Archive for February, 2011


Western wall in Jerusalem at night

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During the Season of  Lent our consciousness is drawn to Holy places like Jerusalem.  I’ve had the privilege of being there during the Holy Triduum. It was the experience of a lifetime and has been since the 4th Century, where those on the path have come to see Palestine as a ‘holy land’ and Jerusalem as the “City of Many Faiths”. No other place, not even Rome, holds the same distinction in the minds of those seeking to find a connection to Spirit.   As St. Jerome once said, “The whole mystery of faith is native to this country and this sacred city.”

No matter how many centuries pass or how widespread the message of Christ becomes, our souls are wedded to this land that gave birth to humanity’s first experience of Creation in the flesh.  A dusty land where many of history’s greatest leaders have  journeyed and even today provides a snapshot of our past, present and future as people of the path. To experience this land as a pilgrim allows us to be drawn not only into the history of who we are as a people of faith, but connects us somehow with the geo-historical locale in which it all took place.  A walk through the Holy Land allows us to be part of the richness of our tradition and journey as a ‘people of the word’, making real the importance of a sojourn to places that nurture and contribute to our process.

Just as incense leaves an odor on the air it touches, so God has left traces of himself in this desolate land. Pilgrims today have that same eagerness to breath in the fragrant air of this relationship where human and divine become as one.

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The Labyrinth


I remember my first walk. I was so reverent, so filled with myself. I was sure I was on the path, to where I am not sure, but I was certain none the less that I was one of that rare breed of sojourners that truly got the meaning of the Spiritual Journey. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

I began by lighting a candle to set my intention, placing it in the sand pots near the entrance to the Labyrinth. I then paced around the outer rim of the labyrinth like a caged animal seeking freedom from a captivity I did not yet understand. I stopped at the entrance, bowed sanctimoniously, and began my walk. With each turn along the way, something was moving inside me.

My heart began to feel heavy, my steps burdened. What was happening to me? The ‘Perfect Pilgrim’ I thought I was entering the sacred path, was now experiencing a state of turmoil and fear like I’d never known. Tears began welling up in my eyes, and with each step a shift was taking place. I could literally feel weight being freed from my heart, my body and my soul.

When I arrived in the center I felt lighter than I ever remember, yet the cockiness that convinced me I was one of the chosen, became the karmic moment my spirit needed to transition into a state of humility capable of helping me understand what letting go and following spirit meant.

Leaving the rosette to return to the world, I somehow ended up back in the center again. Guess I didn’t let go after all! In that brief moment, all I could do was laugh. I sat momentarily, then asked Spirit what she wanted. All I heard was, ‘Let Go.’

The Winding Path is all about the healing power of Spirit, and how she asks us all to ‘Let Go’ of our burdens so that joy and peace permeate the way we live in this world.

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Santiago de Compostella

It was an impulse thing — picking up a book at the sale table while waiting for a friend. “The Pilgrimage,” by Paulo Coelho was about an old trail that pilgrims used during the Middle Ages to get to some shrine in Spain called the Santiago de Compostela where the bones of the apostle St. James are said to be. After reading the first three pages, I found tears running down my face. I knew I had to walk the Camino de Santiago, all 800 kilometers of it.

For the rest of the summer I walked every day, trying to build up my couch potato muscles. I bought the best walking boots I could find. A friend lent me a backpack, another insisted I take his old raincoat. “You’ll need it before the trip is over,” he said. I argued that I would be walking through sunny Spain, but he won out. There was one additional thing I decided to take, an old fiddle. I’d learned to play, not too well, but well enough to keep me company.

camino-markerI still remember that first day walking  over the Pyrenees. It was a long hard route full of fog that hid the path. I thought I’d get lost even before I started. Maybe it was those thousands of other pilgrims across the ages that had walked this way before me — who knows? Somehow my feet stayed on the path, and just in time for dinner I arrived at the ancient town of Roncesvalles, where the great warrior of my history books, Roland, fought his last battle.  In the weeks following, I trekked up glorious hills filled with tall trees, through lush farmland with vineyards almost as old as the hills themselves. I walked small villages with cobblestone roads, cattle in the street, chickens about, and at every house door (fortunately, tied up) a barking dog. but never a drop of rain. The only useless piece of clothing in my rucksack was that darn raincoat.

Every evening, I would arrive at a refugio: special places pilgrims can stay overnight, sometimes in old monasteries.  I remember one old monk giving us a delicious garlic soup for dinner. On a few nights when I wasn’t too tired, I’d bring out my fiddle and play some of my favorite pieces.  I began losing my beer belly, and my legs grew stronger. I walked farther each day. People began to wave at me as I passed along the road. At first I wondered why. Then I realized that I wasn’t a tourist, nor a stranger. I was like those who had been walking through their village for centuries. I was a pilgrim.

church-in-ronsevallesSlowly I began to see like a pilgrim.  Everywhere I looked, in even the smallest town there was not just a church, but a cathedral. A beautiful ornate structure that had taken generations to build. A father had laid the foundation, his son and his grandson’s had built the walls and their children had put on the roof.  My memories are of early mornings full of joy and gratitude at being alive.  I found myself  filled with warm feelings of goodwill toward everyone I met. Was this what it meant to be a pilgrim?

After a heavy rainfall the morning I arrived in Compostela, the sun came out while I had my raincoat on. What I saw amazed me. Hardly believing my eyes, I pulled out my camera,  taking a picture of the shadow cast upon the road. It wasn’t just a shadow, what I saw in front of me on the road was the image of the pilgrim, complete with hat, staff and cloak but in duplicate.  There was only me, yet there were two shadows. I felt as if my soul had connected to the thousands who had over time walked this sacred road that connects heart, mind and soul to a time of simple faith and limitless spiritual energy.

raincoat1I’ll never forget the power of my 30 days on the “Road of St James” …. NEVER!

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Macchu Picchu

Machu Picchu at Dawn

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The bus screamed in low tones as if calling out ‘Uncle’ to the twisting dirt road before it. Looking through dust covered windows I see the majestic Andes; and somewhere in the distance, feel the presence of the mountain spirits (Apus) gazing into my soul. Ascending around the last turn, my heart is overwhelmed by the power of this place—The Lost City of the Incas, The Crystal City in the Clouds….. Machu Picchu. Her aura like a fairy–tale, enchanted, magical, shrouded in mystery, remote, yet breathtakingly beautiful!

Perched high atop the Andes, she is the Tibet of the Americas. Seated at an elevation of 9000 feet she has been held in the silence like a secret, protected by the most powerful feminine energy vortex on the planet. Here she lies, soft and welcome, awaiting pilgrims like myself who are willing to risk finding themselves among the vastness of this sacred landscape.

Her mysterious past fills you with question after question, yet reveals nary an answer. Her energy reverberates off white marble walls which are 40% quartzite, which in essence makes her a giant crystal emanating vibrational energy all the time.

hitching-postAs you saunter through her maze like passageways, and meander up stone staircases, you are lead to the Intiwatana or Hitching Post of the Sun, the highest and most powerful energy spot on the mountain. After a brief period of meditation,  continue to explore, taking in the Temple of the 3 Windows, offering prayers to the Sacred Pachamama Stone while embracing the circular architecture of the Temple of the Sun.

The more you walk, the more you sense you’re not alone here. You even find yourself stopping from time-to-time, looking back to see if you’re being followed. The feeling isn’t eerie instead it’s familiar, like a guide or teacher walking with you on this amazing journey.

Sitting in the long grass plaza, there is a sense that the ancient ones are still here. The plaza is the center or balance point (fulcrum) between the male and female teeter-totter of energy that make up this amazing place.

huyana-picchuOn one side sits the Huyana Picchu—the feminine, and on the other, the masculine peak—Machu Picchu. The Patakusi, a small peak near the plaza is the place where the holy city grounds itself. This balance is Machu Picchu’s message to the world.

Machu Picchu is truly alive, the stones speaking softly to your soul, the peaks comforting your heart and the sacredness of this hallowed ground bringing clarity and peace. It is here that we are reminded that life is not complicated unless we make it so, and that all life’s answers lie within!

A pilgrimage to Machu Picchu is like spending time with a trusted friend, while at the same time re-connecting to the simplicity of life. If there is anything she asks us to take with us upon departure, it’s that constant reminder that everything is just as it’s intended.

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Image by Koji Yatani via Flickr

Have you ever attempted to have a conversation with someone about Religion and found them incapable of an open minded dialogue on the subject.  Possibly someone with a preconceived notion of a faith you hold close to your heart, yet their bias emanates from media hype, not an  informed mind.  If the answer to either of these scenarios is yes then understanding the Science of Ecumenics will be easy to grasp.

Ecumenics is rooted in the religious interplay most of us know as Ecumenism;  which simply put,  is the cooperative dialogue between two conflicting forces to find a foundation by which healing and growth can take place.  An excellent example of an Ecumenical Dialogue is the Peace Accord between the Protestant North and Catholic South in Ireland.

For purposes of entertaining  a discussion on the subject, I would like to propose the following and ask that you keep an open mind; “What would Christianity look like today if the any of following would have taken place ….

  • The Church embraced a democratic model reflective of the early Christian Communities.
  • The voices of women in the church would have continued to be heard and cherished.
  • The morality ushered in by early leaders of the faith would not have wained, but instead blossomed.
  • That man-made laws instituted through fear and guilt,  give way to compassion and hope for the whole community.
  • That a wholistic approach be utilized embracing the connection between history and tradition, while nurturing the unique contribution each has to offer the faithful.
  • Finally, that religion understand it’s place in the hierarchy of spiritual maturity, while acknowledging  that each individual has a personal path needing  followed for them to fulfill their own destiny.

Ecumenics could be utilized by a single faith group (Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc;…)  to evaluate it’s Dogma, Doctrine & Theology.  An Ecumenical conversation possess’ an opportunity for a faith group to examine from top to bottom those ideologies that nurture or oppress the flock being shepherd.  In listening,  sharing and embracing the challenges that utltimately arise, a process of spiritual growth will be instilled,  trust restablished and hope reaffirmed,  creating an institution where like minded people will again come together to share their stories and begin new ones.,M1

I will add to this post from time to time, citing examples and additional commentary from experts in this new and exciting Spiritual Science.


Angkor Wat

Angkor Chau Say Tevoda is a Hindu temple which...

