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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

Reprint and Commentary: The Path of Evolution by Fr. Richard Rohr

November 4, 2016 - 10:29 am Comments Off on Reprint and Commentary: The Path of Evolution by Fr. Richard Rohr

Reprint From The Writings and Reflections
of Fr. Richard Rohr, OSF

The Pattern of Evolution
Perhaps the reason it is so hard for us to see the evolution of the Cosmic Christ in our individual lives and in the arc of history is that this groaning and this giving birth (see Romans 8:22) proceeds by a process of losses and gains, and the losses are very real. There is no doubt that history goes three steps forward and two steps backward, but thank God there always seems to be a net gain. Even though we continue to see war, racism, classism, genocide, and ignorance, violence is actually declining. We may be more aware of the world’s suffering now than ever before, but as compared with previous periods in history, we are living in a relatively peaceful time.
Historically and to this day, it seems that when a new level of maturity is found, there is an immediate and strong instinct to pull backward to the old and familiar. Thankfully, within churches and society at large there is always a leaven, a critical mass, a few people who carry the momentum toward greater inclusivity, compassion, and love. This is the Second Coming of Christ: Christ embodied by people who know that hatred and greed are always regressive, and who can no longer live fearfully or violently. …
Teilhard de Chardin writes: “Everything that rises must converge.” In other words, higher levels of evolution are always a movement toward greater unity.
Along the way there will be differentiation and complexity, but paradoxically, that increased complexity moves life to a greater level of unity, until in the end there is only God who is “all in all” (see 1 Corinthians 15:28).
If it isn’t moving toward unity, it is not a higher level of consciousness.
But along with differentiation and complexity there will also be an equal push back, fear, and confusion. We see this in our current political climate in America and much of the world. The United States has suffered eight years of nonstop gridlock and opposition to any creative governance. It mirrors Newton’s Third Law of Motion that “every action elicits an equal and opposite reaction.” Today many people are reverting to tribal thinking, denial, fear, and hatred, rather than turning to compassionate, creative solutions to real challenges of poverty, climate change, and the many worldwide forms of injustice.
I highly recommend here any of the writings of Thomas Berry, who in many ways brings Teilhard de Chardin realistically forward because he has sixty more years of science, and also sixty more years of planetary push back, to bring to the present conversation. …”
Peter: While I had a great respect and appreciation for the insights of Fr. Rohr, I would also encourage reading books by my mentor, Matthew Fox, whose has provided a library of information about the Cosmic Christ, Creation Spirituality, inclusive spirituality, social justice and social change, and timeless wisdom, insights, and advice from the mystics for our personal and communal paths towards evolution… I would add that for many years I have seen the path of personal and cultural evolution to be a dynamic spiral… that could also include an upright cone that would symbolize the upward unifying purpose or the merging of mystery, metaphysics, and meaning… When working with people on their personal spiritual path, I introduce this as a way to explain how spirituality moves us towards a place of unity…

20 Quotes from Carl G. Jung…..and some articles and thoughts including an excerpts from his work, The Red Book

May 22, 2016 - 1:11 pm Comments Off on 20 Quotes from Carl G. Jung…..and some articles and thoughts including an excerpts from his work, The Red Book

20 Profound Quotes By Carl Jung
That Will Help You To Better Understand Yourself
and Some excerpts from Jung’s writings including
The Red Book

