Good Friday

It’s Holy Week, Semana Santa.  I started it this year in Guatemala.  Everyone is back to their hometown, it seems, to visit family and friends.  Alfombras, block long carpets of brightly colored sawdust and flowers, transform the cobblestone of colonial streets.  Huge elaborate floats depicting the passion of Christ are carried on the shoulders of fifty or more of the faithful, inching their way past the cathedral and central park.  The brass and drum corps marks time, in cadence befitting the gravity of the Lamb of God, taking upon himself the sins of the world.

It’s an outsize burden, I think.  Mayan women hawk fabulously beautiful weavings, made of handspun yarn and natural dyes, painstakingly extracted from spices, flowers, berries and insects.

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No price can adequately compensate the weeks of labor by these women, sitting on knees, the weight of their bodies creating the tension needed for the woof and warp of their backstrap looms.  The work is so gorgeous.  They ask so little.  The market prevails in its daily disappointment.

Our travels took us to their villages, where tombstones decorated with primitive art depict burned houses and hanged, hacked and bleeding bodies of the hundreds, thousands, perhaps 250,000 of their beloved family and friends, slaughtered by soldiers and paramilitary in the 1980’s, pieces dumped into mass graves.

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The generals justified these deaths with biblical quotes under a valence of anti-communism, preparing the way, as it has for 500 years, for the insatiable lords of wealth and power,  the robes cast off by the killers piled for safekeeping at the gates of the School of the Americas.

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I fly home.  Three simple words that separate me indelibly from the suffering on the ground.  I ride the slick shiny blade of the machete of progress, hacking its way through the friendly skies, bounding lightly across borders that say “No, you may not partake.  Your cup is a sop of vinegar served up on whatever stick you can find.”

59 missiles flip their way mindlessly to an airstrip in Syria and MOAB, the “mother of all bombs”, is dropped in Afganistan, this week’s blackbird pie served up for the ego of a spoiled child, daily millions demanded to fund the latest Mar-a-Lago deal, the White House an empty shell of a sucked out egg, the hollow hope of the poor and downtrodden.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

No amount of blood poured out has ever offered a drop of redemption.  It’s just another killing – another lie of the king, sanctioned by the priest, to justify clearing the path ahead.  Jesus died because of our sins, never to take them away.

Good Friday.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development, Estes Park, Colorado.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW above to be notified of future posts.

Doctor My Eyes

Donald Trump is not our problem in America.  He is not the disease, although he is certainly a very troublesome symptom.  Electoral politics and the dash to polarization are not the problem, nor the antiquated function of the electoral college, not to deny that a few systemic tweaks might provide some small relief from our indigestion and pain.

Our problem is our eyes.  It’s literally that we have chosen and clung to a very limited vision, an illusion that we believe to be complete and real.  Whether we quake in fear and despair, watching blue states tumble to red and making frantic calls to legislators who seem deaf to voices without dollars.  Whether we fulminate from the brilliant ivory tower of The New York Times.  Whether we are certain that the immigrant other, seasoned with a dash of moral decline, is undermining our safety and the foundation of our American values.  Whether we shake our snarling 4×4 fist as big government swallows the last guppy in our hard-earned and well-deserved Mar-a-Lago koi pond.  Whatever our fear and angst, we are all, for the most part, just looking through the eyes of our chosen limitation.

And that’s just it, the eyes of fear and angst.  The thing that binds us together, the foundational truth of America today is eyes that see only my shrinking piece of American pie.

Jackson Browne laments:

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand*

Doctor, my eyes.  They see the hurt, petulant little boy spinning like a pulsar between his black hole need for adulation and his fits of distemper when we are unwilling or unable to pacify him.  But he is our little boy, and we put him in charge.  We must accept full responsibility.

Noble democracy, precious concept, is not our elixir.  Today it is our exfoliant.  It reveals the perilously thin skin of our fear, our polarization, our sorrow and longing, our greed, our corporate angst.

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams*

From the Gospel of Thomas saying 22 or Gospel of Mary Magdalene 30:12, these confounding words are essentially the same:

When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will gain the Kingdom.

“When you make . . .” my, your, our making.  When we make our eyes something other than the eyes of our personal fear.  When we rebirth our limited sight with the panorama of the kingdom of the spirit, we see a different world.  It is not an American world, a Russian world, a Christian or Muslim world.

When we make these eyes, we might see the hurting little boy just as he is and take care of him.  Certainly we would protect him from the inappropriate terror, his and ours, of placing him in the most powerful political position in the world.

We might also see the broken dreams of the working class and the hopes of the refugee and immigrant, with or without papers.  Perhaps we would see through the paper money walls of our financial skyscrapers and over the bulwarks of our gated communities.  Maybe we would see that these gates, these flimsy walls, are built by and rest on the shoulders of the formerly invisible and now despised.  And we would have compassion for the hunger and fear of every being across this entire spectrum of humanity.

We might see that promoting hollow entertainment all the way to the doorstep of our nearly abandoned White House does not make for good governance.  We might comprehend that the illusionists of “reality TV” can never transform petulance into POTUS.  We might notice that fanning the flames of polarization to sell media ultimately burns away the bonds of healthy community.

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me*

Good news.  The doctor is in.  She’s got our eyes.  They are truly ours.  We can make them new.  We can use them to see a world without borders.  We can peer with them into the heart of each and see the need of all.  But let’s not stop there.

Let’s look up and down, left and right, in and out.  Take in the beauty beyond imagining, the world as it is without the borders of our old eyes.  Absorb the wonders of the created and the unfolding.  Rest in the assurance of a shared enough.

May our true eyes light the path of compassionate action with no attachments.  Perhaps in this way, we will pick up and wield the tool of democracy with better respect and to greater effect.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development, Estes Park, Colorado.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

*Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne.   • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

What Is Truth?

In 2010, Jehanne De Quillan published The Gospel of the Beloved Companion:  The Complete Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  De Quillan is a member of an independent religious order rooted in the Languedoc region of southern France.  The order claims a spiritual lineage to Mary Magdalene, who is said to have come to the region in the first century, bringing with her an original Greek text of her own version of the story of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the early twelfth century, Jehanne De Quillan’s community translated the text into Occitan, the common language of the Languedoc in those times.  They claim to have protected both the Greek and Occitanic versions of the text in the centuries since.  The hidden nature of that protection stems from the early thirteenth century Albigensian Crusade and ensuing Inquisition, a twenty-five-year reign of terror unleashed by the Roman Church in this region, aimed at rooting out and destroying an elevated apostolic status of Mary Magdalene and other perceived heresies.

De Quillan claims, for the first time, to present a modern English translation of the original Greek Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  She does this with the permission, but not universal support of her community, which fears reprisal and persecution even today.  Reading the text, that fear seems justified in the shadow of a centuries old religious patriarchy.

The clear and consistent message of Jesus’s teaching in this gospel is simple, yet deep and very beautiful.  It is this:  The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, a seed of the Living Spirit waiting to be discovered, nurtured and cultivated.  And it is to be lived into the world outside you.

The fruits of this cultivation are described in a lovely vision of a tree at the close of the gospel, with eight levels separated by seven guardians, each to be overcome and left behind before the fruit of the level can be consumed, allowing ascension to the next.  These levels and gates are:

  • level one, the fruit of love and compassion, hidden by the guardian of judgment and wrath
  • level two, the fruit of wisdom and understanding, hidden by the guardian of ignorance and intolerance
  • level three, the fruit of honor and humility, hidden by duplicity and arrogance
  • level four, the fruit of strength and courage, hidden and defended by weakness of the flesh and the illusion of our fears

At the completion of this fourth level, the guardians are replaced by lessons or truths to be learned and fully embodied through the consumption of the fruit of the associated level:

  • level five, consumption of the fruit of clarity and truth, yielding the clarity and truth of our soul with the understanding that we are truly children of the Living Spirit
  • level six, consumption of the fruit of power and healing, yielding the power to heal our own soul
  • level seven, consumption of the fruit of light and goodness, yielding freedom from darkness and a resulting fullness of the light and goodness which is the Living Spirit
  • Having completed these seven levels, the eighth level is granted, which is described as a fierce joy in knowing and being embraced fully by the grace and beauty of the Spirit.

All else is folly.  In this narrative, Jesus is even more explicit than in the canonical gospels about this folly and the oppression practiced by dominant religion through laws, rules and dogma.  At one point, for instance, when challenged about the importance of circumcision, he responds that if God wanted males circumcised, he would cause them to be born that way.  And in his closing admonition to the disciples at the last supper he says, “Tell others of what you have seen, but do not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed you; and do not give a law like the lawgiver, lest you be constrained by it.” Mary Magdalene 35:22

The Gospel of the Beloved Companion reads at heart like a truer version of the Gospel of John.  Why do I say truer?  Somehow it hangs together better.  Whereas John is told by a narrator, this gospel is told in first person by someone who was not only an eye witness, but an intimate participant in the life and teachings of Jesus.

There are simple things.  De Quillan points out, for instance, that when the various events and their locations – which are sometimes different than in John – are plotted on a map, they make more sense in terms of the walking distances of the day.  We don’t have John’s mysterious “disciple whom Jesus loved.” It is unambiguously clear that this is a story told by a woman, Mary, also called the Migdalah, or tower, who is the beloved companion of Jesus.

There is nothing sensational about any of it, and the message at every turn points to the teaching about being born of the Spirit, living as a child of the Spirit, experiencing the Kingdom of God.  But it has a much more whole and human feel throughout:

  • Without making any particular point of it, it is simply clear that what we know as the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine, was actually the wedding of Jesus and Mary.
  • It is clear in this gospel that Mary Magdalene is the Mary of the Mary, Martha and Lazarus household, and they were essentially home base for Jesus during his ministry.
  • There is a different and gender balanced inner core of disciples who consistently understand the message of Jesus. This core includes: the original disciples Thomas and Matthew (referred to as Levi in this book); Mary, Martha and Lazarus; two women called Salome, one of whom is the mother of Peter and Andrew and the other who is the woman we know as the woman at the well; and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who seem to be close friends.
  • The gospel does not try to disguise tension between this group and particularly Peter and Andrew, who challenge Mary at several points, indignant at the idea that Jesus might have told Mary, a woman, things that he did not tell them, or that she, a woman, might better understand the core message and teachings of Jesus than they did.

