On the 18th January, 2012, our friend Pete Sherman died after years of such courageous battling with cancer. A month later, I was sitting at the lagoon – thinking of him, and Sue and Mike and Nicki…
Here at the lagoon, I sit on the stoep of the old visserman’s huis at sunset watching the tide going out – the end of a beautiful day – thinking about the times we’ve been here – the years spent sitting here – the countless people who’ve passed this way before – and especially those, like Pete who loved this lagoon and now sees it from the other side.
Here at the lagoon, I sit feeling small and insignificant yet connected to it all – and watching the receding tide, accept afresh that our lives have their own ebb and flow – that nothing stays the same – that everything flows and answers to a higher lunar power.
Here at the lagoon, I sit in the evening breeze and acknowledge that the wind blows when and where it likes – and that our lives are like the flowers of the droe veld – we blossom one day and then we are gone.
Here, in the chilly southern breeze I sit and remember Pete who sailed that Great Wind just a month ago – and I feel deeply my many vulnerabilities – that we all are but sojourners – wanderers along the shores of life – as impermanent as were our forbearer like Mrs Ples and others, who walked places like this 150,000 years ago in search of life.
Here in the evening light, I sit and watch the lagoon – and I’m reminded of the words of Antonio Machado who sought to teach us that we all are wanderers on the road, and that the road is made by walking. “By walking”, he said, “one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again.”
And so, sitting here – at the lagoon, watching, remembering and thinking, I’m grateful for the wonder of life as it parades past me – for the path I am walking and that will never be trod again – I’m moved by the life of all who like Pete loved their path and walked it so fully – I’m nurtured by the sense of connectedness to all that is around me – and I’m challenged by the vulnerability, the impermanence of life that keeps me humble and watching and thinking and remembering.
The Lagoon – 19 / 20 Feb 12
So what do I believe?
1) that I come from a deeper place than just my family, culture, faith, nation, species, though all these give me life and I praise God for them – and that knowing this “ground of my being” gives me an identity greater than any! I know the Source!
2) that I am formed of the most sacred essence of the Source itself – that at the core of my being (our being) is a sacred drop of essence that is uniquely “me” but also “us”
3) that I am fashioned and formed in the cauldron of contexts (inner and external) but these contexts, while significant, don’t have the final word on my destiny – just as they didn’t have any say over my origins – because a greater force from within a greater (mysterious) context profoundly fashions all creation – and that is the force of Telos – ah the sacred Telos, Spirit of the Living God – the arc across all horizons!
4) that all experience is a means of grace teaching us the way home – bringing us through awakening to consciousness and that it is when we grasp or defend we fail to learn
5) that the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to surrender to the highest form of our self that seeks to emerge through us
6) that all is One – connected in a ‘cosmic soup’ and the way I show up – my very intentions – and my every word – this is how the world is formed each day and how the world can be transformed each moment
7) that I am a co-creator with the Source, whose task is to align each day with God in the great work of creating love that it may complete its work – of bringing all things to fulfilment! Ah, that Sacred Love completing its sacred work!
The role of the Church
“I came to the realization that I would never want to leave the church, yet I was also aware that I fitted less and less comfortably into its traditional boundaries. I then dedicated my energy to opening the life of the church to new possibilities. I wanted to reform the institutions of religion to make them serve the purpose for which I believed they were created. That purpose was not to hide from reality, but to engage it. It was not to run from truth, but to be in dialogue with it. It was not to become something, but to be something. My life was once again stepping into the same place where I believe the whole of human life has been journeying. I perceive a spirituality abroad today that is deeper than we have ever witnessed. At the same time I sense that the popularity of religious institutions which are supposed to be the encouragers of this spirituality, continue to decline. The whole of human life has journeyed, just as I have done, from consciousness to self-consciousness, then into the security of religion, then beyond religion into life and ultimately into the recognition that we are part of God and God is part of us. The task of faith has become therefore not the task of believing the unbelievable, but the task of living, loving and being. The mission of faith is no longer to convert: it is to transform the world so that every life will have a better chance to live fully and thus to commune with the source of life; to love wastefully and thus to commune with the source of love, and to find “the courage to be” Paul Tillich, and thus to commune with the Ground of Being. The task of the church is not to make us religious, but to make us human, to make us whole, to free us to be able to escape our survival mentality, and to give our lives away. That is the “new being” to which we are called. That is what I believe Christianity must evolve into becoming. That is also what I now see as the meaning of Jesus. A friend of mine, named Edgar Bronfman, a philanthropist and a committed follower of Judaism, has written a book entitled, “Hope, Not fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance” in which he calls on Judaism to move out of its past, out of fear, and into its future, into hope. The mission of Judaism, he suggests, is not to preserve Judaism, but to build the human community. Jews can do that , he continues, not by nursing the wounds of their frequently bitter history, but by taking their experience of suffering and allowing it to work in a positive way by coming to the aid of anyone who suffers at the hands of others for what they believe or for who they are. Edgar has caught the vision of what every religious group must do, beginning with the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but spreading into a sense of oneness with the whole human family and finally into a sense of oneness with the whole created universe. The goal of all religion is not to prepare us to enter into the next life; it is a call to live now, to love now, to be now and in that way to taste what it means to be a part of life that is, eternal, a love that is barrier-free and the being of a fully self-conscious humanity. That is the doorway into a universal consciousness that is part of what the word “God” now means to me. This then becomes my pathway and, I now believe, the universal pathway into the meaning of life that is eternal. It starts when we step beyond our hiding place in religion into thinking and finally into being. It involves stepping beyond boundaries into wholeness, beyond a limited consciousness into a universal consciousness, beyond a God who is other into a God who is all. This is the final step in this process. ”
(from the 2009 book by Bishop John Spong – “Eternal Life – A New Vision” )
Patricia Schoonstein is an award-winning writer to lives near our home. As does Margie Orford, who writes chilling crime fiction as though it was happening to you! In one of Patricia’s first and most beautiful books, Skyline, she has some mothers who have just arrived in Cape Town as refugees saying this:
Turn our desolation into something memorable. That it may not have been in vain to lose what little we owned. Make for our lost children a chime of gentle sound that they might follow it and escape, one day, from the plateau of war. (Skyline p 49)
One thinks of the mothers around the world, in Japan, in Libya, in Sudan and in so many other places whose words these are today.
I have come away from a recent conference in Washington DC recently with a new commitment to deepen my work for peace in the world. We have no other way. In everything we do, we have to work with each other to find and build and guard peace. One way to work for peace is to see everyone as belonging to one interconnected community. We are one and from one source. We are inseparable and are profoundly related in all we do. From this point of view, we take action simply as brothers and sisters – as family.
I came across a quote from Andrew Cohen – I quote him often – he is a spiritual writer and leader in the USA. Without his permission but with due acknowledgment – here is a quote of his I have edited significantly so that it reflects what I want to say at the moment:
If we are trying to create a new future, to genuinely pioneer new ways of living together, we have to be agents of transformation – and this means we have to be willing to live on the creative edge of community life, of social conventions, of old cultural ways of doing things… for creativity always comes from the edges, not the centre. Otherwise, we are going to be followers of “the beaten path”, living out the patterns that have been formed by countless others – patterns that come from contexts that no longer give life. So many of us feel it is not up to us to define or re-define these old patterns and so, without knowing it, we end up unconsciously repeating them, following ways that separate and divide us. But many believe we are being called to create new ways of relating and to unlock new patterns of being and new potentials from within our communities. But for this to occur, it requires rare and heroic women and men who have awakened to the conviction that this next step needs to happen now and each day and that we’re the ones who have to make it happen!
Most recently, in March 2011, it has been wonderful to have been asked to facilitate a large Muslim/Christian dialogue in Washington DC, USA. This was a follow-up of a conference held in Dodoma, Tanzania in June 2010 in which Muslims and Christians from Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya came together to reflect on how best to build and guard peace in the midst of so much interfaith suspicion.
In Washington DC, this past month, Muslims and Christians from 19 American cities were joined by an international delegation of faith community leaders against the backdrop of the impending 10th anniversary of 9/11 – which will test the strength of interfaith relations in the USA. The conference was a remarkable reminder of the goodwill that does exist among people of different faiths and a testimony to the possibilities for peaceful coexistence that can happen when people sit down and talk trustingly with each other. Below, a delegate expresses his views of the conference:
Imagine a peaceful response to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11
by The Rev. Gil Stafford/St. Augustine’s, Tempe
The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, Imam Ahmad Shqeirat and I were invited to Virginia Theological Seminary to participate in a conversation about imagining a peaceful response to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. Aided by a Luce grant, VTS brought together Christians (including bishops, priests, laity and seminary students) and Muslims (Imams and laity) from 19 cities and eight countries.
For three days, 11 hours a day, we struggled intensely with theological, philosophical and practical questions. We asked risky and courageous questions about our religious differences. We sought to understand our similarities. We opened ourselves to be vulnerable and to listen to one another. We heard our stories of pain. We listened to one another’s fears. And we imagined what God was saying to us, as a global community.
We heard stories like Ahmad’s. He is the Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe. In the fall of 2006, he and three other Imams were waiting to board a plane in Minneapolis to travel to their home in Phoenix. Before boarding the plane, they said their prayers. As they boarded the plane one of the passengers passed a note to a flight attendant saying he heard these four men saying Allah before getting aboard. The passenger also thought it was suspicious that one man was wearing dark glasses while on the plane.
Subsequently, Ahmad and his three friends were handcuffed and escorted off the plane. The man wearing the dark glasses was elderly and blind; however, he was forced to leave the plane handcuffed and unaided. They were detained and questioned by the local police and the FBI. After five hours they were released and told they were not suspects any longer. They were told they could return to the terminal and arrange a flight to go home.
We heard other personal stories, Muslim and Christian, of prejudice, hatred and marginalization that have increased in our country. Our group came together to share in one other’s pain and as human beings, to acknowledge that we could listen and hear deep into our souls.
Our task was to work together with our local communities in planning healing events for the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. In Tempe, we plan to build on our second annual event of listening to the Abrahamic stories of our roots. We will honor our sacred texts, Torah, Bible and Quran. We will hear stories from our traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic. We will listen to one another and we will fellowship with one another.
In Tempe, we will continue supporting a new young adult interfaith group, iMagine, and we will be joining with them as they lead us to develop a service project for Sept. 11, as President Obama has encouraged us to do. And in Tempe, at St. Augustine’s, our congregation has invited Imam Ahmad to be our guest preacher at our 10:30 a.m. Sunday service on Sept. 11.
Our delegation of three also committed to inviting our fellow Christians and Muslims from our neighboring communities across Maricopa County to join us.
These events will allow us to imagine a new way of listening and working together. Yes, we do have theological differences, but we do share many similarities. Most importantly, we are human beings, God’s creation called to serve God’s creatures and be good stewards of God’s creation. We can only do this in our global economy if we begin to see with the eyes of God’s new imagination for us in the world in which we live. Only if we see with the heart of God’s economy can we reach out with our hearts to embrace one another as sisters and brothers.
I left VTS with a renewed spirit, an encouraged heart and a resolve to my commitment to listen to the intention of God. I left VTS knowing that listening is risky and may require courageous action. I left VTS with a deeper appreciation of our tradition that calls us into a new imagination of living in a global village. And I returned home with a new anticipation of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, one that is hopeful and not fearful
I keep being reminded that everything is inter-related, inter-connected – a reflection of the whole. Einstein said that our feeling of being separate from each other is an ‘optical delusion of our consciousness’ – a prison from which we need to be freed. There is no separateness. the quotes below – reflecting the thoughts of great scientists, philosophers, theologians and artists, writers from a wide range of disciplines, all point to this one truth – we are one. How the world benefits, when we remember this.
The world must have a God; but our concept of God must be extended as the dimensions of our world are extended. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egotistically the extremity of ‘everyone for himself’ is false and against nature…The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human — these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged or to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will only open to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation of the earth…No evolutionary future awaits man except in association with all other men. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
A human being is part of the Whole…He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. Albert Einstein
Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is, in a certain sense, the WHOLE; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in the sacred, mystic formula which is yet so simple and so clear: “Tat Tvam asi”. this is you…And not merely “someday”; now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once, but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end. Erwin Schroedinger
In the most general form and from the point of view of physics, love is the internally affectively apprehended aspect of the affinity which links and draws together the elements of the world, centre to centre…Love is power of producing inter-centric relationship. It is present, therefore (at least in a rudimentary state), in all natural centres living and pre-living, which make up the world; and it represents, too, the most profound, most direct, and most creative form of inter-action that is possible to conceive between those centres…Love, in fact, is the expression and agent of Universal Synthesis. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly… I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today the network of relationships linking the human race to itself and to the rest of the biosphere is so complex that all aspects affect all others to an extraordinary degree. Someone should be studying the whole system, however crudely that has to be done, because no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behaviour of the whole. Murray Gell-Mann
Matter at each level of complexity appears to consist of two interdependent, non-identical elements in dynamic interaction and in integral relation to each other. It appears that an interacting, dynamic, asymmetrical binary relationship is the fundamental module of order in the cosmos. I have the impression that the interactions in these dynamic asymmetrical binary systems underlie all phenomena in nature…The most fundamental phenomena in the universe are relationship. It then becomes possible to recognize the underlying unity in all the diversity of the phenomena of life. Jonas Salk – medical scientist who developed vaccine that helped conquer polio in 1955.
[We realize that]… We are here to consciously evolve, to intentionally do anything and everything we can to unleash all of the extraordinary creative potential within, so that the human race’s next step can, in some small but not insignificant way, emerge through us. Andrew Cohen
We are here together to consciously evolve, to intentionally do anything and everything we can to unleash all of the extraordinary creative potential within, so that the human race’s next step can, in some small but not insignificant way, emerge through us. from Andrew Cohen
Heaven is my Father and Earth is my Mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore, that which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions. Zhang Zai (1020 – 1077) Chinese sage in the Confucian tradition
… Everything I have ever learned in my lifetime leads back to this:
the fires and the black river of loss
whose other side is salvation
whose meaning none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it and,
when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
– an extract from In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
There are three things worth doing: Here is the first…
First, we each need to awaken to the personal journey we each need to make. This journey is essentially about waking up to the reality that we don’t live in individual isolation. We live in a ‘delicate network of inter-connectedness’ (the Dalai Lama’s phrase) or in what I like to call ‘the field of wholeness’ – or as Deepak Chopra calls it, ‘the cosmic soup’. In this reality what I do actually impacts on you. My lifestyle, my actions, my attitudes, my ego-driven behaviour actually does have a direct bearing on you. When I poison the soup on my side – it will poison (eventually) the soup from where you drink it. When I drink too much – it leaves less for you. Listen to what others have (much more profoundly):
This we know: The earth does not belong to humankind; Humankind belongs to the earth. All things are connected – like the blood that unites one family. Humankind did not weave the web of life; We are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web; We do to ourselves.
Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
I am a part of all that I have met.
Hear me, four quarters of the world – a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is!
Black Elk – Oglala Sioux holy man (1863-1950)
Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.
We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibres, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.
Herman Melville – rather tragic essayist but author of the beloved Moby Dick, living during the 1800’s
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
Indeed, to some extent it has always been necessary and proper for man, in his thinking, to divide things up, if we tried to deal with the whole of reality at once, we would be swamped. However when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives, (i.e. in his world-view) then man ceases to regard the resultant divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and this world as actually constituted of separately existing fragments. What is needed is a relativistic theory, to give up altogether the notion that the world is constituted of basic objects or building blocks. Rather one has to view the world in terms of universal flux of events and processes.
Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static “snapshots.” It is a set of general principles — distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management…. During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility — for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character.
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali poet, Brahmoreligionist , visual artist, playwright, novelist, and composer whose works reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became Asia’s first Nobel Laureate when he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature.
So, we are connected – and waking up to this tremendous truth, is the most vital thing each of us can do. Why? Because when awake to this truth, it opens us to live in ways that honour the whole.And herein is a truth. We live fully, more truely, more significantly and more enjoyably when we live not for ourselves but for the common good.
In Kenya, there is an old saying – Jishinde Ushinde – it means this: ‘Your struggle is with yourself’. It is a profound insight – going to the root of a human dilemma – which is the location in the context of our lives of our ‘self’ of in this context lets call it the ‘ego’. Your struggle in truth, is with your ego and the extent to which it drives your life. An ego driven life is one consumed by ‘whats in it for me’ thinking. An ego driven life is a life characterised by narcissism – the individualist culture of ‘grasping and defending’ (as the Buddhists may describe it).
Waking up and entering into the ‘field of wholeness’ – seeing the whole picture, understanding the inter-relatedness enables us to ‘relativise’ (as the Jungians may say) our ego – to put it in its relative place. It is remarkable what occurs when ego isnt driving our lives, our projects, our aspirations, our dreams and vision. Uncluttered by our neediness, we are able to see the possibilities and linkages that exist in the ‘cosmic soup’.
This waking up is in itself a journey – not a destination. It is the first of three vital things we can do for ourselves.
Chris Ahrends, Cape Town, August 2009