Offerings 3

“What Is God?”

A seven-year-old asked, “Daddy, what is God?”

“Son, this is a very deep question for a seven-year-old. God is beyond human comprehension. God is the Absolute, the unknowable Mystery, the Infinite Essence, the pure Emptiness, the Beginningless Beginning, the formless Form, the unmoved Mover, the uncreated Creator, the unmanifest Source, the fathomless Abyss, the highest Height, the inmost Center, the Beyond the Beyond, the Ground of Being, the infinite I AM, the Alpha and the Omega, He/She Who IS.”

“Oh.” And then a minute later, “Thanks, Daddy.”

Are We Willing?

Lately, I’ve been noticing my attention wandering to every female who passes my view. And there are a lot of attractive ones--women, girls--on every corner, it seems. Whoa--is this what I want to dominate my attention? There has been a lot more light within me lately, so it seems to be even more important than ever before to be careful where I allow my mind to dwell.

So I asked Jesus and Mary to lift this burden from me. It worked somewhat, but not really enough. In meditation, I got some clarity: a part of me wanted to be free of it, but another part of me was invested in it, in the energy of it, the game of it.

My teacher told me that it goes back to wounds in my childhood, that the love I didn’t get from my mother I look for in the feminine outside of me. So I started looking at my own longing rather than focusing on the outer feminine. This helped somewhat. When I contacted an inner lack within myself, which I usually try (unconsciously) to fill with some feminine “hook” out there, I would ask Mary to fill this with herself, which is my own feminine Nature. This also helped, but I wanted to push through.

Jesus let me know by an interior teaching that, in order to really lift this pattern, I had to contact it on a feeling level. I had to really feel it and understand it, and then I could let go of it. I had questions about being that vulnerable to my feelings. I think being vulnerable wasn’t such a great experience growing up, so I tended to avoid it as much as possible. Like, really.

That day, I was to meet with my teacher. While sitting there, waiting for the session to begin, I went inside and pondered. “Jesus is just asking me to let go and feel. What’s the big deal? Maybe it’s like being alone on the cross, totally vulnerable, totally surrendered. But Jesus had already gone through that, paving the way for us, and supporting us through it. So it’s nothing to be scared about. Besides, I’m opening into the loving arms of God. And I want God more than anything else. It’s like having the world’s greatest therapist, someone you can totally, absolutely, one hundred per cent trust, backing you up. OK, Jesus and Mary, I am totally, absolutely, one hundred per cent willing, let’s go!”

My teacher arrived, and I shared my openness. “Great, so let’s begin the process. Visualize this pretty woman you saw today. Feel the attraction…go within…and contact the longing. Good, now go back to the time with your mother, when you felt that longing and she didn’t show up.”

“Um, do you have to bring up my mother?” I asked.

“I think so! Just feel the feelings that come up,” she said.

“Uh, do I have to feel these feelings?”

“Yes, just to make contact with them and understand them. Then you can let them go. I’m here, Jesus and Mary are here.”

“Forget it.”

The Man Who Collected Beauty

Sylvester Manfried III of Boston was a highly renowned and respected collector of beauty. His house and grounds were models of elegance in architecture, natural landscaping, and objets d’art. He had one of the finest private collections of high Renaissance art in the Western hemisphere. He was also the curator of Boston’s famous Museum of Fine Arts. He traveled a great deal and brought many new treasure troves of beauty back to the museum.

“I love collecting beauty. I love surrounding myself with beauty. I love creating new spaces of beauty, for myself and others,” he shared in a recent interview. What he didn’t talk about was his exaggerated fear of anything ugly or disharmonious, which his keen aesthetic sense could detect instantly.

On one of his travels in Italy, his interest was drawn to a little old chapel by the side of the road. “It’s not the Sistine Chapel,” he mused, “but you never know what facets of beauty one might find by the wayside.” He entered as an aesthetician, but something drew him nearer. He had never been much of a practicing Christian since childhood, but now he found himself in the pews, on his knees.

He was not prepared for the wave of beauty, love, and light that came over him. A minute later, he was running out of the chapel, as if pursued by the devil himself. What had happened?

That evening, somewhat regaining his composure, he wrote in his private diaries: “I have always sought to surround myself with beauty. But today, beauty entered into me and revealed my worst nightmare: the ugliness of my own soul. I was petrified, because I have met the enemy, and it is within myself!”

Shivering with fear at what this meant, he fell into a deep sleep, and in his dream he was called back to the chapel. To his amazement, the next day he found himself returning to the place of such horror. But he had no idea what else to do. He felt as if he were returning to the scene of the crime. What was going on? Again he knelt in the pews. Again the beauty, the light, the love entered him. Though partly fearful of what it might reveal, he felt an intimation of faith that enabled him to surrender to it. His only other choice led to certain madness.

In a moment, he was in a scene from his childhood. He was opening paint bottles on his mother’s new tablecloth, sure that his mother would be greatly pleased. When she came in, she screamed that he had ruined her beautiful linen. He felt ashamed and deeply hurt. He ran away and came to a little chapel by the side of the road. It seemed to be a place of beauty where he could find sanctuary. With a childlike faith, all that beauty seemed to heal his pains and take him to a place where ugliness and hurt could gain no entry.

The priest at the altar was dressed in robes of magnificent gold, white, and crimson. Sylvester’s childlike soul seemed to behold the very vision of God Himself. The priest raised his staff and thundered forth: “Do you see all this beauty around you? It is to remind you of the great glory of God and the delights of heaven. And it should make you feel ashamed of the ugliness of your sinful souls before the supreme majesty!” Little Sylvester had a nervous breakdown then and there, and he was in the hospital for a week. He lost all memory of the entire episode--until now as an adult in this little chapel by the wayside.

With one great groan and then a cry of joy, Sylvester felt years of deeply held grief and condemnation release from his soul. He emerged a new man. The shining beauty of his own nature was revealed to him, and now he perceived beauty everywhere.

Now the very idea of hoarding beauty seemed absurd. From that point onward, he dedicated his life to helping others perceive beauty everywhere, and especially within themselves. Greater than his previous obsession with beauty was his newfound passion to lead others to rejoice in the divine source of universal beauty that lay within them.

The Object Of Beauty

Brother Ambrose longed for some object of great beauty that he could contemplate daily. He actually led a simple life and was in no way an ostentatious man. But this desire for one object of beauty had consumed him since childhood.

He had saved money for many years and eventually was able to purchase at auction a fabulous Faberge egg. He couldn’t wait to take it back to his humble abode.

The first day he was ecstatic. As he sat before it in contemplation, everything else fell away as the stunning beauty of the object before him completely captured his attention. Oblivious of all else, he felt that he was opening into the beatific vision.

The next day, he again sat before the egg. But this time, his mind was consumed by worries. “What if I keep opening my heart to this egg and then someone steals it, or what if I lose it?” And he felt totally distraught and couldn’t bear to look at the egg anymore that day.

The next day, Brother Ambrose again sat before the egg. This time, he found he couldn’t focus on the egg because of doubts. “Maybe this was a waste of time and money, and I should feel ashamed of foolishly wasting my hard-earned money on something so trivial.” And again he was distraught, and he couldn’t bear to look at the egg another minute.

The fourth day, Brother Ambrose again sat before the egg. This time, as he endeavored to concentrate on the egg, he couldn’t help but think of all the other things he could be doing, or should be doing, and all the things he’s missing out on. The beauty and the marvel of the egg was beginning to fade for him, and now he felt a thirst for other marvels. Tiring of his beloved egg so quickly, Brother Ambrose was again distraught, and he turned away.

Almost overwhelmed with all of this internal commotion, he managed to take a deep breath and release. He recovered some measure of inner peace, but his energy was a bit shot for the day. He went for a walk and then worked in his garden to take his mind off of the egg.

The next day, Brother Ambrose again sat down before the egg. This time, he surrendered to it and found that it indeed was an opening into beauty. But what most attracted his attention was the glory of the sunlight dancing on the surface of the egg. This opened him up, and he realized with a great laugh that beauty was everywhere. He realized that beauty was not the object itself but the great Light radiating through it.

So now Brother Ambrose was able to return to his beautiful egg, but it no longer held any exclusive fascination for him. He enjoyed the garden, the sunshine, other people, every cloud and blade of grass, as endless reflections of God, the great Source of unfathomable Beauty.

God Loves Me

My teacher told me that God loves me. “Well, she must know,” I think. But I go back and forth about this. So once and for all, I consider the lilies. I look at the trees, I look at the grasses of the field. I feel the great earth with her forests, rivers, mountains, oceans, as well as all the living beings that inhabit them. I contemplate the sun, the moon, and the stars. “Surely God loves all of these,” I muse, “for they all spring forth from God through love.”

“So surely, God must love me as well,” I ponder. “Why not? Aren’t I equally part of the whole of creation? Aren’t I worth at least as much as the birds of the air, or the grass of the field? Surely, God loves me too,” I conclude.

I feel a bit better, but something still nags at me. Just below the surface, the engines of doubt and judgment are at full throttle: “But God loves these things because they are so natural and pristine. Are you like that? Think of it: does a rosebush sin, or does a porpoise resist? Does the moon worry or think about itself while it circles the earth? Or again, just because God has given you so much more than they, God also expects more from you. And have you measured up?”

