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All historical experience demonstrates the following: our earth cannot be changed unless in the not too distant future an alteration in the consciousness of the individuals is achieved.
Catholic theologian, Hans Kung
And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
Mark 13: 37
Waking up and becoming more and more conscious, aware, and alert are fundamental tasks of being a disciple and growing in faith and spiritual maturity. Some of us sleepyheads will resist such bold, open-eyed, clear seeing, tooth and nail. The call to consciousness rings throughout the scriptures and in the season of advent and Christmas the wake-up call is sounded loud and clear.
Real change and transformation is not a simple escape to a dream of a better place. Real change requires an honest appraisal and engagement with what is so. This may involve getting our noses rubbed in some realities we do not like. It may require first creating enough safety for oneself to speak aloud truths long denied, forgotten, or covered up with various kinds of painkillers and band aids. Before our external reality changes, before the people, institutions, and conditions around us change for the better, we must change internally. Our inner reality conditions and shapes how we see, experience, and respond to exterior reality.
A Box of Dread
Remember Pandora’s box? When I was a child I was fascinated and horrified by the myth of the young woman created by Zeus, who was given special gifts by each of the gods. In addition, Zeus added the gift of curiosity to her other gifts of beauty and wisdom. Then Zeus sent Pandora to earth to be Epimetheus’ wife. Zeus was still angry with Epimetheus’ brother, Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the gods. Pandora arrives on Epimetheus’ doorstep with a wedding gift from Zeus. The gift was a box or jar with a lid.
The age of spirituality lite,
and the gospel as entertainment is over.
2017 annual letter
Learn what I have been hearing over the past year, as I listened in over 300 conversations with people struggling with the challenging task of waking up and not giving up. When “things fall apart and the center cannot hold,” will the falcon hear the falconer?
This post is an adaptation of a post first published July 5, 2010.
My heart overflows with a goodly theme
as I sing my ode to the King. Psalms 45:1
The kingdom of God will come when men and women are willing to be penetrated by bliss.
-M.C. Richards – Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person
Her words stopped me in my tracks and resonated like a struck gong. Little seemed blissful in my life at the time. It was 1973. I was living alone in an apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working at a job I hated, depressed, and hurting deeply. These words of artist M.C. Richards penetrated my defenses, self pity, and sense of worthlessness like a swift shining sword. For the first time in a season of sadness I felt hope.
The notion that the rule of God, the peaceable kingdom, the promise of wholeness for all people is a function, not of ridding the earth of evil, not of righting all injustice, not in overcoming human sin and limitation, but rather our willingness to receive goodness and mercy into our being has animated my life ever sense.
“Put down your sword!” Jesus tells Peter in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter, in a desire to protect his master, had taken a sword to the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest Jesus. However, Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. It is a Reality already here, present, and accessible to all. Jesus says, it is within you and everywhere like a seed, common and transforming as leaven. The winsome, disarming Jesus manifested that kingdom wherever he went and invited his followers to do the same.
Two disarming black labs, my Elijah and Jean Luc Picard, who arrived with some house guests, have been teaching me about bliss. The dogs met for the first time a week ago with the hearty delight of Adam, when God introduced to him the woman he had made of Adam’s rib.
“Ah, at last a fit companion! Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh,” Adam exults. Though not recorded in the scripture, I figure Adam then wiggled all over just like my dog, Elijah.
The best-friends-forever have been inseparable – wrestling, play fighting, swimming, fetching, and sprawling, here and there, exhausted and snoring. Holding back nothing, these fellows have allowed bliss to penetrate and animate every cell of their bodies. Bliss surrounds, follows them, spills out of their eyes, and rolls off their shoulders. Even the cat has a spring in her step and an amused quality to her feline reserve.
I believe the great challenge of our time and all mortal time is holding our hearts open to the rain of grace – the glorious reign of delight that ceaselessly offers itself to the whole creation.
“But hold on!” you say. What about climate change eating away our coasts and killing off species? What about health care crisis? What about the lives and shores devastated by oil spills? What about your own personal crisis and impasse, your unemployment, your grief, your illness? What about the suffering ones everywhere we turn?
Could you, will you, permit the tiny possibility of joy to penetrate your darkness, to kiss you on the face, to pounce upon you from behind? Maybe, before you know it, it will jump up into your lap and go to sleep in your arms.
To notice, delight in, and allow ourselves to be penetrated by the goodness of God does not mean we ignore the places where that goodness is obscured or sorrow and pain exist.
The amazing opportunity to be a member of the homo sapiens species alive on this earth at this time is an incredible gift. Our willingness to receive, to lay down and roll on our backs in, the sheer bliss of being alive is what allows God to transform that vortex of darkness, greed, and hate through us. What evil and sin target and destroy is joy, because joy is a unfallable sign of the presence and power of God.
The world does not need our disgust, outrage, anger, and rage. It needs the Reign of Christ’s joy with its unfailing hope, faith, and love. The world – sucked into the whirlpool of greed, violence, and suffering – will not enter the Kingdom of God through our anger, retaliation, and swords, but through our bliss, the utter delight and lab-lucious joy of being children of the Father of Goodness and the Mother of Mercy.
Let no one and no circumstance rob you of such a splendid birthright.
Download and read latest issue of Holy Ground – A Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life, “Try a Little Tenderness”
I lived with two poets all summer. They accompanied me to both coasts, places in between, and came along on a silent retreat. Amy Fleury and Brian Doyle are both accomplished and acclaimed writers. I met them first through Fleury’s Sympathetic Magic and Doyle’s How the Light Gets In and Other Headlong Epiphanies.
Fleury and Doyle’s poems sound truth in me like a struck gong. They take me into still places, new insights, and sheer delight at their artistry.
Eventually the books will find a home on my bedroom shelf of books-to-be-buried-with. These are the sort of books I want to take with me to the grave, in case I wake up in the shadowy corridors of the Bardos, a dank, musty Sheol, or at Purgatory’s laundramat, waiting for a load of my dirty laundry. The poets carry me out of this world like a sturdy rope hanging over a wide river. If you get a good running start and grab hold tightly, you just might swing yourself right over into the generous faith of their imaginations.
I do not know if these two poets know each other. If they do not, I hope they meet sometime for coffee. And invite me.
There is a gladness in the green-gold tides
of wheat, in the openhandedness of oaks,
and in the river’s verdegris creep over
moss-sueded stones, and fishes beneath.
– Amy Fleury, Green Temple
Amy, a consummate artist, dazzles me with images and words strung on a page like bright jewels. Brian ambles into the room, leans amiably against the door jamb and begins to tell me a story of what happened on his way home, or when he was teaching a class of high school kids, or talking to his father. Then turning, tosses over his shoulder the punch line with such effortless grace and spot on truth, I grin for the rest of the day.
. . . Why do
We ever bother to argue about religion? All religions are the same glorious
Wine, susceptible to going bad but capable of quiet joyous gentle elevation.
. . . Yet here I am, on Sunday morning, in the wedding reception tent, agog;
Not so much at the earnest idiot of a minister, but at everyone, sweetly, else.
– Brian Doyle, Poem After Sunday Morning Church Service in a Tent
PAUSE FOR PEACE
Are you looking for a group to practice and learn more about contemplation?
I am offering a four week class on contemplation and mindfulness practices here in Topeka, Ks on each of the Friday mornings in October from 7:30-8:30 am. Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28. Space is limited. We only have room for two more people. Please register at the link below or contact me by commenting here, or through my website, www.fromholyground.org
What is called for is a paradigm shift, a new wineskin, a new mental construct to hold one’s life, and relationships with God, self, and neighbor. A shift in a way of understanding or a world view occurs when the current world view has reached too many anomalies or inconsistences. I can no longer cram myself, my understanding of God and others into a belief system that cannot accommodate some previously unnoticed or known, but now undeniable, realities in my own experience.
The Summer issue of Holy Ground takes a look at how we get stuck in a mental construct or paradigm which we may have outgrown. God is always calling us beyond ourselves and our current conceptions and attitudes.
Is your God too small? Mine was.