Tag Archive: Spirituality

The Hope in Death

Hope in death

Our hope in life beyond death is a hope made possible, not by some general sentimental belief in life after death, but by our participation in the life of Christ.

~ Stanley Hauerwas ~


Perform a quick Google search for “hope in death” and you’re likely receive a litany of Bible verses that believers in Jesus have hope beyond physical death. These verses may be wonderful for the average run of the mill believer, but do they apply to those who’ve lost a loved one to violent? In a sea of which few have traveled, finding peace in Christ’s death is hard to align.

Several years ago, a Pastor proclaimed Christ knows your pain. Knows? Christ knows my pain? The sarcastic part of me notes Christ never died via an AK-47 in the hands of a minor not old enough to buy a beer. Had the same teen had the beer, maybe all the subsequent pain could have been avoided. Then again, probably not. Christ never had a limb amputated, never processed of lingering mental and physical therapy required to simply get out of bed and face the world.

In times of tragedy, Buddhism is no different. For Buddhists, there’s a spin that death is part of our natural life-cycle. Many die alone. Oftentimes family members never got to say goodbye, or communicate one last time how much they were loved. Victims of mass shootings experience similar thoughts. In sudden death, trusting in some sort of universal design, we hope our loved one’s spirit remains safe and in the care of higher beings.

So, where’s the hope?

If we really loved these people, then we must try to fulfill their wishes. That’s the proper way to approach it. You see, the best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person. Their wish is for us to live.

Christ stated he is with us always, even unto the end (Matthew 28:20). But I offer an alternate meaning. It is through our faith of life that we crush the hatred of death.  Live a life focused on making others proud. And in doing so, moving through the grieving process and, through our faith in living, and the love of family and friends can we begin to heal and move forward. In doing so, many will find their loved ones in many places and ways throughout the day and evening.

You will find your loved ones in a touch on the arm; a dream; a coin appearing in one’s path or a butterfly twirling about. The signs and symbols will be unique to each of us and remind us our loved ones are near. These signs remind us of the unbroken bond that we will always hold. And like Christ, they will be with us always, even unto the end.

Living life fully enriches faith, family and friends. “Living” is very Buddhist, very Christian and crushes death’s hand.

The Soccer GodsA return trip to Washington netted seats adjacent to several Bible Study camp participants homeward bound to Texas. After a short period of time, it was apparent they followed Psalm 34:1 …. literally. In short, the group loved to … praise the LORD at all times” for they constantly spoke of His praise.

When a flight attendant brought a pillow, “Praise Jesus,” was uttered. “Thank you Lord for this water.” “Thank you Jesus for this view,” another exclaimed. After receiving peanuts, “Thank you Lord for this meal.” (Personally, I’ve never considered a small bag of peanuts a meal.)

After absorbing this atmosphere for an hour, a weird part of me wondered if any would praise Jesus if the aircraft were crashing. “Oh Lord, I praise you for the crash we are about to partake!” That raises another question: why do baseball players praise God after hitting a home run by thrusting their fingers toward the sky, but don’t praise God when they whiff (i.e., strikeout)? How come professional football players will praise Jesus after scoring but don’t praise Jesus when dropping a catch?

Maybe Jesus can only be praised when it’s good?

Those lost in the furor of religion neglect to “… give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” That bottle of water came from flight attendant’s service. The flight attendant received it because a another airline teammate stocked the plane, who received it from a buyer whose company and employees manufactured and shipped same said bottle of H2O.

Same goes for the peanuts. Neglecting the fact those peanuts would make quite a tasty meal for someone in Africa, should we not also praise the Lord for denying those peanuts to someone in Africa? It’s your bag of peanuts right? I mean God delivered them to you and not to another, right? Praise Jesus!

How about that winning score? Well … someone tossed the ball. A teammate probably blocked. A coach designed the play. Team owners are supported and paid by fans attending the game, etc., etc., etc. Shouldn’t we also praise God for the defender who’ll lose his job? “Hey Mr. defender! Praise Jesus I scored. And I praise God that you looked so bad on national television that you’ll lose your job.”

You get the picture.

The lesson is simple, one can’t praise ‘yang’ without praising ‘yin.’ From a Buddhist perspective, everything is interconnected. Everything affects everything else. Everything that is, ‘is’ because other things ‘are.’ All beings and phenomena are caused to exist by other beings and phenomena.

Thus, while we’re so busy praising God, don’t forget to give credit to the Caesars’ within your life.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 5.36.22 PMFor the few I’ve told of spiritual experience, I am often queried about the grand design of the universe, even of the maker himself and the spiritual design of life.

From a space perspective, is it likely that extraterrestrial intelligences or multidimensional beings traveled across interstellar space to leave a crop circle in Jim Bob’s cornfield in nowhere Kansas? Why haven’t these interstellar life forms landed in downtown New York? I have no clue. Maybe these distant travelers wanted to save the city a huge traffic jam.

The more plausible explanation is that traveling the universe is not for the faint of heart. The real universe you see at night is 250 times bigger than Hubble Telescope’s visual capability, spanning some 14.0 billion parsecs (about 45.7 billion light years). Some stars you’ll see tonight require about 45 billion light years to get here. Thus, what you see tonight is actually a snapshot of life an infinity long ago.

For someone to say I was personally created by an all-loving God seems hard to understand, for certainly, I am not one whose life seems all that valuable. Evolutionist Neil deGrasse Tyson indicated that any notions of creationism and intelligent design ignore a fundamental and important problem—the fact that the universe, and most of the things in it, would never have been designed. No engineer would design things this way. As Tyson explains:

“Star formation is completely inefficient. Most places in the universe will kill life instantly—instantly! People say “Oh, the forces of nature are just right for life.” Excuse me. Just look at the volume of the universe where you can’t live. You will die instantly. That is not what I call the Garden of Eden, alright. … We’re on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy—gone is this beautiful spiral that we have. And of course we’re on a one-way, expanding universe as we wind down to oblivion, as the temperature of the universe approaches absolute zero.”

The inner solar system is a shooting gallery. Multi-cellular life evolved over 3.5 billion years! Empirically, that design strategy sucks. 99% of all life that ever lived is now extinct. The earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and one of Darwin’s favorites, lightning strikes has taken its toll. “None of this,” Tyson explains, “is any sign that there is a benevolent anything out there.”

If you somehow can explain that, then consider all the natural diseases, including leukemia, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, ALS and etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on. Taken as a whole, the universe is against mankind.

But can there be a spiritual force?

If you are into an apparition only mentality, in 1996 a Tennessee baker charged five bucks a head to come see the “nun bun” till he got a cease-and-desist from Mother Teresa’s lawyer. Mother Mary has appeared on tree bark, the side of a glass window in San Paulo, a cheese sandwich, a building in Clearwater, Florida and countless other places.

As a Buddhist, Buddhism begins and ends in practice, not belief and doctrine. To practice Buddhist spirituality, one need not subscribe to a particular set of creedal statements. It is not necessary to believe in God or to deny the God’s existence. Buddhism does not ask those who would take its path to reject prior faith commitments or to adopt new ones. For living the holy life, says Buddhism, holding particular beliefs is not paramount. Clearly, noble persons have held all sorts of beliefs; saints have been Christian and Jewish, Muslim and Hindu, atheist and humanist. Buddhists, therefore, have no quarrel with other religions and philosophies on doctrinal and creedal issues. Because they understand the goal of the holy life to be freedom from suffering and the cultivation of compassion, Buddhists acknowledge that other perspectives and practices can genuinely mediate salvation.

However, in the wake of my spiritual experiences, while all of the above may be rationally correct, every one of us must confront the logical fallacy of claiming that any spiritual experience is impossible. While I am unwilling to give complete credence to every report, I could never found my theology upon any one single event.

