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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Heaven on Earth?

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:22 & 23

'God became man that man might become God.'
Athanasius

As the Messiah of Israel according to the Story of Scripture, Jesus came to 'save His people from their sins'. Today, depending on who you listen to, this translates to anything from 'going to heaven when you die' to, 'it's all about Israel'! In context, we can see that it IS all about Israel, but then the question becomes, 'who IS Israel?' If indeed 'Israel' is simply the People of God, of all ages, or aeons, then yes, it's all about Israel. If Israel is a certain people, however, from a certain ( specific ) region of the world, of a certain lineage, then we might be faced with other concerns & considerations. But I digress...............

Jesus told His disciples quite plainly, 'I go to prepare a place for you.[b] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, [ there ] you may be also' ( John 14:2b & 3 ) The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Church at Thessalonika ( I Thessalonians 4:16 & 17 ), wrote, 'For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive [ and ] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord'. These passages & others like them might seem to lend credence to the traditional ( orthodox ) notion of 'Heaven' being our Final Destination, the end goal, so to speak, but nowhere in Scripture does it specifically say this. In fact, reading these passages in context seems to point the other direction, telling us that, rather than 'going to heaven when we die', those who belonged to Israel would join Her Messiah in a 'Heaven on Earth', not after biological death, but here & now, as a result of that salvation!

The apostle Paul also wrote to the Church at Colosse ( Colossians 1:27c ), concerning 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'. In his letter to the Church at Ephesus ( Ephesians 3:17 ), he prayed 'that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith' ( John 14:23 ). From these words & others like them, we may deduce that the whole point in Jesus coming as 'God in the Flesh', was not so that we could go to some 'pie-in-the-sky' ( 'Heaven' ) when we die, but so that we could once again dwell with our Creator, as in the beginning ( Genesis 3:8 )!

In John 14:23, Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' With these words, in particular, we see plainly that those believing in Him would not go to some special place when they died, but that He would come to them, living/dwelling with them where they were. It is here & now that we dwell in the Presence of God; in a different realm, one might say. The phrase 'God with us', which is the true meaning of the name 'Immanuel', seems to have lost some of its original impact! When Jesus walked this earth, some 2,000 years ago, He was, in Essence, in Reality, God in Flesh: He showed the unbelieving Pharisees that Man could indeed be God. The Pharisees ultimately killed Him, by way of Rome, for this blasphemy, as they called it. 'God with us', however, should tell us clearly, again, that rather than us joining Him in 'Heaven', He brought 'Heaven' to Earth, to dwell with us, in us & through us!

Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, was a Man who was revealed to be God Himself! Through the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary conceived the Son of Man who later proved, through His Crucifixion, Resurrection & Ascension, to be the very Son of God. The Creator God Himself deemed to enter the realm of His Creation to show the Way into Heaven itself, His very Presence. He dwells within us now, so that we may present 'Heaven' to those around us.  Heaven & Earth have been joined in us, we who follow the Christ, the Savior of all Israel. As we present the Christ to our neighbor, then, we represent the Dwelling of God, what we call 'Heaven'!

Charles Haddon Shank

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sitting in Samadhi

Be still, and know that I [ am ] God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
Psalm 46:10


According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, 'Samādhi, also called samāpatti, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and yogic schools is the last stage or ultimate stage of meditation, when the person is out of physical consciousness. In samādhi the mind and soul are in equal balance. It is meditative absorption, attained by the practice of dhyāna. In samādhi the mind becomes still.' This definition sounds almost surprisingly similar to the Christian prayer. Not what we know as 'The Lord's Prayer', surely, but like deep, heartfelt prayer nonetheless ( more on this later ).

We, in the Christian tradition, have been instructed that Christianity is THE Way, that other paths may travel, for a time, somewhat parallel, but that ultimately, unless one accepts Jesus as Lord ( the Christ ), he or she has no real hope. Jesus DID say, according to Scripture ( John 14:6 ), 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'. For the first half or so of my short life in this biology, I received these words as gospel. However, in the past few years, I have come to see that, though there are universal truths in Scripture, the volume is, first & foremost ( primarily ), a history of Israel. Not only is it written to a completely different culture, it was written in differing languages, to an ancient culture. That's a lot to swallow!

Here in the gloried West, we think we're pretty hot stuff, not unlike our western ( European ) forbears that thought the earth was at the center of it all! One must acknowledge here, though, that as far as their limited abilities allow, many scholars have deeply researched the idiosyncrasies of the original languages, the culture of the day ( audience relevance ), etc, though obviously, not without prejudice. Despite this fact, which should be comforting, we are yet faced with a multitude of Christian denominations, some of which are saying basically the same thing & an equal amount, if not more, of versions of these precious Scriptures. The Story in these pages has been handed down from generation to generation ( roughly 6,000 years of history, based on a literal reading of the text ) & while it is ENTIRELY possible, as we were taught from childhood, that 'the Holy Spirit preserved the Scriptures'; the question then becomes; 'which version? which text?' Well,. the obvious answer, according to some, is 'the KJV & the Textus Receptus!'

The problem with this theory, that 'the Holy Spirit preserved the Scriptures', is that 'they ALL say that!' They all say the same thing about their precious versions & while it is fairly clear that the same Story is recognizable throughout most of these, the interpretations vary fairly widely in some areas. It is self-evident that, though the Story of Scripture, the Story of Israel, has survived the ages, more or less intact, it has not emerged from the battle unscathed: with many & differing translations, to say nothing of interpretations, it should not be difficult to understand that the prejudice of man has tainted our understanding of its hallowed words.

As we have seen. the main difference between the majority of the texts, including the oldest manuscripts we have available, is semantical. One can read through most of the versions out there & though the words may be slightly different, or appear in a slightly different order, the main theme of redemption & reconciliation is found throughout. The Scriptures, as originally given, or written down, according to internal evidence, tell the Story of how the Creator of Heaven & Earth ( 'God', as Christians call Him ), or 'YHWH', made Himself known to a certain family/tribe in the Middle East, in order that they in turn might spread that knowledge to the nations around them. Through their supposed failure, the knowledge of the Living God, as opposed to the false deities these nations tended to worship, spread like wildfire & ended up turning the world ( a very limited perspective ) upside down.

At this point, most of my readers are probably thinking something like, 'I thought this post was supposed to be about Samadhi?' Well, it is; I said all that, to say this: 'you can all go Home now!' No; quite seriously, the only difference between deep prayer & deep meditation is that prayer is focused outwardly & meditation is focused inwardly. Samadhi, in Christian terminology, might be rendered as 'peaceful bliss', or something to that effect. Whether or not one goes into all the Eastern Mysticism normally associated with 'Samadhi', the general theme is not so different than what Jesus taught His followers; to love ones God, their neighbor as themselves ( 'how are we supposed to do that unless we see them as ourselves?' ) & to treat others as we want to be treated. For that matter, whatever your personal belief  ( religion ), these are universal truths, acknowledged worldwide as the way of lasting peace.

One may read stories of gurus/yogis, however they're named, who simply sit in a sort of perpetual Samadhi, not eating or drinking ( very little, if they do ) & while this may be very beneficial, both to them & to those around them, even far away, it is not necessary! To sit in Samadhi, one need not be actually sitting. To my limited understanding, Samadhi is more an inner peace than an outer silence, even lack of motion. Christians love to quote, 'the peace of God, which passes all understanding': much like Samadhi, I believe we can say, it is something we carry with us, another dimension, if you will, in which we reside, apart from the necessary evils that we must endure bodily. Does this not sound very similar, if not identical, to our Christian walk? Are we not to distance ourselves, in a manner of speaking, from the evils of this world, in order that we might enjoy the Peace of Heaven?

Any readers of this blog of late may realize that I have begun to focus more on the Chrism than the Christ, on the Story of Scripture as relating to the physiology of humanity than a historical narrative of the journey of a fairly obscure nomadic tribe, from rags to riches, as it were. The Christ Consciousness, I believe, resides in all human beings, though some have almost totally managed to obliterate it, or at least deface it beyond human recognition. The Christ Consciousness, or the Chrism, from which the word 'Christ' ( 'anointed' ) comes, is a part of the human physiology, again, to my limited understanding & can be 'awakened' through deep prayer/meditation. As Christians, we must realize that the Spirit of the Creator God, as His Kingdom ( 'Heaven'-Luke 17:21 ) is within us! So, when we pray, it should be more an inward meditation than a prayer to 'someone out there'. Or rather, maybe it should be to 'someone out there' in the sense that we often receive aid, physically speaking, from those who hear our prayers on this physical plane.

