Living in Faith – Looking Back at 18 Years of Spiritual Life

I just took a look at my calendar which told me it’s the 7th of November 2018. That means it is my 18th spiritual birthday, saying I have been half of my life aware of spiritual matters. Since then I have heard many interpretations of the teachings of the Bible in the church as well as during my Bible school time a couple of years ago. Over the years I have also met people from different backgrounds and diverse beliefs. My own personal faith has been forced and encouraged to grow through various circumstances throughout my life. Some phases have been very challenging, and testing, but never have I doubted.

Being part of something bigger

During the last couple of years, I have been experiencing some kind of ”rearrangement” of my thoughts and beliefs about spirituality and how to live a life in faith. My focus has been switching from group-thinking to individual growth. During the first years as a believer, I enjoyed being part of a church, listening to what others, especially the elders, had experienced on their path and getting instructions on how to live my life with God.

However, I have also seen that the kind of structure in some churches and the ”guidance” involved, can be rather restricting than helping the individual to grow. It is not always easy to find your way and calling when somewhat strong opinionated spiritual teachers or church members tell you what to do and what not to do. Sometimes it can be pretty hard to keep on walking your path with God when you know that the majority of the people in your church would not accept the way of life you feel you should live. Some people are very sure about what is the will of God in other peoples lives. Ironically often they aren’t able to see, that God may have chosen a very different way for someone as they had in mind, so their prayers for Gods guidance in that person’s life is just a testimony of them not accepting the path God has provided for that person as well as a lack of faith.

Finding your own way

It is essential for us to feel part of something bigger than yourself, and I do not underrate the meaning of the local churches. But sometimes you just have to remind yourself that in the first place you are responsible to God about how you answer your personal calling and not how submitted you are to the teachings of your church. Growth is a sign of life. Stagnation is a sign of death.

I have come to the point of accepting, that sometimes it is better to leave a place behind if it is not able to support your growth, but rather is restricting it. I do not mean to “throw your hands in the air” and give up every time difficulties arise, and I do not say that you should not be ready to persevere together with your fellow believers through times of hardship. Sometimes we need to make a sacrifice for the common good of the group, which indeed can be simultaneously a way to further personal growth. It is just the compulsive attitude towards some religious teachings some churches and people have, I do not see fitting in the bigger picture of providing spiritual growth neither for the individual nor the group.

Present thoughts

So here I am, looking back at 18 years of living a believers life and trying to live it as consciously as possible. I have come to get a more universal picture of faith and spirituality. I can see the part religion is playing in general in humanity as well as in my personal life, although never I have considered myself as being ”religious”. The teachings of Jesus Christ are very dear to me. However, I can feel and see that it is time to go deeper and to separate church, as I know it, from faith. I’ve come to feel more connected to the universal church which includes believers of all religions, as I believe.

One thing which got me totally excited anew about God was the discovering of astrology for myself. Oh, how it speaks to me about our Creator! I love the symbolism of astrology and the ability to see through it the bigger and smaller patterns throughout your life. It is the best tool I know to become aware of different phases in your life, that again providing the possibility to make the best out of every present moment. Through the course of studying astrology, my faith has become more alive again.

A symbol of stability

A birthday is reminding us of the cycle of life. It is the end of a personal year and the beginning of a new one. In modern astrology, it is common to cast a ’solar return chart’ for the next year of your life. This chart is cast for the time the Sun has returned to the exact degree and minute of the sign of the zodiac it was in at the time of your birth. Besides the Sun, there are also other planets and points displayed in a solar return chart, which are usually in different places than in your birth chart. A solar return chart gives you insight on what topics are likely to arise during the next year of your life. Life can change in various ways, and sometimes we can get very surprised about ourselves (and others too!). A solar return chart can tell you about those changes. But despite it’s changing nature, there will always be a constant, some fundamental power in our life. Something never changes.

The Sun is a symbol of the life force, the giver of life. The Sun is light. It is the requirement for any life on this planet. There is no life without light. Therefore throughout time, the Sun has also been a symbol for the creator God himself. The Sun is a very good symbol and a reminder of Gods place in the bigger picture of life.

Specifically in a solar return chart the Sun reminds us of Gods sovereignty – although everything around changes (the other planets and points in the chart), he stays the same (as the Sun in sign, degree and minute) and he is the source of all life, like the Sun is the foundation of which the solar return chart is built upon. Interestingly in astrology, the Sun represents also the core of the native’s identity.

Gods existence is eternal. He is the same today, yesterday, tomorrow, and forever. He does not change. Even if our life is built of ups and downs and we sometimes aren’t living up to our calling – God does not forget us. His promise of guidance still counts. We may discover different facets of God during the cycles of our life what can change our picture of him and what and who we thought God is, but those qualities have always been part of him. It is our perspective only which changes.

Lighting a candle

When I realized this morning that it is my spiritual birthday, I remembered a candle my mother gave me long ago. It was from my grandmother who passed away when I was 11. My mother was supposed to give me the candle on my 18th birthday, but she forgot it, and so I got it some years later.

My grandmother was the only believer in our family. I got to know her three years before she passed away after a failed operation which was inevitable because of the heart disease she had from birth on. I know she had been praying a lot for me and I am sure God heard her prayers. That I got to know her was a miracle since the doctors told her after the first operation she would not live any more than seven, ten years at most. However, she lived for fourteen years after that first operation. Otherwise, I would never have gotten to know her.

I am sure it is no coincidence that I remembered the candle today. Finally lighting it on my 18th birthday in faith. God is good. Life is beautiful.

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Picture: Author

Falling Leaves – Life in Transition

On my kitchen’s windowsill, there is a big-leafed plant, dark-green in colour. Over the summer month, new leaves began to grow, and old ones were dying. The cycle of life showing itself.

Today, I saw the plants last remaining old leaf had changed drastically in colour. It had become yellow with lots of dark, almost black spots on it. It somehow disturbed me to see this dull and lifeless looking leaf in the middle of those fresh, shiny and deep green ones. Shortly I decided to pluck it out. After all, it was dead, wasn’t it?

Although it seemed as if the leaf would soon fall from the plant by itself, it resisted. Without a thought, I just pulled a little harder, and finally got it in my hand. I saw the base of the leaf stalk was still moist and fresh, as well as the place of the stem, from which the leaf was growing. The leaf wasn’t dead, not yet.

I became upset and began to think about how we treat death in our lives, deaths of all kind, small and big ones like moving from one place to another, getting retired from work, the end of a significant relationship and yes, also the death of a human being.

We are heading from one stage in life to another, without consciously living through the transition phases in between. We may not even recognise when a time of transition is approaching. We are trained to make plans one, three, five or even ten years ahead. That makes us insensitive for phases which occur in our life but are outside of our plans. Times when we just need ”to be”, without heading anywhere.

Owl on a branch

We tend to think about whether something is alive or dead. But what about the stage of dying? What about our grandmothers and grandfathers living their last days in nursing homes? Do we see them as already dead? Do we think of dying being something passive? Something that just ”happens” to us someday? What about a broader view on death? What, if we could see dying in general as an active part of life? After all, we do experience many little deaths along our path.

There are people, whose lives are full of activity until the last day. They enjoy to live, and for them, there is meaning in every circumstance, even in great hardship. They are not afraid to face life in all its colours and shapes. Others seem to just wait for the final death, but refusing to spend a thought on the days left, instead choosing to yearn for, or grieving the past. This is not only the case with some old people.

What if we would live more consciously through the different stages of our lives? How about deciding where and how to live our remaining days and where our worldly belongings are going, by ourselves? Passing things meaningful to us, like a photograph or a painting, to somebody who will appreciate, maybe with a little story related to them? What if we would use some time to think about what life has taught us, how we used our potential and what we have achieved. What about sharing some of our knowledge and perhaps wisdom with other people? Such time could also include the possibility to forgive and to receive forgiveness. Hopefully, it is mostly full of thankfulness for the people and experiences we had in our lives.

We do need times of evaluation and transition. Not only when facing the end of our life here on earth, but also when moving from one cycle into another.

It is much said about the ability to be present in the moment, which seems to be a difficult task for most of us. But why is that? Making new plans and heading ahead comes with excitement. Being always on the move gives us a feeling of being in charge. New possibilities let us forget what we may have experienced as failures in the past.

