Devoted but not Loyal

I’m starting to get burnt out on church again.

I’ve been going to church every week for the past two months: compared to my previous record of once or twice a month. It was great for a while, but the last few weeks I’ve just felt stagnant. And I don’t know if it’s a stagnancy I need to wade through or one I need to change.

When it comes to Christianity, I’m devoted, but I’m not loyal. I believe that, if God/the Universe/the Life Stream is everything–is the beginning, middle, and end of all that exists–no religion, and definitely no church, owns him. Therefore, if a method of connecting to him isn’t working, there’s no shame in leaving and trying something else.

Before I returned to church, my Sundays were spent quietly with coffee and toast, listening to a sermon or other spiritual teaching while playing video games. On mornings when the weather was nice, or when God had something particularly pressing to speak with me about, I would go on a walk or go to the woods to meditate.

I miss those mornings. But at the same time, when I had those mornings, I missed meeting with other Christians and the spiritual stability that church brings.

I need to find a balance.

For now, I think I will continue going to the church I found in Tokyo because I do have good friends there. I’m only here for four more weeks and I want to make the most of the time I have left.

 

not like this

My best friends’ dad died today. He left a wife and four children, two of them in middle school.

As I was trying to get ready for the day, weeping, I heard God speak. “This is why you are going back (to America),” he said, “to be there for them. Improve your empathy, because they will need it.”

I like finding out what my next step is, but not like this. Not like this.

Meditation Corner

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about getting better at prayer and meditation was from a speaker at a conference I went to in high school. He advised us to create a “sanctuary in our room.” In other words, create a nook you can go to that is only used for prayer or meditation. In that way, you will be better able to focus and hopefully spend less time playing “tie down the monkeys” with your stray thoughts.

There used to be this tree a short walk from my house that bordered a wheat field. It had long, drooping branches and in the summer, its thick leafy branches touched the top of the wheat, creating a secret little spot in the shade. I went there to meditate as often as I could manage.

When I couldn’t manage, I took all the pictures off of one of the walls in my room and set a chair there, facing the corner.

These days, I find sitting on the floor in the dark, or with a candle or incense, more effective than the chair in the corner. But I still prefer to meditate outside when possible, if I can find somewhere I won’t be disturbed.

The Agreement

I am in Japan on a Tourist Visa, which means I cannot work while here. And, because I cannot work, money has been tight. I have to think about the remaining months, I have to think about rent and other bills and food and transportation, and make sure that the money I saved earlier this year covers all of that.

Needless to say, it’s a point of stress for me. Especially when things keep arising that I hadn’t budgeted for.

But in this season, as in all seasons, I know God will take care of me. It was part of our agreement, after all, when I welcomed him into myself. I will use all my resources to follow him, and in return, he will take care of me in the way he decides is best.

He has been surprising me with little gifts lately, as is his way. Just little things to show his support. An entrance fee was refunded to me. My friends’ party ended up being smaller than expected, so the “chipping in” cost was removed. I even found almost 200 yen ($2) in the bottom of my purse.

They were all nice surprises, but the nicest thing about them is knowing who they were from, and why they were given to me. It’s as if God was saying. “See? I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry.”

So I won’t worry. I’ll try to trust instead.

Sin as Contextual

Determining whether something is sin is a lot like determining whether two chemicals mixed together are going to explode: it depends what you are mixing with what.

Some chemicals are prone to explode on their own, and some actions are bad news for whoever participates in them. Things like murder. That one’s pretty cut and dry.

But most chemicals only explode when mixed with specific other chemicals. In the same way, whether or not something is harmful differs from person to person. What is harmful for one person is just fine for another. What is fine in one situation is not fine in another.

For example, it was noble to lie to protect Jews from Nazis. But it is not noble to lie to protect myself from embarrassment.

Another example is porn. For some people, it adds to their intimacy with their partner and helps them explore their sexuality. For others, it fosters harmful fantasies and thoughts.

To make matters even more gray, there may be things that didn’t used to be okay for someone to engage in but they are now, and vice versa.

Actions and thoughts affect each person differently. That’s why there’s no point to judging others.

Good Possession

I’ve come to realize that not all spiritual possession is bad or harmful. Like most things in life, it seems to come down to who is involved and what consent was given.

We have all heard the horror stories of harmful possessions by demons, etc. Possessions that cause the host to lose control of their body and hurt themselves or others. Possessions that require long, intense exorcisms. Those are forced possessions, where the spirit decided to possess with no input from the host.

What we often forget is that a lot of religion, especially Christianity, encourages a kind of possession as well. But it encourages possession that is consensual, loving, and built on trust.

In Christianity, it’s commonly called “asking Jesus into your heart” or being “born again.” You ask a manifestation of God called the Holy Spirit to enter and reside inside of you for the rest of your life, influencing how you think and act, guiding you to become more like him.

He doesn’t force his way in. He is gentle and attentive, and keeps a dialogue going the whole time to make sure you are 100% on board with what he is proposing. And if you aren’t, he takes a step back and you go back to discussing, to see why you aren’t okay with it and whether you truly want to continue.

Personally, I didn’t understand the “born again” concept until I started thinking about it in terms of possession. It sounds creepy put that way, doesn’t it?

Everyone is different and everyone finds different paths towards their own enlightenment. But for those who think they might want to give that kind of intertwined existence a try, I encourage them to.

