Author Archives: Rev Kathleen Sibley

Plague

I needed a few days to think and pray before responding to the events in Charlottesville. For me, the deeper message seems to come down to two things.

First, I have been a bigot. I’m not talking about participating in the subtle forms of racism that are part of American culture in the 21st Century. I don’t mean the white privilege that permeates my life – that I got well-educated, that I was raised in the upper middle class, that I can walk into a store and not be bothered, that cops are nice to me. I’m aware of the modern day slavery that is our prison industry, but it probably won’t affect me or my family because we are white. What I’m talking about is a period in my life where I was ignorant enough and blind enough to say things that now make me cringe. I know I was offending folks because they tried to rein me in. What they were unaware of is how much pain I was in. The irony of working in a crisis center while suicidal is not lost on me now, but at the time, I was so busy trying to survive, there wasn’t much brain power left to be aware of anything else. That is no excuse, but it was part of the situation at the time. Still, I said and did things that were mean and insensitive. I wonder how painful the lives of the neo-Nazis are to make them act so hatefully. I wonder how scared those white supremacists are that they no longer have cognitive function to see how self-destructive they are. Did you know that when you are really angry or scared, your higher mental function shuts down? We have evidence of that happening in Charlottesville.

Secondly, this neo-Nazi, alt-right, white supremacy thing isn’t new in our country. I remember being warned about it in high school back in the early ‘80’s. It seems to me to be a virus we keep thinking we have beaten, only to find it popping up again because we stopped actively vaccinating against it. Did you know that fleas and ground hogs have been found carrying the actual plague here in Northern Arizona? Seems unreal, right? It’s as real as the plague seen openly in Charlottesville in the past weeks. And yes, it is killing people. It has been killing people all along, although we have ignored it. Vaccination against this plague means awareness, admission of bigotry and having conversations about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and fear that govern our lives today. For me, it means supporting affirmative action, asking my friends of in minorities how I can use my privilege on their behalf, and refusing to laugh at or make bigoted jokes.

How are you going to vaccinate yourself? Are you willing to look in the mirror and find your own inner bigot? I can tell you from experience, it’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s horrifying and painful. And I’d rather do that than explain to the next generation why I hid in my safe house in the midst of this plague.

Book of John Ch 3 

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Pharisees were the folks who knew all the rules and followed them. Back in the day, they were seen as the religious 1%’ers. They were doing everything right, after all. They followed all the Laws and everyone knew it; they tended to be the elite both on earth and (supposedly) in the eyes of God. So when people read this part of the Christian Bible, they are to know that the risk Nicodemus took in coming to talk to Jesus was a big deal. That’s why he had to sneak in. It must have been really frustrating to hear such non-sense about being born again.

Here’s the thing. In Northern Aramaic, to be born again means to change the way you think and behave. Nicodemus spoke Southern Aramaic, so he wouldn’t have understood the slang. (h/t to the Lamsa Bible) How many times have you felt like you went out on a limb in your spiritual practice and were given what sounded like nonsense as a reward for your hard work? I’ve been told that the reason I don’t have lots of wealth is because I won’t take it, but I’m standing there asking for it. How frustrating! What do you mean; I don’t know how to receive?!!? How many times have I been in a class and been asked if I felt the energy shift and thought, “No, I have no idea what you mean.”

What I have learned is that it’s best to ask for clarification when I am in such a situation. I’m not afraid of looking stupid – I’m more concerned with missing the point of a valuable lesson. And if I don’t get it then, I trust that someday I will. Some night, I will wake from a deep sleep and say “Ohhhh! I get it!”

Sing a new song

This morning I tried to have a bad day. It was working rather well. I got on the scale and it didn’t say what I wanted it to. I tried to make the part I bought for our weed whacker fit and it didn’t. I looked around at all the things I think need to be done and got mad because I don’t think I’ll be getting to them today. Or tomorrow for that matter. Obviously that means there’s something wrong with me. I must be lazy or irresponsible or something.

Thank God for spiritual practice. The only thing that stood out to me from today’s reading was about singing a new song to the Lord. Now, when I read the Bible, I replace the word Lord with Law. And then I started being with how it feels to sing, and the power of music in my life. There’s something about it that goes beyond words, beyond even prayer for me. Singing requires me to breathe differently. Singing is about heart and soul rather than cognitive function. Music goes around all my anxiety or it speaks my anger and anxiety in a way that helps me let them go.
So if I sing a new song into the Law, I’m pouring everything I am in to creating a new experience. I was taught that when we sing, we pray twice. I take that to mean that singing a prayer is more powerful than just reciting it. There’s more emotion and more energy. It’s what Ernest Holmes was talking about when he distinguished between the technique (the steps we use in prayer) and the fire (the emotion and energy behind the words, the part that can’t be taught and must be discovered within each of us).

Today I’m singing a song of trust. I’m singing a song of this moment, not the next several days’ work all at once. I’m singing as sweetly and as strongly as I can that Spirit can get all this stuff done, with or without my help, and I am acceptable in God’s eyes right now. There’s nothing to earn, nowhere to race to and no obligations I have to fulfill. There’s just me and my God, doing what we do and singing in Divine Harmony.

Aw, hell

Once again I have been hearing about the concept of hell. Let me tell you that hell exists – and you should be scared. Very scared.

Now, let me tell you the Truth. The only hell is the one we create in our own minds and it’s always temporary. We can end the experience whenever we want to. It’s really very simple although at times it may not be easy. All we have to do is stop believing whatever painful untruth we’ve bought into. That untruth might be that we’re bad or wrong – whether we have money troubles or someone is condemning who we are. It’s not really possible to be inherently bad, by the way. You were made by the Divine and, as the Good Books all say, God don’t make no junk.

Many religions teach both that we are Divine by nature and that we have managed to become unnatural and have lost our way. Many spiritual philosophies hold some version of the idea of original sin. That is, some version of the lie that we are broken and God no longer likes, much less loves, us. The thing is every religion points to a way to experience some version of Heaven, either in this life or one of many future lives. If we are inherently bad, why would we ever be allowed into Heaven? If we are inherently incapable of making good choices, why would the great spiritual teachers give us such clear instructions? Why do all the mystics over the course of time tell about the loving presence that surrounds us and is part of us? Heaven is also a state of mind and we can choose it whenever we want.

Whatever. They say if it sounds like a scam, it probably is. Hell is a scam. It’s a convertible with the top down and we’re all hunting desperately for the keys. The Devil is the thundercloud that’s threatening to rain on our leather seats and the Lie is the locksmith coming to get the door open. When we take a step back, come to our senses and realize the Truth, we’ll all have a big laugh and go back to being our own Divine Selves.

Divine Timing

There’s a thing called Divine Timing. It’s not usually the same as my personal timing, or what I think I want to be my personal timing. It’s the pace at which change happens. When I was a brand new minister, I would get frustrated that folks didn’t catch my vision as quickly as I wanted. I understood the concept of church time – what I live with 24/7/365, the congregation gets for twenty minutes a week. One of my friends put it another way. She said to imagine that we’re all playing crack the whip. I’m the leader. I shift just a few inches over and think it’s no big deal. From where I’m playing, it is a minor change. For the person at the other end, the end of the whip, it’s major. It might send them flying ten feet through the air. That was the fun of crack the whip – to make someone on the end go flying. It was fun when we were kids, but it’s not way to run a Center.

It makes me wonder what God sees from the front of the line. Spirit shifts just a few inches, but my Spirit works in eons and over parsecs of space. So by the time the energy gets to me, it might feel like I’ve been flung from Earth entirely over to Jupiter or Neptune. I make a small change in my thinking, like maybe I don’t want to eat so much sugar anymore. At the other end of that chain is being spared cancer or diabetes for decades of my life. I decide to practice giving real second chances to people and end of going from actively disliking a certain teacher to having a mentor I love and trust. Spirit might have poked a hole in the earth while thinking one day, and now we have the Grand Canyon. Or maybe God got to playing with molecules, created oxygen and how we have a habitable planet.

This is what I know – discounting the small, honest changes I make in my thinking is silly. I don’t know what will roll out at the other end of that whip. Maybe nothing except the memory of a particularly good morning. Maybe everything.

 

Prosperity Gospel

 

I spent some time over the last few days pondering what it means to be rich. I had a roommate in college that was a trust fund baby. I remember her saying she was broke because her checking account had less than the minimum required for avoiding fees. That amount was around $5,000 and I know that it was a temporary situation. This is the same roommate who wrote a check to keep me in school one semester (I paid her back but it took a few years). She was financially rich, but it didn’t protect her from watching her mom succumb to early onset Alzheimer’s. She dealt with the problem of folks “forgetting their wallets” when we went out to eat, too. So was she really rich?

I remember when one of my two monthly paychecks just covered my rent. I was suffering from depression, was physically unhealthy and hadn’t yet discovered these principles I now teach. I lived in a very sketchy neighborhood. I was in the midst of a divorce that shattered me. I got through it. I had friends who helped when they really didn’t have to. Those friends had little enough financial wealth themselves, but they kept me fed and gave me a phone number I could give to my mom for emergencies. I had little money of my own so it forced me to give up cigarettes and alcohol. Was I really poor?

Today I looked at my judgments of the “rich” or the 1% we vilify in this country. How do I know my life isn’t better than theirs? How the heck do I even define better? I took a look at how much I spend now on toys and entertainment, how easily I pay for my needs and how much I save for future needs and wants. Lots of people are living paycheck to paycheck. Does that affect my own definition of “wealthy” and does it matter?

Today I’ve decided that being rich requires both the ability to take care of one’s needs AND the consciousness to enjoy that ability. I feel rich because I know my house payment will be made. I feel rich because I tithe. I feel rich because I can share. I’m not owned by my money or my things – I’m grateful for them just as I am grateful for my friends and the sense of being loved by my community and something Greater. My life has meaning that is outside of what I do – I have personal worth that has nothing to do with a spreadsheet and, more importantly, I am aware of the real worth of my soul and the souls of all my brothers and sisters in Consciousness (which means everybody). I was taught long ago that gospel means good news. What’s the good news about prosperity? We get to decide what it is and we can experience it at any time.

How do you define prosperous? Do you see yourself as rich? What would it take for you to be free of fear, to feel safe and loved?

Praying the Psalms

I never thought I’d do this. I never have been one to go to the Bible for comfort or regular spiritual practice. I go to the Bible for help with talks because I need a good story. I go to the Bible when it’s been assigned as homework for a class. I go to the Bible when I’m teaching a class about it. Recently though, I’ve been trying it out for actual, real life help. I don’t read it for the immediate, literal meaning. If you haven’t read the Psalms, I should warn you there’s a great deal of “be on my side” towards God and some suggestions regarding smiting of enemies.

I read to see what the metaphor is and how it applies to me. So, for instance, the last one I worked with is #6. The translation I use contains a line that says “my bones are weary with moaning”. There’s a lot of tears soaking into pillows, too. The rest of it is just as negative at first reading. Basically, it’s a “woe is me” psalm combined with “don’t be mad at me.” But I’ve heard that there’s always more to learn, so I reread it slowly and carefully. The line about moaning bones being weary finally caught me.

The bed NOT soaked in tears

I’m sick of hearing myself moan about my life. I wonder if the Universe is, too. So if moaning is making me sick, what’s the cure? I returned to my old practice of looking for something positive as I moved about my day. Now, granted, I cheated. My sister and I celebrated her birthday, so there was some shopping and some lunching. There was a great deal of pointing out that she will always be older than me and telling folks that she looks good for 75, or 62 or whatever number I chose that time. There was appreciation of beauty as we found a few things for her room, which had recently been looked at by a feng shui professional. There was a sense of freedom as we made choices about art for the house (hey, I can shop for myself on someone else’s birthday, right? I wouldn’t want her to feel alone.) There were some giggles as she tried to get her dog, Ben, to walk in the paw-saving booties she bought. Ben noped right out of them.

There’s good to be found no matter what. So are you going to moan over your aching bones or move them and go find the good?

Follow my lead

I’ve been reading a great book called “A Tree Full of Angels” by Macrina Wiederkehr. One line that held my attention this morning was about how everything is renewed under the eye of God. I took that into meditation and found myself asking some deep questions. What in me needs to be renewed? What do I feel I’ve lost? Doesn’t seem that I should have nothing stale in me, nothing that needs to be renewed after a six week sabbatical? Okay, that last question is silly and I know it. Of course there are things that need to be renewed in all of us. Still, it begs the question. What in you feels like it might have gotten misplaced or lost in your life?

For me, the big issue that came up is trust. In my childhood, I learned not to ask for help. Either help wouldn’t come and I would get in trouble for asking or someone would take the project away from me and do it for me. I also admit that I started out with an independent spirit. Family lore has it that my first sentence was “I do it myself”. So I sat there, flowing between meditation and prayer and contemplated how much I trust the Universe. It’s scary to trust someone or Someone else with my well-being. However, trust in the Universe is not optional. It is, after all, the title of this blog. I am responsible for what I create in my life, so if I’ve created a version of God that I don’t trust… well, I don’t like that. So I sat and asked my own deepest heart, how do I heal the trust issue? How do I learn to trust You?

As often happens, my meditation was then disturbed by a song running through my head. Ed Sheeran does a version of the song “Shape of you”[1] and I had just a line or two running on a loop. The lines were:

“Girl, you know I want your love

Your love was handmade for somebody like me

Come on now, follow my lead…”

It was as if Spirit was singing to me. All I need to do is follow Spirit’s lead. Spirit does want my love and feels it is valuable. When someone leads me in dancing, I find that there’s a balance between getting some small subtle signals and some obvious ones. The more I can relax and let my body just respond to those signals, the less I think about what I’m doing, the better off I am. If I think too much about Spirit and what God-in-me wants from me, I get off track. I get tense and scared and my trust issues get into the driver’s seat of my life. Very soon, I’m in a ditch, calling the spiritual AAA. If I let each small hint of guidance, each subtle lead pull me towards my good, then eventually it all works out.

Now, the Divine Dancer doesn’t mind stumbling about with me too much. It’s part of the learning and oh, by the way, part of the fun of dancing together. What someone else thinks about our dance is not my business. Well, it is, actually, literally, but I find that most folks have done their own stumbling and are willing to learn from mine.

So even when you think you have gotten off track, I encourage you to let Spirit lead in whatever dance to whatever song might come up. Don’t worry about it. Practice trust one dance step at a time. God doesn’t mind getting his toes stepped on; God just wants to dance with you.

[1] Written by John McDaid, Steve Mac, Edward Christopher Sheeran, Kandi L Burruss, Kevin Jerome Briggs, Tameka D. Cottle, Félix Ortiz Torres, Gabriel Pizarro, Chris Jeday • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Feces or Fertilizer

Here’s the thing that I am learning. Being spiritual, even being relatively advanced spiritually, doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days. Jesus went off on the money lenders at the temple. He also displayed racism toward the Canaanite woman whose daughter had a demon and he yelled at his disciples when he got frustrated with them.

I nursed my mom (well, was her “go-to” person anyway) during her last days. She was a good person. I’m a good person. I still found myself in my car, alone, screaming with frustration because of the demands that were being placed on me. I never thought of myself as a screamer, but there I was. I was so afraid some poor cop was going to pull me over and end up having to listen to my hysterics. I had a bad couple hours this morning. (Notice I didn’t say “had a bad day”.) I was expected to form full sentences before the coffee hit, answering actual fact based questions and requests for help. I had a full day in front of me and knew I was forgetting something important but couldn’t get quiet enough to have actual cognition happen. I had only been back at work for three days and I was already over-whelmed. And then I got a text from someone who asked me for something I found unreasonable. That was it. I lost it.

The most spiritual thing I could do in that moment was to pull out the Holy No. No, I won’t ask for that favor on your behalf. No, I won’t cover for people. No, I won’t pretend that I’m happy about having to start over and pay $220 for another person’s mistake. No. No. No. It doesn’t feel spiritual for me when I say no. It feels frustrated and beyond my ability to handle. It feels like I’m being mean. It feels like I should be above this, should handle it all calmly no matter what “it” is. After all, I meditated this morning. I prayed and read and I made sure I got up in time to do it. Isn’t that how it works?

Nope, sorry. Being spiritual means we have the tools to deal with what comes up, even when what comes up is icky. Everyone gets to deal with some stuff in their lives. Everyone – me, you, Jesus, Buddha and every other John Q Public that has walked the planet. There’s a reason the spiritual leader Anne Lamott called her new book “Hallelujah Anyway.”

The difference between me and a Chris-ted being is the rate at which we recognize the feces we’ve been handed can be used as fertilizer for some great field of good. I am lucky. I have a great prayer partner willing to answer my call, pull over her car and not fall for my crazy as I spew it. I knew I would feel better at some point after talking with her. And sure enough, the right and perfect person came to me for counsel… about my exact same issue. How do I allow myself to say no and still feel in integrity as a spiritual being? How do I forgive myself for not being willing to stretch even one more inch in service to humanity? How can I be a Christed being before the coffee hits?

Here’s the thing that I am learning. I am still a good person if I am frustrated with having consequences for someone else’s bad customer service. I am a good person when I just can’t listen to one more person asking for one more thing. I am a good person even when people insist on talking in the morning.

We are good people, Christed beings, because we stay awake and aware and try our best. Not because we walk on water… but because we want to.

 

Sacred Days

I was at a retreat all week up in Oregon. It was very, very green. It also rained every day except the day it hailed. So what was created was a sense of being all tucked in, with nowhere to go and nothing to do except the deep spiritual work. Now, I had my doubts about this particular teaching for years. For one thing, the materials are in a weird font and there’s an over-abundance of extraneous quotation marks that annoy the crap out of me. However, I have learned to that kind of things aside in order to see what might be of use, so there I was. I know and trust the facilitator Rev. Dr. Penny Macek (check her out at www.newvisioncsl.org) and she wouldn’t work with less-than-stellar people, so I was willing to try.

The first thing that happened was that they started talking about Christ. I’m not a traditional Christian. I understand the Christ in the same way these folks do – it’s the life energy and intelligence that predates any religion, but gets called the God Self, Higher Self, and Buddha nature.  I don’t care what you call it, frankly, as long as there is an understanding that Jesus of Nazareth was one of many Christs that have taken up the work over the ages. I’ve long since left behind the need to talk to Jesus as the one and only. Even he smirks when I talk about it to him, cuz it’s just funny and wrong at the same time. So I had to remind myself as we talked about the Christ over and over that it was my new understanding, not the old one I was raised with. Yes, some of the songs we sang got very traditional, but I looked past that (see how amazingly magnanimous and spiritual I am?).

I will admit – I did trip over the Jesus thing a lot, just like I was tripping over the Mohammed thing earlier in the week. I listened to Mohammed’s biography in the car and got very judgmental over how he went to war and played politics and treated the Jews in Medina. Isn’t it amazing that I can find ways to judge these amazing people? Here are two men that gave their lives to the work in ways I can’t even fathom and I’m looking down my spiritual nose at them. Not that I can channel a holy book or change water into wine (which I admit would make me immensely popular) but I can miraculously find fault with damned near anything.

What will it take for me to see the Christ Being in everyone? What will it take for you to see it? What if it shows up in your mirror, like Bloody Mary at midnight? Then what are we going to do? I’m going to stick with what I learned at the retreat. I’m going to keep going back to www.sacreddays.org to find the music we listened to and the explanations of the exercises. I’m going to keep working on my own inner critic until even that voice is the voice of God (which is female in my heart right now). I’m going to look past punctuation until my consciousness is so clear and strong that I only see God. Period.