World peace at a coffee shop.

I have started a funny habit. I’ve started asking for world peace. I’ve done this at doctor’s offices, the bank, and restaurants.

When I get asked at the end of the transaction if there is anything else they can do, I ask for world peace. Yes, I get looked at funny. (I’m used to that) But I follow it with the “Ask and ye shall receive” idea. Perhaps that person has the secret for it, and all it required to make it happen was for me to ask.

This seems funny, but it is transformative. It means I have to really connect with the person. We look each other in the eye, and they have to break out of their routine and their script.

There was a great answer at a local vegetarian restaurant. The server said that it was created moment by moment by these interactions, with each person connecting with each other. Exactly.

Gandhi tells us that we must be the change
we want to see in the world.
World peace begins within you.
Think globally, act locally.
It begins with self-love.
Physician, heal thyself.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” JF Kennedy. I propose you change the word “country” to “world”.

What if it is hard to love yourself? Try this – know, deep down, that you are loved by God. Forget what some hateful church tried to teach you when you were a child. Forget the guilt-trip that your parents tried to use on you, where they made God into the bogeyman. God isn’t any of that.

God made you because you are needed and wanted. You are essential. That is why you are here.

If according to the “Rules for being human” other people are merely mirrors of you, and you can only love or hate in another that which you love or hate within yourself, then the first step is to learn to love yourself. You cannot hate others if you truly are at peace within.

You can learn how to get to that place by studying your reaction to other people. Whatever you can’t stand in another person, meditate on. Look for that trait within yourself. Dig deep. Root it out. Find its source.

Don’t turn away – go right into that darkness. It isn’t as scary as it looks. The closer you look, the more you look, the more you will be able to unravel that tight ball of pain and anxiety you are carrying around. Sure it is hard at the beginning. It gets easier. The more you unravel, the more you are at peace.

Tantrum

I’m starting to see all negative energy as the same thing as a toddler having a tantrum. Try to see the bad behavior, the bad event, as a thing, a force. Divorce it from the person or the situation.

Job loss, cancer diagnosis, divorce papers? See them as negative energy. In “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende, it is called “The Nothing,” in “The Dark is Rising” series by Susan Cooper it is called “the Dark.” In Jewish lore it is called the yetzer hara, or “the evil inclination.” See it as a thing, a force. It isn’t that person, it isn’t the event. It is a force outside of the person and the event.

Just like with a bully or a toddler having a tantrum, don’t give it energy. Make sure nobody is going to get harmed, certainly, but don’t give this force any more power. Ignore it. Don’t let it take over.

This is easier said than done. But every time you do, you’ll get better at it. Instead of beating yourself up for forgetting to ignore it (that kind of behavior is what it wants), congratulate yourself every time you do remember (that drives it up the wall).

Or here is an alternative – learn to love that force. Don’t fight it. See it as a reminder to return to God. See it like a sanctus bell calling you to pray. Every time you recognize that force by noticing anger or fear or hatred, see it as a blessing because it awakens you.

Buddha is a title, not a name. It means the awakened one. Fear and anger and anxiety and stress can be used as a way to transform you into an awakened person. Eckhart Tolle tells us in “The Power of Now” that it is easier for a person who is having a lot of difficulties to become awakened. The person who is having an average life with no difficulties doesn’t know that she or he needs to awaken, so they slumber on, plodding through life unaware of the lessons that need to be learned.

Signs of the Holy Spirit

We have lost touch with the Holy Spirit in many churches. Many people don’t know how to recognize when the Holy Spirit is present and active. We hear about the Pentecostal idea of speaking in tongues, of handling serpents, and of drinking poison. These are scary things. Most people think these are otherworldly actions, and they shy away from even wanting the Holy Spirit to come into their lives.

But we need the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the force that makes the whole thing go. The Spirit is the gas in the car, the fuel in the rocket. Without the Spirit, the Body will not get anywhere.

Here are the verses in question – Mark 16:17-18 “And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” And Luke 10:19 – “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

Handling serpents and drinking poison sound freaky, and they are. I honestly don’t think that those actions are meant to be intentionally done. I think that scripture means that if we are filled with the Spirit, nothing can harm us. That snakes and poison will not affect us. I don’t think you are supposed to test God by taking these things up. I think that what this means is that if you are filled with the Spirit, you won’t be harmed if these things were to cross your path.

I do wonder why these churches seem to focus on the less useful signs like handling snakes and drinking poison rather than the more helpful sign like healing. Wouldn’t it be amazing if their worship services were all about healing people? And I don’t mean the TV evangelist who puts on a big carnival show of bopping someone on the head and they fall to the floor. I mean real healing, deep to the core. Healing that comes from a person letting go of their fears and their doubts and their pain and their loss. Healing that comes from letting go, and letting God.

