Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Comparative Mythology’ Category

Holy & Great Friday, April 2, 2010: The Passion

אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני translates ” ēlâhî ēlâhî lamâ šabaqtanî,” or, by one fascinating translation into English,  “My G-d, my G-d,  for such a purpose have you kept me.”

On this mournful day, the Church commemorates the suffering of our great teacher, Yeshua, a Son of G-d and Man, a soter whose destiny was to fulfill prophecy in drawing humankind closer to the One who caused the first breath of creation. This is the day on which we contemplate the central dilemma of life: transcendence and suffering. We are spirit embodied and the Christ is the epitome of that embodiment. He shared with the Buddha the role of divine exemplar, one whose mission is to chart the way forward toward paradise, not later, but in the here and now.

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann captures this pivotal dilemma in referring to the mystery of the “Crucified G-d.” How are we to understand this mystery? How do we fashion a lifestyle on it that is neither simplistic and fundamentalistically hyper-emotional, nor maudlin and masochistic, but one infused instead with mystical power, upliftment, enlightened insight and existential significance?

Is it possible to do so and keep the full measure of reason? This day itself suggests our continuous struggle with the problem of suffering in the world. It has been understandably argued that either G-d is all-knowing and not good given a world full of suffering, or G-d is simply not all-knowing    ( and that would mean he isn’t G-d). This conundrum remains so if we apply dualistic reasoning. A third way is to eliminate the two poles of this seeming dilemma (Suffering-Transcendence), and focus on conversion, transmutation, and  metamorphosis. Jung made a comprehensive study of psychical alchemy and there is tremendous richness in it that informs a post-modern reading of the Christic message.

In transmuting materials from one to another, one often applies heat. In so many instances, heat is the catalytic agency involved in breaking down molecules and allowing recombinations, more vigorous mixing, and the emergence of new things. There are sometimes unpleasant by-products to these chemical reactions. Our lives bring moments of joy and moments of pain, delightful and mournful days. In all moments, we are invited by the Spirit to adapt, search for new avenues and forms of expression. A very significant block to seeing beyond suffering is the cult of happiness. It’s the wrong goal. The better target is joy and ever-deepening meaning.

We all can build a long litany of the ways in which we suffer ( physically, emotionally, and spiritually). At times, the suffering is small. Other times, it’s great. All experience is another teaching, another side-road excursion along the course of our journey. We are, as are all things, rich in potential to be forever new. An 80-year-old woman recently learned that she had a short time to live and, so, she scheduled a first skydiving adventure. We all have a finite amount of time; nothing new in that. What we do with the time is another thing. Each moment of suffering, each “cross”, is a door to insight, awareness in the moment, and our felt, vulnerable connection to all living things.

The crucified G-d is a G-d inside human experience, not outside of it: A G-d intimately infused within the creation, not one that somehow mythologically stands apart from it. Jesus is put to death by ignorance and fear, but re-emerges as Light and new hope; he transcends the horror and the pain. As he suffered on the Cross, he says ” .. for such a purpose have you kept me.” And, at his last breath, he cried out, “It is finished.” The Mass, Missa, is the dismissal, the commissioning. In moving through suffering and into death with complete acceptance of the moment, he rises again in a preternatural state transcending space and time.

We know by daily illustration that mind can traverse infinity. Life is a school in the Lord’s service preparing us with each day’s log of the journey, the discoveries, the adventures, and the misadventures. Today is Good Friday; it’s goodness is in its embrace of the darkness of tomorrow with full anticipation and deep knowing that Sunday will surely follow.

It is time to mourn and face what is frightening and real while holding fast to our capacity to redeem it and reshape it in shared consciousness. Our great opus is not yet finished. For us, who are still among the sentient, the jobs ahead are a joyful burden: a responsibility to live according to the Prayer of Shantideva, “to be the doctor and the medicine” for all sentient beings.

May your sorrows on this Good Friday be transformed into hope and new Light. May I, at my last breath on Earth, have the awareness and knowing that makes it possible to say, with Jesus: “ for such a purpose have you kept me.”

May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.

May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.
May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

Just like space
And the great elements such as earth,
May I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

And until they pass away from pain
May I also be the source of life
For all the realms of varied beings
That reach unto the ends of space.

Shantideva – 8th Century

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

Norman’s Woe is a coastal reef in Gloucester Massachusetts immortalized by the tragic poem ” The wreck of the Hesperus” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It tells of the captain of a ship, the Hesperus, who met a fierce storm off the Eastern coast of New England. His daughter was onboard. Other senior crewman offered their good counsel but the captain was filled with hubris and refused to hear it.

In trying to save his daughter from the ravaging seas, he had her strapped to the mast to avoid the threat of seeing her swept overboard by the tall and ferocious waves crashing on deck. Horribly, all perished, including the girl, who drowned as the ship capsized and, having been tied to the mast, was unable to free herself and possibly survive the calamity.

The tale of an innocent’s death and that of all crewman on the reef is a cautionary fable loosely based on a devastating blizzard that in fact did occur off the coast of New England in 1839. The story rings in my ears as I read the wonderful just published book, Breakfast with Socrates, by Robert Rowland Smith.

In this breezy and very accessible retelling of the legacy of philosophy, Smith places each of many of the great philosophers in the midst of our everyday experiences, and we get an opportunity to briefly “dine with them” and imagine conversation on the questions with which we struggle as we navigate the mysteries, triumphs, and travails of our lives. All of this got me to thinking about the enormous treasure trove that is the classics.

Each of the great books, treasures that have withstood the test of time, offer enlightened and ever fresh commentary on our condition. Each of the voices from the ancient choir of the lovers of wisdom offer free counsel to anyone with the courage and mental fortitude to embrace it. Yet, the overwhelming lack of interest, generally speaking, in the classical library remains an undeniable reality.

The cry for relevance, practical plug-and-play utility, and small-minded self-help prescriptions is deafening. It is as if two meals are served: One a banquet of culinary genius, gourmet foods and great wines, and all for free, and it is rejected; while the other,  a grease-stained bag of fast food burgers costing far more than it’s worth, offering unwholesome calories, and containing excessive undisclosed filler materials and meat shot full of antibiotics and hormones, is the one hastily chosen and enthusiastically consumed.

It is time to go back, all of us, regardless of how well versed we are in the classics in general and the writings of the great philosophers in particular, and set up a renewed daily diet of wholesome calories. Furthermore, here’s the irony, like the free gourmet meal, the classics can be downloaded for free.

It is time to learn the lesson of the Hesperus and listen to the counsel of elder sages who speak to us from the deep recesses of recorded history. We can still save the young girl,  the archetypal Sophia, who is the the very soul of Wisdom. We can still rescue her from drowning in the turbulent and vicious seas of postmodernity and 21st century egoism and spiritual consumerism. We can resuscitate her and so revel in the sweetness of her voice, the alertness of her sight, and youthful embrace of the real.

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s Woe!

Excerpted from the poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

I marvel at human ingenuity and it assumes so many forms. Not the least demonstration of our creative prowess as a species is the invention of signs for every conceivable condition and situation under the sun. When I travel, I am always struck by the wide range of signs ( traffic, warnings, announcements, and designations). Around the world, there are the clever varieties of stick figures and cute expressions differentiating the men’s and women’s toilets. On flights, proof that classical conditioning is a powerful force, there is the tyranny of the red lit restroom light signifying an unwelcome delay to one’s own relief, and the sheer delight that comes over one when that light turns green.

Engaging our visual and sometimes auditory sense, signs awaken us to present or emerging realities. We are made aware. We are told to mind our way forward, alter our behavior, adjust our expectations, and do things that are judged more healthy and wholesome by the authorities that be. With the rampant fears attached to pandemics, there are notices posted in restrooms world-wide reminding us to wash our hands. Public service advertising reminds us to do the same and dispensing bottles of Purrell and  related antiseptic equivalents are popping up everywhere.

Signs are comforting. It accentuates the essentially social nature of our conduct as human beings. It reminds us that life entails obligations for the other and for the society in which we are a part. Signs are a check on individuality. They represent the boundaries of personal freedom and represent curbs on the otherwise unbridled appetites of the narcissistic and solipsistic.

There is a tension that exists always between signage and the personal individual spirit. This tension is itself a trigger for a meditation. It represents the truth that we are neither individual nor collective, but a hybrid species alive at the intersection.

Spiritually, taking time to nullify the two polar myths of life opens up extraordinary vistas: the myths of individuality and plurality. These two myths define poles of a central dilemma in our consciousness. As we ponder the tension they inspire we become aware of a third way forward: the way of the sojourner, voyager, and argonaut.

We cannot complete the journey alone. We are vitally and necessarily interdependent though what inspires us is deeply personal. We emerge as transpersonal beings. We live in-between these poles and, as captured so masterfully by Homer in the Odyssey, we must navigate between the two sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, and avoid being lured too close to either and crashing upon the rocks that lie there as we traverse a turbulent sea. We must chart our course, boldly, bravely, and mindfully, straight through between them.

When next you see a sign, consider it a meditative trigger on the true state of our being in the World and an invitation to explore the psychic geography of our true home in the Spiritual City.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »