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Archive for the ‘Spiritual’ Category

Mary Magdalene Picture.smallPicture 1; Mary Magdalene

As I sat in our church waiting for the Christmas service to begin, I reflected on the recent decision about women bishops made by the General Synod. What, I asked myself, is happening to the church?

The Christian Church was formed around the works of Jesus Christ, an extraordinary teacher, but it wasn’t only what he said that was important. The Jewish society into which he was born was very male dominated and women had certain roles they were allowed to fulfil in life and no more. Men were allowed the privilege of education, women were not. As we know, this domination over women has continued throughout our history and it was only this last century that women were allowed the right to vote in the UK. There are of course still many societies across the world in which women remain culturally, if not legally bound to live a heavily restricted and controlled life.

In these societies, the very concept of a women bishop is so foreign that if the Church of England Synod were to adopt this proposal, they would be likely to excuse themselves from the Anglican Communion. Their cultures would simply not allow them to support such a proposal. All of this plays perfectly into the hands of the traditional UK and USA church membership who don’t want change. Change is scary. Thus the vote was lost and the church remains trapped in an outdated mindset. It is interesting is it not, that the head of the Anglican Communion, the Supreme Governor, is a woman.

Christ on the other hand ignored these rules. His most important confidante was Mary Magdalene and he treated her as an equal as he did his mother and all other women around him. And yet if we read the Bible, we are given a very different picture. The scribes reduce her to being a prostitute, a way of putting her back in her place, a way of once again reducing the female to her position in society; one over which men have control.

If we are truly following the example and leadership of Christ and not following the prejudices of society, why then are we even contemplating this issue? Surely women should have been in the church hierarchy since the birth of Christianity?

This gives rise to another important question. Why do we need such a large Communion of churches in the first place?

Do we need such a huge church?

 The Anglican reach spreads far across the world and like the Catholic Church, it is more than just a place of worship. Underneath the spiritual message, the church is an extremely powerful, wealthy and political machine. It is powerful and it has influence. Yet in order to keep its power it must keep its flock together. In doing so however they are having to compromise, forcing their entire community to slow down, a dangerous position to occupy in such a fast moving world. The larger it is, the more immovable it becomes.

Why not allow the church to split up more succinctly than it has done so far, keeping the various bodies together in a looser union (a bit like the Commonwealth), where each church is autonomous? This way each branch of the church could mould into the local culture and develop at its own pace, without the need to conform to the hierarchy of a main church body. It would then be much more in touch with the people who form its core.

Yes, the church would lose some of its powerful political influence but should religion have that extraordinary power in the first place, where it can be misused? We have certainly seen this misuse throughout history and indeed we still see it today in countries like Iran. True spirituality is an individual journey, guided by an inner desire to connect with the divine. No amount of church going or pulpit pounding will change the heart that is not ready. Fear has been widely used as a tool to lever people into church with the threat of hell and damnation (and many still believe this) but whilst it may increase the number of participants, it does not increase the number with a real desire to embrace their spirituality for the sheer joy of doing so.

Perhaps it is time the church’s entire approach to spirituality should change. Too much time is spent on activities that really have no relevance at all to real spirituality. It is still too mired in history, still too tied to the original structure and purpose of the Roman church.

In 312 AD, Constantine converted to Christianity. This was not for spiritual reasons but practical reasons; it became a way to unify his people and consolidate his power. Its structure was moulded in such a way that people were held in awe by the huge temples and the finery of the church leaders and fearful of the threat of hell if they did not comply. Heretics were burnt publically at the stake. This was certainly not a time of spirituality.

The challenge we face is that our consciousness limits our future. It creates a tunnel* out of our past experiences (and with that I include our history) and continues that tunnel through our present awareness. Out of this tunnel of what is probable, our mind projects forward to construct our future but the tunnel is constrained and limited, so it falls short of what we really can be and do in the future. Our church leaders are trying to construct their present and future as a continuation of their past. Perhaps it is time to step out of the tunnel, re-examine the whole concept of spirituality and move forward with a new and vital message, a message of love. At the moment the symbol of Christianity is Christ suspended in an agonising position, dying on a cross. It speaks of violence, pain, anger and the abuse of power.

The ‘symbol’ of Christ on the cross was only adopted in the third century AD when Christians were being ruthlessly persecuted and killed across the Roman world for their beliefs. That is where the idea of Christians being prepared to “die for their faith as Christ himself had done” was first promulgated as a way of keeping their flock together. It worked and Christianity survived. The ‘symbol’ was adopted by Constantine and remains the same today.

Times have changed radically and I would like to suggest a new image should be adopted for the church, one that speaks of love; an image of Christ and Mary Magdalene standing together, reflecting the balance of the male and female energy and of course the equality between men and women. This is what Christ himself spoke of and how he treated everyone around him. All were equal in his eyes and in the eyes of God.

Now that really would be a powerful message for our time.

Jeshua & Mary Magdalene

Picture 2; Christ and Mary Magdalene

* Part of the wording and the concept of the tunnel comes from the book ‘The Power of the Magdalene’ by Stuart Wilson and Joanna Prentis.

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Henri Nouwen

I was recently reminded of the extraordinary work of the priest Henri Nouwen who wrote several very inspiring books, in that he was reaching out to those who were searching for their own personal relationship with God. He was an extraordinary communicator and taught for several years at Harvard University in the USA.

What Nouwen seemed to understand was that God does not see us as separate from him. Nouwen saw us as a part of God. He clearly understood, in a way that most regular Christians do not, that Jesus Christ was not alone as the son of God. We are all sons and daughters of God.

On the question of ‘who are we?’, Nouwen breaks it down into three categories in which, in this 3 dimensional world we are constantly trapped, not realising that there is a completely different picture if we would only slow down and allow ourselves the pleasure of tuning into ourselves.

1) I am what I do. (Job, charitable work etc)
2) I am what others say about me. (As long as it is good, we are happy. As soon as it is unpleasant or hurtful, it affects us, sometimes dramatically.)
3) I am what I have. (family history, family members, possessions).

He calls this a process of ‘survival’ and despite what we have achieved, what we own and what people say about us, we may still, when we come to die, be wondering who we really are and why we are here.

I wonder how many of us have grown up doing what others have suggested we do? For example, did your parents shove you in a certain direction when you were younger? Were you encouraged to follow the family ‘route’ and be a soldier, banker, solicitor, shopkeeper or anything else? Did you actually have the chance to explore what it was that you really wanted to do? It is in finding out who you really are and what makes you tick that allows you to blossom and flourish with a vibrancy that comes from deep within.

One of my favourite quotes explains this very simply. It reads as follows;

“When I reach the next world, they will not ask me why I was not Moses. They will ask me why I was not Zuzia”.
Rabbi Zuzia of Hannipol

Nouwen recognised that there was more to this spiritual relationship with God. “Claim your belovedness…what is said of Jesus is said of you…you and I are the beloved sons and daughters of God…claim it…make it your own”.
.
Part of understanding that we are more than we think we are is realising that there is a separate part of ourselves, which is best described as the ‘higher self’. This is the part directly connected with God. This is the part of us that, if we claim it, we will realise that we are bigger, more capable and really quite extraordinary creators, that we can achieve so much more than we could ever imagine and in so doing, help others along their own personal journeys.

The world is changing around us. The energy is changing for the better and the ‘credit crunch’ is all part of this massive adjustment. This crisis is part of a timely adjustment that is occurring globally which is seeing new changes that include amongst other things the collapse of the age old financial power houses, the calling to account of the ruling elite (UK parliamentarians) and the election of a seemingly inexperienced democratic President in the USA who has a propensity for thinking “out of the box” and is an Afro-American. No-one could have imagined any of this 5 years ago.

Now is the time to seek out who you really are and where necessary, adjust your priorities. Nothing could be more satisfying than to be doing something which genuinely comes from the heart, that part of us where the ‘higher self’ resides.

Henri Nouwen can be seen speaking of this on the following link. It is well worth watching.

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The very fact that you are reading this suggests that you are on a journey of discovery – a journey that has perhaps already had a number of twists and turns and bumpy bends. No journey of discovery is easy. It would be convenient if it was all so abundantly clear immediately, but it is not.

The journey itself is by its very nature, winding. Although it is our own personal journey it is a fact that we generally allow others to dictate to us what we should believe, where we should go and how we should feel. Indeed, most of it is done with the very best of intentions by those we love i.e. our parents, siblings and friends.

