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Sound and Silence

when necessary, use words

“Belonging to God”, an Interspiritual awakening, Cape Town 2017.

For 3 weeks in February and March 2017, the Western Cape was graced in thought, word, and deed by Will Keepin PhD, and the Rev. Cynthia Brix, who presented a radical (yet ancient) vision of Interspirituality at 3 different events. This included a book launch, lecture and a retreat.

The Book

btg-coverWill Keepin’s new book, some 20 years in the making, is entitled “Belonging to God: Science, Spirituality and a Universal Path of Divine Love”. The launch was held at Chrysalis Academy in Tokai, hosted by Genderworks and the Academy. We were treated to an introduction to what some predict will become a seminal and timeous work in the field of Interspirituality.

It is no easy task to sum up a book of such depth and diversity. Will Keepin has delved deeply (and by no means exclusively) into 4 traditions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Science, via the scriptures, practices and mystical writings of each. With precision and profound insight he shows the common inner coherence of these paths, despite their often bewildering exoteric manifestations. Such a careful examination is exactly what is needed in this time of emotive and yet unfounded divisions, between faith traditions and between faith itself and science, based on spurious, shallow, incomplete and uninformed assumptions.

The Lecture

Shifted by some months to accommodate Will being in South Africa, the 3rd John Oliver Memorial Lecture was delivered at Erin Hall on the 21st February. To a full audience from widely various communities, he spoke eloquently and with considerable humility of his long journey as a scientist who has engaged questions of religion and consciousness, been close to Cistercian monk Father Thomas Keating of Snowmass, and had a mysterious (and unnamed) Indian teacher for some years.

His presentation of fractal geometry was breath-taking enough in its visual beauty. But he went much further, showing how this ancient idea is embedded in all deep faiths: the whole is present in all the parts. He further illustrated this inner unity by talking of Indra’s Net, the Hindu story of how the net of all creation is constituted by infinite jewels, and that every jewel reflects every other jewel.

The Secret turning on your heart is the entire universe turning – Rumi

The Retreat

Until now you may be viewing this offering as somewhat cerebral. However, with the full participation of his wife the Rev. Cynthia Brix, the retreat held at Temenos in McGregor was to prove otherwise.

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For this was an affair all about practice, and to the surprise of some, a silent retreat, with times for teaching, speaking and discussion. Furthermore the group chanted, sang and danced.

But the lingua franca was really silence. In several settings, notably the Chapel and the Well, the group “held silence”. This core practice of the mystics of all traditions was hard for some but provided the grounding for a deep and authentic experience of Divine Love, which is for Will and Cynthia the chief aim of the entire path.

contemplation-well_smallcontemplation-chapel_smallSo when further teaching was shared it was received with real clarity, and absorbed at a deep level. Cynthia and Will proved to be highly skilled facilitators, helping those with at times very deep questions, to find ways forward with the best wisdom of religion and science, with an immensely practice-driven focus.

With a retreat format much more detail was possible on the teachings. The scriptures included the Jewish bible, the New Testament and  Christian gnostic texts, The Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, The Qur’an and Hadith, and Sufi poets, especially Rumi.

3 mystics were key – Ibn al Arabi, Meister Eckhart, and Shankara. It is with these that the interior unity across faith traditions becomes starkly apparent.

The insights of scientists such as Einstein and David Bohm are considered more than relevant to the spiritual quest. In this age of modernistic antagonism, a distinction between junk and quality atheism was proposed. A helpful thought from Will regarding the scientific objection to faith as a valid way of knowing, was that “Absence of proof does not constitute proof of absence.”

The clinical findings of consciousness research (for example Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel) are bringing us closer to the point where science can finally admit that the universe is constituted not only by matter and energy, but also by consciousness.

A bold prediction by Will is that within a few decades, and “almost certainly” in the 21st century, that science will finally accede to this fundamental shift in its assumptions.

Conclusion

will_smallWill Keepin and Cynthia Brix have gifted us with a framework and example of a way towards a new sense of belonging, by engaging both our reason, and our intuition, and by discovering or perhaps uncovering the implicit unity in our diverse faith traditions, on the path of Divine Love.

