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. …
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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…

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

 

The Damascus Road: Thoughts on Transformation and Conversion

January 24, 2015 - 5:18 pm Comments Off

Romans 12.2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.

2nd Corithinians 5

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Today’s theme has been extracted from a year long Bible study that I had begun to design when I was a minister and chaplain at Penn State… It was revived when I was considering full time chaplaincy through a local hospital, including hospice, and the theme then was how illness or crisis can lead to transformation…

Since today is the day in the Western religious calendar that commemorates the conversion of Saul into Paul on the road to Damascus, I want to share with you my more metaphysical interpretation and present some psychological theories and some applications to consciousness raising that I have learned and that I personally consider to be intriguing, compelling, and true…

First, let’s recall the Scriptures themselves… Paul offers us 3 versions, but the most complete is to be found and recorded by the author known as Luke in the Book of Acts Chapter 9:

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Acts 9: The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus into Paul

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to The Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days, he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias who would come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’

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But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings, and before the people of Israel; I, myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Without much doubt or debate, this is the story of how Saul became Paul is the most important transformation in Christian history and maybe even in Western culture! Here we have the chief persecutor of the early followers of Jesus and/or Christians becoming “miraculously” changed into the chief advocate teacher, evangelist of the whole Christian story, and is considered by some, to be an Apostle himself!

What can we make of this? It is so important that it is repeated 3x in Acts, and when it is so emphasized , we can draw an inference to its overall importance… Right? So how can we best understand what happened to Saul on that road? Was it a “fated encounter?’ Was it a pure miracle? Was it somehow foretold? What if it happened to you?

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As Jung wrote near the end of his life, in his last essay,  Approaching  The   Unconscious:

“As any change must start somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it, and carry it through. The change must begin with the individual: it might be any of us (at any time!)… But since nobody seems to know what to do, it might be worthwhile for each of us to ask whether by chance his or her unconscious might know something that will help us.”

As Joseph Campbell put it in his book, A Hero With A Thousand Faces:

“The hero is given birth in each of us. The journey of our lives is no mere pilgrimage to an isolated place in time event. Our journey is closer to becoming a classic Odyssey-one that contains all the twists and turns of emerging growth and challenging, often competing realities that mark the evolutionary steps that move us from the primitive self and the extraordinary ego to the clear and vibrant self, with a tamed ego which moves us closer to the apotheosis of humankind or enlightenment. No journey is ever complete. Our lives attest to the reality we live and share; how much we know, how much we care.”

We can state, from an easy extrapolation from the Scriptures, that Saul was a cold-hearted and cynical zealot- someone who was intolerant and scrupulously aware of what rules he had to follow, and which one must be dogmatically enforced- without question! In the vernacular, we could say that Saul was joyless, harsh, severe… a sour, tight assed prude!

He was a person whose life experience informed him that one need not know God or have an experience of the divine to be, as we moderns put it, to be spiritual, nor do we need to experience a true relationship to the sacred that is found in the heart, not in one’s head, to be called religious! Following all the rules, looking or feeling religious while observing them was enough for him!

Without getting too raw or too bold, I would say, along with what Scott Peck has concluded, that few of our churches today are genuine communities or they are pseudo-communities because they do not foster that quality of spiritual aliveness and teach how to strengthen the deep connections to being a spiritual person that many of us long to have… (A Different Drum)

Because we are given such an unflattering picture of Saul in Scripture and that this unfeeling caricature of a religious leader can still be found, we then have to ask, how was it that he became open? How did he become receptive or at least be able to accept such a dramatic change? What could be a way in which we could explain what happened on the road to Damascus? How are we like Saul? And how do we release or permit ourselves to become more like Paul?

One of the ways I have found useful in my search for an answer comes from reframing the question or the situation… Namely, what kind of “cosmic alarm clock” went off? Since he received an incredible wake up call of utmost consequence for his life, we can then ask, what is this wake up call in this context? In his book, Callings, Greg Lavoy describes wake up calls as a call that has become desperate to get our attention! He writes:

“[They first start out as polite requests, gentle taps on the shoulder, whispers in the ear, and when they are ignored, they escalate into rude shoves, and barbaric yelps!… Wake up calls change your personal bottom line. What used to seem impotent before the call, does not now.]”

Saul received a wake up call that transformed his life. Nothing previous nor anything afterwards had such a dramatic effect. One of the foundational insights we can derive concerning the nature of such an “intra-psychic” transformation comes from Carl Jung’s observations. He contributed an understanding of the various energies and principles that can come together or that are active in the shaping and development of our individual personality. In his writings, he identifies that each of us has the need to understand our own psyche or inner workings. He states this:

To the man in the street, it has always seemed miraculous that anyone should turn aside from the beaten path with all of its known destinations, and strike out on the steep and narrow path into the unknown, Hence, it was always believed that such a [person] if he [or she] was not actually crazy, then they were possessed of a daemon or a god, for the miracle of a [person] to act otherwise than the ways humanity has always acted could only be described as having a gift of a daemonic power or a divine spirit… From the beginning, therefore, the heroes were endowed with godlike attributes.”

Before I go any further into the Damascus event, As I see it, we need a little more clarification and maybe a redefinition… While almost all church historians and traditional theological treatises on this event speak of it as the conversion of Saul to Paul, I see it a little differently… I see it in stages… That this event was a transformation that then lead to a more complete conversion, which I believe has to come before any lasting life choice, any depth of change can occur…

When framed in Christian metaphysics, before a true or authentic sense of conversion can happen there has to be an accompanying metanoia- a genuine change of heart… Now this change of heart is not some warm, fuzzy affirmative feeling… Nor is it a necessary emotional outburst- be it happiness or joy… It is certainly not a temporary high or an ecstatic feeling that quickly spikes and then suddenly disappears. What it is, or what the physiological and psychological shift becomes results in a foundational change in one’s character, and if it is genuine or authentic, it will include a shift in one’s ethical and moral outlooks or attitudes. It is or can be a dramatic shift, leaving behind almost everything you used to believe or that you trusted was right and good, to accept and later embrace a different or new reality. In short, a metanoia, or a true transformative experience that can lead to a conversion is an event/experience that turns you inside-out; It turns you into a new person! (2 Cor 5)

What we can glean from the description given to us in the Acts?

Paul was steeped in the Pharisitical traditions that paid acute detail to all the rules and laws that marked proper religious observances. That he was a middle aged Rabbi, possibly a widower, and that he was known as a staunch and zealous defender of the Jewish status quo and would not hesitate to exercise his power and control to preserve the structure of that acceptable society, and was overly concerned with the rigors of conformity necessary to keep the social peace and ensure personal piety.

Now, listen carefully to this concept… If anything is devalued in our conscious life, it then becomes deeply lodged or firmly situated in our unconscious- that loss of meaning, value or purpose creates an emotional or psychic compensation for what was lost, or denied. If our spiritual or emotional identity is lost, an unconscious compensation or counterfeit value or emphasis can take its place… That’s when we can begin to define ourselves by things we own, the clothes, or car we drive, etc. Without knowing it, we are compensating, and we are secretly longing for what was lost, for our now hidden spiritual sense of ourselves.

How does this teaching relate to Saul? To each and everyone of us?

Jung uses the Greek term, enantiodromia… Which is translated as our tendency towards doing or believing in the opposite. We can speculate that Saul scruples were so bound up in following the rules because he had lost the spirit or the spiritual intention behind the guidelines that were given to him. So to compensate, he became a severe legalistic judge because he could no longer feel or relate to his spiritual nature as a compassionate person- something affected him, afflicted him, in such a way that it appears to us, that he no longer could experience pleasure, desire, joy or love…

This lack of ability to express his inner feelings surfaced as the opposite behavior! Whether it was specifically jealousy, envy, anger, or any of the other toxic emotions we all have, Saul became a prudish scold and became incensed when he encountered the saintly Stephen, who was joyful and serene, living a simple and inspirational life…

So in order to keep repressing or holding down his own lost sense of self, he decide to punish anyone who exhibited the new life in Christ… And so he had Stephen condemned and then stoned to death and Stephen became the first Christian martyr!

The soul, or as I first learned it and not teach it, is the container of our whole consciousness, the light and the dark, the inspiration and the shadows, the blessings and the wounds. When we are spiritually and metaphysically trained to experience its heights and depths, our souls can become boundless, and we can feel limitless and free! For alchemists and mystics, it is an epiphenomenon- where the mystical heart becomes open, and we can dissolve the boundaries or borders between us as human beings, and be better able to make a gracious and transformative contact with others, with nature, with a higher reality we call God.

Saul, traveling on his self righteous mission, was struck by an unexpected yet powerful infusion of the Holy- that he experienced as light and heat… This experienced freed him of his limitations, hang ups and fears and set before him, new unlimited possibilities of understanding and a more exhaled or inspired direction for his life. In short, he discovered the sacred dimensions of his soul- and how a soul on fire with an active sense of grace, and a holy sense of love can begin to preach and work miracles!

Joseph Campbell gives us this conclusion:

“The hero’s task is to resist in order to serve higher aspirations and goals for the sake of humanity and for our world. We are not to pity the hero or the heroic in others, for those who seek and respond to the call to adventure are only following the essential tasks of reclaiming their own soul. Along the way, they might have to confront and slay the demonic in themselves and fight the dragons that have been spawned by the culture, know that systems of evil will try to swallow you up…”

Yet, “the hero helps you to live by resisting the world and its inhumanity… And to be heroic, we will need to listen to our own truth, and not to sociopolitical sicknesses and monstrosities.

Our lives call to us- they call us to decision, and the events of our lives evoke our character. These decisions are designed to elicit virtue, resiliency, insight, and strength from our own inner depths of psyche and Self. We are to enter and complete this journey living with the knowledge of its mysteries and with the acceptance of our humanness as we seek to restore, rebalance, save or heal the souls of others and save the soul of our world.”

Thank you… AMEN So Be It!

 

 

 

 

Thank you… AMEN So Be It!

 

Don’t Sleep Through The Revolution! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 9, 2015 - 9:44 am Comments Off

Note: This is a reprint of the invitation to give The Ware Lecture to the UUA General Assembly in 1966… the excerpts and emphasis are mine, as the text is much longer and the emphasis points are, for me, particularly cogent and inspiring…

In many ways, this address can act as a synopsis of his most foundational ideas, quotes, and teaching for us… Given that the superb film, Selma, is being released today nationwide, it acts as a strong and clear reminder of the man, his words, and his cherished ideals…

Don’t Sleep Through The Revolution!

Excerpts from The Ware Lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966…

There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. And there can be no gainsaying of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our world today. We see it in other nations in the demise of colonialism. We see it in our own nation, in the struggle against racial segregation and discrimination, and as we notice this struggle we are aware of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our midst. Victor Hugo once said that there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. The idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity, and so allover the world we see something of freedom explosion, and this reveals to us that we are in the midst of revolutionary times. An older order is passing away and a new order is coming into being.

The great question is, what do we do when we find ourselves in such a period? Certainly the church has a great responsibility because when the church is true to its nature, it stands as a moral guardian of the community and of society. It has always been the role of the church to broaden horizons, to challenge the status quo, and to question and break mores if necessary. I’m sure that we all agree that the church has a major role to play in this period of social change. I would like to suggest some of the things that the church must continually do in order to remain awake through this revolution.

First, we are challenged to instill within the people of our congregations a world perspective. The world in which we live is geographically one.

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All I’m saying is this: that all life is inter-related, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of all reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He goes on to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” This realization is absolutely necessary if we are to remain awake in this revolution.

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Secondly, it is necessary for the church to reaffirm over and over again the essential immorality of racial segregation. Any church which affirms the morality of segregation is sleeping through the revolution. We must make it clear that segregation, whether it’s in the public schools, in housing, or in recreational facilities, or in the church itself, is morally wrong and sinful. It is not only sociologically untenable, or politically unsound, or merely economically unwise, it is morally wrong and sinful.

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There is another thing that the church must do to remain awake. I thing it is necessary to refute the idea that there are superior and inferior races. We must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. It is out of this notion that the whole doctrine of white supremacy came into being, and the church must take a stand through religious education and other channels to direct the popular mind at this point, for there are some people who still believe this strange doctrine.

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It’s a strange notion that has made for a great deal of strife and suffering. Both the academic world and the disciplines of science have refuted this idea. Anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Meade, and Herskovits, after long years of study, have made it clear that they find no evidence for the idea of superior and inferior races. There may be superior and inferior individuals in every race, but no superior or inferior races.

