Worthy Is the Lamb

It’s the Holiday Season in the United States.  Lights, music, trees, the gusher of retail dollars and – Messiah sing-alongs.  Yes, as a member of the Taos Community Chorus (tenor until faced with a high A), I am participating.  How many times, how many places?  And yet these texts from Isaiah and Revelation, set to Handel’s exuberant music, continue to inspire and thrill.  May the abuses and domination of all twisted religious expression wither and perish.  Please, dear God, save this glorious music.

One of the most powerful choruses is based on a surreal image from Revelation 5:12: “Worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (NRSV) Or in the King’s English used by Handel, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain.”

The obvious reference here is to the glorification of Christ, crucified by the threatened powers and resurrected in an immutable assertion that life as intended, the true spirit of love and compassion, can never be conquered, whether by evil intent or physical demise.

But it seems to me there is more in the phrase.  As we journey from our experience of scarcity and fear under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; as we begin to know and trust it as the Tree of Life, there is always a lamb to be slain.  The Buddha asserts with certainty, life is duhkha.  We will suffer.  The innocence of the lamb will be ravaged.  We can delude and harden ourselves.  There will be sickness.  There will be abusers and victims.  There will be war and hunger and loss of loved ones.  And in the end, we will die.

No lamb avoids the slaughter.  Worthy is the one that faces and embraces it.  It’s not that some perverse deity requires blood to be satisfied.  It’s that we don’t pass the test of life without dying to the lies.

We can paste over it with Christmas presents and walls of security and comfort.  We can mask it with youth and pleasure.  We can pretend to fend it off with walls and guns and warehoused kids at the border.

Or we can make a different choice.  We can die right now and get on with the real thing.  Die to fear.  Die to domination.  Die to greed and anger, our selfish anxiety and hoarding.  In the end, it avails us nothing.  Why not end it now?  Why not make the choice, today, to shed all of this and replace it with the giving and receiving of blessing, honor, glory and power?

So let’s sing it, clear and strong.  Worthy is the lamb, the lamb that is slain:

  • The family turned back at the border. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The youth taken by opioids in the towns along the Ohio River. Worthy is the lamb.
  • Christine Blasey Ford.  Worthy is the lamb.
  • The “deep state” public servant, courageous enough to blow the whistle. Worthy is the lamb.
  • Jamal Khashoggi. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The Walmart shoppers in El Paso. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The Syrian hospital patients in the sights of the Russian warplane.  Worthy is the lamb.
  • The indigenous environmental activists killed by governments and corporate thugs in Latin America. Worthy is the lamb.
  • The young women lured to hotel rooms and private jets by promises of open doors to the future. Worthy is the lamb.
  • You and I, friend, when we die to all of this, die to our comfort, our greed, our fear and embrace the cross that leads to real life. Worthy is the lamb.

Worthy, worthy is the lamb that is slain.  Blessing, honor, glory and power be unto her.

Worthy.

 

© 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 to be notified of future posts.

Hard Rain

President Trump of the United States kicked off his 2020 campaign last week, pouring fuel on the flames of fear, mistrust and anger to reignite the hurting and fevered base that would assure his re-election.  During the same week, more environmental regulations were rolled back in the face of the science that overwhelmingly points to a warming planet, with disastrous consequences for not just humans, but all life.

In another cynical gesture, Guatemala, among the poorest of countries in the hemisphere, with leadership grounded in corruption and abuse of its people, was forcibly named by the United States as the designated refuge of asylum for migrants fleeing gang or narco-violence and drought in Central America, particularly those from the neighboring countries of Honduras and El Salvador.  This comes as the number of people fleeing Guatemala, for the very same reasons, is at its own peak level.

Wall Street waits on the sidelines, up a little today, down a little tomorrow, fluttering anxiously on the tails of the latest presidential Tweet.  It is stunning to consider that the markets of the most sophisticated economy in human history rise and fall with so little rationality.

And someone somewhere thinks that yet another manufactured war in the Middle East will line enough pockets to make it worth the lives of countless unarmed citizens on another side of the globe and a few thousand dead or traumatized soldiers of our own.

