Monday, January 30, 2017

The Kaleidoscope of Integration

It’s the good times we remember, it’s the bad times that make us what we are. When I look back over my life, I feel so blessed—honestly, I have had countless wonderful and beautiful experiences. I remember those special moments with so much joy. But, truthfully, it’s been those failures, rough spots, and tragic moments that have caused me to stop, reflect and re-imagine how I was going to live my life. The events, good and bad, haven’t shaped me in and of themselves. Instead, it was the work they forced me to do; that work of moving me toward the integration of the mind, body, soul and spirit. The work has been continually forming me. And what I have discovered is that integration is the work of a lifetime. Carl Jung said it would take him ten lifetimes to integrate. If that is the case, it will take me 10,000 lifetimes. The work of integration is a process.

So, what is integration? Integration is the process of becoming one’s True Self, the person we we’re intended to be from the very beginning. Integration is re-integration, bringing together the best parts of ourselves, which creates then a healthy, wholesome, calm, mature, and wise person. We become the best of our True Self then in relationship with God, with others, and with creation. How then, do we accomplish this work?

As I said, I have had lots of failures, serious rough spots, and some tragic moments in my life. What I have learned along this pilgrimage of life is that I must incorporate the teachings and practices that could bring about a transformation in my life. Of course, the Bible and Jesus’ teachings have been the foundation from which I’ve done my work. But there are countless others who have been my teachers about the mind, the body, the soul, and the spirit. Some have worked with me face to face, like my mentors Scott Haasarud and Michael O’Grady.
Others, I learned from them through their books, like Carl Jung and Richard Rohr. The point is that we are always on a path of learning how to be our True Self. And because we are always being confronted with change, we will also be given the opportunity to learn new ways of being our True Self.

In the crude drawing I’ve provided below, you’ll see my most recent musings about a possible way to understand integration. The circle in the center of the page is what I hope my True Self is working toward. As you can see, my desire is for YHWH, the Divine One, to be at the center of my life. And because the divine is in all and is all, YHWH could not be confined within me or anyone or anything else, YHWH is in all the other circles, too: other humans, plants, animals, all of creation and all of the cosmos. I am connected to all of these people and entities through what Jesus taught us, love. And this love is manifested in and by my relationship with my neighbors, my enemies and my Self.

What surrounds this movement of divine relationship is my interior work as described by the prophet Micah (6:1-8): do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. The interior work is justice, kindness, and humility, these are the interactive God-like characteristics from which we live, move, and have our being. This interior work then is visibly manifested in the exterior work of Action (doing), Pilgrimage (walking) and Love. Action is the work of the mind. To do what we have learned to do, what Jesus has taught us to do. Pilgrimage, walking, is the work of the body. And Love, which is the work of the relationship with the soul and the spirit; love God, love our neighbors, love our enemies, love all creation, and love our Self.

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Daniel Siegel in his book Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human, says that the mind is more than our brain, even more than our brain and our body. He says that the mind is a relationship between our brain and our body along with our relationships with other humans and all creation. In other words, he says that integration is the work of being in healthy relationship with our mind, body, soul, and spirit, and the mind, body, soul, and spirit of other humans and all of creation. He even suggests that possibly all of these interactive integrated relationships might be the complete essence of who we call God. This rudimentary diagram, then, may also be an image of the Trinitarian divine. A 360-degree, multi-dimensional sphere of the dynamic motion of the characteristics of YWHW, the unspeakable name. It looks like a gyroscope in action seen through the lenses of a kaleidoscope—beauty in motion.

Cynthia Bourgeault in her book The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, reminds us that the triune God is not an anthropomorphic projection of the faces of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but instead a limitless, timeless, movement of creation in constant action. I like to think that we are created in the image of this limitless, timeless, movement of creation in constant action. And that we also are a 360 degree-multi-dimensional potential of integration.

What does all this mean in practical twenty-first century terms?

First, it means that we must live in the presence of the now of God. For there, and only there, resides the potential of wholeness and health. We must let go of the past and stop worrying about the future. Now is where we live and now is where we must act. If there is something that you know will help you live a more integrated life, begin now.

Second, it means that we have to pay attention to our teachers by acting on what they have taught us. Jesus said love your enemies. That’s a pretty straight-forward directive. It will also change our life by moving us toward becoming integrated human beings.

Three, it means that we need to stretch our mind, challenge old concepts and look for new ways to be wise humans in this world. Reading and studying people like those I’ve mentioned, Jung, Rohr, Siegel, and Bourgeault are good beginning points to help us see beyond the horizon of our current beliefs.

And four, working through the process toward integration demands a lifetime of effort. The difficult challenge is to trust the process. To say that I trust God, is to say that I trust the process of becoming an integrated True Self. Indeed, trusting the process is the work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Dog Story: Lessons on Holy Listening

The Dog Story: Lessons on Holy Listening (Thanks to my friend Blair Braden for this title.)

My wife and I founded an interfaith wisdom school three years ago. Over the course of the two-year program we have two goals for the students. One is to help them develop spiritual practices that will sustain them in their daily living. The second goal is probably the most important and that is to teach them how to listen. It sounds so easy, but learning to listen, holy listening, deep listening, takes intention, and practice.

One of the skills in learning how listening is to hear someone’s story without responding with your own story. Try this the next time someone tells you their “dog” story. Everyone has a story about their dog or favorite pet. You’ve probably told someone a story about your dog and what does the other person always do? They respond with their story that’s even more amazing, or unbelievable then your story. So, the next time someone tells you their dog story, listen to their story, and then ask them a question about their story. But don’t respond by telling them your dog story. It might be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. That’s listening.

In today gospel reading (Luke 6:27-36) we hear Jesus’ most difficult teaching and he starts by telling us to listen. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Do to others as you would have them do to you…Be merciful as God is merciful.”

It is interesting that Jesus’ didn’t end his first sentence at “love your enemies.” He put some action into the commandment. He went on to say that we must “do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us.” Then Jesus took his teaching even further by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Still Jesus ups the ante to another level. Here, he demands that we be merciful to those who show us no mercy; that we be merciful like God is merciful. The key to following Jesus’ almost impossible teaching is first, learning how to listen.

Today in the Episcopal Church, we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, a man who followed Jesus and lived out his teachings, as difficult as that might have been for him to do at times. King was a defender of the poor and the marginalized. He led this country to confront racism and the injustice it caused. For his efforts, Martin Luther King, Jr. lived his life in the wake of constant death threats. His home was bombed. He was nearly stabbed to death. And then on April 4, 1968 he was shot down while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis.

Martin Luther King taught us that racism, poverty, and militarism are intertwined. He taught us to stand strong for the weak and oppressed; to be firm in our convictions for justice and freedom for all. And while he suffered the prejudice of those who hated him for who he was and what he taught, Martin Luther King resisted oppression through peaceful non-violent resistance.

In the face of hate and violence, King would say that he had “decided to stick with love. Hate,” he said, “is too great a burden to bear. (For) hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” King preached the words of Jesus, “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” The words of Jesus and King still ring in our ears today.

This past week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker speaking at Jeff Sessions hearing to become the next Attorney General paraphrased King by saying that, “The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve towards justice, we must bend it.” I believe we must bend ourselves toward love instead hate, toward justice instead of injustice.

President Obama, in his farewell speech, spoke to the issue of racism. “After my election (in 2008) there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race,” Obama said, “remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.” But the President did offer Americans a way forward. He urged us to begin listening to one another. By listening to one another, together we can begin to meaningfully cross the divide of race and all other differences that divide us.

We must listen to one another by honoring our uniqueness as human beings. We must listen to one another with compassion. We must listen to one another with love and mercy. We must listen to one another like we want others to listen to us.

We can’t love someone if we don’t know them. And we can’t know someone if we don’t listen to them.

This kind of intense listening takes hard work. Recently, several of us gathered here at St Peter’s to study the writings of Howard Thurman. He was a scholar, preacher, visionary and civil rights leader. His teachings had a powerful influence on Martin Luther King, especially Thurman’s work on non-violent resistance. Our conversations were intense and, I thought, productive.

To follow up on this work, during Lent this year, we will offer an opportunity for folks to enter into “Trust Circles.” (These small groups will follow the model taught by Quaker Parker Palmer.) The goal of these circles is to create a space so that we can talk about difficult issues, like race, but also talk about our political and religious differences. We have been told that at church politics and religion don’t mix. But I think that has been a failed mistake. The church should be the place that creates safe space for people to talk about difficult topics. The church can create safe space when we follow the teachings of Jesus. Love you neighbor, love your enemies, treat others the way you want to be treated, and in the end, be as merciful as God. If we can talk about difficult issues at church, then maybe this model can spread into other places of our country. But in order for that hope to be fulfilled we must be vigilant in our efforts to listen and show mercy, and in our prayers.

I think a good place to begin is the prayer the Episcopal Church offers for our celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

O Holy God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.