Part 1: Context
I am a quasi retired Spiritual Director and Church Consultant within the United Church of Christ (UCC). I am deeply concerned with the fetters of 4th Century “packaging” of Divinity related to the religious challenges of the 21st Century. This brief paper reflects my current thinking on that issue. To help the reader understand how I have come to this time and place, I ask your indulgence in a brief recap of my 71-year journey.
I was born on October 15, 1941, into a staunch, New England Episcopalian family. My maternal grandfather, Anson Phelps Stokes, was Canon of the Washington Cathedral, Secretary of Yale University, and author of the 3-volume Church and State in the United States. His son, my uncle by the same name, became Bishop of Massachusetts. My family attended an Episcopal church every Sunday and I, as an acolyte and choir boy, often attended two services. For high School I attend Brooks School, an Episcopal boarding school for boys where we had daily chapel before dinner and worship twice every Sunday. In 1960 I left the East Coast and went to Berkeley, California leaving behind the portraits of my ancestors watching over every meal. In Berkeley I discovered new freedom and began to explore other Christian and non-Christian faith traditions and communities.
Despite being well marinated in the Church from a very young age, I came to know “God” not through church, but through nature. The early mornings, before the family awoke, were “my time.” Alone and in silence, I would marvel at the unfolding of young green leaves on a drizzling Spring morning, and watch the daffodils emerge from their melting blanket of snow. In the Summer I would marvel at flight of the barn swallows, the cobwebs on morning dewed grass, the water skimmers on the creek, the unfolding of the rich diversity of flora and fruit, and the wild thunderstorms announced by the rising of the fire flies. In Fall “God” would be revealed in the changing of the leaves from green to brilliant hues of orange, red and yellow, before they would fall revealing, afresh, new vistas. Raking of leaves was an early spiritual practice, and their burning was my incense. In Winter the hushing silence of gently falling snow was my call to worship and shoveling snow my spiritual discipline. Full moon- lit, silhouetted, bare branches on a blanket of snow interspersed with black-iced ponds and lakes would become my cathedral.
All nature revealed to me a divine force and awesome Creator, far too big to be contained in any church, or dogma. Immaculate conception and “bodily resurrection” did not fit my nature-theology. Having gotten to “God” through nature, I had no idea what to do with Jesus, “The way, truth and light to the Father”. The appellation, “Father”, held no relevance for what I was coming to comprehend as a universal energy field of love which could not possibly be limited to any anthropomorphic form or confined to a place called “Heaven.”
Seven years of undergraduate and graduate school in Primate Communications at UC Berkeley in the early 60’s and a marriage, which lasted 43 years, led to two years in the Peace Corps in Fiji, followed by residence in Hawaii. These contexts and experiences opened my eyes to other languages, cultures, and religious practices. I became convinced that if “God” was truly monotheistic there would have to be many paths that could lead me there.
In the early 1970’s my ministers in Hawaii, “Sus” Yamane and Ken Heflin in the United Methodist Church, saw spiritual gifts within me that I was not yet able to see. They began to call forth these gifts by gradually inviting me into more and more leadership roles within the church, with both youth and adults.
Finally, at age 40, I got up my nerve to confess my apostasy related to Jesus to David Serfass, my Hilo, HI, UCC minister. His response was, “We all have within us a spark of Divinity, which Jesus developed to its fullest potential.” It was enough to send me to the Presbyterian San Francisco Theological Seminary to study Christology. It was a daunting task. It had been nearly 20 years since I was last in academia and by then I knew I was primarily an experiential learner. I successfully graduated from Seminary and was able to claim for myself the path to “God” through right human relationships, revealed by the itinerant Jewish Rabbi named Jesus who became divinely human.
Seminary led to 25 years of Ministry within the UCC—ten years of Intentional Interim Ministry in Northern California, six years as an Associate Conference Minister in Missouri, and nine years of Interim work in Hawaii.
I used to apologize for being primarily an experiential learner, but that is no longer the case. Thus this reflection paper represents my own big-picture thinking and makes no attempt at academic justification. I would label myself as a sower of “seeds-for-thought,” unapologetically rooted in the Christian tradition.
A Historical Perspective
From the time of the Big Bang the hallmark of every facet of creation is change. Today we know that our universe is expanding much faster than we realized. With the aid of the Hubble Telescope we can go back in time almost to the Big Bang, and know there are over 200(!)Galaxies beyond our own—and we have yet to find “Heaven.” We live on an infinitesimal speck of celestial real estate in an incredibly vast universe. Driven by technology, our culture is changing exponentially, and we are rapidly becoming a global society. We are no longer rooted in an agrarian economy. As a result, we have literally lost the “groundedness” every farmer and those they fed knew that they were in partnership with something far beyond their full comprehension.
