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Wisdom personified, the piping of heaven, winter holy days

As this year’s Hanukkah celebration draws to a close and we move towards Winter Solstice, Christmas, and an amazing array of women and goddess-related holy days, it is good to take a look at a second Torah/Old Testament writing that evokes the spirit of the thread of unity we have been following.

While the “I am who am,” of Exodus is a fairly straightforward narrative, this passage from Proverbs is poetic and sounds more Eastern than most of the Bible. Wisdom is personified as a strong woman who was present as the Master Craftsman created the oceans and speaks of the wonders of those times.

The book of Proverbs is considered part of the wisdom literature of the Jewish/Christian scriptures, along with Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Proverbs are sayings that use similes and comparisons to make a point.

Scholars disagree about exactly when the various parts of the Book of Proverbs were written, but place them somewhere between 900 and 350 BCE, partly overlapping the tail end of the Axial Age..

In Chapter 8 of Proverbs, Wisdom calls all to goodness and remembers her existence before even the oceans were formed. The chapter begins, “Is not Wisdom calling? Is not Understanding raising her voice? On the heights overlooking the road, at the crossways, she takes her stand.”

The chapter goes on to exhort “simpletons” to learn how to behave and “fools” to come to their senses in keeping with much of Proverbs, but then takes a mystical turn into our realm of unity-thinking that is breathtaking.

Proverbs 8:22-31

Yahweh created me when his purpose first unfolded before the oldest of his works.

From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before the earth came into being.


The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.

Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth
before he made the earth, the countryside,
or the first grains of the world’s dust,

When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
– and the waters will not invade the shore –
when he laid down the foundations of the Earth,

I was at his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day, ever at play in his presence
at play everywhere in the world,
delighting to be with the sons and daughters of humanity.


A strong argument can be made that this connection of Wisdom, the Creator and Creation speaks of unity. I have read other interpretations that put more emphasis on the separation between the Spirit creator and what was coming forth. While I respect that, I don’t think it is the only possibility.
The lens of nonduality seems to sing through these verses as Wisdom recalls when One Spirit decided to explode and become the physical world we know.

Staying within this time period, one can also hear chords of unity in this writing by our old favorite, Chuang Tzu. Instead of Wisdom and the Master Craftsman, however, this writing use the image of The Great Clod belching out wind that causes the “ten thousand hollows” to begin crying wildly as a description of unity.

To me, with respect to Teilhard de Chardin, the Cosmic Christ can be seen just as clearly in Taoism’s description of the crying of the hollows as in the Judeo-Christian depiction of wisdom. The following is a conversation between two men, one”leaning on his armrest, staring up at the sky and breathing – vacant and far away,”  and the other “standing by his side in attendance.” Conversations are a typical technique in Chuang Tzu’s writings.

The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu.
Chapter Two

Tzu-ch’i said: “…You hear the piping of men, but you haven’t heard the piping of earth. Or if you have heard the piping of earth, you haven’t heard the piping of heaven.

Tzu-yu said, “May I venture to ask what this means?”

Tzu-ch’i said: “The Great Clod belches out breath and its name is wind. So long as it doesn’t come forth, nothing happens. But when it does, then ten thousand hollows begin crying wildly.

“Can’t you hear them, long drawn out? In the mountain forests that lash and sway, there are huge trees a hundred spans around with hollows and openings like noses, like mouths, like ears, like jugs, like cups, like mortars, like rifts, like ruts.

“They roar like waves, whistle like arrows, screech, gasp, cry, wail, moan and howl, those in the lead calling out yeeee!, those behind calling out yuuu!”

“In a gentle breeze they answer faintly, but in a full gale the chorus is gigantic. And when the fierce wind has passed on, then all the hollows are empty again. Have you never seen the tossing and trembling that goes on?”

Tzu-yu said, “By the piping of earth, then, you mean simply [the sound of] these hollows. And by the piping of man [the sound of] flutes and whistles. But may I ask about the piping of heaven?

Tzu-ch’i said: “Blowing on the ten thousand things in a different way, so that each can be itself – all take what they want for themselves, but who does the sounding?

Who, indeed, does the sounding? Who is Wisdom? What is the Tao? Whence cometh the Cosmic Christ?

In a footnote to this section, translator Burton Watson explains that “heaven” “is “not something distinct from earth and man, but a name applied to the natural and spontaneous functioning of the two.”

So the spiritual realm and the physical realm are intertwined and function as one.

Amen to that!


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Mystery and darkness, profound and subtle – Tao and Cloud of Unknowing?

After reading the most recent post here, Richard over at Buddhism Now sent me a piece of Zen Grafffiti that he said he thought I’d like.

We are all contemporaries of beginningless time, yet we run in fear of
death.

What a great way to express so many concepts in so few words. I’m taking the “we” to extend in all directions in time and space and the “beginningless time” to be one of those bare statements, seeming to be an oxymoron but not, that pushes our levels of thinking even deeper into nondualistic ground..

I’m tempted to jump ahead to some “ground of being” readings and comparisons between Medieval mysticism and the new physics that would fit well with this quote, but I will restrain myself. Best we become a little more grounded first in the thoughts of these epoch-changing years from 600 to 300 BCE.

Since Zen, many say, fuses many concepts of Taoism with Buddhism, perhaps Richard’s gift of that Zen graffiti can be an introduction to more of the Buddhist and Taoist writings of that time

Here are two that I chose for In the Same Breathboth seminal works in their own traditions.

Tao Te Ching – Stephen Mitchell, trans.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

In reading this first of 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching, of the one question that comes to my mind is, “What is this darkness and how can it be the gateway to understanding?”

It is often helpful when reading English translations of poetic writing from a different time and culture to look at other translations to see if the meaning becomes clear by seeing how severl people have expressed something.

The Tao Te Ching has been translated in to many languages and someone has taken the time to post the names of translators in 26 languages, including 112 in English, with links to their translations. Here are the final paragraphs of Chapter One from two of them.

Tao Te Ching – D.C. Lau

These two are the same
But diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery.

Tao Te Ching – Hua Ching Ni

Nothingness and Beingness and other conceptual activity of the mind all come from the same indescribable subtle Originalness.
The Way is the unfoldment of such subtle reality.
Having reached the subtlety of the universe,
one may see the ultimate subtlety,
the Gate of All Wonders.

Tao Te Ching – Bram den Hond

These two spring from the same source.
They have different names; yet they are called the same.
That which is even more profound than the profound
The gateway to all mystery.

Darkness, mystery, subtle, profound.

Four ways of describing where one must go to attempt to understand that which is not able to be understood.

And perhaps – to do what we said we weren’t going to do yet and jump ahead to writings of the Medieval mystics – these are also the same methods necessary to begin to “beat against the Cloud of Unknowing” described by an anonymous Christian European mystic of 1375 in a slim book of instructions to new monks.

But to understand how the mystical, spiritual landscape of the 14th Century was formed in Europe, we have many more paths to travel.

A closer look at Buddhism during the Axial Age when next we meet.
– Thanks to Christine Tobias for the new art on top, one of many from “In the Same Breath.”


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Humanity’s beginnings – even if Chuang Tzu would call them beginningless – of a belief in One Spirit

Anyone interested in how humanity’s understanding of itself and its universe developed is bound to be fascinated by what happened between 600 and 300 BCE.

MeditationTree

- Jane Gaunt

In all the parts of the world from which we have historical records, people were moving from a belief in many gods to a belief in One Spirit, and then to the concept that this One Spirit lived in mysterious but profound unity with all of Creation.

Those 300 years of spiritual and philosophical awakening are part of the larger Axial Age, which spanned 200 to 800 BCE. During that time humanity reached a level of self-awareness and linguistic ability that enabled significant leaps to take place.

We’ve  looked at a few writings from those times, now let’s look at more, one from Buddhism and one from Judaism. Notice that the form of writing between the two is stunningly different because each reflects the tradition from which it came. It seems to me, however,  the thoughts being expressed are strikingly similar.

Dhammapada: Sayings of the Buddha

The True Master

He is calm.
In him the seed of renewin
g life
Has been consumed.
He has conquered all the inner worlds.

With dispassionate eye
He sees everywhere
The falling and the uprising.

And with great gladness
He knows that he has finished.
He has woken from his sleep.

And the way he has taken
Is hidden from men [and women],
Even from spirits and gods,
By virtue of his purity.

In him there is no yesterday,
No tomorrow,
No today….

He has come to the end of the way,
Over the river of his many lives,
His many deaths.

Beyond the sorrow of hell,
Beyond the great joy of heaven,
By virtue of his purity.

He has come to the end of the way

All that he had to do, he has done.

And now he is one.

Because Buddhism doesn’t include a Creator Spirit in the same sense that many other religions or philosophies do, it is sometimes hard to figure out how to include Buddhist thought in a discussion such as this. However, it’s impossible to miss the message of unity in this passage.

This translation by Thomas Byrom, a brilliant English mystic and educator I had the honor to know before his death in 1991, uses the master’s indifference to such practical opposites such as the “sorrow of hell” and the “joy of heaven” to show unity.

But the lyrical yet pithy language also evokes Buddhist teaching in its reference to seeing  both falling and rising everywhere. Additional passages from the Dhammapada can be found in In the Same Breath.

Byrom also translated the Hindu Ashtavakra Gita, written in the 8th or 14th Century, which we will look at in more detail when we are explore what was happening in Eastern religions at time when Western thought was coming even more dualistic. Byrom’s comments on the Ashtavakra Gita will also be part of our look at the 20th and 21st Century renaissance of our waning and waxing thread of unity.

Turning to Judaism, we see the description in Exodus, thought to have been written in about 650 BCE, regarding the events that took place nearly a millenium earlier when the Jews fled Egypt for what was to become Israel. Biblical scholars believe Exodus was written by several authors over the centuries until it was solidified during Axial Age to what we have today.

Exodus 3: 13-15

Then Moses said to God, “I am to go then, to the sons [and daughters] of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?”

And God said to Moses,

“I Am who I Am. You must say to the [children] of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’

“This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.”

The key words here are “I am who I am,” or as some translations have it, “I am who am,” which is a more accurate translation of the Latin, “Ego sum qui sum.” However, just as the English came from the Latin, the Latin came from the Greek, and the Greek from a mix of Hebrew and Aramaic! Likewise, the English translations that we have of ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist scriptures and canons came mostly from the original Chinese and Sanskrit.

I_ am

- Christine Tobias

Regarding Exodus, there is much discussion over just what God meant in his answer to Moses, or to those who don’t believe that the bible was divinely inspired, what the writers in ancient Israel were trying to imply by their choice of words.

Some say that Moses was really asking what he should tell the Jews to get them to follow him out of Egypt, cling to their God and stay away from all the other gods being worshipped at the time.

In modern lingo, then the answer meant, “I am the only God. All those others are part of me. Stick with me and you’ll be fine. Just get them out of Egypt!”

Many mainline Christian theologians stick with interpret those words as meaning that God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who had no creator, is above and separate from everything, and thus is transcendent.

But looking at it with our lens of immanence, it seems that these powerful words could also mean that at least some in ancient Judaism believed that nothing exists outside of God and thus Spirit and Creation must be One.

The Hebrew phrase is Ehyeh asher ehyeh,” which is literally translated as “I shall be who I shall be,” raises more questions than it answers. Some say it indicates that God is still becoming and his work isn’t finished. Others look to Aramaic-speaking Assyrians would translate those words today.

The translation: “I am the beginning I am.”

Wow! Do you suppose that Chuang Tzu just happened to drop in for lunch and a chat that day?

More about the marvelous times of 600 to 300 BCE when next we meet.


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Beginningless beginnings in 350 BCE and the 20th Century – Chuang Tzu and Thomas Merton

Western society and its religions have traditionally fallen on the dualistic end of the philosophical spectrum. Good is good and bad is bad. Good is rewarded and bad is punished. God is all powerful and up in the heavens – transcendent. We are sinners way down here, and going to hell if we aren’t careful. Or if we don’t belong to the “right” religion.
NonSequitur10-31WrongChurch

Non Sequitur 10/29/09

Eastern religions have been more non-dualistic. There is yin in yang and good in bad. The spirit inside a person, Atman, and the spirit of the universe, Brahman, are the same. Spirit is immanent – in all things. The three religions of China – Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism – often meld the strengths of each and find a way to all get along.

For this and other reasons, there were few Western writings on the unity of Spirit and Creation until quite recently. Even the European mystics were trying to close the gap between themselves and God rather than believing there wasn’t a gap.

But then the tenor of late 1800s began opening some doors, in part because travel made contact between East and West easier. The first Hindu to set foot in the West came as a visitor to the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893.

Yin-Yang-Harmony-By the late 1930s, French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin was writing a stunningly non-dualistic vision of the Cosmic Christ, but on orders from the Vatican the controversial treatise wasn’t published until  the 1950s, when The Phenomenon of Man came out in French and English. It was discussed in some progressive Catholic colleges by the 1960s, although with the caveat that some Church officials felt his views bordered on pantheism, a no-no.

Since the mid-20th Century, Buddhism has taken root in the West; Hindus have grown to more than a million in the U.S. and practices such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong have introduced everyday people to Eastern concepts.

At the same time, changes in secular society in the West have created an atmosphere in which the unity of God and Creation could be seriously considered. Even the new physics and the interconnectiveness of the internet have given us a new way to look at reality.

In essence, if one’s entire philosophy and world view is built on dichotomy, a separate, remote God makes the most sense. When the focus is more on interconnections, the Vedic Upanishads’ sparks flying from the same fire can become part of our belief system again.

As I searched for writings for In the Same Breath, a few examples from the earliest times and today were particularly striking. In perhaps the most interconnected, a 20th century Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, studied the writings of one of the founders of Taoism, Chuang Tzu, and  wrote personal versions of his favorites. Merton was part of a group of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu monks who studied and prayed together as part of an ongoing inter-monastic dialogue.

chuang-tzu_1Chuang Tzu lived between 370 and 301 BCE. His writing is mind-bending and often shot-through with surprising humor. One of his writings in The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu is responsible for the domain name of the blog – beginningless.  Merton’s version is in his 1965 book, The Way of Chuang Tzu. Merton died in 1968 while traveling in Asia.

Chuang Tzu

There is a beginning. There is not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing.

Suddenly there is nonbeing. But I do not know, when it comes to nonbeing, which is really being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.

There is nothing in the world bigger than the tip of an autumn hair, and Mount T’ai is tiny. No one has lived longer than a dead child, and P’eng-tsu died young.

Heaven and earth were born at the same time I was, and the ten thousand things are one with me.

Chuang’s words sound to modern ears almost like a Zen koan to tease the mind into reflecting on the mystery of this unity on a deeper level than rational thought. One has to let the words seep into one’s bones over several re-readings to begin to comprehend. That’s the fun of it. This brilliant gibberish, this impenetrable clarity, is early Taoism’s way of describing the unity of spirit and creation.

Thomas Merton

In the Beginning of Beginnings was Void of  Void, the Nameless.

mertonballcapSM

© the Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

And in the Nameless was the One, without body, without form.
This One, this Being in whom all find power to exist  –
Is the Living.
From the Living, comes the Formless, the Undivided.
From the act of this Formless, come the Existents, each according
To its inner principle. This is Form. Here body embraces and cherishes spirit.
The two work together as one, blending and manifesting their Characters. And this is Nature.


But he who obeys Nature returns through Form and Formless to the Living.
And in the Living
Joins the unbegun Beginning.
The joining is Sameness. The sameness is Void. The Void is infinite.
The bird opens its beak and sings its note
And then the beak comes together again in Silence.
So Nature and the Living meet together in Void.
Like the closing of the bird’s beak
After its song.
Heaven and earth come together in the Unbegun,
And all is foolishness, all is unknown, all is like
The lights of an idiot, all is without mind!
To obey is to close the beak and fall into Unbeginning.

When next we meet: Taking a closer look at 600 to 300 BCE and all those beginningless beginnings!

gswimg at eartlhlink dot net


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Writings on Unity of Spirit and Creation ebb, flow and spiral back from 600 BCE to today

The ebb and flow of writings since ancient times on the unity of Spirit and Creation show remarkable patterns. The most interesting is the spiral that takes us from the beginning in 600 BCE, through ups and downs, fertile flowerings and bleak deserts, to the 20th and 21st Centuries, when the writings flourish again and are more like the earliest ones than any that came between.

Some say we are in the new “Axial Age” of spiritual discoveries, but this time with everyday people making those discoveries and tying them to everything from popular music to the new physics to the interconnectedness of the Internet.

We will spend time in future posts filling in the details of the ups and downs and the spiral that is still going strong, but first it’s helpful to pull some examples from each of the the five most fruitful periods of time. This is how I broke them up in writing In the Same Breath, with illustrations by Christine Tobias. If you have other historical categories or favorite writings, I’d love to hear about them.

TaoTeChing

- Christine Tobias

There are are 52 writings in Same Breath, one for each week; here are some from each of the five time periods.

Beginningless Beginnings – 600 to 300 BCE

There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu, trans. Stephen Mitchell, about 500 BCE

Bread, Wine and a Billion Arms – 200 BCE to 200 CE

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning,
Through him all things came to be,
Not one thing had its being but through him.

John 1:1–5, The Jerusalem Bible, about 100 CE

Mystical Aha! Moments – 850 to 1600

I gazed upon [al-Lah] with the eye of truth and said to Him: “Who is this?”
He said, “This is neither I nor other than I. There is no God but I.”
Then he changed me out of my identity into His Selfhood…
Then I communed with Him with the tongue of His Face, saying:
“How fared it with me with Thee?” He said, “I am through Thee, there is no god but Thou.”

Abu Yazid Bistami, Sufi mystic, 804- 874

A Spiral Back to Flying Sparks – 1900 to 1999

When we enter the unknown
of our houses,
go inside the given up dark
and sheltering walls alone
and turn out the lamps
we fall bone to bone in bed.

Neighbors, the old woman who knows you
turns over in me
and I wake up
in another country. There’s no more
north and south.
Asleep, we pass through one another
like blowing snow,
all of us,
all.

“Our Houses,” from Seeing Through the Sun, 1985, by Linda Hogan,
Native American poet and author

There is no such thing as seeking God, for there is nothing in which He could not be found.

Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher, 1878 – 1965

Seeking Eden in the Chaos – 1999 – today

I believe that the Messiah is not a person, outside of us, but is a noble state of mind possible in each and every one of us, a state of mind which must be attained, too often through pain.

Storm of Terror, by June Leavitt, 2002

What was going on during all this time?

Here’s the capsule version – many more details to come in future posts.

First there was a flurry of juicy, prolific writing in all parts of the inhabited world, stretching almost nonstop for more than a millennium starting in 600 BCE.

Then wars and invasions in Europe made sheer survival take precedence over spiritual growth, at least in the West, for 600 years until the emergence of Christian, Jewish and Sufi mystics in the 9th Century. The thread was more subdued this time, especially among Christian mystics. Eden had been lost. Those in exile were now unable to completely embrace the unity that was once so natural. Even so, a few were determined to try to reach the God who had once walked by humanity’s side, but had now been exiled by the theologians to the heavens.

After a mere 600 years, however, the mysticism that flowered in Christianity was stopped in its tracks by the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic counter-Reformation, neither of which had any tolerance for mystical experiences or talk of other than a transcendent, separate God. The Enlightenment, for all its wonderful exploration of science and

Alien

- Christine Tobias

rational behavior, was also inhospitable soil for mysticism.  Kabbalah, however, kept the mystical thread going in Judaism, as did Sufism in Islam.

Meanwhile, the Eastern religions of Taoism and Hinduism were well into their 26th century of seeing Spirit and Creation as One; Buddhism had held up a mirror to the illusion of reality and Eastern Orthodox Christianity had found a way to continue to accept and even nourish mysticism.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th to the 20th Century, however, that writing of this unity began to appear again broadly in the West, often influenced by Eastern thought, but also at times quite home-grown.

We’ll explore how this came to be and take a look at Thomas Merton‘s 20th century rendition of the 300 BCE writings of Chuang Tzu, for whom this blog is named, when next we meet.

gswimg at earthlink dot net


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One Spirit was bored. That’s why we’re here! Let’s write our own creation stories.

For thousands of years, all around the world, the many different religions and spiritual traditions have written their own creation stories or myths. Jews and Christians have Adam and Eve in Genesis. The ancient Babylonians had the battle of Marduk and Tiamat in “Enuma Elish,” written in about 2,500 BCE. Japanese creation stories tie the creation of the Earth and humanity tightly to the creation of the islands of Japan.

The oldest creation myths we know date back to the time people first started to write – a strong indication of how important these stories were to ancient peoples. They probably existed in oral traditions long before writing.

The most ancienOneSpiritt one for which we have records dates to 3,000 to 4,000 BCE and comes from Summaria, an area that is now the Middle East. The Goddess Nammu – the primeval Sea – gave birth to heaven and earth as a unified cosmic mountain. Heaven was male and called An; Earth was female and called Ki. Together they created the air god, Enlil, who separated them so that creation could move forward.

Why were these stories created? And why do we keep telling them today, even those of us who understand that they aren’t supposed to be a scientific explanation of what really happened?

To the first question, myth expert David Leeming, writing in the Encyclopedia of Creation Myths, calls creation myths “a projection of an aspect of a culture’s soul, its sense of its sacred past and significant relationship with the deeper powers of the surrounding world and universe.”

Most Creation myths were written before science had developed enough to explain the origin of matter, light, Earth, life, animals, plants, men and women. But even now, with a sophisticated and exciting understanding of how our Universe has developed and evolved, creation myths can still serve, in Leeming’s words,Thinking as “a metaphor for an ultimate reality that transcends science.”

So if we were to start right now, from scratch, and write a creation story that projects an aspect of 21st Century culture, a sense of our sacred past and a significant relationship with whatever deeper powers we believe exist, what would we write?

That was the question that bugged me in 1997, just after my mother died at 94 years old. I was dealing with endings. But once you start down that path, you have to back up and deal with beginnings. What comes next is just one of the bookends. What came before is just as mysterious. Life begins, and it seems to end, but does it? And if not, where does it go?  That does seem to circle back – to the beginning.

So much like my husband and I had done when our children were little and we sat down and talked about the core of what we really wanted them to know and believe, I tried to put together a coherent view of creation and eternity.  In a very few words, embracing a Creator but also evolution, celebrating diversity and joy.

I wrote the text in a journal that I had been keeping for several years. It starts:

“Once, long ago,
… there was One Spirit.

It was all that existed.  It had always existed.

And One Spirit was bored. Always turning on itself.
Spinning in an egg-shaped sphere. But bored by sameness.”

The text goes on from there, for a total of a mere 275 words, but I don’t want to spoil the fun by telling you all of it. You may guess where it is going from some of the images here, all taken from the book that developed.

In my mind, I always saw a book illustrating all the wonderful things that happened after One Spirit decided to do something about being bored. A few years after I wrote the text, we received a Christmas card that my sister-in-law, Jane Gaunt, had painted. When I saw it I knew it was the art that would make the One Spirit’s story – and ours – come alive.

We started collaborating by email and snail mail – 2,000 miles separated us – and gradually the book, One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century was born. We will revisit One Spirit’s text and images from time to time in this blog because it is as much tied to the concept of God Swimming in God as is In the Same Breath.

As this blog goes on, I hope to be able to include and discuss some of your creation stories as well as get your ideas on mine. How would you describe that beginning? What would be the path from then to now? And what comes next?

If you want to get a peek at more of the amazing images in One Spirit, check out our website. Some images from In the Same Breath, created by illustrator Christine Tobias are also there. You will see that we also have a One Spirit DVD with meditation guides and an overview of many of the other creation stories through the ages. More about that later.

You can post your creation ideas here or send them to me at gswimg at earthlink dot net.

Happy writing!


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Today’s version of ancient epiphany of Brahman = Atman: Ducks, water, kids, trees = Spirit/God

Where does the name God Swimming in God come from?

And might it not be slightly blasphemous?

Best get both questions out there right away. The name comes from the mental picture that I had when I first began to get an inkling of the concept of the unity of Spirit and Creation.

The question of whether it is an apt description of reality or an offensive statement depends on one’s belief system and perspective. Perhaps we can all work that out together as time goes on.

First, the origin.

In the 1990s, I had a habit each Lent of confining my reading to books with a spiritual theme, often dealing with meditation or the connections between religions. During the Lent of 1995, my reading included The Journey Inwards by F. C. Happold and Universal Wisdom by Bede Griffiths. I was amazed by Griffiths’ description of the Axial Age and his selections of early writings about this unity. Happold’s book provided a glimpse into how one might live in that unity rather than just read about it.

Lent was over, Easter came, but I just kept looking for more and more scriptures and writings on this theme.

After about a year of this focused reading, I experienced what  many had come to call an “aha” moment. Up until then, I was fascinated by the whole unity concept and thought that it “made sense,” but hadn’t gone far beyond that.

It was late afternoon in Springfield, Illinois, and I was on a business trip, covering the state legislature for the Chicago Tribune. I had ridden my bicycle from the motel where I was staying to a park with a stream. The sun was beginning its way down to the horizon, and was creating beautiful sparkles on the water. I was sitting on the grass, leaning up against a tree, just enjoying the breeze, the sounds of children running around and the sight of the ducks, swimming and bobbing their heads down into the water to drink.

I wasn’t trying to meditate. I was just open. And it hit me. This is all God. The water is God and the ducks are God and the air is God and all these people are God. There is nothing but God. Yet in some mysterious way, we are all also individuals.

This is what I wrote about it at the time.

April 23, 1996

Sitting at the edge of the brook that goes through Washington Park in Springfield, Ill., looking at an incredible tree in the late afternoon sun, surrounded by ducks, water, grass, people, dogs.

It was so bright, it was sort of surreal. And then one of those “Aha!” moments happened. What people have started to call an epiphany. When an understanding, a way of seeing things, happens all at once, that you weren’t expecting. And you know you’ve turned a corner and will never go back to seeing things the way you saw them before.

The crashing-through-my-head thought was: All of this is God! Not just God is in all of it or it is all in God.

It IS God. God IS it.

It’s like the commercial of Michael Jordan running on his own head. We are God, walking on God; the duck is God, swimming in God, the crows and cardinals are God, flying in God.

Life is springing forth from God and is God.

This is not pantheism. There is a Bede Griffith scripture citation, in the Upanishads, that said it so clearly and beautifully–the mystery is that we are unique, separate individuals, while all being God.

Even the duck is God swimming in and drinking God — and I am God watching God swim in and drink God, yet the duck is a duck, the water is water and I am a self-aware, conscious human being.

This is the mystery Christ was trying to show in the Eucharist.
This is my Body. This is my Blood.

I’m somewhat overwhelmed by the beauty of all this. How do I dance the mysticism into words to explain the insights? How do I harvest the experiences and put them into words to explain the journey?

For the next ten years, I worked to find a way to take what I felt in my bones and get it into my mind, or at least my fingers, so the concepts could be written and shared. That involved searching writings over the past 2,600 years, trying to follow the thread of the unity of Spirit and Creation. One of the surprises was that it ebbed and flowed throughout history and that the 20th and 21st Centuries saw an incredble upswing.

Half way through that journey I began collaborating with a fantastic artist, Christine Tobias, who took those writings and brought them to life with color and images, sensitivity and spiritual wisdom. From the Upanishads to 21st Century secular writing, we traced the thread and the result was In the Same Breath.

Here we are now, in the 2009 land of blogs and tweets, friends and follows, wuffie and the cloud, and it’s time to expand the reach of the physical book and invite more people to continue weaving the thread. Hence, the God Swimming in God blog.

During those ten years, I also sent a 275-word section of my journal, written in 1997 after my mother died, to my sister-in-law Jane Gaunt, also an artist, and we began working on a book that explores the theme in another way, One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century.

More on that journey when next we meet.
gswimg at earthlink dot net