by The Minds Journal Editorial · April 19, 2016

One of the things I love about Carl Jung is the fact that he was a deep philosophical thinker who examined all aspects of the self when writing about the human experience. As you will see in the quotes below, Jung was clear on the notion that we are spiritual beings, and that having a spiritual relationship with oneself truly helps us to understand the deeper aspects of who we are.
To some, this idea translates to religion — to finding solace in the existence of something greater than yourself — but I believe this to be a fickle form of spirituality, and one that does not truly help a person get to the core of who they are (or, alternatively, who they are not).
According to www.cgjungpage.org: “Carl Jung was one of the creators of modern depth psychology, which seeks to facilitate a conversation with the unconscious energies which move through each of us. He contributed many ideas which continue to inform contemporary life: complex, archetype, persona, shadow, anima and animus, personality typology, dream interpretation, individuation, and many other ideas. He had a deep appreciation of our creative life and considered spirituality a central part of the human journey.”
This summation of his life and work connects deeply to what Collective Evolution is all about, and shares much in common with what inspired me to create this platform in the first place. In putting together the quotes in this article, I gained an even deeper appreciation for Jung and his work, as I uncovered the conscious themes that were apparent throughout his teachings. He was clearly a deep thinker with an intimate knowledge of his inner being.
Jung also had an appreciation for astrology which, over the past few years, I’ve begun to understand more and more and see profound value in. I’m not talking about opening your daily paper and reading your generalize horoscope, however, but true astrology. Something many of us have never been properly exposed to and thus don’t understand the real meaning of or value. (Maybe we’ll have to make a short documentary on this one day!) Note from PEL: Please see my listing and descriptions on astrology on my website pages…
But enough on my own musings — onto the quotes! Here are 20 from Jung that I feel not only serve as an accurate representation of his work, but also provide much to reflect on.

20 Profound Quotes By Carl Jung That Will Help You To Better Understand Yourself
1.”One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.”
2. “Don’t hold on to someone who’s leaving, otherwise you won’t meet the one who’s coming.”
3. “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
4. “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
5. “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
6. “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
7. “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
8. “If you are a gifted person, it doesn’t mean that you gained something. It means you have something to give back.”
9. “Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”
10. “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
11. “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”
12. “Loneliness does not come from having no people around, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”
13. “Depression is like a woman in black. If she turns up, don’t shoo her away. Invite her in, offer her a seat, treat her like a guest and listen to what she wants to say.”
14. “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them.”
15. “Your perception will become clear only when you can look into your soul.”
16. “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
17. “What you resist, persists.”
18. “A dream is a small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens up to that primeval cosmic night that was the soul, long before there was the conscious ego.”
19. “We may think that we fully control ourselves. However, a friend can easily reveal something about us that we have absolutely no idea about.”
20. “Everything about other people that doesn’t satisfy us helps us to better understand ourselves.”

“If you give up your self you live it in others; thereby you become selfish to others, and thus you deceive others. Everyone thus believes that such a life is possible. It is, however, only apish imitation. Through giving in to your apish appetite, you infect others, because the ape stimulates the apish. So you turn yourself and others into apes. Through reciprocal imitation you live according to the average expectation. The image of the hero was set up for all in every age through the appetite for imitation. Therefore the hero was murdered, since we have all been aping him. Do you know why you cannot abandon apishness? For fear of loneliness and defeat.”

“To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. If you want to create yourself then you do not begin with the best and the highest, but with the worst and the deepest. Therefore say that you are reluctant to live yourself The flowing together of the stream of life is not joy but pain, since it is power against power, guilt, and shatters the sanctified.”
C.G.Jung.

Though you want to flee from yourself so as not to have to live what remains unlived until now.But you cannot flee from yourself. It is with you all the time and demands fulfillment. If you pretend to be blind and dumb to this demand, you feign being blind and deaf to yourself. This way you will never reach the knowledge of the heart. The knowledge of your heart is how your heart is. From a cunning heart you will know cunning. From a good heart you will know goodness.
So that your understanding becomes perfect, consider that your heart is both good and evil. You ask, “What? Should I also live evil?” The spirit of the depths demands: “The life that you could still live, you should live. Well-being decides, not your well-being, not the well-being of the others, but only well-being.”
C.G. Jung, The Red Book

The psyche is the greatest of all cosmic wonders and the sine qua non of the world as an object. it is in the highest degree odd that Western man, with but very few and ever fewer exceptions, apparently pays so little regard to this fact.
Swamped by the knowledge of external objects, the subject of all knowledge has been temporarily eclipsed to the point of seeming nonexistence.
C.G. Jung, 1946 Collected Works 8, para. 357

Not nature but the “genius of mankind” has knotted the hangman’s noose with which it can execute itself at any moment.
C.G. Jung, 1952

Nothing worse could happen to one than to be comletely understood… One would be instantly deprived of one’s personal raison d’etre if one were. I’d hate it myself… Understanding is … at times a veritable murder of the soul as soon as it flattens out vitally important differences. The core of the individual is a mystery of life which is snuffed out when it is “grasped.”
C.G.Jung.

“The living spirit grows and even outgrows its earlier forms of expression; it freely chooses the men in whom it lives and who proclaim it. This living spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of mankind. Measured against it, the names and forms which men have given it mean little enough; they are only the changing leaves and blossoms on the stem of the eternal tree.”
C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul
In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.
C.G. Jung.

Synchronicities are those moments of “meaningful coincidence” when the boundary dissolves between the inner and the outer. At the synchronistic moment, just like a dream, our internal, subjective state appears, as if materialized in, as and through the outside world. Touching the heart of our being, synchronicities are moments in time in which there is a fissure in the fabric of what we have taken for reality and there is a bleed through from a higher dimension outside of time. Synchronicities are expressions of the dreamlike nature of reality, as they are moments in time when the timeless, dreamlike nature of the universe shines forth its radiance and openly reveals itself to us, offering us an open doorway to lucidity.
He who enters into his own must grope through what lies at hand, he must sense his way from stone to stone. He must embrace the worthless and the worthy with the same love. A mountain is nothing, and a grain of sand holds kingdoms, or also nothing. Judgment must fall from you, even taste, but above all pride, even when it is based on merit. Utterly poor, miserable, unknowingly humiliated, go on through the gate. Turn your anger against yourself, since only you stop yourself from looking and from living. The mystery play is soft like air and thin smoke, and you are raw material that is disturbingly heavy. But let your hope, which is your highest good and highest ability, lead the way and serve you as a guide in the world of darkness…
C.G.Jung The Red Book Liber Novus.

Spiritual Principles of The Samurai

May 22, 2016 - 12:32 pm Comments Off on Spiritual Principles of The Samurai

Spiritual Principles of the Samurai

By Jonathan Davis on Friday May 6th, 2016

Cultivating the ethics of honour, discipline and mastery

For nearly 700 years in feudal Japan approximately ten percent of the population lived as samurai ‘retainers’, a warrior class that lived in service to their respective provincial lords. The Samurai lived their lives by a code known as Bushido, which was based on a combination of Zen and Confucian principles and emphasised loyalty to one’s master, respectful ethical behaviour and self-discipline. Elements of Bushido emphasise compassion, benevolence and other higher qualities held by the Samurai that are worth emulating. So what can we learn from these ancient warriors that might help us with our personal evolution in the modern world?

Finding a role model
Whether you are a warrior, an artist or a business person, the first samurai skill worth adopting is the ability to ‘construct’ a true master to learn from, even if a living example of a true master doesn’t exist or isn’t accessible in the culture of our modern day.
According to Master lttei… one should look at many people and choose from each person his best point only. For example, one person for politeness, one for bravery, one for the proper way of speaking, one for correct conduct and one for steadiness of mind… If one perceives a person’s good points, he will have a model teacher for anything.
– Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

Finding a true master to study with The Masterless Master
Miyamoto Musashi is without a doubt the most respected samurai warrior to have ever lived. Widely known as the masterless master, Musashi is likely to have achieved this level of high esteem through this very principal of assembling the best elements from less-than-perfect role models. Musashi was undefeated after sixty duels from the age of 16 to around age 60, when he retired to a cave and wrote what is widely considered the most important text of the samurai era:
The Book of Five Rings.

From one thing, know ten thousand things
One of Miyamoto Musashi’s most well-known concepts is: ‘from one thing, know ten thousand things’. In essence, this implies that by learning to become a master at one skill, we learn the very process of mastery itself; knowledge which can then be transferred to other skills.
From one thing, know ten thousand things… Neuroscience is starting to verify this concept when delving into the role of motor neurons and the transferability of learned skills. Learn to do something with one part of the body, like the right hand, and you will learn the same skill more quickly on the left hand, because the skill can be transferred to other control centres in the brain. More broadly, we also see this evidence of this when people find it much easier attaining their second, third or fourth university degree, or learning third and fourth languages more easily after having gone through the challenge of learning a second.

What we call mastery was merely discipline
In the present day we have the idea, according to Josh Kaufman, that we can become functionally ‘good enough’ at any given skill after about 20 hours of practice. To go from being pretty good at something to achieving mastery, the learning curve gets a lot steeper. According to Malcolm Gladwell, we can become a master at anything if we put in 10,000 hours of practice. This equates to 1000 days of practicing 10 hours per day. Musashi, however, said otherwise:
Practicing a thousand days is said to be discipline, practicing ten thousand days is said to be refining. What Musashi refers to as ‘refining’ equates to roughly 100,000 hours in comparison (if a person were to train for 10 hours per day). A samurai would actually hone their skills continuously for all of his waking hours and sleep in readiness to defend an attack at any moment.

The pressure of life-and-death stakes
Why do we remember so clearly not to put our hand on a hot stovetop? It’s because we’ve evolved to remember when something is painful. Our brain creates more myelin coating around those neural pathways that we consider important, and pain is our body’s way of saying it’s really important not to do that painful thing again. A thicker myelin coating causes that neural pathway to become more permanent. It’s important on a survival level to avoid pain so our brain and nervous system prioritises this and we build strong, well-insulated neural pathways so that we remember how to avoid more pain in the future. There is perhaps nothing more important than avoiding our own death. Perhaps this a key to getting our brain to create the strongest neural pathways of all.
The pressure of life and death stakes
It’s hard to find a better example of self-discipline throughout human history than that of the samurai or ‘bushi warrior’. They used the threat of imminent death to sharpen their senses and their resolve; paradoxically, they were also constantly readying themselves to give their life for their lord at any moment.
There is a saying of the elders that goes, ‘Step from under the eaves and you’re a dead man. Leave the gate and the enemy is waiting.” This is not a matter of being careful. It is to consider oneself as dead beforehand.
– Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

For the samurai, this wasn’t a conceptual exercise. Buddhist monks may meditate on facing a horrific death for the purpose of learning to remain at peace in the face of such a challenge, but the samurai were facing actual death on a regular basis.
This kind of confrontation, which rewarded a moment’s relaxation with instant death, required awesome patience and concentration, a kind of discipline that can only be acquired after years of training under the guidance of a master. In time, this code of ethics with its stress on patience, frugality, and constant self-improvement, permeated all levels of Japanese society. It became part of the social ethos of Japan.
Commentary in The Book Of Five Rings (1982, Bantam)

Discipline that can only be acquired after years of training
The importance of the present moment

Attaining undistracted awareness of the present moment, and remaining in that state somewhat indefinitely, was a common goal of the bushi warrior. The possibility of death at any moment was used as a fuel for cultivating this single-pointed awareness.
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing left to pursue.
– Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

Through a process of trial and error (with error, in this case, equating to death), the samurai came to understand that there is a time-delay between the senses experiencing something and the mind registering the experience. They discovered that the masters of their art were the ones who put their thinking mind aside.
There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment
If you want to see, see right at once. When you begin to think, you miss the point.
– Zen Master Dogo
The process of training involves the mind training the body with so much repetition that the body learns the skill. Then when the skill is needed, the body will respond without needing the mind to engage. This means there is no time delay.
A retainer [samurai] is a man who remains consistently undistracted, twenty-four hours a day, whether he is in the presence of his master or in public. If one is careless during his rest period the public will see him as being only careless.
– Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

While we in our modern lives may not face the possibility of death at any moment, we can recognise that the act of learning to be the most centred and aware version of ourselves during daily practice is only the beginning. Learning to extend this ability to bring forth the best, most awake version of ourselves into the periods of time between doing our daily practice may be a better long-term goal to strive for, so that we eventually remain at this level of presence at all times.