So do I believe in a spiritual side of life? As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stated:

Our concern must be to live while we’re alive…to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.

Maybe there are no mistakes in life; all events are blessings given for our edification — our learning.”

proof-of-heaven-232x300Another in a Continuing Series of Letters to a Friend

Dear Ms. J:

I have heard of “Proof of Heaven.” But I prefer the material of Elizabeth KüblerRoss. As a reader, her work seems more relevant than Eben Alexander‘s.

What I think about God and God’s love is that people teach us so much of life. The trick is to be present to each other, listen to each and hear their stories. While I am here to listen you, to give you the love I possibly can, your life and courage has added to my faith.

I consider it an honor and privilege to walk with you on your journey. More importantly, the question I continually ask myself (or secretly to God) is where am I helping you go?

Some inevitably ask why do I run from God? Why have I, who’s seen heaven and Christ himself run from Him? If they knew me, if they really really knew and loved me, they would understand I’m not running from Christ … I’m running toward Him.

In truth, I am a humbled man. And as a humbled man, I can learn a lot. Every encounter, every conversation, every relationship or chance meeting is infused with the opportunity to bless one another. Deep down, we know this, but we get busy, making the dollar, finding love, and figuring out life’s problems.

Many of my nights are filled with voices from the past. I hear their voices from time to time, their reminders and confessions. I pulled out some old military pictures the other day. There within the halls of time’s gone by, I secretly sit in meditation with Christ and relive those moments.

I believe we are all connected – every thought, every word, every deed. Everything has energy that lasts forever. So, I suppose we are either influencing someone in a positive manner, or a negative one.

To that end, regardless of what you may think, I find you are a wonderful person. I believe you’re beloved beyond your wildest imagination! You an honor watch, a Celebration of Life. You seem to love all unconditionally; just the way God loves us!

Having been to heaven myself, I know the only thing we take with us is the love woven into our hearts. Thus the purpose of my letter Tucson is for you …. to never doubt you are here with great purpose.  The proof of heaven lies within us, not what someone says.

Nursing HomeEast of Tucson, Arizona is a retirement and short-term rehabilitation center.  There in room 205, lay father. Ten days ago a perfectly healthy man entered the hospital to have knee replacement.  Ten days later, a man was moved to this short term rehabilitation center have having stopped breathing, a heart attached and severe reaction to OxyContin, as prescribed by the physician.

The rehab center has four main wings. There’s long-term assisted living, a retirement wing, short-term rehabilitation and the disposable. The disposable wing is home to those solitary folks too sick and frail to leave.  On one hand, they have no family, no friends or soul mates. On the other, they await the angel of death. In strange way, they are comrades who abide by regularly scheduled activities and watch people go to and fro, surfing soap operas or sports while awaiting the angel of death.

By its very nature, most shy away, with many rarely venture this wing. There’s good reason: it’s the land God forgot. On face value it’s dreary. Patients come in to this area extremely ill, with such problems as sepsis, pneumonia, cancer and pancreatitis, etc. Only the early morning sunlight creaks the slightly drawn shades. Wheelchairs line the doorways and the air is perfumed with something dissimilar to urine or stool, permeating heavily.

After settling my father in, I ventured into no man’s land.  And by having the courage, I was afforded a wonderful opportunity to revisit history and lives of others.

Twenty steps in, I met Elias, a wonderfully entertaining elderly man who worked much of his life in now defunct Arizona copper mines. After leaving the mines, Elias started a landscaping venture with his “fat overweight son.” Remaining hearty at 62, he reached down to pick up a fifty-pound bag of dirt and snapped his back. Several weeks later, he has two steel rods running parallel to his spine, with steel screws every four inches. Long abandoned by his son, his only visitors are a church pastor and nurses.

After listening Elias, Sammy interrupted with her life. Sammy to friends and Samantha to family was a former dancer, who beautifully danced moved to choirs, orchestras and modern dance. In truth, Sammy was a former exotic dancer who self admittedly said “gravity’s won” but reinvested the cash she made and lives quite comfortably sipping tea as she pleases. She was clear to note that her youthful spirit of life remained alive, even at age 68. In fact ten years ago, Sammy was dancing in her living room while dancing to Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” She performed the split but suffered damage so severe she had two hip replacements.

Aileen is the resident grey tabby cat. And according to 92 year-old socialite, Ms. Spenser, Aileen is a little tramp and much “the to do” has been made over her affair with “Buster Weeds,” that orange tabby living on the other side of the washout adjoining the property.

In my few hours, I Charlie, Sandy, Barbara, Jensen, James, Cindy, Ms. Stemson and Carl.  I learned a little of Tombstone, local history of the Apache, Bisbee, the ghosts of Bisbee, the Copper Queen Mine of Bisbee, the copper mines of Jerome, Buckskin Mountains of west-central Arizona, politics, football and baseball.

For a few hours, history came alive. Each rolled back time and history relived as fresh and beautiful.  Because many of us simply refuse to reach past our own fear, real history is missed and much of history is lost.

Kneeling in the chapel I thanked the world for the courage to reach beyond the fear…to  listen, to laugh and to love. Maybe, I just couldn’t bear to see anyone move to another world without love. I am grateful for this chance to experience the impermanence of life. I am grateful these lives will continue on in me.

One Wing“You Can’t Fly On One Wing.”

~ Scottish Proverb ~

As Easter weekend approached, I sat from a balcony overlooking Washington’s coastline. With Spring flourishing, I saw much life coming forth: bees, butterflies and birds fluttering about. When I crossed a child attempting to fly a paper airplane with a damaged wing, I repaired the man-made aircraft; and giving a gentle nudge, the plane soared high unto the prevailing trade winds of Orcas Island.

Looking unto the child of nearly eight, I said:

Remember, much of life is like this paper airplane, one cannot fly upon just one wing.”

There will be many times when one believes they must do everything themselves. After all, “…it’s often the only way to get the right answer.” But in truth, I believe each of us needs a little luck … and the wings of God. And this past weekend, all of us, regardless of religion, regardless of faith, took some small amount of time to reflect upon the ‘cross’ and Christ’s life.

Many believe the cross first came into existence as a symbol associated with the Christian faith; but the cross existed before there was Christianity, before Moses, before Buddha and before any human written historical record. In fact, the cross can be found among the Aztecs and the Phoenicians culture. In some way, the symbol of a crucified savior or of a man crucified upon a cross, appears to have been known to many nations.

So there must have been a reason for the ‘cross.’ Personally, I tend to believe there is some natural association between a loving God and the human mind.  I do not purport people ever agreed that the cross was meant only for Christians, but I believe there is a God–human connection between all of us.

For instance, in every religion the power of the word is recognized. In Christianity, creation itself is said to have come out of the word. Thus, there is an external aspect of the thought of God resides within the Word, and, as God thought and willed, He created and creation came from the Word.

In our stress and hurried materialistic life, our nerves lose sensibility and we become hardened. We lose our connection to faith, a faith which bears us this second wing, a wing that allows us to fly. If our duty to others means helping others; can we always fly in this world without our second wing? Should we always try to help the world alone or unified in an eternal force? If we dare to consider, we’ll find greater success flying as an eagle, versus fluttering singularly.

I once read a sermon which stated, “All this beautiful world is very good, because it gives us time and opportunity to help others.” Still, while we cannot deny there is much misery; to go out and help others is therefore the best thing we can do. However, it’s imperative to remember that in the long run we shall find greater power in being an eagle.

The power of Easter is love and God wants each of us to soar. But remember, you can’t soar on only one wing.

The Spirit Within

spiritLaying sick this past week, I had extensive conversations with a distant friend.  While unsure why she reached out to me at this particular moment, I have bathed in our renewed time together.  After conversing at all sorts of odd hours, one could find a sense of peace, a spiritual awakening. I felt amazingly refreshed.

Eckhart Tolle wrote,That is the real spiritual awakening, when something emerges from within you that is deeper than who you thought you were. So, the person is still there, but one could almost say that something more powerful shines through the person.”  This reminds all of us that one does not have to be terminally ill nor do you have to perform a bazillion hours of meditation to enter this peaceful state. However, once experienced, this spiritual awakening can become a part of your daily life.

Spirituality and religion belong in the healing paradigm and they factor significantly in recovery, well-being and longevity.  Jesus was once asked when the kingdom of God would come. The kingdom of God, Jesus replied, is not something people will be able to see and point to. Then came these striking words: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21). Looking into peace via the eyes of a friend, I confirmed a long held notion: that every great religious, spiritual, and wisdom tradition have the same commonality— that life’s ultimate truth, its ultimate treasure, lies within us.

After experiencing such peaceful moments in the last eight (8) years, I remember St. Augustine’s thoughts:

I entered into the innermost part of myself. . . . I entered and I saw with my soul’s eye (such as it was) an unchangeable light shining above this eye of my soul and above my mind. . . . He who knows truth knows that light, and he who knows that light knows eternity. Love knows it. O eternal truth and true love and beloved eternity!

And I often do this. I find a delight in it, and whenever I can relax from my necessary duties I have recourse to this pleasure. {I experience] a state of feeling which is quite unlike anything to which I am used — a kind of sweet delight which, if I could only remain permanently in that state, would be something not of this world, not of this life. But my sad weight makes me fall back again; I am swallowed up by normality.

Find a slice of this heavenly peace and invite it into your life. It’s nice to be reminded that the “kingdom of heaven” has many doors. This same kingdom we’ve been hearing about for the last several centuries is “within you.” Within us all. Here and now.

My soul at once becomes recollected and I enter the state of quiet or that of rapture, so that I can use none of my faculties and senses . . . . Everything is stilled, and the soul is left in a state of great quiet and deep satisfaction.

~Mother Teresa~

Sacred HoopBeing in the Denver, Colorado area for the past nine months has allowed me to visit various Native America n homes. Visiting one such home today, the patriarch retold a recent passing of a good friend. And being a Buddhist, I found that Native Americans view this earthly plain as a world of learning experiences. Creator places everyone here for only a moment. Each of us comes with many gifts. Thus, these gifts are meant to be shared.

Often they pray to the four directions:

  • East is where the sun rises. The eastern spirit of sun or fire brings warmth and light. It is the place of beginnings. Its light brings wisdom. It is the power of knowledge.
  • South is the sun at its highest point. It is the direction from where warm winds blow. South is the spirit of earth, the power of life. It represents peace and renewal.
  • West is the spirit of water. It is the direction from which darkness comes. It is the power of change, the place of dreams, introspection and the unknown. The west signifies purity and strength.
  • North is the spirit of wind. The cold wind blows from the north. It is the power of wisdom. Here we take time to reflect on what we began in the east, in the morning, in our youth.

Praying to the four directions is a beautiful is symbolic to the Sacred Hoop and is one’s ability to be embodied by all four points. As we journey around the sacred hoop of life, at the point of the four directions, we learn lessons. Some journey at a rapid rate, others slower, knowing they don’t wish to hasten our time here before we journey on to the other world.

Many Native Americans believe we pass over into the spirit world, where we are met by ancestors who passed before us. This world is a world of love and beauty, not to be feared.

In my own experiences, I have heard many who’ve had a near-death experience state it was a difficult choice to make, whether to remain in the spirit world or to journey back to this earthly plain. Some chose to return; others wished to remain in the spiritual state of being.

Regardless, Native Americans, believe our spirits live on. Our outer shells deteriorate, but our spirits choose this life while we are here on our journey.  In truth, as a living Buddhist, as a living Christian, I cannot fathom a better view of life itself.

We are all artists. Share your gifts. Share your life. Life different than I. Live better, love better. Please paint the brushstrokes of love on every person you meet.

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