Month: February 2016
A Lenten Journey, decease part 3: Supper with Satan
I don’t know who said that if you want to know someone, drugstore invite them to dinner, but in my experience it’s been true. Breaking bread and sharing some wine creates a convivial atmosphere conducive to revealing our ideas, hopes, dreams, and fears to one another.
During his time in the desert, Jesus doesn’t exactly dine with the Devil, but they do get to know a lot about each other. During this part of our Lenten journey, I’d like us to consider that the devil is nothing to be afraid of—and that, in fact, there is no devil. At least, not the way we in the West classically think of the devil as an individual entity.
The longest of the temptation stories is found in Matthew (4.1-11), with a virtual clone in Luke (except for a slight change of event order for narrative continuity). The story is only a single sentence in Mark (1.13), probably because Mark’s Jewish audience would have understood the underlying metaphor better than Matthew’s partially Gentile, and Luke’s extremely Gentile, audience. In all three Gospels, however, Jesus isn’t afraid of the Devil as an evil being trying to fill Hell with souls. The concept of an eternal place of punishment in the afterlife appears nowhere in the Hebrew Bible and only enters the Second Testament after decades of Hellenistic influence.
In the context of First Century Judaism, Satan isn’t the personification of evil we have turned him into today. He isn’t even an individual being. Rather, ha-satan is translated as the adversary. It is a courtroom reference made obvious in the story of Job. Ha-satan is not evil. The adversary, or an adversarial situation, is never called by a proper name. It’s always the advocate or the adversary who argues the other side of the case. Most importantly, ha-satan was thought of as any adversarial situation that inhibited spiritual growth.
Jesus isn’t battling with an evil Satan-as-fallen-angel in the desert. Jesus is having an inner conversation with situations that inhibit spiritual growth. He’s mulling over all the things with which this world tempts us: Kingship and power over human realms. The opportunity to use our spiritual gifts for our own benefit and glory rather than God’s. The temptation to make life purely about material gain and physical happiness rather than about living in Christ Consciousness (constant awareness of the powerful and creative energy of love that creates and sustains all reality).
Satan is simply presenting these situations to Jesus as the things that can derail Jesus’ (and by extension our own) journey. In the West, we tend to view Jesus’ experience with Satan as a bad thing—but our ancient spiritual ancestors understood that all growth—especially intense spiritual growth—creates adversaries and adversarial situations.
The ancient Israelites knew that these situations, while often unfortunate, could also often be used as opportunities for spiritual growth. Slaves in Egypt? Continue to have faith in God. Surrounded by mighty empires that want to wipe Jewish culture off the face of the Earth? Have faith. God will lead you to the promised land. These obstacles are not the making of an evil adversary; they are life events. Humans are horrible to each other without any help from any devil. We find ourselves in, and create, adversarial situations all the time.
The task at hand is not to take the easy way out and say, “The Devil made me do it,” but instead to take a much more difficult approach. Invite the devil to dinner and have a long, hard, honest conversation about the temptations in our lives that are keeping God at arms length. Don’t be afraid. The Devil is an advocate for God, not against us. Any conversation, any wrestling we do with our personal ha-satans is a sign of spiritual growth, and a necessary part of our journey out of the wilderness.
Meditation: I AM filled with the consciousness of Christ.
crash against the desert of my mind, sales
ending a drought of indifference, ampoule
plunging me into
a sea of introspection.
Compelled to wonder, ailment
I see spinning universes
of red and blue
forming into a compassionate
and somewhat bemused visage.
Your mouth spreads
into an enormous grin,
revealing so many new worlds
that my senses cannot keep up.
I am overflowing with excitement,
I stop thinking
and solely experience.
[pause to experience the creation of new worlds]
Once I let go,
you carry me
on a journey of discovery.
I’m no longer observing
what is happening;
I am part of what’s happening.
I am the formation of a new world.
I am the explosion of a star
into a billion new realities.
I am consciously aware
of every conscious being
in actualities too numerous to count.
[pause to experience the consciousness of all life]
Carried along on your creative wave,
I cry uncontrollably
as each teardrop creates
a new world teeming with life.
Has this been within me all along?
Why have you waited so long
to reveal yourself?
Why have I waited so long
to invite you into my heart?
Now, alive with love,
aware of the infinite unity
of the being of all being,
I enter all of my days
as a new creation:
beloved and loved,
taught to teach,
to ask even more.
is a life fully lived.
A life fully lived
is a life lived conscientiously.
In constant relationship with you,
my nameless everything,
my every named thing,
I am driven to be different,
to act and think differently,
so that eventually
we might all come to understand
May waves of love
the deserts of our minds,
A Lenten Journey, pharmacy part 2: Finding Transcendence
I often escaped to the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City, ailment Utah, to enjoy some peaceful and God-filled moments. One spring day, the little yellow and purple flowers that would eventually form a carpet across the ground were just beginning to bloom. The sky had a crisp, clean snap to it, willowy wisps of clouds gently relaxing against a clear blue canvas that extended beyond the horizon.
