Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Longing For God

September 6, 2017

I stretch out my hands toward you, longing for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143)

In today’s readings, there was this teaching from 13th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart, “The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love.”

So many of us miss out on this life of being filled, set aflame as he says, with God’s love. 

Where I live, and probably where most of you live, the dominant teaching is to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The typical meaning is to tell people that you acknowledge Jesus and agree with the teachings of whatever group you did that statement of belief.

And with that statement of belief, that’s all you need. Life is changed. Everything is beautiful.

They miss the rest of the teachings of Paul (see Roman after Chapter 8, for example). The parts like “work out your faith in fear and trembling.” 

Do we even use the word “longing” any more? It means wanting something so much that you feel a pain deep in your guts. Even more than wanting that new big pickup truck. Even more than that large house. Even more than that attractive person you just met.

When we stop at just repeating the words, we miss out on life–what Jesus kept talking about and John repeated in his Gospel. Abundant life. Filled with the love of God.

And like flames, to carry on Eckhart’s metaphor, they need to be rekindled and refreshed constantly, fed with new fuel. We do that by reading spirit-infused writing and contemplation and singing.

Christianity Is Not Found Useful

July 18, 2017

Young people do not find Christianity useful. 

Scanning my Twitter feed and saw that tweet.

First thought–this sounds like a recycled news item that pops up every few years. Young people have been abandoning the church for generations.

But the writer didn’t say church, he said Christianity.

Is that the same thing?

The term useful is intriguing.

Maybe in terms of a church… It’s perhaps a place to meet people and be with people.

But maybe at 20 you’re thinking that those are not the type of people I’d like to meet. Perhaps not cute, or fun, or smart? Maybe not useful for meeting friends and a future spouse?

Maybe at 30, I’m thinking about contacts for getting ahead in business or my profession? Maybe not useful for that?

Maybe they are so young that they have not experienced a spiritual crisis, yet. Or they haven’t recognized that they are searching for something undefined.

Or maybe, they have. And they can’t find a church more interested in people than they are in politics.

Not being there on that personal level when a person is seeking spiritually or in spiritual need (which in reality we all are) is a failure of the church far too often. 

Church as a social place or political place, well, that’s bound to turn people off.

Church as the embodiment of Christianity–now that’s useful. Useful because it helps people. 

A half-hour ago, I had only the idea with no idea where it would lead. Then, much like how Jesus would take a physical concept and move it into a spiritual concept, I let the idea take me from the absurd to the spiritual.

When You Greet Someone, Do You Acknowledge Them

July 13, 2017

You are walking and meet someone you know. “Hi, how’s it going?” you greet them.

Do you care how it’s going for them?

Maybe, sort of. What if they stop and truly answer that question? How deep did you mean the greeting to go?

The greetings I was taught in both German and French are basically the same meaning.

Many of us as Christians are introduced to the Hebrew word Shalom from the Bible. We are taught that it means “peace” in English.

Steve Carter, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, last week was unpacking the meaning of the word and the nuances and meanings deeper than peace as the absence of conflict.

He was shocked on his first trip to Israel when people greeted him with Shalom. He asked about it.

This is an ancient word in the language. It has deep connotations of spiritual awareness of the other person, a greeting encompassing completeness, wholeness, the deep peace that Jesus and Paul also discussed.

I teach Yoga. We use the ancient greeting (as both “hi” and “good-bye”) Namaste (nah’-ma-stay). In the ancient Sanskrit, it also has spiritual connotations recognizing the spirit of the other person and the wholeness of God and people.

Of course, sometimes it is just “hi” or “bye”.

It all depends upon the attitude of the greeter. What is our attitude as we greet people. Are we greeting respectfully recognizing the other as another child of God? Or just a meaningless, quick “hi”?

Father, Son, and Holy Bible

June 28, 2017

The Trinity for many of us–Father, Son, and Holy…Bible.

Have you ever talked about spiritual things with Christians with any of a variety of “literalist” beliefs and seen them become quite uncomfortable? Or a spiritual world? Or a spiritual life?

Steve Carter, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, had been speaking about his upbringing with emphasis on the Bible and no mention of the Spirit. I stole the title of the post from him.

He is teaching a series called Cultivate, and its theme seems to be cultivating the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I blame a lot of the emphasis on strictly Bible reading (see yesterday”s post pondering a statement of Jesus about searching the scriptures in vain for eternal life) on the rise of rationalism in 17th Century Europe. The East has its own tradition of rationalism.

Emotionalism is not the answer. Any psychologist will tell you that giving in to emotions and living a life on an emotional roller-coaster is self-destructive.

But life in the spirit. The fruit of which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

What is to be feared by living like those describe?

God? I Don’t Believe, I Know

June 15, 2017

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud who thought the “master” had gone off on a wrong track (imagine that!), was asked toward the end of his life of exploring the human inner world if he believed in God after all that.

“Believe? No, I don’t believe. I know.”

Listening to a communicator yesterday during my workout, I realized that I don’t touch on the Spirit much in these meditations.

A long line of spiritual seekers exists who wrote something of their journeys for those of us who followed. These are comforting writings for other seekers who have experienced God. It makes us feel like we are part of a large family not psychological outliers.

Some people believe in God, but deep within they are not sure.

Some people believe in propositions that they are taught–sort of like believing that (a + b = c) is the same thing as (b + a = c).

The trouble with believing propositions comes when someone you meet was taught a different proposition. Now what? Political warfare?

But if you have experienced God and attempt to live in the Spirit–well then, you are part of a community, and it changes your life, your personality, your relationships.

Disrupted by Power of the Wrong Kind

April 24, 2017

Recommended reading–The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.  It is a conversation held in 2015 when Archbishop Desmond Tutu traveled to India to meet with old friend the Dalai Lama.

The Book of Joy

Both men had know much suffering in their lives. Yet, the spirituality of each shines through.

What most got to me was toward the end of the book during a description of a celebration for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. Children from the local Tibetan school presented their stories of escape from Communist China.

It struck me that people everywhere just want to live their lives. Work, worship, dance.

Yet there exist everywhere men (almost always men) who seek power (political mostly) over people. They want to tell them what to do. To obey them. Exert power over the daily lives of people.

Even in America there exists a movement since 1979 where a group of men decided to try to turn American Christians into political activists–of course in support of their causes of telling people how to live.

And that movement has somewhat succeeded. It has ruptured Christianity in America, splitting churches, separating friends. All in the name of politics.

At least, for the most part, we don’t shoot each other. Yet.

Then I think of the moment of realization when I came to knowledge of what Jesus meant by turning the world upside down. He lived in one of those power hungry eras. The Romans were quite brutal.

Study Jesus. He said time after time that he came to turn that power relationship on its head. The leader washes the feet of the follower. A powerful example in his own life of that new power relationship.

We give power to the Spirit. We use the power from the spirit we receive in return to help people live better. Now, that’s a vision.

Spirituality Is Part Of Life

March 27, 2017

“You should be on that committee, not me,” the man told me, “you’re more spiritual.”

That confused me. What made him think that?

Why is someone considered spiritual?

Because they read the Bible? Even atheists can do that. Scholars who have no religious orientation can do that.

Because they work on church committees or even just go to church? Many people just show up. We all know people on committees who just show up–occasionally. Maybe the body is present, but the mind?

Maybe they just seem different from other people?

“Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that spirituality is a separate department of life, the penthouse of existence. But rightly understood, it is a vital awareness that pervades all realms of our being…”

I’m currently reading The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred In Daily Life by Brother David Steindl-Rast.

He pointed out this thought at the beginning of one chapter.

Being spiritual does not necessarily mean otherworldly. The spirit is part of life–infusing the physical body, incorporating the mind, yet also pointing toward something beyond–God.

The apostle Paul talked about considering our bodies as Temples to God. A temple was the place where the people’s god (gods) lived. It’s an important place.

Therefore, we should take care of the body. And the mind.

As for being “spiritual…”, maybe he just thought that I thought about God more often. Or that I could pray in public (many people are too shy or insecure to do that). Or that back then I was quiet. Aren’t quiet people more spiritual, after all?

The point is that  we can all be “spiritual.” Just let the spirit infuse our bodies and life.

Anger And Bitterness Disappears Before The Fragrance of Humility

March 8, 2017

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. –Zen proverb

Enlightenment. The direct experience of God.

I began meditating some 45 years ago with the goal of enlightenment. This meditation became known as Centering Prayer promulgated by Father Thomas Keating among others at the time.

Then I began exploring the Desert Fathers and came across John Climacus and his work, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.”

These writers and mystics went beyond enlightenment in a way. What they worked diligently on was bringing our entire life before God. Later, Richard J. Foster (“Celebration of Discipline“) called it the With-God life.

John Climacus wrote, “The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.”

There are people who seem to exist only to stir up those hearts, blow up those unclean winds.

Notice that John considers anger something that binds us, imprisons us.

He continues (this is Step 8 on the Ladder of Divine Ascent, by the way), “Just as darkness retreats before light, so all anger and bitterness disappears before the fragrance of humility.”

Humility–putting others before us in our attitude and awareness. When we leave behind being so wrapped up in ourselves and begin to consider others, then we have taken a step with-God.

The Zen proverb tells us that enlightenment is good, but we still have to live out our  lives every day. John Climacus is one of those guides who can help us.

Wanna Get Away?

February 16, 2017

“Wanna get away?” –Airline commercial, when you’ve done something embarrassing 

We’ve done it. All of us. Yes, you, too.

Said something stupid. Walked into a door. Walked around with the zipper on our pants down.

Or, maybe deeper. Alienated people who were close to us. Or we feel alienated by others. We’re alone.

Yes, we want to get away. Let’s just hop on that big ol’ jet liner. Carry me so far away.

Maybe we’ve gotten ourselves into some sort of gerbil wheel of busyness. We go harder, faster, longer and can’t get out of the cage.

We want to get away.

Monasteries and convents around the world have programs, brochures even, for people who want to escape for a spiritual retreat.

Do you think that seven days of silence will fix that ache inside?

Not if you return to the same old scene.

Religious communities from the time when they began have known that there are two types of people who seek to enter:

  1. Those who have a spiritual life and wish to deepen it; and
  2. Those who want to get away from something or someone.

Tip: that second type doesn’t make it.

First, take steps to get your life in order. Like Jesus told us, if we’re on our way to church and remembe we have a grudge against someone we know, stop, turn around, go to the person, make things right, then go to church.

Quit that job. Soon. Quickly.

Sit quietly with just yourself. No distractions. Fifteen minutes a day. Then thirty. How about an hour a day? Meditate.

If you can do that, then one of those retreats will deepen your spirit.

Prepare your heart before all else. Begin now.

Watch What’s On Your Mind

February 13, 2017

There are three types of people. 

I know, there are supposed to be two. But I go with the philosophy when life gives you a choice take both…and.

The apostle Paul was struggling to define the difference between those who follow the Law and those who live in the spirit.

I was struggling to explain Paul.

Then it hit me. Paul is actually saying (for example in Romans 6) what even to him ancient thinkers and spiritual seekers had discovered–

You become what you think about.

Some people, who knows why, are rule followers. “Give me a set of rules,” they say, “and I’ll know how to act.” Oh, by the way, and also I’ll know my place on the totem pole versus other people. It becomes easy to compare. In fact, it’s almost essential to compare. Then you know you’re better than the rest.

Some people reject all rules (they think). “I want to be free” is their theme song. “I won’t let no stinking rules tie me down,” they say.

What they don’t realize is that they are not free. Even economists have finally discovered what we all know–we do not make rational economic choices. Six months later we’re saying, “Why did I buy that?” Or, why did I date him (her)? Or, why did I let my anger (jealousy, sexual urge, revenge) control me?

Where your mind is, so shall you go.

The rule follower keeps saying, “I will not covet,” “I will not covet”, “I will not covet.”

What are they thinking about? Right, coveting.

The person living in the spirit may not even know the meaning of the word covet. But, they say, “I will help the next person I meet,” “and the next”, and so on. They say, “I will keep my mind focused on God and on others.”

You shall love the Lord your God…, and your neighbor as yourself.

Like so many truths in life. This is both simple and hard at the same time.