Monthly Archives: July 2013
As I pray for peace tonight, my twenty-two year old grandson leaves home to teach fifth graders in Indonesia for two years. And one of my sons prepares to return to Cambodia for a year, possibly forever, to work with orphans born HIV positive. He has spent one to three months there for several years and loves the children and people of Cambodia. Please join me in praying both for their safety and for them to be peace bearers.
Equally Offensive to All Religions by a Born Again, Baptized in the Spirit, Catholic Mystic, Liberal Presbyterian, Humanitarian Heretic, Loved – though Imperfect – Child of God
Wake up religions! This is not about you. This is about God being in imperfect human lives, all human lives.
No religion has a monopoly on God and no religious institution controls grace.
It’s not about spiritual country clubs, spiritual insurance policies or power.
It’s about human grace filled spiritual encounters with a living God incarnate in every moment, every place, every relationship, every stranger, every struggle, every person.
The church is called to awaken us to them, to pray for us and others to experience them, to encourage and support us in our spiritual journey and to celebrate our encounters of grace with us. But that is all.
Religions are actually obscuring God under their religious baskets by claiming the power to limit and control the human experience of grace. And religions are wasting their gifts by crying out against others instead of shouting out the good news of grace.
Institutions can: tell the world they believe in God; be a witness to the reality of a personal relationship with God through their own love of ALL the children of God; share, nourish, and celebrate others’ relationships with God and one another.
But institutions cannot create, control, deny, or teaspoon grace out according to their own current interpretations of any particular holy writings. That is Hubris, with a capital H.
Religions: Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, etc. etc. etc., YOU ARE NOT GOD. Get over yourselves.
God is bigger than your bread boxes, bigger than your temples, cathedrals, mosques, holy mountains or holy places, bigger than any nation, bigger than any person’s or group’s limited human understanding of any holy writings or rules.
ALL see through the glass darkly. Religions are like the three blind men who each pictured the whole elephant by the small part they personally encountered. None of us has the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because we are NOT God. We are not even close approximations. We do the best we can and seek the grace to do better, but the more we listen to one another, the better our chance of actually recognizing God among us.
The Sacraments are the grace incarnated in our daily lives and our relationships.
The institutional church is there to call us: to recognize, experience and respond to the grace in our lives; to share it with each other; to celebrate it together.
The church celebrations are not the sacraments. God is the sacrament and God just IS. That’s why God’s name is I AM.
IN our tiny imperfect daily lives,
IN our tiny imperfect selves,
IN our relationships,
IN our natural world,
IN the universes and beyond.
IN people and communities witnessing to faith in a God of love/forgiveness through both declaring it and living it (declaring faith and living it are inseparable),
IN individuals, families and communities recognizing the presence of God IN the sharing of our daily bread with others,
IN our responding to the gift of faith by seeking to be pruned and filled by God’s Spirit within us,
IN an ongoing circle of experiencing God’s forgiveness and forgiving others,
IN our acknowledgement of most humans’ need for the grace found in the intimacy of marriage (in the challenge of learning to love another imperfect human being “up close and personal” in a relationship of commitment).
IN witnessing to our faith in the power of God to heal through acknowledging our own need for spiritual and physical healing by both asking others for prayer and by praying for others and being willing to be healed.
Our daily personal encounters with grace are acknowledged in our communal Sacraments: God incarnate in both our personal and communal lives, in our ongoing human need to be forgiven and to forgive, and in our relationships with one another and our world.
To sum up, the heart of the spiritual life is a personal journey of recognizing our human weakness, learning we are loved unconditionally and responding by growing ever more loving of others in the same way. And the heart of unconditional love is forgiveness. No one is perfect. Everyone needs forgiveness and new beginnings all their lives. Truly accepting forgiveness and forgiving others are inseparable. Forgiveness and love are interdependent. You don’t get or give one without the other.
True religion begins with spirituality, which is a personal relationship with God of experiencing being forgiven and loved, so we too can learn to forgive and love. Then and only then does it become communal. If our faith communities are not made up of people with a humble personal relationship with God based on our ongoing needing and receiving forgiveness, our faith communities will become legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, worldly, about pride and power, and then conflict ridden.
Each day we are called to open our hearts and minds to God, to find God’s grace in : a first cup of coffee, morning birdsong and sunlight, star filled skies, storms, fear, beauty, a tearful child, a faithful pet, sharing our daily bread, our own and others’ brokenness, sorrow, joy, forgiving, laughter, loss, love, in every moment, every human experience, every human relationship, in every human being.
I used to believe that good people were perfectly good. Or at the very least, they were headed to it, gathering speed as they aged.
Now, I know a whole lot of nice dead people who never got anywhere near perfect.
Even worse, now that I’m old, I seem to be getting less good each year, or maybe just more obviously not so great.
