An Impediment to Our Spiritual Evolution

Garfish, Dominica, W.I. Copyright 2008 by Blair Atherton

Garfish, Dominica, W.I. Copyright 2008 by Blair Atherton

Nature is an all pervasive spirit of love and beauty that fills and nurtures all things. All living things are her offspring and each is loved equally by her. So too, all of her children should love one another to the same degree and without prejudice or favoritism.

Last week’s article on spirituality and nature raises issues about how we view and treat animals. These matters derive in part from the statement “If all things are a part of God, then all things are sacred and demand our reverence, respect, compassion, and protection.”

I believe that animals are at a higher level of consciousness than we may think. Each has its place and role in the spiritual ecology of our world. Animals have as much right to life and freedom as we.

As noted last week, it is our arrogance and self serving nature that leads us to view animals as inferior and/or as food items put here for our consumption. I believe deep inside of me that it is wrong to raise animals for food. For me, it is a fundamental spiritual truth that compelled me to become a vegetarian.

Like any wrong, raising animals in large numbers for food has consequences. Negative impacts on the environment like pollution and global warming are a few examples of the consequential damages of the meat industry (for more details see the author’s note below). There is also a huge toll on the spiritual progression of those who eat meat, support the farming of animals for food, or otherwise refuse to believe that animal life is as precious as human life.

Animals raised for food must endure a great deal of fear, pain, and suffering inflicted by the cultivation and slaughter process. Generally, we don’t want to know much about how livestock are treated and slaughtered because we don’t want to feel guilty about supporting such practices by consuming meat. We know it is wrong, but we do not want to give up our favorite foods. We have come to love the smell of burning flesh and the taste of blood. Would you give up meat if it would save the planet, or if it would remove a major impediment to your reaching new heights of spiritual awareness?

We try to rationalize our choice by saying that if we give up all meat, it will have no measurable effect on the meat industry or the environment. We tell ourselves that one person cannot change the world.

But this misses the point. The world is changed by one person at a time by doing what is right without regard to what others think or do. As more and more people act on their conscience, the next thing you know, changes can be seen, and over time the world is transformed.

One may argue that man has been killing animals for food since time immemorial. But man also has an equally long history of brutality and little regard for human life as well. However, through the ages, humanity as a whole has progressed in its spiritual evolution and now the brutality and large scale killing of humans is primarily reduced to relatively small groups of religious extremists, dictatorial governments, and fanatic groups.

As a race our spiritual awareness has reached the point where we have come to understand that killing each other is wrong. The next step in our spiritual evolution is to recognize that killing animals is wrong too.

Author’s comment:

I urge everyone to read one or more of the following short articles that summarize the environmental impacts of the livestock industry.

http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/the-environmental-impact-of-a-meat-based-diet/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=meat-and-environment

http://woods.stanford.edu/environmental-venture-projects/consequences-increased-global-meat-consumption-global-environment

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Nature: A More Expansive Spirituality

Large Cedar in Olympic National Park Copyright 2008 by Blair Atherton

Large Cedar in Olympic National Park Copyright 2008 by Blair Atherton

When we go to beautiful wild places to get away from it all, it is sometimes difficult to describe what we feel. For me, it is an inexplicable feeling of a belonging—a homecoming of sorts. It is a joyful feeling like I have met my soul mate. I want to linger endlessly and I lament when I must return to the steel and cement world.

This feeling of nature—the trees, animals, bugs, rocks, etc—as soul mate says something very profound. For those few hours, days, or however long in beautiful natural surroundings, we are on the threshold of awareness that we are a part of all of the earth and all living things that comprise nature. They are all a part of God and his divinity is a part of us and all things. As Jesus has told us in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, “All that is born, all that is created, all the elements of nature are interwoven and united with each other.”

Recognition of this truth has implications. One is that we are participating in an evolution of the earth and all life on it. We are but one species among many on a trajectory of growth in consciousness and spiritual awareness. This knowledge carries with it great responsibility. If all things are a part of God, then all things are sacred and demand our reverence, respect, compassion, and protection.

Although we may see humanity as superior to other forms of life, God may not share such an egocentric view. If that is the case, then other species may hold potential for development equal to us in God’s eyes. It could be that they are just not as far along in their evolution as we.

Thomas Berry believed that God placed humanity within the natural order rather than above it. It is our arrogance as a species that sees itself as the one most pleasing in the eyes of God. Given the direction that humanity has taken in recent history, this may not be the case.

If God is everywhere and in all things, then exploitation and destruction of our planet and the life it holds are affronts to God. It is our arrogance in believing that our science and technology can master the forces of nature or improve on what God has created that has led to our current environmental, social, and spiritual crisis.

At the same time, I see a quiet, unobtrusive movement in progress. I see more and more people exhibiting various levels of spiritual enlightenment concerning the environment. I see small steps that help to reduce harm to the planet like buying organically grown foods, moving away from a meat-centered diet toward a more vegetarian diet, avoiding genetically modified food products (GMOs), greater sensitivity to animal rights, recycling, driving hybrid or electric cars, and so forth.

While these may seem like small things, they suggest a growing awareness of what has been discussed here. They are indications of the beginning of a step forward in spiritual evolution and awareness that will change the world in so many wonderful ways.

You also might like the following related article:

One Species Among Millions

 

What Can We Learn About Spirituality from the Example of Others?

Hubble Captures View of 'Mystic Mountain' Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Hubble Captures View of ‘Mystic Mountain’ Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

There are many people who provide examples of how to live a spiritual life. These include not only historical religious figures, but also ordinary people. They demonstrate in their everyday lives what it means to be a spiritual person.

When I heard that the new Pope decided to take on the namesake of Saint Francis, it brought back some childhood memories. I was attending Catholic school in second grade when the class went to the theater to see a movie about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. I was very captivated by the movie. I remember saying to myself, “I want to be like him.“

I did not want to be a priest or friar, rather I wanted to emulate the way he lived. I wanted to put into action his unwavering humility, selflessness, self-sacrifice and devotion to God. He accepted any and all adversities that God threw at him willingly and without complaint.

Of course at that young age, I had no idea just how hard it would be to imitate Saint Francis. Nevertheless, it became a life goal.

Below is a favorite prayer attributed to Saint Francis that I believe sums up how he looked at spiritual life. This is not a prayer just for Catholics or Christians; it is an approach to spirituality and life that can benefit all of us.

Let us pray:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

Dear God, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.”

What really rang true to me about Saint Francis’ view of spirituality is looking past, and going beyond, oneself. He sought to attend to others without regard to his own needs. To me, the prayer above speaks volumes about what it means to be a spiritual person.

At the same time, there are many quiet, gracious, inconspicuous truly spiritual people with whom we come in contact in our everyday lives who may or may not subscribe to any particular religion. Make it a point to pay attention to what is going on around you and you will see them. We can learn much from watching them.

Doing good and helping others is second nature to them. When they see a need, they do their best to fulfill it. They do it without hesitation or having to think about it. Recognition or gain of any kind never crosses their mind even for a moment. It is who they are; they have found their spirit-self.

How wonderful it is that they have chosen to share their divine selves with us! How wonderful it will be for us to join their ranks!

“All that is composed shall be decomposed.”

Omega Swan Nebula, Credit: NASA, ESA and J. Hester (ASU)

Omega Swan Nebula, Credit: NASA, ESA and J. Hester (ASU)

In the traditional or canonical gospels found in the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus or Yeshua, his Aramaic name, gives us a wonderful way of looking at spirituality and how to live a truly spiritual life. There are other records of the teachings of Yeshua that were excluded from the Bible. They are referred to collectively as the Gnostic gospels. I found three: The Gospel of Phillip, The Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

After reading all three, the first thing that struck me was that they were almost completely devoid of stories about miracles. Instead they were composed of what we might call the wisdom or sayings of Yeshua. I saw nothing heretical about them; rather, they provided additional teachings to compliment those in the Bible. The three gospels provided a great deal of food for thought concerning spirituality.

None more so than the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. It was frustrating to learn that ten of the pages are missing. Frustrating because the missing pages are adjacent to what I feel are some of the most mysterious passages. What happened to the missing pages? Were they removed by someone to withhold certain secrets of spirituality, or simply damaged or lost? What do we not know in their absence?

The first ten lines from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene that follow had an especially powerful effect on me. The six pages that preceded these passages are missing from the documents that were found.

[…] “What is matter?
Will it last forever?”
The Teacher answered:
“All that is born, all that is created,
all the elements of nature
are interwoven and united with each other.
All that is composed shall be decomposed;
everything returns to its roots;
matter returns to the origins of matter.
Those who have ears, let them hear.”

The basic ideas in these passages are not new to me, but my reaction to them was totally unexpected. When I read these lines in the gospel, it felt like primal memories buried deep in my soul came crashing forward revealing a fundamental, profound truth. The feelings were so powerful that I felt a little disoriented and confused by the effect they had on me.

These passages spoke to me on a very deep level. The words were both mysterious and wonderful. All of creation is interwoven and united—YES! All that is composed shall be decomposed—that is, all that is physical is transitory. Everything shall return to the Source.

We are drawn to the Source. It is a force of nature that transcends belief. It is that inexplicable yearning for meaning and purpose unique to the human condition. It is the search for our spirit-self and its birthplace.