The entire serene scene, rather than lulling me into a state of ecstatic trance, slapped me across the face like my mother catching me with my hand in the cookie jar (that’s just an analogy, my mom never struck me, even when she caught me with my hand in the cookie jar). At that moment, I realized that no matter how big the city or how busy our lives, there is always a wilderness to which we can escape. Anyone can drop out of society entirely (and I admit the thought remains quite tempting). I think it’s much tougher to stay in the world and find ways to transcend it.
What is transcendence? Most definitions are supernatural and involve learning how to experience a world beyond the sensory. Transcendence is often defined as extrasensory. While I don’t disagree with those definitions, I think they make the idea of transcendence too ethereal.
As we continue our Lenten journey attempting to find wilderness moments within our world, not apart from it, so too should transcendence be our goal here and now, within our physical reality, not apart from it.
To me, the idea of a transcended being—like Jesus or Buddha, is an example for the rest of us. Jesus and Buddha were humans who managed to see beyond the materialism that keeps our world stuck in an endless cycle of war and poverty. They did this by connecting to the Infinite Oneness of all being, which Buddha described as Nirvana and Jesus called Father—the most intimate term he could imagine for a God that is part and parcel of our humanity. Our current understanding of being human keeps too many people impoverished. It creates (and even rewards) greed and selfishness. It fails to see the Divine in all beings.
When we are transcended—when we even take the first small steps on that journey, things change. If we use Jesus sand Buddha and anyone else who inspires us, as examples, we willingly enter a wilderness time and allow answers and new ways of being human to fill our souls.
Transcendence comes one small step at a time. Perhaps most importantly, transcendence allows us to experience and co-create a world of peace, love, compassion and equality.
Meditation: I transcend the false ideas of limitation, lack, and separation from God and humankind.
A Lenten Journey, part 1: Finding Wilderness in the Midst of Chaos
Throughout history, people have left the chaos of life to enter a place of quiet stillness. When I was in college in Salt Lake City, Utah, my dream was to find a monastery somewhere; to escape from “civilization” and live a life more deeply connected to God. I always experienced God’s energy more powerfully in the mountains surrounding Salt Lake than in the city itself, although it’s a beautiful city with great energy. Still, I rarely felt God in the hustle and bustle of the city. Today, I love the noises, smells, architecture, food, and sights of cities, but at that time, there was a disconnect between the extreme humanness of everything happening in Salt Lake and the astounding divinity I felt in nature.
It would take years for me to connect to God in every space I found myself—years examining the wilderness of my soul until I started to realize that God is everywhere, only waiting to be discovered. Cities, mountains, beaches, forests, and especially people, all contain God and emit God’s loving, transcendent energy in some way. I still struggle with that idea, of course, especially when confronted with people or situations that get on my nerves—for example, driving in Naples during season. The fact my horn still works is a small miracle.
Seeing the presence of God in the people and situations that get on our nerves is incredibly trying. Yet, it’s the only way to eliminate the annoyances. For practice, pick any politician that drives you to yell at the television. Now look deeply for God in that person. There is perhaps no more revelatory a moment than discovering the presence of God in the people we think are devoid of any Godlike qualities. However, there is no such thing as a Godless person. There is only our lack of ability to see beyond our own prejudices and annoyances to the God within all beings and all things. It’s easy to berate someone with whom we disagree. Analyzing what it is about ourselves that causes that disagreement is much more challenging.
Self-analysis is difficult. It takes brutal honesty to scrutinize the habits and ideas in our lives that disrupt our God connection. As humans, we become set in our ways, comfortable with certain activities. We are creatures of habit, and most of us live by a very strict schedule. Coffee in the morning, go to work, do our jobs, drink more coffee, take a quick lunch break (in the United States, a lunch break that is often only 30 minutes long), have some more coffee, go back to work and drink more coffee. There’s a reason we call it “the grind.”
To break these habits means finding wilderness moments throughout the day. Unless you work in the mountains or on the beach, it’s pretty difficult to take a break from work and go to the mountains or the beach. So years ago I started finding mountains (my preferred meditation spaces) wherever I could.
When I worked in the corporate world, one of my favorite tricks was escaping to the bathroom. I’d lock the door and meditate for five minutes. To the outside world, it seemed like a bathroom break. For me, it was the rejuvenation I needed to finish the day filled with light and serenity. It was the recalibration I needed to see God even in the people that were annoying me. More importantly, those meditation breaks helped me center and realize that merely trying to see God in everyone made a drastic difference in my annoyance level.
When we see God within another human being, especially one we believe we are in conflict with, there is a palpable change in energy flow and all the barriers and resistance to right relationship we’ve been experiencing melt away.
Working more diligently to find God in the annoying spaces, so there are fewer annoying spaces, is part of my Lenten journey. How about yours?
Meditation: I see wilderness moments for re-centering in unexpected and unusual places throughout my day.
Today is the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. For most of the modern era, Lent has been understood as a time to give something up—usually something material like chocolate or meat. While letting go of something can certainly be an effective spiritual practice, giving up something simply to go through the action of giving up something is not enough. There is nothing effective about giving up chocolate for 40 days unless there is some spiritual meaning to the act.
