Time For Updates…

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It’s been a while since my last post, and I can see coming back that is time for some updates.

You see, a few years ago I had to leave my blogging behind to tend to issues of family health.  My mother and father both fell victim to Alzheimer’s Disease and I spent the last few years of their lives being their caregiver.  This left me no time at all for blogging, so I left several of my blogs behind for so long a time I actually forgot they still existed.  Until I began receiving comments and other notifications urging me to get back with it.

So now I have found my way back into some of these seemingly ancient accounts and am now in the process of updating them to reflect my current life and mission.  As Jerry Garcia said, “What a long strange trip it’s been,” and I am now ready to get back to it.

Thanks to those who have subscribed to this blog.  I will be getting into the habit of posting on a more regular basis.  Today I will focus on getting things updated.  Next week I will be focusing on adding more content.

Until then, take care and thanks for dropping by this old piece of internet real estate!

Blessings,

Ralph

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Spiritual Counsel By Phone. Grief, Addiction, Inner Healing & Transformation.

We have recently updated our phone services here at InterFaith InterPeace. We are partnering with Ingenio to offer a secure confidential phone link for Spiritual Counseling most anywhere world-wide.

Our take on Spirituality is Universal. We are all different manifestations of Spirit; all interconnected at the root level. Though we appear to be different and separated, deep within we are anything but separate. There is a Oneness and commonality that links us all together; all peoples, all animals, all beings. Thus our focus in Spiritual Counseling is to help the seeker reconnect with the Divine Force within and experience this Unity first hand for them self. Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, Pagan, Atheist – All are connected either knowingly or unknowingly to this Divine Force. Once we become consciously aware of this connection, the pieces of our lives begin to fall into place.

Love of Enemies. (Repost from “Lost Jesus”)

“Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you.  Pray for those who treat you badly.” -Q14.

“Love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.”  -The Didache

Jesus commandment to love one’s enemies is perhaps one of the most widely ignored teachings of Yeshua in today’s culture of anti-christ.  In church sermons and Sunday school lessons one might actually hear minister’s and teachers proclaiming just the opposite of these teachings.  I remember one adult Sunday school lesson we had in the first church I pastored shortly before the US invasion of Iraq in which most of the participants acted more like arm-chair generals talking about how we should be fighting the war to win, rather than whether or not we should be fighting the war at all.  Only one man spoke up saying, “My government is talking about killing another government. As a Christian I have a problem with that.”  He was far from the teaching of loving one’s enemies, but he had one commandment down pat: Thou shall not kill.

The teaching to love your enemies flies in the face of what we have been taught to believe in practically every setting of life.  In church people will sit in the pews and listen to these words as they are read once every few years or so (if at all) considering them as beautiful words of poetry with no practical application to their lives what-so-ever.  Rarely will a person seriously consider implementing the love of enemy into their daily lives.  And in those rare cases where we hear of people actually putting hatred and injury aside, who step forward to publicly forgive the people who have seriously harmed them, and who ask for clemency on the behalf of their persecutors, the move is generally viewed either as an act of insanity or weakness.  We had an example from my wife’s family where her father forgave the man who shot and killed his son in a drunken stupor.  Not only did he forgive the man who killed his son, he worked to reform the man ensuring that at least one life would be salvaged in the whole sad affair.  Each time my wife tells the story, someone will shake their heads muttering, “He’s got to be nuts.”  Yes, in today’s world the forgiveness and love of enemy does appear to be crazy.  Yet we can not escape the conclusion that this is what Jesus and the earliest Christian community taught and practiced.

The teaching to love one’s enemies was considered so important to the first followers that it appears at the very top of the list of instructions for new converts to the Way.  The Didache (Teaching of the Apostles To The Gentiles) places love of enemy in the first few lines of the teaching – following the commands to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  Likewise in the Sermon On The Mount – the first place in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus spells out his teachings for the first followers – love of enemy and forgiveness take center stage.  To the first followers this commandment of unconditional Agape Love was taken very seriously.  I doubt one would have been considered a true follower without at least attempting to follow this command.  Yet churches today blissfully ignore this central teaching. How can this be?

I think the main problem people have with the teaching to love one’s enemies is that it is a difficult teaching.  We live in a time where we want things quick and easy; instant ease and instant gratification.  We ignore the simple truth that anything worth while may also be difficult requiring discipline to obtain.  The command to love without condition, even to the point of loving one’s enemy, is seen as being too difficult or even impossible for the average person.  And, while it is difficult, it is not impossible to practice.  We are all weak human beings who are often times driven by our passions and egos.  Yet, with help, we can learn to rise above these passions and our egos to encounter our higher and better Selves.  This requires a life-time of work and practice, and it is usually something we can not achieve on our own.

