The Third Way

August 20th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Nonviolence

The Third Way
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Walter Wink (1935–2012), with whom I taught at several conferences some years ago, wrote a brilliant book, Jesus and Nonviolence, on a third way between fight and flight. I can see why Jesus calls it “a narrow path,” as it’s not the ego’s default or preferred method. Read on. . . .

There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and (3) the third way of . . . nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses. . . .

Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. . . .

Jesus’ Third Way bears at its very heart the love of enemies. This is the hardest word to utter in a context of conflict because it can so easily be misunderstood as spinelessness. But it is precisely the message [Martin Luther King, Jr.] made central to his efforts in the polarized circumstances of the American South.

To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. [1]

Walter Wink continues:

Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. The enemy too believes [they are] in the right, and fears us because we represent a threat against [their] values, lifestyle, or affluence. When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God. . . .

It is our very inability to love our enemies that throws us into the arms of grace.

Or as I, Richard, like to say, it’s when we come to the end of our own resources that we must draw upon the Infinite Life and Love within us to do what we alone cannot do.

Nonviolence

August 19th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Remembering Who We Already Are
Monday, August 19, 2019

My longtime friend, Catholic priest and peace activist John Dear, teaches that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to others, including creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence. John and the Franciscan organization Pace e Bene lead an annual Campaign Nonviolence (September 14-22, 2019), working toward a culture “free from war, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction.” [1] In John’s words:

What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as “causing no harm, no injury, no violence to any living creature.” But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. . . .

Another way to understand nonviolence is to set it within the context of our identity. Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved [children] of the God of peace. . . . This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called the sons and daughters of God [Matthew 5:9]. . . . Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes [the] sun rise on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” [Matthew 5:44-45]. In the context of his visionary nonviolence—radical peacemaking and love for enemies—Jesus speaks of being who we already are. He talks about our true identities as if they propel us to be people of loving nonviolence. . . .

Living nonviolence requires daily meditation, contemplation, study, concentration, and mindfulness. Just as mindlessness leads to violence, steady mindfulness and conscious awareness of our true identities lead to nonviolence and peace. . . . The social, economic, and political implications of this practice are astounding: if we are [children] of a loving Creator, then every human being is our [sibling], and we can never hurt anyone on earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction. . . .

Gandhi said Jesus practiced perfect nonviolence. If that’s true, then how . . . did he embody creative nonviolence so well? The answer can be found at the beginning of his story, at his baptism. . . . Jesus hears a voice say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Unlike most of us, Jesus accepts this announcement of God’s love for him. He claims his true identity as the beloved son of the God of peace. From then on, he knows who he is. He’s faithful to this identity until the moment he dies. From the desert to the cross, he is faithful to who he is. He becomes who he is, and lives up to who he is, and so he acts publicly like God’s beloved.


Creating Peaceful Change

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself. When we don’t know how to consciously live out of union (which is called love), we resort to violence, fighting anything that is not like us and that we cannot control. Contemplative practice teaches us to honor differences and also realize that we are all much more than our nationality, skin color, gender, or other labels which are all aspects of the passing and thus false self. Contemplation brings us back to our True Self, who we are in God.

When we can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then we will, ironically, find that we are more than enough. This is the wisdom of the Gospel that is especially emphasized in Franciscan spirituality. At this place of both poverty and freedom we have nothing to prove or protect. Here we can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs. This cuts violence at its very roots before there is any basis for fear, anger, vengeance, or self-promotion—the things that often cause violence.

One of the reasons I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation thirty-two years ago was to give activists some grounding in spirituality (their True Self) so they could continue working for social change, but from a stance much different than anger, ideology, or oppositional willpower. Many activists I knew in the 1960s loved the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968). But it became clear to me that theirs was often a mere intellectual appreciation rather than a participation in the much deeper mystery.

To create peaceful change, we first have to get the “Who” right. Who are you? Most of us, particularly pragmatic Americans, lead with strategic questions—what, how, when. These are secondary questions. Before we act or react, we need to wait—wait for communion, wait until we’re reconnected to the Ground of Being and even in our “enemies,” wait until we’re conscious, wait until a “yes” appears within us.

When we begin by connecting with our inner experience of communion, our actions can be pure, clear, and firm. This kind of action, rooted in one’s True Self, comes from a deeper knowing of what is real, good, true, and beautiful—beyond labels and dualistic judgments of right or wrong. From this place, our energy is positive and has the most potential to create change for the good. This stance is precisely what we mean by “being in prayer” and why we must pray always to maintain this state of constant prayer.

