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religion

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really looking for. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. (Joseph Campbell)

I find myself engaged in frequent conversation these days with very earnest and thoughtful people who struggle, as sons and daughters of post-modernity, with the religious notions handed down from antiquity. I struggle right along with them. The struggle is meaningful in itself. I too feel the tension between the call of scientific consciousness that seeks to understand how things work and the deep need to know why there is anything at all which science can not address.

As one dedicated to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, I must navigate between their import and the traditions and rituals that have wrapped themselves around them. Should I, as one keen to know through the lens of science, dispense with all the myth that has no basis in historical fact and rededicate myself, in all aspects of my life, to only the verifiable and objective? If I did, what would I miss other than the comforting blanket of forms that surrounded my early years that were taught with such seeming authority:  a virgin birth, raising people from the dead, resurrection, an ascension, a star of Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in December after a long journey for Mary & Joseph from Nazareth on a camel, three wise men, etc.

None of these are rooted in fact. None of these are history. They are either stories that can elevate our sights or provide quaint and dispensable legends. 

Mythos means story or fabrication. In what sense are myths true or are they simply fictions designed to avoid facing what we don’t know? As Joseph Campbell expresses so well, they actually make it possible for us to be more fully alive. They are  lenses through which we can discern meaningful movement and detail, texture and color that would otherwise be lost to us. Myths bring the banal and ordinary to a heightened level and call us to deeper presence in relating to the world. 

Myth is another form of sight. Like an astronomer using different lenses to reveal subtler detail of studied planets or a photographers use of lenses to extend seeing, myth serves to examine teachings in the form of story that engage our whole being ( head, heart and spirit). Entering the story makes it possible to journey deeper into the truths at which the teachings are pointing. Even in science, metaphor is used to capture the realities under study in ways that tell a story so we can enter into physical mysteries more deeply: black holes, white holes, warping of the fabric of space-time, the curvature of space, quarks ( never seen but evidence suggests they are real), dark matter, dark energy, etc.

So, how might we make right use of the myths of Christianity to experience its teachings more deeply and fully. I offer merely one set of possibilities born of my own meditations choosing three of those mysteries/ myths mentioned earlier:

  • a Virgin birth: I imagine Mary’s full “Yes” to the Spirit delivering such news regardless of the social awkwardness of that revelation. I envision her fear giving way to joy in accepting even the seemingly impossible – a lesson in what it means to take a leap of faith into the unknown guided by gut instinct and a personal epiphany. Mary’s “Magnificat” calls me to examine the boundaries of my own surrender to the real and cynicism in response to hope and possibility. All births are miraculous! All births are arrivals from the unknown? One life can change us all! Where is the impossible happening in spite of my disbelief and what are the self-imposed limits by which I restrict my sense of what’s real?
  • a star shining brightly over the manger in Bethlehem: Three Kings of the Orient came bearing gifts and I imagine their dedicated search for the One foretold in scripture journeying over the desert in the “bleak mid-Winter”. I see their joy at coming upon the scene marked by portents in the Heavens and adoring the Child whose life would change the world. What lies beneath such a story that communicates enduring truth? In childhood, we see things animated by fantastical purposes and then, as we age, life’s challenges weaken our hold on hope and a sense of possibilities. Are the stars so separate? Are we not made of the same stuff?Are we not children of the stars? Are there not many seeming coincidences that nonetheless strike us as meaningful and that enrich our experiences? About what am I so passionate and so alive that I will journey long and hard to search it out? Where is the dedication to revelation that this story expresses? Do I see the miracles embedded in the events that too often go unappreciated?
  • Resurrection: A Soter, a bearer of Light, dies and then rises again as prefigured in the myth of Osiris and Persephone’s rise from Hades in the Spring; a Presence too great to be snuffed out who achieves a consciousness about which we can only imagine. Is death the end? Do we live on in another condition? Is our personal consciousness dead once the brain stops? Where are we going? Do we merely become dust once more? This is the central myth of Christianity. In the universe, matter and energy is neither created nor destroyed. Carl Jung spoke of the objective psyche, independent of any one of us, that draws us toward certain constellations of thought and ultimately story. I can leap into the arms of mystery and believe that, like matter and energy, consciousness too rejoins a process that, like all things in the Cosmos, is complexifying and moving toward completion. To posit an abrupt end to consciousness would stand in contrast to everything else we know about the universe. I leap into the arms of mystery, suspend my disbelief and open my heart to what mind can never grasp. I can imagine it beyond the limits my reason would impose.

Myth is a form of poetry. Without the humanities, science is cold, impersonal and can lead to destruction ( e.g., we made the atom bomb because we could). The arts are not optional. Without the aesthetic sense and literature, all things lose their deeper essence and rootedness in the mysteries. We loose the soul in the machine. Science too is written in myth like the Myth of Objectivity. We know that our tools of study affect the phenomena that we study. Mind is structured in terms of story and stripping story of metaphor is to make it hollow.

Hegel reasoned late in life that poetry was the only language that can carry us farther than simple logic. Indeed, I could say to you: ” As I age, I see that I, like everything, am on the move propelled by the same forces”, or we can read the poetry of Dylan Thomas:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower 
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees 
Is my destroyer. 
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose 
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The poem carries us deeper and speaks to mind, heart and soul and from the imagery we are perpetually edified.

Myth is the process by which we see into ourselves and the mysteries and are a critical part of knowing.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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In my recent post, I focused on the myth of the “one” true and destined love and the importance instead of choice and commitment.

Further reflection at the opening of Advent 2012 leads me to consider the Christian dogma of the “one” and “only begotten Son”. It is a matter of orthodox theology that Christ stands apart from all others as the true Soter or savior of the World: an exclusivity, the embodiment on Earth of the Father whose Presence is mediated by the Holy Spirit.

How do we make sense of this within the context of Faith with reason? Is the notion of the “One” equally mythic with that of the single destined lover for whom we are meant to be joined: the one who completes us? Is there an alternative way of thinking that protects the deep sense of mystery and special character of the One who Luke makes reference in ascribing to the Father the words: ” You are my Beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.”

In reply to the question, my meditation stumbles on a framing error implicit in the questions themselves. In their construction, they are dualistic, (i.e., either/or).

A better question is:

In what way is the “Son of God” both inimical and yet non-exclusive?

After all, Jesus says elsewhere:

“Timeless truth, I tell you: ‘whoever believes in me, those works which I have done he will also do, and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to the presence of my Father.’ ” Aramaic Bible in Plain English

or ” Otherwise believe for the very works’ sake. Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do.” Douay-Rheims Bible

Jesus was fulfillment of prophecy. As it came to pass in the unfolding of time and history, the Christ nature was a charism bestowed to a babe in Galilee & it was once and for all. And – beyond space and time, in the timeless space of the Sacred, this emblematic and iconic moment was a call to all: an invitation to the next significant advance in human consciousness.

As so beautifully stated in the Gregorian chant, Ubi Caritas: ” Where Beauty and Love are there also is God.”

Spiritual transformation is the yearning of the Divine Heart for Humanity to emerge into full “Sonship” wherein love defines us and we integrate in ourselves the Shadow and the Light and act with authentic compassion. In this sense, living sacramentally involves  learning to be able and willing reflectors of the Divine Light and  to help restore the State of Eden: to be “christ” for one another.

© The Harried Mystic, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Interbeing

As it is for so many, July 4th in the U.S. is our day for time with immediate family and close friends, to share food and tell stories, swim in the pool, light up a bonfire and toast marshmallows and watch the sky for all the fireworks that others work so hard to collect and display.

The day seems long and the light remains with us until quite late. Time slows and our being together seems simply perfect. We recall those who are no longer with us and our memories of when they were and we share amazement at how quickly our children have grown.

Such days as this are so much more about our interdependence and need for each other than about our individual lives and accomplishments. So, this year, I am struck by the paradoxical idea that while we celebrate our Independence day as a Nation, we live in a world of ever more delicate and critical interdependence. It is a complex network of connectivity that translates down to a very personal level.

It is truly in the evolution of human community that we will realize our best destiny.

