Monday, August 31, 2015

True Freedom

The Black Madonna of Orleans, France

May You Live in Interesting Times

So many times, I have heard and read this quote which I am told is an ancient Chinese blessing. According to this saying, in our current age we are obviously quite blessed. I for one would like to stop the "flow" for a few months, have some other sort of blessing so I can catch my breath. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seasons are directly correlated with health and disease. In the Northern Hemisphere, we are in "late summer" or in what might me understood as the season bridging into the change of autumn. It is a heavy, dull season, one where the fruits and grains are finishing their last days of ripening before giving up their creations for all to enjoy. Where I live now, the harvest is imminent for the grapes, the days getting shorter but not at all cooler, and the air is still, moist and poised with anticipation.

In August, the news cycles are often a bit open. Congress is not in session, school is still out, many are trying to fit in the last bits of Summer vacation and people are preparing for the new year so to speak. We are told that the spirits which inhabit nature and the Earth have been traveling in the heavens, basking in the glow of the Angelic world as the planet "out breaths" in the Northern Hemisphere. Soon, as this hemisphere starts the "in breathing" process, the spirits will bring back with them their beautiful imaginations of the starry world to our soils, where we will dream with them during the Winter months. 

Serbian Icon

In the waning days of Summer, 2015, we as a human culture are also reflecting back on a series of cycles in history; of the beginning of World War I, the end of World War II, the end of the American Civil War, and most recently the decade following the destruction of New Orleans in Louisiana.

I was reading an interesting blog on the On Being website this morning. I have listened to this podcast for years and appreciate the ecumenical, scientific and pop culture approach to life's great mysteries. The post was on forgiveness.

When I was in Naturopathic School, my counselling and psychology class was taught by a wonderful psychologist from Louisiana. Dr. Pat as we shall call her, taught us that all psychological issues stem from grief, and if a practitioner wanted any sort of progress for their client, dealing with grief was the first step in treatment. Grief, she taught us, could be over anything, death of a loved one, loss of health, loss of job or relationship. Processing the grief through letting go of the sorrow so the emotion was not so debilitating was the goal of therapy. It struck me then, how interesting it was that many of the Psalms and even an entire book of the Old Testament (Lamentations) were dedicated to grief.

Polish Icon

As I matured in my profession and faith journey, I started to realize that forgiveness was an integral aspect of grieving. Sergi Prokofieff in his book The Occult Significance of Forgiveness states that selective forgetting is an aspect of forgiveness. In my own life, I have had a decade long separation from a beloved sibling, with whom I used to be best friends. Over time he found me tedious and embarrassing, and wished no longer to be associated with me in any way. I endlessly mulled over the string of insults, outright rejections and harms he perpetrated towards me, in my own mind as well to my suffering friends. One older and wiser friend responded to me after my well rehearsed litany of infractions, "you really love your story don't you!" Taken aback, I replied that I hated my story. She then challenged me to not let my story define me, to change my story, to create my own identity so I can identify not as a victim, but as someone who thrives. 

I later, much later, realized that the key to this new story was forgiveness so that I could be free from the chains of the past, a past I could not ever change since time travel is limited to fiction. I could however, change my present and my future.

The blog post on the On Being Website was about a woman author forgiving a life long friend. This friend sent a blame filled cruel letter to the author after the latter's adult daughter committed suicide. For obvious reasons, the author chose not to associate with the "friend." A decade later, the "friend" sent another letter apologizing for the cruelty, said she missed their lifelong friendship and had loved the daughter as well. The author sent back a well meaning response that all was forgiven, and that she wished her friend well. While not choosing to reconcile, she did release the anger and sadness over the cruel insult during such a fragile time. The post went on to discuss the freedom that forgiveness brings, of severing ties and energy to the past so the present could be fully lived and the future forged in wholeness and hope.

I always enjoy the comments section to any article as much as the post. One in particular prompted me to respond. A quote was posted from an Israeli newspaper, with the preface of "a different look at forgiveness." The quote stated that certain actions not only do not require forgiveness, but that forgiveness was "not allowed." After a deep gasp, I immediately typed in the response box, "can you imagine the state of affairs in the Holy Land if all sides forgave?" Obviously it would be bad for the armaments industry on the whole.

Panagia Prousiotissa

The entire news cycle, political punditry and international diplomacy would be quite different indeed if people would simply forgive. Yes, forgiveness is never simple, but what would the opinion pages be filled with if people forgave gaffes and mis-speaks? In our own families and neighborhoods, what would it be like if forgiveness was the natural outcome of conflicts instead of endless lists and agendas?

During a particularly horrific and completely unjust aftermath of an action against my family resulting in loss of everything including family cohesion, I went to my priest because of the stone in my heart.  I said I wanted to be free from this person and her family who cause so much damage. I was angry at how they all thrive whilst they steal and harm, the hatred I felt was almost arousing. My priest said, "You can be free of them, never ever having to encounter them again, forgive them." I jested during a sacramental consultation; "Can I forgive her after I kill her?" The priest who knows me, laughed a quick "No!" "Does wishing her a peaceful death count?" "Not really." I sighed, was it a greater sin to lie or honestly want someone dead? 

We humans are always trying to get our way, even when the consequences are quite well known. Our situation is different, we think, afterwards it will all be better and we can go on. 

The consequences of true deep forgiveness, of letting go, of selective forgetting of infractions can be the most liberating of all experiences, one can almost be grateful for the situation. I for one, would like to not have such wisdom, but I have experienced the freedom that comes from letting go. It is almost like breathing laughing gas, the levity is amazing.

In this age of consciousness soul, we must do most of our spiritual work and maturation on our own. We have assistance when needed, but the deep hard work, we must do ourselves. Prokofieff says that the Angelic world has to work very hard to create opportunities for forgiveness, so that our slates can be clean so to speak. If we would forgive one another, like it says in the Lords Prayer, the Angelic world as well as humanity would have more time and energy to do the creative work of living and birthing the Christ within. We could actually evolve instead of repeating over and over the mistakes of the past. If we get bogged down on plotting revenge or listing endless infractions and wounds, blaming such things for our lack of "fill in the blank" we can not get on with the business of true freedom and life.

It is my belief that the Black Madonnas came when they did and are depicted as they are, to aid humanity in the preparation and execution of the Age of Consciousness Soul. I discuss this more fully in the soon, yes friends, September 2015, to be released book.  Each age has a soul lesson that humanity must master in order to progress. Our age demands that we be awake, be fully consciousness so that we can choose morality in full freedom. 

To be bogged down, sometimes in centuries old anger and hurt, distracts from the realities of our day. Our age demands full creativity, full attention, full freedom. We can only be free, truly free, if we let go of the old, realize we are capable of the most heinous acts ourselves and that other's weaknesses are simply that, weaknesses. When this is realized, we can start the journey towards wholeness. In essence, forgiveness allows for the most interesting of times, because the creativity that follows produces more harmony and prosperity than one can imagine. When we forgive, we do not have to live in the endless "groundhog day" scenario that the film portrays, living the same thing over and over and over until the lessons are learned. It is towards this freedom that I strive, for I am tired of the same old cycle, and wish to have a new story where I am thriving.

It is not an easy path, but the fruits of such actions are more delicious than any late summer bounty, and much more lasting, and in reality, really much more interesting.

Blessings of true freedom on your journey!

Late Summer Night Sky, Time Lapse showing a Star Spiral

Monday, August 24, 2015

Darkness, Will and Seeds of the Future

Mother of God of the Bull, Olot, Catalonia, Spain

Throughout my encounters with the Black Madonnas, I have noticed several themes that many of them share. Obviously, the color of these Madonnas is either dark or black in nature, hence the name of the genre. According to a study completed by Leonard Moss in December of 1952, the following findings were presented at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Moss observed a large body of European Black Madonnas and divided them into three categories:

1.     Dark brown or black Madonnas with the physiognomy and skin pigmentation matching that of the indigenous population.

2.     Various art forms that have turned black as a result of certain physical factors, such as deterioration of lead based pigments, accumulated smoke from candles and the grime of ages.

