There is nothing wrong with looking back or looking ahead as long as we remember to remain in the moment. We reflect back in order to retain the positive and to overcome any negative. We look forward with resolve to do better, but that resolve only works while we remain in the moment, and we become the kinder, gently person we want to be in this moment — not tomorrow but right now.
Over the years religious people have tried to spread their faith often without regard to the faith of those they want to convert. Without listening and learning about another person’s religious beliefs, how do we know which of us is in need of conversion? Perhaps neither of us. Perhaps both of us. If we listen and understand, surely we will both be better off no matter what choice we make.
Some religious people seem to think that we are not smart enough to choose the right path. They believe we are dumb sheep that need leadership. We are all intelligent when it comes to matters of the heart and the ability to follow the Voice of the Master Shepherd. Yes, we might get good advice from others, but recognizing the true leaders from the wolves in sheep’s clothing is our responsibility.
Following in the trail of forgiveness is the ability to love and to accept love. When we realize who we are — divinely created in the image of The Divine — then love should be our first and only response to ourselves and to everyone else because they, too, were created in the image of The Divine. Peace comes one smile at a time. Love and peace come with the decision to love as we would want to be loved, to forgive as we would want to be forgiven.
The next process on the path to peace brings us back to forgiveness. It is perhaps the most important step in the process because without forgiveness we cannot move into love. Forgiveness does as much or more for us than it does for those we forgive because it cleanses, purifies, and sets us free. Never underestimate its power — or the difficulty — this step often entails.
After we tolerate and accept, we can go a step further and determine to embrace those who believe differently than we do. This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to embrace their beliefs, but it does mean we decide to embrace them as fellow children of The Divine who simply have a different perspective. We embrace our differences.
Peace on Earth and good will to men is a sentiment that needs to be echoed every day of the year. We need to learn the steps to peace and apply them in our individual lives until they become so ingrained in our thinking that nothing but peace will suffice. The steps to peace include the decision to tolerate, accept, embrace, forgive, and love.
Prayer is communicating with The Divine, and is often thought of in terms or our speaking to The Divine as opposed to meditating which is often thought of as listening. Consider how parents and infants communicate. Infants don’t speak, but they communicate by expressing their feelings. When they are hungry, they cry. When they are happy, they laugh and giggle. No words are exchanged but the parent hears the cry of the heart.
After the child begins to speak, their number one question is “Why?” They are inquisitive and want to know how the world works. Later, in the teenage years, communication seems to grind to a halt again. The child has asked its questions and has learned over the years that parents make mistakes — or at least mistakes in the eyes of the child. When this carries over into the spiritual realm, doubts arise about the existence of a divine being and also about whether The Divine is as good and loving as they have been taught. At some point — we hope — the child understands that, although the parent wasn’t perfect, the parent loved them and only wanted what was best for them.
By following the parent/child relationship we might also see a pattern in our spiritual development with our Divine Parent. Have we matured past the infant stage in our prayers, or do we still throw a fit when we don’t get our way? Have we matured into the stage where we asked questions and sought answers? Are we still stifled in our teen years? Or, have we come to maturity in our prayer life, recognizing The Divine loves us and only wants what is best for us?
Acceptance often follows tolerance. Once we learn to tolerate another person’s religious beliefs we can usually accept them — not that we accept them as ours, but we accept that people have different beliefs. That doesn’t make them any less worthy of our love and understanding. If we can accept their beliefs without the urgent desire to make them believe as we do, we then move closer to peace.
I want my actions to speak louder than my words. By controlling our thoughts we can control the way we interact with people. If we choose to judge and see evil all around us, we will become the negative that we choose to see. If we choose to see divine creations worthy of our love, we will control the way we act and react to others.
We might not be able to control our emotions, and in fact, the ability to feel our emotions is important and a part of what makes us human. We can, however, choose to release any emotion that threatens to harm us or someone else. Emotions are often a response to our thoughts, so by controlling our thoughts, we can guide our emotions to a healthier state.
Step Thirteen says that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. This Step takes the pressure off of us and places it where it belongs — with each individual. To try to “save” or “convert” or “rescue the fallen” is not our responsibility and can be counterproductive. If we are the right “teacher” we will not have to look for the student. He or she will find us, and we will know the connection is right because it will simply feel right.
Recognizing the difference between being spiritual versus being religious is important. Religion was created by man to meet a need for community, but spirituality is who we are at the core of our existence. Step Twelve reminds us of the importance of this difference and goes a step further by encouraging us to let our natural Light point the way to those who might be stumbling in the darkness.
Step Eleven mentions three specific spiritual tools to help us heal from religious abuse. These tools are prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Used together they provide for healing and freedom to discover the spiritual/religious paths that work best in our lives. Each is a bit different from the other, but each also contains an element of the other. Ask, listen, and then consider which answer is the best for your situation.
Tolerance is a step in the right direction, and for some people it is the only step they can take for now. Step Ten encourages us to accept all religious faiths without judgment, but before acceptance often comes tolerance. Sometimes just being in the room with someone seems to be more than we can tolerate, but recognizing that person as a divinely created child of the Universe helps to let go of some of our prejudices and judgments.
