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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.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Religious United Nations?

Thanks to James and his Buddhist Blog for this news item and great photo:

IsraelNN.com, Feb 19, 2006

Tel Aviv, Israel – Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yonah Metzger, meeting with the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk who is the leader of Tibet, suggested that representatives of the world's religions establish a United Nations in Jerusalem, representing religions instead of nations, like the UN currently based in New York.

“Instead of planning for nuclear war and buying tanks and fighter jets, it will invest in peace,” Metzger said. He later reported that the Tibetan leader was very excited about the idea and offered to help advance it.

Also at the meeting was Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee (who is on good terms with the Roman Catholic Church), Rabbi Menachem Froman of Tekoa, kadis (Ethiopian rabbis) and various Islamic sheikhs.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Divine Disturbances

Some friends of mine are going through “disturbances” in their spiritual journeys, trying to reconcile and integrate experiences that don’t fit neatly into one religious “box.” One friend has had a very real experience of the Presence of Jesus and Mary, and now she is unsure if she can continue with her spiritual practices from another tradition, practices she has found very meaningful for many years.

Another friend, EarthMystic, has written about his journey at his weblog: “I pray like a Catholic. I think like a(n agnostic) Unitarian. I do myth like a Druid. And, I hope, I will soon be able to say, I meditate like a Buddhist. Now, it’s just a matter of integrating it all so my head doesn't explode.”

As a Christian who is also a member of a universalist Sufi order, I've come to see Jesus the Healer (who is a very real Presence in my life) as the Divine Beloved that the Sufi mystics sing about. Rumi, the most well-known of Sufi mystics, has several wonderful poems about Jesus. Here is my favorite, in Coleman Barks’ version (I’ve posted this one here before):

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

There have been different times in my life when I have really felt a connection to one spiritual practice or another, and other times when I haven't felt a connection at all. Sometimes a Buddhist practice or chant has been extremely helpful to me, at other times the same practice might seem hollow. I think it's important to honor where the Spirit is leading us in the present moment – even if that leading takes us into areas of discomfort or disturbance.

In fact, that feeling of “being disturbed” is something we can expect on the spiritual journey, according to the words of Jesus in The Gospel of Thomas (verse 2):

Whoever searches
must continue to search
until they find.
When they find,
they will be disturbed;
and being disturbed, they will marvel
and will reign over All.

In his commentary on this verse, Jean-Yves Leloup outlines the stages of the journey that Jesus talks about in this verse:

1. Seeking
2. Finding
3. Being Troubled or Upset
4. Marveling (Wonder and Awe)
5. Reigning Over All (“I am One with that which reigns over All”)
6. In Repose

In the Greek manuscript fragment of Thomas, which was found in Egypt in 1898 before the complete manuscript (in Coptic) was found in 1945, the “reign over the All” is further described as “the great Repose.” That reminds me of verse 50 of Thomas, which ends:

If they ask you what is the sign of the Father in you, say:
It is movement and it is repose.

The spiritual journey is a cycle: movement (seeking), finding, being disturbed, being awed, experiencing Oneness (however fleeting!), being in repose.

And then it starts all over again.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cyber-Community Update

I’ve had to turn on “comment moderation” here at the Blog of the Grateful Bear, thanks to a few rabid people who feel compelled to leave hateful remarks about my “gay lifestyle” (any time someone uses that phrase, watch out). I hope those of you who are genuine friends of this blog will continue to post your comments – I just have to approve them now before they appear online.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed about being a blogger is getting to know other bloggers around the world, sometimes actually meeting them in person (as I met Heidi a few months ago). I’ve developed several genuine friendships with people I care deeply about, friends I’ve never met in person.

