Christian Mystic Circle

Christian mysticism as I understand it, is the deeply rational pursuit of direct and complete union with God through proven spiritual practices.

Theresa of Avilla said, “God withholds himself from no one who perseveres.”

I do not think this life is something that we do. I think it is something that happens to us. It is a call from God.

This does not make the mystic better than other people. It is a path of humble union, a trip to the depths as much as soaring in the sky. It is day union and night union.

We are blessed so that we may bless and serve others.

May God bless our Wednesday night “Christian Mystic Circle”.

(We will be meeting 7PM each Wednesday night for group spiritual practices that involve, prayer, chant, and sacred dance. This is a prayer service unlike anything anyone has done. It incorporates classical practices like contemplation, and the Jesus Prayer, and Simple Gifts which comes to us from the Shakers. And it has prayers and chants that have emerged, birthed from our own spiritual journeys. )

 

Reasons Why I Love Park Church.

I put my hand into my jacket pocket this morning, and felt plastic bags. I pulled them out and saw they were two bags with seeds in them.

Then I remembered that while I was away with my kids at a Chess tournament, an organic gardening program was being held at our church that morning.

This is another reason why I love Park Church. They do so many good things! And they do them without the Pastor running it.

Many Churches lock their doors after church on Sunday, and have little need of the building till the next Sunday Morning. But Park Church always seems to be up to good all week long. Park Church is a yes saying church.

Paul wrote to the Galatians that we will reap what we sow. I am happy about that, because Park Church is sowing good deeds.

Damn!

I was not blaspheming when I wrote “damn!” because I meant it.
I just heard about the shootings at an elementary school in Newton Connecticut.

We don’t need any foreign terrorists to come to our country and shoot us. We have our own crazies right here.

On and on the mass killings go. Schools,  malls, theatres, and houses of worship have all been targets.

Is this becoming a weekly event?

What is wrong with these people? Why would anyone go into a school and shoot innocent children?

It is the devil, and by that I mean a personification of evil. It is the opposite of everything we stand for as followers of Jesus Christ.

We want to serve without fame. They want to destroy for fame.

We want to help children. They want to hurt children.

We are nonviolent. They are violent.

What should we do? We already live in a society filled with guns and government surveillance. Is the answer even more guns and surveillance?

I think this is at the root a spiritual problem. These deranged ones neither value the lives of others or their own. They have no love or fear of God or hell. They are lawless disregard and self grandiosity combined. Not knowing God, they play at being God over others.

Damn!

Ignorance and hate are everywhere. There is no place safe on earth.

If I take off my blinders, I can find all sorts of other killings going on. There was the guy who had a stroke and was tasered to death by the police. There was the whistle blower who supposedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, twice. There are the many Travon Martins who pass from this life in blood without fanfare. We had two little babies shot on purpose right here in Toledo. There is the young unarmed Gazan shot on his birthday by a soldier of the occupation. Millions starve and die every year from the cold cruelty of bottomless poverty.

But going into an elementary school to kill is shockingly, unbelievably wrong. I cannot forgive this killer. It is not my right to forgive him. The Jews of the holocaust have taught me that I have no business, imposing myself in their process. I am not to act like some super privileged outsider. So I will not be forgiving him today.

But I will pray for all the souls in this tortured wheel of suffering that we keep on spinning. Buddha said “In this world, hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate.” And Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” and “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

So I’ll work on it.

Damn!

Who or What is God to You?

Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury (d.1109 A.D.) said something like “God is that which nothing greater can be conceived.” From there he went on to argue the existence of God.

What is being done here is less lofty. I am only looking at the descriptions and beliefs in God. I begin by asking asking, “What is the least that can be conceived and still be God?”

I believe the least possible belief is that of atheists who believe nothing exists but matter and energy. God is a historical construct of a naive and superstitious past that lingers into the present. God does not exist in any real sense. There is no supernatural. There is no transcendence. There is no designed purpose or meaning to the universe.

Then there are some who do not believe in God as some kind of person, but believe there is some kind of divine energy or purpose to the universe. This might be because personality is seen as a sort of need to present oneself in a certain way which God would transcend. They might believe there is some kind of underlying spiritual reality and order to the universe. Perhaps we all share in one universal soul. Perhaps through karma and rebirth or mystical means we are returning to the divine even as everything is divine.

We humans seem to share a child like experience of life as a magical place of spiritual presence. The supernatural is all around us. The supernatural is with us in an “I – Thou” relationship. This natural relationship with an invisible presence seems to be the shared human experience of children and the non-reflective. (Justin Barett, “Why Would Anyone Believe in God.” Alta Mira 2004) Many people believe in God this way. They have a personal relationship with the divine, which is moderated by the context of their culture as they age.

Many persons believe in God, in the way that God is presented to them through their parents and culture. The family, education, religious institutions, arts, and media present the expectations of believing to the individuals. They are socialized by the need to belong, and do not find it difficult or unpleasant to do. There may not be much systematic thinking here, but that does not matter. Religion provides a context within which to live and understand life. God is real and in relationship with persons and society. For a non theistic Buddhist, god would be defined as the culturally presented deepest reality and purpose of life.

Some persons in a desire for coherence and personal responsibility study and develop, a systematic coherent understanding of God. These ones have rather definite ideas about God. They are in pursuit of clarity and certainty. These ones have strong beliefs about the Pure Land and Avalokiteshvara if they are Buddhists. They may have a clear understanding of Shiva or Vishnu and Moksha ki Samsara if they are Hindu. And as Christians they may well be certain about such things as the Trinity and substitutiary atonement. Muslims may likewise be clear regarding their practice  and understanding of Islam.

Is this the peak? Is this where “God is that which nothing greater can be conceived” is fulfilled?  I think not.

For me even if absolutes exist, our finitude presents a limit which we can never transcend. We are always able to learn more. And learning is a refinement or even a negation of what went before. Facing this reality we are not fully capable of answering if something is absolutely true or absolutely false. Rather we must limit ourselves to asking if something is more true or more false. What position is more inclusive of all the information and sustainable in the face of arguments? And just as important, what brings us moral uplift? What helps us to be a good human being?

A relevant God must now be connected with the scientific nature of the universe as we understand it, multiple religions, economics, and politics. This seems to me to be bigger than the God concept from any of the religions by themselves. This combined with the personal and communal development of righteousness and justice is the current edge for me of something like, “God is most evidenced in the most righteous, just, and inclusive ones of the universe.” Many opposites meet  each other here. We are ourselves, but we are together. We are good and bad. We are human, and we are how hydrogen sees itself. We are separate and not separate from God. 

The point is that God is not just a disembodied intellectual pursuit. God is something within us that calls us to truth. The atheist scientist, the non-reflective, the culturally conditioned, the systematizer, and the post-certain pilgrim all deserve a place at the community table of figuring things out, and living well together.

It probably was the brilliant Rumi who said you can tell the quality of the moth by the flame where it goes to die. In the same way because the flame of God is still emerging, we do not yet know “That which nothing greater can be conceived.” Our task is not to know… but to fly to the light!

 

Religious but not Spiritual!

It is about time someone stood up for the religious.

I am not impressed by the frequently stated comment. “I am spiritual but not religious.”

This is basically a put down of religious institutions. And in a sense a claim to superiority over those who are religious.

Yes there are religious jerks. But guess what? There are spiritual jerks too.

It does not matter if you kneel in a cathedral or dance naked under the moon. 1)You are part of a religious tradition. 2) You could still be a hypocrite and a jerk. 3) You could be a wonderful caring and authentic person. 4) You do not live up to your ideals. 5) As soon as you share your ideas or borrow them, you are being religious.

Here is what happens, religion is defined as everything bad, and spiritual as everything good. Then the good one is chosen. There is no clarity here. There is no definition. It begs the question.

So here is putting the shoe on the other foot.

Being religious is good! Religions as institutions have schools and hospitals sanctuaries and retreat centers. These can be an oasis in a materialist world. Religions have rules, examples to follow, and heroes. Religions have deep mystical traditions and great art and music.

Being spiritual is bad. It is based on the false assumption that teaching your children is wrong, and doing things alone is all that matters. It is a hypocritical lie. Those who say they are spiritual but not religious are often not spiritual at all. They get a warm feeling looking at a sunset and they are now the next incarnation of Mahatma Gandhi? They are actually not non-religious at all either. They cut and paste together an assortment of religious ideas like karma, reincarnation, angels, nature transcendence, and whatnot and act like they have a corner on the truth. They have fallen for the error that they needed to re-invent the wheel when all they needed was to re-discover fire. And finally being spiritual but not religious can lead to lawlessness. Look at how any spiritual but not religious community gets along. What community?  It has either become religious or fallen apart.

Warm gushy feelings are pleasant, but the hard work of reforming self and society is the work of the religious.

So the next time someone says to me, “I am spiritual but not religious.” I will answer, “I am religious but not spiritual.”

 

 

Transcending Transcendence

We humans have so much. But we are not satisfied. We need more!

For example, we humans already transcend time. Rocks and trees have no consciousness of time. Animals live in an eternal present. We humans are the ones who have transcended this eternal present and found the past and the future. We are not stuck in the eternal now. We are stuck in the past present and future instead.

Some people think the way to transcend time is to go back to bare animal awareness. While this may give some reprieve from horrible memories or frightening dreams of the future, it is a denial of our humanity.

Like Dr. Who we are some kind of Time Lords among the species of the Earth. Our mission like the good Doctor is to use our special ability to recognize and live in the flow of historical time, to care for the species of the planet. Time is a gift to us. We should use our powers for good, not return them.

Why is time a problem for us anyway? It is a problem because we are self aware. We know we will die. And most of us don’t want to die.

Self awareness is another way that we human beings transcend the animal world. Christopher Boehm in his book Moral Origins explains how few animals there are that have even vestiges of self awareness.

Like time, some of us wish to escape the suffering of a separate independent self by returning to some kind of bare animal awareness. And while it is true that one can through the Buddhist practice of Vipassana slowly deconstruct the self entity, apart from freeing up wasted maintenance and defensive energy, I’m not sure it is what we should be doing.

The self can be seen as a curse and a source of much of our suffering. The self can also be seen as a gift, and a source of great value and responsibility.

In the Genesis account of creation. God makes humankind in the divine image. That could mean things like spirit, love, and light.  The object and divine purpose of our life is to reflect God.

What I am saying is that there is a way back and a way forward. Going back to being a non self aware, timeless animal, is not transcendence. Going forward into the divine is transcendence.

Another way is to say transcendence is “Humanity Plus” not “Minus Humanity”.

In the Gospel of John it says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (Jn. 17:3)

Want transcendence? Unite with God. Don’t regress.

Internal External and Eternal Life

I have been musing a bit about afterlife justice.

I remember Confucius was once asked by a man about caring for his ancestors. Confucius asked him how he was doing caring for his living parents. The point was that if he could not care for his parents in this life, he had no business asking about the afterlife.

In the same way in 1John, the author says that if we do not love the ones around us that we can see, we have no business making statements about loving humankind.

What is the point if we are just a vegetarians between meals, and pacifists between wars? What good is it if we just love those who love us?

So here is my little afterlife dream question. If you had to spend eternity with people like yourself, would that be heaven or hell?

Put honest, loving, generous people together and they would be well. Put dishonest, cheating, selfish people together and it would be hell.

I think it was Sartre that said “Hell is other people.” This has much to say about Sartre and little about the actual existence and character of the afterlife.

Try this idea. Live your life in such a way that you can stand yourself internally, you can live with persons like yourself externally, eternally.

And remember in Christ there is grace and forgiveness. So we are not damned to be damnable forever. But we can grow in Godly goodness.

If God is Love…

“God is Love” the Bible says.

If we go in the common absurd direction of popular thought we ask, “Does God love Adolph Hitler?” Then if we say yes, we think God is morally faulted. And if we say no, then God is not all loving.

This is similar to asking if an all powerful God can make a rock so big he can’t lift it, or can know the future without being blamed for it.

Rather than pursuing God in a direction that leads to such problems we can pursue God’s knowing, power, and love in a much more spiritually fruitful way.

God is all powerful means that no dynamic occurs in the universe without God. God is life. God is energy. God is in dynamism itself. In this way we can connect with God through the direct experience of our own movements even our own breathing. “In God we live, move, and have our being.”

God is all knowing means all consciousness is in God. No awareness is separate from God. Every movement toward truth is a movement toward God. In direct experience of our own minds, we are attending to God.We have our being in God. Everything is in God.

God is love means every act of kindness, of patience, or of compassion occurs within God. No love exists apart from God. This universe has evolved to become moral and spiritual. Love is the most important emergent quality of the universe. According to Paul, love is the greatest thing. And according to John, God is love.

When we love we are attending to another with kindness. And God attends to us with grace and peace. Ours is a beautiful world.

Contrary to the cynicism, despair, fear and hate of the world, the deepest fundamental nature of the universe is …. love.

Love. Love. Love.

Beyond Frost

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost

…Beyond Frost

If torture and war is the world on fire
And bottomless poverty the world on ice,
I boldly go with my desire,
To stop each war and quench each fire.
But if I can serve my world twice
Bottomless poverty I also hate.
Starvation is never nice.
Stopping this is also great
And will suffice.

Ed Heilman

The Church’s Best Features

Like individuals, I believe the best features of the gathered community are faith, hope, and love.

Faith is so much more than correct beliefs. Faith is righteous actions. James claims that the Devil has correct beliefs but does not get it when it comes to submission to God. Jesus says according to Matthew that many people say “Lord” but don’t do God’s will. Faith works through love, it says somewhere else. And the righteous shall live by faith, it says at different places. Righteousness then is best defined as acting justly. Faith is living justly.

What this means for a church is how we treat each other justly, and our neighbors justly, and work for justice in the world, is more important than our creed, and our words in general. And a lack of justice in the church is a break down of integrity. We need to cultivate justice and self correct our errors in this wherever we find them.

Hope is another essential feature of a church. It begins with accepting each other and ourselves just as we are. In this it is the practical application of God’s grace. In this acceptance we find hope for ourselves. Here is a place where we are accepted and belong. Here is a place where we can rest. Here is a place where we can be loved as we really are. This is a kind of peace that passes understanding that God loves us after all. And we grow in our trust of God regarding our difficulties. And we generate positive hope for others by extending our circle of moral concern. If God has the whole world in God’s hands, there is hope for everyone. And we do not just hope for the change, we become the change, which brings the world hope.

And the greatest of these is love. Love is wholesome relationship. Love is patient and kind. Love is gracious and forgiving. Love is honest and willing to confront falsehood. Love is the fundamental underlying nature of the universe because God is love, and everything is made by God. When we love we are at our best and call forth the best in others. We all need to love and be loved like fish need water to live. “The greatest of these is Love”, wrote Paul.

If our church is generating and exhibiting faith, hope, and love, it does not matter if we are big or little. It does not matter if we are old or young. It does not matter if we are rich or poor. If we have faith hope and love, we are living in the heart of God. And life is good. Faith, hope and love are very good.

“And the greatest of these is love.”