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Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

“Healing the Divide” – An Interview with Author, Christian Mystic and Church Reformer, Amos Smith

posted by smcswain

Healing the Divide.” That’s the title of Amos Smith’s book.

Fr. Richard Rohr calls it “a foundational work written in a style that will be respected by scholars–yet easily accessible to ordinary Christians and would-be seekers.”

Leonard Sweet, author of I Am a Follower, suggests this: “Read Healing the Divide and eat the mystery. It’s a check-up call to your identity and mission.”

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Cynthia Bourgault says Amos Smith’s book Healing the Divide gets to the “Christian mystical epicenter” which will rescue Christianity “from contamination from both the Christian hard right and the sometimes rudderless new age” approach to spirituality.

Amos Smith is a graduate of Chicago Theological Seminary and a pastor in the UCC tradition. As an author, thinker, church reformer, and mystic, Smith sees his mission in life is to live deeply into and out of the mystical traditions within Christianity. In fact, it would be safe to say, he believes this to be his mission in the Church and the Church’s hope for a meaningful future in the world today.

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Recently, I had the distinct honor of briefly interviewing Amos Smith by SKYPE. I asked him about this book and several other questions such as the following:

“What do you mean by mystical traditions?”
“What is the divide that needs healing in Christianity?”
“What is happening in the Church today causing its widespread decline?”
“You speak of ‘dualistic’ thinking. What is that and how might it be overcome?”
Why are churches closing and what can be done to turn things around?”

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View the interview below but get a copy of Amos Smith’s thoughtful book by clicking here.

One correction: Toward the end of the interview Amos Smith notes that GRAVITY: A CENTER FOR CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM is located in Oklahoma but he intended to say Omaha, Nebraska.

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LIVING WITH FEARS: How I’m Learning to Manage Mine

posted by smcswain

I think I have always lived slightly afraid of something.

• I am not afraid of being attacked like a soldier must feel on a battlefield.
• I am not afraid of falling off a cliff, although I would be if I did not avoid heights.
• I am not afraid of being struck by lightning because…well…I’m just not.

My fears have always been slightly more subtle ones.

Living with Fear

Living with Fear

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Here are a few of them…

• I think my extroverted nature hides my fear of being invisible.

I developed this fear in my young adult years. My father was an expert extrovert and it came naturally for him. That is, whether in a group of two or three friends or speaking in front of a thousand people, Dad was always funny, a great storyteller, and completely at ease in almost any situation.

I, on the other hand, was not. I always felt invisible, almost like a prop on someone else’s stage. I am sure Dad sensed this and was bothered by it. Being the good father he was, he tried to include me whenever he and his peers were chatting it up. I would chime in but only ever awkwardly. I never felt as if I had much to add, however.

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For these reasons, and probably many others I am not even aware, I learned to compensate for the fear of being invisible to everyone by working hard to be unavoidable. I became an extrovert, too. But the difference was two-fold: my extroverted personality came across unnaturally.

As a consequence, my auditions for everyone’s approval were regarded suspiciously or interpreted as mere self-promotion. That created a different set of problems for me. The invisibility I feared and sought to avoid was only enhanced instead.

Do you know a similar fear?

• I think my fascination with wealth hides my fear of not having enough.

I do not remember a time when I have not been fascinated by opulence and wealth. I have always imagined having plenty of the latter, which probably explains why I did not dismiss the impulse to buy a Powerball ticket when it recently reached a half billion dollars.

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I do not regularly buy lottery tickets. It is an ethical matter for me. But, when the amounts reach planetary heights, I find myself temporarily suspending my principles and trying my luck at planetary travel.

“What harm could there be in that?” I reason. “Besides, ‘Somebody’s Gonna Win…Might as Well be Me!’” (To read a recent post where I outline the actual odds of winning the Powerball Lottery, follow the link to “Better Listener”).

You might recognize the words, “Somebody’s Gonna Win…” as the slogan the Kentucky Lottery Commission used for years to promote the buying of Powerball tickets.

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Whenever I feed the fantasy of having hundreds of millions dollars, I enjoy the temporary reprieve I get from the fear of not having enough.

As I do, do you worry too much about having too little?

Sometimes, I fear I might not have enough income for my present needs. At other times, I am scared I might not have enough for my future needs. Is this true for you?

I have been involved in professional fundraising for many years. I always found it amazing whenever I interviewed a retired person whom I regarded as sitting on a heap of investments at least equal to the gold of Fort Knox. I would be amazed at how reluctant some of them could be to turning loose of even a little of their acquired wealth. So much for the “trickle down” myth.

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“What are you scared of?” I often wanted to ask. “You, my friend, are sitting on a fortune. Why don’t you share some of it?”

When I finally stopped asking these questions in my head and looked instead into my own heart, as well as my own fears, I understood. They were only worrying about the same thing I feared – the fear of not having enough.

Having more makes no one less fearful. It might in fact make you more fearful. You certainly have more to worry about protecting.

• I obsess over fitness and health as a way of avoiding my fear of death.

My Dad died of an unexpected stroke at the age sixty-seven. He was too young to die and with no prior symptoms about which we were aware. He had been active, played tennis almost daily, and traveled extensively. But one night, unexpectedly, while giving an inspirational talk to several hundred people, he just collapsed in the middle of a sentence.

