The Crosses We Bear: Homily for Easter Sunday

April 1, 2010 - 8:20 pm 75 Comments

The Crosses We Bear; The Hope We Carry
The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
How can a religious liberal understand the difficult parts of the Easter story, namely the awful punishment of crucifixion and the promise of resurrection from the tomb? Are they simply to be dismissed as legend, as a revered but unscientific fable, or can the Mythic metaphor of what the cross represents in our lives provide us with a heartfelt key to understanding the message of Easter? In contrast to traditional Christian theology where the historical sacrifice of Jesus as the Christ ransoms or saves us, liberal theology takes a more personal approach. As the mystical poet Angelius Silesius puts it, “The cross on Golgotha will never save you- the cross in your own heart alone can make you whole.”
When people describe a particularly challenging time in someone’s life where the burdens have been heavy, they often say that “he or she has a cross to bear in this life.” This is not just a sympathetic euphemism. It points to the universal human need to take on, and work through, whatever difficulties our lives contain, as best we can. When taken seriously, the cross stands for our inescapable human process, and our sincere hope for progress, that cannot be attained without perseverance. Each cross we bear deals in some real degree with our losses or suffering. Suffering- and our human capacity to create it, endure it, and overcome it, is an essential part of our humanness and our brokenness. People in our world are carrying a lot of pain with them this Easter… This brokeness extends from countries through communities, from broken homes to broken hearts. Easter can be a time of dealing with profound sense of loss and only through befriending our pain, which releases passion and cultivates compassion, do we find relief, find release, and enact our own resurrection. It is the facing and then overcoming this awful fact that makes the insights we get from the Easter story come alive for us, and offers us a deathless supernal message of healing and hope.
Another way to reframe this is that if it were not for hope, our hearts would surely break… and I believe that the hope that the human heart can contain, when aligned with good or God, is stronger than anything that can happen to us in life. In fact, such spiritual depth defines our life. Psychologist Carl Jung states “that there is only one essential measure of a person, and that is their relationship to the Infinite,” how well they listen to their soul or attend to the needs of the Spirit’s reality that is within them.
It is my conviction born from generous amounts of recent suffering and from hard won wisdom and my life’s soul-centered apprenticeship, that each of us has sufficient resources, adequate will, and enough strength to overcome the graves of fear, pride, addiction, and illness, or at least be given enough courage and hope to sustain us through our afflictions.
You see, to be whole is not to be free of problems. It is to be centered and secure, and when faced with a crisis, to be in touch with those values and virtues that inspire us enough to carry us through our personal Good Fridays.
Crosses appear in our lives in many different ways: chronic illness, addictions, difficult marriages, rebellious children, and career insecurities, just to name a few. They can scourge or hang us as individual tests or trials that seem to endure without let up…
So the question becomes, how does one take up their cross and make it into a source of hope? How can we take our obstacles, tests, and trials and turn them into a deeper sense of gratitude for the refinement of our character, and the sincere empathy we need to respect and care for others?
We hear the answers echoed in the choir’s music this morning: That we are to walk confidently through the valley of loss or loneliness with its tearful sorrows and lurking shadows in our lives, and we are bravely compelled to seek the light even when our hope and faith appear dim, and our lives seem to be at their darkest.

The cross we bear need not be a curse. As the poet and theologian Dorothy Soelle teaches, that God (or Spirit), is closest to us during our cross bearing times; That grace is most disclosed or revealed within our struggles, we are never closer to God than during our times of crisis and questioning. Just as it appears to be darkest before the dawn, Easter’s first light reminds us that within each human heart there lives a deathless hope, an eternal faith, an invincible love.
In that way, Soelle teaches that when we feel injured by life, wounded or slighted by certain life circumstances and situations, that passion and distress brings us closer to a spiritual approach that transforms pain, attachment, and suffering into wisdom, freedom, acceptance and release. However, this transformation is not for the faint-hearted or the timid- as Jungian analyst Edward Ettinger puts it, Living true to one’s soul will take all we have got- and all we have got is what it will truly take to be authentic, and loving. You see, just as we mirrored back our parents behavior, so too, do we live with the fact that our spouses and our children will mirror back to us all that is unresolved, fearful, or egotistical in us! And this is as it should be! For until we accept that we will be let down by those we love, let down by those we thought we could trust, does such disappointment lead us to finding our own truth. As we learn to stop carrying the crosses of false expectations, let go of our negative perceptions, our ego justifications, we can we become a healing, tranformative model for the people in our lives.
Easter is our yearly metaphor for this lifelong struggle for significance. It can become for us a gracious intersecting time when we discover the meaning behind William Butler Yeats words, “Birth and death hour meet, or as the great sages say, “men dance on deathless feet.”
The cross we bear need not be an outer physical one or even an interpersonal one: we can easily learn how to crucify ourselves. Whenever we accept indignities, practice personal cruelties, act with selfish desires, or hold on to our fears, we are just a short step from taking our place on Calvary’s hill. In the same way, we can easily crucify others whenever we become unfeeling and unsympathetic, whenever we turn our hearts from one another, we crucify them, and we can bury the best in ourselves whenever we choose against love, when we lose faith, or abandon hope.
Our first steps out of the grave come from admitting that we have hurt others and take responsibility for its effects, just as we have to eventually learn to forgive those who have slighted or trespassed against us. As the choir reading so forcefully reminded us, we cannot hide behind the lilies, or expect that Spring has enough warmth to thaw out hate or stop our pain and sorrow. In our world, in our hearts, peace is hard won, and healing often comes to us only after a personal sacrifice- and it comes gradually, for it takes courage, persistence, and the genuine support of others who will honestly care for us, so that we can rise from our emotional graves, and claim a new life of freedom, dignity, service and compassion.
The Unitarian Christian, Helen Keller, knew and endured suffering, and she gives us this piece of compassionate counsel concerning our crosses, and warns us not to define ourselves by our wounds. She said:
“Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them, but do not let them make decisions or let them master you. Let them teach you about what you most need to learn. … Let them teach you patience, and insight… Whenever we conscientiously do the best we can, we never know what miracle can be wrought, either in our lives, or in the lives of others.”

