OK, So You’re Born Again; Now What?

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

In Western Christianity, especially in Protestantism, there has been an emphasis put on a “born again experience,” that defining and often exhilarating experience when one feels touched by the Spirit or has found Jesus.  In the experience one may feel deeply loved, and temporarily released from fear, guilt or shame.  It is often the topic of many testimonials at church gatherings.  Retelling the experience also rekindles dwindling religious fervor.  Therefore promoting this experience is often the goal for many preachers and evangelists:  do all one can so that the new believers will have this experience and the old believers all feel rejuvenated in their faith.

Perhaps this stress on a peak experience comes from St. Paul and his conversion, providing a religious model that has gotten a lot of miles and is celebrated whenever it happens; and rightly so.  This initial conversion experience is an important component of religious and spiritual development. 

The problem arises when the honeymoon of this Christian experience wanes in the rough and tumble of real life, and the believer then substitutes the increasingly barren, hard path for a variety of panaceas like the secure comfort in joylessly adhering to religious rules, fake enthusiastic religiosity or active participation in the enjoyable social activities of a church.

However, religious and spiritual maturity involves two aspects and the barren, hard path is one of them.  Just as a good marriage has its honeymoon experience and the long years often marked by fidelity and mutual support in times of dryness, sickness and financial difficulties, the truly spiritual religious life also has the same.  Genuine religious faith based on a deep spirituality has learned to thrive in the hard times.  However, how this awareness has been learned and what has been learned is often not talked about in mainstream Christian religions, yet this is the understanding that gives life to genuine religion. 

As John Welwood says in his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, we need the realization experience that starts us on our religious journey, yet we also need to actualize the experience in the very fabric of our being through daily practices and life disciplines like prayer, dreamwork, meditation and a willingness to look at psychological issues which cause us to stumble.  This is what makes the religious life real and alive.  Otherwise, we are just trying to live off of a high by bypassing the nitty-gritty of life.

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Experiencing the Sacred in Dreams

Jacob’s Ladder: A Connection Between Heaven and Earth

One of the special gifts that come with dreams is an experience of the sacred.  We may have a dream of a holy person, a deity, a ray of golden light, or a physician that is healing us.  These sacred dreams often have a numinous quality about them; that is, through the images and feelings in the dream we somehow know this dream is coming from a divine source.  Once a person has a dream like this, they need no convincing that there is a greater power beyond them.  These dreams are humbling, yet they can evoke profound gratitude and sense of joy in the dreamer.

Sacred dreams can come at any time but they often tend to come when the dreamer needs them, such as at the start of a major life change, or in the midst of a difficult transition.  In these cases, there seems to be the purposes of inspiring and encouraging the dreamer make it through a difficult challenge, or to take on the challenge.

The Story of Jacob’s Ladder

When thinking of sacred dreams, the Bible story of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28: 1-19) comes to mind.  Jacob is in serious conflict with his brother whom he just cheated out of his birthright.  He has run off to the desert, no doubt wondering what will happen to him.  Instead of disaster, in a dream he sees a ladder on which angels descend from and ascend to heaven. The Lord appears to him and tells him that he will have many descendants and be given the land on which he rests.

The ladder is the connection between heaven and earth, just as the dream connects the dreamer to divine inspiration.  Our dreams can be a ladder connecting us to our spiritual guides and higher truth.  Have you seen a ladder in your dreams?  Where was it leading to?  It is definitely leading you to somewhere beyond where you are now.  Are you willing to go there?

Jacob was so in awe of his ladder dream he named the place where he had the dream Bethel, the House of God.  If we see our dreams as the place where divinity can come to visit us, we would take them much more seriously.

Praying from the Point of Pain

Learn to pray from the depths of yourself.

Praying from a place of genuine need draws a response from God.

It is said that the universe bends to where a genuine need exists and where a heartfelt request is made. I certainly do believe that prayer coming from real need is heard, and when prayers are not answered, one reason could be that God or the universe (whatever makes you feel more comfortable) just doesn’t perceive it as a real need, only an ego need on the part of the person praying.

What is Genuine Need?

The question arises then as to what constitutes genuine need, and how is it different from needing something just to soothe a bruised ego? It seems to me that genuine need arises out of significant suffering, the kind of suffering many people tend to actually deny, endure or cover up for a variety of reasons. This could be something horrendous like suffering sexual abuse or it could be something relatively less horrific like putting up with a chronic health condition.

Dreams and Pain

Dreams are very good at indicating where the genuine points of pain are located at the deep psychic level.