We seem the epicenter of a newly unleashed global permission to hate.

But hatred is a thin veil for the underlying reality.  As wealth becomes increasingly concentrated at the top, the masses turn to misguided anger.  It is always easiest to hate someone who poses no threat beyond being somehow different.  And the devil in power loves the opportunity to fan the flames in a sleight of hand to mask its ballooning greed.

We can delude ourselves with the religion of false morality.  We can vent our frustration in political mudslinging.  We can beam our positive energy out to the universe.  If we don’t change our ways, “well it’s a hard, hard, hard, hard, it’s a hard rain gonna fall.” (Bob Dylan)

We don’t need a nasty god to judge us.  We are doing a fine job of creating our horizon of hell.

Wealth is not the issue here, nor is power, though the mad grab for both is symptomatic.  Human hearts that misunderstand their connection to creation, their responsibility to compassion and beauty; shrunken hearts deluded in belief that they are the majestic pinnacle in the unimaginable scope of all that is; hollow hearts certain that money can buy happiness, eternal life and the exit from all misfortune — these furiously pave the way to our collective demise.  So many comfortable people, trailing just behind in the bell curve, would rather not know, turning a blind eye.  The newly poor flare with misplaced anger.  The truly downtrodden migrate in desperation for the next scrap of bread.

Dylan’s blue-eyed boy knows nothing of hard rain.  Rather, it is the global masses in the path of rabid extortion and extraction, fleeing violence and hunger, the hidden but real costs of the low prices paid by the white north for food, clothing, energy, transportation and daily security.  These, the most with the least, are the ones who know the storm.  Their desperate lives are nothing but.

The headlong greed of the top and the complacency of the shrinking class we call middle (screaming rich compared to the displaced and suffering masses), have now traversed a height of slim escape, speeding blindly along a precipitous and razor thin ridge.  The depletion of the earth’s resources, the warming of the atmosphere, the increasing likelihood of massive system failures, the insane stockpiling of sophisticated nuclear weaponry, these loom large and imminent on a rapidly approaching horizon.  Yet money-madness and lazy comfort hold pedal to the metal, throwing up their flat screen charades, a vomitous spew of digitized misinformation, fooling themselves that all is well.  America is now great again.

We have taken so much more than enough.  Yet seeing only the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we sap and burn the Tree of Life, sucking up even the water that feeds its roots in our insatiable appetite for the things that were never real.  America, America, it’s a hard, hard rain that’s going to fall.

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Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.

Creation

Creation is amazing.  Things keep happening on a seemingly infinite scale from small to grand, subtle to nuclear, still to beyond the speed of light.  What’s it about?  Where do we fit in?  Our vision is so limited and, given the immensity of the whole thing, we mostly just ignore it and go on our way.

Going on our way, however, is exactly our problem – or better put, the problem of “our.”  The premise of Two Trees in the Garden is that, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we became conscious, we woke up to “I”, “my” and “our.”

The “going on our way,” the “going” and the “way” of “our,” all happened on a road of fear.  We believed ourselves to be alone and separate.  We became aware of death.  The response of “I,” “my” and “our” was greed and a grasp for power and control.  Anger, deceit and violence became our tools.

But “our way” is not the way of creation, of true reality.  It is only halfway.  It is not whole.  It is “self”-deceived.  We don’t know it, but true reality is that we are under the Tree of Life, not the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which is only our limited misperception of the real thing.  And that real thing, the real tree, is love, goodness, beauty, relationship, peace, the surprise of creation, rest and enough.  Why would we not want these things?  How do we get there?

It’s been called by many names, this turn from “self”-deceit to connected reality:  enlightenment; awakening; conversion; second birth; born again.  And in our despair, we look for any one of these (they are all the same) as some sort of magical elixir that, if we can only reach it, grasp it, experience it, will make us happy and solve our worldly fears and woes, maybe even save us from death.  And it always seems elusively just beyond “our” reach.

But it’s not elusive at all.  Yes, it is beyond “my,” “our” grasp.  The problem is that we are grasping at nothing to be grasped.  And we are missing everything.  Because enlightenment, awakening, conversion, second birth, being born again are the simple choice of turning from deception and coming home to reality.  And “reality,” is “not grasping.”

