**Please understand as you read this posting, that I am describing these different phrases of my life, as I understood them at that time. I wanted to explain why I believe in what I believe in today. It can be hard to quickly summarize, but I'll do my best.
Believing in God and the afterlife was never as hard for me as it seems to be for some people. Mainly because I've had some intense spiritual experiences ever since I was about 3 years old. I used to feel embarrassed to share these experiences, worried that people would find me strange, but I'm starting not to care what people think the older I get. You come to a point where you realize, it is what it is and it's as simple as that. I do want to share some of the reasons that have impacted my beliefs, especially where J.C. comes in to the mix later. J.C..... That's Jesus Christ for the layman.
(I say, "for the layman" just to be goofy. I don't really talk like that, but I do have a sense of humor. haha)
So, the first story I'll share is when I was three years old. My parents left me at home with Mrs. Clark, who was a new baby-sitter from a baby-sitting service they called. My Aunt was living with us at the time and she came home first. The babysitter was nervously pacing and she seemed to be in a hurry to leave. My Aunt asked her why she seemed nervous and was everything ok. She quickly said that everything was fine and that she just wanted to be paid and leave. My Aunt didn't like how she was acting, so she told her she would not be paid until she could give her an explanation of what was wrong. Finally, Mrs. Clark told her what happened: She went to check on me, as I had been playing in my bedroom. She said my door was closed, but she could hear me talking. She opened my door and saw that I was lying on my bed with my eyes closed. She figured I was playing a game or something and asked me who I was talking to. I told her I was talking to my friends. Mrs. Clark asked if I was talking to Bee and Elizabeth (the dolls I played with). I replied with, "No, my real friends. One of them is named Bud. He took me to the junkyard to play. That's where he died." It turns out that Mrs. Clark had a son named Bud, who died in a Junkyard. As mentioned, she had never sat for me before and never mentioned her son to anyone. Later my dad asked me about it again and I repeated it for him. He asked me what the word "died" means and I shrugged my shoulders. (Creepy!) This is the shortened version of this story, without all the details.
That was my earliest experience, although that one I don't remember. At the time, my parents found that a bit disturbing and they decided to try to forget about it. However, when more occurrences started happening by the time I was about 7 years old, they decided it was a good idea to start going to church. I remember seeing my deceased Grandmother around the house who I had never met. My mother kept no pictures of her around and never spoke of her. My mother knew it was her though, when I would describe a man I was seeing around the house who always wore knee-length shorts and a polo-style shirt. My mother realized who I was seeing after I described him. My grandmother had very short hair and always wore knee-length shorts and a polo/tennis shirt. She was an avid tennis player in Phoenix, so she kept her hair very short due to the heat.
Many other things happened that I won't get into at this time. So, from that point on, our family went to a mostly Christian-Presbyterian church. Over the years, I also got to experience quite a few other church environments. Our neighbors growing up were Mormons and I went to church with them on a few occasions and spent quite a bit of time with their wonderful family. Once I was a teenager, I tried out different types of Christian churches and bible studies, trying to find one that felt right. Although at the time, I was very uncomfortable in my own skin, so I think I didn't feel comfortable anywhere. I would try to give the young-crowd "hip" churches a chance, but it grew tiring listening to the pastor asking who had accepted Jesus into their hearts and who wanted to be "saved", etc... As I started to find trouble as rebellious teenager, I didn't realize how much guilt I had and felt scared to be a sinner. Subconsciously, I became scared of the wrath of God and thinking I wasn't holy enough for Jesus, so I started to turn away from it all. The bible bore me to absolute tears and all of it began to seem so far-fetched. What did all of this biblical history matter in these days and man it was so bor-ring anyways!
Fast forward about 9 years later and I come to a point in my life where I started to feel like an ant with the universe holding a magnifying glass over me. Around the age of 26, I started to struggle with some personal issues from my past that wouldn't seem to go away. I went to therapy, read books, and tried everything to work on these issues, to no avail. A year came and went. I couldn't seem to find a place of peace and true happiness. When you feel like an ant that has a giant magnifying glass over you, you feel helpless and fearful. You grasp for more and more control, which of course you can never have. I remember circumstances kept popping up in this particular time in my life, to where I was wondering if God was trying to squeeze the pain outta me, so I could have a reason to come find him. Don't get me wrong, I never think God brings pain on anyone. I just know that I had pain buried deep inside though, that I didn't know was there. I feel like the universe helped me, by handing me a mirror to look into that pain. Sometimes it takes a person that kind of discomfort and fear to start the search for something greater than themselves and for truth. I would read about the subject of fear and began to understand that fear is an illusion of the mind and a lie by the ego. I read that the only thing to be fearful about is fear itself. So, if fear is an illusion I asked myself, than what is real and what is true? If I have no control over my life, than who or what that's greater than me does?
I knew I needed to find some sort of faith again, but I wasn't sure what I believed in exactly. I didn't want to just blindly believe in everything I was taught in church or raised thinking. Even though I had so many loving, wonderful Christian friends and family, I couldn't wrap my heart around some of the beliefs such as; different religions or non-Jesus followers were *possibly* going to hell, etc. Floating by on other people's biases and interpretations of God just didn't work for me. So, I started reading books and scouring the internet for everything I could find on the different religions and spirituality. I wasn't sure what I believed about the bible, about Jesus, about other religions, heaven/hell, reincarnation, and lots of things like that. So, I sort of started over and began the search for my beliefs. I was reading about everything from Esoteric Science and Quantum Physics, to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and Parmahansa Yogananda. I would take things I learned from one religion, theory or philosophy and then compare it with another and so on. I did end up going back to revisit the bible again and study that in more depth too, but I'll get to that later. Next, I want to share about a quick anecdote that helped to jump-start my awakening to "reality" (whatever that is. hah).
One day, I had just finished up a busy day at work and I had to swing by the UPS store on the way home to drop off some packages.
As I walk into the store, I saw a man leaning up against his personal mailbox, shuffling through his mail. He was maybe in his late fifties and looking down at some mail in his hands. The thing I immediately noticed about him though, was his GIGANTIC, beaming smile. He had the kind of ear-to-ear smile that was instantly infectious. I don't think someone could have looked more radiantly happy. I walked over to go wait at the counter for someone to help me.
While he was still looking down at the mail in his hands, he said out loud, "YES!", as if he just received a check in the mail that he had been waiting for. When I heard him say that, it made me feel happy for this excited stranger. As I was waiting for help at the counter, I turned to him and asked if he just got something good in the mail. He looked up at me intensely with his huge smile, making strong eye contact, and said in a confident, excited voice, "Not yet, but there's always something to be positive about!" When he said that to me and looked at me, he passed this energy-wave of IMMENSE joy over to me. The only way I could describe it was that I felt this super strong wave of love and happiness hit me, as I could feel this stranger transfer this wave right over to me, as if he did it on purpose. It was so strange to me what he said. He said that there wasn't anything in particular that he was happy about, but that "There's always something to be positive about!" and then looked at me so deeply-intensely and sent that wave right over. I just wish someone else could of experienced this moment with me.
All I could do was stand there and smile back at him. He looked back down at his mail and kept going through it as he was before. I finished up at the counter, thinking about how strange that was. I just felt like there was something very special about this person. As I was leaving, I said goodbye to him. Again he looked up at me with the same intenseness, still just beaming and said with twinkling eyes, "Keep smiling!". Then that wave instantly hit me again! I was overwhelmed with that same wave of love and intense joy again, only twice as strong. I know he was sending me this wave on purpose. I swear there was just something in his eyes that told me he was. It was a trip I tell ya!!!
By the time I got in my car, I noticed that my eyes were welling up with tears. I called my mom on the way home to try to explain what just happened. I meet super nice strangers all the time, that have great energy, are extra nice, friendly, smiling, etc. This was not the same. I guess it was just one of those strange experiences that you can't really explain. It just happened out of the blue. One thing I realized much later though, was that it woke up a part of me that couldn't go back to sleep.
One thing that really interested me in particular, was reading about people's near-death experiences. I started studying and comparing hundreds of near-death experiences I read about. At the time I was searching and researching everything I could to try to determine what I believed in. I didn't want to just pick what I wanted to believe, but I wanted to really know the truth. I guess we may never truly know until we have that experience for ourselves. What better way to research this topic though than to start by hearing the stories of the people who claim to have visited the afterlife when they briefly died.
Some people have simple NDEs and then there are some who seem to learn tremendously from their visit. Some say they were able to have long conversations with J.C. and allowed to ask many questions. Some were given tours of the the universe and shown a lot of what we call heaven. To me, this was a wealth of interesting information that simply couldn't go over-looked when researching about faith, religions and beliefs. Sure, these people could be making these stories up, but too many of them had successful careers and were willing to put all of it on the line to tell their stories. Too many people have had these experiences who were once atheist. Too many people had witnesses and there are sites like www.near-death.com, that thoroughly research this topic. Or maybe these experiences are hallucinations from the lack of oxygen to the brain? Sure, but then what about a case like Eben Alexander, who was a neuro-surgeon and who's brain (neo-cortex) was absolutely in-capable of producing something like this? Why are there doctors who are starting to conduct studies of their own, after having too many patients with NDEs and no explanations of the seemingly impossible occurrences that take place? Call them hallucinations if you want. I'm certainly not on a mission to try to convince anybody of anything. Having had undeniable spiritual experiences of my own, I personally believe that the majority of these are true stories that science will one day catch up to, but that's just me.
Below is a quote from Dr. Sam Parnia who studies NDE's:
"One of the big problems that we have," Parnia says, "is that because we've never had a science, we've never had an objective method to go beyond the threshold of death and study what happens both biologically and from a mental and cognitive perspective. Therefore everything that we deal with is basically hearsay and people's own beliefs." - Sam Parnia, M.D.
Anyhow, I'm sure NDEs are nothing new to you if you're reading this blog. I just find the similarities between them simply fascinating One of the similarities between them are the life-reviews. So many of them seem to have life-reviews. The best part is, the only person who ever judges their life is their own self! Another similarity is that "hell" is said to be a state-of-mind. It's not a place where anyone sends you to, but rather if you're in a bad place, hell is the state of mind that you put yourself in.
These are just two examples of some of the commonalities of the NDEs people have, but these sorts of stories started getting me thinking. ...(thinking to myself) So let me get this straight, God is not sitting around waiting to judge us or send us to hell if we haven't been perfect, but instead only loves us unconditionally and we judge ourselves/our life when our bodies die...? Don't get me wrong, I do believe that GOD IS the only one who can judge us, but I know now that he sees the very best in us. We only struggle sometimes when we judge others and don't realize that in the process, we often judge ourselves.
The more I read of these stories, the more I read about the unconditional love that God has for all of us and the more questions I had, which kept leading me further and further into my researching.
In so many people's NDEs, Jesus, angels and other divine guides would explain that earth is simply an experience we choose to have to evolve and learn about love. God gives everyone free will and there are spiritual laws that God abides by, but we are basically here to learn about love.
One thing I had always wondered about was if the bible was really authentic and true. Did the stories just get edited over time and did it lose it's authenticity at some point? I also struggled to find the meaning in the seemingly archaic/debatable historic stories. Many stories seemed so barbaric and well, just hard to relate to, contradictory, dry to read, etc.... This was how I used to feel anyways, until I discovered a few things that ignited my interest and lead me to a new understanding. Not only was the bible a divine source of truth, but it was filled with hidden mysticism and cryptic, layered meanings. Allow me to explain.....
One day, I read about a man's NDE that specifically answered my question. A man named Rev. Howard Storm was very much so an atheist before his NDE. During his NDE, he meet Jesus and some divine guides that told him they were with him throughout this whole life. He was able to ask Jesus and his guides questions about the bible. Here is the excerpt from story:
"When the review was finished they asked: "Do you want to ask any questions?"
and I had a million questions. I asked, for example, "What about the bible?"
