Category Archives: Sprituality

Knowing Self

The goal of the spiritual journey is the transformation of the self.[1]

I have wrestled with the idea of knowing self much the last several years – it often feels selfish. Yet, as Thomas Kempis once wrote, “A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning.”

Let that sink it for a moment.

Often, we strive for more information, thinking that if we can just check off all the boxes or answer all the questions correctly then we are spiritually mature. This mentality has caused so many to strive to be seen by others as righteous, knowledgeable, and all together; yet it has caused many to lack in humility.

I cannot help but notice that when religious people focus on the external, they quickly become rigid, judgmental, and hypocritical – I must confess that I have seen this within myself more times that I would like to admit!

This struggle also seems to be the great struggle Jesus had with the religious leaders of the first century. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus confronts this tendency by saying the following:

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,  so that the outside also may become clean.

27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[2]

I think it is easy for us as humans to focus on other people’s junk – in fact it’s not only easy, it boosts our own ego and sense of self-righteousness. It is easier for me to see the places and areas where others should grow or change than it is for me to notice, see, and accept the areas where I have messed up or have room to grow; accepting the shadows within us is a necessary part of our transformation.

Genuinely transformational knowing of self always involves encountering and embracing previously unwelcomed parts of self.[3]

Once we begin to notice things within ourselves, the second and even more difficult step is to accept these things. This is painful for several reasons. First, I would rather ignore these dark places. Second, once I am willing to look at and notice these areas, I struggle with shame and unworthiness, in other words, I struggle to accept these parts of myself.

Brene Brown writes:

We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame. Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode.[4]

She continues to explore the relationship between self-acceptance and extending acceptance toward others:

The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.[5]

 

Questions:

  1. Do you struggle to accept yourself?
  2. What parts of yourself do you struggle to accept? Why?
  3. Do you believe that God accepts all parts of you?

 

 

 

 

[1] David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 14.

[2] Matthew 23:25-28

[3] David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 52.

[4] Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 16.

[5] Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 17.

Spiritual growth is more about subtraction than addition

If your following along the Lenten devotional by Richard Rohr, yesterday you read that the spiritual journey is more like giving up control than taking control.

I have been thinking about spirituality and the idea that we grow through subtraction and not addition (I can’t take credit for that analogy as I first heard it from Richard Rohr).

This was difficult for me to grasp at first because I viewed people who were spiritual mature as those who could pray, fast, and read boatloads of the Bible. My experience, both personally and what I have seen of others, has led me to believe that you can do all those things and yet not become spiritually mature, i.e., transformed (particularly into greater love).

Perhaps spiritual growth happens more by becoming aware of our false self and letting go of this self – our fears, insecurities, desire to defend, our creation of us-vs-them, shame, anger, etc.

  • Is there something in your life you are invited to give up or let go of?

In today’s reading Rohr writes, God is always much better than the most loving person you can imagine…

For many of us, the good news was what we had to do to get God to love or forgive us. Yet Jesus suggests God’s love is unconditional. I would summarize the Good News as, “You and I are each loved by God.” Our job, our work, is to become aware of this and to walk into this.

  • Is the good news something we have to do, or is it something we simply become aware of and receive?

If Jesus tells us to “Ask and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock and it will be opened…,” perhaps today you might ask for a deeper knowledge of God’s unconditional love for both you and those around you. If you are really bold, perhaps you might ask for a greater understand of this love even towards those whom you dislike.

I invite you to meditation on these texts. Allow them to wash over you as you are reminded of God’s intimate love for you and for those around you.

Romans 8v38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3v18-20

18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ash Wednesday

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  – Ps 51:11

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that begins the forty days of Lent season (excluding Sundays) in the Christian calendar.  Lent mirrors the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

Lent is a season of self-reflection, self-examination, prayer, and fasting as Christians around the world join together to anticipate Easter Sunday.

Ash Wednesday is a day that reminds us of our mortality. Ashes, that come from the palm branches from the last years Palm Sunday,  are placed upon the forehead in the sign of a cross while the clergy pronounce:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

It may sound strange to think of a day dedicated to recall one’s mortality, but this can be very formative for us as we take time to reflect on the fact that we will all one day pass away. At the very least, it can allow us to become more grateful for every moment we have and for every encounter with have with beauty and with each other. It can also be a time to examine and reflect upon the meaning of our lives.

