Unknowing; Prayer Beyond Words

October 5th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Prayer Beyond Words
Friday, October 5, 2018

The two paths of knowing and not-knowing are primarily taught through prayer itself! No wonder all spiritual teachers emphasize prayer so much.
In Jesus’ teaching and example, we may first notice the prayer of words in the Our Father and his encouragement to “ask” and “knock” (Matthew 7:7). From these and Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper, Christians have developed various forms of social, public, and liturgical prayer, often centering around intercession, gratitude, and worship.
But Jesus also taught prayer beyond words: “praying in secret” (Matthew 6:5-6), “not babbling on as the Gentiles do” (Matthew 6:7), or his predawn, lonely prayer (Mark 1:35), because “your Father knows what you need even before you ask” (Matthew 6:8). These all point toward what many today call contemplation—openness to and union with God’s presence; resting in God more than actively seeking to fully know or understand.
Given Jesus’ clear model and instruction, it seems strange that wordy prayer took over in the monastic Office, in the Eucharistic liturgy, and in formulaic prayer like the Catholic rosary and Protestant memorizations. It’s all the more important that these be balanced by prayer beyond words.
Much of Buddhism’s attraction for so many people today is that Buddhism is absolutely honest about the theology of darkness—about our inability to know. It is much more humble than the monotheistic religions are about the possibilities of words and formulas. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam took a great risk in relying on words.
In the Christian tradition this “Word became flesh” (John 1:14), but we didn’t want flesh. We didn’t want an embodied relationship with God. Instead we wanted words with which we could proclaim certainties and answers. The price the three “religions of the book” have paid for a certain idolatry of words is that they became the least tolerant of the world’s religions. Both Buddhism and Hinduism tend to be much more accepting of others than we are.
At their lower levels, the three monotheistic religions insist on absolute truth claims in forms of words, whereas Jesus’ truth claim was his person (John 14:6), his presence (John 6:35), his ability to participate in God’s perfect love (John 17:21-22). Emphasizing perfect agreement on words and forms (which is never going to happen anyway!), instead of inviting people into an experience of the Formless Presence, has caused much of the violence of human history. Jesus gives us his risen presence as “the way, the truth, and the life.” At that level, there is not much to fight about, and in fact fighting becomes uninteresting and counter-productive to the message. Presence is known by presence from the other side. It is always subject to subject knowing, never subject to object.

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Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

October 5, 2018

REMEMBER THAT JOY is not dependent on your circumstances. Some of the world’s most miserable people are those whose circumstances seem the most enviable. People who reach the top of the ladder career-wise are often surprised to find emptiness awaiting them. True Joy is a by-product of living in My Presence. Therefore you can experience it in palaces, in prisons . . . anywhere.

Do not judge a day as devoid of Joy just because it contains difficulties. Instead, concentrate on staying in communication with Me. Many of the problems that clamor for your attention will resolve themselves. Other matters you must deal with, but I will help you with them. If you make problem solving secondary to the goal of living close to Me, you can find Joy even in your most difficult days.

HABAKKUK 3: 17– 19; Although the fig-tree shall not blossom — Though all outward means of support should fail, yet will I still have a firm confidence in the power (of God)

1 CHRONICLES 16: 27; Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

 

 

Listening and Learning

October 4th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Unknowing: Week 1
Listening and Learning
Thursday, October 4, 2018; Feast of Francis of Assisi


Human history is in a time of great flux, of great cultural and spiritual change. The psyche doesn’t know what to do with so much information. I am told that if you take all of the information that human beings had up until 1900 and call that one unit, that unit now doubles every ten years. No wonder there’s so much anxiety, confusion, and mistaking fact for fiction and fiction for fact!
In light of today’s information overload, people are looking for a few clear certitudes by which to define themselves. We see various forms of fundamentalism in many religious leaders when it serves their cultural or political worldview. We surely see it at the lowest levels of religion—Christianity as well as Judaism, Islam, and secular fundamentalism, too—where God is used to justify violence, hatred, prejudice, and whatever is “my” way of doing things.
The fundamentalist mind likes answers and explanations so much that it remains willfully ignorant about how history arrived at those explanations or how self-serving they usually are. Satisfying untruth is more pleasing to us than unsatisfying truth, and Big Truth is invariably unsatisfying—at least to the small self.
Great spirituality, on the other hand, seeks a creative balance between opposites. As Jesuit William Johnston writes, “Faith is that breakthrough into that deep realm of the soul which accepts paradox with humility.” [1] When you go to one side or the other too much, you find yourself either overly righteous or overly skeptical and cynical. There must be a healthy middle, as we try to hold both the necessary light and darkness.
We cannot settle today’s confusion by pretending to have absolute and certain answers. But we must not give up seeking truth, observing reality from all its angles. We settle human confusion not by falsely pretending to settle all the dust, but by teaching people an honest and humble process for learning and listening, which we call contemplation. Then people come to wisdom in a calm and compassionate way. There will not be the knee jerk overreactions that we have in so many on both Left and Right today.
The Judeo-Christian tradition was not supposed to be a top-down affair, but an organic meeting between an Inner Knower (the Indwelling Holy Spirit) accessed by prayer and experience; and the Outer Knower, which we would call Scripture (Holy Writings) and Tradition (all the ancestors). This is a calm and wonderfully healing way to know full Reality.

_________________________________________________________

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

October 4, 2018

AM THE CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH: Lord of all that is and all that will ever be. Although I am unimaginably vast, I choose to dwell within you, permeating you with My Presence. Only in the spirit realm could Someone so infinitely great live within someone so very small. Be awed by the Power and the Glory of My Spirit within you! Though the Holy Spirit is infinite, He deigns to be your Helper. He is always ready to offer assistance; all you need to do is ask. When the path before you looks easy and straightforward, you may be tempted to go it alone instead of relying on Me. This is when you are in the greatest danger of stumbling. Ask My Spirit to help you as you go each step of the way. Never neglect this glorious Source of strength within you.

JOHN 14: 16– 17 NKJV; And I will pray the Father, and He will give you anotherHelper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the ..

JOHN 16: 7; But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send.

ZECHARIAH 4: 6; So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

 

 

 

Unknowing: Week 1 Ascent and Descent

October 3rd, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Unknowing: Week 1
Ascent and Descent
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

When it says, “He went up,” it must mean that he first went down to the deepest levels of the earth . . . to fill all things. —Ephesians 4:9-10
Philosophies and religions are either Ascenders, pointing us upward (toward the One, the Eternal, and the Absolute) or they are Descenders, pointing us downward (toward the sacred within the many, the momentary, the mystery, and the earth), seldom both at the same time. Yet that’s what we need.
Metaphors of darkness, descent, and unknowing are found throughout the Bible: caves, clouds, the Exodus, exile, the belly of the whale, wilderness, and desert. Within Scripture we also see a spirituality of light, ascent, and knowing which is represented by mountaintop images, especially Sinai, Horeb, Tabor, and the Mount of the Beatitudes. “The pillar of flame by night and the pillar of cloud by day” (Exodus 13:21-22) are both good guides, but not one without the other!
Jesus himself points us both upward and downward at the same time. He fully rests in a trustworthy Absolute, his anchored self, made in the image and likeness of God. This is his only real knowing or ascent. From there, he is free to dive into a fully incarnate and diverse world—as it is. He can love this ordinary and broken world, honor and protect its diversity and complexity, and critique all false absolutes and idolatries at the same time. This is Jesus’ descent into the world of earthiness.
We have both knowing and not-knowing, ascent and descent, beautifully integrated in two companion pieces in the Scriptures: Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Moses is on Sinai, God is somehow manifest in thick darkness (Exodus 20:9). “You saw no shape on that day at Horeb” (Deuteronomy 4:15). Moses “sees” and “hears” to some degree, yet YHWH does not allow Moses to see God’s “glory” or “face.” The most that Moses can see is, humorously, YHWH’s backside (see Exodus 33:18-23).
In the parallel story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36; Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-9), there is first dazzling light yet a cloud soon over-shadows the whole scene. The epiphany is both light and darkness, knowability and unknowability, disclosure and non-disclosure. Jesus then deliberately walks with the disciples back down the mountain, onto the plain and desert of everyday life, and out of this enlightening, but also dangerously ego-inflating experience.
Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained. We must always return to the ordinary. Jesus tells the disciples who witnessed his transfiguration, “Don’t talk about it!” (Matthew 17:9). Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence seems necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious, just as in sexual intimacy.
Spirit always desires to incarnate itself. Matter always wants to be God. The Christ Mystery is uniquely saying that we can have it both ways—the enlightenment of Spirit balanced out by the density and opaqueness of matter. Maybe that is the essence of the human condition.

__________________________________________________

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling 

October 3, 2018

WHEN MANY THINGS SEEM to be going wrong, trust Me. When your life feels increasingly out of control, thank Me. These are supernatural responses, and they can lift you above your circumstances. If you do what comes naturally in the face of difficulties, you may fall prey to negativism. Even a few complaints can set you on a path that is a downward spiral, by darkening your perspective and mind-set. With this attitude controlling you, complaints flow more and more readily from your mouth. Each one moves you steadily down the slippery spiral. The lower you go, the faster you slide; but it is still possible to apply brakes.

Cry out to Me in My Name! Affirm your trust in Me, regardless of how you feel. Thank Me for everything, though this seems unnatural— even irrational. Gradually you will begin to ascend, recovering your lost ground. When you are back on ground level, you can face your circumstances from a humble perspective. If you choose supernatural responses this time— trusting and thanking Me— you will experience My unfathomable Peace.

PSALM 13: 5; But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

EPHESIANS 5: 20; always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

PSALM 34: 10; The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

 

 

 

Unknowing: Week 1; Darkness and Light

October 2nd, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Unknowing: Week 1
Darkness and Light
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one. —Psalm 139:12
Perhaps the most universal way to name the two spiritual traditions of knowing and not-knowing is light and darkness. The formal theological terms are kataphatic or “affirmative” way—employing words, concepts, and images—and apophatic or “negative” way—moving beyond words and ideas into silence and beyond-rational knowing. I believe both ways are good and necessary, and together they create a magnificent form of higher consciousness called biblical faith.
The apophatic way, however, has been largely underused, undertaught, and underdeveloped since the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. In fact, Westerners became ashamed of our “not-knowing” and tried to fight our battles rationally. For several centuries, Christianity in the West has been in a defensive mode, a siege mentality where not-knowing and the mystical tradition are considered too risky.
If we are going to talk about light, then we must also talk about darkness, because they only have meaning in relation to one another. In much of the world’s art, the sun and the moon are pictured together as sacred symbols. The solar light gives glaring brightness but paradoxically creates defined shadows. Patriarchal religions usually preferred “sun” gods and the worship of fire, light, and order. While order and clarity are good, they also give us an arrogance about that very order and clarity. The very sun that illuminates also blinds, dehydrates, and kills when we get too much of it.
Lunar light is much more subtle, filtered, and indirect, and in that sense, more clarifying and not so quickly conclusive. Note that when God first divided light from darkness, God did not call it “good” (Genesis 1:3). At the very beginning of the Bible we are warned that we cannot totally separate light from darkness, or the two have no meaning. The whole of Creation exists inside of one full cycle: “Evening came and morning came and it was the first day” (Genesis 1:5). Separating them is apparently not good!
All things on earth are a mixture of darkness and light. When we idolize things as totally good or condemn otherness as totally bad, we get ourselves in trouble. Jesus simplifies this task by saying: “God alone is good” (Mark 10:18). Even the good things of this world are still subject to imperfection, wounding, and decay. I find it very hard to admit, but often tragedies produce much good fruit and good people.
Jesus is a “lunar” teacher, patient with darkness and slow growth. He says, “The seed is sprouting and growing but we do not know how” (Mark 4:27). He even shockingly says to let the good and bad seeds grow together until the harvest (Matthew 13:30). He seems to be willing to live with non-perfection, surely representing the cosmic patience and freedom of God, who is Infinite Love and Life that finally fills all the gaps. When you are God and you know you will ultimately “win”—because Love will always win—you do not have to nail everything down along the way. You can work happily and even effectively with “mustard seeds” (Mark 4:31) and with “the good and bad alike” sitting at the same table (Matthew 22:10).

_____________________________________________

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

October 2, 2018

NEVER TAKE FOR GRANTED My intimate nearness. Marvel at the wonder of My continual Presence with you. Even the most ardent human lover cannot be with you always. Nor can another person know the intimacies of your heart, mind, and spirit. I know everything about you— even the number of hairs on your head. You don’t need to work at revealing yourself to Me.

Many people spend a lifetime or a small fortune searching for someone who understands them. Yet I am freely available to all who call upon My Name, who open their hearts to receive Me as Savior. This simple act of faith is the beginning of a lifelong love story. I, the Lover of your soul, understand you perfectly and love you eternally.

PSALM 145: 18 NKJV; The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.

LUKE 12: 7; But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

JOHN 1: 12; But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

ROMANS 10: 13; Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

 

 

Unknowing: Week 1; Beyond Comprehension; Recovering Our Balance

October 1st, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Unknowing: Week 1

Sunday, September 30, 2018
My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways. . . . As high as the heavens are above the earth, so my ways are beyond your ways, and my thoughts are beyond your thoughts. —Isaiah 55:8-9
We cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end. —Ecclesiastes 3:11
Within his Judaic tradition, Jesus was formed by the passage above from Isaiah which teaches humility before the mystery of God. When we presume we know fully, we can be very arrogant and goal-oriented. When we know we don’t know fully, we are much more concerned about practical, loving behavior. Those who know God are humble about their knowledge of God; those who don’t really know God, often speak in platitudes and certainties (about which they are not really certain).
When we speak of God and things transcendent, all we can do is use metaphors, approximations, and pointers. No language is adequate to describe the Holy. As an early portrait of Saint John of the Cross illustrates, we must place a hushing finger over our lips to remind ourselves that God is finally unspeakable and ineffable. Or, like the Jews, we may even refuse to pronounce the name YHWH.
All our words, beliefs, and rituals are merely “fingers pointing to the moon.” They are never 100% right or perfect. This is the necessary and good poverty of all spiritual language. Remember, Jesus never said, “You must be right!” or even that it was important to be right. He largely talked about being honest and humble (which is probably our only available form of rightness).
Such admitted poverty in words should keep us humble, curious, and searching for God. Yet the ego doesn’t like such uncertainty. So, it’s not surprising that the history of the three monotheistic religions, in their first few thousand years, has largely been the proclaiming of absolutes and dogmas. In fact, we usually focus on areas where we can feel a sense of order and control—things like finances, clothing, edifices, roles, offices, and who has the authority. In my experience, I observe that the people who find God are usually those who are very serious about their quest and their questions. It is said that asking good questions is a sign of intelligence. But Western culture has spent centuries admiring and promoting people who supposedly have all the answers—which, too often, they have read or heard from someone else.
As Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet:
I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves. . . . For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer. [1]

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Unknowing: Week 1

Recovering Our Balance
Monday, October 1, 2018

Can you find out the depths of God? Or find out the perfection of the Almighty? It is higher than the heavens; so what can you do? It is deeper than Sheol; so what can you know?  It is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. —Job 11:7-9

The Bible, in its entirety, finds a balance between knowing and not-knowing, between using particular and carefully chosen words and having humility about words, even though the ensuing traditions have not often found that same balance. “Churchianity,” by its very definition, needs to speak with absolutes and certainties. It feels its job is to make absolute truth claims and feels very fragile when it cannot. Then, we followers think we must be certain about things we are not really certain of at all (which is the beginning of the loss of faith)! This is a similar predicament that politicians experience, needing to project an image of self-assurance and confidence, even though we all know they’re faking it just like the rest of us. As Marcus Borg (1942-2015) and others suggest in The Emerging Christian Way, absolute correctness is the largely impossible task institutional Christianity has taken upon itself. [1] Organized religion is now crumbling beneath this impossible and false goal, it seems to me.

I understand the individual ego’s and the institution’s structural need for clarity, some basic order, and identity, especially to get us started when we are young. Religion then needs a key to unlock itself from itself—but from the inside, which many call the mystical or contemplative tradition. Most successful reforms come from using one’s own internal resources to self-correct. The words “mystery,” “mystical,” and “mutter” all come from the Indo-European root word muein, which means to “hush or close the lips.” We must start with humble, patient, wordless unknowing, sincere curiosity, or what many call “beginner’s mind.” Only then are we truly teachable. Otherwise, we only hear whatever confirms our present understanding.

Without such humility, religion has cried “wolf” too many times in history and later been proven wrong. Observe earlier authoritative Church statements on democracy, war, torture, slavery, women, treatment of Jews, revolutions, liturgical forms, the “Doctrine of Discovery” of the New World, the Latin language, and the earth-centered universe—to name just a few big ones. If we had balanced our “knowing” with some honest not-knowing, we would never have made such egregious mistakes. We could always prove whatever we wanted by twisting one line of Scripture. The biblical text was not allowed to change us as much as many Christians have used it to exclude and judge other people.

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WORSHIP ME ONLY. I am King of kings and Lord of lords, dwelling in unapproachable Light. I am taking care of you! I am not only committed to caring for you, but I am also absolutely capable of doing so. Rest in Me, My weary one, for this is a form of worship. Though self-flagellation has gone out of style, many of My children drive themselves like racehorses. They whip themselves into action, ignoring how exhausted they are. They forget that I am sovereign and that My ways are higher than theirs. Underneath their driven service, they may secretly resent Me as a harsh taskmaster. Their worship of Me is lukewarm because I am no longer their First Love. My invitation never changes: Come to Me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest. Worship Me by resting peacefully in My Presence.

1 TIMOTHY 6: 15– 16; which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives.

ISAIAH 55: 8– 9; For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways.

REVELATION 2: 4; Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.

MATTHEW 11: 28; Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

 

Islam; Dying Before We Die

September 28th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Islam

Dying Before We Die
Friday, September 28, 2018

Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts
of our body is
death.

So beautiful appeared my death—knowing who then I would kiss,
I died a thousand times before I died.

“Die before you die,” said the Prophet
Muhammad.

Have wings that feared ever
touched the Sun?

I was born when all I once feared—I could love.

—Rabia [1]

In her book God of Love, Mirabai Starr shows how at the nondual or contemplative levels the teachings of the three Abrahamic Traditions are quite similar, especially regarding the transformation of the separate self into union with God:

“Wash yourself of yourself,” says Rumi [a Sufi]. “Be melting snow.” In Kabbalah [Jewish mysticism], this process is known as bitul hayesh, “nullification of one’s somethingness,” and is consciously cultivated through prayer. In Christian tradition, the union of the soul with God in love is called “bridal mysticism.” And in Sufism, it is fana, where the soul attains complete unity with Allah. In every case, there is a dying of the false self into the truth of the Divine.

“God, whose love and joy are present everywhere,” said Angelus Silesius, the seventeenth-century German [Christian] mystic and poet, “cannot come to visit you unless you are not there.” [2]

Anthony de Mello (1931–1987), an East Indian Jesuit priest, was renowned for his storytelling, which drew from both Eastern and Western mystical traditions. One of his stories, “The Salt Doll,” illustrates the awakening to our true essence:

A salt doll journeyed for thousands of miles over land, until it finally came to the sea. It was fascinated by this strange moving mass, quite unlike anything it had ever seen before.

“Who are you?” said the salt doll to the sea.

The sea smilingly replied, “Come in and see.”

So the doll waded in. The farther it walked into the sea the more it dissolved, until there was only very little of it left. Before that last bit dissolved, the doll exclaimed in wonder, “Now I know what I am!” [3]

Jordan Denari Duffner is a leading advocate for interreligious dialogue. Drawing from her personal experiences of living and praying alongside Muslims in the United States and the Middle East, she writes:

Muslims describe beautiful experiences of God’s nearness, of feeling personally connected to [God] through prayer. The Prophet Muhammad once illustrated the experience of prayer this way: “During prayer, God lifts the veil and opens the gates of the invisible, so that His servant is standing in front of Him. The prayer creates a secret connection between the one praying and the One prayed to. Prayer is a threshold at the entrance to God’s reality.” [4]

Authentic God experience always “burns” you, yet it does not destroy you (Exodus 3:2-3), just as the burning bush revealed to Moses. But most of us are not prepared for such burning, nor even told to expect it. The Islamic mystics seem to be the most honest here, as we see in the ecstatic and erotic poetry of Rabia, Rumi, Kabir, and Hafiz. By definition, authentic God experience is always “too much”! It consoles our True Self only after it has devastated our false self.

_____________________________________________

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

September 28, 2018

OPEN YOUR MIND AND HEART— your entire being— to receive My Love in full measure. So many of My children limp through their lives starved for Love because they haven’t learned the art of receiving. This is essentially an act of faith: believing that I love you with boundless, everlasting Love. The art of receiving is also a discipline: training your mind to trust Me, coming close to Me with confidence.

Remember that the evil one is the father of lies. Learn to recognize his deceptive intrusions into your thoughts. One of his favorite deceptions is to undermine your confidence in My unconditional Love. Fight back against these lies! Do not let them go unchallenged. Resist the devil in My Name, and he will slink away from you. Draw near to Me, and My Presence will envelop you in Love.

EPHESIANS 3: 16– 19;  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.

HEBREWS 4: 16; Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

JOHN 8: 44; Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

JAMES 4: 7– 8 NKJV; Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

 

Primordial Light

September 26th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

Primordial Light
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!
—Hafiz (c. 1320–1389) [1]

Sufism is the mystical arm of Islam. Mainline Islam, like most organized religions, largely emphasizes practical expressions and behaviors, whereas Sufism developed and emphasized the interior life. [2] Poet Daniel Ladinsky (who has been inspired by Sufi poets like Rumi and Hafiz) writes that “their ‘way’ has always existed, under many names, in many lands, associated with the mystical dimension of every spiritual system.” The special emphasis of Sufism is “intense, often ecstatic, one-pointed devotion to God.” [3] If you have ever seen a Sufi Dervish twirl around one pivot, as I was privileged to witness in Turkey, all the message is contained therein.

Avideh Shashaani, an Iranian-American poet and translator of Sufi mystic texts, reflects on how Sufism points to our True Self as the image of God:

My understanding of Islam has come through Sufism—the interior life of Islam. Islam, like any religion, may be viewed as a spectrum of light—ranging from the fundamentalists to the mystics. Our place on this spectrum depends on our level of spiritual expansion and knowledge.

In the Islamic tradition, we are considered to be an amazing weave of heaven and earth [spirit and matter]. Islam does not see us as sinful beings to be redeemed, but as neglectful and forgetful beings endowed with the primordial light.

When we “step” across the boundary of the divine realm into the world and become forgetful of our reality, we are in a state of transgression. Forgetfulness is what we must constantly struggle against.

The message of Islam is meant to guide us to uncover our true identity deeply buried under the layers of our neglectful nature. The Qur’an says “[God] created man in the best of stature” (95:4), and says that “[God is] closer to him than his jugular vein” (50:16). The duties prescribed for the Muslim are directed toward uncovering our primordial nature and remembering our covenant with God, “‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes, we bear witness’” (7:172). The memory of the covenant rests deep within our souls. This is why the remembrance of God is central in Islam. . . .

In the Islamic mystical tradition, the reality of “I” is not separate from the Ultimate Reality. “I” is that divine inspiration that imbues life from the Beginning. . . . Sufis often refer to a hadith [a saying of the Prophet Muhammad], “Whoever knows himself knows his Lord.” Ibn al Arabi, the 12th century Islamic mystic from Andalusia, writes [with amazing similarity to the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart’s “The eyes with which we look back at God are the same eyes with which God looks at us”]:

When my Beloved appears,
With what eye do I see Him?
With His eye, not with mine,
For none sees Him except Himself. [4]

. . . In the remembrance of God, the mirror of the heart is polished and is able to reflect the light of God, allowing “I” to shine.

Hafiz gives us another beautiful expression of this “I” that is the “divine inspiration”:

I am
a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through—
listen to this
music. [5]

COME TO ME AND LISTEN! Attune yourself to My voice, and receive My richest blessings. Marvel at the wonder of communing with the Creator of the universe while sitting in the comfort of your home. Kings who reign on earth tend to make themselves inaccessible; ordinary people almost never gain an audience with them. Even dignitaries must plow through red tape and protocol in order to speak with royalty.
Though I am King of the universe, I am totally accessible to you. I am with you wherever you are. Nothing can separate you from My Presence! When I cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This opened the way for you to meet Me face to Face, with no need of protocol or priests. I, the King of kings, am your constant Companion.

ISAIAH 50: 4;

ISAIAH 55: 2– 3;

JOHN 19: 30;

MATTHEW 27: 50– 51

Islam Holy, Nonviolent Struggle

September 25th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Islam
Holy, Nonviolent Struggle
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Karen Armstrong continues exploring the origins of Islam:
In [the] early days, Muslims did not see Islam as a new, exclusive religion but as a continuation of the primordial faith of the “People of the Book,” the Jews and Christians. In one remarkable passage, God insists that Muslims must accept indiscriminately the revelations of every single one of God’s messengers: Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, and all the other prophets. [1] The Qur’an is simply a “confirmation” of the previous scriptures. [2] Nobody must be forced to accept Islam, because . . . God was not the exclusive property of any one tradition: the divine light could not be confined to a single lamp, belonged neither to the East nor to the West, but enlightened all human beings. [3] Muslims must speak courteously to the People of the Book, debate with them only in “the most kindly manner,” remember that they worshipped the same God, and not engage in pointless, aggressive disputes. [4]
All of this would require a ceaseless jihad (which did not mean “holy war” but “effort,” “struggle”), because it was extremely difficult to implement the will of God in a tragically flawed world. Muslims must make a determined endeavor on all fronts—intellectual, social, economic, moral, spiritual, and political. Sometimes they might have to fight, as Muhammad did when the Meccan kafirun vowed to exterminate the Muslim community. But aggressive warfare was outlawed, and the only justification for war was self-defense. [5] . . . An important and oft-quoted tradition (hadith) has Muhammad say on his way home after a battle: “We are returning from the Lesser Jihad [the battle] and going to the Greater Jihad,” the far more important and difficult struggle to reform one’s own society and one’s own heart. Eventually, when the war with Mecca was turning in his favor, Muhammad adopted a policy of nonviolence. . . .
Like any religious tradition, Islam would change and evolve. Muslims acquired a large empire, stretching from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas, but true to Qur’anic principles, nobody was forced to become Muslim. Indeed, for the first hundred years after the Prophet’s death, conversion to Islam was actually discouraged, because Islam was a din [way of life] for the Arabs, the descendants of Abraham’s elder son, Ishmael, just as Judaism was for the sons of Isaac, and Christianity for the followers of the gospel.
Faith, therefore, was a matter of practical insight and active commitment; it had little to do with abstract belief or theological conjecture.
I would add that mature Islam beautifully parallels the Franciscan and Christian contemplative emphasis on orthopraxy (right practice) and the importance of nondual consciousness. For our jihad to be nonviolent and transformative, our actions must be rooted in an inner experience of love and communion—what we call contemplation. Opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to union takes lifelong practice.

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Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

September 25, 2018

POUR ALL OF YOUR ENERGY into trusting Me. It is through trust that you stay connected to Me, aware of My Presence. Every step on your life-journey can be a step of faith. Baby steps of trust are simple for you; you can take them with almost unconscious ease. Giant steps are another matter altogether: leaping across chasms in semidarkness, scaling cliffs of uncertainty, trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. These feats require sheer concentration, as well as utter commitment to Me. Each of My children is a unique blend of temperament, giftedness, and life experiences. Something that is a baby step for you may be a giant step for another person, and vice versa. Only I know the difficulty or ease of each segment of your journey. Beware of trying to impress others by acting as if your giant steps are only baby ones. Do not judge others who hesitate in trembling fear before an act that would be easy for you. If each of My children would seek to please Me above all else, fear of others’ judgments would vanish, as would attempts to impress others. Focus your attention on the path just ahead of you and on the One who never leaves your side.

PSALM 23: 4; Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

MATTHEW 7: 1– 2; “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it.

PROVERBS 29: 25; Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

 

 

Islam

September 24th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

Islam A Way of Life
Sunday, September 23, 2018

Muslims do not worship Muhammad. He is a prophet . . . [and] because of his pure submission to God alone, [he] serves as the model of the perfect human being. His holiness lies not in his own being, but in his pointing away from himself and toward the Holy One. —Mirabai Starr [1]

There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam. Like Christianity and other religions, there is a great deal of variety within Islam. Just as not all Christians are extremists, the majority of Muslims are not terrorists. As many Christians disagree on theology and hermeneutics, so Muslims have different ways of interpreting their sacred text and tradition. Over the next week I’ll share some background, drawing from Karen Armstrong’s work, and then turn to one stream within Islam, Sufism. I hope this brief introduction will help you recognize God’s image and likeness in your Muslim brothers and sisters and learn more about their faith!

Religious historian Karen Armstrong describes the origins of Islam:

In 610, Muhammad ibn Abdullah (c. 560–632), a merchant of the thriving commercial city of Mecca in the Arabian Hijaz, began to have revelations that he believed came from the God of the Jews and Christians. These divine messages were eventually brought together in the scripture known as the Qur’an, the “Recitation,” and its text was finalized a mere twenty years after the Prophet’s death. The religion of the Qur’an would eventually be known as Islam, a word that means “surrender” to God, and was based on the same basic principles as the two other monotheistic traditions.

The Qur’an has no interest in “belief.” . . . Theological speculation that results in the formulation of abstruse doctrines is dismissed as zannah, self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can prove one way or the other but that makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian. Like any religion or philosophia, Islam [is] a way of life (din). The fundamental message of the Qur’an [is] . . . an ethical summons to practically expressed compassion: it is wrong to build a private fortune and good to share your wealth fairly and create a just society where poor and vulnerable people are treated with respect. [2]

The five “pillars” of Islam are a miqra, a summons to dedicated activity: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage. This is also true of the first “pillar,” the declaration of faith: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet.” This is not a “creed” in the modern Western sense; the Muslim who makes this shahadah “bears witness” in his life and in every single one of his actions that his chief priority is Allah and that no other “gods”—which include political, material, economic, and personal ambitions—can take precedence over his commitment to God alone. In the Qur’an, faith (iman) is something that people do: they share their wealth, perform the “works of justice” (salihat), and prostrate their bodies to the ground in the kenotic, ego-deflating act of prayer (salat). [3]

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Islam——Walk Gently on the Earth

Monday, September 24, 2018

During the Convivencia in Spain [711–1492], Jews, Christians and Muslims not only lived side by side in an atmosphere of religious tolerance but they also actively collaborated on some of the most important works of art, architecture, literature, mathematics, science, and mystical teachings in the history of Western culture. . . . The commitment to welcoming people of all faiths is still a beacon that shines from the heart of Islam. —Mirabai Starr [1]

Mature religions and individuals have great tolerance and even appreciation for differences. When we are secure and confident in our oneness—knowing that all are created in God’s image and are equally beloved—differences of faith, culture, language, skin color, sexuality, or other trait no longer threaten us. Rather, we seek to understand and honor others and to live in harmony with them. Karen Armstrong explains how this is a core teaching within Islam:

In the Qur’an, the people who opposed Islam when Muhammad began to preach in Mecca are called the kafirum. The usual English translation is extremely misleading: it does not mean “unbeliever” or “infidel”; the root KFR means “blatant ingratitude,” a discourteous and arrogant refusal of something offered with great kindness. . . . They were not condemned for their “unbelief” but for their braying, offensive manner to others, their pride, self-importance, chauvinism, and inability to accept criticism. [2] . . . Above all, they are jahili: chronically “irascible,” acutely sensitive about their honor and prestige, with a destructive tendency to violent retaliation. Muslims are commanded to respond to such abusive behavior with hilm (“forbearance”) and quiet courtesy, leaving revenge to Allah. They must “walk gently on the earth,” and whenever the jahilun insult them, they should simply reply, “Peace.” [3]

There was no question of a literal, simplistic reading of scripture. Every single image, statement, and verse in the Qur’an is called an ayah (“sign,” “symbol,” “parable”), because we can speak of God only analogically. The great ayat of the creation and the last judgment are not introduced to enforce “belief,” but they are a summons to action. Muslims must translate these doctrines into practical behavior. The ayah of the last day, when people will find that their wealth cannot save them, should make Muslims examine their conduct here and now: Are they behaving kindly and fairly to the needy? They must imitate the generosity of Allah, who created the wonders of this world so munificently and sustains it so benevolently. At first, the religion was known as tazakka (“refinement”). By looking after the poor compassionately, freeing their slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, hourly basis, Muslims would acquire a responsible, caring spirit, purging themselves of pride and selfishness. By modeling their behavior on that of the Creator, they would achieve spiritual refinement [what I would call growing in God’s likeness].

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LIVE FIRST AND FOREMOST in My Presence. Gradually you will become more aware of Me than of people and places around you. This awareness will not detract from your relationships with others. Instead, it will increase your ability to give love and encouragement to them. My Peace will permeate your words and demeanor. You will be active in the world, yet one step removed from it. You will not be easily shaken because My enveloping Presence buffers the blow of problems. This is the path I have set before you. As you follow it wholeheartedly, you experience abundant Life and Peace.

PSALM 89: 15– 16;
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
16 They rejoice in your name all day long;
they celebrate your righteousness.

PSALM 16: 8;
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

2 PETER 1: 2
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

JOHN 10: 28 NKJV
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Western Christianity; Crisis Contemplation

September 21st, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Western Christianity

Crisis Contemplation
Friday, September 21, 2018

As I mentioned earlier this week, Western Christianity neglected the systematic instruction of contemplative practice for hundreds of years. Yet many people naturally grow into nondual consciousness through great suffering or great love. Barbara Holmes suggests that “crisis contemplation” arose out of necessity during the “Middle Passage” and slavery:

The air must have been thick with fear and prayer as the slaving ships pulled out of Gorée and other West African ports laden with human cargo. Devotees of Vodun, the river gods, [YHWH], Allah, Oludumare—to name just a few—lay together (tightly or loosely packed) in an involuntary rebirthing cocoon. It was a community of sorts, yet each person lay in their own chrysalis of human waste and anxiety. More often than not, these Africans were strangers to each other by virtue of language, culture, and tribe. Although the names of their deities differed, they shared a common belief in the seen and unseen. The journey was a rite of passage of sorts that stripped captives of their personal control over the situation and forced them to turn to the spirit realm for relief and guidance.

. . . The word contemplation must press beyond the constraints of religious expectations to reach the potential for spiritual centering in the midst of danger. Centering moments accessed in safety are an expected luxury in our era. During slavery, however, crisis contemplation became a refuge, a wellspring of discernment in a suddenly disordered life space, and a geo-spiritual anvil for forging a new identity. This definition of contemplation is dynamic and situational. . . .

As unlikely as it may seem, the contemplative moment can be found at the very center of such ontological crises . . . during the Middle Passage in the holds of slave ships . . . auction blocks . . . and the . . . hush arbors [where slaves worshipped in secret]. Each event is experienced by individuals stunned into multiple realities by shock, journey, and displacement. . . . In the words of Howard Thurman, “when all hope for release in the world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” [1] For captured Africans, there was no safety except in common cause and the development of internal and spiritual fortitude. . . .

The only sound that would carry Africans over the bitter waters was the moan. Moans flowed through each wracked body and drew each soul toward the center of contemplation. . . . One imagines the Spirit moaning as it hovered over the deep during the Genesis account of creation [Genesis 1:2]. Here, the moan stitches horror and survival instincts into a creation narrative. . . . On the slave ships, the moan became the language of stolen strangers, the sound of unspeakable fears, the precursor to joy yet unknown. The moan is the birthing sound, the first movement toward a creative response to oppression, the entry into the heart of contemplation through the crucible of crisis.

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Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

September 21, 2018

WAIT QUIETLY IN MY PRESENCE while My thoughts form silently in the depths of your being. Do not try to rush this process, because hurry keeps your heart earthbound. I am the Creator of the entire universe, yet I choose to make My humble home in your heart. It is there where you know Me most intimately; it is there where I speak to you in holy whispers. Ask My Spirit to quiet your mind so that you can hear My still small voice within you. I am speaking to you continually: words of Life . . . Peace . . . Love. Tune your heart to receive these messages of abundant blessing. Lay your requests before Me, and wait in expectation.

COLOSSIANS 1: 16 NKJV; For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities …

1 KINGS 19: 12 NKJV; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

PSALM 5: 3; In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.