A POET SPEAKS OF MYSTERY
Every poet and writer I know has a story to tell, and tells his or her story through the formation of a personal mythology. As we travel through life, our life changes. Our identity shifts, our sense of who we are as a person, turns with the seasons of events and people who enter into that life.
This is the impermanence of the self, which Buddhist philosophy teaches. It is a vital theme and awareness at work throughout and within the whole concept of Pratītyasamutpāda – Dependent Arising. Being – Becoming – Existence: The infinite possibilities of all things held with creation. "If this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist."
Buddhism directs us toward the concept of Śūnyatā–Nirvana–Emptiness–Openness, celebrated in the Heart Sutra. The impermanence of emptiness teaches us that our sense of self as being permanent is false. The self, whom we actively identify with, is empty of such permanence. Buddhism refers to this false self as not–self, or no–self, anattā (uhn-uht-tah). It is an ego clinging self, leading to suffering, misperceptions, and deceitful projections.
In the Christian tradition, there is a similar concept, kenosis, the Greek word for emptiness. Kenosis is ‘self–emptying’ one’s own will in becoming receptive to the divine, to be in unity and union with the divine. Both heaven and nirvana are alike when we understand them as a spiritual path towards non-duality, to this union with the divine ultimate mystery out of which all things arise.
In writing a poem, the poet goes through multiple stages and feelings, crafting their words together, until the poem itself comes to its end. As any poet knows, the poem is never quite finished. It is almost always incomplete in some sense. The poet simply has to let go of it and trust that the creative process goes on within the people who may read their humble efforts.
I offer this thought in a spirit of humility. All our works as poets and writers are a continuation of other works that came before us, the voices of humanity that have been passed down from one generation to another.
We are simple gatherers who have gathered from those poets, writers, and storytellers that came before us. Even the greatest among us have been inspired through learning and reading the literary works of humankind. And we, we humble few, are following in their footsteps. There is something more going on of course.
Each poem, in and of itself, begins in silence, in stillness, in emptiness, in an open place waiting to be filled, on a blank page, or as an even deeper divine memory perhaps. And we, we are full participants in its creation. There is I think a deeper mystery at work here, an inspiration. To be creatively inspired, is to be filled by the spirit of something more, something beyond the mundane and ourselves.
Please let me share with you with this thought. As much as any poem, you write, is your own work, it is also not your work. You have been inspired. You have heard the whispering of the gods, of God or the muses of antiquity. And now you are modestly returning to humankind the voices spoken before in a newer voice.
There are perhaps no accidents in life, merely a continuation of one life into and with another, in a continuation of consciousness grounded in the divine. Grounded in the great mystery of creation, we cannot quite name, written within us. The Holy Spirit perhaps praying in and with and through us, when we know not how to prayer ourselves.
The words, you speak or write, are not your own; they have been fashioned before. They abide and rest in a universal divine consciousness and spirit that dwell within us each. They were written upon your soul, deep within your spirit, on your heart, and in your mind long ago.
And now, now you have been inspired to return them to humankind, in a healing for humankind. The poet within you has heeded deeply the stillness and silence of creation. Out of such a listening comes a word, a verse, a poem. Each poem is composed as an act of creation, a loving act of giving, an act of healing and repairing the world.
Let me leave you please with these opening words from the Gospel of John, with an understanding that they too are a poetic metaphor and a symbol pointing us towards a deeper mystery in which we reside and that dwells within us.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – (NIV)
You too are this light.
Saint Julian Press
Copyright – September 23, 2017
There is Something About Being An Episcopalian
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” - John 17:21
No matter where we may be on our journey in life, as Christians and Episcopalians, we are reconciled through Christ, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us each. We live in this spirit of reconciliation.
Indeed, the Holy Spirit is actively at work within the world and within us, teaching us to be as one, to be in union with the divine and one another.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” – John 14:26-27
Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid. This beautiful concept of Unity and Non-Duality compliments one another intimately. Unity and Non-Duality are spiritual concepts found in Christian scripture, in all the great core religions and wisdom traditions of humanity and human history, in myth and metaphor, in storytelling, and most especially in poetry. All sacred scriptures are poetry.
