Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don't Stay Stuck. Stick With It.

Yesterday's post was about getting stuck. Mindful practice helps us see where we're stuck. And it give us tools for getting un-stuck. Below is a little 'encouragement' from Jon Kabat-Zinn for those of us who sometimes wonder if we're suitable candidates for mindfulness meditation.

Can anybody meditate?

I get asked this question a lot. I suspect people ask because they think that probably everybody else can meditate but they can’t. They want to be reassured that they are not alone, that there are at least some other people they can identify with, those hapless souls who were born incapable of meditating. But it isn’t so simple.

Thinking you are unable to meditate is a little like thinking you are unable to breathe, or to concentrate or relax. Pretty much everybody can breathe easily. And under the right circumstances, pretty much anybody can concentrate, anybody can relax.

People often confuse meditation with relaxation or some other special state that you have to get to or feel. When once or twice you try and you don’t get anywhere or you didn’t feel anything special, then you think you are one of those people who can’t do it.

But, meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel. It’s not about making the mind empty or still, although stillness does deepen in meditation and can be cultivated systematically. Above all, meditation is about letting the mind be as it is and knowing something about how it is in this moment. It’s not about getting somewhere else, but about allowing yourself to be where you already are. If you don’t understand this, you will think you are constitutionally unable to meditate. But that’s just more thinking, and in this case, incorrect thinking at that.

True, meditation does require energy and a commitment to stick with it. But then, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “I won’t stick with it,” rather than, “I can’t do it”? Anybody can sit down and watch their breath or watch their mind. And you don’t have to be sitting. You could do it walking, standing, lying down, standing on one leg, running, or taking a bath. But to stay at it for even five minutes requires intentionality. To make it part of your life requires some discipline. So when people say they can’t meditate, what they really mean is that they won’t make time for it, or that when they try, they don’t like what happens. It isn’t what they are looking for or hoping for. It doesn’t fulfill their expectations. So maybe they should try again, this time letting go of their expectations and just watching.

(From Wherever You Go, There You Are)

If you want to learn more about the basics of insight meditation, there's a good introduction here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Just before moving to the NC mountains I talked to one of my new friends in Cullowhee, Newt Smith. I was planning on getting a pickup truck and was wondering what brand, what size, what options, etc.

"I really love exploring old logging roads," I said. "And I don't want to get stuck in the mud, so I'm thinking about getting 4 Wheel Drive." 

"Well," Newt said, "Most folks around here have 4 Wheel Drive pickups. They have a saying about them, too: 'Four Wheel Drive allows to get way back into the woods...before you get stuck.'"

I wound up buying a nice used Nissan 2 Wheel Drive pickup that averaged 33 MPG. Never had to get it towed out of the wilderness. I had that little red Nissan for 16 years--it got me to the edge of wild places hundreds and hundreds of times. I always walked the rest of the way. 

But I have, nevertheless, found hundreds and hundreds of others ways to get stuck.

Stuck is where you are when you stop moving toward where your deep self hoped to be. The way a lot of us deal with this kind of being stuck is to gradually stop hoping to be in that other, longed-for place. But it's not the deep wise hope we should be letting go of--it's the stuff that keeps us stuck.

Mindfulness practice is the best tool I've found to work with being stuck. Though, to be clear about it, sometimes meditation or contemplation is nearly as depressing as it is exhilarating. 

That's because when we slow down and do the work of practice, we see just how very stuck we are. And that is wonderful medicine. And a bitter pill. 

Einstein said, 'Problems cannot be solved at the level of conscious that created them.' Mindfulness takes us on a tour of the levels of consciousness that seeded, hatched, and raised the problems that populate our lives. What's the line in Monte Python's Holy Grail? ..."Run away, run away!"

Running away is one of our options. We have others. 

The story of the Holy Grail is not a bad metaphor. What seems to be an insoluble problem turns out, almost miraculously, not to be. Over time, what is insoluble sometimes dissolves. What is un-find-able often gets found. 

In meditation and contemplation new levels of consciousness are both cultivated and stumbled upon. By doing the grunt work of exploring the lands where we are stuck we are also always stumbling upon doors that open to new worlds. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Catholics & Protestants Getting It Wrong

I experience Richard Rohr as a generous, wise priest. Also honest--sometimes painfully honest. What follows is a bit from a talk he recently gave about scripture--how neither Catholics nor Protestants handle it wisely. 


Thomas Merton said it was actually dangerous to put the scriptures in the hands of people whose inner self is not yet sufficiently awakened to encounter the Spirit, because they will try to use God for their own egocentric purposes (This is why religion is so subject to corruption!). Now, if we are going to talk about Lent being a time of conversion and penance, let me apply that to the two major groups that have occupied Western Christianity—Catholics and Protestants. Neither one has really let the Word of God guide their lives.

Catholics need to be converted to giving the Scriptures some actual authority in their lives. Luther wasn’t wrong when he said that most Catholics did not read the Bible. Most Catholics are still not that interested in the Bible (historically they did not have the printing press, nor could most people read, so you can’t blame them entirely). I have been a priest for 42 years now, and I would sadly say that most Catholics would rather hear quotes from saints, Popes, and bishops, the current news, or funny stories, if they are to pay attention. If I quote strongly from the Sermon on the Mount, they are almost throwaway lines. I can see Catholics glaze over because they have never read the New Testament, much less studied it, or been guided by it. I am very sad to have to admit this. It is the Achilles heel of much of the Catholic world, priests included. (The only good thing about it is that they never fight you like Protestants do about Scripture. They are easily duped, and the hierarchy has been able to take advantage of this.)

If Catholics need to be converted, Protestants need to do penance. Their shout of “sola Scriptura” (only Scripture) has left them at the mercy of their own cultures, their own limited education, their own prejudices, and their own selective reading of some texts while avoiding others. It has become laughable, as slavery, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia have lasted authoritatively into our time—by people who claim to love Jesus! I think they need to do penance for what they have often done with the Bible! They largely interpreted the Bible in a very individualistic and otherworldly way. It was an evacuation plan for the next world—and just for their group. Most of Evangelical Protestantism has no cosmic message, no social message, and little sense of social justice or care for the outsider. Both Catholics and Protestants (Orthodox, too!) found a way to do our own thing while posturing friendship with Jesus.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Waiting For A Vanished April

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. For us at St. David's, it also happens to be the day we mark our Patronal Feast Day. March 1 is St. David's Day across the world. David is the patron saint of Wales. Wherever Welsh people traveled, you'll usually find churches bearing that name.

R. S. Thomas was a Welsh priest in the Anglican Church (now the Church of Wales). He was also a a remarkable poet. His poem, The Coming, is a powerful reflection for the movement of God in Lent.


And God held in his hand
a small globe.  Look, he said,
the son looked.  Far off,
as through water, he saw
a scorched land of fierce
color.  The light burned
there: crusted buildings
cast their shadows; a bright
serpent, a river
uncoiled itself, radiant
with slime.

On a bare
hill a bare tree saddened
the sky.  Many people
held out their thin arms
to it, as though waiting
for a vanished April
to return to its crossed
boughs.  The son watched
them.  Let me go there, he said.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Invictus Schimictus

I remember hearing William Henley’s poem, Invictus, when I was a teenager. God, it sounded so right to me then. Exactly the kind of freedom that our culture and certain bits of a boy’s DNA push toward.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll.
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

But life itself, over time and through its continuous, evolving flow, shows us otherwise.

This sense of courage and responsibility that shouts from the poem is something wonderful to be hungry for. But because we exist all-together and not alone, not one of us--not then, not now, not ever—is master of our fate or captain of our soul. Sheesh, one butterfly flapping its wings in China participates in the causes of weather in Cullowhee!

The poem below was not written as a poem--it’s adapted from one paragraph in Gerald May’s, The Dark Night of the Soul. It’s about freedom too. 

To my ear and mind and heart, Gerald May nails it—what freedom is and isn’t.

    Whatever form it takes,

    the movement 
    of the soul and God
    is always finding
    its way toward freedom. 

    In prayer 
    as in life, 
    it is a movement 
       toward freedom 
       from willfulness, 
     from the compulsion 
       to be in charge 
     and the fear of loss
       of control. 

    It is a movement toward 
     freedom from
       functional atheism:
       the conviction that
    is the only hope!

    A movement toward
     freedom for 

    And appreciation--
     a willingness
       to respond 
       and participate
       in the divine 
    in the world.

    A trusting confidence 
     that allows

Friday, February 24, 2012


Mary Oliver

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

(Thanks to June & Newt for growing stunning Irises)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Incredible Shrinking Man

On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid, one channel always offered some kind of horror or Sci-Fi movie.  There were lots of repeats.

I remember watching ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ a bunch of times. The main character was a scientist who’d invented something that made animals grow smaller. At some point (like in all this kind of movie!) he took some of his own ‘medicine.’ The rest of the film followed his diminishment. Unlike ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,’ it wasn’t a comedy.

Life gets harder and harder, stranger and stranger for our ‘hero.’ His problems grow as he shrinks. In the next to the last scene he’s fallen into his cellar. There’s a spider in the cellar. A ‘relatively’ huge spider. There’s also a sewing needle. It’s pretty big too. An epic duel follows. The scientist prevails (barely). Without any words spoken (there’s nobody to talk to) we see his desperation to get out of that basement.

He searches, intensely, noticing a louvered vent. He squeezes through. It’s night, moonless night. The stars are clear, bright, infinite, and huge. The soundtrack swells—the music is not comforting.

Neither is the feeling in a young watcher’s psyche.

At some point in my future education I realized ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ was about Existentialism in the mid-20th century. Our trying to reconcile a diminishing sense of self with an expanding knowledge of the vastness of our universe. The dominant kind of existential practice seemed to me to be an attempt to overcome depression with stoicism—a realization that, so, the spiders are huge—but, then again, our weapons are bigger.

This is a perspective we continue to grapple with. In the undeniable vastness of creation will we experience devastating insignificance or profound connectedness?

Probably a little of both—and there’s integrity there. It is a big universe. And we humans are not as significant in relation to it as it once seemed.

Wise spirituality shows us how to be small and big at the same time. Those who lose ‘self’ find ‘Self.’ It’s not so much the ‘ME’ that’s big but the ‘ME-IN-RELATIONSHIP’ that’s big. It’s the ‘WE.’

Demeter seeks Persephone from the big love of a mother’s connectedness to her child. Jesus goes to Jerusalem and Buddha declines nirvana because of an even larger sense of connectedness and love.

Katabasis, Lent, The Dark Night of the Soul, falling into the cellar all are a Going-Down. We are less significant than our egos natter on about.

But not devastatingly so. 

We are profoundly connected. 

The word profound comes from the Latin ‘fundis’ which means ‘bottom’ and ‘pro’ which means ‘before.’ There’s nothing more profound than wise, intentional, Going-Down in order to explore and confirm our deep connectedness to one another and to God ‘before’ we hit ‘bottom.’ 

Discovering, mending, cultivating this connectedness is the cure for the incredible shrinking man.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


A rich story for Ash Wednesday--and Lent--and winter moving toward spring--is the Greek tale of Persephone (per-sef-uh-nee) and Demeter (dih-mih-ter).

Persephone, young and beautiful, is abducted by Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Demeter, her mother, leaves the heavens to search for her.

It's a powerful force--what a mother feels for a lost child. A wonderful icon of the potential energy we humans have for life's most important adventures.

Demeter searches and learns about Persephone's capture--that Hades has taken her beautiful daughter as his bride. The one she longs to help is imprisoned in the underworld. And Demeter cannot go there herself. BUT she doesn't give up. She finds...a way.

It's a long and eventful story! I plan to refer to it over the next few days.

One word for this kind journey Demeter takes is Katabasis (kuh-tab-uh-sis)--a Greek word that means 'a going down.' The story of Demeter and Persephone shows us what the 'going down' is about: Looking for what we love--never giving up on what we've lost--insisting that whatever is imprisoned be set free.

Prayer can be very like katabasis. Prayer is sometimes described as the mind descending into the heart. Meditation also sinks us to that deep still point.

Katabasis can also be about justice--taking risks so that what we love and who we love can be set free.

Why does Jesus 'go down to Jerusalem?' Why does Gautama, awakened under the Bodhi tree, even though he's offered the chance to enter Nirvana now, choose instead to stay here for the rest of his life?

There are many crucial journeys life calls us to take that we can't manage on our own.

What have we lost? What do we love? What takes us to the place where we are empowered to take risks for what we love?

How do we get there? How do we see in the dark?

How do we trust the Frodo in each of us that says, "I will take the ring--though I do not know the way?"

What is the Wisdom and the Way of Katabasis?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Big Ways To Have Small Fun?

On the Enneagram, I'm a type 7 (The Epicure).  One of a 7's greatest fears is being deprived. So, here on the cusp of Lent, on Fat Tuesday, my type's tendency is to gorge and hoard. I recognize that pattern!

But after a few decades of going with my pattern, I discovered there's more joy in moderation. And ultimately, it's tastier! And we 7s are born connoisseurs.

There's surely more joy on Wednesday morning when we party, shall we say, shrewdly on Fat Tuesday.

I tried marijuana in my late teens. Food tasted great! Thoughts were dreamier--and more colorful. But I hated not being able to have real conversations with my friends. It didn't take long to just 'know' that when I was stoned life itself just wasn't as tasty.

This kind of stuff is a hint of that strange irony Jesus talks about--that to find ourselves it's best to lose ourselves. Small self has lots of big ways to have small fun. Big self has lots of small ways to have BIG fun.

Going from Fat Tuesday into Lent can seem like a downer. Except that Big self understands (like all seeds understand) that a little down usually leads to a lot of up.

PS: if you'd like to discover your enneagram type, you can find do it here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The God Who Knows Only 4 Words

We’re almost to the end of Epiphany as a season. Two more days—tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, our last chance to revel in delight (or in the Light). 

The liturgical season is a calendar of sacred times which rarely line up neatly with the times our souls go through. Instead, liturgical seasons cycle us through practice times, over and over and over, so that when our souls do enter their seasons of discovery and loss, longing and learning, waiting and finding, we know something of their landscape.

There are 46 days in Lent, the darkest, hardest ‘practice’ season. 

But we’re not there yet. We’ve still got time to party like it’s 1999. I quoted Richard Rohr last week; he was talking about the transformation of our experience of God as we grow into our relationship with God:

“God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you, and you are not afraid of making mistakes.”

Someone is dancing with us--and it's a really lousy time to miss the opportunity to do it wholeheartedly. 

  Every child has known God,
    Not the God of names,
    Not the God of don’ts,
    Not the God who never
          does anything weird.

    But the God who knows 
          only 4 words, and...
          keeps repeating them:

    “Come Dance with Me. 
         Come. Dance!”                                            


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Leaving Words Behind

It’s hard to teach without using words. Words point the way to so many wonderful places. Yet to get where we’re going at some point we have to leave words behind. Even 'God' words get in the way of life in God.

I remember watching four or five people each carrying hang gliders up the last bit of a mountain. They’d gotten near the top with cars and trucks, but the last eighth of a mile was an obvious struggle. Then they got to the edge of a massive rock face and, waiting till the wind was right, they just leaned forward and pushed off. The wind—and significant, learned skill, trust and chutzpah—did the rest.

It's the last Sunday in Epiphany. Another process, another kind of journey waits in Lent. Not so much 'Come and see' as 'Come with me.' 

Following, stepping out, stepping off the cliff sometimes doesn't require words at all.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Seem To Have Misplaced My Faith

Faith grows. Which means faith does not stay the same. Which means sometimes when we look to those familiar places in our minds and hearts for our accustomed faith, it’s not there. Something unfamiliar has taken its place. 

Usually, when we come to these moments in our spiritual lives, we’re so struck by the absence of familiar faith we forget to remember that this is how growth works. New wineskins for new wine! New shells for growing crabs! New experiences of evolving faith!

The longer we live, the more chances we have to remember to remember.

Following is another passage from Gerald May’s book, The Dark Night of the Soul. He describes aspects of this experience of growth lovingly and perceptively.


The deeper, more penetrating—and usually more painful—dimensions of the passive night of the spirit (an aspect of the dark night of the soul) have to do with changes in people’s habitual sense of relationship with God.

A common experience, often confusing but not too painful, is that the word “God” loses its meaning. That word, which used to bring forth familiar images and feelings, now seems inadequate and somehow even wrong. And there seems to be no satisfactory substitute. One learns experientially what John and Teresa continually affirm: no words, not even the divine names, can ever adequately portray the Reality.

A much more unsettling experience is the loss of the sense of God’s presence, which can often feel like being abandoned by God. Many people are used to a consistent and long-lasting feeling of the presence of God in their lives. It may be a distinct sense of presence, of companionship everywhere. It may happen more in relationship with children, spouse, or other beloved people. It may occur in special places, as in church or outdoors in nature. Even more often it is just too subtle to describe at all. Whatever form it takes, however, it is sensible, palpable, and deeply meaningful. Then, sometimes, it disappears.

Though we don’t realize it at the time, when habitual senses of God do disappear in the process of the dark night, it is surely because it is time for us to relinquish our attachment to them. We have made an idol our images and feelings of God, giving them more importance than the true God they represent. This can happen with any image or sense of the Divine. For example, some people have a long-lasting sense of God as distant, harsh, and judgmental. Others feel that God absolutely controls their destiny; they have nothing to say about it. Others feel much the opposite: that if there is any God at all, it is a God who leaves them alone to fend for themselves. Still others carry with them a steady sense of God’s loving presence, comfortable and reassuring but static, never inviting challenges or risks. No matter what specific form they may take, all such rigidly held feelings about God restrict our openness to the incomprehensible divine reality.

