If you have been raised in church or spent a longer time as a member of some sort of church, then I am sure you have been told not to
If you have been raised in church or spent a longer time as a member of some sort of church, then I am sure you have been told not to trust your feelings. I was certainly told time and time again that feelings are a roller coaster, they come and go and cannot be trusted.
It is not strange that this is our teaching as we live in a society that prizes the mind over everything else. We have bodies and hearts but it is in the mind that we live and exist.
“Cogito ergo sum”, I think therefore I am. We repeat Descarte’s mantra over and over again and shut the lid tighter on the container that holds our hearts and all our feelings.
However in our sacred text we read “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4.23 NRSV) We have long put the mind on a pedestal and shoved our hearts and feelings as deep and as far away that we can manage. Rationality has almost become our religion. We cling to dogma and doctrine and we practice apologetics like it was our life saver or saviour. The Bible has become our source for proof texting and so it is our idol. Some say that we, in the evangelical stream of Christianity, have made the Bible a fourth member of our trinity. We have gone so far as to actually teach that the heart is wicked and deceitful (Jer 17.9)and therefore needs to have a very short leash, while the mind is being glorified and relied on fully.
If we look at the portrait the sacred text show us of the divine, god is not primarily a thinking god. Do a search in your bible program and compare how many times you can find that “god thought” compared to how many times you can find “god felt.”
Our god is primarily a feeling god, a god of compassion, our fellow sufferer, who chose to feel what it was like to be human and suffer with a suffering humanity. If god is our role model then maybe we also need to unlock the strong box we have locked away our heart and feelings and carefully coax our abused and frightened heart back into the forefront.
We have been told that it is weak to be emotional or feeling, probably because when we feel deeply and show it we remind others that they have feelings that they are trying so hard not to feel.
To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly)
We need to bring back (and sometimes revive) our emotional bodies. It is not only ok to feel, it is essential. If we are to find our true selves, it is not our mind but our feelings that will guide the way, if we are to find our way to the divine source it is our deep longings and desires that will open the gates and find the paths.
Your feelings are always true, when you feel anger, you are angry. Sometimes you are all confused and deceived by your mind as to why and sometimes your mind serves you the most incredible stories and reasons, but whatever the reason it does not change the fact that you are angry. Acknowledge the anger, move the energy and let it pass and it will clear a path in your emotional body that will make way for other feelings like joy, pleasure and bliss.
Renowned shame and vulnerability scholar Brené Brown tells us that we cannot mute emotions selectively. If you suppress anger, anxiety and pain you also limit your ability to feel joy, pleasure and bliss.
Do you want more joy in your life? Do you want more pleasure and bliss? Then you must allow yourself to feel and feel deeply. There is a treasure hidden there in your heart, your heart already knows and loves both yourself and the divine. It is there in the tangle of feelings and emotions that you will find the door to the divine source. There is a reason we keep saying that we are to invite Jesus into our hearts …. that is where the truth lives.
We are not going to get anywhere until we start trusting what is within us. You are afraid and doubt what lies deep within you, but what lies deep within you is your salvation and the salvation of the world. (Jim Palmer, Inner Anarchy)
So let us start listening to our feelings, honour and acknowledge them, they are not dangerous or unreliable, your heart will not lead you astray but rather follow your heart and you will finally find your way home where your true self and the divine are waiting with open arms to greet you.
A while ago I wrote about the importance of self love and how self love is the first step to loving others since you can only love others as much as you love yourself. Now we know we should love ourselves, and we hopefully feel that it is ok to love oneself. The question then becomes why don’t we love ourselves.
The answer nine times out of ten is shame!
What is shame
Shame is a negative, painful, social emotion that “…results from comparison of the self’s action with the self’s standards…”. Both the comparison and standards are enabled by socialization. … The roots of the word shame are thought to derive from an older word meaning “to cover”; as such, covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame. Nineteenth century scientist Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, described shame affect as consisting of blushing, confusion of mind, downward cast eyes, slack posture, and lowered head, and he noted observations of shame affect in human populations worldwide. He also noted the sense of warmth or heat (associated with the vasodilation of the face and skin) occurring in intense shame.
So shame is the act of covering up, hiding your true self based on the (often false) assumption that there is something wrong with you. The definition bases this covering up on the comparison of ones actions held up against ones standards, these standards come from our surrounding culture. If we would let go of the societal norm, there simply would be no shame.
IN Genesis we are told that the first humans had no shame. So from a biblical perspective, shamelessness is our origin and intended way of being.
And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2.25 NRSV)
The first thing that happens when introduced to the duality of good and evil is that the first humans cover up display shame. It is not that nudity suddenly became bad or forbidden but with the possibility of good AND evil comes the comparison and the judgement.
And so even today shame is linked very closely to our bodies, we have all sorts of hangups and problems when it comes to our own bodies and our body image. We live in a world where it is not only normal but also mandated that we cover up and not show our bodies. Shame is built into our entire way of being.
There are so many levels and types of shame but this is surely where it starts. Remember when you where a child when you would run around in nothing but your birthday suit and not have a care in the world. Not caring who saw you or what they where thinking about you? When did this change? What was it that made you suddenly feel the need to cover up and hide? Many of us have deep shaming stories of grown ups shaming us for our nakedness and freedom. And if not the nakedness then it all came with the discovering of our sexuality, whether as a toddler or a teenager, as soon as the body starts displaying signs of sexual awakening or maturity we all cover up in shame. Society at large condemns our sexuality at an early age. We are told directly or indirectly that it is not ok to be sexual and or to in any way display or talk about sexual desire.
My girls have been taught (not by their parents) that it is disgusting to be sexy! To the extent that they have physical reactions to songs with the word sexy in the lyrics.
We are told that people who get naked or show skin are shameless and bad people. It is all interconnected, our view of nudity, our own body image, our sexuality and the shame we carry around it. If someone does not display the proper amount of shame we are quick to shame them with words like slut, man-whore, player, gigolo, the list goes on and on.
It is funny how we all think that people should carry a certain level of shame and at the same time we often do not want to admit our own shame. We cover up our shame. We are ashamed to be ashamed because instinctively we also know that shame is not a good thing.
People often want to believe that shame is reserved for the folks who have survived terrible traumas, but this is not true. Shame is something we all experience. And while it feels as if shame hides in our darkest corners, it actually tends to lurk in all of the familiar places, including appearance and body image, family, parenting, money and work, health, addiction, sex, aging, and religion. To feel shame is to be human. (Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection)
So we carry shame in all these areas of our lives where we cover up who we are with clothes, masks and roles we play in order to fit in and please others. This is the primary job of the EGO and this is also why the EGO employs the inner critic, or the accuser to make sure we stay in line stay within the box and keep carrying our shame. Now Let’s just get this completely straight the biblical name for the accuser is shaitan or as we know him Satan. Just as the divine voice is found within the destructive voice of the accuser also comes from within. We need to understand that this voice telling us we are no good is not the spirit of love, it is not our conscience, it is a gremlin, it is the accuser, the shaitan most often our EGO take this role to protect us from public embarrassment and to keep us streamlined and fitting in with the collective as this is the job of the EGO.
The difference between shame and guilt
So should we just do whatever we want and not care one iota what others think or feel, not caring when we hurt someone else or take advantage? Well no, that is not what I am saying. We need to remember Paul’s sober words “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. ” (1 Cor 10:23 NRSV)
So yes you can do anything you want, but be responsible and know that everything will not be good for you. So when I do something and I realise it wasn’t good for me, should I not feel shame? NO!
This is where we need to remember the distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt is “I did something bad”, shame is “I am bad”. Guilt is the recognition that I have taken an action that was not beneficial and guilt gives the energy and impetus to do right, to come clean and confess what went wrong and then do right. Shame on the other hand is the voice that tells you that you are a bad person bevcause you did this bad thing, shame will steal your energy and tell you to cover it up, to hide it and not let anyone know how bad you are.
So guilt is a positive emotion and it creates healing and positive results like healing, reconciliation and restitution. Guilt is owning your crap and taking responsibility for your thoughts and actions. Guilt is saying “I did it!”.
Shame is a destructive emotion that will drain you, it will create separation between you and your true self, you and god and you and others.
The DNA of shame
Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us. We need to share our experience. Shame happens between people, and it heals between people. If we can find someone who has earned the right to hear our story, we need to tell it. Shame loses power when it is spoken. In this way, we need to cultivate our story to let go of shame, and we need to develop shame resilience in order to cultivate our story. (Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection)
So we are all agreed shame is not healthy and it is something that keeps us from loving ourselves and therefore loving others. Conversely shame also creates masks and roles which prevents us from feeling loved. It creates separation and division. In its ugliest forms it creates self-hatred and harsh judgement and hatred towards others.
Confession then, is the road to healing, openness, vulnerability and acceptance is the antidote to shame. To become more loving and to become more true, to become closer to our true selves and thereby closer to the divine we need to repent. To turn away from this worlds thinking and dive into divine thinking. To do this we need some radical strategies.
Radical is a word derived from the latin term radix which means root, so radical actions means to go to the roots or in this case to your root, core or centre. If the divine is present in our core at the deepest and truest level of our selves then to the deep roots we must go.
To achieve this we need some truth. We must start with being totally and brutally honest with ourselves. Say it like it is, not in a harsh unkind way but softly with love. Acknowledge all the ways that you are, all the little things and the big things. And then in your communication to others apply the same principle. Speak truth, name the feeling you feel, speak the emotion, put words to the thought.
Just remember that will radical honesty means to always be completely and blunt,y honest, it does not mean share everything all the time. Not everyone has earned the right to hear your story, carefully choose the people you are willing to get vulnerable and emotionally naked with as you would choose carefully who you get physically naked with. Do not hold back out of fear or shame but as a way of caring deeply for yourself. Only share yourself fully with those who accept you fully.
