Archive | May 2013

Ruach Meditation

Right away God’s Spirit made Jesus go into the desert. He stayed there for forty days while Satan tested him. Jesus was with the wild animals, but angels took care of him.

Mark 1:12-13 (Contemporary English Version)

Imagine you are in the Arabian desert at the height of summer. The temperature in the shade is 48 degrees centigrade. The air is deathly still. You are wearing a flowing caftan of fine Egyptian cotton. In the hot dry air, you feel as though you cannot breathe. On the sand hills in the distance you see a pack of wolves. Buzzards are circling overhead.

You feel a kiss of a breeze against your face: a cooling movement of the invisible air. The ruach, the mysterious spirit that is everywhere around you, has moved. It is in the air and now makes itself felt. You know that you are safe. You know that you are loved. You know there is something more than the harshness of this desert wilderness. You breathe in this air. You breathe in the Divine Essence that is always present. You breathe out. You breathe in. You breathe out the Divine Essence. As you breathe out, you breathe air into the world creating and spreading the ruach breeze.

Breathe in God.

Breathe out God.

… in the silence …

As you return to the room know that the ruach, the Divine Essence is always with you. Every breath you take invites the Divine; every exhale shares the Divine Essence in you with the world.

Listen now to the wind in the desert: the message of the ruach.


The Three “O”s.

God is:

  • Omnipotent – all powerful
  • Omniscient – all knowing
  • Omnipresent – all (everywhere) present

Power, knowledge, presence: these are three human qualities we would like more of. When we say that God has all of these in spades, do we mean that God is a superman or super woman? Are we simply creating God in the image of ourselves, albeit a super-duper version of ourselves? Is this not idolatry?

Perhaps in applying these epithets we are attempting to know the unknowable, to name the unnameable. In doing so, we reduce the Divine to a being—and an ugly one at that. If a being is all powerful, knows everything and is present everywhere, then that being is allowing some pretty bad things to happen.

We can only touch awareness of the Divine Essence when we enter the silence suspending all reason and all thought and that experience is indescribable, or when the Spirit touches us unexpectedly.

God is Spirit

In Lesson 2 of the classic Unity text, Lessons in Truth, H. Emilie Cady wrote:

When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, He said to her, “God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 A.V. reads, “God is a Spirit,” but the marginal note is, “God is Spirit,” and some other versions render this passage, “God is Spirit.”) To say “a Spirit” would be to imply the existence of more than one Spirit. Jesus, in His statement, did not imply this.

Webster in his definition of Spirit says: “In the abstract, life or consciousness viewed as an independent type of existence. One manifestation of the divine nature; the Holy Spirit.”

God, then, is not, as many of us have been taught to believe, a big personage or man residing somewhere in a beautiful region in the sky, called “heaven,” where good people go when they die, and see Him clothed in ineffable glory; nor is He a stern, angry judge only awaiting opportunity somewhere to punish bad people who have failed to live a perfect life here.

God is Spirit, or the creative energy that is the cause of all visible things. God as Spirit is the invisible life and intelligence underlying all physical things. There could be no body, or visible part, to anything unless there was first Spirit as creative cause.[1]

Can we be sure that the Webster dictionary definition is what the author of the fourth Gospel meant by Spirit? The Authorised Version of the Bible (A. V.), the version usually referred to today as the King James Version, is a translation prepared under the instruction of King James I of England (VI of Scotland). Could the 19th century American dictionary referred to by H. Emilie Cady in the above quotation be providing the meaning of spirit intended by the 17th century English translators? Maybe. Maybe not.

According to an article in Wikipedia[2], King James had given the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy. Such instructions would tend to bias any translation. We need to check the early Greek sources if we wish to know what the author of the gospel meant.

