Friday, February 1, 2013

the four oratories

The true servants of God sits in the midst of their fellows,
and rise and eat and sleep and marry
and buy and sell and give and take in bazaars
and spend the days with other people,
and yet never forget God even for a single moment.
(Abu Sa’id Ibn Abi’l-Khayr)
For some years now, inspired by Fr Bede Griffiths’ teaching about the spirit, soul and body, and by Sri Aurobindo of India and more recently folks like Ken Wilber, I’ve been interested in trying to articulate a Christian version of what is called “integral spirituality,” a spirituality that reverences and develops the whole person: the body––the physical being; the soul––the intellectual, creative and emotional aspects; as well as the so-called spiritual side of the person. Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Saint John Bosco, an 18th century priest who dedicated his life to ministering to poor and homeless boys. (In this day and age of so much breach of fiduciary trust, it’s consoling to remember that some Catholic priests got it right.) He is also the founder of the congregation of Salesians, who run a grade school and high school up in Santa Cruz County near where I lived the past ten years. I had many occasions to work for and with them; as a matter of fact some of my best friends are from those schools, and so I grew to love Don Bosco and his unique approach to education. But one of the things that I like the best about Don Bosco is his teaching about “the four oratories,” the four places of prayer––cortile, casa, scuola, chiesa–playground, home, school, and church––which winds up being a pretty good example of exactly what I have been after. He taught the not just the church, but also the playground, the home and the classroom should all be considered to be oratories, places of prayer. I was thinking how much everyone (even, maybe especially, monks!) could take a lesson from this beautiful teaching.

Cortile really means a “courtyard.” In the Piedmontese region especially, I’m told, where John Bosco was from, houses are built with a kind of an open-air quadrangle court in the middle. But the word usually comes to be translated as “playground.” The playground as oratory; I like that a lot! I gave a talk once at Notre Dame on this same topic, “integral spirituality” from a Christian perspective, but I wanted to give it the subtitle, especially since it was at Notre Dame, “Why is it so far from the gym to the church?” What I mean is that what I have experienced of what competitive sports has become in the West––the behavior, the language, the attitude––the whole ecosystem is pretty different from the kind of environment one hopes to cultivate in a spiritual setting, let alone an oratory. One of the reasons I have been so fascinated with Asian traditions, whether it be from the martial arts or from Yoga or the various Buddhist physical disciplines, is that there usually tends to be a certain attitude of a spiritual presence, or at least a mindful concentration on the unity of the body and mind involved in physical activities, even athletic ones. What would it be like if all our physical activities––even taking a walk, exercise, lifting weights, running––were seen as part of our spiritual practice? Carl Jung thought a new yoga would arise in the West and that it would come specifically out of Christianity. The bigger issue of course is what would it be like if we really understood that caring for our physical being is also an important part of the spiritual life? Since we are an incarnational religion…

I like also that the cortile is outside, because we need to recover more and more our relationship to nature, and understand how symbiotically we are tied to it, and how much our own evolution and survival is tied to that of greater nature. And that this too is an integral part of our spirituality, if for no other reason than that we are stewards, servants of creation.

Between cortile and casa, there is also the issue of work. When I was a young monk I had a tendency to think that my work was something I had to get done so that I could get back to my cell and pray. But at some point my postulant master reminded me that I was supposed to be praying constantly; that’s the goal of the monastic life. This is what we learn from the best of the monastic tradition, or from someone like Bro Laurence of the Resurrection, finding God amid the pots and pans as he wrote about in his classic work The Practice of the Presence of God. Not only ought we pray while work; our work is also meant to be a prayer, and even the laundry room, the kitchen, the garage are all oratories. (I think of our old Bro Emmanuel sprinkling holy water on the tractor.) That’s why in his Rule for Monks St Benedict says that all the tools of the monastery should be treated like the vessels for the altar.

The casa–the home, means to me our emotional and interpersonal development. (This applies to monks and other religious, too. There is a communal aspect of our life and a relational aspect to being human. Our former prior general Don Benedetto, of happy memory, used to say, “Before a man can be a monk, he must be a man!”) There’s a phenomenon spoke of often in contemporary spiritual circles called “spiritual bypassing.” What spiritual bypassing means is that because we are outwardly “spiritual,” we might have the tendency to think we can skip all that messy work of psychological and emotional (i.e., human) development, and just be like angels floating above it all. It doesn’t work that way! We’re not made that way. What if we were to understand that our interpersonal skills, and our emotional and psychosexual growth were all a part of our spiritual life, just as important as saying our prayers? I think this is why even the marriage bed in a Christian tradition is supposed to be viewed as a holy place. We only grow through, with and in relationship––even hermit monks! That’s how God made us.

Of course scuola–school is a symbol of the intellectual life. I love the title of Jean le Clerq’s famous book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. It’s one of those book titles that contain the whole message of the book, and that is the monastic tradition at its best. Learning not just for the sake of learning, not for the sake of a degree that will get you a better job, not just to show how smart you are, and certainly not as an escape from the real world, but learning as a valid path to knowledge of God. Yoga calls this jnana marga­–the path of knowledge. The whole person needs to be developed. We don’t leave our intellect behind either, but we reverence it as a part of the ecosystem.

And then finally chiesa­–the church, what we think of as the proper place of prayer. All that has gone before is what we bring to worship; everything from the cortile and the casa and the scuola is what gets collected and offered up in our prayer; everything from the playground, home and school is what is symbolized in the bread and wine that we offer; and everything of our physical, emotional, and intellectual beings is what gets accepted and changed into the Body of Christ, the fullness of the one who fills all in all.

They say that St Romuald wished that he could turn the whole world into a hermitage. In a similar vein, let’s hope that one day we could see the whole world as our oratory.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

you give them something to eat

Come all you weary who move through the earth.
You've been spurned at fine restaurants and kicked out of church.
Got a couple of loaves sit down at my feet.
Lend me your ears and we'll break bread and eat.
                                                            (Dustin Kensrue)

We’ve been inundated with homilies here the past few weeks during this Christmas season, some of them very good, obviously, but there is a saturation point! I was scheduled to preside yesterday and had decided ahead of time that, especially since I had just preached on Sunday, it was time for everybody to have a day off. But then I saw the gospel of the day: Mark 6:34-44.

Somehow this gospel sums up everything I understand of what it means to be church and to be a Eucharistic people, what the authentic spirit of our missionary activity and apostolate ought to be. During my morning walk/run on the hill I was thinking about what I was going to say and I suddenly remembered that it was exactly this week 10 years ago that all hell broke loose in my head. I was still living here with the community at the time. The sex scandal had just broken in Boston, followed by the very inept handling of it on the part of the hierarchy and some very inopportune statements from the Vatican. I heard Bruno preach on this very gospel that week, and the next day I attended our Four Winds inter-religious Gathering down at Esalen Institute. There were some other issues going on with community and in my own life at the time as well, and something about the combination of those three things set off this perfect storm of agitation and discontent. Thursday of that week I had what we call a “desert day,” 36 hours of solitude. For some reason I had a weight bench in my cell at the time and some dumbbells. And I remember literally rolling up my sleeves, picking up one of the weights and saying to God, “Okay let’s go. What is it this time?” Looking back, it was clearly that week that was the beginning of my eventually moving out and spending ten years living away from the community in my experimental life up in Santa Cruz.

It starts out with Jesus seeking out the lost ones, Jesus had compassion on them––how I love this line––because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus has compassion on them. How many times I thought of that line walking down Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, or on Water Street on my way back from the gym, passing the courthouse and the jail and the AA drop-in house. Jesus was not ever afraid or reluctant to break his solitary ecstatic communion with the Father to go and serve. But it was always specifically to those who were sheep without a shepherd, the lost ones, the little ones. I think even when Jesus says I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and tells his disciples too only to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 10:6, 15:24), the accent is on “lost” not on “Israel.” Jesus was sent to all those who get left out, squeezed out, those who fall off the boat, under the radar. It reminded me of a great song by a young singer-songwriter Dustin Kensrue, from the Southern California band Thrice that I quoted above: Jesus went to all those who were “spurned at fine restaurants / and kicked out of church.” I think it’s brilliant to put those two images together, because so many of our churches and religious communities carry much more the spirit of fine dining and polite company, than the company of drunks, tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes.

But after Jesus gets them gathered there and feeds them first on the Word, his good news, he then wants to make that concrete too and feed them actual food too, because peoples’ bodies were always as important to Jesus as their souls. And I think it’s kind of funny that the apostles were going to send them away––again! And when they turn to him he says, You give them something to eat! That’s the line I heard Bruno reiterate several times in that homily ten years ago that went through me like David’s pebble in the forehead of Goliath, or like the opening of a third eye (literally, I felt it hit me right there, between the eyebrows): You give them something to eat! That’s what it means to be a follower of mine––you need to seek out the lost and give them something to eat. And don’t worry if there is going to be enough (they only had five loaves and two fish). This is a great Eucharistic image, abundance. The food just keeps on coming, ‘til in the end there were twelve baskets of broken pieces left over. Generosity breeds generosity.

There’s a great lesson here for us as a church and as a monastic community. How many people get left out of our staid, polite, safe spiritual communities? (How much does this apply to spiritual communities outside of Catholic churches too?) And they are like sheep without a shepherd. We’ll have to answer for that. Because we don’t shepherd them when they are like sheep without a shepherd, because we don’t feed them when they are hungry, they go off to someone else who will feed them. They’ll go off to other churches, ashrams, zendos, Sufi circles, and get fed, and sometimes fed well, because we may be too concerned with preserving some kind of a pure ethic or a pure cult. But they also may go off to places where they get fed poison too! We need to be wary of ourselves. I think this is some of what our new Prior General Don Alessandro Barban was getting at when he spoke to us last year about the “new barbarian invasion” in Europe that so many Europeans and church folks are afraid of, watering down the culture and changing the face of Western civilization and the church. “But we Camaldolese,” he said, “we love the barbarians.”

I love the image at the end of this gospel, the twelve baskets of broken pieces. That’s a great image for the church (maybe also for the monastic choir), “twelve baskets of broken pieces,” broken because we are fragile and wounded; but broken in the positive sense too, broken and passed out as food for the world. I often say I would never dare to change the official words of the Mass (especially now that we have this new translation), but if I could I would change the end too: “Mass is ended––now you go give them something to eat!”

Come all you weary, you cripples, you lame.
I’ll help you along you can lay down your canes.
We’ve got a long way to go but we’ll travel as friends
The light’s growing bright further on further in.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

an epiphany

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited...
(David Whyte, "What to Remember When Waking")
I’ve been sort of fascinated with this Greek concept of telos, for some time now, especially in my study of other religious traditions. The telos, as I understand it, means the ultimate end, the farthest goal, even beyond the proximate goal: what’s the ultimate end of life? What is the whole purpose of this thing? I always wind up back using the same examples: that the most popular forms of Hinduism, for example, say that the end of our life is for our selves to disappear into the great Self like a drop disappears into the ocean. And Buddhism shifts that a little bit and teaches that there is no self; not only does a human being have no self, there is also no Self of God either. There is just impermanence, just change, and the great release (nirvana) happens when we realize that. That’s the epiphany, you might say, that the Buddha had under the bodhi tree.

So how do Christians describe the telos? I think normally Christians would say that at the end of life our body to dies and our souls go to heaven. We’ve been having a series of lectures from a wonderful scripture scholar Scott Sinclair lately, and he has been addressing just that–-heaven and hell, “the last things.” Scott has mentioned this famous scripture scholar N.T. Wright several times, and Wright says a rather shocking thing. This has a kind of complicated anthropological argument around it that I won’t get into, but Wright says that this talk about a soul needing to be saved so as to go to heaven is hopelessly misleading: the end of Christian life is not for the soul to go to heaven, but for body and soul to be raised together in an eschatological reintegration––that’s what scriptures teach is our share in the resurrection. Or more broadly put, the end of life for the Christian is a new heaven and a new earth. Now, that’s shocking enough, but I think the Fathers of the church put it plainer yet, easier to understand but even more mind-blowing. St Augustine and St Basil, for example, say that the end of Christian life is for us to become God. Somehow even my soul going to heaven pales in comparison. We have an antiphon that we sing every day at evening prayer, which is just a reiteration of St Augustine’s own words––“God became a human child so that every child of Eve might become God…”––, and I always I think our guests are either not listening, or they are taking notes down to report us to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because this is mind-blowing stuff that I never heard the priest in my parish say when I was growing up. But St Basil’s words are just as strong: “Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations––we become God.” I like to quote that while holding the Office of Readings in my hand, the official prayer book of the Church, to make sure people know that I am not making this up. And I also hasten to add two things: first, to keep us humble about this, there is a whole lotta emptying and dying that gotta go on in order for us to realize this; and secondly, I have no idea what this means––to become God––, I’m just a parrot echoing words I’ve read. But that may be the real epiphany. Maybe that’s the realization that struck St Thomas Aquinas dumb at the end of his life, or that led St Teresa into ecstasy, our participation in divinity. And I think that’s the epiphany that is supposed to dawn on us in the feast of the Epiphany, too. This feast isn’t just about Jesus. It’s unpacking that for us and showing us a little bit more about it.