The passive night of the spirit serves to loosen our hold on such expectations, to leave us more willing to accept God’s being as God will. As with other changes occurring in the dark night, this process can sometimes feel delightfully liberating; bright new vistas of possibility open as we let go of old habits. More often, though, it feels as though the foundations of faith are being shaken. It is easy to understand how devastating such an experience might be. For people who are deeply in love with God, the loss of a habitual sense of God’s presence can seem like a greater abandonment than the loss of human love. Here again, people are likely to feel it is somehow their fault; they wonder where they went so wrong to cause the divine Lover to disappear. And when this loss is accompanied by lassitude and emptiness in prayer and other spiritual practices and lack of motivation for them, a person may easily wonder, “Do I even believe in anything anymore? Do I even care?”

When the spiritual life feels so uprooted, it can be almost impossible to believe—or even to consider—that what’s really going on is a graceful process of liberation, a letting go of old, limiting habits to make room for fresh openness to love.

Therein lies the wisdom. Teresa and John both say that we easily become so attached to feelings of and about God that we equate them with God. We forget that these sensations are only speaking to us of the divine One. They are only messengers. Instead, we take them for the whole of God’s self, and thus we wind up worshiping our own feelings. This is perhaps the most common idolatry of the spiritual life.

I remember having an almost continual sense of God’s presence as a very small child. The feeling receded as I grew older and other things occupied my attention. Later in life, when I embarked on my intentional “spiritual journey,” I realized how much I had missed that feeling of continual companionship. I sought to recover it in prayer and meditation, and I prayed for it to return. I experienced the Holy through other people, through nature, and in many other mediated ways. But what I longed for was that old non-mediated, immediate sense of direct, palpable relationship. I searched and prayed for it for nearly twenty-five years. Then, when I was very sick as a result of cancer chemotherapy, it came back to me. And since then, that sense of presence has never left me. I can feel it anywhere, anytime. All I have to do is turn my attention toward it. I love it and surely would hate to lose it. It’s the answer to a very long prayer. But I know it is not God. It is only a sense of God. I don’t think I make an idol of it, so I don’t imagine it will need to be taken away. If at some point I do lose it again, I hope I will be given the wisdom to continue to trust God in the absence of any sense of God.

God is always working obscurely within us. And, even more mysteriously, some part of us is saying yes to God’s invitations to go where we do not want to go.

Another hymn we sing at St. David’s is below. It’s about this freedom we have to grow in faith--how it’s possible to find our way in our growing experience of God. If you want to sing it, the tune is Sursum Corda.

There are no fences in the fields of God,
an open country greets an endless sky;
but there are landmarks to direct a step
and vivid features to engage the eye.

We find good pasture on the highest hills
and streams between alive with water sound
and groves of trees to shade a sun-scorched back,
the rich ecology of holy ground.

No staff is raised to snatch a wandering sheep;
we are not branded, hobbled, bound or belled.
But when we stumble over rock or ledge
we have a certain sense of being held.

There are no fences in the fields of God,
to come and go is an abiding choice;
but like the flock before we’ve come to trust
the supple tether of a shepherd’s voice.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect (and Weary)

The most common theme in this blog is PRACTICE—how taking an active role in our own spiritual formation is crucial if we want to grow. I write about this so often because I continue to be amazed and grateful that such a thing is possible at all--as I continue to be amazed at how often it’s not taught, embodied, and transmitted.

On the other hand, habitual focus on practice can get to be a kind of haranguing. I often feel like I’m haranguing myself, pushing too hard, expecting too much, flogging a weary horse. 

I feel this way because it’s true. There’s a decisive difference between haranguing and encouraging, and I’m sometimes oblivious to it. 

Thank God for the gifts of frustration and weariness and misery—signs that get our attention, turn our heads around, get us to look down at our compasses long enough to notice we’re turned the wrong damn way!

What follows is another wise bit of Gerald Mays book, The Dark Night of the Soul. I'm sooooo grateful we have many wise teachers to help us along the Way. 


John and Teresa pay relatively little attention to the active aspect of the spiritual life because they know from experience that our own autonomous efforts can accomplish very little. They are much more interested in the passive dimension, the work God does within us, seemingly beyond our own will and intention. John says quite bluntly that all this effort does not work…grace is needed to find “the courage to be in the darkness of everything.”

It is easy to understand that we cannot free ourselves on our own; life itself teaches us that. But it’s a lesson many of us seem determined to forget. Even now, with a lifetime of self-improvement failures behind me, I still keep trying.

As soon as I become aware of some bad habit or personality defect in myself, I try to take it into my own hands and fix it on my own. It’s possible that I have been successful at some of these attempts, but for the life of me I can’t think of an example. I usually have to fail several times before I admit that I cannot do it alone.

Giving up the striving isn’t easy. We human beings naturally try to achieve satisfaction in all things through our own autonomous effort and control. This is just as true in our search for spiritual fulfillment as it is in the rest of life. We may yearn to “let go and let God,” but it usually doesn’t happen until we have exhausted our own efforts. There is a relentless willfulness in us that seldom ceases until we have been brought to our knees by incapacity and failure.

In John’s vision, it is during the 'passive nights' that God’s grace flows through the ruins of our failed attempts, softens our willfulness, and takes us where we could not go on our own.

Sometimes we may experience it as an inner relaxation and letting go. At other times it may feel like something we cling to is being ripped away from us. Either way, the freedom comes only through relinquishment. The actual experience may feel like delightful liberation or tragic bereavement, or it may happen so deeply that we are not aware of it at all. But one thing is certain: the process of freedom is one of subtraction—we are left more empty than when we began.

Prayer is never really separate from the rest of life, so the passive night of the senses brings a similar change in one’s spiritual activities. Prayer that used to be full of consolation and peace may now seem empty and dry. Worship and other church activities are not as rewarding as they used to be. It is increasingly difficult to maintain daily “active” practices like prayer, meditation, journaling, or spiritual reading.

In general, one finds oneself losing interest in the spiritual things that used to offer so much gratification. Even the images of God one has depended upon may gradually lose their significance.

All the while, as we have seen, the process happens in obscurity. We do not understand that the changes we are experiencing are opening us to more free and complete love. Instead, our most common reaction is self-doubt. Because we assume we should be in charge of our spiritual lives, our first reaction is usually, “What am I doing wrong?”

This self-doubt, combined with loss and confusion, explains why the passive night of the senses is often unpleasant, why it involves territory we would not choose to traverse on our own. I want to reiterate, though, that the experience can in some ways be pleasurable. A lessening of dependence on one’s work or relationships can sometimes feel freeing. Even the loss of one’s habitual spiritual activities—especially if one has been doing them out of habit or obligation—can feel like a burden lifted.

Pleasant or unpleasant, however, all such experiences do involve loss, and there is always a certain emptiness left behind. The passive night of the spirit, as John sees it, is the process of emptying and freeing the spiritual faculties: intellect, memory, and will. It liberates them from attachment to rigidly held beliefs, understandings, dreams, expectations, and habitual, compulsive ways of loving and behaving righteously.

In my experience, the most universal change accomplished by the passive night of the spirit is the blurring of one’s belief in being separate from God, from other people, and from the rest of creation. Increasingly, one feels a part of all things instead of apart from them. Such softenings can happen with any rigidly held habitual beliefs and concepts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Prayer Is Not

Prayer is not technique
for getting things, pious
exercise to make God

Prayer is not a ticket
to heaven. It’s more
like practicing heaven

Prayer is a way of seeing
that takes away anxiety
for figuring it all out

Needing to be right about
everything. Here, now God 
becomes more verb than

God--more process than conclusion,
more experience than dogma,
more intimacy than

Someone is dancing with you,
and you are not afraid
of getting it

*This poem is a very close paraphrase, almost a quote of the following Richard Rohr passage from The Naked Now: Learning to see as the mystics see.

In prayer, we merely keep returning the divine gaze and we become its reflection, almost in spite of ourselves (2 Corinthians 3:18). The word “prayer” has often been trivialized by making it into a way of getting what we want. But I use “prayer” as the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow you to experience faith, hope, and love within yourself. It is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now.

Such prayer, such seeing, takes away your anxiety for figuring it all out fully for yourself, or needing to be right about your formulations. At this point, God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you, and you are not afraid of making mistakes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

La Noche Oscura--The Dark Night

A hymn we sing in Advent, which in the northern hemisphere is always the season of the longest nights, is about possibility--a counter-intuitive possibility of learning to trust darkness. 

In the winter's early darkness,
through the days of failing light,
travelers may delay a journey
or may learn to read the night.

Turning on a steady axis,
cold and burning, black and bright,
heaven tells a faithful story
of the coming of the Light.

As we recognize the patterns
and we turn a certain way,
even when the path is darkest,
we are faced to greet the day.

Advent isn't the only season of long nights--it's just the one on the calendar. We all enter a long darkness at certain points in our lives. Gerald May writes about the long darkness in his book, The Dark Night of the Soul--part biography and part exploration of the theology of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. 

What follows is one of his many helpful descriptions of what is possible in this Dark Night.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite mystic, lived in seventeenth-century France. At one point in his famous treatise, The Practice of the Presence of God, he says, “People would be surprised if they knew what their souls said to God sometimes.” 

Centuries before Freud “discovered” the unconscious, contemplatives such as Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross had a profound appreciation that there is an active life of the soul that goes on beneath our awareness. It is to this unconscious dimension of the spiritual life that Teresa and John refer when they use the term “dark.”

When we speak of darkness today, we are often referring to something sinister, as in “powers of darkness” or the “dark side.” ...This is not what Teresa and John mean when they used the Spanish word for dark, oscura. For them, it simply means “obscure.” In the same way that things are difficult to see at night, the deepest relationship between God and person is hidden from our conscious awareness.

In speaking of la noche oscura, the dark night of the soul, John is addressing something mysterious and unknown, but by no means sinister or evil. It is instead profoundly sacred and precious beyond all imagining. John says the dark night of the soul is “happy,” “glad,” “guiding,” and full of “absolute grace.” It is the secret way in which God not only liberates us from our attachments and idolatries, but also brings us to the realization of our true nature. The night is the means by which we find our heart’s desire, our freedom for love.

This is not to say that all darkness is good. Teresa and John use another word, tinieblas, to describe the more sinister kind of darkness. There is no doubt about the difference. Teresa uses oscura in saying that the spiritual life is so dark she needs much patience “in order to write about what I don’t know.” But she uses tinieblas when she says, “The devil is darkness itself.” Similarly, John says it is one thing to be in oscuras and quite another to be in tinieblas. In oscuras things are hidden; in tinieblas one is blind. In fact, it is the very blindness of tinieblas, our slavery to attachment and delusion, that the dark night of the soul is working to heal.

For Teresa and John, the dark night of the soul is a totally loving, healing, and liberating process. Whether it feels that way is another question entirely! Nowadays most people think of the dark night of the soul as a time of suffering and tribulation—redemptive perhaps, but entirely unpleasant. This is not always the case.

The only characteristic of the experience of the dark night that is certain is its obscurity. One simply does not comprehend clearly what is happening. Some dark-night experiences may be quite pleasant. One friend of mine, driven by unrelenting perfectionism, had dedicated his adult life to doing everything right. He had a sense of humor, and we had good times together, but it hurt to see the pain his self-judgment was causing him. Then, gradually and inexplicably, he felt himself relaxing. He was delightfully liberated from his burdensome sense of responsibility; he was “free just to be,” as he put it. Although he wasn’t sure what was going on and at times wondered if he might just be getting lazy, his overall experience of the change was joyful.

For another person in another situation, the same kind of liberation might be very painful. When I was practicing psychiatry, a woman came to see me for depression. She had spent her life taking care of her family, frequently neglecting her own interests in the process. She felt guilty about anything she did for herself. She struggled with a sense of emptiness after her children had grown up and was later devastated to discover that her husband was having an affair. The experience was beginning to ease her caretaking compulsion, but it certainly did not feel like liberation. All she felt was pain, loss, and abandonment. Glimpses of her growing freedom made her even more depressed at first, because in relinquishing her total dedication to her marriage and family, she felt she was losing her only source of worth. Gradually, however, she began to enjoy time for herself. And in ways so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable amidst her pain, she began to feel a sense of meaning and value not for things she did, but just for who she was.

Liberation, whether experienced pleasurably or painfully, always involves relinquishment, some kind of loss. It may be a loss of something we’re glad to be rid of, like a bad habit, or something we cling to for dear life, like a love relationship. Either way it’s still a loss. Thus even when a dark-night experience is pleasant, there is still likely to be an accompanying sense of emptiness and perhaps even grief. Conversely, when a dark-night experience leaves us feeling tragically bereft, there still may be a sense of openness and fresh possibility. The point is, no matter how hard we try, we cannot see the process clearly. We only know what we’re feeling at a given time, and that determines whether our experience is pleasurable or painful. As one of my friends often says, “God only knows what’s really going on—literally!”

The obscurity of the dark night is so constant that I sometimes say, “If you’re certain you’re going through a dark night of the soul, you probably aren’t!” The statement is flippant, but in my experience people having an experience of the dark night almost always think it is something else. If it’s a pleasant experience, they may call it a mysterious breakthrough, a moment of unexplainable grace. If it is unpleasant, they tend to see it as a failure on their part: laziness, lassitude, resistance, or some other inadequacy. 

If, as John maintains, the night is such a gift, why must the process remain so obscure? 

Since the night involves relinquishing attachments, it takes us beneath our denial into territory we are in the habit of avoiding. We might feel willing to relinquish compulsions we acknowledge as destructive, but anyone who has made a New Year’s resolution knows how self-defeating such attempts can be. And what about the attachments we love, the ones we honor and value? Would we willingly cooperate in being freed from drivenness to do good works or to care for our family, even though we know it comes from compulsion rather than love? Would we willingly join God’s grace in relinquishing attachments to the beliefs and images of God that give us comfort, security, and meaning, even if we recognize how they restrict and restrain us? 

If we are honest, I think we have to admit that we will likely try to sabotage any movement toward true freedom. If we really knew what we called to relinquish on this journey, our defenses would never allow us to take the first step. Sometimes the only way we can enter the deeper dimensions of the journey is by being unable to see where we’re going.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pay No Attention To That Man!

I wonder what percentage of you recognize this quote in the post's title today? I'd guess maybe 80 or 90%. Just in case you don't, here it is above, captured in all it's glory.

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"  These are words of the small self, the false self, the ego, or persona protecting their turf. Our evolutionary process has found it important for us to have a big enough self to defend our territory and survive--like a blowfish puffing itself up.

But as we discover over and over, the basic gifts of evolution that have empowered us to stay alive are not the ones we need to become FULLY alive.

The huffing and puffing of the Projected Oz is forceful and compelling. A marvelous example of Ego in full bloom. The pilgrims to Oz are suitably cowed!

But even more compelling in this short scene is the gratitude in the tone of the human voice of Oz. Dorothy says to him, 'You're a very BAD MAN!" And then from that part of Self that is not ego or persona, the man, stepping away from the machinery of inflation replies, "No, no, I'm a very good man. I'm just a very bad wizard."

A moment before he'd been cranking the projector, pushing buttons, amplifying everything. Then a faithful, curious little dog draws back the veil.

Contemplate prayer, insight meditation, mindfulness of all kinds are like Toto, tugging the curtain aside. It can be a scary process, unveiling the false self. And evolution has built in strong resistance to it.

But something in us knows we make very bad wizards. And something in us longs for the energy misspent on ego to get invested in the real deal. And something in us is very grateful to get to be who we most truly are.

(I can imagine this movie clip and description may speak more to male ego than female--so, women friends, any iconic movie scenes come to mind that shed light on your experience of small self? If so, I'd love for you to say something about it below or on my FB page.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Waterloo Was a Near-Run Thing

The account below from second book of Kings reminds us how lucky we are that our Jewish brothers and sisters wrote down what they thought would be helpful for future generations. The story reads as much like a parable as a history--it 'pops' with archetypes, irony, and wisdom. 

You might want to read the story itself, thoughtfully, 2 or 3 times before reading my comments below it. 

You can skip these immediate prompts too if you want! But it might be helpful to work with these few questions as you read. 

  • If this were a short play, which character could you play most easily?
  • Are any of these people really hard to understand or identify with?
  • Have you ever had any kind of experience as challenging as Naaman's leprosy? 
  • Have you ever been challenged to do something simple, like Naaman's wading into the Jordan, that for some reason seemed unthinkable? 

2 Kings 5:1-14

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house.

Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" He turned and went away in a rage.

But his servants approached and said to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean'?" So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.


One of the things that jumps out to me in entering into this story is how easy it is to miss our blessings. Like Wellington said upon his victory at Waterloo, "It was near-run thing." Right from the get go I'm amazed at the touch-and-go moments along Naaman's path. 

How unusual is it that a recently captured, recently enslaved girl steps up to be a link of compassion for her captor?

How unusual is it that a man as powerful and prominent as Naaman takes the advice of a slave?

The next bit isn't so surprising. How usual is it for us insecure humans to freak out like the King of Israel when we think it's all about us? The paranoid King might have stopped the process right there.

Elisha isn't one of my favorite characters in the Hebrew scriptures. He seems haughty sometimes. But he is nevertheless willing to be a link in conveying the grace and power of God. Is Elisha being the shrewd sage by refusing to meet with Naaman? Testing him by pricking his pride? he just haughty--or territorial--or scared of getting leprosy? Hard to be sure. Naaman's healing continues to be a near-run thing. 

Namaan, the famous commander, feels the slap of the prophet's refusal to meet him, heal him, or even give him a worthy, proper task. And suddenly we've arrived at the story's most tenuous moment. Scorched by the insult and hooked by his own arrogance, Naaman, enraged, turns toward home. 

