In All Things Thee to See

The text of this sonnet can be seen at the end of this reflection.  You can download a pdf of the reflection and sonnet here: In All Things Thee to See reflection

This is a poem about seeing, both literally and, more importantly, figuratively—about where we focus our heart and mind and what truth we perceive.

How we see ourselves determines how we treat others, it determines our ethics, so it has enormous consequences in the world.

How we see the earth and our place in it determines how we treat other creatures and the ecosystems that support all life.

The Golden Rule, or loving your neighbor as your self, is at the heart of all the major religions and systems of ethics.

Loving your neighbor as your self requires having both a true perception and a healthy love of your self and the world.

Loving your neighbor as your self does not mean merely that you love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself.  It means waking up to the reality that you and your neighbor truly are one self in very slightly different manifestations.

Loving your self does not mean selfishness or self-infatuation or narcissism, because your true self is not your selfish ego.  Your true self is the spirit of the universe that created you flowing through you, it is the part of you that every other created being shares.

Your self is not your self, it belongs to the universe.  As Teilhard de Chardin saw, our self is not a part of the universe we own wholly, it is the whole of the universe that we own partly.  (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Science and Christ (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), pp.12-13)

To love your self, then, is to love the whole universe that you share with every other self as one.

We see this truth by shifting our focus away from our old way of looking at our self.

The slogan of John the Baptist and Jesus is translated in most Bibles, “Repent, for the realm of God is at hand.”  The word translated as repent is metanoia in the original Greek.  In this context it means to expand the vision of our heart, mind and spirit to a new perspective that can see God’s realm of true oneness here on earth.

We have to let go of our old focus in order to have a new focus.  We need to empty ourselves of the self-will and craving and clinging of our ego so that we can look more deeply at our true self and the true nature of the universe.

The Christian spiritual path calls this step kenosis, the Greek word used in the New Testament for self-emptying.  Kenosis leads naturally to metanoia. When we empty ourselves of our false self the true self becomes unhidden.

The result of kenosis and metanoia is agape, the Greek word for a love that is God-like and Christ-like, that sees universal oneness and loves its neighbor as itself.  Agape is not based on the worthiness of others, nor is it trying to make ourselves worthy, it is simply allowing the spirit of the universe to flow through us.  It is what we were created to do.

We urgently need to let that spirit flow through us now because our world is in trouble.

Every time we practice expanding and deepening our vision, seeing ourselves and our world more truly, we are moving humanity a step closer to creating the realm of God on earth, a sustainable harmony grounded in justice, compassion and love, what my brother George calls a Golden Civilization.

It all starts with seeing—seeing what is golden in our hearts, and recognizing that same ember in all things.

In All Things Thee to See

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
from George Herbert’s “The Elixir”

My woodstove has a window in its door
because it warms the heart to watch the flames.
Right now, my vision through the glass is poor,
part glare, part soot.  My eyes are playing games.
They seek my presence in the vague reflection,
or fixate on the dark, obscuring flaws.
I have to force my eye to shift direction
and choose to see the gold behind the gauze,
beyond this drawn-down blind that judging mind
can make of anything we crave or hate.
Surfaces hold us when what wait behind
are gifts of light upon a sacred grate.
Training my eye to see past its desire
I pass through glass and fill with golden fire.

copyright 2021 Thomas Cary Kinder

Eradicating Endlessly

The text of this sonnet can be seen at the end of this reflection.

A reader expressed some discomfort with this sonnet for two reasons.  I realize that many if not most readers could have the same discomfort, so I will address it as a way to reflect on what usefulness I see in this poem.  Before I do, though, I suggest you take two minutes to watch the video.

Their discomfort: On the one hand, wine and chocolate are not problems to them.  On the other hand, guilt and shame are serious problems and this poem pushed those buttons.

The sonnet says,

he binged on wine and sinful chocolate cake,
helpless, possessed by fleshly appetite,
his one concern, the shape his flesh would take.

I realize that wine is not harmful for everyone and that chocolate cake may be “sinfully good” without being sinful in any other way.  They happen to be problems for the character in the sonnet, but readers should interpret them merely as symbols of whatever similar substances, activities or thoughts have the same effect for them.

What is it in your life that hooks you and makes you think, say or do something that you know is not good for you?  What makes you feel helplessly possessed by desire to some degree, however small?  What swings your focus onto your ego or surface self?  What makes you overly concerned about your appearance or any other superficial means toward feeling worthy of approval in others’ eyes or your own?

