Friday, June 18, 2010

In the Garden of Spirituality - Mark Hathaway
(Part II)

“We are not on earth to guard a museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

- Pope John XXIII

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on religion and spirituality continues with a second excerpt from a recent Tikkun article by Mark Hathaway – an article that explores spirituality in a time of crisis. For Part I, click here.

In this second excerpt, Hathaway identifies and explores four intertwined spiritual practices or paths that can help us align ourselves with the sacred and deep energy and purpose that is “evident in the unfolding evolution of the cosmos.” Hathaway uses the Chinese term Tao when discussing this energy and purpose. Others, of course, refer to it as "God." Some of my favorite terms for it are “Great Spirit,” “Sacred Mystery,” and “Lover God.” Regardless of what name or image we give to this energy and purpose, I agree with Hathaway when he says that tapping into this vast and sacred potentiality can “enkindle, guide, and sustain our work for meaningful change.”

As I mentioned in Part I, Hathaway’s is an author and adult educator who researches, writes, and speaks about the interconnections between ecology, economics, social justice, spirituality, and cosmology. He is co-author with Leonardo Boff of the 2009 book The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation.


There are four basic kinds of spiritual practices or “paths” that form the foundation for a spirituality that can help realign our lives and values – and even reframe our perceptions – as we seek authentic liberation.

The first can be described as the path of invocation, the way of opening ourselves to the guiding energy of the Tao, of reconnecting to the Source and our communion with all beings, of celebrating and praising the goodness of creation. This path is closely related with finding our place and feeling at home in the cosmos – not as masters but as creative participants – as well as with sensing the sacredness of life.

It is perhaps easiest to do this by starting with experiences of beauty, awe, and reverence. These spontaneously lead us into greater mindfulness. On a collective level, work around “Earth literacy” can serve as a doorway to this kind of awareness, especially if the kind of learning involved transcends the realm of information to truly serve as an exceptional awakening to the beauty and wisdom of our local ecosystems.

Further still, we can open ourselves to the great story of the cosmos itself, a story of ongoing creation and evolution more mysterious and wonderful than any we could have imagined. As we come to see the universe not as a giant machine but as a living being continually birthed into being, a deep sense of gratitude awakens within us. We also come to understand more clearly our own part in this great story and begin to consciously participate in it, seeking to broaden diversity, strengthen communion, and deepen our creative participation in the self-organizing dynamics of emergence.

Yet, we can never fully open ourselves to beauty and awe unless we also clear away the cobwebs of delusion and create space for the Sacred to dwell. We can describe this path in terms of letting go or embracing the void. On one level, this means becoming aware of the ways that despair, denial, and addictions have deadened our souls. In an attempt to block out pain, we build walls that also cut us off from wellsprings of energy that can motivate and inspire us as we work for change. Joanna Macy’s “work that reconnects” provides excellent examples of this kind of collective practices that can help us to let go of delusion and begin to awaken anew to both interconnection and compassion.

Meditation practices are also ways of experiencing and embracing the void – a void that is not empty but is, as both mystical traditions and modern quantum physics suggests, a vast sea of energy, pregnant with possibility.

The third path, of creative empowerment, helps us to reconnect with the embodied energy of the Tao in a way that combines both intuition and compassion. Science teaches us that living systems can change in rapid and often surprising ways through the process of emergence. In this perspective, the key to effective action is not brute force but rather finding the right action for the right place and right time.

To the extent, then, that we can awaken our intuition – both as individuals and communities – the potential exists for liberating change that goes well beyond what we might have first imagined. The importance of vision also comes into play here. As we expand our imaginations to conceive of new ways of living, we begin to invite new possibilities that go beyond our old habits and ways of being.

Finally, we need to be able to incarnate the vision, moving from the realm of vision to action. This is perhaps the most complex of all the paths, for it calls us to work together in new ways that are infused with the power of creative synergy that remains open to the possibilities and potentiality of each moment while at the same time renouncing the exercise of domination and manipulating control.

In walking all four of these intertwined paths, we find inspiration in the dynamic image of the Tao. To the extent that we can align ourselves with the deep energy and purpose evident in the unfolding evolution of the cosmos, we tap into a vast potentiality that can enkindle, guide, and sustain our work for meaningful change. In the words of Thomas Berry in The Great Work: “We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future. We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension. But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours not by domination but by invocation.

For Part I of "In the Garden of Spirituality – Mark Hathaway," click here.

Recommended Off-Site Link:
The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Elizabeth Johnson and Images of God (Part I)
Elizabeth Johnson and Images of God (Part II)
“More Lovely Than the Dawn”: God as Divine Lover

Others highlighted in The Wild Reed’s “In the Garden of Spirituality” series include:
Zainab Salbi
, Daniel Helminiak, Rod Cameron, Paul Collins, Joan Chittister, Toby Johnson, Joan Timmerman, Uta Ranke-Heinemanm, Caroline Jones, Ron Rolheiser, James C. Howell, Paul Coelho, Doris Lessing, Michael Morwood, Kenneth Stokes, Dody Donnelly, Adrian Smith , Henri Nouwen, Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Patrick Carroll, Jesse Lava, Geoffrey Robinson, Joyce Rupp, Debbie Blue, Rosanne Cash, Elizabeth Johnson, Eckhart Tolle, James B. Nelson, and Jeanette Blonigen Clancy.

Images: Michael Bayly.

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