INSIGHTS Blog

Read along as Rev. Dr. Rick Belous shares personal stories, anecdotes, insights and more that will entertain you, challenge you, and ultimately inspire you!

Before his call to ministry, Rick was Vice President of Research and Chief Economist for the United Way system. He was also an adjunct lecturer of economics at George Washington University. He is an ordained minister with Unity Worldwide Ministries as well as serving as an advisor to them. Rick also serves as president of Spiral-Pathways.org (a research network dedicated to studying and advancing the evolution of spiritual consciousness).

Rick lives in the Roanoke area with two of his daughters and a cat.


Getting Over Being Vulnerable To The Disapproval Of Others

September 20, 2022

So we are in the thick of the political season with the midterm elections fast approaching.

I want to tell you two political stories. I promise they are non-partisan tales and contain spiritual lessons for us regardless of whether we are liberals or conservatives.

The first story involves Gwen Ford Faulkenberry. She lives in the Ozarks in Arkansas and is an author, a college lecturer, and a blogger on modern spirituality. I started reading her blogs and was intrigued by her columns and observations.

She was not a political junky by any stretch of the imagination. But her friends convinced her that she should run to become a representative in the Arkansas state legislature. “We need non-politicians with your zeal and values in the legislature,” they said to her.

So in 2020, Gwen ran for office. One of the beauties of a blog on the Internet is that I was able – in 2022 – to go back and read some of Gwen’s blogs that she wrote while she was running to become a state representative in 2020.

“When I was a kid in school, I was always trying out for something. I won sometimes, and I lost a lot. The older I got, the more sense I acquired, at least in that department, and it’s been a long time since I’ve made myself vulnerable to the approval of others on any large scale. Maybe that’s why I was reluctant to enter a local political contest and why the race itself is so terrifying. Every single day I ask myself what in the world I’ve gotten myself into,” Gwen wrote.

Making yourself vulnerable to the approval of others was hard for Gwen, and I suspect it is also difficult for many of us. It is far easier to stay in the cocoon of a small comfort zone. However, we don’t grow if we do that.

Gwen said that when fear raised its head during her campaign, she spent time renewing her connection with Spirit. She wrote that Spirit never promised that she would win the election. But Spirit did promise always to be there with her. Because of this, Gwen realized she could “walk through this – and every other situation – fearless.”

I enjoyed reading the blogs written during Gwen’s 2020 campaign. It was at the pandemic’s peak, and she was very creative in coming up with new ways of campaigning. For example, she started something called “Riverside Chats.” These were online “meetings” where anybody could join the sessions and ask questions. Talk about making yourself vulnerable!

Gwen wrote, “What is really important to you right now, and what if it doesn’t work out? Sit with that for a minute.” Then she suggested that we insert God’s hand there in the middle of it all. “Visualize the truth every day, and you’ll be ready to face anything,” she said.

As I read her blog, I came to election day in 2020. I so much wanted to read that she won her election. But the election results showed that Gwen not only lost the race but was also trounced. Gwen received only roughly 30 percent of the vote, and her opponent garnered about 70 percent of the votes.

More recently, Gwen has been able to refer to herself humorously as a “failed politician.” I wish I could tell you that when we walk hand-in-hand with Spirit, we always get what we want. That does not appear to be the case. However, when we have that deep connection with Spirit, we do not have to fear or be vulnerable to the disapproval of others. As the Psalmist put it, “Delight in the Lord, and you will have the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:7).

The second “political” story I want to share shows how we can “win” even when it seems that we have “lost.” This story comes from Rev. Molly Baskette, who is the lead pastor of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, United Church of Christ

Rev. Molly has a good friend who became a representative of her state legislature in 2018. Before winning her first election, this friend’s chief qualification to be a lawmaker was that she had previously run a church camp for many years. Her friend knew “how to herd cats, handle conflict, cast division, and sing while doing it all.”

Rev. Molly‘s friend kept voting her conscience in the state legislature, and she did not always follow the dictates of her party’s political leaders. Of course, this got her into trouble with the bosses, and as a result, she was literally moved to the back rows of the state house’s floor.

It was so far back that she was next to many representatives from the other political party. Instead of complaining, Rev. Molly‘s friend started talking to and becoming friends with many of these representatives from the other political party.

“She told them about why she was voting the way she was on critical justice issues and judicial appointments. And she began flipping (some representatives from the other party to voting her way) … In what used to be a hostile, polarized political environment, new relationships are forming. Hearts and minds are being opened,“ Reverend Molly reports.

“Being moved to the back of the room is not always punishment. It might be just the place God needs you,” Rev. Molly points out.

These two stories remind me of a powerful documentary I saw several years ago called Hoop Dreams. The movie followed the paths of two talented Chicago inner-city high school basketball players. Everybody thought these young men would have incredible careers in the National Basketball Association.

In a typical Hollywood movie, they would have faced difficult challenges and overcome each one. The final scene would show them winning NBA championships or being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Instead, in Hoop Dreams, both young athletes never make it to the NBA. Something happened to each of them that they could not overcome, and as the political stories told above, they lost their “elections” by more than 70 percent and/or were consigned to the “back of the room.” Life can have a way of doing that.

However, be it politics, sports, show biz, business, or even social work or the ministry, we do not have to be vulnerable to the disapproval of others.

The key questions are:

  • What does our Higher Power think?
  • Are we aligned with the “still, small voice” inside us all?
  • Do we have some scripture and other books that can be a real North Star to us when things don’t go our way?
  • What can we learn from the criticisms that are being made about us?
  • And do we have some spiritual mentors and support networks that we can turn to in difficult times?

Having the above and truly relying on these powerful resources can make all the difference. During the height of the pandemic, I heard one of my spiritual mentors – Rev. Russell Heiland, the senior minister at Unity of Fairfax – ask the following question: “How can what is before us be for us?”

I think when we are playfully trying to answer Rev. Russ’ question, we are less vulnerable to the slings and arrows that will inevitably be shot at us in the material world.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Holding Onto Your Integrity While Being In The Castle

September 13, 2022

I am feeling the loss! Well, maybe it is not so much a “loss” as it is a “change.”

After all, nobody has died, and nobody has gone through a medical challenge. It’s just that my daughter, Rachel, has gone off to college. With my seven-year-old daughter, Therese, still in the house, it is not like I am experiencing “empty nest” syndrome. Single-parenting Therese is, in many ways, “full-time employment.”

I have FaceTime, texting, phone calls, and the occasional email with Rachel. We even have an active group text with all of my children and significant others. But I do miss the face-to-face interactions with Rachel.

Do you know some of the things I miss the most? I miss driving in the car with Rachel when she would share her playlists with me. We would talk about her music. I miss listening to podcasts with her, and we would pause a podcast to share our comments and observations.

But I really miss our watching online streaming shows and movies together. Recently we have been watching a fascinating series on Netflix called Borgen. It was produced by DR1, a Danish television network. Netflix has it, so you can watch Borgen in dubbed English with or without English subtitles.

“Borgen” means castle in Danish, and Borgen is the nickname for Christiansborg Castle in Copenhagen (the capital of Denmark). The Danish executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government are all headquartered in Christiansborg Castle.

The central premise of Borgen is as follows: Birgitte Nyborg is the idealistic leader of a moderate reformist political party in Denmark. Birgitte’s campaigning strikes a sympathetic nerve with voters. When Danish elections are held, her party receives a large number of votes, but it does not win a majority of seats in the Danish Parliament. The Queen invites Birgitte to form a coalition government with other Danish political parties.

Despite many tough obstacles, Birgitte forms a coalition government and becomes Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. Borgen is, of course, fiction. But several months after Borgen first aired on Danish television, Denmark did elect its first female Prime Minister.

Borgen is rich in characters and circles of drama and tension. There is, of course, Birgitte’s administration. Remember, she is trying to hold a coalition government together, and many of her ministers come from political parties that don’t see the world exactly the same way that Birgitte does.

Even within Birgitte’s political party, she faces constant pressure to move in different directions simultaneously. While she has some very idealistic staff, she also has a “spin doctor” and political advisors who want to win the next election.

However, that is not the only dramatic circle in the show. There is also a Danish TV network newsroom with super competitive reporters, editors, and producers all jockeying for their stories, influence, and power. The series focuses on the machinations of one young female news anchor, Katrine Fønsmark. For example, when do you run with a story even if it breaks national security rules? Or, when does being, too, shall we say, intimate with a leader in the government generate ethical questions?

But this is not the end of the dramatic circles. There is also the Prime Minister’s family. Her husband is a noted academic and widely read scholar, and they are the parents of two young children. Being the Prime Minister creates numerous family tensions and dynamics.

Borgen was a big hit on Danish TV and highly successful in other European countries. If you are an American fan of the show Madame Secretary, which was on CBS, you can see how the American writers and producers got many of their ideas from Borgen. While I am a fan of Madame Secretary, the American show does not go as deep in terms of situations and dramatic/character development as Borgen, I believe.

I think Borgen does a first-rate job of bringing up some of the key ethical, moral, and spiritual conflicts we all face. Our “castle” might not be as big as being the Prime Minister of a country, or the news anchor of a leading television network, etc., but we all face these dilemmas and choices in many ways.

The creator of the series, Adam Price, has said that he wants people to believe that Birgitte entered politics with idealistic motives. She wanted to reform the system and help ordinary people. But along the way, she has tasted power and the benefits of holding office. And it is challenging to hold a coalition government together.

Where do you bend? Where do you draw the line and say, “No”? What is your moral compass? Do you even have a moral compass? When do you compromise? Even Mahatma Gandhi entered into many compromises.

Yes, we have the example of Jesus facing the temptations of Satan. But we also have The Screwtape Letters of C.S. Lewis, which puts these situations into a 20th Century context. It is good to have a series like Borgen which can put it in 21st Century realities.

Let me give several examples:

  • The Prime Minister’s administration has pledged to make real environmental improvements. It has also pledged to improve social and economic conditions, which can be expensive.
  • In the series, major fossil fuel reserves are discovered in Greenland, which Denmark administers. Money from natural resource projects in Greenland could sustain and advance social welfare in Denmark – and in Greenland – but at the cost of environmental degradation. What do you do?
  • The United States wants you to do some questionable things and keep it a secret (it is always interesting to see us through the eyes of others). You need the United States to remain an ally, but what do you do?

In the above cases and others, Birgitte and Katrine come out, shall we say, somewhat less than Jesus. But they are far better off for having wrestled with these situations.

And I believe viewers of Borgen are better off for seeing these age-old issues in a 21st Century context.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Back to School & Lifelong Learning

September 6, 2022

The start of this school year has brought some significant changes to the Belous household.

First, my daughter Rachel has gone off to college. While I am proud of what she is doing, I miss her very much. We often listened to podcasts together while driving, and we would stop the podcast and share views on the topics covered. It was so refreshing to get the insights of a Zoomer (Gen Z) on a wide range of issues.

Rachel would also have me listen to her music playlists, which ran the gamut from new wave pop to Nat King Cole. She has a free Spotify account, so we must listen to commercials. Rachel said, “Why do so many of the advertisements sent to me seem to be for people in their 40s or 50s? I told them I’m 18 years old.”

“Yes, but your playlists have so much Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Rogers and Hammerstein that they think you are a middle-aged person driving an SUV,” I said. In many ways, Rachel is an old soul. I first heard Olivia Rodrigo and other new pop stars on Rachel‘s playlist. I will miss these streaming online listening sessions with Rachel.

My younger daughter Therese started second grade this year. She told me she was going off to college with Rachel. I asked her how she could attend elementary school in Salem, Virginia if she were in Massachusetts with Rachel.

