Saturday, April 13, 2013

My SECOND RULE of Life (Part 1 of 2)

I know people whose lives are centered around one thing: Music, skating, their work, texting, their religion, sex, their sexuality, or whatever. If that works for them, good; I have no problem with it. But it doesn't work for me. I don't ever want any one area of my life to dominate my life, and I don't think that any one area of my life should dominate my life.

I am a Christian, a follower of Christ, so I try to model my life after his. I believe that humans have four natures: Spiritual, physical, mental, and social, and that Jesus developed all four: According to Luke 2:52, as we find it in the New International Version of the Bible, "Jesus grew in wisdom (He grew mentally) and stature (physically), and in favor with God (spiritually) and man (socially)." We have come to think of Jesus as kind of a one-dimensional, totally spiritual being, but that is not the picture of him that we find in Scripture. He led a balanced life. Yes, he was extremely highly developed spiritually --- so much so that he has been considered superhuman by most Christians, even a deity by some, but his advanced spiritual development was not all there was to the man. When we consider many of the arduous tasks that he performed or was forced to perform (such as lugging his own heavy execution stake up a hill after being tortured horrendously), we can surmise that he was healthy and physically fit; when we read his words and ponder many of the deep, unique concepts in his teachings, we know he was highly intelligent and probably well educated. And, while he often sought out time to be alone in prayer or with his thoughts, he was a People Person, definitely not a loner.

So my Second Rule of Life is to "Lead a balanced, orderly life," and, as I stated above,  I believe that is exactly what Jesus did. How do I do it? Here are a few of the things I try to do:

For Spiritual Development

My most basic spiritual exercise is my daily observation of Seven Periods of Prayer: Immediately upon arising in the morning; immediately before retiring at night; mid-morning; mid-afternoon; and before (actually, throughout) each of my three daily meals. I have developed a specific personal liturgy for each of these Periods, but I hesitate to share that here; I think that what works for me just may not work for the next person. What I will say, though, is that I have sort of a threefold personal mantra which is an element in every one of these Periods: (a) God is blessing me now; (b) I accept God's blessings now; and (c) Thank You, Father! In a later post, I'll go into further detail about why I think this mantra works (it does work, believe me!) I repeat these words many times during every day, so much so that they really have sunk deeply into my subconscious, and they are sort of the backtrack to all my thoughts. I no longer suffer from depression, and I think this is the main reason.

A second thing that I have found helpful for development of my spiritual nature is my participation in worship and service through a carefully chosen church congregation. I know there are those who express nothing but disdain for organized religion, and I am not going to try to change their minds here. All I think I'm called on to do here is to explain what's working for me, and a very big part of what works for me is my embrace of an organized religion, and activity in a congregation of my chosen religion.

I am an Episcopalian. Probably, the main reason I've chosen to be a part of this particular  spiritual community is that its beautiful, orderly rituals have always spoken to my soul; I am usually moved to tears at some point during most Episcopal services, though there's rarely if ever any jumping up and down, clapping, and waving hands in the air. I have to admit that something deep within my soul strongly resists most of the liturgical changes that so many Episcopal congregations (including my own) have embraced lately, and I truly and firmly believe that this "trying to be all things to all people" liturgically is what has led to the steep decline in numbers and influence that we've seen in the Episcopal Church in the last three or four decades. There was a time that, if you found yourself in an Episcopal church, you knew it was an Episcopal church, and if that's the approach or path that your soul was yearning for, you were at home; with our cut-and-paste liturgy (as a good friend of mine derisively describes it), you don't know where you are. I remember the Glory Days of Episcopalianism, watching truly Episcopal services from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City or The National Cathedral in Washington, DC, or participating in the glorious, very traditionally Episcopal services at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, or even in St. James' Church here in Los Angeles. Now, in my church, St. John's Cathedral in Los Angeles, we seem to be going the way of the awful (in my opinion) Philadelphia Cathedral ( or the trendy, horrific (again, to me) St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco (

But enough of my moaning and bitching about liturgical changes in the Episcopal Church. For anyone who's interested, I did an entire post on that subject last Pearl Harbor Day, December 7:

Another very important reason I appreciate the Episcopal Church is that members are expected, even encouraged to question, challenge, or even disagree with the teachings of the Church, including the most basic teachings ones; we believe that God gave us an inquiring mind, and He expects us to use it. We do not, as the cliche goes, check our brains at the door when we enter church. It's the same kind of openness and tolerance that I appreciate in the more liberal Christian bodies such as the Unitarian Universalists, and more progressive (read: liberal) Methodist and United Church of Christ congregations.

But, the Episcopal Church does have its official teachings, and I simply do not and cannot embrace at least two of those. That's why I did not continue my pre-seminary education and go on into the Episcopal priesthood. As a priest, or even a deacon, I would have pledged to uphold "the discipline and doctrine of the Church," and I have a real problem with at least two of the most fundamental of those doctrines. As a layperson, I don't have to vow any such thing.

The most important reason I find organized religion useful for me is that I believe that, in some things, the sum certainly can be greater than the total of the parts. If I can volunteer 5 hours of time and energy each month in service to others, that's fine; but if each of 100 of us is able to do that, I believe that the result will be much more effective than just 500 hours of time and energy spent. Likewise with money; maybe I can give $20 a week; but if 100 of us can average $20 a week apiece, we can accomplish a whole lot more!

And I won't even get into the benefits of sharing worship experiences with people who are pretty much on the same page. 

Finally, I find spiritual growth and satisfaction in volunteer work. I have lots and lots of Really Big Problems. But you know what? When I'm engaged in trying to relieve some of the discomfort of someone else, I am not wallowing in my own misery. I get out of myself.

Those are just some of the ways in which I seek spiritual development.


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