Where Are All the Young People?

Where are all the young people? This is a question that I have often heard asked among participants at their first Wisdom School. Mostly those who have been pursuing Wisdom for a longer time stop asking the question because they have become so used to seeing the sea of gray-haired folks who usually attend Wisdom events. So, where are all the young people…?

While I don’t necessarily have a definitive answer to the question, I do have a recent experience that I’d like to share that may shed some light on the question. The event was my son’s wedding at which I was asked to officiate. Now, I don’t know about other clergy, but when I was in parish ministry weddings were my least favorite liturgies. “Give me a funeral any day,” I would say. “Most people at weddings are present only because they feel obligated, and most are just biding their time for the reception anyway.” While I am not proud of that cynicism, it accurately reflected my attitude. So, I wanted to be sure that Ben and Olivia’s wedding was a different matter altogether.

I was just coming off my “Mary Magdalene and Conscious Love Wisdom School,” so for weeks I had been deeply considering the nature and dynamism of love and its central place in an awakened life. The question that confronted me as I approached the wedding was whether I would simply recycle a more traditional and conventional ceremony or take the risk of enacting a Wisdom ritual that attempted to take into account the deeper dimensions of love. I chose the latter, and it is about that that I am writing.

There are a few preliminary details that will help to set the stage of what transpired that day. First of all, Ben and Olivia wanted their ceremony to be intimate and spiritual, without being overtly religious. My son Ben is Jewish, and Olivia is Christian, but like so many young people today, neither one is tied to formal or institutional involvement. They also wanted to jettison some of the usual baggage of matrimonial ceremonies, like having bridesmaids and groomsmen. And they wanted to generate something active and participatory that would gather their families and their friends together in an intimate way over a whole weekend. So, they booked a rustic Vermont inn for Friday through Sunday and invited everyone to stay there. There was a beautiful knoll with a babbling brook in the background for the outdoor ritual and a large tent where the reception would be held.

Friday night was pizza night. A truck with a wood-fired pizza oven drove up just as the drizzle let up, and we enjoyed slice after slice of delicious pizza over a three-hour time period. That was followed by elaborate s’mores with our marshmallows browned over an open fire. Inside, we were starting to get to know each other. Because my son Ben had obviously talked to some to his friends about me and about my Wisdom work, a number of them wanted to sit down with me and find out more about it. There were a number of very intent questions and conversations about my work. I was immensely pleased to be drawn into this level of conversation from the get-go. And I was immediately struck with how awake and dialed in these young people were. Rather than the usual glassy-eyed stares that I sometimes get when I drop a few comments about Wisdom, these young people were very interested and followed my explanations with some searching questions. I was also struck by both their earnestness and their direct eye contact. 

A word about the weather, because, along with some other forces, that seemed to be conspiring on our behalf. The forecasts had all said that Saturday would be a complete washout with showers all day. And yet, by early afternoon, things had cleared up enough that we dared to put the chairs out in our outdoor cathedral. And by the time the 3:30 starting time rolled around, there was actually sunshine peering through. It would be an outdoor wedding after all!

Because I was very much intending this to be a participatory event, I didn’t want the chairs arranged in rows as they traditionally are. Instead, we made a gradual arc that gently embraced the canopy (a huppah, if it were a Jewish ceremony) where I would stand with Ben and Olivia.

What follows in indentations is the ceremonial that I had written and which we followed. It is interspersed with process comments and explanations about the ritual text and about what was being transacted at different points along the way. What you will very likely discover here is nothing other than a Wisdom teaching—a Wisdom teaching set within a wedding ritual. Is this even possible, and how fitting and how effective could this be…? Let's see...

Entrance

While everyone was seated and waiting on the knoll, Ben and Olivia and both sets of parents were gathered out of sight, a distance apart. The six of us embraced meaningfully. We had all been together there since Wednesday, and together we had found a platform of deep commonality on which to engage each other. My wife Cathy and I first escorted Ben to the canopy and waited as Olivia was then escorted her parents. Following embraces in front of the canopy, Olivia’s parents and Cathy sat down, and we were ready to begin.

Welcome and Intention of Purpose
Welcome to you—to us—all. Words could never express the enormity of meaning that this day has for Ben and Olivia, but also for Cathy and me, for Chris and Bob, and for the siblings and all the friends and other relatives who are gathered here. 
Today, together, we have work to do. This is not just a pro-forma ceremonial we are superficially reciting today. It is a deep and meaningful ritual that will change the lives of Ben and Olivia and, potentially, of us all. This is a ritual that focuses on the intentional and nurtured connection between two people.

Here I try to set a tone of real and active participation. It is not nearly enough that these promises be witnessed—as important as that may be. In order for things to be really opened up, the people gathered must fully and actively participate. What is required in this kind of liturgy is opened hearts that are willing to be fully present.

But this is a connection that unites us all. Underneath the more superficial realities that seem to separate and divide us, there is a unifying force that binds us all— one to another. And when one bond is solidified, it strengthens us all. Perhaps we might all be daring enough to just look around with fresh eyes and an open heart to more intentionally see this reality.

The reality that we are all connected can be more than a belief; it can be a felt sense and a lived reality. This Wisdom perspective is what I am inviting people into. There will be a reciprocal exchange transacted here, but it will require an intensity of presence from everyone assembled.

Ben and Olivia, I want you to turn around and look into the faces of those who are gathered here for you. I specifically want you to draw on the love and support of all of us here. This is the context—the seedbed, if you will—within which your love for each other can grow, blossom, and bear fruit.

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then direct eye contact is how we can connect being-to-being. Earlier, I had prepared Ben and Olivia to take the opportunity to maximize their sense of presence by making intentional eye contact. But this is how they already operated, They looked deeply into the eyes of their families and friends.

Let’s all just take a couple of deep and intentional breaths and allow the importance and magnitude of this moment to sink in…

A pause in the flow of words—even when these words are being offered slowly and emphatically—can intensify a sense of presence. During this pause we could hear the wind through the trees, the gurgling brook just ten feet away, and the throbbing beat of two loving hearts. The resonant vibration of these two hearts would begin to be offered up so that all the hearts present could begin to entrain to them and beat to the same vibration…

Prayer
 
On this day of joyous celebration, we give thanks for the gift of marriage and for all of the challenges and blessings it bestows. May Olivia’s and Ben’s ongoing love for each other flow from the promise of this present moment and may their commitment to each other grow and deepen over time so that all who know them might be touched and influenced by their love.

Prayer in this less conventional setting is more than a spoken message to a distant God. Because of our own present and immediate immersion and participation in the divine flow, prayer becomes our own deepest and most loving intentions made manifest. Can you feel the difference?

Reading of Personal Statements

Here first Ben and then Olivia read the statements to each other that they had prepared ahead of time. The declarations of their intentions and feelings were read slowly and clearly, with each of them looking directly into each other’s eyes and the eyes of those assembled. Because they were so personal, I will not include them here, but I will tell you that they were delivered through many tears as well as some unexpected laughter. And the veil was lifted and the heavens began to open...

But that was not quite enough. Families and friends also needed the opportunity to express themselves in a similar way. While we obviously couldn’t give every individual the chance to speak, I addressed them all, and they responded enthusiastically.

Now to you, the family and friends of Ben and Olivia: Your presence here is so vitally important.  The future of their home together depends, in part, on your ongoing love and support. Through your thoughts and intention and through your actions, you can strengthen their bond. It is time now for your personal statement. And so, I ask you now, will you give your enduring love and support to Olivia and Ben in their life together?
The People: We will.

To understand the dynamics of what is being transacted here, it is essential that everyone be pretty much on the same page in terms of intuiting the nature of love. But both in our religious traditions and certainly in our culture, we are guided by some very specific and limiting myths. I took it upon myself in the following remarks to try to suggest a deeper understanding that might supplant these misunderstandings and contribute to bringing all of us to something deeper. This, you may recognize, becomes a Wisdom teaching. But this can be risky, since no one likes a tone that is either demeaning or preachy. I only knew that the usual insipid platitudes about love would not be enough to get us out of the tighter orbit of the culture’s gravitational pull. And so, I stepped out on the end of a limb…

My Remarks: The Nature of Love
I have boldly suggested that this is ritual can change the lives of Ben and Olivia and, potentially, the lives of us all. That is because it might be a potent reminder of the central force that holds all life together. It affords the opportunity for us all to realign our lives with the fundamental purpose for which we have been born. Of course, I am speaking of ‘love.’
Mistaking love as a special emotion, we in our culture miss the force of its deeper power. When we put the emphasis on finding just the right partner who will give us what we most need and desire, we misunderstand the direction of love’s trajectory and overlook our own responsibility.

Right out of the gate I wanted here to present a deeper and vaster understanding of love’s power, and I wanted also to name how culture’s view of love falls short of the mark.  

But don’t get me wrong—a committed and intimate relationship can be a royal road to spiritual transformation and abiding happiness, but we just have to get the direction right. More than getting something from the other, it’s about giving what is deepest within us—giving freely and unreservedly to the other. Love’s power is unlocked when we choose to give to the other that which they most deeply need. And surprisingly and quite paradoxically, it is that giving that deeply gifts us and allows us to fulfill the fullness of our own unique individuality. It is, then, the daily practice of laying down oneself for the other—exchanging self for other—that a deeper channel is carved in the heart. And by this deeper heart-knowing we know that we belong to the world and that the world belongs to us.
This can best be realized through generous self-giving. It is less likely to be accomplished through duty, convention, keeping score, or one-sided gratification. It is in this sense that the institutionalization of marriage, while undoubtedly necessary, can at best only outline its external form. Its inner truth lies deeper down.

Thus, a juxtaposition of the different interpretations of love is presented, hopefully without putting down our culture’s understandings. It’s not that they are bad or wrong; it’s just that they don’t take us deep enough. Here, I am offering an invitation that we drop down to this deeper level.

This afternoon we are witnessing the promises to each other of two remarkable human beings. Granted, I cannot claim any sense of objectivity here, but I am quite confident that this is true. And what I am also pretty sure of is that what is being transacted here will deeply affect the future. 

You can probably see where I am going here. There is work to be done, and love provides both the means and the end of this work. And I cannot help but state the challenging context within which this present work must be done.

But I am not just referring to your future, Ben and Olivia, though that will surely be included. I am actually suggesting something bigger—the future of life on this planet. It will take remarkable people like the two of you and your commitment to each other to help to steer our course away from some of the magnetism that greed, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness seem to currently hold sway. 

Did I get too political? I don’t think so. The state of our country and our world is the elephant sitting in our living room. I thought, however, that that one statement would be sufficient.

But now the strong point needs to be made. This has to do with the purpose, the power, and the influence of love as it may be expressed in an awakened life. As I was making this point, I looked out at the people. I could both see and sense that they were following me. I saw unabashed tears of recognition and acknowledgment. There was a certain luminosity that was building at this point—a field of openness, warmth, and connection was being created. While this may have had something to do with the words that were being spoken, I am sure it was heavily shaped by the open-hearted receptivity on the part of the people assembled. I sensed that a portal was opening…

Am I suggesting that the kind of sincere self-giving love that is engendered in a committed relationship like this one is going to change the world? Well, yes, I am. Because everything at its root is reciprocally connected and because all the seemingly separate pieces are all integral parts of one unified whole—our actions, and all our interactions, have consequences beyond themselves. It is all of this that points to the gravity of what we are enacting today.

Here, then, is the final and, perhaps ultimate, point that was just begging to be made. This is how the universe is put together, and this is our work in the world. This is why the love between these two incredible people can change the world, and this is why their relationship includes and encompasses us all.

Could all this be heard and internalized by Ben and Olivia’s families and friends as we all came together to celebrate their love? My bet was that it not only could, but that it actually was. Again, I could both see and sense the receptivity. Yes, a portal had been opened. And the capstone of this recognition would come later that evening.

What can assist you two in this sacred endeavor? You already know what to do. Continue as you have started: Be authentically real and open with each other; listen deeply to each other’s perspectives and points of view; do not be afraid to disagree, but do it openly and with hearts and ears that can actually hear the other’s point of view; work to find the humor in everything; and dance whenever you can. Let your deepest intentions find expression in your actions and trust your own and each other’s deepest knowings. As you continue this path together, your love for each other will overspill its banks and seep out into the world. In this way you will soften some of the world’s current hard-heartedness and close-mindedness.

Here I turn to some practicalities for negotiating the river of a committed relationship. But I framed this with the articulated recognition that I already see them moving strongly in this direction.

And for our part, allow us to truly support you. Stay open to receive our love for you. Trust that we will always be there for you.

We don’t live in a vacuum. We all deeply need each other.

And now—each in our own way—let us confirm interiorly whatever truth we have heard and can claim in this moment. And rather than with merely a mental consent, with a couple more intentional breaths, let us seek to embody and live out these truths…

So, while this ritual is clearly for Ben and Olivia, it is also fundamentally for us all. The opportunity had been given for everyone present to take another, deeper look at our relationships and see how we might realign ourselves with love’s purpose. Again, because we all needed a little spece to consider all of this, we moved into a musical interlude.

Did this Wisdom teaching reach its mark? By hearing the responses after the service, I know that it did. While too personal to relate in this public writing, I myself had some amazingly direct and intimate conversations in the hours immediately following this service.

Musical Interlude
Vows— [spoken to each other]
“I, Ben, take you, Olivia, to be my friend, my love, and my life-long companion. I will respect you, cherish you and love you in sickness and in health, through good times and through hard times, all the days of my life.”
"I, Olivia, take you, Ben, to be my friend, my love, and my life-long companion. I will respect you, cherish you and love you in sickness and in health, through good times and through hard times, all the days of my life."
Exchange of Rings
    
[The rings are held up and blessed:]    
The wedding ring is a symbol of unity—a circle unbroken—without beginning or end. Today Olivia and Ben give and receive these rings as demonstrations of their vows to make their life one, to work at all times to create a life that is whole and unbroken, and to love each other without end. May these rings be worn as signs of love unbroken. 
Ben: Olivia, I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you.
Olivia: Ben, I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you.
    
Pronouncement of Marriage
In the presence of their families and friends, Olivia and Ben have made their sacred promises to each other. They have confirmed their vows by the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings.  Therefore, in the presence of this community and by the authority of life itself, I proclaim that Olivia and Ben are now husband and wife.
The Blessing
And now, while recognizing the integrity of their relationship as well as opening to the deep connections that unite us all in this field of love, let us raise our hands over this couple in sacred blessing: May your lives open more and more deeply to each other, even as you maintain the dignity and integrity of your own separate individualities. May you be endowed with the courage to be honest even when it is difficult, the forbearance to listen even when the other’s truth is hard to hear, and the graciousness to forgive and to be willing to let go of past hurts and animosities in order to always start anew. May you always be faithful to each other, even as you continue to be faithful to your families and friends. And may we all open to the field of love and mercy in which we are presently standing and living, and may we more truly reflect this love in our relationships with each other and in our care for the world. And now let us all say, ‘Olivia and Ben, we bless you and we love you!’ 

Can you see the deeply participatory nature of this ritual? While usually the authority for the pronouncement of marriage and the blessing are given to the priest, I am eager to share this authority with everyone present. Everyone raised their hands in consecrated blessing.

Where are all the young people? Well, some of them were there at this wedding. They not only responded profoundly to the Wisdom that was articulated, but they also participated fully in Wisdom’s ritual. I could both see this and sense this from them. But it was what happened later that evening that completely convinced me of this reality.

