Archive for the ‘Questions from the Journey’ Category

Through out my life I have had a tendency towards depression. In part, this is likely due to my genetic and biochemical make up. I remember my Dad’s dark moods and often overwhelming sadness. The tragedies of life can appear overwhelming and good reason to be mournful. But such habits of sadness are not only painful but useless and counter to the joy of the heart promised by the transforming power of Christ.

Somewhere along the line, I have learned that joy is a much better spiritual practice. In fact, it is our nature as children of God. The first lesson in this journey was becoming aware of my self-talk, the running commentary in my thought process. I was shocked to discover how negative I was, judgmental, expecting the worst, never satisfied. Who wouldn’t be depressed?

The second lesson was even more important than the first: the antidote. The Prayer of the Heart also known as the Jesus Prayer, practiced by monks and mystics, ordinary women and men, continuously spoken 24/7 in Ortodox Monastaries around the globe and most especially in the Holy Lands. It is quite simply this: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” I started practicing this prayer a few minutes out of my day. Soon I found myself remembering to repeat this phrase whenever my judgements surfaced. It’s been years now and this prayer has become an unconscious constant in my thoughts. I wake up and this prayer is my first thought.

This isn’t because I am so holy or good. Truly I’m not! Rather this is the Grace of the Holy Spirit at work in my soul even when I am a grump or an idiot or a farce. Because you see this Joy of being at-one with God is a choice, a choice that requires practice. It’s not magic. It’s a miracle of grace.

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“The universe has no beginning or end, and God is entirely present within every particle of it.”

Excerpt From: Eben Alexander, M.D. “Proof of Heaven.” Simon & Schuster

This book was recommended to me by a fellow patient in a waiting room of my doctor’s office. I did not expect to like it but curiosity won out. What is different about this book in comparison to other Near Death Experience memoirs is that it is written by a skeptical scientist and it is not beholden to any religion or philosophy. In part, it describes the experience of union with God that I sometimes have experienced in meditation in the past decade. Please read it with an open heart.

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“Tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for [God] to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”

– Alice Walker

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This is a quote from a man who started New Hope Ministry in a little baptist church here in the Southern Tier of NY state. “I believe God doesn’t waste a hurt” says Ray Kuhr. His program is an expansion of 12-step programs and is aimed at all addictions. I have long thought that the modern term for sin is addiction and that the remedy is the same.
I continue to slowly read the Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda. I spent a week pondering this segment beginning on page 256

Ignorance (born of cosmic delusion) is the greatest sin because it eclipses that divine Self and produces the limitation of ego or body conciousness, the root cause of the three-fold sorrow of man – physcial, mental and spiritual. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) The unspiritual man living in the sin of ignorance experiences a living death – denied the life-breath of truth realization, he is a dream puppet dancing on the strings of illusion. … The devotee must rather demonstrate to the glory and honor of his true Self – the “son of God,” the image of God dwelling in the flesh – his immortal kinship with the beloved Father-God…..he who dishonourably relinquishes the fight against temptations experiences a living death.

God doesnt’ waste a hurt….I do believe that absolutely everything that happens in this mortal world is a part of God’s redemptive plan. If we could see from the perspective of eternity, we might find the sorrows of this life a noble participation in the divine cosmic plan. We bear these things for God’s sake, for the sake of that divine image for which our bodies have been made. If we bear our sorrows as God’s sorrows rather than as some personal divine “gotcha”, perhaps the hurt we so dearly feel will be for a much higher purpose. Rather than seeing our selves as worthless sinners, if we see ourselves as divine souls living this particular human experience for God’s sake, than each hurt will be redeemed.

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“What is therapy and why do people seek it?” asks A.G.S.
I’ve become a bit cynical and jaded about this question. On a personal level, I spent a total of 20 years in one form of psychotherapy or another. When I was a pastor and a chaplain, I found it a necessary tool to keep myself honest in facing my own limitations and tendency to codependency. As far as actually growing and changing in the process, I have to honestly say that only happened when it was just too painful to not change. On one hand, there is this desire within us to grow and improve. But there is also the inherent sin of laziness. Author and psychotherapist M. Scott Peck calls this “original sin.”
And yet I have changed and grown and come to a place of eternal joy. I’m sure the therapy I participated in over the years is due some credit for positive change but the lion’s share has come for practicing the presence of God.
I’ve kept a journal off and on for most of my life. One entry from my adolescence observed: “The more I try to change something about myself, the worse that thing gets.” The corollary to this is the spiritual truth: “What we focus on grows.” I think this is why most psychotherapy doesn’t work. Gerald May in the book Addiction and Grace is wonderfully helpful in understanding the brain chemistry that makes this so.
Nearly 2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul lamented about this in the seventh chapter of the book of Romans and his answer to this dilemma in chapter eight has proven true for me: “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!… The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Let me give a practical example of how this is done. It is important to have a space somewhere in your home that is your personal sanctuary in which you pray and meditate. It is helpful to have some sort of altar in this space with things on it that symbolize your experience of God. (For me this is an old family Bible, three candles to represent the Trinity, a carving of the Holy Family from Jerusalem, a cross and a number of pictures.) Such a space helps to create new neurological patterns that bring to your mind and body an accumulation of Spirit-based experiences. Spend at least 15 minutes a day in this space. If this is not possible, begin with five minutes. Begin this time by deeply breathing in God’s presence and exhaling your worries. Do this three times. Then recite the Lord’s Prayer Follow this by just sitting in silence knowing that you are surrounded inside and out with God’s loving presence. As concerns or fears or distractions come to your mind, silently pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy.” (aka The Jesus Prayer or the Prayer of the Heart) Again breath in God’s grace and breath out your distractions. As you practice this, over time you will sense a deep peace. Through out your day, when faced with your own limitations, just repeat this process. Instead of struggling on your own to change yourself, use this technique to remind yourself that it is God who changes and redeems us from the inside out.

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“I beg you therefore, my brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God – which is your spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world system but be transformed by the renewal of your minds so that you might know for yourself what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2

I memorized this verse when I was about 12 years old and it has been a guiding principle in my life all these years. At times, this verse has been a corrective to destructive eating behaviors. At other times it has been a motivation to exercise and to dress well. At all times it has been the “how-to” of remembering that my body is a temple of the holy spirit.

I Corinthians 6:19 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. “

A little over six years ago, my body became racked with pain and anxiety. I could not control much of anything – my weight, my ability to walk much less exercise, or to put my thoughts into words. Somedays I couldn’t even hold a book. My heart beat became erratic as a reaction to the pain. Even now, there are days this is my reality. Where once I could simply close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, easing into a state of meditaion and practicing the presence of God, suddenly, I could not.

At that time, I was introduced to chanting. At first, I listened to Gregorian chant but it became too busy with sound for my nervous system. Then I spoke the Jesus Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner” but even that caused my mind to wander to my own errors and to focus on my failures rather than on Christ. About this time, I was introduced to Jerry Thomas who sent me a CD with the Jesus prayer in latin “Om Jesu Christi” and it transformed by ability to be in God’s presence.

Since that time, I have been blessed by several Sanskrit chants, most importantly the Gayatri Mantra. What began as an occassional spiritual practice has become a daily longing and joyous hour or two of meditation. I have begun to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit as actual Presence in my body. I experience this holy energy and purification of self and this old verse comes back to me. And I know that this is what it means to present my body as a living sacrifice and I know, truly know, perhaps even within the very cells of this body, “what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

I haven’t been writing much on this website. The knowledge that I am abiding in doesn’t always have words. The words without the experience could be confusing. Please let me know if what I write is helpful to you in anyway. Or if you have specific spiritual longings or questions for which you would like my prayers and perhaps what wisdom I might be given. My present life is a life of devotion to Christ through prayer and meditation. My understanding of Christ is far beyond what I learned in seminary or what is taught in the churches of institutional Christianity. But my beloved One is the One who was, who is and always will be the light of all creation.

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In my sorting through old papers, I came across this reflection I had written 20 years ago randomly tucked in a folder of bits and peices:

“Prayer has always been a mystery to me. My first memories of prayer (other than Grace said before meals) are my early grade school prayers of confession which I deemed necessary for assurance of salvation. At eight, I was taught such theological truths as eternal security and salvation by grace alone. Although relieved of my burden of laborious confessions, I began to wonder what the point of it all was.
For awhile, it was enough to know that Jesus prayed and therefore so should I. But soon I began to wonder anew, why did he bother? Some mystical soul pointed out to me that the book of Revelations describes the prayers of the saints as incense offered to God, as something which delights and pleases him. That’s a beautiful thought to me but I don’t really understand it.

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I had lunch with a beautiful friend of mine, one who blossoms with the work and love of God within her. She asked me this question: “So many people judge other people as not of God because their beliefs aren’t ‘born again.’ What do you make of the verse where Jesus says I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…No one cometh to the Father but by me. ?


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I hadn’t attended church for three weeks. Our church is about 45 minutes away. A chronic illness keeps me grounded: some days my physical well-being is dis-ordered by this and I am reminded that I can’t always choose what to do. Other days, I’m just plain too tired or perhaps it’s just an excuse to stay in bed. Regardless, today we gathered with our community of faith to begin the Advent season.

I didn’t want to go. Exhausted after the Thanksgiving celebration (in which I reveled in the presence of my two children), sleeping in sounded good to me. No could do. I was the guest preacher for the day while our pastor was away on a cruise with his wife.

I’m still exhausted but I’m glad I was there. The hour set aside to gather and sing and pray and just be in God’s presence was certainly worth the drive! Our church is far from perfect. I didn’t even like the hymns we sang (and I had picked them out!). We messed up the call to worship reading. Babies were crying and people were coughing. But it was church and it was a joy to me. Why church?

It’s the people for me. The people are beautiful in all their variety and neuroses. I feel like I belong with them because I can be myself, with all my neuroses and imperfections. Although there may not even be one person there who might understand what it means to practice a mystical christiainity, I’m welcome and appreciated. These are people with whom I can laugh and cry, remember and dream. With all the problems that come with any group of human beings trying to be organized together, with all the times there are misunderstandings and immature acting out, these are still people with whom I belong. I’m thankful for that. It’s worth the trip. It’s worth the effort. It’s worthy of my respect.

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I met an elderly woman in our housing division the week that Hurricane Wilma was heading for Florida. A former science professor at our local University, she has the bright eyes and quick wit of unusual intelligence. She said to me, “With all the disasters in our world, I can understand why people of old would think the gods are angry with us.” In our ensuing discussion, we shared our sense of horror that the poorest and least powerful in our world have been the most to suffer in these natural disasters.
As the earthquakes were devastating Pakistan, I listened for updates on CNN and on NPR. Rarely were such updates given. I asked for prayers in church and many didn’t even seem to know there was an earthquake. The contrast with the news reporting on the Tsunami and the devastations of hurricanes on our own land was stark.

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