September 2016

"What is the Meaning of Life?" comments by Mark Nepo and Mooji (from website: Excellence Reporter)


Mooji: This is perhaps one of the most seemingly profound questions within the human kingdom. Yet at closer scrutiny it is revealed as one of the most elusive in as far as coming to any one satisfactory answer.

Let’s imagine there is a world cup football match being played. The match can only be what it is and goes how it does. However, if there happen to be one hundred commentators giving commentaries on the game, the listeners will only hear each commentator’s interpretation and each one will be different. Now, which commentator has given the most accurate account of the match? Each one will speak from his or her preference, temperament, conditioning and perspective. It will be a subjective view only and not the complete picture, which is impossible to convey. We could go further and imagine that we, ourselves, are at the match—live. Nevertheless, our view will still be biased and based on whichever team we support, as would be the view of each and every supporter. So, with an attendance of one thousand spectators, there will be a thousand unique views. Perhaps, if any view could be accepted as being most universally objective and genuine, it will come from someone who understands and enjoys the game but is inwardly neutral in terms of the game’s final outcome or score.

It is the same with the question about the meaning of life.
We can use this simple analogy or metaphor and see that it will be the same in the case of the lawyer, the mother, the doctor, the thief, the politician and the religious man. We each perceive what we consciously or unconsciously conceive. Each will perceive and experience life according to his conditioning and the role that he identifies with, but each person will only comprehend and reflect a limited perspective of the whole, shaped by the fearful and unavoidably self-opinionated mind.

Amongst the various types of beings, I feel that a sage is the one who has really grasped life in an all-encompassing and holistic way and this is so because, as an awakened being, his personal mind has merged in his universal consciousness—his source being. Such a one looks from the harmony and vastness of unconditioned consciousness, without personal interpretation or judgment. He feels at one with life in all its varied expressions and even beyond this. His enormous compassion and wisdom arises out of his effortless and natural understanding of the laws of nature, the universal play of existence as time and change and the unbroken recognition of his true Self as the core perceiver of the manifest and functioning world. His mind, free of conditioning, is not caught in the bubble of ego-identity and thus he becomes the true friend of all living beings. Seeing himself within all and all within himself, he lives the complete life. The sage alone opens the door to the Divine.

Mark Nepo: The Meaning of Life and the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart


Mark Nepo: As important as this question is, it’s impossible to answer—as it’s impossible to see your hands while digging or to see your eyes while looking. Instead, let me share a story about meaning.

A troubled widower made his way to ask a wise old woman about his troubles. The old woman received him and they walked along a stream. She could see the pain in his face. He began to tremble as he asked, “What’s the point? Is there any meaning to life?” She invited him to sit on a large stone near the stream. She took a long branch and swirled it in the water, then replied, “It all depends on what it means to you to be alive.” In his sorrow, the man dropped his shoulders and the old woman gave him the branch. “Go on,” she said, “touch the branch to the water.”

As he poked the branch in the running stream, there was something comforting about feeling the movement of the water in his hand through the branch. She touched his hand and said, “You see, that you can feel the water without putting your hand in the water, this is what meaning feels like.” The man grew tender but still seemed puzzled. She said, “Close your eyes and feel your wife now gone. That you can feel her in your heart without being able to touch her, this is how meaning saves us.”

The widower began to cry. The old woman put her arm around him, “No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”

Every book and form of art, every keepsake and treasure we pass from generation to generation, every story told—these are the branches of meaning that help us along the way. And though we develop over time, there is no logical progression of steps by which our lives grow. Instead, each life unfolds the way rainwater fills the contours and grooves of the ground it lands on. No two patches of earth are identical and so the rain must fit each particular stretch of soil: trickling, pooling, and settling, as it will. In the same way, meaning fills the particulars of each life.

Two things I’m sure of are that we gather meaning through relationship, and that we understand life by working with what we’re given. And regardless of what you do for a living, the only important vocation is listening to the heart when it says: this is vital, this is alive, this can’t be lost. For me, the vitality and aliveness always precede my understanding of them. Making sense of our experience demands a faith in knowing what matters before we understand what it means. Making sense of life demands a conversation with what we’ve found and with what has found us.

As the wise old woman says in the story above, “No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”

Ultimately, meaning comes from inhabiting our gifts. I believe each person is born with a gift. Our call is to find it and care for it. I also believe that the ultimate purpose of the gift is to exercise the heart into inhabiting its aliveness. For the covenant of life is not just to stay alive, but to stay in our aliveness. And staying in aliveness depends on opening the heart and keeping it open.