I’m not telling you not to act. The Gospel offers a way to make our action sustainable and lasting over the long haul. People on the Right tend to be perpetually angry, fearful, and overly defensive, and people on the Left tend to be perpetually cynical, morally righteous, and outraged. The Gospel calls forth a refined instrument beyond these two falsehoods that can really make a difference because it is a new level of consciousness altogether. Such activists are themselves “a new creation” (Galatians 6:15) and the lightning rods of God’s transformative energy into the world.

Summary: Week Thirty-three

The Perennial Tradition

August 11 – August 16, 2019

If it is true, it is always from the one Holy Spirit. —Thomas Aquinas (Sunday)

We are rediscovering the philosophia perennis, shared universal truth, and at a rather quick pace—God seems urgent at this point in our tragic history. (Monday)

In every historical epoch and in every cultural tradition, there are those who practice a form of contemplation that puts them in a position to receive the gift of an unfiltered divine encounter. —James Danaher (Tuesday)

If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race. —Huston Smith (Wednesday)

We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. —Eknath Easwaran (Thursday)

Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system. —Snowmass Conference (Friday)

Practice: The Welcoming Prayer

Earlier this week we saw how unfiltered encounters with the divine are hallmarks of the Perennial Tradition, experienced by people across religions. Contemplative practice is anything we do that intentionally opens our hearts, minds, and bodies to this unitive consciousness or presence to Love.

One of my favorite practices is the Welcoming Prayer created by Mary Mrozowski (1925–1993), a spiritual teacher, mystic, and founding member of Contemplative Outreach. It is based on her personal experience of surrender as essential to transformation and the teachings of Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675–1751) and Fr. Thomas Keating (1923–2018). Welcoming Prayer is a simple way of surrendering to God’s presence in our daily life. This method can help us dismantle unhelpful mental and emotional habits so that we respond rather than react to circumstances. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we welcome or accept abuse, trauma, or oppression, but rather our feelings around those incidents.  We then become empowered to take necessary action more freely, creatively, and lovingly.

Set aside some quiet time alone to try this practice. Begin by becoming aware of how your body feels. Notice any tension or pain. After a few moments of silence, read the following intention aloud prayerfully:

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me in this moment
because I know it is for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions,
persons, situations and conditions.

I let go of my desire for security.
I let go of my desire for affection.
I let go of my desire for control.

I let go of my desire to change any
situation, condition,
person, or myself.

I open to the love and presence of God and
the healing action and grace within. [1]

Holding this intention lightly, identify a hurt or an offense, something or someone who has hurt you or let you down recently or in the past.

  • Feel the pain of the offense the way you first felt it, or are feeling it in this moment, and notice the hurt in your body. Why is this important? Because if you move it to your mind, you will go back to dualistic thinking and judgments: good guy/bad guy, win/lose, either/or.
     
  • Feel the pain so you don’t create the win/lose scenario. Identify yourself with the suffering side of life; how much it hurt to hurt; how abandoned you felt to be abandoned.
     
  • Once you can move to that place and know how much it hurts to hurt, you could not possibly want that experience for anybody else.
     
  • This might take a few minutes. Welcome the experience, and it can move you to the Great Compassion. Don’t fight it. Don’t split and blame. Welcome the grief and anger in all of its heaviness. Now it will become a great teacher.
     
  • If you can do this you will see that it is welcoming the pain and letting go of all of your oppositional energy that actually frees you from it! Who would have thought? It is our resistance to things as they are that causes most of our unhappiness—at least I know it is for me.

A Big Experiment

August 16th, 2019 by Dave No comments »


Friday, August 16, 2019

Rami Shapiro, a rabbi, teacher, and author on Judaism and spirituality reflects on the enriching, powerful experience of interspiritual dialogue initiated by Fr. Thomas Keating (1923–2018). 

In 1984 Father Thomas Keating invited a small group of contemplatives from eight different religious traditions—Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Native American, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic—to gather at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, to engage in what he called “a big experiment.” [1]

The experiment was to see what would happen when meditators from different traditions meditated together and shared the spiritual insights they gleaned from their meditation. Within a few days it became clear to the attendees that while their religious vocabularies were different, their experiences were not. As one attendee put it:

I enter into meditation as a slice of American cheese: thick and solid; my egoic self intact and feeling apart from both God and creation. I return from meditation as a slice of Swiss cheese: thin and filled with holes. I know myself and all others to be a part of God. Indeed, there is no other at all, only the One, the Whole, the Ultimate Reality I am calling God. And with this sense of wholeness comes a sense of holiness, a sense of love from and for all beings. . . .

During the first few years of the Snowmass Conference, a series of agreements arose among the attendees. Father Thomas compiled the first eight and brought them to the group for consideration. With lots of conversation and some editing, the Snowmass Conference Eight Points of Agreement came into being. We include them here as a way of sharing a contemporary expression of perennial wisdom arising not from ancient texts but from the lived experience of contemporary mystics—women and men who, while coming from specific traditions, dare to step beyond them to see what is on its own terms.

The Eight Points of Agreement

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
     
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
     
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
     
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
     
  5. The potential for human wholeness—or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness—is present in every human being.
     
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
     
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
     
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality. [2]

It took us until the late 20th century to say such things, and now we almost see them as obvious. There is indeed an evolution of consciousness and a convergence of consciousness that does not need to dismiss or dilute any one tradition.

An Uncreated Spark

August 15th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

The Perennial Tradition

An Uncreated Spark
Thursday, August 15, 2019

Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as a translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. I was personally introduced to him during a visit from Henri Nouwen in the late 1980s. He encouraged me to spread his teaching, which I have not done enough until now. Easwaran writes:

We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this “uncreated spark in the soul” remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.

What did [Meister Eckhart (1260–1328)] teach? Essentially, four principles that [Gottfried] Leibnitz would later call the Perennial Philosophy, because they have been taught from age to age in culture after culture:

  • First, there is a “light in the soul that is uncreated and uncreatable” [1]: unconditioned, universal, deathless; in religious language, a divine core of personality which cannot be separated from God. Eckhart is precise: this is not what the English language calls the “soul,” but some essence in the soul that lies at the very center of consciousness. As Saint Catherine of Genoa [1447–1510] put it, “My me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.” [2] In Indian mysticism this divine core is called simply atman, “the Self.”
  • Second, this divine essence can be It is not an abstraction, and it need not—Eckhart would say must not—remain hidden under the covering of our everyday personality. It can and should be discovered, so that its presence becomes a reality in daily life.
  • Third, this discovery is life’s real and highest goal. Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name on history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.
  • Last, 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. . . .

A mystic is one who not only espouses these principles of the Perennial Philosophy but lives them, whose every action reflects the wisdom and selfless love that are the hallmark of one who has made this supreme discovery. Such a person has made the divine a reality in every moment of life, and that reality shines through whatever he or she may do or say—and that is the real test. . . . [A mystic is marked by] an unbroken awareness of the presence of God in all creatures. The signs are clear: unfailing compassion, fearlessness, equanimity, and the unshakable knowledge, based on direct, personal experience, that all the treasures and pleasures of this world together are worth nothing if one has not found the uncreated light at the center of the soul. [3]

Under the guidance of Living School faculty member James Finley, our students study the brilliant sermons of the medieval Dominican priest and mystic Meister Eckhart. This excerpt is a wonderful example of perennial wisdom at work. A modern Indian scholar, translator, and spiritual teacher highlighting the words of a late-medieval Catholic priest and a mid-Renaissance married woman? It surely seems to me to be a spirit-led confluence of ideas.

Distilled Wisdom

August 14th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Distilled Wisdom
Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Today, as we continue to reflect on the Perennial Tradition, we hear from John Esposito, Founding Director of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

[The understandings of the] movement, often referred to as the Perennial Philosophy or Perennialism . . . were well described by Huston Smith, Aldous Huxley, and Gottfried Leibniz. Smith captured the essence of their belief: “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.” [1]

However different, all advocate the rediscovery of the wisdom traditions of the past, believing that the various visions of the great world religious traditions share the same deep truths from which all belief systems have developed. They distinguish between two interconnected planes of reality and knowing, scientific empiricism and a transcendent/immanent reality, experienced in wisdom traditions through meditation and contemplation. Religious language or discourse, theology, laws, symbols, and rituals of institutional religion, conditioned by historical, social and cultural contexts, are seen as means, as metaphors and “pointers,” to the divine, not as ends in themselves. . . .

However diverse religious traditions appear, these wisdom schools affirm a belief in the transcendent Unity of all religions and, as perennial philosophy maintains, there is a divine reality that enables universal truth to be understood. . . .

For those of us living in the 21st century—an age of globalization, mass migrations, and increasingly multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies—mutual understanding and respect, based on religious pluralism rather than religious exclusivism, are extremely critical to our survival. The insights from the perennial tradition have much to contribute in developing and strengthening multi-faith relations. Its insights help to combat religious discrimination and conflicts between and within religious traditions, and to develop more pluralistic paths of religious spirituality. Today, in the 21st century, we see scholars and spiritual teachers forging new, more inclusive spiritual paths that recognize other religious traditions as sources of insight and wisdom. . . .

While there is an underlying unity, there is also a diversity of conceptualizations of the ultimate reality, and multiple interpretations. Thus, the ultimate reality is described as at once transcendent and immanent, personal and impersonal; it is identified by diverse names (God, Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Shiva, Nirvana or Buddhahood) and is often experienced differently. Each religion is a unique way to know divine reality and to reach spiritual enlightenment or salvation. [2]

Does it make you nervous that I quote these teachers of perennial philosophy so openly? I hope not, but I understand why some people might be uncomfortable reading the name of God placed next to that of Allah, Shiva, or Buddha. It’s not how most Christians were trained to think! But these ideas do not threaten my Christian faith in any way. Rather, they help me live it. Through the Perennial Tradition I see even more clearly that all people are my siblings, ancestors, and descendants of the divine reality I call God.

Beholding

August 13th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

The Perennial Tradition

Beholding
Tuesday, August 13, 2019

My friend and Christian philosopher James Danaher writes about unfiltered divine encounter as a core element in the Perennial Tradition.

There is a perennial philosophy that is not relative to history, culture, or language community. It is a philosophy, or perhaps better termed an alternative epistemology, that continually claims that pure, unfiltered perception is possible. [Remember, epistemology means how we know what we know; an “alternative epistemology” means that there’s another way of knowing what we know—what we’re calling Perennial Tradition—that is less rooted in culture, religion, tradition, or binary thinking.] This alternative epistemology perennially appears in every major religious tradition. In every historical epoch and in every cultural tradition, there are those who practice a form of contemplation that puts them in a position to receive the gift of an unfiltered divine encounter.

Unlike those who imagine that they can experience and know God the way they know other things, the contemplative knows that God is encountered in a way very different from any ordinary experience. . . . Our ordinary experience is always an interpretation based upon the conceptual understanding we bring to the data of the experience. When we encounter the divine, our conceptual understanding is not equipped to do anything but misinterpret that encounter. If we recognize this, we treat our encounters with the divine very differently than our normative experience, and wait upon the divine without all of the filters through which we normally process the data of our experience.

Consequently, the divine encounter is something of a pure or direct encounter because there are no appropriate words or concepts through which to interpret it. Maggie Ross refers to the encounter with the divine as “beholding.” [1] Beholding is the antithesis of ordinary experience in that the self, which usually processes the data of our experience through an understanding inherited from our history, culture, and language community, is suspended, and we change our focus in order to be open to an engagement that defies whatever understanding we bring to it. . . .

What makes the contemplative experience universal and perennial is that contemplatives suspend the understanding through which their minds actively process and assess the data of their experience. . . . The prejudice of the modern mind is that knowledge must be something we can possess, but the knowledge that comes from our encounters with the divine possesses us and infuses an ineffable knowing within us. . . .

The prayer of the contemplative is, essentially, an attention to the omnipresence of God. God is omnipresent not as a theological doctrine, but as the great silence that is present in every moment—but from which we are usually distracted by an overactive mind that refuses to wait in a humble unknowing for a pure wisdom from above [James 3:17]. [2]

If you have practiced any form of contemplation for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced the truth of this last statement. I surely have, and it’s what inspired me to stay on the contemplative path and to talk and write about it so passionately.

The Perennial Tradition

August 11th, 2019 by Dave No comments »


A Shared Universal Truth

Monday, August 12, 2019

Consider an important question: Why are so many people from different cultures, countries, ethnicities, educations, and religions saying very similar things today? This really is quite amazing, and, to my knowledge, has no precedent in human history. Call it the collective unconscious, globalization, or the One Spirit of God. We seem to be evolving and experiencing more widespread transformation. The things we used to argue about or use as reasons to dismiss one another now so often seem boring, limited, historically bound, and prejudicial.

We are rediscovering the philosophia perennis, a shared universal truth, and at a rather quick pace—God seems urgent at this point in our tragic history. This “wisdom tradition” shows itself in all of the world religions throughout history. Too many of God’s holy people keep saying the same thing—although admittedly from the more mature levels of consciousness—that we cannot continue to dismiss all holy people as “fuzzy thinkers.”

We might call these folks mystics, prophets, and saints. While we all of us have the capacity to tap into this consciousness, humans struggle to think contemplatively and nondually, and few religious leaders “teach spiritual things spiritually,” as the Apostle Paul said in his sermon on wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). I am convinced that Paul learned the core of this from his own Jewish tradition and was trying to teach it to what would become another religion called Christianity—which neither Jesus nor Paul foresaw or intended!

Most people were not ready for Paul’s nondual way of thinking, and most Christians and Jews have interpreted his thinking in an entirely dualistic way, and even in antagonism to his own beloved Judaism. “The mystery of the crucified” that Paul often speaks of is not a statement about Jesus being victimized or a pro-Christian rallying cry, but a metaphor for the universal pattern of disorder inside of order, tragedy inside of holiness, surprise inside of consistency, the last being first, death inside of life. This is a universal pattern and truth, as old as the Hindu Scriptures, Confucian aphorisms, and the biblical books of Exodus and Job.

But many Christians have used Paul’s writings in a contentious, dualistic, and either-or way. We used his strong metaphors to blame, hate, and separate because that is what the unconverted self prefers. The ego loves to take sides, and the longer and more vigorously it justifies its side, the more it feels like this is surely truth. Soon my truth easily morphs into the truth and even the only truth. We end up not with orthodoxy but with egocentricity. This is invariably what happens when we have not been exposed to perennial philosophy, when we are not taught how to distill the big patterns out of the momentary arguments where everyone takes sides, when we cannot distinguish the small, separate self and the self created by God and one with God, from all eternity.

Participation
Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Perennial Tradition includes the constant themes and truths that recur in all the world religions at their most mature and deep levels. As I mentioned last week, the Second Vatican Council teaches Catholics that indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism each reflect “a ray of that Truth which enlightens all [people].” [1] If it’s true, then it has to be true everywhereOr, as Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was fond of saying, quoting Ambrose (another Doctor of the Church, 340–397), “If it is true, it is always from the one Holy Spirit.” [2]

Here’s philosopher Aldous Huxley’s (1884–1963) definition of “the perennial philosophy”:

The metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality, and the ethic that places [humanity’s] final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being. This is immemorial and universal. [3]

The Perennial Tradition constantly recognizes that we are part of something more than we are observing something. Read that again: we are part of something more than we are observing something. How does that feel to you? From the perspective of participation, we can recognize that most of religious and church history has been largely preoccupied with religious ideas about which we could be wrong or right. When it is all about ideas, we do not have to be part of “it”; we just need to talk correctly about “it.” We can avoid actually living out our beliefs and walking our talk.

The foundational spiritual question is this: Does one’s life give any evidence of an encounter with God? When we’ve experienced union and intimacy with the divine, what is our response? Does the encounter bring about what Paul described as the “fruits” of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22)? This is what authentic conversion or metanoia means. We should keep asking ourselves: are we different from our surroundings, or do we continue reflecting the predictable cultural values and biases of our group?

Until recently, participation has not been the strong suit or primary position in the three monotheistic religions, except among some subsets of Kabbalistic Jews, Hesychastic Orthodox, Sufi Muslims, Christian mystics, and the many individuals who would have fit into any of these groups if they had known about them.

The “participatory turn” is learning from concrete practices, personal disciplines, and interactive dialogues that change the seer and allow and encourage the encounter itself. Many Christians today are rediscovering prayer beads, prayer of quiet, icons, Taizé songs, charismatic prayer, walking meditation, Zen chores, extended silence, solitude, and disciplined spiritual direction. Up to now, someone could have a doctorate in theology as a Catholic or Protestant and not really know how to pray or even enjoy prayer (experienced union), although they could recommend and attempt to define it. Now we need to personally live it.

Summary: Week Thirty-two

Interspiritual Mystics

August 4 – August 9, 2019

At their most mature levels, religions have a common goal: union with all beings and with God. —Beatrice Bruteau (Sunday)

By allowing inward change, while at the same time simplifying our external life, spirituality serves as our greatest single resource for changing our centuries-old trajectory of violence and division. —Wayne Teasdale (Monday)

A true dialogue between East and West would help seekers in both cultures to travel “upstream,” [to what Cynthia Bourgeault calls the “headwaters” of the world’s religions] to find their way to a deeper dimension of reality in which all religious paths might ultimately converge. —Robert Ellsberg (Tuesday)

Mystical consciousness affects the whole of one’s life by opening the heart to the Divine Presence in all realities. —Beverly Lanzetta (Wednesday)

Deep down, each one of us is a mystic. . . . Getting in touch with the mystic inside is the beginning of our deep service. —Matthew Fox (Thursday)

How do we find the path forward? Howard Thurman, a mystic who sought to make peace between religions and founded the first major interracial, interfaith church in the United States, urged people to “listen for the sound of the genuine.” (Friday)

Practice: Loving Gaze

Having someone look at us with love can be a healing and transformative experience. Sometimes we need a human—or in my case, many times canine—gaze to convey God’s unconditional acceptance. My dogs Peanut Butter, Gubbio, Venus, and now Opie have done this for me. Humans can’t seem to sustain eye contact for long. We get nervous, maybe because we’re afraid people will see there’s nothing in here or they won’t like us. But dogs just keep looking and staying present.

In the Hindu tradition, darshan (or darsana) is to behold the Divine and to allow yourself to be fully seen or known. Many Hindus visit temples not to see God, but to let God gaze upon them—and then to join God’s seeing which is always compassionate.

I invite you to spend several minutes with one you love—a human or a dog or other pet—looking into their eyes. (If you or the one you’re with are blind, you might lightly touch instead.) Without speaking, simply mirror to each other love and respect through your gaze. During the silence, allow the source of love within you to well up and flow from you. Receive the love flowing from the one gazing at you. It is all one love. Witness the Divine Presence in both yourself and the other.

Bring your experience of darshan to a close by placing your palms together at your chest, bowing, and speaking “Namaste.” (Namaste is a familiar Indian greeting which literally means “I bow to you.”) Or you may prefer to say, “The Christ in me sees the Christ in you.”

Bring this loving gaze and an inner stance of humility and recognition to all you encounter today. Try to see the divine indwelling in everyone you meet.

Black Women Mystics

July 29th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

God’s Abiding Presence
Monday, July 29, 2019

Today, I’d like to feature the words of a modern mystic I am honored to know. Dr. Barbara Holmes is a teacher in our own Living School, a former lawyer, professor, and author of several books. She has taught me, our staff, and students so much. I hope you will go deeper with her work beyond today’s excerpt from Joy Unspeakable. I have been telling folks that there are people who talk about God and there are people who know God. Barbara is the latter:

Holiness is a concept that makes ordinary people nervous. . . . The holiness that Jesus describes has less to do with pious character traits and more to do with the hosting of God’s abiding presence. It is not effort but invitation that opens the human spirit to the possibility that God may sojourn with us.

Receptivity is not a cognitive exercise but rather the involvement of the intellect and senses with a spiritual reunion and oneness with God. When this oneness occurs, it is accompanied by heightened spiritual awareness and insight. Contemplative moments also carry with them the potential for mystical encounter which only compounds the difficulty of describing the experience in words. C. S. Lewis’s attempt to describe his own mystical event is a prime example. He says, “I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. The melting was starting in my back—drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle. I rather disliked the feeling.” [1] His wry comments are clearer than any somber attempt to describe the event with exactitude. Rather, this contemplative moment is a spiritual event that kisses the cognitive but will not be enslaved to its rigidities.

Our twenty-first century ideas about contemplative practices are borrowed from a Christian heritage that relegates contemplation to desert mothers and fathers, anchorites and monastics. Although we have learned much from our Catholic brothers and sisters, there is a rich but neglected legacy in the Protestant tradition. When the word contemplation comes to my mind I want to think of Thomas Merton . . . [and] Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . I want to present Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan and all the black congregations that sustained whole communities without fanfare or notice. Like Christianity, contemplative practices come in many forms; these practices have survived and thrived through inculturation and ethnic adaptation. . . .

The human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.

Black Women Mystics

Images
Sunday, July 28, 2019

It’s so important that all people are able to recognize themselves as God’s image. Icons and images of Mary, the mother of Jesus, with a dark or ebony hue are revered in many cultures around the world. For example, the Black Madonna as a model of maternal love, faithfulness, and hope is esteemed by people across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Yet, as we explored a few weeks ago, the divine feminine—especially in darker form—generally has been suppressed by Western Christianity unless the image had already reached iconic form.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that women of African descent have faced so much oppression in the United States, both historically and to this day. For example, black women are paid 61 cents for every dollar paid to white men. [1] Last year at least twenty-six transgender people died due to violence (and at least eleven already in 2019), and the majority were black transwomen. [2] Yet even as white men continue to monopolize positions of religious leadership and theological authority, black women are reframing Christian traditions, practices, and Scripture in liberating and justice-oriented ways.

Womanists today build on a long lineage of courageous and wise prophets and mystics. This week I’ll introduce you to a handful of African American women mystics. They reveal Christ to us as they speak of their personal relationships with and experiences of the Divine and, as they stand in their truth, remain uncompromised by the systems that seek to silence them.

Thea Bowman (1937–1990) was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration born in Mississippi. I am drawn to Sr. Thea since my own mother would listen to her talks, especially when she knew she was dying, and she found out that Thea listened to mine! I am sorry we never met. Her description of Black American spirituality provides helpful context for this week’s reflections: 

[It] is rooted in our African heritage, with its ways of perceiving and valuing reality, its style of expression, its modes of prayer and contemplating the divine. It is colored by our Middle Passage, Slavery, our Island and Latin experience, segregation, integration, and our on-going struggle for liberation. [3]

For Sr. Thea, “God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church, and in the Eucharist—everywhere.” [4]

Like other mystics, Bowman found God everywhere, in all beings. She saw many images of God:

God is bread when you’re hungry, water when you’re thirsty, a harbor from the storm. God’s father to the fatherless, a mother to the motherless. God’s my sister, my brother, my leader, my guide, my teacher, my comforter, my friend. God’s the way-maker and burden-bearer, a heart-fixer and a mind-regulator. God’s my doctor who never lost a patient, my lawyer who never lost a case, my captain who never lost a battle. God’s my all in all, my everything.

God’s my rock, my sword, my shield, my lily of the valley, my pearl of great price. God’s a god of peace and a god of war. Counselor, Emmanuel, Redeemer, Savior, Prince of Peace, Son of God, Mary’s little baby, wonderful Word of God.

These images come from Scripture and from the meditations of Christians. . . . Each one corresponds to a particular need. All these images help me as I call upon God’s name. [5]

Summary: Week Thirty

Mystic: Howard Thurman

July 21 – July 26, 2019

The goal of life is God! The source of life is God! —Howard Thurman (Sunday)

God reveals God’s Presence out of the mystery of Being. —Howard Thurman (Monday)

Faith teaches us that God is. —Howard Thurman (Tuesday)

It has long been a matter of serious moment that for decades [Christians] have studied the various peoples of the world and those who live as our neighbors as objects of missionary endeavor and enterprise without being at all willing to treat them either as brothers or as human beings. —Howard Thurman (Wednesday)

What does our religion say to the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed? —Howard Thurman (Thursday)

If being Christian does not demand that all Christians love each other and thereby become deeply engaged in experiencing themselves as human beings, it would seem futile to expect that Christians as Christians would be concerned about the secular community in its gross practices of prejudice and discrimination. —Howard Thurman (Friday)

Practice: Attending to Details

The mystic’s concern with the imperative for social action is not merely . . . to feed the hungry, not merely to relieve human suffering and human misery. If this were all, in and of itself, it would be important surely. But . . . the basic consideration has to do with the removal of all that prevents God from coming to . . . [fullness] in the life of the individual. Whatever there is that blocks this, calls for action. —Howard Thurman [1]

Each Saturday we offer an invitation to contemplative practice. You may not always choose to try the practice we suggest, but I hope you will explore today’s, even if you have a regular contemplative practice.

One of our Living School teachers, Dr. Barbara Holmes, writes about “crisis contemplation” as a way to express grief and find refuge in the midst of danger. We need practices to move through suffering and find creative responses. One example of crisis contemplation occurred on plantations:

Here, enslaved Africans created narratives of survival that depended on personal courage and God’s deliverance. The word courageous within the context of slavery is problematic because it has incongruous but romantic overtones. Those who attempt to describe the horrors of one holocaust or another inevitably use language that mythically denies, romanticizes, or diminishes the oppression. When history is collapsed into myth, responsibilities become diffused, and repentance and reconciliation become impossible.

In the inflated realm of mythical oppression, villains are so villainous that no one sees themselves reflected in the image. Few can trace accrued privileges to specific and intentional evil acts. Similarly, victims become so quintessentially and epically victimized that all escape routes from the condition are sealed off by a maze of self-doubt, blaming, and low self-esteem. The antidote to this phenomenon is to attend to the details, to understand the specific events, ancestors, life stories, causes of oppression, and avenues of social change. Historical and spiritual specificity is salvific. Then and only then can the movement toward moral flourishing begin. [2]

Meditation teacher Ruth King helps people cultivate awareness of how we impact each other and ourselves, especially being “mindful of race.” For those of us who are white, thinking about our own race can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable. For people of color whose ancestors and they themselves have experienced oppression, this exploration can be quite painful. But the path toward healing for all of us includes attending to the details, as Holmes suggests, and seeing reality as it is.

Find some uninterrupted time to reflect on Ruth King’s questions below. After you’ve held these with an open heart, you may wish to do some research with an open mind.  

  • Where in your life do you feel numb, shut down, dismembered, disrespected, or disconnected? What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? What events or circumstances do you believe gave birth to these experiences? What do you believe such feelings keep you from knowing?
     
  • What racial identities or ethnicities have shaped how you have come to know yourself as a race?
     
  • What views did your ancestors, elders, parents, or caretakers have about race? How did their views impact you? In what ways were/are your views similar or different?
     
  • What are the roots of your racial lineage? Given your lineage, what has your race gained or lost throughout the generations? How have these gains or losses influenced your racial views today? [3]

Being Christian

July 26th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Mystic: Howard Thurman

Being Christian
Friday, July 26, 2019

Today I invite you to reflect on your own sense of identity—both as an individual and as part of a collective—as you read Howard Thurman’s thoughts on race and relationships:

The burden of being black and the burden of being white is so heavy that it is rare in our society to experience oneself as a human being. It may be, I do not know, that to experience oneself as a human being is one with experiencing one’s fellows as human beings. Precisely what does it mean to experience oneself as a human being? In the first place, it means that the individual must have a sense of kinship to life that transcends and goes beyond the immediate kinship of family or the organic kinship that binds him ethnically or “racially” or nationally. He has to feel that he belongs to his total environment. He has a sense of being an essential part of the structural relationship that exists between him and all other men, and between him, all other men, and the total external environment. As a human being, then, he belongs to life and the whole kingdom of life that includes all that lives and perhaps, also, all that has ever lived. In other words, he sees himself as a part of a continuing, breathing, living existence. To be a human being, then, is to be essentially alive in a living world. . . .

If being Christian does not demand that all Christians love each other and thereby become deeply engaged in experiencing themselves as human beings, it would seem futile to expect that Christians as Christians would be concerned about the secular community in its gross practices of prejudice and discrimination. If a black Christian and white Christian, in encounter, cannot reach out to each other in mutual realization because of that which they are experiencing in common, then there should be no surprise that the Christian institution has been powerless in the presence of the color bar in society. Rather it has reflected the presence of the color bar within its own institutional life.

On the other hand, if Christians practice brotherhood among Christians, this would be one limited step in the direction of a new order among men. Think of what this would mean. Wherever one Christian met or dealt with another Christian, there would be a socially redemptive encounter. They would be like the Gulf Stream or the Japanese Current tempering and softening the climate in all directions. Indeed the Christian would be a leaven at all levels of the community and in public and private living. Of course, such a situation may lend itself to all kinds of exploitation and betrayals—but the Christian would be one of the bulwarks of integrity in human relations in an immoral society.

References:
A note on language from Thurman’s editors: “We realize that inclusive language is noticeably absent in Howard Thurman’s writings. As gifted and prophetic as he was, Howard Thurman was also a product of his times, and inclusive language was not a part of the social consciousness. Regardless of language, the substance of Howard Thurman’s work is inclusive. His life and theology were inclusive, and if he were writing today his language would more accurately reflect this worldview.” [1] While his masculine words might suggest that Thurman didn’t consider other perspectives, he did see many women in his life (for example, his mentor Mary McLeod Bethune and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman) as peers and leaders. We must grant this same sympathy to all those who write with sincerity in previous times and various cultures.

Why Are You Here?

July 25th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Mystic: Howard Thurman

Why Are You Here?
Thursday, July 25, 2019

Today, as you read this second excerpt from Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, hold an open heart and mind. In other words, read with a contemplative stance. The meditation ends with a question that I’ll hope you’ll sit with—as Thurman and his companion did for five hours—and not rush to a pat, tidy answer.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I have heard a sermon on the meaning of religion, of Christianity, to the man who stands with his back against the wall . . . the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them? The issue is . . . what religion offers to meet their own needs. The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the most important religious quest of modern life.

In the fall of 1935 I was serving as chairman of a delegation sent on a pilgrimage of friendship from the students of America to the students of India, Burma, and Ceylon. [On this trip Thurman also met and visited with Gandhi.] It was at a meeting in Ceylon that the whole crucial issue was pointed up to me in a way that I can never forget. . . . I was invited by the principal to have coffee. . . .

He said to me, “What are you doing over here? I know what the newspapers say . . . but that is not my question. What are you doing over here? This is what I mean.

“More than three hundred years ago your forefathers were taken from the western coast of Africa as slaves. The people who dealt in the slave traffic were Christians. One of your famous Christian hymn writers, Sir John Newton, made his money from the sale of slaves to the New World. He is the man who wrote ‘How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds’ and ‘Amazing Grace’—there may be others, but these are the only ones I know. The name of one of the famous British slave vessels was ‘Jesus.’

“The men who bought the slaves were Christians. Christian ministers, quoting the Christian apostle Paul, gave the sanction of religion to the system of slavery. Some seventy years or more ago you were freed by a man [Abraham Lincoln] who was not a professing Christian, but was rather the spearhead of certain political, social, and economic forces, the significance of which he himself did not understand. During all the period since then you have lived in a Christian nation in which you are segregated, lynched, and burned. Even in the church, I understand, there is segregation. One of my students who went to your country sent me a clipping telling about a Christian church in which the regular Sunday worship was interrupted so that many could join a mob against one of your fellows. When he had been caught and done to death, they came back to resume their worship of their Christian God.

“I am a Hindu. I do not understand. Here you are in my country, staying deep within the Christian faith and tradition. I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think you are a traitor to all the darker peoples of the earth. I am wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defense of your position?”

References:
A note on language from Thurman’s editors: “We realize that inclusive language is noticeably absent in Howard Thurman’s writings. As gifted and prophetic as he was, Howard Thurman was also a product of his times, and inclusive language was not a part of the social consciousness. Regardless of language, the substance of Howard Thurman’s work is inclusive. His life and theology were inclusive, and if he were writing today his language would more accurately reflect this worldview.” [1] While his masculine words might suggest that Thurman didn’t consider other perspectives, he did see many women in his life (for example, his mentor Mary McLeod Bethune and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman) as peers and leaders. We must grant this same sympathy to all those who write with sincerity in previous times and various cultures.

[1] Editors, Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 6. See Sunday’s meditation for