All of these very human interactions give the book an air of authenticity, as opposed to a story that was augmented or glorified in an artificial manner to prove the divine and extraordinary nature of Jesus.  Jesus is clearly someone sent by the Living Spirit with a message and invitation to his human companions that they, like him, are children of that Spirit.  He invites them to own it and live it.

I say authenticity.  To be clear, when I read this, it rings true to me.

OK, so you may ask the sardonic question of Pilate, which appears in this gospel just as it does in John, “What is truth?”  That is an excellent question when it comes to any scripture and, for most of us, especially the traditional biblical scriptures, which, as we grew up, were presented as ultimate truth.

Let’s ask it again today.  What is truth?

  • Is truth a canon of gospels, letters and visions written and rewritten to suit the tastes of a male hierarchy of patriarchs, three centuries after any fact and in league with the government of Rome?
  • Is truth the Gospel of John, which when read side by side with the Gospel of Mary Magdalene does not hang together with nearly the same consistency and authenticity? I come away from the reading with a sense that John, while certainly a unique and lovely book, was a redaction of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene intended to make it palatable and acceptable to a patriarchal church.
  • Is truth what appears in the traditional gospels to be a systematic denigration of a woman, the only person who consistently in all the narratives stayed by the side of Jesus through his trial, crucifixion and resurrection – the first one to whom Jesus appears and speaks? The institutional church, from the days of canonization forward, has painted Mary as a demoniac and whore.  Her only redeeming quality in that picture is that she is repentant.  I find it more likely that the portrayal of her as someone possessed by seven demons was a male redaction and upending of the vision Jesus gave her of the seven gates to be conquered in the journey to complete experience of the tree of the Living Spirit.  And the casting as a whore seems the ultimate stake of death, hammered through the heart by a male power structure that could not bear the possibility of a woman being the closest disciple and companion to their savior and champion.

What is truth?  By now we know that truth is not historical inerrancy of every word of the canonized scripture.  The inconsistencies are too glaring, the contradictions too complete.

Truth, capital T truth, seems something quite other than facts which can never be firmly established.  Even if, for instance, the Greek text guarded by this spiritual community in Languedoc turned out to be a first century original, there is no guarantee that it is factually true.  Anyone can write a story.

Truth, it seems, is something entirely other than proof positive.  So what is it?  Jackson Browne touches it for me, somehow, in a line from a song titled The Dancer:  “I don’t know what happens when people die.  Can’t understand it as hard as I try.  It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear, I can’t sing it.  I can’t help listening.”

Truth, I believe, is the song sung in a quiet heart.  It is as much a sound as it is an object.  Jesus, in every portrayal, whether canonized or otherwise, is consistent in this.  He says that the children of God, the children of the Living Spirit, are the ones who truly hear his words, who understand them and live them from their hearts.

Truth is the abandonment of wrath and judgment in favor of love and compassion; the eschewing of ignorance and intolerance in favor of wisdom and understanding; the forsaking of duplicity and arrogance to take on honor and humility.  Truth is the journey of the soul toward embrace and union with the light and joy of the Living Spirit.

May we quiet our hearts.  May we hear the song.  May we follow that sound to the Tree of Life, with its fruit in every season and its leaves for the healing of the nations.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

At Risk

Children are said to be “at risk” when certain conditions are present – or absent – in their lives.  A kind and working father is missing.  An abusive or addicted one lurks and festers, a boiling and unpredictable giant behind the front door of our denied safe harbor, the refuge of home after our day negotiating the uncertain and often demeaning paths of the classroom and playground.  Disease, or the need to work two or three jobs have broken the arms of mom’s affection and care.

These things make life harder.  They carve away at confidence and shape a world view.  Often the result, by choice, certainly, but under overwhelming pressure, is a generational cycle of poverty, addiction and despair.  Often, but not always.  There are spirits that in their time choose to climb out of the despair, spirits that find a life that transcends oppression, despite the powerful odds.

I have a neighbor and friend, Gordon, whose body has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease.  In Gordon’s case, the breakdown of the nervous connection between brain and muscles is progressing generally from the outside in, with loss of connection to limbs followed by atrophy and loss of large muscle areas.  Gordon is now in a residential hospice facility, diminished bodily to little more than the ability to talk, chew and breathe.

Gordon demonstrates, he embodies, the choice of spirit to transcend suffering.  He does this so completely that it is crystal clear that Gordon’s body has the disease, Gordon does not.  Gordon’s welcome is wide open, even, it seems, to the adventure of his bodily diminishment.  He names and embraces each loss, without denial of sadness or any of the range of expected emotions, but with full engagement, chapter by chapter.  And he extends his welcome to each visitor and caregiver that enters his sphere.  Many linger beyond their task for the joy and comfort of his tent of presence.  He seems genuinely, equally and seamlessly interested in them, at the same time open and willing to the honest and objective sharing of his own experience.

Gordon’s choice pulls the mask off at-risk.  We tend to think of risk as if it is related to suffering, with the ultimate risk being that we might die.  But we are not ever at-risk of death.  Death is a fact certain.  Our bodies will die, whether for wearing out, in a mass shooting, an accidental misstep or the sudden failure of a heart.  We are, in a certain physical sense, never really at-risk.  There is no maybe, no uncertainty at all.

So what is it that we are at-risk of?  We are, I believe, at risk of fear.  Our fear of death is so overwhelming that we choose delusion and denial.  Our favored weapons are wealth and comfort, the narcotics of a new car, dinner out and a trip to Europe.  These comforts come, always, with hidden attachment to the suffering of others – the animal killed, the poorly paid laborer, the displacement of peasants, the extraction and exhaustion of resources.  They fail, always, to avert the end.

Dylan Thomas, whether in brash arrogance or exploding despair, howls his mandate that we “not go softly into that dark night.”  In my reading, he captures the shock and awe of the certain ultimate removal of the mask of our delusion, with the result being our hollow and futile “rage against the blinding of the light.”

Our desperation to preserve physical life and comfort, in the extremes that we have chosen, seems most likely to correct itself ultimately in extinction, or at least in some future adjustment of mass death followed by nature’s reassertion of its own millennially patient creative and re-creative processes.  Life will urge forward in its evolutionary persistence, with or without the human race.

There is an alternative for us.  We can choose to embrace the gift of our spirit – the Self that is beyond fear, the Self that is the observer of all, attached to nothing – no thing.  We can embrace wonder.  We can choose a life of true risk, the risk of engagement, of compassionate embrace of the full range of joy and suffering.  We need not categorize.  The arms of God are as certain in the air beyond the face of the cliff as they are in the physical rock of our desperate clinging.

Let go.  Feel the splendor of the fall.  Or is it a rise?  No matter.  Embrace it all, with attachment to nothing, and share it with others.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, the all-in-all that is with us, is us, is beyond fear, beyond what we call death.  Science has taught us nothing if not that there is always a further horizon, no true up or down, no large or small.

We grasp in delusion for what we call safety, the opposite of what we falsely conceive as risk, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  But chapters of inevitable diminishment peel away the decaying flesh to reveal the true nature of the naked and unencumbered spirit.  We can delude ourselves all the way to our ultimate collision with despair.  Or we can choose today the reality of the spirit of all that is, living with joy, confidence and compassion under the Tree of Life.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

Is God?

A talk, April 17, 2016 at Journeys, a weekly gathering of spiritual seekers in Estes Park, Colorado.

Here at Journeys we explore matters of faith.  For the most part, we do this from what we would call a progressive Christian perspective.  We take the primarily Christian faith concepts we have grown up with and we ask out loud our honest questions about what seems real, what does not, and what we, as maturing adults, actually believe.  And we take away some thoughts and life applications about these things.  It is good to be in a trusting company of humans where this can happen.

But there is always an unseen elephant in the room – or maybe there isn’t.  Our faith is rooted in a presupposition that there is an ultimate cause – something we have chosen to call God.   As Christians in America, we grew up calling God “Father.”  Jesus was the son of God – somehow in a different way than we are.  Yet we learned that we were created in the image of God.  These concepts, whether we are comfortable with them or not, are rooted deeply in our collective psyche and its expression in our culture.

On the flip side, we grew up in an era where some philosophers and theologians dared to say out loud that God is dead.  In fact, as early as 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

— Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann as quoted in Wikipedia

Many of us remember, exactly fifty years ago this week, the stark red letters on the pitch black background of the April 8, 1966 issue of Time magazine: “Is God Dead?”  As an eighth grader, I remember being shaken significantly by this, too young to explore, process or absorb it with sufficient personal confidence or grounding.

While the conversation was much more nuanced, this seemed, at least to me at the time, the ultimate despairing triumph of science over religion.  It was the penultimate question and thought of the twentieth century, when the explosion of the material seemed at last to have built and nailed shut the lid on the coffin of superstition.

In fact, I have often felt that the only legitimate reality left standing at the end of the twentieth century was a question mark.  The gravity of it all is summed up well in J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous quote of the Bhagavad Gita as he watched the explosion of the first atomic bomb:  “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Not being able, as a 13-year-old, to deal adequately with all of this, I am sure that I chose to repress the question.  But we all know what happens with repression.  The tadpole shoved under the surface of the vast pond of consciousness still becomes the frog, and grows and grows until it ultimately breaks back through the surface with a size and force that will not be denied.