In spite of this, the notion still lingers around. Now, there was a time that people tried to justify it on the basis of the Bible. Strange indeed how individuals will often use, or should I say misuse, the Bible to crystallize the patterns of the status quo and justify their prejudices.

So from some pulpits it was argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. The apostle’s dictum often became a watchword: servants, be obedient to your master. One brother had probably read the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle. You know Aristotle did a great deal to bring into being what we know now in philosophy as formal logic; and formal logic has a big word known as a syllogism, which has a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. So this brother decided to put his argument of the inferiority of the Negro in the framework of an Aristotlian syllogism. He came out with his major premise, “All men are made in the image of God”; then came his minor premise, “God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro; therefore, the Negro is not a man.” This was the kind of reasoning that prevailed. Now, on the whole, I guess we have gotten away from this; most people don’t use the Bible and religion to justify segregation, although there are a few left. I was reading the other day where one of our white brothers in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens’ Council.

Today’s arguments are generally placed on more subtle cultural grounds, for instance: “the Negro is not culturally ready for integration. If you integrate the schools and other areas of life, this will pull the race back a generation.” And another: “The Negro is a criminal; you see he has the highest crime rate in any city.” So the arguments go on ad infinitum.

Those who use these arguments never say that if there are lagging standards in the Negro community – and there certainly are – they lag because of segregation and discrimination. They never go on to say that criminal responses are environmental, and not racial. Poverty, ignorance, economic deprivation, social isolation breed crime in any racial group. It is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. It is necessary to go to the causal root to deal with the problem.

So it is necessary for the church, through all of its channels of education and through all of its work, to guide the popular mind, and rid the community of the notion of superior and inferior races. We’ve all seen enough to refute this idea.

We’ve seen Negroes who have given inspiring examples of ability to rise above the shackles of a difficult environment. They have justified the conviction of the poet that “fleecy locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature’s claim.” Skin may differ, but affection dwells in black and white the same. If I were so tall as to reach the pole or to grasp the ocean at a span, I must still be measured by my soul; the mind is the standard of the man.

The next thing that the church must do to remain awake through this revolution is to move out into the arena of social action. It is not enough for the church to work in the ideological realm, and to clear up misguided ideas. To remain awake through this social revolution, the church must engage in strong action programs to get rid of the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination. It is necessary to get rid of one or two myths if we’re really going to engage in this kind of action program.

One is the notion that legislation is not effective in bringing about the changes that we need in human relations. This argument says that you’ve got to change the heart in order to solve the problem; that you can’t change the heart through legislation. They would say you’ve got to do that through religion and education. Well, there’s some truth in this. Before we can solve these problems men and women must rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable. I would be the first to say this. If we are to have a truly integrated society, white persons and Negro persons and members of all groups must live together, not merely because the law says it but because it’s natural and because it’s right.

But that does not make legislation less important. It may be true that you can’t legislate integration but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. The law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. And so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. So it is necessary for the church to support strong, meaningful civil rights legislation.

Fortunately we have seen some real advances at this point. It is very consoling to me, and I know to all of us, the role which all of the major denominations within the Protestant, the Catholic and the Jewish faiths played in the achievement of the civil rights bill of 1964, the voting rights bill of 1965. We struggled in Selma, Alabama, and in a real sense we developed right there in that little town something that the councils of the world have not been able to develop – a real ecumenical movement. Protestants, Catholics and Jews stood in Selma, and in a beautiful and meaningful way that was the ecumenical movement which created the voting rights bill.

That bill is a tribute to persons like James Reeb, Mrs. Viola Liuzzo and Jimmy Lee Jackson, those who died and suffered to make it possible. Now the President is calling for new civil rights legislation to deal with two old problems.

One is the mal-administration of justice in many sections of the South. It is necessary for all people of goodwill and for all church bodies to strongly support this bill, which will make murder or threatened assaults of civil rights workers or persons engaged in the promotion of constitutional rights a federal crime.

….

But there is a more difficult title in that bill, one that must ultimately be passed if America is to rise to its full maturity. That is the section of the bill which calls for an end to discrimination in housing. It means that discrimination in all housing will be federally non-sanctioned. It involves the sale, the rental, and the financing of all housing. This is the difficult one because there still are many fears around. There are stereotypes about Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans and others.

Studies reveal that there are numerous forces both private and public which make for the problem, because they are profiting by the existence of segregation in housing. I am convinced that if we are to have a truly integrated society we must deal with the housing problem.

The school problem is difficult and it will never be totally solved until we solve the housing problem, and so it is my hope that we will go all out over America to bring this new legislation into being and to insist that it will be vigorously enforced, once it is passed, for there is still a gulf between legislation on the one hand and the enforcement of that legislation on the other. We see this in the South every day.

In 1954 the Supreme Court of Our nation rendered a decision declaring segregation unconstitutional in the public schools. Yet, twelve years later, only 5.2 per of the Negro students of the South are attending integrated Schools. We haven’t even made one per cent progress a year. If we continue this pace it will take about 96 more years to integrate the schools in the South. There is still a gulf between legislative and judicial decrees and the actual enforcement of them. It seems to me that an alive, relevent church should go all out to see that legislation becomes a reality and that it is vigorously enforced once it exists.

A second myth that we must deal with is that of exaggerated progress. Certainly we have made progress in race relations. And I think we can all glory that things are better today than they were ten years ago or even three years ago. We should be proud of the steps we’ve made to rid our nation of this great evil of racial segregation and discrimination.

On the other hand, we must realize the plant of freedom is only a bud and not yet a flower. The Negro is freer in 1966, but he is not yet free. The Negro knows more dignity today than he has known in any period of his history in this country, but he is not yet equal. There still are stubborn, difficult problems to deal with all over the country. I’m appalled that some people feel that the civil rights struggle is over because we have a 1964 civil rights bill with ten titles and a voting rights bill. Over and over again people ask, what else do you want? They feel that everything is all right.

Well, let them look around our big cities. I can mention one where we’re working now, not to say that it’s the worst city in the United States, but just to reveal the problem that we face.

