How to deal with True Believers

venus

The Birth of Venus, by Botticelli

by Michael Maciel

In our Post-Truth world, we need to find a way to interact with those for whom belief is more important than facts. And nowhere is this more important than in the arena of religion and religious beliefs. Unless we find a way to understand why so many people are adamantly against science, the world’s political climate will continue to heat up, and we will all be the worse for it.

The problem lies in the antagonism between the scientifically-minded and religious believers. Each side denies the legitimacy of the other side’s views because each side holds their views as sacred. Any view that contradicts their views is, by definition, sacrilegious. And that’s just cause for going to war. One side doesn’t understand the meaning of “myth,” and the other doesn’t understand its purpose.

Let’s look at one example of a sacred myth, the Virgin Birth of Jesus. It has both a symbolic meaning and a scientific purpose. Once these are understood, its historical meaning will become obvious.

The literal version of this story is essential. Because it is a scientific impossibility presented as a supernatural fact, it causes the rational mind to reboot and dig deeper into its version of “reality.” This is important because unless it does this, a wider, more inclusive perspective is impossible. We cannot see what is new until we are at least willing to put in abeyance that which is old.

The mind, you see, is set up to protect what it knows and to reject what it doesn’t. (Failure to do this results in cognitive dissonance.) This is what myths are for. It’s what Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are for. It’s what the New Testament miracles are for. They are a way for the ideas they symbolically represent to gain access into our conscious awareness without being shot on sight.

We all have a need for the transcendental, the supernatural, the mystical. These stories make them available to us by poking a hole in the filter of the rational mind, letting us experience a broader, more holistic view of reality, one that includes the physical but also transcends it.

Let me say that again: INCLUDES but TRANSCENDS. The significance of this will become evident shortly.

Myths have a very definite function (like icons in the Orthodox Church and the statues and paintings in the Catholic Church) which is to “hack” the filters of the conscious mind. They are designed to get around the ego, which automatically and aggressively rejects anything that threatens its sovereignty.

Spiritual adults (those who have their egos under a modicum of control) don’t take the icons or the myths literally, but they don’t dismiss them, either. In fact, most of us hold them close to our hearts where they are protected from the ravaging brutality of the rational mind.

Like King Herod who sought to destroy his competition while it was still in its infancy, the rational mind wants to kill any new perspective that presents itself, before it has a chance to threaten it’s position of authority. The mind has a way of vetting new knowledge with extreme prejudice.

On the other hand, the symbolic interpretation of a myth is for those who have provided the literal interpretation a safe haven in their hearts, in the “cave” of their being — the stable of the Nativity. Having been denied a room in the inn (the rational, conscious mind), the seed idea is sent around back, out of public view. Allowing it to enter into our awareness in the form of a belief makes it possible for the mind to accept it without too much scrutiny. But if we disallow it, even as a belief, then the seed idea will be lost altogether, and the benefits of a wider, more inclusive understanding will be lost along with it.

The reason why this is so important is because it’s a link, a bridge between science and religion, between the rational and non-rational functions of the mind. Myths serve a scientific function in that they give us a way to circumvent the filters of the rational mind, which is incapable of transcending itself. And without transcendence, the mind’s ability to form new thoughts atrophies and eventually devolves into superstition. In this way, faith and science go hand-in-hand; faith is the doorway through which rational thought can expand its horizons.

This is what drives fundamentalists in their insistence that the literal interpretation of Scripture is the only interpretation that is true. They sense that it’s important, but they don’t know why. Their own rational mind has inappropriately assumed that the myths are literal facts, and this has caused them to morph into superstitious beliefs. And in so doing, they have succeeded where Herod failed.

When asked by a fundamentalist whether we believe in the Virgin Birth (or any other icon), a spiritually mature person can in good faith say yes, because he or she understands the nature of beliefs and how they function. But if we deny it, then we deny ourselves access to the spiritual energies (gifts of the Spirit) the higher levels of thought convey.

Accepting stories such as the Virgin Birth in ourselves is a matter of what we were brought up to believe. The child part of us lives within us throughout our entire lifespan. The adult part of us can be very abusive to it by not allowing it to keep its childlike views, which are important to our ability to transcend the limited aspects of the rational mind. “Except you be as little children…” and all that. As adults, we should be protective of those things that are under-developed or still growing, including the cherished beliefs of others who have not yet adopted a wider view of religious symbols and iconography.

