Reflection on the Road To Emmaus; Walking with The Christ/Spirit…

April 13, 2015 - 2:06 pm Comments Off

Remembering that we are not human beings on a spiritual journey but spiritual being on a human journey… and that the intent and experience of the journey is more important than the final destination, we have today’s Scriptural reading…

The Gospel according to St. Luke Chapter 24: 13-26; 30-32

Now on that same day, two of them were going to the village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about the things that had happened.

While they were talking, Jesus himself came near and walked with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Jesus asked them what they were talking about, and they stopped, stood still and looked sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered. :Are you the only one who does not know the things that have taken place? Jesus asked, “What things?”

They both replied, ‘ The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed, and word before God, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be crucified.: we thought he would be the hope, the one who would redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some of the women of our group astonished us. They were at his tomb early in the morning, and when they couldn’t find his body there and told us they saw a vision of angels who said he was alive!

Then Jesus said to them, ” Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary for the Messiah should suffer these things, and then enter into glory?

When they were at the table, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them, that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, …

And they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he was talking with us on the road, while he was opening up the Scriptures to us?”

Homily: Walking With The Christ/Spirit Within

As spiritual people, We are also Easter people… And that the effects of “eastering”- the living, dying, and becoming alive again- that are at the core of our daily faith; This growth, this hope accompanies us throughout all of our life’s travels and travails, and as Unity teaches us, there is a Christ/Spirit that lives in us, and it resides at center of the purpose for our lives…

Like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we don’t always recognize what is good for us, or welcome God even when divine truth is in our midst. Our human tendencies make us balk; turn arrogant or become deaf. Until the grace and truth that is in Christ is broken in the bread- that is, revealed to us- can we begin to explore, explain, and experience the true value of having Christ as our companion in our journey through life….

We live each day as people who carry with us the threat of reversal and wrong turns, and as people who carry within us the hope of the resurrection and faithfulness; for any of us, our inner comprehension of God can be asleep or active, passive or present, dead or alive in each day of our existence.

What continues on for us as the rest of the Easter story is the abiding truth that God can arise and offer us grace and insight from our trials, our pain, our personal losses.

Now stop and think… Has there ever been a time in your life when all the advice or information you received didn’t seem to help? Were you like Cleopas, so involved in denial, so wrapped up in a false dream, or defending your own ego negativity, that you were unwilling to change?

In any “doom and gloom” thinking, we can miss whatever wisdom and insight there is in a situation that will eventually release or free us… By our faith, we are made strong enough to release the past, change the present, and prepare for the future….

Through our prayers, we can ask to possess enough courage, and have sufficient love to overcome any halting steps or worrisome fears. And that our goal as metaphysical Christians is to be willing to walk on…

to carry the weight… and most importantly to know that we do not walk alone, and that God’s guidance, mercy, and truth will accompany us, bless us, and carry us through whatever trials and experiences our lives contain.

Similar to the lesson of the disciples walking toward Emmaus, what is of supreme importance is that there is available to each and everyone of us:

That there is a spiritual presence, a divine effect or energy, an indwelling Holy Spirit that can awakens us, that will challenge, transform, and heal us…

and it is through that energy, intuition, or influence, that we are given assurance that we can overcome our feelings of distance, time, hurt or injustice in ways that increases our understanding, and in ways that will restore our memory of what is sacred, loving, and true.

This is a story of how the power and presence of Christ within us and continually walks alongside us, even at our saddest most troubling times, for it is a Spirit of compassionate constancy that will accompany our grief with an unexpected promise, as a quiet, courageous grace.

As this Gospel story concludes, the mystery of the stranger is revealed- through the power of their perception, his presence became real, and the blessings of a life in Christ became recalled and reenacted in the breaking of the bread.

What these disciples experienced was the recognition, in their burning hearts, that the despair and sorrow that they felt could be transformed into inspiration and joy, and that God’s Spirit would always be walking with them!

However you might perceive or comprehend it, it is my sincere belief that God can become known to us in many ways- from a quick insight to life transforming love, from a deep visceral experience of “a burning heart”-

each sign of God’s presence and activity in your life is a sign of a gracious spiritual connection, or soulful companionship, of something one feels that is far greater than oneself, yet closer to you than your breath…

What the story of Emmaus gives me is consolation and hope… That in the midst of our trials, we can learn to transform any acute or lingering sorrow into a lively joy.

However, it takes our willingness to move, to risk, to open ourselves up to God’s presence. We have to push our egos away, to make room to let God inside, and in that welcoming of the Spirit, we make ourselves ready and aware; willing to experience the wisdom and compassion that is strong, resilient, and ever-present to us.

When we walk with the metaphysical Christ, we walk as a holy person, filled with promise and hope- we are enlivened, enriched, and we are ever more grateful for the blessings we have already received.

Despite the demands and the difficulties of living a more God-connected or inspired life, I wholeheartedly recommend the journey, and I wish you well…

Blessings! Bon Voyage! AMEN

 

A Most Misunderstood Woman: Looking at Mary Magdalene ; Insights and Appreciation

March 8, 2015 - 8:02 am Comments Off

 

A Most Misunderstood Woman: Mary Magdalene

Recalling an Extraordinary Woman and Saint from the Gospels and her own (?) Writings

The Unity Community of Mount Pleasant, SC

March 8, 2015

As I was rattling my brain, and going over the many ideas I could develop for a sermon during Lent and the Easter season, I realized that there is a true and unheralded story that needs to be told… The story of Mary Magdelene is one that can fully occupy our imagination, but cannot be understood only as religious history, or as a dissenting theology, but through her words as they are attributed to her in the Canonical Gospels and in the Gnostic Gospels that will provide us with a timeless example of living out one’s spiritual values.

Given that March is Women’s History Month, and that There is a lot of erroneous conclusions about her, I feel its time to lift her up as a courageous and inspirational feminine role model for the spiritual life.

When one looks thoroughly at the Scriptures, Mary of Magdala is specifically mentioned only once outside of the Resurrection story… But even that conclusion is an open-ended one! You see, there are five Marys in the Christian Testaments, and some are clear cut, such as Mary the mother of Jesus, but there are stories where it is quite unclear which Mary is being spoken of, or even if the woman in the story was a Mary of any sort!

Many scholars will speculate that Mary of Magdala was the Mary in the Lukan story of Mary and Martha; We are unsure if she might have been the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and it is a loose conclusion that identifies her as a the woman that Jesus healed from having seven devils within her… however… We are reasonably certain that she was NOT the woman caught in adultery, although that sin and the effects of that papal branding of her as a prostitute and grievous sinner lasted some 12 hundred years!

In the Gospel accounts, we are given indications of her qualities and outlooks on life… however, these are incomplete. When added to the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, we are given a few more insightful and truly surprising clues to a misunderstood, yet faithful and devoted disciple.

(Technically, she could be named as an Apostle, as the difference between an apostle and being a disciple is someone who had a direct living relationship with Jesus and/or someone who had a historical encounter with the risen Christ… such as Paul…)

To begin with, and something to keep in mind during this Lenten season, is that while celebrated only once a year, that our lives can be filled with Good Fridays and with Easter mornings. I would advance the idea that we cannot have a complete understanding of Holy in our lives unless we understand the how Good Friday and Easter teach us about the necessary and complementary steps each of us takes, or instruct the life changing experiences each of us has to live through that will serve to deepen our awareness of God and Spirit in our lives.

One of the most searing critiques of the New Age Spirituality Movement can be expressed by the desire to avoid Good Friday and only celebrate Easter. Genuine spiritual maturity or depth does not come to us easily, quickly, or cheaply. While you can have pleasant, uplifting episodes, and warm feelings from exercises and meditations, those do not constitute genuine spiritual discovery or depth. When I read about the lives of the saints, East and West, often there is a struggle they have to overcome, a deep personal flaw, a struggle against injustice, or an ego-defying love. The women of the Gospel, and maybe Mary of Magdela in particular, had to confront their Good Friday directly-vividly, and to endure it with nobility, courage and grace. Her story is different because there is a quality of an intimate connection that was neither maternal nor was it sisterly. IF we are to accept what the Gnostic Gospels such as Philip seem to infer, or what the novelists like Nicholas Kasinstakis in his work, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Dan Brown with his Da Vinci Code and similar speculative works, are offered to us as tantalizing possibilities. IF they are proved or considered to be true, then Mary was not only a devoted disciple, she was Jesus’ wife or spouse. Because of this intimacy, her Good Friday was different than a maternal or sisterly loss would be. A simple way to explain this controversial point of view would be that it was her lesson is how to live with loss, and then as a widow, teach others his truth and to follow his wisdom, while keeping the bond of love alive that exists between them.

Maybe that impulse, that hope and that desire to see him again was the great driving motive behind why she was the first one at the tomb- Yes, it was an act of strong faith, but it was also an act of a strong love that attests to the heart centered understanding that they shared… It was a deep understanding that the Gnostic Gospels refer to as Mary knowing the secrets and hidden teachings that Jesus never shared with anyone else.

In this more inspirational yet expansive appreciation of Mary, we come to understand her as an example of a timeless sense of love and the courageous dedication because to continue to spread and to fulfill his teachings. By doing that, she immediately was branded as a rebel and by doing so, she upset the patriarchal traditions that became so ingrained in the Western Church. One of the reasons why she was held captive in obscurity was she broke the cultural barriers to women in religious leadership in order to testify to a timeless truth of God being alive within each of us… (Son of Man = holy child of Humankind, or as Unity teaches it, The Christ within….)

Like the strange fact that we have no real idea what Jesus looked like, the same is true of Mary… We have only the artistic renderings from pious artists to use as our subjective measure… Some of those historical renderings show us a woman who Jesus saves from the angry, judgmental crowd, or show us a picture of a woman after being healed of seven demons… Others refer to Mary more quietly and less dramatically to her only as a close disciple who listened fully, and comprehended deeply.

Because of the misanthropic patriarchy winning the ecclesial battle for prominence, the important contributions of women to the Gospel and to the formation of the Early church were largely erased. This willful deletion, however, do not stop the Gnostics from adding their additional pieces to the puzzle, even if the pieces they offered did not easily fit or contribute to what was already known… By in large, women began to recede from their leadership and early prominence… If fact, they not only were forced into the background, they began to take on a more sinister importance. The skeptical old monks looked at women as the problem… Because they represented desire, and so they were, at best, a distraction to a more pious and pristine life… Then we have layered on that dubious notion, the beliefs about Eve as the originator of sin, and thanks to the Pope Gregory in 591, we have Mary identified as a prostitute!

Of course, we have absolutely NO evidence that Mary was anything but a sincere student and maybe even a beloved disciple… It was a massive error of great consequence that has haunted women and Western spirituality ever since!

The latest, reliable scholarship that would be trustworthy depicts Mary, and the Gnostic Gospel attributed to her, as having a genuine case to be named an apostle, and thereby breaking down much of the old conclusions about the growth of the Christian church and women’s roles in its seeding and planting. In the Gospel of Mary she is seen having prominence, if not preeminence because she possesses knowledge that was kept from the other disciples, and that she was charged to share it with them during the early time period after Jesus’ ascension/disappearance….

When we add to this teaching, the historical fact of its origins, it has to be given a much larger standard of credence as the time period would be roughly parallel to the writing of the Gospel of John. Thomas is set a little earlier, scholars suggest that it was written during the time of Luke/Acts, and before John. From a historical evaluation, Thomas and Mary would have to be accepted as being more genuine because they were earlier than all the rest of the Gnostics… (See research by Karen King for a full and rich explanation)

So let us turn to what her story could reveal… That her message that we have been able to translate and study give us parts left unread by the conventional Christian and that have been largely ignored by mainline teachings… While we could go overt the texts that we have been given by orthodoxy, I would prefer to open your thought and inform your hearts by turning our attention to the search for greater wisdom and understanding that these Gnostic texts can offer us…. Unfortunately, what has been preserved for us is but a fraction of the whole book… We are missing substantial parts and can only hope more might be found, but realistically having to content ourselves that these fragments can still contribute to expanding our understanding of Jesus’ timeless wisdom…

Chapter 4

(Pages 1 to 6 of the manuscript, containing chapters 1 – 3, are lost.

The extant text starts on page 7…)

. . . Will matter then be destroyed or not?

22) The Savior said, “All nature, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another, and they will be resolved again into their own roots.

23) For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its own nature alone.

24) He who has ears to hear, let him hear”.

All that exists, first exists in the realm of an image or an idea…, It takes shape or becomes physical because it follows its unique pattern for manifestation… And at its death or demise, returns to that original , radical or root image or idea… This is not merely a law of reincarnation, nor is it just the physics of energy that always is changing… What is being suggested here is that there is a return to the essence that holds its cosmic blueprint.

Everything that has been created has a design or a blueprint that maps out its essence, its construction of its reality.

25) Peter said to him, Since you have explained everything to us, tell us this also: What is the sin of the world?

26) The Savior said There is no sin, but it is you who make sin when you do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called sin.

27) That is why the Good came into your midst, to the essence of every nature in order to restore it to its root.

As it has been explained, here Jesus offers us a transformative statement about the nature of sin that has been totally by-passed or absurdly reduced to the idea that a mistake, a moral flaw is worthy of condemnation. It is also not a transgression that is socially defined or limited to tribal laws, or any relational expectations. The warning is one of dilution’s, and adulterating the quality of one’s motives, connections and ideals.

Following the current scholarship, Jesus teaches that sin is not a moral problem but a cosmological challenge to remain aligned, attuned, in sync and at one with the truth of one’s being. Such an intimacy or alignment seeks to have no gaps or dissonance between the person as the divine image and likeness and the how they function in the world is the ideal goal for our lives. To the degree that we allow for or create distance and dissonance between the divine fidei of who we are and the world’s temptations, distractions, and diseases will show what feelings and conditions that we will manifest… Separation is sin; and to the degree that we live out estranged and unconnected lives will indicate how close we are to God and to our divine image of divinity, our Christ within.

28) Then He continued and said, That is why you become sick and die, for you are deprived 29) He who has a mind to understand, let him understand.

30) Matter gave birth to a passion that has no equal, which proceeded from something contrary to nature. Then there arises a disturbance in its whole body.

31) That is why I said to you, Be of good courage, and if you are discouraged be encouraged in the presence of the different forms of nature.

32) He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

33) When the Blessed One had said this, He greeted them all, saying, Peace be with you. Receive my peace unto yourselves.

34) Beware that no one lead you astray saying Lo here or lo there! For the Son of Man is within you. 35) Follow after Him! 36) Those who seek Him will find Him. 37) Go then and preach the gospel of the Kingdom.

In sync with the teachings from John about false prophets, in Mary’s gospel we are given a warning about listening to any source- human , literary, or otherwise! We are to listen, instead, to our hearts… To our source of inner knowing such as our intuition as our most reliable guide. Because the Christ lives within each and every person, our instructions and our guidance comes from within our hearts, minds, and souls…

As you listen and become more confident in your knowing, then share this wisdom with others – teaching and encouraging them to go within for their most cherished and valued answers…

38) Do not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed you, and do not give a law like the lawgiver lest you be constrained by it.

39) When He said this He departed.

External rules, laws, obligations and structures are to be avoided as they can act to confine our potentials. Such legalisms can also preoccupy us and can be ways that lead us astray. With any pre-occupations with externals, we are draining our attention and energies away from the necessary focus and the needed energies/activities of soul development.

Chapter 5

1) But they were grieved. They wept greatly, saying, How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare Him, how will they spare us?

2) Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you.

3) But rather, let us praise His greatness, for He has prepared us and made us into Men. 4) When Mary said this, she turned their hearts to the Good, and they began to discuss the words of the Savior.

5) Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman. 6) Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them.

7) Mary answered and said, What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.

8) And she began to speak to them these words: I, she said, I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision. He answered and said to me,

9) Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of Me. For where the mind is there is the treasure.

10) I said to Him, Lord, how does he who sees the vision see it, through the soul or through the spirit?

11) The Savior answered and said, He does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but the mind that is between the two that is what sees the vision and it is […]

(pages 11 – 14 are missing from the manuscript)

Commentary and scholarship continues… If requested, more will be posted!

 

Reprint: Spiritual Narcissism/Spiritual Ecology Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughn Lee

October 11, 2013 - 7:33 pm Comments Off

Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee:

Spiritual Narcissism / Spiritual Ecology

6689.jpg

Matthew Fox:Today we are discussing ecology and spirituality. Now who can deny that it doesn’t matter what your particular tradition is, or if you’re an atheist, if your backyard is burning up and you can’t plant food anymore, and the waters are rising? We’re all in trouble. And it can finally bring religions together and get over their narcissism.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: I hope so. Mysticism, as you know, has always held this common thread underneath religion – the union of inner experience. Part of the reason I edited the book Spiritual Ecology was to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I felt that, although it was present, it wasn’t voiced enough.
MF: Absolutely. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with the archetype of the cosmic Christ — to awaken at least Christians that crucifixion is not something that happened 2,000 years ago, it’s happening with the killing of the rainforests and the whales and the polar bears and everything else today.

LV-L: It’s happening to the Earth.

MF: To me, that not only can energize spiritual warriors to get work done today, but it also can reinvent our faith traditions themselves, which I think fall into narcissism as distinct from mysticism.

LV-L: I have a concern that somehow people who have a spiritual awakening or awareness are somehow too focused on their own individual inner spiritual journey, and to me this is a travesty of real spiritual awakening or spiritual awareness, which has to do with the whole, and this whole includes the Earth.

MF: I couldn’t agree more. If your breakthrough does not lead to transpersonal service, to compassion, to justice, including eco-justice, then I doubt its authenticity. And Jesus said it very simply, that by their fruits you’ll know them. And we can be so taken by our spiritual experiences that we don’t realize this about energizing you to serve.

LV-L: In Sufism they actually say after the station of oneness comes the state of servant-hood, that one is then in service. Sufis are known as servants.
MF: Or as Jack Kornfield put it, after ecstasy comes the laundry.

LV-L: Somehow we have become so focused on our own human journey that we’ve forgotten that this human journey is part of the Earth’s journey. There used to be, I’m sure you’re aware of this, a deeper understanding that our soul is part of the world’s soul, the anima mundi, and we’ve lost that connection. We’ve lost that understanding that our spiritual light is part of the light of the world. And we have to regain that.

MF: Right. And how the Earth story itself is part of the cosmic story.

LV-L: It’s all one. It’s all one living, breathing, inter-related, interdependent spiritual organism as much as a physical organism, and I think we have, for some extraordinary reason, forgotten that.
MF: I think there are a lot of reasons, and one of them is the anthropocentrism and the narcissism of the modern consciousness. But I also think part of it too is the beating up of matter over the centuries by theologically influential thinkers. That kind of separation, that kind of dualism is so destructive because then you think the body is secondary, and then Mother Earth is secondary, and everything else. To put things in context, we wouldn’t have our imaginations and our breath and our food and our existence without matter. Matter is not an obstacle to spirit.

LV-L: I think the early rejection of all of the Earth-based spirituality by the Christian church has left a very sad vacuum that we’re now, in a way, seeing the result of.
MF: Paying the price for. And I think it goes back, actually, to the 4th century. If you’re going to run an empire – as the church more or less inherited the empire in the 4th century, it behooves you to split matter from spirit, and also to talk about original sin, and get people confused about their own inner nobility and empowerment, and divinity, really. I think that it has served political interests and cultural power trips to split people that way.

LV-L: Well, the male domination of nature kind of took the high ground, and now we have to, in a very few years, try to redress this balance and reclaim the sacred nature of creation. And what is central to me is to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I don’t see how we can address this physical devastation of creation, this ecocide, unless we look at its spiritual roots and reconnect ourselves to the sacred nature that is the world around us.
MF: And within us. And that’s what makes deep ecology different from ecology.

Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee: The mystics teach simple things, but those  simple things change people’s worlds. How can we re-energize that  mystical perspective so we can bring it into this global arena that is  calling out to us? I mean, the Earth is calling. That’s why I called  this book Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth because the Earth is crying, the soul of the Earth is crying. We need to respond from our own soul as well as with our hands.
Matthew Fox: And, of course, Einstein said it’s from intuition and feeling that we  get values, not from the intellect. He says the intellect gives us  methods; it does not give us values. And I think when you look back at  it, this is how various traditions of monastic learning also included  the heart in some way or other.

LV-L: When you say including the heart, I would suggest something even more  radical. How can we bring our love for the Earth into the center of this  concern with the well-being of the Earth? In fact, Thich Nhat Hanh  recently said real change will only happen when we fall in love with our  planet. As a mystic, I believe in the primacy of love, and we have  this love for the Earth. It is so generous. It has given us life. It has  given us breath. It has given us water. And we have treated it so badly  in response. I feel that this mystical center of divine love is really  the power behind the planet, because it is really what gives life to us  all. I mean, it’s a really radical thought to bring that essential  quality into the ecological debate. And although we have this  physical responsibility, how can we bring this love that belongs also to  our sense of the sacred? How can we learn once again to live in love  with the Earth in the way we live, in our daily activities so that  everything becomes imbued with this sense of the sacred? One can  educate the mind, but also we somehow have been stripped of the power of  love, which is, as a mystic, the greatest power in creation.
MF: In our traditions, certainly the Jewish tradition but also Aquinas, it  is said too that the mind resides in the heart. We don’t have to, how  should I say, pit one against the other. That real heart knowledge –  when you’re really in love with something, you want to learn more about  it.

LV-L: Also the heart and the mind in the heart see the oneness in things.  Sufis say when the eye of the heart is open—the Sufis talk about the eye  of the heart—then in each atom there are a million secrets. And we see  the unity in life, in everything that we are part of. We need to reclaim  that unity, that oneness, because life is dying and it’s dying because  we split spirit and matter, we separated ourselves from creation. The  analytic mind tries to split everything up into smaller and smaller  pieces. We need to return to this oneness, this awareness of the  interdependence of all of life, this web of life, which our ancestors  knew and revered so deeply. Somehow we have lost connection with  this spiritual dimension of creation, and to me that is the root of our  present ecological imbalance because we don’t respect or revere  creation as our ancestors and indigenous peoples have always done. And  somehow, as you say, the mystics have held this thread in the West, but  a thread is no longer enough. It needs to be a revolution, a revolution  of the heart, a revolution of consciousness that sees the oneness that  is within and all around us. I suppose the challenge is, how do we give  this back to humanity, this forgotten treasure, this secret, this deep  awareness of the real nature of creation, that it is not dead matter? I  always say the world is not a problem to be solved, it’s a living being  to be related to, and it is calling to us. It needs our attention, not  just of our minds, but also of our hearts. It is our own awakened  consciousness that can heal the Earth.

Matthew Fox: Another   dimension, I think, including when it comes to the love, is grief. We   don’t deal well with grief in our culture, and that’s one reason I  think  anger gets battered all over the walls. We don’t deal with anger  in a  constructive way very often. I do a lot of grief  ceremonies – we  need practices and rituals. When grief builds up, when  you can’t deal  with grief, not only does anger build up, but also the  joy and love get  clouded over, and people feel disempowered. So I think  grief work is a  part. What can I say? Who cannot be grieving  today about what’s  happening to the Earth? You’d have to be extremely  busy covering up your  grief and putting a lot of energy there.

Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee: I think we do. We’re a culture of mass distractions. We try to avoid at all costs seeing the real fruits of our actions. I   would say the most important practice is to listen. Thich Nhat Hanh   said to heal the Earth, listen to its cry because the Earth is crying,   but we don’t know how to listen. We’ve forgotten this feminine wisdom of  deep listening. If there is deep ecology, there is deep listening. We   have to relearn this feminine wisdom of listening to the Earth. It is  so  old, it is so wise, it has been through many crises before, and we  need  to cooperate. Thomas Berry said we are only talking to   ourselves; we are not talking to the rivers; we are not listening to the   winds and stars; we have broken the great conversation. By breaking  that conversation we have shattered the universe. And we have to learn  again how to listen to the Earth, and how to open that ear of the heart.   We have been told this great lie that we are separate from the Earth,   that it is something out there. It is not out there, we are part of the   Earth. We are made of stardust. We need to feel the grief  within  our own self for the Earth and learn to listen to the Earth,  learn to  hear it, learn to re-attune ourselves, just like the shamans  did of old,  just like the wise people who listened to the wind, who  listened to the  rivers, who felt the heartbeat of creation. And it  might not sound very  practical but it has a deep, deep wisdom within  it, and I think we need  all the help we can get at the moment.
MF: Absolutely. And that’s where the world’s spiritual traditions, if they   get out of their anthropocentric, reptilian brain dimension of wanting   to conquer each other and be number one or something gets shaken down,   and as you say, bring this feminine dimension back, the receptivity and   contemplation and silence.

LV-L: And not to rush for a quick fix, because I don’t think we can quickly   fix this environmental crisis. It has been building up for centuries.
MF: I do think that the patriarchal mindset feeds the reptilian brain excessively, whereas, I think the real way to treat the reptilian brain  is to learn to meditate and be still, because reptiles like to lie low  and in the sun… We have to make room for that mammal brain, which is  half as old as the reptilian brain in us, which is the brain of  compassion and the brain of kinship and family, and also of getting   along with the rest of nature.

LV-L: This is what Chief Oren Lyons said (in the book), when he spoke about  our original  instructions in the Native American tradition. He said one  of the  original instructions is we have to get along together. And  it’s very  simple, but once you realize we are one living community and  we can only  survive as one living community, it’s very fundamental.  It’s not  sophisticated, but we seem to have forgotten it, that we are  part of  this living, interdependent, interwoven organism that is all  around us  and that we are part of. I think we have a duty, any  of us who  have an awareness of this, to bring this into the forefront,  to claim  it; not to allow this dark side of our civilization to devour  all the  light. That’s why when you spoke about religious narcissism,  and I spoke  about my concern that spiritually awakened people are just  using their  own light for their own inner spiritual journey or their  own image of  spiritual progress, we have to make a relationship between  our light and  the world which is hungry for this light.

And there used  to be always  this relationship between the light of the individual  soul and the light  of the world’s soul, and somehow we need to  reconnect with this Earth  on a very deep, foundational, spiritual  basis. We are part of one  spiritual journey, one life journey, one  evolution, and our soul and the  soul of the world are not separate, and  we have to reclaim this  connection. And somehow, as you say,  human spirituality and  religion became narcissistic, and that was never  the intention because  Christ’s love was for the world; the Buddha’s  peace was for the world.  The message is always for the whole.
MF: I think today a lot of young people are being caught up in the vocation   of re-sacralizing the Earth, but doing it through everything from the way we eat and farm to the way we do business and politics.

LV-L: It’s   the attitude that we bring to it. It’s always the attitude. If we come   in the deepest sense, with an attitude of prayer or even just respect   and reverence for each other, for the Earth, for what is around us,  then  the healing can begin, and the forces of darkness will recede. But  we  will wait and see.
Matthew Fox was described by Thomas Berry as possibly the “most creative, comprehensive & challenging religious-spiritual teacher in America”.  Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi mystic & successor of Irina Tweedie who brought the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Indian Sufi Order to the West. This exchange of views was sponsored by Bioneers.  Publ. here 10.9.2013.

What Would Jesus Protest Today? Matthew Fox

July 27, 2013 - 12:35 pm 7 Comments

Being ignorant and in denial is a choice.” – Matthew Fox challenges his listeners to wake up in the second Christ Path Seminar.

In my last post, we looked at the men and women who are risking their lives to speak out for justice against the powers of our times. Their stories show us that it’s no less daring to walk the Christ Path today than it was 1,700 years ago.

So what are the issues that Jesus would speak out against today?

I can think of a number of them – and any one of them is worth our complete attention and commitment. And just to name them, I think, is important: to know that there are people and groups working in all of these areas today to be the prophetic activists and voices and strategists; to know there are so many dimensions at which the work of justice and compassion gets done.

You see, Jesus wasn’t just shouting his whole life; he was also an artist. He was a parable maker, creating memorable stories. And he and his followers were creating meals, bringing people together who wouldn’t ordinarily get together.

That was a deep part of his strategy: it’s not all about shouting. Art has a deep role to play always, in speaking the truth and unmasking violence, especially when it tries to cover itself up.

But let’s consider some areas where the prophetic voice is being called out today….

Of course, our broken economic system is one. Who can deny that Wall Street has raped Main Street in our lifetimes? And now Wall Street is doing very well and Main Street for the most part is still limping along terribly.

So are we capable, as a species, of creating an economy that works for everyone in the world? Not for Wall Street, not for the 1% or a few, but for everyone?

I believe the answer is Yes! Insightful, eloquent people are devoting their lives to this kind of work – for example, David Korten – and they are being ignored. I don’t know if the current administration in Washington has ever invited David Korten to advise them on creating a new economic vision, rather than putting Band-Aids on Wall Street’s system of exploitation that’s ruining the middle class.

Now, when I talk about an economy that works for everyone, I don’t mean just the two-legged ones. I’m talking about an economy that recognizes the value of healthy, living ecosystems…an economy that will work for the forests and the oceans and the soil and the plants and the animals that are going extinct at rates that we have not seen since the dinosaurs and so many other species vanished 65 million years ago.

So I think Jesus would also be revolutionary about the whole issue of ecology. He’d be interfering in it, in whatever way he could.

And of course there are the issues of poverty and joblessness. Who’s defining work for us? Look at the work of the artist, for example – we don’t count artists when we count workers. You can see that whenever there’s a budget crunch in our high schools – as there is everywhere today – and out goes the theater department, out goes the music department, out goes the art department. You’re on your own. I know all kinds of artists who would be more than happy to be contributing, but they are not part of the conversation.

And this leads to the issue of education. When our politicians talk about education, they always talk about more technology and more science. Well, what about art? Art is where values get passed on. Einstein said values do not come from the intellect – they come from intuition and feeling. And if that’s not the work of the artist, I don’t know what is.

To the extent that we are cutting back on art as an integral part of our way of living on the earth, we are in fact cutting back on values. And I see it everywhere today, especially in education. E.F. Schumacher wrote, “The bottom line in education is values.” Education is about passing on values. And well, folks, I know our educational system pretty well. I’ve been working within it for 40 years as an adult, and values are never raised at the accrediting conferences I’ve attended. Education today is not about values. It’s about anal-retentive bean counting. You don’t dare bring values up. The whole thing is rotten, I think, rotten to the core.

The best answer is to reinvent the whole damn thing…which is what I’ve been trying to do for 30 years! Of course we need science and technology, but we also need beauty and values and meaning and feeling, and what counts, and what doesn’t count. You need intuition and critical thinking skills, both! And so we bring in art as an integral part of the work of the intellect.

Jesus, as an artist, would interfere here, I’m sure.

And then look at our political systems, which are collapsing all around us. We’ve had this democracy thing going on for a couple hundred years, and it had a lot going for it, but it’s clearly not enough today. As Thomas Berry says, “The non-two-legged ones don’t have a vote at the United Nations.” The forests aren’t represented, the whales aren’t represented… the future of the earth as a whole and living planet isn’t represented in our anthropocentric versions of democracy and politics.

And of course there’s what happened just this month with the gutting of the Voting Rights Bill – when you add that to the so-called Citizens United nemesis of a few years ago, it seems to me that our one-time democracy is just rushing down a path to oligarchy, the rule of a small, rich and powerful clique that will be very well paid by supporting an even smaller clique. It seems our politics is racing to that end, and I can’t imagine how we should not be up and doing something about this.

Look at what’s happened in Houston, one of the biggest cities in America – Rachel Maddow broke the story that one white area had 6700 voters and one voting booth, and a black area has 67,000 voters and one voting booth – that’s 10 times more voters, and this was before this latest decision by the Supreme Court! You don’t have to be black to be upset about this. You have to be a human being, someone who wants to believe in democracy, to be not only upset but outraged.

That’s where the prophet begins – with that kicked-in-the-gut feeling of outrage. And I repeat, outrage! – That is so unjust!

Being ignorant and in denial is a choice. Thomas Aquinas says that to be ignorant about what we ought to know is a deadly sin – a mortal sin. In the Hindu tradition, this is what sin is – it’s about ignorance, ignoring, choosing to ignore.

Of course there’s the issue of how women and girls are still being treated around the world. They’re second-class citizens in so many places – obviously this is not sustainable, it is outrageous. Of course in our country women have been waking up and organizing for decades, but still we’re not there, even in our country. And of course it’s getting worse in other countries where there is so much sexual slavery and repression of women and girls.

But the problem isn’t limited to the abuse of individual women. It’s about consciousness too, about the whole patriarchal idea that a certain gender or a certain group of any type has the right to lord it over others and to define God in its image exclusively, for example, God as a male. It’s not only a pernicious and subtle way of telling women they’re inferior, but also of preventing a larger balance.

For example, patriarchy has been defining education for 400 years in the West. And while our educational system offers knowledge, it’s missing Wisdom – the feminine. It simply doesn’t register. That’s why politicians and educators don’t see that wisdom and art are just as important as technology and mathematics.

So there’s no shortage of issues to light the fire in all of us, the kind of fire that lit Jesus’ teaching.

So now you may ask – how did he use this fire for justice and change in his time – and how can we, in ours? Stay tuned; I’ll be exploring these questions in my next posts.

Advice and Admonitions on Church in America: Radical Reflections on the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

January 15, 2011 - 4:13 pm 120 Comments

“… we must not forget that there were three men crucified on Calvery’s hill… two for immorality and theft, living below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, for truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

… Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things just as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century

. I am meeting young people everyday whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again, I have been too optimistic, Is organized religion too in extricable bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia, and the hope for our world.”

from Letters From The Birmingham Jail

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I see it, without a willingness to consider becoming creative extremists, the mission and vision of any spiritual and/or religious group is at risk of never developing beyond being an irritant to the status quo, a socially troublesome but treatable rash, that will easily be placated and then ignored.

With being willing to become more “creatively maladjusted” is there enough of a sense of dignity and justice that makes any person or group capable of presenting the dis-ease and lament of the people of God effectively and powerfully enough to those who oppose them and who, by patriarchal religious and often penitential tradition and their theological assertions have effectively have controlled them.

Throughout the centuries of Western civilization, churches have come to occupy places of religious prominence and cultural importance. There is an undeniable historical reality that informs us… But that fact of culture and history cannot limit our understanding of what a church is, or what it stands for in our respective communities. Just as it is certain that there is a need for our churches to stand against any intrusions by government concerning one’s right to worship as one sees fit, and to remain separate from mutual entanglements, so, too, is it important for churches to assert their ethical presence in a community. As I see it, our progressively minded churches stand as stately sentinels; they can act as the guardians of individual freedom, and stand watch over the issues of justice and compassion in all civic affairs and interpersonal relationships.. In a world that seems to have lost its moral compass, our inclusive churches can act decisively to promote a concern for corporate responsibility, governmental accountability, and personal ethics. Furthermore, their presence in any conservative community acts as a vibrant religious alternative; a place that promotes freedom and safety, dialogue and self discovery, along the many diverse paths of human and spiritual inquiry towards greater comprehension and understanding. Our progressive and inclusive communities offer a welcoming and affirming environment that promotes a variety of opportunities for rational exploration, self discovery, and personal affirmation, which was traditionally aligned with the idea of the ripening and maturity of one’s soul or awareness.

If King is right in his prophetic sense of where the church of our contemporary culture is today, then the world of culture, consciousness and church life is now, more than ever before, in need of creative extremists. The time for timidity is over; it is Gospel based temerity that longs to assert itself- to present itself as being fully believable- fully and without reservation on the side of compassion, justice, equality and radical change.

If the mission and vision of a spiritual and/or religious group is sincere, it will have to be honest about the degree of obstinacy and frustration it faces in our larger religious world. The power of clerical inertia and the hierarchical arrogance that lies at the base of that power it held on to fiercely. Its desire for keeping up the dysfunctional status quo will remain stolid, intransigent, cold, and callous to the need for change, unless it go unheeded, and people vote to secede with their wallets and their feet! In that regard, it is not too strong to suggest that much of what functions in our culture as mainstream church, and what passes for a purposeful or meaningful spiritual life has already separated from the people of God it claims to serve!

Ask yourself this: If King waited until all the churches aligned with him on civil rights, then the battle would not yet have begun… If Ghandi waited until the English Raj and the Crown police demurred, or until they saw the errors of their inhospitable, dehumanizing ways, then India would still be a colony. So, too, if the faithful today have to ask ourselves this preeminent question: Are we willing to wait?

The history of the Western Church has evolved violently- It was through disagreement with the powers that were ensconced or enshrined, be they be creed, book, prince, or tradition, and that only through reformation, revolution and reform, did visionaries and dissenters have sufficient energy and impetus to create all the many varieties of church that can fill many almanacs and reference books.

As one radical example among many- Who is to say that the time is not right for an American Catholic Church? Or a People’s Catholic Church?

If there is an earnest desire to defeat the systemic evils that we clamor to remove, its arrogant crassness and the icy unresponsiveness that creates so much of the heartache in the women and men of conscience within the institutional church, then to simply protest by declining to agree is insufficient– a rash that is treated with indifference.

Only substantive action will create meaningful reform. Only with an acceptance that one has to be maladjusted to the status quo can there be enough energy generated that will definitively support deep reform and foster genuine change. Only with the affirming and encouraging creation of a new paradigm for spiritual community and ethical service, can the real or true ecclesia that King recommends come into being; Only then will energy of an inclusive and compassionate mission manifest, and only then can a vision that is clear and strong to be seen that exposes the long held, tolerated abuses of the Senex and patriarchal mentality. It is only then that we will arise as the hope for the world, and affirm ” Let the revolution of God’s people ” begin!

Lent: Giving up…What? To Get…What?

February 10, 2010 - 1:21 pm 105 Comments

Because so many present day seekers have come from other, more conservative and conventional churches when they were young, many of us have been exposed to the season of Lent as having a historical and theological significance. In our Western religious culture, one cannot escape at least a superficial acquaintance with its meaning and purpose.
Lent is a time often described as a time for increased piety, extra prayer and worship services, and self sacrifice. Historically, Christians and particularly those Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans who were required to abstain from certain practices, habits, or activities and most often were instructed to fast or abstain from eating certain foods.
Now, the ideal or best practices associated with the Lenten season can be summarized as attitudes that encouraged retreat from the world’s fast pace and demands. Then to take that freed up time, and focus it on becoming more contemplative, looking at those areas of your life that might need improvement or reform, and to focus of new insights that can help to release you from habits and fears. The noble ideal behind the food restrictions was to help us to break our attachments, addictions, and pleasures- any tie we had to external material rewards and egotistical routines. The goal of these Lenten disciplines was to make the Christian more properly ascetic: that is, more able to give up their problems, in order to receive or claim more freedom, becoming more willing to release ego preoccupations and spend time in discerning their next steps and what sources of inspiration and guidance were available to them in their lives.
Classically, it is from our souls being more disciplined or aligned with God that we are freed to practice more loving self acceptance and more intelligent self control. …
2
Now, among those of you who were made to observe Lent when you were growing up, did anyone ever satisfactorily explain it to you in that way? Is there any lasting value in Lenten observance for you now, as U-U’s? I will venture my own interpretation, and I will offer to try to provide you with a viable alternative.
First, a little religious background for all of you who were ever curious about what your Catholic and other high school friends were going through… Originally, Lent was a brief and intense time that prepared a person for Baptism. It was that soul-searching time before someone declared themselves a Christian in the early, and often persecuted Church. Considered to be a time for deep reflection and profound decision-making, it was a momentous step in a person’s life. This time of Lent was originally only 40 hours long, to reflect the time period between Good Friday and Easter morning. However, then it was a time of complete fasting, and a rigorous mental discipline.
This practice went through many historical changes. The principal one happening during the Middle Ages, when the time period for Lent was increased or prolonged to reflect a correspondence to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. This extended time period was accompanied by a selected fast from meat and dairy products for all healthy people between the ages of 12 to 60; the only exceptions being nursing mothers. Unfortunately, or shall I say, predictably, this eclesial rule of a selected fast was dolefully interpreted as being a time for self-sacrifice and deprivation, rather than as a time associated with grateful remembrance and devotion.
The attitude of self deprivation, especially when enforced by a particularly dogmatic clergy and inflexible church structure has yielded some interesting and contradictory results. The most appealing begin the creation of of many preLenten revels, all-out parties, and celebrations… The most famous of these are French “Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras” or the Portuguese Rio Carnivale. … For you see, the words carnivore and carnival relate to the same kind of fleshly cravings and indulgences! Therefore, Mardi Gras and Carnavales were the reluctantly condoned revels or church-related orgies just before the days and weeks of required self-sacrifice. (Remember, the restriction of one’s diet is a common religious occurrence; for example, there are Kosher food laws, Islamic fasts during the month of Ramaden. Tragically, part of our misunderstanding of food practices has contributed sociological and psychologically in the development of dietary imbalances and psychological illnesses- from our society’s chronic pre-occupation over weight to the tragedies of bulimia and anorexia that are now affecting 20% of all young women (1 in 5) and is currently growing in older women (and in some men) being seen in increasing amounts in women of mid life Or ages 35-55…

I can remember meatless Wednesdays and Fridays all through my Catholic youth. At that time, I considered it quite a hardship, and its rationale was a perplexing, obtuse mystery. ( It was much later, when reading anecdotes in church history that I discovered that the Pope, in the 1800’s, instituted the eat fish laws in order to help out the Italian fishing industry!
These eating restrictions were was told to me as something we all have to do! I really did not like the idea at all, and I wasn’t a member of the Big Mac/Whopper generation of today! After all, my traditional fare of lentil beans, cornmeal, and some fish, no matter how nutritious, got a little boring, and even I could get tired of pasta! (When I was 10, My Father & Mother went off to an FBI school, so my Aunt Frances had to care for me feed me. Every Wednesday and Friday night she said that I could have my choice: I can have pasta and beans or beans and pasta! Story about the Statues around her home; St. Anthony; ; dialogues; turning him around! Also I have included a more serious and somber reflection on Ash Wednesday and Lent on my webpage)
So you see, the idea of Lent was related to me as a time to be endured, not understood. An almost morose pallor engulfed my family during the week. We all looked forward to the big Sunday meal, our weekly indulgence.
That was a big feast with all the chicken, sausage, and meatballs you could stuff in! Some quality religious observance that was!
One time, my family held a ravioli eating contest… I came in second, or first in the junior division, having eaten 48 raviolis (big squares!) Of course, there was a lot of Pepto Bismal in my future, as I could not eat another thing for the next two days!
When I look back on the prevalent family attitude, it was far from holy or reverent. Now, I find that it is all too ironic,that as an adult, I have sharply reduced my eating of any meat without any overtones of religious persuasion … but that would involve another sermon on world hunger, ecology, and proper nutrition…
Needless to say, much of the original intent, the symbolic and spiritually based reasoning behind Lent was never adequately explained, and that has resulted in generations of people playing out empty, self-defeating rituals. So I have had to ask myself, if there is any lasting value in Lenten remembrance for us today, if so, what might it be?

As I see it, the lasting principle found in a sincere Lenten observance is the time when each of us can reflect on having more personal motives and consequences, and the human need to learn greater objectivity and self control. Stripped of its pious baggage, Lent can become a time, for setting new priorities for one’s life, and for cultivating purposeful actions that free us from any negativity, and that assist us in accomplishing our higher goals.
Many of us who shared a similar dutiful childhood, and as a consequence, later, as adults, we have become religious liberals because we balk at the imposition of sanctions and limits, especially when enforced by some restrictive irrational and unexplainable moral code. However, when these disciplines are of your own devising, we can use them to focus our willpower and to develop greater inner peace and self-control. Rather than just going the way of all of our inner cravings, Lent can be a time to remedy or reduce these faulty inclinations all of us have, and we can apply ourselves to the task of greater self understanding.

I believe that every one of us has some demon or habit or character trait that is unflattering, that has to be faced and overcome. Therefore, because it is human and universal, there can be no judgment nor room for arrogance; no need for any lasting remorse or endless regret. Instead, Lent can be that personally bestowed gift of time and focus we give to ourselves to help us clarify and release the emotional or personal struggles any of us, and all of us might have.
In truth, we must, in some measure, agree or be willing to accept the consequences of some behavior in order to continue it. Even if that conduct is self-defeating, risky or unhealthy, we have to agree to it or else it would soon disappear. In that way, Lent is a time to reacquaint yourself with your own limits and to energize your own potentials and to begin positive steps towards growth, freedom, and greater awareness.
And yes, sometimes what we are faced with are issues and problems in our lives that are unsettling, awkward, and often damn difficult! Yet, that self admission is no grounds for being severe, hateful, or unkind toward yourself or any one else. These steps toward greater responsibility and freedom for one’s mind, body and spirit, for one’s health, relationships, and ideals, bringing us to of humility and to the advocacy of compassion. As Jesus put it, “Only those who are without sin can cast stones.”

