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Reverend John Riley answers some questions:
What is the Unity movement all about?
Why are there so many different religions?
What’s different about Unity?
What are heaven and hell?
What is forgiveness? How can I find it?
What is prayer? What are the different kinds of prayer?
Are we all sinners?
Why were you put in this world?
Watch the full Sunday Service here.
Transcript of More Questions? More Answers!
Good morning, and welcome. This is just another exciting day for us, another beautiful day in our consciousness. Yes? If we decide, so it is, another beautiful day in our consciousness.
Last week we had our annual Q and A service, and I received many questions from those of you who were with us here in the sanctuary, those of you who were with us online and I got through, I think, five. So, I have some more. Are you ready?
So, I read through them all and I kind of grouped some together. So, this is a grouping that I would like to read together because they’re similar in content. They’re similar in nature and so I’d like to read a few to you and then we can go from there.
Is Unity the Same as Unitarian?
So, the question is — and we had this one before but I want to read it again — how do we explain Unity to people who have never heard of it or think it’s the same thing as being Unitarian? The next question is, I was asked one time by a devoted Catholic what type of church I attend. I answered I was raised Catholic but I attend a Unity church which is non-denominational, a non-denominational spiritual center. Their response to me was, “So, you prefer to take the long bumpy path to your savior instead of taking the easy path by going to a Catholic church.” What is the best way to respond to these types of beliefs and comments?
So, let’s take those two first. You know, let’s talk about why we want to explain what Unity is all about because first off there is a part of it that, of course there are our five principles and someone asked how do we describe Unity. Well, there are a lot of talking points that Lisa talks about at the beginning, the elevator pitch that I give at the beginning. There’s a lot of talking points but the best way to really talk about it is by sharing what it means to you in your life because I think one thing that keeps us, that sets us apart, as Lisa said, the secret sauce of Unity, is the practical application. That’s how we put these activities into practice, how we put these spiritual principles into practice so that you can have a felt sense of Spirit, so that you can make your own direct connection to God, have that, you have your own, you know, red hotline that you can pick up at any point in time to have that sense of connection.
Now, in Unity, we believe, of course, that God is everywhere present. God is. God is within all of us. God is outside of all of us. There is only one presence. There is only one power.
Why Are There So Many Different Religions?
So, the next question was, if there is only one presence and power, why do we have so many different religions. Well, because we have so many different people. And the interesting thing is, you know, this idea of worship, this felt sense of Spirit is different for different people. My father-in-law talked about, he’s a devote Catholic and he says, he goes to church and the reason he goes to church is to worship God. But his sense of worship is very different than someone else who sits and listens to our incredible band and that opening song or our preludes and just sinks into it and feels Spirit through music. That sense of worship can be different from somebody who listens and gets an idea and gets hold, lays hold of something like, there’s only one power in the universe and then ruminates on that and brings that into their life, who says, “What does that mean to me?” That’s a sense of worship. That’s a creating that felt sense of God in your life and that’s what Unity is really about, is having that direct experience of God.
Now, God is everywhere present and yet we all experience God differently. For some of us, we grew up as that idea of that loving presence, right? It might have been that old guy in the sky. It might have been that comfort that we receive when we pray. It might have been that experience of God answering prayers, of creating things in my life. And so, that might be my experience of it and that’s what is meaningful to me. There might be someone else who looks at this as more principle. God is principle, unchanging law, unchangeable.
So, if God is love, which is one of the greatest lessons in the Bible, if God is love then how can God be anything other than love? So, principle is, this is a loving powerful universe that’s here for you, that’s here for you. So, you might have different beliefs that we come up with. If we asked each one of us, if we all agreed on exactly the same thing, we’d probably come up with a hundred different religions. But sooner or later we all get together and say well, what are the common grounds here. Here’s a group of people, a religion for example and we’re all clubs, right. It’s kind of like a club. If you want to belong to this religion, here are your goals. Here are your rules. Here’s what we believe and if you believe in that, great.
Now, in Unity this is what’s so weird. You don’t have to believe in what I’m saying. We don’t say this is the dogma that you must believe, but take it into your life and see how it fits for you and see if it opens any doors for you because I think that is the real power of Unity is that we allow people to come to it from where they’re at. As Lisa said, no matter where you are on your spiritual journey you’re welcome here because you’re moving towards that idea and you’re trying to experience more of that idea in your life. When times get rough, how do we focus on that? How do we look at those things?
