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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

The Story of Light

David Spangler’s childhood vision “on the road to Damascus” introduced him to the Source of Light and laid the foundation for his eventual understanding of the process of incarnation. Ten years later a second vision changed the course of David’s life and shaped the structure of what ultimately came to be known as Incarnational Spirituality.

David writes in Apprenticed to Spirit: The Education of a Soul:

There were no bells or whistles. There was no out-of-body flight or any sensations of entering an altered state of consciousness. There was nothing as dramatic as what had happened when I was seven. I only saw a human figure in front of me.

This was not a specific person but a generic individual, almost like a department store mannequin. It was not a being of Light as I was used to seeing, but seemed sculpted from light that glowed from within itself. It definitely appeared solid and physical, even though radiant with light.

It seemed bursting with meaning; so much so that if information were heat and light, it would seem that this individual was standing in front of a furnace. I felt overwhelmed by the insights this figure contained, and could not grasp them all. Almost fifty years later, I am still unpacking the information it had to offer.

But one thing stood out. This figure represented an incarnate person in physical embodiment. It was neither a spiritual nor a non-physical being. It was not an image of what a person might become if he or she left the physical plane or became some kind of ascended master. It was an image of the spiritual Light contained within and radiating from the act of individuation and personhood. It was the light of being a person.

As I watched, the figure changed into a chalice and then became a figure again. It did this three times altogether, as if emphasizing that this person also represented a quality of holding. Afterward, I thought of this figure as “the person who is also a chalice.”

At the same time this vision unfolded in front of me, I sensed the presence of a group of inner beings in the background, one of whom came to stand behind me. He said quite distinctly, “There is a new spirituality emerging, a spirituality of personhood and incarnation. It will represent a new way of being in the world.” And then he said, “Your work is to help this emergence.”

Then the vision faded.

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My main purpose in sharing these visions is to establish this most basic framework, without which any study of Incarnational Spirituality may be largely incomplete or impeded; from the perspective of this emerging spirituality, the origin of the human being is an Order of Light.

Having said that, I don’t think that the old stories of creation need to be forgotten, ignored or even directly challenged. They are part of our cultural inheritances, our ways of coming to terms with living in the world, and need to be honored as such.

Yet I fully admit that it may take a great deal of courage for some of us to believe that human beings can be inherently more than weak, frail, fragile and sinful.  Or that our egos deserve the same place of distinction that our souls possess.

But at the beginning of my own personal exploration of Incarnational Spirituality, I felt this story of light needed to be shared.  Like the woman at the airport suggested, it’s part of a larger understanding of spirituality that could change everything!

Inner Light, Beginning Light: David Spangler’s “Awakening on the Road to Casablanca”

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There’s a Catholic hymn I remember singing as a child during Mass, entitled “We Are The Light Of The World.” The song was essentially the Beatitudes set to music, but the refrain in particular stands out in my memory:

“We are the light of the world
May our light shine before all
That they may come to worship with us
And give glory to God.”

Light, such an empowering spiritual image. And there it is, buried in the middle of a song about being meek, humble, persecuted, poor in spirit.

“We are the light of the world.”

(Yet another reflection of “the inner light of sacred remembrance” that lies behind our stories of creation and also, paradoxically, redemption?)

Well, as a child I didn’t particularly feel full of light. If anything the complexities of duality were already swinging my existence from heights to depths. My personal path to an understanding of inner light took me down a rather long and somewhat strange road, all things considered.

This was not true for David Spangler. Not that his life wasn’t full of its own particular challenges, but even as a small child, David had already unlocked an inheritance of open-hearted sight into and clear engagement with the world that lies beyond this one. One of these engagements served as David’s awakening to the light within himself as an incarnated being.

In the following passage from David’s memoir Apprenticed To Spirit: The Education of a Soul, David shares this life-altering experience:

It was 1952, when I was seven, about a year after we had moved to Morocco. In the spring of that year, we moved to what became our permanent residence in a house on the Strategic Air Command air base of Nouasseur, about eighteen miles south of Casablanca. . .

One morning we were driving into Casablanca. I was in the tiny backseat of our car watching the scenery go by. Passing a tiny stream that flowed alongside the road in what was little more than a deep ditch at the foot of a small bluff, we saw a group of Arab women standing in the water, washing their clothes the way they had done since the days of Abraham by beating them against the rocks. As I watched them, I noticed a large billboard set into the bluff overhead and looked out the back window to see what it said. Is showed a glamorous blond woman’s smiling face next to a large bottle of Nehi, a popular orange soda.

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?”