The strongest image of this feast is the three wise men coming to visit this child bearing their gifts. They are symbols, of course, of the rest of the world, of spiritual seekers outside of the Hebrew covenant entering the promise, and of the Jewish revelation breaking out of its container. But the uniqueness of this event is not just in their visit. It’s also in the fact that they had their gifts to bring too, and that their gifts were received and accepted. This was an important detail for Abhishiktananda, by the way, in his dealing with Indian spirituality.) They came bringing their treasures and their treasures were received, along with their uncircumcised flesh. And just so, when people come to Christ or come to the church, they don’t have to leave everything of themselves behind nor the treasures that they have found in far-flung lands. Who they are, what they have offer is welcome, because (as St Thomas Aquinas taught) grace builds on nature.

On the other side of it, in spite of the Christmas card images we have of a halo around Jesus’ head, and maybe angels still hovering about, taking naps in the corner, what these men have come to see is nothing that special in one sense––a child, a boy, maybe by this time playing with his toys and making his first words. But this boy, for the moment at least, is a symbol all of humanity. It’s like when you put an ordinary object in an extraordinary surrounding––like a painting in a frame, or an earthenware vessel in display case in a museum, or Abraham Lincoln’s hat on display, or someone we know performing on stage in front of 10,000 people, or St Paul’s letters about leaving his cloak behind somewhere read in the context of a liturgy, or bread and wine placed on an altar––then the epiphany dawns on us: it’s just something normal but it is carrying an extraordinary weight of glory: those swatches of color on a page are a groundbreaking work of art; that clay jar is a pristine example of a breakthrough in function and design; that piece of clothing rested on the body of someone who changed the world; that child I heard practicing the violin for years is able to capture sublime sounds and captivate a huge crowd with them; these letters contain sublime wisdom about the meaning of revelation; this ordinary bread and wine are our link to Jesus who is our link to the Godhead. But the other epiphany about that bread and wine is that before they are symbols of the real presence of Christ, they are supposed to be symbols of the real presence of me, of us. Our ordinary lives are what gets lifted up and accepted––like the gifts of those visitors from the east––and consecrated and divinized and made into the body of Christ, so that “we may share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” And this child: the fullness of divinity dwells in him, this little seemingly ordinary boy.

The Fathers of the church, especially Peter Chrysologus, tie together three epiphanies, the three times Jesus is revealed (and the Eastern church still celebrates it this way), again as we sing in an antiphon: this visit of the magi, the Baptism in the Jordan, and the wedding feast at Cana. The other two both have water in them, and the wedding adds wine, too. I feel a little neglected that we don’t have any liquids in this feast, but we actually do, as at every Mass. First of all there are the waters of baptism; and then (again!) that moment when the priest pours the water into the wine to prepare the gifts for our Eucharist. As if it weren’t enough that these are ordinary gifts from our field and vine, to ensure that we remember we are part of what gets lifted up, pouring that drop of water into the wine: “… may we come to share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” May we pour the drop of water that is our humanity into the ocean of divinity that is Christ, but my drop of water doesn’t disappear––I become the wine and the whole ocean of divinity is somehow contained in each drop, just as our St Peter Damian taught that the whole church is contained in each member. Just as Paul says the fullness of divinity dwelt in Jesus bodily, in the next breath he promises, that you may come to fullness in him, and as John says in his Prologue we receive from his fullness life upon life. That is the whole point of the Word becoming flesh.

When I was younger I remember being involved in all kinds of liturgy planning meetings, and the operative question was always, “What’s the theme of the Mass today?” Or “What’s the theme of today’s readings?” It was usually something like “Faith.” Or, with little kids, “Be nice to everybody.” Along the way I got a little more sophisticated and learned that every Eucharistic celebration is a variation on the same theme; every liturgical celebration is about the Paschal mystery in its fullness, the passion, death, resurrection of Jesus. And then I learned that even to speak about the passion, death and resurrection wasn’t enough, we needed also to add in Jesus’ life and ministry on one end, but even more importantly to always mention, as is in our Eucharistic prayers now, the Ascension and Pentecost. And that last event––Pentecost–– really changes everything because that’s where we, the church, get involved. We also have to go that further step, and realize that every Eucharistic liturgy is about all those events in Jesus’ life plus “What does this have to do with me?” Hans Urs van Balthasar wrote that humanism isn’t naturally Christian humanism; it needs to be rooted in common adoration. But we stop short if we stop at adoration too, even at Christmas, even at the Epiphany. For the Christian, adoration is meant to lead us back to the human being, to imitation and discipleship, and discipleship is meant to lead us to participation, particularly participation in Jesus’ divinity. The ordinary gifts we bring, our very selves, are our gold, frankincense and myrrh that we lay before the Christ child, and they are accepted and lifted up and transubstantiated and made into the Body of Christ.

Let me quote and then paraphrase David Whyte again:

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

We are not troubled guests on this earth; we are not accidents amidst other accidents. We were invited, called to share in the divinity of Christ who came to share in our humanity. Our closing prayer today prays that “we may perceive with clear sight the mystery in which God has willed us to participate.” May this epiphany dawn on us.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

incline the ear of your heart

Mary was chosen to bear Jesus because she kept her purity intact. Those who know understand that to be pure means to be completely adaptable, to flow with each moment, to be like a running stream cascading from the waters of life itself. The eternal messenger is always within, waiting to unfold the moment through the Word, and one day when Mary is recognized again, there will be a reappearance of the Christ, manifested in the outer world. Remember who Mary is.
Reshad Field, in the Essential Sufism

I was part of an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2011, mostly Jews and Christians, with one Sufi thrown in the mix. The whole idea was to visit each other’s sacred spots and to try to learn from each other about our various traditions. We spent the majority of the trip in the south, near Jerusalem, and then we went up north, visiting mostly the Christian spots. Our first stop up north was Nazareth, and on our first morning we all piled into the Basilica of the Annunciation. For being such a popular pilgrimage spot, it was a lot less touristy than I thought it would be, and it had very modern architecture. One of the features of the place is that there are plaques in honor of Mary all over the walls in the plaza and in the basilica itself from countries all over the world. When we were inside I happened to be walking with my friend Rabbi Paula, who was one of the co-leaders of the trip, and at one point we were standing in front of the plaque from Portugal that carried the title “Mary Ark of the Covenant.” And Rabbi Paula looked oddly at me and said, “What does that mean?” Obviously this is something very important to the Jewish tradition––and especially to a rabbi!––and here I was, having to explain to her how and why we had co-opted such a revered term for Mary. And so I launched into it as best I could, and if I recall, rather fast and furiously, the words just kind of tumbling out of my mouth, how I understood that we believe that there is an aspect of God that we call the Word, and that Word is the very principle of intelligence and intentionality in the universe; and as St. John explains it in his Gospel, that Word is not only with God, but that Word is God, like the Word that God spoke and all things came into being, as the Psalmist says, or the Wisdom that was at play at God’s side all the while. It’s what lies before all specific laws or dogmas, even before the Law as articulated in the Torah and the Ten Commandments––the covenant––, like the Tao that Lao Tzu says is before all virtues. And that Word is always being spoken to us, transmitted to us, but we can’t hear it in the sense of fully receive it. It’s in sighs to deep for words, as St Paul says, perhaps like the OM that hums beneath all created things. But we believe that Mary was a human being so pure, so receptive, that she was able to fully receive that Word, so much so that it became something in her; it took root like a seed in the garden of her womb; it took flesh in her, it became a baby, and she named that baby Jesus, in whom we believe the fullness of divinity dwelt bodily because he was that very Word made flesh. And so we believe that this is the new covenant, or better, the fulfillment of the covenant: this is what God had intended all along, for there to be no separation between heaven and earth, that we would share in divinity through, with and in the Word. And so Mary, pregnant with Jesus, is the ark of this new covenant, because she is carrying the Word-made-flesh inside her.

There was a guy on the trip who was a wonderful older man, a little less sophisticated than the rabbi, the minister, the monk, the Sufi and rest of the crowd, but totally fearless, and he was always saying things that were filled with a kind of childlike wonder. I didn’t know it but he was standing at my shoulder listening to my whole discourse, and when I had finished, and Paula and I were standing there nearly in tears over this moving moment, suddenly this guy busts out and says right into my ear, “You know I never thought of it like that. So this is kinda where the whole thing got started, huh?” And suddenly I thought to myself, You know, I actually had never thought of it that way before either. And I said, “Ya, you’re right. This is where it all got started, with Mary receiving the Word so deeply into her heart that it became something in her; actually it became someone in her body.”

In the Jewish tradition there is a type of literature called midrash, which is exegesis and commentary on scripture. Often its moral principles and theological concepts, but midrashim are also trying to explain the full meaning of the biblical law, and find the hidden or new meanings in scripture. Sometimes it almost seems as if some of the Christian scriptures started out as simply midrash on the Jewish scriptures. And we are one step removed: we’re trying to understand the Christian scriptures that are trying to understand the Jewish ones. And such is especially the case today. It’s as if Luke is doing midrash on 2 Samuel.

Our naming of Mary the new Ark of the Covenant is no accident. It’s not that very well hidden at all in Luke’s gospel. This Sunday we read the story of what we call the Visitation, when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John, who will be the Baptizer. And Elizabeth says that At the moment the sound of you greeting met my ear, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Not only does Luke use the same Greek word––skirtan––“dance,” for what John the Baptist is doing in his mother’s womb as the Septuagint uses for what David does before the Ark, but the whole layout of the story is strikingly similar. It’s almost as if Luke is purposely using the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem as a literary framing device. So it is actually Luke who is telling us that this is the new law, the new covenant, and, as he does throughout the infancy narratives, telling us that this is the fulfillment, as Elizabeth says, of the promises of the Lord; and John is dancing before the ark that/who Mary is. So this could be seen as Luke’s midrash on 2 Samuel.

But there is also something interesting going on in the section we hear from the letter to the Hebrews today. The author to the letter to Hebrews quotes Ps 40, but actually misquotes it, or else purposely changes it. Psalm 40 says, Sacrifice and offerings you did not desire, but an open ear.  But here Hebrews says, Sacrifice and offerings you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me. So the ear has become a whole body, or the whole body has become like an open ear. I used to think that ‘body’ referred to Jesus’ body, and maybe it does, but it strikes me now that it could just as well refer to Mary’s body. Mary, whose whole body was a listening, a receptivity, an open ear––the ear of her body, the ear of her soul, as well as the ear of her heart, as St Benedict calls it, her spirit. This is why she could say, My whole being rejoices in God my savior. Her whole body was a vessel, not just her mind or her soul, nor some kind of disembodied spirit. This body of Mary is a living breathing blood-filled pulsing grounded vessel. Her sacrifice was her whole being, including her body. Maybe this is why Paul tells us, in imitation of Mary, to offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable, to God, your spiritual worship. The psalmist tells us, and the author to the letter to the Hebrews interprets for us: as fine as they are, ultimately God does not really want our ritual sacrifices and liturgical offerings, holocausts offered on the altar. What God really requires of us is what those sacrifices and offerings are supposed to symbolize. What Jesus’ ultimate prayer was, in the midst of the Our Father as well as in the garden of Gethsemane, is what God requires: Behold I have come to do your will. An open ear, a body offered up as a spiritual sacrifice, our whole being––body, soul and spirit available to be a vehicle, a vessel, an instrument. One of our monks the other day in our scripture study, what we call collatio, said this is what the yogis are trying to accomplish. I was quite pleased to hear someone else say that. Yes, that’s right: that’s what I think the yogis are trying to accomplish, that the whole person becomes a vessel of divinity.

This is the great turnaround, the extra step that most spiritual traditions are hesitant to take, all the way from classical Yoga through Christianity: that the body is not just a vehicle––though even that much has taken us a long time to accept, that the body is a vehicle. We tend to think in the spiritual life that we peel it off like a banana peel and throw if away (that phrase of Fr Tom Ryan that I like so much) so we can be ‘spiritual.’ But somehow this whole great story all the way from the Annunciation straight through to the Ascension is trying to convey something more to us yet: that not only is the body a worthy vehicle, an instrument, a hinge, as Tertullian would say––it is the field, it is that which gets transformed. My whole being.

And somehow this is the fulfillment of the promise that started out with the promise to Abraham. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, a little phrase that haunted Teilhard de Chardin, God will be all in all.  Jesus will say in reference to his own mother, Blessed are all those who hear the word of God and keep it. They/we each of us become arks of the covenant if we but stake our claim on this promise, that God will be all in all, if we offer even our bodies as spiritual sacrifices, though not something to be burned up and destroyed, but something to be transformed into a vessel and then transfigured, sharing in the promise of the resurrection, if we but offer ourselves up for that Word to take root in the ground of our very being. Isaac of Stella wrote that “every Christian is also believed to be bride of God’s Word, a mother of Christ, … at once virginal and fruitful.”

Saint Benedict says that the monk’s whole life should be a little Lent, but I always thought you could just as easily say that a monk’s whole life was a little Advent, watching and waiting, the vigil, the longing. I remember in a discussion I had once with a Buddhist monk, he said that for them the monk’s main practice was meditation––zazen in his tradition, emptying the mind and sitting. Actually they don’t even want to call it meditation in the Zen tradition; it’s shikantaza––“just sitting.” This is from the Shobogenzo of Dogen zen-ji (5–10):

One day Ejo asked, “What should we diligently practice in the monastery?”
Dogen instructed,
Shikantaza (Just sitting)! Whether you are upstairs or under a lofty building, sit in samadhi!”

Whereas, this monk said, the main practice of you Christian monks seems to be chanting the psalms. And I said, “No, I think our main practice is actually listening.” We even only chant the psalms so that we can hear them; we’re singing them to each other so that we can listen to them. Now, I am quite devoted to silent meditation as well, but I think that even that practice is about something more. As our master Romuald says, “Empty yourself completely and sit waiting.” So the listening presupposes a certain silence, but when we empty ourselves, we wait; while we meditate we listen, but ‘listening’ in the absolute broadest sense of the word, listening as a symbol of receptivity, like the receptivity of a fruitful virginal womb.  Hence, the first word of the Prologue to St Benedict’s Rule for monks is, Listen! But it’s a special kind of listening: he goes on, Incline the ears of your heart. It’s that same heart that Benedict tells us at the end of the Prologue to the Rule that we have to prepare along with our bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions (in other words, the Word); and then as we run on the path of God’s commandments (again, the Word), when they really take root in us those same hearts will overflow with the inexpressible delight of love. And I think it’s that inexpressible delight of love that is exactly the Word made flesh, the exuberance that is the dynamic behind creation, now happening in us.

I was happy to serendipitously run into the exact same sentiment in the writings of John Main the other day, specifically referring to the Christmas season.

For Benedict, the first quality we all require if we would respond to Christ and be open to his life in our hearts is the capacity to listen. The first word of the Rule is ‘Listen!’ And as you all know, this capacity is one of the great fruits of meditation, which teaches us that the condition of true listening is silence. We can only listen to the word spoken to us by another if we ourselves are silent of all words. (Silence and Stillness, Dec. 22)

So, silence ought to be the fundamental condition of our heart. We empty ourselves, and sit, waiting.

[1] OR, 40.

Friday, December 14, 2012

the pope's loafers

By virtue of the creation,
and, still more, of the incarnation,
nothing here below is profane
for those who know how to see.
                                    (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

We celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe the other day. I always say that she is “my favorite Mary.” I have a pushpin with her image on it pressed into the dashboard of my car. (There’s a song in there somewhere…) I suppose it’s from hanging around so many wonderful holy Mexican-Americans all my adult life, from my friendship with Pedro Rubalcava dating from the early ‘80s through school in Camarillo and living on the edge of Watsonville the past ten years. Nobody here at the monastery knew what pan dulce was. I told them you could get it at the gas station in Watsonville, and I often did.

I sang for Pope John Paul II in 1987, at my home parish in Phoenix, SS. Simon and Jude Cathedral. I had written some of the music for the event––it was a morning prayer service for clergy and religious. I remember that the place didn’t feel like it was our church anymore, with all the Secret Service guys running around, and TV cameras and lights, and we had been locked in the place for hours before the pope arrived. And then when he did arrive, it was amazing, electric, to be so close to this great man. I thought to myself he was the only person in the place who was comfortable. As a matter of fact it was one of the very few times in my life I have been nervous singing in front of a crowd––so nervous I couldn’t get the first notes out of my mouth. The pianist had to repeat the introduction! So we get through the whole service and the pope is about to leave, and I stand up to lead the closing hymn, I’ve got my arms in the air gesturing to the assembly, and suddenly the Pope is standing right in front of me with the bishop. He says, “I want to meet this beautiful musician.” And I, without thinking, just turned into an old fashioned Catholic; I immediately got down on one knee and kissed his ring. Then the strangest thing happened. I noticed that he was wearing a watch. And I thought, “What the heck does a pope need a watch for?” And then I noticed as I knelt down farther that he was wearing reddish-brown loafers, and I thought I wonder if he ever puts pennies in there? Of all the memories of that morning, that stays with me as the strongest––I was blown away by the fact that he wore a watch, and the he had penny loafers. That all this authority and influence had been invested in this man, and he was just a human being.

Another anecdote: there has been a lot of argumentation over the past years about the liturgy, as you know. And many folks are arguing that we need to make the liturgy more sacred, and one way to do that is to have more high altars, maybe bring back the communion rail, to make sure the priest is removed from the assembly and only people in cassock and surplice are up around the altar, and more candles and more rich vestments. The poor Holy Father right now seems to weighed down under layers of silk and finery and is practically hidden at St Peter’s by these six huge candlesticks and a large crucifix. And the argument that this is edifying for people, to see something so obviously holy. But I always think about my first experiences at Shantivanam, our ashram in South India, where we sit on the floor throughout the entire Eucharist, right near the simple puja stone and brass plate that is used for an altar, the priests and monks wearing only their khavi dhotis and shawls, in the simplest, humblest manner possible, and I gotta say, nothing could have felt more sacred to me than those first impressions of celebrating Mass there surrounded by coconut trees and cawing birds, and the sense of reverence of the people participating was unsurpassed. I feel much the same about our liturgies here, stripped down to a kind of Zen simplicity.

The reason I bring those things up is because I have this other strong memory of a talk I once when I was in seminary given by a woman who was a great lover of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She explained to us that of course there were people who doubt the authenticity of the whole apparition and even of the existence of Juan Diego, as is to be expected. But scientists have never been able to explain how that image appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma, which was made of cloth made from cactus fiber; and artists can’t figure out how those particular pigments in the skin tone could have been mixed in that day and age. But then she dropped a little bomb: she told us that a lot of what we see on the tilma was actually added on later. They’ve done infrared studies to prove it, and then there is just the flaking of the paints on everything outside of the main image. The original image seems to be just the rose colored robes, the blue mantle with the cintura of a pregnant native maiden, and the hands and the face. But all the other stuff––the moon and the tassel, and then the gold and the black line decorations, the angel, the orange coloring of the sunburst, and then the stars and even the white fresco background­––were added by human hands, some of it probably as late as the 17th century. All of that gives a more Spanish Gothic feeling to the painting. Actually through infrared study it seems as if even the hands were modified and the face was enhanced, to make them look a little more European, whereas the original skin tone is kind of an Indian-olive.

Then I consequently did a whole bunch of reading about it all myself, and even the most traditional Catholic sources agree that there were additions to the original image. Even though they are nowhere near as elegant as the original image, some people think that the additions add a human element that is kind of charming and edifying, that they accentuate the beauty of the original elegance, like “God and human beings working together.”

That’s valid, but I had a different response to that piece of knowledge. It’s almost as if the image didn’t look conventionally holy enough, just a picture of a pregnant native young woman in plain clothes. So they had to add the angel and the moon, all the gold and extra colors. Who would ever believe that this was holy without all that Gothic stuff?

But somehow that’s the point. The marvelous thing about the Incarnation, which we are about to celebrate, is just how close God comes, a god in dirty diapers. When I said that in my homily, one of the young guys who is here for his initial observership snorted with laughter, and he brought it up several times later in the day. I didn’t mean it to sound shocking, but it really is, I guess. Still, that’s it! Don’t they say something like that about Jesus all the time? Who is this guy? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Didn’t we see you in your dirty diapers? The gospels tell us that They were amazed that God could give such power to a human being. That is some of the gift of Mary: it seems as if whenever God becomes too distant and masculine and far away, and ironically even when Jesus, who was supposed to bring God so close to us, gets pushed too far away, along comes Mary to bring the compassion of God close again, like a nurturing mother would. But then we push her away too. It wasn’t enough for her to be a young pregnant peasant woman dressed in a simple tunic. People wanted to make sure she looked holy. As if there were nothing holy about Pope John Paul II’s red loafers and watch; as if sitting on the floor in south India weren’t as holy as a high altar at St Peter’s Basilica. In the midst of you is one you do not know. The wonderful, frightening, mysterious marvelous thing about God is how close God is, and how holy is everything around us––the ground we stand on.

There was and is a lot of nervousness about John Paul II’s emphasis on referring to Mary by such things as Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix. It seems to some as if she is being deified, divinized. I’m not so bothered by it. I love seeing a feminine presence so close to the throne of the godhead. But, isn’t divinization the point anyway? The Eastern Christian tradition emphasizes this more than we do––the end of the Christian life is divinization, but we say it right out too: May we come to share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity. What I want to emphasize along with that, though, is never to forget that she is also one of us, she is also a pregnant native young woman. If we could stretch our theological arms that wide as to hold both of those things together, Mary’s lowliness and her divinization, then we would be able to grasp something of the fullness of the Christian mystery. We don’t have to add anything on to her, nor on to reality, in order to catch a glimpse of real holiness. As Teilhard wrote, "By virtue of the creation and, still more, of the incarnation, nothing here below if profane for those who know how to see."

three mountains

 (I'm living pretty much full time back with the community at Big Sur now, traveling a lot less. Though I usually only attend to this blog when I am on the road, I am teaching and preaching a lot down here, so every now and then if something really seems interesting I'll try to add it here.

Amid ten thousand streams up among
thousands of clouds, a man of idleness

wanders blue mountains all day long,
returns at night to sleep below cliffs.

In the whirl of springs and autumns,
to inhabit this calm, no tangles of dust:

it’s sheer joy depending on nothing,
still as an autumn river’s quiet water.
                                                         Han Shan

Last week Wednesday was the feast of Saint Sabas. I had to preach. I didn’t know anything about him, and since it was Advent I could have skipped talking about him completely, but when I was with the Poor Clares the day before I saw an article on him in the little book they had left out for me to read up on Saint Barbara, who they were celebrating that day. And something in Sabas’ story caught my attention. Similar to Romuald, it was after a family feud about some property he got disgusted with the world and ran off to join a monastery. This is 5th century Palestine, by the way. At still a very young age (18?), he then went to join another monastery under a great master named Euthymius, but then when Euthymius died Sabas took off again, this time to live in a cave on a mountain, at the foot of which lay a brook. As often happens, a group of disciples formed around him, enough to coax him out of his cave and off of his mountain, and he founded a monastery. He acquiesced to being ordained a priest as well and was named the patriarch of all the monks of Palestine.

I was struck by all those little details––the mountain, the cave, the brook.

The reason why it struck me especially was that the scriptures that we read for the Wednesday of the 1st week of Advent (which was his feast day) also mentioned mountains––Isaiah 25:  On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich foods and choice wines…; and then Jesus climbing a mountain near the Sea of Galilee in Matthew 15, and the crowds followed him, and he healed and fed them. So we had three mountains: Sabas’ mountain of solitude, Isaiah’s mountain of prophetic vision, and Jesus’ mountain of healing and feeding.

It’s notable how often the mountain, like the desert or other forms of solitude, appears as a significant locus for people on a spiritual quest, from Moses and Elijah, the Taoist and Buddhist hermit mountain poets of China, Muhammad on Mount Hira, the sadhus trekking to Mount Kailasha in the Himalayas. And here we have St. Sabas in that lineage as well. Our friend Chris Lorenc is a lover of the mountain poets of ancient China, and he’s given me two collections of them. That I quoted above was from Han Shan––“Stone House”:

Amid ten thousand streams up among
thousands of clouds, a man of idleness

wanders blue mountains all day long,
returns at night to sleep below cliffs…

Sounds beautiful! You can almost feel your blood pressure go down as you read it!

But, I wonder, is this the end? Or is this the beginning?

Sometimes this mountain becomes the place of vision, as it appears so many times in the prophecy of Isaiah, the mountain of the Lord’s house that shall be raised above the hills: the mountain to which every nation shall come streaming; where swords will be beat into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, and the boots of tramping warriors and the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for fire; the mountain where anyone from any nation who calls the name of God comes, the mountain where God says, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” So, perhaps the mountain of solitude can become the mountain of vision.

But then in Jesus it takes one more step as well. Either we see him coming down Mount Tabor, after appearing with the other mountain dwellers, Moses and Elijah, and healing someone as his first act after his Transfiguration. Or else we have him in Matthew 15, calling everybody else up there with them––not just the pure and elite, but the lame and the blind, the deformed and the mute, too––; and not just feeding them the rarified pure air of the lofty visions and prophecies, but instead coming down to earth by bringing his teaching down to earth, and feeding them actual edible food, loaves and fishes. Solitude and vision has given birth to compassion. There is a Tibetan saying that after the monk’s solitary retreat he “comes back to the world with bliss-bestowing hands.” That could refer to the trip from my cell to the refectory as much as great missionary work. It was that way for Sabas, whose solitude eventually gave birth to community, as it was for Benedict, as it was for Romuald, whose solitudes gave birth to communities of mutual love, schools of the Lord’s service, movements. They were all leery of what John Cassian called the pax perniciosa–the pernicious peace (ouch!); they heeded St. Basil’s warning when he asked, “Whose feet are you going to wash, hermit?”

So, maybe the mountain of what the yoga tradition calls kaivalya––which my Sanskrit dictionary defines as “aloofness, aloneness, isolation… the state of liberation”––has to give birth to the mountain of vision, an inclusive vision that is not anti-world; and then that mountain of prophetic vision needs to give way to the mountain of compassion so that it becomes incarnate, in imitation of Jesus. It would be well for us to reflect on our mountains, the personal mountain that we’re climbing as well as our communal mountain, and hope that our mountains of solitude and liberation will give birth to wider vision, and our vision would resolve itself in compassion.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

evolution meandering

(If anyone is paying attention, you will have noticed that I wrote in the following entry that I wasn't going to post this until after the voting, and then went ahead and posted it anyway while I was testing out if I could access Blogspot from here. Well, I doubt that I changed the course of history much, but here the finished re-vamped version of the same entry.)

To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face, one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And one who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet all humility, that those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.
(M. K. Gandhi, My Experiments With Truth)

I'm in Oxfordshire, UK, currently, at the retreat house called the Abbey where I have been several times before. Lucky for me, the retreat I was supposed to lead got canceled so I am free as a bird until I leave for Norwich to continue my work on Thursday.

I actually had to leave a day early (thanks to amazing Michaela's long hours on the phone and her in with the travel angels) to beat Superstorm Sandy. I had a good stay up in the northwest near Manchester, guests of a very progressive Anglican priest at a very inclusive parish, where I wound up doing three nights of events instead of two, since I was early. Thursday was a talk called “Going Deeper into Awakened Consciousness.” As I told Clive, my host, that is a title I would never have come up with, but I liked it. Friday was a concert; but before either, Clive asked me to spend an evening with his regular Tuesday night group, who gather and explore all kinds of alternative spiritualities. That was fun too. I just kind of talked at random about my life and work and answered questions and sang a few songs. Clive is very interested in the work of progressive thinkers--from those of Ken Wilber's ilk through to Matthew Fox, who was the last guest speaker to visit this place (and stay in the same room I did)--and is quite well read. I found myself pilfering books from his reading pile and pouring through them as fast as possible while fighting off the jet lag.

While in the area I also spent a day hanging around cold and rainy Manchester city itself, mostly in bookstores and at the infamous University of Manchester, the birthplace of liberalism, capitalism and free trade. I also took the train into Liverpool for part of the day Friday. It was only an hour away by train. It was a beautiful city, not at all what I expected, right on the river Mersey (“A fairy crossed the Mersey...”), with a great walking area downtown near the docks, lots of museums and exhibits, including the Cavern Club where the Beatles and several other acts got started, and of course “The Beatles Story” museum/exhibit, which was very entertaining, but didn't offer much new to the story. Though I must say I am constantly more and more amazed that the whole phenomenon that was the Beatles all took place in a relatively short period of time, less than a decade really, that so deeply impacted popular culture, changed pop music forever both in terms of its social conscience and depth as well as its creativity and use of technology.

Saturday I did a day retreat for the World Community for Christian Meditation up in Leeds, on the campus of Leeds Trinity University, which went really well and was well received. Then yesterday the long train ride down here. I'll be doing a lot of trains this time—down to Norwich, then up to Edinburgh, and back down to London. At Norwich I am doing a two day retreat for another Christian meditation group (not WCCM) that seems to be very well organized, and the leader of which has obviously been reading my blog. The topics for the day: “Mind, Body and Non-dualism,” “Common Ground in the Awakened Traditions,” “The Within of Things,” “The Perennial Philosophy.” It's like an intensive mini-course! I'm told I'll be staying at the convent right at the shrine of Julian, which is touching.

