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Choosing Joy

There is a thread of thought that is very common in western religion, even western culture. As a matter of fact, it is so deeply imbedded in our psyche that most of us don’t even realize the deleterious effect it has on our lives. This thought is basically that suffering is somehow “good”, even desirable, if we are to prove ourselves worthy of…worthy of what? Of being saved? Of meeting God, or Jesus? Of not going to hell? Worthy of not suffering? How twisted is that? Worthy of joy, of heaven, of not Hell?

This idea is often couched in the philosophy that we can’t know joy if we haven’t known suffering. Honestly, from my personal experience, I can’t say that there’s not some truth in that statement. However, implicit in that statement is that our joy in life is somehow dependent upon the degree of our suffering, like the more we suffer, the more joy we can know, and vice-versa; that in order to know great joy we have to experience great suffering. There are actually some people/clubs/societies that seek after suffering in a misguided belief that they will reap greater joy in the hereafter.

I have suffered in my life, although I am aware enough to know that any suffering I might have experienced pales before that of many others. I need only look around me for confirmation of that. Honestly, I feel like my personal suffering has been minimal, and most of that was induced by my own choices. However, I reject the idea that I can only know joy commensurate with the degree of suffering I have experienced.

No, I think we can choose joy.

I think we can seek joy, even if that simply means recognizing the joy that exists all around us.

I also think most of us sabotage our own joy.

That’s not to say that the world doesn’t deal us some ugly cards that make it very difficult to experience joy. It certainly does. Ill health, natural disasters, accidents or circumstances of birth, even the decisions of others can make it very difficult for us to “choose joy”.

But I do believe that “…men are that they might have joy”.

And I think there are many things we do, as a result of religious and cultural indoctrination, that impede or even block our ability to recognize and experience – even maximize – joy in our lives. I would even venture so far as to suggest that these things that we do are symbolized by the proverbial “fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” that Adam and Eve “partook” of in the Garden of Eden. In this story, this fruit, which should surely cause Adam and Eve to die, is juxtaposed against the tree of life.

In my mind, then, I consider the following thought processes to lead to death – perhaps physical as well as spiritual – simply because they block our access to the fruit of the tree of life – which fruit I accept as being love; the partaking of which is the source of joy. I believe that learning to recognize and reject these thought processes is the key to knowing God – because they actually separate us from God. And we know that to “know thee, the only true God” is equated in John 17:3 to “eternal life”.

In other words, continuing on our merry way, trapped by this destructive thinking, is the surest way to delay our realization and experience of joy; of love; of eternal life itself.

As with almost all of my writings, I submit these things to you for your consideration. They have gelled in my mind, but that matters only to me, unless they also gel in yours. This list is most certainly incomplete. It is one that, as I ponder, contemplate, and constantly repent, continues to grow. Hopefully, you, too, will add your own contributions as you give this list your consideration.

The list:

Fear

Fear carries in it the seeds of death. There is no fear in love. I’m obviously not speaking of immediate, threatening, fight or flight types of fear. I’m speaking of more subtle types of fear, such as:

  • Fear of not existing
  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of punishment
  • Fear of not being “saved”

Fear is likely the most insidious flavor of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Consider that this knowledge (of good and evil) implies avoiding evil, and seeking good. Implicit in this, then, is the fear that we will choose wrongly. Yes, we need to choose – I get that – but we must learn to choose good, not fear evil. We must choose good out of love, and not avoid evil out of fear of punishment. The difference is subtle, which is why it is so important to recognize it for ourselves, and in ourselves. Love is life, and it binds us all together. Fear is death, and it perpetuates our separation from God and from each other.

Living in the past (or in the future)

The past is the past. It cannot be changed. It’s only value is in any lessons we might have learned – lessons which we carry with us now. Time and energy spent in regret, or in nostalgia is wasted, and can often prevent us from experiencing the joy that is ours now.

The future has not yet happened. Sure, we can influence the future by the choices we make today. My wife and I, with our friends, are in the process of refurbishing an old manufactured home, which is on a beautiful piece of property with a great view. We hope to have a comfortable home to live in for the rest of our mortal lives. We are making choices in how we expend our resources in anticipation of this. We are planning for the future.I spent some time the past few days collecting various versions of the lyrics to the old blues standard, “Key to the Highway”, which I then consolidated into something I can learn, in anticipation of being able to play this song in the future. I’m building toward the anticipated ability to perform this song.

Looking to the future in logical, cautious, planned, hopeful anticipation is great, as long as it doesn’t prevent us from experiencing joy now. I remind myself constantly of the joy that can be found in building something like our home, or of the joy of learning, practicing, and performing a new song. But we’ve all known people, and we have all done this ourselves, who think, “If only this, this, or this would happen, then I will be happy”.

There is a sign on the wall in a local restaurant that says, “Free beer here…tomorrow.” The past is gone, and tomorrow never comes. We must choose to be joyful now, or we never will.

That said, I must give a nod to the previously mentioned forces over which we have little control. In this case, a healthy, faithful, hopeful “this, too, shall pass” attitude can be essential to experiencing joy even in the face of such trials that do inevitably come.

Being Right

I heard a recorded discussion a couple of years ago of Max Skousen describing “peaceable followers of Christ” as people who had surrendered the “need to be right”. For the purpose of this discussion, it doesn’t matter who Max Skousen is. I mention his name simply in order to attribute the idea to him. What matters, instead, is the impact it had on me. It was like a lightening bolt of inspiration. Let me try to explain why:

First, I recognize the desire to know truth. But that’s not the same as needing to be right. When it comes to seeking truth, it is important to realize that, until I know all things, the best I can hope for is to be partially right. I have only a portion of truth, which means that my knowledge and understanding is at best incomplete, and, at worst, wrong, and I have to be ok with that.

If I do think I’m right, when I’m obviously not, I run the risk of ceasing to seek further knowledge. I block out sources of truth that might be available to me, because I already have the truth – because I am already “right”. This form of “damnation” can, and does, manifest itself in various ways. The “true” church, or “true” religion, infallible and/or exclusive scriptures, following without question men or “prophets”, blind faith…all these are manifestations of the need to be right.

