Good Friday

It’s Holy Week, Semana Santa.  I started it this year in Guatemala.  Everyone is back to their hometown, it seems, to visit family and friends.  Alfombras, block long carpets of brightly colored sawdust and flowers, transform the cobblestone of colonial streets.  Huge elaborate floats depicting the passion of Christ are carried on the shoulders of fifty or more of the faithful, inching their way past the cathedral and central park.  The brass and drum corps marks time, in cadence befitting the gravity of the Lamb of God, taking upon himself the sins of the world.

It’s an outsize burden, I think.  Mayan women hawk fabulously beautiful weavings, made of handspun yarn and natural dyes, painstakingly extracted from spices, flowers, berries and insects.

IMG_1713

No price can adequately compensate the weeks of labor by these women, sitting on knees, the weight of their bodies creating the tension needed for the woof and warp of their backstrap looms.  The work is so gorgeous.  They ask so little.  The market prevails in its daily disappointment.

Our travels took us to their villages, where tombstones decorated with primitive art depict burned houses and hanged, hacked and bleeding bodies of the hundreds, thousands, perhaps 250,000 of their beloved family and friends, slaughtered by soldiers and paramilitary in the 1980’s, pieces dumped into mass graves.

IMG_1603

The generals justified these deaths with biblical quotes under a valence of anti-communism, preparing the way, as it has for 500 years, for the insatiable lords of wealth and power,  the robes cast off by the killers piled for safekeeping at the gates of the School of the Americas.

IMG_1597

I fly home.  Three simple words that separate me indelibly from the suffering on the ground.  I ride the slick shiny blade of the machete of progress, hacking its way through the friendly skies, bounding lightly across borders that say “No, you may not partake.  Your cup is a sop of vinegar served up on whatever stick you can find.”

59 missiles flip their way mindlessly to an airstrip in Syria and MOAB, the “mother of all bombs”, is dropped in Afganistan, this week’s blackbird pie served up for the ego of a spoiled child, daily millions demanded to fund the latest Mar-a-Lago deal, the White House an empty shell of a sucked out egg, the hollow hope of the poor and downtrodden.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

No amount of blood poured out has ever offered a drop of redemption.  It’s just another killing – another lie of the king, sanctioned by the priest, to justify clearing the path ahead.  Jesus died because of our sins, never to take them away.

Good Friday.

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

ep-news-business-builder-ad-1610

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

Doctor My Eyes

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

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

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

Jackson Browne laments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ep-news-business-builder-ad-1610

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

At Risk

Children are said to be “at risk” when certain conditions are present – or absent – in their lives.  A kind and working father is missing.  An abusive or addicted one lurks and festers, a boiling and unpredictable giant behind the front door of our denied safe harbor, the refuge of home after our day negotiating the uncertain and often demeaning paths of the classroom and playground.  Disease, or the need to work two or three jobs have broken the arms of mom’s affection and care.

These things make life harder.  They carve away at confidence and shape a world view.  Often the result, by choice, certainly, but under overwhelming pressure, is a generational cycle of poverty, addiction and despair.  Often, but not always.  There are spirits that in their time choose to climb out of the despair, spirits that find a life that transcends oppression, despite the powerful odds.

I have a neighbor and friend, Gordon, whose body has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease.  In Gordon’s case, the breakdown of the nervous connection between brain and muscles is progressing generally from the outside in, with loss of connection to limbs followed by atrophy and loss of large muscle areas.  Gordon is now in a residential hospice facility, diminished bodily to little more than the ability to talk, chew and breathe.

Gordon demonstrates, he embodies, the choice of spirit to transcend suffering.  He does this so completely that it is crystal clear that Gordon’s body has the disease, Gordon does not.  Gordon’s welcome is wide open, even, it seems, to the adventure of his bodily diminishment.  He names and embraces each loss, without denial of sadness or any of the range of expected emotions, but with full engagement, chapter by chapter.  And he extends his welcome to each visitor and caregiver that enters his sphere.  Many linger beyond their task for the joy and comfort of his tent of presence.  He seems genuinely, equally and seamlessly interested in them, at the same time open and willing to the honest and objective sharing of his own experience.

Gordon’s choice pulls the mask off at-risk.  We tend to think of risk as if it is related to suffering, with the ultimate risk being that we might die.  But we are not ever at-risk of death.  Death is a fact certain.  Our bodies will die, whether for wearing out, in a mass shooting, an accidental misstep or the sudden failure of a heart.  We are, in a certain physical sense, never really at-risk.  There is no maybe, no uncertainty at all.

So what is it that we are at-risk of?  We are, I believe, at risk of fear.  Our fear of death is so overwhelming that we choose delusion and denial.  Our favored weapons are wealth and comfort, the narcotics of a new car, dinner out and a trip to Europe.  These comforts come, always, with hidden attachment to the suffering of others – the animal killed, the poorly paid laborer, the displacement of peasants, the extraction and exhaustion of resources.  They fail, always, to avert the end.

