"God and the suffering of the world are inseparably interwoven." - James Finley
"The feeling remains, God is on the journey too." - Teresa of Avila
"In stillness nailed. To hold all time, all change, all circumstances in and to, Love's embrace." - Anonymous nun, as found on page 124 in The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault
I noticed this week that so many people from outside the Christian tradition have been confused about how folks who claim to follow Jesus could be attracted to, or appreciative of, blatant power-driven bullying. I have been in dialogue with folks about the philosophical roots of this immense problem, and of course, that gets us asking questions about human nature and God nature and presses us to these places where our shaken faith leads us to regions we've never been before. Sometimes very dark places that doubt the existence of benevolence.
In the West, we've all been conditioned to see things dualistically, and this is not easily unlearned. We want there to be good and bad people. We want an obvious light over and against darkness. We want God to be different than God is... more accentuated in how justice is served out, right now. We think that looking at events and actions in any sort of non-dual way is either not naming something or seen as backing down from speaking truth to power. But true non-duality is quite possibly doing far more in the long run, than either denial, or quick, dramatic reaction. What non-duality should be doing, if it is true, is to find a way to both name things, and set things within a process that makes them new.
False peace is not wanting shit to come to the surface. But real peace finds a way to stir the shit up in such a creative way, that it makes real change, that harnesses collective energy toward the common good.
There is a scene in Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, where he looks across at his little brother John Paul, who is about to go to serve in World War II. There is a divide between them, like his brother is unreachable, but you get the sense that Merton almost wants to reach out and have his brother stay and that he would take his place. John Paul dies in the war making young Thomas Merton the last surviving member of his immediate family.
Merton wrote a beautiful poem about his brother which I put to music, along with James Finley's spoken word. It grieves. And then it begins to articulate that part of the way toward holding something very difficult in the radical arms of love, is to get closer to it at the quantum level, even if we can't be physically close to it. There are relationships that can be so broken, due to any number of circumstances, (in the case of Merton, his relationship with his brother was severed by death), that sometimes the only safe way to heal, or to heal the wound that was made, is to touch it at the level where it has been held in love already by Christ, the great Mystery, holding all things together.
This comprehension laid the groundwork for Merton moving toward the world... from this place of solitude, where he touched the love that holds all things together. There is a point in the poem where Merton refers to the cross he wears as a monk or priest, and the cross of his brother's soldier's grave, saying "Christ died on each for both of us". The first time I read that, I openly wept. At the comprehension of my own dualism that a mystical monk could ever be held in common with a soldier. I was assaulted by two soldiers once, with only a narrow escape. But I know someone who was assaulted by a monk, too.
As we look at ways to be creative and innovative, and even as we long for things to be different, let's remember that there is energy to be found in forgiving the events that are half-forgiven, in healing the wounds that are half-healed. It is by now a cliche to say that forgiving is not excusing or sending the message that you're available for more abuse... but with that disclaimer, what would happen if each of us who read this gathered the energy that comes with a sort of ahistorical forgiveness?
The place where Merton went, when his eyes become flowers for his brother's tomb, and his fasts become willows where his brother died, is the place where all things are held together, and where all things are being made new, that "holds all time, all change all circumstances, in Love's embrace."
Listen to John Paul in this sort of context and allow for the poetry to expand inside of you as a creative force and a balm.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.