And because you are children,
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying, “Abba! Father!”
So you are no longer a slave, but a child,
and if a child, then an heir, through God.
On New Year’s Day in the Roman Catholic tradition we celebrate two things at once, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God and the World Day of Peace. Last night we held our 6th annual Interfaith Meditation Vigil for Peace in the wonderful hall at Holy Cross parish, with presenters from Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Bah’ai and Christianity. I know there were also At the same time events going on at Santa Cruz Zen Center around the corner, and up at Mount Madonna, and at the Land of Medicine Buddha. I don’t remember things like that going on when I was a kid. New Year’s Eve was all about partying, not spent in spiritual practice. That leads me to think that we are going somewhere––that there’s some kind of evolution of consciousness going on, that we would spend New Year’s Eve doing spiritual practice instead of getting wasted or eating a bunch of sweets and staying up watching TV all night.
I was thinking that all of us are people who believe that we can change the consciousness of the world by starting with ourselves, and then finding each other. That’s the true meaning of satsang in the Hindu tradition––the community of those who seek the truth, of the Sangha in which Buddhists take refuge, or the koinonia–community of Christianity. We’re standing together, supporting each others’ paths, with our arms linked together, marching in the same direction.
I know that Pope Benedict is not very popular. Folks think of him as some old conservative German guy. One of my friends teases me all the time about how much I bring him up in public by saying to me, “You know, people don’t like him!” But, you know, in spite of the fact that he frustrates me a lot too and I don’t always agree with his positions on things, I recognize that he is very brilliant and comes out with some insights that are unexpected for an old conservative German guy. Besides that, I always make it a point to cite the most conservative sources possible for a progressive point of view. I especially like to read his New Year’s message every year and mine it for gems, and this year was no exception. Last year his talk was entitled “If you want peace, protect the environment,” and he used the phrase “global solidarity” several times. This year he mainly addressed religious freedom, but he didn’t simply talk about the persecution of Christians (which he could have given the deaths in Iraq and now just yesterday in Egypt as well); he addressed religious freedom as a common patrimony of the whole family of the earth’s peoples. He spoke about it as “an essential element of a constitutional state” that cannot be denied without “at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms,” and “the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights,” “the attainment of an integral development which concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.” These are marvelous phrases, because what he is addressing is solidarity with every human being.
So I found it also significant and powerful that those of us who were gathered together for these events last night were from different faith traditions. Especially given the fact that there is so much violence done in the name of religion in this day and age, and isn’t the history of Christianity itself stained with it? We of different traditions may not agree between us on the big theological and philosophical questions, but there are so many purely human questions that we can face together that our common humanity, our good sense, and our intelligence can lead us to agree on. We all know intrinsically that it is not good for children to starve, for example. We know that it is not good for people to be displaced from their homeland because of the exploitation of nature. We know that it is not a good thing to blow up somebody’s place of worship or murder people while they are praying, let alone any time. And, on this World Day of Peace it’s also important to note that if we really think about it, we have to admit that the “military industrial complex,” which President Eisenhower warned us about in his famous farewell speech in 1960, has yet to come up with any permanent, lasting solutions to the world’s problem, only stop gap short term ones.
What we and our friends were proposing in our gatherings for peace is that an essential ingredient in our evolution of consciousness, in our forward march into the future, is being right with God, being in right relationship with Spirit––whatever our traditions calls that source of life, Ultimate Reality, the Ground of our Being, that deepest element of ourselves. For most of us, especially those not granted the luxury or the call of a cloistered monastic life, we don’t have the luxury of escaping the exigencies of daily living in order to get our spiritual life before we engage in the world, but in our spiritual practice and in our spiritual gatherings we are remembering that while we are building our lives “in the world” we also need to make sure that our spiritual life is right, that that is an essential element in the equation, and if it is right it will affect everything and help steer everything in the right direction.
My friends and I have started to study Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy lately. In one of the early chapters he writes about how soldiers in crisis situations in war can somehow immediately transcend or drop down below their individual idiosyncrasies and differences for a time and rise to extraordinary unquestioning heroism. And then he makes an analogy to saints, saying something similar goes on in the life of sanctity. But whereas the objectives of military training are limited and relatively simple, at least focused, the aim of the spiritual life is much less narrowly specialized:
Here the aim is primarily to bring human beings to a state in which, because there are no longer any God-eclipsing obstacles between themselves and Reality, they are able to be aware continuously of the divine Ground of their own an all other beings; secondarily, as a means to this end, to meet all, even the most trivial circumstances of daily living without malice, greed, self-assertion or voluntary ignorance, but consistently with love and understanding. Because its objectives are not limited, because, for the lover of God, every moment is a moment of crisis, spiritually training is incomparably more difficult and searching than military training. There are a good many soldiers, few saints. (Perennial Philosophy, 43)
I guess that’s what we were and are up to, I like to think of us as “spiritual warriors,” aiming toward sanctity, for ourselves and for the world, to be able to meet everything and everyone without malice or greed or self-assertion––Blessed are the poor in spirit!––to meet everything and everyone with love and understanding. A good goal to start the new year with: renewing our commitment to our spiritual practice that will help us go beyond our small self to discover the peace that surpasses all understanding that is the ground of our being¬––the Spirit in our hearts, crying, “Abba!”; to renew our commitment to our satsang, Sangha, community, those whom we are walking with and sharing in mutual support; and allowing all that to be the yeast in the dough of our lives so that we can be the yeast n the dough of the world.