As I see it, to live, is to be involved in a continual, evolutionary and ethical process, for each person has to deal honestly with their personal banes and come to know and be grateful for their individual blessings. Each of us has to understand how, or in what ways they might need to explore, change, or transform their lives.
I would propose two healthful measures that have been useful to me. They come from two diverse sources: from training in Gestalt therapy, and from training in Buddhist philosophy. The Gestalt or psychological format asks us to appraise our behavior patterns without censure. It simply states that we are to evaluate our feelings and actions by whether they are nourishing or toxic to us.
When behavior is nourishing, it give us dignity, awareness, understanding and self-respect. When because is toxic, then it is harmful to our self-esteem, our health, our families, to our well-being. I find that to be a simple and effective measure or standard to apply for greater self-awareness that is free of punitive conclusions and self righteous moral judgments.
The second guideline I would recommend is from Buddhist teachings. It emphasizes justice and sobriety, balance and the avoidance of excess; be it dietary, financial, relational, mental or physical. It states that we are to act without any feelings of self-denial nor act in ways that are self-indulgent. We are simply, to think ethically, act soberly, and speak broadmindedly. It emphasizes justice over judgment, equity over imbalance, moderation in thought, feeling and behavior. In this way, our tendencies and habits, problems and pressures, do not or will not control or victimize us. It can be summarized as this: That it our shared human need to establish inner personal guidelines so that we can overcome our actions that can lead to addiction- which is simply defined as the human tendency to try to get too much of what we don’t truly do not need.
This Lenten season, try to take some time each day to reflect on various virtues and principles you would like to see manifest in your lives. Then look at your lifestyle, your choices, your patterns for living and then try to notice if there is anything that could use some improvement, some further balance, some greater empathy and understanding.
Be willing to examine your goals- decide for a more positive, creative, and inspired approach to living. Maybe you can begin to keep a dream log, start a journal, or an exercise program, attend a class, or be aware of how your sacred intentions or prayers can bring new insights and empowerment to you with persistent progress.
And remember to begin soon, because according to the consensus of opinion in psychological circles, it takes at least three weeks to break a negative habit, establish new learning, or develop a lasting initiative that can span this Lenten season.

Lent can become a holy time- a gift your give to yourself as a time when you can discover who and what you are, and with inner guidance and grace, all that you can truly be.
Amen, So Be it!

Becoming A Peaceful Warrior & Male Spirituality

December 7, 2009 - 4:08 pm 12 Comments

A Brief Reflection on Becoming A Spiritual Warrior

Today, I will focus on how this new yet ancient spiritual approach that validates and can direct the particular hunger that men in our world are experiencing.
While feminism has had its proponents, and victories, we have seen its reluctant message become more mainstream, men of all ages are finally summoning their courage to look at the shadow side of our masculinity found in war, greed, selfishness, and hostile competition. Men from many of the developed countries are actively questioning social, economic, and political assumptions concerning roles and responsibilities. Men are also calling into serious question the images of masculinity in our music and films that promote violence and depersonalization of both men and women. In the 1970’s, liberation movements for men consisted of drum circles and the Iron Man Wild John ideas that frankly, became comic and largely ineffectual when it came to transforming Pentagon priorities or Wall Street abuses. Now this quest, for initiation and radical change, for empathy and understanding, for dignity, and for finding the lost dimensions of our souls while letting our spirits grow and be free, is, under political, economic and family duress, arriving at a level of depth and maturity rarely realized in earlier decades.
Along with political and economic reform, this striving for a new definition of what it means to be a man is what being a peaceful and spiritual warrior is all about.
(now before the women in this gathering recoil or rebel… Of course, women can be warriors… But that often centers on reclaiming or recapturing the masculine energies in themselves, and that integration is a worthwhile goal… But as a man, I cannot fully speak to that… But it is clear that such necessary alchemy and growth towards individuation is the right path as such transformation or wholeness is a universal human need.)

The principal reason I emphasize the need of men to awaken to the depth of their character and to the greater sense of meaning and purpose in their struggle to be alive, strong, compassionate, and at peace, is because our whole world, maybe its very survival, depends on men learning these lessons of how to possess a vigilance for peace, for upholding human rights, dignity, and self worth in their days and in their ways that neither an illustrious sense of title, worldly power, or a bank account can truly give them. There is no equation that states happiness is equated with money or power… Happiness comes to men when a man feels useful and when he is able to express his positive emotions when and where it matters most!
As one my “Socrates” or one of my mentors, Matthew Fox, puts it there may be no greater need that adopting a warrior mentality. A warrior is different from being a solider… “A solider follows external orders, usually to accomplish some external goal, whereas a warrior finds his or her strength and purpose in following their hearts…” Fox is the principal modern exponent of Creation Spirituality- an inclusive, earth centered approach that honors science, the world religions, the arts, and what can be called the best of the human spirit. He puts it this way:
“To become a spiritual warrior encourages us by challenging us to risk- to go beyond social expectations and the ordinary ways of perceiving and relating. It asks us to look within and to acknowledge the wonder and the reverence that can be found in oneself, life, and in all our sacred relationships. ”
The reason the old, fearful forms of religion still endure is found in the abdication of human responsibility for the world, our cultural priorities, and our families. There is tenacious part of the human psyche that feels that it is easier for us to accept being passive, afraid, even guilty, than it is to accept our personal responsibility as powerful co-creaters of our own world.
Fox defines it further in these words: “[A spiritual warrior learns to let go- Letting go of comforts, security, of past images of himself, or past ways of relationships. It is being willing to risk the unknown for what is yet to be. Here the essential masculine task is to learn what serves growth and goodness, and then to obey one’s inner wisdom directives so that he can practice only what will not harm him or live in ways that will not robs anyone else of their dignity, freedom, and respect.]” To be a warrior then, in the understanding of Creation Spirituality, requires the journey of a lifetime. It is a sacred, intimate, yet all inclusive quest, that seeks out and tries to find what is authentic, real, and nurturing to oneself and affirmative towards others. How? It is having the inner awareness, insight and confidence to face down negativity and evil in all its disguises.  When one gains that courage, that strength of will, that is when the real or the deep work begins; the work to see what it is possible to heal and restore, to truly know deeply what the world and what life requires of you.
As a spiritual warrior, you will be asked to face the greatest enemy- oneself; and you will be enlisted to support others in their battles and challenges for the sake of the world, for all biological life, and for the future of all the children on the planet.
Creation Spirituality urges you to engage in life’s promises and pitfalls, with an open and willing heart. For the way of the true warriors are full of growth and change. As we intentionally create and transform who and what we are, for who and what we can become, we serve our world needs and promote by our example what a more enlightened relationship, family, or society can become.
I invite you this day and to each day that affirms and celebrates our need for greater peace in ourselves and in our world, to learn more about this approach and others that also serve the cause of harmony, beauty, balance and peace. Let it be an opportunity for you to express more of who you are, and how you can participate more fully in spirituality and in the original blessings that have been given to us by God, or good!
Namaste, Shanti, Salaam, Pax,
Blessed Be, Peace…

Walking the Sacred Path… A Journey To God?

August 5, 2009 - 7:37 pm 5 Comments

1009688_meditation_gardenPathways of Self discovery? A Journey to God? Reflections On Walking The Sacred Journey

The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Opening Words: From the Medieval mystic, Miester Eckhart, when commented on the lack of our spiritual understanding, he said,” God has not moved or been lost, it is up to each of us to go out for a walk!

There are many ways, avenues, or paths one can take through life; some of them are easily found, others are hard to finish. In one’s pursuit of hidden or interior answers, it usually requires more conscious effort to receive or reveal directions that are best suited for your steps. Depending on one’s personality and spiritual inclinations, we humans will often choose to look for answers down the path that most readily available, most attractive, or the ones that will safely fulfill our initial curiosity without much risk.

Today, my theme is Path Symbolism, and my first advice to you is, that I want you all to go take a hike! … (wait a minute… That doesn’t sound right!)

I meant to say that I would like to invite you to begin, if you have not yet done so, your own interior journey towards discovering more about yourself, and to invite you to look more intuitively into what might be the meaning, inspiration, and purpose for your life… As Walt Whitman would put it, to saunter, to loaf, and then to invite your soul….

A couple of caveats… First, if anyone- be they teacher, guru, therapist, or any sort of counselor states emphatically that the path towards finding oneself, finding inspiration, or finding God is an easy or effortless one, run!

Second, while I readily admit to having my own subset of assumptions around the importance of such a journey as it relates to enhanced classical spirituality, world theology, deeper mystical comprehension and the like, I am fully aware that not all of you share in this search as being a distinctly God-centered. So I will ask those among us who do not share a need for a transcendent reference point or God, to use my statements and metaphors as steps to towards one’s inner self; or higher self; as a personal path of inspiration, creativity, purpose or meaning…

2

Today, I invite you to start down the four classical spiritual paths by introducing some ancient tools, and then offer you some archetypal examples and some personal explanations from my own odyssey through liberal religion and life.

The idea of a walking a mystical path, going on a spiritual journey, paradoxically trying to reach within and beyond oneself has a long and rich religious history. As a very brief synopsis, we find these mystical and personal journeys in the great Myths and stories of Egypt, China, and India, and all through the Western traditions. From a universal perspective, it could be considered a central fact of life; that each of us is on a path towards Self or God realization; as it states in words of Krishna found in the Bhagavad Gita: “Walking is not solely a means for getting somewhere; By whatever path persons approach ME, even so do I welcome them, for the paths they take in every direction are ultimately mine.”

Path symbolism, taking or being on a pilgrimage of inner or sacred discovery has become its own long shelf of books in any esoteric library. In our world today, there is an extraordinary access to this information, once reserved for only the highest teachers or most advanced adepts, now can be readily found at Borders, Barnes & Noble or ordered from Amazon! It is so readily available that there is almost no excuse, information wise, not to be setting out on some kind of quest!

There are four classical paths down the spiritual journey; found in the four Yogas of traditional Hindu practice; the four Noble Truths of Buddhism; the four-leaf clover among the Druids; the four seasons among the indigenous peoples, and the four paths of Creation Spirituality, which if I am invited back, I will explore and explain then.

For now, I will simply state that while religious orthodoxy in the West claims only three ways to spiritual maturity and wholeness, the more spiritual and mystical and affirming approach has four- four being known as number of balance or a complete approach.

One of the ways this four-part teaching is easily accessed is through spiritual tools such as the Tarot- one of the paths from antiquity… Wait a minute? Isn’t that fortune telling nonsense? The answer is yes… And no.

As a focal point for meditation, or for opening up one’s intuition, one can use almost any tool, image, technique. One can stare into a fish tank, stand on one’s head, sit on a pole, lie on a bed of nails, you can do whatever you think or feel that will bring you some insights! (The longer I remain in ministry, offer counsel and spiritual direction, and as I continue to witness and sometimes participate in the fads and observe the whims of human culture, I can readily admit that we humans are capable of doing a lot of preposterous things in our lives, thinking that somehow they will be good for us!)

Concerning using spiritual accessories or tools, all across the spectrum of world spirituality, we have a wide variety of focal points for our inner work: From gemstones to Runes, to crystal balls to pendulums, from dowsing rods, I-Ching sticks and coins…

In our tolerant and inclusive world view, whatever works for a person is permissible, as long as one uses it ethically and responsibly. Basically, the rule for finding or using any technique or spiritual tool is whatever your religious culture condones, chooses or prefers, they will make available- from sweat lodges to vision quests, from novenas to shrine visitations, from Scriptural study to nature walks, from dreams to diet, all can be used to further one’s inner awareness, appreciation or affirmation of the mystery and miracles of life.

The proper or guided use of the Tarot then transcends any superfical notion, and deepens the awareness of the meandering of our psyche and the cards act as an can be used to reveal intuitive metaphors for the inward journey to the core realities of God or oneself. In the Tarot, and in mysticism in general, there are these four paths a person can walk that will lead them to further and deeper understanding.

They are:Experience; knowledge; truth; and love

In the Tarot, these pathways are symbolized as wands, pentacles, swords, and cups, or if you prefer, clubs, diamonds, spades and hearts- You see, there is a lot more to playing cards than bridge, poker, and gin rummy!

Each of the suits in a card deck has a design or a symbolic value attached to it. Each suit, according to this school of ancient wisdom, has a vital task to teach us, and serious study will assist you down a particular facet of life….

Ultimately, we are to learn the whole deck; to evaluate our lives as a whole, and learn each of the four major lessons before we can consider our lives to balanced, integrated, attuned or complete.

The first way, is the path of experience, wands, or clubs:

As a general rule, most human beings, at some time or another, follow this most common or universal path. Here our life experiences, if sufficiently learned, lead us to some modicum of wisdom and/or common sense. This is the area of life where we have to exercise will and self control. Here we have the school of hard knocks, addictions, or when receiving a kick from life is as good as getting a boost! It is, without a doubt, the most painful, and yet, sometimes this path which is associated with suffering, provides we humans with the most effective, even a more redemptive way to learn life’s lessons. Here we have the statement that I have been down so deep and so long, that the ground looks up to me!

The second way of the Tarot is the way of knowledge, or pentacles or diamonds, is also common in our modern world. But when pursued alone,

It is likely to be expansive, wide ranging, but often superficial- covering many surfaces without reaching very far into the depths. It involves us in logic, the exercise of analytical reason, and collecting information, even to the saturation point! Done in its extreme we create an intellectual gluttony- and we live in the illusion that we will ever know all that we need to in this life, and that reason is enough to get us through….

While condoned and well accepted as a cultural norm, we humans engage in discussing and debating its relative merits in an exhaustive, ad nasuam way. This is the media hound- the glutton for information, falsely thinking that if you know about something it is as good as internalizing its teachings for you.

The third way, the way of truth, swords or spades, is the path of the committed or continual seeker. It is often arduous, and carries the person far and wide, both within and without. It usually involves more long term, even rigorous training, physical and mental disciplines, apprenticeships, and other demands in service to knowing what is the truth for this particular soul or person. Here, at the worst, we can find the New Age junkie and at the best, the sincere, perpetual student; the clever impostor and the skilled practitioner and just because you have practiced or rehearsed it well, it, does not mean you understand or apply it fully or completely in your life choices and values.

The fourth way, cups or hearts, is the way of love; the way of the heart or devotion. It is the one generally recognized as being the most saintly, selfless, empty and poor. It is the leading monastic approach in the West. It relies on veneration; on building relationships, and on service. Here we have the monk; the nun; the devotee; It is a way or path that advocates the transmutation of desire as a path toward self or god-realization, However, we also can find here the self-sacrifical person, the martyr, and the person who loses themselves in others.

Obviously, these descriptions are highly simplified- but it would take hours for a full disclosure of its depths, and years of embodiment to learn all its wisdom. Because this older way of the Tarot, like the Kabbala, and the I Ching before it, are arcane and confusing, so now I will switch now to some modern steps and metaphors…. Ones I hope that any commuter, traveler, walker or itinerant can relate to and comprehend. As I have devised it, there are four archetypal ways to travel through life, each having the capacity for teaching us certain truths about ourselves; about the nature of faith; wisdom; understanding; awareness, etc.

Each way contains a valuable gift for us; each offers us insights, gleanings, and ways of unlocking the essential mysteries of who and what we are as human beings. Each way leading us to a greater affirmation and appreciation of the wonder and awe that can be found inside each of us. …

The four modern paths are:

The Wanderer- representing the path of experience and reconciliation

The Nomad- representing the path of knowledge and learning

The Sojourner- representing the path towards searching for the truth

The Mendicant- representing the path towards selflessness and love

These four ways are also chosen by people based on their personality, their spiritual inclinations, their talents, and their particular emphasis on life. An example who be if the person is a teacher/researcher, the path of knowledge is most familiar and attractive; If the person is a natural caregiver, then the path of love could be most suitable or familiar for them. Over the years, when people have consulted me about the spiritual life, I will evaluate the themes in their life story, and then I often will help them to find the spiritual path most suitable for them….

It is important to state that no path is superior, better or worse- each contains lessons, insights, advantages and challenges. Ultimately, the deeper one goes in one path, the side roads and alleyways that connect us to the other paths appear, and will converge, and will lend you their deep insights and their wisdom towards completion.

Who is the wanderer? The wander in us asks the question, “How do I survive in this world? What is necessary for me to do or to change? The wanderer comes down to us through our Western religious tradition in the figure of Abraham, who the Scriptures called, The wandering Aramean,” who bravely sought out a way to avoid cruel fate, and the capricious nature gods of his ancestors, and to find an abiding faith in one supreme God who became the Yahweh or God of the Hebrew Scriptures. We also are given a vignette of Jesus as the wanderer in the desert, right after he was baptized by the Holy Spirit- that is, acknowledged as an inspired man, teacher and avatar, and sent out to wander in the desert where he would be tempted by the Devil- also known archetypally as the embodiment of worldly, selfish needs, desires, ambitions, and powers.

The wanderer is someone who most often learns from tests and trials- she or he remains fixed or stubborn until someone or something came along with a painful wake up call that creates havoc, turmoil, and the need to turn their life around. The wanderer (wands or clubs) is not someone who is usually interested in the esoteria of religion; just sees it as a social norm. Only when their life turns problematic, and the striving seems futile, does the wanderer comes back from his personal parabolas, dead ends, and their business of chasing unrealistic tangents, only then do they return to a place of solace and faith or self discovery. Another way of looking at the wanderer in us is that he or she finds God by looking in the rearview mirror… You see, God has been tailgating them for some time- and finally they let God run into them!

There are times when I have brashly gone down the road of experience, only to find that I have been the Fool, ready to walk off the cliff! I was not sure what I would find, nor what I was willing to leave behind. Struggling with trying to find how I fit into society, which cultural image to follow or whose style to copy or to find out what do people expect of me. ….Predictably- known to everyone but me, I found myself in a psycho-social ditch. All I could do, was to climb out, backtrack, and pray for which way I should go to find myself. Because this is such a universal human experience, it might explain why the song, Amazing Grace, has such universal appeal, as a song for those lost wanderers….

The nomad (pentacles or diamonds) comes down the path next. And this is the kind of peripatetic traveler who is always looking for answers, and believes that if only I can know enough, I will be happy and secure. Trekking from school to school, book to book, they adopt knowledge as salvation,,, yet, the nomad doesn’t realize that he or she is looking for themselves which cannot be found by logic or rational intelligence alone. Here is the perpetual student; the observer; the philosopher; the scientist and the secular humanist who is lead by their theories and afraid of their doubts. When they do find an answer, they try to apply that same answer everywhere they go, and it becomes for them a narrow path, or a convoluted circuit. They often settle for good ethics and yet remain spiritually unsure and unduly ready to discard any conflicting thoughts or beliefs.

If what they hear or what they are exposed to doesn’t  personally compute or make sense in their rational world, they are quick to discard it. The Nomad is represented by the old Unitarian joke about going to the discussion about heaven… It wasn’t until my last year in theological school, that I became a U-U. It was an unknown, and frankly an unwelcome possibility! That is because the only previously Unitarian minister I had known was a renegade egotist who eventually became a felon and was finally disbarred or defrocked. (gun running, tax evasion, and pedophilia?)

As I try to remember him, among the things he prided himself on never needing to use the word, God, much less believing in one! He told everyone about his high IQ, but offered little if any pastoral care or empathy. Since he had inherited money, he installed a swimming pool under the church, kept his pet iguanas running around, had stuffed animals in the pews. He brought in a railroad car to live in?, never through out a newspaper, and unfortunately for anyone who got too near to me, rarely showered!

So you see, in my senior year, (some 8 years later) when my classmates and I had a long discussion about which denomination would suit me best, I was chagrined! Since most of my peers had not done the depth of exploring East and West that I had, and I knew that I was a poor fit, being personally uncomfortable as a Protestant moral judge, focussing my sermons on what is right and wrong like a modern Calvinist!

I did not know which denominational group would take me! Once I found out that the U-Us did indeed accept spiritual misfits like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, I said dealing with skepticism and doubt, and emphasizing my intellect, even though I knew it was incomplete was more comfortable for me, and it would be easier than judging others, so I figured that there had to be some room in U-Uism for me!

The next traveler along the path is represented by the sojourner (swords or spades) This type of person delves deeply into themselves, and their peregrinations lead them to various teachers, gurus, and adepts where they take up residence for a long while. Theirs is a desire to know something deeply; and they are held as a willing, captive apprentice until that lesson is gleaned. Then they move eagerly on to the next discipline, training, ashram or monastery. …

The sojourner is the modern mystic and prophet who follows intently an inner call to a yet unknown destination, trusting that the truth as they come to know it, will lead them to a direct and deeper understanding of God and/or themselves. They employ all these techniques, systems, and approaches to their lives, which can make these people appear unduly complex, and their personal and relational lives very demanding. These training’s and mystical experiences can build bridges or barriers to understanding people and the world they still have to realistically live in.

I can remember approximately 30 years ago, going before the Fellowship committee, and then being more recently interviewed by the head of the Dept. of Ministry. The Fellowship Committee are the 14 people who decide where you are properly prepared, screened, and ready or even worthy of becoming a U-U minister. After three years and earning a second master’s, then a year’s internship, followed by a full psychological assessment, and other requirements, for my fellowship status and the right to apply for any ministry openings, I had to present a 15 minute sermon and be quizzed by many experienced ministers on everything from history to theology, from ethics to social justice convictions. They were amazed that I was so well versed and experienced in religious practice, and had explored so many groups, approaches in such depth. But they failed me anyway! I was too new to being a U-U, and they recommended another year of internship and experience…. At the time, it was quite a set back, and a hardship; but with distance and perspective, it was an invaluable ordeal- that next year, I was given a green light to pursue a settled placement.

A few years ago, as I was starting the interim ministry training, the new department head heard about my life odyssey and its many journeys within and without, and remarked that I am the most inner directed minister he had ever met! I thanked him for acknowledging my complex and varied journey…. But I also have to admit to it being a hazardous assessment, as I have frightened off many congregations, as being too spiritual for them! So currently, this spiritual vagabond is delighted to be an interim minister with a Unity congregation that takes living more metaphysically seriously! I can see my knowledge and experience as being  a kind of “Metaphysical Johnny Appleseed.” that encourages others on their path…

The last of the travelers is the mendicant, who is represented by the path of cups, hearts, the path of love, devotion, and service. I use the image of the mendicant, who is not a beggar, but someone who has reduced their human needs to just the essentials, and yet might still feel spiritually poverty-stricken. The mendicant is challenged by the emptiness one can feel without an active relational expression or focus for love in their lives, which can be a source of significant pain or hold feelings of profound incompleteness for her or him.

The mendicant’s question is found in how is it that a person is to love? Are there ways to love that are better? More exhalted, more selfless, serene, and secure? How do I fill myself with love for God or for others? If that is the goal, then how do I empty myself of personal needs and desires, so I can fill myself with concern for others?

Mendicants will migrate towards rituals, prayers, ceremonies and service that are more devotional. They seek to go beyond the conscious mind and move through life with a free and open heart. They seek an inner understanding and an outer expression of that affection that offers themselves and others a sense of hope, health, happiness and release. This traveler is not very concerned with theology or being analytical; they are on the path for emotional reasons. Theirs is a need for companionship, for attaining or experiencing a healing parental or spousal relationship or presence in their lives- some blessed assurance that all will be well.

My spiritual pilgrimage as a mendicant took me into training as a spiritual director, and worship leader. I was compelled into it by my feelings of disillusionment and dissolution. I was getting disillusioned by how ineffective my ministry had become at ushering change in my congregation and in all my attempts at supporting spiritual growth in that community and social justice in the outside world. In short I was broken hearted and burnout. When the militant humanists in the church forced me to resign,

I lost everything- my home, my marriage, my career… I had hit bottom and had to rebuild everything… Knowing that I had to be true to myself and dedicated to my sense of God as the only thing I could trust, If I was going to remain a minister, I had to come back to the ministry heart first-  acknowledging both my wounds and my wonders, as my best teachers, teachers who would speak to me from the heart…

This path asks me to seek, and then to be filled with a sustained devotion and sense of dedication to my highest sense of what is possible, what is right, what nurtures, uplifts, heals and what sets straight my own brokenness, and what sense of the Holy consoles me when the my empathy overloads me, when my memories plague me, or just when it gets to be too much.. . Having repeated this lesson in the last 5 years, I have had to undergo another long self exam, and the outcome of being a Unity minister appears to be my best answer! and While I am in  this renewal, and feel enthused to become a Unity minister, I know I have at least a lifetime to go…. Where is my home base? Probably as the sojourner, but through my experiences of love and loss, I am more open, listening and learning from my heart more than ever before….

I earnest encourage your journeys into self-discovery, into God, into having a more purposeful and meaningful life. Whichever path you choose, trust that it will be the right one for you. When there is a need to learn from other directions and pathways, you can give yourself permission to change direction, alter your course, and find a new approach to answers- just do not allow yourself to get stuck, comfortable, or to become arrogant or smug.

To summarize, We humans are all called to travel; to find our right path for us to walk- as the Buddhists and the Hindus teach us, to follow our Dharma- the direction in which our deep self or our souls need to go…

You see, Life is quite a journey… So don’t be afraid of getting dirty or choosing a steep road! And remember this piece of sage advice, recommended to me each week by those great Western theologians of my childhood, Dale Evans and Roy Rogers,

Happy Trails to you! So be It!

Closing Words:

Therapist and poet, Ann Hillman, offers us this insight:

[We are all on a journey together… To the center of [ourselves] and to the core of the universe… Look deep into yourself, and into another… That is the holy journey….

Body Prayer: The Cross of Completion

April 13, 2015 - 2:02 pm Comments Off

An Introduction To Body Prayer: The Cross of Completion

In mystical teachings of traditional religions, East and West, in both the indigenous spiritualities of the earth-centered native and pagan religions, there is a clear respect and understanding for how movement, dance, and bodily prayer are part of sacred expression and worship.

Movement is life… so the gestures of the body are all things to pay attention to and respect. We know that a person’s body language matters, and conveys a greater part of the meaning of a dialogue, a prayer, or a chant. Our postures assist us in embodying the words and give them life.

Christianity is no exception; among the early Christians, and in the Gnostic Gospels, we find examples and references to the use of physical or body prayer to express their understanding of Jesus’ life and teachings, and how such physical expression can be used to portray the development and maturation of the spiritual and religious human being….

With this short background, I invite each of you to stand and to practice a body prayer with me…

I have entitled this prayer The Cross of Completion….

In a line or a circle, standing upright, and comfortably strong, with feet together, and stretching your arms length out, we are given the natural cross of the human being….

The cycle of life is like a circle of movement, from birth we slowly begin our journey up and outward, and we return to the body for our closure as we near death…

The first position in our life’s journey is down, in, close to mother…

We are focused on the security, trust, and comfort we first receive, and that will nurture the emerging, growing self… (Please place your hands on or across your stomachs, and then bend gently inward…)

As we grow and mature, we seek to reach and to expand our lives and our understanding of ourselves, our spiritual and physical adolescence and young adulthood… This is the process of growing and stretching to meet our world…

(Move your feet apart to near shoulder width, and begin to move your arms up until they reach the height of your head, flex and rotate your hands, test their flexibility…)

We move upward and begin to stretch further as we reach our adolescence and young adulthood… We stand strong, vital, in search of our personal strengths and heights and widths as an individual…. And in that reaching, we begin to ever so slowly open upwards with our hands to the larger world to contact and connect with others….

(Move your feet out to shoulder width, reach your hands up as high as you can , and take your hands and make gentle fists, and alternative the fist with a reaching out and stretching at your fingertips….)

As we mature further, we realize that is more than a singular search, more than self-centered in its growth…. (Lower your hands and arms to shoulder height…) And we begin to reach out alongside ourselves to see if we can reach or touch the boundaries of our personal world and to begin by touch to bring others into our lives, into a relationship with us…

(Move your hands slowly out to the sides, and make brief contact with someone on either side of you…)

But we quickly learn that this desired contact is not easy… It has its burdens and caring has its price… We are often misunderstood, taken advantage of, left unloved, or disillusioned… Our arms can feel heavy under the strain, we can no longer hold all of our cares, we release our spirit, and find, through our faith journey, that we have assumed a position of holy surrender…. (Move our arms slightly down, bent at the elbows, with palms up and out… Tilt your heads )

In that place of self-emptying, we gain a peace and a way of understanding never before revealed to us… . We can grow strong and calm in our acceptance. As we acknowledge our pain, we learn empathy, consideration, and as we have matured, we become more wise and compassionate beings.

(Arms come down, straighten, and with palms up, we move our arms and hands outward to others and the world…)

As life’s journey nears its end, we arrive at a reckoning, and at a level of self acceptance and self understanding that keeps counsel within our hearts… As a result, we learn to face the rest of our lives with a quiet courage, a sustaining gratitude, and a peace-filled assurance of having lived our lives well….

(Bring your arms back towards your body, place them palms together in front of your heart, in a prayer position….

and then, slowly fold your arms across your body, and bend your body down slightly, lower your head or your chin….. )

So Be IT… AMEN

 

Mandalas- A Synopsis of Questions and Basic Descriptions

March 22, 2015 - 3:59 pm Comments Off

Mandalas

The Tibetan mandala is a tool for gaining wisdom and compassion and generally is depicted as a tightly balanced, geometric composition wherein deities reside. The principal deity is housed in the center. The mandala serves as a tool for guiding individuals along the path to enlightenment. Monks meditate upon the mandala, imagining it as a three-dimensional palace. The deities who reside in the palace embody philosophical views and serve as role models. The mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones.

The Sand Mandala

Mandalas constructed from sand are unique to Tibetan Buddhism and are believed to effect purification and healing. Typically, a great teacher chooses the specific mandala to be created. Monks then begin construction of the sand mandala by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music. Next, they make a detailed drawing from memory. Over a number of days, they fill in the design with millions of grains of colored sand. At its completion, the mandala is consecrated. The monks then enact the impermanent nature of existence by sweeping up the colored grains and dispersing them in flowing water.

What is a mandala?

A Tibetan mandala, visually represented, is a geometric composition wherein deities reside. The principal deity is housed in the center. The mandala serves as a tool for guiding individuals along the path to enlightenment. A mandala has three layers of meaning: the outer (a model of the universe), the inner (to help minds become enlightened), and the secret (a perfect balance of mind and body). more

Who are the deities in a mandala?

Typically, the deities are those that a person chooses for Buddhist meditation. The deities also serve as role models on the path to enlightenment.

What is a sand mandala?

Unique to Tibetan Buddhism, sand mandalas are believed to effect purification and healing. Typically, a great teacher chooses the mandala to be created, and monks consecrate the site with sacred chants and music. Next, they make a drawing and fill it in with colored sand. The finished mandala is consecrated and, having served its purpose, is swept up and dispersed into flowing water.

How does the mandala generate healing?

According to Buddhist scripture, a mandala transmits positive energies to the environment and to those who view it. The monks invoke the mandala’s deities through meditation and chanting and then ask for their healing blessings.

How Mandalas Heal

According to Buddhist scripture, sand mandalas transmit positive energies to the environment and to the people who view them. While constructing a mandala, Buddhist monks chant and meditate to invoke the divine energies of the deities residing within the mandala. The monks then ask for the deities’ healing blessings.

A mandala’s healing power extends to the whole world even before it is swept up and dispersed into flowing water—a further expression of sharing the mandala’s blessings with all.

What was the mandala made from?

This sand mandala was made from millions of grains of powdered, colored marble. Powdered sand, flowers, herbs, grains, colored stones, and semiprecious and precious stones can also be used in the construction of sand mandalas.

What were the mandala’s white lines?

Chalk was used to make the initial design. The mandala was completed using large compasses with white pencils, but the lines were not engraved or incised into the surface.

What tools did the monks use?

The monks used a cone-shaped metal funnel, or chak-pur, to pour the sand. Running a metal rod on the chak-pur’s grated surface created vibrations that caused the sand to flow like liquid.

What would have happened if a monk sneezed?

If the sand became disturbed, the monks would have corrected it by pouring new sand.

How long did it take to make this sand mandala?

This seven-foot-square mandala took twenty monks working in shifts two weeks to complete.

Why was it destroyed after it was completed?

To Tibetan Buddhists sweeping up the sand symbolizes the impermanence of existence. Pouring the sand into water dispersed the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world.

Tibetan Sand Mandalas

The Tibetan art form of sand painting is an ancient and sacred practice intended to uplift and benefit not only every person who sees it, but also to bless the environment. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning circle, and in Tibetan is called kyil-khor, which means essence and circle.

Every aspect of the mandala has meaning and nothing is arbitrary or superfluent. The colors and designs of each mandala have profound meaning originating in the ancient teachings of the Buddha, and have remained identical to these original teachings over the centuries, with each color being an antidote to specific negative emotions.

Mandalas are used to enhance spiritual practice through imagery and meditation to overcome suffering by healing a person’s body, speech, mind, as well as the healing environment.

In essence, mandalas represent enlightened qualities, and are an important form of teaching in Vajrayana Buddhism to support living beings on the path to enlightenment.

 

Mandalas: Sacred Art and Geometry

Mandalas are works of sacred art in Tantric (Tibetan) Buddhism. The word “mandala” comes from a Sanskrit word that generally means “circle,” and mandalas are indeed primarily recognizable by their concentric circles and other geometric figures. Mandalas are far more than geometrical figures, however. For Tantric Buddhists, they are rich with symbolism and sacred meaning. In fact, the etymology of the word “mandala” suggests not just a circle but a “container of essence.”

Simply stated, a mandala is a sacred geometric figure that represents the universe. When completed, a mandala becomes a sacred area that serves as a holding place for deities and a collection point of universal forces. By mentally entering a mandala and proceeding to its center, a person is symbolically guided through the cosmos to the essence of reality. By constructing a mandala, a monk ritually participates in the Buddha’s teachings.

In Tibetan Buddhism, contemplation of sacred images is central to religious ritual, and a mandala is one of the most important of these sacred images. A Tibetan mandala is usually made with careful placement of colored sand, and accordingly is known in Tibetan as dul-tson-kyil-khor, or “mandala of colored powders.” In China, Japan and Tibet, mandalas can also be made in bronze or stone three-dimensional figures. In recent years, a variety of mandalas have been created using computer graphics, although these are usually created by non-Buddhists and are not considered sacred.

10. Meditation

The process of constructing a mandala is a sacred ritual. It is a meditative, painstaking process that can take days or even weeks to complete.

Before a monk may participate in the construction of a mandala, he must undergo a lengthy period of artistic and philosophical study. In the Namgyal monastery, the personal monastery of Dalai Lama, this period lasts three years.

Traditionally, four monks work together on a single mandala. The mandala is divided into quadrants with one monk assigned to each. Midway through the process, each monk receives an assistant who helps fill in the colors while the primary monk continues to work on detailed outlines.

Mandalas are constructed from the center outward, beginning with a dot in the center. With the placement of the center dot, the mandala is consecrated to a particular deity. This deity will usually be depicted in an image over the center dot, although some mandalas are purely geometric.

Lines are then drawn through the center dot to the four corners, creating triangular geometric patterns. These lines are then used to construct a square “palace” with four gates. The monks usually keep to their own quadrant at this point.

From the inner square, the monks move outward to a series of concentric circles. Here the monks work in tandem, moving all around the mandala. They wait until each section is entirely completed before moving outward together. This ensures that balance is always maintained.

Although some mandalas are painted and serve as an enduring object of contemplation, the traditional Tibetan sand mandala, when completed, is deliberately destroyed. The sand is poured into a nearby stream or river to distribute the positive energies it contains. This ritual reminds those who painstakingly constructed the mandala of the central Buddhist teaching of the impermanence of all things.

Mandala Symbolism

In Buddhism, mandalas are rich with symbolism that evokes various aspects of Buddhist teaching and tradition. This is part of what makes the creation of a mandala a sacred act, for as they work, the monks are imparting the Buddha’s teachings.

Outside the square temple are several concentric circles. The outermost circle is usually decorated with stylized scrollwork resembling a ring of fire. This ring of fire symbolizes the process of transformation humans must undergo before being able to enter the sacred territory within. It both bars the uninitiated and symbolizes the burning of ignorance.

The next circle inward is a ring of thunderbolt or diamond scepters, which stands for indestructability and illumination. This is followed by a circle of eight graveyards, representing the eight aspects of human consciousness that bind a person to the cycle of rebirth. Finally, the innermost ring is made of lotus leaves, signifying religious rebirth.

The square structure in the middle of a mandala is a palace for the resident deities and a temple containing the essence of the Buddha. The square temple’s four elaborate gates symbolize a variety of ideas, including:

The four boundless thoughts: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity; The four directions: south, north, east and west

Within the square palace or temple are images of deities, which are usually the Five Dyani Buddhas (the Great Buddhas of Wisdom). The iconography of these deities is rich in symbolism in itself. Each of the Dyani Buddhas represents a direction (center, south, north, east and west), cosmic element (like form and consciousness), earthly element (ether, air, water, earth and fire), and a particular type of wisdom. Each Buddha is empowered to overcome a particular evil, such as ignorance, envy or hatred. The Five Dyani Buddhas are generally identical in appearance, but are each represented iconographically with a particular color, mudra (hand gesture), and animal.

In the center of the mandala is an image of the chief deity, who is placed over the center dot described above. Because it has no dimensions, the center dot represents the seed or center of the universe.

 

Mandalas And Their meanings

March 22, 2015 - 3:49 pm Comments Off

A Preface to Charleston’s Tibetan Cultural Week:

The Meaning of Mandalas

The Unity Community of Mt. Pleasant, SC

March 22, 2015

The ancient teachings and practices associated with Buddhism, are enjoying a sustained popularity no one would have predicted just 30 years ago. As mainline Christian churches shrink, Buddhism is one of the approaches to spirituality and life that has steadily grown and prospered in our country… And I would say, across the modern Western world.

Given that I would enjoy the possibility of teaching the concepts of Buddhism over a much longer time period and with a much more in depth outlook, I will not speak today about the origins of Buddhism, The Gautama, The spread Eastward in Asia, and the various kinds or schools of Buddhist thought and practice. Instead, I will choose to highlight what we are privileged to see and witness over this coming week- the arts and culture of Tibet and one of its chief tools for teaching spiritual awareness, the mandala.

What are some of the reasons for this influx of Tibetan teachers and the establishment of Buddhist study centers around the country?

2

The first, and most obvious is that it is not Judeo-Christian! There are many people who were raised in traditional Western homes that have found themselves to either at odds with the teachings and precise of these faiths, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, that they have left during their early adulthood in search of an understanding of life, the self, and the world that make greater sense to them than the way they had seen it practiced and understood in their childhood homes.

The second, seemingly startling reason that Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular has grown in its appeal to Westerners is the fact that in Buddhism, there is no concept of a troublesome, capricious, personal God… In fact, even though elaborate in its symbolism and rituals, there is no theology or a God that stands apart!

The third one I will consider this morning that will be my theme, is the way Buddhism uses its signs, symbols, colors and designs to evoke meaning and to impel our thoughts and feelings towards the teachings of its core truths and principles. Of course, it does not hurt to have a series of delightful, grand fatherly and gentle teachers…

Chief among them is Tenzen Gayatso, the 14th or the current Dali Lama, who lives in India, but who could call the world his home.

3

He is one of the individuals most responsible for the spread and popularity of Tibetan teachings, and he has assisted his people immensely by how well he lives and then conveys the teachings…

By most definitions, he would be a world saint, or an inspired teacher whose life is dedicated to wisdom, compassion, and kindness.

As a symbolic and complex teaching tool, the mandala can be seen as representing many things… At its most basic, it is a wheel, a circle or a circular depiction of the whole of life. In the blessing or transmission of the Kali Chakra, which is known as the wheel of time, the mandala represents the whole course of human existence: past, present, and future… That it symbolizes that which is completely within us, and that which is the nature of all that is beyond and yet includes us as spelled out in the last stanza of the Heart Sutra which proclaims a connection, an interdependence of consciousness that is not only beyond our normal waking mind, or beyond our caring heart; It is a supreme reality that is beyond, or refers to the beyond that is beyond the beyond! Gate’, Gate’. Parasam Gate Bohdi Svaha…,

4

“Mandalas are far more than geometrical figures, however. For Tantric Buddhists, they are rich with symbolism and sacred meaning. In fact, the etymology of the word “mandala” suggests not just a circle but a “container of essence.”

Simply stated, a mandala is a sacred geometric figure that represents the universe. When completed, a mandala becomes a sacred area that serves as a receptacle for deities and a collection point of universal forces. By mentally entering a mandala and proceeding to its center, a person is symbolically guided through the cosmos to the essence of reality. By constructing a mandala, a monk ritually participates in the Buddha’s teachings.”

“Mandala Symbolism

In Buddhism, Mandalas are rich with symbolism that evokes various aspects of Buddhist teaching and tradition. This is part of what makes the creation of a mandala a sacred act, for as they work, the monks are imparting the Buddha’s teachings.

5

Outside the square temple are several concentric circles. The outermost circle is usually decorated with stylized scrollwork resembling a ring of fire. This ring of fire symbolizes the process of transformation humans must undergo before being able to enter the sacred territory within. It both bars the uninitiated and symbolizes the burning of ignorance. ”

The next circle inward is a ring of thunderbolt or diamond scepters, which stands for indestructibility and illumination. This is followed by a circle of eight graveyards, representing the eight aspects of human consciousness that bind a person to the cycle of rebirth. Finally, the innermost ring is made of lotus leaves, signifying religious rebirth.

The square structure in the middle of a mandala is a palace for the resident deities and a temple containing the essence of the Buddha. The square temple’s four elaborate gates symbolize a variety of ideas, including: The four boundless thoughts: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity;

The four directions: south, north, east and west

6

Within the square palace or temple are images of deities, which are usually the Five Dyani Buddhas (the Great Buddhas of Wisdom). The iconography of these deities is rich in symbolism in itself. Each of the Dyani Buddhas represents a direction (center, south, north, east and west), cosmic element (like form and consciousness), earthly element (ether, air, water, earth and fire), and a particular type of wisdom. Each Buddha is empowered to overcome a particular evil, such as ignorance, envy or hatred.

The Five Dyani Buddhas are generally identical in appearance, but are each represented iconographically with a particular color, mudra (hand gesture), and animal.

In the center of the mandala is an image of the chief deity, who is placed over the center dot described above. Because it has no dimensions, the center dot represents the seed or center of the universe.

7

So, one of the core meanings of the mandala is a symbol of time;

Another is that the mandala represent the construction of reality, and as such, how consciousness is built, how it can be destroyed, how what is adamantine remains, and how that which is material, temporal, or subjective can be easily destroyed or lost.

Without getting too elaborate, the four main Buddhas guard the 4 gates of the mandala, warding off evil, desire, and distraction, thus protecting the wisdom that is to be found within, and the teachings that the mandala can contain for us.

While often considered to be a principal tool in teaching about the impermanence of life, and how clinging on to anything, anyone, any idea can prove to create suffering from this experience of attachment, the mandala and its dissolution teaches us the lessons of impermanence are not the only wisdom to that is found in its shapes and designs.

The other central teaching can be seen if you are willing to picture the mandala as a sky chart, and insight into the universe- as a cosmic pattern, or a celestial view of the totality of our existence…

8

becomes our incentive to center or concentrate our lives on that which is transcendent, permanent, undying and everlasting:

Wisdom, truth, compassion, kindness… not anything built by human hands or given an arbitrary value by human culture.

Among the many things the mandala can represent for us is that as it is laid out, it becomes a container for our blessings… the multicolored sands are the textures of life and hues of our humanity.

As each grain of sand is added, it becomes for us , a visible prayer- a divine syllable that makes up the symphony and celebration of life.

Once complete, the mandala becomes for us a sacred design that blesses the whole environment because it can act as a blessing chamber, an alchemical crucible from which prayers take shape, and compassionate energies can flow… It becomes its own self sustaining energy source and becomes capable of being an instrument of healing and transformation.

It is said that wherever a mandala is created with devout sincerity, its presence will serve to elevate the aspirations, and intentions of the space it is in, the people who live or work, or in this pray there…

9

Furthermore, it is an energy when it is agreed on, can foster spiritual growth and ethical change in the larger neighborhood or the greater surroundings.

So As you observe the mandala this week, try to see it through this more expansive view… Engage, as practically as possible, in the use of the group mandala as your own; and also as a focal point for any universal prayers, hopes, and intentions.

In this way, mandalas attest to the beneficial principle:

WHAT BLESS ONE, BLESSES ALL… AMEN