On April 11 through 13, I spent the weekend with the Unity chaplains on a retreat at St. Leo Abbey in Dade City, Florida. We spent three days there deepening our practice of prayer and compassionate listening, and getting to know one another in a sacred and peaceful environment.
We also spent time alongside the monks at the abbey (a Benedictine order that has been in Florida since 1882). We joined them for morning prayers, we tried to follow along as they chanted in Latin, we shared meals with them, and we shared the silence.
Experiencing the Benedictine liturgy and prayer service, made me realize that the order (who have given up their possessions, their finances, and in some cases, their family) maintain a lifestyle that many people have only ever seen on film or read about in books. The monks at St. Leo (though they may have iPhones and modern footwear under their tunics) are only a few steps removed from the time when the altar was set against the back wall of the cathedral and everyone faced the same direction — including the priests — in worship of a theistic, otherworldly God.
Being there with the chaplains of Unity, a movement founded in 1889 in Kansas City, Missouri by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, put this in stark perspective. Unity’s form of “practical Christianity” and metaphysics would not exist at all had it not been for earlier forms of orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. But, it also cast our other activities there in a strange and sometimes surreal light. As part of the retreat, we performed Native American smudging rituals, we called in the Four Directions, we spent time journaling, drumming, singing, and performing releasing rituals proclaiming the Christ Consciousness within us all while standing hand in hand in the moonlit shadow of that ancient sanctuary. I’m sure we were quite a sight for the more conservative and dogmatic monks of the old way.
We left the Abbey at the beginning of Holy Week and it is now Easter. Since the comedown (a kind of depression or emotional crash that typically follows such intimate and euphoric retreats) I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what was released into that circle and into that silence, and also what I would like to keep with me and carry forward into real life.
Easter is not about celebrating death. Death is an inseparable part of the cycle of life and needs to happen for new growth to occur. But, death is celebrated plenty in our culture.
In Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, we find the concept of the Shevirah, or “the shattering.” It teaches us that there were seven original “seeds of light” hewn into the universe, and just as the seed casing of a plant must die and decompose before the plant springs forth, the seeds of the Shevirah must also shatter. This gives way to new and more complex forms, a widespread unfolding throughout the universe, whose center is everywhere. In Buddhism, one is taught to die to their attachments (things, desires, thoughts). In Islam, one is instructed to die to oneself, to fully submit to the power and glory of Allah. And in Christianity, we are taught that through Jesus’ death on the cross, all of our sins and transgressions and pain died with him, and that on that day we were redeemed.
But Easter is about what comes after. Easter celebrates the resurrection — what fills the horrible, aching darkness once death has occurred. Our own resurrection from the forms that no longer serve life, and the resurrection of the Christ in us. It allows us the time to honor what we choose to carry forward, and to meditate on why we’ve chosen what we have to fill the emptiness created by grief.
How ready are you to rise from the dead? Once you have fully grieved and emptied yourself — once you have gone through the long, dark night of the soul — how ready are you to get up and try again? After having been betrayed and hurt, how ready are you to reach out again and trust another? How ready are you – once you’ve lost everything in the world – to have and hold something new?
What gives you the strength and ability to rise, not only to the occasion in every moment, but rise like the Phoenix from your own ashes and be reborn with a new name, a new identity, a personality that transcends and includes your former self?
Are you living the psychology of the chicken – distracted and attached to desire and hunger? Or are you living the psychology of the egg – void of form, home to infinite possibility and unfolding complexity, regenerativity, and new life?
Are you ready to be fully immersed in Christ consciousness or Buddha mind? Are you ready to let go of all the labels and attachments and belongings and rest in pure witness to Creation? Are you ready to die to yourself, and be fully present as a living expression of love?
The Easter experience calls on us to be ready for that day, to “overcome the world.” And today is Easter. Today, we rise.
photos by Helene Schwartz-Lepkowski