Learning Everlasting

Lifelong learning.  It’s a great concept.  Now that I work for a library, it helps to pay the bills.  It keeps the minds of millions occupied, distracted.  As a busy lifelong learner, I can avoid the contemplation of death and the possibility of the end of me as I know me – or perhaps not just as I know me, but just the end, indeed, altogether.  Maybe all that is left is a whirling dispersion of atoms, quarks and Higgs Bosons, randomly traversing the universe and likely as not getting trapped for something close to eternity in a gas giant like Jupiter.  There is some small comfort, in that case, in the present thought of having no awareness at that time.

“Well take another look, and tell me baby:  Who’s zoomin’ who?” (Thank you, Aretha Franklin).  Who is looking through these eyes at these words? And tell me, Mr. or Mrs. Higgs, how did you think up your boson?  And why is there a race track, just for electrons, underneath a couple of countries in Europe, all for the joy of catching one of these little buggers?  And why does my spruce tree smell so good in the afternoon sun, while the aspen leaves shimmy in the breeze, the hummingbird hovers inches away at the feeder and the most beautiful swallows in the world dart with abandon through all of it?

I don’t believe for a moment that this is just a chance material world.  But then, neither do I believe in any hard and fast predestination, where we are pawns on a stage for the entertainment of some cynical cosmic audience.

The sages that dreamed the Upanishads called it prana – the life force or essence, the breath of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, exhaled and inhaled by all that is.  Prana given and prana withdrawn is the life experience of the material.  Prana is expressed in senses and awareness, but its presence or absence does not change it.  It just passes through creative stages, one form, one life to another.  Prana spins, organizes and reorganizes itself.  And at our level, prana wakes to the awesome joy and fear of awareness – the ability of the created to be so fully awake that it can observe itself participating in the very act of creation.  What an accomplishment and gift!  You, I, we are part of that.

We can dance, we can play, we can create.  We can care, we can tend, we can nurture.  We can also bury our talent – our prana – in fear, invest it in greed and control, or try to obliterate it in self-destructive behavior.  No matter, ultimately, I think, beyond whatever joy, sadness or learning we experience from the consequences of our behavior, individually or corporately.

I believe in learning everlasting.   Paul talks about seven heavens in the New Testament and others speak of many planes of existence.  We toy with questions of the edges of our universe.  Is it expanding?  Is it contracting?  Are there others?  What does all of that mean?

The Prashna Upanishad goes into great depth about prana, speculating that prana divides itself into five expressions when it enters bodily form.  The Sanskrit term for the fifth of these is udana, the force that gathers our prana at the end of each lifetime and moves it forward to the next.  Question III, verse 7 of the Prashna, says this of udana:

At the time of death, through the subtle track
That runs upward through the spinal channel,
Udana, the fifth force, leads the selfless
Up the long ladder of evolution,
And the selfish down.  But those who are both
Selfless and selfish come back to this earth.

Could be.  I find myself at home with this thought of learning everlasting, of an eminently patient and persistent Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source that breathes us full of prana, the very breath of life, and lets us choose, in perfect freedom, how we will use the gift, one lifetime after another.  Can we spin ourselves off to an isolation of no return?  I doubt it, despite our longest and worst efforts.  Can we stay stuck at one level, torn between isolation and connection for a very long time?  I suspect so.  Is there always a loving call home?  I believe it with all my heart and soul.

“Softy and tenderly, Jesus is calling.  Calling to you and to me.”  (Will L. Thompson, 1880) Born under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, whispered forever to the Tree of Life, let’s go home.

Scripture today, from my friends Jan Garrett & JD Martin:

Red Rock Canyon (We Go On)

Red rock canyon loves the light, juniper pinon sunrise
And the sweet earth is still damp from last night’s rain
The smell of the sage is a simple prayer
Rising up in the morning air
Saying welcome home again
And oh, what a wonder, I cannot begin to say
Such unspeakable beauty calling my name

We go on, like a beautiful song
We are carried on great winds across the sky
We go on, we go sailing free
We come shining through, we go on

There are secrets singing in the breeze at dawn
A fresh familiar song
And everywhere I look, the world is alive
The soul of the river is one and the same
As the holy blood running through my veins
Like a father’s smile in his newborn child
So, stand still, let me look at your face
Everything keeps changing, but this love remains

We go on, like a beautiful song
We are carried on great winds across the sky
We go on, we go sailing free
We come shining through, we go on

(Lyrics and Music, Jan Garrett & JD Martin)

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin and the Path Between the Trees

I speak of this journey on the path between the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life as though it is an individual adventure.  It is, certainly.  But it is also a social journey, the journey of the family, the journey of the community, the journey of society, the nation and humanity.  Yesterday George Zimmerman was acquitted, in the State of Florida, on the charge of murdering Trayvon Martin.  There was never any question that Mr. Zimmerman shot and killed young Trayvon.  The question had to do with the crime of murder.  And by Florida law, which says in essence that if you are afraid of someone, you can shoot to kill, Mr. Zimmerman was not guilty.  He was afraid of young Trayvon.  He is exonerated under the law.  The case is closed.

I believe, truly, that Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, with infinite compassion and wisdom, will in good time call everyone involved to healing and to home.  But somehow, in this twisted travesty, I have difficulty imagining the task complete in my lifetime, or in yours.  Who knows what the path holds for Mr. Zimmerman.  Nor can I imagine any quick and easy cleanup for the Florida legislature, and their voting electorate, that chose to pass laws that embrace and codify fear and its cousin, hatred, as legitimate bases for the function of society.  And what of this life so rudely cut off for young Trayvon?

We have a common phrase in English, “the straight and narrow.”  It is an allusion to a teaching of Jesus quoted in Matthew that many of us learned as kids: “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  (Matt 7:14, NRSV)  The common meaning of both the phrase and the way it was taught is, “Be good, really good, which is really really hard, and you might, after you die, get to heaven.”

But that is not at all what these words are about.  They are about finding our way, as individuals, as communities, as societies, nations and humanity.  These words are about finding our way off the merry-go-round of fear that keeps us travelling round and round the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, one lifetime after another.  As Joni Mitchell wrote, “We’re captive on a carousel of time.” (Joni Mitchell, “Circle Game”)  The lights are bright and the music is loud.  It’s hard to imagine, riding in the nighttime of this blaring sorrow, that the Tree of Life is just a few steps away.  It’s hard to leave the cotton candy and the popcorn.  It’s hard to venture into the quiet darkness.  And when we do, there’s a pretty good chance that our leaving will threaten the whole show enough that someone will just shoot us in the back.  Because the merry-go-round, friends, stops when the riders all walk away.  And that’s a major threat to those who can’t imagine anything besides that ride.

The way, the truth and the life, friends, looks like a tiny path in the darkness from up here on the merry-go-round.  It is not illuminated by the lights of fear or greed.  It is not paved and policed by laws that say the right thing is to live behind a gate, to be afraid and to shoot to kill whenever we have the least worry about our seat on the painted pony, or that someone might have the audacity not to be aware of or paying attention to us and to our rules about our street, full of our possessions.  Too bad about that, young Trayvon, too bad.

It’s hard, today, not to run right back to the merry-go-round and jump on a pony and just chase Mr. Zimmerman down the same way his neighborhood and the laws of Florida are set up to hate and chase down folks like young Trayvon.  But friends, the way, the truth and the life demand that we close our eyes to a false light that draws us like moths back to that endless circle of fear, hate and despair.

Yes, we must, with complete detached engagement stand in the path of fear.  Yes, we must with complete detached engagement let our government and the Florida legislature know that these laws point us down an easy path to certain destruction.  Yes, yes, yes and YES!!!

But we must do these things from the clear path that leads to life.  It’s not really that the path is so small and narrow.  It’s more that we refuse to look for it.  It’s more that we keep coming up with reasons, even when we have found the path, to stop singing and to turn around and run back, get on our pony, claim our seat, hold on to our righteous stuff and hate someone.  We dare not.  We dare not forget our song.

We sing it with confidence, forward to young Trayvon.  We sing it with confidence to Mr. Zimmerman.  We sing it with arms around mom and dad Martin.  We sing it with clarity to the Florida legislature, and to the judge and to the jury, and to all the corners of our own hearts that want to turn our tears back into bullets.

The way, the truth and the life leads only one way between the trees.  It is lit by one light and sung by one song.  Let us close our eyes.  Let us open our hearts.  Let us sing our song and let us walk forward on that path.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Quote freely, with reference.

The Doorway: Life Between the Creeds

  1. I don’t believe in a physical Father Almighty, though I suppose Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) could choose to take that form in some very limited but specifically useful expression,
  2. Who fathered through the Holy Spirit an only-begotten Son of God who was physically or spiritually put together any differently than you or I.
  3. I do believe in C/S/M/S, that is the breath of life in all of us, in whom we live and move and have our being.
  4. I am much more inclined to believe in reincarnation than I am to believe in the actual resurrection of my specific physical remains (yuck!).  Or let’s say I think “I”, whatever spark of C/S/M/S “I” am, can likely be reconstituted in any way, shape, time or place Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source desires.
  5. I have a completely unfounded faith and confidence – call it a firm suspicion and longing – in/for life everlasting.

For me, as for many people I know and love, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds just don’t cut it.  I live life between creeds.  An important disclaimer:  Growing up Mennonite, I was not raised in a creedal tradition.  We didn’t talk about it much, so I didn’t really know why.  I was aware of the creeds.  I think we read them occasionally, incidentally, accidentally.  We were just more concerned about following the teachings of Jesus about everyday life.  Looking back, I am grateful.

