The End of Advent: Bearing the Light of Love

Everyone can feel joy at Christmas no matter what their spiritual path because we celebrate the birth of a human who attained the highest stage and state of human consciousness, who embodied the oneness with all creation, the universal compassion and love of neighbor that flow from a fully evolved and mature heart and mind.

He saw from his advanced consciousness that anyone could attain this maturity, that humanity could someday get there as a whole and society be characterized by oneness, compassion and love.  He called it the realm of God on earth, life in harmony with the spirit of the universe, and he said we were close to getting there.

The reason everyone can feel joy during Advent is that it prepares us to have that same heart and mind.  This is the advent we are seeking and now we are two thousand years closer.

That enlightened human urged us to undertake the journey, and he taught us how.   .

The future of human civilization and all living beings depends on this shift to a new sustainable, just and harmonious life on earth happening as quickly as possible.  We will not survive long without attaining this new consciousness.

That is why Advent and Christmas are such gifts, because if we immerse ourselves in the spiritual journey they map out it will lead to our transformation and the transformation of the world.

Below are three reflections and sonnets for the final days of Advent leading up to Christmas.  I hope they help you on your journey and help you undergo the next transformation the Spirit needs you to make.  I hope they increase the love and light you shine to transform the world around you.

 

 

The Buddhist philosopher Ken Wilber says that one of the things that helps us on the journey toward the most mature level of consciousness is simply knowing that it is there to be attained, and that we are created and called to strive for it. No matter what our age or situation in life, we can move toward it, and it is one of the most important things that we can do for the world.

Madeleine L’Engle, the author of Wrinkle in Time and sixty other books, wrote a profoundly wise one entitled Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. In the passage below she talks about Mary the mother of Jesus as a model for how artists respond to their calling, but I encourage you to broaden the meaning to be about any person with any calling—including the important tasks life is asking of you now.  Understand that when this passage says artist it means you, whatever your gifts may be:

“The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command….

“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary….

“What would have happened to Mary (and to all the rest of us) if she had said No to the angel? She was free to do so. But she said, Yes….

“Mary did not always understand. But one does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding…there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing—knowing things which we are not yet able to understand.” (pp 18 ff)

Believe There Can Be Fulfillment

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:45

“Blessing always comes from trusting that God’s Word will be fulfilled.” Alan Culpepper in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on this verse

We each are born with our own Mary womb.
We all have gifts that come down from above,
or up from deep within—our Golden Room,
our greatest height and depth, our source of love
and life and light within our spirit’s heart
where truth and beauty rise, a hidden spring
that flows with what is our own form of art,
of bearing Christ, of Mary mothering.
The question is, do we believe that Word?
Even to hear it takes some faith, some trust,
but do we trust enough once we have heard
to act upon it, feeling that we must,
believing in this blessing God has willed
of gifts to share, Christ’s love through us fulfilled?

 

Advent calls us to wait and watch and pray, to make a contemplative journey through the darkness in preparation for the coming light.

If we take Advent as a time of inner reflection we are likely to see some unpleasant things about ourselves that are hidden in our darkest shadows.  We need to face them as part of our preparation for spiritual growth to a new level of consciousness.

Thomas Keating writes about this in his classic introduction to Centering Prayer, Open Mind, Open Heart.  “Our so-called good intentions look like a pile of dirty dishrags. We perceive that we are not as generous as we had believed. This happens because the divine light is shining brighter in our hearts. Divine love, by its very nature, accuses us of our innate selfishness.”

Mary serves as a model of how we can be transformed so that love and light can transform the world through us, and it can be discouraging or even downright depressing in Advent when our inner reflections or outer challenges show us how flawed we are compared to her.

The 20th Century Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, said that the perception of Mary as an exalted object of reverence can be misleading and unhelpful.  The reason she is highest, he says, is because she is lowest, having the humility and peace “without which we cannot be filled with God.”

Merton says that Mary’s greatest glory is that she “in no way resisted [God’s] love and [God’s] will… She was free from every taint of selfishness that might obscure God’s light in her being…. [She was] as pure as the glass of a very clean window that has no other function than to admit the light of the sun.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, pp 167-175)

Our calling is to be like Mary as much as we can, but Thomas Keating understood that we do not have to wallow in our flaws, nor do we have to spend years of arduous asceticism, scrubbing our fingers to the bone to purify our panes of glass.  All we have to do is let go and return our focus to a simple consent to God’s loving and transforming presence within us.

If we turn our flawed hearts and minds to the light, the light will prepare us for the transformation we seek.

Preparing the Stable

For you to have your birth in this old stable
I need to free up one sufficient stall
and make it clean, as much as I am able:
freshen the bedding; scrub down every wall.
To make of it a Christly habitat
it must be humble, full of love and true,
a place as welcoming to goat or rat
as Spirit made flesh, pure of heart, born new.
But my old habits fight the change I need,
foul matted dung and straw built up for years,
flawed manger, gnawed where my addictions feed,
failed whitewash painted by my shames and fears.
Lost in despair, I look to your star’s light.
When I look back, my stall is clean and right.

Continue reading

Advent Joy in a Time of Darkness

Orientation in the Dark

Advent was invented as a spiritual journey through a time of darkness when we watch and wait and pray in preparation for the coming of the light.

This time of year is emotionally challenging for many people under the best of circumstances.  Advent 2020 is excruciating for millions more who are affected by the pandemic and the glaring economic, racial and environmental injustices that it has only made worse.  The usual comforts of the season are largely unavailable to us, making the darkness feel harder.

And yet in the wisdom of our tradition, as we enter the very darkest days, Advent gives us Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent when we light the candle of Joy.

The easy and culturally popular approach to Advent is to practice denial of the darkness, focusing all season on the glittering lights and festive pleasures of Christmas.  This is understandable, but it misses the central point of Advent and the transformative wisdom we need right now: joy comes not in spite of the darkness but as a result of our faithful journey through it.

The truth is that we live much of our lives in the dark.  The beauty of the night appears only when our eyes have adjusted.  Then we can see the stars behind the stars, and the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness does not overcome.

Seeing in the Dark

It was drizzling. The little bit of snow was melting.  It was two weeks before Christmas, a dark, dreary afternoon.  I was worried about people I love who are suffering from severe depression.  I was feeling depressed myself.  It had been the hardest and darkest of Advents.

I drove around the bend in the dirt road and our mailboxes came in view, a collection of different shapes and sizes ranging from a shiny stainless steel replica of a sugarhouse to my own green-paint-over-rust veteran of many winters.

I gasped.  Someone in the neighborhood had hung beautifully arranged evergreen branches with bright red bows on the two weather-beaten posts holding up the boxes.

A smile covered my worried face like fresh snow and the song “Good King Wenceslas” sprang from the darkness within me.  I tacked up a note, “Thank you, wonderful neighbors!”

The intention, I later learned, was “to share some light and hope” in a dark time.  It worked.  I carried that joy all the way home and through the night.

It worked for the neighbors who gave me that gift, too.  Advent leads us to the wisdom that acts of love and compassion toward others give us joy as we give joy to them.

The Wisdom of Joy in the Darkest Places

The wisdom of Viktor Frankl comes to us from his suffering in Auschwitz, one of the densest darknesses of the Nazi holocaust.  He wrote, “As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before….

“We were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces…. I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom.  I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. ‘Ex lux in tenebris lucet’—and the light shineth in the darkness…” (Man’s Search for Meaning p59f)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama echo Viktor Frankl in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.

Tutu suffered with his people under the brutal violence of apartheid.  His prostate cancer had returned as they were writing the book.

The Dalai Lama fled into exile as the Chinese invaded his beloved Tibet murdering many of his people and crushing their cultural and spiritual heritage.  He has lived with the grief of continuing traumas for decades.

Yet both of these men shine a joyous light around them.

They credit the same wisdom that Viktor Frankl discovered in Auschwitz.  One day the thought of Frankl’s wife came to him in a moment of intense suffering.  He did not know that she had already died in another death camp at age 24.  He knew she could be dead, but she was alive and vividly present in his mind.  He wrote of that moment,

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.  The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest good to which [humanity] can aspire…. The salvation of [humanity] is through love and in love.  I understood how a [person] who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss…” (p57)

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu book on joy has a chapter entitled, “Nothing Beautiful Comes without Some Suffering.”  The book has sections on fear, stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, despair, adversity, illness and death.  These themes may seem strange in The Book of Joy, but both men insist that the darkness not only cannot destroy joy, but it provides a path to it.

They see that love is the key, in its many dimensions.  Their “Eight Pillars of Joy” include humility, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity, as well as humor, perspective and acceptance.

The third and fourth Sundays of Advent traditionally are Joy and Love.  The Taoist symbol expresses their relationship to one another, as it does the relationship between darkness and light, and also, perhaps, between a mother and the child in her womb.

Advent Wisdom from the Womb

Lisa Kutolowski of Metanoia of Vermont wrote a beautiful Advent reflection on her journey through the darkness of wanting a baby but being unable to conceive.  She writes, “By fully entering the pain of my unmet longing, I received the ability to more freely love my future child. I am exceedingly grateful for this time of waiting. Its fruits are the greatest gift I can imagine giving to Anna…. I am certain that more months or years of waiting would have revealed more layers of attachment and with those revelations, more gifts.”

Lisa ends with this profound insight: “It is essential we are honest about the pain of waiting. Without this honesty, we will find ways to skirt around the pain – avoiding, distracting, deflecting. This attempt to escape feeling the pain almost always transfers the pain to someone else. We seek security, wealth, or pleasure at the expense of someone else and ultimately, millions of people’s unacknowledged pain leads to entangled systems of injustice. Additionally, if we can’t look our personal pain in the face, how can we take an honest look at the grave injustices and inequities in the world? If we can’t acknowledge the pain of our personal unmet longing, how will we ever be free to hear the cry of the poor and the disinherited?”

The Darkness Is Our Teacher

Lisa’s pain became her teacher.  The Dalai Lama has said that the Chinese were his greatest teachers. This can be true of all our struggles. The darkness we pass through teaches us much about light that we could not learn to see otherwise.

The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

In that spirit, here are two Advent sonnets written from within my own darkness.  I hope they lead you to compassion and lovingkindness for others and yourself, and to the joy of keeping faith with the Advent journey.

 

Advent’s Darkest Depths of Silence

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah… Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John…. Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Luke 1:13-20

Old Zechariah, tongue clamped dumb from doubt—
at least he got to watch her belly swell.
He saw just how his crisis would come out,
how he would have a greater hope to tell
than ever he had dared to think or dream.
He saw the advent that his love was bearing.
He never wondered, are things as they seem?
The angel’s word, proved, kept him from despairing.
In my tongue’s drought, when words wilt, lifeless dust,
when nothing sprouts, no swelling of gestation,
I do my temple tasks, enacting trust.
I pray, write, preach, tend souls, my called vocation,
but get no sign of dawn or worth or child,
just darkness—doubt and faith unreconciled.

 

Advent of the Christ Self

What was in Mary just before the light,
the voice of Gabriel, the power of God,
came filling all of her—heart, womb and sight?
This morning I am hoping she was flawed,
and not the perfect vessel others claim.
I need to think of her as sad and yearning
for something she perhaps could not yet name,
an aching emptiness where she kept turning,
searching within the lightless void inside
and feeling devastation in the loss
of what she did not find. She prayed and cried
and felt forsaken on her longing’s cross—
sometimes self-loathing, sometimes mere self-doubt
until the Christ self filled her lost self out.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Advent Calling, Second Sunday of Advent & Mindful Birthing

Advent is designed to be a path of inner and cultural transformation through darkness into light.  Other spiritual traditions have parallel paths.

Finding and taking a path like Advent to inner transformation is urgent for us each because cultural transformation is now urgent for us all.

I quote Gus Speth over and over because our one hope for survival as a nation and species is that we place his wisdom at the top of our individual life goals and daily priorities:

“Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness.” (from his book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability)

Gus says, “We need a spiritual and cultural transformation.”  Pope Francis, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and the Dalai Lama all agree in recent books.

This post is a continuation of my poems and reflections on Advent.  Advent’s path progresses along a series of themes.  The first Sunday is hope, and the second peace.  They are followed by joy and love and finally the light of transformed spiritual consciousness represented by Christ: humanity fully evolved and matured.

Jesus looked at a society that was in many ways like ours and said, “If only you had recognized the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:42)

The Hebrew word shalom means peace in the fullest sense of harmony, wholeness and wellbeing—both peace and the conditions that make for peace.  True shalom requires a mature, transformed heart and mind capable of recognizing the oneness of all people and all the earth and therefore acting with compassion and justice for all.

Advent calls us to shalom and adds to it the wisdom of Taoism:

No peace in the world without peace in the nation;
No peace in the nation without peace in the town;
No peace in the town without peace in the home;
No peace in the home without peace in the heart.

The Eastern Orthodox saint, Seraphim of Sarov, put the same principle this way: “Have peace in yourself and thousands will find salvation around you.”

How can we find the peace and things that make for peace that we urgently need?  Below are three sonnets that reflect on this question.

Continue reading

Advent: A Slow Approach

[The words of this Advent sonnet are printed below.]

The season of Advent represents the most urgently important wisdom the Christian tradition has to teach us right now.  It holds the key to the spiritual transformation that we need in order to heal our divided and damaged world.

The word “advent” means the approach or arrival of something.  The season of Advent gives us metaphors to understand our current limited vision and way of being as a kind of darkness, and the more developed, mature heart and mind of Christ as a kind of light that can be born within us.

The season of Advent is about preparing to receive this transformation by opening our hearts and minds to the light as widely and purely as we can so that it will fill us and shine through us into the world.

We can seek and find the light in nature, or in art, or in the vulnerable, hurting or oppressed people and earth that we turn to with compassion and a helping hand, but in order to find light outside of ourselves we need to prepare to find it within ourselves. Continue reading

Unbroken Prayer

This sonnet is a little parable about two monks, a novice and a master sage.  It can be read literally, or you could see the master sage as anyone or any situation in your life that challenges you.  The poem speaks to all forms of suffering that we transform into wisdom over time.

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.  It relates to another sonnet on this site and its reflection, Judging at the Ox Pull.

Greta Thunberg believes that humanity is unable to address the climate crisis because we do not yet have the level of consciousness we need to change civilization as much as we must.  She puts it this way, “To get out of this climate crisis, we need a different mindset from the one that got us into it.”

The same could be said of any crisis, personal as well as global.

Greta echoes the wisdom of Albert Einstein who said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…. A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.” (New York Times – May 25 1946, p.13 – ‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein’)

The poem “Unbroken Prayer” is a parable about attaining a new level of consciousness that is able to resolve and move beyond obstacles that we have not been able to overcome. On its surface it describes an evolutionary inner path that spiritual sages of all traditions have found and mapped, the contemplative path, traveled by means of meditation and mindfulness practices and spiritual friendship.

Greta has come to this “different mindset” by another path.  She says, “People like me – who have Asperger’s syndrome and autism…. see through the static.”

It is urgently important that we find a path beyond the way of thinking and living that has led to the crises that now threaten to destroy the ecosystems on which all life depends and the democracies that have aspired to ever greater freedom, equality and justice.

We need the dominant culture of human civilization to evolve, and that will take millions of individuals who can “see through the static”—the static of the self as well as the static of our current culture—millions who rise like the novice in the poem to act from an enlightened heart.

The spirit of life has guided evolution over billions of years from the simplicity of the first single-celled prokaryotes to the complexity of the human mind.  It doesn’t matter whether you think of that spirit as a personal God or as a set of laws—what matters is that the same sense of direction that has guided life to this moment is within us each now, and it clearly wants to point its creations in the direction of survival and ever greater life.

It is not just a higher power, it is the highest power within and around us.

The highest power in the universe wants to help us find our way through the crises and obstacles we face, so the most important thing we can do now is connect to that power and listen to its guidance.  We can find the strength we need in it to enable us to serve its purpose with our every thought, act and gift.

The last words of the sonnet are “Stay there.”  It means to stay connected to that power in whatever you do, to live from the new mindset it gives you, and to work from that transformed consciousness to transform the world.

Unbroken Prayer

When he would come across the novice praying
the master sage would prod him with his cane
and tell him they had bills that needed paying
or order him to go unplug a drain.
The novice knew that this was just a test.
Still, to be deep and yearning toward the goal,
his sacred calling, then be poked and stressed—
he felt rage surge that he could not control.
For years he suffered the indignity
of watching as his worst self would arise,
but slowly he gained equanimity,
and welcoming his weakness, he grew wise.
One day he rose within unbroken prayer.
The master said, “No, I will go.  Stay there.”

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Judging at the Ox Pull

The presidential debates, climate change, George Floyd—the news is full of human power gone beyond sane limits.  Yet we see even more displays of power restrained and used responsibly. Gandhi was right when he said that violence is not the dominant human instinct—nonviolence is far stronger in us. If that were not the case, he said, cities could not exist.

We can still choose the path of lovingkindness that represents our truest, best homo sapiens self.  This poem reflects on that choice.

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This sonnet relates to another on this site, Waking the Power, and also Gandhi’s Path of Higher Power: From Zero to One” on The Golden Room website.

Bill McKibben wrote a sobering but ultimately hopeful book entitled Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?  The great hope he finds is that humans can destroy, “but also we can decide not to destroy.”

He writes in his epilogue, “Yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact, as we’ve seen, we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that.”

McKibben sees two technologies as most important in changing the course of human civilization away from self-destruction.  The first is the solar panel.

