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Rev CC Coltrain's Blog

Here and Now in Heaven

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A beautiful friend who is a beautiful writer wrote this from her beautiful heart.

In preparation for facilitating a retreat I have been reading the mystics.  Lots of them, old and new, Christian and other, men and women.  One of my favorites is the late Brother Wayne Teasdale, who wrote The Mystic Heart and A Monk In the World, before dying way too soon in 2004.

Wayne wrote about what it means to live as a mystic in modern times.  One of the things he mentioned is that mystics are often thought to be “beyond morality.”  What that means — at least for mystics and those who wish to live a larger spiritual life — is that moral codes are no longer necessary because what is right has become part of who they are. They will do the very best they can to do the very best they can for the greatest number of people.

There are many others who seem to consider themselves “beyond morality” — the ones who are too puffed up from egotism to see the suffering of other lives; those who are too ferociously capitalistic to do anything but amass more money; those who believe they somehow should receive lighter — or no — punishment for the same crime that would put a “lesser human” behind bars.

Another thing Brother Wayne wrote about was his belief that a mystic will never lose the “prophetic voice” — the voice that calls the rest of us into action, that brings greater light to events that would prefer to remain hidden.

Well, I don’t claim to be a mystic, but my prophetic voice has been screaming inside my head of late. I keep seeing things that rip my heart open and I ask myself, “why don’t they rip everyone’s heart open?  How can people ignore this stuff?”

Like the shootings of Michael Brown and John Crawford III.  Like cities making it illegal to help the homeless out with a meal.  Like the fact that 22% of children in the United States live in poverty.  Like the fact that companies that rape and pollute our planet are subsidized by the government — not only do they pay no taxes, they get more money from the government to continue to poison the earth!

I don’t know what to do with this prophetic frustration except write it out, so I’m going to.  I’ll try to be thoughtful.  I’ll try very hard not to be inflammatory.  But I can’t just not say anything.  We’re on a precipice here — all of us, every human being, every animal, every life on earth. We’re on a precipice and on the verge of sliding into the place where we just don’t care any more.  And that’s not where we are meant to go.  We are meant to grow in love and compassion, to learn how to live at the threshold between Earth and Heaven, to create a world that works for everyone.  We’re the ones.

The 11th Century Sufi mystic and philosopher Al-Ghazali wrote, “Know that we were not created in jest or at random, but marvelously made and for some great end.” Marvelously made and for some great end.

I often ponder what that great end is all about. Why, really, do we exist, with our ability to be conscious that we are conscious?

Perhaps it’s because my undergraduate work in college was in biology, with emphasis on evolutionary biology and ecology. I believe we are the natural product of billions of years of evolution, and that the human species is still evolving (if we give ourselves the chance).

Ernest Holmes said something like, “since the day humans realized that they could think, compulsory [purely biological] evolution ceased and further evolution was up to us.” Prior to that time our brains had been busy evolving the complexity to allow us to be self-reflective, to be able to imagine, to become the planning, meaning-assigning, wondering creatures that we are.

And now we stand at a real crossroads: will we evolve in numbers great enough and with a speed fast enough to save the whole experiment? My prayer is that yes, we do just that. My mission in life is to assist that in any way I can, by teaching and preaching and modeling the inner work necessary to surf the next wave of human becoming.

At the same time we are evolving, the work that is necessary to ride that wave has been made clear for centuries, by the mystics and sages of the centuries. It’s the inner work that Jesus taught – how to have “ears that can hear” and ‘eyes that can see.” And it begins with accepting the idea that each of us is a divine idea in form, that each of us is the place the Holy One makes its appearance in the world.

That’s a lot to accept, given our acculturation. We have heard about our unworthiness and sinfulness and all that other stuff for so long, it takes a while to be able to recognize Who it is that stares back at us from the morning mirror. One of the best practices I know to better accept the truth about ourselves is “lectio divina” or “sacred reading.’ It is really sacred study – just taking a sentence or two, like the Al-Ghazali quote I started with, and repeating it first out loud, then silently, then one word at a time, parsing every potential meaning it may have for us, really trying to realize and integrate its gift of wisdom.

