Friday, August 26, 2016

The Images of 'God'

Two of my favorite spiritual movies are “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty.”  I love message movies, especially when they are spiritual in nature.

In the first movie, Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a TV reporter who wants to become a news anchorman, except it seems like bad things keep happening to him and he can’t catch a break.   He then takes out his frustrations on God (Morgan Freeman), and blames him for everything that’s been happening to him.  To teach Bruce a lesson that God really does know what he’s doing, he offers Bruce his job, which Bruce joyfully accepts.  But Bruce finds out just how hard that job is and he causes chaos everywhere. He again goes to God to find out what to do and God told him that there’s always a way to make things right.  From there, Bruce started spreading random acts of kindness.  Eventually, Bruce asks God to take his powers back, he then finds pleasure in his job and the little things in life, and…oh, yeah…he gets the girl.

“Evan Almighty” is a sequel that continues with Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), who had gotten the news anchor job that Bruce wanted.  Evan is later elected to Congress and declares that he will change the world.  He prays to God (Morgan Freeman) to allow him this opportunity to make a difference.  His wife also prays that they, along with their three sons, would become closer as a family.   Almost immediately, strange things began to happen such as gopher wood being delivered to his house, his hair and beard keeps growing really long, and pairs of animals start following him for no reason.  He soon learns that he is to build an Ark as there was a huge flood coming.  If people ask, he was to tell them what he was doing, and of course, everyone thought he was nuts.  As soon as the Ark was built, a dam broke causing the valley to flood, but the people and animals were able to get on the Ark in time.  Evan saves the town’s community, exposes corruption, and becomes closer to his family.

If you haven’t seen these movies, I would highly recommend doing so.  Of course, there’s a lot more to these stories, but I think they will touch your hearts as they did mine.  They teach us much about our beliefs and our faith.  Since I saw these movies, Morgan Freeman has become my favorite ‘God.’  Whenever I picture God in human form, I see him as Mr. Freeman.  Freeman’s God was kind, compassionate, and loving, which is what I believe God to be.

We all have our own beliefs about whom or what God is.  Some believe he’s an old man sitting high in the sky, and most believe he’s out there somewhere.  Then there are those who believe God is genderless, is a spirit or energy that is in everyone and everything, and we find God within.  Personally, I believe the latter.  The Bible says that we were made in God’s image, but it does not say what that image is.  In order for we humans to relate to this deity, most have made God into a human being with man’s characteristics, emotions, and so on.  But do we really know?  Does it really matter?  When it comes down to it, we all only have our experiences of God (the God of our understanding).

Then there are those who believe that only a particular religion has the one and true God.  Can’t God be big enough to be in all religions?  I totally believe this to be so.

I love how Frank Sinatra describes God in his song, “That's What God Looks Like to Me.”  “One day as I walked with my son hand in hand, he said, there are things that I don't understand.  How high is the sky? What makes it so blue? And tell me, dad, what does God look like to you?  I said He looks like a rainbow, just after the rain.  He's as golden as wheat dancing over the plain. He looks like the star when the night's crystal clear.  He looks like a baby when mother is near. His face is the moonlight reflected on snow.  His hair like a garden where all flowers grow.  His heavenly eyes are as blue as the sea.  My son, that's what God really looks like. His heart's like a mountain so vast and so strong.  That's why all his children have room to belong.  His smile is the morning we waken to see.  But you, my son, you are what God really looks like to me.”

Or as I like to say, “If you want to see God’s face, look in the mirror.”  

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen August 26, 2016.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

World Peace

“I contribute to a world of peace through the power of my word.  As individuals, we can each foster peace in our world.  I can do something right now to contribute to greater peace:  I can, through the power of my spoken word, extend a blessing to everyone in my awareness, even those I may consider my ‘enemy.’  The act of blessing creates positive energy that dissolves negative thoughts and feelings.  The blessing ripples out as a vibration of healing love to my community and the world.  My words not only create my life, they can also create peace – both within me and within others.  Therefore, I imbue my words with loving intention and share blessings that inspire and encourage others.  In this way, I help bring harmony to each interaction and peace to the world.”  (Printed from “The Daily Word,” a Unity Publication.)

