Tag Archives: religion

Sifting and Seeking Truth

“This above all: to thine own self be true…”
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet

But strive first for the realm of God and God’s righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.

– Jesus’ Teaching, Matthew 6:33

Above Palisades 3How can we talk to each other about what we know to be Sacred? I’m often at a loss for knowing how to connect with others because our spiritual understandings vary so widely.

Perhaps we have a particular tradition in common or spiritual teacher, master, guru, or writer whom we may reference and point towards. We may point to inspirational stories, words that have offered comfort, or a moral guideline which we feel is essential and then we can discuss our similarities and differences, doubts and confusion. More often, though, we have widely varying beliefs and have few people to talk to about these things. The teachings we bump into are all over the map.

Each of us has our own way of “knowing” and understanding, we each have different life experiences, different levels of openness to new thought and differing barriers or obstacles. At a certain point we reach an impasse with, well, everyone – unless we value unquestioning faith and blind trust. There is probably no one person who believes exactly as we do.

My ultimate Guide is an internal one, connected to Spirit. We each are born with a sort of inner GPS which helps us to navigate and find our way. Another metaphor that might be more helpful is that of an “inner filter.”

We take a particular story, lesson, or belief and pass it through the interior filter. For instance, though I have studied religion, philosophy, and spirituality in great depth, all of those classes and each of those teachings have to first pass through this filtration system before any material makes it into my archive of Truth (and truth today is not always truth for tomorrow). Words, beliefs, moral standards must pass through the following filters:

  • Who is telling me this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching? Are they a person of wisdom and integrity? Or innocence and truth? Are they without guile, self-interest or bias? The scriptural phrase that comes to mind is, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Is the source of the information a truly good/wise/truthful one?
  • How does this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching interact with my foundational beliefs? (Beliefs such as, “Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Or “Do no harm to yourself or others.” Or “Treat others as you would wish to be treated.”) Does it promote goodwill and well-being for all or does it promote harm/oppression/injustice/rigidity/ selfishness/fear (etc.)? Note: Some of our ancient religious teachings don’t meet this standard. Just because it made sense in one time and setting, does not mean it unquestioningly applies today. The Sacred calls us to keep filtering.
  • Then – perhaps the most subjective of filters – does this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching contain an essence of Living Spirit, God, Highest Consciousness or my Higher Power as I define that Power? Does it resonate with my experience of that Spirit/God/Consciousness/Power in my life? Perhaps we are presented with dogma or rules or beliefs that are part of a religious, moral or political tradition that don’t meet the highest values or truth of this same tradition. We must set those inferior or untrue teachings aside. Perhaps there is a layer of truth, but other false teachings have been added to it, then we must sort this out. Does it align with the One we seek prayerful guidance from?

P1010132

My mind keeps turning away from spirituality to the world of politics as I’m writing because this filtering process obviously applies there, too. But my primary purpose today is to talk about our spiritual growth process – mine and yours. This bright light of spiritual truth, once filtered, is the beacon we need to shine on social, political, relational situations as we seek the right path.

I don’t know about you, but I am easily distracted from spiritual growth. That’s not a problem though, because if the distraction grows and I ignore my path, I become so miserable that I’m forced to return. This has been the basic road map of my spiritual walk. Hopefully, you’re not as easily set off-course as I am.

Once we are on our path, here are some basics:

  • Spend time connecting to Living Spirit every day, and seek to sustain that connection throughout the day.
  • See everything that comes your way as an avenue of spiritual learning and growth, whether you’re cleaning the kitchen, fixing the car, meditating on a mountaintop, listening to an upsetting political speech, or sitting in a dull meeting.
  • Stay with those deep Truths, the ones that have lifted you again and again from the muck and mire of life. Stay with what you know from your own experience to be true. When it becomes blurry, seek the guidance of Spirit and of trusted friends and mentors.
  • Send everything (including your own beliefs) through the filtration system.
  • Soak in the Love and Light of Spirit as often as you can – through whatever avenues lift you (silence, music, nature, prayer, writing, companionship, play, creativity, and so on).
  • Give thanks for every small or large miracle, gift or grace in your life. Share these stories with yourself and others again and again. Gratitude and joy are close companions.
  • When all else fails, start over with the first step (return to your Source).

P.S. Moving out of the purely spiritual realm and going back to politics – to be clear and not vague: If all of this light, love and filtration is applied to the teachings of Neo-Nazis (or traditional Nazis), or to the teachings of the KKK, obviously these land in the “rejected beliefs” pile. Right??? I’ve been reminded again lately that it is our job to share love and light AND to speak up for others who are the objects of hatred or injustice, even when it seems too obvious to need articulating. To be passive is to passively agree or accept the words of haters. In the process above LOVE WINS everytime!

P1010035-001

Back to Basics: Who do we stand with?

“Speak for those who cannot speak;
seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction.”
– Proverbs 31:8 (ISV)

interfaith-symbols

Everybody has their point of reference – a family, a community from which they discover their perspective. Sometimes we stay the same as our original family or group; other times, our perspectives are reactions against the way we’ve been raised; and sometimes we take what our families have given us and put our own spin on it. For the most part, I’m in the latter category. (Image source: http://www.peacemonger.org)

Lately, the world has been dividing itself into categories. So, who do you identify with? What categories do you fall in? Mine are:

+ Progressive Christian
+ Interfaith spirituality/eclectic Universalist beliefs
+ According to a conservative definition, I think I fall into the “hippie” category (which is somewhat hilarious – a truly boring hippie)
+ Feminist (prayerfully, peacefully, lovingly)
+ Nature lover/environmentalist (with some realism, some idealism)
+ Celebrate diverse humanity – I believe we are better humans when we embrace lots of differences – racial diversity, age diversity, ethnic diversity, diverse expressions of gender and sexual preferences, diversity of body size/shape, religious diversity and so on and so forth….

I could go on, but you get the picture. So, when certain groups are targeted and under fire, who do you stand up with and for?  What kind of oppression and persecution gets you so riled up that you get off your couch and march/make a phone call/write a letter/join a group?

As a long-time person of faith, a progressive Christian minister, the go-to phrases that come to mind during times of crisis are well known: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Judeo-Christian tradition is filled with reminders to never oppress, always to welcome “foreigners” or strangers, because we were once strangers ourselves. And there is that lovely passage from the old King James bible, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2) I believe this is reminding us that there is God-light in every person and we dare not turn away people based on our own fear of differences – we have no idea how precious that person is to the Divine (or how sacred to others).

So, I guess I arrive at a place where my job is to stand up to oppressors for any human being who is being unjustly treated. Of all the values taught in each world religion and for anyone claiming to be Christian, the highest value is Love. To use the words of Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or any of our great spiritual leaders to do harm or to persecute is the greatest perversion of the Truth. So, we must revive an old saying and, “Speak the Truth to Power with Love.” Say it, sing it, paint it, dance it, mail it, phone it, sculpt it, shout it. But do it for love (not anger or hate). Stand up.

we-all-belong-here-poster

Note: Downloadable poster or coloring book may be found here.

Spiritual Journeying in Northern California

It was already late/ enough, and a wild night, / and the road full of fallen / branches and stones. / But little by little, / as you left their voices behind, / the stars began to burn / through the sheets of clouds, / and there was a new voice / which you slowly recognized as your own, / that kept you company / as you strode deeper and deeper / into the world, / determined to do / the only thing you could do – / determined to save / the only life you could save.                                            – from Mary Oliver, The Journey

Here’s a quick and somewhat disjointed reflection on my first week of study in interfaith spiritual direction at Chaplaincy Institute, Berkeley:

Last week at this time, the Campanile on the Cal Berkeley campus would be chiming 7:00 p.m. It would just be starting to turn cool and, from my “holy hill” window, I might see the marine layer of fog forming in the distance. The memory provides a stark contrast to the dry 106 degree weather-reality this evening, here in Bakersfield.

What a rich week of experience, learning and “being.” I wasn’t sure if I would love the course or hate it. My reaction to things like this tend not to be “in the middle”! Upon arriving at the funky, comfortable classroom – located in a section of a church gymnasium with a wood floor, large worn rug and numerous worn couches – I had the chance to encounter my fellow classmates for the first time.

We didn’t waste much time before sharing and listening to one another – practicing the skills of listening with open hearts and minds. We began to discover that our fellow journeyers were fascinating folks. The conversations that ensued falls under the veil of solemn sharing – so I won’t recount much in the way of anecdotes. But the diversity of my fellow students – from traditional Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic to Unitarian, Wiccan, Jewish, and Buddhist – was powerful. Not that such variety is unusual, but that such openness and respect from all these varied directions is rare indeed.

Each student was open to learning from the others and from the speakers who shared with us. During this first unit we heard from a Wiccan high priestess, a Daoist priest, and a Hindu Swami. As a group, we “sampled” some of each tradition so that spoken word became sacred experience. This, for me, is part of the wonder and excitement of being a part of this process.

We also, as I said, began to learn some of the skills we will employ as “spiritual directors” or spiritual mentors, and guides. I was glad to hear our instructor say that the historic and traditional term “spiritual direction” is problematic because what we do is largely non-directional. To me, that was great news!

Our time with clients is about “deep and mindful listening.” The spiritual (non-) director’s most important job is to hold space for the other person as he or she encounters the sacred or explores mystical energies. We are here to witness and accompany the other on the journey.

It was also affirming to discover that each of us seems to have gifts and experiences that have prepared us to do this. For many of us, our spiritual experience has been our lifeline through life’s challenges and trials.

By carefully opening doors and removing the barriers, we begin to embark upon this journey together. We get ourselves out of the way and let the mystical encounter begin.

I love being a part of a small group of people who have chosen to make this experience, study and practice a part of our growth over the next eighteen months. We are chaplains, therapists, hospice volunteers, clergy, artists and ordinary human beings on spiritual journeys. We are wise, foolish, whole, wounded, veterans and beginners. But we each share openness to experiencing the Divine, the sacred, the energy that vibrates through the universe. Who knows where it will take us?

May the unfolding begin….