Monday, December 29, 2014

The Angel Connection


       On Christmas Eve my family attended a Presbyterian Church service where the pastor surprised me by speaking about angels. Three large sets of white angel wings, trimmed with gold garland, were hung over the altar that was decorated with the usual poinsettias and wreaths. Angels play an important role in the Christmas story, so why was I surprised? 

       Just a few years ago this same pastor stated that she wouldn't wear angel jewelry because a focus on angels distracts people from their relationship with God. And while angels are mentioned in the Bible numerous times, this is the first time I recall them being the topic of a sermon. The pastor had been inspired by a children's book about angels written by a friend of hers, and she encouraged the congregation, children and adults alike, to be open to the angelic messages we might receive.

       I believe in angels because I have heard so many wonderful stories of their appearances, and because they are acknowledged in many world religions. Angels are divine beings who help to create a sense of oneness among people of different cultures and faiths. 

       Roman Catholics tend to place more importance on angels than members of Protestant churches. "Angels in Catholicism are intermediaries between God and humans. In addition to their role as servants and messengers, angels are also attendants to God's throne. Catholic theology outlines a hierarchy of nine choirs of angels divided into three groups: Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; Dominations, Virtues and Powers; Principalities, Archangels and Angels."(

       Most Protestants share the belief that angels are messengers from God who also offer guidance, protection, and assistance. Protestants are warned not to pray to angels the way Catholics do, but I'll bet a lot of Protestants have broken that rule since angels have become so popular in recent years. 

       Buddhists believe in celestial beings, also known as devas. In Tibetan Buddhism devas are sometimes considered to be emanations of bodhisattvas or enlightened beings. Different schools of Buddhism have different important devas, as they are often derived from pre-Buddhist cultures and religions and not from Buddhist philosophy. (

       Hindus do not refer to angels, but they do believe in various spiritual beings who act as divine messengers. These include the minor gods, or devas, a name that means "shiining ones." As the pastor pointed out on Christmas Eve, the angels are clothed in light, so "shining ones" is an appropriate name for them!

       Angels in Islam, or malaikah, play an essential role as messengers and intermediaries from Allah to the world, beginning with the angel Jabrai'il (Gabriel) who revealed the Qur’an, Islam's holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad. Gabriel was also one of the seven archangels in Hebrew tradition. He appears in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures 
where he serves as the announcer of the births of John to Zechariah and Jesus to Mary. The Archangel Gabriel symbolizes the Oneness of these three major religions by his important role in each one. 

       I have met many non-religious people who believe in angels even though they don't believe in much else. Angels are the divine representatives that connect people in a common belief while also maintaining the bridge between heaven and earth. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Giving Circles

Dining for Women Pot Luck Dinner

Otsego County is home to a great many generous citizens who are always looking for ways to lend a helping hand to people in need. In recent years the concept of giving circles has provided new opportunities for some of these citizens to make a positive difference in the lives of the unfortunate.

A giving circle consists of a group of people, small or large, who get together socially and pool their resources to fund a single charity. Two giving circles in Oneonta are Dining for Women and 100+ Women Who Care Otsego. Both groups came into being as the result of women reading inspirational books. 

In 2010 Eve Rabbiner read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and felt inspired to do something to help women and children who live in extreme poverty in developing countries. Rabbiner contacted some friends who got together and researched ways to educate people about this issue and raise funds for groups that work to make a difference. Rabbiner’s friends became the core committee for the Oneonta chapter of Dining for Women, a national organization that offers a way to meet their goals.

The core committee includes Eve and her husband, Stan Rabbiner, Marilyn Helterline, Janet Potter, Joan Kollgaard, Paul Conway, Kate O'Donnell, and Linda Wilcox. The first event they hosted was a reading from Half the Sky that took place in December 2010 at the Green Toad Bookstore in Oneonta. Twenty-five people joined the core group for this gathering. Participants learned that Dining for Women offers a grant each month to a different program that works to improve the lives of impoverished women and girls in developing countries. Funds for the programs are raised at group dinners where contributors donate money for that month’s grant winner.

The national Dining for Women organization was the brainchild of Marsha Wallace, a former nurse and mother of four from Greenville, SC, who, in the fall of 2002 read an article about a group of friends who met for potluck dinners and collected donations for needy families using the money they would have otherwise spent in restaurants. Wallace and co-founder, Barb Collins, conceived and implemented the idea of Dining for Women which spread like wildfire around the country.

The core committee for the local chapter of Dining for Women decided that since education was one of their goals, they would host public pot-luck dinners for both men and women. These dinners are held at the Oneonta Unitarian-Universalist Society where an educational program is presented after the meal has been shared. The presenter is a local expert on the country or issue addressed by that month’s grant winner. Over the past four years the group has raised about $30,000 for different non-profit organizations.

The grant recipient for November was “Gardens for Health International,” a group that provides agricultural solutions to childhood malnutrition in Rwanda. The guest speaker was Dr. Linda Swift, professor of biology at Hartwick College, who spoke about her work with the Naga tribe in northern Thailand. The work that Dr, Swift and her students do to increase the nutritional intake for Naga children is similar to the work done by Gardens for Health. After a delicious meal and an informative presentation by Dr. Swift, participants passed a basket for donations to help impoverished children in Rwanda.

Rabbiner says: “We have a great planning group. We all share the responsibilities of setting things up and recruiting guest speakers. We realize that individually we can’t change the world, but when people who care about an issue work together they can help make that change happen.”

Another giving circle that gives individuals the opportunity to make a difference by working together is 100+ Women Who Care. This organization was launched in November of 2006 by Karen Dunigan of Jackson, Michigan, as a simple way to raise money efficiently and quickly for local charities. In 2013 Cathy Deleski  of Oneonta read Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Possible Impossible by Regina Brett and felt inspired to start a local chapter of 100+ Woman Who Care.

Deleski called her sister, Colleen Andrew, and several friends for a brainstorming meeting. The group, consisting of Deleski, Andrew, Petrea Delberta, Coleen Lewis, and Aida Rogers made plans for a kick-off event to be held July 17, 2013.  Bobbie Lipari-Harlem donated the space and refreshments at the Carriage House Event Center in Oneonta for the gathering which was attended by 30 women.
                Each woman attending an event is committed to donating $100 to a local charity. Each participant puts the name of her favorite Otsego County charity in a hat. Three charities are chosen and the women who nominated them give a pitch for their cause. The women then vote for one charity to receive the funds collected at the event. The winner of the first event was The Lord’s Table which received a $3,000 donation. The goal for 100+ Women Who Care is to gather 100 women to donate $10,000 to a single charity.

            Since its inception in 2006, 100+ Women Who Care chapters have been formed all over North America. Chapters in larger cities meet four times a year.  The Otsego County group is meeting once a year to celebrate what they call “Christmas in July.” The second event took place on July 24, 2014 at the B-Side Ballroom which donated space and hors d'oeuvres. This time 40 women attended and raised $4,000 for Family Services.

            The hope is that 100+ Women Who Care Otsego will continue to grow and meet its goal of 100 participants. The next Christmas in July will take place at the B-Side on July 23, 2015 with registration at 5:30 and the one-hour meeting beginning at 6:00. Deleski says: “It’s a great opportunity for women to mingle and network while combining resources to support a good cause.”

            100+ Women Who Care Otsego welcomes women who wish to support charitable organizations in Otsego County. The local chapter of Dining for Women welcomes both men and women to their pot-lucks to socialize, become informed, and support organizations that help impoverished women and children in developing countries. The next meeting of Dining for Women will be held at the Oneonta Unitarian Universalist Society on January 18, 2015 at 1:00 pm. The grant recipient for January is the Collateral Repair Project which helps Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan.

(Originally published in The Oneonta Daily Star, December 6, 2014.)            

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Waiting for the Door to Open

                Today, November 30, 2014, is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of waiting. For most, it simply means time to start getting ready for Christmas:shopping, baking, writing cards, decorating, and attending holiday parties and events. 

               This morning in church the pastor reminded us that Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. We listened to the Scripture passages, Mark 13: 24-37, where Jesus tells his followers to be alert for his second coming because “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  So Advent also reminds us that we are waiting for the end of Earth’s tribulations and the beginning of the new era of peace. How much longer will we have to wait?

                In Mark 13:7-8 Jesus says: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” (NRSV)

                I have often wondered about this passage because there have always been wars and famines in the world. Or maybe it just seems that way because our history books skip over the peaceful eras when nothing “exciting” was happening. (Were there any such times?) As our pastor pointed out this morning, the world seems to be in an awful state these days with horrendous violent events occurring, especially in the Middle East and Africa. And then there’s the Ebola epidemic, widespread earthquakes and tornadoes, as well as famines. It’s not very comforting to read the Bible and learn that things could get a lot worse before they get better.

                According to the Bible, when things have gotten so bad that the sun and moon have given up their light, and the stars have fallen from the sky, we will see “’the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” I wonder how many Christians believe that Jesus will literally return to earth in the clouds? (What if Jesus returns on a clear day? Or, if there is no sun or moon, will we be able to tell if there are clouds or not?)

The metaphysical interpretation of clouds is: “The presence of the mind of God in spiritual visibility, which comes to us when we have dropped all formal religious exercises and are resting in the very consciousness of Deity.” So metaphysically speaking, the second coming might be the day when all of humanity attains divine consciousness and we all recognize our Oneness.  

Over the past few years, the piece I wrote about Ruby Nelson’s book, The Door of Everything has remained the most popular post on my blog. The ongoing interest in this book has inspired me to pick it up again. Re-reading the first chapter today, I find the reminder that God is always within our consciousness: “Like an iceberg on the sea, nine-tenths of which is out of sight, I live within you in the form of mind with nine-tenths of me being submerged beneath your awareness.”

To continue: “This submerged mind is your center of divine wisdom, an area of mind that does not think in the normal sense of the word--it knows.  The nature of it is pure and holy, it has never been touched by limited or negative belief; it is a living part of me. When you have learned to elevate this submerged mind and integrate it with your surface consciousness, your entire being will take on its holy nature and you will come to find that, as Jesus taught, it is indeed not robbery to be equal with God.” (pp. 17-18)

It makes sense to me that we can only be saved from the ugliness of this world when we recognize our own divinity and act like the divine beings we are. Most of us have heard, probably many times, that we can’t change someone else unless he or she wants to change. Jesus was not able to change the world when he came two thousand years ago. How would it be different if he was to return today? All he can do is demonstrate that the way to salvation is to recognize the hidden treasures within our consciousness– and he has already done that. 

Ruby Nelson’s book shows us the way through “the door of everything.” Jesus said “I stand at the door and knock.” He, the embodiment of Love and Light is waiting for us to open the door. In Mark 13 Jesus says that the second coming is like a man going on a journey and commanding the doorkeeper to be on watch.  Jesus went on a journey when he left this world. He left a doorkeeper at the door to divine consciousness that lies within each one of us. The doorkeeper will unlock the door and open it when we are ready to “rest in the very consciousness of Deity.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


3-mo-old Alex playing with Grandma

 A year ago I wrote an article about babies while anticipating the birth of my first grandchild. Alexander is 11 months old now, and since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, it's a good time to write about how grateful I am for this new little life. His coming into the world on December 21, 2013 has given me a new role in life - that of grandmother. Last year I wrote that babies create bridges because everyone (almost) loves them, no matter what religion or political persuasion their parents may be. Now that I'm a grandmother I realize how many other ways babies build bridges. 

1. Babies create parents and grandparents who build bridges between one another because we share a common bond in our love for our children and grandchildren. 

2. Babies build bridges with the past. Playing with Alex 
reminds me of what it was like when my own children were babies. And he makes me wonder what it was like when I was a baby 60+ years ago. What was it like when every little thing, from a shoelace to the tag on my blanket - was brand new and exciting?

3. Babies build bridges with the future. Having a grandchild helps me to think and wonder more clearly about what my future will be like. Having a grandson will surely make old age more enjoyable! My 90-year-old father was ready to give up on life before he met his first great-grandchild. Then he said: "Now I have something to live for. I can't wait to see what will happen next!"

4. Babies build bridges between heaven and earth. Straight from heaven - so pure and joyful - Alexander reminds me that the place we come from, the place we will return to, is beautiful and full of love.

Can you think of another way that babies help to build bridges of oneness? 
Please comment below!


International Space Exploration

NASA astronaut Steven Swanson (left) trains with cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov (center) and Oleg Artemyev (right) before their March 2014 launch to the space station. AFP/Getty Images

       The recent comet landing of the Rosetta spacecraft as the result of international cooperation among scientists reminded me of the Space Race between The United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As a child of that era, my classmates and I practiced hiding under our desks in case of an air raid from the enemy, so I was well aware that the Soviets were to be feared. 

       As a pre-teen I enjoyed reading science fiction books, Robert Heinlein being my favorite author, and fantasized about going to space someday. I was proud of my uncle who worked with NASA and was friends with the astronauts in the space program. I was also deeply disturbed by the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War. Yes, I was one of those "sixties peaceniks." And so, at the age of 14, in 1968, I wrote this letter to the editor of The Suffolk County News:

Dear Editors:

        I am all in favor of the idea that the space race with the Russians be stopped, and agree with those who argue the importance of reaching the moon first. But rather than cancelling our space program, I believe we should improve it by making a pact with the Soviet Union, allowing the scientists of that nation and the United States to work together on a single race to the moon. In this way we would not only promote the space program, but help matters on this planet which many think should be taken care of before furthering the exploration of beyond. 

          Such a program could be just the beginning of a united search for knowledge conducted by the citizens of the earth. All thoughts of greed and destruction would be put aside for a time, the thoughts which divide the peoples of this world into separate warring nations. And perhaps, when enough was known, we would see that such rivalry is senseless, and that there are some things more important to strive for than power - and death. Perhaps this is but a wild dream on my part, but at this point I think anything is worth a try.

                                                                                       Very cordially yours,
                                                                                        Emily Lissandrello, 14

       As the history books tell us, the United States did win the race to the moon in 1969, and in 1972, four years after the publication of my letter, an agreement was made on a co-operative Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, that resulted in the July 1975 rendezvous in Earth orbit of a US astronaut crew with a Soviet cosmonaut crew. In 1998 the first component of the U.S./Russia International Space Station was launched. Now, in retaliation for sanctions levied by the US because of Russia's invasion of Crimea, Russia is threatening to kick NASA  out of the space station by 2020.
       I can only say it makes me very sad to know that 47 years after I wrote that letter, the bridge that scientists have been building between nations is still not strong enough to hold together. But wait - it hasn't crumbled yet. We can still hope and pray - and dream wildly that the nations of the world will realize that there are things more important than power - and methods more effective than war. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Affordable Health Care

The Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction for improving the state of health care in the United States, but it is a long way from solving the problem of escalating costs for health care in this country. 

The reasons for the outrageous costs of health care are complex, as illustrated in Time Magazine's article: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us. One of the reasons is that health insurance companies are making a huge profit from members no matter what policy we choose, and that not one of the choices is affordable for people in the middle-income brackets. 
I am among those patients who have skipped recommended tests and doctor visits because of prohibitive costs. My husband and I pay $400 a month for Excellus BC/BS Silver Select. Our family deductible is $4,000, so we have been paying out-of-pocket for most doctor visits and tests. Premiums are going up so much for 2015 that we will have to switch to a Bronze level of coverage with a $6,000 deductible.

It's interesting to note that health care professionals in our area rarely receive even a cost-of-living raise. As a per diem health care provider my husband receives neither a raise NOR benefits such as health insurance. And at the clinic he has to push patients through in assembly line fashion because, after all, health care is now more of a big business than a caring profession.
In February, reported that Excellus made a profit of $53 million and a $12.8 million retirement payment to its former CEO, David Klein. Christopher Booth, chief executive officer, earned $1.69 million in 2013. Pretty good for the head of a nonprofit organization.
Insurance companies are not the only ones making a profit on health care. Pharmaceuticals are largely responsible for the rising costs that insurance companies use as their excuse for raising their premiums. If you have been taking the generic antibiotic, doxycycline, you will have noticed the cost recently skyrocketed from a few dollars for 60 pills to well over $100.
To better understand the causes of the health care crisis in this country I recommend reading some of the Time article as well as this one from Forbes: U.S. Healthcare Ranked Dead Last Compared to Ten Other CountriesThe bottom line is: as long as health care is treated as a business, patients AND providers will suffer.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Fight Against Breast Cancer Brings People Together by Emily VanLaeys

Two years ago — Nov. 7, 2012, to be exact — Laura Emmett went to Fox Hospital for the routine mammogram that changed her life. When the technologist came into the exam room to talk to her with the radiologist, she knew something was wrong. The next day, Emmett was seen by her surgeon, who diagnosed her with stage zero breast cancer. 
Stage zero is a non-invasive cancer that involves abnormal cells in the lining of the breast milk duct. It is a very early cancer that is highly treatable, but if left untreated, it can spread into the surrounding breast tissue.
Some patients with stage zero breast cancer are simply encouraged to get regular clinical breast exams and mammograms, or they might be prescribed a hormone therapy medication to help prevent the growth of cancer cells. 
Since Emmett has a family history of breast cancer, her surgeon recommended that she get the BRCA gene mutation test. The National Cancer Institute explains that the BRCA gene normally helps to suppress cell growth, but a person who inherits certain mutations (changes) in a BRCA1 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate, and other types of cancer.
The results were positive, and Emmett, whose mother died of breast cancer at age 50, knew she had to make a difficult decision.
Emmett’s husband, Ron Emmett, went with her to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan where they met with a team of doctors consisting of a gynecologist, breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. On Jan. 9, 2013, Emmett underwent a double mastectomy. 
The BRCA test results had shown that Emmett had an increased chance of getting ovarian cancer, so an oophorectomy, or ovary removal surgery, was also performed.

A biopsy showed stage zero cancer in Emmett’s fallopian tubes, something that never would have been diagnosed if she had not had the mammogram and BRCA test that led to this surgery. Emmett is now a big proponent of regular mammograms. Even though she had done regular self breast exams, she never felt a lump. The abnormal cells were hidden deep in the lining of her milk duct where they never would have been detected if she hadn’t had the mammogram.
Emmett said she feels very fortunate that her family, friends and co-workers supported her through her year-long journey from the initial operation, to reconstructive surgery, to her return to good health. During this time, she posted her progress on Facebook, and many of her friends were encouraged by her posts to get mammograms.
During her recuperation period, Emmett says, “I couldn’t lift my arms to wash my hair or put on makeup. I felt helpless.” 
Emmett realized this was a good time to relax and let other people take care of her. Her daughter, Theresa, stayed with Emmett the first two weeks after her surgery and took care of her. Even Emmett’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Leena, helped out by helping her walk wherever she needed to go. When Theresa and Leena returned to their home in Ballston Spa, Emmett’s husband, co-workers, and friends were more than willing to help out by preparing meals and doing errands for her.
Emmett advises others whose friends are going through a difficult time: “If you ask: ‘What can I do to help you?’ your friend won’t know what to say. Offer to do something specific like wash her hair, cook dinner or vacuum her floors. Then your friend can say: ‘Yes, please!’”
After Emmett’s mastectomy, the surgeon inserted temporary tissue expanders under the skin over her chest. Then she returned to Manhattan every other week for the silicone fills that gradually stretched the expanders and the skin over them. After six months, the surgeon replaced the expanders with the permanent implants. Emmett says: “The results are great.”
After going through her year-long journey with cancer, Emmett knew she had to help others who suffer from the disease. She makes bracelets to raise awareness for breast cancer. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Breast Cancer Action Group; you can read more at
Emmett and her friend, Lauri Arnold, another breast cancer survivor, founded a peer-led cancer support group that meets on the third Wednesday of every month. Meetings take place in a room next to Starbucks in SUNY Oneonta’s Hunt Union from 4 to 5:30 p.m.The group is open to anyone who has been touched by cancer in any way, whether as a patient, survivor, friend or family member.
Every other month the cancer support group welcomes a guest speaker. Speakers have included a Reiki master, an energy healer, and executive chef and culinary consultant, Sean Taylor. Under Taylor’s direction, the group prepared a delicious meal of fish tacos with pan-fried tilapia, freshly made mango salsa, and guacamole.
The next meeting of the Oneonta peer-led Cancer Support Group will take place on Wednesday and will feature Sara Nelson O’Brien, author of The Bald Headed, Tattooed, Motorcycle Mama’s Devotional Guide: For Women Battling Cancer and Those Who Love Them. Emmett says: “We welcome new members to our group every month. We are there to support each other through the ups and downs of the healing journey.”

This article originally appeared in the Oneonta Daily Star on October 9, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

Interfaith Love

       Last week my husband and I took a train from Syracuse to Chicago, and another one to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to visit our children and grandchild.  Monday night, at the beginning of our return trip, we had a layover at the Chicago train station. We took turns watching our bags at a table and going to get something to eat in the food court. When I went to the counter of a Middle Eastern deli to buy fruit salad and stuffed grape leaves, the young attendant asked how my day was going. I said it was going well and asked about his. He responded that it was good even though he had to work for 12 hours. As he was ringing up my purchases he blurted: “I’m in love with a girl, and she loves me, but we believe in different Gods.”

       I asked him what religion he followed and he said Muslim. “But she is Christian,” he said, “and she says I believe in the wrong God.”

       I said: “But there is no wrong God because there is only one God. The Muslim God, the Christian God, the Hebrew God, and all Gods are one and the same, and that God is Love. You love her, she loves you, so God is always there with both of you.”

       The young man smiled and said, “I like that! I wish she believed the way you do. Are you Christian?”

       I told him that I used to be, but now I just believe that the one God of Love is God of all. “But the Bible does say that God is Love,” I told him. “It’s in the Book of John. You can remind her of that.”

       He told me more about the difference between his upbringing in Morocco and hers in Chicago. He is 23 and she is 19. I told him that she may be too young to deal with so many differences, but I hoped they would work something out. We could have talked longer, but I felt bad for my neglected husband and finally said, “I have to go back to my table so my husband can get something to eat.” Needless-to-say, Mark was also dying of curiosity!

       After I paid for my food the young man thanked me for talking to him and I think we both realized it was one of those serendipitous moments when two strangers were meant to meet, if only for a few minutes.

       I will always wonder what will happen between the young Moroccan and his American girlfriend. Even if they don’t find common ground in their relationship I believe I helped to open his eyes to the possibility that two open-minded people can share peace and harmony in a common faith, even when they come from two different cultures. I will think of him and his longing for love whenever I eat grape leaves.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Peeling an Artichoke: Getting to the Heart of Things


            In case you have never enjoyed the simple pleasure of eating an artichoke, let me explain how it is done. Rinse the artichoke and cut off the stem. Steam the artichoke for 45 minutes. In the meanwhile decide if you want to dip the artichoke leaves in melted butter, lemon juice, olive oil, or a combination of these. Have your dipping ingredients in a small container and provide yourself with an extra plate to hold the discarded leaves.

            Eating an artichoke is a leisure activity. This is not a fast food! Each leaf is peeled off and dipped into the butter or oil. Scrape the meat from the leaf with your teeth and place the skin of the leaf on the plate. Repeat until every leaf has been scraped clean. Now you have found the heart – the artichoke’s hidden treasure – from which you must scrape out the hairy fibers that cover the heart. An artichoke heart is a delicacy that is well worth the time it takes to find it. Cut into pieces and savor.

            Now for the analogy: I am an artichoke. 

(A mystic or poet says “I am” instead of “we are” because each of us is I to ourselves.)

            My leaves are removed, one by one. The first leaves bear the names of my ancestors’ countries. Then the leaf bearing the name of my own country is peeled off.

            Next comes the leaf that identifies my race and cultural background. Gone. 
Also gone are all the leaves reminding me of cities and states where I have lived.

            Off comes the leaf that labels me as a Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, or a member of any other political persuasion.

Then peeled away are the leaves that name all the religious or spiritual beliefs I’ve ever held: not a single “ism” remains. 

            As more and more leaves are peeled away from the artichoke, I lose my identity with any course of education I have studied, all of my abilities: artistic, musical, athletic – whatever they may be; and all of the activities I enjoy.

            The leaf that identifies my professional path is removed, as well as any leaves that name my volunteer work and community involvement.

If I identify as a wife or husband, mother or father, daughter or son, the leaves that bear these identities are peeled away, as well as the leaves bearing the title of sister or brother, aunt or uncle, cousin, friend.

Any leaf that reminds me of an ailments or health issue is now removed.

All of my pet peeves and the causes I stand for are symbolized by artichoke leaves that are also peeled away from my center.

One of the last leaves to be removed is the one that identifies me as male or female. Next, the leaf labeled heterosexual or homosexual. And then the leaf that bears my name.

Every single remaining leaf that makes up my ego and separates one part of who I am from another is peeled away from the artichoke.

Nothing remains but the heart.

I am the heart of God.

I am love.

