The practice of forgiveness is important to our spiritual life, but there are times when it seems as if this practice is best served from a distance. I recall the Bette Midler song that echoed the sentiment that from a distance there is peace and harmony. Sometimes we must forgive but keep our distance. It might not be anyone’s fault, but it seems peace is sometimes served best when there is separation. Perhaps in time the chasm can be bridged, but for now we love and forgive while keeping our distance.
February 24: What would it be like if our world could begin again? Imagine a world that is completely undeveloped in the sense that we had no governments, no religions, no nations, and no borders. The only weapons were man-made from the raw materials of the earth. Have we grown enough in love and compassion that we would see the world as one family, or would we simply pick up where we left off?
The secret to serenity doesn’t seem to be acquiring more but in desiring less. This is often a difficult principle to remember and apply. As I grow older, however, the principle seems to be more achievable. When we near the twilight of our days, if we haven’t acquired the things we need to make us happy, then we might have been looking in the wrong places.
One of the goals of Religious Recovery is to help people think for themselves so they can find the spiritual/religious path that best suits their needs. It would be a mistake if we tried to tell people what to think, do, feel, or be, and we would be gathering dependent children to our program instead of teaching individuals how to be spiritual adults capable of making their way through the religious jungle of beliefs.
The practices of prayer, meditation, and contemplation are often performed alone. Sometimes we need the stillness to silence voices that would tell us what to do, where to go, and how to react to The Divine. Most of the great spiritual masters spent time alone seeking the mind and heart of the Higher Power of their lives.
Is it possible to do anything without an agenda? I think that is a question people often ask when it comes to religious beliefs. When someone knocks on our doors to try to introduce us to their religion, we sense they have an agenda that might not have our best interest in mind. We understand if people suspect that Religious Recovery has an agenda. If helping people to heal when they have been abused by religion or the religious is an agenda, then we are guilty. But, our agenda doesn't include telling you what to believe or that you have to believe, because our agenda comes with love and respect.
In 2001, the movie Shallow Hal debuted — a romantic comedy starring Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jason Alexander. In the movie, Hal Larson, played by Jack Black, was a superficial womanizer who saw only the outer beauty of a woman. After an encounter with Tony Robbins, he is hypnotized into seeing only the inner beauty of a person. People who were ugly on the inside were suddenly seen as ugly on the outside, and those he saw as physically unattractive yet who held an inner beauty were now seen as lovely individuals.
The movie’s theme plays out in typical Hollywood style with the usual twists and turns until the female and male protagonists find true love and ride off together to live happily-ever-after. I love the story and the lessons it teaches, but perhaps the message falls a little short.
In my revised version of the film, Shallow Hal would not only see the beauty and worth of individuals deemed “ugly” by society, but he would also look deeper into the soul of each individual and see the inherent worth of everyone he encountered. We are all creations of The Divine, and if for no other reason than that — we are beautiful and perfectly created in Divine likeness. Of course, my remake probably wouldn’t sell many tickets at the box office, but it would be a more accurate description of who we are.
Through the power of love and forgiveness, we can open our eyes and hearts to the sacredness of life. Each moment offers us a chance to see divinity in the earth, sky, plants, animals, and in every living being. Each individual, including ourselves, is a spiritual being created by The Divine and is therefore worthy of our love and respect.
At times we allow other people to disrupt our peace — people who seem bent on mischief, strife, and conflict. Let us remember that if something or someone threatens to steal our peace, we can love them but still choose to keep our distance from them. We can't fix other people, but we can change our own lives to be what we want them to be.
Patience can be enhanced by the simple belief that all will work out as it is meant to be. That doesn't mean we have to sit idle and wait for the Universe to unfold, but it does mean the Universe will unfold with or without us. Why worry, fret, and try to make things happen when we can work at a more relaxed pace and enjoy our time here on this planet? Patience is a virtue, and impatience can be harmful.
When we look for the common ingredients that religions share, some that come to mind include love, peace, and forgiveness. Another common element is prayer, and although we may call the deity to which we are praying by different names, we are still praying. Why not assume that no matter what name we use, the Life-Force to which we are praying might possibly be the same for all religions?
Worry doesn't solve anything. Problems are solved by doing, not by worrying. The practice of contemplation can take the negative aspect of worrying and enhance it to the realm of problem solving. Contemplation is a positive response to a situation because it looks for ways to make things better and to anticipate a positive outcome instead of a negative one.
We might fail to recognize how powerful our thoughts are, but thoughts have the power to make us happy or sad. What we dwell on can cause pain or pleasure. It only takes a moment to prove this is true. If we reflect on something positive from our past we will feel happy. If we reflect on an abusive situation it will bring sadness and pain. Our thoughts determine our present happiness.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the ones I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.”[i] If we sit around and wait for someone else to change, or for a situation to change, we are more than likely wasting our time. What we can change immediately is ourselves. As the expression goes, we can “Be the change.” As we change, the situation might change, and other people might also change. But, that is a bonus.
When I finally left the church of my youth, I did some of the things the church banned. One in particular was dancing. I took lessons in ballroom dancing and country-line dancing. I loved it and couldn’t understand why the church had legislated against it.
Dancing is healthy. It elevates our heart rates and keeps us physically fit. It also lightens our mood and provides us with energy. Dancing brings joy into our lives and makes us feel young. The church’s restrictions had to do with the sexual level of arousal involved in some forms of dancing — according to their impressions — and so they banned all forms.
Since then I’ve learned a middle way. Nearly anything can be perverted, but nearly anything can be used for our good. What we choose is what matters. We can enjoy the benefits of dancing without going overboard. We can enjoy eating without becoming gluttonous. But, when these activities are micromanaged by a religion, a parent, or society, our natural response is to rebel.
Religious Recovery encourages us to partake of life and make wise decisions. Dancing can be a healthy decision. If you’re not in a place at this moment where you can stop what you’re doing and dance, then simply take a few seconds, recall some music, and in your mind allow your feet, hands, and body to flow with the sounds of life.
Nothing is permanent. Change is inevitable. To deny change is to simply place ourselves in a position where pain is also inevitable. Religious Recovery doesn't promote change for the sake of change, but we do recognize people make mistakes, new information is discovered, and better ways of understanding and experiencing the spiritual aspects of our being are available to us.
We may have been abused by parents, teachers, religious leaders, friends, or others, but the abuse from others is not what made us what we are. Our response to abuse is what has shaped us, and we have determined whether we will be better or bitter. The choice is always ours.
February 10: Following religious beliefs can be rewarding, but following a spiritual path makes it easier to determine when religion fails to line up with the principles of love and forgiveness. Decisions are simpler to make because we aren't depending upon a religious teacher or a set of creeds, but we are, instead, listening to our hearts.
Perhaps the world would be better served if we kept all religious beliefs quiet, and no one tried to push their beliefs onto another. There is a case to be made for this, but on the other hand, couldn't we learn from one another if we would simply accept other people's beliefs without judging them or trying to force them to believe differently? We certainly don't owe anyone an explanation of what we believe, especially if we feel we might be judged by them. Let’s extend the same courtesy and not judge others for what they believe.
When we reach the point of hatred, we've allowed our emotions to get out of control, and we have allowed our judgments to be clouded. I can think of little, if anything, that is worthy of hatred. Even “evil” people retain a spark of divinity somewhere within their soul, and to overlook that spark is to condemn them to a position unworthy of Love. Hatred eats at the soul of the “hater” and is often like drinking acid. Love and forgiveness are the best responses to evil and darkness because our souls aren’t diminished in the process.
Synchronicity is the understanding that the Universe is working in our lives in ways we often fail to understand. By looking for these moments and accepting them, we can achieve a higher level of harmony and peace. When we accept that the Universe is working for our best and highest, it allows us to release our plans when they seem to collide with the Universe and look for the highest and best.
People at times will inquire as to what religion we profess or what denominational affiliation we adhere to. I don't like the question because I often feel I will be judged or categorized. "Oh, you're one of those," some will think, and then my opinions may be explained away, ignored, or discarded. I belong to the church of the Universe, and my spiritual instruction comes from everywhere and from everyone.
When we think of the expression “a misspent youth” we often think of a young person who spent his teenage years partying to such a degree that he or she allowed school and other activities to be neglected. I grew up in a strict religious background, and a lot of the things those young people did were forbidden and foreign to me. I didn’t drink, smoke, curse, go to movies, or dance.
I sometimes wonder if their youth was misspent or was mine. Perhaps a little of both. Those who partied might have fared better had they spent more time in serious pursuits. On the other hand, I might have had a more rewarding life had I found a middle road. The Amish practice of Rumspringa seems to be a middle path in which the Amish youth are allowed to explore the world and decide for themselves whether they will depart from their faith or remain Amish. Those who decide to stay are baptized into the Amish religion.
Many children rebel at some point in their lives, and quite often that rebellion includes a departure from religion, especially if that religion was strict and controlling. Most of the Amish youth who go through Rumspringa remain in the Amish community, so it seems their freedom works for them, not against them.
If we seek to be fearless, we place the emphasis on fear which can allow for fear to increase. Instead of seeking fearlessness it would be wiser to seek for more love. Think of it this way. Do not seek for less darkness but for more light. Love dispels fear the same way light drives away darkness.
The best way to see life clearly is not through our physical eyes but through spiritual eyesight and insight. The more we open our hearts to love, the more beautiful our world becomes. The heart has vision that the physical senses often miss, so before we accept solely what the physical senses tell us, we should listen and see with our hearts.
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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.