We sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that if we just keep on doing something a little bit harder, and a little bit longer, we’ll get the results we’re looking for. Instead of changing strategies by first evaluating our current strategy that clearly isn’t working, we insist on simply doing more of the same thing but with greater energy. Here are five questions to ask yourself to evaluate whether what you’re doing is the most effective current strategy.
In my last post, I introduced the concept about rivers being viewed by spiritual and religious traditions as metaphors and symbols for the spiritual life. I described the basic journey of the river, beginning in the mountains and ultimately emptying into the sea. Rivers and Spiritual Growth
So what does the river’s journey tell us about spiritual growth? Let me suggest four secrets.
First, The Source of life is Sacred, which makes all of life Sacred. The flow of life is Sacred. There is a holy purpose to our lives, to our journey. Everything we have done and do has a Sacred dimension to it.
That’s why for so many spiritual traditions the process of spirituality is awakening, paying attention to life as Sacred, learning how to encounter and embrace the Divine in every experience of life. St. Augustine once wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Life is about connecting, reconnecting with—acknowledging, honoring—our Sacred Source.
Second, All individuals are from the same Source, which makes everyone Sacred. A River is a combining of individual streams into one flow. So if the Source is Sacred, then every individual is Sacred, too. Which means that healthy spirituality is about recognizing the Sacredness of every person we encounter.
That’s what giving the Blessing is all about—remember we’ve talked about that spiritual practice before? Giving the Blessing to another is acknowledging the divine goodness in that person, no matter who he or she is, and calling it out of that person by affirming it and honoring it. That’s what the Hindu greeting “Namaste” means—“The divine goodness in me honors and greets the divine goodness in you.”
Spirituality cannot be healthy and grow without this significant recognition and embrace. That’s why healthy spirituality must involve an outward focus, not just an inward one. We have the divine joy of looking at others and calling out, honoring their Sacredness. Life is about helping others embrace their own divine goodness. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone looked at others in this light, instead of constantly judging or criticizing or labeling or condemning.
That’s why the Bible ends with the beautiful picture of one God, one City, one River that nourishes one People—everyone being vitalized and revitalized by the same Source forever!
Third, Spirituality is not a straight line, it has twists and turns. It’s amazing how often we label the twists and turns of our lives as bad, harmful, negative, detours, even “not God’s will.” Right?
The reality is that no river runs straight. Every river has twists and turns. And here’s what really impresses me: according to the experts, “The twists and turns are Nature's way of keeping Her life-giving Waters healthy: they create the eddies that aerate the Water which is so vital to the nourishment and preservation of all the people, animals and vegetation which rely on the River for sustenance.”
The very things that we think damage us and therefore should be avoided at all costs in fact can keep us healthy—they aerate our lives—bring more oxygen into our system which actually revitalizes us.
What would it be like to approach what you consider to be a “twist and turn” in your life and ask yourself, “How can this experience aerate—that is, bring more life into—my spirituality? What can I learn about myself through this? How will I allow this to expand my life rather than diminish it?”
It’s interesting when it comes to rivers—there are those enthusiasts, like kayakers and rafters, who live for the mad and bellowing, raging rapids. I took a trip years ago, a rafting trip, right through the famed Hells Canyon on the Snake River. Wow, I gotta tell you—I certainly wouldn’t have considered myself anywhere close to a hard-core rafter—but that trip was high adrenaline and amazingly enlivening, to put it mildly. We went through one chute, our guide manning the rudder or back end of our raft, all of us paddling for our lives, and slammed head on into a huge boulder. One of the guys in the raft got thrown out. I about had a heart attack! But we finally got through and ultimately to quieter water. The guy who had been spit out of the dragon’s mouth beat us to the finish line, fortunately unhurt but emerging from the water shaking from head to toe.
There are people who love that stuff and go for class 6 whitewater rapids all the time! The twists and turns and rapids have a way of focusing you pretty quickly. You emerge on an adrenaline high from sheer gratitude that you made it! Colors look a lot deeper.
I read this statement recently from Gregg Levoy’s book Callings. He’s quoting philosopher and psychotherapist Karlfried Graf Durkheim. “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible arise within us. In this lies the dignity of daring. We must have the courage to face life, to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.” (p. 258)
Every myth or legend has a hero or heroine who ends up facing some kind of a dragon or monster that represents what they deeply fear. They have to face it and fight it before they can fulfill their destiny. The fight is always brutal and fierce. They don’t know if they’ll come out victorious but they fight on. We wouldn’t watch movies or read books if the stories didn’t have these twists and plots, right?
The author is referring to the importance of facing our fears and risks associated with following our purpose in life. When you are able to face your fear, which often involves a fear of failing or, as the philosopher put it, the feeling like you’re going to be “annihilated"--the fear of losing yourself and being forgotten--you allow the courage inside you to emerge. You find out that you are in fact bold. You can face life and encounter what you didn’t think you had it in you to survive. That’s not only focusing, it’s empowering! Not only does facing this fear cause you to not lose yourself, you actually end up finding your true self.
Levoy says that “Fear is a signal that you’re close to something vital and that your calling is worthy of you.” (p. 257)
The twists and turns and rapids of life produce fear which informs us of what’s truly important to us. And they give us opportunity to do something about what’s important to us—to act on what is vital to us.
Healthy spirituality is about being willing to embrace every stage of and section of our Life River—to learn more deeply about ourselves and the nature of life from the quiet times, from the broad, open expanses like lakes, as well as from the twists and turns and swirling eddies. Spirituality involves all of those sections and times and stages. Just like with rivers, life without all these diverse experiences keep our spirituality from stagnating (as opposed to the river ending in a pond with no outlet). Our health demands all this diversity for growth.
And four, Spirituality is learning the art of effective change management. Have you ever stood on a bridge over a river and looked down at the flowing water? It’s almost mesmerizing, isn’t it. Has a kind of hypnotic effect. One thing you can’t help but notice is that you never see the same water twice. That’s where we get the euphemism from: “It’s all water under the bridge.” In other words, everything changes so let it go.
Heraclitus of Ephesus, the 5th century BC Greek philosopher, famous for his doctrine of change being central to the Universe, wrote: "You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you."
Change is inherent in life and spirituality. Healthy spirituality is about learning how to steward change effectively. It involves two vital choices. One, letting the old go. And two, embracing the new. Just like we do when we watch a river—we see water go, and we see new water come. We really don’t have any control over that flow. We simply accept what it is and choose our response to it.
This is why many of the effective spiritual practitioners tell their adherents to do their spiritual practices by the river—so they can observe this flow and learn the art of acceptance. Like we have to do with our thoughts during meditation—we observe them and then let them go, without paying undue attention by focusing on them and obsessing on them. Letting them go peacefully and respectfully. It’s all water under the bridge; nothing you can do about it; let it go.
Isn't this what the Serenity Prayer is all about? Those in recovery have learned to repeat this prayer regularly, sometimes even hourly and even minute by minute to stay focused: "God grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change; COURAGE to change the things I can; and WISDOM to know the difference.”
So to build a healthy, vital, growing spirituality, we learn to ask ourselves some very important questions:
- What do I learn about myself through my responses to the different ups and downs of my life?
- What are the stories I tell myself about loss and grief and pain that end up shaping my responses to them?
- What does my fear tell me about what in that situation is important to me?
- How can I allow these “whitewater rapids” to produce greater spiritual health in me, to aerate my life?
I would invite you to spend some alone time, reflecting on these questions. Perhaps even journal your responses. It helps to bring thoughtful intentionality to your spiritual path.
I love the story in the Hebrew Bible of Namaan, the commander of the Syrian army. Israel and Syria are bitter enemies, both fighting to exterminate the threat of the other. Both fighting to prove their God is the stronger god. Life in those days is all about the battle of the Gods.
Namaan ends up getting leprosy, a horrible skin disease with no cure. He’s horrified and ashamed and fearful. The little servant girl in his home is and Israelite girl who sees his condition and tells her mistress that Namaan should go see her prophet Elisha who could heal him.
So he swallows his pride and ends up going. The Hebrew prophet tells him to go to the Jordan River and wash himself seven times and he would be healed. Namaan is infuriated! “What?? Who does this Jew think he is, asking me to go to the Jew’s sacred river, a dirty river at that, when we have our own more beautiful, more sacred rivers than theirs!!! “I don’t care if he is a holy man! Forget this business! I’m going home!”
But his officers reason with him, saying, “Come on, sir, how hard can it be to do this simple thing? If the prophet had asked you do a great thing, you’d have happily done it. You should go to the Jordan River!”
So Namaan again swallows his pride and goes. He stands there watching the dirty water flow by. He’s angry inside. His ego is strong. He says, “This is not the water I want! But it’s what I have. Here I am. So I will step into the flow of this river, trusting in the Sacred Invitation, this Sacred moment right here, right now, and immerse myself in it, and then I’ll leave.”
“So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God has instructed him. And his flesh became as healthy as a young child’s, and he was healed!” (2 Kings 5:14)
The very thing that Namaan was repulsed by, the very thing that represented something he didn’t want any part of, something he thought would humiliate him, that which seemed the most humbling thing for him to do, was the instrument of healing and transformation for him. The Sacred River of life.
The River of Spirituality is about laying down our egos, embracing that which often we cannot understand or have a difficulty accepting, and with courage choosing to step into Its flow and immerse ourselves in that Water. Who knows what kind of healing and transformation might result? Acknowledge the Sacredness of life, honor the Sacred in all others, accept the twists and turns as tools for growth, and choose to step into the flow of Now with peace, courage, wisdom, and hope.
What do you think?
"Self care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch." - Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
It’s interesting how often people feel tinges of guilt when they take time for themselves away from what they feel are their “more important” life responsibilities like family, work, church, civic duties. It’s interesting how some people think that devoting time to understanding themselves more deeply, processing their internal issues and responses to various life situations, evaluating themselves is a waste of time or at best “naval gazing” which implies that it’s an activity that produces nothing of value other than a narcissistic endeavor.
Do you ever struggle with those paradigms?
I am by nature a self-reflective person (an NF in the Myers Briggs sorter, a Type 4 in the Enneagram). I get energized by going through the process of understanding my self with increasing clarity. I could be considered by some a self-assessment and personal growth junky. Well, maybe that’s overstating it a bit. But I do put a premium on this process and journey. Does that make me or others like me narcissistic? Hmmm. Depends.
Our use of the word narcissism comes from the Greek mythological figure Narcissus. As the legend goes, Narcissus was a rugged hunter renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. As a divine punishment, he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, not realizing it was merely his own image. And he wasted away to death, not being able to leave the beauty of his own reflection.
This Greek myth has been immortalized in literature, poetry, art, music, and even psychology. It tends to refer to the negative human obsession with self, to get caught up in self-absorption, to be filled with vanity and pride at the expense of others. Narcissus is never a hero, always a warning.
Psychology has labeled narcissism as one of the personality disorders that some people suffer from. French writer Marie-Henri Beyle (who used the pen name Stendhal), in his novel Le Rouge et le Noir (1830), described the classic narcissist in the character of Mathilde:
“She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn't know you. During the two or three little outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favor, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you really are.”
Many of us know people like Mathilde. When we’re around them we never feel truly “seen” or “known” because life is always about them. They seem incapable of moving past themselves to paying attention to others. Narcissism.
But gazing into the pool of your personal reflection (looking into the mirror) is by itself not narcissism. We need to have those authentic, honest times of healthy self reflection. Dr. Parker Palmer refers to this important aspect of self care as “good stewardship of the only gift I have,” the gift of my self to the world. If I’m not willing to spend time caring for my self, understanding my self, helping to bring more wholeness to my self, working to remove negative obstacles to my true self, than I won’t be able to give my best gift of self to the world. I will wound others rather than lift them up. I won’t be able to truly “see” them (like Mathilde) because I’ll be caught up in my own ego with all its insecurities (I admittedly have a lot to work on here). The touch I bring to others will be hurtful rather than helpful. And the world loses out. And so do I.
So what are you doing for your self care? Do you ever feel guilty when you take time for your self? How would you rate your stewardship of self? Do you have an intentional self care plan you’re working this year? How are you showing up in the world these days? Giving your best self? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
So are there any spiritual vaccinations to bring protection and healing to the spiritual diseases we can fall victim to described in my last blog (10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases)? Let me suggest several. David R. Hawkins (MD, PhD) for the last several decades has been on the leading edge of the science of behavioral kinesiology which is the study of the relationship between thoughts-feelings and muscle strength. Research repeatedly shows that our consciousness has a powerful impact on our bodies - some thoughts and feelings make our bodies go strong, others make us go weak.
If you haven't already, you can experiment with yourself and a partner. You stand erect, your right arm relaxed at your side, your left arm held out parallel to the floor with the elbow straight and both hands open. Your tester faces you and places his left hand on your right shoulder to steady you. He then puts his right hand on your extended arm just above the wrist. Now, he tells you that he is going to try to push your arm down as you resists. He quickly and firmly pushes down on the arm, just hard enough to test the spring and bounce in the arm, but not so hard that the muscle becomes fatigued. This is simply to test your basic resistance level with a neutral stimulus.
The testing continues with you holding a negative thought about yourself in your mind - what is a limited belief about yourself that you tell yourself from time to time? Think about it and the negative feelings associated with it, hold it in your mind as your partner tests your muscle strength. Repeat the testing with a positive statement about yourself that you hold in your mind. Compare the results.
The point is, our thoughts and feelings do make a powerful difference with the way our bodies respond.
Dr. Hawkins, from his extensive research, has developed what he calls a "map of consciousness" - it charts the progression of the states of thoughts/feelings from the weakest to the strongest, along with accompanying worldviews, picture of God, primary emotions, and life processes for each state.. The results are quite profound. If you click on the following Map (c), you'll see a bigger, clearer image of it.
Notice that the weakest state of thinking and feeling is shame (3rd row from the left, bottom), followed closely by guilt, apathy, grief, and on up the chart. Courage is the tipping point toward everything strong. Everything below Courage tests weak. Courage and everything above test strong.
