"Earth Crammed with Heaven"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-
Words like "religion" and "spirituality" are often seen as very "lofty" words filled with promises of "other-worldly places." People embrace religion they go to church, a temple or a mosque in the hopes of being connected to those higher places and heavenly realms up there were God lives.
Historically, religions of various sorts have, in fact, denigrated the physical world and castigated the body, teaching that in order to reach those lofty heavenly places you must ignore "this" world and punish the body.
Nowadays many people have turned away from religious belief and ritual and have instead embraced an alternative spiritual path, engaging in practices such as yoga or meditation. But even in these cases the spiritual path is often seen as a way to get out of this world- sitting in quiet mindful meditation is often viewed as a pathway for being transported away from the physical world and connected to a more "lofty" place of cosmic reality.
For many, a spiritual path, be it religious or not, is a way into another world.
I actually think the spiritual path leaves us planted very much in "this world," teaching us how to see this world with different eyes. It teaches us to look beneath the surface and helps us understand that there is always "more than meets the eye."
In his book, My Bright Abyss, poet and author Christian Wiman says this about the real world of everyday reality:
What I crave - and what I have known, in fugitive instants
is mystery that utterly obliterates reality by utterly inhabiting it,
some ultimate insight that is still sight.
I find such deep profound wisdom in those few simple lines.
There is no heaven separated from earth, no sacred different from the secular. My kitchen is as much a sacred a space as that of a church or a temple. Every atom, every quark in the universe is filled with a Universal Energy, a Holy Presence, a great wild mystery that "utterly "inhabits everything that "is." A spiritual path gives us eyes to go deeper, to see beneath the surface, and from time to time to encounter the great mystery in it all.
I am reminded of a story about the Native American peoples who first inhabited this continent and the European missionaries who came here to "convert" them to Christianity. The Native peoples were a deeply spiritual culture. They believed that the earth and all that is in it was inhabited by a "Great Spirit"flowing in it all and through it all- earth and sky, trees and rivers, fish and birds and all the people of the earth all filled with the energy of this "Great Spirit."
When the European missionaries first engaged the Native peoples, the missionaries were shocked to see these people with their eyes fixed upon the earth as they prayed. They were aligning themselves with the abiding spirit flowing through the ground on which they stood. The missionaries scolded the natives, telling them that they had it all wrong. God was up there in the sky- in a distant heaven looking down on them. The missionaries taught them that when they prayed they were to look up to the skies, to the distant heavens of another world.
As I see it, it was the missionaries who had it all wrong.
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.
This morning as I look out into the desert around me. I am so fully aware that there is more than meets the eye. Beneath the surface everything is glowing with Holy Presence and earth is crammed with heaven that "utterly obliterates reality by utterly inhabiting it."
I take off my shoes- no blackberry picking for me today.