Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.

Righteous War

We look with bafflement at the belligerencies in the Middle East, at Sunni and Shia Muslims beating bloodily on one another. We shake our heads and wonder why they don’t get it, that the human conscience is essentially free, unbent even under the threat of death, and surprisingly immune to coercion.  Truly, it saddens me when people of faith go to war for their beliefs.  They have made of their theology an idol, have worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, and worse, the creature is a work of their own hands.

But let us not forget three things:  First, these are not self-evident truths that are glaringly obvious to anyone with a brain in their heads.  They are lessons it took the Christian world 100 years to learn in some of the bloodiest battles Europe has ever known.  We suffered divisions that have not been healed and self-induced trauma that haunts us to this day.  Let us look on our fellow human beings locked in these struggles with understanding.

Second, we aren’t done beating on one another in the name of Christ.  Our culture and our laws do not permit the warfare we see elsewhere, but they do not inhibit what I have called our Christian Al-Qaeda, who browbeat, belittle, and berate those who do not agree with us, to the extent of death threats, economic isolation, and hazing (yes, these things happen in our “Christian” society as well).  Let us look on our fellow human beings with humility.

Finally, the U. S. military is involved in air strikes against an Islamic group.  We may not frame the conflict in religious terms, but they do.  Through their eyes we are the agents of Shaitan, the Evil One, embodied in western culture, who fight to the death with the Righteous Few.  Whether we like it or not, we are embroiled in a religious war.  We are complicit.  Let us look on our fellow human beings with compassion.

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Here and There

There is an article in today’s paper about the power company having hearings concerning closing a couple of power plants in Farmington.  Now, Silver City, where I live, is in the middle of the southwest quadrant of New Mexico, and Farmington is about as close to the Four Corners as you can get and still be in a town.  What in the world is PNM doing holding a hearing here about what they want to do there?  It’s because PNM is a big power company that supplies power all over the state.  The closing of two power plants in Farmington affects the electric rates in Silver City. In today’s world you have to think on a global level.

On the other hand there is a nice front-page picture feature about girl scouts who visited the High Desert Humane Society and volunteered washing dogs and feeding and cleaning kennels.  This little visit is a great example of local people getting involved on the local level to help the quality of life of the local community.  We need to act locally, buy locally, eat locally, sponsor local businesses, invest locally.  When we know the people who grow our food the food tastes differently to the soul.  Distant food grown by faceless people is devoid of a certain dimension of reality.

Thinking globally and acting locally takes education and a commitment to spend a little more.  But I think it also helps to think about things differently.  When we put our relationships in an eternal perspective we have a harder time being violent.  When we locate the world spiritually we have a harder time raping the earth.  The ultimate global thinker is the one who sees creation (and one’s self) through the eyes of our Source, and the love that motivates Creation.  Then the whole world is important, and what appears right in front of me is the available way of influencing the whole.  In other words, I love the person in front of me in order to make the world more loving.  I buy locally in order to fill the world with more soul.  I listen to what is happening in Farmington in order to make the world more just.

One tiny candle still has the power to dispel the darkness from a whole room.  Every act of goodness is global.  Every act of truth is universal.  Every act of beauty is eternal.

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I just got back from the J. Paul Taylor Justice Symposium at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.  That’s a lot of fancy words for a bunch of folks gathered together to figure out how to make the world a better place.  The theme this year was Immigrant Justice for Women and Children, and we were, predictably, a bit harsh on the Government, on right-wing extremists and what I called “Christian Al-Qaida” (I got a round of applause for that one) but a lot of courageous truth was told.

They showed a stunning and disturbing film called “La Jaula de Oro.”  It’s English name translates the intent better than the content, “The Golden Dream.” A more exact translation and also a good title for the film, is “The Golden Cage.”  It’s about 4 young Guatemalans who, desperate with their life’s prospects, decide to come to the Promised Land north of the Mexican border to seek a life without the degrading pain of grinding poverty and abusive government.  Though the events are fictionalized, they are based on real experiences.