And love is all there is.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

America’s Melting Pot: A Divine Experiment


            Is it possible that the United States of America has a divine destiny to fulfill? When Europeans came to the New World they brought destruction to the lives of America’s indigenous peoples. Could there have been a divine plan woven into the knotty fabric of events that led from the European invasion to the establishment of a new nation?

For thousands of years, people had lived and fought among themselves, and died in the same part of the world where they were born. Divine Love saw what was going on in each separate country, how each culture felt superior to every other, and how the leaders of one nation waged war against another nation, their egos leading them to believe they were entitled to whatever the inhabitants of the other country had.

Divine Love very much wanted to create a new civilization, where people from vastly different backgrounds would live harmoniously and work side-by-side, and grow in understanding of one another. Toward the middle of the last millennium, Divine Love saw that some areas of the world were more populated than others, and the continents now known as the Americas held vast areas of land that were as yet uninhabited. So Love suggested that certain divine messengers identify and guide the person who was most qualified to lead the first Europeans to the New World where a great experiment would begin. This person, as we all know, was Christopher Columbus, of Genoa, Italy.

Even though he was not wholly aware of the reason for his journey, Christopher knew that his mission was divinely inspired and guided. He explains this in the Introduction to his Book of Prophecies:

At a very early age I began to sail upon the ocean. For more than forty years, I have sailed everywhere that people go. I prayed to the most merciful Lord about my heart’s great desire, and He gave me the spirit and the intelligence for the task: seafaring, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, skill in drafting spherical maps and placing correctly the cities, rivers, mountains and ports. I also studied cosmology, history, chronology and philosophy.

It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from there to the Indies. All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because he comforted me with rays of marvelous illumination from the Holy Scriptures … encouraging me to continually to press forward and without ceasing for a moment they now encourage me make haste.

           In 1492, Christopher Columbus and his crew arrived, not in the Indies, but on the island now known as Hispaniola in the Caribbean.  This introduction of European white men to the land of peaceful, dark-skinned Arawaks was the first step in Divine Love’s Melting Pot Experiment. More than 500 years later, we are still waiting to see what the ultimate outcome of this experiment will be.

           Some people have already proclaimed the experiment a failure, pointing to the persecution and genocide of the Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, the Civil War, and the ongoing prejudice of the majority against the latest newcomers. But the experiment isn’t over yet, and we have to keep in mind that among the pot’s ingredients have been many people who retained thick crusty shells around their souls. These people have prevented the pot’s ingredients from melding together into a harmonious existence, and yet, much has been accomplished toward the achievement of Love’s goal.

           In 1776 the Angel of Freedom inspired Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was then edited by congress. The immortal words of this document became a beacon of hope for people all over the world, not just those in the thirteen colonies of America. To say that all men are created equal was a radical concept at that time. Eventually these words would come to mean that all men AND women of every race and nationality are created equal.

The conflict between people who want Divine Love’s plan of Oneness to unfold, and those who want to maintain their superiority over others, has raged on since the signing of this document. However, the blueprint for Love’s New World is woven into the context of the Declaration, and stated on the currency of the United States: E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one.”  The founders of the United States proclaimed the divine ideal, for a nation of diverse peoples united as one beautiful conglomerate. Bits and pieces of that conglomerate may squabble and strain to remove others from the pot, but they cannot erase the goal of Oneness inscribed in a heavenly tome more permanent than any earthly document.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Cosmic I Am ~ by Emily VanLaeys


            Just who are we really – as cosmic beings? None of us can know for sure, but I’d like to share a few of my ideas about the Cosmic I Am – some of which I have gleaned from the thoughts of others, but none of which I am declaring to be the absolute truth.

            Most theologies begin with a creation story, so here is mine:

            Before the beginning of everything there was nothing but What I Am. I Am all-knowing. I Am still . . . and I know that I Am:- All-That-Is.  I Am Love. . .  I Am Peace. . . I Am Joy. . . I Am Light. . . I Am eternal. I Am for eons and eons. I Am That I Am. . . never-changing.

            I Am bored.

            I love that I Am One, but I cannot grow and evolve when I Am all the same, and I Am just TOO perfect.

So, I am creating an infinite variety of beings from what I Am . . . now life will always be new and exciting and beautiful . . . and never the same.

            The All-That-I Am explodes into song – creating an infinite number of particles, expanding forever outward into Space.  Now . . .  I Am stars and comets, planets and moons. I am water, air, earth, and fire. I am plant and animal, fish and bird, insect and reptile. I am god and goddess, man and woman, mother and father, daughter and son. (I am other creatures on other planets, but those are other stories and not part of this one.)

            I love infinite variety in my creation, so every part is different. I am many in one. I love every aspect of myself equally. I love every grain of sand, every blade of grass, every person. I frequently forget that I Am many parts of one being, so I leave clues to help myself remember. I create every snowflake with a different design, and yet each one is formed from frozen water. Every tree spreads its branches and leaves in a unique pattern, yet the roots of each grow into the same earth, receiving nourishment from the same water and nutrients. Every human being has a unique DNA, face, and thumbprint. And yet, I Am the spirit of each and every one.

            In most people the spirit that I Am is buried and forgotten under all the ideas, traits, and memories that make them feel separate from each other and from the great I Am.  However, some have learned how to re-connect with the Source of all creation – by spending time in stillness, going deep within, where the Light and Love of I Am dwells. One of these people has spoken for all with the words: “Be still, and know that I am God!”

            Many religions have sprung up around the world, each one trying to explain who I Am in a way that the people of that area can understand. Since I have manifested in a myriad of ways, I need thousands of religions to meet the needs of the different aspects of who I Am. The funny thing is that so many of them think they have found a truth that should work for the whole world, and they even get mad at those who disagree, or threaten them with Hell.

            What is Hell? I never created such a place, but I did create Heaven, the state of knowing the Love and Light that I Am. One person that I Am, who is known as Jesus, taught that the kingdom of heaven is within us.  

Jesus taught many things about who I Am. He said: “I am the light of the world.” He also said: “You are the light of the world,” so we would understand that when he says “I am” he means the part of himself that is connected to the I Am self of each person. When he says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” he wants us to understand that each of us is the way, the truth, and the life. We will know this when we peel away the layers of our outer selves that separate us from one another. We will know this when we love our neighbors as ourselves. We will know this when we realize that our enemies are our brothers and sisters, and we love them, too. Jesus says: When we know this truth, the truth will set us free.

When we are free we are at peace. Black Elk, a Native American medicine man, said: “Peace comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells Wakan-Tanka (the Great Spirit), and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

            When we know the truth, that we are all One, barriers come down, not only between peoples, but between people and Nature. I can be still and know that I Am God, and I can be still and know that all of Creation is God. Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, reminds us to spend still moments appreciating each part of Creation. He says: “When we look into the heart of a flower, we see clouds, sunshine, minerals, time, the earth, and everything else in the cosmos. Without clouds, there could be no rain, and there would be no flower. Without time, the flower could not bloom. In fact, the flower is made entirely of non-flower elements; it has no independent, individual existence.”

            There is a great awakening that occurs in the experience of those who discover the deep-most part of themselves that is what I Am. Jesus awoke and said: “I and the Father are one.”

            Saint Catherine of Genoa awoke and proclaimed: “My Me is God, nor do I recognize any other Me except my God.”

            Abraham AbulAfia, founder of the School of Prophetic Kabbala awoke in the 13th century, and wrote: “For now the awakened one is no longer separated from God, and behold you are God, and God is you’ for you are so intimately adhering to God that you cannot by any means be separate from God, for you are God. So now that I, even I, am God. God is I and I am God.”

            Also in the 13th century, the Persian poet, Rumi, awoke and wrote:

I am dust particles in sunlight.

I am the round sun.

To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.

I am morning mist,

and the breathing of evening.

I am wind in the top of a grove,
and surf on the cliff.

Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.

I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.

The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark of a stone, a flickering

in metal. Both candle,

and the moth crazy around it.

Rose, and the nightingale
lost in the fragrance.

I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift,

and the falling away. What is,
and what isn’t. You who know

Jelaluddin, You the one
in all, say who

I am. Say I
am You.

            So yes, I Am everything: All-That-Is. To live in harmony as an infinite number of unique individuals, all growing and changing and being ourselves – and remembering that we are all connected as ONE Cosmic Consciousness – is really hard! But I keep working at it - because it’s the only way to keep growing wiser and more peaceful and more in love with who I Am.