Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Natural Theology: A Quote Quilt

If you would understand that “God’s Word is in all creation” (Hildegard of Bingen) “study nature not books;” (Louise Agassiz) “entreat the trees and rocks to preach the Dharma... ask rice fields and gardens for the truth.” (Eithei Dogen)

When you “steep yourself in the sea of matter, bathe in its fiery waters,” (Teilhard de Chardin) you will discover that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) Then you can “listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” (Mel Brooks)

“Peace comes to those aware of the voice and bearing of trees,” (Cedric Wright) so let yourself “feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning.” (Rainer Maria Rilke) Then you, too, will say, “I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then, / In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass; / I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name.” (Walt Whitman)

Understand that “people say, ‘that doesn’t interest me’ [when] they should say, ‘I have not interested myself in that.’” (Esther Dendel) For “wonder resides...in many ordinary things...in bubble and drop and clod.” (J. Robert Oppenheimer) Even “cities... aren’t unnatural, any more than beaver dams or anthills are unnatural.” (James Trefil) For “buildings are made out of matter, earth is part of their fabric,” (Mohsen Motafavi) and “everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness.” (Hildegard of Bingen)

Yet “this looking business is risky” (Annie Dillard) because “what you see is what you get.” (Annie Dillard) And “the more I find out about things, the more mysterious they become” (Julie A. Dumoulin) because “the greater the circle of light, the greater the boundary of darkness by which it is surrounded.” (Humphry Davy) But since “even the poorest thing shines,” (Layman P’ang) with Frank O’Hara you may decide, “it is my job to be attentive. I am needed by things.”

We start “like a pitcher of clay floating in the water, water inside, water outside.” (Kabir) “What [we] are waiting for has already come, but [we] don’t recognize it.” (The Gospel of Thomas) For “this very place is the Lotus Land / this very body the Buddha,” (Hakuin) and “self is everywhere, shining forth out of all beings, vaster than vast… yet nearer than breath.” (Upanishads) So, practice the attentiveness from which naturally flows “the day of my spiritual awakening… the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.” (Mechtild of Magdeburg)

Once we discover that “divinity is in all things in such a way that all things are in divinity,” (Nicholas of Cusa), we absolutely know that “the kingdom of God is within us.” (alternate translation of Luke 17:21) Then, “suddenly... the pitcher is broken. Inside, outside, O friends, all one.” (Kabir)

© sewn by R. Elena Tabachnick 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dog Park Epiphany: Anxiety Does Not Serve

Last Friday in the dog park it suddenly struck me: I don't have to work so hard finding people who want to form an interfaith, monastic community. My only job is to clear myself, coming to live more and more out of the joy-love-light that is my true, inner self. Anything else that is needed - including community - will follow. Naturally.

Whew! What a relief.

(Ok, so maybe to you that conclusion seems obvious, but I’m quite thrilled with myself that I finally got there.)

This is pretty much what I think Jesus meant in the quotes in Luke (12: 22-31) “Do not be anxious about your life, food, clothes… seek God and all these will be yours as well,” and Matthew (6:27) “Which of you by being anxious can add to your life.”

Add in the quotes (Mt 7: 1-5, Lk 6: 37) where Jesus cites the basic, creative/karma/energy law of the universe - “Judge not…condemn not… for the measure you give will be the measure you receive” - and don't I feel like a good Christian for relaxing and letting go of outcome!

Perhaps I had this insight because, for the last couple of months, I’ve been involved with an energy development group called Creating A Peaceful World, and I’m finally clearing enough to connect again to the joy-love-light at my center.

Sigh and double sigh.

After I was first “called” to monastic community, I was in constant touch with a sense of divine light that fed through my being like a direct conduit from God. Sometimes this light was a thick column. Sometimes it was a slim, barely-discernable thread. But it was always there. Often when I was overwhelmed by tiredness, hurt or anger, that light would bubble up. Then suffused with love and joy, all I wanted to do was grin and hug people.

Recurrent visitations with Jesus seemed part of the same package.

In the weeks following my departure from the monastery, grief swamped all that out. I not only lost the monastic life that had suited me like no other, but I'd lost the sense of Jesus' close presence, and even contact with the divine Source in my own being.

I knew the second two were still there - if only I could clear the fog obscuring my perception, but touching the Source in myself had been so easy and constant while on the road to the monastery and in the community that I thought I needed that crutch.

Yet my chance at life in monastic community seemed irrevocably lost. I’d had a shot at an established Benedictine monastery. If that purportedly ecumenical community had no place for me, what community would? Besides, even there, fitting in had meant hiding my true beliefs through dissembling, omission, or translation into orthodox-acceptable language - something I was no longer willing, or able, to do.

When I finally exhausted my desire to moon about crying, I decided to find a few others like myself – drawn to monastic community, yet either lacking identity in a particular religion or wanting the breadth of an interfaith approach. We could form a monastic household and I'd (selfishly) get a semblance of that life back, and maybe recover my direct contact with God. I talked to anyone I met who’d expressed such a desire, and sent this blog out on the global e-waves.