So what does all this mean? Contemporary science is confirming what ancient science has been saying all along. Notice these ancient observations:
"Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life." (Proverbs 4:23)
"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7)
All of this science is suggesting a hugely significant spiritual reality - what we think impacts our life experience. And Dr. Hawkins has mapped out the strongest kind of thoughts and feelings - courage, trust, willingness, acceptance/forgiveness, reason/understanding, love, joy, peace, enlightenment. This list, describing the attributes of a strong life, are mirrored in another piece of ancient wisdom which describes the attributes of the divine life. Notice the parallels:
"So what does living the divine life look like? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others (love), exuberance about life (joy), serenity (peace). We develop a willingness to stick with things (patience), a sense of compassion in the heart (kindness), and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people (goodness). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments (faithfulness), not needing to force our way in life (gentleness), able to marshal and direct our energies wisely (self-control)." (Galatians 5:22-23)
According to both contemporary and ancient science, the process of life transformation involves choosing to reflect upon, contemplate, think about these powerful, divine-like traits and qualities. The very act of spending time thinking about them brings about spiritual growth and change. This is one of the primary vaccinations against the spiritually transmitted diseases I talked about in my last post.
Here's the way another piece of ancient wisdom describes this spiritual vaccination:
"Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on the divine life. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize this divine reality, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you." (Romans 12:2)
Vaccination one is to make the choice to fix our attention on the strongest qualities and attributes and thoughts and feelings in life possible. Look at that list often. Repeat it to yourself often. The very process of doing that, says Dr. Hawkins and scripture, begins to transform our thinking and feeling which in turn makes our bodies strong.
One of the ways I've done this lately is to repeat these attributes of the divine life in my prayers, going over and over each quality in my mind and heart, asking for the divine spirit to grow that "fruit" in my life. It's kind of a targeted prayer and meditation that helps to keep me focused, to fix my attention on the strength and power of the divine life. You and I can exercise our ability to choose, our willingness to experience transformation by how we direct our thoughts and feelings.
Dr. Hawkins describes the dilemma of the human struggle as well as the antidote to it in this statement: “The world of the ego is like a house of mirrors through which the ego wanders, lost and confused, as it chases the images in one mirror after another. Human life is characterized by endless trials and errors to escape the maze. At times, for many people, and possibly for most, the world of mirrors becomes a house of horrors that gets worse and worse. The only way out of the circuitous wanderings is through the pursuit of spiritual truth … At first, spiritual purification seems difficult, but eventually, it becomes natural. To consistently choose love, peace, or forgiveness leads one out of the house of mirrors. The joy of God is so exquisite that any sacrifice is worth the effort and seeming pain."
And this process leads to vaccination two. Here again contemporary and ancient science provide us with a profound and powerful transformation process.
In 1665 a Dutch Physicist and Scientist named Christian Huygens discovered what is now known in physics as the principle of entrainment. It was during his research with pendulum clocks that Huygens noted the new physics concept. He found that when he placed two of them on a wall near each other and swung the pendulums at different rates, they would eventually end up swinging at the exact same rate. They fell into rhythm with one another. He realized that this concept applied to not just pendulum clocks, but as a basic law of physics: the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony. It's easier and takes less energy for systems to work in cooperation than in opposition. So the powerful rhythmic vibrations from one source will cause less powerful vibrations of another source to lock into the vibration of the first, stronger source.
Entrainment happens all around us, all the time. It's like Newton's Law of Gravity. It just is. It occurs biologically, such as when women who spend a lot of time together find their moon cycles synchronizing. It occurs sociologically such as when people in the same cliques or communities or social groups dress and think similarly. It happens mechanically, like all of the grandfather clock pendulums in a clock shop swinging together in unison after a few days, even if they started off unsynchronized. It can be found on emotional levels too, such as what happens when you walk into a room full of people who are laughing and light-hearted and your mood magically lifts to match theirs. Even our brain waves follow this physics principle. It happens when people are subjected to certain stimulus and their brain frequencies shift to calmer states.
Here's the power of this principle when it comes to our spiritual lives. An ancient scripture describes it this way:
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all contemplate the attributes of the divine life, are being transformed into that likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)
When we deliberately and intentionally place ourselves in the presence of the divine life, as well as in the presence of those qualities being lived out in others, when we acknowledge our connection to God and reflect on the divine life and spend time in environments that reflect those qualities, we the weaker of the two energy sources are drawn into greater and greater synch with the stronger Energy which is God. The result is increasing transformation into a likeness of the divine life. The principle of physics results in profound spiritual growth. The Spirit increases our freedom to become more and more of who are designed to be.
So how's your vaccination history? Time for some more healthy antidotes?
It's so easy for me to allow my thinking to get lazy and distracted - to make an almost automatic choice to allow negative and unhealthy thoughts take over - to let my limiting beliefs about myself and others be my default mode. But the good news is that life is like standing on the train station - our thoughts are the various trains set to leave the station to their destination. When a negative trigger happens in our lives, and our automatic response tends to be to get on that negative train thought, you and I have the choice whether or not to get on the train. We can actually let that train pull away from the platform without us. We can instead choose to get on another more healthy train. And when we make that significant choice, the ride ahead is much more enjoyable - for ourselves and for the others in our lives.
So here's to getting vaccinated! And here's to getting on a good train for a good ride into the divine life!
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I took today's perceptive title from a blog post I read recently written by Dr. Mariana Caplan, an internationally acclaimed author and teacher on Western Spirituality, and a psychotherapist specializing in spiritual issues and somatic and body-centered approaches to transformation. She has an active practice in San Francisco and Marin County. You can read her whole post here. Dr. Caplan provides what I think is a helpful description of the some of the dangers inherent in the spiritual life. These are dangers that we often don't want to think about or simply don't see, especially in relation to ourselves. In the midst of our genuine desire to grow spiritually, to commit ourselves to experiencing transformation and positive change in our lives, regardless of the specific religious environment we're a part of, there are certain blind spots that have the potential of derailing our spiritual growth.
Blind spots are those places that we simply don't see but by not seeing them, we are susceptible to crashing. Remember taking driver's ed training and the teacher talking about being careful of the blind spot between what you see in your rearview mirror and what you see in your driver's side mirror. There could be a vehicle in that blind spot and if you make a lane change too quickly, you could hit that vehicle. So what are you suppose to do? You're suppose to check your mirrors first, and then look over your left shoulder to take a specific visual cue of what's actually there. And if there is in fact no vehicle there, you turn on your signal blinker and slowly make the turn. You've checked your blind spot in order to navigate safely.
The title also suggests another spiritual reality. If we aren't aware of our spiritual blind spots, not only will we hurt ourselves, we'll hurt others, too. Dr. Caplan describes these spiritual diseases as transmittable - we can infect others with our spiritual deformities. Our sneezes pass on our diseases. How significant, then, for us to be aware of our own issues and work hard to deal with them effectively. It's good for everyone in our lives! The health of a spiritual community is only as good as the health of each individual's personal spirituality.
So here are Dr. Caplan's 10 spiritually transmitted diseases. Ask yourself which one(s) you tend to suffer from.
1. Fast-Food Spirituality: "Mix spirituality with a culture that celebrates speed, multitasking and instant gratification and the result is likely to be fast-food spirituality. Fast-food spirituality is a product of the common and understandable fantasy that relief from the suffering of our human condition can be quick and easy. One thing is clear, however: spiritual transformation cannot be had in a quick fix."
And I would even add this caution for Christians: though belief in the grace of Jesus is hugely significant to building confidence and security (we can't work our way to God's favor and the Next Life - it's a gift), grace is no substitute for the intentional discipline of applying that grace to every aspect of our lives. Transformation doesn't happen in us spontaneously or magically. It takes effort, determination, and practice. Healthy, transformational spirituality cannot be purchased in a drive-through, fast-food delivery system.