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He never recovered.

And, his death scared me to death.

While that was twenty years ago now, the whole thing still sends shudders down my spine, but not because I am worried about where he is. There was a time I might have been. I was raised in a conservative religious church where most of the preachers constantly questioned whether people had properly prepared for eternity. That was the extent of their beliefs about salvation. They would never admit this. But, if their preaching were an indicator, all they were really concerned about was getting people “saved,” as they called it, so they would go to heaven and avoid hell when they died.

Eternity was not my enemy, however. My enemy was the same as Saint Paul who described death itself as “the last enemy” (1 Cor.15:26).

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Death or dying or both frightened me.

They still do.

Over the years, I think I have used my obsession with running and fitness as a means of running away from this fear. You can imagine, therefore, what consternation struck me on July 13, 2014, the day I experienced a heart attack myself but at an age younger than the fatal stroke that stole my Dad’s life twenty years before.

This was not supposed to be the outcome to my fitness devotion. I had been running for four decades to avoid something like this. For months now, I have been on a quest to go deeply into my fear of death, as well as my other fears, and actually understand them, deal with them, and ask the hard questions about how to cope with them. And while I am at it, I have been seeking to know what my faith, if anything, has to say about the fears with which I have struggled for most of my life.

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The following is the procedure I have been following on this journey into my inner world. The good news is, I actually think this process is helping me cope with my fears. Maybe something here will helpful to you and your management of fear.

1. I no longer feel I am failing at my faith just because I live with fear. I made this mistake through much of my spiritual life. I would tell people, “Jesus said, ‘Do not be afraid,’ (Jn 14:1) so, if you are ever afraid, just know that means you’re not living by faith. Why? Because fear is the opposite of faith.”

That’s a crock of you know what!

Jesus was afraid from time to time. How could he have been human and not be afraid? To assume he was not because of his divine nature, or worse, to say that he was not ever afraid because he was God is not honoring his divinity but robbing him of his humanity.

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Big mistake.

What makes Jesus so accessible to me is not his divinity. I am divine. So are you. If that is not what “image of God” in us means, what does it mean?

His humanity makes him accessible.
His unconditional compassion makes him approachable.

Jesus knew fear. What else could he have been feeling in the Garden of Gethsemane? (Matt. 26:36ff). What else could his words have possibly meant: “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

Yes, he knew fear.
Yes, I know fear.

It is part of what it means to be human. I showed up in this world, just as you did, as an eternal, divine being having a temporary human experience, as the Christian philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, loved to remind us.

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My task, and your task, too, is not to escape my humanity, mistakenly believing there is something inherently depraved or evil about it. Instead, I am to live into my humanity as fully as possible, which is what makes Jesus’ life so remarkable. He showed us how.

It does not mean, therefore, I am less Christian or less divine because I live with fears. It means I am affirming my humanity and accepting its limitations.

2. When I am afraid, and that is more often than you might think, I try to be aware of it. I try to acknowledge and watch like an observer the fear in me. I try to locate the trigger of the fear, too – as in, what might have precipitated it?

I ask myself questions like, “Why am I feeling afraid? Can I name the fear?” And then, I get quiet and watch my inner world, much like a watching a drama on a stage. By doing this, it is as if I’m turning a spotlight on the dark places of my soul. I usually see, too, what it is causing me to feel afraid and I name it, which is half the battle, is it not?

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In the past, whenever I have been afraid, I would pretend I was not afraid instead. Or, I would judge myself for feeling afraid as if I were failing. Neither approach worked to eliminate my fears.

In fact, those ways of coping only seemed to feed my fears, the way fuel feeds a fire, making them all the more acute. Inner awareness, therefore, is the key I am using to unlock the mystery surrounding my anxieties. Naming my fears helps, too. Try this approach yourself but let go of self-judgments.

3. Once I am aware of the fear and have named it, I seek to step squarely into it, much like stepping into the shower in the morning. Can you imagine turning on the shower but, instead of soaking yourself freely in the warm shower, imagine trying to dodge the multiple streams of water?

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“What would be the point?” you ask.

Precisely.

It is similar with fear. You can no more live free of fear than you can shower without getting wet. To be afraid from time to time is the stuff of living. You cannot avoid it. Nor should you. Fear is necessary.

What is not helpful is the obsessive, compulsive nature of fear. This is what I seek to guard against. And, you must, too.

My approach to avoid the compulsory nature of fear is to step squarely into it…to feel it, not judge it or, worse, try to run from it, as I literally did for years with the fear of dying. I seek to feel my fear instead, much like I would feel the warm water running over my body in the shower. Not because I enjoy feeling afraid. I do not. But I am learning that for me, this is the only way to temporarily cleanse myself of the ill effects of fear.

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4. As I fully feel my fears, I then ask God to free me. This is what having a savior means to me. I do not need Jesus for the future. I need Jesus now. I need my faith now, as I recently posted regarding faith. The future, whatever and whenever it shows up, will only appear as another now.

That is true of eternity, too. Whatever lies beyond your last breath is really just another now.

I do not mind admitting either that I need Jesus. Maybe you do not. Good for you. I do, however.

Why? There are times I am weak. And, too much of the time, I am scared.