Therese tilted her head and said, “Dad, I will just have to go to elementary school online.”

My daughters are often really different about things. When I took Rachel clothes shopping for school, she picked “no-nonsense” stuff. But when I told Therese we were going shopping for school clothing, she said, “Great! I’d like to get a new bracelet and rings.”

Ty’Ann Brown is the Vice President of Outreach Ministries at Guideposts. Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, and his wife Ruth, were the founders of Guideposts. Ty’Ann recently had some very interesting things to say about this “back to school” time of the year.

“I look back on my formal education with mostly good feelings. There were so many positive, exciting experiences – from elementary school all the way through grad school. But calculus? I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore,“ Ty’Ann explains.

“Still, I consider myself a lifelong student. In particular, I want to keep myself open to learning from God. Getting older does not automatically mean that we are getting wiser. We have to work at it. Learning from God requires constant rethinking and refocusing,” she insists.

I agree with Ty’Ann about her views on education – including her thoughts about calculus. I first took calculus in my junior year in high school. I did somewhat “okay” in this branch of mathematics that was first formulated by Newton and Leibniz. But I vowed never again to take a course in mathematics if I could avoid it.

And avoided it I did as an undergraduate English major. But then a weird thing happened. I became very interested in economics, and the “dismal science“ really requires mathematics proficiency.

Calculus is about continuous change, and I really could understand why analysis of continuous change is essential in economics. In graduate school, I wanted to master calculus. I saw the reason and need for calculus. This time the laws of differentiation were relatively easy and quick to learn.

I took French in high school and college and remember many French words. But I have never really thought in French. However, I bet if I lived in France and had a French girlfriend, I would be amazed at how quickly I would learn to think in French.

The point is that when I see the need to learn something – and what this learning can do for me – I become super-motivated, and mastery of the subject becomes relatively easy.

In the realm of the spirit, my experience is that lifelong learning is essential. We do not graduate, but we need always to be students. As Bob Dylan put it, “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Zen Buddhist teacher, said that when he was a young monk, he wondered why Buddha had to keep doing his spiritual practices after becoming enlightened. Then Thich Nhat Hanh remembered that impermanence – the calculus of continuous change – was at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. Even the Buddha’s enlightenment would fade away unless there was continuous practice and lifelong learning.

So even if we may be many years away from “School days, school days/Dear old golden rule days,” I would ask us to all think: What can we learn in this new school year in terms of the realm of the spirit? How can we be lifelong spiritual learners?

It might be through a rededication to prayer and meditation. It might be through reading a book on some enlightened subject. It might be taking a class or working with a spiritual mentor. But whatever shape or form it takes, a common denominator is that it will enhance our connection with the Divine Spark inside us. Use the start of a new school year to walk in this direction.

Let me suggest one way that you might do this. In a few weeks, Unity of Roanoke Valley will start the fall session of Spirit Circles. These small study groups meet in people’s homes, at URV, online, or in a library. It is an excellent way of not only doing spiritual study but also a great way of making friends and strengthening community at URV.

This time the Spirit Circles will look at Gleanings of Truth from World Religions: A Unity Perspective. Sign-up sheets for the Spirit Circles are in the Fellowship Hall at Unity of Roanoke Valley.

Being a lifelong spiritual learner is an investment that I promise will pay you very rich dividends. It will help you deal with a world of continuous change.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Chilled Flower Bulbs and The Power of Wisdom

August 30, 2022

Author and spiritual commentator Cassandra Tiersma could not have failed to get my attention by how she described herself.

Cassandra wrote that she is a “self-confessed messy-a.n.i.c.” (i.e., messy, absentminded, normal-ish, imperfect, and creative). She is also an interesting author, poet, and journalist.

At Unity of Roanoke Valley, we have some excellent master gardeners (Including Lewis Shontell, Celia McCormick, and Donna Haley). They have led the URV Giving Garden – which has provided many fresh vegetables to RAM House – or helped our rose garden bloom. Of course, these three Musketeers of gardening would be the first to point out that much of this came about through a fantastic team of volunteers!

I don’t know if our URV team of master gardeners would agree with Cassandra about this, but she tells the following flower bulb tale: When Cassandra and her family lived in the north, the flower bulbs loved the climate. They were easy to deal with.

But then Cassandra and her family moved down south. “Having moved from a colder, bulb-loving climate, I learned that I’d have to refrigerate my bulbs before planting them in this warmer region. In addition to the bulbs needing to be pre-chilled before planting, though, I learned that these bulbs must be planted immediately – ‘before they lose their cool,’” she noted.

She saw a powerful spiritual lesson in all of this. “I could relate to those flower bulbs. Sometimes I lose my cool too. How could I apply this horticultural wisdom to my own life so that I could avoid losing my cool? What would this look like for me,” she asked.

She concluded that flower bulbs need cool temperatures “to bloom and thrive. Likewise, I need the right spiritual conditions to bloom and thrive.” For Cassandra, this requires following a daily spiritual discipline centered around prayer and meditation.

“The fact that pre-chilled bulbs must be planted immediately reminds me that in times of stress, I need to immediately plant myself” in spiritual principles, she adds that she needs to do this “before I lose my cool.”

The above-mentioned spiritual principles are backed up by another author and spiritual commentator – Jeannie Blackmer – whom I have grown to admire. One day her son, Jordan, walked into their home and was bleeding profusely from his forehead, the result of a backyard gardening accident with a wheelbarrow and a large dumpster.

Jeanne‘s normal default position had been to panic in these situations. But her spiritual growth was significant because of her daily practices. Instead of panicking, she got something to clean up the bleeding and an ice pack.

After putting Jordan in the family car, she headed to the emergency room. Jordan turned to his mother and said, “I think I’m going to pass out.” He proceeded to do just that.

Jeannie said she “kept one hand on the steering wheel and placed the other on his knee.” She prayed and felt a real sense of peace even when “he started convulsing.” Jordan then woke up and was very disoriented. “I reassured Jordan that he was okay. At the ER, they stitched his forehead and diagnosed a concussion,” Jeannie said.

When they were finally able to return home, Jordan turned to Jeannie and said, “Mom, thanks for staying calm.” Jeannie acknowledged that “in the past, my first response to scary situations was panic.” But because Jeannie had planted some “metaphysically pre-chilled flower bulbs” in her heart and mind, her “default position” had changed for the better.

Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of the Unity movement, talked about the 12 Powers inside us all. One of these is the Power of Wisdom. As John Denver sang, “It is in every one of us to be wise.” (Why not click this link and hear John Denver remind us of this key fact.)

While Wisdom and many other spiritual powers are within us, it takes some care and dedication to bring these “flower bulbs” to bloom in our lives. But when we have taken the time to “metaphysically pre-chill our flower bulbs,” the gardens of our life can blossom even under challenging situations.

How do we “pre-chill our bulbs?” Let me make some suggestions:

  • I know the word “discipline” is not fashionable in the 21st century. But it is essential, I believe, if we want to make spiritual progress. One of the best definitions I have ever heard of GOD is the Gift of Discipline.
  • If discipline is not our “default” or “go-to” position, then we can thank Spirit for awakening the “gift of discipline” inside of us. Yes, this would mean going to affirmative prayer, and my experience is that affirmative prayer works! Jesus told us that “when you pray, believe that you have received, and you will receive” (Mark 11:24). This includes the gift of discipline.
  • What might this discipline look like? It can look like daily prayer and meditation. It could look like journaling and inventory writing. It can mean working with a good spiritual mentor.
  • It can also mean that when the crisis du jour arises – such as your son having a bleeding forehead – you immediately put the “pre-chilled bulbs” into the soil of your heart and mind. As the apostle Paul put it so well, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2).
  • If there are times when we forget to do the above, we can quickly forgive ourselves and not beat up on ourselves. We are dealing with a God of infinite patience and love – which means infinite patience and love for you – yes, YOU!

Please remember that you do not have to be a “master gardener” to pre-chill some “metaphysical flower bulbs.” Also, John Denver was right, “It is in every one of us to be wise.”

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Guidance From Spirit: “Intuitively, We Will Know How To Handle Situations Which Used To Baffle Us!”

August 23, 2022

Dianne Neal Matthews is an interesting writer who covers spiritual subjects, and she has certainly got me thinking about spiritual guidance.

Dianne began seeing herself as a writer when she picked up her first chunky pencil and lined paper tablet at the age of five. Her dream became a reality when she finally attended a writers’ conference In her mid-forties. Since then, she has made up for lost time by contributing to 19 books, including her book of daily devotionals. Some of her insights have moved me.

Recently, Dianne wrote about her pastor, who was on a church mission team in a developing nation. Instead of “going home or back to headquarters,” her minister felt strong spiritual guidance that he should go down a particular road. His guide and translator said that nobody lived on that road, and it would be pointless to go in that direction.

The minister insisted, and as they walked down the seemingly abandoned road, they ran into two men who needed care. The minister introduced himself, and one of the men responded, “I’ve been expecting you.“

This man said he had dreamed about a foreign man who would visit him and that he should listen to what this man had to say. This meeting on a seemingly abandoned road not only had a real positive impact on these two locals, but it opened up Dianne’s minister to the real power of spiritual guidance.

The story also had a significant impact on Dianne. She writes, “Despite my noble intentions and worthy ambitions, my personal agenda will always pale in comparison to God’s plan for my life.” She adds that when she makes following Spirit “my first priority … my days become full of divine appointments.“ She said that when we are open to Spirit’s guidance, we never find ourselves “on a dead-end road.”

In recent weeks we have been looking at Jane Goodall’s latest book, The Book of Hope, during our Sunday services. I believe this book is essential reading and has something to say to us as we go through our current conditions.

Besides being one of the world’s leading naturalists, and her significant findings from observing chimpanzees in the heart of Africa, Dr. Goodall has become a social activist in the areas of the environment, endangered species, and social justice. She is comfortable thinking about all of this as “neighbor helping neighbor.”

Besides giving solid reasons for hope – despite the challenges we face – Jane tells of many experiences she has had with a spiritual force greater than herself. This spiritual force has saved her life and led her to make some of the wisest decisions ever.

My middle son, David, is an atheist, but I have found a way of speaking with him about this higher level of consciousness and synchronicity. David can see it as a higher intuition that we all have. But we are often closed off to this higher intuition for various reasons. God forbid one should call it prayer, meditation, or centering to my son.

Nevertheless, these things seem to work in gaining more spiritual guidance. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …then it might just be a duck.

Let me give you some of the incredible experiences that Dr. Goodall mentions about this spiritual force acting in her life:

  • One time she was standing in a river, deep in Africa, and a snake slithered through the water next to her. Jane realized this was a poisonous snake, and western medicine had not yet created an antivenom for its bite. If the snake bit you, you were essentially dead. Jane‘s first reaction was panic and fear. But this higher intuition – spiritual guidance – urged her to be calm and peaceful. She spread her legs, and the snake swam through them. Jane said she did not panic, and in a way, it was a thing of awesome beauty. Jane was not bitten and remained safe and at peace while this happened.
  • Jane tells of many other examples of this spiritual guidance. For example, when she was a little girl during World War II, she lived in Bournemouth, England, near the sea. Jane and her mom would go down to the beaches, and they would wade in the water at a spot where there was a hole in the barbed wire defenses. They always went back to the house by the same path. However, one day Jane’s mother felt a strong calling to go back by a different route which was more difficult to pass through. While doing this, they saw a German plane circling in the sky, dropping bombs. Jane‘s mother told her to lie flat on the ground. Her mother lay on top of her, and they were safe. When they looked at the route they usually took home, they saw some large craters from the bombs. It was clear to Jane that they would have been killed if they had taken their normal path.

