Tag Archives: inspiration

Was the Greatest Spirituality Book of All Time Written 120 Years Ago?

christopher-jolly-132141-e1491504644979

Christopher Jolly via unsplash.com

This story originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, April 2017.

Every few years there’s a spirituality book that captures the imagination of the public and becomes a big bestseller. Think The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, or before that, you may remember The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield from the early-90’s or even Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach from the early-70’s.

Well, once upon a time there was a spirituality book that was even bigger than those classics. It came out all the way back in 1897 and since it’s now 120 years old, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. It’s called In Tune with the Infinite by Ralph Waldo Trine and it’s considered by some to be the greatest spiritual book of all time.

in-tune-with-the-infinite-ralph-waldo-trineA pioneer in the era’s New Thought Movement, Trine wrote over a dozen books, but it was this one that caught fire with the public and went on to sell over 2 million copies. Just how popular was In Tune with the Infinite? I actually have a worn dustcover from the 1909 edition and here’s what the publisher says on it:

It has become a world classic in its line. One traveler writes that he has come across a man reading it sitting on the banks of the Yukon; another that he finds it in the shops and even the little railway stations in Burmah and Ceylon. An American reviewer has said: “For one to say that he has never head of ‘In Tune with the Infinite’ is similar to saying that he has never heard of the Constitution of the United States.”

For a book that achieved such worldwide popularity, it’s main message was relatively simple: God is within us at all times and accessible by us at all times. By realizing that we have this presence inside us, and by getting “in tune” with this infinite and divine source of love and guidance, our lives and world can be changed for the better. Trine writes it’s up to us:

You and I have the power, the power within us, to open or close ourselves to this divine inflow exactly as we choose. This we have through the power of mind, through the operation of thought.

I’ve included 11 of my favorite passages below, adding category headings. I’ve also done some light editing, updating verbiage that was dated or awkward, shortening some of Trine’s writings to avoid redundancy and, where possible, making the language gender neutral. Before you begin, here’s a sample from the book’s prelude that talks to just how important our mindset is:

The optimist is right. The pessimist is right. The one differs from the other as the light from the dark. Yet both are right. Each is right from their own particular point of view, and this point of view is the determining factor in the life of each. It determines whether you have a life of power or of impotence, of peace or pain, of success or failure.

Once you read the passages below, I’m sure you’ll get the gist of Trine’s powerful message. Read them slowly and you may agree that much of what he writes has the ring of truth, even today.

#1. What I Call God.

The great central fact of the universe is that the Spirit of Infinite Life and Power is behind all. It animates all, manifests itself in and through all…it is creating, working, ruling through the agency of great immutable laws and forces that run through all the universe that surrounds us on every side.

Every act of our everyday lives is governed by these same great laws and forces…this Spirit of Infinite Life and Power that is behind all is what I call God.

God, then, is this Infinite Spirit which fills all the universe with Himself alone, so that all is from Him and in Him, and there is nothing that is outside. In Him we live and move and have our being. He is the life of our life, our very life itself.

#2. Find Your Center.

Find your center and live in it. Surrender it to no person, to no thing. In the degree that you do this, you will find yourself growing stronger and stronger in it….and how can one find your center? By realizing your oneness with the Infinite Power, and by living continually in this realization.

#3. Wash Your Windows.

If the windows of your soul are dirty and streaked, covered with matter foreign to them, then the world as you look out of them will be dirty and streaked and out of order…go wash your windows, and instead of longing for some other world you will discover the wonderful beauties of this world. If you don’t find transcendent beauties on every hand here, the chances are that you will never find them anywhere.

#4. Recognize, Listen, Obey.

When we come into the recognition of our own true selves, to the realization of the oneness of our life with the Infinite Life, when we open ourselves to this divine inflow, the voice of intuition, the voice of the soul, the voice of God speaks clearly.

When we recognize, listen to, and obey it, it speaks ever more clearly, until there comes the time when it is unerring, absolutely unerring, in its guidance.

With a mind at peace, and with a heart going out in love to all, go into the quiet of your own interior self, holding the thought I am one with the Infinite Spirit of Life, the life of my life.

#5. Love.

Tell me how much one loves and I will tell you how much they have seen of God. Tell me how much they love and I will tell you how much they live with God. Live only in the thought of love for all and you will draw love to you from all. Live in the thought of malice or hatred, and malice and hatred will come back to you.

#6. Know Yourself.

There is no better way to help yourself than to know yourself. Become aware of the powers that are lying dormant within your own soul…for it is through your own soul that the voice of God speaks to you. This is the interior guide. This is the light that lights every person that comes into the world. This is conscience. This is intuition. This is the voice of the higher self, the voice of the soul, the voice of God.

#7. Do Little to Do Much.

Those who are truly awake to the real powers within are those who seem to be doing so little, yet who in reality are doing so much. They seem to be doing so little because they are working with higher agencies, and yet are doing so much because of this very fact. They do their work on the higher plane. They keep so completely their connection with the Infinite Power that It does the work for them and they are relieved of the responsibility. They are the care-less people. They are careless because it is the Infinite Power that is working through them, and with this Infinite Power they are simply co-operating.

#8. Seeing the Good in All.

The moment we recognize ourselves as one with (the Infinite) we become so filled with love that we see only the good in all. And when we realize that we are all one with this Infinite Spirit, then we realize that in a sense we are all one with each other…wherever we go, whenever we come in contact with our fellow man, we are able to recognize the God within. We thus look only for the good, and we find it. It always pays.

#9. The Law of Prosperity.

This is the law: When apparent adversity comes, be not cast down by it, but make the best of it, and always look forward for better things, for more prosperous conditions. To hold yourself in this attitude of mind is to set into operation subtle, silent, and irresistible forces that sooner or later will actualize in material form that which is today merely an idea. But ideas have power, and ideas, when rightly planted and rightly tended, are the seeds that actualize material conditions.

#10. All Can Obtain It.

No human soul need be without it. When we turn our face in the right direction it comes as simply and as naturally as the flower blooms and the winds blow. It is not to be bought with money or with price. It is a condition waiting simply to be realized, by rich and by poor, by king and by peasant, by master and by servant the world over. All are equal heirs to it.

#11. Bring Joy Everywhere You Go.

Carry with you an inspiration and continually shed a benediction wherever you go; so that your friends and all people will say, your coming brings peace and joy into our homes; as you pass along the street, tired, and weary, and even sin-sick men will feel a certain divine touch that will awaken new desires and a new life in them; that will make the very horse, as you pass him, turn his head with a strange, half-human, longing look. Such are the subtle powers of the human soul when it makes itself translucent to the Divine.

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The Dude on Finding True Love and Making it Last.

the-big-lebowski-jointDO you know the Dude?

He’s a fictional character in the Cohen Brother’s movie The Big Lebowski and he’s played by the actor Jeff Bridges. And while Bridges has played dozens of roles over his long career, this may be the one he is most associated with. He was so convincing as the Dude, the role seemed to be an extension of Bridges himself.

Now, I love The Big Lebowski and have seen it dozens of times; the interplay between the Dude and his movie buddy Walter (John Goodman) is priceless. So when I belatedly heard that Bridges had put out a book called The Dude and the Zen Master, co-written with his friend Bernie Glassman, I ordered it immediately. And like the movie, I’m captivated by it.

There’s a lot of rich wisdom in this book and it’s presented in a unique manner, a dialogue between Bridges and the Zen master Glassman. Like two veteran jazz musicians, they jam on a variety of subjects, from the purpose of life to intimacy and relationships to overcoming the inevitable bumps on the road.

But the part of the book I’m focusing on here is the nature of love and marriage. Bridges has been married to his wife Sue for 35 years, a notable feat anywhere but especially for a “Hollywood” couple.

He has some keen insights on the path his marriage took and I can totally relate because they mirrored my own path. (I celebrate 20 years of marriage to my wife Laney this year.)

