Memoir of a Godward Journey

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From The Cricket in the Canoe:  Memoir of a Godward Journey by Elizabeth Ayres

Night begins with the gloaming, an enigmatic hour that will, once warm weather arrives, be filled with vast tidal currents of insect sounds that rise up to flood the tall green crowns of pines, then cascade down and out into thick green grass, carrying the safe contours and sure colors of day into mysterious darkness.  Now, in midwinter, the grass is brown and the silence of this liminal moment is broken only by the chatter of crows flocking to their evening’s roost in the uncertain mauve light.  Likewise does day begin in ambiguity, that murky half-light before the first bird sings and after the last star fades from view.  These are the two hinges on which the door of experience often swings:  bewilderment and perplexity.

We do not like times of change and transition.  We prefer, when it comes to daily living, habit and routine.  We prefer, when it comes to God, dogma and belief, the comforting fiction that we know whence our being arises and can manage the journey into ineffable mystery much as we manage our car’s GPS navigation system:  plug in the destination, see the route displayed.  This works out nicely on life’s more mundane trips, but if you really want to get to God, the route cannot be predetermined, it must arise step by faltering step in the uncharted territory where human and divine meet.

The Greeks had two ways to describe time:  chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the sequential, quantitative dimension of time to which most of us are enslaved.  It’s the ticking clock on our wrists, walls, cell phones.  It’s the sand in the hourglass which began dribbling away when we were born, and piles up in woefully steeper heaps with every year.  It’s the yardstick by which we measure change.  Kairos, on the other hand, is qualitative, non-sequential, unmeasurable.  It is the indeterminate moment in which something special happens.  For rhetoricians like Aristotle, kairos was an opportunity to “drive through” one’s argument forcefully.  In the New Testament kairos became “the appointed time” when God acts definitively, as in Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection, when finite matter was revealed for what it had always been:  the bearer of infinite spirit.  For modern theologians like Paul Tillich, kairoi are crises in human history which demand existential decisions, as in South Africa during Apartheid, or in the United States during the Civil War, when choices for or against freedom had to be made.

In my life, the merging of chronos, the ticking clock, and kairos, the revelatory event is always presaged by doubt and confusion.  It can’t be otherwise, if divine mystery is guiding our steps.

Remote Prayer for the Contemplative

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Many contemplatives have difficulty praying for a specific purpose because most of their prayer time is spent in quiet meditation simply being in God’s presence. Sometimes a prayer has purpose. This prayer is simply a format that integrates contemplative practices while asking God to join you in praying for a purpose that calls you to prayer.

 

Remote Prayer for the Contemplative

Stand or Sit in Silence – Light Candle if possible

(Hands cupped in front of you, chest level)

Say aloud or in secret:

I open myself to prayer.  Divine Source, whom/what should we select to put into my hands so that together we might join in prayer for them/situation?

–          Someone I care about/love?

–          Someone I find difficult to love/be with?

–          A situation?

–          Creation?

–          Other?

 

(Hands over heart)

–          I bring that person/situation into my heart, where You dwell.

 

(Hands extended)

–          I submit that person/situation into your total love and care.

 

(Hands in prayer position/bowing)

–          I bow in gratitude that you are present and praying with me; and that you hold all in your love and light. As I send prayerful energy to this person/situation, I am grateful that your loving will has been done.

 

Rest and Sit

(Hands in receiving position)

–          I welcome you in quiet meditation – your love, your will and your care of all creation.

 

Rest and Silence

(Hands relaxed)

FIRST THOUGHTS

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FIRST THOUGHTS: The Love that Passes all Understanding   by Jane Guyton

My path of contemplation of the Divine reveals to me that conscious, unconditional Love is the creative power of the universe.  But it’s not a Love I can grasp.  It’s a Love that passes all understanding. This Loving Consciousness created the universe out of nothing. Doesn’t that blow your mind?

We can’t begin to understand this.  One moment there was nothing.  The next, there was something.  That’s what we have named the Big Bang. As children of the Big Bang, we are invited to make up our minds whether we believe this singular act of creation to be good or bad.  In his book, “Evolutionary Enlightenment” (1)  Andrew Cohen comes down firmly on the side of “good”, and so do I. I do not believe in heaven as a kind of celestial reward.  Heaven is that which has been given to us free and clear for our life work and habitation, right now. That which came into being so long ago, was, is and always shall be — good.

