Photo Credit: “Murky Inspiration” by Marie J. sumo.fm, edited
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Ariel is a sprite, a free spirit, imprisoned in a cloven pine by the “blue-eyed hag” Sycorax for disobeying her. He was confined a “dozen years” until another magician-master, Prospero, opened the pine and set Ariel free. What Ariel didn’t realize is that he was always free, whether or not he exercised that freedom.
Psychology and spirituality make good partners. I have studied the work of Eric Fromm and compared his theories about authority with the experience of mystics. Strange bedfellows, atheists and mystics, but bear with me for a moment. Fromm‘s experience of the Holocaust enlightened him on the human tendency to relinquish personal authority to the highest bidder. His theory is not unlike Kohlberg’s stages of moral authority. He says that most people are stuck in level four where behavior is dictated by external authority. Like Fromm, Kohlberg sees the highest stage of moral authority as acting out of intrinsic principles, rather than external laws which may or may not be morally right. The path of the mystics is similar. One lets go of ego-entrapment to get to the core of his being. She meets the Other in that place and this relationship grounds her in the moral authority to do justice in the world.
Some chapters of my life story have been characterized by idolizing external authority. It crippled me with guilt and encased me in a mail of fear, protecting me from my own freedom. Like Ariel imprisoned in the cloven pine, I longed to be free, to return to the blithe spirit of my childhood when God was real and I was real. I have come to realize that we return to this state by returning to the womb of our souls. But how to return? A Dominican theologian, John Caputo, says that, “When the soul unites with the divine Godhead it returns to its own womb….” God calls us to live this radical self-acceptance with the divine. Life in the Godhead is not life in a cloven pine. Rather, it is a life which frees us to exercise all of our human potential. It is a life which empowers us with the authority to call others to conversion. It is a way to escape the idolatry of stage four morality.
My journey to live moral authority has long been inspired by this paraphrase from Leonard Bernstein’s theatre piece, Mass:
You can lock up the bold ones
Go and lock up the bold ones
and hold them in tow,
you can stifle all adventure
for a century or so.
Smother hope before it’s risen,
Watch it wizen like a gourd,
But you cannot imprison
the word of the Lord.
Photo Credit: “Prospero Releases Ariel” by Cate Simmons https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/steeringfornorth/6748694173/ I invite you to visit this link to Cate’s drawing. Her story of its creation is lovely and moving.
Here you will find a snapshot of Eric Fromm’s theories and a bibliography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Fromm
Here you will find an explanation of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development:
For a thorough and thought-provoking treatment of how a dearth of moral authority has created an empire out of church, see the books of my friend, Wes Howard-Brook:
A recurring image in my life has made another appearance in my consciousness lately. I am a trapeze artist in the circus that is my life, thinking that I have one simple goal: to get to the other side. Accomplishing that goal necessitates leaving the bar behind, even though I may, and often do, fall into the space between. Over the years I’ve learned that the space is not such a formidable place. The goal is to release the bar and make a home in the space between.
We stand on life’s platform
like trapeze artists
poised to spring:
peering into the space
between the bars.
An illusory Siren,
Safety lures us to the other side
with sweet songs of comfort and security
while the holy net of grace
waits for the free fall
© rita h kowats 2014
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkscircusimages/6156299177/”>dirkjanranzijn</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
One day In February 1968 two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death in a garbage packer in Memphis Tennessee. They were African American men working for starvation wages and under dangerous conditions:
From Taylor Branch’s On Canaan’s Edge (ISBN 978-064857121), page 684:
Start Here For More Information on the Memphis Strike:
“….The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man… I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”
Einstein photo and quotation credit: www.aip.org/history/einstein/essay.htm
NASA Royalty- Free Photographs
“Goldfield Ghost Town”
Used and edited with permission wikimedia.org[/
The Ghost Town
Last week fear of abandonment touched me again, after a long hiatus. I think it is perhaps the most universal of our human emotions. It is both a psychological and spiritual experience, so it must be healed on both levels. Reading, analyzing, and verbalizing my experience has helped heal me psychologically.
A review of the topic by Claudia Black, PhD, in the June 2010 issue of “Psychology Today,” gives a clear and succinct summary of key elements of the experience.
Some translations of 2 Samuel 6 have King David “leaping and whirling before the Lord,” when the Ark was brought back to Jerusalem. It is said that he danced with abandonment, which is “unbounded enthusiasm,” according to the Free Dictionary. It gives the archaic meaning of enthusiasm as, “Ecstasy arising from supposed possession by a god.” In the midst of his leaping, I believe that David loved his true self as much as he loved God. The other experience of abandonment victimizes the ego, not the true, spiritual self. No one can take that away. Dancing naked with our deepest self before our god heals our wound. Loving ourselves is the way to heal abandonment.
Bernard Tyrell, S.J., wrote a book in 1970’s, called Christotherapy. Writing it was a spiritual practice to aid him in recovering from alcoholism. He talked about the practice of mind-fasting and spirit-feasting. I find it helpful. To deal with the remnants of pain from the original wound I say and write the mantra, “I release this pain. It has no more power over me.” If I say it enough, I live into the reality. Spirit-feasting frees me from ego, inviting me to dance with abandonment. My mantra becomes, “I love you, Rita. You are infinitely valuable.” Every time I am tempted to obsess over a real or imagined abandonment, I fast from that message and love myself. Finally, the practice of intentionally affirming others, takes us out of our own pain, and their joy becomes a mirror for our self-worth.
A Blessing and a Prayer
When spirits of past abandonments
Waft through us,
Imprinting the walls of our psyche-
We invoke the Spirit of the Creator to
Bless us with magnanimity and
Heal us with the fire of her love.
We arrived in Berkeley in September 1978, young theology students, eager to change the world. I was, anyway. Jim wanted to play. He was so full of life and passion for all things beautiful. Years later he would admit to being more immature than anything at that time. So was I.
A month later all hell broke loose. Harvey Milk was murdered across the Bay, and Jim’s life was never the same. Along with several other priests in our program he claimed his identity and joined the march for gay rights in San Francisco. The intensity of his rage frightened me for a long time, until he found peace and I found courage. We left Berkeley, and our former selves, and continued 32 years of friendship.
Not likely to be branded as a mystic by strangers, Jim was, nevertheless, an extroverted mystic extraordinaire. He was like King David, life spilling over in love and sin; joined at the hip to the God he so passionately loved. At age thirty- six he wrote an essay entitled, “My Life in the Good God balloon.” He described how he pushed, pulled and recoiled off the balloon’s boundaries, always moving closer to the center. He said that the shape is God, and that his destiny was to always move to the limits of the shape. He felt called to always love the shape, himself, the testing and pushing, and his fellow testers. I am deeply grateful to live in that balloon with him and with our soul-sister Cynthia, in a new way now that Jim has died. The balloon has expanded to massive dimensions!
Blinded by stereotypical concepts of mystics, strangers would not have readily seen the deep waters of Carmelite mysticism running through Jim. They expected, instead, to see prayer beads, and lowered eyes. With Jim, I got his alter-ego, Beatrice, an elephant gallivanting in a dazzling tutu, shouting to me, “Live, Reet, Live!” I miss Jim’s irreverent humor, and even the tirades he rained down on me when fear convinced me to stand down in the face of injustice. To honor his courage and expansive love, I stand for the rights of all those who experience injustice because of their sexual identity. Not because it’s politically correct but because it’s right. Here is the poem he wrote on the occasion of the Gay Pride Parade in New York in 1987. Perhaps you too will re-frame your portrait of a mystic:
Corpus Christi: New York “87”
Sunny Sunday in late June.
Joyous and free.
Searchers and seekers
Walking with dignity and pride.
Approaching the Cathedral:
Blue barricades, blue flashing lights
On cop cars and paddy wagons;
Blue shirted police arm to arm
Protecting the Cathedral.
The front steps blocked by
A blue Army in blue berets
Shaking rosaries, thumping Bibles
Yelling “Sinners Sinners” as we passed by.
“Shame, shame, shame,” we murmured
Softly in reply.
I looked for Jesus beyond the barricades.
“Thank God,” I said.
At 3 o’clock the parade stopped.
A city fell silent.
From the Village up Fifth Avenue.
Coming closer and closer
Passing over us
Until the whole sky was filled with
My heart burned within,
I remembered all who died of AIDS.
Gazing at the heavens,
I watched a great loving God
Gather balloons, holding them high
In God’s bright blue sky
Above the blue baracades, blue lights
Blue armies & blue shirted cops.
My God gathered these children,
Sons & daughters into a peace-filled
Turning, I saw two older women,
Pioneers and witnesses of the movement,
Weeping and holding each other as they
Too gazed upward.
“I have often stated that there is a power in the soul that touches neither time nor flesh. It flows out of the spirit and remains in the spirit, and is totally and utterly spiritual. In this power God is as totally verdant and flourishing in all joy and in all honor as he is in himself….In the power God is unceasingly glowing and burning with all his wealth, with all his sweetness, and with all his bliss.” Meister Eckhart
This morning I landed on “Thomas and Friends” while surfing channels to escape the rigors of surgical rehab. Thomas was winding through a mountain pass when thick fog set in, robbing the little engine of all visual perspective. Immediately I stepped into panic mode. What if the tracks are shattered? What if something is on the tracks? What if another train has switched over onto Thomas’ track? The dense fog slithered around me and took control as surely as if the situation were real. “STOP, THOMAS!” I ALMOST YELLED. Then…Oh. It’s just a cartoon, Rita. But fear had touched me on a primal level.
The fog of fear moves in when we least expect it, and like a photo shop tool, distorts who we really are. God’s power in the depths of the soul is so abundant, that we fear it will overtake us. But who are we, if not “sparks of the divine” (Meister Eckhart)? We fear that God’s power will stun others with its light and they will withdraw in their discomfort, leaving us alone. But we can’t name the fear that way. Instead, we camouflage it by convincing ourselves that we are nothing. We are sinful and proud wretches. Fear is very effective in preserving that illusion. And we remain safe from the risks inherent in the choice to grow.
We don’t trust that God’s power is enough to carry us through and beyond the fog. We don’t trust that the power of God in us has eyes to see when we lose our sight. May we develop the ability to see and accept the power of God in us, and the courage to let it spill out in spontaneous acts of unconditional love.