Step Thirteen of Religious Recovery states that “…when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” When I read that saying the first thing I feel is relief. I don’t have to go looking for recruits because when they are ready, they will find me — or the Religious Recovery program. Another interpretation I see in that sentiment is that the student will appear when the teacher is ready.
Sometimes we forget the nature of the relationship of student and teacher. They come together to learn from one another. One may be designated as the teacher and the other the pupil, but the roles are interchanged repeatedly throughout the course of their relationship. One may learn more from one than the other, but it is not possible for one to come away without learning something. And so it is that we teach in order that we may learn.
If we struggle with a new concept, one of the best ways to gain mastery over it is to attempt to teach it to another. At first, the student may not comprehend what we’re trying to say. So, we look for other ways to explain it. In doing this, we help clarify the concept in our own minds until we eventually feel as if we have “got it.” We must always remember that teaching also includes showing. We can’t teach someone about love without loving them.
We follow the principle that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The witness of our lives is the only message we need to carry to others.
Step Thirteen is one of my favorite steps but also a step I struggle with. I like the idea Step Thirteen implies that we do not have to evangelize the world or even our neighborhoods. This thought alone brings freedom from the idea that if I don’t save my fellowman, he may not have a happy afterlife. This step removes guilt and places it squarely on the correct shoulders. We are not responsible for someone else’s spiritual journey. We might want to help others—a noble idea—but our help is our choice, and their response is theirs.
One reason I struggle with this step is because I want the Religious Recovery program to succeed, and so I feel personally responsible for its success or its failure. According to Step Thirteen, when the student is ready — and not before — the teacher will appear. The role of the teacher is simply to share his or her light and allow the student to make their own decisions.
Trying to create students in our own image is not the goal. Our goal is to help students find their own spiritual path, and to learn from them as they learn from us. We constantly change roles from student to teacher and back again. When we are ready to receive more Light our teacher will appear, and let’s not be surprised to learn that our teachers are often our own students.
Ben Cohen of “Ben & Jerry’s” created a candy using Brazil nuts. He discovered there was a lot of dust left over from the process of grinding the nuts. Instead of throwing the dust away as garbage, he wondered if he could use the dust as a flour to create cookies. His commitment to use everything possible helped him create a new cookie and a new product.
How often do we throw away lives because we see no hope? Specifically, how often are we tempted to throw away our lives because of our failures, addictions, and mistakes? In The Divine scheme of things, there is no such thing as garbage. Whether we realize it or not, our lives have meaning. Our mistakes have value even if only to show us how not to do a thing. But our lives are infinitely more valuable than we can ever imagine, and if we think we are worthless, then we are mistaken.
We may not understand the reasons for where we are, how we got here, and what we must do to get our lives together, but time has a way of bringing things together. No matter the depths of our despair, there are reasons and purposes that work like the flour that forms the foundation of the cookie. Trust that the Universe will waste nothing.
The things we focus on become the things we receive. If we focus on the negative we receive more negativity. When we are in a bad place, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually, we find it difficult to pull ourselves out of that place especially if we find ourselves dwelling on what caused it, how could I have avoided it, and past occasions of similar difficulty. We are focusing our attention on the darkness and forgetting the light. We attempt to diagnose, prescribe, and fix. What we fail to understand is the difficulty of finding our way out of darkness if we refuse to look for the light.
When our lives are filled with light, we don’t worry about darkness, because the light drives it away. Focus on the goodness and power of the Light within and without, and the darkness fades and eventually vanishes.
I don’t always attend religious ceremonies on a regular basis. I go through spells where they seem too repetitive and I take a break. Then, I may experience a season where I am tired, depressed, and feeling empty. Once, when I was feeling that way, I attended three different religious services in one day. Inadvertently, I was changing my focus. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had chosen to focus on the positive — and it worked. I came away feeling good about myself and my world. Whenever we are depressed and feeling despondent, we can look to the Light and focus our attention on the positive.