Heaven and Hell
One of the questions is, what is Unity’s take on or feel about hell. Well heaven and hell are both states of consciousness. As Jesus said, God is Spirit and that Kingdom of God is here and now. That Kingdom of God is here when we are connecting with each other. That Kingdom of God is here when we are focused and together in spiritual unity or coming together for a shared spiritual experience. That Kingdom of God is within us and it’s always present. It’s always available. And so, heaven is that state of consciousness when we are more aligned with it, when we’re aligned with those thoughts, those words, and those actions. When our thoughts and our words and our actions are aligned with that presence and power, then life gets easier.
It doesn’t mean that stuff’s not going to happen because I’ve heard stuff happens, sometimes on your car. That’s a private joke. Sometimes that happens. It happens but when you’re aligned and available to that one presence and power then you have everything you need within you to move through it with ease and grace, to move through it with a sense of peace, inner peace, even while the storms, the stormy waters are around you. Those troubled waters are around you and yet here you are in the center of it, that peaceful center. That’s what Unity, for me, gives to me, is the teachings and the practice and the principles that, if I practice them, that when those troubles come I’m able to call upon them and be anchored in my faith, be anchored in that idea of God.
So, hell is the opposite of that. Hell is a state of consciousness that we put ourselves in anytime we think or act separate from those principles. And we know this, right? When we get upset, when we get triggered, we’re triggered. But then the stories start, right. We create our own little personal hell. The stories start about it. The stories start about the other people, how I’m being persecuted, what’s happening out there. And maybe there is something that’s actually happening or has happened in your life. And it’s not meant to diminish those things but to let you know that that’s the stuff. When you relive it, that’s when you’re in that consciousness of hell. You’re reliving it, you’re reliving it over and over again.
So, the way through that idea is going back to Spirit. There’s so many ways in which we can do that. One of the greatest and simplest yet difficult teachings that Unity has is this idea of denials and affirmations. Now, we don’t like the word denials anymore because we equate that to being in denial, right. When you hear that word sometimes that’s what people think. Well I’m, that person is just in denial. They’re not, you know, they’re pretending it doesn’t exist. That’s not it at all. The stuff is happening but denying, denials are the releasing of the control of the energy that it has over you, the releasing of the power that someone else has over you, that you’re giving to them in your own mind, in your own consciousness, in your own thoughts and beliefs.
So, it’s a releasing and letting go so that you can reclaim your power. You can reclaim your power and you can stand in your power in the middle of whatever is happening. You can take that power and lead from that power. So, the releasing allows us to let go of that which we’re holding onto. That’s what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not an “out there” thing. It’s a letting go of what I’m holding onto in here, in my mind and in my heart, a letting go of it so that I can become free, so that I can heal, so that I can live more fully.
So, the question came up, you know, how can I reconcile and reframe my childhood belief in an all-powerful God with the abuse that I, as an innocent child, experienced. It comes down to that idea of being willing to let go, being willing to reframe that idea of God. Because we have this idea of prayer as we’re praying to God. At least that’s how a lot of us grew up. Right? A lot of us had that experience or that teaching that we pray to God so that God can do something for me. But rather, the way, what Unity looks at it is, it’s more of a praying from that place of God within you, praying from that power within you, praying from that experience, praying from God, praying from Spirit, praying from divine wisdom, praying from infinite love and harmony, praying from that place of consciousness so that you are aligning the world and yourself with it. And miraculous things can happen when we do that.
So, there are things that happened to us in our past. We have wounds. And the problem is, if we are allowing those wounds to run our life or are we going to allow ourselves to be healed? Am I going to make the choice to heal those wounds? If we’re suppressing them, if we’re hiding them, if we’re pushing them down, we all know that it just creates a powderkeg within us and then it explodes when we get triggered. All of a sudden, blah, there it is. That’s what I was calling my shadow side, Skippy. Skippy comes out. So, instead of trying to shame ourselves about that, how about holding ourselves with compassion, with self-compassion, with self-love, drawing Skippy into the light and treating Skippy like that little, that little mini-me as a child that was wounded and being that loving support for that part, that part of me that’s wounded so I can begin to heal.
Unity has been a healing ministry for a long, long time. It began with one of the co-founders, Myrtle Fillmore. The idea that when she was diagnosed with fatal tuberculosis and said, go get your affairs in order. There’s nothing we can do, back in the late 1800’s. She took a different approach. Her approach was asking for forgiveness from all of her body, from her body organs, not from God “out there”, but praying from that consciousness of God within and surrounding every organ in her body with light and energy and love for four years, it took her. She did it like six hours a day. So, six hours of meditation a day, praying from Spirit. That’s a little bit of commitment, don’t you think? That’s what I call commitment and yet that is available to us at any point in time.
