Friday, January 29, 2016

Father Thomas Keating & the Vanishing Point

Back to 2016! Is anyone still doing this contemplation, meditation, sitting still stuff? I mean with all the spinning and whirring of AI and the cascading technological advances occurring daily, why even bother?

The interesting thing is this: As our understanding of the science of the cosmos advances, the reality of a creating, nourishing, and sustaining cosmic force is becoming more and more evident as well. In fact, as we’re advancing, we’re not moving away from the reality of a driving energy or intelligence ordering our world and the universe, we’re sailing directly toward it. Soon, the distinctness between science and spirituality will disappear in a vanishing point. They will become the study of the same thing. Quantum wave theory, the unified field, the vibrational quality of positive and negative emotions, all these things have already been proven to exist.

The question is becoming: How do we let these new understandings impact and transform our lifestyle choices and world views? Father Thomas Keating considers these kinds of questions in a fascinating Buddha at the Gas Pump interview, and his insights are very refreshing. Once the abbot of a Trappist monastery, Keating is an active participant in the Interspiritual movement and an advocate of Centering/contemplative prayer.

When asked to define God:

There are as many ideas of God as there are people; the word is a label and it would would be nicer if we had another word for God; is-ness without any limits; I am-ness without any other pronouns; God has aspects beyond reason; how do you comprehend infinite justice and infinite mercy, you must open your consciousness to a synthesis of the two and transcend a rational concept of god; God is in everything without being limited to anything; dynamic and expanding; God is change itself which is what’s changeless about God.

On an evolving cosmology:

Christian cosmology is patriarchal and limited by the culture it was formed in; it just doesn’t work anymore; theology needs a new cosmology; the dynamic idea of god which evolutionary cosmology has provided in the past 50 years is a revelation of a higher power, one in which we’re immersed and engulfed in, so we don’t have any identity outside of the evolutionary process; creation is not a one-time event; religion has to listen to science because science is giving us up-to-date revelations about who God really is and developing a cosmology that can support union and unity with God.

On consciousness and globalization:

Perhaps we’re at a critical evolutionary level in our time, in which a new general level of consciousness beyond rational is emerging; the capacity to understand reality intuitively may be beginning to happen around the world; the globalization of the world could be an opportunity to allow these insights into reality to be revealed at one time to large numbers of people; insights that can’t be reached on the rational level because the ration level of consciousness is limited.

On Centering Prayer and Contemplation:

Meditation is so important because it’s probably the most direct access to our deeper levels of consciousness; beyond the ego-ic self is a Self that we don’t usually access without something like meditation; by sitting long enough the dust begins to settle, and you begin to see more clearly; the deepest level of consciousness is God consciousness manifested in our uniqueness as a human-being.

Centering prayer can be adapted to any tradition and to someone without a religion; it has been taught in prisons, when other men saw their friends being more calm and peaceful, they ask to attend the classes, then those men begin experiencing more peace and calm, however, you can’t persuade people to do this.

If you’d like to learn more about the specifics of practicing centering prayer/contemplation, listen to the interview (recommended if you’re not Christian) (specific instructions are towards the end of the video), visit Contemplative Outreach, or read Keating’s book, Open Mind Open Heart.

I've embedded the video here for those who would enjoy watching it!
On Tuesday, I’ll be introducing you to a contemporary Muslim mystic.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Aldous Huxley: The Divine Within

As I've traveled through the woods of mystics and mysticism, I've discovered that the mystics I relate to the most are those who have experienced intense ambivalence about religion and God at some point in their lives. I suppose it's not surprising that I would feel the most in-sync with those who have pushed back on whatever religious beliefs they were raised with, and/or have been culturally and socially immersed in, to come to their own understanding of the Divine. For one thing, they speak more plainly, thus to me authentically, on the subject.

Enter Aldous Huxley who in his novels and essays of the 1920s "was scathingly skeptical of religion and its 'life-retreating' pious aspirants." At that time, Huxley would have been in his first decade of adulthood. I can totally relate. But somewhere along the way Huxley became associated with the Vedanta Center of Southern, CA and a devotee of Swami Prabhavananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India, who was head of it. The path from West to East is a common one for western mystics. Eventually, there was a rift between Prabhavananda and Huxley over the use of mescaline and LSD on the path to enlightenment. In the end, Huxley was drawn to Krishnamurti who espoused freedom from any prophet or path. Often it takes us awhile to get there.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of Huxley's Brave New World as I read it in the 80s, right around the time pharmaceuticals really began pushing anti-depressants on the population. How could I not think of Soma and applaud Huxley's prescience?

