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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”.
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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.

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.

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.

Who then is God?

As I sat contemplating the arguments that have raged in America over Barack Obama’s religious beliefs, I began to wonder what it is that that causes us all to take at least some interest in God? Generally, we either believe or we don’t. Those who do are in most cases aligned with a particular religion, sect or group; those who don’t in general often still harbour some appreciation for the mystical. And as for those who might call themselves atheists, most cannot help a feeling of being a part of something much greater when looking out at a stunning view or watching a gorgeous sunset, or even looking into a beautiful flower.

And yet as far back as records go, God has played a part in the lives of humanity. What has of course varied is how we perceive him. And right there of course is a point in question – is it a him or a her? Or neither? And what does God look like?

I remember thinking God looked a bit like Neptune. He was this rather tall ageing masculine European figure with a long white beard and a deep voice sitting on a throne with a very benevolent look on his face. In 1980 when I travelled across Africa, I visited a church in Sudan where huge wall murals depicted God, Christ and each of the apostles as tall elegant black men. In Hinduism they have many Gods, all different, but they all have one thing in common – they are Asian.

The point I am making is that as none of us really know what God looks like, we generally depict him in the most comfortable format we can find, i.e. like ourselves. This seems a perfectly sensible thing to do in the circumstances, but it was also an ideal way for our early religious leaders to present the creator. After all if God was depicted as a tree, it might not have been quite as easy to encourage worship. And of course, it worked. I think George Bernard Shaw hit the nail squarely on the head when he said “the average Britisher believes that God is an Englishman”.

But who or what then is God? Well first of all, there cannot logically be lots of Gods who each created a portion of everything and who claim a portion of humanity, all sitting around a table discussing their different Kingdoms and claiming souls with shouts of glee every time a child is born. That makes no sense at all. It seems obvious that there can only be one God, one creator, and I would go further. God is not a person and nor is he/she an object. God is a force of energy, an intelligence that exists in everything. Thus we are all in some way, a part of God. Perhaps the best way to describe this is to imagine yourself at the seaside. Look out over the sea and imagine how much seawater there is across the globe. Then imagine that God is the sea. Now lean down, dip a glass into the sea, and lift out a glass of seawater. What you have in your hand is a metaphor of yourself. A glass of God. It is not as big as God and it is not as strong as God but it is a part of God. It is the same energy. We, and everything else we have ever been aware of (and much much more) is what God is – the force of energy that both created, and is, everything.