But, in all such times, I need my faith, which is why one of my favorite stories is that of Simon Peter walking on water. He does so well but then, all of a sudden, he sinks beneath the tumultuous waves.

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You perhaps remember the story (Matt. 14:22ff). I like it because I have been right there where he was and more than once.

Sometimes, it seems as if I can walk on water. In fact, I fortunately feel this way most of the time. But there are those days, and moments, when the wind and waves are beyond my control. I feel overwhelmed, scared and even sick right in the pit of my stomach. I can neither explain this nor control it without feeling a need to call on God.

So, I do. And, it works. Is it all imaginary? Maybe to you. Not to me. Whatever God is, I feel she responds to my pleas for help. I get through, too, and go beyond the fears and return to a place of joy and inner peace.

And, it lasts for a while. Sometimes, for a very long while…

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And then, the process outline above needs repeating because they return and I repeat it.

Could this be what the spiritual masters meant when they spoke of a spiritual practice?

I think so. But, in any event, it has become my spiritual practice.

Daily.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

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Contentment…In Any and All Circumstances

posted by smcswain

The spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, once wrote, “Accept this moment as if you had chosen it.”

That’s not so different, is it, from what the spiritual teacher, Saint Paul, described, when he wrote, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4:11)?

Contentment

Contentment

Contentment.

How does one learn to be content? Our advertising world…indeed our entire system of economics…would likely morph into something quite different if suddenly advertisers were no longer permitted to promote products without the clever capacity of creating discontent in consumers.

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Contentment is not complacency.
Contentment is not laziness.
Contentment is not avoidance. Nor is it an aversion to goal-setting.

Some measure of discontentedness is, therefore, necessary, isn’t it?

I think so.

Presently, for example, I am not content with where I am professionally and, as a consequence, I am evaluating, setting new goals, and moving my professional life forward.

Contented and Discontented

So is this discontent a failure on my part to live contentedly?

Maybe. That is to say, it could be. Certainly, the potential is there for the displeasure I feel to steal from me the peace I should know.

“So, how do I know when the discontent I feel with where I am in life is a dangerous discontentedness I need to avoid?”

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The answer might lie in the question itself.

Consider…

“When the ‘discontent’ you feel

becomes a state of ‘discontentedness’

let that be to you a warning sign”

Then, what is contentment?
What is it Saint Paul and Eckhart Tolle are saying?

Contentment is Acceptance

Contentment is acceptance of what is.

I no longer seek to blame God, for example, or the Devil or anyone or anything else for that matter, for showing up in my life. Why would I? What could possibly be the point in seeking to attribute to God something so trivial as my situation? Which is why I shudder every time I see an NFL player, or fans, attribute to God such trivial matters as who wins the Super Bowl.

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I seek instead to respond to what shows up as if I had ordered it myself, like ordering a dish from a menu in my favorite restaurant.

Now, do not misunderstand. It is not that I regard what has shown up as the consequence of some unconscious wish on my part. Rather, what I am saying is this: whether I like what has shown up or not, is no longer the first and foremost matter.

The first order of business is accepting the fact that what has shown up has shown up. I have the choice of facing it, therefore…of living into it…of accepting it…

Or, I have a choice of resisting it. And, if I do, and I usually do, then I have just created another problem. Not only do I have the situation at hand which I am resisting, but I have now my resistance with which to wrestle as well.

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What Contentment Is…

Whenever, therefore, something unpleasant shows up, and it isn’t long before something usually does, I seek to embrace it as much as I can and as soon as I can. I do this by seeking to know and name what I’m feeling about it, accept that feeling, instead of resisting it, and then move on to the situation I am facing.

If all of this sounds infinitely easier than it really is, then you’re reading between the lines correctly. The fact is, I live with much resistance to what is. I am often discontent to the point it becomes a state of discontentment. Which is what I must learn to avoid, and I am learning it slowly, and it is the one thing each of us, to varying degrees, must learn, too.

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Now, I should add that, while contentment is acceptance, it isn’t giving up. Sometimes, people mistakenly think that “acceptance” is rolling over and giving in when everything else inside you cries out to fight back.

Contentment is Making Peace with What Is

For example, I did not think I would have a heart attack at fifty-nine. I resisted, and still slightly resist, the reality that I have heart disease. Even to admit this is not a little rattling to me. But it is a fact that impacts every other area of my life and for the rest of my life.

Now, I can accept this…live into it fully…understand the changes I must make so as to prolong my health and life…

Or, I can live in denial of it, which usually expresses itself in the continuation of those behaviors, lifestyle and habits, etc. that likely were contributing factors in premature heart disease.

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If I were to choose the latter course of action, which I am not choosing, the possibility of a repeat performance sometime in the not-too-distant future is probable.

I intend to change that outcome. Discontent with what is the state of my health, I choose to act responsibly, not roll over or live in a state of perpetual discontentedness or depression over it.

I will not say, “This was God’s will,” or worse, “God’s trying to teach me something,” or, worse still, “God is punishing me for something.” What good would any of that do? Besides, the theology behind such statements is primitive, puny, and pathetic.

