Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit.....

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

To be poor in spirit is simply to be humble. According to a Kenyan proverb, "It is humility that exalts one and favors him against his friends." God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Harithah ibn Wahb al-Khuza'i (Hadith of Bukhari, Islam) tells how he heard the Prophet say, "Have I not taught you how the inhabitants of Paradise will be all the humble and the weak, whose oaths God will accept when they swear to be faithful? Have I not taught you how the inhabitants of hell will be all the cruel beings, strong of body and arrogant?"

The one poor in spirit understands that everything he owns, everything he has accomplished, and all that he is, comes from and through the grace of God. Those who are poor in spirit are those who are humble and who acknowledge that God is the source of All.

Without merit am I; all merit is Thine. Thine, Lord, are all merits -- by what tongue have I power to praise Thee? (Sikhism, Adi Granth)

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain"; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that." As it is you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (Christianity, James 4: 13-16)

The poor in spirit are not attached to their possessions but hold onto them lightly, realizing that the true owner of everything is God. The poor in spirit are willing to part with their possessions and to give to those in need.

Be humble, be harmless, have no pretension, be upright, forbearing, serve your teacher in true obedience, keeping the mind and body in cleanness, tranquil, steadfast, master of ego, standing apart from the things of the senses, free from self; aware of the weakness in mortal nature. (Hinduism, Bhagavad Gita 13.7-8)

It is difficult for those who seem most favored - those who have a lot of possessions or who are famous or gifted in some way - to possess this poverty of spirit; it is quite easy for them to become proud. The Bible says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Difficult, yes, but not impossible. What is needed is the ability to hold on loosely, to realize that all you have is a gift from God, and to be ready to give all if it is required of you.

The truly poor in spirit are not prideful or boastful of their gifts, whether intelligence, beauty, wealth, high position. possessions or their accomplishments, realizing that God gives to each according to his delight.

The gift of our very lives are in the hands of God, who could take this gift back at any minute.

The Lamenter cries, for he is humbling himself, remembering his nothingness in the presence of the Great Spirit. (Native American Religions. Black Elk, Sioux Tradition)

Be of an exceedingly humble spirit, for the end of man is the worm. (Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 4.4)

An attitude of genuine humility and a willingness to deny oneself are the first step on the path to the kingdom of heaven, and those who possess these qualities God calls blessed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Sermon on the Mount (Beatitudes Series #1 of 9)

The Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of St. Matthew, is my favorite passage of the Bible. In this passage, Jesus sums up the entire Bible in just a few short paragraphs: love your enemies, be merciful, take care of the poor, make peace. My next eight posts will explore each of the eight Beatitudes (Blessed are the....) and show how these Beatitudes are universal, that they are something upon which all religions can agree.

The Sermon on The Mount

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and he taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom, come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

Peace, Not War....

God hath made of one blood all nations of men. Acts 17:26

Lately I've been scared. I read the headlines with my morning cup of coffee and it seems that things in the world are just getting worse and worse. This past week an 88 year old white supremicist murdered a security guard at a Holocaust Museum because he hated Jews. An abortion doctor was gunned down at his own church during a service because a mentally ill man had gotten revved up by listening to far right conservative Christians spout hate, and North Korea is threatening war with any country who stops its ships. And not just any war. Nuclear war. There is so much anger and hatred in the world and lately there is a sense of things escalating and reaching the point of meltdown and confrontation.

All creatures are the family of God; and he is the most beloved of God who does most good to His family. Islam, Hadith

Nothing good has ever come of war. If we look back over our history, many wars have been fought, the majority of which were religious wars. Differences of opinion and belief. The need for one group to prove that their way is right and to destroy all heretics who disagree.

Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother? Judaism, Malachi 2:10

The last world war killed 72 million people in a period of about 10 years. The war in Iraq has so far killed about 85,000 people. Vietnam killed around 2 million people and achieved absolutely nothing, as do most wars. This can't possibly be our Creator's will, can it? To slaughter one another in cold blood? To never learn from our mistakes?

God is the Father, Earth the Mother. With all things and in all things, we are relatives. Sioux, Native American, Zona

If one studies the scriptures of many of the religions, it is quite clear that there is a call for peace, for understanding, for love of one's neighbor. We need to "get" this. And quickly. The next world war could do more than kill millions, it could destroy the entire planet.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Loving Your Enemies...

