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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 the hostilities of the terrorist threat and 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.  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 companies 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 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 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.