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.

Science, Religion and the Engagement of Mystery

Let’s be clear.  Humans made religion and not the other way around.  We created our myths.  We were not created by them.  And religion has been, is and will always be no more nor less than our myth making, our dialog with, our effort and yearning to address and connect in a meaningful way with mystical matters of spirit.

Science, on the other hand, and also a discipline of our making, casts ever new light on the physical horizon of mystery.  We learn, with the tool of science, about the material manifestation of something we can never fully name.  And we use what we learn, for better or worse, to fuel our own evolution.

We want to think that our religions have stood forever.  They have not.  They have grown from the seed of our awakening.  They have adjusted and adapted continually, if often reluctantly, to changes in knowledge and culture.  Heresies of only a few centuries ago, like the notion that the earth is a body moving around the sun, are now accepted as simply good science.  And archeological finds, like the complete Gospel of Thomas in the scrolls at Nag Hammadi, give us pause and reason to reflect anew on things we once thought certain, like what Jesus did or did not say.

But our view is too often reactionary, when it should be engaging and embracing, welcoming change while being ever in amazement and awe at the new mystery that unfolds continually before us.

Good science and true religion are never at odds.  They are simply independent disciplines serving completely different purposes.  Science observes and tells us – always provisionally – what and how.  I say provisionally because deeper and more complex discoveries constantly change our view and understanding of things.

Religion explores meaning and gives us – always provisionally – a sense of purpose in the void beyond our physical circumstances.  Again I say provisionally, because the edge of the void, the event horizon between the measured and mystery, is constantly moving.

This change need not be the threat it is so often perceived to be for religion.  We want the event horizon to stay fixed.  And so we focus on battles over the fault line.  We hold tight to ridiculous claims about the number of years since creation or our vision of a Creator that we, more likely than the other way around, made in our own image.

Religion locked in this backward view sets itself up for little more than an equally immature “told ya’ so” from those that claim the latest finding of science as total and ultimate truth, the undoing of dogmatic religion.  But true science is never ultimate and always only provisional.  It is just the next tiny discovery in the puzzle in the face of mystery beyond measure, words or imagination.

When we become stuck in scientism or religionism, we waste time heaving rotten eggs and tomatoes at each other across a false divide of our own imagining.  Respect and wonder are the appropriate positions as we journey relentlessly and together into our home in mystery.  Science pulls back the curtain on amazement at manifestation, things that can be seen and measured.  Let us continually appreciate each new discovery, each speck and marvel revealed on the emerging horizon.

Spiritual experience and exploration grant joy, gratitude, a sense of meaning and blind direction in the engagement of the unmanifest, the mystery within and beyond.

May all who go forward into exploration of the void bring back forever the gifts of knowledge and of the spirit, to be enjoyed in fullness, celebration, appreciation and humility, together, under the Tree of Life.

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

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

Creation and the Law of Three

Where did we come from?  Where are we going?  We stand, collectively, in the present.  We piece together, as best we can, stories of the past – myths, legends, archeological and historical evidence.  We reshape and retell the stories to give them meaning and relevance in our contemporary existence.  We create models of the future and test them under controlled conditions.  We make projections based on the extension of measured trends, with the speculative incorporation of newly emerging factors.  Scenarios are published in journals and debated by legislators, corporate leaders and environmentalists.

But change and impermanence seem the only certainties.  How and where do we fit in?  What role do we play?  What, if anything, can we possibly control?

Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, speculates on an interesting model for change, or named differently, the ongoing act of creation.  Much of eastern thought postulates stasis, the balancing of tensions as in yin and yang.  Drawing from the work of various western mystics, and her own knowledge of Christian theology, Bourgeault postulates a dynamic, evolving law of three, where these opposing forces, cyclically, encounter a third catalyzing pole and, together, yield a fourth and previously unmanifested reality.  This, she suggests, is the ongoing trinitarian rather than dualistic nature of things, the essence of ongoing creation.

Bourgeault speaks of this dynamic – the law of three – as being the very nature of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S).  And this trinity has more to do with tensions, process and evolution than it has to do with three distinct persons. 

The basic model works like this:

  • In one corner of the trinity, there is an urge, a pressure – initially the urge to physical manifestation.
  • In another corner of the trinity, we find a countervailing or opposing force – a resistance that creates a discomfort, an itch.
  • In the third corner there is a catalyst that sparks a reaction, something that intervenes or ignites the building tension to yield a newly created fourth, something entirely different than anything in the original trinity.
  • This fourth eventually becomes the new urge, the positive force in a new trinitarian cycle, something that will encounter opposition or resistance, building a tension that becomes available to a new round of catalytic intervention and resultant creation.