The important thing, I think, is to recognize that beliefs have a role to play in our lives — an important one. If we can allow that in ourselves, then we can allow it in others, and that would go a long way towards world peace. At the same time, we have to push for a greater understanding, which will be a lot easier if we don’t deny the reverences of others.

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What Is Faith?

cathedral

by Michael Maciel

The word “faith” describes the universal presupposition that there is a truth, overarching and eternal, a single principle that governs the universe with absolute inclusivity and at every level, even though we do not know what it is or if we will ever fully comprehend it. As a principle, faith is the guiding light of all forms of human understanding—science, art, spirituality, philosophy—and the higher we rise in consciousness, the more these separate forms begin to merge, until at last they become one.

Faith is the innate knowing that there is something greater than ourselves, something larger, something whole and complete that knows no separation or conflict, no internal disagreements. And no matter what you call it, what name or -ism you ascribe to it, it is the same for all people and all times, in this universe or any other you can imagine.

The problem comes when we begin to think that we can encompass this One Truth, that we ourselves are large enough to comprehend it, that the truth is a “thing” that we can possess, a noun, an object we can own, a weapon we can use to dominate others, to make them wrong and ourselves right. This is NOT the truth, neither is it what is being pointed to by the word “faith.” When the truth is objectified, turned into a thing that can be possessed, THEN and only then can it be used to dominate others, and this is why we fear it. We fear it because we do not understand it, either its nature or its purpose.

It is out of fear that truth has been relativized, fragmented, and divided up into separate compartments—science, spirituality, philosophy, art. No one wants to be told that the end of truth has finally, once and for all, and for everyone been determined. Why? Because intuitively they know—we ALL know—that that can never happen, that that is NOT the nature of truth nor its purpose. We all know, if only deep within ourselves, that the truth is a living, breathing reality, a PROCESS by which life and living are made possible, not a definition, not a set of laws, not even an ideal, because it is bigger than any ideal we can conceive of.

Faith is an ACTION. It is the action of receiving from the higher mind what IT knows beyond what we are capable of knowing by ourselves. It is based upon the intuitive knowing that such a mind exists, that there is something that actually knows more than we do.

But HERE’S THE RUB: Because we are not perfect in love, we fear that what that mind knows will somehow limit us in what we can experience, what we can explore, and what we can create. It somehow implies that some things might be FORBIDDEN and therefore irresistible and that because of that we will somehow be found GUILTY and be PUNISHED. (I put these words in all-caps to identify them as the NAILS IN THE COFFIN of our potential for happiness and self-fulfillment.)

But all of this is due to our misunderstanding of what faith is, what truth is, and what the will of God is. We see God as a dictator, a strict father, angry, and jealous—all the worst parts of the Bible. Therefore, truth must be a set of laws, commandments, restrictions, speed limits, prohibitions—spiteful, vindictive, ARBITRARY. Who wouldn’t REBEL against that? When truth becomes someone else’s, we go out of our way to become liars.

Here’s the HEALTHY understanding of truth. God is creative and we are created in God’s image, which is to say that WE are creative, that creativity is the reason for our being. It is why we are here. It may be true that there is nothing new under the sun, but the possibilities are INFINITE, and God is just as eager as we are to find out what those possibilities are.

Do you get that? We are not here to “behave.” We are not God’s pets. We aren’t here to please or to placate some superior intelligence under threat of being punished if we get out of line. We are here as the EXTENSIONS of the One Intelligence—call it what you will, it doesn’t matter. We are “children” of It—that’s what “extension” means. We are not created “things.” God didn’t “make” us like one would make a loaf of bread. We are AGENCIES, we are the tips of God’s fingers, the retinas of God’s eyes, the love of God’s heart, and the thoughts of God’s mind. There is only one WILL and it is surging through us every moment of every day. Our will is God’s will. It’s only when we forget that that we begin to act out of fear and then hatred and then violence. We forget that God is what we ARE, that we are one with the One. What else could we be?

