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Posts Tagged ‘mysticism’

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Will I make it into heaven? Will St. Peter smile on my admission to paradise? Is there a heaven?

This is all history wrapped in metaphor and has a certain poetic aesthetic. Problem is that for many it is the stuff of immutable belief.

It also is thinking that views human life as operating in an enormous “Skinner Box” with God playing the role of dispenser of the reinforcers ( akin to yummy Purina pellets for hungry souls, administered so long as we behave). Quaint but very much built around an adult – child model of our relationship with the Sacred.

Authentic spiritual practice, on the other hand, expects nothing. We show compassion because we are not separate. We need each other. We worship because we sense the Presence all around us. We invest in spiritual disciplines so as to be more truly who we are beyond illusions, delusions and allusions.

To expect nothing is to simply be children of the Loving-Living God seeking intimacy with the Heart of the Universe: to act in the moment without agenda.

The simple practice before and after action: check in with driving motives. Ask: What am I expecting? As the story of the Dalai Lama goes, on receiving a gift-wrapped box containing nothing: ” Thank you. It’s what I always wanted! ”

Luke 6: 32-36

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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10_4_Francis +animals

So said St. Francis: a  koan of christendom that invites meditation.

Francis saw fraternity and sorority everywhere.

Creatures ( living and nonliving) are brothers and sisters in the Order of Creation. Adjusting the statement slightly we may pose the challenge this way: ‘Who we are looking for is who is looking.’  Yet, our ordinary conscious experience is of separation, difference and individual expression.

What experience inspires this insight on the part of Francis?

His vision was penetrating and went beneath the surface of form and function, speciation and diversity. The entire Cosmos was personal. In the eyes of wolves, he caught a glimpse of ein sof, the unknowable One. In Sun and Moon, he saw the illumined face of love.

All the exquisite forms and variety formed a choir chanting in unison of the passionate Heart tuning the music of the spheres. Going well beyond expectation and learning, labeling and categorizing, Francis discerned essences.

Doing so requires letting go of  our clinging to unique and divided identity.

It means examining oneself and seeing the degree to which we imprison the mind and soul in ideas about self and other.

We each weave clever and elaborate fictions designed around a history of experiences and language, strokes and slaps delivered by the environment through which we travel. We embody the mandate to separate and judge and build a system of dichotomies – good & bad, beautiful and not, right and left, right and wrong, valuable and not, worthy and unworthy, intelligent and not, ad infinitum.

As Francis knew intuitively, contemporary research is likewise showing how wrong we have been about assumptions of the comparative  intelligence of nonhuman beings.

One case in point is the wisdom of crows: their capacity to use tools and problem solve equal to the capacity of young children. Elsewhere, there was a recent study of the dance of bees and how they compete in their dancing to democratically choose the best next site at which to build a hive. Once decided, after feverish “debate through dance,” they all lift as one body and move together to the new site. All of this is further impetus for our grappling with what Francis saw empirically without the lenses of science as support.

How, then, do we cultivate the sense of the grander truth that lies within appearances and divergences?

It begins by practicing the “via negativa”, systematically dwelling in the tensions forged by our false dichotomies and dissolving them.

The challenge is to annihilate  limiting paradigms by rising up to a third position neutrally suspended above them. Each time we do so, we open our aperture wider and see a bit more clearly what is really there. We lift the veil that our thinking manufactures and throws over the real like a heavy cloak that obscures it.

This is a Western expression of jñāna yoga or “knowledge of the absolute”: discerning the difference between the real and the unreal.

One example: we pose the dichotomy of sentient – non-sentient. We see rocks as non-sentient, trees as sentient yet less so than birds and mammals. We create taxonomies of like and unlike that, while convenient for study, fuel our perception of difference as primary.

Using thought differently, we can confront our convenient divisions and resolve them in a higher sense of unity.

How?

One meditative stream of thought: Dispensing with sentience as the frame altogether, rocks and trees, insects, birds, mammals and human beings are Presence, amalgams of earth, air, fire and water. All were hewn from the same stuff.

I celebrate the variety and I see their unity. We are all sons and daughters of the Sun/Son. We are energy enlivened with purpose, ordained by first cause and evolving along lines laid down before the first micro-second of the universe. We are Light, mineral, Mind, Heart, and a vastness emerges among us.

We can learn much by incorporating this Christic jñāna yoga into our contemplative round.

What/ who we are looking for is already and always is with us.

interior intimo meo et superior summo meo” (“higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self”) (St. Augustine, Confessions III, 6, 11)

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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life’s breath, the wind of heaven, cleanses the dusty surface of my soul,

timeless Presence making everything new.

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my loving tether to now and then, to here and infinite,

I reach so wide that time and distance have no measure.

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I hear the pulse of the longing Heart of space,

and tune to the beat that fills my lungs with silence.

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no fear, no self, no desperate need to prove or get,

all is well in the deep, and music to my joyful ears.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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In my recent post, I focused on the myth of the “one” true and destined love and the importance instead of choice and commitment.

Further reflection at the opening of Advent 2012 leads me to consider the Christian dogma of the “one” and “only begotten Son”. It is a matter of orthodox theology that Christ stands apart from all others as the true Soter or savior of the World: an exclusivity, the embodiment on Earth of the Father whose Presence is mediated by the Holy Spirit.

How do we make sense of this within the context of Faith with reason? Is the notion of the “One” equally mythic with that of the single destined lover for whom we are meant to be joined: the one who completes us? Is there an alternative way of thinking that protects the deep sense of mystery and special character of the One who Luke makes reference in ascribing to the Father the words: ” You are my Beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.”

In reply to the question, my meditation stumbles on a framing error implicit in the questions themselves. In their construction, they are dualistic, (i.e., either/or).

A better question is:

In what way is the “Son of God” both inimical and yet non-exclusive?

After all, Jesus says elsewhere:

“Timeless truth, I tell you: ‘whoever believes in me, those works which I have done he will also do, and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to the presence of my Father.’ ” Aramaic Bible in Plain English

or ” Otherwise believe for the very works’ sake. Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do.” Douay-Rheims Bible

Jesus was fulfillment of prophecy. As it came to pass in the unfolding of time and history, the Christ nature was a charism bestowed to a babe in Galilee & it was once and for all. And – beyond space and time, in the timeless space of the Sacred, this emblematic and iconic moment was a call to all: an invitation to the next significant advance in human consciousness.

As so beautifully stated in the Gregorian chant, Ubi Caritas: ” Where Beauty and Love are there also is God.”

Spiritual transformation is the yearning of the Divine Heart for Humanity to emerge into full “Sonship” wherein love defines us and we integrate in ourselves the Shadow and the Light and act with authentic compassion. In this sense, living sacramentally involves  learning to be able and willing reflectors of the Divine Light and  to help restore the State of Eden: to be “christ” for one another.

© The Harried Mystic, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The Sun was in full expression for most of Easter Sunday here in the Northeast U.S.: a special treat after so many days of heavy fog and rain. The weather on Holy Saturday was bleak, a day full of shadows. The Sun was out one moment and gone the next, rain came and then lifted and then very dense fog rolled in toward evening. The cadence, the rhythm of all this was so synchronistically well-calibrated to the spiritual import of the transformations of which the Trideum is emblematic. Holy Saturday is a time of expectant waiting and still one of regrets and dark moods.

Sunday was a day of tiny miracles as the Sun shone down and our bed of day lilies and tulips opened up, as if on cue, for the first time this season: a grand opening that moved me to snap a few quick photographs to mark the moment.

At one point in the afternoon, it was downright hot. I opened my front door and just left it open, and sat facing out for just moments of quiet contemplation on the bright Light, emerging colors, fragrances and the promises of long ago planted bulbs fulfilled. The birds were out in force and their choir seemed especially sonorous and full. It was a perfect, if fleeting and fragile moment of synchronized living, and then the need to travel intruded, with all the necessary flurry of things to take along on the journey to make the obligatory visits for the holiday.

Now, at the end of Easter Monday I reflect back on yesterday and find myself drawn to the memory of those precious few moments at the doorway blessed with an ever so brief taste of heaven presented for any and all who took but a moment to put aside all other agenda to bathe in it.

It’s the littlest things that contain so very often the true “magic” and sacrament, the real Presence of the Spirit, embodying the most authentic Call to Discipleship.