Another aspect of the need to be right concerns a state of contention that results from manifesting the need to be right to the extent that I seek to impose my “rightness” on others. Engaging is such a thought process:

  • Implies that the other person is wrong
  • Tends toward the use of some sort of force in order to convince the other that they are wrong
  • Results in a “spirit of contention”.
  • Perpetuates a state of separation

The use of force, any kind of force, to impose my “rightness” upon another individual or group of people is, to me, inexcusable. This force, of course, can be physical, emotional, cultural, economic, spiritual, social, etc. It can, furthermore, be applied in endlessly subtle ways.

Yet, we humans often invite someone else’s “rightness”. There is great comfort in the belief that I have “found” the truth; to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to seek knowledge of truth for ourselves. And it takes great faith and great courage to go through life realizing that most likely you only know a tiny bit of what is to be known, and that perhaps you understand even less. It is this dynamic that enables what is commonly thought of as a “cult” mentality, but such thinking is prevalent in many more subtle ways in our churches, clubs, societies, even nations. Ultimately this “need to be right”, and thus, by comparison, better, is responsible for all contention, separatism, elitism, nationalism, and ultimately war throughout history.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

The movie “Finding Nemo” contained two of my favorite movie scenes ever. The first was when, after escaping the belly of the whale, where Dory had encouraged and taught Marlin to “speak whale”, the two of them popped up to the surface, and Dory, in her brilliant, joyful, now innocence, declared, “I wish I could speak whale.”

The second was all the seagulls screeching, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”. It was a brilliant caricature of the “in it for myself” and “I’ve got mine” mentality that dominates too much of human interaction. This, of course, not only applies to our “stuff”, but to mental, emotional, and spiritual issues as well.

It’s ok to have stuff, but the problem, the separation, evolves when we fear losing our stuff. Kris Kristofferson wrote in his famous song, “Me and Bobby McGee”, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”.  It’s the idea that our joy is somehow dependent upon our stuff, or the fear of losing it, or the belief that more stuff will magically result in more joy and less fear, that actually blocks joy. Joy…and fear…come from within. Which will we choose? I can think of little that is more contradictory to the Sermon on the Mount than this seagull cacophony of “Mine! Mine! Mine!”.

Comparison

Comparison is likely the most insidious and destructive thought construct that humanity engages in. Few realize the extent to which they do it. Our indulgence in comparison thought patterns manifests itself in multiple ways:

The primary mode of comparison is when we compare ourselves to others, and that, of course, perpetuates separation. If we compare ourselves as better, we see others as somehow less than we are. Conversely, if we compare “unfavorably”, then we feel less, devalued, unworthy, not as good.

Another mode of comparison is when we compare ourselves to some standard. This implies that we are more than or less than perfect. The very term “perfect” implies a standard. For most Christians, Jesus is the standard against which we compare ourselves, yet such a comparison is typically followed by, “But there was only one perfect person”. This attitude is simply defeatist and demoralizing, and can only leave us feeling somehow incomplete and imperfect. It’s also completely illogical. Why would Jesus offer us an example that we cannot hope to emulate?

A revelatory voice once told me – a voice that I personally identify as Jesus – “Do not compare your experiences with those of others”. This was at a time when I was lusting after a Second Comforter type experience – the result of the practice of assessing my worthiness, my goodness by comparing it to accounts shared by some who had experienced a personal manifestation of Jesus in the flesh. This type of comparison, as with all comparisons, imposes limitations and expectations on our relationships – in this case upon my relationship with Jesus. I was basically telling Jesus, “It is my desire that you manifest yourself to me in this way. Do this, and I will be satisfied”. But I then realized that I would not have been satisfied. Had such a thing happened as I desired; had I met the standard against which I was comparing my relationship with Jesus, I would have immediately raised the bar. When we indulge thought patterns of comparison, we will never be satisfied. There will always be someone better or worse, some greater experience, some higher standard. As a result, simple joy will forever elude us, existing only in anticipation of some future achievement or state, event, or occurrence.

In the story of Moses and the burning bush, in Exodus chapter 3 of the Bible, God told Moses, “I AM THAT I AM. Obviously, such a cryptic phrase can be, and has been, interpreted in many ways. One interpretation, one that I subscribe to, is that of the completeness of God. In instructing Moses to tell those who asked, “Who sent you”, that “I AM” sent him – he essentially eliminated the possibility of comparison – whether to other “gods”, or to their experiences, or their expectations, or their desires or fears. I believe that it is just as important for us to honor our own individual “I AM” and the “I AM” of others as it is to honor the “I AM” – the wholeness and completeness – of God. This eliminates comparison, and thus separation, and perpetuates oneness.

I have written before about the “4 C’s” of separation (of Babylon, of the natural man, etc). These “4 C’s”, are “Comparison, Competition, Contention, and Control. Our indulgence in the first, comparison, progressively, and inevitably, leads to the other three – culminating in what I believe to be the greatest “sin” of humanity – the desire to control others. This indulgence is our assurance that we will never ascend beyond this state of unfulfilled existence. You can choose your metaphor – Jacob’s Ladder, Heaven, Zion, Nirvana, Eternal Life, Piercing the Veil – as long as we continue to engage in this “comparison” type of thinking, we will remain firmly anchored in what is commonly called the “fallen state of man”, and it all begins with comparison.

Indulging in Guilt

Have you ever recognized in yourself that guilt can act as a warm blanket? Have you ever gotten on your knees, addressing God, and begun your prayer by confessing all your sins and shortcomings, like you need to cleanse yourself before God will listen? Whatever it was that you did, or thought – whatever it is that you are confessing (to yourself, really – God theoretically already knows) has already occurred. You’ve already realized that what you did, or didn’t do, was not according to your desires. You’ve already done the comparison against your standard and found it wanting. Chances are, you’ve even already chastised yourself and resolved to make a better choice next time such a situation arises. In other words, you’ve already repented.

Yet, somehow we still want to feel guilty. But, you know what, this guilt is actually counter-productive. It does not bring you closer to God – it actually separates you further. It tends to confirm that you are unworthy of the oneness that you both seek; that you are impure and imperfect, and that you will never be good enough.

Frankly, God is above guilt. It is simply not part of His nature. The doctrine of the atonement – the idea that Jesus died for our sins – declares that. Jesus Himself declares in multiple sources that He did so that we may have eternal life. When we cling to guilt we deny the unconditional love of God. And when we assign guilt to others, we actually hold it to ourselves.

My relationship with God has become much closer, much more real, since I ceased approaching Him in an attitude of guilt. But I also realize that, if I wish to be free of guilt, I cannot assign guilt to others. To the extent that I do, I carry the same burden that they do. Since there is no guilt in God, then any guilt that we choose to carry separates us from Him.

Expectations of Others

In my last post, “Love and Hate”, I wrote the following:

…a gift, even if it’s love or eternal life, that’s given with expectations, is not a gift given freely. And the conditions that we attach to that gift become a barrier to our own eternal life. We are not worshiping God in purity when we do this, because the love we are giving – being conditional, is not God’s love…it is our love.

Having expectations of others is not so much a problem. What burdens us in our journey towards ascendance is when we withdraw our love, in any of the myriad ways available to us, because another individual chooses not to meet our expectations of them. We are free only when our friends and associates are free. We only offer love in purity, as a free gift, when it is unconditional.

Justice, Judgment, Punishment, Offense

Religious dogma is replete with expectations of justice to be exacted in the eternities. I can’t think of a more selfish, more prideful, more fear-driven component of religion than this. The fruits of this expectation of justice include judgment, punishment, offense, and even forgiveness.

When scriptures speak of forgiveness, they presume offense. But if we have surrendered guilt – in both ourselves and in others; and if we have surrendered the conditional expectations that we so often attach to our offered love, then offense becomes a non-issue. If we are not offended, there is no need for forgiveness, and certainly no need for justice, judgment, or punishment.

I believe that God, and God’s nature, is so far beyond our comprehension that we, in our desire to understand God, assign to His nature human needs, desires, motivations, and actions. This is commonly called “anthropomorphism”. But if we truly hope to understand Him, to “know Him”, and thus experience eternal life, we must first recognize and then surrender these things. The principles of justice, judgment, punishment, offense, even forgiveness, are at the forefront of these assigned-by-man characteristics of God. There is no place in God for these things – they are contrary, despite the teachings of religious tradition, to God’s nature, even the nature of creation.

Obedience

Think of your most joyful human relationship. You know – that friend, partner, spouse that you swore you would love forever. Hopefully, that relationship is still active, and it still brings you joy. Now consider this – is there any place in that relationship for obedience? Oh, we have such relationships – in business, in the military, where structure and cooperation need to be forced in order to be valid. But obedience – in a loving, voluntary, cooperative relationship?

In my last job, I “reported” to a man, for the purposes of the organization, who earned my respect and friendship very quickly. We worked together, in cooperation, sharing a common vision. We were partners. I told him one time, “I you ever have to act as my boss, then it’s time for me to leave the company”. By “act as my boss”, I meant “force me to act in a certain way under the threat of discipline or termination”.

Fortunately, that situation never evolved. He never had to act as “my boss”. Our relationship, both professionally and personally, remained one of pure respect, cooperation, and common vision. It was an uncommon but priceless experience.

God does not seek a relationship based on obedience. Such a relationship, while preferable to no relationship, or to behavior that is destructive to the individual, is decidedly impure. It is based on the principles of fear, justice, judgment, punishment, offense, sin, and conditional love. This is not God. This is, again, the God that has been created by man.

Actions that are motivated out of a belief that we must be obedient are not pure. They are motivated at least to some extent by fear. I recognize and accept that Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments”, but this love cannot be forced in any way.

It is my personal desire to never, when it comes to God, when it comes to love, act out of obedience. I do not want God to have to act as “my boss”. It is my desire to act out of love, respect, understanding, cooperation, and common vision. That vision, simply put, is love – pure, eternal, unconditional love.

Worthiness

The topic of worthiness kind of wraps up so much of what I’ve shared so far. Whether it’s fear of missing out on salvation, or fear of punishment, or of being wrong, the need to be right; comparing ourselves with others; guilt, expectations, obedience, judgment…it all links to the idea that we somehow have to prove our worthiness in order to recognize and experience the fruit of God’s love – the fruit of the tree of life. It’s like we’re trying to force God to bless us… “If I can just be obedient enough, or humble enough, or perfect enough, I can earn redemption from all of these things that I fear”. This, folks, is manipulation and control. We are trying to manipulate God. It is human nature at its worst – only subtly disguised as worship.

The idea of proving ourselves worthy completely contradicts the concept of “I AM” – God’s I AM as well as our own “I AM”. It places conditions on God’s love, and allows us to structure our relationship with Him. We might say, “No, God loves us no matter what”, or “God’s love is unconditional” and that’s true, but deep in our hearts resides the fear that God won’t love us as much as He loves someone else – and thus He won’t bless us as much as I want or as much as He blessed someone else – unless I can prove myself as worthy as that other person or people. Do you see how this is tied so perfectly to comparison, fear, obedience, judgment, etc.

We cannot make ourselves worthy. There is not even any such thing as “worthiness” in the mind of God. This idea implies that God is putting expectations on his “freely given, unconditional, love”. Frankly, we dishonor and deny God when we place such conditions on our relationship, which relationship is ultimately our very being – our I AM.

Summary

Men are that they might have joy…now.

There are many thought patterns and habits that I believe prevent us from having joy now. They are impure, destructive, self-serving, fear-driven, and totally human. They are characteristic, even the very nature, of the ego, or the natural man. Metaphorically, Adam and Eve introduced the natural man when they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We each perpetuate that nature when we engage these thought patterns. This fruit is not the fruit of the tree of life, and if we wish to partake of the fruit of the tree of life, we must recognize these things, and seek to surrender them. We think they are life sustaining. We think they are truth. But they are not. They are deception.

