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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.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Eternity in the Present Moment

Another delightful quote from Helen Waddell's novel Peter Abelard:
Do you remember Boethius' definition of eternity, 'to hold and possess the whole fullness of life in one moment, here and now, past and present and to come'?

Boethius' words remind me of the well-known lines from William Blake (quoted in Sting's wonderfully spiritual album Sacred Love):

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book, Peace is Every Step:

. . . we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

Peter Abelard

In my readings on church history for EFM (Education For Ministry), we are approaching the end of the middle ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. One of the historical figures that has fascinated me is Peter Abelard, not just because of his tragic love affair with his student Heloise, but also because of his theology. He rejected the theology of atonement (still dominant today) that describes Christ's death as appeasing an angry God, or as a ransom to Satan (which the EFM text misspells, talking instead about a ransom to Santa). Instead, Abelard writes of Christ's death as a supreme act of love and self-sacrifice, drawing us to God through love, not fear: we are

reconciled to God, because by the life and death of His Son He has so bound us to Himself that love so kindled will shrink from nothing for His sake. Our redemption is that supreme devotion kindled in us by the Passion of Christ: this it is that frees us from the slavery of sin and gives us the liberty of the sons of God, so that we do His will from love and not from fear. This is that fire which Our Lord said He had come to kindle upon earth.

This quote from Abelard's writings is from the 1933 novel Peter Abelard, by Helen Waddell, which I just finished reading. The novel is rather ponderously written, with unattributed pronouns ("he" entered the room -- who is "he"?) and untranslated quotations in Latin and French, but overall it's a very good historical novel. Waddell vividly evokes the world of the medieval scholars and monastics and paints a very human portrait not only of Abelard but also of Heloise.

More on Abelard's "Moral Theory" of the atonement can be found at the Religious Tolerance website.

I've just started reading the new biography, Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography, by James Burge. A review of this book on Salon.com has attracted some controversy because it (the review, not the book) describes Bernard of Clairvaux as "anti-intellectual" and compares him with George W. Bush (in part because Bernard stirred up support for the Crusades). I've written here before about Bush as modern-day crusader, but to my knowledge W. has never written any beautifully moving works of mysticism, as Bernard did. Bernard may have had his faults, but he certainly was not anti-intellectual. (If you want to read the review on Salon.com, be prepared to sit through a 30-second commercial unless you're a subscriber.)

A more thoughtful and objective review is on Christianity Today's Books & Culture website. The book was also reviewed, along with several other recent books about Heloise and Abelard, in The New York Times just two Sundays ago.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005

The Bird On This Body Tree

This is one of the Sufi poems I shared at the Embodied Prayer workshop I facilitated at the "Journey of Body, Mind, Spirit" retreat, earlier this month:

There is a bird on this body tree
That dances in the ecstasy of life.
No one knows where it is,
And who could ever know
What its music means?
It nests where branches cast deep shadow;
It comes in the dusk and flies away at dawn
And never says a word of what it intends.

No one can tell me anything
About this bird that sings in my blood.
It isn't colored or colorless;
It doesn't have a form, or outline;
It sits always in the shadow of love.
It lives within the Unreachable, the Boundless, the Eternal
And no one can tell when it comes or when it goes.

Kabir says, "Fellow seeker,
The mystery of this bird
Is marvelous and profound.
Be wise; struggle to know
Where this bird comes to rest."

-- Kabir,
by Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanut

I made the off-hand remark that the poem reminded me of the song by They Might Be Giants called "Build a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul." This led to a pretty lively discussion of how to do exactly that: how to build a place within our souls for this spirit-bird to reside.


Friday, February 18, 2005


Michael and I saw a great play last night, Incorruptible, at Marietta's Theatre in the Square. The play is a "medieval farce" about a monastery's attempt to raise funds by looting its own graveyard and selling the bones as relics of saints -- sometimes selling the same "saint" quite a few times. ("How many heads did John the Baptist have?") According to the program notes, the play was based on "a true 9th century incident, which involved the attempt by a monk of the Monastery of Conques to steal the bones of Sainte Foy from a church in Agen." It was a funny play, but also sobering, because the Machiavellian ethics of the corrupt monks are still very much alive today in their fund-raising successors, the Revs. Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, etc., etc.

It was nice to spend an evening out on Marietta Square, dining at a great Cajun restaurant, then walking over to the Cool Beans coffee house for some hot chai tea, then seeing a live performance . . . all within a quarter-mile of our home.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Into the Mystic

It has been over two weeks since I've posted to this blog -- and in the blogosphere, two weeks is an eternity! One of my fellow bloggers, Jon, sent me an email from his cat Talbot, expressing concern about my absence. I am fine, I've just been busy. Among other things I was preparing for two workshops I facilitated this past weekend for a retreat called "Journey of Body, Mind, Spirit." I was deeply honored to be asked by my church, St. Luke's Episcopal in Atlanta, to do a workshop on Embodied Prayer, incorporating forms of prayer from both the Christian and Sufi traditions.

In a way, this weekend brought me around full circle. When I joined St. Luke's in 1994, I began to learn about the wonderful mystics of the Christian tradition: Hildegard von Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, and others, including the anonymous authors of The Cloud of Unknowing and The Way of a Pilgrim. I was urged by one of the priests at St. Luke's to not just read the Christian mystics, but to read the Sufi mystics also. I also visited a monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit on several occasions for spiritual direction, and he too urged me to read the Sufi mystics. Thus began my journey into the Sufi tradition. It was truly a blessing to be able to share that journey with my friends from St. Luke's, where the journey began.

I'll write more about that journey in the near future. I wrote about how these two traditions, the Episcopal and the Sufi, have helped to heal my image of Jesus, in a recently-published article called No Longer Judge: Jesus as Healer. You can read the article online at the Gay Spirituality & Culture Blog.

My friend Carl McColman (whose Website of Unknowing is a great introduction to the Christian mystics) has started an extended study of the mystics called 77 Mystics in 77 Months. I've already started reading Origen, the mystic for February, and plan to join the online discussion at Carl's blog. Feel free to join us!