On a number of occasions in The Book of Five Rings, Musashi mentions taking the martial lifestyle to advanced levels of spirituality. In fact, his path of ‘Heiho’ means ‘path to enlightenment’. For instance, one of the nine concepts to live by in Musashi’s version of the bushido code is: perceive that which cannot be seen.

Perceive that which cannot be seen
This relates to the fact that in Japanese culture in general (and particularly for a warrior in a life-or-death situation) one must be able to show their tatemae, or surface level intention, and hide their honne or true inner intention.
Perceiving that which cannot be seen, at least in-part, is about cultivating intuition in order to ascertain an adversary’s true intention; despite it being hidden. This is the difference between ken, ‘observation of the movements of surface phenomena’ and kan, ‘profound examination of the essence of things’.
…if you are deeply committed to the eventual mastery of this path, if you practice day and night polishing your skills through and through, then you… can attain such freedom and such power to perform miracles. You will attain supernatural powers. This is the secret of Heiho.
– Miyamoto Musashi The Book of Emptiness

The Book of Five Rings actually consists of five books: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and the Book of Emptiness, which unlike the other four, distils its wisdom into only two pages. The meaning of kú is emptiness; that which cannot be known is kú.

Earth, Fire, Water and Wind
This is similar to the concept at the beginning of the Tao Te Ching: as soon as one tries to talk about the tao it is no longer tao. Likewise, in Judaism all texts refer to ‘god’ as ‘g–d’ in an attempt to make sure that no one ever mistakes the signpost for that which the sign is pointing at. So it is a paradox that Musashi recognises in suggesting that emptiness cannot be known, but then following on from the last quote with a seemingly contradictory line:
By knowing form one knows emptiness. This in short is kú.
A word describing the emptiness or the oneness can never encapsulate the vastness of what it describes. To me personally, kú is describing what Taoists refer to as the ‘wu chi’; the underlying oneness that our physical reality of separation and duality exists within. The Book Of Emptiness points to us coming to experience the ‘oneness’ or ’emptiness’ through our experience of physical reality.
The commentary in the Book Of Five Rings (1982, Bantam) shares:

The underlying oneness of our physical reality of separation and duality exists within [Musashi] is suggesting there is a higher order of experience than the one you are on now. The emptiness is really a fullness, the realm of all possibilities.
In my opinion, this speaks to the common ground between ancient concepts such as the wu chi of the Taoists; the atman–brahman state of the Hindu tradition; and the quantum possibilities that have not yet collapsed into one solidified reality in the quantum realm.

Honour and Bushido
Above all else, the bushi warriors of Ancient Japan held themselves to a standard of being unquestionably honourable.
In the Hagakure, there is a tale of a samurai who is asked to testify in court. When asked for proof that what he was saying was true, he firmly stated if his word was not believed then he would immediately commit seppuku (ritual suicide) in front of the court. He was willing to give his life in a moment’s notice as security against the validity of his word; he was samurai. His word was not questioned further. For me this story exemplifies that the core of samurai culture was about being honourable.
There is a duty to be in service not only to their Lord, but to the wellbeing of the people and the good of all.

April Fool’s Day: In Praise of Holy Fools!

April 1, 2016 - 12:07 pm Comments Off on April Fool’s Day: In Praise of Holy Fools!

April Fools Day: In Praise of Holy Fools
The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Good Morning! And if you have not already gotten the subtle message, it is April Fool’s Day! So I could not think about giving any sermon that did not include some humor, and to focus on how the Fool has an important role in religion and life.
As I quickly have discovered and long suspected, there is an important link between religion and humor, and that it is an ancient and a universal one. While being almost ubiquitous, few, if any, religions have allowed humor to gain wide acceptance, with the least amount of acceptability in American Protestantism, which is probably the reason why there are so many religious jokes in our culture. There is no topic more receptive to humor, it seems, more enticing to laughter than piety, Puritanism, and an outlook that is joyless, strict, and self righteous.
Most clergy it appears, believe that religion is no laughing matter- that ultimate truths can only be known seriously or scientifically. They seem to disregard the fact that humor is a wonderful teaching tool, and that truth can be both funny and inspiring.
So today, of all days, we can ask: What’s so funny about religion? What are the elements in humor that teach us how to face life courageously? Why is it good to laugh, and what in our laughter, reveals reverently the mysteries and blessings of life and how we can care for enjoy one another?
Lets begin our look into “the whys and wherefore” of humor as it relates to religion, by first looking at how humor affects us as human beings. Physiologically, the ability to laugh involves responses of 15 separate pairs of facial muscles that create a visible change in complexion, posture, expression, and breathing.

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Next, Anthropologists confirm that humor and laughter are found universally- and like music, it functions best as a bridge of connection and empathy from one human to another, overcoming differences in language, time, distance, or behavioral customs, religious beliefs. A third consideration comes from research in holistic medicine. Physicians now conclude what the ancients have always known: “Laughter is good medicine; and that a merry heart does a soul much good.]”
Studies have shown laughter as being able to act as a curative agent- lowering cholesterol, increasing both red and white blood cell levels, strengthening immunity, producing pain killing endorphins, and last but not least, humor retards aging! You see, it reduces the creation of facial wrinkles, and who knows, maybe laughter makes a person more sexy and attractive, as having a good sense of humor always appears at the top of most desirable qualities one looks for in a potential mate.
Now what about the connection between humor and faith, or humor and spirituality? And what are some examples of how humor is used religiously to make a point? One hint: It isn’t the kind of humor that starts out: there once was a Nun from Nantucket, or Once a priest, a minister and a rabbi walked into a bar… Instead, my focus will be on how various forms of humor such as satire, wit, and hyperbole are used to teach self knowledge, self acceptance, humility, compassion and truth. Humor is best used religiously to point out the ironies of life; to address human foibles, and to teach us how to accept our human inconsistencies. Most often, with an attitude of love behind the remarks, laughter can be used to confound the ego, and to open a person to new insights about themselves. It results in moving the hearer from despair to hope, and can help to replace our tears of frustration with tears of joy.
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Humor can be found in almost every circumstance of life: Dr. Viktor Frankel, Holocaust survivor taught that “Humor is one of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self preservation. It helps us to rise above our feelings of helplessness and deprivation. We laugh religiously, to preserve our dignity, we laugh to stay sane and to remain humane.”] In his lectures, he would echo the author of Proverbs when he said, “a merry heart is like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.” Proverbs, by the way, is worth reading- a very funny book!
As a quick summary, religious humor can be defined as the form of humor that is a benevolent, empathetic response to life’s inconsistencies, incongruities, mishaps and reversals. Humor that lets us laugh at ourselves and that gives us the gift of laughing with others is a gracious, healing, and redeeming gift.
Next, when looking at the various characters in Western literature and mythology that teach us about the value of humor we encounter three important figures: The Clown, The Jester, and the Fool … Each has an important place in the world’s mythological stories, and in teaching us how best to understand ourselves with humility. They teach us, through their stories, about life’s paradoxes and how to keep a healthy perspective about what our egos want, desire, or need. Their universal presence in Western literature, Scripture, and folk stories, attest that a person cannot possibly arrive at being a balanced and healthy adult without being able to laugh at yourself- and that you can be assured that life will always give us ample opportunities for appearing to be foolish, and for pointing where and how we need to become more aware, more wise!
These characters in literature, these psychological archetypes of the human condition, teach us that if we take our faith too seriously as to drain the joy and laughter from it, it becomes a perversion and you risk missing the full and complete message any spiritual path or any ethical teacher has for you.
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While similar in their message to humanity and society, we have been given three characters, and each one in this comic trio has their own distinct characteristics. The most familiar to us all is the Clown. Maybe earliest in our cultural development, the clown creates chaos and nonsense, and is seen as a figure who has descend from the ribald revels of earlier centuries into the slapstick and ridiculous antics of today. The next time you see a circus clown, remember that he or she is a vestige of ancient shamans, and medicine workers who, would juggle their way into prominence as mummers- or simply all those who wear a disguise to hid their true intent- using exaggeration to make a point!

While it was true that sometimes a clown or a jester was kept around as a scapegoat, more often they were recognized as having a special relationship to the spirit, and they could function as a guide or as a counselor… in disguise. The Jester, usually attending to a king or queen was there to provide comic relief… And to advise the members of the court as to what the people are thinking about them… Sort of a comic spy… And informational network that would reveal the truth in public and by using amusing ways … Only the astute knew how to read between the lines of gesture, pantomime, and grin…. Jesters often were also considered to be “touched by God” or possessing special insights. Most notably in the Shakespearean plays such as Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and King Lear, the jester offers wise counsel to overcome problems and distress. From the clown, the jester, and the fool we are given many beloved characters from literature; Buffoon, Harlequin, Joker, Punch, Pucinello; even Palliacci… Each instructing us on how appearances work to charm and to deceive. Each conveys messages that delve beyond the obvious, and that can be seen to instruct, inform, warn, or alarm….

Since it is April Fool’s, I will spend most of the time with the concept of the Fool. From the ancient Tarot to common psychological perceptions, the idea of a fool or being a fool has many varied meanings… What the Fool teaches us the about the balance point for serious thought, and analytical knowledge. The Fool acts in ways that would seem be superficially irrational, illogical… And yet, it proves to be heartfelt and is often comically true!
The origin of the Fool might even predate the clown and the jester, as it relates directly to displaying the human condition of folly, amusement, and the universal awareness of our human shortcomings. Folly as a word, comes to us from the French, and refers to someone as an inflated windbag- someone full of bluster, but empty of substance. (Hmm-Folly Road or Beach?
The Fool evolved, however, into a different direction from the clown or the jester as someone who shows us the place of the shadow side of life; someone who seems outwardly foolish and irresponsible, yet practices and possess a kind of sensual and crazy wisdom that proves to be more in line with a sustaining compassionate truth; showing us a different reality than what all the rigid codes of morality provides and more truth than the false security of adhering to polite manners fails to supply. Through seemingly foolish risks of openness and wonder, you can turn a problem upside down, and find answers that all your careful analysis might not ever find!

Being so open, appears to our common sense to be, a fool’s errand, and we can ask without a willingness to extend ourselves into the very heart of life, do we ever arrive at our full and true selves? Remember on this day, and on every day that you can share a laugh with someone, you can be come silly- which originally meant to be blessed with laughter, and by being silly you gain the perspective that welcomes learning, and how best to accept and embrace all that our lives could contain. So you see, in a reverse analogy or its opposite actuality, the Fool is to being foolish as being child like is to be being childish. Wisdom, then, comes with an open heart and a willingness to suspend judgments and criticism which rarely contains joy or benevolence. By being open and empathetic, ones learns to honor the other person, to find those places in the heart where we truly touch, where we are beheld just as we are, and where we are found, even with our broken pieces, to be accepted, truly whole.

Before I delve in a little deeper, and given that this has to be a short presentation, I will leave the rival archetype of The Trickster for another time… For you see, while the Trickster character in myth, story, and legend will employ humor, it can have a malicious or even a macabre twist to it. When one feel that life has played a mean trick on them, generally it doesn’t feel funny… Yet there may be irony, insight, and instigation that can awaken us to seeing the error in your ways…. The trickster is the metaphysical practical joker, and someone who intentionally upsets others in order to teach them valuable lessons…. So at another time and place, I will venture into stories about Native American Coyote, The Norse god Loki, The holy fools of India, The vast array of Sufi stories, the path of Crazy Wisdom in Tibetan Buddhism, or the Zen koan and its humorous way. Each of these tricky ways has much to teach and tell us about life, the uses of mischief, the truths found in paradox, and the nature of enlightenment.
Focussing, however, back on our Western religious heritage, from the Hebrew Testament, I recommend the stories of Isaac & Rebecca; Noah (without Bill Cosby) Moses & Zipporah; Esther, Bell, and the great book of Proverbs. But be careful about reading these stories out loud! Some of them would receive an R rating!

