Monday, October 29, 2007

Why Do People Still Believe in Zeus?

Someone called me last week wondering how we can beleive that God is Good and that God's will is good when there is so much in life that seems NOT good.

It's a fair question, but a frustrating one for me. The question assumes an Olympian god like Zeus sitting high on a mountain top in the clouds, looking down upon us mere mortals to favor some and punish or ignore others. It is exactly how I imagined God when I was 4 or even 12, but by 15 or so I was questioning that image and exploring others and now as I approach 41 the god who looks very human and who behaves mischievously, capriciously, unpredictably and sometimes terribly is not "my" god and I always feel unprepared to answer questions about "that" image and understanding of God so long removed from my experience.

Wanting to be gentle and respectful with that person's view of God, I simply said, "God is Good and wants only Good for us. When things aren't good, that is in the realm of experience, not in the realm of divine design. Yes, our experience can be quite unsettling, chaotic, even horrifying, but I don't believe that God caused the mess, desired the mess, or enjoyed the mess. God is cheering us on hoping we'll use our gifts and skills to make things better."

I realize using such words as "hoping" and "cheering" sort of encourages the anthropomorphic image that I find so useless, but usually one would have better luck insulting someone's mother than insulting someone's god! So, I accept the limitation.

The truth is, or let me say "my truth" is that God is not a person. Jesus is quoted as saying God is "spirit." What is spirit? It's energy, power, presence, intelligence, wisdom, love...its hard to pin down, like the wind, and its essential to life, like breath. In fact, in some languages, spirit and breath and wind are all the same word!

For me God is process. God is energy. God is omnipresent Isness. God is the source of all Good, the ground of all being, the process of all becoming. God is all and is more than the sum of its parts. God is beauty and love and our highest aspirations. God is the search for God. God is our best idea of God and then much more.

God is a word that we use to describe or at least relate to ultimate reality, and "THIS" god is not on a throne tossing thunder bolts and making commandments. This God is living life as Life itself, and therefore wants (or perhaps I should say "needs") for life to be harmonious, joyous, expressive, and free. God needs this because we need it, and we are part of how God knows God's self and how God experiences life. So, when people make choices that result in bad economies or building communities where weather patterns can be harsh or that lead to war or crime or disease...that isn't God's will any more than it is ours. It is simply cause and effect, and our hope is that we can raise our consciousness to the point that enough of us make better choices that will then make the world a better place. And in the meantime, we can individually make choices that will empower us to get through the rough times and experience hope and joy inspite of difficult circumstances.

My current understanding of God (which will probably, as it always has, continue to evolve) isn't something that can be proven with a papal decree or an isolated bible verse, and if that is what someone needs, then I will find myself quite disadvantaged when trying to help them. Of course, a quip from a book never proves anything to fact, if we have to resort to thinking that suggests a Zeus-like god wrote something in a book and we better buy it hook, line and sinker or suffer a new thunderbolt to the forehead, then we aren't really looking for proof...we're looking for easy answers that keep us from taking responsibility for our lives and for our planet. For people who want that, I may not seem very helpful. But to those who want encouragement to ask questions and seek truth wherever it may be found, I continue to offer my ministerial services.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Social Stratification in Heaven?

Question: Will there be social stratification in heaven? (from the Internet)

Answer: There are many visions of heaven in scripture and sacred tradition. These visions are the human imagination’s way of expressing hope that our lives have meaning beyond the brief span of years we experience from birth to death.

Heaven symbolizes our hope that we are more than this physical experience. Beyond affirming that Life is all-inclusive and eternal, I really can’t say how the “after-life” will look. I hesitate to guess how (or if) a heavenly society would be stratified.

However, the best heaven I can imagine would be a world where we would enjoy power with one another rather than power over one another. In “my” heaven, no one would be excluded and everyone would have an equal share in the joy, abundance, and vitality of life. So, my best guess is that in the highest and best of all possible heavenly realities, there would be no social stratification as we experience in “this” world.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Making Room for Silence in Balanced Spirituality

Christianity, I’m afraid, has done away with the Silence, which has stunted our spiritual growth. We either want religion to be a school, where we constantly think and learn, or we want it to be a show, where we are entertained. Nothing is wrong with either camp, per se, but without the Silence they are incomplete. Without the Silence, “God” (or spirit or the universe or one’s higher power…pick your own name) doesn’t have a chance to speak to us. We can speak to God and we can speak about God, but the conversation is still one sided until we have a time to listen.

