Seeds of Change

     The fifth chapter of Brian Seaward’s book Stand Like Mountain, Flow like Water, is looking at seeds of change, was very insightful. First examined was the seed of faith, the mustard seed. Faith is something that must be cared for and cultivated. Like the tiny mustard seed, if cared for, it will become durable and rooted but it requires nurturing. “Nelson Mandela… said, ‘Faith is not belief without proof, it’s trust without reservation.’ Many people claim to have faith, but their faith can best be described as hope; wishing rather than knowing.” (pg. 177) I have found that as my faith deepens, it is not that God answers my prayers more or that I have a better idea of what the future holds; it is that more and more I trust where I am being lead and whatever situations I face, I know God is with me and so I am filled with courage.

     For the daffodil (personally my favorite flower), the seed of mirth, I took great comfort in this. I find I often balance serious conversation with laughter and it is how I attempt to bring comfort to people at opportune times. I particularly agree with where the cancer victor pointed out that it diffuses anger, dissolves fear, and lightens the heart. (pg. 186) The thing to be sensitive of here is that the humor is not at a cost to someone else; this is completely unnecessary and doesn’t bring healing to people as we see within the story of the people who are fighting for survival. It is best to not joke about people’s health, physical or mental, because you really have no idea what battles they are fighting. Let your words always lift people up. As someone who comes from a household where sarcasm was standard and wit was biting, I have found this habit to be a challenging habit to break at times but I never want make people laugh at another’s expense.

     The seed of compassion (the columbine seed) hit close to home as I was a freshman in high school during the shooting at Columbine; the ripple effect it sent through my high school was less compassion and an increase in threats for shootings and bombs. Fear of death, as this book covers, was not uncommon in school. The perspective of the state’s approach reflected on the license plates, “Respect Life, not only in remembrance, but as an expression of compassion,” (pg. 188) is very reassuring. Compassion isn’t about being thanked, or pity or shame, it is about unconditionally loving others.

     Lastly, the acorn, the seed of willpower, a seed that is soft and only half an inch in diameter and yet if planted produces oak, an tall and exemplary hardwood. Willpower is a muscle that requires consistent exercise. For each of these seeds, they start out tiny and, if properly planted and nurtured, produce something far beyond what one might expect when looking at a tiny seed. As we tie these seeds back to the traits we associate them with, we need to consider the conditions we “plant” these traits within ourselves. Do we feed them with positive or negative thoughts? Are they suffocated by ego or fear-based weeds? Based on our care, how can we expect these traits to grow?

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Centering, Emptying, Grounding, Connecting

The fourth chapter of Brian Seaward’s Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water looked at the seasons of the soul and I found many of his reflections profoundly helpful. Centering, emptying, grounding and connecting are the four processes reviewed and are all deeply rewarding and necessary but also have challenges that accompany each of them.

Centering, or entering the heart and quieting the mind, is the first step and for some the hardest. It is creating a quiet space for the divine to speak into. “In the words of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” (pg. 125) It is important to do this activity daily, even if only for a short time, to try to have a designated space, and to have it be quiet.

The second is emptying, where we let go and release those things we no longer need.  It can be thoughts, ideas, memories, etc. but they are weights that hold us down. Emptying out creates space for new ideas, insights, and growth. The author claims this is the hardest and often is accompanied by grief and avoidance. “Stressors are not so much a spiritual breakdown as opportunities for a spiritual breakthrough. Our moments of despair are the soul’s attempt to take that first step into the void.” (pg. 139) This is not a place to get stuck, as many do, but to rest in the momentary but profound freedom this brief emptiness offers. “When we understand and appreciate the balance, we can see how necessary the emptying process is to becoming whole.” (pg. 143)

Third is the grounding process, the space in which we are reminded of our basic connection to God; when we seek for insights from something beyond ourselves. Dreams and vision quests are paths used but there is always communication happening outside of these two things; it is often a matter of receptivity which is more a process then an outcome. “Just as you cannot push water uphill, you cannot demand enlightenment. Discipline and patience are essential in the grounding process.” (pg. 153) Another space you will find this is in moments of synchronicity, where we see that all things are linked and that the divine can speak to us through those ties. In other words, two events that might separately have no great meaning together speak a greater truth to us. This is, in part, what Sophy Burnham refers to when she, “…eloquently suggests in her acclaimed bestseller A Book of Angels, the voice of God has many mouths. Insights, inspirations, and revelations can come from relatives, friends and even strangers.” (pg. 157) To hear from God provides stability through the divine instead of our own foundations.

The final process is connecting, relationship. From the Apostle Paul to African Proverbs to Chief Seattle, our interconnectedness to each other and the world is impossible to deny. “From a Taoist perspective, when we see ourselves as separate from the whole, we not only distance ourselves from nature, we isolate ourselves from other people as well. In turn, this distance weakens our spiritual health and suffocates our very essence.” (pg. 161) As science began to recognize that we were all energy, Jung with Einstein formulated the idea of a collective unconscious, a universal mind. Later, in his autobiography, Jung noted that which he had labeled the unconscious could just as well be God. Shifting from grounding to connecting is found in both receiving and giving. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, “…wrote in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning: “We had to learn from ourselves and we had to teach disparaging men that it did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (pg. 164) This communal, interconnected life we all share asks something of us, and we give to it, enter into community and this final phase, through and out of love and compassion.

Reflections on “Radical Amazement” Chapter 5: All Creation is Groaning: the Process of Evolution

In Chapter 5 of Radical Amazement by Judy Cannato, we examine our self-awareness. One of the more profound statements I reflected on from this chapter was, “The consciousness of each of us is the result of the evolution of consciousness which has proceeded for eons. In us the evolving universe is capable of self-reflection.” (pg. 57) This self-awareness carries not only a wisdom but a responsibility; an understanding that our actions ripple through our connectedness and impact the rest of creation. “In the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ final words to his disciples encourages them to ‘go into all the world and preach the good news to the whole creation’ (Mark 26:15).”’ Thomas Aquinas too, saw that divinity was represented not in a single creation but in the collection of creation. In 1950, the Pope Pius saw no conflict between evolution and the faith tradition of Catholic-Christian tradition, which Pope John Paul II later confirmed.

Although evolution is confirmed more and more through various sciences, also confirmed is the reliance of various species on one another for their diversification. All creation groans together, as we read in the Bible, and participates in this creative process with one another and the Creator. “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the part of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Cor 12:20-22) This too is true of our world, for where would we be without the tiny bee to pollenate the plants, or the little seeds, that produce all plant life which cleans the air and feeds so many creatures? Those things that seem the weakest and smallest are the least dispensable. This means our salvation, our wholeness, is tied up with one another, so that the world must too be brought to wholeness and we do this through a response of love, wisdom, and compassion. “Hubbard describes the universal human as “one who is connected through the heart to the whole of life, attuned to the deeper intelligence of nature, and called forth irresistibly by spirit to creatively express his or her gifts in the evolution of self and the world.” (pg. 64) Evolution, contrary to degrading humanity, makes us part of a universal creation of Love brought to life, recreating itself in greater complexities in relationship to one another until, after 13.7 billion years, it reaches a point of self-awareness and reflection in ourselves. This alone is a point of radical amazement.

Reflections: “As Long As the Grass Grows or Water Runs”

            Not many historians consider the part the native people played in the Revolutionary War. I was surprised to learn that almost every major Indian nation fought with the British in the Revolutionary War. We, the soon to be United States, were a tide they couldn’t seem to stop. After the war, the British left but the Indians remained to continue the defense of their home on the frontier. Washington wanted a policy of conciliation. “His Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, said in 1791 that where Indians lived within state boundaries they should not be interfered with, and that the government should remove white settlers who tried to encroach on them.” (pg. 124-125) Unfortunately, such an attitude would not last very long. Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from France twelve years later, doubling the size of the United States and proposing that Congress have Indians move there to farm small tracts of land.

            This set-up Andrew Jackson nicely, who was a massive land speculator and, amongst other things, a terrible person when it came to the native people.  A national hero for the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, he became famous for having a few casualties while killing 800 of the 1000 Creeks; what people didn’t realize is his attack at the front failed and Cherokee, “promised governmental friendship if they joined the war, swam the river, came up behind the Creeks, and won the battle for Jackson.” (pg. 126-127) After taking land from both those who fought against him and with him, Jackson gave a speech that told the Creeks that the US is basically justified in doing whatever they want and taking whatever they want. Jackson was the shadiest of salesmen, describing how he obtained the treaties that captured land all across the Eastern US: “…we addressed ourselves feelingly to the predominant and governing passion of all Indian tribes, i.e. their avarice or fear.” (pg. 127) That Jackson admits to this type of manipulation is perhaps surprising; the evidence of it is all over his speeches to the various peoples. He offers fear in their current home and hope in the west. In Jackson’s instructions for the Cherokees and Choctaw he worded it, “There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as Grass grows or water runs. I am and will protect them and be their friend and father.” (pg. 132)

            That is, unless you don’t do what he wants you to do, then he might burn your village down. This would the story of the Seminole in Florida, who would take in black slave refugees. They also owned slaves, but their slavery was a kinder slavery than that of the United States; it was more akin to African slavery. “The slaves often lived in their own villages, their children often became free, there was much intermarriage between Indians and blacks, and soon there were mixed Indian-black villages…” (pg. 128) This was seen as very dangerous to the more oppressive slave owners in the south.  So of course, Jackson started a war, the Seminole War of 1818. Now called the Florida Purchase of 1819, Jackson burnt villages and seized forts in “self-defense” until Spain sold Florida to him. Then all of the settlers began flowing into the region. The Seminole’s would continue to fight for quite a while before eventually fading away.