The word translated as spirit is the Greek pneuma meaning wind or breath. It has the same meaning as the Hebrew ruach. Referring to these meanings, Marcus Borg has written:

The associations of both are suggestive. Both are invisible yet manifestly real. We cannot see the wind, though its presence and effects are felt; it moves without being seen. When it blows, it is all around us. Breath is like wind inside the body. For the ancient Hebrews (as for us), it was associated with life. Metaphorically, God as Spirit is both wind and breath, a nonmaterial reality outside of us and within us. Our breath is God breathing us, and God is as near to us as our own breath. Speaking of God as Spirit, as both wind and breath, evokes both transcendence and nearness.[3]

Karen Armstrong comments:

The early Jewish Christians used the term [Holy Spirit] to describe the immanent divine force within them that filled them with an empowering energy and enabled them to understand the deeper meaning of Jesus’s mission.[4]

Spirit, then, is like the wind. Even when the wind is so light we do not notice it, it is there. We breathe it in: it fills us and keeps us alive, invigorated. We breathe it out: we share our out-breath with all that is and enliven all of creation.

The Hebrew scriptures generally use the word ruach in the phrase ruach elohim or breath of the Gods. Spirit is not the whole of God. God is beyond human explanation or description. Spirit/breath is but an aspect of God, the immanence of God.

[1] H. Emilie Cady (1896) Lessons in Truth, Unity Books

[3] Marcus J. Borg (1997) The God We Never Knew, HarperOne

[4] Karen Armstrong (2009) The Case for God, Knopf

The Way Shower

In one of her many letters, Myrtle Fillmore wrote:

God’s love for us, for all His children, is so great that He sent Jesus Christ to be the Way Shower to lead us to a greater realization of our heavenly Father’s love and will for us.

This role of Jesus, the Nazarene, for Unity is repeated often. One of the core statements in Unity’s philosophy is:

We believe that Jesus expressed his divine potential and sought to show humankind how to express ours as well. We see Jesus as a master teacher of universal truths and as our Way Shower.[1]

In my reading of Unity literature much emphasis is placed on the mystical aspects of Jesus’ teachings and very little on his reform agenda.

The mystical aspects are important. They indicate that God/Spirit is everywhere present. We learn that we can become aware of this Divine presence, by entering the Silence. From that space we may experience healing, peace, one-ness with all-that-is. Such experience is valuable. Through it we can come to know our own essential divinity. Is this enough? Is this all there was to the way Jesus was showing? Continue reading

Unity’s Credo

There is only one Presence and one Power
in our lives and in the universe:
God the Good, omnipotent
expressing within each of us as
the indwelling Christ.

Why do I repeat this every Sunday at my Unity centre? For me, this statement holds a few problems. In particular the word “omnipotent” (sometimes stated as the noun “omnipotence”. How can God be both good and omnipotent? The omnipotence of this God would be able to prevent all that is not good. It is clear that evil exists in the world, that people suffer, that bad things happen to good people. If God were indeed both good and omnipotent these things would not, could not, happen.

With a variety of minor changes, this is the Statement of Faith that is expressed in many Unity Centres throughout the USA and in other parts of the world. Mostly it is God the Good, omnipoten(t)(ce).

Myrtle Fillmore wrote a different variation:

God is the one Presence and the one Power—the Good omnipotent.[1]

Notice the lack of punctuation between “Good” and “omnipotent”. Did she, perhaps, mean something different? Was she saying that good is omnipotent, that good will overcome evil? This is different from saying that the only Presence and Power is an all-powerful good God which is how the Statement of Faith reads.

Unity World Wide Ministries list the first two of Unity’s five basic principles as:

  • There is only one Presence and one Power active as the universe and as my life, God the Good.
  • Our essence is of God; therefore, we are inherently good. This God essence, called the Christ, was fully expressed in Jesus.

In this set of principles there is no mention of “omnipotence”. Perhaps those statements of faith should be reworded omitting the word “omnipotent” to read:

There is only one Presence and one Power
in our lives and in the universe:
God the Good
expressing within each of us as
the indwelling Christ.

[1] Myrtle Fillmore, How to Let God