Aug 31, 2009


By coincidence, one of the books I was reading at the time of Luciani's election, was John McNeill's pioneering study, The Church and the Homosexual. It formed an essential part of my own acceptance as a lovable, worthwhile gay man within the Church. Hard to believe that this was so long ago and that such books were then so rare, and the appearance of this book so 'shocking', like spring water in the desert. Since then, John went on to fashion the most profound theological support for our vocation as spiritual and worthwhile gay persons, loved by God as sexual beings, with works such as Taking a Chance on God, Freedom Glorious Freedom, and Both Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air, (such wonderful evocative titles). Below is a reference to his latest work, Sex as God Intended, with an eloquent review by theologian (and Bilgrimage blogger) William D. Lindsey. William's review makes clear why John McNeill's pioneering theology is relevant to everything I am trying to express and reflect on, however clumsily, in this blog. Without him, we would still be wandering in the desert.

William D. Lindsey: The Prophetic Gay Theology of John McNeill: Sex As God Intended
(Little Rock, AR USA, March 29, 2009 )

Sex As God Intended gathers a lifetime of prophetic thought by therapist-theologian John McNeill about the vocation of gay persons in church and society. At a point at which a theological discourse by and about the gay experience was almost non-existent in Christian churches, John McNeill crafted such a discourse--in part, out of his own joyous, painful experience as a gay believer, in part, out of his experience working with other gay believers as a therapist. In doing so, he opened a path for many of us who continue to think it important to try to hold our gay experience together with our experience of faith.

One of John McNeill's most significant contributions to Christian theology is his carefully worked-out insistence that gay and lesbian human beings fit into God's plan for the world. McNeill not merely asserts this: he demonstrates why it is the case, and he does so using unimpeachably traditional building blocks of Christian theology to make his case.

McNeill situates the lives of gay persons--he situates our existence in the world, an existence willed by the Creator--within the longstanding Christian tradition that through Christ, God has caught the entire cosmos up into a grand drama of divine salvation, in which all that has been created has a role to play in moving the created world to liberation. Echoing the Pauline insistence that the whole universe groans for salvation, and the declaration of patristic thinkers such as Irenaeus that the Spirit moves within all creation to make it (including human beings) fully alive, John McNeill asks what particular gifts gay and lesbian persons bring to the human community, to assist it in its movement to full life.

To ask this is also to ask precisely what it is that makes the human community fully alive. To ask about the particular gifts that gay and lesbian persons offer the human community is to ask about the eschatological goal towards which we move, as a human community. What is it to be liberated, to be saved? What does this mean, concretely? From what exactly do we seek salvation?

John McNeill's thought is incisive on this point. In his view, the Western mind (and the mind of the human community in general) has, throughout history, been involved in a constant dialectic interplay between the masculine and the feminine (p. 100). McNeill notes that great religious founders including Jesus and Ignatius of Loyola were, in cultures and historic periods heavily dominated by a masculine mind, "extraordinarily open to the feminine" (ibid.). He attributes the fruitfulness of such religious founders' vision to their ability to draw on the creative energies of the feminine in cultures and periods resistant to the feminine.

In McNeill's view, the human community is currently undergoing deep crisis as it attempts to move beyond the crippling strictures of a masculine mindset imbued with heterosexism and driven by feminophobia (pp. 98, 114). McNeill sees inbuilt in modernity itself "an essentially masculine crisis" (p. 105). The modern period joined the fate of the human race--and of the world itself--to men's domination of women, to the subjugation of the feminine to the masculine, to the denigration of gay and lesbian human beings by heterosexual ones. In doing so, it has brought the human community (and the world itself) to a perilous point, at which we face the annihilation of everything by nuclear war and unbridled ecological destruction (p. 105).

The salvation of the world depends, then, on the ability of the human race to move beyond the intransigent, stubborn defense of masculine domination of everything, in our current postmodern moment. Unfortunately, at this point of peril, the churches, including the Roman Catholic church, have chosen to make the defense of masculine domination of everything so central to their definition of what it means to be a believer in the world today, that many churches view the attempt to correct the exclusively masculine worldview we have inherited as apocalyptic: to question the right of males to dominate is to court the destruction of the world (p. 110). Churches are impeding a necessary movement forward by the human community, by clinging to outmoded, unjust patriarchal ideas and structures, at a point in which those ideas and structures are revealed as increasingly toxic wherever they prevail.

What do gays and lesbians, who are increasingly the human fallout of the churches' adamantine resistance to the feminine, have to offer in this dialectical struggle for the future of the world? In McNeill's view, gays and lesbians have a providential opportunity to "model the ideal goal of humanity's present evolution," by demonstrating what it might mean to live with a balance of masculine and feminine principles inside oneself and in the culture at large (p. 115). Gays and lesbians can offer, simply by living their lives with unapologetic integrity, an example of "balanced synthesis" that a culture heavily dominated by fear of the feminine and unjust power of the masculine sorely needs, if it is to remain a viable culture.

John McNeill follows his sketch of the dialectic evolutionary process through which humanity is now moving--or, rather, has to move, if it hopes to overcome forces with the perilous ability to destroy the entire world--with a reminder of the special gifts that gay and lesbian persons bring to church and society. This Jungian-oriented analysis of the contributions of gays and lesbians to humanity is one that runs through everything McNeill has written. It sustains his thought, and is one of his most valuable contributions to Christian theology.

Following Jung, McNeill notes that gays and lesbians bring these gifts to the human community and the churches:

1. Deep bonds of love, which bear an often unacknowledged fruit in many social institutions that transcend the gay community itself;
2. A sensitivity to beauty;
3. Supreme gifts of compassionate service evident in the contributions of gay and lesbian teachers, ministers, medical workers and healers, workers in the fields of human service that serve the blind, those with mental and physical challenges, and so on, and many other service-oriented fields;
4. An interest in and commitment to preserving the best of traditions, aspects of tradition that remain viable and are often overlooked by mainstream culture;
5. And the gift of spiritual leadership.

