Monthly Archives: March 2012

Foundations & Fundamentals, Part V: The Mercy & The Compassion

Foundations & Fundamentals, Part V: The Mercy & The Compassion
by A Monk
Ok, this one is real hard also!  Extra hard!  But for quite another reason than the previous postings in the Foundations Series.  The problem is the words are “nice”; everyone likes these kind of words, and everyone thinks they understand what these words mean and imply and what they point to.  There is a psychological and social component here that everyone, or almost everyone, connects with and believes in and leaves it at that.  However the deeper realms, what is properly called mysticism or the contemplative vision of this, remains largely unexplored.  Just speaking for the majority of Christians!  And that is a sad story when in fact every single human being has this knowledge in their heart.  But what the Desert Fathers called “the world” tends to distract and preoccupy us.  However, when “the heart” awakens it opens up on these infinite vistas which we normally call “Mercy” and “Compassion”–again I capitalized and used the article “the” because I am not referring simply to a “fellow-feeling” here but an aspect of that Ultimate Mystery which we call God.

So let us begin in an odd place–thousands of miles away as it were.  In a Japanese Zen monastery, of the Rinzai School, during one of their sesshins.  A sesshin is a retreat of sorts, a very intense period of practice where the monks and lay guests do walking and sitting meditation for more than 12 hours a day.  Gary Snyder relates one such sesshin that he participated in when he was a student in Japan.  It was at Shokoku-ji in Kyoto during the 1960s.  He tells of how intense the experience was and describes one striking feature of the practice: during the long hours of meditation, the head monk, the Jikijitsu, paces up and down the rows of meditators with a wooden paddle.  If anyone’s posture is slipping up or if they start nodding off, the Jikijitsu will whack them on the back with the paddle, some more, some less, but a real whack, enough to knock one off one’s cushion and depending on what was wrong.  Snyder concludes his story:

“The sesshin ends at dawn on the eighth day.  All who have

participated gather in the Jikijitsu’s room and drink powdered

green tea and eat cakes.  They talk easily, it’s over.  The Jikijitsu,

who has whacked  or knocked them all during the week, is their

great friend now—compassion takes many forms.”

Indeed.  A little parable perhaps!  But by no means is this story to be taken as an endorsement of causing someone suffering.  As a matter of fact the compassion and mercy we really want to think about and which is primary is not what we “do to our neighbor” but really the Mercy and Compassion of God.  And here we have to enlist our Sufi friends again for here also they have gone the deepest.  Their whole theology and spirituality is built on this foundation, and we can learn much from them.

Recall the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching:

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao,

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.”

For those of us in the theistic traditions this is a perfect summary of one aspect of that reality which we call God.  It is the Absolute Mystery of God, totally transcendent, absolutely unknowable in its essence, totally nameless, beyond all knowledge.  And yet we also affirm that this Reality manifests itself, and as it is truly the only Reality for there is nothing else real “next to it” or compared to it, thus it truly manifests itself  only to itself; and within this manifestation our semblance of being arises.  Our being has reality only because it is grounded in Reality and apart from that we have no reality, and so we are part of that manifestation and  our purpose is to be a witness to this manifestation in all its aspects.  Thus the gift of intelligence and freedom, and so we are able to respond to every manifestation in that classic triad of “to know, love and serve God.”  This is the fundamental point of human beingness as even our catechism puts it.

But now we can push this further.  So the Sufis (and we) affirm that absolutely everything is a manifestation of this Absolute Mystery: the drop of rain, the hawk circling in the sky, the smile on a child, the laughter of friends, the lovemaking of husband and wife, a kind word of a stranger, the snowflakes falling, the Black Hole at the center of our galaxy,  a blade of grass, a delicious meal, the coolness of water, etc. etc.  In a sense these are obvious, but what about the really bad and evil things.  Someone like Abhishiktananda said toward the end of his life that he did not believe anymore in evil or suffering.  I am not so sure about that as a solution–that is a kind of gnostic solution to the problem of evil where it simply vanishes when you arrive at a certain state of awareness.  Dostoyevesky in Brothers Karamazov provides the definitive challenge to any gnostic solution to the problem of evil.  The Sufis have their own way of dealing with this, but it does not mean denying the reality of suffering or evil.  Simply that for the “person who knows” yes, he will see God even there–but you don’t preach that to people as if evil did not exist–it lies beyond our ability to explain the mystery of evil and suffering but for the Sufi “who knows the score” he will see God even there.   As Good Friday approaches we may see the point of what they intend.  At the crucifixion, Jesus says to the thief crucified next to him and who turns to him, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.”

In any case, the key thing for the Sufis is that “What Is” is a manifestation of that Absolute Mystery which we call God (Allah), but it is not a manifestation of His essence which remains totally transcendent, but a manifestation of His Love.  The Sufis have this expression, “the straight path.”  To be on “the straight path” is to be in harmony with “what is” as it comes from the Love of God.  This does not mean negative passivity but knowing how to respond to every thing and every situation in a way that witnesses to the manifestation of God and attests to God’s Self-communication and Self-manifestation in every moment and in every situation and in every thing.  This requires “purity of heart”–thus the importance of that expression for the early monks and mystics.  What we all want to be is on the Straight Path with purity of heart!

Now we come to our two key words: “Mercy” & “Compassion.”  Both are aspects of that one reality, Love, which manifests the Reality: God.  Indeed, in the New Testament God is defined as Love.  For most of us these words kind of blend into one sense or meaning, kind of interchangeable if you will.  However for the Sufis these two words have a serious differentiation which is worth paying attention to.   Muslims begin every invocation with the Basmalah, which can be found at the opening of the Quran,  “In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate..”(Different editions have various translations but this is what is meant).  They are not just being repetitious!  “Mercy” is the ground of all that we call reality.  It is the fundamental ground of every person and every thing.  God’s Mercy is the fabric of all time and all creation.  God Himself as the ground of all being is Mercy itself.  This Absolute Mystery chooses to manifest His Presence as Mercy always and everywhere, and our task is to “know” that with an awakened heart, to serve that Reality in total surrender, to walk the “Straight Path,” and so to respond as a witness of that Manifestation.  Now “Compassion” is a word saved for particular actions of God within historical time. The Compassion of God is in events.  It shows itself in His intervention in particular events here and there.  When Jesus cures a leper or opens the eyes of a blind person, these would be considered examples of God’s Compassion.  Some such acts might be great and very public; others very small and in secret.  But the Compassion of God is at work within history.  Thus to walk “the Straight Path” means also to be in harmony with the Compassion of God, but recall that especially God’s “compassion takes on many forms.”

