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.
This weekend I talked in my sermon about the sexual abuse I experienced in childhood. As I sit with the choice to talk about it now, I feel like I should clarify a few things. First of all, it’s the least important or even interesting thing you can know about me. Yeah, it happened and no, it doesn’t define me. I don’t consider myself a victim or even a survivor. I’m beyond it and into my own life. If you’ve been there, if you’ve been victimized in any way, you can get beyond it too. Whatever you were told it meant about you is pure ignorance. What someone else does to you means absolutely nothing about who you are and what you can do.
On the other hand, while I don’t accept the Truth of victimization, I don’t think folks who report abuse are lying. There’s a big difference between truth and Truth in my world. Rarely does a victim of abuse actually like about having been abused, and yet in our society often doesn’t believe the story. Rarely is a victim told the Truth after abuse about their perfection, how they are still and will always be the Beloved of the Beloved and how they can absolutely heal and have a wonderful life. Society believes the big Lie, that an abuse victim is damaged for life. Weird how we got that all turned around huh?
So the rule for me is that I will share my story if it will help someone else see the Truth beyond the story, beyond the truth of the facts. It’s the biggest and most healing Truth we can tell about ourselves or anyone else. If you have never been abused by another person, perhaps you fell for the Lie of unworthiness due to an illness or financial problems. Perhaps you believed you were broken because of your sexuality, of the body you live in that doesn’t look like the ones in the magazines or because you had trouble learning to read. It doesn’t matter WHY you came to believe in your brokenness. What matters is that we now wake up to Truth. There’s too much going on in the world, too much good to experience, to waste time on a story that has been spiritually Snopes’ed and found to be untrue.
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.
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.