With careful selection of the subject material, this practice tends to open our minds and connect them with our hearts in such a way that the deeper meanings penetrate our souls. Really understanding that we are “marvelously made and for some great end” is life-changing once it becomes part of our everyday life.

What would life be like without fear?

I’m not sure any human being can be totally without fear. However, we can refuse to let our fear keep us from fully, freely, completely living on purpose. To do this we must recognize fear for what it is — the primal subconscious part of us that tends to our own survival. I believe we must also acknowledge our fear because to do otherwise, to pretend it isn’t there, just pushes it down into the subconscious, while giving it additional strength in the process.

This is difficult for us to do – maybe especially for men. We’re not SUPPOSED to be afraid, according to society. Maybe we should just call that what it is – a big fat untruth. I think we ARE supposed to be afraid because it’s what the biological human part of us does. Yes, I’m afraid. And what’s next?

What’s next is to step beyond the fear anyway, to take that first step into wherever our guidance is taking us. Feel the fear, acknowledge the fear, and then make the biggest choice anyway. Make the choice that speaks to our souls.

The more we do this, the less fear we have. It is simply a matter of practice, like riding a bicycle or playing the piano. We get better and better at it by practicing stepping beyond the fear despite the fact that we feel afraid. Then, life gets bigger and better as we see that beyond the fear is our dream, achievable, achieved.

Forgive today, tomorrow, forever

“Find me one person who is for something and against nothing, who is redeemed enough not to condemn others out of the burden of his soul, and I will find another savior, another Jesus, and an exalted human being.” — Ernest Holmes

This is one of my favorite Ernest Holmes quotes. It comes from his final “Sermon by the Sea,” a talk he gave each year at the summer conference at Asilomar State Park near Monterey, California.

The thing I love about this quote is its reminder that forgiveness is something we must do every day, every week, every month, every year — perhaps for as long as we are on this earth. As Jesus said, “Forgive seventy times seven” — just keep forgiving until there is nothing left between you and the one you are forgiving.

Forgiveness is the way we become clear on creating the life we want to live, rather than the life we live from old unforgiven judgments and resentments. As long as we are “chewing” on some person or situation or event — as long as we have not forgiven it — we keep recreating the same person or situation or event in our lives. We are blocked from moving forward only by our lack of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an act that requires us to rise above what we call “reason” into a higher place. Forgiveness requires us to trust love. It requires us to be against nothing and no one, and to be for Love, the kind of Love that allows us to see clearly the other person, situation, event, or organization.

When we look from Love, we see that there is no “other” out there doing anything to us. There is only Life, giving us endless opportunities to grow and change and evolve.

Getting Outside Your Own Mind

Last night in Practitioner I class, we did a series of “mind expanders” — exercises designed to get you to think outside the box – literally as well as figuratively. The students — and the teacher — are pretty linear thinkers, so it was interesting just to note the difficulty with thinking in unfamiliar ways.

For example, there is one exercise with three rows of three dots. The student is asked to draw four straight lines going through all the dots only once, without lifting the pencil from the paper. The trick is to start outside the “box” consisting of the rows of dots.

If you were one of those kids who always colored inside the lines — like I was — and always made tree trunks brown and leaves green and clouds white and skies blue — like I was — it can be hard to feel comfortable starting outside the “lines” you expect to see.

Yet this is just what intuition requires of us. We have to be willing to believe that our inner wisdom is really wise, even when what it guides us to do seems waaaay outside the lines! One easy way to practice is simply to shift your perspective by turning your head. Look at a picture full on, and then turn your head as far to one side as you can and look again.

I just did this with a picture from the calendar in front of my desk — a photo of a baby black bear clinging to a tree. When I turn my head to the side, what jumps out is the rough, scaly bark of the tree rather than the baby bear.

Just practice seeing what you don’t see at first — seeing what you don’t expect to see. Practice shifting your perspective so you won’t miss the myriad ways of solving any problem, any situation, that exist. Practice seeing differently so you don’t overlook the guidance that is always there.