Because we share the earth and belong to the community of Earth, we have to find a sustaining sense of hope for our lives, and promote such hope among all humankind. We come together as churches and communities to lend each other support, strength and friendship for our individual battles.
It is in our communities and in our families that we learn to turn our extremities into opportunities, and our opportunities into victories that overcome the cross and rise up from the grave of doubt, fear, egotism and separateness. Our hope is found in community, in mutual trust and respect, in our commitment and our caring.
Hope, as I see it, might be the most powerful emotion we have or can hold… Hope sustains us when the light of our love for one another goes out… Hope makes our faith in the spirit of life possible, and our hope will not disappoint us, because within hope we find ourselves connected to the community of earth and the web of life itself.
May this day of days symbolize for you, a renewal of hope and the promise of healing that you can carry confidently in your heart, and be able to share it courageously with others. As our closing hymn puts it, “I am the life that will never die, and I’ll live in you, if you live in me…” May this Easter find you sharing in and living inspired by Jesus… That “All things are possible for those who believe; they are less difficult for those who have hope; They are easy for those who love, and a joy for those who understand that faith, hope and love overcome the crosses in your heart, and the cares of the world.” Amen

[” Jesus was a man, and not a god, and therein lies the wonder and our surprise.” These words of Kahlil Gibran express what most religious liberals believe: that if we make Jesus into a God, he has less significance for us as human beings. It is his humanity that causes us wonder and surprise. That this is what human life could be all about- loving, compassionate, just, unselfish, strong.
…Perhaps we cannot be exactly like he was… But as all the great spiritual traditions, East and West teach, we are “as holy and as good, as we have the will to be.” The importance of Jesus’ message is that if we are willing, then we are capable. The kingdom of God is at hand; it lives within and among each and everyone of us. It just takes you and me, discovering who we really are, and then believing in what we know as God, in ourselves, and in one another.”

Easter and Eco-Spirituality Readings

April 1, 2010 - 8:00 pm 32 Comments

The great Easter truth is NOT that we are to live newly after our deaths.. but that we are to live nobly, in the here and now- and that we live by the power of hope eternal, and by maintaining a faith in life and a love for others that resurrects us all…

Glory Be to God for dappled things- For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls;
flinch’s wings; Landscape plotted and pierced- fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things couter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle,freckled, (who knows how?)
With swift; slow; sweet; sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him!
Gerald Manly Hopkins

Easter is not a time to dwell on dusty, musty tombs of tradition and feeling… it is to be celebrated as a day that fans the flames of hope that rise out of the tombs of any despair- Easter is our day of days that proclaims unconditionally the glory and majesty of life-it proclaims that the Spirit of Life is eternal, and that She lives in us, among us and is forever a gracious Yes! Happy Easter!

Selected Reading: Easter Morning by Wallace Robbins (adapted)
In the Easter story according to St. John’s Gospel, at dawn, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb alone. She was reluctantly included among the people who surrounded Jesus or who were a part of his inner circle of believers. Yet, she was first; and it was to her, and not to the apostles, that Jesus first appeared.
Those who watched the crucifixion had hoped that Jesus would have demonstrated some divine power or holy wrath… But when he did not, some were disappointed… Others were relieved…. Mary Magdalene never asked for anything from Jesus; She just wanted only to give her thanks to a man- a man who lay dead either victorious or defeated- but a man when he was alive blessed her and released her from her enemies and exploiters.
Jesus might have been the only man she ever met who did not want something from her- the only one who saw into her heart, and then demonstrated to her that he believed in her goodness, and that she wasn’t beyond redemption or undeserving of his compassion. His ability to show mercy gave her the strength to believe that God could not be denied or wrestled out of existence by religious piety, moral indifference, or public apathy. Because of what he did while he was alive, she was simply grateful. Her darkness did not frighten him, and his dark death did not discourage her faith.
Until each of us is willing to face the tomb of our own deadly beliefs, the emptiness of limiting attitudes and belittling opinions, be willing to suspend our doubts to arrive with hope, and then acting courageous and compassionate toward others, acting in the unselfish power of love can do or achieve, only then will we ever begin to know how Mary felt on that first Easter morning….

From the writings of Miester Eckhart and the Creation Mystics

The day of my spiritual awakening, was the day when I saw God in all things, and all things in God….

When your personal Easter comes, know that I will be all around you, and that I shall move through and through you… and Then I will steal your body, and give it to your love… (alternative is: I will heal your body…)

When are we like God? I will tell you…
In so far as we are compassionate,and practice it steadfastly
In so far as we are just, and decide to live in accord with it
In so far as we are loving, and offer it freely

Then do we resemble the Creator/Creatrix who practices these things ceaselessly in us and for us…

What is the human soul? It is god with God.
This is why God says to the soul:
I am the God of gods, but you are the goddess of all creatures.
Stand by all the people ….
who bear my likeness for I am your soul….

How does God come to us?
Like dew on the flowers…
Like the song of birds!
Yes, God gives us beauty through all the creatures,
gives us God wholly to me! \
This is why I bless God in my heart without ceasing, and give thanks for every living thing…. And this is why God has given us a mouth- to offer praises, in common with all the creatures, with all that we do, and at all times….

I see humanity as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection.

