I’m pretty sure that law and the concept of sin and consequences were created to try to help us live in the groups we need to survive and prosper. Society is a two edged sword. It keeps us from having to do everything for ourselves from fighting off wildlife, planting, harvesting, to creating clothes and shelter, thus giving us time to think, create, explore, and ask questions about the why, not just the how. But, since humanity is a work in progress…..the old adage, that there’s both a goody and a baddy to everything, holds true for society. Society helps us survive physically, but it also challenges us to learn to love.
The commandments were first of all, simply practical. The laws were aimed at keeping us alive, both as individuals and humanity, long enough to become loving. Whatever the Intelligence called God is, that created and nourishes life, it lives within each of us. It is a source of grace to become more loving, than competitive and combative. And we are like cells in a body. Each of us not only affects those closest to us, we affect the whole for better or worse, even the generations following us.
Self-honesty and understanding, rather than guilt, are the beginning of learning to love. And those take courage and grace. The divorce rate makes it obvious we haven’t become enough like Jesus to even love those closest to us, never-the-less those different from us or even “against” us. The commandments are the basic tools of survival for society. But, Jesus showed us the next level through teaching and living the spirituality of the Beatitudes. They call us beyond the fundamentals of the Commandments and just survival. They call us to freedom, the freedom to love others.
Caring is prayer. Prayer is in the intention, whether expressed in words, thoughts, feelings, candles, symbols, acts of kindness, or forgiveness. There is power in prayer. But both wisdom and love are needed to use the power for others, to understand that all creation, without exception, is one.
Jesus is a turning point in humanity’s journey. He fleshed out a love that sacrifices for not only the weakest physically, but the weakest spiritually. This is not survival of the fittest.
His resurrection also illustrated that this life span isn’t all there is. Jesus is the living example of the potential of God’s grace even within our own humanity.
His resurrection shows us death is simply a door to eternity. When we believe this, it gives us a very different value system than death as the finish line. And His openness and love for all show us the way to overcome the finality of death.
The heart of true religion is spirituality. Then and only then can it become communal. If our faith communities are not made up of people with a humble personal relationship with God based on our own ongoing needing and receiving forgiveness, our faith communities will become legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, about pride and power, and ultimately conflict ridden.
The heart of the spiritual life is a personal journey from recognizing our human weakness and failures, then experiencing forgiveness and unconditional love, to an ongoing response to this grace of becoming more and more able to love others in the same way. It’s an ongoing cycle of repentance and grace and growth in the freedom to love.
The heart of unconditional love is forgiveness. No one is perfect. We all need forgiveness and new beginnings throughout our lives. Truly accepting forgiveness and forgiving others are interdependent. And forgiveness and love are inseparable. We can’t accept or give one without the other.
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 darkness, storms, fear, difficult people, beauty, a tearful child, a faithful pet, sharing our daily bread, our own and others’ brokenness, sorrow, joy, forgiving, laughter, loss, love, every moment, every human experience, every human relationship, and every human being. When we have “God” eyes, we see God and God’s love everywhere. When we are filled to overflowing, God’s love can pour out for everyone, even those who need our forgiveness.
The Beatitudes Describe Spirituality rather than Religion or Law. The word ‘blessed’ is translated here as receiving grace.
Graced are the poor in spirit for they are not filled with self, so they are able to be open to God.
Graced are those that accept the pain of loss for they will find the Comforter within instead of seeking an escape.
Graced are those who do not need to own or control anything, for they are free to enjoy the beauty of everything.
Graced are those who know and regret that they are imperfect, for they are free to accept Jesus as their righteousness.
Graced are those who recognize the log in their own eye, for they will seek the love of God and become able to love the unlovable.
Graced are those who are focused on God, for they will find God everywhere.
Graced are the peacemakers, because no cause or group owns them; they belong only to God.
Graced are those persecuted for Jesus’ sake, for they know Jesus.
Graced are the falsely accused and rejected, for they learn to need only God.
Spirituality is foreign to us because it is paradoxical and few of us have had training in grasping paradox. We’re faced with having to lose to win and to die to live. That takes grace more than intelligence, morals, or ethics. And opening to grace takes admitting we need it. That’s the leap of faith that jump starts our spiritual journey.
The Originals are in Matthew 5: 3-11 These are my own paraphrases.
I’m pretty sure that anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big God and Jesus and Holy Spirit fan. What not everyone knows is that I was an agnostic for some years and a big Madalyn Murray O’Hair fan.
When in college, I visited Nursing Homes, in my mid twenties I taught ballet at a Children’s Psychiatric Ward, in my late twenties, I worked at the NAACP offices for Project Equality, and also wept while watching battles in Vietnam on TV. It was hard to find God in those situations.
In 1963, my dad, Pope John 23, and John F. Kennedy all died. It seemed like all my heroes of hope were gone.
It isn’t very comfortable to hate God, so I simply stopped believing in Him.
My journey to personal faith ultimately took several years spent in a serious search for some sort of meaning to life. That search was motivated by having my own children begin asking me hard questions. And though it is still obvious to me that life is not fair and that life is often hard and miracles are rare, I have found purpose, meaning, and great joy in life through an ongoing growing relationship with Jesus Christ, who made life and God understandable for me. It was a journey starting from faith in religion and faith in heroes, through disillusionment with those, on to a first hand experience of the love fleshed out by Jesus and the call to pass it forward.
I worry about the young people who are being exposed to both the hardships of life and its dark side in so many ways long before they have their love for their own children to motivate them to seek meaning in life instead of escape.
That seems to be the crux of the problem. Whenever we become aware that life is going to be hard sometimes for everyone, will we have the maturity to search for meaning rather than to seek escape?
Everyone’s journey is different, so all I can do is share that the search is well worth the effort and struggle and pain. My way may not be your way, but ultimately the truth will set you free for joy, hope, and love.
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.