God is No Longer a Receding Horizon

My unyielding, relentless persistence to seek an external God ultimately resulted in a Southern Baptist conversion, a thirteen year reckoning with the evangelical face of God and–in the end– a public renunciation of conservative faith.

To clarify: there are people, including some good friends, who find traditional Christianity a healing experience. They are able to make valuable contributions to their communities at an active, vibrant spiritual level. However, my personal experience was not one that fostered healing, vibrancy or spiritual clarity. The constant pressure to conform filled me with continual conflict and doubt and I did not feel I had the “right” to disagree. During those conflicting years the support of my religious community mattered more to me than my own inner conviction.  But inevitably things came to a crisis point and finally I gathered enough courage to leave, even at the risk of “eternal damnation.”

In my early thirties by this time, having barely survived with my skin, soul or any sense of dignity intact, I decided that seekers were better off if God stayed missing.
Though after a time I began attending some metaphysical events and took courses in shamanism, feeling particularly drawn to mesa (altar) work, no doubt influenced by the ritual and ceremony of the Catholicism of my youth, I resigned myself to the status of pilgrim without a destination.

I still believed in God, and still peered around mysterious looking corners occasionally– but I stopped expecting him to be anywhere, really.

Yet that inner voice, ebbing and flowing through the various spiritual experiences, never completely stopped communicating with me. No longer wrestling with the need to find or surrender to a culturally mandated version of faith, that inner presence no longer felt either confusing or threatening. I  still didn’t think of it as part of myself, but we were no longer at odds with each other. Through the very real, human challenges of the intervening years, I learned to listen.

And ever true, it led me to Kelly Barn that fateful Sunday morning. Led me to a spiritual framework with tenets and principles that allowed me to begin making sense of my early spiritual experiences, and also affirmed in a very real and palpable way that God and I were never separated from each other at all. Ever.

*

However, Incarnational Spirituality isn’t exclusively about relating to the Self. In fact, the focus isn’t really on the self at all. It’s on the relationships we foster–with others, with our own immediate environments, with the subtle realms, with the Earth.

As David says, “We incarnate into relationships.”

Yet emphasis is placed upon the wholeness we are capable of generating as sovereign, integral beings granted a measure of spiritual agency by virtue of being human. The inherent worth and value of the integrated soul not dualistically split between the God part that’s “good” and the “bad” untrustworthy ego is the starting point. That’s the critical point I missed in my early days.

Of course evil exists. The challenges of incarnating on this dense planet cause many of us to feel separation anxiety and to act out, to embody our fear and confusion, our loneliness and our rage. (In some sense, the creation myths giving rise to shadowy split between the ego and soul, God and the self are born of this perception of loss.)

Yet it took me a long time to accept that where we go–to the heights, to the depths, back to seed–God accompanies us in most intimate ways. In our breath. In our blood. In our longing. In the dramas we enact, again and again, in order to remember that we are here with great purpose.

Earth really is not a graveyard where the ego must be slaughtered so that the higher self can escape the body and reunite with God (hence the moat around the kingdom.) It’s more of a paradise where the losing and regaining are all part of a collective dream humanity will one day awaken from–and see our home, like Dorothy (upon her “return” to Kansas) through fresh eyes.

As of now, my most coherent prayer is for holopoeisis, which means wholeness–an integrated self waking up each day to a very real human experience lived as an act of love for all entrusted to me to tend in the most ordinary, sacredly prosaic ways.

My connection with God, like many others, began with the story of exile. Though I’m still on the journey, still learning how to belong even more deeply to the God within, my relationship with Lorian (thanks to a divine encounter with Incarnational Spirituality along the way) allows me to ground deeply into a sense of spiritual spaciousness based on the divine calling of being human.  Now I have the opportunity to move through the world, not as a pilgrim seeking God, but as a tiny light on the miraculous earth– an emergent self rising and falling through the days, through the struggles, yet ever- knowing as I am also known.

God is no longer a receding horizon.

