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Blog of the Grateful Bear

ramblings of a freelance panentheist {"all things are in God, and God is in all things"} . . . musings on Emergent spirituality, powerlifting, LGBTQueer issues, contemplative prayer, mysticism, cats, music, healing, and more. I like my coffee and my existentialism dark-roasted.

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Location: Marietta, Georgia, United States

I'm an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. My writings on queer spirituality have been published in Whosoever and several other magazines. I live in a house-in-the-woods (Bear's Hermitage) in Marietta with Leonidas (Lenny) and Guy, Mighty Warrior Cats, and way too many books.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

All Things Are In God, And God Is In All Things

The existence of all created things is His [God's] existence... Thou dost not see, in this world or the next, anything beside God. God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man.

-- Ibn Al-'Arabi (1165-1240), Spanish Sufi mystic

God is everywhere and is everywhere complete. Only God flows into all things, their very essences… God is in the innermost part of each and every thing.

-- Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), Christian mystic

"In Him [God] we live and move and have our being."

-- The Apostle Paul (Acts 17:28), quoting (favorably) the Pagan poet Epimenides of Crete

Jesus said, "I am the light above everything. I am everything. Everything came forth from me, and everything reached me. Split wood, I am there. Lift up a rock, you will find me there."

-- The Gospel of Thomas, verse 77

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Stardust Memories

"The body is a divine vessel, channeling the very essence of the universe."

"Even the elements in our chemistry have their stories. Except for hydrogen, they were all created by stellar explosions, supernovae prepared by billions of years of thermonuclear combustion. Iron, boron, carbon, and nitrogen all carry stardust memories into the core of each living cell. There are parts of us that go way, way back, and at the moment of birth, the cutting edge of time, they all come together to hurl new life into the world. The Zen masters tell us that no flower can bloom without the whole spring behind it. Just so, it takes the life of a star to make the make the life of a child."

--quotes from "The Wild Within" by John Tallmadge, in the January-February 2005 issue of Utne magazine

When Joni Mitchell, in her song "Woodstock," sang, "We are stardust..." she was being factual as well as poetic. Every element on earth, except for the lightest, was created in the heart of some massive star. And the heaviest elements -- such as gold, lead and uranium -- were produced in a supernova explosion during the cataclysmic end of a huge star's life, says LSU physicist Edward Zganjar (pronounced Skyner). "Those elements were ejected into space by the force of the massive explosion, where they mixed with other matter and formed new stars, some with planets such as earth. That's why the earth is rich in these heavy elements. The iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones were all forged in such stars. We are made of stardust," Zganjar said.

-- from the website, Perennial Wisdom

O love that fires the sun
Keep me burning

--from the song Lord of the Starfields by Bruce Cockburn

No Tidings of Comfort or Joy

The New York Times Magazine today (Sunday, December 19) has a short but interesting interview with Elizabeth Stroud, the lesbian minister who was recently defrocked by the United Methodist Church. Stroud appears to be genuinely sincere in her sense of God's calling on her life. You can read the interview, titled "No Tidings of Comfort or Joy," here, on The New York Times website (requires free registration).

Friday, December 17, 2004

Eight Haiku for the Nativity

by Jon Zuck

Igniter of Stars!
lies naked, bawling on rough straw
God in the manger.

Scandal of Ages!
The King of Infinity
in this time, this place!

"What?" "Why?" Resounding cry
across the galaxies—wings
and heads bow in awe.

Joy! This Special birth!
And more! Beyond all reason
The Giver is given!

Quiet night explodes!
Angelsong, ten billion strong—
Glory to the King!

Pungent barnyard smells
mix with the aroma of
His wonder, His love.

In orbits ordained
before Time, planets align—
form the Star, the Sign!

She names Him "Jesus."
Yet more strangers will arrive—
they will name Him "King."

Reprinted by permission from Jon's wonderful website,
The Wild Things of God.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Literary Dylan

Bob Dylan's book, Chronicles, Volume One, has been named one of The 10 Best Books of 2004 by The New York Times. I just finished reading the book, and it's great, but I don't know if it deserves to be called one of the 10 best out of all the thousands of books published in 2004. The book is a memoir, not an autobiography, and it rambles back and forth in time with an intimate, conversational tone. One moment Dylan is a struggling young folk singer sleeping on friends' sofas; the next he's a superstar with fans camped out in his front yard and climbing on his roof to peek in through his windows.

What surprised me was the high quality of Dylan's writing throughout much of the book. As he does in the best of his songwriting, he can really make you feel part of a moment. I was also surprised at all the philosophers and poets he alludes to, especially when writing of his younger bohemian days: Thucydides, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, and others. And, of course, the Beat writers, whom he quotes or mentions several times throughout the book. (He writes of a winter's evening shared with U2's Bono, drinking a case of Guinness together and talking about Jack Kerouac.)

Above: Bob Dylan with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg

I was disappointed that Dylan doesn't mention at all his flirtation with evangelical Christianity, nor does he mention any of the albums he recorded during that time ("Slow Train Coming," "Saved," and "Shot of Love"). The only references he makes to religion are a fleeting reference to a visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and a bit about Jimmy Swaggart's fall from grace with a prostitute -- which may or may not have inspired Dylan's song, "Disease of Conceit" ("This incident might have had something to do with inspiring the song, but then again, it's hard to say"). He goes out of his way, as he always has, to avoid being pinned down or labelled. As Tom Carson writes in his New Yorks Times review of the book, "to point out that 'Chronicles' is designed to manipulate our perceptions is simply to affirm that it's genuine Dylan. The book is an act, but a splendid one..." I agree. But one of the 10 Best Books of 2004? Maybe, maybe not. If you like Bob Dylan's music, you'll like this book -- and you'll probably be inspired, as I was, to dig out all your old Dylan albums and listen to them again.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Moses and Pre-Monotheism

I'm still making my way, slowly (but enjoying it), through Robert Alter's new translation of The Five Books of Moses. I find it interesting that his version preserves certain things that other translations try to hide: for example, the occasional references to "gods" in the Torah, the foundational text of monotheism. Alter calls one such passage (Exodus 22:7, "the owner of the house shall approach the gods") "a vestige of premonotheistic verbal usage." Other translations render "gods" in this verse as "God" or "judges." These first five books of the Bible were woven together from several different strands, and apparently some of those strands were older, and less monotheistic, than others.

It reminds me of the wonderful novel, The Red Tent, which shows how un-natural (and patriarchal) monotheism must have seemed when it first appeared on the scene (especially compared to the more earthy, elemental spirituality of the women in the red tent).

I like Robert Alter's comment on the first part of Exodus 23:2, "You shall not follow the many for evil":

The last word here could also be rendered "harm." The most straightforward way to construe this verse is as an injunction to cling to one's own sense of what is right despite the temptation to follow popular opinion, including when popular opinion is bent on the perversion of justice.

Amen! We are called upon to stand in our truth, even when it's lonely to do so.


Friday, December 10, 2004

The President's Crusade, Part Two

I've written here before about President Bush's Crusade in Iraq (my entry for November 27, 2004). Now, an article in the December 13 issue of The New Yorker is also drawing parallels between the Christian Crusades, 1095 to 1204 C.E., and Bush's war against Iraq. In her excellent article Holy Smoke: What were the Crusades really about?, Joan Acocella notices "certain resemblances between the Crusades and the war in Iraq":
  • the exaggeration of the threat, to get the war going;
  • the enormous financial cost to the attacking country;
  • the mixture of idealistic and commercial motives;
  • the surprise of finding that the liberated may not thank you, indeed, may attack you.
She also writes about how Pope Urban, in his efforts to recruit crusaders, had to overcome the natural resistance Christians had to violence and killing, by coming up with the idea of "positive violence." Pope Urban bastardized the Gospel message by making a sin (violence) into a virtue. He would have made an excellent "spin doctor" for the Republican Party.

For news about the war in Iraq that is under-reported in the US, visit Nonviolent Jesus, the weblog of a Pax Christi activist in Texas.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Lotus and the Cross

One of my favorite webpages is back online, after being modified and rewritten by its author, Jon Zuck. The page is called The Lotus and the Cross: Common Threads in Christian and Buddhist Spirituality.

I especially like the chart comparing parallels between the Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi.

I just finished reading the book Christian & Islamic Spirituality: Sharing a Journey, by Maria Jaoudi, which makes comparisons between St. Francis and Rabi'a, the 8th-century female Sufi mystic. Rabi'a's writings do indeed sound Franciscan:

O God,
Whenever I listen to the voice of anything You have made--
The rustling of the trees
The trickling of water
The cries of birds
The flickering of shadow
The roar of the wind
The song of the thunder,
I hear it saying:
God is One!
Nothing can be compared with God!

Perhaps St. Francis can serve as a gateway to dialogue with other religious traditions.

Jon's website also has one of the best articles I've ever read on panentheism: The “Everywhere-ness” of God—God in All Things. (Karen Armstrong refers to herself as a "freelance monotheist," so I'm going to start referring to myself as a "freelance panentheist.")


Monday, December 06, 2004

Gay Spirituality & Culture Blog

I am honored to be joining the staff of contributing writers to Gay Spirituality & Culture, a weblog founded by Joe Perez. My first entry, Toxic Prayer, is "recycled" from my website -- my story of being confronted in the parking lot of a Christian bookstore by a woman angry about my bumper stickers.


Saturday, December 04, 2004

What I'm Reading...

I'm always in the middle of 3 or 4 books, so I thought I'd share what's currently on top of the huge stack beside my bed...

The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter. A magnificent new translation of the Torah, with lots and lots of commentary by one of my favorite Biblical scholars. I'm about a third of the way into Exodus, and it will probably take me a while to read it all. But that's OK -- I'm enjoying his comments about the original Hebrew in which the Torah was written; his comparisons between the Biblical stories and the myths of other cultures; the different ways a passage can be translated; and the many historical notes. I've written about this book here already, on my November 21 post.

Pop Trickster Fool: Warhol Performs Naivete, by my GSV (Gay Spirit Visions) brother Kelly Cresap. An in-depth look at how pop icon Andy Warhol adopted a persona of self-conscious naivete, making his whole life a performance art piece (and obscuring his real personality, if indeed one actually existed). I love how Kelly conducts scholarly discourse with a humorous -- and personal -- edge that engages the reader and keeps things interesting. (Ken Wilber could take a lesson or two on this from Kelly.) Joe Perez did an excellent article on this book, focusing on its discussion of "camp," for his Soulfully Gay column.

The Hornet's Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War, by Jimmy Carter. The first novel ever written by a US President. A bit wordy at times (Carter evidently did a lot of research for this book, and none of it got edited out), but it has grabbed my attention and kept it. The novel has made me realize some of the gaps in my own knowledge of the history of my home state, Georgia.

Christian & Islamic Spirituality: Sharing a Journey, by Maria Jaoudi. A gem: small (only 103 pages) but beautiful, tracing common spiritual themes of Christian and Sufi mystics such as Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, St. Francis, Rumi, Rabi'a, al-Hallaj, and many others. Themes include The Way of Love; Purification; Transformation; Union with God; a God-Centered Ecology.