But for now I am settled in here at this place I love so much, a 13th century manor house right up from the River Thames, all vegetarian cooking (that doesn't mean it's low fat...). It's a beautiful walk/run along the river into the town of Abingdon, which boasts of being the oldest inhabited town in England. Plus I've got a small but unbelievably cozy room above the kitchen, right next to the over-stuffed library, with a stone window seat ledge and en suite bathroom facilities (a real luxury in England). All I've got to do is sing tonight, so I've got time and space to stretch and read and pray and exercise. I've also got a new book to write by July and my dream was to find some time to write while here in the UK, so now, with the retreat canceled and a borrowed laptop, I've already started getting some work done. Hence, also a long delayed blog entry. (Better warn the brothers in Big Sur: I always write more and better in India or England, and compose better in Italy.)

I can't wait for this election to be over. I'll be hovering near the office here to check the Internet first thing in the morning. Polls close in the US at 8 AM UK, and as far as I know the networks are obliged to not call the election until they do. I voted early, but have been just about obsessed with it for weeks. And that's what got me thinking, about this election and the evolution of consciousness.

It is no surprise that I am a dyed in the wool “Kennedy Catholic,” as my folks used to say, a liberal Democrat of immigrant stock and union men, though I try very hard to be balanced and objective; nor does that not mean I am uncritical of my own party. The Democratic Party is no communion of saints, and the President does not get anywhere near a perfect report card.

I found this quote from Bertrand Russel in an article contained on some yellowed brittle pages from a 1959 NY Times Magazine that were folded up and stuffed between two books in the overflow of the library right outside my door.

Love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that people say things that we don't like. We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuance of human life on this planet.
He says some pretty prescient and prophetic things in that interview, including the snippet quoted above. On page 40 of the same issue was an advertisement for wrinkle-resistant cottons by Dan River Mills. Over the heading “The Modern American Family,” there are four photographs, all which show an obviously Caucasian couple--in an old Western town, in the woods on picnic, at the pier, on a lazy river--with one child, in two a girl and in two a boy. (I suppose that was the beginning of the era of 1.5 children.) It was quaint, a snap shot of life in the late 1950s, when I was going on one year old. But I thought as I looked at it, “This is not what America looks like anymore.”

When I saw the headline the other day about Paul Ryan saying that President Obama's policies compromise “those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us a great and exceptional nation in the first place,” I got so angry I could have spit nails. And he singled out the Affordable Health Care Act (even if the President himself has adopted the term I refuse to call it “Obamacare”) was an example of that. This in spite of the fact that the American Catholic bishops have been calling for universal health care. This in spite of the fact that Rep. Ryan's own budget was denounced by the same bishops, the “Nuns of a Bus,” as well as the Jesuit scholars of Georgetown, as being morally unacceptable. There are reasons not to vote for Barack Obama for a second term, but this kind of argument is unconscionable. Does he mean taking care of the poor instead of protecting the rich is not a value of Western civilization? Or ensuring that everyone has health care? Or diplomacy, building bonds of friendship with hostile nations, especially (and this is no doubt the biggest fault as the right sees it) with Muslim nations, calling on the good people of Islam and supporting them over the terrorists? Or does he mean President Obama's concern for global warming, about which Gov. Romney made a joke at the Republican Convention, but was the deciding factor, after Hurricane Sandy, for Mayor Bloomberg to back him? Is not good stewardship of our planet home a value of Western civilization too? Then maybe Western civilization needs to catch up with the Bible. Could not the argument be made that these are Judeo-Christian biblically based values? Ones that Rep. Ryan and his co-partisans are largely either ignoring or trying to debunk. Or is he defining biblical values solely by sexual and gender issues, so-called “family values”? Biblical justice, from the time of the Hebrew prophets straight through the Gospels and the Letter of Saint James, has a lot more to say about injustice and care for the poor, not to mention religious hypocrisy, than it does about sexual and gender issues.

Or did Rep. Ryan mean the philosophy of Ayn Rand, laissez-faire economics, free market capitalism? Are those Judeo-Christian as well as Western? The last two popes have been just as strong in the criticism of capitalism as they have been of every other economic system. And, I know this is a lot to ask, when will we start recognizing the values not just of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but, as the president has done, also of Islam, that other of the Abrahamic faiths and prophetic traditions, which historically has had a lot to say about caring for the least among us before it got hijacked by extremists and fundamentalists.

I honestly think what Rep. Ryan, who was addressing Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition at the time, really meant was (in code), “He's not one of us...” They have accused President Obama of not being really an American, of being a socialist, of being a Muslim, and even of being gay. (As if there were anything intrinsically wrong with being any of those three.) As I say, (and I post this after the voting is over) there are reasons not to vote for President Obama, but picking and choosing which value out of the host of biblical values is not a sound argument. Even worse, its slanderous, not very much in keeping with what I know to be the values of the prophetic traditions.

I am doing so much reading these days about the evolution of consciousness and culture, especially this wonderful new book called Evolutionaries by Carter Phipps. He quotes Michael Murphy, the founder of Esalen, that “Evolution meanders more than it progresses,” and yet the whole book is a paean to the fact that, as hard as it is to believe, it does progress. As I like to say, time and history, for the prophetic traditions especially, are not an illusion or a trap to be escaped. Time and history are sacraments. They are our means; we believe we are going somewhere—toward the reign of God. As Phipps writes, perhaps from a more secular-scientific point of view, “Somewhere amid the crisis of the moment, the stage is being set for great leaps forward.” The basic evolutionary pattern can be seen, and part of that pattern is interconnectivity and relationship, from the cellular level all the way up to nation states.

We cannot really hope to have global peace without first hoping for some kind of decently functioning global political and economic institutions... the more we are engaged in win-win relationships with others, the more likely we are to see ourselves being 'in the same boat'; and extend our circle of care and concern—to see our self-interest as connected to and coordinated with the self-interest of the larger community. In this sense, we can ascertain a certain level of moral progress in history simply in the fact that these 'circles of concern' have extended from clans to tribes to city-states to nations... (pp. 31-32)

As Dr. King said a half a century ago, as President Obama often quotes, it still seems as if the long arc of history does indeed lean toward justice. Whoever wins this election, may God's will be done--on earth as it is in heaven.a