One turns back after the first failure.  The girl is kidnapped by thugs for sexual purposes.  And, (and this is chilling,) the Indian boy who only speaks his native tongue is shot dead by a nameless, faceless gunman on a ranch in southern California.  In the end only one makes it.  He takes a job in a meat-packing plant that throws away more meat in a day than he has eaten in his life.  But he is alone and undocumented.  He has gained the Golden Dream, but the cost of it has put him in a Golden Cage.

So what is it, people?  How are we going to treat these folks?  There are only two options:  Fear or Compassion.  “God has not given us a spirit of fear….”  (II Timothy 1:7, KJV)

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Hanging Together or Hanging Separately

The Silver City Sun News on Sunday had two front-page stories that contrast in interesting ways.  The headlines advised that legislation before the State House would allow mines to go on standby for up to 100 years and then reopen with no public announcement.  Proponents cite the importance of mining to the state’s economy, and that this would allow the mines to do well.  Opponents say that provisions in the bill do not adequately protect groundwater, which is more important to the wellbeing of the state than mining.

Under that is a story about the rise of yoga as a practice among Grant County residents.  The author interviewed a number of yoga instructors in town.  Some of them got into yoga almost accidentally, others more intentionally.

For a bill to even be considered before the House that would provide the mines with any provision that could stand for 100 years implies a rather audacious position before the state lawmakers.  The fact that mine representatives did not answer inquiries enhances this picture, making it border on entitlement.  Entitlement gives on portion of our corporate economy privilege over another for historical reasons.   It divides, subdivides, works on the basis of the individual parts without considering the life of the whole.

Yoga, on the other hand, works to integrate body and soul.  It is rooted in Eastern thought. Though the practice of yoga arose in the context of Hinduism, like Zen Buddhism it is not essentially a religious practice as much as it is a spiritual one.  Its practices can be adapted to a number of different metaphysical systems easily.  That makes yoga the opposite to this legislation before the House.

Some expressions of religion unite, others divide.  Fundamentalism, no matter what the religious tradition houses it, divides.  The contemplative and mystical traditions in all religious systems unite.

Just as integration of the person makes for health, integration of society makes for stability and well-being.  I don’t know about you, but I’m for uniting.

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A koan is a Zen device intended to drive the student toward enlightenment.  It is a short, pithy saying that is a seeming contradiction with no obvious resolution.  Maybe the most popular example is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”  It is meant to wire around our normal defenses against enlightenment and break through to a greater vision of things, one that depends, not so much on what is seen, but where the seer stands.  It requires being radically in the present to understand.

I have been reading on the 7th chapter of the Gospel of John recently.  The 7-day Festival of Booths is going on, and Jesus’ brothers have gone to Jerusalem for it.  Jesus goes later and sneaks in.  Then, suddenly, he stands up in the midst of the temple and proclaims, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.  As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”  Now the temple guards have orders to pick him up if he appears, but they are dumbfounded.  The people are divided, some for him and some against him.  Some wonder if perhaps the Jews have finally decided he’s OK, because no one is laying a hand on him.  It all causes quite a stir that frustrates the Jews even more than they were before.

Jesus’ words become a koan—people either write him off as an egomaniacal fool, or they get bumped into the radical present and believe.  In fact, in the Gospel of John Jesus himself is a koan, one who continually uses plays on words, confusing and enigmatic language and symbolic actions to challenge peoples’ defenses against the truth.

The historical context for the Gospel of John is that it was written for a community of believers who were being persecuted by the Jews as heretics.  This passage certainly constitutes a defense against the actions of the Jews.  But in a long run the community did not merely want protection, they wanted converts.  They believed that this Jesus WAS something special that everyone should come to know and love, and they were willing to be the continuing koan for the Jewish community after both Jesus and John were gone.

So, are you a koan?

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I was just told by a doctor friend that medical professionals in the 1990’s held to a doctrine of “no pain.”  Patients were prescribed pain killers of whatever power was needed to keep their pain at a minimum, even narcotics. The general wisdom of the day was that narcotics, when administered by a medical professional, were not addictive.  But they are, and in trying to keep patients pain-free during the 90’s now we have a whole generation of people addicted to prescription pain medication.  The number of deaths due to overdose of prescription pain medication have just passed up the number of automobile-related deaths in this country.  In his terms, we have created a monster.

Yes, I know that pain past a certain threshold debilitates rather than enhances healing, but the sticky wicket is where to locate that threshold.  Common wisdom says the person themselves knows what that threshold is, and that certainly has some truth in it.  However, as any athletics coach will tell you, most people underestimate their own ability to deal with pain.  Someone from outside of them has to push their growing edge, shouting, “No pain, no gain!”

In my faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ does that.  Yes, Jesus died to do something I could not do for myself, but I think the operative level of that event in my life now is to prod and push me to die to sin that I might live to the Spirit of God.  Such deaths are always painful to the ego, for they strip the ego of all the power-grabs it has done in one’s life.  The door frame on the narrow gate to heaven is not large enough to allow anything but the proper role of my ego through, that of self-preservation and self-maintenance.  All else hangs up on the lintel and posts.  Passage through to abundant life will cost me.

The divine coach whispers in our ear (tenderly and lovingly, of course,) “Dear one, no pain, no gain!”

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Benedict of Nursia was one of the first abbots to write an official rule for his monastery.  It was based on previous works by John Cassian and others, but it was the first to codify the monastic life in a way that was moderate yet disciplined.  In it he includes references in a couple of places to the vow of stabilitas, or the commitment to live in the monastery under the rule the rest of one’s life.  There were monks at the time who did not follow this rule.  They were Sarabaites, who wandered around in twos and threes, unwilling to submit to anything but their own whims, and Gyrovagues, who wandered from monastery to monastery without committing themselves to any one community.

The monastic life has provided much grist for the mill of thought about Christian living outside of monasteries.  The Church has never been content with the idea that monks are somehow essentially different from non-monks.  Though they practice the disciplines of the faith in particular rigor, the principles behind the rules in most orders can be applied in not-so-rigorous ways outside the cloister walls.  What can we possibly do with stabilitas in today’s hectic, transient and mobile world?

Interestingly, other writers of the time have helped us.  Gregory the Great describes the heart of stabilitas as a “self-gathering,” the discipline of the heart that comes back continually to the Ground of our being, the heart of God.  He, John Cassian, and others define the essence of stabilitas not in the outward conformity to a given place for life, but the inner conformity of the soul to the Spirit of God.  The external practice is intended to support the internal discipline.

Stabilitas, then, has to do with groundedness.  We all know people who are grounded and people who are not.  I saw a homeless man yesterday, crouched on the sidewalk clutching his dog.  His life’s possessions were perched in a grocery basket with a sign on the top advertising his desire to travel—anywhere that wasn’t here.  From there I went to visit a priest friend of mine who is dying.  In contrast, this man spent the time telling me how grateful he was for all his relationships.  This man was grounded, the homeless man was not.  And we have the abuses today as well.  People tell me, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  For some they are wounded souls whom the Church has abused.  For others however, true Sarabaites, are unwilling to submit themselves to any organized religious discipline.  Others wander from church to synagogue to temple and never really land anywhere, justifying their wandering ungroundedness by claiming “largeness of soul.”

Groundedness has to do with the communion of the human spirit with God’s Spirit.  Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the one who lives by the Spirit pleases God.  When our spirits, who draw their life-breath from the Spirit of God, are in communion with God our lives get progressively more grounded.  How to?  Study of the Scriptures of one’s faith, disciplined times of prayer, regular attendance at the gatherings of your community of faith, generosity of time, energy, talent and treasure to the cause of good as espoused in your community, and the cultivation of an open, humble spirit that is always ready to be surprised by God.

(I know, I know, you knew I’d say that, didn’t you?)

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