As for Jewish humor as a whole, our world is far richer because of its contributions. … Wikipedia references….
“The influence of the US Jewish community on American English, include teaching us Yiddish words that just are funny just to say: schmaltz, schlemiel, klutz, schmuck… Many non-Jewish Americans (though certainly not all) will recognize some of these words. Popular books (such as Joy of Yiddish and Born to Kvetch) explain these words to the general public. However, bear in mind that while many Americans from other regions and ethnic backgrounds may recognize Yiddish words such as those above, it is more likely that only those who are more educated, or widely read, or who have Jewish friends and acquaintances via their place of residence or profession, etc., would fall into this group.
There are a number of standard American phrases which originated from Yiddish, including: Get lost, What’s up, I should worry, I should live so long, I need it like a hole in the head, You don’t know from nothin’, Certain types of rhyming slang, especially those where deprecation is shown via partial reduplications, also originated in Yiddish — for example “Joe-schmo” or “Oedipus-schmedipus, so long as he loves his mother.”

In the Christian Scriptures, while Paul recommends that we become “fools for Christ”, it is Jesus, when stripped of his sanctimony and assumed propriety, who was a master of teaching through humor. Yes, Jesus was a funny man! Who knew? When I was young, the way his teachings were related to me, it seemed to only foster greater guilt and deeper shame. All of a sudden, there was this comic and cosmic twist! His message became one of joy over sorrow, freedom from guilt, and he used humor to challenge his opponents starchy and rigid rule making, and to overcome the moralistic, and often hypocritical teachings.
Honestly, now, how many of you ever thought of Jesus as being filled with joy and laughter? My conversion… So to speak… Happened one day when I was in my late teens, when my image of him moved from being my painful suffering savior, to being my happy, playful teacher… And guess what! I have Hugh Heffner to thank!
You see, I was avidly reading Playboy at the time… Just for the interesting articles, of course, … when I turned the page to see a picture of Jesus, and I was startled! There, in living color was this picture, in a Renaissance style, of a Jesus, who was laughing gleefully! I quickly began to read this article by the noted Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, which was entitled, ” For Christ’s sake!” Well, up to that time in my life, whenever I would whenever I heard those words, it usually did not refer to reverent outcry, but was spoken in great exasperation! Intriguing!
Cox’s premise was that we need to see Jesus as a man who enjoyed life; as someone who taught us about the meaning and purpose of life using stories, parables and humor to get his point across to us. Wow! To think that he was this robust, enthusiastic man who was in love with life, yet he was not simply a comedian, for he lived with moral courage, and he was foolish enough to believe everyone of us could really live by our values and ideals! Just ponder for a moment, some of his best ironic humor, and how he used hyperbole to make ethical points and give us behavioral guidelines:
” It is easier for a Camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into heaven.” A comic statement about the value of trying to amass wealth and what ultimate good it would do for you… And this one, “Don’t put your light under a bushel basket, but put it up on a candlestick”
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That is, do not hide your beauty, your purpose, your mission under some tight wraps of insecurity, but proclaim the miracle you are!… And he goes one giving us stories about how the self righteous seek to “strain out gnats but swallow camels” and when he warns the judgmental to “take the beam out of your own eye, before trying to take the speck from your neighbors”… and on throughout the various Gospel accounts…

In closing, I recommend reading the Bible for its humor, and wholeheartedly endorse becoming more like a wise fool in your approach to life. Wherever true humor is found, a spiritual quality exists, and laughter as medicine and as friendship are indispensable parts of being alive and free. Without humor, life and religion would be a dry bone of contention, arid intellectual wrangling, irritating moral pronouncements.

The real truth, as I see it, is that religion needs to be fun, and that it is fundamental to gaining a healthy perspective on our lives. Try never to lose your sense of humor- and to appreciate how it leads us to a full heart, and how humor can lead us to a greater enjoyment of one another as an inclusive, hilariously diverse community!
So Be It!