I Am Light (and so are you)

There is something wonderful about the presence India Arie brings along with this song when she sings it that is magical, inspiring, uplifting – supernatural, even.

Performing on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, she opens with these words:

“I sing this song, not to you – but for you because I know that this is truth of who we all are…”

 

In the hustle-bustle, stress of this season, can we see that this is who we are? Can we know that this is the truth of who we are?

I Am Light – you are Light – and so it is.

(C) 2017 Practitioner's Path
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The right place

Mary-Baker-Eddy

“The place you seek is seeking you, the place you need is needing you. Divine Principle brings need and supply together for mutual good. God wisely, intelligently, and lovingly controls, guides, protects, prospers, and blesses this union of [God’s] idea and this joyous activity, work.”   ~ Mary Baker Eddy

In his quest for understanding, Ernest Holmes studied with many traditions, including Christian Science. He developed the ideas that would become affirmative prayer that is taught and practiced in Centers for Spiritual Living today from his time with the Christian Science tradition and in reading Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science.

As a student of metaphysics, I find that there are pieces of wisdom across cultures, traditions and time. This excerpt from an unpublished letter by Mary Baker Eddy is one such artifact.

Sometimes we can feel as though we’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong work, with the wrong people and for all the wrong reasons. This passage can become an affirmation that helps us see where we are in a new light, whether we are seeking a new direction in our career/work, relationships or life in general.

The place I seek is seeking me. The place I need is needing me. Divine Principle brings need and supply together for mutual good – for me, and for those around me.

And so it is.

(c) 2017 Practitioner's Path

 

Anatomy of an Answered Prayer

Mark-11-23

Have you ever traced the path back through what eventually led to an answered prayer? Very often, the twists and turns of fate are remarkable, if not unbelievable.

Recently I had the opportunity to be a part of someone’s answered prayer, and it gave me a wonderful insight into an intricate pathway that led to an elderly gentleman being able to have this Thanksgiving holiday with his family.

For the past several years I was very involved with an organization that resulted in me being engaged every Sunday for several hours. About a year ago I began to feel uncomfortable, and wanted to step away from the  role I was playing – to take a break. When I first had that impulse, I brushed it off, but the feeling grew in intensity and I have learned to listen to that inner voice: I knew it was time for me to go.

I was grateful to have my Sundays back and enjoyed the 2-day break between often-hectic work weeks. The break also gave me the opportunity to go somewhere on Sunday if I chose not to lounge around the house. More often than not, I opted for the lounging 🙂

A few months after I departed that organization, I was invited back to a special event. As a visitor and not a leader, I sat in the back and ended up seated next to someone I hadn’t seen in some time. We exchanged emails and agreed to get together soon.

A few weeks later she reached out and we made plans to meet for dinner. In the course of our conversation, a topic came up that piqued my interest. She shared some information that I was very interested in knowing and which inspired me to visit the local Christian Science church to touch base with someone she knew from a few years back.

I had never attended a Christian Science service, so I was curious to learn what they did on Sunday. I had read Emma Curtis Hopkins, who was an early teacher of Ernest Holmes so I knew we shared some similar beliefs, but also knew that there were distinct differences.

In the course of my visit, I ended up meeting a number of older folks – members of the congregation. They invited me to a special event 2 weeks later, and I accepted the invitation. The event was capped off with a luncheon, which gave me the opportunity to sit and chat and make some new friends.

In the middle of lunch, one of the women received a phone call from the church organist, who was not feeling well, and had been unable to attend the event that day. I had met him the previous week and was sorry he was missing the day. The conversation at the table turned to what to do if he was ill the next day, which was Sunday.

I’ve worked off and on as an Organist for Protestant churches since 1992 so I spoke up, and shared my phone number, telling them that if they ever needed a substitute organist I would be happy to help. I live in the neighborhood and am free on Sundays – at least for now.

The Organist ended up feeling better the next day, but 2 days later I received a call and long story short: I’m subbing for him at their Thanksgiving service.