When we reach states of bliss in meditation, we are resting in the being of the Love that created everything. For me, the fact that this Love is a completely unsolvable Mystery is a profound relief. the Mind that designed it all is utterly incomprehensible.  I’m not called upon to work it all out, or to devise clever explanations.  I’m just called to live the Life I’ve been given as fully and with as much gratitude as possible. As an artist, I cannot imagine that any creator could desire anything more than the whole-hearted appreciated of his or her creation.

Once the original act of creation happened, a universe of consciousness was born, and set us on the evolutionary path that we follow today.  This path contains pain and suffering, always has and always will. Giving birth is not pain-free.

“Suffering is the sandpaper of our life. It does its work of shaping us. Suffering is part of our training program for becoming wise.”Ram Dass

It’s the “Becoming” part of the “Being/Becoming” dyad.  It is the black dot on the white background of the T’ai Chi symbol (or perhaps the other way around…). It is the Mind that is complementary to Love  But the more awake and aware we are – or the more we can live in Christ Consciousness or Buddha Mind or any other mystical state – the less suffering we will experience, so we are told, because these states enable us to accept what is.

Have you tried this?  I have, and it’s not that easy, especially when I’m actually in pain.  But the path is the goal, so I don’t expect to transcend suffering just because I believe it’s possible.  My personal path is to keep on with the practice and to notice with hindsight, how far I’ve come in the acceptance game, and how great it feels to let go of resistance to the many things about which I can do nothing.  Honestly, it’s a kind of celestial 12-Step Program with Love as my sponsor.

“We live on the brink of disaster

because we do not know how to let life alone.

We do not respect the living and fruitful contradictions

and paradoxes of which true life is full.”

Thomas Merton

 

So the ground of all being, the Love that passes all understanding, enables us to transcend suffering by continuously inviting us back to wholeness. Sometimes we heed the call and sometimes we don’t. This is blessed transcendence is what I call grace.  Sometimes grace visits us unexpectedly and we are overcome by the feeling that we did nothing to deserve this good thing.  Other times we experience grace after much spiritual practice. Often life seems to render elusive, this feeling of being blessed.  And yet, the creative impulse of the universe impels us to keep on the path, to keep up the practice and to do it with joy.  We can’t get there by trying.  We can only be there by not trying.

When something was created out of nothing, we were all “there” because as we know, matter cannot be destroyed or created (at least not by us) – only changed in form  Therefore, in this way of thinking, we’ll always be “there”.  I suppose you could refer to this as eternal life but my problem with that phrase is that it implies “life” as we know it, and I don’t think we can say that.

It is, however, a very hopeful way of seeing because it proposes that everything that is happening no matter how dreadful, is moving us along an eternal, evolutionary path.  Those of us who explore mysticism may be aware that we are actually rewiring our own minds to align with this Loving Impulse, so that we can live authentically.  When we do this, we draw others to us, not by preaching, but by living our highest values and by changing the quality of our energy fields – our thoughts – to align with the creative impulse of Life.  We become magnetically attractive and we create emotional safety for other human beings. In this way, we bear witness to that original good thing that was done when the Universe began. Indeed, every time we do something completely, spontaneously, intuitively loving, we are echoing that original creative act of Love.

I have long subscribed to the notion that consciousness does not die, it evolves. I think I first read about this idea in the writings of Teilhard de Chardin and I thought – yes – I think so too!  The theory I outline above, with much oversimplification, owes a great deal to the writings of Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber (2).  But I can lay claim to a certain degree of authorship as much of the above comes out of my own experience.  I’m constantly encouraged and fascinated that the mystics of every age have reached similar conclusions despite using vastly different language and imagery.

I’m also rather a scientific thinker.  I could never, for instance, take metaphysical Truths, myths or symbols for literal truths, but this meta-theory is entirely compatible with scientific theory, so it satisfies that part of my brain that wants things to make sense, while concurrently entrancing the other part of my brain that sees everything symbolically and mystically.  Mind and Heart, thinking and loving are in harmony. One without the other will always be incomplete.  How very unscientific to think that the scientific method reveals the only truth we can know! How blissful to trust that there are many things I can never know or understand.  This is what is meant, I think, to “become as a little child.”

And now, I believe, we recognize that there are really only two kinds of people in the world: the ones who know we are connected to the universe, to the earth and to each other, and those who do not.  But we are all part of the universal family, and we are all on the evolutionary path, just at different stops along the way.  It doesn’t matter what spiritual path a person is on – he or she fits into this distinction one way or the other.

Not everyone can endure long periods of silence.  Not everyone belongs to a spiritual community or religion.  Not everyone wants to think along these lines, or has the same kinds of question I have.  It doesn’t matter.  Once you have set foot on this path, you are on it for life, and you begin to see through the veil of separation, that there’s learning from absolutely everything.  Every person no matter who or where, is part of Life and as such offers something to us all and evokes something in us all. The richness of our inner lives determines how much we shall learn and benefit and be blessed by what is evoked.  This richness never comes from the outside.  The experience may be outer, but the interpretation and integration are essentially internal. a great book on this topic is “The Power of Now” by Eckert Tolle.

I have many questions about how to live from this knowing.  I know that my deepest desire is to be authentic and to be in relationship with other authentic beings.  I am in the process of discovering what this means and how I must live in order to fulfil what I think is the highest human destiny.  I look forward to sharing some of my discoveries with those who are interested in the same questions, and with the same passion that I have.

Heaven and earth are threads from one loom.

Shaker proverb

 Jane Guyton

 

References:

(1) Evolutionary Enlightenment by Andrew Cohen, Enlighten Next 2011

(2) A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber, Shambala, 2000

(3) The Power of Now by Eckert Tolle, New World Library 1999

A MEMOIR OF THE GODWARD JOURNEY

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Excerpted from Chapter Eleven of THE CRICKET IN THE CANOE: A MEMOIR OF THE GODWARD JOURNEY by Elizabeth Ayres.  http://creativewritingcenter.com

Christmas is here, and I am still holding summer in my heart.  Yesterday evening, as day and night settled together so early into twilight’s marriage bed, I sat on my glassed-in porch, remembering the fireflies, how in the summer evenings they would wink in and out of shining, each incandescent glimmer a unique creature, possessed of its own desires, flitting around in its luciform body, separate, yearning for union with the other firefly it will attract with its ardent glow.  The river, then as now, silver in the gloaming.  The trunks and boughs of the pin oaks, then as now, fading into a velvet, ebony sheen.  The miniscule flickers of the lightning bugs then – in the grass, in the trees, against the backdrop of the river – formed part of a greater whole, reminding me of my own yearnings, all with different names but one ultimate objective.  I imagined someone watching all the incandescent glimmers of all the people on the planet, each of us winking in and out of shining, our luciform bodies possessed of private desires with multitudinous names but one goal.  I imagined the blue marble of Earth suspended in its black ocean, surrounded by the incandescent glimmers of other planets, stars, galaxies, universes, and I remembered something Julian of Norwich wrote, that the love of God makes such a unity in us, when we see the unity, we can’t separate ourselves from it any more.

Last week, walking on a nearby the beach, I found a dead heron.  I spread out its wings, as if the bird were still flying.  I stretched out its neck, as if it were heading westward.  I placed, in its beak, the dead fish I found lying next to it, then scrubbed my hands with sand, rinsing them in waves that flapped on the beach like wings.  As I turned to walk away, I heard a rifle’s report in the woods, and realized: that heron had been shot from the sky in full flight, its dinner wriggling in its mouth.

Where did it come from, the impulse to re-enact, on the canvas of that beach, a portrait of the heron’s last few minutes of life?  Physicists say electrons, neutrinos, quarks and other particles are not solid at all, they’re composed of tiny oscillating filaments.  Just as a violin’s strings resonate at certain vibrational frequencies, which our ears sense as musical notes, all observable objects vibrate, but instead of producing musical notes, they create preferred relationships of mass and force determined by their strings’ oscillatory patterns. An electron is a string vibrating one way, a quark is a string vibrating another way, and so on.  When I came upon that heron, there was, for unfathomable reasons, a silent tug on the invisible, incandescent cord connecting us, and I knew in my own body what its body had experienced just hours before.  It seems a fitting symbol for Christmas this year, as the old era represented by the Mayan calendar passes away and a new era of possibility emerges.  Shall we say that the river, the pin oaks, the fireflies and all the other beings on this or any other planet, in this or any other galaxy, in this or any other universe, are one incarnate unity aquiver with one divine energy, different names for multitudinous forms having one ultimate objective: God?  Shall we say the Cosmic Christ is being born?

2013 The Contemplative Path. Laptop computer.