Liminal space, the threshold, the doorway between – spiritual directors like to talk about that as the creative place to be, the place where C/S/M/S can act for our growth.  It’s a place of wonder, of openness, but also of uncertainty and sometimes loneliness.  It is a place of leaving behind, of preparing to move forward, of not yet having arrived.  We live in liminal space and, I believe, in uniquely liminal times.

The people I connect with most don’t go to church anymore.  Or they confide, when they know they are safe, that there is nothing there for them spiritually – that they go for the sense of community, but that their spirit is hungry for something no longer found there.

I participate in two separate and independent gatherings, one called Journey and the other called, of all things, Journeys.  These groups both discuss questions of spirituality.  They are composed largely of people who grew up Christian, and who, for the most part, no longer participate in traditional church.  The average age in both groups, for whatever reason, is probably people in their early eighth decade (70’s, if you don’t want to do the math).  At 60, I am a relative youngster.  One meets in a church, sponsored and at least tolerated by a church, before the regular service.  Few of the perhaps 50 participants stay for service.

Liminal space is restless, like the times after a revolution and before the formation of a new nation.  These times lack definition and structure.  They are creative and risky, uncertain.  Traditional community is gone.  There is something within us, like the Israelites in the period of the judges, that at least subliminally (interesting, the derivation of that word) wants a king, and probably a creed.

It is 2013.  The world was supposed to end last year, just like it was supposed to end so many times before on so many calendars.  Perhaps it did.  Perhaps something truly tipped and the grip and bands of twenty centuries of Christianity (not Jesus, folks, but Christianity), broke, lost hold.  The bands did not disappear.  They did not dissolve in a flash, but they finally rusted through.  And the staves of the barrel are loosening.  The old wine is seeping and even running down the sides.

There is sadness, grief and pain in that loss.  It’s the music that hits me hardest.  So much incredible beauty, longing and hope, but with words that are hard to mouth and to articulate as we stand in this present doorway.  One day, and even now, I hope it can be sung with affirmation, as metaphor that, like all good metaphor, touches deep aspects of our human and spiritual condition, not as hard dogmatic reality.  I will not let the music go, or much of the scripture for that matter – language of healing and hope, full of C/S/M/S, beauty beyond beauty.

And there is hope and light in the doorway.  I can’t, even if I want, rush through it.  And the truth is I don’t want to.  Younger people will move past, and they should.  They will find their new creed and community.  And I might, too, in time.  But for now, I am at peace in the doorway, in this liminal space.  Both feet are perhaps on the threshold.  I am no longer in the past.  But neither have I moved on into some hard fast future.

I trust a bright tomorrow.  I trust the spirit of today.  I am grateful.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.


Redemption is the follow-on act to forgiveness in the transformative process that moves us from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.   It is the action that makes our human experience useful for a life of spiritual growth and compassionate service.

Recall, again, that we are journeying from attachment and revulsion, to detachment from the controlling power of both our desires and also the burdens and pains of our human experience.  Detachment, in this context, is not disengagement from life.  Rather, it is a choice about control.  We detach by deciding that neither our desires nor our fears will have authority over who and how we are.  That authority comes from a different place and will be the topic for another week.

For the person engaged fully in this journey between the trees, forgiveness – relinquishing control – and redemption – accepting back as useful – are the paired constant tasks of life.  They are no more nor less than breathing in and breathing out.

Remember our experiential list from last week:

  • Desires that we chase, never to complete satisfaction
  • Fears and discomforts that we avoid
  • Wrongs that we inflict on others
  • Wounds and injustices that we receive

Forgiveness is the act of letting go of these things, of stepping off the merry-go-round, of no longer chasing our tail in our mad dash around the trunk of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Redemption is when all these things we have chased or run from, and now release, come back to us as useful tools for life.  Notice that I say tools.  We do not have to use them.  We do not have to go back to them.  Some we may choose never to touch again in any way.  Some traumas are too deep and the healing too long and painful to be picked up and put into active use as personal tools for the healing of others.  And I would never imply some kind of cosmic purpose dictated by the learnings from a horrible accident, for instance.

But at the very least, redemption is an action of sufficient personal healing to make it possible to move forward in life.  Perhaps, in fact, it is that very act of moving forward once we have been able to forgive and relinquish:

  • When I have let go of my attachment to a desire, I may choose to experience that pleasure when it is available if I know that it will not harm me or another, no longer controlled by my attachment to it. Or I may know that the possibility of reattachment holds too much risk for me.  In that case, I might choose to live my life without touching that experience again, while neither despising nor praising it.  I have experienced forgiveness.  I move on through redemption.
  • When we have let go of a fear we have long carried, we may simply move forward without it.  Or perhaps we will be comfortable enough with what we have learned that we can, in turn, help others on the path to name and to release similar fears.  Redemption is the move forward.  Redemption is also the new tool we have in service of others if we choose to use it.
  • When we have been able to give and to receive forgiveness for things we have done or for wounds we have received, redemption makes it possible for us to remind ourselves, with humility, when we might become critical or judgmental of others.  Or it may help us to empathize, to hear and to participate in the healing of another who has experienced a wound similar to our own.  In either case, it clears the path for us to move more freely and openly toward the Tree of Life, where all people experience and share healing.

Redemption touches and heals memory.  It does not take memory away, but it can make memory our teacher.  Redemption is our constant companion, if we are listening for it on the path, conversing with us, drawing wisdom and understanding from our experience.  If we allow it, redemption opens the ear of our hearts so that we can hear others with compassion.  It is the gift we become for each other on our journey to the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.


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.

Whose Will is it Anyway?

So we’ve chosen to let go of ego, small “s” self, and the attachments that drive us relentlessly to the pleasure and away from the pain we experience under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And we’ve embraced the Lord of Life, the capital “S” Self of the Upanishads under the Tree of Life.  Furthermore, we did this as a free will choice.  It seemed like a good thing to do.

But who did it, if not my ego self?  And who are we, or, in fact, are we at all, once we have made that move?  These are not small questions or little fears (ego fears, admittedly).  I remember when I was in high school, early in my years as a follower of Jesus, and I read a lot of the things Paul had to say in the New Testament about “Not I, but Christ.”  It troubled me that I had been given a brain and the ability to think and to write, and then, at least as I understood it, I was being told to throw all that out the window and somehow someone else was going to live in me and witness on street corners and say embarrassing things I didn’t want to say.

And then I went to college and took a philosophy course from our college president, a Harvard trained philosopher and a true follower of Christ, and learned that in the Eastern religions a person really arrived, achieved nirvana or enlightenment, when the self was completely annihilated and merged into this formless unitive mass.  I still see the circle on the chalkboard.  OK, supposedly it was blissful, but if I didn’t exist, how would I know?  I mean, how attractive is that?

Not long after, what with the busyness and confusion of early middle age, I just let it all go pretty much numb.  But the question of if not me, than whom, continued to poke its head up and nag me every now and then.  Am I mine or am I someone else’s?  Or am I even asking the right question?

Hamlet, as it turns out, pretty much nailed it in his simple and eloquent conundrum:  “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”  Or even better, Billy Crystal’s wonderful impersonation of Sylvester Stallone doing Hamlet:  “To be, or what?”   The answer, friends, is in “being,” not in “whoing.”  The answer is in the “am” more than in the “I.”

There is a good bit of speculation that Jesus studied under spiritual masters in India, Egypt and perhaps even with the Druids of the Celtic Isles during the many years of silence.  Someday he might tell us.  Whatever, much of his behavior is consistent with this thought.  When James and John asked to be seated at his right and left hand in glory, he responded that true leaders serve and are not served.  And his final act of teaching for his followers was, as a leader, to set aside the “who” thing and engage the “be” thing of washing their feet.  He consistently rewrote his “I” as “to be.”

In the Hindu classic, The Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna adopts a similar stance.  He is not the mighty warrior.  Rather, he is the charioteer – the servant and counselor of the very human Arjuna, who is struggling over the “I” issues of the tasks that have been set before him.  There is no more profound and lucid explication than the Gita, when it comes to detachment from outcomes (the “I”) in favor of full engagement of the satisfying acts of service that represent our true nature (the “be”).  This is rich and joy filled reading.

Gerald May, the late psychiatrist and author who founded the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, in his profound book, Will and Spirit, asserts that we find meaning in life when we abandon “willfulness” (the “I” stance) in favor of “willingness” (the “be” stance).

And if there remains any doubt, in the clearest identifying statement of the Biblical narrative, God declares to Moses (Ex 3:14, NRSV), “I AM WHO I AM . . . . Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  God/Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source is not “who.”  GCSMS “is.”

So whose will is it anyway?  The answer is to detach from the struggle of the question and TO BE, in action, who we ARE, created in the image of God.  We are not “Who (ego).”  We “are (Self).”  Our true nature and satisfaction is to act, to serve, to be accordingly, with every cell and atom of our creation.

Today’s scripture, from the Gospel of John Lennon:


Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

The Way Between the Trees

It’s a nice idea, the thought of letting go of addiction to pleasure and aversion to pain, the thought of moving away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and moving on to our true gift and home in the Tree of Life.  But how do we accomplish that?

We accomplish this by practicing, practicing and practicing some more letting go of our judgments and reactions to people, things and events around us and replacing these reactions with deep understanding and compassionate service.  History  and the great traditions provide us with vivid and powerful examples, examples worth emulating.

In 3073 BCE, the Hindu author of the Srimad Bhagavatam wrote about Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu:

Whenever truth is forgotten in the world, and wickedness prevails, the Lord of Love becomes flesh to show the way, the truth and the life to humanity.  Such an incarnation is an avatar, an embodiment of God on Earth.

Some three millennia later, Jesus is quoted as saying (John 14: 6-7, NRSV):

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.

These are not competing, but rather mutually affirming statements.  The point of both of these writings, one from over 5,000 years ago and one over 2,000 years ago, is that incarnations have always happened to demonstrate the way forward, the way between the trees, the way to true life.

What is an incarnation, an avatar?  It is someone in the image of God, God in the image of someone.  And if what our Hindu author says is true, you can bet there were not just two.  In fact, when would that be, when “truth is forgotten in the world, and wickedness prevails”?  Or more accurately, when would that not be?

You, my friend, were created in the image of God.  When you choose the path of a good and strong guide, when you practice letting go of ego and attachment, when you practice compassionate service of others, you, too, become the way, the truth and the life.  You are that exemplar of the path.

And don’t get lost in the divinity trap.  Was Krishna divine?  Was Jesus divine?  Yes, yes!  And you were born with that same Buddha nature – created in the image of God.  There is neither pride nor shame.  And worship of them in our traditional sense is foolishness.  True worship is to follow, to practice, to become, to be the way, the truth and the life for the next person, created like you in the image of God, just behind you on the path.

From the Mundaka Upanishad, Part III [1]:

1Like two golden birds perched on the selfsame tree, intimate friends, the ego and the Self dwell in the same body.  The former eats the sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life (read here “knowledge of good and evil”) while the latter looks on in detachment.

2As long as we think we are the ego, we feel attached and fall into sorrow.  But realize that you are the Self, the Lord of life, and you will be freed from sorrow.

3When you realize that you are the Self, supreme source of light, supreme source of love, you transcend the duality of life and enter into the unitive state.

4The Lord of Love shines in the hearts of all.  Seeing him in all creatures, the wise forget themselves in the service of all.  The Lord is their joy, the Lord is their rest; such as they are the lovers of the Lord.

The Upanishads, Introduced and Translated by Eknath Easwaran, 1987, 2007, The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation

© Two Trees in the Garden, all rights reserved.

A Different Free Will Choice

Classical Christianity presents the basic free will choice in life to be acceptance or rejection of the salvific act of the death of Jesus.  With acceptance comes redemption from original sin and admission to the resurrection and life everlasting.  Rejection leaves us on a road to eternal damnation.

But the two tree metaphor of the Garden of Eden offers a different possibility.  Remember that in this view, the first tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, no longer represents the universal fall of humanity, but rather a simple metaphorical descriptor of our natural coming of age.  The bite from the apple symbolizes the essence of our maturation, our discovery and awareness of our individuated self – our ego. 

We become aware that we are in some way separate from and have power over others and our environment.  Initially this awareness feels pretty good.  We can exercise it to strengthen our relative position in life.  Having more, comparatively, than another, we feel safe and secure.  Somewhere deep inside, in fact, we think we might truly, with material enhancement, just continually better our lot in life.  Seems like a good path to follow.

But somehow an additional awareness comes with that bite, the awareness of our mortality – and it scares us all the way to delusion.  In fact in the legend of the Buddha’s life, his father was so afraid of mortality that he tried to protect his child prince from any possible exposure to old age, sickness and decay.  Inevitably, however, accidental exposure finally created the crisis that set Siddhartha on his quest for the answer to suffering, which culminated in his awakening or enlightenment.

We remain inclined, however, to hold to the material road.  We believe that enough wealth and power will conquer not only our discomfort and our fear, but ultimately death itself.  It seems such a silly and obvious illusion, but look at history.  Look at the world around you.  Look at yourself.

In fact the Jesus sacrifice idea just seals the deal.  I can have my cake and eat it, too.  As long as I am marked by my faith in the redemptive Blood of the Lamb, that death thing is taken care of.  So the obvious course is to stay attached to the comfort path for now, and just let Jesus know – you know – you are so grateful he died for you.  Sometimes I imagine 75,000 Christians in a packed stadium.  It’s halftime at the Super Bowl and the ultimate show is Jesus headed for the cross on the fifty yard line while the ecstatic and screaming crowd rises to its feet and starts the perfect wave.

Not even Jesus believed this stuff.  He makes it clear in Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you.”  His call was the same as the Buddha’s, the same as all avatars and true saints in all times and places.  It was the call to grow up and, in essence, to choose the Tree of Life, to let go of attachment to the illusion of separation and the false security of power and wealth.  It was a call to claim the original truth of creation:  You already live forever.  This is just a growing phase.  Engage it and learn.  Meet the distractions. And then know and trust that you are created in the image of God.  You breathe the breath of God.  Your true spirit is one with Love.  Flow gently through your life, with compassion and joy, free from attraction and aversion, free from the illusion of avoidance and the very fear of death.

Whew!  Time for a scripture break!  Lawrence Ferlinghetti, beat poet of the late 50’s and early 60’s:

Christ Climbed Down

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind published 2008 by New Directions

© Two Trees in the Garden

Free Will and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

You know, I think the name is truly apt:  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.   This tree in the garden was not itself good and evil; it was about knowing, becoming aware, feeling, sensing and distinguishing.  And what is the natural response to awareness?  It is, of course, just that – response.  The bite from the proverbial apple was no big deal.  The real event was our response to the flood of awareness that came with that taste:

  • I am a distinct individual.  Oh my God, I have to protect myself from extinction.
  • That feels good.  Oh my God, I want some more.
  • That hurts.  Oh my God, I want to avoid that at all costs.
  • I have no clothes.  Oh my God, how embarrassing.
  • There is only so much of that.  Oh my God, I need to hoard it.
  • I have power.  Oh my God, I have to control someone with it before they control me.
  • I am good.  Oh my God, I can never be good enough.
  • I am bad.  Oh my God, I must be horrible.
  • I am afraid!  Oh my God, I don’t want you to know because I’ll look weak!
  • Oh my God!

Becoming aware of me, the natural response was to think it was all about me.  I am autonomous.  True.  In my embodied state, I have a certain temporal sense of individuation.  Does that mean I am isolated?  Well, I can certainly choose to see it that way.  And therein lies the real issue:  the power to choose, or free will.

Our Creator made us aware.  And our Creator made us capable of response.  So where and how does free will kick in?  The traditional second millennial Christian view would say that we played our card – and make no mistake, the traditional view holds that the woman started it – we played our free will card in a defining way when we took the bite from the apple.  It was all over.  We chose to be fallen, and every baby born since that bite is a fallen human being, born of the sin of Adam and Eve.  And unless they make the free will choice to accept the redemptive blood of Jesus, they remain stuck in that fallen state and, sadly, bound for hell.

But I see it differently.  Free will is our Creator-bestowed power to choose, now and every day, our own response to the knowledge of good and evil that came with our Creator’s gift of human awareness.  Will we respond to all that comes to us in life from a separated, ego-centered perspective, or rather from a Spirit-connected, relationship-oriented place of generous and expansive trust?  On a daily basis, will we choose to be isolated in ego or to be bound together in love?

Fortunately, while the whole Adam and Eve saga was unfolding, the Creator was also talking on the other side of the world, unbeknownst to the authors of the Biblical text, about the concepts of attraction, aversion and attachment.  These concepts, originating in Buddhist writings, presented a different possible free will response to the knowledge of good and evil.

In this context, the knowledge of good and evil was granted, but things went a step further.  Somehow in the enlightenment of the Buddha, there came an awareness that our slavery was not to our inherent fallen nature, but rather to our own choice – to our everyday free will choice – to follow, to become attached to our attraction to desires and our aversion to pain and suffering.  We allowed ourselves to become slaves of our sensations in an effort to please and, we thought, protect our individuated selves, at any cost to ourselves and to those around us.

If you haven’t noticed, East and West begin to come together in this picture.  Ah, beware the heresy of syncretism!  Yes, yes, let’s let the blind ones describe the elephant at all costs.

But back to free will and the problem of attachment to attraction and aversion.  Somehow, like Adam and Eve, we do not see the lie and the separation in this choice of attachment.  Well what to do, what to do?  There is an answer, a free will answer, but it’s different than the one of at least second millennial Christianity.  Check back next week.

© Two Trees in the Garden


In his life story, Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, the Hindu saint who brought Kriya Yoga to the West, recounts his experience with the resurrection appearance of his beloved Master, Sri Yukteswar:

     Sitting on my bed in the Bombay hotel at three o’clock in the afternoon of June 19, 1936 – one week after the vision of Krishna – I was roused from my meditation by a beatific light.  Before my open and astonished eyes, the whole room was transformed into a strange world, the sunlight transmuted into supernal splendor.

Waves of rapture engulfed me as I beheld the flesh and blood form of Sri Yukteswar!

“My son!”  Master spoke tenderly . . . .

“But is it you, Master, the same Lion of God?  Are you wearing a body like the one I buried beneath the cruel Puri Sands?”

     “Yes, my child, I am the same.  This is a flesh and blood body.  Though I see it as ethereal, to your sight it is physical.  From the cosmic atoms I created an entirely new body, exactly like that cosmic-dream physical body which you laid beneath the dream-sands at Puri in your dream-world.  I am in truth resurrected.”

The conversation continues, in great depth and length, covering matters about this world and others.  The truth is, we know from current physics that Sri Yukteswar’s description of the material world is pretty much the way things are.

Many Christians will find this account surprising or disturbing, so much so that they will find a thousand ways to discredit it.  Why should they?  In both Matthew and Luke, John the Baptist is quoted as saying, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  And Jesus himself raises people from the dead in the gospels.

Ever since Anselm, Easter has become such a mess.  Bloody atonement.  We are so horrible that God had to kill God in order to keep God from damning us to hell.  And that is where we get all tripped up in our view of scripture.  Who can really believe that sacrifice for appeasement, payment of a price, was ever the desire of God/Spirit/Mind/Source?  Even the Old Testament prophets consistently cried out that G/S/M/S wanted our hearts, our hearts, not our sacrifices.

I will tell you that the crucifixion on Good Friday (there was nothing good about it, friends) was about murder and the devil’s bargain, not about appeasing God’s disappointment, anger or twisted sense of purity.  And the biggest message of the day, beyond the truth that evil and lies create unspeakable pain and suffering, was the ripping of the curtain to the Holy of Holies – the most powerful symbol of our false and fearful human created separation from our Creator – from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’s death as a resounding “Enough!”  Enough of death as the end, and of separation of any kind between humanity and our Creator.  It was never intended, it was our invention and the true saints and avatars of all time have called us urgently and persistently back, back to the garden.

The cross, folks, is the painful suffering of our illusory world, symbolized so powerfully by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The resurrection – of Lazarus, of Jesus, of Sri Yukteswar – is the truth and reality of the Tree of Life.  We are made, everlasting, in the image of God.  Rise up and follow.  Rise up and follow.

© Two Trees in the Garden

What is Scripture?

Whether we read or studied it or not, most of us grew up with a pretty clear picture of what was and what was not scripture.  For the majority of boomers in America, scripture was the Holy Bible, next question please.  And no matter what it said, in grand story or minute instruction, it was God’s Word, cut and dried, start to finish, take it or leave it.  If you worked hard enough, or trusted completely enough, you could wring some meaning out of every jot and tittle.

That works pretty well in a very small world, until you realize that for a Muslim, scripture is the Quran, for Latter Day Saints it includes the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, and, of course, the list goes on.  It’s easy to see where this leads.  Holy books, chock full of nuggets of truth and wisdom, are melted down and turned into bombs and swords, objects of division, judgment and violence rather than invitation, healing and peace.  Canon to cannon.  It’s a small sleight of hand.

Another key problem with this traditional understanding of scripture is precisely the canonical aspect.  We are never part of it.  It’s written and decided upon by holier people in holier times.  Somehow we judge ourselves less connected to God/Spirit/Mind/Source than those people in those times and places.  And we cede and seal that authority by Closing The Canon.   (Jesus died. Jesus rose. Constantine reigned. Canon closed. End times are just around the corner. You just repent and wait.)

I don’t buy it.  We are children of God, now, created in that image, as have been all people in all time.  Scripture is the Voice of God, written, as Jeremiah says, on our hearts (Jer 31: 33-34).  It’s not a voice that comes and goes.  It’s a voice that speaks and calls and comforts. It’s a voice that warns of danger and the consequences of ego and greed.  It is capital T Truth, now and evermore.  And it’s here and accessible whenever we choose to tune in.

So I encourage you to do a little creative thinking about what the Word of God is in your life.  Here, to stimulate your imagination, is a quick and very incomplete list of things that come to mind today for me.

Scripture is:

  • The snow on the Colorado Blue Spruce and Ponderosa Pines outside my window this morning
  • The voice of Leonor as we talk about our grandchildren
  • The wisdom of egoless Self in the verses of the Upanishads, passed down for perhaps 5,000 years with authorship attributed to no one in particular
  • The love and comfort of Psalm 23
  • The environmental Truth and wakeup call of hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, and the devastation of the High Park fire
  • Aleppo, the slums of Mumbai, the sweat shop in China and the Arab Spring
  • Jackson Browne singing “Don’t You Want to Be There”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOfOh1AtJo4
  • JD Martin’s “One Heart” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q5ia2jUeqc
  • Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching
  • Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables
  • Our friend Lourdes pulling the perfect shot to make that café cortadito down at The Red Cup

You get the picture.  Ease up.  God is speaking.  Tune in.  Listen for the voice of compassion, egoless Self, relationship and healing.  Listen for the warnings about the pitfalls of the path of greed and defense.  True scripture, the very Voice of God, is all around you, in every moment; a gift to nourish, to comfort, to strengthen and connect you, to connect us.

It is stories about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It invites us, always, to the Tree of Life.

Two Trees in the Garden.

Fallen or in the Image of God?

I get confused when I hear Christians talk about the human condition.  I hear them tell their teens, “God didn’t make no trash.”  And then I hear them say over and over that they themselves are worthless but for the grace of God.  That does not compute.  The problem goes right back to the two very different creation stories presented in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.  We need to get over it.

Let’s get back to the garden – actually a little before the garden, in the first round of the creation story in Genesis 1, which is obviously a different story than the one written about the garden by a different author in chapter 2.  The culmination of story 1 is God’s thought to “make humankind in our (plural – hmmmm) image, according to our likeness.”  And so, the story continues, God did exactly that, on that sixth day of creation and concluded that, indeed, it was very good.  If God says it was very good, it must have been, must now be, must forever be very very good.  And it’s not that the author modifies the story in chapter 2.  It’s that someone else came along and wrote a different story.  There is truth in both, certainly.   But bottom line, in the culmination of story 1, we are created in God’s image and it is very good.

And now the garden story, the two-treed garden story.  Recall that, in chapter 2, we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we got scared and we ran.  In essence, we experienced what we call sin.  I don’t like the word, not because I don’t think the condition exists, but because I don’t judge it with the load of guilt and shame that Christendom has piled on for millennia.  It is separation and nothing more.  That’s enough, isn’t it, to be separated from love beyond imagination?  It leads directly to, fear, greed, blame and violence – all the things an isolated ego does to try to care for, criticize or punish its poor vulnerable and lonely self in its terrified vision of a universe of competition and scarcity.  Who needs more suffering than that?  Create the devil and pile judgment on top and it’s no wonder we started killing and burning animals to try to appease the gods!

I assert, however, that the experience of separation was not the unexpected and horrible fall of humankind we have made it out to be.  It was, rather, simply part of the plan, part of the process of being created fully in God’s image.  Metaphorically, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a part of God creating us in God’s image.  We must know both connection and separation, individuation and the whole in order to be complete.

God took a huge risk in granting that awareness.  God risked losing us – or at least having patiently to spend millennia calling us back – in that act.   We got scared.  We separated.  We ran.  We murdered.  We hoarded.  We hid.  We played power games, coerced and enslaved.  We formed co-dependencies and took on addictions.  OK, yes, yes, we sinned!  But have a little compassion, here, on yourself and everyone else.  This was quite a shock, this individuation, this self-awareness, this sudden knowledge of our capacity for good and evil.

And contrary to the way the books of the law and some parts of the New Testament tell it, God didn’t set up a system of blood sacrifice until God could figure out a better way.  The prophets make that clear over and over and over again.  I’ll take Amos 5 over Deuteronomy any day:  “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon . . . . But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The call has always and ever been to continue to grow into that full image of God in which we were – and still are – created; to eat from the first tree and to move on to the second; to know the depth and breadth of our potential for individuation and separation, indeed, to know suffering; and then, with that knowledge in hand, to turn with compassion, to abandon ego and to choose life, to move on to the Tree of Life.  Moses, in his final address, implored the people to “choose life.”

What might that look like, to eat from the Tree of Life, to own our complete nature as beings created in the image of God?  I think, perhaps, the Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, present a clearer picture of that than does traditional Christianity.  The Judeo –Christian tradition became too stuck in the games of blaming and judging.

Buddhism does not see suffering as something created by the fall of humankind (the blame game).  Buddhism sees suffering as, well, suffering.  There is no value judgment.  It is just a basic condition of life.  If we were to try to understand that from a Biblical creation perspective, asking ourselves what God was up to by including suffering in the package, I think we would have to admit that it is hard to know anything without knowing fully its opposite.  God, in full respect for us as beings created in God’s image, honored us with knowledge of the full spectrum of conditions and possibilities.  We threw in the value judgments and got stuck with the blame game of burden and shame attached to our picture of sin.

Buddhism advocates responding to life with compassion rather than judgment, thereby transcending suffering.  This is a practice, not a belief, although I suppose all of our practices are based at least to some extent on the things we believe.

But it is precisely this nonjudgmental and compassionate acceptance and response to all that comes from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – the pain and suffering of life – it is this response that transcends suffering and moves us to the healing home of the Tree of Life.  The Tree of Life, in fact, might even be seen as the very same tree, viewed through the lens of healing and compassion.  Perhaps that is why it is the only tree that remains in the concluding tale in the Book of Revelation, there with its leaves for the healing of the nations.

Whatever the case, compassion and healing are an active choice, a necessary choice on the path of our growing into that complete image of God, our intended and completed form of creation.  They have nothing to do with fear or bloody sacrifice and everything to do with relinquishing ego, isolation, separation, judgment and blame.  Compassion and healing are the choices God sets before us in the transformative path from the knowledge of good and evil to the full knowledge of life.  Choose life.  Life as intended in the image of God.