Doctor My Eyes

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

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

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

Jackson Browne laments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

ISIS, Paris and the Fight for Dominance

ISIS this week brought its bloody bully show to the world media stage in the City of Light.  We are saddened and disgusted by the loss of innocent lives in Paris, guilty only of being different.  We grieve with the bereft and hurt with the wounded.  We are twisted with angst that people disparage their own lives for the sole purpose of doing violence to others.  How can this happen in the modern world?  Will it happen to me?  How can we stop it?  What can it possibly be about?

Ultimately, all fights are about dominance.  We perceive someone or something to be a threat to our wellbeing.  Something about them makes us afraid that our particular way of life, our daily existence, is at risk.  We respond with force.

A toddler wants control of a toy.  Another toddler takes possession.  A sense of violation takes over.  Words or blows are exchanged, followed by tears and rage employed to elicit the intervention of a higher power to enforce justice.

Really, that is all there is:

  • A fundamentalist wants their god to dominate all others.
  • A mining company wants a peasant’s land.
  • A racist wants safety from and control over people of different skin pigmentation.
  • A man wants to dominate a woman.
  • A consumer wants the latest gadget for a life of no bother.

Violence ensues, whether in person or by proxy.

Good teachers and parents show children the value of sharing and cooperation.  But the world around us teaches other lessons.  At the end of the day, people are wounded and die.  Some are beheaded or torn to bits in a suicide bombers’ blast.  Most, truly, are the innocent casualties of another’s war.  Iraq Body Count estimates somewhere between 146,000 and 166,000 violent civilian deaths since the 2003 United States invasion.  When combatants are added in, the toll rises to 224,000.  When secondarily related deaths are counted (a person in need of medical services or other life necessities they cannot access because of the war), the toll rises to over one-half million (see Huffington Post).  And that is just one of today’s many wars.

Whether we are a toddler, a religion, an economic system or a nation, we see dominance as the antidote for our fears.  And we set all good teaching and rationality aside, spending any resource to preserve our wounded ego and supposed safety through the use of force.

It does not work.  Hitler rose to power by channeling collective fear into violent domination.  The whack-a-mole response of World War II put an end to that only to yield the greater horror of nuclear annihilation and the super-power struggles of the Cold War.  And no military or terrorist action by anyone in any place since then has achieved a lasting peace as a net result of the violence applied.  Humanity ultimately seems cowed only by the insanity of mutually assured destruction.

Is that what we want?  Whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Atheist; whether American, Iraqi, Malaysian or Saudi; whether capitalist, socialist, communist or military dictator; whether retiree, school teacher, cashier or toddler on the playground, we make our choices.  We make them in each breath.

Will we make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil choice, the one that says there is not enough and that every other being is a competitor and a threat to our existence?  Will we strike out in violence, large or small, overt or subtle, to secure what is never more than a temporary chimera of control?  This happens each day at every level, from the battle to dominate our little vehicular turf on the highway to the unfathomable resources thrown into the assertion of military force.

Or will we learn the Tree of Life lesson of all our good teachers – everyone from the Buddha to Jesus to Mohammed to Mr. Rogers?  Life works when we listen to others and share.  Life works when we give up dominance, altogether, in favor of mutually assured satisfaction.

Life works, in fact, when we are willing to suffer the blow delivered by another and return only compassion and kindness.  There is never a victory through violence.  There is never ultimate security in threat.  We win only when we give up the fight altogether and show another way.  And so we teach our children.  But we refuse to believe it and live it in every breath and aspect of our adult lives.

Love your enemy.  Turn the other cheek.  Walk the second mile.  There is nothing passive about these things.  All are active assertions of a better way.  The Tree of Life grows surely at the end of that road.

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

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

The Spirit of Willingness on the Wave of Creation

Last year I lived in a completely secular cooperatively owned housing complex.  Each person was there for their own reason, with the common denominator being affordability.  Each brought, consciously or otherwise, their own set of enacted values which, as a whole, shaped the character and life of the community.  I learned in spades the difference that each individual choice and action made in the quality of life and relationships.  Careful attention to full awareness of the other and to actions that strengthened relationships and built community yielded palpable and tangible changes in the nature and spirit of daily life.  Attitudes of selfishness and defense contributed equally powerful results in another direction.

There is a sweet spot of rest and action for our spirit.  It rides the crest of the wave of creation – the push of energy into the void, the place where sound and light – the Word of Creation and the Spirit that carries and speaks it – manifest as something new, another beauty, in the world as we know it, the world as it becomes.

I can perceive myself as alone on that crest, as an isolated individual, a singular atom or particle that must fight for protection, the avoidance of destruction in what seems like a violent rush forward into the unknown.  My action response is willfulness.  Willfulness pushes out to force into being what I hope will be a safe and protective space.  Willfulness grabs for resources that I think will sustain me against the rush.  In willfulness, I believe I am using my own power to protect and preserve myself and my little space against a scary and unpredictable world.

But the truth is, I have no singular power.  I possess nothing that is uniquely mine.  And my only achievement when I believe and act otherwise is to create an insubstantial lie, an illusion of security that will crash, burn and drift to nothingness, certainly at the time of my physical demise if not before.

There is a paradox of singularity and oneness on that glorious wave crest.  I am, indeed, a spot and spark of awareness, a phosphorescence – something perhaps analogous to the bioluminescent organisms in the bay at Vieques, off Puerto Rico.  My actions and intentions matter.  They matter because I am, whether or not I like it or believe it, connected to the whole.

When I act alone with willfulness, I create a small scar, something that does not fit and flow in the creative surge.  I hinder the curve and curl in my brief moment.  And I may destroy the hope and creative activity of those around me, all those with whom I am in direct or indirect relationship.

But when I recognize and rest in my connection to broader spirit and act from a posture of willingness, I flow forward with confidence.  And I am aware of the others flowing forward around me.  I see their spark, I understand our connection in the wave.  I realize that beauty and community depend on and respond to both my restful connection and my acts of intention.  I contribute to the luminous glow, the shape and texture of the curl as creation advances.

We are not, as we falsely tell ourselves, alone under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We are one under the Tree of Life.  Willfulness blinds us to this truth, throwing up barriers of fear that cause pain and brokenness in our immediate and extended relationships.

Willingness opens to the whole, with an understanding that our creative power is one, a point of lovely and loving energetic awareness on the leading edge of the complete breath of God/Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source as it pushes forward in its surge to beauty and being on the edge of the void.  Rest in the flow.  Open your light with willingness, yielding up its luminescence to join with others, as far as your relaxed awareness will take you on this ride to all that will be.

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

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

Forgiveness II: Our Emotions Are Our Teachers and Not Our Rulers

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”  (Jesus to Peter, Matthew 18: 22, NRSV on the question of how often to forgive)  Stuff just doesn’t go away that easily.  It’s not so much that someone has wronged us seventy-seven times.  It’s more that we keep working on the wrongs that really nail us over and over and over.  The encouragement, I believe, is not to be a fool and allow the same person to harm us seventy-seven times – the delightful wallow of co-dependence – but rather to keep working it out, keep working it out.

Whatever the cause of a deep pain, our overwhelming response is anger, the desire for revenge and even hatred of another.  These are natural emotional efforts to protect ourselves.  It hurts.  I’ve been wounded.  I have lost things that cannot be recovered.  There are scars.  The wounds may be physical, psychic or both.

Here’s the thing.  We need our emotions to be our teachers and not our rulers.  We need our emotions to be our teachers and not our rulers.  The first seventy-five times we work at forgiving someone in our head we are probably just learning that lesson.  The problem is that we feel bad about the emotions – the fact that we are still angry about having to give our perpetrator a Get Out of Jail (or Get Out of Hell, as the case may be) Free Card.

Emotions jump up and tell us that we have been hurt, that we have been violated, that we are suffering and in need of repair because of the actions of another.  Pay attention.  These are messengers.  We need compassion.  We need care.  We need healing.

Our Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil response is to let these emotions become our rulers.  OK, anger, take charge.  This feels good.  Let’s get violent, whether in thought, word or deed.  Whether in aggression that is active or cloaked in passivity.  Let’s break some china.  Let’s destroy some things, deliver the pain that will bring this sum back to zero.  Let’s take it a step further to teach a lesson and win the game.  Be done with this sucker.

All of this is compounded by the deep wounds of childhood, wounds that happened before we had any clue of how to deal with them.  Wounds when we were innocent and did not even know that the world should not be, or might not be like the world we were experiencing.  Seventy times seventy times seventy, the iteration and years of learning and coming to terms with these wounds.

Under the Tree of Life, our emotions are our teachers and not our rulers.  They tell us that our little manifestation of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source has been wounded.  We need protection and shelter.  If we are wise, we will give true heed to the inclinations for fight or flight, and we will make, for us, the best choice about the immediate and longer term path out of danger.

Ultimately, perhaps around cycle seventy-six of our desire for revenge, we may begin to understand the edict that we love our neighbor as our self.  We begin to love our self.  We hear our own pain and respond with compassion.  We see our wounds and apply the dressings, or find the person who can help us apply them.  We sit with our self.  Our capital S eternal Self beyond all harm sits, and holds, and cries, and rocks and soothes our small s manifested and wounded self.  We gift our self the Breath of Life that cools, the Healing Water that cleanses, the Leaves of the Tree that create the balm of protection and restoration.

And when seventy-seven rolls around, we might just be ready to turn to our neighbor, our father, our mother, our colleague, the perpetrator of our hurt.  We turn and we offer, from our Self to their self, the seat of welcome and restoration.  Come sit beside me, here, beneath the Tree of Life, with its fruit in every season and its leaves for the healing of the nations.

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

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

It’s Not Always Clear

It’s not always clear, the path forward.  Our vision is limited.  There are far too many factors to weigh.  Feelings are a roller coaster ride from day-to-day, and then there is the vast unknown.  If I go left, will I be right?  If I go right, am I wrong and left behind?  Could‘a, would‘a, should‘a are crying from the back seat and the whole trip begins to seem like a sham.

“Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!”  (Fred Hillebrand, 1932)  We walk by faith, not by sight (Paul, 2 Corinthians 5: 7).  Fear and misgivings are the roadblock, the isolated ego cowering in the corner.

In the three worlds,
there is nothing I must do,
nothing unattained to be attained,
yet I engage in action.

What if I did not engage
relentlessly in action?
[Humans] retrace my path
at every turn, Arjuna.

As the ignorant act with attachment
to actions, Arjuna,
so wise [folk] should act with detachment
to preserve the world.

(Krishna to the wilting Arjuna in The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, The Third Teaching:  Discipline of Action; 22-24, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Bantam Classic Edition, 1986)

Creation is the path forward.  Something from nothing.  Or something new, something that has never been, as the next step from all that is.  Beautiful, joyful.  There is no wrong path in faith, there is only the next step of creation on the road ahead.

Faith, by nature, is blind.  It is not ignorant.  Faith is based on the experience of goodness and beauty that result when we act while resting in the Spirit of all that is.  Even God, I think, has no idea what is going to happen next.  Let’s take a step and see!

What matters is not where we are walking to, but where we are walking from.  If we are walking from a place of fear and defense, our steps will falter and creation suffers.  If our steps are from a place of joy, kindness and compassion, the beauty of the universe unfolds with us, just far enough ahead to meet our foot as it greets the path of creation.

When we are attached to what we think is/will be the outcome of our action, we falter.  We have no idea of any outcomes.  Or if we do have that idea, we fool ourselves.  We can never know all the implications before we act, or the outcome of a different course.

Home, James, and don’t spare the horses!  Home to the Tree of Life.  Create with joy.  Create with kindness.  Create with compassion.  Put the paintbrush to the canvas, in faith, and see.

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

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

We Are One

I speak of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source, one of a million inadequate names for that which we commonly call God.  In the very use of the name, of any name, I imply separation.  But we are not separate.  Separation has been our perennial blinder.  We are One.

Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we hide in our shame because, in our awakening to awareness of our surroundings, we believe we are separate.  We have a sense of self.  All good and true, that sense of self.  But at the same time, We are One.

We think, rightly, of creation as the work of C/S/M/S.  Creation is, in fact, the very outbreath of the energy of C/S/M/S.  Because we can observe it, we are tempted to think we are not part of it.  But even as we are gifted, in our limited capability, to look deeper and deeper into the infinite marvel of creation, we are the very thing itself.  We are One.

All of our anxiety and distorted behavior; all of our anger and angst, our greed and despair; all of these are rooted in our shortsighted view of separation.  Yes, we are unique in our embodied presence.  Yes, we look out of these eyes and we see others and every thing.  But every other and every thing emanates from the same breath, the indescribable marvel of mass, the speed of light squared and its energetic product.  There is no difference or separation.  We are One.

All evil emanates from the lie, the limited and incorrect view, that we are separate.  We create.  We make things.  We buy things and sell them.  When our making is isolated in self – when it is self-ish – it is corrupted and the wealth we generate and hoard only confirms our illusion of separation.  I have more.  That is good.  Someone else has less.  Too bad.  Violence erupts and the only solution we can see is greater violence to crush our enemy.

When our making, our creating, takes place in the spirit of connection, we are conscious that we only touch, we co-create, we one-create with the Spirit of every thing and everything.  And our product is a gift of beauty and utility for the world, the universe, the everything of which we are part.  We are One.

When we wake in the morning, we can practice seeing things as whole.  For me, the simple exercise of breathing in “Thy Will,” breathing out, “be done,” takes me to a place of connection.  I am not separate from the creative will of C/S/M/S.  Nor am I obliterated or forgotten in it.  I am just in it, part of it, participating with openness and willingness.  I am being my true Self, breathing, creating, acting in relationship to each one and each thing.

When we realize our true home under the Tree of Life, we are at rest in motion.  We are at ease in creating.  We have no fight with our surroundings, no fear of the other.

And we are empowered to speak with clarity, to touch with compassion, to invite with kindness.

We are One.

Scripture today from my soul brother JD Martin:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q5ia2jUeqc

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

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

The Choice of Devotion

Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century Indian saint, embodied above all things the practice of devotion.   He eschewed study and strict adherence to Hindu ritual in favor of childlike adoration of Kali, the feminine aspect of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.  Sometimes petulant, sometimes playful, often appearing mad and completely out of control with devotion, he yearned to become one.  He whimpered, pestered and cried to experience absolute unity with the Godhead through ceaseless pursuit of Kali’s attention and affection.

And by all reports he was rewarded, after a time but then regularly, with the state of Samadhi, the expansive experience of complete absorption, joy and oneness with C/S/M/S.  In the midst of teaching his disciples, he would break into songs of adoration and then effortlessly enter and return from extended states of unitive bliss.  He brought back tales of love and beauty beyond measure.  Even dying of throat cancer, he seemed oblivious to his physical condition because of his laser focused devotion to the divine, the profound reality of his journeys.

Rumi, Teresa of Avila, Paramahansa Yogananda, Hildegard von Bingen; the great mystics of all traditions have been explorers of the outer edges and inner depths of human spirituality.  Their times and cultures somehow made space for them, accommodated their extravagance, supported or at least tolerated their journeys.  For all time, we welcome and stand in awe of the news they bring back.

Most of us live in the world of more mundane dimensions.  We are the householders, the engineers and teachers, the burger flippers and shopkeepers of day-to-day existence.  We raise kids and deal with plumbing problems and domestic struggles.  We worry about our finances and the decisions of our governments.

But here’s the thing.  Is there really any less wonder in the day-to-day?  Is the amazing expression of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source any less as I turn right onto Montgomery Boulevard and walk or drive to the grocery store?  I don’t think so.  I don’t believe for a minute that C/S/M/S is any less present or less available for connection in the ordinary moments of daily existence.

In a single block, I see, I am part of the homeless person holding a sign for support at the intersection, the turquoise sky of the Southwest, the courtesy and service of the store clerk as I check out my oranges and baking powder.  I am granted in every instant, at every turn, the opportunity for choice and participation.  Will I engage consciously, with all my thought, all my intention, all my heart?  Will I play my part, giving and receiving with wonder and gratitude?  Will I practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control – the beautiful and deeply satisfying fruits of the Tree of Life?

Or will I stay asleep at the wheel, angry at the young person who cut impulsively in front of me in the parking lot?  Will I numb myself, choosing to be lost in the tedium, bother and annoyance of a world that just doesn’t get what I want, what I need, what I deserve?

Whatever my talent, whatever piece of the extravagance of God I am gifted to touch and unfold for the world around me, I have the choice of devotion or neglect.  I can touch a relationship for healing, or I can stay lost in my hurt ego.  I can polish my little part with the devotion of joy, or I can miss the moment, the now, entirely.

Truly, we each choose our devotion and practice it persistently throughout our life.  Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our primary devotion is to preservation of self.  We think we protect an isolated and threatened ego with fear, anger, defense, power, greed and violence.

Under the Tree of Life, we choose a different practice.  We practice connection of Self; not an abandoned ego, but a connected Ego.  We offer, we recognize and realize with willingness, our connection to Creator/Spirit/Mind/Self, the entire created universe.  And we start and end by focusing that connection on the immediate.  We are clear, we are conscious.  Where there is anger we see hurt.  Where there is the inability to function productively on a daily basis, for whatever reason, we feel cold and hunger.  Wherever, whatever, we experience the deep beauty, the struggle of the birthing universe.  And we become the midwife of creation.

Let’s choose that devotion, our home in all that is.  Let’s find ourselves beneath the Tree of Life, with its leaves for the healing of everything.

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

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

New Worship

Alas, for many who are no longer comfortable within the confines of a single religion, or who can no longer accept core doctrines of their root tradition, worship has become both a problem and a loss.  There is a desire to touch, to engage.  And there is an aversion and disappointment in what is found in that touch.  Beautiful hymns in four part harmony lift the spirit in ecstasy, only to crash suddenly to earth in a glorification of blood sacrifice.

Our existing traditions and the accoutrements of worship that support them have been built over centuries, with great care.  Meticulously orchestrated and standardized rituals mediate the sacred, serving as metaphorical doors that open for a moment beyond the limits of physical pain, daily toil and bodily death.  They deliver a prescribed, and for many still effective formula of immanent experience and transcendent connection with Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

But for those with one or both feet outside the doctrinal door, satisfaction is limited or seemingly unavailable.  In varying degrees, there is a sense of alienation, of fraud.  We can choose to stay, crossing fingers or going silent when songs and liturgies lead us into language outside our defined circle of spiritual integrity.  For many, that is a useful transitional compromise, preserving aspects of community and offering some level of the expression of ecstasy.  But this route offers only a partial, incomplete and less than fully satisfying solution.

A richer alternative may be to extend the circle beyond judgment of the mediated.  Recall in our discussion of the sacred and profane that these are not two categories of phenomena.  Rather, sacred and profane are the lenses we choose between when we view and engage all that is.  Do we choose a sacred life of connection and reverence, or do we engage phenomena as though they are outside ourselves, materialistic products for consumption in a zero sum game of winning or losing, wealth or poverty?  This view, this choice, has profound implications for our concept and experience of worship.

Living only within the confines of mediated worship, or fighting its limitations are both positions of judgment, positions that leave us with the dissatisfied sorting of sacred and profane.  Either way, we decide that something – whether our traditional worship or our disdain of it – is sacred while the other position is profane.  We limit ourselves to external sorting and judgment rather than to holistic seamless engagement of the immanent and transcendent nature of all that is.

When we live life with the eyes of the sacred, we remove the barrier of judgment.  We expand with ease outside the limited mediated experience of organized religion without a need to judge or reject it.  It’s just that religion and worship are no longer compartmentalized experiences packaged and delivered by institutions.  They are not activities like a sport or a class that we choose to take.  They are not the prescribed clothing, food, prayers or practices of a given day of the week.  Religion and worship become, instead, the very fullness of life itself.

Worship in this sense becomes attention and connection.  We become aware of the people on the bus, the driver in the next car, the car and the road themselves.  We hear each sound, see each sight, feel each touch, glorious and mundane.  We engage with appreciation and reverence, without judgment, experiencing no boundary between institutionalized religious experience, if we choose it, and the fullness of life itself.

We hear the prophetic voice in a rock song, the hope and longing of a ballad.  A flower, a fly, a fleeting smile.  All things and all acts, ours and those around us, become part of the song of creation, the perpetual praise of becoming – the joy that we are, in the same moment and for all time, ourselves, the spark of being, at one, integral in the fabric of everything.

From this perspective we are free to engage even what we may feel that we have left behind.  There is no aspect of loss or limitation, only expansive, extravagant and compassionate welcome of every expression and exploration, each tentative test and step forward into the unknown, the unfoldment of the yet to be created.

There is no loss.  There is only more, something whole and complete, worship as the fullness of life and all that is, glorious expectation and engagement of all to come.

I am in Latin America right now.  In Spanish one might affirm, “Así es!”  This is how it is!  Así es!  Así es, under the Tree of Life.

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

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

The Authoritative Word

Authoritative is a word often used in reference to scripture.  It implies a superior truth.  Paul claimed that his vision of Jesus, his gospel, was superior to and superseded the Torah of Moses, which he viewed as a temporary or even flawed fix of the human condition and our relationship to the divine.  Muslims claim that the book – the Koran – received by the prophet Mohammed is a more perfect revelation of the word of Allah.  Latter Day Saints claim that the books revealed to Joseph Smith are a more current gospel.

The natural result of any claim to exclusive authority is division and strife.  All are required to make clear cut, dualistic, judging statements of acceptance or rejection.  The response and action of those who decide in favor of a given authoritative word ranges from benign tolerance, to active proselytization, to violent vengeance and retribution.

Christians in the United States busy themselves with bloodying each other and the society around them with special authoritative words for or against select issues of morality.  Islamic fundamentalists feel righteous zeal and justification, based on their authoritative word, in delivering death to the infidel.  The West responds with “justified” violence.  Latter Day Saints take their authoritative word, two-by-two, from door to door.  Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to get by with just one carrier.

I believe – I know in my heart of hearts – that the Authoritative Word is, indeed, one.  It’s just not this one or that one.  The Authoritative Word is beyond the limitations of language.  It is bigger than any single revelation.  It is greater than any set of rules or code of ethics.  It includes all scriptures.  It is none of them.  It is read on all pages, but seen only in blindness.  It is heard by the ear, but known truly in silence.

In essence, the Authoritative Word is.  It manifests in creation and evolution.  It is glimpsed in beauty, felt in kindness, spoken in healing and known intimately in the depths of the heart.  It does not judge and is not judged.  It is not born and never dies.  Found in book, in song, in story, it is none of and beyond all of those things.

All our scriptures exist within the limits of our bodily manifestation.  They are temporary touches and glimpses of the eternal reality, as are the bodily manifestations inhabited by you and me.

When we claim any manifestation as completely and exclusively authoritative, we stay stuck under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We judge and are judged.  We participate in aggression and defense.  We find ourselves threatened by the enemy or deluded by a false sense of security.

Be still.  Be still and know.  See all, hear all, experience all.  Judge none.  Encounter the Authoritative Word.  Be the timeless, Authoritative Word that you are, through and beyond manifestation, under the Tree of Life.

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

Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com.

The World We Dream

In his book, Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval, medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo describes the shamanic/spiritual practices of the Laika, an indigenous community of the Peruvian Amazon:

The Laika believe that everything is imaginal.  Whatever we perceive is a projection of our inner world, and the world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  I believe that to be true, individually and collectively.

So what does that mean?  Does that mean I can imagine great wealth and it will happen to me?  Maybe.  The prophets of positive thinking would say so, and Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates certainly imagined something.  I have actually heard people say that the entire universe is constructed, at root, to conspire for our greater good.

But there is something about this glib thinking that is potentially shallow and backwards.  This thinking tempts us to focus on changing the reflected image – the world we create or manifest – rather than the underlying reality, the condition of our soul.  We act out, we manifest, what we have allowed ourselves to become.  And the work for a better world is done not by sitting around and imagining a better world, but by working on the condition of our souls.

If I focus chiefly on the universe conspiring for my greater good, I will get a world that looks like my soul – a manipulative and selfish world with relationships and outcomes to match.  When I move my focus to outcomes, I lose track of who I am and I become, perhaps unintentionally, but truly, the picture of my neglected soul.

This is true collectively as well as individually.  The United States has begun air strikes in Iraq to counter forcefully the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Our focus is on outcomes.  But the real world, the world that is, reflects the condition of a collective soul that wanted wealth and oil at any cost.  The condition of our soul manifested a world that supported oppressors like Saddam Hussein – or the Shah, or Somoza or any number of puppet regimes – in the oppression and pillage of people to yield the comfort we thought was our greater good.  And the perpetual wars that result, whether the violence in the Middle East or the violence in Central America beneath the current child refugee crisis, truly mirror and are an accurate manifestation of the condition of our soul.  When our soul, anyone’s soul, is sick with greed, we manifest a world of oppression and violence.

I remember bumper stickers that said “Visualize World Peace,” as though sitting still and picturing a peaceful world in our mind would make it happen.  But that is magical thinking, no better or more effective than the satirical bumper sticker retort, “Visualize Whirled Peas.”

“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.”  Mirrors can be useful.  Any one of us can look in the mirror and learn something about reality.  I might learn I am aging and wrinkling.  I might learn that I am contorted with anxiety, or that I am satisfied and radiant.  Certainly I can paste on a different face if I want to imagine something different than what I see.  I have manipulated the outcome of an image.  I have not changed the underlying reality.

There were two metaphorical trees planted at the center of the Garden of Eden:  the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and, beside it, the Tree of Life.  We ate from the first and were given the gift of conscious awareness.  We could see the mirror image of all that we had manifested.  It was frightening and disconcerting.

Our reaction was to try to manipulate outcomes, to make the picture we saw safe and comforting.  Seeing only ourselves, we resorted to fear and greed.  We created religions in an attempt to get the gods to conspire for us, to cooperate with us, or at least not to work against us.

But there were – and are – those who grew up, who awoke to a different truth.  These prophets, saints and mystics realized that the world was just a reflection of something deeper, of the condition of our true spiritual selves.

Their call in all times has been to turn from the mirror, to embrace and nurture the reality.  The reality is the quality of our soul.  If we cultivate peace and harmony in our spirit, the mirror reflects it.  It’s not that we changed the picture.  It is that we changed our being.  We made the choice to grow up.  We nurtured the condition of our soul.  And the picture around us – the manifested world of relationships – reflects our nurture.

The two metaphorical trees in the garden, as I have noted before, are really only one.  When we focus on the mirror, we see only the image of the tree.  That image is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we bang into the mirror, over and over, trying to get what we want, what we think we need from that picture.  And the picture only gets worse, because it reflects our frustration and unhappiness.

When we turn away from the mirror of our manifested world, and cultivate the quality of our soul, we find that we are living in true reality, under the Tree of Life.  We manifest peace.  We manifest kindness and compassion.  We manifest abundance – the power of enough for all – because we have cultivated those things at the root of our being.

Turn inward.  Cultivate your soul.  Live in reality under the Tree of Life.  You won’t need the mirror to know the outcome.

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

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

Let it Flow

We all experience pain in our lives.   And it never really quite goes away.  Damage we received from our collisions with others.  Losses.  Memories of actions we unleashed and wish we could retrieve.  The memories can crush us as much or more than the true moment of the event.

We wonder why we harbor these things.  Didn’t we work at forgiveness, truly forgive the other, truly forgive ourselves?  Must we do this work again?  How long, and how many times must we suffer this brokenness?  Why can’t we heal the one we know is hurt?  Will we ever move on?

Sometimes it’s a dream where we rework the encounters, striving again with the feelings and remembered truth.  We fail still once more to change the situation, to win or to make it right.

The landscape of creation aches along the broken faults of our lives.  Sometimes a rift is torn.  Sometimes a range heaves up.  We moan audibly in an exhalation of the memory, a sound and a breath completely irrelevant to the air and the time and place that receive it.  But we know what it is.

We cannot uncreate.  We cannot undo the past, make it disappear, remove its effect from our lives.  But we can, today and always, let it flow, let it move and twist and turn.  Let it become the new thing that it will.

Breathe, moan, let it flow.  Sometimes the hot lava of the volcano, sometimes the blue water of the fountain.  It’s the flow that creates, whether it’s a glaring red-yellow stream that cools to the dark rock of a new mountain, or the water that carves a canyon in its flank on the return ride to the ocean.

Let it flow.  A good river never quits.  Water pushes up from the source.  It picks up streams and sediments on its way.  It spreads out and drops its dirt in the rich delta, only to rest in the sea, where the vast surface yields to the sun and air that return it once again to its beginning.

It’s the flow of life, the non-judging and continual cycle of movement and rest.  When we try to step out of it, to stop it or avoid it instead of riding it, we are out of touch, we lose our connection, we become the dam that only temporarily, despite our struggle, stands in the way.

There is a river that flows beside the Tree of Life.  It cleanses.  It heals.  It keeps moving, never fighting what it is.  Drink the water.  Ride the stream.  Let it flow.

Scripture today from my friend, singer/songrwriter JD Martin:

Hear me, rock of ages
Let me hide myself in thee
Touch me, living waters
Let me drink from your flowing stream

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

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

Sex and the City of God

My Mennonite denomination (Mennonite Church USA) finally seems near the point of over-determination on issues of human sexuality.  That is to say, the tipping point, however long and tortuous the path, seems imminent on elevating the gospel message of loving relationship over the ancient purity codes around human sexual preference and practices.  Recalling the early church’s angst over circumcision, I find it interesting that two millennia down the road, the hottest topic in the church still revolves around what happens with men’s penises.  At least today vaginas are on the table, as well.  We can be grateful for small steps.

Sexuality is powerful.  Where there is power, there is danger of abuse.  Perhaps a good measure of the power of sexuality is the immense catalog of abuses it has accumulated over the millennia.  The major sections of the book would include slavery, domination, profiteering and the threats of damnation used to perpetuate religious institutions.

Power, in and of itself, is neither good nor evil.  It just is.  And the biblical lens on sexuality reflects this.  We each have power – whether sexual, monetary or otherwise – in various measures.  The primary tasks – and the biblical admonition – in our connection to power are to submit it in relationship and to use it in the service of justice.

For Christians, perhaps the most instructive biblical lessons on sexuality and power are in Matthew’s less than subtle but almost completely ignored inclusion of four women, all notably not Israelite, in his genealogy of Jesus.

The first among them is Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah.  Tamar seduced Judah and bore his son in order to shame him into honoring his obligations to care for family, whether Hebrew or other.  When all else failed, she effectively used sexual power in the service of justice.

The second is Rahab, the Canaanite woman who ran a house of prostitution on the walls of Jericho.  It is interesting that Joshua and his band of spies stayed with her and was protected by her on that holiest of land grabs, the retaking of the Promised Land following the Exodus from Egypt.  Rahab apparently married one of the troops and was elevated to the status of a progenitor of the Christ, despite the fact that the ancient world thought women played only the role of incubator in the process of procreation.  Sexual power, here, was turned to relationship.

The third is Ruth, the Moabite daughter-in-law of the Hebrew Naomi.  Ruth, with the direction and support of her mother-in-law, seduced Boaz, effectively claiming a rightful inheritance and protection for these socially vulnerable women.  Ruth was the grandmother of King David.  Sexual power, here, was used to secure protection.

And finally, there is Bathsheba, the Hittite who withstood the murder of her husband and the uncontrolled sexual urges of King David, becoming the mother of Solomon in the royal line of the (biblically) chosen people.  In an act of redemption and justice, Bathsheba is elevated, at least in Matthew’s genealogy, to the position of matriarch in the messianic line.

People point to the story of Sodom to illustrate divine hatred of homosexuality, if not just sexuality in general.  What was hateful in Sodom was the wanton pursuit of sexual satisfaction without regard to the safety and welfare of the other, yet alone any thought of relationship.  The men at Lot’s door would not be satisfied without violent and abusive sex.  And the worst among them was Lot, who was ready to submit his own daughter to rape and murder in order to save his own sorry self.  That city burned itself down with self-centered violence.

The point of these tales is not that God (as the Bible names and perceives Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source) somehow had a negative view of homosexuality (in the case of Sodom) or on sexuality as a force in human relationships.  Rather, it is that sexuality was recognized as powerful.  Like all biblical stories of power, the consistent message is that it is used appropriately for relationship and for justice, and never for violence, greed or anything at the expense of others.

Under the Tree of Life, sexuality is a thing of astounding beauty, magnified in relationship.  It is, in the words of Jackson Browne (“Looking East”), “the power of a sunrise, the power of a prayer released.”

Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil we become lost in rules, social norms and false morality that have everything to do with the abuse of power and nothing to do with beauty, relationship or justice.  Our sexuality, when we own and celebrate it in relationship, travels with us as a lovely companion – strong, true, beautiful and useful – on our journey to the Tree of Life, at the center of the metaphorical city of God.

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

Born in You this Day

“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”   Luke 2:11, NRSV.

There are so many ways to wreck a good story.  In fact, we might as well call it Christmas Cancer for all that it has become in the last two millennia:  grafted onto holiday trees from other traditions; the insanity of soldiers stopping to sing carols to the enemy across the front lines of WWI, resuming the fight in the morning; Santa Claus and Rudolph; enough lights to outshine a supernova; a worldwide binge and burp of the economy big enough to make us confident that Jesus has finally entered the temple and whipped, once and for all, the rogue dogs of evil empire.

What was born?  Who was born?  Lamb of God?  For all our focus on blood sacrifice to grab salvation, Jesus might as well have been a 4-H calf, corn-fed and off to the fair, sold at auction to the highest bidder, the owner of the fanciest restaurant in the state.

What was born?  Who was born?  The birth narratives of Matthew and especially the iconic scene of the stable, manger, angels and star in Luke, are memorialized annually from the tiniest of crèche scenes reconstructed in the shell of a bird’s egg, to the bigger than life plywood or even living crèches that, despite our silly doublespeak laws about what religious freedom is or isn’t, stand in front of churches or town squares worldwide.  God almighty, the things we fight about to avoid our own truth.

What was born? Who was born? Without doubt, a true Rose of Sharon, a balm in Gilead, a little Prince of Peace.  And stories like these pasted onto the front of Matthew’s and Luke’s life narratives are effective “sit up and take notice” calls that here was a birth and a life of great importance.

Alas, we are so prone to losing ourselves in icons, drama and worship – anything to avoid personal responsibility.

The real birth of Jesus, good friends, took place in the silent stretch of nearly twenty years between Luke 2 and Luke 3, a gestation of learning and practice, of formation in the womb of wisdom and spirit.  The real birth of Jesus was the birth of authentic Self, the hero’s/heroine’s journey to which we are all invited when we are silent in the presence and willing in spirit.

Luke tries to hammer this home with his genealogy, the long list of names at the end of the third chapter, almost entirely ignored by 2,000 years of Christianity, that ends, for both Adam (read “you and me”) and Jesus, with “Son (child) of God.”  This genealogy marks the line of transition, the end of gestation.  It is followed immediately by a baptism of grown-up spirit and the launch of Jesus into his brief public life of healing, bathed and swaddled in an honest and consistent call to peace, compassion, fairness and, most of all, the pleading invitation to each of us to join him in our own true birth.

What was born?  Who was born?  A human was born, like every human, who gained his life with the whisper of prana, the tickle and nudge of the breath of God, the life force of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Self.  Born a human, you and me, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This one grew up.  This one accepted that suffering (true love, while it may cast out fear, just as often draws fire) was the price of second birth, the true and human birth to capital “S” Self, the birth canal of silence, prayer and practice that bore him all the way to the Tree of Life.

How utterly astounding that for all the effort to tell us in symbol and story, for the repeated invitation of Jesus to each of us to grow up, to enter and to walk through the inevitable suffering of birth to true and mature life, we choose instead to worship the stories.  We shield our eyes in the waving of palms and drown the voice in our din of praise.  Truly, for the most part, we would rather kill the guide than hear the call, hear the invitation and embrace the path.

Born in you this day.  Born in you this day, kind friend.  The invitation to embrace the path, the invitation to second birth.  Born in you this day.  The call to accept, without judgment, the pain and suffering of growing up.  The call to embrace and transform it with the practice of peace, of compassion for self and others.  The call to be authentic sons and daughters of C/S/M/S, true birth under the Tree of Life.

Born in you this day.  Let it be.

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

Adoration

So much of our connection and relationship with others is shaped by our emotions.  We don’t like this person, because they do things that annoy us.  Someone else made us angry.  Another just sweeps us off our feet because they are so incredibly attractive.

These feelings are powerful.  If we try to ignore them, they find ways to keep popping up.  Or sometimes we just give into them and let them shape our responses.  We may vent our anger. We may carry a grudge.  We may pine away with hopeless longing for connection.

Long term intimate relationships can be especially confusing.  We are never another and they are never us.  We never fully understand another, and so we often interpret their actions as somehow directed at us.  That leads us to an emotional response.

And feelings, of course, wax and wane for a huge variety of reasons.  Our partner can become the unwitting object of all these changes.  While they are always the same person, there are days when our feelings for them may be wonderful and other days when we really don’t want to be with them.

We can chase our tail for life, under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, responding to one feeling and another, giving those feelings power over how we act and how we use our energy.  The end of that chase is generally exhaustion, and never satisfaction.

We have an alternative – a Tree of Life alternative.  Somehow I suspect that the Spirit that created us absolutely adores us.  We do not always act adorably.  Yet the choice of our Creator was and is an ongoing act of adoration.  We block it and don’t respond to it for much of our life.  But that is our choice, not the action of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source.

While we may say we adore something or someone – you know, the warm fuzzy feeling – adoration, as I am using it, is not a feeling.  It is a practice.  It is an ongoing active choice.

Really.  Sooo – how does that work?  Well, let’s say we start by choosing to adore our long-term committed partner in life.  We acknowledge that our feelings in that relationship will ride the usual roller coaster.  We accept and don’t fight those feelings.  Rather, we choose to own them as our own, not something created by our partner, or for which our partner carries any responsibility.  And we choose not to let those feelings, positive or negative, carry the day with us.  We observe them and we learn what we can from them about ourselves.  And we own that our actions and reactions are ours, by personal choice.

That realization is called being free from attachment.  We are ourselves.  We are not the feelings to which we thought we were attached.

OK, step two.  Once we are free from attachment, we can choose not the feeling, but the practice of adoration.  Suddenly we are free from the blame game and the tail chasing, because we have stepped out of that vicious cycle.  We can stand still and truly see.  We can observe, we can soak in our partner as they truly are – an adored creation of C/S/M/S, just like we are.  And we can choose to adore them.

We can choose not to judge or to criticize.  We can choose to appreciate and to love what we see – all of their unique expressions, all of their hopes and fears, all of their work along their own path, as a creature learning and growing in all that C/S/M/S has for them.  And we can give thanks, and appreciation and adoration.  We can choose, in reality, to see them exactly as we can choose to see ourselves and all of creation around us.

We can accept and be grateful for the gifts they offer, rather than grasping or demanding what we think we need or deserve, or being disappointed that somehow they haven’t figured out what we really want from them.  We can give up “want” altogether, because we know we have what we need, and we are satisfied.

Adoration is not blind.  Rather, it is compassionate, knowing that we have far more to work on for ourselves along the path than we can possibly expect of or get from another.  Adoration reflects back, helping another shine her or his own light, rather than hitting back.

There may be times when safety or wisdom require separation – even permanent breaking off of an intimate relationship.  There is still no need to engage in the blame game.  Self-adoration, self-care, is our first responsibility – and then to love our neighbor.  Becoming stuck in hatred or bitterness is really just another way of giving up adoration of our self – another form of unhealthy attachment to feelings and to what we project about the other.

Practice is the key to success.  We practice the adoration we have received from our Creator.  And we practice letting go of our attachment to emotions and to our dependency on blaming someone else for the way we feel.

There were two special trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.  Practicing a different way locates us under the one that yields true satisfaction.

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

Willingness vs. Willfulness

Two hearts diverge in the center of my chest.  One is right, absolutely certain of what it deserves, red, furious, sulking, adrenalized, ready to explode.  This one does not like change, at least not change that does not go in the direction it wants – the right and fair direction, the direction that I can see so clearly.

The other is quiet and at peace, in relationship, observing, taking in the whole, engaging without attaching, nimble as a stream flowing over rocks, flexing with what truly is.

What a grip the first heart has, and how complete the blindness and stranglehold.  And how utter and painful the defeat if it carries the battle to the end and loses.  Or how empty the victory if it wins and beats its perceived opponent into the ground.

It is all the same heart, of course.  It is mine and I make the choice, just like choosing whether or not the giving tree under which I live is going to be the Tree of Life or the other one.

But how can I make that choice when I am so thoroughly blinded?  The truth is, sometimes I can’t, or don’t, and I drift further and further into the hell I create with my own sightless determination.  How difficult, but how important it is to change course and to bring it all back home.  Sometimes the path is long and painful because of the bitterness built up inside and the damage inflicted on others around me.

What are the turning points, the places of repenting?  Sometimes it is awareness of the misery, sometimes it is the voice of another who can see me more clearly than I can see myself.  Sometimes it is the practice of quiet prayer, the prayer that seeks, in a mantra of willingness or a broken open silence, to let in a small sparkle of light, a trickle of healing water, finding the pinhole through which a larger landscape can be seen.

Always the turn involves practice.  It involves breathing and conscious letting go.  It involves releasing my death grip attachment to a self-determined and willful outcome.

We do not diminish ourselves when we choose willingness, the open connection to the whole.  Rather, we become our true selves, the Self of paradoxical oneness with all that is.

The picture is always larger, and I am only a part of the whole, not the entire thing, as I want to believe.

When we practice willingness, when we practice being open and available, expanding our vision and releasing our determination to have the speck of sand we thought was everything, we experience healing.  We find that the ache and inflammation begin to subside.  The poison is leached little by little from our system and the blinders fall away.  We are able to see both the detail and the landscape.  The stream flows in its ripples and pools, turning with ease to follow its natural course.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10, NRSV)  It’s not so much a new one, but rather a connected one. And it is already there.  We don’t have to beg or grovel for it, nor do we have to tear out anything as though it is wrong or defective.

Rather, we choose.  Will we be willing or willful, separate or connected?  Our spirit and our heart are not other than that with which we are gifted in our creation.  There are no defects.  There is only choice, the choice of isolation or the choice of connection.  When we are real and whole, we are both individuated and connected.  We are the gift of our own place and being.  And we are the gift of the entire universe.  It is the paradox and beauty of being a thread in the fabric.

In any case, our heart is truly only one, our very own, offered willingly in connection to the whole.  Ah, the wonder and taste of the Tree of Life.

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Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmentalism and the Two Trees

In some big way, the Earth is the tree in our garden.  Going back to the C.S. Lewis view of the garden of creation in the Narnia books (Two Trees in the Garden, “The Fruit of Our Heart’s Desire”, July 26, 2013), our two trees – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life – are really the same tree.  The difference is in how we approach the tree and our use of the fruit we take away.

The Earth is the giving tree of creation.  It is full of fruit.  We choose, each day of our lives, which tree we will make it.

When we view the Earth from our perspective under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we view it through a lens of scarcity.  Whatever the Earth might provide us, there is never enough.  The natural response is to grab, to grasp, to hoard and to engage in glutinous consumption.  The consequences of that view are apparent.  There is a rapidly increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots in the United States, the wealthiest nation on Earth. (A recent president referred, with some chilling sarcasm, to “the haves and the have-mores”, blatantly celebrating the disparity.)  Resources are gathered and consumed without regard to the social or environmental cost.  And, ultimately, this gathering and hoarding is protected with violence and the cost of life.  War after war has been waged in the name of some lofty principle or other that masks the underlying defense of access to natural resources and the associated wealth.

We can swing our environmentalist, social justice and peacenik bats as fast and furiously as we like.  Certainly we must take positions of clarity on this issue.  Ultimately, this is a spiritual problem and needs to be addressed at that level.  We should be neither blind to nor distracted by the possible consequences.

Jesus, Gandhi and King are exemplary here.  Certainly there are others, but these we know in the West, the United States in particular.  In our objection to greed and abuse of power, we should never overlook the obligation and compassion of call to the one lost under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Jesus’s call to Zacchaeus, whose greed and fear were expressed in the abuses available to the tax collector, is a clear and simple picture.  There was some spark for Zacchaeus, at least enough curiosity to cause him to climb the tree so that he could see Jesus.  Jesus called him out.  He confronted him with compassion.  Zacchaeus changed his behavior.

Under the Tree of Life, our response to greed and fear must be the call of compassion, a call that cares for the perpetrator lost in self-centered fear and greed while at the same time fending for, protecting and improving the lot for the victims of the perpetrator.

We should never delude ourselves about the grip of power and wealth.  The human heart lost in that grip will resort to killing and devastation of anything to avoid freedom from and relinquishment of those false protections.  But neither should we be deterred or dismayed.

If we save the world from devastation through violence, we have saved nothing.  We have only lost ourselves to our own isolation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

There are no guarantees of success in the short-term.  We could lose the Earth to the violence and environmental degradation caused by those who are themselves lost in the grip of plunder, convinced that comfort and ease in this particular life will somehow protect them from bodily demise.  And we could easily die, as so many others have, standing in the way and making the compassionate call to view the Earth as our shared Tree of Life, with enough for all, and with a vision that is longer, broader and deeper than our current incarnation in the here and now.

In fact, there are no guarantees of success in the long-term, either.  There is only a choice of faith:

  • faith that the choice to live under the Tree of Life is the ultimate path of spiritual progress
  • faith that sets aside both hatred and fear
  • faith that expresses compassion and stewardship in ways that transcend our necessarily limited physical view and understanding of the world around us

I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist about the future of our planet.  It is a beautiful gift, one that calls for nurture, restoration and compassionate stewardship that seeks the good of all.  We choose what tree it will be – a nourishing Tree of Life or a depleted and exhausted Tree of the Know ledge of Good and Evil.

What I am convinced of, deeply, is the challenge and importance of our choices, personally and collectively.  My spirit rises to the call of the Tree of Life:

  • the call to steward, to stand, to confront and to call with compassion and welcome
  • the call to take the bullet or to be nailed to the tree when a frozen heart is convinced that our death will clear the path for the temporary safety of wealth and power
  • the call to rise up again – and again and again – to rise up again and to live in the home of love under the Tree of Life.

There is no end.  There is nothing to fear.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Take what is useful.  Share it.  Mention where you found it.

Spiritual but not Religious

In the past few years I have heard people describe themselves, and have sometimes described myself, as spiritual but not religious.  The label begs definition.  I guess, on a very simple and literal level, it means having a sense of larger connection to something we might call spirit that envigorates, guides and, in truth, is us, but having checked out of, or never been part of, institutional religious expression of a particular faith.

I have admired that position, at least insofar as it represents a bravery about rejecting or not being actively concerned with blind dogma and positions that separate rather than unite humanity – demands that people say this or that and assurances that if you follow the particular company line, heaven is just around the corner.

But there is, at least for me, something significant lost in that position, as well.  What is lost is the sense of belonging, of being part of a close-knit community of commitment.

Every fall, just after Labor Day, the community of Estes Park hosts the Long’s Peak Scottish Irish Festival.  There are bands and dance competitions, jousting, and real cannon firing bowling balls to try to sink an inflatable plastic dragon in Lake Estes.

And there is a parade.  It features, I think, just about the biggest collection of pipe and drum corps in the nation.  And it features clan after clan marching in alphabetical order, families in their tartans and kilts, marching proudly and happily together behind their particular plaid.  I have to admit there is something that grabs me at the root and brings tears to my eyes as I see them march by – little children, old men and women, their little Scottish terriers all decked out, heading to no war, setting aside their own squabbles and differences for a day of being part of something that reaches way back and commits to going forward, reveling in pure belonging.  I can’t help it.  Tears just run down my face.

I don’t know how long it has been true, but it is true now that something very special has happened in those ranks.  Yes, there are tall lordly Scotsmen – some kind of purebred marked by a particular demeanor and full white moustache – and strong women capable of cutting down forests with only a few strokes of the axe.  But there are also, in the clans, marching with all the same pride, people of Asian or African descent, fully Scottish just because they have married into the clan and everybody says so.

There is nothing inherently bad about religions.  They are just the tools we make them.  And there is value and meaning in belonging – in a commitment to community that says, come hell or high water (or, as we have in Estes this week, the hell of high water), and regardless of our petty differences, we are one.  We will stick together and care for one another and we will take pride in and celebrate our values and commitments.

There is nothing inherently bad in this, so long as there is a significant grain of salt in all our sacraments.  Strength comes in offering and welcoming, in serving and caring.  The stories we tell and the lessons we teach are nothing if they don’t result in true humility and compassion.  We may display our colors with pride, so long as the door is open and says come in if you like.  And so long as we know our door is just one of many on the street.

At the end of the day, we may take off our clothing, grateful that it has protected us and provided a vehicle and context for our service.  But that is all it is, a bit of pretty decoration for a body that is no different, or better or worse than the one inhabited by each of our global and religious – or not – neighbors.

And our religious families are wasted and nothing if they are not chiefly a magnification of service and welcome at the level of community, rather than just the individual.

Spiritual but not religious is, I believe, a wonderful position that sheds, appropriately, the strictures when community has lost its way, more concerned about the clothing than the body, wrapped up in pomp, power and appearances.  It is a sign of prophetic rejection of all that is hollow and false.

But it is also lonely.  Grant us community, a family that makes us part of something broader and stronger, that accomplishes so much more than we are able on our own.  And gift us, Great Spirit, Breath of Life, the vision that whatever our community, we are always part of a larger family still, a family that flourishes on strong humility and confident sharing, founded on a bedrock of compassionate service.

Make us one, be us one, under the Tree of Life.

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