One point I think, why we have a hard time to really live through transition times, is that they remind us of what we cannot change – the past. They show us the ”incompleteness” of our life, what hasn’t been achieved regardless of our many great plans we’ve made. They may also make us realise, what we are about to leave behind, although knowing, that we will be missing it deeply in the future. The reality of a broken dream may be shown to us in those times, and sometimes we may even feel lost.

Girl in the forest

Transition times may make us feel weak. Why? Because they remind us, that there is always an unknown factor in life. We can not control every single occurrence we’re gonna face on our path. Living out a bunch of plans may give us the feeling of controlling our lives, but it does not eliminate certain parts of life itself, like endings, such as death is one of them. And why should it? Aren’t our lives in the hands of the creator God himself? Isn’t there a purpose for everything? Why would we be afraid?

That we are not accepting all elements of life, is obvious. For example, much time is spent on polishing our images, especially on social media. Pictures are filtered, and mostly the bright side of life is shown the world, of course. There is no problem with that, as far as we are able to live all other parts of being in ”real life”. It is just that sometimes we don’t want to get reminded of those facets of life we are uncomfortable with. And yet they are part of a whole and there for a reason.

Fortunately, we have nature – to remind us of life’s cycles. Like a tree in nature lives through the different seasons of the year, changing its appearance according to them, so do we. Only with the difference, that the tree does not rush from one season to another, but instead lives all of them through on time, one after another.

Tree autumn

Falling leaves are reminding us of everything coming to an end. But we also know, at the same time the tree is collecting its nutrients from its leaves and stem to its roots to store them until spring. The tree is preparing for a new season. And that is, what transition phases are there for – preparing us for the next part of the cycle.

For the plant on the windowsill in my kitchen – from now on, it will have its leaves until they fall by themselves. That being a reminder to me of lives different phases, which all are there for a purpose, and need to be lived consciously at the time they occur.

Wishing us all an insightful autumn with lots of colourful leaves!

 

Pictures: Pixabay

In Faith and in Fate – A Believers View on Astrology

A couple of years ago, I couldn’t have imagined once giving up my work scheduled, always in the same pattern repeating routine of life. But it happened. And I am glad it did.

Equilibrium between routine and change

Times change and what we do and how we live today may be very different from what our lives will be tomorrow. Change is a part of nature, of life. How we deal with times of change depends much on our personality, our experiences, but also on our worldview. Some get very excited by only thinking of all the possibilities that a new start in life comes with. Others get goosebumps by only thinking of maybe having to sit on a different seat than usual on the bus to work the next morning. Whether we sympathise with those change enthusiasts or change resisters, in the end, we all get to deal with different times in life.

Some amount of routine is important to all of us, and in difficult times it can be one of those things which keep us alive. On the other hand, clinging on to outworn structures can keep us from growing and becoming what we are meant to be. We may not find our way by trying to fit in a sort of standard life pattern. It is true that it might seem much easier to follow the common road, which means for many to get just some job to be able to pay the bills whether it is a job you can bring in your talents or not. We may not always be able to get what would fit best for us, but we can decide for how long we are involved in something less suitable. And of course, also times when we just need to persevere, are part of the journey. However, some of us may be stuck for several years in a place they don’t feel they belong to. And why? Because of fear.

How we see the world

Anything new, everything unusual, be it a new philosophical idea, a way of living or just our neighbours’ house’s new paint can cause some unpleasant feelings in us. Living in a state of routine gives us somehow an illusion of being in charge of our life. When changes occur, and our stable life gets shaken up, we suddenly realise that there are things we have no control over. In the midst of sudden changes, one may well start to wonder if there is any part of life at all we really can control. That is where our worldview comes in.

What we think about the meaning of life has much influence on how we handle everyday life’s ups and downs. In times, when everything goes smoothly according to our plans, we may not much think about any deeper purpose of life. We feel strong and entirely in charge of ourselves and our lives. But when things get difficult, and one hardship comes after another, we lose the feeling of being in control. For some, this is the moment to ask, ”If I am not the one who is in control of my life, who then”?

For one, life is just a series of meaningless accidents, for another, it is an arrangement of structured events which are following a divine plan. I would argue, if life were meaningless, one would not be able to see any meaning in anything, or the other way around – if something or someone has meaning to you, then also life at a deeper level must have. Sometimes we may even experience a strong feeling of purpose although we may not be able to explain where it comes from. It just is. There may be moments in our lives when we feel the urge to get a certain thing done. In those moments there is no doubt of life not having a purpose.

