17 September 2017 – Forgiveness

I’ve been in a rather introverted state of mind this last year. I’m going through a phase where I feel like a fraud in many areas of my life – particularly in my career, but also in my spiritual life too. This morning’s Church service was great however, a real “invigorator”, helped in no small part by the hymns, one of which was Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, my favourite. I just pity the poor people sat near me who had to endure my enthusiastic but not-so-tuneful rendition!

Have you ever heard the voice of God?

Last year, on two occasions, I believe I heard God speaking directly to me. In each instance, after going to bed and falling asleep, I woke into sleep paralysis and then found myself in the void. The void is a state of consciousness where I am fully aware, but have no sense or conception of a physical self. It is often the state from which I will be projected into an out-of-body experience / astral projection but quite often weird things happen in that state too and I have come to think of it as a place where the greater self integrates into the everyday, waking self.

In this place, quite unexpectedly, a voice spoke to me. The voice was so grand it could have shaken the atoms of my being apart, yet it was crystal clear. What was said will remain between me and God, but until this morning I don’t think I quite understood the meaning.

Matthew 18:32-351599 Geneva Bible (GNV)

32 Then his lord called him unto him, and said to him, O evil servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou prayedst me.

33 Oughtest not thou also to have had pity on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?

34 So his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due to him.

35 So likewise shall mine heavenly Father do unto you, except ye forgive from your hearts, each one to his brother their trespasses.

Forgiveness. Such a simple concept and generally, I have considered myself to be a very forgiving person. However, a deeper truth hit me today. Forgiveness is not just about looking back on our lives and forgiving every unjust act that’s every been dealt us by others, it’s about living in a permanent state of forgiveness.

This doesn’t mean that we have to be completely passive, but it means that we need to adopt an attitude of graceful forgiveness in realtime. That’s tricky when we’re caught up in the daily grind, but we can start by keeping in mind that humans are implusive by their nature, often reacting to events without clear thought and too much emotion. If our first response is to react in the same way, we just add more chaos and emotion to the situation and become part of the problem.

Instead, we need to adopt a higher perspective and make it our daily objective to pass on to others that which we seek from God and to do this in each and every interaction with others. If we can try to contemplate the vastness of God’s grace then even the biggest problems begin to feel trivial against such awesomeness.

Perhaps collectively, intead of movements of mass protest, we should be creating movements of mass forgiveness, spreading grace instead of exacerbating chaos.

As verse 35 warns us, it is in our highest interest to do this.

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

 

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15th May 2016 – Pentecost

A beautiful sunny Sunday morning coaxed me from a dreamless sleep before my alarm sounded. I got up, roused my son and after eating breakfast, washing and getting ourselves dressed, we walked to Church: our first visit for a few weeks.

Todays readings were:

Acts 2:1-21

John 14:8-17

Our vicar is a stand-in whilst the parish is between vicars. He’s a lovely chap who has been part of our community for as long I can remember (30 years or more) and who seems to run the churches in our parish (two of them) in the absence of a vicar. He does this without pay, as I understand. What strikes me most about him, is his conviction. His conviction can be too much for some people, but as far as I am concerned, I want to hear from people who for whatever reason, have an unshakeable faith in their spiritual path.

In his sermon, he explained that the reading in Acts describes the first birthday of the Church: the first coming together of the disciples after Jesus had ascended (please do correct me here, if I have made any errors). He skipped over the rushing wind sound described in the second verse but talked of how those gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit and how we should make room for the Holy Spirit to enter us.

One thing that interested me, is that the sound of rushing wind precipitated the expression of spiritual gifts amongst those in attendance. The description of the sound reminded me very much of the sensation of leaving one’s body which is described generally as ‘vibrations’ in any number of books on the subject (see authors Robert Monroe; Robert Bruce; Robert Peterson; Jurgen Ziewe, Marilynn Hughes). All of these authors describe out-of-body-experiences (‘OBEs’) as being preceded by intense vibrations and loud rushing sounds. Indeed, my own early OBE’s were characterised by these exact sensations and so I wonder whether the rushing wind sound described in the was not actually a physical wind, but ‘vibrations’ experienced en-mass by the disciples?

