When I write, what I end up with is usually quite different from where I started. After starting a couple of different themes, I decided this blog entry would be on my understanding of faith. Initially I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of Unity’s principles. Yet since I write from my own experiences, speaking of how Unity’s principles have formed my experience and understanding of faith makes good sense. I hope this exploration will be useful even if the faith traditions you are exploring are different.
For many years the Buddhist concept of Buddha Nature rather than the Western concepts of God formed the center of my belief system. Buddha Nature spoke of something innocent inherent in all beings that connect them, something beyond and deeper than personality. This something is always present, available within each person rather than some external deity telling us what to do or not to do, rewarding or punishing people according to rules or whims.
Yet I have had experiences and feelings that Buddha Nature did not adequately explain or develop for me. Attending Unity and developing conscious prayer awakened in me that which I think of as reclaiming God. What I mean by this is a conscious awareness of God or Spirit or by whatever name, which has always been with me. This added something active to my understanding of Buddha Nature.
Faith for me is my growing awareness and acceptance of the Divine as an active force in my life and world, something that is both of me and more than me. Since currently my faith is developing from exploring Unity, I have framed this about the five principles central to Unity.*
When a set of beliefs or approach to life attracts my attention, I view it like trying on a new pair of shoes. First I try it on. How does it fit? Does it wear well or chafe? How much does it cost? With my attraction to the welcoming messages from Unity, I have been ‘trying on’ their principles and so far, liking the fit.
The first two principles are my main focus here, as these seem to me the foundation of faith in Unity.
1) God is all good and active in everything, everywhere.
2) I am naturally good because God’s Divinity is in me and in everyone.
The first principle is both hardest to accept, and most profound in it’s acceptance. Given wars, poverty, greed and cruelty in our lives and the world we live in, how could there be an all powerful, all present, active God that is also good? I suspect accepting this will be an ongoing struggle. Glib answers such as, ‘well God knows better than we can’ doesn’t seem very useful or meaningful to me.
The basis for my developing acceptance of the first principle of God the Good is because of how it ‘fits.’ Not that it fits every situation in the world, but how it works in my life. If God is Good, then in seeking God I choose to seek good everywhere. This can be quite challenging when things are not ‘going well,’ when I get cut off in traffic, when people are hurting and/or acting in ways that are negligent, destructive or abusive. Yet these very situations are often most rewarding when I do find the good.
By not expecting to suddenly find an insight that will make all the suffering and abuse in the world make sense or be transformed, I can better focus on my life and my interactions. While eventually I may examine larger, world sized issues, for now I need to focus on what is real in my own experiences and that of those people in my life. After all, the rest is basically reportage, things we rely on others to communicate with all the inherent distortions that invites.
The second Unity principle, that we are good because Divinity is in each of us, is easier for me to accept. I have learned to often see beyond peoples’ destructive thoughts and actions as long as my own feelings aren’t too strongly triggered. When I get to know someone, I can recognize their underlying needs and suffering, as well as their capacity for love despite all the evidence otherwise. Reaching people past their fears and defenses is often difficult, although it helps when I can acknowledge my own, similar fears and defenses.
The last three principles* provide guidance to growing and living these truths:
3) I create my experiences by what I choose to think, feel and believe.
4) Through affirmative prayer and meditation, I connect with God and bring out the good in my life.
5) I do and give the best by living the Truth I know.
The more I look for the good, the more I find it. Intellectually, emotionally and even visually, when we look for something we tend to filter amongst the input to find what we are looking for. The 3rd principle of Unity, that my thoughts, feelings and actions create my experience is this and more than just recognizing what might go right.
In the past, I have described this as ‘the universe cooperating with us.’ In addition to opening my eyes to see what is good or right, in some mystical or at least more than logically explainable way, more things start going right. So far the effect in my life is that I am happier, enjoy events and people more, and find myself less fearful and judgmental.
Driving to Unity (and elsewhere lately), it is not unusual for me to feel anxious if I leave a little late or run into traffic. Remembering principle, I choose to relax and release my anxiety. I remind myself that good is coming my way. And guess what. Most of the time the traffic opens up and so does a parking place. (Driving in San Francisco, this can really feel like a miracle!) Yet even when I am late, there is still good for me.
So I return to faith. The more I try it on, the more I seek Good in situations, the better life fits. I also work a lot with the 4th principle, affirmative prayer—something I have embraced from Unity—and meditation, which I have practiced for 40 years
While some use the terms prayer and meditation interchangeably, for me they are somewhat different. Meditation involves letting go of ego, of the mind’s expectations and activity, allowing one to be in the silence or, in the sense of ego-self, not to be. Prayer is more active in asking for, clarifying and envisioning what I seek. Meditation creates the openness, receptiveness. Prayer is active in the choice of being one with and attending to that inner, greater-than ego-based voice and sense of direction.
The more I work with this unity of receptivity and action, meditation and prayer, the more I understand and practice living these principles. This is the 5th principle, practicing or living from the principles. Faith is the ongoing choice to live ones beliefs, a process that I find deepens my understanding of things, as well as my joy in being alive.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that real Faith also involves some doubt. Questioning can help develop and keep faith clean and strong. I have doubts often enough. Right now I feel doubt about sharing what I have written. Who am I to expound on principles I have just begun to explore? What I write is based on my own experiences, not just blind assertion or some intellectual game. Following an inner need to put forth what I have to share, I have faith that good will come from it.
* The five principles while essentially the same, are expressed with slightly different words at different Unity sites on the web and elsewhere. This one comes from a handout at our local Unity in San Francisco