I’m certain there are times when I have hurt someone unintentionally and wasn’t even aware of it. If that is so, then I’m also certain there have been times when other people have hurt me unintentionally, and they weren’t aware of it. If I wait for an apology, it will never come. I can stay in bitterness, or choose to forgive anyway.
Steps number Seven, Eight, and Nine of the Religious Recovery program speak of the importance of forgiveness. I have found that spiritual progress is impeded when I refuse to forgive, to be forgiven, or to forgive myself. Learning to practice forgiveness in small infractions helps us to forgive what may seem to us to be the unforgiveable events of our lives.
August 16: Before we are labeled by nationality, religion, or gender, we are simply a spirit or a soul. Once the labels are placed upon us, it can take years, perhaps even a lifetime to remove. When we refuse to label people, we find it easier to accept and love them. Peace is possible when we refuse to judge people, and labeling them can be another form of judging.
Knowing what is right from a legalistic standpoint can be different from what is right from a spiritual standpoint. When love conflicts with the law, we must listen to our hearts and follow its leading. Great harm — even wars — can come about when we refuse to listen to our hearts.
Peace will not come by decree, treaty, or force. Peace is achieved by individual effort and spreads through love, acceptance, tolerance, and kindness. Religion is not the source of peace, but it can aid in bringing it about, or it can spread division, hatred, and strife.
Disappointment is understandable when we discover the wizard is simply a man behind a curtain pulling strings, levers, and shouting fiercely at us through a magnified sound system. What we do after discovering this revelation speaks more about us than it does about the pseudo wizard. There is no right or wrong way to react except to be honest with our feelings. Disappointment, anger, frustration, and betrayal are common. The feelings that rarely surface are understanding, sympathy, forgiveness, and even love. You might ask, how can these feelings arise when we were betrayed? Keep in mind, we don’t encourage denying the negative feelings. Feel the pain, but then deal with the root of the problem. Yes, we were deceived, but why were we vulnerable to deception?
When we discover the answer to that question, we discover we are less likely to be deceived again. Avoid the question and the lesson may need to be repeated. Always remember the religious leader who you assigned the role of wizard is human, but also — just like us — a divine creation. We can decide to overlook his grandiose gestures and overbearing manner if we believe his wisdom and caring are genuine. As Stone Four states, we discern what works and what does not. Yes, religious leaders are wrong to mislead us and let us believe they are more than human, but that doesn’t mean everything they said or did was wrong. We can pick through the rubble and salvage the good. We might discover there is more good than bad.
Try to remember to thank someone today. This simple act of gratitude improves our ability to be kind and compassionate. Even a simple wave of acknowledgement when someone allows you to pull out in traffic can improve your life and make you more humble. We are in this together, and this acknowledgment that we need one another humbles us in a good way.
The past can be changed. At least, our interpretation of past events can change. I recall times when I experienced things that made me angry, only to look back at the event later with a different perspective. Often I can laugh at the silliness of my angry moments and even hold those moments with a measure of fondness. When we make peace with our past, we open the door to present and future peace.
Sometimes it simply doesn’t dawn on us that there could be another “right” path that is different from the one we are on. If our path leads us Home, then isn’t it the path that everyone should travel? But people come from different starting points, and our responsibility is to our own journey. We can offer insights, hope, love, and light, but we must let them find the path that is best for them.
The ability to change should also be utilized when it comes to religion. If we don’t like a particular spiritual leader, we can choose another one. If we don’t like a particular religious belief system, we can explore others. If our heart tells us something we are told is not quite right, we can ignore it or follow it. Religion is not a scientific endeavor, and the rules are less strict. In fact, they are mostly guidelines.
One of the slogans of Religious Recovery is “Leave your religion at the door.” We do not promote or condemn any religion. Therefore we avoid theological discussions and choose to allow each individual to believe as they choose. There are many religious paths, and we accept that everyone is responsible for what they believe. We are here to help those who have been wounded by religion or the religious, but in doing so, we still refuse to judge or condemn.
The way of peace is perhaps the shortest path to The Divine. Personal peace, community peace, and global peace lead us in loving, caring, and accepting lifestyles. If a religion or a religious belief interferes with the path of peace, choose peace. Always remember that peace begins with us — we cannot give or create what we do not have.
When we refuse to forgive — refuse to even consider the possibility of forgiveness, we remain in a mindset that prevents spiritual progress and blocks the Light from shining freely in our lives. Forgiveness allows us to see things differently, and it allows the Light to penetrate the despair of hatred and self-loathing.
In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, a pivotal moment happens when Dorothy pulls back the curtain to reveal the man operating the controls used to create the image of an awesome, fearful wizard. Their hopes have been placed in the power of the wizard to deliver them from their plight and give them their heart’s desire. In reality, the wizard is just a man.
For some people, a similar experience happens when we draw back the curtain that separates us from the spiritual leaders we have entrusted with our faith. We discover they are humans and not spiritual wizards who can grant our every wish and make life wonderful. For some people, this realization devastates their faith and leaves them shattered. The wizard of Oz redeemed himself by helping three of the four seekers to discover that what they sought they already possessed. They just didn’t recognize it. In the end, Dorothy also discovered the power to return to her home was with her all along.
When we put our spiritual leaders on a pedestal and look to them for our spiritual answers, we do them and ourselves a disservice. Some of those leaders may have allowed their position to inflate their egos and fell naturally into the role of savior, but no matter who they are, one day the curtain will be pulled back, and the world will see who they, and perhaps who we really are. If we are men and women of substance the curtain isn’t needed and shouldn’t be there.
Isn’t the purpose of religion to control one’s self? To make ourselves better? What are we doing to make ourselves more peaceful, kind, and loving? When religions judge and condemn other religions and people, they have forgotten we are on this journey together, and by lifting up one another, everyone benefits.
Religious Recovery holds to the idea that there is more than one right religion, one right path, and more than one way to reach The Divine. We may not agree with someone else’s religious beliefs, but that does not give us the right to judge their journey as wrong or evil. It does not give us the right to condemn them. Judging and condemning leads to bitterness, hatred, and wars. Love and acceptance lead to peace and harmony.
Kindness is essential to living a happy life, and kindness is also a key to peace. We should remember this whenever the temptation arises to judge another person, another country, or a religion that is different from what we believe. Changing lives by force seldom if ever works, but changing lives through loving kindness can have life-changing, and even world-changing results.
Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. In fact, only strong people can forgive. The type of forgiveness we speak of is not one that includes judgment, but one that lifts the other person up as our equal, and forgives out of love and respect.
Not everyone has the ability to forgive unconditionally, just as not everyone has the ability to love unconditionally. This is one statement in which I hope I am wrong — and everyone strives with all their might to prove me wrong.
Instead of denying our feelings — as some religions suggest — Religious Recovery encourages us to experience our emotions and to live in the present moment. Be present, be available to self and others, and also be available to our Higher Power. By living fully in the present moment and experiencing all emotions, we have the ability to move through life with authenticity.
One positive sign of recovery from religious abuse is the ability to find humor in the situation. Laughter brings healing for the past, assurance for the present, and hope for the future. Stone Eleven reminds us to look for the comedy in situations and to develop the ability to laugh at our own comedy of errors.
Crucifixion and resurrection have always carried specific meanings for me. I was taught they referred to the death of Jesus and His subsequent resurrection from the dead. Some people believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus, others do not. Religious Recovery tries not to tell a person what to believe, but we do look for truth in whatever form it takes, and many wonderful truths can be found in religion.
Most people I meet are looking for inner peace, because our internal state will determine the experiences of our lives. In that sense, there is a popular notion promoting the crucifixion of the self in order to allow The Divine to dwell and bring peace. But, some people believe The Divine already dwells within us, and the call to peace is simply recognition of The Divine within, and what we need now is a call to love. These people may also see crucifixion as an energy pattern of fear. In a sense, I can relate to this because it seems like such a difficult and impermanent thing to try to crucify the self.
Religious Recovery doesn’t promote or denounce either position, but the call to resurrection is a more universal call. Whatever has died, can be revived. That is a major lesson from Jesus’ resurrection. Think of it this way: where confusion rules, peace can be resurrected, where fear threatens to crucify the Light, Love resurrects it, and where life is crucified in death, eternal life is resurrected in the life to come. We are responsible for our own spiritual path. We can choose resurrected life now and in whatever waits for us beyond the grave.
To judge a religion based upon one church, synagogue, temple, or mosque would be a mistake. Unfortunately, one bad experience can limit our ability to see the good that might be present in other churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, or other places of worship. Pure religion can draw us closer to The Divine. Because nothing — except The Divine — is pure, we try to find places and people of like-mindedness who can help us on our journeys. Sometimes it is within a religious institution, and sometimes it is not. Let the path take you where you are supposed to go.
Religions are manmade, and as such, they are susceptible to great good or great harm. It isn’t always easy to tell if a particular religion is helping us or hurting us. Also, within each religion there are good versions and bad ones — good paths and roads that lead us in circles or to dead ends. When we feel we’re in a bad religious place, it’s okay to take a break from religion and turn our search to the Spirit of The Divine that lives within.
The religious path we travel is often passed down from a previous generation. We may have accepted it as true and right because of our faith in our ancestors, but until we examine the beliefs for ourselves we never make the road our own. Many people find no need to abandon the path of their birth, but they do choose how they will travel the path — with love and acceptance or with judgment and fear.
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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.