Three practices

Meditation is about letting go, allowing everything, wanting nothing, having no preference, and simply being. It’s about resting in the presence of consciousness itself, transcending all separation, abiding in union. There are no words in meditation, but if there were, they would simply be “I AM.”

Prayer on the other hand is much messier and much wordier. For example:

God, I don’t know what to write about. I hate trying to sound clever or coming up with wisdom. When I try to do it on my own, it only produces garbage. I need you. All true insights come from you. Everything else is wasted energy. I see myself even now putting on a show. Help me, Lord. Show me how to pray. I come before you with all my anxiety, all my desires, whether wholesome and God-ordained or not. Show me the error of my ways. Draw out the good that you see in me. I don’t know how to live life. I need your help. I so badly want to awaken. Don’t I?! Lord, what am I even doing? I don’t know how to do this. You HAVE to show me how. I am completely hopeless without you. Show me the way!! Lead me. Comfort me. Guide me. Give me hope. Give me joy. Give me energy. I can’t manufacture this stuff on my own. I need you.

I am so confused without you, and so anxious. Give me a word, Lord. I need a word for today. I need a word to sustain me. What can my anxious, hungry mind latch onto? Throw me a bone. But don’t stay far away. I don’t want to spend one moment apart from you. I drive my life into the ground when I do. Yes, Lord, make it even more painful to spend even one moment in separation. Let it drive me back to you. Make it unbearable. Drive me to you. But how can I even tell who you are? Who are you? I haven’t the slightest clue. Show me yourself.

Lord, I choose to believe in you. I believe you hear me and that you love me. I believe you are watching over me, guiding me, keeping me safe. My life is in your hands. I affirm this today. I am not alone. You are with me. I take comfort in your presence. I receive your peace. I rest in the knowledge that you are with me. I will wait patiently for you. You have shown me your face before. I take comfort in trusting in you. I choose your timeline, not mine. I would only screw it up. Help me to receive the gifts you have for me today. Open my eyes to your presence, open my ears to your word. I will walk with you today. I will abide in you today. No matter what happens, I will look to you. Help me to trust you to carry me through every experience, every challenge, every decision.

Thank you Lord for your peace and your presence. You mean I don’t actually have to change anything? You mean I can have peace right now? But I was in such turmoil and I was WANTING so much just a moment ago. You won’t forget about my desires, will you? I know better than that. You who made me, who formed me in my mother’s womb, who breathed me into existence—how could I ever doubt that my deepest desires come from you and that they are meant to be fulfilled? You mean I can and should just settle down and live in harmony? I don’t know, Lord. I don’t want to give up on my dreams. If I don’t hold onto them and pursue them with all my might, how will they ever come to fruition?

And then there is listening. When one person talks to another, it’s only a conversation if both people speak:

My son, I hear your pleas. I hear your cries. I know your desires better than you do! Your desires run far deeper than you even realize. I will show you how deep they go, and I will fulfill them beyond your wildest imagination. But you must trust in me. You confuse matters by opposing action to trust. I will guide you to take action when action is appropriate. Until then, yes, you can rest and live in harmony. Fulfill your duties, knowing that I am always with you. I will show you the door; you need only walk through it. You don’t need to find the door, but you will miss it unless you keep your eyes open. The only way you can do this is to completely trust in me. How can I guide you if you are always looking to the left and to the right? No, just look straight ahead. I have never left you and I never will. Rest in my love for you. This is my gift for you right now and always. You can commune with me now and know to the depths of your soul that you are loved.

I encourage all three practices, as they allow you to traverse the depths of your being, from the pettiest concerns and tantrums of your ego, to the highest wisdom that is available to you now. These practices will enable you to live a deeper, more fulfilling life, accomplishing the purposes for which you were born.

The kingdom of heaven

In July of 2012, I felt inspired to record some improvisations on the piano. I seemed to be tapping into a wellspring of creativity, so I decided to start recording an improvisation every day. All in all, I recorded about 25 improvisations and posted them to my account at I was impressed with some of them more than others. Towards the end of the experiment, they started sounding the same to me. So I stopped. I was getting into a rut. Perhaps I wasn’t opening up to inspiration as effectively. Perhaps I was getting in my own way.

Now that I reflect on it, I can see that I was beginning to practice independence. That word often has a positive connotation, but that’s not the sense I’m going for here. Another way to put it is that my ego started taking over. I stopped cold-turkey, rather than let it evolve into whatever the next structure should be. As with my career explorations, I have been so invested in defining what I will be doing that it can prevent me from taking action without first knowing everything up front. This is not living a life of faith. Instead, it’s attempting to control life, demanding to know what’s next before taking a step forward.

