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Early Spiritual Experience
.“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
—Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), President of the United States
In Wikipedia, July 5, 2017, “The Anglican Diocese of Guyana is one of eight within the Providence of the West Indies. Its cathedral is St. George’s Cathedral, Georgetown. The diocese came into being on August 24, 1842, when William Austin was consecrated the first bishop.”
It was at St. George’s Cathedral I was confirmed by Bishop Alan Knight (1937–1979), who later became Archbishop of the West Indies (1950–1979). As a teenager what intrigued me most was the time I had to spend studying the Gospels. Communicants had to present their notes on the Anglican teachings to the priest.
On the day of our confirmation Archbishop Knight arrived for this ceremony at the church, and gathered were members of families, guests, and other parishioners. It was at this service I was initiated by the laying of hands, prayers, hymns, and received Holy Communion as a full-fledged member of St. George’s Cathedral.
I continued attending Sunday school classes, and became a choir boy. These commitments lasted through high school. But by the time I was at Guyana Teacher’s College (GTC) attendance at church stopped. But I still was praying for God’s guidance.
But in 1968 once I immigrated to the United States to pursue studies in the mass media, church-going became something of the past. For two years I was engrossed in studies at the University of Oregon, Eugene. During that time I began dating my wife Mary, and I got to know her uncle Fr. Joe Beno, a Catholic priest. Fr. Joe was a rather faith-filled priest, and we quickly became friends. He graduated from Scappoose High School, worked two years at Bonneville Power Administration, before serving in the U.S. Army in the European Theatre during World War ll.
When Fr. Joe was discharged from military service he enrolled at the University of Portland, OR. Feeling called to serve he entered Mt. Angel Seminary, and in 1957 completed his studies at St. Edward’s Seminary. On May 18, 1957, Fr. Joe was ordained by Archbishop Edward Howard at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The next day he said his first Mass at St. Wenceslaus Church in Scappoose, OR. He later served the Archdiocese of Portland as a pastor in parishes throughout the Archdiocese, at St. Joseph’s Salem, St. Mary’s Eugene, St. Michael’s Oakridge, St. Henry’s Dexter, Sacred Heart Medford, and St. Monica’s Coos Bay, until retiring in 1993.
Fr. Joe had a passion for traveling, was proud of his Czech heritage, and led international pilgrimages to Europe. He loved a party and always had a positive outlook. One of his favorite sayings at the Blessing House in Tigard, OR, where he lived in retirement was, “Everything is beautiful.” On May 6, 2017, Fr. Joe died peacefully, and was a loss to all his former parishioners, family, and friends.
Fr. Joe married Mary and me in Eugene, OR. He was a great influence on our lives. Over the years we had many discussions at family gatherings in Oregon.
Church of the Holy Apostles, Virginia Beach
On November 1, 1977, on the Feast of All Saints, Fathers Raymond A. Barton (Catholic) and Donald W. Gross (Episcopalian) were installed by their bishops in ceremonies at the chapel of the James Barry Robinson Home for boys on Kempsville Road in Norfolk, VA. In the late 1970’s the congregation comprised of 30 households. On February 2, 1981, Holy Apostles received national publicity by a story in Time magazine that caught our family’s eye. This resulted in Mary and me joining this new ecumenical community.
In April of 1982, the church received its first catechumens during Holy Saturday Easter Vigil. By its fifth year of formation nearly 300 families were full-fledged members. And in October 1982 the church marked its fifth anniversary with a joyful ceremony by Bishops C. Charles Vaché (Episcopal) and Walter F. Sullivan (Catholic) con-celebrating at the Mass.
On February 1983, the Episcopal component of Holy Apostles was admitted by vote into full communion as a parish to the Diocesan Council of Southern Virginia, a change from its mission status. These two denominations continued to respect each other’s traditions, and provided a hopeful tone for ecumenism.
