There’s a poster that hangs in my office. It was a gift from Rev. Nina Clark and its words were drawn from a book I wrote many years past entitled Radical Essays on This Thing Called God – What It Is, What You Are, and How It All Fits Together (and no, you won’t find it on the market so don’t bother looking). The book is pretty radical, even by Unity standards, and so when I started teaching in a Unity center, I got a little shy, shall we say, and had the book discontinued. Oh, how rich it is, indeed, to start a lesson by demonstrating just how quickly we tend to strap on our masks, whether to project something that isn’t or to disguise something that is. Now, when I say that the book is pretty radical, even by Unity standards, it starts with the rather inflammatory question, and I do quote, “It really doesn’t make sense, does it? I mean, such traditional ideas of God really don’t withstand any amount of critical thought. If God lives out there, where is there? How can any one religion be the religion? How can God be available only to people of a certain era or geography? What about all the others? Do they just arbitrarily go to hell? And what about the children who didn’t know enough to perform the prescribed rituals? Do they just go to hell as well? And where, exactly, is this hell? And if sin will keep me from heaven but God will always forgive, why not party through life, beg for forgiveness during that final hour and slip through the pearly gates with all the nuns and girl scouts?” And when I say that the book is pretty radical, even by Unity standards, it goes on to pick even more fights with passages suggesting that, “While the heaven and hell of the human mind are most real, geographic heaven and geographic hell are the myths of a primitive people created to explore that which they did not understand and to encourage adherence to moral codes. So, whether you’re waiting for the pearly gates and the harps or waiting for the hellfire and the trombones, you’ll eventually discover that all you’ve really gained is the ability to wait.” And another, “The idea of ownership is really a myth. The idea that a thing, an intellectual property or a piece of land could be owned is completely inappropriate from the spiritual perspective. And so, we enter into healthy relationships with such elements of this world to the degree that we relinquish this belief in ownership. We enter into healthy relationship with such elements of this world to the degree that we accept that they are gifts - generously provided - to be ravenously enjoyed during their respective hours and then freely released as all must ultimately be released.” How challenging is that to today’s materialistic mindset? “Money isn’t bad. Sex isn’t bad. Nor are they inherently good. In and of themselves, they are of course, quite meaningless. They are vehicles for our joy, for our sadness, for our self-loathing, for our self-respect, for construction and for destruction; all based upon the consciousness with which they are engaged. Money and sex are simply benign vehicles for the development of consciousness. So, the true spiritual practice of abstinence is to remind ourselves that things of this world have no bearing on our eternal selves; to remind ourselves that money is not power, and that sex is not love.” And it goes so far as to say that, “The second coming of Christ isn’t about the physical return of a single personality; it’s about the spiritual awakening of an entire people; that we think we’re waiting for the coming of something really profound when, in fact, something really profound is waiting for us.” And finally, that, “The only thing Jesus possessed that you don’t is an awareness of the power available to him and the discipline to learn how to use it.” As I said, the book is pretty radical, even by Unity standards! And yet amidst such radical essays were scattered several about nature, each of which was preceded by the quote that appears on that poster. It reads as follows, “As we attempt to uncover the truths of life, we need only reflect upon the truths of nature. As we attempt to reconcile the complexities of value, death, purpose, change and abundance, we need only reflect upon the simplicities operating beyond our back doors. For whatever truths are operating fully within the latter, are operating fully within the former. The universe is never preferential or fickle.” Now, for me, this means that God – not as an anthropomorphic distant male but as the is-ness behind all expression, as the life behind all emanation, as the ground of all being – can be found not only by opening books, but also by opening windows. And such is the nature of this discussion. For I gleaned some comfort this week from the wisdom of a tree. Wisdom from a tree? I can hear you thinking but stick with me. I think there’s something in the wisdom of trees for you. I love autumn. I love the cooler temperatures and everything that comes with the cooler temperatures. I mean, who doesn’t love a quality sweater, a hot cocoa, a roaring fire, a Thanksgiving event? To this day, I love that back-to-school consciousness – similar to New Years and birthdays and anniversaries, it’s that hopeful consciousness that knows, no matter what happened back then, you can begin again right now. And I love the brisk winds. I’m reminded of living in West Germany and walking with my host – this spry energetic woman – who described the air of autumn while shaking her hands in emphasis, “The air is just so powerful!” And, of course, I love the colors. Who doesn’t? Oranges and yellows and reds, whether waving in the breeze or gathering in their mounds. To this day, I can remember in a sensory way, what it is to dive into a pile of leaves. And to the point of today’s discussion, let me say that I love what’s happening behind the colors as well. And I wonder if you might love it, too. For it’s when those cooler temperatures arrive, it’s when those brisk winds pick up, that our wise, deciduous trees begin to recall their life energies back to center. And it’s as they begin to recall their life energies back to center that the leaves begin to turn from greens to oranges and yellows and reds, drying and curling; that life with a capital ‘L’ might restore, renew and reinvigorate its creation again in another season. And I find myself thinking, there are many for whom today’s world might be likened to something of a spiritual autumn. There are many for whom the cooler temperatures of uncertainty, of anxiety, of change have indeed arrived. And there are many for whom the brisk winds of fear, of injustice, even of violence have indeed picked up. And it’s in times such as these perhaps - that our wise trees remind us that it might be time to bring our life energies back to center. Now, while that might be a pretty easy matter for a tree, involving words such as sap and water and photosynthesis, but for us, not so much. What might it mean to recall our life energies back to center that capital ‘L’ life might restore, renew and reinvigorate its creation again in another season? Now, in the end, I don’t suppose I can presume to answer that most excellent question for you. And yet I’m betting that you can. For me, three practices come to mind, if you’ll indulge me. I can certainly speak for myself when I say that to recall my life energies back to center is to withdraw myself from conversations that are going nowhere. As a minister, this translates on a weekly if not daily basis into the decision to continue to offer a message of oneness and equality and possibility and radical inclusivity to all who can hear it; and to tithe all who cannot hear it back to God. I’m aware that it’s so entirely possible to be so enwrapped in what isn’t, you see, that we lose what is. It’s entirely possible to so clamor after the people who aren’t (shall we say) that we neglect the people who are. Now, noting that most of you don’t run spiritual centers, perhaps the most common form of conversations that are going nowhere can be found in that latest social media argument. You know the one. And if that latest social media argument has compromised your peace, your sleep, your balance, I might be speaking to you. The wisdom of trees might be speaking to you. Are you giving your life energies to conversations that are going nowhere? Are there some people you need to tithe back to God? What might it mean to recall our life energies back to center that capital L life might restore, renew and reinvigorate its creation again in another season? I can certainly speak for myself when I say that to recall my life energies back to center is to make the difference I can make. What is it about the human mind that gets itself so enrolled in what’s happening in other minds, in other families, in other geographies (in what’s happening out there) that we completely miss the opportunity to make a difference right here? What is it about the human mind that gets itself so enrolled in how the world might better contribute to us that we completely miss our calling to better contribute to the world? What is it about the human mind that would effectively delay a better world by suggesting that a better world should begin somewhere (anywhere) other than where you are? I can certainly speak for myself when I say that to recall my life energies back to center is to make the difference I can make. I might suggest that there are people in your sphere who would benefit from your warm smile today. There are people in your sphere who would benefit from your kind word today. There are people in your sphere who would benefit from your simple wave, your welcoming presence, your generous concession today. There might be people in your sphere who would benefit from your naked apology today. If I didn’t believe that a small group of people in Lynnwood, Washington (and in our hearty embrace of our virtual community we might say that a not-so-small group of people across the country) were capable of giving rise to a world in which all religious traditions are embraced as tools to bring us together and to lift us up instead of wielded as weapons to press us apart and keep us down, I would go into the autobody repair business right now. I would just satisfy my own artistic and introverted sensibilities while listening to loud disco music. Have you gotten so enwrapped in how someone or something out there can make life better that you’ve forgotten to make life better for those in your sphere? And what might it mean to recall our life energies back to center that capital L life might restore, renew and reinvigorate its creation again in another season? I can certainly speak for myself when I say that to recall my life energies back to center is to stop. There are those among us who can speak far more eloquently than I about the effects of perpetuating a fight-or-flight state, day after day after day. What I can say (and you already know this – it’s no longer the theory of mystics but it’s the science of medicine) what I can say in my rudimentary way is that it’s not good for you. Accelerated beyond any generation before, we are inundated with the fearful propaganda of profiteering machines which would sell the propaganda of our choosing back to us at the high cost of individual souls and our shared humanity alike. Add this to a stew of pandemic seasoned with uncertainty and instability and the opportunities to perpetuate a fight-or-flight state are more than ever before. And yet the tired cliché remains true. If you find yourself staring at the oxygen mask that’s fallen from the ceiling of the plane, you’ve got to put it on you first if you’re to be of any enduring use whatsoever to anyone else. That means that if you want to be of maximal benefit to your loved ones, you’re the one who has to break that state. If you want to be of maximal benefit to your community, you’re the one who has to break that state. If you want to be of maximal benefit to your world, you’re the one who has to break that state. Be in nature. Read a book. Listen to music. Play your guitar. Or yes, cultivate a meditation practice, not the mystical stuff of eastern gurus and yoga teachers, but whatever practice helps you to be present in the moment. What might it mean to recall our life energies back to center that capital L life might restore, renew and reinvigorate its creation again in another season?
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