What happens is we tend to segregate ourselves based on our religions, our race, our wealth status and our friends. It is obvious why. We feel safe in our particular environment. Because we do things in a certain way, speak in a certain way, go to a certain school or have a particular type of family heritage, we consider others who do not fit into the same categories as different. They are a potential threat to our confidence (the mental space in which we are comfortable) and thus our personal security, and so we either avoid others or keep them at arms length. Yet, the further along the journey we travel, the more we realise that our own journey is different even to those of our closest friends. It is when we start realising this that some of us start to question if the road we are on is in fact the right one. But how can we tell whether the direction we have taken is the right one?

Here I wish you to imagine yourself standing about 50 metres back from a wall. You are on a path which leads directly to a door in the wall, straight ahead of you. The path in front is slightly unkempt, but still easy to see as a path. As you look up the path, you notice there are many other paths leading off the main path to the left and to the right, and each leads to a different door in the wall. All of them are wide, well managed with flowers beds and gardeners attending them. The only path which seems slightly unkempt is the one going straight ahead.

One of those well maintained paths is the one you have most likely been ‘guided’ into, i.e. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or any other. Now walk forward, down that path (the one that is most familiar to you) and start walking along it. The walk is pleasant and comforting. Someone welcomes you at the entrance. Indeed you have walked down this way many times before and you probably know the gardeners very well.

When you finally reach the door, have a close look at it. The door represents your religion, the doorway to God. This door is old and it has been meddled with many times over the years. There are old hinges, new hinges, broken hinges, broken handles and new ones screwed in to take their place. The door itself is ill-fitting, slightly tilted and jam-wedged against the wall.

Now open the door. You will have to give it a bit of a tug to get it lose, and with creaking hinges, it opens. Beyond it is a path, only this time the path is heavily encroached upon by undergrowth. This is your pathway to God, and if you take it, you will eventually get there. It will at last and after quite some time, open out onto an open, gently winding path that stretches into the distance. The trouble is, the path ahead of you is very wiggly with much hindrance along your way and several very dark and frightening bits to go through before you get to the junction of the paths. All this hindrance is the dogma created by organised religion and their human hierarchies.

May I suggest you close the door and walk back down to the central path from whence you started? If you look down all the other paths that go off the main one, you will find that they are all very similar to the one you have just been down; an old creaky patched-up door and a pathway beyond it with much undergrowth encroaching.

May I suggest you brave the slightly unkempt main path that runs ahead of you and approach the door in the wall? The path may be slightly unkempt but it is firm, and natural flowers and trees abound all round. When you reach the door, look closely at it. It is old, far older than all the others by miles, but it looks fresh, feels fresh and the hinges and the handles are originals. A light seems to pour through the keyhole as if there is bright sunlight on the other side.

Now open the door. The door opens easily, and there, stretching ahead of you is a gently winding path that leads ahead. All around is warm and light. The path is easy to follow and at each bend, a wooden bench appears for you to sit on, relax and connect to your own higher self which will guide you on to the next stage. Each stage of the journey is a new experience, with more to learn and a chance to recognise your own divine nature, to accept and welcome in your own divinity.

Along the main path, you will see other paths occasionally emerge from the sides. They are the paths from the other doors that finally lead to this main path. They have travelled a long, challenging and circuitous route to reach it and at last emerge onto the true inner path to God. Once they are on the main path however, they are finally on their way home. Just as you are, or hopefully soon will be. The journey home to God.

The next stage of your journey is up to you.

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I was recently reminded of the extraordinary work of the priest Henri Nouwen who wrote several very inspiring books, in that he was reaching out to those who were searching for their own personal relationship with God. He was an extraordinary communicator and taught for several years at Harvard University in the USA.

What Nouwen seemed to understand was that God does not see us as separate from him. Nouwen saw us as a part of God. He clearly understood, in a way that most regular Christians do not, that Jesus Christ was not alone as the son of God. We are all sons and daughters of God.

On the question of ‘who are we?’, Nouwen breaks it down into three categories in which, in this 3 dimensional world we are constantly trapped, not realising that there is a completely different picture if we would only slow down and allow ourselves the pleasure of tuning into ourselves.

1) I am what I do. (Job, charitable work etc)
2) I am what others say about me. (As long as it is good, we are happy. As soon as it is unpleasant or hurtful, it affects us, sometimes dramatically.)
3) I am what I have. (family history, family members, possessions).

He calls this a process of ‘survival’ and despite what we have achieved, what we own and what people say about us, we may still, when we come to die, be wondering who we really are and why we are here.

