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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Heart of Forgiveness

I am continually amazed by the synchronicity of the Universe.  When contemplating a topic for my message this Sunday, I heard (with my inner ears) “forgiveness.”  My mind immediately said, “What! I don’t want to talk about forgiveness; I don’t really know enough about it to talk intelligently about it.  Let’s choose something else.”  I told myself that forgiveness is one of those topics that has the potential for a great deal of misunderstanding and the possibility of stimulating pain in some.  Further, that I would rather talk about a topic with which I feel more comfortable.  Yes, I still argue with the voice of Spirit occasionally, but only when I get a message I don’t want to hear (smile).  One might think that I would have learned better by now, but no.  Also, one might think that by now I would have learned to immediately trust that when I am open to, and hear the voice for Spirit, I get it.  I know what I need to know when I need to know it.  It is not surprising that when I finally arrived at that realization, which thankfully didn’t take too long, I surrendered and chose to listen.  So, the topic for this Sunday’s message is, you guessed it “forgiveness.”

The synchronicity I refer to involves a post on Facebook.  I was searching for a previous post on some unrelated topic on the “Unify” page, when I happened upon a link that referenced the “18th International Forgiveness Day.”  When I clicked on the link, I was delighted and amazed to discover that International Forgiveness Day is, lo and behold, you guessed it, Sunday, August 3.  Not only that, but one of the keynote presenters for the event is Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a process that helps one connect deeply with feelings and needs, and opens the space for connection with others.  I have been studying and practicing NVC for ten years.  When I saw on this website the connection between forgiveness and NVC, I recognized that perhaps I do understand forgiveness better than I thought.  When I consider the practice of NVC and its implication on forgiveness, I realize that from my perspective, forgiveness is more than a spiritual practice that we engage in for the purpose of freeing ourselves from the pain of holding on to the past.  At the heart of true forgiveness is a state of mind that we can attain through the practice of empathy and compassion, for others as well as for ourselves.

Empathy is our capacity to connect deeply with feelings and needs.  NVC refers to the universal things we each value and desire as “needs.”  I prefer to think of “needs” as aspects of our Divine Nature that each of us longs to experience and have reflected to us from others and the world around us.  NVC teaches that everything we do or say is an attempt to meet a need.  I reframe that to say that everything we do or say is an attempt to express or experience an aspect of our Divine Nature, such as love, connection, or well-being.  Further, in keeping with NVC philosophy but stated in my own terms, when our actions or the actions of others do not help us realize an aspect of our divinity, we experience feelings that we might term as “negative”.  These are usually feelings that we would rather not feel, such as anger, sadness, shame or guilt.  Conversely, when we do experience our divinity, through actions of another or by our own actions, we have feelings that we often call “positive”.   These are feelings that we usually enjoy, such as peace, joy, expansion and love.  When we operate with the understanding that we all strive to know ourselves as the Divine through our actions and interactions, we can more clearly see that we all have the same desires.  Unfortunately, there are times when we may attempt to get those needs met in learned ways that are contrary to our highest intention, and this may stimulate pain in others and ourselves.  Empathy is our path to the authentic connection that is required for true forgiveness to occur.

Compassion is our capacity to face our pain, and to meet another in his or her pain.  The best definition I have heard for compassion is from Cindy Wigglesworth, author of SQ21, The Twenty-one Skills of Spiritual Intelligence.  In her book, she defines compassion as “the capacity and willingness to join another in his or her pain with the intention of helping to relieve suffering, while not contributing to or joining in the suffering, thus maintaining inner and outer peace regardless of the circumstances.”  I would add that compassion also includes our capacity and willingness to connect with our own pain, while not contributing to or exacerbating the pain of either one.  In order to achieve true forgiveness, we must be willing to engage in the practice of compassion for the one we are holding as guilty for stimulating our pain.  That may be ourselves or another.  It is often, if not always, challenging to face our own pain.  Most of would rather do whatever is necessary to medicate and avoid it, and others may engage in psychological denial, refusing to admit they have pain.  As the Buddhist proverb says, “Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”  The experience of pain, emotional, physical and spiritual, is part of the human condition.  We all have pain.  Suffering, however, is the result of the story we tell about our pain.  We suffer when we continue to relive, in our minds, the events that originally stimulated the pain, and continue to tell our story about what should or should not have happened.  Compassion invites us to connect with our pain, meet it face-to-face, and understand that our actions or the actions of another are not the cause of our pain.  Our pain is caused, at the deepest level, by our seemingly unmet needs, or from my perspective, the unexpressed, unexperienced and unrealized aspects of our Divine Nature.  We can compassionately connect with the pain, without engaging in suffering, thereby allowing it to connect us with those beautiful aspects of Divine Nature that we long for.

Empathy and compassion are not intellectual exercises; they are heart-centered practices.  They require that we engage with ourselves and others from a deep connection with our feelings and with our most precious heartfelt desire, our need to experience our Divine Nature.  When practiced authentically, empathy and compassion open our hearts and allow us to experience the outpouring of Love that is the foundation of the Divine expressing as us.  They open us to the awareness of not only our shared humanity, but our shared Divinity, as well.  With open hearts, we are able and willing to connect with each other beyond our stories of right and wrong, good and bad, victim and perpetrator.  As we connect by intentionally practicing empathy and compassion, we learn that we can transcend our original story and begin to tell the story of healing, connection, and understanding. We are able to see each other as spiritual beings who are living a human experience and doing our best to remember our Divinity, albeit sometimes through methods that are in diametric opposition to that intention.  Connecting in that understanding with empathy and compassion for ourselves and others is at the heart of the consciousness of true forgiveness.

I am grateful that I decided to listen to the voice for Spirit prompting me to discover a deeper meaning of forgiveness and thankful for the gifts of synchronicity in the process.  I hope to see you on Sunday morning at 10:00 as we explore forgiveness further.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Hope to Wholeness

“Your faith has made you whole.”

These are the words that the Gospel writers often attribute to Jesus, words he spoke in response to those who experienced healing in his presence. (Mark 5:34 & 10:52; Luke 8:48 & 17:19)  Jesus did not claim any special power of healing; instead he said it is “faith” that makes one “whole”.

I offer that when Jesus used the word that has been translated into English as ‘whole’ that he was referring to something beyond the physical: he was naming a state of consciousness.  In Unity we learn to interpret Scripture metaphysically and allegorically.  We do not categorically deny that the so-called “miracles” attributed to Jesus actually happened; rather we prefer to understand them as allegory for what takes place in consciousness, so as to make the stories applicable in our lives today.

Jesus, as a master metaphysician, knew that healing takes place in consciousness and that all manifestations demonstrate according to consciousness.  Jesus, as we understand him, lived primarily from the Christ consciousness, the consciousness of Unity, knowing his Oneness.  His mission was to impart to his disciples and other followers the Truth of Oneness.  He stated his mission emphatically in John 18:37 when he said, “I have come to bear witness to the Truth.”  

In fulfilling his mission, he did not bear witness to the demonstrations of a consciousness of duality, lack or limitation. He did not bear witness to disease or death.  From the Christ consciousness he only saw the perfection, the wholeness inherent in all creation.  When he experienced the physical manifestation of the consciousness of Unity, he affirmed, “Your faith has made you whole.”  I assert that perhaps a more meaningful interpretation would be, “through the power of your faith you have remembered your wholeness.”

In Unity, we affirm that through faith, which is understood as our ability to see and know the Truth of wholeness, even in the midst of physical demonstrations that would have us believe otherwise, we can attain the Christ consciousness and know our wholeness.  I offer that Jesus was affirming that through the power of faith we are able to know and to demonstrate physical manifestations of wholeness.

From a consciousness of separation we, “see as through a glass darkly,” and we demonstrate accordingly.  But when “perfection comes;” when the consciousness of wholeness is realized, then “we will see face to face.”  As Paul said, “for now we know only part, but then we shall know as we are known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) We shall know ourselves as the consciousness of wholeness and we will demonstrate that wholeness in mind, body and spirit.

We claim our power of faith; we exercise our power of faith, and we trust that through faith we remember and are made “whole”.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Transformed by Love

"We are not here to bask in God's love, but - willingly, freely, and with answering love - to give all we have to Love's work of transformation so Love can transform all we have, all we are, to gold. It is in surrendering to this greatest of all laws of alchemy that we discover and become the real gold, the real power, the real hope." - Andrew Harvey, The Hope

Oh, how good it feels to simply bask in God's Love, to sit in the silence of meditation and allow the Light to pervade my entire being, to feel every cell of my body come alive in the remembrance of its truth as an expression of divine Love and Light!  Likewise, I cherish basking in Love as it expresses through all who embrace me in the Love of the Christ. There is no more enjoyable feeling than basking in God's Love as I experience it from within and see it reflected from without. It is an invaluable experience for each of us. Without times of basking in God's Love, we would wither and die as would seeds planted in the earth that never receive the nourishment of the sun's light.

And, as Andrew Harvey so eloquently states, we are not here only to bask in God's Love, but we are also here to allow that Love to transform us so that we willingly and freely answer Love's call to be Love in the world. We must accept ourselves for whom and what we are - God in the world - stop playing small, and be the answer to the cries for help from a world in need.

We allow Love to transform us as we open to the awareness of Love's presence as us, and allow the Light of Love to reveal the illusion of myths, messages and beliefs that keep us playing small.  I saw a church sign recently that said, "God's truth, the best defense against Satan's lies." While I do not agree with the implied theology, I do agree that Love, which is God's Truth, is our only defense against the lies of the ego-identified self and that only Love has the power to transform us into the complete and full expressions of all that we are here to be in the world. God's Love transforms us into fully realized expressions of Itself. From that consciousness of realization, we can do none other than to be Love in the world. Being Love in the world, we give of all that we are, and by giving of all that we are the world's needs are met.

I invite you to take a moment right now and enter into a time of quiet reflection. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and center your awareness in the heart. Once you have centered your awareness in the heart, fall even further into the deeper heart, and bring to mind situations that speak to you of an apparent need, whether in your local community, the country, or around the globe. As you contemplate each of them, be aware of which one or ones call to the depth of Love from your heart. Which one or ones break your heart open with compassion? When you feel your heart breaking open, consciously direct the light of Love from your heart into those situations. Then, ask your heart if there is some action you can take to help meet the apparent need there. Listen for the wisdom that arises, and affirm, "I am the courage to be and do all that I am called to."

Bask in God's Love, allow God's Love to transform you at depth, and awaken to the awareness that you are God's Love in expression.  Allow your expression to be a sacred service to the Divine, to yourself, and to all beings everywhere.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Living on Purpose

I recently began reading Deepak Chopra’s book, The Third Jesus, The Christ We Cannot Ignore.  This is a book that has been on my shelf for quite some time.  I am not sure why, but I have avoided reading it for years.  I suppose that until now I was not yet ready for the message it offers.  However, over a period of a few months, the book showed up in my awareness several times.  Sometimes it takes the proverbial two-by-four to get my attention, but not always.  I am getting better at paying attention; in this case I did.  I believe I am not alone in having the experience of information showing up when I am ready to receive it, further evidence of the truth in the adage, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

When I picked up the book and decided to read it, I was not at all surprised that it spoke directly to the place at which I now find myself in my own spiritual journey.  While I am confident that Christianity is my chosen spiritual path, I am still exploring what that means for me.   Further, I am continuing to explore my beliefs about Jesus, historically, metaphysically and theologically. 
I am happy to report that with the help of Dr. Chopra, I am once again allowing the Jesus of the Christian Scriptures to be my teacher from a slightly different and fresh perspective. 

The Introduction to the book begins, “Jesus Christ left behind a riddle that two thousand years of worship haven’t solved.  The riddle can be stated in one sentence: “Why are Jesus’s teachings impossible to live by?”  Dr. Chopra posits that for centuries Christians have tried to live according to what Jesus taught and they have failed, leaving us to question whether the Christian church misunderstood or possibly purposefully misconstrued his teachings to serve its own agenda. 

Dr. Chopra asserts that what Jesus was actually teaching was more radical and mystical than most of us have explored or have been willing to comprehend.  He states that Jesus “wanted to inspire a world reborn in God.” Moreover, Jesus, who had attained God Consciousness, was teaching his followers how to do the same, and thereby change the world and their experience of it.

Dr. Chopra's book has helped me to understand that so many of us have failed to live by the teachings of Jesus because we have, for centuries, attempted to live by a mode of behavioral, moral standards that have been prescribed by the traditional Christian church.  Those who have superimposed these standards upon humanity and those who have attempted to live by them are largely unaware that they can achieve the same level of consciousness Jesus achieved. This awakening is something that the traditional Christian church does not teach, and for the most part, even denies.  Jesus lived in the conscious awareness of his Divinity; however, traditionalists expect to live by those same standards from a consciousness grounded in a religion based on the idea of separation.  It is no wonder so many of us have not been able to achieve and live from the kingdom of God consciousness that Jesus promised.

Unity teaches that indeed Christ Consciousness is the potential.  Each of us already possess the potential to attain the same God consciousness that Jesus realized.  Unity has been teaching this message for over a hundred years.  In fact, the word ‘unity’ has multiple meanings, not the least of which is “a state of being one; oneness.”  When Charles Fillmore adopted the name Unity for what would become a Truth movement, he surely must have intended to capture the more radical and mystical intent of Jesus’s teachings, and for Unity to not be just another denomination of the traditional Christian church. 

As Mr. Fillmore once stated, “Unity is a link in the great educational movement inaugurated by Jesus Christ.  Our objective is to discern the Truth in Christianity and prove it.  The Truth that we teach is not new; neither do we claim special revelations or discovery of new religious principles.  Our purpose is to help and teach humankind to use and prove the eternal Truth taught by the Master.”

I propose that we have overlain the original teachings of Jesus as interpreted by Charles & Myrtle Fillmore with platitudes and jargon that do not serve the original intent of the movement.  I suggest that we reclaim Mr. Fillmore’s defining statement and truly prove that the “riddle” Dr. Chopra claims Jesus left behind does have a discernible answer. 

We can make the conscious choice to attain and live from Christ consciousness, thereby embodying the teaching of Jesus and fulfilling our divine purpose, which is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be the Christ in the world. Let us be the ones to prove that it is, indeed, possible to live by Jesus’s teachings.  Let us be the ones that demonstrate the true rebirth in God.  Let us be the ones who establish God’s kingdom on earth.  Let us be the ones to instate the reign of peace.  Let us be the saviors of the world. Let us live our divine purpose.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Miracles Begin With You

“What is impossible with men is possible with God.” – Luke 18:27

Several months ago I began reading, in earnest, the most recently published book by Lakewood Church Pastor and bestselling author, Joel Osteen.  The book is entitled, Break Out: Five Ways To Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life.  At the time, I used the book as inspiration for several Sunday morning lessons.  My intention was to do a several week series based on the book; however, other more immediate topics of concern and interest for the church came up and I decided to delay that series.  Today, as I was considering my lesson for this coming Sunday and considering the possibility of introducing a series on prosperity, I was reminded of Mr. Osteen’s book.  So, as I exercised on the elliptical machine at the gym this morning, I began listening, once again, to the recorded version of the book.  And, as before, I felt moved and enlivened as I listened to Mr. Osteen’s message.

Mr. Osteen inspires and encourages with the message that our first “Break Out” must occur within our own minds: "When you break through in your mind, believing you can rise higher and overcome obstacles, then God will unleash the power within that will enable you to go beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary life you were designed to live."

On the surface it sounds like a message that one might hear from any Unity or other New Thought teacher.  However, what strikes me about Mr. Osteen’s message, and it is not in alignment with our teaching, is his reference to a God somewhere ‘out there’ who is eagerly waiting to bless us, provided we increase our faith by utilizing the five practices outlined in his book.  Further, that “he” (God) will take us beyond our own self-imposed limitations provided that we put him first.  Mr. Osteen says that God will “favor” us by taking us beyond our current condition, whether physical, financial, relational, or other.  It seems evident that his message is that when we win God’s favor “He” will reach down and perform a miracle for us.  As evidence for his assertion, Osteen cites examples of physical healings, job promotions, unexpected encounters that lead to increased prosperity or notoriety, as well as others.  His message speaks of a capricious deity whom we spur into action through our devoted worship.

I would be in complete agreement with Mr. Osteen if he had instead stated, “When you break through in your mind, believing you can rise higher and overcome obstacles, God, the power within, will be unleashed enabling you to go beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary life you were designed to live.”  In Unity we teach that God is “the power within,” and that power is unleashed when we release our resistance to it.

As Unity minister and author, Eric Butterworth, states in Spiritual Economics
“The important Truth is that you are a spiritual being with the Allness of Infinite Mind within you.  Whatever your need may be, the answer is not to get God to give you more through some divine slight-of-hand process, but rather to uncover and release your own “imprisoned splendor.”
The God of our understanding does not perform miracles, if by ‘miracles’ we mean physical demonstrations that supersede Spiritual and Universal Laws, nor does God “favor” one person over another.  Each of us has the power within that when realized, activated and released will produce demonstrations, in alignment with Law, that others may see and call “miracles.”  However, we will know as the Master Teacher, Jesus stated, “It is the Father within that does the work.” Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity, stated, 
“All true action is governed by law.  Nothing just happens.  There are no miracles.  There is no such thing as luck.  Nothing comes by chance.  All happenings are the result of cause and can be explained under the law of cause and effect.”
While I deeply respect Joel Osteen, and what he presents in his book  as “Five Ways To Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life,” I propose that Unity also provides us with five ways to increase our faith and move beyond our self-imposed limitations and live life extraordinarily: they are known as the Five Basic Principles of Unity.  Although they are not traditionally presented as action steps, these five truths can serve as guiding principles for our lives if we know how to put them into practice.

I would like to offer the following restatement of the five basic principles of Unity as positive action statements.  Each is followed by an affirmation I offer that may help us make them an integral part of our daily spiritual practice thereby unleashing our “imprisoned splendor” and allowing us to live extraordinary lives.

Please note that ‘Good’ as used here is not an evaluative word, as in ‘good or bad’; nor is it meant to represent anything of form, as in “goods” that we might receive.  Instead, it is used to represent the nature of the Divine.

First –Dare Bravely to believe that there is only God, the Absolute Good, and none besides God.
I believe that there is one power and one presence.  I believe that the nature of that power and presence is absolute beauty, order, life, harmony, love, unity, abundance, and all the Good that I can imagine.  I believe! I release my unbelief.

Second –Claim Unabashedly the Truth of your Divine nature.
I am created in the image and likeness of the one power and one presence endowed with its nature; therefore, God is all the Good that I am.

Third - Believe Fearlessly that you experience life according to the thoughts you think.
I consciously choose to release all limiting thoughts and choose positive, constructive thoughts that allow manifestations of Good in my life.  I make conscious choices that support my well-being – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  I actively practice Self Love and acceptance.

Fourth – Claim Boldly through the practice of affirmative prayer that only Good manifests in your life experience.
Through the power of prayer, I claim my Good and I open to the flow of Divine Spirit and Substance in and as my life. 

Fifth – Give Courageously from the awareness that God, the Absolute Good, is all that I am and all that I have to give and all that I am open to receive.
I give freely from the eternal fount of Divine Substance and Supply.  I know that as I give, I receive.  I trust that I cannot out-give, nor can I ever deplete the one Source of all that I am.
I encourage us all to look at the Five Basic Principles, not as simply a stated belief system of the Unity movement, but as universal truth principles that can serve as spiritual practices for increasing our faith and expanding our consciousness so that we may rise above what we perceive as obstacles and live fully empowered and extraordinary lives manifesting so-called miracles every day.

Unleash your “imprisoned splendor” and shine!