How Points of Pain are Symbolized in Dreams

These points of pain may be symbolized in the form of injured animals, a sick, dying or dead person, or some jarring situation such as a car accident. When these uncomfortable scenes are seen in dreams we tend to think of them as representing something outside of ourselves. In some cases, that may be true. However, usually, they represent an aspect of ourselves that is wounded, sick, dying, dead or being put in jeopardy.

When I have dreams like these, I immediately make it a point to pray for this aspect of myself that is suffering in such a way—even though I may not recognize it immediately since it may stand for something I may not yet be cognizant of in my waking life. I feel this is praying from the deepest and most genuine part of myself, surely opening a pathway to God and the universe for healing.

Common Symbols for Kundalini in Dreams: Fire and Flame

Fire: A Symbol of Light and Purification

 In a series of blogs on kundalini energy as it appears in dreams, Kundalini can be symbolized by fire in dreams.I have written about snakes and volcanoes as being important symbols.  Fire and flames are also dramatic and powerful symbols for kundalini energy, and when they occur in dreams, it is hard to forget.   The dream is very wise to choose this symbol to convey the workings of kundalini energy because fire is similar to kundalini in that it burns away all that is harmful or not necessary and brings light to guide those touched by its energy.

Working with a Fire Dream

Dreams about things burning can have many meanings on the physical and spiritual level, but first and foremost one should look for a spiritual meaning because all dreams have a spiritual message at some level, and fire dreams are particularly connected to the work of the spirit.  The imagery of something burning calls to mind the biblical story of Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-17).  A burning object always attracts our attention and focuses our mind on a dramatic transformation that is taking place before us:  the transmutation of something physical into something else such as gas and ash, or in the case of the Burning Bush, the presence of a divine being because the expected transmutation wasn’t taking place.  Spirituality is about transformation and being in the presence of the divine.

As in dreams about snakes and volcanoes, one has to ask what is going one in one’s life so that fire and flame appear.  A fire dream may be merely an expression of one’s fears about a house catching fire because of fire hazards in the house.  However, if one is experiencing strong kundalini energy in one’s body, it may be giving the dreamer a chance to observe what this energy is doing and how it can be managed.

Dream: My Car is on Fire

I am with a friend and some other people. They have just come out of a store.  I invite them into my car since I can seat 6 people.  When I start the car, a little alert icon on the dashboard goes on and I yell for everyone to get out.  The car is on fire!  Everyone jumps out and is OK.  I want to use my cellphone to call 911 but my friend says not to.

This dream came about a year and a half before I experienced the onset of kundalini energy in my body.  A car can be a symbol for the body or for how we get around in life.  In any case, it was alerting me to the possibility that my life would be affected by a strong energy like fire.  It would cause me fear and concern but the dream is also telling me that I (and the many parts of myself represented by the others) would be OK.  My friend (who is a wise and knowledgeable person in waking life) tells me it is not important to call 911.  This is odd so it makes me think this dream is not predicting something physical but maybe a spiritual process that is meant to happen.  The burning car is a symbol of a transformative process that is OK.

 

Dreamwork & Meditation: Experiential Practices to Access the True Self

Recording dreams regularly will provide many insights not otherwise available to the waking mind.

Recording Dreams: A Form of Dreamwork

In a Spiritual Book Club I am facilitating, the members selected a very profound and experienced-based book by John Welwood called Toward a Psychology of Awakening.  At the start, Welwood makes the point that his Christian upbringing (and it is my personal opinion, many of our Christian upbringings) did not provide experiential practice for realizing our true natures even though there was wonderful ritual and music.  As a result, Welwood, like me and many in my generation, turned to Asian religions and other sources for insight.  Even today, I personally believe this is the primary reason why serious seekers are not attracted to the mainline Christian religions: there is often too much emphasis on the organization, joining it, being a member, and contributing to it—when what people really want is an experience of the divine!

In studying Buddhism at the graduate level, I was fortunate to have mentors who were well versed not only in meditation but also in working with dreams.  For me, it was primarily through dreamwork that I first developed a spiritual methodology that gave me a deeply meaningful experiential access to the spiritual life and its healing.  Later, through meditation, I experienced the power of intuition and other states of consciousness that inform one of the wide and awesome nature of our true being.  With such experience, the scriptures, rituals and music had all the more meaning!  I could personally relate to the stories of salvation and God’s presence in our lives.  These no longer seemed like myths and fairy tales.  Religion was no longer about following the rules or joining a group but about living a rich experience-based life with fellow seekers.

I think that if Christianity is to thrive, it will have to incorporate experiential practices such as dreamwork and meditation into regular activities such as bible class and Sunday school.

Dreams Help Us See the Bigger Picture

While reading the biblical story of Joseph welcoming his brothers into Egypt years after they had sold him into slavery (Genesis 45:1-15), and noticing his forgiving and gracious reception of those who did him in, it was clear to see that Joseph understood the bigger picture of God’s plan in the awful treatment his brothers gave him.  Joseph held no grudges or desire for revenge.  Instead, he welcomed his brothers, saying “God sent me here to preserve life.”  He was able to offer his brothers refuge in Egypt from the famine that was rampant.

Joseph was a famous dreamer of dreams.  He had vivid prophetic dreams which told him early on he would have power over his older siblings.  This, of course, is what added fuel to the flames of sibling rivalry, resulting in his being sold into slavery.  Later, Joseph’s dreams and ability to interpret dreams won him Pharaoh’s favor in Egypt.  In other words, Joseph knew all along his troubles would lead him to greatness, even though he probably suffered greatly when his dreams seemed far from having anything to do with reality.  However, he kept the faith and believed in his dreams.

Being in touch with one’s dreams over a long period of time gives one clues to the major themes, meanings, challenges, loves and tragedies of one’s life.  Much of this drama is played out ahead of time in dreamtime if one is only “awake” enough to witness it, record it and remember it.  As they say, the story is not nearly so scary when there is an inkling of the ending, and the drama doesn’t dominate one so much.  An aware dreamer like Joseph is able to act with kindness because he or she understands the deeper meanings already suggested in dreamtime.

Joseph’s ability to see the big picture of his life surely made him understand that resentments, grudges and revenge had no place in the greater drama of God’s plan as shown to him in dreams.  It lifted him above the level of cruelty and pettiness of his siblings to a higher consciousness where God gave him the grace to act well on a grand stage.  If we are in touch with our dreams, they will guide us through the story of our lives, helping us to act with dignity and graciousness even in the worst of times.

Help Me Grow A Spiritual Life Program at St. Mary of Mo’ili’ili

Spiritual Life Program at St. Mary's, Honolulu

Grow Spiritual Seeds

If you like the blogs I have posted giving concrete and practical information on how dreams and intuition can be used to improve health and grow spiritually, please help me grow a Spiritual Life Program at St. Mary of Mo’ili’ili in Honolulu, Hawaii.  We are just now launching a fundraising campaign to support classes on spirituality, dreamwork, meditation and mindful exercise as well as to offer a guest speaker program and other activities-all of which serve to honor the body, mind and spirit, holistically.  Under the supervision of St. Mary’s rector, the Rev. Greg Johnson, I will manage the program and teach many of the classes as money becomes available. Perhaps there will be something of interest to you. Certainly your financial help will help us grow seeds planted by the late Rev. Nancy Conley at St. Mary’s.

To go to our GoFundMe page and find out more, please click on the link below:

https://www.gofundme.com/StMary-SpiritualLife

You may also fund the conventional way by making out a check to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, for Spiritual Life Program/Ministries on the memo line.  Checks can be mailed to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 2062 South King St., Honolulu, HI  96826.

Is it a Run of Bad Luck or Is It a Test? The Dreams Will Tell.

Tests of faith produce perseverance.

Image via Pinterest.

When a string of bad things happen to us that we did not bring on ourselves, we might attribute it to bad luck or bad timing. Have you ever thought that it could be a spiritual test which might be like an initiation bringing you to a higher level of spiritual consciousness?

If we are to grow significantly in any endeavor, no matter if it is in a sport or an academic area of expertise, we need to constantly be tested. The same is true in the spiritual life. All the great saints and Jesus himself (Luke 4:1-12) were put to the test at some point in their lives. These tests often marked the reaching of a state of maturity that enabled them to witness to or practice their particular calling.

If you were put to a spiritual test, how would you know it?

Sometimes a random string of negative events is just that. How we react to it can exasperate or strengthen us—a lot depends on our response. Even random events can serve the effort of spiritual growth. However, sometimes we are faced with challenges that are truly meant to define us and bring us to the next spiritual level. In this case, how do we know that it is a real spiritual test and not just a random string of bad luck?

Dreams can literally tell us when we are being tested or when we will undergo a challenging set of events that will serve as a training camp of sorts. I am reminded of a dream I had a couple of years ago where I dreamed that I was summoned to a table of people with a certain calling. However, before I could join this table and be given the “goods” to work at this calling, I would be put to a test. The ensuring couple of years proved to be profoundly challenging with work endeavors that represented my work passion all shutting down. If I did not have this dream that set these very disappointing episodes in the context of a greater scheme, I would have despaired all together and perhaps have given up on work that expressed my passion. In another dream about twenty years ago, I dreamed that I would be put in a training program that would bring me to an “Olympic level” of ability. The subsequent years of learning from my dreams and events in my life that went along with the dream learning certainly had that effect whereby I significantly developed my abilities to work with dreams.