The next step is grace, acceptance. Once you are honestly looking at yourself and acknowledging all that you are. Then you can start accepting where you are. This is not condoning or saying that all is good. It is simply accepting what is. No judgement.
A very important part of radical acceptance is to acknowledge and accept your feelings as an important and true part of yourself. Our feelings carry with them messages from deep within ourselves or important warnings about what our EGO’s are up to. It is important to accept these messages and to allow our feelings to pass through us cleaning out the channels and making room for greater feelings and experiences.
Once you start accepting yourself, you can let it extend to your surroundings, your circumstances, the people around you.
The important thing to realise here is that you can only transcend what you first accept. Whatever behaviour or egoic state you deny is not changeable (what you resist persists) only what you accept to be true about yourself is possible to change. But it is not enough just to admit that it is there (truth/honesty) we must also accept this as a fact without judgement. When we judge something in ourselves we often mistake the action or personality trait with our person and slip into shame. Accepting it is owning it whatever it is. Yes I am hairy, I am loosing my hair, I am afraid, I like brunettes, I can\t hit a note to save my life, etc. etc. The act of accepting something of oneself often allows us to realise that our aversion to this thing is based on others perception or societal norms and not our own idea of what is right for us or not.
Not only does accepting what is allow us to let go of tremendous amounts of shame it will also give us peace of mind as we no longer struggle with fighting against what is.
So with radical honesty and radical acceptance we put ourselves into position of radical action. Once we have truly admitted and accepted ourselves we gain an objective view of ourselves and our surroundings this is the first step of what we in the church call repentance. The second step is action. So we look at ourselves and our lives and realise this is not who I truly am, this is not my true self and then we have the possibility to shed our coverings (whether it is behaviour or personality trait, habits or belongings) and become shameless/uncovered or just becoming our true selves.
In practical terms, metanoia means to “change the way we use our minds”—to think beyond the normal limits of the way we have been taught to reason. It implies that we haven’t been using our minds correctly. (Jim Palmer, Inner Anarchy)
Richard Rohr puts this another way: “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking”
Taking radical action is to act according to what is and not what is expected, it is to act based on the guidance of the divine voice inside of you instead of the dogmatic teaching of your church, pastor, yoga studio, guru, counsellor or friends. It means acting out from your deepest and truest self as opposed to acting out of your EGO or out of the expectations of others and our desire to fit in.
When we are able to look at ourselves and our reality with total honesty, when we are able to accept that reality without judgement and when we are able to take radical action from the deep place of our true self where we are really one, with the divine and the other, then we are able to love ourselves fully without exception and hesitation, without holding back this will also enable us to love everyone around us with this same radical, divine love.
Radical love, I contend, is a love so extreme that it dissolves our existing boundaries, whether they are boundaries that separate us from other people, that separate us from preconceived notions of sexuality and gender identity, or that separate us from God…. (Patrik S. Cheng, Radical Love)
This is the love at the source of all things the agape that is god.
Christian theology is ultimately about radical love. It affirms the impossibly queer truth that God is love, that God’s very self is an internal community of love, that God’s love spilled forth in the act of creation, that God became human out of God’s love for humanity, and that God continues to guide us back toward the love from whence we came. Christian theology promises us that nothing—not hardship, not distress, not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not peril, not the sword, not death, not life, not angels, not rulers, not things present, not things to come, not powers, not height, not depth, nor anything else in creation—can ever separate us from the love of God. There is no love that is more radical than that… (Patrik S. Cheng, Radical Love)
When we live from this deep and true place in ourselves, honestly accepting, owning and acting on what really is. Then we live without masks, without hiding, without pretending. Living from our deepest dreams and desires unfiltered by dogma, religion, peer pressure, self repression, self censorship and societal norms. This is what it means to be true and to be truly shameless.
“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self … Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” (Thomas Merton, *New seeds of contemplation*).
Often times when stating “Becoming and being all that I am is my calling. Helping you become and be all that you are is my ministry.” People from the Christian mainstream say that this is just self-worship, putting yourself in the centre, a place that should be held for Jesus or at least god.
The question is where is god, or maybe how is god made manifest in my life? The answer is quite simple, god is manifest in me and through me. Because god is manifest through me, I need to become fully myself so that I can manifest god as clearly as possible.
Many will then object, shouldn’t we avoid the “self” and rather becoming like Jesus. And for me the answer is obvious, of course we need to become like Jesus. Jesus was a person who fully and completely became himself and we need to follow Jesus by becoming our own true selves.
”If one ever has the good fortune to meet a living saint , one will have met someone absolutely unique. Through their visions may be remarkably similar, the personhood of saints is remarkably different. This is because they have become utterly themselves ” (M. Scott Peck, The road less travelled)
It is when the EGO is put in the centre, uplifted and aggrandised that this becomes self-worship like erecting a beautiful building and leaving the scaffolding around it saying it is the scaffolding not the building that holds the beauty and purpose. However when we learn to simply relax into our true selves and use EGO as a tool not as a master running the show, then we remove the covering, the scaffolding and we can see the true beauty of the structure beneath. The true self. The imago dei. Like polishing dirt of a mirror the image becomes clear and we will truly reflect the divine light and love.
Richard Rohr writes:
What you seek is what you are. The search for God and the search for our True Self are finally the same search. (Richard Rohr, Eager to love)
When we make the journey inwards and reach our true self we will find that our true self is the divine and that we are truly and fully one. One with the universe, with god and everyone else. It is not self-worship it is god-worship. The divine voice can never be recognised externally until we recognise it internally. It is in my heart that Jesus speaks to me and only when I remove the clutter of EGO can I hear it clearly.
Jesus drew a line in the sand, clarifying the whole matter with a simple choice: either follow the external worldly and religious kingdom and all its values, beliefs, narratives, mindsets, and ideologies OR turn within and follow the authority inside you. He said it wasn’t possible to serve two masters. We would simply compromise them both. (Jim Palmer, Inner Anarchy)
So it’s time to make the the journey inward, the adventure of finding out who you truly are, because when you find your true self you will find the source, the divine flame, love, call it what you will, I call it god.
How is it that within the Christian church, it has become heretical to see and to point out the divine outside of the confines of our little community, outside of our own sphere of theological thought and outside our own tradition? For some it is even hard to acknowledge the divine in other Christian churches.
St. Bonaventure writes:
“By God’s power, presence, and essence, God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God exists uncircumscribed in everything. … God is, therefore, all inclusive. God is the essence of everything. God is most perfect and immense: within all things, but not enclosed; outside all things, but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased. Finally, therefore, this God is all in all…. Consequently, from him, through him and in him, all things exist.”
As the song lyrics state “Above and below and all around you are.” God is simply everywhere, in church language we call this omni-presence, this means god is in all things surrounding all things or as the process theologians rightly states all things are in god. However this does not mean that we are dropped into god like rocks in a fish tank but rather that god permeates and saturates all things.
On a quantum level, god is that which binds all things together. Father Richard Rohr writes:
“That is not simplistic pantheism (everything is God), but it is a much more profound pan-en-theism (everything is in God and God can be found in everything). This is Christianity’s great message, which it has, in large part, found too good to be true and too hard to believe!”
Saying this tree is my god, I will have no other god but this tree is pantheism and according to the Christian path idolatry. However to say god is in this tree, I honour this tree as part of the divine is not idolatry, it is worship of the divine and it is in now way heretical. The same goes for any other thing or any other person. Therefore it is not heretical to see the divine in another human being whether that being is called Jesus, Theresa, Gandhi or any other person canonised or not, Christian or not.
It is also not heretical to greet another being with a ‘namaste’ (The divine in me, sees and honours the divine in you. I am divine, you are divine, the scriptures quite clearly state that this is true. It is explained as a Sacrament (latin: sacramentum, greek: mysterion) in for example Col 1.27
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (NRSV)
So let’s honour this secret, this mystery, this sacrament, that the divine is ever present, everywhere and in everyone. Let’s also honour that god who is always present everywhere can also show up on other times than Sunday morning, other places than church, other books than the bible and other people than Christians. Lets remove some blinkers and actively and intentionally seek the divine in everything and everyone.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22)
But why should we care? Why is it important what some old law book and dusty old profets think about? One way to answer that question may be to ask ourselves, why did Jesus care? Why was it important to Jesus what the law and the profets stood for? The simplest way to answer that is to understand that the law / Torah was shorthand for the Jewish way of life. The entire Jewish culture was built on the Torah. And Jesus was a Jew so the law was the single most important cultural marker for him. The profets where the Navi which means messenger from god (or crazy person, and the profets where often both). So if Jesus says that his entire way of life and the ones that speak for the divine all have this one command as their core or bottom line then maybe we should start paying attention.
##The perenial tradition
This command is echoed throughout history and cultures, we find it in every living tradition that we know. All religions, all cultures have in some way echoed this idea. the correlation between self love and loving others, what has been distilled in the golden rule. Don\t do to anyone else what you wouldn’t have done to you or do to yourself.
Let’s look at what the other traditions say:
Confucianism: Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. (Analects 12:2)
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Udana-Varga 5,1)
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. (Mahabharata 5,1517)
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Sunnah)
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. (Talmud, Shabbat 3id)
Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. (Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien)
Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. (Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5)
How we missed the point
Now I have heard many sermons on this topic … they all meticulously spell out how we should love our neighbours because we love ourselves. The trouble with all these sermons are that most of us do not love ourselves that much. We try to love our neighbour to the best of our abilities and we are dismayed at the results, we are simply not very good at it most of the time.
What if we simply cannot love our neighbour or anyone else any more than we love ourselves? What if loving ourselves actually in the long run means loving our neighbour?
What if love just like forgiveness comes in this bi-directional pipe (like a snorkel) where we by blocking the output also block the input and vice versa? let’s just for a minute try on the idea that for me to be capable of loving someone else, I must first love me.
Renowned shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says:
Love is not something we give or we get: it is something we nurture and grow. A connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists in each of them – We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
The second and maybe even more scandalous and never mentioned point Jesus makes when he states the greatest commandment is that the second command is like the first. What does that mean? Is jesus simply saying that they are both commands about love? Or is he actually saying that loving yousrelf and loving your neighbour is actually like loving god? Is he saying that you can love god by loving your neighbour as yourself? However we decide to interpret this scandalous statement have no option but to conclude that loving is the way Jesus insists on. Loving god, loving self and loving neighbour.
So with this in mind I would like to address the unpopular notion of self love. This idea, to love one self is taboo in Swedish culture it is seen as ego/centric or selfish. We see this in our everyday interactions with people and especially in how we handle such a simple thing as compliments.
“Wow what a nice dress!
What, this old thing?”
“Do you play the guitar?
Not really, I try… I know a chord or two.”
In the Salvation Army we have a culture that will not allow us to take credit for anything. When a musician performs a piece of music or someone preaches a nice sermon, instead of owning the accomplishment we are taught to give a salute, which means not me but god.
The proper, honest response to a compliment is of course “Thank you!” Whatever you may think of yourself, this other person is apparently impressed and maybe if they see the gold in you, maybe we can allow ourselves to do the same.
Berne Brown writes in her book “Gifts of imperfection”:
Loving and accepting ourselves is the ultimate acts of courage. In a society that says: “Put yourself last”, self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary.
Loving yourself because you are loved
Do you need a reason for loving yourself? Here is the reason, you are loved. If it is true that it is only possible to love others to the extent one loves oneself, it only makes sense that god, who is love, loves you greatly because god also loves godself greatly. In his letter to the Romans Paul states that we love god because god first loved us. And if god loves me surely I can love me too.
Listen to the words of Rumi:
I SWEAR MY DEAR SON MY BELOVED DAUGHTER
no one in the entire world
is as precious as you are
look at that mirror
take a good look at yourself
who else is there above and beyond you
now give yourself a kiss
and with sweet whispers
fill your ears to the brim
watch for all that beauty
reflecting from you
and sing a love song to your existence
you can never overdo
praising your own soul
you can never over-pamper your heart
you are both
the father and the son, the mother and the daughter
the sugar and the sugar cane
who else but you
please tell me who else
can ever take your place
now give yourself a smile
what is the worth of a diamond
if it doesn’t smile
how can i ever put a price
on the diamond that you are
you are the entire treasure of the house
you and your shadow
are forever present in this world
you’re that glorious bird of paradise
“RUMI, Fountain of Fire”, ghazal number 2148,
translated 19 January 1991 by Nader Khalili, Daughter mother added for equality
Saying that you are bad, unlovable, not good enough is going in the face of god’s proclamation that you are a master piece (Eph 2.10, poema), that god created you masterfully and wonderfully (psalm 139), that we as humans are like gods (psalm 8), That we are created very good (Gen 1), that when god looks at you he smiles, winks and does a little dance (Zephania). After hearing how much God loves you how can you not love yourself…. well, if you don’t the bible is full of examples of people like you.
“Moses, I choose you to lead my people. What me, no I am not a leader and I can’t speak in public”
“Gideon, arise mighty warrior. What me, no I am from the least important tribe and in that tribe I am the gofer”
But listen, if you turn to god, and listens in on gods heart, because god is love, all you will hear and feel is love. God loves you with infinite scandalous love and there is nothing you can do to make god love you more and there is nothing you can do to make god love you less. God loves you with abundant everlasting love and god’s love never fails! In fact in his letter to the Romans Paul asserts over and over again that nothing seen or unseen, nothing above or below NOTHING can separate us from the love of god.
Ok, so god loves me, maybe need to love me. What does it look like?
Lets start with the mind….
Loving me with the mind
Lets just admit that what we call the mind is not infallible, there are all sorts of strange ideas and thoughts rumbling around in there. For example, what where you thinking when I was saying how much god loves you just 30 seconds ago, I’ll bet you anything that for many of you the thought started with “Yea, but….” The mind on it’s own can do come up with the most ridiculous things, what we need to grasp is that the mind is a tool, that we need to use correctly. You are not your mind so don’t let your mind run the show.
In the great commandment we are told to love god with all our mind, it means whether or not our mind wants to, this is what we should do with it. We should love, god, self and neighbour. The kicker is, at the core, at the source of things we are all one, interconnected in this quantum web, god is in me, in you and in everyone and everything so love is always the proper response to everything and everyone, starting with me!
