Falling for God: Saying Yes to His Extravagant Proposal

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But people close to Pence say he felt no conflict between his campaign duties and his religious beliefs. Later, as the chairman of the House Republican Conference, he saw his job as being a servant to his fellow GOP lawmakers. And when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination, he believed he was committing to humbly submit to the will of Donald Trump. Republicans across the country withdrew their endorsements, and conservative editorial boards called on Trump to drop out of the race.

Most alarming to the aides and operatives inside Trump Tower, Mike Pence suddenly seemed at risk of going rogue. One campaign staffer told me that when she was asked on TV the day after the tape came out whether Pence would remain on the ticket, she ad-libbed that, yes, he was percent committed to Trump. Such a move just four weeks before Election Day would have been unprecedented—but the situation seemed dire enough to call for radical action.

One Republican senator called on the party to engage emergency protocols to nominate a new candidate. RNC lawyers huddled to explore an obscure legal mechanism by which they might force Trump off the ticket. Republican donors and party leaders began buzzing about making Pence the nominee and drafting Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. Amid the chaos, Trump convened a meeting of his top advisers in his Manhattan penthouse. He went around the room and asked each person for his damage assessment. Priebus bluntly told Trump he could either drop out immediately or lose in a historic landslide.

Priebus did not respond to requests for comment. The furtive plotting, several sources told me, was not just an act of political opportunism for Pence. He was genuinely shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. The couple was appalled by the video, however. Whatever God had planned for Mike Pence, however, it was not to make him the Republican nominee that weekend.

Trump proved defiant in the face of pressure from party leaders. By the time Trump left St. The campaign stabilized. The race tightened. And on the night of November 8, , Pence found himself standing on a ballroom stage in Midtown Manhattan—silently, obediently, servant-leaderly—while Trump delivered the unlikeliest of victory speeches. In political circles, there had been a widespread, bipartisan recognition that Pence was a decent man with a genuine devotion to his faith. But after watching him in , many told me, they believed Pence had sold out. Scott Pelath, the Democratic minority leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, said that watching Pence vouch for Trump made him sad.

Of course, Pence is far from the only conservative Christian to be accused of having sold his soul. But the president has also enjoyed overwhelming support from rank-and-file conservative Christians. And while his national approval rating hovers below 40 percent, poll after poll finds his approval rating among white evangelicals in the high 60s.

The fact that such an ungodly president could retain a firm grip on the religious right has been the source of much soul-searching—and theological debate—within the movement. On one side, there are those who argue that good Christians are obligated to support any leader, no matter how personally wicked he may be, who stands up for religious freedom and fights sinful practices such as abortion. On the other side of the debate is a smaller group that believes the Christians allying themselves with Trump are putting the entire evangelical movement at risk. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, has made this case forcefully.

But even as the debate rages on, there is one thing virtually all conservative Christians seem to agree on: Mike Pence. Regardless of how they voted or what they think about Trump, they feel a sense of identification with him, and trust in him. One pastor compared Pence to Mordechai, who ascended to the right hand of a Persian king known for throwing lavish parties and discarding his wife after she refused to appear naked in front of his friends.

Pence has also drawn comparisons to Daniel—who served a procession of godless rulers—and to Joseph of Egypt, the valiant servant of God who won the favor of an impetuous pharaoh known for throwing servants in prison when they offended him. Given wide latitude on staffing decisions, Pence promptly set about filling the federal government with like-minded allies. Of the 15 Cabinet secretaries Trump picked at the start of his presidency, eight were evangelicals. Pence understood the price of his influence. Once, while interviewing a prospective adviser during the transition, Pence cleared the room so they could speak privately.

Trump does not always reciprocate this respect. Around the White House, he has been known to make fun of Pence for his religiosity. When I asked Marc Short, who now serves as the White House director of legislative affairs, about these exchanges, he dismissed them as good-natured razzing between friends. When it was reported last January that the Pences would be moving some of their family pets—which include two cats, a rabbit, and a snake—into the Naval Observatory, Trump ridiculed the menagerie to his secretary, according to a longtime adviser.

Social conservatives had been lobbying the president to issue a sweeping executive order aimed at carving out protections for religious organizations and individuals opposed to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and transgender rights. The proposed order was fairly radical, but proponents argued that it would strike a crucial blow against the militant secularists trying to drive the faithful out of the public square. By the time Trump got around to signing the order, several months later, it was dramatically watered down.

Conservatives blamed Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner for gutting the order. But according to one Trump associate with knowledge of the debate, Pence barely put up a fight. The surrender infuriated Steve Bannon, who was then serving as the chief White House strategist.