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angor watAngkor Wat (“City Temple”) is a vast temple complex near the city of Siem Reap, 200 miles from the capital of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.  A 12th century creation built by King Suryavarman II as a  funerary temple (Mausoleum) to hold his remains, symbolically confirming his spiritual status alongside that of Vishnu.  After the city fell to invaders, the temple receded into the jungle but continued as a Buddhist temple and a pilgrimage site over the centuries. Angkor Wat is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture in Cambodia and is so grand in scope that some rank it among the seven wonders of the world.  It appears on the Cambodian national flag, the rare instance of a flag incorporating an image of a building.

The “lost city” of Angkor first attracted the interest of Europeans in the 1800s after Cambodia during the French colinization period . Today, Angkor draws  thousands of visitors anxious to see this remarkable “Temple in the Rainforest.”  Buddhist monks are daily visitors to Angkor, their bright orange robes in vivid contrast to the grey stonework of the temple.

Angkor Wat consists of five central shrines, surrounded serendipitously by a moat and three galleries.  On the west side is a paved causeway, leading over the moat,  under a magnificent portico, extending for approximately a quarter of a mile to the primary entrance of the complex.

angkor_wat_monkswmThe first gallery has square pillars on either side of the entrance.  The ceiling between the pillars is decorated with lotus rosettes; the outer wall  with dancing figures. The periphery of the inner wall is filled with arched windows, apsaras (nymphs), and dancing male figures on prancing animals. Apsaras are found on the walls of all galleries.

From the first gallery a long avenue leads to the second gallery. This is reached via a raised platform with lions on both sides of a staircase. The inner walls of the second gallery contain continuous narrative relief. The western wall shows scenes from the Mahabharata epos.

The third gallery encloses the five shrines which are built on a raised terrace and are interconnected by galleries. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas. Sculptured lintels and frontons decorate the entrances to the galleries and the entrances to the shrines.

Visitors to Angkor take away a variety of impressions; some gain insight into Buddhism, archaeology or history, while others have a deep seeded experience of connectedness to the spiritual energy of the temples. The real show stopper of Angkor however is the sunrise and sunset.

angkor-watThe skies over the sacred city always put on a show and  if you time it right, you can embrace the glistening rays of dawn or the afterglow of the setting sun as it frames the spires of this ancient space. Whatever brings you here will be far less than what you take away, for a new sense of stillness, peace and solitude will permeate your entire being.  A moment at Angkor is like nothing you have ever experienced before, or ever will again.

Let your feet lead you into the sacred embrace of Angkor – this Temple in a City, a city of Joy!

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Forecasts of the Mayans


We are living today in the cusp of the Mayan end times, the end of a galactic day or time period spanning thousands of years. One galactic day of 25,625 years is divided into five cycles of 5,125 years. Many of us are aware of the Mayan calendar but not many truly understand what it means and how it works. Yes the calendar does end on December 21, 2012, but what does that mean?

The Mayans had a very precise understanding of our solar system’s cycles and believed that these cycles coincided with our spiritual and collective consciousness, the most significant of which has much to do with the 2012 prophecies. In the following overview, we will walk through the primary details of their prophecies surrounding the 2012 transition. How the transition takes place (from an astronomical perspective), what it means for us.

The Mayans prophesied that beginning in 1999,  we have 13 years to realize changes in our conscious attitude that stray from the path of self-destruction, instead moving onto a path that opens our consciousness to integrate us with all that exists. The Mayans knew that our Sun, or Kinich-Ahau, every so often synchronized with the enormous central galaxy. And from this central galaxy received a ‘spark’ of light which causes the Sun to shine more intensely producing what our scientists call ‘solar flares’ as well as changes in the Sun’s magnetic field. The Mayans say that this happens every 5,125 years. But also that this causes a displacement in the earths rotation, and because of this movement great catastrophes would be produced. The Mayans believed the universal processes, like the ‘breathing’ of the galaxy, are cycles that never change. What changes is the consciousness of man that passes through it. Always in a process toward more perfection.  Only from our individual efforts could we avoid the path to great cataclysm that our planet will suffer to start a new era, the sixth cycle of the Sun.

The Mayan civilization was in the fifth cycle of the Sun, and there were four other great civilizations before them that were destroyed by great natural disasters. They believed that each cycle was just one stage in the collective consciousness of humanity. So we come back to what they call ‘The Time of No Time’. It is an evolutionary period, short but intense, inside the grand cycles where great changes take place to thrust us into a new age of evolution as individuals and as mankind. As individuals we will have to make decisions that will affect us all. Please notice the events of our planet as evidence that the Mayan prophecies are worth listening to and learning from. Share this information and help us all move toward a better future, where we can thrive in a new era of positivity.

If we continue on this negative path of hate, an eye for an eye, destruction of nature, of fear and egoism, we will enter straight into the time of destruction and chaos, and we will disappear as the dominant race of this planet. If we become conscious and realize that we all form part of a great organism, and that we should respect one another and be grateful to our planet, then we will move directly into positive growth, our Golden Age. Our planet, the Sun and the Galaxy are awaiting our decision. It is up to us what will happen in this time of change. Whether we go through a time of suffering and destruction or we find ourselves united in a positive consciousness moving closer to our next stage.

What is their calendar based off of? We’ll start with the basic prophecies and later move deeper into the explanation of the cycles. Based on their observations, the Mayans predicted that from the initial date of the start of their civilization, 4 Ahau, 8 Cumku which is 3113 B.C., after one cycle being completed 5,125 years in their future, December 21st, 2012. The Sun, having received a powerful ray of synchronizing light from the center of the galaxy, would change its polarity which would produce a great cosmic event that would propel human kind to be ready to cross into a new era, The Golden Age. It is after this, that the Mayans say we will be ready to go through the door that was left by them, transforming our civilization based on fear to a vibration much higher in harmony.

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More to come ……

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Crestone, Colorado

In a space miles way from the hustle and bustle of daily living, miles from the nearest major highway, a onetime Colorado gold-mining town seems like an unexpected space to find a growing spiritual community. Yet Crestone today boasts a higher number of high Tibetan lamas than would normally be found in Tibet, and that’s just the beginning. Roman Catholic Carmelites, Islamic Sufis, Mystical Jews, Hindus, Zen Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, and American Indians have all infiltrated Crestone.

The story behind the formation of this eclectic Spiritual community began in the late 1970s, when a wealthy visionary named Hanne Strong, who along with her husband, Maurice, owned 200,000 acres around Crestone, donated most of the land with the intention of creating a spiritual sanctuary for the world’s religious.

The result has been remarkable, with diverse spiritual groups living in close proximity and intermingling. At a Christmas mass held at the Roman Catholic monastery, whole rows were taken by Buddhist monks in flowing robes. Hindu nuns in saris umpire local baseball games. When American Indians held a medicine wheel ceremony one summer, the offerings to the four directions were made by a Shinto priest, Catholic and Buddhist nuns, and a Hindu yogi.

This exotic blending of spiritual traditions exists amid an American western landscape straight out of the Old West. When the first Tibetans arrived in Crestone in 1980, the  mayor at the time was asked what he thought about them. “Better than a those squatting New Yorkers,” he replied. Now, 30+ years later, the area embraces two distinct variations of the spiritual life—one traditional, the other free-form.

Buddhist scholar, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche finds that having so many masters  living in residence makes the area one of the world’s best places to practice and meditate. As one Crestone visitor puts it, “Why go to India and get dysentery? No where else in the world you would ever find such a large concentration of world renowned teachers, less have direct access to them.”

One of the many Carmelite nuns living in the valley at the NADA Hermitage , finds it validating to live in the midst of so many faiths. When she wakes before dawn to pray, she sees a fire already lit at the Hindu ashram along the hillside and knows she is not alone: Others are devout; others have made selfless vows and aspire to the same sanctity she has chosen for herself.

Lorraine Fox Davis, an Native American tribal spokeswoman, observed that people change when they reside for a time in a wintry, isolated setting. She says, The people here need to become more self-reliant to survive and, since no one can survive here alone, they eventually become an integral part of the community. Free of the hassles and stresses of urban life—those living in Crestone leave house doors unlocked, car keys in the ignition—people invariably “soften.” Most importantly, Davis says, everyone who visits here has a deep sense of connection to ‘Mother Earth’.

This sense of connection between the inner and outer landscapes. Self-reliance. Community. This softening of the heart. All are hallmarks of the religious life. In Crestone, this sense of  interconnectedness is achieved predominantly without benefit of clergy. With 19 major religious groups represented, even the air people breathe—brings with it a feeling that you are living in a larger universe.

Rabbi David Cooper, author of the bestselling God Is a Verb, notes that  Crestone is the next great step in cooperative spirituality: “postreligion,” in which one can benefit from a given faith without being a believer/congregant. Fifty years ago, the eastern traditions that now reside in the valley were all but unknown in America; today,  their insights about compassion and mindfulness inform even the secular mindset in Crestone (and elsewhere).

Crestonians tend to treat one another well, recognizing not only the individual person, but the goal they are here to achieve. That energy brings together believers and nonbelievers alike, an ideal of seeking enlightenment. “People who visit ‘spiritual’ places behave differently;  actually better than they seem to elsewhere,” many visitors observe. “In Crestone, life truly does become that place where Heart, Mind and Soul connect to bring a sense of Peace and Harmony to those who walk her hallowed pathways.

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The Hajj

Alone, out of all the major pilgrimages in history, the Hajj survives with its vitality unimpaired. Great Christian pilgrimages are but memories; they have vanished with the passing of the Age of Faith, leaving cathedrals and chapels to mark routes once annually traversed by thousands.

The practice of pilgrimage has roots in the notion of inherent sacredness, which accounts for the universality of pilgrimage. Sanctity attaches to specific places through decisive events which have occurred there. For example, the Buddha Gaya near Benares in India, scene of Gautama’s enlightenment; Jerusalem (meaning the city of peace), the scene of the alleged resurrection of Jesus’; and Canterbury where the Archbishop, Thomas a’ Beckett was martyred. Any site of martyrdom (mashhad: martyrium) attracts pilgrims in its own right; witness the way pilgrims gravitate towards the scene of Hamza’s (the Prophet’s uncle) martyrdom at Uhud, or the city of Karbala which grew as a result of Imam Husayn being buried after he was martyred there.

_41178306_hajjgetty1Pilgrimage is a communal yet very personal event; climaxing in moments of collective contemplation, inducing a heightened awareness of fellowship, yet always surrounding itself with a sense of quiet transcendence. The goal, if indeed there is one, is the journey itself which becomes a sort a preparatory purification, readying the pilgrim to experience another dimension of their being. Pilgrimage, therefore, corresponds to a deep spiritual hunger present in all of us, offering the possibility of transcendence to those who might not otherwise have an opportunity to experience it.

At the same time, this concentration of ethnically diverse people of the same faith coming together in such great numbers, strengthens the community of believers both socially and economically. Goods are traded, friendships made, marriages contracted, deaths occur – these and many other instances of social interaction arise from the opportunity presented by performing a pilgrimage. It is the spiritual as well as the worldly which account for the popularity of pilgrimage within all cultures.

Pilgrimages also are outlets or spiritual remedies, passed from one generation, tradition or culture to another. When one religion supplants another, it frequently inherits its predecessor’s pilgrimage site, making the ritual and symbolic sometimes difficult to comprehend because of the comingling that has taken place. This may happen more than once in a culture or tradition’s life cycle. In Islam, it has happened twice, as Abrahamic sites and rites were perverted for non-monotheistic usage, later to be reclaimed by Islam. When this happens, the site witnesses a purification of historical accretions (cf. Qur`an, 17:81).

1230Throughout history, iconoclasts have tried to suppress pilgrimage, while governments fear it because of its popular character and the irrepressible manifestation to which it can give rise. The focus of pilgrimage is also liable to shift under the impact of political or economic change: site the Papal monarchy diverting Christian pilgrims from Jerusalem to Rome; in Islam ‘Abdul Malik building the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to attract pilgrims away from Mecca as part of his efforts to undermine Ibn Zubayr’s rebellion, which would have been funded by pilgrimage revenue.

Islamic pilgrimage, or Hajj, shares with other traditions the basic features of intention or consecration, separation, passage, sojourn (at the shrine or sanctuary), and fellowship, whereby the individual becomes aware of his place as part of a larger social body transcending frontiers, class, culture and language. The reintegration of the pilgrim into his community upon returning from such a journey enriches the community through the pilgrim’s experiential transformings; which alter not only the individual’s perception of themselves; but also that of their family, nation and the cumulative relationship they share with all of them. The hajj uniquely exhibits all these characteristics in very marked and curious ways.

Politically, Hajj constitutes the annual congress of all Muslims, since it is the nearest believers come to a single corporate presence in one place. For peoples of diverse social and cultural origins and backgrounds, coming together with a common purpose promotes not only spiritual awareness but also a sense of solidarity. While mediaeval Christian pilgrimages like Canterbury or Glastonbury promoted national unity, the Hajj promotes international ‘life trade’ and reflects unity of purpose and direction into the lives of its unique community of believers. The Faithfull’s commitment and humility before God, are made sacramental through the seamless ritual garment worn (the ihram) by all.

Spiritually, the outward journey to Mecca precedes the inward journey of Gnosis (ma‘rifah) that follows. The Holy city of Mecca is both location and spirit. Above the visible Ka‘bah are eight other invisible Ka‘bahs disposed along a single axis around which the entire cosmos rotate. The act of circumambulation (tawaf), performed counter-clockwise, makes the Ka‘bah an axis mundi, representing the point of rotation of the spiritual universe.

The Ka‘bah also forms the intersection of two planes, the vertical plane of the spirit and the horizontal   one of human existence. The qiblah axis (the direction of the Ka‘bah in Mecca) used in prayer and which   determines the orientation of all mosques is the horizontal plane, and the cosmological axis of which the Ka‘bah is the visible point is the vertical one. Prayer can be construed as use of the horizontal axis to relate oneself to the vertical plane of the spirit. Thus salat (prayer) and Hajj form but two acts of a single purpose and orientation.

Of the Five Pillars, four – salat (prayer), siyam (fasting), zakat (alms-giving), and Hajj – are secondary to the central one: shahadah (witnessing), which leads to total awareness. The Muslim Ummah (nation) as a whole enterprise (ummatan wasata) focuse on the qiblah in various ways: through daily prayer, posthumously in burial, and, at least once in one’s life, in Hajj. The qiblah is therefore the Ummah’s centre of gravity and its point of convergence.

The performance of Hajj is an obligation (fard ‘ayn – that is, the individual is duty bound to perform it), as opposed to a collective or conditional obligation (fard kifayah – that is, when part of the ummah or community fulfils a specified obligation the individual is relieved of the necessity to perform it). This differs from the other Pillars in that its performance is based on possessing the material and physical experiences. Muslims perform different types of pilgrimage such as ziyarah, but Hajj and ‘Umrah. Ziyarah (visit to a holy place) are the only types of Islamic pilgrimage that have a similiar look and feel to the pilgrimages found in other traditions; Hajj and ‘Umrah have no connection to other traditions being particular to Islam. Hajj is fard (obligatory), ‘Umrah is Sunnah (tradition) and ziyarah is neither, albeit meritorious (mustahabb). The addition of Madina to the Hajj, though standard practice, falls into the category of ziyarah.

The rites of Hajj are essentially Abrahamic, being a re-enactment of certain events on the life of the Prophet Abraham In studying Hajj, we have to consider both the Abrahamic core and its Muhammadi transformation, and fulfillment through prophecy. (cf. Qur`an, 2:127-9).

The occurrence and recurrence of events in specific localities endow them with a significance beyond their mere placement on a geographical map. Mecca and its environs can best be understood as a sort of divine theatre where this encounter between God and man takes place. Each rite is tied to a particular locality. The sa‘y, which commemorates Hagar’s anguished search for water for her son Ishmael, is performed at the mas‘ah between the two hills of Safa and Marwa. The stoning at Mina commemorates the points at which Satan successively appeared to tempt Abraham. Both relate to the prophecy of the birth of Muhammad in the Qur`an (2:129). The Qur`an refers to Safa and Marwah as sha‘a’ir, signs or evidences attesting to what had taken place in these areas, making Mecca the scene of divine action (Qur`an, 2:158). The well of Zamzam is a third such sign.

The ordained rites (manasik) are both Abrahamic and Muhammadi, but the Muhammadian component is by far the most important, as Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) completes the work of Abraham. This explains why ritual of wuquf (standing) at ‘Arafat constitutes the primary rite of the pilgrimage, without which the performance of the Hajj is invalidated. The wuquf is also a commemoration, in this instance, of the Farewell Sermon which the Prophet preached from atop ‘Arafat (also called the Mount of Mercy or Jabal al-Rahma) and of the descent (tanzil) at the close of the sermon in verse (5:3) of the Qur`an.

plain-of-arafatDuring the Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet substituted the lunar calendar to regulate the year. The lunar year focuses and heightens the sense of fellowship, for the climax of that year, the Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice of Abraham on the 10th of Dhu’l-Hijjah, coincides with the corresponding rite in Mina on that day. This makes all Muslims spiritually present along with the Hujjaj in Mecca at that moment, so that Muslims, wherever they be, form a single communion. The celebration of Eid al-Adha merely reproduces locally what Muslims are doing in the vicinity of Mecca that same day, so that salat and Hajj coincide.

Islam is a way of life and as such incorporates the political side of human nature. Hajj is, therefore, its political/spiritual festival. Properly understood, the Hajj, throughout history, is both popular assembly (majlis) and a forum for the interchange of ideas and cultures. It was at Mecca during Hajj that Amir ‘Abdul Qadir, the national hero of Algeria, and Imam Shameel, the national hero of the Caucasians, met to discuss the Islamic resistance in the 19th century. In Islam it is not possible to disentangle the spiritual from the political or the cultural from the economic. Islam is a path of unification and a total way of life.

medinah_470_470x312Pilgrimage routes have traversed the Muslim world, from Scutari on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, through Anatolia and Syria to the Hijaz. Many a caravan has come from Iraq or Yemen; yet other routes wer utilized by the North African pilgrims, while an oceanic route from the Far East was finally completed. Monuments all over the Muslim world attest to the religious and economic importance of pilgrim traffic; for example, the Selimiye in Damascus is one the most beautiful of the many facilities provided by a beneficent administration for comfort, as well as the safety of the pilgrims. The facilities includ rest-houses, fortresses and assembly facilities. The reason the square in Scutari is so colossal, relative to the size of the city, is that this was where the annual Hajj caravan formed. At a later stage, the construction of the Hijaz railway (opened in 1908) was but an up-dating of this route. It also formed the lifeline of the Ottoman Empire, and this overlap in function merely reproduced an aspect of the pilgrimage that has always been present, that is, the economic, for trade routes and pilgrimage routes always seemed to converge.

The Hajj has been described as ‘the most important agency of voluntary, personal mobility since the age of the great European discoveries,’ one which ‘must have had a profound effect on all the communities from which the pilgrims came, through which they traveled, and to which they returned.’ People, particularly the merchant class, would avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the pilgrimage to defray in whole or in part, the expenses of the journey for themselves and their families. Everyone returned spiritually uplifted, intellectually (and sometimes materially) enriched. The transformative effect of Hajj on societies, even if only a few of whose members went on pilgrimage, must not be underestimated. Both the Almoravid and Almohad revolutions in North Africa were brought about by hujjaj who realized the religious backwardness of their own societies through coming into contact with Islam. The British and other colonial nations, recognized the dangers of such dynamic interaction and exchange and in some places, notably Nigeria, went to extraordinary lengths to restrict the number of pilgrims to maintain their control over the population.

Today the Hajj may have increased in quantity yet in the eyes of some, has declined in quality. In the past, scholars would spend months or years on Hajj, not only staying near the Ka‘bah precinct but also stopping off at centers of learning en route; today’s pilgrim is not so taken with this same desire to attain knowledge, yet  the Hajj has become a vehicle of cultural diffusion, helping to bind different parts of the Muslim world into what some might call the single ‘Nation of Islam’. No other pilgrim journey can boast such a claim.


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Process Thought

Adam and Eve Driven out of Eden, by Gustave Do...

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Heaven and earthThe Problem of Evil

Traditional Thought verses Process Theology

The Problem of Evil has consistently been one of the most significant topics of discussion within the sphere of religion. For centuries, evidence vis-à-vis the relationship between the presence of evil in the world and the temperament of the divine have been used to argue against the existence of God. Do established reactions to this question really address the issue? Can the Problem of Evil be resolved at all? Process theology – a fairly new philosophy which embraces a naturalistic deity – might finally offer an amenable answer to this mystifying problem. This treatise will examine both traditional and common responses to the Problem of Evil and the proposed solution through a process perspective, arriving (hopefully) at a conclusion.

Western Theology has long struggled with evil as one of the more mind boggling problems humanity has encountered. The problem arises from the apparent contradiction of an omnipotent and benevolent God who is coexistent with evil. The contradiction flows from the concept of an all-loving deity, who should perpetuate the absolution of evil, but instead allows it to stand toe-to-toe with Goodness.  How does one reconcile belief in a God whose persona flows from love, while simultaneously allowing the existence of a darkness that permeates the human experience.

Traditionally, Western thought has characterized this dilemma in one of two ways: the “free will defense” originally presented by Augustine or the rejection of its existence (evil) all together. Both provide insight into the Problem while presenting compelling and clever positions in their arguments. However, both fall short in that they have weaknesses that thwart their acceptance, thus perpetuating the debate of this age-old topic.

The Free-Will Defense is the most commonly presented argument, attacking the premise that God doesn’t actually want to banish evil, even though it is believed he is capable of doing so. This argument lays the burden of evil firmly in the process of human immorality and God’s gift of freedom to them. In this defense, evil exists because God has endowed humanity the ability to make moral chooses freely, without His interference. Here, the Creator chooses not to step on mankind’s free will to prevent evil because he has voluntarily promised to surrender some of His authority to the world. This defense presumes that free will is of greater value to God than a world without evil, and based on this hypothesis, he would not want to prevent evil in the world.

This response has several obvious weaknesses. First, it does not explain the existence of accepted evils (those that exist outside man’s active control like natural disasters or disease), which account for the majority of evil in the world. Another valid critique is the belief that free will is so wonderful that even the darkest of evils are worth its existence. While some may find this an acceptable assumption, I find it quite suspect.

11b- CrucifictionAnother popular proposition concerning the Problem of Evil is simply to deny that genuine evil truly exists. The premise here is that we make a distinction between prima facie evil and genuine evil; the former being things that only appear evil (and therefore, are not truly evil in the greatest sense) and the latter being that which is deemed truly evil. Folks following this line of thought state that all evil is prima facie and actually perpetuate the greater good. God wills evil because he uses it to bring about changes that over time help mankind recognize evil as a necessary part of the human landscape. For example, a tornado that kills many people may appear evil, but might not be considered genuine evil because the survivors experience a growth in strength that outweighs the damages. Since genuine evil is nonexistent in this model, proponents suggest there is not really a “problem” of evil. It is important to note that another form of this defense involves redefining evil as simply the absence of goodness, making it not an issue but a logical necessity. This solution, too, suggests that evil is only a problem on a minute scale that simple minded humans cannot see past.

This line of reasoning creates several problems. First, it marginalizes the outrage of evil (illusionary or not) by implying that it must exist in order for humanity to understand goodness. While this might seem satisfying on the surface, on a deeper level it is not; most Holocaust victims would not find comfort in the idea that such a horrible event was for some greater purpose in God’s divine plan. It is especially problematic because it creates the impression that God is a cruel god; what kind of Deity would require something like genocide to attain a greater purpose? If genocide was the only rational methodology for achieving both God’s will (and I challenge this premise itself) and some greater purpose for humanity, why would such an omnipotent being knowing what the future holds, bother creating humanity in the first place? Opponents of this argument cede that it would be better to just skip creating man in order to avoid such an enormous risk in the first place.

Any argument allowing for an omnipresent creator who lives on the outside looking in, while jumping in on a whim is also problematic in this discussion.  Why would God choose to jump in and save some people and not others? Is this merely a case of mankind’s limited insight into the fabric of time? If so, why would an all-knowing God create a world in which the lives of horrible people hold more value in the end than those who were just and ethical? Is more value to be found in God’s keeping Hitler healthy than there would have been if he had jumped in and stricken him with a fatal illness?

Does God always stay outside the schema, never jumping in? If so, does God truly embrace an unconditional love if he  sets up the system to let it run amok? David Ray Griffin uses the example of Superman: “If Superman could prevent evil but refused to do so – perhaps on the grounds that doing so would ‘prevent opportunities for human growth’ – we would certainly question his moral turpitude. Superman, of course, could not prevent all genuine evils because being finite, he cannot be everywhere at once. But the God of traditional theism… does not have this excuse”

Another response to the Problem of Evil is the rejection of the Judeo-Christian concept of God altogether. This leads the responder to either find a home in another faith or in atheism. While this argument is obviously not a traditional religious response, it is commonly used by a large contingent of atheists as the primary source of their non-belief. Deists’, supposing this was the best possible world He could create, point to the traditional idea of God as flawed. Ironically, this premise holds some weight, for if He truly wants mankind to come to know Him, why has He created a system that makes belief in his existence so difficult. Embracing this argument can explain why so many people find not believing in God so palatable. If this is so then God has failed in objectifying his Divine design.

GhetsemaniWhere does this leave us? Must we choose between weak apologetic answers and atheism? I think not; there is another option for those grappling with the manifold issues of Evil and a loving deity – a promising response, at that. Process theology, a philosophy redefining the way we see nature, religion and science, offers a much more fulfilling answer than any of the options previously discussed.

So, what is this new approach? Simply put, it is a philosophical model that offers a new way of viewing the world from a landscape of change. It is a world of process. The universe is constantly changing, growing; every moment is a step toward a new moment. Reality is the linking of interdependent events, a series of ongoing experiences. How does this relate to the Problem of Evil?

Process theology presents a whole new way of looking at God. This system of thought is complicated and diverse, but I will attempt to touch on the primary points of this new philosophy. The main objective is its placement of God as a naturalistic deity, rather than as a supernatural one. Instead of working outside the system of nature, God is a part of it (this is different than pantheism which says the system is God). Within this model of thought, God is in process (as is the world), as He actively experiences the world through the sharing of our experiences with us, influencing us as we influence Him.

This naturalistic notion of God binds Him within the constraints of nature; here God cannot defy natural law, since he is part of the world. God, like the rest of the universe, is bound by nature, time and change (however, His change is not in his nature itself). Just as traditional thinkers are comfortable binding God to logic (He cannot create a square circle), Process thinkers are comfortable binding God to nature.

This process God does not possess omnipotence in the traditional sense. His power is not to coerce but persuade, utilizing nature as his drawing board. Unlike our traditional conception of God, He cannot override free will; it is not that He won’t but rather that He can’t. Unlike humans, God does not have arms to reach out and alter reality; instead, He must use His skills of persuasion to change the natural world through things that have a capacity to do so. Here, he  can simply lay out the possibilities and try to draw humanityl toward the righteous option, the one that most realizes His will. In this respect, Jewish author Harold Kushner likens God to fire; “That’s why, so often in the Bible God is portrayed by fire – at the Burning Bush, in the Eternal Flame before the Ark, etc. Fire is not an object: fire is a process, the process by which the latent energy in a lump of coal or a piece of wood is turned into actual energy. God is like fire, liberating the potential energy in each of us”.

It can be pointed out that using traditional theology, the Process concept of God appears to be significantly weaker, maybe not even truly omnipotent. However, it is much more accurate to say that Process Theology has a different definition of “omnipotence.” As David Ray Griffin puts it, “God is all-powerful – not only in the sense of being the supreme power of the universe but also in the sense of being perfect in power, having all the power one being could possibly have”. The key is the phrase “having all the power one could possibly have”; this excludes the ability to foresee the future (the future being, by definition, unknown) and other supernatural functions which traditional religion often attributes God the power to do. God is still omnipotent; He just works within a different framework in this model of thought.

An important question: does this limited power make God unworthy of worship? Process theologians are quick to say No! Why is this? It’s because power is not the defining characteristic in determining admiration, and certainly not human existence. C. Robert Mesle, a Christian process theologian writes, “Is it the power to lift rocks that earns worship? Is it the power or love of God that leads you to love God, to worship God, to be willing to commit your life to God’s service?” From a religious perspective, the true reason God is deserving of worship is His infinite love (Mesle 14). So it is no wonder that process theology – which assumes that infinite love and infinite power are mutually exclusive in light of evil – suggests that limiting God’s power is far more reflecting of a God we should worship than limiting his love?

So why did God create a world in which he had such limited control? The process answer would be that it was the only kind of world He could create. Here it should be noted that process theologians also reject the popular concept that God created the world out of complete nothingness (also called creation ex nihilo). In process thought, God created the world out of chaos – near nothingness – and established order. Mainstream religion has God creating the world out of absolute nothingness, while implying that all metaphysical and natural principles are the result of God’s will. Therefore, the existence of evil in the traditional model requires that it was created by God as God willed. However, from the process perspective, God created it out of something. Because something (as limited though it was) already existed, God had to work within principles that already existed, establishing order and injecting novelty. Part of this included the possibility for good and the potential for evil. This means that God did not will the potential for evil; the potential was part of the basic existing chaos that He created from.

Where does the Problem of Evil fit into all of this? As one may have already guessed, process theologians point to the premise that an omnipotent God is incapable of removing evil from the world. With a newfound definition of omnipotence in this model and the assertion of creation from chaos (and subsequent rejection of creation ex nihilo), it becomes clear that the presence of evil is not inconsistent with God.

Evil exists because it must exist; in order for the world to have choices to make, there must always be the potential for evil, just as there must always be the potential for good. God is not capable of destroying or preventing evil in the traditional supernatural sense, though He can use humanity as a team in fighting it. Nor is God responsible for the creation of evil. Instead of banishing the evil from afar, God works within the system, persuading the universe to step away from evil.

Does the argument offered by process theology adequately solve the Problem of Evil? I believe yes. Not only does it remove the responsibility of evil from God, it creates the ability to restore faith to those who have struggled with the problem of reconciling evil’s existence with God’s love. Those who subscribe to process thought can rest assured that God is with them through evil, as he suffers with the world. There God acts, silently beckoning the world to move away from the darkness of evil toward His will for us.

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