Finisterre: Recidivism: It’s Okay

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I love it when I think I finally understand something about my familiar ego’s way of reacting– and feeling like this time, I’ve got it. No more reactivity; I’ll be calm and objective and just curious the next time someone pushes one of my old “buttons.” I’ve really taken another step down the spiritual path this time. But even THAT is me being in control. The ego wins again. And inevitably I do react the next time I hear a racial slur or a differing political or theological opinion or heaven forbid, I am accused of being wrong or foolish or naive.

I wrote about this in my book about the Camino when referencing the spiral staircase analogy; it’s not that the old issues, go away; you meet them again but hopefully with more wisdom, a little further up the staircase. In my Diamond Approach work, the teachers call it “taking another pass” at the issue. I like that too. In fact, I think it’s a better way of thinking about it, primarily because the spiraling up staircase or taking a step down the spiritual path both seem to imply that there is somewhere to get to. Again Meister Eckhart reminds me that “the path cannot be a path of attaining because nothing’s missing. Therefore the path has to be one of becoming detached from what hinders us from realizing it.”

So I take another pass at it each time I get irritated, correct someone from my point of view, roll my eyes with impatience or even listen as if I’m open and paying attention when in fact, I’m making particularly uncompassionate judgments.

But I’ve come to realize that this is okay. “Fundamental to this work is to be where you are,” says Deborah Letofsky, longtime Diamond Approach teacher. Fundamental. Not to reject when I’m reactive, but simply to be with it fully and allow it, seeing what then unfolds. If I’m judging someone, I’m aware of it, rather than digging the pit deeper by judging myself for judging! I let in the possibility of grace.

I’m currently reading a book by a favorite author of mine, Parker Palmer, entitled On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old. In it, he calls these profound moments of grace “jailbreaks.” Which is a perfect understanding of what it is like to live life from the perspective of the all-knowing and so certain ego–prison. But his next line is what made me burst out laughing, and why I am writing this particular blog. He calls himself a “lifelong recidivist”– recidivism being the term for when a person freed from prison, commits another crime and is returned to jail. Yes, that’s how I see myself. A lifelong recidivist, coming back to the same realizations that set me free, only to relapse and start again. And yet, and how lucky I am, without the help of my ego, grace lifts me, carries me, transforms me without me knowing it. And I see I have been changed.

I have been told about grace all my life–that’s one of the benefits of growing up Lutheran, despite it having its own prisons, the foundation of the faith is “we are saved by grace alone, not by works.” Thank you Martin Luther. As the Diamond Approach says in another way, “There’s nothing to do.”

Grace is such a golden, shining, good thing, and yet it is one of the hardest realizations to fully accept. “It’s too good to be true. Really? I must have to do something.” I try to contain it, make contracts with it, consider it rather than accept it. I get released from prison and then back I go, this lifelong recidivist.

And, again. That’s okay. No matter what I do, I am constantly being pulled toward Being. Like water is pulled to the ocean, I am in that river and my only job is to let myself float downstream. Yes, I’ll try to grab onto a rock or swim to shore or try to find bottom with my feet. Lifelong recidivist!

Yet I am loved. That is the sole foundation of grace. And nothing will stop the river. It is fundamental to simply be where I am.


A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

My older sister is here visiting me. Since we were the first two of seven siblings, we were each other’s first friends. Now that we are 72 and 75, we have a lifetime of memories that we have shared, some of those unique just to the two of us and no one else. It’s been fun to remember some of the old stories of who we were growing up, and for me to realize even more deeply how that early cultural and familial conditioning carved my ego and impacted my soul. Rich memories of life on an Iowa farm, living so close to the earth, to animals, to each other. We all worked together and worked hard to encourage that rich, loamy, black Iowa soil to give us a living–to give us life. My sister and I review the times of baling hay, castrating pigs, chasing the cattle in the cornfields when the fence failed, grinding corn for the feeders, and always how we negotiated my father’s anger and expectations.

I know these stories so well. I hold them dear. But I notice this. Those stories of me aren’t who I am. For so long I have attached my self to those stories of what made me strong, what tore me down, what give me joy, what plunged me into grief. And I held onto them as my identity, my pass into adulthood. But now, there is this voice that reminds me that that was then. Stories. Past. And it may be helpful to understand how that story had shaped my personality and how it has created barriers to realizing who I am. But I am not the story. That is not my Self.