After a lingering shared meal on long farm tables under the tent and a beautiful toast by Ben and Olivia’s closest friends, the dancing began. The DJ, under Ben and Olivia’s direction, did a particularly good job of choosing a mix of songs that moved from Motown and classic rock (that pulled us older folks onto the dancefloor) to more contemporary music (to which the younger people recognized and responded). 

With the end time of 10 pm approaching when the music would have to be ended, the DJ for the last song chose the one that Ben had referenced in his statement to Olivia in the service. At this point, many of the older folks had left; and those of us who remained were standing apart and watching the younger people on the dance floor. For their part, they greeted this final song with a singular recognition and with a burst of renewed intensity.

What I witnessed at this point was Ben and Olivia’s tribe dancing their love for each other and their enthusiasm for life. And rather than being partnered in couples, they were all dancing as particular individuals who were part of a greater collective. The intensity of their exuberance was striking. While my mind was fully in the present, I was at the same time witnessing an indigenous tribal ritual from a timeless past. 

And then the song was abruptly over, and we were dropped into a deep and sudden silence. What I witnessed next almost literally took my breath away. Without a word being spoken, the tribe on the dance floor self-organized from separate flailing individuals into a tight self-embracing ball of oneness. Pressed closely together, they were One, and they remained wordlessly pressed together for a full thirty seconds. That half minute turned out to be an eternity. Here, then, was life's deepest and most meaningful dance--the dance between particularity and union. Not one, not two--but one and two...

Where are all the young people…? They are here with me, and they are there with you, and they are everywhere. I truly believe they are fully capable of responding to Wisdom, and very likely already do in their own ways. But what if we offered opportunities and rituals like the one I have described here in order that they might more intentionally participate? And rather than criticize this emerging Wisdom movement for what appears to be a paucity of young people, we might better ask, what can each of us do in the offering of this invitation…?

 

 

 

 

Another Look at Love

This summer I have the special privilege of officiating at the wedding service of my son Ben and his beloved Olivia. In preparation of my remarks for this momentous occasion I am reminded of the great disconnect we in our culture have with the truest and deepest meanings of love. More than merely a sentiment, an emotion, or a commodity to be grasped and seized upon, love is the very force that holds the universe together. It is the water in which we are swimming. It is this, and it is more.

Nevertheless, the fullness of a committed relationship can offer glimpses into love’s transformative power. Here’s how I will expressed it in some of remarks at the service:

But don’t get me wrong—a committed and intimate relationship can be a royal road to spiritual transformation and abiding happiness, but we just have to get the direction right.  More than getting something from the other, it’s about giving what is deepest within us—giving freely and unreservedly to the other. Love’s power is unlocked when we choose to give to the other that which they most deeply need. And surprisingly and quite paradoxically, it is that giving that allows us to fulfill the fullness of our own unique individuality.  
It is, then, the daily practice of laying down oneself for the other—exchanging self for other—that a deeper channel is carved in the heart. It is this gesture of open-hearted giving that can take us from the tighter orbit of our usual self-absorbed self-referencing and self-protection to a deeper and more porous sense of ourselves that knows that we belong to the world and that the world belongs to us. 

Unfortunately, though, we in our present Western worldview have come to think of love as something we can acquire—from the right partner. A judicious choice is what is believed to be required to ensure that the one we pick can give us the love we most desperately need. Of course, this directs our focus on what we should get rather than what we can give.

We who have been exposed to Wisdom work know that that perspective derives from the smaller self and its egoic operating system. Its job is to protect, promote, and enhance that smaller self-identity. Everything is seen and experienced within that tight orbit of self-referencing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a deeper love is impossible from this tighter orbit and orientation. It just means that it will have to swim against the current and get there through a sense of duty, service, or social conformity. As priest and pastor, I have seen stunning examples of this—situations wherein great sacrifice was expressed through such duty or service. And yet, sometimes the missing piece in these examples was joy.

Wisdom knows that there is another path to deep love, and that this doesn’t necessarily travel by duty, service, or social conformity. It operates through finding a different platform from which to see and apprehend realty. This viewing platform affords the fuller perspective of interconnected wholeness. That is, we can see that, rather than a small and scared object in a sea of hostile enemies and competitors, we are integral parts of the whole and connected to the All. But the key to this whole trajectory is that it must be experienced in order to be known. It is so much more than simply believing that this is so.

This is where our Wisdom practice may take us. Rather than thinking that our partner actually hands anything over to us and that, in our receiving this from our partner, we are thereby given the key to intimacy’s door; it is the experience of giving love that gradually opens us up an entirely different awareness. This recognition is that the heart itself, when purified through sincere and authentic giving as well as spiritual practice, already has the quality of intimacy as its essential nature. In this way, loving our partner simply reveals the intimacy that we already have. Pure intimacy has been there all along; we only had to uncover it.

The great discovery of meaningful life, then, is that our own heart is like a hologram of the divine heart and already has (and has always had) the vibrational signature of pure intimacy. And this is true whether we are engaged with a partner or not. But this great reality is only uncovered when we learn how to give love and when we learn how to give ourselves away.

Another Look at Surrender

During a recent Wisdom Practice Circle, one very sensitive and insightful woman suggested to me that, in terms of surrender, women might either consider it differently or at the very least might hear the instructions differently. Her suggestion has prompted me to take another look at surrender in order to more deeply plumb its dynamic. In this, it is continuously necessary for me to face my own shortsightedness toward experiences of others that are undoubtedly very different from my own. And so that would necessarily include not only women, but also people of color and segments of the population that have been persecuted or marginalized in any way. Rather than a movement in the direction of political correctness, this seems an essential attempt to widen one’s Wisdom perspective in order to include the viewpoint and experience of all others.

Surrender is a central, or perhaps, the central dynamic of a Wisdom Christianity. Based on the key passage from “Paul’s Letter to the Philippians” (2:6-7), Jesus’ path is characterized by the complete outpouring of love and being. It is encapsulated in the Greek work, kenosis. And, just as Jesus’ path is one of surrender, that is exactly the same path to which we too are called. But what does Jesus’ surrender really mean?

In our everyday parlance, amongst other nuanced definitions, “surrender” can mean giving up or giving in—capitulating to some degree or another. Unfortunately, to a woman’s ears this may sound a little too much like the dictates of a male chauvinistic culture, forcing a woman into the strictures of limiting stereotypes and repressing both her capacities and her freedom. Or to a person of color this may sound like a movement toward subservience and complicit inequality. If we are going to continue to use the term “surrender”—as I sincerely hope we shall—we must use care in how we present and explain it. Specifically, we need to be sensitive to how this may be heard and understood by women as well as men and by the marginalized as well those in power. It, thus, demands a continuing exploration of its deepest meanings.

In the Wisdom lineage within which I mostly work, the foundational benchmark explanation of surrender can be found in Cynthia Bourgeault’s, “The Wisdom Way of Knowing.” Initially, she uses two images. The first is that of an acorn that is transformed into an oak tree. The second is that of a candle that gives of itself in order to engender light. Both the acorn and the candle surrender their being at one level in order to manifest it at another. She wisely suggests that there is a sacrifice involved and notes that this sacrifice comes at a cost. But it is in the sacrifice that being is more than just used up or given over; it is made “holy” and “whole” (the root meaning of “sacrifice”). Jesus expresses this transformational process in terms of a dying: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it shall yield a rich harvest.” (John 12:24) Christians know that Jesus’ sacrifice included death on a cross. So, are we to give over our lives in this manner?

Well, maybe we are, and maybe we’re not. Let’s look more carefully. Here’s how Cynthia expresses it: “The act of dying to the outward form of our selfhood, akin to setting the candle aflame, is what releases and makes visible the inner quality of aliveness. At the moment this inner aliveness is released, it becomes available as psychic force, a vital nutrient for the feeding and building up of the planetary body, but particularly for our human kinship and dignity.” (“Wisdom Way of Knowing,” p. 68.) Here in a unitive framework I discern a dance between the universal and the particular. In this, it would seem to me that it is the dying that is the universal part, and it is “the outward form of our selfhood” that is the specific and particular part. In other words, the surrender in dying can take as many different forms and expressions as there are individual human beings.

What is the outer form of selfhood in your life that might be surrendered? Just to use the most extreme of examples—If you are a white male in our society, maybe it might include letting go of power, privilege, and prestige. But if you are a woman who is used to getting “the short end of the stick,” maybe it is surrendering your deference, compliance, and submissiveness. The point is, it is our identifications—whether they might be deemed “positive” or “negative”—that are surrendered.

The mistake that is sometimes made in the understanding of surrender is that we have to give up our substance to the point of diminishment of our personhood or even extinguishment of our lives. Although I am not ruling anything out, this is not necessarily always the case. In fact, often the surrender of our identifications can deliver us to new capacities of strength and power. Less subsumed to the tight orbit of the protection and enhancement of the smaller sense of self, we can be freed to see and act more clearly and decisively. Indeed, our capacities may grow and strengthen, supporting our work in the world on behalf of the greater human collective. That certainly seems true of Jesus. Although in died in total surrender of a cross, he also lived to actively affirm the dignity of every living being. 

So, allow me to add a third image to Cynthia’s other two—and that is the image of a bellows. If you are old enough, you undoubtedly know what a bellows is. It is a device consisting of a flexible bag attached between two rigid boards. The bag is an airtight cavity that can be expanded and contracted by operating the two boards or handles, allowing air to enter the cavity when the handles are pulled apart and thrust forth when the handles are pushed together. A bellows is a powerful and useful tool to direct air into a smoldering fire, bringing the necessary air directly to the ashes in order to encourage them to enflame.  

So, rather than terminating itself after its initial push outward of its contents (that is, the air that is directed to stoke the fire), the bellows allows itself to expand again as it takes in more air in order to repeat its task. The apparatus itself is neither diminished or destroyed in the process; it lives to repeat its active work and purpose. 

In some ways, I think that we can use ourselves like a bellows. The movement back and forth of the two boards is possible as we remember more deeply who we really are. Surrender is the means by which this re-membering takes place. Otherwise, lost in our identifications and trapped in our smaller self-identities, we try to take the entire apparatus and wave it back and forth in front of the smoldering fire in order to try to fan the flames. Obviously, this is an extraordinarily inefficient and unproductive way to use both the bellows and ourselves. 

But once we can loosen the attachments to our smaller identities, we are freed to use ourselves as we were intended. By bringing the two wooden planks together, we contract the flexible bag and we breathe out love and compassion. That can be expressed in the form of care and concern for others, but it can and should also be expressed in the form of the active pursuit of dignity and respect for oneself and for all others—regardless of differences in color, creed, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. That is precisely what enflames and enlivens the fire of life and hallows and sanctifies the human collective and life itself. 

And then as we pull the wooden plans apart, we expand the bag and take in more air—maybe in the form of solidarity and support from those around us in respect for our own dignity of being and the acknowledged and valued position of all persons and beings in the human collective. Thus, we are not extinguished, but live to continue to both advance and receive the love and dignity worthy of us all. In this sense, what is surrendered are those lesser versions of ourselves whereby some were given the dignity and worth of their inherent nature while others were denied this.

The bellows, of course, will not last forever. It will eventually wear out and be discarded; but not before it has breathed life and air to fan the flames of the unfurling purpose of life—that we shall all be one in love and solidarity.

I use this image of the bellows to remind us that through surrender and the detachment of our lesser identities, we may come upon the experience that our capacities are sometimes expanded and deepened. Rather then, than coming into capitulation or rather than giving up, we are delivered in our surrender to new and productive life wherein we can give ourselves to others through freedom, choice, yes, even power.

 

Change is Afoot

Change is always happening, but sometimes its unfurling patterns become particularly noticed. That would seem to be true of this moment. Moving toward ever-expanding circles, I point to three specific changes of which I am an active participant.

The first has to do with my own emerging Wisdom work in the world. Solidifying a role that I have informally occupied for quite some time, I am now more officially offering myself in an interactive practice I call “Wisdom mentoring.” Consulting with Wisdom students either in person or via the Internet, this work seeks to help individuals more deeply integrate their experiences from spiritual practice and their understandings of Wisdom teachings. More information is on this website.

The second level of change has to do with the work of the Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors. While we are not abdicating our responsibilities as a board, in response to Cynthia’s desires, we have evolved into a Wisdom Council with additional charges and callings. Here is how I expressed it to those assembled at the Ingathering in Stonington in early June: 

As the sponsoring organization of this mostly Annual Ingathering, we welcome you.  While we’ve committed ourselves to utilizing the time to meet together as a Board, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time with and among you.  Just a word of who and what we are.

Along with Cynthia, we are six—Laura, Marcella, Mary Ellen, Guthrie, Matthew, and myself.  Formed originally as a board of directors, we now function more as a Wisdom Council around Cynthia.  The term “think tank” may not be just right, but it also may not be too far afield.

Being Northeast Wisdom, we are both particular and very local.  We are here on the ground in Cynthia’s neck of the woods.  Our mutual physical access seems important.  But being Northeast Wisdom, our sights are set as well to the more universal and far-reaching unfolding of Wisdom throughout this country and the world.  So, the universal and far-flung is our goal, but local and particular is our means.

In one sense, our work is aimed at the high bar of serving the Conscious Circle of Humanity and helping to heal our planet.  But in order to accomplish this and in a more specific sense, our work is to supportively hold Cynthia and to free her and support her to do the work she is called to do.  Our work also centers particularly on nurturing the growing Wisdom community—students, post-holders, and, particularly, emerging teachers and leaders.  

Although as individuals on this Wisdom Council, we live in many different contexts—we are particularly committed to living within the banks of our lineage’s 8 principles. 

This seems like timely and important work to be undertaken. But this is happening within an even larger context of the greater Wisdom community. Based on my experience at the Ingathering and my sense from an extended conversation of senior Wisdom students shortly thereafter—I wrote this to them:

There is a growing sense that our Wisdom community is on the cusp of a significant shift. There was the shared understanding that there is something of a “passing of the baton” that is currently transpiring. While Cynthia of course continues to be the head and the teacher of our growing community, an increasing number of experienced students are sensing a call to step out and teach themselves. Even if not called to teach, though, there seems to be a felt urgency to more deeply embody the Wisdom teachings in our own lives. So, this is all about finding one’s own Wisdom Voice—whether it be expressed in Wisdom Practice Circle post-holding, in teaching Wisdom Schools/retreats, or in emboldened manifestation of Wisdom in our everyday lives. 

Words and phrases like, “proliferation,” “organic unfolding,” “enlargement of the community,” were used to describe this present crossroads. This was also described as a differentiation of teacher and teaching, such that others now are invited to share the leadership of this Wisdom trajectory. Cynthia is not abdicating anything but inviting us to share the responsibility. In fact, this shift has been anticipated by Cynthia and has been encouraged and guided by her current work on the eight markers of our Wisdom lineage. 

Change is afoot, and I can feel it working around and within me. What about you…?

Thoughts for Our Times

Last weekend I had the privilege and honor of meeting with Cynthia Bourgeault and eleven others whom Cynthia called together to deeply consider the Wisdom mandate in the face of the social and political upheaval occasioned by the election in November. Through the common intention to be open and receptive to the calling addressed to us both individually and collectively, we met in silence, prayer, practice, teaching, and conversation. Getting bearings from Teilhard, Gurdjieff, Wilber, and Fitzgerald—Cynthia’s teaching was never more brilliantly insightful. Through our time together we were both drawn more closely together in solidarity of heart and then dispersed out into the world to respond to our individual callings of prayer and action. Read Cynthia's "Conscious Circle" here.


What I experienced last weekend was participation in one of many circles. Besides the Wisdom community, for me some of these circles have included a parish community, a havurah, the Round Table of Faith Leaders, InterFaith Works of CNY, participation with refugees, and on and on. What I would like to convey to you in this moment is that all of our circles are connected. We are all joined in commonality of purpose. And although our actions may run the gamut and include political demonstration, leverage and influence through community and political action, deep prayer and silence, or some combination of all of these and other actions—the most important thing to remember is that we are all connected in one heart.


And if I were to dare to name this common purpose, I would use the phrase, “the higher human collectivity,” and I would use the word, “love.” No matter what your spiritual path or religious background, no matter the descriptors our culture might use to identify you, no matter what your life situation might be—you belong to me and I belong to you. We are all integral parts of a greater Whole—this greater human collectivity. And we are all being called into action—whatever that action may turn out to be—because the fabric of our human collectivity is being threatened by power, greed, fear, and a sense of entitlement.


Please know that with all of my strength of being, I am with you; and I deeply trust you are with me. May the power of love that unites us overcome the darkness that now threatens.

Daily Inspirations: 2014

The Syracuse Post Standard, October 2014

1. Sunday

In my first couple of years of college I got a part-time job in the psychiatric unit of a prominent urban hospital a short distance from campus. Apparently, the administration had found it helpful to have a well-intentioned, if completely untrained, college student on the floor. While at that time I was thinking about the possibility of a psychotherapeutic profession, trust me, I was completely in over my head. My anxiety was totally off the charts.

I remember on one of my first nights, there was a young woman who was threatening suicide and who had locked herself into the music room. Of course, they had extra keys. They apparently thought it therapeutically advisable to have this young, untrained college student go in and engage her. I myself was not at all sure this was a good plan and felt like a bit of a victim myself as I was almost pushed into the room.

Oh my God, what was I going to say? How could I—feeling as scared and nervous as I was—be in any way helpful to this woman in such psychic pain?

I sat down next to her and was quiet for a few moments. While that might have been considered strategic, I was actually just waiting for my heart to stop pounding enough, so a word or two might come out of my mouth.

“I guess we’re sort of stuck with each other tonight,” I softly offered. “Maybe you could tell me a little something about yourself…”

And so a dialogue began. I heard her life story, and she heard mine. She went on living that night, and so did I. Both of us were in some way healed in the authentic sharing of life stories. This is the power of meaningful dialogue.

2. Monday

While we are living in a time when vitriolic debate is heard all around, there is an appalling lack of true dialogue. What is the difference between debate and dialogue? Debate is what we watch on the cable news stations, where, completely invested in their own position, people talk over each other without ever listening, let alone hearing, the other person. Dialogue is an exchange of perspectives wherein each person is truly open to the other person’s reality. Dialogue includes respect for the other and value for their point of view.

3. Tuesday

Dialogue, as I mentioned yesterday, is very different than debate. True dialogue brings a certain spaciousness to the conversation such that each person has the room for his or her perspective to change. Indeed, this is how growth takes place. By opening ourselves to the truth and reality of others, our own minds can be expanded. When, on the other hand, we think we have all the answers and that we are in sole possession of the truth, our minds are shut, and we can learn nothing further.

4. Wednesday

To open our minds to the other in dialogue certainly does not mean that we are necessarily going to agree with everything the other is setting forth. Our capacity for discernment requires that we value our own experience and sense of things. But when we are able to bring a certain openness and when we are willing, to the best of our ability, to stand in the other’s shoes and see the world as he or she sees it, we then can benefit and grow from the other’s perspective.
 

5. Thursday

What is the greatest challenge to true dialogue? Certitude must be right up there. When someone is convinced that they have the corner on the truth and that anyone who happens to disagree with them is wrong, not only do we find certitude—we also find stubborn closed-mindedness. But isn’t certitude what our religious traditions reinforce? Aren’t we implored to “believe”? Actually, faith is not certitude of belief; it is a trust that includes openness to new possibilities—the unfolding of new possibilities that we haven’t even yet dreamed of.


6. Friday

This advanced technological age finds our world on the cusp of potential change. For the first time in human history the “secrets” of other peoples, their cultures and religions, can be opened with a click on Google. Real dialogue is now more possible. Dialogue partners can now clear up previous misconceptions. We can even understand the other not just from our side of history and experience, but also from theirs. Through this discovery each partner has the potential of discovering something in the other’s tradition that unlocks something previously submerged and undisclosed in our own.
 

7. Saturday

The kind of dialogue I mentioned yesterday could very well contribute to the development of a higher form of consciousness—a global consciousness—that would not have been possible before in human history. My hope is that it brings to fruition what might be called the “Second Axial Age.” Here, while we would retain our current unique identities, we would at the same time grow into the deeper sense of being one human family. This, of course, follows the insight of all of our spiritual traditions: We are all connected (and related).

The Abundant Life

One of the most pervasive themes of Jesus’ teaching is God’s abundance.  The glass is neither half-empty nor half–full; it is filled to the very brim and spilling over—overflowing with the goodness of God.  Seeing life from a unitive consciousness, this is what Jesus sees when he views the universe.  And he wants to bring his disciples to this way of seeing, and he wants to bring us to this unitive consciousness as well.  Because he experiences the great well of God to be completely abundant and never-ending, he doesn’t need to store anything up for himself.

Jesus invites us to a revolutionary path — a reckless path of giving ourselves away.  We are being called to squander what we have through the seemingly thoughtless act of self-emptying.  Jesus’ extravagant generosity shows us who and what God is.

Jesus dies to the demands of his smaller self in order to open up to his Larger Self, to God.  But he doesn’t do this through inner renunciation—the way you might think he would.  He takes, instead, the radical path of pouring himself out for the sake of others.  He holds nothing back, and through his radical self-giving he shows us God’s boundless generosity. He preserves his holiness—not by avoiding the messy parts of life—but by giving himself completely and clinging to nothing.  And this is the path he calls us to.

Advent Reality

Dividing the holiday landscape up into two separate paths in the first place is one way in which we set ourselves up.  What if we simply saw reality as it is?  What if we surrendered and let go of our expectations of how we think the holiday season is supposed to be and instead we embraced our experience just as it is.  What if, along side our efforts to deepen our spiritual lives, we at the same time accepted ourselves just as we are?

Christ is to be found in the mess and through the mess.  Things really are simply the way they are.  And thinking that they are supposed to be any different, may be an enticing thought, but is not likely to take us very far.  In fact, taking that road any distance at all will get us very lost.  Remember, Jesus was not born in the Bethlehem Hilton.  He was born in a crummy stable that the reeked of animal excrement.  Although Christmas cards can whitewash that fact and make it quaint and cozy, it was not.  It was, in fact, the least likely place in the world for our Lord to be born.  But perhaps, so too are we…

The message for which we prepare during this season of Advent is not that Christ will come when we finally get more spiritual and when we get our lives in order.  He is coming right now, and he will be present in our lives just as they are.  He is no stranger to mess, to pain, to suffering, or to any of the other dark and difficult expressions of the human condition.

The bottom line is this: Christ is not coming for some future time in your life—a time when you might be more spiritual, more worthy, or more ready.  He desires to be born in you right now. He desires to be born in your life just as it is.

Daily Inspirations: 2013

The Syracuse Post Standard, March 2013

1. Deep, Deep Abundance

There is something mysteriously paradoxical at the heart of life.  While everything around us tells us that we must grab what we want, even if we have to wrest from someone else, there is a deeper Wisdom.  When we are willing to share—when we are willing to give ourselves away in love—only then do we discover the profound abundance that emerges from the depths of life and that gives to us unstintingly.

2. To Be Fully Alive

Fear and anxiety desire to freeze things in order to control them.  But Wisdom knows that there is nothing in life that is simply static, nothing that is merely mechanical, and nothing that is not alive.  When we can move beyond our fear and anxiety, that description should fit us as well.  That is, we are constantly flowing with the divine and creative drive; we are not inevitably imprisoned by our history; and we express our truest and deepest nature in our willingness to love and to be fully alive.

3. Intentional Integration

Life is made up of complex, self-organizing systems that are continually re-creating themselves. All parts are parts of wholes and those wholes are parts of other wholes, and the whole business is constantly changing. But this process is anything but random. It moves toward greater complexity and integration. Can we say the same of ourselves…?

4. We are the Whole

It seems safer and more comfortable for us to view life through a lens of distinctiveness and separateness.  Indeed, it seems to give us some control.  We define one thing based on its being different from something else.  And while this is one way of seeing life, the saints and mystics of our spiritual traditions perceived life in another manner.  They saw everything as connected—everything as a whole and part of a larger whole.  Quantum physics has confirmed the veracity of this perspective.

5. Direct Encounters

Human nature seems such that once we have a name for something, we think we understand it.  We do this because the alternative, that is, to intuit the vast non-linearity and unpredictability of life, is truly frightening.  But instead of living in categories that seek to control life, what if we could experience the freshness of life simply by encountering it more directly?  What if, then, we embraced change instead of trying to avoid it…?

6. Creative Change

Creative change in our lives is limited by our perspective.  When we restrict ourselves by utilizing habitual ways of seeing that only work with pre-established mental models, we become blind to emergent possibilities.  To participate in truly creative change we must be willing to let go of that which is familiar and comfortable and venture into the mysterious unknown.  Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Unless we are willing to venture into the unknown, we are destined to perpetuate the problems we have already created.

7. Change, an Everyday Opportunity

The beginning of the calendar year often brings with it thoughts and intentions of change–almost as if turning the page of a new year delivers some much needed momentum for the things we need to either add or subtract from our lives. How silly, though, to reserve change to a particular time of year for every day, every minute, really, brings emerging changes to our lives, even if we don’t always recognize them. Indeed, change is the only constant in life. Or, put the other way around, any time we think we have reached a final conclusion about anything–a conclusion from which nothing can be added or taken away–a conclusion that is no longer open to any new information or evidence–then we have truly relinquished the most accurate perspective in life, and we are choosing to live in self-delusion. Wisdom asserts that life is open-ended and so too must we be.


Does this mean that there is nothing in life that is stable enough for us to bank on? By no means! It does, however, suggest that we learn to hold things lightly–especially ourselves. It seems that most all of our spiritual traditions encourage us to move beyond grasping and clutching at what our small selves insist we need or must be conclusively true. Even though we cannot fully articulate or explain it, there is a larger reality, a larger mystery, to which we all belong, the whole of which we are only a part. While continuously emerging with fresh newness and creativity, this mystery sustains us in this ongoing change. And not so much a “What,” this mystery is better described as a “Who.”