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!

 

Going From Guilty To Godly

February 8, 2015 - 3:42 pm Comments Off

The Transformation of Going from Guilty to Godly

The Unity Community of Mt. Pleasant

February 8th, 2015

People seek out an unusual church or spiritual community like ours for many reasons. Among the more positive ones, are the warmth and the support they will find here. Other motives for arriving at our doorstep would include our open view of theology, the freedom to explore a variety of religious paths.

A deeper one is the group’s willingness to provide guidance and encouragement for your personal challenges and necessary explorations that often can take you into the depths of struggle in your quest for personal values and meaning.

People come to this community in search of a nonjudgmental outlook that fosters their deep individual and social concerns, and that can provide each person with a greater sense of belonging- a quality of inclusion that prizes each member, and that seeks to provide an ongoing experiences of enrichment and greater insights for each member.

Another reason that people will seek us out is that we do not ask you to conform, but we encourage you to transform- to grow, to change, to explore and to discover all the positive ways that feed your soul and enliven your spirit.

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However, there are other reasons for joining that are more emotional, more urgent, and that can be connected to lifelong issues that need clarification. Many people who come to us because they need alternative answers- they need a place, and they need the space, in their minds and hearts, work out new answers for all the slights and slanders of their childhood religious experiences.

One of the most troubling of these foundational negative experiences, and one of the ones that many people share, is their desire to release themselves from the burdens of residual religious guilt. Guilt creates and then can be used to enforce and sustain, the most toxic feelings associated with belonging to any religious group. It can, and often does, affect a person in many ways– psychologically and emotionally their whole life long- an awful abuse of religious power!

They come to Unity and to a progressive community like ours for answers… Or more accurately, people come to the Unity approach to find new answers, and to do the detoxification work that speeds their own healing and understanding. When I look at this whole process, and how this community can foster such transformation, which I feel is one of the responsibilities of any spiritual community, I call it the journey towards wholeness and it is the whole soul movement from feeling guilty to the understanding of becoming Godlike or more Godly.

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Contrary to centuries of religious instruction, or can I say religious indoctrination, guilt has NEVER been a source of good motivation for any behavioral change or step towards growth.

As you probably know, the Jews never believe in Original Sin… That beauty of a concept came with St. Augustine, and it became a foundational piece in the movement of a dynamic witnessing church being molded, shaped, and I would say perverted, into becoming an Empire.

Every Empire needs a way to control its people, while constantly promoting its agenda and its belief structures… Enter the teachings about guilt and shame, most often associated with sexuality, and you have a great tool for the manipulation of conscience and consciousness!

OK… Off the soapbox, as it is very easy to look back into history and find what went wrong, so I will return to theme of guilt and what we can do to reduce or eliminate its lasting effects. I will tackle that belief in detail IF you truly want it!

Many of us had endured such childhood indoctrination and religious training… And we have experienced the results of living with and trying to deal with those toxic and imprisoning beliefs.

Throughout the ages and across the various religious denominations we have encountered the message of guilt:

Your humanness has very little worth- it has little value, and really is of no great consequence to God… And by God, I meant the church hierarchy and its teachings on control and conformity.

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In that system of theology and its harshly enforced behavioral constraints, it was the eternal soul that was the primary concern- at the exclusion of anything emotional or that was centered in the body…

For you see, the body and the heart are easily corruptible and can lead the soul astray… So you must obey the teachings of the powerful church, and follow those rules completely if you expect that your fragile and easily perverted soul would stand a chance of avoiding Hell and getting to Heaven! Now can’t you see how such an outlook would promote happiness, joy, peace and enjoyment of one’s life?

Guilt is known as the most religious of our emotions- after all, everybody believes in the value of feeling guilty… Right?

From our religious training, we learn to live under its diabolic spell, we give in to its ability to control us, and we project its effects onto others as a means of judgment. To varying degrees, almost all of us who were raised with a childhood religious tradition, have been effected by the belief in guilt.

As a consequence, many of us are too hard on ourselves…

We are not charitable, empathetic, supportive or open minded…

All the striving we see in our country, much of the drive to achieve or to be a success can find its roots in the need to avoid guilt or not to feel guilty if we do not fulfill every expectation our parents, school, and of course, what a strict church has for us!

