Tracing the First Mystical Women’s Movement: a Beguine Pilgrimage

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(Conventual Church of the Immaculate Conception)

This September I am joining Susan Coppage Evans on a Pilgrimage to Belgium to study the Beguines. Susan has an intuition that the Beguine movement, which was the women’s movement of the Middle Ages, holds some promise and insight for our times too.  I think she is on to something.  This movement was all about 1) community and 2) service.  It was not about religious authority and vow-control therefore (and for this reason it was opposed by the papacy of the time and much of the status quo) but about living authentic lives of learning, service and mutual sharing.

Today lots of groups, the “new monastics” and others, are looking to life-styles that are not just market-driven but also are not religion-bound.  Places–spaces–where learning and soul-growth happens along with service toward and with others.  Do the Beguines hold some keys to this kind of movement?  Join us on the pilgrimage, learn more about them, enter their morphic field, and decide for yourself.

 In the following article, Susan explains more about the Beguines and the passion behind the pilgrimage. Retreat attendance needs to be confirmed in June and the cost increases on June 1st – so let us know son  if you are thinking about joining us!

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The Béguinage of Bruges

 

 

Imagining and Creating
New Communities:
The Beguines did it in the Middle Ages, Can’t we now?

 

 Our Beguine ancestors seem to say, “Yes, we did it over a thousand years ago – before all the conveniences of communication that you have today.  We found ways to live authentic, meaningful and helpful lives in community. We were not limited by our time or culture.  We made a difference and the world still needs that. Learn how you can best nourish and be nourished in community. Dream it, imagine it, and work with others to create it.”

In March of 2013, my focus was intensely on the retreat and pilgrimage to Hildegard’s Rhineland that I was leading. As the retreat came to a close, I began shifting my focus to traveling through the nearby region with my husband.  When I looked at the map and our loosely planned itinerary, which only required that we return the car in Amsterdam, I realized that our path took us right through the areas most densely populated with communities of Beguines during the Middle Ages. 

I learned about the Beguines initially through teachings by Matthew Fox and then through the writings of other spiritual writers. Something about these creative and courageous women grabbed my attention and once they had my attention they grabbed my heart.  So as my husband and I wound our way from Bingen, Germany through Belgium and up to Amsterdam, we stopped at Beguinages – many of which are now protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

beguinessewing.jpg.w300h191Women who were called Beguines began forming unique communities around 1200 AD. Prior to the formation of these communities, opportunities afforded women were to marry or to take vows to the Church. But during the time of the crusades, when many women were left to care for land, families and communities while men were off fighting, a new independence emerged. This independence coupled with the practical, compassionate spirituality practiced by newly formed groups like the Franciscans and Dominicans and the traditions of the traveling troubadour, gave women the courage and inspiration to live independently and with purpose.

 Beguine communities varied in their formation. Many were houses shared by a handful of women; others were large communities with nearly 1000 members. Beguines came from all backgrounds. Wealthier Beguines lived alone in their own homes within the community and provided support for houses that hosted numerous poorer Beguines in dormitory living. Beguine communities often included children – orphans and child prostitutes that were taken
in, supported, protected and educated.  Beguines were not nuns but they lived according to
their own Beguine community rules and they were free to leave and marry. At their peak, there were nearly a million Beguines and they prospered for hundreds of years, the last Beguine died in Belgium in April 2013.

 Some refer to the Beguines as the first women’s movement. Certainly, they were courageous in stepping out of traditional roles which resulted in persecution and violence. Beguine communities formed during a very fertile time in history.  As societies moved from a barter economy to a coin economy, Beguines participated in the economy. They played a significant role in the textile industry, producing lace and other materials. And as royalty realized that their wealth increased with an educated populous, Beguines were employed to teach literacy.

 The driving force behind the Beguine movement was an experiential spirituality that embodied the compassion of Christ and sought both to live in contemplation and in compassionate service.  Far from the hierarchical religion of the day, Beguines lived a spiritual life that was both humbling and empowering in its experience of unity with God. God was experienced as much as Mother as Father and as much as Mystery as Known.

 There is much to learn from the Beguines, both in their spirituality and service as well as in their courage and creativity. Personally, I am attracted to the Beguines as models of discernment and innovation. I am curious as to what forms of community need to be birthed in my time and culture. I read about and witness the dwindling of church attendance. I watch with interest as new movements develop like the New Monastics, on-line spiritual communities and “virtual monasteries”. I visit Co-Housing communities and read about New Urbanism.

 When my husband and I walked the cobblestone paths in Belgium’s Beguinages, I recognized the brick architecture from my youth. The Beguinages reminded me of the row-homes of Baltimore. Now, my imagination wanders and I imagine a community of neighbors, like the Beguines who choose to live in support of one another and of our wider community. I imagine as my husband and I enter retirement there might yet be a different type of community that sustains us and fosters (puts to work) our talents and gifts.  I imagine that sweet spot that the Beguines fostered: a community of spiritual friends that is steeped in solitude and togetherness, action and non-action, organization and freedom, study and activity.