In the span of my own lifetime, I have observed such wonderous progress in plant evolution that I look forward optimisitcally to a healthy,happy world as soon as its children are taught the principles of simple and rational living.
We must return to nature, and nature’s god.
Luther Burbank

Perspectives on Palm Sunday

March 28, 2010 - 8:18 am 13 Comments

Entering In: Towards a more inclusive understanding
Of Palm Sunday and its meaning for us
The Rev. Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Invocation/ Opening Words:

What is required of us is to take courage, to enter in.
There are frontiers to cross, doorways to open, thresholds to step over, heroic pathways to life, love, truth and forgiveness.
The gate of Palms opens, and you can cross over…
Take heart, be courageous, enter in…

Responsive Reading: # 35 Life of the Spirit

Selected Reading: The Gospel of St. John 12:11-17a NEB (adapted)

The next day, after hearing about Jesus, and his intent to walk into Jerusalem, a great crowd of pilgrims took palm branches and went out to meet him. When they saw him, they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!…
Then Jesus found a donkey and mounted it and rode into the city and the people placed palm branches in the road before him. This was done in accordance with the Scriptures, that read, “Fear no more, Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, mounted on an asses’ colt.” At the time, the disciples did not understand this, but after Jesus was glorified, they remembered that this had been written, and that this had happened to him.

Benediction/Closing words:
What is required of us is to recognize deeper meanings, to explore and risk, to take heart and enter in… What awaits us can also bless us… Find God, take heart, enter in… AMEN

Pastoral Reflection: “Blessed is He, and blessed are we”
Each Palm Sunday either a reference or a reading is made to the phrase, “Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Hosanna is a cry or a statement of love and adoration- it refers to Jesus as God’s healer and teacher; as someone who provides a salvific example, an inspired presence.
Yet, even this words are inadequate when they are sentimentally or just historically remembered. It is neither sufficient justice nor glorious enough to keep them in the past tense. As Jesus refuted the necessity of blood ties as the definition of family, he also rejected the idea that he alone would move forward into a holy city without bringing others along with him-especially those who were his spiritual brothers and sisters. Jesus defined sisters and brothers as anyone who desires to do the will of God in their lives. Likewise, all those who act to live their lives more spiritually, that is, with more depth and authenticity, live and act in the name of God and can be considered blessed by that aspiration.

Now this might sound blasphemous, but I believe in the more inclusive and multidimensional sense of palms and blessings.
The creation of attitudes of love and service recalled in the life of Jesus makes us one extended family.
Each of us can receive Hosannas as we courageous claim our spiritual identities as the children of God, and the sisters and brothers of Jesus. As we learn, and as we grow more fully in our understanding of God’s mysteries and our own depths and abilities, we, too, enter into the Kingdom, and arrive at the gates of a Holy City. Then we can say and reaffirm on every Palm Sunday, that we are leading our lives in the name, and in the loving servant reality of Jesus. Hosannas to you all. AMEN

Reflection/Reading: The many Meanings of Palms
The Palm has always been regarded as a life-giving plant.
It retains its timeless value for us today, not just as a historical symbol, but as a gift of caring we can give to one another.
The image of the Palm was found everywhere in the ancient world. It adorned the walls of the glorious Temple of Solomon, and its practical uses for food, for rope, and for shelter are numerous. (I Kings 6:29 and other places)
The word palm comes to us from the early Greek word Phoenicia, which meant “land of the Palms,” the stretched all along the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the region’s coins had one side, decorated with a palm leaf for tails, and the heads side was the image of the current ruler or emperor.
In religion and ritual, the early Jews used palms as a welcoming or housewarming gift. Hanging palms outside one’s door was a sign of hospitality, much like seasonal wreaths and Colonial pineapple carvings of more recent years. When hung by one’s door, palms would signal that this was a place where a person could come, be cared for, welcomed and respected.
Among the early Christians, hanging palms shaped into simple crosses was a sign of sanctuary- comfort for anyone weary or anyone who was in need of solace and inspiration. It was also considered to be a sign of protection from damaging rains, wind lightning, fires or flooding. (Hmm… I wonder if it could protect religious liberals from pollution and loud politicians?)

I have a special remembrance of palms as it relates to comfort and caring… I remember fondly my paternal grandfather Paul, sitting me down at our kitchen table, and asking me to help him to make little crosses out of palm leaves that he just received at church.
Intently, I watched his patient process of stripping the individual leaves, then pairing them and placing them carefully in rows. Then he would take each pair, and begin to fold them and interlace them to make these gentle, graceful, bowed crosses. After he had made one for me, he began to make them for all his grandchildren, approximately three dozen, filling a large wicker basket with them. (Here I start to make one for the congregation…)
He then went around giving one to each grandchild, instructing them to place or hang them by their bedside, or somewhere in their room. Later, he taught his children how to make them for their homes and offices. He always hung them in the greenhouse as a sign of encouragement and for protection for all the little tomato seedlings that he had planted.
Making crosses for each of his grandchildren was his traditional way of showing his caring. It was for him, an extension of his devotion and caring. Often, he would tell me the Palm Sunday story in his own words, and said that the palms were a sign “that God could always come to us, and could enter into our hearts whenever we would ask or let him in.”
Today, grandparents might elect to do a similar thing, such as give their grandchildren an inspirational card, bookmark, or some other token of the spiritual message of the Easter season that would be more personal and meaningful than chocolate bunnies or sugary eggs. While eggs and flowers retain their symbolic value, especially on Easter Sunday, a gift that expresses a parent’s faith has, at least to me, a more lasting, deeper importance.

Receiving palms, hanging them in my home, making gentle bowed crosses, and then giving them to others, will always remind me of my grandpa Paul, and his gift of faith and caring.

Homily: Gateways to God and Palm Sunday:
A “Gnostic” look at its meaning for us today

The climatic event in the Palm Sunday story is when Jesus, astride a young colt, rides down the royal road, over a bed of palm leaves into Jerusalem accompanied by a joyous crowd. It was the pinnacle of his popularity, his “claim to fame.” It was the triumph before the tragedy, all foretold, and all to be revealed in the week’s events.
Jerusalem then was a thriving city, a contemporary metropolis. It was a world center, a place where people brought their families for important celebrations and their products for vital trade or commerce. It was also a place where ideas and beliefs were expressed and contrasted, a place where Greek philosophy mingled with Eastern mysticism, where Babylonian gods were being absorbed into Jewish theology, and rituals. Simply, when anyone or anything entered into Jerusalem, it became known to the entire world. Thus, Jerusalem became a spiritual center: a place where wisdom, prophecy, logic, and mystery all found internal admission within the culture and in each person’s life.
Entering in… through the door or past the gate… And what about Jesus and the symbolic act of entering into the Holy City?
Other than coming in from the outside, or as a separation– picket fences, garden gates, iron barriers, etc., gates also stand for what permits and protects us. There are material gates of security, and emotional boundaries of protection. Also, there are physical doorways to enter into a new place, and spiritual thresholds to cross over to enter into new awareness.
In Gnostic thought, there are always many levels or depths and dimensions to any possible interpretation for Biblical and personal events. Gnostic approaches to life parallel ordinary events but takes us into our hearts and souls for definitions.
Gnosis is involved in the search for wisdom and meaning, and how that quest has purpose and value for our deeper selves or for our spiritual identities.
When Jesus entered into the main gate, accompanied by a teeming, celebrating crowd, he stirred up both advocacy and animosity. On one level, it was a crowd expectant, they felt overdue for deliverance-they yearned for a Messiah and welcomed anyone who had a new message and gave evidence of a new reality.
Jesus’s arrival also stirred up jealousy, and animosity for anyone who might challenge the status quo way of religion and society. Few people in power ever want to relinquish it.
Yet, this entry was not like so many others. It was not like the mayor in the motorcade, or the beauty queen riding in on a pageant float. Who Jesus was, and what his entry into Jerusalem represented, acted as a sign. It was a meeting point for a welcoming readiness, and symbol of an arrival at a new religious paradigm. Additionally, it was a spiritually-based visitation by a man who represented a new doorway, a new path towards God. For his followers then and now, Jesus’s life, his ethical principles and his spiritual understanding, show how God can enter into our lives and fill us with a new awareness. Our reverent response is to spread palms; to open our hands, our heads, and our hearts and to give permission for whatever is holy to come in, to be recognized, and be understood. For a follower of Jesus, that means looking, listening, watching, praying and acting on that comprehension and empowering new model for being oneself and in relationship to others.
This gateway to God swings inward. It moves us from our outer concerns and fears, and into our core selves. When we enter in, we find our wounds and our wonders, our pain and our gifts. The door from God to our hearts is not an easy one, but its necessity compels our search for knowledge, and completes our sense of wholeness and holiness.
When we open that door, we look into our past. We take a long look at our problems. Then with courage and persistence, we move through them looking to find what truly comforts and uplifts us.
We enter through the gate of a Holy City whenever we cross over that threshold of what was for what might be. We enter in every time we are willing to search attentively and reverently, whenever we are willing to risk love and acceptance, forgiveness and peace as answers to life’s questions.
By looking within, we become Gnostic and contemplative. We examine our motives and incentives, we see what our lives have been about, and what ways they need to be changed or affirmed.
This doorway from God to each of us is also the gateway that teaches us how to replenish and restore ourselves from the stresses and strains of living. Just as we cannot continue to work without rest, we cannot offer any cooling comfort to anyone else from our empty well- nor can we offer hope and love from an empty or broken heart. The Gnostic Christian recalls the words of Jesus when he said, “[I am the door, I am the gate that leads you toward God.]” In proclaiming this, he did not say that his physical person or even his life or death is the entry point for us. He stated that his reality, and the effects of learning his ethics and spiritual understandings would replenish and inspire a Christ consciousness could be seen in each of us.
Gnostic teachings would state that whosoever enters into Jesus’s reality can be made whole, free, and find the rest, nurture, self-acceptance and peace so many of us lack or need. They would remind us of Jesus’s promise:” [I, as the Christ consciousness that is in me, has come into this world, so that you might have a greater sense of life and purpose and then have it abundantly.]” John

There is a second door. It the door or the gateway that leads out of our hearts. It swings outward to welcome in the stranger and the friend. As we learn to live more in God, we nourish ourselves and strengthen our families and community so that we can turn our care, concern and compassion out into the world.
This door of our hearts swings outward to be inclusive and responsive to human need. From the inner rooms of our souls, and from the support we receive from our spiritual communities, we ready and open ourselves to others in ways of service, encouragement, and justice-making. As the Psalmist put it, it is “out of the abundance of our hearts” we give to make the world more equalized and fair. From our solace and comfort, we act with compassion and empathy. The door from our hearts opened first by God, and kept ajar by a sustaining grace; it is a pathway that becomes a wide open welcoming entrance, a redeeming way that blesses the world by our caring.

Visualization Exercise: Entering In/Crossing Over
Now, I ask you to participate in a short visualization that focuses on the doorways and gates of your lives… please close your eyes, sit comfortably and breath slowly and deeply.. .
Picture yourself before a doorway or at an entrance that can open up a new dimension for your life. Picture this doorway in some detail…
What does it look like? Is it high or heavy, low or light? Would it be easy to open? Where, if you go inside, will it lead? Do you know? How do you feel about entering into a new or unknown place?
If you cross over that threshold, do you have an idea what might be in store for you? Does it matter? Can you trust going in?
Is there anyone else there with you? Is there anyone there to greet or guide you? If so, Who is it?
Now go inside…cross over …What do you see and what do you discover?

