Sunday, April 7, 2013
The Shy Fawn
Lessons In Contemplation
Last Spring I took my life into my own hands, said a little prayer and watched the tiny fawn so curious, stretching its neck up to get a good look at me. I was on the Prairie Preserve in the thin wood, cars whizzing by on the road a quarter mile away. I was in the woods to be by myself to focus special prayers for a friend. I forgot about the fawn, my mind moving to the troubles and pains of life. Next thing I knew the little fawn was right in front of me. What drew my attention was the fawns mother warning me that it wasn't cool at all that I was standing next to her baby. I didn't know what to say to my friend, felt that almost anything I would say would be inadequate, maybe even silly. I reached carefully into my pocket and quietly drew out an apple. Then reached into another pocket and drew out my knife. I gently cut a piece of apple, and I saw the fawn's nostrils flare. The mother stomped the harder and snorted. I looked at her for a moment. She raise her head, pulled her neck back and slightly turned her head to the side. I took that to mean that she was now more curious than fearful. I slowly handed the apple piece to the fawn, who seemed to appreciate it. I wanted to toss the rest of the apple to the mother, but I knew my hand motion would strike fear in her heart. And there it was, I knew what to say.
The tiny fawn - what a picture. I was taught that the holy Spirit was so very shy, like a fawn, that the slightest wrong move made Him withdraw. It made me think there was nothing to hope for but Jesus' Mercy. I remember being sort of blown away when I realized that the Holy Spirit was Jesus' mercy and was described by Jesus as both warrior and comforter.
The Tyranny of Time
I've been thinking a lot about time lately, partly because I've been rereading my physics studies and some of the latest literature trying to wrap my mind around the forward and backward motion of space-time, the mystic's dance of the eternal moment. Here I was with a fawn at my side in just such a moment where the noise of the road had disappeared and time seemed not relevant, to glance right or left would tell centuries, not direction, a moment where ALL was present and everything at peace. I think the thought of time had been on my mind because of the reminder of old things unpacked and put to use after a decade of storage. I went to re-read one of my favourite books, a Baha'ist had given me and I realized the book was almost thirty years old. I remember the smiling face of the sweet young girl who handed it to me, an unexpected gift from the young couple. Thinking about it even now, it seems like yesterday. That lovely young woman must be in her late fifties today. Anyway, the march of linear time seems ruthless, tick tock - tick tock.
If time were all there is life would be gruesome. How could anything but moment by moment comfort have any meaning. But this is the dilemma of the atheist, not me. The mystery of it all, keeps me interested and loving every day of life. Why? The mystery of BEING is an empty space into which one may heap decades of thought and so-called knowledge and still end with no knowledge of it. Sounds and symbols representing energies are spoken and written as if defining what is actually a black hole of ignorance and mystery. The road map is never the territory, the philosophy never the living, the religions never the experience of God, all these hold the same relation. Once physicists have isolated every movement of energy, labelled each energy with a sound or a symbol, and claimed to have identified it all, BEING itself will still be a black hole of ignorance and mystery, more of intuition and mystical experience than positive knowledge.
What May Be Known Inside The Experience of Time
We speak of cataphatic understanding, which is what may be known via "positiva = the positive way of knowing." This knowledge is quite simple really. It is naming things, observing their properties (like the word properties) a way of knowing, like names we give to God or mathematical formulae we ascribe to subatomic motion, or the kitchen sink, or the car. What is it but sounds and symbols we choose to represent fundamental concepts or complex strains of ideas, the which having been stated is still but sounds and symbols holding no truer relationship to the reality of what it symbolizes than does the word religion to God, or map to the actual territory, or wind to the mysterious refreshment on the skin. The actuality remains a mystery, something we experience but still in a real way unknowable even though we've name it. In truth staring at the beauty and mystery of the universe having catalogued every speck of space dust we might as well be worms gazing at the moon.
What We May Know Outside of Linear Time
Apophatic Knowledge: (Knowledge by negations) True wisdom is also true knowledge of things. That knowledge rest in an accurate and humble grasp of what we do not know and cannot know. Only by this wisdom are we able to peek into the dark reality and grasp a glance, a glimmer, a shadow of what truly IS. The ancient mystics were right when they said all knowledge must be rejected to discover the Tao (the Eternal Word.).
