Not knowing the answers is a wonderful experience leading to asking more questions, continuing the search for wisdom and knowledge. We often look to the ancients who also walked the paths we are on. They were often labeled heretics and blasphemers for proposing thoughts and ideas contrary to established traditions. They were the holy men, the mystics who searched the truth which lies within each of us. Not claiming to have unraveled the mysteries of the soul, they lived lives awed and amazed by that which was not meant to be understood, but merely accepted and practiced. That is who we are – when we believe we have arrived, we have only begun the journey.
“Why ask about behavior when you are soul-essence,
and a way of seeing into presence!
…Forget the nonsense categories of there and here,
race, nation, religion,
starting point and destination.
…No more questions now
as to what it is we’re doing here.”
(underlining is my emphasis)
RUMI, THE BOOK OF LOVE by Coleman Barks
This short passage from Rumi, a Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, Sufi mystic, emphatically tells that instead of being concerned with the ego and its demands, the journey in this life is all about the inner essence, the divine spark. Call it Spirit, call it energy, call it God or whatever our faith traditions name this essence, this is the ultimate reality. Rumi, in naming “there and here, race, nation, religion, starting point and destination as nonsense categories”, challenges the mind to ask, “If not that, what then is important in this world experience?” Not names, not locations on this planet, not vocations, not family status, not physical appearance, not past successes nor personalities define who or what we are as members of this human experience. If we believe otherwise, we are deluding ourselves.
Of course I have difficulty with this thought process. Being reared and having lived my life in Western culture with its insatiable drive to promote the needs of self (a.k.a ego) over all other concerns, the welfare of fellow mankind and the stewardship of our Mother Earth easily become lost in the hubbub of me, me, me.
Perhaps if reared in Eastern philosophy or having embraced the ways of mystics as a young man, viewing the inner self as reality and all else as secondary baggage would not be as daunting. But, I am a typical Westerner and therefore, I struggle. I try not to compare myself with others on their spiritual trek, I only compare to whom I have been and where I have walked. My goal is progress, not perfection.
“I said to the apple tree: ‘sister, speak to me of God,’ and the apple tree blossomed.” Nikos Kazantzakis ( attributed to St. Francis)
photo by DIDS
Don’t you think ours would be a much better, more peaceful world if those who profess a god could keep it this simple? It’s as if my God is saying to me, “Just look around at the Creation which you attribute to me; it is there you will know me.”
Followers of the mystical path believe God is immanent, meaning inherent and indwelling. From the moss under the trees to the king of the jungle to the man known as Einstein, the essence defined as God exists and propels the God image through all that was, that is, and that ever will be. All that is necessary to know God is to look out the window and observe the butterfly fluttering, the bird winging across the sky, and the flower blooming. Look at the bees pollinating, the farmer planting, and the mother giving birth. Everything on earth contains the essence which some call God, others Yahweh, still others Allah, while many do not name it at all. This earth is a continuum of birth, death and rebirth. It tells us everything we need to know about life. So why look to the heavens, or why dread hell, why sit in judgement of others, why condemn ourselves in attempts to earn God’s approval? If that power which we label God did not approve and indwell, we would not be here. No theology, no doctrine, no “ism” could save us.
In the Xhoso culture of Africa, UBUNTU means, “I am because We are.” Dr. Horty @ IT IS WHAT IT IS blog shared this with her readers. I found it absolutely profound in the troubled times of our world and especially American society today.
The boy replied, “How can any one of us be happy if the others are sad?”
An anthropologist visiting and studying the Xhoso tribe placed a basket of fruit and presented a game to a group of young boys. Run to the fruit and claim it. If the strongest and fastest of those boys had raced to the basket of fruit placed at a short distance from them, that one boy could have claimed all the fruits. Instead, they joined hands, ran together as a group, and claimed the fruits as one, thereby insuring all would partake of the prize. When the anthropologist questioned their action, the reply was, “Ubuntu – I am because We are.”
And we think we are more civilized? There is much we can learn from those peoples in “uncivilized” back regions of the world who have learned a lesson most of us have failed to grasp – our humanity will have a much greater chance of survival if we learn we are all connected and we are one.
The ancient mystics understood this concept. They, when contemplating the creative source, declared that all of creation is one with the Creator. Every member of every species on Earth has a unifying spark of DNA derived from that Creator at the beginning of time. It is a connection that is infinite and eternal. WE ARE ONE, because we were designed as one.
“I AM BECAUSE WE ARE”
Perhaps it would behoove us to take this wisdom into our collective heart and soul, celebrate our Oneness, and live life accordingly. Possibly it is the only way our species will survive.
Often I wonder if the characters who are portrayed as spiritual stalwarts centuries ago could survive in the madness of today. Would they be as courageous in the face of modern-day persecution? Would they be as capable of finding the quietness of contemplation and meditation of which we are so desirous in today’s culture? My answer is always a resounding “yes”. Although the connections of social media and news media were not as immediate as that which we have today, I believe the issues were the same and I know from historical accounts that the persecution was extremely horrendous. The coverage that rolls across our viewing screens continues to depict the unfathomable inhumanity of man against man. It is historical and it continues to be the ungodly force which defines mankind.
But, I don’t have to live that way or be deterred by hatred and violence in my life’s journey. You don’t either. Realizing that the hope for our world lies not in the might of peace enforced by military power or governmental control, but in each individual member of mankind who is determined to live according to the message of ancient and modern mystics by recognizing an indwelling God, some call it Spirit, and God’s directive to love one another as we have been loved. We are called to replace devotion to self with service to neighbor. It’s an attainable solution to a worldwide problem which is leading our species to annihilation.
The message of God’s messengers from Buddha to Jesus to St. Francis to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. has always been social revolution by peaceful resistance to violence. And that revolution begins with you and with me. It’s a readily available inside solution to an earth-threatening plague.
And it’s not that difficult. Many of us in recovery know the power bestowed upon us when we “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” and then, “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” steps 2 &3, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
We were lost in the insanity of addiction much as the world today is lost in the insanity of hatred and violence. Addiction and hatred are both soul-killers and the cure for both will be found when we turn to the indwelling divinity which does not need to be sought or discovered from outside sources. It is innate and readily available. Just “be still and know.” Psalm 46:10
This journey of discovery is a life-time process which I will never do perfectly. But, I can travel through this experience as a fearless sojourner who relies upon a Higher Power which wants nothing but goodness and mercy for me and for the world in which I live.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6
“To repeat, if God operates as me, God operates as thee too, and the playing field is utterly leveled forever. Like Jesus, Francis, Clare, and many other humble mystics, we then rush down instead of up. In the act of letting go and choosing to become servants, community can at last be possible. The illusory state of privilege just gets in the way of neighboring and basic human friendship.” CAC.ORG
Father Richard, in this daily meditation, begins by discussing his upbringing within the community of white privilege, the favoritism shown to whites, the status of higher education, numerous challenges which whites do not endure and which non-whites face on a daily basis. It is truly a different world for those of us who walk the earth in this life as Caucasian.
When I realized and accepted within my heart the truth of “Namaste, I bow to the divine in you,” the Spirit within would no longer cover my inbred white privilege. It refused to entertain all the excuses I held for my bias and prejudices. It forced me to look upon my brothers and sisters whom God created in various shades and hues as beings loved just as much by the Creator as me. I no longer had an excuse to trivialize the plight of people of color. Our “white” world via politics and extremist religions has demeaned, ostracized, brutalized, and oppressed those children of God and it is my challenge as a white man to make restitution.
In order to do so, Father Richard exhorts me to take the route of ancient mystics who, rather than aspiring to rise toward a perceived heavenly God, focused downward and joined the suffering and oppressed masses living on the edge of survival in an ungodly world. That is where true obedience will be found, where salvation shall be experienced, and ultimately where the living Jesus dwells.
Most of my life has been spent anticipating the great white mansions in the far reaches of the Universe where God and Jesus sit side by side on their thrones waiting for me to arrive for my final judgement. (Incidentally, both of them in my past have been “white boys”.) I no longer wait for that occurrence because the truth as revealed to me, the GOD OF MY UNDERSTANDING, is right here, right now living in the hearts of all humanity regardless of race, religion, nationality or creed. I must now choose on a daily basis whether to commune with God and his indwelling truth or return to a denial of that truth. It’s very simple theology; it is awe-inspiring and breath-taking.
The path which I walk has been tortuous and twisted. I have endured the full spectrum of faith experiences from belief in a God who was vindictive and vengeful, to a God who was aloof and unapproachable, to an errant acceptance of atheism, to the revealing grace experienced in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Even during my period of strident atheism, I came to realize that my denial of God’s existence only fortified that his existence was real; otherwise, why would I expend so much energy denying him. If God is dead, then I should probably take up knitting or crocheting doilies instead of rallying with the oppressed masses or with a suffering alcoholic in forging a better world. If God is dead, then I would need to depend on the “goodness” of mankind to save us from physical and spiritual destruction. I can’t do that because goodness is not inherent, it is derived from a Source.
Matthew West in a very powerful song questioned a God who would allow all the suffering endured by mankind, “God, why don’t you do something?” The reply from his Lord was, “I did, I created you.” I was created to do something, but it all happens through and by the grace and direction of a Higher Power.
“When you can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then you will ironically find that you are more than enough. At this place of poverty and freedom, you have nothing to prove and nothing to protect. Here you can connect with everything and everyone.” RICHARD ROHR @ CAC.ORG
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” ― Dave Ramsey,
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Janis Joplin ME AND BOBBY MCGEE
Same message, different messengers. Fr. Richard is speaking to our sense of spirituality, Dave Ramsey is addressing rampant consumerism, and Janis….well, we’re not quite sure which drummer Janis was following but all three of them speak of freedom from ourselves, from that inherent, squeaky, little voice which tells us that who and what we are is just not good enough. It’s the voice that enslaves us to religious doctrine, to consumerism and to self-doubt.
Fr. Richard is of the Franciscan order and a proponent of the ancient mystics including Jesus of Nazareth. He teaches that rather than climbing the ladder to heightened spiritual awareness, we need to descend, to strip ourselves of ourselves, and recognize our Oneness with all of humanity. When we lower and join into the world of poverty and oppression with the masses we then become One. When we earnestly harbor compassion and good will for all of God’s creatures, when we strip of worldly desires, we have nothing more to lose and thereby become free.
Like most of you, for me to grasp this concept of our reality is difficult. It requires a revolutionary definition of self which is totally alien to modern Christian orthodoxy and absolutely anathema to today’s popular “prosperity Gospel”. Mother Teresa, of course, would be an excellent role model. But, we cannot all give up jobs, families, commitments to go work in the slums of a 3rd world country. However, we can make a conscious effort to eschew the trappings and trap of wealth and consumerism by recognizing the wisdom and truth of the ancients and by living lives which uphold and honor the rights of all of God’s creation.
“…..nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too…” John Lennon IMAGINE”
Fear has sometimes been defined as the opposite of love. I like that. It is very succinct and helps us understand better what love is not. Our culture uses the word love entirely too indiscriminately. When we label our warm, fuzzy feelings for another being, another creature, or a favorite food as love, the word has lost its intrinsic meaning which Ethan Walker, 3rd in “The Mystic Christ” describes as the feeling of knowing we are all one.
“And what is wisdom? Wisdom is knowing we are all one. Love is what it feels like, and compassion is what it acts like.”
Perhaps fear can be also understood as the manifestation of ignorance. We don’t, in this usage, mean ignorance as a crass, rude, impolite form of behavior but rather, ignorance as an “unawareness”. The unknown beliefs of a religion foreign to us, the curious customs of a culture half way around the world, the misinformation of a lifestyle not familiar to us are all forms of unawareness. Often, rather than gaining insight, and credible information, and then applying wisdom (knowing we are all one), it is easier to build a personal defense system based on fear.
Individually, this type of personal armament leads to racism, hatred, and intolerance. When a theology or a government tries to protect and enhance its control by means of fear-peddling and hate-mongering the world becomes witness to oppression, deprivation and genocide.
Yes, it is challenging to us. We in America are born into a culture of self-serving egocentrism where gaining the upper hand, winning at all costs, and coming out on top with the most toys is the mantra of those who are deemed successful. Even some of our mainstream religions have replaced the Gospel of sacrifice and compassion with the gospel of affluence which questions one’s faith if one has not attained the dream of materialism.
We must bring this tendency to fear to our inner place of meditation and reflection. We are one in solidarity with the entire universe, all it’s humanity, all its creatures, all its beauty, all its ugliness, all its promises and all its disappointments. In totality we are one complete organism. We are dependent on each person and every feature of our universe for our survival.
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
John Donne (1572-1631) Meditation XVII, 1624
Peggy Lee, a popular contemporary vocalist of the 1950s and 60s, recorded a song which reached into the top of the charts in 1969. “IS THAT ALL THERE IS” expresses disillusionment and disappointment with a life which should be filled with unique experiences. She suggests that we “break out the booze and have a ball—if that’s all there is”. Peggy Lee died in 2002.
Sometimes our life’s experiences parallel the lyrics of this song of hopelessness and melancholy. We strive to achieve, to find acceptance within our communities, to perform according to the edicts of our traditional religion. We fear the god of vengeance and punishment portrayed by exhortations from the pulpits of our churches while we fervently pray to that same god for forgiveness and redemption. Yet in the secret recesses of our inner selves we intuitively know that the god of our religions and churches somehow misses the mark of truth, compassion, and relevance which we earnestly desire in our lives. This inner search drives us to search for another day when we can sincerely say “yes, Lord, I will follow”, when we can finally change the word god to a capitalized God.
“9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Luke 11:9 KJV
That day of transformation from god to God reveals to us an inner trek which fills our lives with the beauty, mystery, awe, and inspiration which God intended for us. It is not a new realization; rather, it has been practiced for thousands of years by Teachers sometimes called “mystics”. They and their followers shared the wonderment of God residing within and without, present in all beings and all creation, available to any who would seek. The Kingdom of God is not reserved for the righteous; it is not a distant, heavenly sphere of religious correctness; it is not the eminent domain of any of the world’s religions.
“21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21` KJV
The writings of the New Testament attribute the above verse to Jesus, one of the Teachers who understood the mysteries of the inner search for truth. When his sayings, as recorded in the Bible, are processed in the realm of spiritual rather than worldly understanding we become keenly aware of the depth of inner communion with a God who becomes intensely real and personal.
Luke 17:21 is the essence of “TREKKING WITH THE MYSTICS” and the basis for a necessary life-changing redirect. If our “rock and fortress” dwells within then surely hatred, bigotry, intolerance, government agents, worldly oppression shall be powerless in the presence of the great “I AM”. We are proclaimed to be instruments of and witnesses to that which is Truth and Light. We are destined to walk the earth fearlessly pursuing for all people equality, social justice, and personal liberty. Doing so is our birthright and our Supreme duty.
Have you ever momentarily experienced in your meditation a time of absolute serenity and peace? All trains of thought have stopped. The world around you is non-existent. It is tranquil and quiet within. All is well with your soul.
You try to hang on to it as long as possible but, the phone rings, the kids scream, and the dog barks. Poof! It’s gone. That brief, unearthly respite was a God moment. For a mere second you and the God within were in communion. This mysterious indwelling essence became the Lord of your life on the day you made sobriety the top priority of your life.
We alcoholics are not unique in this discovery. Many before us, many who are not addicted to any behavior or substance have also known the God within and have fully experienced the pure joy and peace of inner communion. Buddha and his followers, Jesus and his followers, Muhammad and his followers all exercised the mysticism of an inner experience of meditation and contemplation. The Kabbalist Jew in his esoteric practice also embraces mysticism.
This has nothing to do with his God, her God, the church’s God. This is your very own, very personal Higher Power which has no need to be translated by religionists or theologians. You don’t need dogma or faith creeds or a list of “thou shalt and thou shalt not” because it is within the deepest recesses of your soul’s being that the God of your understanding can be found.
Faith in this inner God experience of the mystics does not negate or diminish the presence of spirituality that is enjoyed by worshipping with others corporately in the church, the mosque or the synagogue. This time of singing, prayer, and teaching only enhances that which we know within. However, we can experience an exhilarating freedom when we understand how and where to find a personal God of our understanding. Scriptures which we have learned and known for a lifetime come alive with new and deeper meaning. Our journey is no longer hindered by questions concerning the right pew in the right church with the right congregation worshipping on the right day of the week preaching the right gospel with the right Bible, Torah or Koran in hand. That spiritual experience which is deep within is always right.
“To thine own self be true.”