A Cosmic Balance

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This week I ran across a 6th century painting of Jesus that is located in St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai. An interesting feature of the painting is that each side of the face is different enough to make a viewer think of two people rather than one. According to commentary, the illusion was intentional. The artist was depicting both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.

The discussion concerning Jesus’ humanity and divinity has gone on for centuries. Some think he was God; others think he was a man with God-like powers. There is one very important thing that is always left out of this discussion/debate. That is, the rest of us.

What theologians are debating is the nature of an image of Jesus put forward in the Gospels. Jesus, however, is no more represented in this contrived image than he is in the painting. In all cases, the literary and artistic imagery put forward is intended to set Jesus apart from common people. There is sufficient evidence to indicate Jesus himself would not have approved.

All people are spiritual beings expressing through a human body. A man like Jesus, apparently fully aware of his spiritual nature, expressed this understanding when he said, “The things I do you can do as well, and greater things” (John 14:12). Jesus struck the cosmic balance between his human and divine natures. Helping others do the same was the heart and soul of his ministry.

Hands down, near-death research provides the very best window currently available into our true nature. People who experience direct exposure to their soul are profoundly affected. P.H.M. Atwater, a foremost researcher in this field, carries this message around the world:

Those who have had a near death experience must process and integrate this life changing event into what usually becomes a new and unexpected path. It is not uncommon for this to take 7-10 years to fully embrace and become comfortable with a reality shift of this spiritual magnitude.

Imagine this. It takes 7-10 years for a person to process a minutes-long glimpse into their true being. I do not believe the thrust of Jesus’ ministry was to call attention to himself. I believe he was trying to help the common people strike their own cosmic balance.   

Fate of the Wicked

YouTube: Fate of the Wicked

The question was raised about the fate of people who cause great pain and suffering for others while on this earth. The name of Adolf Hitler comes to mind, though there are countless examples of such people on a greater and lesser scale. Shouldn’t there be some kind of divine punishment for those who obviously do so much harm to others?

I think most of us would agree that in a just universe there should be divine retribution for those who intentionally inflict pain and suffering on others. And yet, with the exception of relatively few cases, the majority who momentarily die and return report that there is no punishment of any kind, even when they have lived a less-than-moral life. They say that a life review, which can be severely painful, is the extent of their punishment. Yet they feel no judgment from the Being of Light or other entity that may have brought them to the review.

I recall a case where a person was murdered by a gang but recovered later to tell of their incredible near-death experience. This person said they thanked their attackers for giving them this opportunity. While such an attitude is nearly impossible for most of us to fathom, it is a common response in such cases. The experience they have is so far beyond our average human perceptions that we struggle to reconcile their reports.

Such stories remind me of Paul’s statement: “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood (1 Cor. 12). I think it is true that our soul’s natural condition is so far beyond our normal human thinking, that only a direct experience can show us the vastness of this reality we inhabit. With a body, we purchase real estate, build fences, and make clear legal distinctions between what is mine and thine. Outside the body, none of this is needed. The thinking we use to gain leverage in this world are not necessary to the soul who experiences its own completeness to the degree that it needs no leverage, that it has no need to take from another that which it already possesses.

This question is one that we all must take into our own heart. I too see the world through a glass darkly, but I strive to come face to face with the true nature of reality. I cannot help but think that it looks much different face to face than it does through the darkened glass through which I so often see.  

The Truth About Judgment Day

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Question: “I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the idea of judgment day. I have mixed feelings about it, and I would appreciate any light you might shed on the subject.”

There are several references concerning a judgment day. It is sometimes called the last days, the end of days, or the end times. In mainstream Christianity, it is the day of reckoning summarized in passages like this one:

“The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:41-43).

Though these words are put on the lips of Jesus, this is a good example of one of the identifying themes of the early church. The Jewish mystic would not speak of a coming kingdom but of one that is found within one’s being at this very moment. The concept of a day of judgment involving fire and gnashing teeth is supported by theological not spiritual principles. In other words, it is a concept based on religious belief rather than spiritual truth.

There has existed the hope of people of every era that God would one day intervene in the mess we humans have made. The Essenes envisioned a day when the Children of Light (themselves) would one day enter a great battle with the Children of Darkness (everyone else) and the children of light would prevail. Unfortunately for them, the Roman army permanently upset their plans.

I feel very confident in saying that there will be no judgment day as commonly depicted. The quality of every individual’s life is determined by their own exercise of judgment. We are held accountable for the way we define reality. We create our own restrictions, and we have the power to erase them. In this sense, every day is judgment day. We each decide whether we will be victims or victors of our world.

Self Forgiveness

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Question: “I would like to hear more about how forgiveness is the recognition of the spiritual purity of the soul. How does sin manifest itself when/if an individual does not forgive themselves. I suspect health, finances, relationships, etc. are affected but what about the effect on a higher level.”

In my book, The Complete Soul, I make a distinction between the soul and the self-image. The soul is our true spiritual essence, that image-likeness of God from Genesis. The self-image is the body-based personality that we’ve developed over time. Most of us go through life identifying most with the self-image. From this perspective we sometimes make mistakes that can affect our sense of self-worth or the self-worth of another.

Nothing we do or fail to do from the level of the self-image affects the spiritual purity of the soul. Jesus illustrated this in the father’s dismissive attitude toward his wayward son’s irresponsible, self-destructive actions. The father did not forgive his son because he never condemned him. The father represents our soul, the son is our wandering self-image.

How does sin manifest itself when/if an individual does not forgive themselves? In Jesus’ story, there is no indication that the son forgave himself for his self-destructive choices. The likely consequence is that he carried a sense of guilt for receiving a homecoming celebration he believed he did not deserve. This is a natural response to our mainstream Christian belief that our spiritual journey is about perfecting the self-image, saving it from the consequences of its missed marks. The spiritual journey, however, is not about perfecting the self-image; it is about recognizing the eternal purity of the soul. I am not my ever-changing self-image. I am the eternally changeless image and likeness of God. It is in our quiet times of inner stillness that this truth is revealed to us.

When Jesus spoke of a new birth, he was talking about changing our self-defining focus from the self-image to the soul. The quality of our overall experience is determined by how we define ourselves. The human being does indeed have to power to forgive sin. That power is the simple recognition of the spiritual purity of the soul.

The Sin Factor

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It doesn’t take much delving into the mainstream Christian narrative before we encounter the notion of sin. Christianity teaches that it provides the only means available that can save a person from the consequences of sin. Jesus, however, demonstrated and taught a different view. He was not endowed with special power to free one of sin. He was endowed with the understanding that the soul is already free of human shortcomings, that reminding others of this fact is the truth that would set them free. This is illustrated in the following incident when a paralytic was brought to him. He forgave the man of his sins, and the man got up and walked:

But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, take up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Matthew 9:6-8

This is an example of a modified saying. The phrase, Son of man should read, son of man, meaning an ordinary human being. This is made clear in the last line: …they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. It does not say, given such authority to a man, but to men. Jesus is simply reiterating what every devout Jew should have learned.

“What is man that thou art mindful of him,
    and the son of man that thou dost care for him?

Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
    and dost crown him with glory and honor.”

Psalms 8:4-5

The Psalmist is describing the soul that is the vital essence of every son of man, every human being, male and female.

Jesus spoke with the authority of the practicing Jewish mystic aware of all people’s oneness with God. The Way that he taught included the truth that the consequences of the sin factor could be eradicated with a clear understanding of the soul’s present purity and completeness.

A Deeper Look at Jesus

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J Douglas Bottorff

Last week I introduced three categories of sayings that we find in the Gospels: Straightforward, modified, and evangelical. A straightforward saying is one that represents a pure, dogmatically free spiritual principle. A modified passage is one that expresses a spiritual principle but has been modified to fit the mainstream message. An evangelical passage is one that was likely created by the writer in support of the mainstream message. Learning to make these distinctions brings us closer to the Way, the original teaching of Jesus.

While considering a given passage, we may be tempted to ask, Does this sound like something Jesus would say? Of course, our answer will be influenced by what we believe about Jesus. A better question is this: Does this sound like something a Jewish mystic would say?

The Kabbalah, with which Jesus was likely familiar, is the embodiment of Jewish mysticism. The Jewish Encyclopedia says this:  

 Jewish Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between the unchanging, eternal God—the mysterious Ein Sof (The Infinite)—and the mortal, finite universe. It forms the foundation of mystical religious interpretations within Judaism.

For a few centuries the esoteric knowledge was referred to by its aspect practice—meditation, translated as “being alone” or “isolating oneself.”

Jesus referred to the “unchanging, eternal God” as the Father. We see this unchanging attitude of love expressed by the father of the prodigal son. Also, he often went alone to pray, and he taught the value of going alone into one’s inner room and praying to the Father who is in secret.

The Way was intended to explain the relationship between the unchanging, eternal God and the mortal experience, the daily life of his followers. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matt. 6:25, 32).

When viewed from this perspective, it becomes clear that Jesus’ objective was to help his follows make their life on earth (the finite) as it is in heaven (the infinite).

The Way

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For many of us, one of the most memorable and assuring passages in the Gospels is when Jesus prompted his audience to observe the wildflowers, how they do not labor but are still cared for and clothed in natural beauty (Luke 12:27). The assurance comes from the idea that God, our spiritual source, has a beautiful and natural way of expressing through us as the fulfillment of our daily bread (needs).

The Way can be thought of as the natural consequence of the realization of our oneness with God. In the above passage, Jesus is pointing to a spiritual order, a flow that has been acknowledged by mystical traditions of all ages. This order is grounded in the understanding of the omnipresence of God as Spirit and the soul as the expressed image and likeness of this Spirit. We can momentarily forget but we can never be separated from unity with this omnipresence. Jesus made it his life’s mission to bear witness to, or to remind people of this truth.

Statements that embody one or all of these principles are, in my opinion, prime candidates for being considered as original teachings of Jesus. They often contradict the mainstream narrative of Jesus as the only son of God. For example, “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). In this instance, he acknowledges that all people are sons and daughters (expressions) of God. In another place he says, “… he who believes in me [believes what I am saying] will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). The practical and appealing aspect of the Way is that it places Jesus and his listener on equal spiritual ground.

We should always bear in mind that the Gospel accounts are not a communication from Jesus to his audience. They are a communication from the writers to their respective audiences, long after the death of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus (the Way), become the teachings about Jesus (Christian dogma). The Way is transformed from a body of teachings to a movement.

The popularity of Jesus among the common people can in all likelihood be attributed to the practical nature of his teachings. He was helping people improve their lives with a working understanding of the omnipresence of God as a constant, all-providing companion through the experience of day-to-day living.

The Power of Stillness

12 Steps to Spiritual Recovery

YouTube: Step 11: The Power of Stillness

I set aside quality time daily to know the presence of God through quiet meditation.

A well-known story from the Old Testament (1Kings 19:11-12) places the prophet Elijah on a mountain in the wilderness. Four things happen. First, a great wind blows so hard that it smashes rocks, but the Lord is not in the wind. Then, there is a mighty earthquake, but the Lord is not there either. Next, there is a great fire, but the Lord is not in the fire. Finally, there is a still small voice, and this is the voice of the Lord.

The story presents a graphic way of depicting the power of stillness. Thanks to our modern media, we have all seen the great power of the tornado and hurricane. We have seen the aftermath of earthquakes. And we have all been close enough to wildfires to know what they can do. The point of the story, however, is to call attention to a quiet power, a still small voice that remains when the brute forces of nature pass. This is the voice of the Lord of our being, that quiet inspiration that can become our greatest assurance in times of uncertainty.

Most of you have read Emilie Cady’s book, Lessons in Truth. Two chapters worth reviewing are, The Secret Place of the Most High and Finding the Secret Place. These chapters present the classic Unity view of the value of meditation and how to practice it.

When most of us close our eyes to seek stillness and guidance, we are, like Elijah, confronted with the winds, earthquakes, and fires of our own chaotic mind. With persistence, however, we can move beyond these and begin to experience an inner peace and stillness. Rather than blindly groping after an experience, Cady suggests, like the sunbathing fowl, that we passively await while keeping our mind actively alert to the stirring of spiritual energies. This is Elijah’s still small voice. We can neither describe it nor give it to another. Each person must seek until we find this inner power.

With practice and with our growing insights, we begin to look forward to our times of quiet and to come to a true appreciation for the power of stillness.

Step 10: Spirituality or Religion?

12 Steps to Spiritual Recovery

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I continue to examine my old religious beliefs and seek to recognize them when they interfere with my desire for greater freedom.

Today, it is becoming more common to hear people declare that their focus has shifted from organized religion to a more personal approach to spiritual ideas. In many ways we can see this as a shift away from the group-think statement of theological faith to an exploration of the inner prompting that beckons us all to go deeper. Like Emerson, they have reached the conclusion that,  

“Theological problems … never presented a practical difficulty to any man, never darkened across any man’s road who did not go out of his way to seek them. These are the soul’s mumps and measles and whooping coughs.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The four Gospels represent a religious vehicle that transmits many spiritually-based principles. To glean these principles, it is important that we understand the nature of the religious vehicle. None of the Gospels, for example, claim to represent the work of Jesus. They are Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Their purpose is not to show us what Jesus actually taught. Their purpose is to show us how we are to think of Jesus.

In contrast, the message of Jesus was spiritually rather than religiously focused. This attitude is beautifully summarized in his statement: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In this case the Sabbath represents the sum of institutionalized formulas that are laid out for followers to adopt and profess as true. These are not the natural promptings of the soul but are the intellectually constructed doctrinal points that serve to define a given religion.

Spiritual recovery is about the establishment of a first-hand experience with God. This does not require the belief in a religion any more than it requires the rejection of religion. As we learn for ourselves what is spiritually true and what is not, we can see for ourselves any religious thinking that binds rather than sets us free.  

Step 9: An Eye for God

YouTube: An Eye for God

[Note: this week we ran into difficulties projecting the graphics. This issue should be resolved with the next program.]

Step 9: I treat each day as an opportunity to see and experience God in all people, places, and things.

For those who think of God as the man upstairs, this 9th step may seem impractical. However, when Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) he was presenting a different kind of picture. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, which can translate as breath, wind, spirit, or soul. The author of Job was in line with this idea when he wrote, “It is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32:8). Likewise, today’s dictionary defines spirit as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms.”

When we think of God as the omnipresent, animating, vital principle that permeates all aspects of life, we understand how it is possible to see and experience God in all people, places, and things. A simple affirmation like, I am in God and God is in me will help us tune into this truth. What is true for us is true for all. There is no place where God is not. I am now in the presence of pure Being.

As we go through our day, it is very easy to lose the awareness that in God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). In our spiritual recovery, we can utilize triggers that help us remember what is true. Someone rightfully said that we are not to pray to God; we pray from an awareness of God. We live in a vibrant field of energy that, like the breath, is unseen but intuitively felt as the living essence of all things.

Instead of thinking specifically of people, places, and things as entities that exist apart from one another, try thinking of every aspect of your life as the activity of God. Remember Jacob awakened from his dream with the revelation, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28:16-17). Our own revelation may not be this dramatic, but how we think of God can have a profound influence on how we think of our life.

Treat each day as an opportunity to see and experience God in all people, places, and things and see what a difference it can make!