Archives for category: Spiritual Discernment

Here is a powerful witness from my dear Brother and Co-Worker Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs, in the wake of the Charleston SC terrorist attack. Your thoughts and responses are deeply welcome.

When, America, Will It End?

The massacre inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Caroline, cuts deeply into the souls of every decent person across this nation. The faithless, unprovoked act of a 21 year old White man during a prayer service is unconscionable. Yet, it is not rare or historically unusual. The killing of nine human beings, six women and three men, including the pastor of the church shatters any illusion about safety on sacred grounds. It is possible the weapon used had been given to the butcher only recently as a birthday present.

The events on that fateful Wednesday night inside the church where the murderer sat with his victims for more than an hour before pulling his deadly weapon and repeatedly firing and re-loading, creates a veil of tears that blurs any notion of redemption. Is it safe anywhere in America for Black people? The church is the citadel of hope and the sanctuary to escape fear.

The precision and execution of the killer’s plot on the terms of his choosing sends a chilling message to Black people: our lives are at risk at all times in all places. Consider the site of this demonic decision, a historic African American religious institution, where its founding pastor, the Reverend Denmark Vesey, was a martyr to end slavery in Confederate South Carolina in 1822. Emanuel AME is a symbol of Black love, courage, and the advancement of justice.

It must be made clear that the threat of death at the hands of racially-insane culprits will not deter our faith or lower our resolve to address the plague of violence that saturates American culture. Instead, we must re-double our commitment to honor the lives of every human person as sacred. We hold this truth that an act against innocent people is a direct assault on God who creates, shapes, and inspires every human person in divine imagery.

The killer did not act alone. There is a source for his hatred. He was informed by others who share his depravation and support his actions. A culture of callous, criminal conduct produced the basis for his deadly deed. We have witnessed these acts before in school yards, a movie theater, classrooms, and in the House of God. In too many cases, young White men pulled the triggers and left their lifeless victims slumped dead in places where they fell.

How long will America perpetuate domestic terrorism and senseless shootings by her young sons? What will it take to change attitudes, behaviors, and minds to transform this society into a haven of sanity? When are too many deaths enough to say, “No more?” Will the necessary change come only after the last drop of blood splatters on the powerful faces of those who have never felt the cruel course of denial?

For now, once again, Black people in America weep not only for our own who have been slaughtered without mercy, but also for the lost souls who don’t realize the blunt reprisals of unyielding evil and insensitive racism.

Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs
June 2015

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Having just completed a season of teaching and learning at my current workplace, the process and experience of these mutually related enterprises are more sparkling and sacred than ever. In the context of Spiritual Exploration, especially! Also, a short piece has come to me, by Adrienne Huber, who has run a “democratic school” in Australia. She calls it “The Getting of An-Education.” In her piece, she writes that the school is based on the principle that “regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability, background, people who are trusted with their own learning will learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it.”

This is what Spiritual Exploration entails! The learning of what we need to learn, when we need to learn it. But in our current cultural and political situation, real learning is rare, or often happens in a haphazard or even accidental way. The surrounding culture contributes to a scattered and unfocused cast of mind. We often jump from one external stimulus to the next, without intentionally claimed time and space for reflection, inner exploration, self-understanding, or growth.

To truly learn the Ways of the Spirit(s), in our time, does NOT mean ingesting and then repeating a set of information. Rather, we must learn how to watch, to be attentive to time and opportunity, to be ready both to move and be still. But always in a dance with what is within and without us. There is no prescription, no universal principle, no “right answer.” There are only experiences, discernments, deeds and their consequences. Learning the Spirit(s) Ways is to learn how to see, hear, respond, and be still, in an authentic rhythm. And, in a way that brings us Power.

Any school where students and teachers explore the Spirit would go in and out of form. People would gather, in groups small or larger, in pairs, or in solitary self-direction. Books can be read; stories can be told; practices can be learned and explored, honed and polished. Music would be heard and created, dances performed, songs and silence experienced. As the outer world we now know continues to change form, with even major economic enterprises undergoing constant transformation, appearing and disappearing rapidly, a School of Spiritual Exploration would be a “formless form,” with various people sharing skills, insights, experiences, opportunities, ideas.

The New World is Coming. In the hearts and dreams and desires and deeds of many of us, it is already taking shape. It is always and everywhere about SHARING. It is de-structured. But it is NOT about destruction! It is always creating, yet never holding onto a particular form. Responding, supple, attentive.