At the dawn of a new millennium we can look back and see that, very roughly speaking, there has been a major paradigm change every 2000 years. From 4000 to 2000 BCE was primarily a time of goddess worship. From 2000 to the beginning of the Christian Era was a time of “God(s)” worship. The last 2000 years have been a time of Son worship, including the Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. It now appears that we are being led into a time when the primary driver will be Spirit, Qi, “The Force” (as in Star Wars), “Higher Power” (as in twelve-step programs), or some other universal ,spiritual energy force.
The ancient Hebrews use the term “YAWEH”-a collection of nonsense letters to refer to “God” as they believed that to name something was to control that which was named—to pigeon-hole or confine for their convenience what was beyond control. In the same spirit, for purposes of this paper, I will use the term DiSSoLaL to refer to what I experience as the Divine Spirit, Source of Life and Love. Each capital letter referring to something that is not easily definable: Divine, Spirit, Source, Life and Love. The lower case vowels are added to make pronunciation easier.
Part 2: Embodied Trinity
The historic starting place for thinking about DiSSoLaL has been that “God” is other. We think that “God” is outside of us. Yet the Bible tells us in Genesis 1 that we are made in the “image of God.” Jesus reminded his disciples that the Kingdom of God was within (among) them. If that is the case, then we are an embodiment of DiSSoLaL, the fullness of DiSSoLaL within the limits of the human form. We know this from our limited human perspective, which needs then to be both the starting and ending point of our understanding of DiSSoLaL.
Given the finite, limited human capacity to try to comprehend that which is infinite and beyond full human comprehension, we have three basic ways of trying to get a handle on the nature of DiSSoLaL: Creation, Incarnation, and Inspiration. These three avenues provide the finite pieces of the infinite mosaic we seek to know from a human perspective—our only possible perspective.
From where does the spark of life come? Recent scientific discovery of the long hypothesized Higgs’ bosan may be a step towards a scientific understanding. However, humanity does not need scientific proof. Empirical proof is adequate and within the capacity of every human being. What is the evidence? It is the heartbeat. The first sign of fetal life, after the initial invisible and silent division of cells, is the audible and visceral experience of the beating of the fetal heart. This occurs around the fifth week of fetal development. Clearly, it is DiSSoLaL, the Giver of Life, which causes that heart to beat, and continues the beat for the rest of that individual’s life. Furthermore, the heartbeat is undeniable proof that we are embraced by unconditional DiSSoLaL love. No matter what we do, good, bad or indifferent, the DiSSoLaL heartbeat is always there as long as we live.
Therefore, DiSSoLaL, the Creator of Life dwells in every human heart, no matter what the color of our skin, the nature of the language we speak, the culture into which we were born, our sexual orientation, the degree of our ability or disability, or any other human manifestation of DiSSoLaL.
We arrive at our knowledge of DiSSoLaL through our brains. Indeed, all we know, question, or believe about being an incarnational reflection of DiSSoLaL is processed by our brains. To achieve its incarnational potential, the brain filters all information through the lenses of our language, the culture into which we are born, the cultures of our home, academic, work and other social environments, and our unique individual and collective life experiences. Indeed, there is growing awareness of Universal Consciousness, another manifestation of DiSSoLaL.
The goal of incarnation is to become divinely human—to live into our fullest human potential. Jesus is a prime example of a human individual who achieved this goal. That is why the Apostle Paul admonished his Corinthian followers to strive to have the mind of Christ.
It is interesting to note that Noetic Science has recently discovered that everything we do with our brain is filtered through the heart—the domain of DiSSoLaL.
Where do ideas, dreams and insights come from? Some would say from the universe. The primary purpose of our breathing is to take in life-giving oxygen from the universe and, for purification, release to the universe the toxic carbon dioxide that is the waste product of the cleansing of our blood. Could not inspiration enter in the same way?
I find it helpful to remember that Jesus, in his farewell address to his disciples, as recorded in the Gospel ascribed to John, promised that he would send them the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything he had taught them, and guide them in everything to come. In the ancient Hebrew language, ruach means both “breath” and “Spirit.” Is it not likely, then, that inspiration comes through our breathing, a process that is basically controlled by DiSSoLaL?
Indeed, we have some control over our breathing to bring us closer to DiSSoLaL. Almost every form of meditation, no matter from what faith tradition, uses the breath to “quiet the mind” so we can be open to what in the Christian tradition is called the “Winds of the Spirit.” The Bible tells us in Psalm 46:10 that DiSSoLaL said we need to “Be still and know that I am God.”
To fully function as a human being we need to work in partnership with DiSSoLaL residing in triune form at the core of our being. While the brain has responsibility for regulating our heart and our breathing, we need to strive to further develop our mind to fulfill our incarnational human potential by having a mind like Jesus’ or, for that matter, like the Buddha.
In summary, humankind, in partnership with DiSSoLaL, can influence our breathing and has primary responsibility for maximizing that part of the brain that seeks to make sense of the diverse experiences of life with which all humanity must contend while being open to inspiration. We are each divine incarnations of DiSSoLaL in body, mind and spirit.