Guidance

I have always been feeling a strong sense of guidance. I can remember being sure of God’s existence since I was a child. However, I felt that he must not be much interested in mankind since there are so much cruelty and suffering in this world. In my childlike mind, I thought if God were interested in humanity, we would experience only love and peace on Earth. Later I felt the need to make a decision whether to start to get to know about God or to hold on to my childlike assumptions. My view on life has been in motion ever since, and my picture of God has become many new facets over the past two decades.

Changes occur in our life, no matter if we believe there is a reasonable force behind them or not. The crucial point is what you believe change is there for. If you believe life as a whole is meaningless, so would also be change. But if you see a purpose in life, then you also see in change. There is just one question left. What kind of force you think is behind this purpose? Even if your view of this force is more of a general than personified one, your view on whether it has a benevolent or malevolent character will have a huge impact on how you handle change.

In my experience, fear of change comes from assuming that the force behind it has no good intentions towards us. Someone may even think that change itself is negative. What if it is indeed a POSSIBILITY to improve your life? We may walk through a very deep and dark valley before we realise that actually, it was the only way to reach the mountains.

Making choices is based on…

There has always been the debate about whether there is free will or fate, or at least to what extent we can make our own choices. God knows all, but does this also mean, that everything is predetermined? Maybe the outcome of our life is predestined, and the way we achieve our purpose is up to us. Or maybe there are several little things we are meant to learn in this life and the outcome is open. Could also be that literally every move is fated. We won’t know for sure. And does it even matter? We still live our lives, and we make our decisions whether they are predetermined or not. But if you can see the loving force behind the scenes of life, then you may be able to take times of changes as a possibility given to you to learn something new about yourself, people around you and – life itself.

One of the most fascinating books for me has always been the book of Ecclesiastes. Especially the first few verses of chapter 3 have been very reassuring and encouraging, when the writer says right at the beginning ”For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” which is followed by a listing of different contrary phases in life so, for example, the time to keep silence and the time to speak, the time to break down and the time to build up, and so on.

It lies in the nature of man to have an interest in knowing which season of life he lives at the present moment. We may often wonder what life has become and speculate how things would be, if… Sometimes we just don’t have a clue at all what is going on with us and the world. The teaching of submitting one’s will to God can be found in many religions and worldviews. Maybe deep in our hearts we just know, that in the end all that is meant to be, will happen anyways. So why fight the fate? What is actually meant by fate? Is it the same as predeterminism?

A matter of time

It has been said that time is the foundation which makes the thought of free will possible. It actually makes sense, since the division of time into the present, past and future gives us the possibility to make plans, to go for them and in the end, to evaluate them. So we make decisions for which we are also responsible. Although we cannot influence what happens to us, we can indeed choose how to respond to it. So I do believe in free will and self-mastery. On the other hand, I also believe in the concept of an all-knowing and almighty creator God. I remember the many debates I had along the years about free will and fate. I always felt, that there is no contradiction between them, but it was just some time ago that I found a thought which can explain the contemporaneous existence of both. That is to say, the very existence of time.

In the first sentences of the Bible, we can find the story of how God created the world. Some years ago, I drew attention, that one of the first things God created, was TIME. In verse three of Genesis, we can read the well-known words ”Let there be light”. The story goes on and tells us, that after that, God divided the light from the darkness and that he called the light Day and the darkness Night. Follows the statement, that this was the first day. Therefore this is the beginning of time.

”1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.” (New King James Version)

