This is part of a monthly blog series written by community members inspired by each month’s theme.
During the month of July, Reverend Amani Malaika, senior minister at The Albuquerque Center for Spiritual Living, took the ABQ CSL community on a journey exploring the principles of Sacred Family. “Sacred Family?" you might ask. "Just what is meant by “Sacred Family”? Everyone is familiar with what a family means. People create families every day, and people are born into families every day. Families can be created by happenstance, as a result of procreation, and they can be created intentionally, as a result of deliberate planning and thought. Often times families are created as a combination of both happenstance and deliberate planning. The couple that joins together intending to raise one child and ends up giving birth to triplets. The individual who is moved by some impulse to abandon their solitary life embarks on the adventure of raising a passel of foster children. Maybe it’s the auntie, uncle, or grandparent who finds themselves answering the call to take in recently orphaned or otherwise in-need children, taking them to raise as a matter of love, honor, and duty to kin. Perhaps it’s adults joining in community to explore the nature of divine love. Or Celia and LaShonda buy a home and decide to raise a shelter dog together and end up coming home with 2 dogs and a cat instead of the single being they deliberately planned.
And what about community? What about intentionally joining with a diverse body of humans in the deliberate creation of a familial bond around sacred principles?
The intentional creation of Community around shared Sacred Principles can birth a particular kind of Love infused with a special power and vibration. Through the act of joining in intentional community, connectedness gives rise to the awareness of The One.
When people meditate together, their brain waves quickly harmonize. And when a newcomer joins the group, the newcomer’s brain waves harmonize with that of the group. This suggests that intimacy is a catalyst for the experience of Oneness.
--Mark Nepo, More Together Than Alone
It’s been said that the greatest place to learn spiritual principles and to experience spiritual transformation is in relationship. I would agree; the greatest classroom in which one can really learn to deal with their own stuff, cultivate compassion and empathy, and practice forgiveness, acceptance and grace is definitely in the place where you bump up against another human’s stuff. Relationships are the fastest pathway to connectedness and The One, provided they are intentional and awakened. The particular love that is intentional relationship is the gateway to deep connection. It is in our intentions within relationship that we decide what we are choosing to do: to elevate Love to a place of fuller understanding. Within intentional relationships, we come to more deeply realize that we are all made of the same stuff, driven by the same intrinsic impulses, and wanting the same basic experience, which is Love.
Richard Rohr says:
“If we’re able to go deep into that specific, aching love for these particular people, with these smiles and that laugh and that sweet face—something else might happen as a natural consequence of it. Maybe, as our hearts overflow, we find that love can, naturally of its own accord, extend wider, until it encompasses caring for all things, and connection to everything—until our love becomes Love itself, the very flow and force of the universe”
It is Love that is at the foundation of Sacred Family, and it is Love that unfolds when we join in community to intentionally create a world that works for everyone.
Because here’s the deal: we are all one, we are all connected, we are--none of us--ever truly alone, and we all share this world. We are all sharing breath, breathing in the breath of Life and breathing out the Life of Spirit. As a simple matter of truth, being Love in Action is all about the sharing of breath.
Mark Nepo shares with us this profound fact: The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have a custom of sharing their breath. They touch noses and take in each other’s breathing and, in this nonverbal way, affirm that their lives are connected.
Affirming that our lives are connected is the very definition of being Love in Action, and it is the fundamental principle behind Sacred Family. We discover more about ourselves in the process of engaging beyond sameness because Unity is not sameness. Unity is not being alike. It is the celebration of our uniqueness, the sharing of our individual gifts, the sharing of our unique expressions of love, and the sharing of our breath. When we learn to love and accept more about ourselves and others, we experience more of God, which allows us to express the truth of Spirit in our world.
Ernest Holmes, the founder of Science of Mind, relates a story about Oneness and grace and what it means to share from a place of love:
I had a funeral not long ago, because of a mutual friend. I did not know the people or this elderly lady who had passed on, didn’t see any members of the family. I sat there while the song was being sung, and I thought, “Now look here, something in me knows about this person. There is some part of me that always knew her and embraced her.” So when I got up to talk, I didn’t talk much about immortality. All I could talk about was beauty, and I did it for 20 minutes. So after it was over, two sons came to me and said, “Oh, that was terrific!” I said, “Let me ask you something: was your mother an artist?” and one of them said, “No, not in the ordinary sense; but her whole life was a work of art and a thing of beauty, and had you known her all her life, you could not have said it any better.”
--from The Ernest Holmes Papers
To me, this little anecdote brilliantly sums up the nature of Unity as it relates to our shared experience as human beings sharing time, space, love and breath. The stories of separation and difference that we tell ourselves are simply not true. They are only stories. Moving in the world, fully acknowledging our uniqueness is not the same thing as telling the story that we are apart and separate. The greatness of Spirit is that it holds and contains all the diversity, fully within its totality, completely within the All that is The One.
Empathy, compassion, love, and understanding undergird intentional family; they are the doorways to deep connection, and they are the language of unity that speaks of our Oneness. One special gift of a spiritual community, or sacred family, is that we expand our social circles, We expand our familial circles, and we use our shared spiritual principles and experiences in our relationships in order that they may grow us and grow who, what, and how we love.
One magnificent bit of growth and expansion that occurred at The Albuquerque Center for Spiritual Living during the month of July was hosting The Roots Summer Leadership Academy. Let me assure you, nothing will grow your heart more strongly or rapidly than the presence of fifty very high energy teens and preteens running through the halls, making art, singing and dancing, and doing all the things, because kids! Kids are the perfect vessel for carrying Love, sharing Love, and displaying Love--fearlessly, unapologetically, and sometimes, relentlessly. Kids are a force of transformation, celebrating diversity and inclusion as naturally as fish swim. Children are the demonstration of what Spirit is asking of us: to ever expand, to ever include, to go beyond our comfortable edges and to Love more deeply. Ultimately, it is children that teach us best to grow what we Love.
So be like Howard Thurman: spend your days sniffing out the ones who smell like you, and when you find those whose scent is different from yours, check your sniffer and get yourself right. It is in that self-correction that you discover that you are always beholding the face of God. It is with that correction of your own sniffer that you discover your empathy.
Let empathy be the light that guides you through the pathway of understanding, toward ever deeper Love. The grace of Spirit will accept nothing less. The grace of Spirit is making itself known to us all the time in our relationships. As Sadhguru, the revered yogi and mystical guide reminds us, “Whatever kind of spiritual practice you do, ultimately, you are just making yourself available to grace.”
The important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love. --Mirabai Starr
Our families (in all versions) provide some of the richest opportunities we have to awakening to the power of Love and to awaken to the growing of grace.
When we let the very human nature of our relationships grow us into grace through the presence of love that is right at our fingertips, the possibility of opening us to receive greater and greater experiences of Love and God grows exponentially.
…[A]n expansion of the soul takes place, as if the water rising up from the fountain doesn’t just overflow and move on. Instead, the more water that comes up the larger the basin grows to receive it. And Spirit works many wonders in her, shaping and preparing her to contain abundant grace. --Teresa of Avilla
This I know: The capacity for growing grace is proportionate with the capacity to forgive. One of the things that I know about forgiveness is that it is mysterious AND we can work at it. We can stop telling the story of our hurt over and over again as a way to keep the hurt alive, and we can refuse to go into denial and pretend that the hurt didn’t happen. However, we must be willing to acknowledge and look at the hurt with eyes wide open, and then begin to look for the grace in it by asking ourselves: What is the good in this for me? With curiosity and wonder as your standards, you will come to answer that question for yourself. I am willing to bet that you will discover that the opportunity to practice forgiveness and the opportunity to practice the presence of Love will be the hidden gifts you discover. It is through our relationships that we reveal Grace.
And so it is.
Paul Hunt Cuffee