Our Souls Are a River

What a joy for me to discover Australian poet and publisher, David Tensen! I ran across this poem on Facebook and was thrilled to see that it’s called “Fat Soul” and, in his words, “was inspired by Patricia Adams Farmer and Bernard Loomer’s Fat Soul Theology.” This poem ushers us into the world of flowing soul and expanding awareness, freedom, and generosity. Enjoy and share with all those who want to be “a big fat and generous soul”!

Our souls are a river in flow

whose banks and bed are built

by every interaction.

Whose ways and waters change

with every passing breath.

I want to be a wide river.

Not a narrow brook you simply step over and forget.

But wide enough to be considered before crossing.

I want to be a slow river.

Not an ocean so wild the innocent dare not enter.

But slow enough that even the lame feel safe to wade in.

I want to be a deep river.

Full of life and nourishment.

Moving through nations with many streams.

Unable to be dammed by dogma or doubt.

One day…

One fine and inevitable day

we will find ourselves emptied out.

Emptied out into the Great Ocean of Things

adding to it our own minuscule moment.

But until that moment.

Until the moment my soul ceases

to be held as this body,

the kind of soul I want to be

-I really want to be –

is a fat soul.

A big fat and generous soul.

‘Fat Soul’

David Tensen

Inspired by Patricia Adams Farmer and Bernard Loomer’s Fat Soul Theology

*David is the author of five books and founder of Poetry Chapel Press. To learn more about David Tenson’s work and services, go to his quicklinks page or his website, davidtenson.com. You can also find this talented fat soul on Instagram and Facebook!

Waylaid by Beauty

On a casual spring walk “I am waylaid by Beauty” in the spirit of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. The bursting redbud trees, fluting birdsong, and waving daffodils toss my rambling thoughts to the wind and invite me into their world for a moment of feeling. This feeling has the flavor of something larger and more enduring and hopeful than me, myself, and I. In an instant, I lose my sense of individual self-enclosure and I go wide, feeling the world as part of myself and more than myself. Such simple spring beauty connects me with the very tenderness of God, and it feeds me for hours, days, a lifetime.

One moment of drinking in beauty, and my thirst for belonging is quenched. It seems to me that beauty is a portal to that Great Togetherness, for as the philosopher Roland Faber says, “We are the togetherness of everything.” (The Mind of Whitehead, p. 33)

Beauty in all its forms opens us to the “togetherness of everything.” Traveling down a country road, listening to Murray Perahia play Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1, I am swept away in a depth of feeling that surges up from centuries past. I feel that I am touching the mind of Bach himself — feeling what he felt —  alive to the divine inspiration he experienced when composing this piece. It seems incredible to me that in a lightning-bolt second, whole centuries fall away; the impediments of history, culture and language disappear! All that is left is naked feeling, as powerful today as it was in 1738. How can that be? It feels like an exploding ball of light and energy bathing me and everything I see in a Great Togetherness. The cows on the hillside nurture their young with tails swishing as if to the music, the oak trees hum along, and the greening trees ‘clap their hands’ while tall grasses sway in rhythm. Bach is here; the cows are here; we are all here together — at the same time!”

Such dazzling moments of musical magic are like the redbud tree, the daffodils, and birdsong: a bursting of divine tenderness reaching out for us, waving, singing — luring us to be bigger than ourselves for the sake of the world. If the music is right for the moment, heaven breaks through the ego’s crusty impediments of worry and despair and self-centeredness. In this way, beauty is sharp; it cuts like a paring knife through not only our ego, but whole centuries of thought and tragedy and human evolution as if all that were mere apple peelings falling to the floor. At the core, we are left with the raw, elemental seeds of human feeling, bursting with divine possibility for new creations, new feelings.

Think of your favorite old song, hymn, or a piece of pottery or a painting — how it leaps over years, decades — even centuries — to connect us soul-to-soul with our human ancestors. As Roland Faber points out, “In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times.” (The Mind of Whitehead, p. 46) 

Perhaps this is beauty’s great purpose: to connect us with one another, with the earth, with the past, and with the mind of God. In this Great Togetherness of feeling we begin to see a way through. Everything that hinders and divides — even time itself — is pared away; the seeds are sown for a new creation.

Practice: Take a “Beauty Break” and lose yourself for a few minutes in a book of poetry, a nature walk, a piece of music, or a work of art. Find your own portal to the “The Great Togetherness.” Visit this place often and use it as inspiration for creative work, creative thinking, and creative living — for the sake of the common good.

Meditating with Hildegard

Image courtesy of spiritualityandpractice.com

“There is the music of Heaven in all things.”
— Hildegard of Bingen

The world fell away, my body melting into the earth. Light-filled tonalities danced in the darkness, lifting my spirit upward into a Divine embrace of soul-stirring spaciousness. . . . This was not a Near Death Experience but rather how I described in my journal my first experience of meditating to the music of the 12th-century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen. In short, it was a taste of Heaven. Each time I return to Hildegard’s music, I feel a bit closer to the angels.

