Friday, October 23, 2009

Having Jesus In Your Heart - 2

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.


“This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancĂ©, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph, son of David," the angel said, "do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:18-21 (NLT)


Joseph was captured in the middle of competing claims. He was betrothed, which was a contract between two families, which included promises of money, living arrangements, and the woman’s virginity. Then there is her pregnancy. We can only wonder who, if anyone, accepted the testimony that the Holy Spirit caused it. Then, Joseph knew that divorce was necessary in these circumstances. But then, because of his great love for her, he wanted to do it very quietly, without the public humiliation the law allowed. Joseph thus becomes complicit in the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in the house of David. His love might also explain why he believes Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

Then Joseph has a powerful dream, indeed a vision in a dream. Joseph believes this dream to be of a different kind than you and I experience. And in fact, it was: before the Lord’s glorification, He had His angels give messages to people on earth this way. Then Joseph didn’t divorce her! This was extremely unusual!

Joseph was thrust into this muddle of conflicting ideas, feelings, expectations, hopes, and realities. He was just a carpenter from an insignificant town, not a hero ready to conquer such powerful forces. Maybe he was of royal lineage, but that meant nothing in his present life.

Think back to some ordinary time in your childhood. Perhaps remember when you finally learned to ride a bike without falling over. In a sense, you forgot the process of balancing that is required. You just knew how to lean into a corner, how to shift side to side as you pedal. In fact, you can’t ride a bike so long as you try to control the balancing with your thought. Once your mind and body gets it, you are able to let go of thinking about riding, and you are successful.

We learn our own particular way of balancing in our spiritual life as well. Balancing your life between yourself and others, balancing between yourself and the Lord, and balancing the stuff of your earthly life and your spirit all correspond to physical balancing.

Early on you were told about your spirit, and you were told about the importance of loving your neighbor, and you were told about the Lord. This is really important information. And yet it is a lot like being told how to ride a bike. It takes a while–in this case, years–to master the balancing act. And you have to know what you are doing so well that you no longer have to think about yourself, or others, or the Lord.

Likely you know someone who has never been given that information, or whose sense of balance has been harmed. It is sad to see the mistakes they make. Their lives are tragic wreck after wreck. And it is amazing to watch as a person gets accurate information about themselves and others and the Lord, and learns how to balance. Everyone is happy in the end as the person develops great relationships that work.

It seems Joseph had gotten to this state. He was so sure of himself, and so clear about his love for Mary, and so trusting in the Lord that he first sought a balanced solution, and was then able to do exactly what he was commanded to do. And, wonderfully, it matched what he really wanted to do: marry his beloved.

Notice it wasn’t his conscious thought that made it possible for him to find the balance and blessing that resulted. He had to let go of his plans, his thoughts. He had studied the Word and had lived a righteous life (which is a word meaning “right wise” which might have more meaning for us). This prepared him–like riding a bike again and again until you “get” it-–to be open to the Lord's ideas. He was able to balance his own ideas with the Lord's plan. And Matthew makes it sound like it was easy for Joseph, just like riding bike–once you have learned!

The Lord wants to give us as long as we need on the earth to learn how to do this. The quicker we learn it, the more fun riding through life we will have. The bigger hills we will be able to climb. The more adventures we will be able to go on. We will survive the crashes, broken chains and flat tires, and be able to go on. So keep practicing what the Lord says! You’ll get it eventually!

Practice using the name “Christian” in describing yourself. Try and try again, even though you feel awkward and you fall down. Jesus Christ will reveal himself to you, perhaps dramatically like a vision in a dream, or subtly, as when you found how to balance on a bike. Using the name Christian over and over will happen because you acknowledge that Jesus is the source of the balance in your life. That is how we have Jesus in our hearts!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gold and Shadow

I had an insight while in my men's group that I intend to hold to as long as I can! So I am writing about it....

The Lord's life flows in such that the divine is in us. When we own it, and feel it to be our own, it is no longer divine, but it is still His love and wisdom. In the lingo of the format of this men's work, it is called gold. Everyone has this gold within.

The vessel the receives the Lord's life is called the "own" (Latin: proprium). Lisa Hyatt translates it as "autonomy" as in the following from Heavenly Secrets #3994:

“Innocence is an absolutely essential element of love and charity, and consequently of goodness. A person’s innocence consists in knowing, acknowledging, and believing, not with the lips but with the heart, that only evil originates in oneself, and everything good originates in the Lord…When a person confesses and believes this in his heart, the Lord flows in with good and truth and instills a heavenly autonomy into him which is bright and shining. Nobody can possibly be truly humble unless that acknowledgment and belief are present in his heart; and when they are present he is self-effacing and so is not preoccupied with himself, in which case he is in a fit state to receive the Lord's Divine. These are the circumstances in which the Lord flows in with good into a humble and contrite heart."

Notice that the Lord eventually changes the proprium from being completely evil to being heavenly. In the lingo of this men's work the first proprium is called a person's shadow.

One way to use this information is to imagine one's shadow as out in front, and so no longer hidden. Also, one accepts the existence and power of the shadow. One cannot get rid of it. And fighting it is futile. In fact, again in the paradigm of this men's work, one is to embrace and accept the shadow as not only a part of one's being, but as equally valuable. This makes sense of one considers that the proprium will eventually be changed by the Lord into a purely good vessel.

So the insight was a feeling, both an emotion and a physical sensation. I realized the emptiness produced by a dilemma. On the one hand, if I label my shadow as a worthless piece of "refuse" (trash) I will have to lie to you in order to hide this part of myself because, of course, I want to look good and and I want you to like me (which you wouldn't if you saw what I was REALLY like). On the other, if I don't lie and show you that I am a worthless piece of refuse, again, I have come to believe, you will see me for what I am and will reject me and not like me.

The way out of the dilemma is to stop rejecting my shadow and to stop calling it bad and wrong. (Note: it is evil ONLY in itself, because I am giving it power by holding onto my judgment of it and trying to hide it or get rid of it). By accepting my proprium for what it is, I stop giving it power from the divine love the Lord is giving me to use. I detach from it in the sense that I don't make it all of me. I let go of it so that I don't own it (a favorite concept: all evil is from hell, all good is from the Lord). All the time I remember this, I can much more easily control the behavior, including thoughts as well as actions, that I am ashamed of, that separate me from the Lord, heaven, and that I would be embarrassed if anyone knew about.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Having Jesus In Your Heart

This the first of a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

The first chapter of Matthew proves that Jesus is a descendant of, first, King David, and then of Abraham. Jesus is thus not only a Jew, he is royalty. All because Matthew could produce the list of names that links them all.

Before you read any further, take a moment and get a piece of scrap paper and a pen and write your name. Did you write your complete name? Did you print it neatly? Or did you write a signature? Is your writing distinctive? Is there something special you do to a letter or as a flourish? Have you ever played with how your signature looks or using just initials? Notice that these questions speak to how you think of yourself. And they reflect how you want others to see you.

Did you ever acquire a nickname? Do you have a “real” name apart from your nickname? Have you asked people to call you a certain name? How, if at all is it connected your given name? A nickname, when made up by others, reveals something about what they think of you. A nickname you choose yourself, or one made up that you perpetuate, reveals how you want to be related to, even in some small way.

Now, reflect for a moment on each of the following questions. What do you think is a person’s first thought when they hear your name? Does it make a difference if they are looking at you when they first hear it? Does it make a difference if you introduce yourself or if someone else introduces you? Do you want to change your name? Can you describe what it is about your name that makes you want to have a different one? How do you feel about the fact that you didn’t get to pick your name? Do you know if your parents had a reason for giving you the name they did? What was it? Has your personality developed to match your name? Is that because of your name, or because your name reflects your parents’ personality which determined not only why they named you what they did, but the way they raised you?

And here is a relevant teaching: “The ancients took a name to mean simply the essence of a thing, and seeing something and naming it to mean recognizing its nature. This was due to the fact that they gave their daughters and sons names with a relevant meaning. Every name had a unique element that indicated where people were from and what they were like....Such a manner of speaking was familiar to them, and anyone who fails to understand it will be puzzled by the symbolism....No one knows anyone’s name in heaven, either, but each knows what the other is like.” (Secrets of Heaven n.144, 145)

What do you plan to do, if anything, to live up to your name? Do you look forward to living up to your name? Are you going to be like the parent or ancestor you were name for? Is he or she a model for you? Are there characteristics about the person you were named after that you want to avoid or get rid of?

What do you want to be named in heaven?

The story of the incarnation of God begins with names, perhaps, to begin with the most external feature of the Lord, the name “Jesus” and the honorific “Christ.” At the same time, those names involve his deepest essence. On the one hand, his heredity did not define him (at least no more than it defines any of us). On the other hand, his heredity connects him to both the Divine Itself and you and I. Jesus Christ is thus unique, even as he is an archetype for all of us.

To be called “Christian” is a significant matter. No parent gives you this name. You don’t make up its meaning, its heritage. It is symbolic of a certain essence, and it actually represents a way of being, of believing and living. It cannot be taken as a “toss off” nickname.

In a sense, you cannot earn the name “Christian.” You acquire it by a life according to the commands of Jesus Christ.

Living as a Christian leads to people thinking of you a certain way. They have a first impression, which may or may not be accurate. Many of our acquaintances don’t know us by this name. Are there some we would not want to know us by this name? Why? Can you name yourself “Christian”? How comfortable are you with that.

Again, why does the Gospel of Matthew start with a list of names? Might it be that it is essential that we take on the name Christian because it connects us to our God, Redeemer and Savior? As we do, we surely acquire a new name that will stick with us even into heaven! It is an essential quality that everyone we meet there will see instantly!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spiritual Growth Support Group

I look forward to facilitating a Spiritual Growth Support Group again some time. It is a ten week series of workshops. Here are the homework tasks that are given out. Very powerful stuff!

WAKING UP TO SPIRITUAL LIFE AND DEALING WITH THE INFERNAL MARRIAGE
When you become aware of a negative emotion in yourself, find a distraction and notice if the strength of the emotion is reduced. Observe the thoughts that surround the negative emotion and how quickly they arrive. Experiment with stopping the negative emotion by stopping the negative thoughts. Notice any changes that the distraction or positive thoughts have on the negative emotion. Write about this in your journal and come prepared to report on your experience.

NOT IDENTIFYING WITH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
When you observe a negative emotion in yourself, remind yourself that the emotion is not YOU. Say: "IT IS _________ (mad, jealous, scared, etc.), and I don't have to be." Write about this experience in your journal and come prepared to report on your reactions.

LETTING GO OF CRITICISM
Observe your criticisms (out loud and in your head) for a whole day. Once you have noticed the pattern of critical thoughts, go for a whole day without internal or external criticism. This applies to self-criticism as well. Notice what happens and record it in your journal.

DEALING WITH LYING
1. Observe IT (your lower self) Lying
a. Saying to yourself or to another what is not true,
b. Rationalizing; making excuses by lying to yourself,
c. Exaggerating (externally or internally), d. Talking with authority about something you know little or nothing about, e. Saying things that are true with the intention to mislead, f. Lying by omission, leaving out some vital piece of information, g. Telling "nice" lies, lying to be kind.
2. When you observe the lying, stop as soon as you notice.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT
Whenever you feel regret or anxiety, observe any connection with the past or future. Let go and bring yourself into an awareness of something positive in the here and now. Say to yourself: "The present moment is eternity. I am in the perfect place at the perfect time."

FORGIVING OTHERS
When a person trespasses against you, use effort and attention to recall something you should ask the Lord to forgive you for. Hold them side-by-side.

CHOOSING HIGHER DELIGHTS
When you suspect that a state you are in is NEGATIVE, notice whatever enjoyment you may be having from it. What is the pay-off for the negative state? What HIGHER ENJOYMENT is being blocked by the negative delight? Let go of the negative and see if you can allow the positive to take its place.

HANDING YOUR LIFE OVER TO THE LORD
Create a task for yourself relating to handing your life over to the Lord. It might take the form of beginning each day with a prayer, such as "Lord, I give my life to You this day". It could take the form of pausing from time to time to ask: "Lord, what is Your will for me at this moment?" Find a task that suits where you are in your life at this time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Meditation

“Reflection is a mental looking at the disposition and nature of a thing, and from that reflection comes perception.” Arcana Coelestia §3661

“About reflection
“I was just conversing with spirits and angels about reflection, to which I do not know whether people have given enough attention; and it was said that if they give it some thought, they will discover more secrets in the doctrine of reflection than in any other.
“What reflection achieves can be quite clear to everyone from the fact that we perceive no sensation of the body or its parts, and are unaware of having a sensation, unless we reflect upon that part of our body. Then we perceive heat, cold, pressure - we even feel what that part is suffering. If we reflect on our breathing, then we feel and know that we are breathing, and in this way a voluntary factor joins in; besides innumerable other instances.” Spiritual Experiences §733


These teachings encourage us to make the time in our busy lives to read the Word and then make a special effort to reflect on what we have read.

I am convinced that the ancient people had special ways of reflecting on what they were seeing all around them. That practice has come down in a huge variety of methods of meditation, some of which are deservedly dismissed. For instance, the practice of “contemplating your navel” is only justifying one’s self and its limited ideas and corrupted desires.

Meditation, as I understand it from reading teachings such as those above, is a contemplation of the Word in such a focused and intense manner, that its truths transmit the Lord’s love into our minds and hearts that are prepared to humbly receive them so that they make a difference in our beliefs, our desires and our actions.

That huge result is produced by the Lord in us only when we learn how to meditate on the Word. This is not a natural talent. It is not a gift anyone has without a lot of work. The mental barriers – psychological and spiritual – are many and complex.

For instance, our brains are wired to make associations all the time. We want to be connecting the past or the future to our current experience. This means that we do not automatically provide mental space for the truth of the Word to be all by itself. We tend to attach all kinds of meanings to any idea we get from the Word. And some of those ideas will pollute the message of love the Lord wants us to receive.

To acquire the skill of considering the Lord’s truth in a non judgmental way, in the unaffected present moment, includes a number of steps, some of which seem in themselves useless or pointless. But each skill is part of the final ability. We must learn each skill individually for we cannot learn them all at once.

Note that Swedenborg’s own experience was that we will see the usefulness of such reflection just from the experience of paying attention to our bodies – “reflect on our breathing, then we feel and know that we are breathing, and in this way a voluntary factor joins in; besides innumerable other instances.”

“The voluntary factor,” that is, choosing to pay attention to a specific object, he tells us, makes a difference in our ability to reflect, ultimately, on the truth of the Word!



for instance, as I write this, I am present to the experience that summer provides wonderful times to meditate! The early mornings’ light and coolness draw us to sit and breathe deeply. Or, we can take time to cool down after mowing the lawn with a stillness of body and mind, in the simply enjoyment of a job well done (and, after ten minutes of this, a cold drink!).

So here is a list of meditation skills that, as you become skilled at doing them, can be combined to enhance your reflection upon the Word, bringing a sensation of the Lord’s love for you into your life.

Sit in a comfortable position and put your attention on small parts of your body one at a time until you have paid attention to, and relaxed, every part. For example, you might start by paying attention to the toes of your right foot. Wiggle them a bit, and then relax them. This will take only a few seconds, although the goal is the ability to give full attention to something as small as one toe for a long time. You might then pay attention to one ankle, then the other, one calf and then the other, and so on through all the muscles you can identify. I am surprised almost every time I get to my eyebrows and discover I am holding them up!

Another skill is paying attention to your breathing. Sit comfortably; take a deep breath through your nose so that you do it somewhat slowly. Notice how your lungs fill. Your ribs expand and your belly goes out. Breath out slowly through your mouth, letting your lungs empty completely. After a few of these deep breaths, relax into whatever is your normal breathing. And now the skill part: put all your attention on your breath. Notice the air moving in your nose, your mouth. Notice the movement of your ribs and diaphragm. You might have to close your eyes. If that leads you to think about other things or get anxious, then stare at something right in front of you until you are not paying attention to it anymore. You will quickly discover that you will think of something other than your breath. So, note that your mind wandered for a while, and put your attention back on your breath. This skill is not intended to remove the brain’s wiring. It is to give us the ability to choose where we put our attention for a longer time than we can now. Again, the goal is not to be able to pay attention to your breath for five minutes without a break. The goal is to acquire this skill so that you can use it to contemplate an idea from the Word without distractions. I look forward to being able to do it better!

I encourage you to explore meditation. There are lots of teachers around. It has been shown to help a wide variety of physical ailments. And people who meditate on the Word report many benefits. If you would like to join a meditation group at our church, let me know!