Who is to say that “speaking in tongues” isn’t the same as being fluent in another language? It seems like being able to speak to people in their own language would be helpful. It would let the other person know that they aren’t alone and they are understood. We have so much miscommunication going on right now even with people who do speak the same language. It would be great if we could access the ability to really connect with other people. We can, through the Holy Spirit. We just have to remember how to reconnect.

Now, understand that the Holy Spirit isn’t really mentioned in most churches. It is mentioned in Bible readings as a historical thing, but not as a real, right now kind of thing. We certainly aren’t taught how to call it down or how to recognize it or use it. God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are seen as kind of real, but not really accessible or present right now, to us.

So I’m going to try to muddle through and tell you what I’ve figured out. It isn’t expert at all. It is feeling things through, step by step. But it feels right. I don’t know how to call it down, but I’m starting to recognize when it is present, so I’ll start with that.

How do you know that the Holy Spirit is present? We can’t experience it directly with our senses, but the Spirit affects things around us in unusual ways and we can notice those changes.

One of the ways the Spirit reveals itself is in unusual weather, especially water. God is within water, and a pervasive mist is a beautiful sign of the Spirit. It reveals to us that we are totally within the presence of God. We can walk through mist, and it gets in our hair and on our skin. We breathe it in. This is exactly the way that God is here on this earth. God is everything. Everything is from God. From the smallest fish in the ocean to the largest tree in the forest, all is from God. We are all condensed light from the source. If the mist is icy, it is all the more a sign. It calls attention to itself. It is unusual. It almost creates a feeling of electricity on your skin.

The Spirit also lets us know that it is present through wind and sound. Strong winds can be a sign. Bells, whistles, chirps that are unusual are of note. Odd, pleasant high-pitched sounds. Windchimes. These are all to be noted if they are sounds that are pleasant yet call attention to themselves. They aren’t background noise, but they aren’t annoying.

The Spirit also lets us know it is present through smell. The smell of incense or roses, when there are none around, is a very good indicator of the presence of the Spirit.

People who have been touched by the Holy Spirit often have a feeling of more energy. They often don’t need as much sleep as they normally do, but they still feel rested. You might not get as much sleep as you wanted, but you’ll get as much as you need. This gives you more time to do the work of the Spirit. You’ll have more time to pray for others or to volunteer.

When you notice the signs of the Holy Spirit, give thanks for it. It likes to be noticed. If you notice it, it will come more often. If you ignore it, it may pass you by and seek out someone else who can benefit from the immense power that it has to offer.

Jesus tells us in John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We must get reconnected to the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, otherwise the Body will die.

The Test is Rigged.

The test is rigged.

There is no way you can win with the idea of original sin. If you say that humans are faulty from the very beginning, broken and sinful down to our very core, then there is a problem.

This mindset causes dependency. It creates in people a feeling of never being good enough. That they never will measure up.

Let’s go with the Adam and Eve story. They ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before they even had the knowledge of good and evil. Thus they had no way of knowing that what they were doing was wrong. So it wasn’t fair to punish them.

Nothing that is from God is bad. So we were made with free will and curiosity. We are finite where God is infinite. We are mortal. We break. Things aren’t effortless for us. We need a little help. We can’t understand and follow all the rules.

So then Jesus comes along and tells us to love. He breaks down all the rules into two – love God, and love your neighbor. Seems simple enough. Then he pays our tab for us – our debt of sin is paid. Some people need to hear that. But perhaps what he really was doing was just saying that we are fine the way we are. We aren’t perfect and we never will be. We can’t ever win, because the game is fixed. He’s letting us know that we are ok. We aren’t to blame for our nature, because it is just the way we are.

Now would be the time that somebody will quote from Paul or point out that “whoever is without sin” gets to cast the first stone. Nobody gets to throw stones. Because throwing stones isn’t showing love. Thinking you are better than somebody else isn’t being loving.

Rather than load people up with guilt about their sin by making them say the confession every week, why not turn it around and teach people different ways they can be more loving and compassionate?

Every week, every day, every minute, we aren’t going to measure up to the idea of being perfect. We never will be perfect. We can’t be. That isn’t human nature. Focusing on our sin keeps us pointed in the wrong direction. We need to learn how to be better at what we can do, rather than on what we can’t do.

We say that Jesus paid for all our sins. So why do we keep pulling them out and focusing on them? This seems pathological.

How to pray – it isn’t the words or the ritual. It is a feeling.

Prayer is communicating with God. God wants to hear from us, and for us to hear from him. But how do we do this?

Communicating with God is real. Everyone can do it. It isn’t for the chosen few. Not everybody can do it easily, but everybody can learn how. Hearing from God isn’t as easy as picking up the phone. It isn’t the same as turning on the television. But it is a skill that you can learn.

