Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Spirituality Course

Doctor of Spirituality
Lesson 1
Brendan Cook

Prayer Exercise
The primary obstacle to recognizing the presence of Love within me is, as it likely is for most people, the ego.
The ego, this “small self” exists through, and thrives on, fear. The ego is what emphasizes and maintains the notion of separation between self and other. I am me, you are not me. The fears that bring the ego into being are fundamental ones, chiefly survival. When an infant is born, it is completely egoless. Once it begins to be able to move on its own, and physically be separated from its mother, then the ego begins to form, as this being needs a way to be able to see to its own needs and survival (however unlikely that might be at such a tender age).

This ego begins the work of establishing the boundaries between self and not self, in order to try to make sense of the world. The ego continues to form as the child grows, which is why childhood traumas (physical and psychoemotional) have such a strong role in determining how we perceive the world as adults. And this is where the obstacle comes in to recognizing that we are a part of and exist wholly within God’s Love.

It is worth noting that one spiritual tradition which is widely recognized as having had some of the most loving, enlightened and egoless masters is Buddhism. This is largely due to the nature of the practices, which seek to eliminate the ego. While the ego, once formed, can never be gotten rid of, its influence of fear can be, and the meditation practices within Buddhism are excellent for that.

Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki (author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) made the point over and over that we can attain enlightenment when we return to the heart-mind of a child. Suzuki was advocating a return, through meditation, to a state of awareness and being where the ego was no longer required to protect us from the world, so that we could fully connect to it and all the things and people in it. This is not to say that enlightened spiritual masters have come only from Buddhism; far from it. But the Zen practitioners often have a very clear, simple, direct and unvarnished way of putting things which make them easy to understand intellectually, easy to begin to practice, which only later reveal their true depths.

Modern Zen Master Robert Kennedy, S.J., a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), has been quoted as saying that he never feels closer to God than when he is on the meditation cushion. Getting the ego out of the way allows us to truly perceive and connect with the universe in which we live, which is all God’s Love.

With respect to how prayers might change if we are fully connected to and realize the Love of God, we must begin with the notion of fear. If we start from the position that fear stems from the belief that Love is or can be absent, and that simultaneously it is impossible for the all-encompassing, all-pervasive Love of God to be absent, we now have an emotion which is based on unreality. This fear is simply a manifestation and construct of our ego. It does not exist; it does not have its own separate verifiable reality.

If we have accepted the idea that God’s Love can never be absent, that it can never be diminished, that we exist wholly within it, that the entire universe exists within it, that all the universes of the multiverse do as well, then how can it be threatened? As there is nothing which is not contained within God’s Love, how could something threaten it? To connect to it requires only one simple, but perhaps monumentally difficult act: Recognizing and accepting our place within God’s Love by completely releasing our fear.

This, in turn, will affect both how we pray and what we pray for. Many people pray to God – or, perhaps, more toward God. There is a sense that God is “up there” or “out there” while I am “down here.” However, the recognition that we are all WITHIN God’s Love changes things. We are no longer separate from God, which means we no longer have to pray TO God. Once we have accepted that we exist within the Love of God, we can pray WITH God. Rather than pray for a specific result, or specific thing, we can, for example, pray that God’s will reveal itself more fully in our lives.

It is for this reason that Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me, but your will be done.” When he was about to be betrayed, Jesus asked if he might be released from his suffering, but only if it was God’s Will. It is natural to not prefer suffering, and so Jesus asked that he might be spared that, but at the same time, put himself wholly within God’s Love. Like Jesus, putting ourselves wholly within God’s Love allows us to pray with God that his Love and Will manifest through us.

Prayer Visualization
During the portion of the prayer visualization where we were supposed to affirm our intent to come to a deeper understanding of Love’s presence, I noticed a similar experience to when I practice a metta (loving kindness) meditation. I noticed after a few minutes a strong sense of compassion filling me.

Upon opening my eyes and looking around, I noticed that my perception of things was slightly different. Things seemed both more and less real. Despite this shift, I felt very strongly grounded and present and the sense of compassion did not diminish now that my eyes were open.

In bringing to mind a situation in which I felt scared, I went back to my childhood. I recalled an event that occurred when I was about 4 or 5. At the time, we were living in Madagascar and I was attending a French school. Due to what I found out later was a series of miscommunications, nobody came to pick me up at the end of school. I waited and nobody came. I was the only student left, and still nobody came. The teacher sat with me, and still nobody came. She and the headmistress tried calling out house, but could not reach anyone on the phone (probably more a function of shoddy infrastructure than my parents not being there to answer). By now it was getting dark, and I was still there waiting with the headmistress. At about 7:30 or 8, my parents finally arrived to pick me up. I was very scared and very lonely.

This experience left an indelible impression on me, despite the fact that I was with someone the entire time and that my parents did, in fact, come and get me. I left me with a constellation of feelings and beliefs about being left behind and/or abandoned. Doing this visualization helped me realized several things: 1) this has been with me now for over 30 years, 2) this experience has had a significant influence on the way that personal and romantic relationships have been experienced. More importantly, however, continuing the meditation even after the sense of peace filled me has actually helped me heal the trauma to a certain degree.

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