Catholics have the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (meditation) and the rosary (mantra), and the Eastern Orthodox have their “Jesus Prayer” (mantra), and Anglicans sometimes borrow from one or both of these other contemplative traditions. Quakers sit in the Silence and contemplate the “Inward Light.” Some churches (such as Grace Cathedral in San Francisco) now offer a labyrinth (walking meditation), and Christian monks and nuns sometimes practice Centering Prayer (sitting in Silence, perhaps focusing on a single word or image); so Christianity has within its traditions the means of going within and listening to the Voice of Wisdom. But popular Christianity continues to opt for “Christian Rock,” emotionally charged services, cognitive preaching, and other practices that fill the Silence and distract one from connecting to intuition, compassion, or inner guidance. Again, there is nothing wrong with cathartic experiences or joyful exuberance, but why must the Silence be totally sacrificed for these other practices?

At Sunshine Cathedral, we offer a quiet midweek service on Wednesday evenings that includes a time of silent prayer and guided meditation. The staff meets daily for intercessory prayer and that daily prayer includes 30-40 seconds of Silence, and we have recently added a 45 minute “zazen” style meditation service two mornings each week at the Cathedral. We also publish Spirit & Truth, a monthly booklet of devotions for people to read and contemplate during their personal times of quiet reflection.

Of course, at Sunshine Cathedral, we also have Sunday services with organ music, an orchestra, a 40 member choir, preaching, liturgy and ritual, and all the fun stuff, and we have Light University that offers bible and theology classes, but we are also trying to make room for Silent reflection and contemplation. We are trying to not only talk to and about God, but also provide space for listening.

A balanced spirituality will both “make a joyful noise” and will also “be still and know that I am God.”

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Prayer As Communion With Pure Being

"How long, O God, must I call for help, but you do not listen? [God replies]...’though the answer linger, wait for it; it will surely come...’" Habakkuk 1.2; 2.3

We’ve all had the experience of wishing for something only to have the wish not come true. As long as we think of God as Something (or Someone) “out there” (or “up there”), we will feel separated from God and will doubt that God is truly present in our time of need. As long as we treat God as a judge before whom we must beg for mercy or as a cosmic Kris Kringle who occasionally distributes goodies to those who have been “good,” our prayers will often disappoint.

But if God is the “ground of being,” ultimate reality, the mystery of life, then our prayers aren’t meant to persuade God to do what God otherwise would not do; our prayers are meant to remind us of our place in God. Prayer, then, doesn’t change God, it changes us, and as we change we become channels of hope that can improve the situations in our lives.

Once we see God as that omni-Presence in which we “live and move and have [our] being,” and we see prayer as the process of reminding ourselves of our unity with Pure Being, then we find that more and more we simply trust life to unfold as it should, and more often than not we aren’t disappointed. Good things happen frequently, the bad things can’t keep us down, and in all things we are learning and growing.

Let’s not give up on the process of prayer…the process really can change us and we tend to project what we are becoming. If prayer improves us, it will surely improve our experience of life.

(c) Durrell Watkins, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Simple Mystery of Meditation

“It comes to many as astonishing news that something as simple as attention to breathing has a central part to play in meditation and prayer. It is like a mystery novelist’s idea of hiding the diamonds in the goldfish bowl: too obvious to notice…” – James Forest

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath…no work should be done on the sabbath…” (Exodus 20.8-10). Of course, we know that a tired body appreciates some down time, but in our busy culture we forget that the mind also needs to keep times of Sabbath.

Have you ever noticed that when a moment of silence is called for, invariably someone will cough, or yawn, or clear their throat, or otherwise inject some kind of noise into the silence (no matter how brief it is)? Contrast the crowds at a concert with the trickles of humans in a library! We are more comfortable with noise than silence, and entering the Silence is very difficult for some of us.

But rest is necessary for good health, and meditation is a way to rest and refresh the mind. A few minutes of meditation to turn off the discursive thinking is all that is needed. That doesn’t mean we stop the thoughts; it just means we don’t engage them. Without pursuing or judging them, we simply notice them and return to stillness.

We can’t get it wrong because there is nothing to do…just sit and breathe and be. Notice what comes up, let it pass, and breathe. Count the breaths (in -1, out-1, in-2, out-2) all the way to 10 and start over at 1. If a thought or an image disrupts the count, just notice it, let it go, and start again at 1. Failure isn’t possible because there is no goal! Isn’t that wonderful?! Just sit. Just breathe. Just be. Do it for 10 minutes or an hour, twice a week or daily. You can’t get it wrong, and yet, over time, you will become more and more aware of your true, divine nature.

Starting October 9th, sitting meditation (“Zazen”) will be offered every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 8:15 AM at Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale in the Graham/Fasana Chapel.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Wednesday Prayer

I am calm and serene. I am poised and confident. I know that I am one with all Life and that in the Field of All Possibilities every good thing I could imagine or desire already exists and is available to me. Therefore, I claim my Good and allow it to be made perfectly manifest in my experience. As one who is blessed, I bless others and I wish everyone I know or meet true happiness, perfect contentment, good health and peace of mind. I am a conduit of loving energy and blessings flow into my life and into the lives of those around me. I release this word of Power to the Law and I relax with the assurance that all is well. And so it is!