Dylan Thomas, whether in brash arrogance or exploding despair, howls his mandate that we “not go softly into that dark night.”  In my reading, he captures the shock and awe of the certain ultimate removal of the mask of our delusion, with the result being our hollow and futile “rage against the blinding of the light.”

Our desperation to preserve physical life and comfort, in the extremes that we have chosen, seems most likely to correct itself ultimately in extinction, or at least in some future adjustment of mass death followed by nature’s reassertion of its own millennially patient creative and re-creative processes.  Life will urge forward in its evolutionary persistence, with or without the human race.

There is an alternative for us.  We can choose to embrace the gift of our spirit – the Self that is beyond fear, the Self that is the observer of all, attached to nothing – no thing.  We can embrace wonder.  We can choose a life of true risk, the risk of engagement, of compassionate embrace of the full range of joy and suffering.  We need not categorize.  The arms of God are as certain in the air beyond the face of the cliff as they are in the physical rock of our desperate clinging.

Let go.  Feel the splendor of the fall.  Or is it a rise?  No matter.  Embrace it all, with attachment to nothing, and share it with others.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, the all-in-all that is with us, is us, is beyond fear, beyond what we call death.  Science has taught us nothing if not that there is always a further horizon, no true up or down, no large or small.

We grasp in delusion for what we call safety, the opposite of what we falsely conceive as risk, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  But chapters of inevitable diminishment peel away the decaying flesh to reveal the true nature of the naked and unencumbered spirit.  We can delude ourselves all the way to our ultimate collision with despair.  Or we can choose today the reality of the spirit of all that is, living with joy, confidence and compassion under the Tree of Life.

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

EP News Business Builder Ad

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

Is God?

A talk, April 17, 2016 at Journeys, a weekly gathering of spiritual seekers in Estes Park, Colorado.

Here at Journeys we explore matters of faith.  For the most part, we do this from what we would call a progressive Christian perspective.  We take the primarily Christian faith concepts we have grown up with and we ask out loud our honest questions about what seems real, what does not, and what we, as maturing adults, actually believe.  And we take away some thoughts and life applications about these things.  It is good to be in a trusting company of humans where this can happen.

But there is always an unseen elephant in the room – or maybe there isn’t.  Our faith is rooted in a presupposition that there is an ultimate cause – something we have chosen to call God.   As Christians in America, we grew up calling God “Father.”  Jesus was the son of God – somehow in a different way than we are.  Yet we learned that we were created in the image of God.  These concepts, whether we are comfortable with them or not, are rooted deeply in our collective psyche and its expression in our culture.

On the flip side, we grew up in an era where some philosophers and theologians dared to say out loud that God is dead.  In fact, as early as 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

— Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann as quoted in Wikipedia

Many of us remember, exactly fifty years ago this week, the stark red letters on the pitch black background of the April 8, 1966 issue of Time magazine: “Is God Dead?”  As an eighth grader, I remember being shaken significantly by this, too young to explore, process or absorb it with sufficient personal confidence or grounding.

While the conversation was much more nuanced, this seemed, at least to me at the time, the ultimate despairing triumph of science over religion.  It was the penultimate question and thought of the twentieth century, when the explosion of the material seemed at last to have built and nailed shut the lid on the coffin of superstition.

In fact, I have often felt that the only legitimate reality left standing at the end of the twentieth century was a question mark.  The gravity of it all is summed up well in J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famous quote of the Bhagavad Gita as he watched the explosion of the first atomic bomb:  “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Not being able, as a 13-year-old, to deal adequately with all of this, I am sure that I chose to repress the question.  But we all know what happens with repression.  The tadpole shoved under the surface of the vast pond of consciousness still becomes the frog, and grows and grows until it ultimately breaks back through the surface with a size and force that will not be denied.

And it is the re-emergence of this monster frog in later life that has given me – given us – the courage and freedom to make these statements, to raise these questions, opening the door to a rich garden of spiritual exploration.  For better or worse, without these statements and events, we would not likely be here doing what we do and having this particular discussion.

So here we are, living the questions.  And today the question is, “What is God?”, or even more bluntly, “Is God?”  You’ll be shocked, I am certain, to learn that I have some thoughts about that.

And here is my basic position.  God is the thoughts we project onto big mystery.  I’ll say that again.  God is the thoughts we project onto big mystery.

Working within the limits of our consciousness, there is really not much else we can say.  In every tradition, God, while made metaphor and personified, is ultimately beyond thought and language.  For each of us, then, that makes God a choice – a matter of belief or disbelief.  Proof positive and complete definition are simply not possible.

It has always been this way.  People in every culture have wrestled with meaning within the limits of knowledge.  And the result of that wrestling has always been a concept of something bigger and other that contributed form and direction for personal and social life.  We need not criticize.  Rather, it is important to realize that for all time, we have been alternately creating God and then killing our creation when it no longer fits plausibly with our current context.  And then we birth God anew.

Emily Dickinson says it well in the closing line of her poem, “This World is Not Conclusion”:  “Narcotics cannot still the tooth that nibbles at the soul”.

So let’s have at it.

First of all, let me say that I choose to believe.  What I mean by that is I choose to believe in something rather than nothing.  Why?  I’m not entirely sure.  I think in large part I do so because I like the way my life works in that orientation.  But choosing to believe begs the question, “What do I believe; what do I believe about God?”.  In my writing on spirituality, I generally shy away from using the term God because of the longstanding Old Man Judging Father in the Sky image conjured by the word in our Western world.  Instead, I tend to use a series of words, “Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.”

Let’s take that apart.

Creator

Creator implies action.  Nearly all world religious traditions view God as creator.  Some people, particularly those we have labeled deists, speculate that God set things in motion and then stepped back, letting natural law and evolution take their course.  God observes, if paying much attention at all, from a very great distance.  We are essentially on our own to figure out the path forward within the confines of our consciousness.  As the classes I was not able to attend here last summer described, some of the founders of our nation were deists and not at all the kind of evangelicals that want to “take back our country for God.”

Others, called theists, also view God as having created or set things in motion.  But they differ from deists in that they believe that God, on an ongoing basis, intervenes to straighten things out.  This has been the general orientation of Western religion.  God created, we messed up, God intervenes.  It is relational, but primarily in the manner of a corrective or redemptive relationship.  We petition God for intervention.  Sometimes God’s intervention comes also on its own, as help or judgment.  Theism, of course, is the dominant position of traditional Christianity.  It is the concept we were taught as children and remains deeply rooted in our collective Western psyche.

The Bible says we are made in the image of God.  While I believe that to be true, the theistic God of the Bible seems more to be made in the anthropomorphic image of us.  We made a big male powerhouse and put him in charge of everyone, especially the women and children.

In truth, it is our discomfort with this deeply rooted theistic concept that brings us to this room every Sunday morning.  We no longer accept the theistic requirements of an anthropomorphized male God and we struggle mightily with the concepts of the fall of humanity and the resulting requirement of blood atonement.

In that regard, most of us actually fall to some extent under another label.  In terms of the traditional Judeo-Christian theistic God, we are a-theists, atheists, not theists.  That is a term that made us shudder in our youth.  It is the horrible and evil “yes” in answer to the question, “Is God dead?”.  And in reality, the theistic God of our older traditions is, beyond occasional metaphorical value, dead.

Abandoning traditional theism, I was happy to encounter another label that, insofar as I actually understand it, works much better for me.  The label is panentheism.

Panentheism is the belief that the something we call God encompasses, interpenetrates and is yet greater and other than the universe.  The word sounds like the more common term, pantheism, but it is much more expansive.  They should not be confused.  The pantheist sees God in nature, in the physical universe, and that’s pretty much that.  The panentheist says there is always more, with limitless attributes of every kind.

The forest sages of the Upanishads, part of the wisdom literature of ancient India, were panentheists.  They labeled this Creator the Self – capital “S” Self – which they described as the immanent, transcendent and essential reality of everything.  Creation emanates from and is the expression of this Self.  Creation returns to the Self.  Creation is Self as action.  Self is.  Self does.  Self is our true personal and transpersonal reality.  Science is our discovery, our observation of the Self in action.

From The Isha Upanishad, as translated by Eknath Easwaran:

The Self is one.  Ever still, the Self is

Swifter than thought, swifter than the senses.

Though motionless, he outruns all pursuit.

Without the Self, never could life exist.

In the panentheistic view, we are actually part of God – this Self of the Upanishads – creating.  Some people say that we co-create, but that implies separation.  In panentheism, we uni-create.  We one-create.  We are not all of God, but we are certainly part of God.  We think.  We move.  And in that very thought and motion, a new world appears that did not exist only moments before.  We one-create in every breath, every thought, every step.  And that is why the chosen nature of each breath, each thought, each step is so important.

God – this Self – is Creator. I believe that when I trust my at-one-ment with God, the great “Is”, the great “I am”, actually works and does and creates as one with me.  I am an active part of the unfolding creative activity of God.  I ride the joyous wave of emanation into the void.  Wow!

God is Creator.

Spirit

Spirit implies conscious but not concrete connection.  Spirit is how we experience God.  We feel, we intuit, we sense synchronicity.  Spirit is Jung’s vast unconscious, the ocean of archetypes bubbling beneath our waking surface.  It breaks through in dreams and moves in our intuition and creativity.  Spirit might be called the “how” of God’s action.  We are touched and infused, we are activated by Spirit.

 

As a panentheist, I believe in God as Spirit.  For me, that means I have a huge trust in God acting in and through me whenever I am not deluded by my little false separated ego-self.  The Upanishads distinguish clearly between the lie of separation and isolation by contrasting, over and over, this small “s” ego self with capital “S” true self.  From The Katha Upanishad:

In the secret cave of the heart, two are

Seated by life’s fountain.  The separate ego

Drinks of the sweet and bitter stuff,

Liking the sweet, disliking the bitter,

While the supreme Self drinks sweet and bitter

Neither liking this nor disliking that.

The ego gropes in darkness, while the Self

Lives in light.  So declare the illumined sages . . .

Paul, in the Christian scriptures, quotes a Greek poet, describing this Self as the one in whom “we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28 NRSV)

In my life I experience Spirit as intuition and revelation, as unexpected insight and the beauty of unfolding relationship.  I see the action of Spirit most clearly when I look over my shoulder and observe the path of life – the nudging, the encounters, the crashes and lessons learned, the blessing of redemptive healing and the sense of direction that all add up to the person I am.  And I rest in trust, in the presence, fullness, loving care and direction of that Spirit, for all that I will become.

God is Spirit.

Mind

Mind is the conscious aspect of God – of this capital “S” Self.  Mind is awareness, the ability to see and to perceive.  Mind is the way we experience.  It is language and its manipulation.  It is the Word from which everything springs.  Mind processes all.  Mind is the mill of creation.  Isolated mind is monkey-mind, full of anxiety, fear and distraction.  Connected Mind is the pure joy of essential experience, the flow of creative ideas and the choice to act with truth and compassion.

The Buddhists capture Mind in the now popular term “mindfulness.”  The wise Buddhist priest, teacher and writer Thich Nhat Hanh urges us to mindfulness in his many books, calling us to undisturbed awareness of the present moment.

Reflecting on the Eucharist in his book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh says:

The practice of the Eucharist is a practice of awareness.  When Jesus broke the bread and shared it with his disciples, he said, “Eat this.  This is my flesh.”  He knew that if his disciples would eat one piece of bread in mindfulness, they would have real life.  In their daily lives, they may have eaten their bread in forgetfulness, so the bread was not real bread at all; it was a ghost.  In our daily lives, we may see the people around us, but if we lack mindfulness, they are just phantoms, they are not real people, and we ourselves are also ghosts.  Practicing mindfulness enables us to become a real person.  When we are a real person, we see real people around us, and life is present in all its richness.

We live within the construct of our limited small “m” mind, bounded by the capabilities of our sense organs.  Our eye sees the world differently than the eye of an eagle, or of a honeybee.  Yet we believe that what we see and feel is what is, exactly and in totality.

The real temptation of the Garden of Eden was the temptation to believe that our individual mind is all, that the small “s” isolated self that we perceive and the world we experience around it is the sum total of existence.  That is a fearsome perspective.  When I stay stuck just in small mind, I fear for my life.  There is never enough to satisfy me and never enough protection.  Lust, greed, anger and violence are the natural responses.

When I live in mindfulness, I am aware of my connection to all around me.  All that is.  And I rest in trust even as I move into the unknown.

God is Mind.  God is the practice of mindfulness.

Source

Source is the alpha and the omega, the eternal continuity, the singularity and totality of God.  It is the very point and location, the wellspring of creation – the place where nothing becomes something, where something becomes other.  It is the place to which the waters return after they have exhausted the work of gravity and evaporated into the wind.  Source is the eternal circle, where any point is the beginning of something and the end of something else, where truly there are no beginning, no middle and no end.  Source is the richness of everything beyond imagination, the bottomless shopping bag of creation.

Think of Source as both the center and the perimeter of a spinning wheel.  At the absolute center, there is complete stillness.  Theoretically there must be this stillness because the top of the wheel above is moving in one direction, while the bottom of the wheel below is moving at the same speed in the opposite direction.  Source is that still center of the wheel.

And source is the perimeter, the place where the spinning wheel meets the road.  When a wheel is rolling down the road, there is actually no movement whatsoever at the place where the wheel touches the pavement.  Stillness in motion, something from nothing.

Source is the infinite smallness and vastness of all that is – the particle we will eventually observe that, acting with energy, makes up the Higgs Boson; and the endless expanse we may speculate beyond the perimeter of the known universe.

Again from The Upanishads, a sort of benediction of Source:

 

All this is full.  All that is full.

From fullness, fullness comes.

When fullness is taken from fullness,

Fullness still remains.

God is Source.

So there you have it, my projection onto big mystery.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.  I’ve gone and done it – made God in the image I want – made myself in the image of God.  Just another human’s elephant.  But I like my elephant.  I feel safe in its presence.  It guides my path when I trust and follow it.  It leads me by still waters and restores my soul.

Sometimes I catch glimpses of it.  It is alive in the gift of relationship with Leonor.  I hear it in the ripple of water over stone in the Fall River.  I share it in the breath of conversation together here in this room.  I look over my shoulder, I stand in the present, I trust and become the road ahead.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

 All this is full.  All that is full.

From fullness, fullness comes.

When fullness is taken from fullness,

Fullness still remains.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

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

EP News Business Builder Ad

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.

The Diamond of Our Hearts

I turned 20 in 1972.  Somehow, in that year of moving out of my teens, I must have felt some necessary transition.  Whatever the cause, I got the urge to read all the way through the Bible, cover to cover:  the creation myths; the twists and turns of Old Testament characters; the tortuous law; the romances; Psalms and the wisdom literature; the histories; the prophets, great and small; the gospels, letters and finally that wild apocalypse at the end.  What a slug it seemed at the time!

There were ups and downs of interest.  I know I spent a lot of time in Proverbs, punctuated with prayers for wisdom.  I have always been blown away by the crystal calls to social justice of the minor prophets, especially Amos.  And Paul’s ego was very annoying (Was I struggling with my own?).  But I will never forget that one particular passage captured me and brought me home.

Somewhere in the middle of Jeremiah, there are several chapters sometimes referred to as The Little Book of Comfort.  In chapter 31: 33-34 it says:

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts . . . No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord (read Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source),’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”  Something in those words gripped my soul.

Hebrew scripture was written, of course, for the Hebrew people from a particular cultural and historical perspective.  It has the trappings of time and place and the personal limitations of any individual author.  But like all good scripture, the universal Truth of it breaks out of those limitations and speaks where and when it will.

We live in a time that demands that breaking out.  Few in the postmodern world can accept or live entirely or exclusively within the narrow strictures of any particular religious tradition.  We are simply too aware of the variety of paths, the spiritual journey of all the great traditions.  We are cognizant of the human and institutional flaws that have inevitably tainted each – the flaws that reflect, simply, the struggle of our own hearts, the urge of ego toward power and domination through intimidation, force and fear.  We may choose to live in one house, but we will be engaging, dialoging and welcoming across the global community.

And on any given day, in any given body of scripture, when we mine with an open heart, the gems show themselves.  Somehow when I encountered this diamond, I knew I had found my home – or, of course, it had found me.  Somehow the vision and realization that words don’t matter; that names for Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source are inconsequential; that our hearts at their core are true beyond teaching and language; somehow that message took me completely apart and put me back together, all in an instant.

Humpty Dumpty, of course, has fallen off the wall many times – at least daily – since that encounter.  But hold back the king’s horses and all the king’s men.  Let me fall.  Let us all fall until the last speck of clay is shattered and polished off that diamond of our hearts, and all that is left are the words love, justice, peace and compassion, shining with gentle brilliant welcome, reaching beyond voice to all we encounter.

There is fruit on the Tree of Life.  Its bark is studded with diamonds, a gem in every leaf.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Share what is useful.  Please quote the source.

A Good Read Under the Tree of Life

Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we abuse scripture.  We bind it up in leather, with gilt pages and we worship it.  We thump it on the pulpit, we display it on the brass stand or podium, and when we do open it to read it, we shop for – and find – the bullets, knives and bombs we need to protect our separate selves and our separate religions.  The tree always gives us the fruit for which we ask.

Scripture is the place where the stirrings of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) meet the mind of humanity for distillation into concepts and words.  Bodies of scripture, combined with years of interpretation, become the normative structure and formative tradition for religions and even whole societies.  That is, perhaps, a useful social function.  But it also, when scripture is adopted as uniquely and exclusively authoritative, becomes the blinders of division that keep us from open interaction and rich cross-fertilization between traditions.  At its worst, it becomes the justification for oppression, violence against individuals, sexes and classes, used most abusively to support terrorism and war.

Types of scripture lend themselves to particular forms of abuse.  Historical narrative – the bulk of the Bible being the prime example – can, for instance, lead us to believe that the struggles and understandings of one culture are more than that.  We allow them to become the defining history of C/S/M/S to the exclusion of all others.  We miss the richness of interaction and learning when we idolize the characters and stories rather than seeing them as a useful record of human experience, much like our own.  When we close the canon, we in essence deny and shut down our own direct and vital connection to C/S/M/S.

Revealed scripture – the Koran, the Book of Mormon and more recently, A Course in Miracles – lends itself most easily to manipulation.  Followers may be tempted to grant it an air of particular exclusivity.  Again, the learning of the content is ignored in the sacralization of the whole.  We may find ourselves using it to define in-groups and out-groups, or to idolize the founder who received this intense spiritual download.

Myth – like we find in the Bhagavad Gita, the biblical creation narrative or the many stories of the Buddha – is sometimes written off as not being real.  We think, “How can something that is not real be as authoritative as something that is real?”  Or equally as risky, we make it authoritative, clinging to and slinging around a literal interpretation of a good teaching story.

I personally find most easily accessible the experiential writings – the Psalms, the Upanishads, the struggles of the prophets.  Somehow it is easier to place myself side-by-side with another human who relates their experience of wrestling with or finding unity on their spiritual path.  But the same risks apply.  I might be tempted to grant sacred status to the experience of another while denying the reality of my own interaction and relationship with C/S/M/S.  Or I might ignore the truth that is there because I grant higher status to another source.

We get all messed up with judgment under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good Evil.  We make this sacred and that secular.  We assign qualities and attributes to make things more or less than what they are.  And we do the same to ourselves.

In general, we have adopted a low view of ourselves in relation to all that we choose to label sacred.  We insist that we are stuck in our separation from C/S/M/S and that “believing in” this set of writings or the tenets of that religion will save us from our assumed natural state of doom.

I believe scripture.  I don’t believe in it.  What am I saying when I say that?  Under the Tree of Life, everything – absolutely everything – is available to us for learning and for growth.  The written experience of all cultures and interactors with C/S/M/S is useful.  We have tools to use, not objects to worship.

We don’t need to grant authority to one book or another.  C/S/M/S is our author, and we are the breath of that creation.  We have the same dynamic relationship as the prophets and writers of any past.  And we share the same temptations to isolation and to ego.

We have the opportunity to rest and to revel in the word, in all the words that we encounter in each day of our life.  They are the expression of our human discovery of connection and unity with C/S/M/S.

When we sacralize and canonize scripture, we profane our own lives.  The fruit is ours, to pick, to eat and to live.  It was never intended to be worshipped or to be thrown as a weapon at someone else.

Here we are, under the Tree of Life.  Let’s settle down with a good book.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Share what is useful.  Let folks know where you found it.

Scientism and The Tree of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fruit of Our Heart’s Desire

I have built this blog on the metaphor of the two special trees planted in the Garden of Eden:  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and The Tree of Life.  I have said that neither was forbidden, rather that both were intended for us. We ate from the first and became aware of our potential for good and evil – the choice between connection and separation.  We can make the choice of moving on to the second.

Since childhood I have loved C.S. Lewis’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia.  Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of reading some of them to my granddaughter.  A nine-year-old sometimes teenager, she has, to my delight, fallen for them almost as surely as I did when they were given to me fifty years ago.  My parents – Mom’s idea, pretty sure – had this habit of giving us a book at our birthday and another at Christmas.  Judging by the gift date inscribed in The Magician’s Nephew, book six in this seven book series, I likely received these in a period from the age of ten to thirteen.

The Magician’s Nephew, the creation story of Narnia, is really a prequel to the series.  As such, it contains its version of how evil came into the world, including a role for a magical mystical garden.

What I find interesting about Lewis’s garden is that there is only one tree.  The tree and its fruit hold great power.  The garden is surrounded by a high, though easily scaled earthen berm, with beautiful closed gates.  On the gates there is an inscription that reads:

Come in by the gold gates or not at all,
Take of my fruit for others or forbear.
For those who steal or those who climb my wall
Shall find their heart’s desire and find despair.

The gates of the garden open with a touch for the person whose thought is for kindness, for compassion, for healing, for relationship, and the fruit of the garden yields exactly their heart’s desire, with accompanying deep satisfaction.

For the person whose thought is only selfish pleasure, gain and power, the gates may not open, but entry is not prevented, nor is taking of the fruit.  And again it yields exactly what it was created to yield – the heart’s desire – selfish pleasure, gain and power, with the accompanying, ultimately gnawing, isolation and despair of disconnection.

The Trees are in reality one.  They are the tree of prana, the source of all that enlivens us.  They are the great I AM, AUM, Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, eternal and always accessible.  And the garden never goes away.  It is not a one-trip salad bar.  We go back over and over.  Often times we go over the wall to snatch for ourselves, fearful that there is not enough, fearful that our pleasure is wrong, wanting more than our share, chasing the desire that leads to pain and isolation.

We do not change the tree.  We do not make it other than it is.  We simply choose our entry, our approach, which shapes our encounter and our experience.  Thief, possessor, abuser?  Guest, steward, partner?  We choose, individually, corporately, in each moment and each breath.

The garden, the tree, is not the world of our action.  It is the source of our being.  We cannot make or break the source.  But we can make or break its creative or destructive expression in our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our society and our world.

We are offered, and feed daily upon, the fruit of the Tree of Life.  And every time we eat it, we experience, we express its life force as the fulfillment of our heart’s desire.

How much, how often, must we fill ourselves with the knowledge of good and evil – with our urge to personal and isolated “will,” for solely personal satisfaction, protection and satiation – before we learn to enter every day the golden gates of “willingness,” to trust in the satisfaction of enough, to relax in being part of rather than possessor of, to give and to receive rather than to force and to grab.

The call of the prophets and avatars has always been simple and the same.  Choose life.  The difference between the trees, friends, is really only the difference of how we enter the garden.  Do we come through the gate with a willing heart, or over the wall with a willful heart?  Either way, we leave filled.  We leave fueled to build the world of our heart’s desire.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Use what is useful.  Please quote the source.

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.

Deteng, Baby, Deteng!

Two Trees in the Garden

I keep talking here about letting go, relinquishing attachment.  You might get the impression that I am advocating the life of a hermit or an ascetic.  Not at all, not at all.  In fact today let’s talk about engagement, true action, the kind of action that happens without grasping, without attachment to outcomes.  Perhaps there is a good word in English for this.  Since I have not found it, I have invented one – deteng, or short for detached engagement.

What we seek to relinquish is not action, but the grasping at hopes or the shrinking from fears about outcomes of our actions.  These things, in fact, obstruct pure action in life and destroy the beauty and benefit of true living experience.

Take the moment I am in at present.  I have committed, right now, to write this week’s blog entry.  It is very tempting to worry about what the…

View original post 665 more words

Deteng, Baby, Deteng!

I keep talking here about letting go, relinquishing attachment.  You might get the impression that I am advocating the life of a hermit or an ascetic.  Not at all, not at all.  In fact today let’s talk about engagement, true action, the kind of action that happens without grasping, without attachment to outcomes.  Perhaps there is a good word in English for this.  Since I have not found it, I have invented one – deteng, or short for detached engagement.

What we seek to relinquish is not action, but the grasping at hopes or the shrinking from fears about outcomes of our actions.  These things, in fact, obstruct pure action in life and destroy the beauty and benefit of true living experience.

Take the moment I am in at present.  I have committed, right now, to write this week’s blog entry.  It is very tempting to worry about what the little readership graph on my blog administration site will look like tomorrow.  Will there have been more viewers than last week?  Any comments?  What will you think of me after you have read this, if you have read this – if anything at all?   This represents the attachment of desire.

And sometime soon I really should build up the email list to expand distribution of the blog.  I could be distracted by that thought, which feels like work, a chore.  I don’t want to be bothered, which is the attachment of aversion to action.

In either case, desire or aversion, I am distracted by my attachment to outcomes.  I want to have, or to avoid, a certain result, and that becomes my obsession.  And In either case, I compromise the fullness of current action, which is to sit in the recliner with my laptop, writing exactly what I am able to write, without concern that it will not be complete or enough, in the time that I have at present.  Deteng.  I am doing what is before me.  I am relaxed in spirit.  I am fully and completely doing what I am doing.  I am at peace.  Deteng.

I believe that the best result of my action, my writing in this case, always happens when I have “given up” on outcomes and have gifted and immersed myself and you, to the extent that I am able, in Spirit, before, during and after the process.

How do I do that?  Very simply.  Call it prayer, call it meditation, call it relinquishment.  I engage in the act of bringing you to mind in the all-encompassing presence of Spirit before I write, and I pray the prayer I pray throughout every day – “Thy (Spirit’s) will be done.”  I breathe Spirit into me – Thy will – Spirit’s will.  I release Spirit to you – be done.  This is for you.  It is through me.  It is of Spirit.  It is interactive.  It is one.  It is just us together, at one, in the breath of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

The more I am mindful of that before I write, the more fully I am engaged and at ease in the act of writing.  And the more open and engaged you are with Spirit as you read, the more complete, blessed and useful the outcome is for all.

The same is true for us in every action.  Life in Spirit is not about inaction.  It is about moving in Spirit.  I encourage you, if the language or some form of it works for you, to practice this before every action, before every interaction; to ground yourself in Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source by bringing the action and its intended recipient to mind.  Hold them in heart and mind.  Breathe in, “Thy will.”  Breathe out, “be done.”  Bless them, experience being blessed together.

And then act, in complete trust, with full engagement in your action – so much engagement that there is no room for worry about results or outcome.  Trust that you are in Spirit, in the flow and beauty and power of the universe.  So is your action.  And if they choose to be, so is your recipient.  Nothing could be better.  Nothing carries more health, peace power or goodness.  Nothing could possibly require less worry.  Nothing will ever find us more at home under the Tree of life.

Deteng, baby.  Deteng.  Will will be done.

Scripture today is from the Fifth Teaching, Renunciation of Action, of The Bhagavad-Gita:

A person who relinquishes attachment
and dedicates actions to the infinite spirit
is not stained by evil,
like a lotus leaf unstained by water.

Relinquishing attachment,
people of discipline perform action
with body, mind, understanding, and senses
for the purification of the self.

Relinquishing the fruit of action,
the disciplined person attains perfect peace;
the undisciplined person is in bondage,
attached to the fruit of their desire.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to use, referencing the source, if you find it helpful.

For Shouldness Sake

Many of us grew up with the notion of God and God’s religion – which was God’s complicated way of getting to us – as  being a big list of shoulds and should nots.  All of this, of course, had nothing at all to do with the intentions of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source in the establishment of our being.  Nevertheless, I look back on a good bit of my life and realize that I could have been a lead character in a blockbuster children’s book, The Little Engine That Should.

It all started right there under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, where we learned that long long list, and the certain knowledge that we would never be good enough to stay in the garden because there was no way that we could ever possibly be all that we should be.

Should, in its very essence, is an endless chase that lasts beyond any concept of exhaustion.  Because any time we should be doing something, we are either:

  1. not doing it, which is totally unsatisfactory and fraught with guilt; or
  2. doing it because, well, we should – an External Motivator, which, chances are, leaves us perpetually falling a little short of full expectation.  Duck and run, here comes the big Unsatisfactory Rubber Stamp again.

Questions of should also lead to endless and useless discussions of how much and how often.  These questions imply giving up things in a zero sum game where, if we give what we should be giving (a tithe, for instance), we will have less of what we had.  If we do have more, it will, of course, be only because that External Source has rewarded us in some way for our good/should behavior.

Or we go to this meeting or belong to this church or that organization because we should.  Then we must attend x number of times per month or, once again, we are not measuring up for the Shouldness Judge.  Not to mention the time and energy wasted on worrying about this stuff.

And then there are the opportunities for humans to dress up like little Shouldness princes, princesses, priests and judges, casting shouldness spells on their scared and foolish but quite willing little subjects who pay exorbitant sums for the privilege of running around, all in a dither.

Ah, sweet life of our little ego creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Krishnamurti said it so well:  “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 worshiping it and not to put the flower in front of it will become a sin.”

True creation is the flower, friends, and it is us.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source the Universe – that, who, what, beyond concept and language, whether noun or verb – Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source breathed the flower and breathed us, too.  There is no should under the Tree of Life.  There is only being.  And the essence of that being is both noun and verb.  It is the will and the willing to trust, to love, to appreciate, to give and to receive, all in the in and out breath of kindness and compassion.  These are action and stillness, a complete fullness, all in one.

There is no obligation, there is only essence.  There is no bondage, only freedom.  There is no shortage, no need for hoarding, only and always enough.

The one by Galilee got it so right:  “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”  And what did we do under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  The usual thing, of course.  The shouldness thing.

We put him on a stick on the mantel and started to worship him.

Oh my shouldness.  Oh my shouldness.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to use this stuff, referencing the source, if you find it helpful.

Master Of The House: Teaching the Children of Our Dreams

No one really touches us but ourselves.  Yes, bad, even horrible things happen to us.  Parents may have loaded us with guilt and shame.  Others may have stolen our innocence, our confidence, our health or physical abilities.  Even our own actions create wounds that bite and tear at us relentlessly, year after year.

We are filled with anxiety, self-doubt, hatred of ourselves, hatred of others, anger and bitterness that wear us down like a weight we cannot shake or a leaky tire that never has enough air.  If we lash out, we only engage a vicious cycle, with temporary relief replaced by acidic guilt, refueling anger, stoking the fire of seemingly justified rage, releasing itself in another inappropriate and damaging outburst – all of this often triggered by even just a single action that may have happened years ago.

Ignoring these lingering emotions is also counterproductive.  If we repress them, they may resurface in unhealthy ways, triggered by incidents and people that have no relationship and no proportion to the original wound.  Or they may turn on us, causing illness – true dis-ease, eating us alive from the inside out.

Jung and others have taught us to view the characters in our dreams as aspects of ourselves, qualities hidden in our subconscious that enter the house of our dreams and tell us hidden things, things we may or may not want to see or hear.

I would say that the emotions that linger from hurt and harm, whether inflicted by others or by ourselves, are the same.  Think of them as our children, clamoring for attention in our house, demanding that we do something, perhaps never enough from their perspective, to satisfy their wants and needs; to feed them, to protect and to defend them, to shelter them, even to go out and to fight on their behalf.  They are hurt.  They are ours.  We are responsible for them.  They demand satisfaction.

If they are children, somewhere, one would hope, there is a parent.  And of course, there is.  We are the parent.  As with all our children, we can choose how to parent these emotions.  We can parent from a place stuck under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We can choose anger.  We can choose to ignore.  We can argue with them on their own level.  We can let them, in essence, parent us, as we run around madly to meet their incessant demands.

The demands are incessant, of course, because they are not the real needs and, therefore, can never experience satisfaction on their own terms.

Satisfaction comes when we choose to parent our emotions from a position of life under the Tree of Life.  In that place, we are an adult.  We are spirit connected.  We are in charge.  We are caring and compassionate.  We are also separate, observing and directive, guiding and nurturing toward health.

The children of our wounds are primarily hurt, anger, shame and guilt.  We will choose our responses to them depending on their true level of need.  When wounds are fresh, or reopened for any reason, we need to show compassion and comfort to our children/ourselves.  We need to sit quietly, perhaps visualizing holding ourselves as a hurt child.

When our wounds are pestering us for attention and distracting from our work, daily living or relationships, we need to expect them to be quiet for a time, assuring that we will spend the time needed with them when it is appropriate.  Their gratification can be delayed.  That is different than repression and we must, of course, take the private time that is needed for listening, reflection and healing; time that can appropriately be set aside and used for that attention and purpose.  Otherwise our emotions will find us unworthy of trust and will strengthen their assault on our attention.

When our emotions are out of control and just wrecking the house, firm boundaries are the order of the day.  The time-out chair should be used without hesitation.  The good parent is clear about acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

And, of course, when either the wounds or the behavior are more than we can manage alone as a parent, professional help is in order.  Good parents make good decisions about when to take their children for medical or counseling attention.

I have found Getting Through The Day: Strategies for Adults Hurt as Children, by Nancy J. Napier (W. W. Norton, 1993), an excellent practical resource for learning to take a healthy adult role in relation to our emotions, the children of our dreams that clamor for food and attention at the table of our heart.

The best place to deal with the fruit, the children, of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is from our own grown up place under the Tree of Life.  It is our true home.  We can welcome our children to the table there.  We can treat them well.  We can raise them up.  They are never us.  But they are our charge until they are grown and ready to manage for themselves.

For today’s scripture, a fresh look at a well-known word from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:

 Teach Your Children

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

(Second verse counter-melody)

Can you hear and do you care and
Can’t you see we must be free to
Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.

Teach your parents well,
Their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

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.

Forgiveness

On May 11, the little purple-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”

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.