dogma fails you in the end

Every word you speak is a prayer. Every action you make is a devotion. Every step you take is a pilgrimage through Holy Land. You are a Divine Child of the Most High, capable of performing the greatest deeds ever done by the sacred masters and understanding the deepest truths ever perceived by the holy gurus.

Just because you're not always, often or ever aware of this fact doesn't make it less so. Just because we have a hard time applying this to everybody we meet, love, hate or ignore doesn't mean it's not a Truth. It just means the Truth is covered in eons of grime, neglect and abuse. One of the biggest obstacles to realizing our shared Divine Lineage is our attachment to story and the sacred language we use to reinforce the specialness of our own path - aka Dogma.

An Illustration

We all communicate with Source. We may call It God, Goddess, Allah, Brahma, Isis, or Eostara, but It is the same Source. There is only one. There can ever only be one. Even Pagans, who revel in the pantheon of gods and goddesses, usually acknowledge that they are all aspects of the same One. Some of us call this communication prayer. Others call it treatment, affirmations, or spellwork. Some of us dance our prayers. Some sing our prayers, while still others chant them. Some of us chat with God all day every day like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof.

Some of us have strict rules on how the prayer should be formatted. Some of us pray at specific times of the day. There are so many formats and formulas to communicating with Source that it would take - and has taken - massive books to fully illuminate the topic. There are even special ways to end the prayer. Some of us say "Amen," while other intone "So mote it be," or pronounce "And so it is." Some of us bow to our altar or salute the seven directions. Some cross themselves and others break into joyful laughter, knowing that they've been heard by the Divine. Still others leave flowers at their shrine or offer saucers of milk and honey to honor their Beloved. Ultimately, even if he uses different words to describe talking with God than she uses to invoke Lakshmi, they are talking about the same basic process of being held in the loving gaze of the Divine.

  • If we rest in our commonly held experience we can appreciate our similarities.
  • If we focus definitions of the faith - the dogma - then all we can behold is the differences. We become trapped in story.
Why does this matter for spiritual freelancers? Let me share with you my personal experience on this topic gleaned from many years of teaching Divine Communication. I say "Divine Communication" because I have taught prayer, treatments and spellwork for 15 years and have shared virtually the same basic technique over and over again. The weird thing is when I speak to different audiences - New Thought, Pagan and Christian - I have to change the words and a few minor details.  After all, in all things spiritual, you have to change the words so the audience can hear the message. No matter who you are or what you think you're doing, the technique is basically the same.
  1. Hi God. It's good to see You.
  2. It's me, Shari.
  3. This is what I have to say.
  4. Thank You. I know You've got this.
  5. Bye for now. Let's chat again soon.
Whether you evoke the Divine through song or smudged with smoke, it's irrelevant. You may be wearing special clothes or dancing outside at night buck naked, it doesn't matter. But I better be using the right language when I'm addressing a certain audience or the message doesn't get through. It's a curious phenomenon. You wouldn't get it at an electricity symposium. Ohms and watts are ohms and watts. The word may be different in Spanish or Swahili, but nobody takes it personally if you use a different word. You translate and everybody nods and smiles. Spiritual stuff, not so much. In the world of spirituality and religion, the words matter. A lot. Yet, there is only one Source. Ernest Holmes said it best when he said there could only be one force in the Universe or it would have shaken itself apart eons ago. Science has even said that there is an almost miraculous balance of particles and forces in this Universe. If the balance had been off by even a teeny bit, the early Universe would have collapsed in on itself and we wouldn't be here. There is only one Source, yet some folks bristle at the word "God" and still others that take great exception if you use a different word, such as "Allah" or "Innana" or "Brahma." They are all words for the same singular Source. And for many folks, if you don't use the word they like they're going to shut you out, which is why Christians and Pagans get different seminars. I can understand loving a story. I can understand preferring certain words. But I can also see a risk in holding too tightly to the dogma that you miss the truth it speaks about. Far too often our stories are rooted in somebody else's experience than our own. We're wedded to the ideas about faith and haven't cultivated the experiences that lead to a deeply held faith of our own. A deeply rooted faith gives us resilience when life slaps us upside the head.

Why It Matters

Life is always going to slap you upside the head, now and again. Deep faith comes from experiences, not dogma. If you travel in New Thought circles like I do, you see it often. Newcomers get dazzled by the light. They feel the wonder of a God that doesn't judge or hate. Perhaps for the first time in their lives they understand that they are held in a Divine embrace from cradle to grave. They cannot be lost because they live and move and have their being within the living body of the Divine. They are amazed that the quality of their thoughts can shape their life.

Then something happens - somebody dies or they lose a hefty investment. Perhaps they lingered in the shallows of New Thought without doing the "Meditation, Prayer and Revelation" that the minister kept talking about so they never got the proof they needed to make the story real to them. They become disillusioned. They ask what they did wrong and say this god is no different than any other gods. They walk away at the exact moment they needed their faith the most.

What they failed to do - and this is in all faiths, not just New Thought - is cultivate a spiritual practice, such as prayer, treatment or spellwork.  Practices get at the experience behind the language to understand the truths hinted at in the dogma. When you have opened your mind to the realization that prayer and treatment and spellwork are the same blessed thing then you're inoculated, even just a little bit, against the ultimate failure of dogma. Dogma will always fail.

At some point your actual life experiences are going to wander outside the dictates of dogma. That's when the tears come and the scars form. That's why hordes of people call themselves "recovering Catholics" and some people flinch at the word "God." The failure of dogma turned my life upside down in 5th grade.

During Confirmation class the priest said animals didn't have souls, a dogma that violated my lived experience that animal do have souls. I asked, "If he's wrong about that, what else is he wrong about?" It was a visceral reaction and at the ripe old age of 12, my faith collapsed in a little pile of smoldering ashes. I shifted from a child who loved Jesus to one that loathed the very thought of those wretched sheep. The pain took years to heal and has created what the Japanese call "kintsugi," or a broken bowl repaired with gold. My understanding of the Christ is so much richer than it was 35 years ago. But, was it really necessary? Could I have gotten from point A to B with a little less drama?

Sacred stories held loosely are treasure maps; sacred stories clutched too tightly cut off the flow of the Divine. Yet,  you may ask, how can we reconcile a belief that God will reward the good among us and punish the bad (aka Santa God) with the reality that the Universe regularly crashes galaxies together (Selfish God)? If the sun suddenly goes supernova, does that mean all the sentient beings on the third rock from the exploding sun deserved to die? True faith held in the face of actual reality can hold both truths - loving God and destructive Universe - at the same time. Dogma is going to have to make something up - like there's really no such thing as a supernova.

What Can You Do About It?

Dogma is always going to fail you. Deep faith cultivated through practice - prayer, treatment or spellwork - is going to provide a solid vessel for navigating the ebbs and tides of the real world, the One World that emanates from the Living Body of the One Source. Find a practice and dig deeply into it. There are many practices but New Thought recommends three.

1. Meditation.

Meditation is like mental floss that gets between the thoughts and clears out the debris. Spending some time each day in single-pointed awareness is crucial to a spiritual practice. You don't have to be sitting there, cross-legged, chanting "Om," although that has a certain charm. You can walk, dance, wash dishes, make love - hell, do anything at all - with a single pointed awareness and you're meditating. Studies have shown that meditation changes the brain. It balances the hemispheres and rewires connections. Meditation opens up our awareness of our own inner workings, cultivating a witness perspective onto our own lives. This reduces stress because we learn not to believe everything we think or act on every emotion that wanders through our awareness.

2. Prayer.

It doesn't matter what you call it or what your intention is for doing it - talk to the Divine. Connect and connect often. Reaching out to the Divine actually causes some of the Divine to rub off on you, which elevates your vibration and rarefies your energy field. You don't always have to pray for stuff. Sometimes a well-felt 'thank you' is sufficient. If you get stuck on what to pray about, open up the newspaper and use it as your prayer request sheet. New Thought suggests positive prayers, said in the present tense and filled with good feelings are the most effective and I totally agree. However, if you need to bitch once in a while, I've always said, God is big enough for my anger.

3. Revelation.

Revelation is listening to the Divine, that still small voice lost in the din of our thoughts, our iPods and the demands of modern life. Listen? How do we listen to a still small voice when we've become so awfully good at ignoring the flesh and blood people in front of us? That's why it's a practice - a critical practice that we tend to overlook. Some people say meditation is listening to God, but not really. Meditation is more akin to cleaning out the dance hall. Revelation is only like Meditation in that you're sitting quietly. To an outsider Meditation and Revelation look the same.

But when you're sitting for Revelation, you're not focused on a single topic like your breathing or a candle flame. You have placed the seed, the question, the issue into the Field of Grace and you've opened yourself up to guidance. Perhaps you have just prayed for guidance, so you've opened yourself up in silence for the answer. You may have taken something that upset you into the silence and offered it up for insight. Now, you have turned all that over to the Divine. You've placed it on the altar of your heart and relinquished control of it.

And now you wait.

Perhaps you have a notebook for writing the answer. Perhaps you have an art pad for drawing your visions. Your intention going into the session is wisdom. Sometimes the answer comes while  you're sitting there and sometimes it wakes you in the middle of night. Sometimes it spills from the lips of your child. The Source works through willing channels. Revelation cultivates your ability to listen and share Divine guidance.

In Conclusion

All of these things create experiences of real depth and meaning. The emphasis is on "real." Your real, not somebody else's real. Dogma is somebody else's "real." It's a springboard to cultivating your own "real." Once you have a felt-sense of the truth behind the dogma you may understand it better. You may disagree with it. Disagreeing from a place of experience is the root of spiritual resilience. You can also agree with it. Agreeing from a place of experience cultivates a strong wisdom.

Either way, through Meditation, Prayer and Revelation (or any one of a dozen other practices) you transcend the limitations of any one story. Left to its own devices, dogma is going to fail you. Protect yourself by cultivating a real, cherished relationship with the Source. This is less likely to fail you when you need it the most. Now you can nourish your soul no matter what life throws your way or what foolish thing somebody says from a pulpit.

18 March 2015

With Blessings - Reverend Shari.