Light represents the Spirit of The Divine, or the Holy Spirit, or that within us which is like the Creator. To say “the light has come” reminds us that we are spirit and connected to Spirit. Each life has a measure of this Light, and the best way to live a happy, fulfilled life is to let that Light shine.
We do this individually by taking time daily to connect to The Divine through meditation and prayer, but we can also do this collectively by uniting with others who also carry the Light. Truth is, everyone carries a measure of the Light, no matter how dim it may seem to be.
One fascinating characteristic of candlelight is that when we share our light by lighting another candle, the flame glows brighter while the two candles are together, but when we separate them once more, the light from the first candle remains as bright as it did before passing it’s flame on to another. The second candle’s light is also equally as bright. By sharing our Light, we lose nothing, and we gain more Light.
As an author, I often struggle with the decision of knowing when to let go. When I work on a project, I try to make it as perfect as possible. What I’ve come to realize is that it will never be perfect, and I will always find ways to say something a little better or a little clearer. Authors struggle with clarity, because if the writing confuses the reader, then we have not communicated our message. Eventually we must decide to release our writing.
Releasing a book or an article and allowing it to be read by the public is a daunting prospect. Even though we want to be published, and we want others to read our words, we still struggle with acceptance. What if people don’t like my book? What if they disagree with what I said? These kinds of questions can keep an author from publishing their work. They can keep us withdrawn and afraid. But, if we want to make a difference, at some point we have to let go. Knowing when that moment is right can be tricky.
We don’t want to send out work that is loaded with mistakes. So, we go over the manuscript or article until we are sick of our own words and worry that no one will want to read our drivel. If we stay in this rut, our work will never touch another’s life. At some point, after we feel we’ve done the best we can, we simply abandon the project and send it out. The Divine will take it from there.
These words might sound as if they are intended for authors, but “knowing when” is important in many areas of life. When do I make a commitment to someone I like? When do I release my child into the care of the Universe and stop trying to micro-manage? When do I share my secrets and perhaps even my shame with someone so that I can further the healing process? We might miss the perfect opportunity if we are too cautious, and we might regret moving forward if we are not cautious enough. Balance is crucial, listening to our instincts is important, but at some point we must decide to take a chance if we ever hope to improve our lives and also the lives of those around us.
If our lives are not what we want them to be, the simple answer is to change them. One stumbling block in the road to change is called an autopilot. I worked at the same job for years, and after I retired I found myself driving to my old job. Sometimes I even came close to making the final turn onto the street where the building stood.
Habits are extremely helpful in our lives. It allows us to do repeated tasks without much thought or effort. But when those repeated things prove unwanted it can be difficult to break the old habits and form new ones. The Dalai Lama wrote, “Each of you should feel that you have great potential and that, with self-confidence and a little more effort, change really is possible if you want it.”
When it comes to breaking habits, the answer is simply to do it. Make the effort one decision at a time, one day at a time, and one moment at a time. We can replace old negative ways of thinking and replace them with a positive approach to life. Start with the positive, and in time, it will drive out the negative.
 Dalai Lama (2012-05-31). The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom (p. 67). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Braving the darkness is more difficult than walking in the light, or so it would seem. If walking in the light is so easy, why do so many people choose to stay in the dark? Why do they shun the light of spiritual illumination? And, why do they close their eyes to views that would bring new light into their world?
I suppose it’s not that we want to walk in the darkness; it’s simply a matter of being comfortable there. Our spiritual vision adjusts to what we see and interprets things in the limited spiritual vision we possess. If another comes our way shining their light onto our path, we may hide or walk away from that light because it’s too intense or because it’s not “our light.”
The light can come from a multitude of sources: sunlight, moonlight, a candle, a match, a gas lantern, and among other sources are the light bulbs that brighten our homes. Whether the spiritual light comes from Eastern religions, Western religions, or from a different religious source doesn’t change the fact that it is light. We do not need to shun it or hide from it.
After finding a deeper spiritual understanding, we are often prone to share our new path. The path may not actually be new, only new to us. There are those who, after giving up an addiction such as smoking, become the loudest advocates for quitting. So much so, that their behavior offends those they would help. Avoid lecturing and “should-ing.” Present your story simply as "This is what I experienced..." and leave it at that. Opening to new forms of spirituality intimidates many. Allow them space to discover what resonates with them in their own time.
Also remember that like attracts like. When you grow spiritually you will shine brighter, and you will naturally attract others to your light. You may not run with the same crowd, but you will gather those around you who love and respect the new person you’ve become. Give people the freedom to grow and heal at their own pace, not yours.
Being pushy, especially with our religious beliefs, usually results in more harm than good. We don’t want to alienate the people we want to help, so respect the wishes of those who don’t want to hear your message. If and when the time is right, you will be able to share.
Having recognized the difference between religion and spirituality, we strive to be true to the Spirit within all of Divine Creation and to be a Light to point the way.
What does it mean to be true to the Spirit within all of Divine Creation? It means to be true to the Spirit within us because we are a part of Divine Creation. It means to be true to the Spirit within our brothers and sisters and to recognize that they are also a part of Divine Creation. It also means to be true to the Spirit within plants and animals, and within all of the Earth because it is also a part of Divine Creation.
Being true to the Spirit means that we do not judge anyone or anything as worthless or useless. We assert the inherent worthiness of all individuals, and that there is meaning in the circumstances of life and a purpose for every living creature.
With this recognition comes responsibility. But the responsibility is simple. We are to be a light to point the way. Once we are true to the Spirit within all of Divine Creation, we are lights, and lights simply shine and guide our paths. We do not have to do anything. We simply have to be what we were created to be and to allow our innate magnificence to shine.
A song by Garth Brooks titled “Unanswered Prayers” reminds us that sometimes we pray for things and the answer appears to be “No.” As time goes by and we see the way things could have been had our prayers been answered, we can smile and say with Garth, “I thank God for unanswered prayers.”
Truth is, The Divine answers prayers, and sometimes we are grateful when The Divine says “No,” or “Not now,” or one of my personal favorites, “I’ve got a better idea.” If The Divine created us, then no one knows us better. Not only are our compulsive wants and desires known to The Divine, but also our deepest wants, needs, and highest ambitions.
One request we need to include in our prayers is this, “Divine Spirit, show me what I want — what I truly want — and grant that request.” We can be assured that this is a safe prayer, because at the heart of all of God’s children — and for some it is buried way down deep — is the desire to love and be loved, to extend love to everyone we meet, and to be accepted for who and what we are without judgment. Divine Spirit, answer the deepest desires of our hearts — to be like You.
At times, we can’t — as the saying goes — see the forest for the trees. When we are in the midst of a crisis, it is often difficult to step back and allow time and space to give us a chance to reevaluate the situation. Problem solving is often obstructed when we are too close to a situation to be objective to what is going on.
Instead of pushing for a resolution sooner rather than later, it might be wise for us to remove our presence and see if the problem can resolve itself. The fact that we step back also encourages others, especially those who may not be as close to the problem, to step forward and offer advice or guidance we didn’t see because we were unable to let go.
This “stepping back” is at times done physically. But, it can also be simply a mental release and surrender. Some find that prayer helps. Some find that meditation helps. Some find help in contemplation, but all three of these practices can backfire if we are using them to solve the problem and not to let go of it. We see this frequently in family situations. Our children fight and we want to solve the problem, but often we are just too close to be unbiased. By stepping back and giving the situation time and distance, many times children will work something out together.
Part of the fun of piecing together picture puzzles was working together with other family members. A lot of my experience happened on vacation while visiting my grandmother in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s. Except for radios, black and white televisions were the only electronic entertainment devices available, and the selection of programs was limited to three stations. We found ways to entertain ourselves, and picture puzzles were part of our heritage. We could solve the same puzzle over and over.
We sat around a table, talked about life, and tried out one piece after another until connections were made, on and off the table. I learned the importance of family, of working together, and of watching over one another. My great-grandmother was still alive and she often joined us. She would study, pick up a piece, try it in a location, and then ask, “Does that fit there?” Most of the time it didn’t, but occasionally she made the right choice.
In our spiritual walk, we don’t have to solve the puzzle alone. It helps to have helping hands and hearts that help us make connections and build the pictures of our lives. Occasionally, someone comes along who seems to distract our attention by trying to make connections that don’t work. With grace, we kindly say, “No, that doesn’t go there. But, you were close. Keep trying.” We can work the puzzle alone, but we don’t have to, and why would we want to?
There are times in the picture-puzzle solving process when we seem to be stumped. We have all the colors of a section and only a few are remaining to fit into place, but no matter how hard we try, we can’t get those last few pieces to fit. Sometimes the explanation is that we’ve forced a puzzle piece to make a wrong connection. We have it in a spot where it doesn’t belong. We have to undo — disconnect — the mistaken piece and start again, careful to set it out of the way until we find the correct piece.
In our lives there are times when we have forced things to fall into place the way we think they should, only to find ourselves stuck in our spiritual progression. Through meditation, contemplation, and discernment, we can discover our mistake, undo or disconnect it, and then rework the problem area. Only this time, we are more cautious about making the correct connection. Once that is accomplished, we move forward again.
People once thought the world was flat. People once believed the Sun revolved around the earth. People once believed that man couldn’t fly. Some people accepted and followed Hitler’s beliefs — and millions of people died. People once believed in the gods of Zeus, Thor, and a whole list of other deities from Greek mythology. Some still do.
Over time our beliefs have changed. If what we believed in years past is considered false today, then how do we know what we’ve been taught about That-Which-Is-Greater-Than-Self will be true in the future?
We look back over the years and wonder how people could have held such silly beliefs, but time has twenty-twenty vision, and who is to say that centuries from now people will marvel at the erroneous beliefs our religions held. Truth is elusive. Stone Four encourages us to discern — not so much what is right and wrong, but to discern what resonates with us. If we are connected with Divine Thought, then we will instinctively know right and wrong. It might not be the same thing today as it was yesterday. Trying to offer a set of rules that must be kept no matter the circumstances often breaks the individual who adamantly refuses to see any gray areas.
I enjoy working picture puzzles. Seeing the picture on the box and putting the pieces together one at a time until the puzzle is complete makes for hours of fun. Our individual lives are like giant picture puzzles, with each one working to piece together the dark and light areas, the trees and the streams, and the other fascinating areas that build it into one beautiful scene.
I always follow the same basic method for piecing together a puzzle. Dump the pieces onto a table, make sure all are turned right-side up, work the frame first, and then start with the areas of color with the fewest number of pieces. I put off the areas of color that have lots of pieces to sort through, but eventually I have to work with these areas, even if it’s the last section of the puzzle. My method might be the method that most people follow, but it certainly isn’t the only method.
Sometimes, as we work the puzzle of our lives, we are forced to work on the dark areas of our lives sooner than we had hoped. When we find ourselves in that situation, it might help to remember that these areas of darkness add to the overall picture of our lives, and that the puzzle isn’t complete without them.
I read an illustration once that said a diamond cutter might strike a stone a thousand times or more before he makes the first cut. The cutter knows that the work is slow, deliberate, and intense. The cutter also knows the time he spends preparing and striking are not wasted. In the course of time the desired results will be achieved.
In the spiritual world I wonder if some people haven’t considered the enormity of the task they undertake. They look for a shortcut to spiritual growth, hoping to avoid the thousand “blows” of the master stone cutter. Before undertaking a task, be certain the rewards are worth the effort. Also be certain that you have the proper tools. In spirituality those tools include prayer, contemplation, and mediation. But, the most important tools are forgiveness and love.
We settle upon our task, we make sure it is worthy of our efforts, and we remember that we are in it for the long haul. Perhaps blow one thousand and one will bring about the face of the diamond.