The second is nonviolence, which most people do not think of as a technology because they do not understand it fully.  It is a technology that enables us “to stand up to the powerful and the reckless.”

Many people know of the dramatic incidents of civil disobedience led by Mahatma Gandhi in India.  Fewer realize that most of his campaign was made up of constructive programs designed to create a strong, independent Indian society—improvements to farming, local business, education and health care.

Even fewer people realize that there was a third part of his “technology” of nonviolence: Gandhi firmly believed that anyone could do what he did, but he was equally adamant that no one could do it without being grounded, guided and empowered by the spirit.

Gandhi is a model for everyone in the inner source he turned to in order to guide and empower his life, but not everyone shares his calling to lead a social revolution.  Some of us, thank goodness, feel called to work with oxen or to be teachers or healers or countless other vocations.

How can we find that source within us?  Eknath Easwaran explains how Gandhi found it in his invaluable book, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World.  Gandhi confessed to having been a coward as a boy.  A wise elder taught him to say the mantra “Rama” (a Hindu name of god) whenever he was afraid.

He tried it, and he found it helped, so he kept using it even when he was not afraid.  He credited all his power, wisdom and love to that practice combined with daily meditation.

The results were amazing.  Easwaran tells the story of an evening prayer meeting when a deadly cobra came into the outdoor space where hundreds were sitting on the ground.  Panic began to rise and people could have been trampled in the stampede, but with a motion of his hand Gandhi signaled for people to remain where they were.

Maybe drawn by the motion, the cobra came toward Gandhi.  It slithered up onto his bare thighs.  Gandhi remained calm the entire time, no doubt saying “Rama, Rama, Rama” to himself.  The calm seemed to affect the cobra as well as the crowd of people.  It slithered across his lap and off into the brush.  (Gandhi the Man, p. 115)

The story is emblematic of Gandhi’s encounters with individuals and empires.  His presence was transformational.

The consequences of human abuse of power are creating suffering on a massive scale, whether from killer climate events or economic inequity or racism.  We are undergoing convulsions of fear in our society, leading to even greater violence.

We do not need to give in to that base instinct.  We have a deeper impulse in us.  We call that nonviolent, generous-hearted, highest law of human nature by the simple word, “love.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky gave us the teachings of his character, the spiritual master, Father Zosima, in The Brothers Karamozov.  Zosima said:

“One may stand perplexed before some thought, especially seeing men’s sin, asking oneself: ‘Shall I take it by force, or by humble love?’  Always resolve to take it by humble love.  If you so resolve once and for all, you will be able to overcome the whole world.  A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it.” (Pevear and Volokhonsky translation)

I have been deeply moved by the power of that love in the judging ring at the Tunbridge World’s Fair.  You can see sometimes a small eight year old girl guiding two gigantic oxen around the circle in perfect harmony with merely a word and a light tap, her love of them and their love of her evident in every move.

The poem below takes place in another area of the Fair—not the quiet, open, airy and light ring but the loud, dark, crowded, walled-in runway of the pull contests.  Even there, the power of humble love can be seen doing its transformative work.

Judging at the Ox Pull

The idling tractor’s new hydraulic winch
hauled back the stone boat easily each try
even when loaded so to move an inch
the massive oxen foamed with wild rolled eye.
Some drovers screamed and whipped their ox so hard
they laid a lash mark down the fair-groomed hide,
and though the goading left the charged air scarred
the crowd would laugh to see so little pride.
But other teamsters kept themselves restrained—
a quiet word, a tap or pat or prod,
and even losing, dignity remained
as something worth more, something won for God.
The diesel fumes and screams and whips all show
the limits past which power should not go.

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Waking the Power

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

This poem and reflection follow the poem and reflection How to Walk on Water.

Astronauts look back at the earth from the moon and see how tiny it is in relation to space, like a lifeboat on an endless ocean.  Today the lives on that boat are in great danger.  We have created a violent storm that threatens to sink us.  Our thoughts and desires have created the storm, expressed in the way of living our societies have promoted.

Humanity has caused this danger and humanity can prevent it, but not without a higher power of wisdom and creativity than we currently possess.  As Albert Einstein said, speaking of one aspect of the entire storm: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…. A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.” (New York Times – May 25 1946, p.13 – ‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein’)

The wisdom of the 12 Steps lays out a practical, tested way to transform human thinking and behavior. The first step we need is to acknowledge that our wisdom, our strength of will and our current level of thinking is inadequate to save us from the insanity that threatens to destroy our life—and this is true whether that insanity be addiction to alcohol or shopping or nuclear weapons or fossil fuels.

The assumption that we can fix ourselves can sink us.  People who are suicidal need higher power to attain a new way of seeing, understanding and functioning in their life.  They need the higher power of wise guides and psychological tools and spiritual practices to help them transform their consciousness and behavior.  It takes a higher power to save suicidal societies as well as individuals.

We need to change the way we live to keep life on earth afloat, we need to change governments, businesses and homes, and we need to change fast, but no material change will be possible without humanity changing its heart, mind and spirit sufficiently to transform our dominant culture.

The success of the 12 Steps depends on believing that a higher power can restore us to sanity and we by ourselves cannot, and then turning our will and our life over to the care of that higher power, however we define it.  The 11th Step is to increase our conscious connection to the higher power through meditation and prayer, seeking its guidance and the power to follow it.

Secular and spiritual mindfulness and meditation practices transform the brain in ways that neuroscience is able to document.  Thomas Keating co-founded the Christian forms of heartfulness and Centering Prayer, and he observed over decades that the real transformation they created was visible not as much in the inner experience as in the way people lived.

The fruits of mindfulness and meditation are the very changes we need in order to save life on earth: an evolution toward universal compassion and unconditional love based on a new perception of the oneness of all beings and all the earth.

This is what Gandhi saw released when people ‘reduced themselves to zero,’ as he did through his own contemplative practice.  It is the power that enabled him to change the thinking and behavior of the greatest culture the planet had yet seen, the British Empire.

Human consciousness has evolved in miraculous ways in the past, and we seem to be on the verge of the next leap.  The wisdom and power we need are in the boat with us even now, they are latent in every heart and mind, asleep in the stern while we are flailing desperately to avert disaster by our old way of thinking and working.  This poem is about waking the power we need. Continue reading

How to Walk on Water

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

Several years ago a New Yorker article explored how the brain comes up with new insights that seem miraculous—epiphanies that solve problems instantly that all our study and anxious thinking have never figured out.

We need such miracles right now.  We need them to find a way to work together as one people to solve one of the biggest threats to survival humanity has ever faced and one of the biggest threats to democracy our nation has ever faced.

It would feel like a miracle if we could address the climate crisis or pandemic or surge in global refugees or increasingly violent racial, economic and environmental injustices.  It would feel like a miracle if we could overcome our polarization.

Our generation needs to work miracles, and fast, so we need to be smart about it.  We need to understand how people have worked miracles in the past.

The New Yorker article talked about a contemplative master who had spent years practicing mindfulness and meditation.  He was part of a large scientific study where people were given a set of word problems to solve.  At first he was terrible at it as he strained to think.  Then he used his well-developed contemplative skill to let go of his thoughts and quiet his brain and open to his spiritual dimension, and suddenly he started solving problem after problem, better than anyone else in the study had been able to do.

The article reveals this as a pattern.  People hit an impasse and realize their way of thinking is not working.  They stop, let go and open, and whether immediately or at a random moment, insight comes in a flash.  It happens to Nobel Prize wining scientists in the shower or sitting on a bus, it happened to the wildfire-fighter Wag Dodge when a howling fifty foot wall of flame was seconds away from overtaking him.

Science confirms what spiritual masters of all traditions and cultures have known for thousands of years.  We have a source of knowing within us that is beyond our ordinary way of thinking, and we open to it and access it by changing our mode of being.  Meditation and mindfulness, contemplative prayer and heartfulness—these are practices designed to transform our mode of being and open us to higher wisdom and power.

We need miracles, so we need miracle workers.  We need people who will lead humanity to work collective miracles, so we need people who are skilled in the practices that transform consciousness and bring new insights.  We need you to do this, if you will, please.

We need to learn:

How to Walk on Water

After he sent the crowds he fed away,
and after his disciples left by boat,
he went up on the mountainside to pray.
He went to rest in God.  He went to float
calm inner seas and let the Spirit’s breath
and current turn his prow and guide his craft,
knowing the fore would always point to death,
knowing his fear would always point to aft.
His prayer was just a silent letting go,
trusting that what he emptied, God would fill.
Whether or not God did, he did not know
until he felt the Spirit’s forceful will
drive him back down from contemplation’s rock
with courage matching waves, and faith to walk.

Based on Matthew 14:22-33

copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder

Perfect in Her Eyes

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

I wrote in my introduction to the poem “Practical Theology,”

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin was the chaplain at Yale when he became famous for his courageous words and actions as a leader of the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.  Bill welcomed conversations with students who were turning away from the church.  He would ask them to tell him about the God they didn’t believe in anymore—usually an old white man on the throne who was hateful, wrathful and vengeful toward any who displeased him or failed to believe in him.  Then Bill would surprise them by telling them he didn’t believe in that God either.

The God that Bill believed in, and that I believe in, is a God whose love is like the most generous-hearted, charitable, unselfish human love, only even more universal and unconditional.  “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  (I John 4:16b)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

It is a huge diminishment to limit that love to an ideal father’s.  The scriptures compare it to a mother hen’s love and in this poem, “Perfect in Her Eyes,” it is a young girl’s love.

“God” does not need to mean a personal being, it can be understood as the force that created the universe and sparked into existence the first living cells and that flows through all life as a sacred way of love and life and light.  God is a stream of living water that is the source of all life, all inspired creativity and growth, all justice, equality and peace, all beloved, inclusive community, all compassion and mercy and forgiveness.

The Twelve Step tradition wisely recognizes that we can think of this higher power in any way that works for us.  The important thing is to come to believe that it exists, and to place our will and our life in its care.  We release the canoe of our being into the flow of its stream and find that it will not only carry us through life but also comfort our bumps and free us from our snags.

I talked about kenosis, metanoia and agape in my introduction to “Practical Theology.”

Continue reading

Practical Theology

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

It’s bad enough that the majority of people I know have given up on the church, but it feels much worse when they think that I am a defender of the church that they disdain.

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin was the chaplain at Yale when he became famous for his courageous words and actions as a leader of the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.  Bill welcomed conversations with students who were turning away from the church.  He would ask them to tell him about the God they didn’t believe in anymore—usually an old white man on the throne who was hateful, wrathful and vengeful toward any who displeased him or failed to believe in him.  Then Bill would surprise them by telling them he didn’t believe in that God either.

And neither do I.  Nor do I see the purpose of the church or the Christian spiritual path as being about believing in Christ.  The purpose is to be Christ, not believe in him.  The purpose is to cultivate in us the same Spirit-filled heart and mind that moved him to love and serve and sacrifice to create the realm of God on earth, meaning a society founded on the principles of universal oneness, of unconditional compassion, mercy and love, of the Golden Rule, applied to governments and the marketplace as much as to individuals.

The spiritual path or Way of Christ that I teach is about personal transformation and world transformation, in both cases evolving toward the ideal that Christ taught and represented.  This ideal is the same that every major positive religion and philosophy teaches.  You can see the social ideal laid out beautifully in the Global Ethic of the Parliament of the World’s Religions that representatives of dozens of spiritual traditions have endorsed.

What we need to believe is that transformation comes through the higher power and sacred Way that an authentic spiritual path guides us to follow.  The path’s first principle is that we need to surrender the will of our ego and allow the Spirit to lead it.  This is the hardest part of the path.  It requires a daily, moment by moment life-long practice.

I teach in the contemplative Christian tradition. I use three ancient Greek words to describe the path of personal transformation that leads to having the heart and mind of Christ and being one with God and all creation. Continue reading

Even Here God May Be Found and Served

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

People in my congregation are trying to discern how they can best serve in this crucial moment in history—how to choose among all the ways and places they could invest their gifts and time.  This post is one of a series reflecting on that question from different angles.   In an earlier related sonnet post, “To the Land.” I wrote:

This poem talks literally about part of my own path to new vision, but it is speaking metaphorically about all our different paths.  We do not all find our place of vision in nature, but we all have a land, a place deep within us, a sacred glade, a secret room—a place we reach through some inner journey, some form of quieting that enables us to hear the still, small voice, the silent stirring that is the spirit of life speaking to us the words we need.  The world urgently needs us to listen now, and to live by what we hear, and to share what we learn.  So whatever form this takes for you, I urge you to go [to that land.]

The poem “Even Here God May Be Found and Served” is a difficult one for me.  It feels confessional and defensive because someone I respected attacked me for choosing to live and serve in a rural, natural setting.

I know that I am not alone in this choice, that I am part of a long and, at times, honored tradition of writers and spiritual teachers—from the ancient Chinese wilderness poets like Han Shan to my fellow Ohio-Vermonter, David Budbill (1940-2016), or, in the Christian line, from St. Anthony to St. Francis to Thomas Merton.

Yet I felt like a failure when I finally gave up my years-long attempt to live and serve in urban settings and retreated to these wooded hills and pastoral village churches.  I feel uncomfortable with my comfort here when I look at areas that are more on the front line of the racial, economic and environmental injustice I am trying to reform.

A wise 90 year old parishioner heard me wrestling with this once and spoke sternly saying that I needed to live where I lived in order to be able to serve as I served.  I think she was right, but I am not sure I will ever be completely free of a nagging counter-argument.

It is hard to spend an hour in meditation or prayer when there is work I could be doing to help people directly.  Some days I cut out that contemplative time.  The result is always that I am not my best self, and the longer I spend away from my place of inner connecting and centering, the more compulsive and out of balance my work and life become.

I have found the same to be true of where I live: some plants need shade—transplant them to full sun and they wilt.

Others need sun and can’t tolerate shade: a Catholic priest was assigned to a rural parish.  He considered it a waste of his life.  He felt strongly called to engage in an urban, social justice, direct-service ministry.  He complained bitterly to God and to his colleagues.  People tried to comfort him saying, “Even here God may be found and served.”  They were right, but not for him.  His anger subsided into depression, and his parish suffered from his suffering. 

He had the same problem I did in reverse, but I doubt that he felt like a failure when he finally was placed in the setting where he was at home.  I doubt he felt he had to defend his heart’s clear calling and need.  Our culture has a bias of action over contemplation and urban over rural.

As I said in my introduction to “To the Land,” the world urgently needs us to listen right now.  It needs us to find the place where we are called to serve and pour ourselves into it.  The right place is different for us each.  We need to find our own because that is where our positive energy will be nourished and sustained.

Wherever that is for you, you will find it absolutely true that… Continue reading

To the Land

[The words of this sonnet are printed below.]

We may live in a polarized society but one thing that unites most of us is the perception that many of our social systems have failed to provide the life of our ideals and dreams.  They have proven unsustainable and left the vast majority of people economically and environmentally insecure and caused many groups of people to suffer chronic injustice.  We need a new vision that can unite us and lead us forward.

The new vision we need is not a campaign slogan, it is not an -ism, it is a way of seeing humanity and our place on earth anew.  We need the vision of oneness and sustainable social goodness that the great saints, prophets and philosophers of all traditions have tried to help us attain.  We need the transformation of human consciousness that they underwent and showed is possible for us all.

Who is the “we” that needs this?  It is not just humanity, not just all living species who are endangered by human activity, it is life itself, the whole project of life on earth beginning with the first living cells billions of years ago and flowing on into the potential lives of billions of years to come.  If you believe in a creator God, or a universal force of love and life and light that sparks evolution, that spirit would be part of the “we,” too.

The good news is that this collective “we” of life wants to live, and all successful life-forms have programmed into themselves the ability to adapt and evolve.  Human consciousness has proven its ability to do so many times, for instance in the Axial Age when Greek philosophers, artists and writers, Hebrew prophets and the founders of the great Asian religions reflected a major world-wide advance, or in the 17th Century dawning of the Age of Enlightenment.

We have within us the potential to grow rapidly in order to survive and thrive, and we need to fulfill that potential now.  How can we do it?

This poem talks literally about part of my own path to new vision, but it is speaking metaphorically about all our different paths.  We do not all find our place of vision in nature, but we all have a land, a place deep within us, a sacred glade, a secret room—a place we reach through some inner journey, some form of quieting that enables us to hear the still, small voice, the silent stirring that is the spirit of life speaking to us the words we need.

The world urgently needs us to listen now, and to live by what we hear, and to share what we learn.  So whatever form this takes for you, I urge you to go Continue reading

Poetry Salon on Resurrection

Poets Garret Keizer, Sydney Lea, Mark Hart and Tom Kinder

I participated in a Poetry Salon at the Congregational Church in Newbury, Vermont, on May 4, 2019 along with Sydney Lea, Garret Keizer and Mark Hart.  It was hosted by the Rev. Dr. Michael Caldwell at the Newbury, Vermont Congregational Church and was on the theme of resurrection, more as a law of nature than religious doctrine. I read from upcoming books in my Sonnets for the Struggle series and from my upcoming collection, Sonnets of Celebration and Love.  I share expanded reflections and poems from that day in the half-hour video below.

You can find poems by the other three inspired, excellent poets on their websites, https://sydneylea.net/, https://garretkeizer.com/, and http://www.markhartpoetry.com/. Thank you to Janis Moore for the photo of us at the Salon.

You can follow this website in the sidebar (click on the little three horizontal lines symbol to see it) if you would like to hear and see more of my writings and find out when my books become available. Thank you!