But..Ah!...Other servants (what is it about servants!) intercede with the very wisdom that can reach Naaman. They get him to enlist his familiar strengths--honor and courage--to overcome his habitual weaknesses--anger and pride. "How many times, Master, have you turned and met hard challenges without hesitation!"

Something in Naaman softens--a decisive moment! He turns back to the Jordan. Wades in. Sinks down. Seven times. Then he rises up--healed!

Being healed can be a near-run thing--for those of us on the cusp of healing and for those of us who happen to be links of God's grace along the way. 

Looking back, where are we in this story? 

Looking forward, how will the story unfold for us and for others in new and unexpected ways tomorrow and tomorrow? 

What will help us recognize and re-recognize the parts we might play as the story unfolds? 

Friday, February 10, 2012

God and My Chiropractor

I have a stiff neck. Some days metaphorically, most days literally. Stiff and achy. I started seeing a chiropractor a couple of weeks ago.

Earlier this morning as I was lying flat on my face she was asking me, while her palms were touching the bottoms of my feet, to look toward different things—the corner of the room, straight ahead, my right shoulder, my left shoulder. Then she’d do certain ‘adjustments’ based on what she noticed with her hands.

As she did this we were also talking about prayer—about how it feels right sometimes to talk to God out loud. How she often talked to God out load before sleeping or just after waking up--how I do the same thing while walking.

Talking to God out loud can be a lot like journaling. Engaging parts of ourselves other than just the thinking part can be insightful. When we’re journaling or praying out loud we’re not just creating thoughts we’re also hearing or reading what we’ve created. By using more of our natural capacity for ‘speaking’ we’re also developing more of our natural capacity for ‘hearing.’ Any of you who journal (or pray out loud!) probably already know this.

The current ‘blog’ thread is about this kind of thing. Richard Rohr has been reminding us that Eckhart Tolle is a friend of many different traditions because he’s not telling anybody what to see or believe but is instead inviting and skillfully training anybody who's interested to learn how to see better.

I know very little about Eckhart Tolle, but I’m grateful for anybody who is able to help us humans better see what's most important to us. Seeing is one of the Forms of Spiritual Formation. Sadly, very few Christians value spiritual formation.

We do value spiritual transformation, yet we don’t understand how it works. We tend to think that being moderately faithful day by day will somehow, in God’s time and by God’s grace, transform us. It won’t. It doesn’t.

My chiropractor has spent years learning how to ‘see’ with her hands. I asked her about the process. She told me about her years of training--and how she was still learning. She said some older, seasoned chiropractors no longer had to ask patients to turn their heads different ways. They could just lay their hands on certain places and ‘know.’ She said she still needed to follow a more basic protocol. Me too.

As I mentioned, journaling and talking to God out loud can be really helpful. But, as we say in the South, there’s a whole ‘nother way of prayer that doesn’t involve talking at all. Listening to God is as important, probably more important, than talking to God. Yet how many of us have been skillfully trained in listening?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could daily, hourly, moment by moment open our minds and hearts and hands to God to better hear what the Spirit is saying to us?

Well…we can. We have centuries of wisdom to explore, wise teachers to help—and best of all—no shortcuts.

As we learn to understand the active and living process of transformation, our longing to be transformed is a great and sacred force. Learning how to hear what the Spirit is saying to God's people is a huge part of spiritual formation and transformation. The process begins and continues as we come to trust that cultivating receptive silence takes work. 

How much work?

How long does it take a chiropractor to 'know' with her hands? When is the training over?

Thank God there are schools of chiropractice. Thank God there are schools of contemplative practice. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How To See

I remember as a little boy watching the Dick Van Dyke show with my parents. Dick and Mary Tyler Moore were at supper and Dick was going on and on about something that had happened at work that day. Finally, he let out a long sigh and asked, 'What's for dessert?'

Mary said, 'We already had dessert--you had three servings!'

'What was it?' Dick asked.

'Chocolate cream pie.'

'Oh darn,' he moaned. 'That's my favorite!'

My favorite quote from Richard Rohr's article on Eckhart Tolle from yesterday's post is

"He (Tolle) is teaching process not doctrine or dogma. He is teaching how to see and be present, not what you should see when you are present."

The Christianity that most of us Christians have been shaped by has long been stunted by too much emphasis on doctrine and not enough emphasis on process. For too many centuries we've been told what to see instead of being shown how to see.

We have almost two weeks left to celebrity the great invitation shot through the season of Epiphany: "Come and see!"

I'm drawn to mindful practice because through it I am being trained 'to see and be present.' Whatever it is we see when we're more present is simply a truer, richer, more complete version of what we might have seen when we aren't present.

See & Be!

It's a gift. It's a process. It's a training. As rudimentary as practicing scales on the piano and as breath-taking as playing Fur Elise. Grace is equally in the grunt work of practice and the epiphanies of presence.

Life's too short to ever, ever eat three pieces of chocolate cream pie without tasting even one bite.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Eckhart Tolle and the Christian Tradition

What follows is a reposting of a Richard Rohr article. I find it helpful in two ways. It helps me better understand what Tolle is about. And it models a spirit of Christian curiosity and generosity that I, as a Christian, want to grow in. 

Richard Rohr is the chicken crossing the road, showing those who sense how important it is to get to the other side that it can be done!


Although Eckhart Tolle is arousing great interest today, many think he is a novelty, New Age, or even non-religious. The process—and that is what it is—that he is teaching, can be traced through the Greek and Latin traditions of contemplation, the apophatic tradition in particular, and the long history of what was sometimes called "The Sacrament of the Present Moment" (Brother Lawrence, OCD, Francisco de Osuna, OFM, Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J.).

The mystical tradition inside of Orthodoxy and Catholicism often divided contemplation into two types: infused or natural contemplation, and acquired contemplation. Evelyn Underhill, the brilliant historian of mysticism sees three forms of contemplation: 1) Mystical Contemplation of the Natural World, 2) Metaphysical Contemplation of the World of Being and Consciousness, 3) Theological Contemplation of the World of God.

