I Am the True Vine

Richard Rohr has said, “[M]ost Christians read the Bible in an entirely individualistic way which destroyed most of its transformative power. Jesus told us to “follow” him on this same transformative journey; instead, we just worshiped him. Many Christians have never been seriously taught about their inherent union with God and will find all kinds of heady reasons to deny it.”

The passage in John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the true vine” is full of transformative power, if only we’ll open ourselves to it. Here’s the gist of it:

  • Jesus is (metaphorically) the true vineIMG_5025
  • He became the true vine through “pruning” or releasing the things that were attached to him, that weighed down his soul, or distracted him from his connection to God and so, also, to his connection with his authentic self
  • The fruit he was then able to bring forth was the fruit of authentic love, compassion, justice, etc.
  • Jesus was the model showing us how to do this!
  • We, too, with a little pruning and letting go, can become a true vine, renewing our connection to God and self.
  • This journey requires intention and releasing – taking a look at our lives to see if we are living from our true selves or if we have some pruning to do to get there
  • When we find our true selves, we automatically find the Divine within
  • It is then that we, too, bear the fruit of that connection, become a source of nourishment for others, and help them to find the way to their own essence.

So, know that I understand how difficult this is. I don’t like pruning… I don’t even like the word. Thinning… that is another gardening word I don’t like. But let me tell you what happened to my peach tree when I didn’t prune it or thin it. I thought we were going to have a great bumper crop of peaches a few years ago. The tree was just full of little baby peaches. As it turned out it was too full. One morning I went out and he top branch, laden with a heavy load of peaches, had ripped right off. I felt so bad for my poor little tree. Here I thought all those peaches were really good, but had I recognized what the tree could handle and helped it to do so, it would not have broken.

This reminds me of last week’s episode of Madame Secretary. Russell Jackson, white house chief of staff, is sort of a neurotic, stressed out workaholic. He drove himself too hard, had a heart attack, then promptly went back to work. In this last episode there is a scene with his wife yelling at him and telling him he has to take care of himself, including finding a way to relax. He rejects yoga and Tai Chi and mindful breathing. Then he’s confronted with the possibility that because he runs himself ragged, he doesn’t have time for the bigger questions in life. Surprisingly, the story line then takes on a spiritual note when Russell goes to have a conversation with the Secretary’s husband, Henry McCord, who is not only former military, fighter pilot and CIA, but also a spiritual guru and ethics professor.

Henry looks at Russell and says, “You’re just a shark that doesn’t know it’s in the water just like the rest of us.”

“Huh?” replies Russell with a confused, blank look.

“Look Russell, none of us knows what our true essence is and those brief moments where we maybe get a glimpse is because we’ve somehow managed to transcend our ego. Those small moments create a space so we can ask big questions.”

“So how do I do that if I hate everything that does that?”

“Has there ever been any non-work related activity that you found completely absorbing?”

After a little thought, Russell responds, “When I was a kid I used to make model airplanes from kits.”

“What did you like about making model planes?”

“You had to be organized, precise, have all the right tools, be able to see how all the pieces fit together and if you stuck with it the plane that you saw in your mind was the plane you saw on the table.”

“Then why don’t you make them anymore?” Henry asks.

“‘Cause I’m a grown man with a job. What are you saying here? I’m going to find God in a model airplane?”

“It’s as good a place as any…”

 

Basically, the scene suggests that Russell’s problem is that he is disconnected from Source because he has too many other things weighing him down. He had too many peaches on his peach tree and he broke. Because he is disconnected from Source and spiritual nourishment, he is therefore also disconnected to his true self. To be healthy he needs to remain connected. To bear fruit… love, compassion, kindness, joy – the sorts of things that will save his marriage and keep his priorities straight – he has to prune a few things, or thin a few things to make space to connect.

But the voices in our heads that lead us down a frenzied path of work, or family drama, or past wounds, or whatever else our egos convince us are important enough to get sucked into, are REALLY LOUD voices.

