Archive for July, 2012

Nuggets of Gold: Sufi prayers

July 22, 2012 - 11:49 am 36 Comments

Nuggets of Gold: Sufi wisdom

Collected from Andrew Harvey’s 365 Prayers

O love, O pure deep love, be here, be now, Be all:

worlds dissolve into your stainless radiance,

Frail living leaves burn with you brighter than cold stars:

Make me your servant, your breath, your core.

Rumi

 

Give me ecstasy, give me naked wonder, O my Creator!

Give birth to the Beloved in me, and let this lover die.

Let a thousand wrangling desires become one Love.

Rumi

May I find the real, and give it endlessly away.

May I grow rich, and fling gold to all who ask.

May I live at the empty radiant heart of Paradox

And dance there always with you, cheek to cheek.

Rumi

All my splendour is to burn in you

May I know this fire now devouring me is devouring itself ecstatically:

May I become this fire, dancing on my own bones.

Rumi

Longing for you savages me each moment
Let the world be my killer, not you
Don’t kick the man you sent sprawling in the dust
Don’t kill him you made, for the first time, alive.

Rumi

Beloved, grace me your endless lavishness
Make me like Your sun, pouring out life-giving splendour on good and evil alike.

Rumi

Hammer this heart any way you like
For the right ringing sounds, spread like water
Over the dry listening dead.

Rumi

The sea of bitterness, the sea of sweetness –
In this world there is a wall between them.
Yet both seas, I knew, flow from one origin:
May I cross both of them until I reach the shore.

Rumi

May heartbreak for you, and reveal a treasure in my heart!
May my heart become ‘light upon light’
Mary with Jesus, leaping in her womb.

Rumi

O Incomparable Giver of life, cut reason loose at last!
Let it wander grey-eyed vanity to vanity.
Shatter open my skull, pour in it the wine of madness!
Let me be mad, as You: mad with You, with us.
Beyond the sanity of fools is the burning desert where You sun is whirling in every atom:
Beloved, drag me there, let me roast in Perfection!

Rumi

 

O God, Grace Me with the love Of You
O God, grace me love of You, and to love those who love You, and to love
Whatever brings me nearer to You.
O God, may your love more precious to me than cool water to the thirsty.

Ghazzali

We have awakened and all of creation has awakened for God, Sustainer of all the worlds. God, I ask You for the best day has to offer, opening, support, light, blessings, , guidance, and I seek refuge in You from any harm in it and any harm that might come after it.

The Prophet Muhammad

O Lord, grant us to love Thee:
Grant that we may love those that love Thee;
Grant that we may do the deeds that win Thy love.

Muhammad

In the name of Allah; I place my trust in Allah!
O Allah, I seek refuge in You from being made to stumble,
From straying and from being made to stray,
For doing wrong to others and from being wronged by others,
And from misunderstanding and from being misunderstood.

Prophet Mohammed

For those who have come to grow
The whole world is a garden
For those who wish to remain in the ocean
The whole world is a stage.
For those who have come to learn
The whole world is an university.
Make me one of those, Lord, who come to know God
For whom the world becomes their prayer mat.

After Bawa Muhayiyadeen

Give Me

O Lord, Give me a heart, I can pour out a thanksgiving.

Give me life So I can spend it working for the salvation of the world.

Sheikh Ansari

Help me, Lord

Lashed by desire, I roamed the streets of Good and Evil.
What did I gain? Nothing –
The fire of desire grew only fiercer:
As long as life goes on breathing in me. Help me, Lord –
You alone hear my prayer.

Sheikh Ansari

Lord, send me staggering with the wine of your love!
Ring my feet with the chains of Your slavery!
Empty me of everything but Your love
And in it destroy and resurrect me!
Any hunger You awaken can only end in Feast!

Sheikh Ansari

Lord, Let your mystery dawn in me
As an ecstasy of humility.

Sufi Prayer

O Lord, may I always live in awe of You
And cleave to the company of those who are sincere.

Sufi Prayer

On that day the mountains shall pass like clouds and the creation fold up like a fan
Let me rise from my grave singing Your name ablaze in the fire of Your mercy.

Sufi Prayer

May I, more than all else,
Cherish at heart, that love that makes me to live
A limitless life in this world.

Kabir

Beloved, drag me, I beg you into the gang of the crazy
For the ecstasy of drunkenness is far more precious to me
Than any sane sobriety
Do anything you need to me to drive me mad with Love and set me free.

Hafiz

O lord, make my heart present or accept my prayers, without my heart

Rabia

Between me and You, there is only me.
Take away the me, so only You Remain.

Al-Hallaj

If You were to place before me hellfire, with all it contains of torment,
I would think lightly of it in comparison with my state when You are hidden from me.
Forgive the people and do not forgive me.
Have mercy upon them and do not have mercy upon me.
I do not intercede with You for myself or beseech You for what is due to me.
Do with me what you will.

Al-Hallaj before his execution

Beloved Lord, Almighty God!
Through the rays of the sun, through the waves of the air,
Through the All-pervading Life in space,
Purify and revivify me, and, I pray,
Heal my body, heart and soul. Amen.

Hazrat Inayat Khan

 

Sufism- An introduction to the mystics of Islam

July 22, 2012 - 11:46 am 36 Comments

         An Introduction to Sufism: The Mystics of Islam

The Kailo Interfaith Community

July 22nd, 2012

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

Many of us feel anxious and disquieted when we hear about the recent events in the Middle East- It seems as if it never ends and a new incident is always ready to appear… Amidst all the fervor of religious dissent, political upheaval, and civil war, we have to be careful… Careful not to be swayed by the media’s sensational portrayal of Islam.

However true the reported events might be, we need to look beyond headlines to the spiritual lifelines- those sources of inspiration that can be found in all the great world faiths. This is never more true than in Islam.

There is a vast repository of spiritual beauty and lasting inspiration within Islam that has had some widespread exposure such as in the writings of ecstatic poet Rumi, but over all and in any easily understood way, there is little being said about the sources and foundational ideals that Rumi and others followed.

What calls to us, what invites us to the dance of life and to the progressive unveiling of our hearts is the burning desire to profess our love for God- to bathe in its healing, to be uplifted by its wisdom and truth. This is the spiritual path called Sufism.

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While it comprises only a small part of Islam, its effects reveal themselves worldwide as not only having an impact on the spread and the spiritual depth of Islamic culture, but show a blessed interaction with Judaism, early Christianity, and Hinduism in India and Asia.  (80% Sunnis; 15% Shiite; 5% Islamic Sufis)

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Sufis, as a whole, can be considered the passionate lovers of God in Islamic tradition. For the most part, they are neither evangelical nor political, and yet they remain influential no matter how stridently they are opposed by the militant and the powerful within Islam. (You might have read recently about the tragic destruction of Sufi shrines, and burial sites in Africa by the militant factions trying to overthrow the country and impose Sharia law… Devotion to God and to God’s inner directives or an adherence to an understanding of truth that is higher than what the powerful try to dictate to the status quo will make you troublesome! If the concerns of your life depart from the design of polite society or from its inane and often insistent cultural controls, the Sufi will always be seen as threatening… See the life of Jesus! (Early Sufis were in dialogue with the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Christianity)

As an inclusive emphasis, we can say that Sufism is a path of devotion more than a path of intellect or ritual observances. Their mystical teachings and practices are directly aimed at breaking open the heart from its egotistical attachments and opening the mind to the higher possibilities of imagination and inspiration. Another way of saying this would be that Sufism centers itself on the progressive embodiment of holy truths.

In a forum on interfaith spiritual direction and what comprises the genuine or authentic spiritual life that was a part of my training in becoming a soul friend, a Sufi teacher spoke to us in a way that puts the visceral understanding of spirituality in more complete terms:

“[If spirituality is to be true, it must become an embodied spirituality– embodied within each person, within each human relationship, within each life situation, and within our complete understanding of the world.]”

Whatever the various Sufi schools, branches or families might lack in ecclesial organization or formal structure, they more than make up for their desire to awaken humanity and to transform human culture. Instead of the elaborate theology that can be found among the clerics and the Mullahs, Sufis claim that the “the proof of Sufism and its truth is found in its embodied demonstration.”

 

Sufis are loosely organized into a variety of autonomous orders, paths, and maybe most importantly in teaching styles…

Chisthi (Sufi Order of The West) concentrates on the experience of God in the heart; Helveti on the Unity of God; Mevlevi on Divine Name; Naqshbandi on silence- no voice, just music; Rifa’i the divine name Hu; Bektashi sings suras from the Koran; Suhrawardis on self observation and breath; Kalandari on rhythm and movement… (There may be others… The school or the Zhikr taught to me could be considered a 9th way as it incorporates the other eight ways into one ritual…)

And these differing groups or outlooks can be found scattered around, on almost every continent where Islam is known, and they continue to gather and to inspire no matter how various governments and orthodox mosques try to suppress them…

The term “Sufi” is said to have many inexact definitions or origins. The consensus definition is that it means “people of the wool or the wool wearers.” This consensus allows us to trace the origins of Sufism to those who would wear flax or woolen garments instead of the traditional cotton of Islamic clerics. Most often they would dress in solid colors, and this could be seen as a practice that parallels the monastic robes of Catholic monks… Within the early Sufi communities, they referred to themselves as the fuquara or those who are poor in spirit in Arabic and in the Persian language, it was dervish. When these words became translated into English, we get the words, fakir, and dervish; unfortunately, they are best known as a carnival stunt man or a whirling madman- again, a classic case of depersonalization and an uninformed Christian prejudice.

As I see it, the closer or more true definition of Sufi, fakir or dervish is to be a true disciple, an ardent lover, the devotee on a spiritual path whose aim is to stand at the door of enlightenment, bravely enter in, absorb what they can, and then become a light bearer to others, sharing the love they have come to know…

Each sincere student within a Sufi community undergoes a complex and demanding series of training’s or disciplines that are aimed at self purification or at a readiness to follow a spiritual path… This step or stage cannot skipped nor can its value be diminished. What occurs is an in-depth assessment of the person’s character under the watchful eye of the teacher, and these changes in character are encouraged by the support and caring of their training or peer group.

When Sufism began, the first command or requirement was to be a practicing Moslem; Today, however, in the West, it is a little more relaxed religiously but if the group is sincere and the teachings genuine, then there will be steps required towards ego reduction- towards holy submission/surrender; towards living a life of faith, peace, tolerance and above all, the love of God and our oneness with God and with one another…

Most Sufis believe that our society is covered by veils of illusion- a cultural onion of many layers that obscures the core or the true picture of who and what we are. Society, for the spiritual devotee, represents the layers of false thinking and incomplete, if not erroneous, interactions. The enemy of the spiritual life is not sin- its ignorance. As Mohammed stated in the Hadith, ” Anyone who does not know him or herself, cannot know God.”

All adherents of the mystical path of Sufism in one way or another accept and affirm that all humanity is linked or connected to one another- that Humanity written large is One… We Are One. The linkage or the connection is neither passive nor is it mysterious; it is gracious and dynamic. It is both healing and transformative because it flows from God and lives between and among us as the Barakath. The Barakath is very similar to the Christian Holy Spirit, and the Hindu pranayama in that it is from our breath… From our sense of connection, intimacy, and belonging that we have the courage and the faith to uncover the veils of egotism, and be able to work through the barriers or the emotional blocks we all have so that these obstacles to our devotion can be dispersed or broken down.

Sufis are true to the fact that being human means being part of humans being kind; That Human beings are all connected; That humans are united in love. They teach that we can share in the totality of reality, the sanctity, and the blessings of life.

In Islam, and primarily through the Sufi influence in Islam, there is a high and important value placed on active prayer; praying not just by sitting quietly with your hands folded, but praying with your whole body, your whole self, your whole heart.

In Sufism, your body is not only a holy temple, it becomes your best expression of an embodied prayer. In Sufi practice, as you learn to sing, chant, dance and even whirl, you do so while immersing yourself in the sound and feeling of God’s name, and the various holy qualities of soul that the names of God contain. The result of the practice encourages you to become more alive spiritually, and more open to how the grace of God can work in us, with us, and through us in our lives. This is the essence of the mystical practice of active remembrance called the Zhikr.

Approximately 25 years ago, I was fully involved with a mystical school that had Zhikr as one of its core practices. …

In the approach or the style that was taught to me, it was an exercise in movement and chant that took 15 hours to learn, and one hour to complete one round or one session… (Zhikr can be done over and over again…) Along the classical Sufi tradition, it involved standing, bending and even some sitting… It required me to move and twist my head and torso, walk in circles, all the time singing or chanting the names of God or one of the divine qualities on each breath…

I will admit to some initial awkwardness, and some disorientation, and after a while, even feeling a little dizzy… But as the practice deepens, and continued, I felt myself move beyond those anxious feelings to a sense of warmth and an inner recognition that there was the light of God within me, inside all of us, and that we shared a common fire, and a common glow…

Without stopping to analyze, reflect, or even think, my mind became more restful, flowing, peaceful… My body was active  and I felt the rhythms of the music at a cellular level, and my voice felt as if it was coming from my heart…

If and when we establish a spiritual community, I would recommend that Zhikr become a regular part of our spiritual practices…

 

The ultimate goal of Sufi study and practice is to enter into the mystical consciousness of God… An awareness of unity that the Sufis call fana; Itis similar to what the Hindus call Samadhi,  what the Buddhist generally call enlightenment, and what the mystical Christians have called the alchemical marriage or the experience of sanctification or the at/one/ment in God. It is feeling absorbed into the divine, where the boundaries of ego and self disappear and an experience of the divine that lives in each person becomes alive, becomes real…

However, the Sufi is not allowed to stay there, as self absorption is the enemy of a true spirituality… Therefore Sufis are never encouraged to try to recapture it in any constant way, but to use as worship and reverence that informs their everyday life. Similar to the Buddhist Bodhisattva, the responsibility is to live it out our lives engaged in society, and by our example of devotion and dedication to our spiritual ideals, to bring others to enlightenment. In the Sufi tradition it is called Bawa; or the intentional return to the world- for as Sufis teach the great task of the spiritual life

is to live in the world without being of the world

or accepting its secular consciousness as one’s own…

The mature Sufi no longer identifies with the false gods of the culture but does not run or hide from their influences. Instead, the Sufi inspired life serves to bear witness to the light of God, and its power arises from being and embodiment: acting only as agents of compassion, healing, and peace.