Imagine the literature found in all the books of the Bible, the literature of all faiths, as sacred poetry–Spiritual Poetry.
Imagine scripture as a type of software program we are using to program our minds; the Spirit-Soul operating system, the Divine Core Language of Creation (DCLC) perhaps, with many variations or versions.
Sacramental spiritual practices (praxis), like ritual, prayer, and meditation are an extension of this as well. Such practices and participation in a sacred community are helping us to grow spiritually, programing our mind. And they are marked by an outward and visible sign, and an inward and spiritual grace in union with Christ and new life in the Holy Spirit.
For many Christians, and especially Episcopalians, these sacramental practices center on the celebration of the Eucharist & Great Thanksgiving (Holy Communion), Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation & Forgiveness, Healing & Unction, Liturgy & Prayer —literally the work of the people, Marriage & Ordination, and participation in a sacred community of faith, seeing God working within and all around us.
“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” – The Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer
One of the many reasons I love being an Episcopalian–Anglican, is the liturgy we use is poetry. The writing is inspired. It is both spiritual and poetic in nature; it has a literary quality and uses symbolic imagery.
Reading or listening to inspired poetry is a sacramental experience, in this sense, it is similar to the Eucharist, where we receive the body and blood of Christ, the Logos, Christ as the Word.
God's sacred Word, Christ as the Logos, the Trinity, as well as the words we hear and pray as liturgies are absorbed into our being, they are what we are becoming, a more Christlike future self.
Except there is no time, time is an abstraction, and God is a Verb. God is Spirit and Love; God is eternal loving-kindness working within the world. Here are the Eternal Now and the Reign of God that are both imminent and infinitely present; where God is found here and now, and known in this moment.
This future self already is, since God's love is eternally transforming and boundless, without end. This spiritually whole and wholly reconciled part of us, exists now. It is God's Spirit reaching within us to lead us forward, to discover the fullness of our own humanity. The Holy Spirt dwells within us and is an intimate part of our whole being, moving within us and across all creation.
It is a Mystery. We know this, it is written within us, it is part of God’s universal plan. And the close connection our Spirit-Soul has, an eternal one, to the Divine Ultimate Mystery of God, knows this at the deepest levels of the soul-spirit-self-mind, —our full spiritual consciousness. In a subtle divine memory that flows and moves throughout our whole being.
In Christian theology, we speak of Christ as being both fully human and fully divine. Christianity has celebrated this divine aspect for over two thousand years. What has been so often, not understood or celebrated as clearly, is the human side of this equation, this dance, this Perichoresis, and living in the fullness of our humanity and living a more abundant spiritual life.
Perichoresis, is an ancient term in Christian theology, which refers to the indwelling of the Trinity, of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are intimately connected within their unity as one that there is an indwelling between them all. And that this indwelling is shared with us, in and through Christ, in the Paschal Mystery of Christ as the Incarnate Word, the Word Made Flesh.
Our presence on this earth, in this reality, is no accident; it is a gift. We are here to learn and in many cases to teach or help one another, to love one another in our fragile common humanity, to heal the world, to create heaven on earth.
When we take time to pay attention, it is a blessing. It is a blessing to see how God, the Divine Ultimate Mystery is calling us into a relationship with one another. When we stop judging one another so quickly, and start loving one another in the frailness and vulnerability of our humanity, this is a blessing. And in the end, invoking our human nature to love, and to come through with grace and graciousness. Indeed, embracing the fullness of God's love for everyone, is an intimate part of our faith and practice.
Being gracious and accepting of others, especially those whom we may not fully understand or appreciate is how we work through our human diversity and come to know and be known.
In his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, in writing about Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of “interbeing,” theologian Paul F. Knitter tells us that understanding God through relationships is critical and that the source and power of our relationships are driven by the presence of the "Holy Spirit.”
There can be no exclusion here, since it's all happening for a reason. God has prepared and repaired our hearts for this moment in time, this moment of reconciliation, normalization, and acceptance. A moment where we are completely open to one another, just as we are, as who we are now, as God has touched and helped us form our lives.
The importance of this concept is summarized by this: "behind and within all the different images and symbols, Christians use for God–The Creator, Father (Abba), Redeemer, Word, Spirit, the most fundamental, the deepest truth Christians can speak of God is that God is the source and power of relationships.”
This is true across any sacred community or faith where the Spirit, unseen and invisible, is moving in and with and through all of humankind, calling us into a relationship with one another, even across faiths, across all of humanity. There have been many times in my journey when I have known this, where I feel the Spirit actively at work in all of our relationships, and in the process opening up new relationships.
Another way to view this, as Paul Knitter explained to me once in a conversation, is that in meditation, Buddhism asks us “to let go of all concepts, and to let go, and open ourselves radically and utterly to the present moment, and in the trust, this moment contains all we need."
"This setting aside of words and imagery and opening oneself to what St. Paul calls God as Spirit, letting that Spirit make itself (or herself or himself) felt within us, grow within us, to lead us.”
It is ultimately a process of letting God be God, of being itself, and then living abundantly into the promise of our life, where we are truly given all that we need. We find this idea beautifully expressed in these two scriptures from the Gospel of John, and the book of Romans.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” – John 14:26-27
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” – Romans 8:26-27
Back in my college days, my youth, and days where the memories are still rich even now; my friends who had fought in Vietnam called it a soldier’s breakfast, coffee and a cigarette. I have fallen into the habit of smoking a bit now and again, fallen from grace if you wish. The taste is still sweet; the memories' crystal clear from our carefree youth filled days, as I breathe in and out the steel blue smoke of youthful memories, memories of that self from long ago.
One old friend from afterwards, David, who served in Vietnam in an Infantry Army Ranger Company, told me a story once of his time in Vietnam, and a vision of his childhood pet when he woke from a drug hazed dream. Induced, he thought; by some Thai Sticks, he smoked that evening with some of his Ranger Company mates.
His dog Max that he had grown up with, a white German Shepherd, was barking urgently in front of his bunk bed, running back and forth in warning, wanting him to follow and go somewhere desperately. Max was so persistent. My friend was finally forced to get up from his deep sleep and go outside, like a walking dream. So, my friend David, followed the vision of his dog out of the bunker where he had been sleeping.
Just outside, Max suddenly jumped out of the sandbag bunker and immediately went into a pointing position, in the distance, on the edge of the jungle, they saw pin points of light flickering, dim and then bright again. David knew instantly it was the enemy smoking. They were trained to look for such signs. Viet Cong Ghost Soldiers his Ranger Company called them, because they disappeared like ghosts, the light of their cigarettes glowing in the darkness as a warning, a call to combat.
He picked up and emptied his M16 in that general direction, in to the darkness of the jungle night, not knowing for sure what or who was out there, other than the enemy. He knew there were no patrols from their camp out at night. An alarm was raised all over the camp; other guns fired in defense, an attack averted, and his Ranger Company saved that night, by a dream, a vision, a childhood pet, a dear old friend.
The next day in the early-morning light it was clear that a significant military force had been in place. A few bodies left behind. Upon returning home from Vietnam many months later, my friend learned that his dog Max had peacefully died that identical night, at close to the same time he appeared by David's bunk. And in a final act of friendship and loyalty came to warn him thousands of miles away, from Brazosport, Texas, to the jungles of Vietnam.
I believed the story then, wanted to believe it because it has all the right pieces any compelling story has to tell. I'd like to believe now still. I'd like to know; as you do I'm sure. How Max knew that David needed his help, how he found him even, went to him. We can ask. I think the answer is found in love's power to transcend time and distance and our own imaginations.
Then again, perhaps it’s only an Urban Legend, an old military ghost story of sorts, told by soldiers anywhere, from any side, from any war that is waged. Still, it must make you wonder what connections, there are between two such close friends, a loyal childhood pet and the man he once protected as a child, and how we are sometimes blessed. It’s all a mystery, life, love, death, our intuition and imaginations. What do we know?