Our dreams, goals, and ambitions are all kindling, fuel for the heart to exercise its aliveness, to bring our gift into the world, to discover what matters. Like a match, our light is revealed as our gift strikes against the needs of the world. When my sincerity strikes against yours, our gifts can give off their light.

We drift in and out of knowing our aliveness. Pain, worry, fear, and loss can muffle and confuse us. But finding our gift and working it will bring us back alive. It doesn’t matter if we’re skillful or clumsy, if we play our gift well or awkwardly, or if we make great strides or fail. Aliveness is not a judge in a talent show. Aliveness shows itself in response to wholeheartedness, when we can say yes to life, work with what we’re given, and stay in relationship—to everything.

When we come out of hiding and bring up the lights, we begin to discover what it means to be awake. When we’re knocked off our horse, we’re brought closer to life. Then we’re challenged to use our heart to break a path—this is the soul’s work. Finding our way always depends on using the one life we’re given to uncover the story behind the story, so we might find what can last.
So brave your way on. You are a blessing waiting to be discovered by yourself. The wisdom waits in your heart like a buried treasure which only loving your self can bring to the surface. And loving your self is like diving to the bottom of the ocean with nothing but who you are to find your way.

~Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers around the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” “a consummate storyteller,” and “an eloquent spiritual teacher.” He has published seventeen books and recorded twelve audio projects and his work has been translated into more than twenty languages. The above contains excerpts from his forthcoming book The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart (Atria, July 2016). His most recent book is Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness (Sounds True, 2015). Mark has appeared several times with Oprah Winfrey on her Super Soul Sunday program on OWN TV, and has also been interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. And in 2016, he was named by Watkins: Mind Body Spirit as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People.




"Judo: The Gentle Tao" by Alan Watts


Judo: The Gentle Tao by Alan Watts
by Alan Watts

"Man at his birth is supple and tender, but in death, he is rigid and hard. Thus, suppleness and tenderness accompany life, but rigidity and hardness accompany death.”

I have just been reading from Lao-tzu on the philosophy of the strength of weakness. It is a strange thing, I think, how it is men in the West do not realize how much softness is strength. One of old Lao-tzu's favorite analogies was water. He spoke of water as the weakest of all things in the world, and yet there is nothing to be compared with it in overcoming what is hard and strong. You can cut water with a knife. It lets the knife go right through, but when the knife is withdrawn there's not even the trace of a wound.

Lao-tzu also said that while being a man, one should retain a certain essential feminine element, and he who does this will become a channel for the whole world. The ideal of the hundred percent tough guy, the rigid, rugged fellow with muscles like rocks, is really a weakness. Probably we assume this sort of tough exterior as a hard shell to protect ourselves so much from the outside as from fear of weakness on the inside. What happens if an engineer builds a completely rigid bridge? If, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge or George Washington Bridge didn't sway in the wind, if they had no give, no yielding, they would come crashing down. And so you can always be sure that when a man pretends to be one hundred percent man, he's in doubt of his manhood. If he can allow himself to be weak, he can allow himself what is really the greatest strength, not only of human beings, but of all living things. It is upon the philosophy of the strength of weakness that came from China to Japan through the migration of Zen Buddhism that there has largely been inspired one of the most astonishing forms of self defense known as Judo, or perhaps more popularly, Ju-jitsu.

The word Judo is fascinating because it means Ju- the gentle, do- way. Do is the Japanese way of pronouncing the Chinese Tao, and so it is the gentle Tao, the philosophy of the Tao as applied to self defense. Now this philosophy has various components, and one of the most basic things to the whole practice of Judo is an understanding of balance. Balance, indeed, is a fundamental idea in Taoist philosophy. The philosophy of the Tao has a basic respect for the balance of nature. You don't upset that balance. You try to find out what it is and go along with it. In other words you avoid such mistakes as the wholesale slaughter of an insect pest, of the introduction of rabbits into a country like Australia without thought as to whether the rabbit has a natural enemy, because through such interference with the balance of nature you find yourself in trouble. So the philosophy of balance is the number one thing that all students of Judo have to learn.

You may illustrate this principle using a ball. Wherever one pushes the ball it yields, but it never loses its balance. It is the safest form in the world; completely contained, and never off center. And thus to be completely contained, and never put off center by anything, this is what is aimed at in Zen.

This is also symbolized sometimes in the figure of the legendary founder of Zen, Bodhidharma. Japanese toy makers represent him as a little dumpy toy figure weighted in such a way that however you hit it, it always comes upright again. And so in the same way the expert in Zen, as well as in Judo, must be a man who is never fazed. He is never brought to a point of doubt where he hesitates, where there's an interval between the action of life and his response to it. Now if we look at these principles of Judo the problem of balance is easily demonstrated with a question of lifting a heavy roll of material. We would be foolish to try and just pick it up from the top because that shows no understanding of the laws of balance. If you want to lift something, go below its center of gravity. Put your shoulder to it, undermine it, and lift it so. And that principle goes throughout Judo. Part of the understanding of balance in Judo is to learn to walk in such a way that you are never off center. That is to say your legs form a triangle, and your body is on the apex of it, and when you turn you always try to keep your feet approximately under you shoulders, and in this way you are never of balance.

The second principle, beyond keeping balance, and understanding balance, is not to oppose strength to strength. When one is attacked by the enemy you do not oppose him. Instead you yield to him, just like the matador yields to the bull, and you use his strength and the principle of balance to bring about his downfall. Supposing, for example, there is a blow coming at me from a certain direction. Instead of defending myself, and pushing the blow off, the idea in judo is to carry the blow away. The knee goes out, catching the adversary below his point of balance, and he drops with a 'bang' brought about on his own initiative, and your cunning. The same attitude of relaxed gentleness is most beautifully seen, for instance, in watching cats. When a cat falls of a tree, it lets go of itself. The cat becomes completely relaxed, and lands on the ground with a heavy thud. And if, for example, a cat were about to fall off a tree and suddenly made up its mind that it didn't want to fall at all and became tense, it would be just a bag of broken bones upon landing.

So, in the same way, it is the philosophy of Zen that we are all falling off a tree. As a matter of fact, the moment we were born we were kicked off a precipice and we are falling, and there is nothing that can stop it. So instead of living in a state of chronic tension, and clinging to all sorts of things which are actually falling with us because the whole world is impermanent, be like a cat.


"When Men Made God a Man: Religion, the Patriarchy and the Culture of Misogyny" by Maya Spier Stiles North


When men made God a man: Religion, the patriarchy and the culture of misogyny

Women are inferior to men: “A man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”
— 1 Corinthians 11:7

Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other… As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them.”
 — Quran 4:34

Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.
— From the Hindu text Manusmriti

The female’s defects … greed, hate, and delusion and other defilements – are greater than the male’s.”
— The Buddha

When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house.
— Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NAB

Police said the three men drove around while sexually assaulting the woman in the vehicle, before driving back to the same corner where they had abducted her. They then took her car keys and drove off in her car, as well as the vehicle in which they had assaulted her.
— Helen Freund, The Times-Picayune

The theory goes, as I have heard it, that the first societies were matriarchal, but when men realized that they had something to do with conception, they ceased the worship and respect of women, embraced their greater upper body strength and more directly aggressive natures, raised a meaty fist, and clubbed the women to the ground.  And thus was born the patriarchy.

As for when this happened, the debate rages on, but the posited number is in the range of multiple millennia.    These dry words do not encompass the millions upon millions of women owned.  Beaten.  Ravaged.  Sold.  Murdered.  Enslaved.  Silenced.  Destroyed.  Can your mind encompass the number of raised fists landing to rend flesh, to break bones, to reduce a human being to a sobbing heap of powerlessness and agony?  Can it?  Can it encompass the number of women who have been pinned down, bodies opened by cruel hands as their most tender and sacred flesh is plundered and ripped? I can.  It haunts me.  It ravages my heart.  It brings back memories. Patriarchy without religion makes this horror merely brutal.  Religion gives patriarchal religion the sanction of sacredness: women’s usability and abusability systematized and given rule of law — and all in the name of love – or at least, the general principles of existence. Patriarchy is what gave God the male gender.  In Christianity, whether it was the direct and actual God or the putative descendant of God, the only womb involved was in the implanting of the Sacred Male in its nurturing container.   No faith that can fairly be determined as patriarchal even entertains the idea of a gender-neutral god, at least not in its more original form, although some branches have been evolving. Men, who have only been moving away from the patriarchal in the last 90 years or so, saw that God was a man and that they were men, too, and therefore men were like God – divine and all-powerful — and women, not being anything like God, were far, far less. So with God on their side, they began to quantify, in detail, all the ways in which women were worthless except as only barely animate property that could produce sons and saleable daughters at the man’s whim, along the way blaming women for the men’s own lusts and complete unwillingness to control their impulses.

Even today, the numbers are staggering.  One out of every three women on this planet has been physically assaulted by an intimate partner, and these sources include reports by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, neither of which are prone to exaggeration.  This means that in a world with 7.064 billion people where there are 1.01 men to every 1 woman, there are likely about 3.5 billion women.  If one out of three women in the world have suffered gender violence in whatever form, these women would currently number something around 1.18 billion women will have been beaten, raped or murdered – or any combination of the three – in the course of a lifetime.  And these are only the ones reported.  With the act of reporting being potentially even mortally dangerous, I can only imagine how many more there are.

These are just statistics from domestic violence.  Men feel quite comfortable being violent to women they have never met.  So far the statistics I am finding say that of all the violence committed against women, 22 percent of it was perpetrated by strangers.  Even 20 years ago, The National Crime Victimization Survey reported that, in the United States, women 12 and older suffered five million assaults of undifferentiated nature.  That would mean that in a single year, 1.1 million women were assaulted by a man or men they did not know.  At random.  Because they could.  And because the patriarchal culture, bolstered by the empowerment of God-given superiority, had created a world where the nullification of women’s humanity was divinely sanctioned. But all the numbers in the world cannot give you the picture of what it looks like, what it feels like — the sounds, the impossible cruelty of it.  It was just a little while ago that a woman dear to me was kidnapped at gunpoint.  They threw her in a van, these three men, sanctioned by God as entitled to rule all within this world, encouraged by the Jewish and Christian scriptures to rape at will, created a hell in which this  woman will have to fight to defeat and escape — if she ever can.  In many societies, she would never be allowed out of her torment.  In these societies, it is the woman who is shamed, who is blamed, who is rejected and repudiated – and even murdered – for the sin of having been raped.  Often, the most savage of those who brutalize these woman all over again will claim to be devoted members of their religion. Stop for a moment and visualize this happening over and ever.  Every year.  Year after year.  And ask yourself this:  If faith was, in fact, faithful to its tenets of love and goodness instead of fomenting a love and glorying of war, the sanctioning of women’s inferiority, objectification, violence and ravagement, all in words putatively written by or divinely inspired by the God of many religions – would the brutality against women even exist?  Would it be so intrinsic to the culture that it scarcely even warrants more than a moment’s mention – if mentioned at all? For a moment, please consider the possibility of a world where faith was, in fact, faithful, power was gentle, and all people walked side by side instead of one five steps behind the other.  In such a world,  perhaps we would finally, finally see the day where women – and children – could walk without fear. In my dreams…


"Why Would God Create a Tsunami?" by Tom Honey (TED TALK)

Tom Honey

Just finished watching this video. I'm sure some will argue Honey is a "secular humanist" or "lacks faith” or does not believe in the “inherently of scripture.” In reality he is simply asking questions many Christians have pondered or struggled with and have chosen to be silence about. Part of the practice of faith is the willingness to be uncertain and if that uncertainty requires asking questions, then so be it.

—Bei Kuan-tu

I am a vicar in the Church of England. I've been a priest in the Church for 20 years. For most of that time, I've been struggling and grappling with questions about the nature of God. Who is God? And I'm very aware that when you say the word "God," many people will turn off immediately. And most people, both within and outside the organized church, still have a picture of a celestial controller, a rule maker, a policeman in the sky who orders everything, and causes everything to happen. He will protect his own people, and answer the prayers of the faithful.

And in the worship of my church, the most frequently used adjective about God is "almighty." But I have a problem with that. I have become more and more uncomfortable with this perception of God over the years. Do we really believe that God is the kind of male boss that we've been presenting in our worship and in our liturgies over all these years?

Of course, there have been thinkers who have suggested different ways of looking at God. Exploring the feminine, nurturing side of divinity. Suggesting that God expresses Himself or Herself through powerlessness, rather than power. Acknowledging that God is unknown and unknowable by definition. Finding deep resonances with other religions and philosophies and ways of looking at life as part of what is a universal and global search for meaning. These ideas are well known in liberal academic circles, but clergy like myself have been reluctant to air them, for fear of creating tension and division in our church communities, for fear of upsetting the simple faith of more traditional believers. I have chosen not to rock the boat.

Then, on December 26th last year, just two months ago, that underwater earthquake triggered the tsunami. And two weeks later, Sunday morning, 9th of January, I found myself standing in front of my congregation -- intelligent, well meaning, mostly thoughtful Christian people -- and I needed to express, on their behalf, our feelings and our questions. I had my own personal responses, but I also have a public role, and something needed to be said. And this is what I said.

Shortly after the tsunami I read a newspaper article written by the Archbishop of Canterbury -- fine title -- about the tragedy in Southern Asia. The essence of what he said was this: the people most affected by the devastation and loss of life do not want intellectual theories about how God let this happen. He wrote, "If some religious genius did come up with an explanation of exactly why all these deaths made sense, would we feel happier, or safer, or more confident in God?"

If the man in the photograph that appeared in the newspapers, holding the hand of his dead child was standing in front of us now, there are no words that we could say to him. A verbal response would not be appropriate. The only appropriate response would be a compassionate silence and some kind of practical help. It isn't a time for explanation, or preaching, or theology; it's a time for tears.

This is true. And yet here we are, my church in Oxford, semi-detached from events that happened a long way away, but with our faith bruised. And we want an explanation from God. We demand an explanation from God. Some have concluded that we can only believe in a God who shares our pain. In some way, God must feel the anguish, and grief, and physical pain that we feel. In some way the eternal God must be able to enter into the souls of human beings and experience the torment within. And if this is true, it must also be that God knows the joy and exaltation of the human spirit, as well. We want a God who can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.

This seems to me both a deeply moving and a convincing re-statement of Christian belief about God. For hundreds of years, the prevailing orthodoxy, the accepted truth, was that God the Father, the Creator, is unchanging and therefore by definition cannot feel pain or sadness. Now the unchanging God feels a bit cold and indifferent to me. And the devastating events of the 20th century have forced people to question the cold, unfeeling God. The slaughter of millions in the trenches and in the death camps have caused people to ask, "Where is God in all this? Who is God in all this?"

And the answer was, "God is in this with us, or God doesn't deserve our allegiance anymore." If God is a bystander, observing but not involved, then God may well exist, but we don't want to know about Him. Many Jews and Christians now feel like this, I know. And I am among them.

So we have a suffering God -- a God who is intimately connected with this world and with every living soul. I very much relate to this idea of God. But it isn't enough. I need to ask some more questions, and I hope they are questions that you will want to ask, as well, some of you.

Over the last few weeks I have been struck by the number of times that words in our worship have felt a bit inappropriate, a bit dodgy. We have a pram service on Tuesday mornings for mums and their pre-school children. And last week we sang with the children one of their favorite songs, "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." Perhaps some of you know it. Some of the words go like this: "The foolish man built his house upon the sand / And the floods came up / And the house on the sand went crash." Then in the same week, at a funeral, we sang the familiar hymn "We Plow the Fields and Scatter," a very English hymn. In the second verse comes the line, "The wind and waves obey Him." Do they? I don't feel we can sing that song again in church, after what's happened.

So the first big question is about control. Does God have a plan for each of us? Is God in control? Does God order each moment? Does the wind and the waves obey Him? From time to time, one hears Christians telling the story of how God organized things for them, so that everything worked out all right -- some difficulty overcome, some illness cured, some trouble averted, a parking space found at a crucial time. I can remember someone saying this to me, with her eyes shining with enthusiasm at this wonderful confirmation of her faith and the goodness of God.

But if God can or will do these things -- intervene to change the flow of events -- then surely he could have stopped the tsunami. Do we have a local God who can do little things like parking spaces, but not big things like 500 mile-per-hour waves? That's just not acceptable to intelligent Christians, and we must acknowledge it. Either God is responsible for the tsunami, or God is not in control.

After the tragedy, survival stories began to emerge. You probably heard some of them: the man who surfed the wave, the teenage girl who recognized the danger because she had just been learning about tsunamis at school. Then there was the congregation who had left their usual church building on the shore to hold a service in the hills. The preacher delivered an extra long sermon, so that they were still out of harm's way when the wave struck. Afterwards someone said that God must have been looking after them.

So the next question is about partiality. Can we earn God's favor by worshipping Him or believing in Him? Does God demand loyalty, like any medieval tyrant? A God who looks after His own, so that Christians are OK, while everyone else perishes? A cosmic us and them, and a God who is guilty of the worst kind of favoritism? That would be appalling, and that would be the point at which I would hand in my membership. Such a God would be morally inferior to the highest ideals of humanity.

So who is God, if not the great puppet-master or the tribal protector? Perhaps God allows or permits terrible things to happen, so that heroism and compassion can be shown. Perhaps God is testing us: testing our charity, or our faith. Perhaps there is a great, cosmic plan that allows for horrible suffering so that everything will work out OK in the end. Perhaps, but these ideas are all just variations on God controlling everything, the supreme commander toying with expendable units in a great campaign. We are still left with a God who can do the tsunami and allow Auschwitz.

In his great novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," Dostoevsky gives these words to Ivan, addressed to his naive and devout younger brother, Alyosha: "If the sufferings of children go to make up the sum of sufferings which is necessary for the purchase of truth, then I say beforehand that the entire truth is not worth such a price. We cannot afford to pay so much for admission. It is not God that I do not accept. I merely, most respectfully, return Him the ticket."

Or perhaps God set the whole universe going at the beginning and then relinquished control forever, so that natural processes could occur, and evolution run its course. This seems more acceptable, but it still leaves God with the ultimate moral responsibility. Is God a cold, unfeeling spectator? Or a powerless lover, watching with infinite compassion things God is unable to control or change? Is God intimately involved in our suffering, so that He feels it in His own being?

If we believe something like this, we must let go of the puppet-master completely, take our leave of the almighty controller, abandon traditional models. We must think again about God. Maybe God doesn't do things at all. Maybe God isn't an agent like all of us are agents. Early religious thought conceived God as a sort of superhuman person, doing things all over the place. Beating up the Egyptians, drowning them in the Red Sea, wasting cities, getting angry. The people knew their God by His mighty acts.

But what if God doesn't act? What if God doesn't do things at all? What if God is in things? The loving soul of the universe. An in-dwelling compassionate presence, underpinning and sustaining all things. What if God is in things? In the infinitely complex network of relationships and connections that make up life. In the natural cycle of life and death, the creation and destruction that must happen continuously. In the process of evolution. In the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world. In the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race. In you, in me, mind and body and spirit. In the tsunami, in the victims. In the depth of things. In presence and in absence. In simplicity and complexity. In change and development and growth.

How does this in-ness, this innerness, this interiority of God work? It's hard to conceive, and begs more questions. Is God just another name for the universe, with no independent existence at all? I don't know. To what extent can we ascribe personality to God? I don't know. In the end, we have to say, "I don't know." If we knew, God would not be God.

To have faith in this God would be more like trusting an essential benevolence in the universe, and less like believing a system of doctrinal statements. Isn't it ironic that Christians who claim to believe in an infinite, unknowable being then tie God down in closed systems and rigid doctrines?

How could one practice such a faith? By seeking the God within. By cultivating my own inwardness. In silence, in meditation, in my inner space, in the me that remains when I gently put aside my passing emotions and ideas and preoccupations. In awareness of the inner conversation.

And how would we live such a faith? How would I live such a faith? By seeking intimate connection with your inwardness. The kind of relationships when deep speaks to deep. If God is in all people, then there is a meeting place where my relationship with you becomes a three-way encounter. There is an Indian greeting, which I'm sure some of you know: "Namaste," accompanied by a respectful bow, which, roughly translated means, "That which is of God in me greets that which of God is in you." Namaste.

And how would one deepen such a faith? By seeking the inwardness which is in all things. In music and poetry, in the natural world of beauty and in the small ordinary things of life, there is a deep, indwelling presence that makes them extraordinary. It needs a profound attentiveness and a patient waiting, a contemplative attitude and a generosity and openness to those whose experience is different from my own.

When I stood up to speak to my people about God and the tsunami, I had no answers to offer them. No neat packages of faith, with Bible references to prove them. Only doubts and questioning and uncertainty. I had some suggestions to make -- possible new ways of thinking about God. Ways that might allow us to go on, down a new and uncharted road. But in the end, the only thing I could say for sure was, "I don't know," and that just might be the most profoundly religious statement of all.

Thank you.

Tom Honey 2