Ask yourself how will going through this door might change your life? Change who you are, and what your next steps might be?
Lastly, ask how might it contribute to others and to our world?
Come back to this time and place… with what you have discovered or learned…
Some people might still see the events of Palm Sunday in a literal or more orthodox way-as only one man’s triumph or as a prelude to a sacred tragedy. I feel that the timelessness of the story can be also seen on this deeper level of contemplation and consideration. The Palm Sunday story reminds each of us about entering into the realm of God, into a more holy consciousness or awareness that teaches, heals, consoles, forgives and that frees. It is a new level of gnosis or spiritual wisdom that can affect us deeply.
Jerusalem is everybody’s inner city. It is the place in our lives where we can meet or greet God. Without escaping from the fact of working beyond our egos and present difficulties, Palm Sunday holds within its promise, the gateway to the heart’s triumph and to the soul’s victory. It is a spiritual victory, a personal triumph that public scorn, betrayal, and even crucifixion cannot stop or prevent. Finding our sense of God within, and then opening up the door of our hearts to others is to know life and to have it abundantly. For it is from one opened doorway to the other, that the steps toward God and toward one another can be found. It is from that new place that our way might be paved with palms, and that we learn how to be more spiritually attuned and become servants to our planet and caregivers to one another. AMEN

Benediction/Closing words: What is required of us is to recognize spiritual frontiers, to explore and risk, to take heart and enter in… What awaits us is what can also bless us… Find God, take heart, enter in… AMEN

Lenten Reflections & Readings

March 5, 2010 - 10:16 am 5 Comments

Patient Trust In Ourselves
And in the Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God…
We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end
Without delay.
We should like to skip all the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown,
Something new,
And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made through some stages
Of instability…
And that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you…
Your ideas mature gradually- let them grow, let them shape themselves
Without undo haste.
Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be that today… What time
(that is to say, what grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
Will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Given our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

One of the central messages and abiding secrets of the spiritual life,
If we are to make progress in gaining any depth of understanding or make
any progress in our quest for meaning and wholeness, is learning to give up
in order that we might receive.
In the season of the year, in the various quests and journeys of our hearts, we are asked, and sometimes we are compelled to let go, give it up, release or surrender.
We submit willingly in order to make room in our hearts and minds for a new reality- to make room for a new kind of blessing, a new kind of freedom, a new way to participate in genuine family, authentic community.
There are so many new things that need to occupy our hands, fill our embrace,
And once we empty ourselves of our previous pre occupations and concerns, we make our hearts the home of a new hospitality, and we make our minds capable of welcoming new possibilities and realities.

Those who make themselves ready, those that willingly release, give room, energy, will and spirit to new directions… Directions that would transform our lives…
Whenever we risk letting go, we make it more possible to open ourselves to a larger hope, greater dreams….

“I am endeavoring to see God through service to humanity, for I know that God is neither in heaven, nor is God down below, but God can be found in every one.” Gandhi

There is a certain courage that comes when we greet the dawn, our shadows and uncertainties fade when we respond to the growing warmth, the glowing promise of the light.
At first, we can be startled by the entry of more light into our lives, and wistfully
Try to hold on to sleep, dreams, and solitude. We seek to preserve the darkness, for there is a strange comfort to be found there… Strange and true. Yet the light of day, the light of consciousness and the dawning of a true community beckons and entices us…
To rise from our darkness and to stand face to face with whatever the day promises to us. It is in this call to be who and what we truly are, to be willing to stand fearlessly and to respond openly, that we can find that which is essential to self and to our community… A way of being together that brightens the daystar of our souls.

May the light around us guide our footsteps, and hold fast to the best and to the most righteous we seek.
May the darkness around us, nurture our dreams, and give us rest so that we may give ourselves to the work of our world.
Let us seek to remember the wholeness of our lives, the weaving of light and shadow in this great and astonishing dance in which we move.
The Rev. Sally McTigue

Sanity and Sanctity
How do we learn about our differences, and how one person’s talent or skill is not to be envied, just as another person’s spiritual beliefs are not to be shunned or put down? Here is a story form the famous Black theologian, Howard Thurman that offers us an answer:

“I dreamt that God took my soul to Hell. To my right, there among the trees, were men and women hard at work making a garden. And I said, looking at them, ” I should like to go and work with them. Hell must be a very industrious place, filled with lots of personal success and much individual accomplishment.”
Then God said,” Nothing grows in the garden they are making.” Together we look more carefully: And I saw those people working among the bushes, digging holes, but instead of planting anything, there was nothing to fill these holes. The workers covered the holes with sticks, straw, leaves, and earth, and I noticed that each man as they walked back behind the bushes, they watched their footsteps very carefully, then the men hid themselves and intently watched their holes…

I asked God, “What were they doing?” And God said, “Oh, they are making pitfalls for any man or woman to fall in.” I said to God,” Why do they do it?” And God said, “Because each person who lives in Hell thinks when his brother or her sister falls, then they will more easily rise or succeed.

And then I asked, ” How will he or she rise?” God said,” They will not rise, but instead, they will fall into egotism and fail to truly succeed”
And I asked God,” Are these people sane?” God replied, ” They are not sane; there is no sane person in Hell.”

As I understand it, life requires us to accept with gratitude, the gifts and talents of others, and not seek to feel superior or inferior. Also, we are to honor all the different ways of understanding God, or what is good or what is considered to be Holy- We are not to sharply criticize the differences, but we are to compare, and to appreciate so that we can learn from them.
After all, if we are to trust the intent of World Scripture, we are given the view that God created humanity so that we can bless and care for one another, not so we could harm or judge each other- No one truly gets ahead when another person fails, and no one is made better by trickery or deceit, envy or revenge.
In fact, it could be said that only as we learn to tolerate and accept one another’s differences, and not try to create pitfalls, can we begin to find a genuine and lasting sense of inspiration within the diverse communities that we build, …
And only then, does even a glimpse of heaven become possible.

