God, The Creative Life Force

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“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)

Last week, I pointed out that central to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament is the kingdom of God. It is clear to me that Jesus’ use of this phrase carried a different meaning from that of the New Testament writers. He saw it as a spiritual dimension that was fully present and working on behalf of all life forms, human specifically. The writers saw it as a coming phenomenon, a new world order.

The biblical use of this term can have a restricting effect on how we think of it. We may envision it as a universe run by a bearded, very powerful old man who can experience severe mood swings. I have come to think of the kingdom of God as the Creative Life Force that permeates every aspect of the universe but is centered in each of us. Its characteristics are life, love, power, and intelligence.

Science credits instinct for the bird’s ability to prosper. Instinct is a manifestation of underlying intelligence. We see it everywhere in nature. In humans, we see a level of stress, struggle, and worry over the future that, by comparison, is unnatural. Jesus is instructing his listeners on the truth that they are endowed with the same guiding wisdom, and more, that enables the bird to successfully find its way.  

Love dissolves that which is not for our highest good and attracts that which is. Intelligence enables us to know the difference. The Creative Life Force is seeking unlimited expression through us right now. Its single purpose is expansion. You and I choose the direction of expansion. Jesus is saying that we need to open our mind to the larger context of this expansive process that knows how to guide us successfully through every aspect of our life. We are not necessarily more valuable than the birds. We are more capable. We have an imagination that is designed to receive ideas and inspiration to creative solutions for every problem life presents. This very practical message, I believe, is what Jesus is passing on to his listeners, and to us.

Kingdom is the Key

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Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21, 85 C.E.)

His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.” (Thomas: 113, 50-60 C.E.)

Scholars believe the earliest version of the non-biblical Gospel of Thomas appeared around 50-60 C.E. Luke-Acts was written around 85 C.E., around 30 years later. Though these passages are similar, scholars do not believe Luke used Thomas as one of his sources. The long-standing hypothesis is that Luke used Mark, Q, and another source unique to Luke to compose his story.

These two passages, separated by time and space, depict a kingdom of God that cannot be observed. Mainstream Christianity, and the Gospel writers in general, adopted the notion of an observable kingdom. Jesus was speaking of the kingdom as a spiritual dimension that cannot be seen with the physical eye. Nor is there adequate language to describe it, which is no doubt why he employed parables.

In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, psychologist William James makes this observation concerning the mystical experience:

The mystical experience, defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. Its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. Mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists.

Over 2000 years have passed since the death of Jesus, and still he has not returned to usher in the expected kingdom. Why? Because this is not the nature of the kingdom of which he spoke. His kingdom of God is intuitively experienced in moments of quiet receptivity. As we become aware of God as an inner presence, we then begin to see that this kingdom is also spread out upon the earth. Like the Psalmist, we realize that wherever we are, God is:

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (Psalms 139:7)

I speak of the mystical thread that I believe was the heart of Jesus’ teachings. Understanding what he meant by the kingdom of God, and how this understanding differs from that of the Gospel writers, is the key to detecting this thread.

The Resurrection Principle

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 “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6).

According to Matthew’s version of the resurrection, when “Mary Mag’dalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher,” they found it empty. An angel was there to tell them Jesus had risen from the dead.

The Easter story presents the defining principle for both traditional and metaphysical Christianity. In both cases, Easter illustrates that life, not death, is the truth behind all appearances to the contrary.

We celebrate Easter in the Spring because all around us we see the resurrection of new life from the dry stalks and branches of apparent death, and we marvel at the tenacity and the proliferation of this mysterious force that we call life.

Traditional Christianity draws its meaning of Easter from the past, projecting its fulfillment as a glorious and everlasting future. The metaphysical Christian invokes the principle of resurrection in our current affairs by dying to or letting go of the old and affirming the new. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Life is always creating new channels through which to express itself. Our work is to make ourselves as open as possible to the renewing energy of this resurrecting force so that every point of our experience may expand and flourish. Are you sealed in a tomb of fear and negation, worried about your future, uncertain about the outcome of some current situation? Then begin to release this fear and affirm that the resurrecting power of life is now lifting you beyond all restrictions, all uncertainty, all inhibitions, and that your life is full of new possibilities, and those possibilities are unfolding now, like the spring buds bursting all around you.

Open your mind to God’s resurrecting life right now, right where you are, and enjoy the blessings of a transformed experience.   

Confronting Your Fear

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Palm Sunday focuses on the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem at the end of his ministry. He does so on the unridden colt of a donkey. The foreshadowing provided in the Gospel narrative indicates that Jesus knew his fate and that he was committed to it. We know from the story that his death was not his end, but a step to something much grander.

According to the story, people cheered and spread garments and palm branches on the road as a show of support. Yet, a few days later, those same supporters would call for his death. Jesus was very much alone in this final phase of his earthly life.

What do we learn from this? The story depicts conviction and the absolute courage to uphold it. It is not likely that any of us will be confronted with the threat of death for our beliefs. We are, however, confronted with the fear of death, fear of change, fear of the unknown, or fear for no reason at all. Fear, in fact, is one of the most debilitating emotions that we harbor.

If it is true that we were not given a spirit of fear, then where does it come from? When you think about it, it comes from inaction. It rises in us over some situation, and we consider it a natural part of who we are. In dealing with fear, our focus is usually on the thing that sparks it, not fear itself. In the story, Jesus is proactive. He makes a choice that would provoke fear and then he confronts it.

How do we confront fear? In stillness, we release that part of us that is afraid. We recognize that this fearful self is not the real spiritual essence that we are. We want to die to this self, like the seed that dies to become the greater plant. An affirmation like this can be very helpful:

I was not given a spirit of fear. I now let go of this false self, this shadow of the powerful spiritual being that I am. I am confident. I am fearless. I am at peace.

When fear arises do not give it the opportunity to dominate your emotional state. Confront this fear until you put it behind you.

Your Spiritual Pedigree

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A feeling commonly expressed by those who discover teachings based on the inner path is that of having come home. This was certainly my experience when I discovered Emilie Cady’s writings. The things she wrote about I had never read, yet the ideas felt so familiar and so natural that I knew I had found my spiritual path.

Since those early days, I have encountered many kindred spirits who understood exactly the feeling I described. The spiritual connection we share with certain others is a compatibility that runs deeper than family ties. This, I believe is the idea Jesus was addressing in this passage:

He was in a house so crowded that another person could not enter. When he was told that his mother and brothers were outside asking for him, he looked at the people sitting before him and said, “Here is my mother, my brothers, and my sisters, for these seek to understand the will of our heavenly Father.” Mark 3:32-34

There is no indication that Jesus abandoned his family. His mother was with him to the end. And his brother James was martyred for becoming a prominent leader of the early church. What I hear him saying is that souls do not give birth to souls. We have a birth family, but we may have more in common with people who share our spiritual interests.

For me, this story illustrates Jesus’ appeal to common people. His message transcended social class and connected with people at the intuitive, soul level. The mystic understands that the omnipresence of God is centered in every person. When Isaiah wrote that every knee shall bow to the Lord, he was acknowledging that all will eventually come to this truth and begin their inner quest for enlightenment.    

I believe the message of Jesus was free of the rules and regulations that accompany the complexity of religious trappings. The kingdom within was a message accessible to all. The spiritual pedigree of every soul is our inseparable unity with God.

The Open Mind

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In many of the parables, Jesus often made his points by comparing pairs of opposites. We see good fish and bad fish, God and mammon, wheat and chaff, rich man and poor man, sheep and goats, foolish virgins and wise virgins, the wide gate and narrow gate, born of the flesh and born of the spirit, foundation of rock and foundation of sand, and so on. Today, we are considering new cloth and new wineskins vs old cloth and old wineskins.  

You do not patch an old garment with a new piece of cloth. The patch of new cloth will shrink, causing greater damage to the garment. And you do not use an old wineskin to store new wine. The fermenting new wine will cause the old wineskin to burst, as it is already stretched to its limit. Use new wineskins for new wine” (Mark 2:21-22).

Mark uses these parables to address the question of fasting, a practice that Jesus, unlike his religious predecessors, ignores. Elsewhere, he explains that it is not what goes into one’s mouth that defiles, but what comes out, as this communication represents our consciousness.

The mystic understands that the subjective nature of the spiritual awakening requires an open mind, a new birth, a conscious movement from a body-based identity to the awareness of God as our spiritual source. We must be willing to let go of all self-perceptions so the new wine of awareness may transform our consciousness.

It is through the practice of meditation that we let go of the old and open ourselves to the new. We cannot use our intellectual faculty to bring about this change. We are shifting to our intuitive faculty, which opens out to the limitless vista of the spiritual dimension. In our quiet time, we lay down the old wineskins of our daily concerns, which are always centered around the body, and we consider the source of the living energy that is our being.  

In one sense, we are fasting. We are letting go of the trivia that occupies so much of our attention and turning our focus on the expansive activity of our spiritual source.

The Quest for Jesus

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For the past two weeks, we have been exploring the idea that, within the Gospels, there is a difference between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the early church. The Gospel writers used the voice and person of Jesus to advance the narrative that would become mainstream Christian theology. Is it possible, then, to draw from these writings the pure message of Jesus?

I have identified two worldviews that I’ve named the paradigm of oneness and the paradigm of separation. The paradigm of oneness is based on the experience of mystical union or direct communion with the ultimate reality we call God. The paradigm of separation assumes that union with God is not a present reality but a future possibility. I refer to those scriptures that reflect the paradigm of oneness as the mystical thread. The scriptures that reflect the paradigm of separation represent the theological basis of the early and contemporary church.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, we will be most successful if we lay aside our quest for a pure message of Jesus and simply look first for passages that reflect the principles of mysticism. In a nutshell, these will refer to the omnipresent, changeless nature of God as unconditional love, the divine nature of each individual, and the individual’s inseparable union with God.  

A fundamental principle of mysticism is that we suffer because we lose conscious connection with our indwelling lord. All mystical practice is geared to returning to our spiritual center, our true home. The story of the prodigal son embodies the entire problem of leaving our spiritual center, suffering as the result, and retuning to the open arms of unconditional love.

Because there is not enough space here to list the thread of scriptures that echo this principle, we will explore more in upcoming lessons. In the meantime, our quest for Jesus will be most successful when we stop seeking him and look instead for passages that embody the principles of mysticism, the truth of our oneness with God. These passages, I believe, point directly to the spiritual teacher we seek.

The Presence of Pure Being

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Last week I talked about how the harsh reality of Roman oppression likely obscured the original message of Jesus. The Jews desperately needed their Messiah to appear. Many rejected Jesus as the one, as their hope died with him on the cross. The primary aim of the Gospel writers was to resurrect this hope with the promise that he would return and fulfil the promise of salvation.

Jesus would have been quite familiar with the Messianic hope. As we examine a thread of surviving sayings attributed to him, we could deduce that he understood salvation as a spiritual awakening to our oneness with God. God is Spirit, pure Being. Those who worship God must worship in spirit, that is, become still and know. The truth that sets us free is the revelation that we are more than the body-based identity we have come to accept. We are expressions of God.

How can a message like this be a practical help in our own time of need? Myrtle Fillmore, co-founder of Unity wrote: “The light of Spirit, quickening the understanding, sets us free from all mortal sense and the boundaries placed by the intellect.” Our vision is lifted to new heights when we know that a wisdom greater than our own is at work in our life. We turn the power of our faith from specific sources that may not deliver, to infinite possibilities that have yet to enter our mind. As we affirm that we are now in the presence of pure Being, we are affirming that the wisdom of God is unfolding the perfect solution at this very moment.  

The tendency to look for salvation from people, places, and things is due, as Myrtle Fillmore recognized, to our acceptance of the boundaries placed by the intellect. The intellect is a magnificent tool for navigating this earthly landscape. But we should not forget our intuitive faculty that allows us to acknowledge the activity of the spiritual power that sets us free.

Jesus’ message of an inner kingdom translates as God is a present help in our time of need. In the stillness of solitude, we turn our faith to greater good unfolding through our life right now. We hold this thought in joy and in peace.     

This Journey Called Truth

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When we hear someone use a phrase like, This is the gospel truth, we assume they mean their statement could withstand the scrutiny of the most dedicated fact-checker, as true as the truth that Jesus taught. What most people probably do not know is that the Gospels were not written to portray the pure teachings of Jesus. What??? Breathe deep. These authors used the voice and person of Jesus to advance the narrative that has become the basis of all mainstream Christian theology. In other words, the message of Jesus has been politicized. 

What does this mean? An idea, or body of ideas becomes politicized when the importance of the narrative overrides the truth of the original ideas. The story about Jesus overshadows what he likely taught. The narrative becomes the gospel, the very definition of truth. Heresy is that which does not align with the narrative.

John summarized the church narrative in this oft-quoted statement: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). Accept Jesus as the only Son of God and you will be saved. If not, you perish.

Another early writer, Thomas, had a different understanding of salvation. In his collection of sayings, Jesus says: “… the kingdom is within you and it is outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty” (Thomas: #3). This portrayal does not make the person of Jesus the focal point of salvation.

The early church leaders condemned such writings as heretical, not because they were untrue, but because they did not support their official narrative. These works, known as the Nag Hamadi Library, survived only because those who endorsed them managed to protect them from being burned by hiding them in caves in the Egyptian desert.

This journey called Truth leads to the understanding that we are children of the living Father. It is my belief that this example from Thomas reflects the truth of the core message, the gospel of Jesus.   

Loving the Natural Way

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“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Love is not something you do; it is something you are. If you try to love someone, you don’t really love them. You apply a concept or a technique to them. If you try to love an enemy, you will wind up suppressing what you really feel.

The best way to approach this problem of loving our enemies is to stop trying to do it and simply expose ourselves to the source of love within our being, to bask in that eternal current of inner light that shines regardless of what kinds of attitudes we hold. In other words, we are to follow the first commandment of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Nothing transforms our attitudes faster than a direct experience with the free-flowing energy of love within our own being.

We have demonstrated that we cannot legislate love and acceptance of others, religiously or socially. The best we can do is enforce a measure of tolerance, and this is often tentative, based more on the fear of getting fined, sued, or doing jail time than on a genuine understanding of the varied facets of the human family. What is lacking in the average person is the direct exposure to their own Source that transcends the basis of all attitudes about all things. It is an energy that, like the sun, or the rain, or a flower, or the song of a bird, gives itself unconditionally. When we experience enough of this Source to fall in love with it, we will naturally behave just like It does, not because we are told to, but because we can’t help ourselves.

Does loving someone mean that we must embrace their unacceptable behavior? Of course not. It means that we deal with their behavior from a loving point of view. Love sometimes binds and love sometimes dissolves. Sometimes we embrace people, and sometimes we let them go. As we stay centered in love, we will be guided to not only do the right thing, but we will also do it from the highest point of view, and our actions will in some way serve to bless all involved.