What I do say, however, is that “I am learning to be content with cardiac issue…” and, for me, that means…

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  • I am learning to accept myself, my condition, while, at the same time, doing what I may to improve matters;
  • I am learning to forgive myself for ignoring my inner voice, a voice that warned me on multiple occasions to let go of some lifestyle habits I had been practicing for much too long – your inner voice knows.
  • I am learning to relax more and be more…to be more self-reflective and to ask before I impulsively act on things, “Is this really needed?” “What in me desires this so much?” “Is it something I need or want?” “Is this feeding a deeper need about which I am presently unconscious?” “What might I learn from this to take me deeper into life…my life…and, deeper into contentment?”

This is contentment or the acceptance of “this moment as if you had chosen it.” It is the pathway to peace and Your Best Life Now!

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Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

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The Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe to Be a “Good Christian”

posted by smcswain

If you were raised in a Christian faith tradition similar to mine, you will readily recognize the following beliefs, the following worldview. If you were not, however, this will give you an idea of what I was taught to believe and what many Christians believe still. While I mention only a few below, these are some of the more prominent ones.

Have a mind that is open to all things and attached to nothing.

I was told these were all true…that I was not to question them…and, had it not been for my father and mother who encouraged me to question things nonetheless, I would still be incarcerated in a belief system that is, in my own opinion,  narrow and misguided. I say that, however, knowing many hold these beliefs very passionately. And, for them, they may be sacred, not “narrow” or “misguided.” And, I would not want them to be offended. This has been my conclusion, however. I would only hope others would be discerning, thoughtful, and, just as my parents encouraged me, question everything with an open mind.

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As Paul Tillich once said, or some smart person said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.” Faith, if it is authentic, is made of the stuff of doubt. If you do not doubt and ask questions – hard, honest questions – you aren’t being faithful to anything but a belief system that isn’t even your own. It’s just a collection of opinions you feel obliged to argue about and defend. When you have grappled however with real faith, and it’s fine mixture with doubt, then you come out on the other side with a ring of genuineness in your faith – forged on the anvil of doubt. That kind of certainty is hard won.

And, worth the struggle.

The Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe to be a “Good Christian”

• The Christian religion is the correct or “right” religion. That is to say, all other religions
are wrong, and the people who believe in them need to be converted to Christianity or face the dire consequences that await them in eternity (that is, they will go to hell if they cling to their religion and do not renounce their religion and become Christians).

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• Jesus is the Savior of the world and the one-and-only-way to God. All other ways may lead to something, but not to God. If you want to go to heaven, therefore, you’ll have to believe in Jesus. Or else.

• God’s word is the Bible. God’s word is found only in the Bible. Be suspect of anything anyone else may call sacred scripture.

Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe - Selections Taken from The Enoch Factor

Beliefs I Was Told I Had to Believe – Selections Taken from The Enoch Factor

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• The Bible is infallible (without error), at least in its “original manuscripts” — referring to the actual parchments on which the biblical writers wrote their words. (I must add here, however, that no original manuscript has been found. Nada. Not one. Not one even close to the original manuscripts. Furthermore, the earliest ones we have date from the second century and are distinguished by the fact they are filled with innumerable discrepancies between them).

• The family God has ordained is made up of one man and one woman. A few other unions may be permitted, but they are hardly preferred.

• Homosexuality is a sin against nature and an abomination to God. God made them Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

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• Abortion is murder. No exception. No debate.

• If America wishes to remain strong, it had better side with Israel. Israel is God’s chosen nation. Again, no exception and no debate.

• The Second Coming of Jesus could occur at any moment. (I must pause and add here, too, that Jesus said the “second coming” would occur only when people “least expect it” (Matt 24:43-44).
Since many Christians are not only expecting it at any moment but are actually praying for it, they should know they are likely responsible for his delay).

• God is not finished with Israel. Thus, the nation of Israel will play a pivotal role in a pre- or post-tribulation Rapture-of-the-church view of the end of human history.

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(Some Christians believe in what’s known as the pre-millennial view of the future, a few believe in what is known as the post-millennial view, and some believe in the a-millennial view of human history, meaning “no millennium.” It isn’t important to go into detail here about the meaning of these different views of “end times.” But if you’re familiar with the Left Behind series of fictional books released over the past fifteen years, you’ve met the most popular of these complicated apocryphal systems of thought. The novels themselves are based on the pre-millennial view of the end, with its special devotion to the futuristic notion known as the “Rapture.” Hal Lindsey first popularized this with the masses of untrained but fascinated followers with his book, The Late Great Planet Earth. If people actually paid the price to study these matters themselves, and of course most Christians have not – they simply get their “theology” on such things for one of these books instead of researching it for themselves. But, if they did, they would know the questionable sources from which these ideas come and most would reject them outright.)

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• God is not a Republican, but any God-fearing soul knows there’s no way she would ever be a liberal Democrat. Oops, did I say “she”? That was a Freudian slip of my pen. Christians all know God is neither male nor female but, whenever they think about God, they cannot help but get this picture of a benevolent male, granddaddy who lives above the sky, wears a white robe, has a long beard, a kind face, and a Shepherd’s staff in his right hand. A throne is behind him and two winged creatures stand beside him and he has unlimited power and authority.  (Selections Here taken from The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God).

Really?

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Yes, these are the things I was taught to believe. There are other things but these are some of the more important things. If you’re guessing I’ve given up on most of these, you’ve guessed correctly.

“Then, what do you believe?” I am asked, and asked often.