It is through deep prayer/meditation that we experience this Samadhi, or inner peace. Maybe this is why we are instructed to be constantly in an attitude of prayer ( I Thessalonians 5:17 )! Is it really necessary to go through all the steps of transcendental meditation in order to achieve Samadhi? Many would certainly tell you so, but more to the point, 'YES'! To truly be at peace in the midst of the evil that surrounds us, whether one believes in the Christian God or simply a Higher Power, call it the Christ Consciousness, or what you will. one must first still their mind, realizing there is a Oneness; that It simply IS, no matter the evil that we perceive.

One final note; what we call the Lord's Prayer, the prayer that Jesus instructed His disciples to pray, was a specific prayer for their specific time. I've covered this in previous posts, but the prayer He taught His disciples was relative to the ever-worsening situation they faced in the first century. Even in this prayer, though, we can see universal truth, for He taught them how to find peace in the midst of turmoil ( tribulation ). So whether one finds more comfort in laying their cares at the feet of the Christian God or in meditating within themselves, relying on their Higher Power, we find our rest in An Attitude of Samadhi!

Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, November 13, 2017

'No Possessions, Too?'

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
Acts 4:32

When John Lennon composed 'Imagine', early one morning in 1971, it's doubtful that he had this famous, almost communistic proof-text in mind, though it's possible. Many Christians immediately apply the brakes with the first line of Lennon's song, where he sings, 'Imagine there's no heaven.....', but if one dares to continue searching, they might see that John's lyrics are predicated on the notion that 'Heaven' is somewhere out there, up there in the sky, out in space, etc. John Lennon was not a Christian, by any stretch of the imagination ( most likely Buddhist, if he followed any religion ), but he seemed to be aware that the Greek word translated 'heaven', ouranos, simply means 'sky'.

Religion divides; that's all there is to it! As Christians, traditional, anyway & orthodox, we understand that division is not necessarily a bad thing, but is it really a good thing? We are used to viewing the world & humanity in two main categories; us & them, in traditional Christianese, those who are headed for heaven & those who are destined for hell. The Bible DOES say, 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you' ( II Corinthians 6:17 ( Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel  20:34, 41 ), but when read in context, it should be noted that these were written in the days of that first [ age/covenant ], thus being directed at true Israel. As a matter of fact, the communistic-sounding statement at the beginning of this post should also be taken in context, with the understanding that the Christians who thus divested themselves of their property ( 'possessions' ) quite probably did so because they knew that it would soon be worthless, as the city was about to be destroyed.

Speaking of possessions, we now come closer to the heart of the matter! What is the biggest cause for fights, even wars? Quoting at some length here, from James 4:1-3, 'Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do [ they ] not [ come ] from your [ desires for ] pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend [ it ] on your pleasures'. Say what you want about John Lennon & his ideals, but at least he seemed to understand, maybe better than most, that it's not about possessions, what you have or don't have, materially speaking, anyway. We read elsewhere in Scripture ( Romans 14:17 ) that, 'the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit'; Again, it's not about possessions, materialistically speaking, it's a spiritual reality, basically how we treat our fellow human beings: as John put it, 'the brotherhood of man'!

Possessions, though, are not a bad thing; like riches of any kind, the problem is not in having them, but how we come by them & what we do with them once we get them. James mentioned that the Israelites were guilty of breaking the tenth commandment, which instructed them, 'You shall not covet.................................' ( Exodus 20:17 ). 'He/she has something I want & they won't give it to me, therefore I will take it from them!' The problem is not in the having ( of possessions/riches ); the problem is in doing whatever is necessary to get them, usually whether it's right or wrong. Lennon was not saying that it would be ideal not to have anything of one's own, but rather, that we should look at what we have been blessed with as not simply ours, but a blessing for the collective whole, for the good of humanity. Hence, the line 'Imagine all the people sharing all the world'.

We tend to view our possessions in the same way that Gollum viewed The Ring, in the epic, 'The Lord of the Rings'; 'My OWN, my prrrrrrrrecious!' Witness what he did to retrieve his 'prrrrrrecious': he would have done whatever he could to get it back, even if it meant murder. As it 'happened, he simply bit Frodo's finger off before he himself perished, along with the Ring. The point is, that looking at what we have been blessed with as 'our possessions', ours & ours alone is what has been the cause of many battles & wars, even if it's only within our own hearts. James also ask the question, 'If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what [ does it ] profit?"' ( James 2:15 & 16 ); when we fail to share our blessings with those in need, simply because they are ours ( 'I' worked for them! ) then we fail to live as Jesus taught.

So then, when read in the context of the current situation, at the time of Luke's writing ( Acts 4:32 ), we may correctly ascertain what was originally meant by those words. Not so much a plea for
Christian Communism, but rather a sharing of what they were blessed with, although it was probably made easier by the knowledge that these possessions would soon be worthless anyway. However, the point is; they did not look at these things as their own ( 'MY prrrrrrecious' ), but as a blessing to be shared with those in need! This being a universal truth; how much need is there in the world today? Our 'world', even? What should we do, then, with our possessions?

I'm not saying that we should not have anything of our own; I'm simply saying, as I believe Lennon was, that we should not cling to what we have been blessed with, but that we should share, without expectation, with those in need. 'The brotherhood of man' does not extend only to those who live & believe like we do! What we have been blessed with is not for us alone; it is to be shared with the world, regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not.


Agree with John Lennon's life or not, his ideals were lofty & true; what he imagined was a world at peace rather than a world at war, no heaven above, but rather, 'heaven' here below. He 'imagined' a world where the collective consciousness ruled the day, not one in which some were destined for 'heaven', while others were headed for 'hell'. As the unorthodox 'heretics' that we are, fulfilled believers know that it is not the traditional 'heaven' or 'hell' scenario, but rather that Heaven is here & now, that in sharing its blessings, we embrace 'the brotherhood of man'!

Charles Haddon Shank


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Butterfly Effect ( Chaos Theory ) & the Flight of the Bumblebee

It has been said that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, a tornado might touch down in central Texas a few weeks later. A bit extreme, maybe, that something so seemingly insignificant & fragile could cause something so destructive, but Cause & Effect is something that must be considered, down to the smallest detail, if we are to make sense of this thing we call life. The Science of the matter, to be honest, is quite beyond this blogger, but to be honest, that's really not the point of this post! The point is; how often do we really think about how our actions, no matter how seemingly innocent or insignificant, affect the conditions around us? Can we really do anything without consequences of some sort?

In the past, the question of how a bumblebee can remain aloft has proved to be enigmatic for Science, though recent discoveries have somewhat lessened the apprehension & expanded the comprehension. Though maybe more understandable now, it is no less amazing, as are many enigmas that have been revealed to humanity through heightened Science & Technology. 'The size & weight of the bumblebee', 'the apparent fragility of its wings', to say nothing of its aerodynamics, seem to be more than enough to cast a shadow of doubt, or wonder, really, on how such a creature can fly.

Thanks in part to astronomical advances in Science & Technology, humanity has learned many things about the Creation that were previously regarded as some of life's great mysteries, though sadly, many of these discovers have been chalked up to mere naturalistic evolution, apart from an Intelligent Designer. The fairly recent discovery of the Higgs Boson, the so-called 'God Particle', is an indication of this. Adaptation might be a better word for the changes that the animal creation in particular goes through & has gone through, though plants as well have been noted in this phenomena. Evolution though, of a sort anyway, is hard to deny, though a better way to say it is that this Intelligent Designer, call IT 'God', 'the Creator', 'Source', 'Energy', even 'the Universe', if you will, has programmed into the marvels of biology the ability, even the propensity to adapt to any given situation.

If Life is nothing more than a series of unfortunate events, just a haphazard scramble of ingredients, then what IS the point of it all?! Every man, woman & child has been given a free will, a choice of whether to adapt to any given situation, or to die. Animals have this ability as well, though in most animals, we don't recognize the innate intellect, or the conscious ability to make these choices; we tend to chalk it up to instinct, but there again, 'where did that instinct come from?' Through the wonders of Science & Technology, humanity has begun to recognize that we are not the only creatures in this biology that have been gifted with intellect, however limited.

Speaking of animals, how much do we consider the effects of our actions on them? For instance, when we feast on them, as in the case of cattle, chicken, turkey, even wild game, do you ever wonder if how we treated them in their relatively short life might have an effect on our consumption of them? The way that corporate growers raise the meat we eat has begin to give many people pause as to whether its even consumable. We might ask ourselves, 'Do animals feel pain?' Most don't think twice about how cattle, chicken, etc. are slaughtered, much less how they are raised, for human consumption. For human beings, we know that close quarters often don't make for healthy living, but how does that translate when it comes to the meat we eat? To compensate for the unhealthy & unsanitary living conditions that we force most of these animals to grow up in, they are pumped with antibiotics & who knows what else: it just makes sense that this artificial 'healthiness' then transfers to us, the consumer. It might be asked, too, if the pain that the animals suffer is not somehow transferred to us, both physically & psychologically. Are WE ultimately responsible for our own health?

Dolphins, along with chimpanzees ( arguably, one of our evolutionary ancestors ) & certain species of dogs, have long been known to possess an intelligence above & beyond other animals ( even some humans ), but does it really stop there? Are these the only animals with the ability to reason? Ask pretty much any pet-lover & they will tell you their animals are smarter than a lot of humans! On the other hand, there are those out there called 'pet-owners', those who simply 'own' their pets. For this reason we now have what are called 'rescue animals'; there are whole clinics, even official organizations specifically designed for the purpose of rescuing these pets from their owners. Thankfully, not ALL owners of pets treat these animals in such a way that they need rescuing!

Life is NOT simply a series of events, no matter how seemingly fortunate or unfortunate! Life is what we make it & though there are certain things that seem to just 'happen' to us, beyond our control, even in these events, we still exert some control. We may choose, for instance, how we will respond or react to the event, or we may even choose to so order our own lives as to limit the chance of such & such ever 'happening' to us. No matter the case, whether you believe there is a Supreme Being who ordered the Universe, it is clear that we, along with the animal, even plant creation, are sentient creatures, with the ability to choose, to judge for ourselves.

Not being a scientist, I will not even endeavor to take a glimpse into the whys & wherewithals of how a bumblebee can fly, or why they were not designed with better aerodynamics: I will, however simply, say that without an Intelligent Designer, the bumblebee would not be able to wing its flight, much less exist! Much the same could be said of really any part of the material creation, maybe the human biology most of all.

Any action, great or small, WILL have some sort of consequences! There is nothing we can do that won't have an effect on the environment around us. We cannot take one step, for instance, without something feeling the effects of our weight. We leave footprints wherever we go! When we sneeze ( which the average is about 200 mph ), there is a transference of whatever germ caused us to sneeze, if germ it be, to countless surfaces, as much as 10 feet away or more. A butterfly in Brazil doesn't sound so strange now, does it?

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh Elohim brought order out of the chaos that was the creation, about 6,000 years ago, give or take a few millennia. Although there are things, like the two Category Five hurricanes the Virgin Islands experienced several months ago, that seem to just 'happen', we must understand that NOTHING ever just 'happens; there is ALWAYS a Cause & there is ALWAYS an Effect! Again, I'm not a scientist, so I won't even try to explain the intricacies of how hurricanes are formed, or why they seem to strike at random targets. Events like these seem to make Chaos Theory plausible, but when you think of the Order behind it all, that all these things work together for our benefit, one still wonders why Chaos seems to reign supreme. Like, if the
Universe was Created & is controlled by a Supreme Being, then why do 'bad' things happen to 'good' people?

It's all about choice! Whether our own personal choice, or the choices of others, our actions most often determine the course of events. We know that if we do this, that will most likely occur as a consequence & vice versa; if this, then that. To an extent, we ourselves control the outcome of any given event. Even when it comes to the actions of others, which we can't choose for them, our own actions often positively influence their actions so that what we feared may never transpire. If, despite our most fervent efforts, though, something untoward does happen, we are yet faced with how we will respond to the Call. Will we respond in kind, or will we act ( or not ) in such a way as to stop forward momentum?

Charles Haddon Shank