To live spiritually in and for the New World Coming, we need to engage in two things, it seems. First, all who wish to thrive will constantly gain skills of Spiritual Practice. Yes, there are certain ways to access and discover the Spirit(s). This takes time, care, focus. These things are learned, like the discipline of learning a musical instrument or the playing of a sport. We spend time with certain gestures, exercises, ways of breathing and moving and watching, activities of mind and body. We use our physical actions and the caressing pulse of our souls to shape the time and space where we find ourselves. As we continue in the path of practice, we carve out sacred temples in our lives: sources and locations of energy for making our own Way through the difficulties and uncertainties which are so often before us. A line from the Tao Te Ching puts this simply: “in meditation, go deep in the heart.” All the details of Spiritual Practice are this single admonition, lived out in various ways.

The second is the skill of Discernment. This entails learning how to see, to watch, to wait, to move wisely, to utilize energy rather than to be overwhelmed or troubled by what we encounter. Again, the Tao Te Ching speaks of this eloquently, yet only suggestively, when speaking of the knowledge and appearance of the ancient masters: “Watchful, like someone crossing a winter stream. Alert, like people aware of danger.” This also requires learning to see more than the surface. In both personal and social realities, what is apparent to the senses is only a portion of what is actually present. Discernment guides us to see by looking through the external, to the Inner, the Deep, the Real.

All this takes discipline. Not in the sense of the word’s verbal meaning, to “punish.” But in its original sense, of the ability to learn. Discipline means, for spiritual learners, to build rhythms, patterns, actions, stillness, into our lives, so our own spirit-power is nurtured, made conscious, and utilized, to bless and to heal, to protect and to build. A discipline is a field of learning; spiritual discipline means to plow the fields of the social world, the universe, and our own souls, and live from the deep connection between them. A disciple is a student; one who knows how to learn.

May we look for and listen to the Spirit(s). And find our way to greater learning, together, with the guidance of the Unseen. “Stand before it and there is no beginning. Follow it and there is no end. Stay with the ancient Tao. Move with the present.”

Here, since little introduction is needed, is a post from a long-time friend, James Oscar. Since he’s given me permission to do so, I offer his recent testimony in Montreal here on this blog. His speech and heart will make plain who he is. His response to past and recent spirit-movements, killings, and deaths, is worthy of our contemplation.

THE STORY OF THE HOLE BY JAMES OSCAR : DELIVERED AT HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT SOLIDARITY MARCH IN SOLIDARITY MONTREAL FERGUSON – MICHAEL BROWN MARCH REGARDING VICTIMS OF RACIAL PROFILING NOV 29, 2014 Thank you for having me. I am here today to speak about a timeline, a timeline that goes from Dec 24, 1968 to the very present moment. On December 24, 1968, my uncle was murdered in cold blood by a policeman on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. His murder was the result of one policeman’s jealousy over my uncle’s girlfriend, the result of abuse of power, and the result of complete impunity. This police officer was acquitted. This cold blooded murder remains one of the stains on the nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Calypsos and much talk have been written about this murder.It has become a tarnished part of folklore. My family went into exile, as result of this murder. I thought the story would stop there. In 1987, I was at the scene of the aftermath of the murder of Anthony Griffin by a policeman, here in cold blood at a police station I delivered newspapers to, here in Montreal. Anthony Griffin was one of those guys I saw around the neighbourhood. Anthony Griffin’s murder in Montreal, remains one of the emblematic initial symbols of police cold blooded murder in our nation. I thought the story would stop there. I spent my whole childhood scared to death of police. I cried the day I got into university in Toronto and could leave this place behind. As I said, I thought the story would stop there. Are there certain anchors that follow us or are we just living in a nation of lawlessness? I thought the story would stop there. On Dec 24, 1990, exactly 22 years to the day after my uncle had been beaten to death and left to die in a cell, I was thrown up against a window by the Montreal Police on the street I walked up and down my whole life. I was on a visit back home from Toronto. Very serious guns were drawn against me and I was shoved into a squad car. I was racially profiled. I was accused of a very serious crime I did not commit. I sat in a cell for 9 hours. The psychological implications are serious even in such a short period. I began to descend a very frightening hole. I SAT IN A CELL IN THE VERY POLICE STATION I DELIVERED NEWSPAPERS TO MY WHOLE CHILDHOOD UP UNTIL THREE YEARS BEFORE! From 1968 to 1990 to present. THIS ALL IS A STORY OF A HOLE- woman and man’s greatest fall from the common link, into a hole into further and further disgrace. We all at times look away/ look down in shame at a ground which further and further opens. Many of us are not brave enough to jump into this hole ( of the break of our union) . We often look at the gaping chasm- awed, disillusioned, and trying to find ways to patch the hole while only some decide to report and speak about it (the hole). The hole widens, the illusion grows, the masses yawn and many begin to also not see a hole , not even seeing the patched up land (which covers the hole). The break of the union leaves that hole. The hole begins to be there for time immemorial and more often than not, people walk right near to it, people walk right next to the hole – forgetting that below this patch (which hides the hole) hides -a-history, that this patch hides a history of a break, a history of woman and man’ s refusal to accord history. The patch hides woman and man’s proper reflection. One looks at this growing machinery set in motion to preserve the forgetting of the hole, to group, the nation’s people, to “train”, indoctrinate and feed the principle of revisionism. The hole is hidden, a revisionism is put into practice, the nation comes to placate and protect the lie of the hole at all costs. There are different groups that approach the hole. Many come to memorialize the hole- but their memorial to the hole that broke the union (of civilization) is quiet and subdued but yet with beautiful convictions. There are others who do not even see such tributes and refuse to acknowledge that a hole had ever been there. There is yet another group- yes these OTHERS decide the tributes to the hole created in the fabric of their civilization MUST BE GREATER, LOUDER, MORE PRONOUNCED, MORE OF A FIGHT TO STOP THE DAILY WAR OF SOULS. THESE ARE THE BEAUTYFUL ONES! For the hole and the denials it sets in motion become small ticks, extra motions,and even exaggerated absurd movements. Many as I succumb to the SILENCE OF GENERATIONS regarding the hole. Why reel in surprise, why swallow the hot buttery bullet? They expect at all costs to keep us quiet, to revel in the assault, to know the will of the beating brunt against the beating brunt. TO BE SILENT IS A LUXURY OF PRIVILEGE TO BE SILENT IS A LUXURY OF PRIVILEGE TO BE SILENT IS A LUXURY OF PRIVILEGE I have been silent since 1990. My family has been silent and this causes very serious iimplications. I AM NO LONGER SILENT! Please become one of the beautiful ones and speak openly to all people in all your walks of life about this hole at the heart of our civilization. Those who stop the daily war of souls and speak about the hole ARE THE BEAUTYFUL ONES!