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The Grand Béguinage of Leuven faculty club

 This September I am returning to the Beguinages of Belgium with colleagues including Matthew Fox and a small group of pilgrims to study the Beguines and to be like the Beguines in their “experiential” approach. We will visit the cobblestones of five Beguinages; we will immerse ourselves in the emotional, spiritual and physical environment of the Beguines and see what emerges for each participant. Just as the Beguinages were all independent and developed according those who lived amongst them, so will the retreat foster and support the percolation of individual ideas and inspirations.  It will be an interfaith, inter-denominational gathering encouraging each participant to lean into the wisdom and courage needed to support communities – new and old.

 Yes, there has been a lot of planning to bring forth this retreat but there has also been a sense of following – a “yes” to the calling forth.   There has been amazing synchronicities amongst newly met colleagues. It feels as if this pilgrimage is blessed by our Beguine ancestors who seem to say, “Yes, we did it over a thousand years ago – before all the conveniences of communication that you have today.  We found ways to live authentic, meaningful and helpful lives in community. We were not limited by our time or culture.  We made a difference and the world still needs that. Learn how you can best nourish and be nourished in community. Dream it, imagine it, and work with others to create it.”

 If you want to drink deep of the Beguine movement and have it influence your communities- those already birthed and those yet to be birthed, join us in September.   Register by the end of this month to be one of the 28 people, including teachers, on the retreat.   Registration information and a detailed itinerary can be found on my website: www.wholeheartedretreat.com

Susan Coppage Evans, D.Min
Graduate of University of Creation Spirituality
Founder of Creation Spirituality Communities
Retreat Leader through WholeHearted, Inc.

 

Dialoguing on Human Values with Leonardo Boff

This past weekend, I was honored to be co-keynote with the esteemed liberation theologian from Brazil, Leonardo Boff, at the Sixth Worldwide Meeting on Human Values in Monterrey, Mexico. A total of 6,000 people in attendance, with 90,000 people from 90 countries watching online (including prisoners in jails).wpid-att00002.jpeg

Dr. Boff and I were the first speakers of the three-day event: he spoke first, addressing the question of the poor and in particular the poor Earth and the way it is being treated and underrepresented in the UN and capitalism in general.

I followed, speaking on “Reinventing Education and the YELLAWE project” (they translated my book “The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human” into Spanish for the occasion). I spoke about values and education: how Einstein warned that values come from intuition and not intellect, and that our society and its education, which he “abhors,” leaves intuition out.

For me, I said, intuition is the right brain; it is mysticism and the basis of creativity. Thus the role of art as meditation in our model of education in the Master’s and Doctoral programs I developed and led for thirty years. To illustrate the impact of this approach, I shared the story of two of our adult students: Sister Dorothy Stang who was martryed in the Amazon for defending the peasants and the rain forest; and Bernard Amadei who started “Engineers Without Borders” due to having “gotten his soul back” from taking our classes.

Extending that impact, I told how these programs were the basis for the YELLAWE program that I boiled down for our inner city teenagers. I stressed the “ten C’s” of the YELLAWE program and spoke to them all, including Cosmology, Contemplation, Creativity, Chaos, Compassion, Community, Courage, Critical Thinking, Ceremony and Character Development. I showed slides of the YELLAWE program in Oaxxa, Mexico, and stressed how indigenous peoples, who are powerfully present in the Mexican peoples still, taught their young not by forcing them to sit in desks seven hours a day, but mostly by way of ceremony, which of course includes the body and all the chakras.

I was delighted by the reception we received! After Dr. Boff and I spoke, there was an hour in which he and I sat together and took a series of excellent questions chosen from a fish bowl, with three minutes for each of us to respond to each question.

While I don’t recall all of the questions we were asked, one of more provocative was: Is the Catholic Church losing ground in Latin America? Dr. Boff agreed that yes, it was. I added that institutionalized religion in general was losing ground but that spirituality was the future more than religion.

Watch the live-streamed recordings of Dr. Boff’s and my talks (and more) on the conference archive site.

Men Behaving Badly

Recent news stories have not been showing the better side of men. From police brutality to domestic violence and international terrorism, we’ve seen stories lately to raise horror and concern.

We’ve seen a white male cop gun down a young black man, apparently for walking while black on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. We’ve seen a NFL halfback, Ray Rice, slug his fiancée on an elevator so viciously that she fell unconscious. We’ve heard of another player, Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers, who apparently hit his girlfriend during a party in the Bay area. We’ve heard of Adrian Peterson, one of the great running backs of all time, beating his baby child. There are now documented cases of 56 serious cases of domestic abuse by NFL players in the past eight years, yet in most cases there was no punitive action taken by either NFL or law enforcement.

And it’s not limited to the U.S., or the world of football. We hear of young men in ISIS who are beheading journalists at will while recruits for ISIS pour in from around the globe. Recently I saw a YouTube recruiting piece from ISIS where three young men, dressed in full beards and with machine guns on their laps, tell the viewers to join ISIS and “get over your depression.”

It is true that many young men are depressed these days. Given much that is going on in society and in our depleted earth community, one can see why. And given the dearth of healthy male role models one can understand the depression. Realistically, what are we to do with it?

As I see it, the real issue has to do with what passes as masculinity in our culture.

Recently two authors teamed up to express their opinion on these matters in a thoughtful article entitled “Depression in men is a public health problem” — Dr. William Pollack, author of Real Boys and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, filmmaker of The Mask You Live In, a documentary exploring the bad images of masculinity among boys.

In their article, they point out that boys are more likely to act out their depression than are girls, and so “the early warning signs of depression in boys are often missed, leading to a misdiagnosis as a conduct disorder or attention-deficit disorder.” Young men in the US are committing suicide on an average of three per day — five times the rate of women. The authors conclude: “Depression in males of all ages is a public health crisis that must be addressed. To do so, we must redefine healthy masculinity and recognize that even if men are putting on a face suggesting ‘everything is fine,’ real pain may be lurking beneath the surface.” (1)

Some years ago, I addressed the issue of redefining healthy masculinity in my book The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine.. Even today, the response from people on the front line remains very strong. A Native American who has worked in prisons for twelve years told me that he’d found getting men to look within themselves was practically impossible — that in prison men are always trying to project on others. After bringing my book into his program, he said it was the first he’d found that got men to look inwards and “find the nobility inside.”

That is key: Finding the nobility inside, the original blessing, effectively heals the lousy self-image that most men carry. And this is the process I offer in Hidden Spirituality: I gather ancient archetypes of the healthy masculine that take us far deeper than superficial messages of our culture (be a winner; don’t feel too deeply; be a Marlboro man, etc.). Such metaphors as Green Man, Spiritual Warrior, Father Sky, Hunter-Gatherer, Blue Man, Father, Grandfather, and more alert men of all ages to the greatness of which they’re capable.(2)

In his recent Washington Post article, “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them,” Michael Muhammad Knight shares his own story to illustrate the appeal of jihad and ISIS to young men. He was attracted to jihad not by Muslim philosophy (of which he was ignorant), but by his growing up in American culture. Leaving his Catholic High School in upstate New York, he traveled to a Saudi-funded madrassa in Pakistan. He writes:

It wasn’t a verse I read in our Qur’an study circles that made me want to fight but rather my American values. I had grown up in the Reagan 80’s. I learned from G.I. Joe cartoons to (in the words of the theme song) ‘fight for freedom, wherever there’s trouble.’ I assumed that individuals had the right–and the duty–to intervene anywhere on the planet where they perceived threats to freedom, justice and equality.

He learned from his (conservative) Muslim teachers that Muhammad had said that “the ink of scholars was holier than the blood of martyrs” so he eventually gave up soldiery aspirations to become a writer.

But here is the crux of his testimony:

We [Americans] are raised to love violence and view military conquest as a benevolent act. The American kid who wants to intervene in another nation’s civil war owes his worldview as much to American exceptionalism as to jihadist interpretations of scripture. I grew up in a country that glorifies military sacrifice and feels entitled to rebuild other societies according to its own vision. I internalized these values before ever thinking about religion. Before I even knew what a Muslim was, let alone concepts such as ‘jihad’ or an ‘Islamic state,’ my American life had taught me that that’s what brave men do.(3)

What DO “brave men” do? That is the question. What awakens a man’s soul? What calls for courage and generosity and sacrifice and community? How does a boy mature to become a man? What values are we passing on to our boys and young men? The values of the reptilian brain (be number one; conquer; win at all costs; control others)? Or of the mammalian brain (compassion, caring and justice-making)?

We are living in a teachable moment. All the bad news about men behaving badly offers us an opportunity to speak out, to ask the deeper questions, to redirect the messages our boys and young men are getting from a patriarchal and reptilian-brain-driven culture that is dangerous to women and men, children and the Earth.

Feminist poet Adrienne Rich put it this way, writing about her two sons:

What do we want for our sons? To discover new ways of being men even as we are discovering new ways of being women…a manhood in which they would not perceive women as the sole source of nourishment and solace….If I could have one wish for my own sons, it is that they should have the courage of women. I mean by this something very concrete and precise: the courage I have seen in women who, in their private and public lives, both in the interior world of their dreaming, thinking and caring, and the outer world of patriarchy, are taking greater and greater risks, both psychic and physical, in the evolution of a new vision….I would like my sons not to shrink from this kind of pain, not to settle for the old male defenses including that of a fatalistic self-hatred. And I would wish them to do this not for me, or for other women, but for themselves, and for the sake of life on the planet Earth.(4)

Rich has perceived deeply how men are stuck in “a fatalistic self-hatred.” Men have internalized the lies about original sin preached not only by bad religion but also by bad consumer-capitalism more deeply than have women. Men need to find the original blessing, the “nobility inside.” There lies the medicine for an obviously sick manhood that drives men to addictions, militaristic brutality and domestic as well as international violence.

Endnotes

1 William Pollack and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “Depression in men is a public health problem,” San Francisco Chronicle, Sept 4, 2014, p. A-14. Italics mine.
2 Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine (Novato, Ca: New World Library, 2008)
3 Michael Muhammad Knight, “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them,” Sept 3, 2014
4 Cited in Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: Mystic-Warror for Our Times (Novato, Ca: New World Library, 2014), 74, 75. Italics mine.

The Cosmic Mass: A New Generation

(Reblogged with permission from Inquire Within)

The Cosmic Mass began as an intergenerational co-creation between Matthew Fox and a group of visionary young people from Sheffield, England. Now, as it continues its resurgence as a monthly event in Oakland, CA and environs, Matthew Fox’s co-creation is being carried on in a new generation.

In this Podcast Dr. Fox and the current director of the Oakland TCM, Skylar Wilson, join Darren Main on the online radio show Inquire Within to talk about Creation Spirituality and the next generation of The Cosmic Mass.

An Evening with the Awakin Circle of Silicon Valley

In the midst of the paradoxical Silicon Valley culture, Matthew Fox was delighted to share an evening with a small, vibrant home-based Awakin circle, part of the Awakin.org movement just recently. He writes:

After speaking to the Silicon Valley circle, I was filled with gratitude to my hosts Nipun and Guri Mehta and their family for the 17 year commitment that they have made to bringing a spiritual ballast to the Silicon Valley and its creative accomplishments all those years.  (Theirs) is an important vision and I was honored to be part of it for an evening.  Blessings and continued grace on this meaningful and deeply needed work!

This was Nipun’s account of the evening;

With his unique blend of stories, scholarship and spirituality, (Matthew Fox) filled our pockets to the bursting point with gems of insight.  Among much else he reminded us that study can be prayer if we bring our hearts to it, that zeal springs from a deep experience of the beauty of life, that “Nothing is so  like God as silence”, and that trust is a form of courage.

He invited us on a quest for joy in the work that we do, and to fall in love with the banquet of all that is lovable in our lives. He informed us that at our core we are ‘bipeds who make things’, and the sacred act of creation, not consumption, is our birthright, and that without the faculty of awe we render the universe little more than a marketplace.

He urged us to honor the power of inter-generational community, to calm our ‘reptilian brains’ through meditation, to restore our relationship with the earth, and to reclaim the gift of true learning…he gave us through his words, his presence and his truth much to work with and return to as we travel our own paths, in this “University” called life. For that generosity we are deeply grateful.

The real record for what happened last night lies in our hearts.  We hope the evening energizes your spiritual journey in some way; surely, we feel blessed to host such conscious gatherings in our own home.

He also offered some links for more resources:

How do I engage more?  Here are some ways:

  • Join an Awakin Circle (locally in Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley, South
    San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and of course, Santa Clara, and globally on five of the seven continents).
  • Pick up a Smile Card.
  • Stay connected to good, via DailyGood and Karmatube.
  • To get more involved, volunteer with ServiceSpace.

Living a Joyous Life – Matthew Fox Converses with TCM Ritual Co-Leader Kokomon Clottey

“Joy is not the opposite of suffering or pain – joy is what sees us through both.” Hear Matthew Fox speaking about how to live a joyous life of community, creativity, and embodied spirituality despite our dire world circumstances, in conversation with Blog Talk Radio host Kokomon Clottey of A Happiness Index.

More Spirituality Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with A Happiness Index on BlogTalkRadio

“Catholic Boy Blues” – A Breakout Book

CatholicBoyBlues Just last month, Greystone Press released an eloquent testament to the shattering impact of childhood sexual abuse, and the power of truth-speaking in the healing process, in Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing by Norbert Krapf, past Indiana Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize nominee, emeritus prof. of English at Long Island University, and author of twenty-five critically acclaimed books.

In his Introduction, Matthew Fox speaks to the depth of Krapf’s message:

“The late poet Derrick Walcott, in accepting the Nobel Prize for poetry in 1992, declared that “the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.” This powerful statement reminds us of the darkness that so much history contains—the wars, the injustices, the mistakes, the crimes, the malfeasance, the lies. History tempts us to give up on life. Poetry (and other art forms) are that gift from the gods that allows us to endure, to heal and to thrive in spite of history.

Lately, first in the Roman Catholic Church, and now in the football hierarchy of Penn State University, one shadow side of history, the rape and abuse of children and the cover up by powers that be, has been making headlines and telling us things about ourselves and our institutions that we prefer not to hear. Denial reigns. Adultism rules when institutional ego and reputation take precedence over the safety of children whether that institution is a university or a church. In this book, from an acclaimed poet laureate, we hear the truth that burns through denial and we pray once again that the truth will.

After armies of lawyers and (somewhat) contrite bishops and football coaches and in-denial popes there cometh the poet. A poet-victim to tell the truth, sing the truth, speak the truth, gather the truth with facts and heart and the only weapons victims have ever possessed—the truth-telling that alone leads toredemption, prevention, healing and ultimately compassion and forgiveness.

These poems tell what a steep price the soul pays for childhood abuse. How many years (over fifty in the present poet’s life) of keeping the secret; how much damage was done in his and other families, he keeps asking. What a price a community pays as well. A close-knit German Catholic community no less. Former Pope Benedict XVI would do well to take a retreat immediately with these poems in hand and read and pray these poems and then tell the world why his all-powerful office of the Holy Inquisition, responsible for wayward clergy, did not end child abuse by priests, some of whom, such as the infamous Father Maciel, were so highly favored by his boss, Pope John Paul II, who is getting canonized. And, while he is at it, let Cardinal Ratzinger (retired Pope Benedict XVI) tell the world why his office kept the lights on late at night to beat upon holy and hard-working theologians but kept mum on perverse pedophile priests.

In these poems the poet speaks the truth not just about the facts but also about the feelings. The stories. The broken lives. The betrayals. The many others also abused. The hypocrisy. The religious hypocrisy. The spiritual hypocrisy. The losses. The anger. The sadness. The grief. The distance traveled from religion, from church, from oneself.

The probing here of the depth of passion and loss (what the mystics call the “Via Negativa”) is profound. And universal. All grief speaks this way. All grief is angry and wild, sad and sorry, mute and silent, even secret. But not for ever. Breakthrough is so needed. Breakout is so important. This book is a breakout book. The truth must be spoken (not just adjudicated, not just financially reimbursed through fines in civil court). This is why Walt Whitman can say “the true Son of God comes singing his song.” The Jesus story reminds all men and women that the truer we be sons and daughters of God, the surer we will be crucified. Innocent boys, like the innocent Christ, wanted only to love life and explore it fully and, with an overly naïve and trusting parish community and sister and parents, were befuddled by the adult lies, the religious lies going on. They are, sadly, still going on. The church is not reforming or even trying to reform itself. Quite the opposite, it has slid (and even rushed) backward into a defensive mode again of superiority “beyond which there is no salvation,” a mode of authoritarianism that condemns the whistle blower, the prophet, the thinker as trouble-maker. The church is what it is, unfortunately.

But the poems live. They are organic and truthful. They speak the truth more loudly than sermons and rituals and papal bulls; more appropriately than fancy colored vestments and rote readings from holy books. They reach to the soul, to the heart, to the Spirit. They bear the mark of authentic preaching of salvation and of a living Christ of compassion….”

See the full introduction, and experience the depth of Norbert Krapf’s passionate poetry, in Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing. See the growing number of rave reviews here.

Lorna Byrne and Unemployed Angels

Matthew Fox writes of his experience celebrating a Cosmic Mass of the Angels and later conversing with angelologist Lorna Byrne….

An Encounter with a Very Special Woman

Lately I have been reading, or better re-reading, the classic work The Psychology of Consciousness by Robert Ornstein and his more recent study The Evolution of Consciousness. Also Peter Russell’s book, From Science to God: A Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness. I have been doing this in prep for a sit-down with Rupert Sheldrake, the brilliant though heretical (among science’s priestly establishment) British biologist as we are working on a book together on Spirituality and Consciousness.

But also I had the privilege the past week to spend several hours with Lorna Byrne, some in private conversation, some in the public setting of the Celebration of a Cosmic Mass of the Angels held at Sofia University in Palo Alto, and several rich hours interviewing Lorna before a very attentive and diverse gathering of many hundreds of persons at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. That interview was filmed and will shortly be made available on a DVD from my non-profit, Friends of Creation Spirituality.

Lorna Byrne challenges all of us who seek a saving and expanded consciousness to grow our minds and hearts and souls.

Lorna, for those who do not know her, is a person who any scientist serious about studying our potential as a species should be studying. Lorna is an Irish peasant woman, a woman of the sod who with her now deceased husband Joe raised four children on a very poor plot of land in rural Ireland. Lorna is illiterate having been dyslexic her entire life and pretty much shunned by the ordinary educational establishment during her growing up years. She is a grandmother and a widow, her beloved husband having died about six years ago. Her sense of humor, her grace, her normalcy, her struggles as a mother (her family was so poor they often had neither gifts nor food for Christmas) and wife (Joe was frequently ill and unable to work), all point to an every-day woman with feet very much on the earth. She talks of foraging for carrots and potatoes in the Irish sod to feed her children on a regular basis.

Lorna also has been visited by angels since she was a child. Her very first memory dates to the age of two when she was looking up to see her parents and she saw their guardian angels behind them. She regularly sees guardian angels and many other angels and wonders how strange it is that so few others do not have these experiences. Since she was given permission six years ago by the angels to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, and to come out of the closet with her angel visitations she has dictated three books which have become best sellers and been translated into twenty-six languages, including Angels in My Hair; Stairways to Heaven; and A Message of Hope from the Angels.

At our Cosmic Mass Lorna informed me as we were preparing to open the doors for the attendees to arrive that the place was already packed with angels. At the Grace Cathedral interview I began by asking her if she observed angels in the place: “Oh, yes,” she said. There were multitudes of them, many still streaming in through the doors and one taller than the main door at the entrance (which must be at least thirty feet high in the vast Gothic Cathedral where we gathered after an introduction from Episcopal Bishop Mark Andrus).

She described what many of them were wearing and she talked of “many unemployed angels.” “What is an unemployed angel?” I asked, “I know many persons who are unemployed today, but angels?” She replied: “God is pouring lots and lots of angels onto earth these days to assist us humans but many are unemployed—people are ignoring them and not asking them for help.”

Lorna not only asks angels for help on a regular basis and by offering personal blessings to people who come to hear her speak or be interviewed but the angels apparently ask her for help as well. When she was ten years old angel Michael told her she would one day write a famous book. She simply laughed since she could neither read nor write nor imagine being a writer. But Michael was right. She is spreading the word from the angels.

And what is that word? It is to “wake up” she tells us. To get over religious rivalries and wars and nonsense about “ours is the only way to God.” She has visited mosques and seen angels there accompanying Mosque attendees in their prayer and worship and the guardian angels of Muslims with them; she has attended synagogues and seen angels with the attendees there; Buddhists; Hindus; Christians and, indigenous peoples and Yes! Atheists too. Angels precede all the faith traditions. They are bound to none. We should move beyond denominationalism just as they do. Respect the traditions but also move beyond them.

Lorna and the angels are well aware of the danger our species is in today from war and violence and hatred and envy and of course how we are endangering the beauty and health of the planet as we know it for generations to come. This is why her message is about Waking Up. She tells us that while not judging us, since angels’ love is “unconditional,” angels nevertheless are disappointed that humans have not evolved further and faster than we have. Our spirituality and our wisdom falls far short of our needs. While conscious of evil and able to name it (she does use the term “Satan” but on her own terms and is open to other language about evil), she does not like to speak about it because she feels evil already steals the headlines and it getting so much of the attention of the press—which is what it seeks before all else. What better way to depress humanity so that it does not stand up for its own beauty and God-like-ness than to give evil all the attention?

Lorna sees souls of persons and the image she encounters for the human soul is that of a spark. “Our soul is like a piece of thread in my skirt,” she says, “a thread of God.” The soul is an alive and wondrous spark. I could not help to make the connection with the great fourteenth century mystic, Meister Eckhart, who talks often about the “spark of the soul” (ancilla animae) that is the “uncreated” apex of the soul where we birth God and where the Holy Spirit is at work. Eckhart credits the Muslim philosopher Avicenna many times for this naming of the spark and the soul. Rumi and other Sufi poets celebrate the soul as spark as does the Jewish mystical work, the Kaballah.

But Lorna has not read Eckhart or Rumi or Avicenna or the Kaballah. She has simply been opening her eyes and found the same phenomenon. This spark she assures us “is eternal”, it does not go out (Eckhart said the same). We do live forever and its beauty she tells us is beyond words. Also, angels do not have souls—they are pure spirits. Only humans have this wondrous likeness to God that shines incessantly.

Psychologists stumble over the term “soul” (even though the etymological meaning of their science is the study of the soul) and Lorna’s image and naming may assist them. Look for the spark. Dust it off. Let it flourish and burn fully.

Lorna often sees the energy fields, the colors, the heat and waves emitted from flowers and trees as well as rocks—when I asked her about this she pointed to the large pillars in the Gothic Cathedral where we gathered—“I see now the colors and heat emanating from these,” she said. It is one thing for scientists to tell us this is what is happening; it is still another to know that some of us are already seeing it on a daily basis.

Lorna teaches a familiar teaching that the primary work of our guardian angels is to “take us home” at death and she has been present for a number of such journeys from this world to another.

Lorna speaks of the Angel of America and that America, while falling short of its pronounced values in so many ways, has a unique and important role to play in the new spirituality. This because Americans are a creative people and because in America there is more interfaith and interspirituality going on than in any nation on earth.

Lorna says she no longer identifies as “Roman Catholic” but simply as “Catholic” but that even that is within the wide scope of the spirit trying to break through in all the world’s religions and in atheism also. In her book, Angels in My Hair, she writes: “When a prayer comes from the depths of our being it is incredibly powerful, and a person’s religion or creed doesn’t come into it: God hears the prayers of all this children equally.” (156) She also pointed that prayer is extremely powerful and we never pray alone—angels are always there.

I asked her about worship and the presence of angels and she told of seeing during our Cosmic Mass what was like “an upside down waterfall” carrying energy up and down from the altar. I remarked how like Hildegard this was who spoke of seeing a “golden river” flowing up and down from the altar (she also painted a picture about it) and Lorna was excited to hear that “golden river” language from Hildegard. Lorna pointed out that many angels were genuflecting about us as we sat together at the altar sanctuary at Grace Cathedral.

Lorna has seen visions of our possible future as a species. Most of them are very positive such as the day coming when all parents will see the guardian angels of their children (might that help to still child abuse of many kinds?) and teachers seeing the guardian angels of their students (might that make for an awakened classroom?). But she has also seen images of an apocalypse which is also possible if humans refuse to wake up.

Robert Ornstein, in his book on The Evolution of Consciousness, makes the point that our brains have evolved over the eons in order that our minds can “mesh with the world.” But that his ancestral arrangement of adaptations works when the world is stable. But today “the world we adapted to is now gone” with the result that “our ancestral adaptations conflict with the needs of the modern world.” We find ourselves “overprepared” for such needs as the sexual, but “we have no basis for understanding a world of billions of people” and how our actions are causing holes in the ozone and climate change. We have undergone biological and neural and cultural evolutions but now we “need to begin a process of conscious evolution. We find unexpected allies in this arena, in modern spirituality and modern science.” (pp. 11f) Yes, and in persons like Lorna Byrne who is speaking in her way of our future evolution and undertaking it with angels at our side.

It is one thing to have written about angels as Rupert Sheldrake and I have in our book, The Physics of Angels, in which we drew on the teachings of three masters, Dennis the Aereapogyite, Hildegard of Bingen and Thomas Aquinas. It is another thing to have experienced angels (which I and many people I know have done)–but to experience them on a regular basis as Lorna does? This is a phenomenon worthy of our attention.

I told Lorna near the end of our interview at Grace Cathedral that I was going to go “out on a limb” and say what I was being prompted to say: That just as a simple woman of the sod of Israel, Mary or Miriam, who was also illiterate, heard from an angel about 2000 years ago that she was to conceive a special son, so too Laura has come in our time to announce good tidings that our species needs to hear: That is that our powers of consciousness and expansion and intuition our being woefully underutilized—we are capable of working with the angels and it is surely time.

Thomas Aquinas teaches that angels learn only through intuition. It follows that when we give the intuition its due once again we may find ourselves on a highway of hitchhiking and possibly unemployed angels who are eager for a ride. A ride where humans can take the drive of their lives—not into folly but into joy and justice, celebration and compassion. A journey into wisdom. Is that too much to ask? Ask the angels.

REBLOGGED: Dr. King’s Work Continues: Forty-eight Years Later, Still “Not Welcome”

The following is reposted from the blog of Matthew Fox’s alumnus and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Theodore Richards, former director of the YELLAWE program in Oakland, and the founder and director of the Chicago Wisdom Project. We urge you to support his work by signing the Wisdom Farm petition!
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“NOT Welcome!” read the email. I stared at it for a while. We were not welcome to build our farm in Baroda, Michigan, apparently. Even though, in the same email, the neighbor claims he does not know what we are doing. [“It is not clear to me what the complete objectives are for this project, who will be ‘farming’ this land, and why you thought it would be appropriate placement in my front yard! NOT welcome at all.” – Gregory Davis] But hey, I thought, this is just one neighbor. No big deal. But then I got the call from Mike Moran. Mike is running the farm in Michigan and had just returned from a hearing with the town board. A dozen or so neighbors had showed up, bringing pictures they’d printed from our website, bringing wild accusations about what our plans, bringing, most significantly, fear and ignorance that we’d been taught was a thing of the past. I’d seen “Eyes on the Prize.” I knew that when my wife’s family moved to a white neighborhood in Chicago in the eighties she’d faced similar prejudices. But this was 2014. Dr King’s birthday is celebrated as a big, collective “thank you” for getting rid of this kind of thing, or perhaps as a “Day of Service” where people do nice things like feed the homeless. But addressing issues of systemic racism and exclusion are not really part of the narrative.

In an article in the local newspaper, another neighbor, Leslie Arbanas, is quoted as saying “it’s not the right place.” Why? Because, according to the article, “the presence of inner city youth, including high school drop-outs… could… hurt property values.” To be clear, none of the youth on the farm have been “high school drop-outs.” Most are headed to college. But that really shouldn’t matter. Let’s get to the heart of the matter: “inner city” is code in America for black and brown. She is making the same argument that was made in Dr King’s day: We’re not racist; we’re just afraid that the presence of black people will hurt our property values.

Speaking of narratives, some in this small town, apparently, had been working pretty hard at creating one. We were introducing a “rehab center” was one such story, because, you know, there are pictures of black kids on our website and they must be drug addicts (this would include my five year old daughter, by the way). Particularly telling about the hate mail I received and about the hearing Mike had to endure was that the narratives seemed to be based entirely on the images on our website. No one had read any of the words. But they’d seen those scary pictures of kids planting corn. (To see the pictures, go to The Chicago Wisdom Project Website)

It didn’t seem to matter, in this meeting, that false accusations were made, or that no one actually knew what a non-profit was [this made our donations page particularly suspicious: “Where is all the money going?!”–I wish we had this problem]. As on Fox News, it was possible to give equal weight to lies and truth, if the lies were repeated enough.

And speaking of Fox News, since this is where I suspect many of these people surely get their information about the world in general, let me turn to the role of the image in this controversy. The images were the focus of the fear and of the efforts to get rid of us. Images, too, I suspect, were at the root of this fear. Like most white Americans, their only experience of black or brown people comes through the images–along with the race-bating and hate-mongering commentary–they had seen on their televisions. These people probably don’t even realize they are racist. Ms. Arbanas, for example, claims that race isn’t an issue–”it just isn’t the right place.”

This makes our work at The Chicago Wisdom Project all the more important. What we have been trying to do for years now is give young people the opportunity to tell their own stories, to create their own narratives. Our youth are well aware–far more aware than those who would attempt to deny them the right to work and play and learn and create at Wisdom Farm–of the negative images of them in the popular discourse, of the deficit narrative that attempts to attribute the injustices of our society to the failures of the oppressed. Our work is to help to create a counter-narrative that tells a different story.

This story can be simplified, however, for those not ready to hear all this. One narrative is this: The Chicago Wisdom Project is bringing to the tired soils of Michigan a new way of farming. Permaculture instead of industrial agriculture. There seems to be a connection between the cultural malaise in Middle America and the agricultural malaise of Middle American Farms. They are afraid of children where they should be afraid of the fact that their farming practices are toxifying the land and depleting their soil.

To be clear about what we are doing, we’ve been working hard over the last year to create a space for our youth to come to get their hands dirty, to experience the quiet and beauty of nature, and to let their imaginations fly free. It is a context for our youth’s rites of passage ceremony, a place to create memories, ideas, art. But Wisdom Farm is, first and foremost, a farm. Somehow, our neighbors didn’t see it as a farm [notice the scare quotes around “farm” in the email from Gregory Davis above] because there was learning and art and music and storytelling and conversation happening. (You can find more about it at the Wisdom Farm Page.)

In 1966, Dr King came to Chicago to fight housing discrimination. It was considered one of the great failures of his career. In the north, he faced fewer legal barriers to his work for equality, but just as much hate. It would have been far easier to change a law than to change the hearts of people who simply told African-Americans, “NOT welcome!” I am not ignorant of history; I realize that much has changed for the better in the last forty-eight years. But I can also say that–sadly from my own experience–there is much work to be done.

We realize that we can do more to work with our neighbors, to help them understand our work and to acknowledge that their presence on this land before us should be respected. Indeed, we’d love for them, or their kids, to join us in our work. We’d love to engage them honestly in a way where we could learn from each other. And the truth is, we’ve got a lot of work to do: we don’t want to spend our time and energy at board meetings or in court houses. But sometimes the lesson plan you bring to the classroom is not what needs to be learned, especially when the world is the classroom. Standing up for themselves against prejudice can be a great lesson for our youth. No one, in any neighborhood in America, can tell our youth they are not welcome. Both our neighbors and we need to learn this lesson now, even forty-eight years after Dr King came up north.

Please sign this petition to ask the town of Baroda to give us a fair hearing.

Theodore Richards is the director and founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project. He is the author of several books, most recently Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto, finalist for the USA Book Award. His second novel, The Conversions, is to be released in October. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including two Independent Publisher Awards, The USA Book Award, and the Nautilus Book Award. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughters.