All posts filed under: Awakening

Heaven and Hell

So what about heaven and hell after death? What role do they play in human flourishing? When my kids were little, my parents would sometimes come up to spend the weekend with us in Concord. On Sunday mornings, we would attend First Parish in Concord, and of course, my parents would come with us. I remember one particularly beautiful Sunday morning standing on the church’s front steps with my father following worship. “How many people attended worship this morning?” Dad asked. “About four hundred or so,” I replied. “And none of them believe in hell or eternal damnation?” “We are universalists,” I said, “so none believe in hell or damnation.” “So why don’t they stay home on Sunday and read the New York Times?” he questioned. “UUs come for spiritual community,” I answered, “neither for fear of hell nor lusting after heaven.” The religious metaphors of heaven and hell are, I think, usually intended as aids to devotion. These concepts are borrowed from mystics who describe heaven and hell as a human psychological state in …

Spiritual Audacity by Jim Sherblom

Discipline Six: Awakening

Seeking direct experience, but mindful of my physical limitations, I found myself on a long flight to India on New Year’s Eve. I was in search of enlightenment, knowledge, gnosis, wisdom, insight, oneness, ecstasy, and awakening—all terms used to point toward that spark of the divine which feels like salvation in one religious tradition or another. Plato offered one of the most cited metaphors of this spiritual state of clarity in his allegory of the cave. He describes a group of people imprisoned in a cave since childhood, chained in such a way that a fire burns brightly behind them and casts shadows on the wall before them. Talking among themselves, they come to understand what is happening out of their range of sight simply by paying attention to the shadows on the wall. This is the only reality they have ever known.  Then one prisoner breaks free, and his reality is changed forever. As this former prisoner’s eyes adjust to the sunlight beyond the cave, allowing him to see all the beauty of the …

A Disturbance in the Force

A Christian scholar pursues enlightenment through studying Chinese Taoism, meditating with Tibetan Buddhists, practicing meditation with Hindu holy men, whirling with Islamic Sufi dervishes, and finally traveling with shaman using psychotropic drugs. Huston Smith was a huge influence on my spiritual path. He died this week at age 97. I have taught “Introductions to Sacred Texts” using his book “The World’s Religions.” His studies with U U theologian Henry Nelson Wieman provided a context for much of his subsequent study of human flourishing through religion making him very relevant for U U’s. His life story became a very important exemplar for my own journey. Reading his spiritual memoir, “Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine” both inspired some of my more esoteric spiritual adventures but was also partly inspiration for my spiritual memoirs, “Spiritual Audacity: Six Disciplines for Human Flourishing” and “Spiritual Pilgrim: My journeys with Christian, Sufi, Taoist and Shamanic Mystics.” His calm wisdom will be missed, but the world is better for his having lived so long. Jim

Ox Herding

The essence of my spiritual journey is captured by the Chinese Cha’an Buddhist spiritual practice called Ox Herding. A young boy hears tales of experiences in altered reality which he comes to name the illusive ox. Having grown up in a culture where his true nature has been distorted and even forgotten he audaciously goes in search of it. Greed for worldly goods and fear of loss rise up like flames around him. Ideas of right and wrong lead him astray. He begins to fear the ox is just a legend. But he perseveres. Up and down mountain paths, across turbulent rivers, through trackless woods, he travels seeking the ox. On his journey he begins to see signs of the ox. Ancient texts and traditions attempt to show him the way. Each path distinctly different and yet each a manifestation of the Self. He begins to see the tracks of the ox, even though he is as yet unable to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, truth from falsity. He travels ever on. Emerging …