So, think nice thoughts about yourself. Allow yourself to see and be grateful for all that is wonderful about you. Do what you did when you where a child. Look at your own hand and be in awe over how marvellous it is. Look at the Iris of your eye and be mesmerised by the secret landscape and colours hidden within. Look at the curve of your lip, look at how fantastically and ridiculously awesome you are. The things that you can do with your body: Run, walk, swim etc…
Start with affirmations, say them to yourself until you believe them. I am wonderful, I am beautiful, I am bountiful, I am smart, I am kind, I am lovely. Only when you see these things in yourself can you start seeing them in others. Fall in love with yourself. Only when you love yourself, can you love others.
Now after all that, I just want to make this clear, don’t lie to yourself here. Do not say I am an amazing guitar player if you never held a guitar in your hand. Stay true. Only by accepting where we really are can we grow and move on from that point. Don\t pretend that you think you are beautiful if you do not think you are. Instead endeavour to see the beauty in yourself and affirm the beauty you find.
It will take time to renew your mind, to repent, that is to look at the ways you have been thinking of yourself and start thinking differently, it will take conscious effort and training.
With the mind sorted (as if) lets move on to the heart.
Loving me with the heart
The good news is that your heart already loves you, and god, and your neighbour, and your neighbours cat and … well you get the drift. This is true because this is what the heart does. It loves. The problem is that we have been told in kindergarten, in school, in church, in our offices to trust our fickle and untrained minds and to be wary of our hearts. Feelings can not be trusted, we are told in this western society that prizes the mind over anything else. But while our mind can be deceived and can send faulty signals due to cultural conditioning and brokenness our feelings are always true. Our sacred tells us to especially guard our hearts because our hearts are the source of life (Prov 4.22)
When you are scared it’s true, you are scared! You may be completely deluded (by the mind) about what it is you are scared of and it may be completely baseless, nevertheless it is true you are scared. When you are angry it is true, you are angry, you may be deceived, deluded and completely duped by your own mind and thoughts into being angry for no reason but it is still true, you are angry.
So while our minds can deceive us with all kinds of thoughts our feelings are in a way always true reactions to our perceived reality.
Renowned shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown explains in her book Daring Greatly that we cannot selectively suppress feelings and emotions, when we suppress any feeling or emotion we suppress them all. So when we suppress the feelings we perceive as negative (anger, sorrow, pain) we also put the lid on passion, love, joy etc.
Therefore, to be able to love ourselves with our hearts (something our hearts already does) we must allow ourselves to feel the entire range of emotions, we need to be feeling beings. When a feeling or emotion comes up we need to let it, we need to really feel it, (and remember thinking you are feeling it, is not feeling it), we need to breathe through it and see where it takes us. Our feelings and emotions always has something to teach us about our thinking or about our reality.
Loving me with the body
So to love myself fully, I need to come to terms with and accept that I am an embodied being, I have a body and I need to love it and love myself with it. There are so many ways to do this but lets start with some of the obvious ones.
Take care of your body. Your body needs clothes for warmth (at least here in Sweden) so dress yourself, comfortably and warmly. Your body needs food so feed yourself, healthy, nutritious food. Your body needs rest, so take a day of, walk in the sun, sleep long nights and take naps. Your body needs touch, so embrace yourselves, caress yourselves and make love to yourselves.
Seriously, do you really intentionally and with presence feed yourself, do you pick out the juiciest fruits and the most delicious vegetables to make yourself a bountiful treat? Do you pick clothes that caress your skin and make you feel wonderful? Do you put yourself to bed and tuck yourself in and indulge in the softest best pillow and care for your sleep hygiene? Do you hug yourself, caress yourself and show yourself love when you feel lonely or scared and feel the need to be loved and touched? When you are starved for intimacy do you arouse yourself and give yourself the intimacy and pleasure you need?
My cup runneth over
So what is all this self love for, why should I put myself like this in the centre of my own universe? Isn’t this just selfishness? Will I not just become a self centred egoistical human being like all the others running around hoarding my own treasures and jealously guarding them?
In short, NO!
Abundance as god’s intention
When we go to the scriptures we see that god’s intention for us is abundance listen to these words on what it means to be blessed:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you. The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom (Deut 28.3-13a)
God wants abundance for you, god wants to lavish god’s love and blessing on you like a prodigal son or daughter. Because it is when i act out of this abundance that I can truly give.
Abundance as the only valid starting point
If I love myself so deeply, so profoundly, so completely that I do not need anyone else’s love, approval or care then I will walk through life knowing that I have all I need, that I am all that I need to be and that what is true in my life is abundance not scarcity. Then I can recognise that while I do not need love from somewhere else I have tons of love to give. and I will be acting with what C.S. Lewis called give-love instead of need-love. I will give because of my abundance and not with the hidden agenda that I actually lack and give only so that I can receive from the other. When we step into abundance, we step into agape, love with no condition, love for no other reason than love.
We all know this really, unless we have we cannot give. Unless we are filled up we have nothing to dish out. Our problem is that we often walk around and wait for other people, things and circumstances to fill us up, when it is in fact our own responsibility to make sure we have what we need first so that we then can give freely out of our abundance.