So, it’s really being able to find a way, I think, to know that there is some shadow, woundedness in there and to bring it into that light, bring it into the light of God, bring it into the light of Spirit, allowing that energy of Spirit that I like to call divine love, that harmonizing energy, to move in, through and as you, to be that experience.
Types of Prayer
So, if God is not an entity or a being with a will who can do anything, is there any point in prayer and if so, how do we pray and what do we pray to? So, I spoke a little bit about that but there are different forms of prayer. There’s beseeching prayer. That’s the prayer to something. That’s the prayer to the universe, to God. Oh God, please help me get an A on my, or pass, let’s just say, pass my final — you’re a teacher — my final. Do you ever have any students that … ? No, never, no, because her students … That’s the beseeching prayer, right? There’s something going on and we want help. We want to let go. And so the first part — and there’s nothing wrong with it — but the first practice is to let go of our control over it, to let go of our hold over it so that we can receive help.
The second kind of prayer is thanksgiving. That what we say, being grateful for life, being grateful for the things that we have, for the experiences that we have, for the good that is in our life because there is good, being grateful for your breath, for being breathed by Spirit. It’s a very, very powerful, powerful practice, practicing and cultivating a consciousness of gratitude so that we meet the world from that standpoint, so that we meet all these challenges from that standpoint.
There’s also what we call affirmative prayer and that’s what Unity teaches and practices. We’re affirming the truth about us. We’re affirming that truth that we believe, that there’s only one presence and one power and that’s within me. There’s only one presence and one power and that’s expressing as me, the I AM consciousness. We’re affirming that I AM consciousness. We’re affirming the God consciousness. We’re affirming it. As we affirm it, it becomes more real for us. It becomes truth for us and we can live life more from that I AM consciousness.
There’s also contemplative prayer. When you’re open, just open. You might bring a question into it, like how do I pass my exam. Study. You’re probably not looking for that answer. But being open, just being open and present without thought, that’s what Unity calls the silence. It’s when we get into that energy of Spirit and just bask in it. Ego doesn’t have to do anything. It’s okay ego, just quiet down. Return to your breath. When thoughts come up, we don’t worry about it. We say oh there’s a thought because that’s what our brain does, right. These thoughts just drift by us but we don’t have to attach our sense of self to those thoughts. We can just allow them to drift by and move back into a mindfulness meditation, for example, being mindful of your breath. Or maybe there is a mantra or affirmation that you say. Or maybe it’s a walking meditation where you are able to get your body moving and then your brain can have some focus and you tune into that spirit with God.
There’s so many ways in which we can do it, but the bottom line is you’re praying from that consciousness. That gets you into alignment with that consciousness. Doing much better than I did last week, getting through so many.
Letting go with Forgiveness
Oh, okay. Well, I’m finding that little mantras that I often say to myself, to give me inspiration throughout the day, I’m finding there are, for instance, you are God’s perfect child. I’m going to say that today or when in doubt choose love. What mantras, what mantras, do you have mantras that are helpful to you? I do and it really depends on what state of mind I am in. One of my favorites — and I use it a lot and it’s a favorite because it’s so releasing — is a forgiveness mantra and I learned this from the Unity minister, Catherine Ponder. If there is somebody who’s ticking me off — not that anybody … because I’m so spiritual – so, if there’s somebody who’s triggering me or getting on my nerves it’s a, “Hey, person, I fully and freely forgive you. I loose and release you”, because you know unforgiveness is a bond that you have to somebody. Unforgiveness is like grabbing them and saying, “You’re coming with me for the rest of the day because you’re going to be in my thoughts and I’m going to be creating stories about us, you might as well be with me”.
But forgiveness is letting go of them, so I fully and freely forgive you. I loose the chains of bondage that I have put over you. That person who ticked me off, those are my chains of bondage. I loose the chains of bondage. “I see your good flowing to, through and as you with ease and grace and I know the Christ in you, that divine consciousness. I know the higher self in you” — because their ego may not forgive me whatsoever or may not like me or maybe after, forget me, whatever — but I know that divine essence within them fully and freely forgives me”. Because there is, I believe, an I AM consciousness and I know that in some place that that person forgives me. They loose and release me. They see my good flowing to, through and as me with ease and grace. All is forgiven now and forever. Whoof. That’s a big one.
All of our affirmations that we come up with or the Daily Word have great affirmations. I love those. Margo’s songs, a lot of the chants that she sings, you can find them on Spotify. Rickie Byers Beckwith — Rickie Byers, sorry — or Karen Drucker. Thank you, Russell. You were mind melding with me. Karen Drucker, another great artist that we often use. Great affirmations that just go through me, usually as I’m doing a hike. I might put my headphones in. I might listen to them. So, those are the ways that I bring those to life for me on an ongoing basis.
Are We All Sinners?
You know, we were raised and brought up to think in many of these different religions, these different clubs, that we are miserable sinners. Anybody ever hear that one? That we’re, you know, that we can’t have this connection with God. We need someone else to have this connection for us. We were taught that you are, you have original sin, that you come into the world with sin and that unless you do these steps, you know, you’re going to hell.
So, there’s all of these different ideas that we’ve come up with as human beings — aren’t we clever? — to explain this experience that we’ve had, the experience of the allness of life, the experience of that which is the creative force that is behind the plants in the courtyard, the flowers that are coming up in the spring, that creative energy that’s behind all of the great ideas that we come up with from a chair that you’re sitting in to a building to an electric vehicle, that create all of the ideas that we as human beings co-create because we take hold of these infinite intelligence, this divine inspiration, these divine ideas and then we bring them into manifestation. And we’re this in divine intelligence in the universe.
God as the Principle of Omniscience
As we talked about it, God isn’t omniscient, a being that has all-seeing. But God is the principle of omniscience. God is the principle of all power in the universe. It’s the energy through which that flows through everything, and then we get to express it in our own unique, wonderful, inspired way.
So, the world wasn’t given to you; you were given to the world. You are here on divine appointment. You are here to make a difference in the world, in your own unique and special way, whatever that looks like to you. My purpose here is to just shine and to help you discover that light within you so that you can blow on the embers and make it a bright light. For you are the light of the world, you are the city on the hill that gives light to others.
How Do I Tell People About Unity?
So, when people ask me how do I talk about Unity, and what do I say to those who, you know, joke about it with me? I was in a wedding twenty years ago or so, or at a wedding in New York, a very Catholic wedding. And the New York people there said, so, are you catholic? I said no, I’m not. Oh what, you don’t believe in God?, as if those are the two options. I have nothing against the Catholic church. My wife was Catholic and loved the community that it created. But you see, what word, what comes up for us is our ego trying to say, you know, “But I’m okay. I’m good.” And our ego says, you know, “I’ve discovered something fantastic. You’ve got to try it.”
People are so, you know, sometimes people are very open and willing and receptive and want to check it out or want to understand it and even if they don’t agree with it, that’s okay. And, sometimes people are like, “No, that’s okay. I’ve got my club. I’ve got the easy route.” [pause in the recording] Nothing wrong with it, nothing wrong with it. Nothing wrong with it, because it’s doing something for them along their path to God. It’s helping them along their path to God and so I can appreciate that. I don’t have to have them believe in what I believe. I don’t even have to have a conversation. If there’s an opening, great, I’ll tell them. If there’s no opening, meh. It’s a different path.
You Are an Original Blessing
You are given to the world to make a difference and you are an original blessing. That’s a big one. Take a nice deep cleansing breath. I am an original blessing. Would you affirm that with me? Together: I am an original blessing. Now take another deep breath because that can be difficult sometimes, because what happens when we say that? The shame, blame and guilt that we’ve been, that’s been pounded into us all of our lives starts to bubble up. Just allow that to drift by. It’s like, “Oh, there it is. There’s my shame. That’s not who I am because I am an original blessing.” I am an original blessing. Together:
I am an original blessing.
The Power of Zeal and Enthusiasm
Now there’s this power called zeal and enthusiasm that when you really get that energy going within you, you start to believe it a little bit more. Anybody been to a concert where they were just really, you know, “Yeah, this is awesome”? That’s the power of zeal within you. So, with a little zeal, I am an original blessing. Together: I am an original blessing. And so it is, with a little zeal kicked in.
We’re in the Keys to the Kingdom class. We just had our first class and that’s an advanced course in prosperity consciousness. It’s all about what we’re talking about. It’s all about knowing that you are one with that infinite source, that you have within you everything that you need. The very first principle, our first and highest desire must be to have a greater realization of Spirit and our own creative nature. It is vital that we begin with this intention, to have our own realization of Spirit. If you do nothing but focus on that, you know, that will bring you to so much awareness. It will create so many openings for you to go. Our first and highest desire must be to have a greater realization of Spirit and our own creative nature. Those are the first two principles in Unity, that God is and having an experience of that. And we do that through prayer, through meditation, through gratitude, through experience, through releasing, through affirming. And then to know your own creative power. That is all within you. You have within you everything that you need to move forward, to be that bridge over the troubled waters.
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