The Shepherd’s Psalm

Psalm 23, The Shepherd’s Psalm, is among the most loved and well known passages in the Bible. Many can recite it from memory. But do we fully appreciate what the psalmist is communicating to us in this short but powerful poem? Let’s first read through the entire psalm together and then examine it verse by verse to see what new revelations are in store for us.

1 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

In verse one, the writer likens his relationship with the Lord to that of a sheep with his shepherd. What do we know about sheep and why would a human being liken himself to one?

“Sheep do not ‘just take care of themselves’ as some might suppose,” says Phillip Keller in his book ‘A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23’. “They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.” (p.7)

So the psalmist realizes that he does not take care of himself. Such an attitude is quite opposite that of a typical adult. In fact, it more closely resembles that of a little child. Therefore, to say “The Lord is my shepherd” is acknowledging a return to the mindset of childhood. Why is that necessary?

On one occasion, Jesus’s disciples asked him who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. He replied,

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3-4]

Most little children express a fascination and enthusiasm for learning that far exceeds that of the typical adult. However, because of their lack of experience and discipline, they require extensive training and meticulous care, much like sheep. So little children are quite dependent and well aware of this fact.

The Kingdom of Heaven represents a condition where one is ruled by the Mind and Will of God. Because God’s thoughts and ways are so different from ours [Isaiah 55:7-8], to learn them requires a childlike hunger and thirst for knowledge. In order to learn, one must be taught. Thus, our dependence on God to teach us is likened in the psalm to the sheep’s dependence on the shepherd to guide it.

Jesus modeled this behavior perfectly. He demonstrated his own dependence on God, his Father, when he told his listeners,

 “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” [John 5:19]

 “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” [John 12:49-50]

In these passages, Jesus is copying his Father’s words and deeds, like a little child copies the words and deeds of a parent or other caretaker. Has any of your children ever spoken or behaved like you?

What benefit is there to becoming like a sheep or a little child? The second part of Psalm 23:1 tells us – “I shall not want.” The Hebrew word translated “want” is “haser” which is a verb meaning to lack or be diminished. How many of us can honestly say that we have never felt diminished or lacking in some way? When you experience the Lord as your shepherd, you are beginning life anew, like a little child. And that life comes with the certainty that all your needs will be met. Jesus does not want us to experience anxiety or worry. Rather he prefers that we adopt the carefree attitude characteristic of early childhood and of a sheep at rest.

In fact, verse two tells us,

 “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” [Psalm 23:2]

Here is a word picture of peace and tranquility. According to Keller, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from all fear. Fortunately, fear is a learned behavior. Because it was learned, it can be unlearned. Under the perfect guidance and protection of the Shepherd, all fear is driven out so only love remains. As the apostle John wrote,

 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..” [1 John 4:18]

In order for the sheep to be at peace, fear must be driven out completely. Among fear’s detrimental effects are anger, timidity, or both. The way fear is unlearned is through gentleness. That is why the Shepherd leads his sheep to quiet, still waters. In the Scriptures, water represents the presence of God. Water is also known for its ability to refresh, cleanse, and heal. Therefore, being led to still waters pictures the gentle manner in which the Lord, through perfect love, removes all fear from our minds. 

The removal of fear and worry prepares our minds for learning a new way of thinking. As the good farmer recognizes that preparing the soil is necessary prior to planting to produce an abundant crop, the wise teacher recognizes that a mind at peace, free from fear, with trust in its teacher is most productive at learning a new way to think.

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”[Psalm 23:3]

The refreshment of the soul comes from the perceptual shift created by learning “the paths of righteousness.” However, Keller tells us sheep are notorious creatures of habit. They are like us. He writes,

 “If left to themselves, they will follow the same trails until they become ruts, graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes, pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites.” (p.61)

Human beings living independent lives have done the same thing for millenia. Once fertile lands have become desert wastes due to human activity. Our ground, water, and air has become polluted, corrupted with disease, and brought about the suffering of many. 

The Lord, our shepherd, wants only the best for all of us – no more sorrow, no more pain. But his ways are much different from ours. They may at first appear strange. Yet, as we learn to follow where He leads us and experience the results, our trust in his guidance grows.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” [Psalm 23:4]

“The valley of the shadow of death” is a graphic way of depicting fear. If you are walking alone, unguided, in a strange and scary place trying to find your way to a destination, what are the odds that you will succeed without suffering harm? And, as you go along in your journey, how will you feel?

The point here is that he fears no evil even though he walks in a fearful environment, because he trusts in the guidance and protection of the shepherd. The Lord knows the territory and the simplest and safest way to our destination. We do not walk alone. He goes with us wherever we go. He is a Shepherd that loves his sheep and devotes his life to their well being [John 10:11, 14-15].

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” [Psalm 23:5] 

There is rich symbolism in this verse. The Hebrew word translated “table” is “sulhan” which by implication means a meal. Spiritual meals pertain to thoughts. Notice Isaiah 55,

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” [Isaiah 55:1-3]

The thoughts of God are the food by which we live [Matthew 4:4] [Deuteronomy 8:3]. He prepares and presents these thoughts to us in the presence of our enemies. The Hebrew word translated “enemies” is “sarar” which is a verb that means to be in distress. So the Lord, our shepherd, retrains our minds through His Word while we dwell in a place of distress. It is misperceiving reality that produces this distress. What the Lord does is correct our perception of reality which paves the way for an extraordinary transformation. 

“..thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” [Psalm 23:5]

The first evidence in scripture of anointing someone’s head with oil was when Aaron was consecrated as the high priest of Israel [Exodus 29:7]. Each high priest thereafter was to be anointed in the same way [Leviticus 21:10]. The same procedure was used in anointing Israel’s kings  [1 Samuel 10:1] [2Kings 9:3,6]. Oil was also used in healing [Mark 6:13] [James 5:14] and was poured on the head to make Atonement for one being cleansed from disease [Leviticus 14:18, 29] .

The lesson here is that anyone anointed with oil has received the Lord’s blessing. Once a sheep and follower, he is anointed with oil to become a shepherd, priest, king, and healer. Notice in the second part of the verse he possesses a cup. This cup was filled to overflowing while he was eating and drinking at the Lord’s table. The overflowing cup signifies the teacher has accepted the blessing given him, an abundance meant to overflow to others. His life has been transformed. So he goes forward with gratitude and enthusiasm with the intent of bringing that same happiness and peace to others.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” [Psalm 23:6]

Goodness and mercy are attributes of the Lord. This verse tells us wherever this newly ordained shepherd goes, the Lord goes with him. The shepherd lives where the Lord lives. The two are one in being.

