End of Two Eras

Enterprise crew Tonight, at 12:01 am, an era ends: the last Star Warsmovie will be released. I’m looking forward to seeing Revenge of the Sith. I haven’t re-posted any of my earlier pages on Star Wars movies because I’ve been waiting for the final installment of the saga. I suspect it will cast many things into a different light.

The Star Wars era isn’t the only one ending, however. Last Friday, the final episode of what looks to be the last Star Trek series was broadcast. I’m sorry to see it go?Enterprise was a darn good show, and I felt that the most recent episodes were the best. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) wasn’t the most gung-ho and adventurous captain, but I would rather have served under him than the histrionic Kirk or perennially uptight Picard any day. Trip (Cmdr. Charles Tucker) and T’pol were superb characters. Connor Trineer brought Trip to life in such a way you felt that he was someone you actually knew. T’pol (Jolene Blalock) introduced us to a fascinating and turbulent era in Vulcan history, before Vulcans became so “Vulcan.” And Hoshi was a reluctant crew member who didn’t like being in space very much at all.

The writing was usually excellent, except for the third season, which was wasted on the Xindi war. Enterprise had an earthiness (no pun intended!) to it which hadn’t been seen on television sci-fi before. It gave us scenes of throwing footballs in a low-gravity cargo bay, of cornfields in the Midwest, of metal catwalks in Engineering that you could almost feel rattling underneath you.

Its humans were very human, and made more than their share of mistakes. In the first season especially, it seemed almost every decision Archer made was wrong (What do you mean ‘cultural contamination?’ We’re going to help them!) Hate to break it to you, but when we become newbies exploring other solar systems, we’re going to do what newbies do best?screw up. I only hope that when we do, we do it with as much genuine goodwill as the crew of the Enterprise NX-01.

The Power of Now

book cover

We live in an explosion of spiritual writing. In addition to tons of recent books on Christian inspiration, there are breakthroughs in scholarship, archaeology, and an ocean of writings on meditation, the New Age, and Eastern religions. In the flood of information, it’s only natural to wonder—What do I read? What will help me with something I don’t already know? What will be forgotten in five years, and what will endure?

Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is a superb book already being hailed as a classic. Although nothing changes about enlightenment itself, Tolle has a wonderful new gift for teaching it. Dramatic teachers of enlightenment have sometimes described their transformation by the Divine Presence in startling terms, saying “I am God,” and such, which might highlight the profundity of their transformation, but does little to help their disciples to understand the way in. Other teachers, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, say almost nothing about enlightenment per se, and instead concentrate almost exclusively on the way in, mindfulness. Tolle strikes a middle ground; although he places greater emphasis on the means, he does not play down the profundity of his enlightenment. And no wonder! Enlightenment actually saved his life. He was near the point of suicide when suddenly he came to the realization of the false self and the true self, and awoke the next morning to a world of wonder which he’s lived in for years now.

time is mind

Eckhart’s genius as a teacher lies in his insights which may never been as clearly worded as before. The core of Eckhart’s understanding of enlightenment is that the “mind” (in the sense of conventional thought, feelings, sense of separateness and ego) is inextricably tied up with time (past and future). The way to get out of the activity of mind—the false self—and into the awareness of true reality is to step out of time, into the Now.

The Now is not part of “time,” but is simply how eternity is experienced by finite beings. The time is now. It is always now; it always has been now, and always will be now. The concept of past and future is a function of the mind, recalling past Nows and anticipating future ones. The past gives a sense of identity, (and thus the sense of being separate from God), as well as resentment, regret, and other emotions. The future gives hope for better things in the future, as well as fear and anxiety. Both sides of time remove us from the present moment, which is the only place where we exist, and where God exists. Salvation can only happen in the Now.

a brilliant clarity

Are questions and objections starting to surface in your mind? Great. The entire book is arranged in a Q and A format, answering questions such as yours. And Tolle’s answers are always lucid, understanding, and genuine, with the conviction of someone who knows and is not just guessing. Furthermore, Tolle’s suggestions are practical. Although like many enlightened teachers before him, (Jesus, the Buddha, St. Francis, Peace Pilgrim) he lived homeless for some time after his transformation, he later returned to the world of work, and gaining insight on how to use the Power of Now in day-to-day life. A particularly insightful chapter is “Enlightened Relationships” which goes beyond all popular surface psychologizing, to the real issue, (almost never discussed), that underneath it all, we want others to do what they cannot: bring us into ultimate happiness, and they can’t, only realizing our own connection with the Ultimate directly can bring us into that level of fulfillment. Because of that, relationships need to be worked on from the standpoint of the present and being, but from projecting the other with impossible demands.

Another important aspect of Tolle’s contribution to the enlightenment literature is a neutral language. Eckhart occasionally uses phrases from Christian and Buddhist spirituality, but prefers to use neutral words which are as objective and clear as possible. For instance, he says “Being” and “the Unmanifested” instead of “God,” to avoid the problems caused by our conceptions of God interfering with encountering the Ground of Being. Phrases like “realizing your connection with Being” are much less likely to cause confusion than terms such as “becoming God,” from early Christian mysticism. The non-dramatic language helps us accept that enlightenment is obtainable, and its neutrality is equally accessible to people coming from different spiritual traditions, as well as those coming to spirituality for the first time.

portals into the unmanifested

Of course, simply reading The Power of Now won’t make you enlightened. As Tolle would say, only “intense presence” can do that. However, throughout the book, he gives numerous exercises to touching the Presence. (One of which, feeling the inner energy body, is very like S. K. Goenka’s vipassana method and quite similar to the practice in the short 13th-century Christian classic, The Book of Privy Counseling.) Another “portal” is to listen to the silences between sounds. Tolle gives numerous other examples of how to make everyday life, as well as meditation time, into spiritual practice, no matter where one is on their journey. His idea is to cultivate the conscious, awakened state of mind, and gradually make it your dominant state of being. Tolle knows that Awakening isn’t to be sought, but experienced. Now.

His insights are sometimes startling in their profundity. He has a succinct definition of enlightenment: “your natural state of felt oneness with Being.” His answer to whether love is a portal to the Unmanifested is, “No, it isn’t….Love isn’t a portal, it’s what comes through the portal into this world.” How true, since God is love.

Do you want to go beyond devotional spirituality? Do you want the Presence of God to transform you into That likeness? Read this book or listen to the audio version again and again, and practice the techniques continually. As of this writing, I think I’m getting a glimpse of the other shore.

Talking about God

Reading a post by Coleman Fannin is like viewing a lunar eclipse. They don’t happen all that often, but when they do, they’re beautiful. And as moonlight is reflected sunlight, Coleman’s posts are often reprints of posts by other bloggers. In his March 29 post, he shares Real Live Preacher’s post on when his teenaged daughter tearfully told him that she no longer believed in God.

It’s a moving story. It reminded me of several things, first of all that I didn’t become a “believer” until I became a doubter. I was twelve when I became agnostic, and unlike his daughter, I didn’t feel I could talk about it with anyone then.

Another thing is that his daughter longs to “feel God” within her heart. There are different levels of feeling, to be sure, but she’s on the right track, that intellectual belief is not what it’s about. On the other hand, neither is emotional feeling, which comes and goes by its nature. Being is what’s really important, the sensing of being in the Ground of Being, and That being within us, but even this sensing comes and goes as well, until we reach that level of divine union called awakening or theosis.

Another thing that struck me was how important the conversation is. If there is one thing that the Emergent movement (er, conversation) has in common, it’s a desire to share the love and knowledge of God through conversation and authentic listening.

Paradoxically, in our speech we can only share our concepts, our feelings about where God is in our lives, and those are not only limited, but inevitably misleading. God cannot not be there, though our belief in, or feeling or awareness of This Presence may not be there. The Absolute absolutely is.

But speech is entirely relative. I find that talking about God becomes increasingly more difficult, because I sense that everything I can say reflects such a truncated “truth” that it’s essentially a lie. “Quit flapping your gums about God,” Meister Eckhart said, and for good reason.

The Real Live Preacher said, “My daughter doesn’t believe in God right now. Why do I feel so happy?” and ends his post with the confidence that she’s finding her way, and glad that she could talk with him about her doubt. I would suggest that there’s something there as well, that although she cannot feel God right now, she’s never been closer, that nothing has changed with the changeless One. My teacher once said “God doesn’t care if you believe in him or not.”

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?
If I climb the heavens, you are there,
there too, if I lie in Sheol.

If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
your hand would still be guding me,
your right hand holding me.

Wow! and the Tetragrammaton

It occurred to me this morning that the link between all who love God, in all religions, whether theistic, non-theistic, pantheistic or panentheistic, is the sense of Wow! Encountering the holy Presence, no matter how That is understood or named, leaves you in a sense of awe, humility, joy and love. Or too put it more simply, the sense of Wow!

The name of God in the Bible is Yahweh, spelled by the four Hebrew consonants YHWH (the Tetragrammaton). Although the Hebrew letter “w” in modern Hebrew is pronounced “Vav,” it was originally pronounced “Wow.” Those four letters in the sacred name of God were pronounced:

Yod, Heh, Wow, Heh

Three of them sound like exclamations in English: Hey! Wow! Hey!

Even laughter is calling on God: Heh-heh!

What else is there to say?

Anicca (Impermanence)

Yesterday, I learned I’m losing my job, along with all 500 of my co-workers. Yet people have noticed that I’m happy, much to their surprise, and it even surprises me.

This morning, I reflected on the Buddhist idea that “conditioned existence” (which basically means anything other than God) has the three characteristics of dukkha (suckiness), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (lack of discrete, definable reality), and that dukkha, the suckiness aspect, is proportionate to clinging to or rejecting what’s there, or grasping for what’s not.

A massive layoff like this is a prime expression of anicca, anatta, and dukkha. My job, like all jobs, like all things, is impermanent, I knew that, but now its impermanence is manifest. There’s also no discrete, definable reality to it. It came into existence because of the decisions of many people, existed through the interdependence of many people working together, and is passing because some of the key conditions which kept it going are changing.

If I grasped it as something I MUST have, something that defined me, I would be in great pain (dukkha), and the suckiness would be overwhelming. Similarly, if I tried rejecting the situation, (NO, this ISN’T happening to me!), my dukkha will go sky-high because I’ll have wasted time in denial instead of looking for another job.

How to live a life with as little dukkha as possible? By not grasping, nor rejecting, but meeting every situation as it is and responding appropriately, always cultivating the compassion to love all as myself and love the Father of all, with all I am.

Here in the fleeting world, in these fleeting bodies and minds, is the Eternal One. Never to leave nor forsake, but with us always, even to the end of the world. And beyond.

The Apostle’s Creed

In The Church that Forgot Christ, Jimmy Breslin muses on the phrase “descended into hell,” and accuses the Catholic Church of taking it out of the Nicene Creed when he wasn’t looking. Of course, nothing of the sort occurred; he’s simply confusing the Apostle’s Creed with the Nicene Creed.

Yet I must admit I too missed that phrase when I joined the Catholic Church and learned the Nicene Creed. I had been familiar with the Apostle’s Creed from my Methodist days, and that phrase, “descended into hell,” spoke to me of the fierceness of Christ’s love. J. Preston Eby saw it as evidence of universalism: If Christ would be willing to descend into hell once (1 Pet 3:18-20), he asked, wouldn’t he be willing to do it again?

When I wrote before that “the Creed” is difficult for me, I meant the Nicene Creed. It was created specifically to re-shape the Gospel into an official belief system which would exclude many Christians. I find the Apostle’s Creed much more a description of the flavor of trust in Christ. There are actually only two words I have trouble with in the Apostle’s Creed, only and virgin. Only, because I sense the entire Creation is the Child of God, and because Jesus himself taught all to call God “our Father.” Virgin, because I see the Lord’s example as theosis, more than kenosis. The “resurrection of the body” isn’t a problem for me, since I never took it to mean “physical body,” but it strikes me that “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” is quite in harmony with the idea of reincarnation/rebirth, held by some early Christians. I would also translate *credo/pisteuo* as “trust,” since that’s a valid translation, and even as his brother said, it’s not about belief. (Jas. 2:19)

My statement of trust:

I trust in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I trust in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Center of the Hurricane

Quick thoughts:

  • The center of the hurricane is pure stillness.
  • The yin-yang illustrates the cycles of action swirling within an immovable circle, and around a still center.
  • Jesus said, the sign of the Father within you is action and stillness. (Thomas 50)
  • Everyone struggles to save the world according to their causes and principles, so the world keeps needing to be saved.
  • The Universe will last as long as God wills.
  • Universes will be as frequent and as many as God wills.
  • Can God exhaust his own creativity / curiosity?