This newer Self is a consciousness that doesn’t need to work hard. In fact, there is nothing to do. This emerging Self goes more slowly. There is nothing to prove. This emerging Self has been graced with the increasing sense of just being. Just being mySelf instead of myself. And here is the sweetest part; I am not separate from anything or anyone else.

It’s this gentle slide from thinking I am this body, this story, this ego to a consciousness of taking pleasure in my Self as space, as vast, as love, as strength, as will, as compassion, as joy–things essential. Things I write now, yet beyond what I can write, to simply being my experience of my Self. I am not memory. I am Now.

It’s ironic to write this on Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembering, having memories of those who have served and died to protect and defend the citizens of the United States to keep them free. And please don’t think I dishonor those stories. Memories are not bad. It’s just the attachment to them, so that we don’t see who we really are.

It’s not that I was never told this as a child. Growing up also meant I went to church and Sunday School every Sunday. I was also given the story that I was a child of God. I was connected to that which I could not see or fully understand, yet gave me belonging. And was true. Now I am opening to understanding at 72 what it means. Not just a child of God, but a co-creator with God– never be separate from that which created me. That Great Consciousness that created everything. That potential. That kind of power. That deep relaxation.

What a different kind of freedom on this Memorial Day.

Sign on my refrigerator.

Finisterre: Seeing What Is Really There

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

It’s late on Monday; my day to publish the next blog. I’m still dreaming I’m in the Grand Canyon this week–strange dreams, but always the sense of flowing in water.

When I look at the words of the pledge I wrote down above, I think what fulfills that pledge this week is the last phrase–“to create in ways I hadn’t imagined.”

I’m wondering if it is the influence of seeing the first spring flowers at every stop of our road trip–from yellow violets to pink cacti, hordes of daffodils, fields of poppies, hillsides of lupine and the slopes of yellow brittle brush in the Canyon, but something stirred in me this week, back to a time when I used to draw wildflowers–during my very first years in Alaska, when so many blooms were new to me, especially the tiny alpine versions that survived such brutal winters.

This desire arose to draw the flowers emerging in my yard now. But how to start? I had let the drawing lapse many years ago. Then a book came to mind that had been recommended years ago that I had started and then put down–Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It was published in 1989 yet remains a classic. She carefully details how drawing evolves through childhood and teenage years, and how the progression from drawing stick figures to drawing realistic images is developed. Her primary premise is that children, and thus adults, are not taught how to see, that is how to perceive using the right side of the brain. Unlike the left side of the brain, the right mode is aware but mostly nonverbal and not connected to words. It is related more to the present moment, and has an understanding of metaphoric relationships. There is a willingness to suspend judgment, to make leaps of insight, and sees the the overall pattern of things. (pg. 40)

These attributes relate so closely to my work on the spiritual path that I had to smile. I was being drawn back to this way of seeing, and being present, intuitive and wholistic. It delighted me. Edwards goes on to say, “To sum up, adult students beginning in art generally do not really see what is in front of their eyes–that is, they do not perceive in the special way required for drawing.They take note of what’s there, and quickly translate the perception into words and symbols mainly based on the symbol system developed throughout childhood and on what they know about the perceived object….What is the solution to this dilemma? You must turn turn off your dominant left brain mode of verbal categorizing and turn on the right mode processing part of your brain, so that you can see the way an artist sees.(pg.78)

I have been doing the beginning exercises the past few days, all designed to turn on this right brain, of course. It’s been fascinating. I’ve done some mirroring exercises and drawing things upside down. Another exercise was to draw my hand, millimeter by millimeter, without looking at the paper while I drew. It was so intense that several things happened: first, I didn’t have a sense of time. I noticed when I am so focused on the exercise, I thought of nothing else; there was no room for my inner critic to make a comment. (that occurs when you stay in the present moment!) I also looked up after the exercise and was surprised that I could see the birch trees outside my window so clearly and distinctly–again, as if perceiving them in a new way. Natural mind-altering. And when doing the fourth exercise, I began to feel a lot of inner heat, as if something had begun to burn within me–an awakening. All of this took me into new territory by simply drawing in this right brain way!

I’m resting in these revelations today, but sensing that this new awareness supports and enhances my spiritual journey perfectly, from just a different perspective. Again, I am touched at the attunement of this guidance and the joy that is embedded in it.

I am adding a picture that I was to replicate drawing upside down–first the version in the book, (pg.52) and then the version I drew. I’m not drawing flowers yet, but I don’t want to until I learn how to turn on this right side of my brain easily and see them as they really are!

In some way, the Grand Canyon has opened me to this next inner journey. I can only guess. But those ancient rocks vibrate with the energy of being, and perhaps, I was beginning to see them as they really are as we floated by so effortlessly. This is an interesting Finisterre for me. I wonder what will unfold. How will my writing be affected? Included? I will see.

Finisterre: Canyon Impact

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I’m still feeling a little inadequate in writing about my trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for eight days. Perhaps it is not wanting to disturb the resounding stillness it impregnated into my soul. Those towering, layered edifices of ancient stone–citadels, temples, cathedrals, domes, spires. Solid, enduring, holding, captivating, tempting me to apprehend this version of time, this ability to wait, this allowing.

Paradoxically those very walls aren’t solid or impregnable. Slowly, every day, bits and pieces are falling and sliding down from the heights. Water is molding them, wearing them down, smoothing them into sand. And in contrast to the silent stones, the river is never silent here. It rages in rapids and riffles and rumors. It is always speaking of change and movement and dynamism, digging the canyon deeper, revealing more. In this 277-mile canyon, these paradoxical forces co-exist–the deep silence and the raging sound, the stark solidity and the steady streaming.

It soothes me to know that like the Canyon, I can be a paradox. Part of me strong and soaring, part of me aging, slowly being worn down. I can be loud, and I can be so quiet. I can rage and I can laugh. I can be so judgmental, and I can be so kind. I can be fearless, and I can be afraid. Reasonable and illogical. Egotistical and soulful. And it all is okay. It all can fit in the canyon just as it is. So much of my life has been either shamed by those pieces I didn’t like or trying to fix them. Not allowing myself to just be human.

I got angry on this trip. A group of the fellow rafters were ready to party loudly after we made camp. Not one night but every night. I was tired. I wanted to sleep, not join a toga party. On the third night, I was annoyed. On the fourth night, I shouted for them to be quiet, and judged them as less than me. I wanted to feel patience and equanimity and allowing. But I didn’t. I let myself feel the anger and fatigue and self-righteousness. It was true in the moment. And later, it wasn’t.

I will never be perfect. Such a relief now to know this in the last decades of my life. No more trying to attain something. I wish to just be myself, accepting all the parts of who I am and all that unfolds in my life. Then I’ve opened the space to be changed by grace, to be molded like the water molds the canyon, to be held like the presence of those high canyon walls.

“Every time we catch ourselves getting reactive; every time we catch ourselves acting as if the outcome of a situation has the authority to name who we are, we are to take a deep breath and remind ourselves–it isn’t true. That there’s this hidden, unfelt, deep, abyss-like center in which we’re being unexplainable sustained in the midst of the circumstances.” James Findlay

I am such a small speck of sand, such a moment in the 14 billion years of our universe’s history. The Canyon has gently guided me to be humble, to take my place in time– with an acquiescence to simply be with what is. It is such a place of grandeur– and so am I. So are you. Take a breath.

Finisterre: Road Trip Ends, but Journey Continues

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

At the end of this 4700 mile road trip, I am cascaded with memories of a still frozen North and sleeping in single digit temperatures in the Yukon, mincing my steps on ice the first three nights. Then as we wound south, the peeking of green, the sight of migrating swans, the first shy flowers, and then the thrill of big towering trees as we dropped into Hope, British Columbia just before the border. The temperatures rose to the forties and fifties, as the rain pelted down in Washington and Oregon, the fields green and the daffodils riotous in their showy yellow. We crossed the Sierras with snow piled six to eight feet on each side and sticks of trees protruding from recent avalanches, and then we descended to a campground on the eastern side, in fields of lupine and orange poppies. Finally the temperatures rose to the sixties and seventies. We began to throw off the covers in the camper, sought out our sandals, put away the heavy coats. The air became dry and dusty and as we entered the high desert, bright yellow desert dandelions covering the slopes with the sage and dry brush. And finally we left the high country and felt the press of temperatures in the eighties and nineties and finally one hundred when we reached Palm Springs. Here the cactus were in high bloom, and harebells and flowers with strange names like white tack stem and Mormon tea. We camped in the midst of big smooth granite boulders and Joshua trees. We only lasted two days there before scampering up to the mountains again in northern Arizona to cooler temps, settling into a mountain cabin among the Ponderosa pines. So many clear nights of star gazing and moon watching. So many times that we stumbled upon the right camp spot or surprising vista. Tomorrow begins our long-awaited raft down the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon where stones 1.85 billion years old will enfold me in their history and mystery, and I can only imagine the river itself will teach me in its own unique way about going with the flow, not resisting the rapids, trusting in what unfolds. It also means I will be off-grid for eight days and not able to post by next Monday—so this one is a double : )