I have many strongly held beliefs, as anyone knows who takes time to regularly read the things about which I write. My main belief, however, is this:

“God is…I am…We are…And, love and compassion is really all that matters.”

And, in the final analysis, can you tell me anything that matters more? (Matt. 22:36-40).

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Divine Consciousness: What “Being Saved” is Really All About

posted by smcswain

Divine Consciousness: What Being Saved is Really All About

Divine Consciousness

Divine Consciousness

What does “being saved” really mean?

I am sometimes asked, “You frequently use the words ‘conscious’ or ‘Divine consciousness’ or ‘higher states of consciousness’ and, sometimes, ‘awake’ or ‘awakening’. What do you mean by these words?”

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What I mean by “Divine consciousness,” or any of these other terms, comes closer to what I understand “being saved” or “salvation” is really all about.

Simply stated, I mean this: That God – whatever God is – is manifesting to me in this…yes, this…whatever THIS may be.

I love the way Fr. Richard Rohr puts it: “God is this…Even This!”

Divine Consciousness: Salvation?

Some religious people mistakenly believe that to describe “salvation” in these ways is really just “New Age” stuff. Many could not explain what they mean when they label it “New Age” except that it is something from which you should run.

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Seriously? I think not.

Talk about a word that has lost its meaning over the years. What could be a more misunderstood word than this very good but abused and misused word “salvation?”

I thought for much of my youth and young adult life that salvation was all about eternity. That salvation was about saying something called a “Sinner’s Prayer” so you could be forgiven and go to heaven when you die.

What I believe today, however…what I am experiencing in my own life…is a larger understanding of salvation. It is about Divine consciousness, awareness, transformation, or the “waking up” to a new understanding of myself, others, and the world.

Divine Consciousness: A Self-Awareness

I was raised to think…

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…that “being saved” was all about rescuing me from the pits and perils of hell;
…that salvation was all about getting ready for heaven;
…that life now was just a preparation period for the next life to come.

As a consequence, I told others, and I did so for years, that what they needed was “to be saved.”

I grew up in the days of the evangelist Billy Graham. Every young preacher I knew, including yours truly, wanted to be “the next Billy Graham.” I think I even preached a few of his printed sermons, sure I was doing the right thing. And, all because, I mistakenly believed, if I did not, people would be forever lost. And worse, they would burn, but not be consumed, in an inferno called Hell.

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I felt guilty if I sat with a stranger on a plane and did not present the “Four Spiritual Laws” and do my best to get him to repeat what we called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and so be saved.

“God I am a filthy, rotten sinner. I deserve to go to hell. Thank you for killing your Son who, though innocent, took my sin upon himself and so paid you off so you could forgive me (it’s all about us, isn’t it?) I am sorry you had to do that to him. But I am grateful you did (it’s all about us, you know). I receive you into my life. Save me from hell (again, you know, it’s really all about us, isn’t it?). Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Really?

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How could grace be grace if I have to do anything, even something as simple as repeat a thoroughly self-centered and utterly self-serving prayer, in order to make it operable?

And, isn’t that the point of the seldom-repeated parable Jesus told of the workers who only worked one hour but got paid as though they had worked all day? (Matt. 20:1-16). Isn’t what hacked off the day-long workers the fact that their employer (God) really wasn’t fair? That grace requires nothing, not even an hour of work, to earn a day’s wage? They had long suspicioned this about their employer (God). And, the truth, THEY couldn’t handle.

Grace isn’t fair, it’s free.

People today, even very religious people, have strange ideas about God. Heck, many of the doctrines of the Church are based on what we know today to be strange ideas about God.

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…Grace only bothers those who have not really experienced it.
…Grace is only troublesome to those obsessed with keeping score.
…Grace always gets in the way of those who cannot trust that God has done enough in Jesus already.

Salvation is not about keeping score or saying a Sinner’s Prayer, any more than it is about making a reservation in a hotel called “Heaven.”

Divine Consciousness: What Salvation is Really All About

It seems to me that any honest reading of the words of Jesus would leave any thinking person with an entirely different conclusion than the one embraced by many devout people today.

Wasn’t Jesus far more interested in how people lived today than where they would spend eternity tomorrow? Perhaps not, if you give equal weight to the teachings of Saint Paul or to your Church or to your church’s doctrines and dogmas.

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I don’t. Not anymore, anyway.

For me, it is increasingly about Jesus…what he taught, how he lived, and what he asks of those who are serious about following him.

Period.

That’s all. And, for me, that’s enough.

As any Christian historian knows, doctrines, and then dogmas, that have developed over many centuries have actually caused at least as much harm as any good they have ever served. Most doctrines and dogmas designed to describe what is really indescribable have only resulted in almost endless debates and, ultimately, division. Which explains why there are more than 35,000 different religions – yes, you could call them “religions” – inside the Christian religion itself.

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BTW, don’t bother to say “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” That’s a smokescreen that cleared decades ago.

By any measure, it is madness. There is simply no other way of describing what happens whenever doctrines and dogmas are declared infallible. Sheer madness.

Divine Consciousness: A New Way of Thinking about Eternity

I now realize, at least this is so for me, salvation is simply an immediate Divine consciousness or a progressive Divine consciousness (or, some combination of the two) that God is within me, beyond me, around me…that God is me, ultimately, as well as you and everyone and everything else. God is this universe experiencing itself.