The Book of Hope is full of examples, like the ones above, where Dr. Goodall experienced this spiritual guidance. I would not be surprised if many of you reading this blog could name instances where you, too, have experienced this saving force.

I love how the central text of Alcoholics Anonymous (known as the Big Book) puts it. The Big Book promises that as we grow in spirit, we will “intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.”

I don’t think we can force or control this spiritual guidance into our lives. Even Mother Theresa went through periods when things went dry, and there seemed to be no flow from Spirit. Yes, even saints must go through long dark nights of the soul!

I think there are things we can do to cooperate with this spiritual guidance. We can do things that will make it more likely that we will connect with this incredible wisdom. Let me suggest several things:

  • I think it is important that we develop the faith that this spiritual guidance “stuff” isn’t just for other people – it is for us too! Unity‘s second principle is about the divine spark that is inside of all of us – yes, that includes you! Go back to Unity‘s first principle. Can you really envision a loving God that would hand out the gift of spiritual guidance to everybody except you? Instead of spiritual guidance, you got the booby prize! Just saying that helps one see the error thought behind such silly thinking.
  • So, get over it, and start thanking God for your gift of spiritual guidance!
  • Remember the old song, “It is in every one of us to be wise.” Wisdom is one of the 12 Powers that is inside of you.
  • Take the time to “ReUnity.” Have a daily prayer and meditation practice – and do it! Use Emmet Fox’s Golden Key. Emmet suggested that whatever the challenge we face, we first reconnect with God and remind ourselves of what we know to be spiritually true. Only after we have done this do we even consider the crisis du jour. When we take up Fox’s Golden Key, we are much more likely to hear sound spiritual guidance.
  • It is also important to test out what we think we are hearing as spiritual guidance. Have spiritual mentors that you can speak to about what you are hearing. Consult scripture and the writings of great spiritual teachers. Honestly seek within, and try not to fool yourself.
  • I also like to ask God to please be unmistakably clear so that even I can understand what is being said. It is also great to get outward confirmation related to spiritual guidance. So often, what I believe Spirit is saying to me has been confirmed by things that have happened. However, there are times – like Jane Goodall and the poisonous snake – where you just have to trust and go with the flow.

It is easier to say “Thy will be done” when we truly believe that we are dealing with a loving God whose desire is (as Jesus put it) “to give you the kingdom.” But as the Psalmist wrote so long ago, “Delight in the Lord and you will have the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It was true back then, and it is still true in the 21st century.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris: Dreams Can Come True!

August 16, 2022

When my oldest daughter, Catherine, was a little girl, we would watch movie trailers – i.e., film coming attractions – in darkened theaters.

Catherine would sit there with a tub of buttered and salted popcorn on her lap, as we judged the trailers with either a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” We would pretend we were Siskel and Ebert.

A “thumbs up” meant, “We have to see that film.” A “thumbs down” meant, “Even if you throw in a chocolate Klondike bar with the tub of popcorn, I wouldn’t be caught dead watching that film.” We also allowed ourselves to vote “thumbs sideways,” which meant, “I’ll see it if you want to, but you better throw in the chocolate Klondike bar.“

One time little Catherine voted with two “thumbs up.” It was after seeing the trailer for The Rug Rats Go To Paris. “Dad, we have to see the Rug Rats’ movie the day it opens,” she said.

Recently I was in a movie theater watching one dreadful trailer after another. They all seemed to start with the sentence, “In a world that no longer … yadayadayada.” There were pictures of people running in terror on city streets as buildings collapsed around them and something horrible happened. Then there were pictures of superheroes and supervillains or Tom Cruise and a starlet.

Needless to say, I gave all of those trailers a “thumbs down.” I was hoping they would show us a “silence your cell phone” message or “change your kitty litter” public service announcement instead of another trailer.

But then something wonderful happened. They showed a coming attraction for a new movie, Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris. I was thrilled by it and decided to see it. I am glad I did because it is a delightful tale that needs to be told right now.

Based on a 1958 novel by Paul Gallico, the historical comedy-drama tells the story of an English cleaning lady who becomes obsessed with couture gowns designed by the French fashion designer Christian Dior. The film is set in 1950s Paris, which is still recovering from World War II. There is a nasty garbage strike in the “City of Lights,” and one can sense some fundamental cultural changes and upheavals happening under the surface. This is a Paris that sometimes longs for the bohemian era of the 1920s or the “Belle Époque“ of the 1890s.

In the midst of all this, several fashion designers in Paris are trying to rekindle the spirit of elegance, beauty, and refinement in the modern world. Christian Dior is one of the fashion designers leading this movement. He has created a house of fashion catering to the very wealthy, the old aristocracy, and the new up-and-coming fashionistas/celebrities.

Into this world wanders a very strange character. Many would say that Ada Harris – fantastically played by Leslie Manville – has no right sticking her nose into fashion a la Paris.

Mrs. Harris has had a tough life. She lives in a London apartment that has seen better days. Her husband was killed during World War II, and his picture is still on the nightstand beside her bed.

To earn a living, Mrs. Harris cleans people’s homes. It is not an easy existence, and the gray dullness of post-World War II England sometimes gets to her. On top of this, some of the people she works for mistreat her. While they may have the title of “Lady” in front of their names, they are anything but a “Lady” by how they treat Mrs. Harris. It reminds me of what Jesus said, “What you did to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40).

One day, Mrs. Harris sees a dress while putting clothes away. It is so beautiful that it captures her imagination. She finds out that Christian Dior designed it. Right then, Mrs. Harris dreams of owning a Christian Dior gown. The beauty, the elegance, and the refinement represented by the dress are something that Mrs. Harris wants in her life.

