The Sacred in “The Shack”

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A lovely aspect of the film “The Shack”, which I saw yesterday, is that God is portrayed in several images – none of them traditional. This film, based on a best-selling Christian book,  offers as well a universal message that divine love is unconditional just like our love for our children, and that the tragedies of life are not “allowed” and cannot be prevented by God, but are part of the experience of living as humans.

This is a film about how we can heal. Presented through a Christian lens, it may not appeal to those who follow eastern practices, but essentially the message of Buddhism, Vedanta and the Perennial Philosophy is the same, as expressed in the teachings about suffering found in Buddhism, and in the challenges and questions Arjuna (representing every man) faces in the “Bhagavadgita”, the most universal scripture in India. It is a message about facing darkness and healing the broken heart through love, forgiveness, wisdom and trust. Christians encourage faith to accomplish this, but more than faith there must be a deep internal turning and releasing in order for healing to happen. Eastern teachings are more focused on this internal path, and view God more as a primary source of the energy and consciousness of life rather than a physical form. The images are only transitional objects defining aspects of this One Source, because our minds more easily relate to Source in the form of a human body, and cannot mentally grasp the wholeness and radiance of the First Cause. It is too much bigger than mind.

Some Christians are really afraid of this internal turning. One woman condemned me recently as offering teachings of the devil. I don’t know why, but I guess she came to this conclusion by watching an interview I did recently on Conscioustv about living with kundalini energy. Such a perspective distorts a person’s ability to find joy and contentment in life, because it denies our own direct connection with the sacred.

It is sad when people are brought up believing that anything arising within them is evil, and unloved by their God. The darkness among humans is often something passed down generationally by people who have experienced extreme neglect and pain, and pass this unconsciously along to their own children. Violence begets violence. Prejudice is taught. Self-loathing is taught. Hatred of those who are different is taught. We as a culture do very little to prevent these teachings as much of our entertainment is focused on violence and prejudiced images of those who are different. Parents are stressed to provide a living, often unsupported and occasionally harshly reactive with young impressionable children. Children in poverty often lack enough food to eat and time with their over-worked parents. Fear is promoted as a way of marketing goods, religion and politics.  Evil emerges from the cracks in a culture – the unwillingness or inability to recognize what is needed for love and self-acceptance, and compassion for our fellow humans, to thrive.

Unfortunately some churches do not preach the universal sacredness and connection to God that is in all humans. Some governments are managed by people more attracted to power and personal gain than the emotional and physical health of their communities. This places a huge burden on an individual family system to model inclusiveness and compassion, while also meeting basic human needs.

If there is an original sin it must be this human tendency to care only for our own gain and neglect the needs of others. If there is a hell it is likely the lives of some in our societies who are caught in war and other unspeakable pain.

The true gift of Christianity when rightly used has nothing to do with walking on water or going to heaven or recruiting more Christians. In the teachings attributed to Jesus it is  finding the kingdom of God within – the simple connection we each have with wisdom and love and others of our species that can only be found by facing and eventually releasing our personal dramas and traumas, demands, disappointments, anger and grief. It happens when we let go into ourselves and discover our True Nature. Then we may experience forgiveness for the way things are and discover the freedom of seeing the joy and possibility of creation. Then we can find each in our own way how we can express the sacred that has been latent within us.

 

 

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Surrender As Art

I begin to see surrender as an art, having recently witnessed the most graceful surrendering in form at the San Francisco ballet in a sequence called Hummingbird, danced to the music of Philip Glass. A male and female dressed in white, floating across the stage, she in drifting chiffon, completely releasing their bodies into one movement, a merging beyond form as she was lifted above his head, or melted her body over his back to back.

I’ve rarely seen ballet so this vision of surrender was a new realization. I have thought of the form as demanding great discipline and even very painful practice as young girls learn the challenging task of standing on their toes.   And while we might see great sequences of grace and strength, coordination and agility, it was a revelation to view the total surrender of the dancers body into the strength of her partner, whether falling back to back, or being lifted and carried in another sequence from one set of arms to another.

So of course this made me think of the act of surrender in spirituality. This moment of letting go seems terrifying to some people – they feel they are “losing” themselves, or that they might never know how to function again, if they relax into the mysterious unknown that arises at some point in the spiritual journey. They lack trust in the Whole, in the strength of that which is eternal and vast to hold them. So when moments of grace are at hand they contract, and the energy of fear washes over and paralyzes them.

Adyashanti wrote a book about awakening to life called “Falling Into Grace: Insights on the End of Suffering.” Another remarkable book on awakening during the process of dying was written by   Kathleen Dowling Singh , called “The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope. Comfort and Spiritual Transformation”. This grace, which we do not easily understand and often wonder how to “achieve”, is actually the response to surrender, to slipping gently into the arms of another dimension, with a profound trust and relaxation of every cell in our body. We need this surrender to fall into Truth, into the recognition of our true nature, and ultimately to have a peaceful passage into the unknown vastness beyond our lives. Like the ballerinas, we each struggle and seek discipline within our own destinies to become capable and agile in our own lives and spiritual practices. And then at the right moment, we must utterly surrender and trust in the emptiness and the fullness in which consciousness rests.

She must trust her partner in dance. We must trust our partner in that which has enabled our existence.

Perhaps we are touched by great artists, whether in dance or painting or music, because it holds this paradox – the passion, the power, the hard work and the grace of surrender.