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The Seed of Life- An Easter Sermon ( inspired by studies in Creation Spirituality)

April 13, 2017 - 11:49 am Comments Off on The Seed of Life- An Easter Sermon ( inspired by studies in Creation Spirituality)

The Seed of Life
An Easter Sunday Sermon
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
As most of us know, many of the parables used images and metaphors from nature. Jesus used those agricultural stories for ethical instruction, or to increase personal and spiritual awareness, often inserting references to the natural processes of growth and change. Many of these stories… Like The Mustard Seed, or the Sower, are among the most central, beloved, and familiar teaching stories we remember from either our childhood instruction or from our adult study as a part of our liberal religious heritage.
Easter reminds all of us of our seed potential. Jesus taught about how the Kingdom or Queendom of God can grow within each of us, and that it can also take root and grow among us as a community. We can extend this metaphor to say the human potentials for greater intelligence, creativity, ethics, and compassion can also grow within us and become known to us.
The great 13th century mystic and German advocate for women’s rights, Miester Eckhart put it this way: He stated that “the seed of God grows into God… Let yourself go, let God be God in you.” That is, we are to let false selves or our egos go, and then by making room in our awareness, we invite principles and ideals that are more ethical and spiritual to grow graciously and persistently … Steadily changing, evolving, or transforming us into our larger, greater, higher selves.
Similarly, our children can be seen as seeds of ourselves… Growing and greening with life, they are guided by our active love and care, growing into the fullness of their humanness. Through the ongoing guidance of family, church, and school, they are cultivated, and will grow into their best potentials for their lives.
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In this way, we can see that growth, itself, is more than a biological process; it is the changing, ripening awareness that serves to bridge or connect us to each other and to an interdependent life on earth.
Through a natural growth in our expanding awareness, we lose the concept of being separate, and we come to realize that our lives depend on a common reality, that there is a desire for unity within each human heart.
As our growth continues, these metaphors accompany us… We come to realize that everything that is alive is connected through tendrils of grace, by common roots of experience, by branches of concern, by leaves of wisdom, and we can understand the fruits of deeper understanding as those motives, desires, and aspirations we humans hold, reach, and can share…
The evolutionary biologist Gregory Bateson believes that there exists a common source of intelligence… That there is a universal, cellular pattern, that connects… connects us to all of the Creation, and to the universe where we live. In this way, we are never apart, separate, alone…
Another scholar, the geologian Thomas Berry, states it this way:
” We bear the universe in our being, just as the universe bears us in its seeding.” From the ancient mystics to contemporary theoretical physics, from the origins of life, to the discovery of its component parts, we become more closely connected, more aware that humanity shares one spirit, that all the creatures, that all life is connected through the patterns of God or the good, and that there are important and crucial breakthroughs that happen to us; that change our perceptions, and increase our appreciation, devotion, and our sense of sustaining reverence that links eons to ions, solar systems to solar plexus, science to soul.
Seeds, then, can be seen as acting much like human beings… They are like our families, churches, neighborhoods, even nations. Their life cycle teaches essential and inescapable lessons about the shared nature of growth, death, resurrection.
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Seeds or cells, be they political or biological, personal or communal are systems or patterns of connection. The patterns carry within themselves, predictive DNA… They are the patterns of destiny and demise, discovery and determination. Seeds and cells also carry within them the demands of change: that every living thing, every family, group, or organization will, of its own necessity, need to adapt, need to redefine itself… Often the seed , group or organism needs to go through its own decline and death, on the way towards its own restructuring and resurrection…
People, like societies, empires, even planets and stars are faced with an ultimate choice: rot or grow, change or die. While this sounds like a harsh truth, it is fair and just, because it applies universally, and can be seen as an agent of transformation in that it bears within its pattern, a compassionate promise- that as we adapt, we survive; as we adjust, we come to understand, as we affirm, we learn what traits, qualities and ideals we wish to support, and which ideas and ideals, which principles and purposes, will work effectively to encourage us to thrive and grow.
Seed casings must burst and die to its old encased ways… Being in contact with the earth, and the elements, encourages the process of softening, then breaking open, set its roots, and then direct its stems and shoots upward and outward and allow its leaves to unfold towards the Sun… Inactive pods, dormant seeds are like our old ways of staying content, staying safe, staying dormant, then when they become exposed to the light and other forces that compel change, we will feel unsettled, anxious while on the way to bringing ourselves into a new awareness and becoming comfortable with an emerging new identity. Identity gives stability without holding the new growth static, and the stems or ideas of further development and exploration push out from the old bark, or release the old stems to make them give way to new leaves of emotion and discovery…

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The old protective shell that once insulated them from change falls off, replaced by a new dynamic faith in possibilities, and growth towards a new sense of its potentials for greater interconnection and larger unfoldment.

The seminal message of Easter teaches that we must die before we can be reborn. In the process of dying, we are being transformed into new creatures. And when we are changed by our ethical and spiritual realizations, we mature into becoming resurrected with new views of life; new views of family, new views of church, neighborhoods, countries, a new sense of cooperation with the world and with one another.

Both seeds and souls can bear good fruit once the hard shells of our past become broken and a new sense of a shared heart becomes encouraged to grow within us. I affirm and I believe that The Earth is holy, and that all the seeds of God- human, animal, vegetable are connected, are sacred. [What has been seeded is the capacities for conviction and for conscience which often manifest as wonder, awe, dedication, devotion and love that serves to renew and regard nature and our community as precious, valuable, and worthy of our time and care.]
Easter reminds us that the seed or source of God or good is within us… And as it grows, there is a renewed sense of inspiration, commitment, and caring that works together to foster and create a world of blessing-
for our children, our church, the earth, for all of life!

AMEN and So BE IT!

Opening Words:
Springtime Prayer

For the flowers that bloom about our feet,
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet
For the song of bird, and the hum of bees,
For all that we hear and see,
[Father- Mother God, Source, Author] in Heaven, we thank Thee!

For the blue of stream and the blue of sky,
For pleasant shade of branches high,
For fragrant air and cooling breeze,
For beauty of the blooming trees,
[Father- Mother God, Source, Author] in heaven, We thank Thee!
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Benediction:

As Jesus proclaimed, ” That we shall be known by our fruits!”
May this Easter time be the time for seeding new visions, and planting new foundations. May we choose to expand and grow- bearing witness to the fruits of great witness: To justice, equality, dignity, to caring and compassion.
As Easter signals the earth’s emergence and the hope of Spring, may we welcome a new manifestation of community, and the growing sense of mission and purpose among us.
PEL

Joys And Sorrows:
The Unitarian poet, e e cummings, stated that life, in its spiritual dimensions, “Easters in us …”
That the lessons and experience of Easter act as a continuing catalyst, as an annual verb of gracious action, as it cycles through our awareness and serves to guide our decisions and actions. It awakens us in Springtime to the need to rejuvenate, and to resurrect our spirits and to regenerate our hopes… For we are all given creative capacities, and we are all capable of transformation.
Each day we are reborn, and as we grow through life’s changes and challenges, we learn to die to the old ways of doing and defining our lives, and seek new expressions, new dimensions, new patterns for our growth…
Eastering is the name we can give to those changes… To the human process of becoming renewed and transformed…
This Eastering that takes place within us, also brings with its lessons and adventures, both suffering and celebration, wounds and wonders…
And the effects of this Eastering becomes best known to us through our relationships, as it comes to us whenever we connect or commit to someone or some group… be it through marriage or through church membership.
From those meaningful connections and commitments, we are both consoled and inspired, accepted and challenged, to be more fully human, to be more fully alive and in touch with how meaning and purpose can be found.
Each time we gather as a community, we bear witness to the full range of emotions that our Eastering has created within and among us…
As I see it, it is a special gift and blessing to gather to celebrate and to be
understood, to be invited to share your joys and your sorrows on this day…
Pastoral Story/Reflection: How Awareness and Perspectives Shape our Interpretations Or maybe better known as the Pope and the Janitor….

Many, many years ago, during the Middle Ages, there was a Pope who wanted to banish the Jews from Rome. He had an official edict or law drawn up that allowed him to ask anyone who wasn’t Catholic to leave the city…. And he was successful… Well, all except a small band of Jews who had built a synagogue just outside the Vatican walls…
They sent their rabbi, and he asked the Pope to reconsider…. The Pope, being a reasonable and fair man, offered him and his synagogue members a sporting proposition: Let the Jews appoint someone to debate him, and since there was a language barrier, it would be in Pantomime… Gestures…
The rabbi went back and reported this proposition with his congregation… They concluded that to turn down the debate meant sure banishment from Rome, but to accept such a debate would signal a sure defeat! What to do! Given that the Pope would be both the debater and the judge it seemed like a slim but necessary possibility… After weighing all this , they looked around for someone among them who would be willing to debate the Pope….
No one came forward…. That is, none of the Rabbis felt prepared, and no of the scholars felt capable, and so there didn’t seem to be anyone who was willing…. Then the janitor volunteered!
Well, said the rabbi, since no one else would come forward, the janitor it is!
When the Pope heard about this , at first he was insulted, but the debate would go on…!
There in the Vatican, with all of his ornate cardinals, bishops and priests around him, the Pope was ready for the debate… On the other side of the square, was a small band of simple people, dressed in black….
The pope stepped down from his throne, walked to the center, and faced the janitor who had come out of his group… And so the debate began….
The Pope raised one finger, and then he traced it across the heavens…. Then the janitor promptly responded by emphatically pointing downward towards the Earth….
The Pope seemed taken aback, puzzled, and a little amazed!
Then the Pope raised one finger and waved it in the janitor’s face… The janitor responded by waving one, then three fingers in the Pope’s face! The Pope was astonished!
Next, the Pope thrust his hand inside his cloak and pulled out an apple….
Whereupon, the janitor, reached inside his pocket, and pulled out a piece of matzo!
At this point, the Pope exclaimed in a loud voice, ” The janitor has won the debate! The law is revoked. The Jews can stay! A a cheer went up in the little band across the square!
Afterwards, the Pope met with his cardinals and scholars, and they were befuddled, confused… So they asked him, “Your Holiness, what happened?” The Pope wiped his brow because of the strain of the debate, and he exclaimed, that man must have been a scholar in disguise…
He was a brilliant theologian, a master in debate, as good as any of us!
You see, when I first raised my finger, I proclaimed that God reigns in the whole sky… But then he reminded me that the Devil rules over Hell, and judges those on earth….
The second time, I raised my finger to declare that God is One! Imagine my surprise when that fellow responded by first putting up one finger and then three- thereby proclaiming
Our own sacred teaching that God manifests himself as the Holy Trinity!
Well, now I knew that I will not get the best of him arguing theology, because he was a genius, so I tried to trick him by claiming that new fangled, non sensical theory I have been hearing about, that our earth is round, so I showed him an apple…. Well, then he took out a flat piece of bread, and proclaimed what we teach- that the earth is flat! So, I had to concede! He had won!
By now, the small band of Jews had returned to their beloved synagogue, and they were bewildered at their good fortune, and so they had to ask the janitor what had happened! The janitor was indignant. The whole thing, he said, was a bunch of rubbish!
Look, first that Pope moves his hand like he s telling all the Jews to get out of Rome!
So, I pointed downward to say, we, Jews are not going to move!
So then, he points his finger right at me… So I point back at him to warn him, if he said once we had to leave, I would say three times, we are going to stay!
Next, he pulls out his lunch, so I pulled out mine!
Ah, how our perceptions dictate their truth and their silliness to us….
May we all become more aware of how something really is rather than judge by how it appears!

Resources for Invocation/Opening Words and Benedictions/Closings Words

Glory Be To God

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

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

Gerald Manly Hopkins

Love Flows
Love flows from God to humanity without effort
As the birds glide through the air, without moving its wings-
Thus they go whithersoever they will, United in body and soul

Yet in their form separate- As the Godhead strikes the note, Humanity sings! The Holy Spirit is the harpist, and all the strings must sound, which are strung with love.
Mechthild of Megdeburg
I Thank You God

I thank you God for this most amazing day; for leaping greenly spirit of trees
And a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural, which is infinite
Which is yes…

(i who have died, am alive again today. And this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
Day of life and love and wings; and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)

How should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any- lifted from the no of all nothing- human merely being doubt unimaginable You?
e e cummings

I see humanity as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection.
In the span of my own lifetime, I have observed such wondrous progress in plant evolution that I look forward optimistically to a healthy, happy world as soon as its children are taught the principles of simple and rational living.
We must return to nature, and nature’s god.
Luther Burbank

Are You Spiritual but not Religious? What does that mean? Can you be Spiritual AND Religious?

May 26, 2015 - 3:48 pm Comments Off on Are You Spiritual but not Religious? What does that mean? Can you be Spiritual AND Religious?

Homily/Theme: What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual and Religious?

Chances are that you have heard these words from your friends who have been seeking their own answers, and chances are that you have said these words yourself: “I am spiritual, but I am not religious!”

Generally, we all know what that means, right? That we identify ourselves as a person who explores, who bravely seeks answers, and who often can not find what they are seeking in the traditional ways of church, worship, with all of the limiting behavioral expectations and the exclusionary beliefs.

IF we have recently returned to our childhood faith, or when as an adult, we have reexamined the beliefs and values that are still being espoused, we can encounter limited understanding, traditional patriarchal meanings, or a series of disheartening attitudes that are, at their worst, harsh and depersonalizing, and even at their best, they can be stale and limiting.

In today’s culture, yes, even here in the “Holy City” area – One of the most resistant, most traditional, and most conservative of places, there are a growing number of people who find themselves dissatisfied with what passes for religious beliefs, and who can no longer feel comfortable, much less inspired, by traditional worship.

In particular, they can object to the repressive uses of theology and Scripture as agents of control that try to limit the scope of your questions, or cramp your desire to seek out your own answers.

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Just as many people say that they have out grown the image of God as the old man in heaven, sitting on a golden throne, as judge and jury over our souls, so too have many people outgrown the belief that we are sinners and need judgmental or parental authority figures to tell us what to do, and what to believe about God, life, love…

I expect that most of you sitting here have encountered this and resisted it, and it is possible that you have found yourselves a little lost, or at least disheartened over the lack of choice, or the lack of open, and progressive alternatives to church in our area. It can appear as if many churches here are living in a isolated time warp or a cocoon that shuts out the need for greater acceptance or tolerance.

For example, by my quick count, there are over 100 churches in Charleston county, yet there are only five communities of faith that welcome gay and lesbians, only three of these five church groups would be consider themselves to centrally Christian, only one to be inclusive and metaphysical, and only one maybe two to be welcoming of all faiths or accepting of having no faith at all! No wonder there are so many spiritual Meetup Groups! There are a lot of people who are looking around, and most cannot find what they seek!

During my personal lifelong study and my ministry experiences, there has been a lot of resistance to the word spiritual, just as there has been in more recent years, there is the reluctance to call oneself a religious person. …

 

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I feel that the time is “ready and ripe” to define both terms in new inclusive and welcoming ways. (which by the way, are the words Jesus used in Aramaic to describe what he called being Blessed…

As in the Beatitudes… Ready are you…)

Let’s chose the easier word first… being religious…

I bet you thought I would choose spiritual, didn’t you?

Without belaboring it, most conventional churches are only superficially or sentimentally religious. They prefer to operate as pious social groups, for business networking, for parenting support, for reinforcing the status quo with a little sentimental story, or a passive ritual… That’s is what conventionally passes for being religious. However, there is a deeper, more troubling dimension to be religious in our culture today…

That is when being religious means that you are blindly arrogant. When Scripture is used as a political weapon for exclusion or inclusion- Either you believe what we say or we will threaten you in two things: You will be threatened with being ostracized from family, friends, jobs, or you will be threatened with damnation and Hell because, according to the way they have chosen to read the words, they can pronounce that you are not accepted, that you are a sinner!

The pressure to conform to ideas and concepts you no longer trust or believe in is a heavy one; This coercion we can feel, especially from family and friends, can be very disheartening.

 

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I have heard this experience often from my clients in spiritual direction. They would often agree around these experiences:

That they had to leave home religiously in order to find themselves- They had to be a bold, rebellious, and then become an adult seeker…

However, it is also true that this path can be very difficult… being responsible for your own answers, being a mystic seeking wholeness or becoming a prophet after truth is not an easy road! That is why so few people choose it!

As I see it, arrogant or judgmental theology has created more atheists, and more disillusioned people that any question based on science or social doubt could have ever done! However, it has also created many sincere seekers who wish to find spiritual ideals and a community that now fit their expanded understanding…

In the 12 Principles of Creation Spirituality, you will see that this community will consciously aim to rectify and restore your sense of dignity, value, talent, and purpose. It will not ask you to sacrifice your ability to reason, nor will it expect you to believe in anything or act in any way that is not compassionate and wise.

You see, religion, as it pertains to its original word meaning, religiare, is an expression of human belonging or spiritual bonding that keeps, respects, and holds people together in service to a larger ideal or a greater truth than one can have or hold just by themselves.

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Being religious is having or holding on a sustaining belief in the grace that can be found in being together- in sharing, in working together to support and to encourage one another through our commonly held ways of worship, study, and service.

(group energy/synergy and dynamism)

Now I fully acknowledge that stating or even declaring that you are “spiritual but not religious” is an important necessary step in many people’s spiritual journey- There is truth in saying that you first have to know what you do not believe in before they can find what ideas and ideals that can become your new sources for truth. When one goes through rejection, what you are expressing is what you no longer accept, or that you no longer wish to practice a level of belief or consciousness that you feel that you have either outgrown, or that is dysfunctional or even disrespectful for you.

Instead, many sincere seekers have chosen to remain outside of any church community until you can find a place that would support and inspire your new more mature and more inclusive awareness.

So I celebrate the virtue of necessary rejection! Without the courage to walk away, to explore, and to discover new truths, you cannot realize or be responsible for having an adult or mature understanding of faith, God, spirit, truth… As Walt Whitman put it, we are to “dismiss anything that insults our souls, and then our very flesh will become a poem!”

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We need a religious dimension to our lives so that we can experience a sense of belonging, and feel as if there are sisters and brothers around that we can trust, and that we can be honest with, and who will genuinely care about us: Mind/Body/Heart/and Soul.

When religion and spirituality intersect, and when they become clearly practiced, we can arrive at a complementary synthesis, or a complete belief system. As Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality puts it, “There can be no mysticism without ethics, and no spirituality without justice.” I would add that there can be no complete sense of religious understanding without an active spirituality to accompany it. Without having sufficient regard for Myth, mystery, and meaning, there cannot be a complete sense of the Holy that can be found in that community.

Most of the new nationwide research on what people are looking for in a spiritual community centers around becoming more pneumocentric- more Spirit centered and bravely open to many ideas. which is contrary to the historical and conventional ways of church… This more Spirit centered approach will be more inclusive of various paths towards truth, it will be more participatory, and will seek to provide various ways of learning as a part of each service. It has become clear from all the feedback they have received that long time seekers, and those of the new wave of searchers will not be content with being “sacred observers.” This is the term I have found to best describe that conventional congregation:

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just passively sitting in their pews, and feeling parented by some authority figure or satisfied by simply be given pious pabulum that has little value or no direct application once they leave the service!

In short, the new generation of spiritual pioneers and visionaries will not settle for religion being done “for them or done to them”… They wish to learn how to live their ideas more fully, not just talk about them! They want to wholeheartedly participate in developing an adult, responsible, and a knowledgeable faith that informs the whole person, and that tributes positively to the critical, necessary social changes we see around us…

Now for the word, spiritual… what a minefield that is! It is so inexact, so obtuse, with so many amorphous definitions that while we can easily come to a general consensus, those facile words still lack depth or any sense of a complete understanding! It took me ten pages to define it in my book on Spirit, Time and The Future!

Generally speaking, the word spiritual is most commonly equated with a kind of universal energy, or with some force that it both within us and beyond us. Other times, the word spiritual takes on the more pious or sentimental ideas of grace, but still not knowing how or in what ways that blessing can arrive or occur. …

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I do not believe that spirituality is neither reducible to secular physics, nor is it a abstract, sentimental notion of God’s reality…

While Spirit’s basic effect is vitality, She can also be known as our source for wisdom, evolutionary relationships, soul centered healing, and justice making… It flows from the center of the Cosmos, and is evident in every breathe we take… The qualities most associated with Spirit are alchemical: They are the abilities of Transformation; Transcendence, and Transmutation… Change!

As I see it, the source for all this is the inclusive and expansive understanding of The Holy Spirit in Christianity is the same gracious and powerful Spirit or divine feminine that is found in all the timeless mystical aspects of the world faiths. She manifests and releases creativity and compassion, and She guides any community that is founded on interdependent, evolutionary impulses that direct us beyond ego and culture, and towards a sustaining sense of being whole and free…

I welcome you today to this opportunity to worship, and to work together, to share in creating a community of soulful exploration and compassionate understanding- a community that teaches how to live a pneumatic or a Spirit centered life- a life that is filled with discovery, affirmation, and blessings! Amen; So be It! Blessed Be!

 

The Story and The Legend of St. Patrick… and the Snakes!

March 16, 2013 - 5:02 pm 30 Comments

Recalling St. Patrick: Saints and Snakes

The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

When we think of someone as a saint, a variety of images can come to mind. Commonly, these images are associated with a person’s “goodness” or as an example of shining morality: ” He is a real saint or She is a sainted woman.” These expressions declare someone’s virtues or strengths and usually suggests that this person is unusually loving, patient and kind. Somehow, their particular closeness to God could intervene to solve a human problem or affect a healing solution to some chronic or acute difficulty.

Often, a saint will be created or be known for some outstanding or wondrous deed that was accomplished against daunting odds such as St. Joan of Arc. Saints will also be associated with certain social causes or professions and then will act as their protective agent that watches over that career, trade, that city or place. Lastly, there has been established a connection between saints and particular plants and animals…A few brief examples:

St. Francis of Assisi and birds, Italy, and the city of San Francisco; St. Nicholas with gift giving, reindeer, and the country of Sweden; and the saint of the day, St. Patrick with shamrocks, Ireland, and snakes! SNAAKES! Why not dogs, like St. Bernard? I will answer that connection a little later…

Each official saint (how someone becomes a saint is a lengthy and detailed process of witness and attribution… detailed in another sermon!)  Is given his or her special, commemorative day… Considered to be their “birthday” it is celebrated by all those who identify with that saint, or who have a particular affiliation with his causes, countries, mission or purpose.

Actually, it is not their birthday that is celebrated as we have few birth records that could state when ancient saints were born, but it is their death day: Which according to historical Catholic teachings, is the day when they begin their eternal life, or life with God. It is the day when your spiritual goal is accomplished- when you win your heavenly release from ego, pain, suffering, that was so much a part of life on Earth. You might recall the now famous Irish toast:

“May your soul get to Heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you are dead!”

On this day, March 17th, I will offer a brief recounting of the storied life of St. Patrick and then focus on his legendary feat of driving all the snakes out of Ireland. This story, has been passed down to us in true Irish form: As Myth, legend, and yes, a story that has some “blarney” attached to it!

Remember, whenever you encounter the story of the life of one of these ancient saints, you need to keep your mythological and idealistic perspective. These stories are not necessarily factual, but they can be true… True to the heart that hears them; for they often arrive at our hearts without paying full homage to either science or common sense. It has been said that the fastest way to God is through a story, and that a story provides us with a doorway that opens us to holy mysteries.

Not much is actually known about St. Patrick.  Even though it might be the most widely celebrated saint around the globe… And maybe that is just as it should be. Possibly only trailing St. Francis or St. Nicholas in the hearts of the faithful, he has earned his own special niche in the Catholic Christian world. This claim, of course, is hard to dispute- even if you are not Irish ( although I do expect that everyone is, at least a even a wee bit on the 17th, and as for all those who protest such goings on, then just content yourself with some Guinness or a draught of green beer, and enjoy the party!

St. Patrick was born in approximately 387 AD or ACE in a small, southwestern English village that was still a part of the  Roman Empire. His real name, by the way, was Patrius Calpunrnius, which made him a Roman citizen, because his father was Italian! (I always knew that I liked him!) He spent his uneventful boyhood in this remote part of England and so the details are largely unknown. One event, when he was 16, was recorded for us. Something drastic happened to him!

One evening, as he was wandering outside the protective confines of his village walls, he was captured by a band of Celtic rogues who were also known as slave pirates. He was taken away from England , to Ireland, and there he was sold as a slave. He lived in bondage for six years and as could be expected, this ordeal changed his life.

Much like a cocoon is for a butterfly, this time of suffering and trial became his place for transformation or soulful metamorphosis. During his servitude, he develop a deep, sincere inward calling and fervent spiritual purpose. Through his adversity, he learned how to pray without ceasing( I Thess. 5) As his biographer notes it, even in the midst of a gale or a blizzard, he never forgot his daily prayers, or to give thanks to God for whatever might come his way!

Eventually, a way did open… And he escaped Ireland and returned home to England. Yet, he did not stay very long because his experiences set a new agenda and larger mission for his life. He left England for France, and entered a seminary to study to become a priest. After he completed his studies, his example was noticed by his bishops and it is said that he even came to be known by the Pope for his religious zeal, and all that fervor directed him back to Ireland as a missionary to the Celts!

After only a short time, he success spread and he was appointed bishop of Armagh. From that city, he traveled throughout the land, founding many churches and establishing monasteries all over the Emerald Isle. His greatest goal was to convert the native Celts from their Pagan and passionate ways and mold and make them over into Christians. It has been ascribed to his efforts, that Ireland, in time, became a bastion of monastic Roman Catholicism, and that the Irish are among the most devout Catholics in the world, even today.

Now there are many legends and stories associated with St. Patrick- none, however, any more famous that his miraculous feat of driving all the serpents or snakes out of Ireland. With all the Irish jokes aside, such as still being able to see the snakes floating in your fourth glass of Jameison’s whiskey, let’s see if we can make out the significance of this remarkable tale that goes far beyond biological facts. Q: is there a connection between Catholic saints and snakes???

Snakes show up frequently in world mythology, and they occupy an active role in many cross cultural teaching stories… From the most remote parts of the globe, even among the Eskimo lore and legends, there are snake stories! (Climatic shifts!) One example: Among the African tribes, as the famous mythologist and story teller Joseph Campbell teaches it, there is a story of how the great God Umbate created man, then antelope, and then snake, and then woman. Later, when the antelope and the man, and the woman disobey one of God’s commands, and then asked who told you that you could eat the forbidden fruit that grows in my garden? The woman answered saying, “The snake, the snake did!” Does that sound familiar? Snakes, over the centuries and across the cultures and continents, have been given very little respect in the Mythologies of our world. (Rodney Dangerfield of animals?)

This highly prejudicial and paradoxical attitude towards snakes contradicts what many other world faiths teach- that the snakes, even the dragons, are all bearers of wisdom, healing, and fertility. However, in Judeo-Christian theology, such related reptiles were considered to be evil creatures and villains- the Devil’s accomplices- painful sources of egotistical pride and slithering disobedience.

In the New Testament or The Christian Scriptures, we are also given another interpretation. Snake symbolism in the Gospels have both meanings; we recall Jesus in the Gospel of Luke accusing the Pharisees of being a “brood of vipers” but we are also given in the Gospel of John the passage where we hear Jesus’ heartfelt recommendation that his disciples are to walk among the people “as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.” In the later editions/editorials added to the Gospel of Mark, we are given snake handlers, and then in the Acts, we are given the story of how Paul shook off a snake’s bite with no harmful effects.

So, back to Patrick… It seems as if Patrick feat refers to the malefic snake of Genesis, and to the virtuous elimination of the snake as a symbol of Celtic stories of rebirth and wisdom. His legendary act of casting all the snakes into the sea, was ridding the people of all the Celtics teachings about holy eroticism and female fertility- to be replaced by the images of the ever Virgin Mary! By doing so, as the legends tell it, he made the people ready for God’s truth that faith is more important than wisdom, and furthermore, the real God is male! He was the original snake buster! However, more closely to the point, Catholic teachings were the literary prototype for Irish writers and playwrights for centuries such as in G. B Shaw’s writings, and as the antagonist for writers such as Joyce. Saints, after all, were always considered to be God’s champions against all rival religions, against the forces of evil, against the wiles of women, and the ravages of sin.

But what can we make of saints and snakes today?

In my heretical way, I believe that the metaphors for chasing out the snakes can be an instructive one- but only as long as you are willing to keep or accept that snakes function to convey positive virtues and values, too. In that ancient Western context, I believe that everyone is capable of ridding their personal world of lurking snakes: known symbolically as those lies, deceptions, and deceits that will come back to bite us or that will poison us against ourselves and other people.

If we are in charge of our own beliefs, values and behaviors then our sense of truth and faith can prevail. If we are willing to chase evil thoughts out of our reactions and behaviors, then we can more fully pursue the answers and the inspiration that we might need to live more harmoniously and more compassionately. If the origin of evil and pain is an original lie, then we need to assert the understanding of our original blessings. Original Blessings is the title of the text book in Creation Spirituality written by Matthew Fox)

Just as Patrick had to handle his fears about losing his comfortable life, becoming an economic slave, and then be willing to go away from his comfort zone to seek out his deepest answers that led him to live by his deeply rooted new convictions, then we can also learn how to overcome… Or at least work though whatever lies and deceits or sources of false reasoning that bite and poison us. Whatever serpentine maze of false beliefs we might have nesting inside us, we can root them out! We can release them or chase them away so they occupy harmless distances. We do this best by following the saintly example of persistent truth seeking, and by opening our hearts to God.

The legend of St. Patrick teaches us about the spirituality that requires us to clear our conscience and to allow new thoughts and behaviors to grow within us. Spirituality is a deliberate clearing away process, and it is the process of living in a way that we are making ourselves ready for new growth in both faith and wisdom.

What the stories such as the one that revolve around St. Patrick can teach or remind us is that we can live beyond our childhood fears and any thoughts or feeling we have that poison us. Your experiences in life act as your repository of wisdom, and when uncoiled become pathways to understanding, healing, and peace. We can shed our old skins, and be renewed; we can leave our old skins for a new coat of blessings.

On this St. Patrick’s day, celebrate your trials, affirm your personal progress, and make a toast toward living your lives more openly, spiritually, and lovingly towards yourself and others… Who knows? Maybe sainthood awaits you, too!

Are Angels Real? A discovery and an outline for understanding

October 1, 2012 - 4:02 pm 14 Comments

Are Angels Real?

An Exploration and a Discovery!

Kailo Interfaith Community

September 30, 2012

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

Some years ago, on a Christmas Eve, I delivered a homily on angels that I did not quite believe… On, it was a fine piece of religious journalism, well crafted but devoid of anything but an intellectual understanding. This disconnect between the mind and the heart has always challenged me, and has repeatedly led me deeply into other meanings and possibilities for  ministry and for affirming and understanding the spiritual dimensions of life.

You see, one of my parishioners at the time, ironically, a man named Michael, said that he did not agree with me when I had said that angels are flashes of perception or impulses towards creativity. So I listened, and it began a reinvestigation that prodded me towards a wider and deeper awareness of the inner or spiritual world that is hidden from the obvious; disguised among the ordinary; and that has within it a stream of consciousness and awareness one can only describe as the holy or the sacred that flows through our world, and can become active within us.

Another irony… With this man’s question, it started me on a five year journey into the world of the angelic so that know I can confidently and knowingly say that angels are real!

Some background on the subject, and I promise not to be obtusely theological if I can help it- for example, I will not get into describing the heavenly hierarchy of angelic beings as laid out in the Early Church by the philosopher Pseudo-Dionysis… Well, maybe some day I will do that for you…

Similarly, if there was enough interest in learning how to embody the angles or practice angelic approaches to healing, those topics are also possible.

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All the great and timeless religions contain references to angels: They each refer to them as beings who can influence our hearts and minds through a change of perception, and some refer to angels as possessing the presence and the power to shift or change lives on a larger, more complete scale.

Angels are an experiential part of the super conscious Mystery, part of the Mythology of God’s universe that is far more complex and far more grand in its scale and scope that most of us can realize! Angels can best be understood as the quanta of energy that constantly flows through the universe and that symbolically is understood as a source of energy that can beneficially influence the natural world as well as the lives of individuals.

Some approaches to the whole study and spiritual dimension called angels will confidently postulate that angels have within their possibilities and potentials, to declare that there is nothing that exists that does not have an angelic signature or influence that can be associated with it.

From that viewpoint, we have the mystical teaching that says that every person, every city, every country, every national group can have a guiding angelic being or for that matter, a demonic influence associated with it. While this idea might sound preposterous to some of you, or at least unlikely, the deeper I go into metaphysical teachings, the broader and wider my understanding reaches.

Let me remind you that many famous and highly intelligent people have professed a belief in angels: From Lincoln to Longfellow; And as far as challenging the so called absurdity of this idea, the world renown scientist and astrophysicist Robert Jastrow believes that the Biblical event of Ezekiel’s fiery wheels could refer to extraterrestrial visits! So my claims are pale!

First let’s begin with some definitions:

Angels are universally known as messengers of God, the divine or what is considered to be sacred or holy. These messages can include flashes of insights, spurts of creativity, and various intuitions that can come to us-

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Whether it is through meditation, deep relaxation, times of ecstasy, or even during during stressful episodes in our lives. These angelic visitations do not often appear consciously or in any knowing way during ordinary states of waking and working consciousness.

According to classical religious thought, the office of an angel is the task or role that express the spirit of guidance or is a functional expression of wisdom and compassion. It is taught that each of the angels has, as their distinct charge or a certain kind of task. Accordingly, each angel has its own power, ability or responsibility. (St. Augustine)

Symbolically, the clues to these tasks and powers can be found in looking at their halos, their clothes, the objects they are carrying, and their weapons, usually a kind of sword… If you prefer a more psychological description, angels are archetypal energies, myths of the collective unconscious, and act as metaphors for how God’s presence and influence can be experienced or understood within our psyches and within our societies. Simply put, angels are divine translations of the gracious and the holy; they are sources of healing energy for people, places, and planets.

Without getting too deeply into ancient theology and its metaphysical speculations ( but I do confess that I find a lot that stuff quite fascinating!)

Angles are present in every holy religious tradition- in different images, grab, style, or depiction to be sure, but they are present as messengers and teachers. In our Western Scriptures, we see the prominent role of angels in the genesis story, in Jesus’ birth narrative, in the books of the Apocrypha such as Tobit, and finally having a leading role in the visionary book of Revelations. Angels reserved an ongoing importance throughout the creation of the Christian story from the early Church through the Middle Ages. Not until the Age of Enlightenment and the advent of empirical, matter based, left brain science did we begin to discard them or at least dethrone them.

I would say that we reduced them to sentiment and fantasy…

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After all, from a strictly scientific world view anything that cannot be logical or scientifically measured could not be taken seriously. ( Can you name some things we cannot see, that we take seriously today?)

With the advent of cosmology and new physics, as the seemingly disparate worlds of astronomy and theology begin to merge, with the theories on the origins of life and the universe sounding a lot like mysticism, energies that were hidden from ordinary sight or removed from ordinary awareness and gaining credence- developing a following again!

Needless to say, any reductionist approach to life, religion, society and self will have difficulty with any labeled spiritual, and so could have some disdain for the concept of angels, too. Protestants, as a whole, have discounted the importance of angels… They have made their churches into an almost exclusively Jesus centered religion, not regarding or acknowledging that the world view in which the Bible was written was a deeply mystical and metaphorical one.

Today, in our overtly secular and commercial world, even the Christmas story suffers when angels are relegated to greeting cards and on St. Valentines, the only angels you see are asexual cherubs- both holidays dripping with insipid caricatures of who and what angels truly are…

As you already know, whenever there is a difficult subject for a person or a society to accept, work through or understand, then one of the best ways to quickly rid yourself of its possible importance is to make it into a hollow sentimental contrivance, an intellectual joke.

My best definitions of the reality and the function of angels goes like this: Angels are celestial beings of light, and Rupert Sheldrake and Matthew Fox calls angels, those quanta of energy

That reveal to us the intention of God.

Their influence on us and among us becomes increasingly available when we intentionally practice opening up our awareness and clearing out our obstacles to “entertain angels” or welcomes those insights, wonders, and inspirations. First, it takes a willingness to reduce our egos, so we make room from the angelic energies to be present to us, or to welcome their presence or messages for us.

Angels come to us in many ways- sometimes subtle and gentle, other times more directly and even forcefully as if to teach a dramatic lesson.

As an agent of the Holy Spirit, angels provide us with their wisdom and can open our hearts to this previously unknown source of joy, comfort, and hope through our prayers, our meditations, our spiritual disciplines and intense practices or spiritual studies. They can also visit us unawares or present themselves during critical or unexpected times- when experiences or events in our lives seem to have no “rhyme or reason” and the importance of what they say or teach doesn’t easily occur or make sense to us.

When I look back on all the experiences I have had or that I have read about concerning angelic visits, angels bring forth intuitive wisdom, they incite moral reform, they encourage forgiveness, and foster the development of virtues, strengths, faith, and humility.

Sometimes, as I have been told by people who have come to see me about things that are spiritual and sometimes religious, that angels appeared to them as a thought, feeling or energy that rescued them! They do not know why they were saved or spared, but they were! The results of those experiences have been incredible and dramatic such as the ability to overcome an addiction or the find release from any imprisoning idea, illness, belief, or relationship. Similar to the symbolic episode in the Epistles, where Timothy and Paul were put into jail, with no seeming way out, an angel came and broke down the walls, bent the bars, and set them free! Some authors include feelings of being protected or guided to do or say something that

would ordinarily be unusual, even astonishing! Angels are said to be present whenever we feel safe, secure, protected; whenever we are grateful to be alive, whenever we feel grateful to be loved. Angels are those inner experiences or realities that give proof and credence to God’ s inexhaustible care for us. We are never outside of God’s love and compassion- we are never beyond the reach of the angels…

The Lover’s Saint? St. Valentine

February 8, 2011 - 9:15 am 75 Comments

The Lover’s Saint? Looking at the Origins of St. Valentine’s Day

Poor old Valentine! He was a third century priest who was crushed and then beheaded on February 14th, 270 ACE. He would certainly be surprised to find that we moderns consider him to be the saint of lovers, and that his day would be known as the time when lovers would exchange their sentimental gifts and greetings…. Yet, there are two plausible reasons for the evolution of this sentimental holiday …

First, the saint himself- He was a very caring and empathetic person, and Christians from all over the Empire would write to him, asking for his guidance as they struggled with the issues of daily life and the role of faith in their lives. ( similar to a later saint, the other St. Francis, Francis de Sales) He would write back to them offering them encouragement, inspirations, along with his guidance in spiritual problem solving. Often, in the margins of his letters, he would make simple drawings of the symbols of faith, hope, and love as the most important virtues. Most commonly the shell stood for faith, the anchor for hope, and the heart for love…

After he had been put to death for his disobedience (He continued to marry young couples against the express orders of the Emperor who wanted to end the spread or the future growth of Christianity by forbidding marriage and therefore children…) His neighbors saw some of the unfinished notes he was writing and they noticed the simple, inspirational symbols. They mailed the remaining notes from him, and told others about how Valentine would adorn his stationary with these designs. A short while after, other Christians began adding little drawings to their notes, and the idea of some embellishments on stationary began…

The second plausible reason echoes from how the Catholic Church tried so vehemently and persistently to convert/subvert all the loca pagan customs and turn their celebrations into a more reserved or somber sacred day or Holy-day/holiday. In February, or the time of the ancient calendars that marked devotion to Juno Februata, the goddess of fever and desire which became merged with the festival of Lupercalia. The prudish church became intent on wiping out a rather bawdy and sensual festival.

Lupercalia or the festival of the Wolf Moon – or the full moon of the wandering wolves- was originally a mating/pairing off or time for condoning prostitution. ( there may be some historical connection to legends of the Wolf-Man during these moon cycles- seems quite possible!) For the Pagans of Indigenous European or the Continental witches who lived in Southern Europe ( In the Wiccan or among the Celtics because they lived in the colder north, it was May 1st or Beltane ) this was a time to honor one’s sensual and sexual desires, and the church would have none of it! The best compromise the church could muster and carry off was that this time of the year was appropriate for expressing fidelity and romance within marriage.

The pagan festival included a ceremony where the girls of the community would put their names in a decorated box, and then the boys would draw those names, and the two would become full partners for a whole year- or until the next Lupercalia when the boys would pick someone new!

To discourage this promiscuous practice, the church began to substitute the names of the saints for the young women, as their spiritual companion, and told them that they had to adopt the virtues of that saint during the coming year… And that switch had a rather limited appeal!

With the Middle Ages and with the invention of courtly love and romance, the chivalrous approach to women was instituted and the roles became somewhat reversed! The girls took possession of the box, and they would draw out the name of a boy and then write to him. In this note, she would invite his honorable and romantic intentions- encouraging him to pay attention to her, and ultimately marry her as the final goal!

There is one more legend to consider… The last Valentine legend states that there is a power in gift giving that could soothe or lessen a woman’s wounded affections… That somehow a gift could do wonders in resolving a “lover’s spat” or ending a domestic quarrel. It this is true, particularly in our materialistic age, its the easiest assignment ever given to a saint! However, in this account, there is a twist…

Somehow, this Valentine was also associated with being a healer or someone who possessed the cure for epilepsy, for lunacy, for fainting or swooning, and any falling disease! It makes me wonder… Could this be the reason why we call the process of finding a partner “falling in love?”

Happy Valentine’s Day!