Traditionally,  Christians choose to abstain from something (i.e., fast) during Lent. Some do this as a sign of penance, others as a sign of devotion, and others as a means to create space in their lives to allow God to speak to them. Often, Christians today will engage in a spiritual discipline (e.g., a Lenten devotional or specific spiritual practice such as meditation, journaling etc.)

I have chosen to enter into this season by intentionally engaging in some of these ancient practices. While I do not pretend to know how God always works, I do believe that we can be intentional about spiritual formation by creating space in our lives for the divine to work. Are there ways you can create space by forgoing things in your life? Perhaps things that are not necessarily bad but that either take up a lot of time or energy during your day?  Or perhaps there are activities you engage in, either consciously or unconsciously, that distract you from diving more deeply into your own pain or weaknesses? If your like me, you will find it difficult to forego these things because they have become such a habit in our lives.  Are you willing to enter into Lent with the intention to create more space to engage in a spiritual practice? I believe by doing this, we increase our sensitivity to God’s work in the world and I think we can expect to be formed in some way – perhaps in unexpected ways!
On this Ash Wednesday, I invite you to reflect upon the following questions, and to see them as invitations for you during this Lent season. Feel free to write a response to any of them, or simply use them as a personal reflection.

  1. If you have been a part of a tradition that has celebrated Lent, how has this practice influenced you? Has it been positive or negative? Why do you think that is?
  2. Do you feel invited to enter into a season of fasting? (Ideas on what to fast below.) If so, what have you chosen to abstain from? Why have you chosen this?
  3. Have you chosen a specific spiritual discipline or practice to help connect you with God or the sacred in greater ways? (If you are interested in a Lenten devotional, I invite you to join us at One Church as we journey through a devotional written by Richard Rohr which you can find here.)

Ideas for fasting:

  • Fast from food – once or twice a week (sunrise to sunset).
  • Fast from certain kinds of food (e.g., chocolate, alcohol, meat, fast food, etc).
  • Fast from social media (ouch, that one hurts!) or choose to look at social media only during select times throughout the day (e.g., 2x’s a day in the morning and evening).
  • Fast from TV.
  • Fast from the internet (is that even possible?).
  • Fast from listening to the radio on the way to/from work to create some silence in your life.

Ideas for spiritual disciplines:

  • Lenten devotional
  • Journaling
  • Meditation or contemplative prayer
  • Nature walks

Suggestion to incorporate into your spiritual disciplines:

  • Spiritual disciplines can take many different forms, but consider incorporating journaling during this Lenten season. It’s not a diary, but more of a spiritual journal where you can write down what you think, feel, desire, etc. I have found this to be very powerful as I can go back and read things I have written before and see the ways that God has worked in my life that I would have otherwise been unaware of. Spiritual formation most often happens slowly – it is a process. Journaling is a way to keep track of this progress as well as a spiritual practice itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personality type and spiritual formation

If you know me at all you know that I am pretty obsessed with personality typing. I often catch myself talking to others about their Myers Briggs or Enneagram type. Sometimes, I confess, I take it a little too far and have to remind myself (or more accurately my wife reminds me) that there is more to the person than their personality type.

Some people believe that personality typing places people inside a box, but I have found that it actually exposes the boxes I put myself in and gives me ways to get out of the box – this is especially true of the Enneagram. Here are two ways that understanding personality has helped me grow.

  1. It brings compassion.

I heard someone talk about the Enneagram recently as a tool that increases your compassion toward others because you begin to understand that other people don’t think like you. I cannot tell you how many “discussions” (ok sometimes they are more than “discussion”) my wife and I have had concerning trite things like toothpaste, where something belongs, or how to go about cleaning the bathrooms. While at the time they always seem important, they are usually very small things, and they often reflect how we see the world differently. In hindsight I can see that our approaches differ because we have different personalities – thank God!

For example, I am an idealist who lives in my head and dreams of the future. My wife lives in the here and now (something that takes me a lot of practices to do and thus a trait I greatly admire) and takes the world in through her senses. She is much better at remembering street signs or where a certain grocery store is located. When we drive, I am daydreaming about what someone said, what I heard, what I read, or trying to make connections concerning some theory or model concerning the future of the universe (Yes I somehow tend to avoid collisions as I have only totalled one vehicle). My wife, on the other hand, is taking in all the information that is passing her by in the immediate “here and now.”