There’s been a bit of drama in our lives lately and I spent an hour walking the dog the other morning having a little come to Jesus meeting with myself. I understand the hold our ego gets on us… but after an hour of a reality check, stepping back from the situation, seeking my center-point in the merry-go-round and singing a few songs – out loud walking through the woods – I finally felt reconnected with myself and the Divine and ready to re-enter life. But it was truly hard, deliberate work. Pruning and thinning takes that kind of effort, and frankly it is no fun, but it feels so much better once it is done. Sadly, some of those feelings and emotions grow back as fast as the weeds after a good rain, but it is better to be connected for small amounts of time rather than none at all!

Rachel Remen, in her book “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” tells the story of Jeanne, a psychologist who contents herself for a number of years in a shared practice with other therapists who gave Jeanne the smallest office, no name on the door, and not enough referrals to fill her week.

Sure, Jeanne was a bit shy and sometimes a bit hesitant with her words, and occasionally a little bit clumsy, but that only made her endearing. Her clients loved her.

Then one day Jeanne told Rachel that she was moving her office because she wanted a space that was handicapped accessible. She reluctantly went on to explain that when she was young she’d had a severe stroke and they hadn’t known whether she would live. She had kept this a secret from everyone, including her colleagues and patients because she had felt ashamed and damaged. “I wanted to put it behind me,” she said. “I thought if I could be seen as normal I would be more than I was.”

When Rachel asked her what she planned to do next, she said, “I think I will just be myself,… I will see people like myself. People who are not like others. People who have had strokes and other brain injuries. People who can never be normal again. I think I can help them be whole.”

Over the next five years she became widely known for her work, she was honored by community groups and written up in the newspaper. She became a sought after speaker and consulted with businesses and the hospital. Finally her practice was full and her name was on the door.

What happened for her? What changed? She stopped listening to the condemning ego voices of unworthiness, shame, embarrassment, and in doing this pruning, she reconnected with the energy of self and divine that revealed her own strength and light. She finally understood that covering up wounds and fears and who she was didn’t serve her or the ones she was trying to help. In this process of pruning, she was transformed, bore much fruit and became a model and teacher for others.

Jesus showed us what a life looks like that is connected to Self and God. When we follow his example, transcend our own egos and let go of the things that hold us back or hinder us, we become the true branch, we live into our authentic selves. So connected to the Energy of Life, we in turn bring forth life and light.

Shalom,

Kaye

I Am the Good Shepherd

First, let me spend a minute on the Cosmic Christ. You’ll recall that the Cosmic Christ is born out of the energetic and physical connection of all things in the universe and is the archetype of the divine-human (body-spirit) connection. It was not simply a “name” or title for Jesus, but a state of consciousness that we can all achieve when we reach (even momentarily) a state of wholeness or connectedness with all things: a God-us-creation connection. In this understanding, Jesus wasn’t to be the one unique Christ, but a model, template or map to show us all how to BE Christ.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Matthew Fox and 14th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckert (who was clearly far beyond his years) are clear that Jesus manifested the Cosmic Christ. He lived the divine-human-creation link and tried valiantly to bring the rest of humanity to the awareness that the Cosmic Christ exists within every person and every creature. But people didn’t get it. People instead chose to believe that he was the unique and only possible expression of the Christ which has hindered the spiritual evolution of humanity.

Beginning to read the gospels through this lens changes everything. The gospels are now not just stories about what Jesus did and who he was, but about what we can do and who we can be because Jesus showed us that it already exists within us.

As Matthew Fox said, “All of us are anointed ones. We are all royal persons, creative, godly, divine, persons of beauty and of grace. We are all Cosmic Christs, “other Christs.” But what good is this if we do not know it? Everyone is a sun of God as well as a son or daughter of God, but very few believe it or know it.”

So with this in mind let’s take a look at the statement Jesus makesgood shepherd 2 in John 10: “I am the Good Shepherd.”

Did you know that the good/bad image of the Shepherd actually comes from Ezekiel 34? In it the prophet Ezekiel has been called to prophesy against the negligent shepherds of Israel because they’ve been taking care of themselves instead of their flock.

“You drink its milk, wear its wool, and slaughter the fat ones, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, or treated the wounded; you have not brought back the strayers, or sought the lost; but you have ruled them with harshness and brutality.” (Ezekiel 34:3-4)

God becomes the Good Shepherd when YHWH then says, “I will seek out the lost, I will return the strayed, I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and I will watch over the fat and the sleek. I will be a true shepherd to them.” (Ezek. 34:16)

These are the qualities the early Christian community saw in Jesus. Plus, in the John passage we have the allusion to Jesus’ death as the ultimate sacrifice of the shepherd. All of this is great, but if we leave it here, we end up simply talking about Jesus as the one taking care of us and we play a fairly passive role in the relationship.

If we take it to the level of the Cosmic Christ it does not deny that the Divine can be experienced as a good shepherd for us, but the experience of that should empower us to be the same for others. Because Jesus was experienced as being the Good Shepherd, we can all be experienced as the Good Shepherd.

So, the question  for today and our spiritual journey is… how are we the Good Shepherd? There are two things that stand out for me, personally, when considering the Good Shepherd story as we read it. First, The Good Shepherd was ALL IN. And second, the Good Shepherd created a community based on inclusiveness and unconditional love

The concept of being “all in” reminds me of the analogy of the bacon and egg breakfast. The hen was involved while the pig was committed.

Not having been a real shepherd myself nor having had any real experience with sheep, I decided to do some research and contact my friend Sandy who decided to start a sheep farm a few years ago. Sandy is absolutely, positively, wholeheartedly ALL IN with this sheep stuff. I could hardly find time to connect to her because it is lambing season and she has been helping to birth 130 lambs in the last few weeks. She’s not sleeping, hardly eating, and is probably operating on automatic pilot. But when I did get ahold of her, this is what she said about the Good Shepherd:

  • Good shepherds sometimes do things that the sheep hate because it is best for them (manicures, vaccinations…).
  • Good shepherds try to minimize stress to the sheep.  Sheep hate to be chased, so if I need to move one somewhere and it bolts, I have learned to hang on until it settles down.
  • Do you know why shepherds have that distinctive stick?  No, it is not a funny walking stick. It is not something to beat off predators.  It exists because sheep are naughty.  Catch them with the hook and now you have them without chasing them.  I didn’t start using one until recently, they are so useful.
  • Good shepherds aren’t afraid to get dirty. I have been soaked in every bodily fluid. I don’t remember the last day one of them didn’t ooze something on me. Remember that slime stuff that was around when our kids were small? All of the lambs are covered in it. It’s kinda fun.
  • Good shepherds keep track of all their sheep. Good shepherds try to remain amused when small hoodlum sheep decide to eat the data.
  • Sheep are contradictions. They are tough and stoic, but also fragile. They are amusing, annoying, demanding… Wait, I think I’m describing toddlers.

Sandy has to be all in or her sheep won’t survive. She is a devoted midwife, vet, and leader, caring for them and doing what is best for them while maintaining a sense of humor and deep love for these creatures.

The Good Shepherd is “all in” when it comes to creating a community based on inclusiveness and unconditional love.

Not only does Jesus talk about how, as the Good Shepherd, he cares for his own sheep, but he talks about having other sheep to lead and bring together as one. No one is left out. Everyone has access to his care, compassion and teachings.

Author James O’Halloran tells a story of a woman named Pearl who, in her 70s demonstrated outside the white house against racism. She was arrested for it and imprisoned. While in jail she had a heart attack but refused to go to the nearest hospital because it did not admit black people. She survived both the heart attack and the prison time and went back to demonstrating against racism. Twenty years later, now in her 90s, O’Halloran met her at a meeting protesting nuclear threat. To him she “seemed a most experience, wise and holy person.” So he decided to ask her a very profound question: what is happiness? Pearl responded without hesitation, “Happiness is belonging.”