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”  (The “Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi,” also known as the “Peace Prayer” or “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.”  The prayer is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but in reality, no one knows who actually authored this beautiful poem.)

“Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.  Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.  With God as Creator, family all are we.  Let us walk with each other, in perfect harmony.  Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.  With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow…to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.  Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me!”  (Original lyrics by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson; the above is the Unity version.)

And then, of course, there is the song by the legendary John Lennon that says, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”  (“Give Peace a Chance.”)

We’re pretty good about praying for peace and writing poems and songs about peace, but when it comes to actually striving for peace, we still have a lot of work to do.  And yet, there are billions of people all over the planet who are doing so many good things to try to bring peace to the world!  We just don’t hear about them!  I wish we did because it would continue to give people a lot more hope!

The idea of world peace seems so overwhelming, but I truly believe that one day, we will achieve it if we can just keep focusing on that goal!  How can we contribute to manifesting world peace?  We start by finding peace within ourselves.  The Dalai Lama said, “World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.”

Peace Pilgrim stated, “The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.”  She also said, “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” 

You would think that with all the religions in the world that there would be world peace by now, and yet most of our religions are what’s keeping us separated!  Religions should be coming together and leading the way to world peace!  We should be practicing what Jesus and all our other great Spiritual Masters taught us, which is to love one another as well as ourselves, to have compassion, and to care for our fellow beings on this beautiful planet we call Mother Earth!  Don’t know where to begin?  We can begin by taking to heart the words of the writings, poem, and lyrics above.  Start with yourself and then spread the love, one person at a time.  As Gandhi said, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world.  It begins with each of us individually and if enough of us join the collective consciousness of world peace, we might just actually achieve it!

“You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one.”   John Lennon 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper August 19, 2016.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Symptoms of a Spiritual Awakening

We have been on the verge of a grand spiritual awakening for many years now, and as we move into the future, it seems like the awakening is happening at a faster and faster pace.  You can find countless articles on the Internet written by various authors who add their own beliefs and views on this particular topic.  Many of the symptoms may be considered ‘standard’ for everyone, but everyone experiences these standards in different ways. 

I found one posting on Facebook that listed twelve of the many symptoms people may experience on their path to spiritual awakening, and I discovered that I and many others have become personally familiar with them.  I can only share my own experiences as I go through each of these symptoms, and I’d like to express them with you here.

The first is an increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.  One thing I’ve learned is that we cannot always control what happens to us and trying to do so only makes us suffer.  What I try to do is to release my attachments to the outcomes, and just go with the flow.

Frequent attacks of smiling.  I’ve always been a chronic smiler all my life.  When we learn the ‘secrets’ of the Universe and how things work, we learn not to take life so seriously; therefore, we have more to smile about.  Besides, smiling feels good, makes others feel good, and it does marvelous things to our bodies and brains.

Feelings of being connected with others and nature.  When we learn our connection to everyone and everything in the Universe, we feel a Divine connection with people, animals, nature, and all of life.  We know that we’re all one with each other and that we all have the Divine within us.

Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.  Being grateful for everything we have and for life itself causes us to have even more feelings of appreciation.  We count our blessings and look for the good in everyone and everything. 

A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.  We learn that fear is an illusion and we learn to live more in the moment.  If we think about things that happened in the past that involved fear, then it’s so easy to let that same fear consume us in the present moment, and it may keep us from accomplishing our desires and dreams.

An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.  We find the little things to enjoy in life, and all those little things add up to bigger and bigger things.  Life is meant to be enjoyed.

A loss of ability to worry.  For the most part, I’m not a worrier, though I do have my moments.  What’s going to happen is going to happen and all the worrying in the world isn’t going to change a thing.  I try to think positive and to be optimistic.  If we can live in the moment without thoughts of the past or future, then there’s usually no need to worry.

A loss of interest in conflict.  Conflict is usually a disagreement in beliefs.  I don’t like conflict and have no interest in participating in it.

A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.  We never know what another is going through or why they’re making the decisions they are making.  Everyone has a story.

