Forgiveness

On May 11, the little viloet-green swallows returned to the greenway and stream behind our home in the Rocky Mountains.  There is really no adequate explanation for the joy and delight I get from watching their antics in the air – a rhythm of alternating flutters of acceleration and daring/darting swoops and glides.  They are much smaller than the barn and bank swallows, cuter and less graceful, like torpedo cigars with curved wings and a white band across the rump.  The analogy in flight might be a small propeller driven aerobatic craft as compared to the sleek Learjet look and performance of the barn swallow.

The swallows, of course, are feeding on tiny bugs in the air.  We never really notice bugs here, but they must be around, because the swallows come back every summer and are busy as can be, morning, noon and evening, swooping/sweeping out the ravine, transforming the air to absolute clarity.

Forgiveness is like that, I think.  Forgiveness cleans up the bugs.  Forgiveness seems to me the transformative act that moves us between the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.

There is so much that cries for transformation in the experience of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We all participate.  We all partake, whether we want to or not.  Each of us carries memories and scars of hurts and crimes of the heart, things we have done to strangers and enemies, friends and loved ones, that we can never call back or undo.  And we bear as painfully and heavily the injustices and hurts that others have cast off on us.

There are the passive acts: the circumstances beyond our control; the accidents of place and rank of birth; the onset of illness; environmental tragedies; the inevitable loss of loved ones, whether by age, illness, accident or even the screaming silent choice of suicide.

On the other side of the tree we encounter the insatiability of desire: the disappointment of pleasure that is less than we hoped; a relationship that somehow does not “meet my needs, too (with the unspoken implication that I am clearly fulfilling my end of this devil’s bargain);” the money that never quite buys all that we want; the status and recognition that we never fully achieve.

Forgiveness is not just our childhood concept of getting off the hook because we have said, “Sorry.”  Rather, forgiveness, like the feeding of the swallows, is a continual ongoing life process.  It involves, at least:

  • taking in and accepting
  • transforming
  • relinquishing as something useful

I could go into a descriptive analogy with the digestive process of the swallow, but I’ll leave that to imagination, if you find it personally useful.

We cannot avoid our participation in, our daily consumption of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It brings us – and we must embrace and consume, if we are to live and to grow – the full scope and continuum of our human experience.

But we can let go of both our horrid disgust and our choking grasp – our judgment and avoidance of or attachment to the inevitable fruit of our daily existence.  It is what it is, the fruit of human life.  If we manage it in the image of God way in which we were created, we can:

  • accept it, take it in and embrace it as it comes
  • allow it to be transformed for our growth and learning, our movement along the path to the Tree of Life
  • release it back to the earth, transformed, for our own health and the health and nurture of all those we touch.

I have an acquaintance who reads this blog, a gifted healer who works with energy in this way, somehow sensing, drawing out, transforming and returning energy – energy that has accumulated as a negative build up, but is returned for healing.  It is an amazing gift and perhaps she will consent someday to write about it here.

But for you and me, let us be transformed, daily, by and in the Spirit, our Creator and Source.  Let us eat all that is set before us from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Let us accept it, present it for transformation and relinquish it for healing and nurture, finding that when we do, we are indeed flying with delight in the valley of the Tree of Life.

From Jackson Browne:

Don’t You Want to Be There

Don’t you want to be there, don’t you want to go?
Where the light is breaking and the cold clear winds blow
Don’t you want to be there in the golden glow

Don’t you want to be there, don’t you want to fly?
With your arms out, let a shout take you across the sky
Don’t you want to be there when the time’s gone by

Times there was love all around you
Times you were strong and alone
Times you believed love had found you
And you fell through time like a stone

And those you have wronged, you know
You need to let them know some way
And those who have wronged you, know
You’ll have to let them go someday

Don’t you want to be there?
Don’t you want to cry when you see how far
You’ve got to go to be where forgiveness rules
Instead of where you are

Don’t you want to be there, don’t you want to know?
Where the grace and simple truth of childhood go
Don’t you want to be there when the trumpets blow

Blow for those born into hunger
Blow for those lost ‘neath the train
Blow for those choking in anger
Blow for those driven insane

And those you have wronged, you know
You need to let them know some way
And those who have wronged you, know
You’ll have to let them go someday

Don’t you want to be there?
Don’t you want to see where the angels appear
Don’t you want to be where there’s strength and love
In the place of fear

Words and Music by Jackson Browne
(Swallow Turn Music, ASCAP)

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

Who is Jesus?

If we are created in the image of God, and if, metaphorically, our bite from the apple of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was just an intended and natural part of our awakening and growing up as humans, then there really was no utterly damning fall of humanity and there is no such thing as blanket original sin.  Ergo, there is no universal need for atonement – least of all blood atonement, the topic for another day.  But popular Christianity has made that the whole point of Jesus and the Bible.  So if not that, then what?  Who is Jesus?

This is just plain painful.  There is so much clutter in American Christianity.  Jesus, in the current culture, is more likely to be associated with the right to carry a gun than he is with the feeding of the five thousand and certainly than he is with the elevation of women or social outcasts and religious minorities (the lepers and Samaritans in his day).  There are hot air balloons in the shape of Jesus and portraits of Jesus that have changed to fit popular perceptions and religious movements of all kinds, from tough guy to Jesus freak.  “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus . . . .”  WWJD indeed!

Son of God?  The common title for a king.  Son of Man?  The common title for what?  Second person of the Trinity?  An entirely human concept created by a council to satisfy certain theological and political needs.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”  You will recall that, word for word, the same was said of Krishna in the Srimad Bhagavatam several thousand years before Christ.  What does it mean?

Let’s keep it simple.  The net effect of getting rid of the fall and focusing on our creation in the image of God is that it elevates the view of humanity – something up from worm to more, say, human.  Jesus himself, over and over, said that when we act like children of God, we are children of God.  And the people that he recognizes as brothers and sisters are not the ones that say to him, “Lord, Lord.”  They are the ones that breathe the breath of God, that choose willingness over willfulness, that have become in action and spirit the instruments of peace and healing that they were created to be.

And when we strip away the clutter we have piled on Jesus, he is, surprise surprise, a child of God.  Hmmm. . . . Jesus a child of God.  You and I, children of God.  Have I just demeaned Jesus?  Have I just blasphemed by making us into little gods?  From the age old perspective of the fall and blood atonement – the perspective that can only see the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – indeed I have.  But sit with this for a little, and listen to the voice of Jesus without the static of the ages.  Consider honoring the poor man by just, for once, honoring his call to grow up and, as he chose so consistently, to do the will of God.  Be the brother or sister this good man suggested you are.

What does it mean to be the way, the truth and the life?  Let me suggest that it simply means to be the path that leads from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.  It means to shine a light of truth and recognition on the shock and fear, attachments and repulsions of our awakening to the experience, possibilities and limitations of our humanity.  And then it means to extend the call and to offer to walk side-by-side on the path that leads away from the temptation and delusion of willful control over these things, and toward willing and active participation in the eternal creative goodness for which we were intended.

Jesus is, indeed, the way, the truth and the life.  So are you and I when we choose to join the path before us to the Tree of Life.  Who is divine?  Who is a human?  Those are questions of the judging realm of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  There is neither elevation nor diminution under the Tree of Life.  There is only openness and action in the spirit of willingness.  Follow the path.  Be the path.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

The Most Important Thing

About 25 years ago I read a short book on breath prayer.  I don’t remember who wrote it, what the title was or much detail about it.  I do remember that the author believed that, with empty and open reflection, a person would be given a brief, mantra-like breath prayer.  The idea was a two-part phrase, the first part to be thought or spoken on inhalation and the second part on exhalation.  It would be repeated throughout the day.  And it would be just the right thing to meet the petitioner’s need, likely for a long period of time.

Being a fairly trusting soul, and thinking this sounded like a pretty good thing, I sat quietly and asked to be given my breath prayer.  And sure enough, it showed up:  “Thy will be done.”  Breathe in, “Thy will.”  Breathe out, “be done.”  So the idea was, just like breathing, to say, to breathe this over and over.  About a million times.  Seriously.  Just literally graft this into my autonomic nervous system.

And I have.  For twenty-five years, when I wake, before I go to sleep, riding in airplanes, when I am driving by myself, confronted with challenges or opportunities,  for a few minutes before I enter a meeting, I breathe in, “Thy will,” and breathe out, “be done.”  Incredible things have happened.  Incredible learning and growth have come my way.  Not to mention the numerous times I have been brought rudely to my knees.

I advocate the concept and practice.  Find your breath prayer, whether you are theist, agnostic or atheist.  Whether you think of God/Spirit/Mind/Source as a person, concept or force, I suspect your subconscious will offer up some useful breath mantra.  And when you incorporate it seamlessly into your breathing habit, it will find, strengthen, shape and heal something centrally useful for you over time.

But breath prayer is not what this piece is about.  It’s about choosing the willingness of connection to the Tree of Life over the willfulness of attachment to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  As it happens, I backed into this learning through my breath prayer, and have experienced the goodness of it for many years.  But the more I experience it, the more I think it is the most important thing.

Psychiatrist and spiritual director Gerald May wrote the most amazing book, Will and Spirit, which I have mentioned on this page before, and it is all about choosing willingness over willfulness.  The choice I am describing is the choice of abandoning personal control in favor of submission to something larger and greater.  It is the choice of trust over suspicion, of grace over judgment.  It is the wholeness of Zen over the mechanics of technique, openness to epiphany over grasping for contingencies.  It has nothing to do with abandonment of responsibility, but everything to do with balance and perspective.

The root of all our anxiety and most of our unhealthy behavior is our desire, our drive, personally to control everything about life.  This is a natural response to the sensation of individuation that comes with human awareness.  We feel vulnerable and alone.  We feel solely responsible.  We have enough awareness of our environment that we think we can and should govern it entirely.

But we cannot.  Our perspective and our grasp are necessarily limited.  We are, in essence, missing the “omni” part of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence.  We are created in the image of God.  We are filled with the breath of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being.”  But we are never complete in and of ourselves.  And we are willfully deluded, headed for destruction and despair, if we think so.

“Use the force, Luke.”  There is so little to worry about in life when we approach it from a stance of trust and willingness.  Which of our biggest fears or greatest challenges have we changed with anxiety?  What problem have we solved or outcome have we truly influenced in a positive long-term way through willful control?  Healed any relationships lately with a swing of the old ego bat?

I grew up with a fairly positive experience of a personified God.  So even though “God” is now to me beyond the confines of concepts and language, “Thy will be done” works pretty well for me – very well, in fact, as I breathe in and breathe out every day.  But maybe you did not experience God that way, or maybe even the term God is totally off-putting.  No matter.  I think your breath prayer could be “Eat Jell-O,” so long as it takes your mind off yourself and opens you to a place of greater trust and less willfulness.

Let go of willful attachment to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Connect willingly to the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

The Right Path

What to do?  What to do?  So many religions and so many right ways to worship.  Catholics pass by the baptismal font on the way to the Eucharist.  The priest is the medium who performs the ritual that transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  I am a Mennonite and we say that you can’t be a follower of Jesus and go to war.  (Hey, I do, truly, believe that!)  Some forms of Buddhism note the requirement of assistance from certain deities on the path to enlightenment.  Depending on how one views it, every religion eventually evolves or devolves into a distinctive identifying set of rituals and requirements.

J. Krishnamurti, in the collection of his teachings titled Freedom From The Known (p. 115, © 1969 by Krishnamurti Foundation, Harper & Row, Publishers), says, “You might as well put a piece of stick you have picked up in the garden on the mantelpiece and give it a flower every day.  In a month you will be worshipping it and not to put a flower in front of it will become a sin.”

Our fear runs so deep that we are easily intimidated by religions and religious practices.  We become frantic in our efforts to do the right things, to find the one right way to salvation.  And instead of happily being a dog, we are a dog madly chasing our tail.  Or we become busy busy with “shoulds” and “should nots” and “rights” and “wrongs”, so much so that we lose awareness of where and who and how we are – ultimately to the point where we are righteously, or even violently anxious and obnoxious about how right our path is and how wrong all the others are.

What a wonderful situation for the worldly powers looking for the raw material of war and domination.  It’s the devil’s dream playground.  Our God, our might, our right.  But powers of domination and governance come and go.  None of them last forever.  None of them bring any real protection.  None of them create ultimate happiness.

And the religions.  Ritual and sacrifice bring no hope or assurance, no matter whose label they are under.  While they might each have a lens on capital T Truth, the religious institutions of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam; none of them will save our hide from death and decay.

God/Mind/Spirit/Source – whatever inadequate label we choose to try to name this beauty and compassion that we know is here inside – God/Mind/Spirit/Source needs no rituals and practices.  God/Mind/Spirit/Source – true religion – is alive and kicking, loving, truthing and connecting, heart to heart, hand to hand, no matter what the institutions are doing around us, no matter what the circumstances of life may bring.

Some would call it end times.  To me, we are at a time of beautiful convergence.  Think of it as a mountain with many paths.  As we get closer to the top, the paths come nearer and nearer to one another.  They are visible, one to the next.  We can see the travelers on the other way and wave to them, or stop for greetings, conversation or a meal.  The paths might even crisscross or merge.  Meanwhile the top of that holy mountain of our hearts is closer as we travel.

There is beauty to behold in each traveler and each robe and costume.  There is music and art, sound, sight and utility in each ritual when it is just a tool to help bring the attention of the mind to the leading of the heart as it opens to the Spirit.  Or there are walls to divide and altars upon which to sacrifice and scales upon which to judge, if we choose to make the rituals gods to worship, weapons to defend or blinders to fool our vision and thinking.

Let us be humble, open and without judgment.  Let us observe the things we carry with us, the rituals and practices that guide us, in the context of all that we see and, most of all, in the light of the Spirit as it shines on all the paths and all the travelers we encounter on the way.

All are called to the mountain.  All are invited to drink from the river.  All are welcome at the Tree of Life, and its leaves are indeed for the healing of all nations.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.