Unseen Beings

I recently came upon an insightful book about how we might conceive of the existence and beingness of angels; this book – The Physics of Angels by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake – is amazing. The authors explore angels through the writings of three mystics and in relation to scientific theories. I’ve had so many “ah-ha” moments throughout reading this book, not just about angels but about all the energies that we cannot usually see that are nevertheless interacting with us and the world around us.

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One particular concept aligns so well with my own experiences of the unseen world around us, and how our minds are not substance, our minds are not the same as our brains – our brains are merely the receptors through which thoughts, ideas, and memories come into action. Fox and Rupert quote 13th Century St. Thomas Aquinas:

“The activity of understanding is wholly non-material. … The act of understanding is not an action of the body or of any bodily energy. Hence to be joined to a body is not of the essence of intellectual being. … Not all intellects are conjoined with bodies; there are some that exist separately, and these we call angels.”

Think about that for a minute and how profound this insight may be and the positive impact it could have upon our entire experience of the sacred, of the Divine.

 

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Many Forms

books on mysticsI’ve been a seeker nearly all of my adult life, beginning after my first brief marriage ended. Seeking is an exploration, a way of understanding other ways of being – from people to cultures, from temperament to spiritual choices. So, when I say I’m a spiritual seeker, it is not that I am trying to find a personal relationship with the Divine; that blessing happened long ago and is a deeply fulfilling embrace that continues to grow and change but not in a way that requires me to find a new structure or framework for Her and our connection.

Rather, my seeker trait is currently leading me to find new ways for relating to people who follow other paths than mine; how does She speak to them and how is their relationship to Her different than mine?

One aspect I particularly appreciate in Evelyn Underhill’s book Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness is that she reiterates throughout how important it is to remember that each person’s experience of the Divine – how each mystic relates to Source within their own spiritual path – is grounded in their temperament, culture, and life, as well as in their religious patterning. For example, in one place, Underhill writes:

“These special mystical diagrams, these symbolic and artistic descriptions of man’s inward history – his secret adventures with God – are almost endless in their variety: since in each we have a picture of the country of the soul seen through a different temperament.”

Underhill’s text points out the similarities and differences among the Christian mystics, she does not dive into the experiences of other-than-Christian mystics in history, nevertheless, she eloquently states:

“Attempts, however, to limit mystical truth – the direct apprehension of the Divine Substance – by the formulae of any one religion, are as futile as the attempt to identify a precious metal with the die which converts it into current coin.”

A seeker’s journey is as unique as the seeker herself, whether the journey be inward, outward, or both.

Praying

I went through a phase where I would avoid using the word “pray.” It felt uncomfortable because prayer seemed to only refer to a way of petitioning the Divine for something a person wanted, for one’s self and for others, like forgiveness (for a wrong) or a favor (to heal or help someone). Even more abhorrent to me was that prayers were often used to ask the Divine to destroy someone else so that we (in whatever form or group) could be the “winners.” Sometimes the prayer was one of gratitude, and hymns often seemed like prayers of adoration; I definitely felt more at ease with those kinds of prayers. Nevertheless, the Christians around me kept talking to Source, but were we listening?

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Where was the practice of stillness to receive guidance?

A while back, I wrote my own lyrics for a traditional hymn called “In the Garden” though I only changed them slightly, for example singing forest instead of garden, and maybe one reason I’ve always loved this hymn is because it is about listening to the voice of the Divine.

The Catholic tradition is more familiar with prayer as listening (as compared to Protestants) because of the exemplary devotions of historical people within its structure (some called saints, others simply referred to as mystics), although it has generally been limited to monastics. The only other Christian tradition that seems to hold sacred a practice of listening prayer is the Society of Friends (Quakers). I was left wondering: why do most Christians avoid a practice of listening?

Isn’t it odd that Protestants broke away from traditions that enforced an intermediary between the people and God (the priests, confessionals, and their hierarchies), only to create a different intermediary framework (ministers who were accepted as the “best” interpreters of the sacred texts)? Why are people so afraid of trusting in their own relationship with the Divine?

A few months ago, I was fiercely angry about a conversation I’d heard. It seems that an elderly person felt deeply comforted by her personal belief in heaven as a place where she could again be with her family members who had passed away. However, a pastor told her that heaven wasn’t like that – he said that in heaven no one would know each other but we would all simply be at peace. Seriously?! What kind of minister is that to take away her comfort? And, even more, why would she or anyone place more trust in a supposed “expert” than in what their own heart, study, and belief told her heaven was like?

As I have researched and explored over the years many non-Christian religions and spiritual cultures, I found a significant majority of them had practices in which they could participate to create space within for listening to and being embraced by Source. These were beautiful spiritual practices of faith! Only after finding these did I come across, for instance, the exquisite writings of Saint Teresa of Avila on the step-by-step process for contemplation.

Eventually, I came across a contemporary person who had been working for decades to create a Christian path into listening prayer: Father Thomas Keating and his “Centering Prayer.” Below is a marvelous video of one of Fr. Keating’s introductions to this contemplative practice:

That Which Enhances Life

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Within a mystical journey, the writer Evelyn Underhill, in the classic Mysticism from 1911, notes that when one connects with the Divine, we experience a Love that enhances all life, ours and those we touch in our daily lives. She writes about part of the path that:

“Next, you will become aware of a heightened significance, an intensified existence in the thing at which you look. As you, with all your consciousness, lean out towards it, an answering current will meet yours. … Seen thus, a thistle has celestial qualities: a speckled hen a touch of the sublime.”

This recognition of That Which Enhances Life as the spark, the illumination that links and binds us all, could heal our polarized world.

When we open to Source, to relationship with the Infinite, Underhill writes that:

“True Illumination, like all real and vital experience, consists rather in the breathing of a certain atmosphere, the living at certain levels of consciousness, than in the acquirement of specific information. It is, as it were, a resting-place upon ‘the steep stairway of live’; where the self turns and sees all about it a transfigured universe, radiant with that same Light Divine which nests in its own heart and leads it on.”

Most of us who seek to consciously travel a spiritual path may experience this deep union only rarely, though with tremendous gratitude and reverence.

For those aware of Being and Becoming in our universe and who are of a certain type of temperament that naturally leans in the mystical direction, we/they continue beyond Illumination seeking ultimate Unity with Source as part of their spiritual practice.

Sacred Soil

I take my little bucket of uneaten organic vegetable odds and ends out to the small compost pile behind our garage, and when I inhale the sweet, earthy aroma that is filled with molecules of transformation, my eyes close in gratitude, in a visceral sense of connection to the blessed earth. These are the bits of food I didn’t ingest through my mouth and yet I ingest them through their process of decomposition, their journey from one form into another, and it’s exquisite.

The steep, treacherous slope a few feet away tumbles and tangles itself down into a ravine, all the loose detritus from above dancing wildly if often slowly until they rest in the dark hollow and unfold into myriad forms of new life. Some of the bare slopes that surround me have been stripped of their deep rootedness until gravel is a hard, unstable topping where earthworm-enriched soil once lived and breathed beneath nurturing trees in community.

How can I give some new life to the hills? Being in this moment of sacred experiencing, I find I can return some bits of nourishment into the land, into the space where Spirit dwells. I can become part of the turning, the process of transformation into sacred soil, into the vibrant life and vitality of our Earth Mother.

Pausing, I feel TildTe, Goddess of this place we call home, watching … I feel her smile and nod from the swaying tree branches overhead and hear: every little bit is welcome.

Original Blessing

IMG_0955Did you know that Christianity has an entire perspective of path-working that celebrates and esteems Original Blessing rather than Original Sin as its foundation? That it focuses upon creation-centered spirituality rather than fall/redemption? Many spiritual or religious traditions approach the Divine in this way, but until later in my life, I had no idea that it also existed within the Christian worldview.

The Reverend Matthew Fox’s books on the subject are intriguing, stimulating, and enlightening, as well as being enjoyable and easy to read. And he’s been sharing his thoughts and beliefs on Original Blessing for forty years. There are more benefits than we can initially imagine when we flow within this wellspring; it is unifying and filled with compassion and awe, rather than punishment and fear.

The concept of Original Blessing and creation-centered spirituality taps directly into the lives and beliefs of many of the Christian mystics, from Saint Hildegard of Bingen to Meister Eckhart, and to modern believers such as the Society of Friends.

Questioning

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© Kerry

It is common for us to question the truth of something we have not individually seen, known, realized, experienced, and/or felt. On the flip side, to the other extreme, we often place experts on pedestals, and assume that because those persons know a lot about a subject, then they know everything about it, which is not true because it is impossible to achieve that level. Nevertheless, we can respect what the person does know – we do it all the time, from science to religion to medicine. I’m pointing to this human tendency for questioning what someone else knows, for one reason in this moment and that is to ask: how many of us believe, in our deepest selves, that those persons referred to as mystics actually became one with the Divine? Do we believe their stories or do we think they were crazy, deluded, etc.?

A woman named Evelyn Underhill wrote, in 1911, of her own explorations into the world of the mystics and mysticism. We allow for the knowledge of so-called experts in many areas of life, from doctors to inventors, from adventurers who climb mountains to explorers of the Amazon, so why not also for those who dare to explore the invisible realm of Spirit? The single, most powerful difference between the preceding, however, is that all those other experts likely had companions who could confirm or deny their experiences, while mystics venture alone. Underhill said in her book:

“[Mystics] should claim from us the same attention that we give to other explorers of countries in which we are not competent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the courage necessary to those who would prosecute such explorations for themselves.”

Many if not most of us have experienced momentary glimpses of the beyond or brief ecstatic relationship with the Divine in one form or another; we’ve felt, perhaps, something that could lead us to relate to what a mystic saw or felt. At the same time, very few of us ever devote the majority of our time and lives to furthering this relationship, this union. So, why do we question the veracity of those few people’s experiences who do go that extra mile? Is it because “there is no trustworthy standard by which we can separate the ‘real’ from the ‘unreal’ aspects of phenomena”? Is it real or imagination or hallucination? How can we know? Underhill continues with thought-provoking ideas, that mirror some of what scientists are saying today, when she writes:

“We have no reason to suppose that matter, space, and time are necessarily parts of reality; of the ultimate Idea. Probability points rather to their being the pencil and paper with which we sketch it.”

As I get older, my mind becomes more flexible, allowing for greater possibility of all that I don’t know and may never fully comprehend. I’m more than willing to give Mystics the benefit of the doubt, with the qualifier that they – as do we all – filter whatever they have perceived through the lens of the era and religious (or other) belief system in which they are existing. None of us can remove ourselves from the time, place, and culture in which we are situated during a particular event or on-going experience. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make the experience unreal.

Underhill’s book, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, is complex and I don’t want to take anything away from her by making it appear that this subject can be simplified into several pithy quotes or remarks. My hope is that something here may stir the reader into explorations of their own, in some way, shape or form, that will lead to inner growth and greater manifestation of Love in the world.