Fiction and Fantasy Feed Humanity

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Troops go home. Peace signed. What next?

Every Sunday, a clutch of writers post upon their blogs, 8-sentence snippets from their Writing Works in Progress.
There is much reading, commenting, sharing and getting to know one another. Also great writing. Click on the rectangle with the black feather and sword to see the list of blogs and perhaps add your blog’s name and join us in the fun. If you are, like me, a person who needs deadlines and feedback, this really helps.
This replaces “Dwelling.” It will clear up some technical issues and take the blog in a new direction. Please excuse the older posts from a spiritual blog. They will soon go elsewhere.

Sandeshavaahak Carel
आवास
Die Familie Paul Hausser
Die Familie Maria Acker

November 1, 1648

Prague

When Prince Charles Gustaf, leader of one of the last Swedish armies to attack Prague, received news that the Peace Agreement was signed, he sent his troops home. But the student and citizen army was still busy because the Swedes looted every home and building as they left. To protect from the sacking and plundering, the Imperial troops

battle_on_charles_bridge_-_1648

Battle of Prague on Charles Bridge

turned to some unusual methods. Paul was not contagious, but frightfully weak and unsteady compared to his former self.

Paddy and Donn stood by to protect him and Albert sat in his wagon and shouted warnings for them not to go near those homes or buildings, because Paul had been in there. Maria borrowed some ‘Plague House’ and ‘Quarentine’ signs from the hospital infirmary and posted them. Once they had seen the last of what Albert called “those Swedes’ smelly-fish backsides,” the friends settled down into Maria’s view of life, “celebrate the good and move on.” Simon, Josef, Nandor and Matthias went back to finish their first terms. Prof. Katernice welcomed Gretje to classes and let her take part in the discussions.

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Kabbalah and the Cosmic Tree of Life

Sefirot in Jewish Kabbalah

Hello everyone. Welcome to Week 27.

This is a reading from European Jewish liturgy that was practiced sometime between 1150 and 1250. We don’t know the author, but this was the time when Kabbalistic mysticism was flourishing. Its roots, however, go back to the beginning of Judaism.

As explained in In the Same Breath, until the 1100s, the teaching of this form of mysticism went “from mouth to ear,” little was written down and the practices seldom reached ordinary people.

Perle Besserman writes in The Shambhala Guide to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism, that Jewish meditation that developed from the 3rd to 11th centuries used the Hebrew alphabet and “the ten sefirot _ worlds within worlds that make up the cosmic Tree of Life.” This became the foundation for many later branches of Kabbalah.

One translation of “sefirot” is the ten attributes through which the Being one might call One Spirit reveals herself or himself and constantly creates and manifests the universe.

The ethereal nature of this form of mysticism is shown in this reading.

Everything is in Thee and Thou art in everything:

Thou fillest everything and dost encompass it; when everything was created,
Thou was in everything;

Before everything was created, Thou wast everything.

One of the central ideas of the Kabbalah – that God is in exile from himself – was important to Jews in the 1400s as the Ashkenazic Jews were pushed out of cities across Europe and Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain.

This concept of exile took on renewed importance during World War II.

There are now secular practitioners of Kabbalah and well as Jewish, Islamic and Christian followers, a strong sign of the flexibility and durability of this tradition.


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Canticle of Brother Sun – still relevant today

Hello everyone,

Welcome to Week 26. We are in the midst of the time of mysticism, from 850 to 1600. The section of In the Same Breath that covers this era is called “Mystical Aha! Moments.” To see what I mean by an “Aha! Moment,” and to read mine, please see this earlier post.

Francis of Assisi was born in 1182, the year the magnetic compass was invented and 18 years before buttons were first used in clothing.  He was a lover of nature, a rich young man who left his family to live in poverty for love of God.

He founded the Franciscan order after hearing a message from Christ: Rebuild my church. Since the orders had long formed a counter balance to many of the problems of the regular clergy, it wasn’t a surprise that he founded an order for men and inspired his friend, Clare, to do the same for women. Francis also founded the Third Order of St. Francis for lay people. The orders grew and are still active today. They include Catholic, Episcopal and Anglican priests, nuns, brothers and lay people.

Many mystics during this time leaned more toward trying to reach an unreachable transcendent God rather than feeling a connection with an immanent one. Francis wasn’t in their ranks. He still holds to clear differences – God is Lord who had creatures – but it is a reachable, almost friendly God.

His Canticle to Brother Sun is probably one of the more profound and easy to understand expressions of the mystery of the unity between Spirit and Creation that we have in Western writings.

Most High Almighty Good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor and all blessings!
To You alone, Most High, do they belong.
And no man is worthy to mention You.

Be praised, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
Especially Sir Brother Sun,
By whom You give us the light of day.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor.
Of You, Most High, he is a symbol.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and the Stars!
In the sky You formed them bright and lovely and fair.

Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind.
And for the Air and cloudy and clear and all Weather.
By which You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Be praised, my lord for Sister Water,
Who is very useful and humble and lovely and chaste.

Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
By whom You give us light at night,
And he is beautiful and merry and mighty and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister, Mother Earth,|
Who sustains and governs us,
And produces fruits with colorful flowers and leaves!

Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for love of You
And endure infirmities and tribulations.

Blessed are those who shall endure them in peace,
For by You, Most High, they will be crowned!

Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Bodily Death,
From whom no living man can escape!
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!

Blessed are those whom she will find in Your most holy will,
For the Second Death will not harm them.

Praise and bless my Lord and thank Him
And serve Him with great humility.


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Hildegard was a multi-tasker

Hi everyone,

Welcome to Week 25 of 2012  and the writings of a woman who lived from 1098 to 1179 and over the past several years has become popular for her words, her connection with nature, her leadership. and her music.

Hildegard of Bingen
Heroines of History

Hildegard of Bingen was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Polymath is an old word that means someone who has expertise in many, divergent fields, something like a Renaissance man. Hildegard spent her childhood in a convent and much of her adult womanhood advising bishops, popes and leaders of orders of men and women.

Her expression of the unity of spirit and creation, quoted in In the Same Breath, is touching in its depth and simplicity.

No creature has meaning without the Word of God. God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible. The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity.

The Word flashes out in every creature.

This is how the spirit is in the flesh – the Word is indivisible from God.

I can’t help but think of the struggle that Catholic nuns are going through today as they deal with the criticism from the Vatican and wonder what Hildegard would have done or said.


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How does Spirit mingle itself with grass?

Hello everyone,

Welcome to Week 24 of 2012.

If you were reading In the Same Breathand following the mystical thread of unity between Spirit and Creation, your quote to ponder this week would come from Symeon, an abbott in Constantinople who lived from 949 to 1042. He was a Eastern Christian mystic who had been a

– Jane Gaunt, One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century

counselor to three Emperors before becoming a monk.

O Light that none can name, for it is altogether nameless.

O Light with many names, for it is at work in all things…

How do you mingle yourself with grass?

How, while continuing unchanged, altogether inaccessible,

Do you preserve the nature of the grass unconsumed?

Through the lens we use, Symeon was asking a major question: How do Creator and Creation, spirit and physical beings, the ethereal and the stuff of matter, become One?

It’s the same mystery we follow through In the Same Breath across spiritualities. At that time in history, it was also being asked by Sufi mystics and Jewish scholars.

It is still being asked today. What is your answer?


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Avatar adds new thread to growing tapestry of cosmic unity, spurs discussion of pantheism

Has Avatar added  a new thread to the unfolding tapestry of understanding the unity of the universe? Does it’s “Aha! Moment” measure up to true nonduality? Does it speak of the unity of Spirit and Creation as Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton, the author of the Proverbs and Meister Eckhart have?

Let’s take a look.

Atavar lasts two hours and 40 minutes, can be seen in breath-taking 3-D and is showing on nearly 23,000 screens worldwide.

It tells the story of an interconnected universe in which people, plants, animals and a Mother God, Eywa, form a unified, dynamic network of life.
Not surprisingly, it has been attacked for being pantheistic. Those attacks, in turn,  have triggered responses that point out the value in its view of a dynamic, biologically networked world.

One of the first and most often quoted attacks came from conservative columnist Ross Douthat, one of the New York Times Op-Ed writers who generally is on the other side of the more liberal official voice of the Times.

Douthat called Avatar director James Cameron’s “long apologia for pantheism,” and ends his column by stating that if, at the end of life, “there is no escape upward” to a transcendent God, we are in an “agonized position” and our human lives are “deeply tragic.” Pantheism, Douthat says, is “a downward exit,” that leaves us with nothing but “dust and ashes.”

Quite soon after I read that in the actual paper New York Times with my breakfast coffee at a wooden kitchen table, I wrote a Letter to the Editor, pointing out a third way of looking at reality and spirituality. It was, of course, along the lines of what we have been discussing here.

The NYT didn’t print it, but I was thrilled to see that the letters they did print in response to the column echoed many of my thoughts and that some were written by religious leaders or professors of religion.

Here’s what I said:

Let me suggest that there is a third way to avoid the “agonized position” Douthat describes.

If one believes, as many have through the ages, that Spirit and Creation are One, then one doesn’t have to chose between escaping to God or turning to dust with Nature. The unity has already happened and will continue during whatever comes after the body dies.

That thought sings through the Tao Te Ching, the Upanishads, Alice Walker, Teilhard de Chardin and Meister Eckhart’s writings, and some parts of the Bible. Ponder the possible implications of unity in Exodus, 3:14, “I am who am,” and Matthew 26:26, 28 “This is my body…this is my blood.”
Martin Buber said it well: “There is no such thing as seeking God, for there is nothing in which He could not be found.”

Here are a few of the printed letters.

Ross Douthat gives us only two choices: the upward heavenly route or the downward earthly one. The latter, he says, results in the despair of atheism. This is much too dire.

Traditional religions teach the presence of God in all creation, an indwelling of the Holy Spirit in matter. Although we are all agnostics (in the sense of not knowing) about afterlife, it may be that nature mysticism is a prelude to something else. Why discard that possibility?

Eugene C. Bianchi
Athens, Ga., Dec. 21, 2009
The writer is professor emeritus of religion at Emory University.

*******

Ross Douthat’s column treats pantheism with straw-man condescension. It is simply not true that there is no demanding Almighty in pantheistic religions. In Hinduism — my religion and probably the oldest surviving religion with a pantheistic element — stories abound of divine exhortations and actions against evil.

Nor is it true that there is no escape except downward into ashes. The laws of karma and reincarnation are deeply moral constructs that specify a cosmic calculus matching each human action to a just reward or punishment, always fair, yet always allowing second chances to achieve Moksha, our interpretation of salvation.

These beliefs are nonverifiable scientifically — no more or less so than Mr. Douthat’s own, I might add — but it is a mistake not to discuss them when making claims about pantheism’s theological implications.

Raman Khanna
San Francisco, Dec. 21, 2009

The writer is a member of the Hindu American Foundation Working Group.

********

Ross Douthat is right to say that the ”circle of life” in Disney’s ”Lion King” and the Force of George Lucas’s ”Star Wars” represent a recent trend in American religion. For years, I have argued for the same point.

But the alternative to biblical monotheism is not pantheism or a religion of nature, as Mr. Douthat asserts, but a more sophisticated attitude.

Today, Americans accept many manifestations of God, from Ganesha of the Hindus to Sky Woman of the Iroquois, as equally valid. They seek a sacred power that is also immanent in nature, but not limited to the natural world of death and evolution.

The emergent sense of God in America is neither monotheistic or pantheistic, but transtheistic. It is an attitude that last appeared in the West among Romans of the time of Jesus, but that has been common among philosophical Hindus and Buddhists for many centuries.

Peter Gardella
Purchase, N.Y., Dec. 21, 2009
The writer is a professor of world religions at Manhattanville College.

I would like to know more about Gardella’s meaning in using the term. “transtheistic,” since it is new to me and what I find online isn’t very satisfying. Let me throw out another one, however, which I think fits our analysis of where Avatar fits in our thread of unity of Spirit and Creation.

Rather than pantheistic, I see Avatar as a good example of the slightly but significantly different term, panenthesism, which allows for the mystery of both immanence and transcendency to occur.

Traidtional  critics of pantheism, including Teilhard de Chardin, say it makes nature and God identical – God is everything and everything is God. Panentheism is a concept from the Upanishads that was made popular in the 20th Century by creation theologians.

The late Wayne Teasdale, a student of Bede Griffiths who was involved in the study of science and religions and in the dialogue between Catholic and Buddhist monks before his death in 2004, explained the dfference between the two this way in The Mystic Heart.

[In pantheism,] God is exhausted in his immanence in the universe…[and is] not able to sustain transcendence… [In panenetheism,] everything – the universe, nature, the earth or life – is within God, in the consciousness of the divine or the divine mind.

In other words, God is everything, but not every individual thing is God.

Does the world of Avatar fit that description? I think so. Please let me know in your comments what you think.

For more about the controversy surrounding Avatar and its possible effect on people’s behavior, please see CyberINKonline’s other blog, CyberINKonline.


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Ask not when Christ was born… ‘the birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more or less’ – Meister Eckhart. (But you can still like Silent Night)

Many years ago I asked a spiritual teacher whether she believed that Christ was God. She smiled and said, “Of course.” And then, before I could get too far into believing she had actually answered the question that I had intended, she added, “But aren’t we all?”

It was many years before I even started to understand the depth and wisdom of the seemingly contradictory mystery she had presented to me that day.

As Christmas approaches – a holy day that I embrace and look forward to every year, that I celebrate by trimming a tree, creating a village with sheep, angels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and several music boxes, by buying presents and cooking a turkey, and a day that finds me in awe at Mass with my family – it is important to ask a pertinent question.

Just what exactly does someone who believes in the complete yet mysterious unity of God and Creation, in the non-dualistic immanence of Spirit, in the Cosmic Christ of Teilhard de Chardin, celebrate on Dec. 25? What does this particular birth mean once you’ve moved beyond the dualistic way of looking at the Incarnation?

I’m nowhere near truly answering that question, but in reading the European mystics while writing In the Same Breath, (yes we are jumping ahead about 1,600 years, sorry), I came across one of the writings that got German Dominican Meister Eckhart accused of heresy shortly before his death in 1328. As you can see, he has gone about as far into believing in the complete unity of Spirit and Creation, of Self and self, of Brahman and Atman, as one can.

And yet, the words are familiar even without leaving dualism. Christians do pray for Christ to be born in their souls on Christmas Day, all the while believing in a transcendent, separate, omnipotent personal God.

Eckhart recognizes that, but then takes us firmly to the the unity his mysticism felt as he ends this homily on Christmas with the words “we are the Son himself.”

This is a common theme for Eckhart. To him, the core of our being is the “ground of the soul,” and this ground is “one with the divine nature or ground.” In Eckert’s words here: “Hie ist gotes grunt mîn grunt und mîn grunt gotes grunt,” or “Here, God’s ground is my ground and my ground God’s ground.”

Meister Eckhart – From Whom God Hid Nothing

Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me…

Now note where this birth occurs … this birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more nor less, for it is the same birth. This birth falls in the ground and essence of the soul.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). By this we understand not the external world, but the inner world. As surely as the Father, by his one nature, gives birth to the Son innately, so surely he gives birth to him in the innermost recesses of the mind, which is the inner world.

Here God’s ground is my ground, and my ground God’s ground. Here I live in my own as God lives in his own…

On one occasion I was asked what the Father is doing in heaven. I said that he is giving birth to his Son, an act he so delights in and which pleases him so much that he does nothing else but generate his Son, and these two are flowering with the Holy Spirit.

When the Father gives birth to his Son in me, I am his Son and not another: we are another in manhood, true, but there I am the Son himself and no other …We are sons in his Son, and we are the Son himself.

Now I’ll admit that as far as getting into “the spirit of Christmas” goes, this isn’t the warm and fuzzy Silent Night that was written in the early 1800s in Austria.

But I would say that both have their place. Perhaps the goal is to be able to appreciate both in whatever our spiritual lives or beliefs are – the soaring philosophical treatises and aha! moments of deep meditation and the folksy, emotional hymns and rituals. Might not that be another form of nonduality?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice and Joyous Kwanzaa!