The Waiting Silence

In silence.

In the waiting silence.

In the daily waiting silence.

Attentive and with inner smile,

Mindfully they sit,

as though

their lives

depend on it;

Because they do.

The silence,

waiting watching non-judging smiling silence.

It works on them.

Stripping away social-self.

gently dethroning ego-self.

Opening the way

for true-self’s yearning emergence.

In silence they sit and

watch the new begin

It always does.

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Journey through the River

i Waking

Heart brittle at dawn’s river of loss

Frozen rafts of memory breaking off,

flotsam on morning sand

fragments grieving their fragmented home,

longing to be home

to be home.

ii Clamouring

Choices screaming calling me

through cold currents of thought

Visceral voices in my head

Asking me;

Were you asleep

when wading these waters you thought you had crossed,

you so long to cross?

iii. Searching

Slippery footholds fumble underwater wintry waves

Struggling to hold on;

Searching to remember

Which way to go?

Where will I find home?

Why can’t I find the other side,

reach the other side?

iv. Listening

In the wet watery half-grave

arising stream surrounding,

All thoughts pause,

no telling why;

And in the morning glow

I see the silver wings flipper-flap

their silent presence over me –

the river’s gift to me undeserved;

And hear their voices above the din of mine,

singing their timeless song;

A calm river reflects the rising sun….

reflects the rising sun.

v. Silence

And with long-slowing-struggling breaths,

I come to rest at last

Reaching home;

My shivering silence

rising and falling on now-milder tides

As the silence points the way,

the silence points the way.

vi. Surrendering

And as the boundaries disappear

and the rising river finds her level in me

the struggle dissipates:

Breath, river, air, me, the rising sun, no lines, no loss, no fretful wanting

no age-old longing

All becomes one – all is one

It is all one.

vii. Emerging

And so, beyond those drowning

waves I thought would be my end

I catch a glimpse – the journey’s reward

Where, unencumbered

by ego’s wounded shouts and cries of pain

a fragile unfolding self breaks free

and beyond the water’s glassy top

I find at last

one whose holding me

The One whose always been

holding me.

chris ahrends – sept 2012

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The Lagoon

Could I ever find the words; to tell

you how you shape my life each day; of the

moods you assume; each morning’s

slant a different view unlike before; just as

its been its changed again; Hues of

blue, azure sheets and sparkling shafts; stolen silver

arrows of love’s delight; then cobalt

black unyielding deadly in embrace; then softer

tempting, a body undressing; in loam

and grey; then flimsy

teardrops falling from angels on their slow swoop home; then breathless

kisses as wind for sailing; on rippled

sapphire crests of foam; their rolling

lilting swells all breasts and smiles; while your finely

fashioned fingers kindly lap the waiting

longing lounging supine shore?

2.

Could I ever take your hand; and walk

along the sheltered snaking trails of single file; their battered

bushes braded by coarse brown fishing ropes; long unused

their fibres fading underfoot; though memories

of their use by calloused yellow hands a vivid picture in my mind; those bitter

biting boatfuls in morning mist; before I

found you and the sun could brace the day; and fill

my heart with joy for the catches I have made; as we

weave along the shivering way; lovers seeking

sanctuary in sandduned arms; while afar

the scraggy seagulls screaming us to go; this way or that

as we wander along our dreaming, seeking, loving way?

3.

Could I ever watch with you; fire-warmed at

dusk while the evening star arrives; opening wide

its festooned festival of sparkling light; like you

a galaxy only I have found; and see

you drink the Southern Cross; its pointers

touch your heart and see the darkened shadows; flee like

bats against the moon whose face; unwrapped by

joy beams upon us as we ride; the milky waters

of our epic flight to far-flung fissures where; as distant sailors

of the night in winds that bite and coil; our love

like planets implodes in showering bright-night sky; and we

the seraphs we’ve become mouth our mystic love-oaths; like travellers

of the stars oft do?

4.

Could I ever find the words, take your hand, watch with you; as I begin

to stir towards that Watersedge; my dimming

sight all tied and tired with mildewed mist; my body

drawn by calling tides; my thoughts

like shoals of slippery knaves submerging sinking; below the

the places beyond our depth; my memories

like eels who make their slidy stealthful getaways; beyond the

spit where stronger currents wash them free into another sea; and though

my heart recalls elated sultry days and the never-ending nights; we sought

to hold the moon and how we stumbled; new-shorn soldiers

phalanxed across the dunes; and even as

the colours and sacred waters have washed us through and made us one; will not

the tide arrive that one last time; and I’ll be alone again?

Chris Ahrends – August 2012

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A Revolution required

Have just returned from an amazing trip to Namaqualand, in which I was involved in several great community workshops – really powerful comments and issues shared by courageous and determined people.

 

But the poverty is overwhelming – and all the associated pathologies are there in abundance! The most confronting issue is to witness first-hand, the results of an economic model that has been used for the past decades but that lacks any sense of sustainability and in fact, morality!

 

The “extraction/consumption” model of crass capitalism – in which large mining interests with their shareholding on the London and New York Stock Exchanges – move in to pillage the resources of these areas, leaving, when the resources are finished, ghost towns of people who have no real prospect of further gainful employment – this model is both inhumane and immoral!

 

It is a stark reminder to us as those who believe in freedom – what it is that keeps people from being free? We have to look at the deeper issues – and ask the awkward questions.

 

We have to keep asking ourselves the question, ‘why are hundreds of people still uneducated and unemployed?’ and, this isn’t simply about Apartheid, either – we can’t keep blaming Apartheid for the poverty of the Northern Cape – though it certainly laid the foundation for it. Nor is it about ‘corruption’ which also gets blamed these days for every ill – though it too is present and cancerous. The Northern Cape is one of the wealthiest regions in the country in terms of mineral deposits. From there, untold fortunes have been made by the international mining conglomerates. So why are the people still living in poverty?

 

The Northern Cape’s poverty is about the presence of a larger socio-economic model of globalised, extraction-based, crass, conspicuous, consumption that places accumulation of wealth to shareholders above the basic needs of the local community. At one level, it is that simple! Need another example of this model?  How about this: For the 2010/11 financial year, Walmart’s revenue was $422 billion dollars. This is just under Taiwan’s GDP for 2010 and just over Norway’s GDP. If Walmart were a country it would be the 25th largest economy in the world! We need an economic model based on the values of sustainability and justice – on profit sharing in the real sense of the word!

 

We need to strengthen our voice – to make clear our voice – to speak this truth to the power that undergirds it! We need also to build our own capacity as citizens of the world, not to be seduced by the materialism of the ‘crass conspicuous consumption’ model. A revolution is required. It’s a revolution about how we view the earth, ourselves and each other – about how we overthrow within ourselves, the grasping desires for material success and trappings – about how we find new ways of being citizens of a sustainable and just world in which every citizen has the right to become fully human – to fulfil their God-given potential!

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Madiba Day 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A poignant reminder of remarkable and sacrificial leadership. Have we truly realised the magnitude of his contribution? What will Mandela Day 2013 be like? Will he see it? Can we remember his role and will be see in our acts of leadership, his spirit living on?

When will we see this leadership again, in our country’s leadership?

 

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The River

What shall I bring to the river

who flows so agelessly

without my offering?

How shall I answer its call

the river who asks

me to enter in?

 

What will it do to me

this river

if I trust it with my all?

 

Will it wash

my stuttering story

my tongue-tied stagnant words?

 

Will it heal

my naked scars

while listening to the cause of them?

 

Will it know

my feeble failures

my frequent drownings in the rushing flows?

 

Will it hear

my gasping breath

and see my lonely cries for help?

 

Will it see

my awakening soul

and understand my stumbling path?

 

The river flows,

listens, knows,

And unmoved,

whispers above

my clumsy words and palsyed-fears

I heed, I touch, I know, hear, I see

 

Your longing eyes

Your thrashing calls

Your wounded scars

Your long-waved arms

Your futile struggles against the tides

I know them all and still I flow…

 

The River always does

Chris Ahrends

July 2012

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Ode to Ted King

Image

i

Sitting on your bench Ted King

It’s been a long time

since I’ve thought of you

I’m sorry about that

Buried as you are here

just near this bench,

and in my heart.

ii

Looked more like a Welsh lock forward you did

Bowing your head

through doorways and in prayers

you loved much more than rugby,

Though I saw you more than once

at Newlands.

iii

Stooping over altars on Sunday

I can see you so clearly

Though formidable in pulpit too

Breaking words with such finesse

– so delicate your knowledge

of human struggles and the love of God,

While holding the wafers

so gently in giant hands.

iv

I was so small – the boatboy – remember me?

Carrying the incense

as though the Mass depended on me

Which it did – of course – to me

Parading so needily

through holy smoke and hallowed aisles

in snaking processions

hoping to catch God’s eye or maybe yours.

v

Came to our home sometimes,

pastorally you came

When something was wrong;

A sister’s illness,

a parent’s sadness,

the world’s badness.

You sat in our lounge

I couldn’t go in –

but saw from the door

more than I was told,

You listening and holding it all in

a sad and reverend pose.

vi

Shaped many’s thinking, you did,

of God, through the 9.15 especially.

How the faithful gathered,

hanging on your words

and a liturgy

that fed their souls about

ways to cross the artificial barriers of sin,

age, race and sexual orientation

as God would expect, you’d say.

vii

So human yet remote, you were –

maybe being so tall

made you hard to read, because you were

a reader’s mind within a pastor’s heart;

A worldly touch within a priestly world;

You were wise, you knew things,

saw films, said yes to protests

and rode a Vespa

(for heaven’s sake, with your cassock on!)

viii

I discovered much later

How much you chose to sit in prayer

in corners alone, in your beloved Cathedral

for 30 years

away from it all

Though you yourself would be the first to say

Just how hard it is to

be silent

and watch

and pray

like this

without talking

and thinking

and doing,

just being quiet

with God

and your self.

ix

And so you became a holy man

Modern mystic, teacher, thinker

A rare priest during

complex times

of struggle and darkness

Seeking hope and the ending of suffering.

From far, making home

under a Southern Cross, you

lived here, loved here

brought great light here

And now rest in quiet here

in St Raphael’s garden

next to your bench here

where I now sit

and thank God for you.

Chris Ahrends

St Raphael’s Retreat House, Faure. 4th May 2012

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The waiting boy

The boy

reaching out

finds no one

and as

a stranger to

his world

knows no love

and so

he seeks

his feelings

in secret

always unfulfilled.

 

He plays

in toyful

world of longing

dancing touching

hoping the

many moments

of silent seeking

will end.

 

But never finding

never closer

he remains

alone and lost

his deep condition

fixing him

in patterns given

without a choice.

 

Yet he thinks

thinks each day

there’s a way

which is,

if lived,

the door

out or in,

to his home

and for

that day

he waits.

 

In vain

he awaits

for there is

no one day

but only this.

July 2012

Chris Ahrends

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From consumers to citizens

If we are trying to create a new future, to genuinely discover ways of living together, of making our democracy work and make it meaningful for all South Africans, we have to be agents of transformation and healing – 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.

If we are not going to “be the change we want to see” (Gandhi), 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, it seems, 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 that we are being called to unlock new patterns of being and new potentials from within our communities. 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!

If we dont become the agents of transformation, who will?

(with thanks to Andrew Cohen)

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The Perennial Tradition

 

 

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The Perennial Tradition

The perennial philosophy lies at the heart of all the great faiths.

In Christianity  – when free from the ideological overlays – we can see this ancient perennial tradition in the stories of creation, the incarnation and the ascension.

These three great Chritian stories – that a God of Love creates everything out of love (the creation story); that a God of Love shares profoundly in that creation (the incarnation story); that a God of Love redeems and fulfills all of creation (the ascension story) reflects the core truths held in and by the perennial tradition which are:

* There is a Divine Reality underneath and inherent in the world of things.

* There is in the human soul a natural capacity for, similarity to, and longing for this Divine Reality.

* The final goal of all existence is union with this Divine Reality.

 

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Impossible vows – the only ones worth making…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a vow that, according to tradition, Buddhist saints make… it is this:

“Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all”

 

How many others, of such sublime significance, could we add?

Here are a few of mine…

 

*  The spiritual way is unending, I vow to walk it all

 

*  The truth is infinite, I vow to embrace it all

 

* The delusions of ego are endless, I vow to transcend them all

 

*  The earth’s resources are sacred, I vow to honour them all

 

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We need to look back, too

We know that to make our journey in the world, we need to look forward – to have vision – to know where we are going. But there is a time for and a purpose in knowing where we have come from. Such knowing makes our forward journey all the more meaningful. Looking back, unpacking and reflecting on the path trodden – this is important work. But how do we do this….  Here is an idea… some thoughts…

We get to the source by connecting to each step trodden by those who walked before us – our ancestors and all those whose energy below, above and behind has provided the symmetry, the balance and sacrifice for us to get where we are (and indeed take every step forward) today.

Becoming conscious of every step we – all of us – collectively have trodden to get here and seeing every step as a stepping stone is how we get back to our roots, our genesis, our origins, indeed, to our source, to the One Source, from which every sentient being has emerged and from which everything draws it energy.

Coming to this Source – or at least arriving at that place or state of mind in which we have at least a sense of it, however rudimentary  – ah, this is the beginning of our transformation, this is how we take the first step of our unique and collective journey.

En route, and as we search for and take each step towards the Source – by consciously re-tracing our evolving journey, as we peel layer after layer of onion away – so our growing consciousness enables us to hold every step as precious – as sacred.

Every step that has enabled us to arrive at where we are is sacred and needs to be held as one would hold a magnificent gemstone – in awe and with great intention and curiosity.

Trace and hold dear each ancestor, each dear and blessed one, every soul whose life was a self-giving to get you to where you are today. There was no chance, every element of your past was delicately chosen, blended and mixed to produce each and every sentient being.

And as we go back, step by step, we shall discover how it is that we all share the same roots – that our origins are a common pool from which we all have emerged.

Beyond the generations of difference – beyond the constructed identity that has been laid upon us – that of race, of nationality, of culture, of faith and of social status – beyond all of this, as we go deeper, we will discover more and more commonality.

Beyond our psychological makeup, our temperaments, our sexual orientation and psychic constructs, beyond all of this, as we go deeper, we discover more and more that we are one. Beyond the things we think are fixed, like gender and genetic form or pigmentation structure are layers upon layers of deeper and uniting origins. Beyond our common heritage as Homo sapiens emerging from the common cradle of humanity deep in the African savannah, we need to go – beyond all of this – all of this wonder that could transfix us forever, beyond it all, we need to go, until we arrive we at that place of truth, of understanding, of consciousness, that we are all and each One, united and drawn from a common DNA soup of life.

And beyond this too, all the way back, to the pre-dawn, to our true genesis, to the empty space, where love exploded out of its own intrinsic self-giving – we need to go; for there lives the Silence in which we, after the long walk, and with much reverence and in all humility, will find the Source, the Other, and slowly, slowly come to know not only our origins, but there we will come to see also our future and see that it is inextricably bound up to our beginnings and to each other. This Source is our future and coming, via our long journey homeward, to sojourn with this Silent Source enables us to live moment by moment – fully occupying each present moment, each now – which is the expression of all we represent and can bring to the world and is what the purpose of living is.

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Lagoon Meditation

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?

Chris Ahrends

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” )

We’re the ones who have to make it happen!

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!

Muslim/Christian dialogue

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

Separateness – the greatest delusion

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

In memory of Steve de Gruchy RIP

… 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

The acts of living

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.

Chief Seattle

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.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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.

Albert Einstein

I am a part of all that I have met.

Alfred Tennyson

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.

Harriet Goldhor Lerner

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 Melvillerather 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.

David Muir

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.

David Bohm

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.

Peter Senge

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

 

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