A Prayer of Guidance

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“He who hath led me to this way, Still on the way will show.

He who hath taught me of this way, Still more will make me know.”

– Emma Curtis Hopkins

For many years, this has been a favorite verse of mine. In times of confusion and uncertainty it reminds me to pause and put things in a proper spiritual perspective. Life is full of surprises and challenges that at times seem to push us beyond our capacity to roll with the changes. We can become so immersed in the details of appearances that we lose touch with the bigger picture. It’s good to pause, take a few deep breaths, and affirm again that we are being guided and instructed in ways that contribute to our greater good and well-being.

In affirming guidance, it’s important to remember that your unfolding greater good is also the greater good for those whose lives you touch. How this could be true may not always be clear. But if you embrace the truth that you are indeed being shown the best and highest way, you can rest assured that the guiding hand of divine wisdom is directing your steps even through moments of uncertainty.    

And what is this way you were taught? It is the way of spiritual principle. Do not judge by appearances. Believe you have received that which you ask for in prayer. Lift your spiritual eyes to behold the fields ready now for harvest. Your faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In other words, assume a confident and peaceful attitude that things are unfolding in exactly the right way, that every step you take is the right step.

The greatest fruit of prayer is the peace of mind that inspires in you the freedom to live your life creatively and confidently. The wisdom that brought you to this place in your life knows how to carry you forward. It knows how to impart the light of guidance that lights your path. Be at peace, and trust that your life is now unfolding exactly as it should.

Distinctively Human

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As I weigh in on the question of what makes us human, I do so from a spiritual rather than from a scientific basis. Science, as you know, is grounded in materialism, explaining human qualities by what can be measured and observed. We walk upright, we have opposing thumbs, and we have a large brain. We study our ancestor’s fossilized bones and the trail of artifacts they left behind. From these lines of evidence, we draw comparisons and conclusions on what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Many in the scientific community were stunned by how close the human genetic makeup is to that of the chimpanzee. Yet if our genetic makeup is the determining factor, why is it not the chimpanzee that is conducting this fascinating research?

I maintain that it is our faculty of imagination that sets us apart. While science considers this amazing ability as a function of the brain, there is mounting evidence that the reverse is closer to the truth. A growing segment of research scientists recognize the brain as a transmitting tool of consciousness. I also suspect that the ancient Hebrew was insightful enough to know it was not the physical but the spiritual aspect of our being that prompted him to state we are created in the image and likeness of God.

Jesus reminded his following of common people that they had the ability to see the completed harvest that the rest of the world would treat as an event of the future. We do not know where our faculty of imagination can lead us. While we are often prone to simply let it drift aimlessly through mental and emotional landscapes that have little transformative value, this amazing faculty remains available and waiting to carry us into new frontiers of personal discovery and deeper self-realization.

As members of the human species, you and I are endowed with a capacity that sets us in a unique position among the creatures of the world. How we use this distinctively human faculty is up to each one of us.

The Word of God

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It is clear that the author of John is not thinking of written texts when he refers to the Word of God. He states that without this Word, “… nothing was made that has been made.” He is attempting to explain the creative mechanism that directs the universal energy of life and intelligence into individual form. In this Word is life, “… and that life is the light (intelligence) of men.” In other words, John is describing God, not as a collection of written texts, but as the Creative Life Force.

In Unity, we do not tell people what to think. We teach them how to think. What does this mean? If you think of yourself as being separate from your spiritual source, limited by your present understanding, you’ll approach your life from this limited basis. If you think of yourself, as John suggests, as a living expression of God, connected with the creative intelligence that produces all that is made, you’ll open your mind to greater possibilities.

Treating the Bible as our sole line of communication with God turns our attention away from our true source of guidance. Yes, we can draw inspiration from the Bible and other written sources, but it is the living intelligence of God within that truly guides. I’m sure this is why Paul stated that “the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Cor. 3:6). The written code does not kill in a literal sense, but in an inspirational sense.

One way of directing our attention to the living Word of God within is through our use of the spoken word. Speaking words that align with what is true helps establish this truth in our thinking. Try using a statement like this throughout your day:

God, the living Word within me, is now guiding me in all ways. Affirming that every step I take is the right step, I move through my life in confidence and in peace. Thank you God, that this is so.

The living Word of God is your life, the very light that brightens your path. Call upon it in your darker moments of uncertainty, and your way will surely become clear.  

The Cradle of Humankind

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A combination of the fossil record and research into DNA indicates that the origin of our human species is found in east Africa, a region that has, in fact, been designated as the cradle of humankind. Here, some of the earliest known fossils of our prehistoric ancestors, dating back millions of years, have been discovered. Studies in human origins reveal there have been many branches of our family tree that have gone extinct.

This, I’m sure is among the reasons that prominent researchers in this field – Donald Johanson and Richard Leaky, for example – have declared themselves atheists. Their understanding of the human being is quite different from that of the ancient Hebrew, who depicts the first humans, Adam and Eve and their descendants, as a fully developed modern species.

While the literalist sees the Bible as a transmission from God to humankind, in truth it is a transmission from human beings to human beings. The shortcoming in science is found in its materialism, defining the human being by brain size and bone structure. Both systems appear to leave out a critical element that forces them into an either/or mentality, fueling the ongoing battle between science and religion. This critical element is the human soul.

The physical body is but the vehicle of the soul. That this vehicle has undergone dramatic changes through the eons can hardly be disputed. However, brain size and skeletal structure do not determine soul size. My understanding of the changeless spiritual reality from which we arise has caused me to conclude that the soul has never evolved. At any given moment in our history, it is the physical aspect of our being, not the spiritual, that has adapted to its environment. The spiritual is an infinite reservoir of intelligence that has enabled this adaptation to occur.

We can think of the physical body itself as the cradle of humankind, as it cradles the soul, allowing us to interface with the material environment as we find it. From this perspective, the notion of a complete soul inhabiting an evolving body can help us strike some measure of balance between our empirical and spiritual interests.

Mystery Rocks

Our Journey Home Series

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Some weeks ago, I mentioned a field of boulders I have observed in the desert area north of Grand Junction. I mentioned them because I couldn’t understand how they could have ended up where they are. Knowing there were a couple of geologists in a Facebook group where I often post photos, I asked if anyone had some ideas. I received many very interesting responses, including this one: “Read your Bible. The great flood of Noah’s time and its resulting runoff is responsible for most of the world’s geological mysteries.” I thanked the author, told him I’ve been a minister for 40+ years, and that I was familiar with the Bible. Then I added, “I won’t argue religion here, only to say that I cannot take Noah and the ark literally. However, the ice age floods could very well have inspired that story, since ocean levels rose 400 feet or so.” His response: “A minister who refuses to believe the word of God. Good luck with that.” In contrast, another reader wrote this: “You’re the first minister I’ve ever witnessed say something like that. I feel like you make me want to study the Bible again. Just wanted you to know.”

I share this story because it illustrates the firm belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible. I did not want to go into the fact that the flood story is a combination of two stories, one saying two of every kind of animal went into the ark, while the other says seven. Both stories appear to be based on a much older Babylonian myth – The Epic of Gilgamesh – written on clay tablets.

An important part of our journey home includes a willingness to open our minds to separate spiritual fact from fiction. As we have seen, the Bible is a rich source of spiritual truth couched in story, poem, and psalm. The writers use history as their framework for conveying their spiritual message, which always takes precedence over historical fact. As one scholar suggested, we should not confuse the writings of the Bible with journalism.

The geologists offered some fascinating explanations of how the boulders may have been placed. None of their explanations lessened my faith or undermined my interest in the Bible.   

The Messianic Dilemma

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For nearly two thousand years, the mainstream Christian community has awaited the return of Jesus and the day of reckoning that he will trigger. Upon his return, the sheep will be separated from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, the good fish from the bad, or, to put it in concise terms, the saved from the unsaved. The Jewish community has been waiting even longer.

The Christian mystic, on the other hand, has never hung his or her hope on the return of this man. Rooted in principles that predate the advent of Jesus, his appearance and the ensuing movement that followed influenced their vocabulary, not their principles. For them, the omnipresence and accessibility of God is an eternal reality awaiting recognition of the persistent contemplative. A day of judgment may make sense to the judgmental, but it has no place in one who has come to know the changeless nature of God.

Even though the writers of the gospels did so, I do not believe Jesus presented himself as the expected messiah. This designation was developed by the early followers to inspire the hope that not all was lost with the death of their leader. This is one of many instances where Jesus directed attention away from himself: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

God alone is the unchanging source of all. There is indeed a need for salvation from the poverty, disease, unrest, and discord that arise from the belief that we are separate from God. But this salvation does not come in the form of a long-haired man with outstretched arms appearing in the clouds with a fanfare of trumpets and an entourage of angels. It comes in quiet moments of inner reflection. Only here, in the sanctuary of our own being, can we discover the inner wholeness that is our spiritual core, our soul, that which is already perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

We can continue to wait for our savior, or we can follow the advice of one who obviously knew what he was talking about: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

The Great Revelation

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In the previous lesson, we saw that Esau represents the physical aspect of our consciousness, while Jacob represents the mental side that is awakening to the spiritual dimension. In a moment of hunger, Esau swears he will sell his birthright to Jacob. When the time comes to bestow the birthright on his firstborn, father Isaac, now nearly blind, is deceived by his wife, Rebekah, into believing he is giving Esau this important blessing when in fact it is Jacob disguised as Esau.

Metaphysically, we can see Rebekah representing the soul. That she favors Jacob indicates that the soul expresses, not through the physical consciousness (Esau), but through the spiritually awakening mental side (Jacob).

When Esau learns of the deception, he vows to kill Jacob. This illustrates the tension between our body-based identity and our spiritually awakening mentality. Jacob flees in fear for his life. On his way to live with relatives, he has a dream. He sees a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending and the Lord standing above it. The Lord assures Jacob that he will be with him always, guiding and protecting him and his descendants. Jacob awakens from his sleep and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).

The great revelation is the omnipresence of God. The ancient Hebrew believed the Lord, Yahweh, was localized. Jacob thought that by leaving his homeland, he was also leaving the presence of the Lord. But he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (v17).

Our soul is always aware that it dwells in the presence of God. As Jacob, our spiritually developing consciousness, begins to get glimpses of this profound truth, we see that God, our spiritual source, is not in some remote location but is ever-present and can never leave us even in our moments of uncertainty. In his dream, the great wealth promised to Jacob by the Lord symbolizes the spiritual wealth that is in store for each of us.

An Evolution of Values

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The Bible can be read on many levels. The literalist will read it as history. The scholar will read it as the product of the human mind setting forth religious and cultural values. The metaphysician will treat the characters, locations, and actions portrayed as elements of the human consciousness.  

When treated metaphysically, we can see the story of Jacob and Esau as representing our transition from the body-centered consciousness to spirit-centered awareness. The two brothers were twins, with Esau being the firstborn and the rightful inheritor of the lion’s share of the family wealth. Esau was a physical man, a hunter, a “man of the field,” while Jacob is described as “a quiet man dwelling in tents.” Esau represents the body-based aspect of our identity. Jacob displays the characteristics of the spiritually developing consciousness. His name means, supplanter.

One day Esau comes in from the field famished and finds Jacob cooking a pottage of lentils. When he asks for something to eat, Jacob makes him swear that he will sell him his birthright (his inheritance). “I am about to die,” Esau says, “Of what use is a birthright to me?” Hence, we have the origin of selling the soul for a bowl of pottage.

Esau represents that aspect of our consciousness focused only on appeasing the needs of the body. The birthright is symbolic of our spiritual inheritance, our conscious union with God, our source. Spiritual concerns are of little consequence to this aspect of our thinking. Jacob, the supplanter, is that spiritually awakening movement of our consciousness destined to supersede and replace the mere physical level. We are beginning to think of ourselves as something much more than human beings seeking a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

The spiritual awakening is truly an evolution of values. As we begin to grasp the spiritual nature of our being, our interest turns to understanding this finer level, our true inheritance.

The Holy Breath

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In the Old Testament, when we see the terms Lord, Lord God, or Jehovah, the Hebrew word being translated is Yahweh. When we see the word God, the underlying Hebrew word is Elohim. If we turn to the first two chapters of Genesis, we see that chapter 1 uses Elohim and chapter 2 uses Yahweh.

According to Hebrew scholars, the term Yahweh was originally written without vowels: Yhwh. The reason? So, the holy name of God could not be spoken. This week, I came across a fascinating bit of information that was quoted indirectly from an unnamed Jewish physicist and religious scholar. He said the term Yh-wh was originally indicated as the spelling for the sound of the breath, with Yh being the inhalation and wh being the exhalation. Listen to your own breath, and you can get a feel for what he is saying.

That the breath is universal to all living forms is significant to understanding God as the very present source of our being. The book of Job says,  “Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom. But it is the spirit in a man,  the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand” (Job 32:7-8). And again, “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).

Humankind has struggled with the notion of God as the Creative Life Force that permeates all things, and that in whom we live and move and have our being, as Paul stated. It is easier to simply personify this spiritual abstraction, making God into something that resembles an ancient ancestor.

The Psalmist, who also understood the omnipresent nature of God, left us with this very inspiring bit of truth:

“God is our refuge and strength,  an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging (Psalms 46:1-3).

The Prayer of Knowing

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“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Matthew 6:7-8

As we read this passage, there are two points that can help with our understanding of prayer. The first point is that prayer does not require many words. Prayer is a mindset, a mental and emotional process of releasing our reaction to negative appearances and affirming that greater good is unfolding.

The second point is a bit more subtle. Jesus does not say that your Father knows what you want. He says your Father knows what you need. There is often a difference between what we want and what may actually provide the greatest advances in our journey home.

We may, for example, be asking God for help in dealing with some obnoxious personality in our life. We want them to just go away. What we need, however, is the insight to rise above our negative reaction to this person. Why am I giving them power to control my thoughts and emotions? Why am I giving them power to make me feel as if I must defend myself?

Jesus would say that your Father knows what you need before you ask because your Father is your spiritual source that knows nothing but freedom. It stands to reason that your Father knows what you are doing to block the free expression of spirit. Its primary interest is freeing you from the consequences of that blockage. It is similar to building a small dam in a stream. You can stop the flow of water for a time, but the blockage will eventually be removed by the natural action of the water.

Carry your prayer throughout your day, not in words but in the attitude that the best and highest is now working through you. Add to your stated desire the understanding that that which you need is now being made clear. You know what to do, and you do it.