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Whenever we spawn such pressures- whether they are real or perceived- we will quickly find ourselves swimming furiously upstream and against the current of living more soulfully, living with a clear vision, living or relating compassionately, and having a discerning sense of control, acceptance, and an understanding of the worthwhile struggle for freedom that all of us face…

It is of ultimate importance to our health and well being to realize that guilt is useless– it never truly helps to change anything or anybody! What truly reforms society and what genuinely fosters and supports our personal growth is our affirmation of our true identity- as a child of God. One of the most important Bible verses that came for those ancient sources that wrote the book of Genesis, was the phrase, “we were made in the image and likeness” of God. (Gen.1:27) Because we are divinely authored, and that we carry a divine capacity or potential within each of us, there is no room for guilt, fear, or despair to cloud our reflection. As St. Paul puts it so clearly: We live, and move and have our being in God. (Acts 17)

Here is a teaching I would like to share with you…

It comes from Dr. Thomas Hora, and his work in existential metapsychiatry. It goes like this: While its always important to take responsibility for our actions and understand that there are consequences to our actions and choices, we need not be trapped

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into fearful or guilt-ridden actions that keep us from experiencing the fullness of life. Dr. Hora puts it this way:

“[When we become should-less; ought-less; must-less we can make ourselves ready to leave [any church that acts as an agent of behavioral control. We can develop our own intuitive or inner understanding of morality, and then we can swap childhood fears for a more balanced and free adult reality.]”

He goes on to say and to agree with many others who share this more enlightened point of view. We have to realize that whatever guilt we harbor or perpetuate in our hearts will continue to punish us every time we believe it and rehearse it!

No one can make us hold on to any sense of guilt- however, we can remain guilty IF we continue to believe in its necessity or its validity. In short, we are as guilty or we are as Godly as we are willing to live it, practice it, share it in our lives!

When we gain the courage and the insight to let go of our past associations and expectations that hold on tightly to guilt and other poisons, we can experience a sense of freedom that serves to heal us and that restores to each person their dignity and self worth. Another way of saying this would be: Being made in the image and likeness is our lasting, eternal source of self esteem. One of the most cogent gleanings I have from both theology and psychology is this: My history is not my destiny!

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My past does not necessarily or accurately predict what my future holds!

While it can be generally true when looking at all of humanity, and the overall wheel of karma, that if you do no spiritual work that changes or raises your consciousness and that allows you to spiritually and ethically evolve, then yes… Your past will predict your present, and your present will determine your future! And the great karmic wheel of Samsara turns…

However, since I believe in the soul’s purpose more than I do any foreordained sense of destiny or fate, I have come to realized that my personal and spiritual maturity is directly linked to how well I have been able to understand my past, and how effectively I have rid myself of guilt, fear, or shame.

In short, the process by which we truly become a more spiritual person is tied to how well we can turn any painful memories into wisdom- How well we can learn from mistakes and lapses in judgment, and redeem our actions and experiences in a way that does not only serve our progress but also improves the society and culture!

As the supreme remedy for guilt, claiming your identity not as a broken, sinful creature but as the transformed child of God becomes our freeing and essential task. Salvation in its original Latin meaning, means to become whole and to become holy- to have a sense of your oneness with God…

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It is to be intimately identified with the truth of our being, not defined by any external situations we have or that we face.

I have had to learn and earn that courage; and it can be an intense process, a continual challenge to claim that any of these negative feelings such as guilt have no true anchor or real harboring place in my life or in my spiritual identity or reality.

Now, I would be a braggart if I were to say to you, Oh, I worked through all that stuff! I feel and sincerely believe that we are always being called to work out our own salvation as St. Paul puts it… Moment by moment… In contrast to the evangelicals, No one is saved by one dramatic belief or event… Our salvation is day by day, moment by moment.

Without an active understanding that God is freedom, truth, and love rarely can we reach any sense of inner peace. We are the embodied manifestation of God as Love-Intelligence and by acting from that identity point, we free ourselves of any guilt or remorse. When rightly understood, our conscience- our active awareness of God- opens up and guides us along the path to our wholeness and to our holiness. With this understanding, we live in a more broad minded and open hearted way, and as a progressive result, we become more guiltless, more loving, more free. We, in Unity, sincerely attest that the Good of God is always present, and that it travels with us as inspiration and lives in us as a peaceful, open heart. From this, blessings will flow… AMEN

Selected Reading: Joan Borysenkyo, from her book:

Guilt Is The Teacher, Love Is The Lesson

“Our society runs on unhealthy guilt…. Makes moral judgments out of them and can create illnesses in us as a result. What are some of the signs that we are accepting unhealthy guilt?

1 Being overly committed; having too much to do- too many projects, activities, and thereby finding no real time for yourself, especially when it comes to giving sufficient time for your spiritual growth.”

Then Joan continues and makes a list of the kinds of behaviors that will contribute to increasing our unhealthy amounts of guilt:

Perfectionism; playing the martyr, keeping dysfunctional relationships going; blaming yourself for things that are out of your objective control; Taking on responsibility for others than they need to have for themselves.

From this perspective, our churches, and our wide variety of spiritual groups have a lot of work cut out for them… Maybe that is why forgiveness could be preached about every Sunday, for at least a year…

And why freeing ourselves from any unnecessary or perceived guilt is a mandatory task for our health and living more spiritually for ourselves and others.

Maybe its time for us to move our personal spiritual lives into our families, social groups or even out into the streets and our sociopolitical arenas…

Can you imagine what would happen if, instead of excusing themselves or justifying their actions, Congress asked for forgiveness?

Prayer: From The Wisdom of Rumi:

We cover ourselves and protect ourselves, yet as much as we want to use fear and control to protect us, life happens… We are wounded, hurt, laid bare, and given much to endure…

The Sufis, who are the mystics of Islam, have a way of understanding this awful truth that at first shocked me, but now as the years have passed, continue to teach and console me:

They teach: The fastest way to enter into the love of God is through the broken heart”

St. Paul concurs, when he speaks of what lessons we have to endure in his letter to the Romans 5:

“[We… know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and our hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.]” NRSV

Reflecting back on this theme of guilt or whatever happens to be our personal sources of wounds and negative feelings about ourselves… The ecstatic poet and joyous mystic, Rumi teaches:

“[Let us not be afraid of our wounds… [Where we can feel grief, guilt or fear… ]Our wounds are opened so that the light of God’s grace can enter in…

 

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

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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.

New Ash Wednesday Service

February 19, 2012 - 3:43 pm 15 Comments

A NEW ASH WEDNESDAY SERVICE

PRELUDE: Gregorian Chants

Cover Quote:                                     Lent

Lent is not a negation. It is an affirmation of life’ positive values, its treasures.

Lent is not doing without, but it is doing with. It is taking a greater interest in things that have been crowded out in the hurry and worry of every day. It is a time when a church (or a spiritual community) may prove its value as a well, a mine, or a source and as a center dedicated to the enrichment and empowerment of the Spirit among us.

Robert Murray Pratt

READINGS FROM THE EARLY CHURCH & AN INCLUSIVE LECTIONARY:

OLD TESTAMENT:   Psalms 103     Isa. 58

EPISTLES/LETTERS  Romans 5:1-5;     14:2-4; 6-8; 10     2 Cor 4: 7-12; 16-18

SYNOPTIC GOSPELS:           Matt 6: 1-6; 16-21; 25-34    and/or  Luke 6

GNOSTIC WRITINGS:  Thomas 70

GLORIOUS KORAN: 7: 199; 24:22

THE HADITH (selected writings of the prophet Mohammed)

SUFI SAINT JAHALUDIN RUMI: There is a Field; Forgive Me

MUSIC ( optional)  Bells or Bowls…. Or a Quiet Guitar or Flute Music…

PASTORAL  GUIDED MEDITATION:   The Jewel and The Ashes

Pastoral Prayer (optional)

SILENT MEDITATION( Chants…)

Homily ( optional if needed or desired… On Becoming A Phoenix… website)

ANTIPHONY (a shared congregational reading that accompanies the Rite of Ash Wednesday; It is a Sacred Rite in four parts: Intention, Releasing, Anointing, Affirming….)

STATEMENT OF INTENTION:

Left Side or Congregation:

The past is behind us. Let us learn from it, and let it go …

The Right Side or Clergy:

The future in Spirit and in self are one. It lies within and ahead of us. Let us

prepare ourselves for it. But we will not try to live in the future,

not strive at too fast a pace; “Now is the time of our salvation.”

Life cannot be led or lived in hindsight; nor can it be truly experienced in anticipation- only in the NOW of it, which is Holy time.

We shall put the failures and embarrassments of yesterday behind us. They will no longer rule us. We can forget them.

We will put tomorrow hopes in us, and in front of us.

Seeking the precious core of our true being, we intend to live

more graciously and compassionately each day.

For ours is the ability to reflect the Divine, and

it can only happen from the lessons learned and

Experiences we have reconciled or redeemed.

We learn from what we leave behind, from what

we HAD to experience, and from the present things…

what “we suffer to be so now.”

OFFERING/RELEASING:

(Clergy now invites people to participate in the ritual by asking each person

to write a brief description of a past, painful memory on a small paper card.)

As supplies are handed out, the clergy person reminds the participants that

this is a sacred ritual, to be kept in confidence and with non-judgment.

SILENCE

INVITATION TO THE FLAME:

Clergy: Let us seek to redeem the pain of the years, from the burning of the past, we cleanse and free ourselves to reclaim our higher selves. As dross is burned to reveal the gold, as coal becomes the diamond, we can recognize the jewels of wisdom, compassion, truth, and trust within ourselves…

( as guided by the clergy, each person, with their card, comes up and addresses the group, sharing what they had written. Then they light the card from the chalice, and drop the burning card into a large bowl.)

Clergy: Let the pangs of any negativity transform themselves through the fire and the flame separating the gold from the dross in our lives. We do this so that the ashes of our past can become transmuted to become our visible symbol of renewed grace, as a sign that we posses more of a life that is taught by wisdom, and renewed by hope.

Silence until all the cards have burned to ash . . .

ACT OF ANOINTING:  (Ashes mixed with ash of palms, and holy oil…)

Clergy: With these ashes, your past has been released and transformed. No longer are you a prisoner of memory and pain, bondage or regret, you can be free of your karmic debts. No longer dust, you are closer to becoming diamonds.

(Clergy now applies ashes to the forehead of each person)

Traditionally: Man, thou are dust and to dust you shall return….

NEW: You are the dust of the earth that through grace, wisdom, and love, are lways living in transforming grace… And by compassion, honesty, wisdom and forgiveness, you are becoming  who you are more fully, more clearly… You are becoming clear light, closer to diamonds…

ANTIPHONAL AFFIRMATION:

LEFT SIDE OR CONGREGATION

:

With this act, the days of our lives become released,

less heavy. Now I am renewed, freed to become more of my true self.

Right Side or the Clergy:

By this act, the future can be received more openly, freely. The newness and

potential of life can be better known.

Be thankful, for this is Holy time, because we are best known by God by how we live our lives, how we savor and serve throughout our days.

Be humble, and thankful, for we will grow with the promise of these ashes, so that

every day can become more clear, radiant, and shining with love.

ALL

We have learned from our past; We can be grateful for it.

I recognize its purpose in me and for me: it has been my dust, my grist

and my ground for building within me, a wise heart, and more spiritual life.

BENEDICTION

[ In this shall you rejoice, that more precious than gold are your tests by fire, and the outcome of your faith, hope, and love shall be the salvation of your souls]”                                                                                                                         I Peter 7; 9; adapted

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…

Mandalas- A Synopsis of Questions and Basic Descriptions

March 22, 2015 - 3:59 pm No Comments

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 No Comments

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?

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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.

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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…,

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“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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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

Love and Its Counterfeits? Looking at the various kinds of love and their connection to the spiritual life

February 15, 2015 - 2:09 pm Comments Off

Sermon/Reflection: Love and its Counterfeits

Looking at the various kinds of love and their connection

to the spiritual life

When anyone will look at spirituality today, you will hear a lot about love… And this is as it has always been because love, especially the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor are the core teachings of almost every genuine spiritual path… However,

Love is also one of the most misunderstood, amorphous, and poorly defined words that are glibly and superficially used…

In today’s presentation, I will outline the varieties of love you will find in World Scripture, and I will hazard my own understanding of how the terms have been misused, and are far too generally understood. Then, I will present how more clear definitions lead to a depth of understanding they can be used to elucidate the promises and blessings of the spiritual path.

So, as that great theologian, Tina Turner emphatically put it, “What love go to do with it?!” Now , we quickly realize that she is taking about passion and sexual chemistry, and while there can be a cogent case made for including “the urge to merge” as a kind of love, it is also the source of heaps of historical heartache!