The answered prayer portion of this comes in here: this gentleman was planning to drive several states away to spend Thanksgiving with his entire family, but he was not going to be able to leave until after the Thanksgiving Day service, meaning that he and his daughter would end up  being 3 to 4 hours late for the main dinner. When he found out that there was an organist that was willing, able and in the neighborhood – he was thrilled.

When I met with him to get the quick tour of the organ, I thanked him for the opportunity to sub for him. He shook his head.

No, thank YOU!” he said.

I told him that I was happy I could facilitate him spending Thanksgiving with his family. He and his daughter will leave the day before Thanksgiving and will enjoy the entire Thanksgiving day together with his large extended family – something that was not in the cards until I showed up. Although I’m not sure of his exact age, I know he is well into his 80’s and that time with family on this important holiday is something they will all cherish.

He looked at me and said quietly, “This is the answer to a prayer” and I knew that he was not speaking metaphorically.

As I looked back over the seemingly random events in my own life over the past 10 – 12 months, it fascinates me to see the many twists and turns that landed me at that Church on that day, at the table with the woman who received his call.

If I hadn’t left the organization back in March, I would not have had the opportunity to sit in the back that day.

It’s unlikely that my friend and I would have reconnected in the same way – we had time to sit and chat since I was not serving in a leadership role.

This chit-chat led to us agreeing to get together for dinner sometime.

Dinner topics that evening led to a conversation about people she knows, and piquing my curiosity about something that led to me visiting the local Christian Science church.

I just happened to show up at their church prior to an event that fell on a day when I had nothing going on (also a rare occurrence).

I attended the event, and stayed for lunch. I actually contemplated an early exit several times throughout the event, but something urged me to stay.

I ended up at a table with the woman who received a call from the Organist that led to the conversation and my offer to assist.

At numerous points across the past 10 – 12 months, I could have made a decision that changed the trajectory of my path. But I ended up being in the perfect place at the perfect time to be a blessing for someone who wanted one in a big way and left the “how” to God.

It’s funny how these things come around. Sometimes I wonder, and question and as a science-based educator, I often wrestle with doubt. And then just as I’m about to throw in the towel,…something like this happens and I see the fingerprints of Spirit all over a profound and unlikely blessing with a path so intricate, only divine intervention could have pulled it all together.Thanksgiving-Holiday-SeasonOn this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family, and all the many blessings in my life but I am particularly grateful for this recent demonstration – this answered prayer and the beauty of its unfoldment.

(C) 2017 Practitioner's Path

Millennials & the spiritual disconnect

joseph-campbell_bill_moyersStudents of New Thought spirituality often study the works of Joseph Campbell. In fact, The Power of Myth is an accredited class in the Centers for Spiritual Living curriculum for Practitioners.

The students who take the required lessons and keep digging will find an interesting dichotomy in the writings of Campbell and the impulses of organized New Thought denominations, specifically; Campbell’s oft-shared lesson on the role of teachers or gurus.

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” ~Joseph Campbell

As organized religion undergoes great transformation across denomination and belief systems, we see the emergence of our children’s generation (millennials) as a great force for change, and it’s important to examine the cross-section of these forces.

Organized religion, especially in the Western traditions, has been built on the premise that there are teachers, and followers; that there are those with the MOST wisdom, who should be consulted and the rest of us who need to defer to these wise men (usually) and women. Traditional corporate religious organizations are built on this paradigm.

The millennial generation has grown up not only plugged into the Internet with access instantly to news from every corner of the world, but they have also grown up as the world has exposed many religious leaders as mere mortals who not only lack the answers they once promised to others – often in exchange for monetary donations – but whose moral failings have been in stark contrast to all that they have taught and demanded of others.

In my previous blog I wrote about the importance of authenticity with millennials, and I want to expand on that issue with the help of Joseph Campbell and a few others.

In an article titled “The Age of Authenticity“, the author uses marketing research to point out a few key points about engaging millennials. According to the article, millennials represent $200 billion of spending power each year, and 25% of the (U.S.) population.

This is a demographic that cannot be ignored by any organization that wants to survive. The author states it in clear terms: “...[millennials] are fast-becoming the most powerful and influential consumer sector. They set buying trends across all industries, and have great influence over older generation consumers. Brands who are either unable, or uninterested in connecting with Millennials should just take a seat on the bench now. If you’re not reaching Millennials, you’re not in the game.

