our journals whatever comes to mind. The whole process is maybe 5 minutes. Mme. Guyon suggests a longer reading, up to half a page, and as long as it takes. I think both ways are useful. The idea is that Spirit leads us to deeper understanding of the passage, and helps us to sort of mine it for new and varied ways to understand. There are many ways to look at, to understand, everything.

Let's practice. Read the verse slowly a couple of times. Read each word and be still with it for a moment, then go on to the next, etc.:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God

I know that if you do this meditative prayer, you will nestle into God in new and surprising ways. You'll not be the same. Your understanding will expand and deepen. I urge you to add this practice into your daily devotions if it is not already there. Godspeed.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Pregnant With Possibilities

In each moment there lies an abundance of possibilities that await the touch of our choice to come to life. We choose to turn right or to turn left or go straight or turn around. Each has a package of different gifts packed inside. Each contains different experiences, different people, different lessons, different memories.

Our choice cuts off other choices and their gifts. We decide one thing and that choice decides against the gifts in all other possible choices available in that moment. A different school, a different church, a different set of friends, a different city, etc makes for a different life. The details are different anyway.

But maybe our overarching life is not all that different. Maybe our soul lessons are addressed with any choice. Maybe the great spiritual lessons can be learned inspite of our choices. In any spot on earth we can learn to love, to forgive, to experience The More.

Some choices may make our soul lessons more challenging, difficult, even ugly. If we choose to go down a dark and evil path, it is harder and more painful to find out spiritual way out of the dark valleys. But then, a seemingly society approved life may also be a challenging way to find our soul's  lessons and learn them. There we may be seduced by ego and its minions.

For me, a pile of anxiety drops away as I realize that all paths contain The Way. By choosing this or that city, for example, the details of my life will differ, but my soul lessons are there awaiting me. God is there. In all of the many places I've visited The More was there and I grew and learned and became clearer about my life.

Let us take the raw materials of this day and be open to The More. Today, here and now let us live a flowing love, offer a forgiving heart, and be alert to experience More. This day is pregnant with possibilities. As Paul said, seize the day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


I ponder from time to time the phenomenon we call conscience, our inner guide, that voice that says "No, wrong." What is this thing?

There are so many values, to which does our own conscience respond? What one thinks wrong another thinks right, or it is right here but wrong there, so the standards appear relative. Murder is wrong except when the government or tribe says kill the enemy. In one part of the world it is wrong for a woman to show her ankle or hair and unthinkable for her to be educated. In the West that is wrong and the opposite is right.

There has been debate about how we attain our conscience. Are we born with it? Are we socialized into it? Does it enter with spirituality? Is it a tiny seed within us that has to be encouraged? Is it influenced by past lives? Is there even a standardized list of right and wrong for our conscience to listen to or ignore?

What is it in us that cringes and shouts within "WRONG!" And why does it shout that to different people in opposite directions?

It is mysterious.

Lord, attune my conscience to You. Lead me to live as You would have me live. Keep me aware of Your nudges, and fill me with the courage and faith to follow Your calls.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Earthling Only?

Science has been shattering to religion, but not, I propose, to spirituality.

Our bodies, for example, are made of earth, are a carbon compound, as I learned in organic chemistry. BUT, let us explore more.

This clod of clay is animated very unlike the clay beneath our feet. It moves, it dances, it jumps. It transform over and over again, from baby to adult, from sick to well, from thin to fat, all maintaining an unique identity with no two of our bodies exactly alike. The earth beneath our feet does none of that as far as I can tell.

It houses our souls. There is that more of us that feels and thinks and chooses and cares and loves and laughs and cries and quests. That more of us has throughout all time sought The More, The Divine, The Connection. Most of us have at least touched the fringes of The More- in a redwood forest, in the eyes of the newborn, in moments of prayer.

We seek, we quest, we somehow deep within know there is God. We hunger for spiritual food, spiritual connection. It is part of us as we walk into life with courage and curiosity.

Since the dawn of modern science, churches have declined, numbers way down each year, buildings sold, hymnals scrapped. This, in my opinion and experience, is not because spiritual yearning is down, but it is primarily because much of theology  does not lead to God. It was not designed to do so by the men who made it up. It was made to control and to use the people. Read church history by historians to see for yourself.

We don't need to throw out spiritual community, we need to throw out our ridiculous theology. Scatter a little common sense/critical thinking on most theology and it either evaporates into the nothingness from whence it came or shows us a kernel of Truth that has been obscured by the twisted ideas of ignorant or malicious men.

As we look around this world, for anyone paying attention, it is easy to see spiritual angst is rampant.  I propose it is time for an awakening, a fresh look at spirituality.  We need new pathways to find the sacred moments that take us into living fully in The Presence, with The More. We need to live spiritually, we yearn for God.

I come to this day ready to be Awake, ready to seek, ready to know You. I fearlessly let go of nonsensical ideas attached to You, God, and am ready to  live my life knowing whatever I do, wherever I go, You are with me. I step into The More...

