Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Restoring a Lost Friendship

Two Girls Reading in a Garden by Pierre-August Renoir

Forty-seven years ago three 11-year-old girls in a group of four ostracized the fourth because she was the prettiest. While this had not posed a problem during their younger years, it was quite apparent that the boys in their sixth grade class had their eyes on the prettiest one, and so the other three were jealous. The three girls teased Cheryl during recess, mimicking her mannerisms and speech. I was one of the three. I don’t remember behaving this way, but then we tend not to remember our own misdeeds. I'm sure it never occurred to me that my behavior would result in the end of a friendship I cherished. But Cheryl was badly hurt, and so she abandoned us and found other friends.

I never took responsibility for the loss of that friendship, always blaming Cheryl for dropping me in favor of the “cool” pretty girls, not realizing they just happened to be the girls who treated her kindly and welcomed her into their circle. We didn’t speak to each other all through junior high and high school, but I never forgot her, and she continued to visit me in my dreams throughout our adulthood. At our twentieth high school reunion Cheryl – now Cheri – and I finally spoke to each other. Cheri smiled at me and exclaimed warmly: “Emily! You look exactly the way I remembered you!”

“I was hoping to see you here!” I responded, overwhelmed with emotion.

“Look, she’s twinkling!” Cheri said to our husbands. Then the tears that had been sparkling in my eyes spilled over, and sobbing, I confided to her about the dreams that had haunted me for so many years, and the sadness I felt about our broken friendship.

“But I have only fond memories of you,” she said. “Our friendship was very precious to me and I’ve always remembered it that way.” She handed me a tissue for my tears. “We used to share a lot of things, didn’t we?”

As I wiped away my tears I felt myself cleansed and forgiven. After the reunion I returned home to central New York and Cheri to Florida, but we exchanged Christmas cards and friendly notes every year for another twenty years. However, it wasn’t until last year, that we started to e-mail each other and open up about the misunderstanding of our past. I learned why it was that Cheri walked out of my life so long ago, and I understood. We realized what a mistake we had both made by coming to wrong conclusions about each other and not communicating. But then we were only eleven years old! Many adults make the same mistake, and so end relationships that could have been saved by an honest heart-to-heart talk.

When we were children, Cheri and I enjoyed reading the same books, spending time in nature, and working on school projects together. Now we are discovering that we still share many of the same interests, and we’re making up for the lost years. This experience has taught me not to give up on an estranged friend before extending an offer to rebuild the crumbling bridge between us. I can only hope that as people build and rebuild stronger bridges between themselves, the bridges of oneness with all of humanity will become stronger as well!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Unity Bridge

Yesterday morning my husband and I drove to Albany and attended the Unity Church that's right near our daughter and son-in-law's apartment. We went there three years ago when visiting for Mother's Day and have always wanted to go back. If only it wasn't an hour-and-a-half drive from our home! Both services have been uplifting and joyful. Instead of confessing our sins, we say affirmations such as this:

I am loving, creative and powerful;
for I embody the Love, Creativity,
and Power of my Creator. 

Instead of the Apostle's Creed, we read the Statement of ONENESS:

The power of Christ Love now releases me from any sense of separation from Spirit or others.
There is only One Presence and One power in my Life and in the Universe, 
that One is God, the Good, Omnipotence.

For those of you who have trouble with the word "God" because it conjures up images of the judgmental father with a white beard sitting on a throne in the clouds, be assured that Unity members understand God as Divine Mind, Divine Universe, Divine Spirit, Mother-Father God - which is Love, Light, and Peace. 

I have never been fortunate enough to leave near a Unity Church (officially part of the Unity School of Christianity) but I have read Unity literature for 30 years, always finding it inspirational and enlightening. Unity is a church that builds bridges, because it is inclusive, saying to all people of the world: "We love you, we bless you, and we behold the Christ in you." If you are blessed to live near a Unity Church, check it out!

Yesterday's message was about how we live in the middle of eternity NOW - so we should not wait until death to live in the Kingdom of God. After all, the Kingdom - of Love, Light, and Peace - is not something that will just "happen" to us. It is a state of being and living that we can choose at every moment. As the Unity Principle states: "Being spiritual in nature, we too are creative. Our life experiences are created through our ways of thinking and behaving."

We are now in the season of Lent, traditionally observed by Christians as a time for repentance and self-denial. During Lent, the Unity School of Christianity encourages students to  affirm their divine wholeness and release thoughts and patterns that no longer serve them. So, instead of giving up a certain food as a way of denying yourself for 40 days, you would give up whatever it is that does not contribute to your spiritual growth and divine wholeness. It may still be a certain food, but the intention behind giving it up is different. You can order a copy of Release Your Inner Splendor to learn more about how to transcend past experiences and awaken from the illusion of lack. 

Yesterday's service ended with everyone holding hands while singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth," surely one of the best bridge-building songs every written. Afterward we took our daughter and her husband out for brunch. Building family bridges is fun, too!

For more information about Unity School of Christianity, check out  their website:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love: the Bridge to Happiness

How many of you knew that February 11th was World Happiness Day? On this day, Happy: The Movie was shown in countries all over the world. My husband and I watched a presentation of the movie by the psychology club at SUNY Oneonta. The movie combines cutting-edge science from the new field of “positive psychology” with real-life stories of people from around the world whose lives illustrate what constitutes a happy, fulfilling life. 

The film's researchers discovered (surprise, surprise!) that wealth is not one of the factors that make people happy. Five of the factors that contribute most to happiness are:

  1. A sense of friendship and community
  2. Caring for and helping others
  3. A personal involvement with nature
  4. A balanced life, with plenty of leisure time
  5. Engaging in enjoyable activities
  6. Spiritual (not necessarily religious) faith

I conclude from these findings that a happy life is a life full of love: love shared with family and friends, love for neighbors, love for nature, love for the divine, and engagement in activities that we love. I see a strong connection between the findings of this movie and the lines from the Lord's Prayer that I discussed in my last article, because surely the Kingdom of Heaven is a state of being where everyone is happy!

In Sunday's class, I shared what I had learned from "Happy: The Movie." Some of the places where happy people are interviewed, including communities in Denmark, New Orleans, Okinawa, and a slum in India, could be thought of as little kingdoms of heaven. I was especially intrigued by the country of Bhutan, which I learned is the only country in the world where Gross National Happiness is considered by the king to be more important than the Gross National Product. Some of the policies that have been put into place to maintain the happiness of Bhutan's citizens are: advertising bans, Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind everywhere, strict conservation laws aimed at achieving sustainable development, and bans on plastic bags and tobacco. Now some may say that this is an encroachment on people's freedom, but really, does smoking make anyone happy, or is tobacco, like alcohol and other drugs, just something that helps you forget that you aren't truly happy, makes you sick, and creates an extra roadblock to real happiness? Loving and caring for oneself is one of the links on the bridge to happiness!

This morning when my husband came back from the gym he was upset because he'd been listening to the radio in the car and heard about the practice of Pakistani men throwing acid in the face of a woman who turns down his proposal of marriage. Obviously, a man who would commit such an act is not the kind of man any woman would choose to marry. Such a man is totally divorced from the love in his heart. He doesn't realize the connection between all people and how he hurts himself when he hurts another human being. He must not feel very good about himself and cannot possibly be happy. 

One of the stories in the Happy movie is about a once-beautiful woman whose face was destroyed in a horrible accident. Afterward her husband divorced her, but she found happiness by loving and caring for others, and eventually she met a man who loved her for her inner beauty and became her new husband. I'm sure the man who married the woman with a disfigured face is happier than the man who divorced her, or any of the acid throwers in Pakistan who don't know what love is. 

Jesus said: "My kingdom is not of this world . . . my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36). The place where the happy woman and her husband live is a different place from where the cruel Pakistani men live. It's the place that exists on the other side of the bridge of love. Anyone can go there. It's our choice.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

            Tomorrow I will lead my adult church class which is studying the Lord’s Prayer. I volunteered to lead the discussion of “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” because it is my favorite section of this well-known prayer. The curriculum writer for this study calls this line a lament, because it points out the fact that there is something seriously wrong with the world we live in. I have to disagree, because to lament means to express sorrow, mourning, or regret. I believe these lines express the hope and faith that God’s kingdom IS coming, and, as Jesus said, it is even already here among those who do God’s will.

Luke 17:20-21 says: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “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.” 

If the kingdom is already here, there is no reason to lament. We find the kingdom within ourselves when we choose divine will over the will of our egos. To live according to divine will is to live from the heart. As stated in Micah 6:8 “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” When we affirm this with faith it is true. When enough people find the kingdom of heaven within themselves the kingdom will come to all the world.

            Jesus said “ . . . strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). When we do God’s will, that is, do all things with love, our material needs will be met. And if we are truly loving and compassionate, we will not have a great many material desires. The ego desires things that are not in keeping with divine will.  For instance, the ego likes to argue, to be right, and to put others down. The ego wants things that don’t necessarily make one happy, but that give one prestige, status, and power. None of this belongs in the kingdom of heaven, which is a peaceful place.

            The prophet, Isaiah, promises the triumph of God’s kingdom on earth : “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:4). This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, so those who love war, or want to be more powerful than others, or amass wealth at the expense of peace, cannot enter this kingdom.

Jesus told the Parable of the Ten Virgins to illustrate the importance of being prepared for the kingdom to come:
 1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
   6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
   7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
   9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
   10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
   11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
   12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
   13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

What does it mean to keep watch – to stay awake? Jesus also told us to be in the world but not of it – which is to be spiritually awake. When we are spiritually unconscious we go through life not thinking about our actions and whether we are choosing divine will or that of our egos. So many of us go through life like robots --  going to work, coming home to eat and watch television, not thinking about how our actions affect others. If we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must think about our choices and how they affect our own souls as well as the soul of the world.    

Jesus also said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3) One who is humble is not egotistic! Children are also innocent, nonjudgmental, and imaginative. Before we shower children with material things and expose them to commercials, they are content with the simple pleasures of life. Children tend to be idealistic. It is so easy for a child to have faith in the goodness of humanity and nature. If everyone could maintain the faith of childhood, we would all live in the kingdom of heaven!  

In Revelation 21, we read:

 1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

            I hope the new earth is not lacking for seas, because I love beaches and the ocean, but the rest of this prophecy is beautiful. Many of today’s Christians no longer believe this prophecy will come true. They think it would have happened by now if it was going to happen, and they are tired of waiting for something that was supposed to take place soon after Jesus’ ascension. But Jesus said the kingdom would come at the end of the age. He also said:I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Traditional Christians do not seem to know what Jesus meant when he spoke of an age. Astrologers present an age as a 2,000 year span. It has now been 2,000 years since Jesus made his promise. It is the close of the age and the close of a 26,000 year cycle – the period of time that it takes our sun to revolve half-way around the Great Central Sun. It is the end of the age of darkness: the dawn of the Golden Age of Light. You can read more about the 26,000 year cycle in these articles:

I will close the class time with a meditation, using these lines as a mantra. You might like to try it:

Breathe in:  Thy kingdom come. (Think about the kingdom within you.)
Breathe out: Thy will be done.  (Think about manifesting the kingdom out in the world.)

Peace and Blessings,