I cringe. I guess I haven’t dealt with all that. I retreat, but then finally, I muster up some shred of self-esteem. I think of some parts of me that are lovable. Well, evil is sufficient to the day thereof. For now, it is enough to feel--even if just a little bit--that God loves me (well, at least a little bit).

R-r-r-ing. The telephone rings.

“Hello, Alphonso, this is Shirley from Pickwick Schools. We want to know if you’d like to teach for us again. The kids really loved you and keep talking about you.” “Yes, thank you. Yes, I’d love to. Yes, I’m ready.”

So God really does love me! (Well, at least for now.)

What’s It All About?

The day was going as usual. The newspaper delivery man landed the paper on the steps by 6 a.m. The milkman delivered the milk by 6:15 a.m. I got showered and dressed, grabbed some toast and coffee, shuffled some papers into my valise, and headed for work. I filled my car up at the corner station, and the attendant checked my oil and washed my windows. I arrived in my office by 8 a.m.

It started off as a pretty uneventful day at work, just finishing up some projects that were pending. I straightened out some minor misunderstandings with some established clients, and then I had an important strategic meeting with the board of directors to outline a new strategy for the next level of development for us on the national market. Then a business luncheon to discuss a potential high-level merger with a major player on the East Coast. Back in the office, I lined up a great deal with a multimillion dollar potential client and submitted my report to the CEO. All in a day’s work, I figured.

On the way home, I stopped by for my usual late afternoon drink at the local upscale bar. “The usual,” I told the bartender, as I set down my attache on the counter. I could take a break and look over the day. I reflected how remarkable it was, how everyone had their place in the scheme of things, everyone from the newspaper delivery man and milkman to the big players and the CEO. And then there was me, in the middle of it all. It all functioned fairly smoothly, like a great ecosystem, and though sometimes it was cutthroat competition, a sort of natural survival of the fittest, I saw it in terms of a great cosmic system that was always improving. And I had the great opportunity to play my part in the whole.

After a few card games with friends in the back room, I got home at a reasonable hour and went to bed, ready for whatever the next day would bring. That night, I had a dream that could hardly have been predicted based on the day’s events. I was in some ethereal realm, in some great cathedral. The main priest officiating there was the bartender, and the deacon serving him was the gas station attendant. They were doing a ritual that generated an amazing amount of light, and the newspaper delivery man was in charge of spreading the light out to the East, and the milkman was in charge of spreading the light out to the West. All of them were blissfully radiant in their activities.

I was shocked, not least by the ritual, but also by the identity of the people performing it. I thought, where are the big players, the board of directors, the CEO? Afterwards, a voice--I don’t know if it was an inner voice or not, or if that even matters--asked, “What did you think life was about--the big business game? And what did you think their lives were about--delivering the newspaper and the milk?”

Encounter

I ride the bus to work every day. I enjoy the variety of people that I get to intersect with for various stretches of time. I try to tune into them and imagine what sort of work they do, what their personal life is like, what their personal history has been, what their struggles are, what their hopes and fears might be.

Today, however, is different. I’m feeling more light in my body, I’m feeling a bit more blessed. Soon after I board the bus, a woman gets on whom I have never seen before. She is young and attractive, and of course I am curious about her. I’m quite aware of where my imagination could take me in her case. Also, since I feel so focused on her, I don’t want to be staring or making her uncomfortable.

All of this goes through my awareness in a flash. What is remarkable is that my energy doesn’t go in those directions. Instead, I have a very strong feeling of blessing her as a kindred soul. What is more, I have the strong feeling that she is in turn blessing me. I go into a deep state where I feel I am blessing the feminine half of humanity, and in turn she is blessing the masculine half of humanity. In the midst of this, I feel a deeply personal blessing is involved. There is no room for self-consciousness, doubt, flights of fantasy, or the like. I honestly don’t know how long this goes on, but at some point I become aware of her getting up to exit the bus.

I look up and our eyes meet. There is an instant knowing, something shared between us that goes beyond us. Then she leaves the bus. I have no inclination to follow her or to try to see where she is going. Is she a woman, an angel? Is she a soul mate? None of that matters. My mind doesn’t follow those lines of inquiry. Instead, I am filled with the wonder that everything is happening perfectly, and I bless God for the sacred opportunity we have had.

Sins Of The Spirit, Sins Of The Flesh

Brother Andrew and Brother Timothy were close friends. They had entered the monastery on the same day, and ever after were steadfast brothers on the Path. That is, until the day that the head of the monastery promoted Andrew and passed Timothy over for any promotion. The two grew somewhat apart, as Brother Andrew entered training for the priesthood, while Timothy remained an ordinary monk. Rumors spread as to why Timothy was deemed unfit for the priestly orders, but Timothy kept on with his life as before. That is, until Timothy was found consorting with prostitutes and left under mysterious circumstances. Apparently, something in the orthodox monastic life did not fulfill Brother Timothy’s heart and soul.

Years passed, and Brother Andrew was now the head bishop of the province, while Timothy was something of a wandering mendicant. Some considered him a holy man, while others dismissed him as a fallen man. Rumors, legends, a whole mythology grew up around him. He praised with joy brother sun and sister moon, and he advised the people to find God in the living eros of human relationship rather than just in dry words and ceremonies.

The matter came to the ears of Bishop Andrew, who feared he might lose his spiritual authority in the province. He called for Brother Timothy to be arrested and thrown in the dungeon. After a week on bread and water, a mock trial was conducted in which Timothy was accused of various heresies before God. Bishop Andrew even trumped up charges that Timothy, never being actually expelled from the order, was still bound to his vows. And according to the original twelfth-century rule of that order, breaking the vow of celibacy was punishable by death.

Bishop Andrew argued his position with the full weight of his authority, invoking the wrath of God for sinners. Anyone who might have had an ounce of compassion for Timothy or even a willingness to hear his side of the story, was effectively silenced. When at last, Brother Timothy was addressed and asked if he had anything to say in his own defense, he was silent. He could not fathom from where his old friend’s hatred originated, or what had become of the simple and pious monk of old. The decree was signed, and Brother Timothy was led away to the dungeon.

The very next day, Timothy was to be led out in shackles and bound to a wooden stake surrounded by dry tinder. Then, at Andrew’s word, before all the people, the bundle would be torched, for the glory of God. He relished the power of acting on God’s behalf. He reviewed every detail vividly, over and over in his mind until sleep overcame him.

That night the bishop had a dream. He was standing in a vast cathedral that was illuminated by the glory of the great Christos. Andrew was kneeling at the base of a great flight of stairs that ascended into the very throne of the great God Himself. Instead of being dressed in his impressive robes, Andrew found himself in sackcloth and ashes. He felt that the fate of his very soul was on trial before the Supreme Judge.

A great voice boomed forth: “Andrew, you condemn your old friend and my beloved son, Brother Timothy, for his sins against the flesh. He might be misguided, but his soul is passionately seeking me. Whereas you, in your official position, coldly turn away from me and spread fear in the hearts and minds of my people. Therefore, I condemn you to the supreme punishment…”

“No-o-o-…!” he shouted. Bishop Andrew awoke in a cold sweat, shaken to his core. After fasting and prayer, the church bells pealed. Dawn was breaking. He knew it was time. He took his seat of authority above the town square. Brother Timothy was ritually led forth, followed by a solemn procession of monks with their heads sunk deep into their cowls, chanting their mournful hymns. Their torches blazed forth, lending an eerie glow to the scene, as they took their places around the pyre. The multitudes of the province gathered around, and Bishop Andrew stood on his platform high above the square. The fiery sermon he had written, full of dire condemnation, lay spread out before him. The crisp autumn air filled his nostrils. The procession came to a halt, and Timothy was slowly led out to the stake and tightly bound. The trumpets ceased. A priest gave Timothy the last rites and handed him a simple wooden cross. Timothy raised his eyes to heaven. The crowd grew quiet, all eyes on Andrew.

He took in the whole scene, and mindful of the weight of his holy office resting upon his shoulders, Bishop Andrew spoke out in a loud and clear voice: “Members of the clergy, good souls in the flock of Christ, as Brother Timothy was silent in his defense, so I shall remain silent. Go with God, Brother Timothy, you are a free man.”

Simpler

Henri had scheduled a special meeting with his teacher. He began, “I’ve been having conflicting thoughts about the divinity of Jesus, whether he was human or divine.”

“So your troubles are theological?” asked his teacher. She invited him into his direct experience, here and now.

“Well, I feel very confused.”

“OK, stay with that, and let yourself relax into your experience.”

“Well, I have a lot of doubts.”

“Relax more, and get simpler.”

“I feel that I lack faith, if only I could believe more.”

“Even simpler.”

“I feel afraid I might be slipping from the Path.”

“Even simpler. Sense into your body.”

“Well, I feel some nervous energy, some anxiety.”

“Good, now simpler.”

“God is out there, and I feel like an abandoned child, all alone.”

“Simpler.”

“God…me.

“Simpler.”

“Ahh…”

Relationship

I was going to the corner store with my little daughter one fine sunny day. My mind was on the barbecue sauce we needed for the cookout, some flashlight batteries, and a few other assorted items. Meanwhile, my daughter had her mind on other things. When we stepped out of the house, she said, “Good morning, sun.” Then a little further on, “Good morning, tree.” Then, “Good morning, flower.” And I added, “Good morning, darling. Good morning, world. Good morning, God.”

This taught me that every encounter, every experience, is a relationship.

I thought of all the people on the earth, and all the four-legged ones, the flying ones, the swimming ones, the creeping ones, and the plants. Didn’t Jesus say that, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me”? I picked up a stone. Isn’t even this more than an “it,” isn’t it part of the living earth? Shouldn’t I encounter it as a “thou”? I stood there, in relationship with the stone, the sun, the trees, the oceans, the rivers, the beasts of the field, the galaxies beyond, the whole universe. All of it Now, in the embrace of Being.

This taught me that every relationship is a relationship with God.

Then I stood in awe in relationship to God. Echoing down from the time of Moses, I heard, “Be still and know I AM God.” And from Jesus, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” I released myself into this I AM.

This taught me that every relationship is ultimately identity.

“Follow Me”

The Master visited a cult of indulgent seekers. The leader of the group was spouting forth: “We extol individual freedom and fulfillment. Follow your own desires, without compromise, denial, or regrets.” At the end, the Master arose and addressed the group: “You speak of individual freedom, but the truth is that you are devoted to self-indulgence. Your motto of ‘me, me, me’ will only bring you suffering. Give up your small ways and follow me.” The power and clarity of his words and presence filled the room. Every one of them got up and followed the Master.

The Master next visited a support group meeting for self-empowerment. The leader was telling the folks, “You’ve got to believe in yourselves. You’ve got to believe you are powerful and are in charge of your own lives.” At the end of the meeting, the Master stood up and announced: “You people are only serving yourselves, your own egos. You want to feel in charge to cover over your fear of being a victim. Leave your small ways of suffering and follow me.” The Master thereupon left. The power and clarity of his words and presence filled the room. The members looked at each other, and in less than a minute, all of them followed the Master.

The Master then visited a metaphysical group of manifesters. The leader of the group said, “Learn to have faith, say the word, and watch those Cadillacs and Rolexes start pouring into your life.” The Master waited until the end and then spoke: “You speak of faith and the power of the word, but you are distorting the truth to materialistic ends. Let go of these petty ways and follow me.” The truth of his words and the clarity of his presence made a powerful impression on them. As the Master got up to leave, almost everyone else followed.

Finally, the Master visited a group of fundamentalist Christians. After a rousing talk by the leader of the group, the Master arose and spoke: “You follow the small god of your own minds and of your fears. Let go of your narrow beliefs and follow me.” The Christians became very angry, and one of the Master’s disciples sprang in between them and the Master, saying, “He who is a true disciple of Jesus, let him cast the first stone!” At once, they all picked up stones and were ready to heave them at the Master. “Hey, where’d you get those stones so quickly?” demanded the disciple. “We keep them at the ready, to deal with antichrists, false prophets, and infidels,” they replied. It was only the quick intervention of the disciples that enabled the Master to escape.

Jacob’s Ladder

Hi, I’m Jacob Ferguson, a house painter. The other day, I was holding a tall ladder while a new worker ascended it to examine the edge of the roof. Somehow, it was just the right time of day and the position of the ladder, so that as I looked upwards towards the worker, the ladder seemed to go straight up into the sun. It made a deep impression on me, though I couldn’t articulate it, even to myself. I just know that that image was strong in my mind as I was going to sleep that night.

That very night, I had a dream. A great ladder stretched upwards from the earth into the heavens--I couldn’t even see how far up it went. People were ascending and descending the ladder at the same time. An angel next to me pointed out that people live on different levels of the ladder and are either moving upwards or downwards in their soul evolution.

I marveled that people on the same level, even having the same experience, might be moving in different directions. For example, I saw two people dropping glasses, and I watched as they shattered on the floor. One person got very upset, punishing himself with harsh criticism, shame, and judgment. That soul itself became more brittle and dense, and sank down a rung on the great ladder. The other person stopped, went inside, and understood what was upsetting and distracting her. She experienced an inner opening and gave thanks to God for waking her up and releasing her. That soul became more flexible and lighter and ascended a rung on the great ladder.

Walking With The Master

I was walking with the Master one night in a neighborhood of the city that was not the most savory. As we walked down the darkening street, discussing the unity of all creation, a young man emerged from the shadows with a menacing movement.

“Hey, you two! Who are you to walk in my neighborhood? Give me your money, or pay the price!” I was scared. I was angry. I feared for my life, I wanted to protect the Master, but I had no idea what to do. Fight? Resist? I was confused.

The Master calmly said to the man, “What troubles you on this beautiful evening?” The man shot back with anger. “What the hell do you care? What do you know of my troubles? Just give me your money. Now!” The young man seemed to have the upper hand in the situation, and yet he seemed so unnerved, so scared himself.

The Master said with heartfelt sincerity, “How can I help you, my son?” The man lost it. In his hand flashed a knife, and with a shout of defiance and pain, he swiftly attacked the Master. It happened so fast, but I saw the knife tear through the Master’s robes, as the Master did nothing to avoid the attack. In the dim streetlight, we could all plainly see there was blood on the knife. I was horrified, and the young man was totally unprepared for what happened next. The Master calmly parted the cloth to reveal a deep wound over his heart. Then the Master made direct eye contact with the youth, and in a calm but direct voice, spoke these words to him: “Why would you do that to yourself?”

At this, the young man gave forth a deep cry of pain and collapsed to his knees on the pavement. The Master went over and placed his hand on the man’s head to comfort him. The young man regained his composure, and through his tears, said, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me, I did not know what I was doing…” Perhaps his confession was more than he could bear, for he quickly darted off into the shadows.

I was amazed at the Master’s compassion, and I feel that that young man was forever changed by it. I know I was. To calm my apprehension, the Master parted the cloths again to show me that the wound was completely gone. We sent the young man a blessing and walked on.

Blessings

In meeting with my spiritual teacher, it came out that I was getting judgmental with others. Without any judgment on her part, she gave me the simple task of standing on a busy street corner and giving blessings for several hours. “What, am I supposed to be some sort of street corner evangelist?!” I protested. “Silently bless them, Alphonso,” she said. She then smiled and told me it would help my concentration. “Try it, you might like it,” she added. Later that day, I did manage to stand at a busy street corner and give it a shot. I figured it couldn’t be that difficult, and it might even be a fun thing to do.

It was quite a beautiful day, and many people came out to enjoy life and perhaps enjoy seeing and being seen. There was a lot going on, from where I stood. People of every description, race, and age passed me by. I felt I was in the middle of it all, yet somehow apart from it all. I made a general blessing for the area and for myself. Then I would focus on one person at a time. I tuned into the person--man or woman, boy or girl, imagining the sort of person they might be. Sometimes I would imagine I knew them well, as their dear father or mother, sister or brother, or boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife. I would feel that deep connection, and I would give them a blessing. Or I’d imagine I was an angel, knowing them from a higher standpoint, dispensing blessings. Or I would imagine I was Jesus, blessing everyone. I felt like the sun, shining upon the just and the unjust. I felt I was in love with humanity. So far, so good.

But as the day wore on, the initial fascination wore off. My imagination would get the better of me. I’d become fascinated by someone, and I’d get lost in some imagined story about them. Then by the time I awakened from the dream, the person would be gone. I took stock of the situation, and I called for Jesus and Mary to help me stay centered and guide me in giving blessings.

But there were to be other distractions, alas. The pretty girl passing by caught my fancy. Then the boasting man, trying to pretend he was something, and trying to make an impression on her. Who does this guy think he is? He was so shallow, so obvious; I could see right through him. I wanted to protect her from him, to be her gallant savior. Yes, there I was, getting caught up in the thick of it all. Suddenly, I remembered what I was there for, and giving them both a blessing woke me out of the trance.

The poor, the misguided, the lame--these people touched my heart, and it was obvious they needed a blessing. Then the very well-to-do gentleman. I felt a deep my admiration for this man who looked like he had it all together. Then I thought, “Why put this guy on a pedestal? Who did he exploit on his way to the top?” And I was lost in my judgments. I had to go deeper inside to find the place of giving blessings. As I did so, I felt more deeply connected to Jesus and Mary.

By the end of the day, I not only had learned about myself and humanity, but I also had received a tremendous blessing.

From Hell To Heaven

Little Sammy was such a sweet, sensitive boy. He wanted so much to do good and please everyone, especially Mommy and Daddy. But he would manage to do things wrong, or break things, and he felt very bad about it. It got to the point where he was convinced there must be something very wrong with him.

As he grew older, he learned about God, and he loved God very much. But he was afraid of displeasing God. Eventually, he left his parents’ home, started a business, and got married. All was well for awhile, and he felt very happy. But his old fears were working in the background. Within a year, his parents died, his business failed, his child died at birth, and his wife left him. Sammy felt utterly alone and lost. He even felt that he was to blame for all the misfortune that had befallen him. He became convinced that God didn’t love him. He felt he would never please God. He became convinced that he was going to eternal hell. The more he focused on this, the more it became a living reality for him, and God and the angels in heaven seemed a remote reality. Meanwhile, his life became a living hell.

There are many ways a soul in this condition can go. For example, he knew he might go crazy and commit all manner of sin, since he was going to go to hell in any case. Or he might break down completely or end in deep depression or suicide. But this was not his path. Sam loved God deeply, and his conviction of his own sin had the effect of stripping him of everything. The fond memories of his dear parents, the tender memories of his beloved wife, all the joys of life he had ever held dear to his bosom--all were gone. Nothing within him could turn aside from the merciless gaze of God, before which he felt utterly helpless and alone. This left him naked and vulnerable before God. Instead of demoralizing him, his fear of God laid his soul bare, and there was a sense of continual surrendering and burning in his soul. But Sam felt he was still holding onto something, something there still to burn.

This process went on for many years, until the day Samuel had a breakthrough. He happened to attend one of Father Pedro’s talks in the city on the subject of opening to God. Encouraged by Father Pedro’s words, Samuel decided to go for it. At the end of the talk, he had a healing in which he released the last defenses in his soul. Now there was nothing left in Samuel to turn from God, and there was nothing left in Samuel to block God’s Presence in his soul. And then his soul had a complete turnaround. He experienced God’s Grace and Presence as an all-embracing Love. He realized that the entire universe and every soul within it was embraced by this unconditional and universal Love. He spent his days in continual gratitude, which poured forth as continual service to his fellow beings. His life became a living heaven.

Consistency

Madeleine had recently moved into the novice house and seemed quite dedicated to the Path. During the evening prayers, she was the most devoted of the students and led the singing with infectious fervency. She seemed so intensely focused in her practice that some of the other students wondered if she were going to burn out quickly.

Sometimes, Madeleine would slip out of the Center, saying that she had a business meeting or the like. What she was actually doing was hanging out with a strange group of assorted weirdos, smoking, drinking, gossiping, and carrying on. She would confide in Jerome, one of the core members of the group, badmouthing about a Christian cult that she had once been involved with. Madeleine loved the fact that she always had a listening ear in Jerome, who always listened to her calmly and openly. But then, back at the Center, Madeleine would make subtly disparaging remarks about those weirdos who smoke, drink, gossip, and have no direction in life.

Somehow, living this double life suited Madeleine. When one lifestyle just got too much for her, she’d consort with the other. Each fed a different part of her, and she never seemed to acknowledge the inconsistency. This went on for a few some months.

One day, her teacher confronted her with some of the things she was doing, and some of the things she was saying about the Order. Madeleine’s face went white. She was too shocked to deny what she heard. “Oh my God, how did you know this? How could you know this?”

“Simple,” replied her teacher. “Jerome is one of our undercover agents,” she said jokingly.

“What?!” said Madeleine, astonished. “Jerome was working for you?”

“Yes,” her teacher replied, “he’s part of our outreach program.”

The Great Debate

The final showdown of good and evil came down to this--not the War of Armageddon, but a debate, held in Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was televised around the planet and watched by more people than view the Olympic Games. Representing the good was Archangel Michael, against the representative of the Dark Side, the Adversary. The contestants agreed to the rule that neither side would resort to any supernatural powers in their bid for the human soul. Round One started off with each side presenting their case. Basically, Michael argued that God’s power is greater than the power of human sin, while the Adversary argued that even God was no match for the depths of human perversity. That is, given God’s gift of free will, without which a human being would not be human.

In Round Two, Archangel Michael presented inspiring stories of human love, courage, compassion, forgiveness, and the like. And the Adversary matched each anecdote with his own of human wickedness.

In Round Three, Michael presented deeply moving stories of wicked people turning from their evil ways to become champions of the good. And the Adversary countered every one of them with gut-wrenching stories of good people gone bad, falling from grace by their pride, lust, envy, gluttony, and so on.

In Round Four, Michael called in numerous expert psychologists, social workers, and medical doctors who testified to the power of the human soul to transform and renew itself. “The human soul is made in the image of God, and beneath all the layers of sin is the indwelling Light and innate goodness of the soul,” Michael concluded. And the Adversary also called up numerous experts who testified to the incredible complexity and labyrinth of human depravity and delusion. “The innate nature of the human soul is a moot point,” remarked the Adversary. He concluded with the words, “The soul is so layered over with darkness that it is basically impenetrable, by God or man.”

In Round Five, the Archangel Michael argued that it comes down to the existential question of “Which do you choose: good or evil, life or death?” And the Adversary shot back with the rejoinder: “Nice try, but this is so hypothetical. Most people are so enslaved to sin that they don’t even have the power to make such a choice--that is, assuming they were even aware of it in the first place.”

Many people were inwardly confused about the relative power of good and evil. Others thought that it was really no longer about good and evil as such, but rather about Michael’s brilliant display of divine love and wisdom vs. the Adversary’s diabolical cunning. Many feared that Michael would get so frustrated that the powers of good would have to resort to the full-scale war that the debate was designed to avoid. And some argued that the war would actually benefit the Dark Side, while others argued that the war would trigger the Second Coming, as many thought was foretold by scripture.

But Michael did not get frustrated, and the war did not happen. Instead, Michael, in his wisdom, realized that the more he tangled with the Adversary, the more powerful it became. He addressed the people: “Resist not evil. Don’t even tangle with it, for there is no end to this. Go deeply into your hearts now and feel the Inner Light. When you have experienced it, choose for yourselves whether you would follow this or the darkness.” So many people around the world were moved by these words that, without the help of any supernatural power, there was a worldwide breakthrough of the Inner Light. People were able to make the choice for the Light.

The Adversary maintained that, on the purely logical grounds set forth by the rules of the debate, he had won. The Archangel Michael did not contest this, but he did win the hearts of the people.

The Prince And The Jester

Long ago, in a faraway kingdom, lived a king who wanted to do the right thing by God and man. He raised his son, the prince, to be knowledgeable in all things good. But the young boy was, alas, very unhappy. He neglected his studies and even lost his faith in God. “How would he ever become a proper king?” his father wondered.

So the king called for the greatest teachers in the land, the highest authorities, the learned elders, and the holy magistrates. But all to no avail.

“I am weary of these endless lectures, words, high-sounding philosophies, and pompous teachings. If there even is a God, He would have nothing to do with such things.”

The poor prince became sullen, listless. His mother, thinking he might be depressed, even sent over some beautiful maidens to distract him and enliven him. He acknowledged them gracefully, but he sent them on their way. They only served to deepen his longing for what he really wanted. But he hardly knew what that was, so he couldn’t communicate to his parents what he was going through. His father, thinking he might be bored, brought in some entertainers with marvelous gadgets, animals, and magic tricks. But again, the prince thanked them for their efforts, but sent them away.

The king and queen were at their wits’ end. Just when all hope seemed to be lost, the court jester offered his services. “Oh, why not? Nothing else has worked!” the king confessed.

As soon as the jester entered the prince’s abode, the prince knew he had found a friend. The jester understood the boy’s problem. He picked up one of the prince’s weighty tomes of theology and began to read in an exaggerated way, mimicking the haughty tone of the priests: “And therefore, since you are all sinners, you must come before His High Majesty begging for mercy…” Both of them laughed out loud, the first time the prince had laughed in a year. The jester made fun of everything lofty--and he could get away with it, for after all, he was the jester, the fool.

“At last,” the young prince said, “I have found a true man of wisdom, a man after my own heart, a true man of God. I have found a man who is a fool for God, who finds truth through joy and laughter, through emptying himself of himself. At last, I have found a man who understands the simple wisdom of Oneness beyond the dead weight of ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not.’”

His soul was overjoyed. He knew he could leave the palace and become a beggar, and be happy. But he also knew, after he had relieved himself with howls of laughter and tears, that everything had its place. The jester had his part to play, and he had his own part to play as prince. He already had ideas of what he was called to do when he became king. And he already knew who would be his top adviser.

A Tale Of Innocence

Young Raymond was born as the youngest of three brothers. The eldest was already gone from the household by the time Raymond was born. The middle brother, Arthur, looked forward to having a younger brother, but soon he discovered he was no longer the family favorite.

Young Raymond was a most beautiful, sensitive, and innocent child, and his only defect was being born blind. He received extra loving attention from his parents, and Arthur became jealous and harbored a grudge against him. Raymond was always very trusting and loving towards Arthur, and yet that only served to fan the flames of Arthur’s resentment. Arthur felt his brother and parents were totally oblivious to his pain.

Once, while Raymond was doing an errand, he asked Arthur for help. Arthur headed him in the wrong direction, and with a well-placed foot, tripped his young brother, who fell headlong down the stairs into the basement. When Raymond managed to get back up the stairs, with a deep cut on his head, Arthur felt a deep hatred of his brother. But Raymond said, “Dear brother, you must have misunderstood my request, and I was so clumsy. And now I am hurt and won’t be able to play with you and keep you company.” Hearing that, Arthur became steeped in self-loathing. Now Arthur could only relieve this loathing by venting his hatred onto his brother. And yet every time Arthur acted out his hatred, his self-loathing deepened. Arthur got locked into a negative spiral that became all-consuming.

He came to a point where he could not bear it anymore. He could not imagine speaking of his burden to his parents, or to his older brother, and certainly not to Raymond. And how could he confess his burden to the local priest? Arthur felt all alone with a burden that he felt he could not share even with God. And so one day, he told his parents that he was taking Raymond to the town fair. They left together, but Arthur was taking Raymond into the woods, to leave him there for the wild animals. “Dear brother,” said Raymond, “this doesn’t sound like the way into town.” “Yes, brother, we are taking a different path, a more scenic path today.” “Thank you, dear brother, for I shall appreciate the new bird calls here.”

And so they traveled on. Raymond told his brother of the various things he wanted to get at the fair for their parents, and the various things they would do together there. Arthur didn’t speak much. Finally, when they were deep in the forest, they came to a clearing which ended with a steep cliff. “You stay here and play with these stones,” said Arthur. “I will be back shortly.” “Oh, don’t be too long, dear brother, for we have so much joy to share today.” “I love you, dear Raymond, dear brother,” replied Arthur. “I only wish I had been able to show you how much I have loved you all these years.” His words trailed off as he departed.

Raymond never did hear from his brother again. The day was coming to an end and darkness was falling. It began to get cold. Raymond huddled in his blanket and heard the cry of the wolves as the full moon rose.

The next morning, a traveler discovered Raymond huddled up and shivering, but unharmed. Arthur’s body lay lifeless at the bottom of the cliff.

Interview With The Swami

I had the rare opportunity to interview a genuine swami near his mountaintop hermitage in the Himalayas. I was informed that the swami had not consented to an interview with a Westerner for over a decade. I carefully prepared my questions, while also being open to whatever the swami was willing to share.

I finally got to meet him after an arduous climb up craggy slopes with the aid of some sherpas. The rocks were wet, and we carefully made our way through a heavy fog that clung to the rocks. Finally, we emerged from the cloud bank into a vast region above the clouds, where everything was bathed in the early morning light. It seemed that we had arrived at some Shangri-la, or some heaven world far above the realm of earth.

And there, seated before a gleaming white marble temple, in his luminous white robes and on a spotless white structure, was the swami. His long white hair falling onto his robes, and his long white beard over his chest, made him look like the Ancient of Days. He was the very image of holiness, of perfect health, perfect wisdom, and perfect peace. It was an awesome spectacle. Breathing in the cool mountain air, everything felt so pure and pristine that I could almost imagine I were at the very gates of heaven, even at the very throne of, of...

I could not help but ask him, “O great swami, what does your holiness think about the use of the word ‘God’?”

“Well, of course, some realized beings might use the term, but I generally avoid it.”

“And why is that, swami?” I asked, curious.

“For one thing, it tends to get people to believe in some external being to whom they might try to gain admittance.”

“What would that look be like?” I inquired.

“Well, he might look something like a grand old man with a long white beard, long flowing white hair, seated on a white throne up there in the clouds.”

Gazing Into Christ’s Eyes

I’m gazing into Christ’s eyes, as He’s gazing deeply back into mine. I feel that He sees into my soul and understands me completely. I feel vulnerable, because this means He’s seeing into my wounds, my imperfections, my brokenness. However, I also feel completely loved, and His gaze is even healing all those not-OK parts of me.

As I meet his gaze, I feel like I’m looking into eternity. I am being seen by One who sees me from eternity, sees me eternally. He sees the eternal in me, my I AM, the God-Self within my soul. I think of the words, “He who sees me sees the Father,” which means that in seeing Him, I am looking into the essential God. I think of the words, “What you do unto the least of these, you do unto me,” which means that I, one of the least of His flock, am one with Him.

I melt into Him, as He melts into me. We are one in eternity.

I realize He is my Beloved, and I am His Beloved.

I realize…I realize…

I realize that I’m in fact looking into the eyes of my husband, Paul.

The Second Coming

Word was going around the global spiritual community that the whole planet was going to go through a major vibrational shift in the year 2012, the year the Mayan calendar ends. Different groups held conflicting versions of the scenario, but almost all agreed on the basic timing.

Meanwhile, a new spiritual teacher was gaining widespread attention internationally. People were having visions of him individually and in groups, in many countries of the world. Mainstream Christian groups at first labeled him as the Antichrist, but many other groups, as well as more New Age Christian groups, found in him all they wanted in a world teacher. He claimed to be the true Christ and preached world unity and peace. The Buddhists proclaimed him to be Buddha Maitreya, the Mohammedans proclaimed him to be the Imam Mahdi, the Jews proclaimed him to be the Messiah. Soon this teacher was performing miracles of Biblical proportions, rivaling those of Jesus himself. Many people argued, “No one could perform such miracles unless they come from God.”

The only problem was, this being of light was not any of these figures, and was not of God, but was rather Lucifer himself, the fallen angel. The next step in his worldwide plan was to convert the Christians. He figured that the only way he could convince the Christians that he was the Christ was to appear to them worldwide at every Eucharist, every Mass, every Communion. Somehow, he managed to come through. How could this be? Was Jesus really allowing Lucifer to make this intrusion? Was Jesus not able to prevent him? The idea was unthinkable, so within short order, Lucifer had the whole Christian camp worldwide on his side. There were numerous healings and conversions, and even unbelievers were flocking to the churches. The few and far between who protested that it was a case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing were jeered and passed over as infidels or the lunatic fringe.

As the year 2012 approached, Lucifer made it known that the Second Coming would be assisted by hordes of heavenly hosts coming in from the Pleiades. And sure enough, scientists confirmed that a great mass of spaceships were headed this way from that region of the galaxy. As this was not the script that was traditionally expected, this announcement sent some shock waves around the world. If they were angels, why did they need spaceships? The world leaders were not sure if planet earth should be braced for an alien invasion, or if it should receive these visitors with open arms as our saviors. Lucifer explained, cunningly, that in Biblical times, it was appropriate to have angelic visitation, but the heavenly host that was appropriate for the contemporary space age was a visitation by an exceedingly advanced race of beings, our superiors both spiritually and technologically.

The head of the world governments convened a special council to consider the situation. Lucifer made it clear that the host would only come if they were invited. By the stroke of midnight, Greenwich Mean Time, on December 31st, 2011, they had to reach a decision. Lucifer felt enormous pride in the power he wielded over the earth, and by midnight, his plans for world domination would be finalized.

The world leaders assembled at the U.N. headquarters in New York City were under tremendous tension. A console was constructed on which was arranged two buttons, a white one for Yes and a black one for No, by which they would communicate the earth’s decision to the incoming hordes. The white button (“Yes”) would silence the entire world’s communication systems to allow undivided access to the incoming hosts to give their worldwide greetings. And the black button (“No”) would instantly release the entire world’s nuclear arsenal in the direction of the incoming forces. Next to the buttons was installed a digital countdown clock set to zero hour at the stroke of midnight.

Meanwhile, the minutes were counting down, with the digital clock reading 23:59:59. Some people prayed, some meditated, some consulted scientists, some consulted psychics, and some consulted computer simulations. Still the minutes counted down, and still the leaders were at a deadlock. Meanwhile, people all over the world gathered in great masses to watch the proceedings on giant screens erected at every major city on the planet. Always visible on the screens were the buttons and the digital countdown clock.

Under the enormous strain, the world leaders decided to place their confidence in this great spiritual leader, the supposed Christ--who was, in reality, Lucifer. Amongst all the conflicting opinions going in every direction, amidst the wildest rumors flying around the planet on TV, radio talk shows, books, phone lines, e-mails, and chat rooms, this great spiritual leader emerged as the one great voice of authority and supreme confidence. Lucifer was given the supreme authority of representing all of humankind in one great will, as it was given to him to press the button of his choice at the final moment.

Lucifer, in a magnificent white cape that was worthy of a being of his stature, made his grand entrance into the great hall of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Such a great being certainly filled the hall with a great presence, as you could imagine. On the great table before him was the console with the white and black buttons and the digital countdown clock beside them. The digital clock read 00:14:59. This great being just stood there, with no words needing to be said. The dramatic presence of the moment was itself the greatest statement to be made.

As Lucifer stood there before the table, he reflected on the supreme power of this time in history. It pleased him to review his long history with the human race, and how he had thwarted so much of Christ’s teachings over the centuries, perhaps especially in the churches. A flickering thought passed his mind of some sense of pity for Jesus, who had suffered so much, had tried so hard, and had meant so well. But there was no time for that now. Now, Lucifer’s true rulership would be manifested as his crowning achievement of world history. In short order, he would reveal his true nature and the nature of the beings headed towards earth. It would be all over, and his glorious reign would begin. It had been a fair fight, and too bad, he thought, it is survival of the cleverest. It had indeed been the most brilliant idea of all time by which Lucifer had jammed the Christ’s presence in such a way that although the Light came through, it was Lucifer who was in control of the communication with the minds of the congregants. “Let Christ have their hearts, I don’t care, so long as I have control of their minds,” mused Lucifer. The digital clock read 00:04:59.

However, what Lucifer had not counted on was Christ’s influence on his own heart. For three full years, Lucifer had participated in every Christian ritual on the planet. What lengths he would go to, as the Great Deceiver, to galvanize his plans! But perhaps in those three years, something of the Christ had penetrated his mind and heart. For although he was a fallen angel, he was first and foremost, in his original nature, an angel.

Whatever the case may be, this much we do know: When the final countdown came, down to the final minute, Lucifer was keenly aware that everyone on planet earth was fully present to the console with their total attention--a scene in which he was the dominant figure, and a scene over which he had total control. The digital clock read 00:00:59.

