Tag Archives: Religion Spirituality

Thing of Beauty: Hothouse Flowers. Seeing With the Eyes of God

Seeing life as beautiful, the ordinary of things as things of beauty, is a wonderful fruit of the spiritual life. To live a human life something like this is to be living from the spiritual core of a human life. To be human is to be spiritual. We cannot help this, even if we don’t give the world ‘spiritual’ to these experiences as many do.

Seeing life as a thing of beauty is the result of a shift of consciousness. We come into a space of being where self-consciousness is forgotten – if even for a moment – and we become centred on someone or something outside of ourselves. We discover, through experience, the way in which God sees all the time. Divinity has ‘self-emptied’, or forgotten its own life in the ongoing act of loving that is Creation. That’s what love does. Christianity says God is love, so God is like this all the time – simply seeing the beauty of all.

Thomas Merton, 20th century spiritual writer and mystic, tells us the story of an experience like this:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream….

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

This song is coming from the same place as Merton’s experience, that place of the gift of divine sight – a ‘super-ordinary’ way of seeing that is open to all.

It is ‘truth sight’, seeing things as they are in all their imperfect splendour, their ‘broken holiness’ and knowing deeply, intuitively, that all is beautiful, glorious.

It is living life with love-sight, far enough away (in that moment) from the noise of our inner lives and seeing life with the eyes of the heart.

It does not exclude the problems of the world as if we are seeing somehow naively, or choosing to ignore the pain and suffering that continue to happen within and around us. This way of seeing embraces all this and experiences beauty even while accepting the deep paradox of beauty and suffering existing together. And so seeing beauty can become a two-edged sword: it can possess us, and then compel us into compassion. Beauty mysteriously present to suffering can draw us into living a life that serves the transformation of suffering into a plain-sight seeing that is life fully alive in glory.

“A thing of beauty is not a thing to ignore”. Once in touch with our contemplative hearts – the ‘no-place’ of our deep communion with God – we are seeing, in our own human ways, with divine eyes. We have forgotten ego and the illusion of separateness. Life is within the consciousness of Christ. This is Christian enlightenment.

A Christian contemplative prayer practice, whatever it may be, is about the realisation of this Christ consciousness within life. Globally there is a recovery underway in contemplative seeing and living. Christian contemplative practice is but one aspect of this recovery. The recovery is being documented in songs like this one from Hothouse Flowers.


Awake My Soul: Mumford and Sons. The Ordinary Love Of Soul (Soul Part One)

What is soul? When people speak of the soul of someone or something what are they talking about? Perhaps they are speaking of an inner dynamism, the unique way in which energy is named and used. Perhaps soul is an umbrella term that we use to give shape and context to the ways we see and experience our ‘inner landscape’: what we feel, the way we feel, the names and meaning we give to feelings; our thinking, our perceptions, and the way these things can shape emotions and the practical living of our lives; our sensations of body and the way they can influence our inner energies. All this could be seen as soul. The interplay of body and soul shows us that it can be dangerous to separate body and soul. Body and soul are one – bodysoul.

It follows then that the way we live affects soul, and the ‘state’ of our soul – its relative health – can affect the quality of our lives. If an activity or a commitment is described as ‘soulless ‘, the chances are that it is doing harm. Depression can often be an indicator that we have been doing too much of something that is not nourishing our soul. Depressive indicators such as tiredness and lethargy, together with the accompanying emotional and mental states, can be the way that bodysoul attempts to ‘get us to see’ what is going on.

Nourishing the soul keeps the soul ‘awake’ and expressing energy. Our bodies then become expressers of our unique energetic life and creativity. To not nourish the soul is to risk a slow and inner implosion of energy (melancholia and depression by another name).

The awakening of soul need not be a complicated affair. Mumford and Sons sing of a good remedy: “Where you invest your love, you invest your life”. The expression of love is the expression of soul. Find, then, everyday things that can be ways to invest love in life. Feed the birds; go for a walk; write; make your loved one a cup of coffee every morning. They may be things unique to you that do not have the same effect on another.

These activities are with you already. They are the simple everyday things that we love to do. All we need do is grow in being present to them and sense the gentle inner movements of energy for life that are already happening within us – and value them. To see this everyday stuff as not important is to miss a point. So much of life comes down to doing what we value and love. In this way the divinity with us, the Divine Love within, can be expressed through us in a myriad of ways, very simply and humbly, every day.