In the earliest times the followers of this teaching lived together in communities of faith and practice where people helped one another in implementing these teachings into their lives.  The Church was not a building or organization people joined and gave $50 to once a week in order to maintain membership.  The Church was a community one gave all their worldly possessions to; a community which actively supported their members by training them to live out the difficult commandments of Yeshua as well as by taking care of their physical needs.  The individual supported the community in their work, and the community supported the individual by way of disciple-ship training and providing a home in which one could practice the new way of life.  Churches today have lost this idea of a community of practice, and so the difficult commands of Jesus have been rejected as too hard, too alien; too foreign.  And, without a little help both from above and below, I would say this assessment is accurate.  It is too difficult to practice alone without guidance.  That is where the church should, ideally at least, come in.

Yet too often times the church does not fill this need.  Instead it recognizes the difficulty of these teachings and responds by casting them aside.  “These teachings are for angels, we are only dust,” is what a certain Pope said to St. Francis of Assisi when he first attempted to preach the Gospel of Love some 900 years ago.  The Pope initially rejected these teachings.  Yet, over time, this Pope was converted by Francis because he recognized in his words the original teachings of Yeshua long before.  In those words was a message that was counter-cultural 2000 years ago, 900 years ago, and remains counter-cultural to this day.  With it we can rise above the problems and differences which plague our society.  Without it we plant the seeds of our own global destruction.

Today we need a new awakening allowing us to see the teachings for what they are.  A new awakening that will allow our present day churches to be transformed into communities of practice attempting to live out the difficult teachings of Jesus, and helping others to do the same.  These awakenings have come around before at various times in human history.  It can and will happen again.  Let us see the Gospel of Love for what it is.  If it conflicts with our church doctrine, then I would say it is time to re-evaluate the church doctrine – not the Gospel!  The Way will not be easy.  In fact it may appear to be profoundly difficult.  But, after we have done the hard work of transforming ourselves and helping those around us to do the same, we will find the world a far better place than it is at present.  These teachings have been around for more than 2000 years, recorded in stone and almost universally ignored.  How much more could they change our world if they were written in our hearts and implemented into our daily lives.  Let’s those of us who call our-selves Christian give it a try and find out!

What Is The Role of Religion?

The last several days has seen much unrest in the world around us as so-called “Christian-extremists” have tried to provoke “Muslim-extremists” by putting out a terribly done film defaming the Prophet Mohammad and then running with it. Unrest has flared in many parts of the Arab world and debate on free speech has ensued in the west. There have also been sentiments aired condemning organized religion in general. These sentiments run along the line of “If these are the things that organized religion fosters (namely war, violence, stupidity, hatred, etc.) wouldn’t we be better off without it?” And while I find myself somewhat in agreement with the statement above, I can not agree with it whole heartedly. Let me explain why.

While many people in the world feel they have moved beyond the realm of organized religion (myself included), I see the institution of religion as still having a role to play in our world today; actually many. For one: religion is the beginning point for many along the Spiritual Path. Many of us got our first taste of the Divine and Spirituality from our child-hood religious experiences. While the quality of those experiences may be questioned, there is no doubt in my mind that the religion of my child-hood started me upon the path I am walking now.  My first experiences of talking to God were guided by the institution of organized religion.  My first understandings of how our people related to God (and vice-versa) was guided by our church history and scriptures.  And my first experiences of Mysticism and ecstatic union with the Divine likewise came from the institution of organized religion.  Over time I was left to question many of the beliefs I was raised with, especially as those previously held beliefs came into conflict with my own direct experiences of the Divine.  And while I have come to reject some of those previously held beliefs and teachings, I have to concede the point that those teachings started me out on my Spiritual Quest, like training wheels on a bike.  However one does not keep the training wheels on the bike forever.

Thus one role of organized religion, as flawed as it may be, is to get us started on the path to union with the God of our understanding.  And while religion is certainly not the only path one can follow to achieve this end, it is still one of the more common ones.  And while I see religion as a starting point for many, it must also be kept in mind that there will, at some point or another, be a point of departure from that beginning.  Just as a baby does not spend his or her whole life in a crib, so too organized religion should not expect their people to spend eternity in the nursery school of faith.  Religion may serve a person well for a great many years, but sooner or later a person should and will begin to move beyond it.  Good religions acknowledge this and prepare their people well for life beyond the nursery.  Bad religions, on the other hand, seek to lock their converts in at all costs keeping them away from the end goal of union with God by telling their people they will never be good enough to realize such union.  Instead they offer their people a hierarchy of ministers, priests, imams, and bishops whose job it is to intercede with God on behalf of the people, keeping the faithful forever dependent upon their rule.  In doing this bad religion does a disservice to its faithful and becomes a poor substitution for God; idolatry of the worst sort.  Yet, in the end, the substitution will ultimately be found in want as those with Spiritual Eyes and Ears will naturally come to a fuller knowledge of the Truth and break ways with the old path when the time of maturity comes.  Good religion encourages this Truth seeking, bad religion does not, and unfortunately bad religion can be found in all of the major faiths of humanity to this day.  Likewise, and more happily, the same can be said of good religion.

Blind faith must give way to Spiritual knowledge.  We take something by faith when we can not see and understand it for ourselves.  But when knowledge and understanding comes (Wisdom, Gnosis, or whatever one chooses to call It) faith in uncertain principles perishes.  This, as I see it, is the end-game of religion: taking a person down the Spiritual Path as far as is necessary, then stepping out-of-the-way to allow the runner to advance to the end point which is Union with the Divine. The Gospel of John states this point very nicely, “I must decrease so that He might increase.”  Religion, in it’s best possible form, knows this and grooms their adherents for this life of Spiritual maturity.  Oh for a few more good religions in our world today, no matter what they choose to call themselves.  Though the names are many and varied, “You will know them by their fruits.” Taste and see for yourself!

Meditation Simplified. (Re-posted from The Daily Tarot Reader)

Meditation is a Spiritual practice that can be done by anyone to calm the mind and restore a sense of serenity and inner peace. Be you a preacher, plumber, or tarot reader people of all walks of life can benefit from the practice.  Yet many find the practice difficult to start at first, and may give up on it entirely before giving it a fair shake. Indeed many view the art of meditation to be so mystical and esoteric that they immediately assume the practice is beyond them without even giving it a try.  Such need not be the case.  In this article I will list some simple meditative techniques and suggestions which should work well for beginners, as well as some common pitfalls to watch out for.

The first step in starting the practice of meditation is making the decision to do it and setting aside a certain period of time to do it in. The time period you set aside for Meditation need not be long. For beginners it may even be best to keep it short at first, perhaps 15 to 20 minutes, then you can lengthen the time period as you become more comfortable with the practice.  Find a period of time you can commit to when you are least likely to be disturbed. When I first started I got up an hour early every morning to create some quite time where I almost certainly would not be disturbed, and it worked very well. Pick a time that works for you, then stick with it.

Next, find a quite place which is free from the worries of the world around you, and create a sacred space for your practice. This place need not be out in the woods, deep in a cave, or high up in the Himalayas. It can be as close to home as your bedroom or private study. When you have your place picked out take some time to consecrate it for the task ahead. Take a moment to light a candle or burn a little incense in a fire-proof dish, then say a short prayer to Spirit or the God of your understanding using whatever words you feel are appropriate. If you are not comfortable with prayer for whatever reason you may also take a few moments to mentally unwind and relax. Look at the candle and smell the incense, forget about the day behind you or ahead of you and let yourself be in the present moment.

Once you have your time and place picked out and set aside for the practice of meditation you are ready to find a simple meditative technique which works for you.  When I was first starting out I simply chose to listen to some soft music while looking at the flame of a candle in a darkened room.  This helped to still my mind freeing me from the worries of the day.  Later I began to lay the music aside and instead focused on my own breathing becoming evermore mindful and aware of each breath going in and out of my nostrils. Both these techniques worked to calm and still my mind, which is one of the key goals in meditation.  One may also choose to focus the mind on a mantra; a short phrase or word which is meaningful to you.   If you are consumed with thoughts and worries about the past or the day ahead, the use of a mantra will give your mind something else to focus on, something positive. Repeat the mantra over and over again, either silently or out loud.  After a while your mind will let go of the worries held previously and will cling to the mantra.  If the worries of the day should intrude into your thoughts during this time, do not despair!  Simply acknowledge the intrusive thought, lay it aside, and continue on chanting the mantra. With practice the intrusive thoughts and worries will be become less and less frequent and attaining the meditative state of mind will become easier.  In meditation as in all things, practice makes perfect.

Those are some basics to be mindful of, now for some common pitfalls.  Many people get the idea that you have to be able to sit in the lotus position and hold that pose for an hour or longer in order to meditate like a Yogi.  Such is not the case.  You can sit in any position you wish, so long as the position feels right and comfortable to you.  I used to meditate in the lotus position, but now anymore I find sitting in a chair or on a bench just as effective. If you are just starting out in the practice, a comfortable chair is probably the best way to go. Just find a position that will be comfortable for the time allotted, and go for it!

Also, many people get hung up on time in their meditation practice.  Some feel they should achieve an hour of bliss in order to have had a good meditation sitting.  I have found in my own practice that time is meaningless.  There were times in my practice where I sat for over an hour when nothing seemed to happen for me, and the time dragged on and on and on!  Then there were other times when I sat for only a few minutes and the bliss was so great hours seemed to go by.  So do not measure the quality of your meditation by the amount of blissful time you have experienced. If all you get in the beginning is 5 minutes of calm and peace, run with it. The important thing is that you keep the practice up and persevere with it.  The breakthrough into bliss may not come in the very beginning, but it will come eventually.

Also, don’t be too worried about falling asleep during the practice of meditation.  If you should happen to fall asleep at any point in meditation, take that as a sign that your body needed the rest, and give yourself what you need.  A few times I have been too tired to meditate properly and laid down for a short nap. Upon rising from my nap I was able to meditate with great results. So don’t be too hard on yourself.  Give your mind, body and soul the nourishment that they need, and your whole being will bless you with health.

Blessings & Peace Profound,

Frater Ralph

What have been some of your problems getting into the practice of meditation?  I would love to hear from you.  Use the contact form below to send us your input.

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