2. Faux Spirituality: "Faux spirituality is the tendency to talk, dress and act as we imagine a spiritual person would. It is a kind of imitation spirituality that mimics spiritual realization in the way that leopard-skin fabric imitates the genuine skin of a leopard."
This is true because deep spirituality works from the inside out. It deals with motives and values, feelings and thoughts, not just behaviors. Even Jesus, in commenting on many of the religious professionals of his day, called them "white-washed tombs; cups that were clean on the outside but dirty on the inside." Their kind of spirituality was external only - what you see on the outside is what matters most, not who you are on the inside. That kind of spirituality was not acceptable to Jesus.
3. Confused Motivations: "Although our desire to grow is genuine and pure, it often gets mixed with lesser motivations, including the wish to be loved, the desire to belong, the need to fill our internal emptiness, the belief that the spiritual path will remove our suffering and spiritual ambition, the wish to be special, to be better than, to be 'the one.'"
Have you ever asked yourself, what tends to motivate my actions when I'm around other people? Is my spirituality being driven by healthy motivations?
4. Identifying with Spiritual Experiences: "In this disease, the ego identifies with our spiritual experience and takes it as its own, and we begin to believe that we are embodying insights that have arisen within us at certain times. In most cases, it does not last indefinitely, although it tends to endure for longer periods of time in those who believe themselves to be enlightened and/or who function as spiritual teachers."
5. The Spiritualized Ego: "This disease occurs when the very structure of the egoic personality becomes deeply embedded with spiritual concepts and ideas. The result is an egoic structure that is 'bullet-proof.' When the ego becomes spiritualized, we are invulnerable to help, new input, or constructive feedback. We become impenetrable human beings and are stunted in our spiritual growth, all in the name of spirituality."
Perhaps this explains why oftentimes it's spiritual or religious people who simply can't be argued with. They know "the truth" and they believe they're embodying it, which makes them right and everyone else wrong. They're already on "the way" so what can anyone else teach them, especially those who don't have "the truth" like they do? They've allowed their identities to become completely enmeshed with their spirituality - so if their spirituality is threatened in any way, their identity feels threatened. So they cannot allow their spirituality to be questioned. And they will fight to keep their "rightness" and certainty.
6. Mass Production of Spiritual Teachers: "There are a number of current trendy spiritual traditions that produce people who believe themselves to be at a level of spiritual enlightenment, or mastery, that is far beyond their actual level. This disease functions like a spiritual conveyor belt: put on this glow, get that insight, and -- bam! -- you're enlightened and ready to enlighten others in similar fashion. The problem is not that such teachers instruct but that they represent themselves as having achieved spiritual mastery."
Contrary to many church's religious zeal and methodology, you cannot mass produce spirituality through attempts at mass movements or mass conversions. And genuine spirituality is not a "cookie-cutter" life where everyone looks and acts and believes the same or where everyone only has to utter the same words in a simplified formula. Authentic spirituality looks different in different people. It's achieved differently because everyone is unique. Embodied spirituality
7. Spiritual Pride: "Spiritual pride arises when the practitioner, through years of labored effort, has actually attained a certain level of wisdom and uses that attainment to justify shutting down to further experience. A feeling of 'spiritual superiority' is another symptom of this spiritually transmitted disease. It manifests as a subtle feeling that 'I am better, more wise and above others because I am spiritual.'"
I find it significant that the primary spiritual teachers and leaders from the major spiritual traditions (people like Jesus, Abraham, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad) were people of great humility. Jesus commented about his spiritual life by saying, "I assure you, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing." No wonder, on the eve of his death, in an upper room where he and his disciples had gathered to celebrate the Passover meal, when it became clear that there was no servant to wash their dusty feet, he took off his outer robe, picked up a towel, and began to wash his disciples' feet. Genuine spirituality is not driven by pride but by authentic humility.
8. Group Mind: "Also described as groupthink, cultic mentality or ashram disease, group mind is an insidious virus that contains many elements of traditional co-dependence. A spiritual group makes subtle and unconscious agreements regarding the correct ways to think, talk, dress, and act. Individuals and groups infected with 'group mind' reject individuals, attitudes, and circumstances that do not conform to the often unwritten rules of the group."
Every authentic spiritual tradition encourages inclusivity and compassion as core to the spiritual life. Ironic, then, that so many religious groups develop an "insider" vs. "outside" mentality - an "us" vs. "them" worldview. "You can only be here if you become like us!"
9. The Chosen-People Complex: "The chosen people complex is not limited to Jews. It is the belief that 'Our group is more spiritually evolved, powerful, enlightened and, simply put, better than any other group.' There is an important distinction between the recognition that one has found the right path, teacher or community for themselves, and having found The One."
This deadly spiritual disease has been the motivator of countless persecutions, executions, and shunnings in the name of God. The paradigm is, "If we have been chosen, then you can't have been chosen, too. For you to be equally chosen like us, you have to join us, believe what we believe, live like us." So the whole mission of the "chosen people" is to bring everyone else into alignment with them. And if they resist, they are resisting God. So we either have to "fix" them, or walk away from them lest we get contaminated by them. This is a deeply destructive spiritual disease that can often be terminal for both parties.
10. The Deadly Virus: "I Have Arrived": "This disease is so potent that it has the capacity to be terminal and deadly to our spiritual evolution. This is the belief that 'I have arrived' at the final goal of the spiritual path. Our spiritual progress ends at the point where this belief becomes crystallized in our psyche, for the moment we begin to believe that we have reached the end of the path, further growth ceases."
I'm reminded of the super-disciple of Jesus, Paul, who once wrote about himself that he had not arrived. He was still on the journey. And so he kept his gaze on the one he was following, Jesus, in order to stay focused and remain moving forward. Spirituality is not about arriving, it's about traveling; it's about a transformational process and journey that continues one's whole life. That reality should produce great humility in us.
So which of these 10 spiritually transmitted diseases do you struggle with the most? Is there one you tend to be infected with more than the others? How does the disease manifest itself in you? What are your primary symptoms?
Dr. Caplan's partner, Marc Gafni (an author and teacher), makes this statement: "The essence of love is perception. Therefore the essence of self love is self perception. You can only fall in love with someone you can see clearly--including yourself. To love is to have eyes to see. It is only when you see yourself clearly that you can begin to love yourself."
And when you and I begin to truly love ourselves, we are empowered to love others in healthy, meaningful, and compassionate ways.
So are there any spiritual vaccinations we can take to prevent and/or heal ourselves from these spiritually transmitted diseases? In my next blog, we'll take a look at some powerful antidotes that have the potential of effecting profound, honest, authentic spiritual growth and transformation. Stay tuned!
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Have you ever said or done something that the moment you let it out you wished you could take it back? A lot of us live with a lot of regret along this line ... because you simply can't take back things you've said or done that might have been hurtful or disrespectful to others. And our human tendency is to react quickly when our egos are threatened. So many of us do it regularly, in fact, that Google has added a feature to Gmail called "Undo Send." Once you hit "Send" Gmail holds the email for five seconds, during which time you can stop the email from going out.
Wouldn't it be great if in the rest of our lives we had the option to simply hit an "Undo Send" button? Unfortunately, once we've spoken the word or committed the act, it can't be retrieved. Our words or actions hang out there creating consequences that can't be erased or undone.
But perhaps there's another 5 Second option that might prevent the words or behaviors in the first place. The key, in real time, is to avoid the unproductive "Send" in the first place. What would happen if we tried using the 5 second option before we hit Send?