Romance and its emphasis on sexuality, particularly as it is incessantly hyped and promoted in our culture, can be best understood as being on the feelings level of love; as the social awareness of biological drives; and It can be described less charitably in our Western spiritual circles, that the romantic attitude and outlook acts as the counterfeit of a more mature sense of love; That it acts as a barrier to cultivating a peer relationship based on mutual respect, equal responsibility, clear communications and shared intimacy…

It could be said that through the lens of centuries, and across the millennia of human society, that our particular American culture, being only 240 years old, is still an adolescent society- and furthermore, the crassness of perpetuating this acting out adolescence is something our culture depends on… Why? You know Why!

Because appealing to our biological drives or our desires for gratification and pleasure sells everything from cars to toothpaste! Because of that overarching and encroaching cultural fact, there is an ongoing, highly reinforced attitude and outlook that confuses sex with love!

Now the ancient Greeks, and to a lesser extent, the Romans, would scoff and laugh at us! They would say to us: “Haven’t you learned anything from us, from our literature, plays, poems, and other practices? Is it just some cruel twist of fate that blocks learning or is it a convenient, culturally programmed form of social amnesia that requires each generation of humanity to have to discover all of those hypocrisies and all those illogical discrepancies all over again?

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Remembering that it is important to be Biblically literate and to also understand how the language of the dominant culture influenced the theological definitions that were used, or more importantly how they were understood during the process of translation and explanation to the people in the pews. From the creation of the Western church, we find that Hellenistic Greek ideas about love and its descriptive language, has had a crucial and long lasting effect. We can find those philosophical definitions and religious associations that have remained embedded in church teachings, and therefore influential in our lives. So it behooves us to briefly refresh ourselves, and to always remember that there are many kinds of love, and it is important to discern which ones we are talking about so that we can avoid confusion, misunderstanding, and of course, all the erroneous and greed motivated uses in marketing!

Let’s look briefly at our Western ancestral languages that have had a direct impact on religious teaching and on our cultural understandings- The Greek language of love and the adaptations we find in the Latin distinctions and descriptions…

The original four kinds of love given to us in Greek literature, and by extension Greek theology that was so influential in our writing and comprehension of the Bible’s wisdom are these:

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GREEK/LATIN

Storge: kinship; family love

Philos: Friendship / Fraternis

Eros: Romantic Desire with a particular chosen partner/ Amatis

Agape: Spiritual, disinterested, altruistic / Caritas

The word for love from the Latin, amo, is found in most of the Romance languages… However, in its popular usage, it was an elusively comprehensive term that included everything from spiritual devotion to lust. So, this alarmed the church, and decided that they needed to break it down, and define it into separate and distinct categories like the Greeks had done…

The sociological fact remains: Patterns of cultural comfort with language have always had a long shelf life and will resist further refinement. The cultural tendency is to see definitions as a limit on the convenience of free expression- In our current society, we can quickly create slang with great speed, we will change definitions based on how a culture will accept or tolerate those changes or how easily a word can be commandeered and assigned a new and different meaning. In our contemporary culture, we give words a very wide latitude to fit whatever need we have, we want to create, or that arises…

Why does knowing about this matter? If you want to investigate the origins of attitudes found in Scripture or the background of any great spiritual concept, it is important to knew the cultural realities that attend to it and that can influence definitions and applications… One brief example: The Greeks would always make fun of sexual desire… They thought it to be comic, undignified, and crass… However, they would extol and praise motherhood, and the feminine qualities associated with caring for others… And they would revere all the ideals around being a family… They did not see any hypocrisy in that!

 

Now apply that to Greek theology and to the traditions around Mary… She is to be praised, and in some cultures, prayed to with great reverence–Because is the mother of God. And from that Greek influence that separates sex and parenting, we can see why the church found it so necessary to teach and believe that she was a virgin or undefiled by the taint of human sexuality! For centuries, it was taught that there were two Marys- the good mother, and the Magdelene, or the prostitute… Obviously, both points of view were erroneous and harmful to the appreciation and respect necessary and needed to be given to all women!