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It’s been about two months since I last posted. The time has been one of frequent travel, fashioning new material to spark fresh dialogues among clients, and a time, otherwise, for  fewer words.

Authentic writing needs fresh perspectives. It  is good for the soul to invite incubation. So, my last 60 days have been about emptying.

It’s been said that nature abhors a vacuum and moves quickly to fill it. Yet, there’s a lot of vacuum in the Cosmos. Maybe this simply isn’t so.

Nature does not abhor a vacuum so much as it finds its shape according to unseen patterns that make it up. Vacuum conjures up  a great and infinite emptiness. On the contrary, the Cosmic vacuum is a plenitude.

Overwhelmed by unimaginable distances, could it be that we mistake the vastness of the seemingly empty expanse of space for the fearsome darkness of “non-being”?

Space-time is an n-dimensional funky quilt that we can only marvel at as we gaze on it abstractly through the lens of mathematics. Nonetheless, the very fact that we imagine it  suggests our intuitive and playful sense of its underlying fullness.

When we silence the mind’s manufacture of crafted sentences and paragraphs, and even briefly hit the pause button, it may just be that we then unleash the deeper depths, wider views, richer hues, and that fertile vastness that buoys all our hopeful imaginings and heartfelt expressions.

I sing a song in praise of true away time, a brief silencing of  our own voice so the poet inside the silence is the voice more clearly heard.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Easter Sunday Vigil & First Eucharist, April 3/4, 2010

This is the central feast of the Church, the day commemorating the Resurrection, the rebirth of the Light of the World. It is the conclusion of the 40 days of Lent. At the Vigil, the celebration begins with the lighting of a fire in a small urn outside the church after sundown. From that fire, the Paschal candle is lit, and then all individual candles held by congregants are ignited from that central one. All walk into a darkened church holding their candles, and it creates a marvelously otherworldly feeling. It is beautiful and one of my favorite liturgical celebrations.

What follows are readings that make clear the promises of G-d to Man and retell the stories of His mythic interventions in Human affairs beginning with the creation itself. The readings draw our attention to the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. We re-read the story of the seven days of creation and the formation of diversity out of an undifferentiated fabric. We revisit the legendary flood, Noah, and his rescue of all species on the Ark. We reconsider the Exodus of the Jews and their deliverance from Egypt, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the chosen people to pass, and how the water’s divided then collapse in upon the Egyptians as they attempt the crossing. We read, once again, the harrowing and deeply disturbing tale of Isaac and his son Jacob, whom Isaac was first asked to sacrifice at knife-point by G-d, but was then turned away from doing so by the Spirit of the Lord at the very last moment.

All of this context setting and pre-figurement exists as stage-setting for the telling of the central mystery of Christendom: G-d’s sacrifice of His “Only Begotten Son” ( doing, in effect, what he would not have Isaac do) in an act of incomprehensible Divine vulnerability that reveals the marriage of divine and creaturely aspects within humanity. As I wrote in my last post for Holy Saturday, the celebration revolves entirely around the return of the light that pierces all darkness, once and for all.

Tonight, I chose a local church to visit that I’ve never attended before. Consequently, I knew no one there. My intent was to have the experience of Easter Vigil not as a Priest but as a stranger to a congregation on the central night of the liturgical calendar. The good news is I arrived successfully. The bad news (maybe) is that I arrived about 10 minutes late. As I parked down the road, the congregation was gathered outside the church for the lighting of the first fire. As I approached ( as covertly and unobtrusively as I could), a gentleman reached out to me with a candle so that I could immediately join in the process. The prayers outside were just finishing up and then we began the precessional.

Once inside, while just a little sheepish and a bit distracted from the rushing to get to the church, I soon relaxed and entered into the rhythm of the proceedings. It was delightful, and people reacted as if I had attended for years. I spent time pondering each of the readings and then the Gospel, and listened attentively to the homily, simple and to the point: Live in the Light!

It was all a palpable demonstration of the need for the “sangha,” the community. Collective worship reconnects everyone together in a mystical union that cannot otherwise be duplicated. It is a necessary part of the journey (balanced, of course, with ample contemplative time in solitude). The Vigil itself clinched my meditations this week (as I’ve shared them in my earlier posts). One question kept going through my mind, though, as I followed along and joined in the singing of the hymns (a few of which I frankly didn’t much care for as they seemed less than pleasantly melodious).

What are they each experiencing? How will this experience shape them, affect them, and trigger the next steps in their own spiritual odyssey? What mystery is unfolding underneath our moments together?

It is these things that are so much more important than what anyone believes intellectually. All that imagery and “mind-stuff” is interesting, but it doesn’t usually rise to the level of existential drama when things get very real. In the church at such times, one sees G-d in the smiling faces and in the greetings of recognition. There is a warmth (almost familial) and a yearning to get above the personal troubles of the days and weeks before and after the event.

There is a need to be noticed and acknowledged. It is a time to be received, accepted unconditionally, without judgment, and with open arms. [At least, that is the aspiration, the fervent hope. Certainly, there is no lack of politics and game-playing in parishes. In fact, parish life and conflicts can get quite ugly, pedestrian, and trivial]. While that is part of the human experience in all communities, on this special night, the celebration turns to matters of deepest urgency: our identity beyond space and time, an identity that transcends issues and personalities.

One case in point was in the singing. The cantor, up above and behind me in the  balcony, had a sweet coloratura, yet faint, almost hesitant. I could not see her, but the voice communicated advanced age and a reserved manner. It was pleasant enough, though some of the notes were well off, but none of that really mattered. After a while, her antiphons and timbre became a part of the complex texture of the overall experience. There was an innocence to it. Altar servers, male and female, were attentive, especially when one of the deacons set the forsythia branches on fire in a moment of careless positioning of the candle he was holding. He dealt with it and seemed furious with himself and embarrassed. I could relate to how he must have felt having had many mishaps of one kind or another of my own at the altar over the years. But this too was only a minor blip (fortunately) in the proceedings, and not the main event that was bubbling up from beneath.

The service was long and I caught myself drifting. I gently brought myself back to the process. About mid-way through the readings, the content began to stir  memory and imagination. Everything up to that point was a preparation, a getting settled in, a tuning of the instrument as it were. I started to remember key events in my younger life:

  • my first communion ( and choking on the host & feeling as if I’d be consigned to hell for that),
  • the Confirmation slap ( which hurt, seeming a bit angry, I recall, from a Bishop who I thought was a bit peeved),
  • my wedding service ( and the Priest’s comment that statistics on marriage success were appalling),
  • my early endeavors toward Priesthood in the Episcopal Church ( dashed by conflicts with an autocratic and narcissistic pastor),
  • my discovery much later of an Independent Rite and ordination, after Seminary, to the diaconate and priesthood ( whereupon that community fell apart owing to conflicts among the bishops),
  • my invitation by a Bishop in a separate Rite in the northeast to serve once again, elevation to the Episcopacy and election as Coadjutor ( then followed within a year by my disillusionment with actions on the part of the archbishop that were politically motivated, irregular, and non-canonical.

What an interesting series of contrasts, adventures, and misadventures: openings and closings, great promises, and deep disappointments. I then thought about the far more important moments:

  • praying with my mother when she laid dying,
  • doing the same with my father,
  • being present to bless a cousin suffering after major surgery and bolstering his confidence and faith in the outcome,
  • visiting other sick and despondent people,
  • working with young people and adults in the context of pastoral counseling, and
  • offering my listening to the always fascinating stories of good people trying to wade through the drama and mysteries of their lives.

What a privilege!

Adding all these fleeting memories together, one golden thread ran through them: a call to shine light into places that needed it, sometimes entailing disappointment and distress for me, but nonetheless a mandate to be authentic and true to principle. It was about shining light first on my story, without dodging the difficult moments, the foolishness, the times of ego and ambition, and allowing the fabric of time to draw a picture of what it really means to live in good faith. Only then could I be of any real service to others. The Vigil tonight was, at least for me, a confirmation of a path and a renewed call to serve based on whatever emerges; a peripatetic ministry.

The alchemical task and the meaning of Easter is to be the Christ for others; to be a catalyst for their discovery of their own path, their own meaning, helping them to uncover their own genius so that they can be a brighter beacon in the firmament of time.