Now let us listen to Merton as he talks about this topic:

“So that is why it is important to know that God Who is Manifest

in creatures is manifest primarily as Mercy….  The Muslims place

an enormous amount of importance to the Names of God.  See they’ve

got the idea that these Names are in God clamoring to the invisible,

unknown, absolute abyss of God for manifestation.  And God breathes

on them and they are manifested in creatures.  All creatures are not

manifestations of the Hidden Essence of God; they are manifestations

of Names of God.  And the Name of God which is the top of the

pyramid (other than Allah) and which includes every other Name is

Merciful.  God the Merciful.  Allah the Merciful.  And therefore one

seeks to ascend to the knowledge of God as Merciful in everything.

The Mercy of God in everything.  And of course one of the chief

Christian Sufis of the last hundred years is Saint Therese.  The Little

Way of St. Therese is Sufism.  It’s a form of Christian Sufism, and it

is based on this particular attitude toward God, this idea of God.”

Ibn Arabi:  ” If it were not for this Love, the world would never have appeared in its concrete existence.”  Merton again:  “In this sense, the movement of the world toward existence was a movement of love which brought it into existence.  And not only the movement of the world into existence, the coming of everything into existence is an act of love, the development of everything is an act of love.  Everything that happens is love and is mercy.  Not that it always appears to be that way, very often it appears to be just the opposite.  But everything that happens is love.  And of course the ones in Islam who emphasize this the most are the Sufis, because the great thing in Sufism is Love…the Mercy of God in everything , but you have to know how to see it.”

And this is a particularly hard thing to discuss or reflect on, this “seeing.”  A number of very deep spiritual concepts converge at this point: the awakened heart, purity of heart, prayer of the heart even, Mercy as the ground of all, and walking the Straight Path.  This last one alone needs much more reflection in another posting because it doesn’t sound familiar to our religious discourse. In that regard it suffers the same kinds of distortions as Buddhist “detachment” used to suffer so much among Western commentators, who took it as this grossly negative, passive mode of being.  Surely more words will not explain it or remove the difficulties, but at least some misconceptions can be spared and the significance of the Straight Path in relation to God’s Mercy can be indicated.   Suffice it to say that it holds the key to “bringing it all together,” and perhaps as an example we could point to the Rule of St. Benedict as one methodology of walking the Straight Path.  Certainly the Sufis prefer non-institutional approaches but at least it can be interpreted along these lines.  Finally, the problems associated with walking the Straight Path and seeing the Mercy of God in everything are similar to the ones we encountered in reflecting on the self and the heart.  Basically it is that very common illusion of ourselves as this solid entity which is separate from God and in charge of our own lives as it were.  It is what Abhishiktananda (and others) called “dualism” but it has all kinds of ramifications.  Let us listen to Merton again:

“And so the great sign of Mercy is that a person is able to see

the good in everything that is and go along with it…. To see that in

Everything That Is is the Mercy of God, and therefore to prefer

nothing else…that is the approach….  The average person who stands

outside the will of God…and looks in,…he does not understand that

really everything is willed by God and he makes choices, and…he

makes his own plans, and he submits them to God.  His idea of the

the Mercy of God is that, he makes his plans, and then God, being

merciful to him helps him so that it pans out the way he wants…that’s

kind of a common thing….  The only basic thing that the Sufis say

about it is that a man who lives in that realm doesn’t really know

what’s cooking.  He has the wrong idea of how things are set up.  In

other words, he thinks that he is able to stand outside of all this, and

make plans, and size things up, and then submit them to God, and

then he and God are going to work things out on basis of appeal….”

But as Ibn Arabi says:  “Those who are veiled from the truth ask the Absolute to show mercy upon them each in his own particular way.”

Merton continues speaking of such a “veiling”:  [It]….”is the underlying of a basically insufficient concept of who we are and of how we function in relation to God, and this insufficient concept is the concept that we all have [my emphasis].  It is the basic assumption that we all start from.  That we are all somehow or other completely a little world by ourselves and in the center of this little world of our own is our own mind down in there figuring things out.  And if you stop and think, we consider ourselves more or less like sort of a turtle in a shell…there’s your turtle and inside this little shell, this little metaphysical shell, which is the self, inside there is the living being, hidden from everything, figuring things out.  And we think that this living center, which is within the center of ourselves, is kind of walled off from everything else.  And here we are, because this is what we experience, this is the only thing that we experience directly as reality, and we take this to be reality.  We take the turtle inside our shell, which is there, the self, which down in there, we experience this as reality and we start from there.  And we judge everything in reference to that, and everything that we see that we experience through the senses, immediately,…is the outside, and then way up behind the whole thing somewhere is God.  And we say, ‘now look God, here’s me and here’s them, now fix it so that everything works out.’  But that’s not the way it is.  It is not like that.  It’s quite a different proposition…”

The actuality is that the ground of everything is within me and it is the Absolute, the Ultimate Mystery, God; and it is within everybody also.  And there is one ground for everybody, and this ground is the Divine Mercy.  Those “in the know” ask for the Divine Mercy to subsist in them and it does.  Merton again: “This is a totally different outlook.  It is the outlook whereby the Mercy of God is not arranged on the outside in events for me…but it is subsisting in me all the time.  Therefore what happens is that if the Mercy of God is subsisting in me—and that goes to say if I am…completely united with the will of God in love [adding to Merton: meaning that I am “on the Straight Path”]–it doesn’t matter what happens outside, because everything that is going on outside that makes any sense is grounded in the same ground in which I am grounded.  The opposition between me and everything else ceases, and what remains in terms of opposition is purely accidental and it doesn’t matter.  And this is…a basic perspective in all…the highest religions.”

Now I grant you that this stuff is not easy to digest, may not make sense, and can be expressed in other ways perhaps.  Like I mentioned before it is susceptible to the kinds of misunderstandings that Buddhist detachment and the Tao of Taoism underwent at the hands of Western thinkers and Christian apologists.  It would be easier to write about methods of meditation and prayer, the role of poverty and humility, the value of ritual, etc.; but, alas, we are attempting to put something down on “Foundations & Fundamentals” and trying to find those elements which might be shared by more than one tradition.  If this stuff doesn’t connect with you, no problem, set it aside, but don’t abandon it, and maybe one day it will light up in your heart.  That too is being on the Straight Path; that too is an Awakening of the Heart; that too is grounded in Mercy.  Better than pretending to understand some words….   Let us conclude with some more Merton:

“…and incidentally, these are the kind of perspectives that today are

not very much in fashion.  This isn’t the sort of stuff that people are

getting wildly excited about, but it’s something fundamental.  If a

person has a grasp of this kind of thing, he has the sort of thing that

religions exist to give  to man and the sort of thing that we ask from

religion, because it gives a person an inner strength which nothing

can assail, a strength which is not based on some gimmick or other, it

is based on God.  It helps the person to break through to the realm in

which he is in fact immediately united with God.  And in which he is

directly supported by God, I mean, in which God cannot fail him.

The Sufis are the fellows who try to get down to this real basic level,

and one of the things that they claim about themselves is that they are

seeking purity of heart..the purity of heart of a Sufi is non-preference,

not preferring anything to What Is, taking What Is straight, without

adding onto it any other preference, without substituting something

for it….  The perfect Sufi [and the perfect monk: my addition] is lost

in God.  He that is absorbed in the Beloved and has abandoned all else

is a Sufi [and a true monk].”

To illustrate Merton’s words let me end as I began, on a Zen note (though there is a Desert Father story which is almost an exact equivalent!):

A Zen monk was living as a hermit outside a small town.  A young woman who got pregnant outside marriage tried to cover up her situation by accusing the monk of fathering the child.  The townsfolk cursed him, and when the child was born they brought the baby to the monk and told him this was his and he should take care of it.  All he said was, “Is that so?  He took the child and took care of it with affection and compassion.  Some time passed and the girl felt guilty and confessed that the monk was innocent.  So the townspeople came to the monk and told him it was all a mistake, the child was not his, he need not care for it and can turn the child over to the mother.  The only thing the monk said is, “Is that so?” and handed the child back to the mother.

There are unsuspected depths to these stories!  Truly this monk was on the Straight Path!


Odds & Ends

 A.   A Kind of Personal Inventory.  It’s good to do this every once in a while–  to list the authors who have helped, who have influenced, who have shaped you the most in your spiritual journey, and who have had the greatest impact on your vision of the spiritual path.  I see that I really need three lists!

The first list is as described, and I will limit myself to the “top ten”:

  1. Merton  —  certainly at the top of my list and probably so for a lot of other people.
  2. The Desert Fathers, and the men & women of the desert tradition however named or unnamed — for me the sine qua non of Christian monastic life
  3.  The author of the Gospel of John
  4.  Al-Hallaj
  5.  Dostoievesky and his creation Fr. Zosima
  6.  Eckhart
  7.  Abhishiktananda
  8.  Han Shan
  9.  Ibn ‘Arabi
  10. The authors of the Philokalia

So that is my “top ten” list!  I think this covers a lot of bases, and it is interesting to see the differences here.  I mean there are the “loquacious ones” who speak volumes about mysticism, like Eckhart and Ibn Arabi; and then there are the silent, terse ones, who are very down to earth, like the Desert Fathers and Han Shan.  But I feel I don’t do justice to a whole bunch of other people who have been very helpful to me, and if I don’t put them on some list also it just won’t feel right!!  So I have a “2nd team” as it were, a back-up group who pinch-hit whenever needed, and here are they:

11.Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu
12. Plato and his whole tradition
13. Karl Rahner
14. Rabia
15.  Gandhi
16.  Andre Louf
17.  Thoreau and Edward Abbey
18.  The rest of the New Testament
19. Kallistos Ware

By the way, I do not impute any significance to the numbering—there is no ranking implied except in the case of Merton, who would be #1 on my list.  Now, a third list is more like a “to do” list—of people, of books, of lines of thought that I need to  “hang out” with more than I have in the past.  They are calling to me for a little more attention!  And here is that list:

I.       The Upanishads and Shankara

II.      Hui-Neng

III.     St. Isaac the Syrian

IV.     John of the Cross

V.      Titus Burckhardt and Martin Lings on Sufism

VI.     Chinese and Japanese hermits and poets

VII.   Tauler and Ruysbroeck

VIII.  Russian theology and spirituality

IX.     Hadewijch and Hildegard

X.      A. Coomarswamy

XI.    St. Maximus and St. Gregory Palamas

So be it. Surely there have been all kinds of other authors that have inspired or informed me, but these are the ones I connect with the most.  So much for the inventory.  Needless to say this list will change in a year or so!

B.    The recent news from Afghanistan has been exceedingly sad.  That soldier that went bezerk and shot up all those people, killing 9 children and 3 women among his victims, what an enormous tragedy.  The root cause of this kind of thing is not one man’s mental state but a whole state of war.  War will create these kinds of things.  There is no such thing as a “nice war,” where atrocities do not happen.  The US is very adept at pretending that it can unleash the violence of war and still somehow “control” it or contain it.  It’s all part of the high-tech gadgetry we now use to kill people.  President Obama is relying more on these Predator Drones to kill “our enemies” from the air, from way up there, so our hands our seemingly clean even as we say, “Ooops, sorry, we got the wrong house!”  Or we kill American citizens without due process of law, like a trial where they could defend themselves.  But of course this is small stuff compared to the fire bombing of a German city in WWII when we incinerated thousands of civilians, men, women and children. Or the nuclear holocaust of Hiroshima.  The message is “if you attack us, somebody pays for it 10x, 100x, 1000x.” Today we try to sanitize the violence of war through our mass media, but then something like this happens and it is impossible to disguise.  Needless to say even the burning of the Quran a few weeks ago was a hideous act, a sacrilege indeed.  Already an indication how unraveling it all is over there.