One cannot read John McNeill's work and not conclude that the church's decision at this moment of its history to reject--even to seek to destroy--such gifts is tragically short-sighted. One cannot read John McNeill's work and struggle, as an unapologetic gay person, to live in some connection to the church without feeling the tremendous weight of the tragedy that the churches are choosing to write today for themselves, the human community, and the earth itself by repudiating and undermining the gifts of gay and lesbian persons to the churches and the human community.
John McNeill's prophetic theology opens up for me and for others a way that would never have been opened to us, had he not written books such as Sex As God Intended. For what he has accomplished, and for who he is, John McNeill deserves high honor and gratitude--and not only from the gay community. From the entire church. William D. Lindsey

Aug 30, 2009

Saint Francis and the Shroud in Krakow

The photo is of Stanislaw Wyspianski's stained glass masterpiece, 'Let It BE, which shows G-D emerging from the cosmos in the act of creation. It adorns the western entrance to the Basilica of St. Francis in Krakow, Poland opposite the Archbishops’ Palace on Franciszkanska Street. I love this church for many reasons, first and foremost for Wyspianski's masterpieces of stained glass, and secondly for the wonderfully strange names associated with it - Blessed Salomea, who was the wife of the church's founder, Duke Boleslas the Chaste, and the aunt of Ladislas the Short. Only in Poland.

However, there is another reason why I frequently pray in this Church whenever I visit Krakow. To the left side of the Church as one is facing the altar, there is a large side chapel, into which the good friars have placed (quarantined, might be a more appropriate designation) a motley collection of the most gruesome of old Catholic religious iconography, dripping with blood and gore and expressing infinite anguish and the orgasmic satisfactions of ecstatic pain. If you would like to induce in yourself a spontaneous case of Cathological psychosis, spend an hour in this dank, dark and moldy room (as I have, on more than one occasion). Why is it that only in Poland does all this stuff seem, well, OK? I don't have an answer for that. But while I was sitting in the room, indulging in a bit of smug self-righteous judgmentalism, a middle aged woman slowly walked into the room, came over to the bloodied crucifix that was lying flat on the floor (for just this purpose) and with great reverence and no undue haste got down on her knees and devoutly kissed each of the five wounds. She remained in silent prayer for some moments, and then just as peacefully walked out. I felt as if I had just been rebuked by some higher power.

But to get to the point. Right in the very center of the room, before the altar, the friars have erected one of the few existing, life-sized reproductions of the Shroud of Turin (thanks to JPII, I'm told). It overpowers everything else in the room, and testifies to a mystery far too great to be contained in a room filled with Catholic S&M. I have prayed before this image many times, simply letting the mystery of the Shroud speak in its own terms, away from the roar of the crowds disputing this and that. I consider it to be one of the great religious icons of human history, and since 2002, and thanks to scientist, Ray Rogers of Los Alamos Laboratories (and subsequent scientific studies found here), I also believe in it's authenticity (more about that later). However, and I mentioned this to one of the friars, who was both amused and bemused by these observations, the Shroud image really belongs in a room filled with light, adorned with
Wyspianski's stained glass masterpieces, but with glass that is transparent to the light of the world outside, and preferably with rows of poplar trees seen through the glass. The Shroud is a testimony to the great mystery of the Resurrection (however one interprets this a-historical event) and should be adorned with images of life and light and rebirth. After all, if the shroud is authentic, then someone opened the tomb. Please take it out of the gloom.


I seem to have wandered off the path of personal reflections on being Gay and Catholic, but just as a reminder I've placed this rather sweet photo of JPI (in one of his more fey poses) permanently to the left as a symbol of the true intentions of this blog. However, I'm trying to follow the lead of the spirit, so to speak and at the moment feel compelled to offer some reflections on 'divine incarnations' and religious pluralism, with the sacred icon, the Shroud of Turin, thrown in for good measure. These are really meant for my own clarity of mind and this blog is really a personal reflection journal, but any readers who are interested are certainly most welcome.

However, following the advice of friends wiser than myself, and with some misgivings, I offer this personal statement about my own personal connection with Papa Luciani, which I made in the comments section of Wild Reed, a blog I much admire. Being new to blogging at the time and rather naive, I thought I was only addressing three persons, Michael of Wild Reed, William of Bilgrimage and Liam, the devil's advocate of the discussion about Luciani's alleged sexual orientation. In fact, of course, the discussion is open to anyone, so I've been asked by good friends to post it here more openly, even though I don't feel a blog is the appropriate forum for such intimate disclosures. However, I noticed that Terence of Queering the Church (another outstanding blog) offered a very moving description of a powerful spiritual experience of his own which helped to orientate his own life at a crucial moment of decision. Out of respect for Terence, I will not link the passage. What follows is a very short description of the 'moment' which connected me spiritually with Papa Luciani.