( a descriptive summary of the current crisis in Chicago in 1966…)

Again, this is true in cities all over the country. These are stubborn, difficult problems, and yet they are problems that must be tackled, for I need not remind you of the dangers inherent therein. There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of individuals within that society who feel that they have no stake in it, who feel that they have nothing to lose. These are the people who will riot, these are the people who will turn their ears from pleas for non-violence. For the health of our nation, these problems must be solved. In the areas of housing, schooling, and employment there is still a great deal that must be done.

We’ve come a long, long way; we still have a long, long way to go and action programs are necessary. I’ve heard it said that the day of demonstrations is over; this is something that we hear a great deal. Well, I’m sorry that I can’t agree with that. I wish that I could say the day of demonstrations is over, but as long as these problems are with us, it will be necessary to demonstrate in order to call attention to them. I’m not saying that a demonstration is going to solve the problem of poverty, the problem of housing, the problems that we face in the schools.

It’s going to take something much more than a demonstration, but at least the demonstration calls attention to it; at least the demonstration creates a kind of constructive crisis that causes a community to see the problem and causes a community to begin moving toward the point of acting on it. The church must support this kind of demonstration. As the days unfold, I’m sure that we will need this more.

People talk about the long hot summer that’s ahead. I always say that I don’t think we have to have a long, hot violent summer. I certainly don’t want to see it because I hate violence and I don’t think it solves any problems. I think we can offset the long, hot, violent summer with the long, hot, non-violent summer. People are huddled in ghettos, living in the most crowded and depressing conditions. They need some outlet; some way to express their legitimate discontent. What is a better way than to provide non-violent channels through which they can do it? If this isn’t provided they are going to find it through more irrational, misguided means.

So the non-violent movement has a job to do, in providing the non-violent channels through which those who are caught in these conditions can express their discontent and frustration.

Now let me say that I’m still convinced that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity. And I’d like to say just a word about this philosophy since it has been the underlying philosophy of our movement. It has power because it has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, it weakens his morale.

And at the same time it works on his heart and on his conscience, and he just doesn’t know what to do. If he doesn’t hit you, wonderful. If he hits you you develop the quiet courage of accepting blows without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, that’s very nice, nobody with any sense loves to go to jail. But if he puts you in jail you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame into a haven of freedom and human dignity.

Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they are worth dying for. If a man has not discovered some thing that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live. There’s another good thing about non-violence: through it a person can use moral means to procure moral ends. There are still those who sincerely believe that the end justifies the means, no matter what the means happen to be. No matter how violent or how deceptive or anything else they are. Non-violence at its best would break with the system that argues that. Non-violence would say that the morality of the ends is implicit in the means, and that in the long-run of history destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends. So since we are working toward a just society in this movement, we should use just methods to get there. Since we are working for the end of a non-violent society in this movement, we must use non-violent means and methods to get there. Since we are working for an integrated society as an end we must work on an integrated basis on our staffs and civil rights organizations so that we don’t get to racial justice and integration through the means of black nationalism.

Another thing about this philosophy which is often misunderstood and that it says that at its best the love ethic can be a reality in a social revolution. Most revolutions in the past have been based on hope and hate, with the rising expectations of the revolutionaries implemented by hate for the perpetrators of the unjust system in the old order. I think the different thing about the revolution that has taken place in our country is that it has maintained the hope element and at the same time it has added the dimension of love. Many people would disagree with me and say that love hasn’t been there. I think we have to stop and talk about what we mean in this context because I would be the first to say that it is nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense. And I’m certainly not talking about that when I talk above love standing at the center of our struggle. I think it is necessary to see the meaning of love in higher terms.

The Greek language has three words for love – one is the eros, another is the word filio, and another is the word agape. I’m thinking not of eros, or of friendship as expressed in filio, but of agape, which is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. When one rises to love on this level, he loves a person who does the evil deed while hating the deed. I believe that in our best moments in this struggle we have tried to adhere to this. In some strange way we have been able to stand up in the face of our most violent opponents and say, in substance, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with our soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.

We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children, bomb our homes, send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half dead; and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you.

Send your propaganda agents around the nation and make it appear we are not fit morally, culturally or otherwise for integration and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. This is our message in the non-violent movement when we are true to it.

I think it is a powerful method and I still believe in it. I know that it will lead us into that new day. Not a day when we will seek to rise from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, thereby subverting justice. Not a day when we will substitute one tyranny for another. We know that a doctrine of black supremacy is as evil as a doctrine of white supremacy. We know that God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men; but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race. He is interested in the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. With the non-violent method guiding us on, we can go on into that brighter day when justice will come.

I talk a great deal about the need for a kind of divine discontent. And I always mention that there are certain technical words within every science which become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that has become common – it is the word maladjusted. We read a great deal about it. It is a ringing cry of modern child psychology; and certainly we all want to live the well adjusted and avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.

But I must say to you this evening, my friends, there are some things in our nation and in our world to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. And I call upon you to be maladjusted and all people of good will to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry . I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, and leave millions of people perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of prosperity. I must honestly say, however much criticism it brings, that I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and to the self-defeating effects of physical violence.It is no longer a choice between non-violence and violence: it is now a choice between non-violence and non-existence.

….

Yes, I must confess that I believe firmly that our world is in dire need of a new organization – the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in

words that echo across the centuries – “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, cried in words lifted to cosmic proportions – “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day “he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

Let me say in conclusion that I have not despaired of the future. I believe firmly that we can solve this problem. I know that there are still difficult days ahead. And they are days of glorious opportunity. Our goal for America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s. Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the words that I just quoted from the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were written, we were here. For more than two centuries our forbearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king. They built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most oppressive and humiliating conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop.

If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail. We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands.

And we can sing We Shall Overcome, because somehow we know the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right – “no lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right – “truth crushed, will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right:

“Truth forever on the scaffold/Wrong forever on the throne/Yet that scaffold sways the future/ And behind the dim unknown/Standeth God within the shadow/Keeping watch above his own.”

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. We will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, and speed up that day when all of God’s children all over our nation and the world will be able to walk the earth as brothers and sisters, and then we can sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual – “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”

Thank you.