Some people may get noticed as they do what they love and may receive the attention of many as they do this. The only real importance of this is that through this noticing they can become an example, a noticed expression of the living of a life of love. They can inspire others. Egoism would tell us that gaining this attention of others is somehow vital to our continued life and well being. It is not. What is important is to simply express in life whatever we value and love. The vast majority of us do this away from the limelight and it is no less valuable because of this. To believe otherwise is to entertain egoism.

Grace – divine energy in action – is always with us to help us grow in nourishing soul and body. Doing what we love can then become a divine-human partnership in the gentle transformation of humanity for divinity. It is true – we are made ‘to meet our maker’. We can do this every day by growing in attention to the things we love to do as we do them.


Where’s My Soul: Neil and Tim Finn. Loving and Experiencing From Your Essence (Soul Part Two)

Soul can also be about identity. Christian spirituality attests that hidden in the mysterious depths of soul is the essence of who we are. To nourish our soul is to love that deep self. Sometimes this nourishment means being other-centred in our actions and intentions, sometimes it does not. Ultimately though, all love of soul is about growing in a love that is not self-obsessed. Self-obsession is not consistent with Divine Love or the deeper self. Human maturing is about the risk of growing into a forgetting of our own self-consciousness, and so losing self-obsession, so we might express in ever growing fullness that deeper essence of who we are. That deeper, truer self has no need to neither remember itself nor forget itself. It is simply being-in-love and already at one with the Divine within us. The Christian mystic St. Theresa of Avila calls this deeper self simply our spirit.

The question ‘where’s my soul’ is often about the search for a way to live from this deeper self. It can be a question, however, that risks leaving us at the ‘surface’ of soul as we search for something deeper. ‘Where’s my soul’ can be a self-conscious question keeping us at the self-conscious level as we attempt an answer. It can work against going deeper.

So what can we do to go deeper? What can we practically do if we are to live from and experience this being-in-love and our deep oneness with Divinity?

Tim and Neil Finn start to point to an answer in the words “I’ll go up with my conscience clean, down below they’re looking for me, and I know you’ve got my soul”. These lines remind me of the poetry of St John of the Cross (another Christian mystic). The image here is of someone ‘going up’ to experience something deeper, away from the surface looking of self and others and into the experience of forgotten deep soul. This dynamic, in the Christian story, is called contemplative prayer. It means loosely to ‘co-temple’, to experience communion with the Divine and all in our own being-in-love.

The practice of Christian meditation could be seen as a readying for contemplative experience. Through the practice of giving more and more of our attention to a mantra, over time, there happens a transformation in the way energy is used in the soul. Over time there occurs deep healing in the soul and the need for self-consciousness grows less and less. Some of us may need other ways as well such as therapy and/or the working through of painful memories and hurt in this process. The overall goal here is to gently and naturally move past the surface of soul so that more and more energy is then available for the deep soul.

The commitment to a mantra helps with this process of moving attention to the deeper soul. In this process it can be important to feel the mantra sounding in the lower body, in the chest or the gut. This helps to move attention away from the head. The head is that part of the body where we tend to experience life at the surface of soul.

With regular practice there will be a sense emerge of deepening into the soul as grace through the mantra moves attention downwards. Hand in hand with this there will be a growing experience of inner silence and stillness. Don’t, however, go into meditation expecting these things to happen. Expectation can be a distraction during meditation. Expectation, like other ‘residents’ of surface soul (elements like thoughts and images) will be forgotten as attention falls deeper. What is most important first is a growing faithfulness to and trust in our meditation practice.

Any contemplative experience of the Divine and our being-in-love is a divine gift. Meditation cannot make it happen. Meditation prepares us for the gift’s reception into our lives. Only the Divine can give the gift. Whether it is given or not is secondary. What is of greater importance is the energetic transformation of soul.  The ongoing practice of Christian meditation is, for many, an integral part of this transformation. The fruit is an ongoing and practical growth in the life of love and silence. Through this ongoing transformation all of soul, both its ‘depth’ and ‘surface’, come to participate more and more in the loving nourishment of all.