On a more personal note, I attended the installation Mass of JPI in the company of several gay friends, all priests. We stood right up against the wooden barriers that separated the seating area. This moment was the occasion of one of the great graces of my life, a formative experience that had to do with my own vocation as a Gay Catholic man. Because of it's intimate nature, I'll spare you the details, but I felt a vital connection between my own growing sense of gay identity and the man now being installed as Petrus. Now nothing is more unreliable as mystical experience (as concrete evidence of anything), or prone to personal interpretation and projection. I simply offer this story for what it's worth. The experience seemed to contain the premonition or warning that at some time in the future I would be called to 'move beyond' the formal priesthood of the Church (I was not yet ordained), that my gay identity would be the cause, that I was to remain at peace because there would be a confirmatory sign . At dinner that evening, because I had been so moved by the experience, I related the relevant parts of it to three close gay priestly friends. They all rushed to assure me that Luciani was known to be gay and had made some open comments among colleagues to that effect. There was no suggestion he was not celibate, it seemed beyond question he was faithful to his vows. What was not mentioned was some secret spectacular meeting of Luciani with the curial cardinals about accepting gay unions within the church. And we all know how Romans love to talk! But that a sensitive, gentle gay man within the ministry would make conventional statements about homosexuality in a published work, while expressing more open, more tentative comments privately as part of a process of personal exploration, does that not sound familiar to us all? It perfectly describes my Jesuit novice master in the 70's, who came out to us all in the 80's. None of this is evidence, but it is certainly a plausible scenario. To end this already long reply, less than ten years later I began a Masters in Divinity with the Jesuits in Berkeley. It was at this time that Cardinal Ratzinger issued his now infamous "Open Letter on Homosexuality." The moment I heard of it, I knew this was the sign I had been waiting for. Other gay persons could remain within the formal ministry, I could not. I respected their sense of calling to remain "within the belly of the beast" and "fight the good fight", but I was being called to a different kind of priesthood. It was an extraordinary gift of freedom and I've been so grateful ever since. I attribute this grace, however irrationally, to the mysterious intercession of Papa Luciani.

These final comments were appended:
31 years on the experience remains as mysterious and elusive as ever, and - as I mentioned early - as an experience it offers no concrete evidence of anything whatsoever. The priestly friends who took such good care of me 31 years ago - sober, responsible men not given to gay tittle-tattle or campy gossip. I remain in contact with one of them to this day and his views on this issue are provocative and challenging. I certainly agree that the many myths associated with this good man, Luciani, need to be dispelled, but I believe the work of serious, responsible scholarship in this regard has only just begun.

Aug 29, 2009


Read the full article from The Sun
(The "evidence" is not new (2002-5), but the film (50 min) is relatively recent. I intend to return to this issue in another posting, linking it to reflections about religious pluralism and the witness of Indian sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi, on the mystery of Jesus' Resurrection. You can access the Youtube copy of the five part The Shroud New Evidence here. For those familiar with Shroud studies, the 'new' evidence is discussed from midway in video 3. Leading website on the shroud, Shroud Story.)

A leading scientist and spokesman against the authenticity of the Turin Shroud has now concluded it to be the burial linen of Jesus Christ.

In 1988, Ray Rogers was at the forefront of the carbon dating of the relic depicting a Christ-like image. The conclusion of the Carbon-14 test was that the Shroud was a medieval hoax. Now, almost from beyond the grave, Rogers has admitted the Shroud is far older than results suggested - and could be the genuine article as many Christians claim.

Ray was a director of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP) that concluded the fourteen foot-long linen cloth was a fake. But when new evidence revealed the study was flawed, the leading skeptic was forced to change his mind. Ray, an expert chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said the 1988 tests were invalid because they were done on a repaired section of the Shroud rather than the original linen.

Sadly, Rogers died of cancer at age 78 in March 2005.

But shortly before his death, Rogers recorded video detailing explosive conclusions which are broadcasted for the first time in this revealing documentary. In the short film, gravely ill Ray says: "I don't believe in miracles that defy the laws of nature. After the 1988 investigation, I'd given up on the Shroud, but now I am coming to the conclusion that it has a very good chance of being the piece of cloth that was used to bury the historic Jesus.

Among those rejecting the Carbon-14 results were amateur scientists Sue Benford and Joe Marino from Ohio. They suspected the 1988 sample was from a damaged area of the linen Shroud which had been repaired with 16th century cotton, thus skewing the results. When their theory reached Ray Rogers, he was furious. He said: "I'd read these things by people from the lunatic fringe explaining why the date was wrong. I was irritated and determined to prove Sue and Joe wrong."

Ray had stored microscopic Shroud fibers from the original 1978 probe. Luckily they were lifted from the same area as the carbon dating sample. After examining the fibers expecting them to consist entirely of linen, Ray was dumbfounded. Cotton was present too. He says: "The cotton fibers were fairly heavily coated with dye, suggesting they were changed to match the linen during a repair. I concluded that area of the Shroud was manipulated by someone with great skill. Sue and Joe were right. The worst possible sample for carbon dating was taken. It consisted of different materials than were used in the Shroud itself, so the age we produced WAS inaccurate."

In video footage before his death, seen here in "The Turin Shroud: New Evidence", Rogers was convinced of the Shrouds authenticity. Close to death, he said: "I came very close to proving the Shroud was used to bury the historic Jesus." End of article.

Here I append the conclusions of Thibault Heimburger in his 2009 scientific article: COTTON IN RAES/RADIOCARBON THREADS: THE EXAMPLE OF RAES #7 :

This alone would be sufficient to know that this area is not part of the original Shroud. If we add the other findings: the dye (Rogers, Brown), the splice (Rogers, LANL) with the resin binder (LANL) and the amount of lignin/vanillin in the flax fibers of this area as compared with that found on the main Shroud (Rogers), there is an extraordinary set of self consistent data converging on the inevitable conclusion: the 1988 radiocarbon dating is invalid and nobody knows the true age of the Shroud.

Aug 28, 2009

Spiritual Teacher Eckhart Tolle

A living spiritual master of our day, Eckhart Tolle, who achieved his spiritual breakthrough outside of any traditional religious or spiritual tradition, but who now draws upon them all for insight and clarity. I offer the video, not simply for its content, but for the peaceful, serene, manner of this gentle, integrated, spiritual man.

Ramakrishna and Devotion to Christ

Rare photos of Ramakrishna, patron saint of all religious pluralists. He once had a vision of the divine master of Nazareth who walked towards him and then mysteriously passed through his being. At that moment, Ramakrishna's ecstatic passionate devotion to the goddess Mother Kali was replaced with limitless passionate devotion to the crucified Christ of Christianity, an event of such stupendous spiritual significance that it left the Indian master disoriented for days. Gradually, however, his newfound devotion to Jesus began to fade and was replaced by his original spiritual connection to Mother Kali, the locus of his true vocation. The implications of this experience for any of us who experience devotion to a 'Divine Master' are very great. Ramakrishna was to say that of the many paths to true enlightenment, selfless social service and devotion to the poor (the way of a Gandhi), meditation and pure intuition (the way of a Buddha) and devotion to a human 'divine master' (the central way of Christian devotion), the later path was the easiest for most human beings and the most effective. I refer the reader to Larry Hurtado's great biblical study of early Christian devotion, Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly, the early Christians experienced a call to devotion to Jesus as in some sense 'divine', which they struggled to reconcile with their Jewish monotheism, a call that caused them immense difficulties with their Jewish co-religionists and saw them expelled from the synagogues. However, I would suggest that the practitioners of this early experience lacked a point of comparison with Indian religion where such devotion is commonplace. What occurred in Israel 2000 years ago, was the birth of a devotional religion that was without precedent within Israel, but not without precedent within Asia. The message of Christianity is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. A human being had been chosen by vocation to image the divine for one sector of humanity and this was to have immense significance for the future of Western culture. From devotion to the codification of absolute, unique god-like status of the prophet from Nazareth was a very long step. I recommend When Jesus Became God, by Richard E. Rubenstein for a quick overview of the process, but one which does not do justice to all of the theological subtleties. As to the soteriological significance of Jesus' death and Resurrection, a mystery of such profoundity it is almost irreverent to comment on it in a blog post, I refer to an ancient Tibetan saying:

The solitary hermit, through the annihilation of his (or her) ego, becomes a center of boundless compassion flooding itself upon the world.

This saying testifies to an ancient intuition found in all major spiritual religions of the mysterious efficacy of 'redemptive suffering', that somehow we are all intimately connected on the deepest spiritual level and that the sacrificial opening of the heart of a great spiritual master floods the entire human race with 'grace and forgiveness.' Though this is an oversimplification of a profound mystery (for the sake of economy in a blog reflection), I would suggest that this would be a more appropriate pluralistic interpretation for the profound Christian intuition of the redemptive efficacy of Jesus' paschal mystery. We need to be constantly reminded that all dogmatic statements arise out of the need for reflection on prior charismatic experiences of grace. Those who are closest to the master will feel the spiritual impact of his or her death most deeply, but it is only a rigid form of mythologizing that asserts that only the sacrificial suffering and death of one's own spiritual master has exclusive, universal salvivic power for the human race. Nonetheless, with the death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, we are in the presence of a mystery of such profoundity that it is best to step back and pause in silence, humility and respect.

Here is the video on Ramakrishna, with a beautiful prayer in his honor written by his disciple, Vivekananda. You will note that Vivekananda makes assertions about his master that Christianity traditionally reserves for the Lord Jesus Christ.

He was considered an avatar or incarnation of God by many of his disciples, and is considered as such by many of his devotees today. (Wikipedia)

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa

The great image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, to which I have a special devotion. Patron of Catholic Poland, she inhabits her monastery in the rather grey city of Czestochowa as a prisoner (so to speak) of patriarchal Catholicsm, fully encased in the 'belly of the beast'. And yet she manifests an extraordinary spiritual power that transcends the very real limitations of her keepers. Carl Jung called her 'the last living symbol of Western Christianity.' One of the great manifestations of the re-emerging divine feminine in our day. I pilgrimage to her image at least twice a year (8 hours by train from Prague) and join the many Polish faithful on their knees as we scuffle around the high altar and behind the image in penitence and devotion. See China Galland's wonderful book, Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna.

Full Enlightenment, Reincarnation, Redemptive Suffering

Rare footage of another of India's (and the world's) great sages, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. According to his own admission, he achieved 'full enlightenment' at the age of 16, without any guidance from anyone. Given the whole testimony of his extraordinary life, I see no reason to doubt him. Pulled by a mysterious attraction, he left home without a word to anyone and traveled to the sacred mountain of Tiruvannamalai, about thirty miles south of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India, where he was to remain for the next 50 years of his life. No less a figure than Mahatma Gandhi revered him highly, and we sense, I think, that the Mahatma, for all of his greatness, and Mother Teresa, for all of hers, were not in the same 'sacred space' of human spiritual evolution as Sri Ramana. The latter individual seem to have transcended our ordinary categories of human holiness and to have achieved a rare dimension of human/divine consciousness. Is the distinction important? Yes, because these higher reaches of human nature witness to the full potential of the human person and the true nature of our vocation in this life. When I look at this video and read the statements of Sri Ramana, I think this is what it must have been like to have sat at the feet of the radiant master from Nazareth two thousand years ago.

Ammachi has testified that from her earliest moments of rational awareness, she was conscious of her oneness with the divine, but that it took many years of her childhood immersed in spiritual practices before her human psychic system could adapt to and express the spiritual consciousness inundating her being. Sri Ramana, likewise, for the first three years of his stay at Tiruvannamalai, was so absorbed in the divine consciousness flooding his being that he could not attend to his basic bodily functions, but had to be cared for by a sympathetic caretaker of the temple of Siva on the mountain. When these three years of 'adjustment' were over and the boy's human consciousness could now cope with such powerful spiritual impulses in a balanced manner, he returned to a normal physical existence and began his vocation as one of the greatest sages in India's long spiritual history (see photo above when he returned to his normal state).

This raises interesting questions about reincarnation, since it is difficult to explain such extraordinary spiritual precocity at such a young age without such an option. Here is Bhagavan himself talking about the realisation of the great monk, Vivekenanda through the influence of his own spiritual guru, Ramakrishna:

Sri Ramakrishna touched Vivekananda and the latter realised Bliss. Sri Ramakrishna did not touch all for that purpose. He did not create Atma. He did not create Realisation. Vivekananda was ripe. He was anxious to realise. He must have completed the preliminary course in his past births. Such is possible for ripe persons only.

I remain an agnostic on the issue, open and respectful, but to quote the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton: " Do I believe in reincarnation? Well, no. But I think the reasons eminently plausible."

This also raises other intriguing possibilities. Would this explain the appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, of the spiritual master from Nazareth who exhibited such original and profound spiritual authority. (Some say he is Elijah come again.)

To end this posting and to offer some reflection on the 'redemptive suffering' of a great spiritual master, I append this description of Bhagavan's final days, dying from one of the most painful diseases known to us, cancer of the bone:

The golden jubilee of Ramana’s advent at Tiruvannamalai was celebrated in 1946 and a published souvenir was brought out to mark the occasion. In 1947 his health began to fail. He was not yet seventy, but looked much older. Towards the end of 1948 a small nodule appeared below the elbow of his left arm. As it grew in size, the doctor in charge of the Ashram dispensary cut it out. But in a month’s time it reappeared. Surgeons from Madras were called, and they operated. The wound did not heal, and the tumour came again. On further examination it was diagnosed that the affliction was a case of osteosarcoma, an extremely painful form of bone cancer. The doctors suggested amputating the arm above the affected part. Ramana replied with a smile: “There is no need for alarm. The body is itself a disease. Let it have its natural end. Why mutilate it? Simple dressing of the affected part will do.” Two more operations had to be performed, but the tumour appeared again. Indigenous systems of medicine were tried, and homeopathy too. The disease did not yield to treatment. The sage was quite unconcerned and was supremely indifferent to suffering. He sat as a spectator watching the disease waste the body. But his eyes shone as bright as ever and his grace continued to flow towards all beings. Crowds came in large numbers. Ramana insisted that they should be allowed to have his darshan. Devotees profoundly wished that the sage should cure his body through an exercise of supernormal powers. Some of them imagined that they themselves had had the benefit of these powers which they attributed to Ramana. Ramana had compassion for those who grieved over the suffering, and he sought to comfort them by reminding them of the truth that Bhagavan was not the body: “They take this body for Bhagavan and attribute suffering to him. What a pity! They are despondent that Bhagavan is going to leave them and go away – where can he go, and how?” The end came on the 14th of April 1950. That evening the sage gave darshan to the devotees that came. All that were present in the Ashram knew that the end was nearing. They sat singing Ramana’s hymn to Arunachala with the refrain ‘Arunachala-Siva’. The sage asked his attendants to make him sit up. He opened his luminous and gracious eyes for a brief while; there was a smile; a tear of bliss trickled down from the outer corners of his eyes; and at 8:47 the breathing stopped. There was no struggle, no gasping, none of the signs of death. At that very moment, a brilliant star-like object slowly moved across the sky, reached the summit of the holy hill, Arunachala, and disappeared behind it. It was seen in many parts of India, even as far as Bombay (Mumbai)

Another Incarnation?

My third and last post on Ammachi (for the time being). I must confess I'm being rather mischievous and naughty here, delighting in making the 'shocking' suggestion that the rare 'oneness with God' we Christians tradionally credit Jesus with possessing (making him ontologically distinct from the rest of the human race) may now be manifesting itself again in the body of a woman in India. No less a figure than Thomas Aquinas said that 'multiple incarnations of the Logos' were not inconceivable. This in no way takes away my own profound reverence for (and sense of interior connection with) the living and Risen Lord, who was graced by vocation to image the divine at one particular moment in history and whose relevance I believe to be timeless and universal. But I have little difficulty accepting the possibility of other manifestations, other symbols of God, for other times and cultures. Is Mother Ammachi such a person, transcending our ordinary categories of saintliness? (for those who need caution in this area, see Guruphiliac for contrary views) She seems to me to be a person of rare and wondrous holiness and comparisons beyond that are really not important. Nonetheless, her capacity to express and manifest unconditional love to thousands upon thousands of persons week after week, for hours on end, is nothing short of 'miraculous.' To echo Jane Goodall again,

"She stands before us. God's love in a human body."

Aug 25, 2009

An Incarnation of the Divine Feminine

When You Go Beyond the Ego You Become an Offering to the World

"Known around the world as a radiant embodiment of unconditional love, Ammachi literally hugs everyone who comes to see her. This captivating interview with one of India's greatest contemporary saints asks: What is compassion in the face of the ego?"
This is my second posting about this remarkable Indian woman. I'm featuring her because she has frequently been described in the language of poetic metaphor as an 'incarnation of the divine feminine' or 'the divine mother.' There is a dearth of such public role models for women to admire, holy women who seem to have gone beyond the category of saintliness and reached another, rarer dimension completely beyond ego and self (no time for a scholarly treatise on mystical theology here). Some pluralist Christian theologians would suggest that the language of incarnation used to describe and define 'Yeshua, the God obsessed Hasid from the hill town of Nazareth' should be viewed in the same fashion, as metaphor. I tend to agree. Theologians of note in this camp would be Roger Haight, S.J., Paul Knitter, and Peter Phan, whose book, Being Religious Interreligiously, I would highly recommend. Catholic process philosopher Beatrice Bruteau, mystical theologian Jim Marion, and Diarmuid O'Murchu also come to mind. This is, at the moment, a contentious issue within the Catholic/Christian community and I'm only offering Ammachi as a worthy example of feminine holiness beyond and outside the Christian tradition. The insistence on only one divine incarnation in human history, however, implying that 'G-d' can only be imaged by a male, has had a harmful and debilitating effect on women throughout history (Not to mention devastating consequences for the Jews. Human kind cannot bear the guilt of a murdered, tortured god, so someone has to pay). It is time to move on and let go. Needless to say, as has been pointed out countless times by others, the insistence on the singular, exclusive divine status given to Jesus, the repression of the feminine within the church and the existence of a pernicious homophobia are all intimately connected. They are linked to the exaltation of the masculine and the repression of the feminine. As a counter witness of the divine feminine (without capital letters), I offer Mother Ammachi. (See video two posts below)
Interview with Ammachi at Enlightenment Next magazine.

(Amma does have her detractors. You can access a highly critical website here, but beware, some of it is quite toxic. Pay close attention to the rebuttals.)

Aug 24, 2009

India's Hugging Saint

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi or Amma

Alan Steinfeld's interview with India's extraordinary hugging saint, Amma. It is estimated she has embraced in blessing over 36 million people worldwide over the past 25 years. The two males on the video, with the best of intentions, tend to get in the way, but this is still the best closeup view of this remarkable woman. Best to keep in mind that Ammachi had been sitting in her chair for about five hours before the interview team showed up and probably sat for another five hours after they had left. As Dr Jane Goodall, while presenting Amma with the 2002 Gandhi-King Award for Non-violence said,

"She stands here in front of us. God's love in a human body.

Aug 22, 2009

Roman Catholic Women Priests and Brother Roger of Taize

This may seem like a strange link to make, between the status of the Roman Catholic Women Priests' movement and Brother Roger of the ecumenical community of Taize. Brother Roger, one of the most extraordinary ecumenical figures of the 20th Christianity, was murdered four years ago on August 16th by a deranged Romanian woman during the Vespers service at Taize.
(see website

As we learn from the interview below with Cardinal Walter Kasper, Brother Roger had moved increasingly closer to Catholicism towards the end of his life, "without breaking fellowship with anyone," to the point where he was allowed, with the permission of John Paul II, to receive communion at Catholic services -without formally converting to Catholicism or renouncing his fellowship with the Reformed tradition that nurtured him. As the interviewer rightly points out, "This road does not belong to the usual categories." In other words, Brother Roger occupied an 'inter-space' between formal Catholicism and the Protestant tradition (for want of a better phrase) and the Pope had no problems acknowledging this special status - between two Christian traditions - and honoring it with inter-communion. Hmmmm. How easy to make special accommodations when the figure is a man (of great holiness, granted). The point I'm trying to make, however clumsily, is that in some ways the Roman Catholic Women Priests' movement also occupies an 'inter-space' for the moment, not recognized by Rome, but somehow suspended between the Roman Catholic tradition and ...other Christian groups who accept and ordain women to the priesthood. And I guess what I'm trying to say is - do labels really matter? Is it necessary to debate whether these sincere women are Roman or not, when in fact they are suspended between two traditions and are pioneers in much the way Brother Roger was a prophetic witness of the future unity of all Christians. Can the Spirit of Wisdom Sophia not call certain individuals to a prophetic 'inter-space' as a witness to the future wholeness and justice of ministry in the whole Church? Here is the interview:

Brother Roger often described his ecumenical journey as an “inner reconciliation of the faith of his origins with the Mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” This road does not belong to the usual categories. After his death, the Taizé Community denied the rumors of a secret conversion to Catholicism. One of the reasons those rumors arose was because Brother Roger had been seen receiving communion at the hands of Cardinal Ratzinger during the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II. What should we think about the statement that Brother Roger became “formally” Catholic?
Born in a Reformed family, Brother Roger had studied theology and had become a pastor in that same Reformed tradition. When he spoke of “the faith of his origins,” he was referring to that beautiful blend of catechesis, devotion, theological formation and Christian witness received in the Reformed tradition. He shared that patrimony with all his brothers and sisters of Protestant affiliation, with whom he always felt himself deeply linked. Since his early years as a pastor, however, Brother Roger sought at the same time to nourish his faith and his spiritual life at the wellsprings of other Christian traditions, crossing certain confessional limits in doing so. His desire to follow a monastic vocation and to found for this purpose a new monastic community with Christians of the Reformation already said a lot about this search of his.
As the years passed, the faith of the prior of Taizé was progressively enriched by the patrimony of faith of the Catholic Church. According to his own testimony, it was with reference to the mystery of the Catholic faith that he understood some of the elements of the faith, such as the role of the Virgin Mary in salvation history, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic gifts and the apostolic ministry in the Church, including the ministry of unity exercised by the Bishop of Rome. In response to this, the Catholic Church had accepted that he take communion at the Eucharist, as he did every morning in the large church at Taizé. Brother Roger also received communion several times from the hands of Pope John Paul II, who had become friends with him from the days of the Second Vatican Council and who was well acquainted with his personal journey with respect to the Catholic Church. In this sense, there was nothing secret or hidden in the attitude of the Catholic Church, neither at Taizé or in Rome. During the funeral of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger only repeated what had already been done before him in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at the time of the late Pope. There was nothing new or premeditated in the Cardinal’s act.

Roman Catholic Women Priests

Here is a short comment I posted on The Progressive Catholic Voice regarding Roman Catholic Women Priests:

I find the whole phenomenon deeply moving and inspiring. Do labels really matter at this point in time, or tribal distinctions. I'm not sure. I can see a problem with the designation, "Roman Catholic priests." They are not quite there yet. Perhaps it is best to see them as inhabiting a space in the future for a church that has not yet been born and to which they are pointing the way. And until such time as they are fully accepted, they must bear the burden of a certain ambiguity of status. On the edge, neither within nor without. As a brilliant scripture scholar, Fr. Edward Malatesta S.J., once told my novitiate class years ago, 'Spirit precedes Law.' And such 'precedents' are usually messy with human frailty and miscalculation and must be tested for the fruits of the spirit. Speaking for myself only, and I don't wish to privilege my own intuitions over others, every time I contemplate this new phenomenon I feel a deep sense of interior peace. It just feels 'right' to me, however difficult it may be at present to justify or explain theologically. I also think it's greatest significance is that it has broken through the psychological barriers. We now see women priests on the altar who insist on their connection with the Roman tradition and it just seems so perfectly ordinary and unsurprising.

And today, I'll add these short reflections:

I found their liturgies (they are linked on their website and You Tube) to be deeply moving and quite biblical in their language, substituting "Wisdom Sophia hear our prayer" for "Lord Hear Us". At the moment of Consecration, the entire congregation recites the words, "This is my body..." emphasizing the common priesthood of all and signifying that the women at the altar do not consider themselves imbued with a sacred power denied to the rest of the congregation. One cannot miss the sense of radiant joy and peace that flows through this community during their celebrations.


As the Catholic community absorbs the impact of the 'Roman Catholic Women Priests' movement and debates the pros and cons, I offer this lovely video from Thailand of the "Floating Nun' of Kanchanaburi. A simple, spiritual woman in her 60's when this film was made, she floats in salt water and meditates in poses of the Buddha. It is very much pure theatre and meant to be an inspiring sight. (Try to ignore the cynical comments on You Tube, the Monastery has always been very upfront about the use of salt water to achieve the effect.) Unfortunately, when she passed on, the monastery - not wanting to give up on a good thing - hired another woman to take her place who is clearly not a nun and possesses none of the grace of the former woman (not to be uncharitable). As a result, the gentle spiritual effect has been lost.

Thai Buddhism mirrors in many ways the plight of the Roman Catholic tradition. It is by far the most misogynistic and intolerant branch of Buddhism in its attitude to its nuns (and women in general), who are very much second class citizens, relegated in some cases to washing the monks' clothes and cleaning the toilets (a bit of an exaggeration, not much). While attitudes are slowly changing, there is still not much respect in Thailand for the white robed "maechee," as they are called, and until recently no access to education, which was reserved for male monks only. Theravada Buddhism is among the last branches of Buddhism to refuse to ordain women monks. It's centralized Sangha in Bangkok is rigid and tradition-bound and deeply suspicious of any autonomous spiritual movements in the provinces that cannot be controlled. It attempts to punish and silence outspoken monks and imposes severe sanctions. And yes, sadly, it has been rocked in recent years by the scandal of sexual abuse, both of temple boys and of nuns and women aspirants. And yet, despite this, Buddhism continues to inspire the best in Thai culture and the number of genuine, enlightened masters who have flourished in the forest wats of the country is truly inspiring. Likewise, the number of outstanding nuns who uphold the tradition and are recognized meditation masters and social activists. Not all are cleaning toilets. The paradox of religion and spirituality in a hyde-bound tradition.

Website of Roman Catholic Women Priests

Thai Buddhist Master Ajahn Cha

Rare footage of Thai Buddhist master, Ajahn Cha, one of the great saints of the Thai Buddhist forest tradition of the past century. When we get too caught up in the scandals of present day Catholicism, it is refreshing for the spirit to witness these examples of holiness outside our own tradition. Ajahn Cha's simplicity, joy, peace and serenity speak more eloquently than his words.

Plum Village Buddhist Retreat Center, France

Photos from Plum Village, the spiritual retreat center founded by Vietnamese master, Thich Nhat Hanh, prominent member of the Vietnamese Buddhist peace movement during the Vietnam War and friend of Daniel Berrigan and Thomas Merton. Check out their website:

St.Thomas Church, Prague: An Inclusive Community

Photos of the stunning Baroque church of St. Thomas in the old quarter of Prague. Run by the Augustinian friars, at the end of each Sunday 11am English mass the priest usually gives a welcome to all disaffected Catholics, those who have turned away from the church because of its leaders, or because of sexual orientation or marital difficulties, "all are welcome here at the table of the Lord." It is because of such pockets of inclusiveness and resistance that the church as Church will survive.

Aug 19, 2009


This is the website of a gay men's spiritual retreat center in the Hudson Valley in upper state New York. Quite a beautiful and inspiring place. What I find interesting about it is that many of its staff have Catholic/Christian backgrounds, some of the them associated with the Jesuits in one way or another, yet some of them, at least, and the retreat center itself, have moved far beyond the boundaries of traditional Catholicism/Christianity (though the Christian tradition is represented in some of their programs). This is the path of sanity and spiritual health for many former Christian gay men and I find it inspiring and reassuring. It is an alternative way of finding spiritual peace and wholeness.

Here is it's vision statement:

Many of us long for community. It is often elusive in our culture. Yet when we experience community, it feeds our souls and touches our hearts.

Easton is the home to a spiritual community dedicated to transforming and healing the human soul.
• We commit to living lightly on the earth, promoting social justice, and celebrating together.

• We vow to spread beauty and encourage creativity.

• We value openness and a radical hospitality, which seeks to embrace all others as sisters and brothers.
• We respect the wisdom of the body, the interdependence of all life, and non-violence in the resolution of conflicts.
• We promote peace and freedom for all.
We seek an ever-deepening connectedness to self, others, and all of creation.

Easton Mountain’s mission is to sponsor, develop and present workshops and other learning activities that promote wholeness, health, and peace; to foster the growth of spiritual community, respectful of all religious and spiritual traditions, that supports the integration and healing of all people.


A beautiful Tibetan Buddhist prayer that I've always admired:


Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefit from all sentient beings, who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, I shall at all times practice holding them most dear.

When in the company of others, I shall at all times practice considering myself the lowest of all, while from the depths of my heart holding others dear and supreme.

Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears in my mind, endangering myself and others, I shall at all times practice confronting and averting it without delay.

Whenever I see beings wicked in nature and overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering, I shall at all times practice holding such rare, difficult-to-fine ones dear, as if I had found a precious treasure.

When, out of envy, others mistreat me with abuse, insult, or the like, I shall at all times practice accepting defeat and offering the victory to others.

When someone whom I have benefited and in whom I have great hopes gives me terrible harm, I shall at all times practice regarding that person as my holy guru.

In short, both directly and indirectly, do I offer every happiness and benefit to all my mothers, I shall at all times practice secretly taking upon myself all their harmful actions and suffering.

Through my perceiving all dharmas as illusory, may all the above practices never be defiled by the stains of the superstitions of the eight worldy dharmas, and may I, free of clinging, be released from the bondage of attachment.

Aug 17, 2009


Interview with Diarmuid O'Murchu

What happens to those (in the church) who don't get it, who can't move on.

DIARMUID O'MURCHU: There's certainly a part of me as a human being, a part entirely of being a Christian, that feels I don't want to abandon any sister or brother on the journey of life and the journey of faith. But this is a very real question for me and for people who are like me who facilitated for renewal programs and chapters of religious congregations, because this one comes up often. What do you do with the people who don't want to move, that want to keep things as they always were, and are so rigid and frightened and scared, and you can't get them to move without badly damaging them, which I don't feel I have any right to do or anybody else has a right to do. And so I think the delicate balance has to be something like this and for me Gerry Arbuckle is the person who has named this very, very clearly. Supposing you have this group...and let's put this into percentages...and you have 50% that are totally rigid and stuck, if you like, and you have 50% that are yearning to go. Insofar as there are people that are committed primarily to life and to the evolution of life, the primary energy should move with the 50% that want to move. And then we keep a secondary energy to try and help and maintain the others in a meaningful way. So this principal is that you go primarily where the life is! I think the tendency, particularly in churches, is that we try to keep everything at the lowest common denominator to please those who want to keep things the way they are. That, in my opinion, is not what Jesus would do. That is not Christian gospel. I think we need to go where the life is, primarily, without abandoning the others. And we need to try and bring them with us, in so far as we can, in love, in charity, and also in challenge! And ok, if they choose to remain totally stuck, or totally where they are - let me not be too judgmental about it - ok, that is their freedom, that is their right if you like, but I think in the overall sense of things, whether at the human level, at the religious or spiritual level, I think this commitment to life always has to be honored. And so go where the life is primarily, put your energies primarily there. And then also spare some to try and maintain, in kindness and dignity, those that pretty much want to remain. And a corollary of that, of course, which is much more difficult and this requires a lot of skills, we do not allow this subgroup to dictate. And I think that's where leadership has a huge responsibility. Leadership has to put it's commitment with the new primarily.

(Website for Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu :

Aug 16, 2009


Here is a moving quote from spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth which I feel is relevant to the present state of Roman Catholicism. I remain convinced that the failure of leadership within the church over the past 30 years has been a providential, if painful, gift of purification weaning us away from over-dependence upon ecclesiastical structures and authority figures. Orthodox Catholicism is simply addicted to authority, it is time to let go and move on:


What is the role of the established religions in the arising of the new consciousness? Many people are already aware of the difference between spirituality and religion. They realize that having a belief system - a set of thoughts that you regard as absolute truth - does not make you spiritual no matter what the nature of those beliefs is. In fact, the more you make your thoughts (beliefs) into your identity, the more cut off you are from the spiritual dimension within yourself. Many "religious" people are stuck at that level. They equate truth with thought, and as they are completely identified with thought (their mind), they claim to be in sole possession of the truth in an unconscious attempt to protect their identity. They don't realize the limitations of thought. Unless you believe (think) exactly as they do, you are wrong in their eyes, and in the not-too-distant past, they would have felt justified in killing you for that. And some still do, even now.

The new spirituality, the transformation of consciousness, is arising to a large extent outside the structures of the existing institutionalized religions. There were always pockets of spirituality even in mind-dominated religions, although the institutionalized hierarchies felt threatened by them and often tried to suppress them. A large-scale opening of spirituality outside of the religious structures is an entirely new development. In the past, this would have been inconceivable, especially in the West, the most mind-dominated of all cultures, where the Christian church had a virtual franchise on spirituality. You couldn't just stand up and give a spiritual talk or publish a spiritual book unless you were sanctioned by the church, and if you were not, they would quickly silence you. But now, even within certain churches and religions, there are signs of change. It is heartwarming, and one is grateful for even the slightest signs of openness, such as Pope John Paul II visiting a mosque as well as a synagogue.

Partly as a result of the spiritual teachings that have arisen outside the established religions, but also due to an influx of the ancient Eastern wisdom teachings. a growing number of followers of traditional religions are able to let go of identification with form, dogma, and rigid belief systems and discover the original depth that is hidden within their own spiritual traditions at the same time as they discover the depth within themselves. They realize that how "spiritual" you are has nothing to do with what you believe but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This, in turn, determines how you act in the world and interact with others.

Those unable to look beyond form become even more deeply entrenched in their beliefs, that is to say, in their mind. We are witnessing not only an unprecedented influx of consciousness at this time but also an entrenchment and intensification of the ego. Some religious institutions will be open to the new consciousness; others will harden their doctrinal positions and become part of all those other man-made structures through which the collective ego will defend itself and "fight back." Some churches, sects, cults, or religious movements are basically collective egoic entities, as rigidly identified with their mental positions as the followers of any political ideology that is closed to any alternative interpretation of reality.

But the ego is destined to dissolve, and all its ossified structures, whether they be religious or other institutions, corporations, or governments, will disintegrate from within, no matter how deeply entrenched they appear to be. The most rigid structures, the most impervious to change, will collapse first. This has already happened in the case of Soviet Communism. How deeply entrenched, how solid and monolithic it appeared, and yet within a few years, it disintegrated from within. No one foresaw this. All were taken by surprise. There are many more such surprises in store for us.

(A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, pg. 17-19)