Saturday, August 14, 2010
Master of Religious Philosophy
Dr. Elizabeth A. King
What a lovely and informative course this is; well written, filled with valuable information given in a most unbiased and intelligent manner, and very interesting. The scope of material covered in these 24 lessons is so complete and valuable to any minister, regardless of religious affiliation or background that I feel this is course is essential for all those who wish to enter the ministry, or those ministers who want a good, unbiased and intelligent understanding of the religions of the world, and what impels mankind to strive to develop a spiritual as well as physical life.
While there was very little new information that I was not already acquainted with from my own studies and spiritual journey that began for me over 40 years ago, I nevertheless was enchanted with the material this course brings to the student. Born a Roman Catholic, attending a private religious Academy for a number of years, entering the convent and remaining there for seven years until I decided after much serious thought to leave, my spiritual journey really began from that moment on. Over the years I searched into quite a number of Christian faiths, ranging from the Anglican Communion to Mormonism, hunting for that one religion that would speak to my heart and spirit, and not finding it. When I was in college I took a class on World Religion and “Bible as Literature” in the hope of gaining more understanding about religious thought outside of the Christian community, only to find most of the books and courses I read and studied gave me little information other than what I had already been exposed to – as well as realization that nearly every formal religious group I studied in hopes of finding my religious niche all basically were saying the same thing – our religion is the only true religion, and all others are false, and their followers are somehow tainted by the teachings of the devil, or demon, or whatever else they chose to refer to the forces of evil that were supposedly out there to trick mankind into following their false teachings. Add to that the prevalent belief of the majority that there are certain people who, by virtue of who they are or their “lifestyles” or beliefs about the rights of women to control their own destinies and bodies were an abomination in the eyes of God and my dilemma grew, since I do not believe that anyone is “excluded” from the grace of Deity (God/Goddess) just because they do not fit the pre-conceived mold of any religious teaching about who is acceptable and who isn’t. Nor have I ever believed in the consigning of souls to places like “hell” or purgatory by a so-called “loving” God. All of which the majority of the books and courses on religion seemed ultimately to infer as truth.
This problem led me to the study of non-traditional and non-Christian, Judaic, Islamic religious teachings, as I continued my search. I studied everything from Neo-paganism to Buddhism, and actually found elements of many of the religious teachings that I have incorporated into my own spiritual belief system that serves me well today. It consists of ideas from Wicca, Roman Catholicism (the lives of certain Saints, such as St. Francis of Assisi, and Claire D’Assisi), to the Nichiren Daishonin school of Buddhism (SGI-USA), which I formally joined some 28 years ago.
Interestingly, in all these years I never did find a book or a course that actually looked at religious teachings from all over the world with an eye to answering the questions that I had pondered over the years, namely, what purpose does religion truly serve, what aspect should a spiritual path endeavor to serve: the community, Nature, or the self, and why. Until now. When I first decided to take the Master of Religious Philosophy course, my expectations were not all that high, and it was with a real sense of pleasure that I discovered that this course truly addresses a lot of the questions I’ve had over the years, and in a very real sense has enabled me to realize that my feelings and beliefs about the need and desire for a connection to something higher than ourselves were not way off track.
I have always believed that animals, for example, have a true spiritual connection with that which is called “divine.” I also believed that our forebears also had a religious connection that modern man did not believe they had due to their “lower state of mental awareness”, namely the Neanderthal peoples, and the Cro-Magnon as well as the various other branches of Hominids. A few years ago I found myself very interested in Jane Goodall’s work with the Great Apes, and when I read her account of the “funeral” of one of the apes that poachers and murdered for the hands and head, it resonated within me as ‘right,’ and brought tears to my eyes. To realize that our animal companions are not inferior to humans, but are sensitive, spiritual beings was very natural to my way of thinking, and I found her tales of the sensitivity, community, and religious practices of her marvelous ape friends inspiring and actually strengthening my faith that there is a Creator/Creatorix who dwells within all things, and that all things have spirit, life, and purpose.
As I worked through each of the week’s readings, I was more and more impressed with the logical and open-minded manner in which the creator of this course approached the various religions and gave such logical, precise explanations for the various levels of religious connections between man and man, man and nature, and man and himself aspects of religious conviction. What a refreshing relief it was to read material that presented the whole question of religious needs in the human race in an unbiased, and educated arena with no pretensions to “my brand of religion is holier, higher, better, more informed than yours” that is found even in those textbooks on world religions, which are mostly written by adherents to the various religions covered in them. As a Usui/Gendai Reiki Shihan, I’ve seen the effects of the Universal healing energy on people, and have seen real miracles of healing take place as a result of Reiki healing. Miracles, to me, are a combination of two important elements: the human mind/spirit, and the Divine. When the mind and spirit have decided that a lesson has been learned, an experience gained, an important lesson taught, then, in the presence of illness, especially serious and/or chronic illness, real miracles can and do happen. Are they scientific? Are they a product of imagination? I don’t really know, but I do know that people’s lives have been forever changed, illnesses have been alleviated, people have been able to return to good health, and wellbeing as a result of miraculous “intervention” on the part of a healer, a Saint, or by whatever means that has been called upon to bring about such an effect.
As I read through the lessons, I also found my own beliefs re-affirmed in the matter of developing a spiritual life that is based on respect for all three areas of human need – and not to the exclusion of one or two of the three as is seen in most Western style religious, i.e., the big Three: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. As one who believes that the essence of God-ness dwells in everything, literally and not figuratively, I found the question asked by the author in the Food for Thought parts of each lesson thought provoking, making me really stop and take stock of just where my beliefs and my own prejudices do lie, and what I need to work on in my own affiliation to that which I have developed over the years, my own spiritual religious life.
My husband and I spent a week this last May in Sedona, Arizona. It was his first trip there, but not mine. The vortex energies were a real shock to him, as he had never been in an area that had such strong energy before. Sedona, to me, is one of the most eclectic and beautiful Power Spots that I’ve had the pleasure to be in. Many years ago I used to visit this wonderful area with a strong sense of Déjà vu, knowing that I had visited this sacred place in another life, another time. It reminded me of when I had first visited Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings in Colorado, and immediately knew I had lived there before, when it was a thriving village. These places of Sacred Power, and others, like Chaco Canyon, as well as the more well-known Power and Sacred Spaces like Stonehenge, have been strong focal points for spiritual energy work since the beginning of mankind, and so these lessons resonated strongly with me as well.
This course has given me wonderful tools for putting my beliefs into a logical order, and has made it so much easier for me to be able to actually explain my spiritual beliefs more clearly to those who are not familiar with my very eclectic spiritual path as well as the idea that we are here in this life to grow, experience, learn, teach, expiate, and develop into highly evolved spiritual beings, connecting to and existing with each other, Nature, and ourselves in Divinity. With the explanations of the basic three needs that religious teachings and spiritual paths can take, I now am able to more clearly explain and that each of us is basically following our own way to communicate with and “obey” the will of God in one of these three paths, and that we don’t have to judge others on different paths as being somehow walking the “wrong” path, or to feel our way is the only way, and that in order to achieve spiritual “salvation” all the world has to walk in “my” shoes. What a delightful and beautiful course this is, and one that I highly recommend for all those in the ministry, regardless of religious affiliation, in order to gain an unbiased, philosophical understanding of the need of mankind to find him/herself in God and to realize we are all One in truth, regardless of the Path we choose to take.
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