Beyond the outer memories of this road trip, I noticed a subtle sweet inner journey happening too. Of course, there were so many times my soul felt uplifted, filled and humbled by the sheer beauty of the landscape. But I’m speaking to a more subtle sense. A sense that very small things would bring me suddenly to quiet tears. Like my heart was open in a new way that surprised me. I was so often touched by my experience, exploring new places within me, places I didn’t even know I had protected. 

One of them happened at a Saturday market in Prescott, Arizona as we wandered the scattered booths, searching for breakfast. It seemed unremarkable at first—a stand selling fair trade coffee. The seller was an older man and something about his features made me sure he was from a Central American country. My friend picked up the coffee bag—El Salvador. Then I read the hand-lettered sign that listed the attributes of these particular coffee beans. It was grown from “sustainable agriculture—”no pesticides, shade-grown, complex canopy, direct from farm to consumer.”  But it was the last line that caught me. “We pay high enough wages that our workers don’t have to immigrate.” Unbidden tears came to my eyes. Surprised I tried to swallow and blink my eyes to calm them down. Why was I crying? 

And then I realized many years ago, I had begun to stuff away feelings about immigrants that I had met and lived among. Some of this happened in Mexico with immigrants at a shelter in Tijuana and some happened in Anchorage with the Hmong from Laos. At the shelter, I was just present and listened to the immigrant stories and worked on housing at the town dump where a village had grown up. In Anchorage, I helped in all the usual ways of food, housing, getting a green card, transportation and jobs. And always being present and listening to the stories. But the stories were so tragic, so violent, so unjust, so harrowing and the needs so great. Without really knowing it, I think now that I gradually shut my heart down to actually feeling how angry, helpless and inadequate I felt listening to and knowing these stories. I wanted to save them, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t fully understand the culture. I made mistakes. I couldn’t control bad outcomes. And the injustice itself was systemic. I felt myself pull away, naming it compassion fatigue, but not understanding the consequences then to my heart. 

But through following my spiritual path of inquiry, teachings and meditation, my heart has been opening. It seems such a small thing, just seeing a sign saying that workers don’t have to immigrate and face such suffering in doing so. Knowing there are fellow human beings aligning themselves with hope against the odds—not succumbing to cynicism, as I wrote about last week. 

It’s such a vulnerable thing—to feel what you feel. But it is the way through. I let myself feel those tears and I spent time curious about why. In doing so, my capacity to be with painful situations has matured. I have moved away from feeling I need to save people, to believing my presence is enough. I’ll know how I want and need to respond and it will be attuned.

Stephen Levine, poet and author best known for his work on death and dying, was asked once  by a member of the audience this foundational question: “What is the meaning of life?”

Levine acknowledged that was a vast question, but in that moment he said, “I think the meaning of life is to let your heart be broken.”   

I think I understand what he was saying. It means living a life beyond being in control, knowing all the answers, or knowing anything at all. But there is where real life simply is—rich and fertile and real. The tears that live so close to the surface in me now I take as my guides to opening my heart to being broken, so as the singer Leonard Cohen says, so “the light can come in.” 

Finisterre: Living with Astonishment

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I follow the blog site called the Marginalian by Maria Popova, often amazed at the breadth of her reading and compilation of the wisdom of so many sources that she offers with each post. One of the many topics she broached this week was how we grow old gracefully. In an excerpt she writes, “This open-hearted curiosity, this aura of astonishment, becomes an antidote to the spiritual poison most corrosive to this world—cynicism, that supreme enemy of hope. At any stage of life, the refusal to succumb to cynicism is among our greatest triumphs of the spirit. It is certainly our mightiest force of courage and resistance to the cowardly denouncements of possibility that pock the countenance of humanity.” 

Cynicism. An inclination to believe that people are motivated solely by self-interest. Or also defined as an inclination to question whether something will happen or if its worthwhile. A close relative to pessimism. You may have your own definition and experience.

It is one of my ongoing practices, and a hard one, to not collapse into cynicism, especially with politicians or do-gooders or anyone I don’t trust.  I am aware every time it wins; I feel how it contracts me, makes me feel hard and tight. It gives me a sense of power, but false power. If I’m cynical, I feel in control, not duped, not sentimental. Yet it is always embroidered with fear of some flavor. Cynicism helps cover up the hurt of what‘s happening in the world, almost giving me license to not do anything. I question over and over in myself whether I am just unwilling to look at the frustration and real struggles of this world because they are too painful or has cynicism made me hopeless? I’m also aware every time that I counter cynicism, it feels like some kind of victory of the soul. I feel lighter and closer to what I really want to be. I trust I can respond to the struggles of this world appropriately.

I agree with Popova that this “refusal to succumb” is one of the most important things in my spiritual practice. Popova quotes Nick Cave on his way of resisting the pull of cynicism:

“Absorb into yourself the world’s full richness and goodness and fun and genius, so that when someone tells you it’s not worth fighting for, you will stick up for it, protect it, run to its defense, it is your world they’re talking about, then watch that world to pour itself into you in gratitude. A little smart vampire full of raging love, amazed by the world.”

Steve and I are nearly four thousand miles into our road trip from Alaska today. I have four thousand miles worth of wonder now to talk back to that destructive voice of cynicism. I’m still daily amazed that I am here because 14 billion years ago there was a huge explosion in which much was annihilated, but helium and hydrogen emerged to begin creation. Then a supernova erupted and carbon and other elements were created that continued this process of evolution that the universe was planning all along. That evolution that led to me being here now.  That wonder is deepening as I understand more and more about cosmogenesis. That “aura of astonishment” that Popova writes about is what I want to cultivate more and more as I age and ripen. Maybe five or six years ago, Steve and I changed the license plate on our camper to read WOW SKR. It means “Wow Seeker” to us. “Wow” became our natural mantra as we traveled this country of ours—wows to natural beauty, wows to human creativity and wows to how much these experiences enlivened our souls.  And yes, also wows to how we as humans can destroy and hurt one another and the earth. But just noticing, not succumbing. 

Steve and I catch each other all the time, when cynicism could so easily win. And I ask for grace to accept reality as it is without cynicism, yet with full awareness, not denial. As one of my Diamond Approach fellow students said with amazement upon discovering this in her inquiry, “I guess it’s kind of stupid to reject reality.” It made us all laugh when she said it. We all recognized this foolishness. This truth comes from so many traditions. I recently read an article in the magazine, Spirituality and Health, about the practice of Ho’oponopono–which I have relied on for the practice of forgiveness for many years. Ho’oponopoo Ke Ala means to “make the path that is right more right.” Auntie Mahealani Henry is quoted in the article as saying, “Nothing is wrong—all is in right place, right time, right being—what Hawaiians call pono.  Stop resisting what is…everything is pono—as it is—be grateful..all of it, exactly as it is. Accept it.” 

There is another elder that lived by this wisdom—my mother. Her mantra, “It is what it is.”  Fellow resisters of cynicism. Fellow human beings that want to live with curiosity and trust in this world as it is—able to be astonished and open to what will be. Holders of hope.

Finisterre: Not a Favorite Topic, But– Death

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I just officiated at a memorial for a friend of mine–who is still very much alive. We danced for four hours the night before, singing karoke with thirty or so friends who all gathered for her sixtieth birthday. (She favors dive bars.) But she, who will not let any elephant remain in the room, reminded us at the party that she has a terminal cancer diagnosis, and she wanted to hear all the good things that her friends would say about her before she dies. So, of course, we complied because we love her, and we know she has always lived her life by her own rules. The next morning we gathered on the beach on the Oregon coast to read poems, tell stories, anoint and bless her. So in all its beauty, death was among us, full of life.

One of the readings was from Brother David Steindl-Rast: “It isn’t primarily a practice of thinking of one’s last hour, or of death as a physical phenomenon; it is a seeing of every moment of life against the horizon of death, and a challenge to incorporate that awareness of dying into every moment so as to become more fully alive.”

That is the dance of our lives, living life fully, knowing we will die. Yet it is our cultural tradition to shun death and shy away from even talking about it, unlike my friend who is practicing embracing it. But death is as natural as the seasons, “not as an enemy or a failure, but as a stage of life.” (Ram Dass).

My Diamond Approach teacher, John Davis, remarked on death this past Saturday in an online class that added another twist to this relationship of life and death. He said, “The world thinks that birth comes before death; but in spiritual work, we know that with death, there is a birth.”

Like Steindl-Rast, Davis wasn’t just thinking about the physical death, although the statement holds in this as well. But anytime we have the courage to let something die that no longer serves, there is the possibility of a birth–and usually it is painful, just as physical birth, and yet worth it. Letting an attachment to any person, place, thing or belief is a little death. And it is important to delineate that it is not necessarily ending the relationship, but ending the attachment to it. It is the attachment that keeps one in a small box. There is a three step process in the Diamond Approach that is countercultural to the way we face any death. I have come to trust that always works if I can stay with it; I know that’s a significant if, and I don’t always have the courage to do it; but if it do, it feels like nothing less than grace.

The Theory of Holes:

1. Something is uncomfortable and we can’t fix or change it. We try and we can’t. It feels like a hole. It can feel like hell.
2. Go with the feeling of being in a hole; see what’s there; be curious. Stay with it.
3. Surprise! The hole opens up to some aspect of Essence–like spaciousness or lightness a feeling of compassion or strength or renewed will arise. Like I said, grace. Nothing I have done. But I have been willing.
(See Book One of the Diamond Heart series by A.H. Almaas for a more explicit explanation)

My friend doesn’t know how long she has to live; and I don’t either. But I have a path through the life I am granted on this planet that doesn’t shy away from death and the emotions that arise. Instead, I am encouraged to remain curious, even in the sadness or depression or sense of loss that comes.

It is always possible to be present with what is dying or who is dying, even if that is an old identity of who you think you are.

There is newness and surprise assured to us in all that dies. Until there is some contentment with loss, it is almost impossible to fully realize what life offers.

Full transparency: I am not content with my friend’s diagnosis yet. I am not content that she may die too soon for my liking. That is being human and that is part of my loving her. But knowing her death is a birth beyond what I can imagine, I keep walking the path, willing to be open, waiting to be amazed.

Finisterre: An Emerging Easter

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I write this on Easter morning, remembering all the mornings of my life that I went to an Easter sunrise service at church, awake, expectant and excited, feeling like I too was going to a tomb to mourn a beloved one, only to find that the Beloved is not dead but alive, in new form.

I have been writing and reading much about the expanding universe and my place and purpose in it in the last two blogs, quoting often from the book by Brian Swimme on Cosmogeneis. I am curious that this exploration has deepened during the season of Lent and is culminating during Holy Week and now Easter. As a cradle Christian in a reforming church, one that was founded on questioning tradition (Luther takes on the Catholic church), I feel I am honoring that lineage by being open to understanding the teaching of Christ in ever expanding and evolving ways–not leaving it behind, but allowing its dynamism. If God created the universe, we now know it is not a fixed cosmos; it is one in constant genesis–creating new stars, creating new humans, creating new possibilities, creating new potential. And in me, and in so many, creating a new awareness. “See, I come to make things new,” says Jesus.

I have been leaning into a creation-centered orientation to my spiritual journey for over twenty years, appreciating the Celtic understanding of our relationship to the created world, the indigenous cultures knowing of the elements of creation as their “relatives”, and of the early Christian mystics of Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich who were given visions of Earth as Divine creation. And I have always experienced the Divine in the human body, in awe of how it works, it moves, it heals, it expresses this creation.

Matthew Fox, another creation-centered theologian, writes that religions of the Western world, especially Christianity, were captured by the idea that a human’s ultimate purpose is to be redeemed out of a fallen world. This fixation on escape resulted in modern theology’s slide into irrelevance, most notably among the highly educated and the young. According to Fox, Western Christianity needs to drop its obsession with getting redeemed out of the world and return to a twelfth century theology that the universe is not fallen, but the primary manifestation of divine magnificence. ( pg. 183, Cosmogenesis)

Julian of Norwich writes: “See!” I am God. See! I am in everything. See! I do everything. See! I never lift my hands off my works, nor will I ever. See! I lead everything toward the purpose I ordained it to from without beginning, By the same Power, Wisdom, and Love by which I created it. How could anything be amiss?”

In these words I see the same understanding that cosmologists write about–that the universe knew from the birth of creation that we were coming. I am fascinated with this translation of Julian of Norwich that says, “I ordained it to from without beginning.” A way of saying our creation had a beginning 14 billion years ago, but it was formed from “without beginning.” That which was before time.

Some call it “panentheism”, meaning God is in everything. But it is more true for me to say, everything is in God. I am in God. I am not separate from that which created everything. Or as Thomas Berry says, ” I am the universe in the mode of a human.” I know it is true without fully being able to grasp it.

As Easter emerges in me this year, I am appreciating my many years of observing and honoring Easter, awakening on this morning to all which confirms life here on this amazing planet where we evolved. The greening of the earth, daffodils blooming, and yes, bunnies and chicks and colorful eggs, holding life beneath that shell. The story of an empty tomb.

There is a knowing in our cells of once being water and emerging from water. That as we evolved into this form we have memory of that which falls away and dies, yet that life force that continues on. While I don’t hold to the teachings of original sin or atonement theories of my original faith, I hold onto the Love I was taught that created the world and sustains it.

In this emerging Easter within me, there is a new spring that I cannot even fully name yet. And there is a new form of me that I don’t recognize, like Mary Magdalene mistaking Jesus for the gardener until he called her name. I feel my name being called into new awarenesses. In this emerging Easter which feels a bit confusing and new and disorienting to my human mind, hardly able to take in cosmogenesis, I take a step, putting my foot on the ground of this Earth as divine manifestation, and simply give thanks for this moment in 14 billion years of time. I am here now. I wonder what that will mean. But as Julian of Norwich writes, “What can be amiss?”

Finisterre: Love in the Cosmos; Supernova Grace

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

Have you ever looked at the night sky and thought, “It is loving us.” I hadn’t. But the book I mentioned in my last post called Cosmogenesis by Brian Swimme is proposing that reality! As I continue to explore how cosmogenesis broadens my spiritual understanding of the universe and myself, I come bumping up again to Love–from a scientific viewpoint, a Christian viewpoint, a mystical viewpoint and a cosmological viewpoint. And in this moment, they all fit. Love is that big. If you are reading this blogpost, I want to confess that I am writing it for me. I’m trying to understand what I already know and what the universal intelligence is wanting to transmit to me–via those who have asked the same questions, but also to access my own way of knowing that has been within me from the beginning of time.

Thomas Berry, Catholic priest and ecological activist, was preaching in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City when he said, “The universe, along with Planet Earth, both in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence, constitute the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being. The most spectacular unveiling since the birth of the universe is the supernova explosion.”

I didn’t understand what he meant by that. What happened in a supernova explosion, that is, the explosion of a star? I had seen and marveled at the pictures from the Hubble telescope of supernovas. But what is unveiled in that explosion? He went on to explain that “a chemical alchemy takes place in the core of every star. The atoms of carbon are created by stars and poured out into the Milky Way. The creativity of the stars is the one and only way carbon is constructed in the universe, which means each carbon atom in our bodies came from a star.”

Okay. Stop. So there were no carbon atoms before this strange star alchemy–alchemy meaning the transformation of matter. Carbon wasn’t there at the beginning. Stars created it. I think my small human brain has to just sit here and take that in.

Berry goes on to correlate it in a spiritual sense to grace–that is, by the grace of the stars we exist. “Did the universe ask us to pay for this? No”, he says. ” Have we done anything to merit this cosmic grace? No. Stars are bestowers of grace. We are their offspring.”

Just when I was going to question if stars could know they were giving birth to us, Berry goes on to say that in one sense it is true to say that they didn’t know. “But it is wrong to say they did not know. They know how to create carbon, silver, boron, and calcium. They know how to participate in the ongoing development of the universe. They know how to fulfill their role in this spectacular process.” Again, I stopped reading. Do I know my role in this process? And haven’t I been seeking that very thing in all my spiritual seeking?

I’m reminded of Joni Mitchell’s song lyrics of “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get back to the garden.” How strange to put these words that join this scientific fact with a cryptic reference to Eden–the garden at the beginning of creation.

Berry’s following words, “The central revelation is its irreversible gift-giving. This gift requires the star’s death. This extravagant gift-giving is the spirituality of the universe. It is a form of cosmic love that enables the future to emerge.”