The Buddha said, “To understand everything is to forgive everything.” There were times when my parents didn’t understand my motivations, and also times when I didn’t understand theirs. If we could have talked and shared our reasons, perhaps some of our turbulent years would have been easier. Understanding another person is not always easy because of our preconceived ideas. Religion has plenty of preconceived ideas, rules, and doctrines that often create walls of right and wrong which prevent us from understanding one another. Battles are drawn over trivial questions of doctrine, and men and women are willing to die to defend their beliefs. Understanding one another can seem like weakness. Anyone who understands me can be converted to my way of thinking — or so we might believe. Understanding and agreeing with someone is not necessarily the same.
Understanding helps us walk a mile in someone’s moccasins. It doesn’t, however, give us the right to take their shoes, or to tell them our shoes and our ways of walking are the only right ways. Forgiveness often begins through understanding, continues through acceptance, and can end in peace when we comprehend that by understanding another, we are actually learning to understand ourselves. When we are not willing to try to understand someone, we block them from our friendship, care, and love. Just because someone’s behavior is difficult to understand, it doesn’t mean that person is working from hurtful, vicious, or selfish motives. They could simply be misguided, and if we look a little deeper, we may find the behavior that seems wrong to us might simply be a call for love.
 Young, Christopher (2012-04-12). Buddha Quotes - 365 Days of Inspirational Quotes and Sayings in Buddhism (Kindle Location 450). Kindle Edition.
Step Eight gives no guarantee that we will receive forgiveness from those we harmed, so Step Nine provides for that possibility. Whether or not we are forgiven by others, we can and must forgive ourselves. This is difficult for many people to accept, but accept it we must. Who are we not to forgive when The Divine deems us worthy of forgiveness, love, and mercy?
Not only do we forgive those who hurt us in the name of religion, but in Step Eight we examine our own lives to see if we have hurt someone else by our religious beliefs. If we have, we seek their forgiveness. Forgiveness is thus given and received, and this give-and-take brings more love and understanding than merely a one-way exchange.
Step Seven is one of the most important Steps of the Religious Recovery program. We choose to forgive those who hurt us in the name of religion. Make no mistake; it is a choice, and one we sometimes have to make over and over until it sticks. Religious abuse eats at the core of who we believe we are, and when that core is abused, quick fixes seldom work. Old-fashioned love and forgiveness bring healing — and often it takes time.
Step Six of Religious Recovery begins the section on forgiveness by first taking inventory of our own past mistakes of religiously abusing others. Before judging another it’s important to examine our own lives to see if we have injured another in the name of religion. We tend to rationalize and justify our behavior, but if we can see abuse for what it is — in most cases simply misguided zeal — we can be more forgiving with ourselves and with others.
December 13: As we discover other individuals who have been abused by religion, it helps to connect and share our stories. Some people may not relate to all the same details, but there will be enough who do connect, and those connections will allow for healing. As Step Five mentions, success is best achieved through the practice of anonymity. Sharing works best in a safe environment.
Besides the differing world religions, there is also a movement back towards earth-born spiritual experiences such as those of the Native Americans. Step Four recognizes that The Divine can be seen in many ways, and by opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to any form in which The Divine chooses to speak to us, we can reach greater levels of Love and understanding.
By recognizing that we are spiritual beings who may or may not be religious, we find it easier to turn our lives over to this Higher Power which is expressed in Step Three as “The Divine.” Many people confuse religion with being spiritual. Religion is manmade whereas spirituality refers to that which was divinely given to us in our hearts.
A friend once told me she couldn’t memorize things the way I can. I was surprised to hear her statement, because I’ve never considered myself skilled at memorization. I’ve tried to memorize speeches in the past, but I usually fail miserably. If there is any secret to my ability to memorize, it is simple repetition.
I started memorizing Bible Scriptures years ago. I’d write them out and repeat them over and over until they stuck with me. Nowadays I memorize bits and pieces from other spiritual material I find meaningful. Some of my favorites are from the book, A Course in Miracles. Other things cross my path and I’ve discovered that memorizing them allows me the ability to recall them in times of need. Occasionally I memorize writings that come from traditions outside of my birth religion.
I don’t consider myself a natural when it comes to memorization, so I practice more because it doesn’t come easy. Sometimes in order to unlearn something it helps if I replace it with something more compatible with my chosen path. By the simple act of repetition, I slowly move forward. We memorize things in life without knowing it. Our route to work and our daily routine for getting dressed become so ingrained we can do them without thinking. Complex procedures like driving a car or work procedures are memorized by the majority of people. Nearly anything you want to retain can be memorized by simple repetition. We just want to be certain that what it is we’re memorizing is worth our time.
Step Two reminds us that “...The Divine has no religion, is greater than religion, and can heal us from our hurts.” The Divine is not Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim or any other religion. The Divine simply exists, and like any good Parent/Creator, this Higher Power wants Love to rule the Earth and for all children to get along.
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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.