Part 3: Implications
Call to Worship
If DiSSoLaL is within us, from our very first heartbeat we were given a lifetime, irrevocable carte blanche call to worship. From our borning-cry on, every breath we take is a call to worship, for each and every in-breath is literally an inspiration. In the same vein, every out-breath is a renewing prayer of thanksgiving for healing. As a breath prayer, every exhale can be a reminder to repent of that which is toxic to our mind and body, and every in-breath a reminder to live anew into our unique human potential. Thus, the baptism Jesus sought from his cousin John was baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. (Mark 1:4)
From our very first word, indeed our first uttered sound, as we try to make sense of our world, ever y new word is a new incarnation. Every new insight is a reincarnation. Indeed, every piece of information that we receive through all five of our senses, is an invitation to reincarnation—to “carnate” anew who we are, what gifts we have to give, how we are going to use them for the greater good during this one precious, finite life we have been given.
Star Dust & Heaven
The Hubble Telescope has enabled humanity to not only go back to the Big Bang but also has enabled us to witness the birth and death of stars! Every facet of creation has a limited life span, whether measured in nanoseconds or eons. So what happens at our “death?”
“Matter is neither created nor destroyed,” claims The Principle of Mass/Matter Conservation. Everything is transformed. While imposing the ashes at an Ash Wednesday service, a newly ordained chaplain said, “You are from stardust and to stardust you shall return.” I liked that as it brought that experience into the 21st century for me, as it relates to the body and my notion of incarnation.
I never believed in a bodily resurrection. For me, then, it is the soul, the divine spiritual essence of a person, which must become the focus when talking about resurrection. About 20 years ago I heard about a study done in Haverhill, MA in which Dr. Duncan MacDougall in 1901 placed dying patients in their hospital bed on a very sensitive scale. What he found was that no matter what the gender, size or weight of the person, there was a loss of 21 grams at the time of death. Their hypothesis was the 21 grams represented the weight of the departing soul.
Just recently, at an interfaith meeting, I heard a woman from India say, “We are conceived without a soul.” When I questioned her about that, she told me that according to her faith tradition, a branch of Hinduism, which I unfortunately do not remember, the soul enters the body at about the same time as there is enough brain function to sustain a heartbeat. (You can Google the question, “When does the soul enter the body?” and come to your own conclusion.) It is my contention that the soul represents the unique divine spark of life in each individual and that it matures during that individual’s life through the process of incarnation. I also believe that an individual’s soul does not “die” at death, but remains accessible throughout time.
In 2009 Rob Hail, a friend, spontaneously invited me to join him on a trip to South Africa. As a result I became acquainted with the soul of my maternal great, great, grandfather and namesake, the Rev. Daniel Lindley. Daniel Lindley was a Presbyterian Minister and, in 1834, the first American missionary to the Zulu in South African. At the time of the invitation Rev. Lindley had been dead for nearly 130 years. The only thing I knew about him was that he had been a missionary in Africa, but I did not know where or when. Through reading the biography of The Life and Times of Daniel Lindley written by Edwin William Smith (1952), visiting the places in South Africa where he did his ministry among both the Zulu and the Dutch Afrikaans, and seeing the tributes to him in the Vortrekker Museum in Pretoria and the Inanda Seminary, a boarding high-school for Zulu girls near Durban, which he founded in 1868, Daniel Lindley became very much alive for me.
What I learned from the experience of becoming acquainted with the soul of Daniel Lindley was that it is through the relational stories the living tell about the dead that those person’s souls continue to remain alive for yet unborn generations. For a deceased person’s soul to become alive in yet unborn generations, those new generation need only appropriate the story of the deceased for themselves. That is how we come to know about the life and ministry of Buddha, of Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed, Mahatma Gandhi, or any other ancestor who had an impact on other family members or the greater society in which they lived, moved or had their being.
When Jesus gave his Great Commandment about loving “God” with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself, I believe he was talking about the primacy of right relationships with everybody and everything. My sense about eternal life is that we each have the potential to live on in the memory of those whose lives we have touched during our lifetime. That, as “Heaven”, has far more appeal than a white robe, a golden harp, and a cloud on which to rest!
Do Unto Others….
The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is only enhanced by the notion of being an embodiedment of DiSSoLaL. If we truly believe that every human being is a manifestation of DiSSoLaL, then any time we abuse another individual verbally, physically, emotionally or psychologically we are not only abusing DiSSoLaL within that other person but also demeaning DiSSoLaL within ourselves.
There are far more implications to becoming divine human reflections of DiSSoLaL, but I invite you, the reader, to discern what they are and live accordingly.
Rev. Daniel L. Hatch© August 2012
Post Script on being a Christian
Some have asked me about how I can claim to be an unapologetic Christian with such a non-traditional understanding of DiSSoLaL. The answer for me is found in Jesus’ Great Commandment, which is actually two commandments. The first is, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12: 29-31) Clearly, for me, the path to DiSSoLaL revealed by Jesus of Nazareth, is a path of right relationship with DiSSoLaL and with all humanity. In striving to follow this path, I am a disciple of Jesus.