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13, NAB

In these modern times, it is essential that we come to understand that disagreements and misunderstandings cannot be solved through the use of violence or force. Just this past week I have heard many distressing news stories and reports of violence or threatened violence, all for the sake of a personally held belief or ideology, or the mistaken belief that it was the will of God.

It may be that God will ordain love between you and those whom you hold as enemies. For God has power over all things; and God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. Islam. Qur'an 60.7

Have you ever heard the old adage, "you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?" Humility and gentleness of spirit, kind words exchanged respectfully, and peaceful activities will do more to get the desired result than any act of violence or anger ever could. God's way is the way of peace and humility.

Do good to him who has done you an injury. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 63

God said, "Resemble Me; just as I repay good for evil so do you also repay good for evil." Judaism. Exodus Rabbah 26:2

God's way is the Way of Love. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus instructs us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." In Romans 12:14, Paul tells us to "bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not". He continues on in Romans 12:19 with, "Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath. For it is written, "Vengeance belongs to me. I will pay them back, declares the Lord."

Conquer anger by love. Conquer evil by good. Conquer the stingy by giving. Conquer the liar by truth. Buddhism. Dhammapada 223

According to the teachings of Hinduism found in the Ramayana, "A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct. One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even toward those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them -- for who is without fault?"

The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo!, he between whom and you there was enmity shall become as though he were a bosom friend.
Islam. Qur'an 41.34

Revenge, or returning evil for evil, only serves to multiply evil in the world. Indian political and spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, once said "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". Do not be overcome by evil, as the Bible says, but overcome evil with good. This is the way of love and serves to spread goodness in the world. Love is the Way of God.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One Nation, Many Religions

"Truth has many aspects. Infinite truth has infinite expressions. Though the sages speak in divers ways, they express one and the same Truth. Ignorant is he who says, "What I say and know is true; others are wrong." It is because of this attitude of the ignorant that there have been doubts and misunderstandings about God. This attitude it is that causes dispute among men. But all doubts vanish when one gains self-control and attains tranquility by realizing the heart of Truth. Thereupon dispute, too, is at an end." (Hinduism, Srimad Bhagavatam 11.15)

Born in the early 1930s, my parents practiced the same protestant religion that their parents before them had practiced for their whole lives. They didn't give much thought as to why they practiced the religion they practiced, and had someone asked them if they'd had ever read, for example, The Lotus Sutra (Buddhism) or the Upanishads (Hinduism), they would have scratched their heads. They simply were not exposed to the variety and wealth of religious experience available in America to those born since my generation, a mere 30 years later.

We're now living in an ecumenical age. According to the book, World Scripture, by the International Religious Foundation, the progress in transportation and communication that has brought all the peoples of the world into one global village has also brought the religions of the world into close contact. Just half a century ago, Christians living in North America might never have met a Muslim or a Buddhist throughout their whole lives; in ignorance they could believe that such people were heathen and in dire need of salvation. Muslims in Syria, or Buddhists in Thailand, could as easily hold a similar view of the foreign religions that occasionally intruded upon their lands. But today Western cities teem with immigrants from Asia and Africa bearing their native faiths, and our commercial and political affairs connect us with all nations.

"Like the bee, gathering honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different scriptures and sees only the good in all religions." (Hinduism, Srimad Bhagavatam 11.3)

Many people, such as myself, are excited to be able to learn about different religions and practices. I have been privileged to attend a variety of Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic. I've experienced God's presence in these services, especially during worship. I've also experienced God in nature, and in the many Wiccan and Native American rituals I've taken part in over the years. I've met God in both meditation and prayer, and gained God's guidance through many sources, such as The Dhammapada, The Bhagavad Gita, and The Bible. God is everywhere and I believe God inhabits the praises of all his people's, not just those of a particular religion.

Those who praise their own doctrines and disparage the doctrines of others do not solve any problem. (Jainism, Sutrakritanga 1.1.50)

Although many believers are open to various religions, unfortunately some are still very close-minded, if not hostile, to those with differing religions, and believe that their religion is the "one right true only way". This is unfortunate and I believe stems mostly from lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown. We fear what we do not understand. Only when we can learn to respect one another's religious beliefs, or lack of religious belief, can we truly be one nation, united.

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