You and I are in the business of building kingdoms and queendoms together- to build the realms of wonder and sustain the structures of integrity and worth in which all of our sisters and brothers of the liberal and lively spirit work together and dwell….
This is ideal of community- It consists of the blessings and grace we can experience in caring for one another, and the that can be found in sharing our life’s journey with one another, thereby enriching and supporting each other all along life’s way….

Walking The Via Negativa- An Interfaith Reflection

March 5, 2010 - 10:11 am 18 Comments

Lenten Series- The Theological Center of Naples
Luncheon Presentation for the series, In Search of the Holy
“Walking the Via Negativa”

“So for yourselves, seek righteousness, reap then the fruit of steadfast love, break up your fallow ground- for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he might come and rain salvation upon you.” Hosea 12
A Parable Retold
adapted from Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality
Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of Earth, pages 143-45

“In the Gospel of Luke we read the parable of a rich man & a poor man named Lazurus. I propose the following updated version: There was a rich nation whose people used to dress in whatever clothes they wanted every day, and buy whatever cars they wanted which emitted untold amounts of carbon dioxide.
These people ate beef at fast food restaurants whenever they wanted; they created a whole new industry around beef eating by tearing down rain forests where the poor lived, even though it was explained to them how their children depend on these very rain forests so far away for their clean air and their health.
Now at the rich country’s border there lay many poor countries to the south; they were called “The Third World.”
They were covered with the sores of poverty, unemployment, lack of food and medical care, and owed many debts to the rich nation. Much of their land and forests had been stripped bare by the rich nation’s oil and lumber, fruit and meat industries, who supported dictators and their military guards. The “sores” of the “Third World” included 5 hundred million persons starving; 1 billion persons living in abject poverty; 1 billion, 5 hundred thousand persons with no access to basic health care; 1/2 a billion, 5 hundred million with no work and a per capita income of $150 dollars a year; 814 billion illiterate persons; 2 billion people with no dependable water; and no topsoil.
These “sores” were present daily for the rich nations to behold, but they turned their backs and pretended that such suffering was not “newsworthy.” Instead, they built a culture of denial and left the dogs to lick the wounds of the poor.
For years the “Third World” longed to fill itself with the scraps that fell from the rich nation’s table. But most of the assistance that the “Third World” received from the “First World” was in the form of military weapons and money to support the dictators and their armies because those armies were needed to keep the poor people from rebelling. The rich nation would train the poor armies in methods of effective torture. The rich nations then could continue to receive the fruit, the coffee, the sugar, and the cocoa and eventually all the cocaine and the other drugs that fed the rich nation’s insatiable needs.
And then, the poor nations died, and were carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich nation also died and was buried and sent to fires of Hades. In its torment in Hades, the rich nation looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with the “Third World” beginning to rise from the dead straight out of Abraham’s bosom. So it cried out, “Father Abraham, pity us and send the “Third World” to dip the tip of its finger in water and cool our tongue, for we are in agony in these flames.”
” My child,” said Father Abraham, “remember that during your life good things came your way, whereas you dealt the bad things to the “Third World. Therefore there is a great chasm that lies between us, and it is a gulf that is fixed to stop anyone who tries to cross over it.”
So the First World begged that Abraham send the Third World to the other rich nations of First World and give them a warning so that they do not wind up here in eternal torment.
“They have had Moses, & the prophets, let them listen to them!” Then Abraham said to the rich nation, “If they will not listen to Moses, or to the prophets or to Jesus, they would not be convinced even if someone would rise and return from the dead.”

Good afternoon… Today it is my privilege to present some thoughts on the Lenten season from a dissenting Christian and ecumenical perspective known as Creation Spirituality.
Creation Spirituality is a parallel path to the more commonly held Fall/Redemption Theology of Christianity. It also dates itself to Biblical origins and there are Biblical passages that support its teachings, so it is nothing new, just an alternative approach to our Western spiritual heritage that looks at the nature of humanity and the creation more inclusively and optimistically.
There are four paths or directions in which the Spirit moves in us and directs our attention towards God, humanity, community, and the allness of the creation. The first is the Via Positiva- often seen as the season of an expanded Advent. This first path is a profound Yes to life. It is the way of the Mystic and focuses on the affirmation of our Original Blessings, rather than becoming preoccupied by our Original Sins…..
The second path is the Via Negativa- which understood as the season of Lent- It can be understood as the way of the Prophet who calls us to social judgment and to a heartfelt, self-empting kenosis; to a life of simplicity and sincerity, that question our motives, and reflects on our ethics and authenticity before God.
The Third and fourth paths are the Via Creativa- which is Pentecost- The way of the Artist and the fourth is the Via Transformativa- which is the way of the Healer or the time and energy needed for the transformation for the community.

As this is Holy week, and the culmination of the season of Lent begins with Maundy or Holy Thursday tomorrow, I will offer a reflection on our faith and its demands through the eyes of a prophet… While most of the traditional focus for the Lenten season seems to remind us and recommend us towards cultivating our interiority- to understand the need for meditative practices
and to affirm the value the role of prayer in our lives as Rev. Obercresser So avidly and joyfully recommended to us.
There is, however, a warning that any excessive pietism can lead us to passive self absorption so that we can easily forget that to have a complete picture of Jesus and a fuller more dynamic sense of faith is to practice “noisy contemplation”- that prayer when understood is also embodied- prayer leads us to act justly. From this perspective, the prophet who calls us to be faithful and just, earnest and righteous, calls us to fulfill ourselves, and to follow Jesus more completely during this Holy Week and each week of our lives. We are called to follow him in gratitude and with inspiration, to follow him and accompany him through scorn and tribulations, and then to follow him in triumph and transcendence.
You see, we have another Lenten lesson to remember here- Jesus was not crucified because he was too mystical, prayerful, or metaphysical, it was because he was too prophetic- his words, and actions were seen as a threat to the status quo….
So the season of Lent calls us into the question of how best can we work together to realize the Kingdom or Queendom of God as being in us and among us.
There is a constant need in all of us to experience God’s presence more fully for ourselves. As Rev. Harp so cogently put it, regrettably, we know best the absence of God and not the presence…

