Tag Archives: prayer

Peeling the onion

When I peel an onion

I have to peel the onion one layer at a time.

At the beginning, the outer layer looks attractive and beautiful…. it can be golden, white, purple, yellow.   The onion looks full and healthy.

Then I start peeling more and more layers.  The first layer is the initial and basic concepts about life.

Religion, values, patriotism, family, professionalism….

all the ideas and concepts I started learning from early age.

Which, of course, are just ideas and concepts.

The more I peel these layers away, the more I peel away these ideas… which I also call illusions.

Because they are not in the here and now….  they are fabrications of my mind.

All the memories…. all the goals…. all the dreams… all these ideas keep me away from the present moment.

So I keep peeling away all those basic thoughts and ideas that I have been taught.

And, the same way that I peel and onion, and can irritate my eyes, they get watery, and I start crying,

The same way I feel when I peel away all of these ideas… the concept about religion, about my family,

my country… my culture… my hobbies…. my profession.  My… my…  my…

All of these ideas , which also implied ownership, are not based on reality, or the here and now. 

I peel away and I also start crying , because… they are just illusions.  They once made me  happy… secured.

But it was a temporary happiness… it was a superficial state of identity and belonging.

So I cry… because I feel sad….sad because I miss this false sense of security.

But I bravely keep peeling away, to see the reality of this existence…. which I call Life.

And when I finally reach the center of the onion…. what do I find there?

What is at the core of the onion? What is at the center of life when I peel off all of these ideas?

No more religion… no more patriotism… I don’t  belong anywhere … profession is just a title …. dreams are just imaginations … I don’t own anything … because it is all an illusion.

What do I have left, then?

Emptiness. 

That is what I have left… the emptiness of life.

Is this a sad conclusion?  Or is it just it ?

Simply being…. it is not good…. it is not bad.

It simply is.

 

 


Tuned in: Testing God once again

There is an interesting blog titled “A Year Without God” which caught my attention a few months ago. It is a provocative blog that describes a former Adventist pastor deciding to live a year as if God did not exist .   He says in one of his posts titled “Where I stand: a six-month report” that he does not believe in God because of lack of empirical evidence.  These are his exact words :

I don’t see how there is any empirical, scientific evidence for God’s existence.I don’t see any evidence for any recognizable pattern of God’s interaction in the world. I don’t think the Bible records anything more than ancient people’s search for the divine.”  (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/)

This is a  powerful and bold statement regarding the possible existence or non-existence of an all powerful being.   Although I understand his point of view, I also tend to be cautious and vigilant about any conclusions I make about that which possibly created my mind in the first place.  I sometimes ask myself :  Can the cartoon character conclude that there is no cartoonist?  Can the painting prove that there is no such thing as a painter?  I cannot reach such a bold conclusion if I am not capable of fully understanding what the universe is all about and what other people are perceiving and experiencing.  It is true that we may not be able to “prove” the existence of God by using physical evidence that only our five senses can detect.  But do we have only five senses?

Having said this, I am currently in a position in my life where I felt the need to get on my knees and plead for an answer.  I have been evolving in my spiritual journey, from being a catholic, to a pentecostal fundamentalist, to a more liberal reflective Christian.    For the past two to three years, I have gradually distant myself from the traditional Christian faith.  I chose to liberate myself from living a fundamental religious lifestyle, and adopt a more liberal and inclusive approach.   I have learned a lot from other faiths and traditions in this journey of mine.  You can read more about this spiritual journey in the following posts:  Spiritual Roller coaster,  Is this all there is to Life?, Am I Losing Faith?, Embarrassed by the Church, How NOT to be a Good Christian,  Religiously Correct. 

I am not ashamed to say this, because I also believe that doubt and skepticism can be utilized to learn more about the true nature of my existence, and also about God, as I am capable of understanding Him.

To make a long story short, I recently encountered trouble in my immediate family and felt desperate about it.  More doubts came to my mind, but this time it was about the approach I have been taking in the last year.  I started wondering if this “God business” was actually a bad thing to walk away from.  The concept of hell, salvation through faith alone,  the “forgiveness” of sins, the Holy Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus Christ were a few of many questionable doctrines that simply became too mystical for me to accept and believe any longer.  But right now I am looking past these doubts and allowing God to work on me.  I still have my doubts, but my recent experience in life has been like a a bucket of ice water spilled on my face.  I needed to wake up.

 

So I started to pray, like I have not done in months.  I humbled myself against my rational and intellectual nature, and started to talk to this “invisible” and “distant” God out of desperation.  I often criticized the act of prayer as a manipulative way of getting God to do what I want, which you can read more in the post “Why pray?.”  But I felt like a vegetarian craving for a hamburger in the middle of a desert.

I also started posting and sharing messages in a Christian forum and started reading an inspirational Christian book as well.  As I read some of the pages, my rational mind kept saying to myself:  “be careful…. don’t fall into the religious trap…. you know it is just superstitious….. this is only religious fanaticism… fairy tales.”

But my personal family ordeal was pulling me away from my rational mind, and towards the “unknown” of spiritual life.  I craved for answers.  So I decided to give God another chance.  I blindly got to my knees and plead for my heart to be transformed.  Instead of blaming others and expecting circumstances to change, I accepted the challenge of opening my heart again and let “God” do whatever needed to be done.  I was basically “testing God.”  I remember praying : “you want my attention?…. you got it!”  I cried like a baby.   I remember saying, “I don’t have a lot of faith… but I am here pleading, just in case you are listening!”

I then came across this other wonderful blog titled “Isaiah 53:5 Project” where it has a recent post called “God is calling, Pick up the Phone” The author described a time when he decided to open up to the possibility of God’s call:

” Since I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God or continue to ignore His constant calls I finally, and reluctantly, “answered the phone”.

 

This post helped me realize that God may be “calling me.”   I have asked God if He is listening.  This post asked me if I have been listening to God.  The answer is probably NO.  Like the prodigal son, who walked away from his father, but returned after he has been starving to death.    I still have my doubts.  But that is ok.  I don’t believe God expects me to know everything for certain in order to grow spiritually.   Christianity may still not have all the answers, but I am willing to learn.  I am willing to listen.

I am tuned in.


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.


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.

 


Why Pray?

In my personal experience, I have noticed that prayer is not as great as I thought it was. I hardly pray anymore, not because I don’t believe that there is someone listening. I don’t pray as much because I lost faith in the act of praying itself. It simply does not seem to do much of a difference.
I mainly perceived it as a way to beg God to give me what I want.  Isn’t that what most people think of prayer these days? And if I don’t get what I want, then I must accept it as God’s will. But then, why ask for something as if God is a “vending machine”? Isn’t God supposed to be in control? Then why add more to his “control” by asking him to do certain things “my way”?
I was taught that prayer is composed of four parts: adoration, penitence, petition, and thanksgiving:

Adoration would be recognizing God’s greatness and power. It is all around us.  When I look at the stars, the mountains, a baby, and people’s charities, I see God’s manifestation on earth.  Now, why do I need to emphasize it even more by telling God about his greatness?  Doesn’t he already know?  Don’t I already acknowledge it by respecting each human being, admiring the stars, and taking care of the environment? I think by me living the greatness of God’s creation is the same as  “praying without ceasing.” I would not necessarily have to reserve a time specifically to acknowledge God’s greatness, if I live it on a daily basis.

Penitence is recognizing our sins and asking for forgiveness.  If I am already a believer, doesn’t that mean that I have already been forgiven? We are taught that Jesus died for all of our sins 2000 years ago, so why continue to ask for forgiveness? Some would say that we continue to sin, so we need to recognize our faults, even though we are forgiven.  But at the same time, no matter how much I sin, Jesus’ sacrifice should be enough to make me righteous, right? Or is it that we suspect that what Jesus did was not enough and, therefore, we need to make sure we are free from guilt through penitence?

Petition is the most interesting aspect of prayer.  We ask for things we want.  We ask for good health, stability, wisdom, and a lot more.  We sometimes ask in desperation when circumstances are difficult and extreme.  And when we receive what we prayed for, then we praise God even more and become more joyful (and religious).  When we don’t, then we are taught to accept it as God’s will and justify it by saying that “God is mysterious.” But then this puts God in a difficult situation, because it is almost like expecting God to meet our needs and demands, as if He works for us, even though we were created by Him.  It seems as if God owes us things.

I have heard many people deny the existence of God simply because he did not stop hundreds of children from starving to death, or did not prevent so many wars, or allowed the innocent to suffer from diseases.  And, because God did not meet our standards of what “God should do”, then we conclude He must not exist, or he is evil.  Petition is the most self-centered part of prayer.  It makes us almost like spoiled children who demand immediate gratification from the heavenly Father.

Thanksgiving is perhaps the part of prayer that makes more sense to me. It is simply the act of  appreciating what we have.  Instead of asking and begging for what we don’t have, like in petition, we give thanks for those things we already have.  I define true happiness as wanting what I already have, which is what thanksgiving is about.  Personally, I think we should do a lot more Thanksgiving, than Adoration, Penitence, or Petition.

So, rather than doing Adoration, I rather “live” Adoration by respecting God’s creation and living one day at a time.   Rather than doing Penitence, I rather accept my faults and ask others to forgive me and forgive as well.  Rather than expecting God to provide what I want, my way, and in my terms, I rather be content with what I have so that I can experience true happiness. And I will continue to give Thanks to God, for giving me what I already have, which is sufficient for me to survive so that I live a full life.


Is this all there is to Life?

I admit it. I am the man that is double minded. I feel closer to God one day, and farther away the other. I have faith one day, and doubt the next.  I feel encouraged to pray or reflect today, and tomorrow I don’t want to hear anything about God or Jesus. I am easily influenced by circumstances. I am the man described by the book of James in the Bible which says that “because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (Ch. 1:7-8).”

I need to be honest about who I am, I don’t want to do what I used to do in the past.  I used to pretend that I firmly believe in everything that other Christians claim to be the ultimate truth.  I used to force myself to pray in certain ways simply because it was what was expected.  It was strictly religion.  But what I do now is to be open to various interpretations.  No, I am not creating my own religion, although I may be doing exactly this without noticing it.  Neither am I agnostic, because I believe there is a God. But I am not sure who or what this God really is. Although sometimes I can feel Him very close to me.  And sometimes I do not.  I am inconsistent.  The book of Revelation  claims that Jesus says “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Ch. 3:15-16).” This is a strong message, stating that Jesus will reject me when I am inconsistent.  It says He wishes I am either hot or cold.  Does this mean he will accept me if I am consistently away or close to God?  I don’t believe so.  But this same chapter continues with Jesus saying that people who are lukewarm say they are “rich”.  I don’t claim this, although I sometimes fall under the erroneous presumption that I am already heading towards that right direction, failing to be “poor in spirit”, as Jesus said he prefers us to be in order to have the Kingdom of Heavens (Matthew 5).  I understand also that this chapter refers to a particular early church in Laodicea. Should I interpret it pertaining exclusively to this historical church, or also to the present lukewarm church, like myself?  Don’t know.

But I read further in this passage, and feel a strange inspiration when I come across the statement that says “  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  Sometimes I hear the door knocking, but I am afraid to open it.  I am afraid that when I open the door there is nothing on the other side.  I am afraid of living an illusion.  But I am also afraid of not opening the door, because I might miss the greatest opportunity ever.  You see, I have opened the door before, or so I thought, and the joy was there, but with time, it disappeared, because of my double mind.  I feel tears in my mind while reading this passage, because I don’t want to reject God/Truth/Life.  But I don’t want to fool myself with empty hopes.  If God truly loves me, then He must be rebuking me and disciplining me, like this last verse says.  This is probably why I going through a spiritual tribulation.

I am also like Thomas, the disciple who doubted until he saw the resurrected Jesus. He told Thomas that those who believe without seeing are blessed (John 20:29).  Could this mean that I am not blessed if I keep looking for evidence instead of having bling faith?  I am certainly not completely happy and content.  But at the same time, if I am content, then I will not feel motivated to seek more of God.  I may be blessed and happy to simply believe, but I will not know more of God.  I also recently understood that having faith like “a seed of mustard”,  will enable me to do great things, which also means I don’t have to have great  faith (Luke 17:6).   I am not necessarily underestimating God’s power by looking for evidence, I may actually be glorifying Him even more if I keep searching to know more about the nature of His power.

If I am wrong for being double minded,  I can accept that.  What I cannot accept is that knowing God is simply believing everything that other “believers” claim.  I want more from God.  I want to actually feel closer to God, not be content with a few doctrines that is convenient to our selfish desires and cultural norms.  I don’t want to claim to believe certain things in order to be politically correct.  My goal should not be to please others, but God. I live in a constant spiritual struggle, which many might say is the “evil” versus the “good” in my body, like Paul describes in the letter of the Romans (Ch.7:1524).  But, is my doubting an evil thing?  I cannot accept this either. My understanding of evil is to be selfish and to exclude other people.  Doing good is to be inclusive, to love others regardless.  If I claim that my faith is the right one, and everyone else who thinks differently is wrong, then this is true evil.

So what I still have firmly is the thought and belief that I must serve others to live the Kingdom of Heaven.  This I don’t doubt.  It also does not mean to expect a reward, like this world only knows to do.  But to simply and genuinely reach out and help the poor, the hungry, the needy, the sick, the homeless, the mentally ill, the handicapped, and everyone else who is considered “the least of these”.  Jesus identified himself with these people.  I still hope that, by doing this, I will know God more, in spite of my many doubts.  In spite of my double mind.  Because what I see with my physical eyes cannot be all there is to Life.


 


Extremes are foolish.

No matter how much I struggle with my faith in God… no matter how much I tend to use my limited reason and knowledge to try to find a logical explanation for things, no matter how I try to be a fool by relying on my own wisdom, I always end up going back to asking God for his intervention and mercy.  There is always the realization that my human knowledge and reasoning is only a limited ability in this limitless universe.  We are great beings, but not the greatest.

I recently was clarified by some friends in the blogging world that according to James and Paul in the New Testament, If we claim that we are Christians and have faith, but continue to live sinful (selfish) lives, it does not mean that we have faith and simply need works to be justified and be “saved”.  It actually means that we still don’t have faith in the first place.  Having faith in Jesus and the Gospel is equal to living a life of genuine surrender to what Jesus commanded us to do: love our neighbors as ourselves.  If we claim that we have faith in Jesus, but continue to cheat, steal, lie, hold grudges, discriminate, create war, etc, then we really do not have this faith, and we simply have faith in our own strengths to be “good”, even though we might try to say we are doing God’s will.

Faith involves a genuine surrender, a profound change of life, not a superficial or self pleasing change of life.  Let me use an analogy.  If the mirror says that it can reflect my face, but I do not see my face in it because it is too dirty, then it has no reflection of my face even if it says it does.  The mirror’s claim that it reflects is false.  The faith that it has that it reflects my face is false.  It is dead faith.  But if it truly and genuinely decides to clean itself, and then it says it can reflect my face, then it will have true faith, because I will see my face reflected on it.  The mirror’s faith is proved by the reflection. My true faith will be reflected by my genuine lifestyle.

Now, we can engage in religious debates about what does it mean to be “saved”, if hell exists, whether non-believers go to Heaven or not, and so forth…. while the rest of the world suffers from hunger, injustice, wars, corruption, greed, and other selfish and sinful acts.  We are still distracted with doctrinal debates and romantic relationships with an ideal Jesus, while the reality of the injustice of this world continues.  The real Jesus, I believe, commanded us to fight for righteousness, to make peace, to be humble, to have clean hearts, to mourn, and to be poor in spirit.  Jesus taught us to be perfect as God is perfect.  This is salvation.

Driving down the road, I came across a sign in front of a church that read “God: And you think it’s hot here?”  What exactly is this message supposed to do?  Encourage people to turn to God for fear of burning up in hell?  I rather feel intimidated by this sign instead of encouraged or ministered!  This is being extreme.  Foolish.

So my thought is that it is a matter of balancing my life between being too rational to the point of denying the existence of God, and being too religious limiting my spiritual growth.  Either way would be foolish.   But staying in the middle, by maintaining faith and still use reason, is the best way to grow spiritually. I must avoid being too rational or too religious. Either way would separate me from God.

” For merely listening to the law does not make us right with God, it is obeying the law that makes us right in His sight. ” Romans 2:13

“The fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God'” Psalm 53:1

“Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

— Matthew 7:24–27