They responded. "What about it?"
I asked if it was true, and they said it was. Asking them why it was that when I tried to read
it, all I saw were contradictions, they took me back to my life's review again something
that I had overlooked.
They showed me, for the few times I had opened the Bible, that I had read it with the idea
of finding contradictions and problems. I was trying to prove to myself that it wasn't worth
I observed to them that the bible wasn't clear to me. It didn't make sense. They told me
that it contained spiritual truth, and that I had to read it spiritually in order to understand
it. It should be read prayerfully. My friends informed that it was not like other books. They
also told me, and I later found out this was true, that when you read it prayerfully, it talks
to you. And you don't have to work at it anymore. " http://www.near-death.com/storm.html
Now, I take everything I read with a grain of salt, but I found that NDE interesting. The next intriguing piece I found about the bible was when I started to read a lot about Edgar Cayce.....
First of all, if you haven't read about Edgar Cayce, I highly suggest you do. He was a very interesting man, who would fall into sleep-like trances and prophesize about various things. He helped thousands of people with various medical issues do to his gift. He was so renowned that the History Channel even featured a story on him. He was a simple man with not much more than a grammar-school education. I will quote a lot of information from Edgar Cayce sites, as it became part of the journey to a lot of what I believe today.
The Dictionary of American Religious Biography writes about Cayce:
"As a humble individual full of self-doubts, Cayce never profited from his mystic gift. He read the Bible every day, taught Sunday School, and helped others only when asked. Many did ask, and over the years he produced readings that diagnosed health problems, prescribed dietary regimens, dealt with psychic disorders, and predicted future events such as wars, earthquakes, and changes in governments. He spoke, moreover, of reincarnations, the early history of Israel, and the lost civilization of Atlantis. Enough of his diagnoses and predictions proved true to silence many skeptics and to develop a wide following."
After reading Edgar Cayce's commentary on the Book of Revelations, is when I really started to dive back into the bible. According to Cayce, the Book of Revelations in the bible can be interpreted metaphysically and is the symbolic account of the fall and restoration of the human soul to its divine origins. Once I read that the bible could possibly be interpreted metaphysically, my curiosity quickly grew. This idea instilled a new thirst for knowledge and all of a sudden, I had to re-read the bible and study about the various ways to interpret it for myself. I always knew there were parables in the bible and metaphors of course, but this opened a new door of possibilities. Some of the examples of Cayce's interpretations were interesting to me, because there seemed to be a little of what we consider eastern spiritual philosophy hidden in the scriptures. This was interesting to me for two reasons: One, Cayce grew up Christian and had little education, so I doubt he had a biased opinion or knew very much about the eastern spiritual beliefs. Two, what if this meant that one or two religions didn't have a monopoly on the biblical teachings, but instead, it was filled with a universal wisdom. What if Jesus stories and bible interpretations have become more and more westernized over hundreds of years, creating a greater and greater separation in beliefs? It seems like most people are either one extreme or the other. You're either Atheist/Agnostic or you're of a fundamentalist religious faith. Ok, well that may be an exaggeration, but many people seem to dismiss the bible because they see it as a religious book only. Perhaps we fail to see it as a universal guide for the journey of the human soul.
There are many interpretations to the bible and I don't believe in dismissing any. Faith is very personal and sacred between God and Man. However, I do believe there is a lot to be uncovered still. I'll leave it on that note for now.
I still had many questions about religion and still was searching for my exact beliefs. When I was researching people's NDE's, they seemed to have a few things in common I noticed in particular. Jesus Christ was in a ton of them and at the same time, religious dogma didn't seem to matter in the long run. People described that there were various faiths even in the afterlife/heaven and that it was all OK. It was made known that religion was often a great thing, but it was one's relationship with God that mattered most.
An Edgar Cayce website touched on this topic too:
"One of the great ironies of human nature is the fact that the very structure intended to enrich our relationship with God is the one thing which divides us most as a human family. ....... These conflicts are not simply between various religions, but are also within each denomination. There are sects with Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam-within every religion! -many convinced that they are just a little more right than anyone else. Even various churches, temples, and synagogues have found differences with other members of their own sect who have somehow fallen away from the "original" or the "true" faith.
In addition to separating people from one another, these conflicts have also caused individuals to become disillusioned with religion-some even becoming convinced that religion is a waste of time. Too often, the result has been that people have given up their faith in God because of their disappointment in humankind. ...
...Religion is primarily concerned with matters of religious faith, ritual, structure, and tradition. Unfortunately, too often, a specific religion has been seen as the vehicle for personal salvation rather than simply being one of the various forms in which humankind is trying to understand the manifestation of the Spirit in their lives. Many individuals have somehow elevated one religion above all others, perhaps deciding that there is but one form with which to demonstrate true faith. On the other hand, at times it has been the very religious structure with which individuals have become frustrated or disappointed, perhaps even deciding that they no longer need to have religion in their lives. Neither of these responses is in keeping with the concept of oneness. It is important to remember that religion serves a purpose. Without some form, spirituality can too easily become simply a philosophical mind-game rather than having practical ramifications for daily life. A loose spirituality may be fragmented, selfishly independent, lacking community, etc. Without religious form, children can be raised without a sense of applicability of Spirit in their lives."
Beautifully put by Kevin J. Todeschi - http://www.edgarcayce.org/spirituality/ec_on_oneness.html
I'm going to quote off of the same Edgar Cayce site again, as I couldn't have written it better myself. I will also talk more about my personal views of J.C. in another posting.
"Throughout history, the perspectives people have had on the life and teachings of Jesus have been varied, oftentimes even at odds. For some, Jesus has been seen as the only Son of God, bringing salvation only to those who call themselves Christian. Members of non-Christian religions may have ignored His life and ministry or they may have thought, "Well, Christians have been cruel to me, and therefore I'm not interested in Jesus." Individuals involved in New Thought or comparative religions may have decided that Jesus was "just a teacher," or they may have disregarded Him altogether. According to the Edgar Cayce readings, each of these perspectives is short-sighted.
Although Edgar Cayce was a Sunday school teacher all of his life, as well as an elder in the Presbyterian church, for him the meaning of Jesus' life went beyond that described by Christians and non-Christians alike. For that reason, regardless of our upbringing or our religious affiliation, the Cayce material offers some insightful and challenging information about the life and work of this man Jesus, who became the Christ.
Essentially, the readings present Jesus as our "Elder Brother," a soul who came to show each one of us the way back to our spiritual Source by perfectly manifesting the laws of the Creator. Part of His mission was to fully demonstrate the living awareness of the Spirit in the earth, something each one of us will eventually have to do. Therefore, Jesus' life of service to others serves as an example for all of humankind.
"For the Master, Jesus, even the Christ, is the pattern for every man in the earth, whether he be Gentile or Jew, Parthenian or Greek. For all have the pattern, whether they call on that name or not." - Edgar Cayce reading
Jesus himself said "I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you," (John 14:20 KJV). We are all part of that same spiritual Source. Jesus was a child of God-just as we are all children of God. What Jesus did, we are all called to do and, as our Elder Brother and the Pattern, He will show us the way. In fact, Jesus is the Good Shepard who is very much involved with us right now in teaching us about our relationship with the Creator.
In discussing with God our joint spiritual nature and eventual destiny,
Jesus said: They are not of this world, even as I am not of the world.... That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou loved me. (John 17:16, 21-23 KJV)
This importance of this information, the fact that every individual is an integral part of God's creation and that we all share the same relationship with the Creator as even Jesus, will eventually transform (even revolutionize!) the ways in which we think about ourselves and treat one another."
by Kevin J. Todeschi - http://www.edgarcayce.org/spirituality/ec_on_oneness.html
So, this is a very basic summery of how I discovered some of my current beliefs. There is so much more to this, but this summarizes a good portion of some of the key factors. There is more to say however and much more to blog about. Stay tuned for the rest. :)
For more on this journey read Kiss of Life below: