The First Step on our Journey

Much of my time lately has been focused on figuring out what religion looks like now. Not that I feel like I’ve been chosen or blessed with some special mission or insight to do so, but everything in desires a return to some spiritual homeland that never really existed.

The problem is that my earliest spiritual formation occurred within several improbable confluences of circumstances that can never be willed back into existence.

Faith took root in me through the influence of my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Many of my earliest memories are the long discussions of various passages of the Bible with my great grandmother, and sitting beside her little electric organ singing hymns. We spent many a summer day talking about Jesus and God.

In my early teens, I discovered the Secret of the Rosary, and began my slow conversion from being a Baptist to Catholicism. Then came my departure from Rome to the faith I have today.

That intermediary period is where most of the magic happened. I volunteered at and visited many Catholic and Buddhist monasteries, shrines, and convents. So much of my free time was spent discussing life with priest, monks, nuns, and mystics from around the world.

The truth is, running around and collecting wisdom from these people is not the same as actually practicing the wisdom collected. My real problem is that I live in a setting isolated from others who are doing the same spiritual work.

Abbey as a metaphor

As a result of this isolation in concert with my love for the desert fathers and mothers, I have referred to my spiritual practice and life as work in the abbey. Allowing myself to adopt this metaphor gave me a framework for my faith and practice. I can see myself as an anchorite who practices spiritual exercises away from the community that exists online.

I don’t know that this is entirely true. I want to believe that there is an online community that practices compassion and creation spirituality, but if there is, it is hidden…

Granted, the Charter for Compassion as been doing a lot to develop a community, but the CS community is completely MIA.

Don’t get me wrong, the point of this examine isn’t just to complain about the work of others but to confess my own sins in not doing my part to bring such a thing about.

The issue is that we lionize and idolize founders and instigators of religious institutions. We mythologize them into people of such divine beings, it is impossible for people like me who suffers from imposter syndrome and who isn’t inherently narcissistic to see myself as someone capable of initializing a spiritual community.

I am not a chosen one, so how could I have anything valid to add to the discussion?

Vision Holder

I took a class recently from the Charter on starting a Sacred Space. I learned a lot, and that is a topic for another day. The most important thing I learned was when Teresa Cowan Jones used the term Vision Holder…

Wait, I can do that. I can hold the vision and present it to others in a way they can understand. That simple phrase changed my understanding of the role I could play in this nascent community. It isn’t invested with all the hagiography that any of the other terms are.

I am Charlie, and I am a Vision Holder.

Vision Holding

So, now that I have figured out my place in this whole thing, I am ready to move forward and start my work in earnest. What vision am I holding?

The world was created in Original Blessing, but through the delusion of independent selves the world has become broken because of the hardness of our hearts. Compassion is the practice and method for restoring the world to its original state (Tikkun Olam).

Happy New Moon. Let’s start restoring the world.

Some time with the Compassion Beads

During Advent, I bought some Compassion Beads from the San Antonio Peace Center.  The idea of a mnemonic method for remembering the elements of compassion appealed to me, and I thought they would make a valuable focus for both prayer and meditation, and it is.

Ten of the bead represent the alphabetical mnemonic:

  • Compassion
  • Dignity
  • Equanimity
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Love

The 11th, golden bead reminds us of the Golden Rule- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

For Meditation

While I have only just begun to explore their uses for meditation, I have found them useful as a method for contemplating what I call, "The Stations of Compassion."

Similar to the Stations of the Cross, I use each bead as an opportunity to visualize an event, either from the Holy Tradition, or events I have witnessed recently, that embodies that principle.  I like the practice to be spontaneous so I can also gauge my own mental state and attitude through the meditation and make the corrections needed at the time.

For Prayer

I have used these beads to facilitate many kinds of prayer: from the simple repetition of the principles to the more elaborate and extemporaneous prayer.

When I first saw these beads, I was reminded of St Francis, Canticle of the Sun, in which he prayed to personified creatures and principles to better understand our relationship to them and to the world.

The formula is simple, "Be Praised, My Lord, through Sister/Brother (Element), through which/whom (blessing is received)."

I don't allow myself to become rigid about the gender of the principles, and instead take a moment to meditate on why I said, "Brother Compassion" or "Sister Compassion."  Don't over analyze the choice, but let it be whatever it is at the moment.  It can be instructive.

If you are interested in donating to the San Antonio Peace Center and getting your own set of Compassion Beads, they are available on Etsy (here).

May you be filled with compassion and the causes of compassion, and free from apathy and the causes of apathy.