Fiction and Fantasy Feed Humanity

Writing now and always


Leave a comment

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!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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


4 Comments

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