There’s a painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that shows God and Adam reaching out to almost touch each other. I’ve seen it a billion times, just like everyone else, but I’ve never really seen it before. The painting was brought to my attention and I used it in a talk this week – and then heard even greater perception from my friends and teachers in the congregation.
If you look at this painting, you’ll notice a few things about God. First of all, I can’t help but notice he looks a lot like Zeus. But that’s just me, right? Secondly, because I vegged out and watched HBO’s Westworld, I have learned that there’s meaning in the cloak God wears. That red cloak is shaped like a human brain. The God of my understanding is a being that expresses itself through me to the degree that I allow the Good/God to be expressed. I can limit it but can’t actually make it go away. Another thing to look at is that there’s a whole bunch of people inside that cloak with God.
So if the God of my understanding exists in my mind, who are the rest of those folks? Someone pointed out that they could be thought of as the “committee” that often exists in the back of our minds. Those voices of disapproval and doubt that pipe up just as we are about to step into our greatness are those folks sitting around God in the painting. I was relieved to hear my self say, “I fired my committee. That’s my cheering section.” I didn’t think about it, just said it. I’m so glad that the things I instinctively think and say these days are positive. Believe me, when the committee was running things, it wouldn’t have been a good thing.
Who are the folks who live in the mind of God, your mind, with you? Are they cheering or naysaying?
Today we broke down the Christmas tree and put everything back for another year. It took an hour and a half, much less time that it took to decorate. There’s no creativity in taking decorations down, unless you count fitting the tree back in the box. It’s a little sad and a bit of relief at the same time. It’s a relief because the holidays are such a busy time of year and I tend to be intensely conscious of the Christ in that time. And that’s why it’s sad, too.
As I put away all the decorations, the temptation is to go back to business as usual. All those lovely ideas about peace on earth and the light overcoming the darkness get tucked between the pages of my schedule book. The same meetings that crowded my schedule in 2017 crowd it in 2018. For some reason, this is season for transitions, so there are a lot of folks passing, some folks making major changes in jobs or homes, and of course, lots of people wanting help raising their consciousness. This is when gyms are the busiest, whether they are physical or spiritual gyms.
This is when I remember one of my favorite Christmas poems, by Howard Thurman.
Wow, it’s the end of December and I haven’t posted in a while. I think the holidays took over my brain like an alien, turning me into one of Santa’s pod people. Truly, until the 26th hit, I wasn’t sure if I was on the ground or on my way to Oz. And now… I will happily use my massage gift certificates to get ready the joy that is or will be 2018. I used my first gift card (thanks Howard and Hazel!) for some reflexology on my feet. Well, actually, she managed a full body massage more or less and it was awesome. About half way through, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I felt very rude because I’d never asked the lady’s name and hadn’t been introduced. All I knew was that her English was minimal and she would understand if I said “too hard.” So I found out her name, or at least the one she uses so that I don’t mangle her real one and we moved on. I wanted to ask what language she speaks and learn to say thank you.
In the midst of all this, I noticed how virtuous and (gag) nice I felt for thinking these things during a massage. When did basic human decency start being something I patted myself on the back for? When did recognizing the basic humanity of others become something I had to remind myself of? Yikes! Earlier in the week, I had talked with a colleague about the ad hoc group I belong to called Quad City Interfaith Council. We were partially formed around the idea of honoring the dignity of all people. How is it that we have to have committees to make sure this happens? I think we could be better than this.
My intention and invitation for 2018, therefore is this: I’m going to go back to an old practice that helped a lot in a dark time. I’m going to spend my commute to work practicing seeing the face of the Divine in everyone I pass and everything I see. It was easy when I was taking the bus in a big city. I wonder if it will be harder or easier from my car out here in the country. It doesn’t matter, really. Being surrounded by love and beauty and good is a gift I can give myself and I won’t even need a holiday or gift card! And maybe next year, I’ll be part of a bridge of good manners and decency that crosses the divide of race and religion and unconsciousness.
I am a gifting person. For those of you familiar with the love languages, you will know that gifts are how I like to express love and how I recognize it when it’s offered. So Christmas shopping is one of my favorite winter activities. It’s an excuse to shop, which I don’t like to do for myself, and I get to think of all the people I love as I try to find a meaningful gift for them.
