For whatever reason, I’ve had several conversations in the past few weeks about how spirituality is supposed to look. I had my own experience over Easter (see post from 4/17/17) of feeling less that all put together while doing spiritual work. I think I’ll use this space to clear up a few misunderstandings about New Thought spirituality, at least the way I do it.
First of all, one of my teachers used to talk about folks who were so spiritually high they were of no earthly use. These are the people who will watch their homes burn and call their practitioner rather than the fire department. For the record, in case of emergencies call 911 and THEN call your practitioner. These are also the people who will be found in hell, rocking in lotus position and muttering “I’m not here and it’s not hot.” You get my drift.
For some folks, spirituality requires denying our human experience. This is a fear based belief and is useful, as far as I’m concerned. I believe that if you need to completely retreat from the world on a permanent basis in order to be spiritual, then we are practicing a very different kind of spirituality. Hermits can have rich lives, but I’m not the right teacher for that path.
In my type of spirituality, our humanity is as Divine as any other part of us. Washing the dishes can be meditation. Being in relationship is a high spiritual practice – we need to learn to love people even when we are in judgement because they are being idjits. We need to learn to show up in our messy imperfection in order to give other folks the ability to show up in theirs.
I believe it’s at least as important to receive love and compassion as it is to give it. It’s also harder to show up when I most need love and compassion. It’s so much easier to have it all together and be of service to the person who is highly vulnerable because their life is falling apart. In the first situation, I am not in control and I feel vulnerable. In the second situation, I can subconsciously pat myself on the back for not being such a hot mess. The more I am willing to show up in my wholeness – competent self and messy self, light and dark sides fully in view – the more I am actually allowing the Divine to show up through me. The Divine allows Itself its wholeness, so in order to be truly in my divinity, I need to allow myself that wholeness too.
I hope that makes sense. The joy of spirituality for me is the healing and learning that happen in relationship. If we all had it completely together, with nothing left to learn, I’d be out of a job. I’d also be the odd one out.
I have a mental bucket list that’s a mile long. I want to learn Arabic and Ancient Hebrew. I want to learn to love yoga and be all stretchy and bendy like a pretzel. I want to travel. I want to create a home with a garden. I want to adopt a teenager. I want to get a doctoral degree in about five different fields of study. I want to do so many things and I have a busy life to excuse me from doing most of them.
What I’m finding as I get older though is that that list contains things I both really want to do and things I want to have done. I want to have written a book and lost about 50 lbs. I don’t want to write the book or learn to eat better, I just want them done. Those are the things I thought I was supposed to want. Those are the things that would impress the people I used to want to impress (and sometimes still do want to impress).
The rest of the list contains things that I actually want to do. I spent seven years studying Spanish but I don’t actually speak it. So I want to travel and do some immersion learning. I want to be able to say I speak more than one language. I also want to go back to playing the guitar. I learned it long ago and gave it up when I got bored, as kids will do. About a year ago, I bought a great guitar at a bargain price. Some folks bought it for their daughter who played it for a semester and then stuck it in the corner. I brought it home, played around for an hour or so and then stuck it in the corner. Did you know that playing the guitar can be painful on one’s finger tips? It really can.
Here’s the thing. When it comes down to it, the only person in charge of my bucket list is me. I can take off the items that I only put on there out of obligation. I can play around with the rest and decide how important they are. I practice Spanish in my head sometimes and I just acquired a new set of books and tapes to help me. I agreed to learn one song on the guitar (only three chords and only played during the chorus) and then scheduled myself to be the soloist on a Sunday so I had to do it. Those things have immediate benefits.
The other thing on my bucket list that is staying has to do with traveling. I was invited to go to England for a few weeks and I said yes. My first reaction was no, it’s too expensive. Then the money started showing up and the way was opened for it. The gift of that yes is that other areas of my life are opening up too. By saying yes and living from my bucket list in some small and some big ways, I’ve informed the Universe that I’m open to a bigger life. It seems the Universe has been listening.
Fair warning: when you start living from your bucket list, the Universe will hear your yes, too. Prepare for miracles and large living. Prepare for your excuses to melt away. Prepare for a bigger bucket.
I just finished a class comparing some of the Judeo Christian Bible stories to those in the Koran. It was wonderful – an exploration of how changing a few words or details can create a very different meaning. And I loved it so much that now I’m listening to one of the many biographies of Mohammed (pbuh) the Prophet and first Muslim.
What stands out to me is that when Mohammed had his first revelation, he wasn’t very happy about it. He thought he’d been possessed by a demon. He considered suicide. Can you imagine what the world would be like if he decided to die (ending the demonic possession) rather than submit to the will of God as he understood it and bring the Koran into being? The history of Europe, our knowledge of chemistry and algebra, and our access to the teachings of the ancient Greeks would now be very different.
How many times have I gotten up from my meditation chair moments before my revelation? How many of us have felt the beginnings of a sacred call and run like hell so that the call would go to voicemail? What is it about Divine revelation, which should be our birthright that seems so awful?
I can only guess. I don’t think of myself as on the same level of the Prophet or any of the saints. I know that I was leery of accepting the call to ministry because it would challenge my beliefs about authority and (I thought) mean that I had to be poor for the rest of my life.
The truth I have found, which I think might be common, is that I had to submit to a Divine madness. I found that the things I needed to do to answer “the call” were things that made no sense to my friends. Go back to school and do another expensive master’s degree? Why? I’d just worked my butt off to get out of debt. Give up a safe government job with great health benefits where I’d worked my way almost to the top of the heap? For heaven’s sake, I’d have to move to a place where I knew no one except my congregation. And I’d been warned about the pitfalls of having congregants as friends. It took me forever to make friends and create a home, why should I give that up?