3.     Residual category with no ready explanation as to why they are so dark.

Moss also reported that the bulk of the Black Madonnas fell into the latter category. We can see from this study, which was obviously conducted in a materialistic methodology (interestingly only two years after the Assumption of Mary was made official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in the shadow of the Atomic Bomb blasts of WW II,) that the last category is ripe for consideration for those of us who look at the world as full of spiritual symbolism. It is also quite interesting when one considers art especially in terms of what Rudolf Steiner stated in his lecture cycle The Influence of Spiritual Beings on Man, that “Art is the creation of organs through which the gods are able to speak to humanity.” In other words, art is a method by which the spiritual world speaks to humanity.

So what is the spiritual world trying to tell humanity through these unusual, almost other worldly works of art?

It is also of note that many of the Black Madonnas are attributed to St. Luke the Evangelist, as well as being placed in shrines along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela throughout Europe. In addition to their color, many of the Black Madonnas have very large, almost inhumanly so, hands.

The Black Madonna of Marsat, France

The Virgin of Victory, Thuir, France

Our Lady of the Good Death, Clermont-Ferrand, France

In a recent English translation of lectures by Steiner, entitled Universal Spirituality and Human Physicality Bridging the Divide, 

I have come across some very pertinent statements on the spiritual quality of "darkness." I had been aware of the connection between "light, dark and color" when it comes to artistic therapy, but these lectures above expanded on my understanding and revealed more mysteries of why the Black Madonnas have the symbolism they do.

The current era in which we live is considered "The Age of Consciousness Soul." In essence, this is the time when humanity, both individually and collectively, must develop the aspect of the soul that thinks independently and maturely. Gone are the days when humanity was led by miracles and pillars of light in the night such as when the Children of Israel were led to the promised land. Now we must on our own initiative reach out to the spiritual world in full freedom and consciousness and choose morality, choose to unite in a fully awake fashion with the heavenly world and the Christ.

Of course, it would be so wonderful and easy to have a flash of lightning, tablets descending from heaven with full instructions on what we are supposed to do. But the time for such events is past. Now we have to figure things out on our own, and forge ahead in very difficult times, mainly using our wills to do so. I can attest to how exhausting this can be at times, but it is what we are supposed to be doing in this age of human evolution.

The three aspects of soul expressed in the body are "thinking/head," "feeling/heart" and "willing/limbs." The corresponding symbols associated with these three aspects are the "eagle" for the "thinking/head," the "lion" for the "feeling/heart" and the "bull" for "willing/limbs." Our limbs, our hands are in essence,agents of our will. Our hands work on the initiative of the will, executing actions we carry out on a daily basis. Willing, according to Steiner in these (mentioned above) and other lectures, is associated with "darkness," with cosmic and earthly darkness. Darkness and cosmic will manifest in earthly substance, and out of darkness and our will, our actions, the seeds of the future are planted.

The Gospel of St. Luke is symbolized by the Bull. We often see mosaics or frescoes in churches or cathedrals of the four Gospel writers. Here are a few that show not only St. Luke with a bull, but also as an artist, a painter of Madonnas.

Emil Bock in his landmark book Studies in the Gospels Volume 2, explores the qualities of Luke's Gospel in great detail. In essence, after the detailed Nativity narrative, the Gospel is one long journey towards Holy Week. The will forces involved in such a journey are obvious, but also a metaphor for the quality of the human journey towards union with Christ.

The Mother of God of the Bull, found in Olot in Catalonia, Spain, pictured at the beginning of this post is one of the most interesting of all the Black Madonnas on the Camino. Her narrative is that she was discovered buried in a mound of dirt outside the town. A bull was standing next to the mound, mooing incessantly. The local townspeople thought it a sign and started to dig the mound, which produced this Black Madonna. She was originally quite black, and has been "whitened" through several recent restorations, but older art and copies document her color was quite dark in ages past. She has a bull lying next to her. An ancient folk custom is to bring children who are about to walk to this Madonna as a blessing on the next phase of development for the growing child.

The age that the majority of the Black Madonnas were either discovered or brought to Europe was considered to be the era of preparation for the Age of Consciousness Soul.

For me the symbolism is quite clear, these enigmatic works of art, dark in their color, with large hands, associated with St. Luke and the Bull speak to us of using our wills to lay the seeds for the future. The fact that they are all along the Camino, the ancient pilgrim route, which at the very least, took much initiative and great will to complete, for me is very meaningful. The somber faces on the Black Madonnas spoke to the generations before our era, to "be awake, get to work." 

The Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, said it best in her two simple statements; "build me a temple," and "where are you going?" The request and question she repeats during all of her apparitions to Juan Diego and Juan Bernardino. They are profound questions as to what humans are doing with their wills, how human will is preparing for the future.

I explore this and other themes in the soon to be published, in September 2015, book on the Black Madonna. Stay tuned for information on how you can order. Until then, it is quite powerful to contemplate the darkness of these Black Beauties in terms of our human endeavours in our current age.

"And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name." Isaiah 45:3

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Assumption and the Human Soul

Meteor Shower Mid August, 2015

For those who have known me for a long time, they realize that heat is not my friend. I am one who longs for Winter like most pine for Spring, I always hated living in Southern California with it's endless brown and skin scorching six month long Summers. I have moved North in search of cool, and sort of bide my time during the Summer months as an exercise in endurance. When August rolls around, I am feeling the heaviness of the ambient nature of the "dog days." but sort of getting the hang of it, and trying to enjoy the start of the harvest season with her melons, grapes and other delicious gifts of the earth that have been growing since early March.

15th Century Russian Orthodox Icon of the Assumption of Mary

One break in the monotonous days comes around in mid August, with the festival of the Assumption of Mary. This event is the celebration of the ascension of Mary into heaven. Raised as predominantly Protestant, this festival was new to me in my adult years. One can see artistic representation of Mary as she enters heaven in early Coptic and Armenian Icons from the first centuries of Christianity. A letter attributed to our friend of Divine Darkness, Dionysus the Areopagite (baptized by the Apostle Paul and contemporary of Luke the Evangelist,) mentions Mary's Assumption. 

15th Century Icon of the Assumption of Mary

It was not until November 1st, 1950 that the Catholic Church recognized Mary's assumption into heaven as official church dogma.Social historians point to many reasons for this turn of events. During the late 40's the world was coming to terms with the horrors unleashed onto and by humans since the First World War. After the insanity and mechanized slaughter of 1914 - 1918, humanity thought it had fought the war to end all wars. A frenzy of frivolity occupied the 20's only to be followed by a great economic depression, which sowed the seeds for the rise of fascism and ultimate war in the 30's and early 40's. When victory of the allies was declared in both Europe and Japan, humanity came to terms with both the Holocaust as well as the atomic bomb.

Ethiopian Coptic Icon of the Assumption of Mary

Rudolf Steiner states that art is one way that the spiritual world communicates with humanity. As Iconography can illustrate, the images used for meditation and focus illustrate great truths of the Christian mystery tradition. While Christians, and myself for that matter, consider Mary the mother of Jesus to be a historical figure, her symbolism is deep and multi fold. The Virgin Mary depicted in so many expressions can be considered as the symbol for the human soul. She was the first human to be told of the imminent arrival of Messiah, and her part in this miracle. She was the first to say yes, "May your word be fulfilled in me," she responded to the Archangel Gabriel. Mary for many has been more accessible mainly because she was human.

In the face of coming to terms with slaughter, cruelty, mechanized killing and ultimately the unleashing of the atomic bomb which had the possibility of killing all life on Earth, people of faith were struggling after World War II. In the United States, there was  the numbing with materialism and a booming economy. I have often thought this was a way to distract a basically good hearted people from what was done to Japan, and the future of the Earth in the name of "preventing more deaths."

The genre of Japanese monster movies dominated the 1950's. The character of Godzilla actually was a creature of nuclear fallout. My brothers and I used to be thoroughly entertained by these cheesy badly acted form films, later I used to think wow, those poor Japanese people, always escaping some big monster smashing the heck out of their cities. It was only as an adult, when I started to look at film as a reflection of society, I started to realize that these monster flicks were a way that the Japanese were dealing with the aftermath of having two of their large cities obliterated by bombs the size of cars.

I spent New Years Eve, 1999 - Y2K at a weekend vigil through an organization called "The Nevada Desert Experience." Yes, I spent the night before the new millennium at the one and only convent in Las Vegas, playing bingo with nuns, awaiting a dawn prayer service at the nearby test site where the atomic bomb had been developed. The days leading up to New Years Eve were spent in prayer, fellowship and workshops with interfaith people to bring in a new age of peace. We heard from Imams, Shoshone Shamans (these are the Native Americans who's land was confiscated in order to test the nuclear bombs) Catholic Priests, Buddhists Priests, Protestant Ministers and anti nuclear activists.