            Seventy thousand Indians east of the Mississippi were forced westward under Jackson or his successor, Martin Van Buren. Chief Black Hawk’s surrender speech captures the sentiment that was felt in the hearts of those many people, and the many that suffered and died prior to being forced west: “…He is now a prisoner to the white man…He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to be ashamed. He has fought for his countrymen, the squaws and papooses, against white men, who came year after year, to cheat them and take away their lands… Indians are not deceitful. The white men speak bad of the Indian and look at him spitefully. But the Indian does not tell lies. Indians do not steal…” (pg. 129) Black Hawk had raised the white flag in surrender; he was with women and children of his tribe who were starving. That surrender didn’t stop the US military from firing their guns at everyone anyways.

            Exile was very serious to the Eastern Indian, perhaps hard to understand in our transient culture today. This wasn’t about being shorted land, or being given land that was of poor quality in exchange for their high quality land, although that was all true.  It ran much deeper than that. Dale Van Every describes it, “The Indian was peculiarly susceptible to every sensory attribute of every natural feature of his surroundings. He lived in the open. He knew every marsh, glade, hill top, rock, spring, creek, as only a hunter can know them… he loved the land with a deeper emotion than could any proprietor. He felt himself as much a part of it… His homeland was his holy ground…” (pg. 134) This was a deeply spiritual issue and the Cherokee exerted a lot of effort towards acculturation as a means to gain power and influence in order to remain on the land of their ancestors. But Van Buren and most of America didn’t care.

            Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of a handful of people who plead on behalf of the native people; he wrote that the religion, liberty, and other things for which this nation stands will sink if we act with such injustice. But Van Buren, thirteen days before Emerson’s letter, sent military, militia and volunteers into Cherokee territory to use whatever force was necessary to facilitate removal. Seventeen thousand Cherokee were betrayed by Congress and a handful of Cherokee through the Removal Treaty, and now they were sent to the stockades. Wave after wave were sent on the Trail of Tears. “Grant Foreman, the leading authority on Indian removal, estimates that during confinement in the stockade or on the march westward four thousand Cherokee died.” (pg. 146) That’s 23.5% of the Cherokee people who were rounded up. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. What is particularly sickening is the way that President Van Buren spoke to Congress about it in 1838: “It affords sincere pleasure to apprise the Congress of the entire removal of the Cherokee Nation of Indians to their new homes west of the Mississippi. The measures authorized by Congress at its last session have had the happiest effects.” (pg. 146)

Hesed: Struggle, Love, Wholeness

This morning I woke out of a deep sleep to what I was sure was a Hebrew word and a phrase about struggle, love and wholeness. I was so completely awake I began searching online to try to find out what I had heard, to learn about what had called me out of my sleep. I soon came across an article: Hesed: Enduring, Eternal, Undeserved Love.

Hesed is a Hebrew word referring to God’s enduring, eternal love (of which we are undeserving). As I read the article which tied God’s love to our love of each other and the ways we demonstrate hesed in relationship, I heard the words in the phrase I woke up to echo in my heart: love, wholeness, struggle. I was struck by how deeply this spoke to what I had asked my Father to pray to God for me about, and also in God pointing out through community and prayer that I am running away from what I’m asking him to send me: a husband.

This is the kind of love I want and which I am capable of achieving, even if I execute it imperfectly. My past partners and their families have always commented on the depth of my love, my capacity to love in the way described in this article. But as I think about it I realize that I have come to believe what the world has told me through those men: that I will not be loved like that in return, nor anywhere close to it. They have said, “People don’t love like you do. Not everyone is built that way.” “The world doesn’t work the way you think it does.” I admit I believed that I was only loveable by God, family and close friends, who could see me the way God saw me and I definitely didn’t see anything valuable enough to “sell” myself to someone as a life partner. But I was seeing myself through the lens of my ex’s and not my Father’s.

But I hear you now, Abba. There are people who love like this. Your people. And the world doesn’t work this way yet because it is still broken and we are trying to bring your Kingdom to it. But you, Abba, with my earthly Father? You can send me this love. You can send me hesed. I believed in this love from you first, God. I knew you loved me when I walked into Crossroads and heard the story of a Savior who came in not as a warrior with a sword but as a sacrifice of love. Beyond that, here was a loving and sacrificial God who wanted me, me in spite of the sin that wore me down and burdened me with shame and depression. You wanted me. You loved me. And you still do because I have your enduring, eternal, undeserved love.

The bible verses from the article are perfect examples of hesed from my Father in heaven, and will help me to remember how enduring this love is when I become forgetful:

Isaiah 54:10 “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken.”

 

Lamentations 3:31-32 “No one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love (hesed).”

 

Exodus 34:6 “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love (hesed) and faithfulness,”

Genesis 24:27 “saying, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness (hesed) and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”