More developments followed in the life of the Holy Apostles’ congregation with changes of the co-pastors, the church’s relocation from St. Stephens in Norfolk to its present home at Lynnhaven Parkway, leading to separate services of the denominations under the late Catholic Bishop Francis DiLorenzo. Holy Apostles’ Interim Episcopal Co-Pastors were Fr. Alan C. Mead (Episcopalian), with Fr. René Castillo (Roman Catholic Chaplain), and Deacon Gary Harmeyer (Sr. Pastoral Associate). Holy Apostles’ congregation averaged about 100 households and has adapted to these changes. In November 2017, the Church commemorated its 40th anniversary, and received a citation from Pope Francis of the Vatican.
A priest who made an impact on my life was Fr. Michael Ferguson, an Episcopal priest. So in 2016 when I was admitted to Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach suffering from a Unitary Tract Infection (UTI), he visited, prayed, and anointed me. His blessings brought relief, provided comfort in agony, and I healed.
On June 11, 2016, Fr. Mike died unexpectedly. His memorial service was held at Galilee Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach, with an inurnment with military honors at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church.
There have been transitions in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. On December 5, 2017, with the death of Bishop DiLorenzo, Barry C. Knestout was appointed bishop by Pope Francis, and was installed on January 12, 2018 in the Catholic Church. On September 27, 2008,
Herman Hollerith lV, Episcopal Bishop of Southern Virginia was consecrated on February 10, 2009, and retired in December 2018. An interim Assisting Bishop Rt. Rev. James Magness served until 2019. On this same year at Holy Apostles’ Co-Pastors Fr. Mario Melendez (Episcopal) and Fr. Francis Boateng (Catholic) came aboard. A new Episcopal Bishop Susan B. Haynes will be consecrated Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia on February 1, 2020 at Williamsburg Community Chapel, Williamsburg with Chief Consecrator the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop.
Influences on Spirituality
Undoubtedly reading the sacred scriptures of the major world’s religions have provided great insights of these faith traditions. But as far as interfaith and secular humanist’s personalities go a great deal must be credited to their passion, love, and dedication of their beliefs. Many of these writers are authors, but not necessarily spiritual icons. But these individuals were the special ones whose ideas and teachings have resonated with this writer.
The Case for God by Karen Armstrong presents a most unsettling picture of mankind’s quest to define God. Every era from antiquity, Greek, Roman, medieval, Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, modern, and the post-modern age based its understanding on the knowledge and culture of that period. The beliefs of Rousseau’s concept of a universal machine, Newton’s God and the universe, Darwin’s evolution, Einstein’s relativity, post-modern atheists of the “God is dead” movement, and the rise of fundamentalism gained some traction. But the search of God continued to be illusive with detractors. It was however determined that the rise of scientific evidence was based on measurement, while religious beliefs centered on virtues.
In the epilogue Armstrong did an excellent analysis of what she saw as the foundation of religious beliefs. Nevertheless the contents of this book would be rather disturbing to believers who think they understand their God.
Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood will have a reader ask the question, “Is violence endemic to human nature?” From mankind’s early beginnings there was a great struggle for survival. When our ancestors were hunter-gathers they had to hunt and kill their prey. These humans lived through violent periods in the Paleolithic and Neolithic age. Later Mediterranean peoples continued to experience struggles during the Constantine’s empire, Crusaders, Spanish Inquisition, Wars of Religion, Thirty Years’ War, and Reformation.
In the 17th and 18th century religion was rejected in the West. During the Age of Enlightenment John Locke propounded the belief of the separation of Church and State, but this period saw the rise of scientific and cultural racism. In Europe and America the suppression of the indigenous populations and African slave trade for economic profit flourished. And Germans, who were world-leading secular thinkers, gave rise to death camps under Hitler that exterminated millions of Jews.
Secularism was marked by Western imperialism, and an imbalance of power. But what became of Asoka’s concept of peace, India’s ahimsa – non-violence, China’s Golden Rule, and Jesus Christ’s teachings to love your neighbor as yourself? In India there were renouncers, European monks took to monasteries, and there were Confucian and Taoist’s ideals, but still violence was prominent.
In the 20th century violence continued to rage in the Middle East. Historical observers point to many reasons, but one of Islam’s tenets is that of peace. Still there was 9/11, the Israeli-Arab conflicts, jihads, and the horrendous effects of the Jews Six-Day-War. Yet people were witnessing the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, the rise kookism of the Israeli secular right, and fundamentalism in America. It appears that with the rise of more nations with nuclear weapons humankind’s future has become more problematic.
People are the product of their culture. Profoundly their beliefs are shaped by the way they were raised. And many are bound together by strong family ties. They are taught from a young age how to view the world, behave, and what’s right and wrong. Since they are from different cultures their experiences may differ, still there will exist some commonalities in their belief systems. To very many people religion is an early teacher concerning how they are raised and valued. Most believers belong to one of the major faith traditions – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and some are secular humanists. Yet the influence of Judaism that’s comparatively small with its number of adherents has greatly influenced the monotheistic faiths of Christianity and Islam.
This writer was brought up as an Anglican in Guyana, South America. He immigrated to the United States of America to pursue a higher education in mass communications and journalism, married an American wife Mary Barta, and they had a son Matthew. As a family they became members of an ecumenical community of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Virginia Beach, VA, where they were involved for over 30 years in various ministries. But over that time the author challenged himself in learning about other different faith traditions.
These pursuits crystalized over 10 years ago after retirement as a professor from Norfolk State University, VA, that led him to study the world religions, sacred texts, and listen to talks about these faith traditions on YouTube channel.
During this process he read the Jack Miles’ Norton Anthology of World Religions, interfaith writer Karen Armstrong, works by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Jonathon Sachs, and Joseph Atwill’s Caesar’s Messiah, Arvind Sharma’s A Guide to Hindu Spirituality, Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens's god is not Great, and neuro-scientist Sam Harris among others.
Inevitably the writer endeavored to understand the myths, scope, dogma, and rituals of the major world religions in an attempt to be religious literate. This process has led him to grow spiritually and develop a unique spirituality that resonated with him. What he came to realize was that spirituality was dynamic and evolving. Over the years the author has fine-tuned many of his beliefs. .
Interfaith writers have noted that God in the monotheistic religions was patriarchal and women weren’t considered playing leading roles in religious life. God was the Father in the Old Testament; Jesus Christ was his Son in the New Testament. Most of the prophets were male, and it was always them who made decisions concerning women. In the ancient societies of Asia, Rome, Greece, and the Middle East males dominated. For it was the men who were wealthy, held power, and made decisions.
These cultures considered women as inferior. The laws mainly made for men didn’t recognize the rights of women. This was prevalent in the gospels of the New Testament. That’s the reason why all of Christ’s disciples were male. Only Mary – Jesus’s mother was given any importance in the Catholic Church’s teachings. Even the angels were all male. These were divine and celestial beings in the Bible that had the power to carry out God’s plans.
The World’s Religions were no different. In Islam the Prophet Muhammad had many wives. These were his concubines, and for the most part they were young women. The Koran has accounts of women fighting for their equality before Muhammad was able to recognize their rights. Laws were against women and if a woman was unfaithful to her husband the judgment was that she would be stoned to death.
Other aspects of the scared scriptures of the world’s faiths showed that there was rampant class discrimination. Hinduism was known for its caste system. The untouchables were the pariahs in India. This class was condemned to live lives as outcasts. With the coming of India’s independence legislation was instituted to change this law. But this stigma still persists. Buddhism’s outlook was different. Buddha was instrumental in doing away with these class distinctions in his teachings. But still this problem continues to exist in the Eastern tradition culture.
Culturally the sacred texts emphasized values that are skewed in favor of Europeans. In most cultures in the East and West - Asian, and African, Europeans are favored with their lighter complexion. So in the Bible although Jesus was Middle Eastern, countries that have been colonized by Europeans always present God, the Father, and Jesus, his Son, with white complexions. It was only in contemporary times when the religious holiday of Christmas is celebrated that some cultures began seeing Santa Claus not only as white, but of different ethnic groups.
Undoubtedly, there have been some changes in religious life. Many protestant churches presently have both male and female priests and deacons, but the Catholic Church still insists that their priests should be male. The Episcopal Church and other denominations have gay priests and bishops. But still there is controversy about LGBTQIA’s in the life of congregations. Abortion is hotly debated, so are issues about the environment in the major faith traditions of the world. Change is however inevitable as the religions of the world are evolving to deal with these issues. It’s partly because of these concerns that this writer has decided to fashion his spiritual beliefs.
Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
—Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, as quoted in Words Of Wisdom: Selected Quotes by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (2001) edited by Margaret Gee, p. 71.
The Dalai Lama’s Ethics for the New Millennium is rather compelling to read. This book’s central theme is based on the virtues of compassion, love, patience, forgiveness, and humility among others. He traces his life’s journey from Tibet to his home-in-exile India, travels, lectures, and observations about life. The Dalai Lama keeps reminding readers that although he is the spiritual leader of Tibet he is still a human being like all of us.
He discusses what it means to be like children, adolescents, adults, professionals, and senior citizens. Often the Dalai Lama encourages us to live up to our responsibility of being decent human beings. It is for us to have disciplined lives, to love our neighbors, help the poor and underprivileged, and strive for the betterment of humanity. That’s why it's best to practice restraint by working on doing no harm to others.
There are many things people could do to propagate peace in their lives. They ought to live in harmony with their families, neighbors, community, nation, and the world. According to the Dalai Lama people don’t have to be religious to do such things. A great deal of what we do should come from our heart. This is so because he believes that our basic goal in life is to be happy. This same happiness people should want for all others, including their family, neighbors, and even their enemies.
Concerning world peace the Dalai Lama wasn’t happy about those who work in building arms of mass destruction. He thinks that this is a waste of resources that could be spent more wisely. Yet he was hopeful that the major powers of the world cut back on their arsenals and find peace. This he realizes isn’t exactly easy because many professionals make their living through the military industrial complex. But he was hopeful that some international organizations like UNESCO could be more effective. Although the Dalai Lama realizes that members of the public don’t have a voice in this organization.
The Dalai Lama is for supporting efforts for the existence of a clean environment. He reminisced about what it was like growing up in Tibet amidst an abundance of wildlife - animals, birds, and other species. He deplores the deforestation of lands, pollution, and the hazards caused by the use of chemicals. He therefore hopes that all these problems would be solved by people playing their rightful part in society. And Dalai Lama believes that everyone – people of all classes, rich and poor, professionals, politicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs should live compassionately by upholding the virtues in building sustainable communities, nations, and the world.
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong is also most pertinent for the 21st century too. Armstrong uses the Golden Rule as the foundation of her discourse on what it means to live compassionately. She envisions twelve steps, but thought that such an approach to one’s life could take a life time. In the introductory remarks to the text readers are introduced to the major faith traditions and their concepts based on compassion.
Later Armstrong weaves these steps carefully by explaining what people ought to do to benefit from them. At each step readers are presented with a discussion about how to use each teaching. These compassionate goals are carefully calibrated, and based on the major religions. Although every goal could stand alone, Armstrong though was able to integrate each affirmation with an explanation.
This book as a true gift was able to relate each topic to the contemporary issues of the day. Armstrong recognized all of us have problems with which we are struggling. She explained further how important it was for us to transcend the thinking about ourselves and tribe. She wrote that people should reach out to the good and bad aspects of life alike. We should treat others the way we would like to be treated. This dictum should also include our enemies that are suffering just like us.
Armstrong’s work was formulated like that of the Twelve Steps Program for Alcohol Anonymous. Her vision of compassion grew out of her TED talk in 2008 on compassion for which she won a $100,000 prize. This achievement led her to focus her thinking as a religious historian and interfaith advocate in the promulgation of the Golden Rule and compassionate living in the world.
Creating a sustainable way of life.
Happiness happens when people volunteer. Volunteerism is born of truth and love. People are on a spiritual journey in their quest for emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual happiness. And this venture calls for the setting of priorities. They have to make choices, look at the world from different perspectives, and decide which places are best for them to be in. This process starts with all individuals, for the seekers of this joy pursue every opportunity with love, grace, and gratitude. Eventually finding peace let them enjoy the music of the world, and embrace the harmony in nature. These are the secrets to spiritual happiness.
Happiness is possible only in a relationship with a partner. Imagine that some fellow who has lived his life as a singer goes to an uninhabited island and sings as loudly as possible. If there is no one there to hear him, he will not be happy. To realize that we exist for the sake of others is the great achievement that changes our lives. When we realize that our life is not ours alone but is meant to be for the sake of the other, we begin to follow a path different from the one we were on. Just as singing to yourself will not make you happy, there is no joy without a partner. Even the smallest and most trivial thing can bring you happiness when you do it for another.
—Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012), Korean religious leader
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.
—Thomas Jefferson, United States Declaration of Independence (July 1776).
Joy in Living
The joy of living is contagious. Each day it comes like the light which shines brighter and brighter. In short, it’s our daily bread dished out for us to taste its sweetness. This heavenly delicacy which is sweeter than honey accompanies us on our faith journey. Faith is a free and everlasting gift with no limits. It’s special and supernatural. Supremely, it’s like heaven on earth while people traverse its fields picking beautiful flowers. This journey is by the loving care of our Creator who dwells on high. In our divinely orchestrated world people move independently with a special passion walking by faith, and not by sight. Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890), a major Dutch Post-Impressionist painter said, “I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.” Van Gogh was talking about divine guidance in his faith walk. So why shouldn’t we do the same?
A Joyful Witness
Let your shout for joy penetrate the night air. Be happy when you witness to others by showing an attitude of thanksgiving to the divinity that is loving and just. God, Allah, Brahma, or Dao is our bread that feeds us with an abundance of blessings. For our benefit this Ultimate Reality has bestowed us with the gift of knowledge. As a testament to such a gift innovators have invented devices that make our lives more enjoyable. Daily, the Eternal Essence’s sustenance continues to uplift our souls. We’re able to journey through life with confidence, patience, and perseverance. In doing so, we relentlessly storm heaven with prayers for the good things of life. These prayers bring relief to souls longing to discover life’s blessings.
The Journey of Faith
A professor of Internet Law at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Johnathan Zittrain (b. 1969) wrote, “If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you.” In modern society which depends on the flow of data Zittrain’s statement is true. On the Internet there’s concern about security, but people have to trust others, and have faith they will do what’s in our best interest. Being able to trust is important for the proper functioning of our society. This task is never easy, but also depends on a Creator whom people depend for sustenance.
Believers grow in faith through their Church, Temple, or Synagogue. By such a gift they have hope and look forward to the day when they will be in paradise. These teachings are rich and prophetic. Love is in the world. These believers’ security is often alluded to and their souls are at peace. They are shining lights to other men and women.
A Chinese philosopher, poet, and founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu (604 B.C.–531 B.C.) wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” This expression is wise because accomplishments might not necessary come in the form of mountains, or leaps, and bounds, but like a little mustard seed that grows abundantly. In John 5:35 it’s written, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.” All it takes is a flicker to illuminate a dark pathway. This is the kind of faith that brings light in people’s lives. Truly light enlightens our darkest deeds. This could be demonstrated by the way people care for creation that’s a special gift to us.