You’ll see Jeff’s words in italics below; I’ve taken the liberty of organizing his thoughts into a progression of five key moments of realization because I think they accurately represent the arc of marriage, at least from my own personal perspective.

#1. It starts with finding your true love.

Jeff & Sue. Then.

Jeff & Sue. Then.

Bridges meets his wife on a movie set in Montana in 1974. The first few times he asks her out she turns him down until one night he sees her in town and “we danced and I fell in love.” The very next day Bridges has an appointment to look at a house that’s for sale and he invites Sue to come along on what’s officially their first “date.”

#2. Next, you have to overcome the commitment-phobia.

Things progress, but like a lot of us guys, Jeff becomes frightened by the thought of marriage and a life-long commitment. You begin to wonder: Is this really the one? What if I fall out of love? What if another woman comes along that I love more?

I felt cornered, not by Sue but by myself. I couldn’t bear to let the love of my life slip through my fingers, but at the same time I was afraid of declaring: This is the one! To make a long story short, I finally got the courage to ask Sue to marry me, with the secret caveat that I could always get a divorce. 

Bridges eventually reaches one of those “Oh no, what have I done?” states of mind during their first year of marriage. Sue picks up on it and offers to annul the marriage if he doesn’t want it. Bridges response is  “No, no.” In his words, it takes a couple of years but “I finally got with the program.”

#3. In time, you see the depth and beauty of married life.

Once you get past the first few shaky years, you find your relationship growing stronger, the roots growing deeper. You have a perception shift where you no longer see what you’re missing, but see the beauty in all that you have. This was especially true in my case when our first child came along.

You close one door, the door to all other women, but you open a door that leads to a long hallway lined with doors. Incredible doors like children, grandchildren, deeper intimacy with the woman you love, and so many other things that would not be available to you without marriage, without the water under the bridge…thank God I went for it.

 #4. You engage in epic battles—and the marriage endures.

Like all of us who have been married for a while, you know that it’s not always bliss, especially if you both have strong personalities and opinions. Arguments and disagreements are bound to happen. The real test is in how you handle them.

We do have one ancient war that comes up again and again, which basically runs like this: You don’t get it; you just don’t get me; you don’t understand.” And that’s true. I don’t entirely know Sue or her perspective, I never will. And she won’t know me or where I’m coming from, really, entirely…but as this ancient war rages, with each battle it becomes more apparent that this inability to truly know the other’s perspective is what we have in common.

#5. Come hell or high-water, you’re in it for the long-haul.

Jeff & Sue. Now.

Jeff & Sue. Now.

With time you know that even the “ancient wars” can’t give you a big enough reason to split. You have an unbreakable bond. An occasional storm may hit, it may even cause damage to the home that is your relationship, but the foundation stays rock-solid. And you become expert at repairing the home, each time making it a little stronger.

Knowing that we learn to take our differences and not so seriously, we open up…I now find that when the war raises its head again, I feel: “Great, here it is againnow we get to learn how to love each other even more.”

And a final thought on marriage, one I couldn’t put any better than the Dude himself:

What is marriage? You’re setting an overall context: “Okay, we’re going to jam. We’re going to experience all our stuff, I’m going to get pissed at you and you’ll get pissed back, but we’ll be in a marriage. We know we’ll have tough times, but we’re doing it all together.”

This post originally appeared in Elephant Journal,  July 12, 2013. 

Where is God when evil happens?

ManHelpingI started writing this post just after the Newtown school shootings in Connecticut this past January, and felt compelled to finish it after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. When something so sinister happens to so many innocent people it begs the question:

How could God let this happen?

It’s something that may have passed your mind as the news came out of Boston, or perhaps when you first heard the spirit-draining news of the Connecticut school shootings. After all, if God is all knowing and all loving, how could God allow innocent people to be killed and maimed?

After both the events of Connecticut and Boston, I took a trip around the Web to hear what others were saying. Here are the responses that resonated with me the most, perhaps because they speculate on the answer—which makes sense, since there is no easy answer to be found. I’ve also included my own take at the end of this post as I try to find meaning in these terrible acts.

From Jim Denison in the Christian Post after the Connecticut shootings:

We’d all like a world where God prevents every Holocaust or 9/11 or Newtown tragedy. But once he intervenes to prevent the results of free will, where does he draw the line?

From Diana Butler Bass in the Huffington Post, also after the Connecticut shootings:

Somewhere, deep in our souls, we know we cannot know. The hidden God, I think, is the only God that makes any sense of Newtown: One neither and both present and absent; One in the hands of rescuers but not the hands that wielded the guns; One in the midst of murdered but not the act of murder. This is the God who is in all places and nowhere.

From Brett Williams, a pastor, in a local Austin newspaper after Newtown:

Before asking “Where was God in all of this?” and “Why would he allow such a thing to happen?” ask yourself the equally difficult question, “Why did God allow Jesus to die?”

I was buoyed today by the words of the poet and blogger Mark Lloyd Richardson who wrote a meaningful post “Look for the helpers”. Its title is based on an old quote from Mr. Rogers who once said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Sure enough we saw “the helpers” yesterday in the video footage from Boston, scores of people running into the mayhem, not away from it, to see how they could help the injured. Richardson included his own insightful thoughts on the bombing and how the good would win out:

The vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation…so when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

I had a similar take when I wrote a column for my small town newspaper a few weeks after 9/ll, trying to make sense of that tragedy. I just re-read it and it mirrors my sentiments today.

I believe there is a balance of good and evil in the world and we are blessed to live in a society that for the most part is good. When the scale abruptly tilts and evil slithers into our lives it catches us off guard. When it is of such a monstrous scale that it impacts and destroys innocent lives…it knocks us senseless. Yet, we have been graced with the inner strength and will to dissipate this evil. We do this by simply doing good, by helping the injured of both body and spirit to recover, by fighting this gross inhumanity with compassion and care for those around us.

So perhaps the answer is that in Boston on April 15th, as in so many horrid events, God was there. Only on days like this God appears to us in human form, in the people who come rushing in to comfort, rescue  and heal those who need help the most.

This post originally appeared on my Patheos column Wake Up Call, April 16, 2013

How to listen to God.

Let us be silent, and we may hear the whispers of the Gods. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do evangelical Christians, devotees of the Bhagavad Gita and this humble blogger have in common? We all believe in the power of a direct and personal relationship with God.

For me, this personal relationship means that I start most mornings with a specific ritual. After rolling (or these days, hobbling) out of bed, I flick on the coffeemaker and begin stretching, followed by a cup of coffee, meditation and/or prayer, more coffee and a three or four-mile run.

It’s at different points during this morning routine that I find and connect with the essence of God within. It literally gives me a feeling of warmth and love inside and gets me ready for the day ahead, hopefully to spread the compassion and good vibes I feel to everyone I encounter.

On some days, I take an additional step. I talk to and listen to God.

Now, this is not a traditional conversation, as it’s often wordless and involves more listening than talking. I simply ask for guidance in whatever single area of my life most needs it. While this may sound nuts to those less spiritually-inclined, I’m practicing a tradition that has been around for some time (see John 10:27) and recommended by some of the leading spiritual lights of our age.

One regular conversationalist with God was Ralph Trine, an early New Thought Movement leader. Trine believed there was a “divine inflow” that we all could tap into for guidance and advice on any life matter. In his great lost classic In Tune with the Infinite, which sold over two million copies and was credited by Henry Ford as the key to his success, Trine wrote:

“It is through your own soul that the voice of God speaks to you. This is the interior guide.”

Perhaps our greatest American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, also believed there was a source of guidance available to us all called the “divine soul”. Emerson had his own way of communicating with this source which he referred to as “lowly listening” (more on that later):

“There is a soul at the center of nature and over the will of every man….we prosper when we accept its advice…we need only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word.”

Ram Dass also talked to the importance of listening for guidance in his modern-day classic Paths to God, Living The Bhagvad Gita. Here he discusses the benefits of “adopting a Gita perspective”:

“Instead of always preoccupying ourselves with trying to get what we think we want or need, we’ll start to quiet, we’ll start to listen. We’ll wait for that inner prompting. We’ll try to hear, rather than decide, what it is we should do next. And as we listen, we’ll hear our dharma more and more clearly.”