It seems to me that this is true. Happiness is belonging… being loved and accepted as we are. Jesus’ ministry was the perfect example of this.  He gathered all people from all walks of life, all ages, abilities, male and female alike into his flock (if you will).  Differences don’t matter because, in the understanding of the Cosmic Christ we are all one, made of the same stuff, joined by the same energy. As we continue to create this community we call Sacred Journeys, and as we create communities of friends, neighbors, co-workers, classes, or teams, keeping the image of the Good Shepherd in mind will help ensure that each member really belongs.

 

True shepherding means gathering into one, loving, holding, healing, feeding (body and spirit)… and then sending back out into the world for each to be a shepherd themselves.

We are all the Good Shepherd.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

I AM Light

I find it interesting that the prescribed lectionary readings directly following Easter include many of the “I Am” statements that Jesus makes in the gospel of John (note: these “I am” statements are unusual to John, who you’ll remember is the most mystical of the gospels and the most focused on the divinity of Jesus, as well as the least historically factual).

The Five Gospels notes that “In John’s gospel Jesus frequently speaks of himself in the first person using the emphatic phrase I AM (Greek: ego eimi). This expression was widely used in the Greco-Roman world, and would have been recognized by John’s readers as an established formula in speech attributed to one of the gods.”

In addition, Matthew Fox points out, in his book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, that the “I Am” statement is also an echo of God speaking to Moses in the burning bush story. In this story God is sending Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and Moses asks, “what if they want to know who sent me?” And God replies, “tell them ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:14)

The implication, of course, is that Jesus speaks like a God, and refers to himself as God, which is completely unlike anything he says in the other three gospels.  Most scholars agree that Jesus did not actually say these things.

If that is the case, why are they in scripture and what do we do with them? Well, we’re going to look at them from the perspectives of the pre- and post-Easter Jesus and the Cosmic Christ.

(For the full video version, click here.)

For the pre- and post-Easter Jesus the “I am” statements express how the early community experienced the post-Easter Jesus. Marcus Borg, in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, suggests we might understand them best not as first-person statements made by Jesus, but as third-person statements made by the community. The “I am” statements are “a powerful testimony to the reality and significance of the post-Easter Jesus, the living Christ of Christian experience.” In this sense, each of these statements is “true” even if it isn’t historically factual.

So, imagine for a moment that you are part of the early Christian church. What does it mean to affirm that Jesus was the light of the world? What characteristics did he have? What darkness did he break through?

Personally, I think he offered hope to a people who were struggling with oppression. He offered open arms of healing and compassion for those who were ostracized, poor or infirm. And he preached with fresh insights about a God of wisdom, justice, and love.

Throughout the ages people have continued to experience Jesus as a light in their lives or as the light of the world.

Now, let’s take this one step further to the Cosmic Christ. First, we recall that the Cosmic Christ is born out of the energetic and physical connection of all things in the universe and is the archetype of the divine-human (body-spirit) connection. “Christ” was not simply a “name” or title for Jesus, but a state of consciousness that we can all achieve when we reach (even momentarily) a state of wholeness or connectedness with all things: a God-us-creation connection. In this understanding, Jesus wasn’t to be the one unique Christ, but a model or blueprint to show us all how to BE Christ.

This means that if Jesus was experienced as being the light of the world, we can all be experienced as being the light of the world. And, in fact, that might perhaps be one of our spiritual goals.

As Matthew Fox says, “These revelations of “I-am-ness” challenge us to name (or claim) our lives and beings in a similar fashion… How, in other words, are we also expressions of the Cosmic Christ as Jesus was so fully?”

Specifically, for today… how are we the light of the world?

Here’s an odd little thing that happened this week. I was making an appointment to get a tetanus shot for our upcoming mission trip and had to go through verifying information. Well, the person asked me if I’d like to list a religion. Without hesitation I said “no.” And her very next question was, “Do you have an employer?” Caught.