But listen to me babbling on. I’m such a lovestruck flesh-thing that I think everyone should give it a go. Don’t listen to me. Go at your own pace (or don’t go. It’s your choice). But if you have any questions about it, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll answer the best I can.

Envy

I am reading through a book my friend lent to me and while it is a great read, it has also been stirring up uncomfortable feelings surrounding an already uncomfortable topic for me.

Among other things, the book is about how evangelism isn’t about converting people to a list of doctrines so much as just being there to do life with them and help them in any way you can. That’s great. Totally agree.

Except, I’m not a “hanging out” kind of person. I’m not a talk-with-strangers-on-the-bus kind of person. So…what does that mean for me? What do I have to give?

While I’m not good at being friendly and inserting myself into people’s lives, I am better at other things: like learning, listening, and creating.

Part of being okay with being a good listener and not a great befriender is accepting that I can’t be good at everything. To have a healthy view of myself and others, I need to be okay with my own failures and my own embarrassments. I’m not a god in skin. I’m just a human: one that has trouble relating to other humans a lot of times.

Envy comes when you feel ashamed because you aren’t good in areas other people are. And while self-improvement is good, that self-improvement can’t come from a place of shame. It has to come from a place of acceptance, love, and curiosity.

Elemental

Tonight I found my small box of Nag Champa incense and it made me think of my elemental (nature spirit) friend back home.

As I take in its sweet, heady scent, I remember how we didn’t used to be friends: how they used to hate me and how I used to be scared of them. But somehow, despite my egocentric, human-conqueror-minded stupidity, we eventually grew to enjoy each other’s company (once I stopped talking at them and started listening. But that’s a story for another time).

I’m reminded of that one time I wanted to burn incense as a gift to them to thank them for sharing their practical wisdom with me.

I often burn incense and candles to God (rose in particular), but I didn’t know whether forest elementals liked incense. I certainly didn’t want to give them a gift they wouldn’t enjoy.

So I thought back to our previous conversations, to think of something they would appreciate, and I remembered that when we were talking about plants, I had mentioned the plant I was tending in my room and how they said they’d like to see it sometime.

With my phone, I took a few pictures of my plant, showing how it had grown. Then I brought my phone to the forest where the elemental resides and we looked through them together.

That elemental is one of my best friends, and I miss them terribly. I can’t wait to sit and talk with them again.

God’s Little Gifts

All spirits have their own trademark qualities and God, being a spirit himself, is no different. It is an interesting exercise pondering which characteristics God has, especially those that aren’t explicitly listed in literature.

One that I am continually reminded of is how he likes surprising his church/hosts with little gifts. These are often unnecessary and unrequested extravagances. Just little gifts to surprise us and make us smile.

Some branches of religion get caught up in these gifts, which is sad because it misses the point. Following God for his gifts would be like marrying someone for their house.

But the fact remains that God likes to give those little surprises. Like a mother who picks up chocolate bars for her kids while grocery shopping, even though her kids are at home and weren’t expecting anything. The gifts are an expression of love. And, though he doesn’t give expecting anything in return, his love makes us want to surprise him back.

The Observation Stage and Brief Contact

In my free time, I try to walk around through the parks and other green areas in my city, putting out feelers for anything supernatural.

Spirits don’t only hang around places with a lot of nature, but I’ve found that, like people, they don’t like to be disturbed, so that means they usually find quiet places that aren’t disrupted by humans. Some probably prefer hustle and bustle more than nature and quiet, but I find I have the most encounters in the quiet places.

I had an unexpected conversation with a spirit last week in my room, but I’m still not sure whether it was God or a local spirit. (They feel different to me. When it’s God/the Holy Spirit, I get this burning pressure in my heart that makes me feel like I’m going to explode in the best way. Other spirits feel different. For example, the one by my house  in America that I have the most contact with has a breezy snark about it and feels like cold water.)

The spirit I spoke with felt like some combination, so I’m not sure whether it was a kind of spirit I’d never encountered before or if God had just taken a different tone. Though based on the tone and the feeling, I’m inclined to say it was something else. Maybe from the shrine a block up the road.

It said “You fancy yourself some kind of necromancer?” I answered that I would like be, but that I had a lot to learn. (“Necromancer” meaning a medium with nature ties, rather than someone who yanks ghosts back from the dead and such. Though I am nowhere sensitive enough to call myself a medium.). I asked if it had any teachings it would like to share with me. (Never demand lessons from spirits. It’s so rude. But it’s common that, if a spirit makes contact, they have something that they’ve been wanting to tell either you as an individual, or more often, something they want to tell humanity in general, and you just happen to be the one who is listening). It gave me two points to chew on:

  1. Food is glory, but it’s also unimportant. Be okay with simplicity. (Image of an old man who eats the same kind of sandwich everyday for lunch. This is both literal and a metaphor for extravagance vs. simplicity. Extravagance often clogs up the senses.)
  2. Each element has a different energy. They connect at the stem, but you can’t really “connect to the elements” for that reason. You must choose one to align with and train to channel that energy.

I haven’t heard from that spirit since, nor have I heard from any others.

In my brief experience, spirits are shy. Especially nature spirits. They will hide and watch you for a long time before making contact and then only if they decide you aren’t dangerous (or you’re too dangerous and need to be stopped).

I’m new to this area. If there are any spirits around, they’ve probably only seen me once or twice. I’m hoping that as I visit the quiet places more frequently, we’ll get to know each other better and they’ll realize I’m not a threat. And hopefully I’ll learn how to sense them better.