This, of course, is an analogy, our chief tool for the understanding of almost anything.  Let’s use an analogy to illustrate it.

I love the Rocky Mountains.  They began as the measureless ache, pressure and breaking caused by the persistent and powerful movement of oceans and continental plates, force and resistance with an urge to become.  The spirit and power of creation resulted in an upward thrust.  The new (fourth) and previously nonexistent reality is seen in the flowers, streams, trees, wildlife, weather systems and human interaction that now distinguish this vast emergence.  And this current reality is now a force in the corner of a new triangle that will struggle with intricate and phenomenal resistance, encountering a creative catalyst that will yield some as yet unimagined and untold beauty of the future.

Bourgeault references a law of seven, as well, postulating that in this full cycle of manifestation – from big bang until the end of the universe and time as we know it – there are seven cycles of major trinitarian creation.  In essence, she describes a cycle of the breath of C/S/M/S from unmanifest, through aeonic stages of maturing creative manifestation, to full return to the unmanifest.  She suggests that the cycle with which we are most familiar, and are about to exit, is the sixth.  It is distinguished by Creator (traditionally Father), Word (traditionally Son) and Spirit (indwelling presence).   The new fourth, the resulting emergence, is a more fully awakened humanity – the Kingdom of Heaven – one prepared to take its place in the corner of a seventh cycle, urging at ever increasing pace toward its own epic climax.

We do indeed live in a time when former structures are crumbling.  Even the individual seems to be disappearing into some mass electronic collective network.  The social changes that have rumbled since the 1960’s, the vision of the Age of Aquarius, the recent end of the age in the Mayan calendar, the relentless breakdown of old religious and social institutions, the exponentially increasing rate of technological and environmental change – all these support that we are leaving an old dynamic and entering something entirely new.

Bourgeault seems confident that this new manifestation is truly the Kingdom of Heaven, and that it will take its place in the corner of a new trinity – Kingdom of Heaven, Creator, Spirit – that will yield Oikonomia, the ultimate divine plan or economy of C/S/M/S.  Andrew Harvey and others enthusiastically name and champion this as a collective “Christ Consciousness.”  I am, admittedly, less sanguine, less optimistic.  I can also envision the clutch of crazies that rushed to the top of a skyscraper in Los Angeles to greet the aliens, only to be fried, in the film Independence Day.

Of course it’s an analogy, and we see only the glimpse that we can see, guessing at what we are making and where we are going.  But that is how it has always been, force and resistance interacting with creative spirit to yield a new reality.

We walk in faith.  I believe we are, collectively, one corner of some new trinity.  I believe that corner has the potential to be the Kingdom of Heaven.  Even more, I believe that whatever it is eventually named, it will be the sum of our collective human choices, and it will be the irrepressible urge toward a new round of trinitarian creation.  Who knows what mountains may rise, or what flowers and streams may appear.  May kindness and compassion – Tree of Life choices — be the character and essence of our collective expression, with trust in the catalyst of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source as together we urge forward in the friction and itch of creation, to be resolved in some new beauty beyond our sight and imagination.

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

Who We Are

Tradition has it that Jesus was born to a virgin, conceived in an immaculate flash of union with the Holy Spirit.  Tell me, how is that different from the way you or I were born?  Creation is creation.  Or perhaps becoming is becoming, if we think of things in an evolutionary frame.

We can explain the mechanics of conception and birth in great depth and detail.  But it seems we will not touch the complete mystery of life and spirit anytime soon.  Even Jesus looked around at the rocks in the field and said that Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source could make children of them.

We are who we are, no more nor less.  We are a particular mix and match of Higg’s Bosons – the very same quarks and electrons that make rocks, stars and all that is – coming together under the right conditions.  Where did the self-awareness step in, and how?  Does it matter?  Despite the insistence of some religions on our fallen nature, we are children of the universe, beings with the gift of self-awareness, being and becoming what we will become.  Let’s relax with that.

Is there a creator God behind all of this, pushing around the Higg’s Bosons, mixing and matching the quarks?  Perhaps.  That is a question of faith, not science.  I believe (the faith piece, the confidence in things not seen, but perceived) that there is, indeed, a vast and beautiful creative source and energy.  I believe that we are somehow emanations and expressions, actual part and parcel of that immaculate energy.  And the essence of that energy is creative expression, not manipulation.  There is no offended judge ready to burn our bodies and spirits for eternity in hell because we didn’t say this, we didn’t do that or we broke somebody’s holy rule.

What are the grounds of my belief?  Simple.  The cells of my body literally rejoice when I contemplate and trust connection with the energetic whole.   They are flowering and at peace in the sunshine and rain of all that is.  And I know, as well, when they despair, hate, fear and retreat.  This happens whenever I drift into belief that I am disconnected and alone, an isolated and completely vulnerable ego-self.

We cannot really separate ourselves from what we are.  We can only imagine that separation in the awakening process of our self-awareness.  And when we imagine that separation, we create our own little imaginary hell in which to live.  It is a hell of worry and fear, expressed in grasping this and fending off that.  It is a hell that is, most of all, scared to death of death, of perceived annihilation.

But my spirit soars, it thrills, at rest in a stream beyond the speed of light, basking in the unseen power and evanescence of being, of becoming.  It is this perceived knowing that is the experience, essence and expression of faith.  It is knowing beyond comprehension, seeing beyond observation, joining in union beyond touch.  It is being and becoming.

We waken to life, conceived in that immaculate flash under what appears at first to be the tree of duality, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We grasp at good, we ward off evil, we run, scared as hell, from death.

But when we stop, when we set down our grasping and defending, we find ourselves at peace, being and becoming under the Tree of Life.  Come rest with me in that streaming stillness beyond the speed of light.  Drink the refreshing tea of the leaves that heal the nations.

There were two special trees, planted as crown jewels in the metaphorical Garden of Eden.  Yet they are one.  It is our faith that makes us whole.

Scripture today from Cat Stevens, “Sitting:”

Oh I’m on my way, I know I am,

Somewhere not so far from here.

All I know is all I feel right now.

There’s a power growing in my hair.

© Jerry Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Quote as useful.  Please reference the source.

Suffering

My wife is a special educator.  She tells me stories about kids who are and will be, no matter how hard they work, miles and miles short of successful functioning in our society.  I hear about the amazing ways that she confronts them and engages them to draw out even the most basic responses to external stimuli – things like pointing to or grabbing a particular picture that indicates something they want or need, communication in its most elemental forms.  My mind spins off into the future for these little lives and I ache.  Something in me inclines toward discouragement.

According to Wikipedia, 230,000 people died, in 2004, in the Indian Ocean Tsunami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami), triggered by an undersea megathrust off the west coast of Sumatra.  The millions that survived carry the soul etching memory of terror, and the loss of loved ones, places and ways of life that were wrenched irrevocably out of their being.  Even from a distance, the collective soul of the earth feels and bears the rip, the wound and the scar.

The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University (see http://costsofwar.org/article/afghan-civilians) estimated, in February 2013, that between 16,700 and 19,000 civilians have died in Afghanistan as direct or indirect casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom.  iCasualties counts 3383 deaths of coalition troops since the war started in 2001 (http://icasualties.org/oef/), not to mention the traumatic head injuries, loss of limbs and suffering of families of the injured.

Life as we observe it and experience it is full of suffering, whether natural, psychological or of our own making.  And it is so for the observer and survivor just as it is for the victim. 

The Sanskrit term dukkha captures this completely.  The Wikipedia article on dukkha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha) explains it in three categories:

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birthgrowing oldillness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

When we choose to stay stuck under the metaphorical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, life is indeed dukkha.  We see everything through a lens of a battle to eliminate the pain of our current existence, even to the point of killing others and increasing pain because we think somehow our own security will be enhanced and our dukkha decreased.  In reality, we just pile it higher and deeper.

I have a friend, Vern Rempel, who postscripts his emails with these words of his:  “The code of the universe is written in beauty.” The Buddha said:  “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.”  Somehow I think these two assertions are headed in the same direction.

We cannot judge the pain of temporal existence any more than we can judge – as good, bad or indifferent – the unfolding of our universe and the emergence of life itself.  It is.  It is, it is, it is.  To say “it is” is not indifference, but rather acceptance of and wonder at the mysterious whole and trajectory of creation.

The cessation of dukkha is no more nor less than the choice to live under the Tree of Life.  It is, I believe, a more complete nirvana, and the essence of the Greek term metanoia, translated in the Christian Bible as repentance.  That word has become heavy laden with the trappings of a religion of judgment.  More accurately, it simply means to change, or to turn away from.

When we turn away from our judging and fearful view of life under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we find ourselves, simply, under the Tree of Life.  We repent of dukkha.  We let go of, we turn way from our limited and temporal view of suffering and we engage fully in the ongoing act, the revelation/evolution of creation.

We, in our evolutionary state, have been given at least the level of awareness that comes with observation.  And we have been gifted as well with the ability to judge what we observe.  We also have the ability to choose our response.

We can willfully try to manipulate life and the world around us, desperately seeking to avoid what we perceive as dukkha.  When we do this, we only create more.

Or we can willingly accept and participate in the beautiful and staggeringly powerful onslaught of creation, sharing compassion, soaking in the beauty and mystery, acting in the creative initiative of God/Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

There is a tremendous ache, the ache of birth, in the act of creation.  We are part of it.  The birth, the code of that ache, is the handwriting of the universe.  The child of it all, the child of us all when we participate in and do not fight the unfolding, is beauty beyond words and saying.

Come, turn, breathe, care, steward and create.  Live under the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Share as you please.  Mention the source.

Scientism and The Tree of Life

My son John called a few months back to tell me that he had spoken with my father.  That’s a sweet and common thing, right, for a child to speak with a grandparent?  And it was especially nice that he bothered to tell me.   The thing is, Dad died suddenly more than 27 years ago.  We adopted John, then just under three years of age, 26 years ago.  John never met Dad on this plane.  He just gets these kinds of visits.

There was no life-changing message in the conversation, at least yet revealed.  Mostly it contained well-wishes for all of Dad’s descendants, with a heartfelt sentiment about how much he loved them and was proud of each of them.  John received a distinct sense of each, including far-flung infant first cousins once removed that he truly did not even know.

There were other uniquely identifying memories in the exchange, a particular car, for instance, that Dad talked about.  John described it to me in detail, a car I had no photos of and would never have had reason to mention to my son.  I knew immediately which car it was and found a photo of one just like it on the Internet and sent it to John.  He recognized it with certainty as the car Dad was talking about.

And my Grandma Schertz was pushing some kind of greeting through in the background, too.  She would have done that, while she was busy busy minding her plants.

I am probably thinking about this today because my good friend Ki Johnson sent me Eben Alexander’s wonderful book, Proof of Heaven, last week.  If you are not familiar with it, Alexander is a neurosurgeon who experienced an extended and particularly deep NDE (near death experience) in 2008, an experience that has changed the course of his life and expanded his view of science and spirituality.

We have become, over the past four hundred years, so enamored with science that we have created a new religion, scientism.  Perhaps nothing in the world has greater allure and power to hold us under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to blind us from the fullness of the Tree of Life.  Scientism would certainly dismiss or rationalize in some material way my son’s experience.

There is, of course, so much to be grateful for in the scientific method and its fruits.  In addition to the amazing advances in medicine, transportation, communications, daily comforts and understandings of the physical universe, there has been the very valuable checkmate of the abuses of religious dogma and the crushing power of the super-institutionalized church.

But scientism is no different than its religionist adversary.  Scientism turns an essentially useful tool into an abusive force when it claims ultimate and exclusive truth.  Scientism says that if science has not seen it, touched it or named it, it does not exist.  Scientism becomes especially queasy, if not downright dogmatic and fundamentalist, when spirituality enters the room.

Science, itself, in an interesting turn of events, may be approaching spirituality.  Or at least a perhaps necessary but over-exuberant burst of human pride at the discoveries and advances of the scientific method may be coming to a more balanced and humble correction.  We have been presented with the observations of astronauts as they view the earth from space, the photos of galaxies from the Hubble telescope, and, in another direction entirely, the almost infinite tininess of the Higgs boson.  And we learn that rocks and trees and skies and seas are all made of the same stuff – the tiniest of particles whirling and attaching in relationship with mostly space in between – just like the universe – just like us, the most sentient of beings on our speck of a planet.

And, of course, Hinduism, perhaps the oldest of the major religions, can point back to its roots and say “I told you so.”  Its philosophical underpinnings and observations of its sages reflect the kind of unitive creative force and energy to which physics now also points.

So as we consider our own spiritual path, what are the implications?

  • We begin to experience our old concept of God more as Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source than as an image of us, a human form, who lives and rules from somewhere in a direction that we have arbitrarily chosen to label up.
  • C/S/M/S is no less real or personal.  In fact, just the opposite.  C/S/M/S is in and through all of that creative space and energy, the stuff that you and I and everything are made of.
  • The immanence and transcendence of C/S/M/S begin to seem more like the realities of the physical universe and less like theories for discussion.   In fact the distinctions between physical and spiritual, immanence and transcendence, begin to blur, if not disappear altogether.
  • Our role clarifies.  Somehow, because we have been granted the gift of consciousness (insofar as we can say what that is and that we possess it in some unique and special way), we have both the power and the responsibility of co-creation, of participating in our own way in the ongoing act of creation and its care.  That is perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of being in the image of C/S/M/S.

Scientism and religionism duke it out in a futile and unending struggle of ego under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Science, the observation of what is, and spirituality, the willingness to be, rest and act comfortably in each other’s presence, without judgment, under the Tree of Life.  Let’s be there.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Quote as useful.  Please reference the source.