When we talk about being “spiritual but not religious” or living a “spiritual” life, what do we mean exactly?
There are different ways we can define spirituality (its own line of development, the highest level or stage of any line of development, an attitude toward life – like compassion or love, a peak experience regardless of lines or stages, or the Ground of all being and experience). Spirituality means all of these things (and more) to so many. And when discussing spirituality with others, it’s important to determine which definitions are in play.
But one thing is for certain – the spiritual path should not be confused with our spiritual practice. The path is not what we do. It’s who we are, who we choose to be in each moment. It is the journey to which we are called.
And whatever we are called to do – whichever cause or organization or group of people we’re called to serve, this is also part of our path. It’s a sacred relationship, a spiritual contract held in place by the agreements you have with yourself – that you will serve on your path with integrity.
I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to having doubts about my own worthiness – and my own qualifications. Not only in my career, but in parenting, in my pastoral and chaplain work, in community leadership, in my writing. Who am I to be deserving of these teachings and experiences that I’ve received? Who am I to be worthy of happiness in my life? Am I deserving of the opportunity to teach others?
Self-doubt sometimes greets you on the sunniest parts of the path.
Vesākha or Vesak, also known as Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day, is a holiday observed traditionally by Buddhists all over the world. Sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday,” it actually commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha in the Theravada or southern tradition. [read more]
On April 11 through 13, I spent the weekend with the Unity chaplains on a retreat at St. Leo Abbey in Dade City, Florida. We spent three days there deepening our practice of prayer and compassionate listening, and getting to know one another in a sacred and peaceful environment.
We also spent time alongside the monks at the abbey (a Benedictine order that has been in Florida since 1882). We joined them for morning prayers, we tried to follow along as they chanted in Latin, we shared meals with them, and we shared the silence.
Experiencing the Benedictine liturgy and prayer service, made me realize that the order (who have given up their possessions, their finances, and in some cases, their family) maintain a lifestyle that many people have only ever seen on film or read about in books. The monks at St. Leo (though they may have iPhones and modern footwear under their tunics) are only a few steps removed from the time when the altar was set against the back wall of the cathedral and everyone faced the same direction — including the priests — in worship of a theistic, otherworldly God.
Being there with the chaplains of Unity, a movement founded in 1889 in Kansas City, Missouri by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, put this in stark perspective. Unity’s form of “practical Christianity” and metaphysics would not exist at all had it not been for earlier forms of orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. But, it also cast our other activities there in a strange and sometimes surreal light. As part of the retreat, we performed Native American smudging rituals, we called in the Four Directions, we spent time journaling, drumming, singing, and performing releasing rituals proclaiming the Christ Consciousness within us all while standing hand in hand in the moonlit shadow of that ancient sanctuary. I’m sure we were quite a sight for the more conservative and dogmatic monks of the old way.
“The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.” – Sri Aurobindo
Learning can sometimes mean putting down a long-held worldview in exchange for a new one. Learning is literally the act of changing your mind.
There are many models in modern psychology and education used to illustrate what we learn and how we learn — how fast or to what degree. According to integral theory, we (our selves and our consciousness) are comprised of various lines of development. Cognitive, moral, aesthetic, emotional, sexual, musical, athletic, spiritual, etc. These lines radiate out from the center of our being in all directions, and we unfold along these lines in stages — stages we can’t force, stages we can’t skip.
We push along into these newer and more inclusive stages when we are good and ready, when we have reached a tipping point between the old way of thinking or knowing and the new way of looking at the world. These new ways of understanding transcend and include the previous stages. They are inclusive of more perspectives, more methods. But we only lean forward into them when we are so tired and frustrated that it seems we have no choices left, and must somehow get “above it all.” We’ve done all there is to do, read all there is to read, met everyone there is to meet, and understood everything there is to know at the current stage.
If change is so necessary and so great, then why does it feel like death? We fear change, and we only surrender to change when we are finally ready to die to ourselves and be born anew from the flames.
Author and New Thought pioneer, H. Emilie Cady wrote in her classic Lessons in Truth, “Be assured, no matter what anyone else says to you or thinks, that the seeming failure does not mean loss of power. It means that you are to let go of the lesser in order that you may grasp the whole in which the lesser is included.”
Rohr’s first half of life has much to do with learning to follow prescribed laws, be they ethical structures, physical laws like gravity, etc. and has everything to do with studying (or worse yet, mimicking) existing traditions.
The second half of our lives then, is when we perfect the art of winnowing, of extracting the grain from the chaff. It’s when we practice the art of spiritual discernment, or separating the essentials from the nonessentials. It is when we find our grace — when we surrender and awaken to spirit. When we realize that we’ve been Spirit all along.
We do a lot of studying, reading and learning in the first half of life, while we’re building that container. But we rarely go back and reinterpret those lessons from a second-half-of-life perspective to see which structures we really need and which we can let go of. It’s quite possible that the scaffolding has been on the building long enough, that the training wheels can be uncoupled from the tires. And when we step into ourselves — getting current in that way — we may find that letting go of those crutches or braces allows for a new range of motion or a new method of feeling or intuition.
We may even find that we no longer need or believe the things that were shown to us as children. Or that our own wisdom may actually contradict some of what we think we know.