When it comes to a heart-to-heart with God, I’ve distilled my personal process down to three steps—but by no means do I want to make this sound easy. It probably took me a decade or so to perfect the first step—but after that, step two came much faster, as did step three though I know this can be a tricky one for a lot of people.

1. Go to a place where you can quiet the mind and be still.

Unless you walk around in a perpetual state of Zen, this is a necessary first step. And as a reader of The Inner Way, I’m guessing you already have a good idea what technique for quieting the mind works best for you.

For me, I’m best able to quiet my mind by focusing on my breathing via meditation or by taking a brisk run along the river that lines my neighborhood. But there are many other ways to get there, as well. As Douglas Block points out in his book Listening to Your Inner Voice:

“You can achieve this stillness through any process that relaxes you and slows down your thoughts—meditation, visualization, long walks, exercise, driving on a country road…”

2. Engage in what Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to as “lowly listening”.

It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Once in a relaxed state, put your concern out to God. Then, while not trying too hard, “listen” within. Scholar and author Richard Geldard, who has written two books on Emerson’s philosophy, explains what happens during this lowly listening phase:

“Solitude, stillness, reflection, judgement and understanding all come together to guide us.”

Emerson discussed the process of lowly listening is in one of a series of essays titled Spiritual Laws. He wrote:

“Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into you as life, place yourself in the full center of that flood, then you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment.”

The key is listening. As author Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee points out in his enlightening new book Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism
:

“Learning to pray is learning to listen. Within the heart we learn to wait with patience for God’s words, which may come even when we have not asked.”

3. Separate the word of God from the voice of the ego.

A friend once told me that she hears lots of words in her head, the problem is figuring which are the right ones. And maybe that’s the hard part. But once you’ re able to tune in to the “soul at the center of nature” as Emerson calls it, you’ll find there’s a single, authentic voice there.

When I say voice, it doesn’t always come through in words (though it can), but usually in the form of a deep-seeded intuition. One moment you’re questioning the correct next step at work, at home, in love or in life. The next moment you know the answer with certainty.

The one important part is learning to separate the false voice of the ego with the true voice of the soul and God. Vaughan-Lee advises that
:

“Such listening requires both attentiveness and discrimination, as it is not always easy to discriminate between the voice of the ego and the voice of our Beloved. But there is a distinct difference: the words of the ego and mind belong to duality; the words of the heart carry the imprint of oneness. In the heart there is no argument, no you and me, just an unfolding oneness. The heart embraces a difficulty, while the ego takes sides.”

What’s the importance of this morning conversation with God? Again, in the words of Ralph Trine:

“The little time spent in the quiet each day, alone with one’s God, that we may make and keep our connection with the Infinite source—our source and our life—will be a boon to any life. It will prove, if we are faithful, to be the most priceless possession that we have.”

That pretty well sums it up. It’s a priceless moment, one that helps me—and can help you—start every day in the right frame of mind, with the added assurance that any additional wisdom or guidance you need is never too far away.

Dr. Seuss and the quirky hand of fate.

Gods Hand by sculptor Carl Milles

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. ~Dr. Seuss

I recently heard an interesting story about Theodor Geisel, otherwise know as Dr. Seuss. I rediscovered him over the past several years, as my daughter read the same strange and whimsical books I enjoyed in my childhood. And while most of us are familiar with classics like The Cat in The Hat and The Lorax, one thing you may not know about Dr. Seuss is that he was almost not published at all.

Geisel’s first book was rejected by 27 different publishers. Dispirited, he considered packing it in and continuing on with his day job of 15 years, working as an illustrator in the ad business. But one day, while walking home from the office, he literally bumped into an old friend who happened to work as an editor at a publishing house. Geisel was holding a manuscript, the editor noticed it, and soon afterward the incomparable Dr. Seuss was born.

Talk about the quirky hand of fate: had Geisel been simply walking down the other side of the street or had he left the office five minutes later or earlier, he might not have ran into the friend and ever published a single word. Yet fate interceded that day and put Geisel’s life on a different path. And his world—and our world—was made all the better for it.

The New Oxford American Dictionary definition of fate is that it is “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power,” But I wonder if Geisel’s fate didn’t had as much to do with his perseverance as it did with a supernatural source.

Last week, I came across an interview with mythologist Michael Meade who for years has stressed the importance of discovering our true selves and creating our own unique life stories. Meade, whose books include Fate and Destiny, the Two Agreements of the Soul, believes that fate plays an integral role in the process saying, “We can’t run from fate, but can only run into it” and adding “when we face our fate, we find our destiny which is our soul’s destination in life.”

It leads me to believe that we must do our own part to meet and cultivate fate in our lives. You’ll note that in Geisel’s story, he was still toting his manuscript around with him even after 27 rejections. He was down, but not out.

Seth Godin adds to the message of actively pursuing fate with this point: Waiting for the fickle finger of fate to point at you (and cursing the universe until it does) is a lousy strategy. What a shame that so many people rationalize their lives this way. It might be a useful rationalization, but how does it increase the likelihood you’ll get what you want?

So, by all means believe in fate, but as poet and author Mark Nepo says “Hold nothing back…be completely present in every moment of life”. When you’re alert and ready to meet your fate. it just might run into you, as it did with Dr. Seuss bumping into a book editor on the street. It seems that sometimes, even when you least expect it, fate has a way of just showing up.

If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too. ~Dr. Seuss

The Forbidden Sayings of Jesus.

Have you ever heard of the Gnostic Gospels? They’re a collection of 60 or so texts written from the first to third century, based on the wisdom teachings of several prophets and spiritual leaders—including Jesus. In fact, they’ve been referred to as  “the secret sayings of the savior”.

Many of the gospels were written in the first through third centuries, about the same time as their more famous brethren, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Once in wide circulation, these gospels were passed around fledgling churches throughout the Mideast and beyond and show the rich diversity of early Christian beliefs.

There’s just one problem: in the fourth century, the early Roman church declared the books heretical in an attempt to centralize authority and get all Christians literally on the same page. The edict came down not just to stop reading these books, but to destroy every last one of them.

In spite of the best efforts of the book burners, many of these texts survive today. A treasure trove of them were discovered in 1945 in Egypt. But they are largely ignored or even considered taboo by mainstream religions. (Two examples: the reverend at my local church acted as if he had never heard of them, while a mild-mannered former priest I know agitatedly called the texts “pure garbage” when I asked about them.)

So what are these Gnostic books all about and why do they strike fear and loathing in some people? I’ve read 30 to 40 of the texts and can report the themes are as varied as those found in the Bible, with topics ranging from creation mythology to wild tales of a coming apocalypse. Most interesting though, and perhaps most controversial, are the many passages about the sayings of Jesus.

Like the Bible, some of the passages will leave you scratching your head. Yet, there are common themes that come up again and again threading their way through several of the texts. The Web site The Gnosis Archive sums it up this way:

Gnosticism asserts that…direct, personal and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings…and the attainment of such knowledge is the supreme achievement of human life.

The key words here are direct and personal. There are several Gnostic passages that state that you and I have the power to tap directly into the higher source of knowledge. Consider the two sayings that follow, both attributed to Jesus (followed by the name of the Gnostic text):

What you seek after (is) within you. ~The Dialogue of the Savior

Beware that no one lead you astray, saying ‘Lo here!’ or ‘Lo there!’  For the Son of Man is within you. Follow after him! Those who seek him will find him. ~The Gospel of Mary

Note the common words “within you”. They may sound innocent enough but they’re really quite radical. After all, if what we seek after is inside us, it cuts out the need for a middleman to reach God. Which may explain why in the early church and even today the Gnostic Gospels are considered religious texts non grata.

Other Gnostic books continue this theme by pointing out the rich rewards and wisdom that can be found by looking within. Again, all of these passages are said to be the actual words of Jesus:

He who has known himself has…already achieved knowledge about the depth of all. ~The Book of Thomas The Contender

Those who have come to know themselves will enjoy their possessions. ~Gospel of Phillip

That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves. ~Gospel of Thomas

A copy of the The Gospel of Thomas, discovered in 1945 at Nag HammadiThere are also several additional interesting passages from the Gospel of Thomas, which many scholars think was written before the four traditional Gospels of the Bible. A common theme is that God and the Kingdom of Heaven are right in front of us, here on this Earth, if we can only learn to see them:

The Kingdom is inside of you and it is outside of you. ~Gospel of Thomas

Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not become manifest. ~Gospel of Thomas

His disciples said, “When will the Kingdom come?” It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying here it is or there it is. Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth and men do not see it.  ~Gospel of Thomas

As you can see, many of the ideas in the Gnostic Gospels run counter to mainstream Christian beliefs. Yet, they give me a greater appreciation for Christianity and Jesus than I can find in any church or read in any traditional version of the Bible. For me at least, they teach in a way that resonates like few Bible passages do, with universal lessons echoed by the Bhagavad Gita and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Want to learn more? A great place to start is a conversation between Bill Moyers and Elaine Pagels here. Then, continue on to two authoritative and fascinating books about the early gospels; I highly recommend Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, followed by Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make
 It into the New Testament. For slightly more subversive reading, see Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.

This post originally appeared on Elephant Journal 2/25/12.

Three bible passages that may blow your mind (in a good way).

I’m not a bible thumper, but at one point in my life I read the New Testament, the last 25% or so of the bible, from front to back. The highlights are the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which deal with the life and teachings of Jesus. While the stories there are not as archaic as those found in the Old Testament, it can still be some pretty dry reading. But every once in while I’d hit a passage that made me sit up and take notice.

I recently picked up the bible again for the first time in awhile, and was glad to see I had conveniently underlined  the good parts. I came across three passages that again grabbed my attention because they present Christianity in a light we seldom hear about, with teachings that seem to cut against what many of us think about God and church.

Mind Blower #1. “The kingdom of God is within you.”

This passage starts with Luke 17:20 and continues in Luke 17:21: One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Wait a second you say, isn’t the kingdom of God somewhere in the heavens, manned by a bearded guy sitting on a golden throne? The funny thing is this description of God the father, the one you may have seen pictured in grade school religious books, is never actually mentioned by Jesus.

For me, this passage supports a personal belief that we have the ability to tap into a divine source of wisdom and guidance at any given moment—a source that lives within our own souls. It is the God within us, and by working with it using our imagination and intuition, we can receive the guidance and direction we seek.

Mind Blower #2. “Ask and you will receive.”

This one comes from Mark 7:7 and deals directly with what we may ask for in prayer and out of life—and it sure makes it sound easy: Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.

 This one I take with a grain of salt, as I don’t think you can take this to mean that God is a fairy godmother granting all wishes. But I do think it’s another sign that divine help is available to us, IF we’re on the right path, pursuing our true purpose in life. Do all you can with your own abilities, but when you find yourself stuck, simply ask for help and it will be given.

Mind Blower #3. “When you pray, pray privately.”

I was raised to believe that the place to pray was in church. Sure, you could say a bedtime prayer, but if you really wanted a direct connection to the divine, it was best done on Sundays from the pew. This passage from Matthew 6:6 counters that in a big way. Here, Jesus instructs:

When you pray, go to your room and close the door. Pray privately to your Father who is with you. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.

As you may know, nowhere in the bible does Jesus talk about setting up a church. This was the idea of Paul of Taurus, who’s prominently featured in the New Testament, but who never actually met or received any direction from Jesus.

In fact, the preceding passage in Matthew 6:5 actually seems to say don’t go to church: When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They like to stand in synagogues and on street corners to pray so that everyone can see them.

Final note: I’d be the first to admit there’s a lot in the bible that can rub you the wrong way. But as a local reverend once told me when I asked him about some parts of the bible I found questionable, “you’ve got to find the passages that have meaning to you”.