If this is simply saying too much for you at this point, then say, “I-Thou.” That puts the sacred squarely on equal terms. You as “I” and “thou” as “Us” and God as “We.”

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How’s that for mouthful?

You see, God is never definable. That’s the real point here.

Yet, this is, of course, what the Christian mystic and Catholic Father, Meister Eckhart was saying, when he said, “The eye through which God sees me is the eye through which I see God.”

“So, do you not believe in an afterlife?” someone recently pressed. They seemed quite ready for a religious fight. Which of course anyone is who feels their “beliefs” are being threatened.

My own feeling is, the clearest sign I am outside of a progressive Divine consciousness is when I get so caught up in some belief that I feel threatened whenever it is questioned. (And, all beliefs will be questioned – until you question your beliefs, you have no beliefs. At best, you have inherited opinions). I know I only feel threatened when I’m stuck in some belief and so feel the need to protect it. As if, a belief, if it were really true, would ever need ME to protect or defend it.

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Divine Consciousness: More than Mere Beliefs

“Beliefs are a cover-up for insecurity,” wrote a wise spiritual advisor. “You only believe in things you really do not know.”

Wow! Think about that for even a few minutes.

It is not that I have given up believing in eternity. I just don’t think as much about it as I did at one time. The less I fear where I go when I die, the less concerned I am about tomorrow. You only worry about tomorrow because you are afraid of what it holds. You are only afraid to die, for example, because it feels too much like the end – which, of course, it is. If you cannot accept that, it could only ever mean that you are still attached to thoughts about yourself…your body…your notion that you are just too important to suddenly disappear. This is the little ego in you, and in me,… and it is this little self inside us that loves the imaginary notion it deserves to be eternal.

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Not so! Not for me, any longer. For me, eternity is a mere illusion of the mind.

How could there be anything real about tomorrow or next year, much less eternity? Are not these mere imaginations of your mind? If or when any of these show up, they will only ever show up as this moment? Even the instant you die, and the imaginary eternity begins, it is really just another instance of now, isn’t it?

Time is the great illusion of our time. What if we had a divine consciousness about this?

Don’t you find it somewhat silly that we all wear wrist watches as if we could “keep time” or control it? That IS the illusion. Unconsciousness incarnate. Which is why everyone gets so bothered whenever they look at a ten-year-old picture of themselves. Suddenly, it becomes painfully real – and that pain is only ever felt NOW – that time is doing a number on them. Which, of course, it is. Time is killing them.

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Eternity is only ever now! And, this is part of what I mean by “Divine consciousness.” This is a new way of thinking about eternity.

William Blake was hinting at this when he poetically said:

“To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

Divine consciousness, therefore, is just a new way I express my participation in the transformation of my awareness…my presence…my inner and outer life. It is simply the emerging awareness that God is manifesting in this. Yes, EVEN THIS!”

Even these words.

Divine Consciousness: A New Way of Thinking about Everything

You feel it don’t you? Yes, there is something in you resonating with these words. Oh, sure, it may not be in some. A few persons may be resisting these words. If this is you, maybe you should know why. Maybe you should explore what in you feels afraid by these words. What feels threatening to you. “Direct your attention within,” said Rumi, the Sufi Muslim poet. “It is the force within that gives life: Seek that.” You will discover what in you needs attention, if you will.

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Meanwhile, divine consciousness is simply transformation. It is to know a salvation that is real…that is now…that is connected to the very real, and sometimes, very harsh realities of your life. Like your past you can’t forgive or the future you worry about almost constantly. And, the present which you miss too frequently.

Now, isn’t THIS salvation, a divine consciousness, a transformation to a higher state of divine consciousness, or awareness, within which you could wrap yourself, as well as occupy yourself, for the rest of this life?

And, maybe even into an imaginary Eternity?

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

This blog first appeared on Dr. McSwain’s website blog.

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Do You Have an Inner Guide?

posted by smcswain
Inner Guide

Inner Guide

Inner Guide?

Do you have an inner guide? Yes, of course. In a few days, I will be giving the keynote talk to the Chairpersons of Departments of Communication from colleges and universities across the country. They are having their annual gathering later this month at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Kentucky.

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The Chair of the Department of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky invited me to give the main talk at their closing banquet on the subject of “LISTENING.” I have prepared a talk I’m calling, “Clear the Wax from Your H-EAR,” a slight play on words, of course. But my basic premise is an adaptation of one of the wise things the late Maya Angelou once said: “When you know better, you do better.” Or, as I’m using it…

When you Hear Better, You LEAD Better
When you Listen Better, You LOVE Better
When you Listen Better, You LIVE Better

When You Hear Better, You ARE Better!

There is one thing I believe that stands between you and your purpose in life or relationships or success in whatever you’re doing, including your personal inner happiness and peace. This one thing has nothing to do with how high a position you hold, what other people think of you, how “successful” you are or how much contentment you know in life.

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No, I believe the one thing that separates people from achieving the life they really want, and maintaining an inner peace in the process, is their capacity to hear and heed their inner voice.

