We are alive. That is our experience. We know we are alive. The reality is that there is a power of aliveness that emerges from… we know not quite where. We could say it comes from somewhere “above.” But where from? We know what is above us – the planets, the sun and then nothing much for a long, long way, then more suns, then our galaxy, then more galaxies, billions of them, and so on.
Or we could say that the power of aliveness, that breath of life, comes from within. But if you operated on me, I don’t know that you’d find it. You wouldn’t be able to isolate the bit that makes me alive, and yet through us and through all creation there is a universal power at work.
If you are scientifically minded, you could call it some form of living energy. Being spiritually minded, we call it God, the divine Source, the breath of life, the Holy Spirit. But whatever you call it, it can’t be stopped. No matter what we do, every year at springtime we look out and it’s bursting out all over. It’s bursting out within us. Do you feel it? Irrepressible life! Unstoppable life! It is a demonstration of the divine power of life and love.
We say that Jesus came to save humanity. And there is truth to that statement. But save what – exactly what part of humanity was he out to save? Do you want him saving your bad habits for eternity? I certainly wouldn’t. Nor would I want the violent and warlike tendency of humanity to be saved forever. Or the hatred or the jealousy or the greed. So what was he saving?
For the most part, the Christian world has the wrong emphasis on salvation. Salvation of the Jews was about being rescued from the clutches of the Pharoah of Egypt, and being brought to a better place, the promised land. The teachings of Jesus are not about being saved so that we can go to heaven or some state of eternal or timeless bliss. They are about how we can be rescued from a bad place and brought to a better place, to find wholeness in our lives. And about the ways in which we seek to become whole and complete in our relations with ourselves, others and the rest of creation – and with God. These ways encompass physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. The true Christian way is about entering what Jesus called “the kingdom of God”, entering the spaciousness that is the compassionate consciousness of God, the ground of being.
Jesus’ teaching was not about what we have to do to get to heaven. In the gospel of John, Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Salvation is about that abundant life, which saves us from falling apart or spiralling downwards and brings us into the spacious, healthy environment that makes us whole. Salvation brings us into the stream of God’s consciousness, to be reintegrated and restored. It is something, therefore, that is on offer to every single human being. For expressing a more complete meaning for the word salvation, I prefer the term “restoration to fullness of being”.
We often create negativity in our lives. As in so many things, we are often unconscious that the way we think about things is creating a negative experience for ourselves. We believe that the experience is happening to us, but actually we are creating the bad experience. Through moaning, groaning, complaining, and wingeing, and by being cynical, sarcastic, derisive and miserable, we draw more of the same towards us. This is why Paul said “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phillippians 4:8)
Salvation in Christian terms is often expressed as wanting Christ to save us and all humanity, or at least the good people. So often it is believed that it is us, as humanity, that needs saving by God. Actually, in some ways I think it is the other way around. God needs saving from us! We’ve locked God up in heaven. God created us in his or her own image, and then we have returned the compliment! We have created God in the image of man (Note: not woman) We have decided that God must be like us men, a male deity. I don’t believe God is male. Nor is God female. That is just too limiting an idea. So God needs saving, first of all, from the limited beliefs, ideas and images that humanity has of God.
God is vastly bigger than any image we may have of him or her or it, but our concepts and our language limit our understanding of that. We have largely put God ‘out there’, not ‘in here’. Yet the good news of the New Testament is that God is in us, that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, that Christ is in us, the hope of glory. If we can find that God within, and begin to see the aspect of God within every human being, then we begin to recognise the real potential of humanity to live in peace and abundance, and in harmony with the natural world. That ability has been largely locked up within us, because we think it rests with God ‘out there’, not God ‘in here’. The potential for humanity to live in peace rests within each one of us.
Practical spirituality is all about this process. It is about changing our relationship with the divine life force within us, which changes our relationship with the world around us. It is a shift in polarity so that a person finds their own ability to yield and to open, and offers that openness as a channel for the divine love to flow from within them to those around them. Remember Jesus saying “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38) And having done that opening, there is life-giving understanding and kindness that the person can share with their world and the people in it.
Opening your thinking plays a part in this process. But in the end, it is a matter of the heart. Any true spiritual practice involves our ability to yield and open and respond. We have all sorts of rituals to help us with this opening. We go to church, or we pray or meditate, or read spiritual works, or undertake some other kind of spiritual practice, but we are not necessarily undertaking this opening work. Because this is a matter of the heart. You can go through the motions, but without the right heart attitude, it may not change your underlying dynamic.
The key factor in whether or not we set free the divine life to come through us is, in the end, a matter of the heart, and what the heart opens to. True spiritual practice is about letting the heart open to the divine source that empowers a person. It is also about opening our heart to the other, instead of knocking them down. If we begin to see the divine source in others, it changes out attitudes to them. The hindu greeting, Namaste, is just that – it means ‘The divine in me recognises the divine in you’.
So how is it going for you? How is your heart doing? What is it opening to? We all have the opportunity to open to the divine life within us that gives aliveness. We can open to the heart-wisdom within that inspires our thinking and actions. When we do, we have a natural urge to be compassionate, and a natural tendency to radiate a sense of well-being and blessing to the people around us. Opening the heart melts away the negativity that comes from a closed heart. If we remain closed, we impoverish ourselves.
This is what the Easter story is all about. You can read Jesus’ prayer in John, Chapter 17, as he opened his heart. It tells the story of a man yielding to what was within him in a time of challenge. He wasn’t crying out, ‘God, get me out of this mess!’, or ‘Send curses down on the Pharisees and scribes!’, or saying ‘O woe is me, what am I going to do?’ When he faced his largest challenge, he was surrendering and opening to that reality within him that he spoke of as his Father; that aliveness, that ground of Being that is the most real thing about anyone.
Life has a way of giving us opportunities to realign, reorient and start anew. There are times when we are challenged. Maybe it is a tragedy in the family, or something in the news hits us with a deep sadness or anger, or we realise something not very nice about ourselves. Do we push it away, bury it? Do we get all het up about it, take it out on others, blame everyone else around us? Or do we open up to the divine source within us and ask for strength, compassion, understanding. Do we let those living waters flow? Because when water flows, it cleans things out, it changes the shape of things, but when it stagnates, it gets smelly.
We so often live behind masks that we put on to face the world. We become so used to the mask, that we forget who we really are at our deepest level. Ask yourself: “Am I willing to have my heart cracked open by the divine source that is within me and within everyone?” If we are willing to let our true selves be cracked open, the reality of who we are behind the mask can be set free, we can be ‘restored to fullness of being’. And we can share that true Self with others. The divine compassion within can inspire and bless others when we let it out.
We are alive. The divine reality that animates us is mystical, powerful, intelligent, loving and wise. Let it out. That is the powerful message of the Christian story. Live the abundant life!
Revd Don MacGregor is the author of “Blue Sky God: The Evolution of Science and Christianity” and has a website at www.donmacgregor.co.uk. Sermons of his can be seen at www.northdewislandchurches.org.uk