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Sunday Message for February 12, 2023


This week, we share:
* The love felt within the walls of Castro Valley Unity,
* The light of our individual hearts illuminating the Unity community (and beyond) and
* The Spiritual Truth that we are simply here to let God be God in us!

Unity is all about a blending of Eastern and Western spiritual paths that support us in:
(1) having an intimate relationship with the God of our being,
(2) taking full and complete responsibility for our own lives and
(3) living our dreams."

I'm wondering who is here today because, at some point in your life (whether this week or 10, 20 or 30 years ago), a friend invited you to attend this or another such spiritual community? Wow. That's pretty impressive.

So - where are we going to go today? We've explored the idea of living without fear.

Today, we expand the idea of fearlessly being all we came here to be by looking at this deep Spiritual Truth:

In order for us to be all we came here to be, we need one another - we cannot go it alone! I just read a recently released book entitled The Good Lifea. It is about the world's longest scientific study of happiness. Their conclusion is that the most important thing in happiness is having positive relationships.

We were put on this earth together to do great things together. That is inherent in who we are and what we are made of: We are all made out of the same Spiritual Stuff.

We may have many hands, but there is only One Heart! Say that with me, will you:

"We have many hands, but only one heart."

There is a story of an old African King who is dying. He calls his children, their husbands, wives and relatives to his side and gives each of them a short, sturdy stick. "Break the stick," he instructs them.

For some of them, this is fairly easy; for others, it's a bit harder, but eventually, they all break their sticks in half.

"This is how it is when a soul goes it alone in this world. They can all be broken," said the elder.

Next, the old man gives each of them another stick and some twine, and says to them, "Now, bind your sticks together in bundles of twos, threes, fours and fives, and break these bundles in half."

As you might imagine, no one could break the bundles, not even the bundles of just two sticks.

Upon seeing this, the old man smiled and said, "We are strong when we stand with another soul. When we are with another, we cannot be broken. This is how I would like you to live after I am gone."

Isn't that beautiful? "We are strong when we stand with another soul. When we are with another, we cannot be broken."

Not only are we individually strong when we stand together, in truth, community is necessary for us to be able to fulfill our purpose here on Earth. We need one another to enhance God's experience of loving Itself.

I believe there can be no greater place to stand together than in spiritual community. Why do you think I've been doing what I do for the past 20 years!?

And what is it that makes a community a spiritual one - because that concept is much bigger than the concept of "church"?

In Eastern teachings, spiritual community is referred to as "Sangha."

Sangha is a community of individuals dedicated to creating and sustaining an environment that nurtures and supports reverence, mindfulness, and spirituality as a lifestyle.

One of the primary elements created in Sangha is a feeling of safety for those involved.

Each person is respected, accepted, and loved as they are - it's a safe place to be who you are. It is an environment where individual creativity is incubated and authentic self-expression is encouraged! It is a place where your greatness is believed in!

In Sangha, the elements of joy and Seva (service to others) are present.

In such an environment, it's amazing to witness others unfold in their own unique spiritual nature with grace, elegance, and ease in their own time and space.

This is true spiritual community - true Sangha. This is a good place to be, is it not?!

In his book The Art of Being, Dennis Merritt Jones writes:

"Sangha is not a building, it is a consciousness held by a collective group that welcomes, celebrates, and honors you just the way you are. You'll know it, because it's as if you have walked into a wall of love, immersing you in it in the most amazing way."b

I would like to share a quote with you. It's from Starhawk in her book, Dreaming the Dark and is another way of describing Sangha:

"Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free."c

And one more beautiful statement about Sangha, this time from Ernest Holmes in Can We Talk to God?:

"There is something in us that longs for the sympathetic understanding, the kindly response, the sense of a presence which is warm, pulsating and colorful. We must have it and I sense that as we meet each other in love and friendship, in the warmth of a handshake and in good fellowship, it is God. What else could it be? The hand that gives is the hand of God, and the eye that sees is the eye of God. In each other, through each other, we contact God. . "d

So, this is just utopia, isn't it?! This is Garden of Eden stuff, right?! And when we are in spiritual community, we live in this space all the time, yes? What? No? Well, why the heck not?

As I was prayerfully contemplating this and looking at what's going on in my life right now and in the life of our spiritual community (I often take my message clues from this, you know) - I see a human behavior that we all engage in to some degree or another that can knock us out of Sangha consciousness quicker than greased lightning! What is a common barrier to experiencing this beautiful paradise I've just described?

Well, it was spoken about in Don Miguel Ruiz' life-changing book written in the late 90's entitled The Four Agreements. In fact, it is one of the agreements he suggest we make with ourselves in order to live in what he calls White Magic (from the Toltec tradition). He defines White Magic as:

The place of creating, giving, sharing and loving.

Sounds like Sangha to me!

It is the agreement not to make assumptions.

We have a tendency to make assumptions about almost everything, don't we? The problem with making them is that once we've made them, then we believe them! We are absolutely positive they are real. And then we emotionally respond accordingly to them.

I love what Ruiz says:

"It is very interesting how the human mind works. We have the need to justify everything, to explain and understand everything, in order to feel safe. We have millions of questions that need answers . . . It is not important if the answer is correct; just the answer itself makes us feel safe. That is why we make assumptions. If others tell us something, we make assumptions and if they don't tell us something, we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions."e

And, of course, the way to stop this behavior that really messes up Sangha is so darn simple -- simply ask. To make sure that the communication is clear. If you don't ask, you don't understand. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then, do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation.

And while I agree with all of that completely and totally, there are deeper assumptions we need to question as well.

Those are the assumptions we make about ourselves that cause us to make assumptions about others. Those are the ones we really need to question!

A Minister friend of mine told me this story and I want to share it with you. She said, "The first time, we had Larissa Stow and Shakti Tribe here as our musical guests, they blew my mind. I was completely and totally enthralled with them but admit that they are pretty wild. Their blend of eastern chants, rap and rock could be considered on the edge. The music is loud, their songs are long, Larissa bounces all over the stage as she sings and when she hits a high note, you feel it to your bones.

As I felt the energy of the room, I knew that they were connecting with a lot of the congregation, but I wondered if they were connecting with everyone. We had a particular lovely, elderly couple that I sat wondering how they were receiving this. I was making an assumption that they weren't receiving it well and feeling bad about having the Tribe with us. Thinking perhaps I had made a mistake by inviting them to be with us, wondering how many others find them a bit over the top.

Do you see what I am doing, here?? Making an assumption about this couple and myself and the carrying it out to even more people.

So, what happened with the couple? Did they like or not like the Tribe? Well, you decide. They did not come back to church the next Sunday. Nor the next, nor the next, nor the next, nor next, nor next, etc., etc. Ah ha! My assumption was confirmed. Obviously, they did not and that turned them off the church entirely! I was so sad about that and feeling personally responsible and like I had made an error in judgment.

I did my best to shake it off and went about my life as a minister. Several, mind you several, months later, the couple showed up in church again. All bright and lovely smiles and welcoming hearts like they had always had. When they went through the line after service, and I said how much I had missed them, the woman said, "Oh, I am so sorry we didn't let you know. My sister became ill back east and we've been back there for the last several months caring for her. But she is better now, so we could come home. And we are so happy to return to our spiritual home!"

Wow, my assumptions and I got really, really busted!"

Holmes writes in Words That Heal Today:

"We reach God in others by reaching out from God within the self. Always the God in others will respond to the God in us, but never beyond the level of our inward spiritual awareness."f

And so we ask ourselves: What belief am I holding about myself that causes me to make that assumption about another? And then we realize that that "belief" is also an assumption we have named true!

If we can move into the habit of immediately questioning not only the surface assumptions we make, but also the assumptions underlying the assumptions, we will move in entirely new directions. Our relationship with ourselves and then with others will be truly transformed and you will have the ability to create Sangha, spiritual community!

So, it is one thing to speak in theoretical terms of the power of Sangha, it's another thing to share an experience of it.

Let me end with this beautiful Hopi Elders Prophesy. It goes like this:

To my fellow swimmers:
Life is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift,
that there are those who will be afraid,
who will try to hold on to the shore,
they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination, and all is well.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river,
swim and keep our heads above water.
And I say see who is there with you and celebrate.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for.

aThe Good Life Robert Waldinger, MD & Marc Schulz, PhD
bThe Art of Being Dennis Merritt Jones p. 32
cStarhawk Dreaming the Dark
dErnest Holmes Can We Talk to God? p. 10
eDon Miguel Ruiz The Four Agreements p 67
fErnest Holmes Words That Heal Today p. 25

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