Tag Archive: forgiveness


We nourish our lives in many different ways. Without water and the five food groups, our bodies weaken, sicken, and die. Without science, math, history, or any other intellectual pursuit, our minds weaken, sicken, and die.

We feed our souls with patience.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

My “working definition” of the soul is this: the part of us that sees our connection to all things.

Without patience our souls weaken, sicken, and die. We must feed all of these aspects, as one connects to all, influencing everything we do, think, and feel.

We need a healthy soul, fed with lots of patience, in order to understand who we are, and to accept God’s will. When we refuse to be malnourished, and commit ourselves to a proper diet-feeding the body, mind, and soul-then we are born again.

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”-Mark 12:30.

Jesus emphasized the importance of patience with this kingdom of heaven parable:

“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”-Matthew 13:33.

Leaven is a little piece of dough left over from a previous baking, which ferments over time. Fermentation takes time.

When the three angels visited Abraham, on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah….

“…Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.”-Genesis 18:16.

If we’re in a hurry, we don’t have time for fermentation. Leaven takes time. Three measures feeds three, and, therefore, is enough for more than just ourselves. Our bread feeds others.

Perhaps the most well-known example of unleavened bread comes from the Exodus.

“And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.”-Exodus 12:39.

When we hurry, we eat dull, tasteless, unleavened bread. Anything worth having, and worth savoring, requires patience. Leavened bread takes time. While we wait, we savor life and learn patience.

Though the sand in our hour glass seems to be abundant, we lose one grain per second. Each moment exists uniquely, and will never come again. We must savor every grain.

“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. / For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”-Psalm 103:15, 16.

Just as forgiveness shows love, and love allows for forgiveness, patience shows faith, and faith allows for patience. Whichever of these four we do, we are able to do the other three; one carries the blueprint for all.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”-James 1:3.

Patience allows for forgiveness, because we aren’t in a rush to judge. Love thrives on faith, because we allow God’s will to be done. Back and forth, like a dance; we exchange partners: patience for love, forgiveness for faith.

Faith clothes our souls with the garments woven by our actions. We are what we do, and what we think. Just as the Plains Indians used every part of the buffalo, we utilize every thought and action; we discard nothing.

“Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”-James 2:22.

Therefore, everything we do, or don’t do, makes us who we are.

This means our whole life determines our whole life. Simple and obvious, isn’t it? But our souls require a lifetime for the whole to be leavened.

Our own personal bread balances and harmonizes with all the billions of others. The whole world must be leavened, which takes time, and therefore we need patience.

This brings us back to love and forgiveness: coexistent harmony.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”-Matthew 6:14, 15.

This is not only a moral, spiritual imperative, but a psychological one as well. Even if we believe that our hearts resist sentimentality, and we show no outward sign of caring for others, our souls feel and record our every thought and action.

We discard nothing. We knead all of it into the dough.

As God promised Abraham:

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee….”-Genesis 12:3.

So does Jesus instruct us:

“Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”-Luke 6:28.

When we curse others, life curses us; when we bless, life blesses us. The leaven we mix into our lives includes all the leaven that everyone else kneads into their lives.

If we curse or hate someone, even if we think we’ve hardened our hearts and feel nothing, then that discord ruins the harmony of our lives. Even if we don’t show it on the outside, we feel it on the inside.

What we feed others, feeds us.

So we must be mindful. When we do something wrong, our perspective shields us with assurances that we behaved properly. So we teach ourselves, without realizing it, to see evil for good, and good for evil.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”-Isaiah 5:20.

Thus, the woman in Jesus’ parable hides the leaven, and it works invisibly, affecting our souls and psychological well-being. It is in our best interest to love one another.

Our bread feeds three people; and their bread feeds three more; and theirs, three more. And so on, until we leaven the world.

“For God so loved the world….”-John 3:16.

This is why Jesus warned his disciples about the Pharisees’ doctrine.

“…Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”-Luke 12:1.

Whatever we mix into our dough becomes our bread. And whatever we feed to others, becomes their bread, which we, in turn, consume and become.

“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”-John 6:35.

To be born again, we must accept the bread of life: the Bible shorthand for which is love. And the truth is that love requires patience.

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”–John 8:31, 32.

Jesus offers to teach us patience. And when we understand his lessons, the truth frees us from slavery to sin, and the agony our souls endure because of it.

Though we attempt to hide our sins in the dough, and convince ourselves they are of no consequence, a part of us knows we did something wrong.

“For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.”-Isaiah 47:10.

We think no one sees us, but we see ourselves. The soul isn’t persuaded by our lies, and knows the truth. While we repress this inner self, it suffers and eats away at us: until we are hollow, heartless, loveless, and perpetually angry.

Our resultant inner guilt ruins the harmony of our world, and embitters our bread. We cannot purge this self-inflicted poison, if we don’t acknowledge it. We break the addiction, and purge the poison with understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ word: This takes a lot of time, with many false starts.

Patience is hard. Not giving in to our base instincts, which demand an eye for an eye, seems impossible. We must have faith in our faith, and be patient with our patience.

“.…Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”-Revelation 12:12.

We rush because we know that our time is short. So, in a way, we already acknowledge the importance of each moment. But our impatience results in anger, and contempt.

This is natural. Everyone goes through this. But, in our haste, we sacrifice the beauty of our lives, and the harmony of our souls.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”-Psalm 23:2.

Since our time is short, we shouldn’t ruin it with hate and impatience. We are here to love the green pastures and still waters.

I know how hard it is to be patient. I feel important when I rush: as if I’m off to save a princess from a dragon. Impatience makes me feel like my life is important. And it is!

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Our lives are too important to waste time by rushing. We lose what we’re trying to preserve. Love, and appreciation of each other and the world, takes time. But this is life. Impatience robs us of life. Since we know how important our time is, we need to mix mindfulness into our dough, and enjoy baking our bread.

Like the woman in this parable, Jesus hides life in our bread.

“He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”-John 12:40.

He blinds us so we can learn to see with new eyes. He hardens our hearts to give us the choice, and opportunity, to soften our hearts.

If we do these things, if we love without thought of getting something in return, if we love because we love, and that’s what we do, then we see.

“And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.”-John 9:39.

We are born being able to see. To fit in and keep up with others, we blind ourselves with pride, ego, and impatience: all the lies we mix into our dough.

This is natural; everyone does it. And this is why Jesus came, why we have the Bible: to save us from the harm we unknowingly cause ourselves.

“…Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do….”-Luke 23:34.

This leaves us with the Bible’s primary lesson: how to mix our will with God’s will. The Bible teaches this in many different circumstances, with many different characters.

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. / This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”-John 15:12.

The simplest way to understand God’s will is to follow Jesus’ commandment, because when we love one another, when we have the patience to do God’s will, we coexist in harmony with all things, with God. This is the good bread that feeds our souls.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”-John 6:51.

So impatience comes because we know our time is short. Patience allows us to savor every bite of our bread. And we gain patience through faith, forgiveness, and love: all of which are interchangeable, and learned from each other.

The tough thing about patience is that it never ends. No matter how faithful, loving, or forgiving we were yesterday, today requires even more.

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”-Matthew 6:34.

When we feel impatient, then stop. Take a deep breath. Look around. Congratulate the world on its beauty. Remember how small we are. Our importance lies not in our vanity, but in how much we love. Love feeds not just our soul, but all souls. Love leavens the world.

Remember, we teach ourselves, and learn from others, without knowing it: The woman hid the leaven. We must mindfully reverse what we’ve thoughtlessly learned.

Inhale the world’s beauty, let it fill your soul. When you exhale, release your impatience. Inhale the love of all things. Exhale judgments, anger, whatever separates you from the world, and everything in it.

We must remember Jesus’ first commandment, and balance what we feed our bodies, minds, and souls; and with it comes the second commandment, which is really identical to the first.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”-Matthew 22:39.

We provide a healthy diet for the body, mind, and soul by loving one another. We love by forgiving. With patience, we forgive. With faith, we learn patience. And we feed our faith with love, as we feed our souls with patience.

Impatience thinks only of tomorrow. Love exists right now, and now is all we really have. If we waste this moment, then we ruin the harmony of our souls, and what we’re rushing for in the first place: which is to get the most out of life.

Patience takes practice. We store food before the famine. If we wait until we’re swept up in the heat of the moment, if we learn nothing before the test, then we fail.

Learn now. Practice during easy moments: while waiting for coffee, or the stoplight. Inhale the moment. Exhale impatience for the next moment; it will come, and when it does, inhale it deeply. Love now with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living….”-Mark 12:27.

God lives here…now…in you, and in me, the tree, the rock, your desk, my lamp, the sky, the clouds, every animal and person, every smell, taste, color, texture, all emotions, actions, and thoughts. Everything. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is here. We are born again right now.

Patience sets us free from worrying about tomorrow. Forgiveness exhales the past, releasing us from guilt, anger, and judgments. Love knocks on the door…right now. Hear it? Open the door. That’s all we have to do.

The most important (and most difficult) part of being born again is staying that way. We enter the kingdom of heaven when we love one another. But we will always be tested, tempted to hate-which is what sin really is.

We lump sin with mistakes, accidents, unforeseeable circumstances: We slip, trip, spill, crash, fall. We’re unable to prevent mistakes, because we can’t see the future. But sin doesn’t work that way. We might get caught up in a moment of passionate anger; or judge someone without thinking that we shouldn’t; we curse others who do us wrong, hate those who disagree with our opinion. But, in the end, we’re responsible.

We choose to sin.

It happens so quickly, violently, as if an outside force possesses us. Since the dawn of Judaism and Christianity, we blamed devils, or the Devil; we claimed that God hardened our hearts, or that Adam’s initial, original sin compelled us.

Still, we ask God to forgive us. Why? If we aren’t responsible for our sins-if the Devil is, or Adam, or other people-then how, or why, should we be held accountable?

We must accept that we hate because we want to. We’re addicted to it; we feel entitled, that those who did us wrong had it coming.

Darkness cannot defeat darkness; only light can do that. Evil perpetuates itself; only love can defeat it. We have a way out of this quicksand, if we’re prepared to accept the truth.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? / Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”-John 14:5, 6.

If we choose to sin, then we can choose to not sin.

I know this seems impossible, perhaps even blasphemous. We must have faith, and leap into the unknown, using God’s love for a parachute.

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”-Matthew 19:26.

The way lies in these mindfulness essays. I didn’t realize while writing them that they formed a step-by-step method to build awareness of God’s will. Regret lingers in the past; anxiety threatens us from the future; but love lives in the present.

God lives here with us, right now.

“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living….”-Mark 12:27.

So let us review.

Step 1: Silently, while breathing deeply, say the Lord’s Prayer. Focus on the meaning of every word. This is the prayer that Jesus taught. The purpose here is to relax the mind and body enough to experience God’s presence. We don’t need to ask God to come to us. We need to realize that God is already here.

“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. / After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”-Matthew 6:8, 9.

Step 2: While continuing to practice Step 1, move forward. Forgive every sin as it happens. Pay attention. Focus. Be mindful of hate, how we feel about it, and how those feelings contaminate us. This formula will help: Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness. Understand why someone did something wrong. We don’t have to agree, but we must accept it. Also, we must remember to forgive ourselves, for judging others.

“But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”-Mark 11:26.

Step 3: Continue the first two steps, but now, instead of just forgiving, bless others. We don’t need to be priests or rabbis to bless people. Start simply by blessing children. Don’t make a show of it; better that they don’t even know. Pray for them as you see them. Stay in the moment. God is with the children. We acknowledge that holy presence, that hallowed ground by thinking kind thoughts.

Over time, bless others as well: the elderly, animals, workers, married couples. Make each blessing specific to each one: Bless the birds and their flock; pray for God to grant patience to parents and their crying children; bless the elderly couple with strength, as they struggle with every step.

God is with them all. Just as we don’t need to pray for God to come to us, but rather open our hearts to feel His presence, so our blessings are actually meant to help us see that God is already with everyone.

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”-Matthew 25:40.

Step 4: We are getting more advanced now. Each step includes all those that came previously. We see and forgive. We love and bless. We stop and know that God is everything we perceive: all colors, tastes, sounds, smells, everything we touch.

There is nothing but God. All is love.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.-1 John 4:8.

Further, a whole universe exists outside of our perceptions. God is all that, and more. Be humble. Take your time: one step, then another. When pain, sorrow, or regret overwhelms you, surrender them to God. He can handle it.

This is step 5: When anger comes, or anxiety, or depression-anything that prevents us from loving ourselves and others-pray, “God, take this evil from me.”

This is a version of what Jesus did, when confronted with something that sought to distract him from God’s will.

“…Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”-Mark 8:33.

Love all; hate nothing. Breathe deeply. Accept God’s will. The acceptance formula is Love + Humility = Acceptance. We must humble ourselves and love everything to see God’s will.

These mindfulness exercises keep us aware of God. If, and when, we remain aware of the hallowed ground on which we walk, a miracle occurs.

“…[Jesus] said unto [the woman caught in adultery], Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? / She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”-John 8:10, 11.

In Mosaic Law, adultery warranted the death penalty. Thou shalt not commit adultery was the seventh commandment God gave to Moses. The sixth? Thou shalt not commit murder. On Mount Sinai, God indicated no punishments for breaking the Ten Commandments. But, in Leviticus, God demanded capital punishment for anyone who broke his laws.

What happened? How could the Israelites be told to not kill, and yet to kill? Eventually, wouldn’t they all be murdered by the enforcers of the laws in Leviticus?

What if they misunderstood, assumed that they knew God’s will? (As we all do.) How can the finite know the infinite? The only way we can even come close to approximating God’s will is through love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness, not murder or judgments.

Since we’re on a roll, one more question. What if we have misunderstood the nature of sin? Jesus told the adulteress that he didn’t condemn her.

“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”-John 5:22.

Jesus is our judge. And if he didn’t condemn that woman, but told her to sin no more, we are left with a startling possibility, a revolutionary way of thinking: We do not have to sin. We can sin no more!

Jesus told us how he accomplished the amazing, seemingly impossible feat of always following God’s will.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”-John 8:29.

We please God by doing His will. So if we always do what pleases Him, then we are without sin. All that remains is for us to continue living in God’s presence. That is what these mindfulness essays teach.

In Jerusalem, at the pool of Bethesda, there was a man who had been crippled for 38 years. Legend had it that, now and then, an angel descended to the pool. And when that angel disturbed the waters, the first person to reach the pool was healed. But this man was crippled, and someone always got to the pool first.

So Jesus healed him. Patience always wins, in the end.

“Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”-John 8:14.

We take for granted that sin is inevitable, due to our inherent weakness, and unavoidable mistakes. That’s not what Jesus taught. If we’re always looking to the past, and the future, then we will trip and fall. But if we stay in the moment, and please God, then we can be perfect. This requires mindfulness on an epic scale. Practice these steps. Turn from hate the moment it comes. Surrender sin to God.

Have faith. If Jesus saved the adulterous woman, and cured the man crippled by sin for most of his life, then he can heal us. Jesus passes our way, and we open our hearts for a brief moment.

The heart is a door whose handle is only on the inside. We must open it. No one can do it for us. But when we do, when we seize our moment, when we are mindful of love and faith, Jesus is there. He waits with the cure for sin: love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and the strength to accept God’s will.

But it’s like our door is stuck, and we open it a little with every push. For every moment that we allow ourselves to feel love, we open the door a little more.

Finally, the light shines through, and we are reborn.

(To be continued in Part 2.)

 

Revealed Unto Babes

To be born again, we can choose from three primary paths. Each one corresponds to what comes more naturally to you.

The first path is to love your neighbor, treat your fellows the way you want to be treated. “The Good Samaritan” illustrates what loving your neighbor means.

A priest and a Levite pass by a stripped, beaten, half-dead man, not wanting to get involved; and a Samaritan (despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day) shows mercy and compassion.

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? / And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”-Luke 10:36, 37.

The second is to forgive yourself, people who wronged you, everyone. “The Prodigal Son” shows us how forgiveness works. Like The Good Samaritan, this parable reveals how to follow Jesus’ lessons, while also giving us a counter example.

“And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. / It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”-Luke 15:31, 32.

Regardless of the loyalty to his father, a responsible older son doesn’t forgive his wayward brother, who’s willing to humble himself, by admitting his mistakes.

Jesus included these opposite views for a reason.

“And he said unto [the Pharisees], Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”-Luke 16:15.

Love can’t exist without forgiveness; or forgiveness, without love. But if we forgive, then we have shown love; and if we love, then we can forgive.

So if you find it hard to love your enemies, then try forgiving them. Recall my forgiveness equation (Understanding + Acceptance = Forgiveness); understand the person who wronged you, even if you don’t agree with them: See their perspective, and accept it.

We have to put ourselves aside to do this, deny ourselves, humble ourselves to that which is beyond our control.

These two parables explain love and forgiveness. Now we come to the third path, humility.

Without humility, there is no love or forgiveness.

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”-James 4:6.

When we remember that God is love, we see that love resists pride. To love one another, we must be humble; to forgive one another, we must be humble. However, there is nothing more difficult than to put others before ourselves. Considering others to be our equals is hard enough.

But stop and think. Do you sometimes, even often, put your spouse’s needs above your own, or your child’s, or your friend’s? We’re more humble than we think. What we do for the people who are most important to us, we can also do for everyone else. We behaved that way in childhood.

As children, everyone was our friend. To keep us safe, our parents taught us to not trust strangers. But now that we are older, and able to take care of ourselves, we must return to that trust, faith, and acceptance of strangers we had as children.

“And [Jesus] said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:3.

To become as little children, we must be born again; and to be born again, we must become as little children. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”-John 3:3.

The two previous quotes from Matthew and John combine in this, the most important and revealing passage in the Gospels.

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:4.

By humbling ourselves, we not only enter the kingdom of heaven, but we become the greatest therein. So this is it; the answer we’ve been looking for, the key to being born again: To be perfect, we must humble ourselves and have faith, like little children.

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”-Matthew 11:25.

Jesus isn’t speaking against wisdom and prudence, rather, against people like the Pharisees, who believe they are wise, and despise others for not being as smart as they are.

People who are truly wise admit their ignorance, since that is how we learn. But if we believe that we know everything already, then we won’t bother to learn.

It is with all these things in mind, that Jesus tells a parable about humility.

“And [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. / Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.”-Luke 18:9, 10.

Hands up, how many of us have thought that other people are stupid? Even fools despise others for their stupidity. We all have gifts that we should treasure, instead of belittling people who don’t share our unique knowledge and experience.

Pharisees memorized what would, in modern print, be over 6,200 pages of Scribal Law. They were much smarter than the simple fishermen of Galilee. Instead of using their intelligence to help the less fortunate, they succumbed to pride.

But everyone saw the Pharisees as examples of devout faith.

The other player in this drama is a publican, or tax-collector. They were called “publicans” because they dealt with public money and public funds. Israelites hated them, because they worked for the Romans, during their occupation of Israel, and so were collaborators.

There weren’t any newspapers, television, or internet; no one really knew how much in taxes they ought to pay. And there were so many taxes!

People paid to travel on main roads, bridges, or to enter the market places, or towns, or harbors. They paid taxes on their pack animals, on the wheels and axles of their carts.

The publicans charged whatever they liked, and kept for themselves what the Romans didn’t collect.

So Pharisees were supposedly good, and publicans were ostensibly bad.

“…the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”-1 Samuel 16:7.

We think seeing is believing. But that is our pride showing. If we humble ourselves, and admit that we don’t know everything at first sight, that we’re unable to see or understand the past, present, and future of another person, then we would leave judgment to God.

However, perhaps to hide our ignorance and limitations, we act as if we’re such hot stuff, like the Pharisee in the temple.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. / I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”-Luke 18:11, 12.

Here Jesus shows us the opposite of what we should be, what’s analogous to the priest and Levite in The Good Samaritan, and the older brother in The Prodigal Son.

Note how he “prayed with himself.” Sure, he addressed God, but he thought only of how awesome he was, not how awesome God is. He judged others, about whom he knew nothing.

We judge people based on what we see and know about them, both of which are limited. Our pride tempts us to believe that we know the big picture, that the unjust person has always been, and will always be, unjust.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”-Proverbs 16:8.

The proud follow their own will, not God’s. By doing so, they put themselves above God.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”-Exodus 20:3.

The proud are their own god. This is why God resists them, and causes them to fall. But the humble admit their human weaknesses, and worship God not only out of love, but necessity.

“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”-1 Corinthians 1:19.

The wise and prudent are tempted to also be prideful. When we know what some others do not, like the Pharisees, then it’s difficult to be humble. However, if we keep in mind that our greater knowledge is relative, then we realize that there are still others who know more than we do.

There’s always a larger, stronger, more intelligent, more talented person. And so our pride comes to nothing. Our own accumulated knowledge is paltry. To be truly wise, knowledge must be tempered with love and humility.

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”-1 Peter 5:6.

God made everything, and exists as everything. Therefore, God is not only equal to the entire universe, but is greater even than that. Pride convinces us that we are greater than that which is greater than the universe.

I think Peter borrowed the previous quote from Jesus (who borrowed it from Proverbs 25:6, 7).

“But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shall thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”-Luke 14:10.

Pride is a gamble. We hope to gain respect with our confidant growl. But when someone (or something) calls our bluff, then we’re back to being naked and ashamed.

“And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”-Genesis 3:10.

But now the other player knows we have a bad hand, that we’re scared, weak, and vulnerable. Best to not bluff, be honest, with love in your heart. Because, then, the respect is real, and we will have earned it.

Pride is pure delusion, and if we practice self-deception, then all we see and think will be wrong. We’ll imagine good to be evil; and evil, good.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”-Luke 18:13.

You ever beat yourself up for doing something wrong and stupid? That’s what the publican did when he smote his chest, but literally.

The publican knew he was a collaborator, and had overcharged, and extorted money from his own conquered countrymen. He knew that everyone hated him, that he was counted among the lowest of the low.

“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”-Proverbs 11:2.

This is the heart of the matter.

We’ve already seen that to be prideful is to think of ourselves as greater than God. We’ve seen that pride is a lie, and our bluff can be called; and we know that when it’s called, we’re headed for destruction.

We are proud when we celebrate our own will.

“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”-John 6:38.

Humility is important because that’s how we follow God’s will. If we’re prideful, we won’t surrender. If we’re selfish, then we’re living a lie. Pride is like using the wrong set of directions, a map to New York when we want to go to California.

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

The publican denied himself by admitting he’d done wrong, followed his own will, his own greed. The Pharisee denied God, by thinking himself better than others, and by listing the qualities that made him better than God. Remember, God is everything, everyone.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”-John 1:3.

Whatever we do to others, we do to God. Whatever we think of others, we think of God. And since you and I are a part of God, as we occupy this universe, then whatever we do to others, we also do to ourselves. We can beat ourselves up only for so long, until we’re weakened from the exertion, and bruised from the abuse.

The publican reached that stage, as he begged for mercy. We must reach that stage, to be born again, to see the truth that is revealed only to babes.

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”-John 8:31, 32.

Only everything knows everything.

That’s why we should follow God’s will, because we don’t know everything. But what is God’s will? We’ll discuss that in the next essay. But here’s the simple truth of it.

“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”-Matthew 11:27.

We learn God’s will by looking at Jesus, what he taught, how he acted. Jesus is our example.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. / For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”–John 13:14, 15.

Besides honoring God, and our place in the universe, the main reason for humility is that we honor each other. When the prideful put themselves above God, they also put themselves above their fellows. This is dangerous, as it leads to the devaluing of all life besides their own.

We not only need God, but also each other. Washing feet symbolizes our caring for each other, but especially for the sick, starving, homeless, and poor.

“I tell you, [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the [Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

The publican saved his soul that day, as he got down on his knees, and begged for mercy. He recognized not only his faults, his sins, but also just how small he was, how weak, how low.

“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.”-Psalm 138:6.

We act proudly, because everyone else does. We fear that we won’t get a promotion, or charm a romantic interest, that others will see us as weak, and take advantage of us, rob us, even kill us.

These fears are not unfounded. That’s the sad truth. That’s why what we think is great is abomination in the sight of God.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”-Matthew 10:16.

Being a real Christian (following Jesus’ example) is hard. Make no mistake. If it was easy to love one another, everyone would do it. We all take the path of least resistance. We see the results of that choice all around us.

Jesus made no bones about it.

“…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”-Matthew 16:24.

He said plainly that following God’s will, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, was like carrying a cross to our own crucifixion. But, and here’s where it all comes into balance, accepting our cross means the granting of inner peace, which we will never get from all the people we’re trying to impress with our pride.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

So choose your path; there are many, and we lose our way easily. Will you follow your own will, be your own guide, not knowing of what lies ahead?

That is the Pharisees’ way, where you ignore the anguish of your fellows, by walking on the other side of the road. You’ll feel hatred and jealousy, instead of joy.

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”-Matthew 7:13.

You won’t be alone. All the other selfish people will admire your choice to join them. They will also fight you, pit their will against yours. You will never know peace.

Or you can choose God as your guide. His will allows for three convenient entrances: love, forgiveness, or humility; any one of which accomplishes the other two.

That is the publican’s way, where you show mercy, and feel love for everyone, forgive everyone. You will know the truth, and see everything as it exists.

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”-Matthew 7:14.

Upon this revelation, we will beg God for mercy, seeing how small and weak we are. But then God will guide us, through the wilderness, through temptation, into the Promised Land, where we will be born again.

Nativity

In my ongoing study of what born again means, and how to achieve it, we look now at the event, itself.

It begins with a sign.

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”-Isaiah 7:14.

Pronounced im-maw-noo-ale’, this Hebrew name means “with us is God.” In my mindfulness essays, I outlined several methods to help us stay with God; this is the first step to being born again: Stay in the moment, and see beauty and love everywhere, in everyone.

When we do this, a miracle happens, something as improbable as a virgin birth.

The sign shows us the way, how we’ve been going in the wrong direction; it shows us the truth, that are our own will is insufficient to overcome the world. It’s up to us to recognize God’s hand, offering to pull us out of the mess we’ve made of our lives.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”-Isaiah 9:6.

For thousands of years, prophets reiterated the promise of what we could be. We don’t have to hate each other, compete with each other, like street gangs fighting for our little piece of turf.

Admitting we were wrong is the hardest thing; it takes a miracle to even entertain the thought. Because, if we repent, then we have to leave the familiar, and pass through the wilderness, to a promised land that we might never see.

“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.”-Genesis 12:1.

We each have our own covenant with God. Our own personal Promised Land requires our own personal journey. When it comes to being born again, our pilgrimage happens whether we want it to, or not. What matters is how we choose to interpret the journey.

Will we see the land as beautiful, and accept with love the people we meet? Or will we be bitter, full of hate and doubt?

The journey begins with events of the everyday world.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”-Luke 2:1.

At this point, Mary and Joseph had both received their signs. Their baby was coming; a new life was imminent. But this new life would still be in this world. Love is not a single island, but all the world.

“…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”-Matthew 22:21.

In order for a new dawn to come, the New Jerusalem prophesied in the Revelation, we must be reborn. This means interacting with people who receive our newborn love with hatred and enmity.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”-Matthew 10:16.

From Nazareth to Bethlehem is a long journey. The roads are dangerous: robbers, storms, desert heat, and a very pregnant wife to protect. You’ll be safer if you travel by caravan.

Though there are some who resist your loving kindness, there are others whose lives will be changed, because you changed yours.

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, / Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”-Matthew 2:1, 2.

There are as many interpretations as there are people. Since only God knows everything, then, as far as we know, everyone is right; and no one is wrong. It is all God’s will. The Wise Men celebrated when they saw a new star, knowing that it meant a new, different kind of King. For Herod, that same star led him to murder children.

“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”-Matthew 2:3.

Envy exacts a terrible cost, not only for the jealous person, but for everyone around them. All of Jerusalem was troubled, because Herod was worried and envious of anyone who might usurp his power. We seek power for comfort and security. But, then, to lose power means to surrender our comfort and security.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”-Matthew 6:19.

Nothing comes the way we think it will: not comfort, love, power, treasures, or the Messiah. True power doesn’t need to boast. It comes naturally, with great humility, in a way that few can foresee.

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”-Micah 5:2.

The last step of one journey is the first of another. And the first steps are always the most difficult, like giving birth, or being reborn.

“And [Mary] brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”-Luke 2:7.

Since we’re told about the inn, we can assume that it was the only one. Bethlehem was a small town; so there was only one inn. Caesar’s census brought back everyone who was born there: a family reunion, of sorts. Even before his birth, Jesus was rejected–not by hatred, like Herod, but by indifference. That is our true adversary. Who can turn away a person in need, a pregnant woman? This wasn’t done out of unkindness; there simply weren’t any rooms left.

I just work here!

A manger is a food trough, out of which cattle and horses eat. Here, Jesus was identified with food, life-sustaining nourishment.

“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”-John 4:34.

As we are born again, we must remember that, whether we want to or not, we minister to others by example. Our faith, kindness, and mercy becomes their food. We are what we eat. Everyone who is fed from this manger, must turn around and feed others.

We influence people whether we’re conscious of it or not. Without being mindful, we can cause great damage to the lives around us. When we are seen as being thoughtless and cruel, then others reside themselves to being likewise.

However, if we bring light and kindness to a people who have become indifferent, a miracle occurs.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. / And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”-Luke 2:8, 9.

Kindness is the glory of the Lord. Love might be too strong a word for us, too nebulous a concept, too much to ask. We think of love as being only for our family, significant others, pets, favorite foods or colors. But kindness allows us to keep a safe distance, not too intimate; it is a good beginning, a way to test the waters.

Certain examples aside (like David and Moses), shepherds weren’t thought of too highly. Orthodoxy considered them unclean. They were the lowlifes of their day: poor, dirty, uneducated.

While God is for everyone, we must remember that Jesus was a working-class carpenter, born in a manger with the animals; and the first people to witness him were filthy, smelly shepherds.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”-John 10:11.

The shepherds among us spend their lives caring for others: being kind, watchful, and helpful. When we are born again, we become shepherds, following Jesus’ example. Even, or especially, in the darkest times, we watch over the flock.

We must never turn our eyes from their suffering, even if we can’t abate it. If we cease to be aware of suffering, if we succumb to the depreciation of humanity-due to our flooding of the market-then we are on our way to indifference, to evil.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”-Luke 2:10.

Most every other English translation says that the great joy will be only to those whom God favors. Many people want to think of God as their property, that they hold the keys to the kingdom. But that is the Pharisee’s path.

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”-Matthew 23:13.

To enter the kingdom of heaven, to be born again, means being kind to everyone: regardless of race, gender, economic or educational standing. Jesus loved sinners; his love healed them. Thus, he entered heaven, and allowed others to enter as well.

Heaven is a state of mind, a way of living.

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”-Luke 20:38.

Heaven is not some afterlife from which a person can ban you because they judged you to be a sinner. That is the Pharisee’s way, not God’s way. God is for all people. The great joy, the good news, the gospel is that we can all participate in this love and kindness.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”-John 3:17.

Jesus came to save the whole world, all of us.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. / And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”-Luke 2:11, 12.

Bethlehem was David’s hometown. Joseph was David’s descendant. I like to think of their whole line, from Abraham through David, all those patriarchs and heroes, as preparation for Joseph. Jesus’ earthly father accepted Mary’s mysterious, suspicious, unorthodox pregnancy; protected her and baby Jesus, to and from Bethlehem, and taught Jesus…what? Just imagine.

Jesus was not the son of David; Joseph was. But through his earthly father, Jesus received the teachings and lessons passed down from they whom interacted with God.

“And when [the wise men] were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”-Matthew 2:11.

It’s the first Christmas morning: time for presents! From my childhood, and on through ‘til today, Christmas eve and morning have always been magical. If we concentrate, we can feel God’s presence.

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. / And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”-Luke 2:15, 16.

Whatever frenzied anxiety the holidays bring, when the stores close, it’s too late for haste. What’s done is done. And when we can no longer worry, a miracle happens: We are at peace. With peace comes faith-faith that we have enough food, enough presents, plenty of whatever we need.

When we are living on faith, then all the energy that is normally spent worrying is free for whatever is at hand: family. Thus, the absence of fear makes way for the presence of love. This is the meaning of Christmas, the lesson we all need to learn, if we are to be reborn.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

We’re so focused on God and the devil, Heaven and Hell, angels and talking snakes, believing this and not believing that, that we miss the message. As the Wise Men brought Jesus presents, the wise writers of the Bible gift us with the truth of human suffering.

Our focus on hate, jealousy, judgments, and our time spent covering up lies, pretending to be in control, when we’re one of billions of small, fragile creatures…zaps our energy, to the point that we can’t think straight.

“But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. / There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”-Isaiah 57:20, 21.

There is only one way to overcome the world.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”-John 14:6.

And it’s not through the one-upmanship of constant competition, which brings, at most, a temporary victory. There’s always a bigger fish. No, the answer is to love one another: be kind, patient, merciful. We think that we can’t, but that’s only because our energy is tied up in pointless hatred and vengeance.

We can’t overcome the world: It’s as if we’re unarmed, and trying to stand alone against an army. We can’t win that way; we’ll only make things worse.

Still, we’re dumb enough to think, I will win, because I am the King.

“…[Herod] was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under….”-Matthew 2:16.

Herod’s fear and hatred, and the slaughter of the innocents: It was all for nothing. Before the soldiers arrived, the Wise Men and Shepherds had left, and Joseph had taken his family to safety.

Where hatred is stagnation, loving kindness is growth. And as roots burst through concrete, as tectonic plates thrust up mountains, and rain drops carve rocks, so does love grow: slowly, inexorably, like the birth of a child. We can’t stop the kingdom of heaven; it is coming.

No, heaven is already here. Like Jesus, we have already been born again, from heaven to earth, and back to heaven; we just have to see it, and accept it.

We are lowly shepherds, hypocritical Pharisees, hopeful husbands and wives, and simple animals who bear witness to the greatest birth of all: your rebirth.

Mindfulness of God: Blessings

These essays record my studies of the Gospels. The intention is to remind myself, and anyone who is blessed enough to read this, what Jesus did, and what he said: the parables and the miracles. Along the way, in these bonus essays, I share my personal progress in interpreting how to live by his example.

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

The way he treated us is the way that we should treat each other: This is the first fundamental precept in my studies. Whatever else Jesus was—the Son of God, the Son of Man, the way, the truth, and the light, and/or the Word of God—he was meant to be an example.

I set aside all definitions, except for this one that he told us himself, as I practice mindfulness.

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”—Matthew 6:34.

Mindfulness is a way of staying in the present. It is a goal that Christianity shares with many other religions and spiritual practices. The theory is that if you stay focused on what’s happening right now, then you won’t suffer fear for the future, or doubt from your past. I have been attempting this state of mind by using lessons from the Gospels.

My first step was to forgive every sin, as it happened.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matthew 6:14-15.

If we don’t forgive, then our sins go unforgiven. Further, sins fester when we don’t release them. I can’t be happy with the weight. So I attempted to forgive every sin, as it happened.

I never realized how much other people bugged me, especially in traffic. Lord, all I needed to complete this study was to take a drive. I’m sure you know what I mean. People are crazy out there, behind their steering wheels. Their actions are selfish, as if by necessity, violent, provocative, and threatening.

If you’ll pardon the joke, I’m pretty sure that “the valley of the shadow of death” was a prophecy about highways, and how we are seduced into sin just to keep up with the flow of traffic.

I was in a state of constant forgiveness while driving around, especially when I realized that I was judging them, and that I needed to be forgiven.

That was my second step. I forgave them, then myself, over and over.

No matter what someone else does, we are responsible for how we react.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? / …Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”—Luke 6:41-42.

All of this kept me in the present, mindful of God.

God is always there, no matter where we are.

“The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”—Proverbs 16:4.

He made everything and exists as everything.

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

This is my second fundamental precept: Heaven is within you.

It’s blasphemous to hate someone when you consider that God is with them. Instead, I want to bless God, because God has blessed me. This led me to my third step in mindfulness, which was to bless everyone.

“…Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. / Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”—Luke 18:16-17.

I wanted to understand how to be reborn, as taught in the Gospels, because that is how you get to Heaven. I began by blessing children and their families.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”—Matthew 19:19.

This led to me blessing the elderly, who are the fathers and mothers. Jesus taught us how to love our neighbors. He gave us a step-by-step process for how we can reach Heaven. I put this into practice because, frankly, I have a tough time loving my sinful neighbors. And since I’m sinful, I can hardly love myself either.

By blessing someone, what do I mean?

It’s kind of like when someone sneezes and you say, “Bless you.” Their heart skipped a beat, as they sneezed, and you’re just wishing them well. A blessing is a little stronger than saying good luck. If we were to alter that phrase to be a blessing, we might say, “I wish you the best of luck possible; stay well and strong, and have compassion for others, as I have had compassion for you.”

The point is that if I’m going to get involved in someone’s life by judging them, or forgiving them, then, instead, I can choose to trust in God, have faith in the Heaven within that person.

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—Genesis 12:3.

That was God’s original covenant with Abraham, the one that Jesus renewed with his blood.

“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”—Matthew 26:28.

By blessing others, we are blessed; and by cursing others, we are cursed. It’s your choice.

So now I stay in the present by blessing children, the elderly, and, the most recent addition, all animals.

Children and animals live in the present. Sure, they want food or affection, and “hunt” with a future feast in mind. But they remain focused on the present moment as they do so—ready to pounce or run away.

Jesus loves the little children, and the animals love Jesus.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”—John 1:11.

Rejection is an important component of Jesus’ story.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”—Luke 2:7.

There was no room for him in our hearts. We rejected him, and killed him so that we could remain in the dark.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”—John 3:20.

We’re addicted to sin. But the animals in the manger didn’t mind him spending the night with them.

This is an important point. There is something about animals that allowed them to accept him. They remind me of what Jesus said about children: “…of such is the kingdom of God.” By blessing what is God’s, we accept God. But to accept God’s will, we must come into the light.

Jesus is the light, or, more specifically, his lessons light the way. His story is an example for how we can bless and comfort one another.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—1 John 4:8.

This is the third fundamental precept in these essays: God is love.

All of my other theories and deductions must fit with these three fundamentals: Jesus is an example; Heaven is within you; and God is love.

With that as my starting point, my studies of the Gospels became a prayer for us human beings. It’s all about us, how we can learn to get along, and find peace and dignity within ourselves, by treating each other with the same compassion that Jesus showed to us.

This takes practice.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.

To worship in spirit and truth, we must be in a mindful state, focused on the kingdom of Heaven that is within all things. We are alive, right here and now, and so is God.

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”—Luke 20:38.

To that end, I’ve followed these three steps to keep myself in the present: forgive others when they sin; forgive myself when I sin; and bless everyone. My goal is to keep God in my heart, to keep love in my heart at all times.

“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”—John 8:29.

I feel that by following those three steps, I am pleasing God. And when I do that, God is with me. When God is with me, I have love in my heart.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33.

We don’t have to overcome the world; Jesus did it. We don’t have to judge anyone; Jesus does it.

“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”—John 5:22.

We don’t have to take revenge, an eye for an eye. God does that.

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”—Hebrews 10:30.

All we have to do is be who we are, and allow others the same, and forgive ourselves for being who we are, while allowing others the same: easier prayed than done.

Sin comes no matter how prepared we are. It is our nature, our cross to carry, that we slip into selfishness, or hate groups of people, so that we can feel loved by our own group. Every action has a potential sin attached; each and every thought can lead to darkness. We lack the instinctive toolset for balancing our animal urges and the growing complexity of our society. We can’t cure this disease.

All we can do is accept it: release the need to make the universe bend to our will, and, instead, bend our will to the universe. This takes practice. Stay mindful. Replace judgments with blessings. Be thankful for each and every moment, no matter how bad or painful, joyous or rapturous. It is all of God, made by the connection we all have to each other, as we walk through the valley, terrified of death, and hopeful of forgiveness.

The connection is that we all love, and sin, and need constant, automatic forgiveness, which we can only attain by forgiving others. This is the definition of love as taught by Jesus in the Gospels. If you can see this, understand it, and are willing to attempt it in practice, then you are ready to be reborn.

Comforter

In the past two essays, I studied the Gospels to answer this question: How do I become a good minister and friend? In “Tell No One” I learned to focus on comfort rather than conversion; I tell no one the particulars of my faith, my personal covenant with God (the Father), because I need to focus on their faith, not mine. And in “Spread the Word” I learned to be a shepherd one moment, and sheep the next, just as Jesus (the Son of man) was.

The one missing piece of the Trinity is the Holy Ghost. It’s first mentioned in the opening verses of Matthew.

“…[Mary] was found with child of the Holy Ghost. //…for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”—Matthew 1:18, 20.

Childbirth is the first clue to understanding this concept in the Gospels.

“…[John the Baptist] shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”—Luke 1:15.

It links parent and child, Father and Son, completes them. This is the purpose of the Holy Ghost as well: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”—John 14:20.

There is a bond between father and son. They are connected by a love that goes all the way down to their blood. This connection is the synthesis. Father and Son would exist apart, if not for the Holy Ghost. It equates them, joins them. Without their bond, they are just two people. But with it, any two people can love each other as much.

Of Jesus, John the Baptist said, “…he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”—Matthew 3:11.

An important thing to keep in mind is that Jesus is an example.

“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”—John 13:15.

Since he baptized with the Holy Ghost, we do too.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”—Matthew 28:19.

Baptism represents a friendship going to a new level. No longer just acquaintances, we grow closer, brought together by faith and compassion. But we also baptize with fire. We take the friendship to yet another level, at which we could become enemies.

All it takes is a heated moment, a fiery discussion, and eating from the one apple tree that we shouldn’t.

“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. / And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”—Matthew 12:31-32.

This is the one unforgivable sin, according to Jesus: blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Otherwise, the Gospels teach absolute forgiveness.

When Peter asked how many times he should forgive his neighbor, and suggested maybe seven times, Jesus answered, “…I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:22.

Toward the end of the Last Supper, John’s gospel has a “deleted scene” that’s not in any of the other books. Judas had just left. Everyone felt betrayed, and Peter was worried that he would deny his faith before morning. To calm everyone, Jesus told them about the Comforter.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”—John 14:26.

The Comforter is the Holy Ghost. So everything we’ve learned so far applies now to him. He will bring a bond as strong as family. Further, he will be the connection that we call love and friendship.

When a heated exchange erupts between two friends, they should remember why they care for each other. Everything Jesus taught by example will be applied when the Comforter comes.

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”—John 15:26.

Since John referred to the Comforter in the masculine, I will too. It’s important to note that the Holy Ghost didn’t have a gender before this. What was divine has become human. The connection he offers is personified through us. When we approach an argument with love, we become the Comforter. The same love that Jesus has for us, we share with each other.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 14:34.

That’s how we testify. When our ministry or friendship is interrupted by us crossing the line, committing that one unforgivable sin, we should remember why we love each other; our bond is sacred, holy. But, to do so, we both have to accept the truth.

“And I pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; / Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. / I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.”—John 14:16-18.

I don’t always see the truth, though I always think I do. But sometimes I can’t, because I’m blinded by anger, jealousy, pride, or any number of sins. But the truth is always with me. I just have to accept it, so that it dwells within me.

The problem is that it takes two to tango, always. When there’s a disagreement, there are two people fighting and in need of comfort. To get past the baptism of fire, we both need to see the truth.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”—John 14:6.

If God is love, then Jesus is forgiveness. And since we should follow his example, as he forgave all sins, then so should we—even the unforgivable one.

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”—John 16:7.

He calmed the apostles at the Last Supper by telling them that he had to die, so that we can forgive each other. With his example, we know that it’s possible. We can overcome our sins, if we love and forgive our neighbors as if they were our family, because they are.

“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”—Matthew 12:50.

However, to deny that forgiveness, as Peter denied his faith in times of hardship, is to blaspheme against the Holy Ghost.

“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”—Mark 3:29.

If we don’t allow ourselves to forgive someone, no matter what they’ve done, then we will have that on our conscience. We may justify it as a reaction to their blasphemy, but we each choose what we do, how we react. It’s our responsibility. By not forgiving, we risk tainting our souls forever.

Friendship and ministry begin with a miracle, as two people come together in this world of sin. After performing his miracles, Jesus told those he healed that they should tell no one. The miracle was that the blind could see (and the deaf could hear) the truth.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

That was his purpose, as he stated it there in Nazareth: to be an example to us for how we can use the Holy Ghost to survive the fire.

Perhaps the Bible isn’t meant to be a rule book. Rather, it tells us that we will mess up, and, when we do, here’s how we can fix things.

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. / He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”—John 16:13-14.

Remember, the Spirit of truth is another name for the Comforter, who is also the Holy Ghost. Within one Trinity is another.

Jesus often referred to the importance of not speaking of himself.

“He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.”—John 7:18.

This is another way of saying tell no one. It’s a warning as to what can cause disagreements. A sin is unforgivable because the person was thinking only of themselves. In a relationship, there are, of course, two people; one cannot be ignored in favor of the other, since both are one.

“If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. / But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.”—John 10:37-38.

Father and Son are one. We are one: the synthesis of opposites. We hurt ourselves when we speak only of ourselves. We blaspheme against the miracle that brought us together.

It is at that moment that the Comforter comes. He is the peacemaker within, the better angel of our nature.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”—Matthew 5:9.

He reveals the truth, which is this: All of us are part of the same whole. When you add everything together—all the rocks, vegetation, people, animals, earth, and sky—every component becomes crucial, no matter how small. Ministers and friends are those who speak with this truth.

“…If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”—John 8:31-32.

When we speak the truth, it’s because we hear the Holy Ghost. During an argument with my friend, if I listen to the Comforter that dwells within me, then I will speak not with my words, but his.

“But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.”—Mark 13:11.

Our relationship can survive the fire. Faith allows me to see a better tomorrow, a prophecy of how the friendship can be saved. But it won’t happen through my will alone. I’ve already messed things up. Only through a combined will can we hope to survive Judgment Day.

This is how we glorify God.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”—John 1:3.

God is all things, the sum, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, the alpha and omega. So when I let go of my selfishness, and if I let myself hear the Comforter, and speak with the words he gives me, I am doing God’s will.

At that moment, I receive his wisdom, since mine obviously wasn’t cutting it.

“…With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”—Matthew 19:26.

Since the miracle of us coming together as friends (to minister to each other) was possible, so is another miracle: the saving of our friendship during crisis. But the only way to reach the kingdom of heaven within is for us both to accept the will of that which is without.

This is the third thing I’ve learned about ministry and friendship: We reach heaven together or not at all.

Spread the Word

The dual metaphor of shepherd and sheep is present throughout the Old Testament: Noah, two-by-two; God leading Abraham—who, in turn, led God’s people; Moses and the Exodus; God inspiring prophets, who inspired people. In Jesus’ story, the image is even more pronounced.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11.

He was a shepherd one moment, and sheep the next.

“…Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29.

We are also both shepherd and sheep. We maintain our faith by watching over each other.

Shepherds were the first to spread the word about Christ in the New Testament.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”—Luke 2:8.

Yes, those shepherds (who shared a vision of an angelic choir and followed a new star) were the first to not only witness his birth, but to tell his story.

“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. / And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. / And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”—Luke 2:16-18.

I see those shepherds as quintessential, a template for ministers. While everyone else slept, they kept watch: patient, humble, their eyes and ears open.

You never know when predators will attack your sheep.

“…I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”—Revelation 3:3.

Since we can’t stay awake all the time, we need to watch over each other, sleep in shifts, so to speak: shepherds one moment, sheep the next.

In the early days of his ministry, between his rejection at Nazareth and the death of John the Baptist, Jesus decided it was time for his apostles to get more involved. We can’t just follow; we have to lead as well.

“And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.”—Mark 6:7.

As Noah gathered the animals two-by-two, so Jesus sent out his students. The Bible doesn’t say who went with whom. I wonder who accompanied Judas. I love the idea that they went together. Companionship would make the trip safer and not so lonely.

Though the Gospels of Matthew and Luke agreed with each other on the details of this story, Mark offered some exceptions; and John left it out entirely. For example, Mark was the only one to mention how the apostles went off in pairs.

“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.”—Matthew 10:1.

Where it’s written in Mark that Jesus gave them “power over unclean spirits,” Matthew and Luke added the curing of sickness and disease. Jesus gave them the power to do everything he had done. In that way, one became twelve.

How exciting for a student to become the teacher. And how scary! The call to minister comes out of the blue.

Peter and his brother Andrew got a little warning.

“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”—Matthew 4:19.

Matthew (the tax collector) got a simple “Follow me.”—Luke 5:27.

The text doesn’t indicate if Jesus said anything at all to the other apostles when he recruited them.

“…he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. / And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.”—Matthew 4:21-22.

If they thought that they could just follow, and not be shepherds themselves, then this assignment must’ve been really scary. But Jesus instructed them.

“…Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. / But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”—Matthew 10:5-6.

In time this would change. The Jewish authorities rejected him, and were conspiring to kill him. So the Gospel would go to the Gentiles. And with parables like “The Good Samaritan,” Christianity would call for a truce between the Jews and the Samaritans.

“And [Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”—The Acts 10:28.

The lost were a top priority for Jesus.

“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”—Matthew 18:11.

Mark and Luke both skipped over that detail. They also missed what is, arguably, the main message of Jesus’ early ministry.

“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 10:7.

Before the New Testament, heaven was a vague concept. Always lower case, its plural form was a synonym for sky or firmament.

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained….”—Psalms 8:3.

In the singular, heaven was where God lived.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.”—Exodus 20:22.

And that’s about all there was to it. Therefore, any preaching about the details of heaven caught everyone’s attention. That was how John the Baptist started.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, / And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 3:1-2.

And Jesus too:

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 4:17.

It was a daring, new message. After all, God lived in heaven. Jesus told his apostles to preach that God’s kingdom had arrived, which meant God must not be far behind. That’s inspiring, or blasphemous, depending on who you asked.

Next, he told his apostles what they could and couldn’t bring with them as they preached.

“Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, / Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.”—Matthew 10:9-10.

(Scrip was a small shepherd’s pack.)

In Matthew, they weren’t allowed to carry anything, except for one coat. I’m reminded of “The Rich Young Ruler.” Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, give all his money to the poor, and become a disciple. In essence, we are asked to surrender what we think we need, to get what we really need.

Mark was not quite so harsh.

“And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: / But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.”—Mark 6:8-9.

They got to carry a staff and wear sandals. It’s hard for me to imagine them any other way, but apparently sandals and staves were luxury items. Regardless of the particulars, the imagery is clear.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”—Matthew 16:25.

To do to others as I would have them do to me, I can no longer think in terms of me: spending my time pursuing what I want. I can’t serve both my interests and God’s. My treasure is where my heart is. If my heart cares only for me, then I am all that I will have.

“And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. / And when ye come into an house, salute it. / And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.”—Matthew 10:11-13.

In every new town, they stayed with a different family; but while in that town, they’d sleep and eat with that one family. What a great way to minister! You could talk late into the night, help them with cooking and cleaning. They would be your family, for a while.

While studying this passage, I got into the habit of blessing (praying or wishing kindness and happiness for) every road I drove on, every building I entered, and every sign I saw that I knew others would see. I prayed that everyone who encountered those objects would feel lifted up, that they would discover something new and exciting about their lives.

Everywhere I went, I blessed what was there. I didn’t say anything or make any gestures.

“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: / That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”—Matthew 6:3-4.

God knows our hearts. We don’t pray so much for God, but to feel the connection, the love between us and the world. Prayer anchors us in the moment, which is where love exists. Sin is always in the past or future.

Sometimes, we just can’t reach people: One or both of us could be blind to the connection, deaf to any word of comfort. Maybe it’s not time; maybe I’m not the person to help them; or maybe I need to tend to myself.

“And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.”—Luke 9:5.

I love that saying. It reminds me of baseball, kicking dirt on the umpire. Remember, from “Tell No One,” a minister is not there to convert, but to comfort. If we can’t help, then we must realize and accept God’s will. We have to let go of our desire to save them, wash our hands, and dust off our feet.

We have to be willing, above all else, to let people live as they choose.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus had more to say about those who rejected his apostles.

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. / Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”—Matthew 10:14-15.

In these pages, I’ve written about a practical understanding of Judgment Day: a time of self-judgment. We have to come to terms with our actions, even though we know not what we do. When we reject someone who wants to be our shepherd, or refuse to be a sheep or shepherd when the situation calls for it, we have to live with the consequences.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”—Matthew 10:16.

That is such a beautiful verse: the core of Christianity. Jesus (the shepherd) sends out his sheep to gather the lost sheep; and, along the way, his sheep become shepherds for the lost sheep, while remaining harmless against the wolves of the world. The sheep need faith, and the shepherd teaches them.

The reason why it’s so hard to have faith in someone is that we have to make ourselves vulnerable to them. We have to be willing to lay down our lives, to raise theirs out of sin, or make them feel loved. Faith is always a leap with two concerned parties: the one who leaps, and the one who catches them. So, when we leap, we need faith in ourselves, and faith in those who catch us. And we leap all the time.

That’s a lot of faith; it’s exhausting! That’s how and why we sin. We get tired. We have to be ready for whatever our situation asks of us: sheep or shepherd, disciples one moment, teachers the next.

How do I make that call? How do I know when to switch? Better yet, how do I know what to say?

“…take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. / For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”—Matthew 10:19-20.

A few years ago, I volunteered in a Kindergarten classroom. I didn’t know what to say to such young children. I was afraid that I’d upset them, or talk over their heads and confuse them.

So, every day, I prayed that God would speak for me—or, at the very least, guide my speech, actions, facial expressions, you name it. And they loved me. We had a great time.

The simplest way to know if you’re following God’s will is to love and forgive everyone.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:35.

Before I do something, I (try to) ask myself if I’m showing love, or am I only interested in what I might get out of the exchange. If I’m showing love, then I am doing God’s will.

Sending out the twelve worked so well that Jesus called on an additional seventy disciples to stand up and spread the word.

“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.”—Luke 10:1.

Vulnerable one moment, protective the next, we love and identify with both extremes because we have been both. When we lift someone, after catching them in their leap of faith, we are lifted in return. Faith happens in pairs, two-by-two. We don’t need to be paid back personally. Joy is what lifts us in return; the rapture of connection causes the singular person to vanish, leaving the pair as one kingdom in a heavenly state.

In this way, the one becomes two, twelve, and seventy. Every life we touch, touches others. How we interact becomes a huge responsibility. Will we comfort or convert? That is, respectively, will we allow God to speak through us, or let our ego be what we choose to pass along to the rest of the world?

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33.

With all the talk of devils and hell, sin and responsibility, we might forget the main reason for the Gospels, which is peace. We have to remind ourselves to live in the moment, to love the moment. Have faith that tomorrow will take care of itself. Being mindful of God helps: Bless and be thankful for everything and everyone. That will keep you in the present, with your eyes and ears open to what the situation calls for: shepherd or sheep, when to dust off your feet, and when to comfort.

It’s your choice, in the end, whether to spread the word or despise the kingdom of heaven that is within. And it’s their choice to hear your words, accept you as a shepherd, or reject you.

“He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.”—Luke 10:16.

By interacting with each other, we pass along a potential for connection that affects more lives than we can imagine. We can choose to share peace of mind through comfort and understanding. Or we can reject the responsibility we have to each other, to ourselves. What we do to our neighbors, we do to God. And whatever we do to God, we do to ourselves.

I first learned of mindfulness meditation, a Buddhist practice, from an atheist friend, whose journey of practical and provable spirituality is a source of inspiration to me.

The idea is that we don’t spend much time in the present. When faced with a problem, we look to the past for old, known solutions, and to the future for possible ramifications. And since we’re always facing problems, then our minds are never (or rarely) focused on what we’re actually doing.

When applied to Christianity, I realized that this makes us susceptible to sin. If we aren’t paying attention to what’s here and now, then how can we see the love that’s here and now? All we see is the pain of yesterday, and the anxiety of tomorrow.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34.

I don’t know what I’m doing, because my eye isn’t on the ball.

Over the past few months, I’ve developed a series of meditations that keeps me focused on the present, on the love and connection between all things—which is the practical way I think of God.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:8.

My first step was to forgive every sin that I encountered.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matthew 6:14-15.

It doesn’t take theft or murder to be a sin. The little things pile up. The longer people go unforgiven in our hearts, the heavier and darker our hearts become. We have to take out the trash.

I never realized how many small, annoying sins there are.

I live in North Carolina, where they love their big pickup trucks. In my apartment parking lot, I’m ready to back out of my space, but I can’t see. The trucks are blocking my view.

This may seem like nothing, a small source of annoyance, that some people would block the view of other drivers, so that they could raise themselves higher. But it creates darkness in me; I have to get it out of there.

So I forgave the pickup drivers, and the person speeding through the parking lot, who almost hit me as I edged blindly from my space. Then I forgave the person who invented speed bumps, and those who thought it was a good idea to place them throughout my apartment complex.

I forgave the people who wouldn’t move to the inside lane, so I could merge onto the four-lane road. I certainly had to forgive whoever decided to put a blinking stoplight for a left-hand turn at a busy intersection.

All of that sounds really petty. And maybe it is. A drop of water isn’t going to drown me. But if that drop is joined by others, and I don’t allow any of it to drain, then, eventually, I will drown.

I felt silly, though, forgiving everyone of everything. But I knew those small, selfish infractions were bugging me. By facing this, I realized that my annoyance was a testament to my weakness. I’m the one who needed to be forgiven, because I judged all those people for doing what comes naturally.

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”—Luke 6:37.

For my second step, I kept forgiving everyone, but I also forgave myself. So much forgiveness! It was overwhelming. I could barely keep track of it all. But it kept me in the moment. I felt God’s presence smiling at my audacity to acknowledge every sin, no matter how logically insignificant, beaming as I realized that I was the sinner, and urging me toward the next step.

This was how it went:

I forgive you; forgive me. I forgive you; forgive me. And so on.

The exercise taught me that we are not just connected by love, but sin as well. No matter how different we are, we all have love and sin in common.

I don’t sin much when I’m alone though. When no one is around to bug me, I’m a perfect angel. So, as I walked and prayed late at night, down the sidewalks in my apartment complex, I had no one to forgive. That’s when I took the third step in mindfulness meditation.

“…and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”—Matthew 28:20.

God is always there, no matter where we are. God was with the frog that hopped across my path, the leaf that fell, the crickets and their chorus, my heartbeat, the phase of the moon, feel of the air, etc.

I spoke that mantra for everything I saw: God is there…and there, and there—in the numbers on that license plate, the sound of my footsteps, everything. It quickly became my favorite meditation. I can do it at any time, for a few seconds, minutes, however long I need to remind myself that God is always with me, everyone, and everything. And that led me to my final (or current) steps.

I took that acknowledgement of the omnipresence of God, and applied it to other people. God is with that pickup driver, that person who invented the speed bump; and God is with me and you.

“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”—Matthew 6:8.

I don’t need to ask God to be with me. I don’t need to ask God for anything. All I need to do is acknowledge that God is with me, and accept the responsibility of conscience and compassion that comes with that protective presence.

I stayed in the moment, then, by acknowledging that God was everything I saw. It’s hard to hate someone, or be annoyed by them, once you realize that Heaven is in them, just as it is within you.

“…for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

Mindfulness meditation is acceptance of the moment, love of the present. It’s not about us asking for God’s blessing, but acknowledging that the blessing has already been given.

The Unforgiving Servant

What is your greatest success? Be honest and think about this for a moment.

I once worked for a group of retirement homes in south Florida. One day a social worker called and told me about a quadruple amputee, an elderly woman with no family and very little money; the staff at that woman’s facility were so poorly paid, and thought so little of her for not paying them more, that they abused her, mocking her by dropping her in the shower. She had nowhere to go, not enough money, and only that social worker and me to do anything about it. I turned over my cases, and focused on hers.

Somehow, I found a home that would accept her, one that I’d visited and trusted. She was moved by the end of the day. I still weep for joy when I think of her, and how a simple person can do so small a thing as a day’s work, and yet make such a huge difference in someone else’s life.

What is your greatest failure? Be honest.

I have a hard time with intimacy—not just romantically, but being close with anyone. I tend to push others away. There are lots of reasons; I’ve always had reasons for why I behaved badly. But when I take away those excuses, and look at the bad thing I did, the sin I committed, it is still a sin.

By choosing one success and one failure, think of them as your summary, symbolic events that are prime examples of all your good and bad deeds.

“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.”—Matthew 18:23.

In this parable, I see each of us as the king. The servants are our actions. Though it’s more common to take the king to be God, remember that God is everywhere, existing within the souls of all that He has made.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”—John 1:3.

“Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

In this parable, we sit in judgment on ourselves.

“And when [the king] had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.”—Matthew 18:24.

Judgment day! Though I’d like to delay paying taxes, the time comes when they’re due. Likewise, I can deny my inner guilt for behaving badly, but only for a limited time. If I don’t forgive myself, and the person whom I felt did me wrong, then that guilt builds.

“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.”—Revelation 16:15.

The more often we take inventory of our lives, through prayer and meditation, the more accurate we’ll be when we make the ultimate judgment: the one on ourselves.

“But forasmuch as he had not to pay, [the king] commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.”—Matthew 18:25.

I am my own worst critic. Sometimes I can be brutal. Since the servant couldn’t pay, the king’s initial response was to banish not only the servant, but his family too.

“And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.”—Genesis 6:7.

Repentance is necessary for forgiveness. When it comes to forgiving ourselves, we must be made vulnerable to our worst critic, hoping for mercy and compassion.

“The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. / Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.”—Matthew 18:26-27.

We are always at the mercy of ourselves. Like the Good Samaritan, and the father of the Prodigal Son, feeling compassion is our first step to showing mercy, which leads to forgiveness. But when we have to show mercy to ourselves, the struggle between good and evil becomes internal, where part of you will always lose. This complicates things.

“But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hand on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.”—Matthew 18:28.

Remember, in this meditation, we are the king. We sit in judgment on our actions, symbolized by the servant. When the servant was forgiven, he then committed a sin right away.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? / Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21-22.

Those verses precede this parable. To have a clean soul, and a healthy mind, we must not only forgive others, we must forgive ourselves, no matter how often it takes.

“And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. / And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.”—Matthew 18:29-30.

In these studies of morality, I thought I’d learned the lessons, only to fail again and again. It’s hard to forgive every sin. I can’t help but get impatient with myself. I beat myself up, and would throw myself into prison if I could.

“Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; / Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?”—Matthew 18:32-33.

This was a soul that had just been forgiven. It had been shown mercy. How many more times should this soul be forgiven, since it can’t learn a simple lesson?

…until seventy times seven.

If you are good enough to be forgiven once, then that worth does not change. No matter what bad thing I’ve done, I did my part in making that woman’s life better in a new retirement home. Likewise, no matter what good thing I’ve done, a sin is still a sin. Neither is more important than the other; both count when it comes to Judgment Day.

“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.”—Matthew 18:34.

If we don’t forgive ourselves, then we will be tormented. Whether or not there’s an actual lake of fire, our teeth will be gnashing from guilt. Repentance is how we pay for our sins.

“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”—Matthew 18:35.

Every one: That’s a lot. Remember, this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. Heaven is forgiving every sin. Bring in your servants, take account of all you’ve done, through meditation and prayer, and then repent and forgive every single sin. And then you’ll know what the kingdom of heaven is like.

I think forgiving ourselves is just as important as forgiving each other. As a thought exercise, we could replace all of the Bible’s lessons about forgiving others, with forgiving ourselves. I bet it would hold up.

Repentance requires the truth. Be honest with yourself.

“…for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”—Matthew 6:8.

And you know what is in your heart, the good and the bad; respect them both, and learn from them. By practicing this type of meditation, maybe we won’t be too hasty on Judgment Day, our own personal apocalypse; maybe we won’t judge ourselves or others too harshly.

We must have faith in ourselves, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for ourselves.

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”—Matthew 6:12.

This is the kingdom of God that is within us all. The state of heaven is forgiveness.

The Reason for Parables

Why do we like stories? For me, it’s because they illuminate the thesis of a person’s life. Stories sift through the rubble to reveal the gold.

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”—Job 23:10.

The easiest way to learn is to not know we’re being taught. I’m much more at ease while being entertained, than I am when someone tries to pour knowledge into me, as if I’m nothing but a vessel to be filled. I feel more vulnerable while being lectured to, like I’m not in control. But if they want to tell me a story, or sing me a song, then they are performing for me. It’s empowering. Therefore, I let my guard down, and am capable of great insight, because my mind is relaxed—just like with prayer and meditation.

“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?”—Matthew 13:10.

An important thing to note here: When Jesus spoke to crowds, it was only by parables.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

I knew he liked those metaphorical stories; but not speaking in any other way? That’s an incredible thought. Well, to be more precise, he didn’t speak that way to his disciples, only to the crowds.

“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”—Matthew 13:11.

What made the disciples different from us, why they could understand the mysteries, was their ability to trust in Jesus. Faith is fine, but it’s not a verb: It does no action. It requires an external energy source to do any work, which we provide by trusting one another.

“And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers./ And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. / And they straightway left their nets and followed him.”—Matthew 4:18-20.

That takes trust. All Jesus did was walk up to them—no hello, how you doing, my name is Jesus. Faith didn’t move that mountain. Sure, faith gives energy, passion, and zeal, but we choose how to use that energy.

Faith is the river and the boat, but trust is what steers it.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”—Matthew 13:12.

That was how Jesus began to explain to his disciples why he spoke in parables. When isolated, the difference between this line and the usual Christian message is stark.

“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”—Matthew 23:12.

But all you have to do is insert “trust,” and that isolated quote makes a lot more sense.

“For whosoever hath [trust], to him [trust] shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not [trust], from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”—Matthew 13:12.

Semantically, we have faith, but trust is the medium, the currency exchange, the means by which we show and share our faith, not just in God, but in each other.

“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.”—Matthew 13:13-14.

He referred to Isaiah, from a dramatic scene in which the Old Testament prophet was called on by God.

“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. / And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. / Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”—Isaiah 6:8-10.

When our minds aren’t distracted, the defenses go up. We can no longer hear the truth. Instead, we hear what we want, what we fear. The opposite of trust, then, is fear.

“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed….”—Matthew 13:15.

We’ve heard it all, seen and done it all. The great themes have all been used so much that they’ve been turned into theme parks. I’ve been tricked and conned so many times that sincerity provokes suspicion. This makes trust difficult, if not impossible.

Sins aren’t just a list of clichéd bad things. When we reach a fork in the river, in our choose-your-own-adventure story, and choose fear instead of trust, that is when we sin.

I think that Jesus side-stepped fear by speaking in parables. He counted on curiosity to open our eyes, and riddles to sharpen our ears.

Forgiveness is a good way to practice trust. When I forgive someone, I have to trust in them, that they’ll not turn around and do the same thing again.

“…go, and sin no more.”—John 8:11.

And if they do the same thing again, and they probably will…

“…but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”—Matthew 5:39.

…then I have to forgive them and trust that they won’t do it again. This is true of forgiving oneself too; I get lots of practice. And, more times than I care to admit, I choose fear. Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s when I don’t choose, and when I do no work, that the decision is made for me. (Remember how the priest and Levite didn’t choose to get involved in the Good Samaritan parable.)

No action leads to fear; action leads to trust.

The official motto of the United States is “In God we trust.” In these essays, to simplify things, I assume God = love to be a literal axiom, meaning I take the substitution literally.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. / He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:7-8.

Therefore, it is in love that we should trust. And if we truly love our neighbors, then we should trust them too. I know how complicated that can be. So don’t be afraid when you fail. Have faith that you’ll do better; trust yourself to do better—even if you fail again immediately, as I often do.

The only thing for it is to sit back and enjoy the story.