The purpose

Interestingly the creation of celestial bodies is told us to happened later, on the fourth day. So there was light before the creation of the sun (something to think about; although some hold the opinion that the celestial bodies have been created on the first day, but were just set in their places on the fourth day). Anyhow, I love that in verse 14 we get an explanation about what is the purpose of the luminaries and the stars, that is to say, ”…let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years.” (Genesis 1:14b). In the original Hebrew text the word translated to ‘signs’ is לְאֹתֹת֙ lə·’ō·ṯōṯ, which literally means ‘sign’ or ‘omen’. The word translated to ‘seasons’ is וּלְמ֣וֹעֲדִ֔ים ū·lə·mō·w·‘ă·ḏîm, which means ‘appointed time, place or meeting’. That is exactly how mankind has been using the celestial bodies – to read the time by all meanings. That is how our calendar system and astrology was developed. Where the former gives us the orientation in time, the latter gives us a hint on which ”season” in life we are living in at the present moment. Besides revealing something about the present, astrology can give us understanding about our past but also insights on upcoming tendencies. Some translate verse 14 to ”…as signs for the seasons…”. But one could argue, that there is still the possibility for that verse to indicate the function of celestial bodies for acting as omens telling about ‘appointed times’ (seasons), which could also mean different phases and occurrences in life.

”14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.” (New King James Version)

The church has generally been against astrology. However, the verses from the Old Testament which they usually refer to, are rather warnings against divination and sorcery. The Bible does indeed instruct us not to worship the celestial bodies since they are just a part of the creation like you and me. That being a reminder that the stars are not capable of having power over someone’s life. The only force, which is capable of influencing the creation is the creator God himself. That, however, does not deny the creation of being connected within itself, nor that those connections might be able to get observed by man. Astrology is a tool, and as with all tools, it is upon the user how he uses it. Ethics play a fundamental role in working with people, thus also for astrology. The different philosophical approaches to astrology would be a topic for another writing. For now, I think we are doing well by keeping in mind the difference between the creation and the Creator.

The conclusion

Now, the creator is outside of the creation, meaning God is outside of time. Therefore, He is not restricted by time and its division into past, present, and future, that to say everything just IS. The present moment includes all at once. Therefore He is all-knowing. That meaning, according to our minds understanding, He also knows the future. God is also all-mighty. Even if the creation is functioning under specific laws which causal connections can be observed by man and may be seen as part of fate and/or karma, there is always the possibility for God to intervene and therefore change fate due to Him not being restricted either by time, space or matter. The Latin expression “Astra inclinant, non necessitant” (The stars incline; they do not determine), is on point about what I believe is true.

Thoughts in progress

There are a lot of thoughts rising in my mind by reading these Bible passages and writing this text. I’m often thinking about the different layers the stories of the Bible contain. Since there is always a spiritual meaning behind them, it is left open which parts can be understood as actually happened in the physical world in the very manner it has been transmitted to us, and which parts of the stories are meant to be rather metaphorical. Either way, there is a lot to think about. I also like to look at life from different points of view to gain a broader understanding of its nature, but I know that in the end, it will always stay a mystery in some way. How could the creation be able to fully understand itself?

Back to routine and change

Supposed there is such a thing as fate, what benefit could it have to know about it, if you can’t change it anyway? Of course, there is the question whether one believes the insights you get about your life and possible occurrences are predetermined in all ways, or if they are meant to function as a sign of warning or possibility. I guess, we will never exactly know how it really works, but I think that studying fate and our lives (as for example astrology has been the study of fate for thousands of years) gives us tools to get some more understanding of the Divine and to improve ourselves as we get a clearer picture of life and our role in it.

Knowing which ”season” you are living in at the present moment can be a big relief, confirmation, and encouragement at the same time. As for me, the step into a new part of my life has been much clearer since I got some idea what actually had hit me at the time. After studying the present moment and past passages of my life with astrology as a tool, my faith in God’s guidance has been confirmed in many ways, and because of that, there is no place for fear. There is indeed a purpose and a meaning behind everything, and all happens in divine timing. That is also for change.

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Sources for the Bible texts:

YouVersion. https://www.bible.com/en-GB/bible/114/GEN.1.nkjv. Accessed 12.06.2018.

BibleHub. http://biblehub.com/lexicon/genesis/1-14.htm. Accessed 12.06.2018.

Scholar’s Gateway beta. https://scholarsgateway.com/search/WLC-LXX-YLT/Genesis/1:1-14. Accessed 12.06.2018.

Also interesting:

Samantha Samuels’ writing about astrology and religion. https://www.astronumerologywisdom.com/astrology-and-religion.html. Accessed 18.06.2018.

Genesis in original Hebrew and German translation with comments from Raschi. talmud.de. https://www.talmud.de/tlmd/bereschit-mit-kommentar-1/. Accessed 12.06.2018.