Psalm 23 then is an allegory that utilizes the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep to describe the process of transforming one’s being. This process begins with a sheep, which represents a human being, accepting the direction and guidance of his shepherd, whom we are told is the Lord.  The sheep recognizes his dependence upon the shepherd much like little children seek the direction of adults to satisfy their hunger for knowledge. However, the psalmist is expressing through the allegory a much deeper meaning. The sheep represents a person recognizing the need for the Lord’s guidance in discovering who they really are and why they are here.

The psalmist then takes us through a transformative process. First, as a shepherd gently and lovingly tends to the needs of his sheep, the Lord prepares people for retraining by establishing a bond of trust helping them to relax and achieve readiness for learning.  He then shows them the path of righteousness, training them in a new way of thinking. This learning is then reinforced by giving them the work and responsibility of a shepherd. Here the Lord is sharing his life with them, transforming them into an extension of himself. Thus the Lord and the person (i.e. the Shepherd and his sheep) become unified in purpose and in being, permanently joined together as one for eternity. 

Thus the transformation is complete. The person, who once thought he possessed a separate and independent identity of his own, now comes to realize that he jointly shares his true identity with the Lord himself. He has indeed become a new person.

Is Perception Reality?

Have you ever come across something you once purchased and said,

 “I can’t believe I actually bought that thing. What was I thinking?”

Well, you probably weren’t. In his book on small business, Michael Gerber describes how all buying decisions are made.

“.. the Unconscious Mind sends its answer up to the Conscious Mind, which then goes back out into the world to assemble the rational armament it needs to support its already determined emotional commitment. And that’s how all buying decisions are made, Irrationally!”  (“The E-Myth Revisited”,p.221)

Can you believe that? None of us has ever made a rational buying decision, even though we think we have. How can that be?

One of the two pillars of marketing is a science called psychographics. Gerber describes it as “..the science of perceived marketplace reality.” Through careful research, marketing professionals have learned to create a sensory experience that appeals to the unconscious mind of their target audience. By doing so, they create a perception that aligns with the psychological needs of their prospective customers. Once a potential customer unconsciously perceives that his needs are being met, he consciously takes the steps necessary to justify a purchase. All because the marketing professional was able to convince his buyer that perception is reality. 

But it’s not. As marketers know, perceptions are a reflection of how we think. So if our perceptions aren’t reality, what do they reveal to us and how can we use them for our benefit instead of being fooled by them?

In order to answer that question, we need to understand how our perceptions are formed. First we take in data through our senses. Of course, every magician knows that our senses are easily deceived. Then we process that information in our brains, largely subconsciously, to formulate our perceptions. Those perceptions become ‘our reality’ – the way we see the world ‘out there.’ But if our senses can be deceived, the input is questionable. And if our interpretations are biased, then the process by which we make sense of those inputs is flawed. The bottom line is that we will only see what we expect to see. Therefore, it is an error to call perceptions ‘reality’ or ‘truth.’ 

Yet even though perception is not reality, each of us believes that our own perception is reality. To make matters worse, different people have different perceptions.  And what those differing perceptions have in common is a tendency to engage in the blame game. We can see that in the story of Adam and Eve.  

After Adam and Eve meet the serpent and are convinced to eat the forbidden fruit, they see each other differently. 

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” [Genesis 3:7]

Although they are still unified, their senses are deceiving them into believing that they are separate. Having sensed this change, they become confused. They become afraid and feel a sense of shame, so they hide their most intimate parts from each other. Worse yet, their fear drives them to hide from the Lord [Genesis 3:8-10].

When the Lord finds out that they’ve eaten the forbidden fruit, the blame game starts.

  “The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” [Genesis 3:12]

Adam is perceiving all of the ways that this is somebody else’s fault: God put Eve there, and she made him eat it. 

 “Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:13]

Eve is also perceiving all of the ways that this is somebody else’s fault: the serpent tricked her into eating it. 

Both Adam and Eve are perceiving the problem as being outside of themselves. But what they are doing is projecting their own perceived guilt away from themselves and onto someone else. 

We, like them, are accustomed to using perception to project guilt outward and away from ourselves. As you increase the number of people, not only is there more opportunity for conflict, but there is also a greater tendency for people to organize into factions with differing perceptions. It is these conflicting perceptions that are responsible for the hostility and divisions among us.  

However, in spite these flaws, our perceptions can be useful to us. How? They are an outward reflection of how we perceive our own inward condition. As A Course in Miracles states,

 “Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward.” [W-PII.304.1:3-4]

So if we look outward and see a violent, unjust, and evil world, we are perceiving ourselves to be violent, unjust, and evil. But the darkness that we perceive isn’t really there. God made us in His image. He is good, so we are good. He is one, and we are one 

What we’re leading up to here is the core message of Christ – forgiveness. Forgiveness is the process of removing those false perceptions and seeing what is really there.

We are as God created us, but we haven’t yet realized that because of our false perceptions. Forgiveness leads us to accept the truth about ourselves. 

So perception is a tool. But it’s a mirror, not a window. When properly used for forgiveness, it leads us out of conflict and back to the truth. However, when improperly used as a tool for judgment, it leads to error, conflict, and suffering. 

The bottom line is that we’ve misused our perceptions. Only by using them properly, as a mirror, can we benefit from them. When you look in a mirror and see something that isn’t right, you correct it and make it right. Then, you feel better. Likewise, by applying forgiveness to inaccurate perceptions, we correct our self image. And, as a result, we experience healing and peace of mind. This approach requires diligent practice and an acute sense of awareness, but the effort is worth it. 

Despite appearances to the contrary, the world indeed remains as God created it – very good. Otherwise, Almighty God is neither. It is our perceptions that need changing. That is the ultimate reason for forgiveness. It’s time to live the truth and leave conflict behind. Only then will we be at peace, lacking nothing, and never again to buy something that we don’t need.


“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” [Matthew 4:17]

The Bible Simplified

By far the world’s best-selling book is “The Holy Bible”. Despite its remarkable popularity, it is perhaps also the world’s most misunderstood book. Its archaic language, mysterious symbology, and bewildering prophecies are often confusing and lend themselves to a variety of interpretations. Even trained experts in biblical studies often disagree with each other’s interpretations of scripture. 