After the oppositional mind that set in place during and after the Reformation of the 16th century, and after the Enlightenment of the 17th-18th centuries, this ancient tradition was largely lost, except among individuals. We lost the older Tradition of "praying beyond words" as the entire Western and Eastern Churches became quite preoccupied with words and proving words to be true or false. This is the only period that Protestantism and Evangelicals have ever known. So for at least 400 years, we have had neither an understanding of infused nor acquired contemplation! It is such foreign terrain to almost all Protestants, and most Catholics and Orthodox that they immediately think it is heresy or even pagan, when in fact, it is the solid tradition of the first 1400 years of Christianity! (Which I will try to document in my next book, The Third Eye).

Tolle is, in fact, rather brilliantly bringing to our awareness the older tradition of both "infused" or "natural contemplation," and the two first types in Underhill's listing. These are both the ground and the process for breaking through to theological contemplation of God, and acquired contemplation of Jesus, the Gospels, and all spiritual things. He is teaching process not doctrine or dogma. He is teaching how to see and be present, not what you should see when you are present. Tolle is our friend, and not an enemy of the Gospel. There should be no conflict for a mature Christian. "Anyone who is not against us, is for us," as Jesus said, and he also said, "Fear profits nothing."

What Tolle Is Not:
  1. Eckhart Tolle is not a Christian theologian or teacher.
  2. He is not teaching Christian contemplative prayer or Christian prayer at all.
  3. He is not teaching any dogmas or doctrines as such.
  4. He is not presuming or teaching that there is a personal/relational God (but neither is he denying it).
  5. He is not a proponent of the social, communitarian nature of religion.

What Tolle is Doing:
  1. Eckhart Tolle is teaching a form of natural mysticism or contemplative practice.
  2. He is teaching a morality and asceticism of recognizing and letting go of "the self that has to die" (Matthew 16:25), which he calls ego and Jesus calls the "grain of wheat" (John 12:24) ; so that another self can be born, which he would call "consciousness" and we would call the person born again in Christ, or something similar.
  3. He is giving us some practices (Similar to how John Wesley gave "methods" or Ignatius gave "exercises") whereby we can be present to the grace of the moment and stop the "passions," the "egocentric mind," or the "prideful self" which keeps us from true goodness (or God, as we would call it). Each tradition uses different language for what is to be overcome, but it is always some form of "un-love" and selfishness (which he calls ego). TOLLE IS NOT ASKING YOU TO BELIEVE ANYTHING. HE IS ASKING YOU TO TRY SOMETHING! You will know if it is true, if you try it, and you will not know if it is true or false, if you don't try it. No point in arguing it theoretically or in the abstract.
  4. He does assume and imply a worldview that is foreign to many, if not most Christians. For Tolle, Being, Consciousness, God, Reality are all the same thing, which is not all bad, when you come to think of it. Of course, his very point is that you cannot think of it at all, you can only realize it. I would not call him pantheistic (all things are God) as much as panentheistic (God is IN all things).
  5. His brilliant understanding of the "pain body," as he calls it, is actually very close to the Catholic notion of Original Sin, and does give a corporate, communitarian, mystical understanding to religion. We are all in this together, and share one another's pain. I'm not sure he makes clear how we share one another' joy, except that he tends to create very "low maintenance" people who can relax and enjoy life.

In Tolle's world, Jesus is not central. However, he is a beloved teacher, who does it perfectly right himself. "Redemption," as we understand it, is not necessary beyond letting go of our own fears, negativity, and oppositional energy. He might understand reality itself as gracious. We would localize that grace in and through Jesus, as the "Sacrament" of all of Creation.

 Although Tolle is not a Christian teacher, we must not assume that makes him an anti-Christian teacher. Today we need whatever methods or help we can receive to allow the Christian message to take us to a deeper level of transformation. Our history, and our guidance of Western history, shows this has clearly not been happening on any broad scale. This is an opportunity for us to understand our own message at deeper levels. It would be a shame if we required him to speak our language and vocabulary before we could critically hear what he is saying—that is true and helpful to our own message.

What if John's Gospel had refused to use the word "Logos" which was a term directly taken from Platonist philosophy? What if Paul had kept the limited vocabulary and categories of Judaism when he preached in Rome and Athens? What if Thomas Aquinas had not written his Summa because it was a dialogue with Aristotelian philosophy? Would they have had any success as evangelists?

Admittedly, this will be much harder for those Christians who emerged after the 16th century when the older contemplative tradition was no longer taught, or understood even by the older Tradition. Catholics and Orthodox simply have the trustful advantage of apophatic saints like Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, Dionysius the Areopogite, Bonaventure, Francisco de Osuna, Meister Eckhart (whose name Mr. Tolle chose when he recognized his gift as a spiritual teacher!), the Cloud of Unknowing, John of the Cross, and Jean Pierre de Caussade.

Unfortunately, most of Western Christianity has understood Jesus apart from the eternal Trinitarian life and the Pre-Existent Cosmic Christ that is presented in Colossians 1:15-20 or Ephesians 1:8-11. Here "The Son" is at work in the universe from the very beginning and everywhere, and not just during and after Calvary (which Protestantism has tended to exclusively concentrate on). Remember, both Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure said "Deus est Ens," God is Being Itself. This is not new or dangerous teaching, but if ones denominational tradition has no tradition of philosophical theology, or no tradition of the pre-existent Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity inherent in the very pattern of creation, then I admit that Eckhart Tolle will be quite foreign terrain. That does not make him wrong.

I have learned to join with Peter, who said after much resistance, "God has made it clear to me that I must not call anyone profane or unclean" (Acts 10:28), and I am willing to hear truth today wherever it comes from, as long as it does not compromise the Gospel. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, "If it is true, then it is from the Holy Spirit."

I must join with Paul who in preaching to the secular Athenians, said "God is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move, and have our very being" (Acts 17:28). That is an excellent foundation for trusting Tolle's natural mysticism. We are also preaching to a largely secular world, and must find a language that they can understand and draw from, as Paul did, and not insist that they learn our vocabulary before we can even talk to them or hear them. How else can we ever be "all things to all people" (1 Corinthians 9:22) or dare to think that we can "preach the Gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:16)?