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are continuous, conjoined, unfolding sacred happenings in our lives. The dance of night and day, darkness devoid of light and Light devoid of darkness, is perpetual. In the readings of the Vigil Liturgy, the compilers of Biblical lore told of many promises made to the chosen people. These were promises that meant the foretold the end of suffering and, in being among the elect, to experience a virtually charmed and divinely favored life. Never again, G-d is said too  have promised Noah, will Humanity suffer the likes of the Great Deluge.

But history instead is a story of one after another broken promise: the oceans are rising, the hurricanes more ferocious, the coastlines are dramatically eroding, earthquake generated tsunamis are much in the news, the ice caps are melting and many rivers have crested and we read of extensive flooding, damage and loss of life. We focus on the revelation and the fulfillment of the scriptures, but the “promises” attributed to    G-d represent humanity’s deepest hope. In reality, the objects of that hope are hard won and elusive.

Our task is to see a deeper truth in scripture; that the end of suffering is our’s to achieve. We were fashioned in His image ( the “Imago Dei”). We are accountable to be the solution, not to wait around for supernatural agency to do it for us. Frankly, He isn’t coming. That’s the key. He gave us everything we need to find the answers. His blessing is on us. The Light is eternal. It is real and it burns brightly within us. It is ours to shine or to extinguish.

This is the hard but true lesson of the Easter season, of the tension between Crucifixion and Resurrection. As consciousness truly leaps ahead, and we see more clearly, we can act with full and unfettered Spirit and transform the World. Christ is in us.

Let us embrace the Christic miracle and be the Christ for one another. This is the real transformational fruit of authentic liturgy vs what can otherwise become a routine formula of merely skin-deep public worship.

Happy Easter. He is Risen and the Rising is evolving every second within Us!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great (Holy) Saturday – April 3, 2010

This is the solemn day on which the Church recollects the time during which Jesus is entombed. It is the time before the bulb re-emerges after a dark winter’s incubation. It is the dark cloud obscuring the Sun that surely will burn brightly and warm the planet once again when its cover moves by. It is the potential within the kinetic, the pause before your next breath, the time of sleep just before re-awakening, and that ever so brief silent pause between two waves arriving at the beach.

The Orthodox reference to the “harrowing of hell” captures the theological import of Christ’s passing into the netherworld to redeem and carry into paradise the souls of the deceased, most significantly, the archetypal Adam and Eve. The presumed stain of Original Sin is cleansed at His incursion into Hell, bringing Light to the darkest of places. Altars world-wide remain stripped of linens and vestments shift to pure white. Mass is not performed until midnight ( or the symbolic start of Easter ( Resurrection Sunday) at another late Saturday night appointed time). The world waits.

The entire Triduum is about preparation and expectation. Waiting is a core theme across all spiritual teachings. On this day before the most Holy of days in Christendom, what is it that we await? How does the mythology of the church relate to our lives and the realities that we construct around us? Where is the relevancy of such mystical events for a post-modern scientific society?

Firstly, that I use the word “mythology” is not meant to suggest that the events we celebrate are any less real. Quite the contrary, it only attests to my intent to apply anagogical reasoning to these events as we must when it comes to mysteries that we know tacitly or in poetic and non-experimental ways. That I love my wife, daughter, and son requires no proof though, were you to ask me to do so, I would resort to the lexicon of the Heart. It is a thoughtful phenomenological detailing that presents the clearest and most robust path to understanding the “mysteries.”

The “Free Online Dictionary” ( thefreedictionary.com) defines anagogy as: “A mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, especially scriptural exegesis that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.” It defines “mystical” as:

1. Of or having a spiritual reality or import not apparent to the intelligence or senses.
2. Of, relating to, or stemming from direct communion with ultimate reality or God: a mystical religion.

Heaven and the afterlife are metaphors for infinite consciousness, non-mortal being, the Platonic realm of forms ( or the inherent matrix of foundational archetypes that prefigures and predisposes the created to coalesce in its diverse forms), the well of souls ( or the unknowable place from which our individual consciousness came and to which one day it returns), and the ground that informs our deepest dreaming, our prayerful intentions, our moments of insight, epiphany and enlightenment. With this framework in mind, then, I ask: What is it that we await on this “Great Saturday”?

It is summed in three words: the inexhaustible Light! Light plays a major role in all of scripture, Western and Eastern. Light is a powerful and intrinsic need of all living things and it plays a very central role in the story of the life of every human being. We experience the light in very similar ways. After a long winter, few can resist the allure of a surprisingly bright day. People move out of their homes and take to the streets and the open markets and cafes. In the United States, college students from the North, Midwest and Northwest move in a great exodus toward the more direct sunlight on Spring break. In Europe, many head south. In the East, the same applies as people move toward the equator and further south of it to enjoy the beneficient sunlight, the warmth, and the penetrating rays that are so deeply restorative.

The light plays a key role in consciousness and experience from very early in life. We open our eyes after birth for the first time and light streams in. After a period of adjustment, so much of our learning and the development of language and thought is based on vision. As young children, who among hasn’t had a bad night with fears of things emerging from the darkness; those compelling fears that take archetypal monstrous forms. The cure for such moments is pretty much always the same: turn on the light.

Some years ago, while traveling on business, I was awakened around 2 AM experiencing a frightening shortness of breath. I was momentarily terrified. My first thought was to turn on the light after which I dressed and went to the lobby of the hotel where other people were present. On doing so, everything settled down. On long-distance car trips, there are stretches of road across farmland in the U.S or mountain roads where there is very little light. Such driving late at night is especially unnerving and I always find myself less tense when I see lights in the distance: the sign of civilization and the presence of other people.

As I write this, my daughter is on the road somewhere in Illinois on her way back to college after her Summer break. I spoke with her last night and she was stopping in a small town for the night. Her comment was simply: ” It is so dark here. I can’t see a thing. It’s time to stop, get something to eat and turn in. I’ll continue in the morning.” I’ve said before that we are made of the same stuff as stars. Indeed, all that exists ultimately came from the stars. We are light-centric creatures and this need is expressed in many ways in all the corners of our lives. Our language is replete with light references: enlightenment, to light on a flower, alight, delight, daylight, earthlight, light headed, light-hearted, limelight, highlight, etc. We are capable of contemplating the Infinite and so we routinely do in our visions, including the perfect and infinite Light: a light that knows no evening, the Christic Light. That is what we await on this Great Saturday.

How does the mythology of the Church ( and this phototrophic disposition) relate to our spiritual lives and the realities that we construct around us in this post-modern, scientific age? Maths are axiomatic, based on faith in certain logical propositions, and maths can and do arrive at conflicting conclusions. It appears that in this most regal of the logical endeavors of humanity there is more than one right answer. Non-euclidean geometries deviate in key ways from the axioms of Euclid and arrive at justifiable and verifiable conclusions that simply do not square with Euclidean propositions.

So, are there multiple realities and diverse possible worlds? Absolutely. And what about scientific certainties? There are few of them actually. In fact, the uncertainty principle and the two as yet irreconcilable forms of lawfulness (Newtonian and Quantum mechanical) cause us to continue to search for new unifying theories. New maths arise all the time, and have especially done so over the course of the last century. This raises the bar on what it means “to know.” There is a mystical character to number theory. Science applies rarified and esoteric methods and a language of its own ( filled with poetry, by the way) to study the mystery of being. So, in fact, science and mysticism intersect all the time. It is dogma that gets us hung up.

The big objection from many is that scientific truth is “verifiable” and the tenets of religious belief are not. That is so. However, the foundations of “religion” are rooted  in verifiable experiences. We experience the dearth of light and rejoice at its return and that motivation is observable and verifiable. Reductionism to the absurd is illogical and fruitless. One should always avoid the tyranny of one method to study the phenomena around us. Experimentation has its proper place, but historical and phenomenological methods do also.

In focusing less on belief and more on experience, such days as this Holy Saturday present us with archetypal mystery. In our services and prayers, we use poetry and anagogy to know from the inside out, to use intuition and to share something that arises from the collective unconscious. The divine flows through us and the mystery of the Crucified God is emblazoned in the consciousness of Christendom. In Buddhism, similarly, the tension between clear sight and real suffering is the pivot around which engaged Buddhism revolves.

Anagogical reason must and will never take a back seat to logical analysis and experimentation. To even attempt doing so is to do violence to what it means to be who we are. We must ever strive to tell the story of insight, intuition and experience remembering the difference between our models and the real thing. We dress up G-d in many ways, but that the human condition is always searching for the Supreme Ultimate is undeniable. The diverse manners in which we adorn the Mystery are beautiful, but we need to remind ourselves that it is an adornment.

Beneath all the dressings, the liturgies, and the scaffolding of beliefs erected along-side, what matters is at the heart. It is the raw experience of the Presence of the Light that splits the darkness of death. It is the Light of the resurrected Christ that we await. It is the annihilation of the dual nature of thought and the redemption of the world of creaturely selfishness and the sense of being alone. It is all about remembering who we really are and from whence we really come.

Let us await the Light giving ourselves the time today to also study our own inner darkness.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Holy & Great Friday, April 2, 2010: The Passion

אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני translates ” ēlâhî ēlâhî lamâ šabaqtanî,” or, by one fascinating translation into English,  “My G-d, my G-d,  for such a purpose have you kept me.”

On this mournful day, the Church commemorates the suffering of our great teacher, Yeshua, a Son of G-d and Man, a soter whose destiny was to fulfill prophecy in drawing humankind closer to the One who caused the first breath of creation. This is the day on which we contemplate the central dilemma of life: transcendence and suffering. We are spirit embodied and the Christ is the epitome of that embodiment. He shared with the Buddha the role of divine exemplar, one whose mission is to chart the way forward toward paradise, not later, but in the here and now.

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann captures this pivotal dilemma in referring to the mystery of the “Crucified G-d.” How are we to understand this mystery? How do we fashion a lifestyle on it that is neither simplistic and fundamentalistically hyper-emotional, nor maudlin and masochistic, but one infused instead with mystical power, upliftment, enlightened insight and existential significance?

Is it possible to do so and keep the full measure of reason? This day itself suggests our continuous struggle with the problem of suffering in the world. It has been understandably argued that either G-d is all-knowing and not good given a world full of suffering, or G-d is simply not all-knowing    ( and that would mean he isn’t G-d). This conundrum remains so if we apply dualistic reasoning. A third way is to eliminate the two poles of this seeming dilemma (Suffering-Transcendence), and focus on conversion, transmutation, and  metamorphosis. Jung made a comprehensive study of psychical alchemy and there is tremendous richness in it that informs a post-modern reading of the Christic message.

In transmuting materials from one to another, one often applies heat. In so many instances, heat is the catalytic agency involved in breaking down molecules and allowing recombinations, more vigorous mixing, and the emergence of new things. There are sometimes unpleasant by-products to these chemical reactions. Our lives bring moments of joy and moments of pain, delightful and mournful days. In all moments, we are invited by the Spirit to adapt, search for new avenues and forms of expression. A very significant block to seeing beyond suffering is the cult of happiness. It’s the wrong goal. The better target is joy and ever-deepening meaning.

We all can build a long litany of the ways in which we suffer ( physically, emotionally, and spiritually). At times, the suffering is small. Other times, it’s great. All experience is another teaching, another side-road excursion along the course of our journey. We are, as are all things, rich in potential to be forever new. An 80-year-old woman recently learned that she had a short time to live and, so, she scheduled a first skydiving adventure. We all have a finite amount of time; nothing new in that. What we do with the time is another thing. Each moment of suffering, each “cross”, is a door to insight, awareness in the moment, and our felt, vulnerable connection to all living things.

The crucified G-d is a G-d inside human experience, not outside of it: A G-d intimately infused within the creation, not one that somehow mythologically stands apart from it. Jesus is put to death by ignorance and fear, but re-emerges as Light and new hope; he transcends the horror and the pain. As he suffered on the Cross, he says ” .. for such a purpose have you kept me.” And, at his last breath, he cried out, “It is finished.” The Mass, Missa, is the dismissal, the commissioning. In moving through suffering and into death with complete acceptance of the moment, he rises again in a preternatural state transcending space and time.

We know by daily illustration that mind can traverse infinity. Life is a school in the Lord’s service preparing us with each day’s log of the journey, the discoveries, the adventures, and the misadventures. Today is Good Friday; it’s goodness is in its embrace of the darkness of tomorrow with full anticipation and deep knowing that Sunday will surely follow.

It is time to mourn and face what is frightening and real while holding fast to our capacity to redeem it and reshape it in shared consciousness. Our great opus is not yet finished. For us, who are still among the sentient, the jobs ahead are a joyful burden: a responsibility to live according to the Prayer of Shantideva, “to be the doctor and the medicine” for all sentient beings.

May your sorrows on this Good Friday be transformed into hope and new Light. May I, at my last breath on Earth, have the awareness and knowing that makes it possible to say, with Jesus: “ for such a purpose have you kept me.”

May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.

May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.
May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

Just like space
And the great elements such as earth,
May I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

And until they pass away from pain
May I also be the source of life
For all the realms of varied beings
That reach unto the ends of space.

Shantideva – 8th Century

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Thursday, April 1, 2010

A day also called “Maundy”  Thursday in the Anglican tradition, or the “mandatum”, the mandate to perform the “Lord’s Supper.” This is also the day of the washing of the feet. Traditionally, the Pope washes the feet of priests and priests do so for parishioners. Together, these ritual jewels of the Church celebrate the central mystery: the Presence of the divine savior among us in the intimate acts of washing and eating.

A good friend and fellow Bishop refers to the “Mass” as “Divine Alimentation.” We are fed by the Prince of Peace. We are directly privy, without need of any intermediary, to the sanctum sanctorum. Celebrating the savior in an act of eating is to continue in the path of total conversion; the transfiguration of mind-body and spirit from the inside out. We literally become the Temple of the Lord.

The word “Mass” is telling. It derives from the latin word “missa,” which means dismissal, or, put differently, a going forth in accordance with a great commissioning. In the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, we are fed with the expectation that we will then go and likewise feed others. We are given the mandate to be fishers of men and women; to bring them the great comfort and consolation of the truth that the Kingdom of G-d rests within them.

It is traditionally on Holy Thursday that the bishops consecrate the oils of chrism, the catechumens, and the sick. In addition, the Holy Thursday celebration also calls for a gathering of the priesthood so that priestly vows can be reaffirmed. Looking at the day in its entirety, we recognize in it a call for deep personal and transpersonal renewal and a resetting of purpose. It is a time for blessing, cleansing, and the reinvigorated zeal to serve the Gospel. We are reminded of our sacred identity and our calling. It is a beautiful celebration and it is an alchemical re-enchantment.

I am a priest. I vowed to serve for the rest of my life. My service is different from that of a parish priest as I do not have daily celebrations to officiate but mostly ad hoc ones. As the Abbot of  a “monastery without walls,” the role is that of spiritual facilitator, teacher, friend, and the sacerdotal functions come as they may.

What does it mean to be a post-denominational priest? It means that one’s identity is wrapped in continuous and diverse prayer, and the readiness to fulfill the mandatum in nontraditional ways. It means finding new paths for engaging the teaching in dialogue with people while maintaining a less visible or pronounce priestly profile. It  also always calls for celebration of the sacraments as living vehicles for conversion and epiphany when there are two or more gathered with a yearning to do so.

I enter into this Holy Thursday evening as I have earlier ones, with a deep sense of awe and gratitude. I feel honored to have been called to witness to mystery and to be a voice for spiritual living. I rejoice in the meditative time in which I can hold up all those I love and know, and the world around me with profound hope of an enduring illumination. I rest tonight in the firm conviction that a powerful force is present to synchronistically guide my next steps and words.

I am a child of the stars, of the wind, of the stillness and of the laughter. I am a child of the Eucharist and a minstrel singing about the depth and breadth of our capacity for love. I am a humble poet searching for the right words and phrases to give sound to my heart.

I am a simple priest. I open myself to the next mandate, the next need, the next chance to touch the fabric of the Son of Man. I am one who is ever searching for His face among all the writing, all the poetry, all the religions, all the cries and tears and laughter, and the rich tapestry of human thought and scientific discovery.

Maranatha!

Amen.

1 Corinthians 11- 23-26, New American Bible

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread,
and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 12
A person should examine himself, 13 and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment 14 on himself.
That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.
If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment;
but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.
[I am separately uploading a Liturgy this evening that emerged from my scholarship and passion for ritual over the years. It is the Liturgy that I use in the Order and at the High Masses that we celebrate here. I hope you find it a helpful complement to your Eastertide meditations. You can find it on a page linked to the “Garden of the Christos” page in pdf format.]
© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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