ST FRANCIS AND THE 4TH DIMENSION
(I would turn back now, if I were you! Especially if you don’t want to read the spiritual musings of an extremely open minded person!)
A WATERFALL OPENS THE INNER DIMENSIONS OF BEING
I was away in the mountains. Among the pine trees, the magnificent carved stone, and the crystalline waters that arise from freshly melted snow. I was on a field trip to Yosemite National Park. I went with other children and caretakers who were part of Synanon, a live in drug and alcohol recovery community. My mother was the recovering addict and I like my peers was one of many children brought into the facility to live with our parents as they wrestled and tried to overcome their inner demons. I was ten years old.
I wandered away from the main camp with my friend, a girl also ten years old. We found a spot next to a large pond that was being fed by a waterfall. We sat on two rocks facing each other as if they were designed for conversation. We ended up talking about everything. Looking back I think I can say it was my first cosmic conversation. Which as anyone who knows me, knows, has become one of my all-time favorite activity here on planet earth. (Should I apologize?) Anyway, we questioned and theorized about the birth of time and space, the stars, the sun, and the planet we were sitting on. We wondered at the emergence of life and our ability to be aware. We imagined the entire universe as far as our minds could take us, and then asked ourselves, “What is all this contained in?” Shivers shot up and down our spine and we changed the subject to more earthly things. The biggest questions that arose from our young hearts were…. “What’s wrong with the grown-ups? How come they pretend to have all the answers and intimidate us young-ens, when they are so obviously lost and scared themselves?” We shared our deepest feelings and desires, our hurts, our wounds, our fears, and our hope for there to be something more to life than what we had witnessed to this point in a very short existence.
At some point we fell into silence, like basking in the afterglow of a sunset. We just looked into each other’s eyes, smiled, and then burst into laughter. We ran and played as children do, you know silly things like summersaults and cartwheels, and yes tag, even though there were only two of us!
It was then that I was spontaneously drawn towards the water fall. Its exuberance reflected what was bubbling and splashing up in my heart. I took off my clothes, dove in the water and came up under the waterfall! I arched my back and opened by chest and heart to the cold fresh snow water. It cascaded off the top of my head, my face, my shoulders, all of me. It was pure energy and seemed to fill me with its cool electric fire. At first I laughed with glee. Then I felt an abounding divine presence emerge from the center of my heart. It felt like I was exploding in exultation. I felt the presence of a loving creator embracing me and delighting in my rapture. I felt a oneness with the water, the wind, the jagged rocks, the trees saluting the vast sky, and the giggling voice of my friend who kept squealing “You’re crazy!” It was the first time in my life that I cried tears of joy!
I never knew what exactly happened that day. I only know that it planted a seed of transformation that cannot go untended in this life. It was living proof of the “something more” that my heart has always yearned for. I later heard “the adults” in a lecture describe this as “a peak experience!” And I suppose it was. I also have come to see it as my entrance or initiation into the 3 doorways or dimensions of divine experience. The Divine Presence as Self, Creator, and Creation.
48 years later I found myself on another mountain getaway. This time we were leaving the hectic busy internationally peopled streets of Florence, Italy. I was with my soul mate, cosmic friend, life partner, and my strongest entry into the sacred covenant of intimacy, my wife, Suzanne. We were with our new found friends Lisa and Paulo. Whom we met on Christmas Eve and with whom we became instantly bonded. I learned a whole host of new Italian swear words from Paulo as we traversed the highways and byways of the Tuscan country side. Our favorite pop songs came in and out of reception as we climbed the steep and curvy roads up to Mount Penna in Paolo’s Mercedes.
La Verna, was the mount of transfiguration to one of the most ground breaking souls to grace our planet, St Francis of Assisi. We arrived at the monastery on top of the sheer cliffs. We wandered the halls and admired the frescoes that told the story of his life. Suddenly we came to a small doorway in the center of a long and giant wall. We pushed down on the handle and entered. We made our way through a deeper stone passage until we stood in front of the cave where St Francis slept, dreamed, prayed, communed, and received revelation. Everything else melted away as I stood in the presence of an even mightier Presence. I closed my eyes. Instantly the waters of gratitude sprung to the surface of my being. I realized what a great pioneer of spirituality, St Francis actually was. He was enlightened. He was in relationship with God through Christ, not by rule or doctrine but by a living friendship. He was also in communion with the Divine, in nature and through all living beings. He even gave sermons to the birds and squirrels for goodness sake! He hit the Holy Trifecta of spirituality! He may have been the first, Buddhist, Christian, Taoist. But most importantly he became a portal of Divine Love. A love that was still palpable in this cave, some 800 years later.
The point and power of his life was not the structure of his beliefs or his theology. It was that he had an experience of a celestial love that rose up from his inner being and melted the walls of all separation. He loved the sun, the moon, the earth, all living creatures, the poor, the rich, those in authority, and those who were assumed to have none. He simply loved.
You see religion without love is dead and love is the only power that transcends religion.
As I knelt in the cave of St, Francis I was aware of the spirits of St Francis and Christ as if they were both standing there. Christ has been guiding me all these years, outside the walls of the Church (I even had a ministry to the homeless called “Church without Walls.”) But now I knew that I also wanted the presence and guidance of St Francis. I wanted to go forward and manifest a love that was an expression of all three dimensions of the divine. An overwhelming feeling of peace was his tangible “yes” to my request. Feeling complete I began to stand up.
“Wait” I heard internally.
“We have a request for you? Will you introduce the 4th dimension of divine experience to this generation?’
“Eh, the 4th dimension?” I inwardly stammered.
“Yes, you see in every other generation the saints and prophets have introduced an approach to liberation, divinity, or God, that entailed going beyond or transcending the human condition. This was necessary in these ages, so that divinity which was unknown to past generations could be seen and known. But in this generation we would like to see divinity re-introduced as a part of your humanity?”
”You see your humanity or personhood has been seen by you as the problem and religion and spiritualty as the cure. This has inadvertently created and fueled an inner conflict within human beings that has left them feeling that they must choose between their divine and human natures. So those who follow a spiritual or religious path are intent upon rehabilitating or transcending their human nature. While others who love their human life, have dismissed a divinity that is presented as a rejection of life or an escape from the struggles of daily living. Now is the time for this false conflict to end and for peace to be made and thus reign in the human/divine soul.
‘Heaven and earth meet with your hearts.’
Your humanity is the most precious gift of the Divine. It is not a mistake, an original sin, something you must be saved from, transcend, or eliminate. Your humanity is the greatest gift to your spirit. Your spirit is the greatest gift to your humanity? They are meant to become integrated, unified, to become as one. It is not a battle of one against the other to be won or lost. Although, you have conceived of it like this and thus lived it out as a painful struggle.”
Now I was intrigued. “Go on?”
“Human life is sacred. Birth, death, sickness health, conflict, peace, victory and defeat! The ability to be true and progress as well as the ability to err and fail is all part of the divine stew meant to enrich the heart and soul of every human being. Pleasure and pain each serve a holy purpose in your growth and development. Nature, food, music, dance, art, sexuality, science, philosophy, literature, recreation, sport, family, and friends, are the many and multi-faceted divine fruits of life, given to enrich your existence. So, in this generation it is no longer necessary to remove oneself from life to become spiritual. In other words, no need to take a vow of poverty, and dress in a burlap sack tied together by a rope, as I did. This is a burden that will keep this and future generations separate from the divine presence that is the fabric of all existence. We would have them love themselves, accept themselves, and forgive themselves, and create lives filled with love, peace, and joy!
“But won’t this lead to an “anything goes” approach to life that will leave shadows in place, and cause this generation to stumble and fall.”
“When the standard of relationship is respect and love, then all is integrated and unified. A loving relationship to the creation, to the source of creation, and to oneself, brings healing, recovery, and wholeness. This self-love is not based in pride, rather in humility. When a person no longer hides from their shadows, light streams into the darkness. When one has the courage to bring their wounds and flaws into the open, the willingness to be honest and vulnerable brings about healing and renewal. People hide their flaws out of shame and fear of being judged. But when you can be honest with yourself and others about who and where you are today, you begin a process of self-integration that opens the door to authentic growth and progress. The measure of your love for others, emerges from your ability to love yourself in light of a greater love. By letting go of self-judgment you release your judgment of others. By accepting forgiveness and forgiving yourself, you are able to forgive others. Only by being at peace within yourself, will you be at peace with the world. In my life as St Francis of Assisi, love melted the walls that separated Self, God, and Creation, but I had to remove myself from life and create an Order that was set apart. We now dream of a love that enters into the uniqueness and beauty of each life and expresses itself fully through their humanity.”
I breathed in these words.
I realized they were the missing link of my lifelong search. I had sought the truth “out there”. But it turns out “Scully and Mulder” of the X-Files were wrong! The truth is not out there, but “in here.” It is in our hearts, in the hearts of others, in the midst of creation, and integrated in the gift of life itself. I have often been led to believe that the goal of the spiritual path is a perfected self, or self-transcendence, or no-self. But as my divine self actually grows up from within me, I look in the rear view mirror of my self-development, and I see the scared and wounded little boy who had to appear to be strong to help himself and his little brother “survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I see the withdrawn and almost catatonic youth who withdrew from the world and entered into a darkened chamber of depression and hopelessness. And yet who managed to put one front in front of the other. Like a zombie, alive on the outside but dead on the inside. I see the angry young man, a revolutionary who wanted blow up a society he didn’t understand, and was willing to destroy himself in the process. I see the emerging adult and father trying to find the light but still being hounded the dogs of hell, a company of demons who would not be easily shaken off! This person, this self, this life, is not something, I want to leave behind or transcend. I want to take all these “Selves” and grab them by the hand and say “please join in me in the fabulous destiny that you helped me to create!” It was the boy, the little survivor, who refused to give up on love, that paved the way for me to find the essential and timeless self that was hidden deeper within me, all along.
So I accept my humanity as a gift that humbles me but also opens a portal of compassion towards other human beings. Without this humanity the divine path would be stale and dry. It is this error and struggle that breaks the shell of our illusory resistance and pride. The divine is softened and enriched as it encounters the wounding and imperfect sphere of creation that makes up our human existence here on earth. We can reach for the heavens but always remain aware that our feet are planted firmly on the earth.
So as I walk back into the valley. I am ready to embrace the four dimensions of divine experience…awakening, relationship, communion, and humanity. A spirituality that I do not need to divide, for to do so divides me from my fellow human beings. A spirituality that is not separate from life, but is integrated with it. I have peace in being a stable and loving witness of the unfolding drama of my outer self and our collective evolution.
Love, Peace, and Joy, Si Gong
P.S. All of the above is only my experience and the way I see it, today. I do not want to fall into the trap of many spiritual perspectives who assume their experience or perception must be “The Truth” for everyone. I dream of a day when we can pursue, find, and share our unique spiritual journeys with mutual respect and love.