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In this overview, I focus on the challenge of spiritual love, always considered to be the highest expression of love, in the Greek called Agape, and in the Latin, Caritas, or delectio…

We best understand this as the way that God loves humankind… It is therefore, the highest and best way to love…

And so it naively follows, and has become a commonly held view in New Age or in various esoteric spiritual groups, to say that I love you unconditionally or to put on an attitude that aims to promote oneself as being so spiritual that you are effortlessly able to love life and love everyone unconditionally… You know, just the way that God loves us…

To use the scientific term for this: Hogwash or Bull…!

Here’s why… Here is where there is a sharp and thorny problem, and where the idealistic notions promoted by both conservative and liberal religious approaches will surely be punctured… We can ask: Does God love us spiritually?… How does God love us?

Is divine love an ultimate quality that transcends the human dimension or does it simply include it as a part of the more messy whole? Is God’s love without any human feelings?

Does God love us in a more aloof, disinterested way, you know, not really caring about us personally? There is a danger in using the term love too easily, glibly, as a general panacea that robs it of its distinctiveness, power…

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And yes, a part of it can be passion, sex, romance! However, we have to be wary of its limits… Is it really true that “All we need is love?”… Sorry, Paul… Love is NOT all we need!

For love to be genuine, real, substantial and sustainable, it must include along with affection and desire, generous amounts of respect, trust, honesty, and in the case of trying to model our human love after God’s love, a quality of holy acceptance.

I see that quality of divine love agape, or caritas as having and holding on to a radical acceptance of all that is our lives…

Since as Unity teaches, that God is ever present, and all knowing, then it would follow that God accepts us knowingly and compassionately as the divine has created us! As humans, we are a mixed bag of insights and challenges, including episodes of numbing ignorance and blinding fear, and as humans, we are capable of breakthroughs that result in profound genius and exalting compassion.

As I understand it, God comprehends and fully understands that every human being is a work in progress… That biologically, we were given emotions, and then, through culture and conditioning, we manufacture and reinforce our subjective feelings and create social expectations and attitudes. We humans have drives and needs, hang ups and short comings, and while we are capable of acts of heroism and feats of transcendent altruism, for the most part, we have a daily, and maybe a constant need to lean on the Infinite and not lean on our worldly understandings or shifting cultural norms to provide us with sufficient truth, compassion, acceptance, and love.

In Proverbs we are given: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. From Mrs. Eddy’s  Science and Health, we read her firstlines: For those leaning on the sustaining Infinite, today is big with blessings.

I would suggest that while Agape and Caritas are beautiful soaring heartfelt ideals, I do not expect- outside of some very isolated saintly possibilities, that this kind of fully detached, unconditional love or love for Its own sake is very likely among or between we human beings…                                                                                                                     Our relationships are essentially soulful contracts, and each of us entering into a contract has a set of spoken and unspoken behavioral expectations that built into each and every one, and with each person we choose to care for or decide to love… I would doubt that any marriage or serious partnership would thrive on a disinterested and detached love!    It sounds boring!

While it is true that we do not have to live up to one another’s egotistical or unrealistic expectations, because we do risk our hearts, and because we invest our feelings and try to uphold cherished values if we or our partner disappoints or fails to uphold certain “non-negotiables that the other person needs or requires, then the relationship is over, whether it was legal or not!

So we humans can aspire to Agape, Caritas, and towards a detached willingness to not be affected by whatever happens to us in and through our relationships, but it will be a very rare person who will be able to attain it… And for me, its an open question as to whether or not attaining such detached disinterest is very desirable or good in many ways!

Conversely, seeing God’s love as being based in a kind of noninvolvement can be problematic and misunderstood… After all, God does not care about the minutiae of our human lives… God does not care IF its sunny, if a politician speaks, or who wins the game! However, The idea that God is so intimately connected to us, so involved in every small facet of our lives, and has nothing better to do than… Oh… Find us a parking space, is either supremely arrogant or ludicrous at best!

A larger, more inclusive and compassionate understanding of how God works can be found in the qualities of God, as spelled in Unity where we are taught that the energies and activities of life and existence that we would call God have a supernal residual benevolence… A quality of always being there…of always being Good…

God is a reliable source and a holy resource for our hearts and minds. Through prayer, meditation, contemplation… And actively as it is taught by Unity leaders such as Butterworth, “God can not do anymore for us than God can do with us…”

10 In that way, the Divine becomes our principal source of both consolation and hope for all the issues and concerns facing humankind. Now we can better understand what the Greeks and the Biblical writers were trying to say to us: Agape or Caritas is an ever present quality of compassionate constancy.

