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What is the relationship between science and religion?

Throughout history, and even now, the tension between them has been too much the characterization. The argument goes that science proffers testable hypotheses and the scientific method uncovers either support for that hypothesis or fails to do so. Religion, on the other hand, is discussed as wholly subjective, defined by untestable beliefs.

In establishing this dichotomy, a false one in my estimation, they are endemically at odds with each other. In today’s scientific and pseudo- scientific ethos, science is often deemed superior and more appropriate for our times. Religion, on the other hand, is portrayed by empiricists as a quaint remnant of pre-scientific explanation. Theists, on the other hand, see science with suspect eyes, arguing that it misses the deeper import of events and what it means to be. Both polar viewpoints are ill informed.

Fundamentalist science and religion are, indeed, at odds with one another. Both suffer the same problem: they proceed from a dogmatic position of what is true, right and knowable. I set aside fundamentalisms of all kinds as too narrowly constructed and thereby intrinsically fragile and lacking in merit. Those who subscribe to them are welcome certainly to their beliefs but it strikes me that such extreme positions render dialogue impossible, and creates a climate of mistrust, sterile bickering, and mutual claims about the inadequacies of the other. For me, such banter is a waste of energy and are, simply, uninteresting.

Instead, I live at the nexus between these two methods of knowing and both have much in common along with complementary differences. They need each other if the goal is agreed upon as a seeking after truth and a deep desire to get inside the ontological mysteries. Science speaks in the language of mathematics. Math is wholly based on certain assumptions and, while an invention of humankind, it is unusually powerful in unraveling the mysteries of the Cosmos. The scientific method then is brought to bear on predictions to apply critical tests. Yet, while we have seen convergent evidence of their existence, no one has ever seen, for example, a quark. In other words, we study the cumulative record. Having done so, new evidence may overturn, and often does, our most established interpretations.

Religion is also a cumulative record. Yes, it is a phenomenological one but this too is data. Seen through the lens of well reasoned theological discourse, it too makes predictions and offers interpretations. For example, in a universe that became conscious of itself, one can rightly posit that intelligence must be fundamental in its essence ( I.e., that it had a first cause). One need not resort to a simplistic Creationism that mangles good science to get there either. With the integrity of both science and theology left fully intact, one can catch inspiring glimpses of the heart of mystery.

To devolve to angry and oppositionally defiant atheism is to ignore experience and the universal sensibility of something greater than we that beckons. Such a retreat to mere science reduces matter, energy and space-time to mere objects of study rather than deep subjects with which to have a relationship. The result is spiritual reductionism and solipsism.

I am a scientist- theologian because as I study the one it informs the other. The reflections of science for me give rise to the meditations of spiritual practice. I delight in the online lectures such as those offered by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in the UK Faraday Institute for Science and Religion that serve to elevate and poke our understanding.

When both scientific and religious discourse act with genuine humility, we can proceed boldly and with the spirit of the child into realms of deep wonder. May our eyes be opened to see the wider landscape that awaits us if only we get beyond the tyranny of methodological chauvinism.

Life is way too short to narrow one’s field of view.

© 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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My wife and I took in the new Marvel Comics Avengers movie last night. We both found it well written and very entertaining. Beyond the usual action packed and high tech cgi extravaganza that defines Hollywood these days, I was impressed with the subplot beyond heroes saving, as they always do, the Earth and humanity, either from itself or, in this case, from other alien invasions. That theme running throughout was the power of a shift from thinking about oneself to a consciousness revolving around the greater good.

The 21st Century already tells a story of human greed and it’s consequences:

* Wall Street profits while main street carries on in stress and anguish.
* Wealthy individuals and corporations unleash their resources in hopes of buying election results to shure up future fortunes while the middle class is bombarded by propaganda in hopes of having them vote against their own best interests.
* Healthcare for all is still debated as a privilege instead of a right.

Enter the Avengers, a group of larger than life super folk who are called upon to save the day but now as a team. They spend much of the movie infighting about who is really heroic. In the end, they act together and, in so doing, they evolve. They are transformed and their greatness comes from having each other’s back and shared sacrifice for the good of all. In order to take on evil they first need to get beyond their own ego, pride, and sense of singular purpose.

The message is a New Testament message cloaked in secular dress: We are each other’s keepers and we find our purpose more in serving others than in pursuit of our own sense of what we need do to feel special. Finding our ordinariness is the surer path to unleashing our inherent greatness. The other way around simply begets pomposity, arrogance, and self- inflation.

That Hollywood has produced this is less a testament to its wisdom and more a reflection of the Spirit moving within us. The archetype of the servant leader is resurfacing. It emerges in propitious and momentous times when the darkness is sold as if it is the Light and the true light is discussed as if anachronistic, a throw back to simpler and uninformed times. We hear a mantra from some that government is a business and needs to be run with attention, first and foremost, to the balance sheet.

I get all that but what about the soul of the Nation and it’s values. If we lose that we lose the Nation. Should we not instead slow down and ask ourselves: What point is there to government if it isn’t first and foremost about all the people. Why is caring portrayed as weakness and slashing budgets for schools and social services touted as wise and responsible conduct. Are we not sacrificing the long term for a short term and simplistic “fix”?

May we govern with a sense of the real gift of liberty: to empower the Nation by serving all and, by doing so, enable our true greatness.

Indeed, we need such a cadre of leaders who have the same spirit discovered, in the end, by the Avengers.

© 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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It’s been about two months since I last posted. The time has been one of frequent travel, fashioning new material to spark fresh dialogues among clients, and a time, otherwise, for  fewer words.

Authentic writing needs fresh perspectives. It  is good for the soul to invite incubation. So, my last 60 days have been about emptying.

It’s been said that nature abhors a vacuum and moves quickly to fill it. Yet, there’s a lot of vacuum in the Cosmos. Maybe this simply isn’t so.

Nature does not abhor a vacuum so much as it finds its shape according to unseen patterns that make it up. Vacuum conjures up  a great and infinite emptiness. On the contrary, the Cosmic vacuum is a plenitude.

Overwhelmed by unimaginable distances, could it be that we mistake the vastness of the seemingly empty expanse of space for the fearsome darkness of “non-being”?

Space-time is an n-dimensional funky quilt that we can only marvel at as we gaze on it abstractly through the lens of mathematics. Nonetheless, the very fact that we imagine it  suggests our intuitive and playful sense of its underlying fullness.

When we silence the mind’s manufacture of crafted sentences and paragraphs, and even briefly hit the pause button, it may just be that we then unleash the deeper depths, wider views, richer hues, and that fertile vastness that buoys all our hopeful imaginings and heartfelt expressions.

I sing a song in praise of true away time, a brief silencing of  our own voice so the poet inside the silence is the voice more clearly heard.

© 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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Easter Sunday Vigil & First Eucharist, April 3/4, 2010

This is the central feast of the Church, the day commemorating the Resurrection, the rebirth of the Light of the World. It is the conclusion of the 40 days of Lent. At the Vigil, the celebration begins with the lighting of a fire in a small urn outside the church after sundown. From that fire, the Paschal candle is lit, and then all individual candles held by congregants are ignited from that central one. All walk into a darkened church holding their candles, and it creates a marvelously otherworldly feeling. It is beautiful and one of my favorite liturgical celebrations.

What follows are readings that make clear the promises of G-d to Man and retell the stories of His mythic interventions in Human affairs beginning with the creation itself. The readings draw our attention to the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. We re-read the story of the seven days of creation and the formation of diversity out of an undifferentiated fabric. We revisit the legendary flood, Noah, and his rescue of all species on the Ark. We reconsider the Exodus of the Jews and their deliverance from Egypt, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the chosen people to pass, and how the water’s divided then collapse in upon the Egyptians as they attempt the crossing. We read, once again, the harrowing and deeply disturbing tale of Isaac and his son Jacob, whom Isaac was first asked to sacrifice at knife-point by G-d, but was then turned away from doing so by the Spirit of the Lord at the very last moment.

All of this context setting and pre-figurement exists as stage-setting for the telling of the central mystery of Christendom: G-d’s sacrifice of His “Only Begotten Son” ( doing, in effect, what he would not have Isaac do) in an act of incomprehensible Divine vulnerability that reveals the marriage of divine and creaturely aspects within humanity. As I wrote in my last post for Holy Saturday, the celebration revolves entirely around the return of the light that pierces all darkness, once and for all.

Tonight, I chose a local church to visit that I’ve never attended before. Consequently, I knew no one there. My intent was to have the experience of Easter Vigil not as a Priest but as a stranger to a congregation on the central night of the liturgical calendar. The good news is I arrived successfully. The bad news (maybe) is that I arrived about 10 minutes late. As I parked down the road, the congregation was gathered outside the church for the lighting of the first fire. As I approached ( as covertly and unobtrusively as I could), a gentleman reached out to me with a candle so that I could immediately join in the process. The prayers outside were just finishing up and then we began the precessional.

Once inside, while just a little sheepish and a bit distracted from the rushing to get to the church, I soon relaxed and entered into the rhythm of the proceedings. It was delightful, and people reacted as if I had attended for years. I spent time pondering each of the readings and then the Gospel, and listened attentively to the homily, simple and to the point: Live in the Light!

It was all a palpable demonstration of the need for the “sangha,” the community. Collective worship reconnects everyone together in a mystical union that cannot otherwise be duplicated. It is a necessary part of the journey (balanced, of course, with ample contemplative time in solitude). The Vigil itself clinched my meditations this week (as I’ve shared them in my earlier posts). One question kept going through my mind, though, as I followed along and joined in the singing of the hymns (a few of which I frankly didn’t much care for as they seemed less than pleasantly melodious).

What are they each experiencing? How will this experience shape them, affect them, and trigger the next steps in their own spiritual odyssey? What mystery is unfolding underneath our moments together?

It is these things that are so much more important than what anyone believes intellectually. All that imagery and “mind-stuff” is interesting, but it doesn’t usually rise to the level of existential drama when things get very real. In the church at such times, one sees G-d in the smiling faces and in the greetings of recognition. There is a warmth (almost familial) and a yearning to get above the personal troubles of the days and weeks before and after the event.

There is a need to be noticed and acknowledged. It is a time to be received, accepted unconditionally, without judgment, and with open arms. [At least, that is the aspiration, the fervent hope. Certainly, there is no lack of politics and game-playing in parishes. In fact, parish life and conflicts can get quite ugly, pedestrian, and trivial]. While that is part of the human experience in all communities, on this special night, the celebration turns to matters of deepest urgency: our identity beyond space and time, an identity that transcends issues and personalities.

One case in point was in the singing. The cantor, up above and behind me in the  balcony, had a sweet coloratura, yet faint, almost hesitant. I could not see her, but the voice communicated advanced age and a reserved manner. It was pleasant enough, though some of the notes were well off, but none of that really mattered. After a while, her antiphons and timbre became a part of the complex texture of the overall experience. There was an innocence to it. Altar servers, male and female, were attentive, especially when one of the deacons set the forsythia branches on fire in a moment of careless positioning of the candle he was holding. He dealt with it and seemed furious with himself and embarrassed. I could relate to how he must have felt having had many mishaps of one kind or another of my own at the altar over the years. But this too was only a minor blip (fortunately) in the proceedings, and not the main event that was bubbling up from beneath.

The service was long and I caught myself drifting. I gently brought myself back to the process. About mid-way through the readings, the content began to stir  memory and imagination. Everything up to that point was a preparation, a getting settled in, a tuning of the instrument as it were. I started to remember key events in my younger life:

  • my first communion ( and choking on the host & feeling as if I’d be consigned to hell for that),
  • the Confirmation slap ( which hurt, seeming a bit angry, I recall, from a Bishop who I thought was a bit peeved),
  • my wedding service ( and the Priest’s comment that statistics on marriage success were appalling),
  • my early endeavors toward Priesthood in the Episcopal Church ( dashed by conflicts with an autocratic and narcissistic pastor),
  • my discovery much later of an Independent Rite and ordination, after Seminary, to the diaconate and priesthood ( whereupon that community fell apart owing to conflicts among the bishops),
  • my invitation by a Bishop in a separate Rite in the northeast to serve once again, elevation to the Episcopacy and election as Coadjutor ( then followed within a year by my disillusionment with actions on the part of the archbishop that were politically motivated, irregular, and non-canonical.

What an interesting series of contrasts, adventures, and misadventures: openings and closings, great promises, and deep disappointments. I then thought about the far more important moments:

  • praying with my mother when she laid dying,
  • doing the same with my father,
  • being present to bless a cousin suffering after major surgery and bolstering his confidence and faith in the outcome,
  • visiting other sick and despondent people,
  • working with young people and adults in the context of pastoral counseling, and
  • offering my listening to the always fascinating stories of good people trying to wade through the drama and mysteries of their lives.

What a privilege!

Adding all these fleeting memories together, one golden thread ran through them: a call to shine light into places that needed it, sometimes entailing disappointment and distress for me, but nonetheless a mandate to be authentic and true to principle. It was about shining light first on my story, without dodging the difficult moments, the foolishness, the times of ego and ambition, and allowing the fabric of time to draw a picture of what it really means to live in good faith. Only then could I be of any real service to others. The Vigil tonight was, at least for me, a confirmation of a path and a renewed call to serve based on whatever emerges; a peripatetic ministry.

The alchemical task and the meaning of Easter is to be the Christ for others; to be a catalyst for their discovery of their own path, their own meaning, helping them to uncover their own genius so that they can be a brighter beacon in the firmament of time.

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are continuous, conjoined, unfolding sacred happenings in our lives. The dance of night and day, darkness devoid of light and Light devoid of darkness, is perpetual. In the readings of the Vigil Liturgy, the compilers of Biblical lore told of many promises made to the chosen people. These were promises that meant the foretold the end of suffering and, in being among the elect, to experience a virtually charmed and divinely favored life. Never again, G-d is said too  have promised Noah, will Humanity suffer the likes of the Great Deluge.

But history instead is a story of one after another broken promise: the oceans are rising, the hurricanes more ferocious, the coastlines are dramatically eroding, earthquake generated tsunamis are much in the news, the ice caps are melting and many rivers have crested and we read of extensive flooding, damage and loss of life. We focus on the revelation and the fulfillment of the scriptures, but the “promises” attributed to    G-d represent humanity’s deepest hope. In reality, the objects of that hope are hard won and elusive.

Our task is to see a deeper truth in scripture; that the end of suffering is our’s to achieve. We were fashioned in His image ( the “Imago Dei”). We are accountable to be the solution, not to wait around for supernatural agency to do it for us. Frankly, He isn’t coming. That’s the key. He gave us everything we need to find the answers. His blessing is on us. The Light is eternal. It is real and it burns brightly within us. It is ours to shine or to extinguish.

This is the hard but true lesson of the Easter season, of the tension between Crucifixion and Resurrection. As consciousness truly leaps ahead, and we see more clearly, we can act with full and unfettered Spirit and transform the World. Christ is in us.

Let us embrace the Christic miracle and be the Christ for one another. This is the real transformational fruit of authentic liturgy vs what can otherwise become a routine formula of merely skin-deep public worship.

Happy Easter. He is Risen and the Rising is evolving every second within Us!

© 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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Great (Holy) Saturday – April 3, 2010

This is the solemn day on which the Church recollects the time during which Jesus is entombed. It is the time before the bulb re-emerges after a dark winter’s incubation. It is the dark cloud obscuring the Sun that surely will burn brightly and warm the planet once again when its cover moves by. It is the potential within the kinetic, the pause before your next breath, the time of sleep just before re-awakening, and that ever so brief silent pause between two waves arriving at the beach.

The Orthodox reference to the “harrowing of hell” captures the theological import of Christ’s passing into the netherworld to redeem and carry into paradise the souls of the deceased, most significantly, the archetypal Adam and Eve. The presumed stain of Original Sin is cleansed at His incursion into Hell, bringing Light to the darkest of places. Altars world-wide remain stripped of linens and vestments shift to pure white. Mass is not performed until midnight ( or the symbolic start of Easter ( Resurrection Sunday) at another late Saturday night appointed time). The world waits.

The entire Triduum is about preparation and expectation. Waiting is a core theme across all spiritual teachings. On this day before the most Holy of days in Christendom, what is it that we await? How does the mythology of the church relate to our lives and the realities that we construct around us? Where is the relevancy of such mystical events for a post-modern scientific society?

Firstly, that I use the word “mythology” is not meant to suggest that the events we celebrate are any less real. Quite the contrary, it only attests to my intent to apply anagogical reasoning to these events as we must when it comes to mysteries that we know tacitly or in poetic and non-experimental ways. That I love my wife, daughter, and son requires no proof though, were you to ask me to do so, I would resort to the lexicon of the Heart. It is a thoughtful phenomenological detailing that presents the clearest and most robust path to understanding the “mysteries.”

The “Free Online Dictionary” ( thefreedictionary.com) defines anagogy as: “A mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, especially scriptural exegesis that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.” It defines “mystical” as:

1. Of or having a spiritual reality or import not apparent to the intelligence or senses.
2. Of, relating to, or stemming from direct communion with ultimate reality or God: a mystical religion.

Heaven and the afterlife are metaphors for infinite consciousness, non-mortal being, the Platonic realm of forms ( or the inherent matrix of foundational archetypes that prefigures and predisposes the created to coalesce in its diverse forms), the well of souls ( or the unknowable place from which our individual consciousness came and to which one day it returns), and the ground that informs our deepest dreaming, our prayerful intentions, our moments of insight, epiphany and enlightenment. With this framework in mind, then, I ask: What is it that we await on this “Great Saturday”?

It is summed in three words: the inexhaustible Light! Light plays a major role in all of scripture, Western and Eastern. Light is a powerful and intrinsic need of all living things and it plays a very central role in the story of the life of every human being. We experience the light in very similar ways. After a long winter, few can resist the allure of a surprisingly bright day. People move out of their homes and take to the streets and the open markets and cafes. In the United States, college students from the North, Midwest and Northwest move in a great exodus toward the more direct sunlight on Spring break. In Europe, many head south. In the East, the same applies as people move toward the equator and further south of it to enjoy the beneficient sunlight, the warmth, and the penetrating rays that are so deeply restorative.

The light plays a key role in consciousness and experience from very early in life. We open our eyes after birth for the first time and light streams in. After a period of adjustment, so much of our learning and the development of language and thought is based on vision. As young children, who among hasn’t had a bad night with fears of things emerging from the darkness; those compelling fears that take archetypal monstrous forms. The cure for such moments is pretty much always the same: turn on the light.

Some years ago, while traveling on business, I was awakened around 2 AM experiencing a frightening shortness of breath. I was momentarily terrified. My first thought was to turn on the light after which I dressed and went to the lobby of the hotel where other people were present. On doing so, everything settled down. On long-distance car trips, there are stretches of road across farmland in the U.S or mountain roads where there is very little light. Such driving late at night is especially unnerving and I always find myself less tense when I see lights in the distance: the sign of civilization and the presence of other people.

As I write this, my daughter is on the road somewhere in Illinois on her way back to college after her Summer break. I spoke with her last night and she was stopping in a small town for the night. Her comment was simply: ” It is so dark here. I can’t see a thing. It’s time to stop, get something to eat and turn in. I’ll continue in the morning.” I’ve said before that we are made of the same stuff as stars. Indeed, all that exists ultimately came from the stars. We are light-centric creatures and this need is expressed in many ways in all the corners of our lives. Our language is replete with light references: enlightenment, to light on a flower, alight, delight, daylight, earthlight, light headed, light-hearted, limelight, highlight, etc. We are capable of contemplating the Infinite and so we routinely do in our visions, including the perfect and infinite Light: a light that knows no evening, the Christic Light. That is what we await on this Great Saturday.

How does the mythology of the Church ( and this phototrophic disposition) relate to our spiritual lives and the realities that we construct around us in this post-modern, scientific age? Maths are axiomatic, based on faith in certain logical propositions, and maths can and do arrive at conflicting conclusions. It appears that in this most regal of the logical endeavors of humanity there is more than one right answer. Non-euclidean geometries deviate in key ways from the axioms of Euclid and arrive at justifiable and verifiable conclusions that simply do not square with Euclidean propositions.

So, are there multiple realities and diverse possible worlds? Absolutely. And what about scientific certainties? There are few of them actually. In fact, the uncertainty principle and the two as yet irreconcilable forms of lawfulness (Newtonian and Quantum mechanical) cause us to continue to search for new unifying theories. New maths arise all the time, and have especially done so over the course of the last century. This raises the bar on what it means “to know.” There is a mystical character to number theory. Science applies rarified and esoteric methods and a language of its own ( filled with poetry, by the way) to study the mystery of being. So, in fact, science and mysticism intersect all the time. It is dogma that gets us hung up.

The big objection from many is that scientific truth is “verifiable” and the tenets of religious belief are not. That is so. However, the foundations of “religion” are rooted  in verifiable experiences. We experience the dearth of light and rejoice at its return and that motivation is observable and verifiable. Reductionism to the absurd is illogical and fruitless. One should always avoid the tyranny of one method to study the phenomena around us. Experimentation has its proper place, but historical and phenomenological methods do also.

In focusing less on belief and more on experience, such days as this Holy Saturday present us with archetypal mystery. In our services and prayers, we use poetry and anagogy to know from the inside out, to use intuition and to share something that arises from the collective unconscious. The divine flows through us and the mystery of the Crucified God is emblazoned in the consciousness of Christendom. In Buddhism, similarly, the tension between clear sight and real suffering is the pivot around which engaged Buddhism revolves.

Anagogical reason must and will never take a back seat to logical analysis and experimentation. To even attempt doing so is to do violence to what it means to be who we are. We must ever strive to tell the story of insight, intuition and experience remembering the difference between our models and the real thing. We dress up G-d in many ways, but that the human condition is always searching for the Supreme Ultimate is undeniable. The diverse manners in which we adorn the Mystery are beautiful, but we need to remind ourselves that it is an adornment.

Beneath all the dressings, the liturgies, and the scaffolding of beliefs erected along-side, what matters is at the heart. It is the raw experience of the Presence of the Light that splits the darkness of death. It is the Light of the resurrected Christ that we await. It is the annihilation of the dual nature of thought and the redemption of the world of creaturely selfishness and the sense of being alone. It is all about remembering who we really are and from whence we really come.

Let us await the Light giving ourselves the time today to also study our own inner darkness.

© 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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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.

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Great ( Holy) Thursday, April 1, 2010

A day also called “Maundy”  Thursday in the Anglican tradition, or the “mandatum”, the mandate to perform the “Lord’s Supper.” This is also the day of the washing of the feet. Traditionally, the Pope washes the feet of priests and priests do so for parishioners. Together, these ritual jewels of the Church celebrate the central mystery: the Presence of the divine savior among us in the intimate acts of washing and eating.

A good friend and fellow Bishop refers to the “Mass” as “Divine Alimentation.” We are fed by the Prince of Peace. We are directly privy, without need of any intermediary, to the sanctum sanctorum. Celebrating the savior in an act of eating is to continue in the path of total conversion; the transfiguration of mind-body and spirit from the inside out. We literally become the Temple of the Lord.

The word “Mass” is telling. It derives from the latin word “missa,” which means dismissal, or, put differently, a going forth in accordance with a great commissioning. In the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, we are fed with the expectation that we will then go and likewise feed others. We are given the mandate to be fishers of men and women; to bring them the great comfort and consolation of the truth that the Kingdom of G-d rests within them.

It is traditionally on Holy Thursday that the bishops consecrate the oils of chrism, the catechumens, and the sick. In addition, the Holy Thursday celebration also calls for a gathering of the priesthood so that priestly vows can be reaffirmed. Looking at the day in its entirety, we recognize in it a call for deep personal and transpersonal renewal and a resetting of purpose. It is a time for blessing, cleansing, and the reinvigorated zeal to serve the Gospel. We are reminded of our sacred identity and our calling. It is a beautiful celebration and it is an alchemical re-enchantment.

I am a priest. I vowed to serve for the rest of my life. My service is different from that of a parish priest as I do not have daily celebrations to officiate but mostly ad hoc ones. As the Abbot of  a “monastery without walls,” the role is that of spiritual facilitator, teacher, friend, and the sacerdotal functions come as they may.

What does it mean to be a post-denominational priest? It means that one’s identity is wrapped in continuous and diverse prayer, and the readiness to fulfill the mandatum in nontraditional ways. It means finding new paths for engaging the teaching in dialogue with people while maintaining a less visible or pronounce priestly profile. It  also always calls for celebration of the sacraments as living vehicles for conversion and epiphany when there are two or more gathered with a yearning to do so.

I enter into this Holy Thursday evening as I have earlier ones, with a deep sense of awe and gratitude. I feel honored to have been called to witness to mystery and to be a voice for spiritual living. I rejoice in the meditative time in which I can hold up all those I love and know, and the world around me with profound hope of an enduring illumination. I rest tonight in the firm conviction that a powerful force is present to synchronistically guide my next steps and words.

I am a child of the stars, of the wind, of the stillness and of the laughter. I am a child of the Eucharist and a minstrel singing about the depth and breadth of our capacity for love. I am a humble poet searching for the right words and phrases to give sound to my heart.

I am a simple priest. I open myself to the next mandate, the next need, the next chance to touch the fabric of the Son of Man. I am one who is ever searching for His face among all the writing, all the poetry, all the religions, all the cries and tears and laughter, and the rich tapestry of human thought and scientific discovery.

Maranatha!

Amen.

1 Corinthians 11- 23-26, New American Bible

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread,
and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 12
A person should examine himself, 13 and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment 14 on himself.
That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.
If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment;
but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.
[I am separately uploading a Liturgy this evening that emerged from my scholarship and passion for ritual over the years. It is the Liturgy that I use in the Order and at the High Masses that we celebrate here. I hope you find it a helpful complement to your Eastertide meditations. You can find it on a page linked to the “Garden of the Christos” page in pdf format.]
© 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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