I also dislike (well actually cannot stand!) clutter. If it were up to me, my car would always be washed, waxed, and vacuumed and our house with minimal things inside. For my wife, clutter isn’t near as big of a deal as having fun, making memories, and enjoying whatever the present brings – I wish I were more like her and I am hoping that she will wear off on me.

Understanding that we don’t take in information, we don’t process information, and we don’t make decisions in the same way can bring about greater compassion for your spouse, your parents, your children, your boss, and all your relationships. I heard someone recently say that the different Enneagram types is similar to wearing different glasses – it greatly influences what we see and what we pay attention to. The struggle for me is reminding myself this on a regular basis as I so quickly forget.

2. Others experience/see the sacred differently.

This is one area I have been thinking about (or daydreaming) a lot recently. I often ask people their MBTI or Enneagram and I have noticed that some are more naturally drawn to things like contemplative spirituality while others find it much more difficult and less helpful.

For example, many NFs (particularly INFx’s) are almost mystic by nature. If someone is an Enneagram type four this is also true (and even more pronounced if they are a type 4 and an NF!). Many believe Thomas Merton was a type four and he is often seen as an example for many modern mystics. It is much more difficult for an extrovert (though obviously not impossible) to engage in contemplative practices and if that person is an S (sensing) or a T (thinking) on the MBTI it is even more likely they will find contemplative practices more difficult.

role-proportions-chart

I use contemplative practices as an example because as an INFJ I have found it very helpful, yet my tendency is to think that everyone would benefit from it in the same way I do and thus herald it as the thing.

What I have noticed in myself and in plenty of others is that we tend to think that how we view the world is how others do. As spiritual people we also tend to think that what works best for us may work best for someone else – this often leads to cookie cutter approaches to spirituality.  We can see this to be true in many others ways, e.g., exercise, diet, politics, education, parenting, leadership etc. I think we tend to forget that other people see the world differently and an exercise or diet that may work great for me may not work all that well for someone else.

In the end, the more I understanding the different personalities the more it opens me up to see and appreciate diversity – diversity of thoughts, opinions, worldviews, choices etc. I do still struggle, however, often thinking that my own opinions are the correct ones and that since I love yoga everyone should. Yet, I am reminded that while yoga may work well for me, some people just need an intense, high energy workout. While contemplative practices may be a more natural fit and very beneficial for me, others may need a place to serve, a place to share, or loud music to just let it all go. Sometimes I wish my wife saw the world exactly how I do, but would I really want to be married to myself? (just i case there is any question let me answer this clearly…hell no!)

There is beauty in diversity. Diverse foods, people, places, and things. I have much room to grow when it comes to compassion toward others and understanding that others may see and approach the sacred differently than I, but understanding the different personality types has helped me.

Perhaps you feel frustrated because others connect with the divine in a certain way that does not work for you.

Perhaps you found that certain spiritual practices, books, teachings, etc work well for others, but they just don’t work well for you.

Perhaps you wonder if you are odd because you don’t see God the same way that many around you do.

Spiritual formation, while leading us all to greater love and compassion, may look radically differently from person to person. As we better understand that we are all hardwired a little differently, maybe we can have more grace for the way others think and be more open to different ways and approaches to life and spirituality.

 

Process theology part IV – pastoral ministry

I wouldn’t call myself a process theist, though there is nothing about process that I have a problem or disagree with. I would say that I have been deeply influenced by process theology and that it makes sense to both my intellect and my experience in this world, but I’m not 100% sold that this is the way it is. I am open to parts of process being wrong, incomplete, or ways others may experience the world. Below I will list several of the major ways I see that process theology can have a positive influence on pastoral ministry.

  1. Creates more openness

Yes, it can open the pastor up to see the many ways God may be working in different situations and people. Also, there may not be one right and one wrong choice, but there may be many choices, sometimes with varying degrees of good or bad. Instead of having a great deal of pressure to find the “one way” or “one correct choice,” the pastor is free to explore multiple choices and to allow a lot more “wiggle room” for others to do so as well. This will automatically allow the pastor to be less rigid, as each person is given more freedom to create their future. The idea that there may be several good options and God may not care which one (or God only cares that we don’t choose certain ones) brings a sense of freedom and creativity that I think our worlds needs more of. This lack of freedom and creativity is also a major reason why many are distancing themselves from organized religion.