 

Insights Into The Black Madonna by Matthew Fox

November 15, 2014 - 4:23 pm Comments Off

The Return of the Black Madonna: A Sign of Our Times or How the Black Madonna Is Shaking Us Up for the Twenty-First Century

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The Return of the Black Madonna: A Sign of Our Times or
How the Black Madonna Is Shaking Us Up for the Twenty-First Century

Rev. Matthew Fox, Ph.D
© 2006 Matthew Fox

Every archetype has its seasons. They come and go according to the deepest, often unconscious, needs of the psyche both personal and collective. Today the Black Madonna is returning.[1] She is coming, not going, and she is calling us to something new (and very ancient as well). The last time the Black Madonna played a major role in western culture and psyche was the twelfth century renaissance, a renaissance that the great historian M.D. Chenu said was the “only renaissance that worked in the West.” [2] It worked because it was grass roots. And from this renaissance was birthed the University, the Cathedral, the city itself. She brought with her a resacralization of culture and a vision that awakened the young. In short, it was the last time the goddess entered western culture in a major way.
In this essay I want to address what the Black Madonna archetype awakens in us and why she is so important for the twenty-first century. But before I do that, I want to tell a personal story of my first encounter with the Black Madonna.
That encounter occurred in the Spring of 1968 when I was a student in Paris and took a brief trip—my first—to Chartres Cathedral located about thirty five miles from Paris. While all of Chartres was an amazing eye-opener for me, its sense of cosmology and humor and human dignity and inclusion of all of life, I stood before the statue of the black Madonna and was quite mesmerized. “What is this? Who is this?” I asked myself. A French woman came by and I quizzed her about it. The answer was as follows. “Oh, this is a statue that turned black over the years because of the number of candles burning around it,” she declared. I didn’t believe her. It made no sense. I looked carefully and saw no excessive candle power around the statue.
The story is an old one, one of ignorance and of racism. Even the French, at their most central holy spot, have lost the meaning and the story of the Black Madonna. And racism has contributed to this neglect. The Black Madonna is found all over Europe—in Sicily, Spain, Switzerland, France, Poland, Chechoslavakia—as well as in Turkey and in Africa and in Asia as Tara in China and as Kali in India. She is also named by Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. (Sometimes called the “brown Madonna.”) What is she about and why is interest returning in her today?
An archetype by definition is not about just one thing. No metaphor, no symbol, is a literal mathematical formula. The Black Madonna meant different things in different historical periods and different cultural settings. What I want to explore is why she is re-emerging in our time and what powers she brings with her. Why do we need the Black Madonna today? I detect twelve gifts that the Black Madonna archetype brings to our time. They are more than gifts, they are challenges. She comes to shake us up which, as we shall see, is an ancient work of Isis, the Black Madonna.

1. The Black Madonna is Dark and calls us to the darkness.. Darkness is something we need to get used to again—the “Enlightenment” has deceived us into being afraid of the dark and distant from it. Light switches are illusory. They feed the notion that we can “master nature” (Descartes’ false promise) and overcome all darkness with a flick of our finger.
Meister Eckhart observes that “the ground of the soul is dark.”[3] Thus to avoid the darkness is to live superficially, cut off from one’s ground, one’s depth. The Black Madonna invites us into the dark and therefore into our depths. This is what the mystics call the “inside” of things, the essence of things. This is where Divinity lies. It is where the true self lies. It is where illusions are broken apart and the truth lies. Andrew Harvey puts it this way: “The Black Madonna is the transcendent Kali-Mother, the black womb of light out of which all of the worlds are always arising and into which they fall, the presence behind all things, the darkness of love and the loving unknowing into which the child of the Mother goes when his or her illumination is perfect.” [4] She calls us to that darkness which is mystery itself. She encourages us to be at home there, in the presence of deep, black, unsolveable mystery. She is, in Harvey’s words, “the blackness of divine mystery, that mystery celebrated by the great Aphophatic mystics, such as Dionysisus Areopagite, who see the divine as forever unknowable, mysterious, beyond all our concepts, hidden from all our senses in a light so dazzling it registers on them as darkness.” [5] Eckhart calls God’s darkness a “superessential darkness, a mystery behind mystery, a mystery within mystery that no light has penetrated.”[6]
To honor darkness is to honor the experience of people of color. [7] Its opposite is racism. The Black Madonna invites us to get over racial stereotypes and racial fears and projections and to go for the dark.

2. The Black Madonna calls us to cosmology, a sense of the whole of space and time. Because she is dark and leads us into the dark, the Black Madonna is also cosmic. She is the great cosmic Mother on whose lap all creation exists. The universe itself is embraced and mothered by her. She yanks us out of our anthropocentrism and back into a state of honoring all our relations. She ushers in an era of cosmology, of our relationship to the whole (“kosmos” means whole in Greek) instead of just parts, be they nation parts or ethnic parts or religious parts or private parts. She pulls us out of the Newtonian parts-based relation to self and the world—out of our tribalism—into a relationship to the whole again. Since we are indeed inheriting a new cosmology in our time, a new “Universe Story”, the timing of the Black Madonna’s return could not be more fortuituous. She brings a blessing of the new cosmology, a sense of the sacred, to the task of educating our species in a new universe story. [8]

3. The Black Madonna calls us down to honor our lower charkas. One of the most dangerous aspects of western culture is its constant flight upwards, its race to the upper charkas (Descartes: “truth is clear and distinct ideas”) and its flight from the lower charkas. The Black Madonna takes us down, down to the first charkas including our relationship to the whole (first chakra, as I have explained elsewhere is about picking up the vibrations for sounds from the whole cosmos), our sexuality (second chakra) and our anger and moral outrage (third chakra). European culture in the modern era especially has tried to flee from all these elements both in religion and in education. The Black Madonna will not tolerate such flights from the earth, flights from the depths. [9]

4. Because she honors the direction of down and the lower charkas that take us there, the Madonna honors the earth and represents ecology and environmental concerns. Mother Earth is named by her very presence. Mother Earth is dark and fecund and busy birthing. So is the Black Madonna. Andrew Harvey says: “The Black Madonna is also the Queen of Nature, the blesser and agent of all rich fertile transformations in external and inner nature, in the outside world and in the psyche.” [10] Mother Earth nurtures her children and feeds the world and the Black Madonna welcomes them home when they die. She recycles all things. The Black Madonna calls us to the environmental revolution, to seeing the world in terms of our interconnectedness with all things and not our standing off to master or rule over nature (as if we could even if we tried). She is an affront to efforts of capitalist exploitation of the resources of the earth including the exploitation of the indigenous peoples who have been longest on the earth interacting with her in the most nuanced of ways. The Black Madonna sees things in terms of the whole and therefore does not countenance the abuse, oppression or exploitation of the many for the sake of financial aggrandizement of the few. She has always stood for justice for the oppressed and lower classes (as distinct from the lawyer classes). She urges us to stand up to those powers that, if they had their way, would exploit her beauty for short term gain at the expense of the experience of beauty that future generations will be deprived of. She is a conservationist, one who conserves beauty and health and diversity.
Furthermore, if Thomas Berry is correct that “ecology is functional cosmology,” then to be called to cosmology is to be called to its local expression of ecology. One cannot love the universe and not love the earth. And, vice versa, one cannot love the earth and ignore its temporal and spatial matrix, the universe.

5. The Black Madonna calls us to our depths, to living spiritually and radically on this planet and not superficially and unthinkingly and oblivious to the grace that has begotten us in so many ways. The depths to which we are called include the depths of awe, wonder and delight—joy itself is a depth experience we need to re-entertain in the name of the Black Madonna. She calls us to enter into the depths of our pain, suffering and shared grief—not to run from it or cover it up with a myriad of addictions ranging from shopping to drugs and alcohol and sport and superficial religion. She calls us to the depths of our creativity and to entertain the images that are born in and through us. And she calls us to the depths of transformation, of social, economic, gender, racial and eco justice and the struggle that must be maintained to carry on solidarity with the oppressed of any kind.
She calls us to the depths of our psyche which, as Meister Eckhart says, are “dark” and to the depths of the earth, which are surely dark and to the depths of the sky that have also been rediscovered for all their darkness. Black holes abound in space as well as in the mysterious breadth of our souls. We need to explore them. They too are fecund. They have much to teach us.

6. The Black Madonna calls us to our Divinity which is also our Creativity.
First, our Divinity. Because she is a goddess, the Black Madonna resides in all beings. She is the divine presence inside of creation. She calls us inside, into the “kingdom/queendom of God” where we can co-create with Divinity and feel the rush of Divinity’s holy breath or spirit. But to call us to Divinity is to call us to our responsibility to give birth.
If Carl Jung is correct when he says that creativity comes “from the realm of the mothers” then the Black Madonna, who is surely a realm of the mothers, calls us to creativity. She expects nothing less from us than creativity. Hers is a call to create, a call to ignite the imagination. What but our collective imaginations can succeed in moving us beyond our energy dependence on fossil fuels to an era of self-sustaining energy based on solar and renewable, clean fuels? What but an education in creativity can reinvent learning so that the joy and wonder and enticement of learning displaces our failing and boring educational systems? What but moral imagination can move us beyond the growing divide between materially impoverished nations and materially sated but spiritually impoverished nations?
The Black Madonna would usher in an era where more and more artists will get good work and thrive on good work and reawaken the human soul by way of moral and political imagination. [11]

7. The Black Madonna calls us to Diversity. There is no imagination without diversity—imagination is about inviting disparate elements into soul and culture so that new combinations can make love together and new beings can be birthed. Because the Black Madonna is black, she addresses the fundamental phobia around race and differences of color and culture that come with race and ethnic diversity. Meister Eckhart says: “All the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves.” [12] To give God the name “Black Madonna” is to honor blackness and all people of color and to get over an excessive whiteness of soul and culture. It is also to honor the feminine. Divinity is diverse. Diverse in color and diverse in traditions and diverse in gender. God as Mother, not just Father. God as Birther, not just Begetter. Gender diversity is honored by the Black Madonna and so too is gender preference. The Black Madonna, the Great Mother, is not homophobic. She welcomes the diversity of sexual preferences that are also part of creation, human and more than human. (We have now counted fifty four species of birds and mammals that have significant homosexual populations. The medieval notion that homosexuality is “against nature” has been disproven: A homosexual minority is very much part of nature.)
John Boswell, in his ground-breaking scholarly work entitled Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality has demonstrated that the twelfth century, that century that birthed the great renaissance and the Black Madonna in France, rejected homophobia. For a period of 125 years—years that were the most creative years in western civilization—diversity was welcomed at all levels of society. [13] Creativity thrives on diversity.

8. The Black Madonna calls us to Grieve. The Black Madonna is the sorrowful mother, the mother who weeps tears for the suffering in the universe, the suffering in the world, the brokenness of our very vulnerable hearts. In the Christian tradition she holds the dying Christ in her lap but this Christ represents all beings—it is the cosmic Christ and not just the historical Jesus that she is embracing, for all beings suffer and the Black Madonna, the Great Mother, knows this and empathizes with us in our pain. She embraces us like a tender mother, for compassion is her special gift to the world. She invites us to enter into our grief and name it and be there to learn what suffering has to teach us. Creativity cannot happen, birthing cannot happen, unless the grieving heart is paid attention to. Only by passing through grief can creativity burst forth anew. Grieving is an emptying, it is making the womb open again for new birth to happen. A culture that would substitute addictions for grieving is a culture that has lost its soul and its womb. It will birth nothing but more pain and abuse and misuse of resources. It will be a place where waste reigns and where Divinity itself wastes away unused in the hearts and imaginations of the people. Andrew Harvey writes of how the Black Madonna provides “an immense force of protection, an immense alchemical power of transformation through both grief and joy, and an immense inspiration to compassionate service and action in the world.” She is also “queen of hell,” or “queen of the underworld,…that force of pure suffering mystical love that annihilates evil at its root and engenders the Christ-child in the ground of the soul even as the world burns.” [14] She holds both creative and destructive aspects within her.
To grieve is to enter what John of the Cross in the sixteenth century called the “dark night of the soul.” We are instructed not to run from this dark night but to stay there to learn what darkness has to teach us. The Dark Madonna does not run from the darkness of spirit and soul that sometimes encompasses us. She invites us not to flee from pain and suffering. Mechtild of Magdeburg in the thirteenth century wrote of this darkness in the following manner: “There comes a time when both body and soul enter into such a vast darkness that one loses light and consciousness and knows nothing more of God’s intimacy. At such a time when the light in the lantern burns out the beauty of the lantern can no longer be seen. With longing and distress we are reminded of our nothingness….I am hunted, captured, bound, wounded so terribly that I can never be healed. God has wounded be close unto death.” [15] Mechtild does not run from the darkness but stays and learns. “God replied: ‘I wish always to be your physician, bringing healing anointment for all your wounds. If it is I who allow you to be wounded so badly, do you not believe that I will heal you most lovingly in the very same hour?” [16] What is it we learn in this darkness of soul and spirit? “From suffering I have learned this: That whoever is sore wounded by love will never be made whole unless he embrace the very same love which wounded her.” [17]

9.The Black Madonna calls us to Celebrate and to Dance. The Black Madonna, while she weeps tears for the world, as the sorrowful mother, does not wallow in her grief, does not stay there forever. Rather, she is a joyful mother, a mother happy to have being and to have shared it with so many other creatures. She expects joy in return. Celebration of life and its pleasures lie at the core of her reason for being. She expects us to take joy in her many pleasures, joy in her fruits. Sophia or Wisdom in the Scriptures sings to this element of pleasure and eros, deep and passionate love of life and all its gifts.

I have exhaled a perfume like cinnamon and acacia,
I have breathed out a scent like choice myrrh….
Approach me, you who desire me,
And take your fill of my fruits,
For memories of me are sweeter than honey,
Inheriting me is sweeter than the honeycomb.
They who eat me will hunger for more,
They who drink me will thirst for more.
Whoever listens to me will never have to blush….(Eccl. 24.15, 19-22)

Celebration is part of compassion. As Meister Eckhart puts it: “What happens to another be it a joy or a sorrow happens to me.” Celebration is the exercise of our common joy. Praise is the noise that joy makes. Joy, praise and celebration are intrinsic to community and to the presence of the Black Madonna. She did not birth her Divine Child by whatever name in vain. She opts in favor of children, in favor of life, in favor of eros and in favor of biophilia. She is a lover of life par excellence. She expects us, her children, to be the same.

10. The Black Madonna calls us to our Divinity which is Compassion. Compassion is the best of which our species is capable. It is also the secret name for Divinity. There is no spiritual tradition East or West, North or South, that does not exist to instruct its people in how to be compassionate. “Maat” is the name for justice, harmony, balance and compassion among the African peoples. The Black Madonna calls us to Maat. To balance, harmony, justice and compassion. Grieving and Celebrating and Acting Justly are all parts of compassion. In both Arabic and Hebrew, the word for compassion comes from the word for “womb.” A Patriarchal period does not teach compassion, it ignores the womb-like energies of our world and our species. If it mentions compassion at all it trivializes it and renders it sissy. (For example, Webster’s dictionary declares that the idea that compassion is about a relationship among equals is “obsolete.”) Patriarchy neglects what Meister Eckhart knew and taught: “Compassion means justice.” [18] Compassion has a hard side, it is not about sentiment but about relationships of justice and interdependence.
Because the Black Madonna is the goddess that dwells deeply and darkly within all beings, ourselves included, she brings with her our capacity for compassion. We are not whole—we are not ourselves—until we partake in the carrying on of compassion. Meister Eckhart taught that the name of the human soul properly is “Compassion” and that until we are engaged in compassion we do not yet have soul. [19]
Compassion knows when enough is enough; compassion does not overindulge; compassion does not hoard and does not run its life on addictions of insecurity and pyramid-building to overcome these addictions. Compassion trusts life and the universe ultimately to provide what is necessary for our being. But compassion works hard as a co-creator with the universe to see that a balance and basic fairness is achieved among beings. Compassion is present in the Black Madonna in her very essence for “the first outburst of everything God (and Goddess) does is compassion.” (Eckhart) To return to compassion is to return to the Goddess.
Cultural historian and feminist Henry Adams writes about the role of Mary at Chartres Cathedral in the twelfth century. “The convulsive hold which Mary to this day maintains over human imagination—as you can see at Lourdes—was due much less to her power of saving soul or body than to her sympathy with people who suffered under law—justly or unjustly, by accident or design, by decree of God or by guile of Devil.” [20] Adams understood Mary as the Buddhist element in Christianity for with her as with Buddha, compassion is the first of all the virtues. “To Kwannon the Compassionate One and to Mary the Mother of God, compassion included the idea of sorrowful contemplation.” [21] Only the Great Mother could provide the compassion needed by the sorrowful human condition.

The Mother alone was human, imperfect, and could love; she alone was Favour, Duality, Diversity. Under any conceivable form of religion, this duality must find embodiment somewhere, and the Middle Ages logically insisted that, as it could not be in the Trinity, either separately or together, it must be in the Mother. If the Trinity was in its essence Unity, the Mother alone could represent whatever was not Unity; whatever was irregular, exceptional, outlawed; and this was the whole human race.[22]

She was beyond the law, a friend of the outlaws who appealed to the masses who “longed for a power above law—or above the contorted mass of ignorance and absurdity bearing the name of law.”[23] This power had to be more than human. It required the goddess.
The Black Madonna, the goddess, provides the womb of the universe as the cosmic lap where all creatures gather. An ancient hymn dedicated to Isis underscores her cosmic role as sovereign over all of nature and queen of all the gods and goddesses.

I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of Heaven, the wholesome sea-breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below.[24]

How like a twelfth century poem to the Christian goddess Mary is this ancient hymn to Isis. Alan of Lille wrote the following poem about Nature in the twelfth century:

O child of God and Mother of things,
Bond of the world, its firm-tied knot,
Jewel set among things of earth,
and mirror to all that passes away
Morning star of our sphere;
Peace, love, power, regimen and strength,
Order, law, end, pathway, captain and source,
Life, light, glory, beauty and shape,
O Rule of our world! [25]

Interestingly, Alan of Lille speaks of the “Mother of things” as a “firm-tied knot” and the Thet which is an important symbol of Isis is also understood to be a knot.[26] We play in her cosmic lap, we bump up against one another there, and we work for balance, Maat, and justice there.
The Black Madonna is the Throne of Compassion, the Divine lap. That is the meaning of the name “Isis” and Isis is the African goddess who gave us the Black Madonna both in Ephesus, Turkey and through Spain and Sicily directly into Western Europe. Indeed, certain passages of the Christian Gospels such as the birth narratives, which are clearly not historical but are stories of the Cosmic Christ, are passages taken from stories about Isis and her son, Horus. Sir Ernest A. Wallis Budge, the late keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities at the British Museum, writes:

The pictures and sculptures wherein she is represented in the act of suckling Horus formed the foundation for the Christian paintings of the Madonna and Child. Several of the incidents of the wanderings of the Virgin with the Child in Egypt as recorded in the Apochryphal Gospels reflect scenes in the life of Isis…and many of the attributes of Isis, the God-mother, the mother of Horus…are identical with those of Mary the Mother of Christ.[27]

11. The Black Madonna Calls us to a renaissance of culture, religion and the city. Isis often wears a regal headdress that symbolizes her name as meaning “throne” or “queen.” Erich Neumann has written about Isis as “Throne.”