It is now up to those who have witnessed this vision to act upon it, and to be the community, umma, sangha, and church. This is a community of depth and compassion, a community who builds bridges in a world of walls, engaging heart mind body and soul towards a renewed vision of Divine Love.reflection_smalljpg

Belief separates, love unites

To most people, “belief” defines what they hold dear. In creeds, confessions, and unspoken ways, belief codifies in word and concept the structures of thought, and is often ratified by the authority traditions in their world. When one is believing “correctly” one feels a sense of security. When religions disagree, or even go to war, the justification for this is difference of belief and the divinely sanctioned rightness of the cause.

Belief is about concepts, law and controllable, measurable precepts. It judges, controls, “divides asunder” and discriminates. Belief creates walls and categories. Belief separates.

So here’s the point … belief is very different to faith, to trust, and to love. The Yang-nature of belief does not empathise or seek connection, it cannot operate in compassion. Only love does this.

There is possibly no greater text on Love than the of Paul letter to the Corinthians. If there is going to be a guiding text for an interspiritual movement, this must be it. Do not read this narrowly, as an exclusive banner for Christianity, but rather see it as Paul’s free gift to the world, to all of us, regardless of what we believe:

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be cancelled.

1 Corinthians 13:4-10, The Message


Part of a blog series “Why Interspirituality is the future” leading up to The Father John Oliver Memorial Lecture “BELONGING TO GOD: Spirituality, Science & a Universal Path of Divine Love” by Will Keepin , PhD , co-founder of the Satyana Institute and a leader in the “interspiritual” movement.

The Father John Oliver Memorial Lecture will take place on Tuesday 21st February 2017 at Erin Hall Rondebosch, Cape Town, 19h00 for 19h30 (7.30 pm), hosted by the CTII (Cape Town Interfaith Initiative). See our Facebook event.

Relate or Die

One of the most straightforward and pragmatic reasons to believe in an interspiritual future is that if we do not learn to co-operate, and continue the all too apparent trend of unbridled competition, the human world as we know it, will cease to exist.

It’s by now a rather hackneyed thought that “religion is the root cause of war”. Of course this observation by Enlightenment rationalists who broke free from the dark ages imposed by Christendom was important. To step outside of the paradigm that created the crusades requires one to acknowledge the awful truth of institutional religion’s role in fanning the flames of hatred and xenophobia, exercising  judgement and genocidal hypocrisy, and of power mad avarice in the name of God.

But many now agree that despite all the negative aspects of our religious traditions that these traditions have bequeathed to us a rich heritage of wisdom. In overcoming our prejudices against others and their beliefs, we may find that we have been changed in ways that “staying put” could never have done.

An important example of such prejudice is the dismissal of Eastern thought and paths by many middle-western monotheists. But I am convinced that Eastern and Western thought need each other far more than they know. For example the idea of “yin”, the feminine receptive principle, shows the “Christian west” an alternative to its Trinitarian patriarchy which casts God as majority masculine shareholder in the Divine.

If we are not relating to our “other” in any of its manifestations, we are in fact dying. This could be in very small ways, bothering to learn an greeting in a foreign tongue, catching ourselves dismissing the voice of one we have always considered “wrong”, or “irrelevant”, making a visit to a temple or church that we have always thought of as “not us”, attempting to see the beauty in someone else’s scripture.

Or it could be in much larger ways, such as bringing peace to parts of our world that remain in the grip of demonically arrested, fundamentalist, and power-crazed forces.

Interspirituality offers us a way into our own prejudices, our own poisons, our own stale ideas that have not been expanding and reaching for deeper understandings of what Love might mean. And it may just be a blueprint for a new model of being human.

Integration IS salvation

Some religious traditions (most notably monotheistic ones) insist on their exclusive path to “Truth”, and create categories for the opposite, the “other”, such as “unbeliever”, “heathen”, “gentile” and “kafir”. They also create sophisticated theologies explaining why some are “in” and others “out”.

Other traditions accept those not of their kind, and are more generous and less damning towards outsiders.

However, the inner truths of all traditions stress a path to Oneness, variously described by terms like salvation, tawhid, enlightenment, moksha, individuation, or sagehood. No matter how divisive a religion is towards the whole, it is attempting to find oneness inside of itself.

The real meaning of “idolatry” is allowing the part to be taken as the whole. It therefore denies a larger reality outside of its self-imposed system. Every religions tradition aspires towards oneness of some sort, but many get arrested in their development in smaller idolatrous versions of the whole. Much of the fundamentalism of this age can be well understood this way.

We must therefore assert that all religions seek oneness and integration, and at some point if they can transcend the insularity of their partial view, all religions in their best expressions, seek integration. This includes every type of integration, that of the individual, the body corporate, and therefore, by the logic of this same truth, interfaith dialog, shared practice with other faiths and what we are coming to call “Interspirituality”.


Part of a blog series “Why Interspirituality is the future” leading up to The Father John Oliver Memorial Lecture “BELONGING TO GOD: Spirituality, Science & a Universal Path of Divine Love” by Will Keepin , PhD , co-founder of the Satyana Institute and a leader in the “interspiritual” movement.

The Father John Oliver Memorial Lecture will take place on Tuesday 21st February 2017 at Erin Hall Rondebosch, Cape Town, 19h00 for 19h30 (7.30 pm), hosted by the CTII (Cape Town Interfaith Initiative). See our Facebook event.

Why Interspirituality is the future

A blog series “Why Interspirituality is the future” leading up to The Father John Oliver Memorial Lecture “BELONGING TO GOD: Spirituality, Science & a Universal Path of Divine Love” by Will Keepin, PhD , co-founder of the Satyana Institute and a leader in the “interspiritual” movement.

The lecture will take place on Tuesday 21st February at Erin Hall Rondebosch, Cape Town, 19h00 for 19h30 (7.30 pm), hosted by the CTII (Cape Town Interfaith Initiative). See our Facebook event.

What is Interspirituality?

Interfaith dialog is known to many, but Interspirituality is a new concept. It is a positive vision of the future of humanity drawing on all the wisdoms available, including ancient and modern religious traditions, and the new understandings unleashed by science.

There are four stages leading to the interspiritual:

  1. Interfaith monolog

My faith talks to you, (or preaches at you!), with no need to hear your point of view, because I am absolutely certain that I am right.

  1. Interfaith dialog

My faith talks to you and your faith talks to me. We enter conversation about our respective positions, and hopefully learn something. Theodore Zeldin says “A true conversation occurs when both parties come away slightly changed.”

  1. Shared practice

We transcend mere exchange of ideas and experience each other’s space. I pray at your mosque, you visit my science club meeting, and we spend authentic time in each other’s worlds.

  1. Interspirituality

Beyond talking and doing, a space of shared being where none of us are the owners, it is a radically new mode of being that is created as we go. But we bring all we have to offer including our home traditions, enriching all.


Next post to follow: “Integration IS salvation”

Friday prayers, Shabbat and Church…

learning
Listening up: Jewish, Islamic, Dutch Reformed and Catholic lend their ears.

It’s now after the fact. My previous musings about intentions and hopes have been put to the test, and I have spent 3 days with a group of Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Open Mosque inaugural Interfaith Retreat at Oewerzicht, Greyton, Western Cape, South Africa.

Many have expressed interest as to the outcome of this bold experiment. Some have been encouraging, some cautious, and others disparaging. The idea of spiritual intimacy with those of faiths that are often portrayed as the “enemy” has been and remains a taboo in many circles. Non-monotheists or liberal pluralists will probably not appreciate the gravities of the situation, it is no trivial thing to “risk your faith” developing closer ties with the “other”.

Friday Prayers

taj
Dr Taj Hargey, The Open Mosque

In Friday’s introduction we heard a passionate and erudite message from Dr Taj Hargey, the Open Mosques founder, in which he appealed to Muslims to heed the Qur’an – the original text revealed to Muhammad, rather than the traditions based upon the Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet which were gathered some 300 years after his passing.

Rev. Natalie and Dominee Alwyn then presented the “Mission of Christianity” to a receptive and intelligent audience who were somewhat bewildered by the notion of the Trinity. To be honest, the more I reflected on it from the Jewish / Muslim point of view, the more I empathised with them!

shabat-for-all
Shabbat with temple Israel

In the evening Rabbi Greg Alexander of Temple Israel and his contingent led us in the Shabbat service. This felt comfortable, despite it being in Hebrew, with the sung service with guitar and djembe. This form of worship revealed an inner cohesion, relevance and inclusivity, the famed “familyhood” of Jewish culture and religion.

In the cold of the evening we continued singing as a broad community around the fire, led by Rabbi Greg and his musicians, and introduced more improvisation with flutes and clarinets as well as the shofar (rams horn) and dumbek (Arabic drum).

I tried to complete the full daily cycle of 5 salat/prayers, (and scored a moderate 3). I also took part in a dawn Hatha yoga session. It was good to have this more eastern practice in our midst to remind us that even if we could unite our middle eastern faith families, they still formed only a part of the greater whole.

Saturday Sabbath

Day 2 started with views on food in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, covering the ideas Halal and Kosher, and the vision of Peter in the Christian tradition to eat without restriction.

Dr Taj gave an important and in depth talk on the notion of jihad, in which he categorically decried suicide and random killing on strict Qur’anic terms. He taught that the jihad refers first and foremost to the inner struggle of the believer to submit to God. Its meaning has been distorted by the teaching and traditions of Hadith and the culture of fear, blind conformity, and wilful ignorance too often perpetrated in the name of Islam.

Interfaith marriage was the next topic, with several such unions in attendance.

thoughtfullness

After dinner, closing Shabbat and Maghreb prayers, we settled down once again around a roaring fire, to do Christian worship. This come predominantly from the Taize tradition, with cheeky additions of Arabic and Hebrew translations to well-loved hymns like “Da Pacem”  in which we sang Da Pacem Cordium/Give Peace to every heart/Salaam al Qaloob/Shalom la le vot.

At this time after 2 days of trust building and frank conversation, we were graced with an important moment when brother Ismael, somewhat overcome with the love of God, improvised a song on the guitar, and then began to sing a few verses from the Qur’an. I think this spontaneous use of the holy text in music making might have been quite novel to those who had been taught that it can only be recited by a qualified Imam or Muezzin and that instruments were not compatible with Islamic worship. At some point, with many taking part in its creation, a full “Alla-hu” chant, Sufi style “Zikr” (remembrance) emerged. People swayed and danced, and as the chanting subsided, an inspired, improvised song of sanctuary emerged from Rachel.

As a (post-)charismatic, I was really proud to have taken part in a Taize Christian worship session that liberated the Muslims to sing their Qur’an and then Sufi chants which gave way to a song out of the of the Old Testament tradition. Most agreed after this that music was to play a crucial role in this emerging integral spirituality.

Time for Church

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Reverend Natalie Simons-Arendse, Anglican Communion

On Sunday, we had an Anglican Eucharist led by Rev. Natalie and Lay preacher / stand-up comedian Brother Derek. Of course its “open” nature meant that the identifying in the work and message of Christ was freely given to all in the bread and “wine” (meaning grape juice, of course 😉 ).

The rest of the day consisted of 3 workshops on the most challenging issues:  gender and female participation, Zionism, and same sex unions.

The quality of input was astounding; Rabbi-in-training Sofia led with her exposition of the book of Genesis and explained the biblical background to the issues. Rev. Natalie and lay person Zanele spoke eloquently about the state of women in the Anglican and Catholic Churches, with some lamentation. Dominee Alwyn also illuminated from a Reformed point of view. Dr Taj’s partner Jackie Woodman topped it all with a clear perspective on the 14 rights afforded to women in the Qur’an, and an insightful and indeed scientific view on the experience of masculinity and femininity within all of us.

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Rabbi Greg Alexander, Temple Israel

For most, the real test was Zionism, Israel and Palestine. Rabbi Greg was thrown to the lions, and his opening statement was “I am a Zionist and let me tell you what I mean”. Oy Vey!

What transpired was a grilling from some very sharp Islamic angles, where Greg managed to keep his cool, create a safe space, answer in humility, and retain the trust that had been building all weekend. Chutzpah meets al-Rahman. Mazel Tov to Rabbi Greg.

Conclusion

The retreat with those of other faiths was an unqualified success. It exceeded expectations and was every bit as spiritually inspiring as any other retreat I have experienced. I felt the same exhilaration and closeness to others as I did when I went away with fellow Christians over many decades to renew and reaffirm our faith and community.

Once again, we risked ourselves and pressed into new spaces that might have been difficult, but because of the sheer force of love and acceptance from all participants, was welcoming and bathed us in the light of the Divine. Jesus, Mohammed and Moses (and Buddha and Lao-Tzu not to mention a host of others) would I am quite sure, have found delight in these simple acts of sharing, learning and listening.

In retreating together, we have the potential of a revivified pluralistic spirituality that is deeply rooted in the world’s most enduring faith traditions. We have, as a diverse and outlying, bob-tag and rag-tail group of integral prophets, incarnated something with real potential, a foretaste of the messianic age of tawhid /unity. It was an honour and a rare privilege to have experienced this, long may it grow in our hearts, city, nation and world.

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Chill-dren of Adam: Natalie, Rachel, Cassim, and kitty.

5 reasons why I am retreating with Muslims, Jews and Christians: 5

Reason 5: Pluralism gives us breadth, faith traditions offer depth.

Emerging integral culture and spirituality, including integral monotheism, must move from shallow breadth (everything is right, all are welcome, anything goes) to depth. But mere modernism, as well as post-modernism, has lost the depth offered by the older traditions in their rejection of traditional faith.

In general, so-called “New Age” spirituality of the last 50 years has been deeply affected by a lowest common denominator approach which has packaged easily consumable aspects of world traditions and left us undernourished.

Rabbi David Rosen of Jerusalem, said recently in Cape Town that we had to distinguish between pluralism and relativism. Our monotheist religious traditions are largely scornful of the relativism of our times, but have not sufficiently differentiated this from a positive, celebratory, pluralistic engagement.

Those from different traditions have held wisdom not accessible their our own traditions, and often the oldest have held this wisdom best and deepest.

treeKen Wilbur, who has pioneered the study of the Integral worldview, points out that we need to rediscover what our older traditions can offer. We have to “transcend and include” these traditions;  if we merely “discard” them, we will be far worse off. The real challenge is to include them as we outgrow them, as a tree includes all its previous seasons’ growth to be what it is.

“Transcend and include” is in fact a worthy mantra for emerging integral spirituality in a pluralistic age.

The Open Mosque Inaugural Interfaith Retreat will take place between the 16th and 18th September 2016, in Greyton, Western Cape. To take part, see the website of The Open Mosque.

5 reasons why I am retreating with Muslims, Jews and Christians: 4

Reason 4: We can no longer ignore “the other” in our pluralist world.diversityinclusion

We are more in contact with a wider range of people than ever before. If we deny this reality our religions will wither and die. And more than that, like Bede Griffiths, we begin to sense the call of the “other half of our souls” which often lies beyond our tradition.

One of the major themes of the consciousness emerging at this time is that we come to terms with our “shadow” selves. We can no longer hide from Life by projecting onto and then rejecting the “Other”, that which we do not accept about ourselves. We can no longer justify this lack of responsibility, this willing ignorance,  via our traditional moralities which create and maintain an evil or enemy “out there”.

We need to decommission words like “heathen”, “heretic”, “kafir”, “infidel” and “unbeliever”, words which institutionalize our denial. As Koos Kombuis, Afrikaner bard sings,

“Ons is almal kaffirs (We are all infidels)”.

If we don’t whole heatedly engage this “heart” work, this painful humbling, this acknowledgement of our addiction, denial and darkness, mutual destruction is guaranteed.

There is no choice in a pluralist world to but to face ourselves and our others with a new story. And I believe that our religious traditions can give us this story, if we read them intelligently, humbly and with fresh eyes, especially those of another.

The Open Mosque Inaugural Interfaith Retreat will take place between the 16th and 18th September 2016, in Greyton, Western Cape. To take part, see the website of The Open Mosque.

5 reasons why I am retreating with Muslims, Jews and Christians: 3

Reason 3: We are all called to be more open, curious and generous.

curious-childRegardless of our specific beliefs, spiritual people really ought to at the very least be cultivating the virtues of curiosity and generosity, becoming more selfless, compassionate, and childlike.

Religious scholar and “freelance monotheist” Karen Armstrong has shown us that every major religious tradition teaches at its heart, the “Golden Rule”. For example, Leviticus 19.18, the Hebrew book of law, and Matthew 22.36-40, the Christian gospel, say

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.

Is Islam, the Hadith of an-Nawawi states

“Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”.

Of course, let us remember that Confucius was a very early teacher of this truth – Analects 15:23 states

“Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.”

There is always something to learn, but our dogmas can blind us to this. We are called to be open, but are often closed. We are called to be generous, but sadly the most religious can become the most mean hearted, closed minded, and judgmental, of all.

The Open Mosque Inaugural Interfaith Retreat will take place between the 16th and 18th September 2016, in Greyton, Western Cape. Still places open, especially to Christians. To take part, see the website of The Open Mosque.

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