Archives for posts with tag: spirituality

Is Bethlehem haunted?

It would seem so, according to the Ghost Tours led by Historic Haunts of Downtown Bethlehem. There are enough spooks and spirits to fill a whole tour, apparently. Certainly, there is plenty of history here, so if ghosts do exist, one would expect Bethlehem to have them aplenty.

I don’t know how much I believe in that stuff, but if Bethlehem is haunted I hope it’s by Count Zinzendorf. First of all, he has probably the best ghost name in recorded history. I mean, who would you rather be haunted by, Casper or Nicolaus Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf? Point, set, match, Count Z.

But it’s not just his name, it’s the spirit of the man, and the Moravians he led, that makes me hope he’s still haunting our land. Zinzendorf was a strong voice for religious tolerance – back in the eighteenth century, he had the courage to proclaim that one’s denomination mattered less than being a part of “the congregation of God in the Spirit.” He preached that our relationship with God was more important than any doctrinal dispute. And while, like many Europeans of his time, he did attempt to convert the “heathen” Lenape, he was fascinated by their culture and insisted that they be treated as equal – in God’s Acre cemetery, they were buried alongside the white settlers. The cemetery is perhaps the first “integrated” burial ground in America. Whether or not the cemetery is haunted, I cannot tell you. But I assure you it is hallowed.

Hopefully, the spirit of the Lenape people is still with us, too. Fortunately, the Lenape nation and her people have survived. But whether all of us residents of the Lehigh Valley have kept alive the Lenape reverence for our environment remains to be seen. Lenape religion held that the Great Spirit was present in all living things. Consequently they treated nature with the utmost respect and care. If we were to be haunted by visions, this would be a great vision for us all.

Monday Meditation: Who “haunts” your life – what ancestors, predecessors, great examples live on in the way you go about your day?

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All Things Mystical & Magickal, in Allentown is quite a feast for the eyes of the spiritually hungry: rows of herbs, books about all kinds of magick and mystery, along with Buddhist and Hindu figurines. Cindy, who I met behind the counter, very kindly agreed to be interviewed. Although her spiritual path – ascensionism – was not one I’d heard of before, Cindy was humble, humorous, and inspiring. Here’s a snippet of our talk together.

How would you define your spirituality?

I’m an ascentionist.

What does that mean?

Ascescion means that you see a vibration. Every aspect of anything on the earth, everything has a consciousness – in its own way, not like God. Everything has a consciousness, and our ultimate goal is to raise our vibrations and return back to the creator. Everything that we learn here – all the love we cultivate, all the experiences that we take with us.

How does that affect the way that you live your life?

Everything that I do, I appreciate. You’ll find some ascentionists where you’ll see – they’re funny, they have a list, if I do this, I’m going to raise my vibration this much. Vibration packets. I don’t believe in any of that. I think if you live your life, you try to do the best you can. You don’t have to live a spiritual path. But I choose to. So because I’ve made that decision, there are obstacles and goals that are put in front of me by my guide. And they’re for me to learn from.

You have a guide?

I have a spiritual guide, yes. I believe that you have a higher self, same sex as you. And that that person is on the ethereric side and they maintain all the past lives that you have, because you just couldn’t live on this life with that kind of knowledge. I think when you ascend the earth, because your vibrations are higher than the earth, you meld with your higher self. Her and you join together. So now I’m working with my sage. And that’s my sacred self.

Is that an ascension happen as an everyday experience, or is it something that you work toward?…

I don’t believe in working toward it, I just believe if you live your life naturally and you do everything that you know you’re supposed to do, and the time is right, then it comes to you. So I’m working with Lasoon, my sacred self. I’ve already integrated the feminine qualities in to my life, and now I’m working on will, purpose, and strength.

Sorry, I babble. (laugh)

No, this is great! How were you introduced to ascensionism?

Someone gave me a Shirley Maclaine book, Out on a Limb, it was 1986. And everything she said made sense. I was in my thirties, I had been struggling my whole life. I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t understand why. And all of a sudden, everything she said made sense. You can have a religion – I was raised orthodox Baptist, and you can have a spirituality. They might butt heads sometimes, but you have to decide which one is going to lead your life. Spirituality leads mine.

Is this your store?