However, there are also simply stated, easily understood passages of scripture that we find difficult to put into practice consistently. For example, the Bible tells us to be “like-minded” [Philippians 2:2], yet we struggle to find lasting common ground on countless issues. Jesus said “Love your enemies” [Matthew 5:44], but who among us doesn’t struggle with that? 

At its core, the biblical message can be condensed to a single, easily understood principle. As the apostle Paul put it, 

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:14]

‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is also simple to understand yet difficult to put into practice. Why is it so hard for us to do something that seems so simple? Where have we gone wrong? Is there something that we’re missing?

In fact, there is. The problem is that our relationships are governed by the past, not the present. The good news is that we have the power to change this. Let me explain. 

Our past experiences influence us both powerfully and subconsciously. When we view present experiences through the lens of the past, we obscure our perception of the present and deceive ourselves into thinking and behaving in ways that are not in our best interests. 

We need a different way of viewing the past, particularly when we recall the unpleasant (sinful) behavior of others.

The father in Jesus’s Parable of the Lost Son [Luke 15:11-32] shows us how to do this. We’ve discussed this story before, but let’s look at it now from the father’s point of view.

The father takes God’s perspective on the unpleasant past behavior (sins) of others.

When his younger son disrupts the peace in the household by asking for his share of the inheritance in advance, the father divides his property between his two sons. Why does he do this? The younger son is denying reality by acting as though his father is already dead. The father can see that his son is not in his right mind. His son is perceiving an alternate reality that doesn’t exist. So he waits for his son to come to his senses. 

The young man confirms his insanity by making poor decisions and living wildly. Soon his resources are gone, and he suffers starvation and nearly dies. When he finally hits bottom, he comes to his senses. He recognizes that he belongs in his father’s house and starts back home

Meanwhile, the father has been waiting for his younger son and anticipating his return. He sees him from a distance and runs to meet him, joyfully embracing him and escorting him home. He calls for a celebration and restores his younger son to his previous place. Why does he do this? He understands that his son had not been of sound mind. He can overlook and forgive his younger son’s actions because he knows that they do not reflect who his son really is. It’s as if the entire course of events, from the younger son’s departure to his return, had never happened. Why? Because in the father’s mind, it never did.   

Now the younger son is right with the father.  So is the problem solved?  Not really.  As they are celebrating, the father learns that his older son refuses to join in the celebration. He goes to his older son and listens to his grievances. The older son believes that his father’s treatment of his brother is not justified based on his brother’s past actions. So he is angry with both his father and his brother. The father is now aware that his older son is also perceiving an alternate reality. Once again, the present is being obscured by the past. 

How does the father handle this? He brings his older son into the present by reminding him that he has everything and lacks nothing; he is in his father’s son. He also explains that the older son is creating a lack for himself in the present by disowning his brother. The father wants his entire family reunited, and he pleads with his older son to see his brother as he is, not as he was. 

Is the older son persuaded by his father’s plea? We don’t know. Jesus ends the story there – deliberately. Why? Because we are the older son, and the decision is up to us. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we see the situation in the same way as the older son. We believe people need to be held accountable for what they’ve done in the past. Actions have consequences, right? 

But that’s not how the father views it. The lesson he wants us to learn is this:

The way to love your neighbor as yourself is to forgive sin in the manner he demonstrated. That is “The Bible Simplified”.

That is how the father’s household can be reunited. As “A Course in Miracles” explains,

“To love my Father is to love His Son.” [W-PII.246.h]

You demonstrate that you love God by loving others as yourself [1 John 4:21]. Remarkably, in this context, belief in God is not even required to do the will of God. You must only accept that so-called ‘sinful behavior’ does not reflect our true nature; it is nothing more than temporary insanity. It is in the past, and it does not follow us into the present. 

In the final analysis, the decision is ours. We all ultimately play the role of both the younger son and the older son. We can make the decision to leave our insanity behind and return to our Father, allowing Him to guide us back to our heavenly home, as the younger son did. At the same time, we must love our neighbors as ourselves by recognizing that what we see as sins are simply acts of temporary insanity. When we are insane, we are not our true selves. Once we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, we will leave our own insanity behind, and the world will be transformed.

Is this impossible? No. Jesus showed us how it’s done from the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]

He saw that his tormentors were not of sound mind, not acting in keeping with their true identity. He simply overlooked their actions and forgave them. He encourages each of us to do the same. That is how the sins of the world are taken away. 

Loving your neighbor as yourself is put into practice by forgiving sin in this way. Now that you know this, what will you do? 


 “ Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” [1 John 2:10-11]

 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” [Galatians 5:14-15] 

Lessons From Little Children

One of the great joys in my life is spending time with my two year-old granddaughter. Whenever I am around her, I just can’t help but to have my spirits lifted and my burdens lightened.  What is it about little children that makes spending time with them so rejuvenating and rewarding?

Jesus mentions little children in another of his counterintuitive teachings. In a spirit of joy, he prayed to the Father saying,

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” [Luke 10:21]

Jesus says that little children can see what the wise and learned cannot. What are ‘these things’ of which he speaks? What are we to learn from little children?

First and foremost, little children are at the very beginning of life as we experience it. As new arrivals to our planet, they essentially know nothing about life on earth. Socrates observed,

“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”

‘Knowing nothing’ is just another way of saying open-mindedness. Little children come into the world with no preconceived ideas about the nature of reality. Thus they are open to developing a fresh new perspective on the world. Whereas adults carry the constraints of a learned perception that has the effect of making us more dead set in our ways. Therefore, adults need to undergo a change of mind. Jesus was alluding to this when he attempted to teach the rabbi Nicodemus about the concept of being ‘born again’. Jesus told him,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” [John 3:3] 

In other words, Jesus was telling him that his state of mind needed to become like that of a little child. Jesus’s exhortation to abandon preconceived notions about what is true or false is similar to Socrates’s characterization of ‘knowing nothing’ as being ‘the only true wisdom.’ According to both Jesus and Socrates, little children are truly wiser than the ‘wise and learned’ of the world.

This idea of little children as wise flies in the face of everything we think we know. We are in the habit of viewing little children as the most vulnerable members of society and as requiring adult protection. As they grow, we educate them so they can become independent, responsible adults. We expect that when they know things, they will be able to make the world a better place . In essence, we are trying to save our little children from the wisdom of ‘knowing nothing’. This seems paradoxical.