As mother and earth woman, the Great Mother is the ‘throne’ pure and simple, and, characteristically, the woman’s motherliness resides not only in the womb but also in the seated woman’s broad expanse of thigh, her lap on which the newborn child sits enthroned. To be taken on the lap is, like being taken to the
breast, a symbolic expression for adoption of the child, and also for the man, by the Feminine. It is no accident that the greatest Mother Goddess of the early cults was named Isis, the ‘seat,’ ‘the throne,’ the symbol of which she bears on her head; and the king who ‘takes possession’ of the earth, the Mother Goddess, does so by sitting on her in the literal sense of the word.[28]

The twelfth century renaissance was especially conscious of the role of “throne” and the goddess. In Latin the word for “throne” is “cathedra.” The medieval church gave birth to cathedrals—over 125 were built the size of Chartres—and every single one was dedicated to Mary with such titles as Notre Dame de Chartres, Notre Dame de Lyons, Notre Dame de Paris, etc. Over 375 other churches the size of these cathedrals were built dedicated to Mary also. In many of these cathedrals a statue to the Black Madonna can be found even to this day. A cathedral by definition meant the throne where the goddess sits ruling the universe with compassion and justice for the poor. Anthropocentrism, clericalism and sexism have co-opted the invention of cathedral to mean the “place where the bishop has his (usually his) throne.” This is false. The cathedral is designed to be the center of the city, it is bringing the goddess to the center of the city to bring the city alive with goddess energies and values. Cities were birthed in the twelfth century with the breakup of the land-based economy and religious and political system of the feudal era. The youth fled to the cities where religion reinvented itself apart from the monastic establishment that ruled for eight centuries and where education invented itself apart from the rural monastic educational system in the form of universities. Worship reinvented itself in the Cathedral in the city and apart from the monastic liturgical practice in the countryside.
Today for the first time in human history more than 50% of humans are living in cities; By 2015, over two-thirds of humans—a great proportion of them young people—will be living in cities. The Black Madonna and the “throne as goddess” motif contribute to the resurrection of our cities. They give us a center, a cosmic center, a synthesis and unity and a life-energy by which we can redeem our cities and take them back from lifelessness and thanatos. Artists gather in a city. Celebration and ritual happen in a city. Nature and human nature congregate in a city. No wonder Meister Eckhart and other medieval mystics celebrated the human soul as city and the city as soul. It is the task of a renaissance to bring soul back to city. We might even define renaissance as a “rebirth of cities based on a spiritual initiative.”

12. The Black Madonna calls us to reinvent education and art. The goddess also ruled at the university—she was “Queen of the sciences” and “mistress of all the arts and sciences” who was “afraid of none of them, and did nothing, ever, to stunt any of them.”[29] All learning was to culminate in her. She was about wisdom not just knowledge. The renaissance that the Madonna represented was both religious and educational.
Often the headdress of Isis depicts the full moon between curved horns and has the shape of the musical instrument that the Egyptians played in her honor called the sistrum. Plutarch stated that the purpose of the sistrum which is a kind of rattle was that “all things in existence need to be shaken, or rattled about…to be agitated when they grow drowsy and torpid.” [30] The Black Madonna shakes things up. Is this not an archetype for our times? Is she not a forebearer of a renaissance, one who comes to give new birth to a civilization, a birth based on a new sense of spirituality and cosmology and learning—a learning that reawakens us to our place in the universe? How will work in the world become wise as opposed to exploitive without wisdom? How will the human soul move from knowledge to wisdom without the kind of effort the goddess can bring? Without a balance of male/female, heart/head, body/spirit truly happening at all levels of education from childhood to professional degrees? How will a renaissance happen if education is left behind? What role will art play when the artist too lets go of the internalized oppression of the modern era and recommits himself/herself to serving the community and to serving the larger community of ecological sustainability? [31]
These are some of the questions raised by the return of the Black Madonna in our time. They beg for response. They beg for listening ears and attentive institutions. They beg for self criticism of nation-states, governments, corporations, academia, religion, law, professions of all kinds which are called to something new (and very ancient): a new relationship between earth and humans. One of mutuality, not mastering. One of joy and wonder, not boredom. One that honors all our relations. For this to come about some rattling of our modern cages and mindsets is in order. The Black Madonna provides such a shake-up. Still. After all these centuries.

FOOTNOTES

[1] See, for example, China Galland, Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna (New York: Viking, 1990).
[2] See M. D. Chenu, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957), chapter one.
[3] Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart (Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1982), 42.
[4] Andrew Harvey, The Return of the Mother (Berkeley, Frog, Ltd. 1995), 371.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 43.
[7] See Eulalio R. Baltazar, The Dark Center: A Process Theology of Blackness (New York: Paulist, 1973).
[8] See Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) and Brian Swimme, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996).
[9] For a fuller development of the charkas see Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh (New York: Harmony, 1999), 94-116; 167-327.
[10] Harvey, 371.
[11] Cf. Suzi Gablik, The Reenchantment of Art (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991).
[12] Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 42.
[13] John Boswell, Christianity, Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980).
[14] Harvey, The Return of the Mother, 372f.
[15] Sue Woodruff, Meditations with Mechtild of Magdeburg (Sante Fe, Bear & Co., 1982), 60f., 64f.
[16] Ibid., 68.
[17] Ibid., 69.
[18] Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 103.
[19] Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2000), 442.
[20] R. P. Blackmur, Henry Adams (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), 203.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid., 204.
[23] Ibid., 203.
[24] Eloise McKinney-Johnson, “Egypt’s Isis: The Original Black Madonna” Journal of African Civilizations, April, 1984, 66.
[25] Chenu, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century, 19.
[26] See McKinney-Johnson, 71.
[27] Ibid., 67.
[28] Ibid., 68.
[29] Blackmur, Henry Adams, 206.
[30] See McKinney-Johnson, 71.
[31] See Gablik, The Reenchantment of Art.

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