Creation, friends, is the impetus, the impulse, the word of love breathed infinitely and eternally into the void.  And we are part of it and with it, not separate, as our fear – the fear that is “I,” “my,” “our” – would have us believe.  And our fear is only that, a belief upon which we act, resulting in our unhappiness, the unhappiness of “our.”

Alas, what must “I” do to be saved?  It’s so simple.  Confess.  Confess and submit.  Confess that you, the real you, are connected to and one with the great I Am, the love and exuberance beyond all knowing that is part and parcel of all you see, unfolding with joy and confidence into all you cannot perceive.

It’s a piece of cake, a walk in the park, a look into the eyes of the beloved.  When deceived “you” lets go of grasping and submits to real everything, you are alive, awake, born for real 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 to be notified of future posts.

God With Us

Earlier this week, a man I had never met handed me one of those “Don’t wait until it’s too late on the highway to hell” tracts.  “This is for you,” he said, and quickly exited the campus where I am working this year in Guatemala.  He had been staying at our guesthouse.

Not a word of relational greeting, not a gesture of farewell, but, for him, an act of faithful mission accomplished, the first in a busy day ahead, I presume, in a foreign land.  Duty bound and driven.  I offered simple thanks and walked to my office, watching my emotions flicker between mild surprise, adrenalized offense, the dim glow of dormant anxiety, some reflective affirmation for a life of commitment and compassion for what seems to me a misguided purpose.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus have been touted for centuries as the defining events, the sin qua non of Christianity.  There is no denying their powerful drama.  And a million words have been used to amplify, to give religious meaning, to add utility and certainly worldly power to them, whatever anyone may or may not think regarding a greater divine purpose.

Where Christianity as it has overwhelmingly been known leaves the tracks for me is in blood sacrifice and redemption.  The history of our human enterprise of religion is rife with efforts to appease and manipulate the gods.  In this view of the crucifixion, Christianity finally trumps all with God swooping in and sweeping aside the rest.  Finished at last with every failed attempt of the imperfect priest, God sticks it to his own perfect incarnation.  At last, blood that is good enough to cover your sins and mine, if we just believe in time.  And watch out for that devil, stealthily tricking you into delay until it’s too late.

There is, I believe, a healthy alternative.

Come, oh come, Emmanuel.  God with us.  God dying with us.  The God in us willing to live, and if necessary die, alongside our suffering neighbor.

The distinctive call of the true Christian, the follower of Jesus, is the recognition, as with the Buddha, of suffering as the nature of our existence.  And when Christianity really gets it right, where Jesus really got it right, is in the commitment to engage, to join in the suffering of others as the doorway to transcendence for all concerned.  In that light, the crucifixion and resurrection stand as powerful metaphors.

I am reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.  If you have read it, you will understand that I am waking at night with stark visions of unspeakable horrors inflicted on slaves to assure economic privilege and access to wanton depravity.  And I live this year in a country where hundreds of thousands of indigenous passed through and died in a similar hell for the same reasons as little as 30 years ago.  Last week ICE raided a dairy farm in Upstate New York, Syria used chemical weapons against its own and stories of atrocities surfaced from every corner of the globe.

There is no greater hell than the one created by human forces of fear, greed and power, served fresh daily to millions of the innocent on our planet Earth.  We need no other.  A tract of the Gospel, of all things.  It’s difficult to think of a more twisted profanity than scaring the suffering with hell in the name of Jesus.

The crucifixion of Jesus, the lynching of Black folk in America, the trafficking of women and children for depravity and profit, the bombing and burning of anyone to crush a perceived enemy with fear.  There is quite enough blood with far too little redemption.

God with us comes in the hands and feet of those who walk with the suffering in the face of fear, who accept the cross, the noose, the rape and castration, the bullet and blade of every human prince of darkness.  God with us is the resurrection of community in the face of oppression, the dance of kindness 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 above to be notified of future posts.

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Submit Yourself

East, West, which way to look for that perfect spirituality?  Such a quandary for the comfortable with time and resources to spare.  No doubt my deep intentions are tilting the universe in a better direction, while in turn, that very same expanse is conspiring for my greatest good.  But somehow the rubble still gets deeper in Syria.  The thugs paid by the palm oil companies are still burning the houses of peasants in Colombia.  And the string of cars belching carbon, clawing their desperate way to the mountains in Estes Park, Colorado, extend the crack in the Antarctic ice sheet.

There are flies all over all of us.  What to do?  We can rage against the darkness.  It’s so easy to blame the stupidity of others for the burden we share.  We can wallow in despair, sighing our way to the next tomorrow and the next.  We can stick our heads in the sand.  If I am comfortable in this moment, why look beyond my bubble?  We can work ourselves to weariness with good deeds, shrug, and say we did our best.

But these alternatives share major flaws.  They are selfish and disconnected.  All focus on how I feel about myself in relation to the problem or to the rest of creation.  My anger at others exonerates me from personal complicity and, therefore, action.  And yet, especially as one of the world’s privileged, I take no step and breathe no breath without exhaustive and violent extraction from the Earth and all its creatures, including the bulk of humanity.

Despair, of course, is just completely irresponsible.  I can blame my inactivity on the impossible size of the task and the exhaustion I experience just thinking about it.  Focusing on my own comfort at least gives me pleasure and distraction.  But these two options also abdicate responsible participation.

And let’s be real.  My good deeds are never enough.  I can never run fast enough or jump high enough to save the planet on my own.  And the conclusion that at least I tried is just another form of despair, with the gold star of performance pasted on it to relieve my guilt with a little smug pride.

The root error of all these responses is that they focus on me, as though my feelings are what matter, or as though the outcomes of creation are somehow, in a very special and important way, on my shoulders.  And when I am focused on me, I am too distracted to be truly useful.

I opened with a less than subtle dig at the spirituality of intention.  Perhaps that is unfair.  Focusing our intentions for good can, it seems, shift energy with positive outcomes in ways that we can observe, if not yet comprehend.  As Masaru Emoto documents in his Messages from Water and the Universe, even a positive word pasted on a glass of water can yield a response of astounding beauty in ice crystals formed from that water.  Perhaps on a given evening we could effect positive change if millions focused their intentions completely on the healing of our president.  And yet our New Years prayers for universal peace – offered annually all over the world – have yet to tip the balance decisively.  Who can say, of course, that they have not at least held us back from the brink of destruction.

What we miss in all of this is that we are not, indeed, ourselves.  Nor are we just our intentions.  We are intention embodied.  We (not just humans, but every particle and the energy that binds it into being) are the hands and feet of Creation.  Our intelligence, while seemingly vast from where we stand, is just a speck of something grand beyond imagination.  Whether we look big and far to the stars and galaxies or small to the mysterious behavior of the Higgs Boson, we learn that everything is always more and different than we think.  Our book of physics is never more than a scratchpad of notes in the library of what we vainly imagine to be the universe.

We are intention embodied,  We act within the capabilities and limitations of our embodiment.  Granted, that is a statement of blind faith.  But what is more blind than the borders of what we think is real?  I choose – I invite you to choose – faith that the wonder of all we don’t know is expressing itself continually into the void.  And we are part of that expression.

I propose active submission to that greater intention.  We can engage the gorgeous paradox of acting, in complete rest, into that intention.  There is direction available to us for action.  We connect with it when we, as Gerald May has put it so well, eschew willfulness and embrace willingness.

When we submit (read “allow connection of”) ourselves, all our intentions and all our actions, with confidence to Creation/Spirit/Mind/Source (read words I use for God), we move forward, acting with compassion from a position of expectation, the joy and surprise of creation.  We are not exhausted.  We do not despair, nor do we fear or avoid walking forward.

We cannot know.  We do not need to know.  Our satisfaction comes in submitting ourselves and all our gifts to the intelligent Whole, being and acting rather than owning and resisting.

Exhaustion and despair are the net of our selfish frenzy under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Rest and compassionate action join as one for health and wholeness under the Tree of Life.  Come with me, dear one, to the place of wonder and deep satisfaction.

© 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 above to be notified of future posts.

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

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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.

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.