Sunday, February 21, 2021

Cycling through Lent

The Christian year revolves around two cycles: the Advent-Christmas cycle and the Lent-Easter cycle. Being a Christian is like riding a bicycle (bi-cycle) which carries us through the year.  One of these cycles has to do with light and the other darkness.

Advent-Christmas is about birth and light. Light comes into the darkness in the birth of Christ. Lent-Easter is about the darkness of the death of Christ, which culminates in the light of Easter dawn and resurrection.

Christmas originally fell on the Winter Solstice, the moment when days began to get longer, when light begins to triumph over darkness. Easter falls at the time of the Spring Equinox, the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when day and night are equal.

Both religious cycles are related to the interplay of day and night, light and darkness in nature. These liturgical cycles are the equivalent to the Yin Yang symbol of ancient China. The yin yang is a visual expression of duality within a wider all-encompassing unity. The cycles of the Christian year communicate the same thing.

Lent is a meditation on duality and nonduality. One interesting aspect of the season is that the forty days of Lent do not include Sundays. Sundays are feast days in the midst of a season of the fast days. They are oases of light in the darkness, like the circles of light and darkness in the Yin Yang symbol.

Like the Yin Yang symbol, the cross is a symbol of light and darkness, good and evil. The Cross is an instrument of death. Yet the empty cross is a symbol of resurrection – because Jesus is not on it. The crucifix, the cross with Jesus still on it, did not become a symbol of Christianity until the Middle Ages and never became the symbol of Protestant Christianity.

Both the Cross and the Yin Yang express duality encompassed by a greater unity. The Cross is more ancient than Christianity or the Yin Yang, and is found across cultures. A cross unites the four cardinal directions. It unites up and down, left and right. It unites heaven and earth, humans to humans, and humans to all things. It represents both divine and human love.

I find the Yin Yang symbol as powerful as the Cross. The movement of Yin-Yang communicates the ever-changing association of good with evil. This is on my mind a lot this Lent. The ongoing political and social strife in our American society disturbs my peace of mind. Sometimes I find myself thinking about it at night as I lay down to sleep.

At such times I have taken to picturing the Yin Yang in my mind’s eye. I picture the light and dark as the interaction between conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, justice and injustice, right and wrong. Of course both sides of the political spectrum see themselves as good and their enemies as evil. That is why this symbol is so useful. It helps me see the two as relative. There is not one without the other.

In my mind’s eye the two sides of the Yin-Yang are like the storms on a weather map. From a higher perspective, good and evil are storms in the human psyche and human society. There is no such thing as good and evil outside of the human mind. Humans create these categories, and they become very real to us. So when my mind is disturbed by what is happening in American society and in the world, I let the Yin Yang bring my mind into a state of equilibrium, and I fall asleep.

In a similar way Lent helps me see the forces of good and evil as part of a greater whole. When Christians observe Lent we enter into the passion play of good and evil. In the end history is part of a bigger unity. Duality is viewed in the light of nonduality.

Lent is not just about giving up something – like sweets, meat, or television - for 40 days. It is giving up duality. It is seeing the Risen Lord in the Crucified One. It is seeing both aspects of Christ in the One Reality that we call God.

Lent is seeing ourselves in the story of Jesus. It is seeing the story of Jesus in the human stories playing out in our society and the world. It is not just an ancient Bible story. It is the Bible story reflected in newspaper stories about good and evil. It embraces all things in a deeper unity. It is resting in the peace that Christians call the Will of God. Lent is a pilgrimage into the heart of nonduality.



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The New Unnormal

I guess I was na├»ve. Part of me hoped that after the inauguration of President Biden things would get back to normal in our country… more or less. I knew we still had the pandemic to deal with and another impeachment trial to get through. But I had hoped that by now we would be able to envision a time in the near future when we could go maskless and talk about politics civilly. I can’t see that day yet.

I mourn the loss of normalcy. Everything feels permanently tainted – politics, religion, journalism, everything. No one can hear a different point of view without getting defensive. The polarization in our society is poisonous. People from both political parties are accusing the other side of being the twenty-first century equivalent of Nazis. Both parties demonize the other. Both sides think the other side is brainwashed and is being fed lies and misinformation.

Longtime friendships and family relationships are strained. It puts a burden on our hearts and minds as well. One of the most difficult aspects for me is the role that religious faith is playing. It saddens me to see Christians deceived and manipulated by political forces. Years ago Billy Graham predicted this. He warned against Christianity getting cozy with right-wing politics. He had learned that lesson in his own life the hard way, and he never wanted it repeated. Unfortunately his warning went unheeded.

Personally I cannot voice my opinion on political, social, religious or ethical issues without risk of harming relationships with fellow Christians. Yet how can one keep silent at such a time? As Martin Luther King, Jr, said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

In these last few years my spirituality has become more controversial as well. It is much more mystical. I abide in awareness of the Divine that transcends religious distinctions and boundaries. My podcasts, videos, and books have connected me with hundreds of people around the world. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive an email from somewhere in the world thanking me for my words. On the other hand my words have made me suspect in the eyes of Christians who define spiritual truth in terms of doctrines and religion.

Things are not the way they used to be in my life or in my country. I suspect they may not be normal again for a very long time … perhaps not in my lifetime. The country has changed. The January 6 attack on our government was a turning point more decisive than 9/11. Now the enemy to democracy is within. The domestic threat to human rights and freedoms are great. This is an once-in-a-lifetime threat to the cohesion of these United States.

There is a proverbial blessing … or curse, depending on how you read it: “May you live in interesting times.” I wish our times were not quite so interesting. But we do not get to choose the time we live. We only get to choose how we will respond. My response is guided by Scripture and Spirit. My guide is Jesus Christ. I live in union with the indwelling Christ. If that makes me unnormal, so be it. Unnormal is so much more interesting!