I’m beginning to think it’s a little like the Velveteen Rabbit story. Our pretty and soft coverings wear thin from the lessons about loving that we get from bumping up against other people.
We begin to look a lot less good or at least a more spotty good, than when we had the energy to fake it,
Freedom has its price and becoming free to be real is expensive.
But when we realize that we can see the door from here, we finally get it:
Only skinny, naked, spotty, worn looking camels, clinging to nothing can make it through that narrow gate.
Ain’t that grand!
I did not manage to pray or meditate on peace exactly last Sunday. But I was praying and working my way through articulating a request for forgiveness from the Elders (Session) in my church. I have been alienated from my church for over two years.
I have prayed and struggled with this the whole time, but only recently saw that I have made choices that increased the mutual estrangement, instead of moving us toward reconciliation.
Several times over my seventy-six years, I have taken offense at what friends said and cut off the relationships. Two particular women, a decade or more older than I was, had done many kind and generous things for me and my family, but unfortunately they said things that hit me where I felt most vulnerable. And I let them literally die without ever saying I was sorry or even telling them why I became alienated.
I realized when beginning to be a part of B4Peace and the Sunday night prayers/chants for peace, that since I have had several small strokes and three clogged arteries in my head recently, I might not get a chance to reconcile, if I postpone saying that I am sorry very long.
Asking to be on the agenda for a Session meeting, sitting waiting for it to begin, feeling like the elephant in the room that nobody was mentioning, trying not to say anything accusatory, just to take responsibility for my part, was just about the hardest thing I ever remember doing.
With some encouragement from our minister, most, maybe all, said that they accepted my apology. But the response was less than warm and no one volunteered any apology for their part in the conflict. By the time I got to my car, I was in danger of getting angry once again. What I realized is, that forgiveness takes one side, reconciliation takes both sides. And that forgiving them was my problem, because forgiving them reconciled me to God. Their being sorry was their problem.
In working through aspects of this estrangement, I have realized that an area of oversensitivity caused by my own inability to admit a weakness, blew everything out of proportion. Admitting to the reality of that particular limit has set me free of a source of fear and defensiveness.
Another outcome of this spiritual struggle has been recognizing how my idealism often gives me a critical spirit. The truth is that God is much more realistic about our human limits than we are. Yes, we aim for the ideal. Yes, we encourage and share insights with others in our spiritual journey. But, at any given time our vision may not be the same as God’s. He/She may have an entirely different agenda. Letting go of our preconceived ideas, at least holding our vision lightly with fingers open, is the only way we will ever hear God and the only way we will ever have peace.
I have already forgotten the source, but a quote helped me at a crucial point in coming to grips with how destructive my unrealistic expectations have been: “Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
I do not tend to see the glass as either half empty or half full. I see it as a challenge. I start imagining possible ways to fill it to overflowing. There have been times that this trait was perfect for my situation/job/project. I was in the right place at the right time with enough resources and talented support people who shared my vision.
But recently , I’ve recognized that the situation I am in now does not have the resources or people with the shared vision. And I cannot accomplish my goals alone, nor should I, even if I could. If God wants it and I’m willing to do whatever, God will supply what else is needed. Otherwise, instead of either trying to force my oughts and shoulds on others or silently judging them as falling short, I need to wait on God. He may know that here and now, a half empty glass is all that is needed to accomplish His purposes, which are more important than my need to feel important or successful or smart or superior.
My wanting to always make everything bigger and better is like having only a hammer, when what may be needed is only a dust cloth.
How peaceful it is to be still and know that He is God, and I am not.
What a gift!
Thank you, God, for setting me free.
Notes from Path and Pen, A weekend conference on writing as spiritual practice.
Created and facilitated by Rabbi Rami Shapiro
God is a verb in Hebrew. God is what’s happening; everything is an expression of God.
God is the ocean, we are the waves.
Ours is narrow mind, God is spacious mind.
The point is transforming consciousness from ego wave to ocean.
Narrow mind is safe and inoffensive, ocean is wild and raw and true.
Wild God is in the wilderness.
Spiritual practice is about learning ways to get out of the way of God’s indwelling Spirit.
We don’t write, we just write it down.
We are not writing what we know, but what we need to know.
Writing is a way of becoming whole.
Writing is a practice, not a hobby.
Kabalah is to receive transformative grace from God.The test is not in altered states, but altered traits. We need grace not to be freed from want, but freed from need. Centering in the present moment can do that.
Spirituality is not a feeling, but a quality of being, the quality of being awake to God present in, with, and as all reality.
In writing, form is not as important as the right intent…..something done for its own sake. When you write simply to write, not to achieve fame, fortune, or even enlightenment, then whatever form you chose has the potential to awaken you to the presence of God.
Quoted from Rami Shapiro, an award winning poet and essayist. He is an ordained rabbi and holds a doctoral degree in religious studies. Two of his recent books are: The Divine Feminine, Annotated and Explained, and The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness.