Number 28 in a Series
What is the heart of your spiritual/religious belief?
The lifeblood of my spiritual/religious belief is that the heart is a metaphor for my essence and heartfelt responses always contain both compassion and an openness to learning. This belief comes from the teaching of many spiritual and religious leaders.
I was born into a Jewish family but religious observances conducted in Hebrew were boring and meant little. So I drifted without a spiritual compass until I began attending a small church in Snowmass, Colorado led by Fr. Thomas Keating, I read his book Open Mind Open Heart which describes contemplative prayer, a meditation that involves visualizing upon a sacred word.
After a few weeks of meditating on “light” a strange thing occurred. During one of my sessions, a figure started to appear. As the figure got closer I recognized it as Jesus. Shaking my head in disbelief I thought, “What are you doing in my meditation? I’m a Jewish boy and my grandfather was a Rabbi!”
The next day, still perplexed, I went to see Fr. Keating. I asked what he thought my vision meant. He wisely counseled, “I don’t know. Just let the question guide you.” And so, I began studying the life of Jesus.
Having had no childhood experiences relating to Jesus allowed me to become fascinated with Jesus as a teacher rather than as God. Of the many books I read, the writer who most impacted me was Marcus Borg Ph.D., a Jesus scholar and fellow of the Jesus Seminar.
In Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time, Borg writes, “For Jesus, compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God.” That struck a deep chord. I thought, “That’s it. What else is there?”
After that, everything I studied and experienced confirmed the simplicity and wisdom of that idea. It became the genesis of my spiritual beliefs and formed the organizing principle of Becoming Your Own Hero.
Shortly after my meditation experience with Jesus, I watched a film about St. Francis, “Brother Sun Sister Moon.” I was mesmerized by this man’s heartfelt connection to nature, animals and disadvantaged people while finding happiness in the simple joys of life. The image for this post is the scene from the film in which Francis throws off all his material possessions and steps off into a new life.
The next day still in my St. Francis consciousness I hiked up to a higher elevation. Sitting quietly in the stunning beauty of Maroon Bells I was graced with many forms of wildlife coming right up next to me and eating out of my hand. I experienced a profound connection with all of nature and my heart burst open.
My connection with St. Francis continued after I moved to San Francisco, the city for which St. Francis is the patron saint. I started dating a woman who lived a block from Grace Cathedral and every Sunday morning I accompanied her to church.
The first Sunday in October is St. Francis day. Many churches all over the world encourage parishioners to bring their animals to receive blessings from the priests. Can you imagine being in the magnificence of the fifth largest gothic cathedral in the world while sitting amongst all types of animals including dogs, cats, birds, snakes and even horses? What an experience!
On another Sunday I sat transfixed as Bishop Desmond Tutu eloquently and movingly spoke about forgiveness and peace. At the end of the service, I faced a momentous decision.
During past services I had remained seated as each row filed up to receive communion. But on this occasion I looked toward the heavens and asking my grandfather for forgiveness, stood in line to receive Bishop Tutu’s blessing.
What happened when I got to the front of the line I have never experienced before or since. As I kneeled before Bishop Tutu, being in the presence of such a heart connected person touched me so deeply that my heart opened and I erupted into tears.
Christianity has been just a small part of my spiritual journey. I was introduced to Buddhism with the teachings of Jack Kornfield at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. In his book, A Path With Heart, Kornfield writes, “Even the most exalted states and the most exceptional spiritual accomplishments are unimportant if we cannot be happy in the most basic and ordinary ways, if we cannot touch one another and the life we have been given with our hearts.” Another deeply spiritual person touched my heart with his heart.
The circle of my spiritual journey became complete when I returned to my roots. Everything I needed from Judaism in my youth, I finally found through the teaching of Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi.
Reb Zalman revealed how the Torah was inside and all around me. For example, he taught me that the act of praying was not about the words but about the feeling, and that I should pray from the heart, not by rote. I feel so fortunate to have experienced not only his intellect but his omnipresent joy and to have known him not only as my teacher but as my friend.
I have mentioned just a few of the many wonderful teachers and experiences that have shaped my spirituality. Although I don’t feel the need to belong to any single religion or movement, living a spiritual/religious life seems so simple. I feel totally comfortable with the central idea that—Living in my heart is how I find, peace, joy, love and connection to everything that is meaningful.
Of course, simple doesn’t mean easily done. Overcoming the fears that disconnect me from my heart is the journey of a lifetime. More about what I’ve learned on that journey can be seen in all of my most posts beginning with, #1. “Live Joyfully Get Out of Your Head.”
For Your Journey
- What is the nugget of your spirituality that gives your life meaning and joy?
- Share-it-forward. Share your nugget with a friend and find out what their nugget is.
First in the Series: From Head to Heart
Next Week: # 29 – Teaching Beyond the 3 R’s
BECOMING YOUR OWN HERO illuminates a path available to us all to attain the kind of personal power demonstrated by our most revered and inspirational heroes. Marianne Williamson, #1 New York Times best-selling author said, “I highly recommend this illuminating and touching look into the possibilities of staying connected to our hearts, even when facing difficult situations.”
Photo: Getty Images