It’s a normal part of the human condition. When we see something working, we want more of it. We figure that we’ve found the answer, and we don’t need to search anymore. We go with what works until long after it doesn’t work anymore. Then we suddenly realize we need to start searching again. What if we instead kept that sense of wonder and openness alive continually? Even when we have a big breakthrough and want to exploit it for all it’s worth, what if we at the same time kept our eyes and ears open to what goes beyond even that? Must life always be a series of stops and starts? What if it could actually flow in a continuous stream of insight and revelation?

Interestingly, the word “breakthrough” may no longer apply at certain levels. For example, if you have been sick and suddenly find out what has been causing your illness, you could call that a breakthrough into new levels of health. You have broken through a wall of resistance to your own health. But once your pursuit of greater physical health begins to accelerate, there are fewer and fewer walls to break through. Now it’s more a matter of continuous improvement, no breakthroughs required.

What then becomes possible in the other areas of your life? If your physical health and vitality are improving every day, what new breakthroughs might you see in other areas? In your career? In your relationships? The learning process can now begin to accelerate in those areas as well; increasingly frequent breakthroughs eventually give way to a smooth progression of continuous improvement.

How can we free ourselves from the things that hold us back? How can we break through our walls of resistance? One way is to increase our awareness of the limitations themselves. Shining light on them has a tendency to dissolve them, as we naturally start doing what needs to be done to overcome them. To do this, we need to cultivate a heightened sensitivity to what is happening in our lives. When we have a breakthrough, we need to keep our eyes open. Yes, receive the gift of the breakthrough, but don’t stop there, assuming that all your problems are solved now or that you’ve “arrived.” Enjoy the revelation or healing or new success—enjoy it fully! But keep listening for what even better breakthroughs might be awaiting you.

If I had to summarize in one instruction how to do this, i.e. how to launch your life on an upward spiral of success, happiness, and fulfillment, it would be this: receive each moment as a gift. This puts you in the best possible position. You are recognizing that you did not create your own life (at least not the little you that you usually think of when you think of yourself). Instead, it comes from a power far greater than you, to which you owe your life. When you receive each moment as a gift, you are not rushing to get what’s next and forgetting to enjoy what you already have. No, you’re enjoying it fully, grateful for the free gift that is your life. But when you receive each moment as a gift, neither are you avoiding the future nor giving up on your dreams. That’s because the future, and your dreams themselves, always appear in the next moment. The moment is where your gifts and your aspirations meet, your desires and their fulfillment. The more that you can stay in that place, the more your life will become smooth, an ever-expanding, upward-spiraling flow of continuous improvement and celebration.

Faith helps here. What if you believed that everything that happened to you was for your own good, your own growth, your own learning, your own guidance? How differently would you relate to the events in your life? What if the entirety of your experience was actually a love song being continually composed for you, including all the ups and downs, the sad parts and the happy parts, the difficult parts and the easy parts? What if you could receive it all as a gift? What if your faith was so strong, your stance so firm, that, no matter what happened, you chose to receive every moment as a gift? Does that sound…perhaps…rather powerful?

I anticipate this objection: “But I’m going to die eventually. So much for the ‘upward spiral.'” Ah! That’s where there’s even greater news and an even more powerful perspective. What if your body’s life was not the sum of your real life? Regardless of whether your individual consciousness survives beyond death (whether through an afterlife or reincarnation or some other means or combination thereof), I can prove to you now that you already have existence beyond death. All you have to do is open your eyes to a truth that we’re all already aware of (it’s just that we usually don’t grasp its significance): when a body dies, the Universe doesn’t. Do you think that’s any less true for your body? All you have to do is see the life of this body and mind as yet another cycle in the upward spiral of your true life.

Okay, I admit that’s easier said than done. But here again, it can start with faith.  Imagine that you saw your life as extending beyond the life of this body. What if you placed your identity not in this death-destined body but in the larger whole of which it is only a part? Where would fear come into play? Would it even apply anymore? Imagine what your life could be like if you were totally free to be yourself and fulfill all of your deepest desires, living in total alignment with your true nature—all because you received every moment as a gift and did not fear your own death?