None of this is easy. I certainly have not mastered any of it. But in this mortality we experience the trial of choice. Man has sought for thousands of years to achieve enlightenment, or oneness with God and with each other. Religions have sparked, risen, descended into dogma, and died during these millenia. They all seek God, and they all die with man.

The only pure religion is love. God is love. Eternal life is love. These behaviors, beliefs, and practices hide from us the purity that is God, and that purity is our true being. I’m sure the list could be longer, and that I just haven’t discovered and comprehended the additional items yet. I’m sure that, as I make progress with this list, other thought practices will reveal themselves. In the meantime, let us seek to experience joy now. Let us receive God’s unconditional love now. Trade guilt and fear, and judgment of others for the assurance that eternal life is ours to receive, and the only “condition” is that we love.

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Love and Hate

Love just gets bigger when you give it away”

The song “Friends Forever” by Shiloh Rising

Shine on me. Shine on me.

Love is life, and it binds us all together…”

Love is a funny thing. When you express love, through your desires, thoughts, and/or actions, it grows within you. That love already exists within you. Heck, it IS you. But when you manifest it through those desires, thoughts, and actions, you give it wings. It takes on a life of its own. It grows, it shines, it lives. It IS life. Then, when received by the object of that love, it begins to grow in them – like a seed. Love is life, and when given and received, it is life eternal.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.- John 17:3 KJV

So, I try really hard not to put God in a box. The minute I think I “know Him”, I’ve created a graven image, an idol, and I have begun to worship that idol. And then, the minute I try to force that image on others, I’ve accomplished nothing but perpetuating my own idol worship. But I do think I can “know Him” through the love that I nurture in my heart, and I do think I can worship Him by giving that love to others, thus acting as a co-creator of life – even life eternal.

This giving, this co-creating, of eternal life, though, comes with a caution, as expressed in a post from a Facebook friend, which he attributed to “Maitreya”:

“I know I have called you to become one of the people who can help the Ascended Host bring about the large-scale awakening that is possible in this cosmic cycle. Yet in order to bring about this awakening, you need to demonstrate the path of overcoming duality, the Path of Oneness. And you obviously cannot demonstrate this path by remaining trapped in any of the illusions of separation. Thus, you must overcome even the most subtle illusions, and the most subtle of all is the desire to have other people or the material universe respond to your actions in a certain way. When they do not, you feel justified in responding with feelings that are less than unconditional love, inevitably leading to actions that spring from less than unconditional love, actions that misqualify God’s pure light…

In other words, a gift, even if it’s love or eternal life, that’s given with expectations, is not a gift given freely. And the conditions that we attach to that gift become a barrier to our own eternal life. We are not worshiping God in purity when we do this, because the love we are giving – being conditional, is not God’s love…it is our love.

Ultimately, love by its nature begs to be given, and being given and received, love lives.

Hatred, the other side of the metaphorical coin of love/life, responds in a very similar manner. Hatred is always born of fear, whereas love is born of faith. Hatred, when nurtured in our desires, thoughts, and actions, consumes our nature, which nature, as creations of God, is love. Then, when we give that hatred away, it not only grows outside of us, it grows within us. But there is hope. Hatred, like love, must be received if it is to be perpetuated. If rejected by its target, it dies, like the seed that falls on stony ground.

Love, when nurtured and given, creates oneness – a oneness of eternal life, a oneness in God, in love. Hatred likewise creates a oneness, but it is a oneness of death. Individuals who thrive on fear and hate will ultimately consume themselves. They first take energy from others unto themselves, like a spiritual black hole, consuming all that come into its influence. But once that is gone, and there is no more to be taken…Hatred doesn’t create, it consumes.

Ultimately, hatred, in order to survive, must take. It’s nature is to consume and once all is consumed, and there is nothing left to sustain it, hate dies.

Love creates. Hate destroys.

All things – all philosophies, all religions, all scriptures, all ordinances – all the incomplete images of God – are ultimately metaphors for this great truth. They either teach love, or they teach hate. Or they start out teaching love, but in the hands of men devolve in teaching hate and separation under the guise of love and oneness. I know many people who valiantly manage to love in spite of this deception. Their true nature senses the eternal life that awaits us all, once we pierce that veil of lies. I love these people.

During my “dark night of the soul”, I threw all the jumbled pieces of religion that I had gathered onto the floor, and asked Jesus to help me pick them back up again – that I might see the truth. I believe this is a process we must all experience for ourselves. I can share what I’ve learned so far, but only as an invitation for you to do the same. Your learning, filtered through your needs, desires, experiences, fears, etc. may look differently than mine, and that’s OK.

I have a test that I use to challenge everything that I learn. I ask, “does this that I have learned encourage me to think that I am better than someone else, or to exert any form of influence or control over others?”. If the answer is no, then I am at peace that, even if my learning is incomplete (which it always is), it is at least pointing towards truth…towards love…towards that pure knowledge of God, which is eternal life. I now feel like I should add two new components to this test:

Does it promote separation, or oneness?”

When I share this, do I expect a certain reaction, and is that reaction a condition of love?”

Love and Hate. Two sides of the same coin. Both must be given and received to survive. Both must be nurtured. One, in its purity, creates eternal life. The other, in its pollution, destroys all life.

One is God. The other is not.

Love, with its resulting peace, is my prayer for you, my friends.

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Conversations with God #17 – The Strait and Narrow Way

The following conversation with God is representative of several such conversations; a distillation, if you will of much learning over many days, weeks, even years. Whether it is “real” or the product of my mind; whether it is audible, or in vision; multiple voices or one voice – none of that matters. The principles being taught are what matters. Please do not focus on the “experience”, but on the principles alone. I do not present this as a “conversation with God” with the intent of implying authority of any kind. The only “authority” that these words might carry is the authority that you give them. Any truthfulness is only that which you, yourself, recognize. Trust, however, that this comes from my heart, in sincerity and love.

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Me: Lord, why must I always approach you feeling like I need to justify my presence, or your presence, or our presence together? Why do I always feel the need to be “worthy” of this communion? Why can’t I just “be” with you – feeling your love, without fear, with justification?

Response: Laughter. The kind of laughter that said, “Well, you finally get it!”