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Valleys

Oh the valleys we walk! There is something about life on this planet that requires deep valleys, challenging times, deep crevices to try our souls.

Perhaps they are tests, checking to see what we really believe and how fully we believe. If we say one thing, but act out of another when tough times come, it cannot be said we actually believe our own words.

Say we declare that we are called to love unconditionally because Judaism and Christianity both insist on it in the Torah and in the New Testament. Jesus said the greatest commandment that fulfills all is Love. If we really believe this, we live this. People watching us live our lives know we believe in love for they observe us living love, regardless of circumstances.

But if we are quick to anger, render speedy judgments on others, pour hostility upon those who disagree with us, gossip, lay any harm upon another, it cannot be said we live or even understand the commandment to Love.

So too with the totality of our lives. We ask ourselves, am I congruent, consistent? Are my words and deeds of one cloth? As I observe myself,  does my life reflect what I say I believe? When valleys come, as they do, am I still living lovingly?

As I watch in horror the celebrity class, the ruling classes in government and wealth, and the famous of any ilk, declare they are  followers of Jesus or Moses or Mohammad, yet behave in shameful ways, I weep.

I cannot say that I am a follower of Jesus and behave other than how he taught. I cannot use a valley as an excuse. Indeed, I cannot use any excuse. I must strive through thick and thin to be as loving, kind, forgiving, generous hearted and caring as I possibly can be. I may falter, but I must brush myself off and strive again. It is not falling down that is the problem, it is the staying there and not getting back up that is the problem.

If we all tried our best to live in love, oh what a world of would be.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What Is Life?

This morning I awoke with this question on my mind. Maybe it has been the subject of my dreams. Maybe it has been running under the surface of my mind all week as I wrestled and grieved some of the current events.

What is life? Is Life precious? Is it a gift? Is it a mystery? Are we to be good stewards of it? Are we accountable for what we do with ours? Does it come from God?

My answer is "yes."  Some answer "no." Some answered "NO" so loudly this week that I felt as if I had a gut punch and stabbing in my heart at the same time.

Two governors bragged about bills that allowed full term babies to be killed, even during labor. One bragged that the baby could be killed even after birth. News reporters said 7 or more states allow late, late term abortion/murder. Infanticide ran chills throughout my entire being.

Does this (and other signs of violence) signal the fall of Western civilization? Certainly the values that it has been built upon are crumbling. Perhaps the slide of values is related to an array of things such as the decline of churches, the daily violence of television and games and music and movies, social media and its anarchy, the fracturing of the family, addictions and more.

The values of the West have given us  great ideas, great music and art, democracy, the end of slavery, more prosperity for more people than ever before, freedom to become all we are capable of being if we focus and work, charities that are amazingly helpful, care and protection for animals, better and better medical care, etc. As a student of history, I think we have it better now than any other time in history. We have the option of continuing on with the historical positives to ever more positive and inclusive society.

But evil thinking and acting have crept in. It is not only acceptable in some circles, it is admired. People create evil when they forget who they are. Freedom turns to license to do whatever one wants. A frenzy of ugliness leads to dark places.

I am hoping and praying that the good people of earth stand up for goodness and turn away from the lure of violence in all of its forms.

What IS life to you?

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Modern Mobs

For a few days I've been wrestling with a news report. There are different videos, each presenting a different angle. It involves high school kids and two different activist groups. The first video showed the group of teens with one boy standing face to face with an American Indian man beating a drum. He just stood there. There is some discussion he should have walked away, but that's not what happened. The other kids were chanting school chants in rhythm with the drum. Some were wearing Make America Great caps.

What happened next is what deeply  concerns me. News and social media began to pile on verbal attacks aimed at the teenaged boy in particular, but also the whole group. The were attacked as racist, hateful and worse. Social media got horrifying quickly as mob mentality spred. The kids started receiving death threats. One person that shocked me, because she seems so nice in one of my favorite television programs, Project Runway All Stars. wrote the kids should be locked in their school and the school set on fire. I wept. I had a hard time watching the program this week.

Eventually news people apologized, but what goes out on social media stays. And death threats kept coming.

It is crazy. People turn into a mob for minor things when not only are they misinformed or partially informed, but out of  exaggerations that fit their bias. Most of the haters are also haters of our President. The unforgivable crime to them was the hat.

The nature of mobs is that emotions take over, reasoning skills recede, and  energy within the mob feeds on itself, eventually leading to  hysteria and out of control choices. It has been the pattern forever.

But today social media can create a new kind of mob that includes and connects ignorant, angry people people not necessarily in the same geographic area. Social media is impersonal in a way that people feel free to say things they are not likely to say in person.

It was discouraging for me this week. I kept thinking of what Jesus said, do unto others.... and Hillel's converse, whatever you hate, don't do to others.

We'll never get to peace on earth in a mob. Hysteria will lead to ugliness and destruction.