From our conviction that God is ever available, we can gain a radical acceptance of a divinely authored reality based on God’s omnipresence… That no matter what happens to us, we are never alone, never beyond reach, and we are never outside of the love of God!

Returning to our human capacity for love, while such acceptance can be aimed for, I have found it evolutionary and beneficial to see love as being intimately attached to our will… It becomes our responsibility, our intention, and our willingness to choose love when there can be other competing feelings, conflicting emotions, and other challenging reactions that are present.

Let me end with these two cogent and visionary reflections:

First, Scholar and Holocaust survivor, Elie Weisel makes this observation about life and the quality of our relationships: 

“Life is a continual process of relational re-synthesis… We are broken apart, and then we are put together again… Each time we are broken, and each time we are put back together again, it is different… We have changed.

Each time different, and if it is true to one’s soul, then it will build on one’s past, and move us further away from fear, away from complacency, and move us into new definitions of self and society. …

The continual process by which we experience change is made more meaningful by the quality of our interactions, by the depth of our caring, by our participation in a true sense of community, and by creating genuine relationships.”

And Jesuit scientist and mystic,  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire. ”

May every day be a true Valentines… Where we are given gracious opportunities to display our unselfish understanding and by doing so, make our lives contribute to increasing blessing and widening the effects of love and caring in our world… AMEN

Selected Reading:

Love, or the act and the response of being loving constantly requires our attention… The duty to love and care for ourselves and attend in loving ways to others never ends…

Because an elevated, sincere and trustworthy love is a heart-centered decision that is made every day, each moment you are together… That awareness is what opens us up to the reality that true or spiritually informed relationships are trialogues- connected and interwoven by the God of our understanding- in that way we have a God who is an ever present Spirit that accepts, upholds, challenges and blesses us each day.

In my years of teaching about marriage and family issues and concerns, and in my work with couples in wedding planning, I will often ask them to define love… That is usually sentimental, romantic, and easily understood on a feelings level… However, that is not even the half of it from a spiritual and more intentional point of view!

One of the best definitions of love I have come across what first written by M.Scott Peck, psychiatrist whose best selling book, The Road Not Taken, was a perennial favorite and I would always have it on my bookshelf… In the book, he defines love as existing when this is true:

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” …

” Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. Love is not simply a feeling. Love is an action, a soulful activity… Genuine love implies an ongoing commitment and the daily exercise of wisdom.”

Meditation: God’s Love I John 4:17-21

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. …

Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters,* are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister* whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

The Commandment we are given is this: Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Wow! That is quite an assignment! To love others with a clear, consistent compassion that would then reflect how God loves us! An enlightened approach to understanding our human quest for wholeness and holiness rests on how we understand this ultimate responsibility, and how well we practice it in our lives…

Let me first say this: I have never met a person who has always kept all the Commandments, every day and in every way… And I expect this is also true concerning the requirement to love for all the Christians and metaphysicians I have met all along my life’s way… Along with the Great Commandment, there are no more challenging verses we humans can aspire towards or hope to reach! It all seems so impossible when you are a student of human nature!

Maybe that is why mystics and teachers have used the dramatic phrase: We are doomed to love! Another way, a little more gentle, is that we are destined to love… However, the challenge still remains!

I have heard it said that that everything boils down to choices… The ones we make, and the ones made for us by others… What about the choice to love? Can we ever choose NOT to love? Are we truly doomed to love no matter what, no matter what might come our way???

I prefer to render this declarative emphasis on being doomed… Doomed without being gloom-ed… In this way:

As divine children of the Holy One Reality we call God. We are required to love ourselves, our neighbors, and God with equal intensity and with a fullness of heart! In short, we can do nothing but love, IF… we desire to live in harmony, in equity, in justice, and in peace…

Of course, our society, our churches, and most everyone we can meet are a long way off from living out this ideal… But even that discouraging admission does not free us from the spiritual obligation… Even though I hesitate to use that term, I know, I will reframe it from that ultimate mystical command… That we have continually before us a sacred invitation, a holy active aspiration, and we have before us the gracious opportunity to love and then be loved… AMEN