Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Logs Block Unity, Not Twigs

Firstly there is the unity in things whereby each thing is at one with itself, consists of itself, and coheres with itself.  Secondly, there is the unity whereby one creature is united with others and all parts of the world constitute one world.  The third and most important (unity) is that whereby the whole universe is one with its Creator, as an army with its commander.  --  Pico della Mirandola*

This quote echoes my own spiritual journey, only I have discovered these things in the reverse order -- unity with God, with neighbor and all of creation, and lately the unity of mind and body.  I had no idea, when I began questioning my understanding of God ten years ago, that I was starting on a life-changing spiritual journey.  But then, I had no idea that my questions and concerns would be answered in ways that revealed how completely interconnected everything is.  It's as if I am in dialogue with God and God uses anything and everything to provide an answer.  That has been the most amazing discovery of my entire life.  Did you know this was possible?  I didn't a few years ago.

I write this blog because I not only want to share what I am learning about faith and life through this amazing dialogue, but also because I want more people to know that this kind of dialogue is possible.  I know I'm not the only one who experiences similar kind of synchronicities between thoughts and events as I describe in this blog.  I've come across a few people and read of many more who have had similar experiences.  But I also know that many people are not aware that this kind of connection is possible.

Lately, I've been wondering why.  I believe this awareness is available to everyone.  I also think that I could see even more than I do.  So, Why did it take me so long to see this unity?  What got, and still gets, in the way?

Part of the problem, which I wrote about last time, is that when I get so busy going and doing, and thinking about all the things to do and places to go, I just don't notice the clues around me that reveal God's active presence.  Another problem, is that I often resist the clues I'm given.  There are two reasons (that I can see so far) for this:  I don't understand them, or, I become offended by the presenter.   In both cases, the best response should be:  don't give up.  Don't give up on trying to understand something, no matter how difficult, because it's those hard things that often teach us the most.  And don't let someone's attitude, or poor judgment, in one area prevent God from speaking through them in another area.  Don't give up on them.

But, even as I know that's good advice, it's very challenging for me to follow.  I can't tell you how many times I have stopped reading a book because the author was arrogant or disparaging, exclusionary or judgmental.  Even if it's an author I've like and learned from before!  A couple of false moves, and the book goes on the back burner.  This is also true with the people we meet.  I've heard more than a few stories of people leaving a church because of one judgmental comment the leader made -- despite the fact that that person helped many people in many other ways.  We expect perfection in God's messengers, I think.  Thankfully, God does not. 

Last Saturday, I almost missed an answered prayer because I was offended by the messenger.  I was in a bad mood.  I was tired and cranky, stressed by all the things to do that were piling up, and frustrated that I wasn't going to have time to do any of the things I wanted to do.  When my son added a few more last minute but urgent things to the "to do" list, I didn't know whether to scream or cry.

"You seem stressed," he said a little later when I again put my head in my hands.  I was.  I even realized I was.  I knew I was feeling more aggravated than was warranted.  So while driving my son around town, I thought, "What should I do to get out of this mood?  Do I just forget everything and read for awhile?  There are so many books I want to read, and so little time to read them.  Do I go take a nap?  Maybe that's why I'm so cranky...I'm tired.  Or, do I start tackling some of my tasks?  Not very appealing."  I left it at that, confident that God would give me some advice, sometime that day --  hopefully soon.  As I turned back into my driveway, I saw two Jehovah's Witness people walking towards my house.  I thought, "Hmmm.  I haven't seen them around lately.  It's been at least two years.  Maybe they will give me the advice I need."

But when they came to the door, they spoke to me in a way that made it clear they thought they were introducing God to me for the first time.  That was a bit presumptuous, I thought.  And then their message was all about The End Times.  They read a quote in the Bible and talked about WWII as a sign.  This is not something I believe in at all.  When they asked if they could give me their literature, I almost said, "No thank you."  But I checked myself.  I had felt sure when I first saw them that they would be able to give me God's guidance.  I already know that I don't think like they do about some things.  But I also know that God can speak through the most unexpected people.  Really, it was their initial presumption that set me off.  Recognizing that, I said, simply, "Yes." 

After they left, I looked at the literature they had given me.  I skimmed quickly through the one on The End Times, tossing it aside.  Then I looked at the second one.  In it was an article titled, "How to Invest Your Time Wisely."  I read, "Don't procrastinate...Balance work and recreation...sleep, but don't squander precious time for extra rest and entertainment."  It was the answer I needed to hear.  I got to work, tackling some of the jobs I had been putting off, and took, throughout the day, a few breaks to read a little and spend time with my kids.  It was a very good day, after all.

But I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure that out?  If I had responded defensively instead of humbly, and refused what they offered?  Probably a long time.  For, if left to my own devices, I would have gone back to bed, and then maybe read.  And the tasks would have piled up even more, creating even more residual stress. 

This incident makes me wonder how much my own defensiveness gets in the way of God.  Probably more often than I think.  Perhaps that is why Jesus said to stop looking at the twig in someone else's eye and take the log out of your own.  It's those logs that get in the way of hearing God's word.

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you always.


* quoted in "Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle," by C.G. Jung, pg. 75  (Princeton University Press)

Saturday, February 1, 2014


"Because of the noise and activity of the struggle and the work, we often do not hear the hidden gentle sound and movement of the life that is coming into being.  But here and there, at hours that are blessed, God lets us feel how he is everywhere at work and how his cause is growing and moving forward."  --  Eberhard Arnold *

"You see but you don't observe."  -- Sherlock Holmes **

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about God.  My friend and I think differently about God, so it was a thought-provoking conversation.  My friend doesn't think of God as a real entity, or as a being who intervenes in the world or answers prayers, and I do.  For her, God is love and love is God.  God is the love that people have for one another when they are helping, forgiving, healing.  For the world to become a better place, she would say that we must rely upon our own resources of love, not a supernatural being.  I believe God is love, yet so much more.  For me, there is an external, supernatural being or force that not only fills us with love, but that also guides us to help make the world a better place.

Since talking to my friend, I've continued to think about our conversation, along with a few related matters.  And though I'm still in the midst of my musings, I thought I better stop and write some down, or you might begin to think I've gone missing for good.

First of all, I know that my friend and I see God differently because we experience God differently.   I experience God's guidance almost daily, so I can't help but think of God in the way I do.  My friend does not have the same experience.  She wanted to know how I experience God so often.  I explained, briefly, as I have often done in this blog, that I see such surprising connections between my private thoughts and what comes into my life that I can't help but believe these connections come from God.

But I'm beginning to notice that whenever I get really busy with going and doing, and with keeping in mind all the places I need to go or things I need to do, I don't see God in my life, at all.  It's only when I take the time to stop and tune into what's going on right now, in my life, that I begin to see God's presence around me.  I know I'm not unique in this regard.  Eberhard Arnold and many other spiritual writers attest to the same thing.  Which makes me wonder about the many people who do not slow down enough to see the connections all around them.  Or seeing them, they dismiss them and do not take the time to really think about their importance.  I'm sure these people would not so readily see God's presence in their lives.  And thus, would be hard-pressed to believe in an intervening God.

I began to wonder if it is possible to train yourself to become more aware of God in the midst of a busy life.  So I sought out books on mindfulness, meditation, and training your brain.  Then I was sidetracked by a television show.  Actually two television shows. Coincidentally, both shows have been out for awhile, though my kids and I had never heard of either one -- which either tells you how oblivious we can be, or how little television we watch, maybe both.  Yet, we discovered both of them at the same time.  Just when my son asked if he could stream old episodes of a show called "Psych," that he had seen at a friend's house, onto our television, I was downloading old episodes of a show I had been hearing a lot about, called "Sherlock," onto my computer.  Coincidentally, as well, both are about a man who solves crimes that no one else can solve because he is so much more observant of the world around him than anyone else. 

Coincidences like these always teach me something valuable, if I take the time to think about them.  So, while I realize that both of these shows are completely made up, I couldn't help but wonder, especially in light of my recent musings... Is there something I need to learn here?

The similarities between these two shows are obvious but there are some differences worth noting.  Sean in "Psych" is a goofball who was trained by his father, a policeman, to be hyper-vigilant at every moment, while Sherlock seems to have just been born different from the rest of us, with an overload of sensory and logic genes, and far fewer inter-personal ones.  So, I wondered... Which way is it?  Can you be trained to see God's presence in the world (like a Sean), or are you born with special genes that allow you to see more than other people (like a Sherlock)?  

I'm not the first person to wonder this.  Some scientists point to a "God gene" that is hereditary in some families.  It is thought to have been favored through natural selection because the hope that comes with faith enhances one's chances of survival.  Others have discovered places in the brain that are activated during spiritual exercises, such as when a Buddhist monk meditates.  Artificially activating these areas in people causes them to have spiritual visions.  Yet, neuro-anatomists tell us that brain cells are formed from birth based on our learning environment, and can continue to be created as long as we live.  I can attest that my experience of God's presence has certainly grown over the years, as has my understanding of God.

Yet, all of these scientists are coming at faith from different angles, finding explanations for the evidence they see.  There isn't a lot of pooling together of all the evidence.  It reminded me of one of the "Sherlock" episodes we watched recently.  The Detective Inspector concludes that the recent death of a young banker is suicide.  Dr. Watson says, "That does seem the only explanation of all the facts."  And Sherlock says,  "Wrong.  It's one possible explanation of some of the facts.  You've got a solution that you like, but you're choosing to ignore anything you see that doesn't comply with it." (from "The Blind Banker", episode 2, series 1).  No one person, except Sherlock, can see all of the evidence, so we must listen to many different people.

Thankfully, some scientists are also beginning to realize that their explanations are limited by the narrowness of their expertise.  At least that is what I heard this week at a lecture hosted by the College of Science on "The Evolutionary Brain" when the lecturing professor praised a concurrent lecture series being offered by the College of Social Sciences.  He suggested that by attending both series we would get a better understanding of the bigger picture of humanity -- to the cheers of many in the audience.

What if we could do the same thing with our understanding of God and bring all the various scientists and humanists and faithful people together to hash over the evidence?  Maybe I'll even offer my own life up for examination.

Until then...

May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you 


* from the essay "When the Time Was Fulfilled," by Eberhard Arnold, found in "Watch For the Light," pg. 285

** from the BBC production of "Sherlock," Season 1 & 2, written by Steven Moffat, Stephen Thompson, and Mark Gatiss, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson