The Pandemic as an Easter Experience

Today is Palm Sunday.  In the traditional Easter story, this is the first day of Holy Week. This is the day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time. He came riding on a donkey, on a road lined with hundreds, if not thousands of people. And as he came, people spread palm fronds on the road in front of him and cheered with shouts of ‘Hosanna’.

Metaphysically, the story of Holy Week is a metaphor for the process of spiritual growth. Imagine growth as a Spiral. Each trip around the spiral follows a pattern, and each trip takes you to a higher level of growth.

There is a Beginning, followed by a period of Growing and Learning. In the Easter story, this is represented by the beginning and growth of Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching. It is everything that led up to Palm Sunday.

Eventually, we reach a point of Mastery at our current level of growth. In the Easter story, this is represented by Palm Sunday. At first, it feels good. We feel skillful and relaxed. We know how to handle the challenges we face. And then, inevitably, something happens. Sometimes, we begin to notice questions that cannot be answered at our current level of growth. Sometimes, we just begin to feel a sense of restlessness or dissatisfaction with the ‘same old same old’. Sometimes, we are faced with challenges we don’t know how to cope with. Whatever the driver, we feel the urge to grow, and that urge gets stronger and stronger until we finally are willing to take a leap of faith toward a New Beginning.

But before we arrive at that new beginning, we have some work to do. We must release our old way of being. In the Easter story, this is represented by  Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. In order to grow, we must metaphorically ‘die’ to the old. We must release our old story of who we thought we were. We must release our assumptions about how the world works.

We will spend a period of time in the void. In the Easter story, this is represented by the time Jesus spent in the tomb. We have left the old behind, but we have not yet found our new beginning. During this time, we feel disconnected and disoriented. The more skillful we were at our old level of being, the more uncomfortable we will feel with the uncertainty of the void. Sometimes we get so uncomfortable, we feel a great urge to go backwards — to return to a time when we felt safe and capable — to return to a time when all of our questions had answers. Other times, we feel a desire to dive headlong into the new — pretending we have all the answers when we don’t. We want to skip right from our Palm Sunday experience to our Easter Sunday experience without going through the crucifixion and the time in the tomb.

And…this time in the tomb is when we experience our deepest spiritual growth.

Our world is going through an Easter experience right now as we move through this global pandemic. Though many were struggling, many had felt some level of mastery with our current world. And yet, the unanswerable questions were already there. Why do some have so much while others have so little? How can we provide compassionate care for those in need while still maintaining a healthy economy? How can we protect our planet while providing for the needs of our people? 

Then in January, the first reports began to come into the news about a new virus emerging on the scene. As the weeks and months went by, we began to understand that our current skill-set and our current way of being were not going to be adequate for this challenge.

And finally, bit by bit, all of us have begun to take that leap of faith into the unknown. The old way of being has died. We have been forced to release our assumptions about how the world works. We have been forced to release our old story of who we thought we were.

The whole world is now in that void space of the tomb. And, as expected, we feel disconnected and disoriented. We fear what may come and grieve for what we have lost. Sometimes we get so uncomfortable, we feel a great urge to go backwards — to return to our old way of being. Other times, we feel a desire to dive headlong into the new — pretending we have all the answers when we don’t. We long to skip right to our Easter Sunday experience without going through the time in the tomb. We waffle back and forth between these feelings. This is normal. We see it in ourselves, our families, our friends and our leaders. And, we should have compassion for all of us.

As I was preparing to write this, I was searching for something to give hope and comfort and reassurance to all of you. I ran across a short blog post that brought everything within me to a complete pause.  In reading it, I felt all my fear and grief and striving settle for a moment into utter peace. In it, I found for myself everything I wanted to bring to you. I knew in that moment that I needed to share it with you.

It was written by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, who is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a Bishop of the Episcopal church. He wrote,

“Now is the time for which our faith has prepared us. Now is the moment when all that we believe can be put to work.

Now we can turn to the inner resources we have been developing over these many years to face the challenge of a world in desperate need. We are not afraid of this crisis for we have been made ready for it.

We have devoted our lives to the belief that something greater than fear or disease guides human history. We have studied, prayed and grown in the Spirit. Now we come to the call to use what we believe.

Our people need hope, confidence, courage and compassion: the very things for which we have been trained. We are the calm in the midst of a storm.

Stand your ground and let your light so shine that others may see it and find their faith as well.”

Now is the time for which our faith has prepared us. We are here to be the Presence of God, right where we are, each in our own unique way. We have the tools we need in our spiritual toolkit. Every experience we have ever had — every skill we have ever learned — every moment of our life — has brought us to the right and perfect skillfulness of Spirit.

I can almost hear many of you thinking — who, me? I don’t feel prepared. I don’t feel skillful. I feel scared. I feel angry. I feel disconnected and adrift.

I know. I feel all of those same things. It’s part of that ‘tomb’ experience. And…I know that we can feel all of those things and still know that we are expressions of God. We can feel all of those things and still know that, through God within, we have all the strength and wisdom and creativity we will need to see this experience through. And, just as we know it for ourselves, we can also know it for each other.

As you spend your time in the tomb, I invite you to consider some questions that will help you tap into your own spiritual strength and creativity.

  • What is hard for you right now?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What makes you want to cry?
  • What has helped you let go of your anger and sorrow, if only for a moment?
  • What has helped you feel connected?
  • What has helped you feel love?
  • What has brought you a feeling of peace?
  • What has made you laugh?
  • In taking in all of the many creative ways people around the world have responded to this crisis, who are you proud of, and why?
  • What is one thing you can do to ‘pay it forward’?

That is your homework assignment for this week. To take some of these questions and journal about them, or talk about them with someone you love.

Touch The Sky (Brave)

I will ride, I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky
The idea of ‘touching the sky’ has long captured human imagination. Since recorded history began, people have speculated on what makes up the sky. In the book of Genesis, the creation story of the ancient Israelites, the author imagined the sky as a great dome, separating the waters above (rain, snow) from the waters below (rivers, seas).
Metaphysically, the waters symbolize unexpressed capacities of the mind. They may be conscious or unconscious desires, calling to us to manifest. They are our dreams, as yet unformed.
The sky (dome, firmament) symbolizes our power of Faith. Faith moves and works in both the conscious and subconscious mind (the waters above and the waters below).
Faith is our power to move the unseen into manifestation. When we seek to ‘touch the sky’, we are putting our faith into action. If our dream is unconscious, we are inviting it into our conscious awareness. If it is conscious, we are inviting it to come forth.

Almost There (The Princess and the Frog)

This whole town can slow you down
People takin’ the easy way
But I know exactly where I am going
Gettin closer ‘n closer every day
Almost There was composed by Randy Newman for the Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog. This is a song about vision and persistence. On our spiritual journey, we often begin with great enthusiasm and a clear picture of where we think we are going. And then real life gets in the way. We encounter distractions and setbacks that slow us down and cause us to divert from our original path. Sometimes we abandon our vision altogether.
What we too often fail to realize is that these distractions and setbacks are not interruptions of our journey, but actually one of the most important parts of the journey. These are the moments when we have the opportunity to dive deep into our own transformation.
One of my common distractions is that I have so many calls on my time that I just never seem to “get around” to working on my vision. When viewed from the perspective of spiritual transformation, I can use this as an opportunity to look at the stories I am carrying. Do I believe I have to “do it all”? Do I believe others are not capable? Do I prefer to do something easy and familiar rather than tackling something new?  All great questions for triggering self-awareness and transformation.
One of the most important lessons we can learn on our spiritual journey is that the destination is not nearly as important as the journey itself.

How Far I’ll Go (Moana)

I’ve been staring at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember, never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try
Every turn I take, every trail I track

Every path I make, every road leads back

The song How Far I’ll Go was composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the Disney movie Moana. As we find in so many songs, this one reveals deep spiritual wisdom if we have ears to hear.

This particular song addresses one of the most profound human experiences – the experience of being “called”. A calling is a strong inner impulse toward something greater than our ordinary day-to-day life. It is a mystical experience, whether we feel called to a particular career, to a mission, or to a spiritual path.

If you have ever longed to discover your life purpose, you are feeling the call. If you have ever sought deeper meaning in your life, you are feeling the call. If you have a dream, whether grand or simple, you are being called.

Our calling asks us to live our life on purpose, with intention, with passion, and with wholehearted dedication. When we answer the call, we ourselves are transformed into something more.

How is Spirit Calling You?

Advice from an Alligator

In our ongoing series on Wisdom from Nature, today we are taking a deeper look at the alligator. Alligators are perhaps one of the closest experiences modern humans can have with dinosaurs. Not only do alligators have size, strength and razor sharp teeth, they also have thick skin which protects them from would-be predators. Alligators are quite literally armor-plated. Every ridge on an alligator’s back represents a bony plate contained within that area of skin. These bony plates make the skin very hard to penetrate.

This trait reminds me of the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  Agreement #2 says, “Don’t take anything personally.” In other words, develop a thick skin of your own.

Don Miguel writes, “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally…If I see you on the street and I say, ‘Hey, you are so stupid,’ … it’s not about you; it’s about me.” Nothing other people do is because of you, even if they tell you it is. What they do is because of themselves. They are reacting to something from their own story.

All people are immersed in their own story. As much as we try, we can’t really know each other’s story. We only know our own. When we take personally what someone has said, we make the assumption that they know our story. In fact, you might say we are trying to impose our story on them.

The truth is, If we take something someone else has said personally, we do so not because of them, but because of ourselves. If I take something personally, then it’s probably because, deep down, I agree with them. I might think to myself, “How does he know? Is he clairvoyant? Or, can everybody see?”

So, what someone else says or does, comes from their story. My reaction, comes from my story. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to us when we take nothing personally. We no longer need to place our trust in what others do or say. We simply trust the divine wisdom within us and let it be our guide.