Getting insights into where we are on our spiritual journeys is just another way dreams can be of great help, making on-going dreamwork an important tool for those serious about spiritual growth.

Part II, Intention, Gratitude and Faith: Recipe Ingredients for Transformation

Recipe for Transformation

Image via Pinterest.

In my previous blog, I stated that the road to spiritual transformation is essentially an inward journey that intimately connects us with our body, minds and spirits.  Intention, gratitude and faith are the ingredients that invite miraculous changes on this transformative path, changes that cannot be achieved by just following the rules or doing some other conventional practice.  Why is this so?

The reason is that these traits prepare one for the emptying of self, the total letting go, the kenosis that is ultimately required for transformation.  The emptying of self can be made in countless little decisions or in one major gesture whereby there is a willing and loving pouring out of one’s self, the using of all one’s resources and the expending of all one’s energies to undergo a transformation.  It calls to mind one of St. Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 4:6, “I am being poured out like a libation; and my time of departure has come.” (NOAB, NRSV)  Jesus’ own life was said to be one long emptying of self for the sake of others.

Intention

Intention sets the choice of the individual and indicates in what direction all energies will be utilized and expended, if necessary.  Usually navigating the spiritual path asks a great deal of clear-sightedness, resolve and determination from the seeker.  Setting a firm intention will martial these qualities to serve the journey.

Gratitude

Gratitude has a way of opening and expanding the heart, tuning one to the frequency of higher consciousness energy.  It also has a way of making the person buoyant in the face of adversity.  It raises one up rather than pulling one down.  Gratitude can therefore raise a person above the fray, allowing for peace and well-being.  It is absolutely essential in allowing the person to “let go” with peace of mind.

Faith

Faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1, NOAB, NRSV)  It is a type of visionary knowing that instills confidence.  Without faith, one can do nothing involving risk and change.

Applying Intention, Gratitude and Faith to Our Spiritual Practices

Because intention, gratitude and faith are so important, it is very helpful when they are consciously brought into our spiritual life such as in prayers, dreamwork and meditation.  Intention sets one on the particular path.  It is very useful to intend dreams that ask for a specific piece of information or guidance.  It is good training to ask for things needed in prayer.  Faith is thereby deepened when we get answers to prayers and dream requests.  We find we have a give-and-take relationship with divinity.  Gratitude opens us to positive energies on the path because a grateful heart enriches meditation and life by connecting us to higher energies.  And believing all our requests and intentions will be heard and our gratitude appreciated opens the visionary pathway for the change that is to come.

Vulnerability as Seen In Dreams

Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.

Image via Pinterest

We often don’t “feel” our own vulnerability due to the defensive and denial power of the ego; however, dreams show us when we are vulnerable and this can be a great aid in spiritual development and in generally taking care of ourselves.

The Franciscan friar and spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, states in a very insightful book I heartily recommend, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, that vulnerability “…may be the only start for any true spiritual journey.”  Noticing when we are vulnerable and how our dreams portray this state can significantly help us become aware of how vulnerability affects us individually.  Dreams can often also gives us clues on how to do deal with this state, all of which will contribute much to our spiritual growth and well-being.  Dealing with a vulnerability dream may be the first step to living a deeply spiritual life that is is marked by a profound sense of inner strength and well-being.

Dream Images of Vulnerability

Common images and themes found in dreams that may relate to vulnerability are:

  • Appearing naked or scantily clothed in a public or inhospitable environment.
  • Being lost or wandering in a strange setting
  • Breakdown of one’s vehicle
  • A wounded or diseased body part
  • Losing one’s wallet or purse
What Can Be Done
  1. Instead of forgetting or ignoring these upsetting images, reverence them as profound symbols with messages telling us to take care.
  2. A great way to mine the richness of the dream is to notice and appreciate these images by asking ourselves how they relate to what’s going on in our current life. For example, a loss of a wallet containing an ID card may relate to a sense of losing one’s identity, making us vulnerable to others’ control.
  3. We may even pray about the image, seeking guidance or healing about the issue. If insightful guidance comes, act on it!
  4. Observe if there are helpers in the dream. How are they helping?  Are there persons in one’s waking life that are helping in a corresponding manner?  This may also give clues to nature of the vulnerability.  Are these helpers spiritual in nature, such as a guardian angel?  Also, consider that these helpers may be aspects of oneself such as some talent or skill that could resolve a situation where one feels uncomfortable in waking life.