And it is the re-emergence of this monster frog in later life that has given me – given us – the courage and freedom to make these statements, to raise these questions, opening the door to a rich garden of spiritual exploration.  For better or worse, without these statements and events, we would not likely be here doing what we do and having this particular discussion.

So here we are, living the questions.  And today the question is, “What is God?”, or even more bluntly, “Is God?”  You’ll be shocked, I am certain, to learn that I have some thoughts about that.

And here is my basic position.  God is the thoughts we project onto big mystery.  I’ll say that again.  God is the thoughts we project onto big mystery.

Working within the limits of our consciousness, there is really not much else we can say.  In every tradition, God, while made metaphor and personified, is ultimately beyond thought and language.  For each of us, then, that makes God a choice – a matter of belief or disbelief.  Proof positive and complete definition are simply not possible.

It has always been this way.  People in every culture have wrestled with meaning within the limits of knowledge.  And the result of that wrestling has always been a concept of something bigger and other that contributed form and direction for personal and social life.  We need not criticize.  Rather, it is important to realize that for all time, we have been alternately creating God and then killing our creation when it no longer fits plausibly with our current context.  And then we birth God anew.

Emily Dickinson says it well in the closing line of her poem, “This World is Not Conclusion”:  “Narcotics cannot still the tooth that nibbles at the soul”.

So let’s have at it.

First of all, let me say that I choose to believe.  What I mean by that is I choose to believe in something rather than nothing.  Why?  I’m not entirely sure.  I think in large part I do so because I like the way my life works in that orientation.  But choosing to believe begs the question, “What do I believe; what do I believe about God?”.  In my writing on spirituality, I generally shy away from using the term God because of the longstanding Old Man Judging Father in the Sky image conjured by the word in our Western world.  Instead, I tend to use a series of words, “Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.”

Let’s take that apart.

Creator

Creator implies action.  Nearly all world religious traditions view God as creator.  Some people, particularly those we have labeled deists, speculate that God set things in motion and then stepped back, letting natural law and evolution take their course.  God observes, if paying much attention at all, from a very great distance.  We are essentially on our own to figure out the path forward within the confines of our consciousness.  As the classes I was not able to attend here last summer described, some of the founders of our nation were deists and not at all the kind of evangelicals that want to “take back our country for God.”

Others, called theists, also view God as having created or set things in motion.  But they differ from deists in that they believe that God, on an ongoing basis, intervenes to straighten things out.  This has been the general orientation of Western religion.  God created, we messed up, God intervenes.  It is relational, but primarily in the manner of a corrective or redemptive relationship.  We petition God for intervention.  Sometimes God’s intervention comes also on its own, as help or judgment.  Theism, of course, is the dominant position of traditional Christianity.  It is the concept we were taught as children and remains deeply rooted in our collective Western psyche.

The Bible says we are made in the image of God.  While I believe that to be true, the theistic God of the Bible seems more to be made in the anthropomorphic image of us.  We made a big male powerhouse and put him in charge of everyone, especially the women and children.

In truth, it is our discomfort with this deeply rooted theistic concept that brings us to this room every Sunday morning.  We no longer accept the theistic requirements of an anthropomorphized male God and we struggle mightily with the concepts of the fall of humanity and the resulting requirement of blood atonement.

In that regard, most of us actually fall to some extent under another label.  In terms of the traditional Judeo-Christian theistic God, we are a-theists, atheists, not theists.  That is a term that made us shudder in our youth.  It is the horrible and evil “yes” in answer to the question, “Is God dead?”.  And in reality, the theistic God of our older traditions is, beyond occasional metaphorical value, dead.

Abandoning traditional theism, I was happy to encounter another label that, insofar as I actually understand it, works much better for me.  The label is panentheism.

Panentheism is the belief that the something we call God encompasses, interpenetrates and is yet greater and other than the universe.  The word sounds like the more common term, pantheism, but it is much more expansive.  They should not be confused.  The pantheist sees God in nature, in the physical universe, and that’s pretty much that.  The panentheist says there is always more, with limitless attributes of every kind.

The forest sages of the Upanishads, part of the wisdom literature of ancient India, were panentheists.  They labeled this Creator the Self – capital “S” Self – which they described as the immanent, transcendent and essential reality of everything.  Creation emanates from and is the expression of this Self.  Creation returns to the Self.  Creation is Self as action.  Self is.  Self does.  Self is our true personal and transpersonal reality.  Science is our discovery, our observation of the Self in action.

From The Isha Upanishad, as translated by Eknath Easwaran:

The Self is one.  Ever still, the Self is

Swifter than thought, swifter than the senses.

Though motionless, he outruns all pursuit.

Without the Self, never could life exist.

In the panentheistic view, we are actually part of God – this Self of the Upanishads – creating.  Some people say that we co-create, but that implies separation.  In panentheism, we uni-create.  We one-create.  We are not all of God, but we are certainly part of God.  We think.  We move.  And in that very thought and motion, a new world appears that did not exist only moments before.  We one-create in every breath, every thought, every step.  And that is why the chosen nature of each breath, each thought, each step is so important.

God – this Self – is Creator. I believe that when I trust my at-one-ment with God, the great “Is”, the great “I am”, actually works and does and creates as one with me.  I am an active part of the unfolding creative activity of God.  I ride the joyous wave of emanation into the void.  Wow!

God is Creator.

Spirit

Spirit implies conscious but not concrete connection.  Spirit is how we experience God.  We feel, we intuit, we sense synchronicity.  Spirit is Jung’s vast unconscious, the ocean of archetypes bubbling beneath our waking surface.  It breaks through in dreams and moves in our intuition and creativity.  Spirit might be called the “how” of God’s action.  We are touched and infused, we are activated by Spirit.

 

As a panentheist, I believe in God as Spirit.  For me, that means I have a huge trust in God acting in and through me whenever I am not deluded by my little false separated ego-self.  The Upanishads distinguish clearly between the lie of separation and isolation by contrasting, over and over, this small “s” ego self with capital “S” true self.  From The Katha Upanishad:

In the secret cave of the heart, two are

Seated by life’s fountain.  The separate ego

Drinks of the sweet and bitter stuff,

Liking the sweet, disliking the bitter,

While the supreme Self drinks sweet and bitter

Neither liking this nor disliking that.

The ego gropes in darkness, while the Self

Lives in light.  So declare the illumined sages . . .

Paul, in the Christian scriptures, quotes a Greek poet, describing this Self as the one in whom “we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28 NRSV)

In my life I experience Spirit as intuition and revelation, as unexpected insight and the beauty of unfolding relationship.  I see the action of Spirit most clearly when I look over my shoulder and observe the path of life – the nudging, the encounters, the crashes and lessons learned, the blessing of redemptive healing and the sense of direction that all add up to the person I am.  And I rest in trust, in the presence, fullness, loving care and direction of that Spirit, for all that I will become.

God is Spirit.

Mind

Mind is the conscious aspect of God – of this capital “S” Self.  Mind is awareness, the ability to see and to perceive.  Mind is the way we experience.  It is language and its manipulation.  It is the Word from which everything springs.  Mind processes all.  Mind is the mill of creation.  Isolated mind is monkey-mind, full of anxiety, fear and distraction.  Connected Mind is the pure joy of essential experience, the flow of creative ideas and the choice to act with truth and compassion.

The Buddhists capture Mind in the now popular term “mindfulness.”  The wise Buddhist priest, teacher and writer Thich Nhat Hanh urges us to mindfulness in his many books, calling us to undisturbed awareness of the present moment.

Reflecting on the Eucharist in his book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh says:

The practice of the Eucharist is a practice of awareness.  When Jesus broke the bread and shared it with his disciples, he said, “Eat this.  This is my flesh.”  He knew that if his disciples would eat one piece of bread in mindfulness, they would have real life.  In their daily lives, they may have eaten their bread in forgetfulness, so the bread was not real bread at all; it was a ghost.  In our daily lives, we may see the people around us, but if we lack mindfulness, they are just phantoms, they are not real people, and we ourselves are also ghosts.  Practicing mindfulness enables us to become a real person.  When we are a real person, we see real people around us, and life is present in all its richness.

We live within the construct of our limited small “m” mind, bounded by the capabilities of our sense organs.  Our eye sees the world differently than the eye of an eagle, or of a honeybee.  Yet we believe that what we see and feel is what is, exactly and in totality.

The real temptation of the Garden of Eden was the temptation to believe that our individual mind is all, that the small “s” isolated self that we perceive and the world we experience around it is the sum total of existence.  That is a fearsome perspective.  When I stay stuck just in small mind, I fear for my life.  There is never enough to satisfy me and never enough protection.  Lust, greed, anger and violence are the natural responses.

When I live in mindfulness, I am aware of my connection to all around me.  All that is.  And I rest in trust even as I move into the unknown.

God is Mind.  God is the practice of mindfulness.

Source

Source is the alpha and the omega, the eternal continuity, the singularity and totality of God.  It is the very point and location, the wellspring of creation – the place where nothing becomes something, where something becomes other.  It is the place to which the waters return after they have exhausted the work of gravity and evaporated into the wind.  Source is the eternal circle, where any point is the beginning of something and the end of something else, where truly there are no beginning, no middle and no end.  Source is the richness of everything beyond imagination, the bottomless shopping bag of creation.

Think of Source as both the center and the perimeter of a spinning wheel.  At the absolute center, there is complete stillness.  Theoretically there must be this stillness because the top of the wheel above is moving in one direction, while the bottom of the wheel below is moving at the same speed in the opposite direction.  Source is that still center of the wheel.

And source is the perimeter, the place where the spinning wheel meets the road.  When a wheel is rolling down the road, there is actually no movement whatsoever at the place where the wheel touches the pavement.  Stillness in motion, something from nothing.

Source is the infinite smallness and vastness of all that is – the particle we will eventually observe that, acting with energy, makes up the Higgs Boson; and the endless expanse we may speculate beyond the perimeter of the known universe.

Again from The Upanishads, a sort of benediction of Source:

 

All this is full.  All that is full.

From fullness, fullness comes.

When fullness is taken from fullness,

Fullness still remains.

God is Source.

So there you have it, my projection onto big mystery.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.  I’ve gone and done it – made God in the image I want – made myself in the image of God.  Just another human’s elephant.  But I like my elephant.  I feel safe in its presence.  It guides my path when I trust and follow it.  It leads me by still waters and restores my soul.

Sometimes I catch glimpses of it.  It is alive in the gift of relationship with Leonor.  I hear it in the ripple of water over stone in the Fall River.  I share it in the breath of conversation together here in this room.  I look over my shoulder, I stand in the present, I trust and become the road ahead.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

 All this is full.  All that is full.

From fullness, fullness comes.

When fullness is taken from fullness,

Fullness still remains.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

The Super Bowl, Election 2016 and God in America

It was a whizz-bang week – the final presidential candidate debates before the New Hampshire primary capped off by the 50th Super Bowl.  God bless America, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Beyoncé and certainly Peyton Manning.  And fighter jets.  And the pyrotechnics.  And Wilson.  And Hyundai.  And CBS.  And the pill that remedies various colon related issues that prevent us from success in our daily conquest.

The Western Christian narrative of God and humanity has been one of separation and not connection, a fierce, frantic and fearful individualism.  A whole host of problems arise with this.  First, there is the underlying sense of alienation and isolation, resulting in chronic anxiety and uncertainty.  We are never quite sure, short of less than satisfying dogmatic formulas, whether we are safe or not.  Am I forgiven – enough?  Am I saved?  Is it really possible that God hears me when I pray?  How can I get that right and be sure?  Is there even God?

The flip side of the uncertainty is vain over-confidence.  I am all-powerful.  I can do anything.  The world is my playground.  You just don’t get it.  Get out of my way.  Stupid you if you don’t have enough.

Oscillating between these two poles, we exhaust ourselves.  The existential angst is never relieved, the material satiation is never enough, the domination is never complete.  We are a sometimes weary people in need of greater and greater assurance, no matter how shallow or hollow the language, no matter how sensational the show.

There are those that would say this separation, this individualism, is exactly the triumph of the West – that our belief in the power of the individual and the application of that belief in the material realm have created all that is good in the world.  We have imposed order on chaos, driven out superstition with real medicine, turned raw materials into comfort and pleasure and, through accumulation of wealth transformed into overwhelming force, assured the safety of humanity.

Certainly much that is good has been accomplished.

But back on the panic side of our void, our concept of prayer remains characterized alternately by begging or claiming – as if we are constantly but inadequately grasping at something that is not quite ours.  We need demonstrable proof, sure results.  The tornado lifted when it came to my house.  Or it didn’t because I didn’t pray hard enough.  Superstorms and terrorist threats are God’s judgment on “the gay lifestyle.”  We dash about and shout our certain proclamations.  And we allocate more money to put a material or military patch on the mess to keep it all from falling apart.

Presidential politics in 2016 reflects the fever pitch of our bifurcated anxiety.  It’s as if the deep underlying infection of isolation and desperation is finally forming a boil, a small and intense festering that burns under the thinnest layer of decaying skin, ready to burst.

The infection is spiritual.  It is not religious.  It is not political.  It is not tied to one economic system or another.  One candidate epitomizes the bluster and desperation.  And only one comes close to naming the underlying spiritual vacuum and disconnect that rules our discontent – the fire that drives our fever toward the threshold between morbidity and mortality.  When Senator Sanders pulls back the curtain masking unfettered greed, he touches, without fully naming, our great hunger and despair.

I am not suggesting at all a vote of any sort.  No party, candidate or election can salve the infection of our soul.  Nor am I recommending that we shut off the Super Bowl.  But I am inviting us to see, to understand, to absorb and to embrace the nature of the illness.  And I am suggesting we can cure it with a change of orientation.

It is our isolation that fuels our insatiable hunger.  And it is our underlying narrative of separation that walls us off from the deep satisfaction and power of existence.  Believing conquest and satiation to be the elixirs of at least happiness, if not eternal life, we drive pedal to the metal toward the brink of extinction.

There is a different way, a different orientation, a different direction in which to look.  The forest sages of ancient India captured it so clearly in the Upanishads.  Through the practice of stilling the mind and quiet observation, these sages document a Self, immanent and transcendent, that is the loving essence of each one and every thing.  It is as if the flashing stream of still pictures that create the illusion of motion has been stilled, and the space between revealed to be something entirely other, a space without fear, a limitless expanse of satisfaction and creative bliss, a place beyond need or desperate grasping.

No matter what or how much it consumes, the separate ego is never satisfied.  And our belief that we are disconnected beings in a world we increasingly understand as only material, accelerates us exponentially toward exhaustion and annihilation on the wings of glittering despair.

Mastery of our lust comes from understanding and turning away from isolation and toward connection, away from insatiability and toward satisfaction.  It comes from abandoning fear in favor of trust, and willful grasping in favor of willing service.

And, ultimately, it comes from embracing our true Self, the Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source that is the light, the eternal energy and limitless love we begin to glimpse between the moving frames of our desperation.  We are not separate and fallen.  We only blind ourselves with the fear born of our limited consciousness and chosen view.  We are Spirit, experiencing the material.  Touch without owning, look without lusting, enjoy without hording.  There is enough.  Our greatness already is and has no vital connection to anything at all in the halftime show or ads or victor yet to come in Super Bowl 51, no critical dependence on the outcome of election 2016.

Embrace it under the Tree of Life.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

Where is God?

Nothing cuts to the chase quicker than evil and suffering when it comes to the question of where or what is God.   Or for that matter, “Is God?”

Inevitably, the Holocaust comes up in the discussion.  Are you Frankl or Wiesel?  And terrorist attacks, with responses that range from “We will not be afraid.  Our love will conquer all,” to the Donald Trump trample.  And the potpourri of painful ways that life comes to an end.

The answers seem glib.  We point to various interpretations of the Book of Job.  We give up the concept of omnipotence, because a loving God cannot possibly be an all-powerful God and let this stuff happen.  We say that God is standing by – or with us – in the thick of it – or that God is judging and blessing in turn, based on our behavior.

Buddhism has the slickest answers in nonjudgment and the nature of life being suffering.  But those seem too easy.  They ring hollow in the face of our yearning for meaning.

Inevitably our answers, whether hardline zingers or thoughtful stories, fall short.  They are too empty or too full.  One answer undermines another.  And still, the suffering continues.

God, ultimately, is the thoughts we project on Big Mystery.  And Big Mystery is really big – or small, depending on our frame of reference and where we look.  For all we know there are an infinite number of universes in every Higgs Boson.

We throw our concepts and stories at it to see what sticks.  It all falls short.  We fall short.  Our consciousness is just not yet that well developed, if our consciousness is even anything at all.

We are left with speculation and choices.  Do we choose faith?  If so, faith in what?  Go ahead and try to answer – you, me, Job, the kid next door.  We slam our books on the table with condemnations to hell and a gunshot to send us there.

To what end?  We don’t know.  We just seek meaning and relevance.  Some little path forward.  Who can blame us for that?

As for me, I choose to believe that there is, indeed, a balm in Gilead.  I just want to.  Isn’t that enough?

I believe that when my wife and I dream the very same dream in a given night, that when we show up at the same time at a favorite haunt, from different points of origin and not a word spoken in advance, that there is more – that it is good, that there is healing, that the ultimate word written on our hearts is love.

And from there, all our choices unfold, and they all matter.  Not because there is anything certain that can be pinned down under them, but because something completely ineffable has spoken in our mitochondria – deeper, even, in the empty spaces between whatever particles form us, if those things are particles at all.  And that ineffable something has found its ways through our synapses and into our muscles, our visions and the words we speak to each other, the touch we share and the kindnesses exchanged.

Somehow it is better that way.  And so I believe.  I believe that we are the awakening of consciousness in its steady progression into the void, that we ride the very curl of the wave of creation.  I believe we shape that wave in all our intentions and connections, just like we shape our images of God.  And I choose together and not alone.  Where is the separation?  Can you find it?  Can you see any reality in it at all?

Somehow that awakening contains the full spectrum, insofar as we know it, of pain and beauty, of suffering and healing, of bloom and demise.  Our choice is to embrace or reject.  We cannot change it.

Let’s join in the embrace.  Please!  Come with me, will you?  Let’s sit together, under the Tree of Life.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

EP News Business Builder AdJerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

ISIS, Paris and the Fight for Dominance

ISIS this week brought its bloody bully show to the world media stage in the City of Light.  We are saddened and disgusted by the loss of innocent lives in Paris, guilty only of being different.  We grieve with the bereft and hurt with the wounded.  We are twisted with angst that people disparage their own lives for the sole purpose of doing violence to others.  How can this happen in the modern world?  Will it happen to me?  How can we stop it?  What can it possibly be about?

Ultimately, all fights are about dominance.  We perceive someone or something to be a threat to our wellbeing.  Something about them makes us afraid that our particular way of life, our daily existence, is at risk.  We respond with force.

A toddler wants control of a toy.  Another toddler takes possession.  A sense of violation takes over.  Words or blows are exchanged, followed by tears and rage employed to elicit the intervention of a higher power to enforce justice.

Really, that is all there is:

  • A fundamentalist wants their god to dominate all others.
  • A mining company wants a peasant’s land.
  • A racist wants safety from and control over people of different skin pigmentation.
  • A man wants to dominate a woman.
  • A consumer wants the latest gadget for a life of no bother.

Violence ensues, whether in person or by proxy.

Good teachers and parents show children the value of sharing and cooperation.  But the world around us teaches other lessons.  At the end of the day, people are wounded and die.  Some are beheaded or torn to bits in a suicide bombers’ blast.  Most, truly, are the innocent casualties of another’s war.  Iraq Body Count estimates somewhere between 146,000 and 166,000 violent civilian deaths since the 2003 United States invasion.  When combatants are added in, the toll rises to 224,000.  When secondarily related deaths are counted (a person in need of medical services or other life necessities they cannot access because of the war), the toll rises to over one-half million (see Huffington Post).  And that is just one of today’s many wars.

Whether we are a toddler, a religion, an economic system or a nation, we see dominance as the antidote for our fears.  And we set all good teaching and rationality aside, spending any resource to preserve our wounded ego and supposed safety through the use of force.

It does not work.  Hitler rose to power by channeling collective fear into violent domination.  The whack-a-mole response of World War II put an end to that only to yield the greater horror of nuclear annihilation and the super-power struggles of the Cold War.  And no military or terrorist action by anyone in any place since then has achieved a lasting peace as a net result of the violence applied.  Humanity ultimately seems cowed only by the insanity of mutually assured destruction.

Is that what we want?  Whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Atheist; whether American, Iraqi, Malaysian or Saudi; whether capitalist, socialist, communist or military dictator; whether retiree, school teacher, cashier or toddler on the playground, we make our choices.  We make them in each breath.

Will we make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil choice, the one that says there is not enough and that every other being is a competitor and a threat to our existence?  Will we strike out in violence, large or small, overt or subtle, to secure what is never more than a temporary chimera of control?  This happens each day at every level, from the battle to dominate our little vehicular turf on the highway to the unfathomable resources thrown into the assertion of military force.

Or will we learn the Tree of Life lesson of all our good teachers – everyone from the Buddha to Jesus to Mohammed to Mr. Rogers?  Life works when we listen to others and share.  Life works when we give up dominance, altogether, in favor of mutually assured satisfaction.

Life works, in fact, when we are willing to suffer the blow delivered by another and return only compassion and kindness.  There is never a victory through violence.  There is never ultimate security in threat.  We win only when we give up the fight altogether and show another way.  And so we teach our children.  But we refuse to believe it and live it in every breath and aspect of our adult lives.

Love your enemy.  Turn the other cheek.  Walk the second mile.  There is nothing passive about these things.  All are active assertions of a better way.  The Tree of Life grows surely at the end of that road.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

Syria, Guatemala, the Twin Towers and the Tree of Life

Syrian and African refugees are flooding Europe.  Foreign ministers of the EU huddle in angst to find a solution to the crisis.  A little boy lapped by the waves on the beach captures our heart, a heart that we believe helpless to solve either the hostilities of the terrorist threat or the plight of the poor.  Meanwhile thousands upon thousands of Central Americans flee gang and narco-violence only to be housed in detention centers for children in Texas.  We, with Hungary, dream of a better wall.

In 1954 the US Central Intelligence Agency, in league with United Fruit Company, Congress, President Eisenhower and the US Department of State, overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala.  The New York Times, Time Magazine and the rest of the major media of the day swallowed the manufactured anti-communist rhetoric, reporting persistently and with favor what in reality was a thin charade of a military coup against a very democratic regime.  The agricultural land and labor of the indigenous people of Guatemala were the true prize.

Alas, it didn’t work out so well and ultimately required millions of dollars of arms, annually, to support successive regimes of oppression in the slaughter or disappearance of an estimated 250,000 Guatemalans, mostly indigenous, in the years between then and the early 1990’s.  Today, US and Canadian mining and agricultural interests quietly pursue the same business, in league with governments to engineer trade pacts that pave the way for the interests of wealth at the expense of the powerless.  We are blind and complicit in our convenient comfort.

The Guatemalan people, once again last week, spoke up, peacefully and successfully, to unseat the latest propped up corrupt president – a seeming victory.  But let’s read the history.  Anyone elected who intends to act in the best interests of all the citizens of Guatemala faces North American defamation and, as likely, murder for their efforts.  The best interests of all the citizens of Guatemala do not align with the insatiable hunger of the powers that be.

Greed fuels the engine of power abused.  Violence and despair are its polluted exhaust.  And there is no limit to the sophistication and depravity of lies and destruction that, unchecked, may be served up to keep that turbine whirling.

Fourteen years ago this week, these same powers co-opted the destruction of the World Trade Center towers as the demon of terrorism to mask yet another generation of violence in the Middle East.  The bitter fruit of that story is no different than that of Guatemala.  Hundreds of thousands, mostly civilian, lie dead (only thousands of our own, a cynically acceptable return on investment) in an ecological, social and political waste land that cranks out profits beyond the pale for military and oil contractors.  And the embedded press, as always, missed the story entirely, serving up the dulling Kool-Aid® of terrorist threat to a complacent and willing public.

Time will tell whether the demise of those buildings and lives served only as serendipitously convenient cover or whether, just like in 1954, this was an orchestrated sleight of hand to camouflage greed beyond imagination.   No matter at this point.  Violence and greed breed poverty and oppression, paving the way for trafficking and profiteering of all kinds.  Terrorists, drug lords, pimps and gang leaders are no more than a distracting by-product.  The immigrant crisis in Europe and the United States is not the problem of those that are fleeing.  Nor is it the result of the immediate violence that pushes these poor people, at last, to embrace the risk and humiliation of their plight.  Rather, it is the fruit of the soil tilled by the heart of greed.

There is no political or military solution, friends.  There is no magical system or policy.  And our Band-Aid® social and relief programs address only symptoms, not the disease.  There is only our willful refusal to connect the dots all the way back to the root and make the choice for which we are responsible.

When we are stuck in the fear of death under the metaphorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we respond with greed, violence and the abuse of power.  We do this as individuals.  And the heart we choose as individuals becomes the collective heart of our institutions of commerce, religion and government.  These work together seamlessly to mask our bottomless fear, hunger and despair.

When the individuals at the helm of obscene wealth and its political, covert and military minions come to terms with the empty depravity of their abusive choices; when we as citizens of privilege are willing to face our complicity in blind addiction to comfort, we may find and embrace the solution to both the misery of the oppressed and the wake of violence that flows in to fill the void of our desecration.

We are neither helpless nor irreparably fallen.  We have a choice.  There is enough.  We are each and all responsible.  When we turn to live under the Tree of Life, we choose to embrace rather than oppress the powerless.  We refuse to create an enemy that masks and justifies the violence of our greed.  And we harvest the fruit of goodness instead of the bitter and rotten fruit we feed to the refugees of our depravity.

Conversion and salvation are not the easy mouthing of the name of Jesus.  They are, rather, the conscious and practiced choice of maturity, of becoming the true Self of compassion and kindness we are intended and able to be.  Come Lord Jesus.  Come Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna and Aunt Susie.  Come you and me, with nothing but the desire to heal our hearts, in rest and sharing under the Tree of Life.  It is there, for our choosing, at the center of the City of Our Source, with its fruit in every season and its leaves for the healing of the nations.  (Revelation 22: 2)

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© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar to be notified of future posts.

Announcing Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development

Friends and travelers, with this post I am announcing the launch, in Estes Park, Colorado, of Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Think spiritual fitness center.  Think practice for growth and maturation of our Vital Essence, our connection and oneness with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

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For all the richness of our various religious traditions, we have for the most part built them on a foundation of separation from our Creator.  Augustine the Roman outmaneuvered Pelagius the Celt in the Christian tradition to ensconce the fall over celebration of original goodness.  Our myths and rituals are about appeasing and placating the gods we have created, begging their recognition and touch, hoping for redemption, salvation and eternal life.

In our deluded embrace of the fall, we lose ourselves in fear of physical annihilation, of death, of no longer being.  And we turn, individually and in our societies, to greed, hoarding and violence in a panicked and futile attempt at physical preservation.  Indeed, we lose sight of, we forget Ourselves.  We search for paths home, never recognizing that in reality we never left the house.  The path never left us.  The path is Us.  The path is Home and We are there.  Our blindness and isolation are chosen and habitual illusions.

Redemption is the choice to wake up, to open our eyes, to see Ourselves.  Salvation is breathing the Breath of Our Being with rest and no fear.  Eternal life is the practice of willing connection, of embracing Our True Nature.  Dropping the scales from our vision; unlocking the chains of our delusion; shedding the shell of our fear: these things take practice, practice, practice.

Two Trees Center is a place of practice, a place of celebration and nurture of connection, not separation.  It is a place to greet, to embrace and to practice our True Nature, the Word written on our hearts, the Eternal Breath of Our Spirit, Our True Self, Our Calling.

At Two Trees Center you will draw freely on every aspect of our rich heritages.  You will learn to own and take responsibility for our present and presence.  And you will find your light to shine on the creative path forward.

The initial manifestation of the Center is in the practice of spiritual direction, of greeting and accompanying each other on the path.  It is already happening in conversations at my dining room table, on mountain paths and by video connection.

The Center will grow.  Likely next steps include group spiritual direction and classes to develop practices like centering prayer and meditation.  It may bloom further into new ways of celebrating our connection – ways that honor and build on the best practices of our various traditions and new ways that well up in the Spirit of Now.  And always, Two Trees Center will foster and nurture the expression of our True Connection in lives of compassionate service.

You need not abandon your tradition to participate any more than you need to abandon your home in order to go to the gym.  Come as you are.  Celebrate as you are.  Become Who You Are.  The first step is to recognize and embrace a yearning to be the True Emanation of Spirit, the Word of Love and Breath of Life from which You spring and to which You belong.

The second step is to send an email, voicemail, text or instant message that says “I am coming.”  Come in person.  Come by the cloud.  Take courage today.  Choose Life and Your True Self.  Contact Two Trees Center to partner with you, to nurture you, to celebrate with you on the path to your True Home under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW in the upper left menu bar (way, way up near the top of your screen : ) to be notified of future posts.

Mennonites, Sexuality and the Abuse of Scripture

Delegates to the Mennonite Church USA convention this week passed three resolutions regarding human sexuality.  The first, supported by more than two-thirds of those gathered, affirmed a stance of forbearance, or tolerance, for practices in the church that reflect deeply held beliefs of many, but are in direct conflict with the one man/one woman marriage clause of the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective.  The second resolution, in direct contradiction of the spirit of the first and passed by just over a majority, reaffirmed the confession as it stands and tabled consideration of changes in confession language for a period of four years.  The third resolution named and repented a generation of brushing over the sexual abuse perpetrated by a prominent Mennonite theologian, bringing finally to full light an exceedingly slow and painful journey for the victims who steadfastly refused the darkness.

Let me be perfectly clear.  Thousands of us in the Mennonite Church are firm in our stance in support of inclusion and broken-hearted by what is at best an extension of tenuous tolerance by the church.  And we are dismayed in our souls by the grinding inertia of a body of believers whose roots are deep in radical transformation of society and the church.  Somehow we keep missing trains that have long ago left the station.  We arrive at what might have been prophetic voice a generation late, the potential public witness having slipped through our fingers, the sands of dynamic time in a heap of entropy on an increasingly empty platform.

A people originally martyred for their courageous stance against a church lost in the abuses of control and power have grown up and become the dragon they once dared to face.   The most hopeful events of the convention took place in the heartrending songs of solidarity sung with brave and gentle protesters outside the doors of the official gatherings.  And the pervasive sense of a meagerly attended convention was one of discouragement and weariness under a thin and tattered veil of praise band rah-rah.

Sixteen hundred years ago the intended bride of Christ eloped with the government of Rome at the altar of Augustine.  Despite the various reforms and the occasional bright spots of true social transformation initiated and carried forward by the prophetic few, we have dumbed ourselves down almost every day since.  Our view has been one of an irretrievably fallen creation, connected to its bloodthirsty author by a closed canon of scripture read through the lens of violent sacrifice.  We choose the easy path of institutional judgment and control, expressed through burdens of guilt, alleviated through sacraments meted by the priestly caste to masses numbed out by empty and mindless repetition of the sweet name of Jesus.  In this we mock the very one who died inviting each so powerfully to freedom from political, social and religious oppression.

We need an entirely new and far more expansive faith and view of scripture, a view that sees us unequivocally created in the image, enlivened by the very breath of God – creatures with the gift of choice tooled into our minds and the Word of Love written on our hearts.

Scripture, dear friends, was written for people and by people.  It is the human record of our slow waking to our connection and oneness with our Divine Creator.  It is useful.  It is not finished.  You, and your Aunt Susie, too, were granted every gift of Adam, of Rahab, Ruth and Jesus, the one who over and over called us brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of God.  We just will have none of it.

True scripture explodes outside the cover of any book.  It is never, never, never beaten into swords to wear down and crush the weary.  It is the Word of Love, written for all time on the walls of our hearts, expressed in every breath of creation.  And when we read that Word in the depth of our spirit, we know that we are one – not just in relationship with each other but truly one.  And when we trust and yield to it, we celebrate and welcome the other, for they are us.

Sexuality through the lens of that faith, that scripture, looks entirely different.  It is the gift of deep beauty, the flowering of our embodiment.  Each bloom is lovely.  The only possible profanity is the wanton destruction of our own bloom or that of another through acts of disrespect, shame and abuse.

Our twisted view and discomfort with sexuality lie largely at the feet of Augustine, who projected his own distraught struggle with and rejection of God’s good gift so effectively and pervasively, now for more than a millennium and one half, onto the life of the church.  It fits so neatly with institutional control and power, and with our own refusal to accept the goodness of creation in the sexuality of every living being.  We are complicit in our abdication of freedom in favor of the sword of guilt and shame, granted freely to the hand of our ready institutions.

Time is long past to stop bashing each other with a wearied and sorely abused book, squandering the opportunity for our own salvation, freedom and relevant public witness.  The Word of Love is profoundly simple.  And its beauty is expressed with glory in the flower of our sexuality.  We must embrace, nurture and celebrate this beautiful gift, with deep respect and welcome for all.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype. Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Dylann Roof and the Invitation to Transformation

On June 19, 2015, in a courtroom in Charleston, South Carolina, members of the families of the shooting victims of Dylann Roof, one by one, addressed Mr. Roof with words, not of reconciliation, but of forgiveness and the invitation to his own transformation.

In the words of Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of the murdered Daniel Simmons:  “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win.”

These were words of deep maturity, of great strength and power of spirit.  These were the words of people who have made the arduous journey of transformation from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.  They speak volumes to each of us and to our society, a society that more naturally turns to the language of vengeance than to the invitation to transformation.

Transformation is the movement from the lie to the truth.  It involves abandoning the lie of violent protection of the defended self and moves to open and compassionate engagement.  It is an assertive and passionate stance that postures itself in fearless non-defense as it presents its invitation to compassionate connection.

Transformation is all encompassing.  True transformation addresses every corner, every action and interaction of life.  The big transformation reflected in these people’s beautiful statements does not happen without continual loving attention to the mundane.  I want to drive the same streets as these people.  I want to meet them when the clerk cannot solve my problem at the checkout counter, when my computer crashes and the washing machine breaks down.  I want to be them when my neighbor hates cats or believes something not true about me.

Transformation denies nothing.  Rather, it feels all fully, expresses all truly and then makes the choice of non-defensive invitation.  I cannot say this more clearly than to use the words of Nadine Carter, daughter of the slain Ethel Lance: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

Transformation is not distracted.  Rather, it is present and engaged.  This is no small thing in contemporary culture, a culture of the numbing distraction of the material packaged in the seductive pill of perpetual media.  The transformed life is practiced and lived in active presence, not in passive distraction.

Transformation addresses the heart, not the periphery of the matter.  Change happens by planting and nurturing the right seeds, not by trying to stick new leaves on old trees.  The courts will perform the duty of public safety by placing necessary physical constraints on Dylann Roof.  And to the extent of the law, they may go beyond that, in expression of the tree of our broader culture, by acting out violent retribution.  Aside from limited safety, nothing changes in this model.  But these profound people, instead, have offered Mr. Roof the seeds of true transformation in the gift of forgiveness, the invitation to repentance (change of heart and mind) and the call to engagement of new life through the path of transformation.

Transformation is for people and affects systems.  It is true that we need systems that reflect transformation.  But systems only reflect the condition of the collective soul.  Our collective soul reflects, increasingly, massive greed masked by perpetual distraction and enforced, ultimately, by violence.  Johnny Appleseed grew apple trees by planting apple seeds.  True transformation of systems happens through the constant invitation to and nurture of individual change.  Dylann Roof, dear friends, has been invited.

Transformation is a choice.  In fact it involves one choice after another, with practice.  Like musicians who have mastered their instrument through years of focused practice, these fine people have achieved mastery of their lives through abandonment of defended ego in favor of compassionate connection and engagement.

Ultimately, transformation is the singular journey of our life.  It is the journey home, the journey from isolated small “s” self to connected capital “S” Self.  It is the journey that transcends suffering and death, that recognizes and clings to the eternal and relinquishes the temporal.

May we each have the courage to engage transformation and practice it with the persistence demonstrated by these amazing people.  May we abandon isolated and defended ego in the embrace of fearless connection.  May we invite others – even those who would kill us in hatred with the hands and feet of fear – may we invite them to join us under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The Spirit of Willingness on the Wave of Creation

Last year I lived in a completely secular cooperatively owned housing complex.  Each person was there for their own reason, with the common denominator being affordability.  Each brought, consciously or otherwise, their own set of enacted values which, as a whole, shaped the character and life of the community.  I learned in spades the difference that each individual choice and action made in the quality of life and relationships.  Careful attention to full awareness of the other and to actions that strengthened relationships and built community yielded palpable and tangible changes in the nature and spirit of daily life.  Attitudes of selfishness and defense contributed equally powerful results in another direction.

There is a sweet spot of rest and action for our spirit.  It rides the crest of the wave of creation – the push of energy into the void, the place where sound and light – the Word of Creation and the Spirit that carries and speaks it – manifest as something new, another beauty, in the world as we know it, the world as it becomes.

I can perceive myself as alone on that crest, as an isolated individual, a singular atom or particle that must fight for protection, the avoidance of destruction in what seems like a violent rush forward into the unknown.  My action response is willfulness.  Willfulness pushes out to force into being what I hope will be a safe and protective space.  Willfulness grabs for resources that I think will sustain me against the rush.  In willfulness, I believe I am using my own power to protect and preserve myself and my little space against a scary and unpredictable world.

But the truth is, I have no singular power.  I possess nothing that is uniquely mine.  And my only achievement when I believe and act otherwise is to create an insubstantial lie, an illusion of security that will crash, burn and drift to nothingness, certainly at the time of my physical demise if not before.

There is a paradox of singularity and oneness on that glorious wave crest.  I am, indeed, a spot and spark of awareness, a phosphorescence – something perhaps analogous to the bioluminescent organisms in the bay at Vieques, off Puerto Rico.  My actions and intentions matter.  They matter because I am, whether or not I like it or believe it, connected to the whole.

When I act alone with willfulness, I create a small scar, something that does not fit and flow in the creative surge.  I hinder the curve and curl in my brief moment.  And I may destroy the hope and creative activity of those around me, all those with whom I am in direct or indirect relationship.

But when I recognize and rest in my connection to broader spirit and act from a posture of willingness, I flow forward with confidence.  And I am aware of the others flowing forward around me.  I see their spark, I understand our connection in the wave.  I realize that beauty and community depend on and respond to both my restful connection and my acts of intention.  I contribute to the luminous glow, the shape and texture of the curl as creation advances.

We are not, as we falsely tell ourselves, alone under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We are one under the Tree of Life.  Willfulness blinds us to this truth, throwing up barriers of fear that cause pain and brokenness in our immediate and extended relationships.

