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5) Green Faith and Ritual

The soul of panfidelity is its life-affirming spirituality - what I have called green faith and ritual. Without a green faith, the Aluna clan would have little to offer in the way of service, if we even existed at all. Because of our green faith, we feel connected to each other and supported by the universe as we work and play and do our part to create a just and sustainable world.

Green faith is a spirituality that validates all the world's religions and grounds them in the reality of Life itself. Many different faith traditions are represented within Aluna. Some of us consider ourselves Christian, others Jewish, and still others, Buddhist, Taoist, or Pagan. Many of us find nourishment in more than one tradition. What unites us in our diversity is our shared green faith. By that, I mean our shared love of Nature and trust in the universe process.

For most of human history the world has been understood from a spatial point of view. From a spatial perspective, the universe is thought of as a place. Time is understood as the ever-renewing cycles of nature within the universe. Our common language reflects and reinforces this perception even today. Human beings are said to live on Earth. Earth is understood as a planet in the Milky Way, one of more than a trillion galaxies thought to be in the universe.

Popular Western theology reflects this spatial world view. God and heaven are up. Hell is down. Both are considered places we may go to when we die. Even the biblical concept of developmental human history is understood as unfolding within a fixed and completed world. Creation is primarily thought of as a noun, a thing, an artifact made by God sometime in the past. History takes place within creation but is not itself considered the story of creation. To speak of human history as part of the story of creation is to begin thinking of the world and ourselves from an evolutionary, or time-developmental, perspective.

Scientific discoveries made during the last few centuries have gradually revealed a universe that is more like a developing super organism than it is like a place. Since its beginning some 12-15 billion years ago, the universe as a whole has been expanding, evolving, maturing. As the universe has grown, it has become increasingly complex: from simple hydrogen and helium, to galaxies, stars, and the creation of atomic elements, to the progression of life; from bacteria to primates to the evolution of human consciousness, culture, and technology. The story of the universe is the story of the development of matter and spirit from simpler to greater complexity in structure and functioning as well as to a greater variety and intensity in forms of conscious expression. The whole of human history is only the last page in this multi-volume adventure story of the universe, a story still very much in process.

From a time-developmental perspective, everything looks different. Rather than understanding God as a supreme landlord who resides off the planet and outside the universe (a spatial perspective); from an evolutionary point of view God can be understood and, more importantly, experienced as the creative Life force and Love force of the universe. Heaven and hell can be seen as states of consciousness, or nonmaterial dimensions of reality. Creation can be understood more as a verb than a noun - a process, a story, an unfolding mystery. The universe is not exactly a place or a thing; it is a being still becoming - and we are part of it! We are a part of the universe that has evolved to the extent that it can think about itself, learn its story, and co-create its own future. We are not separate beings in the universe, who live on Earth; we are a mode of being of the universe, an expression of Earth. We did not come into this world, we grew out of it - in the same way that an apple grows out from an apple tree. We are organically related to the rest of nature.

This is an awesome and wondrous thing to reflect upon! It is faith inspiring. Four billion years ago the planet Earth was molten rock. Now it sings opera and dances! It laughs and it cries! Such is the fruit of human nature and the human fruit of Nature. If we had taken time lapse photography over the last 600 million years, we would see life springing forth from the seas and the land, becoming more complex over time, and giving rise to concert halls, railroad stations, and the Internet. Now if that isn't a miracle, I don't know what is!

It is important to note here that, as far as we can tell, at no point in time during the past four and a half billion years, the age of our solar system, did anyone literally come from the outside and put anything on the planet. "God" is the inner Wisdom, the Life force, the incomprehensible Love at the heart of the process, the Great Mystery revealed in and through the universe. In the Bible, when Genesis 2:7 speaks anthropomorphically of God forming us from the dust of the ground and breathing into us the breath of life, this is a poetic, mythological, and spatial way of describing the evolutionary process I am outlining here.

To have green faith is to trust in the universe process, to have faith in the God of nature, to believe in ourselves and in time. It means aligning oneself with Ultimate Reality, i.e., Real Life, Love, and Truth. Different cultures prefer different names for Ultimate Reality. But whether I call this Mystery God, the Goddess, Brahman, Allah, the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit, Aluna, Fate, Nature, the Universe, my Higher Power, or some other name, when I follow its leading I feel more connected and whole, and experience a deep and meaningful peace even in the midst of great difficulties. On the other hand, when I am in denial - when I ignore the signals of my body and soul, or when I scorn the Truth - I usually feel alienated and angry, and experience an inner emptiness and restlessness no matter how well things seem to be going externally.

Green faith is a spirituality grounded in an evolving, living world. Earth is not so much a planet with life on it (a spatial view), as it is a living planet - a body of which we are a part. The physical structure of the planet - its core, mantle, and mountain ranges - acts as the skeleton or frame of its existence. The soil that covers its grasslands and forests is like a mammoth digestive system. In it all things are broken down, absorbed, and recycled into new growth. The oceans, waterways, and rain function as a circulatory system that moves life-giving "blood," purifying and revitalizing the body. The bacteria, algae, plants, and trees provide the planet's lungs, constantly regenerating the entire atmosphere. The animal kingdom provides the functions of a nervous system, a finely tuned and diversified series of organisms sensitized to environmental change. Each species is a unique expression of planetary consciousness, with its own unique gifts to the body. Humanity allows the planet to exercise self-conscious awareness, or reflective thought. That is, the human enables Earth to reflect on itself and on the divine Mystery out of which it has come and in which it exists. We are a means by which Nature can appreciate its own beauty and feel its own splendor; or do tremendous violence to itself.

This shift, from seeing ourselves as separate beings placed on Earth ("The world was made for us."), to seeing ourselves as a self-reflective expression of Earth ("We were made for the world."), requires a new understanding of who and what we are. It is a shift at the deepest possible level: our identity, or sense of self.

When we look more closely at our relationship to "the environment," the need for a broader understanding of the self becomes obvious. It turns out that the environment is not "out there," separate from us. We are part of it. We are part of vast cosmological, geological, and biological cycles which are interrelated. My own body, for example, is constantly exchanging matter, energy, and information with my "environment." The atoms and molecules of my body now, what I collectively call "me," are not the same ones that made up my body a year ago. Every five days I get a new stomach lining. I get a new liver every two months. My skin is replaced every six weeks. Every year, 98% of my body is replaced. The molecules that are continually becoming "me" come from the air I breathe, the liquid I drink, and the food I eat. Before that, they were part of worms and fish, plants and trees, bacteria and other humans, and all that we eat and drink. I give out as I take in. It makes little sense, then, to overly identify with my "ego" self, for that is only a very small part of the real "me." My larger body is the body of Life itself. This is why any society that thinks it can "throw away" its garbage is a society seriously out of touch with Reality. There is no "away." The toxins and chemicals that our factories spew into the air, water, and soil end up in our bodies and in the bodies of our children, and there they accumulate and eventually contribute to cancer, AIDS, and a whole host of other diseases. Whatever we do to the environment, we do to ourselves.

We are the product of creation, not its masters. We will suffer or thrive to the degree that our bioregion and the planet as a whole suffers or thrives. But we need not despair at the enormity of the tasks before us. Indeed, we have good reason to hope. As Thomas Berry has said, "The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture."

Hope and confidence based on the sacred story of life, or based on some other life-affirming cosmology, is a mark of green faith. But such faith must be deeply integrated in the body and life of its practitioner(s) before it can produce fruit or lead to effective service and action, and this is a function of sacred ritual. Thus, an essential aspect of any panfaithful community will be sacred ritual and heart-centered celebration.

Rituals work at a level of consciousness far deeper than the merely rational and verbal level. They engage the mind, heart, feelings, body, and soul - the total being. They bond us to each other and align us with the cycles and rhythms of both our inner and outer nature. As Dolores LaChapelle states in her book, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, "Sacred ritual takes us out of this narrow, artificial human world and opens us up to the vast unlimited world of nature - both outside, in our non-human environment, and inside, in the deeper layers of our older brains and cellular body knowledge." In ritual, we move beyond the narrow confines of our neocortex and reconnect with the Mind of the cosmos within and around us.

Sacred ritual tends to facilitate the experience of a deeper and more expansive sense of self. We identify with our smallest ego "self" when our brain waves are at a frequency known as Beta, or ordinary waking consciousness. When our brain wave state drops to Alpha, however, we naturally experience more interconnectedness with all of Life. Our sense of self expands even more in the Theta brain wave state. Strong feelings of joy, peace and contentment typically accompany these deeper states of consciousness. We feel our "self" as larger, and can experience and feel (as opposed to think about) our connection to each other and the living cosmos as a whole. Alpha and Theta states of consciousness are reached most effectively through practices like deep breathing, prayer, meditation, drumming, dancing, chanting, singing, rhythmic movement, sacred sex, and the use of symbolic gestures, incense, candles, bells, and other means of entering "sacred time and space." The effects of community generated sacred ritual are a deeper alignment and resonance with one's self at all levels of reality: family, community, bioregion, and cosmos.

No community can survive without attending to, and being grounded in, the spiritual dimensions of reality. Whatever differences exist between tribal cultures all over the world, a common chord to all is their use of ritual, and their seasonal celebrations and festivals. Anthropologists tell us that this has probably been the case for millennia. It seems that certain things can be expressed only in ritual and, for that reason, ritual is without equivalents or alternatives. That which can be expressed only in ritual is vital to the spirit of community. As individuals and communities, our health depends on sacred ritual more than we may realize.

In the Aluna clan, we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other personal and community holy days. We also celebrate various religious, cultural, and seasonal holy days. We honor these special days in different ways, of course. No two are recognized or ritualized in the same way. Eventually, we plan to commemorate throughout the calendar year the major events of the story of the universe.

The spiritual life of any individual or community is always in flux. So it has been with Aluna. We go through seasons of being undisciplined and inconsistent. But however we're doing on any given day, or in any given month or year, our spiritual food is to be with each other in love and forgiveness, in truth, and in sacred ritual. Green faith and ritual are essential components of our panfaithful spirituality.

6) Respectful Communication

It is impossible to be in the space of deep communion with another, or to be in authentic community with others, without respectful communication. Respect is a basic human need, no matter what a person's age, gender, race, class, culture, or subculture. If we would create a sustainable society, nothing is more important than for us to respect differences and communicate honestly with each other.

Respect means different things to different people. What constitutes respect to one culture may differ from what another culture considers respectful. For example, among some Native Americans and Asians, it is considered disrespectful to look directly into the eyes of an elder who is addressing you. In other cultures the exact opposite is true. Differences also exist among individuals within the same culture. So if you are not sure, it's often helpful to ask a few simple questions: "What does respect mean to you? What does disrespect mean to you? What would you see, hear and feel that would let you know someone was being respectful or disrespectful?" Responses to questions such as these generally yield a wealth of useful information for those who would relate to others in a respectful manner.

Though cultural differences exist, many criteria for respect are consistent across cultures. I think most people would agree that, at the very least, "respect" means listening with full attention, accepting differences, acknowledging feelings, and gently speaking the truth. It also means no blaming, no accusing, no name calling, no commanding, no lecturing, and no sarcasm. Respectful communication is clear, clean, and compassionate.

The difficulty, of course, is that this kind of communication does not consistently happen just because we want it to. Rarely do we choose our communication patterns in the moment. More often, our responses are unconscious habits formed over many years. Without even realizing it, we absorb the dysfunctional patterns modeled for us by our families and peers. Culturally, we have neither been empowered nor encouraged to communicate honestly, directly, and clearly. Disrespectful habits of speech are not replaced by respectful habits of speech overnight, nor easily. It takes more than willpower, it takes practice - lots of practice - and a safe context in which to practice. We need to have people with whom we share a commitment to counsel and practice communication.

Over the years, the Aluna family has used several means to help us develop the habit of communicating more respectfully. The first was the practice of internalizing and rehearsing the following affirmations:
* "I accept myself and others right here and now, trusting that we each tend to do the best we can, given the internal and external resources available to us at the time."
* "I take full responsibility for what I am now experiencing. I act when I'm in a resourceful state and procrastinate acting when I'm not."
* "I listen carefully and curiously to those who are different from me. I affirm the differences of others while I remain faithful to the truth as I understand and experience it."
* "I feel with compassion the problems of others without getting emotionally snagged in those things that are offering them messages for their own growth. I don't need to fix, heal, or convert anyone. If needed, Life Life's perfect timing."

By memorizing and rehearsing these affirmations (while driving, exercising, washing the dishes, etc.) they have become part of my everyday thinking. Because they are memorized (this is the key!), they come to mind when I most need them, often many times a day. They almost always transform my emotional state.

Affirmations such as these are useful and fruitful beliefs, not ultimate truths. Is it True that people do the best they can given what they have to work with? God only knows. All that I know is this: when I act as if it's true, for myself as well as others, I enjoy the fruit of my life. I am less impatient, judgmental, resentful, or regretful. I am more compassionate, accepting, forgiving, and understanding. So whether or not it is True, it is a very useful, fruitful belief.

Memorizing the four meditations listed above, and rehearsing them regularly, has helped us communicate more respectfully.

Another means toward this end has been our commitment to the following functional relationship agreements:

1. Each of us has the responsibility to treat each other with respect and awe.
2. Each of us has the right to speak our truth without fear or shame.
3. Each of us has the right to ask for what we want.
4. Each of us has the right to refuse or say "no" without fear or shame.
5. Each of us has the responsibility to express displeasure. (Therefore, we don't need to fear each other's internal thoughts.)

These functional relationship agreements have been very helpful, as have the affirmations, but the most effective tool we've used so far to help us relate to each other more respectfully has been our regular "family meetings." Here, adults and children alike offer appreciation to each other, confess wrongdoings without fear of punishment, express anger, resentment, or hurt feelings, peacefully resolve conflict, plan ways to have fun and serve others, and deal with all the issues common to family and community life. We have an agreed upon set of rules and a process that serve to keep us faithful to our higher ideals. They also remind us how to communicate with each other throughout the week. At the family meeting, everyone is respected. Adults and kids have equal power. Everyone is allowed to tell their truth on any topic without fear of being interrupted or criticized. Everyone's perspective is valued. Decisions are made by consensus. By practicing this kind of relating once a week, it becomes easier to do it at other times as well.

As with the other principles of panfidelity, I do not wish to give the impression that Aluna has mastered respectful communication. We haven't. But we are more respectful now than we used to be, and this is encouraging. Despite our present failings, we seem to be consistently moving in the direction of greater respect and appreciation of differences. Sometimes the going is slower than we would like, but the journey is rewarding just the same. One of the things that makes the journey so meaningful, wherever we are on the path, is the playfulness and creativity of our panfaithful life together.

7) Playfulness and Creativity

Playfulness and creativity lie at the heart of the universe process and at the heart of what it means to be human. Thus, any relationship or community that would be "faithful to all" must honor the playful, humorous, and joyful side of life, and must be a channel for the ongoing creative energies of love.

Human beings are a recent evolutionary development of the unbroken process of divine creativity that began some 12-15 billion years ago in a stupendous explosion of light and energy. Creation is not something that happened once upon a time and then stopped; it is something that is still happening. As evolution continues, God's creating continues. Whenever we are guided by love or truth to bring something into existence - when we give birth to beauty in the world - we co-creatively participate in the ongoing creation of God. This is why it is important for families to nurture the time and space for artistic creativity. It is part of our deepest nature to create, to play, and to laugh. It is what makes us human and unites us with the divine. As Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

A common characteristic of all mammals is that the young are consistently playful and exploring. With adulthood, however, this curious, creative side tends to close down. Humans are a fascinating exception to this rule. We can remain playful, curious, and inventive all of our lives. What Life essentially did when it created the human was to take mammalian youth, stretch it out, and call it a species. Scientists call this "neoteny."

When children grow up in an atmosphere of love and tender touch, their natural state tends to be curious, playful, trusting, spontaneous, and creative. In the process of becoming adults in a dysfunctional world, however, we often become fearful, serious, rigid, predictable, and addicted to everything from food, drugs, and alcohol, to television, shopping, and our work. This is why virtually every religious tradition in the world teaches that the way to (enlightenment, salvation, wholeness, maturity) is to recapture the mind and heart of the child.

Humor is an essential aspect of playfulness and creativity, and a must for healthy relationships. As Patch Adams, M.D., has said, "Humor is an antidote to all ills. It forms the foundation of good physical and mental health. Humor is vital in healing the problems of individuals, communities, and societies....People crave laughter as if it were an essential amino acid. Humor and fun (which is humor in action) are equal partners with love as ingredients for a healthy life."

Though we are not always successful at it, in the Aluna clan, we try not to take ourselves too seriously. Humor is almost always welcome and appreciated. Over the years, we've discovered that a little bit of silliness can go a long way toward relieving the stresses and burdens of everyday life. When we can laugh at ourselves - at our problems, idiosyncrasies, and shortcomings - we re-enter that heavenly space of love and forgiveness, trust and acceptance, where healing and reconciliation happen.

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