So I end with this: What does the way of the Sufi teach us?

That you cannot be a part time spiritual person or adopt a kind of spirituality that comforts you without also challenging you to grow more whole heartedly, more courageously and to become wise and kind…

If this group wishes to delve in further… To study in depth Rumi and many of the other Sufi poets, and how those mystical insights and outlooks speak of God, please let me know … Or … Maybe we can gather and have a Middle Eastern pot luck, and then share in night of reading and discussing Sufi poetry? With sufficient preparation, it I believe that it would be a very enriching and inspiring spiritual experience!

Now, however, its time to dance…

To gain a glimpse of how the Spirit moves in you, how living in the queendom or kingdom of God is your true home, and to awaken the light of God in every soul is the great purpose in the cosmic dance of life!

Readings: from his book, The Unity of Religious Ideals

The moment that love is produced, that person does not need to go and find out where the Truth is, because the truth is born. For it is the loving one, the loving heart, which is capable of understanding, of comprehending Truth. The reason is that the Truth is not outside of self, it is within us…

[When a person is thoughtful, when a person is considerate, when a person feels the obligations he or she has towards others, then it is something truly living within you.

The living and loving soul is what makes a person alive.] And any person who is not conscious of this, this tenderness, this sacredness of life, while that person might exist, their soul is in the grave. 

The person who is conscious of honor, the person who has a sense of shame, who has the feeling of sincerity, whose sympathy, whose devotion is alive, that person is living, that person is religious.

Hazrat Inyat Khan  in chapters 14 & 27

God and The Soul

I do not know what kind of God we have been talking about.

The caller calls in such a loud voice to the Holy One at dusk.

Why? Does he think that the Holy One is deaf?

The Holy One hears even the delicate anklets that ring on the feet of an insect when it walks…

You can zealously go over and over your beads, you can paint weird designs on your forehead, you can wear your hair matted or ostentatious; but when, deep inside of you there is a loaded gun, I ask, how can you have God?

I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water are thirsty… You do not grasp the fact that what is most alive is in your own house; and so you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!

Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet; if you can not find where the soul is hidden,

for you, the world will never be real!
There is a Secret One inside of us; the planets in all the galaxies pass through the Secret One’s hands like so many prayer beads…

The Poems of Kabir by Robert Bly Chapters 2; 8; 22

 

The True Jihad

When approaching the tenuous understanding that most Americans have of Islam, especially as it is fueled by media attention and further distorted by Islamic fundamentalism, I feel that it is necessary to correct a troublesome spiritual term that we can often hear from the mouths of terrorists and zealots: Jihad!

In its actual origin, jihad was the phrase used by the Prophet Mohammed to describe the spiritual essence, the very pinnacle of Islam. its highest calling! The jihad that Mohammed so enthusiastically called for is the inner war or the battle for one’s own soul; the internal warfare each person has with their own ego, with their personal desires, demons, discoveries, and dreams that become for them the working basis for their daily decision-making.

For the mature Islamic believer, and I would venture to say for the mature Christian, Jew, Buddhist, etc. there are no greater enemies that the ones that live within us; there is no warfare more noble, nor battle more worth winning than the one that rages for the clarity and for the truth of one’s soul.

 

The earnest struggle to achieve or realize this goal is a lifelong endeavor; Its ultimate pursuit is to become a peaceful, loving person who would then work with others to create a just and compassionate society.

There are distinct levels of understanding, insight, comprehension, and practice found in every religion- and tragically, there are contradictions, inconsistencies, dualities, and just plain ignorance that is taught and practiced!

In the mind of one scholar of Sufism, we get this conclusion: The Sharia law we hear about with all of its codes and restrictions is the outer law: In contrast, but not in opposition, Sufism represents the inner law that surpasses any outward need for rigorous obedience, because a Sufi dutifully also follows the holy laws of life.

If we are fortunate in the way we are taught, in the way we are mentored, then will discern a true path through the maze of opinions and competing theologies and justifications. Within each true and genuine path, there resides the Spirit of guidance, that will instruct, inform, and inspire us.

Then we will understand this inner battle more truthfully, more completely, arriving at a sense of victory that God’s reality can become alive in us, and be seen in action through us.

Pastoral Reflection/Body Prayer: The Broken Heart

“The fastest way to God is through a broken heart.”

When I first heard this piece of Sufi wisdom, it shocked me…

At first, I recoiled when I considered the idea of having to experience the disillusionment, the estrangement, that attends to and that accompanies the feeling of having your heart broken.

