The Expansive Action of God

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Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Like the first line in the Lord’s Prayer, this second line also expresses three ideas that are important to a prayerfully receptive state. It is generally believed that this prayer is petitionary, that it makes requests of God. However, many modern biblical scholars tell us we should think of this prayer as affirmative in nature, that it should be spoken in a manner similar to this: Thy kingdom is here, thy will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

This attitude aligns our thinking with the truth that the fullness of God (kingdom of God) is here and the will of God (absolute good) is unfolding right now. In relation to a challenge you may be undergoing, you are to think of God’s help as already present and that only absolute good is unfolding through your life, that what is already true at the unseen level (heaven) is also manifesting at the level of the visible (earth).

This attitude allows you to take your focus off the limitations of the apparent problem and turn it to the limitless possibilities of Spirit. Spirit is unformed intelligent energy and it is always looking for ways to express through specific channels. A seed you hold in your hand is endowed with this life, but it must be planted in a growing environment to begin its transformative process. Then this unseen life and intelligence, the kingdom of God, becomes evident. The expansive will of the Creative Life Force manifests.

When you pray, always remember that you are not attempting to get God to act; you are agreeing to open yourself to the action of God.

 

The Suicide Enigma

News of most suicides never makes it beyond the local press. With a celebrity, as in the cases of fashion designer Kate Spade, and world-renowned chef, Anthony Bourdain, their stories instantly become world news. In such instances, my heart goes out to the families whose shock and grief over their own loss is compounded by a public anxiously seeking answers to the very difficult question: Why?

Inconsolable emotions also arise when people are the victims of accidents or murder, lives cut short for reasons beyond their control. Suicide is different because it’s a conscious choice. We assume their success should somehow insulate them from the cares of the average person, so we grapple with the question of why anyone who has accomplished their dream of fame and fortune would want to end his or her life. Of course we don’t limit our confusion to celebrities. Most of us have probably known or have learned of people who appeared to have much to live for, but for reasons known only to them, committed suicide.

Over the last four decades I’ve conducted hundreds of memorial services with a few involving suicide. These are never easy for those left behind. There are so many questions. Family members are devastated, confused, angry, defensive, embarrassed, often interpreting the act of their loved one as a failure on their part. Why didn’t I see this coming? Could I have done something to stop them? Did I play some part in their choice? How could I have missed the signals that now seem so obvious?

The truth is, unless the suicide is a flagrant act of revenge or the culmination of a very long battle with addiction or obvious depression, they probably went to great lengths to shield loved ones from their closely guarded secret. They may have felt that bringing it out in the open would evoke disappointment from those who considered them a pillar of strength and self-confidence. They may have been great cheerleaders for others while they themselves were drowning in quiet despair. Maybe they felt they were beyond the help of therapy, support groups, or mood-enhancing drugs, or that the positive reinforcement these things may have provided would do little more than prolong their suffering.

Still, intervention is worth the effort, and I encourage anyone contemplating suicide to seek help. It doesn’t always take much to make a huge difference. In one case, my simple acknowledgment that a woman was considering taking her life was enough to turn her around. That someone finally noticed the extent of her pain was all it took to lift her from the thought of suicide. Once her dark secret was exposed, she could release it and go on to live a fulfilling life, which she did.

In another case, I wasn’t even aware that I had “interrupted” a planned suicide until I received this touching letter:

“I had no knowledge of the Unity church prior to one and one half years ago. Then one Sunday, I turned on the radio. I had reached a new low – filled with despair. I had just written a note to my family explaining why I had to take my life. As I was counting out the pills I was going to swallow, I heard Rev. Bottorff speaking (I really heard him). His voice and message was filled with so much love and hope the intense pain I was experiencing seemed to dissipate. I had not been in a church for 20 years and had totally given up on the idea of a God – until that Sunday when your service was broadcast. I can’t even tell you why I had the radio on at that time. I never had before. But I know that Rev. Bottorff saved my life and since that initial message I have missed only 2 or 3 broadcasts. There have been many times during this past year I have been sustained only by the assurance that I would hear your words again on Sunday. ‘Wait till Sunday’ has been my personal battle cry.  So I thank you with much gratitude for reaching out to me – and many others, I’m sure – with love and greater hope for the future.”

Through the years I have sorted through the mainstream Christian beliefs that most of us are born into. Taking one’s own life, I was led to believe, is a sin. I now agree with this, but only in the sense that sin means to fall short, to miss the mark. And what, in this context, is the mark? I’ve come to believe that we made the choice to be here, and we had our reason for making this choice. Have we fulfilled this reason? Have we hit our mark? Or have we become so buried in a shallow obsession of acquiring status, money, friends, accomplishments, houses, careers, and positions of power that we’ve forgotten why we made the choice to come? Are we merely the measure of all we’ve accomplished and accumulated, or are we something more, something we’ve forgotten in our culturally programmed and sanctioned quest to acquire?

At the death of the body, I believe we face a judge. But this judge is not some mighty religious figure holding a ledger filled with every one of our good and bad deeds. The judge is us. Free of the body and all its circumstantial issues, we recall our reason for coming and we weigh this against what we actually did with our life. We’re confronted with this question: Did I do what I came here to do, or did I get sidetracked by the distractions of materialism? If I see that I was sidetracked, I also see that suicide resolves nothing, as it gets me no closer to fulfilling my reason for coming.

Many are plagued with the feeling that something essential to their happiness is missing. The irony here is the thing we’re actually looking for is a conscious connection with our spiritual essence, which I’m comfortable calling the soul. If I want to recall my purpose for coming, then it’s essential that I reconnect with the “me” that made the decision to come in the first place. What am I looking for? What’s missing? I’m missing. My dissatisfaction is not the result of falling short of hitting some religiously imposed mark. I’ve missed my own mark. I’ve mistaken myself for the false sense of self that I’m projecting to the world. Rather than understand myself as a spiritual being having a human experience, I’ve lived my life as a human being seeking a spiritual experience. The problem here is that the spiritual experience, the attempted filling of the void, is thought to be accomplished by first addressing all material needs. When I accumulate enough stuff, I can relax and I’ll be free to be myself. The problem is, it’s never enough. The self I’m trying to be is a bottomless pit that simply cannot be filled with accomplishments.

I’m not advocating material deprivation. I’m talking about refocus. Rather than starting with the question of what you want from life, you take a hard look at the “you” who wants it. Are your pursuits in life designed to satisfy an inadequate self-image, or do you see your hoped-for acquisitions as the means through which you express your natural strength? In other words, are you fulfilling your reason for coming here? Do you know who you really are?

I believe suicide is but one of the many symptoms of a misplaced sense of self and purpose. In truth, we cannot destroy or harm our soul. Nor is our dissatisfaction with the things of this earthly life a signal that we should deprive ourselves of them. Our dissatisfaction is a signal that we have moved away from our true base, that we’re trying to fabricate something that we already are at the deepest level. Our spiritual journey is all about returning to this spiritual center, our true home, from which we have strayed.

Open Your Mind

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Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …

In this first line of the Lord’s Prayer, we are exposed to three important ideas. We can think of these ideas as a preparatory mindset that opens us to receive.

Our Father suggests a loving relationship with God. Jesus was raised in a culture that taught God was punishing. He taught that God would not give you a serpent if you ask for a fish, or a stone if you ask for bread. This form of address carries the idea of God as a supportive parent. How different this is to the thought that we may not be deserving or worthy of the good we ask for. We are to approach God as if God were a loving parent.

Who art in heaven, carries a meaning that is not readily apparent to one who thinks of heaven as a place in the sky. Jesus compared heaven to yeast in bread dough and a mustard see that expands into a tree. Heaven carries the idea of expansion. When you pray, open your mind to new possibilities. Let go of your old perceptions. Allow your level of expectation to expand into the realm of infinite possibility.

Hallowed be thy name is an affirmation of God as wholeness. The wholeness you seek, whether it is in the form of health, a solution to a problem or a prosperity challenge is present right now. Wholeness is the nature of God. In other words, act as if that which you seek, that which is for your highest good is already present. You become receptive and expectant of this good.

Become conscious of these three ideas. Practice them all even if you do not use this exact prayer. They will help open your mind to the good you desire.

Asking God for Help

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Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9

This gem of truth could be stated like this: God doesn’t give us things we do not ask for. So why is it that we sometimes pray for one thing and get its apparent opposite? Is God playing games, testing us like Job to see how we hold up under pressure? Or, is there something to the observation of James who suggests that prayers are not answered because the one praying is praying amiss?

A standard guitar has six strings. When all six strings are in tune, a strummed chord will produce a pleasant sound. If even one string is out of tune, you can hold the right chord and strum correctly, but the sound will be unpleasant. The sound you get is based on a predictable set of principles that will always give you the same result when you comply with the governing rules.

If we assume that Jesus is articulating a spiritual principle, then we also have to assume that our mixed results stem from our mixed asking. If you pray for a solution then rack your brain trying to come up with the answer, you have a string out of tune. If you pray for a solution expecting it to unfold in perfect order, all your strings are tuned and you synchronize yourself with the creative manifestation process.

The whole state of mind from which you ask, like the six strings of a guitar, produces a vibration that is either in tune or out of tune with the manifestation process. If you pray from a consciousness of doubt and fear, you will tend to create material conditions that support your doubts and fears. This is why Jesus said we must believe in our heart when we pray.

God does not give us things we do not ask for. Tune your whole being to the solution you seek, and it will come forth.

The Value of Letting Go

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No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17).

In these two parables, Jesus furnishes us with a graphic illustration of a very important, freeing dynamic: the action of letting go. It is one thing to retain information for present and future use. It would be cumbersome if we had to relearn to drive our car every time we slipped into the driver’s seat. However, if we dredged up the memory of a past auto accident every time we took the wheel, our paranoia may hinder our present driving performance.

If you carry old wounds into a new day, you prevent yourself from seeing and experiencing the potential for new avenues of creative opportunity. Jesus said to let the dead bury the dead and let the challenges of this day be the ones we give our full attention. How much of our creative energy is drained away replaying old hurts and dredging up old things we should or should not have done?

The full action of God is present in each new moment. Created in the image and after the likeness of God, each one of us is intended to bring the full force of our creative energy to bear on the things we have to do each day. We say we do not have enough time or energy to do what we would really like to do? How does God attend the minutest detail of this vast universe? By being fully present in each new moment.

Fortunately, you and I do not have the responsibility of running the universe. All we are expected to do is live our lives successfully. We can learn from God by being fully present in this now moment, by giving our attention to the tasks at hand, and to let go of the problems of the past we can do nothing about. New wine, new wineskins is a thought worth holding each time we are tempted to pick up the old.

 

Do We Choose Our Parents?

I once had a conversation with a woman who attributed much of her childhood trauma to a pair of obviously dysfunctional parents. After recounting a litany of well-rehearsed abuses, she added, “Why would I choose parents like this?” With an air of resignation she added, “I guess my soul needed this, Right?”

There was a time when I would have answered her question with an affirmative nod. I now meet such statements with a smile knowing that she, and others like her, are simply parroting an assumption that has become popular in many spiritual circles, especially those of an alternative nature.

Why, with no way of really proving this to be true, would the concept of choosing our parents appeal to so many? Probably because it follows the logic that we are spiritual beings, that our parents gave birth to our body, not to our soul. This certainly invites some interesting and spiritually productive new ways of thinking of our earthly tenure.

Let’s assume that we, not our parents, were responsible for our earthly debut. From a strictly logistical, non-emotional point of view, the choice to experience earth as a human being obviously requires a body, which also requires a set of parents. Do we choose specific individuals— warts and all—to provide this service?

If we assume that our ability to choose extends to this level, the issue is complicated with the introduction of practices like in vitro fertilization (IVF). Here, a sperm and egg can be extracted from donors, fertilized in a laboratory culture, and placed in the female body of an unrelated third party. If you happen to be the offspring of such a procedure, did you choose the donors, the third-party host, or the laboratory where the formation of your body actually started? While most of us entered through conventional doors, science has provided this interesting patch of weeds to add for our consideration.

Sticking with conventional doors, let’s focus on parents. What problems would choosing our parents solve? From my observation, people who find this concept most appealing are those who’ve had a difficult childhood. The idea of choice allows them to move from a lifetime of thinking of themselves as a victim to the much stronger, empowering position of having been the choice-maker. I’m empowered if I see myself as one having come to help others. Or, I chose them because I knew my soul had something important to learn from their dysfunctional behavior.

Both are reasonable arguments that most of us have applied to certain relationships. Who hasn’t played the role of attempted rescuer? And who hasn’t had the experience of escaping a completely dysfunctional relationship with the sworn declaration that you would never again be deceived by another wolf in sheep’s clothing?

What’s reasonable from one perspective may not be so from another. From the soul’s point of view, both arguments are problematic, primarily because they’re made from a body-based point of view. A commonly reported element of near-death research, for example, is that a person’s feeling of “coming home” supersedes even the strongest of family ties. We speak of a mother’s love for her children as the strongest in the human experience. Yet we have mothers who report their NDE confessing they would rather continue their body-free journey than return to their earthly children. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. Nearly all recount this experience with the remorse of admitting they even had such feelings. What these reluctant admissions tell us is that the experience they had was so vast, so beautiful that everything on earth, including these strongest bonds of love, paled in comparison. Perhaps it’s the sentiment Isaiah was attempting to capture in these verses:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

In other words, I assume this lofty vision that I believe we gain with the loss of the body is one we also possessed before we took on the body. It’s the soul’s natural mode of seeing and being. We would have viewed all souls, even those struggling with a body-related crisis (the genesis of every crisis) as having little to do with the eternal experience of the soul. With a body, we think like people. Without a body, we think like God.

So, how would God think if God were making the decision to incarnate? Laying aside the whole Jesus narrative for the moment, I’ll be bold and say, The thoughts of God would be the same as those of our boundless, eternal soul. Would we see our incarnation as a mission to fix people and save the world? Would we see it as our soul’s purpose to learn something of value from people who need fixing?

At the soul level, people are not broken. They are spiritually asleep. All so-called spiritual problems stem from having lost conscious contact with the soul. This contact is not re-established through either correcting or exposing ourselves to dysfunctional human behavior. It is established only through a concerted effort to know the truth of our being. We make this effort to the degree that we awaken to ourselves, not as the senses-based, body-oriented self-image we have believed we are, but as the eternal soul that we actually are. Most human beings will not make this shift while occupying a body. The belief that humanity is on the verge of doing so is job security to those who make their living as the self-proclaimed saviours of the human race.

How do we go forward with this issue of parental choice? Let’s say your parents, now dead, were indeed the culprit. They left you with all this damage, but you can’t tell them what you think so you’re left with the task of somehow resolving the whole thing within yourself. Becoming the choice-maker helps, but it doesn’t remove the scars. You may even find yourself duplicating the very dysfunctions you despise. What can you do?

Imagine the offending parent or parents standing before you now, free of their bodies and all the body-oriented dysfunction that defined your relationship with them. They no longer see themselves or you in the way you remember. They now see from the lofty context of the completely unfettered soul. You can see in their eyes that they deeply and sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering they may have caused. They admit that they were in a foolish, self-centered struggle for survival, with much to protect and much to hide. You were in a relationship with them when they believed cheating, stealing, lying, predation, manipulation, and creating false pretenses were necessary for survival and social acceptance. They admit that the self-image they perpetuated was the short-sighted product of a consciousness void of understanding of who and what they were at the deepest level. If they had known then what they know now, everything would have been very different.

Is this an exercise of letting irresponsible parents off the hook? No. It’s a way of saying, if you insist on holding the belief that you choose your parents, then these are the parents you might consider choosing.

Finding Balance

Imagine two sponges immersed in the ocean. One says, “I am a sponge immersed in the ocean.” The other says, “I am the ocean expressing through this sponge.” Which one is right? It depends on where you place the “I“. If you place it on the sponge, as in, “I am a sponge…” you become the proverbial human being seeking a spiritual experience. If you place it on the ocean, as in, “I am the ocean…” you are the spiritual being having a human experience.

The sponge, a mortal that is subject to the elements of its environment, spends its life protecting and seeking to enhance its mortality. Its religion promises security against environmental forces that may prove destructive to its existence. Its education centers the success of its life as a sponge. It looks for the day when all sponges will cease competing for limited resources and the world of have and have-nots is a thing of the past.

The ocean, immortal and indestructible, shares none of these concerns. It sees its experience through the sponge as a unique opportunity to know life at the material plane, and it never loses sight of its true nature. It doesn’t have to express through the sponge, but it thrills at the opportunity.

Are you the sponge or are you the ocean? Do you identify yourself as your body and your circumstances, with your primary objective of achieving the status of a care-free sponge? Or, do you see yourself as the immortal soul expressing through this body and circumstances? Are you striving to become something more than you are, or are you living from the awareness of the unlimited being you have always been and you will always be? There isn’t a single issue in your life that is unaffected by your answer to these questions.

The ocean represents the soul. The sponge represents one of the countless life-forms through which the soul expresses. Does this mean that we have no individual identity, that in truth there are no sponges, no starfish, no coral, no seahorses? Does this mean that I, as a human being with a unique personality, appearance, and fingerprint, do not really exist? We ask again: Am I these things that define my physical presence, or do I have these things? Am I my body, or do I have a body? If I acknowledge that I have a body, then I ask, Who and what is this “I” that has this body? The answer? I am the ocean. I am not parceled out in the diversity through which I express. I am the unity of life behind all diversity.

We speak of the ideal of oneness while clinging to diversity. There is diversity in expression, but there is only a single source behind it all. We call this source the soul. John called it the Word, that creative mechanism that enables the universal to express as the personal, the undifferentiated to express as the particular, the very life that is the light of all. It is the single ocean that supports the diversity of life forms.

The highest objective of meditation is not to simply lower blood pressure and produce a relaxed sponge. Nor do we merely seek answers that will satisfy the questions of the confused sponge. The objective is to peer past the needs of the sponge and re-establish our identity as the ocean.

We do not deny our body, its material needs and circumstances. But by focusing only on fixing these, we deny the soul. We seek to squeeze unity out of short-sighted attempts to honor diversity. Diversity, as an object of worship, is a false god. We experience genuine oneness by consciously connecting with the soul in its native environment. This return to the soul does not answer the questions of the sponge; it eliminates them.

As you go through your day, think of yourself, not as a sponge seeking to make its way though the ocean, but as the ocean expressing through the sponge of your body and circumstances. You quickly notice that every problem you have is sponge related. How does the ocean view this sponge-related problem? Does it get upset? Is it fearful? Does it believe some needed element is missing? Is it confused by the actions of another sponge? No. By virtue of its indestructible nature, it holds an entirely different view. It is not drawn down into the clashes that often erupt in the realm of diversity.

To see from this perspective, you cannot be a sponge attempting to act as or think like the ocean. You must let go of your identity as a sponge and actually move into your experience as the ocean. You are not what you think. You are so much more. Try making this shift in self-perception and see for yourself how differently you look at this thing you call your life.