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.

Fight the Good Fight

I grew up in the Midwest region of the United States.  Feelings were pretty much just a bad thing.  It’s not that we did not have feelings.  We just did not admit to having them.  Let’s take that a step further.  We denied having them – especially anger.  So we got angry and did not know we were angry.  We did not know how to recognize, accept and deal with our feelings.  That means they could get really out of control.  And they could do a lot of internal and external damage.

Now, at almost 66 years of age, after losing the benefit of too many conflicts to unrecognized and poorly managed anger, I think I am beginning to learn.  Note that I said, “losing the benefit.”  The joy of the good fight is the transformation that can come in fighting it.

There are fights worth fighting.  And there are ways to fight them.  There will be feelings involved.  The key is to recognize these feelings without allowing them to take charge.  Pema Chodron uses the Tibetan term shenpa.  She says that it is often translated to mean attachment, and that certainly is part of the reality.  We get attached to our feelings and it becomes impossible to distinguish ourselves from them.

But Chodron says a more accurate definition for shenpa is the idea of getting hooked.  A feeling surges up and hooks us.  Or we hook onto it.  Either way, it is painful, it is powerful, and it is hard to get free of it.

When we get hooked by our anger, we leave and lose the fight.  We leave, because our energy becomes consumed by our anger and we have turned our attention from the fight to the overwhelming urge to satisfy our anger.  We also become attached to an outcome rather than a process.  We want only to defeat our enemy, not to stay with a creative process to an undetermined but perhaps mutually satisfactory conclusion – the real benefit of the fight.  Everyone loses, because our anger is the only thing our enemy can see in us.  Any merit in our case has left the building.

As humans, we will experience shenpa.  We will get hooked.  The trick is to recognize when it happens, to hold ourselves with compassion and to not let the hook take control of our actions.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna urges the reluctant Arjuna forward into battle with his relatives.  Arjuna balks and laments.  This is his family.  And yet the fight needs to happen.  Wrong needs to be confronted.  Issues in relationship need to be resolved.

Loving our enemy does not equate to being nice to our enemy at all costs or abandoning the engagement.  True love for our enemy treats the other with compassionate understanding while never shying from truth, to the extent that it has been shown to us.

That stance requires openness.  We must pursue the cause valiantly without the shenpa of becoming hooked to a specific outcome.  We must engage with full energy, even as we remain humble and open to new revelation and the change that comes from truly engaged relationship.

Life under the Tree of Life is not passive.  Neither is it aggressive.  Rather, it seeks transformation, not destruction.  And it is open to the surprise of self-transformation, change that is larger than we can imagine, the transformation that comes from full, open and compassionate engagement.

© 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.

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.

Doctor My Eyes

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

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

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

Jackson Browne laments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Super Bowl, Election 2016 and God in America

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

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

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

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

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

Certainly much that is good has been accomplished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embrace it under the Tree of Life.

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

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

Where is God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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