Well, that’s rude (said humorously, recognizing the mirth and the love behind the laughter)

Well, my son, I’ve been waiting for you to figure this out. There are, and never have been, conditions upon our communion – none, that is, except those imposed upon yourself – by you.

…pause. Days, actually. This concept is still distilling upon my soul.

Lord, I have questions, thoughts. I’m seeking confirmation. So, if I can come to you without thoughts of needing to be worthy, or to justify, or think or act a certain way – if I can simply exist in love and peace in your presence…what does it take for me to think, act, live this way all the time? Why can I not extend that same grace to everyone I meet.

My son, this is the key to the kingdom of heaven, which, of course, is “within you”.

But it’s hard to think that way. I’m surrounded by people who are afraid to trust – afraid to love. Heck, I’m mostly afraid to trust and to love freely, without judgment, without comparison, without feeling the need to protect myself. Living in this fallen, fear-ridden world is difficult.

Yes, it certainly is hard. Very hard. But doing this is the difference between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of man, between the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. It is the difference, metaphorically, between heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, death and eternal life. If you are not willing to surrender the false illusion of protection that separates you not only from me, but from each other, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Lord, that’s kind of scary. Do you mean I have to be perfect in my desires, thoughts, and actions before I can experience the kingdom of Heaven?

No, I don’t mean that at all. I said you must be willing. You must desire. Don’t forget, you’re with me now. But you’re with me now – you have pierced the veil, so to speak – because you surrendered your guilt, your fear, your “worship”. You came to me out of love, not fear. These are the things that comprise the veil – fear, judgment, a desire for control.

Lord, I would really like to live this way all the time, even in this veiled, fallen state. I like the peace that I feel with you. I want everyone to feel this peace, but it seems to me that this can’t happen unless I can offer it to others, as you have offered it to me. Otherwise, I’m simply perpetuating the fallen state, and love – real love, your love, charity, the “pure love of Christ” – remains illusive.

My son, very few have even recognized this state, much less desired it, and even fewer have lived it. There have been some who have ascended to this heavenly existence without experiencing death. It is possible. It is very difficult, but we can help. We can help because you have asked for our help. You asked when you expressed the sincere desire to “become love”. We have heard your prayer. You are learning, but there is much yet for you to learn. Nevertheless, you can also teach and invite others while you are learning – which teaching is part of your learning.

So, Lord, this is the correct path? I must completely change my desires, thoughts, and actions so that they are free from a desire for and dependence upon justice, from judgment, from the bottomless pit of comparison and control? I must learn to forsake thoughts that are motivated by fear, and replace them with thoughts of love, acceptance, grace, and oneness? I must cease to take offense, to the point that forgiveness is not even necessary? I feel the burden of these thoughts now, Lord…now that I’ve been with you, and experienced the peace, the freedom, that comes from living without these things. It truly gives new meaning to your words, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”.

Yes, my son. This is the correct path. It is the strait and narrow way. It is difficult, and there are few who travel it. But we are here to help you. It is even more possible now, and there are more who are “waking” to this truth, and who are willing to walk the path. We are in the last stages of this earth’s existence in the current, fallen state. It will soon receive its “paradisiacal” glory. See, in the next state of existence, these false ideas do not exist. We simply think differently. They are as foreign to us now as the thoughts of pure love and grace are to you in your current state. When the earth transitions, only those who can adapt to this new state of existence will be able to remain. The rest must continue in their fallen state, in their illusion, but not on this earth.

Lord, thank you. I repeat my desire to “become love”. I do not do this out of fear. I do not do this seeking any reward other than the opportunity to invite others to seek, with me, this “peace that passeth understanding”; this truth that shall set us free. It matters not whether I succeed or fail, only that I tried.

My son, take my hand. Let us walk together.

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Intimacy…Without Accounting

Thoughts on intimacy:

  • I crave intimacy. I suspect we all do. Existence is very lonely without intimacy – not just in this life, but imagine eternity without intimacy.
  • It is impossible to be intimate with another person if you have not first learned to be intimate with yourself. In this case, intimacy and honesty can be considered to be synonymous.
  • Very few people are confident enough, comfortable enough in their own skin, to engage in true intimacy with themselves, much less with another person.
  • Intimacy cannot co-exist with fear. If you fear, if you have secrets, you hold back, you cannot be intimate. Even worse, your deepest, most important thoughts – the thoughts that really mean something – are never shared. They just stew in the black cauldron of fear that you have created for yourself – feeding on themselves. It’s like intellectual, emotional, and spiritual in-breeding.
  • This fear, which chokes off intimacy, may seem to manifest as fear of the other person, but ultimately it is fear of yourself. Therefore, as suggested above, you must learn to trust yourself before you can trust another person. Personal integrity, then, is essential.
  • Intimacy goes both ways. If one person is willing; if one person is free enough (not fearful) for intimacy, but the other is not, then intimacy will not flourish. As a result, there may be levels of intimacy between people, but what is not intimacy is separation. Separation is a lack of intimacy.
  • Forcing intimacy on another person is never an act of love.
  • Intimate relationships focus equally on giving and receiving, but never taking. Giving and receiving must flow freely, with no accounting. Love, gratitude, appreciation, empathy – all are characteristics of a self-sustaining intimate relationship. Taking always involves manipulation and control. It is never acceptable.
  • For many of us, our most intimate relationship is with God. We typically believe that it is fruitless to withhold secrets from God. That’s a good start. Our intimacy with God promotes intimacy with ourselves. Thus, prayer, or communion with God, is a powerful thing if for no other reason than this.
  • God craves intimacy, too. God is always ready – but will never force.
  • Having no secrets, though, doesn’t mean there is no fear. When we have no secrets, but we still have fear, we tend to have guilt. We seek “salvation”. We “repent”. We seek forgiveness. Again, this is a good start, but this is not truly an intimate relationship because it is so one-sided, and because intimacy cannot co-exist with fear. At some point, if we are to be truly intimate with God, we must lose any semblance of fear, and seek oneness – without guilt, without accounting – giving and receiving freely. Anything else is separation, and is not unity; is not intimacy.
  • Intimate relationships, whether they be with ourselves, family, friends, or God, must be nurtured. Love, gratitude, appreciation, and empathy must be encouraged. Control and manipulation can have no place, for they foster fear. Comparison and competition can have no place, for they invite contention and control.
  • Fostering trust is paramount in an intimate relationship. This is not only trust, as in honesty or integrity, but trust that one can be vulnerable without being mocked; that one can make mistakes without being punished (in any way – and we humans are soooo good at punishing on the sly). Each party in an intimate relationship must feel free to be themselves. They must feel free to be imperfect – because for those who seek truth, imperfection is actually part of our perfection. That each is doing their best in all circumstances must never come into question.

These thoughts came to me today as I pondered a relationship with someone with whom I would love to be intimate (not sexually), but with whom there is so much history of fear on both sides that intimacy may well be impossible. As I pondered, I realized that, while intimacy must work both ways if it is to perpetuate, I must overcome my own roadblocks regardless of the other person’s willingness or ability. I must be willing to invite and welcome intimacy. I can harbor no secrets out of fear – of my own reaction or of theirs. I must never question that the other person is doing their best. I must never even sniff at a desire for justice, or punishment…I must not even entertain offense. I cannot compare myself to them, or them to me – in any way – because comparison destroys equality. In short, I must accept the other person for who they are – now.

I must extend to them…Grace.

It doesn’t matter if the other person reciprocates – as not everyone is prepared for intimacy with themselves, much less with someone else.

No, all that matters is what is in my heart. For the burden of fear is great, and it can only be relieved when we are willing to lay it down.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Luke 10:29-30”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, intimacy is synonymous with oneness, for which Jesus pleaded in his great prayer in John 17. Intimacy is the result of – a manifestation of – love, charity…the pure love of Christ. Intimacy is the opposite of separation. Intimacy is the key to bringing about the unity that we all claim to seek, but which we secretly fear. Inviting intimacy is to defeat the natural man – the ego. The willingness and ability to invite, initiate, nurture, sustain, and cherish intimacy is the essence of Jesus’s teachings. It is the ultimate manifestation of Christ, the Christ consciousness, even the true nature of Christ. Extended to the fullest extent of its manifestation, realizing and cherishing this ability is the gospel, the good news. If you do this, you shall have eternal life.

Jesus, as He walked the earth, invited intimacy with all. He made Himself available, without fear, to all who would receive, but He did not, and He will not, force that intimacy beyond one’s capacity to receive.

To believe in Christ is to accept that invitation.

To know Christ is to nurture that intimacy; to give and receive with Christ without accounting.

To follow Christ is to extend that invitation, first to ourselves and then to all others – by walking in His footsteps.

To love Christ is to initiate, nurture, sustain, and cherish intimacy with all who are willing to give and receive…

…without accounting.

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An Ascension – November 24, 2019

During the night, I was feeling like my “being home” was more significant than I had previously realized. Feelings of joy were stirring inside me during those moments between sleep and wakefulness.

I had read something about the second comforter experiences earlier, and thought perhaps I would ask my spiritual companions about this topic (These companions have names – but I choose to share those names at this time). But as I started to, I understood, “No – I need to ask about what’s happening now – with this life transition, and the feelings of hope and joy that have been stirring inside me”. When I did, it began to become more clear. The question was repeated – after several times before – “Are you prepared to be with us”. Of course, each time this question is asked, it triggers questions as to what, exactly, that means. I’m still not sure, but it is slightly more clear now, after this morning’s experience.

As I communed, pondered, sought to understand – to know, this feeling of increasing joy and hopefulness – impending joy – just grew. You could say it swelled.  My companions knew was happening, and they encouraged it but at the same time just allowed it to take its course. They already knew what was just now being revealed to me. The life that my family and I were going to live was filled with promise. I knew it. I can’t say how, but I knew it. My “belonging” with these spiritual companions was reemphasized and clarified. Then at one point, one of them took my hand, and said, “Let’s go”. We climbed / flew / ascended a mountain. This took seconds. All four of us ascended, and when we got to the top, I knew that this was somehow familiar territory. It was my mountaintop, but not exclusively mine – just familiar. It was a rocky, high place, but it was not the “top” – it was a launching place, and I knew it. So I asked, “Ok, what next”.

At that point, an entrance into another dimension – a garden – opened up. We entered, and I knew that the tree of life was there. I took one of the fruits while they watched. I assumed that they were encouraging me to partake, but I didn’t partake. I didn’t want to – I wanted to just hold it. It was a pretty big piece of fruit – white of course, and at times the size of a small watermelon, and other times the size of a pear. As I said, I didn’t partake – I just held it close to me, cherishing it. I didn’t need to partake – to actually take a bite. I don’t know why. I just wanted to relish it. It wasn’t like I missed something or lost something by not “partaking”. It just wasn’t necessary that I take a bite of the fruit.

After a few minutes, one of them said, again – “Ok – go”. And somehow I was catapulted, or sling-shotted, into the heavens. They didn’t accompany me this time. I was in infinity – darkness, but not dark. God was there – infinite intelligence, the source, the one infinite creator – but there was only presence – no image. God was just everywhere, near and far, here and there – all at the same time. And it was good. And I knew of the vastness of creation, and I experienced the infinite love of God – experienced God – but at no time was I overwhelmed. I felt freed from the ego – from fear. It was all good, and I was part of it, and I was unique, but one with it all at the same time. I tried to experience more – but it wasn’t coming.

Then, a new – old – knowledge came to me. It was something I have known and shared for a while now, but this time it had more context, more meaning, a greater perspective. It was that – with all of this – this ascension from myself, to piercing the veil in communing with my companions, to an increasing level of joy, to the top of the mountain, into the garden and the tree of life, and then into infinity in the “presence” of God – in spite of all of this – it is all meaningless until it is manifested as acts of love and kindness between people. The circle of infinity was complete. I had ascended into the presence of “the father”, but then brought full-circle into “love thy neighbor as thyself”. And this, of course, is the hope and joy that awaits in this new phase of life. The vastness of infinite creation – the nature of God – only has meaning when it is manifested in the proverbial “simple act of kindness”

So, great things await – glorious in the context that every act of love, respect, reverence between people is glorious. Peace, harmony, love, kindness – these will define our future.

