Holy Days and Holidaze

It’ s almost bewildering to me that we’ve made our “sacred” holidays into such secular rushes of madness. The three saints days which have penetrated our cultural calendar–those of Sts. Valentine, Patrick, and Nicholas, have almost lost all memory of these living lights, as has All Saints Eve. And the celebration of Christ’s birth barely survives the whirling madness of the modern American Christmas.

I try fighting it in small ways, but I’m fretting about how to wake up at 3:30 tomorrow morning to board a flight , and making plans to cut my hair, wash my clothes, and board my cat. Most of my shopping is done–not all–and it’s not that I have that much–I’m just a really bad shopper! Once again, Trev’s posts here and here say it better than I can.

I’m looking forward to seeing my parents whom I haven’t seen for quite some time, spending quality time with them, and lending a hand. I’m looking forward to the Christmas Eve Mass I’ll go to with my folks. As I take care of the necessary details, I need to remember this. That this is the Christ-Mass–not just in church, but our whole lives are the burning candle of the Christ light. Sometimes this week, I haven’t been burning very brightly. I need to quiet down, focus, meditate, and remember this light of the world–in a manger in Bethlehem, and in myself.

>You are the light of the world…
>Let your light shine before others.
>Jesus, Matthew 5:14-16

Eight Haiku for the Nativity

Igniter of Stars!
lies naked, bawling on rough straw
God in the manger.

Scandal of Ages!
The King of Infinity
in this time, this place!

“What?” “Why?” Resounding cry
across the galaxies—wings
and heads bow in awe.

Joy! This Special birth!
And more! Beyond all reason
The Giver is given!

Quiet night explodes!
Angelsong, ten billion strong—
Glory to the King!

Pungent barnyard smells
mix with the aroma of
His wonder, His love.

In orbits ordained
before Time, planets align—
form the Star, the Sign!

She names Him “Jesus.”
Yet more strangers will arrive—
they will name Him “King.”

© jon zuck | chesapeake, virginia | december 25, 1995

3 Book Titles that Made Me Laugh

* How to be Like Rich DeVos
* A Course in Miracles in 5 Minutes
* Jesus: the Last of the Pharoahs

I kid you not, I saw all of these tonight at B&N and Borders!

In other news, last night I saw my teacher at our weekly Zen satsang. He helped me a lot with understanding the nature of conflict and spiritual warfare, within the universal Oneness of God. I checked out Trev’s blog when I got home, and found that someone else had been having similar questions, so I posted a comment, which Trev made into an entire entry. I might expand it into a static page later on.

Thanks for Sharing!

Thanks to all of you for sharing so openly and supportively!

Darrell–for reminding me that the Creed, as well as all worhip, is poetry.

Gnostic Tom–for your extensive work on the Buddha and the Christ.

Ann–I definitely feel you. I know about the “rewriting” thing!

Meredith–for focusing on the common core of sacredness in all things.

Trevor–Man, you hit the nail on the head. I had been thinking the day before you posted, the only problem is “only!”

Laura–Yep, it’s all about That One beyond all discussion, about whom we should all just fall dumb. But we keep blathering anyway, because Isness seems to like it!

Larry–Thanks for the encouragement and support!

Polyreligious? Your Turn

Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

My spiritual life has seen a lot of changes. After my Baptist childhood, I had a “born-again” experience in my early teens, and began to see my life with God as a spiritual adventure, which I lived in a wide variety of Christian environments, from Methodism, Messianic Judaism, and the Charismatic movement, to the Disciples of Christ, Lutheranism, and Catholicism.

In addition, ever since my college years, I’ve been learning as well from other religions, and in the last several years, it’s become much more than academic. I study with a Zen master, and sometimes pray in temples as well as my own church. I read the *Upanishads*, *Tao Te Ching*, and *Dhammapada* in the same light which I read the Gospels.

I sometimes don’t know whether to think I’m a part of all religions or apart from all religions. All I can say is I hear the voice of God in a lot of places, and I want to see and know everything as part of God’s self. (I like your self-description of “freelance panentheist,” Darrell!)

But it isn’t easy for me. Being both introverted and single, I find it a lonely path. I’m often misunderstood, and sometimes I can’t effectively reach out to others because they find me too “far out,” or heretical, to hear me. I’ve had the experience of sometimes feeling like an outsider in my church. If I’m paying attention, the Creed can be difficult. I stand silently during it, or recite it with my own wider-than-usual interpretations in mind!

So I’m wondering what it’s like for you… Do any of you have similar problems, or is that all far behind you? Do you sometimes feel torn? Misunderstood? Even guilty for going farther than what your friends or family consider to be “within bounds?” Have you had to make a “clean break” with some of your past religious environments? What do you do to integrate the different traditions and experiences you learn from within your life?

Double Triple Celebration!

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception for Catholics, the first day of Hanukkah for Jews, and *Rohatsu* (Buddha’s Enlightenment) for Buddhists (at least in Japan). I’ll probably go to Mass tonight. Wish my Zendo had a service right after that I could go to also!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! May the Light shine in the darkness!

Changing Life, Changing Site

I just rewrote and restored three old pages to the site. Buddha, by Karen Armstrong, also her wonderful and brilliant A History of God, and, now, back by popular demand, my old page The Lotus and the Cross: Common Threads in Buddhist and Christian Spirituality.

See, the old pages **are** being restored! It just takes time; my perspective has changed so much in the last couple of years that almost every page of my site has to be rewritten to some degree. For instance, I’ve been studying Zen now for a year, and that makes a big difference. It may not sound like much if I say that the main change is that I’m shedding conceptual beliefs, but if you’re as wrapped up in them as I was, it’s pretty significant.

As I was developing this site from 1996 until around 2000, I still had the very mistaken notion that mysticism would give “the Answer,” that replacing some beliefs with better beliefs would bring me to God’s truth. That’s like saying the number ten is closer to infinity than the number nine!

Over the last few years, I began to realize that God’s reality is inexpressible, but I couldn’t find the right way to convey the change in my perspective on my site, which had over 140 pages by early 2003. Finally, I took down almost everything, started blogging my current thoughts, and restoring old pages, slowly, in their own time. More are coming, but this is all for today.

That’s Jedi life in the real world.

A History of God

a history of the concept of god

Is the Universe wholly apart from God, or is Creation in some sense, a part of God? Is God solely One in nature, or is there a Threeness, or a Manyness, or an Infinitude to God? Is God knowable or beyond knowledge? Is God personal or impersonal? Does God have feelings? Billions of people have had an opinion on these matters, and that’s the subject of this groundbreaking book. Those who depend upon the unshakeableness of their beliefs may find this book upsetting or worse, but to those who consider and question their faith, Karen Armstrong’s A History of God will be challenging and illuminating, and perhaps, as I found it, even thrilling.

The title goes for brevity over accuracy. Perhaps it could have been titled “A History of the Idea of God in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” but that would have lacked panáche, to say the least. Armstrong concentrates on the changes in the concept of God, particularly the unique aspects of monotheistic theology, for instance, God as separate from Creation, God having a “personal” nature, and so forth.

religious cultures in conflict

Armstrong makes theological history simply fascinating. Beginning with the evidence for near-universal worship of a Sky God in prehistory, Armstrong traces the shift from the Sky God to the Earth Mother to polytheism, and then focuses on the revolutionary development of Abraham’s faith in one God which would clash with Canaanite, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian paganism for the next 1500 years. Many Christians interested in objective Biblical scholarship are familiar with the “Documentary Hypothesis” of the Pentateuch stemming from sources J, E, P, and D. Yet never have I seen an attempt to reconstruct the history and interplay of these perspectives throughout ancient Israel and the surrounding regions, and not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it would be so illuminating…

For instance, Armstrong shows the revolutionary effect of the prophets in Judaism, beginning with Isaiah, at the time when the J and E material was still being written. She shows that prophetic Judaism was an “Axial religion,” a development of the Axial age when cities became the centers of culture in Asia and the Mediterranean. Other Axial religious developments included the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Zoroaster, the Upanishadic sages, the Buddha, Lao-tse, and Confucius. These all taught a universal ethic, insisting that God or the Absolute needed no temple, transcended all, was accessible to or within everyone, and that compassion was the highest virtue.

The prophets’ teaching that “God desires mercy, and not sacrifice,” was in sharp contrast to the priestly, Temple-based establishment, which insisted the Temple was the ultimate dwelling on God on Earth, having chosen the Israel out of all the nations. (This was the beginning of a clash which would endure until John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus.)

But this is just the beginning. Instead of specializing on a single religion or period in time, Armstrong boldly takes up all the threads of theology throughout the four millennia of the monotheistic religions. With them, she weaves a tapestry of our collective religious experience which can help us understand our faith and ourselves better. Subsequent chapters focus on the life of Christ, early Christian theologies, understandings (and misunderstandings) of Trinity, the influence of Greek philosophy upon Christianity and Islam, mysticism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and Fundamentalism.

three persons or three personae?

A special treat is her insight on Trinitarian thought. It was a surprise to learn that the term “persons” in “One God in three Persons” came from the Latin word personae, referring to the masks of characters in a drama. Personae was the Latin translation of the Greek word hypostases, “expressions.”  The different words used in Greek and Latin to describe the Trinity reflected (and influenced) very different understandings of God’s nature. For the Eastern bishops, the Trinity described how One God, whose essence (ousia) is mysterious, ineffable, utterly beyond and above being known or described in any way, imparts his energies (energeia) to Creation through the expressions (hypostases) of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, the Eastern view of the Trinity reconciled knowledge of God as both personal and beyond personal, knowing and loving in his expressions, and yet beyond any human conception at all in essence. Have you ever heard it like that before?

world-wide paradigm shifts

Brilliant also is her ability to relate the historic phenomena of mysticism, reformation, rationalism, and fundamentalism beyond just the Christian perspective, into a world-wide perspective simultaneously developing in all “the religions of God.” Her revelation that the Reformation was not just a Protestant reformation, but a universal one is a brilliant example. As the printing press spread, the authority of the written word took on unprecedented dimensions. Galileo, she points out, was condemned by the Catholic Church not because his heliocentric universe conflicted with any doctrine or dogma, but because it contradicted an extremely literal reading of the Bible.

Especially helpful is her knowledge about Islamic history with revealing treatments on philosophical and mystical eras in Islam, before the relatively recent phenomenon of Islamic Fundamentalism. It was fascinating to learn that some Sufi schools were so devoted to Jesus that they adapted the Shahada to “there is no God but God, and Jesus is His Prophet.”

However, A History of God has minor but significant flaws: Awkward sentences abound, and her lack of direct experience with conservative American Protestantism makes her disdain for it seem less than objective. Furthermore, errors like “Maurice Cerullo” (i.e. Morris Cerullo) make it feel insufficiently edited, particularly in the age of the Internet. However, none of these are fatal flaws by any means; Armstrong has created a landmark work, undoubtedly unique in its combination of depth and scope. What can I say, but read it!

Let’s get small

I remember when Steve Martin released a comedy album titled “Let’s Get Small.” It’s really just the advice I need. Too often I tend to get caught up in “bigness.” My mind fixes on “the big picture,” and likes to get drunk on “big ideas.” While I think there are a heck of a lot of people who would do well to think outside their little boxes, with me, it’s a bit different.

After I had the letdown from my cosmic inspiration a few days ago, I remembered stuff which I really knew full well. Don’t seek “enlightenment.” Instead practice the presence of God in everything, every moment. That divine awareness is enlightenment. Last month, for a while, I actually had experienced some freedom from the wanting engine. How easily it comes back!

But there’s help all around. A friend emailed me with the helpful advice to not focus on the grand finale, but appreciate all the little experiences.

Rumi wrote:
> The mystery does not get clearer by repeating the question,
nor is it bought with going to amazing places.

> Until you’ve kept you eyes
and your wanting still for fifty years,
> you don’t begin to cross over from confusion.

In the *Gospel of Thomas,* Jesus says,
>Come to know what is in front of you,
and that which is hidden from you will become clear to you.
>For there is nothing hidden
that will not become manifest.

And Mother Teresa:
>We can do no great deeds.
>We can only do small things with great love.

Dang Experiences!

Some seekers seemed to be blessed by having few “mystical experiences” along the way. I’m not one of them. You name it, and it’s happened to me (or so it seems–really there’s a lot that *hasn’t* happened to me, thank God). The problem is that I don’t want “experiences,” I want the transformation of awakening. Theosis. Enlightenment. The Big “E.” Most of my experiences tend to be intellectual or emotional in nature. As my teacher reminds me, they can help encourage me to stay on the path. And as he also reminds me, they are not what I’m seeking.

Sometimes I feel like giving up. It seems impossible to move beyond my thoughts and feelings. No matter how inspirational or “insightful,” thoughts are just thoughts. I sometimes despair of being able to move past thought. My meditation is filled with thought. I seldom am able to experience “the witness” for more than a few seconds.

In *Hardcore Zen,* Brad Warner writes with unusual candor about some of his deceptive experiences, and how his teacher helped him to move past. I’m fortunate to have a teacher who’s helping me the same way. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I could just think my way in. Dang experiences!