The Sweet Pain

In 1998, I began writing a long poem, an epic poem, on the life of Christ. After about six weeks, I stopped writing it (though it didn’t leave me). What I was unprepared for was the intensity of his Presence as I wrote. Writing was prayer, and prayer was writing.

But it was more than that. I wrote about his love, and it was my love, and it burned so strongly that burned me. I truly felt like I couldn’t take it. It was just too much.
I never forgot it, though, and a year after I made my Bodhisattva vow, I also vowed to finish it. But I still couldn’t return to it. It was just too much.

Then over the next few years, all of my conceptions of God were destroyed. Yet, tonight, I find my thoughts again turning to writing this poem. I believe now I can return to it, and now I can relax in the Presence that burned me with his love a few years earlier. I don’t know how I have changed, and why I have that confidence. But it’s time to start writing again. (And a big thank you to Trev, for recommending Pronoia).

The Golden Path has been shortened

Every now and then, I see a message in something objectively ordinary and meaningless, but subjectively a divine message. Today, as I walked away from work to my car, I took a shortcut through a Dillard’s store. There, on what must have been at least a dozen signs, written just for me, was the message:

The Golden Path has been shortened.

Bam! It had my attention. Although I still haven’t written about it yet, Children of Dune is one of my favorite sci-fi and spi-fi (spiritual fiction) films. The theme is the “Golden Path” that the protagonist must discover to become a bodhisattva and save humanity from disintegration and self-destruction, a path that demands he undergo an unprecedented transformation.

I often call my practice “the Path.” If “the Golden Path” has been shortened for me, I believe it’s largely due to my discovery of the power of consciously loving people, rather than the usual substitutes, unconsciously unloving, or (at best) consciously acting as though I did love people. My friend Julie and some others rightly questioned why feeling is a necessary part of love… isn’t the action of love (acting for the good of another) most important?

Let me clear up one thing. The feeling of love I’m talking about isn’t the needy, “oh, you make me feel so wonderful,” or “I need you,” romantic love. It’s agape, a perception of the inherent worth of each person as person, as the image of God, no matter how tarnished that image may be. It’s a felt desire to act (or not) in such a way that benefits those you love. To the extent that this love is a feeling (what a vague word!) it’s outward, a willing motion of the heart to see things as they are. If a return feeling of bliss or “being loved” is felt, that’s just frosting on the cake.

I no longer think that actions without feeling are quite on a par with those that are. Loving actions without loving feelings are inherently conflicted. There’s something that at best dilutes, and more likely, contaminates the “love” that’s being expressed. It may be a sense of duty… “Of course I love you, you’re my (fill in the blank). Or it can be an external reference (What Would Jesus Do?), which isn’t “bad” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an only an entry point.

Practicing “WWJD love” should naturally dissolve because, like Jesus, we are “moved by compassion” to act with love, as the Gospels describe his motivation repeatedly. When compassion becomes second nature, the motor of one’s being, one is becoming like Jesus in that regard. And one’s actions, whether or not they seem “compassionate” on the surface will be rooted in the medium as love demands.

The love that lacks feeling gives rise to all sorts of ego-boosting structures. (I didn’t want to, but I gave a coin to that beggar on the street. Hey, guess I’m loving after all!) Evil conflicts can easily be justified when felt love isn’t present. “Security,” “Freedom,” “The RIGHT thing to do” and other abstractions are easily adopted to dress up the ego’s actions. I don’t think the war on Iraq could’ve begun if our leaders felt unconditional love for all people. You don’t readily bomb people whom you feel love for.

But why this message, for me, today? It sure wasn’t because I was on the top of my game. Rather, it was a reminder. I had spent the workday feeling ill, put upon, and sometimes quite consciously unloving. I need to remember that the Golden Path has been shortened.

(Oh, and what did Dillard’s think they were telling me? To buy socks!)

Favorite Christmas Song

Trev and Darrell have already posted something about their favorite Christmas songs.

I’m going to break away from the traditional carols; right now my favorite is Christmas Canon, by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I heard this as Muzak in a grocery store last year, and it blew me away. Tonight, I heard it again, tracked it down on the Internet, and bought it from iTunes.

It’s an arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, sung by a small children’s choir, so perfect that that it takes my breath away. The simple spirituality of hope and prayer to emulate the Lord we worship brings tears to my eyes every time. There’s nothing quite like it. Here are the lyrics from the longer version on The Christmas Attic

Merry Christmas
The hope that he brings

This night
We pray
Our lives
Will show

This dream
He had
Each child
Still knows

We are waiting
We have not forgotten

On this night
On this night
On this very Christmas night

Beyond Belief: Rocky Is the Way

<sarcasm on>
Hey Pastor!

Rocky VIHaving a bit of trouble coming up with Sunday’s sermon? Is your congregation tired of those humdrum “Love your neighbor” messages that just make them feel guilty? Are they fed up with this “turn the other cheek” crap when there are countries to bomb and people to kill? Want to give them a Christmas message that won’t put them to sleep in that “Boring Town of Bethlehem” with the same old prayers for peace on earth?

Why not give them what they really want for Christmas: self-esteem! That’s right. More than Jesus, even more than fruitcake, they want to believe in themselves. At RockyResources.com, we know how to help you care for your flock’s real needs. Visit RockyResources.com for a message from our Sly guy on how vague “faith” and generic “values” moved him to make the sixth inspired epistle of St. Rocky Balboa to the Ticketbuyers.

But that’s not all! Check out our “Faith-based” Leader’s Guide. Our handy “five-round” plan can spare you from having to listen to the Spirit for a full five weeks! And if anyone needs a break from God, it’s you, right? Senior pastors, be sure to try Idea 1 in Round 4:

During your sermon, show a film clip from a Rocky movie that demonstrates the values of teamwork, and the futility of going it alone.

(After all, we know where that got Jesus, right?) And youth pastors, you can’t go wrong with Round 3, Idea 2:

Plan a TKO: The Kraziest Outreach. Get all five Rocky movies and do a Rocky-thon at the church—maybe on New Years’ Eve! Finish at the theater with Rocky Balboa! Stay awake!

If your youth don’t believe in hell now, they sure will after twelve consecutive hours in the ring with Rocky!

And just in case you have any doubts about our motives, or letting the Italian Stallion guide your flock for the next few weeks, just remember these two things: There’s no better way to celebrate the Lord’s birth than by spending money, and … Rocky isn’t gay!

<sarcasm off>
In all fairness, this movie is getting fairly good reviews. And as most of you know, I love to find spiritual parallels in movies… it’s the very reason I write reviews, and Rocky probably does have some excellent spiritual lessons. But something about the crassness of selling Rocky as spiritual resource on a par with the teachings of Jesus was more than I could take.

Listen to the NPR report on how Motive Media sucessfully converted some pastors (some very well-known) to sell this rocky “gospel” according to Sly.

Drew Goodmanson at least wasn’t one of them.
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Ubi Caritas

Bob Griffith of Hypersync posted a link to this YouTube video of a boy in the Netherlands singing about the love in his unconventional family. Aside from the obvious questions it raises, such as why the Christian Right is apoplectic over the idea of letting everyone have the right to marry whomever they choose, there’s something deeper here besides.

As I commented on his post, I remarked that ironically, as Europe has become less “Christian,” and church attendance has plunged, Europe may be becoming more “Christian” in other ways, not associated with religion. So where is God in “post-Christian” Europe?

For me, the answer is a universal one, found in an ancient hymn of the Church:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

(Where there is charity and love, there is God.)

Something in the boy’s song gives me hope. Not just for equal rights for gay people, but of something far more profound. God is love. Love conquers all.

Is the Buddha a recognized Christian saint?

Saint Siddhartha Gautama, pray for us!

Sure, _I’ve_ recognized the Buddha as a saint for years, but imagine my surprise when I received an email from a reader today pointing out that “Saint Josaphat” is a figure derived from the story of Siddhartha Gautama.

I decided to check it out, and found these links:

Check out the “(ext)Korea Times article”:http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/culture/200507/kt2005070420024111680.htm

and the Wikipedia article on Saint Josaphat.

Still, I was wondering if this might be Christo-Buddhist wishful thinking, until I saw “(ext)this article”:http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02297a.htm in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia, which simply affirms that the story of Josaphat is a Christianized version of the Buddha’s story. The article nowhere calls Josaphat a saint, which leads to the question, did he actually become a Catholic saint or not, and if so, is he still?

The email I received stated that the Catholic Church “proclaimed” him a saint, and he was later reaffirmed as such by St. John of Damascus (aka the Hermit, aka Damascene) who died in the mid-8th century. Technically speaking he certainly wasn’t “proclaimed” a saint. Proclamation, the culmination of the rigorous process of canonization had not yet been developed by the Church. Saints in the first millennium were recognized by popular _acclamation_, and it does seem he was regarded as a saint, with a feast day of November 27. And here at the Online Medieval and Classical Library is the story of “(ext)Barlaam and Ioasaph”:http://omacl.org/Barlaam/, attributed to St. John of Damascus.

Apparently his feast day was removed from the Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969, but that technically does not “de-saint” a saint—it merely de-emphasizes them. (And sometimes not very successfully; you can Google St. Philomena or St. Christopher to see that devotion to those saints persists contrary to Church efforts.

Of course, all this ultimately is irrelevant. Is the Buddha a saint? Duh!

That Bodhisatta Vow

One of the things I appreciate most about “(ext)my teacher”:http://soulsword.org, is that he’s a bodhisattva, not just a buddha. In English, that means that he’s concerned with the salvation of the world. At his enlightenment, he chose to return to this world with all its sorrows and pains, and he wants his students to become enlightened and practice being the light, so they can give light to the world wherever they are, whatever they do.

One night just over six years ago, Jesus came to me, and destroyed my religion. What was left was something I didn’t expect—a fierce desire to follow him, to be like him. I realized he was Bodhisattva, Christ, the teacher who saves the world, and that he himself said he longs for us to follow him in this work, to be one in him, as he is one in the Father (Jn. 17:21-22). St. Paul taught that Christ is a power of God that extends beyond Jesus, that all who sincerely trust him, become “members of his body,” that is, parts of the same being (I Cor. 12:27), and that Jesus is the eldest of many brothers (Rom. 8.29).
So, a few days later, on May 5, 2000, as I sat on a pier I privately made my own bodhisattva vow to God, to work for the salvation of all according to all the grace I am given.

I confess I do not live up to my vow very well. Perhaps it is because it’s so daunting that so few people take it up in this culture. Yet my vow works on me, as I work to fulfill it … And I’m blessed to know a realized bodhisattva who guides me to the light I want to shine.

Last night, Kitabu Roshi urged his students to “become what you admire.” Not to just worship Christ, but to become Christ, become the Buddha, become the teacher.

There’s so much that can be said about this, so much that has been said already. But those who actually come to believe it’s possible are few, and those who resolve to do it, are fewer still. So today, I renew my vow. “Theosis”:/faith/theosis.html is more than just a work of grace. It’s a pledge to be worked on and be available for the world, here and now.

Are some of you also being called to this?

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Gnosticism? A few more thoughts on Thomas and Judas

Some of you requested I tell a little more about how I found my teacher, and I will return to that soon.

But right now, I wanted to discuss “Gnosticism” a bit. It’s one of those things that everyone’s talking about, but few people understand. Actually, it would probably be a good thing if we stopped talking about it, because Gnosticism is so broad a term that it’s practically meaningless. When we use a word like Protestantism, we’re talking about something that runs the gamut from Tennessee snake-handlers to French Huguenots, to most of the population of Papua New Guinea. What are we saying?

“Gnosticism” is even more vague. There were pagan, Jewish and Christian Gnostic movements in the ancient Mediterreanean and Middle East. If we think the term is analogous to “mysticism,” in that there are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim mysticisms (among others), we might be getting close, but my gut feeling is that some Gnosticisms were authentic mystical paths, but others had degenerated to mere religions.

While the Church Fathers inveighed against various teachers for widely different reasons, it’s important to remember that Gnosticism was never a single thing to them, even back then. On one hand, there was the school of Valentinius, who claimed St. Paul had taught Theudas “the wild things of God,” and that Theudas taught him. Valentinius’ works show a strong emphasis on theosis as many of the later Fathers would as well. In addition, Valentinius (like St. Paul), touched upon the “gnostic” idea of the “rulers of this age” (literally, the archons of this aeon), and emphasized that Christ frees us from them. But his emphasis seemed to be on the deep, transforming union with Christ, that leads us to become like him. But besides Valentinius, there were Marcion, Mani, Sethian Gnostics, Platonic schools of Gnosticism, pagan mystery religions, Mithraism, and more.

The Gospel of Thomas was tagged “Gnostic” because of its discovery in the Nag Hammadi library of mostly Gnostic writings, but nothing within it makes it so. But it lacks a Gnostic creation myth, has no exposition of “archons” or “aeons,” and shows no disdain for Creation. It simply records sayings of Jesus, many of which are familiar, and many of which are not. Most scholars have abandoned using the term “Gnostic” to describe Thomas.

The Gospel of Judas was published just two weeks ago, and seems to be a “Sethian” Gnostic work. It is mentioned by Ireneus, who wrote about it in 180 AD, hence it was composed some time before that, probably around the middle of the second century. Much of it it involves propounding a Gnostic creation myth, with elaborate geneaologies of spiritual beings, reminiscent of Paul’s injunction to avoid “myths and endless geneaologies” in (1Tim. 1:4, Tit.3:9). Paul warned that such stories were divisive and useless. It seems to me the product of a downward trend, from the simple belief that there are unfriendly spiritual forces at work in this world of appearances, to doctrinaire listings and the concretization of Gnostic mythology.

To me, the only interesting part of Judas is the last few verses, where Jesus essentially blesses Judas for doing his part, and says “you will free me from the man who imprisons me.”

Something rings true about that… not the actual scene or words so much as the the feeling behind them. Jesus’ teaching was not understood well by his disciples, let alone the masses. When he was resurrected and glorified, he had the ability to truly live within all who would call on his name. Being “freed of the man who imprisoned him” is a dramatic way to put it, but I wonder if it is dramatic enough for that unfathomable Love he had, longing to be with every soul, longing to be the Light that pierced our darkness. The Love that was “imprisoned” in one body, now can be in all.

I thank God, and also Adam, for the Fall so there could be Redemption.
I thank Jesus for offering himself up so there could be Resurrection.

I can’t thank Judas, but if Jesus did, that’s fine by me!

Adam and Judas were faithful to their parts. Nothing is amiss. Things are in divine order.

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Are you alive? Prove it!

Christ has risen! Christos Aneste!

A visitor mentioned the story of “doubting Thomas” in a comment yesterday, which ties in neatly with the question, “Are you alive?” What really made me want to post this question was watching the Battlestar Galactica miniseries and first season over the last two weekends. Since I don’t have cable, I had to wait till the DVDs came out, and may I say I was impressed. It’s sci-fi and spi-fi (spiritual fiction) of the first order. Undoubtedly there is plenty of material for long posts and analyses (when I’m able to get caught up and see the second season.) It seems the meaning of being human and the nature of God are going to be key themes in the ongoing story. But for now, I just want to reflect on the first lines of the miniseries.

Number Six (a Cylon): Are you alive?
Human: Yes.
Number Six: Prove it!

Jesus was as dead as anyone can be. The body ceased to function. It was buried. Yet the Teacher’s spirit lived and according to Peter, “he went to preach to the spirits in prison” (2 Pet 3.19), as bodhisattvas do. When he appeared again in his body to his disciples, Thomas effectively asked him, “Are you alive?” And Jesus proved it.

But I think the real significance of Number Six’s question is that we don’t ask the question of ourselves. Are we alive? We assume we are. We take it on appearances. We don’t prove it to ourselves. Yet we go through the motions of life as if programmed, and when we see someone living deliberately, we remark on how alive they are.

When I was seven or eight, I had an experience which, at least for a short time, kept me from taking the world of appearances for granted. I saw a book in my older brother’s collection titled, Maybe I’m Dead. Just seeing that title disturbed me for days—it got under my skin. Of course I was alive! Obviously I was alive! But—what was life? What was the world? Did seeming to be alive in the world mean that it was real? That I was real? Was anything real? This wasn’t just a philosophical question for me at the time. It was something deep, important, and something which I knew I couldn’t discuss with anyone at the time. Maybe I’m dead was the only way I could mentally verbalize my brush with maya —the illusion of the world. After it faded, it wouldn’t be until early this year when I encountered it again.

Really coming face-to-face with the question can be a shock initially, but it opens up the freedom from conditioned, ego-bound plodding to see things anew, in other words, to really be alive. Another benefit is: how seriously can you take yourself when really asking “Am I alive?” 🙂

And yet, if you’re not, then there’s the question of who’s asking the question? There are paradoxes involved in the confusion of the world with spiritual reality, and like the koan, this spiritual practice, known as “Self-inquiry,” brings them to the fore. Am I alive? Is this the world? Who am I? This line of earnestness brings you to an awareness of your existence that is not dependent upon thought.

Thoughts do not answer the question. Feel your existence. Not your body, or your emotions, but your being. Prove it. Get out of The Matrix. Notice it as you go throughout the day, and your ego reacts with its identifications, fears, and quests for approval from others or superiority over them. Or whenever your conditioned, habitual mind runs in the same groove of needing and dependency, remember the question: Am I alive? Take the opportunity to prove it.

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Holy Thursday: Teacher’s farewell

Breaking Bread
2000 years hasn’t begun to exhaust discussion of who Jesus was, and what his life means for us. During this time, it’s traditional to reflect on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. However, during most of the rest of the year, many Christians spend more time reflecting on Jesus’ day of suffering, than on his three years of teaching. I’ve become convinced that in addition to everything else he was, Jesus was above all, Teacher.

A true teacher cares about nothing so much as helping their students discover truth. Although teachers are rare, true students are too. It’s hard to understand a Master who has seen beyond the appearances of the world, who knows God as his own Self. And it is hard for them to communicate the Kingdom they live in. Certainly Jesus and the disciples shared this difficulty.

The Teacher taught “whosoever” would come to him, yet out of thousands who would come to hear his lessons for a day, only a dozen or so would dare to commit themselves to his instruction for three years by living with, and traveling with him. And in spite of their dedication, they didn’t “get” his teaching very well. After months of being with the Teacher of unconditional love, two of his disciples wanted supernatural powers to call down fire upon those they didn’t like! And the Teacher himself learned that he could not teach in the conventional religious arenas of the day. His first teaching in a synagogue was such a hit, the listeners tried to throw him off a cliff!

Jesus was awake. He was awake to love, awake to God, awake to his true Being, awake to all. To prove that his teaching wasn’t idle words, he performed miracles, most often of healing, but sometimes simply to show “the glory of God.” Yet when he did, too often people focused on the miracles instead of the message. He tried to explain that miracles were not the point at all, and that even his wonder-working would be exceeded; although he and the Father were one, he said his students would do even greater things (John 14:12).

Continually tuning in to God, his Father, his Source, he realized that going to Jerusalem and challenging Religion directly was what he needed to do. And he would definitely be killed for doing so. On his last night with his beloved students, he shared the Passover meal with them, and urged them to not forget him, but remember him in the sacred meal. And above all, to remember and follow his teaching. The teacher is the teaching.

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.

Although condemned by man, he was vindicated by God, and given the power to fulfill his love by being with all who call on him. He meets everyone where they are, yet as a teacher, he calls them to take the next step further. That’s what teachers do.