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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.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A Good Good Friday

I spent a very meditative and spiritually-nourishing Good Friday with my friend Carl McColman yesterday. We visited the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, and afterwards stopped by a Vietnamese Buddhist temple under construction just down the road from the monastery. It was wonderful to experience the Divine Presence at both a Christian monastery and a Buddhist temple. Carl has written a good account of the day at his Earth Mystic weblog.

Carl's newest book, 366 Celt, is a book of daily meditations drawing from both Christian and Pagan traditions of Celtic spirituality. Check it out!


Friday, March 25, 2005

Easter: "He Is Among Us"

Sound a trumpet through all the earth.
Our Morning Star is alive!
Risen in splendour, He is among us;
The darkness is driven back.
We, His people, join in the dance of all creation.

-- An Easter prayer
from the Celtic Christian Northumbrian Community

I called through your door,
"The mystics are gathering
in the street. Come out!"

"Leave me alone.
I'm sick."

"I don't care if you're dead!
Jesus is here, and he wants
to resurrect somebody!"

-- Rumi (A.D. 1207 - 1273),
from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks

Friday, March 18, 2005

Nothing Else But God...

The mystic who passes through the moment when there is nothing but God does in some sense behold the beginningless beginnings in which there was really nothing else. He not only appreciates everything but the nothing of which everything was made. In a fashion he endures and answers even the earthquake irony of the Book of Job; in some sense he is there when the foundations of the world are laid, with the morning stars singing together and the sons of God shouting for joy. That is but a distant adumbration of the reason why the Franciscan, ragged, penniless, homeless and apparently hopeless, did indeed come forth singing such songs as might come from the stars of morning; and shouting, a son of God.

--G. K. Chesterton, in his book Saint Francis of Assisi

What does it mean to be All? God is the sole Reality. God is the Source of all things and their Substance. There is no thing or feeling or thought that is not from God, even the idea that there is no God! For this is what it is to be All: God must embrace even God's own negation.

Listen again: God is the Source and Substance of everything and its opposite. There is nothing outside of God. Thus we read: "I am God and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:5). Not simply that there is no other god but God, as our Moslem cousins say, but that there is nothing else but God, which is what their Sufi masters whisper to the initiated.

--Rabbi Rami Shapiro, in his book Open Secrets, excerpted in the current issue of Light of Consciousness

Brother Cat

This morning while reading G. K. Chesterton's book, Saint Francis of Assisi (a rambling, chatty little book that really tells us more about Mr. Chesterton than it does about St. Francis), our cat Kato presented himself to me for the worship he is rightly due. He rubbed his furry catface against the book, bidding me to put down the book about the saint who loved animals and to commune with one such animal himself. So I patted his crown chakra in a rhythmic fashion, causing him to purr delightedly. Thus did I proclaim, "Glory be to thee, O Brother Cat!"


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Homophobic Children's Book Now Out of Print

Back in 2001, I wrote an article about my experience attending the ex-gay conference, "Love Won Out," sponsored by Focus on the Family. One of the "redemptive resources" on sale at the conference was a children's book, Mommy, Why Are They Holding Hands? The book was described in Focus on the Family literature as the story of "a young girl named Sarah [who] is faced with the reality of homosexual sin after seeing two men holding hands at the mall and hearing about gay people on television. Confronted with her own sinfulness, Sarah discovers that no one is immune from sin . . ." For only $5.00 a copy (list price $6.99), you could teach your children how evil and sinful they are, while at the same time introducing them to homophobia. Such a deal!

Surfing the Amazon.com website tonight, I discovered that this book is now out of print, although used copies can still be obtained. I tried to find the book on the Focus on the Family website but couldn't; apparently they no longer sell it. I did find the book on the website of Coral Ridge Ministries, the megachurch-televangelism empire of Dr. D. James Kennedy, available for a $2.00 "donation." Kennedy's website describes the book as "the nation's first Bible-based children's book focused on preventing homosexuality."

I'm glad this despicable book is now out of print, although the mindset that produced it is still, sadly, very much alive.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Universality of God's Love

I recently came across a great outline, from an Episcopal church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, about the doctrine of salvation in Christian theology. It mentions two theologians I've been reading lately: Origen (c. 185-254), recently the mystic-of-the-month at 77 Mystics in 77 Months, and Peter Abelard (1079-1142). I really like the way this outline, which is part of the church's adult education curriculum, presents and summarizes different viewpoints.

Here is what what the outline says about Abelard:

The Cross as Moral Example

Peter Abelard: The Cross Illustrates God's Love
The incarnation, the life and death of Jesus illustrates God’s love for humanity and moves us to love of God. This love is what saves us.

Peter Abelard:

“the purpose and cause of the incarnation was that Christ might illuminate the world by his wisdom, and excite it to love of himself”

“our redemption through the suffering of Christ is that deeper love within us which not only frees us from slavery to sin, but also secures for us the true liberty of the children of God, in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear. . .”

And here is what the outline says about Origen:

Origen: All of Creation Must Be Restored to God
Origen proposed that all will be saved (Universalism) because he could not accept the Gnostic-like view that there would be a realm of Good and a realm of Evil existing side by side for all eternity:

  • The idea that God and Satan would rule over respective kingdoms for all eternity [is] a flawed dualism.
  • The final redeemed version of creation cannot include a hell or kingdom of Satan. In the end, all of creation must be restored to God.
I've never thought of the doctrine of an eternal hell as Gnostic-like or a flawed dualism, but I think Origen has a valid point. (My own view of why Christians claim to believe in an eternal hell has been published in Whosoever, in the article "Hell You Say.")

Also under Universalism, the outline mentions John A. T. Robinson (the radical English theologian of the 1960’s), who proposed that all will be saved because in the end, no one will reject the overpowering love of God:

“May we not imagine a love so strong that ultimately no one will be able to refrain himself from free and grateful surrender?”

“In a universe of love there can be no heaven which tolerates a chamber of horrors.”

This is also the viewpoint of Madeleine L'Engle, who is one of my literary and spiritual heroes. (There's a great interview with Madeleine L'Engle at Amazon.com.) She writes, "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones."

Sadly, Madeleine L'Engle's universalism is why many Christian bookstores no longer carry her books. Many Christians today have the same problem Jonah did: they refuse to accept the possiblity of God's love or mercy outside their own religious framework. Fundamentalists will rigorously defend the literalness of Jonah's journey in the belly of the great fish but miss the entire point of the book: the universality of God's love.

I like these views of atonement and salvation because they affirm both the truth of the Christian faith (but not its exclusive hold on truth) as well as the inclusiveness of God's love.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Wound of Love

...the soul is led by a heavenly love and desire when once the beauty and glory of the Word of God has been perceived; he falls in love with His splendor and by this receives from Him some dart and wound of love. For this Word is the image and brightness of the invisible God, the First Born of all creation, in whom all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. Therefore, if anyone has been able to hold in the breadth of his mind and to consider the glory and splendor of all those things created in Him, he will be struck by their very beauty and transfigured by the magnificence of their brilliance or, as the prophet says, "by the chosen arrow" (Is. 49:2). And he will receive from Him the saving wound and will burn with blessed fire of His love.

-- Origen (c. 185 - 254), from The Prologue to the Commentary on The Song of Songs

I've been cut by the beauty of jagged mountains
And cut by the love that flows like a fountain from God.

So I carry these scars, precious and rare,
And tonight I feel like I'm made of air...

-- from Bruce Cockburn's song "Northern Lights," from the album Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Moment of Mindfulness and Grace

My partner Michael and I started the habit a while back of saying grace before our meals when we eat together. He is Pagan, and I am Episcopal/Sufi, so it is one time each day when our varied spiritualities can combine. We use the Sufi prayer before meals ("O Thou, the Sustainer of our bodies, hearts, and souls, bless all that we receive in thankfulness"), to which I say "Amen" and he says "Blessed Be."

Doing this together creates a small sacred space, a moment of mindfulness and grace that we can share together.


Books I've Recently Read...

Villages, by John Updike. At his best, Updike combines spirituality and sensuality into one seamless narrative. In his latest novel, though, the sensual is present (one reviewer called Updike "America's most eloquent and most gynecologically thorough dirty mind"), but the spiritual is conspicuous by its absence. Without the spiritual, the many sex scenes in Villages seem empty and repetitive -- but maybe that is one of the points Mr. Updike, ever the New England Pietist, wishes to make.

The Case of the Glamorous Ghost, by Erle Stanley Gardner. A Perry Mason mystery from 1955. I am a big fan of Perry Mason and his creator, Erle Stanley Gardner. This one has everything I've come to love in a Perry Mason novel:

  • It was fast-paced and full of action, both in and out of the courtroom. I read the novel easily in two sittings.
  • It featured Perry "bending the law" to protect his client but always remaining technically within the law.
  • The storyline had Paul Drake, the private eye, trying to get Perry to compromise several times, which gave Perry a chance to explain his view of the law and his own high ethical standards regarding his duty to his client.
  • It showed Perry cross-examining a snotty, "supercilious" witness and reducing him to a confused mess on the witness stand.
  • It featured Della Street prominently, from the very first sentence. In this and several other novels, she really served more as an assistant private eye than as a secretary (although she did keep trying to get Perry to sit down and read his mail!).

Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, by John Mortimer. Throughout the years, the curmudgeonly British barrister "Rumpole of the Bailey" has made reference to his early courtroom triumph in solving the case of the Penge Bungalow Murders. Now, for the first time, we get to know Rumpole's "backstory" as he sits down to write his memoirs. We also learn how Rumpole met his wife, "She Who Must Be Obeyed."

The Well of Lost Plots, by Jasper Fforde. The third novel featuring the literary crime-fighter Thursday Next. This well-written and hilarious series reminds me a lot of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but set in the world of books instead of the world of -- well, the galaxy. Full of puns and literary allusions and illusions.

And, of course, I'm currently in the middle of about five books, as always (including Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an epic fantasy set in 1806 England, which I am enjoying immensely; it reads like a blend of Charles Dickens and J. K. Rowling).

So many books, so little time...


The Moral Usefulness of Cats

A snippet from the marvelous new fantasy novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. In this scene Jonathan Strange is discussing a madwoman who lives alone with fifty cats:

"But I do not understand," said Strange. "Who takes care of the old woman?"

Dr Greysteel said, "The Jewish gentleman -- who seems a very charitable old person -- provides her with a place to live, and his servants put dishes of food for her at the foot of the stairs."

"But as to how the food is conveyed to her," exclaimed Miss Greysteel, "no one knows for certain. Signor Tosetti believes that her cats carry it up to her."

"Such nonsense!" declared Dr Greysteel. "Whoever heard of cats doing anything useful?"

"Except for staring at one in a supercilious manner," said Strange. "That has a sort of moral usefulness, I suppose, in making one feel uncomfortable and encouraging sober reflection upon one's imperfections."