At this time, he decided to address humankind as follows: “Mr. Chairman, great leaders of government, scientists, clergy, men, women and children of earth, to all of goodwill: I have come to you tonight to offer this most important message to you all. I, who represent in one will the whole of planet earth; I, who wield power greater than any leader in the entire history of the world; I, who assume absolute authority over the human race; with one small movement of my finger I make the greatest leap in human history, initiating a New World Order by pressing the right button!”

All around the world, everyone was chanting together: “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…” some with dread and some with joy. And at the final “zero,” the great Lucifer pushed--the black “No” button! In that instant, a great wave of the Christ Love pulsed through humanity and indeed the entire planet. This great being then addressed the astonished population of earth: “At this moment I reveal myself to you: I am Lucifer, God’s most cherished angel, who has returned to earth as the true friend of humankind and the supporter of Christ. I tell you the truth: The hordes that are coming are not higher beings but reptilian aliens bent on subduing earth. They shall be repelled, even as the Christ returns. Behold, the Second Coming!”

Posturings

A man comes before God and says, “I’ve been so good, I am a great community leader, I have founded five hospitals and seven schools. I pay my taxes promptly, I’m a loyal husband and a good father. Dear God, please give me some peace of mind.”

A woman comes before God and says, “Dear God, I’m a divorced wife, a failure of a mother, a fragile, helpless, needy woman. I am a lowly worm before you, oh great God. Dear God, give me some money for food and rent.”

God comes to both and says, “I already see you and love you completely. You do not need to posture before me. You don’t have to convince me that you are worthy of answering your prayers, as you don’t have to convince me that you are the lowest thing in creation so as to move me to pity to answer your prayers.”

Worthy Motives?

A man passes by a booth operated by a Christian mystical order. He likes what he sees and feels. So he begins to attend lectures, classes, workshops, prayer meetings, services, and the like. He shows up about four times a week and seems to be loving it. He always comes back home with a big smile on his face.

His wife feels OK about it, because he is involved in something good for him that will make him a better person. Besides, she wants to support him in following his heart. She misses him, but she is plenty busy herself. So things are going along fine.

The group is having an informal BBQ, and they’re sending out invitations to anyone who is at all interested. The man shows up early to help set things up. The wife shows up later, and she finds her husband with a big grin on his face, surrounded by a host of cute and loving young women. He introduces them to his wife: this is sister so-and-so, that is sister so-and-so, on and on. They were so nice and charming--a little too charming, a little too cute, thinks the wife. Now she is suspicious of her husband’s attraction to the center, but of course she doesn’t make a fuss.

But the very next day, to her husband’s surprise, the wife announces that she is joining the order. “I am impressed by the fervent devotion of all the young ladies,” she confides to her husband.

The priest heading the center is bemused by all of this, observing the progression of this turn of events. She well knows that people come to the order for all sorts of reasons, but also that, if they persist, the influence of the Light will align them properly. And sure enough, both husband and wife eventually do come around into a true love of God.

Revelation From A Mirror

I am always present. I am two-dimensional, but I have great depth. I am reflective, but I am very present to others. I can stay all day alone, abiding in myself. But as soon as someone comes before me, I reflect them impartially.

You might look like a wreck, but I reflect you calmly, without judgment. You might be beautiful and alluring, standing before me quite naked, but I reflect you without a hint of lust. You might be fierce, yet I reflect you without a trace of fear.

You might come in, hardly noticing me at all, totally consumed with yourself, or your image. And yet I am not offended, as I exist to serve. You might not even be present to yourself, as you are caught up with your thoughts, preoccupations, worries, plans, and so on. And yet I am always present to you. Just turn to me, and you will see. Whatever you might see in the mirror, I see You.

I am totally present with you, but as soon as you leave, I am clear, retaining not a trace of you. I harbor no after-image. I abide in the clear open space, and I receive your image and I let it go, without a trace of attachment.

I share all this objectively, impartially, without any pride.

If you were to ask, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the loveliest of them all?” there is only one answer:

“I AM.”

A New Teacher In Town

Nicholas is a new novice in the center. He’s just deepening his connection with the Path. During a meeting with his teacher, Nick says, “Reverend, I hear there’s an exotic new spiritual teacher in town. I want to see him.”

“What draws you?” the teacher asks.

“Well, I suppose it’s curiosity. I’ve heard good things about him. I think it would be interesting to hear the teaching from another perspective. It would help me understand and appreciate our path in context. What do you think?”

“I am getting from guidance that this would not be good for you at this time.”

“But others from the Center are going.”

“I know, but they have their own lessons to learn. We’re talking about you.”

“I guess I’m feeling a little left out. But more to the point, I feel I should have the right to go and be free to decide what I think.”

“Nicholas, I’m not forbidding you. For your own good, this is my suggestion. I see it would only confuse you.”

Nicholas thinks, “Well, I’m no pushover. I think I’ll learn something. What can I lose?”

Nicholas goes to see the teacher’s presentation, and he manages to find a seat in the front row. The teacher has a long, flowing beard, he’s dressed in fine robes, he’s seated on a sumptuous throne surrounded by rose petals and adoring followers. The teacher looks directly at him, and he’s blown away. “Wow, this is direct transmission, without the need for complex rituals.” Now he regards his own teacher negatively: “She’s just insecure, that’s all. Otherwise, she’d have felt confident enough to let me go. And she depends on these rituals, because obviously she doesn’t have the direct connection in herself, like this guru has.”

Nicholas stops going to services and classes, and becomes a fervent follower of the new teacher. But a few weeks later, Nicholas has some doubts, after finding shady financial dealings by the “master.” When rumors of the “master’s” sexual liaisons are confirmed, Nicholas is thoroughly disillusioned.

He comes back to his teacher.

She explains: “I could see you were in a very open, vulnerable, and impressionable state. You were not yet grounded in the faith, in the Path. But I suppose you had to stray and learn the hard way.”

Relating To The World

How does a disciple of the inner Path relate to the world? This has been an intriguing question for me, so I decided to see how others on the Path were doing in that department.

One disciple explained it this way: “God is eternally in love with Her creation. She loves every part of Her creation. She partly loves Her creation through our interaction with it. And we love God by deeply loving Her creation.” This made some sense to me. But I had my doubts about it when she downed a full quart of Haagen Dasz’ Bavarian Double Decadent Caramel Praline Cookie Dough Honey Nut Crunch, saying, “Its innermost nature is one with God. It is God’s sweetness made manifest. And how could I deny to God the experience of merging with that sweetness?”

Another disciple put it this way: “God is transcendence, infinite freedom and radical wisdom. God is utterly unattached to the world. As God abides in Himself, He knows that the world is not what is Real.” This made some sense to me. But I had some doubts when I visited him at his apartment. The place was a mess, dirty, disorganized. “But none of this is real or who I really am,” he explained.

Pride And Fear

Meredith was in a dilemma. “When I feel down, about life or myself, I go into fear. But when I refuse to get pulled in by this, and I begin to feel good, about life or myself, I go into pride. Then when I feel, ‘Damn, caught again!’ I plunge into shame and fear. I feel there’s no way out. I just can’t figure this out. I can’t do anything right. I’m screwed.”

“When I feel bad, eventually I come around to praying for God’s love. Then, when I feel loved, I begin to feel worthy and lovable. Then I go into pride.”

“I guess it’s pride that I feel I should be able to get on top of this, that I should be able to get it right and get rewarded for being good.”

“But then I guess it’s fear that I feel I should have to work so hard to get it right and be so good in order to be loved. This means that deep down I feel I am unlovable, and that I have to jump through hoops in order to be rewarded with a few scraps of love.”

Every which way she turned, she ran in to either pride or fear. Meredith was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. There seemed to be no exit, no escape. “My only two options seem to be made of pride or fear, and both are equally hell.”

Her teacher helped her to see that this intolerable condition was actually a blessing that could bring her to a state of humility. From there, she could relax into God’s Presence. Then the alternatives and the dilemma seemed quite ludicrous, and quite laughable. They were not her nature, they were pure suffering, something she could let go of into God.

The Path Of The Adversary

Jeanne was coming home from a meeting with her teacher which had been a bit difficult. She had felt confronted and controlled. “I thought this was supposed to be a place of light and love,” she thought.

As she was nearing home, she noticed that just down the block from where she lived was a new spiritual center. “Hmm, I could swear that this wasn’t here when I left today,” she said to herself. She was curious, so she stopped by.

A very charming man greeted her. “Why go miles out of your way to that center, when all you need is so close by?” he asked. She was beginning to feel entranced by him, a little bit under his spell. He continued. “I know that you’re feeling down, that your teacher doesn’t really see you, doesn’t know how hard it’s been for you. You long so much for the love that you don’t feel from her. You feel she’s holding back the love, just because you want it so much.”

“Well, yes, that’s how I’ve been feeling. I’ve been trying so hard, and I don’t feel that I’m being loved.” Jeanne said, as she broke down in tears. The man comforted her, saying, “We understand. Your teacher is only rewounding you, a return to the wounds you received as a child from your parents. I’m afraid you’ve tried this path and it’s not been working for you.” “Honestly, I’ve had my doubts about it.” “It is a good policy to get your doubts aired out in the open. Like your doubts about whether your secret desires for wealth and power would ever get met on such a mystical path.” “How did you know about that?” Jeanne asked, startled. “We are sensitive to the real needs of our students, and we give them what they really want.” “Tell me more,” Jeanne said.

