|A Call to Spiritual Excellence|
I urge you then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God, that is the kind of worship for you, as sensible people. Do not model your behavior on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and mature.
The seeds that fell on fertile ground are the people who hear and welcome the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.
I invite my fellow Christians to embrace with me spiritual practices that will permit us not to model our behavior on the contemporary world. The practices I recommend to renew our minds are similar to the practices of Jesus,(2) recorded in the gospels. Through God's grace, I met these practices through Yoga, and they have brought me closer to Christ. I suggest consideration of these prayerful practices as an aid to becoming more fertile ground, so that the fruit of Christ's word will increase.
The Christian practices I urge are rigorous and rewarding. When I took Christian instruction as preparation for my recent baptism, the minister suggested that we read the Bible fifteen minutes a day. Then she asked us, "How many do that?" I noticed only a few hands from a group of 20.
By contrast, my spiritual master, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda,(3) sat before one thousand people in a special course or "intensive" and told everyone that they should perform her recommended practices for two hours every morning. When I heard her say that, I was filled with her love, which I felt pouring from her, and my heart assented: "If she asks, who am I to say, 'No.'"
I am grateful to Gurumayi for demanding my best and opening me to Jesus.(4)
The Christian practices I suggest require discipline. However, the burden is greatest for the beginner and lightens considerably with practice. When the burden disappears, what remains the bliss of walking with God and constantly praising Him. The burden of spiritual discipline is the cross we are privileged to bear to perfect our love for Christ in this materialistic age. Our lot is comparatively easy, compared to the dangers and hardships of the early Christians, whom Paul had in mind when he said, in Antioch: "We must all experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22.
A purpose of spiritual practice is to help us to recognize and master our drunkenness. We are all "drunk" on something, many of us on worldly or material things. The purpose of spiritual practice is to help us to be "drunk" on the Lord and on nothing else.(5) In this way, when Jesus calls us, we will respond quickly and appropriately:
If you are on the roof of your house, [you will
not] . . . go inside for anything. If you are out in
the field, [you will not] . . . go back for your
coat. Matthew 24:17-8; Mark 16-7.
We may develop practices that so intoxicate us with Jesus that whenever he calls, we will answer straight away, having him first in our hearts.
The practices I urge you to consider are:
These practices are offered for consideration. Few will embrace all these suggestions at once. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, you will find an appropriate way to choose how to incorporate one or more of these practices into your life. You may find that these practices are contagious. Try some. They will grow on you.
If you fail to live up to your own commitment to these practices,
never beat yourself up for your failure. These practices are not a new
version of the Law. They are not intended to be a source of guilt ----
just a way of growing in God's grace and the love of Christ.
In all your prayer and entreaty keep praying in the spirit on every possible occasion.
The object of repetitive prayer is to fill your heart and your cells with the sound and the thought of the prayer, which connects you to God. In Christianity, there is a parallel practice: constantly and reverently repeating the Jesus prayer, consisting of the name, "Jesus," or the sentence, "Lord Jesus, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me." Similarly, repetition of "Thy will be done," is special because it is a key thought in the Lord's prayer, which Christ gave us as a way to pray.(6)
After extensive practice, either of these distinctively Christian prayers, both of which urge us to turn over our life to the Lord, can take on a life of their own within us, continuing to repeat themselves without conscious intervention. Thus, we can make our words and thoughts pleasing to the Lord, as we are urged to do in the closing verse of Psalm 19.(7)
This practice, which taught me to remember the Lord's presence in every moment of my life, became very special to me while I was walking along a wooded path during a Blue Pearl Course I took at Gurumayi's Ashram. I was repeating the mantra constantly, at the speed of normal speech, with each in-breath and out-breath. As I repeated the mantra, I became specially sensitive to all the sensations of God's woods, through which I walked. I noticed my breathing, the shape and color of the leaves, the pace and rhythm of my walking, the patterns of light and shade, birds or animals, flowers and different forms of vegetation or fungus. I marveled at the beauty of nature and reflected on the beauty of God reflected in it. I suggest that you try the practices I found so rewarding and that, as you repeat your prayer, you also remember Psalm 19:
The heavens keep telling
the wonders of God,
And the skies declare
what he has done.
To remind yourself to continue doing this, you may also use beads: a rosary set, any beads made for jewelry providing they are strung on a sturdy metal base, or beads made for mantra repetition or "jappa" according to Indian custom. Some of these beads are made so that you can rub yogic oil on them, thus adding a sweet scent to your practice. Using beads adds the "feel" of the beads as a reminder to continue your repetition of the prayer.
If you notice that distressing thoughts frequently cross your mind, that is a particularly good time to start repeating your prayer. So many of us think unkind thoughts about ourselves and others. If we heard what we say to ourselves, perhaps from the mouths of others at the next table in a restaurant, we would leave the restaurant rather than suffer their words. It is helpful to use repetitious prayer to practice becoming more polite in your thoughts.
Meditation is an effective process to bring you closer to Jesus. Practiced regularly over time, it slows down the thought process, clarifying the mind and simplifying life. It teaches you to confront your feelings and thoughts courageously rather than (as is the custom) addictively seeking some way out: an activity, thing or substance that helps to ignore our pain.
As the mind slows, the awareness of God deepens. We become more accepting of failure and success, praise and blame, tragedy and triumph. We become less blown-about by the seas of fortune and more constantly immersed in the Holy Spirit. One of the gifts available in meditation is quiet, sure confidence of what is expected of us and the direction in which to turn our life.
I am indebted to meditation for replacing the feeling of emptiness that I carried with me. Now I often experience a warm bliss born of God and Christ. As I sit still in my own home, I often am filled with the beauty and serenity of the moment. It is different from the emptiness and aloneness I had begun to think typical of life.
So, what is meditation? It is the relaxed practice of the awareness of God. The next chapter of this book discusses meditation in detail. In simple terms, you may sit still in a chair, with your back erect, your feet firmly on the floor, your hands comfortably on your knees. If you choose to sit on the floor, sit with your legs crossed comfortably. Become aware of your breathing.(8)
After you are aware of your breathing, begin to repeat "Thy will be Done" (or your special prayer) on the in-breath and on the out-breath, at the normal speed of speech. Use your prayer as a focus for meditation. Continue repeating it until it guides you into a deep meditative place. (You will know it when you experience it.) Then you may let the prayer go, floating in your awareness of the presence of God. Whatever you think or feel, notice it as if it were leave on the surface of water. Then bring your mind back to your prayer.
Practice meditation regularly. Do not judge any particular meditation. It is common, at least at first, to think your meditation is boring or that you are wasting your time. Be patient and invite God's presence. With practice, you will learn how to invite God to be present with you.
When pleasing results come in meditation, do not expect the same experience next time. Meditation, like life, changes. Do not expect the next meditation to be like the last.
To enhance your meditative practice, begin at an early morning hour, even as early as 4 a.m. or 5 a.m.. Wake and shower to clean yourself and to make your body alert. The early morning stillness supports meditation. It also assures that you will be up for the glory of the sunrise.(9) It will put you in a superb, sacred mood for Bible study.
Meditate in the same place each day. Take care for your
surroundings. If you sit on the floor, use a comfortable cushion
covered by a white woolen cloth. Bow to Jesus before and after you
begin. Choose a pleasing incense that will remind you each day of your
meditation. Place pictures or objects that are sacred to you in the
place you will meditate.
Practice Christ's second commandment: love thy neighbor as yourself.(10) This is difficult and requires constant practice. Treat all people as if they were Jesus Christ himself. Carry in your heart the thought: "With great respect and love I welcome you with all my heart."
Whenever you feel that someone has mistreated you and that you have a grievance against them, remember the teaching (Matthew 7: 1-4):
Don't condemn others, and God will not condemn you. God will be as hard on you as you are on others! He will treat you exactly as you treat them. You can see the speck in your friend's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own eye.If you look honestly at your own behavior, particularly if you are aided by the practices of prayer and meditation, you often will see a subtle way to be more loving and to solve a problem you blamed solely on another.
Part of this practice of loving others is not to gossip.(11) If you
must, speak to them directly. If they have seriously wronged you, you
may seek a remedy. But never idly gossip about another person.(12) By
gossiping about them and judging them, you cast judgment on your
The Bible is not just intellectual. It contains the word of God as understood by its authors. Study it with reverence, with an open heart. Meditating can set the stage for Bible study. Begin and end Bible study with prayer, keeping the thought of God constantly before you as you apply his word to your life.
Do not read the Bible for the purpose of instructing others. As
you read, reflect on you life. Take notes. Read as if you have never
read the same verse before, though you may have read it hundreds of
times. Biblical lessons are learned in the heart, not in the mind. What
you have learned before can be learned at a deeper level.
The poor have a special place in Jesus's heart. Serve them with
wisdom and love. Do not serve because you "should" or "ought to."
Make the service itself sacred. Fill it with the prayer, "Thy will be
done." Let the service be done in joy. Let the act of service be an act
of worship. Feel as if you are falling at Jesus's feet and offering your
service to him.
Whatever you eat, then, or drink, and whatever else you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Work willingly for the sake of the Lord and not for the sake of human beings.
With all the other practices continuing on a regular basis, you will be more conscious that Jesus is with you. Thus, every action (even the most mundane) becomes sacred and is dedicated to God, whether it is at home, on the street, in a restaurant or store, or on our job.(14) You can use prayer and meditation to remind you life is sacred. There is no need to gripe about everything: from the weather to the day of the week. Each of our actions can become holy.
Part of this practice is to become the seer and not the seen.(15) Too often we act for others rather than for ourselves or for the Lord. We do what we think they want, even changing the way we walk and our willingness to upset people by confronting them with the truth. This incessant attempt to please others is a sure way to be unhappy. We can never succeed in pleasing others all the time. Trying to please them can betray our real self and make our life a charade or a sham.
Living in others' eyes is the very opposite of living our life in
dedication to the Holy Spirit. When we live in the Holy Spirit, we
act spontaneously. We carry our own cross. We are true to
ourselves. We do what is right even if the consequence is
embarrassment, scorn, loss of salary or job, or even death.(16)
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus.
This is a simple and lovely practice. Imagine the greatest love you
have ever had for a person. Raise that love to the highest power and
allow yourself to feel that greatest love for Jesus. Imagine: what would
it be like to fall at his feet? To touch his sandals? To hear one note of
his voice? To have him touch your cheek? Even to chastise you for
something he did not like?(17)
Sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs among yourselves, singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, always and everywhere giving thanks to God who is our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is an exalted and effective practice to chant the name of God with great love. In Yoga, this practice often includes an increasing tempo and a melody that is intriguing and forceful enough to induce harmonious vibrations in the chest. In Yoga, chants often are done in a responsive fashion. One way of understanding this practice is to understand that the Holy Spirit has been present throughout history and the lives of holy men of all ages can remind us of the unique gifts that God has given to each of us. Many names are used to remind us of God in Yogic chants.
You should worship God in your own way, seeking chants that immerse you in the Spirit by using words with which he is comfortable.(19) What is unique about chanting is the continuous immersion in the name of God over an extended time. This practice can be emulated by the Christian using words and music that work for him. It is important to do so, for chanting makes the streets seem radiantly beautiful with the spirit of God. In the chant, I can imagine myself chanting to the person, Jesus, or to my Guru, who represents the best Christian qualities.
To make this practice more available to Christians, who might be bothered by the particular words that are being used, I urge Christian composers to create uniquely Christian chants. One phrase that has occurred to me, which I suggest for repetitive chanting, is:
Hail, Jesus! Hail, Jesus!
Sweeter than the summer rain.
Many of the praise hymns also can be used for chanting. For example, the hymn, Spirit of the Living God ("Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.") may be arranged for alternate chanting by female and male voices and sung for a half hour to an hour. The invocation of God in the hymn is very poignant and the effect of chanting this hymn for over a half hour would evoke the warmth and love of God descending on the chanting congregation.
The obligation to tithe, or to give one-tenth of one's substance to God, was established in the Law in Leviticus, 27:30-33:
All tithes on land, levied on the produce of the soil or on the fruit of trees, belong to Yahweh; they are consecrated to Yahweh. If anyone wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he will add one-fifth to its value. . . . In all tithes on herds or flocks, the tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff will be consecrated to Yahweh. . . .
The obligation to give to the poor is separate from this annual "tithe." Every third year, the tithe for that year is given to the Levite (the priest), the foreigner, the orphan and the widow.(20) More important, there is an additional obligation: "Do not harden your heart or close your hand against that poor brother of yours, but be open-handed with him and lend him enough for his needs." 15 Deuteronomy 9. Furthermore, "When you give to him, you must give with an open heart; for this Yahweh your God will bless you in all your actions and in all your undertakings."
The law is, however, no longer literally "binding" on Christians. As Paul wrote in Galatians 23-27:
But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the Law, locked up to wait for the faith that would eventually be revealed to us. So the law was serving as a slave to look after us, to lead us to Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a slave looking after us; for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ.
Christians, not being under the strict letter of the law, are urged to give until it feels good (2 Corinthians 9:7):
Each one should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative; not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The body is the temple of the soul.(21) When the body is diseased or "out of shape" it makes it hard to feel the full measure of joy and gratitude for the rest of God's creation. Thus, it is helpful for all our spiritual practices to do what we can to keep our body healthy. This includes good nutrition and avoiding foods that medical science considers harmful, such as those laden with cholesterol or polyunsaturated fats.
We can stretch our body, helping to retain its flexibility. Effective stretching exercises are taught by hatha yoga instructors. We can do strength exercises that keep us able to function effectively in tasks that require strength and can help our skeleton to resist deterioration with aging. We can do aerobic exercises that keep our heart and circulatory system in good shape and give us increasing energy for our daily activities. These exercises also release "endorphins" which limit depression and open us to feeling gratitude for God's abundant blessings.
Eating is an opportunity for prayer. When grace is said, silently
or out loud, we become aware of the blessed nature of the food. Each
bite can be experienced as a gift from God, even when it is a snack.
Any time the bite stops feeling like a gift, we are out of touch with the
sacred nature of food and our eating should stop. The food is no
longer sacred and should not be put into our bodies.
This speaks for itself. To strengthen our practice, we associate
with others who will help us gain confidence. As we work on our
relationship with Christ, we feel his glow emanating from others who
love God. Our work also benefits them and helps to build a vigorous,
righteous community. The fire and light of Christ are thus magnified
in this fellowship. Once we are strengthened from good fellowship, we gain the
strength needed to be missionaries of Christ. Then we can reach out to people who are
poor or suffering and who might have been risky for us to associate with until
we first gained strength from good company.
In two separate passages, Paul urged Christians to follow the example of other practiced Christians:
That is why I urge you to take me as your pattern and why I have sent you Timothy, a dear and faithful son to me in the Lord, who will remind you of my principles of conduct in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
-- 1 Corinthians 4:16.
Keep doing everything you learnt from me and were told by me and have heard or seen me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
It is useful to follow leadership such as Paul's. In this age, however, Paul's living example is not available to us. We have a spiritual leader: Jesus Christ. Regretfully, our knowledge of Him is gained through written words and we cannot model our behavior on the living Christ. We must infer who he was from the Biblical sources.
We can, however, find people who have attained a great deal in the sight of the Lord. When we find such a person, they are a special gift. As they have progressed toward God, they light our way with a clarity hard to find in the written word.
There is a trap. We must pick our leader carefully and emulate only those traits worth emulating. Paul invites us to model our behavior on another person to discover the Holy Spirit within us. It is not their personality we revere but their emulation of Christ and the Spirit. We treasure the spiritual connection through which they model the best in us.
Since we are Christian, we will prefer emulating a Christian. In my opinion, there could be few people more deserving of emulation than Gurumayi, who is not Christian. Although he is not known to have been influenced by Christianity, Oskar Schindler, out of the goodness of his heart, proved himself a righteous man during World War II by protecting almost 1,000 Jews from extinction. Gurumayi Chidvilasananda has founded a charity that has performed sight-restoring surgery and has helped thousands of Indians affected by the Bombay earthquake of 1993. Thus, some of us become aware of non-Christians who also are worth emulating. They may love the Spirit of Christ (and love God and radiate His light) but they may not have accepted Jesus as their personal savior.
I am, as I have already said, appreciative of Gurumayi, who
helped lead me to Christ. She taught me the value of the practices I
recommend that you use. I invite you to meet her; to see if you love
her; and to see if she can be a bridge for you in increasing your love for
After accepting Jesus Christ as savior, every Christian becomes a seeker of the mysteries surrounding the life of Christ. Who was he? What practices did he use to become close to the father? How can I possibly learn to follow his teachings, including his commands to love God with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself?
When a Christian takes communion, a portion of the body and blood of Christ is absorbed. In this way, the communicant becomes more Christlike. This chapter urges Christians to take the life and teachings of Christ seriously and to become committed to helpful spiritual practices. There is no higher goal. The outcome of such intense dedication would be to revitalize people their community. As Jesus said, John 14:12:
I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father.
1. See also Mt. 13:23, Luke 8:15.
2. I highly recommend the novels of Father Joseph Girzone, especially Joshua and Joshua and the Children, both helpful studies of how Jesus would behave in modern society, either in Pennsylvania or in Belfast, Ireland.
3. My spiritual master or "guru" is Gurumayi Chidvilasananda.
4. See Acts 10:44-48 for an example of the Holy Spirit descending on people before they were baptized.
I am grateful for my conversion to Christianity to my wife, Mary Anna, who was born Christian but never tried to convert me and therefore gave me the room to choose. I am also grateful to Dr. Bryant M. Kirkland, whose gentle voice and loving manner speak loudly for Christ; and to Dr. Peggy Cantwell and Rev. Clarence C. Payne, who helped teach me about Christianity.
5. Jesus's most important commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind." Matthew 22:37-8. See Luke 14:26: "You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your bothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life." See also Matthew 5: 6: "God blesses those people who want to obey him more than to eat or drink."
6. My repetitive prayer or mantra was given to me by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. It is, "Om namah shiviah." It means, remember the Holy Spirit within me and within all creation. It reminds me of the imminence of God. Because I associate it with my spiritual leader, I remember her love as I repeat it. It has a vibration which fills my heart. In addition, having accepted Christ, partly under the influence of this mantra, it reminds me of the constant love of Christ.
7. See also Revelation 4:9-11, where the 24 elders constantly praise God and kneel down before his throne in great humility.
8. Be sure you nasal passages are clear, to assure comfort. If you wish, practice the "fire breath" by rapidly compressing and relaxing the abdomen from 30 to 100 times at the beginning of meditation. This will help to relax your body and settle your breathing down.
9. See Psalm 19, verse 4.
10. Mark 12:29.
11. "Rid yourselves, then, of all spite, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and carping criticism." 1 Peter 2:1.
12. Matthew 18:15.
13. Why do we gossip? It is my reflection that I have gossiped because I felt better by putting others down. A hobby was to tear down politicians, public figures and companies. Tearing them down, I think, made me feel "better than" them. Now that I love more people, my hobby is to build them up and to glory that we are all children of God.
14. "Do not allow yourselves to be shaped by the passions of your old ignorance, but as obedient children, be yourselves holy in all your activity, after the model of the Holy one who calls us, since, scripture says, 'Be holy, for I am holy.,'" 1 Peter 13-16. "When you give, you should give generously from the heart. . . . In brotherly love let your feelings of deep affection for one another come to expression and regard others as more important than yourself." Romans 12: 8-11.
15. Remember the advice of Jesus to disciples who might be arrested, Matthew 10:19: "[D]on't worry about what you will say or about how you will say it. At that time you will be given the words to say. But you will not really be the one speaking. The Spirit from your Father will tell you what to say." Remember also 1 Corinthians 2:15: "The spiritual person, on the other hand, can assess the value of everything, and his own value cannot be assessed by anybody else."
16. Swami Muktananda, From the Finite to the Infinite, 1989, South
Fallsburg, New York, at 194-5, tells of a disciple who was told by his
guru, Baba Musa, to work in the garden as his complete service to
God. After three years of this work, the disciple began to think as he
This isn't just working in a garden; this is different. This must be some kind of yoga that I'm doing. His understanding began to change in this way. He began to see that everything was pervaded by Consciousness; that nothing was different from Consciousness. Then he realized, This isn't just work -- this is guruseva! . . . [Guruseva is service to the Guru and, properly understood, to God, the Father.]
As his understanding developed more and more, he began to attain higher and higher knowledge. He began to have many experiences. He forgot his sense of time; he wouldn't remember that it was evening and he should leave. He wouldn't even think of resting or of his own comfort. He lost his ego in his seva. He even forgot whether his ego existed or not.
17. A friend tells me that he enjoys the practice of bathing the wounds of Christ on the cross. In this symbolic practice, he enjoys giving back to Christ a small measure of what Christ has given.
18. See also Isaiah 26:8, "The desire of our soul is to Thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee."; Revelation 4:9-11.
19. I am very comfortable with this chanting practice, having decided that the only recipient of this devotion is Christ, which is the name by which I address God. It is a practice of love and helps to fill my soul with love and to quiet the mind, making me more aware of the presence of God in my life.
20. 14 Deuteronomy 28-29.
21. 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17.
22. See also Philippians 3: 17-18.