Verses 16 and 17 of Acts 2 also caught my attention:

16 But this is that, which was spoken by the [l]Prophet Joel,

17 [m]And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon [n]all [o]flesh, and your sons, and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Whilst it would be easy to look at my own night time journals, written since 2005, as well as the plethora of blogs written by countless men and women of all ages concerning their personal spiritual experiences, to conclude that these surely, are the last days of which Joel prophecised, I would argue that every generation could have said the same. Rather than join the doom mongers (although in all honesty I regularly count myself in their number!) I’d pefer to consider this from a microcosmic perspective and suggest that the ‘last days’ spoken of are the last days of spiritual ignorance within the individual.

During the period of my own spiritual awakening, I had some startling precogntive dreams. The reference to portents in heaven above and signs in the earth below, as well as blood, fire and smoky mist, all have a flavour of daoist imagery to my mind and if I ever have the time, I will investigate this more thoroughly.

As for The Gospel reading, the vicar conspicuously avoided even mentioning verses 12 to 14…

12 [b]Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he shall do also, and [c]greater than these shall he do: for I go unto my Father.

13 And whatsoever ye ask in my Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14 If ye shall ask anything in my Name, I will do it.

…but instead emphasised the proceeding verse stating that if we do not truly love Jesus we fall into sin!

But looking at verses 12-14, here we have Jesus telling Philip that the faithful, the truly faithful, will be capable of doing the works he does. And not only that, they will do greater works. I don’t see, in my church at least, the sick being healed and miracles taking place. In 2000 years, I see that organised Christian religion has amassed millions of followers and countless millions in wealth, but in terms of miracles, the cupboards are bare. It saddens me to say that whilst Christendom has succeeded in keeping the narrative of Jesus’ life alive, it has failed in its primary purpose which is to hand individuals the key to the door to the Kingdom of Heaven which as you well know, is to be found within you.

It’s no wonder that the churches fail in this if our vicars avoid even discussing what Jesus meant or intended when he said those words to Philip.

We need to open ourselves up to the possibility of doing greater works than Jesus. We need to dwell in the wonder of what that possibility would feel like. We need to encourage one another to explore our relationship with the Holy Spirit and ask in our prayers to hear it’s rushing wind and to be lifted out of our spiritual ignorance. We need to request in prayer to meet and be guided by the Advocate or Comforter of whom Jesus speaks and to make our life purpose the goal of becoming the Christed version of ourselves that God and Jesus intended us to be.

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Where did I go?

It’s been a busy few months, with a trip to Iceland and a couple of visits to far-flung corners of the country, catching up with family. I’ve seen the death of  a 99 year old great-grandfather and the birth of a new neice.

Sadly, we also saw the untimely loss of a neighbour who also served at our local church. She was such a warm and vibrant lady who welcomed my family into the church and who I was looking forward to sharing discussions with about our spiritual paths. I put those conversations off and now I regret that.

With all of this, my attendance at church has been patchy to say the least and because writing doesn’t come easy to me in the way that it used to, I have lost motivation to update this blog. But as I sat listening to today’s sermon, gazing into the beautiful stained glass window that shows Christ seated in heaven, surrounded by seven Angels, an orb in his left hand and his right hand held in the gesture of benediction, I felt stirred to resume sharing my thoughts with the world, no matter how simplisitc or banal they may be.

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7th February 2016 – Transfiguration

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Today was another fascinating and uplifting visit to Church. Our Church is currently without a permanent vicar which means that we get a variety of stand-in vicars each with his or her own style. I suspect that these are retired vicars doing their bit to serve the institution. I particularly enjoyed listening to today’s vicar though as he was funny, enthusiastic and keen to impart the meaning of his sermon on us.

The New Testament reading was…

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

12 [n]Seeing then that we have such trust, we use great boldness of speech.

13 [o]And we are not as Moses, which put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look unto the [p]end of that which should be abolished.

14 Therefore their minds are hardened: for until this day remaineth the same covering untaken away in the reading of the old Testament, which veil in Christ is put away.

15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is laid over their hearts.

16 Nevertheless when their heart shall be turned to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

17 Now the [q]Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 [r]But we all behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord with open face, and are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Perhaps I’ll come back to this reading at a later date, but I have to move on to the Gospel reading, which today came from…

Luke 9:28-43a

28 [a]And it came to pass about an eight days after those words, that he took Peter and John, and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.

29 And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was changed, and his garment was white and glistered.

30 And behold, two men talked with him, which were Moses and Elijah:

31 Which appeared in glory, and told of his[b]departing, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

32 But Peter and they that were with him, were heavy with sleep, and when they awoke, they saw his glory, and the two men standing with him.

33 And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: let us therefore make three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah, and wist not what he said.

34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud and overshadowed them, and they feared when they were entering into the cloud.

35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is that my beloved Son, hear him.

36 And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone: and they kept it close, and told no man in [c]those days any of those things which they had seen.

37 ¶ [d]And it came to pass on the next day, as they came down from the mountain, much people met him.

38 And behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, behold my son: for he is all that I have.

39 And lo, a spirit taketh him, and suddenly he crieth, and he teareth him, that he foameth, and hardly departeth from him, when he hath [e]bruised him.

40 Now I have besought thy disciples to cast him out, but they could not.

41 Then Jesus answered and said, O generation faithless, and crooked, how long now shall I be with you, and suffer you? bring thy son hither.

42 And while he was yet coming, the devil rent him, and tore him: and Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him to his father.

The vicar opened his sermon by saying, half in jest, that he hoped that the experience of the Church service would lead to at least some of the congregation leaving the Church with direct experience of themselves being transfigured! It got a chuckle from the three or four people who were actually listening but in me, it was dredging up the memory of possibly the most awesome out of body experience I have ever had.

It happened during the Easter weekend of 2009 when I was visiting my brother a few hundred miles away from where I live. The night of our arrival we bedded down on the floor of his lounge and I had fallen asleep whilst meditating. I awoke with vibrations and was catapulted out of my body into a brilliant white environment. The weirdest thing then happened (if it’s possible to get any weirder than your awareness leaving your body): I began to flicker between being an energetic copy of my normal physical being, to something quite different. I was still humanoid but not human. I was a white flame of divine ecstasy.

In front of me appeared a woman I know in my waking life, a woman who talks way too much, to the point of being overbearing in most situations. She was stood before me, but unaware of me and talking manically. Something in me spasmed and strings of light shot forth from my heart and the palms of my hand towards her.

This continued for a few moments before the energy dissipated and I was slung back to my body.

What had just happened? I had certainly been transformed during this experience, but was it also a transfiguration? Unfortunately, once back in my body, I was back to being the same old me!!

So, back to the Vicar’s sermon: I was listening intently, wondering what he was going to say about the possessed child. Unfortunately and half expectedly, he completely avoided this part of the Gospel – what a cop out! I was genuinely intrigued as to what he would say about the nature of possession or why Jesus was exasperated by the request. I have my own ideas which will have to wait for another day, but I will say that I think Jesus was suggesting that the strong in faith have the power to do this work themselves.

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Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?

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My offerings to who?

During my first trip to Church a few weeks back, we received the warmest welcome and my son was enthusiastically signed up to the Sunday school register. I was also told that I would be given a box of envelopes in which we could put our weekly offerings and this was given to me on our second visit.

Now, these envelopes are all numbered and I have now been allocated a number, enabling the Church to monitor the level of my donations. That’s OK I suppose, I haven’t got too much of a problem with them monitoring my generosity (or otherwise).

What I do have a problem with is the text on the envelope, pictured above.

The money that I place in that envelope is money I’m donating to the Church I attend. It has nothing to do with God. For the Church to conflate the issue of it’s own funding with the faith of its congregation is not just disingenuous, but downright sly.

My offering to God is the way I live my inner and outer life.

I am certain in my heart that God couldn’t give two hoots about the content of those little envelopes. This deception angers me, but I needn’t say more because it appears I’m not alone in feeling this way:

Matthew 23

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

[a]Saying, The Scribes and the Pharisees [b]sit in Moses’ seat.

[c]All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do: but after their works do not: for they say, and do not.

[d]For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

[e]All their works they do for to be seen of men: for they make their[f]phylacteries broad, and make long [g]the fringes of their garments,

And love the chief place at feasts, and to have the chief seats in the[h]assemblies,

And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, [i]Rabbi.

[j]But be not ye [k]called, Rabbi: for [l]one is your doctor, to wit, Christ, and all ye are brethren.

And call no man your [m]father upon the earth: for there is but one, your father which is in heaven.

10 Be not called [n]doctors: for one is your doctor, even Christ.

11 But he that is greatest among you, let him be your servant.

12 For whosoever [o]will exalt himself, shall be brought low: and whosoever will humble himself, shall be exalted.

13 [p]Woe therefore be unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, [q]hypocrites, because ye shut up the kingdom of heaven before men: for ye yourselves go not in, neither suffer ye them that would [r]enter, to come in.

14 [s]Woe be unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye devour widows’ houses, even [t]under a color of long prayers: wherefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

15 Woe be unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye compass sea and[u]land to make one of your profession: and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell, than you yourselves.

16 Woe be unto you blind guides, which say, Whosoever sweareth by the Temple, it is nothing: but whosoever sweareth by the gold of the Temple, he[v]offendeth.

17 Ye fools and blind, Whether is greater, the gold, or the Temple that[w]sanctifieth the gold?

18 And whosoever sweareth by the altar, it is nothing: but whosoever sweareth by the offering that is upon it, offendeth.

19 Ye fools and blind, whether is greater, the offering, or the altar which sanctifieth the offering?

20 Whosoever therefore sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.

21 And whosoever sweareth by the Temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.

22 And he that sweareth by heaven, sweareth by the [x]throne of God, and by him that sitteth theron.

23 [y]Woe be to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and leave the weightier matters of the law, as judgment, and mercy and [z]fidelity. These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other.

24 Ye blind guides, which strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.

25 [aa]Woe be to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye make clean the utter side of the cup, and of the platter: but within they are full of bribery and excess.

26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

27 Woe be to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye are like unto whited tombs, which appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and all filthiness.

28 So are ye also: for outward ye appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

It’s also very interesting to note that in more recent translations of the text, the meaning of verse 23 is inverted, or at least restructured, to give clear justification to tithing.

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31st January 2016

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Candlemas

The New Testament reading today came from Hebrews 2:14:

Heb 2:14-Heb 2:18 GNV Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part with them, that he might destroy through death, him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, And that he might deliver all them, which for fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For he in no sort took on him the Angels’ nature, but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be merciful, and a faithful high Priest in things concerning God, that he might make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he suffered, and was tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.

Rather than replicate the verses from the English Standard Version which our Church uses, I’m going to quote from the 1599 Geneva text.

So why does the devil have power over death? I am not clear about this. Surely only God has power over physical life and death? Perhaps the devil, lost that power when Jesus died and was resurrected – that seems to be the implication of the opening sentences. The passage goes on to say that those who live their lives in fear of death need not do so any more because of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we could consider fear itself as the devil? The great fear of physical death, of our own mortality, is the veil that stops us from even trying to peer into the life that lies beyond? This cosmic short-sightedness causes us to live a life of outward-looking distraction, leading inevitably to the neglect of our spiritual development and the atrophy of our spiritual faculties as we get wrapped up in fulfilling our physical, sexual and emotional desires.

The passage ends with an explanation that by Jesus taking human form and fully experiencing human life with all it’s temptations, he was able to empathise with us and draw us away from the outward-looking life, and help us focus on the true purpose of our lives here on Earth.

I like the description of Jesus Christ as a merciful and faithful high priest of God. Isn’t that what we are all aiming for? I find that the personification of God as a ‘Him’ doesn’t work for me and instead prefer to think of God as the Tao: the absolute principle underlying the whole of existence and non-existence. Imagine being alive and in a perfect harmony with that principle and teaching others how to achieve the same blissful state? That’s certainly the aim I am striving for in life.

The Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

22 [k]And when the days of [l]her purification, after the Law of Moses, were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord,

23 (As it is written in the Law of the Lord, Every man child that first openeth the womb, shall be called holy to the Lord,)

24 And to give an oblation, as it is commanded in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 [m]And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon: this man was just, and feared God, and waited for the consolation of Israel, and the[n]holy Ghost was upon him.

26 And it was declared to him from God by the holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen that Anointed of the Lord.

27 And he came by the motion of the spirit into the Temple, and when the[o]parents brought in the babe Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the Law.

28 Then he took him in his arms, and praised God, and said,

29 Lord, now [p]lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy[q]word,

30 For [r]mine eyes have seen thy [s]salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared [t]before the face of all people,

32 A light to be revealed to the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

33 And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things, which were spoken touching him.

34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this childis [u]appointed for the [v]fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a [w]sign which shall be spoken against,

35 (Yea and a sword shall [x]pierce through thy soul) that the thoughts of many hearts may be opened.

36 [y]And there was a Prophetess, one Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, which was of a great age, after she had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity:

37 And she was widow about fourscore, and four years, and went not out of the Temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

38 She then coming at the same instant upon them, confessed likewise the Lord, and spake of him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed all things, according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee to their own city Nazareth.

40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in Spirit, [z]and was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was with him.

The Canon who lead today’s service did a wonderful job of bringing this passage to life, providing some wider context to the story and explaining that Simeon and Anna, with the wisdom one gains with age, were able to recognise the infant Christ.

I was left however feeling that by brushing over Simeon and Anna’s ability to recognise Christ and foretell the future by putting this down to the wisdom of old age, an opportunity to awaken something in the congregation was missed.

Looking first at Simoen, we are told that he was just man and that the Holy Spirit was upon him, so much so that God had spoken to him in a dream. He sounds like an amazing man in that he has a clear channel of communication with God. This makes me want to learn more about him and how it was that he acquired this gift? We’re also told that he came to the Temple by the motion of the Holy Spirit. Again, what work has this man done on himself to enable God to usurp his freewill (or perhaps to align his freewill with God’s will) to ensure that his Divine destiny is fulfilled?

Turning to Anna, the scripture gives us some answers to these questions telling us that she had fasted and prayed in the temple for decades, day and night. This superhuman standard of devotion had rendered her able to see the Divine where others would have seen just another baby.

Anna really interests me. For those of us who are busy balancing family life, a career, hobbies and our spirituality, how can we ever find enough time to do justice to our real purpose of existence, which today I would define as direct experience of God and the transmission of that experience to others (tomorrow that may change as I have a tendency to be inconsistent with my thoughts, ideas and opinions)? How can we gather enough spiritual momentum to enable our inherent spiritual gifts to bloom? In Anna’s case her spiritual gift was discernment: the ability to see inside somebody, to their true essence and as such she recognises Jesus for who He is. How will we recognise the spiritual giants walking through our own lives? What are we doing to encourage the development of our own spiritual gifts?

In the final verse quoted, we are told that Jesus grew strong and waxed strong in Spirit. I wonder what He did to secure his development and I wonder what He would have us do to help us grow strong in Spirit?

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