Effective and healthy spirituality is about paying more attention to the way we are present in the world, learning how to live with greater awareness and compassion. Which makes this 5 Second Option a potentially deeply spiritual practice.
Here's how it works. Peter Bregman, the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, spoke to a friend of his (Joshua Gordon, a Neuroscientist and Assistant Professor at Columbia University) about this issue of why it's so natural for us to react negatively to a person or circumstance that threatens our egos. And is there anything we can do about it?
Dr Gordon pointed out : "There are direct pathways from sensory stimuli into the amygdala. The amygdala is the emotional response center of the brain," he explained. "When something unsettling happens in the outside world, it immediately evokes an emotion. But pure raw unadulterated emotion is not the source of your best decisions. So, how do you get beyond the emotion to rational thought? It turns out while there's a war going on between you and someone else, there's another war going on, in your brain, between you and yourself. And that quiet little battle is your prefrontal cortex trying to subdue your amygdala. Think of the amygdala as the little red person in your head with the pitchfork saying 'I say we clobber the guy!' and think of the prefrontal cortex as the little person dressed in white saying 'Uhm, maybe it's not such a great idea to yell back. I mean, he is your client after all.' The key is cognitive control of the amygdyla by the prefrontal cortex."
So Bregman asked him how we could help our prefrontal cortex win the war. Dr. Gordon paused for a minute and then answered, "If you take a breath and delay your action, you give the prefrontal cortex time to control the emotional response. Slowing down your breath has a direct calming affect on your brain."
Which begs the very practical question, how long do we have to stall? How much time does our prefrontal cortex need to overcome our amygdala?
Dr. Gordon's response: "Not long. A second or two."
Sounds like Google is onto something with its 5 second "Undo Send" option. Apparently there's significant biological / physiological / psychological (and dare I add, spiritual) reality to actually being able to overcome our immediate urge to react negatively and aggressively toward someone or something that is threatening our ego and beginning to make us want to attack back. Imagine in the moment choosing to press "pause," taking a few deep breaths for 5 seconds, and allowing the immediate emotion to drain away even just a bit, so that you can then at least begin the process of trying to respond positively and with no regret later.
Peter Bregman applied the strategy to his recent situation: "When Bob yelled at me in the hall, I took a deep breath and gave my prefrontal cortex a little time to win. I knew there was a misunderstanding and I also knew my relationship with Bob was important. So instead of yelling back, I walked over to him. It only took a few seconds. But that gave us both enough time to become reasonable. Pause. Breathe. Then act."
I don't know about you, but for me this 5 Second Option isn't as easy as it sounds! I find it extremely difficult in practice when I'm facing some deep emotional feelings being stirred up and my buttons are being pushed left and right. Maybe that's why the great spiritual traditions of the world have developed rituals and disciplines they call spiritual practices. These disciplines and behaviors that are designed to produce greater peace and calm and centeredness in the midst of life's turmoil take intense practice. Change doesn't happen over night. Transformation comes as the result of determined discipline to engage in new thinking and new behaviors.
Which also (and most importantly) means you and I need to be patient with ourselves and with others. We need to hold ourselves, including all of our mixed up and all-over-the-board reactions to life, gently. We must give ourselves compassion, too - to honor ourselves as we are with the goodness we have in us that we ultimately want to express and let out more often than we do. Maybe this self-gentleness and self-kindness would empower us to more readily hit the Undo Send button.
What would it look like in your life for you to use the 5 Second Undo Send button? How much practice do you need to make this strategy more of a natural response, your more automatic default mode? Pause. Breathe. Act. I'm going to keep practicing this one. I need it. And living with regret isn't worth it.
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[If you like these posts, feel free to share them with others - click on the share button to the right. If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.] I read an article last week by Stacy Corrigan, a personal and corporate financial health coach, referring to a highly significant spiritual and scientific law of life. Quantum physics has proven that the core building block for all material things, as we know them, is energy. In the scientific world energy is equivalent to light. And then she gave this illustration: "When two beams of light join together they become much more intense than two individual beams. We know this to be true when we look at a satellite image of the earth at night from space. The cities that have many beams of light close together show up more readily on the image than the cities where the same number of light beams are spread far apart. The energy becomes greater the more there is in close proximity to like energy."
Remember, she says, all material things drill down to being just energy. So everything you contribute to life - your specific acts of kindness, caring and compassion; your money; material things like food for those in need; etc. - is also energy. Which means that the more you send out, the more powerful the energy becomes, and the greater opportunity it has to team up with similar energy so that it can grow and flow, contributing to what she calls the "boomerang effect" - what you send out comes back to you multiplied.
This quantum physics concept has a fascinating parallel with some deep spiritual realities. Notice a few sacred scriptures:
“Whatever a person sows, that is what he will reap.” (Galatians 6:7) In other words, the energy that a person puts out through whatever kind of actions, behaviors, or projected thoughts will return in kind. Computereze says, "garbage in, garbage out." We become what we give out because it returns to us and ultimately transforms us into what we're projecting. Kind of the negative version of the boomerang effect.
Here's the way another text articulates this reality: “A farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” (2 Corinthians 9:6) Fascinating that even in the agricultural arena the principle is true - and in this saying, the emphasis is on quantity of output determining the quantity of input. Generosity produces generosity. Scarcity produces scarcity.
The context of this last text is intriguing. The author (Paul) is talking to Christian believers in one part of the Middle East, appealing to them to give money to the believers in another part of the region that has gone through a devastating famine. He's trying to raise both consciousness and funding to help with this specific emergency need on behalf of hurting, suffering people.
So he is basically articulating the boomerang effect to motivate their giving by suggesting that their generous giving will come back to them in equally generous ways. Here's how he describes this:
"You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure … God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, 'They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.' For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. As a result of your generous service to them, they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you." 2 Corinthians 9:7-13.
Notice the powerful energy that circles around – it goes out (as believers in one region give generously to the needy in another region), combines with other energy (the divine energy of generosity that comes to each person making their giving possible in the first place), and then returns in greater form (as the helped believers return kindness through their prayers and support of those who gave) – and it keeps spiraling around, back and forth, around and around, increasing in energy and impact. The boomerang effect.
I'm convicted about how easy it is to live life with a perspective of scarcity - I don't have enough myself to live very well, so how can I be expected to give generously to others! But as this spiritual principle (and scientific reality) states, my attitude of scarcity only produces more scarcity. And here's where it is all so counter-intuitive - but the more I give, the more I receive. Generosity produces generosity. When energy is combined with more energy (like the city lights seen from orbiting satellites shows), the combination creates even more energy. So when we choose to work with others who also give and share generously, our combined energy creates even more impact. And what returns to us in the form of positive energy is even more powerful and transforming.
This is why giving to and sharing with others is such a profound spiritual experience. Here's how one author puts it: “Those who gladly share with others feel themselves bathed by a constant inner stream of happiness. Sharing is the doorway through which the soul escapes the prison of self-preoccupation. It is one of the clearest paths to God.” (Swami Kriyananda)
What a powerful boomerang effect - as I let go of my preoccupation with self and protecting my ego and hoarding my possessions to have control over my life, and give generously to others, I am actually drawn closer to God - my soul connects with God's soul - and I am liberated in transforming ways. In fact, I become truer to my truest Self - I'm acting out who I really am - a loving and compassionate child of God. And this choice to live in alignment with my true Self results in a life of greater confidence, security, and increased generosity. Generosity produces generosity by connecting me to the heart of God which is pure love and selfless giving to others.