Pence, after all, had his future to think about. One senior GOP Senate aide told me that pundits miss the point when they speculate about what kind of scandal it would take for the president to face a serious defection from lawmakers of his own party. What would a Pence presidency look like? To a conservative evangelical, it could mean a glorious return to the Christian values upon which America was founded. There is, of course, nothing inherently scary or disqualifying about an elected leader who seeks wisdom in scripture and solace in prayer. What critics should worry about is not that Pence believes in God, but that he seems so certain God believes in him.

What happens when manifest destiny replaces humility, and the line between faith and hubris blurs? What unseemly compromises get made? What means become tolerable in pursuit of an end? They were scheduled to appear the next day in the Rose Garden to cheer Trump on as he signed an executive order most of them considered a disappointment.

Some social conservatives were already voicing their discontent. After dining on shrimp scampi and braised short ribs in the Blue Room, they were treated to a tour of the private residence. Trump led them onto the Truman Balcony, and waved off Secret Service agents who tried to stop them from taking pictures. The faith leaders pulled out their smartphones and snapped selfies, intoxicated by the VIP treatment. For many of the attendees, though, the most memorable moment came when Pence stood to speak. Instead, as always, he lavished praise on the president. Meet pint-size future grand masters at the Elementary Chess Championships.

A year ago, the year-old Swedish climate activist began striking from school each Friday to protest climate inaction; last Friday, she gave a speech to hundreds of thousands of people in New York, at the Global Climate Strike, which was inspired by her protest. It is always at least a little unfortunate to see a young person become an icon—it robs them of the privacy of growing up. But Thunberg is an especially flummoxing figure. She looks younger than her years, yet her speeches take a shaming, authoritative tone that is, at the very least, unusual for a child.

During the campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House. Former National Security Adviser H. McMaster, the economic adviser Gary Cohn, and others would sit around the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and listen to both ends of the conversation. The Ukraine scandal confirms that Trump knows he can act with impunity—and no one will stop him. In June, President Donald Trump was enjoying a rare respite from scandal.

Mueller had agreed to abide by Department of Justice guidance that the president could not be indicted for violating any criminal law. Stephanopoulos asked him: What if another foreign government offered him dirt on an opponent in ?

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What would Trump do? The Israeli leader has long marketed himself as an essential diplomatic asset. That pitch is wearing thin. Netanyahu is in a different league , the ads read. The crowd that warm fall evening seemed enthusiastic, as did many French film critics.

It will not, as of now, be shown in the United States. The move follows a sudden shift in the Democratic caucus over the past week, as allegations that the president pressured Ukraine to boost his reelection prospects swirled. Many previously reticent Democrats, chief among them Pelosi herself, have changed their mind and now support an inquiry. The question was always when a critical mass of Democrats would coalesce in favor.

All they wanna do is get people in trouble! It was typical button-pushing from the comedian: a hot take wrapped in a crude insult, delivered loudly and enthusiastically. Usually, though, he follows up such bits with actual introspection. But then I found myself in need of help. Starting the process will rein in a president who is undermining American ideals—and bring the debate about his fitness for office into Congress, where it belongs. On January 20, , Donald Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol, raised his right hand, and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

He has not kept that promise. Instead, he has mounted a concerted challenge to the separation of powers, to the rule of law, and to the civil liberties enshrined in our founding documents. He has set himself against the American idea, the principle that all of us—of every race, gender, and creed—are created equal. Physical-education programs were designed to encourage health and fitness, but they may be counterproductive. Share Tweet. Emily Buder Sep 23, But inwardly, we are distracted and want to turn the conversation in our own direction.

Before they complete their sentence, we are busy composing our own response. Two people talking. No one hearing the other. Each of our stories is unique. There is something to be learned from every person. Our thoughts, our dreams, our desires. Our times of wrestling and times of joy; the things we have learned, the things we have endured.

Each has worth and each is a precious gift to be shared. The Bible says Jesus listened to people; he listened with his eyes, his ears and his whole mind. Taking time to show people how important they were to him, he gave his undivided attention. But God does, and listens to their cries. God still listens, inviting dialogue with us today. It is only up to us to receive it.

Artists of every type and kind - novelists, songwriters, poets and painters - have borrowed their inspiration from words written by poet, John Donne Donne meant more than that - he meant that the boundary between you and I does not ultimately exist. Like God, Donne cared about the concerns of every human being. The need to be heard, valued and recognized.