As I grew in my spiritual understanding, I realized that one cannot fully protect myself or prohibit others from learning certain life lessons; neither can you just safely think or imagine your way to heaven…

A change or a challenge has to happen…

A weakness has to exposed and then mended and from the lessons learned, a strength can appear from our previously broken places, from our willingness to be vulnerable.

The spiritual path, if it is a complete, and by complete,

I mean that it is a path that contains certain demands, and a certain price one pays for awareness, freedom, and understanding, then having a broken heart as a path to personal and spiritual growth makes sense…

Sufism, despite its many approaches and differing practices, agree on this teaching: that the central purpose in life is contained within our devotion to God, and in gaining insight and compassion from the wisdom of our hearts.

They teach that the ego must be reduced or subdued, in order for the essence or the soul to shine through… They teach that we are to learn how to push selfishness to the edges of our concern, and to center our actions on living a life that is filled with love and compassionate actions.

Lastly, Sufis teach that one must risk the opening and the breaking of our hearts to truly come to understand the nature of love, and that it is from the cracks in our lives and in our hearts, that the light of God shines through…

 

Music/Dance:

The Sufi Aspiration

From the book, Muslim Devotions, we are given one of the best known Sufi aspirations. It has a parallel or its source can be found in Sura 38 in the Koran, and it goes like this:

[When my worshipers turn their thoughts towards Me, I am with them. When they speak My Name, and hold it within themselves, I mention them and their names within Myself.

When they declare My reality in the world, I declare their reality as a part of My concern;

If they draw unto Me a hands breath,

then I will draw unto them an arms length;

If they, in their lives, walk towards Me,

I, in My love, will run towards them…

A Reflection on Addiction and Grace: Its correlation and its potentials

July 7, 2012 - 4:07 pm 28 Comments

A Reflection on Addiction and Grace:

Its Spiritual Correlations and Potentials

“To be alive is to be addicted. To be addicted is to [stand or to live in the need of Grace.” This statement was made to me by Dr. Gerald May, a psychiatrist and spiritual director. He was my supervisor and the clinical director of the Shalem Institute, in Washington DC , where I received my training in spiritual direction. He was the author of Addiction and Grace. (Harper and Row)

At first, I recoiled when I heard those seemingly harsh words- I was defensive and I thought that it was an unfair, sweeping generalization, a sweeping indictment that we were all supposed share, another curse, that felt like it was an additional form of original sin. But, as we began to discuss its meaning in our personal and spiritual lives, I came to realize the truth that statement had for me, and for all of us.

This evening, I will share with you some of the connections I have made between the concepts of addiction and attachment, between addiction and spirituality, and conclude with a working model that blends insights from my work with the concept of spiritual emergence that can result in forming a new look at grace, and adding to the dimensions of human freedom. This model will represent the basis for our later discussion and how any of us can make sense of suffering, addiction, and our need for spiritual awareness, change and growth.

Like Dr. May, when we become more aware of ourselves we are better equipped to handle any of life’s difficulties. Self-knowledge is the most universal factor that links all the world religions; it is the cornerstone of spiritual maturity. As this applies to freedom for addictions of any kind, St. Paul reminds us, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is our freedom.” (II Cor. 3; or Galatians 5 The fruits of the Spirit, gentleness, self control etc.)

As we become more spiritually aware or discerning, we can assess our problems and progress more clearly- that is, without remorse or guilt. Such negative emotions only retard growth or recycle blame and shame, all of which works to keep us unworthy, imprisoned, trapped.

Instead, we can accept and practice increasing our self-knowledge and spiritual awareness. With this change of attitude, we can welcome an inventory of one’s feelings and experiences and evaluate them as opportunities for developing an identity that values wholeness and holiness.

This more spiritual and nonjudgmental perspective names every addiction we have and identifies them clearly. Addictions of all types are undisclosed, undiscovered, or disguised spiritual needs; in other words, addictions are counterfeit spirituality that hides or masks our need for our lifelong acceptance and replenishment of God’s grace, peace and love. ( From Matt Fox’s interviews etc.)

These behaviors, once they are learned and rehearsed. act as crafty forgeries; as counterfeits and substitutes for the spiritual ideas and nurturing we need most. Addictions and attachments create false desires and physiological cravings that substitutes for the work ,energy and dedication we need to grow beyond our toxic beliefs about ourselves, others, God, and the world.

There has been a lot of attention given to the multiple problems included within drug abuse in our society. Thousands of books and articles have created libraries full of data. These well researched sources have always tried to neatly and scientifically categorize drugs into legal and illegal, or into their many physiological and pharmacological effects. When drug awareness and education are taught with that emphasis, the results are recreational chemists and gourmet users. It would be far better if our understanding of drugs was more democratic and universal. It would be more suitable and hospitable to understanding its scope and depth if we realize that almost any substance or activity can be used as a drug.

What is a drug? Some time ago, when I first began to CO-teach classes in drug education, I learned that a drug could be defined as anything that could alter your mind, your mood or your motion. Mind, Mood, or Motion… in short, anything -any substance, outlook, attitude or activity taken or used to alter one’s basic reality!

Under these parameters, we, as individuals and we, as a society, have to admit that we condone many forms of addictions and consider them quite normal!

In fact, our  culture seems to breed, even encourage many addictions, compulsions, and all varieties of dysfunctions- we can hardly limit it to just illegal substances. I look forward to the day when we are honest about all the various kinds of addictions we promote- when there is finally sufficient concern to alter our focus away from only the illegal drugs and put our attention on alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and caffeine, food additives, etc. Simply the list of  legal, lethal killers.

Additionally, if we really desire to be honest, our society supports and condones strong addictions to work, success, money, and material achievement. We encourage addictions to social approval, clothing, shopping malls, beauty, overt sexuality and many forms of image making and ego identification. Maybe worse of all, is the addiction to money and its collusion to political power, its risk-taking, and its war-making.

Just to round it off, there are addictions to exercise, TV,  sex, family ties; to substances like chocolate, fried foods, even addictions to wanting to be helpful, to seeking help from others, or trying to save people from themselves!  DID I MISS ANY ???   Over the years, I have developed or experienced at least one from every category.

To summarize, anything can be used as a drug, therefore can be potentially abused, and possibly addicting. Dependencies, attachments, addictions of all sorts are intrinsic parts of the human condition, a part of everyone of us that stands in the need of Grace.

Medically speaking, Dr. May defines addiction this way:   He said that whenever 4 of these 5 following characteristics are witnessed, a state of addiction is present. They are:

1) When there is an increased tolerance for larger amounts

2) When withdrawal causes physical or emotional distress

3) When a person engages in continual self-deception and/or social denial

4) When there is a conscious loss of will to stop or change the destructive behavior

5) When there is a distortion of attention, or a skewing of the  importance placed on the activity itself-

so that it preoccupies or becomes “an all consuming central activity in daily life”

Addictions exist whenever a person feels internally compelled to give it inordinate energy. It is a state of compulsion, obsession, or a state of preoccupation that enslaves our will and imprisons our freedom. In more spiritual terms, addictions diminish us; reduce our ability to act, choose, respond with love to the realities that are around us, and within us. When we are addicted, we react out of distorted ego needs- we find ourselves asking,” what am I going to get out of this ?” the intention here is to define all activity  by a self-centered, often manipulative, and egotistical whim.

Religiously speaking, addictions act as rivals to God; as idols and as counterfeit deities that vie for our attention, care, that rob us our freedom, time or love because they demand service and obligatory worship. Currently, our society’s reinforced drive for pleasure, power, and possessions have formed an unholy trinity in our cultural lifestyle. This troika has been quite successful in keeping many of us away from finding our true, spiritual selves; these demands keep us numb and keep us distant from forming and maintaining meaningful connections and relationships, away from finding God within us or all around us. Such preoccupation also keep us from working for justice, equality, and human dignity as children of one human family, equal children of God.

As citizens of the United States, we belong to and we maintain the most addictive society in the world. From Madison Ave. to Marshalls, we are bombarded with all the things we want, need, or “just have to have.” We promote and advertise all kinds of compulsions and dependencies everyday.  With the advent of Mass media, the Internet, and around the clock advertising, they have become almost automatic; ingrained. Our whole culture is geared around consumption. If you buy this, it will make you . . . (fill in the blank… happy, healthy, sexy, popular, and a great success… somehow better more acceptable… We fail to ask ourselves,  to whom? For what purpose? At what cost?

In the medical establishment, the case is one of clear and blatant hypocrisy- legal drug abuse by prescription rivals almost anything for sale that could be found on our streets or back alleys. Maybe, if brutally honest, we should change our national motto from “In God We Trust,” to “Drugs R US.”

But cultures do not change before the people within them do, so I will not go on with my acerbic social commentary except to say that the desire for a better world begins and ends within each of us: daily, one step at a time. None of us are totally free, just as no person is without recourse to transformative spiritual power, intentionality or will, or the possibilities of an inbreaking grace. Most cogent and important to all of these considerations that lead us to healing and freedom might be this:

We are, and we live in constant relationship to one another, and the quality of those relationships can become the determining factor that eventually frees us of our worst attachments. As a part of the shared social reality, we are to assist and empower one another to understand what freedom means, and what living more spiritually can do or accomplish. Our world exists and is maintained by our shared unity; by our declaration of interdependence that is Godly and gracious.

What is grace? What kind of inspiration do we need to break attachments, overcome addictions, really change our lives? If you received a traditional religious or church based education or if your exposure to religion was mainline or conventional,  you would define grace as:

“[the unmerited, undeserved, loving care that God gives to all humans.]”  Accordingly, grace isn’t something you can earn, nor can it be purchased, nor can any amount of so-called ascetic “good” behavior ensure it or provide you with it. It’s just there- ready and waiting -latent not dormant, given, not deserved.

Some Western theologies state that such God-given grace is our only way out because human nature is so sinful and depraved. Only by professing a strict creedal faith or only under the direct authority of a church’s rites and rituals can anyone ever receive or maintain a sufficient sense of grace in their lives. I prefer to take off these leaden and overly laden theological shoes and remove the heavy burden of obligatory beliefs.

I would declare that ANY real or truly spiritual community can act as a support agency or facilitator for God’s gracious insights, transformation, and healing. This community might not conform to the traditional pulpits and pews, or be the usual church, temple or synagogue. It could also be an ashram, a peaceful place in nature, a “step” meeting, sacred time in someone’s arms or a deep sharing circle among intimate friends.

If we take Jesus’ definition of church and expand it a little, we would be able to confidently say that a spiritual community exists ” wherever two or more are gathered in My name”; wherever and whenever there is a loving, holy, and sincere connection that can be found. Church can be experienced or made accessible whenever we find ourselves in the compassionate presence and/or involved in the transformative power of a holy intention. (or genuine and shared esoteric ritual)

Most theologies concur that grace is involuntary and on that basis, “irresistible”. We can not tell when it will appear, or how it will manifest its blessings to us. Because we are loved by God, we are given grace sufficient to amend our lives and save our souls. (our psyches or our consciousness). However, even when we willingly follow that theological reasoning, most of our Western churches declare that” we are all sinners who fall far  short of deserving the grace of God.” I can swallow hard and begrudgingly agree with this assumption, IF that view also means that we all have our rival attachments and demeaning addictions and we all have need of God’s empowering grace to free us and heal us.

This approach has its value when it corrects the faulty arrogant notion that audaciously states that we are in total control of our lives, and that we can overcome anything with sufficient personal willpower. Such an extreme view, is neither helpful nor accurate to our interdependence with God which is a fact of total consciousness and complete spiritual being. Neither is it accurate, fair or compassionate to declare that we are totally powerless. While I know that this latter approach has found favor among many of the Anonymous groups, and I have seen it work its miracles, for some 30% of all addicts, I cannot agree with its emphasis on labeling someone as having a disease that they are totally powerless or defenseless to overcome. While it successfully avoids pernicious moral judgments, it does very little to reinforce human dignity or self worth.

As I have come to define it, understand and experience it, the grace we need comes from the grace we are willing to seek, the grace we are willingly to change our egos for, or the grace necessary to accept a new spiritual and ethical standard for our lives. For me, that grace is the one that uplifts me with a blend of loving acceptance and contains a higher incentive or a holy idealism. It is a grace that hold two factors in a dynamic synthesis- it is grace and will, extremity and opportunity, it is readiness and the willingness to follow-through.

In more traditional theological and metaphysical language, it is the experience of “SYNERGISTIC GRACE. (A term first discovered or named by Philip Melcanthon, a early Reformation theologian who first postulated that grace and will must work together in some way)  Synergistic grace is based on our invitation and our willingness or readiness to respond to it.

As we invite it into our awareness in two ways: We can either consciously welcome the influences of an active grace by direct behavior change, or as it comes to us unconsciously through our gradual preparation and continued openness to those subtle mental, emotional, and spiritual changes that percolate upward into our conscious awareness. Both ways can change us dramatically.

Ironically, this manifestation of grace comes most readily when we are the closest to despair, or when we feel the most desperate. It comes when our personal willpower is defeated, when our ego games and distortions no longer work, and like some large psychic black hole, finally implodes in our hearts or draws us into its vast emptiness. It occurs when our gnawing neediness can no longer by satisfied by our manipulative strategies or repeated denials. This synergistic grace of God manifests when we are at our lowest ebb which is the exalting paradox: when we are the farthest from our egotism, when we are the most desperate, lonely, divided, and ready to change, that is when God’s presence comes closest to us, and becomes most real and true.

As Meister Echkart refers to it, [ God is not found in adding more things to our lives, more activities and diversions, instead God is found through subtraction, through emptiness and letting go- through simplicity and subtraction our readiness makes room where in we can find the God that is within all things, even our suffering].

This transformative event is an act of God that moves our awareness into the state, the great mystics have generally called, “Holy Surrender”. Holy, because it transcends our accustomed and accumulated ways or routines and allows us to give them up or surrender them to a greater love and a larger hope.