Faith is an open window, an open skylight, through which pours the infinite intelligence of the ONE THING, Its life, light, and love. The more we humble ourselves and admit that we don’t know…well, anything…that we can truly find out what there is TO know. And there is no end to that. There is no point in our evolution where we will know all there is to know or be all there is to be. Never. Life is continuous and ever-evolving at the point of being. We will know of ourselves AS WE LIVE. And that process never ends. If it had an “end,” it could not have a “beginning.” We were never born, and we will never die. That’s life eternal.

The essence of faith is this: QUESTIONS ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN ANSWERS. Learn to stand in the question without always looking for an answer and you will have mastered faith. The best questions, the ones that create the most possibilities, are the ones that raise more questions and, therefore, more possibilities. What are possibilities? They are FREEDOM. Possibilities are open doors; answers are doors that have slammed shut. For life to exist, its channels of expression must remain OPEN. Have faith. Be open. Keep moving. Movement is the surest sign of life.

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What Is Spiritual Development?

narcissus

by Michael Maciel

Why should we concern ourselves with “spiritual development”? Isn’t it better to let our spirituality unfold naturally?

I think the word “unfold” implies a natural process, whereas the word “develop” implies taking something natural and changing it into something new, whether through combining it with something it would never otherwise encounter (such as a piece of wood and a nail) or by refining it with unnatural amounts of heat.

To me, there is much about the spiritual path that is unnatural. We do things that produce effects in ourselves that would never unfold by themselves.

Flowers unfold, but they unfold into that which has been determined for them by nature. Humans have the ability to transcend nature (for good or for ill) through processes of development arrived at through trial and error.

Humans have always been at odds with the automatic mind of nature, because we are self-conscious. We have the ability to take what nature has given us and create with it something entirely new.

Nature does that too, through the processes of evolution, but it does so out of adaptation. We do it, not necessarily to adapt, but because we can.

Some of the things we create have no practical use at all in terms of evolutionary adaptation, but we create them nonetheless. Art is a good example.

This is why I think the distinction between unfolding and development is so important. They are two very different things.

When did the term “spiritual development” fall into disfavor? Is it because it implies that some people are more “developed” than others, and that that would lead to abuse of power?

I know that many have been victimized by unscrupulous spiritual teachers, but does this mean that all spiritual teachers are unscrupulous? Or is it because everyone is already spiritual and therefore no “development” is needed? But wouldn’t that be like saying that everyone already has an inner concert pianist and therefore doesn’t need piano lessons?

If that’s the case, then there would be nothing to work towards, nothing to aspire to, and nothing to overcome, which implies that our current state of consciousness is as good as it gets. Such an assumption would not only be narcissistic but nihilistic as well. That might not be the intention, but that’s how it plays out, because if everyone is the same (not just inherently but performatively, too) then no one is anywhere. There would be nowhere to go or grow into.

Advice by pop-spiritual teachers to “just be” can be misleading and even injurious to one’s spiritual health, because it can be misconstrued as meaning that there is nothing you have to “do,” nor is there any such thing as “progress” on the spiritual path. I know of no legitimate guru, shaman, priest, or teacher who says that.

And while it’s true that we all have a “spark of divinity” within us, it’s still just a spark. It hasn’t yet ignited the whole being. Doing that takes work; letting the fire spread takes faith.

There should be no more urgent task to one whose intention is to find God than to devote as much time and willpower as necessary to find the God Self within them.

Concentration, meditation, contemplation – these are the tools. Spiritual development is the goal.

One of the reasons that some people don’t like to use the word “development” and the word “spiritual” together in the same sentence is because of a man named Pelagius. Pelagius was a theologian who believed that Christians by their own efforts without grace could choose the good and be saved or spiritually illumined by their own will or development. Pelagius taught that human beings were not controlled by original sin or weakness but were, by nature, good. The concern in general by Augustine and the Church was narcissism—seekers who believe they can achieve salvation and sanctity without Christ.

But growth of any kind is impossible without grace. I had never heard of Pelagius until recently, so I will take this description of Pelagius as it’s presented above as more or less accurate. If he really said that we don’t need grace, then that, in my experience, is demonstrably false.

There is a lot of misunderstanding around words like “grace” and “works” and “development,” mostly because theology does such a lousy job at explaining what they are and what they mean. If the theologians really want to know, they should ask a dancer, an artist, a boxer, or a writer — they could tell them what these words mean and by what processes they work.