“Our students here are fulfilled because they are getting what they want. And they don’t have to jump through hoops to get that. In that other center, they make you have to purify, and go on bended knees before God. In this center, we are here for you. We love you as you are. We don’t require you to work on yourselves. We don’t require you to transform. We love you as you are.”

“We are here to satisfy your desires. Students come in and want money, and before they know it, they are making obscene amounts of money--excuse the expression. Students come in and want power, and before long, they are in positions of enormous power over others. Students come in and want fame, and in the twinkling of an eye, their names are all over the front page news. Students come in and want love, and before they know what’s happening, beautiful men or women are lining outside their doors begging for a chance to make love.” “So it’s like, ‘It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’?” “Exactly.”

Jeanne heard what she wanted to hear. “Sounds great,” she said, “where do I sign up?” Something in his voice, something in his eyes, was mesmerizing.

“I’m glad you asked that question,” he said. “We have a document for you to sign right over here…” He reached over for a pin. “This will be over before you know it,” he said. ”Why do we need to do this?” Jeanne asked. “It’s simply tradition, a rite of passage,” he assured her. “Just keep your mind on all the things you’re going to be getting.” “But this is going to hurt,” she protested. “Yes, but you see, in the other center, they begin with a short enjoyment of a blessing or the like, but then it is followed by the pain of a lot of hard work. It’s uphill. Here, at this center, we begin with just a little bit of pain, and then what follows is a lot of pleasure. It’s all downhill from there, kid.” “You mean like smooth sailing?” “Yeah, baby.”

What Do You Want?

Father Pedro was a Master Teacher. He used his vast wealth of experience to be able to relate to people from diverse backgrounds. He had been a contractor, an owner of a restaurant, a musician and singer, a therapist, and more besides. That is, besides being a busy priest and a spiritual director of a Christian mystical order.

He was finishing a workshop on the spiritual Path, emphasizing the great demands imposed on the disciple, as well as the great rewards or gifts of the Holy Spirit. He then asked for questions. No one raised a hand. He then asked if there were any questions on anything at all. Hands went up.

“Father Pedro, I wondered if you could advise me on the type of paint I should use for painting my walkway.” Father Pedro asked for some background information on the project and then generously gave detailed instructions for completing the job. The man looked quite satisfied.

“Father Pedro, I’m preparing dinner for a family gathering of about 50. Could you suggest the best way I could prepare a turkey dinner?” Father Pedro asked for clarification about the situation and then proceeded to give detailed instructions. The woman seemed to be very pleased.

“Father Pedro, I’m writing a popular song, and I’m struggling to get the right key.” Father Pedro asked to look at the manuscript, and then gave detailed suggestions for making it come out just right. The woman seemed overjoyed.

“Father Pedro, I’ve been feeling depressed lately and I’m not sure where this is coming from. Could you help me?” Father Pedro asked a few questions and then, seeing exactly what he needed, gave him precise recommendations for his healing. The man seemed quite relieved.

Afterwards, Alphonso, one of Father Pedro’s new students, could no longer hold his peace. “Father Pedro,” he said, “you are a Master Teacher, and yet here you are answering mundane questions that have no relation to the spiritual Path!”

Father Pedro answered, “And so it might seem to you. What I do is serve people who come to me. I give them what they want, so that eventually they will want what I have to give them.”

The Present Moment

Just thinking about the present moment makes me feel anxious. “Why is that?” I wonder. It’s the sense that it’s coming, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s like a tidal wave that is coming, irresistibly and powerfully, a force of nature, and I am totally helpless in its path. It’s scary to think that I cannot control the present moment, I cannot have any say in it. And I feel totally unprepared for it--I feel there is nothing I can do to be prepared for it, to be adequate for it. And this is going to go on and on and on.

I can feel the sense of panic creeping up on me. But then I reflect: I’m reacting to some thought about the present moment, not the present moment itself. The present moment is already right here and now--it’s not something that’s coming, not something to prepare for.

But then there is another sense of fear. It’s already here, it’s all-pervading, so it feels like there is no room for me in it. I feel like I’m going to die or suffocate or disappear. There is no escape.

But wait a minute! The present moment is already here, already happening. I’m not disappearing or dying. I’m already part of it. Everything is already OK. I can relax, there’s nothing to fight against. The present moment is not over against me.

There is nothing about it to prepare for or control. I can only surrender into it, receive it, allow it. Not like allowing it in the sense of giving it permission to be, but just opening to it, realizing it is already here and now.

As I deepen into it, open into it, I realize it is what I am. I am what it is. It is here, and now, and I. There is nothing to do, no movement or change to make for this to already be the case. I simply have to be it. I don’t have to, I already am it. Ahhh…Peace.

Who’s In Charge?

Doctor Mortimer was the head surgeon at Chicago General Hospital. Everyone respected him as “The Man,” as a great doctor, a great teacher, a man of great knowledge, courage, leadership, and confidence. Doctors from around the country would consult with him on a wide range of problems. His credentials and experience were impressive and impeccable.

At the busy hospital, a typical day would be filled with medical tests, challenges, emergencies. “Doctor Mortimer, what would you recommend for this patient?” The doctor took a quick look at the patient’s charts, X-rays, lab tests, and filled out instructions for a medical procedure. “Dr. Mortimer, your patient in Room 104 is experiencing difficulty breathing.” “This is normal after the special treatment he received yesterday. Increase his serum by 15% and update me every two hours.” And so on it went through a fast-paced day.

Even so, today was an extra heavy workload. Dr. Mortimer didn’t get home until after midnight, and he fell into a deep sleep as soon as he hit the bed. He dreamed he was in an unfamiliar hospital, and his wife was just rushed in for emergency treatment. No one else was available, and so it was his task to perform. A nurse brought in the medical data, as he checked her pulse and breathing. His many years of expertise gave him the confidence that he knew just what to do.

Computerized data came pouring in concerning her EKG. Lab reports flooded in concerning a recent biopsy. Lights were flashing from an overhead monitor. Dr. Mortimer was in control and knew what to do. He gave orders to the nurses and technicians at his beck and call. Increase this, decrease that, report back every ten minutes. “Doctor Mortimer, we have done exactly as you said, and her blood pressure is rising. Her heart beat is fluctuating wildly.”

The various data did not compute. Something was wrong, very wrong. He started barking out orders, but assistants were returning to report complications. Decisions, decisions, and his wife’s life was hanging in the balance. He suddenly became aware of how much she meant to him, how much he loved her. He wanted so much to be there for her, to prove himself to her.

Then everything seemed to happen at once. Nurses rushed in with emergency signals. Emergency lights were flashing from the monitor. Something had to be done fast, but he had no credible data he could rely upon. Everything rushed to a crescendo, when he realized he was facing his greatest fear of not knowing, of impotence in the face of challenge. He sank to his knees and lifted his hands in prayer. He hadn’t been interested in prayer since he was a little boy, when his mother died at home, and he was all alone with her. He didn’t know what to do, and so he prayed with all his might, but she died anyway. He then dedicated his life to the attainment of medical knowledge and mastery.

All this flashed before his eyes. He felt totally helpless, dependent, like a little child. “I don’t know, I don’t know what to do!” he cried. “Dear God, Creator of the universe, You who Know, please help me! Work through me!” A space was created for the Light to come in. A light turned on within him, and with crystal clarity, he knew what to do. He now knew what it was like to be co-creator with God, rather than trying to play God.

Chastisement

The priests were away from the Center on retreat for a few days. The novices, a few students, and a deacon who were left were finishing their prayer group and were ready to party. Someone ordered some pizzas, some light drinks, and assorted goodies. One student had brought her six-year-old, who she was sure would be able to handle the events of the evening. Some of the latest CDs were brought out, and they were ready to have a good time.

All of a sudden, there was a burst of flame and light in the corner of the room. A towering figure of Jesus appeared before them, and they were quite startled, to say the least.

In a booming voice, the figure spoke: “Sinners! How dare you party in my house, a house of God! There’s been entirely too much easy living here, too much laughter, too many smiles, too much hugging. You want to take the easy path to God? Well, let me tell you of the path that I set out for you so many years ago. I took up my own cross, I sweated blood and tears, I was crucified, for Christ’s sake!”

Everyone cowered before this awesome presence of Light and the truth he spoke.

The figure continued: “Considering all I’ve done for you, this is the respect that I get? And you call yourselves my disciples? Why, in the Middle Ages, true disciples, true followers of Me, would pray and fast for days, sometimes flagellating themselves until they drew blood. Every waking moment they prayed in fear and trembling for the salvation of their souls! And you dare to call yourself My disciples, while you carry on as if everything were just plain OK. What were you thinking? What were you thinking? Verily, verily I say unto you, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

The group cowered lower, quaking in fear. The light was so intense that they felt they were almost burning. They all prostrated themselves before the towering figure and pleaded together: “Master, spare us! We are not your disciples. We have no right to consider ourselves your disciples! We have never been your disciples! We can never hope to aspire to be your disciples!”

“Ha! That’s just what I wanted to hear!” the great figure roared.

There was dead silence in the room. Then the six-year-old perked up and said, “Mommy, mommy, why is there a pointed tail sticking up from under his robe?”

At this, the imposing figure gave a hideous laugh and disappeared in a burst of smoke and fire.

Who Is Worthy?

Father Pedro is invited to give a communion service at a parish in a faraway city. He accepts the offer graciously, in keeping with his dedication to serve. He delivers a magnificent sermon, inspiring souls to serve the great call of the Light. The whole parish is filled with holy Light.

When it is time to offer communion, Father Pedro says, “All who are worthy, come and eat and drink with the Lord.” No one comes up.

Father Pedro clears his throat and smiles. “All are worthy to come eat and drink with the Lord,” he says. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, great numbers of souls come forth--some ailing, some crippled, some troubled, some bereaved, some destitute. And there is a spiritual feast for all.

Meeting With The Superstar

By an amazing set of circumstances, Alphonso, one of the new students, had an exclusive date with a top female superstar. It turns out that an old friend of his, who had connections, knew someone who knew someone, who managed to pull strings, which landed him the date. Alphonso’s brothers and sisters at the Center had misgivings about the appropriateness of subjecting a new student to such temptations that would only feed his fantasies. However, his teacher, through Guidance, surprisingly said it was OK.

The day arrived, and Alphonso was picked up at his house by a limousine which took him to Mariella’s penthouse apartment in the big city. Alphonso had faith that, with the support of Guidance, he would be spiritually prepared for whatever unfolded. Mariella greeted him at the door dressed in a revealing outfit. Now Alphonso was not one to be carried away by the glamour of pop star entertainment--but a revealing outfit could turn his head.

They had a candlelight dinner in the privacy of her own apartment. Alphonso acknowledged that he was not one of her devoted fans and simply was not part of that circuit. He failed to mention, however, that he was involved in a Christian mystical group. He figured he didn’t want to alienate her, and he was curious to find out more about her personally.

The very idea that he was alone with this woman who was coveted by thousands of adoring fans heightened his sense of being there. As she spoke about herself, Alphonso began to see through her superstar image to the woman, even to the soul, that dwelled within. She came across as a real person and did not hide behind her pop star image. Before long, he was feeling a deep rapport with her. If he could admit it to himself, he was beginning to fall in love with her. He began to fantasize the possibility of their having a past life connection. He thought there must be some deeper reason for the two of them being together like this. He had a feeling that she was deeply drawn to him, that some destiny was entwining their two souls. Alphonso was soon swept away by powerful forces that took him far away from any sense of the Center, his teacher, the Path, or Jesus and Mary. He was putty in her hands.

Mariella could sense his infatuation, and it almost seemed as if she were intentionally arousing it. Finally, Alphonso came out with what was on his mind: “Mariella, I know there are thousands of guys who would love to be in my shoes right now. I’m not trying to come onto you, but I’m feeling a deep connection between us. Would you consider an intimate relationship, I mean you and I?”

She knew that she had him in her power. But she’d acted on this power before, and she knew it only brought her misery. So she said, “I’m not sure you are seeing me for who I am, Alphonso.” He said, “Mariella, I’m not looking at you as a superstar. I’m seeing beyond the images, and I see a beautiful soul who I would like to know better.”

“What do you see in me? You hardly know me. You think I am attractive, that I have it all together. But the truth is that I am not happy.”

“But you have thousands of adoring fans. You are wildly successful.”

“Yes, but this is all out there. The truth is, I do not even love myself.”

Alphonso was quiet for a change. He didn’t know what to say. But somehow, seeing her as troubled, as vulnerable, stirred in him a deep attraction based on the fantasy of saving her.

“I see you have a rescue fantasy going on,” she noted. As she shared about herself, his attraction to her shifted into an unconditional love. And his rescue fantasy shifted into a deep compassion. He began to see his fantasies for what they were. He began to see that this woman, or any woman, would never be able to satisfy his deep longings for love. By the end of the evening, his heart was longing for the Master Jesus and Blessed Mary. They said their goodbyes and warmly embraced. It was with tears in his eyes, for it was still hard for him to let go of his old fantasies and longings. But through his tears, he knew what he had to let go of. He felt a renewed dedication to the Path.

After Alphonso had left, Mariella knew she had done the right thing. She went into her bedroom and knelt before an image of Mary. “Oh dearest Mother Mary,” she whispered, “thank you so much for guiding me tonight.” But she still cried over her inability to have an intimate relationship. As she was sobbing, Mary appeared to Mariella, saying, “Dear one, it is I, do not trouble your heart. You are dearly beloved by me. What you have done tonight has helped a soul also very dear to me, and has greatly accelerated his evolution along the Path. And your own integrity is even now moving you in the direction of your heart.”

And Mariella replied, “Thank you so much, Blessed Mary. You sent me Alphonso to show me why I’ve been so unhappy. Thank you so much for directing me onto the Path.”

The Way

I was sitting by a slow, meandering stream. Maybe it started high in the mountains, but it is eventually making its way back to the great ocean. Maybe it is blocked by branches or crashes on a rock, and maybe some of the water gets detoured on the way--but all of this is simply part of its journey back to its source. Each drop of water eventually makes its way to reunite with the great ocean of water. All this is God’s way of telling me of the soul’s journey back to God, whatever the obstacles or detours.

As I sat there, listening to the gurgling of the stream, my mind relaxed and attuned to God’s Voice in Nature. It told me that along the Way, along the Path, everything contributes to it. When we have made it to illumination, or to realization, we will be able to look back and see how each stage along the way made its contribution.

That tells me that every experience contributes to, and indeed is part of, the Way, the Path. That means that the movies I see, the books I read, the conversations I have, the thoughts I think, the feelings I have, all are part of the Way. All are designed to be part of my Path back to God. Recognizing this great design, this great intelligence, I feel drawn to meet everything along my path consciously, as part of the Path.

I was given to understand that not only are the meditations, prayers, spiritual exercises, creative activities, and inspired activities part of the Path, but also the ordinary conversations with my neighbor, the ordinary daily activities of driving to work, of preparing a meal, little decisions and choices through the day--all are part of the Way. And I understood that the difficult times of losing faith, of turning from God, of getting reactive with my brothers and sisters, going through times of feeling unworthy or feeling wounded, are also all part of the Way.

I was aware that I could take this as an excuse for laziness, since “everything is part of the Path.” But I saw that by grace and right attitude, everything, even what turns me from the Path, even what disconnects me from the Path, can be used to further me on the Path. Then every day, which is a chapter in the story of the soul, shall serve to move me further along the Way.

All along the way to Christ is the Way, not just a preparation for the Way. For Christ said, “I am the Way.”

Student Sermon

Ronald, a new student sitting in the back row, was called upon to give the student sermon for the Sunday service. He was totally taken by surprise. As he slowly made his way to the front, he recalled the last few student sermons. For example, he recalled one girl reporting, “After dieting unsuccessfully for years, I finally prayed to God and I lost twelve pounds in two weeks.” And everyone was cheering for her, saying, “Praise God, Hallelujah!” And then he recalled another student reporting some deep and profound soul work that he could hardly fathom, but which moved everyone.

As he stood before the assembled community, he could feel the intensity of their presence. He began with, “I’ve been praying a lot lately, and I’ve been feeling so much more of God’s Presence.” But then he thought, “Uh oh, people are going to be thinking I’m full of pride, or I might get some people envious.” So Ronald continued with, “Of course, I’ve been doing my share of sins, not keeping the faith, and wallowing in my limitations and insecurities.” But then he thought that he’d be coming across as too fearful, so he continued: "But even so, I’ve come through it with an increased sense of faith and a deep trust in Jesus and Mary.” Then he thought that maybe people would be thinking he was being too cocky and confident, so he added: “Of course, I know I have a long way to go, and I know I have a lot of stuff inside to deal with.” Then he thought that this might make him come across as too wimpy, so he added more.

By the time his sermon was over, Ronald returned to his seat quite exhausted and confused. He wasn’t sure if he had come across very well. “Next time,” he reflected, “I’ll prepare my sermon in advance, so I won’t be caught by surprise.”

Temptation In The Wilderness

Rachel had just gone through her baptism, and it had been a deep opening for her. She shared with her brothers and sisters that she had experienced a lot of light during the ritual. Afterwards, a few of the students who were a little further along thought they’d play with her a bit, seeing her as very impressionable and naïve. Perhaps they were a bit jealous, too.

“So Rachel, did your teacher tell you about the Wilderness experience that comes after the baptism?” one of them said.

“I think it might have been mentioned, but I don’t know much about it,” Rachel said.

“Well, you know how Jesus was tempted by the devil after his baptism?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well, you’d better be prepared for it. Just because you received a lot of light during the baptism, the devil is attracted to you to give you numerous temptations.”

“Really, like what?”

“Sometimes, really scary things. The devil particularly comes on strong to people who have experienced a lot of light.”

“Well, like what?”

“Oh, demons and goblins, and such like. You’d better be looking out for them, that’s all I gotta say.”

They had a good laugh behind her back. The next day, when Rachel came over to the Center, they asked her how things were going.

“Oh, devils of every sort came to me, tempting me in many ways. They were horrific, with bulging eyes and wicked teeth. But Jesus appeared before me and taught me to say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ and they immediately vanished. Afterwards, I felt an immeasurable peace and joy.”

They never played around with her like that again.

Copyright © 2005 by Edward Hirsch

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