After the recent refusal of the (in)”justice” system in the United States to charge two police officers for obvious murders of unarmed black males, as a spirit-seeker who yearns for justice and transformation, I am left saddened, angered, pained, and yet energized. The Spirit of the Nation remains deeply ill. The way we treat each other, on the surface and on a daily basis, is completely corrupt and unacceptable. And yet, under our feet, in the movement of bodies and minds, in the sobs and shouts and screams, our voices, in the inner reaches of our souls, and the flows of wind and rain, the Coming New World is being born.

Beyond this, now, I post only a poem written many years ago, by one of the finest wordsmiths our land ever nurtured: Langston Hughes. He expressed, in a former time, what I and many feel now: America is a broken promise. But yet, it will be. There is no better song, for these days, than this:

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

In every part of the United States, unarmed black males are killed by police, with Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO the most well-known recent case. In Eastern Ukraine, a US-backed government increases its “assault on separatists,” and the numbers of civilians dead or displaced from their homes numbers in the thousands. And the “hideous atrocity” (Noam Chomsky’s description) of Israel’s ongoing attack on Gaza has led to hundreds of thousands being homeless, massive destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, mosques; over 2000 Palestinians are dead, the vast majority women and children. Numerous other examples, from Egypt, Syria, China, Colombia, to the Congo and beyond, could be mentioned. The violence of governments far exceeds anything that so-called “terrorist” groups do.

What is to explain this increasingly insane and brutal behavior at the collective level? How is it to be understood spiritually?

First, it is worth exploring the word “violence.” (I always find that the past history, the “roots” of words, help us discern their ongoing spiritual meaning and power). Our English word “violence” comes from a Latin predecessor, “violentia,” which means “vehemence, ferocity.” The verb related to this is “violare,” “to injure or harm with violence,” “to outrage.” Essentially, violence is about VIOLATION, the attacking of another person or party with extreme physical force. As a great imperial power, the Romans knew that violence is powerful, and that it is at bottom ferocious, strong, outrageous. When individuals use it, they are no longer reasonable or reasoning beings. Instead, raw physicality, striking the body of another, replaces any attempt to hear, listen, speak, or think. And when State Power utilizes violence, the intent is to injure or kill, to violate or eliminate a group’s perceived enemy.

Spiritual awareness shows us that all human beings are capable of violence. Our bodies and emotions are great gifts to us, and contain reservoirs of vast and powerful energy. When this energy is released, it can be overwhelming in its effect. We are not meant to hide or suppress our feelings or power – but to utilize them. Our power is the outpouring of our spiritual energy, the manifestation of our inner reality. It is a wondrous thing – supremely worthwhile. But to harm or violate others with our power is problematic: using of the gift of who we are, and our physical strength, to wound another body-soul, not to bless or heal it. Violence is not wrong in all cases; but it is always a sign that peace, balance, health, and joy are departing or absent.

Nurtured in the linguistic soil of violation and ferocious outrage, much of today’s violence arises from the desire to dominate or control. If we affirm that all human beings are our Breath-Kin, fellow incarnations of the Divine, dust of the Earth shaped into form and made alive by Spirit-Presence, then the domination of one person by another, of one group by another, cannot be affirmed. Since all souls are born from the same Spirit-Source, and breathe the same Spirit-Breath, we are truly “One in the Spirit.” Thus, domination and violation of others is, most deeply, a violation of oneself, a violation of the Unity and One-ness which links all living things at the spiritual level.

Yet, there are individuals and groups that seek to dominate others, or maintain oppressive relations and social arrangements of domination. Our socio-political world-system contains many levels and layers of oppression, imbalance, and illness. And like all unsustainable structures, these forms of domination are disintegrating, due to their own internal contradictions.

As I view the spiritual terrain of our current social realities, it seems that, in these days, we are witnessing the final and ultimately failing attempt of the Powers of Domination to maintain their structures of control. At the same time, the Spirits of Freedom are steadily rising, and are uncontainable and undefeatable. Souls can be harmed or wounded, bodies can be killed – but life and love, the energy and power of Spirit, cannot be crushed or eliminated. Violence is rampant and widespread; but this is a sign of the demise of Domination, not its victory.

Whenever violence as violation appears, this shows that the Dominator has lost control of what they seek to dominate. In personal interactions, if one person strikes another, the perpetrator of the violence is the one who has lost power and dominance, and is now seeking to restore it by force. But the use of force reveals a Great Truth: the attempt to suppress Freedom and Joy has already failed. When Power becomes violent, it reveals its weakness, not its strength.

At every level, this is so. The increasing frequency of violence against women has appeared because male patriarchy can no longer control women. So certain men, possessed by the Spirit of Domination, seek to control women by violating them. But they cannot suppress Woman-Power. It is rising everywhere on Earth, and grows in strength, beauty, and energy with every passing day. The hyper-militarized white police response to black peoples’ protests in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere in the US is actually the result of White Americans’ fear of black people and their spiritual power and presence. White police use Humvees, armored vehicles, and assault rifles against unarmed black youth because they fear the Spirit-Power of African-descended people. Yet White Power is fading. Some US Whites consider children who arrive here as refugees from Central America to be “carrying diseases” or “criminals.” Yet, this sentiment appears because those who espouse such ideas are, themselves, sick and criminal souls, wayward and wounding spirits. Israel attacks Gaza and its defenseless people because it fears the fearlessness and fortitude of Palestinian steadfastness. US foreign policy becomes completely militarized, because the world system once dominated by US elites is shifting and crumbling.

The Powers-That-Be are losing. They know this. And so they lash out, more viciously and violently than ever. But the Spirit cannot be quelled. Spirit cannot be killed. It always grows, because it is the power of growth. It always heals, because it is the power of healing.

How are we to respond to these times of great violence and violation, of great Spirit-Rising and Spirit-Power? Obviously, a frontal assault on the Dominating Powers cannot succeed. As the Tao Te Ching taught us long ago, “Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them. Therefore the followers of Tao never use them.” The Power of Domination only has physical weapons that attack and kill at the physical level. But the power of Spirit is different, and greater, than the power of physical violence.

Continued cultivation of our spiritual gifts and graces is essential. Nurturing our inner lives and the power that comes from within; building relationships with others who are aware; maintaining our own inner balance when the world is unbalanced; finding ways to sustain ourselves wisely, without dependence on larger systems; watching and responding creatively to situations of destruction or decay: all these can help us in the coming times of transition, turbulence and transformation. One suggestion comes from Belgian musician Melanie DiBiasio, of a “New Way to Pray,” in which we sing and dance our Way through what surrounds us and what lies ahead.

However we choose to proceed, the Spirits will guide us. We are already creating a New World. As the great Indian writer Arundhati Roy says, “The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling . . . their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: they need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”