The Divine madness wouldn’t leave me alone and eventually resistance was more painful than submission. I did have to give up the things I listed above. I did have to make the sacrifices. However, what I’ve found, and I’ll be the Prophet would agree, is that there are both tangible and intangible treasures to be found within Divine madness. Living in surrender to the flow, or in Muslim terms, in submission to God, has its own rewards.
On a recent Sunday, I talked about the miracle of Passover. For those of you who don’t know, Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates being freed from slavery in Egypt, when Moses told Pharaoh to, “let my people go.” The name comes from the last plague that swept over Egypt. The Jews put a sign over the doors of their houses that told the angel of death to pass over them but the first born son of every other home died. That included livestock. After that plague, Pharaoh ordered them out. Unfortunately for him, he changed his mind and chased them all the way to the Red Sea. But that’s another post.
Here’s the part I meant to talk about and didn’t due to time constraints (plus I forgot). The Jews who were enslaved were the descendants of those who 300 years or so earlier, had fled to Egypt to escape a famine. Remember Joseph and his amazing, technicolor dream coat? Okay, so that’s not what they call the coat in the bible version, but I’m writing this, so hush. Joseph brought his father and brothers down, in spite of the fact that he was only there because the brothers sold him into slavery, and they were given some of the best land in the area to farm. They prospered and multiplied and began to crowd out the Egyptians and then politics happened. Eventually, they became slaves.
The thing is, that idea or practice that once was my salvation can turn into what enslaves me over time. There was a time when I prayed for abundance almost exclusively because I was broke, broke, broke. I was paying my credit card bill so that I’d have space on my credit card for food. I have never been so close to homelessness before or since. At the time, learning how to manifest money was a god-send (pun entirely intended). However, I’ve seen folks become owned by their things. I’ve flirted with the love of money myself. When the need for more money becomes all I think about, in spite of how beautiful my home is and how well stocked the fridge is, then I have become enslaved by the very thing that saved me once.
Every so often, we are advised to go through our things and release what no longer gives us joy. I’d suggest that we do the same thing with our spiritual truths and tools.
For the past few months, folks have pointed out to me that there is a spider web in our sanctuary. There’s a concern because it looks like we never clean (we have a service come in) and it might suggest to newer folks that we don’t care about hygiene or our building. Several people have come up to me over time and suggested that something needed to be done. I keep forgetting about it because that’s not a corner folks sit in, so I almost never look over there. I notice it at odd times and think, “I should do something about that.”
I have a few spiritual thoughts about all of this. Since I normally see the spider web, which has become more visible as it collected dust, during those moments when I peek during meditation this thing has become part of my meditation. Where are the cobwebs in my inner sanctuary? Like the dust, I become stuck to certain thoughts. I get stuck on anger. I get stuck on hurt. I get stuck on who is doing what to whom out in the world and how helpless I feel to stop it all. I think about those things I know I should be doing – helping out in the greater community, giving more time to listen to the broken-hearted and eating real food. I consider the people who connected with me around this web and how we are all connected. I consider Indra’s Web and its metaphysical meanings.
Then I consider the words of our founder, Ernest Holmes, who said, “One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice.” And then I got a broom and pulled the cobweb down. No more musings on the cobweb.
Here’s the thing – we can contemplate our problems and the realities of life all we want, but until we take action, it’s just navel gazing. I’ve been told that it’s not the minister’s job to sweep up cobwebs. I agree. It’s my job because the spider web was bothering me. It was of no use to the spider that was long gone. I cleaned it up and moved on with my day, thankful that the only thing left behind was the inspiration to write all of this.
I sometimes forget that not everyone lives the way I do. For instance, I spend a lot of time talking about ideas and having deep conversations. Intimacy of the emotional variety is simply part of my everyday life. It surprises me to hear that there is an epidemic of loneliness because folks don’t feel they have the opportunity for those conversations.
I forget that a lot of people believe in sin and brokenness. I live with the idea that God is all around me and in me all the time. People who are deeply passionate about the “right” way to relate to the “right” God are not really part of my life. Even the folks that quietly believe there is a “true path” aren’t much part of my life. I am free of the need to be right about that one. I honestly don’t care what you call the god you relate to.
What I also know is that I have to be careful to stop living in my safe little world every so often. And so I take classes on religion out in the bigger world. I read about what the current trends and research are in culture and religion. I read about the wants and needs of the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. I read about the needs and experiences of people of color and prisoners and people in other countries. All of that is mostly theoretical though. I can read about how to ride a bike, but that doesn’t get me out on a bike, does it?
And so, I’m going to step out of my usual world for a bit. Although I will still have posts going out over the next few weeks, I am going on walkabout. I’ll be away from my Center for six weeks. I’ll be out of the country for part of that. It’s time for me to fulfill a bucket list dream and travel a bit. My desired outcomes include getting some rest and doing some stuff I’ve put off around my house. I want to get out the mental rut we all get into when our routine takes over our lives. I want to travel to a place where I can see how people who live very differently actually live. I’ll be in London – a city instead of the rural life I have here, and a culture very different than American culture. There will be different money, different food and a chance to ride on a different side of the road both metaphorically and physically.
In order to see things through new eyes, we sometimes have to shake up our very foundations. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We need our assumptions about life and how it has to be lived to be challenged. I understand that travel does that. I also understand from my ministerial friends that how we live is not entirely normal and that you need to stop for more than a long weekend or even a week or so in order to really shift gears.
So I thank the Divine that I have this opportunity to live life unlike I live it. I’m grateful to the folks who will be covering for me on Sundays and during the week. I’m grateful that I have no idea what I’m getting into and so can’t really set any expectations. And I offer you the suggestion that you, too, can take yourself out of everyday life in order to find out what else the Divine has in store for you.