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?
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 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.
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.
In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that suffering is caused by attachment. The truth is that all things change, so if we are addicted to a certain form (the way a relationship has always been for instance) we are going to suffer. We heal ourselves by becoming aware of these addictions or cravings and then applying compassion. We release the addiction to the form and rest in the eternal rather than the changing. The Buddha is eternal. Our own Buddha-nature is eternal. Our physical bodies and the bodies of our affairs (money, relationships, jobs) change.
The summer, we managed to grow a real, live tomato plant. It’s the first time there has been fruit from a plant I planted in this home. I have planted thyme (haven’t tried to harvest anything) and other herbs, but they generally only do okay at best. Mint, which is an invasive weed, I managed to kill. But this year there was a success. Okay, so it’s only one small tomato, but it counts.
How silly would it be to mourn the plant that is fading with the summer instead of focusing on what it has given us (about a bite of tomato each)? I’m not going to roll the planter inside my home to save the plant, because it’s way too heavy and my cats would get into it. I can celebrate what it gave me and release this form, taking with me only the awareness that it is possible in God’s universe for me to participate in growing a plant. I have discovered part of the unchanging reality of my true self, my Buddha nature. I can let go of the form now.
My brother called to tell me about his son and their football team. They have this coach – Coach Vito – who just sounds really impressive. All the local teams came together for something called Jamboree, where they play short games and spend a full day on the field. No score is kept in the entire league (my nephew is still six) so it’s really about learning to play the game.
However, Coach called the whole team over at the next practice and asked how everyone thought they’d done. I picture them remembering that they had fun, so it must have been good. The team members talked about their successes and how it all went. They decided that based on their playing, they had done well.
And then Coach gave feedback. He said there was one thing he saw their team (and their town’s teams) do that he didn’t see from anyone else. What he noticed is that their team helped other people up if they fell. They have been taught that no matter what team another player is on, if they see someone go down, they are to give that person a hand up. Coach complemented the kids and said that was exactly the kind of people they should be.
Now, this team may or may not face the right direction. They may or may not bring the ball with them when they run for the touchdown. But by all the gods and goddesses of autumn, they are learning to play the real Game.
Book of John Ch 3
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.2 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.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”
4 “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!”
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?
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.