So what are we doing over there?  What is the point of this war—any war really?  Both Democrats and Republicans are implicated in this war.  Afghanistan is extremely rich in its hidden resources, but it is one of the poorest countries in the world today.  Consider this:  right now we are spending close to 10 billion dollars a month on this war alone.  And only a couple of months of the war costs more than the whole GDP of Afghanistan for a year.  Also, the cost of this war is hurting our own country real bad.  Of that 10 billion, 40%, or 4 billion each month is borrowed money, adding to our debt.  Just think what that kind of money could do for education or health care costs…..

President Obama says that he will be bringing the troops home…soon.  Not soon enough.  And the Predator Drones will keep flying….and trust me we will have a large military base in Afghanistan like we do in Iraq now and in dozens of other countries.  The American Empire continues to grow no matter who is president….because ultimately we are run by the multinational corporations and do their bidding.

In another direction, but in the same vein, please read this account of Sister Dianna Ortiz:

C.   Mysticism.  I have used that word a lot in recent postings, so I felt I should post an advisory about its various meanings or uses.  It is not an unambiguous term, nor is it free of some dubious associations.  First of all, the word has been appropriated by the New Age Movement, and there it has taken on meanings almost at complete variance from its original meaning.  This is especially true of Sufi materials that have been lifted from their traditional matrix by New Agers and turned into something quite different, a real distortion.  Even in general usuage the word has taken on colorations never really there in the beginning.  Titus Burckhardt, a Sufi and a scholar, has this to say:  “Scientific works commonly define Sufism as ‘Muslim mysticism’ and we too would readily adopt the epithet ‘mystical’ to designate that which distinguishes Sufism from the simply religious aspect of Islam if that word still bore the meaning given it by the Greek Fathers of the early Christian Church and those who followed their spiritual line: they used it to designate what is related to knowledge of ‘the mysteries.'”  And the greatest of “the mysteries” is the “union of God and the human person,” or to put it another way, “the Presence of God in the Heart.”  And there are other ways of putting it.

In any case, what must not be confused with mysticism in this proper sense is the panoply of phenomena which might be delusional, psychic, paranormal or just a kind of physical trick.  There are people in all traditions who are engrossed with these kind of phenomena.  Just like the good old word, “metaphysics” has been degraded in pop culture to weird things, so has mysticism.

There is one more bit of confusion to clear up.  Often, especially in Christian circles, mysticism is connected with a kind of ecstatic devotional love whereas a cool intellectual demeanor is looked upon as “not mystical.”  Let us borrow a few terms from our Hindu friends to help us out.  The Hindus have this sharp differentiation between religious paths that are “jnana,” the path of knowledge; “bhakti,” the path of love and devotion; and they have a third which we won’t touch here, “karma,” the way of action and service(Gandhi would be a key example of this one).  Now both Sufis and Christian contemplatives have similar differentiations except they are not so clearly or distinctly marked out–the lines can get quite blurred.  So St. Francis would be a bhakti; while Eckhart and John of the Cross, a jnani.  And among the Sufis Rumi, Rabia, and al-Hallaj would be in the bhakti camp while Ibn Arabi in the jnani camp.  However all this is a bit facile, and actually the Sufis truly have a good understanding how both knowledge and love relate and interweave in any healthy mysticism.  In fact they have a very deep theology about all that.  It is never simply one or the other, and both are present to varying degrees and varying temperments.  The important thing to note is that mysticism is never of “one color.”

D.  This poem was brought to my attention by a friend.  It comes from an 18th Century Japanese Zen monk/layman, Gekka Gensho.  He lived in a monastery for about 40 years, then left and lived in Kyoto as a layman:

     Making the busy streets my home

right down in the heart of things

only one friend shares my poverty

a scrawny wooden staff;

having learned the ways of silence

amidst the noise of urban life

taking things as they come to me

now everywhere I am is true.

Truly profound.  Beautiful.  Right at the heart of what it means to be a monk, but not clothed with the credentials of monasticism.  Now we can push this a bit further and ask:  why “everywhere I am is true”?  Why indeed?  Each tradition, including the Zen one from which this poem emanates, has its own way of dealing with such a question, but I think my Sufi friends have the deepest insight(insight=”seeing into…).  Simply put they live and breathe every breath with the knowledge that the ground of every place and every moment is Mercy and Compassion.  This is not a matter of sentimentality; nor is it really an easy thing to say–in fact it can be in certain circumstances an outrageous thing to say.  But for those who “know”….   But much more about that in our next Foundations Series!

Foundations & Fundamentals, Part IV: The Heart and The Awakening

In our “Foundations” series this is easily my favorite topic–and quite difficult as it engages the previous three parts in new depths. Thus we will be revisiting them as we go along. Let us review where we have touched base: Part I, The Real; Part II, The Mystery & The Knowing; and Part III, The Self. One thing to note immediately: the use of the word “The” in front of each noun is not just a stylistic move. We are not talking about just any “mystery,” but the mystery, the Ultimate Mystery, God. In each and every case the underlying reality is the Divine Reality. Or as Abhishiktananda once whimsically whispered to his dear close friend Murray Rogers, “Mooory, perhaps there is only God!” Already we are swimming in deep waters! So what do you want to awaken to? This question describes the essence of the spiritual journey.

Let us begin in an unusual place– with two religious women of the modern era whom popular piety has made into extraordinary role models: Therese of Lisieux and Mother Teresa of India. We are not going to look at their extraordinary lives or example, but at something quite different: both shared deeply in an experience that was termed by John of the Cross as the “dark night.” It is well documented through their letters, through their writings and through what people close to them heard from them, that Mother Teresa during a period of over 2 decades and Therese for the last year of her life suffered incredible interior desolation. This is not just a case of feeling lost or having made mistakes or dejected by failure, etc. This is a desolation beyond any description. It is a case of a deeply and intensely religious person losing all sense of God, and even more the very idea of the existence of God and faith itself seeming as a mirage—like a person dying of thirst in the desert and grabbing for a handful of sand…. This could be crushing to a person’s psyche no matter how short such an experience (and indeed some psyches do break down and succumb to drink or some other relief and our age is very tolerant and plentiful of such “reliefs”), but imagine Mother Teresa having to endure this for decades and still continue in her work. And it appears that even on her deathbed she never came out of that tunnel in this life.

