Monday, July 27, 2015

Learning to Stand: A sermon for August 9, 2015

Image result for public domain images of royal ease quan yin

I recently purchased a Quarterhorse mare and started consistently riding for the first time in many years.  Because I’d been away from the horse world for so long, I was sort of curious about how to transition a young horse from Western to Dressage. I turned, as many my age do, to the wisdom of YouTube.  And there I found a trainer doing quite remarkable things with difficult horses, largely by teaching human beings to stand.  Now, I will tell you when 1000 lbs. of horse decides she really wants to occupy your space, and you in turn decide not to give it up, takes a rare kind of trust in the universe!

OK, so I admit it was not a wrestling match at all.  This trainer knew how to use his upper body to create distance between himself and the horse, how to direct the horse’s energy around him, and make use of clear behavioral stimuli to keep himself out of danger.  But the principles we are going to talk about today—about how to Stand with a capital “s” were all in play there, and I found myself grinning away.

Let’s back up just a bit now.  The work I’d like to explore with you is called the Gospel of Thomas and before you think you know anything about Christianity, I want you to uncross your arms, put both feet on the floor and breathe!  The Jesus of this ancient document, found in its entirety close to Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945, is very different from the stories of him that made it into the accepted canon.  At the Council of Nicaea in 325, convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine, about a third of the Bishops of the young Christian church were asked to define the faith for the first time, and this widely read and disseminated work was out on its ear.  As we shall see, the main reason this ousting occurred was because the text asked seekers to explore, challenge, reason and finally, to Stand up into the cosmos with dignity and a sense of regal awareness rather than simply “believe”. Such teachings created strong, faith-filled individuals but what Emperor Constantine and the bishops really wanted was a faith that would undergird an empire and help control a given population. The Gospel of Thomas is wildly anti-institutional, very snide about academics and priests, and firmly grounded in an egalitarian belief in the basic goodness of humanity. It reads much more like a Buddhist or Vedantic text than the more familiar Matthew, Mark and Luke, something I explore in more detail in my book The Hidden Message of the Lost Gospel of Thomas.

To convey to you the power of this text, you need to know that the work contains a number of concepts that are signaled by particular words or phrases.  For example, most Logia (or sayings) about grapevines address how a student should function in community.  The word Inebriation, unlike the Sufi’s code for “drunk on God to the point of union” is more closely related to the inability to see reality as such.  Children are often used to illustrate the willingness to respond to reality but without the discernment that allows an adult to truly choose his or her actions. In other words, concepts are consistently encoded into the text and developed Logia by Logia in a way that theologian Lynn Bauman has called “symphonic”.

The other idea that is important to grasp about this work is that it actually serves as a treatise on the stages of an individual’s spiritual journey.  The first 19 Logia address the search for a meaningful path, the next 19 explore what happens when you “find” your path, the next set looks at the “trouble” that arises when your comfortable  and well-patched paradigms begin to shift.  “Wonder” arises when you begin to see the world through new eyes, and as you become more skilled in this seeing, you begin to learn to “reign” over yourself and your habitual responses to reality. Finally, the path is so much a part of you that you can rest, but not in the sense of being a couch potato!  Your rest is more like wu wei, the effortless and easeful actions of a being deeply in his or her center both physically and emotionally.  Find a picture of Quan Yin in her Royal Ease pose (or see the picture at the top of this blog entry)—that is rest par excellence. Or watch a Grand Prix freestyle dressage rider on YouTube.  These are good examples of both Standing and Resting.

Today, we’re going to explore on fascinating concept—what it means to “stand”.  Earlier in the service, you heard two of the logia that illustrate just what this spiritual practice demands—the warrior’s bravery to separate from tribe and family mixed with more subtle but no less demanding ability to shake free of internal misconceptions and neurosis because you have a “bigger” sense of what it means to be an individual unified with your Beginning Place. Standing is, in a sense, the ultimate goal of this spiritual path.  Like the horse trainer, it means being able to hold the ground with your feet while you respond accurately, calmly and effectively to the chaos of reality around you. 