I'm not sure why I'm sharing this story now; perhaps I don't want it to be lost. It's a compelling story, a haunting tale at many different levels. It's a bit odd even that I formed such close friendships with these military men who served in Vietnam.
We may have dated some of the same girls. Many times we would stay awake all night slowly sipping on good scotch and looking hard at life. These veterans of war taught me how to hold my liquor, and in the process, we talked for hours, sharing stories with one another, this is just one of those stories.
You see, when I turned 18 years old, back when there were still Draft Boards. I asked for and was almost granted a conscientious objector status. It wasn't easy getting that classification back then; you had to answer a lot of extremely hard questions. You had to be deeply convincing. I had help from my father, himself, a WWII veteran and a Methodist minister; he went with me to the interview.
He even had some of his seminary professors and clergy friends who were COs’ help me understand the process and what I would be asked. As it turned out, the Draft Board gave me two choices, take a college deferment or immediately begin serving two years of voluntary service as a CO in some capacity, usually in a hospital. I decided to take my chances with the college deferment instead, and two years later the military draft ended in the United States.
I can't say that I feel the same way now, that I'm a pacifist today, so many years have passed. I've never been tested under fire or in any other violent situation when I had to defend my own life or protect the life of another. Few of us have, unless they have served in this capacity.
There is an extraordinary honor to be found in serving your country, in being a peacekeeper. It is a sacrifice for the greater good. I do hold all life as holy, to be sacred, and pray for an end to such conflicts and war, for a better world. At their very best, this is what soldiers do, they protect the weak and the innocent. They act as peacekeepers, they help protect the sacredness of life.
The point of my story is this; the mysteries of our interconnections with one another are astounding. We need to pay attention to them. Can you begin to imagine the angels watching over you even now, as Max watched over my friend David?
Our own angels are out there you know, in many forms, found in complete strangers walking along the street at times, unseen or unknown directly, but known I believe at some level of the self, many levels.
Love calls out to us, moving through and across our many selves, through our lives and the years, through time and mystery and death. These interconnections arise out of our relationships with others, with all life and through life.
It is life at work, and something more I think, Śūnyatā-Dependent-Arising-InterBeing in Buddhism; or in more theistic faiths the Holy Spirit, the Great Spirit, God as Spirit if you wish, as the Ultimate Divine Mystery at work within the world, calling us into a relationship with one another. It's something we need to awaken to, a key truth, maybe a final truth; an enlightenment that helps us to understand this mystery.
One final thought, I lost contact with David over 40 years ago when we went our separate ways, after those early college years. For all, I know, he's out there living life, and I trust that something in him may remember our nights of conversation and scotch, the stories we shared. If he is, I want to wish him the best. I hope he has had and is still having an enjoyable life.
Saint Julian Press
If you grew up celebrating Christmas, as I did, one of the questions you may have asked yourself as you grew older, is who is Jesus to you now? And even if you were not raised as a Christian, and practice another faith or follow another spiritual tradition, this is still a good question to ask.
I believe it needs to be a deeper question and answer than what you may have been taught as a small child in Sunday school. And it begins with the story of the Nativity, with the Christ child born in a manger and watched over by ox and ass.
There is a wonderful aspect to Jesus we so often forget and simply don’t focus on, as much as we ought, the humanity of Jesus. The story of Christmas is only the beginning.
The story begins with Jesus, as the Incarnate Word and First Born of Creation, who emptied himself, being born in human likeness and form, and all that this means.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God with Us.
When we see Jesus as being fully human and fully divine, it is “meet and right” to stress his humanity as much as his divinity. As found in the words of the Sursum Corda, Latin for “Lift up your hearts" or to have our "Hearts lifted" in the opening dialogue to the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Lord be with you.
People And with thy spirit.
Celebrant Lift up your hearts.
People We lift them up unto the Lord.
Celebrant Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
People It is meet and right so to do.
And come to understand that the gift of Christmas is transformational, because ultimately, this gift opens up to the People of God, an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. However, you may see the Spirit at work in your own life.
As fully human as we are, it opens us up to an indwelling of "God the Father" as Divine Mystery, as an indwelling of Christ and the Spirit, and it awakens within us our fullest human potential to love.
The literature of scripture and liturgy; the poetry, psalms, parables, images, and symbols of all our sacred stories and liturgies are pointing us towards a way of understanding the Divine Mystery that cannot easily be named or wholly described.
These stories are intended to be internalized, to stretch our imaginations, to help suspend our sense of disbelief, to believe in something beyond ourselves, to teach and reveal the truth, to see beyond the story into a deeper and richer mystery that is true, which is real at the inmost levels of the self and soul.
To see beyond our earthly sight, to see with insight the invisible and unseen power of God at work within the world. The Holy Spirit at work within the world. To see God’s love, actively at work in our life and the lives of others, transforming creation.
God as a Verb; God as Spirit; God as Truth; God as Divine Mystery; God as Love; God as an Indwelling of the Spirit within each and every one of us in this world. God as InterBeing (Thich Nhat Hanh), and God as the "Connecting Spirit" to paraphrase theologian Paul F. Knitter, as an interconnection that flows in and with and through all of creation, bringing us into a relationship with one another.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The Dhammapada - Translated by Thomas Byrom
"We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable."
"Wakefulness is the way to life.
The fool sleeps
As if he were already dead,
But the master is awake
And he lives forever.
He is clear.
How happy he is!
For he sees that wakefulness is life.
How happy he is,
Following the path of the awakened."
Saint Julian Press
My father, Robert P. Starbuck, M.Div., PhD, was a practicing psychotherapist for over 40 years and a Protestant clergy for over 50 years. Through him and my mother, I learned to love and value literature, plays, philosophy, and theology in many forms. The book’s title of course is drawn from the Gospel of John.
John 14:2 ~ 21st Century King James Version: In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
Every book and every poem tell a story, and have a story hidden between the words and verses within each poem. This is a small part of one book’s story. The story of each poem would take pages and pages that I will not reveal to you here today. This piece is not about a new book or an old book, it is about the mystery of relationships.
At the time, my mother was in ICU, recovering from a serious case of pneumonia that she had developed during the Christmas holidays. She was literally in the hospital and recovery for many weeks. My father and other members of our immediate family were there by her side every day, every step of the way.
My father in particular was emotionally and physically exhausted, he was so very afraid of losing her, we all were. In early February, she was eventually able to come home, but her full recovery was weeks, actually months away. I suspect that at some microscopic and internal level all this took a terrible toll on my father who was 86 years young, and his immune system. We can never know for certain.
I am very thankful and grateful that he was able to see and read a copy of When Angels Are Born. To see and understand the work and what I was trying to share with the world. Dad was one of my leading enthusiasts, he was always encouraging and something more. He saw, as I was beginning to see, something being revealed about me as a person, something that had always been there, the actualization of a hidden dream and deepest calling of the soul.
So much of the work coming from what he and my mother had taught me to appreciate and value throughout my childhood and beyond as an adult who was drawn to great writing and spiritual views from an interfaith dialogue that I had been involved in for many years; drawing on that knowledge deeply and perhaps an even higher creative-consciousness when writing the poems.
He knew of Paul and Fr. Laurence’s work and writings well, because I had shared their books with him and written about them both for Parabola Magazine two years earlier. And he knew how they are both instrumental in encouraging a radical openness and acceptance in a global interfaith dialogue. My father loved Parabola Magazine, and was proud of the Tangents I had written and the relationship I had as friends and spiritual teachers with both men that aided that endeavor.
My father was equally enamored and charmed by the intelligence, scholarship, and talents of poet and actress Hélène Cardona. Hélène is not only a very talented poet and actress, but also a Henry James scholar with a Master’s in American Literature from the Sorbonne in Paris. She writes and translates in English, French and Spanish, and is also fluent in German, Italian and Greek. As an anam cara (soul friend) she helped me enormously with the final edits for When Angels Are Born.
In finally reading When Angels Are Born, I think my father was simply astounded at the work and its quality, as perhaps other members of my immediate family were as well. This was not the son, brother, or uncle they had known all their lives. It was something very new, very different, something they didn't quite recognize and had to adjust to in their mental images. As did I in my own sense of self and identity, trying to maintain a simple humility of spirit and thanksgiving; it takes time you see.
I suspect that for some, adjustments are still going on today. Our families and closest friends, the people who have known us for years and years, know us at a completely different level than we are known professionally, or as poets and writers. An echo perhaps of, no prophet (or poet) is truly seen or known in his own long-standing society of family and friends. They know your faults too well, and love you in spite of them all.
Why am I thinking of this today? Because, within the last year, presently, and in the very near future I have been and will continue to work with at least four poets in publishing their first books through Saint Julian Press.
Last fall we published Fred LaMotte’s first book of poems titled Wounded Bud. The most recent one is I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast by Melissa Studdard. The newest one to be published in November 2014 is Numinous by Leila A. Fortier. There are at least two or three more books by other poets we’ll be working on through the winter and spring.
Every day I am a witness to the utter miracle of this process, and the very hard work it takes day in and day out. Every day is a reminder and in many ways a remembrance of where it all began.
It began with my mother writing poems when we were children, and then my father sharing them in a sermon. It began when I was a very small boy and heard my first nursery rhyme or fairy tale. It began when I heard my father recite a Robert Frost or Carl Sandburg poem, or parts of a Tennessee Williams, William Inge, or Arthur Miller play, and so many other brilliant poets and playwrights. And it began with some of the teachers who encouraged in me an appreciation for the arts, literature, drama, and the spoken word.
It begins also with my wife Joanne, my soul-mate in this life we share together, and the many friendships and relationships we share with others. Certainly through our involvement at Trinity Episcopal Church in Midtown Houston, where we were married, still attend, and are actively involved. And in many other relationships too, surprising in their spiritual intimacy, and with all the people who have and will be touched by Saint Julian Press. The human spirit and Holy Spirit are boundless, calling us into new relationships every day.
I am astounded at the relationships we have in this world, how unexpectedly doors will open, and how new people and close friendships arise out of the mystery of creation. There is a conversation I recall once with Paul Knitter over a dinner when I was visiting him at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
In it we spoke of the marvelous interconnections that form between people and how they often arise and form. In his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, in writing about Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of “interbeing,” Paul tells us that understanding God through relationships is critical and that the source and power of our relationships is driven by the presence of the "Holy Spirit."
If I may paraphrase Paul, the importance of this concept is summarized by this: “behind and within all the different images and symbols we may use for God – Creator, Redeemer, Word, Spirit, - the most fundamental, the deepest truth we can speak of God is that God is the source and power of our relationships."
I think this is true in all faiths, with all of life. We may call it by another name or use another metaphor or image if you wish, but for me it is simply a mystery, or a very intimate divine memory that draws us to one another. I can easily live in that mystery, accept it fully and watch it be revealed fully in and with and through all of you as our lives unfold together.
October 12, 2014
1) Tiferet Journal by Adele Kenney – July 2013
2) The Loch Raven Review by Lois P. Jones
3) Leila A. Fortier ~ March 31, 2014
4) Gayle J. Greenlea ~ February 14, 2014
Notes & Links
When Angels Are Born
Hélène Cardona is a poet, actor, linguist, literary translator, dream analyst, author of Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry), winner of the Pinnacle Book Award and the 2014 Readers’ Favorite Award in Poetry; The Astonished Universe (Red Hen Press); and Life in Suspension, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2016. Ce que nous portons (Éditions du Cygne), her translation of What We Carry by Dorianne Laux, came out in September 2014. She also translated Beyond Elsewhere by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac.
Hélène holds a Masters in English & American Literature from the Sorbonne, taught at Hamilton College & Loyola Marymount University, and received fellowships from the Goethe-Institut & Universidad Internacional de Andalucía.
She is Main Editor of Dublin Poetry Review and Levure Littéraire, and a multiple-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Other publications include Washington Square, World Literature Today, Poetry International, The Warwick Review, The Dublin Review of Books, The Irish Literary Times, The Los Angeles Review, and many more.
Acting credits include Chocolat, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hundred-Foot Journey, X-Men: Days of Future Past, etc. For Serendipity, she co-wrote with director Peter Chelsom and composer Alan Silvestri the song Lucienne, which she also sang.
Paul F. Knitter - Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, Oneworld Publications
Union Theological Seminary Biography - Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture
Union in Dialogue: http://unionindialogue.org/2011/06/05/the-miracle-of-mindfulness-and-the-miracle-of-being-in-christ-jesus/
Fr. Laurence Freeman
First Sight: The Experience of Faith
WCCM site: http://www.wccm.org/content/laurence-freeman-osb
How may a Christian perceive and understand the Buddhist concept of Śūnyatā – Nirvana, written of in the Heart Sutra, Mahāyāna Buddhist literature? Where the Heart Sutra teaches Śūnyatā–Nirvana, is that, which is empty of emptiness, and is that, which, points a Buddhist to an experience and union with Ultimate Truth, Ultimate Reality, as the Perfection of Wisdom. A teaching that leads a Buddhist to great wisdom and compassion. How may we understand “emptiness is form, form is emptiness,” coming from a spiritual tradition like Christianity that is theistic?
May a Christian embrace a non-theistic approach to understanding the Divine Mystery, and still hold on to their theistic relationship with the Divine? My simple answer is, yes. One that I have learned from Paul F. Knitter, author of Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, as well as other writers and theologians. I believe that we may do both, understand and see the Divine through both a Buddhist and a Christian lens.
In Buddhism, emptiness points towards a concept, which tells us that our sense of self as being permanent is false and that the self we may actively identify with is empty of such permanence. Buddhism refers to this false self as not-self, or no-self, anattā (uhn-uht-tah), it is an ego clinging self that leads to suffering, misperceptions, and false projections.
Indeed, what we may think of as "oneself" is largely the ego, who is not our truest deepest self in union with the Divine Mystery, or for a Christian, in union with Christ and through Christ, in unity with the Holy Trinity. Quite often, the ego is selfish and self-centered, blind to a greater and more meaningful spiritual life.
The Buddhist concept of anattā (uhn-uht-tah) is not proclaiming that humans have no soul, as a Western mind might think of a soul. There is a soul in Buddhism, Ātman, seen as our intrinsic nature, even our Buddha nature. It is seen as a greater self, a truer self, and to find this self, they learn to let go of all concepts of the self. I know that this may sound strange to Western ears.
A Christian might think of it as the image of God within themselves, the spirit within that belongs to God, their Christlike nature, or the Holy Spirit who dwells within us each. Even in Christianity, it is taught that to find our life in Christ, we must give up the life we know and who we think we are. In this sense there is also a letting go of the self.
Matthew 10:39 (NRSV): "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." . . .
Luke 9:23-24 (NRSV): "Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it."
Buddha In Blue by Colin Clark
As human beings we are constantly changing from one thought to another, therefore who I may think I am in any given moment is being changed and transformed from one moment to the next.
In some forms of Buddhism they express this as three minds or even as a form of stored consciousness.
The Tibetan Buddhist view defines it as: very subtle mind, which does NOT dissolve in death; subtle mind, which does dissolve in death and which refers to a "dreaming mind" or "unconscious mind"; and gross mind, which does not exist when one is sleeping.
States of Consciousness or Something More?
The gross mind is less permanent than the subtle mind, which does not exist in death. Still, the very subtle mind, does continue, there is a subtle memory at play here. One that will encounter and "catch on" to life again.
Then we begin to see a new subtle mind or entity emerge. One that will in time develop its own personality, and that entity, the soul or psyche, experiences a new life or karma in a new time or current continuum.
Sometimes we can get tripped up by our own vocabulary or lack of vocabulary. Our concept of "I" or "Me" actually changes all the time, based on our own life experiences. And other faiths may use a different description or concept of the soul, than what we are used to hearing.
We are constantly changing and growing, and out of this constant change or impermanence a new self is constantly arising in relationship with everything else around it. A new being is continuous arising from the being that was before, from your own consciousness. And there is a continuity that continues on and moves into the future, inside and outside of time.
In Jewish thought there are several different names or concepts of the soul-spirit; נפש nephesh (literally "living being"), רוח ruach (literally "wind"), נשמה neshama (literally "breath"), חיה chaya (literally "life") and יחידה yechidah (literally "singularity") are used to describe the soul or spirit.
The People of God, across all cultures and civilizations, are a diverse people. We are still one people, one race, the human race. It is important to take time to understand one another in this context. In an historic and cultural context out of which our languages, vocabulary, and faiths arise.
Life - Reality - Transformation – Resurrection – Rebirth - New Being - It Happens!
The point is, it is happening now, all the time, and it's a Mystery that we cannot always name.
I am remembering now, two of my favorite scriptures from the New Testament; ones I have always found to be full of mystery and great comfort.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)
1 John 4:16: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
1 Corinthians 13
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So, as a Buddhist-Christian or Christian-Buddhist, how am I to understand this Mystery? I'll talk about that later on, I promise.
The Over-Soul by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The concept of our Unity, of Non-Duality, can be found in all the great core religions and wisdom traditions found in human history, in myth and metaphor, in storytelling, and most especially in poetry. All sacred scripture is poetry.
Poetry, especially Spiritual Poetry, is like a software program you are using to reprogram the mind; the SPIRIT-SOUL’S operating system, the Divine Core Language of Creation (DCLC) perhaps, with many variations or versions.
Sacramental spiritual practices (praxis), like ritual, prayer, and meditation are an extension of this as well. Such practices and participation in a sacred community are helping you to grow spiritually, reprograming your mind.
The Word or Words (Logos) you are taking into your being now are what you are becoming in your future self. Except there is no time, time is an abstraction.
That future self already is, it exists now and is reaching within you to lead you forward, to discover your own fullness. The Holy Spirt dwells within you and is an intimate part of your whole being within and across creation.
It is a Mystery. You know this already, it is written, it is part of God’s core operating system. And the close connection your Spirit-Soul has already, an eternal one, to the Ultimate Divine Mystery of God, knows this at the deepest levels of the self-mind. In a subtle memory that flows and moves throughout your whole being.
In Christian theology they speak of Christ being both fully human and fully divine. Christianity has celebrated this divine aspect for over two thousand years. What has not been understood or celebrated as clearly is the human side of this equation, this dance, this Perichoresis.
Your presence on this earth, in this reality, is no accident; it is a gift. You are here to learn and in many cases to teach or help one another, to heal the world, to create heaven on earth.
Take time to develop a spiritual practice and to join a sacred community that helps you to discover where you belong, that you belong here, and that you are being called into new relationships every day of your life.
Take time to pay attention, to see how God, the Divine Ultimate Mystery is calling you into relationship with one another.
In his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, in writing about Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of “interbeing,” Paul F. Knitter tells us that understanding God through relationships is critical and that the source and power of our relationships is driven by the presence of the "Holy Spirit.”
The importance of this concept is summarized by this: "behind and within all the different images and symbols, Christians use for God – Creator, Father (Abba), Redeemer, Word, Spirit, - the most fundamental, the deepest truth Christians can speak of God is that God is the source and power of relationships.”
Another way to view this, as Paul Knitter explained to me once in a conversation, is that in meditation Buddhism asks us “to let go of all concepts, and to let go and open ourselves radically and utterly to the present moment, and in the trust that this present moment contains all that I need.
This setting aside of words and imagery and opening oneself to what St. Paul calls God as Spirit, letting that Spirit make itself (or herself or himself) felt within us, grow within us, to lead us.”
We find this idea beautifully expressed in these two scriptures. The Gospel of John, and in the book of Romans.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” - John 14:26-27
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” - Romans 8:26-27
Ron Starbuck is an author, poet, the Publisher-CEO of Saint Julian Press, and an Episcopalian. with certain Buddhist leanings who values comparative literature and literary dialogues in many forms.
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