A loss of interest in judging others.  Whenever I start to judge someone, Spirit gives me a loving, spiritual smack on the back of the head and reminds me that it’s not my job to judge. 

A loss of interest in judging self.   It’s a little harder not to judge ourselves.  I can be pretty hard on myself as I tend to be a perfectionist.  We need to learn to love ourselves even when we make mistakes or don’t live up to our expectations of the way we think we should be.
Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.  When we can go through all the above, we then realize it really is all about the love, not only for others, but for ourselves!  We give our love unconditionally without wanting anything in return.

We are all evolving and growing in this magnificent thing we call life!  Like a caterpillar in a cocoon, many of us are beginning to emerge into the magnificent butterflies we were meant to be, and everyone grows and transforms at their own pace.  When we open our hearts and minds to all that is possible, we will be amazed at what life has in store for us!

“Your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world.” Ramana Maharshi  

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper August 12, 2016.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

And Then They Came for Me....

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”  Martin Niemöller   

How many of us have stood by while witnessing our fellow human beings being oppressed, discriminated against, bullied, or even slaughtered, and we didn’t do or say anything because we did not agree with that person or group of people’s beliefs?  Or maybe we even joined in because we believed the hype that ‘they’ were somehow considered not worthy or maybe even close to being non-human?  We’ve seen this throughout history and we’re still seeing it today.  We’ve seen it with the Native Americans, Japanese, Jews, blacks, and so many others.  Because some didn’t believe what they believed, they dehumanized them, put them in internment / concentration camps, moved them to other areas such as reservations, enslaved them, and even committed genocide on them.  You would think that in the year 2016 we would have learned from our history, but apparently not.

Today, we’ve added the LGBT communities, Muslims, blacks, immigrants, Mexicans / Hispanics / Latinos, people with disabilities, women, and so on.  Sadly, I’m sure more people will eventually be added to these groups.  At what point will it be our turn?   Some groups don’t think it could happen to them, but it could just as easily happen to any of us, just as it has happened to those in the groups I have mentioned.

So far, we’ve been fortunate in our country in that the oppressors can’t just go through towns or cities and slaughter thousands of people.  Unfortunately, they do so on a smaller scale compared to other countries, but because of our laws, the people who did the harm will be sought, caught, prosecuted, and face the consequences (hopefully).

In other countries, there are those who to this day continue to slaughter men, women, children, and babies just because of any perceived differences.  Whole villages and cultural groups are being killed because of politics, religious beliefs, in the name of ethnic cleansing, etc.

Why am I bringing all this up?  I’m extremely concerned because some in the political realm are spreading so much hate, fear, bigotry, ignorance, and violent propaganda against so many.  Fear is a great controller of people, and by using fear, they can easily brainwash people to do almost anything.  History has shown this.  People are already doing so much harm and giving a particular candidate the credit saying he inspired them to do so!  I really don’t mean for this to be about politics.  It’s about our being decent human beings!

But that’s not who we are!  If it’s true that we were made in the image of God, then all the above behavior is not of God (or the God of your understanding)!  If we say God is love, and Jesus commanded us to love one another, then where’s the love?  Where’s the compassion and kindness that our spiritual masters taught?  If we allow fear to rule and we give in to the hate and violence and start hurting others because of a difference of beliefs, then we can no longer call ourselves a Christian nation.  At least, that is not the Christianity that I personally believe in and those are not my values!  For myself, I believe in the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other spiritual leaders who taught love and peace and everything that goes with it. 

I really wanted to write a positive and uplifting article, but my heart has been so heavy for all those who are on the other end of all this hate, bigotry, and violence no matter who they are, what they believe, or what they look like.  I can’t imagine the fear they are living in today as they see politicians and others trying to take our country backwards.  My heart and soul goes out to them all.

There’s not much I can do to fix the world, but I can continue working on myself to try to be the best person I can be, and to teach unconditional love, not only for others, but for ourselves.  Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  The Dalai Lama affirmed, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  With them, humanity cannot survive.”  And Sen. Cory Booker stated, "We are called to be a nation of love!" 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper August 5, 2016.