The Givens

March 5th, 2018 by Dave Leave a reply »

The Givens
Sunday, March 4, 2018

On spring and summer mornings, I love to go out early and walk in my little garden. If I can somehow let my “roots and tendrils” reconnect me with the “givens” of life, as Bill Plotkin calls them—not the ideas about life, but the natural world, what is—I experience extraordinary grounding, reconnection, healing, and even revelation. One hopping bird can do me in!
Many of us have a sense of self or identity that is created by our relationship to ideas, thoughts, and words. In fact, we think that our thoughts are reality. We can spend our whole lives rattling around inside of ideas, rarely touching upon what is right in front of us. Today most of us spend the majority of our time interacting with thoughts and opinions about everything. Computers, smart phones, internet, email, social media, and selfies keep us preoccupied. It is, of course, a world of our own fabrication. But we take it for reality itself.
I’ve spent many years with the Center for Action and Contemplation trying to teach contemplative, nondual consciousness. But sometimes my own teaching on contemplation can become heady and intellectual—even though the goal is to lead beyond the thinking mind and words. Often the missing link is the natural world (and embodiment, as we’ll explore later this year).
I come at things theologically because that’s how I was educated and because it has such a significant impact on our culture and individual lives, whether we realize it or not. If you do not have good theology, you will almost always have an unhealthy worldview, largely held unconsciously. Most Christians were sadly taught that the world was divided between the natural and the supernatural, and we were to focus on the supernatural, ignoring or even disdaining the natural. This got us off to a very bad start, because we could not be at home in this world.
Yet some of Christianity’s most astute theologians, including both John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), taught that grace can only build on nature. “Grace perfects nature”; it does not eliminate it. We no longer enjoy such an ideal synthesis. Some Catholics might have agreed with that intellectually, but practically we jumped over the nature part and went straight to Scripture, sacraments, and rituals, without appreciating the natural foundation for our beliefs and practices. Then we had to justify everything we believed by a special divine revelation instead of just learning how to observe “the way reality works.” This is the Christianity that so many are rejecting today because it does not take this world seriously. So, now, people do not take Christians seriously!
Bill Plotkin, a friend, author, depth psychologist, and wilderness guide, offers a helpful model called the “Soulcentric Developmental Wheel.” [1] He describes eight stages of the spiritual journey of transformation. He says that most of mainstream Western society is at the third stage, which is highly egocentric and narcissistic. As a culture, we tend to be preoccupied with our own comfort, entertainment, and security.
This is what we might expect of adolescents, but when people my age are still spending most of their lives focused on themselves, our civilization is surely in an arrested development. This is clearly seen in our politics, and even, I am afraid, in much of our clergy, who reflect our narcissistic culture rather than lead it forward. Robert Bly rightly called it a “sibling society.” [2] One of the foundational reasons for this widespread immaturity is that we have lost contact with the givens, with the natural world.

The Soul of All Things
Monday, March 5, 2018

As we saw yesterday, the modern and postmodern self largely lives in a world of its own construction, and it reacts for or against its own human-made ideas. While calling ourselves intelligent, we’ve lost touch with the natural world and, as a result, lost touch with our own souls. I believe we can’t access our full intelligence and wisdom without some real connection to nature!
My father, Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226), spent many days, weeks, and even months walking the roads of Umbria and letting nature teach him. Francis knew and respected creation, calling animals, sun and moon, and even the weather and the elements his brothers and sisters. Through extended time in nature, Francis became intimately connected with non-human living things and came to recognize that the natural world was also imbued with soul. Almost all male initiation rites—including those of Jesus and John the Baptist (see Matthew 3:13-17)—took place in nature, surely for that reason.
Without such recognition and mirroring, we are alienated and separated from ourselves and all of nature. Frankly, we will not know how to love or respect our own soul. Instead, we try various means to get God and people to like or accept us because we never experience radical belonging. We’re trying to say to ourselves and others, “I belong here. I matter.” Of course, you do! But contrived and artificial means will never achieve that divine purpose. We are naturally healed in this world when we know things center to center, subject to subject, and soul to soul.
I think of soul as anything’s ultimate meaning which is held within. Soul is the blueprint inside of every living thing that tells it what it is and what it can become. When we meet anything at that level, we will respect, protect, and love it.
Many human beings simply haven’t found their own blueprint or soul, so they cannot see it anywhere else. (Like knows like!) Instead, most religious people are largely conformists. There’s nothing wrong with conformity as such, but when it is only meeting reality at the external level, and we do not meet our own soul, we have no ability to meet the soul of anything else either. We would have done much better to help other Christians discover their souls instead of “save” them. My sense, after being a priest for almost 50 years, is that most Christians are trying to save something they have not even found.
They do have a soul, but it seems to be dormant, disconnected, lacking grounding. They are not aware of the inherent truth, goodness, and beauty shining through everything. If God is as great, glorious, and wonderful as all the religions claim, then wouldn’t you think that such a God would make that wonderfulness available? Such connection and presence is as freely available as the air we breathe and the water we drink. This is surely why John the Baptist moved his initiation rite out of the temple, away from the priestly purity codes (of which he was well aware), and down by the riverside in the wilderness. Jesus “submitted” to this off-beat ritual, which we now call baptism. Yet now baptismal ceremonies are most often held in church buildings, usually disconnected from anything natural except the water itself.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.


Is He Really My Lord?
By Oswald Chambers

…so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus… —Acts 20:24

Joy comes from seeing the complete fulfillment of the specific purpose for which I was created and born again, not from successfully doing something of my own choosing. The joy our Lord experienced came from doing what the Father sent Him to do. And He says to us, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). Have you received a ministry from the Lord? If so, you must be faithful to it— to consider your life valuable only for the purpose of fulfilling that ministry. Knowing that you have done what Jesus sent you to do, think how satisfying it will be to hear Him say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). We each have to find a niche in life, and spiritually we find it when we receive a ministry from the Lord. To do this we must have close fellowship with Jesus and must know Him as more than our personal Savior. And we must be willing to experience the full impact of Acts 9:16 — “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
“Do you love Me?” Then, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17). He is not offering us a choice of how we can serve Him; He is asking for absolute loyalty to His commission, a faithfulness to what we discern when we are in the closest possible fellowship with God. If you have received a ministry from the Lord Jesus, you will know that the need is not the same as the call— the need is the opportunity to exercise the call. The call is to be faithful to the ministry you received when you were in true fellowship with Him. This does not imply that there is a whole series of differing ministries marked out for you. It does mean that you must be sensitive to what God has called you to do, and this may sometimes require ignoring demands for service in other areas.


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