Willingness opens to the whole, with an understanding that our creative power is one, a point of lovely and loving energetic awareness on the leading edge of the complete breath of God/Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source as it pushes forward in its surge to beauty and being on the edge of the void.  Rest in the flow.  Open your light with willingness, yielding up its luminescence to join with others, as far as your relaxed awareness will take you on this ride to all that will be.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

Forgiveness II: Our Emotions Are Our Teachers and Not Our Rulers

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”  (Jesus to Peter, Matthew 18: 22, NRSV on the question of how often to forgive)  Stuff just doesn’t go away that easily.  It’s not so much that someone has wronged us seventy-seven times.  It’s more that we keep working on the wrongs that really nail us over and over and over.  The encouragement, I believe, is not to be a fool and allow the same person to harm us seventy-seven times – the delightful wallow of co-dependence – but rather to keep working it out, keep working it out.

Whatever the cause of a deep pain, our overwhelming response is anger, the desire for revenge and even hatred of another.  These are natural emotional efforts to protect ourselves.  It hurts.  I’ve been wounded.  I have lost things that cannot be recovered.  There are scars.  The wounds may be physical, psychic or both.

Here’s the thing.  We need our emotions to be our teachers and not our rulers.  We need our emotions to be our teachers and not our rulers.  The first seventy-five times we work at forgiving someone in our head we are probably just learning that lesson.  The problem is that we feel bad about the emotions – the fact that we are still angry about having to give our perpetrator a Get Out of Jail (or Get Out of Hell, as the case may be) Free Card.

Emotions jump up and tell us that we have been hurt, that we have been violated, that we are suffering and in need of repair because of the actions of another.  Pay attention.  These are messengers.  We need compassion.  We need care.  We need healing.

Our Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil response is to let these emotions become our rulers.  OK, anger, take charge.  This feels good.  Let’s get violent, whether in thought, word or deed.  Whether in aggression that is active or cloaked in passivity.  Let’s break some china.  Let’s destroy some things, deliver the pain that will bring this sum back to zero.  Let’s take it a step further to teach a lesson and win the game.  Be done with this sucker.

All of this is compounded by the deep wounds of childhood, wounds that happened before we had any clue of how to deal with them.  Wounds when we were innocent and did not even know that the world should not be, or might not be like the world we were experiencing.  Seventy times seventy times seventy, the iteration and years of learning and coming to terms with these wounds.

Under the Tree of Life, our emotions are our teachers and not our rulers.  They tell us that our little manifestation of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source has been wounded.  We need protection and shelter.  If we are wise, we will give true heed to the inclinations for fight or flight, and we will make, for us, the best choice about the immediate and longer term path out of danger.

Ultimately, perhaps around cycle seventy-six of our desire for revenge, we may begin to understand the edict that we love our neighbor as our self.  We begin to love our self.  We hear our own pain and respond with compassion.  We see our wounds and apply the dressings, or find the person who can help us apply them.  We sit with our self.  Our capital S eternal Self beyond all harm sits, and holds, and cries, and rocks and soothes our small s manifested and wounded self.  We gift our self the Breath of Life that cools, the Healing Water that cleanses, the Leaves of the Tree that create the balm of protection and restoration.

And when seventy-seven rolls around, we might just be ready to turn to our neighbor, our father, our mother, our colleague, the perpetrator of our hurt.  We turn and we offer, from our Self to their self, the seat of welcome and restoration.  Come sit beside me, here, beneath the Tree of Life, with its fruit in every season and its leaves for the healing of the nations.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

It’s Not Always Clear

It’s not always clear, the path forward.  Our vision is limited.  There are far too many factors to weigh.  Feelings are a roller coaster ride from day-to-day, and then there is the vast unknown.  If I go left, will I be right?  If I go right, am I wrong and left behind?  Could‘a, would‘a, should‘a are crying from the back seat and the whole trip begins to seem like a sham.

“Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!”  (Fred Hillebrand, 1932)  We walk by faith, not by sight (Paul, 2 Corinthians 5: 7).  Fear and misgivings are the roadblock, the isolated ego cowering in the corner.

In the three worlds,
there is nothing I must do,
nothing unattained to be attained,
yet I engage in action.

What if I did not engage
relentlessly in action?
[Humans] retrace my path
at every turn, Arjuna.

As the ignorant act with attachment
to actions, Arjuna,
so wise [folk] should act with detachment
to preserve the world.

(Krishna to the wilting Arjuna in The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, The Third Teaching:  Discipline of Action; 22-24, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Bantam Classic Edition, 1986)

Creation is the path forward.  Something from nothing.  Or something new, something that has never been, as the next step from all that is.  Beautiful, joyful.  There is no wrong path in faith, there is only the next step of creation on the road ahead.

Faith, by nature, is blind.  It is not ignorant.  Faith is based on the experience of goodness and beauty that result when we act while resting in the Spirit of all that is.  Even God, I think, has no idea what is going to happen next.  Let’s take a step and see!

What matters is not where we are walking to, but where we are walking from.  If we are walking from a place of fear and defense, our steps will falter and creation suffers.  If our steps are from a place of joy, kindness and compassion, the beauty of the universe unfolds with us, just far enough ahead to meet our foot as it greets the path of creation.

When we are attached to what we think is/will be the outcome of our action, we falter.  We have no idea of any outcomes.  Or if we do have that idea, we fool ourselves.  We can never know all the implications before we act, or the outcome of a different course.

Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!  Home to the Tree of Life.  Create with joy.  Create with kindness.  Create with compassion.  Put the paintbrush to the canvas, in faith, and see.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

We Are One

I speak of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, one of a million inadequate names for that which we commonly call God.  In the very use of the name, of any name, I imply separation.  But we are not separate.  Separation has been our perennial blinder.  We are One.

Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we hide in our shame because, in our awakening to awareness of our surroundings, we believe we are separate.  We have a sense of self.  All good and true, that sense of self.  But at the same time, We are One.

We think, rightly, of creation as the work of C/S/M/S.  Creation is, in fact, the very outbreath of the energy of C/S/M/S.  Because we can observe it, we are tempted to think we are not part of it.  But even as we are gifted, in our limited capability, to look deeper and deeper into the infinite marvel of creation, we are the very thing itself.  We are One.

All of our anxiety and distorted behavior; all of our anger and angst, our greed and despair; all of these are rooted in our shortsighted view of separation.  Yes, we are unique in our embodied presence.  Yes, we look out of these eyes and we see others and every thing.  But every other and every thing emanates from the same breath, the indescribable marvel of mass, the speed of light squared and its energetic product.  There is no difference or separation.  We are One.

All evil emanates from the lie, the limited and incorrect view, that we are separate.  We create.  We make things.  We buy things and sell them.  When our making is isolated in self – when it is self-ish – it is corrupted and the wealth we generate and hoard only confirms our illusion of separation.  I have more.  That is good.  Someone else has less.  Too bad.  Violence erupts and the only solution we can see is greater violence to crush our enemy.

When our making, our creating, takes place in the spirit of connection, we are conscious that we only touch, we co-create, we one-create with the Spirit of every thing and everything.  And our product is a gift of beauty and utility for the world, the universe, the everything of which we are part.  We are One.

When we wake in the morning, we can practice seeing things as whole.  For me, the simple exercise of breathing in “Thy Will,” breathing out, “be done,” takes me to a place of connection.  I am not separate from the creative will of C/S/M/S.  Nor am I obliterated or forgotten in it.  I am just in it, part of it, participating with openness and willingness.  I am being my true Self, breathing, creating, acting in relationship to each one and each thing.

When we realize our true home under the Tree of Life, we are at rest in motion.  We are at ease in creating.  We have no fight with our surroundings, no fear of the other.

And we are empowered to speak with clarity, to touch with compassion, to invite with kindness.

We are One.

Scripture today from my soul brother JD Martin:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q5ia2jUeqc

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The Choice of Devotion

Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century Indian saint, embodied above all things the practice of devotion.   He eschewed study and strict adherence to Hindu ritual in favor of childlike adoration of Kali, the feminine aspect of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.  Sometimes petulant, sometimes playful, often appearing mad and completely out of control with devotion, he yearned to become one.  He whimpered, pestered and cried to experience absolute unity with the Godhead through ceaseless pursuit of Kali’s attention and affection.

And by all reports he was rewarded, after a time but then regularly, with the state of Samadhi, the expansive experience of complete absorption, joy and oneness with C/S/M/S.  In the midst of teaching his disciples, he would break into songs of adoration and then effortlessly enter and return from extended states of unitive bliss.  He brought back tales of love and beauty beyond measure.  Even dying of throat cancer, he seemed oblivious to his physical condition because of his laser focused devotion to the divine, the profound reality of his journeys.

Rumi, Teresa of Avila, Paramahansa Yogananda, Hildegard von Bingen; the great mystics of all traditions have been explorers of the outer edges and inner depths of human spirituality.  Their times and cultures somehow made space for them, accommodated their extravagance, supported or at least tolerated their journeys.  For all time, we welcome and stand in awe of the news they bring back.

Most of us live in the world of more mundane dimensions.  We are the householders, the engineers and teachers, the burger flippers and shopkeepers of day-to-day existence.  We raise kids and deal with plumbing problems and domestic struggles.  We worry about our finances and the decisions of our governments.

But here’s the thing.  Is there really any less wonder in the day-to-day?  Is the amazing expression of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source any less as I turn right onto Montgomery Boulevard and walk or drive to the grocery store?  I don’t think so.  I don’t believe for a minute that C/S/M/S is any less present or less available for connection in the ordinary moments of daily existence.

In a single block, I see, I am part of the homeless person holding a sign for support at the intersection, the turquoise sky of the Southwest, the courtesy and service of the store clerk as I check out my oranges and baking powder.  I am granted in every instant, at every turn, the opportunity for choice and participation.  Will I engage consciously, with all my thought, all my intention, all my heart?  Will I play my part, giving and receiving with wonder and gratitude?  Will I practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control – the beautiful and deeply satisfying fruits of the Tree of Life?

Or will I stay asleep at the wheel, angry at the young person who cut impulsively in front of me in the parking lot?  Will I numb myself, choosing to be lost in the tedium, bother and annoyance of a world that just doesn’t get what I want, what I need, what I deserve?

Whatever my talent, whatever piece of the extravagance of God I am gifted to touch and unfold for the world around me, I have the choice of devotion or neglect.  I can touch a relationship for healing, or I can stay lost in my hurt ego.  I can polish my little part with the devotion of joy, or I can miss the moment, the now, entirely.

Truly, we each choose our devotion and practice it persistently throughout our life.  Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our primary devotion is to preservation of self.  We think we protect an isolated and threatened ego with fear, anger, defense, power, greed and violence.

Under the Tree of Life, we choose a different practice.  We practice connection of Self; not an abandoned ego, but a connected Ego.  We offer, we recognize and realize with willingness, our connection to Creator/Spirit/Mind/Self, the entire created universe.  And we start and end by focusing that connection on the immediate.  We are clear, we are conscious.  Where there is anger we see hurt.  Where there is the inability to function productively on a daily basis, for whatever reason, we feel cold and hunger.  Wherever, whatever, we experience the deep beauty, the struggle of the birthing universe.  And we become the midwife of creation.

Let’s choose that devotion, our home in all that is.  Let’s find ourselves beneath the Tree of Life, with its leaves for the healing of everything.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

O Holy Night

Something extraordinary happened in the birth of Jesus.  No one bothers to write tales of wonder about the birth of most of us: confounding tales of deep simplicity and wild extravagance; no room at the inn and choirs of angels; the politicos already attuned to the threat to power.

We come looking for a savior and king.  Something in us yearns for the perfect leader, the one who will make it all right, with enough for everyone, the end of death and sorrow and pain.

But the prince of peace would not be king.  He said to serve each other the way we have been served.  The supposed savior said it is, in fact, your own faith that makes you whole.  The one who shines a light on the path to the Tree of Life said that you – you and me – you are the light of the world.

And the one slaughtered on a cross did not call us to receive salvation kneeling at the foot of that tree.  The way of Jesus calls us all the way to the terrible end hanging from the top, nailed to the gnarly limbs of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:  a death by submission to connection, by willingness to release the isolation of ego; death to fear; death to selfishness and the violence it engenders; the overwhelming death of embracing the pain, fear and sorrow of life without turning away, without running to hide, with no father or regiment of angels to take us down from that hanging before the last ounce is wrung out.

There is a barrier, a chimera, a lonesome valley and dark night of the soul that stands in the road between the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.  We must ultimately walk it by ourselves.  No one is born again without the lonely death on that tree.  No one finds the other end of that path by staying stuck on their knees at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

O Holy Night.  Be born again: born through every step of pain and suffering; born to the last wretched and lonely breath, stolen by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Be born to your true light, the light of your life.  Walk as a companion and not a king.

Blessed Christmas.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

For Christmas this Year, Let’s Let Jesus Off the Bloody Hook

For Christmas this year, let’s give Jesus a gift.  Let’s let him off the bloody hook.  Somewhere between the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s letters, “Follow me” turned into “I did it all with blood sacrifice.”  Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 – 1109, sealed the deal with his writing on the satisfaction theory of atonement.

And ever since, we’ve been killing him (Jesus) softly but surely by piling on the sins of the world, Sunday after Sunday.  Data tells us he’s almost half dead now, under the load.  Barna Group relentlessly counts the beans of evangelical angst, documenting the slippage of the “churched” through the door to become the “unchurched”, searching for just the right moves to get’em “churched” again.  Their latest book, Churchless:  Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, documents that the “unchurched” segment of the US population has grown not just steadily, but at an ever increasing rate from 30% in the 1990’s to 43% in 2014.  For Barna and company (A better book title might have been Clueless.), it seems a daunting task to stem that tide, given what they see as the relentless bashing of Christianity by godless unchurched culture.  A small first step might be to get rid of those repelling and out of touch churched and unchurched labels.

Let’s let Jesus off the bloody hook.  Lots of folks have tried to redeem atonement by turning it into “at-one-ment.”  Too little too late, I fear, but the sentiment is useful.  I believe with all my heart that Jesus was “at-one” with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.  And I believe “the way” to which he persistently called the people of his small corner of the world in his time is, indeed, the path forward – the very same foundational path forward whispered by the breath of life in all places and all times.

But we – you and I and Aunt Suzie – won’t find that path by continually “casting our burden upon the Lord.”  (If you are sufficiently unchurched, that phrase of evangelical atonement might be unfamiliar, and I promise not to use it again.)  We will find it, metaphorically, in our own journey from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.  We will find it by changing the way we view ourselves and the world around us.

“Salvation,” another hopelessly abused and by now nearly dead word, is really just our choice to grow up and move along that path.  A bloody choice?  Well, let’s be honest.  Turning from the fear and separation of the metaphorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is very threatening to power, at least to the misused power of twisted politics and those that wield religion to mediate your redemption and mine.  Taking personal responsibility for growing up to compassion, confidence and responsible relationship – becoming the Adult of God (Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source – not an old man in some heaven) that we become under the Tree of Life – taking that personal responsibility and acting on it generally, at some point, puts us crosswise with the powers of fear.  Witness Jesus as the Romans nailed him to a tree, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer and six millions Jews up in smoke in bloody Christian Germany.

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
(Amos 5: 21-24.  God I love my old Revised Standard Version.)

Want to be saved?  Stop going to war.  Want to be saved?  Take care of the planet.  Want to be saved?  Don’t even think about killing the food stamp program.

Want to be saved from “sin and death?”  Stop nailing Jesus to the tree and crying salvation.  Grow up and choose it.  Forgiveness is not a gift that was given in the bloody slaughter of the Lamb of God.  Forgiveness is a state of being.  No one can give it to you. You must truly embrace it for yourself.  And then move on.

Move on, move on down the road.  And consider a gift to Jesus this Christmas.  Take him off the bloody tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree of fear and hate and twisted power.  Clean him up, like the Good Samaritan would.  Clean him up and walk with him, even through the valley of the shadow of death.  Walk with him, all the way to the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

New Worship

Alas, for many who are no longer comfortable within the confines of a single religion, or who can no longer accept core doctrines of their root tradition, worship has become both a problem and a loss.  There is a desire to touch, to engage.  And there is an aversion and disappointment in what is found in that touch.  Beautiful hymns in four part harmony lift the spirit in ecstasy, only to crash suddenly to earth in a glorification of blood sacrifice.

Our existing traditions and the accoutrements of worship that support them have been built over centuries, with great care.  Meticulously orchestrated and standardized rituals mediate the sacred, serving as metaphorical doors that open for a moment beyond the limits of physical pain, daily toil and bodily death.  They deliver a prescribed, and for many still effective formula of immanent experience and transcendent connection with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

But for those with one or both feet outside the doctrinal door, satisfaction is limited or seemingly unavailable.  In varying degrees, there is a sense of alienation, of fraud.  We can choose to stay, crossing fingers or going silent when songs and liturgies lead us into language outside our defined circle of spiritual integrity.  For many, that is a useful transitional compromise, preserving aspects of community and offering some level of the expression of ecstasy.  But this route offers only a partial, incomplete and less than fully satisfying solution.

A richer alternative may be to extend the circle beyond judgment of the mediated.  Recall in our discussion of the sacred and profane that these are not two categories of phenomena.  Rather, sacred and profane are the lenses we choose between when we view and engage all that is.  Do we choose a sacred life of connection and reverence, or do we engage phenomena as though they are outside ourselves, materialistic products for consumption in a zero sum game of winning or losing, wealth or poverty?  This view, this choice, has profound implications for our concept and experience of worship.

Living only within the confines of mediated worship, or fighting its limitations are both positions of judgment, positions that leave us with the dissatisfied sorting of sacred and profane.  Either way, we decide that something – whether our traditional worship or our disdain of it – is sacred while the other position is profane.  We limit ourselves to external sorting and judgment rather than to holistic seamless engagement of the immanent and transcendent nature of all that is.

When we live life with the eyes of the sacred, we remove the barrier of judgment.  We expand with ease outside the limited mediated experience of organized religion without a need to judge or reject it.  It’s just that religion and worship are no longer compartmentalized experiences packaged and delivered by institutions.  They are not activities like a sport or a class that we choose to take.  They are not the prescribed clothing, food, prayers or practices of a given day of the week.  Religion and worship become, instead, the very fullness of life itself.

Worship in this sense becomes attention and connection.  We become aware of the people on the bus, the driver in the next car, the car and the road themselves.  We hear each sound, see each sight, feel each touch, glorious and mundane.  We engage with appreciation and reverence, without judgment, experiencing no boundary between institutionalized religious experience, if we choose it, and the fullness of life itself.

We hear the prophetic voice in a rock song, the hope and longing of a ballad.  A flower, a fly, a fleeting smile.  All things and all acts, ours and those around us, become part of the song of creation, the perpetual praise of becoming – the joy that we are, in the same moment and for all time, ourselves, the spark of being, at one, integral in the fabric of everything.

From this perspective we are free to engage even what we may feel that we have left behind.  There is no aspect of loss or limitation, only expansive, extravagant and compassionate welcome of every expression and exploration, each tentative test and step forward into the unknown, the unfoldment of the yet to be created.

There is no loss.  There is only more, something whole and complete, worship as the fullness of life and all that is, glorious expectation and engagement of all to come.

I am in Latin America right now.  In Spanish one might affirm, “Así es!”  This is how it is!  Así es!  Así es, under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.