After almost three years, the prospects for this agenda seem bleak.

So I was walking around the Middleton Dog Park - a big field on a hill of old landfill with long views of marsh, woods and farms, with sand-hill cranes flying over. While my little beagle mix hunted rodents in the grass, my mind wandered freely.

That's when I suddenly realized I could give up anxiety and trying to MAKE HAPPEN the results I think I want.

Not that I’ve given up on my dream of forming a monastic household with a few others…Yet I no longer feel such longing - or desperation - about it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Baptism Vows

I thought people might like to see the vows I wrote for my baptism. I would still affirm them today, but I might use fewer capital letters and less orthodox sounding language. smile. Only the Eucharist one seems a bit odd now - although it made sense at the time. But I carefully said nothing about how often. For about a year, Christian members of my UU congregation created a lovely Eucharist once a month, but we ran out of steam last spring.

I did the introduction. Then my minister read each vow, followed by my affirmation. She gave the conclusion.

INTRODUCTION: Dear friends, in Water and Spirit I proclaim that I recognize Christ in the life and words of the man, Jesus. In Water and Spirit I ask for release of ego confusions. In Water and Spirit I commit to follow the Way of Jesus - with his help rising toward Life, and rising again each time I fall - today, tomorrow and the next day, for as long it takes.


Do you accept Jesus as Christ, in whom the fullness of God and humanity was revealed?
Do you accept Jesus as your personal teacher and spiritual guide, to follow where he led?

Do you dedicate yourself to prayer and to living by the Word of God as found in the scriptures of Book and Earth?
Do you dedicate yourself to working for the justice of God in the world, and for being a living sign of the compassion and reconciliation of Jesus?

Do you dedicate yourself to gathering for Eucharist, to reaffirm all life as One? For every name is the one name and every ritual the one ritual as all are gathered in the body of God.

Do you accept responsibility for building the body of Christ by developing the spirit in your own life and helping develop the spirit in your community? For you are the bread whose breaking can feed the spiritually hungry.

Do you seek to love all of creation with God’s own unconditional love?

CONCLUSION: Let God birth you into Life through the mystery and teaching of Jesus Christ. May you stay faithful, through the help of God, forever. Amen

Friday, September 14, 2007

An Interfaith, Pantheist UU Is Called By Jesus: Part I

This story is excerpted from a forthcoming book on my monastic journey. As it is long, I’ve broken it into serial posts.

Meeting Jesus for the Very First Time

The girl was just ten, sitting on an overturned boat half buried in sand, kicking bare heels and sucking a stick of barley sugar. It was a worn, old boat with great gaps in its timbers. The girl called it her playhouse. It made a good perch to watch the men mend nets on the beach.

At ten the girl was old enough to help at home. And she did help, but then the salt sea wind would call and she couldn’t resist, slipping away between one task and the next. Part of a large family, she was easily overlooked as long as she stayed out from underfoot. So the wild girl and the tired, old boat were left to each other, forgotten by the women, invisible to the men.

The girl smiled at the sun and waves. Her toffee-brown legs swung free under a too-short dress that had once had bright stripes of red, blue and green, many wearers ago along the stair steps of older sisters. A breeze stirred the sea-thick air and tossed her dark, unkempt curls.

Something was happening. She squinted to watch a strange man talk to her brothers and cousins mending the nets. He left them and stood on the wet strand gazing out to sea. Little waves lapped his feet. Before she thought much about it, the girl hopped down and ran to him.

“What are you doing?” she asked, not considering the impertinence of a young girl speaking to a grown man.

The man didn’t consider it either. He turned, looked deep into her eyes, took her hand and smiled.

“Do you want to see my playhouse?” she asked, smiling back and swinging her new friend’s hand.

“No,” he said, “I want you to leave all that and be mine.”

Stopped still, her eyes grew big and round. She felt like she’d been poured full of something as thick and sweet as honey, yet as fiery as the mid-day sun. Then she frowned, looking back over her shoulder.

“What about my playhouse?” she asked.

Very simply and quietly he repeated, “Leave that and be mine.”

“Okay,” she replied.

They turned and walked hand in hand away from the water, blazing, honey-joy flowing between and all around them. The girl held her stick of candy out to him. Its pale, red-gold color glinted in the sun. He reached down and took it. Their eyes met and flashed with private laughter. She leaned against him and he put his arm around her. The fire-honey feeling flowed through her whole body: mouth, throat, fingers, stomach and between her legs.

* * * * *

I jerked back into myself. A man in a sexual exchange with a child? Whoa! That was no good. I peeked around the monastery room. Three of the sisters sat there. Eyes closed and breathing deeply, they were icons of serene meditation.

Bright, April sun slanted in through large, west-facing windows. The monastery's pond was just visible out the windows, beyond a field of native prairie. A delicious wind ruffled its surface into sparkling wavelets.

I shifted in the uncomfortable, monastery chair and shut my eyes again - with an admonishment to fix the sexual problem. To whom I spoke was not clear. It could have been my psyche, my soul or God.