Now, finally, what would the world be like if we all did that? What if so many of us woke up to our true identity that there was no longer any way to prevent all of us from doing so? What if we saw ourselves in each other, and each other in ourselves? What if we all celebrated the gift of life that we are all always receiving? I dare say that this is what Jesus meant when he spoke of the “kingdom of heaven.”

Why I am (still) a Christian, part 2

I am a Christian because, from an early age, God called me to be a Christian. I was born into a Christian family so that I could receive the upbringing and the training in Scriptures and devotion to Jesus that I would need in order to serve him. The name “Jesus” is etched into the corners of my heart. Jesus was my icon for Love and my icon for God.

Many Christians have had a “born-again” experience. I did not experience this until I let go of what I thought was the only way to be a Christian. God died, and I was born again. That created the fertile ground God needed to really wake me up to the Power I had always been dealing with. I had been hoping it was true, believing it was true, getting glimpses of insight here and there, moments of feeling loved by God, senses of being guided at key turning points in my life. But my world view, with all of its limitations, constrained my ability to truly believe, because it included many things that my rational mind or love-impressed heart had trouble with: divine punishment in an everlasting hell for those who don’t believe; denial of evolution or at least an inability to square evolution with traditional evangelical theology; God as a person who is separate, outside of our Reality, the Creator but not the embodying Spirit. These were chipped away at, until, with the help of severe chronic illness and depression, my faith was wrenched as if forcibly from my hands and I was left not knowing who I was or what life was.

Then it was only a matter of days, weeks, and months for the Spirit to start swooping in with flashes of insight and moments of awakening. Gradually yet quickly it dawned on me that, yes, God has called me to be a Christian. My spiritual experiences—direct encounters with powerful manifestations of God’s presence—have grown exponentially in the last year and a half. They are pointing me to the fact that I was always on the right track. It’s just that I had a lot of baggage that was holding me back. For me, this baggage was very heavy and burdensome. For many other Christians, the pain of such baggage hasn’t reached the breaking point. It is entirely possible to officially give assent to some pretty quirky doctrines and yet still be filled with the Spirit and love people with a seemingly supernatural love. We all have blind spots that hold us back, yet God still uses us anyway!

That’s why I have far from given up on the church, even, if not especially, conservative expressions of Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is my heritage, my community, my culture. It has been the locale for my encounters with the divine for most of my life. Although I do not hold tightly to the doctrines like I used to do (in a literal, must-make-this-system-internally-consistent-at-all-costs sort of way), I still see a powerful ethos and expression of God’s Spirit that seems to only be possible when coupled with a strong sense of belief. Having the conviction that the power and presence we call God is actually real makes a huge difference in what you will be open to seeing and experiencing.

On the other hand, if you don’t really believe in your heart that it’s real, or you’re so used to saying you believe it without any sense of wonder or excitement, then your faith is as good as dead. And we sadly do see that in many churches as well. Usually it’s a mixture, a few bright lights mixed in with a sea of ashen faces. What is one to do? Let the light shine! Draw it out, encourage it, celebrate it, point to it, focus on it, let everything else fade. This, I believe, is the way transcendence works. To combat war, you don’t fight war. You celebrate peace! To combat bigotry, you don’t fight bigotry. You celebrate inclusion! To combat doubt, you don’t fight doubt. You celebrate faith! To combat blindness, you don’t fight blindness. You celebrate sight!

Not just in the church, but everywhere I look, this is my commitment: I will see the good, the true, and the beautiful. As I see it, and as I point others to it, we as humanity will eventually forget that there was anything else. As your eyes are opened, if you are a Christian, or a heartbroken Christian, or a “recovering Christian,” you may also see the goodness, truth, and beauty in your own religious heritage, like I am seeing. It will be like Jesus’ radiance on the Mount of Transfiguration. In those moments, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus for who he really was. They saw into the deeper dimension that surrounds them always. That dimension didn’t only exist in those brief moments on the hill. The hilltop experiences could now inform their way of life in the valley, where everything might otherwise appear mundane.

So for you Christians who might have read part 1 of this post, left with a feeling of banal flatness, thinking “Where’s the power?” I hope this has begun to show you that I have no agenda to rob you of your faith. On the contrary, I want you to see the truth! The power you serve is greater and more expansive and all-encompassing than you realize! It is of cosmic scale and importance. Christianity points to that cosmic scale, but it can never contain it, for it is a human religion on one single planet. When you put the horse before the cart as it should be, you’ll be able to see that God is bigger than you thought, and Christianity was way more true than you ever realized. The Good News is better than you think!

I know this post will probably raise more questions than it answers. What exactly do you believe? How do you read Jesus’ words here? Etc. About this, the words of Paul come to mind: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Corinthians 3:2) The Scriptures are like milk to us, and we as humanity are still infants in Christ. We must grow into maturity in the Spirit before we will begin to directly see the light of truth. At that point, the spiritual wisdom of the Bible will become an expression of our own experience. Until then (and it will always be “until then”, only at subsequent levels in the spiral of learning), we must tread lightly. We must be curious, we must ask for insight. We must stop practicing independence, as if God sent us these words from afar for us to figure out on our own and will return later to see if we got it all figured out right. That’s far from the Christian message. No, God is here now, and I pray for myself as well as for all of you:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
—Ephesians 1:17-18

There is hope for humanity, and Christianity needs to come into its own as a clear, undeniably positive expression of that hope.

Why I am (still) a Christian, part 1

The obvious answer as to why I am a Christian is that I grew up that way. But less obvious is why I am still a Christian despite experiencing a break from Christianity in my heart and mind in April of last year. Ironically, the break itself is what would ultimately lend so much more meaning for me to the Christian story of transformation, of death and resurrection. In losing my life, I found it, and for a brief period of time, it didn’t include being a Christian. For the first time, I saw choice of religion as optional for salvation, recognizing that religion is not the same thing as God, even if we get most of our ideas about God from religion.

What I learned was that there is More to life than meets the eye, particularly the sick, cynical, depressed eye, the eye that’s in desperate need of healing. I experienced (and still am experiencing and desiring more experiences of) transformation. To me, this is what Christianity is all about: positive change, healing, renewal, restoration, reconciliation. However, it has also been distorted beyond recognition and has been used as an excuse to perpetrate all sorts of atrocities. Many people associate the word “Christianity” with hatred, war, bigotry, and institutional evil. And it’s no wonder that they do.

Yet I still have hope for Christianity, just as I have hope for people in general. When you look at Jesus, the one Christianity is supposed to be all about, you don’t see those things. Instead, you see the things I listed: positive change, healing, renewal, restoration, reconciliation. And you also do see those things in many groups of Jesus-followers today.

For me then, to be a Christian is to affirm that the transformational Spirit of “Christ” (anointing) which rested on Jesus is alive and well today and available for everyone. In fact, it is a principle of reality that death precedes new life, mourning precedes celebration, sickness precedes health. You see evidence of this throughout the world, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” (Isaiah 61:3) This raises an important point: this is not always identified as “Christ,” but whether or not we choose to identify It as such, doesn’t change the fact that It is. Just because I use the name “Christ” to describe this Spirit, doesn’t mean you have to. Christianity does not have a monopoly on transformation. However, I do believe it has a very compelling person and story and set of teachings at its center that are exemplary of, and even instrumental for, transformation: at the personal, familial, societal, and global levels.

I see this Spirit at work both inside the church and outside the church. Sometimes I see it much more clearly at work outside the church, and even more clearly among non-Christians. The only way this has been possible was for me to let go of the blinders that kept me from seeing the image of God in everyone, whether or not they believed in God or saw things the way I did. Jesus’ prayer for us today was “that they may be one.” (John 17:11) We’ll never get there if we keep thinking that you need to join my religion before I will begin to think of you as one of my own. Jesus had no trouble operating within his religion (Judaism) while at the same time transcending it. We can learn to do this too. We bitterly “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) as long as we don’t.

Christianity is a rich treasure trove of transformational wisdom. It has captured the imagination of spiritual seekers for thousands of years. It is capturing my imagination today. That is why it makes no sense to me to try and throw out all religion, any more than it makes sense to tout one religion as the best and only one. We’re just falling into the same trap over and over again when we think we have the right course of action for everyone. Yet I do affirm Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one.” What does it mean to be one, to embody unity? Here is where forgiveness (another huge emphasis in Christianity) is essential. We must stop making our diversity a problem. Only then will we have unity.

I envision a “new humanity” where the Spirit of Christ has made “the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14,15) Again, here is that spirit of reconciliation. Religious reconciliation. Racial reconciliation. Individual reconciliation. International reconciliation. This, to me, is what Christianity is all about, at minimum. It’s also so much More…

If you’re a devoted Christian, you might be thinking, “But what about the power and presence of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the dynamics of a personal relationship with Jesus?” I’ll get to those things when I write part 2. 🙂