It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Continue reading
“The most important Gospel you’ll ever read is the one that you write.” – Reverend Russell Heiland
Maybe it’s because Christmas is approaching or possibly because I’ve neglected this topic for too long — tip-toeing around the various masculine forms of spirituality — but today, I want to talk about Jesus.
What I don’t want to do is discuss his love life or his blood line. I don’t want to get into the metaphysics of the Trinity or the virgin birth, or his death and resurrection (we’ll save that for Easter), and I definitely don’t want to talk about original sin. That, we can leave checked at the door. Permanently.
I would, however, love to talk at length about what Jesus — this middle eastern man with a rebel spirit and pathological contempt for authority — was able to accomplish in his short life. But there’s one problem. And it’s a pretty big one. Jesus’ life may not have happened at all. At least, not the way we might think.
Did Jesus Exist?
There’s a curious 40-70 year span that occurs between Jesus’ death and the time that the apostles and their descendants were “inspired” to write the Gospels. That, combined with the fact that more than half of the Gospels weren’t even written by men alive during Jesus’ time, gives one cause for wonder. I, myself, wonder if I would trust the acquaintances of my friends (even if I considered them “disciples”) to correctly quote me two generations later about something as important as what I believed to be the “good news,” the living Word of God.
There’s also the ancient and familiar origins of the Jesus myth itself. The story of Jesus was not new to people at the time. In fact, Jesus’ life story has so many elements in common with other (and pre-existing) Mediterranean and Middle Eastern god-man hybrids — like the Persian story of Mithras (whose birth was attended by three shepherds), the Egyptian legend of Osiris (who was assassinated by conspirators, defeated death and returned to rule the afterlife), the Greek Dionysus (who celebrated a “last supper” with twelve trusted associates before his execution) and Zoroaster (also from Persia, who was “born of a virgin mother” and come to “crush the forces of evil”). Even the Hindu deity Krishna (thought to have lived anywhere from 3228 to 3rd Century BCE) is thought to be the inspiration for the Jesus myth (his father was a carpenter, his birth was marked by the appearance of a star, he healed the sick and the lame).
Any (or all) of these stories could prove to be the inspiration for the Jesus mythology, but not vice versa. In fact, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) wrote, “This, in our day, is the Christian religion, not as having been unknown in former times, but as having recently received that name.”
So, if Jesus’ life was simply a more effective re-telling of re-hashed pagan and Occident stories and legends, then why does he matter? And, if we could separate the mythology of Jesus — of which so much has been added to after his “death” — from the message or teachings of Jesus, what might distinguish him, philosophically, from the hordes of other virgin-born messiahs of the day?
In researching and crafting our “statement of belief” as required by law, we came across 25 (or more) core principles or values that run uniformly through the world’s major religious teachings — as put forth by Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, Shankara, Confucius and more.
At Integral Church, we believe wholeheartedly in things like religious literacy, religious pluralism, and the inclusion of all appropriate (what is true for you) wisdom traditions and spiritual practices.
So, it seemed fitting to present this list here, in a format that can be easily read, understood, shared and bookmarked.
15 Great Principles Shared by All Religions
The Golden Rule / Law of Reciprocity – The cornerstone of religious understanding. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” – Christianity
Honor Thy Father and Mother – Knowing them is the key to knowing ourselves. The day will come when we shall wish we had known them better.
Speak the Truth – “Sincerity is the way of heaven, and to think how to be sincere is the way of a man.” – Confucius
It’s More Blessed to Give than to Receive – Generosity, charity and kindness will open an individual to an unbounded reservoir of riches.
Heaven is Within – “Even as the scent dwells within the flower, so God within thine own heart forever abides.” – Sikhism
Love Thy Neighbor / Conquer With Love / All You Need is Love – Acts of faith, prayer and deep meditation provide us with the strength that allows love for our fellow man to become an abiding part of our lives. Love is a unifying force.
Blessed Are the Peacemakers – When people live in the awareness that there is a close kinship between all individuals and nations, peace is the natural result.
You Reap What You Sow – This is the great mystery of human life. Aware or unaware, all are ruled by this inevitable law of nature.
Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone – The blessings of life are deeper than what can be appreciated by the senses.
Do No Harm – If someone tries to hurt another, it means that she is perceiving that person as something separate and foreign from herself.
Forgiveness – The most beautiful thing a man can do is to forgive wrong. – Judaism
Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged – This principle is an expression of the underlying truth that mankind is one great family, and that we all spring from a common source.
Be Slow to Anger – Anger clouds the mind in the very moments that clarity and objectivity are needed most. “He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; others only hold the reins.” – Buddha
There is But One God / God is Love – Nature, Being, The Absolute. Whatever name man chooses, there is but one God. All people and all things are of one essence.
Follow the Spirit of the Scriptures, Not the Words – “Study the words, no doubt, but look behind them to the thought they indicate; And having found it, throw the words away, as chaff when you have sifted out the grain.” – Hinduism
“The Buddha compared enlightenment to the experience of being forgiven our debts, to having a break in a fever, to emerging from the wilderness of loneliness and longing.
In the darkness before dawn, we gathered together, putting down our separate burdens, seeking forgiveness of debts, asking to receive our daily bread of life without trespassing into future, without turning away or trampling past what is offered here and now.”
– Tracy Cochran, from “Away” Parabola, Summer 2012