Quest for God

In An Introduction to Incarnational Spirituality, David Spangler writes:

Incarnational Spirituality honors who we are as unique incarnate individuals and seeks to enable us to express the creativity and energy inherent…in the phenomenon of selfhood…The self has a real existence and effect in the world. It is a presence that is constantly emerging and manifesting…(it is) the expression of an identity, the  manifestation of a set of boundaries, a means of connection and engagement with the world, an emergent phenomenon, and perhaps above all, a means by which wholeness may be introduced and enhanced…Whatever the ultimate nature of the self, its function is to hold consciousness and life, enabling them to participate in the shaping of the world.

patchworkpuppy

One of the chief mysteries of my own life involves this dynamic exploration of the inner self.  As a girl with a bent toward the numinous, I struggled to find the wholeness called God. I looked for Him everywhere, much like The Patchwork Puppy, the main character in my Golden Tiny Tale Storybook, who wandered all over town asking others to mirror back his true, beautiful self. In fact, in every book, every engagement, I sought the reflection of meaning, of God.

Yet bred in the deep heart of the Gulf South, the practical pursuit of God often felt like a receding horizon–or a mythic kingdom with a hidden drawbridge surrounded by the moat of “humanity,” synonymous with sin.

Though not exclusively a southern phenomenon, the relationship between shame and faith was certainly exacerbated by the cultural strictures of religiosity further crippled by conservative mores masquerading as “God’s will.”

Even though I attended a liberal Catholic church, it was still more or less an assumption that Divinity existed apart from the inherently profane human being.

Yet mysteriously my search didn’t begin there–with austerity and judgment. Actually, in some ways the mystical realm was an active, vibrant playmate. So I didn’t realize that enacting the rites of communion at home after church with my little brother wasn’t typical playtime.  Or that my favorite pastime–searching the skies above the Coastal Gulf for the place where God lived before he formed the universe (peeling back layer after layer of color and cloud in my mind’s eye as I honed in on God‘s location) was an uncommon spiritual practice.

Nor was there a category for the “angel‘s whisper,” that inner voice influencing my early writings. Or the visions that started as dreams and twilight imagery, synchronicities from the world beyond dropping at my feet like leaves.

Not understanding my own interior nature at all, I didn’t have language to express these sensitivities, especially as struggles in my immediate environment growing increasingly more intense.

It never once occurred to me that God was communicating with me from within. In my teens and early twenties, especially, quest for the external God became the answer to everything!  If I could find Him, or at least track His footprints to a specific trail, then the purpose of life–my life, life in general–would surely make sense.

An encounter with fundamentalism was inevitable.

Lorian Journey

empty-inbox

My Lorian journey began as an email.

On Tuesday, February 7, 2012, Edie Stone, an acquaintance (and my Colorado connection to all things Shamanic and Celtic) sent out to her mailing list information about a workshop being held in Boulder: Kinship with the Sidhe–Exploring our links with the Celtic Otherworld, led by Jeremy Berg.

I must confess the email barely got a second glance.

But throughout the next day a pesky inner voice kept insisting I pay closer attention, to the point that I finally yelled out loud while driving home from the studio where I taught piano, “Why do I need to go to this workshop? What are the Sidhe? How do I even pronounce the word? This is nuts!”

At this point it finally occurred to me that, instead of arguing, maybe I needed to find out more information. But I still wasn’t convinced that this was the wisest course. Given my religious history, I was definitely not open to anything even remotely unfamiliar. However, at the same time I’d been learning how to trust my intuition. More and more seemingly odd and sometimes bewildering inclinations had yielded some powerful insights and led me through open doors.

Perhaps on some level I suspected I was being guided, even through my reluctance.

So four days later, with no real understanding of what I was doing except responding most trepidatiously to an inner summons, I wound down the highway for an hour or so until I got to Boulder, found my way down unfamiliar streets to Kelly Barn, stepped across the threshold into the studio where the workshop was being held–and stood face to face with Lorians for the first time.

The work with the Sidhe was interesting, I must admit. But I was more fascinated by what was taking place around the activities we were engaging with. The format was unfamiliar, but not frightening. I was definitely out of my element in some ways, though not necessarily out of my depth. I felt a bit odd, not so unusual, but definitely not out of place. Quite the contrary.

Prior to that Sunday workshop I had never heard of Jeremy, David Spangler, the Sidhe, or even Findhorn, yet in a subtle and consciously unfathomably way my soul recognized–or was recognized and met by the celebration of inherent sacredness currently known as Incarnational Spirituality.

Though I could not have told you exactly then what the future would hold and how a relationship with Lorian might develop in only a few years, by night’s end I knew that at the very least Incarnational Spirituality held answers to questions that had been ruminating within me since childhood, spiritual queries that had lingered for nearly a lifetime unanswered.

A hidden part of me, still awake and aware–realized that finally, after a long exile, I was on the road home to the God within–my inner self.

Quality of Humanity

photo-montage-557618_1920

So I’ve spent the past ten days providing a basic explanation of this unorthodox approach to understanding God, Life and the Sacred called Incarnational Spirituality. But exactly who am I and why does this exploration matter to me?

There are so many answers to this one simple question: who am I?

In some ways I am a nobody. I have an assigned name, gender, race, cultural background, occupation and focal point on the earth from which to function. I am one result of an experiment called Humanity: Life on Earth that has been repeated over 108 million times. (And sometimes I feel like I’ve wound up on that one particular shelf in the lab with a bright red warning label!)

Yet simultaneously, I am completely and utterly original. Fordrena Marie Melvina Casandra Griffith. Female. Multiracial. Southern. Teacher. Colorado, some of these answers subject change without notice, including even my chosen name which tends to reflect whichever part of the origin story I’m living in that particular life season.

Yet the answer to the question, who am I, cannot even be restricted to the duality of being either original or lost in the multitude. My friend Jordan and I had an intense discussion recently about the unique role of the human being, which she believes has been overstated.

Jordan commented, “Aristotle said there is nothing original. There is the ‘quality of chairness.’ Well, there’s also the quality of humanity. For instance, there are the people who cannot live without the care and support of the one they love. That’s one archetype. Then you have the ones who never marry. Another archetype. So we turn them off the assembly line and that’s who we get. We are representations of certain prototypes.”

Then who am I?

Really, there is no clear answer. Not in details or digits. Not in history or philosophy. But in the particularity of that sense of boundlessness lies the relevance of Incarnational Spirituality to me personally.

*

Episcopal priest and spiritual teacher Cynthia Bourgeault once suggested that we are all the multifaceted expressions of God. In one person God experiences Himself as a gay priest; in another God experiences Herself as a traditional homemaker. In some of us God has chosen atheism, agnosticism or even denial of the Sacred. Denial of Itself. God is neither this nor that, so why should we be?

Yet at the same time, we are a conscious expression. And maybe my friend has a point in that we do represent patterned ways of being human. While it’s true that we are all unique, it is also true that we reflect back to the world its own categorical layers–race, gender, culture, region, generation, for example– that certainly have considerable influence over everything from dialect to character traits.

Taking all of this into consideration, I believe it is of utmost importance how we answer this not-so-simple question who am I? And also who are we? What is this overarching quality of humanity?

As I addressed in an earlier post, there are myriad explanations, stories and themes that we human beings have collectively adopted throughout history to answer these questions. What is the point of this experiment? Why would God even need or want to create over 108 million different reflections of Himself, all of these little demigods then imbued with self light, consciousness and their own dreams and desires potentially fracturing and fragmenting His Divine Matrix?

Well, maybe God is more than His Matrix. Or maybe life is more than it appears to be from the perspective of the one. Maybe our prototype needs to be upgraded. If so, it is my opinion that Incarnational Spirituality is one such upgrade.

Having said that, Incarnational Spirituality is really not a religion. Nor does it supplant any other religion or spiritual viewpoint (though I do believe some people with more rigid and conservative views might have to work harder to realize its value). But Incarnational Spirituality is a response in a world needing to return all of these fragmented, fractured pieces of Itself to a complementary, integrated wholeness.

Maybe every generation feels like it’s standing at the brink of humanity’s most critical hour. But if it’s true that we are all facets of God, then He/She/It is in the midst of a civil war being fought over every aspect of seen (and likely unseen) territory. It’s a war over resources, natural and imaginal. It’s a war of perception: of rightness and wrongness; justice versus bias; liberty versus tribe. It’s a war over value: of clean water, of a healthy planet, of the lesser one.

In some ways it’s devastating; in other ways, though, rather exciting, all things considered. How unique it feels to be alive at this point in human history, knowing that even as a single being I can type digitized words on a fabricated screen and potentially connect with other beings across the globe in order to seek healing and wholeness. And in spite of these challenges our world is facing, in spite of the conflict, how remarkable it is to also see people reaching out for higher ground and learning, admittedly through painful trials, to come together.

In the past I’ve told myself some pretty harsh stories about who I was and who we as human beings collectively are.  But now I place a much higher value on this “quality of humanity.” And that’s why I’m here sharing my reflections, offering them to the world, albeit imperfectly.

Maybe in the grand scheme one lone human and her quirky views about life don’t really matter. But as Henry David Thoreau said, “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” Maybe human-being, humanity-making, world-healing is an art. If so, that makes God an artist, and us also. Then Incarnational Spirituality is my cache of crafting tools and my particularity the hue I’m using to paint the tiny corner on the canvas that I call my life. I seek, in my own singular way, to join with other like minded souls in coloring this black and white world.

That’s why Incarnational Spirituality matters to me.

Remembering Our Inner Story

mememe

Ever tell yourself a story, a story that in the process of the telling grows stronger? A story about the meaning of life–your life, life in general? As a small child, a story knotted itself within me without words. It guided me silently. But moment by hour, day by decade, I have learned its significance.

Unlike David Spangler, I didn’t have transcendent journeys and life-altering visions as a kid. But I did have this inner story. It’s only now, though, as an adult with the vantage point of having lived enough of the adventure to see some chapters and recurring themes, that I can appreciate that quiet companion of my early years.  It gave me something to hold onto, intangible and yet with considerate depth.

While reading about David’s life-altering vision at the age of seven, one passage in particular stood out to me:

For reasons I no longer remember, I had been thinking about the riddles of existence. Why was I here? Where did I come from? Who was I? As I looked up at the Nehi sign with the Arab women working below, I remember asking myself, “Who was I before I was David Spangler? Who am I who is looking at this sign?”

Reading these words, I remember thinking, How wizened seven year olds can be! I know adults that don’t have this depth of presence!

But it seems that’s a key part of the particularity of the human experience. As children we can attune to our origin story more easily. The trick, then, becomes to not forget it as the pressures of living in the world build and start to supplant our inner worlds with mechanisms contrary to that inborn understanding.

The key is remembrance.

I’m reminded of a passage from Dan Millman’s Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior about little girl Sachi:

Mama Chia put down her food and gazed past the clearing into the thick emerald forest:

“Nine years ago I helped bring Sachi into the world. When she was four, I also welcomed her little brother.

“Soon after her brother was born, little Sachi began to ask her parents to leave her alone with the new baby. They worried that like most four-year-olds, she might feel jealous and want to hit or shake him, so they said no. But she showed no signs of jealousy. She treated the baby with kindness and her pleas to be left alone with him became more urgent. They decided to allow it.
Elated, she went into the baby’s room and she shut the door, but it opened a crack-enough for her curious parents to peek in and listen. They saw little Sachi walk quietly up to her baby brother, put her face close to his and say quietly, “Baby, tell me what God feels like. I’m starting to forget.”
“She said that?” I asked, in awe.
“Yes.”
In my work with children over the years I can personally attest to the depth of insight and the richness of their inner worlds. I also cherish the memories of that companionable story from my own childhood. Then it was a quiet reflection I didn’t have the words to articulate. Now it has become the great adventure I call my life.
jalal ad-din rumi found on Pinterest via Jann Wingfield

The Thread of Light

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
–William Stafford

One of my Lorian colleagues introduced me to this poem earlier this year. For him it serves as a reminder that his life has a unique and specific purpose; and holding on to that “thread” allows him to express and explore that inner mission while also living in the here and now.

Though I appreciate the “thread” motif above, for me life feels more like a pilgrimage. As I consider the imagery that tethers me to my own life design, most of the time it’s the tree of life or a winding pathway through the wilderness. Sometimes I sense a flowing magical river….

But while working with yesterday’s exercise, another image emerged. A little while ago another friend introduced me to a song by Cliff Eberhardt (with Richie Havens): “The Long Road.” (It’s an oldie, though brand new to me.)

There are the ones you call friends 
There are the ones you call late at night 
There are the ones who sweep away your past 
With one wave of the hand 
There are the ones you call family 
There are the ones you hold close to your heart 
There are the ones who see danger in you 
And won't understand 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road
Do you really think that there's an end 
I have followed my dreams, down the long road 

You are the one that I met long ago 
You are the one who saw my dream 
You are the one who took me from my home 
And left me off somewhere 
Somehow I feel you are here 
You are waiting in that dream 
Somewhere down this road we will awake 
And be at the start again 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road
Do you really think that there's an end? 
I have lived my whole life, down the long road 
I've got to find you tonight 
Are you waiting for me? 
I have followed my dream 
I have lived my whole life 
Are you waiting for me? 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road 
Do you really think that there's an end 
I have followed my dream, down the long road 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road 
Do you really think that there's an end 
I will live my whole life, down the long road

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road
Do you really think that there's an end 
I have followed my dreams, down the long road

Music is often a portal for me. And this particular song took me down the road of my own life while offering me a glimpse of that inner light traveling within me all along.

Especially right now “the long road” feels especially poignant. There are times when the life journey gets complicated. As William says, “People wonder about what you are pursuing/You have to explain about the thread/ But it is hard for others to see.” And as Cliff sings, ” There are the ones who see danger in you and won’t understand…I have followed my dream down the long road.”

In some ways the thread and the dream are the same theme. Some believe that self-light summons the dream and tethers the thread to our souls. Self light as expression of purpose.

I tend to think of self light as comparable with Star-glass, the Phial of Light that Galadriel (from Lord of the Rings) gifted to Frodo, saying, “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Sometimes the road of life feels dark and painful. It’s comforting to realize that an inner light journeys within us, reminding us not only of our origins and our purpose, but also our potentiality.

road-815297_1920

Inner Light Meditation (an adaptation of Self-Light Exercise)

branch-67844_1920

Note: As with all exercises and meditations,  it is important to proceed with a clear sense of your own inner knowing and grounding. Feel free to adapt imagery and open to the experience you are being inwardly drawn to. If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable, stop and reassess. Perhaps try again at a later time or, if it doesn’t feel right, do not continue at all. As David says, exercises and meditations are made for us, not the other way around.

This Inner Light Meditation is adapted from David Spangler’s Expanded Self-Light Exercise.

Take a moment to center yourself: breathe deeply and allow the details of the day, hour, moment to fade into the background. Settle into yourself.

Call to mind an image of God/Source/Spirit…when you imagine Divinity,  what do you see? A motherly presence? A great-grandfather with white beard and kindly face? An angelic being? Do you see a great burst of light and energy, spanning across eons, timeless and spacious? Or the eternal tree of life with its roots stretching downward to infinity and its limbs branching upwards into myriad worlds? Do you see an infant, quiet and humble? However God comes, attune to this Presence. Honor this Presence.

Now call to mind an image of yourself when you have felt the most yourself– full, vibrant, fulfilled, sparkling. Where were you? What were you doing? Were you a child in a school play? On a road trip the summer after graduation with your closest friends? The day you married your best friend? Every day you wake up to teach children, your life’s dream?  Swimming in the ocean? Quilting? Running? Learning to play the guitar in the corner of your bedroom? Singing karaoke for the first time at 34? Or do you feel the most yourself when you care for others? Allow yourself to feel into these moments in your life, whatever they happen to be. Allow them to echo within you…remind you of the essence of life, which is love.

Yes, you are the result of such love! You are alive! You are bright and full of self-hood! You have consciousness! You have a body!  You are present! You are here, now!

Focus upon the sense of fullness and brightness generated by knowing that you are alive. Imagine yourself surrounded by brightness, by light.

Sense the light surrounding you flowing from within your Self. It is not borrowed light. It is the light gifted to you, a gift of love, because you are alive. You are courageous, a pioneering spirit.

Yet even the best planned lives sometimes go awry. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we hoped. Sometimes we love and we lose. Sometimes we love and we win, and yet other precious things get lost in the exchange. Sometimes we disappoint ourselves and others. Or others disappoint us. Sometimes we change. Even when we know better, we sometimes make foolish choices…. Allow yourself to feel the fullness of what it means to be alive–the pain, the frustration, the craziness. At the same time cradle this darkness in the light of life, the light of Your Life. These dark, painful moments do not dim our inner lights.

You see, it takes incredible courage to be born. To take on a body. To choose parents, a culture and point in history to be born into. To risk this dream called life. Why are you alive now and not a hundred years ago? What uniqueness lies within you that has come so far to express itself? Recognize and honor your bravery and the inner light inherited by saying yes to this life dream.

Self light is the light within you because you are alive.  Allow this light to spread through you, surrounding your physical body. Re-member this light in memories of yourself. It is present within you in your greatest moments. It is present in spite of your greatest disappointments. It is the light within all of you. It holds everything.

Return to your image of God, surrounded by Divine Light. From this inner place full of self light, again honor this Divine Presence. Then, gently, allow this God-image to fade away, realizing that the light within you remains. Your self-light is an echo of Divine Light combined with the Light generated by being born on Earth. It is the Presence of the Sacred within–as well as the sacred intent of your own Soul which you are an expression of.

When you are ready, gently bring this meditation to a close. Return to your day and your life knowing that you are a child of Sacredness, a being of light in your own right.