I am no longer an orthodox Christian, but I experience the extravagant gift-giving of the love of Christ. Some call it kenosis–an emptying of Christ’s self. I can’t help but make this comparison between that story and Berry’s story of the supernova. It’s so interesting that I am coming to this as Holy Week in the Christian tradition begins in two days–a week that includes a willing death that emerges into life and the future, not the end. The death of a star; the death of Jesus.

I sit here pondering truths I’ve been told. I sit pondering what is my truth. I sense more and more that it all belongs. If grace and generosity and a giving of oneself is at the heart of creation, what am I willing to let die in order for the future to emerge? I am not separate from the stars I gaze at in the night sky. The stars that I now regard with new understanding, as my progenitors–that in their way of knowing, loved me into being.

The last line of Comosgenesis reads, when we look out at the night sky, we are looking at that which is looking.

More to come. I haven’t got to Julian of Norwich yet.

Finisterre: Wrapping My Head Around an Expanding Universe: Cosmogenesis

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I changed the pledge above of what I want this blog called Finisterre to mean. It had to include creativity and imagination now that the Universe dropped a book in my lap this past week and urged me to read it. The title is Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe by Brian Thomas Swimme. I have so much to explore about this book that I am forewarning you that it may be the creative juice of several of my blog posts to come. Even today I began to make connections between the scientific discoveries of the universe with the mystical visions of Julian of Norwich. But that will have to wait until next time as I need to do more research.

Brian Swimme is a mathematician, a cosmologist, a philosopher and now what he feels he has been called to do for this time in our fourteen billion-year-history of this universe: to be a cosmic storyteller. What kept me reading his history of cosmology in the scientific world from 1968- 1983 was that he told his personal story. It’s a love story really about his wife and sons, his work, the universe and fellow human beings. After reading this story, I now am expanding along with the universe in my relationship to other humans, to the Earth and to the cosmos. I know. I’m gushing a little. But it feels like a turning point for me. Swimme asks his important question, “Is there a new form of trans-conceptual knowledge emerging–one that is rooted in science and yet is holistic and experiential?”

It has been nearly a hundred years since Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is not a static given, but that it is expanding. In 1964, Penzias and Wilson discovered primal light–cosmic microwave background radiation that arrives here in all directions from somewhere near the birthplace of the universe. Our origin is in a “colossal sphere of light.” (25) It is the origin of us.

This statement alone is staggering to me. I have this simple mind that can’t really hold the thought of fourteen billion years, let alone that my origin–these very bones that can dance and the skin on my hands that can touch and my eyes that can see so much utter beauty all came from this beginning. And yet, it intersects with many spiritual teachings that God is Light; and that I am Light. I just never felt it viscerally. I didn’t connect my story with the birth of the universe. I am just these last 72 years of fourteen billion. Because I didn’t think I could comprehend the science of cosmology, quantum mechanics, black holes, string theory, etc., I didn’t allow myself to open to seeing myself as a development from the birth of the universe. That primal light to this being. This flow of energy in my body came from the beginning of time. “Our bodies churn with creativity rooted in the beginning of time,” Swimme writes.

I only know this because consciousness is expanding in this universe. And now knowing this, I am having an experience of it. It’s not just an idea; it is sensing an understanding of what it means to say ” I am.” Or as Thomas Berry, a priest , scholar and his mentor, said to Brian Swimme, “you are the universe in the mode of a human.”

I apologize to making most of this post a series of quotes, but I have to mention this one from Freeman Dyson, who was a colleague of Albert Einstein at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. As Dyson put it, “In some sense, the universe must have known, from the beginning, that we were coming.” (78) Sit with that statement from an esteemed scientist. From the beginning of this universe, at its creation proven from mathematical equations that the universe knew what it was creating–us! Scientific fact that for me parallels the poetic story of Genesis. From the beginning of creating Light on the first day to the creating of humans on the sixth day, this Creative Force knew we were coming. I feel that loving intention for me to be on this planet at this time from fourteen billion years ago. Cosmological love meets Old Testament love.

My brain is struggling with all this, but my heart is not. To set my life experience in the context of the cosmos completes or satisfies or fulfills some yearning in me. And in some sense, it wakes something up I already knew.

I want to write more next week on what this new understanding means about death and grace and supernovas. Feeling a little Star-Trekky.