She finds out how much money such gowns cost – they cost a fortune! She works hard and saves. Finally, when she has the money, Mrs. Harris goes to Paris to fulfill her dream.

When she gets to Paris, she is amazed to discover that the House of Dior does not operate like a department store. You do not simply walk in and pick out a gown. You must be invited to a showing where beautiful models display the latest fashions.

I won’t spoil all the twists and turns for you, but this English maid winds up the guest of an old-world aristocrat, and she has a front-row seat at the Dior show. Mrs. Harris is like that little boy in the famous story “the emperor’s new clothes.” She asks the right and challenging questions that nobody else seems to have the guts to ask.

She is also like Edith Bunker from that old TV show All In The Family, and in a very interesting way, she starts charming people at the House of Dior. Unbelievable as it may seem, the House of Dior agrees to make the gown that Mrs. Harris desires.

Meanwhile, the fact that the Paris of the 1950s is very different from the world of the 1920s or 1890s is starting to catch up and impact the House of Dior. Times have changed, and high-end fashion designers do not seem to be able to stay financially afloat by just appealing to the upper crust of society. It has become more of a middle-class world.

But the House of Dior is learning from Mrs. Harris and what she represents. Many women out there want elegance, beauty, and refinement in their lives. They want what a designer like Christian Dior can bring to their lives. They may not be able to afford a specially designed wardrobe. But they would be willing to buy many other products that someone like Christian Dior could create and sell.

Paraphrasing an old saying, “If you can’t bring other women like Mrs. Harris to Paris, then Dior will bring a bit of Paris to Mrs. Harris’ sisters.” Needless to say, Christian Dior was saved by implementing this new vision.

I was curious to see if there was an actual Mrs. Harris. No, the novel and movie are fiction. But Mrs. Harris is a representation and personification of real forces that altered the fashion industry.

So what becomes of Mrs. Harris’ actual Dior gown? It is a bittersweet story, which I will not spoil for you. But I will tell you that, like in the Book of Job, there is a beautiful and happy ending.

I think this story touched me because it was about a woman who had a hard life and was living through gray times in her nation. And yet her soul was captivated by art, beauty, and elegance. Mrs. Harris was willing to follow her dream, and in doing so, she uplifted so many other people.

Leave it to a minister to think of two Bible verses after seeing this movie. But the two verses that came to mind are where Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly“ (John 10:10). He also said, “It is the father‘s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:22). At a gut level, Mrs. Harris believed in these two verses.

Please let me know if you give Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris a “thumbs up” too.

Many blessings,

Rev Rick

Deer Today and Gone Tomorrow: Lasting Truth in the Face of Impermanence

August 9, 2022

I have spoken before In these columns about a fellow seminary student and friend. Her name is Rev. Teresa Burton.

I always loved listening to Teresa, whether it was an informal conversation in the Unity Village cafeteria or hearing her deliver a lesson during a Sunday service. She always struck me as an “old soul” with much insight and wisdom.

Therefore, I was not surprised when Unity World Headquarters named Teresa as the editor of The Daily Word. I believe The Daily Word has thrived under her leadership.

Teresa started emailing so-called “notes from the editor,” and I have found them to be spiritual gems. A recent note from her reports that she glanced out her window a few weeks ago and saw a young fawn curled up against the shed in her backyard. The animal was small, alone, and did not move for several hours.

“Convinced something was wrong, and the fawn was about to succumb to injury, illness, or malnutrition, I called my local animal control agency to ask them to intervene – to help save it, relocate it, or remove it if it died,” Teresa said.

However, the animal control staffer taking the call did not share Teresa’s sense of urgency. She saw the situation differently and explained that the mother probably stashed her baby by the shed, seeing it as a safe place. Meanwhile, the mother went off to get food or something else and would return shortly.

Teresa noted, “I was prepared for a response of action or indifference. I was not prepared to learn that there wasn’t really a problem. I paused before I stammered, finally asking, ‘So what should I do?”

The animal control staffer did not hesitate to reply, “Enjoy it.”

Teresa made a self-assessment and commented that there “are plenty of things I’m inclined to do when confronted with an unusual or unexpected development. Learn about it, try to fix it, and worry about it? No problem. But just let it unfold in its own time? Appreciate it while it’s happening? Not so much.”

The little fawn stayed in Teresa’s yard for over a week. Occasionally the mama doe was also spotted in the yard, nursing and grooming her young fawn. Teresa said she followed the advice that she had been given and “enjoyed every minute of it.”

Teresa also used this time and experience to “take a closer look at myself, to remember the many times I squandered the precious present moment to dwell in the past or wonder about the future. I thought about how much of my life I had missed just by not being present to it.”

But in this situation, Teresa understood that her time with the fawn in her yard was limited. She treasured these moments and did her best to stay in the present moment. Teresa also felt a gift of gratitude for this experience.

Soon enough, the fawn and mother doe were gone for good. “Accepting life’s impermanence is a key part of spiritual living. Change is constant. Relationships evolve … Some change, and others end. Children grow up, leave home, and start families of their own. People live, and then they die. No amount of effort, worry, or wonder is going to stop life or freeze any moment in time,“ Teresa observes.

She adds, “The key to being at peace is to be grateful in each moment, to welcome change and make friends with impermanence. And the best way to do that is to stay rooted in faith, in the changelessness and absolute goodness of God. The care, compassion, and wonder we feel for the things of the world have their roots in God as divine love, and that love is what sees us through the changing seasons of life.”

In a few weeks, my daughter Rachel is going off to college. It seems like just yesterday, Rachel was in a preschool that she loved, run by Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Rachel had a wonderful teacher by the name of Miss Sonia.

One night little Rachel looked up at my wife, Debbie, and me and pleaded with us, “Mom and dad, promise me that I will always be going to Saint John’s and in Miss Sonia’s class.”

It was challenging to explain to her that we couldn’t make this promise. Rachel was very sad the following year when she returned to school and discovered that Miss Sonia was no longer teaching at Saint John’s.