Those things we cling to with such urgency, the psychic baggage, the objects and events we count sacred or detestable, even the things necessary for subsistence living, for physical existence, the things for which we are most needy and most grateful, which by common sense we seek, secure and use, and use wisely or unwisely; these hold no true meaning, since we cannot know them, except upon the ground of experience and common sense. Which is of no small importance - common sense that is - make a budget, get your exercise, take you medicine, eat a good diet etc.) Food, clothing and shelter are necessary, yet thinking about the passage of time and the flow of material things, I cannot help sensing that in seeing I've been blind and only at the point where eyes and knowledge fail do I begin to see, a flash, a flicker and sometimes these wonderful "moments" (inadequate word) when time stops and the fawn loses her fear, and the doe inexplicably trusts. I'm smiling but I feel tears in my eyes, a tiny grief at the realization that the noise of the traffic is back, the fawn looks startled, the mother huffs and in sleek motions of beauty they are gone. In the scheme of things I had to frighten the fawn for its own good. Such is the fallen state of this world.
I look around at the sparse woods, the tall prairie weeds and as beautiful as it is it is nothing, an emptiness compared to the moment before. The precious and sweet but nameless English country vicar whose profound short writings encompassed all the mystical knowledge of the ages, writing in Middle English language, centuries before Tinsdale's English Bible translation and Henry the Eighth, the King James version and the rest, opening the deepest grasp of Christian liberty and mystical wisdom to the commoner-non-clergy, said, "Be careful how you spend time. There is nothing more precious." But Reality is timeless, a motion back and forth where all time is present, an eternal anamnesis, (from the Greek word ἀνάμνησιν meaning memory) a consciousness of ALL space-time, a never moving eternity where motion is not needed because everything is present - the fawn, the doe, the traffic noise abated, the air clear and sweet.
For many years time was my driving force, my first consideration in every hour and event. The pocket calendar of places, times, events, and people coordinated to the minute never to be late. What did it take to learn the systematic accomplishing more while doing less and less? It was the grasp of "that" moment in every moment, the Tao binding without effort, loosing without being diminished. If you are human as I am human no words strike a more melancholy and fearful note than do the words, "Be careful how you spend time." Abbot Damian often quoted our country vicar's next sentence, "In the twinkle of an eye heaven may be won or lost." Our perception of time is that it is linear with one moment following the next in an orderliness that defies every other aspect of BEING. Like nothing else relates to us time doesn't ebb and flow like the pulse of flowing water, but rather mechanically ticks by in a monotonous tick-tock, tick-tock. But in truth it is not static, it does pulse, it is a living thing and we are not slaves to it.
The Holy Fathers spoke much about our reaction to time, our answering its challenges. Until one grasps the tyranny of the experience of linear time, one cannot grasp the liberty of the eternal moment. Thus atheists prattle on in their sad material prison lashed to the tyrannical march of time. His mind races trying to create any meaning of it all and sooner or later concludes it is all a joke, worthless, of no value and the only meaning he can find is an urgency to convince as many people as possible just how meaningless everything is. Saint Symeon said, "If one has not tasted this cup, how could one know the value of confession, conversion, reform." For such a one even the momentary pull of the Holy Spirit drawing the mind to God is explained away as tiny misfiring of neurons in the brain. For him, being a slave to the material, the brain is god from which all experience is grasped and processed and the higher mind, the spiritual capacity of man, is just a sort of delusion held by the imaginative powers of the brain.
The Eternal Moment
To wrap our minds around the "name" the "concept" of the eternal moment, where time stops, (or rather flows eternally) we must first understand how we experience linear time. What is the experience of linear time but the scattering of ones soul, ones psyche spread out across time, across events, across true and false philosophies and ideas, scattered across sinful lusts and emotions, envy, regret, anger, bitterness, a sort of blindness really, a noise, a chaos making the very idea of the eternal moment seem pure fantasy or delusion. Actually this roar of "reality" this "chaos" is an idol placed between us and God. God is grasped, experienced, only in the eternal moment and it takes silence devoid of every concept we may hold to perceive that ever-present-reality, His reality. No system of prayers may accomplish this. Only a grasp of Truth and Life. "There is something subtle beneath and above it all, moving through it all that gives all its form, taking what is brittle and falling to dust and making it live," as Lao Tae Tsu said as he tried to explain the experience of the Eternal moment.
Perceptions Beyond the Power of the Brain
Since writers have been writing about experience they have described profound moments of clarity. For most in comes in the sudden realization that they have wasted years of energy and effort on what is false. They will say, "Suddenly I realized . . . " and that realization always has profound consequences to their way of living. Those with a little more experience of the eternal moment, having formed their lives on more things that are real and true, will say, "I had such a moment of clarity." Even mathematicians and physicists and scholars talk of sudden insight more than the subconscious servo-mechanism of the brain, solving a problem that suddenly comes into focus, profound insights beyond rational theory. Of course this is the explanation of the atheists and the argument has validity on a certain level. All of us have suddenly remembered where we left the keys, or recalled a name that we could not bring to the fore three hours earlier or placed facts into order, an order that was hidden from our knowledge moments before. These insights are certainly a function of the brain. But the eternal moment is something else, and unless one has experienced it, as St Symeon the New Theologian knew, one cannot even entertain the idea that such experience of the eternal exists. No need to shame the atheist or the agnostic, the rationalist or the dreamer, each merely reports his honest experience. For the atheist there is no God; for the agnostic He cannot be revealed; for the rationalist he is or isn't according to theory of reason; for the dreamer, he floats upon the emotions, a product of the soul's fantasy producing powers.
Delusions of Contemplation
So when we decide there is merit in contemplation (or prayer) we sit still while our emotions run amuck or our mind races between one thought and the next. Any amateur who has tried a little yoga knows this, where holding a position for the neophyte makes for a very, very long sixty seconds. We've all experience it, where silence is a roar. I think this is the common state for most people, and with the advent of T.V., radio, internet, cell phones, texting, the human psyche strains to keep itself occupied to keep from experiencing one of those hollow solitary moments where thought torments us. Those moments of crowded thought: is this contemplation?
Our thirteenth century English vicar knew what comtemplation was and what it was not. While the western scholastic saints and the eastern hesychast saints both told us to examine every part of our life, every moment every action, he said rather, "For the love of Jesus . . I cannot see that anyone can claim fellowship in this matter with Jesus or his righteous Mother, his angels or his saints, unless he is doing everything in his power, with the help of grace, to attend to each moment of time" and he taught that in that effort what we were to seek was the "Cloud of Unknowing." . . . and that such peace was found only "inside the Love of Jesus." Ultimately we love him or we do not. And in this there is nothing dreamy, no other-world detachment or hypnotic Dervish whirling. Rather a grasp of "Things As They Are" and nothing else.
The Scattered Soul
It is only upon the illusion of linear time where we become scattered, scattered with our souls clouded with a thousand competing impulses and obsessions. These impulses compete for our single moment and are born in sin, (our fallen nature) the pain of experience, the sense of failure we rehearse again and again, the images of lost love or unrequited love, dashed ambitions, real and imagined slights, injuries real and imagined, fervent religious ambitions/obligations and the collection of sins; the myriad images we have collected that blind us to God's ever-presence. The ways we imagine that God does not truly see us, does not truly care for us, or has abandoned us and left us to our faults and fate. Or the opposite that He favours us over others, and strengthens our passions. In short a thousand idols blinding us from the view (and experience) of God's immediacy. For some religious people, instead of grasping his presence, we remember the ways we have profaned his Holiness, unable to honour Him in the symbol of a single Holy Day in our week.
But in fact, not only do we profaned God's holiness, we even profane the sacred love that should exist in our hearts for our families. We are scattered in our images of father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter - idolatrously analysing instead of faithfully praying for them and our relationship with them and simply loving them. The same is true when facing our enemy, idolatrously analysing instead of faithfully praying for them and simply loving them. If a person is honest with themselves they have to give up the religious posing. They have to remember the thousand murders committed, if not literally at least in moments of raw hatred or years of grinding malice, where our motives match the murder's even when our hand doesn't drip blood. We engage in analysis so we may justify our anger and malice at the hundreds of passers-by in our lives, a thousand slights - scattered in greed and sinful fear, lies and distortions of ego and envy.
The Chants That Are Healing
Both the Synagogue and the Church have used the Psalms as the deepest prayer and worship. Why, because all these things are reflected in the Psalms as the Psalmist's human heart struggled with words to dash to pieces his own idols and embrace God. For years I struggled with an ethical conflict between my understanding of justice and the lines in the most important confessional words ever uttered: Psalms KJV 51 (LXX 50). I could not comprehend David saying, "Against Thee and Thee ONLY have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight."??? What? Against God only when Uriah lay slain in the ground, the victim of David's lust and envy? Uriah the victim of a contract hit ordered and financed by King David! Against God only when Uriah's wife bore David's child? Was Uriah not a true human being, a person? Did he not deserve life, wife, family, old age? Should not David have spent his life making amends to Uriah's loved ones, parents, brothers and sisters?
Yet the man who Jesus said owned a heart closest to his own, knew the reality. He chose not to be scattered in his sinful actions. He knew there was nothing he could do about moments, hours, days, weeks, years and decades that were past. No human can erase his sins! No human can re-live a period of time and accomplish a "do-over". He may sacrifice and in some cases make restitution, but destruction is one thing and restitution is at best shabby. Not even a single second of ones past may be changed, so that human can cure the sin and the pain that sin has caused, himself or others. All such impulses are empty impulses creating a fog of separation between oneself and ones Maker, Saviour, Comforter and Healer.
What is the consciousness of time, but the remembrance of death? Let us face it, in linear time there is a starting line and a goal. And the tyranny of that is on any day grief engendering. "How can I keep from weeping when I think of death, for I have seen my brother in his coffin without glory or beauty? What, then, am I to expect? And for what do I hope? Lord, only grant me repentance before the end."
The Holy Fathers teach that to dwell upon past sinfulness is idolatrous. Why? Draw a line representing past, present and future, cover the past with failures and/or accomplishments held with pride and the future with ambitions or dreadful fear and nothing could represent better the person drowning in sin and without hope. Yet a glance toward the LOVE that IS God creates in the struggling soul (via Jesus' Love, via Grace, via the ever-present Comforter) "a sudden impulse that comes without warning, springs up to God like some spark from a fire." Where even the wife-stealing, murderer David could say, "Against You and You only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight."
You see, the grasp of time is important or God would not have placed us in the space-time reality. Uriah is gone, so are all our other failures and it is only as we scatter our souls across the line of time - past and future - that we destroy the healing presence of God, of Love here and now.
Why do we scatter ourselves across time, across distance, across economic station, across political ambitions, across philosophies and vain imaginations, across images of vindication and justification: idol after idol; because we are attached to them. We serve them and we cannot serve two masters.
Slavery To The Flesh
In a real way the so-called sciences of psychology and psychiatry are instruction manuals in "How To Exist IN Our Sinfulness." By the various schools of thought in these disciplines we are taught to recognize and embrace the fog of our scattered soul, making especial marks upon our experience-timeline. According to the nurture school this governs who we are and who we may (can) be as a result. Press the timeline back to our conception and the biological history of our ancestors and the nature school says these two things (nature and nurture) represent a tyranny of predetermination. This slavery to "determinism" is darkness robbing countless people of their true potential, leaving souls to languish in the chains of genetic biology, a psychic-weight without power of change; without hope of something better. These sciences hold great wisdom for those so scattered, in that one may anatomise ones hopelessness, embrace that psychic corpse and count the swings of the pendulum till the end. This reminds me of the book by Dinesh D'Sousa, "The Seeds of Obama's Rage." D'Souza clearly shows that the insane and enigmatic actions of our present president flow from his psychic impulses, which he may or may not be aware. He is clinging to his psychic corpse, knowingly or unknowingly and living the time of its decay, un-regenerated, a slave to his history and experience. His story is hellishly sad but grindingly logical when viewed through that lenses.
How may our souls be saved (sozo = saved and healed). . . how may our souls be healed except by the miracle of the Love in Christ Jesus. That experience of God's presence removes us from every place and time except NOW! Our English vicar said, "An incredible number of impulses are in one brief hour in the soul of he who has a will to this work!" He is speaking of the will to centre upon the only reality - the eternal now. "In one such flash the soul may completely forget the created world outside. Yet almost as quickly it may relapse back to thoughts and memories of things done and undone - all because of our fallen nature. And as fast again it my rekindle." He states that such convulsive psyche or mental gymnastics is not the product of a devout and humble love, but the outcome of the pride and inventiveness of the imagination. He said, "If this work of Grace is to be truly and genuinely understood (and thus experienced) all such proud imaginings must be ruthlessly stamped out!"
David grasped this when he said: 'I will not second guess my attraction to Bathsheba. I will not long to act as a god and restore Uriah to life. I will not sink into grief over the dead infant, whose suffering covered me in sackcloth and ashes, whose suffering moment by moment, second by second I shared in grief.' Instead he could say, "Against you and you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight!"
When we confess (and I believe in actual confession, not some secret prayer to the Good Lord) what have we confessed but actions and in-actions, failings across the time-line of our lives. But what meaning does confession make if having confessed we cling to the timeline's reality and not the liberty of eternal moment. What meaning do these actions and inactions have except to creation the fog that blocks the path, the view, The Way, the perception and experience of God, His ever-presence, Grace, Love, Comfort, Surety.
I love the old Anglican confessional prayer, "We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those thing which we ought not to have done. There is no health in us." I especially love that last sentence, "There is no HEALTH in us." What does that say? It says we are completely and utterly sick, unable to cure ourselves, unable to live, no chance to survive without healing!"
Skittish as a fawn we approach kindly eyes, but unlike the eyes of this old changeable man whose moods may betray him, those eyes are ever-kindly. We've seen them in a thousand Icons. Skittish we wonder what our fate will be for daring to approach him, or if we are just a fool stumbling in the dark expecting light. But he reaches into his pocket to feed us, and he longs to toss food to the ones standing huffing and stomping at a distance, but he dare not. Because his motion would strike such awesome fear they would flee and never approach again. The reason for confession is to get past the skittishness of the fawn, to un-scatter the soul, to free it from the tyranny of time and events, from pride and delusions of the future, to gather ourselves before God and to live there - not live some fearful life of religious bondage, but to LIVE humbly BEFORE him, moment by moment, accepting only the reality of THAT single moment.
Saint Paul understood this when he proposed what seems an impossible task saying, "Pray without ceasing!" He knew from experience that the heart can come into constant communion with God, and one may live both in the moment of normal events and in the eternal moment, ever conscious of both worlds. It is at this point where the eternal starts to inform the mundane. It is at this point where LIFE is breathed into space-time. Such people begin to function on what some would call an intuitive level, where the wisdom of their actions exceed the knowledge of their brain. The Psalmist said of such people:
"Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways.
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."
Notice that the Psalmist knew of this sort of believer that "they will be still praising Thee." No ceremonial gyrations, bendings, squatings, stoopings, kneelings, bowings, prostratings; such folks are not 'religionist' but have come to know and experience God. And notice what it says about them, "in whose hearts are the ways." Not Thy ways as often misquoted. The King James version says, "are the ways of them." In other word creating the paths for themselves and those around them. "Oh Lord, what are we going to do!?" If you know one of these people, who being still (without religious show) they praise God, then you needs to ask them because they will know "the way." And if the way is not clear, they will 'create a way.'
I can't talk about real confession without mentioning absolution. What is absolution? It is when our minister, priest, rabbi maybe our anamchara says to us, "Your sins are forgiven." (In Celtic Christianity, an anamchara is a soul friend, a companion and mentor - often across the miles and the years - in life's long journey through the spiritual realm. Soul friendship is a commitment to both accept and challenge the other; to cut across all divisions to the truth that is found everywhere, in all of life). Your sins are forgiven you. This absolution is only received if the soul is freed from the events across the timeline so that the person is gathered into the eternal moment where God resides, even for just a nano-second. Because it is in that nano-second by nano-second that God is experienced coursing LIFE into existence. We face him, the source of our life in the silence of that moment, as the Saints of Old said, "In the Eternal Moment between the "I AM." Silence, rest, rest, rest. "Come to me all who are burdened and heaven laden and I will give you rest."
