Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part One

August 11th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

From Innocence to Knowledge
Tuesday,  August 11, 2020

Many Christians look to the Garden of Eden as the ultimate example of Order. While we can certainly mourn the suffering, it doesn’t do us any good to regret “the Fall.” It had to happen; failure is part of the deal! If Christ is theLogos, the blueprint for all creation, then God has always had our growth and salvation in mind. In this passage, theologian and mystic Rev. Howard Thurman (1900–1981) explores the creative tension that exists between innocence and knowledge, each honoring the other.

The setting is the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are the central figures in an idyllic surrounding. All is peaceful. All is innocent. They are told by God that they are free to do anything except one thing. They are forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge which grows in the midst of the garden [Genesis 2:16–17]. For if they eat of the fruit they shall be driven from the garden and from that day forward they shall be responsible for their own lives. They eat of the fruit; they are driven out of the garden; they become responsible for their own lives. With the coming of knowledge, they have lost their innocence.

The transition from innocence to knowledge is always perilous and fraught with hazard. There is something very comforting and reassuring about innocence. To dwell in innocence is to inhabit a region where storms do not come and where all the breezes are gentle and balmy. It is to live in the calm of the eye of the hurricane. It is to live in a static environment which makes upon the individual no demands other than to be. All else is cared for; is guaranteed.

But when knowledge comes, the whole world is turned upside down. The meaning of things begins to emerge. And more importantly, the relations between things are seen for the first time. Questions are asked and answers are sought. A strange restlessness comes over the spirit and the enormity of error moves over the horizon like a vast shadow. Struggle emerges as the way of life. An appetite is awakened that can never be satisfied. A person becomes conscious of himself; the urge to know, to understand, to find answers, turns inward. Every estimate of others becomes a question of self-estimate, every judgment upon life becomes a self-judgment. The question of the meaning of one’s self becomes one with the meaning of life.

This process of moving from innocence to knowledge is never finished. Always there is the realm of innocence, always there is some area of innocence untouched by knowledge. The more profound the growth of knowledge, the more aware the individual becomes of the dimensions of innocence. Pride in knowledge is always tempered by the dominion of innocence.

Thurman offers here a wonderful description of the first stage of Order and a poetic, accurate account of early forays into Disorder. Surely moving between these two polarities is part of the Divine Dance. my body? What is mine to do?

Story from Our Community:
My husband has a diagnosis of “Moderate Cognitive Decline,” probably heading towards Alzheimer’s. Richard’s meditations have helped me rise above my personal grief, anger, and resentment. When I find myself feeling inconvenienced by all the things I now have to do because my husband no longer can, I am reminded of how strong and skilled God has made me. This must be one of the gates through which I am passing on my way to more closely aligning myself with the nature of the Universal Christ. —Linda F.

Necessary Boundaries

August 10th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part One

Necessary Boundaries
Monday,  August 10, 2020

Law, tradition, and boundaries—what I call Order—seem to be necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity. Such containers make at least some community, family, and marriage possible. Boundaries seem to be the only way that human beings can find a place to stand, a place to begin, a place from which to move out. Even those who think they don’t have any boundaries usually do. We discover them when we trespass against them. The human soul flourishes on solid ground, especially in the first years of life.

As Paul belabors in his Letter to the Romans (see especially chapters 2–7), the law is given for the sake of information, education, and transformation, but is not itself enlightenment. Even though allegiance to boundaries, limits, and laws is almost universally confused with religion and even salvation itself, “the law will not save anyone” (Galatians 3:11). Law has to do with the pattern of how transformation happens—and that’s all. The struggle with boundaries and law creates the wrestling ring, but is not, itself, the encounter or the victory.

Human beings seem to need to fight and engage with something before they can take it seriously—and before they can discover what they really need or want. The people who never fight religion, guilt, parents, injustice, friends, marriage partners, and laws usually don’t respect their own power, importance, and freedom. They remain content with the external values of the first “lawful” container, instead of working to discover their own.

I am trying to hold us inside a very creative tension, because both law and freedom are necessary for spiritual growth, as Paul says in both Romans and Galatians. He learned this from Jesus, who says seven times in a row, “The law says . . . but I say” (Matthew 5:21–48), while also assuring us that he “has not come to throw out the law but to bring it to completion” (5:17). Despite having been directly taught to hold this creative tension, rare is the Christian believer who holds it well.

The psyche cannot live with everything changing every day, everything a matter of opinion, everything relative. There must be a sound container holding us long enough so we can move beyond survival mode. There has to be solid ground, trust, and shared security, or we cannot move outward. There has to be a foundational hope, and for hope to be a shared experience there must be agreed-upon meanings and shared stories that excite and inspire us all. If there are truly stories from the great patterns that are always true, they will catapult us into a universal humanity and pluralistic society. We will both stand on solid ground and, from that solid ground, create common ground. If it does not support our movement outward, then it is not solid ground at all.

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part One

The Universal Pattern
Sunday,  August 9, 2020

It seems quite clear that we grow by passing beyond some perfect Order, through an often painful and seemingly unnecessary Disorder, to an enlightened Reorder or resurrection. This is the universal pattern that connects and solidifies our relationships with everything around us. This week’s meditations focus on Order, the first in the sequence. We will take a closer look at Disorder and Reorder in the following two weeks.

The trajectory of transformation and growth, as I see the great religious and philosophical traditions charting it, uses many metaphors for this pattern. We could point to the classic “Hero’s Journey” charted by Joseph Campbell; the Four Seasons or Four Directions of most Native religions; the epic accounts of exodus, exile, and Promised Land of the Jewish people, followed by the cross, death, and resurrection narrative of Christianity. Each of these deeply rooted “myths,” in its own way, is saying that growth happens in this full sequence. To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment, we must be moved from Order to Disorder and then ultimately to Reorder.

A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first “container.” I cannot think of a culture in human history, before the present postmodern era, that did not value law, tradition, custom, family loyalties, authority, boundaries, and morality of some clear sort. While they aren’t perfect, these containers give us the necessary security, predictability, impulse control, and ego structure that we need, before the chaos of real life shows up. As far as I can see it, healthily conservative people tend to grow up more naturally and more happily than those who receive only freeform, build-it-yourself worldviews.

We need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life. We ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of our ego. We need to struggle with the rules more than a bit before we throw them out. We only internalize values by butting up against external values for a while. All this builds the strong self that can positively follow Jesus—and “die to itself.” [1]

In our time, many people are questioning and rejecting the institutions, churches, and authority figures that have long provided stability. Looking to the perennial tradition, which has held up over time, can help create a positive “container.” We cannot each start at zero, entirely on our own. Life is far too short, and there are plenty of mistakes we do not need to make—though, of course, there are some that we need to make. We are parts of social and family ecosystems that, when they are rightly structured, keep us from falling. More importantly, these systems show us how to fall and how to learn from that very falling.

Spark of the Devine

August 7th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »
Image credit: Motherhood Through the Spirit and Water (detail), c. 1165; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.

The Rhineland Mystics

Spark of the Divine
Friday,  August 7, 2020

Matthew Fox has studied, written, and taught on theology and the mystics for decades. In one of his books on Meister Eckhart, Fox writes:

In the soul, Eckhart maintains, there is “something like a spark of divine nature, a divine light, a ray, an imprinted picture of the divine nature.” [1] . . . But we have to make contact with this divine spark by emptying ourselves or letting go. And then we will know the unity that already exists. [2]

Indian-born teacher Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) puts it in similar terms:

Life’s real and highest goal . . . [is] to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts. . . . When we realize this goal, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all—all individuals, all creatures, all of life. [3]

Meister Eckhart was frequently criticized by his contemporaries (and still is by some people today) because his language was far too unitive. We like our distinctions! We don’t want to hear that we have the same soul as our enemies, not our personal ones and certainly not our cultural or global ones! We want to hate them, don’t we? And far too often our religion seemingly gives us permission to do so. But mystics don’t hate anyone. They simply can’t. They pray, as Jesus does on the cross, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The mystic knows the other person doesn’t know. It’s not malice as much as ignorance and unawareness. And, of course, it’s a burden to know; it’s a responsibility to know, because once we know that God has inhabited all that God has created, then all of our distinctions are silly. They are just ways to create self-importance and superiority for ourselves and put down someone else. We’ve played this game since grade school!

Mysticism begins when we start to make room for a completely new experience of God as immanent, present here and now, with and within all of us. God isn’t only transcendent, “out there,” and separate from me. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) wrote that God is “more intimate to me than I am to myself.” [4] St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510) said, “My me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.” [5] Like all mystics, they overcame the gap, and we can too. When God is no longer out there or over there, we have begun the mystical journey. It’s not simply that we have a new relationship with God. It’s as though we have a whole new God!

That’s what Meister Eckhart meant when he said, “Let us pray to God that we may be free of God.” [6] That’s not sacrilege; that’s a beautifully humble prayer because we know that our present notion of God is never all God is. As Augustine boldly stated, “Si enim comprehendis, non est Deus” (“If we comprehend it, it is not God”). [7] Our present experience is never enough, but it is gratefully where we begin, and these mystics teach us that we grow with each experience of God.

The Rhineland Mystics

August 6th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

A Mirror Image
Thursday,  August 6, 2020

An image is not of itself, nor is it for itself. It rather springs from the thing whose reflection it is and belongs to it with all its being. It owes nothing to a thing other than that whose image it is; nothing else is at its origin. An image takes its being immediately from that of which it is the image and has one sole being with it, and it is that same being. —Meister Eckhart

Sometimes it takes a mystic to translate another mystic for the rest of us. My dear friend, CAC faculty member, and modern mystic James Finley helps us understand Eckhart’s words. A slow, prayerful reading of this brilliant text will deepen your own insight:

[Meister Eckhart] says that the generosity of the Infinite is infinite and [that God] gives [God’s self] away as the reality of all things. And he says that our sorrow is that we do not know that we are the generosity of God. . . .

This is a paraphrase of Eckhart: Imagine you’re standing before a full-length mirror, and imagine the image of you is conscious, that it can think. And this image of you has been through a lot of therapy; it’s taken a lot of courses on being an insightful image. And it has come to a point in which it informs you that it doesn’t need you.

You say to the image of you, “Well, you know, this is going to be rough, really, since you’re an image of me.”

“No,” the image says, [after a pause], “I’ve worked on this; I’ve come to this point.”

And so, to gently help the image out, you step halfway off the side of the mirror; and half the image disappears. The image has a panic attack and goes back into therapy and says to the therapist, “I’m not real! I’m not real! I was working on my affirmations. I bolstered up my confidence, but I don’t know where I went. I buckled!”

Now, the image was real, but the image wasn’t real in the way that it thought it was real. It was real, but not real without you. It was real as an image of you. See?

Eckhart says, “The image owes no allegiances to anything except that of which it is the image.”. . . There is nothing that has the authority to say what it is except that of which it is the image. And so it is with us, Eckhart says, that we are the image of God. Without God, we are nothing, absolutely nothing. In being the image of God, we owe no allegiances to anything but the Infinite Love in whose image we are made. And the idolatry of diversions of the heart where we wander off into cul-de-sacs with the imagined authority of anything less or other than Infinite Love to name who we are: this is the problem.

A Dominican Mystic

August 5th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

The Rhineland Mystics

A Dominican Mystic
Wednesday,  August 5, 2020

Another of the Rhineland Mystics was Meister Eckhart. His writings were probably the height of Western nondualism. Carl McColman has written several accessible books on the Christian mystics that broaden and deepen our notion of mysticism. He even makes a mystic like Meister Eckhart understandable! Here McColman captures the essence of Eckhart:

Meister Eckhart stands alongside Bernard of Clairvaux and John of the Cross as one of the most celebrated Christian mystics; he is also one of the most controversial figures, having a number of his teachings declared as heretical shortly after his death. Today, some scholars believe that the censure of Eckhart’s ideas may have been politically motivated and have made efforts to have his name formally cleared by the Vatican.

Eckhart entered the Dominican Order as a youth. After spending some time in Paris, he returned to his native Germany, where he became renowned as a preacher. [The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers, and Meister Eckhart was a very popular homilist in his day.] “Meister” is not his name, but a title, referring to his receiving a master’s degree in theology. Eckhart’s impressive body of work includes academic treatises in Latin, along with about one hundred sermons in his native German. The German writings generally were his more spiritually daring.

The problem with [reading] Eckhart seems to be that his ideas were often expressed using language that could easily be misinterpreted. [I, Richard, believe he was misinterpreted because he was a nondual thinker, speaking to mostly dualistic thinkers—just as Jesus was doing.] He has been accused of pantheism (the belief that all things are God) or monism (the idea that there is ultimately no distinction between God and creation). [Richard again: I believe Eckhart was primarily teaching panentheism, which means God in all things.] He stressed God as a ground of being present throughout creation—including in the human soul—and that each Christian is invited to give birth to Christ within one’s soul. As a preacher, Eckhart saw his sermons as a means of inspiring his listeners to recognize the divine presence within, and in so doing to be “wonderfully united” to God. In his Sermon 5, he offers four goals for his preaching:

When I preach, I am accustomed to talk about detachment, saying that we should become free of ourselves and of all things. Secondly, I say that we should be in-formed back into the simple goodness, which is God. Thirdly, I say that we should be mindful of the great nobility which God has given the soul in order that we should become wonderfully united with [God]. Fourthly, I speak of the purity of the divine nature, and of the radiance within it which is ineffable. God is a word: an unspoken word. [1] [RR: Unspoken, that is, until and unless we ourselves speak from the True Self!]

The Rhineland Mystics

August 4th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Speak Out
Tuesday,  August 4, 2020

Author, spiritual teacher, friend, and fellow New Mexican Mirabai Starr offers us a bit of the story of Hildegard’s life with implications for our own lives today.

“Speak and write!” the voice from Heaven commanded.

But Hildegard of Bingen, medieval visionary nun, remained silent.

Hildegard was forty-three years old when her visions finally became so insistent that she could no longer contain the secret she had harbored since early childhood: the Holy One, identifying itself as “the Living Light,” spoke to her. It spoke to her regularly, its voice emerging from a swirl of spiraling light. . . .

“Oh mortal, who receives these things not in the turbulence of deception but in the purity of simplicity for making plain the things that are hidden,” the Holy One said that day in 1141, “write what you see and hear.”

It was not doubt that held her back, Hildegard assures us. The voice carried such authority that she was convinced its origin was divine. It was not a case of low self-esteem either, she says, nor a matter of worrying what other people might think. It was, she tells us, simple humility. Who was she, an uneducated woman, to proclaim God’s message to humanity? . . .

[But] the more she resisted, the more seriously ill she became. “Until at last,” she writes in her introduction to the Scivias, the first chronicle of her visions, “compelled by many infirmities . . . I set my hand to writing . . . and rose from my sickness with renewed strength.”. . .

We are not all prophets. It may not be our job to challenge authority and expose corruption. We may not be the ones to penetrate the code of sacred scriptures and feed the spiritually hungry. It may be up to others to sound the clarion call of impending doom, calling on humanity to change its ways.

Ours may be a modest awakening. We may simply refuse to participate for another moment in a life against which our hearts have been crying out for years.

It could be time to observe some version of the commandment to “keep the Sabbath holy” [Exodus 20:8] and begin to cultivate a daily contemplative practice. It could become imperative to curtail a pattern of overconsumption and make a concrete commitment to voluntary simplicity. It could be a matter of identifying the subtle and insidious ways in which we participate in a culture of war and take a vow of nonviolence in everything we do, in every relationship we forge and maintain. . . .

Speak out, Hildegard says. And when you do, when you recognize that inner voice as the voice of God and say what it has taught you, the sickness in your heart will melt away. The fatigue you have lived with for so long that you did not even notice how weary you were will lift. Your voice will ring out with such clarity and beauty that you will not be able to stop singing. To speak your truth, Hildegard teaches us, is to praise God.

Viriditas: The Greening of Things

August 3rd, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

The Rhineland Mystics

Viriditas: The Greening of Things
Monday,  August 3, 2020

Hildegard is not only mystic; she is also prophet. . . . She disturbs the complacent, deliberately provoking the privileged, be they emperors or popes, abbots or archbishops, monks or princes to greater justice and deeper sensitivity to the oppressed. . . . She can rightly be called the “Grandmother of the Rhineland mystic movement” . . . [which] brought the powers of mysticism to bear not on supporting the status quo, but on energizing the prophetic in society and church. For Hildegard, justice plays a dominant role. —Matthew Fox

Throughout the ages, mystics have kept alive the awareness of our union with God and thus with everything. What some now call creation spirituality or the holistic Gospel was voiced long ago by the Desert Fathers and Mothers in Africa, some Eastern Orthodox Fathers, ancient Celts, many of the Rhineland mystics, and of course Francis of Assisi. I am sorry to say that many women mystics were not even noticed. Julian of Norwich (c. 1343–c. 1416) and Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) would be two major exceptions, though even they have often been overlooked.

Hildegard wrote in her famous book Scivias: “You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you.” [1] This is key to understanding Hildegard. Without using the word, Hildegard recognized that the human person is a microcosm with a natural affinity for or resonance with the macrocosm, which many of us would call God. We are each “whole” and yet part of a larger Whole. Our little world reflects the big world. Resonance is the key word here, and contemplation is the key practice. Contemplation is the end of all loneliness because it erases the separateness between the observer and the observed, allowing us to resonate with what is right in front of us.

Hildegard spoke often of viriditas, the greening of things from within, analogous to what we now call photosynthesis. She saw that there was a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform its light and warmth into energy and life. She recognized that there is an inherent connection between the Divine Presence and the physical world. This Creator-to-created connection translates into inner energy that is the soul and seed of every thing, an inner voice calling us to “become who you are; become all that you are.” This is our life wish or “whole-making instinct.”

Hildegard is a wonderful example of someone who lives safely inside an entirely integrated cosmology. In her holistic understanding of the universe, the inner shows itself in the outer, and the outer reflects the inner. The individual reflects the cosmos, and the cosmos reflects the individual. Hildegard sings, “O Holy Spirit, . . . you are the mighty way in which every thing that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, is penetrated with relatedness.” [2] This is a true, natural, and integrated Trinitarian metaphysics (what is) and epistemology (how we know what is), both at the same time! Perhaps many Christians overlooked Hildegard’s genius because we ourselves have not been very Trinitarian.

The Rhineland Mystics

The Need for Mysticism
Sunday,  August 2, 2020

We live in a time of both crisis and opportunity. While there are many reasons to be anxious, I still have hope. Westerners, including Christians, are rediscovering the value of nonduality: a way of thinking, acting, reconciling, boundary-crossing, and bridge-building based on inner experience of God and God’s Spirit moving in the world. We’re not throwing out our rational mind, but we’re adding nondual, mystical, contemplative consciousness. When we have both, we’re able to see more broadly, deeply, wisely, and lovingly. We can collaborate on creative solutions to today’s injustices.

I’m glad there’s renewed appreciation in the Christian tradition for people who modeled such wholeness. This week I’ll turn toward my own cultural roots in the Rhineland. These mystics were mostly German-speaking spiritual writers, preachers, and teachers, who lived largely between the 11th and 15th centuries.

You might already be familiar with the Benedictines, Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) and Gertrude the Great (1256–1302); the Beguine Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–c. 1282); the Dominicans, including Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–1327), Johannes Tauler (c. 1300–1361), and Henry Suso (1295–1366); and Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464), in what is now Switzerland. Another Rhineland mystic in recent history who might surprise you was psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung admits to being influenced by Hildegard, Eckhart, and Nicholas of Cusa—especially Nicholas’ fascination with “the opposites.” [1]

After the Protestant Reformation, the mystical path was largely mistrusted. Some would even say it was squelched because of Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) emphasis on Scripture as the only source of knowledge about God (sola Scriptura). To be fair, Luther’s contributions led Christians to an early stage “rational” use of the Scriptures as a corrective to Catholic over-spiritualization. Within his own Lutheran tradition, profound mystics arose such as the German shoemaker Jacob Boehme (1575–1624) and the inventor Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).

In the following centuries, German academic theology flourished, relying almost exclusively on Post-Reformation rationalism. While theological study continues to be an immense gift to the world, one can easily get trapped inside of endless discussions about abstract ideas with little emphasis on experience or practice. In contrast, mystics honor the experience of the essential mystery and unknowability of God and invite us to do the same. The more you know, the more you know you don’t know!

Over the next couple of days, we’ll focus on one Rhineland mystic in particular: Hildegard of Bingen. She was far ahead of her place and time, a Renaissance woman before the Renaissance, who led a monastery north of the Alps. Hildegard combined art, music, poetry, ecology, medicine, community, healing, and early feminism. She preached on her own, stood up to bishops, and was persecuted for it. No wonder it took a German Pope, Benedict XVI, over 800 years after her death to declare her a saint in May, 2012, and then name her a Doctor of the Church on October 7, 2012.

Love at the Center

July 31st, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Being Peaceful Change

Love at the Center
Friday,  July 31, 2020

Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognized as children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Today many think we can achieve peace through violence. The myth that violence solves problems is part of the way we think and is in direct opposition to all great religious teachings. Our need for immediate control leads us to disconnect the consistency, connection, and unity between means and ends. We even named a missile created for the destruction of humanity a “peacekeeper.” But such peace is a false peace, the Pax Romana of mutually assured destruction (MAD). We must wait and work for the Pax Christi of mutually assured forgiveness.

The above verse from Matthew is the only time the word “peacemakers” is used in the whole Bible. A peacemaker literally is the “one who reconciles quarrels.” Jesus is clearly not on the side of the violent but on the side of the nonviolent. Jesus is saying there is no way to peace other than peacemaking itself.

Coretta Scott King reflects on her husband Martin Luther King, Jr.’s commitment to nonviolence with love at its center:

Noncooperation and nonviolent resistance were means of stirring and awakening moral truths in one’s opponents, of evoking the humanity which, Martin believed, existed in each of us. The means, therefore, had to be consistent with the ends. And the end, as Martin conceived it, was greater than any of its parts, greater than any single issue. “The end is redemption and reconciliation,” he believed. . . .

Even the most intractable evils of our world—the triple evils of poverty, racism, and war which Martin so eloquently challenged in his Nobel lecture—can only be eliminated by nonviolent means. And the wellspring for the eradication of even these most economically, politically, and socially entrenched evils is the moral imperative of love. In his 1967 address to the anti-war group Clergy and Laity Concerned, he said:

When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God” [1 John 4:7].

If love is the eternal religious principle, Martin Luther King, Jr. believed, then nonviolence is its external worldly counterpart. He wrote:

At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives. [1]

Being Peaceful Change

July 30th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Holistic Peace
Thursday,  July 30, 2020

Peaceful change starts within us and grows incrementally from where we are. Our social and physical location will influence the problems we see and the solutions we can imagine. We must “think globally and act locally” as did Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai (1940–2011).

Maathai devoted herself to environmental and democratic reform in her native Kenya.

As a young academic biologist at the University of Nairobi in the 1970s . . . Maathai grew concerned about the environmental devastation created in Nairobi by widespread deforestation. She recognized that a massive replanting program could both save the land and provide a source of income for Nairobi’s poor. So in 1977 she founded a small local organization that paid Nairobi women to plant trees. The organization soon grew into a nationwide and then pan-African one known as the Greenbelt Movement. Since its inception, the movement has planted upwards of forty million trees in Africa and provided sources of income for nearly one million women.

The genius of Maathai’s vision was its holistic awareness of the linkage between environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. . . . [1]

In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wangari Maathai said,

[The Green Belt Movement] participants discover that they must be part of the solutions. They realize their hidden potential and are empowered to overcome inertia and take action. They come to recognize that they are the primary custodians and beneficiaries of the environment that sustains them.

Entire communities also come to understand that while it is necessary to hold their governments accountable, it is equally important that in their own relationships with each other, they exemplify the leadership values they wish to see in their own leaders, namely justice, integrity and trust.

Although initially the Green Belt Movement’s tree planting activities did not address issues of democracy and peace, it soon became clear that responsible governance of the environment was impossible without democratic space. Therefore, the tree became a symbol for the democratic struggle in Kenya. Citizens were mobilized to challenge widespread abuses of power, corruption and environmental mismanagement. . . .

Through the Green Belt Movement, thousands of ordinary citizens were mobilized and empowered to take action and effect change. . . . They learned to overcome fear and a sense of helplessness and moved to defend democratic rights.

In time, the tree also became a symbol for peace and conflict resolution. . . .

It is 30 years since we started this work. Activities that devastate the environment and societies continue unabated. Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own—indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now. [2]

Look With the Eyes of Compassion

July 29th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Being Peaceful Change

Look with the Eyes of Compassion
Wednesday,  July 29, 2020

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) is one of the world’s most influential spiritual teachers. During the Vietnam War, his work for peace brought him into friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and other Christians who shared his belief that peace must be who we are, not just something we demand. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches:

This capacity of waking up, of being aware of what is going on in your feelings, in your body, in your perceptions, in the world, is called Buddha nature, the capacity of understanding and loving. . . . It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.

Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help.

I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression—face, voice—communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.

Our world is something like a small boat. Compared with the cosmos, our planet is a very small boat. We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the sea. . . . Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person. . . .

The root-word “budh” means to wake up, to know, to understand. A person who wakes up and understands is called a Buddha. It is as simple as that. The capacity to wake up, to understand, and to love is called Buddha nature. [Christians would call this Christ nature, the Christ self, or the mind of Christ.] . . .

When you understand, you cannot help but love. . . . To develop understanding, you have to practice looking at all living beings with the eyes of compassion. When you understand, you love. And when you love, you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people.