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Grace

Grace is a beautiful word.  It conjures images of:

  • A ballerina performing Swan Lake
  • Francis of Assisi loving all the creatures of God’s creation
  • Mother Theresa quietly ministering in the streets of Calcutta
  • The Kootenai River powerfully yet gracefully watering the lands of Southwest Canada, Northwest Montana, and Northern Idaho
  • My wife’s artwork – the product of her graceful mind
  • Jesus counseling with the woman taken in adultery

I’m sure you can think of many more examples of grace, and each of us would have our own, with much overlap, but much uniqueness.  Perhaps grace is our ability to perceive beauty.

Consider, though, the idea that grace, like God, “just is”.  It is beauty; it is love; it is harmony. Grace is all perfection.  Grace is poetry – beautiful, timeless, divine poetry.  Consider that grace is the essence of creation, of divinity.  Anything that is not grace, then, simply is not.

There is a young woman who reads her poetry at the open mic event once a month at our local performance venue – the Pearl Theater.  She is a large woman and she appears to be self-conscious of her appearance – in spite of the fact that she always dresses with style and taste.  She is obviously very sensitive, but she chooses to remain vulnerable.  She has been bullied, betrayed, and hurt, probably all of her life.   This is obvious because her writing is filled with pain and anger.  But it is also filled with defiance and resilience.  It’s as if she is saying, “World, nothing you can dish out to me is going to break me.  I DO have worth.  I AM beautiful.  No matter how loudly you shout at me otherwise, I am NOT going to listen, because I am love, and I believe”.

This young woman read a piece one time in which she said (paraphrased), “The first time I came to the Pearl Theater, I was desperately nervous.  Not only that, but I was perhaps at the lowest point in my life.  I was thinking about ending it all…that life was not even worth living.  But I overcame my fears. I signed up for the open mic.  I walked on the stage.  I read.  I was vulnerable and I poured my heart out.  And the Pearl received me.  The Pearl loved me.  And I found hope.”

In this young woman, despite the fact that her life is scarred with polarity, with insensitivity, and with betrayal, I perceived grace.  She, in her divinity, turned this opposition and conflict into beauty, into love, into harmony…into poetry.

She received fear, but she returned grace.

But grace is also used in a religious context.  It’s one of those words, like “salvation”, “sin”, “faith” (there are so many), that we use a lot, but whose definitions are never really precise and clear.  Much is left to interpretation, and their interpretation often defines the difference between churches or religions.  Wars have been fought over such defnitions.

Grace is one of those words of which the Indigo Montoya character in “Princess Bride” would say:

“ You keep using that word.  I do not think that word means what you think it means”

This was my favorite definition of grace resulting from my search on line:

Grace: the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. – Lexico on line dictionary powered by Oxford

I think, from the perspective of religious tradition, this is a pretty good definition.  If you want to try to figure out why I do not like this definition – I invite you to do so – but that would just be a distracting rabbit hole at this time.  Suffice it to say that this religious tradition has been being built, brick by brick, definition by definition, for millennia now, and we still don’t have Zion.  Perhaps we need a new definition of grace.

Permit me to offer such a new definition.  This came to me through inspiration.  The source of that inspiration is irrelevant, as you need to decide for yourself whether it is inspiration for you.  Since this definition was first revealed to me, I have tested it against situations and concepts that we usually describe with the word “Grace”.  In my opinion, it has withstood each such test.

This definition of grace is, “The desire, willingness. and ability to love someone as they are…now”.

There is a simple elegance, even a “grace”, in this definition of “grace”.  Nevertheless, I feel the need to expound on that elegance:

Desire

This definition is all about relationships.  Loving is meaningless, even powerless, if it is not manifest in our relationships.  Therefore, we must first have the desire to interact with others in love.  We must have the desire to extend grace.  We must desire to place our own needs, feelings, hopes, fears, etc. on at least equal footing with those of the people with whom we interact.  We must desire empathy.  Desire is the beginning of the faith / knowledge / creation cycle.  Without the initial desire, no creation is ever possible.

Willingness

This definition specifies the willingness to love.  Not everyone is willing to love anyone for who they are now.  Most of us are blinded, to at least some extent, by our ego.  We trust in our sense of judgment and justice, of right and wrong…good and evil.  Such things are clearly not grace.  In order for a person to be willing, one must transcend the ego and its fear-based thoughts, and have faith in the ultimate power of love, and in the will and wisdom of God, which I think is defined quite eloquently by one word…Grace.

Most of us put conditions on our love, or we love someone for who they were, or who we hope they may be some day – if they make what we think are the “right” choices.  The God that I know does not do that.  The God I know is beyond any such worldly belief constructs.  God’s grace, and therefore God’s love – is unconditional, and it is timeless.  God is willing to give all the love we are willing to receive.

Ability

This definition of grace also calls for the ability to loveThis ability is at best, for most of us, a work in progress.  When we live in fear, or uncertainty, or with imperfect faith, it is very difficult to love any and all around us.  Such an ability, in my mind, implies an ascended state of existence.  Or, we may be able to extend love to some people and not others.  God’s ability to love, on the other hand, is not something I ever question.  If I were to question anything about God, I would question God’s ability to not love.

The Poetry of Grace

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Alma 29:1

What does it mean to “cry repentance unto every people”.

This can certainly be, and is, viewed differently by different people – by different traditions.  In Mormonism, and in Christianity in general, repentance is implied by the traditional definition of grace mentioned above. “Repent, or face harsh judgment and punishment imposed by God” is the clear message of most western religion.  Grace in this context is a conditional extension of the favor of God – of God’s blessings and love.  Grace is described as the “free or unmerited” favor of God, but that extension of grace is still believed to be conditional upon repentance.  Doctrinally, we must accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we must be baptized, we must repent and forsake our sins, and then grace will be extended in our behalf.  But isn’t it “free or unmerited”?  Or is it conditional?  Ooooh, my head hurts.  My head hurts a lot when I really ponder such things.