As Dr. Kirchner put it, our faith story finds itself inviting us into the unexpected encounter with the Holy- to open ourselves to living out our faith by acting in virtuous, demanding, and exhalting ways.
If we are to set out to benefit from our faith, as we hold to its confessions and convictions, then we have to engage the essential task of the mature devotional life- to move away from the polite but often passive learning about God, and to make ourselves more ready and willing to act prophetically- To know who and what God is, and how those truths manifest and operate in your life.
So the goal of the Lenten season, and the path of Via Negativa, is cultivate the fallow ground of our hearts, remove the tares from our hearts, and to become the ready and ripe wheat & be the good seed that bears witness, bears fruit in our lives.
Miester Eckhart, German mystic of the high Middle ages, and probably the best spokesperson for Creation Spirituality since Jesus, puts it this way:
The seed of God grows into to God….Let yourself go, let God be God be God in you…
What is this ” Letting Go?” It means that we willingly engage in the Lenten spiritual and ethical disciplines that are unselfish and focussed on service to humanity and the earth, such as adopting a standard of living that advocates for a voluntary simplicity…. That when we limit our cravings and release ourselves from promoting a gluttonous, unrealistic standard of living so that others in this same County, in this city, might have access to decent housing, to basic dignity, and receive the necessities for their families. As Meister Eckhart puts it, “Faith is the place in our hearts where the clinging to the material things of our lives ends, and where our true grasp of God begins.”
In this way, Lent is the season where letting go brings evidence of the grace that truly sustains us. As Rev. Leftkow reminded us, we gain a true holy and ethical perspective when we live out a Christ-like compassion in service to others. For it is true that through selfless service, the Holy often can be faithfully found. What the path of the Via Negativa during Lent teaches us, and challenges us to understand, is that we do not come to this ripeness of the soul- this Beatitude or Blessing way – without first dying to the stale, the trite, the safe, and the secure ways of life and in our religious life.

Brief Ritual of Blessing: St. Blaise-Blessing of The Throats on February 3rd each year…

February 3, 2014 - 10:01 am 1 Comment


            The Blessing Of The Throats  February 3rd




According to Catholic tradition and legend, one of the most valued legacies of the sainted ones are the gifts of healing and enlightenment accomplished by intercessionary prayer and their inspiration as role models for our lives. One of the most enduring rituals that honor the gift of healing and spiritual embodiment comes down to us as The Blessing Of The Throats.

In the ritual that follows this explanation, we will offer this ancient rite and ask that it will open us up to greater spiritual expressiveness, prophetic outspokenness, that advances the realm of God within and among us.

St. Blaze or Blaise was an early church bishop in Asia Minor during the 4th century AD. Not much is known of this saint except that he was a physician before he became a bishop and that he was a gifted healer who generously offered himself to people and to animals who were brought to him. The particular healing associated with the throat relates to the story of how he saved a young boy from choking.

we honor and recall this gift of healing today by understanding the importance of the throat area as not only the physical center for swallowing, speaking and breathing, but for what that vital part of our body correlates to in our feelings and in our consciousness. When looked at metaphysically, the throat is the center of the true self or our authenticity.

It is the area that deals with the passions of deception, denial, and lying. It is also the part of our psyches that needs to speak up for oneself, and address others- to speak up to oppression, manipulation, or subservience. As a spiritual truth, we are all equal, and deserving of compassion and being heard.

Speaking up for justice with integrity is an important quality for the healing of our society, for freeing our personal and soulful progress, and for empowering our world’s health, safety, and evolution.

In this ritual, we will pray together to be open to these inner truths, as well as affirm the right to restorative healing, the uninterrupted flow of breath, blood, life and language that are given to us by God.


RITUAL: People wishing to receive the blessing/healing or the freeing/strengthening of this ritual, will be asked to kneel before the priest, and let the crossed candles touch each side of their throats. Then the priest will speak the words of invocation, release and blessing and offer the transmission:


“May the grace and power of God free you from whatever binds you; May you be released and healed to express your true self, your life in God, in every way.”     AMEN 9




A Prayer for St. Bridget’s Day and A Celtic Invocation and Response

January 31, 2014 - 3:34 pm 3 Comments


This morning, as I kindle the fire upon the hearth, I pray that the flame of God’s love may burn in my heart, and in the hearts of all I meet today.

I pray that no envy and malice, no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.

I pray that indifference and apathy, contempt and pride, may not pour like cold water on the fire.

Instead, may the spark of God’s love light the love in my heart, that it may burn brightly through the day.

And may I warm those whoa re lonely, whose hearts are cold and lifeless, so that all may know the comfort of God’s love.



Be with us, Bridget, might Celtic triple goddess of the flame and the flood, crafts, weaving, and creativity.

You who bring inspiration, art, healing, poetry, medicine and smithcraft, be with us today.

Stir for us, the cauldron of ideas and transformation!


Come to us with air, creating inspiring words and thoughts.

Come to us with fire, for the potter’s kiln, the smithy’s forge.

Come to us with water, to heal the sick with love and compassion.

Come to us with earth, and bless our creations, born at Solstice, now to manifest!



For February 2nd and 3rd- St.Blaise\Candlemas

Selected Reading: The Light Within

["The truth is that we cannot be left unchanged by encountering others... Every relationship of our lives, every turning toward one another rather than away from

others, or choosing to hide oneself, is an ever-deepening encounter with God, and with our essential humanness.

When we allow ourselves to experience this, when we love, we discover that our fear can only be finally dispelled by the confrontation, by the embrace and the grace of the encounter itself. Each time we are willing to live in the light, the shadows covering ourselves are dispelled and less fear survives. The reality of such love and courage casts out our fears, the more practiced, the more perfect it becomes."]