Seek through prayer, meditation, and contemplation to improve our relationship with the Divine, praying for clarity of mind, an open heart, and further ways to heal ourselves and our world from the abuses of religion.
Sometimes religious abuse serves a purpose that we might not have achieved without it. When we are born into a religious belief system, their set of beliefs, rules and guidelines become the only path we know to reach The Divine, and we can become dogmatic with our beliefs thinking that our path is the only right path.
When we leave our birth religion either by choice or by force, we are free to open our lives to other ways of connecting with The Divine. This is not a responsibility to take lightly but with sincere effort, a lot of soul searching, and open-minded examination.
The place to begin is with spiritual healing. But spiritual healing might not come until after a time of abandonment in which we throw out the good with the bad. The spiritual pendulum of our lives swings to the other side and we rebel against religious structures and often social laws.
In time, the pendulum swings back toward spirituality, and if we are lucky, during our time of carefree living we have given thought to the larger issues of life so that when we return to the spiritual we are better able to separate true religion from false. This is accomplished by separating the spiritual from the religious and only accepting religious beliefs and practices that align with our new light.
I like to shop for new clothes, and they don’t have to be brand new, just new to me. I enjoy a bargain and have found some nice brand-name clothes at thrift shops. I’ve learned the most important thing in shopping for clothes is the question, “Will I wear it?” I am often tempted to buy a brand-name piece of clothing because it has been greatly reduced, but I’ve learned that no matter the bargain, if I can’t envision myself in it, I won’t wear it.
Also, is the clothing true to me? I usually don’t wear the current style, mainly because I feel as if I would look out of place. I’m not young or “hip,” and I have worn the same style for so long I don’t see a need to change.
What happens when we apply this shopping technique to religion? I think we can see that many people are a certain faith because they are comfortable with it. It may be the faith of their parents, and since it worked for them, why make a change? For the most part, I would agree. But, as we experience life, we mind find that the style of religion our parents wore no longer feels comfortable to us. Change can be scary, but we must be true to who we are — not who are parents are or were.
The title of today’s reading isn’t a call to abandon your religious faith. The title is actually the first three words of a Religious Recovery slogan that encourages us to leave your religion at the door. The goal of the program is to set aside religious differences for about an hour, and to accept anyone and everyone as if we were all void of religion.
Religion is such a volatile subject that often simply the mention of someone’s faith, church, denomination, or spiritual leader will cause reactions — good or bad. Seldom does religious faith produce a neutral response unless we are surrounded by people who believe what we believe.
The slogan is especially tied into Stone Two which invites us to be open to knowledge and insights from a variety of sources — religious, spiritual, or neither. Our goal is not to make converts from one faith to another. And, always remember when the meeting is over, our religions will still be waiting for us “at the door.” We can pick it up and cloak ourselves inside its security. But, if there comes a time when it no longer feels comfortable, we may modify it, or abandon it, or keep it awhile longer. The choice will always be ours.
Our nations will not be at peace until we are at peace. Laying down the sword is a good first step, but peace is a positive emotion, not simply the lack of negative emotions. When peace is present, all thoughts of conflict are nonexistent, because we finally realize there is nothing and no one causing conflict but ourselves. When peace arrives we understand the only one who needed to change was ourselves, and when we change and welcome peace into our lives, peace spreads naturally to our world.
One of the biggest conflicts to peace stems from religious organizations and their belief they have a monopoly on Truth. Setting down the religious sword proves almost impossible because of this one consistent belief — spoken or unspoken — that our way is the right way and the only way to reach life after death.
Peace will only come when we release the thought that we are “chosen,” as the only children of The Divine, and that everyone must conform to our way of faith. Even the belief that we are special promotes the idea that we have a lock on the right and only path Home. We are all special. Everyone can find a path that will take them Home. No one has to die to prove that their way is the only way.
The business world competes, but on occasion someone comes along and breaks that mold. When that happens, when businesses cooperate instead of compete, everyone stands to benefit. Fear generates the need for competition because we tend to believe only the strong will be successful. But, is that true? Certainly we have shown in many areas of life that when we work together the result is far greater than when we work alone.
Religion has often fallen into the mold of big business, and as such it also competes with other religions. As a result, we have, at times, experienced a cutthroat atmosphere in which each claims to have the Truth, or a new revelation of the Truth. Some have the latest, greatest teachings and doctrines that will usher their believers to their promise land.
What would religious cooperation look like? Where would we even begin? Do we have to agree on every little rule and regulation, or could we concentrate on a handful of the major tenants we agree on and let the rest work themselves out in time — or remain unresolved?
Even as I write these words, it seems like a dream that has little chance of becoming a reality. I suppose the most we can hope for is simply a ceasefire. But, let’s not give up the dream. We can — and will — get along when we stop competing and start cooperating.
At one time fishing was a simple endeavor. All we needed was a pole, line, hook, and bait. Now we have expensive rods and reels, expensive fishing lines to fill our reels, a variety of sizes of hooks, and a multitude of baits and lures. Before we even set off on our adventure we must first secure a fishing license. Add to that the desire for fishing boats, sonar equipment to find the fish, fishing outfits (we have to look the part, after all), fishing magazines with articles to help us find and hook the fish, and what was a simple, relaxing pastime has become a billion-dollar enterprise.
The beauty of fishing, however, is that it is still as simple as grabbing a pole, adding a hook and bait, and we can still fish. We may not be as successful but that depends on how you define success. If our goal was to spend a day at the lake enjoying nature and the experience of fishing, then mission accomplished.
Religion has, in some ways, become as complicated and intricate as fishing. But if our goal is to experience The Divine we don’t have to build huge structures, pour over holy books, or spend thousands on advanced forms of prayer and meditation. Like the art of fishing we can experience The Divine in modest ways. Simply desire the Divine Presence. Simplify your spiritual exercises and relax.
Mahatma Gandhi said this about forgiveness: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Forgiveness is viewed by some as weakness, but nothing could be more mistaken. It takes great courage and strength to admit our mistakes and seek forgiveness. Steps Seven, Eight, and Nine all address the need to forgive and to be forgiven. This is not only true for the Religious Recovery program, but many other twelve-step programs suggest the need to be willing to grant and receive forgiveness.
We often think of great atrocities that need forgiveness, and we consider these events to be the most difficult to forgive, but little grievances that accumulate over time can build a mountain of unforgiven events that appears so overwhelming we don’t know where to begin. It doesn’t have to be that way. Daily forgiveness of ourselves and of others can stop the grievances from mounting. But, once the mountain has formed, we can tear it down, one grievance at a time, or with one felled swoop of total and complete amnesty — one act of pardon.
Once the pardon has been granted, we only need to take care of the small bits of maintenance that arise from time to time. Because we can’t wipe our memories clean and delete the events from our storage system, we might stumble upon something that triggers those memories. Usually, just a simple reminder that we dealt with those memories and surrendered them in forgiveness is all that is needed.
Fear is another barrier to love. In fact, fear is the biggest barrier to love. Where there is fear, love is absent. Where love abides, fear is driven away. The beautiful thing about love is that no matter the situation, we can choose love over fear. No matter how much fear we might be experiencing, we can make a mental decision for love.
When we choose love, miracles happen. I know of an incident of road-rage that was transformed by the power of love. A driver felt he had been cut off in traffic which caused him to spill his beer. He followed the car that he believed had created his predicament to the next exit where the other driver stopped for gas. He approached the car, accused the driver of costing him to lose his beer and demanded the beer be replaced. The tension was high and a fight seemed imminent. One of the passengers said to the man that in the name of Jesus he loved him. Silence fell over the situation. No one seemed to know what to say, and eventually the man turned and silently walked away.
Love doesn’t necessarily avoid all danger, but when we call upon love, things change. Mostly, love changes us, and ultimately it affects those touched by it, even if they refuse to see it or believe it. But when we live our lives in fear, we block love. When we allow love to rule our lives, we move beyond fear and become warriors of Love and Light.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.