I firmly believe that it is this cooperative grace, this synergy of grace and will, and not grace alone, is what breaks the bonds of our personal forms of imprisonment. It is necessary and vital that we actively participate in our own healing and wholeness each day. For as we actively participate in keeping ourselves locked within our attachments, our dependencies, our suffering, we are capable of changing our focal points and emphasis, and we can act to reinforce our healing insights and maintain our breakthroughs in our daily lives. Our all too human, all too common path is this: We lock into our addictions and dependencies, until God frees us or gives us the key…

Then it is our task to remember how not to imprison ourselves again or to become aware of what can be “healthy substitutes” for any and all of the  other addictions we had let go for our freedom to be realized.

There is a bit of proverbial wisdom that states,” Our human extremities are really God’s opportunities.” For the most part, that’s true. How many of us would have changed our behavior one iota, if we remained successful at it?  If we did not feel increasingly ground down under its whirring blades or burdened by its emotional grinding stone? Until we are willing to give up on our hurtful and futile drives or neediness, our inner lacks, and our personal fears, would any of us honestly say we were truly ready and willing to make spiritual progress, really ready to decide for meaningful and lasting change in our lives??? And if, as I suggest, that addictions of any sort are, in reality, our undisclosed, undiscovered spiritual yearnings, unless we intentionally make the ground of our soul ready to receive the holy seed of transformation, we will lie barren, addicted, and unfulfilled.

Unless we decide to invite or make ready our consciousness, either through spiritual discipline, preparation, or holy courage, we will not change. We are given, through grace and our own free will, the ability to follow through on God’s opportune blessings and inspiration and receive real inner peace– that loving assurance we had never felt before, a love and a peace we can desire and deserve.

Lastly, I have found it helpful to look at our various afflictions and attachment this way: That our addictions assist us by taking us to the point where we are compelled to find God and to discover our true spiritual identities. Our addictions and afflictions teach us about where God needs to be in our lives, and where or kinds of inspiration can make us whole again: whether that area is in our families, relationships, our sense of belonging, fulfillment or usefulness.

Wherever we need more freedom, God is to be found. Addictions are our upside-down blessings; because without their pain and their suffering we might never know or come to experience the spiritual depths of our souls- its true joy, peace, love. If being alive also means being addicted, then we all share in an equal mutual human necessity to grow, evolve and change. Similarly, we can seek out various spiritual communities that genuinely acknowledge this truth and provide the resources necessary to support its discovery among others and our society at large. And we can join their ranks without censure, without trying to hide any guilt, shame or any of the fears we have wrestled with in life.

It is my hope that this interfaith community that is being founded will become such a spiritual community and become a place where we can learn how to face our afflictions and addictions with compassion and courage.  I also believe that as we are becoming such a spiritual community of mutual blessings, each of us will experience a sense of  knowing about the wisdom necessary for freedom and spiritual growth and that in genuine community, the quality of loving support can be abundantly found.   AMEN

Pastoral Prayer: Readiness for Grace (A dialogue with our hands)

Dear God, Father/Mother/Spirit that is the source of  our higher realities, and giver of healing gifts that are good and gracious….

How is it that you must test me so? I’m really trying, but You know that… Why is it that I am not free of my suffering???

Then God said, “Open your hands… How can you hope to pray with such clenched fists, or receive Me by hanging on fiercely to something you love or believe you need more than me?”

But God, I said, “I can’t let go; its my whole world.”

Am I less than that?” said God.

No, that’s not what I meant …. Well its like this… I cling to what makes me happy; it soothes me, and I can be sure of its pleasure or rewards. I can’t let go of it, unless I let go of my control over my life.

And God said, “Let go… reach for me, and I will be there. Step out, and I will catch and support you; Open your heart, and I will bind up your wounds…”

A July 4th Reflection and Question

July 3, 2012 - 1:49 pm 1 Comment

Alexander Fraser Tyler was an economist and professor at Edinburgh University during the time of the American Revolution. From my perspective, this cogent observation is one that still has compelling relevance for us today:

A democracy, Fraser writes, cannot exist as a permanent form of government… The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been approximately 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From great courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to complacency; From complancy to apathy; From apathy to to dependence; From dependence back to bondage…

So I have to ask: Where is the USA now? Where in his list of progress do we find ourselves?

 

“[ If I were asked to name the three influences I thought were the most dangerous to the perpetuity of the American society, I should name its corruptions in business and politics alike; Its willingness to accept lawless violence; and its mendacity, and the ease by which it defames itself and then justifies that action to others especially in connection to slander…

Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sioncerity- these are the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are the attitudes that promote prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first before duty first, the love of soft living, and the “get rich quick” theory of life.]”       Theodore Roosevelt    1900

“I hope to see revealed that in America, we will be one of the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality.”

George Washington

“An honest politican, once they have been bought and paid for, stays that way!”                                Simon Cameron

“Politics is such a personal torment that I advise anyone I love not to get messed up in it.”               Thomas Jefferson

“To say that therre is ahonest politican is much like saying that there are only honest burglars.”    H. L. Mencken