No I volunteer here. A couple of us volunteer, and that way we can teach classes.

And what are your classes like?

I teach meditation classes: a basic, intermediary, and an advanced. The advanced is where I want you to become a participant in your meditation, not an observer. And that’s very difficult to do, but if you reach a certain stage, you can do it. So I’m not an observer of my meditations anymore, I just partake in them. And I teach about the 14 rays that we all live under. Also a 2012 class, levels of initiation, so different things like that.

What would you say is a spiritual place for you in the Lehigh Valley? This shop?

It’s so funny, this shop. When you step into the shop, anything that’s going on in your life, the… everybody has crap, everybody has the mundane – it disappears in here.

But I would say my most favorite place is my home, my family. I love my house – it’s just a little tiny house, three bedroom, one bath and that I would say is my spiritual place.

Because it has that sense of home.

It’s where my family is, it’s what I’ve created, I’ve grounded my home to the earth. You tether your home to the earth, and you tether your home to the rays that surround the earth, and create the sacred space for you.

What would be your advice to someone – whether an ascentionist or some other path – who wants to deepen their spirituality?

The one thing I’ve found in here is, people are very rigid. If they’re Wicca, they have to study just Wicca. I’m an ascentionist, but I believe in a lot of the practices that Wicca does. I believe in the energy, that North South East and West are representative of the energies that are around us, and we have to learn to use them in ways that are appropriate to our own life, and I really do believe that. I started out as a Buddhist – my aunt was a Buddhist, I didn’t know how to meditate, she tried to teach me – she had me on my knees for an hour, all I could think about was the pain! (laughs) So I like to meditate sitting up on a chair. So I mean, everybody has different aspect, but to me we all have the same spoke, we’re all heading to the same place – the center, which is the creator. So it doesn’t matter which spoke you take, it has to fit us. And if your spirituality doesn’t fit you, it’s not going to work.

It was wonderful to meet Cindy. I don’t know what I would have made of ascensionism reading it in a book – but meeting a practitioner, and one with so much clarity of thought, really gave me a good impression. I invite you to please wish blessings and good energy for Cindy on her spiritual path, and stop in All Things Mystickal & Magickal, on 1727 Liberty Street, Allentown, and check it out. Blessed be!

Route 22, Route 22,
What did I ever
do to you?

Route 22, Route 22,
Red brake lights turn glad hearts blue.

The circles of Hell, I’m told,
await the unrepentant sinner,
but why this spot on the fiery line
when all we all want is to be home
for dinner?

Deep, huh. Tune in for spirit biography this Friday!

I’d been waiting a long time to go on the Delaware River train ride. My toddler’s into trains with a passion – he can even make the “choo choo” noise and everything. And every time he played with his train toys, I kept in my imagination the thought of going on an actual, full size, steam train with him. But it never seemed like the right week-end, and then we tried to go around Easter time but the tickets were sold out.  Not getting to go on it only increased my determination.

So when I saw that Delaware River Excursions offered a Great Pumpkin Train, and the experience came with a free pumpkin, that was all the incentive I needed. Even though we already had a pumpkin. I saw a pile of pumpkins when I was doing a shopping trip at Giant, and the sign said they were grown locally, so I said to myself, “why not.” This pumpkin sits on our porch, proclaiming our allegiance to the great American cult of Halloween. Of course, the skeleton and the pirate flag might give observers some idea of this, as well.

So as far as the train went the pumpkin was a bit of an afterthought, but together, a pumpkin and a train are more than enough to entice us. So there we were, at the headquarters of the New York Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society, watching the train pull into the station. It’s a thoroughly magnificent experience. Before you see it, you hear that whistle blowin’, and all the kids are turning around at their parents with that look of amazement on their faces. Then the roar of the engine gets louder, until finally, covered in steam, a gorgeous black locomotive emerges from the tunnel. The great religious writer Henri Nouwen writes, “when we wait in expectation our whole beings are open to be surprised by joy.” Exactly.

 

Then we got on the train, and it moved! A fact of great delight for all the little kids on board. Not only did it move, it shook and jolted, and made all kinds of noise as it bustled along the track. We could see the mighty Delaware to our right, and forests and abandoned stockyards on the port side. We passed houses and clusters of houses, and people waved at us, and we waved back. I am a foolish child at heart, and when people try to convince me of the innate depravity of the universe, the simple truth of people waving has always served as counter-proof enough to me.

But anyway, my wife and son and I were surrounded by beauty in a restored railroad car; it was happiness. I would love to tell you that my child sat entranced in wonder and awe for the entire ride, but some of you have children, so you would instantly know that I am lying. No, of course, my child sat entranced and in awe for ten blissful minutes, after which he started to get fidgety and bored. He said “off”, meaning he wanted to disembark. I told him we couldn’t get off until the train stopped, which he no doubt took as the boring advice of his old fogey Dad. He wanted to get off and see the train! The problem of being inside the train is you don’t get a view of the best bit. I told him to hang in there, there was a pumpkin in his future.

The little guy was mollified a bit by a PBJ sandwich, and then re-entranced by the appearance of the Trainman. The Trainman wears a hat that says Trainman, and a uniform, and carries a flashlight and a ticket puncher. In toddler terms, this means he is very, very cool.

Very cool to me, too. All the people at the Historical Society, save for the train maintenance man, are volunteers. They give of their time so that people can enjoy the authentic historic railway experience. All they get in return is to get to be around trains all day. They seem a very happy bunch. (Grounded too – I hope to interview one of them for my Spiritual Focus series.)

After a fantastic voyage, we finally arrived at the stop with the pumpkins. I had told my son all along, whenever he wanted to run around, that if he waited until the end, there would be pumpkins in his future.  And here they were – a small field that had been filled with toddler-sized pumpkins. He practically jumped off the train to go run around, say hi to the train, and trip over pumpkins.

Now, here I have to highlight an important spiritual distinction between adults and toddlers. We adults – who are, generally speaking, very clever but spiritual nincompoops – we would tend to think of a pumpkin as something that you get, as an item thrown in for free with a train ticket. But toddlers, who are daft as a plank and spiritual geniuses, understand innately that a pumpkin is something that you experience. That you get a pumpkin is immaterial. The critical thing is that you run around and pick them up, roll on the floor with them, hold them and throw them around, rejoice in their presence. For such is happiness: you can’t stick it on a shelf somewhere and store it up, you’ve just gotta live with it. As Charles Schultz himself might have said, happiness is a field full of pumpkins.

We did take a pumpkin home, as it happens, and it’s now sitting on our front porch, next to the pumpkin I purchased at Giant. It’s a little reminder of happiness. I’m not sure my son makes the connection anymore between the pumpkin and the train, but he remembers the “chugga-choo-choo” fondly and his eyes his perk every time he hears the train whistle, which you can hear each morning where I live if you listen closely. And the pumpkin, like all cherished objects in this world, is readily available for experiences of joy.

Monday Meditation: What the cartoonist Charles Schultz actually said is, “happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.” Where is your happiness?

Finding this week’s spiritual focus interview wasn’t too hard – I overheard two people having a heated conversation about sin, grace, Hell, and God, and somehow I knew they’d have something to say about the spiritual life. Tim and Dawn were very welcoming in letting me interrupt their conversation and ask them a bunch of personal questions. It was a real pleasure to meet them. Here is an excerpt of our conversation.

 

How would you describe your spirituality?

Tim: I’m currently in the process…

Dawn: I’m the preacher, I guess (laughs). I’m a born again-Christian.

Are you affiliated with any congregation?

Dawn: I go to Epic Church. It’s a non-denominational, evangelical Christian church.

And how did the two of you start talking theology?

Tim: (joking) I have issues…but we’ve known each other since we both worked at Mcdonalds six years ago.

Dawn: (laughs) We all have issues…that’s what I’m trying to explain.

Yeah, I heard this was quite a conversation here – Romans, sin, grace, Hell…so let me ask you Dawn, how does your Christianity affect your personal life?

Dawn: Me? I mean, every day of my life I live for Jesus. It rules everything I do – I mean, not saying I go around preaching like this all the time. It’s just, I see myself walking in constant fellowship with God – like He’s my friend. And I try to pray about every decision I make, and the steps that I take, and He’s with me.

And how did you come to be born again?

Dawn: Well I was born in a house that was a Christian house, I grew up going to church and stuff, and my grandma led me to Christ when I was little. I don’t remember much about that.

After that, I always wanted God, but I didn’t really understand, necessarily…like, I wanted Him, but I didn’t really understand, when I read the Bible, it didn’t make sense to me, or – I don’t know, I felt like God was far away. I looked out the window, I looked at the moon – and I wanted God, but it didn’t seem like He was within reach.

And then when I was fifteen, after a series of events that were really traumatic for me, I was in a state where I was kinda seeking and searching, and I went to Youth Camp, and I went to the altar, and I was just crying out to God, pouring out my heart to Him, and I really came to the point of surrender. And I felt this peace come over me, and I never felt the presence of God before. And that was the first time I ever felt peace, God’s nearness.  That was kind of an answer to my question, because when I would cry out to God, I’d say, “You seem so far away.” And all of a sudden, it was just like He was surrounding me, like He was hugging me, and I was just crying, and I was at peace, and my life was never the same thing from that day forward.

And so now your relationship feels closer, like a friend?

Dawn: Yeah. Me and Jesus are like this (she intertwines two fingers). He talks to me about stuff. I talk to Him.

And what about you, Tim, what was your religious upbringing?

Tim: Let’s see, my father’s side is Catholic, my Mom was a born-again Christian. My father came from a Catholic family, but when he was in Antartica for the Navy, the only piece of reading material the other guy had there was a Christian Bible, so he came back a Christian. And then after that, I used to go to a Christian church all the time. But rather than a catastrophe starting my walk with God – he ended up dying, so that catastrophe kind of ended it. So the past 15 years, I’ve just been doing my own thing. Then she comes along.

So what has her effect been on you?

Tim: Pretty good so far. Getting used to new things, and talking about stuff you normally don’t talk about. It still kinds of shakes me up a little bit, but I’m getting used to it.

To talk about religion?

Tim: Oh, yeah. Religion – and how do I feel, I never told anybody that before.  

So what would you say are the places, for both of you, where you are being challenged, or grown, or called?

Dawn: Well, it’s not that I strayed from the Lord, but I went through a really hard time for a while, I had a pretty dramatic – God let me go through crap, in essence. And I spent some time being very angry at Him. And I didn’t think my faith was going to make it through it. But then He brought me out of that in a very dramatic way, and kind of set my feet upon a rock. I feel stronger than I did even before, and more committed to Christ – to the point where I know I’m 100% not going to turn away from that, I know that I’m going to walk with God all of my days, and that nothing’s going to deter me from that.

I guess my faith is stretched by trying to really believe that what He says in His word is true, and see that not in just some ideological, theological idea, but in actual, practical reality. So if Jesus went around healing people, and that’s what happened in the New Testament church, I want to expect that to happen in my life. You know, I want to pray for the sick and see them to be healed. And if power accompanied people when they were preaching the gospel, when I speak His word I want to expect God to be there. I’m not about a dead religion – I wouldn’t serve a dead God. But to me Christianity is more like a relationship with a real, living God, which is why I serve him, and why I can give Him my whole life.

Tim: This year, everything’s happening for me at once. I just brought my Mom back from Georgia, and she’s been down there for three years. I just got my grandma to the house…We’ve been there for three months, but everything’s starting to slowly piece together, piece by piece. Now that we got this situated, I’m starting to get new friends, new ideas. Dawn’s walking me through this process, so I guess that’s another challenge for me too. Everything’s just coming together so quickly this year, that it makes me just want to forget the last couple of years.

So it’s a good year.

Tim: Yeah. Good year.

Dawn: Yeah, very good year.

Tim: It’s a good nervous year.

One last question: what’s a spiritual place for you in the Lehigh Valley?

Tim: (laughs) Barnes & Noble.

Dawn: Actually, this is kind of a sanctuary for me. I will be honest with you. Barnes & Noble.

Tim: My sanctuary is Saylors Lake, up past Wind Gap. You go down there, no traffic, no Mack Trucks, you can sit and think to yourself, get stuff squared away in your own head. That place is really good. Even in the wintertime.

Dawn: Jacobsburg Park, I like that place. I like to go bike riding.

 

What wonderful, thoughtful people. Best wishes to Dawn and Tim in their spiritual lives. If you pray, keep them in your prayers on their walk with God.

Hope you’re enjoying the “Spiritual Lives of…” series. If you know of someone you’d love to see interviewed here, or have something to say yourself, please comment here or email me at lehighvalleyspirituality@gmail.com.

A postscript to Monday’s Meditation about our connection to the animals: My neighbor, who I’ll call “Coach”, was swatting at a bee on his front porch the other day, while reading his newspaper on a beautiful autumn morning. “Oh, me and the bee are just hanging out,” he told me. “I’m not going to kill it. He’s my buddy – he’s keeping me busy, and I’m keeping him busy!”

“God bless. Hey, enjoy this wonderful day!” he called at me, and he went on doing just that – bee and all.

The Ride-Along Grasshopper

A True Tale of Life, Death, and Communal Salvation

 

I had a sense of foreboding when I walked out of my back door and saw, lying face up in a pool of rainwater gathered in a plastic bucket, a dead grasshopper. It was a big fella, too (or ma’moiselle – I didn’t bother to check).

I didn’t know quite what to do, but it didn’t seem right to leave it there, so I poured the grasshopper out with the water on the back yard. I muttered a quick “blessed be” under my breath. Some other critter would appreciate the corpse, and whatever there was of its eternal soul already rested, no doubt, in the good hands of whoever’s picking up upstairs.

I thought that was the end of the story, but moments later I discovered another grasshopper, a live one, on the driver’s side door of my car. It was this big:

 

But it looked this big:

 

When you consider I had to open my door and get in, that it one heckuva grasshopper. It appeared in front of me like a lead blocker for the Chicago Bears, only hairier and with more legs.

Reader, I ignored him. I opened the door, slammed it shut, and headed out on my way. As soon as I started into gear, I assumed that would be the last I saw of it. Objects in motion would go there separate ways, and I could go about my day.

Only the grasshopper had other ideas. It hung on to the side of that door for dear life. Or maybe it was a joyride for the timorous little beastie, I don’t know. 20, 25, 30, 40 miles per hour, it was unmoved on the side of the door. It loomed large in my driver’s side mirror.

I drove slower after that; hit the brakes carefully and gradually ahead of every red light. I sensed something: I had an inkling that the longer the situation remained the same, the more something within me was changing. Namely, I was slowly but surely identifying with my companion. The grasshopper was becoming significant to me.

Which in turn meant, according to the mutable laws of compassion, that my life and its life were now intertwined. This was more true, in a practical sense, for the little guy – unless I became so transfixed at staring at it in the mirror that I careened into an eighteen-wheeler, my life wasn’t in the feelers of the grasshopper. But even so, it had the power to make me feel bad for playing a role in its demise, were it to fall off my car.

I’m a softhearted fool, I realize.  And a hypocritical one at that: I’m not vegetarian. But it’s one thing to enjoy a meal, knowing that some animal has died for it, and it’s another to know some animal has been squished because I wanted to go 5 miles per hour faster while running an insignificant errand.

In other words, we were in this one together. A blogger and a grasshopper, their fates intertwined in some random, cosmic, and all-too-tangible way.

Once I realized this basic connection, my next act was obvious. I pulled over, on the streets of Hellertown, and turned off the car. The grasshopper was still clinging to the side of the car. Then I opened my door, rather violently. Still the grasshopper remained. Perhaps it had business in Lower Saucon, as I did, but even my compassion has its limits. I flicked it with a finger, caring but firm, and, at last, it took a giant leap off my door.

And landed right behind my rear wheel.

Since I was parked behind another car, were I to drive off now, my only choice would have been to run it over. So our relationship, apparently, wasn’t over yet. I found a bit of paper in my car, and, with a little creative shimmying, ushered the grasshopper to what I hoped was safety. And our time together had reached an end.

But that grasshopper had accompanied me all the way to the depths of Hellertown (sorry, terrible pun). We had lived together, companions of the road trip, during a few minutes punctuated by terror, determination, and cooperation. I don’t know what, if any of this, registered in its grasshopper consciousness: whether it will, one day, tell its grandkids of the days of racing down the street in some darn fool’s automobile.

For me, it’s just a small story.  But it’s a good reminder we’re all in this together on life’s highway. Thank God for places to pull over now and again.

Monday Meditation: How are you connected to the other species of the Lehigh Valley? Who’s riding with you?