The Ojibwe Indians of Canada have a tradition of prophecies given by the elders known as the Seven Fires. I discovered I was a participant in these prophecies—they were an instinctive part of my being. One of the Grandfather Prophets accurately foretold what I stumbled over in my life journey: The cup of life will almost become the cup of grief. This was the stage known as the Sixth Fire in our Ojibwe “American Indian” tradition.
The Christian church tried to teach me that spiritual liberty lay within my reach but in my church the Christian God was also authoritarian and judgmental. I felt I was wrong to feel unhappy and I didn’t feel forgiven for it, as if it was a sin to be in pain when the joy of Jesus was so available, so close at hand. Knock and the door shall be opened, they said, but it slammed shut in my face somehow.
I came to California as a 21 year old man who believed his life was based on a huge and insurmountable grief. I felt drawn to seek help in Asian sacred books. I found that Buddhism described my life experience up to that point. Not surprising then that my early spiritual search was influenced by Buddha’s first “noble truth of suffering.” I accepted his teaching that undertaking the Eight-fold Path would lead to the extinction of suffering. But as circumstances would have it, this was not the path where I found salvation.
It was the teachings of Hinduism that first saved me from suffering as if the god Ganesha himself removed the stumbling blocks, the obstacles in my pathway. I responded to the promise contained in the techniques of Yoga and meditation and learned that the suffering was within my control. I had the power to choose to extinguish it. The Hindu disciplines were the first doorways to open to freedom and peace in my soul. I was also combining Bible teachings I remembered like “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” which I used as a mantra in my meditations.
It was later, after I had a rebirth of the spirit experience in 1976, that I discovered my true relationship with Jesus and began to have our conversation. I learned how Jesus had used the same remembered scripture about freedom in the Lord in his own life. I was shown the way to change my life from its basis in grief to a foundation in faith through his words and his Spirit guidance. Although, like the Biblical Jonah, I’d been swallowed by a whale of selfishness, there was a way out. I could make it back to the shore of new service opportunities. With Jesus’ offer of creative freedom, I was free to realize myself and my destiny if I could shake off the burdens of sin, guilt and sadness.
I learned about forgiveness of myself and others.
From these lessons, I also learned to not stay stuck in disappointment. Always move ahead seeking the next horizon of possibilities. Never take anything personally, or turn your disappointments into personal offenses taken.
Old habits can persist as many of us know, and there are times I again sink into the mire. I fall backwards into grief. The Jesus path takes courage, self-discipline, self-mastery, what I believe was meant by virtue in the old classical sense. Faithfulness was a virtue in his estimate of character, while courage was at the heart of his teaching. “In the world you have trouble and suffering but have courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “Fear not” was his frequent watchword, and patient endurance his ideal strength of character.
Not only his death, but his life demonstrated this very courage he spoke of. And if our father/brother, the human Jesus, did this, we know we can walk that walk too.