If I were to cry repentance, I would call for all men to repent of this belief, and instead to recognize that grace is extended unconditionally, and that this is a profound component of the “I AM” –  the very nature – of God.

Such repentance would be simply that we learn to extend and receive grace as God does; that we seek that divine nature in ourselves.  Our repentance would be a repentance from the ego, from judgment, from fear, from any ideas of justice, punishment, and conditional love.  When we truly know God, we will know God in this way, and in this way only.  This repentance is to be willing to, once again, extend and receive grace.

One morning this past week, I was praying about this definition of grace.  It was spiritually breathtaking what was revealed to me, layer after layer, at that time:

  • Grace is what it means to be “saved” – not from something, but to something – to love.
  • Grace is the very foundation of Zion.
  • Grace is the also foundation of all creation.
  • Grace is the nature of God.
  • Grace is the knowledge of God.
  • Grace is what it means to one with God.

This definition of grace – “The desire, willingness, and ability to love someone for who they are…now” has become my personal standard of holiness.  My ego makes this very difficult to achieve, but that makes it no less worthy an ensign – the ultimate ensign to the nations.

I have the desire.

I’m working on the willingness.

I hope to gain the ability.

I pray your patience, and my own, as I strive to extend as well as receive this precious grace that is the true “Grace of God”.

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The Fruit of the Tree of Life

Lehi wasn’t dead when he partook of the fruit of the tree of life in his famous dream (First Nephi, chapter 8).

Nope, he looked around immediately, wanting to share it with his family.

“And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy, wherefore I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also, for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit” 1 Nephi 8:12

That doesn’t sound like a dead man to me.

But we can’t taste of that fruit ourselves.  We can’t even approach the tree.  You know why?  It’s because we’re addicted to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (TOKOGAE).

The problem is, we haven’t even figured out that we’re addicted.  It’s like this addiction is the metaphorical “Cherubim and a Flaming Sword” that prevents us from partaking of the fruit of both trees at the same time.

We have to give up one before we can partake of the other.

Yet – isn’t that classically considered to be the first step to recovery – to acknowledge that we have a problem?  Instead we just say, again metaphorically, “There’s a Cherubim and a Flaming Sword” guarding the way to the tree of life, and we dare not challenge it.”  So, we keep looking forward to Zion, wondering what it is that we have to do to prepare, or create, or enter into that state of existence that I believe is an obvious manifestation of partaking of the fruit of the tree of life.

But I guess Lehi could, or did, or didn’t know he couldn’t.

Yet, we can’t, or don’t, or don’t know we can.

I’ve written about the topic of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil vs. the Tree of life before, back in April, 2018, in “Two Trees”, as well as in other posts over the years.

So, if we’re addicted to the fruit of the TOKOGAE, what is that psycho-active substance in the fruit that we crave?

It is fear.

What?  We crave fear?

Yes, we crave fear.  Fear perpetuates the ego – the “natural man”.  Fear encourages us to control our environment, including other people, and thus helps perpetuate the illusion that we can control of survival.  As I said before, in those previous posts (to paraphrase):

  • We judge between good and evil, because we think we have knowledge of both
  • We fear evil because we fear that it results in death – especially spiritual death
  • We fear death, then, because we think that if we don’t judge between good and evil (we love to soften this with the word “discern”) and avoid evil, we will be punished eternally after we die

So, we crave fear, because we desire survival, in the false belief that we are subject to death.  We want to be “as the gods”, knowing good from evil, and, of course, living forever.

But all of this is a lie…an illusion…or at least an imperfect understanding.

We are not subject to death – at least not spiritual death.  We are eternal beings.  Men, after all, were created, “…that they might have joy”.

We are not subject to death, but we do subject ourselves to death.  And we do this by insisting that we can’t live without the fruit of TOKOGAE.

Sounds like addiction to me.

So, do we have the faith to not fear death?  Do we have the faith to not rely on our ability to judge between good and evil – seeking in this way to control our environment and, believe it or not, avoid death?

Do we have the faith to not judge others,  but instead to simply be joyful, and love God and others without that love being conditional upon the perceived goodness or evilness of their beliefs or actions?

Do we have the faith to live by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of Jesus?

Do we have the faith to live in love, in charity, in life, even when everything we observe around us tells us that this is impossible; that we cannot be perfect; that the sermon on the mount was just an allegory – an unattainable standard reserved only for “the gods”.  (“Ye shall be as the gods, knowing good from evil”)

Faith is the willingness to act on the belief that we have the power to create something that is as yet unseen and uncertain.

Do we have the faith to create for ourselves an existence that is filled with love instead of fear, joy instead of suffering, empathy instead of judgment, oneness instead of separateness…life instead of death?

Do we have the faith to partake of the fruit of the tree of life, knowing that this is our true destiny, the very fulfillment of the measure of our creation?

Let’s not forget, though, that Lehi was dreaming.  Did he ever truly partake?  Did Nephi ever truly partake?  What was the meaning of Lehi’s dream?  Did he experience the actual partaking – or was that just an invitation to what is possible?  Did even Lehi and Nephi leave this invitation unfulfilled?

Regardless, I believe the invitation is there for us.  To accept this invitation is what it means to:

  • Believe in Christ
  • Love Jesus by keeping His commandments
  • Receive the Second Comforter
  • Receive eternal life
  • Receive salvation
  • Know Christ
  • “Become” love

So, we must first admit that we have a problem.  We must recognize that we perpetuate our own death, separation, suffering, damnation, condemnation (choose your own word) by carrying on in the belief that our worthiness, our eternal life, our ability to “be as the gods” is somehow dependent upon our ability to judge ourselves and others based upon our supposed knowledge of good and evil.

Having admitted this, having admitted that we “have a problem”, we may then take that first step toward recovery from our addiction; the first step in a glorious, joyful, loving, eternal walk in life; the first taste of the fruit of the tree of life.

Finally, a question.  Do you believe that the fruit of the tree of life is available to us now, today, in mortality?

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