The question that must be asked inside withering religious and spiritual organizations is whether millennials are even on the radar. Clearly some individual churches and centers get this, and are finding grand success, but I attribute this to excellent local leadership; not to the doctrines that come from the top.

Millennials are relentless and obsessive in their quest for authenticity.~Roger Dudler, Frontify CTO

Understanding the obsession for authenticity in this large demographic segment should lead New Thought leaders to look hard at the principles being taught and promoted, and many are doing just this. What does this mean at the local level, though?

I’ve spoken with a handful of millennials who have been exposed to organized New Thought. Most of them consider the teachings to be useful, helpful and worth keeping in their “life tool box“. The criticisms I have heard fall decisively in the authenticity category, and it was enlightening for me to find the terminology that helped to explain this disconnect.

Here are some of the things I have heard from the millennials I have chatted up about this issue (I am fortunate to have access to discussions with young people in my continued affiliation with a local community college where the average age is smack in the middle of the millennial demographic and where I have encountered people from several states with diverse experiences).

Truth in advertising: many millennials have pulled away from the religions of their parents and family, but remain interested in the spiritual aspects of life. However, when they wander into a center or New Thought church, they are told about prosperity and healing – staples in these organizations. The message shared is that the New Thought path can help them find success and wholeness, and yet so often the regulars are not icons of success, and continue to struggle with prosperity, health issues and more. There are wonderful things to be shared vis-a-vis healing and prosperity from the New Thought canon, but we’ve been terrible at communicating it. These are spiritual journeys; not recipes for recreating the success of the latest millionaire guru, and yet we’ve not figured out how to communicate this effectively and keep recycling the 20th century millionaire gurus to the point that it comes across as a get-rich-quick scheme or as others have termed it, “vending machine spirituality“.

Same old thing: millennials aren’t interested in the Sunday morning church shuffle. I’ve seen this in Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches (when I worked as an organist) and see the same patterns in New Thought centers and churches on Sunday morning. Millennial families are often 2-job families, and their children are engaged in multiple activities. They don’t need to run one-more-place on what may be the only weekend day where there’s an opportunity to wake up without an alarm, enjoy a leisurely family breakfast, and simply “be” without a deadline or agenda (a practice promoted in New Thought).

Values-driven: millennials are also not interested in giving their money simply to keep a church or center open. They want to know (and see proof of) how their contributions are helping the larger community and society. They are less likely to support a capital campaign to buy a building, and less interested in ensuring that the minister has a pay raise than in contributing to easing hunger in the community and caring for homeless pets. This presents a challenge to the infrastructure realities for many centers and churches.

Walk the talk: millennial students are much less likely to take the teacher’s word as gospel – in any subject! Having worked as an academic dean and a professor at a university and several community colleges, I knew that I better show up with proof of any statement I made because the students were going to ask, and demand more than “because I said so” – and that’s a good thing!

This reality presents a challenge in New Thought because if millennials are interested enough to show up in New Thought, they’re going to actually read Ernest Holmes, Joseph Campbell and others and they’re going to ask the hard questions that in many cases, we cannot answer.

Here are a few:

  • Holmes taught that the movement should remain “open at the top“. Why all the resistance to change?
  • If this is a singular journey as Campbell suggests, why are ministers granted so much power? Shouldn’t they be guides instead of the final answer?
  • If Holmes is the founder, why are there so many variations that ministers impose on treatment and present as the “right way” when it is clearly stated in print and attributed to Holmes in a different way? (or is it open at the top only when personally convenient?)
  • Why the need to present proven fictional tales as fact? The book, Mutant Messenger Down Under has been shown to be fiction and yet still taught in some corners as a true story. The 100th monkey is oft repeated in classes and services when it, too, has been proven to be fiction and not an academic study. A perfunctory Google search should provide ample evidence to tame any claims, and yet these (and other) stories continue to be shared as “evidence” in the spiritual doctrine.

Millennials aren’t going to kowtow to a minister (or a teaching) that clings to these – and other – inconsistencies. If New Thought wants to prevent the graying out into obsolescence described by others, it needs to understand how current practices, doctrine and dogma are being perceived by this powerful demographic and adjust because,

if [we’re] not reaching Millennials, [we’re] not [going to be] in the game [for long].”

(C) 2017 Practitioner's Path

 

A New Era in New Thought

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Image credit: America Magazine

I recently read a blog post by Harv Bishop. The post and the comments were for me a refreshing acknowledgement of what I have observed and wondered about for the past several years. Bishop has a new book coming out in 2018 that is a must-read for anyone who has even a passing interest in the New Thought movement.

My blog has been a similar quest for understanding as I have attempted to reconcile what I was taught from the perspective of late 20th century Religious Science doctrine with the realities of the 21st century.

In my writing I have explored questions/concerns about concepts like giving, tithing, cause and effect – core teachings in 20th century New Thought churches and centers –  and for a bit wondered if I was just missing the point.

It is heartwarming to know that many of the questions I’ve had are being asked by much more robust contributors to the New Thought discourse. I’ll be buying Bishop’s book, and would encourage you to give it a read when it comes out, too.

In addition, comments to Bishop’s blog post by Randy Southerland, a writer from Atlanta, hit all the high notes on my personal sheet of music.

Here are a few of them:

  1. …even as the principles and teachings are becoming mainstream, corporate New Thought is struggling. Membership is declining and increasingly the denominations are becoming irrelevant— particularly to the young.
  2. …it seems much of the leadership is content to do the same thing the same way they’ve always done it —to smaller and increasing grayer crowds. I’ve repeatedly seen new ideas, new models and new approaches met with overt hostility on line, in print and in conversation.”
  3. “Where Holmes was fresh and avant-garde, our current organizational leadership and many ministers are rigid and committed to the Sunday Service model of Protestant worship.” 
  4. “We continue to talk at people even as younger generations make it clear they want a conversation. We continue teaching “the basics” until people leave in search of depth.”
  5. “Too often we present the principles in simplistic and even simple minded forms that ignore both modern science and the intelligence of our membership. (Among others, I never again want to hear the obnoxious question “what was in his consciousness that drew that to him?”)”    

I kept saying “Yes!” outloud as I read Mr. Southerland’s comments, as I have been writing about many of the same things.

Millennials – those born in the 1980s and 1990s – are legendary for their power to change society. Research has shown us that they prefer experiences to the acquisition of things (to the point that this has impacted what retailers like IKEA are making and selling) and that they have an acute sensitivity for authenticity. In other words, they can spot B.S. a mile away, and have no time for it.

Millennials are also the first generation to grow up as a digital generation – adept at getting the information they need in ways that work for them. Those in New Thought who continue to cling to the old days as their guiding star seem to forget that in the “old days” there were only a few places to access the teachings: libraries and centers/churches.

Today, you can access New Thought teachings through eBooks, YouTube talks, online webinars and classes, audiobooks and more. Joining a center or church is no longer necessary for the learning so there needs to be more than a weekly lesson and classes. And – programming needs to address what millennials are seeking.

In addition to easy access and the mainstreaming of New Thought principles a la Dyer, Hay and others; organized religion across the board has shown its worst side. From the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church to the intolerance of many Protestant traditions, millennials have seen what their parents bought into and they’re saying “no thanks“.

They don’t buy that you need a supreme leader (minister) to interpret spiritual principles. They don’t buy a purist interpretation and they’ll not be bullied or guilted into attending a service and giving their time and money if they find no value in it. They are more interested in competence than formal credentials and are likely to teach spiritual/moral lessons to their children based on things they pick up from multiple traditions; outside of a formal indoctrination structure.

The centers and churches that survive have learned these lessons and are already moving in the direction of the future. Those that have resisted will eventually learn, but it promises to be a painful lesson and may already be too late for many of them.

The 1990’s are long gone, and a lot has changed in the world. We can’t cling to the things that worked back then if we want to be here and relevant today, and into the future.

I look forward to continuing this conversation.

Music makes it simple

I first encountered New Thought in a small Center where the ministers taught what is known as the 7-step Spiritual Mind Treatment (affirmative prayer) process. I can recall thinking that those prayers were more complex than the Latin prayers of the Catholic church in the last century.

I eventually learned the rationale for the various steps, and see the wisdom in laying out the process as it has been designed by various corners of the New Thought movement. Of course there are multiple and divergent views on how to apply that wisdom which can leave the casual observer scratching their head and wondering why something that seems to be aimed at making God more accessible needs so many rules and steps.

Ernest Holmes wrote about 2 different approaches – argumentative and realization in a more streamlined (about 3-step) process. Today there are churches and centers that teach 7-step, 6-step and 5-step which is the “official” form recognized and taught by the CSL parent organization.

Here’s the deal, though. In formal settings, like on Sunday morning or before a Board meeting or even as a part of a regularly scheduled daily routine, there’s ample time to run through 5, 6 or 7 steps, ensuring that all are in order, and appropriately addressed; but how often do we turn to the Divine in a time of stress, in the middle of the night or when thinking logically isn’t working so well?  Unless we are well-schooled in this form, it can be a challenge to stay focused: does this render this form of prayer moot for all but the most practiced?

No, but it does require an understanding and some prep. The understanding comes in knowing the difference between traditional prayer (supplication) where we ask for something and the power of speaking our word (affirmative prayer).

The prep comes in finding mini versions of affirmative prayer that are easy to remember and apply, and the good news is that these abound in the music of spiritual artists. The lyrics that comprise many if not most of the spiritually-uplifting music we are most likely to hear on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening in a metaphysical or New Thought center are prayers in songs. Here are just a few examples:

  • Karen Drucker 
    • Thank You for This Day
    • I Am So Blessed
  • Michael Gott
    • I Release and I Let Go
    • Shine Through Me
  • Faith Rivera
    • Called to Be
    • God Is
  • Eddie Watkins, Jr.
    • God is, I Am

And there are many, many more.

One of my favorites is Karen Drucker’s All is Well – it doesn’t get much simpler or more profound:

All is well, I can rest, I am safe, all is well.

Most of us can recall song lyrics from our childhood with precision and ease, no matter how long it’s been since we last heard the song. Music seems to make detailed memories more resilient, and we can use that fact to give ourselves some easily-accessible options.

Browse through your favorite New Thought (or other) artists, and find a few lines that resonate with you; write them down and the next time you need a little spiritual first aid, pull out one of these mini-treatments.

 

(C) 2017 Practitioner's Path

 

 

Happy holidays belong to us all

Happy HolidaysHalloween, the gateway to holiday madness, is upon us. In the Northern latitudes, the air is crisp, the days shortened and leaves are in free-fall everywhere we look.

We also fast-approaching the time of year when the sanctimonious among us will begin to practice getting indignant if we wish them Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

The image featured here was going around on social media and it’s an important reminder to the Christmas crowd that we live in a multicultural world. The Merry-Christmas crowd seems to miss the fact that the Bible is but 1 sacred text, and that much of the wisdom contained in its pages are echoed in ancient writings from across the world.

Consider the following:

In the book of Proverbs (Mishlei Shlomo in Hebrew) much is written about the importance of the words we speak.

Here are 3 verses (of many):

  • When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)
  • Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:28)
  • Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. (Proverbs 21:23)

And from the New Testament (Christian Bible):

  • If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

Here we have a similar message coming from 2 religions with different holidays (and greetings!). But wait, there’s more!

We don’t have to look much farther to find even more counsel on the importance of watching our words from the Tao Te Ching – “a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism“.

Here’s text from Chapter 56 from the Tao:

Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.

This is but 1 example of the wisdom that is shared across traditions – there are many, many more. Spiritual wisdom belongs to no one sect, no single religion, no individual tradition. It belongs to us all. Holiday cheer should also belong to us all.

If you believe that your religion wants you to “correct” people who wish you a Happy Holiday season, I encourage you to write down the verse from James 1:26 and carry it with you:

26 If any among you seem to be religious and bridleth not your tongue, but deceiveth your own heart, your religion is vain.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Blessed Yule! Happy Kwanza! Seasons Greetings!

Happy-Holidays-Lighting-Tree-Animated-Picture

 (C) 2017 Practitioner’s Path