Painting title: Hope for the Future. Original Artwork by Ingrid Hauss
Christmas is, for me and for many, the most important festival of the church year. I call it The Feast of the Incarnation. Preparation for what will happen in the time from the beginning of Advent, which is the four weeks before Christmas and Epiphany, which is the celebration of the arrival of the wisemen at the manger, can be a fraught time for believers.
Our hopes that celebrating and contemplating the good which Christians can do at this time may be fraught. Our passionate yet painful participation in this time can be like a homesickness for our future wholeness. The contrast we experience between our present reality and the reality we hope is coming through us and within us in the future, is a weighty thing to hold.
There are things we can do which may help us focus on our deepest desires. I have a medium sized egg-shaped candelabra for our dining room table. It holds four coloured candles, one for each week of advent. After we light the first one, an additional candle will be lit every week until they are all lit. When it is time to light the larger white candle of Christmas which is surrounded by the other four candles, we have done something in preparation.
The intentions symbolized by the candles are ineffable, prayers beyond us too deep to be said with words alone. The first candle, which is blue, is the candle of hope. In this time of fire, flood, climate crises and deeply human problems of oppression, loneliness, addiction and other terrible things, many people believe there is no hope. If we hope with them for their concerns, if we notice small shining incidents of hope, will this help all of us carry the weight of hope against heavy hopelessness? I light this blue candle for hope and try my best to notice hope among us. For example, I notice that some people say that our care for people and all living creatures is the most important thing we can work towards, that hopes for peace will lead us towards peace.
In the second week I light the blue candle for peace. I believe this helps hold the tension between the peace we hope for and the desperate reality of our world.
In the third week of Advent, the colour of the candle is pink, which is the symbolic colour of joy. Joy in my understanding includes everything, everyone and every situation and is held by hope and peace. This is a concept which must be something like ‘the peace that passes understanding.’ I feel some release of tension during the week of the pink candle for joy as I look for bright shining bits of joy which are among us despite suffering and disaster.
The candle in the week before Christmas is, again, blue. The colour of the clothing of Mary the mother of Jesus has often been depicted in religious paintings as blue. In this week there is a feeling that our largest understanding is of a world pregnant with a great gift for us all.
When Christmas arrives, we may be ready to receive our gifts as individuals and communities and move into preparations for newness in our lives. Perhaps this gift at Christmas is the ineffable gift of compassion which will move us to participate with love in ways that lead us and others towards wholeness. Could this be the wholeness in what Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme call continuous incarnation? Is this the gift of innocence on the far side of experience? Hope moves into Peace into Joy and Love into loving Compassion. Some things do not grow old.
Today is Remembrance Day, a day to honour our war dead and all those who have served in war in pursuit of peace. It is a rainy day in Victoria with intervals of clear sunshine. Now that the sun is getting up later and setting earlier, the movement in our reality is into more darkness, with beautiful sometimes spectacular flashes of light. People I see walking about in Victoria do not seem to be sleepwalking. I feel that many people are awake and excited about the change that is upon us now. Something new.
For seven weeks this fall I participated once a week with about a hundred other people in a live video course called: ‘Science, Spirituality and the Noosphere.’ Our teachers were Matthew Fox, “Renowned Spiritual Pioneer and Author of more than 35 Books,” and Brian Thomas Swimme, “Professor, Author and Director of “the Third Story of the Universe.” Matthew and Brian say that we are in a ‘Renaissance,’ a rebirth that is coming out of our civilization’s past but is actively creating a new future which is based on spiritual initiative.
Brian uses the word, ‘Cosmogenesis ‘. He says that our calling is to live with the tension of earth’s shift to its being a ‘primordial intelligence.’ Our hope is that we will trust the primordial intelligence of the universe enough that the powers of creativity will envelop us. Matthew says that our rebirth based on spiritual energy has resonance with our biblical understanding that God loved us from before the beginning. He says that there is resonance between the scientific discovery Hubble made, which is that, from the beginning, in some sense the universe knew where it was going, and the mystical understanding that reality cannot be divorced from the cosmic. Our growing in consciousness is our awareness kinship.
Along with our feelings of excitement around this work of coming into consciousness, we wonder how much of the daily news showing horrific barbarous acts of war and hatred we are called to witness. Karl Barth, perhaps the most significant protestant theologian of the last century, told his students to first read the daily newspaper and then live out their faith. But Karl Barth did not have television. If we are going to witness truthfully to what is going on in the world, are we to witness what comes across our tv screens into our homes? Friends we know who have lived through previous wars in the middle east say that the film footage shown in middle eastern countries is even more graphically horrific than is ours here in North America.
We also question the truth of what is being shown us. These things are challenges for us. Some of us understood as we grew up that part of our task in the presence of horrors of human violence towards our brothers and sisters is ’to not turn away.’ As we more closely examine our history of turning away from what have been called “inconvenient truths,” we hope we will become stronger in our compassion and ability ‘to not turn away.’ Our growing understanding of and participation in the “Noosphere” seems to be a place where we will grow in relationship, kinship and compassion.
Brian used the word. ’bond.’ to describe the concept of Noosphere. (I know the term, ‘bond of Love’ to describe the Holy Spirit in Christian thought and ritual.) Brian told us that, in 1923, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin realized that humanity was giving birth to a planetary mind, a super organism spread over all the earth, a sphere of human thought. We are now in the process of understanding the Noosphere and shaping it.
Matthew says that the question for us is, since we are participating in this thinking layer of consciousness, how can we extend it to awaken humanity to a cosmic sense of ‘all.’ The ideas I have shared here are from Module one of ‘Science, Spirituality and the Noosphere.’ I hope they are helpful for your journey. Thank you for reading. A friend sent me the following poem by Father Thomas Keating. It is a prayer of letting go. The Welcoming Prayer (by Father Thomas Keating):
Note. See my older blogs for “My Early Experience with the Cosmic or Integral Conscious Movement” and “Building the Earth,” which is about Teilhard de Chardin.
As I look out over the Salish Sea towards the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, I see fewer cargo ships than usual. The Port Workers Union here is on strike. We hear talk that organizations of all kinds everywhere need to be reorganized quickly and wisely to better the lives of us all if we are to reverse the ravages of climate change. We know that change is one of Love’s identifying characteristics and that Love is one of God’s best names.
How will we find the spiritual strength to absorb what is going on and to move into a new phase of our evolution? We ask ourselves, what do we have in our spiritual traditions which can prepare us to participate in what Love needs us to do. To love our neighbours as ourselves is a way to think about it.
In the midst of news of war, famine, drought, violence of all kinds, deadly street drugs and the breakdown of institutions, I remember a story Frederick Beuchner told a gathered group at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center at Bangor, Pennsylvania in 1991.
Frederick Beuchner was a renowned English teacher at Lawrence Academy, a boarding School in Groton, Massachusetts, before he became a Presbyterian minister and then a writer beloved by Christians all over the world. I clearly remember his telling this small story at that retreat.
He said in his resonant baritone voice, “You know the story of the man who met Hitler and afterwards was asked what Hitler was like, what Hitler looked like? The man replied, ‘Why he looked like Christ, of course.” Frederick Beuchner then looked with his blue eyes over the heads of us all and let us absorb the story. What do we do with this story when we hear people near us saying that they can pray for the starving children in Sudan but cannot stand seeing the faces of Russian leaders or soldiers on television?
I respond to this sort of thing in my own heart with another story, the true story of an Orthodox Russian monk who travelled all the way across Russia with nothing in his knapsack but his Bible and some dry bread. A spiritual guide in one of the monasteries he passed through taught him what is called “The Jesus Prayer.” The Jesus Prayer comes down to us as a tale called, ‘The Way of the Pilgrim.’ The author is anonymous and this little book was probably written before the abolition of Russian serfdom and after the Crimean War, sometime between 1855 and 1861.
‘The Way of a Pilgrim’ was translated into several European languages and read by many. The version many people in our times know is called The Jesus Prayer, a revised translation with expanded notes.
The Jesus prayer which was taught by the original pilgrim is used to this day throughout the world by persons from many different denominations. It is a prayer accompanied by the person at prayer looking into the faces of people he or she meets while walking. It is a prayer of breath and heartbeat and looking. I know many people who incorporate this as a walking meditation. It is so widely used that you probably know some people who practice it, perhaps in times when they especially need this prayer. Perhaps they have used it in times of fear, in hope, in sadness or in joy. I’ve heard people say that they’ve used it in times of childbirth or while they accompanied a loved one towards death. I once practiced it while coming in from being too far out in the ocean during an outgoing tide.
The prayer is simple. It takes repetition to anchor it into one’s heartbeat and breathing so that one no longer has to concentrate on the words. It becomes a part of the heartbeat and the breath.
You can learn it. Here it is.
Breathe in and say to yourself and later just think it, “Lord Jesus Christ.” Breathe out and say or think, “Son of God.” Breathe in again and say or think,“Have mercy on me.” Breathe out again and say or think, “A sinner.” Repeat. Let go of any attempts to understand it more than you already do.
Both these books are available on Amazon and probably in your local library;
The Faces of Jesus by Frederick. Buechner. The text is wonderful and the photos by Lee Bolton fit very well.
The Jesus Prayer: A Monk of the Eastern Church. The Revised Translation with expanded notes. Reprinted 2018 Copyright 1987 St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press
This past Sunday the minister and many members of our congregation wore flame-red shirts or dresses. The banners and hangings at the front of the church were also red. This helped make the service feel like a party, a banquet and a fiesta. The celebration was part of the Sunday service beginning the season of Pentecost celebrating the giving of God’s Spirit to everyone and everything.
In the service, the Divine Spirit is represented by a large white Pentecost candle which is lit and then used to ignite a smaller slender white candle which begins the chain of light that moves, received and passed on, until we are a sea of light as we sit in our accustomed places in the congregation.
It is a brilliant time which marks God’s invitation to the congregation and the whole world to participate in God’s creative work. Pentecost is my favorite Sunday service in the church year. It is illuminating and full of promise as well as purpose. Sometimes there is cake in the church hall after the service. Cake is messy to serve and to eat and can remind us that sharing the community’s transforming spiritual gifts can be messy too.
The photo at the top of this blog entry is of a painting on cotton by an artist who was born in Djeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1991. Its title is: ‘How do the stars touch me? How do I touch the stars?’ Its date is 2023. The artist, Cecila Granara, grew up in Mexico, Rome and Chicago. She studied in London, Paris and New York. Celia speaks of her art as ‘poetry and symbolic iconography.’ She makes no mention of Pentecost or anything like that in what I have read.
For me, the flames touching the stars point towards something beyond words which is unspeakably wonderful.
My husband and I were recently in the South of France when we saw Cecilia’s piece at ‘Chateau La Coste,’ in an exhibition called, ‘Art and Architecture.’ It was a twenty five minute taxi ride from where we were staying in Aix en Provence.
As we begin this fourth week in Lent, I decide, as I have decided before, that I like the life of a pilgrim. I like to begin every week with preparations that will help me keep focused on one goal that is beyond my grasp. My goal is to allow myself to be transformed into my true self.
I like mystery because I am a mystery to myself and everyone I meet is a mystery to me. Karl Rahner, who was the Roman Catholic of the twentieth century, famously said that Christians of the twenty–first century would be mystics or they would not be at all. Rahner thought and spoke of God as ‘Holy Mystery.’
An adventure like a pilgrimage calls for some taking stock. This is my list of preparations for pilgrimage.
Take note of what your situation and surroundings are and of what you have at your disposal.
Be prepared to use what you have on hand. (You don’t need to go to a store.)
Do what you can.
Last weekend our clocks sprang ahead marking the end of a season of darkness here in Canada. I am glad to see more blue sky today. There is now more light and length in our days. I am glad of this, and yet, I am going to miss the winter long nights darkness with the nuanced sunlight and moonlight that sift through the clouds.
Darkness is part of what many of us have gone to for solitude and reflection on the terrors and disappointments of this time. Famine, war, lies and other breakdowns challenge our minds and hearts.
Meister Eckhart said in the fourteenth century that the ground of our souls is dark in a darkness that invites us to enter into depth. We hope that darkness is part of the transformation of our small egos into a closer resemblance to what is good. We remember that sometimes darkness is the mystery that allows us to see the light in the darkness.
This is darkness which we do not want to be lost to us. One of my friends, who is a Psychologist for children and adults, says that at this time, perhaps because it is springtime, also perhaps because we know the tradition of Lent, we are wrestling more than usual with our personal and also our collective shadow selves. The shadow which we all have is what makes us turn away from or hide from what we cannot look at because it makes us feel ashamed of ourselves and at times ashamed of our entire human race. We seem to have shadow in endless supply.
One variety of shadow that many of us wrestle with at this time is our personal and communal obsession with our phones and devices. This obsessive shadow habit of paying too much attention to our electronic devices keeps us from being in loving community with what Thomas Berry calls,’ our made of earth community.’
For me, the image of us as ‘hubs,’ perhaps like phone booths, is a dark image which stands against our hope to be full of transcendent light and moving towards our hoped for transformation. The ‘hub’ is truly shadow for me. I am aware of it and trying to remember that it is not a good thing.
In contrast to the image of our being ‘hubs,’ I like the image of our being like golden daffodils reaching towards sunlight that is beyond their reach, but is nonetheless life giving. This transcendent hope, for us and for our larger communities, is large and mysterious. It is transcendent hope because It takes us beyond our small egoic selves into a realm which is mystery beyond what we can imagine, the image of our‘ golden shadow.’
Every year I need time during Lent to learn how to carry the list of things which I try to hide from my mind and heart. I need help learning how to not turn away from what is surely part of my responsibility to hold up to the light . I need the strength of character to respond when there is opportunity to say or do something that will help another person or other persons to live their lives. The injustice and violence which keep people from life is both close to us in our communities and cities and also far from us – even across the world. Part of what makes this difficult for us is that we humans are mammals and, like all mammals, we are local-minded. It is a stretch of our hearts and minds to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We need help with this.
One thing that helps me pay attention to shadow is what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says we should do. He says we should try to act on behalf of goodness as stand ins for God’s own goodness. . Isn’t that mystery!! It is too wonderful for me to understand but I see the golden hope in what he is saying.
Rabbi Heschel lived during the holocaust and was an active presence during the Civil rights movement, and beyond, until 1972. He was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and with Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Heschel spoke up and spoke out but he also listened carefully and thoughtfully to other voices who said that God has abandoned us. In response to this, Heschel reminded us that God loves us and made a covenant with us that gives us freedom to choose, a covenant in which God promised to give us freedom, even the freedom to destroy ourselves and each other.
He lived his life in the belief that the creator and all loving God will not interfere with our freedom. His stance and perhaps what Rabbi Heschel is most loved and honored for is this recommendation: ‘Praise before Prayer.’
He recommends that we respond to what we praise with awe and wonder.
This is solid ‘pure gold advice’ for us as we try to help God drag our shadow attitudes and behaviors into the golden light of transcendent transformation. May we help each other with this good work!
This time of year makes me think of my own teachers and how they have affected my understanding of awe and wonder. I hope that this year’s teachers, whoever and wherever they are, will encourage and value whatever awe and wonder their students or they themselves experience.
I hope that we all will have more transcendent experiences, exceptional experiences that are really impossible to put into words and will remember what such experiences feel like. For me, this means moving out of our small selves into our larger selves which are part of a different sort of time which is sometimes called ‘God’s time’ or ‘Kairos time.’
Some of my teachers made me aware that transcendent experiences are large, the way joy and love are large. One of these teachers was my teacher of spiritual direction, Donald Grayston. Don began The Jubilee Program in Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Formation, a training program for people who feel called to be soul friends or spiritual directors. As he told us, ‘Good teachers teach themselves.’ I think he meant that they teach us what the teacher’s own life is like. Don was my spiritual director as well as my teacher and he, with gentle humility, showed me what his life was like.
I graduated from the Toronto jubilee Program in 1994. In the years from 1990 till 1994, Don allowed me to write whatever I had in my heart for the many assignments in the course, as long as I made good use of the assigned reading material.
I was grieving. My father, eldest brother and mother all had died, one at a time, in the period just before I began the course with Don. I graduated from Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, with a Master of Divinity degree in 1991. The spaciousness with which I was allowed to write those papers for Don was one of the best gifts I have ever received.
Don had no favorites among his students. He treated all of us with respect and tried to give us what we needed to become the best versions of ourselves. ‘Spacious’ is perhaps my favourite descriptive word for the transcendence I experienced in writing those papers. For me, transcendence means that we get out of our own way, out of our smaller ego-selves and into our larger-selves, which choose to reach for heaven and stretch joyfully. ‘Lightness’ and ‘light’ are involved but so is thoughtful reading and understanding. It is creative spaciousness.
Don was a learned teacher, a scholar and an Anglican priest. He was the most important and most well educated soul friend I have ever been privileged to work with. He defined what the terms meant to me.
Don wrote at least two books of memoir and many learned scholarly papers which were published. He wrote and spoke about social justice issues in ways that mattered. He was a beloved teacher and mentor to many.
About five years before his death in 2017, Don wrote what he called, ‘A Heart Will.’ I believe that he sent this out to all his students, or as many of us as he could find. I keep my copy close to me. He calls what he has written ‘insights.’ These are the words he sent to us with his ‘Heart Will.’
‘I bequeath them to you now, dear friends, at the end of my life, in the hope that they may shed some useful light on your path. As I do so, I send them out with profound gratitude for the help you have given me as I have walked my own path. Love, Don Grayston.’
I believe he would bequeath these insights to any people who want to become the best versions of themselves. I think he would be glad I am sharing them with you.
All Don’s insights in the ‘Heart Will’ are wonderful but my favourite is: #3. Include and Transcend.
The gist of it is : ‘… I include my Christian identity in a larger spiritual identity which permits me, with Thomas Merton as a tremendous model, to encounter others primarily as human beings rather than persons identified in a limiting sense with their traditions of origin.’ (A Heart Will,’ by Donald Edward Grayston.)
I cannot tell you how many times this insight bequeathed by Don has enabled me to transcend myself to be someone larger and wiser than I otherwise might be. It is a very light-filled and spacious insight.
Don encouraged me to write poems and also to work at getting them published. A few months before he died I showed him, ‘The Way Things Are is Large,’ in Poems for the Journey, on page 19 and ‘There is an Opening, a Door,’ on page 25. He was supportive and thanked me for sharing with him.
Many of the poems in Poems~Poemas and Poems for the Journey came out of my feelings of awe and wonder. I hope you honor your own feelings of transcendence wherever you go.
All good things to you as the school year begins and always.