I really do think that both Jesus and Buddha hit the nail on the head concerning impermanence. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount and other places that worrying could not end changes. But he told us not to worry and to “Seek first the kingdom of God“ (Matthew 6:33). Buddha made this realization about the impermanence of everything in the material world a core part of the teachings.

In Unity metaphysics, we speak of a “relative realm” in which change is constant, and nothing lasts. But there is also the “absolute realm” of Divine Mind, which is changeless Truth.

When we draw more of the absolute realm down into this material world, then the impermanence disturbs us less. We are also able to find more times when we are enjoying the metaphysical fawns in our life even though we know they will not always be leaning up against our shed.

Or, as Teresa puts it, “We can’t know ahead of time what will come into our lives and how long it will stay. But we can accept it. We can welcome it. And, for the sweetest kinds of surprises, we can enjoy it.“

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Running Out of Oxygen and Other “Minor” Problems

August 2, 2022

Author and spiritual commentator Jeannie Blackmer writes about a trying time when she was scuba diving.

She was on vacation with her family in Belize, and everything seemed like a routine dive in a tropical ocean. Ten minutes into the dive, Jeannie decided to check her scuba tank.

“I checked my air supply – it was in the red zone. My heart rate escalated. I signaled to my husband that I was low on air. His eyes widened, and he motioned for me to go to our dive guide.”

The guide glanced at the low gauge but did not panic. Instead, he pointed to the extra regulator attached to his equipment and handed it to Jeannie.

“He locked his eyes with mine” and motioned how she should use the equipment. “Then he looped my arm into his, and we swam side by side, buddy breathing, for the remainder of the dive,” Jeannie explained.

Buddy breathing is a rescue technique used in scuba diving when a diver is literally “running out of gas.” The extra regulator allows two divers to connect to the same oxygen tank. However, they now must swim in tandem.

“The fear of running out of air was terrifying. Then having the guide calmly share his air and swim side-by-side reminded” Jeannie of what Spirit “does for me” when she is afraid.

But there are many ways of running low on oxygen, and you don’t have to go to Belize to do it. Jeannie writes, “Like when a drop in real-estate values presented the real chance that we would lose some of our needed income. Or when my husband was going in for a life-threatening surgery.” Talk about “running low” on gas!

In these and many other situations, Jeannie “remembers to buddy breathe” with Spirit. Our connection with Mother-Father God “doesn’t mean tough circumstances will disappear,” but She/He “will link arms with me … and get me through,” she asserts. Amen to buddy breathing with “the Christ within” (as the apostle Paul put it).

As I was thinking about buddy breathing off the coast of Belize, other potential scuba diving hazards came to mind. I remember seeing the movie Open Water back in 2003. The film is about a couple that goes scuba diving while on a tropical vacation.

There are 20 divers onboard, and this couple decides to explore away from the other divers. When they finally surface, the dive boat is gone. The rest of the movie is about their harrowing experience of being alone in the ocean and too far to swim to shore.

After seeing the film, I asked a dear friend who went on numerous scuba diving vacations if he ever had a concern about reaching the surface and not seeing the dive boat. He said, “No. I give the dive boat captain half of a fifty-dollar bill. He gets the other half when he picks us up.” I suggested to my friend that he do more than just put his faith in the dollar.

My friend then said, “Okay. I’ll do that. But can you give me a prayer that I’ll remember?”

I thought about it. I wish that back then, I had thought about “buddy breathing,” but I did not. Instead, I remembered that my friend loved soul music and Motown. So what came to my mind were the Four Tops and their signature song, Reach Out (I’ll Be There).

The song came out in 1966 and went straight to the top of the soul and pop charts. Click here to listen to this classic song.

The songwriters said they were heavily influenced by Bob Dylan when they composed Reach Out. The orchestration was also highly unusual. How many pop tunes feature a piccolo and timpani mallets played on the head of a trombone?

My friend told me that he has been in tropical waters and singing/praying:

Come on, reach out …
Reach out …
Reach out for me …

I’ll be there
I will always be there for you.
I’ll be there
With a love that is always true.

So when we are running low on oxygen, let’s remember buddy breathing and the Four Tops!

And let me add in a sure-fire verse from the Bible:

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, And he delivered me from all of my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Stepping in the Silence in a Very Noisy World!

July 26, 2022

Bob Dylan starts his song, Visions of Johanna, by singing:

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room, the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off …

Yet the nighttime tends to be quieter than the clatter of the day. Jesus advises us to withdraw to the inner solitude of our prayer closet. I guess the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision makes it perfectly acceptable to have our inner prayer closet on the 50-yard line after the game.

Have you ever tried to go into the silence of pure prayer and meditation only to have a metaphysical – or real – lawnmower go off right under your window? Or perhaps your phone keeps ringing off the hook, or the kids think there is a national emergency because the Wi-Fi is down for five minutes?

Sharon Hinck recently experienced just such a moment. Sharon is an author, spiritual commentator, and teacher of Master of Fine Arts writing classes. I have enjoyed reading Sharon‘s poignant observations.

Recently, Sharon and her friend Joyce decided they would go on a walking meditation through a narrow, beautiful park. The park she described reminded me of Garst Mill Park in Roanoke, a thin winding park with a stream and several charming bridges over the water, a playground, a few Pickle Ball courts, and a field or two.

As they started their walk, a man on a riding lawnmower raised the decibel level beyond comprehension. No sooner were they free of that when they found themselves in something out of the 23rd Psalm: “Yea though you lead me through the valley of weed-whackers, I shall not fear” (The Long Island translation of the Bible).

After they moved past that, they came to an even larger and nosier tractor/mower trimming a field. The icing on the cake was the low-flying helicopter in the next section of the park. Sharon noted that “a helicopter thundered overhead, almost skimming the treetops. Every way we turned, we were assaulted by noise.“

“Life can feel that way sometimes. A problem confronts me, and I try to find a way around it, only to run into yet another obstacle,” Sharon commented. What came to Sharon’s mind was something written by the apostle Paul: “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10).