One of my cyber-communities is Lectio Divina, a group that Carl McColman and I started to support our effort to read through the New Jerusalem Bible in 2006. The group has grown to 117 members from all around the world, and from many different faith traditions, including some who identify as Pagan. In that group, so many of us have gotten behind in our daily readings that we are taking a break in order to allow our members to catch up. The break will begin on March 1st (Ash Wednesday) and continue through the first full week of Lent. Readings will resume on a Monday-through-Friday basis (with weekends off) on Monday, March 13, 2006.

One of my friends in the group joked, “So let me get this staight, we’re giving up 12 days of Bible reading for Lent?” Well, Lent is really about reflection and prayer, so we could look at the 12-day break as a time of “catching up” with the Bible, deepening our experience of it by slowing down the pace. (I once gave up Christianity for Lent, but that’s another story...)

So that means we won’t “read through the Bible in 2006,” but I think slowing down will allow us to have a more meaningful experience of reading it if we’re not constantly struggling to stay “on schedule.”

For me, it will also free up some time to do other sacred reading. Jon Zuck (one of those wonderful friends I’ve never met in person) has started an interfaith reading group called WisdomReading, and I plan to follow along with them as they read through The Gospel of Thomas, one verse at a time (beginning tomorrow), and as they read the major Upanishads later on.

I also plan to read The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), which my friends in the St. Luke’s Bibliophiles group are reading for Lent.

So many books . . . so little time . . .

~ Darrell (busy book bear)

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Wisdom of Emptiness

The concept of emptiness keeps recurring in my life lately.

Cyberfriend Trev Diesel recently remarked, on the WisdomReading email list, that Jesus’ command to “love others as yourself” (Jesus was actually quoting a verse from Leviticus) could be interpreted on a much deeper level. Trev wrote, “We've often taken this to mean love others in the same manner that you love yourself, but what would it mean to love others AS ourselves – that in fact, this passage is inviting us to love others because they ARE ourSELF???”

Trev’s take on Jesus’ words reminded me of what I’d heard as I was listening to the audiobook The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, which I had downloaded from Audible.com. The Dalai Lama was talking about the Buddhist concept of Emptiness: we are all interconnected (in the words of Nagarjuna, “this arising, that arises”) so we have no separate identity of our own. We are individually empty of Being because we are all connected to Being. So at the very deepest, most real level, we ARE our neighbors.

To use a metaphor from Sufi mysticism:
“Man is a condition of God as a wave is a condition of the sea.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan

This understanding of emptiness and interconnectedness was central to a class I taught at St. Luke’s during Advent, about the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the Wisdom books of the Hebrew Scriptures. I used a new version of Ecclesiastes, The Way of Solomon, by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. As I remarked here in December, Rabbi Shapiro takes a radical approach to this ancient text. The Hebrew word usually translated “vanity” (as in “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”) can also be translated “emptiness.” Using this as a beginning point, Rabbi Shapiro’s paraphrase of Ecclesiastes becomes a meditation on emptiness, impermanence, and compassion. Ecclesiastes suddenly becomes less depressing (as it does in many mainstream translations) and sounds more like the wisdom of a Buddhist sage.

Now another cyberfriend, Jon Zuck, has posted several entries on emptiness (well worth reading) at his blog, The Wild Things of God: “Emptiness, clarified” (dated Feb. 20th) and this poetic meditation (dated Feb. 14th):

The Mystery

From a seed,
which once didn’t even exist,
comes the redwood
which massively does.

n o t h i n g


This is the mystery,
the source of all mysteries,
the source of all.

Does Emptiness scare you?
but go further.

Fall in love with it.

Poem: © jon zuck // norfolk, virginia // february 14, 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Wheresoever Ye Turn...

Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the real truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not confined to any one creed, for, he says, “Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah.”

-- the Sufi mystic Ibn al-Arabi,
quoted in
The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong

My heart has become capable of every form:
It is a pasture for gazelles,
And a monastery for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols,
And the Ka’aba of the pilgrims,
And the tablets of the Torah,
And the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love:
Whatever path Love’s camel takes,
That is my religion and my faith.

-- Ibn al-Arabi, quoted in Perfume of the Desert,
edited by Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanuk

More on Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1240 CE):

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Parachute EP

I just received the new CD by cyberfriend and fellow blogger Trev Diesel: The Parachute EP. It’s a great CD of six tracks with a “jam band” vibe – especially the title track, “Parachute.” If you like Phish or the String Cheese Incident, you’ll enjoy this CD. Kato the mystical cat enjoys “The Air Up There” (Track 5), which features a jazz trumpet.

The Parachute EP also has a contemplative vibe, especially “When I Die” (Track 6), a beautiful song inspired by this poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi:

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, To Him we shall return.

Monday, February 06, 2006

From St. Luke's to St. James

After being a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta for almost 12 years, I have decided to transfer my membership to St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta.

The last several weeks have been a serious time of reflection and re-evaluation about my involvement in church. Over the past few years I had been gravitating toward the smaller services at St. Luke's: the 6 pm service (which doesn't exist any more) and the 8 am service (which I'd been attending less and less frequently because of the drive time from Marietta to Atlanta). St. James has a Saturday 5:30 pm Eucharist which reminds me a lot of the old 6 pm service at St. Luke's. It's a “folk mass” style service featuring a jazz combo (this past Saturday the closing processional was “Ornithology” by Charlie Parker). They also have a weekly Eucharist and Healing service on Wednesdays at 5:30 pm. It was at this service last Wednesday that I felt a very strong confirmation that transferring to St. James was the right thing for me to do. This morning I met with the Rector of St. James, the Reverend Karen Evans, and gave her the paperwork requesting the transfer.

From a practical point of view, St. James is literally five minutes away (two miles) from my apartment. St. James is very actively involved in outreach to the community -- my community, my hometown where I grew up and have lived and worked all my life. St. James, like St. Luke's, is a gay-friendly parish with an emphasis on healing. There's also a contemplative element: they have a center for spiritual direction at the church, and they have a canvas Labyrinth which they roll out for quiet days. They also have two EFM (Education For Ministry) groups; I have completed three years of this four-year program and plan to begin the final year this Fall. And my being a Sufi is not a problem; the Rector told me this morning that she did her master's thesis on Christian and Sufi spirituality.

I will always be grateful to St. Luke's for so many things, primarily for being a safe and sacred place for me to come out of my fundamentalist closet and learn to accept myself as the person God created me to be. (I wrote about this in my first article for Whosoever, Journey of Faith, Journey of Acceptance.) St. Luke's has literally transformed my life for the better. I will miss St. Luke's, but I am looking forward to what the Spirit has in store for me at St. James.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Adventures with Supercat

The other night I was wakened by the sound of someone rustling around in my bedroom closet. I got up and opened the closet door and found that Kato the mystical cat had gotten stuck in the bottom of my laundry hamper, which is quite tall and was almost empty. He was scrabbling with his claws against the plastic sides of the hamper. I started to reach in and get him when suddenly he decided to use his back legs instead of his front legs – and in a single bound he leaped out of the hamper like Superman, rising in a gravity-defying arc and almost crashing into my chest. I’ve seen him do the Supercat leap twice before, once when catching a butterfly and once when catching a moth. And, of course, he is able to leap to the top of the refrigerator with a single bound.

Kato frequently wakes me up in the middle of the night with his antics. It’s hard to get mad at him, though, because he still does Reiki healing when I experience pain from Guillain-Barre Syndrome (as I wrote about back in 2003, in the article Ministers in Fur). I woke up early one morning last week with a dull achy pain in one of my lower legs. When he saw I was awake, Kato came over and laid down on the leg exactly where it was hurting. I went back to sleep and when I woke up he was still on my leg, purring rhythmically, and the pain was completely gone.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy Groundhog Day

This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union Address fall in the same week.

As Air America Radio pointed out, “It is an ironic juxtaposition: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, and the other involves a groundhog.”