Clearly both Socrates and Jesus had a very different vision of the world than we now do. How could they think that ‘knowing nothing’ or adopting the mindset of a little child is the key to seeing the world as it is?  Perhaps we can clarify the value of ‘knowing nothing’ by looking more closely at early childhood.

Infants are the very definition of knowing nothing.  They are completely dependent. Newborn babies do not perceive themselves as separate entities. They view their mothers as part of themselves. Infants are completely dependent on them for survival, much like an organ is completely dependent on the organism. In fact, most scientific research on infants indicates that small children do not develop a full sense of self-awareness, a separate sense of self, until somewhere between 15 and 24 months of age. 

Unlike infants, we see ourselves as capable and independent. How would it be more beneficial to see ourselves as dependent instead? And who would we depend upon? Jesus taught,

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself, he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. “ [John 5:19-20]

This is how Jesus became a miracle worker; he listened to and learned from his Father. His wisdom and power came from recognizing that he knew nothing, and from depending on his Father to teach him everything. 

Anyone who has cared for small children is all too familiar with another manifestation of their lack of knowledge: fearlessness. Young children have not yet learned to fear things that older children and adults do automatically. I recently did some exterior home repairs at my daughter’s house, standing about eight feet above ground level on a large step ladder. After I finished, I went back to my truck to put my tools away. I then looked back toward the ladder. Guess who had already climbed halfway up? That fearless two year-old granddaughter of mine! She has not yet learned to fear falling off the ladder and getting hurt.

Adults tend to fear unfamiliar situations; little children do not. Adults often hesitate to try new things out of fear of failure. As we learn more fear, we tend to judge what is and isn’t possible. But in the absence of fear, all things are possible in the mind of a child. They may appear to be fragile and limited on the outside but inside they are totally unaware of their limitations. Even though outwardly we appear stronger than small children, we suffer far more from our own inwardly-imposed limitations.

Learned fear is perhaps the greatest of all human tragedies. It interferes with our ability to experience love in all its fullness. The apostle John wrote,

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” [1 John 4:16, 18]

Where there is no fear, as in a little child, only love remains. Perhaps one reason why being around little children is so enjoyable is that they exude the perfect love of God. We literally see God in the simplicity and innocence of a small child.

Yet another form of childlike ‘knowing nothing’ is having absolutely no concept of time. Ask any parent who is raising or has raised small children; time means nothing to a toddler! By contrast, adults are governed by time, with responsibilities to fulfill, schedules to keep, and future plans to make. 

How does having no concept of time demonstrate the wisdom of little children? Little children live in the present moment. Whereas time places limits on adults, a little child does not experience these constraints except when they are imposed upon him. Thus a little child has far more freedom than any adult. Little children also use time differently; they spend a great deal more time resting. You might say that they use time in a timeless manner. Unlike adults, they do not feel the artificial pressure to be constantly on the go. Little children are free from the limits of time that contribute so substantially to the high levels of anxiety and stress in the adult world. 

Jesus taught his listeners that there is a way to escape from the tyranny of time, saying, 

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11: 28-30] 

In essence, Jesus is saying, ‘I will teach you how to use time in a timeless way in order to free you from the burdens that currently wear you down.’ Once again, we see that the key to better managing our lives is to recapture the simplicity and freedom characteristic of early childhood.

What are we to conclude? Ironically, we adults need to become more like little children rather than teaching little children to become more like adults. Jesus encouraged his followers by saying,

 “Therefore whoever takes the lowly position of this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven…. If anyone causes one of these little ones … to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come.” [Matthew 18:4,6-7] 

The childlike in their ‘lowly position’ are free from learned misperceptions.  Jesus warns his listeners not to teach perceptions that cause the childlike to lose their state of open-mindedness. Doing so would ultimately bring harm to ourselves and our world. Instead, we need to change our perception of the world to a more childlike view.

I am not advocating a return to the lack of responsibility characteristic of childhood. The emphasis here is on nurturing childlike open-mindedness. Humanity has faced seemingly unsolvable problems throughout its history. To address them, we need to be open to ideas that on the surface may seem anywhere from counterintuitive to outrageous. A friend once told me,

‘The difference between the masters and the masses is the masters recognize how much they don’t know.’ 

Certainly Jesus and Socrates were considered masters.

Little children are born open-minded, fearless, aware of their dependence, and free from the constraints of time. We have much to learn from them. But there is more. Childlike defenselessness, while obvious, may be their most profound quality of all. That will be the subject of the next post. Stay tuned!

“An honest man is always a child.”  –  Socrates

“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” – Jesus

Escaping from Darkness

One of the most common fears to grip us, from a very early age, is the fear of darkness. This phenomenon appears to be a natural part of child development likely due in part to children’s vivid imagination. I can remember from the time I was a preschooler, asking my mother to turn on the bathroom light at bedtime. Being able to see some light gave me the peace and comfort I needed to fall asleep. With the light on, I could see clearly that no monsters were going to attack me while I was lying helplessly in bed. Whereas in complete darkness, who knows what sinister evil creatures may be lurking about?

Even in adulthood, utter darkness has a way of putting us on edge. For example, when walking into a completely dark room, we immediately feel  uncomfortable. We can’t see where we’re going and fear that we may injure ourselves or break something valuable. So what do we do? Turn on a light so the darkness disappears. Now what the darkness had previously concealed is no longer hidden. Uncertainty has been transformed into certainty. We can walk confidently about the room with a sense of peace until our mission is accomplished because the presence of light has made that possible.

Darkness is not only physical; it is also present in our relationships with others. This form of darkness might be called relational darkness. As physical darkness blinds us to what is easily seen in daylight, so relational darkness blinds us to the true nature of others. Fear and uncertainty always accompany relational darkness.  

The current COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest, and confrontational public discourse surrounding both are symptoms whose root cause is relational darkness. The country is reeling with fear and uncertainty, but we have the power to change that. How? Relationally speaking, we need to turn on the light. That’s the purpose of this post.

Fundamentally, our collective problem is one of perception. As the anonymous saying goes, “We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.” What we see is subjective, a learned perception, a world that we imagine to exist. It’s this perception that is our reality.

Yet, all life is united in a finely tuned, integrated whole. In order to thrive, we must love our neighbors as ourselves because they quite literally are part of ourselves.  But our learned perception doesn’t see it that way. We see separate people, living separate lives with diverging interests. We accentuate our differences rather than what we share in common. Thus it becomes easy to deceive ourselves into viewing our neighbor as an adversary rather than an integral part of ourselves. When we engage in conflict with our neighbors, we bring harm to ourselves.  This is the deceptive work of relational darkness.

So, where do we find the light to help us see our neighbor as he truly is? That is where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood concepts in human affairs. We normally think of it as something we do for someone else when that someone offends us. Upon being wronged, we, in a spirit of kindness and generosity, graciously extend a pardon to the guilty party, recognizing their inappropriate actions but excusing them in order to restore peace to the relationship. But that’s not what true forgiveness looks like.

What does it look like? Let’s examine a hypothetical situation. You find yourself engaged in a discussion about the coming November 2020 elections, and someone insults you for expressing a heartfelt belief. What do you do? How do you respond? What does forgiveness look like in this situation? 

The first thing to remember is that it is your own limited perception that sees what was said as an insult. You have projected your own thoughts onto the other person. We see what we have learned to see. Then consider this passage from A Course in Miracles:

 “Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes. Can anyone be justified in responding with anger to a brother’s plea for help? No response can be appropriate except the willingness to give it to him, for this and only this is what he is asking for.” [T-12.I.3:3-6]

Our learned impulse is to interpret a cry for help and healing as an attack. How tragic! Then we use our mistaken interpretation as an excuse to counter attack or hold a grudge. We hurt the other person by failing to address his real need, but the hurt doesn’t stop there. Since our neighbor is part of ourselves, what we have done is also self-destructive. 

We need to view “the insult” from a totally different perspective. When we are offended by what we see or hear, we are responding to an effect – an outer manifestation of an inward source of pain – rather than the root cause. The only way to help the other person and, by extension, ourselves is to recognize the insult as an expression of the other person’s emotional pain. Then our perception shifts. We can choose to overlook (forgive) the insult, dismiss it as nonexistent, and embrace the other person’s need for help and healing. 

Yes. Dismiss the insult as nonexistent. How does that make any sense?

Forgiveness has to do with a change in our perception. When exercising forgiveness, we establish an entirely different view of reality. We exchange our belief in separation and conflict for belief in unity and peace.  That shift in perception now brings us into harmony with the fundamental premise governing all relationships: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

So forgiveness changes everything. It is the light that shines away relational darkness. What we formerly thought of as an attack instead becomes a plea for our help. We no longer have any enemies, only friends. As we become reunited with our neighbors, our selves become enlarged. Peace replaces conflict. Everlasting love, joy, health, and well being replace fear, sorrow, sickness, and loss. All of this because the light of forgiveness has shined away the darkness, so that the darkness that once deceived us remains no more.

The Lord’s Prayer Interpreted

One of the most revered Christian traditions has been the learning and recitation of the The Lord’s Prayer. Born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, I had memorized this prayer by the time I was 7 years old. Today, it continues to be a mainstay in Christian traditions throughout the world. That is because it was the way Jesus taught his original disciples to pray. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said,

“This then is how you should pray:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” [Matthew 6:9-13]

Catholics and Protestants alike have included The Lord’s Prayer in differing forms in their church liturgies for centuries. Most of the faithful have it memorized. However, it is often recited with little or no reflection. Thus we miss the significance of the message Jesus was attempting to impart to his followers. In this post, I will give you a segment by segment interpretation of the prayer’s contents. In this way, we can gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the true meaning of the prayer.

Before we start, a basic principle of interpretation must be emphasized: God is spirit [John 4:24]. So we need to interpret the prayer in terms of spiritual principles. That being said, let’s get started.

The prayer begins by addressing God as “Our Father”. Jesus did not say “my father” or “your father.” To do so would imply that he was in some way separate from us. Rather, he said, “Our Father” because we all stem from the same root.  So Jesus starts out by emphasizing our common bond and our common Source of Being.

He once told a crowd of people that included his disciples,

“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” [Matthew 23:9]

Our parents brought our bodies into existence, but here Jesus is speaking instead of the core of our being: our minds and our spirit. In that sense, the Father of all of us is God. Just as children reflect the physical characteristics of their parents, Jesus says that our being is to reflect the character of the one Father of all.

He then states that our Father is “in heaven”. What is heaven? Contrary to what most of us have been taught, heaven is not a place. So what is it?  A Course in Miracles tells us.

“Heaven is not a place nor a condition. It is merely an awareness of perfect Oneness and the knowledge that there is nothing else…” [T-18.VI.1:5-6]

Heaven, therefore, is a state of being. It is an awareness that only perfect unity exists. Looking at our world, where we see separate people, living separate lives, in separate places, heaven appears to be a totally different place. But it’s not. Jesus describes heaven (or in his words, the Kingdom of God) as follows: 

“The coming kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21]

Heaven, where our Father dwells, is in our midst. Think about it. Why wouldn’t it be? Doesn’t a loving father want to be near the children he loves? But if God is in our midst, why are we unable to see Him?

Fundamentally, we are unable to see God because we have erected barriers that keep Him from our sight. God exists in the present moment. He is omnipresent. In contrast, science has demonstrated that we spend as much as 95% of our time focusing on the past (that is, functioning subconsciously). When past thoughts obscure the here and now, the presence of God is blocked from our view. Even though our Father is in our midst, we are totally unaware of His presence. We live as if He’s not there.

If we are to see God, we must turn our attention to the present moment. This action is called “raising our level of awareness”. How do we do that? It begins with the next step in The Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed be your name”.

The word “hallow” is derived from the Indo-European root “kailo”. From this same root, we also get the words wholeness, whole, holy, health, and heal. When the Bible refers to someone’s name, it is speaking of their character or reputation. So when Jesus says, “hallowed be your name,” he is calling on his listeners to recognize the Father as the Source of wholeness and healing. He is whole, He always has been whole, and He can be nothing but whole. Since we are part of God and belong to Him, we must also be whole. 

But the world we live in appears far from whole. It seems fragmented and ridden with conflict. Consequently, humanity appears to be far from whole, healthy, and healed. Since our world is in desperate need of healing, the question becomes, what can we do to restore the human race to its intended state of wholeness? The next phrase of the prayer has the answer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

We have seen that the Father’s kingdom (heaven) is a state of being that is characterized by wholeness. His will is that His wholeness permeates all of us here on earth. This phrase then is a commitment to personal transformation, which extends to everyone in the world. The Bible refers to this activity as repentance. Repentance means a change in direction or a change of one’s mind. How does repentance work in practice? The next phrase in the prayer tells us: “Give us this day our daily bread.” 