Consider a marathon runner. She doesn’t wake up one day and start running 26 miles. She may not even like to run to start off with. But she hears about a marathon and she thinks about it. She finally decides to start. She trains. She gets better. She may walk more than run at first. First it is a mile run around the block. Then two. Then five. It can take a long time and many setbacks and blisters to get up to 26 miles, but then one day she is there.

This is also true of hearing from God. It requires practice and effort and persistence.

First, it is important for you to know that God loves you. God made you. You are needed and part of God’s plan. This is why you were made. The fact that you are alive is proof that God needs and loves you. Right now. As you are. Warts and all. You may not feel worthy of God, but God thinks otherwise. So God wants to hear from you. God wants to connect with you. This is true communion, or union-with.

The book “The Isaiah Effect” by Gregg Braden says something very interesting about prayer. It says that prayer isn’t something you do, it is something you feel inside your body. This is very important. This totally turns our Western idea of prayer upside down.

It isn’t the vehicle that is the focus. It isn’t the how-to. It is the destination that is important. You have to get to that feeling in your body that indicates you are in the right spot. Prayer is a feeling, not a ritual.

Prayer isn’t the candle or the words or the gestures. It is the connection with God that is produced when you use those things, or anything else that helps you get there. The candle or the words or the gestures are like a car that you get in to go visit a friend. Getting to your friend is the most important part, not how you get there. Perhaps the car breaks down and you have to walk. That is fine. You got there. Don’t focus on the car.

But because we are physical beings, we often need props to help us. Just remember that the prayer isn’t the props.

C.S. Lewis says “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Our bodies need reminders of our souls. I’ve written before about how I use prayer bracelets, tattoos, painted toenails, and going barefoot as reminders. There are many different ways to remind you to pray and nourish your soul with a connection with God.

Prayer does not have to be passive. It doesn’t have to be sitting in a chair with your hands in front of you saying a prayer that somebody else wrote. It can be active. There are probably as many different ways of praying as there are people. Painting, walking, singing, doodling, meditation, yoga practice can all be used as forms of prayer, for instance. Compassion in action is also good. Volunteering is a form of prayer.

How often should you pray? If you are Muslim, you are to pray five times a day. Some people pray before every meal. If you are Jewish, you are to give thanks to God at least 100 times a day. All of these practices are ways to remind you to pray. Constantly praying is constantly being in communion with God. The more you pray, the better the connection gets between you and God.

In order to hear from God, you have to put yourself in a place where you can hear from God. It is kind of like you want to get a phone call from a friend, but you don’t realize that your phone is turned off because you didn’t pay the bill. You’ll never hear from your friend with that kind of connection.

This is attributed to Saint Francis – “Pray constantly, and if you must, use words.” Prayer doesn’t have to be words, but it can. Part of my goal here is to open your mind up about what prayer is. It doesn’t have to be what you think it is. Trying other ways can be helpful.

Do you use a prayer book, or not? Do you find it helpful or stiff and canned? Jesus tells us that we are not to mutter the same words over and over again, but to pray from our hearts. We learn this in Matthew 6:7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (New American Standard Bible) But sometimes that is hard because we don’t know what to say. Then there is this helpful verse from Romans 8:26 “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (New Living Translation)

So you don’t have to use a prayer book. God knows what you want to say. But if you feel you need a prayer book, be sure to read every word carefully and feel them, so that the prayer becomes your own. It isn’t the words that get you there, but the feeling that happens when you read the words. A friend told me a Jewish story about a little boy who didn’t know what how to pray so he just recited the alphabet and let God pick out all the right letters. That works too – but again, it isn’t the letters. It is the feeling you get when you are there, talking to God.

Many different faiths use prayer beads. You can study how they use them, or you can make up your own ritual. They can be used to center you and focus you. Just handling beads can be very calming and centering.

When you pray, remember the feeling you get if you ask for something. Then see if your prayer is answered. Compare the feeling with the result. Journaling can help you keep track of the results. This is a way to learn how God is talking to you. God always answers prayers, but they aren’t always “yes”. With practice, you can learn to “hear” the “yes” from the “no” from the “not right now”. I often “hear” the reply as a feeling, rather than a word. This is often the first way that we hear from God, as feeling.

When I pray for a specific intention, I get a feeling of ease when the prayer is going to be answered as a “yes”. I get a feeling of resistance when it is a “no”. It took a while to learn the subtle difference of feeling between the two. It isn’t as easy as “this is hot” and “this is cold” – it was far more subtle. But it is there. It just takes practice to sort out where and how the feeling feels to you.

I think it is essential to always be ok with the idea that you aren’t in charge. Sometimes it is best you don’t get what you prayed for. God is not your waiter. You don’t always get to have it your way.

God can use anything as a way to answer. You can “hear” God all around you. Nothing is a coincidence. We are like fish who are unaware of water. We are surrounded by God, as everything is from God.

It is perfectly ok to pray for the ability to pray. It is OK to ask God for help in how to pray. Just like in the story of the prodigal son, when the son started back towards his Dad, his Dad saw him and went running to meet him. God wants us to pray, to connect with him. He’ll make up the difference in distance between us.

You’ll get stronger the more you do it. So pray constantly. Be patient with yourself if you slack off and get out of your routine. That is normal. Just start doing it again. Nobody is consistent at their prayers. But the more you pray, the better you’ll get at it, and the more you will connect with God.

Read the Bible, and pray beforehand for the Holy Spirit to help you understand. The Bible is the Word of God. If you want to hear from God, it is a good idea to start off with a known good. This way when you get to the point that God is talking to you in words, you’ll be able to measure up and know if it is God talking and not just your imagination.

Read the prayers of other faiths. There might be something that helps. Like buying a one-size fits all suit, sometimes prayer life needs to be altered and adjusted. I’ve found a lot of comfort in reading about other faith systems. There is a lot in Buddhism for instance that helps to inform my Christianity. I’m enjoying a podcast that is all Torah study as well.

Remember to make time for prayer. Turn off the television. Turn off the iPod. We fill our heads with a lot of noise. How can God get a word in edgewise if we are so noisy all the time?

Consider getting a spiritual director. A spiritual director can be a priest or minister, but doesn’t necessarily have to be one. She or he is trained to help you achieve intimacy with God. I consider such a person to be like a guru, but for Western faiths. I’ve learned more from my spiritual director than I’ve ever learned from any minister.

I’ll leave you with a little poem.

Make your life into a prayer,
and everything you do will be a love letter to God.
And God will answer back, I love you, I love you, I love you
from every rock and rainbow,
from every smile from every stranger.

Hail, Mary.

I think Mary is far more approachable than Jesus. Just look at how she is depicted, for starters. She is so calm and nurturing. You can’t help but feel love when you look at pictures or icons of her. The opposite is true when I see a crucifix. I so dislike crucifixes. I hate to see Jesus in agony. I feel guilty and shameful, and I feel that is the intent of them. But Mary is different. She is all about love and humble obedience to God.

Mary is like many other saints who said “Here I am” when God called for help. The difference between a saint and an average person is that a saint lets the light of God shine through them. They choose to let God work through them to bring healing to the world. Saints aren’t just for way back when, saints are here right now.

I reject the Catholic idea of immaculate conception. This doctrine does not refer to Jesus being conceived immaculately. It refers to how Mary herself was conceived. It was a workaround to deal with the paradox of how Jesus could be fully human and fully divine at the same time. It says that because she was conceived immaculately, she is half divine. There is nothing about this in the Bible. It is made up.

To make Mary anything less than fully human takes away from her. I need her to be human. I need her to be human because if she is anything else then she isn’t a role model. Who could possibly emulate someone who is half God? The test is rigged from the very beginning. By her being human, she is more amazing to me.

Mary was a young girl who was engaged when the Angel Gabriel came to her and announced that she was chosen to bring forth the Messiah. She was alone. I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying this experience was. Alone, young, inexperienced, and an angel talking to you. That alone would be huge. Then for the angel to tell you that the hopes and dreams of your entire community was going to need your help? Huge.

Jonah ran the other way when God called on him. I can identify with this. This seems like a normal thing to do. I feel like the normal reaction to being asked by God to do something really off the charts unusual would be to say “are you kidding, God?” And then maybe followed with a whine about how you are busy right now and that it would be so much better to do this later, and can’t you ask somebody else?

But Mary didn’t do that. She said yes. Right then. No asking her parents or fiance. She trusted God. I love this about her. I want to be that bold and that trusting. I want to be that fast in replying.

We are all called to be like Mary. We are all called to bring forth the light of God in the world. Every time we choose to help someone, to teach, to console, to love, we are letting God enter the world through us.

We are called to materialize the divine, to make it real. “Materialize” at its root is the word “mater”, meaning “mother”. We are to give birth to God every day, by bringing forth kindness and love.

Hail, Mary, full of grace.

It isn’t here.

It isn’t about the tree that Buddha sat under.
You won’t find enlightenment no matter how long you sit there.
Go find your own tree.
Or a rock.
Or an island
in the middle of a freeway.

The birthplace of Jesus shouldn’t be a pilgrimage site.
It isn’t the place. The place doesn’t matter.
That it happened is what matters.

Don’t charge admission to truth.
Don’t sell tickets to joy.

Where any enlightened person walked or lived or taught should be forgotten.
You can’t learn from ghosts in places.

Follow who they followed, back to the root.
Who is at the beginning?
Who is at the source?

You don’t have to go to the holy land.
Black Elk tells us that
the holy land is everywhere.

Right here, right where you are,
put a plaque. Memorialize it for future generations.

Have it say “I am here”

And then burn it down.