The boomerang effect - it works both ways. So which boomerang do you want circling back to you? Which harvest do you want to reap?
[If you enjoy this blog, please SHARE it with your friends and others who might be interested. You can click in the column to the right and choose how you want to share this.] According to every spiritual tradition, we as humans, human nature, are divided – we are divided against ourselves (our truest Self), and we are divided against the Divine. This lack of unity is in fact more characteristic of our “normal” reality than our Essential unity.
Understanding this division in us is crucial to recovering our Essential Self and becoming the people we were made by God to be, where we experience the highest level of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. The process of spirituality is about recovering and reclaiming our true Self and re-connecting with God.
According to the experts, we all are seeking specific needs to be met (based upon our upbringing and subsequent woundings). And there are primary underlying feelings associated with each of those needs. This primary need with its underlying feeling is what tends to drive us and motivate us – it describes how our ego tends to manifest itself when it doesn’t get its need met. And therefore knowing this helps to give understanding about what we’re battling against and what we need to deal with in order to learn how to live out of our true Self.
OUR CHIEF EGO IMBALANCES AND DEFENSES
Let's look a bit more closely at this triangle of circles so we understand what it's describing. There are three basic needs that all of us tend to gravitate toward and seek more of: autonomy (the need to protect our "personal space," to be given our freedom, and maintain a felt sense of self), attention (the need to be validated in meaningful ways, to feel valued, to maintain a personal identity), and security (the need to find a sense of inner guidance and support, to be able to know the future clearly enough to survive and be cared for). Each circle then reveals the default response or defense mechanism that kicks in when that specific need isn't met adequately: no autonomy ... anger and aggression manifest either toward self or others; no attention ... feelings of being unvaluable, shame, a sense of being defective are manifested; and no security ... feelings of insecurity and fear emerge.
According to experts, we all experience all of these at various times, in various ways, and with varying intensities. But we tend to have a primary default - our most common, easy-to-go-to, natural defense mechanism when our primary need isn't met. These responses are the "artificial fillers" of our personality - imitations - ways we try to get our needs met that are not flowing from our Essential Self but rather from our wounded self. So rather than helping us, they actually hinder us from receiving what we really want and need. This causes the lack of internal and external unity all spiritual traditions describe human nature experiencing. So every tradition has developed various spiritual practices that help a person come to greater alignment and congruence with their True Self - tools to practice, disciplines to engage in that facilitate spiritual development toward becoming the people God designed for us to be. Spirituality, then, is the intentional process of becoming who you truly are (your Essential Self) rather than the imitation. Spirituality is about your true Self connecting with God and reaching your ultimate potential as a child of God.
APPLICATION: Circle the word in any of the three circles which you feel most protective of in your life right now, or most defensive of – your gut reaction. Which word describes what drives you the most – what you’re truly seeking and feeling as you go through life’s experiences these days.
A Contemporary Story
Let's notice how these dynamics are played out and experienced in the story Gran Torino which came out in 2008. The movie Gran Torino, starring Clint Eastwood, describes the weather-beaten yet poignant story of Walt Kowalski, an aging retired auto worker at Ford Motor Company in the now industrial graveyard of Detroit. In the beginning, the film has the feel of a requiem. Melancholy is etched in every long shot of Detroit’s decimated, emptied streets and in the faces of those who remain to still walk in them.
Sort of like Walt’s life. A veteran of the Korea War of the 1950s, Walt has been watching his “world” drastically change through the years into something he hardly recognizes much less feels a kinship with. Everything to him is falling apart all around – the neighborhood has been taken over by “aliens,” foreigners – “Chinks-Gooks-Swamp Rats” he shamelessly calls all of them, no matter what country they’re from in Asia. In reality, his neighbors are Hmong, the hill tribe people in Laos who allied with the US troops during the Vietnam war and then had to flee when the North Vietnamese took over. Many of them fled to the US and settled in communities like Walt’s. But to him, they’re still the “enemy” who don’t belong here!
He has just buried his wife and he’s basically estranged from his two sons and their families who have come to “put up” with a father and grandfather who seems crude, gruff, and uncaring. So he pretty much lives his life alone with his dog Daisy.
And alone with the central metaphor of Walt’s life, his cherished pride – a pristine 1972 Ford Gran Torino. He has invested all of his desires in this car – it represents to him the best days – the past – when life was more predictable, more secure, more unified, more white, success was everywhere, everyone had a chance to make it if you just worked hard enough. The glory days. People were patriotic then! Like he has hanging on his porch, everyone flew the Stars and Stripes to show their pride in life and country. So he pours himself into keeping his Gran Torino in spotless, perfect condition. It’s his refuge from the painful, disorienting reality of this new world. And it’s his artificial filler, his imitation self.
Interestingly enough, the writers of this movie have portrayed Walt as the Everyman who represents all of us in some ways. His ego defenses are being threatened – he’s desperately seeking SECURITY (the safe and predictable and comfortable ways of the past). But the changes in his personal life (losing his wife, estranged from his kids, and isolated from his Ford company past) and the radical changes in his environment (the gangs terrorizing the neighborhoods, the foreigners with their strange and distasteful customs who have moved in next door and up and down HIS street) have all threatened this security. So he’s reacting in FEAR – inside he’s not sure how to really cope with FEAR – so he defaults to what he knows best: prejudice, resentment, portraying a gruff, swearing, beer-guzzling, smoking hardass to everyone (including his family).
He’s also desperately seeking AUTONOMY – just leave me alone and let me live my own life! Don’t try to tell me what to do or manipulate me or try to control my future (if you’re my kids and grandkids)! Don’t encroach on my space! Get out of my yard and my life!! So he threatens his neighbors away from his yard no matter what their acts of attempted kindness and neighborliness; he threatens the gangs by pointing his Korean War U.S. Army-issued rifle in their faces; he growls and scowls at his kids and refuses to engage; he berates and castigates the local Catholic priest who keeps coming by to check on him because of a promise he made to Walt’s wife before she died. His anger pushes him and empowers him to shove everyone away.
But in very poignant ways shown in the story, Walt also seeks ATTENTION – deep inside he doesn’t want to be alone, he simply doesn’t know how to go about connecting meaningfully. He’s being driven by SHAME, which is ultimately unveiled in the movie when he finally reveals his painful war-time past. The images of killing young enemy soldiers continues haunting him like ghosts from his past. And as he gets older, he begins to realize that he’s failed as a parent, too – he’s treated his kids poorly and now he’s reaping the consequences of estrangement. He’s a prisoner to his feelings of shame and doesn’t know how to get free. So the only way he knows how to get ATTENTION is by being gruff and difficult and downright mean at times.
Walt Kowalski has built some strong, powerful defenses to his ego. He’s really alone and in slavery to his misguided attempts to experience life – he’s caught up in the only way he knows how – and in a sense, he’s simply living out his life until he dies a very lonely and angry old man. Every once in a while, he breaks into a coughing fit and begins to see blood coughed up. After finally going to a clinic for blood tests, he informed he’s dying of lung cancer. With no one really around him anymore because he’s driven them all way, he’s having to face an isolated and painful ending.
Is there any hope for a man like Walt Kowalski? Is the Gran Torino all there is? Here-in lies the power of this contemporary story, especially in light of this Season's theme of death and resurrection.