All of us need to have our stories heard by someone who is truly willing to listen. Really listening, being fully present is one of the kindest gifts we can give to another. We are meant to live in relationship with others; to live beyond our own needs and interests. What is listening? It is the act of being present, of being open and available.

Available to respond to the cries of the world, the laughter of children, the songs of the birds in the air… our own thoughts.

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And let us add: When we need someone to talk to, You listen to us. May we learn to cultivate the art of listening. With each person we meet, in every situation, may we hear and share your gift to us, God. Everyone knows, if we want to move forward we must first ensure we are standing on solid ground.

We must build a strong foundation. The early sages believed the Ten Commandments to be the blueprint for living. What did God intend? For the first time, human beings were offered a set of religious precepts and code for living. From the biblical standpoint, the laws that govern humanity are based squarely on the importance of moral behavior. And while it is recorded that the original giving of these commandments was accompanied by smoke, earthquakes and the blast of a trumpet to emphasize their importance, they are read and received each year - not with fear and admonishment - but as a blessing and opportunity each individual has for relationship with the Divine.

God gave us the tools to infuse our lives with goodness. Adherence to the law is in the hands of every individual. It seems society today is lost in a thick moral fog. Commandments that seem pretty straightforward on first glance are often not so simple. Do not murder. Do not betray. Be content, be fulfilled with what your life brings. Communication and interchange with other human beings requires moral consciousness. As we expand to a higher consciousness we not only come to understand ourselves more deeply, but also whatGod is instructing us to do. While being tuned to the needs of our time, and pulse of the modern world, consider their meaning in our lives today.

Everything in the universe was made with infinite wisdom. It was given for this world to transcend itself. We do not keep our traditions for the sake of the past. We keep them for their power to create a future, a love and moral compass that will never end. We are the unfolding of all that is. Our sins are not in what we have done wrong, but in what love, compassion and potential we have not tapped. Every soul, as a created being, is interconnected as part of the divine fabric that constitutes humanity.

Our wrong doing is in our separation from those who hold differing views. We are the power of transformation that resides within every blessing - every Commandment. What explanation will satisfy? What nameless song will comfort? We all have hungry hearts. If we are asked what we want from life, most can answer fairly easily. If we are asked what we hope for, we can answer that as well. We are warm, yet we shiver. We have eaten, still hunger gnaws. Yearning is ambiguous. The actual word itself is hard to put our finger on. But we know what it feels like. Everyone experiences yearning.

We may not talk about our yearnings and we may not allow ourselves to think about them often, but they are integral to who we are. Yearning feels tender, vulnerable. It arises from the innermost chambers of our hearts. Pandora was given great curiosity, longing and desire.

She could not understand why the God, Zeus, would give her the gift of a beautiful box, but not allow her to see into it. Eventually, she could think of nothing else but opening the forbidden container and unlocking its secrets. Only HOPE was left at the bottom. The greatest enemy of the spiritual life is to believe there is no hope. Only when we make peace with the rigor of our mind and the beauty and vision of simple good can we know hope. Hope is the inner momentum we keep alive despite what is happening around us.

Hope is an attitude, a condition of the heart, that we carry throughout life, even through tragedy, crisis, sorrow and pain. It is the stabilizer we feel when we lose our balance. Are we victims of our own doing? Of our own demands and yearnings? We are victims only as long as we fail to recognize hope is in our power. The grand designer does not conceive schemes to undermine his own creation. Where are our hungry hearts taking us? There will always be a desire for something new, fresh and innovative; a longing for intimacy, for relationship, the longing to love and to be loved.

What might we become if we yearned after GOD with our whole hearts - if we desired God with our whole selves, body, mind and spirit? People are desperately seeking to make connections with holiness, the mystery of life and the divine force of creation. All of the universe has come from Divine Love. Hope is beyond feelings and thoughts; it is what the whole mystical life is about.

In the end, is hope not more important than truth?

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The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that life is ultimately good. Hope is believing there is love, there is future. To hold Hope is to need nothing else. Life springs from water. Life is sustained by water. Indispensable to human life, water is the vital force flowing through our bodies. Temperatures have risen well above freezing sending snowmelt down from the mountains. The power of our rivers has been unleashed.

Spring runoff presents both philosophical and universal metaphor for regeneration and renewal. Science teaches us to know the properties and function of water in the natural world. Spirituality helps us identify our core convictions about the meaning and value of water. There are intervals when rivers in their long journeys are turbulent, chaotic and disturbing. These suggest the fast moving, accelerated rapids of life. There are periods when the river experiences twists, turns and pauses; and then there are the periods when the river flows peacefully, smoothly and calmly.

