Tuesday, July 5, 2022

THREE THINGS.... Three perspectives on the summer season for the spiritual life

This spring a couple of sparrows made a nest at the top of the wreath on my porch french doors. Over the weeks of chilly, wet days I watched as mom and dad built the nest, brooded on eggs and attentively fed and nurtured the two young birds who chirped and fluttered their way into the world. This is a parable of summer spirituality. 

1. Accept the Invitation. In the warmth of summer we are typically more active than at any other time of the year. Nature openly and outwardly invites us to share in her beauty and bounty. Even as the flowers of spring fade the fruit of summer comes within reach. Nature is a portal to the awakened life. It invites observation and delight and amazement and not just a little awe. In the summer season we spend far more time out of doors and we travel. We go beyond the routines of our day to day life and seek adventure and novel experience. Our inner lives give way to outer exploration. We reach beyond ourselves to connect to realms of life that are far more spacious than our living quarters. The openness of the clear blue expanse and the depth of the stars in the summer night sky tease our imaginations toward spheres of curiosity and wonderment. We are open to possibility. We invite and expect adventure. We expand beyond our self-defined boundaries. And in both the invitation and its acceptance we are poised to see God in all that can be seen.  

2. Enjoy the sweetness of balance. For many of us, women in particular, the ingestion of sweets are akin to mortal sin. We would really love to indulge but we've been culturally shaped into self-denial as if it were an ascetic practice upon which our salvation depends. But in the ancient practice of Ayurveda, sweet is one of balancing qualities for the summer heat. Those of us who are by our nature more fiery in our temperament can be easily aggravated by the swelling heat of the summer and require the antidote that sweetness provides. The fruits of summer, cherries, berries and melons, offer us cooling comfort as do grains, like rice and barley, fresh grown herbs, sweet potatoes, raw sugar cane and maple syrup. A cool glass of cucumber coconut water with a splash of lime in the heat of a summer day has more in common then you might imagine with the Balm of Gilead. There is a balance that must be sought or we burn up. We are generally not trained to seek balance with food, much less to think of this as a spiritual practice. Sometimes we blunder into it, or intuit our way there, if we are lucky. When we are without sweetness in the diet we become equally deplete of the sweeter qualities of our humanity, of kindness and mercy, of thoughtfulness. In the absence of a balanced palate, desires can rage internally; frustration and impatience, we rush prematurely to judgment and impulsive action. The spiritual life encompasses every aspect of our lives; our physical bodies and mental states are the outer expression of our internal state of affairs. To deny balance in any part of our delicate web, during any season, does not serve us well, but it is never so sweet to remedy than in the summer. 

3. Give it your all. The one thing that is very obvious in the temperate climate of summer is that the beings of the natural world give of themselves completely. Flowers bloom explosively; bees work tirelessly collecting pollen and hives drip honey. Grass grows at an astounding rate bursting into full heads of seed. Trees are loaded with green leaves drinking in the fullness of the summer sun in preparation for the winter to come. Birds, now finished with the work of parentage, busy themselves with summer activity; flocks move around from place to place, happily splashing around in small pools of late afternoon downpours. Vines quickly extend and wrap themselves with ease and speed around trees and shrubs and posts, rocks and structures. Fruit ripens on branch and vine; the sweetness draws to itself the two-legged, the four legged and the feathered ones. Gardens produce abundantly offering much to share with family and friends. Farmers' markets overflow with lush bounty; buyers mouths water at the sight of strawberries, blueberries, tender lettuce and greens and the first summer squashes and cucumbers sell out. Tadpoles have morphed into frogs and feed hungrily on mosquitos and grasshoppers; opossums gorge on ticks; firefly beetles offer a show for potential mates on still, humid summer evenings, spiders create elaborate webs in branches and across carpets of grass to feed on the summer's abundance of insects; butterflies have their fill of flower nectar and lay their eggs on leaves. The Praying Mantis mates and then eats her mate. Bees build nests and in-lay the larvae of their offspring. This is but a tiny fraction, a single brush stroke of a frenzy of summer activity all around us. Everything in the height of the summer season gives its all for the continuation of life, for the full variety of life that lies far beyond its own; each an intricate part of the whole. Every creatures, plant and animal, goes to great lengths mobilizing and focusing all its strength to finish the work it came to do in this opportune moment. Nature is not distracted or concerned with other things; it is single-minded and task-oriented. It does not stop until the season's inevitable change calls for a slow cessation. 

There is a season for resting and sleeping, for going within, and there is a season for slowing and taking stock of where we are, of preparing for what is next, and there is a season for rebirth, regeneration, to begin again. The summer season reminds us that we, like all our relations, are at times called to give our all; to be focused and undeterred and tireless in our work for the sustenance, or perhaps the survival, of that which lies beyond ourselves, even beyond our understanding or knowing. The bee does not know of the healing balm of its honey to its human co-habitant; it only knows to collect the pollen and bring it to the hive. It does not need to know. 

In early summer the newborn birds of spring's gestation fly from their nest singing as they go. 

Reflections on the other three seasons may be found here: 




Friday, June 3, 2022

Selling Out the Gospel

It was my first sermon, ever. It was the fall of my second year in seminary. The preaching rota had been set months many weeks in advance. And so it was simply the luck of the draw that my first sermon would be the day after 9/11. Whatever sermon I had planned was trashed and I was up all night constructing my words to address a seminary congregation of students, faculty and staff that was jolted out of the ordinary routines of academic life and plunged into horror and grief. The pressure was immense. When it was done I felt I had connected with the congregation at the point of their emotional state by dealing directly with the event while also presenting a sovereign God to whom we could look for solace and justice.

A couple of weeks later I met with my homiletics professor for a review of the sermon. He began with, "You sold out." Followed by, and I paraphrase: You gave them what you think they wanted - meeting them where they were and resorting to sentimentality. Followed with: "I don't care if a bomb goes off outside the chapel while you're preaching - you preach the gospel and don't you ever forget it."  

It felt harsh. I was expecting praise. I thought I'd done a good job. In fact, in a moment of hubris, I wondered if I'd ever preach another sermon that was that good. I'd risen to the occasion. I had no shortage of pats on the back and "great sermon!" comments. I felt relief that I'd been of some help to people. The situation was critical, they needed to be reassured - I thought I'd done that. Isn't that what we were supposed to do? 

Well, not exactly. The truth is, the Gospel does not seek to make us feel better. Rather, it insists relentlessly, and without regard of our situation, on raising us to new life, to a new mind. And this new mind is often at odds with what we believe about God. Perhaps this is because we do not have a broad enough sense of Love to include the whole of God's vision for humanity. Love your enemy..., is the gospel - but no one in crisis wants to hear that. Let the dead bury their dead..., is the gospel - but no one in crisis wants to hear that.  Father forgive them for they know not what they do..., is the gospel - but no one in crisis wants to hear that.  Sell all you have then you can follow me..., is the gospel - but no one in crisis wants to hear that. Not one stone will be left standing..., is the gospel - but no one in crisis wants to hear that. And I did not preach any of those things. I departed the Word (the call to transformation) and presented a God that aimed to have us all feel better, reassured, and did not require the discipline of mind (and tempered action) that the Gospel cultivates. 

Recently, there was a terrible mass shooting in Texas. An 18 y.o. gunman killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school. The nation was jolted out of the ordinary routines of everyday life and plunged into horror and grief. Many were staggering from disbelief and finding it hard to find a foothold on what seems, increasingly, to be life on the Titanic. We desperately move the chairs around on the deck and try to grasp for understanding when all the things that tether us to sanity, to sanctity, seem to be falling away, and there is a culpable sense of sinking. The people cry out: Help us O Lord! I feel a tinge of deja vu.

"No problem can be solved at the level it was created." (A. Einstein) 

Though spoken by Einstein, and not one of the four evangelist, it is, nonetheless, a statement of truth that is not what we want to hear. But the truth is a great help to those experiencing life in a way that feels like being of a sinking ship, on which, suddenly, the boat lilts violently and there is panic and a rush to the life rafts. There is no amount of negotiation or protestation that will change the fact that something that was once solid and stable is now breaking apart; the very fabric of our common life. In the first five months of 2022 there have been 214 mass shootings (that is, at least four people were killed or wounded per incident); and 17,300 total gun deaths, not including other forms of murder. No problem can be solved at the level it was created. We will need a new mind, a higher consciousness to lift us to a level that is not on the plane we now operate if we hope to reconstruct life in the way of Peace.  We will need to awaken; to acquire Christ-consciousness. We are in need of the Gospel; to be transformed in to Christ likeness. In other words, we are called to change ourselves and then move out into the world. Otherwise, we may well, and unknowingly, be perpetuating the problems that plague us. No problem can be solved at the level it was created. A higher mind is necessary to solve the problems that face us.  And we do not always want to hear this. 

What Einstein offers in this saying is Wisdom akin to "Let the dead bury their dead." This is not a statement of rejection. It is simply an assessment of a people who do not wish to awaken. It is an observation; and I believe one made in Love. It does not aim to make us feel better; but is a statement of truth, unvarnished. As the saying goes: Clarity is kindness. It does not conjure up the image of Jesus the shepherd who tenderly holds the baby lamb. It is fierce Love, warrior Love; which is the true nature of Love. Love that comes not from sentimentality (sweet cherubs on the coffee mug) but from a place of power (and not force, which is its opposite). How does one move to another level, the level at which solutions may be found and implemented? How do the living, the awakened, bury their dead?

In the East, it is long been said that meditation is the only thing that prevents insanity. The continual focus we in the West have on thinking, on thought forms, which are only abstract, partial representations of reality, prevent us from experiencing actual reality. (A. Watts and others) We think and think and think and think - and cannot move beyond our thinking. We are dead, dead, dead and we don't even know it. We cannot move beyond the abstract forms that we falsely believe accurately represent life. Our thoughts are but shadows of what was; and we box with shadows. To move beyond the shadows to seeing and experiencing reality as it actually is, is to awaken. When we move from thinking to acquiring awareness we become alive; alive in Christ and one with God. (See John 17, Jesus' Farewell Prayer). We do not wait to die to enter the Kingdom of God. If that were so, there would be no need of the Gospel. The call to awaken is for us in the here and now.

But in lieu of meditation we move straight to reaction and are caught in the web of dualism. One side is right and the other is wrong, deadlock ensues and the conditions of violence and in-fighting are all consuming. To that end:

But what about gun regulation? The gospel does not address gun regulation but Jesus does address violence. When Peter cut off the ear of the soldier who arrested Jesus he rebuked Peter and restored the man's ear. He did not banish the sword, but rather brought to life the ancient teaching: 

God shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

We cannot know the mind of God who decides for many peoples until we become one with the mind of God - when we learn to see the shadows of the mind for what they are, break from the insanity of constant thinking and living in either the past or the future (neither of which actually exists outside the present moment), and find rest in another level of consciousness. This is where true power (and consolation) is;  where wisdom resides and discernment occurs: "Once I was blind but now I see." 

Whenever we attempt to create solutions apart from Christ-consciousness we sell out. We either move to force, perhaps even counter-violence, or to denial, mental escape - we check out, or engage in sentimentality. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corin. 13:1)

The fierce Love of the Gospel does not sell out. It always engages with truth, absent of force. Love is a warrior that does not shy from the brutality of life, but looks directly down the barrel of the gun and calls us to new life, a new mind. It does not attempt to make us feel better but urges us to attend to higher consciousness, to share in the mind of God. And being of one mind, then and only then, shall we beat our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into pruning hooks. Anything less, is a resounding gong, a clanging symbol, a sell out. 

Thank you for reading my blog and walking with me in the path of spiritual grace; for your willingness to spend this time with me, as together we learn how to see and be Christ in the world. Rowena + 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

THREE THINGS... Transformation. Truth-telling. Liberation.

The bishop was visiting for a special confirmation service mid-week. We'd had a lovely dinner in the parish hall and now the service was underway. It was a small parish and about a third of the pews were filled. I was sitting in my usual seat in the chancel and listening to the bishop preach informally from the aisle. It was not a long sermon and I don't remember every word, but what I do remember shaped my ministry in ways I could not have imagined. It was, admittedly, a small shift in perspective, but one that grew over time. The bishop spoke about transformation. He said that the whole point of the Gospels and of church life was transformation; we are supposed to change. I had understood the teachings of the church as the training of disciples, of obedience to and worship of God, of mission and evangelism, of outreach and good works, and of living a model Christian life, but somehow the word transformation had never been on that list. That one word, transformation, would haunt me for years to come as I tried to understand what he meant. On one level it was obvious and simple, but on another level, it was entirely mysterious. 

That sermon and its introduction to the concept of transformation was about 10 years ago I reckon. It has taken a long time for it to flourish in my understanding. It has also taken a lot of teachers from a variety of perspectives and cultures. Each, in their own way, lead me back, again and again, to the revered one of my own tradition, rabbouni Jesus. It seems that the wise teachers outside of Christianity can see in Jesus what Christians, like me, miss: Transformation is the whole point. This speaks to more than making an effort to be a better human being, to be more like Jesus. 

"Sometimes people want to imitate Christ, but when a monkey plays a saxophone, that doesn't make him a musician." (A. DeMello, Awareness, 96.) 

Sometimes, probably a lot of the time, the church teaches us how to venerate Christ (worship Jesus) and how to imitate Christ (discipleship), but that alone does not serve us, not really. It's perfunctory. 

"You can't imitate Christ by imitating his external behavior. [What would Jesus do? insertion mine] You've got to be Christ. Then you'll know what to do in a particular situation... No one has to tell you. But to do that, you must be what Christ was. An external imitation will get you nowhere." (ibid.)

The truth is, through the gospel accounts we have received Jesus' teachings on transformation. We have received what is necessary to be Christ. But to receive the teachings with understanding (wisdom) requires the heart of someone who has not only a willingness, but a longing, to be transformed, to grow up, to awaken. For that one, nothing else matters. Nothing. 

This is where transformation begins, with awakening.  

Awakening, the one and only path to transformation, is uncomfortable; it requires effort, daily, momentary attention to detail, relentless attention to the inner life; it requires truth-telling - the truth that we are no different and certainly no better than anyone else. 

DeMello continues: "People tell you, 'I think you’re very charming,' so I feel wonderful. I get a positive stroke (that’s why they call it I’m O.K., you’re O.K.). I’m going to write a book someday and the title will be I’m an Ass, You’re an Ass. That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me, “You’re wrong.” I say, “What can you expect of an ass?” (A. DeMello, Awareness, 39-40.) 

Liberation. The reward of awakening is freedom. Liberation from a unseen, unknown slavery. We don't know that we are slaves because we are so conditioned and programmed to suffer. But we don't know that. We are taught that everyone who lives must suffer. But this is not true.

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."  (Attributed to the Dalai Lama, Haruki Murakami, and M. Kathleen Casey

As we grow in the spiritual life we learn, and come to actually believe, that our suffering is an opportunity for our growth. With God nothing is wasted. It is the most direct path to awakening for some. But many of us do not see that there is anything beyond the painful circumstances of their lives and we muddle through. 

"If you knew how to use that suffering, oh, how you would grow."  (A. DeMello, Awareness, 107.)

To awaken is to gain a freedom that cannot be taken away because it's not conditional on external circumstances. It is only conditional on internal wakefulness. We think that if we change things in our environment we'll be happy, we'll be free. But in reality, it is directly through our discontent, our hatred, our anger, our dissatisfaction, our criticism, that we are bound to all the things about which we are discontent and hate, and with which we are angry and dissatisfied; and more so to the things we push away. All we denounce we drag around with us with invisible chains. There is a path to liberation, but this is not it. 

The path may take any number of forms. I suggest a reading of the Gospels with the eyes of longing to awaken, to know God. Read the Gospels but do not neglect the writings of the mystics. They will guide you and not by way of the straight path or through the narrow gate of understanding but rather along the shores of a great ocean.  There you will see that at the place where the sky and sea meet on the horizon there is both an end to what can be seen and at the same time clarity that the expanse of both sky and sea extend to places beyond comprehension. Standing on the shore with Wisdom as your guide you realize that you are seeing yourself as you truly are; awakened, liberated, transformed. 

Thank you for reading my blog and walking with me in the path of spiritual grace; for your willingness to spend this time with me, as together we learn how to see and be Christ in the world. Rowena + 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mother Jesus: Moving toward full integration


I asked the congregation: When you look at this picture what do you see? Do you see structure and order? or do you see nurture and wisdom? Without hesitation I heard a rousing "nurture and wisdom" response. 

I followed with: I would like to introduce you to Mother Jesus. 

Like a koan, a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, this image of Jesus as Mother can lead us into the full integration of a whole spirituality that is well beyond the dualism of the present time. That is where we are going, after all; where all of us are going. We are moving toward full integration; to a broader, deeper, and far more comprehensive understanding of ourselves as spiritual beings than ever before in our common history. 

When I speak of integration I am talking about achieving greater balance between two opposing and equally necessary energies. There are two kinds of energy that are present throughout the universe: feminine and masculine energy, aka Yin and Yang in the East. It is essential to understand that this has little to do with gender. All humans have within them both energies. Men often have more dominate male energy, but not always. Women are generally believed to have more feminine energy. However, I suspect that this used to be far more true 50 years ago. But today I experience many women as predominately masculine in energy with the corresponding attributes (again, I am not speaking to physical attributes or characteristics but rather the attributes of feminine and masculine energy which I will describe in detail below. In fact, the social equality of women with men (while a great improvement for women worldwide and a great enrichment to society in general) has also, in my opinion, created a kind of feminine oppression internally as well as socially. (I am not against women's liberation!!! but I am observing a possible byproduct of it.) There have been some very good books written on the topic of masculinity and femininity. One such is Matthew Fox's,  The Green Man, which addresses the divine masculine, and how the loss of this sacred knowledge has adversely affected men, young men particularly, in modern culture. 

Many attributes can be assigned to both types of energy but for the sake of brevity I will simplify it with the attributes of Structure and Order as expressions of male energy and Wisdom and Nurture as expression of female energy. The construction of buildings are male in their nature as are modes of transportation - cars, planes, trains - the fastest way from A to Z. The world is organized and runs ordered by logic, mathematics, engineering. Law and the maintaining of order in highly male. Think Pharisees. But without the feminine wisdom (Sophia), the Law (Torah) becomes legalistic. Let us be clear: masculine energy is good and necessary. Without it, things fall apart. But it requires its counterpart for the stability of the whole.

Feminine energy is slow and expanding. It does not seek the fastest and most efficient route but rather takes the long way and stops to speak to everyone with measured words, listening and responding without hurry. It intuits the whole of the human condition, embracing it with joy and laughter, appreciates mystery and suspects certainty; it smells the roses along the way to wherever it is going. The journey is all that matters; the destination is a footnote. In the Judeo-Christian tradition Wisdom is associated with Sophia, the divine feminine. The entire Wisdom tradition of Judaism and Christianity and the mystics of every ancient faith tradition are characterized as feminine in nature. 

Mary and Martha are good examples of these opposing and equally necessary energies. It was Jesus who said that Mary had the better part - not as a judgment against the efficiency and goodness of Martha but rather because the world was in such short supply of the feminine energy she embodied. Consider also the woman with the alabaster jar. Masculine energy sees this as inefficient and wasteful (Judas in this story). Mother Jesus makes room for the feminine expression of the extravagant outpouring of nurture and healing, unrestrained.

Most, perhaps all, of our institutions are structured and are organized in a way that is historically patristic/male dominated (going beyond the fact that men have traditionally build and led them - but more so that male energy (and to my earlier point, regardless of the gender of the people in power) remains dominate. This is great for a society that honors order and structure, until that is all that there is; the Spirit of the Law has been trampled by the foot of efficiency and expediency and the humanity of the people is of little account. Consider Jesus' teachings. Did he promote more order and structure or more wisdom and nurture? Was he forcing an outcome? Was he rushed to get to the end of the journey? Did he take the shortest route with greatest efficiency? Was he concerned about time? Did he speak in story and metaphor or in clear and logical language that left nothing to the imagination? Did he appeal to the Wisdom Tradition or the legalistic teachings of the Pharisees? Did he care about the fulfillment of the Spirit of the Law or the correctness of carrying out Levitical Law? Was not the restoration of relationships through love, we with one another, we with God, the primary teaching upon which all else rested? Jesus was fully, biologically male, and offered to his generation and ours a model of perfect balance.

Yin and Yang symbol.svg

Within the church there is an acknowledgment of the need to right the scales and to balance these energies in our common life but the remedies sometimes miss the mark. That is to say, that just because women are being increasingly ordained to the priesthood and voted into the House of Bishops, does not mean that the church will necessarily became more integrated. As I have said previously, we generally, an erroneously, assume that women have more feminine energy and males more masculine energy - but that is not necessity the case. There are powerful forces at play within the structure of the church (as well as socially/culturally) that maintain the patristic character and the residential masculine energy of the institution. In my experience as a female priest, most congregants want their priest to perform duties and lead worship in the same way as their traditional male counterparts have done historically (which is decidedly masculine in character). To vary from this overarching model is not well tolerated because the entire system is in itself dominated by masculine energy and its attributes with expectations of structure and order above all else. Structure and order are good and necessary but they, in themselves, are only one half of a balanced equation. 

Further, I submit that is hard for us to imagine what that would look like in practice. The Book of Common Prayer and its liturgies are masculine in nature - structure and order - but contain within them the spirit of wisdom and nurture. But the potential for realizing balance in their application does not come naturally because we are individually so out of balance. An energetically balanced liturgy requires the allowance of curiosity and experimentation; for flow to replace process. Such a worship experience might include such elements as art, poetry, spontaneous prayer, liturgical dance, dramatic enactments, storytelling, the presence of water and incense, a variety of musical expressions, anointing for healing, periods of silence and meditation, and other infusions of feminine energy. This shift in liturgical expression would not just look different on paper but would be experienced quite differently than what is presently in use. Matthew Fox's "Cosmic Masses" are integrated worship experiences in their fullest expression; I had the honor of experiencing one held at the National Cathedral some years ago. Expressions of both masculine and feminine energies and their attributes are necessary for liturgies that are fully integrated and are worth the effort, even in small measures, introduced a little at a time. 

There is a great wave of spiritual awakening occurring here on planet earth presently. One of the obvious signs of this is the breaking down of systems: political institutions, educational institutions, monetary institutions, health institutions (big Pharma), agricultural institutions (big Agra), religious institutions, etc. I am not declaring any great prophecy here, I am simply pointing to what is actually occurring. This is not to say, with undue hysteria, that everything is falling apart and we are heading into chaos. I am saying that we have systems that are not well balanced energetically and they cannot stand long-term because the consequences of their actions on the human family can be, and, in fact, are devastating. Let me give an example of how this plays out in real life (and I'm sure you can come up with several of your own):

In indigenous, earth-based cultures, there is a strong and long tradition of "grandmothers." These are the wisdom keepers. (In this culture these are gender specifically women.)  Whenever a change in the way of doing things is being considered, it is presented to the grandmothers for the final word. The main question before them is: How will this affect the 7th generation? After sitting with this question for some time, if the decision is that it would not benefit the 7th generation the idea is put away. In our modern, "advanced" society, there are no grandmothers to be consulted because there are no official wisdom keepers (expressions of the divine feminine) who have a say in the things that affect humanity down the road. "Progress" moves forward with speed and efficiency; short-term profit, and the creation of structures to execute the decisions of the men and women who are in positions of authority, with little to no thought of the generations to come. No one on the planet is protected from the consequences of this imbalance of masculine and feminine energy and its attributes and its often highly regrettable affects on human life and the future of our species. 

"Just because you can do something does not mean you should."  - Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park

Having noted this rather sobering example, let us also acknowledge that the fevered pitch of the masses who stand in complete opposition to one another in each of the institutional sectors and on every issue of our time, stands in equal measure to the integration/awakening that is occurring. Let us look at an example of that:

There is a very large and increasing number of youth who are grappling with the question of what it means to be female and male, and the attributes of the feminine and masculine. There is a lot of exploration and experimentation going on. Let us observe without judgment; let us listen and understand, asking: "Tell me what you see about yourself and how you are relating to the world" (wisdom and nurturing, attributes of feminine energy (not biological women) used constructively). Let us spare our youth from any further impositions of structure and order - "something is wrong with you because you're breaking the rules/social norms/my expectations of who you are supposed to be" (attributes of masculine energy (not biological men) not used constructively). I do not believe this cultural phenomenon to be a fad, but rather an important part of a cosmic event - the shift to full integration (of the energies - apart from gender considerations - which may be a part of that, but is not the topic of this article). The young ones are reflecting back to us the process of full integration that is occurring globally. We should be paying close attention and engaging thoughtfully in discussions with these young explorers - especially those of us who claim a religious or spiritual practice. What I have observed in these courageous youth is that the pull to question is far greater than the need to assimilate. (That, in itself, is movement toward full integration.) 

They are asking, in their own way: Assimilate to what?

Let me be clear: I am not interested in or suggesting Mother Jesus as a transgendered icon for the LBGTQI+ community - to make that inference is to miss the point entirely. Full integration, in as far as the limits of this article, is not about gender; nor promoting a cause. I'm not an activist calling out for social justice and I'm not particularly interested in convincing anyone about anything. I'm happy for you to totally disagree with me and delighted that you engaged long enough to do so! This is not an easy concept for the West. But the energies and the attributes of the masculine and the feminine are beyond agreement and disagreement, they simply are; it is understanding that is lacking. 

Out beyond right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I'll meet you there. - Rumi

To gain understanding, I ask that we, as the spiritual beings that we are, observe, without judgment, these energies and their attributes so that we might then be able to intentionally work toward and recognize full integration. Integration is not a lofty ideal; Mother Jesus is a substantive model that all of us can strive to emulate. Full integration is the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible awakening to self (God's indwelling). 

In the present moment, the forceful measures and pressures of forced assimilation are met with equal forces of awakening to self. 

Many of us are asking: Assimilate to what?  

This question creates space for an understanding of the Christ as Mother Jesus who holds together the two powerful and necessary forces of masculinity and femininity; structure and order and wisdom and nurture in perfect balance creating a foundation upon which we can rebuild our world, institution by institution, one relationship at a time, for the good of the 7th generation.

After-note: For further discussion on this topic see:  Julian of Norwich [d. 1416]: Celebrating Mother Jesushttps://qspirit.net/julian-norwich-mother-jesus/, which came to my attention after I had published this blog entry. 

Thank you for reading my blog and walking with me in the path of spiritual grace; for your willingness to spend this time with me, as together we learn how to see and be Christ in the world. Rowena + 


Thursday, May 5, 2022

THREE THINGS.... Three ways to really enjoy life

It is often the case that the teacher learns more than the student in most situations. I find this is true of blogging and certainly of preaching. I learn more about a given subject, and myself, I might add, nevermore so then when I undertake to speak or write. I asked Matthew Fox, the hugely famous theologian of our times, and author of over thirty books, how he came up with all the material for his books. I saw him as someone unimaginably intelligent with vast amounts of facts and information in his head. He informed me that that wasn't the case. He said, "I do not write because I know, I write because I do not know." In effect, he said that if knowing the material in advance was required he would never have written a word. But he had topics he wanted to know more about and so he began to explore them on paper and was curious about where that would lead and what he would learn. I think this is a good way to look at life in general, as one who does not know, but has the desire to know and the agency to undertake the work of discovery.  And so it is in the spirit of not knowing, but endeavoring to find out, that I humbly suggest three ways to really enjoy life - as student with agency and not as learned teacher. 

This article is written with the understanding that all of life is spiritual. And everything that happens in our lives, from small talk to major traumas invite us to grow into Christ consciousness. I believe that life is supposed to be enjoyed. But that isn't what we are taught. In fact, we are taught that life is a struggle. Spiritual teachings turn this on its head. Jesus said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” —Matthew 11:25-30  In its purest and highest form, the spiritual path is that of realizing the peace that is all around but unseen and largely unknown. The plank in our eye is our belief in struggle. We are blind to peace, to joy, to love. Remove the plank and life is beautiful - no matter what is happening. 

1. Learn to surrender to what is. I might have also said accept what is. But that isn't quite the same thing. There is a submission to acceptance. It suggests that if I could change what is I would, but because I can't or choose not to, acceptance is required. This line from a Star Trek episode comes to mind: "Resistance if futile." Surrender contains a subtlety, a shade of difference from acceptance, at least in the way I am suggesting it. When we accept situations we may be very much opposed to the reality of what we are up against, and our acceptance does not alter that opposition. We just put it to the side. But when we surrender, we drop the resistance. When we surrender, our discomfort or dislike of a situation becomes a moot point, it moves to neutral. That's the whole point of surrender - to take the juice out of it.

The late Jesuit teacher, Anthony DeMello, tells the story of a man on public transit who has a bomb on his lap. The steward comes by a says, "Hey, you don't want that bomb on your lap, put it under your seat." That's the difference between acceptance and surrender. Acceptance moves the bomb from one place to another. Surrender defuses it. 

We go through life daily accepting things that we do not like while complaining about them in the same breath. We rarely surrender to these things. We think that if we surrendering we're giving up - we hold fast to the idea that we must "fight the good fight." Surrender isn't weakness - nor is it strength. Surrender is letting go without judgment.

Sometimes when I'm working I get tired. When I accept that I'm tired I am reacting to the feeling of being tired and try to forge on - maybe I have a deadline I have to get the work done. I'm annoyed at being tired. I'm frustrated that this feeling of being tired is getting in my way, it's keeping me from doing something. I fight it, I try to stay awake and get more annoyed. Other times, I feel that I am tired and surrender to that feeling.  I let my head drop down while I'm sitting there and fall asleep for several minutes. I'm relaxed, there's no resistance, I'm not annoyed or anxious about it. Shortly I wake up naturally. Now I'm refreshed and keep working. No drama. There's a lot of drama in acceptance. There's no drama in surrender. 

Living from a place of surrender is so much better. But we think we have to fight all the time. We don't. We can just go with the flow, without drama, without thinking too much about it. When I was in a difficult situation in the parish some years ago with person who was always looking for a fight, my teacher asked me, "Do you have to fight?" I assumed I had to fight back, to defend my position. But once I thought about it, the answer was clearly, No. I did not accept the situation, I surrendered into it. And the situation evaporated. It was like magic. I did not resign myself to an unwanted situation, I surrendered to its existence without judgment. It was easy. 

We don't actually have to struggle against anything. But no one ever told us that. We are programmed to fight against everything that comes our way. Fight. Fight. Fight. And living is hard and painful that way. Try surrendering to everything that comes your way. Observe how hard it is not to want to fight instead. Explore that urge in you. Where does it come from? What do you hope to gain? What do you fear losing? 

When you fight anything it's like adding gas to a fire. When you surrender, its like feeling a cool breeze on your face on a warm day. 

2. Practice talking less and observing more. This is actually a practice of surrendering vs. fighting/accepting. Most of the time, when we speak, ego is doing the talking. Begin observing conversations. You will observe a lot of subtle fighting going on; that is, a lot of ego establishing of a kind of pecking order. Not always of course, but often. It goes on so predominately that we don't even notice it. It's like fish swimming in the sea in search of water. Observe what you say very closely. How do you feel as you talk? Defensive? Nervous? Need to be right? Need to be understood? 

I used to get very frustrated when I felt I wasn't being heard. I really felt I needed someone to listen to me. Then I began to practice talking less and instead paying attention to that frustration as it arises - the old pattern of my mind justifying why I should be upset because I'm not being heard, or understood (or agreed with!). I began to devise ways of demanding to be heard - of pointing out how rude it is not to listen to other people properly. Silly. I heard my teacher say: Do you need to fight? It's way more interesting to observe what is going on inside of me while others talk and to listen very carefully to what I say in response. Why did I say that? When I consider the motives of my own speaking I find I have less to say. I'm content to listen, to understand and to see the dynamic at play - without judgment. (Can I still hear the other person? Yes, more than before because now I'm aware of what I am doing that before kept me from hearing fully.) Criticism is fighting - it's the counter argument, the justification, it's judgment, it creates a position that must be defended. If judgment shows up, and it usually does, observe it - without judgment! The ego wants to assert itself, that's what it does. On to suggestion #3. 

3. Learn to be the master of your mind and not its servant. There can be no surrender without learning to train your mind, and surrender is the way to train it. All truth is found in paradox. (Unknown.)

There have been times in my life when I have been very depressed, feeling hopeless, and convinced that my mind was my enemy. I felt like I had no power over it. It kept telling me how terrible my situation was, etc. I wondered what it would take to escape the incessant negative thinking. I think a lot of people live like this. And I think too that sometimes, sadly, tragically, people commit suicide because they can't take the inner fight going on anymore and they just want peace. Thankfully, most people do not resort to self-violence to find peace, but many of us find other ways to cope. Many self-medicate and in all kinds of ways: We are addicted to an endless variety of distractions. Alcohol and drugs are obvious, and serious, but I think that cell phones, social media, and gaming are probably even more widespread. I wrote down this quote the other day, which is either from James Finley or Thomas Merton, perhaps Finley quoting Merton:

"Their lives are devoured by activities and strangled by attachments. Interior solitude is impossible and feared. They do everything to escape it."

We want to escape because nobody has taught us to train our minds. It's probably one of the great failings of mainstream religion. And, as author Michael Singer points out, it's so easy. He says, and I paraphrase: Tell your mind to count to 10. Did it do it? It's that easy. It takes practice, but everyone can do this. Singer goes on to say that when we understand life we will know God. We can only understand life when we train our minds, when we become the master of the mind and stop being its slave. In "An Untethered Life" Singer says that if you had a roommate who talked to you like your mind does then you'd kick it out, you wouldn't put up with such abuse. That's how we should see our minds, as a bad roommate that needs to be kicked out or reformed. Reform the mind and enjoy your life. Many, many books have been written on this topic and the mystics throughout the ages have been begging us to listen. 



When the flute is playing

For then I see every movement emanates

From God's 



(Hafiz, 14th cent.)

All human conflict comes from the ego's need to be right, to have more, to establish self and meaning, to escape all that it fears, especially death - that is, non-being. We believe that the mind who is speaking, who informs and advises us, who criticizes us, and who judges everything and everyone without exception, is who we are. We believe we can overpower it with reason, or good intentions, or sheer will. We fight it. And we do not rise victorious. 

Try surrender. That is the first lesson in how to train the mind. Surrender to it with out judgment and be willing to talk less and observe more. There is no conflict when the flute is playing.

Thank you for reading my blog and walking with me in the path of spiritual grace; for your willingness to spend this time with me, as together we learn how to see and be Christ in the world. Rowena + 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Seeking after cure

I heard the wise Jesuit teacher Anthony De Mello say once on the topic of spiritual awakening, that what all people want is to feel better. They want to get relief. They want their lives to be better. They want their jobs back. They want their health back.  They want their spouse back. They want their money back. They want their loved ones back from the grave. But what very few people are interested in is a cure for their suffering, to wake up. The cure is perceived as loss, though Jesus is clear: For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 16:25) This resonated with me immediately and I understood exactly what he meant. 

For some years I worked bi-vocationally as a holistic health and wellness coach. What I had realized was that in most cases, what people wanted was relief, but not necessarily the resolution at the root cause. They wanted their symptoms to go away. They wanted their blood pressure to return to normal. They wanted to get off their many prescription medications. They wanted their gout to go away. They wanted to lose all the weight they had gained, etc., etc. They wanted relief from their symptoms, but they weren't really interested going beyond a temporary fix. Many did enough to get temporary relief, but few had any interest in going further. But I was a holistic practitioner, I urged getting to the root cause - I urged doing the hard work of correcting the possible imbalances in diet and lifestyle that may have caused their gout, or their weight gain, or whatever is was they got them on on those meds to begin with (in coordination with their MD). But taking that route was a lot more work and there was a high cost; it meant committing to diet and lifestyle changes for the rest of their lives. In the end, most people settled for symptom relief, and of all the clients I worked with over the years, very few were willing to make changes long-term. It was too much time and effort in the kitchen and they had no energy and it took too much planning. The organic or local farm grown food was too expensive or too much effort to procure. The exercise and stress management recommendations took too much time, etc., etc. 

Religious life, for most people, does not require a lot of time or commitment. Church membership, the typical path of religious life, requires church attendance and a few quid in the plate now and again. At the next level, some who are very committed to religious life take up church leadership or worship or teaching roles, a bit of volunteer work now and again, and add a few more quid in the plate with some regularity. There are many who are quite devout and their work is important for keeping the church open, operating, and financially sound, as well as to provide beneficial, charitable acts to assist the local people of the parish's community. I do not mean to minimize religious life in any way.  But I do mean to make a clear distinction as to what it is and what it is not. Religious life is not the same thing as the spiritual life. Though the two may, and often do, co-exist.  

The spiritual life requires a very different kind of effort and commitment. It is not visible because it is not outward facing, but is rather an inward and individual journey. It's risky. It leads to change. It invariably leads to transformation. It requires time in the kitchen, as it were. It requires disciple. Once must procure the ingredients and learn how to cook with them; to make friends with the local farmer. That is, one must get to know a few spiritual teachers, read the contemplatives and the mystics, and follow their recipes, day in and day out. Sometimes it gets hot in the kitchen. The physical offerings of the church can provide temporary relief for our pain at a certain level, but the cure for human suffering is not found in the pew or in any meeting or on any balance sheet; it is found in the heart. There is a path there, a path to freedom, a path to the Kingdom, but it requires sitting at the knee of the Teacher. It requires living the lessons; it requires awareness and a desire to awaken. It requires learning God not just learning about God. It requires moving beyond the familiar territory of strongly held beliefs and swimming in the unknown waters of mystery (some call this faith), where nothing is known and there is no certainty. It requires lifestyle changes, effort. It requires a willingness to let go of old ways and learn new things, paradoxical idioms and strange ideas that somehow ring true. The spiritual life seeks after the cure, to know for oneself the inexpressible communion with Love, and cannot, will not, settle for the relief of symptoms alone.

Thank you for reading my blog and walking with me in the path of spiritual grace; for your willingness to spend this time with me, as together we learn how to see and be Christ in the world. Rowena +  

Friday, April 8, 2022

THREE THINGS.... Three Reflections on Awakening

 "Awakening" has become a very popular catch-word in recent years. Everybody seems to be talking about it. "Wake up!" is a more and more common mantra. But what is Awakening? and how can we know the difference between being awake and being "asleep", or being "in the dream." Here are but three of my humble reflections on a topic that fill many tomes written by many wise people and is spoken of in all world's great religions (some far more prominently than others)

1. Awakening does not mean coming around.  In some ways its easier to speak of awakening in terms of what it is not.  If two people are arguing and one party says: "Wake up! Can't you see what's going on? Can't you see the truth? (and the truth happens to be the way that person see things) you can be assured that this kind of awakening has little to nothing to do with enlightenment. If fact, it is the polar opposite of the experience of a spiritual awakening.  Awakening persons care less and less about proving oneself right about anything, or needing to take a side, because that is exactly the kind of dualist thinking that is falling away (as opposed to being artificially pushed away). Though it is important to recognize that the temptation is always there; the tendency to cling to ideals and righteous opinions does not go away because the outside world has not stopped functioning dualistically, but gradually it becomes easier to observe and to make different choices, as one's inner landscape takes on a new shape.  

2. Awakening provides choice. This is the single most important thing that one can say about awakening. Most of us spend the hours of our days being tossed about by the emotions of our brain chemistry and neurological pathways. The past replays as patterns of thought and behaviors and is generally, and almost completely unconscious. The primary practice for realizing the fullness of this reality is to cultivate the role of "I" as witness who observes, without judgment, "me."  "I" (the one who is my true self) can then watch "me" (the false self, the egocentric story of everything everybody has ever told me about who I am) going about the business of living. "I" might observe and reflect to "I-self": There is "me," talking to a friend; there is "me" feeling defense and anxious. All the while, "I" is aware that "I" is not affected by this drama taking place on the stage of life, and therefore, the defensiveness and anxiety are not "I" but belong only to the character named, "me." Having the objectivity of the witness or observer allows for the question: Where have I felt defensive and anxiety before? This feels familiar. Then we begin to see thought and behavior patterns as they show up, previously hidden. "I" can then say, Oh, it's you, my old friend defensiveness and anxiety." Knowing the different between "me" and "I" is the first step in awakening. We awaken to our true self, and without judgment, begin to realize that "me" need not be a slave to the false self story, but can now begin to make choices; to let go of old patterns of behavior that no longer serve us well, and to allow the true self to emerge, the loving self, that only sees the Christ in all things and responds accordingly (to include loving toughly with necessary boundaries as needed as expressions of true kindness, as opposed to the false self who is "nice" and doesn't want to rock the boat because it is controlled by fear). Additionally, the observation of anxiety in "me," releases the anxiety in the body because "me" is no longer caught up in it. Once observed, it dissipates. Without the observer, all we have is the egoic self who operates from a place of reaction, cause and effect, ignorant that emotions are defenses of the false self, suffering needlessly as we are caught up in the dramas of every day life. This is one way of expressing what it means to acquire awareness. Having a choice to not react, but rather to respond in love from the authentic self is to free oneself of the ego's continual need to prove itself, to protect itself, and to maintain the facade of the false self. This is what it means to have life (to be born again, to die to self) and have it abundantly. 

3. We do not awaken ourselves, we are awoken. It is not possible for us to force the experience of awakening upon ourselves. And most people do not experience awakening suddenly but rather as a process that unfolds over time and cannot be completed on this side of the pearly gates. Nor can the process of awakening be stopped or reversed. Once it begins, it continues. We cannot un-know what we now know. Once we know that "I" is not "me," we cannot not know that again. One cannot awaken by means of the intellect - it is not related to the brain - it is a heart-centered phenomenon. We cannot think our way into the kingdom, though that doesn't stop us from trying! I find much comfort in all the books and videos I read and watch relating to this subject. Somewhere along the line I moved from curious confusion to the feeling of being among old friends with whom I share something profound, though impossible to capture in words. One could know the Bible by heart and have never missed a Sunday worship service and yet have none of the self-awareness that is indicative of the process of awakening. While we cannot awaken ourselves, we can place ourselves in an open and inviting posture. The timeless spiritual practices of learning to be "the observer," the practice of meditation or Centering Prayer, repeated exposure to the work of the mystics, and the study of the teachers of awakening who proliferate the religious landscape and span the ages (including Jesus!), are four of the postures of invitation. We do not march willfully into the kingdom; we ask to be invited and the door opens. 

Thank you for reading my blog and walking with me in the path of spiritual grace; for your willingness to spend this time with me, as together we learn how to see and be Christ in the world. Rowena +