When I wrote “light-filled tonalities,” I meant that each note feels like light — as if luminous angels are flying gracefully about in the darkness — soaring, dipping, and lifting again to heights of ecstasy. The melodies fill the listener with vibrating light from head to toe! This experience makes sense because of Hildegard’s continual reference to the Divine “Living Light” which she experienced in visions and felt compelled to express in many forms, including music.

It is easy to think of her music as angelic, other-worldly — and yet it is inspired by her love of all things earthly. She was madly in love with creation! To her, every tree and flower and whale and person is infused with a divine melody. As the Celtic mother of “creation spirituality,” is it any wonder that she finds “the music of Heaven in all things?”

In this way, her music embodies her panentheism — that is, that all things are in God, and God in all things. This means God is embodied in this world, but more than this world. Her music, then, is that marriage of heaven and earth, that “more than” united with earthiness.

Her modal tonalites remind me of Gregorian Chant, but her music is far more expressive, soaring, and ecstatic. According to Matthew Fox, singing her music takes extraordinary stamina. Many feel faint or experience a “high” as her vocals span several octaves in a single phrase! Few can sing her music, but we can all find refreshment, centering — and even ecstasy — in meditating with her music.

I have found meditating with Hildegard to be a richly rewarding immersion into Divine Beauty that both transcends and embraces this world. It feels cosmic, as if embracing the universe with tender, motherly love. That is why her music works so well as a lullaby to the spiritual seeker — especially for those of us who need a little help going to sleep!

Hildegard scholar Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook says, “Hildegard’s theology of music is closely associated with her view of celestial harmony. For Hildegard, music is an integral component of her spirituality. All music and the arts in general, are divinely inspired.” Hildegard’s cosmic sense of “celestial harmony” finds ecstatic musical embodiment. At the same time, her music incarnates the process idea (a la Whitehead) of Beauty as intense harmony, bringing us back home to our interconnectedness with all earthy life — and with heaven itself.

Practice: Find a quiet place to sit or lie down with headphones. Take a deep breath and begin to listen to a Hildegard’s music. I recommend starting with the Canticles of Ecstasy by the early music ensemble, Sequentia. Listen to only one or two pieces at a time. Simply be with the music. Don’t worry about following the Latin text unless you want to; just breathe with melody. Hildegard often referred to herself as “a feather on the breath of God.” Be that feather and feel yourself floating with the rise and fall of each phrase. If your attention is drawn away by a thought or worry, simply let it go and return to the music. Even two or three minutes of Hildegard’s music can change your entire day!

To find out more about Hildegard and her music, Spirituality & Practice has many resources, including a sampling from the page, Feast day of Hildegard of Bingen. I also highly recommend Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook’s Hildegard of Bingen: Essential Writings and Chants of a Christian Mystic and Matthew Fox’s Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times.

This essay is also published on spiritualityandpractice.com. and openhorizons.com.

The Queen’s Message

As millions of people world-wide mourn the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, I remember her beautiful Christmas message from 2015. As the head of the Church of England, she was a devoted Christian, but her words of unity, hope, and love surely resonated with many people, including those who do not share her faith:

“It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’. . . . Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another.”

This simple message of “love one another” has been sadly lost by many today, so the Queen’s wisdom, born of 70 years as the head of the Church of England, was a breath of fresh air to people around the world. Such a relational message fits the relational power the monarchy exerts in today’s world. Since 1215 (The Magna Carta), Britain has slowly evolved from a coercive Empire with a dark past into a democratic constitutional monarchy that presides over a free Commonwealth of Nations. Of course, there is much to be acknowledged and repented of from past sins of imperialism, slavery, and racism. (The same is true of slavery and oppression in our own country.)

Today, the monarchy exercises what some call “soft power,” which is no longer controlling but rather influencing as they partner with Parliament and citizens to nurture democracy and offer reassuring cultural identity. Queen Elizabeth has been an integral part of that transformation.

The Queen’s death is a momentous moment in history. As I watched thousands of mourners waiting up to 20 hours in line to pay tribute to their beloved Queen, I was deeply moved. It is as though she served as a unifying and reassuring presence — a kind of royal grandmother to all. Her strength, generosity of spirit, and maternal power — even in death – awaken something tender within me and no doubt to millions of others.

Whatever you may think of Britain’s monarchy, this transformation of power relations from controlling to influencing is cause for celebration. It is the difference between what the systems scientist Riane Eisler calls “Domination systems” and “Partnership systems.” (See Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future.). Domination systems (autocracies) impoverish people while partnership systems (democracies) empower people.

Many people associate God with domination systems, which is bad theology. God is not a coercive, all-controlling dictator but rather our Divine Partner who beckons us toward partnership in all our relations, both personal and political. It is our responsibility to respond—and that means doing what we can to bring out more partnership-oriented power relations, which center around the notion of loving and empowering one another.

Rest in peace, Queen Elizabeth. Your message of unity, hope, and love lives on. 

Rocking Chair Meditation

I rock. Everyday. Sometimes twice a day — every time I get a chance. I particularly like to rock in the dark, before bedtime, as it works better than sleeping pills. My rocking chair has become my favorite place to read, to dream, to chat with a friend, to listen to music, to drink tea – carefully — and yes, to meditate. I rock away stress, bad news, obsessive thoughts, back pain, and the despair of this world.

After rocking for only a few weeks in my Amish-made wooden rocker, I am convinced that the humble rocking chair may just be one of the most enjoyable ways to love the body, refresh the spirit, and calm the excessive anxiety in these difficult times.

Rocking with God

Of course, the rocking chair has sterling reviews from health experts for improving the three M’s: mind, muscles, and mood. As a theologian and spiritual practitioner, I find that the rocking chair can aid in three more M’s: meditation, metaphor, and meaning.

According to Alfred North Whitehead, God “dwells in the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love.” The rocking chair is the perfect place to meditate on God’s tenderness and love. If we understand God as creative, unconditional, nurturing Love, then what could be more appropriate for a spiritual practice than allowing ourselves moments that touch on those feelings? Think of yourself as an infant being cradled, rocked, and calmed. Such cradling Love whispers to us: You are loved. You are cherished. You are cared for.

We all need this reassurance, especially in times of fear, transition, and loss. Sometimes we just need it for no reason other than countering the years of shadowy, unloving voices in our heads that whisper: I’m not worthy of love; I’m not enough

Rocking reminds me that there is more than gun violence and climate change and insane politics. There is always a place of refreshment and peace within. Even hope. The movement of the rocking chair renews my faith in the openness of the future – “the creative advance into novelty” (Whitehead).

With the infant’s cradle as a picture of God’s tenderness, the gentle to-and-fro rhythm of the rocker can be a place of peace and refuge. All of us yearn to be tucked into the cradle of divine love!

When I rock, I am also reminded of the meaning of my life: a co-creator with God, unfolding in love and wisdom and beauty for the sake of the world. We often say something or someone “rocked my world.”  That’s because it moves us, gets us out of our static sense of ourselves, changes us, gives life meaning and purpose. I loved to be rocked: rocked by the dazzle of the universe as seen in the Webb photos from space, rocked by kindness, rocked by new ideas, rocked by beauty. What meaning rocks your world?

Co-Rockers in a Rocking Universe

In a rocking chair, we are not rocking on our own power alone; nor are we being rocked passively. In every gentle rock, we join the Divine to-and-fro rhythm of receiving/creating, receiving/creating. With our feet pushing us up into the arc of motion, we let go to the gentle flow of life unfolding in the sweet rhythm of a lullaby. Gentle movement carries us safely backward and forward again. Each lift of the heel is a Yes! to the ongoing flow of life.

As in walking meditation, rocking meditation asks us to pay attention to movement. But here the feet lift gently to create the regular rhythm that keeps our minds focused. 

Every repetition seems to be exactly like the last one, but it is different, each one. Like occasions of experience unfolding, one after the other, the window of the soul opens to the flow of fresh offerings. Like the gentle rock of a boat on a river, our rocking can take us into deeper depths of love. 

Hard Rock, Soft Rock

When we rock hard – big motions and feet off the floor — we sense joy flooding through our body as the blood circulates and muscles strengthen. When we rock soft and small with the gentlest of movement, we can sense the rhythm of a heartbeat — much like our mother’s heartbeat in the womb.

This heartbeat rhythm reminds us that we are inside God as much as God is inside us. The womb of God is filled with the steady heartbeat that moves through Universe, creating stars and immortal music, bringing lovers together in union, and giving song to the blackbird. 

Rocking Meditation Practice

Now find a comfortable rocking chair, sit down, and begin rocking. Take some deep breaths, close your eyes, and notice the rhythm of your rock. Do you choose “hard rock” or “soft rock”? Try some of both. Finally choose a comfortable rhythm and focus your attention on the forward/back motion, letting all thoughts gently fall away as you keep your attention on the motion and rhythm of your rock. Now try a few of your favorite spiritual affirmations. You might want to include these:

I am cradled in Divine Love.

I am safe.

I am loved.

I am cared for.

I move with the Spirit.

I am unfolding, moment by moment.

My heart beats with all the creatures of the world.

My heart beats with the heart of God.

I am deeply connected to everything in the Universe.

Now, if you find comfort in singing, why not sing yourself a lullaby? If you don’t like to sing, listen to lullabies with headphones, especially if the child within you is hurting and scared.

Keep Rocking On

If we are sad or suffering, we can preface our affirmations with: “Even though I feel sad, I am cradled in Divine Love,” and so on.

We know that in this relational world of free will and shared power, suffering is never God’s doing—or allowance; on the contrary, God’s heart breaks over the broken shards of unnecessary violence and needless suffering; But we also know that God’s heart is big enough to hold not only heartache but healing, too — and transformation and resurrection and fresh possibilities beyond our imagination.

We might even learn through the steady rhythm of rocking that our own hearts are bigger than we think: stronger and more resilient than we imagined, and even able move forward with hope amid sadness and discouragement.

When we spend a few moments in rocking meditation, we are ready to offer this same love and reassurance to those around us; we become a new creation, ready to rock the world with who we are and what we have to give.

Come what may, we keep rocking on.

Also published in Spirituality & Practice and Open Horizons