The imagery of flowing water, symbolic of life itself, is experienced within most cultural and spiritual traditions. In all major world religions, water is of central importance. In Judaism, wisdom is compared to pristine water, a physical manifestation of the holy. In Jewish theology, abundant rain is an expression of divine blessing. Jesus, in speaking to the woman he encountered at the well, spoke of waters he could provide far better than the springs and rivers of the land.

John 4: In Hinduism bathing in the holy water of the Ganges River offers purification before God. In Islam too, water is most important for spiritual cleansing. Muslims must be ritually pure before approaching God in prayer. Each of us has a river within. We all have depth and dimension we are not aware of.

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Swimmers and divers know there is a world of beauty, of insight and of darkness; of imagination below the surface we might never know. Our hearts contain far more than our minds will ever understand - many never tapping the resource of God within. How many of us swim in circles, in stagnant pools rather than allowing ourselves to flow freely, even amidst the rocks and eddies of life. We never step in the same river twice, says Buddha.

Even we ourselves are never the same swimmer. Flowing water elicits a sense of divine transcendence. Within each of us is a flow of energy that sustains and nourishes our lives. Within each of us is God. Let us flow…. We live in a world hungry for new forms of spiritual expression and understanding. Most of us believe in religious questioning, but not religious answers. The modern world is certainly confused about God. Is God authoritarian or supportive? Distant or engaged? Physical or in the heart?


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These are some things about God which work for me. God is absolute. God is Spirit, transcending anything I can fathom. God is no longer simply a being in whom I trust, but an experience of mystery. The old Christian world sometimes saw faith and spirituality in terms of clearly articulated doctrines, understandings of scripture and theology. There was a focus on one path to salvation, and a clear distinction between orthodox and unorthodox, saved and unsaved. Standing in the moment, we feel our connection to all that came before us and all that will come after.

We remember our grandparents, our great grandparents and all those whose actions have helped to create our lives. And we remind ourselves that we, right now, are shaping the world for those who will someday call us ancestors. No one questions that insight into where we come from helps us to know who we are. And yet there continues to be the lure of finding a bigger God. Progressive Christianity is a liberal movement emphasizing God's immanence and embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding of Spirit. The movement affirms there are truths within the Bible that are not verifiable.

It believes there are stories that though they may not actually have happened, can guide our hearts and help us to grow in our capacities for love, community and connection. Its name is love. Science attempts to shatter religion, but science cannot instill wisdom and compassion. Can anything exist in our understanding of science that is worthy of the name God? The universe has a Master, and it is not any of us.

It arises from the depths of our own being and we are moved by divinity to participate in its sacred origin of life. How do we transform the world? It begins and ends with the realization that all consciousness is divine consciousness. God is a secret, a desire, a gift that we will never fully understand. This thought transforms our experience of ourselves, our work, and the world itself. We are divine beings in a divine world. How will this new world come? It will come through us. The new world is you and me.

We create it by how we act. We cannot abandon the world of God. What can we learn from the mystery of human uniqueness? Neuroscientists, geneticists and anthropologists have all attempted to understand the question of physical and mental abnormality. Today, disability rights have transformed secular ethics and public policy, yet the prevalent cult of perfectionism continues to keep those with disabilities on the sidelines.

We have created a culture for winners but with it, there are lots of losers. A great man passed away last week. Few have heard of his name: Templeton Prize recipient, Jean Vanier, was a Canadian philosopher, theologian, and humanitarian. Vanier founded L'Arche in , an organization allowing people with developmental disabilities, and those who assist them, to share their lives while living in community in an atmosphere of compassion. Vanier believed that as long as there are fears and prejudices about those who are unlike ourselves, there will be injustice and unknowing.

Today, L'Arche communities exist worldwide. Human beings are made for deep relationships; they are made for community. Vanier believed those who have been marginalized, those with disabilities can also help restore the equilibrium of all of our hearts. It is the realization of how to create a culture which is no longer one of competition, but of honoring and welcoming all regardless of strength and ability. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood.

The longer we journey on the road to inner healing and wholeness, the more the need and sense of belonging grows and deepens. A society which discards those who are weak and non-productive risks becoming a society without a soul. Vanier lived a life dedicated to the simple but inviolable belief that each of us is created in God's image and that every single life is sacred and deserving of respect, protection and - most of all - love.

We must look at all people benevolently; that means without judgement, without fear. To love is not just to do something for another, but to embrace their uniqueness. The Bible articulates a profound obligation to treat disabled persons kindly and fairly. It is written, "If there be among you a person with needs, you shall not harden your heart, but you shall surely open your hand.

There is nothing to compare with the terrible loneliness of a child; fragile and helpless; the fear, anguish, sense of guilt. And when children are wounded in their hearts, they learn to protect themselves by hiding behind barriers. There is a lonely child in each of us, hidden behind the walls we created in order to survive. The decency of a society is measured by how it cares for its least powerful members.

In accepting people with disabilities, we accept our own vulnerability by entering into a relationship of mutuality where each gives and each receives. Our lives are our offerings. We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.

Much has been written today on Positive Psychology, the science of human flourishing. Only the human being is capable of changing his perspective on life; only mortal man can progress to a higher, more divine consciousness. Some of us do not grow, we merely age. Each year, companies award millions of dollars to private innovators to improve systems that impact the quality of life in the areas of energy, water, technology and transportation. Every day there is more to read to help us take possession of our own lives; to broaden our skills and enhance our life energy.

Historically, psychology has been mostly concerned with the nature of human dysfunction. Positive Psychology is the study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The world does not obstruct us, it challenges us. That image is a vision and a destiny that we alone can reveal. Life is here and now. We give it meaning. Do not be misled by those who claim the world is evil. We must be driven by belief that reality is good. Evil lies only on the surface. The child believes the world to be perfect.

So, too, should we. When a child believes something is wrong he demands rightness. There is a child in us that must stay alive if we are to grow in holiness. Life provides the raw materials. The challenge and invitation is to create spaciousness inside of ourselves so we can hold paradox and contradictions with compassion and love.

Imagine how entrepreneurship can change the world if every new startup was spiritually conscious; where every new innovation carried with it love and sensitivity for the needs of man. The child believes everything should be fair; that everyone should have what they want and need, that there should be no pain and sadness.

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This is how our creation expresses itself. And the child is right. Like the child, we need to scream out with our hearts demanding things be just. Simply living is not enough. The nut seed grows up into a nut tree - a God seed into God. To grow the seed of our souls means to foster our inner awareness of the connections between all beings, of an inner awareness of the mystery that is within us and within all.

There is probably no mystery greater than our own. If you have found your comfort zone, go beyond it. We are divine beings. The soul knows no boundaries. Allow the world to benefit from your light. Trust the spirit of creative transformation. We are our prayer. You will have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. With personal transformation the buzzword of our time, how might the voice of God speak to us this Lenten season?

Healing the broken part of our lives is not beyond any of us. Since the 4th century, Christians have observed the forty days before Easter as a time for reflection and self-examination. Whether you are a Christ-follower or undefined by spiritual tradition, Lent reminds us that we exist in a constant state of becoming. Personal renewal is possible everyday.

Brokenness can mean a lot of things. It may imply imperfection. It may mean heartbreak. It may mean physical weakness. There is an ancient Japanese art that consists of repairing a broken object by emphasizing its brokenness rather than hiding it. The art of kintsugi continues to be an honored tradition. Whether we are talking about real objects, or personal symbolic wounds - there is beauty in transformation. As a practice of self-love and forgiveness, kintsugi reminds us that the most meaningful and important parts of ourselves are the ones that have been broken, mended, and healed.

But can it be ours as well? Sometimes in the rush to liberate ourselves from what feels like constricting theology, we may miss some real wisdom found in scripture. The statement that God is holy means, in effect, that God acts in holy ways: And we can too. No one is perfect; it's what we do, how we value, love and respect who we are that is important. Think about some of the cracks and fractures in the lives of the men and women God used throughout the Bible: Moses had a speech problem.

David was an adulterer and a murderer. Samson was a womanizer. The Samaritan woman had a whole string of divorces. Zacchaeus had engaged in extortion. Peter was hotheaded, impulsive, and temperamental. Elijah was suicidal. Jacob was a liar and a schemer. Martha worried about everything. Noah got drunk. And God used each one despite their flawed personalities, their broken humanity, and their obvious weaknesses. There is truly a beauty waiting to be discovered when we begin to realize that God uses our lives, including our brokenness, our failures and our weaknesses.

We can train ourselves each day to view things the way they are seen from above. If it can be raised higher, we cannot leave it below. Everything He made, He made with purpose. What does it mean to practice the Presence of God? God is invisible.

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We cannot see God with our physical eyes, but only through the eyes of faith. Some can see God in the words of scripture and in the Universe He created - and in every living creature on earth. It isn't that practicing God's presence is difficult or impossible, it's just that few of us really try. We should know upfront that this is a lifelong practice; this schooling of the soul. Some days are easy, others are difficult. Man alone has free choice. All other creations do exactly what they are programmed to do, and cannot change their natures.

The Bible says, God created man in His image Genesis Only the human being has the power to grow, mature and change, because we are a reflection of God, which is unlimited. Personal transformation realizes our holiness. And by our action and example, bring the spirit of holiness into the world.

Ask yourself if your desire for personal transformation is a call to "self-improvement" or a call in the direction of deeper transformation, one of spiritual insight? Of knowing God in a deeper way? God is always trying to speak to us. Can we let go of spiritual cynicism? Can we pluck up the courage to rebuild a new world - a place where God and planet will survive?

I like to think of a visionary God looking for hidden treasures among our tired and worn-out and discarded thinking. I like to think of God dreaming of our possibilities! The God who calls us to our responsibility for the world has promised also to be with us as we shoulder our part in it. Sit with the intent of connecting. Just sit. Simply being there is the prayer. And practice. Don't be discouraged by the resistance you will encounter from your human nature.

Practice just as you would to become proficient in anything else. So it is for us to know God, but not always for us to understand. To become full we must first be empty. To receive we must be still. To fill ourselves with wisdom, we must proceed with wisdom. To receive blessings from Above, we must do all those things that draw blessings. To receive anything from Above, we must be still and quiet. Wisdom from the Likkutei Sichos. There are many kinds of barriers in life; barriers from within and barriers from without.

There are barriers to happiness like fear, self doubt and evil. Yet these have no power of their own. Joy can break down the barriers we create. What is Joy? Is it an idea, emotion, virtue, philosophy, ideal, or something else? Some of us seem wired for happiness. Others are not. Some look up at the sky and see only the clouds. Some evaluate every word said, always imagining what might go wrong. Dictionaries define joy as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, good fortune or the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires. The world's definition of joy is often synonymous with the definition of happiness.

It seems it is a characteristic of American culture to be obsessed with itself. What makes us really happy? It may not be what you think. As we open up, we start to see beauty everywhere, not only in nature, but in human nature. Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment - which is perhaps the most important thing to finding and understanding joy.

When Tutu and the Dalai Lama met, they spoke at great length about their understanding of joy. The Dalai Lama was 80 years old, and the Archbishop was Each of them had lived long lives filled with plenty of pain and turmoil. But despite their struggles, they both had found ways to gain a sense of peace, courage, and joy. They agreed that - no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be - we have the capacity for true joy.

The two most essential qualities of the heart that allow us to be more joyful - they both agreed - are compassion and gratitude. People say life has its ups and downs. This is not fully true. Life is ups and downs. With every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them… Be grateful for whatever comes.

Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. But joy is not. It is an internal laughter, and it discovers you! We all like thinking and doing our own thing. I live by my value system. You can live by yours, unless of course, it encroaches on mine. How often do you find yourself not knowing which direction to take? On top of that, what is good can also be very destructive, even harmful. You will see someday. The destructive tornado may bring needed rainfall elsewhere. The best of cyber technology might also be used for cyber terrorism and crime.

Does it? It cuts through all the rhetoric, all the arguments, all the politics, all the religious talk and gets to the heart of the issue. Most define good as what is good for them, evil is what is contrary to their will, believing that we each are masters of our own reality. Is the ego evil? Of course not. It is important to hold self-esteem, confidence in oneself. God created a world in which goodness and evil are equal options, Our penchant for goodness is not greater than our proclivity for evil; we are evenly balanced.

Neither intellect or faith alone can fully grasp ultimate Truth. The mind that fears faith will choose a truth which is most comfortable and likely self-serving. The mind that chooses to live by intellect alone may lack compassion. To live by faith alone is naive. How can it be that a prayer goes unanswered? We trust God is good, yet we pray that things might change. We do not know why evil was created or allowed. We look at the headlines and see forces that challenge security and peace and seek to act on our own behalf. But separating good and bad from both physical needs and spiritual needs is counterproductive to both.

Faith, hope and love are the navigating instruments used by the soul to become aware of the Unseen. Soul-light cannot be manifest if there is no faith to conduct it. Do we have the desire to know a bigger God? To know the Divine as an experience not as a theology? Our birth, time and place, and circumstances is the hand we are dealt. How we play that hand is our creation. When it is all over, the union of our inner universe, our soul, and our outer world will be our greatest accomplishment.

Create in us the will to create, God. That no matter the obstacles or the level of influence they hold, our response, our action will be to live in Your image; in the image of love. Everything changes rapidly these days. What can we say that we really know - that we are certain and assured of? There is a universal spiritual awareness in humanity. The human mind, creativity, imagination and our ability to relate to one another indicate a higher force which is the author of these qualities.

But, is it God? Innumerable windows exist through which we are able look upon the world for meaning. Have you ever thought about how many things you believe without having seen or experienced them? Take gravity for instance. No one has ever seen gravity; its evidence is all around us, though we cannot explain it. There is no physical evidence to prove or disprove the existence of a Higher Power. Many believe God uses our circumstances to speak to us. In the Bible, He used a burning bush to speak to Moses. The bush was on fire but not being consumed.

I wish He would use one to talk to me sometimes. With a myriad of voices competing for our thought, how do we distinguish the voice of Spirit from all the others? The wonder, beauty, and complexity of the world points to the existence of a supreme force and intelligence which designed it. Have the discoveries of scientist and technology spoiled the delight and romance of the stars and creation? Have they obliterated the mystery or replaced them with a different equation?

Just as it is challenging to know who we ourselves are, little deep wisdom of what we truly know about God originates in the mind.


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  • Yet, how deep the rift has become. It is no accident that we are here. There is great design in the universe. All designs imply a designer. We can flood the world with more and greater light, but that alone will not achieve the goal. Do you believe only what you can see with your eyes, hear with your ears, what can be measured with facts? Why should we demand that the universe make itself clear to us?

    Even those events that seem to thrust downward are in truth only a part of a much larger picture. Consciousness is our essence - our soul. It is our divinely created connection. Most of us know fear. We know pain, anger and desire. In the midst of all of these - in the clutch of doubt, in the swirl of mistrust, in the intellectual debate, there is a Who, a What - its name is Compassion, Grace, Truth and Love. Transcending time, God has no beginning and no end. Religion and philosophy have too often allotted human beings a passive role in fate and future. What is the cognitive and spiritual value of insight?

    How do we move insight to action and give voice to the Divine? What ought we do? According to Immanuel Kant, central figure in 18th century philosophy, this is the basic question of ethics. How we are to conduct our lives is not an academic problem but a human issue and choice we face at every moment. Trusting scripture has never required that it be read simplistically. In the long history of Bible translations there have been two standard approaches: translating word by word, or revelation by revelation.

    Often, when scripture is reduced to whys and hows, it is also reduced to facts, which are a means but simply inadequate alone to knowing greater Truth. In many religions, gods, priests and spiritual leaders carry the message of the Ultimate, they are the holy ones. It needs more than sacred sentiments and good intentions.

    Freedom of choice has been granted, God does not induce or coerce us to do anything. Our deeds are in our own hands. Who is going to fix this world? The politicians, the philosophers, the think tanks, academics? Real change is an inside job. We carry within the promise of the Imago Dei, God's own self-actualization through humankind, where our lives may be a fusion of the finite and the infinite, light and darkness, heaven and earth. With the raw ingredients of our days we must let nothing stop us.

    Our spiritual paths must include becoming vehicles to change. Integrating action into our practice of meditation, reminds us of who we are. Each of our lives provides the opportunity for God to love through us; each of us a reflection of the Divine One. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined life is sad but surely worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining? Perhaps an unlived life is far more heretical than any philosophical or theological meaning in being alive. God did not give us light to hold up in the middle of the day. We are given light in order to transform the darkness.

    God asks for our hearts and for our lives. We must let nothing stop us, reminding ourselves always that our essence is love. The pursuit of heaven - the pursuit of earth; one can spend a lifetime in either of these worlds. Where might they take us together? Our essence is love. It seems our serenity is always being rocked. Sometimes, resilience is not about bouncing back, but a process of becoming greater. We fear for the economy, energy shortages, nuclear weapons, political instability, plus hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. As individuals, we can't control the next disruption or catastrophe.

    However, we can control the way we respond to these challenges, manner in which we absorb the shocks of our world, and how quickly we spring back after a blow. Resilience is more than stamina, perseverance and an ability to stand strong and firm. The world is predicated on free choice. One of the first things that God offered Adam was the choice of eating from the tree of knowledge. Adam decided. We experience resilience when we are enlarged rather than diminished by our challenges. When facing adversity causes us to change, we grow, and become greater. Resilience offers us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with the Divine.

    The biggest choice may be to allow what has happened to bring us closer to God. Every day creation is renewed. From darkness comes the light of creativity, the essence of God that is in each one of us who live in the possibility of this moment. Alongside a river, a cedar tree and a patch of reeds grew side by side.

    The cedar tree was strong and proud; its enormous trunk and branches reaching far above the tops of the slender reeds below. Its majestic height and powerful appearance made the flimsy reeds nearby appear fragile and inferior. One day, a great storm came from across the river, and the strong winds blew with all their might.

    The cedar tree, as strong as it was, was toppled over by the winds; yet the reeds were still standing after the storm. Most of us develop hopes and expectations for our lives. Resilience is that quality that allows us to be knocked down and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties or failure overcome us and drain our resolve, we find a way to rise.

    Resilience is not overcoming. Becoming more, becoming our fullest and deepest selves as a result of adversity. We allow them to be our teachers. God does not leave us in the dark. If we knew the answers, would our questions about heaven be settled? We know from literature, religion, and history, that humanity has speculated on the realm beyond physical life for as long as we have existed.

    Many believe heaven to be a reward for a good life. For some it is a realm of creation where one will live in perfect peace and joy, free from cares, worries and pain. Evidence of heavenly grace is all around us but we created beings cannot readily perceive its hidden Source.

    We can only begin to imagine the Infinite through experiencing this amazing world. There is great joy in our effort to speak poetically of that which is sacred; and yet, where is the substance? There must be substance. Experiencing with our bodies, with our minds, we look deep within and deep without. Somewhere, in the vast wilderness of our unknowing, we carry the promise of the Imago Dei; enlightenment and relationship between God and man. Heaven is not somewhere we might go. It is something we carry within; a dream we renew each day. If our hearts are inclined toward darkness we see the dark.

    If they are inclined towards light we see light. Perhaps it is in the glimmer of this light that we might see in our meditation, a force beyond our tightly defined little worlds, waiting only to be welcomed in. Perhaps it is in seeing a light of hope, where seemingly there was nothing but infinite darkness and despair. It is when we learn to smile at the fussiness of our human egos, when at last we may experience the beautiful interconnectedness of all people. We begin with wonder, heart and eyes wide open, to what the world is telling us. No amount of searching, no level of consciousness we attain, will reveal for us with certainty whether we are born as children of chance or part of a grand design.

    Would we have it otherwise? Would we truly want to take the mystery from the universe, from God? Heaven is found in the little things. There is a Heaven for each of us and for every living existence in the Universe. That there are matters we do not understand is obvious. There is no need to search, we have inherited it and it is within us. A gift - along with the sweet laughter of a child, the goldfinch and duck! Is Beauty Ultimate Truth? Some think so. All knowledge begins with our senses. That which catches the eye often captures the heart also. The recognition of beauty may be a starting point in knowing the Truth of God, and proof that incarnation is possible.

    Through Incarnation, God becomes accessible. God becomes alive to us. God reaches out to us; touches us. Incarnation is about God. It is also about humanity. A decade ago Pope Benedict addressed several hundred artists in the Sistine Chapel. Miriam dances for joy and plays timbrels in response to God's graciousness and liberation Exodus God has Bezalel bring together the artists of the community so that they can build a fitting tabernacle of gold, silver, stones, and wood Exodus As the ark of the covenant returns to Jerusalem, Israel shouts "to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals," and makes "loud music on harps and lyres," The psalms were composed and sung in response to a deep longing for God; they express praise for God's beauty and presence in all of creation.

    The desire for authentic expression lives in our hearts. Beauty calls us, awakening us to see more deeply and proclaim these gifts. There is not one way to find our creative voices, to reveal the human heart. We all have the opportunity to proclaim Incarnation, to reveal the earthly essence of God within our unique and beautiful selves.

    And so a new year, new beginning, but still, the same question - how are we to live these lives of ours? As we enter the new year, many people focus on their identity; how to become a new and improved version themselves. What "spiritual" approaches go deeper than the mere making of resolutions? In the beginning… there was everything. And then that thought exploded.

    Theologians and philosophers for centuries have made attempts to explain. Most of us have outgrown a fairytale faith; it's time we think of the grown up implications of Christmas. The skeptic might tell us to ignore the festivity and celebration of history because it is not imbued with facts. The sacredness of any scripture is judged by the truth of its word, not by the proof of its authorship and inspiration.

    Our job is to grasp the inner vision and message. W e are the real deciders of what this birth will bring. There are no words. There is nothing to say, just the knowledge that "It is good. It is very good," as said in Genesis One, the beginning of it all.