Is God Listening?

Is God listening? I have been struggling with a difficult issue that has brought me to tears. I have not been religious for more than two years. Meaning, I have ceased to pray, go to a religious institution, or read the Bible. I don’t even believe God interferes with everyday life. However, I am currently experiencing a high level of anxiety and sadness, to the point of crying out of desperation to God. I am actually doing what I have criticized and labeled as “irrational” and “self-centered.” Praying to God only when in need of something or out of despair.

Could it be that, because of my lack of faith and religious abandonment, that God is “teaching me” a lesson? Wouldn’t this mean that God is not merciful? Or could it be that God is helping me be closer to Him through this tribulation? Could there be another way to get closer to God instead of through suffering? Is this what finding the true God is about? I hope someone can give me some insight, since I am struggling with the idea of begging to God just because I wish circumstances to be different.  I don’t want to feel that I am trying to “manipulate” God into allowing things to be my way.   I have also prayed that, if it is not His will, to help me accept whatever happens.  I have been writing in forums and sharing with other bloggers as well, in hopes to find some answers.

I just want to be fair and not pray out of convenience.  But I fear that I may be talking to empty space.  Don’t know for sure.   I will try to keep an open mind and see if this difficult experience helps me to grow spiritually…. or not.

And if you want and believe so…. please pray for me as well.  Thanks.


Love, sadness, and regret: A weekend with my father

My Dad at the beach

My Dad at the beach

 

I spent this past weekend with my father after not seeing him for three years. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.   It was a weekend full of love and happiness, but also sadness and regret.  I was obviously happy because I got to see my father one more time before he departs this earth.   I love my father dearly and I wish he continues to enjoy life as much as possible during his last years.   But it was also a sad experience because I saw how deteriorating and frail my father has become.   He now walks with a limp, and is extremely forgetful.

We went to the beach, to the park, and the old pharmacy where he used to work at.  He saw a lot of old friends whom he has not seen for a while (he stays in his house most of the time).  I visited several places where I grew up as a kid.  We played pool together, visited my aunt, and ate a lot of tropical food.  It was a neat experience.  I returned home after spending the weekend with my father.  It was a sad farewell.

This might have been the last time I see him on this earth.  But I think I have learned to accept this possibility.  In addition to this, my father expressed to me how regretful he is for divorcing my mother.  We were sitting at his dinning room table and he softly said “I love you very much…”  I don’t remember my father being so affectionate . He then added, “I also love your brothers ..” I responded by telling him I love him as well.  Then he uttered the following words which will forever break my heart.  He said: “I wish I had never divorced your mother.”

This was a great lesson for me.  If I let my selfish nature dictate my life to the point of dividing my family through separation and divorce,   I will regret it later in life.   I am not saying that my parents were necessarily selfish, but they were definitely not happy in their marriage and decided to end their unhappy marriage with divorce.  Maybe they should have never married in the first place, but they did and they faced the consequence of their decision.  Maybe all of this was meant to be so that we can learn a lesson in this life.  I don’t know for sure.  All I know is that my father has reached a time in his life where he has concluded that he made a mistake, and he is paying the price today.

I don’t want to repeat the same mistake.  I don’t want to make decisions in my life  and regret them later.   My hope is to remain close to my immediate family and to avoid breaking the bond that I have with them.  But I understand that life is full of decisions that may or may not  be the best ones.  Who decides which decisions are good or not?  How will I ever know the consequences of my decisions?

 


Alone: A reflection of myself

Today I received another bad news at work. A co-worker is resigning- my assistant.  I work as a supervisor at a psychiatric and rehab program.  I have been working in this facility for three years now.   There is only one co-worker left , out of 12, who is from the original group.  And for some reason, I start thinking that people are leaving me, and not the work itself.

I am trying to fight the thoughts of “abandonment” and “loneliness.”  After reflecting for a while, I think this is my main issue.  I feel as if these experiences bring up the reminder about the possibility of being alone.   It is weird because I tend to prefer to be alone in many situations.  I am not a social person and crowds are not my favorite places to be.   My tendency is to remain isolated in my own happy world; what many people consider an introvert person.   But at the same time, this isolation is what I want to avoid.   And when people resign in my work place, I have to fight the idea that I am being betrayed… abandoned…. and left alone.
In my early personal life, I experienced several changes of living arrangements,  as a result of moving from one place to another.  My family moved a total of 17 times in my childhood.  And every time it happened, I would have to adjust to new a environment.   New peers.  New house.  New neighborhood.  New school.  It was also a way to keep me from settling and growing roots.  I could not develop strong friendships.   As a result, I think I developed a strong sense of insecurity.  When I engage in arguments with my wife, I tend to feel extremely anxious.   And I wonder if it is because of these same thoughts of being alone.

This may explain why I still struggle with feelings of betrayal and abandonment, which can be manifested in the present time.  But at the same time, I am cognitively aware that it is not necessarily “bad” to be alone.  It can be a moment of reflection and peace.  I enjoy reflecting and meditating.  But these feelings of “abandonment” and “betrayal” are often present.

I am actually glad I am reflecting on this, since I also believe that by thinking more about it, I may be able to deal with it better, observe it, and move on.


Emptiness. Equality. Essence.

I have written a couple of posts in the past which define the nature of this blog. One of them is Surrender, Simplify and Serve (the subtitle of the blog) and Patience, Peace, and Presence. These are essential themes that have transformed my life recently.
This current post is about three other topics that have also given me a more profound meaning to life.

Emptiness is simply the process of denying myself. It is the difficult step of getting rid of all the falsified ego that poisons me.  It is making room for something else.  Something bigger.  It is truly liberating because it involves “cleaning” our minds from the falsified ego that bonds us into a fantasy.  The ego prefers to be inflated, to be full, and to shine.  But it is truly a false way to happiness.  Emptiness will free us from the illusion that the ego is based on, and helps us return to our true selves.  It is based on surrendering.  Which creates patience.

Equality is the idea that everyone is truly the same. We are all worthy of respect.   There is no one more important or better than anybody else. It is NOT what the Ego is about. I read somewhere recently that the Ego never feels equal to others, but inferior or superior to others. Equality is the true nature of all humanity collectively.  It surpasses patriotism, racism, nationalism, classicism, and so forth.  Instead of classifying and compartmentalizing us, Equality actually unifies and simplifies our lives.  Because it is the realization that we are one group of beings with similar nature.   When we think only about ourselves , which is human nature, then we practice selfishness, which is my definition of evil. So, yes, human nature is evil, because it is based solely on serving the ego.  But when we genuinely think of others and live to serve others, the same way we would do it for ourselves, then we live beyond human nature.  It is supernatural.  It is divine.  It brings peace.

Essence is then the true nature of our beings. It is the pure state of existence which would ultimately bring eternal Presence.  We do this by simply serving each other.  The true nature of our existence is to serve and help one another.   It is who were really are.  Which then brings us to experience Presence.  And Presence is what we should live.
My prayer, my hope  has been that I experience emptiness, equality, and essence in my life.

Surrender leads to Emptiness, which creates Patience

Simplifying leads to Equality, which makes Peace.

Service is the Essence of life, which brings us to Presence.


“Blessed are the violent” : A book review on Zealot

Since it was published, I became interested in reading the book Zealot, by Reza Aslan.  I finally got the chance to read it and decided to share a book review with my readers.

The book starts with stressing on how the Roman empire took dominion over Jerusalem. It focuses on the fact that the Jews were jealous people who strongly believed they were God’s chosen people and that every foreign invasion and cultural “impurity ” had to be abolished at all cost. In spite of this nation wide grandiosity, Jerusalem was simply a small province at the corner of the great Roman empire. The author emphasizes that the Jews did not see this exceptionalism as arrogance or pride, but a direct command from a jealous God.  But out of this insignificant portion of human history, a great figure submerges which proved to influence history forever. In chapter two,  the author explains that Jesus was executed mainly for being one of many “bandits ” who rebelled against Roman dominion.  Jesus is then described as a leader who declared war on Rome by identifying himself as a Messiah or “King of the Jews “. However, Herod was the “king ” chosen by Rome (client -king) to maintained control and peace in Judea, although he was hated by the Jews for working for Rome and not God.  Herod was followed by one of his sons, Herod Antipas, who took over Galilee when Jesus became famous.  The idea that Jesus was originally a violent enemy of Rome brings a lot of questions to mind.

In chapter three the author writes that Jesus was born and raised in the insignificant town of Nazareth, and not in Bethlehem (which was added to link Jesus to King David and only mentioned in Matthew and Luke ). When Jesus decides to go to Jerusalem to the festivities, he admitted people knew who he was and where he was from (as opposed to what the scriptures say about the Messiah) but instead made emphasis on his heavenly origins.  So instead of being an earthly king and Messiah, he is described by gospel writer John more as a divine being or logos. (“The verb was with God from the beginning …” Jn 1:3).  The author then asserts that Luke’s story about the Roman census during Jesus ‘s infancy is inaccurate.  He mentions this to explain that these ancient authors did not write to show historical “facts ” but revealing “truths .” Readers back then were not interested in what actually happened but were more interested in what it means, which may have been the case.  In chapter four, the author talks about Jesus’s mother being raped, Jesus having siblings, and probably being married.  He also stressed on how impossible it is to say anything about Jesus ‘s early life because before he was declared Messiah it did not matter what kind of childhood a Jewish peasant had.  And after he was called the Messiah, the “only aspect of his childhood that mattered were those that could be creatively imagined to buttress whatever theological claim ” about Jesus’s identity as Christ.  Out of many rebellious gangs, the author then describes an extreme group of extreme rebels called “zealots “, thus the title of this book.

Chapter five starts with describing Pilate as a cruel and bloodthirsty governor, different from how the gospels describe him. After many massacres, the Jews declare war on Rome. Chapter six is simply a narrative going back and forth in history after Jesus’s death on how the Jews regained control of the Temple but lost their land back to the Romans.

In Part two, the author is fixated on the idea that Jesus was also an extremist or “zealous” rebel fighting for freedom and return the land to God.  He explains that when Jesus answered the question about whether to pay tribute to Rome or not, Jesus was “clear ” on the argument of God ‘s sovereignty over the land.  However the author does not point out the possibility that Jesus was probably wisely preventing to fall into the trap that his interrogators were desperately trying to set for him.  It was a tricky question very difficult to answer without creating more controversy.  If Jesus answered yes to paying tribute to Caesar, then he would be seen as a traitor and friend of the Romans.  If he would have answered no, then he was publicly claiming to be a rebel and a “zealot .”   Either way, Jesus was going to be targeted as a trouble maker.  But he apparently chose a more peaceful and neutral response, avoiding to engage in a political argument based on Jewish ambition to regain the land. Furthermore, the gospels don’t agree what kind of soldiers (Romans vs. Temple guards) came to arrest Jesus, but they all agree that he was targeted mainly because of his threat to the Sanhedrin, not to Rome .  The high priests tried to use political reason to justify execution, (“he called himself the King of the Jews! ” vs. …”son of God “) which worked.  But Jesus’s true crime did not necessarily involve a pure political rebellion against Rome, but against the Sanhedrin.  His mission was mainly emphasized on rescuing and serving the “least of these” or the poor, in my opinion.

In his notes at end of the book, the author stresses that those who perceive Jesus’s response as “apolitical ” are “blind to the political and religious context of Jesus ‘s times ” (pg. 241). He also argues that the “titulus ” above Jesus ‘s head on the cross was not a sarcastic sign because Romans were not humorous.  I wonder if this author remembers all the mocking and ridicule that Jesus received by the Roman soldiers before his death, which all four gospels wrote about.  This is another example of the author’s attempt to justify his view of Jesus as a political extremist rebel and threat to Rome among many other violent rebels on his time.

In chapter seven, Jesus is described as John the Baptist’s disciple, not the other way around, which may explain further Jesus fleeing back to Galilee after John’s execution.  Nevertheless, Jesus became much more powerful and influential than the Baptist.

In chapter eight, the author makes a statement which reflects more my understanding of Jesus ‘s teachings when he writes that Jesus was less concerned with the “pagan empire occupying Palestine than the imposter occupying the temple, ” specifically Caiaphas (Pg. 99). Jesus was clearly enraged by how the temple authority treated the poor. The author  then continues to describe Jesus as a unique teacher and leader such as including women as disciples, doing exorcism for free, and speaking with authority unlike the common religious leader in spite of being a peasant.  The author further emphasizes that Jesus ‘s miracles or magical powers were “something unique and distinctive” (pg. 111). They were done, which I could not agree more, as manifestation of God ‘s kingdom on earth as prophesized in Isaiah 35:5-6.  The author explains that Jesus healed a leper, for example, to make him pure and clean enough to enter the temple and be accepted in God’s presence, without all the traditional rituals, thus manifesting the kingdom of God.

However, in chapter 10, the author points out that, in addition to being a new order where the rich will be poor and the poor will be exalted, it will also be a total overthrow of the Roman Empire.  And this could only be done through violence.  The author explicitly writes that he thinks Jesus was “not a pacifist ” (pg. 120) and then uses one biblical verse to justify this view (Mathews 10:34, Luke 12:51) but does not include verses that point to the contrary, which are the majority ( Mark 9:50;  Mathew 5:9,  5:44, 11:28, 18:21-22, 26:52; Luke 6:35, 23:34; John 14:27, 16:33, 20:21, 24:36, ) . If the gospel writers and early church members were desperately trying to distant Jesus from a violent and “zealous nationalism ” as the author points out, wouldn’t they have omitted the few verses that mention swords and war? And yes, Jesus was a Jew, but his teachings were full of invitations that included Gentiles. He prophesized to a Samaritan woman, healed another Samaritan woman and also healed a Centurion’s servant. He also commanded his disciples to spread the good news to the “ends of the earth.” Israel was NOT all that mattered to Jesus. The author only presented questions as to whether Jesus was planning to become an earthly king in the Kingdom of God.  But he wisely mentioned that Jesus was clearly the personification of the new Kingdom as evidenced by his miracles and signs.

In chapter eleven, the author repeatedly points out that Jesus did not openly call himself the Messiah, which, as the author says and I agree, may have different definitions according to the time in history.  It was most commonly used to describe an earthly king who would deliver the Jews from earthly foreign domination, which Jesus did not accomplish.  The Son of God was also a title given to past kings such as David and Solomon (Psalm 2:7, 1 Chronicles 28:6).  Son of Man, on the other hand, was a self claim title more frequently stated by Jesus, which may have been a humble way of Jesus referring himself as a mere man, thus manifesting his humaneness. In chapter twelve, the author insists that most of what the gospels say about Jesus ‘s last moment is false, simply because he believes that early Christians were trying to avoid appearing as zealots themselves to the Romans after the Jewish war and so they’d depicted Pilate as a considerate governor manipulated by the “blood thirsty ” Jews.   It is more credible that early Christians invented some details to depict Jesus more as a Messiah.  But it is ridiculous to assume that early Christians chose to change Jesus from a violent revolutionary to a pacifist leader.

The author starts Part 3 by emphasizing that most of Jesus’s followers and writers of the New Testament did not meet Jesus or lived in Jerusalem during Jesus ‘s a time, which is an important key to point out.  In spite of this, this fact does not necessarily discredit what these authors wrote about what Jesus could have really represented. In Chapter thirteen the author interestingly points out that no where in the Old Testament is the messiah prophesied to suffer and die, like Jesus claims about himself.  The image of Jesus must have been evolved from being an earthly messiah to a celestial king seating at the right hand of God. The author is right by stressing that Paul perceived Jesus as not human , distant from the Jewish background and more like a cosmic being. And this makes sense since Paul admits he did not learn from any apostle but claims that God himself revealed it to him (Galatians 1:15-17).  Paul, in my opinion , created his own version of Jesus based on Roman pagan religion.   I agree with the author that Paul’s version of Jesus is the standard doctrine of today’s church.  In chapter fourteen the author is right when he  stresses on James ‘s role in the early church as the most accurate version of what Jesus is all about: helping the poor.

We  are all  guilty of interpreting, choosing and dismissing verses according to our preconceived ideas of what Jesus really taught and  who he was.  What must be kept in mind, however, is the inevitable conclusion that Jesus’s presence in human history, with or without some fabrication and embellishment in his story, has surpassed all other historical figure in the last 2000 years. Whether we perceive Jesus as a violent rebel (which I personally doubt), the messiah (which he did not fulfill according to Hebrew Scriptures), the son of God (which title was also given to king David ), or a peaceful rebellious leader concerned for the poor and sick of the whole world and not just Jerusalem,  Jesus was (or is) the manifestation of what God represents... Unconditional love.


r E li G i O n

Most of us have our own religions. We don’t have to believe in a deity in order to practice a religion. It could be manifested through patriotism by adhering to patriotic rituals such as saluting the national flag.  We can practice religion through sports by painting our faces and cheering during a sports event.  We can also practice religion through politics by attending a political rally and through entertainment by attending music concerts.

The dictionary defines religion as follows:

1.

    a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
     b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
The fourth definition reflects more what I am describing in this post. But I am going to take a step further here.

Notice that the word RELIGION has the word EGO in it (r E li G i O n) , which may explain why it is basically the manifestation of our Egos (tongue in cheek).  But seriously speaking, Religion (of any kind) simply nourishes our Egos by making us feel superior, protected, and invincible.

Any kind of religion is an attempt to make us feel better and superior.  It is a desperate way of deceiving the real self from the hard and true nature of our fragile existence.  We tend to feel inferior to other more powerful and greater entities, such as authority figures and natural phenomena.  So we prefer to deceive ourselves by assuming a greater role than what we truly are, such as calling ourselves professionals, wealthy, experts, and intelligent.

Our different kinds of religion can also give us a sense of protection from our volatile state of existence.  It temporary relieves us from being prone to pain and ultimately death.  It keeps us from being ridiculed and marginalized.  We do this by armoring ourselves with rituals, citizenship, drugs, and fashion.  It provides a false sense of security fueled by fantasy.

All sorts of religion can also make us feel invincible. It helps us feel unstoppable through identification with a sports team, political party, culture, and race.  It provides a sense of immortality.  This “eternal identity” is also manifested through family traditions.

But there is hope.  We can still free ourselves from the deception of the different religions that keep our egos nourished.  It is through the difficult process of emptiness.  It is scary to refrain from protecting our egos through any kind of religion described above.  But I believe it is possible.  We have to accept the fact that we our finite beings and will eventually die.  So, I invite you to take my challenge and start living life without relying on feeding the falsified ego.  Surrender to suffering and embrace it.  Practice mindfulness, surrendering, and being in the present moment.


Let’s just Be

Being is a scary state of existence.  It is a challenge to experience acceptance.

Acceptance is a hard pill to swallow.  Resistance is more common, but damaging. Why is it damaging? Because it leads us to suffering, tension, and self-deception.  Resistance creates hatred, anger, and conflict.

Resistance is manifested when we judge and discriminate.  It also happens when we avoid, ignore, and ridicule.  Resistance also takes place when we pray and wish for a convenient circumstance.

But simply being and surrendering to what is, leads to peace and joy.  It is not easy.  That is why I also call it the “narrow path” and our “salvation.”

It is equal to denying the self.  It is the same as living in the moment.  It is also being one with the universe.

Being is wanting what we already have, which leads to joy. It is not convenient.  It does not indulge.  It is far from satisfying our desires.  It is rather peace and joy.

So when I am hungry, I will embrace it.  When I feel discomfort, I will observe it.   When loved ones are lost, I will nourish the memories.  When I see unfairness and abuse, I will acknowledge its pain and suffer with the victim.  Almost as if I am turning the other cheek.

When others judge me and criticize me, I will accept it, learn from it,  and prevent from doing the same to others.  When others show contempt and hatred towards me, I will remain calm and wish them well.  The same as loving my enemies.

It is not natural or pleasant.  But it brings peace and joy.

So I challenge you.  I plead you.  Don’t resist life’s uncomfortable circumstances. Don’t judge or criticize.  Accept and observe.

Let’s just Be.