The Prospering Act of Forgiveness

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Part 3 of 6

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

It’s interesting to note in this line that the fulfillment of our daily bread, our daily needs, is tied to the act of forgiveness. If, as I suggested in the previous lesson, you assume for this prayer the affirmative point of view, you see this line as saying, My needs for today are met and all blocks to my greater good are removed as I release all resentments of the past. These words depict both receptive and releasing attitudes of mind.

The receptive attitude is substantiated by the idea that God is a loving provider, a willing source of good. An attitude of release indicates that the key to a greater flow of good is your act of letting go of anything that blocks the flow. When you hold resentment for even the smallest offense, your thought and emotional energies accumulate around that offense creating a blockage that hinders the free flow of the divine. It is like dropping a large rock in an irrigation ditch. Soon other debris catches on the rock, hampering the free-flow of water. Forgiveness is the equivalent of removing the rock and restoring the natural flow of life-giving water.

In another place, Jesus speaks of this dynamic in this slightly different way: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24). It’s all about keeping your mind an open channel through which the infinite life of God may manifest in continually expansive ways.

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, pointed out that mind is the “common meeting ground of God and man.” When our mind is locked in resentment, our creativity and receptivity become restricted to a very narrow level of operation. This line in the Lord’s Prayer reminds us to keep the avenue of mind open and fluid.



Higher Ground

Yesterday I posted this announcement on my Facebook page:

Personal Policy
Due to the increasing level of venomous political debate in this country, I have decided to unfriend those of you who consistently use our Facebook connection to espouse your political preferences. There are plenty of politically oriented sites that encourage this type of discourse, and my personal Facebook page does not need to be among them. The typical comment I read does not serve to resolve anything. It only states an opinion that at least half the nation will disagree with. I too have my own political views, but I will not use this platform to share them. I’m not asking you to refrain from sharing your views, political or otherwise, I’m just giving you a head’s up on my own personal policy. Thanks

Though I rarely engage in political commentary, I would like to expand on the above notice with the intention of providing a bit more context.

Emerson wrote, “If you would lift me, you must be on higher ground.” Considering the state of today’s political landscape, the one who looks to politics to lift them to higher ground must certainly inhabit a very deep valley. The political community as a whole does not communicate from the higher ground of ethical or spiritual integrity, but from the valley of moral and ethical depravity.

The average citizen maintains a higher level of civility than our current political dialog reflects. Most people I know do not ask another’s political persuasion before they extend their word of encouragement or their helping hand. Who doesn’t interact daily and harmoniously with people of opposing political views? True character has always been blind to party lines.

I’m pretty sure that corruption within the world’s political machinery is at an all-time high. Then maybe it’s just the advent of social media that brings more of it to light. Politics has become a cesspool of people willing to sell their souls for the pottage of money, influence and power. And we look to this cesspool for our happiness? For affirmation? Does our strength, our peace of mind, our sense of identity depend on our party winning? Are we really blind to the fact that what our party wins, our party must fight to keep? And do we not see that what our party loses, our party will need to fight to regain? Winners and losers are the ebb and flow, but the perpetual fight is the eternal sea itself. And the fight has sunken into a vile contest to see who can most effectively erase the humanity of the opposition. In the name of winning, it seems that all rules of common decency have been set aside.

Is it possible to get a diversified group of people on the same page to resolve common issues? Of course it is. Imagine ten people, political affiliation unknown, standing on the shore of a frozen lake. Another person is walking on the ice and falls through. These ten people will drop everything, no questions asked, and work together to rescue this person. They do not care if the rope they throw is red or blue. They will tie them all together to achieve the goal. We see stories like this when hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters hit.

In contrast, take any issue, place it in the political context, and you will see grandstanding politicians let the issue thrash in the broken ice and drown because a given solution does not align with their political agenda. If we consider the politics we see practiced today as our higher ground, then there is no cure. Politics is not founded on a unifying principle but is, by its very nature, adversarial. We seem to be too willing to sacrifice the strength and integrity of our nation for the false security of clinging to party ideology.

A colleague of mine recently retired from ministry and began making political commentary. After maintaining political silence for many years, I’m sure it felt good to finally be able to speak his mind. While I appreciated his spiritual work, however, I have absolutely no interest in his political views. I’m sure his intention is to elevate the political discussion, and though I suspect he suffers from a mild case of messiah complex, I wish him the best. The cure for this complex, I’m sure he’ll discover, will be a healthy dose of reality. He stepped from the higher ground where his audience was both politically right and left to a position where his audience is right or left. In other words, he just cut his audience in half.

The spiritual is universal. The political, as I’ve indicated, is divisive, adversarial, functioning, as Emma Curtis Hopkins might have said, within the realm of the pairs of opposites. How can our clergy claim to bring a universal message of truth when it is tainted by the color of political bias?

As I see it, the job of the clergy is not to influence the vote of our people, but to encourage them above all to know and be guided by God. I am not advocating political inaction. To the contrary, I encourage you to join your campaign, vote your conscience, and for God’s sake be civil about it. But while you do this, understand that your source of power, self-confidence, and inner strength bubble up, not from your political victory, but from your spiritual core.

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.