In reality, it’s not necessary to give anything up during Lent. There are no “rules” in the Bible about Lent. Lent isn’t even mentioned in the Bible (not directly, anyway). The entire idea of a 40-day Lenten season is a religious fabrication. This does not necessarily mean it’s a bad fabrication (although religion has certainly created plenty of those).
The practice of a 40-day period before Easter first started soon after the Roman Empire established Christianity as the state religion. With a sudden influx of many new converts, Christians used the idea of a 40-day fast and period of deep reflection as a way to teach people about the religion and as a show of solidarity. Even today, many new initiates into Christianity begin their journey toward baptism during Lent. What has been largely lost in the modern era, however, is the period of deep reflection that historically accompanied the fast.
The Lenten season is based on the description of Jesus’ time in the wilderness found in Mark, Matthew and Luke. Mark’s version, the oldest, is simple, consisting of only two lines: At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (TNIV). In the ancient world, all hero stories involved tests, and these tests typically involved penance. For example, the prototypical hero Heracles (later Romanized as Hercules) undergoes 12 labors as penance for killing his family. The number 12 is significant (of course). In the ancient world (and even today in some mystical traditions), 12 signified cosmic order and self-sacrifice. It’s no accident that in the Jesus stories, there are 12 disciples. Jesus also represents cosmic order and self-sacrifice. Jesus, the hero, must also be tested.
I believe that Marks’ reason for giving Jesus this 40-day testing period, other than being the literary tradition of the time, is also to remind the reader that all life-changing journeys require struggle and sacrifice. There will always be temptations that distract us from the path of mystical and spiritual progress. Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness is a brilliant metaphor for the encounters we all face not only in our own wilderness times, but also every single day of our complicated 21st Century lives. Remember, too, that Satan is not intended to be taken as a literal being, but is instead representative of all the temptations life throws at us that often separate us from realizing we are all incarnations of God.
Make this season of reflection a time to discern the habits, people, and sure, even the foods in your life that are preventing you from making spiritual progress. Use this time to remember that as each of us grows more aware of our God-connection, the entire world is made lighter and more loving. If we are on a journey with Jesus, a journey that transforms each of us into a Christ, then this journey toward Easter (a time of ascendancy, not death) we begin today is perhaps the most important of our lives.
Meditation: Lead me not into temptation, but into a higher state of conscious awareness of God within and around all things, all beings, all the time.
Holy and loving God, doctor
your capacity to love has no limits.
We come into your presence today
in awesome wonder
of your ceaseless love.
Inspire us to love others
as completely as you love us.
We are continually encouraged
by the way you work through us, pharmacy
enabling us to bring aid
to those in need around the world.
Thank you, illness Holy Presence,
for the generous and useful gifts
you bestow upon each of us.
May we use them in service to you
and the creation of a world
more reflective of your divine compassion.
As the life of Jesus Christ shows us,
generosity and compassion
are not only available to all of us,
they are our very nature.
We are at our finest
when we serve each other.
Guide us and nourish our souls,
God we love most dearly,
as we do our best to be examples of love
in this too-often loveless world.
We humbly ask you,
God of all healing energies,
to envelop in your tender embrace
all those around the world
suffering from natural disasters,
and dis-ease of every kind.
May our loved ones, strangers,
and those we unfortunately
come to know that you, God,
are the unified field
of love and energy
that creates each of us,
and that continues to sustain
everything in the universe.
We pray that
you constantly help us understand you
in new and deeper ways
that enable us
to become co-creators
of a more equitable and loving world
for all your children,
on every corner of this planet.
In your many glorious names we pray, Amen.
Holy God, ed
Creator and Sustainer of all things, search
fill my soul,
and my body
with Universal Conscious Awareness
of my interconnectedness with all beings.
I pray for
an expanded understanding
of what it means to call you Creator.
Help me see you
as the creative energy
that is all things in the universe,
rather than a mad scientist
in an alien laboratory.
Through that awareness,
may I understand that
all people are made from God.
All people are God.
Move me to realize that,
if all people are God,
then all people must be treated
with compassion and love.
All people must have food
and deserve respect.
If all people are God,
then all people are to be welcomed
into my country,
my loving arms.
What does it mean to call you Creator?
It means you are
the underlying consciousness
of all being
all being deserves my love and acceptance.
Make me understand you as
Sustainer of all things—
As the fundamental building block
of the physical universe.
Make me acutely aware
that you are the meta,
the underlying principle and force
of all physicality,
in this and every world.
Help me know the presence of God
as the very fabric of the universe—
A creative force of love
that vibrates so intensely
it sustains all physical reality
by creating music we can touch,
taste, hear, see, and smell.
We are the notes
of a universal symphony,
loved into being
and sustained by
the celestial ringing of the stars.
What does it mean
to call you Sustainer?
It means your song of songs
is the harmonic resonance
of my life,
all life deserves love and acceptance.
I pray that today
and every day,
more people will awaken
to the quantum meta realization
of you as our Creator and Sustainer,
and that more hearts and minds will be opened
to the idea that
we are more than one people,
even more than one people of God.
We are simply One.