I call it the INNER VOICE or the voice of the heart. It is the V-ital, O-fficial, I-nfallible, C-lear, and E-xpert voice. It is singular, too, and different from the many voices in your head. Those are confusing, frequently contradictory, and always clamoring for attention. I developed this more fully in a previous post on my website. It is often confused with the many voices in the head but, really, it is the main voice…the singular voice of your heart.

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Do you know this voice when you hear it? Jesus referred to it as the “parakletos” who would go with you and serve as your “helper, guide, coach…who will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things I said to you” (John 14:26).

This is the INNER GUIDE.

Regard it as Divine. It is.
Recognize it as the Main Voice. It is.
Take it very seriously. You must.

This inner guide, or voice, is what the author and thinker, Malcolm Gladwell called in his New York Times bestselling book entitled Blink, the “thin slicing” by which he meant there is that in you and me that provides “insight” or “genius” with an innate capacity “to sift through,” as Richard Rohr puts it, any “situation in front of you, throwing out all that is irrelevant, while zeroing in on what really matters.”

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Training yourself in spirituality is simply the conscious discipline you make of learning how to sift through the many voices in your head in order to better hear and heed the main voice of your heart…

You will never go wrong when you master this skill. But it will not happen by accident.

Here’s how to Train Yourself to Follow the Inner Guide

1. Practice bringing yourself into the present. This inner Guide is ever present, but seldom do you hear his voice or feel his impulse when you thinking about the past or lost in imaginary, and often worrisome, thoughts about the future. Instead, what is the immediate situation you face or decision you must make and make immediately? This voice will speak…will provide you the inner intuitive response. Trust that this is true. It is.

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2. Trust not only that this is true, but Trust that this is Divine. Regard this voice as a Divine voice and the situation at hand as a Divinely-infused moment. Both are true. It is Presence unmasking itself, or manifesting herself, right in front of you. Oh sure, I know it’s just a conversation you’re having with your boss or colleague or even a casual encounter with the clerk at Starbucks. But I am suggesting, if you bring your awareness front and center, God is there right smack in the middle of the conversation, the silence that surrounds the exchanged words, the power within those words, and the person with whom you speak is God, too, and…so are you. This is, even in its simplicity, a Divine moment all the way around. In other words, the Inner Guides knows no separation between you and the situation or the other person. Everything, as well as everyone, is one…is in unity.

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The head isn’t, however. Which is why you’re constantly confused when you try to sift through the myriad of conflicting voices in the head, instead of training yourself to know and response to the singular voice of your heart.

If you will make this your spiritual practice, what I am actually saying is, you are practicing your way to greater and greater spiritual consciousness or spiritual enlightenment. Which is simply the awareness of divinity within material and non-material reality…that you are…that others are…that the surroundings are…that this moment is…all Divinely-infused.

3. Now, as this becomes your practice, you will discover that you have at your disposal all Divine resources to know what to do and what to say in any situation. This is why Jesus said, “Do not worry about what you’ll say…(Luke 12:11), by which he meant, “No need to stand in the shower and imagine all that will transpire as the day unfolds…where you will go…what you will do…what you’ll say to those you meet…the conversations you’ll have…how well or how poorly those conversations will go…what you’ll say to them…what they’ll say in return…what you’ll say in response to what they have said, and so forth.

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Why? Because, first of all, those conversations never go as you have imagined them anyway. Have they ever? Not,, of course not. Oh, sure, sometimes you get lucky but, generally, no matter how much you imagine you’ll say and they’ll say in return, neither of you say anything remotely similar to the way you imagined it.

How many of the “arguments” you prepared ahead of time did you ever get around to giving? While it is true, therefore, that we must all make preparations each day, using our DayPlanners and all the rest – I am not suggesting we do away with these tools – I am only saying, let go of all your expectations about how things will go…must go…be prepared but trust the results to God…let go of the imagined or expected outcomes. This is a far more peaceful way to live. It is the way of the heart. It is trusting your Inner Guide…you Indwelling God…to provide you the right words and the right choices at just the right time.

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Now, isn’t this a better way to live? Isn’t this fulfilling what Jesus meant when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom…” the kingdom within you where you nurture your Inner Guide who then helps you make your outer life worth living.

Nothing is more important than being grounded in this deeper inner, yet present-moment awareness.

No story more powerfully illustrates this either.

The late Jewish philosopher and mystic, Martin Buber told once of having a transforming mystical experience one morning. It was rapturous and more meaningful to him than any spiritual experience he had ever had before.

Later that morning, but while still relishing in his rapturous moment of blissfulness, he enter the university where he taught. A student stopped him in the hallway. They talked for a few moments and, all the while, he was conscious of this blissful, mystical experience.

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When the conversation with the student ended, he went to his university office and began his work for the day. The student returned to his dorm room and hung himself. In the suicide note he left behind, the student wrote these haunting words…

“I spoke to Dr. Buber in the hallway today.

I needed to talk to him.

But I could see he was preoccupied.”

I need say no more. You’re hearing and feeling that voice right now. Give that your attention. Always.

For more good reading on “inner guide” check out what Jenni Young says.

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Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

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The Real Miracle of Christmas

posted by smcswain
The Miracle of Christmas

The Miracle of Christmas

The miracle of Christmas…the incarnation…is not that the Eternal Christ fully or exclusively indwelled Jesus but that the Eternal Christ fully and completely indwells you and me.

The miracle of grace…salvation…is not that there is anything you must do in order to be but just be, the doing will take care of itself.

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The Miracle of Christmas

Anything you “do” only indicates a misunderstanding of what Jesus Christ has done in his death for you. His death…the giving of his life…has forever underscored the eternal reality that between God and you…between you and God…there is no separation.

In fact, the “rending of the veil of the temple in two” (Matthew 27:51-52) – which was the symbol of division and separateness. Jesus’ self-giving life, which just happened to be death by Roman crucifixion, revealed a reality that has existed for all time – namely, there is NO separation between you and God…between God and you. His life and death has made that eternally clear, even if the Church in some of its expressions is still erecting barriers and additional veils.

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That’s the point. Not that God could not get close to you and me until he had somehow satisfied his own delusional need to whip ass on something or someone in order to feel better about you and your screw-ups, as well as mine. That is the heresy of the Church.

And, it IS a heresy, even if your favorite preacher (or, priest, televangelist, or Church) is still proclaiming it.

No, my friend, Jesus’ death, and the validation of his self-giving life in the resurrection, unequivocally proclaims that “neither death nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor your screw-ups nor mine…nothing separates us from God. Thanks be to GOD for this victory we see and have in Jesus: (Romans 8:37-39).

To know this is to be Christ conscious, or aware of the real message of Christmas…of the Gospel. This awareness transforms everything. Even you.

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Let go of the old scripts that have falsely led sincere people for eons. God did not punish Jesus so He could forgive you. What kind of God does that make him? Give up this old script. There isn’t a thimble’s worth of truth to any of it. It will not live and survive in the 21st century either.

No, it is not unorthodox to let go of what ain’t so. It is liberating instead. It is to enter into the full rest of God, as the writer of Hebrews so eloquently put it. I know this, for I and scores of others are discovering a new way to understand the “old, old story.”

Discover it for yourself and be free.

Be “more than a conqueror through Jesus” whose life shows you the way. That’s what Jesus means by, “I am the way…” (John 14:6). His way IS the way of freedom beyond ANY VEIL, even one the Church has erroneously constructed, that would lead you to believe that Jesus’ finished work on the cross wasn’t enough to destroy all “illusions of separation.” Even the illusions of separation that grip still many who sit in pews week after week.

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Now, step up, and out of this outworn way of believing, and then step boldly into this New Year, and end the mindless groveling before a God who can never seem to be happy about much of anything, this neurotic deity that requires praise to feel better about himself.

Instead, celebrate the destruction, the eradication of all veils of illusion and separateness. Know that you are ONE with God.

If THAT is not the Good News, then there is nothing good about any of it.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith respect or charitable living.

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Is Everything that Happens God’s Will?

posted by smcswain
Is Everything that Happens to Me God's Will?

Is Everything that Happens to Me God’s Will?

I often hear people say…heck, the truth is, I have said these things before myself…

“Everything happens for a reason”

“There are no mistakes”

“God never puts more on you than you can handle…”

It comes in many sizes and shapes, but it is this notion that life for all of us is sort of determined already. As if the script were written already and we are merely players acting out a drama on stage.

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This belief has been drilled into the American psyche (and religion) for so long, it is hard to even question it, much less lay it down once-and-for-all.

I am in the process of thinking again about this and, in some instances, even attempting to live by a different sort of belief. Here’s where I am:

I do not think everything happens for a reason.
I do believe there are all kinds of accidents, tragedies, and mistakes.
I do not believe at all that God puts anything on anybody.

There. I said it.
Now, having said this, here’s the flip side of all of this.

While I do not think all things happen for some reason, I give reasons to all things that happen.

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I suspect you do, too.

Sometimes, I even project onto God the reasons I’ve given for making purposeful what at first blush, and sometimes second blush, looks completely purposeless. It helps me to give meaning to what feels totally meaningless.

“But what does God have to do with this?” you ask.

Maybe something. Most likely nothing. In either instance, it’s what you make of it that matters.

While I do believe there are accidents, tragedies, and, ultimately, things that occur for which there is no logical explanation, there is at one-and-the-same-time a Mystery in all that happens and it is that Mystery I seek to find.

If I could stop giving credit to God for something he didn’t do (as in helping my team score the winning touchdown) or blaming God for something he didn’t cause (as in a tornado or the sudden and senseless death of a child), am I not then able to look for God’s presence inside the center point of my pain?  Why must God be made the culprit in all that happens? God did not cause these things; but, isn’t it possible, that God is hiding inside each thing that happens just waiting to be found?

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Or, maybe God is the one who is seeking?

While I do not believe God puts anything on anybody, God does want us to enjoy unbroken, uninterrupted union with her.

That I believe.

In this respect, therefore, I learn…I grow…I find meaning…I give meaning…I ever seek to walk with God…not by resisting WHAT IS – even the horrible stuff…Oh yes, I probably do at first but that never seems to make the horrible stuff disappear. So, when I gather my wits, I seek to live fully and completely into whatever this moment presents, no matter how pleasant or painful it may be.

Because I know…

When I have learned the lesson this present challenge presents…

       Growth occurs…

               And the challenge disappears.

BTW, this is what it means to advance in spiritual awareness.

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Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith or charitable living.

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