  1. Invitation to partner with God

Process theology invites people into a co creative act with God in a way that more traditional theologies do not. Since the future is open and yet to be created (the future is not predetermined), there is a lot of work that can be done. Of course with this can come some pressure as there is also a lot of responsibility, but I think most would see this as a wonderful opportunity – we get to create a future with God and our actions really matter! In this regard, the decisions we make may be varying degrees of participation with God as we open ourselves up to God’s leading in each situation.

  1. Everything is interconnected

When a pastor believes that all things are relational and thus interconnected, his or her vision is much larger. It’s not just about saving souls from going to hell, or about convincing everyone who is not a Christian that they are wrong, but it is a way to see that every life matters, every creature matters, and our earth matters. Some theologies are very short sighted and even destructive as they are merely “evacuation plans.” In process theology everyone is invited to see with new lenses the ways that all our choices affect others for better or worse. Our diet, our transportation, our clothing, our lifestyle are all-important because they have affects on others. When all things are relational we see all things with greater value. This leads to a much more expansive view of the world that includes not just human souls, but all creation!

  1. God is for the flourishing of all things.

This is related to the others, but is a wonderful way to see the world. In process theology, God is not an angry, judgmental tyrant. Nor does God require blind obedience. God will not punish you just because you didn’t obey. Clearly there are consequences to not following the lure or initial aim of God, but this is greatly different than receiving punishment for not obeying. If God is working for all things to flourish, then God is working for each individual to flourish. It becomes more about opening yourself up to God’s aim than it does about obeying a directive. A pastor can help others understand that God is not waiting for them to mess up or carrying a list of the people who are naughty and nice, but is always working on their behalf. For so many people this will be absolutely freeing! This also means that God is not only working for my flourishing, but for yours, and for all creation. This brings a larger perspective than the common and narrow anthropocentric view of many theologies. God wants all creation to flourish and when we participate in the flourishing of other things we are participating with God. There are numerous ways one can do this, so a pastor can encourage others that they are doing sacred work even in the ordinary things.

  1. God is not a “being out there,” but is personal and near.

Many picture God as somewhere a long ways away sitting on a throne. Process informs us that God is here and very active in the world. A pastor who has a panetheistic view of the world can encourage others to see all the ways God may be working in the world, or to at least be open to see that perhaps God is working in ways they cannot see. When “all things are in God” then all things become sacred. Pastors can help others see that teaching, office work, running a business, cleaning, laundry, organizing, creating art, music, poetry, non profit work, are all sacred tasks and God is working through all of it. It also brings God a lot closer. God is not a distant deity that sometimes acts in extreme circumstance, but is present in every thing and working in all.

Obviously these are just a few ways, and many of them are related. A process informed pastor can meet the real needs of people when they are hurting and broken because they understand that that a persons loss or pain was not caused by God. A pastor can walk through these difficult times, even if they cannot give absolute reasons why they were caused, and help bring healing and wholeness to the lives of those around them.

I think many people are in need of a different way of seeing God and a different way of understanding how God interacts in the world. The more traditional ways of seeing God are not working and process theology gives us a great way of understanding a God that not only makes intellectual sense to many, but can also be helpful and healing to those who have struggled or are struggling with more traditional ways of understanding God. A pastor does not need to mention the word process or go into the ins and outs of the specifics of process theology. Being pastoral is providing care and guidance to people, especially in difficult times. Process theology can have a very positive influence upon those providing this care as it provides a way to engage in the world that makes sense to many modern people.

 

 

Stages of Spiritual Growth

Roughly 5 years ago I began a process that took me into a deep internal struggle. The worldview which was handed down to me no longer worked and as I was pursuing ministry, involved in leadership at my church, and finishing up my undergrad degree in Biblical Studies. It became more and more apparent that the ground beneath me that once seemed so solid was quickly falling.

This experience lasted for more then several years, and if I’m honest I am probably still journeying through bits of it. It was a faith crises of sorts, and through this struggle I have discovered a deeper, but very different way of being a person of faith and spiritual conviction. Along the way, I learned about the stages of faith. Both James Fowler and Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck have written about this spiritual developmental theory. My only regret is that I did not discover it sooner. M. Scott Peck gives four simple and important stages to spiritual development. These stages are as follows:

stepsSLANTED-copy

Stage I: Chaotic – antisocial.

As an infant we enter into this life thinking the world revolves around us. We all begin in stage I. It is a time of chaos or lawlessness in that we are not sure what is true, good, or right. At stage I we are selfish and seek our own self interests. Some have suggested that prison is a stage I institution in that it places limits on those who don’t or can’t control themselves as part of a larger society.

Stage II: Formal – institutional.

As we grow, we begin to seek stability and a sense of security. This stability is most often given in the form of large institutions and/or a person(s) of authority. We seek to know what should be, what is true, right, and good. We often learn this from religious organizations (or other places such as the military). This stage is helpful and necessary in spiritual development, but unfortunately most religious people and institutions remain at stage II.

Stage III: Skeptical – individual.

While many remain at stage II, some begin to question the institutions, structures, and those in authority. This is often reflected during the teenage years as this person begins to question their parents authority and their rules. Religiously, many who enter into stage III begin to question the doctrines, dogma, and beliefs that have been handed down to them. Many who enter into stage III believe this to be the last and final stage. The college or university are often associated with this stage.

Stage IV: Mystical – communal.

Few people enter into stage IV. One enters into stage IV when they continue to seek out the sacred and walk through the skepticism, questions, and doubts of stage III. People in stage IV may be religious or may not, but they all share some form of deep knowing and appreciation for the divine or sacred as Great Mystery. Instead of clear answers and black and white thinking as seen in stage II, people in stage IV value questions, experience, mystery, and the journey toward discovering more. While often in stage II we are very closed off and dogmatic, in stage IV people are open to experiencing new and different things and working with those who do not see things the same way. They realize that no creed, doctrine, dogma, book, or religion can fully capture the Sacred. Often they are deeply committed to their own particular wisdom tradition, but they are open to learning from others. While stage III people are more individualistic, people in stage IV see the great value of community.

Some thoughts:

Looking back, I can see that five years ago I was pushing back against a stage II environment. I was questioning, wrestling, and struggling – the “institution” (i.e., church) was not giving me answers that worked or made sense to my experience, thoughts, and beliefs. The journey from stage II to stage III often brings a crisis of faith, and many never recover or move past stage III for one of two reasons: either they are sick and tired of the whole “religious” thing and are over it entirely (they chuck it all out or see it as only a crutch), or they have no idea that there is a stage IV and have never encountered anyone who lived at this stage. Often many people at stage III associate religion or spirituality with stage II because often there experiences reflect this.

Some people are at stage I and the traditional forms of religion at stage II are exactly what they need. I believe this is why churches are growing in certain parts of the world – it is a necessary and important step in spiritual growth. But, many in the western world are at stage III and they see much of religion at stage II. In other words, it feels like a step backwards.

What I hope to be growing into (I don’t claim to be there yet) is stage IV. I have struggled with being a pastor because much of what I have known has been stage II religion. I realize that being at stage IV means that you may speak some of the same language as people at stage II, but mean different things. Thus, there is a tension because people at stage II will see you as a threat and people at stage III will often think you are at stage II because of your language.

I believe we are in desperate need of stage IV leaders, pastors, CEOs, business people, parents, counselors, teachers, etc. Our world will grow when those at stage IV have the courage to step out, speak, and lead. These people may be misunderstood, seen as a threat, or even seen by some as naive, but many of the great movements of history have been lead by people who took this risk. Stage IV people are sometimes called the mystics – they see beyond what most can see.

We need people who can see what most cannot. We need people who can help teach others to see beyond stage II or III and into another, more deeper way of being human and brings the heart and the mind together and works toward a more just and generous world.

 

 

The seminarian’s unexpected experience

It’s been five years since I went back to school. The goal was to finish up my undergrad so I could attend seminary. Now, three years into seminary and only 6 classes left, I have experienced some major shifts.

CST

I chose Claremont School of Theology (CST) for several reasons. First, I was attending a Methodist Church so it made sense. Second, I was attracted to Process Theology. Third, I wanted to attend a progressive seminary that was not only open but also inclusive of LGBTQ person’s. Fourth, I saw that CST was engaged in interreligious dialogue and education and felt this was important for any spiritual leader in the future.

The biggest part of that decision was attending a place that was open, diverse, and liberal leaning. I wanted to find a place where I could explore, question, and feel free to challenge and/or change any beliefs I needed to. I know this should be the goal of any religious education, but sadly it is not.

I have gone through a major theological shift since I first went back to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies five years ago. It seems like an eternity ago, but in the scheme of things five years is not all that long.

Yet, the theological shift has not been the most surprising to me. I had been on a journey for quite some time, and even though I was raised in a more conservative tradition, I had been drawn to people who were pushing the boundaries, asking tough questions, and inviting dialogue. Engaging in theology was not new.

The most surprising experience has been an introduction to contemplative spirituality and the idea and importance of spiritual formation. I had spent several years wrestling through many beliefs and views (my embedded theology) and had largely lived in my head. I think that was necessary for a time, as many of the beliefs I was given as a child no longer made sense to me. I grasped for something that worked and eventually realized that my beliefs, views, and ways of seeing the world will always be changing, evolving, and growing.  I think I’m coming to a point where I’m ok with that, and I think that is largely due to contemplative spirituality.

One of the first classes I took at CST was a class called Spiritual Practices. We engaged in different forms of prayer, meditation, and ways of engaging with Scripture that I had not done before. This opened up a lot for me. I always felt that meditation was for the few “elite” or those monks, and was never all that interested. Then I realized that true formation comes much more from surrender, from mystery, from experiencing wonder, and from releasing my attachment to all things (including my beliefs), than from developing a clear and systematic theology. My spiritual formation classes have become the one’s I have most enjoyed so far, and I look forward to taking a couple more before the end.

I understand that everything forms us. Education forms us deeply, and that has been a large part of my spiritual formation, one I am very grateful for at CST. How one is educated is a part of spiritual formation, and I have been educated alongside of those with diverse views, diverse ethnic and geographic areas, as well as people of different religions than mine. Surely this has all shaped me deeply. My beliefs have shaped me, my experiences have shaped me, my lifestyle (including diet) has shaped me, my friendships have shaped me and the list goes on and on. Yet, at the center of all this is contemplative spirituality, and I am becoming more convinced that this is perhaps the most needed thing in our polarized world of conservative/liberal, religious/non-religious, republican/democrat, etc. At the very least, it is what I seem to most need.

The idea of trying to “convert” others to my way of thinking is less and less interesting. The idea of arguing or debating about the correct doctrine, belief, or religion is less and less interesting. Sure, I still think there are destructive views out there that should be exposed, but what I am finding even more interesting is the idea of becoming a more healthy, whole, and compassionate human and helping others do the same. Instead of seeing different religions as either right or wrong, I see within each system either healthy or unhealthy – mature or immature – ways of being. The healthy or mature ways bring about a more loving, whole, and compassionate human…no matter what religion, belief, or world view they come from. My experience also suggests this to be true. I have met plenty of prickly, judgemental, and self-righteous Christians and some loving and compassionate people who are not Christian.

So, despite a theological shift, the thing that has most surprised me has been a curiosity and formational experience with contemplative spirituality. I went to an education center to realize that education, while being a part of formation, is not the only part or even the main part of spiritual formation.

I plan to write in the near future why I believe contemplative spirituality is so important.

Spirituality is about seeing

All religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. That’s what religion is for. That’s why the Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, “Be awake.” [1]

It is unfortunate that for many religion has tended to teach people “what to see rather than how to see.”[2] Some people are drawn to religion because they are trying to make sense of the world. Some want security, and often they believe this is found in certainty. Thus, we see in our world today, a whole lot of religious people who “split hairs” over theological issues, doctrine, and truth claims, all the while missing the point entirely! Religion is not the same as spirituality, but healthy religion develops spirituality – they are not mutually exclusive.

What is spirituality?

Spirituality is about seeing. It’s not about earning or achieving. It’s about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows. You don’t need to push the river, because you are in it.[3]

Spirituality is about seeing, and religion should be the forms, rituals, and communities that help people see.

See what?

See the Divine, Ultimate Reality, the Sacred in all things, to see that everything is connected. To see that we are all living in this Sacred Presence or this Flow.

Religion should help foster this awareness, informing us that this already exists, but much of religion has instead produced forms, rituals and communities that try to control what people see, how people see, and what they cannot see. In essence, some feel the need to control and push “the river” rather than inviting people to see and enjoy the river. You don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops, pray for hours each day, attend church every Sunday, or read Scripture ever day in order to see and enjoy the river. Your don’t need religion in order to be spiritual, but healthy religion can deeply enhance this “seeing.”

The difference between healthy and unhealthy religion has to do with control. Unhealthy religion tries to control what you believe and what you see. Healthy religion understands that whatever the Source of all things is (God, Ultimate Reality, the Universe, the Sacred), it is ultimately Mystery and cannot be contained.

Religion…has not tended to create honest humble people who trust that God is always beyond them. We aren’t focused on the great mystery. Rather, religion has tended to create people who think they have God in their pockets, people with quick, easy, glib answers. That’s why so much of the West is understandably abandoning religion. People know the great mystery cannot be that simple and facile.[4]

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Perhaps God is not so much a “being out there” who can be clearly defined, contained, understood, and controlled as much as God is a flow – or a dance – we are all invited into. Perhaps God is more like a sunrise on a beautiful morning. When those first rays of sunlight hit your face, something beautiful happens. For a moment, you feel at peace. You feel connected, centered, and invited into something far deeper than yourself. It is Mystery – you cannot describe, contain, or control the Sun. It’s simply there for you to enjoy.

 

 

[1] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, 29.

[2] Quote taken from Richard Rohr.

[3] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, 33.

[4] Ibid., 35-36.

The False Self

We all have both a True Self and a False Self.

Being able to tell the difference is everything.

Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves…There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness.               – Thomas Merton

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My spiritual journey has lead me to contemplation, which seems to be the best route (the only route I have found) that exposes the False Self and helps you walk into your True Self – the core of spirituality.

According to one of my favorite authors, Fr. Richard Rohr, In contemplative prayer we move beyond language to experience God as Mystery. We let go of our need to judge, defend, or evaluate…During contemplation we come to know that there is no separation between sacred and secular. All is one with Divine Reality.

The spiritual journey is meant to be a pathway to discover our True Self – that self that is hidden within, often behind the mask of our False Self. The False Self is that part of us that we prop up that makes us look good to others, hence the image of a mask. It is not actually who we are (our True Self), it is something we hide behind, but it is something we unconsciously fight to keep propped up so we don’t have to deal with all the junk within. If I can’t be as good, smart, or successful as I want to be, I at least want others to think that I am.

The path to uncovering the False Self means we have to be honest and vulnerable in order to expose the weak part of us – no one likes this!

In The Gift of Being Yourself, Psychologist David Benner writes Our false self is built on an inordinate attachment to an image of our self that we think makes us special…Initially the masks we adopt reflect how we want others to see us…Few things are more difficult to discern and dismantle than our most cherished illusions. And none of our illusions are harder to identify than those that lie at the heart of our false self. The false self is like the air we breathe. We have become so accustomed to its presence that we are no longer aware of it.”

The False Self is an illusion, an illusion that is prevalent in every person, and is largely unrecognized. While many non religious people are unaware, religion can actually be a place that bolsters the False Self. I think this happens more times than not.

Immature or lower levels of religion prop up the False Self by creating more labels, divisions, doctrines, and dual (either/or) ways of thinking. Contemplation slowly breaks down these walls and divisions and brings a non dual (both/and) awareness. Often the False Self is that part that feeds off certainty and security. No wonder the False Self is well fed in the religious mind!

  • How do you expose the False Self?

Ask yourself what you feel the need to constantly defend and there you will find the False Self.

Those things, ideas, beliefs, images we are attached to are sure signs of our False Self, hidden within. Dr. Benner writes, “the false self needs constant bolstering. Touchiness dependably points us to false ways of being. And the more prickly a person you are, the more you are investing in the defense of a false self.”

Do you feel the need to consistently defend your own self-importance, self-worth, intelligence, success, views, or beliefs?