How can the rest come when we cling to the mythology of our timeline, when we hold our failures like a badge, when we pride-fully bow to the idol of biological/genetic determinism, and scatter our psyche across it, or battle with anger or defensiveness using religious tools. Rather we must "become as the new born child, timeless, innocent, no psychic weight, no conditioning, no sense of accomplishment, no sense of failure, rather NEW, held, beloved, in the arms of his LOVE, and sinless, saying "Abba" "Pappa" "Daddy". One knows in that second nothing stands between him/herself and HIS response, a baptism in His Grace and His Love. You see, all sins were singular and solitary - Against Him and Him ONLY and He is not counting them, cannot remember them!
So what does He want? What sort of brittle plastic saint or religious fanatic are we supposed to turn into? What sort of fiery prophet like message must we scream from the house tops? What religious challenger should we face with righteous rage? What He wants (and it is a mystery why) is our life eternal not our death, our liberty not our bondage, our love not our apathy, our creativity not our defeat, our faith not our unbelief, our attention in that silence between movements of time, between the I AM.
Our common sense screams, "This is silly, I'm talking to my own ego." But our English vicar even in the thirteenth century knew:
"This then, in brief is how it works. It is obviously not make-believe, nor wrong thinking, nor fanciful opinion. These would not be the product of a devout and humble love, but the outcome of the pride and inventiveness of the imagination. If this work of Grace is to be truly and genuinely understood (and experienced) all such proud imaginings must ruthlessly be stamped out."
Every true mystic from the beginning of time has known that the movement of time is in a certain way an illusion, a projection of something else on the three dimensional world in which we live. Oddly enough, through the contemplation of the nature-of-being most physicists have come to the same conclusion. Those mystics and physicists who have experienced this known what seems linear time really is a dance where all of time is present, where there is no time that is not also now. Lao Tae Tsu knew, so did John the Beloved. "It is the eternal word that makes what is visible, visible" said Lao Tae Tsu. "And without Him (the eternal word) not one thing is made that was made." If you don't get that you haven't understood either. Only in the silence of the Eternal Now is Grace, Love, Freedom and Health grasped, held and experienced. It is life more than the beat of the heart, or the blood in our veins or neurons firing in our brains.
Practical Prayer - Creating the Ways
I want to give one example of exercising wisdom outside of the capacity of ones brain. When I was a prison chaplain an inmate asked me to pray for another inmate I didn't know, who was to be released in six weeks. It was a huge prison. I recognized the other inmates name and knew that I had passed greetings with him, but I didn't know him, had never held a conversation with him or a conversation about him and in five years he had only attended a couple of my services. Without thought I said, "Go tell Larry (not his real name) that I said, if the numbers 80, 40,20, and 5 mean anything to him, he had better come talk to me as soon as he can get permission." The inmate looked at me funny and asked me to repeat the message. I did and told him it was important that he get the message right and had him repeat it back to me. Now here's the fact: the part of me living in the mundane experience of that prison that day had no idea what that message meant, but in the consciousness of the eternal moment I knew that message was life or death. In a little while Larry approached my office white as a sheet. He said, "You wanted to talk to me." I said, "Yes, but truthfully I do not know what that message meant. Do you know?" Tears filled his eyes, he swallowed hard and then said, "When I was sentenced, I was sentenced to 80 years. We knew it was an illegal sentence and after years of court wrangling the sentence was reduced to 40 year and that was under to old day per day good time served rule. So that meant that if I didn't get any disciplinary reports, I could get out in 20 years. I was three months from being released and got into a fight and they made me serve 5 more years. Now I'm six weeks from release and guys know it and some of the hate filled ones are trying to make me f--- up. I'm scared to death that I'm gona f--- up and get more time." Some time I'll share the patch of miracles that conversation began. For you atheist and agnostics, I don't expect you to believe this story, after all it is outside your scope of experience and you have no reason to give it credit. For you believers, I know you enjoyed this and the story rings true.
"It is not possible for men to see God, on Whom the ranks of angels dare not gaze; but through You, O all-pure one, appeared to men the Word Incarnate, whom magnifying with the heavenly hosts, we call Blessed." +++
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