It is in embracing our profound, if subtle, ties to each other that will reveal our deeper and richer meaning.

This year, I celebrate our interdependence and give thanks for days set aside to appreciate that and to feel it more keenly than when I rush through the customary and obligatory daily round of chores, challenges, and problem-centered chatter.

© 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.

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The Sun was in full expression for most of Easter Sunday here in the Northeast U.S.: a special treat after so many days of heavy fog and rain. The weather on Holy Saturday was bleak, a day full of shadows. The Sun was out one moment and gone the next, rain came and then lifted and then very dense fog rolled in toward evening. The cadence, the rhythm of all this was so synchronistically well-calibrated to the spiritual import of the transformations of which the Trideum is emblematic. Holy Saturday is a time of expectant waiting and still one of regrets and dark moods.

Sunday was a day of tiny miracles as the Sun shone down and our bed of day lilies and tulips opened up, as if on cue, for the first time this season: a grand opening that moved me to snap a few quick photographs to mark the moment.

At one point in the afternoon, it was downright hot. I opened my front door and just left it open, and sat facing out for just moments of quiet contemplation on the bright Light, emerging colors, fragrances and the promises of long ago planted bulbs fulfilled. The birds were out in force and their choir seemed especially sonorous and full. It was a perfect, if fleeting and fragile moment of synchronized living, and then the need to travel intruded, with all the necessary flurry of things to take along on the journey to make the obligatory visits for the holiday.

Now, at the end of Easter Monday I reflect back on yesterday and find myself drawn to the memory of those precious few moments at the doorway blessed with an ever so brief taste of heaven presented for any and all who took but a moment to put aside all other agenda to bathe in it.

It’s the littlest things that contain so very often the true “magic” and sacrament, the real Presence of the Spirit, embodying the most authentic Call to Discipleship.

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The universe began in unimaginable darkness. Then, light pierced the darkness and out of nothing emerged everything, kinetic and potential.

We are reflective creatures of the Light. The Resurrected Light of the World in Christ ( alpha and omega) is the matrix of all matter. Love and true compassion are the surest signs and expressions of that first resurrected light.

Let it shine brightly and consume all darkness as we are Knights of the Dayspring.

+ Happy Easter and blessings to you and yours.

© 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.

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cold clouds well past us, and now the Son’s Day breaks,

warming colors, sweet scents, the rejoicing Sun makes.

the buds seem close to popping, Forsythian yellows bloom,

I walk within emergence, bearing witness to the Loom.

no art can be more stunning, no genius can be clearer,

the artist of this Cosmos is stepping ever nearer.

I move and I rest, I rest and I move,

there is nothing whatsoever I ever need to prove.

April 4, Easter Sunday Buds

© 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.

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One of the joys of Easter is to gather with our wider family and dine together over entrees that each member of the family prepares. While the noble egg figures prominently in Easter lore and tradition, the icon of Resurrection Sunday in fact, what of the simple potato? Solanum Tuberosum, one of the nightshades and an herbaceous perennial, has been a vital part of history. It has for centuries been the perfect complement to a meal. Prepared properly, it is a very special delight.

It has become a family tradition that we prepare the bean casserole and the mashed potatoes. Everyone digs into the large bowl with enthusiasm and impatience for what is a unique taste experience. With just the right proportion of butter and cream, this velvety smooth accompaniment to a meal centered on a marinated roast is quite honestly “heavenly.” It is food that deserves far greater prominence and celebration. After all, it has been a vital staple in Europe and in the States for a very long time.

Furthermore, as  a student of signs and symbols, I find it a striking tuber to serve on Easter Sunday. The potato arises from the Earth.  It must be surfaced and then cleaned off, peeled, and then cooked ( mashed or otherwise). It is food that can only be enjoyed in its arising. That it comes from the earth itself is also poetic: such a great and enlivening, delicious, and velvety flavor from something that spent its growing years in complete darkness: a burial food enjoyed upon its resurrection.

In dining today on whatever main courses and vegetables, I do hope you enjoy the sensational potato and everything it represents.

Bon Appetit!

© 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.

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