As if this question had been a key, I suddenly felt something open inside me. I felt myself swelling, as if I were a balloon and someone were pumping air into me. And I found myself floating like a balloon above our family car, looking down. Through the roof of the car I could see my parents in the front seat and my own body sitting in the back.

Then I was immersed in light, as if I had entered an illuminated cloud. I seemed to expand, taking more and more of this light into myself. I moved through layers that alternated between sensation and light. I would have moments of seeing: sometimes landscapes, sometimes just patterns of color or energy, to reenter a region of only light, which in turn gave way to different perspectives. As I went through these layers, I had an experience of expanding awareness and knowledge.

At one point I came out of the light to a place in which I was surrounded by a circle of figures, all of which were familiar to me as parts of myself. I had the impression I was seeing past and future lives. At that moment, I knew who I was as a soul and consciousness that existed before my life as David. I was filled with a sense of awakening and remembrance. I remember thinking, This is what an amnesiac experiences when he remembers who he is. This was accompanied by an intense feeling of relief and joy.

The movement returned to a layer of pure light. It felt as if I were rushing outward into an ever-larger space until the light parted, and I found myself looking out on the universe with a great spiral galaxy directly before me, pulsing with a gold light and vibrating with life and power. I felt I was not looking at stars but at a living organism, a cosmic body–a body of which I was a part. At that moment my sense of being a separate, human individual faded to a feeling of union with universal Presence.

The light closed in around me again, and I was aware of a reverse movement, of contracting and consolidating. I felt myself going through stages of becoming a particular individual again. I felt something calling me but not from somewhere outside of myself. It was coming from within me as a will and a desire that was focused upon the earth.

Again I burst out of the light and found myself looking down upon the earth from space as if from near orbit. It looked exactly as it does in pictures the astronauts have taken, all blue and white and exquisitely beautiful. I felt an outpouring of love for this planet and a sense of joy that I could become part of it. I felt a strong desire to dive into the world, as if being part of it was the most wonderful and exciting thing imaginable.

I heard someone call my name. “David Spangler!” I was filled with a will to be this unique, specific person, and in a burst of joy I leaped toward the world and found myself back in my body, looking out the rear window of our car at the billboard of the blond woman selling Nehi orange drink. In my body’s time, I had been “gone” for only a few seconds.

In some ways this was a classical mystical experience of unity with a larger state of being and an awakening to one’s eternal Self, the “I” that is within each of us. I felt I had returned to a place I had come from and then traced the process by which I came to be who I am as a physical individuality. Years later, the memory and details of this experience became the starting point from which I shaped my understanding of the process of Incarnation, an understanding that is at the heart of much of my current work.

David’s “awakening on the road to Casablanca” was the first of two significant visions that helped lay the foundation for the story of inner light that imbues Incarnational Spirituality.

Sacred Remembrance

Last night while chatting with my friend Terri, her face suddenly flushed. Quickly, she pulled her hair up, revealing beads of sweat across the back of her neck.

Hot flash.

“Wow,” I said. “Not looking forward to that. Wonder what God was thinking….”

Reaching for a water bottle, she shrugged. “Well, you know Eve.”

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It’s funny how hard wired it is, the story of Original Sin. Adam, Eve, the Serpent–and banishment from God’s pristine Garden. Of course there are other Creations myths that hold considerable influence in our human societies (and it’s interesting how many of these vastly different tales overlap in key areas!), but especially in the United States, no matter our cultural backgrounds, it often feels like all our personal histories start with The Fall.

But is this not also true of Incarnational Spirituality? Well, from my perspective, all of the Creation myths hold value as they, alongside science and technology and other advances in human civilization, record the history of our physical and psychological evolution, spiritual advancement and potentiality in general. But, really, in the context of IS, the story that frames the entire backdrop of the work is the one behind Eden and the paradise we seem to have lost. It’s the story of Creation itself, as viewed through the lens of a single human life.

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But where does this story behind Eden originate? Though I will write about the history of Incarnational Spirituality in greater depth in upcoming weeks, for now I’d like to reference the inner research and spiritual teachings of David Spangler as being very influential in the grounding of this story. At the same time I’d like to clarify that Lorian Association was founded not on the instruction of David as much as the field of resonance those teachings generated in others with similar understanding.

And this distinction makes sense given the one trait that immediately distinguishes Incarnational Spirituality from many other spiritual systems: the belief that an innate spiritual authority is automatically granted to each and every human being at birth. No matter how chaotic and messed up our lives, years and decades later, may seem, there is an inner light that speaks to this sacred remembrance.