Balance is the Foundation

“This cannot wait,” I am told.

We inhale it in the air we breath. Continue to improve upon the past. We drink it in the water. Tomorrow can be better than today. It is our daily diet, the food we binge on. Be all you can be. It is the IV drip that is fed to us in our advertising, catalogs, news coverage, social media, and education. Progress. Advancement. You can have what you put your mind to. Give your children more than what you had when you were young. It is not the only way. 

It is a hard truth to look at the many problems in the world, the imbalance of resource distribution, the violence, the oppression and consider that fixing it might not be the best way forward. Fixing it is probably the best solution, but what our Earth and all her beings may need is not a solution. As Einstein said, “We cannot fix our problems with the same thinking that created them.” To find the technology that will save us is the same crazy thinking that got us in this place. To push cash at a problem or send in the military is more of the same insanity that got us here. To vote, while perhaps is needed, is a minimal action that ultimately amounts to playing the same political game that created this clown show. 

But isn’t it human nature to try to make things better for the future? Hasn’t it always been this way, that people want to make tomorrow better than today? Isn’t this the name of the game for every teacher, doctor, scientist, engineer, and probably religious leader? I would say NO! For centuries, politics, science, economics, and religion has worked together to push for a vision of a better future, whether it be here on Earth or in streets paved with gold. For this better future, we have created technology, established ideologies and theologies, written laws, destroyed cultures, and ravaged our land, the ground that sustains us. Much good has come out of this, I see that, and many will consider that the mark of our success. But things have gotten out of balance and it has gotten us where we are, which many would likely agree is not a sustainable or healthy place. 

This quest for progress is not human nature, has not always been this way, and is not the only way to move forward. There was a time when people saw that everything was perfect the way that it was. Human beings didn’t have a mandate to progress or make things better, but rather, it was their purpose to do everything possible to maintain the harmony, balance, and right relations with all that was. Being in right relationship to the land, to each other, to those who came before and those that will come after them – this is what they lived for. They didn’t believe they had a right to live, a right to not die, or a right to take for themselves. Every day, every meal, every child and elder was a gift. And because they received so many gifts, they therefore had to give in return. They were indebted to Life and gratitude was expected. To maintain the balance, to restore harmony. This was the Foundation. 

Our home is out of balance. For those that live in gratitude and do not take for themselves and their own, they cannot hold up to the onslaught of greed and consumption. This is a beast that will never be satisfied. Until it consumes everything. The Wild is a fragile thing and it doesn’t “get back” at the two-legged creatures that destroy it daily. It is not like us and will likely be destroyed wildly, maintaining it’s wildness. 

It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward.

It is a time for heart-brokenness. It is a time for sadness, for grief. To know that in many ways, we are too far gone and that there is no turning back. This has to be the only first response. And then we must learn. Learning does not inherently lead one to fix. Sometimes learning is thorough enough to convince us we need to withhold our hand. To jump to a solution may be part of the problem that got us here. Solving comes from knowing and the way forward seems to be mostly unknown. 


We must do what is needed, which may not yet be known. We must learn from our land. Not control our land, direct our land, or manage our land. We must learn. It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward. Because they live for balance… and also die for balance. 

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I ain’t no saint

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I ain’t no saint, that’s for sure.
You won’t find a halo around my head.
There used to be a time when I thought I could be some kind of spiritual “poster boy.” I was clued in to some revelation of spirituality that no one else had and therefore this offered me some sort of merit or elevated status. It was in my own mind, but of course impacted the way I saw others, especially my friends. How terribly unfortunate, and something which I will always be sorry for.

In reality, I’m just a mess. And I think it’s better that way. I had a patient the other day ask me if I could call a priest in so she could give confession. “It has been a long time, so I have a lot of things to confess,” she said. “Do you think that it would be too much to do that in the hospital?”

“I think it would be fine,” I said. “I’m not Catholic, though… so I just confess my stuff to everybody all the time!” She laughed and said she could never do such a thing. Of course, I don’t do this, but I knew the good protestant response would have been that I can go straight to God with my confession. But I don’t want to be a “good” protestant anyway.

People put halos on folks all the time. I know, as I am technically “clergy,” how it is. People apologize for swearing around me and my response is usually, “Don’t worry about it. I hear worse language in my own house daily.” I think as a chaplain, I’m able to dodge those projections a lot more easily than some. And it may be me, too. I do tend to be a bit of a “dodger.” I was encouraging one of the doctor’s yesterday for being able speak to a Muslim patient in her native tongue and I noted that the only other language I can speak in is hipster.

Let’s stop pretending, shall we? Our culture glorifies supermen and superwomen, people without limit and capable of doing extra-ordinary things. The truth is, most of us have pretty significant limps. It’s pretty hard to hide a limp, and for those that try when it is glaringly obvious, it just looks pretty ridiculous. We can limp together and laugh about the fact that some things are just really damn hard. Perfection is a myth. Progress is overrated. In our family, we call disabilities, “special abilities.” I’d rather this than have what we claim for ourselves as a “special ability” be glaringly an obvious dis-ability.

We do have saints in our traditions. We have ancestors, prophets, teachers, and elders. Some of them seem more perfect than others, but I’m pretty sure each of them has their quirks and their limits. They get elevated because they show us that we can be normal, ordinary human beings and still be blessed by Life. What more can we ask for? Probably the most extra-ordinary thing I do regularly is get up at 4:30 every morning. That might be discipline or plain foolishness. Probably a bit of both.

Dissolution of self

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Art by Gaia Orion

I lay in bed, my hands on my head, feeling as though the thing that I had spent so long crafting, so much energy understanding, so much heartbreak wrestling was slipping away.

Self. What a popular thing these days… Know thyself. Differentiate your self. Autonomous self. Self gratification. Self glorification. As one of my teachers has said, “Psychology is monotheism with out a God. It replaces God with the Self.” As the title of James Hillman’s 1992 book states, “We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world has gotten worse.”

I write the things that come to me. I put into words considerations that come through me. How do we find ourselves in the right place at the right time? or have the words to say when we planned nothing in advance? How can we take credit for the food we eat and especially the food that grows from the land we occupy? Soil that has been there much longer than we have, often persevering despite our best efforts to control, eradicate, and propagate so that it has the appearance of neat and tidy, refined and orderly. In fact, the earth is a delightful chaos and order unique to herself, giving almost endlessly to her children, all of this infused so thoroughly with Life. Attempting to control life, kills it. How is it me that “makes” things happen? “Manifesting my reality” is so deeply dissatisfying.

As I lay in bed, in the thin space before sleeping, the only thing I could think was, “Where is my Self if I am on the receiving end of everything?” If I live in gratitude and indebtedness to Life as it comes to me, always and everywhere, Self seems so utterly overrated. What’s the use of a Self? I am not a self-made man. I am not autonomous or inevitable. In that moment I felt the dissolution of my self. “Dissolution”… the breaking apart or loosening or untying. Turning from a solid into a fluid state.

Dissolution. Dissolve. Use whatever word you want, but essentially the solid loses its form and becomes virtually indistinguishable from the environment around it. A stone in the sea maintains its form, sinks to the bottom, separate from the world around it. How similar this is to how so many go through life, not aware that Life goes through us! To dissolve in the ocean is to lose form and become one with the ocean. This is what the mystics call union. What more is there after this? What else could be more desirable? Perhaps everything.

Refuse to Look Lightly Upon the World

Refuse to look lightly upon the world. Bear the weight of each day, every moment, every word and every action, like it is your last and final undoing. Let this burden weigh you down, push you under, slow your feet to a crawl. Some days you will feel as though you are sinking in quicksand slowly creeping its way up to your chin, heavy on the chest, only a matter of time when breath escapes you. Other days, running in water or wading through snow will feel only slightly more difficult. And some some days, you’ll crawl, climb, maybe even dance with a burden light and malleable. Bear it, none the less, and do not forget that you are not alone.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Do not underestimate the impact you have on your place, your land, your people. Every greeting, every smile, every tear, every sigh, every goodbye. Each has the power to change the present moment and the shaping of things to come. Maybe even the past. You are your ancestor’s ancestor. They dreamed of you when they measured their own impact on what may come. They lived with you in mind. Who will you be an ancestor to? What kind of person will you be as you anticipate those who will awake one morning and wonder if you considered them while you were alive? Measure the impact of your life, knowing that there are those who have done the same before you and those who will come after you. By all means, you are not alone.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Do look after yourself. Rest, rock out, sing on your commute, party even. Allow your mind, your heart, your body some space sometimes. Even often, if that is what you need. To live and feel and engage deeply requires great escape as well. But always know you must come back because there are those waiting for you wondering when you will show up again. Maybe your children, your spouse, your animal companions. Maybe even the birds wait for water and seed. Do not leave your life unattended. You will have help.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Recognize the insignificance of your tiny little body in the grand scheme of things. The earth does not need you to continue to turn. Maybe even the earth might do better without your consumption, your use, and your living on the take. Life goes on and will continue to go on long after you breathe your last. So what will you do while you are here? And what will you do after you die? Will you steal the gift of your body from the earth that has sustained you all this time? It doesn’t have to be this way. Live as though you are not alone.

Refuse to look lightly on the world. Pay attention. Technology is not the answer and it will not save you. Most assuredly not your children, your grandchildren, and those who come after you.  Love, life, and gratitude are what matter in your days. You are not alone and you never have been. Your very breath has always been a gift to you, given by trees you have not cut down, grass you have not mowed over, algae you have not scorched with your chemicals. Your body is entirely gifted to you by the food you eat and the water you drink, whether it came to you in a box from a factory or from the work of your own hands. Do well with what you have been given. Treat things kindly and speak praise into the world, from the sun rising to the waves crashing to the soil you walk on to the wind whispering. Your voice and your words may not be with you forever and they have the power that is uniquely yours as a human being to make things real and to set things in motion. Refuse to look lightly on the world because in no way does the world look lightly on you.

Panentheism: Filling gaps of ancestral homelessness

A wise teacher said recently, with acute and accurate observation, “Most multi-god religions never really had an issue with the one-god religions. It’s the Monotheistic religions that chronically have taken offence with everyone else.” He went on to note that it may be entirely possible for an animist to sit in a Protestant church and feel fairly at home.

It seems it is becoming less and less tolerable (especially with increased information and awareness coming from science, anthropology, history, and ethics) to claim sovereignty of belief and truth in opposition to a great multitude of beliefs and experiences in the world. This poses an extremely consequential dilemma. On the one hand, there are fundamentalist believers of many different religions, who dig their heals in even more, saying it is a sure sign of the demise of humanity that so many people disagree with “our way.” These groups have to work even harder to preach and evangelize the “one true way.” On the other hand, many who grew up in the church or have Monotheism in their ancestral heritage, leave these “limited and exclusive” belief systems behind in order to find something more authentic to their experience. Sometimes this seems rather fundamentalist on the other extreme.

Granted, there are those who are perfectly comfortable with this arrangement of digging in even harder or abandoning their roots. I would be willing to bet, however, that for many, though, the arrangement, message, or straight up disconnection feels off… like something is missing and can’t be settled. I think this unsettledness is good and is important. It creates a hunger to search for something of meaning, something more reconciling, more inclusive, and more embracing of our ancestral heritage.

Some of us don’t feel quite right about about tossing off monotheism and some of the nuances that we are drawn to within our belief systems we were raised on. Maintaining a spirit of anger and betrayal towards something so central in our heritage is something akin to walking with a profound limp. I have heard so many times of the pain and horror at what our ancestors have done in the name of God and how this has driven one to different beliefs. Good! The pain of how things are and how they have come to be is exactly the burden we need to carry into the future as we put words to the trouble we are in.

There is a historical and cultural understanding about god, though, that I believe can unite and reconcile these homeless and disillusioned Westerners. It is indigenous, it is local, and it is inclusive. Panentheism is a foundational belief that includes God, mystery, or divine and also allows for more unification between the creator and the “created.” While not exclusive to Christianity, there have been Christians since the early church that considered God to be in all things and all things to be in God. So the universe is contained within an infinite and infusing presence.

In this way, the divine is simultaneous with Life. Love. The Force. The Great Spirit. Problems with the dualism of monotheism can be moved beyond. Within panentheism there is room for all, the ability to hold the grief of what has been done and is being done, and a way to love the world as alive and infused with Life. Problem of evil, or a good God allowing bad things? Not really an issue if God includes all of life, both light and darkness. Other religions or views about God? We are all part of a greater presence, each trying to find our cultural way of understanding and connecting. The relationship between humanity and other earth beings? We are all sustained by Life. None are greater than the others, but participate together with Life and Love to create more life.

Personally, the implications of living in this way and with this union are only beginning to take shape. Living in the belief that all things are in God and God is in all things has been my ongoing contemplation for maybe more than ten years now, but it continues to shape the way that I engage with others, pray, care for the land and those that live on it, eat and drink, attend and participate in church, and care for others in times of heartbreak and death. I have been able to find some reconciliation and harmony with my Christian heritage without feeling like I have to be stuck in a box that is too small and exclusive. I find myself in great wonder much of the time and frankly in awe of mystery at all times. It is okay for me not to know. In the midst of it all… all the joys and sorrows, wonder and heartbreak, there is still God who holds me and all beings in love. Life happens and continues to happen. It is not the enemy, not bad or good per se, but wonderful, yes. And consistently beautiful.

Spiritual Direction and reflections on Life, Trouble, and Heartbreak

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