APPLICATION: So go back to the word you circled in one of the three circles. Spend a few moments reflecting on why you chose that word. What examples in your life or in your experiences illustrate that word for you? How is that word manifesting for you? What’s the “Gran Torino” in your life that you’re using to protect your ego and that represents the “safe place” or default for you?
In my next blog post, we'll take a look at what it is that ultimately brings Walt Kowalski to a kind of personal transformation and how that applies to our lives, especially in our spiritual journey of alignment and development into who we were meant to be.
[Please SHARE this blog with people who might be interested! Hit the button on the right to subscribe or to share the post] We're talking about faith and the different meanings attached to that word. We've discovered that faith is more than just a matter of the head - what you believe about God and life - notional propositions. Faith is a matter of the heart. And there are three words for faith used to describe this picture. The first word is "fiducia" which means "trust, confidence." See my blog entry about that word. Now we're dealing with the second word for FAITH, "fidelitas" - which literally means fidelity, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness. How does this word define "faith" as a part of the spiritual journey? What nuances does this word "fidelity" suggest about the faith life? Scripture uses two intriguing and very personal metaphors to describe the faith experience. These metaphors provide a glimpse into what genuine faith is not. The first is adultery and the second is idolatry. Let's consider these a bit.
Fidelity vs. Spiritual Adultery
Here's the way one author describes this metaphor: “When the Bible speaks about adultery, most often it is not speaking about human sexual relationships. Sometimes it is, as in the Ten Commandments and in some other passages. But when the prophets indict the chosen nation of Israel as adulterous or Jesus speaks of ‘an evil and adulterous generation,’ they are not saying that there is a lot of spouse swapping going on. Rather, they are referring to unfaithfulness to God and God’s covenant [which involves their personal and corporate calling and identity].” (Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity)
So what does this say about faith? Let's unpack the metaphor. I have a bit of credibility with this since I can speak from a very painful personal experience. But the lessons I've learned are hugely significant to life and spirituality. I can understand more clearly and deeply why scripture uses this metaphor to talk about the spiritual journey.
What is the nature of adultery? At its simplest, adultery is a loss of loyalty and faithfulness to a covenant. Right? It’s a shift in loyalty, steadfastness, and allegiance from one person to another. Sometimes it’s very subtle and invisible. Adultery in a relationship happens long before the bed is involved. Small shifts in attraction or connection. And with every shift to another, there’s an equal shift away from the other. So adultery isn’t simply something a person does in a new relationship, it’s also something that person isn’t doing in the covenanted relationship – and usually that shift comes first.
So adultery in scripture is referring to unfaithfulness to the covenant between the people and their God. What would the Hebrew prophets be referring to by using this metaphor – how were the people unfaithful to the covenant? What were subtle shifts taking place in their attention and commitment to the God of their covenant? What were things they stopped doing in that covenant that led them to shift allegiances? Significantly, often in the context of this accusation is a reference to the people’s refusal to honor the poor, widows, orphaned, and marginalized among them – a neglect of taking care of those in need – they were dishonest in their financial dealings, they robbed people by charging interest – the religious bureaucracy would enforce their own views of religion and God on the people, setting up impossible rules esp. for the poor and economically disadvantaged, portraying God as a vengeful Judge. Their role was suppose to be to represent the truth about God by how they treated each other. And yet they built a very exclusive community and religion, considering other people less than themselves.
So when Jesus came along and made the profound declaration, "If you've done it to the least of these people (the poor, orphaned, hungry, captives), you've done it to me," the fact that they were not taking care of these disadvantaged among them meant that they were not being loyal to God. And that shift away from the needy was a shift away from God. Which led to shifts in loyalty to other gods (we'll see this in the next metaphor). All of this was called by the prophets spiritual adultery – unfaithfulness to God and the covenant with God. Here's a classic passage from one of the Hebrew prophets about this (Jeremiah 7):
7 “How can I pardon you? For even your children have turned from me. They have sworn by gods that are not gods at all! I fed my people until they were full. But they thanked me by committing adultery and lining up at the brothels …
23 But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me.
28 They refuse to provide justice to orphans and deny the rights of the poor.
31 the prophets give false prophecies, and the priests rule with an iron hand. Worse yet, my people like it that way!"
Notice the powerful emotional shift the people are experiencing away from God - the last line: "My people like it that way!" The allegiance has completely turned, a new loyalty has been formed away from God - they actually like "the other" better. And it's being revealed by how they live their lives with the disadvantaged and needy among them. They no longer value what their God values.
So faith as loyalty, fidelity, and faithfulness to God (in the context of this metaphor of adultery) involves keeping focus on God, not allowing shifts in devotion and loyalty away from God; it involves paying attention to what God pays attention to; centering one’s self on God’s intent for life; being true to our calling and purpose and God-given identity; valuing what God values by living in alignment with the highest values of life. Placing your heart on God by placing your heart on what God places the divine heart. Which leads to the second metaphor.
Fidelity vs. idolatry
Here's an interesting take on the meaning of "idolatry" in the context of our faith journey. I came across a fascinating connection with fidelity in the electronic and technology world. Here's the definition:
“FIDELITY is the degree to which the output of a system accurately reproduces the essential characteristics of its input signal. Thus, high fidelity in a sound system means that the reproduced sound is virtually indistinguishable from that picked up by the microphones in the recording or broadcasting studio. Similarly, a television system has a high fidelity when the picture seen on the screen of a receiver corresponds in essential respects to that picked up by the television camera. Fidelity is achieved by designing each part of a system to have minimum distortion, so that the waveform of the signal is unchanged as it travels through the system.” (Sci-Tech Encyclopedia)
So the concept of fidelity in electronics is about achieving a pure alignment and congruency between the input signal and the output signal. What comes in is what goes out.
What does this say about faith as fidelity?
Scripture also uses the metaphor of idolatry to describe the opposite of fidelity in faith. So using the above illustration of fidelity from the electronic world, idolatry would then be a lack of alignment or congruency between the input and output of our lives. In other words, we’re not being true to ourselves, to the divine image in us, which is another way of saying we’re not being true to God and God’s purpose/design for us. We have allowed a disconnect to exist. Idolatry is incongruence – a shift in our allegiance from who God made us to be to who we think we're suppose to be (perhaps someone else's image of us or who they think we should be). Either way, we’re “worshiping other gods” by not being ourselves.
So what is fidelity in this case? A willingness to be a transparent and unobstructed channel through which the Divine Spirit flows. Letting God’s Spirit continue creating the divine image in us so that we manifest God’s love and goodness in clearer and clearer ways. And the divine flow through us is always manifested most accurately and powerfully when we're living in alignment with who we are, our true identity, our God-given purpose.
Here's the point: When we allow and discipline ourselves to focus on these qualities we are placing ourselves in direct connection with God’s Spirit and we become transformed – the disconnect between the source of the input and our output is removed. We become congruent with God. THAT’S THE PROCESS OF FIDELITY. It's a deliberate and intentional choice to be in harmony with God - to allow the heart of God to shape our heart, to value what God values, to live in alignment with the divine passion to show compassion, care, support, and loving action toward ourselves, others, and the world - and to all of this in our own unique, special, and God-designed way.
Jesus made this point when he summarized the entire Hebrew scriptures (what Christians often refer to as the Old Testament): love God with all your heart, mind, soul and body, and love your neighbor as yourself; on these two commandments rests the entire law of God.
Idolatry (the opposite of fidelity) is about allowing our hearts, our attention, our values to shift away from God and what God values to other interests - when we try to live someone else's life instead of being who God made each of us to be - when we become preoccupied with ourselves to the exclusion of caring for others - when our egos take control and we become unable to live beyond ourselves in self-forgetfulness and compassion - when we become obsessed with fear, anxiety, insecurity in our relationship with God and the world. Interesting picture of idolatry, isn't it!
God's Fidelity and Faithfulness
In the end, what is it that empowers us toward fidelity and faithfulness? Sacred scriptures make clear that our loyalty and faithfulness with God are radically empowered by a recognition and embracing of the central core truth of the divine nature: God’s unconditional compassion and faithfulness. One of the great theologians, Paul Tillich, defined faith as “the courage to accept acceptance.” Imagine what your confidence level in living life would be like if you lived from the truth of your complete and unconditional acceptance - if you truly knew your self and uncategorically accepted your self the way God accepts you!
Fidelity is not about never sinning, never being selfish and self-centered, always doing everything perfectly and never failing. Fidelity is about faithfulness to the journey. Staying on the journey with Life, with God. Having the courage to accept God’s acceptance so that we give it gently and patiently to ourselves and to others. Fidelity is about staying on the journey!
And what is the most powerful motivation for us to keep on keeping on is the central truth of scripture: God’s faithfulness (even in the midst of our unfaithfulness). Here’s how one of the Hebrew prophets put it in the context of one of the most beautiful love stories in scripture. God reaffirming his commitment to his people after they have been so unfaithful to him. Listen to a piece of this powerful poem from Hosea 2:
14 “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. 15 I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.
16 When that day comes,” says the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.
17 O Israel, I will wipe the many names of Baal from your lips, and you will never mention them again.
18 On that day I will make a covenant with all the wild animals and the birds of the sky and the animals that scurry along the ground so they will not harm you. I will remove all weapons of war from the land, all swords and bows, so you can live unafraid in peace and safety.
19 I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion.
20 I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.” (Hosea 2)
I know this faithfulness personally! What has kept me going with boldness and courage and persistence, even through the darkness of my own failures and stumbles, is experiencing in the very core of my self that commitment and loyalty God has for me. It continues to transform and empower my life! Faith is about staying on the journey with a faithful God.
Here's my prayer: “God reminds me, no matter what I’ve done, whether great or ungreat, successful or unsuccessful – my faithlessness to God or anyone else doesn’t negate God’s faithfulness to me! God is committed to me forever, no matter what! So I will live in this truth! Embrace it! Let it melt my heart and fill it with hope and courage and relentless trust! God believes in me, period! And with this loyalty together, we will go on to change the world! Amen.”
Stay tuned for word three for faith in my next blog. Thanks for staying on this journey of exploration about faith.
[Please SHARE this blog with people who might be interested! Hit the button on the right to subscribe or to share the post] The word "faith," especially to Westernized Christians, has come to be seen as a primarily notional experience - having to do with what you think about God. It tends to mean holding a certain set of "beliefs," believing a set of statements to be true, whether cast as biblical teachings or doctrines or dogma. Your faith is judged by how much you believe and how accurate your beliefs are. If you possess this "right" kind of faith, you're called a "believer."
As a result, this concept of faith as primarily an intellectual exercise has turned faith almost exclusively into a matter of the head, too often with disastrous results by heartless, nonloving "believers."
But significantly, that was not the central meaning and usage of the word "faith" in the history of human religion (including early Christianity). As Karen Armstrong, in her powerful book The Case For God, states, "Religion was not primarily something that people thought but something they did ... Religion [from its very inception in human history] was always a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart."
It was a way of being and living, not simply a way of thinking. The stories and sacred scriptures of every religion emphasized the journey of heart and spirit in learning the sacred art of self-forgetfulness and compassion. As a result, religions developed powerful rituals and practices that, if followed and wholeheartedly engaged in, would enable adherents to step "outside" their egos and experience the Sacred and Divine, empowering them to live more compassionately and unselfishly toward others.
For example, as Armstrong points out, the early Chinese Daoists (over 300 years before Jesus and the early Christian followers) saw religion as a "knack" primarily acquired by constant practice. They, like the earlier Buddha and even Confucius, refused to spend lots of time speculating about the many metaphysical conundrums concerning the divine (as Buddha once said to a follower who constantly pestered with those kind of questions: "You are like a man who has been shot with a poisoned arrow and refuses medical treatment until you have discovered the name of your assailant and what village he came from. You would die before you got this perfectly useless information!").
Zhuangzi (c. 370-311 BCE), one of the most important figures in the spiritual history of China, explained that it was no good trying to analyze religious teachings logically. He then cited the carpenter Bian: "When I work on a wheel, if I hit too softly, pleasant as this is, it doesn't make for a good wheel. If I hit it furiously, I get tired and the thing doesn't work! So not too soft, not too vigorous. I grasp it in my hand and hold it in my heart. I cannot express this by word of mouth, I just know it."
Like the Chinese hunchback who trapped cicadas in the forest with a sticky pole and never missed a single one. He had so perfected his powers of concentration that he lost himself in the task, and his hands seemed to move by themselves. He had no idea how he did it exactly, but he knew only that he had acquired the knack after months of practice. This "self-forgetfulness," Zhuangzi explained, was a "stepping outside" the prism of ego and experience of the sacred. (from Armstrong, The Case For God, pp. xii-xiii, 23.)
No wonder Jesus, centuries later, reiterated this paradigm of spirituality and religious experience when he called his followers to "take up your cross and follow me." He's not simply talking about believing in your head the right doctrines and the core truths. He's talking about a "way" of living. Referring to his own experience as the example for his followers, he said, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who is willing to give up his life in this world will keep it forever." John 12:24-25
Genuine faith is not just about your head, it's about your heart, it's about your journey, it's about life transformation that comes from self-forgetfulness and an experience with God the Sacred and the Divine.
SO IN THIS SERIES, we're taking a look at the four words that are translated as "faith." We're unpacking each word and exploring what it means and what the differing nuances suggest about developing a faith that works in real life, a faith that transforms life, a faith that defines ourselves and produces a rich and deeper experience of both God and Life. It's a return to the core of what religion was always meant to facilitate but has too often lost along the way: a transformation of the heart. In my last blog, we explored the 1st word for faith, “fiducia,” from which we get our English word "fiduciary" (a person in whom we place our trust to protect our finances and estate). So “trust," is the central definition, which in the realm of faith then conveys a profound kind of relaxed, solid, worry-free confidence in God as a power that can be trusted and relied upon to have our best interests in mind.
Today's word for faith is "fidelitas," which is the Latin word for "fidelity." It literally means loyalty, faithfulness – originally referring to a vassal's loyalty to his Lord; a steadfast and devoted attachment that is not easily turned aside; constancy, steadfastness. Faith as fidelity means loyalty, allegiance, the commitment of the self at its deepest level, the commitment of the “heart” to the experience of God not simply to statements about God. A radical centering in God from your heart and soul not just your mind. So what does that look like in real life terms?
There are two metaphors that the sacred scriptures use in describing our faith relationship with God that I'll unpack in my next blog post. These metaphors describe what "fidelity" is NOT and so help to increase our understanding of what genuine faith as fidelity and loyalty is. Stay tuned!