Saturday, April 23, 2011

Multi-faith Seder: Building Bridges with Ceremony

On Tuesday, April 19, I traveled to Stony Point Center with my pastor, Cynthia, and two other church friends, to take part in a Passover Freedom Seder. Stony Point is a retreat center owned by the United Presybyterian Church, but is also home to a growing interfaith community. At the Seder, Christians, Jews, and Muslims shared symbolic foods, prayers, song and dance. While the food was traditional, the message was not.

The focus of the Freedom Seder was on peace and non-violence. The traditional Seder includes a recitation of the plagues that were perpetrated on the Egyptians to force the Pharaoh to free the people of Israel. In this interfaith Seder, one participant read: “I love reciting the plagues! Blood, frogs, lice, boils, wild beasts...”

But another reader interrupted: “STOP! We’re not reciting the traditional plaques anymore.” The reason given was: “…we do not want to perpetuate cycles of violence, nor be the cause of feelings of remorse, grief, or revenge. The only list of plagues we recite, are the ones that we, around this table, have a hand in causing.” Then a moving poem was read that laments the Palestinian experience of being removed from their homeland and forced to live under occupation. A prayer followed, asking for an end to military occupations around the world. This can happen when enough people of goodwill want it to happen. When people lay down their weapons and celebrate the joy of peace between all sectors of humanity, no matter what their nationality, race, or religious background may be.

As the Seder continued, there was much feasting and joyful celebration among the participants who represented all generations as well as several religious faiths. The traditional Passover meal celebrates the time that the hand of God passed over the homes of the Israelites, sparing them from the plagues that were sent to destroy many of the Egyptians who enslaved them. In metaphysics, the Israelites symbolize "our spiritual thoughts; the thoughts that pertain to the real and enduring ideas upon which humanity and the universe are founded" (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, p. 305). Metaphyscially, the Egyptians represent "thoughts that pertain to the subjective consciousness in its unawakened state" (MBD, p. 184). We celebrate when our spiritual thoughts lift us to a harmonious existence with our brothers and sisters of the world. And we celebrate when our divine-consciousness destroys those negative and fearful thoughts that plague us and create disharmony in the world.

The true Passover will then bring peace and goodwill to all people on earth. Shalom. Salam. Pax.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter: Bridge to Heaven on Earth

God's Light by Chris Lissandrello

It's Eastertide again, and every year at this time, I reassess what Easter means to me, since I've never been able to accept the traditional interpretation of the crucifixion and resurrection. Rather than reiterate the old explanation, that God sacrificed his only begotten son so that someone else could be punished for our sins, I have to reinterpret the events of Easter so that they make sense according to my faith in the God of Love and Eternal Forgiveness that Jesus introduced to the world.

I believe that as spiritual beings, we are all begotten children of God; that we were all One with divine consciousness from the very beginning. As co-creators with God we participated in the creation of biological life. Eventually we took on material form in the physical world, and as we fell further from divine consciousness into the depths of self-conscious materialsm, we forgot our true nature. This was our Fall and our separation from God. Thus began the ills of physical existence -- the conflicts between people who should have loved each other; the diseases, and painful deaths -- all stemming from the fear that is so much a part of this physical life.

Jesus was (one of?) the first to remember and reclaim his spiritual nature. He showed us the way to salvation from the pain and suffering of non-spiritual life: by loving ourselves, our neighbors, and our enemies; by having faith in the divine consciousness that creates the food and water our physical bodies need, and heals every sickness; and knowing that a return to faith will give us power over the elements of the earth, so that we might calm storms, walk on water, and move mountains. He was constantly rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith in their own ability to heal and perform the actions that appear as miracles to those who lack divine consciousness.

I believe that Jesus accepted death on the cross as the ultimate demonstration that we humans must let go of our attachment to physical life (and all of its horrors and fears) before we can enjoy eternal life in a spiritual body, such as the one he modeled three days later. Jesus told his followers: "You must be born again." His rebirth occurred when he returned in his resurrected body. As we learn to follow the way of Jesus, which is also the way of divine consciousness, we will "die" in the physical body that separates us from God, and be reborn, or transformed, into the spiritual beings that we truly are, as creatures made in God's image.

Paul speaks of this transformation in 1 Corinthians 15, where he writes:

51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
1 Corinthians 15:51-55 (New International Version)

Now we are all asleep, dreaming that the world we live in is the only world that exists. When we awake from the long sleep of ages, we will find that the knowledge of this life is imperfect; that we now "see in a mirror dimly." Now we know the truth Jesus taught in part -- when we awake we shall understand fully. Then we will understand that the greatest gift of all -- the one that will transform the old world into the new - is LOVE. (1 Corinthians 13)