Immediately, I was back on the beach, embraced by the man, Jesus. As radiant, sexual honey flowed between us, my little girl’s body flickered, shifted, then steadied into that of a young woman, age-mate to Jesus. We both had strong, young arms and legs, tight bellies, and clear, brown skin. We left the beach, walking with our arms about each other’s waists. I rested my head on his shoulder. We crossed a road drifted with sand and walked toward a crowd of people. He pulled away from me to call them. I felt peaceful but thought, “Oh. My time being his only is over. Now it’s their turn.”

At that Jesus’ head and shoulders filled my vision. Brilliant, laughing eyes gazed deep into mine as exclusive, intimate love flooded me. Yet all the time he loved each of the other people in the same intimate way. It was odd, like seeing double: two images filling one screen. He was in a monogamous relationship with me, yet also with a multitude of others. Visualizing it was like trying to see in more than three dimensions, many more than three dimensions. For a split second I could hold them all, but then they’d slip away.

Finally Jesus said, “Don’t you see? Through me, you are bonded to everyone else.” My struggle dissolved into expansive, encompassing joy.

* * * * *

The sister in charge of the meditation drew it to a close, recalling us back to our bodies and the room. Everyone looked centered and happy. I beamed at them, but at the back of my brain a small voice whispered, “Jesus. You just met Jesus. And. You. Were. Lovers.”

© 2007 R. Elena Tabachnick

Sunday, September 02, 2007

An Interfaith, Pantheist UU Is Called By Jesus: Part II

This story is excerpted from a forthcoming book on my monastic journey. As it is long, I’ve broken it into serial posts.

In the Throes of Divine Indifference

This would never have happened if I hadn’t been “called” into a Benedictine monastery. Which in itself was odd. A call to religious life had never been high on my list of priorities.

It occurred on a cool, clear May evening, two years before the retreat where I met Jesus. I’d just become an oblate (a lay associate), standing up with twenty-two others and pledging myself to the Rule of Benedict, the oblate community and the monastery.

At a post-oblation party, people snapped pictures of themselves with the two oldest sisters.

“Hey take mine,” I said, standing between the two sisters.

Suddenly my heart split, filling with a joyous light. Like a cheesy musical, love struck and left me helpless. It felt like a thick cord of living light had grown out of my heart and sunk itself deep into the monastery’s land. A stiff elastic, it only let me go so far, and for so long, before drawing me back. Like the worst sort of head-over-heels lover, I constantly thought about the monastery and was only at peace when there. But it was ridiculous. They were Catholics and I was an eccentric pantheist. We were totally incompatible.

I wanted to obey - the draw was so intensely delicious. Yet I also wanted it to stop. For one thing, I don’t trust that kind of love. More often than not, the tide recedes and there you are, stuck in a painfully awkward alliance. Besides, I was a professional with a good job, a nice house, a busy social life and lots of cherished personal habits. Was I supposed to abandon all that? So I dithered for weeks thinking maybe the whole thing would fade like some summer crush.

I spoke about my call to one friend or family member after another. They all said if it was that strong, I ought to tell the sisters. Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time I let a beckoning vision spin my life off on a previously unimagined track.

* * * * * *

In 1998, I was sitting in the office of another professor at DePaul University in Chicago rehashing college gossip. Stretched lazily in a chair, I was arrested in mid-grouse by a brilliant light that blossomed in my middle. It rose through my body with a tremendous sense of release that said, “let go.”

Searching for help understanding this experience, I spoke with a Catholic spiritual guide.

Now if you want intelligent religious argument go to a Jew or a Unitarian, but if you want to talk about mystical visions as if they were everyday occurrences, liberal Catholics can’t be beat. This woman acted as if having a vision was no more remarkable than eating toast.

I suspected that “letting go” meant leaving my secure but harried, academic career - even though I had no idea where that would bring me. She thought that made perfect sense. It was a customary Catholic spiritual behavior called “living by divine indifference.” This meant obeying God's call in your heart without consideration for long-term goals or potential disasters. You might be led into totally unexpected circumstances, but supposedly they would turn out to be more right than anything you could have planned. Trust in such divine promptings was the true meaning of “faith,” she insisted.

One cold, dreary day in late November I sat in a restaurant with large windows, waiting for some of my colleagues to arrive. Freezing rain poured down the glass. I thought, “The worst that could happen if I follow my vision would be to be stuck out there - cold, wet and hungry - with no way in.” The adventure seemed well worth that risk.

I had no idea “divine indifference” would bring me into a relationship with Jesus, instead.

* * * * * *

By the end of June the intensity of my call had not gone down. So I worked up the nerve to tell one of the sisters.

She was visibly taken aback. On recovering her composure, she turned to me with a schoolmarm frown. “But you’re not Christian, are you?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“We only take baptized Christian women,” she said with a tight smile.

A happy, little bubble rose in my thoughts and popped. Baptism sounded nice. “Well, I might get baptized,” I offered tentatively.

But part of me was inwardly screaming, “Are you nuts? You're not going to be Christian!”

© 2007 R. Elena Tabachnick