But rather than spell everything out for you, I’m going to invite you to listen to how I respond to the great themes of standing.  As we work through the logia and my original poetry together, keep mental notes about what you “heard” about what it means to stand.  I’ll have my list at the very end—see how it jives with your own!

Logion 28
Yeshua says,
“I stood to my feet
in the midst of the cosmos,
appearing outwardly in flesh.
I discovered that all were drunk
and none were thirsty,
and my soul ached for
the children of humanity.
For their hearts are blind
and they cannot see from within.
They have come into the cosmos empty,
and they are leaving it empty.
At the moment, you are inebriated,
but free from the effects of wine,
you too may turn and stand.”

Until you believe
with each inhale
you share in the very rise and falls of stars,
will fill you instead.
Until you see that
you connect heaven and earth,
you are blind
to even the presence of light.
Until you hear that pure note
ringing through everything,
you crouch alone,
hands covering your head,
and this fecund mud
of your mind
will never really appreciate
the flesh that wants to bloom.

Logion 3

Yeshua says,

“If your spiritual guides say to you,
‘Look, the divine Realm is
in the sky,’
well, then, the birds
will get there ahead of you.
If they say,
‘It is in the sea,’
then the fish will precede you.

No, divine Reality exists
inside and around you.

Only when you have come to know
your true Self will you be fully known—
realizing at last that you
are a child of the Living One.
If, however, you never come to know who you
truly are,
you are a poverty-stricken being
and it is your ‘self’
which lies impoverished.”

Wisdom has no single place in sky or sea,
no one place to rest its head on the earth
all places vibrate with it,
 a spinning yin-yang
we can only glimpse
when we jerk it down
into blacks and whites.
But I challenge you:
lean toward the gray,
toward the dust of the caravan ahead of you,
and feel the wind of process and paradox.
We are not called to merely sit,
but to dance.

Logion 6
His students asked him,
“Do you want us to fast?
How shall we pray?
Should we give offerings?
From what food must we abstain?”
Yeshua answered,
“Stop lying.
Do not do what you hate
because everything here lies open
before heaven.
Nothing hidden remains secret,
for the veil will be stripped away from all
that lies concealed behind it.”

Bind me back to a time
when religion was not
another word for psychology;
when the shaman’s journey
or the Christian Mass
told the story of relationship,
illuminated the ties that bound
life to life to

We work too hard now—
what does life mean?
How does the past haunt today?
Who are all these voices clamoring inside?
I wonder—
why not invite it all in and serve tea?
and afterwards,
walk the line between earth and water and sky,
hum a tune from childhood,
and recall
not one of us arose from independent nothingness.
Reweave yourself, but intuitively,
in the meal served,
in the hat knitted and passed on,
in the laughter in the grocery check-out line.
If sin is simply that which is “unripe”,
then explode with flavor, with juice,
or if it is time,
with a fearless releasing to earth.
Live interwoven with it all,
and tell me
where you can really fall?

Logion 18

His students said to him,

“So tell us, then,
what our end and
destiny will be?”

Yeshua answered,

“have you already discovered
your origin so that now
you are free to seek after your end?
It is only at your source
that you will find your destiny.
Blessed are those who come to stand in their
place of origination,
for it is there that they will know their end—
never tasting death.”

Spin these cycles round again,
the seed to plant to seed,
the egg to hen to egg,
the nut to tree to nut,
and when your mind reaches out
to stop that glorious
breathing of the universe,
fence lines and
lines of words
and moats of thought,
all must one day swirl away
in stardust.
Endings are for those
who are a little afraid
spin these cycles round again
and this time

Logion 22

Yeshua noticed infants nursing and said
to his students,

“These little ones taking milk are
like those on the way to the kingdom.”

So they asked him,
“If we too are ‘little ones’
are we on our way into the kingdom?”

Yeshua replied,
“When you are able
to make two become one,
the inside like the outside,
and the outside like the inside,
the higher like the lower,
so that a man is no longer male,
and a woman, female
but male and female become a single whole;
when you are able to fashion
an eye to replace an eye
and form a hand in place of a hand,
or a foot for a foot
making one image supercede another—
then you will enter in.”

Are we not, all of us,
the answer to every paradox?
From two came one,
 sexual union
a fetus
 now female, now male—
mixing and trading genders in the darkness.
Did we not sense the oneness in that womb,
and even when we became two,
our tiny lungs gasping in our first taste of separation,
(we cried, remember?)
we, you, me, I
returned again to a oneness to suckle,
both fed and satisfied at once?

In every creative act we dance,
first one, then two, then one again;
seer and seen,
from that union of eye with form
only to swirl together
in the unity of consciousness,
the place where
we dip
and put brush to canvas.

No great effort to see and then
form foot from foot
or hand from hand--
it is as easy as
just catching that playful blink
that separates the

Logion 23

Yeshua says

“I choose you,
one from a thousand,
two from ten-thousand,
and you will stand to your own feet
having become single
and whole.”

I notice what is missing—
when a number is given,
hinting at
I automatically
understand it in terms of human beings.
One in ten-thousand...
but really, ten-thousand

I miss how we all stand up out of
clay and rock,
wave and sky,
fir, birdseed,
four-legged ones,
scales and forked tongues,
and bi-hooves
ice and stars
dust and waterfalls.

But then, maybe,
those entities don’t need to recognize themselves
as already single and whole,
endlessly and effortlessly

Logion 39

Yeshua says,

“Your scholars and religious leaders
have taken the keys
of knowledge and
locked them away.
They have not used them
to enter in, nor have they allowed those desiring
it to do so.
You, therefore, must be
as subtle as serpents and
as guileless as doves.”

It’s tedious to weed the labyrinth,
walk a few steps, winding
into some designated middle,
flick the bit of green
from its grip on reddish stone and
pocket it for the compost pile.
Every now and then I look up—
how much further
or worse
what’s for lunch?
I swear the path in
is longer than the path out,
but maybe that’s a good thing...
I laugh when I see a chickadee flit
over the lines and curves
and drop
gracefully into the center.
A moment’s jitterbug and startle
and she is away again.

I used to color like that in kindergarten—
no respect for lines at all.

 Logion 42

Yeshua says,

“Come into being
as you pass

What editors of life we tend to be,
adding the brush of highlights to good memories,
squirreling away the shadows at the back of closets,
giving the bad experience the sanctifying spin of lessons learned,
categorizing, objectifying,
everything piled up on the shoulders of a weighty

Editors are experiencers of an experiencer’s experience.

What, then, is being?
Take ten breaths

Logion 47

Yeshua says,

“No one can mount two horses
or draw two bows at once,
and you cannot serve
two masters at the same time.
If you honor one,
the other will be offended.

No one drinks a vintage wine
and immediately wants
wine freshly bottled.
New wine is not put into
old containers lest it be ruined,
nor is aged wine put into
new barrels lest it spoil.

Also, old cloth is not sewn
onto new garments because
it only makes the tear worse.”

we mistake our own narrow path
for the only one,
the best one.
And that’s because maybe it is
for us.
I lived in a woods riddled with paths,
some wide and crafted two-tracks,
some the deer tramped
on their way to living water.
I’ve walked them all
and really
any of them are easier
than tripping
through the bracken and ankle-deep mud.
Sooner or later,
they all get to the river
or the asphalt.

But when you are really turned around and lost,
the light shadowing the trees,
the cold pinching your nose shut,
the darkened forest rustle startling you,
I hope you have a compass or GPS,
magnetic north or satellites,
that can lead you home.

Logion 52

His students said,

“Each of Israel’s
twenty-four prophets
spoke about you.”

Yeshua said,

“You ignore the one living in your
presence and talk only about the dead.”

There are times when the words fail,
no wisdom in the past,
no expectations of a future,
and I can only touch the holes on my flute,
breathing through them
what sorrows and joys have short-circuited
 the cement logic centers in my mind,
eyes closed,
tiny rays of light sneaking into the carved instrument
getting mixed up with O2 and spare change,
emerging just loud enough
that the beaver cutting through the first cattail shoots
drums his one-beat response--
a flat tail hitting the water
as he dives into his own

Logion 66

Yeshua says,

“Bring me the stone
the builders discarded.
That one will be the key.”
There are times when the words fail,
no wisdom in the past,
no expectations of a future,
and I can only touch the holes on my flute,
breathing through them
what sorrows and joys have short-circuited
the cement logic centers in my mind,
eyes closed,
tiny rays of light sneaking into the carved instrument
getting mixed up with O2 and spare change,
emerging just loud enough
that the beaver cutting through the first cattail shoots
drums his one-beat response--
a flat tail hitting the water
as he dives into his own

Logion 68
Yeshua says,

“Blessed are you, who
in the midst of persecution,
when they hate
and pursue you
even to the core of your being,
cannot find “you” anywhere.”

In some Buddhist teachings
we’re told:
“drive all blames onto yourself.”
It’s a brilliant strategy, really,
because then you’ll come to
comes out of
denying their words,
decrying their actions,
creating of them an “other”
you’ll suddenly see
only rigid things can contend—
watch the grass and the windstorm
the fish in the current,
the slim slip of green breaking through rock,
water hollowing out canyons.

And then,
the ultimate joke hits--
who is this “self” you’re
driving the blame into anyway?
(Yes, you certainly can smile now
or say
amen .)

Logion 70

Yeshua says,

“When you give birth
to that which is
within yourself,
what you bring forth will save you.
If you possess nothing within,
that absence will destroy you.”

Have I looked into Your face,
and not seen a thousand-thousand ripples
of creative outpouring?
Forgive me then,
I did not understand.
Words and walls You’ve
pushed aside now,
and in the place where
I once imagined a labyrinth laid out
in stone and shell,
the sheep are grazing, knee-deep in greenest grass,
their winter coats dirty
but their ears flicking,
as they walk, spiraling.

Logion 88

Yeshua says,

“The angels and the prophets
 will come and bring you
what already belongs to you,
and you will give them
what you have to give.
But ask yourself this:
when may they come
and receive back from you
what already belongs to them?”

What is the exchange rate for a
prophetic voice in the wages
of our age?
How do we value the angel,
the miracle,
the times when we stood in all
our glorious aloneness
The very cloth on your body is
woven of under and over threads,
cotton relationship caught up
in nap and hue,
and tell me
where does the prophet or angel
and you
When you can effortlessly name that weave,
in your own word and metaphors,
with grace,
will you reign.

Logion 98
Yeshua says,

“The Father’s realm
is like a man wanting
to kill someone powerful.
So he draws a sword
in his own house
and puts it through the wall
to test whether or not
his hand is actually strong enough.
Then he goes out and slays the giant.”

How tired they seem,
a surging mania,
their social action signs waving,
their breath like so much mist
dissipating on the air,
their fingers gripping their convictions
like plants in loose soil.
The firs lean close,
ever polite,
and the water laps not far away,
its rhythm set by the lamp-light moon.
All things must act,
even God
what heavenly bodies
nudge those demonstrators,
and Who do they see
when the soldiers
to the fence line?

The owl hoots one last greeting
from the deep
and closes his golden eyes.

Logion 101

Yeshua says,

“Whoever does not reject
father and mother
in the way I do
cannot be my student.
Whoever does not welcome
father and mother as I do
cannot be my disciple,
for my mother brought me forth,
but Truth gave me life.”

The child must awaken.
The sleepy smiles and acquiescence
morph into the slammed door,
the silence.
It’s not forever
and doesn’t mean
he or she doesn’t love you—
without the walls
even the most well-meaning
parent consumes in the end
the delicate and separate

The butterfly-adult is only holding the tension
between the parent and their values
the deeper agape
that sees into the universal heart—
we love for the sake of God
in all things.

Logion 104

They said to Yeshua,

“Come, then,
Let us fast and pray.”

He said to them,

“Have I sinned?
Have I been overcome?
No, only when the bridegroom
leaves the bridal chamber
will it be time to fast and pray.”

   There is an urge today,
to lay my head down on the keyboard.
Not to cry, no,
that would mean
a trip to the city to replace the tech—
it doesn’t do well with salt and water
splashing on JKL;
the surgery drained something I’d taken for granted—
a nice, smooth round belly,
with fiery stretch marks, true,
my usually bounding energy that now
runs on three huge mugs of green tea.

It’s all a passing piece of elevator music-
energy and the lack of it,
this new body and the way it looked a year ago,
and if I shut my eyes here,
filling my little sac of mostly water with
and re-find
the notes that hover always--
an internal sky alive with vibration,
melody that precedes words or songs or baby cries,
I will have my fast and prayer
enter into the bridal chamber where
the Beloved laughs and traces my scars
and helps me try on the different tattoos
of transformation.

Logion 110

Yeshua says,

 “Whoever finds the cosmos
and becomes rich
must ultimately let the cosmos go.”

At eighteen,
I never would have guessed
that my riding and art and showmanship trophies
 might end up in the dumpster,
the ribbons that once ran the circuit of my room,
 squashed together and thrown out
with mash potatoes and steak bones,
my old Miss Thunder Bay sash
wadded up in some corner of my
son’s dresser to plug a hole.
It wasn’t a painful letting go—
just so much plastic and faux-marble,
just so much fake silk and yellow thread—
and I need less tangible things now
to mirror the worth of my existence.

And now, lets put this all together!

To “Stand” means:

1.     You are able to respond to reality as it is.
2.     Understanding who you really are—both an individual, but also a participant in a greater Unity.
3.     Being authentic.
4.     Understanding that where you began is where you will also end—and that this is good news!
5.     You Reconcile all opposites and contradictions within.
6.     You grasp personal wholeness and “enoughness”.
7.     You actively practice discernment in all your experiences of life.
8.     You release the separate and grasping egoic part of yourself.
9.     You are unified in both your outer and inner actions
10.                        You stop your idealization of the past and its prophets and live mindfully in the NOW
11.                        You laugh when you “get” that your imperfection IS your perfection
12.                        You develop the ability to take criticism and emotional pain precisely because there is no “you” there to for it to attach to.
13.                        You understand that you have the resources to stand within you.
14.                        You actively practice reciprocity and equality—you show you never stand wholly alone.
15.                        You befriend your own strengths, weaknesses, motivations and biases so you can stand confidently in the world
16.                        You have found that the cosmos is never an either/or; you accept the concept of Both/And that allows you to stand.
17.                        You are discerning in the use of your spiritual tools, rather than simply relying on rote tradition or discipline.
18.                        You release even the concept of enlightenment, the feeling of the “specialness” of standing.

Your list might be different; indeed, that is the magic of any piece of good spiritual literature! But I do hope we have, together, come away with the sense that once there were forms of Christianity that encouraged wisdom, expression, discernment, and leadership in a way far beyond the confines of mere belief.  Indeed, that a man named Yeshua once gave us his greatest gift—his trust that we would learn to Stand!  Ameyn.

If you would like to read more about the Gospel of Thomas, I invite you to read my book: The Hidden Message of the Lost Gospel of Thomas.  Here is the link to the book on Amazon:

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