This year I got a surprise gift. A Center that I have been helping out sent me a tithe check. Now, it’s not the amount on the check that matters. It’s not like I could pay off my house with this money. It is a lovely way of telling me that the work I do means something. It helps someone. Of course I knew this, and I’ve been told this, many times. I am very appreciated at my own Center. The thing is, I’m a gift-er, so this acknowledgement came in a form that my heart recognizes and receives.
Riding that wave of joy, I found myself listing all the gifts in my life. Some folks call this counting one’s blessings. I got a rush from really appreciating having been born in this country, having a car that is reliable and working in a place that surrounds me with beautiful people and gives me meaningful work to do. I didn’t even get to the people who make my life a joy. That would be a very long list. And yes, I know that counting blessings is a time honored spiritual practice. I know that “count your blessings” is getting trite and might even have become code for “stop complaining about your first world problems.” Still, when done with an honest gratitude for what it, it’s a powerful practice. That’s how a practice becomes time-honored — cuz it works.
I’m doing Christmas cards this year. I usually do a few – the silly ones from card stores go back and forth in my family. It’s a fun tradition and doesn’t cost much. But this year, I decided to go big. So far I’ve written about 50 and I have another 40 waiting to be written. At some point I started wondering – will someone be happy to get this? Will they be upset there’s no gift card or check in there? Will this seem like an empty gesture? On the other hand, will this make someone’s day? Will they understand that I took the time to buy a stack of cards, find their address (and that’s been a hoot, finding snail mail addresses) and affix a pretty stamp? What if I forget someone?
At some point, I have to mail these suckers. I have to let that little bit of light shine on its own merits and let people receive my love as they choose to receive it. I’d love to put $100 bill in each card, but that’s not budgeted in my 2017 fiscal year. I’d love to write long, very personal notes in each one but at some point I have to go home, I have to write next week’s talk and I have a whole bunch of people to meet with. At some point it has to be enough that I tried and sent a bit of love out into the world.
Isn’t it great that no matter who you are, Spirit is excited to hear from you? Even a small card with a scrawled signature makes God’s day. When I send up a thank you for the parking space, I can feel God get the warm fuzzies. When I stop to listen to a bird singing or watch the sunset, it’s acknowledging the work of the Great Artist. There are so many small ways to be with Spirit over the course of the day, and they all send a bit more love out into the world. I’m sending you some now.
Every year, I celebrate Thanksgiving by hosting a potluck at our Center. We’ve had as many as 60 people, although the average is closer to 45. I buy ham and turkey and everyone brings their favorite food. This way everyone gets their favorites, made the “right” way, and we all get to hang out in a party atmosphere for the day. I’ve learned a few things along the way. First of all, I won’t try to do all the cooking myself. I do one turkey and one ham. The rest goes home with someone to be cooked and they get the bones for soup. I don’t try to do the cooking at home. The Center kitchen has two ovens and if I cook stuff there, the building smells yummy. I’ve learned that the following day is a great time to make “leftovers”, which really means our family Thanksgiving foods without any stress over presentation.
I used to think I had to do it all myself. I used to think it had to look a certain way. One of the greatest benefits of growing up is that I realized that I get to define what’s right for me and I’m not responsible for meeting other people’s expectations. What is true for the holiday is true for spirituality. I don’t need to do everything the way my mother or grandmothers did it. I don’t care about presentation for the turkey and I don’t need my spiritual practice to meet anyone else’s approval. It’s worth getting up a little early to do it my way and the end result is that I get fed and I’m happy. Sometimes, letting go of doing it “the right way” is what allows for doing it the most effective way.
One of the first “prosperity tools” that I learned was to create a vacuum. Want new clothes? Empty out your closet. Pass on those things that you don’t use. Create physical space as a means of creating space in consciousness for your good to come in. I think almost every prosperity class I’ve ever taken has had that exercise in there somewhere, if not right at the front. At few months ago, I realized that I think of giving things away as something rich people do. I don’t need to hoard stuff I’m not using, because I can always get another if I need it. So I feel rich every time I take a load of good stuff to a thrift store.
Here’s another thing that I was reminded also works. Need car repairs? Make the appointment and then tell God you need the money by that date. Create the need and then let the Divine do the heavy lifting. When that feels easy, step out for something you want but don’t need. I was offered the chance to do some traveling with friends. Buying the trip would benefit a charity I believe in and check off a point on my bucket list. It was a great deal. Do you see how I’m making an argument for something I want, as if I need a rational explanation for taking a leap of faith? I have a tendency to need to feel responsible with my money, so doing these luxurious things requires a real leap of faith for me. My faith that there is lots of good in the Universe and I can have mine is what I’m working on here. Of course, within days of saying yes to the trip, it was paid for by unexpected income. An apartment that I own was rented out, so there’s more income that I wasn’t sure about.