The speakers that most moved me were the Hiroshima survivors, who traveled from Japan to pray with Americans on the land that initiated the demise of their cities and killed so many of their citizens with radiation disease. These dignified people came with open arms of friendship, and deep requests to the Americans that such an event, nuclear bombing, would never happen again. We were shown pictures of little girls in Kimono's, heads bowing with tears flowing, offering flowers begging us to never do that again to them. At 4 am on New Years Day, I made the drive to the test site. The vigil had been all night long, with people crossing the line to be arrested for trespassing. I decided my prayers outside of jail would be more useful and joined the morning mass outside of the gates. We heard prayers from all different faiths, and danced to greet the dawn, pledging to work with all our efforts to promote peace in the new century before us.

I can see why Pope Pius XII "dogmatically defined" the Assumption of Mary as official Church belief when he did in 1950. Humanity had unleashed a power never thought possible. In the past, while wars were horrific, life did go on. Now, through our so called science, we were capable of blowing up our precious planet, or at the very least making it uninhabitable for hundreds of thousands of years. A counter to this was the hope of transformation of humanity, that life indeed would triumph over death, that goodness would circumvent the evil.

Mary, as image of the Human Soul, was recognized as having an "immaculate death." While not excusing responsibility for creating a culture of annihilation that the bomb unleashed, this recognition did show that Divinity had come to transform humanity and that ultimately, there is no death of the true and beautiful human self.

This year, 2015 has so many anniversaries. The end of the Civil War, the beginning of Wold War I and the end of World War II, specifically the double atomic bombing of Japan that we are told ended the terror. A former love of mine who is now an Orthodox Priest on the east coast of the states posts interesting things on his facebook page. A recent scan of his current focus is justifying the killing of the Japanese in 1945. They were terrible, they did awful things, they would have killed more Americans, we had to do this, it was the right thing to do, besides - the Japanese were not Christians, they worshiped the emperor as a God. I had an uncle that survived one of the death marches forced by the Japanese. His daughter once told me that she was glad that the US dropped the bomb, because her father could come home. What many Americans do not know, is that Nagasaki was the gateway where Christianity came to Japan. The original Japanese Christians suffered greatly to worship and the first Japanese Cathedral, dedicated to Mary, was obliterated by the blast, only the head of the Virgin Mary statue in the church remained. The response of the Christians at the time was to pray and sing, and help those who had been injured, and never blame anyone for the tragedy, only to work towards understanding and the spread of love. 

The Black Madonna of Rocamadour, France

Morality is not easy, especially in times of war. I often think, like the bumper sticker says, what would happen if there was a war and no one showed up? I think of the pictures of those little Japanese girls crying and praying to Americans to please never do that again, I remember the warm embrace at dawn in the Nevada desert from a survivor of Hiroshima, and I see the beautiful Icons of the Virgin Mary as she ascends to heaven.

How do these things all relate? How do I act and think in my poor attempts to be a true witness for both the Virgin and the Son? What is my response to people of faith who think mass murder is somehow justified as a response for mass murder and torture? I have no answers, but I do draw comfort that the beautiful images, specifically of the somber Black Madonnas remind me that we are in an age where we must be awake, we must use our wills and inspire moral imagination through our actions. It is my hope that deep, vast, beyond space and time love can transform all the pain and sorrow of our age. My hope comes from the beauty of the natural world, the immensity of the stars above, and the inspiration from the spiritual world through art that reminds me of what lies beyond my senses. It is this, that helps me transcend the searing heat of mid August, and helps me prepare for the coming festivals of the new Liturgical Year.

Blessings on your journey!

The Black Madonna of Cusset, France

Monday, August 10, 2015

Equality and Freedom Within the Human Community

Our Lady of the Pillar, Chartres Cathedral in 2008

While I had been researching and lecturing on the Black Madonna for years, I had yet to actually see them in person until the Autumn of 2008. For those of you who remember, this was the beginning of the "great recession" when each day was like a terrible reality show to see if the world was going to crash economically. The United States Congress debated long and hard as to whether or not the tax payers would prop up the banks. My naturopathic acupuncture practice tanked as my patients either lost their jobs and health insurance, or lost their investments and had no disposable income to pay for my services. 

I had been selected to attend the Slow Food International Gathering of Food Communities in Turin, Italy for October of that year. Terra Madre, as the gathering is called, was where I would attend as a member of the delegation for Slow Food USA. Since I had a large number of frequent flier miles and no business to speak of, I thought I would attend Terra Madre and go and see the major Black Madonnas in Europe while I was in the neighborhood so to speak. My experience is chronicled in the soon to be released, (yes really, in September of 2015,) book on the Black Madonna.

When I returned from this life changing experience in Europe, I had the occasion to attend a weekday service at The Christian Community of Los Angeles. The Erzoberlenker at the time, our version of a Cardinal, was visiting our congregation from Germany and led the study group after the service. I asked him what he thought about the economic crash we were experiencing. His answer has always stuck with me. He said the reason the economy was in such a dire place was that we humans were having to learn what it meant to be in a human community. He said the Angels were most active in the realm of economics because it gave us the most opportunity to be supportive and loving towards our fellow human being.The economic realm he said, was the one place where we humans all had to encounter one another, we could not avoid one another, and was ripe with occasions for what he termed "brotherhood," which I interpret as community.

The Seal of the Knights Templar

One of the main themes of my book, The Black Madonna, Cosmic Companion for the journey of the Human Heart, is exploring the symbolism of the similarities among the Black Madonnas. When I started my study, one theme really jumped out at me. While there were often no artists associated with the Black Madonnas, historians could agree that a large number of Black Madonnas had been brought to the European continent from the Holy Land during the Middle Ages by the Knights Templar.

This realization really got my heart to ponder. Why, with all that the Knights Templar were involved with during their 200 year tenure, why would they bother to bring Black Madonna statues to Europe?

Our Lady of the Underground, found in the Crypt of Chartres Cathedral

In my never to be humble opinion, the Knights Templar are a very misunderstood sect. While not overlooking the violent and oppressive nature of the Crusades from a materialistic perspective, there is actually a very high ideal associated with the Knights Templar.

They were one of the most esoteric orders of their day, high Christian initiates who had a great grasp of the challenges of their age. They were the greatest organizing force of the era, more so than the nation states. They employed large segments of the population and started the first modern banking system in the West. Checks were conceived by the Knights Templar to aid pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land. One could deposit money for the trip in Europe and draw funds from banks in the Holy Land. Their guiding ideal was "Not I but the Christ in me." They took dual vows of the Knight and the Monk. While they controlled vast amounts of land, business enterprises and money, their vows of poverty inspired them to use the funds for the betterment of society. They personally owned nothing but saw themselves as stewards of the economic realm for the good of the community. The Templars established schools, cathedrals and artistic initiatives throughout Europe. 

Chartres Cathedral from Above

The main ideal of the Templars was to help humanity prepare for the coming era. The Templars and other Christian Initiates knew that the times were a changing. Humanity was evolving out of an age of innate wisdom and awareness of the natural and spiritual world into a new age of individuality and consciousness. The new age was to be one of conscious freedom and love. The Templars sought to foster this new age through the beauty of the arts. It was their intent to invite Humanity in freedom to a new age of Love through beauty. 

Inside Chartres Cathedral

There was a great Christian mystery school at Chartres Cathedral in the Middle Ages. This magnificent cathedral was built with Templar money and patronage. Chartres houses some of the worlds most famous Black Madonnas. The Templars placed other Black Madonnas in shrines along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is interesting that the Templars thought that community exposure to the arts was an integral aspect of economics. One can wonder what our economic picture would look like if our great financial institutions thought of the good of the whole, and fostered beauty and community with their investments.

Chartres Cathedral at Night

There are many mysteries surrounding the Black Madonna and the Templars. I explore some of them in my book. For now, I hope this understanding, that the spiritual world can communicate with humans through the arts, and that our responsibility towards other members of our community can be fostered in the economic realm is actually a deeply Christian ideal first modeled by those who brought the Black Madonnas to Europe nearly a thousand years ago.

Blessings on your Journey!