Of course I was writing my sermon on the same day which forced me to question myself: is this behavior not being light, not letting my light shine, not being Christ? I imagine there are some folks who would say I absolutely fell short. And that we should be declaring our Christian faith from the rooftops, if not the front doors of people’s homes.

I think for me, light has little to do with religion. Religion has too often been used to separate and exclude, to draw lines of right and wrong instead of drawing circles of compassion. I don’t particularly appreciate what people today perceive as Christian, so I don’t broadcast my connection with Christianity. That is not my light. I prefer to think of my light as an outward expressions of an inward disposition/state of being.

In Ancient Greek, “I am” or “I exist”(ego eimi) is the first person singular present tense of the verb “to be.” So, “I am” statements are statements of being, not really doing or having.  Meister Eckhart said, “people ought to think less about what they should do and more about what they are.”

A woman I know was recently talking about the days when she used to go in to work and walk down the hallway of offices every morning saying “hello” to each employee and greeting them personally. No one else did that and they probably thought she was a little odd, but it was a very simple way to be light: friendliness, inclusivity, joy.

It isn’t always easy to be light like Jesus was. And, frankly, it is easier to shine for some and not others. Sometimes we don’t feel worthy, or we fear rejection. Sometimes we’re afraid of being vulnerable or feeling too exposed to criticism. Sometimes it is just too hard given what we may be going through. And society reinforces separation, with admonitions like: don’t talk to strangers, mind your own business, live and let live.

So, here’s a thought… have you ever turned out the lights and Lightning_in_Zdolbunivsat in the darkness to watch a thunderstorm? When you do that, if you have to get up to get something you wait until the lightning flashes, look for where things are and then you are able to move a little ways by memory before perhaps waiting for lightning to flash again. Maimonides said,“We are like someone in a very dark night over whom lightning flashes again and again.”

Jesus gave us the example of what a life full of God is like, what a life consistently shining light looks like, and I think it is something to work toward in our spiritual lives. But, we’re all probably a bit more like lightning than the sun. We have flashes of wholeness, wisdom, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, insight, love.

In those moments of wholeness, of Christ-ness, we not only offer light to others, but what we see in that moment stays with us when darkness descends again. Hopefully over time we can bring more and more of what we see in the times of light back with us to inform our journey through the dark until we experience another moment of wholeness. And perhaps over time our flashes of light become more frequent and last longer, shining more light into the world.

Love & Light!

Kaye

The Cosmic Christ

It’s time we move beyond the ancient cosmology to a new one that tells the story of the explosion that created all the energy and particles known to exist anywhere. It’s time to embrace the concept that we are created of the energy and matter there at the beginning. And that energy, present in everything is what we call the Divine Essence, Source, Spirit, God, Goddess, Ground of our Being. Yes, we are all star dust, but we’ve forgotten.

(For the full video version, click here.)

All we have to do is look around us to see that the world is out of balance. We’re a top spinning drunkenly until someday we’ll simply stop. It seems like all of our issues – from global warming to suicide bombers to an opiate crisis – stem from one problem.

We’ve forgotten that we’re all connected.

Theologians like Matthew Fox, believe embracing the Cosmic Christ cosmoscould help to change this. He says,

The premise of the Cosmic Christ is that it is an archetype of the human-divine connection linking all things together.

Last week we talked about the difference between the pre-Easter Jesus and the Post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter Jesus, or historical person of Jesus who walked the earth for 30 years was a finite, deeply spiritual Jewish man. The post-Easter Jesus (Jesus as he has come to be known in the decades and centuries after his death) was divine, one with God, infinite and eternal, and was addressed as Lord, Savior, King, Prince of Peace, Son of God.

While all of this perhaps helps us to understand the evolution of the experience of Jesus and the images, metaphors, and symbols used to describe that experience, it stops short of the step we need to take in order to bring harmony and unity to creation.

The pre- and post-Easter Jesus concept still leaves us with a dualistic understanding between body and spirit, between humanity and divinity, between Jesus and us.

Richard Rohr says, “Christians formally believed that somehow Jesus was “fully human and fully divine” at the same time. But with dualistic thinking, the best most of us could do was to see ourselves as only human and Jesus, for all practical purposes, as only divine. We thus missed the whole point, which was to put the two together in him and then dare to discover the same mystery in ourselves and in all of creation!”

The theology of the Cosmic Christ says that the oneness Jesus achieved with the divine which transcended death, was not unique to him. He wasn’t meant to be the one and only who could achieve this connection with God. He was to be the model, the example, the blueprint, for how everyone could connect to God.

Over and over again in scripture are references to Christ as the one who was not only in the beginning before all things, but in whom all was brought to life, in whom all still exists, and in whom all things are held together.

Separation seems to be our greatest challenge in our age. We perpetuate a separation from others as we assert our individuality and independence, have taken “don’t talk to strangers” to the nth degree, communicate via text and email instead face-to-face. And we are more separated from nature than in any other time in history.  We simply go to the grocery store for all our food, instead of growing it ourselves, and we stay inside when it is too hot or too cold. What we need something to remind us that separation is the illusion and that oneness is the reality.

In his book, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Matthew Fox tells the story of astronaut Rusty Schweikert:

During the Apollo mission in 1969, astronaut Rusty Schweikert was let out of the capsule on an umbilical cord… Just as he emerged from the capsule, something went wrong within the capsule… and this left Rusty all alone floating around Mother Earth in complete cosmic silence. During this time he had two profound conversion experiences [or awakenings]. He looked back on Mother Earth, “a shining gem against a totally black backdrop,” and realized everything he cherished was on that gem – his family and land, music, and human history with its folly and its grandeur; he was so overcome that he wanted to “hug and kiss that gem like a mother does her firstborn child.” Trained as a jet fighter pilot, he was a typical “macho man,” but a breakthrough of his own powers of maternity came washing over him at that moment in space… Schweikert’s second awakening in space was a political one. He was a red, white, and blue American who believed what he had always been taught – that the world is divided between the “communist world and the free world.” Yet, while floating around Mother Earth he saw that the rivers flowed indiscriminately between Russia and Europe; that ocean currents served communist, socialist, and capitalist nations alike; that clouds did not stop at borders to test for political ideology; and that there are no nations. Nations exist in the mind of the human race alone… Interdependence is what really exists.”

On returning home, Rusty wandered around in a fog for six months, bumping into walls while continuing to ask himself: “Why did God do this to me?” Finally, he concluded that God did this through him so that others might hear the message: compassion, interdependence, shared beauty, oneness.

This was a Cosmic Christ experience.

It’s hard to get past “Christ” as being a name/title for Jesus alone, but what if we started to think of “Christ” as the state we reach when we’ve achieved wholeness – an awareness of the unity that exists between ourselves, the Divine Essence and all things?

What if we understood that being Christ transcends all religions?

What if we understood that being Christ transcends all divisions?

What if we understood this as the pinnacle of the spiritual journey, the goal we seek?

We were not to stand apart from Jesus as observers and say, “wow, look at what he can do!” We were to be participants, true learners of the way to wholeness. And when he said “follow me” it didn’t just mean “hey, I’m going to Galilee, why don’t you come along.” It meant “follow my example, do what I do so that you may experience the kingdom of God, the oneness that exists even if you can’t see it.”

Perhaps we’ve stopped short of believing that we are all capable of the relationship Jesus had with God because it’s much easier to believe that Jesus was unusual and far advanced or beyond our meager capabilities, than to do the work to achieve what he achieved.

It’s never too late to start, though, by practicing mindfulness and opening ourselves to awe and wonder, by a tweak of our perspectives so that we aren’t observers walking through the world, but participants in a huge eco-spiritual-system. It’s never to late to practice compassion and empathy, to learn to walk a mile in another’s shoes before judging. It’s never too late to awaken to the Cosmic Christ – the divine/human/creation connection – within each of us.

Love & Light!

Kaye