Abundance as spiritual warfare
When we act from a place of scarcity we walk around with an empty hole a vacuum inside and we look for love, and things and relationships to fill this perceived lack. And when we indiscriminately take in things, people, relationships, ideas etc. we get a lot of crap or wrong/broken thoughts (what the Aramaic word for demon means). However when we are full, filled up with love, loving ourselves because we know we are god’s beloved, there is no room for anything else to come in, we are full. Filled with god’s spirit, god’s love nothing else will stick it will simply run of our backs like water on a goose. Other peoples negativism, other peoples negativity, neediness and scarcity thinking will bounce of because we are filled up with love.
You are loved, you are wonderfully and beautifully crafted, a masterpiece created in the image of the most high, the source of love. Love is not a lesson to be learned it is who we are at the core, it is our origin and our destination. To become like Christ, like god, to truly reflect the nature of god we must become love and we do so by loving ourselves and we love ourselves by first accepting that we are worthy of love, allowing ourselves to deeply feel what we feel and realise that we do, in our hearts love ourselves and that this love is enough, When we can accept this we embody it by falling in love with ourselves and physically loving ourselves. And when we are walking around in this world fully charged with love it will spill over to our neighbour. When I know I am loved and that I have all the love I will ever need, then I do not need to hoard or pile up on love but can freely distribute the abundance to everyone around me. And by loving myself I now love my neighbour as deeply and scandalously as I love myself.
Only there will I then be able to see that in loving myself I am loving my neighbour, and when I love my neighbour I am actually loving myself and my god.
In the beginning when god began creating the heavens and the earths manifestations of god’s self of gods love, and god saw that it was good. And god created humans as embodied manifestations of gods consciousness, god’s glory and god’s love. God charged humanity to be stewards of the earth, to love it and care for it.
It should not be a big surprise to us that we as gods image bearers also have a deep love for the creation that we are a part of. We are hardwired to be awed and swept away by god’s creation. The forests and the oceans are part of us, or we are part of them, they are our external lungs and without them we cannot live. At the core of everything we are connected, we are one with all of creation and it’s divine source. All is one. because in the end there is only the divine source and the source is love.
How is it then, that as soon as we express this deep devotion and love for the manifestation of the divine, the Christian tribe quickly labels it as heretical, pagan, new agey and even satanic?
Wouldn’t it be natural for us to join in with saint Francis in the canticle of the sun?
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.
There is a clear connection between our embodied state and our spirituality, this connection needs to be honoured if we are to truly manifest missio dei, god’s dream or god’s kingdom.
Thomas Merton makes this connection clear when he writes:
By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.
C.S Lewis also beautifully describes this heavenly music of the spheres in his space trilogy. So can we be still and hear the music of creation humming and drumming deep within us, can we feel the connection to the earth, to the sun, to the moon and stars, to all of creation, without being afraid that we are becoming pantheist, pagan, wiccan, or as some Christian tribes would have it, thereby satanist? Can I honour and love the divine in mother earth, in sister moon, in father sky and in brother wolf, without thinking or worrying about being heretical? All is one with the divine source and I want us all to have the freedom to honour the divine in all. Because loving the earth is our task, it’s in our DNA and it is a sacred connection with the divine source.
You shall not eat anything with its blood. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord. (Lev 19.26-28)
Right, first of all the verse before deals with not cutting the hair on your temples, so if you want to ban tattoos first you need to give up the idea on those neatly trimmed sideburns. However I believe that is besides the point. The context talks about funeral customs where one custom was to cut yourself, to mark and scar your body if someone close to you died. The command is, don’t! Do not hurt yourself on the outside because you are hurting on the inside it is not in line with god’s initial aim.
If a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace, then scarring or marking your body because of pain is the opposite, it’s the outward sign of an inward hurt or curse.
That does not make tattoos evil, and it does not make tattooed people evil. Tattoos are pieces of art worn on the body. They are expressions of creativity and beauty, all divine qualities. A tattoo made with purpose to display a piece of who we truly are outside our skin therefore can be a sacrament: an outward sign of an inward grace!
Someone once told me that all dichotomies are false dichotomies. And maybe this is the most sinister but also the most widespread of them all. The very idea that there is us and them, the idea that we are somehow different *better” that them, whomever they are.
In what may have been one of the most important books I read this year, Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland, Christena lifts up the dangers of group-think and how we form our identity and belonging based on mutual disdain for them. What really got me was how deeply this is programmed into our lazy brains that work very hard indeed not to work at all. Categorising and labeling people and groups so that we don\t have to take on the hard task of staying open and fluid.
If we could just see on a personal level how we project both the good and bad onto everyone we meet then maybe we could see how we are prone to the same dynamics ona communal level. If we could start by erasing the I and you difference maybe we could start blurring the us and them lines. Most importantly if we could gain clarity and see how we project our own shadow (the parts of us that we are unaware of, often the scary parts) onto other people so that the evil we see in them is really the evil we are capable of ourselves. If we can, like Peter Rollins often have said, choose a level of communication where we can see that maybe we are the monster, then I think we can finally be freed of the dichotomy of us and them.
In the Enneagram the holy truth of the type eight is, we are all one! If we could only take this truth to heart and see that we are all members of the same body, parts of the same organism; If we could see that Ubuntu is not just about our little tribe but includes the entire creation, the entire manifestation of the divine. This I think is the theology of the trinity, the ultimate union and perichoresis where the many are all one.
Jesus message was a singular message of love. Love the other, and what better way of loving them, than including them in us and stating there is no us and them, there is only us. To be known, recognised, seen, heard and accepted is to be loved. and Love is the way of Jesus. Judgement on the other hand is the way of the accuser, the way of the shaitan.
Didaché states that there are two roads, one road leads to life and the other road leads to death. I deeply believe this. We can choose to live a life where we feel more alive with each step, where each desicion leads to more love, more joy, greater freedom. There is also a way of life that makes us feel like we are dying inside, where each step leads to us feeling less free, less alive, contracted and small.
Which way will you chose today?
My take on reality is this: There is no us and them, there is only I and us. Either I step upp and recognise that we are all one or I stay deep in my ego and while I may think that I am part of a small exclusive tribe all that has happened is that I have isolated myself in a very small and contracted ego-I and I live in the illusion that I am an island. An island (sometimes grouped with other contracted islands) isolated from the community of this creation. To open up and join the dance, that is the way of love, the way of Jesus.
I don’t know about you but I hear a lot of hopelessness out there when I put my ear on the wire. The internet is buzzing with naysayers and doomsday prophets telling us that it is too late, that there is no hope left. We might as well just hold on and enjoy the ride into whatever cataclysmic disaster awaits us in the near future.
I am not trying to pull the wool over your eyes here, the situation is dire, the state of the planet is sadly really bad. There are wars and worldwide injustice being perpetrated and supported by both governments and economic powers beyond our reach. But this does not mean that all hope is lost.
To quote Galadriel (the elven queen in the Lord Of The Rings):
“Even the smallest person can change the course of history”
Disaster is not possible (dis/aster, to be disconnected from the stars). Stardust is what we are made of. We are all connected, we are all one. You are one with the stars that you gaze upon. You are one with the people with the power and the money and though you cannot change them, you can work on transforming yourself. This is why the spiritual work is so important. I need to wake up and be the person I was created to be, the person I always was and therefore already am. Because when I wake up and live out my glory and strength, I free other people to do the same. And more importantly if I change the whole changes, maybe not by much but at some point a critical mass will be reached and the world will change.
Do you know why there is hope? Because I have hope! Because I am actively working to find the divine source and you are reading about it. Maybe, just maybe that could inspire you to do the same. Who knows who else may be inspired by this.
While it is true that it really is in the eleventh hour and that we may not even be able to restoe the planet to it’s original state of health and glory there is still hope, because there is an initial aim, there is a divine plan and all we have to do is wake up and smell the Rooibos.
The whole idea of heaven, while hope inspiring, often corrodes and hollows out our everyday life. It is interesting to note that Jesus rarely spoke about heaven. To him, it seemed much more important and urgent to deal with life here and now. Heaven in the here and now.
“Repent, for the kingdom of god is at hand”
So what did he mean?
Turn around, because you are all about to die?
No, Jesus clearly instructs his followers that “the kingdom is not here or there so one can point at it, rather the kingdom of god is inside of you”. We also need to understand that the kingdom of god and the kingdom of heaven is the same thing, it is not a place we can move to but a reality we can wake up to.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is nothing there after we die, there may very well be some elevated, transcendant reality after this life. All I am saying is that that is not the point. The point is that the kingdom is here and now and if we are completely focussed on then and there we will miss it!
Not only do our choices matter eternally they also matter right here, right now!
Another word used in the New Testament for the kingdom of god/heaven is life or eternal life (aionos zoe). This is primarily used by the author to John’s gospel, who hardly ever mentions the kingdom at all. Rather John’s Jesus offers life and life in abundance. This is the gospel, the good news, that we do not have to wait for pie in the sky when we die. We can have it now, it is accessible here.
“Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the holy spirit?”
You are the container, the channel of divine love into your community. You are the kingdom, the church, the body. You are it! Right here and right now.
“Above all guard your hearts, because from your heart flows all of life”
So if we are to understand this proverb in the light of John’s high Christology and immanent eschatology then we understand that the point of life is living it. When we simply live life, life flows from our hearts, or to substitute the term: Heaven flows from our hearts and encloses those that are around us. Life is not a warm up for heaven, beacuse, to quote the song “heaven is a place on earth”. This life is it, this life, right here right now, is where we find heaven or hell, where we live through divine bliss or diabolical misery. We just need to wake up and smell the coffee (or in my case, smell the Roibosh Paradise).
There is no dress rehersal, no trial run, no qualifying round; Whatever you are living right now is the main event, the real thing, your grand performance.
So today, on this unique beautiful day in all of eternity, let’s choose to love!