Saturday, May 26, 2018

Dancing Love

"Trinity"
- in my meditation garden -

On the Christian calendar tomorrow is Trinity Sunday – a day on which the church proclaims the belief that “God” is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I am reminded of the time a while back when an agnostic friend of mine declared: “I don’t even believe in one God but you Christians believe there are three.” Actually, Christians do not believe there are three “Gods,” and in fact, an understating of “God” as a “Trinity” may make the whole idea of “God” far more understandable and perhaps even a bit more palatable for non-believers in our contemporary 21st century society.

The fact is that most Christians believers rarely think of God in terms of a Trinity and even on “Trinity Sunday” many preachers will pretty much avoid directly talking about the “Holy Trinity” because the concept is so complex.

I recall a rather humorous picture of the Trinity in one of my childhood religion books, it was like a family portrait of God. The serious-looking “Father” was depicted sitting on a throne with a long white beard, next to him sat the “Son” who looked a bit younger and appeared somewhat less stern than the old man, and in between the two of them was a dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit. They were all siting in a big room high above the clouds, watching over and perhaps directing the events down here on earth.

As I grew up that extremely "anthropomorphic" picture of those two heavenly persons and the dove made very little sense to me and like may Christians, I just stopped thinking about the confusing doctrine of “God” as three persons in one being.  Over time, I gradually realized that the Trinity is nowhere near as static and anthropomorphic as depicted in my childhood religion book. The language of “Trinity” is highly poetic and metaphorical and the concept of Trinity can only be understood by exploring the language and worldview of the ancient Greeks from which the doctrine of the “Trinity” first emerged back in the 4th century.

The ancient Greeks had a rather intuitive, deep awareness of a universe in which everything and everyone is dynamically interconnected, all “dancing around together” in a cosmic harmony. And so they reasoned that, if “God” created it all and everything reflects the image of “God,” it must be that “God” IS a dynamic relationship, a cosmic harmony.

When the 4th century Greeks talked about “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit,” they weren’t talking about two people and a bird sitting in a room up in heaven; rather, they were using wonderfully poetic language.  God is a community, God is a dynamic relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are universal forces all dancing around together in a great cosmic dance and everything that has being is part of that dance.

As I see it, the idea of “God as a Trinity” may well appeal to the sensibilities of a 21st century mindset in which the scientists of our own day describe the nature of the universe as a swirling/dancing mass of atoms.  Today’s “new” scientists have uncovered an almost-mystical quantum world of multiple universes, galaxies and microscopic quarks in which everyone and everything all move together in cosmic harmony. In fact, Einstein himself defined the universe as a dancing trinity where matter space and time are constantly interacting and performing together.

When we imagine “God as Trinity” it means that “God” is not a separated distant being (or three beings) stuck away up in heaven; rather “God” is an abiding energy, an energy of “Dancing Love” at the core of all that exists, flowing in and through everything that has being.

Anthony DeMello once said:

To lose the self is to suddenly realize that you are something
other then what you thought you were.
You thought you were the center,
you thought you were the dancer.
You now experience yourself as the dance.

This is the ultimate lesson for me as I approach Trinity Sunday. This is a day for proclaiming that we are not dancers but rather we are the dance and the name of the dance is “God.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Foreigners and Strangers

"A RadiantTapestry"
 - Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Over this past week my wife and I were visiting our family back east, a trip that involved waiting in several different airports for prolonged periods of time. As I sat and waited in places like Chicago and Washington DC,  I recognized the incredible diversity of the thousands of people all sitting there together waiting for those planes – all shapes, sizes and ages, people from all over the world, from many different cultures, representing many different ideologies and beliefs.  I also had a sudden flash of insight that all these many different others were not strangers to me at all. In fact, at some deep level, I had this overwhelming sense that somehow we all belonged to one another, all members of a universal, maybe even cosmic family whom I had known all my life but had never yet met.

I am reminded of one of my favorite Zen sayings:

The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that
I am here and you are out there.

The only way I could possibly explain my sense of “airport connections” to “strangers” whom I never met lies in the truth that there are no different-others, none of us are ever “strangers” to each other and no one is a foreigner. My flash of insight while traveling transported me beyond the false dualistic and egoic illusion of a “me inside” separated from a “you outside.”

The theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, eloquently articulates the fundamental truth that everything and everyone is invariably and inevitably woven together into what she describes as a radiant tapestry of being. Professor Johnson observes:

Woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars
and genes from the sea creatures.,
and everyone, utterly everyone is kin
in the radiant tapestry of being.

Many times religious people and people who follow some sort of spiritual path think about their relationships prescriptively. In other words, they imagine that following the course of a spiritual path teaches them that they should treat others with dignity and that they should preserve and cherish the planet on which we live.  But as I think about my recent airport awareness, a spiritual journey actually teaches us to think of our relationships descriptively.  It’s not that we should foster relationships but rather we are our relationships. We are one another, we are the earth, the sea and the sky. Each and every one of us is woven into that radiant tapestry of being. When we can come to that insight we find the deeper wisdom and greater truth of any spiritual journey.

I’m back home now but still sort of basking in my travel experiences of recent days. In these chaotic times when there seems to be so much division and animosity between people of different tribes and camps who hold different views of the world, we might all do well to reclaim the truth that all of us are kin.

The Buddha taught:

See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Wind of Creation

"A Mighty Wind"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House - 

Out here in the desert we rarely ever get rain at this time of the year; however, in this springtime season, the setting of the sun is almost always accompanied by strong winds that blow throughout the mountain canyons and onto the desert floor. A few days ago, I sat outside just as the sun was disappearing behind the western mountains and the winds were gusting so hard that they literally shook our house. So, I planted my feet firmly on the ground and I deeply breathed into the powerful beauty of those mighty winds.

As I took those deep breaths I was reminded that the ancient Navajo word for breath is Holy Wind. A more careful rendering of this definition is: The wind of creation that pervades the cosmos. In a very real sense those ancient people understood “God” to be the wind that blows and the air we breathe.

Nowadays, when many people use the word “God” they think of a “man” who lives up in some distant place, a remote king, an aloof judge, a heavenly father; but if you examine the images of “God” found in many of the ancient scriptures and teachings of the world religions,  “God” is often referred to as The Wind that Blows, The Air We Breathe.  

In the Christian church, this coming Sunday is the “Day of Pentecost.” According to the Scriptures, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared among his disciples as the Holy Spirit, the “Living Christ” abiding with the church forever. In the Pentecost story, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a powerful wind blowing through the room where Jesus’ disciples were gathered together and to this very day, the “Holy Spirit” is often referred to as the “Breath of God.” Similarly, in the Hebrew tradition, “God” is called “Ruah:” a breath of air, a holy wind, sometimes blowing mightily, sometimes gently whispering. And of course, over the ages, Buddhists have concentrated on awareness of one’s breath as a means of being grounded in and connected to the greater universe.

A few years ago, our local NPR station featured a Ted Talk that has continued to stick with me. The program featured a series of lectures by various scientists who talked about the ecology of the natural world - how all things, all creatures, all people are dynamically interconnected into one living breathing organism.

One particular segment of the program especially struck me as a biologist talked about the air we breathe:

Breath does indeed connect us in a very literal way.
Take a breath and as you breathe in, think about what is in your breath.
There, perhaps, is the carbon from the person sitting next to you,
maybe there’s a little bit of algae from some nearby lake, river or beach.
There may even be some carbon in your breath from ancient dinosaurs,
and there could also be carbon that you are exhaling
that will be in the breath of your great, great grandchildren
The air we breathe connects us all the time

The other day, as I breathed in and breathed out as those powerful winds blew through the desert, it struck me that I was literally breathing in “God” and breathing back out into “God.”  I was breathing in all that ever was, breathing in everything that is, and breathing back into all that ever yet will be. Imagine that: “God” is as intimate to me and you as the very air we breathe.

The poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, once wrote:

Whoever breathes the most air lives the most life.