Every athlete knows (just like every musician) that “practice makes perfect.” But they know something else, too. They know that perfection is something that happens; it’s not something you can produce. Perfection (as anyone who has ever experienced a life-changing breakthrough in their art knows) is not the sum of one’s efforts. Practice makes perfection possible; it does not cause it.

A dancer once said, “There was a moment when I wasn’t dancing — I was dance!

Grace is a brush with the Divine. But the encounter only happens when we have surrendered to that which is greater than ourselves. If the above assessment of Pelagius is correct, then he could never have experienced grace, because in his mind there would have been nothing greater than he. Any kind of flow would have been impossible.

Grace may be free, but perfection is not. Perfection only comes to those who sweat blood for it. Believing otherwise is truly narcissistic. But the perfect know that it’s not THEM. They know that the only reason they breathe pure air is because they slogged their way up the mountain. They didn’t make the air, nor was it “given” to them. They received it because they put in the work to get where the air is.

Those who believe that grace comes without effort are delusional. Even those who were healed by Christ were told, “Go forth and sin no more.” Expecting God to do everything for us is the mentality of a child, not a spiritual adult. Spiritual adults pray, they fast, they meditate, they do good works, not to make themselves perfect, but to put themselves in a position where they can receive the necessary grace to achieve it.

No one “gets” holy. Instead, they work to quiet their minds, they temper their desires so that they can be still enough emotionally to hear the still, small voice within. They pray for those who hate them, not to make those who hate them better, but to cleanse their own hearts of hatred. This is work. This is development. And there is no shortcut for it.

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What Is True?

fragmented man

by Michael Maciel

The word “faith” describes the universal presupposition that there is a truth, overarching and eternal, a single principle that governs the universe with absolute inclusivity and at every level, even though we do not know what it is or if we will ever fully comprehend it. As a principle, faith is the guiding light of all forms of human understanding—science, art, spirituality, philosophy—and the higher we rise in consciousness, the more these separate forms begin to merge, until at last they become one.

Faith is the innate knowing that there is something greater than ourselves, something larger, something whole and complete that knows no separation or conflict, no internal disagreements. And no matter what you call it, what name or -ism you ascribe to it, it is the same for all people and all times, in this universe or any other you can imagine.

The problem comes when we begin to think that we can encompass this One Truth, that we ourselves are large enough to comprehend it, that the truth is a “thing” that we can possess, a noun, an object we can own, a weapon we can use to dominate others, to make them wrong and ourselves right. This is NOT the truth, neither is it what is being pointed to by the word “faith.” When the truth is objectified, turned into a thing that can be possessed, THEN and only then can it be used to dominate others, and this is why we fear it. We fear it because we do not understand it, either its nature or its purpose.

It is out of fear that truth has been relativized, fragmented, and divided up into separate compartments—science, spirituality, philosophy, art. No one wants to be told that the end of truth has finally, once and for all, and for everyone been determined. Why? Because intuitively they know—we ALL know—that that can never happen, that that is NOT the nature of truth nor its purpose. We all know, if only deep within ourselves, that the truth is a living, breathing reality, a PROCESS by which life and living are made possible, not a definition, not a set of laws, not even an ideal, because it is bigger than any ideal we can conceive of.

Faith is an ACTION. It is the action of receiving from the higher mind what IT knows beyond what we are capable of knowing by ourselves. It is based upon the intuitive knowing that such a mind exists, that there is something that actually knows more than we do.

But HERE’S THE RUB: Because we are not perfect in love, we fear that what that mind knows will somehow limit us in what we can experience, what we can explore, and what we can create. It somehow implies that some things might be FORBIDDEN and therefore irresistible and that because of that we will somehow be found GUILTY and be PUNISHED. (I put these words in all-caps to identify them as the NAILS IN THE COFFIN of our potential for happiness and self-fulfillment.)

But all of this is due to our misunderstanding of what faith is, what truth is, and what the will of God is. We see God as a dictator, a strict father, angry, and jealous—all the worst parts of the Bible. Therefore, truth must be a set of laws, commandments, restrictions, speed limits, prohibitions—spiteful, vindictive, ARBITRARY. Who wouldn’t REBEL against that? When truth becomes someone else’s, we go out of our way to become liars.

Here’s the HEALTHY understanding of truth. God is creative and we are created in God’s image, which is to say that WE are creative, that creativity is the reason for our being. It is why we are here. It may be true that there is nothing new under the sun, but the possibilities are INFINITE, and God is just as eager as we are to find out what those possibilities are.

Do you get that? We are not here to “behave.” We are not God’s pets. We aren’t here to please or to placate some superior intelligence under threat of being punished if we get out of line. We are here as the EXTENSIONS of the One Intelligence—call it what you will, it doesn’t matter. We are “children” of It—that’s what “extension” means. We are not created “things.” God didn’t “make” us like one would make a loaf of bread. We are AGENCIES, we are the tips of God’s fingers, the retinas of God’s eyes, the love of God’s heart, and the thoughts of God’s mind. There is only one WILL and it is surging through us every moment of every day. Our will is God’s will. It’s only when we forget that that we begin to act out of fear and then hatred and then violence. We forget that God is what we ARE, that we are one with the One. What else could we be?

Faith is an open window, an open skylight, through which pours the infinite intelligence of the ONE THING, Its life, light, and love. The more we humble ourselves and admit that we don’t know…well, anything…that we can truly find out what there is TO know. And there is no end to that. There is no point in our evolution where we will know all there is to know or be all there is to be. Never. Life is continuous and ever-evolving at the point of being. We will know of ourselves AS WE LIVE. And that process never ends. If it had an “end,” it could not have a “beginning.” We were never born, and we will never die. That’s life eternal.

The essence of faith is this: QUESTIONS ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN ANSWERS. Learn to stand in the question without always looking for an answer and you will have mastered faith. The best questions, the ones that create the most possibilities, are the ones that raise more questions and, therefore, more possibilities. What are possibilities? They are FREEDOM. Possibilities are open doors; answers are doors that have slammed shut. For life to exist, its channels of expression must remain OPEN. Have faith. Be open. Keep moving. Movement is the surest sign of life.

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What Is Renunciation?

buddha-copy-2

by Michael Maciel

We are awash with the world, saturated by it. From the moment we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night, our cares and concerns fill our consciousness and shape our thoughts. No wonder we feel so powerless in the face of world events and human interactions. The Priesthood is about changing all of that. It’s about carving out a space in the clutter, about creating an eye in the storm of the world’s circumstances, and finding a stillpoint for humanity’s self-awareness.

This is the meaning and purpose of renunciation in the life of a priest. It’s one thing to be engaged with life and all of its normal arrangements—family, job, friendships, entertainments—and quite another to be caught in life’s thrall. Nothing saps our strength like distraction. Renunciation, on the other hand, is the power to say no, not just to this or that, but to everything. It is an intentional clearing of the space around us, both physical space and psychic space. It is what in the Upanishads is called, “neti neti ” (not this, not that), the complete rejection of the contents of the mind as a means of creating a clearing in which reality can show up.

How does renunciation work? Simply stated, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” When we create a space around us, we set up an immediate potential—an empty space. No doubt you have seen this demonstrated many times in your life. Any time you see people who command authority, people who cannot be swayed by popular opinion and who are not easily swept away by the emotions of others, you are seeing people who have mastered this skill. They are renunciates. They have the ability to say no to the world. Consequently, the world tends to move around them, and not the other way around.

Renunciation is a principle—a law—an aspect of the Priesthood. It acts like a filter, a barrier through which only the real can pass. Without it, you will be so infused with the world’s mind that you will be indistinguishable from it.

Knowing God is a process of elimination. As we reject everything that our intellect wants us to believe, we set up a force field in the mind, a force field that destroys all that is not eternal. God cannot be slain; we cannot destroy that which is real. Truth is forever the enemy of falsehood, so we need not fear losing anything of spiritual value. When it comes to emptying our mind, the baby can never be thrown out with the bathwater. The mind cannot throw itself out, only its contents. When the particulate matter (our thoughts) settles to the bottom, the water (our mind) is clear, and sunlight illuminates the whole body.

(These are excerpts from my book, World Priest, available on Amazon.)

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What Is Holiness and How Do We Get It?

dummies

by Michael Maciel

Much of what we call “holy” is based on a belief that the world is not. This is a great tragedy. It isn’t that we should behave as though everything is good and therefore we should get as much of it as we possibly can—to seek only pleasure and always avoid pain. That would be hedonism. Those who have tried that route usually find themselves miserable in the end. But those who hold themselves aloof from life, even as they are caught in its gears, also find themselves left with nothing more than a desperate hope that things will get better when they die. But is that any way to live?

Of all the theories I have heard of why we are here, the best one, in my estimation, is that we are here for one reason and one reason only: soul growth. Put another way, we are here to develop character. We are here to discover who we are, not what we’re not, although finding out what we’re not usually comes with finding out who we are. If there is some other reason why we’re here, I simply cannot imagine what it would be, not in a way that doesn’t sound like an elaborate hoax or a cruel fiction.

Look at it this way. Perfect parents would not only help their children grow up to be strong, capable adults, they would also help them discover their own innate qualities, the gifts they were born with, gifts that might even make them unlike their parents in significant ways. That would be remarkable parenting, would it not?—to help your children find their full self-expression even if who they really are runs counter to your standards and ideals. After all, in a perfect world, children aren’t clones—they eventually become people in their own right. They become evolution’s next step up the spiral of adaptation, not just physically but spiritually, too. And what they become (in a perfect world) will be larger and better adjusted than their forbearers.

But what about us, the children of God? If God is perfect, that doesn’t leave much room for exuberant self-discovery, does it. In fact, anything other than clone-ship would by definition be imperfect or (as religious folks like to put it) sinful. The very idea brings exuberance to a screeching halt. What’s there to look forward to in life if all you can ever be is “just like dear old dad”? And if you’re a woman—well, yours is an impossible task, isn’t it. Most girls don’t even want to grow up to be “just like” their mothers, either. They want (just like their brothers) to grow up to be themselves.

Now, I know we live in extraordinarily narcissistic times, but this is not narcissism. Wanting to be your own person is your soul’s most ardent desire. And as such, what could be more holy? We’re not talking about an infatuation with oneself, but a love affair with spirit. The soul is looking for full-blown self-expression, not a pretty picture of itself. If the soul is a living thing, then growing into its potential is its primary objective, not to get hung up in its own image. It wants to celebrate LIFE, not bask in its own undeveloped state. Children don’t care about being children (unless we teach them to). They care about playing. They care about tearing across the yard as fast as they can, not to get to the other side of the yard, but simply because they CAN. Running is the point, not to reach a goal (unless, to our shame, we teach them that that’s what they should want).

It’s the belief that there’s something wrong with the world that keeps us locked into false notions of holiness. It keeps us from surrendering to the opportunity that life is. Believing that the world is innately contrary to the will of God freezes us in a pathetic, undeveloped spiritual infantilism and unnecessarily drags out whatever difficult lessons we might need to learn. When it comes to suffering, I’m for the short kind. Why, in God’s name, make it worse? Just because there is SOME suffering doesn’t mean that it’s ALL suffering. If that were the case, then we would be forced to become narcissists, because such a dismal state could only lead us into a downward spiral of self-obsessed despair.

We cannot become holy by holding the world at arm’s length. We get holy by engaging with life in whatever form it presents itself. Buddha called it “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world,” which in mom-speak translates as “be grateful for what you’ve got, honey, and try to be nice.” And if that sounds trite, just think of what puffed-up ideas of holiness have done for people other than make them feel superior. If you’re too holy to be nice, then you’re too holy.

Sometimes, being holy means getting up and going to work. It means showing up when other people are expecting you. It means being thrilled to come home at night, to be ecstatic in the company of friends, to let somebody with only one item go ahead of you in the checkout line. Holiness finds its fullest expression in the simple things of life more easily than it does in lofty notions of the nature of reality. Chop wood, carry water. First the ecstasy, then the laundry. Suffer the little children to come unto me. Consider the lilies of the field. Smell the roses. And, most importantly, get off your high horse.

Being poor isn’t the way to go, either, but then neither is being wealthy. The soul wants only to be in the present moment. It hungers for the now. And it doesn’t much care about the contents of that moment, only that it be present to it when it happens. Be present. Be awake. Be IN your life and give thanks for it, even if it’s hard. It’s the fool who chases after things and manufactured ideals. The wise seek out what’s right in front of them, and they don’t move on until they have squeezed the last bit of nutrition from it.

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What Is Sacrifice?

pele

by Michael Maciel

It is customary to bring a bottle of wine, or some other gift, when you go to someone’s house for dinner. It’s not a law but it’s a nice gesture.

It says a couple of things:
1) You appreciate the invitation.
2) You “bring something to the table,” in every sense.

You wouldn’t call your bottle of wine a sacrifice, even though you are giving up something of value. Instead, it’s more of an offering, a gift.

Traditionally, offerings to the gods have been made as payment for a request—I give you this; you give me that. Quid pro quo. But Jesus showed us a different way. A sacrifice or offering doesn’t have to be in expectation of getting a return. It can be made simply out of love, out of appreciation. It makes one’s interaction with the gods a relationship, not a business transaction.

Remember, Jesus called God “Abba,” which is Aramaic for a child’s term of endearment for “father,” which in English translates as “daddy.” Jesus showed us that God is not a powerful ruler who enforces laws with strict and fiery judgment, but rather God is the One with whom we are most closely related. We are children of God, not God’s subjects.

We are like the boss’ son or daughter, not just another employee. That makes us part of the family business. Our job security is one hundred percent. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.

The words “sacrifice,” “offering,” and “tithe” are all closely related.

When we tithe, we give the top ten percent of our income, which means before taxes or other expenses. (Not many people do this anymore, but that’s the tradition.)

“Sacrifice” was similar, in that only the firstfruits or best of the herd were considered suitable for the temple altar. This idea shows up in the story of Abraham and Isaac, as well as in Exodus where only the firstborn sons (the heirs and therefore most valuable) of the Egyptians were killed. The first Passover prefigured the coming of the Messiah who would make animal sacrifice obsolete and no longer a part of Temple worship.

One Native-American tradition says that you cut a piece of the best part of the meat and throw it into the fire before the meal as a way of saying thanks to the Great Spirit for providing you with food.

“Offering” connotes respect, love, and endearment. It is more of an acknowledgment than a bribe. When tourists visit Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, they are supposed to bring a bottle of gin, flowers, fruits, or a song with which to honor the Goddess Pele. Anything of personal value is acceptable, even money, which is why we toss coins into a wishing well. But in that case, you would have to imagine doing it without the wish.

The keyword is “honor,” which changes the intention around the act of sacrifice or offering. “I acknowledge You, O Creator, as the source of all.”

This puts a positive spin on the act of “giving something up” for Lent. This is the time of year when life seems to “return.” We offer something of value to God as a way of acknowledging the Source of all life. It’s not penance. It’s not sacrificing for something in return. It’s a gift, a gift of love. It’s like a standing ovation, as in “Give it up!” for a performer. It’s us saying, “Way to go, God! You did it again!”

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Lent—What Are Voluntary Hardships?

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by Michael Maciel

If you give up something for Lent, it should be something meaningful. Like candy to a kid. Sweet pleasures, lackadaisical attitudes, indulgent binges – these are good places to start. You know the saying: No Pain, No Gain. It’s the law of every gym, whether it’s written on the wall of not. Every muscle fiber screams it, even as it submits itself to being torn apart.

It’s hard in a hedonistic, narcissistic society to brook the notion of giving something up when you don’t have to. Something about it just seems wrong (unless you grew up Catholic, of course). After all, isn’t life meant to be enjoyed, taken full advantage of, every good thing maximized in the face of one’s imminent demise? Life is short, is it not? Why do things that make it harder? Isn’t this Vale of Tears difficult enough as it is?

Here’s what the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, had to say about Buddha’s “All life is sorrowful”:

“All life is sorrowful. There is, however, an escape from sorrow. The escape is Nirvana, which is a state of mind or consciousness, not a place somewhere like heaven. It is right here in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas – joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.”

Cosmologically, Lent is the time when the life forces begin to surge. If you’ve ever been on a farm in the Spring, you know what I’m talking about. The days are getting longer (in the Northern Hemisphere) and everything that lives is firing up its engines. In just a few weeks, they’ll be in full roar. You’ll be revving up shortly, too. The only question is which direction will you be heading when you pop the clutch?

The problem with modern religions is that they have lost touch with their cosmic underpinnings. Lent is real, not just in a theological sense, but in a literal, scientific sense. Life is surging – everywhere! Are you going to take the bull by the horns, or are going to be skewered by them? Because, let’s face it, nothing EVER goes wrong when you just let it all hang out, right? Spring is when “letting it all hang out” gets injected with a full dose of steroids. The habits you form now will be supercharged, whether they’re good ones or otherwise. As they say in Alaska when you’re about to set out on a dirt road with frozen tire tracks: “Pick your rut wisely. You will be in it for the next fifty miles.”

All processes are at their purest and most powerful in their beginnings. In astrology, it’s called “applying.” When an aspect first comes into play, that’s when it’s forming the patterns through which it will function. Once the arc of development has hit its zenith, it’s almost too late to direct it. Its trajectory is already set. We live in a yearly cycle, both physically and spiritually. And the Power of Life is at the center of our Solar System directing it all. Growth is painful. Birth is painful. Crowbarring yourself out of your fifty-mile rut is painful. But oh the joy when you discover that you are finally working WITH the cycles and not against them!

Happy Lent!

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The Limits of Love

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by Michael Maciel

Okay, so here’s an extreme example. Say you’re on a boat and it starts to sink. Your companion (whom you love) has his arm trapped in the wreckage and he will most certainly drown unless you chop it off and free him. If he could do it himself, he might, but there’s no time, and he’s too weak even if there was. He’s delirious with pain, completely out of his mind with panic and fatigue. As he sees you raise the ax, he pleads with you not to do it.

What do you do?

Water is sometimes a symbol for emotion. How many people do you know who are going down with a sinking ship because they cannot let go? Perhaps it’s an addiction, maybe it’s a codependency or depression. At what point do you intervene? Is it logical to assume that they have free will when they are in the throes of their agony and clearly insane? Do you ask permission when your inaction will mean their certain death?

 But life doesn’t always present us with such unambiguous situations, does it. Sometimes big decisions are made up of a myriad of small ones. Some of the most pivotal moments of my life have come when a friend (someone whose opinion I respected) simply refused to accept my “truth.” He would say, “You can go there if you want, but leave me out of it.” How many small ways are there to say just that? It can be done with a look, a stiffening of the shoulders, or simply the word “no.”
The real question is do we have the strength to love? Do we care enough to inflict necessary pain? Can we endure the confrontation or a possible rejection? How closely tied to our backbone is our heart? Sometimes love is tender mercies, and sometimes it’s the brutal exigencies of real life. Our love is measured by our willingness to be where we need to be and to do what we need to do. Otherwise, we’re just loving ourselves.
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Chaos—when being an individual really counts

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by Michael Maciel

There’s a downside to being connected. Being one with others can be powerful when everyone works together, but when panic strikes, or when there is widespread confusion, being connected can be your worst enemy. That’s when you need to disconnect and become centered.

In Christian Mysticism, we understand that the area around the altar is a sanctuary, a refuge, a place set apart from the world. In some churches, the sanctuary has a physical barrier, such as a partition or fence that separates it from the rest of the chapel. This is an outer symbol for an inner reality.

Where is your inner sanctuary?

If you were a devout Catholic, you would be going to church every morning and receiving Communion. You would walk up to the border between this world and the heaven world (the sanctuary), kneel down, and receive the body and blood of Christ.

This is the symbolic equivalent of going within to your own inner sanctuary and receiving your spiritual food from above, from that part of you that is in direct contact with the spiritual cosmos. It is your cosmic reset button. You, and ONLY you, can do this. God is always a one-on-one experience. God doesn’t do groups.

Sin is confusion. Sin is the inability to discern truth—even simple truths. Sin is being so separated from your inner connection with God that you cannot tell when someone is lying to you. Sin is not knowing how you feel.

When the world seems out of control, withdraw from it. Don’t withdraw from it permanently; withdraw from it REGULARLY. At least once a day. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, five minutes—just DO it.

The control buttons for a merry-go-round are not on the merry-go-round. They are on a separate console that’s mounted somewhere STATIONARY. That console is inside you. Find it. Use it. Refuse to let the world spin you around. You cannot help the world if you are caught up in its confusion.

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