Reprint: Teilhard De Chardin: A New Year’s Prayer

January 4, 2014 - 9:28 am Comments Off

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  As we launch into 2014 we at the Teilhard de Chardin Project are reminded of the New Year’s prayer Teilhard once offered:

“At the beginning of this new year, what we ask of that universal presence which envelops us all, is first to reunite us, as in a shared, living center with those whom we love, those who, so far away from us here, are themselves beginning this same new year.    On January 1, 1932, Teilhard de Chardin found himself in Central China with some 40 other men  engaged in Citroën’s Croisiére Jaune, an event described this way by a New York Time movie review of a documentary made about it.

“La Croisière Jaune (The Yellow Journey) is the record of an astonishing motor trip from Beirut, Syria, across Afghanistan, the Himalaya Mountains, the Gobi Desert and the rest of Asia to Peiping.”  It follows “the itinerary of the two heroic little groups who drove in [all-terrain vehicles] along the fabled [Silk Road] where six centuries ago Marco Polo crept along by foot and caravan. The main group started from Beirut going east, while a smaller group worked westward from Peiping, later falling into the hands of the war lord of Sinkiang, who commandeered the autos and imprisoned the men.”

Teilhard was traveling with the westward group, which had left Tientsin on April 6, 1931.  Having successfully joined forces with the eastward group in Sianking Province, they were now working their way back to Peking.  Thus, on this New Year’s Day, after 8 months of sharing rigorous hardships on the road, the 40 members of the Citroën Expedition gathered shortly after dawn at a small mission church to attend a Mass celebrated by their colleague Pere Teilhard de Chardin.  In addressing them Teilhard acknowledges the fact that most of them are unbelievers.    The leader of the expedition, Audouin-Dubreil, kept a copy of his address:   My dear friends, we have met this morning, in this little church, in the heart of China, in order to come before God at the beginning of this new year.  Of course, probably for not one of us here does God mean, or seem, the same thing as for any other of us.  And yet, because we are all intelligent beings, not one of us can escape the feeling, or reflection, that above and beyond ourselves there exists some superior force, and that, since it is superior to ourselves, it must possess some superior form of our own intelligence and our own will.   It is in this mighty presence that we should recollect ourselves for a moment at the beginning of this new year.  What we ask of that universal presence which envelops us all, is first to reunite us, as in a shared, living center with those whom we love, those who, so far away from us here, are themselves beginning this same new year.   Then, considering what must be the boundless power of this force, we beseech it to take a favorable hand for us and for our friends and families in the tangled and seemingly uncontrollable web of events that await us in the months ahead.  So may success crown our enterprises.  So may joy dwell in our hearts and all around us.  So may what sorrow cannot be spared us be transfigured into a finer joy, the joy of know that we have occupied each his own station in the universe, and that, in that station, we have done as we ought.    Around us and in us, God, through his deep-reaching power, can bring all this about.  And it is in order that he may indeed do so that, for all of you, I am about to offer him this Mass, the highest form of Christian prayer.

We wish you and all those you love, wherever they may be, a joyful new year with a renewed zest for life!


Autumn Thoughts and Thanksgiving Prayers

November 16, 2013 - 12:55 pm 16 Comments




We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us.

We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.

We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.

We return thanks to the moon and stars, which have given to us their light when the sun was gone. We return thanks to the sun, that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.

Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness, and Who directs all things for the good of Her children.


Iroquois Prayer, adapted

(Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace)

Prayer for Autumn Days

God of the seasons, there is a time for everything; there is a time for dying and a time for rising. We need courage to enter into the transformation process.

God of autumn, the trees are saying good bye to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too, have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurity and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so.

God of fallen leaves lying in colored patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.

God of misty days and harvest moon nights, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power-filled presence. May we gain strength from this.

God of harvest wagons and fields of ripened grain, many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender. We must wait for harvest in faith and hope. Grant us patience when we do not see the blessings.

God of geese going south for another season, your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left behind and what needs to be carried into the future. We yearn for insight and vision. God of flowers touched with frost and windows wearing white designs, may your love keep our hearts from growing cold in the empty seasons.

God of life, you believe in us, you enrich us, you entrust us with the freedom to choose life. For all this, we are grateful.

Author Unknown                                               Appropriate for many faiths

I am Thankful for the Renewal of Hope in Our Country

Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all... 

I've heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.

If we were to accept the dire reports of national economic difficulties uncritically, there would be little reason for hope during this Holiday season. While strong and often convincing in its details, all those mounting reports can lead to the feelings of powerlessness and increase our sense of despair. I feel that Hope is our best remedy.

As the Western Scriptures remind us, ” Hope is the anchor of our faith.” Within that assurance, it is important to avoid either the Pollyanna response that everything will be all right, or worse, that everything will return to the way it was. I see it as our spiritual imperative not to give in to despair, discouragement, or the difficulties we all face, that we all share…

In the words of another one of our poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, we are experiencing an “anxious autumn”, and quite possibly a cold, harsh winter… But Spring with its promise, is natural harbinger of hope, just as our places of worship can serve as our invaluable sources of support, caring, and shared sense of hope among us.

Hope is a courageous emotion; It is defiant and persevering, for it seeks to find and affirm whatever is good and noble in our struggles. We rely on hope as a path to wisdom, and it is through sharing our hopes and affirming what we are truly grateful for in our lives that makes holiday worship so meaningful for so many of us.

Even if we are struggling, as a nation, through an “anxious Autumn”, let us reflect on the words of our contemporary author, Barbara Kingsolver, who reflects on the nature of hope in these words:

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most [courageous thing] you can do is to live inside that hope.”

Happy Thanksgiving!


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

October 11, 2013 - 7:33 pm 31 Comments

Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee:

Spiritual Narcissism / Spiritual Ecology


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.