All posts filed under: Divine Mystery

Icy Transcendence

A transcendentalist embraces the world differently than a materialist does.  We often are sillier, more engaged with nature, and find joy and equanimity where others might find misery.  I was walking around Walden Pond one cold day last month, where we had had several days of bitterly cold weather already, without any snow or other disturbance of the pond’s surface.  I discovered the ice was several feet thick and as clear as glass, walking on it I could look down six or eight feet through the ice to the clear pond bottom below me.   Further out onto the pond it was like looking down into the abyss of the deep. This brought to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s seasonal transcendence walking Walden Pond.  In many of his winter journal entries he wrote about embracing icy cold winter days.  In one he wrote, “Pleasant walk yesterday, the most pleasant of days.  At Walden pond, I found an instrument which I call the ice-harp.  A thin coat of ice covered a part of the pond but melted around …

Jim Sherblom delivering Andover Newton Theological School 2015 CommencementJim Sherblom delivering Andover Newton Theological School 2015 Commencement

God’s Time

One of the Andover Newton at Yale Divinity School students in my Unitarian Universalist Ecclesiology, Ministry and Polity class last semester invited me to participate in her Mid-Degree Review along with other YDS professors and ordained clergy.  As this distinguished group talked among ourselves about the challenges of ministry today, a recurring theme centered around church time and expectations management, until it dawned on me, we were often seeking to follow our own sense of time and priorities, rather than God’s time. To walk with God requires that we humbly adjust our expectations to God’s will, in God’s sweet time.  This felt like a humbling Lenten reflection, this time of the church year when we are annually stuck in this already/not yet pilgrimage of waiting for God’s time to finally arrive. For those of us who are over achievers, or simply seeking to exceed expectations, it can be difficult and frustrating when we are not able to set our own pace.  But discerning God’s call for us is best done in God’s time at God’s …

Kolkata New Year’s Day

I have always loved the Upanishads and was rereading them on my flight to India.  I arrived in Kolkata on New Year’s Eve 2015 to join our group of pilgrims.  That evening our Harvard professor briefed us on Rabindranath Tagore, one of India’s great secular humanists, who led the Bengal Renaissance in Calcutta with the Upanishads at its center. Rabindranath Tagore is someone many Unitarian Universalists know well.  In speaking of the importance of living life as a spiritual pilgrim, Tagore said: “The great morning which is for all appears in the East.  Let its light reveal us to each other who walk on the same path on pilgrimage.”  I had come to the East to more deeply discover my inner Light on pilgrimage. There are seven selections from Tagore’s writings in our Unitarian Universalist hymnal, one more than even Ralph Waldo Emerson, and my favorite is called THE STREAM OF LIFE: The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances rhythmic measures. It is …

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice This time last year I was on spiritual pilgrimage in the Seam Reap area of Cambodia walking among the ruins of extraordinary ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples.  One of the earliest surviving temple-mountains is Bakong at Rolous, built in the late 9th century as the state temple of Indravarman I and Indarvarman II.  This is a temple dedicated to Shiva consisting of a five-story step pyramid surrounded by three concentric enclosures and two moats presenting a stylized representation of Mount Meru.  It is oriented towards the cardinal directions so it is particularly appealing in the early morning and late afternoon light this time of year.  The four entrances to the central tower each has Nandi, Shiva’s bull, patiently awaiting his master, and the stairways are protected by Chinese style lion guardians.  Though the buildings are much eroded, and statuary broken or missing, it still is awe inspiring. For our next temple-mountain we decided to rise early (4 am), to climb the Phnom Bakheng Mountain in the dark, in order to watch the sunrise …

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

What does it mean to be a mystic, to live between two worlds, embrace all of life as a spiritual pilgrim, to treat every moment as if it matters, every step as if it is upon Holy Ground?  Perhaps I should begin by telling you some of what I know about mystics.  I have traveled to distant lands, over the course of decades, traversing diverse cultures and ways of being human, in answering this question of what it means to be living in divine mystery as a transient spiritual pilgrim. There are so many spiritual pilgrims who have traveled this way before me.  I am not the first and shall not be the last.  You will meet many of my fellow mystics in the pages of this book.  As the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, “You are going, not indeed in search of the new world, like Columbus and his adventurers, nor yet another world that now is, and ever has been, though undreamt of by many, and by the greater part even …

Heaven and Hell

So what about heaven and hell after death? What role do they play in human flourishing? When my kids were little, my parents would sometimes come up to spend the weekend with us in Concord. On Sunday mornings, we would attend First Parish in Concord, and of course, my parents would come with us. I remember one particularly beautiful Sunday morning standing on the church’s front steps with my father following worship. “How many people attended worship this morning?” Dad asked. “About four hundred or so,” I replied. “And none of them believe in hell or eternal damnation?” “We are universalists,” I said, “so none believe in hell or damnation.” “So why don’t they stay home on Sunday and read the New York Times?” he questioned. “UUs come for spiritual community,” I answered, “neither for fear of hell nor lusting after heaven.” The religious metaphors of heaven and hell are, I think, usually intended as aids to devotion. These concepts are borrowed from mystics who describe heaven and hell as a human psychological state in …

Spiritual Audacity by Jim Sherblom

Discipline Six: Awakening

Seeking direct experience, but mindful of my physical limitations, I found myself on a long flight to India on New Year’s Eve. I was in search of enlightenment, knowledge, gnosis, wisdom, insight, oneness, ecstasy, and awakening—all terms used to point toward that spark of the divine which feels like salvation in one religious tradition or another. Plato offered one of the most cited metaphors of this spiritual state of clarity in his allegory of the cave. He describes a group of people imprisoned in a cave since childhood, chained in such a way that a fire burns brightly behind them and casts shadows on the wall before them. Talking among themselves, they come to understand what is happening out of their range of sight simply by paying attention to the shadows on the wall. This is the only reality they have ever known.  Then one prisoner breaks free, and his reality is changed forever. As this former prisoner’s eyes adjust to the sunlight beyond the cave, allowing him to see all the beauty of the …