I wonder how many of us have grown up doing what others have suggested we do? For example, did your parents shove you in a certain direction when you were younger? Were you encouraged to follow the family ‘route’ and be a soldier, banker, solicitor, shopkeeper or anything else? Did you actually have the chance to explore what it was that you really wanted to do? It is in finding out who you really are and what makes you tick that allows you to blossom and flourish with a vibrancy that comes from deep within.

One of my favourite quotes explains this very simply. It reads as follows;

“When I reach the next world, they will not ask me why I was not Moses. They will ask me why I was not Zuzia”.
Rabbi Zuzia of Hannipol

Nouwen recognised that there was more to this spiritual relationship with God. “Claim your belovedness…what is said of Jesus is said of you…you and I are the beloved sons and daughters of God…claim it…make it your own”.
.
Part of understanding that we are more than we think we are is realising that there is a separate part of ourselves, which is best described as the ‘higher self’. This is the part directly connected with God. This is the part of us that, if we claim it, we will realise that we are bigger, more capable and really quite extraordinary creators, that we can achieve so much more than we could ever imagine and in so doing, help others along their own personal journeys.

The world is changing around us. The energy is changing for the better and the ‘credit crunch’ is all part of this massive adjustment. This crisis is part of a timely adjustment that is occurring globally which is seeing new changes that include amongst other things the collapse of the age old financial power houses, the calling to account of the ruling elite (UK parliamentarians) and the election of a seemingly inexperienced democratic President in the USA who has a propensity for thinking “out of the box” and is an Afro-American. No-one could have imagined any of this 5 years ago.

Now is the time to seek out who you really are and where necessary, adjust your priorities. Nothing could be more satisfying than to be doing something which genuinely comes from the heart, that part of us where the ‘higher self’ resides.

Henri Nouwen can be seen speaking of this on the following link. It is well worth watching.  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3701709082567809182

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It seems as we go about our daily business that what we see is ‘what is’, what we feel is ‘what is’, and what we hear is ‘what is’; and to be honest, most of our conscious daily lives are governed by this. However as we have moved into a more technical age, so more and more of what we use to work on or to communicate with is no longer so straight forward. It has shifted beyond our easy comprehension. Most of us now live with the philosophy of ‘as long as it works and makes things easier for me, I’ll use it!’

We have a car which, if you open the bonnet, I can (give or take a few bits) provide a name for all the carefully spaced parts of the engine. Now a friend of ours has a new car. This is completely different. If you open the bonnet, it has what appears to be a mass of different parts, all somehow squashed into (what appears to be) this tiny space. It is in fact larger than the space under our bonnet, but it doesn’t look like it. Inside the car is a computer and the whole car runs via this system. If the car breaks down, only an expert, or at least someone with the specialised equipment, can repair it.

Thank goodness that’s not how we work! Despite the fact that we have the most remarkable capabilities, we still all have (as we have always had) the same basic central desire to love and to be loved and to feel needed, valued and appreciated. I have many men friends who would scoff at that as ‘nonsense’ or ‘girlie stuff’, but beneath all the bluster and the hormones, the same desires remain. Without these central needs being met, our lives take a different turn as we search for alternative solutions.

So why are these desires so powerful? Why are our lives so driven by them? As a child is drawn to its mother and looks to its parents for protection, so we begin to see the power of this relationship. When the child is older, it is the solidarity of that love that gives them the strength and confidence to go out and make their own progress in the world. Equally, without it, things can go very wrong indeed.

As small portions of God, we are all part of a much grander whole. Our aim, ultimately, is to find our way back to God, this great energy source. It is the draw of this central source that is echoed by the relationship between mother and child – the difference is that God’s love is not always noticed.

“So why can’t I feel it, why don’t I notice it?” you might ask. Good question. The answer is that we are all so concerned with the ‘person’ we are and how we fit into the world around us, how we should act, dress and speak, that we loose touch with our inner selves. Or lives are so full of noise and external stimulation in the form of internal mental chatter, pressure of work, constant TV and music etc that we never stop to slow down and really think who we are and what we are really doing here. Often the first time we stop and clearly take notice of ourselves is when there is a bereavement or some kind of devastating news. At moments like this, we look inwards.

The key is to keep looking inwards a little bit every day. The more you do through meditation or quiet time, the more you connect with that inner source of energy and love. From that grows an understanding of your relationship with God, and with it an energy and strength that supersedes any confidence (or lack of it) you may have built around your ego self. You will begin to realise that you are special and that with the gifts you already have, you can achieve remarkable things; greater in fact, than you have ever imagined possible.

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Are we separate from God?

In Christianity we are taught that there is a hierarchy. The Holy Trinity. God the Father, God the son and God the Holy Ghost. The Angelic community support the hierarchy and are here to help and guide humanity. Everyone else who is mortal is a lesser being, and we are separate from God. We worship in glorious cathedrals and churches, which, whilst simply stunning, help to reinforce our separation from God. The Priesthood form the next stage of the hierarchy, with the Pope and the Queen (followed closely by the Archbishop of Canterbury) being our highest mortal members of the Christian community.

I have been to some really extraordinary church services that have left me in awe. The whole process of the various different ceremonies is steeped in history with amazing costumery and alter coverings and wonderful traditions. It is always impressive. Add to that magnificent voices of a well voiced and well practised choir and the whole process is electrifying. Our priesthood read from the bible and impart the word of God and give sermons which aim to rouse us and cause us to reflect on our relationship with God and with others.

All of this is good stuff, but it also enhances our belief that God is ultimately responsible for everything. This is why when a great tragedy occurs, people get very angry with God and challenge him. ‘If you are so omnipotent, why did these people have to die’, or similar.

I don’t think God needs, or even expects all these wonderful ceremonies. We are all small portions of him and he is connected to us energetically at all times. I don’t believe there is any separation, and more than that, one of the greatest gifts of this planet is the aspect of free will. God does not tell us what to do. Through his great messengers like Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Lau tsu and others, he has imparted information on how best to run our lives and to evolve, but there is no stipulation. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own lives. How we live them will not be forgotten, but more on that later.

There are many tribes around the world who have wonderfully simple ceremonies to thank God for everything. What makes them compelling is their simplicity. The Bushmen in the Kalahari believe that everything has a spirit, something most of us don’t really think about. When a bushman has stalked and killed an animal to feed his family, he apologises to the animal’s spirit for having to kill it and explains why he has had to do this, asks for its forgiveness and wishes its spirit well in the afterlife. The family group will later thank God for a successful hunt so the family could eat. This to me shows a wonderful deference to and respect for the rest of life.

How we communicate with God, the energy source, the great intelligence is a very personal matter, but we would do well to realise that he is closer to us than we think, and that whatever we do, however we treat anyone else or any creature, we are ultimately doing it to him. God is in everyone and everything. There is no separation.

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How can anyone suggest that God is just energy?

Well, let’s examine it. Perhaps the simplest form of energy to explain is electricity. When you switch on a light, the bulb glows as electricity (energy) is allowed down a wire to an element where it causes the thin metal to glow. This is physically connected energy.

So what about television? There is certainly electricity as with the light bulb, but there is an additional feature – the electromagnetic signal. Here the signal (energy) is being absorbed by various components which convert them into visible and audible signals, but no wires this time.

Have you ever met anyone who exudes an extraordinary ‘energy’ when they enter a room? They seem to stop the conversation in its tracks. How does this happen? Well, it is the energy they exude which affects us all. At the same time when someone is very depressed, being around them can be hard work as they are exuding a very negative energy which can drain our own.

Through quantum mechanics, scientists have now been able to break down in particle accelerators the very smallest sub-atomic particles and they have discovered that there is nothing solid at the point of particle formation. All there is, is energy. So every single particle that exists in and around this planet is formed from energy, and it is not different energy, it is the same energy. What is different of course is the form in which the energy shows itself, for example a tree, a rain storm or a sound. Or of course, as a person.

If you were to weigh someone shortly before they died and then shortly after, they would weigh the same. Now you could argue that all that has stopped is the heart, and that life has ceased. That is true, but what makes that person who they are? What gives them their personality, their exuberance, their laugher, their very essence? Their energy? Well, that comes from God. That is the spirit within us.

God, or this supremely powerful and intelligent energy is ultimately the source of everything. The energy with which we are made up and our essence, the spirit within us, all come from and are a part of the same thing. Hence my analogy in my last column of contemplating God as the sea. There is a lot of water in the sea, but if you lean down and scoop up a glass of seawater, then you have a metaphor of yourself – a glass of God. All we have done in the past is to complicate this by assuming that God and the evolution theory are completely different – well they aren’t. They are one and the same. All that has happened is that through history, we have all assumed that God is this ‘person’ , this ‘being’ who has commanded our lives for us and the message still prevails – that he is an all-powerful, demanding and yet deeply compassionate figure from whom we are separated.

There is, clearly, much more to it than that.

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