Advice from a Pig

Pigs have a bit of a mixed reputation in human history. Some say pigs are dirty or unclean. Others find them delicious. Some find them frightening and dangerous. Others see them as cute and cuddly. Some see them as livestock. Others see them as pets. We find pigs in books and movies — Wilbur (from the book Charlotte’s Web), Miss Piggy (from the Muppets), Babe (from the movie Babe) and Pig Pen (from the Peanuts comic strip), to name just a few.
Of all the characteristics we attribute to pigs, perhaps the most prevalent in my own experience refers to how they eat. Pigs eat anything. They eat in great quantities. And they don’t mind making a mess. As a kid, I learned early that to say, “You eat like a pig!” was a serious insult.
As an adult, I have learned to question my unexamined beliefs. As a spiritual practice, I have learned to re-examine facts, but even more, to question the judgments and stories I have carried.
I ran into an affirmation today that made me reconsider the old insult, “You eat like a pig”. The affirmation says, “I feast daily on the joy of living in God’s world.” What a vibrant image. Perhaps when a pig eats, she is feasting on joy. She is eating with enthusiastic abandon, taking in the bounty of God.
The book of Proverbs tells us “He that is of cheerful heart has a continual feast.” (Prov 15:15) The routine events of everyday living offer a feast of joy to the cheerful heart. A conversation with a friend, the beauty of God’s world around us, an opportunity to serve or help another — all these are food for joy when we cultivate a cheerful heart. Maybe that pig has cultivated a cheerful heart.
Eat like a Pig! Feast on joy with a cheerful heart.

Advice from a Bat

The baby bat 
Screamed out in fright, 
Turn on the dark, 
I’m afraid of the light. 
…a poem by Shel Silverstein
In Unity, we enjoy looking for spiritual wisdom in unusual places. This week, as part of our recurring Wisdom in Nature series, we are seeking advice from the Bat.
A bat is a creature that dwells comfortably in the dark. I, too, can dwell comfortably in the dark, when I remember that there is nowhere that God is not. Even in the midst of experiences that I find painful or challenging, I am never separate from God.
In the light of God, even darkness becomes a tool I can use for my spiritual growth. There is no human experience that I must hide from the light of God. Every experience can be part of my journey toward wholeness, if I will let it be so. When I practice self-awareness and self-acceptance, I remember that light and dark are two halves of a transcendent whole. Resting in this awareness, I am at peace.

What is Unity?

Abiding in the consciousness of unity, I am identified with God and at one with all good.

In considering the question, “What is Unity?”, the deepest answer lies in our understanding and practice of the relationship between ourselves and God. The first thing a student of Unity learns is that God is absolute good, everywhere present, and that our essence is of God and therefore, we are inherently good.

Our foundational spiritual practice is to establish conscious unity with God. We seek to hold an awareness of our oneness with God, first in our times of silent contemplation, and as we mature, to carry that awareness in our everyday activities. Eventually, we learn to carry the awareness of oneness even in life’s most challenging circumstances.

When we live in the consciousness of unity, we cannot be separate from God. We find that we are in touch with blessings that formerly passed by unnoticed. Our conscious unity with God reveals the energy of abundant blessings flowing all around us. We find strength, creativity, peace and wisdom that we had not dreamed possible before we began this practice.

Let this day be dedicated to unity, to finding your unity with God, to identifying yourself with divine blessings.

The Burning Bowl Ceremony

At year’s end, the burning bowl ceremony is a powerful ritual — a symbolic release — to let go of anything that no longer serves us.

The burning bowl ceremony is a fire ceremony in which we allow the wisdom of Spirit within to guide us toward what we need to release. We then write a word or a phrase summarizing what we have been guided to release on a slip of flash-paper. As we burn the paper, we symbolically set ourselves free.

We take this opportunity to release old wounds, negative or unhealthy thought patterns, unfulfilled expectations, mistakes, or situations that may be holding us back from living our best life.

The benefits of release include an increase of good in our lives. We release all unproductive thoughts and attitudes from our minds so that we can partake of the ever-renewing life and vitality God has prepared for us.

We release all concepts of lack or limitation and increase our use of divine ideas. God-within supplies us with ideas that lead us in living creative, satisfying lives.

We release all habits that hold us in unproductive, unhealthy life-styles. God’s power working in us and through us is more than enough to keep us living in positive, life-affirming ways. We open ourselves and our lives to the goodness of God.

The Gift of Myrrh

At Christmas time we celebrate the joy of birth — the birth of Jesus and the birth of the Christ consciousness within us. And yet, in this time of newness, we also find a reminder of the impermanence of life.

The third wise man presented the gift of Myrrh to the baby Jesus. Myrrh was a slightly pungent oil derived from a gum resin. It was used to anoint a body during the embalming process. As such, it is symbolic of death.

Metaphysically, the gift of Myrrh represents the eternal nature of the Spirit. It reminds us of our own dual nature. We are both fully human and fully divine. On the human level, all things are transient, here for a moment or a season and then gone. And on the level of Spirit, all things are eternal and we are eternally alive in God.

The gift of Myrrh invites us to open ourselves to the process of release and renewal. It invites us to honor our conflicting feelings – grief at letting go of the familiar, anxiety at facing the unknown, excitement as we consider the new opportunities opening up, and peace as we remember that we are all eternally One in Spirit.

Let us to come together in love, peace and connection as we support each other through this time of change, remaining centered in Spirit and holding each other in the light.