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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!


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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.

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© 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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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