In 1944, Huxley published The Perennial Philosophy. "A documentation of the common doctrine in all major religions: that the truth is universal, that God is One." It's a book I haven't read and probably won't.

However ... I was drawn to Huxley's: The Divine Within, a selection of the over forty articles he wrote between 1941-1960 for the bi-monthly magazine Vedanta and the West published by the Vedanta Center mentioned above.

One of the overall qualities I enjoyed about the essays was the sparing use of any secondary religious language as Huxley analyses, confronts, and deconstructs common beliefs and perceptions about the human race's collective wisdom of the Divine. He covers a lot of ground.

He writes on Being:

[The Divine] is. That is the primordial fact. It is in order that we may discover this fact for ourselves, by direct experience, that we exist. The final end and purpose of every human being is the unitive knowledge of [The Divine's] being.

And on Beauty:

The first principle of order is [the Divine], and [the Divine] is the final, deepest meaning in all that exists. [The Divine], then, is manifest in the relationship which makes things beautiful. [It] resides in that lovely interval which harmonizes events on all the planes, where we discover beauty. We apprehend [It] in the alternate void and fullness of the cathedral; in the spaces that separate the salient features of a picture; in the living geometry of the a flower, a sea shell, an animal; in the pauses and intervals between the notes of music, in their differences of tone and sonority; and finally, on the plane of conduct, in the love and gentleness, the confidence and humility, which give beauty to the relationships between human beings.
And on Love:

[The Divine] is love, and there are blessed moments when even to the unregenerate [someone who refuses to believe in the existence of the Divine] human beings it is granted to know [It] as love.

Thus, Huxley professes three basic comprehensions common to the mystic: the seeking of a unitive relation with the Divine, beauty in all its manifestations as evidence of the Divine presence, and the direct experience of the Divine presence as Love. Again and again, mystics speak of these three elements.

At times, Huxley assumes a tone that is harsh, rigid, and unyielding. His hot-button issues are idolatry, mortifications, unregenerates, and time itself; pounding on these points he sometimes evokes an atmosphere as stultifying and repugnant as that of any religious fundamentalist. However, when he uses this critical voice to skewer both denominational and secular religions, Huxley is at his most incisive.

There are the nominal religions—Christianity, Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on; but if you inquire what the actions of the people mean, it is perfectly clear that the real religion is nationalism; that we worship the national state; and that the new religions like Communism are also used in the service of great national idolatry.

And ...

For the revolutionary, whether of the right or the left, the supremely important fact is the golden age of peace, prosperity, and brotherly love which, his faith assures him, is bound to dawn as soon as his particular brand of revolution has been carried through. Nothing stands between the people's miserable present and its glorious future, except a minority, perhaps a majority, of perverse or merely ignorant individuals. All that is necessary is to liquidate a few thousands, or it may be a few millions, of these living obstacles to progress, and then to coerce and propagandize the rest into acquiescence. 

Because ...

Dogma turns a man into an intellectual Procrustes [a robber who stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed]. He goes about forcing things to become the signs of his word-patterns, when he ought to be adapting his word-patterns to become the sign of things."

Huxley was not a humanist ...

The higher idolatry may be defined as the belief in, and worship of, human creation as though it were [the Divine].

Thus we are lead to the conundrum between the collective and the individual ...

... all evidence points to the fact that it is the individual soul, incarnated at a particular moment in time, which alone can establish contact with Divine ...

And the basic failure of our human efforts to figure it all out ...

In all actual human situations more variables are involved than the human mind can take account of; and with the passage of time the variables tend to increase in number and change their character.

And then there's our endless fascination/obsession with the apocalyptic ...

Another form frequently taken by temporal religious is apocalypticism—belief in an extraordinary cosmic event to take place in the not-to-distant future ... [this] preoccupation with hypothetical events in future time takes the place of ... the eternal present.

Although not a light read, I recommend Huxley's The Divine Within if you're so inclined, and have the patience and the time.

Tuesday, I’ll be circling back to my third discovery in my research of Christian mysticism, a discovery that will bring us back into the 21st century.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Mysticism: A Psychic Gateway

Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness was published in 1911 and is considered a classic. The book is divided into two parts: 1) a general introduction to mysticism and 2) the necessary stages of organic growth through which the typical mystic passes”.

I tackled it. At 500+ pages, it’s dense, and while her writing is not as difficult to read as the mystics of the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, her way of expressing herself is dated. Underhill is not a spare writer. I didn’t read every word. I couldn’t. In places, quotes of recognized mystics are 75% of the text. I skimmed over those.

The book is largely a defense of/argument for mysticism. Where it excels in it’s clear statement of the purpose/or result of mysticism:

“Modern psychology, in it’s doctrine of the unconscious or subliminal personality, has acknowledged this fact of a range of psychic life lying below and beyond the conscious field.”

“Certain processes, of which contemplation has been taken as a type, can so alter the state of consciousness as to permit the emergence of this deeper self; which according as it enters more or less into the conscious life, makes man more or less a mystic.”

“The mystic life, therefore, involves the emergence from deep levels of man’s transcendental self; its capture of the field of consciousness; and the ‘conversion’ or rearrangement of his feeling, thought, and will—his character—about this new centre of life.”

I agree with that. In fact, reading it gave me a lot of clarity about my own drive for practicing meditation: accessing my subconscious/unconscious to expand my ability to experience and respond to the world. I’d never really zeroed in on it quite like that before.

Initially agnostic, Underhill was an intellectual, and a prolific writer of novels and poetry. She takes a decidedly psychological approach to her analysis of mysticism. Because of the period in which the book was written, her analysis, though welcomely simplistic, is effective. She stresses that love, passion, “conation”—will stimulated by emotion—drives the mystic, “for passion rouses to activity not merely the mind, but the whole vitality of [the person].”

This is important point because mysticism is an adventure of direct experience, not an intellectual undertaking. One of Underhills most forceful arguments is that the mystic is mistakenly perceived as passive.

“The ‘passivity’ of contemplation … is a necessary preliminary of spiritual energy: an essential clearing of the ground.”

“… the act of contemplation is for the mystic a psychic gateway; a method of going from one level of consciousness to another. In technical language it is the condition under which he shifts his ‘field of perception’ and obtains his characteristic outlook on the universe.”
“It remains a paradox of the mystics that the passivity at which they appear to aim is really a state of the most intense activity: more, that where it is wholly absent no great creative action can take place. In it, the superficial self compels itself to be still, in order that it may liberate another more deep-seated power which is, in the ecstasy of the contemplative genius, raised to the highest pitch of efficiency.”

From everything I’ve seen and studied in regard to the lives of mystics, contemplation infuses dynamic life.

At times, the piousness of Underhill’s writing is not appealing. The line she draws between magic and mysticism is amusing. Magic is the application of the occult for purposes of personal gain, while mysticism is wholly selfless. I can’t follow her down that road, because everyone is pursuing whatever path they are pursuing with some hope of something. While a mystic might appear, or claim, to pursue a path of selflessness, deeper analysis would reveal the fruits accruing to the mystic as a result of their devotion or practice. After all, altruism is highly admired and can be the source of endless accolades and praise, and "helping" others can make you feel good.

Underhill also makes a distinction between the artist and the mystic, which I think stems from her insistent divide between the spiritual and the material. A divide which I don’t see.

She disagrees with William James “four marks” of mysticism, for which I applaud her, and presents her own four qualities of mysticism:

1. True mysticism is active and practical, not passive and theoretical. It is an organic, life process, a something which the whole self does; not something as to which its intellect holds an opinion.

I agree.

2. Its aims are wholly transcendental and spiritual. It is in no way concerned with adding to, exploring, re-arranging, or improving anything in the the visible universe.

I disagree. For me, if you’re mysticism is not somehow manifesting on this plane of existence, it’s somewhat worthless.

3. This One [the Transcendental Reality, or the Divine, as I like to call it] is for the mystic, not merely the Reality of all that is, but also a living and personal Object of Love.

I disagree. I think it can be and/or.

4. Living union with this One—which is the term of [the mystic’s] adventure—is a definite state or form of enhanced life … It is arrived at by an arduous psychological and spiritual process—the so-called Mystic Way—entailing the complete remaking of character and the liberation of a new, or rather latent, from of consciousness; which imposes on the self the condition which is sometimes called ‘ecstasy,’ but is better named the Unitive State.

I agree that some form of ultimate union is the state of equilibrium that the mystic seeks.

Underhill acknowledges that the nature of mysticism, as an individual endeavor, precludes a repeatable path. I agree. We all meander in our own way toward the Divine.

“The creative impulse in the world, so far as we are aware of it, appears upon ultimate analysis to be free and original not bound by the mechanical: to express itself, in the defiance of the determinists, with a certain artistic spontaneity.”

As I said, I didn’t read the whole book. But what I did read of Underhill’s work helped me clarify my own understandings of mysticism and validated my own path, despite some of my disagreements with her conclusions.

Tuesday, I’ll be sharing on the subject of an unlikely mystic.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Spanish Inquisition vs. Mysticism

After my foray into the history of Christian mysticism and the wonderful discovery of the women mystics, I wanted to do the same for Judaism. Unfortunately, that search wasn’t as fruitful. Teaching of the Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism—has been traditionally limited to males.

All right-y, then.

I did follow a faint trail that lead to Ines of Herrera del Duque, a young—pre-adolescent-young—mystic … and the Spanish Inquisition. I’ve always had the idea that the folks condemned by the Inquisition were witches! Maybe that comes from conflating the Inquisition in the Old World with the Salem Witch Trials in the New One. I don’t know. But apparently, witches weren’t the only one’s being burned at the stake in the Old World! Mystics were too!


That is so hard to believe. But the whole purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to solidify the power of the newly united Spanish nation; the imposition of the Catholic Faith on its population was the unifying vehicle. Because, after all, beliefs—especially religious ones—can be quite powerful.

Starting in the15th century, anyone—Jews and Moslems—who was not Christian, had to leave the newly united Spain or convert. Jews who converted were called conversos, and Muslims who converted were called moriscos. However, as you can imagine, the Inquisition was a great place for folks to seek retribution and vengeance for all sorts of major and minor disagreements with their business competitors, employers, employees, family members, and neighbors.

In the beginning, conversos were most often targeted. Can you imagine being burned at the stake or condemned to prison for life because you cut the fat off your meat, or wore a clean shirt on Saturday, or cooked with oil rather than lard. Wow! Doesn’t that sound CA-RAZE-Y?!?

Back to Ines, the young prophet and visionary who was a converso. In her visions, Ines’s deceased mother accompanied her to Heaven, where she received visions of Jewish liberation.
These prophecies awakened hope in the Jewish communities remaining in Spain at the time, and it was not uncommon for people to make pilgrimages to Herrera del Duque to talk to Ines in person.

Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand established the Holy (?) Office of the Inquisition in 1480. Ines was born in 1488. No record of Ines’s appearance before a tribunal has been found, but there is a notation dated August 3, 1500, that the child prophetess of Herrera had been burned. In 1500, she would have been twelve. Testament to her prophecies and the impact they had upon the Jewish communities were documented in the trials of other conversos, including children who played with her and were imprisoned for life despite their youth.

The Inquisition lasted for over 200 years in Spain. That’s a long time; and it seems they ran out of conversos! Who else became popular targets? Mystics—called Alumbrados in Spain. They believed turning inward provided a more direct route to the Divine—the clergy (and all officials of the all-powerful Catholic Church) were mere mortals who they were not obligated to listen to or obey. The majority of the Alumbrados were women. Charismatic women who were extremely threatening to those who wielded financial and political power in Spain … and wanted to keep wielding it.

If you believed you could have direct contact with the Divine, who needed The Church? Oh. No one. Hmmmm. The inquisitional goal was to shut them up. Lock them away. Kill them. Whatever it took to Silence them.

Rather a nasty business, don’t you think?

In the early1600s, Beatriz de Robles, a forty-eight-year-old woman, was brought before the Inquisition. Although she seems to have been the only Morisca, a descendant of Muslims, condemned as an alumbrada, her spiritual heritage/identity easily bridged mystic Christianity and mystic Islam—Sufism.

“Both Sufis and almubrados underwent individual trances and group experiences that sometimes became extravagant expressions of emotion with dancing, weeping, ecstatic shouts, incomprehensible speech and prophecies.”—The Women of the Inquisition

Beatriz was guilty of experiencing religious paroxyms, going into trances, having visions, and fainting spells after taking communion. As a woman, she was most guilty of sharing these experiences publicly. However, her two-year sentence of reclusion for heretical mysticism was much lighter than most Moriscos received: “perpetual prison for women, years of galley service for men, and confiscation of goods.”


Before I share my discovery of an amazing contemporary Muslim mystic, I’ll return us to the 21st century in my next three posts.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Julian of Norwich: It's All Love

The female Christian mystic I found most fascinating was Julian of Norwich. She was born in 1342 and died around 1412. There is little factual information available about her life. Julian might not have even been her name. What is known is that she was an anchoress at a church in the city of Norwich, England. Unbelievably, anchoresses lived voluntarily imprisoned in cells adjoined to a church. That’s right—literally bricked in. The cells most often had a window into the church, so the the anchoress could participate in the services, a window to an adjoining cell through which they communicated with caretakers, and a window to the exterior allowing them to “counsel” anyone seeking spiritual guidance; the cells had no door. That’s right. Once an anchoress committed to her enclosure she remained in her cell, in prayer and contemplation until death. Kind of crazy. But they really existed and Julian of Norwich was one of them.

There is a lot of conjecture about Julian’s life circumstances. It’s known that she survived the Black Plague. She was about six when the first wave swept through Norwich leaving more than half of the city’s population dead in it’s wake. It’s tough to imagine what that might have been like. What if Ebola had taken out more than half the population of Dallas, TX? What emotional, mental, psychological, spiritual impact might that have had on the survivors?

The plague returned to Norwich twice more in Julian’s lifetime. It’s possible that she had a husband and children who died in one of those dark waves of contagion and sickness.

It’s commonly believed that Julian wasn’t yet an anchoress when she received 16 divine “showings” at the age of thirty-one during a near-death experience. The age at which she became an anchoress is not known. But it is during that period that she continued to reflect on the "showings" she had received earlier and expand her theology. The result was her Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written by a woman in the English language … Let that sink in.

Her work would remain hidden for over 200 years. Why? Again, in those days, women were not to speak in church, comment on scripture, or discuss theology, let alone evolve their own understanding of the human relation to the Divine. But Julian did just that and her theology was radically optimistic.

Considering the dark times that she lived in, her shining perspective of the Divine could hardly have come from any source other than her own intuitings.

I confess, reading her revelations was a laborious process. The majority of the imagery in her “showings” draws from a thoroughly graphic interpretation of Jesus dying on the cross, with a Mel Gibson The Passion of Christ explicitness. During Julian’s life, Corpus Christi plays, dramatic re-enactments of Jesus’s crucifixion were popular, and it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t influence the imagery that she “beheld” on her sick bed. However her interpretations are her own. And if you weed out all the blood, our Christ, Jesus, and the Trinity, etc. verbiage, you’re left with a spiritual clarity and perception which is surprisingly modern.

As I mentioned in my post, Mining the Mystic Gems, Julian’s glimpse of the material world as the size of a hazelnut aligns with our current understanding that given the size of atoms, neutrons, protons, quarks, etc. a compressed physical world could actually fit in a sugar cube of … Quite an amazing apprehension made hundreds of years before science would prove it.

So what else did Julian believe that was so outragerous, revolutionary, and unorthodox that it had to be hidden away for over 200 years?

1. The human and the Divine are inseparable. (I’ve chosen to substitute [the Divine] for God, etc.)

"… [the Divine] is in humanity, and [the Divine] is in all … [the Divine] who is our Maker lives in our souls, and our souls live in the Divine Essence, the very substance from which we were created. Thus, I can see no difference between the Divine Essence and our own: all is [the Divine]. Yet let’s be clear: only [the Divine] is [the Divine], and our essence is a divine creation that lives within [the Divine].”

This is radically nondual comprehension.

2. Everything good comes from the Divine.
In a world where misfortune is/was often assigned to divine retribution, god’s wrath, karmic debt, Julian was unable to perceive an “angry God.” This liberating concept dissolves the ability to control a population through threats of condemnation/misfortune due to actions, beliefs, and conduct disapproved of by the pious and/or ordained representatives of religious hierarchies.

"… and yet I saw with such certainty that [the Divine] is never angry with us nor will ever be."

"… everything that is good is [the Divine]; whatever goodness we experience in this life is truly a taste of [the Divine]…"

"[The Divine] is [the Divine]: all that is good, all that is life, all that is truth, all that is love and peace. [The Divine]’s clarity and unity leaves no room for anger. I realized that Divine goodness and wisdom are such that they cannot contain anger. [The Divine] is the goodness that cannot be twisted by anger for [the Divine] contains nothing other than goodness … we are so completely united with [the Divine's] unity that nothing separates us from the Divine Essence.

3. Sin is separation from Divine Love.

“At this point, I saw that sin is nothing. All action is [the Divine], and sin is no action at all. [The Divine] is all reality, and sin is the absence of reality. The Point I saw was all reality, and it contained no sin, no separation from [the Divine] or the love that sustains the world.”

“[The Divine] has shown me that sin is exile and separation from [the Divine].”

A far cry from the fire and brimstone preaching that was popular in her times … and still is in certain locales.

4. The spiritual nature is not superior to the earthly body.

“What is a soul? These visions showed me that our spiritual essence can rightly be called our soul—but at the same time, our sensual natures are also our soul. This is because of the unity they have in [the Divine]; we may see them as two separate things but they are not.”

I really appreciated this, because the view that the spiritual nature is superior to body drives me nuts. I wholeheartedly agree with Julian. The body is an expression of the Divine, a direct expression.

5. Contemplative prayer is the highest form of prayer.

"Resting in this Unity is the highest prayer, and it reaches down to our deepest needs. It brings our soul to life; it brings us more of life’s fullness; and our lives expand with grace and strength. This attitude of prayer aligns most easily with our very natures, and it requires the least effort to achieve, for it is simply what our souls already crave, and what they shall always crave until we truly understand that we are wrapped in the Divine Unity; the goodness of [the Divine]

6. The Divine as Mother.
It was common for female mystics to see and claim the feminine qualities of the Divine. Julian did so with an exceptional beautiful and personal perception.

“A mother’s help is the most intimate, the most quick to respond, and the most certain: most intimate because it is tied to our simplest biological natures; the most quick to respond, for a mother’s love is an automatic and instinctive aspect of her being; and most certain, because it lacks all artifice and pretension. Our human mothers bore us into a world of pain and death—but our True Mother—All-Love—bears us into joy and endless life …"

"Any natural, loving mother knows and understands her child’s needs; she watches out for the child with vigilant tenderness. As the child grows, the mother’s care changes but not her love. At some ages, the mother may allow the child to experience pain so that the child will grow in maturity and grace. In the same way, [the Divine] works in us. [The Divine] is the Mother of both our human nature, our sense-selves, and our spiritual being, and sometimes our sense-selves must suffer so that our spiritual beings grow.”

7. The Divine is Love.

“We go through so much pain in life because we do not fully comprehend love … I believe [the Divine] wants that we see and enjoy all life in the light of love … Some of us believe that [the Divine] is Almighty, able to do all things, and many of us believe [the Divine] is All-Wisdom, able to do all things. But we stop short at believing that [the Divine] is All-Love, able to do all things. This ignorance on our part is what hinders us most, I believe…

“Do you really want to see clearly [the Divine’s] meaning in the showings? Well, then, learn it well: Love was [the Divine]’s meaning. Who showed you these visions? Love. What were you shown? Love. Why were you shown these visions? For love. Hold on to that love, and you will learn and understand more of the same love—but you will never learn nor understand anything else.”

"And so I finally understood: Love was the meaning in everything [the Divine] showed me."

I suppose one of the reasons I really enjoy Julian is that I’ve been grappling with my own understanding of the energy animating the cosmos as love. Pure and simple. That behind all the “masks of God” and quantum theory is a force that creates and sustains everything, and that force while not necessarily anthropomorphic, is infinite love. The only source of infinite and unconditional love available to us.

The blood of innocents will soak Illialei’s meadows, and dreamlessness will snuff all hope from the mortal world. Fear not. This apocalyptic union can be saved. Though grace is undeserved, the purpose is love.Idonnic Prophesy, Daughter of Light

Over the past decade Julian’s writings have become increasingly studied, and no wonder, the record of her visions and her interpretation of their meanings is fascinating. She was truly a visionary, a woman well ahead of her times.

All Julian quotes for this post were taken from: All Shall Be Well: A Modern-Language Version of the Revelation of Julian of Norwich (Anamchara's Spiritual Classics for Modern Mystics)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Mining the Mystic Gems

My second discovery that arose from following a meandering path through Youtube videos, websites, and other various internet resources, to a plethora of books was the numerous women mystics of medieval Christianity.

Years ago, when I was being shuttled to Sunday School and church, bible studies and youth groups, No One, I mean No One! ever once mentioned a single woman mystic. Crosses arms over chest, frowns, and stamps foot. Why not?

These women are fascinating. They were rebellious. Independent. And strong. But in very constructive ways. Being female, I find their stories inspiring; they leave me with a hundredth-monkey feeling.

You know the story about the monkeys washing their sweet potatoes? No? Well, monkeys didn’t always wash their sweet potatoes before they ate them, but when the hundredth monkey did, simultaneously all over the world, monkeys began washing their sweet potatoes!

Hmmm … not sure where I was going with that, but …

Long before Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own, these women, who weren’t supposed to speak in church, comment on scripture, let alone seriously contemplate or develop theological ideas, sought, created, and discovered lifestyles in which they could spend time alone with the Divine. And out of this space they thought and wrote about their individual and direct experiences of God.

Hildegard von Bingen and St. Claire of Assisi birthed new religious orders. Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich, St. Therese of Avila, and Therese of Liseaux authored works describing their contemplative journey, their personal experience of uniting with God in their interior lives.

Innovative trailblazers, they lived detached from the normal relationships that shaped the lives of their mothers and sisters. For an independently spirited young girl or woman, perhaps the convent and a quiet “cell” of her own appeared like a haven. Perhaps watching their mothers and/or older siblings become worn down—or even die—after multiple births, the domestic role did not appeal to them.

Adaptable, creative, committed, determined, and resolute reformers, 500, 1000, 1500 years ago they constructed theologies where God’s love was central, as was the perspective of the Divine as feminine and/or maternal.

Love flows from God into man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings --
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.—Mechthild of Magdeburg (English version by Jane Hirshfield, Original Language German)

“Excluded by church law from active ministry in the church, women were more likely to spend long hours in contemplative prayer and to have the kind of visionary experiences that can result.”

This contemplative prayer was a central aspect to their spiritual growth, a practice that transformed each woman, imbuing her not just with the inner strength to travel her own inner byways, but to do so in truly constructive and reformative ways. “… remember that practitioners of mental prayer represented a marginal population within the church. They were regarded as subversive …. Contemplatives, who claimed to have direct, unmediated experience of God, and not necessarily during the Mass, constituted a distinct challenge to the church insofar as it was centered upon ritual and run by male priests.”

Each of these women had to carefully tread the path between their intuited truth, being called out as heretics, and reconciling their experience of the Divine with a corrupt and powerful Church. In Spain, home of Teresa of Avila, the Inquisition instigated by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand burned and imprisoned for life those who it judged strayed from the church’s doctrinal teachings.

One of the biggest obstacles to studying these women’s works is the mixture of orthodox language and sensationalism that often sounds unfamiliar and overwrought to the modern ear. However, “… the use of orthodox language to describe their experiences was a basic skill of survival” when faced with a world seeking to condemn the spiritually wayward. So be warned if you approach them: the religious verbiage is deep. But there are gems to be excavated, if you’re willing to take on the challenge of mining them.
I love this description of the mind rampant in contemplation/meditation; so much more poetic and vivid than the cliched dismissal of thought implied by today’s common term, “monkey-mind” (Oh, look,we’re back to monkeys!):

“This intellect is so wild that it doesn’t seem to be anything else than a frantic madman no one can tie down.”—Teresa of Avila

The spiritual devotions of these women were often extreme: fasting, poverty, denial of all things worldly.

But there are also prescient intuitions of scientific discoveries to come.

At the same time the spirit showed me a tiny thing the size of a hazelnut, as round as a ball, and so small I could hold it in the palm of my hand. I looked at it in my mind’s eyes, and wondered, What is this? The answer came to me: “This is everything that has been made. This is all Creation.” It was so small that I marveled that it could endure; such a tiny thing seemed likely to simply fall into nothingness. Again the answer came to my thoughts: “It lasts, it will always last, because God loves it.” Everything — all that exists — draws its being from God’s love.—Julian of Norwich

Through the discovery of quantum mechanics we now know that: If you removed the empty space from the atoms of all people, the entire human race could fit in the volume of a sugar cube—The Institute of Physics.

If you’re curious about these women and would like to read an introduction to their lives and work, I recommend Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics by Carol Lee Flinders. Excerpts from her book are indicated by the use of quotes in this post.

On Friday, I’ll share my personal favorite of these women with you.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Original Christian Mystics?

Rather than write a summary history or provide a list of the most famous Christian mystics, I’ve decided to share the three most surprising discoveries regarding Christian mystics that I’ve made over the past few months.

The first discovery is of the Desert Mothers, the Desert Mothers (ammas) and Fathers (abbas) being the first (original?) Christian mystics. After Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, these women and men moved to the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria with the intention of forsaking “worldly distractions” in order to draw closer to God.
Remember, it was illegal to be a Christian in the first and second centuries. By migrating to the desert and adopting lifestyles as ascetics and hermits, these early Christians refused to participate in the mainstreaming of their spiritual beliefs; a mainstreaming that would politicize their religion, and establish a rigid hierarchy of governmental power.

They were not misguided. As we now know, the Roman Catholic church became unbelievably corrupt.

Although there were twice as many Desert Mothers as there were Desert Fathers, the lives and words of the Desert Fathers have been more extensively documented. Not surprising. But I was more fascinated to learn about the Desert Mothers: Amma Matrona, Amma Sarah, Amma Syncletica, Amma Theodora, and many others.

“Desert spirituality was nonconformist: Ammas passed on their living example, but where or how a disciple carried on the desert tradition was open to a myriad of possibilities. It was the quality of the inner journey that mattered.”

The drive of the inner journey is something that unites all mystics, that, and their … non-conformity!

Another aspect of the ammas spiritual repertoire was a full self-awareness:

“Self-awareness is not selfishness but self-connectedness. It is a deep intense listening to our inner being, learning to be conscious and alert to what our inner word is trying to tell us …”

The ammas also had a great reverence for Silence—

“Entering into silence is not easy … Silence invites us to meet and discover our truest selves—with masks, illusions, and public personae removed. Self image is stripped and realigned … Silence, therefore, invites us to change, to grow towards the fullness of life …

The [amma] strove to sit quietly, attune her attention fully to the silence, and allow silence to speak its wisdom… Silence is essentially listening.”

—And Peace—

“They recognized that peace begins within each individual.”

Asceticism held a central place in the spiritual experience of the Desert Mothers; it’s not uncommon for the body to be deemed as something lesser than the soul. I personally prefer to see the body as an expression of the soul, to the extent that the body is the soul embodied, i.e. even that the body is a manifestation of the soul’s consciousness. Given that, I personally perceive harsh asceticism and any self-assault on the body as dubious at best. Hatred and harshness against the body is hatred and harshness against its Creator, whether that be God or the Unified Field.

I’ve shared only a few highlights of the Desert Mothers’ way of life, the ones that spoke most directly to me. If you’re interested in learning more about these fascinating women, I recommend The Forgotten Desert Mothers by Laura Swan. All the quotes in this post are taken from her book.

On Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my second discovery …

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Living is the Key

Before I dive into my last set of posts for this series, I’ll confess this has been quite an experience for me. For over 30 years, I’ve gone through an inner upheaval every 7 to 10 years. It always involves revisiting old thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, and then delving more deeply into other realms that I’ve only touched on in the most superficial way before.

Sorting through it all and coming to some new awareness … always deeper … simpler.

At the end of each phase, I always have a wish that I could just settle onto my path, without the continual progressing, falling off, circling back around, and then more jerky moves forward. SIGH. But this seems to be my rhythm. Searching, arguing, testing, living.

And the living is the key.
Because at the end of each phase of renewal, the desire to set aside other input grows stronger, stronger, stronger; the urge to set aside all the reading and thinking and analyzing and just do. Be.

Builds. And builds. And Builds.

And this is where I’ve come to again.