Skyline, Winter - 2010

By Diane Pendola

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Exploration into God


This Winter Solstice issue of EARTHLINES marks our tenth anniversary. I began EARTHLINES in December of 2000 after meeting Thomas Berry for the first time in September of that year. After sharing some of my poetry with him, he encouraged me to write without worry, or expectation of publication. Teresa and I were with him in his loft room over the old stable on his family property in Greensborough, North Carolina. It was a small studio packed mostly with books. He took out notebooks full of his writing, a stack nearly three feet high, and said, "None of this is published. I share it with friends. We pass around ideas. That's what's important." With this implicit blessing I wrote the first EARTHLINES, telling about our meeting with him. So began our decade of commitment to our quarterly earth journal, to our eco-contemplative center, and to our exploration into the "Universe as a communion of subjects to be revered."

Each month since that time we have gathered a community of people to celebrate this communion, this radical relationality we share with the entire reality. Raimon Panikkar has also been a light and guide accompanying us in this exploration into the great communion of being. I have been so fortunate to have two of the great sages of our time to be my teachers and to become my friends. Thomas passed on in June of 2009. Raimon left in August of this year. And so their torch is passed to the likes of you and me. Ready or not, the light is in our hands, be they trembling or steady. Perhaps more important than our individual strength is our personal willingness. I heard a quote recently, "God does not call the qualified. God qualifies the called." A poem we read at this month's Earth Liturgy seems to me to sum up this call:

The human heart can go to the lengths of God.
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now.
The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move,
The thunder is the thunder of the flows,
The thaws, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us ‘til we take
The longest stride of soul one ever took.

Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise
Is exploration into God.

(Christopher Fry, The Sleep of Prisoners)

This past decade has been an exploration into God through cultivating reverence for the pine and the oak and the forest community in which I live. This earth community has nurtured my soul, has become a "Thou" opening me to a deeper, truer "I". And it has brought me to yet another threshold of my Self. Thomas Berry said many times and in many ways, "We must re-invent the human." I think this was the business Jesus was about, and the business the Buddha was about, and Mother Teresa in her time, and Desmond Tutu in our time: "To take the longest stride of soul one ever took."

From this threshold, a door opens for me back into the human world, but with a changed consciousness. Raimon understands reality to be cosmotheandric, that is to say that the divine, cosmic and human are three irreducible dimensions that constitute the real. Thomas suggests that our human consciousness is the consciousness of the earth, of the universe, becoming aware of itself. Cultivating a reverence for "the human heart that can go to the lengths of God" is to cultivate a reverence for all of reality. We now know the planet is our body. We know the winds, and the exhalation of all things green, is our breath. We know that waters and streams and seas are our life blood. We know the sun is the vital flame of our own life force. We know that everything is connected. But do we know our own minds?

We know that the glacial melt off the mountains of the Himalaya has created floods in Pakistan of biblical proportions. We know that climate is changing and species are going extinct at a rate 1000 times higher than any time humans have walked the earth. We know that human beings are willing to wrap their bodies in explosives and blow themselves up on a school bus full of children in the name of God, Nation or Ideology. We know that human consciousness washes all the shores of the real. Do we know the power of our consciousness? Do we know how to reinvent ourselves as human?

This question goes to the heart of my decision to take "The Lioness Tale," and the program I created based on it, into women who are doing life sentences in prison. I don't ask their crimes. But one can imagine that a life sentence without the possibility of parole might accompany a heinous act. I recently heard the interview on the Oprah Winfrey show with Dr. William Petit, who lost his two daughters and wife in 2007 to a horrendous crime beyond anything most of us are willing to imagine, beyond anything we consider a human being capable. And yet the perpetrators are human. The suicide bomber is human. The woman who drowned her three small children in their bath-tub is human. The Kmour Rouge, the Nazis, the child sex traffickers, Bernie Madoff... all human.

Dr. Petit thought the death penalty an appropriate punishment for the two men who tortured and destroyed his family. "Evil needs to be destroyed," he said. Who of us would not feel this way? I do not begrudge him whatever process of grief he needs to pass through in order to gain some peace and healing. The question that I ask is directed beyond the individual to our choices as a society and a community. In 1995 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was appointed chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the new, democratic government of South Africa. The country was faced with the challenge of addressing the horrors of racism, murder, kidnapping, torture and rape that were for decades a part of the fabric of the country. The South African government confounded the world with its decision to provide a process, through the TRC, where victims could tell their heartrending stories and express their willingness to forgive, and perpetrators in turn could confess their atrocities and ask for forgiveness. As Desmond Tutu says in his book by the same name, "There is no future without forgiveness." Raimon Panikkar in his book Cultural Disarmament, The Way to Peace expresses the same truth in this way: "Only forgiveness, reconciliation and ongoing dialogue lead to peace and shatter the law of karma."

Can we destroy evil by destroying a person who incarnates evil? Or are we all diminished by this choice, sinking us as a community towards the evil we seek to eliminate? Jesus said, "Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain are retained. "I wonder, if by championing the death penalty we do not continue to retain the sin in our own communal body? We are not a collection of individuals, we are a community of persons. As a community of persons, intrinsically interconnected with one another, can we choose to live by the higher values of our human natures? Can we lift up the most wounded members of our body rather than seeking to destroy those parts of ourselves that stubbornly resist destruction (as history demonstrates) but which still remain an open possibility of transformation? I am not saying that the perpetrators of this horrible crime should ever be on the streets again. But can I – we –see them as human? As human beings capable of great evil, perpetrators of great evil, but more than the evil within them? This is very difficult. But it goes to the heart of who we understand ourselves to be as human beings. Human consciousness is responsible for the greatest evils in the world– and the greatest love. Do we believe that evil is an ultimate power? Then there is no possibility of forgiveness and the law of karma eventually devours us. Do we believe that Love is the ultimate power? Then forgiveness is possible. Then we can re-invent what it means to be human.

The only place that I can engage the realization that human consciousness has to change is within my own mind and heart. And then I begin to see that my mind and heart includes the entire reality. Perhaps  this is why Jesus reached out particularly to the poor, the oppressed, the prisoner and the sinner with his message of love and forgiveness.  He understood that the least among us is each of us. We are all connected and the light of that awareness is given for all. The enlightened Buddha  mind, the compassionate Christ heart, is the human consciousness of which we are capable.

I am engaged in an experiment that demands the longest stride of soul I ever took. Those relegated to the dark cells of our prisons and the rejected corners of our minds are us. We rise or fall together. We cannot deny the evil that is within us any more. But we can transform it. Therefore I do not worry about naïveté in my choice to see the women I work with as good, essentially loveable and capable of love. As Jesus said, "God is Love." Love is my only business. This is the way I go about re-inventing myself as human. The enterprise is exploration into God.

...Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us ‘til we take
The longest stride of soul one ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise
Is exploration into God.


©Diane Pendola, Winter 2010. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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