The last line talks about dirt, and that’s one of the jokes in this poem.  You can see in the video that I am treating lightly and humorously this heavy and important spiritual topic.  The poem is about the dirty little secrets we all have, the weaknesses, flaws and foibles we would rather hide.  It is about throwing open the curtains and windows and letting light and fresh air get in to expose the dirt for what it is and then transform it.

The usefulness of the poem is exactly the opposite of making us feel guilt and shame.  A good organic gardener will have weeds that need to be pulled.  That is part of the job—dealing with a natural occurrence that is not bad, not sinful, not anything to feel guilty or ashamed about, but something that is counterproductive to a garden’s beautiful fruitfulness.

Every once in a while the weeds will get ahead of the gardener.  That’s life.  Again, it’s not an occasion for guilt or shame, but for understanding and compassion and, yes, if possible, a sense of humor.

Coleman Barks’ translation of the Rumi poem entitled “The Guest House” captures this delightfully.  It ends:

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Click here to read the entire short poem.  If you don’t know it, I highly recommend it.  It’s a treasure!)

So where is the “guide from beyond” in the sonnet, “Eradicating Endlessly,” leading us?

To have humility and accept the dirt and the unhealthy, unwanted plants that naturally keep sprouting in our very human humus.

And then to get down on our knees and pull more root.

It’s just part of the job of being a gardener, tending the growth of our true self, clearing the way for the Spirit so that we can fulfill our calling and use our gifts and our entire life to bear the fruit the universe needs of us.

The Greek word “kenosis” is what we call self-emptying in the Christian spiritual tradition.  The concept is not exclusively or originally Christian—it is at the core of every contemplative path, every form of meditation, every process of seeking the oneness that is the most mature stage and state of human development.

If you want to grow horticulturally, you will need to practice weed-control; if you want to grow spiritually, you will need to practice self-emptying.

It will be a struggle sometimes, but as Swahili wisdom puts it, “celebrate the struggle!”  You might as well greet the weeds laughing as they sprout in your soul.

You will probably reach your goal sooner if you can do it from a place of humor and compassion rather than guilt and shame.  You will probably get more skillful more quickly at eradicating the dirty-secret thought-roots before they become action-fruits if you are not also having to eradicate the more pernicious ego-weeds that stem from taking yourself too seriously or pridefully.

I hope this sonnet will help you remember to do your work cheerfully, or at least to do your work!  And I hope you will find it useful to remember that you are not alone in that garden.  We’re on our knees right alongside you, day in and day out, and will be forever, celebrating the struggle.  Happy eradicating!

Eradicating Endlessly

He meant to write about a sick plant’s death,
and how he pulled its roots up from the pot,
and how the hole it left inhaled fresh breath
and gained new life, refilled with rich, dark rot.
He thought to symbolize his ego’s rout,
how he effected its eradication
and nurtured his true self—aversion, doubt,
attachment, gone! A fertile, new creation!
He would have written that, except last night
he binged on wine and sinful chocolate cake,
helpless, possessed by fleshly appetite,
his one concern, the shape his flesh would take.
His worst self sprouts another fat, pale shoot.
His hand sinks back in dirt to pull more root.

copyright 2021 Thomas Cary Kinder

Inscriptions of Epiphanies We Share

The text of this sonnet can be seen at the end of this reflection.

Epiphany comes from an ancient Greek word meaning to reveal.  When we say we have had an epiphany we mean the recognition of a truth that has suddenly been revealed to us, an “aha!” moment.  The church season after Christmas is called Epiphany because it celebrates God’s presence on earth revealed not only in Jesus but also in the manifestations of light we can see in all people and all nature.

Humanity needs both kinds of epiphanies right now as we search for a way forward through a world that has been made strange to us by our own actions.

We need to see new truths, and we need to see ancient truths anew.  We need to shape a new story out of the old, expressing a new understanding of our place and purpose in the universe.  Following our old story, our society has become polarized, our earth unstable, greed out of control.  Racial, economic and environmental injustice are bringing society to the point of upheaval.  And yet the heart of the old story has truth in it that we need to carry forward.

The violent riot that smashed its way into the United States Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 carried signs, shouted slogans and blasted music that identified it as a white supremacist, fundamentalist, Christian-nationalist event.

The New Yorker published footage taken by journalist Luke Mogelson from the midst of the insurrection that he filmed with his phone. Continue reading