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Spirituality is the core of our humanness, the essence of who we are and how we express our vitality - our aliveness - whether we are religious or not. In Building Heaven on Earth, Dwight Webb encourages readers to challenge religion's claim to be caretakers of our spiritual life. He argues that we are spiritual beings by nature and that our search must first and foremost be inward, and not skyward. He ask readers to consider that it is our soul self within, that expresses our tangible apirit as we choose to act ...
Spirituality is the core of our humanness, the essence of who we are and how we express our vitality - our aliveness - whether we are religious or not. In Building Heaven on Earth, Dwight Webb encourages readers to challenge religion's claim to be caretakers of our spiritual life. He argues that we are spiritual beings by nature and that our search must first and foremost be inward, and not skyward. He ask readers to consider that it is our soul self within, that expresses our tangible apirit as we choose to act with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
Dr Webb draws upon his personal experiences as well as his four decades of teaching and research as a Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Graduate School at the University of New Hampshire. His book ask us to claim our human spirit and not relegate it to any religions, cults or other institutions requiring devotion and unquestioned faith. It is in our inner life that we will sort our values, our purpose, and personal meaning. It is in our inner life where we make the decisions and take responsibility for contributing to the common good, as each person builds his or her own heaven on earth.
Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try No hell below us, above us only sky Imagine all the people, living for today ... —John Lennon
I imagine that John Lennon is right—no hell below us, above us only sky! But according to Christians, this is not the way it is! They insist that heaven is in the skies and that we will meet God there and see Jesus, and so on. But here on Earth, we can see and hear and feel and touch heaven, as we engage in the process of building better lives for all of earth's creatures. In the human realm, most of us know that we want more democracy, less crime, more justice, and fewer wars. We know that we must reverse the massive starvation and malnutrition that affect millions, and that means figuring out how to distribute Earth's abundant resources in an equitable manner. It also means summoning the will to do it. This is a spiritual matter.
Over the last two millennia, millions if not billions of Christians bought into and held onto the idea of a supernatural God as a human figure wearing a robe, and living in the skies above. Today's Christians continue these beliefs, having faith that after they die on earth, they will meet God in Heaven in an afterlife. All that is required is that they believe in Jesus and repent their sins. Christians, who continue to have faith in their stories, will feel threatened by the idea of letting go of these and other supernatural beliefs. But being good Christians, they also know that humans can't let greed or anything else stand as a viable reason for neglecting to help those who are less fortunate. As 'good Samaritans', they too will contribute in helping to build heaven on earth, because it is the right thing to do. But for many of these who are devoutly religious, it will not be easy to let go of their beliefs in supernatural ideas. They may consider that their work for the common good has nothing to do with heaven, except that it might help when their credentials are reviewed for entrance to Heaven.
Letting go of supernatural ideation does not mean that anyone has to give up believing in God as a higher power. It just means accepting the truth that any explanation of any God is a mystery. Believing in a natural God does not explain the why what and how of it all, just as nothing is truly explained by any of religions mythological stories in that regard.
The difficult thing for those who believe in an afterlife is being able to accept the idea that when all the cellular tissues of our physical bodies have perished and gone to gravesites or crematoriums, we are gone, and life is over. Most people just do not want their lives to be over, and some religions have created supernatural stories that give them comfort that all is not gone. Whether one believes in a Natural God or the God of any religion, the common ground is that God is still seen as the abiding Force in the Universe and of life on Earth. The big difference is that a Natural God is seen as within as well as without, and needs no supernatural stories to explain the mystery. Believing in a Natural God means that we accept that the mystery is beyond anything that we can fathom, never mind making up stories to explain it. The interesting paradox of this mystery is that we are a part of it all. The mystery is within us at all times, as well as all around us. It is the spark, the breath and the force within all life.
While it will not be easy to shift ones belief in a supernatural God to believe in a Natural God, it may help one in considering such a shift, to be reminded that everything we need to build heaven on earth can be found in the abundance, beauty, and love that are plentiful in our natural world.
A Natural Force of Creation
If God is a natural Force, and the source for creation of all that we can perceive on earth, we have to conclude that whatever this creative force is, we are part and parcel of it all. This force is not contained in some outside supernatural being in a remote and vague place called heaven. Being one with nature is a much more direct connection to the total texture, movement, and interrelatedness of all life on Earth. To imagine a supernatural God in human form as a biological being, male, or female figure ruling over everything, does not make sense to me, especially one who is being called upon everyday to answer millions of individual prayers.
No religion has the final word on God or everlasting life, and it is arrogant to claim to understand such a mystery by offering supernatural stories. Religions get around and sidetrack this deficiency by simply saying that 'God works in mysterious ways.' That explanation usually lets them off the hook, even though it tells us nothing. These folks continue to imply that other than the way he works, they understand everything about their supernatural God. This strikes me as dishonest.
Most religions instruct followers to have faith in their claim that God is a supernatural being residing in heaven, even though there is no evidence supporting that idea, they tell all who will listen. They also tell us that during our lifetime we may connect with our 'Heavenly Father' only through prayer, and we all find out soon enough that these prayers may not be answered. He may get back to us, and he may not. I believe that if something good happens and we have been praying, it is because we made it happen by listening to our soul self of God within.
My challenges to religions do not stem from an atheistic point of view. It's not that I don't believe in a Higher Power; it is that I don't believe in religions that portray God as a human figure with supernatural backdrops of angels flying in the sky with their own wings, and with Saint Peter waiting at the heavenly gates to check the credentials of those seeking entrance. Why would there be a God who is so exclusive and judgmental? Could this be religion's way of scaring us into behaving properly? Likewise, I fail to see value in other worn-out irrelevancies in religious stories and admonitions. Some of the Christian stories, such as the virgin birth, Jesus walking on water, or Jesus raising the dead, are examples of what were probably intended to be metaphors, but are presented and believed by the faithful to be reality. This is a huge distortion, and we know it can't be true. These metaphorical and mythological distractions do not help us find the truth.
Because most religions assert that their God is the only true God, they separate themselves from any and all who are of a different persuasion. In their separateness, religions condemn us and threaten us with damnation if in their judgment we have sinned. None of these judgments or threats will ever be considered if one believes in a Natural God. The mysteries of the universe and the inexplicable diversity of life on Earth are too extraordinary to be judged, defined, or contained within the walls of any religion that is built on supernatural myths.
While we all struggle to understand the why of these mysteries, it is reasonable to assume that the diversity of life on Earth is an outcome of a Natural Force that we might call Creator, God, or a Higher Power. Accepting the mystery and the wonder at the vastness of our Universe, and the natural beauty and abundance of life on Earth, we might conclude that the ground upon which we stand is sacred. We will see that our spiritual experiences are not just found in the rituals, artifacts, and traditions of our churches, temples, or mosques, nor are they only found in the isolated events that are reserved for special days of religious service. Instead, our experiences of the sacred are found within the textures of our daily relationships with our families and friends. These are the connections that enrich our lives in the here and now. There is no evidence that this vitality within our spiritual life will be found in some paradise in the sky reserved for life after death for those that are allowed in.
Living Without Fixed Answers
Religions like fixed answers. Without fixed answers, we are left to wonder. We wonder about God, about the meaning of our life, and about the mystery of our universe. Religions have not encouraged us to wonder. They have provided fixed answers to discourage the uncertainty of the wondering path. But it is in our wondering that we discover that there is no exactitude in defining the parameters of the Force of God. This mystery will remain. It is in this wondering that we discover comfort in accepting and living with the mystery. And in our wondering, we open doors to understanding the meaning of our lives.
These are serious questions about our existence. Wondering awakens our consciousness, and we begin to realize that we can at least make some reasonable assumptions about what we are doing here, and how it came to be. For example, we easily realize that each of us comes from a long genealogical family tree, and we are connected to that heritage. We also come to see that although we belong to a community of friends with a culture and history, our own fate rests with our self-understanding as we consider our best options and make the decisions that will shape our lives. Fixed answers will not help us on this path.
Our Evolving Consciousness
As our consciousness rises, we begin to understand the nature of our soul. Claiming our soul means discovering our interface with the Natural Force of God within. It is our soul that is the seat of our spirit, our vitality, and our consciousness. Our soul consciousness integrates our perception, analysis, and reasoning from which we take meaning as we meet life's challenges. This integration forms the wisdom of our intuition, our greatest resource as we choose our way on life's journey.
A down to earth example of this idea may be seen in the following metaphorical piece about the uncertain consequences of decision-making. The following lines were written by Robert Frost, one of America's greatest poets, and are taken from his well-known poem, "The Road Not Taken."
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
One might say that his intuition, or the inner wisdom of his soul, told him to take that particular road because of a sense that his outcomes might just be a bit better (more interesting, more opportunities, safer, whatever). He trusted his sensing of it, his choice, and seems to be telling us that he is pleased by the enormity of the differences that ensued.
In the last couple of centuries, there have been a few priests, ministers, rabbis, and mullahs that have challenged the rigidity of their own religion's particular storyline and protocol. John O'Donahue, the late Irish priest and author of several books of philosophical poetic musings on Celtic spirituality, provides a good example of this when he wrote the following in his book Anam Cara (translated "Soul Friend"): "For too long, we have believed that the divine is outside us."
This twelve-word message is what this book is all about. It's about believing the divinity of our inner world, and the freedom we gain when we leave the traditional focus of a divinity outside ourselves that holds us back. It is not really probable for most established major religions to encourage us to look within to the force of a Natural God. Instead, they rein us in tightly to their point of view, suggesting that our earthly life is only a preview, and insisting that if we repent, everlasting life will be ours after we die. It is this centuries old devotion to supernatural stories perpetrated by major religions that continues to be a barrier to the understanding of our individual spirituality.
Freedom to Choose
Those of us not affiliated with religion will be judged, but we need not be diminished by this judgment, nor should we feel shy about claiming our freedom to choose what we believe. We need not be concerned with labels such as heretic, atheist, and pagan, which are often thrown at us by the most judgmental (holier than thou) and dogmatic folks of our religious cultures. It is their attempt to shame us into conforming. Our personal beliefs about God are too important to be invalidated by any outside judgment. We should not allow it. We are all spiritual beings by nature, and being spiritual does not require membership in any religion. God simply does not belong to any religion!
Accepting the Mystery
There will always be mystery in the millions of things we cannot understand. Certainly the mystery of the universe is at the very core of being awe struck with wonder. But even with all the mystery, there are hundreds of thousands of things that we can observe and do, that bring us delight in our wondering. These are the things that help us find meaning in our own lives. We will never fully grasp the immensity of our cosmos, but we can experience our awareness of self, as we embrace our bountiful Earth with reverence. Every day should be one in which we stand in awe at the infinite variety, abundance, and beauty of life as the gifts that they are. For me it makes sense simply to accept this inexplicable mystery and the wonder of it all. I am filled with gratitude and reverence for every breath I take and every step I make. There are so many possibilities.
Ask yourself if you can accept the idea that the Force of a Higher Power is the source of the creation of all living things. Can you accept that this life-giving Force is in our DNA, the blueprint of our cellular structure? Might we dare to think that God is the Force within us that directs our adaptability? Can we deny that our consciousness, cognition, and temperament—all the subtle yet profound nuances of our behavior—are the result of this adaptive force of natural selection within us? Could any person say that our creation is not sacred?
It is truly humbling to consider the astonishing Force in the universe that has created our rich, diverse, and abundant life, with an exquisitely ordered moon and sun supporting this beautiful planet we call home. Mary Oliver captures the spirit and essence of this in her following poem.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
The one who has flung herself out of the grass
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to
kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through
the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.
Earth's the right place for love: I don't know where it is likely to go better. —Robert Frost, "Birches"
Here and Now
One can sense the reverence that Robert Frost had for life on Earth and for the interconnectedness of love between humans. We have made a start on building heaven on Earth, but we are a long way from being finished. We know very well that life on Earth can be a living hell for far too many people, and that there is much to do to create well being and opportunities for all to thrive.
John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "For here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own." This particular statement has resonated with me as a deep truth for more than fifty years. This straightforward and powerful phrase helps me to see that the Force of a Natural God is in our own hands.
We have been conditioned by our religions to see God's work as that which is done by a distant and all powerful deity in the sky. In doing this we have taken ourselves out of the equation, and fail to claim the force of a natural God within that will guide us to take responsibility for building heaven on earth.
The Abundance of Earth
Science tells us that our sun is one of three hundred billion suns in our galaxy, and that our galaxy is one of one hundred billion galaxies! It is an unfathomably vast universe. And here we are awestruck on this beautiful blue planet we call home and a bit dumbfounded by the mystery of it all. We take solace as we ground ourselves to find our way with balance and perspective here on Earth. We take comfort and reassurance in knowing that the sun will rise every morning and that the seasons will roll around with orderly and predictable precision. Earth is well endowed with all the resources for sustaining life. Everything we need on Earth is right here, and right now. Even as we attend to the suffering of those less fortunate, we need to be grateful for the progress made on many fronts and for the generosity and the love we receive from others.
Excerpted from Building Heaven on Earth by DWIGHT WEBB Copyright © 2012 by Dwight Webb, PhD.. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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