There is not much of a rational explanation for creating a vacuum when you are already experiencing need. It might seem irresponsible or stupid. But the thing it, it works. It’s worked every time. When I did it worried that this one time it wouldn’t work, it’s worked. When I asked for wants rather than needs, it’s worked. When I call it tithing, it works. When other people do it, it works. Give it a shot – and share how it worked for you.
I’m pretty particular about who is allowed in my home. I have an apartment attached to my home that I rent out and only once did I allow someone to handle the rental. They did everything legally and right, but I wasn’t satisfied. The tenant’s energy and mine weren’t a good match. Something just didn’t feel right. I know we weren’t a good match because the tenant left after about six weeks. I bless her being there and I bless her leaving to go on to whatever is hers to do or be. And I’ve learned my lesson; who is allowed in my home must be a decision made consciously and by me. I don’t discriminate in terms of color or gender or creed, but I do prefer to pray the right person in, which generally looks like the right person getting me the application first and actually being able to pay for the apartment.
There’s a Rumi poem about a guesthouse. I welcome in those who show up, but I also remember that these are my thoughts and my own beliefs I’m welcoming in. A basic tenet of our philosophy is to watch what you believe and see if it’s true. If you can’t tell, another way to think of it is to ask yourself, “Does this belief make me more free?” We will always find evidence to support our beliefs so we may as well choose the ones that prosper us. Who we welcome in to our homes, our heads and hearts, will determine the quality of our lives. Make sure you are paying attention. Love them all as they come, and be aware of whom you offer a lease to.
I’ve just started listening to Brenè Brown’s new book about belonging. She refers to this as an increasingly divisive and divided world. She cites the current political and social chaos as part of the issue, but also talks about how it feels unsafe to say who you are and what you believe in. Everything in me wants to argue with her about whether this world is really all that divided. Yes, it’s what’s in the news these days. Who can be surprised by that? We are wired to focus on what’s wrong so that we don’t get eaten by T. Rexes and so we pay lots of attention to those voices who Rawr loudly and point their tiny talons at the “problem” people.
Before the internet gave the megaphone to a small group of malcontents, those unhappy people were mostly ignored. Downside; minorities could be ignored and abuse continued. Upside; terrorists didn’t get their egos stroked. In truth, nothing has changed except that we are more conscious of the things going on around the world than we’ve ever been. With so many different voices speaking up, it’s bound to create some chaos.
Out of chaos comes a new creation. Yes, things look grim these days. The news has not been about how many puppies were born safely yesterday. Nor has it been about how many lives were NOT lost because we can treat depression more effectively, because there’s a push towards greater acceptance of minorities and less acceptance of racism and even that the number of truly poor people in the world is dropping drastically. Did you know that peace is breaking out all over in record numbers? Seriously, google it. Just because we are now more aware of the problems in the world doesn’t mean that there are more problems in the world. It means we are waking up. We are, more and more of us, “woke”. We are learning that what isn’t pretty can still be beautiful.
When I was about to be ordained (several years ago now) I did an informal poll of ordained ministers about what to expect. The vast majority of the ministers I know are female, and I don’t know how much this affected their answers. However, what they answered with one voice was that I’d find my “give a damn” falling away. Not that I’d become uncaring, but that it might feel like my ability to be concerned about other people’s opinions would get dulled. I’d have a lot more confidence about what I want and how I choose to do my life. That might be a nicer way of saying it. The actual answer was pretty immediate and blunt. My middle finger would be getting a lot more exercise. In the most spiritual way possible of course.
I understand that this is a sign of aging in most women. We lose the need to please that has been trained into most of us. One of the great joys of my life is seeing that the younger generation of both men and women are, to paraphrase Wayne Dyer, “independent of the good opinions of other people.” To some folks, it might seem like the younger generation is rude or uncaring. Of course, the “younger generation” has seemed that way for decades if not centuries, so this is nothing new. However, I’m excited to see people standing in their truth, unwilling to be held hostage to the “nice” that was trained into me. The type of nice that had me doing things I didn’t want to do for reasons I didn’t agree with.
So here’s to aging. Here’s to an end to the etiquette that tells me I must sacrifice and martyr myself on the altar of “nice”. Here’s to standing as the proud Adult Children of God that we all are and respectfully declining to be nominated for the Doormat Council.