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From Pig-Pen to Popeye: Living in the light of charity
Eat your spiritual spinach
I was in third grade when I became aware, for the first time, that I had an enemy. The whole class was working quietly on an assignment. I was engrossed in whatever the activity was when I heard the teacher call my name.
I walked up to her desk and she informed me that another girl in class had told her that I was making faces during our quiet work time. I was horrified on so many different levels all at once. First, I was horrified to be falsely accused. I had not been making faces and was never one to even do that in class before. I protested my innocence, but the teacher wasn't hearing it. She believed the tattletale and reprimanded me.
I don't recall the girl's name who made up this terrible lie about me, but I do recall seeing her smirk at me as I returned to my desk. I put my head down on the desk and wept for the next few minutes as a new horror took ahold of me: I had an enemy.
I had never had one before. In fact, I didn't even know this girl who had made up this outrageous story about me. It's not like she had bullied me on the playground or made fun of me. Up until this moment, we had zero interactions with one another. What would make her hate me so much that she would make up a lie and tell it to the teacher, just to get me into trouble. And, why me? Why not any of the other 30 or so children in the room?
I was baffled … and then I was suspicious … of everyone. If someone could come out of nowhere like that and make stuff up just to get me into trouble, then everyone was capable of that. This was the end of my innocence, and the beginning of my reliance on fear over love. The appearance of this enemy convinced me to accept my ego's belief that the only way to keep myself safe was to attack before I could be attacked.
Surrounded by Pig-Pens
It's like everyone, including myself, became like Pig-Pen in the comic strip Peanuts – covered in the moving dirt-cloud that A Course in Miracles might call "the ego." I say that I became like Pig-Pen in that moment, too, because what we project out onto the world – what we believe others in the world to be like – we assume is a reflection of ourselves.
If we accept the Augustinian doctrine of "original sin," and believe that everyone in the world is stained with some original moral disability at birth, then we believe that we, too, must have that mark upon us.
I read a recent article about the psychology of the character of Pig-Pen – that he represents that idea of an original sin passed down from the start of all this madness. At one point, he visits Lucy's psychology kiosk and opines to her: "How would you like to go through life being called, 'Pig-Pen'?" Lucy asks him what his father's name was, to which Pig-Pen replies, "Pig-Pen Senior."
We believe we all came from "Pig-Pen Senior" or that original sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden, dooming us all to be known as "Pig-Pen" forever and ever.
Pig-Pen also fulfills another thing that our ego needs to survive: specialness. We love to perceive the Pig-Pens around us because it makes us feel superior. We say to ourselves: "I may be a filthy sinner like the rest of these separated bodies I see – but at least I'm not as bad as that one over there. Look at how especially filthy THAT Pig-Pen is!"
Lucy asks Pig-Pen at one point if it's possible for him to go "just one hour without getting dirty." Pig-Pen's reply reveals the deep pain we all feel when we're stuck in the clutches of the ego. He says. "Do you have any idea how painful a migraine can be?"
What this means, is that we are addicted to our ego. We can't quit this thing that causes us so much pain. We can't go even one hour without being dirtied by its need to judge, it's need to fear others, it's need to attack, compare or project its pain and grievances out onto others.
All I need is a miracle
What a conundrum we have created for ourselves. How do we overcome this addiction to the ego's relentless game of "seek but do not find," that causes us to see ourselves as eternally dirty, addicted to despair and seeing ourselves as a Pig-Pen permanently stained by sin at our creation?
What we need is a miracle … and we know that miracles involve two things – a shift in perception, and an extension of love.
First, then, we shift our perception. Instead of viewing everyone around us with suspicion and seeing them as filthy Pig-Pens, awash in a dust cloud of sin, fear and attack, we do as A Course instructs us in Chapter 27:
"Dream of your Holy Sibling's kindnesses, instead of dwelling in your dreams on their mistakes. Select their thoughtfulness to dream about, instead of counting up the hurts they gave. Forgive them their illusions, and give thanks to them for all the helpfulness they gave. And do not brush aside their many gifts because they are not perfect in your dreams. […] Let all your Holy Sibling's gifts be seen in light of charity and kindness offered you. And let no pain disturb your dream of deep appreciation for their gifts to you."
Yes, that seems like a tall order when all we tend to perceive around us are the Pig-Pens of the world mucking up things – causing suffering and seeming to take pleasure in their greed, fear-mongering and selfish actions.
This is where that second part, the extension of love, becomes so important. Our ego has no interest in extending love to those we perceive as separate from us – in fact, it's impossible for our ego to even do that. We're like Lucy in her psychiatrist booth. She has no intention of trying to understand Pig-Pen. She just wants his five cents. This is the ego at work.
Becoming the sacred Popeye
To extend love into the world, then, we must become like another cartoon character – Popeye. To everyone around him, Popeye is just a bumbling sailor man trying to win the affection of Olive over Bluto's advances on her. When he needs strength to overcome obstacles, such as Bluto, he eats his spinach.
We are like Popeye in that while we are growing in our spirituality, we need some outward spinach to remind us of the inner strength we already possess because we are originally blessed, innocent and beloved children of God. This goodness is our inheritance and it makes us eternally invulnerable to anything this world can dish out.
Until we know that, beyond any doubt whatsoever, we need our spiritual spinach, as Buddhist nun Pema Chodron calls it.
We get that "spiritual spinach" through our spiritual practices such as study, gathering in community, learning from different teachers, and doing meditation, especially loving-kindness meditations to create what Buddhists call "bodhicitta" or an awakened heart.
"Love and compassion," Chodron says, "are like the weak spots in the walls of ego. They are like a naturally occurring opening. And they are the opening we take. If we connect with even one moment of good heart or compassion and cherish it, our ability to open will gradually expand. Beginning to tune into even the minutest feelings of compassion or appreciation or gratitude softens us."
This is our "spiritual spinach," the ego's weak spots of love and compassion. This is what we cultivate in our spiritual practices – and we keep cultivating them until they become habit and they change our perception of those around us, and we begin to see everyone as holy.
If we practice long enough, we'll begin to understand that our spiritual practices are just tools that we can use to realize this strength – this ability to work the miracle of extending love – is already within us. And as we extend love to others, seeing them as holy, then we will begin to see ourselves that way, too. Just as we think we are sinners because we see sinners all around us, when we see the holy all around us – walking around in these bodies – then the dirt and grime of the ego falls away from everyone, including ourselves. In this moment, extending love to others becomes a habit, something we do naturally without even thinking about it.
Emily Bennington with the Circle of Atonement lays it out this way: "God created Christ, that is the Self that we all share. The Christ is what's real. God created it. We made these bodies and yet all we're really doing is looking at each other through the lens of these bodies that we made and not seeing beyond the form of these bodies to the truth of us all, which is the Christ. If we did see that, then we would see the holiness in each other, because we're seeing the Christ."
This is, of course, what that old greeting "Namaste" means – the holiness in me bows to the holiness in you. But you may say, what about all those people out there hurting others and causing great suffering in the world? How can I see their holiness. A Course tells us there is no degree of difficulty in miracles and there's no degree of harm being caused in the world.
A huge amount of suffering is cured in the same way as what we perceive as a small amount of suffering. We eat our spiritual spinach, change our perception of those around us and extend God's love into the world. This is our function no matter what situation is before us.
As I've said many times before, though, this does not mean we just accept suffering in the world. It does not mean that we allow those who may abuse us or harm us to remain in our lives. It does not mean that we simply turn a blind eye to those causing suffering on what appears to be a larger level.
What it does mean is this, we eat our spiritual spinach that, as Chodron says, allow us to "relate with all the demons." We continue to work for peace, love, mercy and justice in the world – but we do it from a place of love, gentleness, kindness and joy instead of from a place of anger, vengeance, fear and anxiety. We are much more effective at ending the suffering of the world in this manner, simply because we are no longer putting the energy of fear, hatred and vengeance into the world.
This is not a call to spiritual bypass, but a call to do the hard inner work of healing our own penchant for fear, grievance and attack so we can be that pure extension of love into the world. We do that by wanting to see those around us differently – as our Originally Blessed Holy Siblings. If we can reach this point, where we see everyone around us a A Course says in Lesson 161 as "one whom Heaven cherishes, the angels love, and God created perfect … you could scarce refrain from kneeling at their feet."
Indeed, this is the next step we're called to take – to drop all of our grievances and forms of attack and see everyone "in Christ's vision." This is an advanced step, but if we can do it – if we can approach the world with nothing but bodhicitta – or an awakened heart that is always extending love – then we'll find that all the Blutos and Pig-Pens of the world disappear. They would no longer be part of our reality at all.
I discovered this to be true in my own life the moment I felt a sense of compassion and gratitude for all those anti-LGBTQ people who constantly challenged and enraged me when they insisted I could not be both a lesbian and a Christian. When I could finally see the holiness in them is the moment they disappeared from my life.
Are they still out there? Of course. There are homophobes everywhere and I continue to work to end the suffering they cause. But, I do it not by angry debate or by denouncing them as bad people. Instead, I can see them as my Holy, Originally Blessed, Siblings who are so deeply unconscious in their fear that they don't even understand the harm they do to themselves and others through their actions. In that moment, I can have compassion for them so when I do act to counter their message of fear, I can do it from a spirit of Love that can overcome the harm they may cause in the world. I no longer add more fear, loathing or grievance to the situation.
A call to eat your spiritual spinach
This is what we are all called to do – to be miracle workers by first changing our perception of those around us, and then learning about our own infinite holy strength that allows us to be used by the Holy to extend Love into the world.
Here the good news this morning. You have no enemies. You have no one telling lies on you that you need to fear or defeat. You are not surrounded by Pig-Pens who are cursed to be forever stained by sin. You, yourself, are not a Pig-Pen.
You are surrounded by Holy, Originally Blessed and innocent Siblings who have simply lost their way. They have forgotten who they are, and they are relying on us to remember for them and to hold that space for them to remember. In the meantime, we eat our spiritual spinach, doing our spiritual practices that remind us of who we truly are so we can extend that love in every moment – out of a habit that forms because we understand we ARE that Love and we always have been.
Who are you still seeing as the Pig-Pens and Blutos of the world that make you angry, fearful or despairing for this world? I invite you to do as Chodron suggests – seek out those weak spots in your ego where you can muster even the tiniest shard of love and compassion for that person. Use your spiritual practices to break through that weak spot and genuinely begin to feel love and compassion for them. The strength we all possess is that bodhicitta – that awakened heart of Love that created us like itself.
This is the practice we are called to. Not everyone will respond to this call, but for those of us who want to see suffering end in this world – we know this is our function – to be miracle workers.
I invite you to try it out this week. Maybe don't start with Vladimir Putin or some other world figure. Maybe, like me, you can start with that lying third grade tattletale whom you haven't yet completely forgiven. Find that weak spot of love and compassion in your ego and seek to change your perception about them, and then try to extend that Love of the Holy to them.
All minds are joined at the level of spirit so whatever amount of love, compassion, peace, and joy you send to another will be received on that level. It may not appear to do much to change the outward actions of those people, but don't let that discourage you. As you send that love, peace and joy to them, you'll also be sending it to yourself. This is your spiritual spinach, because it will remind you that you have the strength to change your mind and become that open extension of God's love into the world.
And when Love becomes our superpower in this world – then we'll all be answering every call for love with a hearty and happy, "Oh, Yeah!"
You can listen to a version of this message on our podcast: Weekly Wisdom from Jubilee! Circle. Subscribe while you’re there!
Want to learn more about A Course in Miracles?
Jubilee! Circle hosts an informal discussion group about A Course in Miracles every Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. If you’re in the Columbia, SC area, you can join us in-person at 6729 Two Notch Road, Ste. 70 in Columbia. If you’re anywhere else in the world, join us by Zoom using the link below. Whether you’re new to ACIM, or have been studying it for years, this is a low-pressure, friendly environment to learn more and grow together! Join us:
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About the Motley Mystic:
The Motley Mystic is an online community for people who have realized that the truth speaks with many voices. There is no one religion, philosophy, institution or dogma that captures the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. No one needs to swear allegiance to one line of thought or belief to discern Truth, because Love is the only thing that’s real. That’s what we explore at the Motley Mystic - all the tools and strategies we need to remove our barriers to Love and live fully as our true, Divine Self.
Candace Chellew is the founder of Motley Mystic as well as Jubilee! Circle, an interfaith spiritual community in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians published in 2008 by Jossey-Bass and the founder and senior editor emeritus of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for LGBTQ People of Faith. She is also a musician and avid animal lover.
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