Midweek Faith Lift
March 4, 2020
Practice Makes Presence
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Good Morning! It is great to be back home at Unity of Ames! A BIG shout out to Su Podraza-Nagle for being “Minister-in-Residence” during my time away. Great job Su, and a deep bow of gratitude for your extended service to Unity of Ames. I did track your messages and I have to say that the Diva costume and feathers were exceptional! We had seminary guidelines about what was called “platform attire” and let’s just say you were coloring outside the lines that day, dear one! A big thank you to Jim Trenberth for his message about friendship. And another big thank you to Susan Wolfe for the successful “Consign by Design” event and to JoAnn for the Drumming Circle and to Clark for his annual musical and to Jennifer for her “How to Speak Unity” class. And a big Thank You to Rev. Heather for coordinating the Memorial service for Joy Munn. Now Rev. Heather is a Unity minister but the fact all these events continued tells me that this Unity community is not minister-centric but Spirit and mission centric. It all happened without me! THAT warms my heart immensely!
For the past month you have been focused on the Five Basic Unity Principles, which are the foundation of our spiritual practices in Unity. Did you know that Charles and Myrtle never spoke of the Unity basics as the Five Unity Principles? They steadfastly avoided anything that could be described as Unity dogma and frankly that was a really wise move. Charles and Myrtle each recognized that the individual spiritual journey is just that….individual. Myrtle offered guidance and support in the individual letters she answered in Silent Unity. They recognized that the most powerful part of Unity is that it was not a religion with dogma and ritual but a practice. Unity is a systematic Practice of the Presence of God.
It wasn’t until some time in the 1990’s that Connie Fillmore Bazzy, the last Fillmore family member to lead Unity School of Christianity actually and reluctantly organized the beliefs of Unity into the 5 Unity Principles. When you consider religion and what makes up a religion, there are two basic parts: Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy. The orthodoxy is about the creed and what the religion teaches as truth. If you were part of another denomination before finding Unity, then you learned either the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed as part of learning the orthodoxy of your faith. And you had to memorize this and recite it in order to be officially a member of the church.
Orthopraxy addresses the practices of the religion; how do you practice it? This includes the rituals, the prayers and practices such as the rosary for Catholics and communion for most Protestants and Catholics. When you have practices, there naturally follows a lot of rules about those practices, including definitions of what is a sin and how serious each sin is. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy are meant to be entwined together, each supporting the other. My experience was that was not often the case. Church was on Sunday and life was the rest of the week. My dad used to marvel that people could listen to a message of love while in church on Sunday that did not last to the parking lot!
What I found when I found Unity is a “religion” whose focus was on the Orthopraxy—on my personal practices as a human/divine being. It seemed to offer what Jesus was initially teaching, before the whole thing went off the rails with dogma, wealth and power. We are very complex creatures as human beings, and there is a need for us to address body, mind and spirit. Western philosophy and civilization had an almost exclusive focus on the mind, ignoring the wisdom of the body and the spirit. And then here comes Myrtle with a practice of spiritual wisdom in her prayer affirmations that has a direct and powerful impact on her body. She experiences healing, which cannot be “explained” in typical western medical terms.
Now, if we take a step back and look at the development of Unity practices, it actually parallels what discovered in the discipline of psychology. Western thinking discovered the power of the mind, of the unconscious, of the power of archetypes in our collective consciousness. And to be honest, once Unity was “codified” into the 5 Principles, we kind of lost track of some of the true spiritual nature of the orthopraxy. Once you have a “teaching” then you start observing and judging how others are following the orthodoxy. That leads us into metaphysical malpractice whereby we judge how well someone else is or is not “manifesting” their good. Unity is NOT about that, not in the least. The practice of Unity is not therapy, nor is it a means whereby one becomes “so spiritual” that there is no need to work through therapy to an integration of one’s thoughts and feelings and behavior.
Our thoughts are very powerful, and we can hear Unity folks say “Just change your thoughts and change your mind” like it is changing your clothes: that is not the true Orthopraxy of Unity. The reality is true change of anything in our consciousness, in our mind, body, Spirit, requires the activity of God, of Spirit. While we may have codified the principles of Unity like a recipe, spiritual wisdom and truth comes in with experience, what we learn, what our heart knows and how we make it real in our lives. Charles and Myrtle were spiritual guides who demonstrated the power of that which is greater than ourselves, the power of God to impact our mind, body and Spirit. Prayer is not to petition God to do something for us, prayer is to awaken us to a greater reality and to knowing ourselves as part of that greater reality.
It is unfortunate that we in Unity have glommed onto things, which are spiritual tools but not an end in themselves. Charles warned against using paranormal “spiritual” tools as substitute for true spiritual practices. He was right on! While those can be tools, they are not useful tools when they are used as a spiritual by-pass. I have heard Unity folks jokingly say that if they found themselves in hell, they would use the affirmation and denial recipe to say “It’s not hot and I’m not here!” While we laugh, we can easily miss those times when we misuse or misdirect spiritual principles. The movie The Secret was all the rage in Unity a number of years ago. I disliked that movie and felt strongly that it sold the deeply meaningful Unity teachings short.
The truth is that as human/divine beings, we are very complex and our spiritual growth is about living wisdom. When we see the practice of Unity as using the Law of Mind action and the practice of prayer to merely attain what we desire, then we are oversimplifying what is a complex and nuanced spiritual practice. Our heart’s desire ultimately is that deep connection with God, so real and so direct that it informs all that we do. We cultivate awareness and connection to activate our true divine nature so that our human nature and expression is directed by Spirit and thereby we are practicing Unity principles. The first four are all about the nature of God and the God energy in us: how to activate that energy and make it real. When we practice that faithfully, then we are ready for the last Unity principle, and that is to be a loving Presence of God in our everyday lives.
I would offer a newer iteration of Body-Mind-Spirit. My experience is that we have what theologian Cynthia Bourgeault calls “Three Intelligences: Body, Mind, Heart.” Here is what she teaches from Richard Rohr’s Tuesday , Feb. 18, 2020 meditation:
Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. The intellectual faculty is one way of knowing, to be sure, but it is joined by two additional faculties: the intelligence of the “moving center” and the intelligence of the “emotional center.” These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing.
I’m going to start with the moving center because it’s the one least known in the West, least valued, and least worked with. The moving center basically is about intelligence through movement. It’s the way that our body is able to put its tentacles out and explore and gain information from the world. It’s that whole realm of things that we don’t do directly with our intellectual rational brain but that deeply engage us. We drive a car, ski down a hill, sail a boat. It gets in our bodies. That kind of intelligence, which we mostly underuse, is a huge reservoir of connectivity and information with the world.
The intellectual center is a profoundly useful tool for exploring and navigating the world, and it allows us to do things that separate us from the rest of the animals. But the program it runs is perception through separation. It’s a grand separating, evaluating, and measuring tool. But it can’t “do” because of the limitations built into its operating system. It can’t ask two questions: “Who am I, and who is God?” because these questions can’t be measured by an operating system that depends on separation. I have sometimes said that doing the journey toward mystical union with the mind is like trying to play the violin with a chainsaw. It’s not that the chainsaw is bad, but its nature is to cut and separate, not make music.
Finally, the heart and the emotional center are not identical. The emotional center is the capacity to explore and receive information from the world through empathetic entrainment by what we might call vibrational resonance. Of all the centers, the emotional center moves the fastest. It’s the part of us that gets the impression instantly. We don’t have to parse it out. It is our antenna, so to speak, given to us to orient us toward the divine radiance. The heart is not for personal expression but for divine perception.
How does this all appear in “real time?” Well, we were in Flordia, in the same condo where I got the call that my dad was nearing the end of his life just a year ago. And all the emotions of that year, the challenges of that experience came flooding back for both Todd and me. Frequently, when we encounter hard feelings and painful memories, our human impulse is fight or flight. We seek to escape and if we can’t do that, we pick a fight with those closest to us. But Practicing the Presence of Love meant that we allowed ourselves to feel what we actually felt, holding space for each other in the midst of it and then just allow it to pass, kind of like a thunderstorm. I am not sure we could have done that 15-20 years ago. Spiritual and emotional maturity and true practice of Unity principles are gifts that keep on giving!
Blessings on the Path,