I claim that there is a real relationship between these three, and that although some of the people I know abhor the word mysticism, and are bothered and want to scream and decry and put those of us who speak of these things into locked rooms with a straitjacket, I am, by nature, a poet, and I have to say that I am a poet of the transcendental. That includes miracles and the power of the individual (remember Margaret Mead’s statement: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I read “Coming of Age in Samoa” at the tender age of 17, when I started college…).
My religion (according to Oxford’s dictionary, from Old French, or from Latin religio(n-) ‘obligation, bond, reverence’, perhaps based on Latin religare ‘to bind’) has always been an eclectic mixture of theological thought and of mystical joy, at times pantheistic (you will see more of this when I tell you about my experiences with dolphins…), or as I defined it recently in a personal credo written as part of my present theological studies for ordination, I believe in the God of sound and fury, in the god of silence and quiet, in the God that is everywhere present, mother, father, sister, brother, all that is and all that is yet to come, the Great Spirit within my heart. I have always personally thought of God as a combination of male and female, but when I have thought coherently about God, as the creator of all that is, I have considered a female metaphor, as in our world it is the female that brings forth life, and nurtures it within her womb. In my heart of hearts I treasure the divinity of the trees, the oceans, the animals around me; from an early age after I left my mother’s home, I was a vegetarian because I did not want to cause the death of another being. I believe in a source of all things, but I believe all that exists is divine and sacred, and that the universe and all life must be revered.
Thoreau the transcendalist says: “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” In Walden, he speaks thus: “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma, and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water-jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.” I too have read and enjoyed the Gita and the writings of Indian and Sufi mystics, including Rumi and Omar Khayyám. I cut my teeth on the beautiful love poems of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and San Juan de la Cruz, all of whom would probably be interned and treated with psychoactive drugs in our ‘modern’ and ‘enlightened’ world.
I have no problem with miracles; my life has been a compendium of miracles, and I have never relied on the institutions of government or society or the so-called economy. My simple mantra for many years is that God (in whatever form one uses to address the Infinite, the unnameable) is my sufficiency. That does not mean I lack for nothing, because one of the things I have to deal with, in this incarnation, is lack of balance… My present condition of having to deal with a fractured foot, and physical imbalance, is a metaphor of sorts for a lesson I have yet to learn.
My sense of transcendence has equal parts of music and poetry and the beauty of nature and the daunting beauty of babies of all sorts, both in the so-called lower animals, and in women’s babies. My “God” is not the stratified, hierarchical God of my youth, the deus-ex-machina of the Greeks, the being living far from our reach, in heaven somewhere, who has to be addressed by clerics or priests and cannot be addressed directly. I flirted with the Anabaptists when I lived in Pennsylvania, because they have no need of priests or ministers; each can speak directly to God or Spirit, or whatever we may name the unnameable.
I am reading a wonderful book called “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” by Reza Aslan, who argues about the revolutionary, insurrectionist man that I have followed since I first participated in a retreat in Santo Domingo with a young Dominican priest who was a follower of Liberation Theology. My husband who was not a believer, worked with and completely admired the work of what he called “the religious left.” Liberation Theology in some ways is the founding theology behind the religious left, and I would say that Pope Francis, the pastor Pope, preaches the theology of liberation. So did martyr and soon to be saint, Archishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P. in early writings talks about “the preferential option for the poor,” which refers to the preference given to the poor and powerless of society in the teachings and commands of God and the prophets in the Bible. It is stated that on Judgment Day, God will ask what you have done to help the poor: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least sisters or brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I am also reading with delight Ilia Delio’s book, “The Unbearable Wholeness of Being,” which discusses modern science and philosophy after astronomers discovered heliocentrism. “The human person became decentered from a stable universe, insignificant in the face of modern science, while God became remote and distant.” As she says, today our systems, both ecclesial and cultural, find themselves unable to cooperate for the welfare of humankind. We lack a narrative or story to unify or give us hope and courage. We prize above all the individual whose autonomy cannot be disturbed.” Delio’s book and her work is centered around the teachings and writings of paleontologist and Catholic scholar Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who spoke of the meaning of Christianity in an age of evolution. He spent long periods of time in the desert studying the Exocene period and reflected on science and spirituality and mysticism without the rigor of academic theology. Delio calls him the new Elijah, calling forth a new path of salvation for the 21st-century. I, with Delio (echoing Teilhard), believe that evolution is less a mechanism than a process, “a constellation of law, chance, spontaneity and deep time. Evolution tells us that nature is not a closed, causal system of events but a complex series of fluid, dynamic, interlocking, and communicative relationships.”
Going back to dolphins and childbirth, many years ago I participated in a beautiful workshop through the Omega Institute in New York, in which we swam with dolphins at Dolphins Plus in the Florida Keys. The word dolphin comes from the Greek word delphos, which means the womb. In another wonderful book, “Dolphins, Myths and Transformation,” by Ryan DeMares, the first person with a doctorate in interspecies communication, she explores the way people who have had experiences with dolphins have reported life-changing consequences. In ancient times they were linked to redemption and to helping humans to survive. My experience swimming with them in the Florida Keys can only be described as rapturous; it was a very healing time that provided me with tremendous peace and helped me “swim through” some very difficult times. I remember a fellow attorney calling me “Mahatma” when I returned to New Jersey, because he said I had a new sense of calm and spiritual balance. To me, dolphins were clearly a divine creation, full of love, and they communicated total acceptance. They were being used in Florida to treat severely autistic children, and although the healing that went on could not be explained, neither could it be denied.
My first dolphin swim happened in 1990 and it was truly a mystical experience, but long before that, in 1973, I gave birth to my first son, Ernesto Yuri. All my childbirths were natural, and the last three were homebirths, deliberately, because I did not want the possibility of harming my unborn child with anesthesia. While not easy, there is a totally different feeling when you are ‘breathing through’ the experience of childbirth, and at home, with the help of a good midwife, the experience is transcendent. The birth, and I speak only about the first one because there were five and I could speak for a month about each of them, was nothing if not transcendent, mystical, miraculous. When I looked into the eyes of that precious being that had come out of my womb, I felt transformed forever, one with the world, exquisitely alive. I wanted to dance and sing, to share my love with everyone and everything. What do I mean when I say mystical? You become at once silent and awed; time comes to a stop; you are one with the universe. Time expands, and you comprehend or sense or feel, I don’t know the right word, infinity. There is the stillness of the first moment of creation…
I am doing some interesting work in my divinity or theological studies… it is something I have been wanting to do since I first wanted to become a nun at the age of 15 or 16… Because it is my work, it is something I am conducting with no limits, marrying my love of philosophy and poetry with my love of science. I am exploring evolution again, which, as Carter Phipps in his book “Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea” says, is not a superficial idea “but a matter of evidence, painstaking work and breathtaking science.” Evolution is not irrelevant or marginal to our understanding of God, as some fundamentalists say. “Because theology has not developed in tandem with science (or science in tandem with theology) since the Middle Ages, we have an enormous gap between the transcendent dimension of human existence (the religious dimension) and the meaning of physical reality as science understands it (the material dimension). This gap underlies our global problems today, from the environmental crisis to economic disparity and the denigration of women.”
Patriarchal systems have led to the terrible destruction not only of peoples but of Gaia, our beautiful planet. They have led to the destruction of the self-worth of all that is female, including motherhood. Unless we can reconcile the female with the male, and bring back the female into our pictures of the divine, we will continue in this reckless destruction of holiness. The thought of God as Spirit, without thought of gender, may be healthier, but we have had too many centuries of male-centered worship, and to bring us back to the center (to the sacred Womb, from whence all life issues), we must bring up the woman and the womb.
To come full circle to my heading for this piece, I dream of us all swimming gracefully and lovingly in a dolphin pod, in total acceptance of each other, without judgment or fear or anger. Namaste.