Those things we are attached to  are obstacles to finding our True Self – that part that doesn’t need to defend, compare, divide, or fight against. These attachments keep us from becoming vulnerable and keep us from dealing with our own shame, insecurities, and feelings of inadequacy.

My own journey as lead me to uncover my False Self in unexpected ways – in my own insecurities and feelings of inadequacies. I want so badly to appear smart, intelligent, accomplished, and put together. I constantly, and most often unconsciously, compare myself to others who are smarter than I, more charismatic than I, and the list can go on and on.

One of the most helpful tools I have discovered along the way is something called the Enneagram (I will share more about this in the future). I will also share steps to take to enter more fully into your True Self, or at least the path I am on, which is largely a path of knowing and accepting.

Stay tuned!

 

 

Post charismatic?

I grew up in the charismatic Christian tradition, which basically means I saw a lot of crazy stuff. I still remember my parents talking about the “Toronto Blessing” in 1994, and while I was very young, it altered my life. My family switched from a Baptist church to a charismatic church and then the real fun began.

What does it mean to be a charismatic?

On one hand I have no idea. On the other hand, and in my definition, it means to focus on God’s Spirit – particularly the “baptism of the Spirit” – which resulted in something we called “speaking in tongues.” We were the right, correct, and highly blessed ones who really got it (sound familiar?). On top of that we often prophesied over each other (by prophesy I don’t mean what I now think it means, I mean speaking insight about the persons personal life or future events), laid hands on each others (something I still think is powerful, but for different reasons), and sometimes were “slain in the spirit” or “drunk in the spirit.” Yes, it is all just as weird (or weirder) than it sounds.

hillsong-church-london

I still remember a time I went to a “revival” meeting in the heart of the Bible belt – Oklahoma City – and seeing many fall to the ground as the speaker “blew” or “breathed out” (drawing from Scripture – though in a very odd way) God’s Spirit on people. I also recall the speaker sharing how his wife was “drunk in the spirit” more often then not, which caused me to wonder why God would cause such a peculiar thing to happen. For some reason it was not ok to get drunk on alcohol, but it was ok to be drunk off God, even though both people acted the same way? Bizarre.

Needless to say I left that tradition, and quite honestly I don’t speak of it often because it’s truly a phenomenon.  So I have been a closet post-charismatic for some time.

Someone recently asked me how I have handled my former charismatic teachings and experiences, which has caused me to reflect on ways it has influenced me and informed how I live today. I’m sure I don’t know many of the ways this tradition has influenced me, but I’m certain it has.

I have always been drawn to “experiencing” God – what I would have formerly called “intimacy with God” – and still feel fairly comfortable with that language, though I don’t think I would use it myself. As I reflect upon my upbringing, knowing that I am deeply formed by my tradition, I realize that there has always been this drive to “know” God. By “know” I mean somehow experience God, God’s presence, God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Perhaps this is also part of my personality, in that I am a “feeler” and deeply intuitive, though I don’t always have the language to articulate the “what” or “how” of my feelings. I also have a deep longing for depth, holistic living and seeing, and understanding the interconnection of all things.

I have been drawn to the Mystical tradition, finding people like Thomas Merton, Rumi, Richard Rohr, and others fascinating. I see that many of the great mystics were bound by their consciousness, their culture, their worldviews, and their language, yet I find something deep and peaceful in their writings. It speaks to me on a deeper, almost soulish, level.

I recently listened to a podcast by the liturgist here, where they interviewed one of my favorites, Richard Rohr. Rohr reflects on ways the charismatics may have gotton it right, and ways they may have missed it, but it was insightful for me to hear.

I don’t use the word post-charismatic, though I have undoubtedly been deeply influenced, for good or ill, by this tradition. What I am most thankful for is that this has caused a longing within me to experience the divine in my life, but this tradition would have never have known all the ways I might have experience the divine that would not fit neatly into their theological boxes, labels, or categories.

In a way, it taught me how to see; then when I began to see things in different ways, it had no idea what to do.

So, my charismatic upbringing has prepared me to launch into the deep, to experience God in unexpected places, and to see things in new and deep ways. While I may not be a charismatic, and I may not have a worldview that aligns with theirs, I have realized that it is a part of who I am and while it is something I may have moved through, it is also something I have included. For that, I am grateful.