Who are we? Ultimately we are being-in-love made for Love. Our mysterious and true identity could be described then as an ideal. Human maturing is the gentle and compassionate, limited and humble, at times painful, other times joyous and at all times soulful movement towards this ideal. While it is not possible for us to live fully this ideal here and now, it is possible, with grace, to experience something of it and allow this ideal, this fully Real that is the divine life, to change us bit by bit into who we most deeply already are.


Tell Me The Truth About You: Midnight Oil. Christmas and Transcendence.

Christmas is a time of year when reports about the human search for meaning and purpose have a turn in the media. Two recent pieces in the Sydney Morning Herald, one on December 21st (see here), the other on December 24th (see here), are examples.

On December 21st, Barney Zwartz, former Religion Editor for The Age, wrote an article with the headline ‘A hunger for the spiritual: the Australians finding new meaning in Christmas’. In this piece he explores what the spiritual quest is for many in contemporary Australia (note, for example, the emphasis on the surge of meditation practice currently underway in Australia). As it has been in many Western countries for some time, more and more people on this quest are not turning to Institutional Religion for answers to their questions, hungers, and restlessness. Institutional Religion is still seen as too rigid, too fixed in doctrinaire ways for many to risk their search within stiff ‘old school’ structures. Today’s quest is more generally human than this. Many are seeking outside Religion what Zwartz and others in his article name as the transcendent experience: an experience of going somehow “beyond ourselves”, “beyond the material”, for something (ultimately Divinity) which is “beyond the material world.”

But is this transcendent experience that many seek so far removed from the material? Do we really have to shrug off the ‘yoke’ of what we can touch, taste and see to have a real experience of the transcendent? Towards the end of his article Zwartz, perhaps unknowingly, hints at the answer no in his look at beauty and in his treatment of the cartoonist Leunig’s approach to transcendence. Leunig prescribes going “down towards what is truly grounded, in slowness, in small things, in peace rather than stimulus, small elements of beauty rather than great excellence, to do what is possible and not to overreach”. In this article it is Leunig who speaks to perhaps what the Christmas story is most profoundly about: God, the Divine, personally and fully in the ordinary and the common of human life. It is precisely there where humbling experiences of transcendence can be had. We don’t have to leave the material, to leave it unvalued, to experience the immaterial, the spiritual. The reverse is true.       

Ross Douthat’s December 24th piece ‘Seeking a glimmer of hope in the manger’ (originally published in The New York Times) names this ordinary dynamic of Christmas-inspired transcendence very well. He emphasises the Christmas image of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus all in the stable as pointing human life and psyche directly to the transcendent and transcendence experience “in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low.” Douthat questions whether specialists in Religion, Science, and Philosophy, at least on their own, can point us to this reality in the low of life.        

Like Douthat and Leunig, Christian Spirituality affirms that transcendence, this ‘moving beyond’, happens when we ‘move into’ the stuff of life. This is the great paradox of an incarnational spirituality like Christianity – transcendence of life and transcendent experience is about engagement with life, all of life. Any experience of the immaterial is simply not possible without the material.

We may know of the Christmas story, whether it be front and centre or echoing dimly. What we may not know is that a manger is where domesticated animals go to feed, and that the messy and painful event of Mary’s giving birth happened not in a stable as we may know it today, so much as a space out the back where animals were often kept in mess and filth. Christianity has Jesus being born into offensive mess, into a reality not ideal. What does this tell us? That Divinity is with us, completely and fully, in the reality of our messy and far from ideal lives – especially in those spaces and places within and around us that we would prefer to avoid and/or reject. It is often those very places and spaces we reject and repress that stop us from living. Divinity so wants to be with us, the whole of us, loving us completely, wanting to see our human and divine destiny’s fulfilled, that this Divinity, in Jesus, has become one of us that we may experience something of what being human really means, discovering and experiencing our own incarnate transcendence in the ordinary stuff of life.

The band Midnight Oil has always struck me as a group of rock musicians keenly aware of the ways in which we are challenged to grow in love and compassion for creation and each other. Their song ‘Tell Me The Truth About You’ is no exception. For me their music has often resonated with the mind and intentions of God. Their music, so regularly ‘muddy and bloody’, and speaking to what being human is about, is wonderfully incarnate. It speaks to me often in the same way that Christmas can – as a vehicle for a deeper truth fully with us, challenging me to be ready for authentic experiences of other-centred transcendence amid the stuff of life.

So could this be the truth about us: that we are human beings becoming divinised, that is, being transformed over the course of life by Divine Love to embody and become this Love in the world, and that transcendent experience is somehow part of this? Christian spirituality says yes. Christmas says yes. Being made divine is simply the way of becoming love. Divinity became human to guide and enable us into our own unique expressions of embodied divinity. Divinity is our human destiny. God affirms this and makes this possible in Jesus.


The River and the Bridge X

St. Teresa of Avila once wrote of seeing Jesus with the ‘eyes of her heart’. Was she deluded? Was she just the casualty of malign suggestive thinking, a thinking that had somehow colonized her psyche thanks to too many years spent living in sixteenth century Nunneries? We know better now don’t we? The Modern Mind is free of such misadventure, isn’t it?

I wonder what would happen if more of us became less identified with our rationality and allowed the heart – that deep place of mind – to rise up more and more into consciousness. Yet how can we let it happen if we don’t know how to let it happen? Are we trapped in rational explanations and evidence at the expense of the balance that heart can bring?

We are human beings – spiritual, rational, and emotional. The path of life is about coming back to the integration of these. For some of us experiences happen on this path, experiences that others may name as completely irrational – and irrational for them means delusion. Yet for others the irrational can mean, on occasions, experiences that cannot be explained rationally, experiences that do not need to be explained rationally.

The Enlightenment has made the embrace of the ‘contemplative vision’ a courageous act, an act of foolishness. And yet, for Christians, the Risen Christ lives on.

X

I see her again.

Neediness moves in me

 It craves love and attention

It is not the freedom of Love.

.

I must be alone

 To sit with this,

 Away from compulsion.

I go to the chapel.

 Alone I feel a longing for Love mingle with craving.

Am I loveable, am I worthwhile?

.

Time passes.

I sense the presence of my Brother.

My spirit sees Him and knows who He is.

‘What do you know?’ He asks.

‘I know you can heal me.’

‘Then let it be done.’

.

I open as best as I can to allow Him.

I sense His embrace in my chest.

Gently He holds my needy heart.

I feel the warm healing of His holding.

.

 I allow.

.

After a time I sense His embrace in my head,

I feel there the warmth of His Love.

Gently He loves the feebleness of my thinking,

He heals my fearful disorder

 .

 I allow.

.

In the silence there is focus on His warmth.

He heals me from the battle for living and from what brings the battle on.

Neediness recedes,

Disorder unbinds.

.

Jesus, my Brother, my Master – thank you.

.

‘You are my disciple, you are my brother, and you are my friend.

 We have journeyed long into the depths of this life.

I am so very proud of you.’

.


The Pebble and the Pond

Each time we meditate it is like we are taking a pebble and gently tossing it into a pond. The pebble is our mantra. The pond is our mind.

After the pebble has been tossed, it falls gently through the surface levels of the pond. Light at the surface enables us to see the pebble as it falls.

Light at the surface of the pond is like the light of our senses at the surface of our mind. This light enables us to see, that is, to perceive, to imagine, to think, to be aware of emotion. With this light we sense both the world around us and the movements within us in response to this world.

This surface level of the mind is where our ego-consciousness resides. As the mantra falls gently through this surface area, our ego-consciousness is engaged, perhaps even disturbed – much like the water at the surface of the pond is disturbed in response to the pebble.

At this point in time, because of this disturbance, we give our attention to the mantra. Our one and only task during meditation is to grow in faithful attention to the mantra, to gently focus and re-focus the energy of attention on the mantra – the pebble as it falls. This exercise in attention to the mantra re-trains our attention away from ego-consciousness, away from ego-centricity and into the consciousness of Christ. The heart of this Christ consciousness is deep within our mind, in the pond’s depths.

As the pebble moves through the water of the pond it sinks into deeper water. It also sinks into water becoming darker. The light at the surface cannot penetrate into the ponds depths.

So it is with the mind. As the mantra sinks into the depths of our mind it draws our attention away from the light of surface sense and into the depths of a mind becoming dark. We leave the light of our surface senses behind. We leave ego-consciousness behind. Our minds, like a pond at these deeper levels, can then be experienced as still, dark, and silent.

If we continue to be aware of our surface senses settling and stilling, then attention is still, in some way, at the surface of the mind. This is normal. Perhaps, at this moment, it may be hard to let go of a curiosity that may be noticing that ‘something is happening.’ At times like this the ongoing invitation is always to give our attention to the mantra.

Perhaps ego-consciousness at the surface of the mind will resist, using whatever surface sense it can, no matter how well intentioned the use of our senses may be. We are not conditioned to live with awareness at our mysterious depths. To identify with the surface of our minds is perceived as somehow safer, as less threatening. However, with Christian meditation, our sense of awareness is being transformed. Less and less do we identify our humanity with ego-consciousness. More and more we come to identify our humanity with Christ at our depths. Awareness moves deeper.

There is nothing to fear. Attention growing in the mind’s depths will reveal to our minds, through experience, a God within who is Love uncreated. This God wishes to free our minds and hearts so that we may express, more and more, the unique being in love that we already are. Grace – the gift of God’s life already active in us – uses our fidelity to the mantra to help transform our minds and lives into instruments of love. To be growing in Love, its experience and expression, is the purpose of our lives.

Continue to gently sound the mantra. Gentleness is important. This gentleness will give the grace already active with the mantra space enough to draw your attention into the still and silent depths. If we find ourselves forcing our attention onto the mantra too much, this energy of force may be more from the ego. Gentleness helps the mantra to fall because gentleness is a hallmark of God. It is a gift of the Spirit drawing the mantra and our attention deeper.

During meditation divine Love is always working in us wherever our attention may be, and however we may be experiencing the mantra. We can unconsciously experience it at our depths, or it can be gently, quietly and faithfully working away at the conscious surface, or somewhere in-between. Nothing is wasted. Remain faithful to your practice. The fruits of the Spirit are growing in ways that are hidden. In time the fruits will be seen and experienced.

As the mantra continues to sink into the depths of our mind, like the pebble in the pond, drawing our attention into the still and silent depths, we will come to experience not a saying or sounding of the mantra ourselves, but instead we will come to listen to it. The mantra will become the silent voice, not only of our being, but of Christ within us. The mantra will not be heard in the surface sense. It will be experienced as a kind of echo of silence, more an inner movement of the life of God within us. The surface light of our senses will no longer surround it.


The River and the Bridge IX

As we grow we lose innocence, or at least lose touch with it. We begin to become more aware of ourselves, our actions, the impact we have on others and the world. We begin to fear. We begin to compromise. We make decisions, mostly unconscious, about how we can best be loved; about how we can best fit in. The child in us, those experiences and memories of earliest being, can be lost. Childhood becomes covered and exiled, deemed no longer relevant to a life that must now grow into responsibility.

What is responsibility? Part of it is the re-learning, the re-discovery of our own innocence and openness to the gift that is life. New parents and new grand-parents can tell us something about this re-discovery. And in the playfulness of lovers we often see children emerging from deep sleep.

The seeds of innocence can sprout again in the vulnerability at the heart of our most intimate relationships.

Divine Love is in all of this, calling us home to a full experience of a human life. When we are aware and quiet enough we can see that this Love  makes an Icon of Creation. Creation, all of it, is soaking in what our hearts desire the most. Becoming as little children is seeing this, experiencing this, again and again.

IX

I remember as a child being scared of imagining what I wanted.

 If I imagined, would it happen,

 Or would the world of imagination reach into the world of stuff

and steal what I wanted the most?

.

I feel a child’s desire to be at the river again,

Before I begin to think too much,

Before distraction lures attention away,

And again I lose conscious sight of Love.

.

I listen and walk back to the valley.

I climb through The Eye,

Down the steep gully,

To the bank below.

.

In the presence of the river wonderings settle.

 There is calm here.

 It’s flow helps me come back to the flow within.

 Soon I find myself, again, in the presence of Love.

.

Grey clouds begin to fill the sky.

 The day darkens.

 Thunder echoes in the valley.

Blue and grey become one.

.

 Soon rain falls on the river.

 As water hits water light explodes on dark green surface.

The face of the river looks like the night sky, flashing and twinkling.

I am in awe.

.

 I lay back and surrender to the flashing and twinkling of Love.

 The river has become my Icon.


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