It was so inspiring to read how Sharon and Joyce turned to their indwelling Spirit and were able to have a good walking meditation despite the noise from the outside world. How did they do it? Sharon and Joyce did not use these words, but in essence, they practiced The Golden Key of Emmet Fox.

Remember Emmet Fox’s suggestion? Whatever problem we face, be it health, finances, love life, and more, we should not consider the problem first. Instead, we should first concentrate on God. We should remember the loving essence of God, the power of God, and our union with God. Only after we remember that connection and resource should we even face the crisis du jour.

This is our Golden Key, and it works! It worked for Sharon and Joyce. But the situation I love hearing about is from Rick Hamlin, a contributing editor for Guideposts magazine. Rick does his morning meditation on the New York City subway as he travels from his Washington Heights apartment to the Guideposts’ offices. Wow – going into the Silence on a crowded and eardrum-popping New York City subway car!

When I came into the Unity movement in the 1980s, I wondered, “Why is it called Silent Unity?” Of course, Silent Unity is that great 24/7 beacon of prayer at Unity Village. Silent Unity is only a phone call or an email away. But why did Myrtle Fillmore, the co-founder of the Unity movement, call it Silent Unity?

When I asked this question way back in the 1980s, I was directed to the 91st Psalm, which meant a great deal to Myrtle. The 91st Psalm talks about “the secret place of the most high.” It is like the prayer closet that Jesus mentioned. It silences the noise, the flotsam and jetsam that occupy so much of our day-to-day life. “In the stillness” we can focus on what matters and “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

My ego is not strong enough to silence this internal cacophony of foolishness. However, our egos – thank God – are not the end of the story. In affirmative prayer, we can thank Spirit for that power to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Take a moment and center on this:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

The Silence comes not in the doing. The Silence comes in the being.

As you try to walk down a spiritual path, I wish I could tell you that you will not experience noisy lawnmowers or even helicopters. I wish I could tell you that you will never experience monkey mind chatter. That is probably not the case.

But I will tell you that we have Emmett Fox’s Golden Key. We also have access to other spiritual gifts and powers beyond our wildest dreams that can take us beyond the noise and into the Silence and Peace.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

You Can Make a Difference & Spiritual Principles Work in the Real World!

July 19, 2022

It is very easy to get discouraged and think, “What difference can I make? You can’t fight city hall!”

Well, I recently heard a presentation by two incredible African-American women that showed that we could make a tremendous and positive difference – even if that means taking on a major international media corporation in federal court.

Many of us have attended sessions on diversity and inclusion that were somewhat less than “humdingers.” But at the recent Unity Worldwide Ministries annual convention, a session on diversity, equity, and inclusion had the audience giving the speakers numerous and well-deserved standing ovations.

Talk about David and Goliath or Daniel in the lion’s den; meet Lisa Benson and Dr. Tracey Nix. Lisa was an Emmy-winning reporter for the NBC affiliate in Kansas City. Tracey is a minister who has worked with people from all walks of life, races, and cultural backgrounds.

I wish you could have been at this session to hear Lisa’s story. She grew up in a small town in rural Missouri. Only about 9% of the town’s population was black. Lisa said she had many white friends growing up and was included in this white community. She was so well included that she developed what she called a “white” consciousness.

When her family moved to St. Louis, she retained this “white” consciousness. Lisa saw “white” as being successful, safe neighborhoods, two-parent families, and more. She saw herself as the “exception to the rule” in terms of being black.

While attending Clark Atlanta University, she met “successful” black families and friends, and she began to sense how damaging her “stereotyping” had been. It was at Clark that she discovered she could be an excellent journalist.

After college, she was hired by a local TV station and started her career as a journalist. She wound up at the local affiliate for a major network in Kansas City. But in Lisa‘s words, she “faced a dilemma. I was good enough to work there, but I was not good enough to be promoted,” she explained.

Lisa said she tried to talk with her bosses about what she could do to advance her career, but the discussions were highly unsatisfactory. In most of the newsrooms she was in, Lisa was the one non-white person there. This situation did not make her uncomfortable because of her experiences of growing up in a predominantly “white” community.

Then Lisa shared an article from The Guardian newspaper on her personal Facebook page. The article discussed the unequal power dynamic between white and black/brown women. Two of Lisa’s white female coworkers were offended by the piece. They went to management and demanded that she be fired. Management did precisely that, and the case wound up in federal court.

Lisa said she went to court not only to stand up for herself but because she felt she had a responsibility to future generations. The jury returned a verdict in her favor. Lisa realized she needed to do some real spiritual healing to grow from this experience.

Lisa has been partnering with Pastor Nix, and their suggestions and experiences are, I believe, very sound for dealing with some very tough issues. Lisa and Dr. Nix suggested the following:

1. Show God’s love to all people: it is easy to forget the wisdom of Jesus, Gandhi, and Rev. King when the rubber meets the road. It is easy to show love to friends – but it’s also important to show love to “the difficult ones.”

2. Boldly seek answers and truth: It was important for Lisa to seek out why she was not being promoted respectfully. It was also important to use legal means to get the facts.

3. Offer empathy and respect: Show this to people even when disagreeing. Lisa and Dr. Nix were full of stories about how this is possible.

I was very touched by Lisa and Dr. Nix’s presentations. When faced with Lisa’s situation, I believe that many people would wind up becoming “professional victims.” But Lisa has grown through this challenging experience and is a great mentor to a new generation.

Dr. Nix has shown the power of bringing spiritual principles to diversity in the real world. Lisa’s story was not an easy one. But it is great to hear stories of how these values make a positive difference in trying circumstances.

Seeing “nice people” finish first is so good!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick