God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

This week, as I prepare to renew my consecration to Jesus through Mary for the 22nd year, I am starting the week with meditation on Yirah HaShem, Fear/Awe of the Lord.  This is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the fearful and fascinating mystery that we encounter in the presence of the Holy.  It is the beginning of Wisdom.

For me, there is nowhere I experience Yirah than in the God of Light.

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
— 1 John 1:5

Like many others, I have experienced this Light during meditation.  This Taboratic Light is terrifying, and yet like the loving arms of heaven.  When the experience comes, I want to run and stay, laugh and cry, collapse on my face in silent reverence and jump to my feet shouting in joy.  No other experience has fascinated and troubled seekers more than this one.

I have found references to it in any tradition I have examined.  As a Christian, I have learned the most about it from St Gregory Palamas and the hesychasts of the Orthodox Church who have dedicated a lot of ink to this subject.

God is light.  The Religious Society of Friends call the first experience of this light The Visitation, and is the cornerstone of conversion.  It was for me.

The first time I ever had this experience was in the fall of 1992, the first time I recited the Rosary.  It is hard to express the state of darkness that I was in, but a few of you know it all too well.  I was at the end of myself.  I was so ready to die, and yet I said the rosary instead.  For the first time in my life. 

That night, I read the Secret of the Rosary by St Louis de Montfort for the first time, instead of the darker things I had planned.  I didn't even own a Rosary.  My Great Aunt Inez gave me the book, and that night I read it.  I counted the prayers on my fingers.  There in the deepest darkness I have ever fallen into, I recited the Angelic Psalter, and experienced that Light for the first time.

I will never forget the tears I cried.  The Numinous Light burned through me, and I was so scared and alone... but I wasn't alone.  In that terror mixed with awe, I knew for the first time that I wasn't alone.  I am shaking a little now as I type this, just remembering that night.

God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  This is a truth we can experience for ourselves as so many have over the centuries.  All we have to do is quiet our mind so that we can experience the moment naked and unadorned.  In the world as it is, this light pervades everything.

This is why today, I stand in the Yirah HaShem, the Fear/Awe of the Lord.  Through meditation and prayer, anyone can experience the visitation.  Amen.

The Law is abolished and we are One People in Christ Jesus

As we continue our study in the fourth of the Five Powers, Concentration (samādhi), we need to dig deeper into the revelation and wisdom we seek from the Holy Spirit.  As we dig deeper into the mystery, we see the work of Reconciliation that Christ has performed through the Cross and the Shedding of his Precious Blood.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility
— Eph 2:14-16

Christ is our Peace

In the broken duality of the world, there were two types of people in the world, the Children of the Promise and the Children of Wrath.  The Children of the Promise were the descendants of Abraham.  The only way to enter the promise was to be born into the tribe, or to submit oneself to the Law of Moses, given by men and angels (De 4:14; Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2), but Christ put an end to the Law, did away with the Commandments, annulled obligations, and abolished the requirements of the Law, and set us free to live according to the Spirit.

Jesus was crucified for blasphemy (Matt 26:65-66; Mark 14:63-64; Luke 22:71). The Law condemned God to death for blasphemy showing how it had departed from God. So at the crucifixion, the veil of the temple was ripped in two (Matt 27:51). We were exchanged from the  law of Moses and saved by the life Christ taught us to live.  All people are recreated in Christ into one people. 

Through this mystery, we see that there are no real differences between people.  The only differences that exist are the ones we pretend are there.  Our imagination can make these seem and feel real, but they are illusions we create to preserve our sense of separateness, and often superiority.

As we learn to see the One Christ that holds all things together, we learn to see how the suffering of others is our suffering.  Another person's pain is our pain, and their healing is our healing.

We are the body of Christ.  It is our mission and duty to work out this reconciliation in the world and to be a constant voice for peace.

Peace is the Central act of the Christian life.

Christ restored us to live as the Image of God in this world.  He made peace between us and God.  We continue this work by first making peace with ourselves, and then with our neighbors.

We experience this mystery through meditation, where we enter the peace of God at the Gate of Zion.  This peace is the root of compassion for ourselves and others.

As we live our lives, we must learn to allow the voice of Christ to speak through us.  The voice of Christ is peace and compassion.  Everything that goes against peace and compassion eclipses the Light of God, and becomes a stumbling block.

Concentration (samādhi) is the strength to stand against this darkness.  We develop concentration through meditation and mindfulness.  The more we keep the realities and facts of life before us, the more we will see the pains and problems that are the real roots of the situations we face in life.  We must develop a mindful awareness of the circumstances others live within.  Once we understand the pain at the root of the problem, we can begin to develop a salve for the issue.

Concentration is the Gate to Zion, and the revelation and wisdom of Christ

This week, we begin our study on Concentration (samādhi), this is the still, focused mind we develop through meditation and mindful living.  It is the 4th of the 5 powers, and a strong tool in our awakening to God and things as they are.

Mindfulness develops Concentration, and Concentration causes us to experience the deep interconnectedness of all things and the basic joy and peace that is our natural state.  In this state of Concentration, we are closest to the Holy Spirit, and are most capable of hearing the Still, Small Voice of God, our gentle and subtle Guide.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
— Eph 1: 15-17

A Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation of Christ

Wisdom is the gentle guidance of the Unseen, as well as deep understanding of our own interconnectedness.  Revelation is the naked awareness of things as they are, when the veils are pulled back and we see things clearly.

What is it that we are trying to see?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
— Colossians 1:15-20 (NASB)

Christ Jesus is the creator of all things.  From the laws of physics to the subtle energies of our psyche, all things were created through him and for him.  He is the One holding all things together.  Any and all experiences of the sublime interconnectedness and interbeing of all things is a direct experience of Christ.

Have you looked out at a starry night or the dawn breaking over a hill and felt this connection to all things?  If you have, you experienced Christ.  In meditation, and we focus our awareness, and the artificial walls drop away, and we feel ourselves connected to the cosmos in the place of peace and unity.  That is an experience of Christ.

Through our Lord, all things are reconciled because on the cross, Jesus stood in the gap between life and death, faith and doubt, hope and fear.  Choose any pair of opposites and you will find them in the crucifixion.  But he did not just stand there, he transcended them all.  In that singular moment of sacrifice, he demonstrated and conquered the strained duality of the world, and opened the way for the reconciliation of all things in him.

In our walk with God, we seek to live this wisdom, and behold this marvelous revelation that all things are interconnected. 

This is the Gate to Zion

As we awake to this wisdom through these revelations of the interbeing of all things, we start to learn how to live in the kingdom.  We see that how we treat everyone and everything has an effect on us.  We stop living the lie of separateness.

Life in Zion is living in the revelation that we are all interconnected, and reconciling all things to the whole.  This is the path of Peace and Compassion.  This is the wellspring of Courage that can conquer all fear.

Sit, meditate.  Focus on your breathing, and gently return your focus every time it wanders.  Enter the Gate.  Enter the peace that passes all understanding.  Invite Christ into your heart, and live in his Sacred Heart.  This is the path.  This is Salvation.  Not only for our souls, but for the whole world.

The Way of Humility is living as the Image of God, an Ambassador of Zion

As we continue our study on Humility, it is time for us to go back to our definition again: "Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little. Focus neither on your own virtues nor the faults of others (Alan Morinis. Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar p. 45.)."  This brings up the question:

What is our Rightful Place?

I have evoked that we are created in the Image of God, The Tzelem Elohim, so the question is, what does that mean?  To discover the answer we need to look at 2 versions of the same passage:

What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
— Psalm 8:4-6 (NAS)
But one has testified somewhere, saying, “WHAT IS MAN, THAT YOU REMEMBER HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? “YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
— Hebrews 2:6-8 (NAS)

Did you notice the difference? 

Are we made lower than God or the Angels?

The answer is both, sort of.  Let me explain.

In the Psalm, the Hebrew word used is Elohim (God), and in the Letter to the Hebrews, the Greek word used is Aggelos (Angel).  Is this a contradiction or a mistranslation?  The answer is tricky, but kind of neither.

I am not familiar with another word in another language that has a meaning like Elohim.

Elohim means God in Fullness, all the energies of God, and every one and thing that participates within the Divine Nature.  It incorporates Yesh (God as the Ground of Being) and Ayin (The Nothingness of God), as well as the Heavenly Host (The Angels and Saints) and often the Just who are still living in this world who act according with the energies of God (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34).

The author of Hebrews uses the translation of Angels to highlight the argument he is making.  It is not a mistranslation, but it focuses on a part of the meaning rather than the whole.

What does it mean to be made a little lower than Elohim?

First of all, it means that we were made with Free Will.  Our nature is not forced to submit to a will that is not our own.  Since we can choose our actions, we can align ourselves with justice or injustice.

It also means we do not have an exact copy of the Yesh (Being) and Ayin (Emptiness) of God in our nature.  Instead, we have:

  • a Yetzer ha-tov, a shadow of the Ayin (Emptiness) of God.  This is our inclination toward unity, and it is often an inclination toward good.
  • a Yetzer ha-ra, a shadow of the Yesh (Being) of God.  This is our inclination toward individuality and separateness, and it is often an inclination toward evil.

I use the word often because neither of these inclinations are purely good or evil, and that is what makes them hard to navigate in between.

Our spirit is a trinity just like God, we have a Nashamah, a Ruach, and a Nefesh.  I just wanted to mention that now, I will go into more detail about that later.  Sorry about that, but I don't have enough time to go into that in this post.

Humility is the path between our two sides

True Humility is learning to live our lives as the Images of God that we are by walking carefully between these two sides of ourselves.  We have, in fact, been talking about this all along.

The Yetzer ha-tov of Humility is self-effacement.  The Yetzer ha-ra of humility is Arrogance.  Like with everything in the life of the Spirit, we need to learn to walk the middle path.

Armed with this knowledge, we now have the tools to determine our individual level of Humility in each and every circumstance we find ourselves.  Ask yourself:

  • Am I conforming too much? 
  • Have I submitted myself too much to the authority of others?
  • Have I allowed someone or something else to take up more space than it rightfully should?
  • Am I standing out too much?
  • Am I being to obstinate, forcing my will on others in a way that I have no right to do?
  • Am I taking up more space than I have any right to?
  • Am I taking up so much space I have left no space for others?
  • Have I allowed my opinions or comfort to blind myself to the needs of others that I should pay attention to?

These are only some of the questions we could ask.  Once we learn to question our inclinations to unity, conformity, individuality, and separateness, we can properly discern our rightful place, and develop a just and balanced sense of humility in ourselves.

May we all learn to walk this middle path.

Humility and the Art of Patience

Today, I learned a big lesson about the relationship between Humility and Patience.

You will remember that we are defining Humility as, "Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little. Focus neither on your own virtues nor the faults of others (Alan Morinis. Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar p. 45.)."

So, what happened?  I was setting up a new site, and as soon as I set up my domain name, it wouldn't let me log in.  In my line of work, this is not an unforeseeable problem, but it cause me to freak out in an unjustifiable way.

Luckily, I didn't say or do anything outlandish, but I did loose my patience.  This one little thing, the same sort of thing I have been through several times before, took over my mind, and I couldn't focus on anything else.  Why?

When I thought about it, this wasn't an issue of my own pride.  I didn't think, "How dare tech support make me wait!"  What happened was a good example of my own self-effacement.

I had just tested the site and everything looked good.  I posted the announcement that the new community site was up, and then I lost access.  I saw this technological hiccup as an example of my own failure to deliver on a promise that I had just made.  This hiccup, for which no one was at fault, took on all my feelings of inadequacy.

It took up the space I should have.  I knew that I just had to wait for everything to click into place if you will, but this self created demon of inadequacy shamed me, and caused me to shrink away from the person I am, and made me ignore everything I knew about the situation.

When everything just started working, I had to apologize for wasting the time of tech support.  Now, I had a new problem: I was now laser focused on my own shortcomings.

I had to let go.  I had to consciously occupy my rightful space, neither too much nor too little, focusing neither on my own perceived faults nor the virtues of others.  Events were out of my hands and this was not a problem that I caused or that I could fix.  I did what I could have done, but I should have been patient.

I wanted to share this experience because I am sure I am not the only one who allows things like this happen.  The power of mindfulness lets up recognize this problems arise, and like everything else, we have to learn to just let go.

Let go of what holds you back.  Occupy your right space, careful not to take up too little or too much.  It isn't easy, but it gets easier every time you do it.  May we all find the peace that passes all understanding.

The Path of Humility is to Love our Neighbor as Ourself

Yesterday was an interesting meditation on Humility in and of itself.  It feels like everything that happened was either an example of arrogance or self-effacement.  I saw it in my own actions, and those around me.

Arrogance and self-effacement feel like they are two of the cardinal errors gripping our world today.  They touch and taint everything, and nearly everyone.  Every time I watch the news I see another example of them in the media, often with disastrous effect.

I wonder where this comes from?  It obviously didn't happen overnight.

Sorrow grips me as I write this.  I want to weep for the state of the world, but I know that it has always been a mess, and will always be a mess, only the make up of the clutter changes.  All any of us can do is change ourselves, and in so doing, affect a great change on the world itself.

How do you interact with a world where some people see themselves as Chosen and the rest as less than dirt?

The state of the world arises from a distortion of Tzelem Elohim, the image of God.  We are all made in the image of God, having the imprint of the Creator in our hearts.  You don't have to be a believer to see this.  Carl Sagan used to say that we are "Star Stuff," and J Michael Straczynski wrote, "We are the Universe trying to understand itself."  Whatever the language or the words, we are all saying the same thing.

Our problems arise either from the aggrandizing of this image, or its defacement.  We revel in humor born out of insults.  Each joke chips away at the dignity of Human Life.  Or, we set our species, or nation, or ethnic group, or worse of all, our leaders, up on pedestals to be worshiped and obeyed.

The answer is an honest appraisal of ourselves, neither over praising our own virtues, nor celebrating the faults of others.  This is a middle path of its own.

Christ gave us two commandments, "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:31 (NAS))."

Forget all the harping on the 10 Commandments, this is the one broken more than any other.

We either love ourselves and hate our neighbor, or love our neighbor and hate ourselves, but the real challenge in life is to do both.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with self-esteem.  It is hard for me to not hate myself.  Why?  My culture taught me to.  I am fat, gay, and think too much.  Three of the mortal sins of pop culture.  It was not until I realized that it doesn't matter what others think of me, that I saw myself as I am: a flawed person trying to be better.

This is the great call and challenge of Compassion and Humility.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  So long as you do that, you are on the right course.

Not too much, not too little: The Humility of Esther and the Arrogance of the King

As I continue my week's focus on Humility, I started a reading on the book of Esther.  There are many ways to read this book, and a part of me loves the feminist reading of the text (see here), but for this study, I am focusing on the lessons on humility presented in the book and ignoring all other readings.

What is Humility?

Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little. Focus neither on your own virtues nor the faults of others.
— Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar (p. 45).

With this definition in mind, I am reading the text to see the lessons that I can draw out of the book.

Vashti, too much or too little humility

The story begins with King Ahasuerus and Queen Vashti throwing a grand banquet, the King for the men, and the Queen for the women.  The King demanded that Vashti be brought before him, "But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him (Esther 1:12)."

The traditional view sees this refusal as an act of vanity or defiance, even vanity.  The feminist view sees her as standing up to her drunkard husband.  The question is, what really happened?

The problem is that this passage is a Rorschach Test, and everyone reads into it their own biases.  I am probably doing that too, but I think I see an insight into humility in this passage.

What was Vashti's rightful place?  The text says: "Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus (Esther 1:9)."  Her place was a master of the banquet, ensuring that everything went off without a hitch.

When the King called her, he didn't just ask her to come into the next room, but for her to change clothes and parade herself before the men so they would see her as superior to their wives, who she was suppose to make sure were having a good time.

Vashti's actions were perfectly humble.  She did her duty rather than play to the arrogance and vanity of the king.  She must have known that she was putting her life in danger through this action, but she knew it was better for her to do her duty than to satisfy the lust of the men.

The Arrogance of the King

The drunk King Ahasuerus then consults his wise men about what should be done.  They feed his arrogance by saying that she wronged not only the king, but all the princes and guests at his party, ignoring that if she had come she would have shamed her own guests.  They then stoked his wrath by saying that her actions would bring about the end of every marriage in the kingdom, and cause wives to hate their husbands.  Does that sound familiar...

The idea that wounding the king's vanity would lead to the destruction of the kingdom's families is such an arrogance and insane level of hubris, that I cannot wrap my head around it.  This is not the last time, his arrogance will come up in the story, but this shows how extreme the problem is.

As king, Ahasuerus expanded his sense of place to encompass the lives of every person in his kingdom.  The very notion that if something so slight as Vashti doing her duty and not his will would corrupt every woman in the kingdom shows how he saw himself as the empire, and not just its head. 

He so over stepped his rightful place that his arrogance pushes Vashti out and sends him on a search for new wife.

Enter Esther

Esther enters the story as a model of Humility.  She fills her right space, not too much and not too little.  Every time she is mentioned in chapter 2, she is named with her heritage.  Like in the following passage, she is about to be brought before the king, and can bring with her anything she wants, so what does she do?

"Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her (Esther 2:15)."

She brings only what she was advised, and found favor with everyone.  Her humility should not be contrasted with Vashti, but with the King.  She knows if she is going to become next queen, she has to find favor with the King.

In my life, I need to learn from this example.  Esther, like the king in the previous chapter, sought the advise of someone who knew what she needed to know and do.  Unlike the King, Esther did not inflate her own self image, since she was very beautiful, but did what she need to do to become king. 

While she remembered her heritage, she kept it secret since it wasn't something they needed to know.  She filled the space available to her, and did not presume that her actions would effect more than just her and her immediate family.

The parallel between Esther and the King is a wonderful contrast of Humility and Arrogance.

Humility is the Root of Mindfulness

This week we are focusing on another of the 5 Strengths: Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is both the conscious living in the present moment, and the clear awareness of things as they are.  We chose to develop our mindfulness by focusing on the soul trait of Humility.

Humility is not what you think it is.  Humility is the one of the middle points between arrogance and self-effacement.  The other middle point in Pride.  While I know I really need to work on developing some Pride, this week is about humility.

Humility is occupying the space you are suppose to occupy.  A student is humble when they submit to the instruction of their teacher.  A teacher is humble when they take the lead and guide their students.

This quality depends on our circumstances and even our environment.  We must be mindful not to take up too much space or shrink from the space we should fill.

This has been a core problem of mine for a long time.  My issues with self-esteem have cause me to shrink into myself and not to take my proper role in many aspects of my life.  From my spiritual practice to my business, from my personal relationships to how I take care of myself. 

What is most interesting is that the more I shrank away from the role I should play in my own life and the lives of others, I have grown fatter and more out of shape.  It is like I compensated for my lack of proper space by taking up more physical space.

In my own life, I need to speak up when I need to, and take the actions I should take.  Discerning those places will not be easy, but it something I need to do.

Are you taking up the space you should take in your own life?  If you are not taking up enough, how will you expand yourself to take your proper space?  If you take up too much space, how will you reign in your ego to fit the space you have broken out of?

Bring Order to Chaos through the Light of God and Living in Zion

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
— John 1:1-5 (New American Standard)

This week, we have been building up our Energy/Effort/Persistence (viriya) by focusing on the virtue (middah) of Order (seder).  That may seem like a strange choice, but with a little discernment, we realized it was the right thing to do.

Effort is one of the Five Strengths, and as such, it controls Laziness.  When we thought about this, we found many examples of Effort in our lives, and while I would not say our Effort is perfect, we had a difficult time finding the flaw we needed to work on, or how exactly we could work on building up the virtue.

When we turned our eye to what it is meant to control, Laziness, we saw that while we couldn't call ourselves lazy, there were significant aspects of our lives that were blocked.  There are messes so big and projects so daunting, so we choose not to expend any effort at all toward them.

Ah ha!  That is the biggest problem with our practice of Right Effort.  When we couldn't see a way forward, we turned a went another way.  The messes seemed insurmountable.  So what we needed to focus on was our understanding and practice of Order (seder).

As our Musar text, we picked How to make sense of any mess, by Abby Covert.  I would recommend this book to anyone who needs to do this.  The book is simple straightforward and easy to read.  It will change the way you see any mess in your life.

I am not going to go on about the book.  I might later, but right now, I feel like I should focus more on the spiritual things.  The book to eminently practical.

That is not to say that spirituality isn't, but I know that I often spend way too much time in my head wrestling with arcane theological and mystical insights, but what I have learned this week is that my understanding of spiritual order has a direct effect on my practice of order in my daily life.

The Order of Zion

I have been baptized and confirmed in Jesus Christ and thus, I am a citizen of Zion still living in Babylon.  I hope to build a little piece of Zion here, but for now I am surrounded by Babylon.  I am consecrated to Jesus through Mary, and I awake everyday with the familiar prayer, "I am all yours, and all that I have is yours, O Jesus, through Mary, our Holy Mother."

Zion is the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is not a political change here, nor is it a geographical location.  I am a warrior/ambassador of Zion, and if you are Friend of Christ and his Cross, you are too.  I cannot cower in the face of the mess of the world.

My work and practice is to make myself into the best warrior/ambassador that I can be, and hopefully make other interested in the taking citizenship in Zion as well.  I have to not only fill myself with the energies of God, but connect my life to them so they can flow through me unimpeded.

The Order of Zion is not learning the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality and taking up the ten practices.  It is learning to live Dabhar, Royal Personhood, Kenosis, Creativity, and Transformation (among so many other things).  It is not enough to know what Dabhar is.  It is the creative word of God.  I have to learn to connect with Dabhar, and to live it out in my life.

I have a lot of ideas about how to do this, and I will share them as I write them out.  I would love to hear your comments and ideas.  I am moving forward through the practice of Musar, since I have seen it have the most effect on my heart and my life.

O, Light of God that could not be overcome, shine through me and conquer the darkness around me.  Amen.

Join me On the Road of Awe to Zion

May our eyes behold your return in mercy to Zion" by Ephraim Moshe Lilien - Milwaukee Jewish Artist's Laboratory. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

As we end our season of meditation on Justice, and turn our attention to the harvest of bliss and awe, and reconnection to our God, I invite you, sisters and brothers to join me on the Road to Zion.

Look for beauty.  Open yourself awe at the scope and scale of cosmos stretching out all around you.  The world is full of mysteries.  A mystery is not an hole in our knowledge.  It is embracing the awe, splendor, and glory of the world around us.

A mystery is a well of power and wonder.  Science can tell me why a rose makes the tender petaled follower that is so pleasant to the eye and whose aroma warms the soul.  The mystery is the connection that exists between the rose and me.  This deep bond is the sacramental connection the opens us to the Divine.

Opening ourselves to these deep connections is the first step on the path of Bliss and Awe that will lead us to the promised land of Zion.

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King. God, in her palaces, Has made Himself known as a stronghold.
— Psalm 48:1-3

Zion is not on a map

Anyone who tells you that Zion is on a map has never seen the pureland of God.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
— John 18:36

Zion is the Kingdom of the Heart, the Kingdom of Heaven.  We enter Zion in the laughter of our friends, in the relief of sorrow and suffering, in the beauty and wonder of nature.  When your heart is at peace, you are in Zion.

Zion is not afar off.  She is not in the future time, or conditioned on calamities and violence.  She is here, now.

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
— Luke 17:20-21

Open your heart to the glory of this present moment.  In the still, quiet now, we can see that we live every moment in the heart of God.  All you have to do is close your eyes, and breathe.  Steady your breath, and rest in the arm of the Presence of God.  Let go of the thoughts as they enter your mind, gently and without judgement.  Just let go.  Focus on your breath until you feel peace enter into you, then open your eyes and realized you in in Zion.  You are in the Promised Land.

Join me in this walk through the path of Zion.  There is only now.

What happened at the Crucifixion of Christ

When I originally posted about this January 15, 2008, a lot of people wrote in with questions.  The inquiry is important.

For Christians and non-christians alike, the common question asked is, "Why did Jesus have to die? Was Jesus’ death a sacrifice to an angry God, or was it something else?"  Fundamentalists have their answer, and people are more familiar with it.

Blasphemous movies like The Passion of the Christ proclaim quite loudly, that Jesus death was some sort of Divine torture porn.  A spiteful little god needed to see suffering and bloodshed to appease his wrath.  They say that Jesus had to die because of the Law written by men and angels (De 4:14; Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2).  It is true that this law charged and condemned God with Blasphemy for saying that he is God.  So the question they should be asking is, was Jesus killed to satisfy Moses and the Angels.

Whether or not Jesus died as a human sacrifice to a God of Wrath all blood boils down to the answer to one question very important to the answer to a single question:

If there was no sin, would Jesus have been crucified?

The Orthodox answer is yes. On the Cross, Jesus stood on the threshold to mediate between us and God. Now follow me closely. On the cross, he stands between live and death, faith and doubt, hope and fear, pain and release, God and humanity. In this singular act, he mediates between all these opposites and shows the way to Life. The cross is the gate to the sheepfold.

Christ is the Word of God, nailed up as an edict from the Eternal Father for us to read and therein find the Son of Man and the Son of God pointing us to our true Humanity and the true Divinity.

Christ is the manifest book of Life in which the Mind of God is made know. “This is the book which no one found possible to take, since it was reserved for him who will take it and be slain. No one was able to be manifest from those who believed in salvation as long as that book had not appeared. For this reason, the compassionate, faithful Jesus was patient in his sufferings until he took that book, since he knew that his death meant life for many. Just as in the case of a will which has not yet been opened, for the fortune of the deceased master of the house is hidden, so also in the case of the All which had been hidden as long as the Father of the All was invisible and unique in himself, in whom every space has its source. For this reason Jesus appeared. He took that book as his own. He was nailed to a cross. He affixed the edict of the Father to the cross (The Gospel of Truth).”

This is the glory of God, that in seeing Christ crucified, all of our fears and doubts are brought out of us. We fear death, yet we look upon the one who died and yet lived. We fear pain, yet we look upon one who was nailed to a cross. We fear that God will forsake us, yet we hear God cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All of our fears become clear at the cross.
In the Round Dance of the Cross, we see Jesus after the last supper signing a hymn of praise and dancing with his disciples. In the Hymn he sings, he declares the pairs of opposites that he mediates between. It is in these paradoxes that we find the mystery of the Cross. From death, many are born.

Jesus on the the cross, returns the Tree of Life to those who will eat its fruit.

This is the tree of unity, where the pairs of opposites are knit together.

The idea of Christ sacrificed for moral outrages that offend God is not an idea found in the gospels. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not the sins of the world (John 1:29). The sin of the world is that we forget God.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.  For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shewed it unto them.  For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Rom 1: 16-21).

These verse are often taken out of their context to make a moralistic argument that Paul was not. The point of the text is that through Christ crucified, the knowledge of God is given through faith to those who believe. Those who do not have darkened their hearts to the light of God.
Behold, Jesus hung on the Tree of Life as its first fruit.

The Crucifixion offends our senses in every way.

We like things to make sense. Why did Christ have to die? To show us the way to the Father by demonstrating the way between all of the pairs of opposites that frighten us and distract us from God.

In the Crucifixion, we see our lives and our deaths. We see all of our hopes and fear coexisting as they do in life. Peace, ground luminance, basic goodness, what ever you want to call it exists at the same time as the horror of our life.

Suddenly, we realize that when Christ called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was singing the twenty-second Psalm. He was praising the God that would lift him up.
Once we see the way through the pairs of opposites, we sing:

"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain (Gal 2:20-21)."

On the cross he unfurled the edict of the Eternal Father, so the invisible, unknown God may now be known.

"Now, none can say that they have found God, for it is through Christ that God is made manifest to us all. None can boast that they have found the truth, and they agree with the apostle:  God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal 6:14)."

Sharing the Journey

It has been hard for me to open up about my spiritual journey.  I don't feel like I have the stature required to talk about such important things. I have to ask myself, "Where would such qualifications come from?"

As a kid, I always thought that I would go to seminary.  I would study under learned men and women, and they would give me their imprimatur.  Then I would have right to an opinion.  What an idea, having to earn the right to an opinion.

The problem boils down to the idea that spirituality is about Truth.  People mistakenly believe that preachers, priests, monks, gurus, and saints teach us Truth.  They can't.  Truth cannot.  No one can speak the Truth.

“The best things can’t be told,” because they transcend thought. “The second best are misunderstood,” because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about, and one gets stuck in the thoughts.”The third best are what we talk about.”
— Heinrich Zimmer (via Joseph Campbell)
Scared Child by D Sharon Pruitt

Scared Child by D Sharon Pruitt

My job, when I share my journey, is not to pretend that I can ever talk about the best things.  I talk about the second and third best things, while trying to push forward toward the best.

It still isn't easy.  I am creative person, and want to write stories and midrashim.  These are hard to share because I don't want to put a huge disclaimer on each one.  I am afraid how people will read them and treat them, and again I see the face of my old enemy.

Fear is the mind slayer, the nemesis of creativity.  Fear is the death in the heart that brings about total isolation.  Trusting my heart to God in Christ, I must face my fears and walk through the dark valleys to the glorious eastern sunrise on the other side.

So, as I ford the rivers of fear laid out before me, I ask only that you share your journey with the same open and honest heart that I am.

The Darkness may encircle us, but the Light of God cannot be conquered.

Annunciation and Consecration

Me making a Rosary in my Grandparents' living room in 1995

19 years ago, I consecrated myself to the Blessed Mother.  At the time, it was both the hardest and the easiest choice I have ever made.

I was raised Baptist, we never taught about the Saints or the Blessed Mother accept in passing.

I had lost my faith the previous year, and became a secret atheist.  I couldn't believe in a God that hated me, and whose followers were such self righteous hypocrites.  I hated God.  I hated the Church, and more than anything, I hated myself.

One night, in the December of 1994, I decided to kill myself.  It wasn't a rash decision.  I had made pro and con tables and given it a lot of thought, and believed the best thing I could do was end my life.  Through a series of circumstances I cannot fathom to this day, I stumbled on a copy of The Secret of the Rosary by St Louis De Montfort.  In one of the introductory chapters, he wrote:

If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins “you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.” Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practice black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and save your soul, if - and mark well what I say - if you say the Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.
— St Louis De Montfort, Secret of the Rosary

All my life I was told that God hated me, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I was curious how this Rosary could do anything.  So, I read through the whole book.  I was moved to my core, but I didn't have a rosary.  I counted the beads on my fingers and recited my first rosary.

Something changed within me.  I felt a love that I never thought could be real.  I cried myself to sleep that night.

I hunted down all of his books, including The Secret of Mary and True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In these books, St Louis recommends a 33 day preparation and a Total and True Consecration to the Blessed Mother.  I chose the Feast of the Annunciation for my consecration day, and started my preparation.

The Feast of the Annunciation

Through this process, and over the years that followed, I have learned many things about the Annunciation of Our Lord.

Did it happen?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!  I get so tired of people who do not understand spirituality asking questions about metaphysical truth in history.  Historical truth is a beautiful thing, but life is affected  by stories not events.

If we ask, "Exactly what happened to Mary on that day 2000 years ago?" We have fallen off the path.  Did she see an angel?  just hear a voice?  How exactly did she conceive the child?  All of these questions are distractions.  They draw our eyes away from the story which tells us a poor young Jewish girl, surrounded by oppression and poverty conceived a Child not from this world.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”.
— John 3:5

A biological child is born into a world where survival of the fittest is the only law.  Her Child is the Son of the Most High, who seeks compassion over survival and power.  No one who lives only by the flesh can enter the kingdom of God, which is compassion, light, and justice.  Mary's Son would be different:

And Mary said : “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave ; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. He has done mighty deeds with His arm ; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS ; And sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
— Luke 1:46-55

The Angel's Annunciation is for you

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you-
— Galatians 4:19

The call to give birth to the Son of God still goes out to this day.  The difference is, no longer does an angel deliver the message, but Christ himself:  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock ; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20)."

Open the door, and let Jesus into your heart.  Awaken to the interconnectedness of all things.  Lift up the low.  Raise up those who need your help to stand.  Have the courage to live in the Light.  Walk in Compassion and Justice.

Sisters and Brothers, turn your heart toward the One who holds all things together and walk the path of Spirit until Christ Jesus is born through you into the world.  You are not alone.  In the Matrix of the Blessed Mother who molded the Christ, we will be formed into the perfect and true Image of God.

How do we do this, we follow the example of our Blessed Mother:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
— Luke 1:38
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
— Jesus, John 15:10-17

Some time with the Compassion Beads

During Advent, I bought some Compassion Beads from the San Antonio Peace Center.  The idea of a mnemonic method for remembering the elements of compassion appealed to me, and I thought they would make a valuable focus for both prayer and meditation, and it is.

Ten of the bead represent the alphabetical mnemonic:

  • Compassion
  • Dignity
  • Equanimity
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Love

The 11th, golden bead reminds us of the Golden Rule- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

For Meditation

While I have only just begun to explore their uses for meditation, I have found them useful as a method for contemplating what I call, "The Stations of Compassion."

Similar to the Stations of the Cross, I use each bead as an opportunity to visualize an event, either from the Holy Tradition, or events I have witnessed recently, that embodies that principle.  I like the practice to be spontaneous so I can also gauge my own mental state and attitude through the meditation and make the corrections needed at the time.

For Prayer

I have used these beads to facilitate many kinds of prayer: from the simple repetition of the principles to the more elaborate and extemporaneous prayer.

When I first saw these beads, I was reminded of St Francis, Canticle of the Sun, in which he prayed to personified creatures and principles to better understand our relationship to them and to the world.

The formula is simple, "Be Praised, My Lord, through Sister/Brother (Element), through which/whom (blessing is received)."

I don't allow myself to become rigid about the gender of the principles, and instead take a moment to meditate on why I said, "Brother Compassion" or "Sister Compassion."  Don't over analyze the choice, but let it be whatever it is at the moment.  It can be instructive.

If you are interested in donating to the San Antonio Peace Center and getting your own set of Compassion Beads, they are available on Etsy (here).

May you be filled with compassion and the causes of compassion, and free from apathy and the causes of apathy.