Remember, throughout the prayer, Jesus is referring to state of mind. Therefore, this phrase does not refer to physical food or physical needs of any kind. The Bible teaches,

 “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4]

“Give us this day our daily bread” simply means that God’s presence within us will teach us on a daily basis how to be restored to wholeness. It’s His presence within us that directs the course of our transformation. But we also have a role to play. Our acknowledgement and acceptance of His guidance provides us with the strength we need to do our part in this transformation. And what do we need to do? The next line of the prayer explains: “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.”

The fundamental underlying principle behind the transformation of the human race is forgiveness. Following his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples,

 “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” [Luke 24:46-48]

According to Jesus, repentance (a change of mind) is necessary prior to engaging in the practice of forgiveness. That’s because the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is to affirm your neighbor’s innocence and, in the process, to also affirm your own. By doing so, you then fulfill the royal law: love your neighbor as yourself. As each of us wholeheartedly engages in this activity, we each do our part in transforming the world.

The final phrase of the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” is best interpreted by A Course in Miracles:

“‘Lead us not into temptation’ means ‘Recognize your errors and choose to abandon them by following my guidance.’” [T-1.III.4:7]

In this final statement of the prayer, Jesus is admonishing us to remain mindful of our need for healing. And, as we persistently follow the guidance of God within us, the evil we now see will eventually disappear forever.

The Lord’s Prayer, then, is a summary of Jesus’s message to the world. It identifies the Source of our collective being and our true nature.  It acknowledges that humanity has not reflected who we really are, and it provides us with the process for restoring wholeness to ourselves and our world. Thus, the meaning of The Lord’s Prayer could be expressed in the following way:

Humanity comes from God and is united with God. (Our Father)

He appears separated from us and us from each other. (in heaven)

But God remains whole. Therefore, we are not separated as we appear to be . (hallowed be your name)

The goal now is for humanity to abandon the illusion of separateness and accept the reality of its wholeness. (your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven)

To do this requires that daily we learn from God a different way of thinking that heals our broken relationships. (Give us this day our daily bread)

That healing is achieved through practicing forgiveness. (And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.)

Humanity must recognize its errors, abandon them,  and accept the guidance of our Father’s Spirit within us so that the evil we currently see will no longer exist. (And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.)




Adjusting to the New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way to a period of uncertainty now dubbed the “New Normal.” For most of us, these abrupt changes have been stressful to say the least. Even as we launch into a phased reopening, we face the ongoing  danger of reigniting the pandemic if we are not careful. Clearly our future is clouded with ambiguity. Yet just as breathtaking rays of sunlight can shine through on a cloudy day and lift our spirits, the pandemic provides us with an opportunity to grow in ways that we otherwise might not.  

The past few months have been very difficult for me as they have been for most people.  In this post, I’ll be sharing my pandemic story. Though it is fraught with stress and struggle, the experience taught me a vital life lesson that I’d like to share with you. 

At the start of the new year, I finished relocating to my partner’s home just weeks after retiring and closing my business. It was the beginning of a new life. Each day my partner would head off to work and her two sons to school. I had the house to myself and generally used the time for settling into my new surroundings while taking plenty of time for reading, writing, and reflection. Life was good.

Then suddenly the pandemic struck. School and workplace closings put an end to my daytime privacy. Worse yet, by mid-March my partner became infected with COVID-19. Because it is highly contagious, we agreed that I would temporarily move out of the bedroom while she remained there in quarantine. The only place that would temporarily accommodate me was the living room floor. There I would make my bed for what seemed to be an eternity. The stress of being separated from my partner was compounded by  having primary responsibility for caring for her and managing the household. Her 14 year old son was of great assistance, providing room service for his mom, doing the laundry, and otherwise taking care of his own needs.

About a week after my partner got sick, her older son also became infected. So now he was in quarantine in his room, and we had two people depending on room service. Both he and my partner took 13 days to recover enough that they could come out of quarantine. 

But there remained a vexing problem. Because I had undoubtedly been exposed to the virus, I remained under quarantine for nearly a month even though I experienced no symptoms. In fact, the people who were actually afflicted with the illness were free from quarantine before I was! As a result, I had ample opportunity to reflect on the plight of those who are falsely imprisoned. 

Needless to say, these sudden changes were extremely stressful. My blood pressure rose, and my state of mind plunged. Yet through all of the disruption, I learned a vital lesson that I might not have learned otherwise. 

It became apparent to me that I was allowing my environment to control my state of mind. When my physical surroundings were peaceful and quiet, my state of mind followed suit. However, when my environment worsened, my state of mind worsened along with it. 

Was that really necessary? If I possess free will, does my environment really have the power to dictate my state of mind? Of course not!  I have the capacity to choose how to think no matter what the circumstances may be. The question then became, why didn’t I?

The reason is that, like all humans, I am a creature of habit and habit is the domain of the subconscious mind. Modern science tells us that 95% of our thoughts and actions are directed by the subconscious mind. So it follows that 95% of the time, we have no conscious awareness of what we’re doing. It’s as if we’re sleepwalking through most of life.  Previous experiences have pre-programmed us to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli under a given set of environmental conditions. When we are controlled by our subconscious mind, we are bringing our past into the present. Since life can only be lived in the present, we are literally living in the past when we follow the direction of the subconscious.

Most of us have been pre-programmed to allow our level of physical comfort to dictate our state of mind. Needless to say, this is unhealthy and especially so in a pandemic. Considerable research has been done on the long term effects of pandemics on mental health, and the findings are not encouraging.  America’s mental health was already a growing concern prior to the pandemic. Consequently, we will need to be all the more vigilant in guarding our mental health as the pandemic progresses.

What can we do? We can endeavor to reprogram our subconscious minds. How do we do that? By becoming more aware of our subconscious programs and intentionally rewriting the ones we no longer want. In short, we must replace old habits with new ones.

Where do we begin? The first step is striving to live in the present moment, for that is where life is lived. A Course in Miracles explains why living in the present is so important. Our subconscious minds reflect past thoughts. If we want to change our past thoughts, we have to focus on new thoughts in the present. 

Of course, living in the present moment requires that we recognize and accept that we are living in a time of transition. The present is not like the past. Life has changed, and for most of us, change is unsettling. However, we have the power to decide how this change will ultimately affect us.

How do we exercise that power?  We establish a firm intention. Old habits die hard. Learning new habits is like learning any new skill; it initially feels awkward and difficult. So you need to develop a sense of dogged persistence. It helps to adopt the attitude of Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong, who said, 

 “Times of transition are strenuous but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.”

Remaining intentional and persistent in developing any new skill leads to a growing sense of confidence. The next step follows naturally: translating that confidence into gratitude. As we struggle to form new habits, the presence of gratitude is essential for maintaining a positive state of mind. As John Quincy Adams said,

“Gratitude, warm, sincere, intense, when it takes possession of the bosom, fills the soul to overflowing and scarce leaves room for any other sentiment or thought.”

The great companion of gratitude is love. And where love is, there is happiness, joy, and peace. 

So the process that begins by focusing on the present moment ultimately leads to happiness, joy, and peace.

As for me, regular meditation is my most important new habit. It increases my overall awareness enabling me to live in the present moment. I’ve noticed that as I meditate, I become calm and my concentration improves. That calmness and concentration strengthens my self discipline and my ability to persist in the process of change going forward.

My experience in 2020 thus far has taught me that I can free my internal reality from my external circumstances.  I have learned that I can train myself to overcome the limitations imposed by my environment.  I am not defined by my circumstances, but rather by how I respond to them. My mind, and yours, are capable of forming new habits of thinking. And by reprogramming our subconscious minds, we can transform ourselves, our relationships, and our world.  

So let’s go forward into our “New Normal” with a spirit of hope and gratitude. As we form new habits of thinking, the beauty of those rays of sunlight will be magnified against the unsettling gray clouds of the pandemic. Our reward will be finding a blessing through an experience we first saw as a curse.

The World We See

It has been said, “We don’t see the world as it is but as we are.” That’s because we do not see with our eyes, but with our brains.  And since it is our brains that ‘see’, strange as it may seem, we ‘see’ what we imagine to be ‘real’. Can that be true?

In a recent article in Psychology Today titled “Do Our Eyes Deceive Us”, Dr. Ellyn Kaschak states:

  “It is an odd quirk of the human visual system that we can be convinced that image is reality, when even reality is not reality, but learned perception. These are all constructed by our sensory systems, the information they send to our brains, and then again what the brain does with that information. In the end, we are ourselves creating reality.”

In short, we create our own world. The world we see on the outside is the product of our own inner thoughts. It is our subjective, personal ‘reality’.  There is nothing objective or absolute about it. That’s why ‘A Course in Miracles’ admonishes us not to trust the picture of the world derived from our physical senses. It states:

“For eyes and ears are senses without sense, and what they see and hear they but report. It is not they that hear and see, but you, who put together every jagged piece…of evidence, and make a witness to the world you want. Let not the body’s ears and eyes perceive these countless fragments….and let them persuade their maker his imaginings are real.” [T-28.V.5:6-8]

Since all of us to varying degrees have limited experience, our individual views of the world are at best incomplete and at worst totally inaccurate.

So now the obvious question arises: Is there even such a thing as absolute reality? Think about it – there must be. In order to build anything, whether it be a structure, a field of endeavor, or a life, a firm foundation is necessary. For without an unshakable base upon which to build, no structure can stand the test of time. 

None of us sees absolute reality, the world as it truly is. Yet we do have a connection with that world, much like a building is connected to its foundation. Since that connection exists, it is at least possible to metaphorically describe our relationship to the real world. 

It has been said that absolute reality, the real world, is like a grand parade. Our ability to independently perceive it is like trying to watch that grand parade through a tiny knot hole in a solid fence. We get only a distorted view of a tiny fragment of the whole. That’s why we are admonished not to judge. How can we judge rightly if we do not see the whole picture?

Although this metaphor may help us recognize the limitations of our personal perceptions, it doesn’t help us solve our fundamental dilemma. We must somehow access this absolute, undistorted view of the world and shape our lives accordingly. How else can anyone expect to build a truly happy and stable life? But if we can’t trust our eyesight and other senses to guide us, what can we trust?

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul told them that “..we live by faith not by sight.” [2 Corinthians 5:7]

What does it mean to live by faith? Ultimately, faith is just another way of saying trust. Live by trust, not by sight. Who is it that we are to trust? 

Wise King Solomon told us long ago:

 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” [Proverbs 3:5-6] (NLT)

Although initially given to Israel, this revelation was ultimately intended for the entire human race. Can we expect to live in universal peace and harmony with reality if we don’t all have equal access to its Source?

Some may say, ‘My beliefs conform to a different religion or faith.’ Others may say, ‘I’m an atheist.’  These are cases where our bodies’ eyes deceive us. Thinking in terms of religion, race, gender, and social status emphasizes our separateness. Why not think in terms of interconnectedness? Aren’t we all connected to the firm foundation and thereby to one another? Isn’t each one of us a vital part of a grand and unified whole? Our ultimate goal, then, is to embrace a spirit of unity. For it is this spirit that binds us together. Where do we find that spirit?  Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians,

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith….one God and Father of all who is over all, through all, and in all.”  [Ephesians 4:3-6]

Christian terminology is being used here, but the principle is universal. It does not matter what your race, religion (or no religion), socio-economic status, or gender happens to be. We all have the same Spirit in us. And it is this Spirit that is our Guide to absolute reality. It has been called by many different names – Atman, Shen, Ruh al-Qudus, Inner Voice, and Holy Spirit to name a few. Yet its function is the same no matter what you call it.

So we do not see reality with our bodies’ eyes; instead it is revealed to us in our hearts, from the center of our being through our Inner Voice.

Therefore, absolute reality resides deep within us. So how do we access it? By taking regular periods of quiet time to listen and learn. Throughout history, many of the world’s great wisdom traditions have put substantial emphasis on the practice of silence. More recently, modern medicine has also embraced it through the application of mindfulness techniques to aid in the healing process. The reason techniques such as meditation have been practiced throughout history and are coming into vogue in the western world today is because, among other things, they help us to think more clearly.

Our view of the world is manufactured by thought. Since that is so, it stands to reason that if we want our incomplete and inaccurate views of the world to change, our thinking first must change.

A Course in Miracles sees our current condition and provides us with hope and direction:

  “Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that…It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world….The world you see but shows you how much joy you have allowed yourself to see in you, and to accept as yours. And, if this is its meaning, then the power to give it joy must lie within you.”

We need to learn to see the world with the eyes of the Spirit that lies within us. That Spirit sees a much different world than we do – a world of joy and peace. It sees the whole picture – the grand parade. How could each of us see that entire parade rather than looking through a tiny knot hole in the wall? By either knocking down the wall and clearing away the debris or by rising above it. How do we accomplish either of those? By overlooking what we see with our bodies eyes and accepting in its place what the Spirit within teaches us. It’s time to go back to school and learn the golden rule from The Voice within. The Moody Blues expressed this same sentiment in song nearly 30 years ago.

Moody Blues The Voice with lyrics

How Lasting Peace Will Come

One of humanity’s deepest longings has always been to bring about lasting world peace. We’ve tried various forms of government throughout the ages, always hoping that peace will follow, and have achieved some temporary success. However, each government has failed the test of time. Peace simply doesn’t last.

Orthodox Christianity tells us how it believes lasting world peace will come. It teaches that the resurrected Jesus will one day return to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Only then will the world enjoy lasting peace. When is Jesus going to do this? He was once asked this question, and replied as follows:

 “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:20-21]

What did Jesus mean? Simply that the establishment of the Kingdom of God is not an external phenomenon. It is revealed internally. 

Hmmm… Could that mean that the world peace that we all long for must be brought forth from within us? Is that why all external governments have failed to produce lasting peace? Can peace actually be externally enforced on others? Or must peace be an individual choice that we extend to others?

Peace cannot be imposed externally. It is fundamentally an internal phenomenon. To be at peace means to be free of internal conflict. External conflict, which the world seems to possess in abundance, is merely the outward projection of our collective internal conflict. What Jesus is really saying is that the Kingdom of God is established in each one of us when we achieve inner peace. Then, in place of conflict, reigns peace and joy. 

When this happens, the words of an ancient proverb are fulfilled:

“When there is joy in the soul, there is beauty in the person. When there is beauty in the person, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is stability in the nation. When there is stability in the nation, there is peace on earth.”

Is this even possible? Yes. How is it possible? By applying what is perhaps the most misunderstood principle in human experience: forgiveness. We’ll discuss this more in the next post. 


The Mystery of New Life 1

One of the most remarkable events I have ever witnessed was the birth of my first child. As she emerged, what struck me most vividly was her face. I was overcome with a sense of wonder. It was as if I had known her my whole life, and saw her as part of my very self.

How does that happen? How is it that we can see ourselves in our children from the moment of birth? Certainly, there is a direct biological link, so that we can share physical attributes. That’s the visible connection. However, there is also an invisible connection that reflects the relationship. While parent and child are physically separate, they are unified through an invisible, yet very real, bond of love. The relationship between parent and child, like all of life, functions in two distinct dimensions: one physical and of the body, the other spiritual and of the mind. 

In the physical dimension, we experience birth only once. However, in the spiritual dimension, we will all experience a second form of birth at some point in our lives. Jesus once explained this concept to the teacher Nicodemus. Jesus said,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” [John 3:3]

Nicodemus was confused:

“How can someone be born when they are old?”… “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” [John 3:4]

Nicodemus realized that this second birth cannot be physical, but he didn’t know what else it could be. Jesus clarified: 

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” [John 3:5-6]

Like Nicodemus, most of us are familiar with the amazing process of childbirth, but we find the idea of being born of the Spirit to be a mystery. Yet the two processes are remarkably similar. In this post, the first in a two part series, we will examine how this spiritual rebirth begins. Part two of the series will focus on the spiritual growth that follows a spiritual conception. From here on, we will refer to the second birth or being born of the Spirit simply as rebirth.

Like pregnancy, the process of rebirth begins with spiritual conception. Just as the sperm and egg from two separate bodies join to form an entirely new entity at conception, rebirth begins when two separate minds join together as one. Although all of us will eventually experience this rebirth, we can experience its conception in several different ways. For example, marriage is one common form of spiritual conception.  

Jesus explained spiritual conception in the context of marriage as follows::

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the creator ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” [Matthew 19:4-6a]

Here Jesus is talking about a spiritual principle, but he uses the physical analogy  to facilitate his listeners’ understanding. As sperm and egg join together to create new life, so the union of two people in mind (marriage) forms a new spiritual creation.  Since bodies are by nature separate, the joining described here must be spiritual and of the mind. 

Since we do not all get or stay married, how else can we experience  rebirth? Again the teachings of Jesus provide us with an answer.

“Again truly I tell you if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” [Matthew 18:19-20]

When Jesus says, ”where two or three gather in my name,” he is describing the gathering together of like-minded people. The key point is their agreement or unity of spirit, which Jesus described as gathering ‘in my name’. When you gather in the name of Christ, you are his literal presence. You have become a new entity. All present are a unified whole. Therefore, this process of rebirth ultimately represents the reunification of the mind of God with the minds of humans.

Although Jesus places no restrictions on marital status, it sounds on the surface like he is limiting the joining to a physical gathering. But once again, he is using a physical analogy to help his listeners understand a spiritual principle. Jesus is describing a connectedness among us that extends far beyond the physical. It doesn’t matter if one person is located in New York and another in New Delhi. If they possess unity of mind, they are spiritually connected and are experiencing rebirth. This is a unique feature of spiritual rebirth; it has the power to unite all of us. 

Of course, practicing unity of spirit can become more complex and difficult as numbers increase. Even Jesus himself sometimes had difficulty maintaining unity among the original 12 apostles. The New Testament epistles provide still more examples of groups of people struggling to get along with each other. That’s why Jesus mentions ‘where two or three are gathered in my name’. By focusing first on a few relationships, we better learn the skills necessary to walk together in a spirit of love, devotion, and freely-chosen unity. 

So like birth, rebirth starts small. Both are initiated by joining, and these small beginnings transform our thinking. For example, when a woman becomes pregnant, she becomes aware of her body’s inward changes long before they become outwardly apparent. She feels intimately connected to and responsible for the new life within her, and her life will never be the same.  Likewise, spiritual conception brings about dramatic inward change. When we join together, our well being becomes inextricably linked  in a bond of mutual love. Like in motherhood, a spiritual union is an expanded expression of love that initiates powerful personal change and sets the stage for further growth and transformation.

Of course, the story of pregnancy and childbirth does not end with conception. As the fertilized egg grows, it is dramatically transformed. The new entity formed at spiritual conception also experiences a similar dramatic transformation as it grows. How does this happen? Are there various stages of spiritual growth that correspond to physical growth? What do these stages of spiritual growth look like? Who is the spiritual child that is eventually reborn? We’ll examine these questions and more in the next post: “The Mystery of New Life: Part 2”.