Whether such experience is a prerequisite to all mystical journeys is not clear. Western Christian mysticism is replete with such accounts(even with poets like T. S. Eliot), and Sufi masters also report many such similar experiences. In fact it was once thought that John of the Cross “stole” some of his ideas and language from some great Sufi mystics, but now we recognize that both sides have their own version with its own integrity. Now someone like Abhishiktananda who drew so much from the Advaitic mysticism of Hinduism seems to be totally free of such experience, but then we don’t really know what would have happened if he had lived longer. In any case, not all journeys are the same and one has to take that into account. And we have to avoid at all costs the kinds of evaluations, comparisons and “rankings” that make one prefer this tradition of mysticism to that one. Trust me, when you are real, there is no choosing, no “shopping” for a spiritual way, no copying of another’s way. It’s either real with you or it isn’t, no matter what anyone says in any book. And incidentally Eastern Christians also tend to deny that such experiences are part of their mysticism, but I wouldn’t be so hasty. Recall that other spiritual giant of the 20th Century, Staretz Silouan of Mt. Athos, or now St. Silouan. His mysterious words, those words which he heard in his heart: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not”—these words may be interpreted precisely as a harbinger of that “dark night” for indeed what is “hell” but the very absence of God. Silouan, that great hesychast, entered the great dark emptiness and made his home there night after night in prayer because…..

Ah, but let us not jump too far ahead of ourselves. So what does all this have to do with our topic, the heart and the awakening? Here Merton (in speaking of Sufi mysticism) will help us out:

“The basic thing in Sufism then is…the awakening to total awareness and to a real deep sense of the Reality of God. Not…a sense of God as object, not a sense of God as thing…not that we see God over there or out there or up there…and it is even to a great extent beyond this I/Thou dichotomy, because I would say that one of the characteristic things that affects mystical awareness of God is that it is somehow subjective. That is to say, an awareness of God as Subject, an awareness that God is within my own subjectivity, that He is the root of my own personality so that I do not see Him as somebody else entirely and yet He is Totally Other.” Now the really important part for us at this moment is the first half of his statement. What happens to people who have a very strong religious will that has been educated to focus on God and to “please” God is that inevitably they place God somewhere “out there.” The Reality of God is another object in the world of objects that vies for their attention, albeit through religious language and symbolism and involving a very sincere and heartfelt piety, that vies for their attention among all the other objects of what seems like reality. So God “becomes” their friend, their brother, their lover, their liberator, etc, but truly they do not yet know and love God as He calls them to an unspeakable intimacy beyond all intellectual distinctions and symbols. These metaphors and images are good and serve a useful purpose in a life of piety and service, but the true seeker is called to something far beyond–to a knowledge and a love that will entail a kind of death. The Sufis call it “fana,” extinction!

So at some point for the prayerful and true “seeker of God,” who already feels the “gravitational pull” of the Presence, it may happen that the “gushing spring” of their piety suddenly dries up. Their religious life that has been under the control of their ego self, even unconsciously and unbeknownst to them as they are probably very used to speaking the language of renunciation and spirituality and maybe monasticism, that religious life has to die; or perhaps to put it better, it has to be liberated from the ego self, from its grasp and control. But something even more important will also be taking place at this time. All notions of the reality of God will vanish and seem unreal. What is happening then is that the senses and the intellect are being weaned away from those “mirages” of God’s Presence which we so ably construct, even subconsciously and sometimes with much feeling and thought and energy and will-power. What is happening is, in Eckhart-like language: we are “losing God” in order to “gain God.” What is happening is that what is truly Real, what is the Ultimate Mystery, is now our sole reality; and because it can never be limited or fully symbolized or ever be simply an object out there, even as a friend, as another “Thou” somewhere “out there,” everything in us and about us will feel an unspeakable emptiness–and maybe for a long time. Because truly there is nothing, (or as some would put it) no-thing, “out there”—meaning that which is of ultimate concern to us is not a “something” or even a “someone” somewhere out there, and that means even within our own intellect and psychology and its feelings and emotions. What is happening is the person discovering his/her true heart and its awakening, a truly different reality–which is not possible as long as we objectify “our heart,” our relationship to God, and God Himself. But the darkness of the awakening is only the paradoxical emergence of a “Wholly Other” Light that is still somehow our light but which cannot be objectified.

So finally we have come to our topic: the heart! The best sources for understanding this topic come from the Christian Hesychasts and the Islamic Sufis with a hefty portion of Abhishiktananda’s Advaitic mysticism thrown in. To be sure there are examples and insights in other traditions that may run very deep and true, but we are already in danger of being too scattered! So what is the meaning of any discourse about this reality of “the heart”? Let us listen to the hesychast scholar and bishop-monk, Kallistos Ware: “It means that the human person is a profound mystery, that I understand only a very small part of myself, that my conscious ego-awareness is far from exhausting the total reality of my authentic Self. But it signifies more than that. It implies that in the innermost depths of my heart I transcend the bounds of my created personhood and discover within myself the direct unmediated presence of the living God. Entry into the deep heart means that I experience myself as God-sourced, God-enfolded, God-transfigured.”

And Merton again: “Sufism looks at the human person as a heart and a spirit and a secret, and the secret is the deepest part. The secret of man is God’s secret; therefore, it is in God. My secret is God’s innermost knowledge of me, which He alone possesses. It is God’s secret knowledge of myself in Him, which is a beautiful concept. The heart is the faculty by which man knows God….” And so here we add the notion of self-knowledge. An Arabic word that often stands for “Sufism” in the texts is ma’rifah which simply means “knowledge” or “recognition”—but this is a very deep and special knowledge, not one gained from books or just the intellect. This kind of knowledge that both the Sufis and the Hesychasts talk about demands knowing one’s innermost deep self, and this so-called self-knowledge is a prerequisite for knowing God. Here again, it will not be a simple knowledge of subject-object which makes up the world of the ego self. However, a direct knowledge of self and God will flow freely when there is purity of heart. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” And so what you awaken to can also be expressed in another metaphor as in Eckhart’s words: “The eye [of the Heart] with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.” End of duality! Indeed, and actually then you see all of reality that is truly “out there” very differently. Consider the following words of a modern Sufi master, the Moroccan Shaikh ad-Darqawi, who relates this experience during one of his prayer sessions:

“I was in a state of remembrance and my eyes were lowered and I heard a voice say: ‘He is the First and the Last and the Outwardly Manifest and the Inwardly Hidden.’ I remained silent, and the voice repeated it a second time, and then a third, whereupon I said: ‘As to the First, I understand, and as to the Last, I understand, and as to the Inwardly Hidden, I understand, but as to the Outwardly Manifest, I see nothing but created things.’ Then the voice said: ‘If there were any outwardly manifest other than Himself, I should have told thee.'” [emphasis mine] Recall Abhishiktananda’s words to “Mooory.”

But let us take a few steps back now. Kallistos Ware, commenting on a Macarian Homily: “‘There [the Heart] also is God’: the heart is the place where created personhood becomes transparent to the Divine, where God the Holy Trinity is at work within me. ‘All things are there’: the heart is all-inclusive, all-embracing, a symbol of wholeness, integration, and totality, signifying the human person as an ‘undivided’ unity.” Thus the whole spiritual life and the very meaning of so-called mysticism rests on this “awakening of the Heart.” But listen to Eckhart:

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.” And almost every tradition has something similar to say, and we will have to discuss this in another blog posting. But the Sufis put it most profoundly, I think, when they say that we need to “break all the idols” that we carry within ourselves. This is part of the function of a “dark night” experience. (It is not the experience of intense ecstasy or any other physical manifestation that insures the truth of what is going on within ourselves or measures what we might call “progress”; and any attempt to detour self-knowledge is delusional) It is only then that we awaken to the Divine Indwelling in the Heart.

So the Heart has to do with truly knowing and loving God through a very deep and profound self-knowledge. One can and must say that also and at the same time one can only know one’s true self in the light of God. So the two are concurrent, and this is part of the Awakening. As Merton put it in the quote in the beginning, the Awakened Heart will no longer know God as object or even as “another Thou”, but for the Awakened Heart the Reality will spring up from within one’s own “I am.” The “I AM” of God will be within the “I am” of my own subjectivity. Recall Augustine’s famous words:

“God is closer to me than I am to my own self”; and St. Paul’s, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.” These point us in the right direction of what is at stake in the Awakening of the Heart. An additional point: And the Sufis are real strong on this–that the God whom we find in unspeakable communion with our being is not just some “generic God,” but precisely because we find Him in the depths of our own subjective being, there is something very deeply personal about this relationship. Sounds even odd to speak that way, but that’s why those evangelicals who speak of a need to “have a personal relationship with Jesus” are really not far off; they are on the right track, only they have Him too far away as it were and too locked into an image of a friend, a brother, etc. I don’t know how to relate all this to the Upanishadic vision or to Zen; and people who tend to follow those routes, like Abhishiktananda, are not real strong in this regard. We shall discuss this another time. Anyway, for the Sufis and the Hesychasts what is important here is that each and every person (and indeed every being) is called by God by a name known only to God, and our whole life and our whole being, our whole existence is a saying of “Here I am.” And each and every creature is saying that as it exists, and because it is being called into existence by Love, so each and every person’s proper way of responding, “Here I am,” is by love–and here again we shall discuss this later. Now at the same time, in the depths of our Heart, we have an infinitely unique name for God by which we call Him. It is the Name by which he has become “My God,” not just a generic ruler of the universe! And the marvel is of course that He himself has placed that Name in my Heart, and the name by which He calls me and the Name by which I call Him become one Name in Love, and this constitutes my truest and deepest uniqueness. Merton again: “The desire of God is tied up in our hearts with this deep sense, the deepest thing in our nature, not that He is a god, not that He is God or the Supreme Being, but that he is Our God, that He is My God. When Jesus says on the cross, “My God why has thou forsaken me?” it isn’t just God, it is “My God.” Sufism is a particular way of realizing that “Yes” in a total love, a total surrender of ourselves to God.” And in another place, Merton again: “…the Sufis have this beautiful development of what this secret really is: it is the word ‘yes’ or the act of ‘yes.’ It is the secret affirmation which God places in my heart, a ‘yes’ to Him. And that is God’s secret. he knows my ‘yes’ even when I am not saying it.” This is that “Here am I” that I was referring to. And in a sense this is the key to what the Hesychasts call Prayer of the Heart, but about that also another time.

So it must be emphasized that it is in the very ground of one’s own being and subjectivity, one’s deepest sense of “I am,” that it is in this true nothingness we become the very ground of God’s Presence and Manifestation and Love–again, like Moses’s Burning Bush, or the Desert Father “becoming all fire.” This requires a deep plunge into the depths of one’s self because we are not speaking here of the ego self’s “I am” that we broadcast to the world with all its credentials–but it is true also that the deep self is always there at our fingertips as it were, as we are washing the dishes or taking a walk or bandaging someone’s wounds, etc.–we are always grounded in Ultimate Mystery, surrounded by Ultimate Mystery, facing Ultimate Mystery, and without any need for any words or formulas. That’s why I think there are some very deep mystics among us who don’t even realize what their sensitivity means, but that’s ok. Abhishiktananda summed up the whole spiritual journey in one phrase: the total surrender of the peripheral ego to Absolute Mystery. Another of his profound contributions in this area is his criticism of any spirituality that would “superimpose” the Reality of God on the rest of life, which was extremely common for the religious of his time and even now. With the Awakened Heart there is nothing that we do that is not the ground of realization and mysticism. Abhishiktananda said that the most contemplative religious he ever knew was that busy nursing sister, Mother Theophane, who was his friend at Indore and who took care of him as he was dying.

Let us conclude this mere introduction to our topic with the words of a great modern Sufi scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

Through quintessential prayer, within the framework of an orthodox tradition, one reaches the inner heart, where God as the All-Merciful resides, and by penetration into the heart-center, man moves beyond the realm of outwardness and the domain of individual existence to reach the abode of inwardness and the universal order. In that state his heart becomes the eye with which he sees God and also the eye with which God sees him. In that presence he is nothing in himself, as separate existence. He is but a mirror whose surface is nothing, and yet reflects everything. In the heart, the spiritual man lives in intimacy with God, with the Origin of all those theophanies whose outward manifestations constitute all the beauty that is reflected in the world around us. He lives in that inner garden, that inner paradise, constantly aware of the ubiquitous Gardener. On the highest level of realization, man becomes aware that all theophanies are nothing but the Source of those theophanies, that the house itself is nothing but the reflection of the Master of the house, that there is in fact but one Reality which , through its infinite manifestations and reflections upon the mirrors of cosmic existence, has brought about all that appears to us as multiplicity and otherness, and all the apparent distinctions between I and thou, he and they, we and you. At the center of the heart, there resides but one Reality above and beyond all forms. It was to this Reality, far beyond all individual manifestations, that Mansur al-Hallaj was referring when he sang:

I saw my Lord with the eyes of my heart; I asked Him, Who are Thou? He said, Thou.


Difficult Words

Recently on the CNN website there was an interesting little reflection on the Bible. The author was trying to illustrate the “messiness” of the Bible and how there is a religious culture out there that has been too successful in “sanitizing” the language and the ideas in that remarkable book. The author is Steven James, and here is the link to the reflection:

Very well put, but I don’t think the author goes far enough or deep enough. Certainly it is worthwhile to bring to the fore the rough edges of the people of the Bible and the fact that they are not “prayer-card saints.” But the author only hints at a much deeper problem and dilemma for the true believer, if only he/she opens their eyes or perhaps we should say open their ears for the Word of God is meant to be heard.

All of us in the Christian tradition consider the Bible the “Word of God,” but what we exactly mean by that can vary quite a bit and what authority we attribute to this text can also vary. I am not going to discuss all that, but what I want to point at is a problem regardless of your place within the Christian tradition or how much you rely on the Bible as the “Word of God.” There is this little problem that in the Bible God seems to condone, indeed even orders, some “unsocial behavior,” like pillaging and stealing, like genocide and murder, and a host of other rather nasty actions. Consider the following: If the parents of a son find his behavior reprehensible and find him disobedient, they can bring him to the elders of the town and say: “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.” (Dt 21:20-21). No unruly teenagers then!! “Tommy if you don’t clean up your room we are going to take a walk to see the elders!” Sorry, couldn’t resist that one….. Now the real problem here is that this is presented as the Law of God, as the law given to Israel by God. Conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists who believe that every word in the Bible was actually dictated by God should have a real problem with this kind of passage—except that they usually don’t; they just ignore it because it would create anxiety about their “theory of inspiration.” Liberal Protestants and most Catholics who have a more nuanced idea of divine inspiration say that you need to read such passages within a larger context in order to understand what is really going on. In other words, don’t get lost in minute details that may in fact have very human limitations, but look at the larger story of God’s call and promise, etc., etc. Ok, that sounds nice, but it leaves me wondering. There are just too many such passages, and I can’t get over that the Book PRESENTS God in that way. Another example: “A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death….” (Lev 20: 27). Just an aside: God is presented as very liberal with the death penalty. “When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death” (Lev21: 9). And then this: “When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to the whole congregation. They put him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp'” (Numbers 15: 33-35).

Now all the above pertains to so-called God-given laws concerning individual actions. But there are even more troubling things yet! When the Israelites are liberated by God from Egypt, they are directed again by God to enter this particular land and make it their own. Only one little problem: there are people there already. Not to worry, just listen to the Lord: “But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Do not be afraid of him; for I have given him into your hand, with all his people, and all his land. You shall do to him as you did to Sihon of the Amorites….’ So they killed him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left; and they took possession of the land”(Numbers 21: 34-35). And then there is this lovely moment in salvation history: “The Lord said to me, ‘See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to take possession of his land.’ So when Sihon came out against us, he and all his people for battle at Jahaz, the Lord our God gave him over to us; and we struck him down, along with his offspring and all his people. At that time we captured all his towns, and in each town we utterly destroyed men, women, and children. We left not a single survivor. Only the livestock we kept as spoil for ourselves, as well as the plunder of the towns that we had captured”(Dt 2: 31-35). But then we reach a kind of crescendo of “justified” genocide in this remarkable passage: “When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you in forced labor. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil…. Thus shall you treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here. But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them–the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and Jebusites–just as the Lord your God has commanded….”(Dt 20: 10-17).

Enough of these wretched passages! Now some may be saying that I am totally ignoring the New Testament; that’s where the “good stuff,” the “real stuff” is…. Fair enough, but has anyone recently read the Book of Revelation. A very violent text, and it seems written by someone on a bad acid trip or having ingested some bad peyote! Educated Christians will tell you that this language has to be read symbolically. (And indeed there are problematic texts in all the major world religions and something similar is usually deployed in order to “save the text”.) Not bad for an answer, but you have to admit there is something jarring about this language that makes it not seem in accord with the major thrust of the New Testament. Of course that is so true of such a large part of the Old Testament as we have indicated above. And so the Christian tradition has developed various strategies for dealing with this, and one of them is the “spiritualizing,” the “allegorizing,” the “symbolizing” of the problematic texts. The Church Fathers and the medieval monks were especially masters in this art. I mean you had to be if you were a monk and had to chant all those psalms every day, more so than we do today, and deal with all that violent language that seemed so much against the grain of the Gospels. So you turned that language into a message about something else.

This kind of strategy works up to a point, but there is one serious flaw that people tend to overlook. That kind of language tends to infiltrate one’s subconscious, one’s heart and mind, one’s worldview, etc. And it lives there alongside the language of the Gospel, not displaced by it. Inevitably it rears its ugly head in various ways through the centuries. There is a famous speech by (St.) Bernard of Clairvaux, the great Cistercian monastic leader, rallying French Christians to one of the crusades, and the language and spirit is right out of that early Biblical world. He urges them to slaughter the Moslems and liberate Jerusalem. And that language was already used against the Albigensians even earlier, living right there in France. And just think of all those heretics which the Church led to torture and burning, thousands upon thousands. And Protestents who think that was a “Catholic problem,” please take a look at Protestent Switzerland and the Puritans in colonial America and Oliver Cromwell, etc. And then there were the Serb Christians who massacred their own Moslem neighbors just a few decades ago. I suggest it is that language and imagery lurking in the Christian subconscious mind that at least assists and empowers such evils. Incidentally, the genocide of Native Americans started in colonial America, both in the Protestant Puritan colonies and in Catholic Spanish areas, and how the early accounts are couched in religious terms! Even our secular spirit of “American exceptionalism” as our leaders like to term it, which seems to give us immunity to commit war crimes and wage wars, has its roots in that old Biblical blindness.

Needless to say this Biblical problem is not unique to people of faith. Genocide, violence, etc. can be found quite easily in secular ideologies like communism or fascism to an almost unimaginable degree; and its manifestations are also present in all the major world religions. So it is, first and foremost, a human problem; but it is very important to see how the Bible is implicated and ensnared in this. Now let us see how we can pry open a door just a little bit to maybe get a glimpse of a way out of this dilemma without trashing the Book.

We have already mentioned the “spiritualizing” approach and its serious limitations, but there were some earlier attempts also–that failed also.

One attempted way out was proposed in early Christianity, as already many Christians felt uneasy with some of these elements in the Bible. It was proposed that you simply separate the Old Testament from the New Testament in a rigid way and simply reject the Old Testament as a mistake or failure of sorts. You dumped the Old Testament in the trash can. This was deemed a heresy by the early Church. You simply can’t do that because the writings of the New Testament depend on the Old Testament, are connected to them, and see themselves as grounded in the Old Testament. But even more importantly the very person of Jesus did not reject the Old Testament. And here we come to a crucial point. It is actually in the very person of Jesus that we find a way to transcend our dilemma. Jesus arises out of the whole messy and bloody context of the Old Testament, and he is totally and culturally connected with it and its language and its history, but the amazing thing is that even given all that he subverts that history and language, deconstructs its dark messages, and overthrows all notions of God that are limited and colored by that history and language. He does all that from within its own parameters, without as it were “cleaning the slate and starting fresh”–which would have indicated him as a kind of “outsider” to the human condition.

Consider the following: In the Gospel of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is presented as a new lawgiver, in the mode of Moses. Read it carefully and you will see that while the framing of the discourse is well within the “Moses tradition,” the “Moses language” is being turned inside out, emptied out, vacuumed out, washed out, and then something wholly new is put back in its place with an amazing feel of real continuity with the old stuff. When you get to the end of the Sermon, you sense that something new has taken place here, replacing the old. It is labelled a sermon, and Jesus is presented as a teacher with authority–he is not just spinning ideas from the top of his head but this is coming from somewhere deep within him. Recall that this Sermon takes place immediately after the Baptism narrative and the period of trial in the desert. As we have said in earlier blog postings, Jesus comes out of these experiences with his new found sense of identity as “Son of God,” as one with Yahweh in an unimaginable intimacy. Thus he speaks with authority, but the authority is used in a very interesting way—certainly not to lord it over people but actually to be divinely subversive. I recall when I was teaching school in the early 1970s that one of my favorite books on education theory was a book with a title something like: Teaching As A Subversive Activity. The idea was that at the bottom of it all the teacher’s main job was to empower his students to unmask the various ideologies that impoverished their hearts, their minds, their lives. In this sense we can say that Jesus was practicing “Preaching as a subversive activity”!! And this is only one example. No wonder they put him to death! After this sermon, if you really take it in, you cannot read the Old Testament the same way, not even its nice passages. Even when the Law reads nicely, the very idea of the Law has been deconstructed and “re-visioned” so that a whole new dynamic is present. Yet Jesus is still presented as a traditional law-giver–so both continuity and discontinuity are present in Jesus.

Another example: Consider in the Gospel of John, chapter 8, 1-11, the woman caught in adultery. What an amazing scene! The woman has been caught in adultery, and the law of the Old Testament is very clear that she should be stoned to death. The Taliban, among others, still practice such things today. In any case, note how Jesus does not argue with the accusers—he is NOT a lawyer! He is not trying to get her “off.” He does not reject the law or its context or its history. Neither is he attacking the law itself or any interpretation of the law. This is so remarkable! Again, a sense of something new emerges, something new unfolding, a new reality. It is so amazing that it makes the old law impotent. The accusers cannot act. The old law has been subverted, deconstructed, replaced in such a quiet way that you don’t even realize it. Don’t get fooled by the simplicity of Jesus’s words—they are not simple, and there is so, so much buried in them.

Now what is going on in these kinds of passages, what is really at stake here: it is our very image of God, our vision of the Mystery of God, our very sense of God is being redefined from within the tradition. Nothing less than that. And the climax of all that is of course Jesus on the cross. Those of us in the Christian tradition believe in the ultimate value of this vision and what it reveals about God. (Incidentally that’s why I believe the crucifix as religious symbol is so far superior than just the cross.) So, so striking that Jesus is crucified for blasphemy. The Law would have had him “only” stoned, but the Romans added their touch. So this is the ultimate subversion of that Law— when we see Jesus on the cross we see where THAT can take us. Jesus on the cross throws us into a world “beyond Law,” and it reveals all law in its human limitations (and thus also the Book, which contains the Law, and thus also the Church which claims the Book.)

The Jerusalem religious elite turned this Jewish man over to the Romans because in their historical situation only the Romans could do what the law demanded: execution. (Incidentally, there is something eerie about the parallelism here because the Church authorities during the Inquisition never executed any heretics–they always turned them over to the state authorities for that unpleasant job–so some church apologists want to excuse the church from the horrors of the Inquisition.) Thus veneration of the Cross on Good Friday is especially significant ( and so subversive)–gaze on it with your heart’s eyes. But there is even something more remarkable if we consider this moment “from God’s side” as it were. In Jesus on the cross, God comes to join ALL the victims of the Law! Recall that old Black Spiritual, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” In Jesus on the cross, God says YES I was there when they tortured and burned each and every one of those children of mine deemed as heretics; Yes, I was there with my Moslem children as they were slaughtered by the Christians; Yes, I was there when the Native Americans were being massacred. And so on. And so on. No need to make a catalog of nightmares. And if you still want an explanation for all that, I will simply refer you to the most unusual spiritual master, Dostoyevsky in Brothers Karamazov, for he understood Christianity and the human heart better than all our church leaders ever did. So at the end of this tunnel lies Good Friday. And a vision of that Ultimate Mystery which we call God that in Jesus on the cross makes us transcend all our laws, all our books, all our ideas. Beyond that is a silent waiting for something even yet more astounding, but here only real silence is possible. And maybe pancakes!